CampTour'12: Lighter camp load for players

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- CampTour'12 is less than a week old and already we've seen significant changes to traditional training camp principles, adjustments that stem from the 2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Last year's rushed training camp was confusing for everyone, but the full force of the changes is now evident.

The NFL requires all players to spend their first day of training camp in physicals and their next two without contact or pads. Beyond that, two-a-day practices as we know them have been eliminated. If a team wants to have a second practice in a given day, it must be at walk-through speed and without helmets. It must start no less than three hours after the end of the first practice and can only be long enough to bring the team's total on-field time to four hours per day.

In addition, players are guaranteed one day off every seven days, and curfews are limited at the end of the 24 hours off. Overall, teams must give players five days off during camp and the preseason.

The biggest change, far and away, has been the focus on one practice per day. Neither the Chicago Bears nor Green Bay Packers have held separate walk-throughs during my time with them. The Minnesota Vikings have scheduled hour-long morning walk-throughs, while the Detroit Lions' schedule suggests they are conducting only one on-field workout per day.

As recently as five years ago, I covered brutal days of double practices that took tolls on even the best-conditioned athletes. (Not to mention reporters.) The full-pads practices I've seen this summer have been as physical as ever, but players no longer have the second pounding they occasionally got under the old system and instead receive more recovery time.

Packers center Jeff Saturday, an active NFL Players Association member and one of the players who pushed for the summer limitations, is proud of the results.

"We're trying to protect guys," Saturday said. "Football is a great game. I love it. I don't want to sacrifice people's future for this game. I get back messages from older players, and players who have played this game, who say, 'Hey, look man, what a great thing to do to get guys just one practice a day.' I feel good about that. If it helps us in the future with guys not having the same issues that they're having now, then we've done a good job. We won't know for a while, but hopefully it works out that way."

Saturday recalled his first training camp in 1999, under then-Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora. It had multiple days of double full-pads practices, with players regularly being carted off the field for exhaustion or heat exposure.

"This is about longevity," he said. "It's about trying to keep guys around. It's not about trying to wear guys out in Year 1 or Year 2."

We've discussed some areas where NFL players fell short in the new CBA. Training camp, however, represents one of their victories.