Ask Gary: Why do NFL teams go to mini-camp?

by Gary Shelton on June 16, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

What do these NFL voluntary and mandatory mini-camps really accomplish other than opportunities for the media to write fresh stories about the teams?

Larry Beller

Hey, we need all the help we can get!

Seriously, I would think any media coverage the team gets would rank about 1,137th on the team's list. At best. If it was about generating stories, well, we would have better access. Think about it. This week, the Bucs made six of their players -- six -- available for press conferences. No Mike Evans. No Kwan Alexander. No Brent Grimes. No Ryan Jensen. No Ali Marpet.

Hey, in this day and time, who can complain? In the language of the sport, we call it "feeding the beast." If a player is available, we're going to talk to him, however briefly, however superficially.

So why do the teams have OTAs and minicamps? I suspect a lot of it is about control. Some of it is about players bonding. Some of it is a chance to get in the basics of your offense and defense. And some of it is to see how any newcomers fit in with the team. I once knew a team whose first-round draft pick just couldn't figure out the playbook. That was a first clue.

But OTAs and mini-camps have changed. You don't get the pads out any more, so there is only so much you can tell. Can a defensive end use his hands well? Can an offensive lineman block one-on-one? Is a cornerback a hitter? Who knows? It's shorts and tee-shirts.

But the work gives players a chance to show they're in shape, or it gives coaches a chance to get them there. It gives a quarterback work on his timing. It gives corners a chance to cover. I don't think anyone ever won a game, or lost one, in June. But coaches like to see bodies when they blow the whistle.

Someone recently wrote an article suggesting that all players skip OTAs. But I know this: All teams have them, from Belichick's to Gruden's to Pederson's. Teams get a bit of instruction. They watch a bit of film. And they make sure the coaches won't be surprised when the real training camp starts.

As far as the interviews, players seem to catch onto their cliches earlier and earlier. We just want to win. Right?

The average time for a nine-inning MLB game has increased from about 2 hours in 1947 to 3 hours in 2018.  The average number of strikeouts per game has increased from about 8 in 1947 to 17 in 2018.  Do you agree that the major contributor to longer game times is the increase in strikeouts per game, or do you see other factors, such as delays because of TV commercials being more significant?



Scott Myers

Scott, I think strikeouts a big part of it. It takes time to see 6-10 pitches and step out and scratch and spit and re-adjust your batting gloves and the rest of it.

But I think that's only a part. I think there are a lot of commercials -- including that silly one where people in lab coats try to speak like dolphins to sell Lotto tickets. There are more pitching changes than ever. There are challenges to the umpire, and worse, the discussions of whether to challenge. It feels like walks are up, too, but I'm just guessing.

I used to say that I've never complained about a well-played game taking too long. But that's not true anymore. Baseball can be a race between a turtle and snail. When's the last time you walked away from a ballpark and thought "man, that was crisp?"

But a poorly played game with a lot of walks and errors and general sloppiness? That takes an eternity. It's torture. The players are listless, and the fans are bored, and it's agony. I would give up state secrets if they would just stop, you know?

I’ve been laying low since the Lightning's departure from the playoffs. Licking my wounds, so to speak. I watched the finals, still, and was somewhat relieved the Caps took the Cup with another impressive series. I didn’t feel they were the best team in our series, but they got momentum at the most opportune time, beat us three times at home (unbelievable), and perhaps most noteworthy was their team had the proper leadership when it was needed most (Ovechkin played with heart and leadership, Stamkos did not…..yet again). I can't help but think how much we miss the big, key moments Martin St Louis always provided when we needed it most. Am I being too critical of Stamkos? I know there is blame to pass around, but he is our captain. I think Hedman is the best player on the ice for the Bolts, but perhaps he’s not “captain material” either. In addition to solidifying the defense, do you feel we need to look elsewhere in the locker room for improved leadership or keep our bets on Stamkos ?

Bruce Brownlee

Bruce: First things first. No, you aren't being too critical of Stamkos. It's every fan's right to feel about the players however he feels, and the team's offense certainly dried up the final eight periods of that series.

I like Stamkos. But while he's a great clubhouse leader, he isn't the leader on the ice he once was. I fear that injuries have taken their toll on him. He's still bright, and he has a finger on the pulse of his team. But he has to produce more. It's as simple as that.

I think Hedman would make a fine captain. When he talks, it's one of those "voices of the team" sounds. Not every player has that. Nikita Kucherov doesn't have it, perhaps because of the language difference.

I know this: A great team has a lot of leaders. That was true when the Lightning won it before. Sure, you had Dave Andreychuk, who was the acknowledged guy. But Marty was a fine leader. Brad Richards was a fine leader. When the right song is being sung, no one cares how many voices there are.

And I suspect that's our real problem here. It isn't a matter of leadership; it's a matter of production. You need great men in great moments, and at the moment it counted the most, the Bolts didn't have that.

We've talked about that a lot in this forum. Most of us would like to see a little more muscle in the lineup. Washington was bigger and better than Tampa Bay. We'd like to see that reversed.


Years ago, when the Rays wanted to build in St. Pete, they had that stadium design with the big sail.  What happened to that idea?Did they start from scratch with the design?  Would that not fit on the Ybor sight?

Jim Willson

I think it, um, sailed away. Seriously, no one seems to talk about it anymore, and there certainly have not been imitators in other cities with their own sails. If you remember, it looked like a large circus tent.

