NFC West: training camp
Good morning, NFC West.
I'll be heading over to Seattle Seahawks headquarters Wednesday for the final training camp practice open to the public. The team plans to break "camp" following another practice Thursday.
The quotation marks apply because our traditional definition of training camp no longer holds in most cases.
Seattle, like most teams, no longer goes away for camp. Two-a-day practices are a fading memory. The team has been holding practice sessions at its facility, and that will not change just because "camp" has broken.
The Arizona Cardinals are the only NFC West team still holding camp away from their team headquarters, but their new camp setup at University of Phoenix Stadium is only a 30-minute drive from the team facility in Tempe.
Arizona is scheduled to break camp Aug. 22. The date is Aug. 21 for the St. Louis Rams. The San Francisco 49ers released a camp schedule showing the final practice as Wednesday, but the timing doesn't mean as much for fans because their facility is off-limits to the public during construction of the team's new stadium across the street.
Our recent discussions haven't included the Arizona Cardinals all that much. They were not among the 18 teams attending the recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. They did not have a candidate for the franchise tag. They have not made a significant trade.
Two recent Cardinals-related stories are on my mind, however.
One involves the potential relocation of training camp from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to Glendale, home of University of Phoenix Stadium. The other touches on a philosophical shift regarding how to handle playing time for young players, including rookies.
- On camp: I've always enjoyed visiting Cardinals camp in Flagstaff. NAU provides a training site unique in the NFL for its combination of moderate temperatures, 7,000-foot elevation and campus setting. But if the team could get around obvious temperature concerns in Glendale by practicing at its stadium, camp would become more readily accessible to a larger number of people, including those unable to break away from work long enough for the drive to Flagstaff.
- On youth: The youth issue, raised by Darren Urban, stands as a positive development, in my view. The Cardinals have had older backup players in recent seasons. Former coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't averse to youth, but he was big on making younger players earn their playing time. Meanwhile, division rivals Seattle and St. Louis have moved forward with young rosters. The Seahawks in particular have developed younger players quickly, allowing the team to maximize affordable rookie contracts. Sounds like Arizona will take a step in that direction as well. Personnel departments generally want to see young players on the field. Having new head coach Bruce Arians on board with such an approach should be good for the organization -- if the team drafts well, of course.
I'll be there with them and am very much looking forward to hitting all the NFC West camps.
The plan is to hit Seattle's camp for a few days, then stop by the San Francisco 49ers' camp before making it to Northern Arizona University by Aug. 4, the first day Kevin Kolb can practice with his new Arizona Cardinals teammates. I'll finish with an extended trip to St. Louis for Rams camp once the exhibition season gets going.
Please do come along.
The Arizona Cardinals are the only team in the division still traveling for camp. But if you think the Cardinals are gaining an advantage by toughing it out in a traditional camp setting, I'm not so sure. They relocate to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff at least in part because it's cooler there. Practicing twice daily in the Tempe heat wouldn't work very well.
I've heard from some Seattle Seahawks fans who think the team lost something when it relocated training camp to its Seattle-area facility. I'm not convinced the venue has had anything to do with on-field performance. The Seahawks' move back home for camp coincided with significant personnel changes for the worse. Those changes explain the team's slide.
Getting away for bonding time at camp has value, but players are spending more time at work year-round than they ever did way back when. Offseason conditioning programs are well-attended. Minicamps and organized team activities keep large groups of players together deep into the offseason.
The Seahawks invested millions in a first-rate facility. Why not use it as much as possible? That is the trend in the NFL, as the chart shows. The St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers also train at their facilities.
Note: I updated the chart, which was initially mislabeled.
It's always fun and helpful to see a team practice five or six times in a row. The plan looks like this:
- Catch the Seattle Seahawks as they open camp July 31, followed that evening by a charity event to benefit Autism Speaks.
- Fly out Aug. 1 for five practices with the Arizona Cardinals.
- Visit the San Francisco 49ers for six practices beginning Aug. 5.
