I want to thank all the blog members who donated to make my trip to Oxnard possible. The tickets were obtained today. I'll be in California from the 13th through the 20th, covering the week after the Cardinals preseason game.
I've been reading the reports in all the press like everyone else. I'm excited by the news of Andre Gurode's apparent rebirth as a center, Justin Beriault's knack for making plays (though at SS so far, which unfortunately happens to be Roy Williams' position) and the positive signs shown by Patrick Crayton, who would do this team a world of good if he were to challenge or even beat out Quincy Morgan as the third WR.
That said, we're getting a highly limited view of camp. Let me give you a sense of how a practice is run, so you can see how little the general reports tell you.
When I was in San Antonio two years ago, the practices were run in tightly organized sections. The team would assemble in the middle of the field and conduct stretching drills. After ten to fifteen minutes of this, the team would split up by position.
The running backs would assemble in the area just outside the sideline and work across the field. For ten minutes or so, they would work on formations and plays, assuring that everyone knew who to block and every runner knew which hole to hit. They, the coaches would spead out what looked like a game sheet for the "Twister" game, that had spacings for the linemen and the gaps between them. Half the backs would mimic linebackers blitzing and the drill would test if the backs could recognize and pick up the blitzes properly. Then, the backs would work on running their pass routes properly. After this session was over, they would meet for 11-on-11 drills.
While this was going on, the offensive linemen would be working on their techniques in running and blocking. The defensive linemen would do the same. After about ten minutes, the units would meet up and go through one-on-one drills and then unit-on-unit drills. Here is where you could focus on an o-lineman and see if he could handle edge rushers, or could not be thrown off by blitzes. Or, you could track a young d-tackle or end and see if he had some rush skills. On the days I attended, I saw Torrin Tucker getting lots of work at RT, which was not his college position (he was a guard). I didn't know enough about line technique to say with certainty that he would make the team, but it was clear that he was quick enough to move guys like Greg Ellis past the pocket. Tucker, of course, made the team and has started many games there the last two years.
While all this is going on at one end of the field, the QBs, WRs, LBs and DBs are running a 7-on-7 drill in the middle of the field. It's no coincidence that this is also where most of the fans were seated. The offense would run different sets against the back seven and good catches would draw loud "oohs and ahs" from the stands. In case you haven't guessed it, this is the drill that gets most of the daily ink in the papers, that produces the "catch of the day" or the moment of the day.
The problem with overemphasizing this drill is that it only gives you a limited sense of how the WRs and defensive backs can do. There are no linemen, so there is no rush. You can see if the WRs know their routes and have good hands, but you won't see if they can make adjustments on the fly to different formations or handle hard hits.
On the other hand, there is much valuable data to be gained, but not the type you see in the papers. In '03 I attended three practices and noticed that Quincy Carter was very accurate on all throws to the sidelines, but had a terrible time throwing crossing routes and many intermediate timing routes inside the hash marks. If you'll recall, Carter's game plans that year followed this contour. (Remember how erratic Quincy's slant passes were? And how frustrating that was to watch after years of automatic slants from Troy Aikman?)
After all the position drills are concluded, the team meets in the center of the field for 11-on-11 drills, which mix in runs and passes. Then, the team will focus on situations. One day, the ball was placed at the 20 and red zone sequences were worked on. Another day, the ball was put at the five and goal line sets were tried out. When those were concluded, special teams drills were practiced. Then, the team would meet in the center of the field for some feedback from Parcells and run some wind sprints across the field to conclude the day.
As you can see, there is a lot of simultaneous work going on. Despite that, the drills give you a chance to see individual players at work. You don't need a coaches pedigree -- and I'll admit, I know something about football, but I'd hardly consider myself an expert -- to draw your own conclusions. You do have to keep your head on a swivel and be ready to organize your looking. I'm training my neck and my eyeballs, but having another set or sets helps. If you're going to be in Oxnard the week after the Cardinals game, mention it in the thread. I'll deputize you.