The Washington Redskins made the announcement this week that they would be moving training camp down to Richmond, Virginia in 2013 while some major expansion work is done on the Ashburn, VA facility. This will be the first time since 2002 that the team has spent a training camp away from Redskins Park. Before 2003, camp had been held at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and then at Frostburg State College in Frostburg, Maryland.
It’s no secret that head coach Mike Shanahan believes in holding training camp away from the player’s homes and getting them totally focused on football. While with the Denver Broncos, he took the team to the University of Northern Colorado and the coach said yesterday that holding these intense practices away from the area is a “win-win” situation.
“When you’re a couple hours away…” the coach said during his post-practice press conference, “…as compared to ten minutes away – when you do have the kids and you do have a lot of friends – it’s so much easier to bond with your teammates. When you go there for three weeks, there is no going home.”
Not surprisingly, this announcement was met by the players, the fans and the media with mixed results. In talking to some of the players after yesterday’s final day of Organized Team Activities yesterday, I was not surprised by many of the reactions I heard. A very common thread for the ones that weren’t so eager to go away to camp was their inability to see their families as much.
“I won’t be able to go home on the weekends,” running back Evan Royster said. “But other than that, it’s not that big a deal. Most of the time we’re cooped up in a hotel or the building anyway, so… Come training camp everybody’s locked into football. I don’t think it makes that big of a difference in our mindset anyway.”
And then, almost as an afterthought Royster said, “But, it might be nice to get away, too.”
Most of the younger players had no problem with moving training camp and talked about things like “becoming a team” and the lack of distractions. Some of the veterans, on the other hand, had a very different perspective on the move. In particular, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and Kedric Golston – both veterans and family men – showed more passion about the move than I’d expected.
During Alexander and Golston’s SportsJourney Broadcast Network show, “Capital Punishment,” owner Lake Lewis brought up the subject and started a surprisingly animated debate by stating that he thought moving training camp out of Ashburn was a good idea.
“[Going away to training camp] is a good chance to get away and not have any distractions,” Lewis prompted. “When you have those training camps, it’s basically you and your teammates and that’s it. And when you’re away, you really can’t have a lot of those distractions. You’re not going home when you leave there.”
“Is that really a distraction though?” Alexander asked. “I don’t see that hanging out with your families after practice is a distraction. Obviously your wife knows that during that time, you’re not going to be as ‘present’ in the household, as far as dealing with all of the discipline and, I think that each wife on our team tends to know that.
“Everyone wants to say it builds chemistry,” he went on. “You’re going away, you’re together. I’ve done that when I was down with the [Carolina] Panthers. We went down to Wofford College. But I think as long as you get the same work in… everybody’s a professional and everybody can create distractions as well if you stay here or go away. For those four or five guys that are going to do something… …they’re going to find something to do if you’re in the middle of Wisconsin and make something happen. So I don’t know if that really is the issue.
“We get paid to play a game. This is our job. We’re professionals and I think 99% of the guys approach it that way and I don’t think I’m going to get closer to any other guy from going away.”
Kedric Golston had a somewhat more open attitude about the prospect of going away though it was clear he wasn’t ecstatic about it.
“I kind of ride the fence,” Golston said. “I know, being a family man, that I’m going to miss my kids during the time we’re going to be away at camp – not being able to get to them if I had to. But, for the other side of it, I think it’s a good idea. It’s a change of scenery; we’ll probably be staying in college dorms….”
Lewis interjected, “Yep… out of your comfort zone.”
At which point, Alexander’s passion kicked in. “Comfort zone??? You can put me on the floor [to sleep] and ask me to get up and go to work and I’m still going to get up and do my job. I’m a professional. <voice rising now> That’s what you’re supposed to do! Don’t create this environment just because you think it’s going to bring guys together. I don’t think you have to ‘create’ anything special chemistry-wise that you’re not going to get being here.”
By the time Alexander finished the point he was making he had gone from calm to almost yelling to calm again. I was surprised at how fired up both Golston and Alexander were about the fact that they were professionals and didn’t need a move away from Ashburn to put everything they had into training camp. At one point, they were both talking at the same time and it was hard to figure out what they were saying. But when things quieted down a bit, Alexander made the point that while he understood that players would definitely get to know each other better at an away training camp, he also said that he didn’t think that it always made for a better team or better record.
“Yea, you are going to be together,” Alexander conceded. “You’ll spend more time… you go to movies because your wives aren’t there. You go hang out. You do become closer to your teammates as far as knowing them…”
Lewis: “So what’s wrong with that?”
Alexander: “There’s nothing wrong with it. It just doesn’t necessarily translate to the field. Here’s what’s going to make you tight during games: where are you going to be when we call a Tight-Willy-Six [play]? It’s putting the work in there in practice and games, not where you do [training camp] at.”
Golston then made a good point himself:
“Maybe [it’s good] seeing guys like London [Fletcher], Lorenzo, a guy like [O-lineman] Chris Chester…” the defensive lineman admitted, “…and how they go about their day. Where it’s not just about what they do on the practice field but whether they get in there early, hot-tubbing, cold-tubbing, stretching… being real professionals. Not just thinking, ‘Well, how does this guy come out here and perform at a high level each and every day?’ But also understanding that their legs get sore or their backs are tight. I mean it’s a trial on them mentally but they’re putting in the work that they need to do in order to have a successful practice and that might be contagious. You never know.”
In the end, the two veterans did decide that going away to training camp had its merits. One of these was the fact that if there was to be any ‘hazing’ of rookies, that would pretty much be the only place there would be an opportunity to dump cold water on a teammate while they slept. More than that, however, was the opportunity to learn about their teammates. After all, as Golston said, football is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport and you really need to be able to trust that you and your teammates are on the same page when you go out on that field.
“There’s a bunch of guys, “Golston said in the end, “that I love to hang out with and I’m not necessarily just talking about my team. But there’s only certain guys you want to go to war with… and you find that out between those white lines and that green grass.
“Don’t tell me what you want to do,” he continued. “Don’t talk about it. Show me on the field. Show me with how you prepare, show me with how you train, you show me with your production. That’s what I want to see.”
What Golston said is appropriate no matter where training camp is held. And now in 2012, we’ll see how many guys he feels comfortable on the battlefield with.