- Return to the Seattle area, regroup and hit a few Seahawks practices.
- Travel to St. Louis to catch what could be Sam Bradford's exhibition debut at the Edward Jones Dome on Aug. 14.
- Drive from St. Louis to Indianapolis to catch the 49ers' exhibition game against the Colts on Aug. 15.
- Drive back to St. Louis for six Rams practices beginning Aug. 16.
- Fly from St. Louis to Seattle in time to attend the Seahawks' Aug. 21 exhibition game against the Green Bay Packers.
- Catch the other NFC West games on TV over the next couple days.
This will mark at least the third consecutive summer I've hit all four NFC West training camps. It's always a blast and such a change of pace from mid-July, when there's so little going on.
What is it about these camps you're most looking forward to finding out? I'm interested in defining depth charts and rosters more clearly, figuring out what matters regarding scheme changes and just getting a better feel for the teams and their personalities.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
KIRKLAND, Wash. -- The Seahawks have finished their first practice of training camp. The only negative from this angle was not being able to watch the rest of the division at the same time. We'll get to that beginning Sunday. In the meantime, here's what I can tell you:
- The Seahawks' roster moves also included releasing defensive tackle Kevin Brown. Second-round tight end John Carlson remains unsigned, but the sides are apparently close to an agreement.
- The team limited several players coming off surgeries. Defensive end Patrick Kerney and left tackle Walter Jones were two of them. Kerney said he's been working against Jones in one-on-one drills in preparation for camp. They've been testing their shoulders in pass-rush and run-blocking situations. Kerney said he feels great.
- Kevin Hobbs has a chance to push Kelly Jennings for the right cornerback job, but don't get too excited about that one just yet. Jennings has played well this offseason. He provided a reminder during this practice by leaping high to pick off a pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Nate Burleson. Marcus Trufant, Deon Grant, Jordan Babineaux, Brian Russell, Josh Wilson and Jennings worked together in the same secondary at one point.
- The tight ends had some problems gathering the ball and protecting it during drills in which linebackers and defensive backs swatted at the ball. Jeb Putzier made a nice sideline grab, but the Seahawks really want Carlson to emerge as the clear-cut starter once he gets in camp.
- Seattle worked in shorts, shoulder pads and (of course) helmets this morning. They won't put on the pads until Sunday morning, which means we won't see Julius Jones working in live action until then. Jones and Maurice Morris are sharing time. I saw Morris with the starters quite a bit today. I'd expect Jones to emerge as the starter eventually, but coach Mike Holmgren said he's approaching the situation right now as if both are starters. In other words, they won't make a decision for some time.
- Bobby Engram practiced and said he'll honor his contract even though the organization has refused to extend his deal, which expires after the upcoming season. Engram mostly wants to know whether he figures into the team's plans beyond the Holmgren era.
- Holmgren said he regards Tyler Schmitt as an excellent snapper. We saw one snap at the ankles today but he was consistent the rest of the time.
- The team wants to see Charlie Frye step up as a solid third quarterback, which would allow Holmgren to feel better about using No. 2 quarterback Seneca Wallace as a receiver. Wallace is going to be the No. 2 this season, Holmgren said. That isn't the question. The question is whether Holmgren feels good enough about Frye as a backup to risk using Wallace as a receiver. Holmgren called it a "stretch" to think Wallace's skills as a receiver would directly affect the number of players Seattle keeps at the position, but he said they do talk about Wallace as a receiver in meetings.
- Rookie Lawrence Jackson blew up one play in the backfield. After practice, he said he thought getting into camp on time was important because it showed veterans he was serious about his job. It's always refreshing when the rookies know their place.
- Not practicing today: punter Ryan Plackemeier, receiver Deion Branch, Carlson, defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs and linebacker Will Herring. According to Holmgren, Herring is undergoing tests to evaluate an unspecified condition that has possibly made Herring more prone to injuries. Update: Herring's condition is producing what a team spokesman called "recurring join inflammation".