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Burwell: New reason to be thankful as football camp starts ..
• By BRYAN BURWELL
As a part of that under-appreciated but decidedly passionate tribe known as the incurable football romantic, I’m part of a rare breed who have always regarded the sweat-soaked, electrolyte-sapping, quasi-militaristic reverie of the first days of NFL training camps as the ultimate athletic national holiday.
Baseball lovers may find pure poetry in the rhythms of the early days of spring training. But for the football poet in me, my muse has always been news that rookies were reporting. As a kid growing up in an NFL-crazed town like Washington, I used to think the best thing in the world was the familiar sight of the grainy newsreels and black and white photos of my football heroes walking through the parking lots at some out-of-the-way college campus, lugging mini-fridges, large TV sets and luggage into their cramped dorm rooms. To me, places like Carlisle, Latrobe, Thousand Oaks, Mankato and Santa Rosa were quixotic dreamlands where pro football careers were launched, not insufferable wastelands where maniacal coaches intended to torture their victims with grueling two-a-days in Siberia-like isolation.
With Street and Smith’s in one hand and a stack of hometown newspapers on my lap, all I wanted to do was devour the news of Sonny Jurgensen and Bill Kilmer, Charley Taylor and Bobby Mitchell, Sam Huff and Chris Hanburger. I thought Vince Lombardi and George Allen were gods and dreamed that the antiquated stadium at Dickenson College was pure heaven.
Well, now I’m a grown man and a slightly jaded sports writer, and while the romance with NFL training camps is still quite incurable, I seem to have an entirely different emotion about the news of rookies and vets showing up for the first days of camp.
Whew ... as in complete and utter relief. Whew ... as in, the offseason is over and no one has been arrested, convicted, lost their minds, ruined their reputations, wrapped their car or SUV around a lamp post, failed a drug or sobriety test or otherwise landed in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s oversized doghouse.
So as I stood on the lush green sidelines of the practice fields at Rams Park on Monday afternoon, watching 36 rookies and first-year players go through the first practice of the 2013 preseason, I have to admit that my giddy childhood love of the game has been slightly distorted.
Oh, I still believe this is one of the best days of the sporting year, like Christmas in July. It means the start of the NFL season is just around the corner, that the standings say everyone is undefeated and Rams loyalists can dream that “wait until next year” has arrived and the transformation into a true championship contender is on the verge of completion. That’s what always makes the start of a new season so special.
But because of all the craziness of the NFL offseason, with all the disturbing stories of too many players losing their natural minds, too many reports of incurable knuckleheads proving why they’re incurable knuckleheads, of one of the most unsettling offseasons in recent NFL history, the Rams’ coaches and front office people are regarding the start of camp with more than a few emotions.
It’s excitement because this is a team that is convinced it’s ready to take that next step into contention status. But it’s the same sense of relief because the Rams made it through the long five weeks since the end of OTAs and minicamps and appear to have paid heed to head coach Jeff Fisher’s pleas to stay in shape, stay in the playbook and stay out of trouble.
“They paid attention, yeah,” Fisher said as he met with reporters after Monday’s first practice. “It would appear that this break has been productive for us.”
By Fisher’s count, he said at least two dozen or more veterans were in and out of the training facility all during the long break since the end of mini-camps and OTAs. He said it was a signal of just how urgent these players are taking the impending season. It’s a sign of the mood of this team, that from top to bottom everyone believes something significant can – and must – happen this season.
So the players trained. The rookies got in the playbooks and everyone stayed out of trouble. He thinks. He hopes. He prays.
So far, not so much as an embarrassing tweet, much less a shocking arrest or a failed drug test. Other than a DUI arrest by cornerback Trumaine Johnson late last winter before the veterans reported to minicamp, there have been no unsettling phone calls to the head coach that made him want to cringe.
“We got together early in the offseason even before they came back (for OTAs) and felt that it was good to communicate with them,” Fisher said. “And in this day and age it’s not hard to send out a reminder text about the weekend coming up, or the Fourth of July, or stay off the four wheelers or the wave runners.”
A lot of people try to compare the difficulties of being a modern pro football coach to the problems that modern parents face when trying to keep their offspring on the straight and narrow.
But here’s the one unavoidable difference between the parent and the coach. Parents don’t get fired if their kids get in trouble. Coaches do. If a star player ends up on a police blotter, wraps his car around a light pole or some other offseason disaster that leads to an NFL suspension, a prison sentence or something far worse, it can wreck a season.
And while Fisher didn’t spend all of his free time texting his players, he made sure that his assistant coaches did on a regular basis. The messages that were sent reinforced the message that Fisher has preached since the day he arrived here. He doesn’t expect everyone to be a choirboy. But he does expect you to behave like a darned grown man. And that means being held accountable to your teammates, who are counting on you to follow the very simple rules that the coach demands.
This rookie class clearly got the message. It does not seem to have quite as many “red flag” players as last year’s rookie class. If you listened to most of them after their first training camp practice, you heard pretty much the same message.
No time for stupidity.
“I’m a person that likes to watch ESPN,” said rookie wide receiver Stedman Bailey, “So I’m definitely seeing the things that are going on. So I like to learn from their mistakes. Some guys are getting suspended and I definitely don’t want to bring any negative attention to this team, so I try to stay focused, stay smart and do things the right way so I don’t get caught up in any bull crap.”
Re: Burwell: New reason to be thankful as football camp starts ..Originally Posted by Stedman Bailey
Maybe I'm wrong, but something about this guy reminds me of Ike Bruce. Call it what you will.....moral compass, character anchor, locker room leader. He just gives me the impression of someone who in a few years could be a guide for younger players.
Re: Burwell: New reason to be thankful as football camp starts ..
Re: Burwell: New reason to be thankful as football camp starts ..
thousand oaks? Thousand Oaks, CA?
Re: Burwell: New reason to be thankful as football camp starts ..Originally Posted by Bryan Burwell
Tavon Austin: "three strippers followed me, I flowed them back. Next thing I know I'm in the GMs office. Now I'm off twitter" Classic.
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