Coaches love practice. That goes without saying across all sports. It's the opportunity to get better.
Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia, by his own admission in a Zoom call Friday, really loves practice.
But NFL training camp practice will look much different in 2020. After the initial four days of testing this week, Aug. 1 and 2 are slated for player physicals and equipment distribution. Aug. 3 through 11 will be an acclimation period for strength and conditioning. Aug. 12 through 16 is a gradual ramp-up period, where teams can conduct non-padded practices. It's not until Aug. 17 that teams can begin to hold padded practices, and those are capped at 14 total.
That's not a lot of time to get the kind of technique work only pads can provide to get ready for the Week 1 opener against Chicago Sept. 8, especially having not conducted any OTA practices in the spring and with the preseason being cancelled.
"Practice is a major concern," Patricia said. "We're really trying to do everything we can to maximize that opportunity that we have out on the field.
"The hard part is you get to this time of year and you smell the fresh-cut grass and you just start to get around it and the field is all painted up and the first thing we want to do is get out there and throw the pads on and let's go practice. But we just have to be patient all the way through to make sure we're just being safe."
Safety is obviously the biggest concern in the middle of a global pandemic, which is why it's important to ease the players into action to mitigate the risk of injury. As Patricia put it, there's a lot of adaptability going on in Allen Park right now.
Patricia is still finding the positives in the practice schedule agreed upon by the league and the NFLPA, and thinks there might actually be some benefits to the schedule that's been developed.
"The interesting part is if you take out preseason games, which we did, you kind of buy back some of the time that we usually spend traveling, the game itself and maybe postgame, you actually pick up a couple extra days," he said.
"When you look at the training camp portion of the schedule, the ramp-up period and when you get to that training camp practice schedule, we wind up with actually a lot of practice days. There's a lot of time in there for installation."
Along with the preseason, the league also cancelled all joint practices. Patricia said the coaches and players will especially miss those from a competitive standpoint, but he's entering camp with a positive mindset on maximizing the practice time they have.
He's also mindful about being careful to utilize those padded practices in the right way.
"You certainly don't want to put your team in a situation where you have the pads on maybe a day where you should have maybe taken them off and given the team a little bit of a break before you get back to a real game," Patricia said.
"King of navigating that will be a little different more so if you don't have those preseason games to judge the markers of that. The team could get sore, could get beat up and you want to do a good job of evaluating that."
It will certainly be a unique training camp for all 32 teams as they navigate the new normal. But maximizing their time – on and off the field – over the next six weeks will be critically important to getting off to a good start come September.