NEW YORK (AP) -- It's time to climb out of the pool, put down that
frosty drink, discard the shades and fire up the high-definition TV.
The NFL is back.
Some training camps open this weekend, and the first preseason game
is Aug. 3, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If it seems like the Texans
just ended the draft by taking Mr. Irrelevant (defensive back Lonnie
Ballentine of Memphis), well, it was only two months ago.
Players, coaches and front office staffs got some down time, albeit
less than in past years, and with the Bills and Giants headed to the
Hall of Fame game, their break was even shorter.
"You've got to be very smart this time of year with how you're
conducting yourself, what you're doing," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
"You can never lose sight of the prize."
Certainly, a Vince Lombardi Trophy is hard to see through the haze of
summertime heat and humidity. Even opening day is still a long way off,
but the preseason will be here soon.
Here are some things to watch for during the NFL preseason:
KEEPING COOL: While the 2011 collective bargaining agreement has
placed limitations on the length and frequency of practices, Mother
Nature doesn't care. From Berea, Ohio to Bourbonnais, Illinois, and from
Renton, Washington to Richmond, Virginia, there is no hiding from the
NFL teams have become more cognizant of that, and incidents of
heat-related illnesses at training camps are rare. Thankfully, there has
been nothing approaching the tragedy of Korey Stringer, who died of
heat stroke in 2001.
"When athletes do intense exercise in the heat, the risk of
exertional heat stroke is ever-present," says Dr. Douglas J. Casa, CEO
of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. " The
NFL has taken some important strides to make players stay safe."
RULES CHANGES: A few alterations will be noticeable, and fans will have to look hard for the others.
Extra-point kicks in the first two exhibition games (three for the
Bills and Giants) will come from the 15-yard line. Commissioner Roger
Goodell has suggested that conversions need more excitement. But even
from that distance, fewer than 10 percent of kicks fail.
The goalposts NFL kickers are trying to put the ball through will be
extended another 5 feet in height, making it easier to judge what's good
and what misses.
When there's a loose ball in the field of play, the recovery now can
undergo video review. Also, when the referee uses review, there will be
consultation with the league's officiating department in New York. The
ref still has final say.
The clock won't stop momentarily after a sack outside of two minutes
remaining in a half. And, to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's chagrin, no
more dunking over the crossbar to celebrate a touchdown.
ALREADY FAMOUS ROOKIES: With LeBron James' return, Johnny Football
might not be the top star in Cleveland, but Manziel will still get
plenty of attention for what he does on and off the field this summer.
Jadeveon Clowney, when he recovers from hernia surgery, will dominate
the headlines in Houston. So much is expected of the top overall pick
that if he doesn't look like a star in the preseason, the critics will
Whether or not Michael Sam makes the Rams final roster, becoming the
first openly gay player in the NFL, will remain a hot topic.
THE INJURY BUG: Long before the first whistle sounds in training
camp, three premier linebackers are gone for 2014. Dallas lost Sean Lee
to a torn ACL suffered during 11 on 11, non-contact drills. Buffalo's
Kiko Alonso wrecked his knee while working out back home in Oregon.
Atlanta's Sean Weatherspoon tore his Achilles' tendon while under the
supervision of team trainers.
The one clear goal in training camp is to escape it without any major injuries.
"I think there is a fine line between making sure the team is ready
to play the season, both from a contact standpoint and also from a
health standpoint, so we'll keep a good gauge on that," said Texans
coach Bill O'Brien.
NEW BOSSES: O'Brien is one of seven new head coaches in the league.
His task might be the most difficult, taking a team that lost its final
14 games in 2013 and straightening it out. He's also got a potential
holdout by his top veteran, receiver Andre Johnson.
Then again, all of the new coaches have mighty challenges, or else their new teams would not have made changes.
Jay Gruden is in Washington needing to find a way to keep QB Robert
Griffin III healthy. Mike Zimmer can't be sure who he can rely on in
Minnesota other than star running back Adrian Peterson.
Mike Pettine has the Johnny Football festival in Cleveland; Lovie
Smith has a drastically altered roster in Tampa; and Jim Caldwell
inherits a team in need of discipline in Detroit.
Ken Whisenhunt, who helped turn Arizona into a Super Bowl team,
landed in Tennessee and might have the best shot at fast improvement if
he can get the offense to click. That's his specialty.