Back in the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to attend an NFL training camp.
I was living in Huntington Beach, California at the time. As a Raiders fan, I was stoked to go see the silver and black line up but California is bigger than the country of Ireland, so the half a day drive up north put me off.
That left the Chargers and Rams. I was staying with a family at the time over there and the Dad, Sean (A self proclaimed black Irish man), was a life-long Rams fan. So, my decision was basically made.
We were just a short drive away from the campus of UC Irvine – home of the “Anteaters”. I’m far from knowledgeable with college football, but my intuition would suggest it’s not one of the big teams over there.
The campus felt very spread out. The sun was splitting the stones, as it normally did in California, as we drove around looking for the camp.
What struck me initially was the casualness of it all. It wasn’t that clearly signposted, there was no rigorous search before getting into the place, and the atmosphere was pretty calm.
I guess like all athletes, these are normal guys, and they’re training just as one would for any sport. At the time my league knowledge was sub-par (not far from now to be honest) but I was able to spot a few of the bigger names.
Your first instinct when you walk in to a training camp is to spot the famous players. Like a true fanboy. The training camp was set up on a wide grass field with seated stands at the goal-end and either side of the pitch.
I initially spotted Todd Gurley doing some running warm up drills likely with the other running backs. A lot of people had gathered at the left stand to watch him in particular. We were pretty close to them.
On the next glance, the most prominent players that stood out were the red-shirts. I don’t know when this tradition became a thing – but QBs always wear red bibs over their training gear. Maybe just in case they get on the wrong end of a tackle. Could be just easier for the coaches to take them aside for QB specific drills.
It’s worth noting this was pre the Rams getting to the Super Bowl. No doubt their fanbase has doubled since that, but at the time there were only maybe 100-150 people there. Looking at photos of the Patriots camp this week, you can multiply that by ten probably.
Donning the red-shirt was Jared Goff, a player at the time that was in the midst of failing to live up to the hype. He had come into the league a high draft pick, but hadn’t boded well under the pressure of the bright lights of the NFL.
Things started off quite casual – with defensive and offensive lines separated, along with separate groups of QBs, RBs and others. It was all very dispersed. I wish I had more of a knowledge of the sport then because I didn’t know where to look.
At this point I had got comfortable, spotted the better known players and observed most of the groups doing their drills. It looked like we might have missed the most intense part of the session as it seemed quite light for a football workout. But who am I to judge.
Anyways, my next port of call was to google the numbers. When I saw the QBs – I instantly had to google the others and see who they were. Not surprisingly they were mostly journeymen. Brandon Allen donned the 8 jersey at the time – and looking at his wiki page now he’s still a QB reserve for them.
We decided to move from the left-stand as Todd Gurley had departed long ago and the rest of the crew were gathering for scrimmages over on the other end. We opted to lean against the railings that bordered the pitch to watch this.
What hit me was the sheer size of some of the players. Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, even the tight ends and the safeties for example. Heck, I probably wasn’t able to tell between them at the time but all I knew was they were huge.
The number 87 stood out to me and that was TE Henry Krieger Coble – a reserve that year. He was knelt down in front of us and you could probably break a lead pipe over his back. I’m trying to write this without any undertones of any sort.
From close watch I also noted the extent of the padding all the players wore. When the coaches were beside them – a select few were not much smaller than some of the players. Then you noticed the padding some had and how it made them look like giants.
I didn’t know Sean McVay at the time but I’m sure he was wearing a medium sized Rams polo somewhere. Some were visibly drenched in sweat in the dead California heat. No doubt they were just getting back to game fitness at this point in the camp.
The scrimmages started – and it was a pretty uniform affair. A snap would make it to the QB – then they’d run a play and off they go. I have zero knowledge when it comes to scrimmages like these – but for my money there wasn’t much pressure from the defensive line on this.
Speaking of defensive line – Aaron Donald was sitting out this camp waiting on a big contract. And we know how that went for him.
Anyhow – Jared Goff was getting the most reps on the QB end – and it seemed like it was mostly a drill on throwing plays. It was an opportunity to get reps for the QBs, the pass catchers and the pass defenders. Goff looked good albeit not being tested that much. As I said, seemed like a light drill.
As the scrimmages went on, you noticed the players sitting it out cheering on some of the plays. The crowd were reacting to the more spectacular catches – and the players themselves would hype themselves up if they had a hand in a successful play.
The Jared Goff – Cooper Kupp combo struck me next. Kupp, a rookie out of Eastern Washington, was being targeted for a lot of plays, and coming up trumps with them. He stood out to me as being a really good prospect that day.
The scrimmages continued – with some of the cornerbacks getting a hand on the ball too. As was expected the contact was minimal, and if a player caught the ball the tackle afterwards was tag football-esque.
Despite this it seemed quite high pressure. A lot of these players probably knew a good play or two was important for their selection and that was evident to the audience at hand.
The game of football is very stop/start, but when it starts, it’s intense. The training camp was no deferral from that. The players would just walk around, grab water or a towel, chat or joke to their teammates before plays. But when the whistle sounded – it was game time.
In the end, it was a pretty enjoyable experience. My main takeaways – the sheer size of some of the players, the relaxed atmosphere and subsequently the change of atmosphere during the scrimmages.
I’d love to go back and attend a camp again another day, this time knowing a thing or two more about what I would be looking at.
I didn’t become an NFL pro scout overnight after my experience – but it did help with understanding some of the basics of the sport. I’ll always be thankful for that.
A shout-out to my companion on the day, James, too.