By Laurence Holmes-
(CBS) Training camp is when the football season is re-born. It fills fans with hope about the upcoming campaign. Fans get a chance to speculate on what the team will look like come September. You see all the funny videos of giant men bringing in giant televisions for the three weeks of living in a dorm, but what is it like for those guys? I thought it might be fun to get some answers about it so I sat down with five former NFL players (Anthony Adams, Matt Bowen, Alex Brown, Dez Clark and Hunter Hillenmeyer) to give you the good, the bad and the ugly from their training camp experience.
What are your favorite memories from training camp?
Alex Brown: “I loved it all, but I really loved the nothing-but-football feel.”
Hunter Hillenmeyer: “I loved the first time we would have a break. It usually came about two weeks in. We went to a Mexican restaurant called La Siesta and had a couple of margaritas. That’s the first part of camp when you feel human again.”
Dez Clark: “Lovie’s first camp, everyone was pulling their hamstrings. Me and John Gilmore had pulls at the same time, so we just watched the rest of camp from the sidelines. It was great! Back in ’06 I built a makeshift recording studio in my room and all the guys would come down after meetings freestyling and making a fool out of themselves. I still have the videos.”
Anthony Adams: “Making up freestyle rhymes. One year we had a water fight. One year we had a cookout. I loved seeing the guys and meeting their families.”
Matt Bowen: “My first camp. I had no idea what the speed of the NFL entailed until I lined up as a rookie with the Rams with Isaac Bruce, Tory Holt, Az Hakim, Marshall Faulk, etc. That was the best offense I have still ever seen and my introduction to the NFL was eye-opening. I will never forget the pure panic playing in the secondary the first time Bruce ran a post route on me.”
What’s the best thing about camp?
Hillenmeyer: “Even though you’re busy, it’s a simple existence. It simplifies your life. You’re football 24/7.”
Brown: “The fans were great.”
Bowen: “Building a team. That’s when you do it, under the misery of the August sun and heat. I loved the competition, daily battles and seeing guys step up to fight for jobs.”
Adams: “Just being back in the huddle with your teammates. You miss that during the offseason.”
Clark: “When you get to go home!”
What’s the worst part of camp?
Bowen: “That third day when you can’t get out of bed. After two straight days of hitting, your body tells you to stop, but you have to get up and find a way to make it through another day. Until you get your “camp legs” under you, the experience is pure hell.”
Adams: “The worst part is the heat and the hours, waking up in the morning and you feel like you’ve been in a car accident. Then you think, you’re on the way to another car accident and it’s gonna repeat itself tomorrow.”
Clark: “The long meetings after a long hot day of practice.”
Hillenmeyer: “The toll on your body. I would just hurt. You get up, go out there and hurt for two weeks.”
Brown: “I didn’t like the 5:30 a.m. drug tests.”
What should fans watch at practice?
Hillenmeyer: “If you’re a player, watch your position. Players who succeed, use camp for a purpose. What’s lost on fans sometimes is the attention to detail. Every step is measured and important. You can see if a wide receiver cut a route at 13.5 yards instead of 15 like the coach wanted.”
Clark: “I think they should really pay attention to the individual drills. That’s where a lot of the real teaching comes into place and you can see how sharp and crisp a guy is with his techniques. It’s too much to try to pick up on during team drills.”
Adams: “Watch 1-on-1 pass rush because that’s what wins ballgames. Offensive line vs defensive line–that’s what wins game. That’s a man’s sport right there.”
Bowen: “Sometime in the second week of camp, guys will be tired, some punches will be thrown and fans will get a good idea of who really wants to win a job. That’s when you can see who wants to compete vs the guy who’s just trying to finish practice and get to the chow hall.”
My sincere thanks to the panel for their candor. Later this week I’ll have thoughts on Phil Emery and Lovie Smith’s state of the team address and updates from practices.
Follow me on twitter at @laurencewholmes for my thoughts from camp.