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Cowboys, NFL face a unique challenge when training camps finally start

This training camp will not be like the others.

Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
Conditioning drills are going to be much more important.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

There is cautious optimism that the NFL will get training camps started more or less on time. While we still don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys will return to Oxnard or have to do the entire camp in Frisco, we look forward to getting some real football activities to watch, read about, and discuss. There are indications that there will be no fan attendance allowed, but even without that, there will be plenty to cover.

This year, though, player conditioning a training camps may be a bigger focus than we have seen in decades, especially in the first weeks.

Here is an observation about how it affects all sports, but it certainly applies to the NFL. This came from an elite athlete training facility.

That led to some football specific comments from other trainers.

That looks like sufficient evidence to make this something that should be a big concern for the Cowboys staff as well as across the league.

Training camps and the preseason have been getting shorter with more restrictions on the amount of time and intensity of the work. Back in the bad old days, the preseason was six games long. That was once a real necessity, because the players had to play themselves into shape. Before the money started rolling in with monster TV contracts and skyrocketing ticket and concession prices, being an NFL player was not a year round vocation. The pay was more like good blue-collar money for much of the roster, and most of the players held other jobs during the offseason out of necessity. There were no big endorsement deals.

Training facilities were rudimentary, at best. Strength and conditioning coaches would not be added to the staff for years. Individual players did not have the money to assemble their own training facility, and the many outside training programs were also still a thing of the future. As a result, most of the players who reported to camp were out of shape in football terms, and many were overweight and had to work some of the excess pounds off. That made camp as much about getting them whipped into condition as getting the plays and assignments installed or evaluating new personnel.

Now the league will be forced to revert to some of the old ways. A fitness evaluation will be crucial to find out who has been able to maintain at least some of their conditioning, and who has to have some extra time to recover that.

This puts an extra stress on Dallas, who have a new head coach and mostly revamped staff. Any additional time they have to invest in building endurance and strength back will take away from the crucial installation process. It could also change the way preseason snaps are allocated. Starters and veterans may have to see the field more than we have gotten used to for that valuable extra conditioning, extending to also having that as a gauge of just where they stand. That will all also impact the integration of new personnel into the system.

The individual levels of fitness will probably vary much more than in recent years due to the loss already of so much offseason conditioning and strength work. It is expected that will be ramping slowly up in the coming weeks, but the league is making sure that some teams in locations that are opening faster do not gain an unfair advantage by limiting all franchises to a kind of least common denominator. It has to be anticipated that the results will not be nearly as effective as we have become accustomed to.

Although it is an unpopular view, these things might be arguments for the Cowboys to forego the trek out to Oxnard to not lose time with traveling and settling in twice. That’s still to be determined given the contract to go to California, but there certainly is no revenue to be gained unless that state moves much more rapidly in allowing crowds to attend sporting events. It seems very unlikely given the course taken there so far.

However the team winds up handling that aspect of camp, there really is no realistic argument to be made that things won’t look very different this year. It should be most pronounced the first half or so of camp, but that will ripple through the entire proceedings and could have lingering effects into the season. For instance, it might lead to simpler plays and assignments at the start.

In any case, be ready for things to go more slowly. It may not be what we would prefer. But any football is better than what we have now. Hopefully we can enjoy whatever we wind up seeing.

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