Joint practices help NFL teams tackle tedium of camp

Aug 5, 2021, 7:35 PM | Updated: Aug 6, 2021, 12:13 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — The monotony of training camp is starting to settle in around the NFL.

The sun beats down even hotter. The practices feel longer. And tempers are shorter.

Many players are understandably tired of looking at the same faces and plays. That’s where scrimmages against other teams can spice it up a bit.

“Everyone’s kind of different with how they view those preseason joint practices,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “I think they’re fantastic. Especially when teams go about it and they’re not looking to fight, they’re looking to get work in.”

New York is one of 23 teams scheduled to participate in joint practices, a rising trend around the league that could increase with the preseason schedule cut to three games other than Dallas and Pittsburgh — who played in the Hall of Fame game Thursday night. The Jets are also one of seven squads, along with the Giants, Carolina, Miami, New England, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Rams, that will practice against two teams this summer.

Scrimmages weren’t allowed last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they were popular in 2019 when 20 teams participated — including six that went up against two opponents during camp.

“I’ve always felt like you get more out of those joint practices than you do the actual preseason game,” said Saleh, a longtime assistant in his first year as a head coach. “It’s just different because it’s a more controlled environment. You’re not exposing yourself to being tackled or having to tackle, and you can get a lot of work in with it, where it’s a little bit more structured in terms of situations. A lot more things can happen.

“And you’re getting a really good view of the players.”

Sometimes too good.

Because it has been eight months since many teams played a game, players can get riled up when going up against another team in the heat of camp. Punches might be thrown in between passes. And mundane drills can sometimes turn into melees.

“I’m out there and now I’m playing somebody with a different colored jersey, somebody you don’t get to see every day,” Jets linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “You have to be smart because it’s practice, not the game. But at the same time, it allows me to take it up just another notch.”

Hopefully not too far, though.

Wild skirmishes have marked — and in some cases, marred — joint practices around the league over the years, with players shoving, swinging and piling onto each other. The Jets and Giants haven’t practiced together since 2005 when Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey fought with two Jets players on the second play of practice in Albany, New York — and Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson got into an epic argument.

Saleh said there were discussions about the teams practicing together this year, and he hopes the squads will get together next year. Then again, that was before the Giants got rowdy with each other earlier this week when an all-out scrum ended with quarterback Daniel Jones on the bottom of the pile.

Coach Joe Judge, who was ticked off at his players for going at each other, likes the idea of joint practices. The Giants will have sessions on the road at Cleveland and New England this summer.

“The first thought is that it’s great, it breaks up the monotony of camp,” Judge said. “Instead of bashing each other’s heads in, you get to visit another team and work with them. You get to see different schemes, different players, evaluate your players against someone as a change-up.”

Each of the NFL’s 32 teams held training camp at home last summer because of the pandemic. That’s mostly the case this year with only five — Carolina, Dallas, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Washington — hitting the road for all or a portion of camp. With 27 clubs training at home, the most since 2000, and the preseason cut by a game, scrimmaging became a popular option.

“When you get a couple weeks in, you’re ready to see somebody new,” said Chicago coach Matt Nagy, whose team will host Miami. “It’s nice to see. To me, it’s almost like a mini-preseason thing. You’re just not tackling live.”

The Rams and Cowboys will be the first teams to square off, beginning Saturday at Dallas’ training facility in Oxnard, California. Dallas coach Mike McCarthy chatted with Los Angeles coach Sean McVay, whose team will also host Las Vegas this summer, about some of the ground rules.

“I’m not interested in any extracurricular activity nonsense,” McCarthy said. “That’s not what this is about. We want the quality work, and that’s why we agreed to do the work with the Rams.”

Teams are also mindful of what plays they’re running in joint sessions; opponents could potentially benefit from everything shown on the practice field.

Green Bay will host the Jets for two joint sessions before their preseason game on Aug. 21. Packers coach Matt LaFleur will be facing his brother Mike, who’s New York’s offensive coordinator, and his longtime buddy in Saleh.

“I think those are guys I trust,” Matt LaFleur said. “Any time you’re going against anybody in this league, that’s kind of an agreement that the tape doesn’t go anywhere.”

Denver will head to Minnesota to practice with the Vikings a few days ahead of their game on Aug. 14. Broncos coach Vic Fangio downplayed the notion that joint practices could mean more in the evaluation process with teams having one less preseason game.

“It weighs heavy, but these practices weigh heavy,” Fangio said. “When we go to Minnesota, it’s going to be like these practices, just we’re going against Minnesota. … The atmosphere will be amped up a little bit. It’ll be nice to see how the guys react, so it is a little different — but it’s still just practice.”

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AP Pro Football Writers Schuyler Dixon and Arnie Stapleton, and AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan, Steve Megargee and Andrew Seligman contributed.

More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Joint practices help NFL teams tackle tedium of camp