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Training Camp Confidential: Early Run-Ins With Big Names

When you look back on favorite training camp memories, it can often be the biggest guys on the field and biggest personalities in the locker room who make for some of the most interesting stories.

When I think back to my time as a coach at training camp, two of my favorite memories were created by guys people across the country knew—specifically because of their size. Those guys gave me a couple of my earliest and fondest memories in the NFL in general and then as a head coach.

In 1989, I followed Jimmy Johnson from the University of Miami to the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. It was my first year as a coach in the league. And while we were at training camp, we ran things like we had at Miami.

It didn’t take long to get a reminder that we were in the NFL, though. One of our biggest names walked right in to Jimmy’s office one day and dropped a check on his desk. That wasn’t something I was used to seeing in the college world, and when I heard the reason why, it got even funnier.

It wasn’t long before I got one of my favorite memories as a head coach at camp, either. In fact, it ended up being my first decision I made as coach of the Chicago Bears—all about running a warm-up lap on the first day of camp, involving maybe the most famous name in the NFL at the time.

Just a couple of great stories from camp that I think back on as teams start camp every year.

Training Camp Confidential

The 33rd Team has unprecedented access to executives, coaches and players and wants to provide an in-depth, never-before-seen look into the best stories and memories from NFL Training Camps. Stay tuned to our Training Camp Page for more great stories like this one. 

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What Goes Into a Quarterback Battle for the Starting Job? | The Meeting Room

Battling for the starting quarterback job in the NFL is a grind. There might not be a tougher challenge, both mentally and physically, in the NFL than battling for that coveted spot under center.

Learning the Playbook

I fought for the starting job as a rookie, and I’ve fought for the job as a vet. I’ve even fought for the job against rookies as a vet. Each scenario with each team presents a new battle and new expectations that come with being the starting quarterback. We all know it’s the most mentally-demanding position in football, and only part of that is mastering the playbook. The starting quarterback has to manage the pressure placed on his shoulders-a pressure that only amplifies if the team has a young rookie quarterback waiting in the wings.

A starting quarterback has to prove their mastery of the system they are in. You HAVE to know your protection schemes, hot routes and outlets-your ways to get out of trouble-otherwise, defenses are going to test you and come after you over and over again. It’s so much more than just picking the ball up and throwing it.

Rookies often struggle with this, which is why so many of them get blitzed heavily by opposing defenses. Opponents are going to make you prove you know your system and can exploit what they are doing, otherwise, they will exploit you, and they will not hesitate.

Dealing with competition

When I was in Minnesota with Mike Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, not only did I have to learn Turner’s offense, a demanding task in and of itself, but that year the team drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round. While I knew the playbook and was comfortable with the scheme, a young quarterback right behind me added more pressure to get everything right.

The coaches would come to me and say “Hey, Teddy’s going to get reps with the ones today,” and I had to just bite my tongue and keep at it. It’s a daily grind-one that you mentally have to rise up for every time you step onto the field. If you didn’t perform well that day, there’s that young guy right behind you hungry for an opportunity to play.

You don’t take days off in a competition. You can’t afford bad days. Every day you have to go out there completely focused, compete and earn your job. Your talent and effort get picked up on by teammates. The quarterback is oftentimes a leader in the locker room as well. Teammates feed off of energy and the confidence you have in yourself.

As a quarterback, you have to juggle your teammates, pressure from coaches and front office members and fan expectations before even throwing a pass in a game. Proving you can handle all of these different variables and respond positively in the offseason is critical in a quarterback battle and just might earn you the starting job.

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Training Camp Confidential: Lewis Catching a Player During Bed Checks

Some guys just think they can get one over on a coach…

My favorite training camp memory truly encapsulates how fun an NFL training camp story can be—at least, when you’re looking back at it in hindsight.

Back when I was a (much younger) assistant coach for the Baltimore Ravens, I was doing bed checks because our head coach at the time, Ted Marchibroda was an old school football coach like that. I got to a room and almost immediately noticed something was off. One bed clearly had someone in it, the other clearly didn’t. What it did have though was the old-school pillow trick that still wasn’t fooling anyone…not that night.

Needless to say, that player’s position coach and Coach Marchibroda weren’t entirely happy about the situation.

The person responsible for that attempt at fooling me is a pretty notable name to boot. This, of course, only adds to the humor in looking back on this hilarious attempt at pulling the wool over my eyes. 

Thankfully, this story also ends with a young player learning a lesson in accountability and turning out to have a pretty great career.

Training Camp Confidential

The 33rd Team has unprecedented access to executives, coaches and players and wants to provide an in-depth, never-before-seen look into the best stories and memories from NFL Training Camps. Stay tuned to our Training Camp Page for more great stories like this one. 

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