Most of the player updates regarding performance throughout the offseason have been nothing more than mere morsels of deliciousness as our collective hunger for football grows increasingly desperate. Now, just 10 away from the start of the first NFL training camp—the New York Giants are the first to report on July 21—the real feasting on NFL news and updates can finally commence.
This time of year—despite the lack of Sunday festivities—will provide fans with a wide array of meaty roster reports from injuries to camp battles. This is the time when jobs are won and lost, especially for those new players still looking to make a name for themselves.
The difference between summer and spring, in terms of the NFL, is that players will finally be strapping up the chinstraps and tackling in full pads for the first time since last season ended.
So what is training camp all about anyway?
Expect the intensity to be taken to a whole new level as the world’s fastest, strongest and most highly trained men go toe-to-toe for the right to build a legacy, pay the mortgage and keep their football dreams alive. For these players, the stakes are high, the pressure is real and the pain is all just part of the game.
In the NFL, you are up against the absolute best 2,000 football players in the entire world.
After the first week of camp, the body has been smashed, tossed and bent so much that you can no longer discern between bruised and normal tissue. Every muscle throughout your entire body is so incredibly sore that the short walk from hotel to practice field is no easy feat.
Every year around this time, my feet would develop massive blisters on the big toes that were terribly painful. But when you need to prove yourself to the coaches and organization, you do whatever it takes to carry on.
Aside from preparing the players for a physically grueling campaign, training camp is a critical time in the season when players, both young and old, compete from sunrise to sunset for an opportunity to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
But it’s the new guys on a roster who really have the most to prove.
For rookies getting their first real taste of NFL football, this will be unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. The contrast in competition from college to pro is something I personally could have never predicted until going through it firsthand.
This was no longer a battle among kids still developing into men—instead, it was a relentless struggle to compete against fully grown men who have perfected their tricks and techniques over the course of a life dedicated to the sport.
With guys like this looking to support their families, you can imagine that just being drafted is no guarantee that a player will earn a spot on the roster. It’s not like these veterans are going to give up their NFL careers without a fight.
In 2004 and 2005 (the year I was drafted), three of the Oakland Raiders’ five draft picks in the sixth round over those years never made the final roster. I was fortunate enough to do so that first year.
Furthermore, first-round pick Fabian Washington from my draft class was expected to start his rookie season but was outplayed all training camp by the guy taken in the second round, Stanford Routt.
Routt was known for his speed after running the fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine since the implementation of electronic timing. That record of 4.27 seconds was later beaten by now-Jets running back Chris Johnson, who currently still holds the fastest time of 4.24.
During camp, Routt showed himself to be the more NFL-ready player, as he had the size and length (6'1", 195 lbs) to compete against the much larger receivers in the NFL. Washington, on the other hand, got off to more of a slow start, as he seemed overwhelmed by the speed of the game initially.
Though neither of these early draft picks ran the risk of being cut in their rookie season, their fight was for playing time and a starting role within the defense.
As for me, if I ever had any unwarranted confidence in the idea that I was going to make the final roster fairly easily, that idea was quickly shot down on the day Pete McMahon, a rookie offensive tackle from Iowa who was drafted two slots after me, was released by the Raiders.
I remember his release coming as a huge surprise, considering we were only one week or so into camp when the decision to part ways with the team's last draft pick was made. Not only is this uncommon, but as far as I could tell, McMahon seemed to be progressing in a similar way to most other rookie linemen on the roster.
If memory serves, his roster spot was later filled by the addition of another fullback.
In the NFL, faces come and go faster than you can break in a new pair cleats. For me, the entire NFL experience was little more than a series of reminders of the constant change and the temporary nature of everything and everyone around you.
Interestingly enough, the most steadfast members of an NFL organization seemed to be the guys who washed your laundry. As the names above the lockers changed on a weekly basis, it was these equipment guys changing out the name plates who seemed inoculated against termination.
Believe it or not, I would observe them tending to our dirty jerseys after practice and get hit with an odd tinge of jealously, knowing these guys were going to be a part of this organization for several years after I was gone.
When you’re submerged in a job environment where you’re afraid to unpack your suitcase, let alone plant roots in the city, stability starts to become nearly as coveted as the hefty paychecks dished out on a weekly basis.
In my rookie season with the Oakland Raiders, I distinctly remember having to warn my parents not to get carried away with buying too much Raiders merchandise, given the very real possibility that I may not even make the team.
Even making a commitment to sign a one-year lease on an apartment felt like a huge risk at the time. For my mom, it wasn’t until I was cut from the Raiders a year later that this concept finally began to sink in.
When my first training camp started and the heads began to clash with vicious intent, it became apparent that before you could even be given an opportunity to prove what you can do in a preseason game, you first had to show up in a big way during practice. These guys were not only great athletes, but they were also competing as hard as they possibly could.
One of the things these young players have to remember is that pressing too hard to succeed has certain side effects that can be a major detriment to their performance. This is similar to when you try so hard to get someone to like you that it backfires.
Effort is always good to have, but it must be executed properly and kept under control. A running back trying to score a touchdown on every play is likely to miss out on several opportunities for solid gains.
Pressing too hard to make a big play can also take away from your ability to be loose and have fun, which just so happens to be two key ingredients for playing at a high level.
In the end, each NFL roster is primarily shaped by the individual battles won and lost amid the sweltering heat of July and August. Players looking for a follow-up interview better be ready to turn some heads on more than one occasion—that is, if they can first make it out of training camp alive.
Ryan Riddle is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Before B/R, Ryan played for the Raiders, Jets, Falcons and Ravens. Follow him on Twitter.
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