The Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders are currently ironing out the details of conducting joint practices during training camp this year, Stephen Jones said last week.
"To me I’ve always looked at it that it’s kind of a change of scenery," Jones said per ESPN Dallas. "You get to where you’re going against each other every day and it’s the same old, same old. I think anytime you can bring some people to look at it kind of gets everybody a little more motivated again. ... Just working against different schemes, different people, different techniques, different ways of doing things can only be a plus."
One of the reasons these joint practice sessions haven't received a lot of attention in the Cowboys press (apart from the fact that they haven't been confirmed yet) is that while joint practices with other teams aren't scheduled every year, the Cowboys have frequently had these practices in the past. The Cowboys last had joint workouts in 2011 and 2012 with the Chargers when Norv Turner was still the head coach in San Diego, and before that have frequently had such workouts with the Broncos and Raiders. So much so that a joint practice feels like the norm for the Cowboys, but a look around the league indicates that for most teams, joint practices are the exception, not the rule.
This year, in addition to the Cowboys/Raiders, it currently looks like only the Patriots/Redskins, Patriots/Eagles, 49ers/Ravens and Steelers/Bills will have joint practices, and unless more teams announce plans for a joint practice in the coming weeks, that's it. [Edit: And right on cue, more teams announce joint practices. Add Texans/Falcons and Texans/Broncos to the list]
As Stephen Jones outlined above, these joint practices can help break up the monotony of training camp, but Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas argues that they can serve another purpose as well:
I wonder if there is more of a benefit in the player evaluation side of things. In addition to the monotony of camp, players can figure out offensive and defensive tendencies. Players have been known to see the practice scripts over the years, which give them a heads up as to what to expect. When that happens, they'll obviously look better than perhaps they are.
With the Raiders bringing in fresh schemes on offense and defense, a corner won't be as familiar with the routes, splits and speed of a receiver and an offensive tackle won't know every move he'll see from a defensive end. It will only be two practices, but those sessions figure to be the most hotly contested of the summer and the personnel department will have some fresh tape to see.
The trick with these joint practices of course is to not let them degenerate into a two-day brawl, as they often did when the Cowboys and Raiders met up in the 90s. At that time, the joint practices were largely a product of the close relationship Jerry Jones had with Al Davis.
Matt Bowen, when he was still writing for the National Football Post made a similar point as Archer, arguing that joint practices are a good idea, and that more teams should schedule them because they are a great tool in the evaluation process to provide more competition and more opportunity to practice (and show up on film) in a "live" environment:
Think of it this way: these joint practices are scripted. You can get 15 plays in the red zone, work the 4-minute drill, 3rd downs and also dedicate time to special teams in a competitive setting. The coaching staffs have control over the game situations they script during these practice or scrimmage sessions - unlike the preseason schedule.
There is no guarantee your first or second unit will get to work on their 2-minute package or use their goal line personnel under the lights during the preseason. It all depends on the flow of the game, number of reps, etc.
Much different when you meet up with an opposing club during camp. Multiple reps for the entire depth chart and a much higher level of competition than players will see on a daily basis practicing against their own teammates.
Because the practices are scripted, each team gets to practice exactly what they want - against NFL caliber competition. And you'd think that more teams would be having these practices, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Perhaps that's because the type of mutual give-and-take necessary to make these joint practices work requires a certain level of trust between the two practicing teams that not many teams may have.
The 2012 session with the Chargers is a good reminder of that. Tensions ran high in the joint practice session that was "marked by chippiness and big hits - most of them levied by members of the San Diego Chargers’ defense," with one of the resulting scuffles caught in the video below:
On a recent Cowboys Break episode, Bryan Broaddus suggested that Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano may have been a little overmotivated in those practices, but when you finally get to practice against guys that are not your teammates, it's a fine line between being competitive and over-aggressive.
"You don't want guys getting tackled," Dallas coach Jason Garret said after the joint practice with the Chargers. "You don't want guys going to the ground. But again, you want guys competing at the ball. You want contested catches. So there's a fine line there."