We may lose and we may win though
We will never be here again
So open up, I’m climbin’ in,
So take it easy
As we approach mid August, NFL training camps are in full swing. Across the country from Flowery Branch, Georgia to Albany, New York to Oxnard, California, and many points in between two-a-days in full pads are the order of the day. The sights, smells, and sounds of grass drills, Oklahoma drills, and full-contact 11-on-11 drills are abundant all across the landscape.
That is, except in Ashburn, Virginia. The Redskins finished their last two-a-day practice on Tuesday. They were given a day off on Sunday, a luxury that very few of their counterparts on other teams have enjoyed. Just a handful of practices have been conducted in more than half pads. The starters participated in some activities prior to a scrimmage against the Ravens last weekend but most of them, including every starter on the offensive side of the ball, sat out the full 11 on 11 action. By comparison to, say, the Atlanta Falcons, who have gone for 14 days without a day off with two-a-days every other day, the experience in Ashburn has been more like Club Gibbs.
According to Joe Gibbs, the Redskins earned their relatively light camp schedule with an attendance rate of 98% at OTA’s and other voluntary offseason activities. Certainly, the players, with very few exceptions, seem to be in excellent condition. Six-pack abs are much more prevalent than the hog bellies around Redskins Park.
Still, most players are in shape around the NFL and they’re doing gassers while the Redskins are in an air-conditioned meeting room. Is Gibbs taking a chance in going with a much lighter physical workload?
The evidence says that Gibbs knows what he’s doing. Here is his record month by month, including playoffs:
September: 31-20 (.607)
October: 33-21 (.611)
November: 36-23 (.610)
December: 39-14 (.735)
January: 19-5 (.791)
Gibbs’ teams start off pretty well, a 60% winning percentage being about a 10-win pace over the course of 16 games. After the falling leaves give way to falling snow, however, the winning percentage shoots up to the point where his teams are winning three out of every four games. His theory is that the team will be fresher towards the end of the year if they don’t take too much of a physical toll in August. It’s clear that the Redskins have their legs under them in December and January.
In contrast, the tough camp that Jim Mora ran for the Falcons in 2005, which was similar to the one he’s running this year, had Atlanta set up in good shape up until the middle of the season. A 6-2 start, however, was turned around as the Falcons went 2-6 the second half of the season and missed the playoffs.
To be sure, this is just a snapshot and the link between the tough camp and the late collapse is a hypothesis, not a proven fact. But the human body can only take so much hard physical activity before it begins to break down. It’s too much to ask the players to hit the weight room hard starting in March, conduct OTA’s through May and June, hold a minicamp, pound them in training camp in August before going through the grind of the 16-game NFL schedule. Something has to give somewhere.
It’s a marathon and Gibbs has decided that the strategy will be to take it easy in the middle of it. They jump out strong at the start, getting a lead on the pack with hard work in the spring and early summer. In the middle, they conserve their energy, keeping a steady pace while others are sprinting by them. The Redskins save up for the finishing kick, the last quarter of the race when they are able to keep in cruising while the rest of the field is gasping for air.
The danger is that you just may let one or two of the other race participants get too far ahead of you to catch up. You can’t rely on pulling out a 5-0 finish to the season every year in order to make the last Wild Card playoff spot as the Redskins did last year if you want to make it to the Super Bowl.
The Redskins have upgraded their talent this year in an effort to stay close enough to the leaders so that their annual December run will put them over the top instead of just barely nudging them into the postseason. We will see if that talent improvement will have them poised to make their run when Thanksgiving comes around. We know from history that the finishing kick will be there.