Nate Clements, Terence Newman, and Donald Lee remember the old days.
Notice that I didn’t say “the good old days.”
When the NFL owners and players agreed to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement last year, it included major limitations on training camp. There are no true two-a-days anymore (one session must be an instructional walk-through), and the total time spent on the field is limited to four hours per day.
“The young guys don’t have a clue,” said Lee. “They complain about the heat and how tired they are and how sore they are. This is like heaven to me because when I first came in, we had two-a-days in full pads with conditioning after every practice. A lot of times, I would go to practice sort of fearing for my life, not knowing how I was going to make it through.”
“When I was at Ohio State we had three-a-days,” said Clements. “I survived it, but I was 18 or 19 then. I think that prepared me for the NFL as far as training camp goes.”
The practice restrictions don’t end at the conclusion of training camp. During the regular season, teams are limited to a total of 14 padded practices in an effort to increase player safety.
“It’s alarming how many injuries are happening now,” said Newman. “Guys are bigger, stronger, and faster, so they had to do something to help decrease concussions and ligament injuries.”
While all three players applaud the efforts to lessen the physical demands of practice, each has fond memories of his first NFL training camp.
Nate Clements (2001 Buffalo Bills):
“In my first training camp, I was bright-eyed and wet behind the ears. I was trying to grasp everything around me. I was just excited to get out there. Now I want to be efficient – no wasted steps and no wasted reps. Now it’s all about dialing-in on the little things and being productive.”
Donald Lee (2003 Miami Dolphins):
“I can remember that it was very hot down in South Miami. I got to be around a great group of veterans like Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Ricky Williams, and Junior Seau. I didn’t realize how tough it would be to compete at this level.”
Terence Newman (2003 Dallas Cowboys):
“Bill Parcells designated me as his water boy. That was actually pretty funny. He had a good way of humbling me, but he also gave me fist bumps when I brought him water so it was actually pretty cool. It was light-years tougher then. There was no rule limiting two-a-days, and you could put pads on as much as you wanted to. It was tough-nosed – especially under Parcells. He wanted a battle-hardened team.”
With a combined 29 years of NFL experience, Clements, Lee, and Newman have seen it all. The question is – when they look around the Bengals locker room, do they see a team that passes the eyeball test of a contender?
“The eyeball test is the easiest test,” said Newman. “You can look around and say, ‘That guy is huge or that guy looks fast.’ The test that’s more important is when you get out on the field you see guys running and jumping. That’s the eyeball test that I liked when I got here.”
“This team reminds me a lot of when I first got to Green Bay,” said Lee who won a Super Bowl ring with the Packers in 2010. “We have the guys here where we can really compete for a championship this year. But we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. We have to make sure that we’re mentally strong, and make sure that we don’t hold ourselves back. This team is young and guys are working hard. I feel like we’re going to be really good this year.”
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