Greg Gabriel: GMs, head coaches get set for NFL training camps to begin

NFL teams get back on the field next week and begin the process of forming a 53-man roster

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H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com
Chicago Bears players huddle before an NFL football practice Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in Lake Forest, Ill.
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com Chicago Bears players huddle before an NFL football practice Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in Lake Forest, Ill. — H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com

In the next 10 days, most NFL clubs will have opened training camp and football will be back for the next six months of our lives.

For most coaches and GMs, the 5-6 weeks between the end of the offseason program and the beginning of training camp are the longest weeks of the year. During that time frame, coaches don’t have that daily contact with players and many of their players aren’t in the club's city but rather spread around the country at their own homes.

Without the daily reminder for their players to stay out of trouble, coaches and GM’s dread when their phone rings, especially in the middle of the night. When the phone rings at that time, it’s usually bad news.

This year, since the end of OTA’s, there have been at least six NFL players arrested for various charges. The latest was Sunday morning when Houston Texans rookie running back D’Onta Foreman was arrested on weapon and marijuana charges in Texas.

Earlier this month, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Adolphus Washington was also arrested on weapons charges for carry a concealed weapon at a water park in Ohio. Dallas linebacker Damien Wilson was charged with aggravated assault after brandishing a rifle at someone. Green Bay defensive lineman Letroy Guion was charged with DUI in Hawaii.

In each case, every one of these instances could have been avoided if only the player had done some serious thinking before he left his house.

This is what bugs GMs and coaches, as none of these things had to happen but because they did. each of the players could face league discipline as well as legal discipline. This hurts a team that wants to get its season off in the right direction. It was only two years ago that New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul suffered a serious hand and arm injury when he was using fireworks on the Fourth of July. That injury had a huge effect on how the Giants played in 2015.

The Final 53

Once training camps open, don’t think for a minute that the club's decision makers don’t already have a preconceived idea of who is going to be on the final 53-man roster. There is a depth chart in their offices and they go into camp hoping to prepare those players for the regular season. Where things change is when there is an injury to a key player or when a player they weren’t expecting to seriously challenge for a job looks too good to be cut.

This happens every year at every camp and that is what makes training camps so interesting. In my years in the league I always went into camp with the thought of “expect the unexpected”. There will be key injuries and there will be young players who refuse to say they aren’t good enough.

What is difficult for decision makers is trying to determine if an older player can still play at a winning level. Because they are veteran players and know and understand the scheme, they can always look “good enough” in camp to fool their coaches. What can hurt a club is that they end up keeping the veteran and by about mid-season or earlier his play really drops off. Decision makers have to keep a close on these players and look for the slightest bit a decline in their play. If they see it, then it’s time to make a change and move on. It’s always better to cut or trade a player a year early than a year late.

Changes in Scouting

In the last few years, there have been about 100 underclassmen who leave school early to enter the draft. Each year, 35-40 percent of those players don’t get drafted or get drafted much later than they anticipated. To help cut the number of underclassmen making the wrong decision and leaving school early, the two league scouting services (National Scouting and Blesto) will now scout and grade a number of underclassmen during the fall.

Up until this year, the scouting services only graded current seniors and didn’t study the underclassmen until after they declared for the NFL Draft. By getting in-season grades on these players, it will help the league give these players a more thorough assessment of their chances to play in the NFL. This is a good move on the league's part, as these underclassmen have been relying on the wrong people for far too long when making their decision to leave school and enter the draft. The number of underclassmen entering the draft should be no more that 60 or 70, not 100. By staying in school, the college game will be better as will the NFL. Why the NFL? Because if a prospect stays in school an extra year he will be that much more ready to play and compete both mentally and physically.