Kryk's 10 observations from NFL camps

One of many camps our football guy, John Kryk, attended during his round-the-U.S. NFL camps tour....

One of many camps our football guy, John Kryk, attended during his round-the-U.S. NFL camps tour. Here, the Washington Redskins stretch during preseason camp. (JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:41 PM ET

In the past three weeks I've visited nine NFL training camps.

In the process, I added 4,049 km -- or 2,516 miles -- to my odometer, and warped one front-wheel rotor on my otherwise hardy, trusty Chrysler Sebring.

I saw the Bills, Jets, Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Ravens, Steelers, Lions and Browns all practice.

Some teams went at it in full pads the day I attended, others in upper pads only. Yet others in shells only (helmets and soft shoulder pads). As well, some offences concentrated on either running or passing.

Many comparisons, thus, aren't fair.

With that asterisk in mind, herewith are 10 enduring observations, serious and offbeat, from my two whirlwind tours:

1. TIM TEBOW

Let's get this one out of the way. The Jet-for-Jesus possesses the worst mechanics of any quarterback I saw throw. By a longshot.

2. BEST QUARTERBACK

The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger. He was on fire the day I attended practice at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

During one relatively long drill pitting the Steelers' wide receivers against defensive backs, Big Ben went almost the whole way without a DB getting a single touch on one of his throws.

Ins. Outs. Long fades. Quick hard slants. The works. Big Ben was friggin' on. Backup Byron Leftwich was almost as good.

You could see, sense and hear the frustration of the Pittsburgh DBs.

Afterward, safety Troy Polamalu confirmed that observation to me: "Our quarterbacks are awesome right now. It's been really tough for us to get any turnovers on defence. They don't give you many opportunities."

After Roethlisberger, I'd say Matthew Stafford of the Lions was most impressive. He zipped sharp, accurate passes all over the field. Then Eli Manning of the Giants, Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Bills, Michael Vick of the Eagles.

After that fivesome, it's a pick-'em between Raven Joe Flacco, Browns rookie Brandon Weeden and both RG3 and Rex (yes, him) Grossman of the Redskins.

Mark Sanchez and Tebow of the Jets bring up the rear.

3. MOST IMPRESSIVE PLACEKICKER

It wasn't even close. If undrafted rookie Justin Tucker, from the University of Texas, was brought into Ravens camp to light a fire under playoff goat Billy Cundiff, call in the wildfire-dousing aircraft.

After the first week of camp, Tucker and his super-strong right leg evidently hadn't missed a single practice field goal. The day I attended, he perfectly drilled placekicks in rapid succession from 31, 36, 41, 46 and 53 yards out, before barely coming up short from 60. Sixty!

For a livin' fact, if the Ravens cut Tucker, someone's gonna pick him up.

4. PRACTICE ROUTINES

These vary greatly from team to team, and tend to take on the personality of the head coach.

For instance, the Lions' Jim Schwartz wants to cram in as many plays as possible, and demands attentiveness. Players thus run between snaps, and run between drills the moment the horn sounds.

The Jets, Steelers, Eagles and Giants emphasized physicality the most.

The Ravens' practice was most unique. Whether it was offence vs. defence or special teams, theirs was highly situational and game-like.

Example 1: At any moment during O vs. D, a field-goal attempt might be called.

Example 2: A special team ran through, in precise detail, what the strategic aim was for the play in question, and it varied depending on the number of seconds left in the first half.

Situational to the max.

"That's exactly what it is," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told me. "Football always has been practised by script over the years. Our practice is way more free-flowing, like running water. Because the game is played like running water. It's fast, it's fluid. You've got to be able to adapt. Play-callers have to call plays on the run. We have scripted periods, too, but we want to play the game in practice.

"When you practise basketball, you go out and play basketball. Why should football be any different? It's definitely something that not a lot of people do, but it makes practice a lot more fun, I can tell ya that."

5. CRAZY SOCKS

The owner? Flamboyant, boisterous Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who sported red polka dot socks.

6. BEST PLAY BY A DEFENDER

Ravens' 17-year man Ray Lewis. Sure wasn't expecting that.

RB Ray Rice tipped me that future Hall of Fame linebacker's widely reported weight drop was from 250-255 pounds down to 240. And Rice said Lewis did it for the purpose of improving his pass coverage.

Er, mission accomplished.

In one 11-on-11 play, the moment Flacco released a quick out to the right to a tight end, Lewis immediately reacted. At that point I thought, "Great instincts, but no way he's going to get there." That quickly turned to, "Hey, he might get there." Then to, "WOW, he's GONNA get there!"

Lewis indeed got there. Before the tight end, even. In fact Lewis appeared to deliberately settle for a breakup, when in a game he could have had a pick-six.

Extremely impressive.

7. FIVE UNDER-THE-RADAR BREAKOUT PLAYERS

* Lions WR Titus Young. He can cut hard and keep his speed like few skill players I've seen. And the second-year Boise State product has good hands. He was injured for most of last year's camp and has had maturity issues. But what a talent. "He's an important part of our plans," Schwartz said Monday.

* Eagles DE Brandon Graham. The 2010 first-round pick looks fully recovered from knee surgery, got more camp reps with injuries to starters, and continually was making plays in the backfield.

* Giants rookie RB David Wilson has the best feet (read: juke moves) of any NYG back since Dave Meggett, some observers said.

* The Steelers sure love their big-bowling-balls-as-running-backs. With starter Rashard Mendenhall still recovering from ACL surgery, others have had their chances to shine at camp. On my visit, Jonathan Dwyer (5-foot-11, 230 pounds) and John Clay (6-foot-1, 248) each destroyed potential tacklers on separate, impressive 10-yard TD bursts in 11-on-11s. Both looked like sound options as short-yardage backs.

8. NEW-LOOK HEAD COACHES

The Jets' Rex Ryan said he has lost 106 pounds, from 348 to 242. Andy Reid of the Eagles also has shed a bunch of weight.

Meanwhile, the Bills' Chan Gailey has expanded his winter goatee into a fullblown 'stache and beard. And John Harbaugh of the Ravens started a camp goatee, asking reporters how it looked. Um, not too good. Short-lived experiment.

9. BEST SECONDARY

Who else? The Ravens.

Safety Ed Reed is still sleek, fast, yappy, and good. And cornerback Corey Graham, signed as a UFA from Chicago, probably had the best PBU I saw of any cornerback in either 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s. He smelled out a dig route and beat the receiver to the ball.

Of course, it might all just mean that Flacco is mediocre.

10. COOLEST BIT OF MOTIVATIONAL COACHING

With the Eagles offence apparently winning too many battles in a goal-line war at the one-yard line, Reid interrupted proceedings.

He sent the offence into a huddle, walked over to the defence and barked out some pointed words. All the while, he repeatedly jab-pointed to the ball on the ground. Then he walked away, pissed off.

The defence won the next attempt. Defenders went nuts.

That's motivation.

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/


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