Over the last month or so, many NFL teams have been busy lining up other teams for joint practices in training camp. At last count, 19 teams had scheduled a joint practice in training camp, and six of those teams (Chargers, Lions, Patriots, Rams, Ravens, Texans) have scheduled joint practices with two different teams during camp.
Here’s an overview of the joint practices tentatively announced to date:
- Texans @ Packers (prior to Week 1)
- Rams @ Raiders (prior to Week 1)
- Jaguars @ Ravens (prior to Week 1)
- Patriots @ Lions (prior to Week 1)
- Saints @ Chargers (prior to Week 2)
- Lions @ Texans (prior to Week 2)
- Patriots @ Titans (prior to Week 2)
- Bills @ Panthers (prior to Week 2)
- 49ers @ Broncos (prior to Week 2)
- Browns @ Colts (prior to Week 2)
- Dolphins @ Buccaneers (prior to Week 2)
- Ravens @ Eagles (prior to Week 3)
- Rams & Chargers (tbd)
The Cowboys don’t schedule joint practices every year. In fact, they haven’t had any joint practices in camp since 2015, when they held joint practices with the Rams in Oxnard. But the day of practice with the Rams degenerated into extended brawls that ultimately led to the cancellation of the second day of scheduled joint practices.
Before that, joint practices were a fairly routine part of training camp. In 2014, the Cowboys held joint practices with the Raiders, and before skipping a year in 2013, had joint workouts with the Chargers in 2011 and 2012 when Norv Turner was still the head coach in San Diego. Before that, the Cowboys frequently had such joint workouts with the Broncos and Raiders.
Could Dallas be looking to have joint practices again this year, and more importantly, are there any teams left with which to partner up?
The Rams feel like a natural choice, particularly given the geographical proximity of both training camps and the fact that they are playing each other in Week 2 of the preseason on Hawaii. Perhaps they’ll have a few joint practices in Hawaii prior to that game. But the Rams have already committed to a joint practice with the Raiders prior to Week 1 and are looking for a date for joint practices with the Chargers. And holding joint practices with three teams might be a bit much, even for the Rams.
Joint practices are often held in the week before the two teams meet in the preseason, and the Cowboys are scheduled to meet the 49ers in Week 1 of preseason in San Francisco, which would make the 49ers a very good fit for joint practices and the 49ers don’t have a practice partner lined up prior to Week 1 yet. But joint practices with the 49ers (which would likely happen in Santa Clara) would further reduce the Cowboys’ time in Oxnard, which is already shorter due to the trip to Hawaii.
Other west coast-based teams like the Chargers (two joint practices already) and Raiders (already committed prior to Week 1) probably won’t be available either.
Geographically, the Broncos might be amenable to a short flight into the California sun prior to Week 1, but they might balk at a second joint practice as they are already committed to joint practices with the 49ers prior to their Week 2 matchup.
The Cardinals might be amenable to a few days out of the Arizona desert heat and in the cool Pacific breeze in Oxnard’s strawberry fields, and perhaps Kris Richard can entice the Seahawks to travel south for a few days of sun and fun in Oxnard.
In theory, the Cowboys could invite the Texans to joint practices in Dallas prior to their Week 3 matchup, but the Texans already have two previous joint practices booked, so that’s unlikely to happen.
And that’s pretty much it. So unless the Cowboys pull a rabbit out of the hat and entice another team to fly out to California, they may not to pair up with anybody this year.
Joint practices can help break up the monotony of training camp, but they can also help improve player evaluation. As camp wears on, players begin figuring out and keying in on offensive and defensive tendencies of their teammates on the other side of the ball, which can make them look better than they actually are.
Practicing against an opponent that uses different schemes will give the players a new and different challenge and gives coaches and scouts new and different film to evaluate. It also provides players with the opportunity to practice (and show up on film) in a “live” environment, especially since coaches usually script these practices. Because the practices are scripted, each team gets to practice exactly what they want - against NFL caliber competition.
Coaches can work their two-minute drills, practice third-down situations, throw in some red zone work, and check out how the new wrinkles they’ve added in the offseason stand up against real competition. All in a controlled, scripted environment - something they won’t get in the four (or five) preseason games.
Even though preseason games may not be real NFL football, they are still real games, where the play calls depend on the ebb and flow of the game. Your first team offense may not get a red zone possession before they hit their allotted snap count; your return unit may end up with a bunch of touchbacks and no returns; and the new play-action defense you just installed may not get tested because the other team had no interest in play-action.
All of this can be properly managed in a joint practice, where you can ensure the entire depth chart gets the reps they need.
And just as importantly, the joint practices allow veterans to get situational snaps in practice and then watch players on the bubble play in their stead in the preseason games, which will keep a team’s key players out of the trainer’s room or doctor’s office in August and ready to go in September.
But not all teams like these joint practices. The Falcons have already said they won’t have any joint practices this year, in part because they are already scheduled for five preseason games but also as a precautionary measure against injuries. The Chiefs will not be doing joint practices while under Andy Reid, as Reid doesn’t want to give away any of his secrets.
Over to you: Joint practices, yay or nay?