With the shrinking of the preseason from four games to three, some have regarded joint practices as a supplement for the lost work in an exhibition setting. It’s not.
As demonstrated yesterday (and numerous times before it), a free for all can unfold during joint practices. With the league washing its hands of direct jurisdiction over players, there’s no disincentive to engage in behavior that wouldn’t occur during a game.
Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward made that point on Twitter yesterday, in response to the question of why joint practices even occur.
“In theory it sounds cool to see you team compete in a practice setting but it’s basically a 2 and half hour wrestling match with no rules or technique which puts everyone on edge,” Heyward said. “Guys do things they would never do in a game that could lead to injury. Players fight for their team.”
For some coaches, joint practices will happen only if there’s sufficient confidence that things won’t get out of hand. When the Texans were slated to be the Hard Knocks team, the Saints canceled joint practices due to concerns that Houston players would act up for the NFL Films cameras. And in 2015, as the Saints prepared to face the Patriots in joint practices, coach Sean Payton had a clear message for his players: “If you decide to fight, pack your bags.”
Given that coaches surely know what can, and what does, happen at joint practices, it’s fair to wonder whether some of them are willing to expose players to injury risk in the hopes of awakening that raw aggression and physicality that is harder to activate in modern training-camp practices. Although Rams coach Sean McVay can’t say it out loud, he has to be happy to know that Aaron Donald, who considering retiring in the offseason, still has a raging fire in his belly. It will serve the Rams well, week in and week out.
Will it sometimes bubble over during games, as it has for Donald numerous times in the past? Probably. But McVay can view that as a small price to pay to have a player who is both incredibly effective and thoroughly intimidating.
That’s all the more reason for the league to step in, for this case and every future joint practice. The circumstances are conducive to players crossing the line. Someone needs to be ready to police that. If the teams won’t, the NFL should.
Cam Heyward on joint practices: “Guys do things they would never do in a game” originally appeared on Pro Football Talk