Every fan has a favorite part of the season. Some love opening weekend, some go all out for playoffs, and some live for Super Bowl Sunday. Me? I live for Training Camp. There is so much that seems to happen during the weeks leading up to the regular season. It’s always interesting to see who is going to make the cut and be donning the green and gold when the games count.
I find almost as much pleasure in watching preseason games as I do regular season games. The score really doesn’t matter. Many times we will see a lot more 2 point conversions and coaches electing to go for it on fourth down, simply to get a look and see how their play calling will differ in these situations. There is no better opportunity for a fan to get an up-close-and-personal look at the Packers and see what they will be doing for the coming season than to watch Training Camp and the preseason games closely. The atmosphere at Packers camp is special. Fans are extremely optimistic and just relieved to see football in Green Bay once again.
When thinking of practice and training camp, I like to adhere to the Herm Edwards saying, “You will be at practice much more than you will ever be in a game”. That gets me thinking a lot as a coach. I know that I will spend more time focusing on coaching my linebackers at practice and getting them ready for our upcoming game than I ever will be actually coaching them in a game. The same goes for every level of football. Practice is the most important part of any season, and I love to see it first hand in Green Bay. Every coach, fan, or player has their favorite drills that they love to see or run. I am going to show five drills that you should keep an eye out for this year at Packers training camp.
1. Bag Drills
Footwork is vital to any football player. Bag drills are the best for teaching good footwork and teaching how to pick the feet up and and move quickly. These drills are what I call EDDs, which stand for Every Day Drills. Bag drills should be worked daily and can be worked with most positions. If you’re attending training camp, you’ll see linebackers, defensive line, running backs, defensive backs, and quarterbacks all doing bag drills. Below is an example of what you will typically see from a linebacker in bag drills.
This is a drill that you will see this year at Packers Training Camp, almost daily. Packers linebackers coach Winston Moss is one of the best in the business and, as a linebacker coach myself, I have a lot to learn from him. So this is a drill I like to watch closely.
In the above bag drill, the linebacker will start out facing the coach. He will step with his inside foot first over the bag, working laterally getting his feet inside of each bag. The linebacker will then work his way back once he reaches the third bag, then will get downhill and finish with a tackle or fumble recovery. Keep a close eye on how the coach will decide to finish the drill. The late great Packers defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, for example, always finished it with a tackle or simulated takeaway.
Before the beginning of a bag drill, with defensive players, the coach will generally start each drill with a read. Linebackers will read a guard, generally in the 3-4 defense. As I talked about in my last article, in Capers base 3-4 front the inside linebackers will read the uncovered guard. Especially in an Okie front the guard will be very easy to read. In a base eagle front, there will be a 3 technique to the open side, or side without a tight end. That can make a read difficult for a linebacker. The coach will generally start each bag drill by mimicking the movements of an offensive guard in which the linebacker will react. Below is an example of a bag drill where the players are shuffling side-to-side as opposed to stepping over each bag.
One-on-one drills bring out the best in training camp competition. There are two different types of one-on-one drills I love to watch. One is defensive lineman vs. offensive lineman, the other is wide receivers vs. defensive backs. When you are sitting in the stands at Ray Nitschke Field and start to see a one-on-one drill begin, you need to perk up and really pay attention. What’s better than seeing Mike Daniels go one-on-one with any starting offensive lineman? Or Jordy Nelson go one-on-one with Damarious Randall? These are extremely competitive drills. We will take a look at each one and things that you might want to watch for.
2. Offensive vs. Defensive line
This drill will start out with all 5 offensive lineman in normal alignment. The coach will give a snap count and also assign a pass rusher before the snap of the ball. The offensive line doesn’t know which player is coming so all offensive lineman must be prepared. The defensive lineman must get a good rush and get to the quarterback, in which a coach or another player will be holding a ball. The defensive lineman can rip inside, rip under and rush from the outside, or play straight up and bull rush the offensive lineman.
