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Letter From Camp

Kamp Komfort

Camp

If the start of the NFL season is Christmas (Spoiler: it is), then Training Camp is the Advent calendar. Every day you get to countdown by figuratively opening a little metaphorical cardboard door to get an abstract treat that gets you one day closer to the big day. Personally I’ve been hitting camp every year since the 90s when they were at Bryant College in Rhode Island and was back again Saturday. I’ll grant you watching practices isn’t any more real football than a stale piece of Advent calendar chocolate is a Christmas turkey. But in late July with the Red Sox hopelessly out of it and about to hold a fire sale? It’s the best thing we could possibly have going for us. So here are a few random notes from what I saw and what the talk has been from the other practices so far:

*For starters, the crowds have been enormous. Literally people showing up at 6:30 to get seats for a 9:15 start and the grassy knoll behind the end zone filling up like Yasgur’s farm. Just a sea of humanity, there to watch a practice (cue the “Not a game… not a game…practice. etc, etc). With the roster still at 90, meaning just under half of these guys will be getting trained on how to use a pricing gun by Labor Day. Whether the crowds have been due to rampant optimism about this particular season or because it’s the trendy thing to do or just because there’s nothing else holding our attention right now, I have no idea. But you want to look at the hordes going down there every day and still argue this is primarily a baseball or hockey town, I’m telling you you’re delusional. It’s the Pats world, and the Sox, Bruins and Celtics are just living in it.

*If you’ve never been before, this is my annual reminder that NFL Training Camp is not the grind it’s always made out to be. Sure, it’s more grueling than say, MLB Spring Training (so is your average Senior Center yoga class), but it’s hardly “The Junction Boys” either. And I’m always amazed at how much fundamentals they’re still working on, even with the veterans. Saturday was the first day of full pads, and still they spent time on minutiae like:

–The D-line hitting a blocking sled to work on getting under an offensive lineman’s pads and lift him.

–The receivers working on their get-off against a coach wearing arm pads that look like those things they use to train guard dogs.

–A Special Teams drill where they fight through blocking pads to break the wedge while staying in their lanes.

–While Gronk was in full pads, he was still being held back. Like for a while he was on the sidelines with Ivan Fears standing in back of him lobbing a ball over his head for him to catch. Because you don’t become the most feared weapon in the league unless you can do that, I guess.

–QBs running through their 1-, 3-, and 5-step drops, play action fakes, handoffs, quick releases on bubble screens and slants, and one drill where they had to throw the ball while getting whacked with a pad. All while being videotaped by the kid with the best summer job in New England.

*Speaking of the quarterbacks, so far there’s no polishing the turd that has been Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s been gawdawful. On Friday he threw two picks, one to LB Chris White on the goal line. Which would bad enough except there are Russians on the International Space Station that were closer to White and any receivers were. Then on Saturday his underthrow to Wilson Van Hooser (???) got batted down by Kyle Arrington, then he threw a pick into blanket coverage by Logan Ryan that was breathtaking in its utter Tebowishness. By the time I was leaving, Garoppolo was running a punishment lap for an infraction I didn’t see. The good news is it’s early and he can only get better from here.

 

 

*The weirdest dynamic on the punishment laps is the crowd cheers for the guy as he goes by like he’s running up Boylston St. on Patriots Day. I’m guessing that’s not the effect the coaches are looking for.

*The highlight of camp so far was the play Sunday where Brandon Browner absolutely crunched RB James White. The rookie out of Wisconsin tried to juke his way to the outside, and Browner lowered the Legion of Boom down on the kid while the crowd went apeshit.

*That practice was dominated by the defense. The needle on Saturday’s session pointed more to the offense. Especially Kenbrell Thompkins, who’s been making NFL Films-quality catches all over the place. I saw him lay out for one over the middle that looked like one of those ones where Brady throws it in a place where he knows the defense can’t get it but he’s got confidence his WR can. I mean, sure, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet, gentlemen. But if Thompkins can show anything close to this kind of catch radius when defenses are firing live rounds, you can see him being in Brady’s inner receiver circle.

*On the other hand, Josh Boyce had a half step on Justin Green on a Go route, the ball came in on a perfect arc and went right through his hands. Ivan Fears, you know what to do.

*If you’re interested in such things, White appears to be getting most of the reps as the kick returner. Though he badly misplayed a ball that landed at the 1 on a play where he looked like a career DH muffing a pop up while playing the field in a National League park.

*It always surprises me, with the limited practice time they have, how much of it they spend on kickoffs. Especially now that the kickoff is nothing more than a way to kill time between promos for “2 Broke Girls.” Scott O’Brien has to feed his family too, I guess.

*Like I said, this is a football town. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying there aren’t tons of pinkhats at camp who are totally clueless. Some of it was the typical stuff you hear in every crowd, like the kid behind me who bitched the whole time because his father obviously dragged him there. Some was mundane, understandable new fan stuff like the guy who asked me what Darrelle Revis’ number is. Yet another grown man who somehow had never heard of “Hard Knocks.”  But the Towering Ignorance Award goes to the guy who asked his buddy about “that quarterback” because he couldn’t remember Tim Tebow’s name, didn’t know if Tebow was still with the team, and then was shocked to hear he’s a virgin. If you can have lived in America over the last five years and not know any of that, how in God’s name do you find yourself watching an NFL practice?

*For what it’s worth, on the first unit they’ve got Darrelle Revis lining up every play on the defense’s left, Browner on the right, and Ryan in the slot. That’s probably subject to change. The word on the street is that they’ll hold Revis back the way they did Randy Moss in ’07. I’m not suggesting he’ll sit out the preseason like Moss did. Just that like then, they’ll wait until Week 1 to let him off the chain to wreak havoc.  And still he picked Brady off twice covering Julian Edelman and showed insane closing speed coming from behind to bat down a sideline ball.  It’s not going out on the limb to say he could be the best defensive player Belichick has coached since Lawrence Taylor.

*Every year I find a new face to fall in love with. Think Annie in “Bull Durham.” And way more often than not, that guy turns out to be a complete bust. Like back in the Pete Carroll days when WR Tony Simmons was going to be the next Stanley Morgan and wound up being… the first Tony Simmons. Anyway, from now on I’m naming this after my Boo from last year, Zach Sudfeld. So far the ones vying for my affections are:

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–DB Braxton Swanson. An UDFA out of Sam Houston St. who got a look from the Bears last year and has been worked his way into the secondary mix, at least until Browner’s suspension is over.

–RB Roy Finch. A 5-7, 180lb back out of Oklahoma who’s also getting a good look in the return game. Finch might be the perfect guy to fill that Danny Woodhead shaped hole in my heart.

So there you go, Swanson and Finch. Now it’s just a matter of which one of you gets my annual Studfeld Memorial Kiss of Death. @JerryThornton1