With minicamps done, OTAs out of the way, the NFL goes into hibernation just as the temperature begins to soar across the nation. Sure, there are still some big-name free agents looking for deals — Richard Seymour, John Abraham, Dallas Clark among them — and draft picks to sign.
But with no lockouts or bounty scandals to deal with, maybe the 32 teams actually will take a month off until training camps open. Then this country’s obsession with pro football will kick off again.
What do players, coaches, general managers and front office personnel do during the break? Some, especially those in charge of game plans, strategy, managing the salary cap and upgrading the roster, never really rest.
There’s always the thought that someone else is busy somewhere tinkering and retooling, even when they are supposed to be vacationing.
“We set the bar high, our owner sets the bar high,” Colts GM Ryan Grigson says. “We expect greatness and I feel like any time you take your nose off the grindstone or you stop and smell the roses, it’s not far after that that you’re out of this league. That’s the mindset. It’s a blue-collar mindset. How can we tell the players to adhere to that type of thinking and way of life if we’re not doing it at the top? So that’s how we do it.”
Whatever Grigson and his staff did in 2012 certainly worked, as the Colts climbed from the bottom of the league — which was worth the top draft pick, Andrew Luck — to a wild-card playoff berth.
What they have done now is remind the players to remain dedicated, even while lounging on a Caribbean beach or touring the Vatican or just hanging out on the family estate.
“You got to stay in the mental part,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano says. “You got to stay in the physical part. You can’t just stop. As coaches and as players, if you get totally away from it, you’re going to come back and you’re going to be lost.
“You don’t want to come to training camp and use training camp as a means to get in shape. You don’t want to use training camp as a means to relearn the playbook.
“This time off, spend time with family, recharge, do what you have to do mentally, physically, but make great choices. Don’t put yourself in a bad situation, because really the only thing that will derail us from having a successful training camp and the start of a great season is a distraction, having something bad happen. We see it all the time, we read about it all the time, so those are the things we emphasized.”
Even though 32 coaches are sending out the same message, they all know that slip-ups could be right around the bend for players. Already, the Seahawks have been hit by suspensions for performance enhancers, with 2012 first-round draft pick Bruce Irvin docked four games for using a banned substance.
Irvin became the fifth Seattle player since 2011 to be suspended for that reason, joining John Moffitt, Allen Barbre, Winston Guy and Brandon Browner. Barbre was later released by the team, while the other four are still on Seattle’s roster. A sixth player, standout cornerback Richard Sherman, had his suspension overturned on appeal.
Those are the kind of roadblocks teams can’t truly prepare for, and too often warnings from management fall on deaf ears.
When Rams coach Jeff Fisher says the players “know that they’ll be tested when they return,” he doesn’t mean simply through league drug tests. He advises them to be ready in all aspects when training camp begins.
“So there’s an incentive to stay in shape,” he says. “They’re going to get their workout package. They’re going to get the list of reminders. You know all those things associated with summer; it’s the four-wheelers and the wave runners, all those things, because strange things happen out there and, most of the time, they’re accidental.”
What is not accidental is the scheduling that now allows for a hiatus. As part of the collective bargaining agreement reached in August 2011 between the players and owners, limited offseason workouts and shorter practice sessions when teams do gather have been mandated. Minicamps must end by mid-June or so, and then, well, not much — and nothing organized on the fields at teams’ training complexes.
Of course, players get together on their own, such as Jets West, run by New York quarterback Mark Sanchez in California. Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald invites teammates to work out with him, usually back home in Minnesota.
And you just know Peyton Manning will have a bunch of Broncos joining him at some point.
Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is counting on that.
“I’ve never really concerned myself with whether or not you’re going to stay in condition. I mean that’s their job and that’s what our group of guys do,” he says. “The biggest thing, our emphasis, is stay in your book. Hey, take 20-30 minutes a day to review some things. Pick an installation and review that. It’s just, you don’t want to step away from it for too long because when you come back the last thing you want to do is totally be blanked on what’s going on. You want to make sure that you stay on the curve that we’re on right now.”
But teams get thrown curves by players, who tear Achilles tendons playing pickup basketball, or ingest the wrong medication and fail a drug test. Or get in trouble with the law. It happens every summer.
“As I told them, we had a great offseason; we’re taking a little break here by design,” Broncos coach John Fox says. “You guys have to trust us, we have to trust you going in to this, and make good decisions, be smart and don’t mess up anything we’ve already accomplished.
“Any time you set that many guys off on their own for that period of time you get a little nervous to be quite honest with you.”
Enjoy the vacation, coach.