When Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin first came to the team in 2007, there was some discussion over whether or not he had worked his players too hard during his rookie season, which helped contribute to them wearing down and sustaining injuries late in the year. The following year, he overcompensated in what was referred to as “Camp Cupcake”.
Not that it did much damage, as they went on to win the Super Bowl in 2008. Over the course of his tenure in Pittsburgh, however, camps have been trending in a more physical direction, with Tomlin instituting live tackling drills a few years back, which had not been seen in camp since Chuck Noll.
I’m not certain whether or not Cleveland Browns rookie head coach Hue Jackson has it in the cards for his team to adopt the live tackling approach in training camp, but it definitely appears as though he is gearing up for a more physical setting and tone than was established during the two seasons the team had in camp under former head coach Mike Pettine.
A hint of that came in an article from Cleveland.com writer Dan Labbe, who wrote that “there were times the last two years where I’m not even sure anyone broke a sweat”, preceded by “I just know that it will be nice to see a training camp that looks like a training camp this offseason”.
While many believe that Pettine wasn’t treated entirely fairly during his two seasons with the Browns, and that he was unfairly fired this offseason, one thing that most appear to agree on, at least some degree, is the lack of effectiveness that his training camp schedules served to prepare his team for the regular season.
It didn’t help, of course, that the coaching staff had jumbled in each of those years, which required the installation of new offensive or defensive systems and slowed down the natural individual development of players who had to spent time learning the scheme rather than the position.
There is a new staff yet again, including in the front office, but it feels at least to me as though the intention this time is to truly give the system an opportunity to take hold for the long term. Jackson had a prior head-coaching stint and has been a heavily-discussed name the past few offseasons before the Browns landed him this year.
Jackson has had his fair share of experiences in managing a training camp in a variety of different roles, including as head coach with the Raiders. He has coached the secondary, special teams, running backs, quarterbacks, and wide receivers, in addition to serving as offensive coordinator.
Pettine’s ‘sponge theory’ of throwing a ton of information at his players and counting on them to absorb did not prove to be overly effective, as evidenced by the lack of development of some of his draft picks. Jackson should bring with him a different strategy to camp that players, coaches, and beat writers alike are all anticipating yielding different results, even if it might not be reflected in the win-loss record.