The questioning of the Broncos training camp schedule is way off base
So much consternation. So much handwringing. So much debate.
During the first 10 days of Broncos training camp, there has been a lot of discussion about the way Nathaniel Hackett is running things. Not everyone is on board with first-time head coach’s tactics.
Denver is using “re-gen” days in an attempt to stay healthy, fresh and motivated. In essence, they’re using one out of every three practices to recoup, letting the players’ bodies recover.
During those practices, which have been dubbed “jog-throughs,” the team goes at about half speed. They don’t hit. They barely run. It’s a glorified walkthrough for 60 to 90 minutes.
This has a lot of former players scratching their heads. Almost to a person, the ex-NFLers on The Fan’s staff question whether or not this will get the Broncos ready for the season. They doubt if this process will have them peaking on Week 1.
But that’s not all that is causing concern. Hackett eschewing long-time football practice staples is also leading to debate.
The Broncos aren’t featuring 7-on-7 drills during practice. They also didn’t do 1-on-1’s during the first nine days of camp, prior to sprinkling some in on Saturday. Instead, the head coach is doing more team drills, choosing to focus on 11-on-11 scenarios.
As 15-year NFL veteran Chad Brown pointed out on his radio show (M-F, 9a-11a), this is a huge break from the norm. In every practice he’s participated in since he was a teenager, the former linebacker participated in a 7-on-7 drill. In junior high, high school, college and the pros, as a player and as a coach, those drills were always a part of the plan.
Deviating from that standard is causing Hackett to catch some flak. Prior to even seeing his team take the field for their first preseason game, the head coach is already being doubted.
Every day, there’s debate about what the Broncos are doing. On the airwaves and on the sidelines, the whispers have turned into an audible roar.
It’s much ado about nothing.
That’s not to say the people questioning Hackett don’t have a point. They do. The head coach is reinventing the football practice wheel, which is a bold strategy; sticking with tried-and-true tactics would’ve been a much safer route.
Now, Hackett is setting himself up for criticism and second guessing. If the Broncos start off slowly, especially if they don’t appear ready to go physically, his decisions will be scrutinized.
But that’s all the more reason they should be applauded. It takes courage to think and act outside of the box. People don’t like change, so they’re always going to push back on it. So trying something different isn’t easy.
Hackett believes it’s the right thing to do, however. He’s been around football his entire life, picking up tidbits from some of the best minds in the game, allowing him to formulate a plan of his own now that he’s the head coach.
Will it work? We’re fixin’ to find out. But there’s reason to believe it will.
Football isn’t what it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The era of two-a-days, in full pads, with a lot of hitting is in the past. Practice isn’t done that way anymore, for good reason.
Training camp used to be six weeks long. Now, it’s roughly half that amount of time.
The players stay in shape year round. They don’t need six weeks in Greeley to sweat off an offseason of drinking beer and eating pizza.
Preseason used to be six games. Now, it’s three, with a lot of teams barely playing their starters.
The players make millions of dollars. They’re too valuable to risk losing in meaningless moments. Exhibition games in August are the definition of that scenario.
Teams are smarter now. They know that they need to limit the amount of contact endured by the players.
That’s why the notion of “real football” not taking place at training camp is a silly one. Teams have been veering further away from that for years.
They don’t tackle to the ground. They don’t always wear full pads. The lineman where soft cushions over their helmets. Etc.
Some of this is based on the NFL Players Association pushing for less contact. Some of it is due to teams trying to be smarter with their investments.
As a result, there’s no “real football” being played until Week 1 of the regular season. Training camp isn’t anywhere near it. Preseason games aren’t, either.
Instead, those are controlled simulations designed to get players ready for the real thing. The teams that are the most-creative in terms of accomplishing that goal have a distinct advantage.
Hackett is trying to be on the cutting edge. He’s trying to be a trend setter. And that’s a good thing.
In five years, if the Broncos have success, other teams will adopt his ideas. They’ll be having jog-throughs every three days. They’ll be scrapping 7-on-7. They’ll be using tennis balls and folding chairs in drills.
Does it all seem a little wacky now? Sure. But new ideas always do.
Sean McVay not playing his starters at all in the preseason was widely questioned a few years ago. The experts didn’t believe his team would be calloused enough to start the season. The Rams have been to two Super Bowls and won a Lombardi Trophy during his time in Los Angeles.
And now, he’s being copied. All around the league, starters are being held out of preseason games.
Will all of Hackett’s ideas work? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t experiment.
The last three seasons, the Broncos had an old-school coach who was trying to rekindle the “glory years.” Vic Fangio wanted his team to operate like the Saints in the 1980s. It was unmitigated disaster.
Teams, businesses, organizations and people who live in the past aren’t typically very successful. They’re unlikely to make history if they’re too busy trying to re-create it.
Nathaniel Hackett understands this. He should be applauded for it.
Save the handwringing for another day. The Broncos training camp schedule is just fine.