As soon as the Rays closed in on the Ybor site (and I'm not yet convinced that's where they will end up), they started talking about the aesthetics of an Ybor site. No one talked about the sail. (Maybe the Rays had a fire sail. Thoughts?)

Here are my suspicions. The Rays have talked about an enclosed stadium this time, which seems to be in conflict with a tent cover. I mean, do you need an umbrella if you have a roof?

I know this. It's hard to get a town to build a stadium (whether they should or not). I suspect the site might change, and the plan might change, and what's important might change. You might sail away yet.

I was thinking about the effect fantasy sports has had on the world of sports and wondering if it has changed because of it. Everyone knows fantasy sports is here to stay, too many people get enjoyment out of it to outlaw it, and how would that be enforced anyway. Football seems to be the sport most tailor-made for fantasy sports. I wonder do players try to pad their stats now to up their fantasy value? So what if they do? It is usually the in the best interest of their team anyway? Would games be closer with more defense than there is  now? People are more interested in games now than ever before, if only to see their third-string receiver on a Cleveland vs Detroit game which could be good for ratings, but is the NFL fan as rabid as they were in the 80s or are they more concerned about winning their league? Should the league change its rules to help the fantasy fans put up more points, which could help support TV ratings. Then again, the NFL has already been paid its billions from TV. They do not care about the fan experience anymore or the stadiums would be full for all games.

Richard Kinning

Richard, I completely agree with you. Fantasy sports has grown a life of it's own. It barely needs the sport anymore. I think I read that one of the guys who won a lot of money playing Draft Kings didn't even watch the games.

I was in a fantasy league for years, back when I was covering the NFL at large, and I always thought it helped me focus on the third-team running back from, say, Buffalo. I was more knowledgable about the little things back then than at any point in my career.

These days, there are professional money leagues where you can get into a league. There is the NFL Red Zone, which is basically designed for fantasy players. There are well-known radio shows that give advice.

It's a sweetener. It's a reason to pay attention when the Chargers are in the last two minutes of their game against the Jets. If you have points riding on the, it's a big deal for. you tp  see whether a guy finishes with 49 yards or 50 yards.

I remember when I was covering the Dolphins that Mark Clayton was asking us about fantasy football. His conclusion was that we should all pay him money. Our conclusion was, well, no.

I don't think players themselves could care less about your fantasy team. Oh, they'd get a grin out of it if their touchdown catch made you some money, but it's so different than what fans do.

Fans are all different, but I think the true fan cares most about his team winning. A lot of them won't bet against their teams because of it. The fantasy leagues, unless the season is lost, are secondary in nature. Most of us don't play serious money. We just dabble in an office league or something.

Of course, there are different rules for different leagues. Some leagues just reward touchdowns, which makes a short-yardage scorer important. But some are yardage leagues designed to make great players on the field great in fantasy, too. It's hard to have a universal league.

Again, here's the killer. If you watch the Bucs, I'm with you. If you pay attention to the Dolphins, well okay. But how your fantasy team does? I don't really care. I support your right to have one. I'm thrilled. But spare me the details.

I'll disagree with mildlyl that the NFL doesn't care about the experience of fans. These are greedy owners, man. They want every nickel in your pocket. It's not up to them that the stadiums aren't full. They want all the TV money, and all the souvenir money, and all the parking money. The soundtrack to the NFL is a cash register's ding.

It's not football season, and the Rays continue to sell out on the fans, so I will gear my last question towards a team almost as forgettable as the Rays and perhaps the Bucs. Are the Orlando Magic still being supported well in Orlando? They last made the playoffs in strike-shortened 2011-12, only to lose to the Pacers 4-1. It seems the high draft choices have to begin paying dividends. I read that they hired/fired a new head coach (3rd one in 4 seasons). Are they trying to mirror our Buccaneers? DOH!! I know the Magic are not in our market per se’, but I think I recall reading that you have a good friend who covers them? Any hope on the horizon for O-town’s lone pro team?

Bruce Brownlee

Alas, the news is not good from the front. The Magic are a chaotic mess, and  they don't seem to be getting better. As harsh as it sounds, I think they're further away than the Bucs are, which is a hell of a statement.

Part of the reason is pro basketball. It's hard to change your outlook unless you can luck into a generational type of player, and drafting fifth or sixth isn't going to get it done. The Magic has paid too many average players as if they are stars, and as a result, the team is flopping like a fish on the dock.

As far as support, it's slightly below average -- 17th of 30 teams. That's nothing to brag about, but when you consider the product Magic fans are watching, it's not bad.

The NBA is a great league, and it's athletes do some eye-popping things. But not in Orlando, where the team seems to be waiting for Shaq to come home.

Jeff Vinik says that he hopes to have Steve Yzerman signed to an extension this summer.  Since Yzerman's family still lives in Detroit (I believe), and he sold one of his Tampa homes, do you see any chance of this not getting done? I would be shocked if the Red Wings don't make a play.
Jim Willson
If I owned the Red Wings, I'd certainly make a run at Yzerman. He's smart, and he's talented, and he doesn't care if he gets credit for what he's done. He's a perfect worker for someone's office.
But with every year that Yzerman spends in Tampa Bay, I think the odds are against him going back to Detroit. His old owner, Mike Ilitch, is gone. His son Chris isn't as beloved. Last year, a former Mike Ilitch employee told the Detroit Free Press "Yzerman isn't coming back."
Is it possible someday? Sure it is. Remember Bear Bryant's saying about "Mama called," which explained his departure to Alabama.
But for Yzerman, Mama doesn't live in Detroit anymore. And where would you rather live in January?

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