Training Camp (Almost) Live!

There’s not a hot internet connection at the River Kings’ practice facility, so I can’t liveblog practice.  But these are the notes I took, pretty much as they happened – slight editing to eliminate the worst typos, etc.


9:00 The facility is dark.  I wondered if practice had been called off, since – this being Iowa – we’ve had ice storms, blizzards, polar vortices, snowstorms, ice, wind, snow, wind, and ice pretty much every day since Christmas.  Nope – it was film study.  I’ve been angling to get into a film study since my first minute at training camp, since film has slow-mo and, as I might’ve mentioned once or twice, football moves at Warp factor 6.  As nobody on the team really knows me yet, though, I stayed put – everyone has been unfailingly open and friendly so far, but as film is actual gameday stuff I wanted to be sure to ask before I wandered in.


The break gave me a chance to talk to Whitney, a trainer from Progressive Rehab who’s on assignment here this week.  She had nothing but good things to say about the organization’s new direction.  Last season was rough on everyone, especially the uncertainty over whether the team would remain in Cedar Rapids.

We talked about some of the questions I’d like to answer with this project.  What’s it like for these guys, living a thousand miles from home, many with no cars, having to deal with football and family and career aspirations and their personal fitness and medical care and….  ??  Life on the road is rough for anyone; I doubt I’d have had the maturity to handle it at their age.


As expected, I called guys by the wrong name last time.  The on-field coaches for the defense (see last post) were #7 Travonti “Tuff” Johnson, and #6 Ricky Johnson.  (Glad I only said good things about them!) (Seriously, they’re great guys – very helpful).  They’re vets, but as I’ve mentioned, last season I rarely saw anyone out of pads.


Actually had a chance to introduce myself to several guys on the team – most people seem interested in the project.  DB Rick Rumph was especially helpful, as were the Johnsons… after making fun of my clothes and trying to talk me out of my River Kings’ sweater, that is.  😊

(This is turning out to be a real side benefit to this project, by the way.  Since I’m a stay-at-home Dad of two little girls, and in the classroom I’m the authority figure, it has been awhile since I’ve been “one of the guys.”  Without male friends busting my balls 24/7, life gets weird.  I’m probably still going to be the guest of honor at a princess tea party this afternoon, but at least I’ll have some gender balance in my life).


Speaking of busting balls, several of the defense were working their hamstrings with a portable massage gun that looks like some kind of Star Trek laser blaster.  Tuff Johnson tells me it’s called a “meat grinder,” because…. Well, you figure it out.  (Look, y’all, it’s football: If I put “NSFW” everywhere that needs it, or put asterisks in all the naughty words, there wouldn’t be room for anything else.  The book will be 100% uncensored, but since people read blogs at work – I’ve heard – I’m going to try to keep these reports PG-13).


10:00 most guys are suited up and running around.  Looks like the “Team building” portion of practice.  Interesting to see the different approaches.  Everyone is locked in, but some are in play mode and some are ultra-serious.


Just checked with Coach Stoute – I’m ok to drop in on film study.  Let the education begin!


The different builds are interesting, especially the two QB.  Palandech has WR legs; Wilkerson’s built like a linebacker.  They both move pretty good, though, and have good arms.  Palandech is faster, but Wilkerson must have 30 lbs on him; I bet Wilkerson can move the pile on the goal line.  As today has goal line work it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.


10:10 work on pitches.  Palandech is first up.


Installation starts with a base play then builds off it.  There are lots of variations on the same basic action.  It all depends on positioning, and Coach Stoute gives an errant WR an earful.  But he doesn’t just explain the mistake in this particular movement – he illustrates how the same action can be used to build an entire series of plays.  Nothing is incidental; everything is planned for maximum effect, whether on this play or a play three series later.

Along the same lines: Positioning away from the ball just as important.  Custer tells a lineman “Come up with your hands up even if the play is going away.”  The DL might not see it but the LB / S will.  Disguise the action to the last second.


That’s the craziest thing so far, as far as I’m concerned – the coaches seem to be able to process things on several levels simultaneously.  They’re focused on the particular play that’s going on, but they’re also thinking about schematic stuff a few plays ahead, plus player development, and no doubt about seven other things I’m not yet aware of.  Coach Smith talks about it in terms of “Football 303,” not Football 101.  “You’re a junior now,” he tells a new player, explaining his responsibilities in following the “jet” receiver (the WR that goes streaking behind the formation parallel to the line of scrimmage.  He can set up outside, take a quick pitch (a “jet sweep”) or do seemingly 400 other things, and DBs are expected to know them all.  Smith makes it sound easy.  It’s really, really not).


OL Lenicio Noble is an interesting, thoughtful dude.  We met by chance – he’s a bit limited by injury, and he came over to watch practice near where I’m sitting.  We just fell into conversation, and he told me a lot of interesting stuff about the highs and lows of being a prospect in college.  I hope to sit down with him again in the near future and write up a more in-depth interview.


Speaking of coaching, I’ve told everyone I meet that I’ve never played a snap of real football in my life.  My career ended when I was around 8 – this would’ve been 1983 or so – when the playbook consisted of “run that way” and “try not to fall down.”  “So I want y’all to teach me how to play,” I say.  “I want to know what it’s like to play DB, or tackle, or whatever.  Show me where to stand, how to move, how to read the formation.”  It’s a tall order, I realize – I’m a 44 year old fat dude with bad knees – but it’s not like I’m going to be out there running routes.  “Basically,” I tell them, “I know what fans know; I want you to show me the stuff you wish fans knew.”  And – this is important – I want to learn it without having to actually run.  Because, you know, 44 year old fat guy with bad knees.  It should be interesting.


All in, a great experience.  I can’t say enough about how well I’ve been treated, how friendly everyone is, and how open most players and coaches seem to the project.  Team chemistry seems very strong, even as guys are rotating in and out (two more signings in just the last two days).  Thanks again to everyone for letting me into your world for a few hours.

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