Fritz Shurmur – who I mentioned earlier – once said that he likes guys who can bull rush because they can force the offensive blocker into the face of the quarterback, which makes it difficult to throw the football. I tend to agree with Coach Shurmur. I like a defender who can really get a solid rush and affect the timing of throws. One important thing that defensive players must remember during this drill is practicing gap integrity; that is, practice defending their gap. An important thing for offensive lineman is developing good feet and hands against the rush. The offensive lineman must move his feet quickly and get a strong punch on the defender and move him off course. The rush will last about 4 seconds, so the offensive lineman must hold his block for that long. One advantage that the offensive lineman has is that he knows the snap count. He must get out of his stance quickly, set up, and find the rusher.
3. Wide Receivers vs. Defensive Backs
Another great drill which brings out the best in skill players is putting your receivers and defensive backs near the boundary and letting them get after it. This is a great chance for defensive backs to practice coverage reads and being in position. For example, if a corner is going against a number 1 receiver practicing cover 1 defense, the corner will be shaded inside of the number one receiver forcing him to the boundary. The corner needs to understand that there is only one free player to help him if his man gets free. If they are practicing cover 3, the corner must know that he is responsible for his third of the field. If the receiver runs an underneath rout, the corner knows that he will pass him on to the linebackers, who are responsible for hook/curl responsibilities. Most of the time, however, this is more of a man defense drill. The wide receivers have a great opportunity to work on routes during this time. Cuts, driving off the ball and working on timing are vital in this drill.
4. Kickoff Coverage
This drill is always fun to watch, particularly because many of these players are fighting for a roster spot. You know whenever you watch special teams drills that these players are going to play all-out. For many of these guys, special teams is the last chance that they have to make the Packers roster.
We know how vital special teams are; after all, it is a third of the game. In these special teams drills, we will often see the kickoff team simply lining up and covering each kickoff, breaking down on the ball carrier, and making a play. Early in training camp, these drills will be done without pads and simply “tag” a player up. This puts players in the position they would be in if they had pads on. Later on in training camp once the team wears full pads or shells (helmet, shoulder pads, shorts), we will start to see this drill heat up.
There are many elements that go into a kickoff team. Each player is numbered from the outside in. For example, there is your kicker, then to the right of him is your R5 player. These players are often referred to as “wedge busters”. The name was given back in the days when it was actually legal to form a wedge. These players are responsible for penetrating straight to the football and disrupting the return. Both the R5 and R4 (as well as the L5 and L4) players will look to go to the ball carrier and make a play. Special teams are all about landmarks for many teams. In this drill, these players really focus on their landmarks and get where they need to be, all doing it at full speed.
The R3 and L3 players are looking to go straight down field and break on the ball carrier the closer he approaches. The R2 and L2 players have virtually the most important job on the kickoff team, they are responsible for forcing the kick returner back inside. The kick returner DOES NOT get outside of these players, if he does, it will not be good. The R1 and L1 players will sometimes break back inside and find the ball carrier and look to make a play. The kicker will obviously kickoff, then be the safety player, that is, he is the last line of defense. All of these elements are important to consider during this drill. This is always a great drill to watch, and as Packer fans we know all too well that special teams can dictate the outcome of a game. Here is an example of the Packers kickoff scheme and what you will see from this drill.
5. Quarterback net toss
This drill seems to be a fan favorite at training camp. In this drill, quarterbacks start either from an under center position or shotgun look. Nets are placed downfield and quarterbacks work on simply hitting the targets. This gives quarterbacks a good chance to work on several things. First, it gives them a good opportunity to work on their push-offs from under center. The quicker the quarterback can get from under center the better; this allows for protection to set up and allows him to get into position quickly. Ball placement will be a big factor as well. The ideal place where McCarthy likes to see his quarterbacks handle the ball is at chest level. Young quarterbacks will like to hold the ball high with the elbows up. Many college coaches like to see this because it allows the quarterback to get the ball to the release position quicker. In the NFL, however, quarterbacks are expected to have a quicker release. You will see a variety of 3, 5, and 7 step drops from this drill. This is always one that I enjoy to watch and can really pique fan interest.
Lets look forward to a great 2017 Packers training camp and seeing these drills translate to the field as the season begins!