This week, all 32 NFL teams reported to training camp. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington kicked off the coverage at the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs, the first two teams to open camp.
The NFL reporter says training camp provides a more relaxed environment, which is perfect for getting acclimated with the teams before the season begins. And it’s not just the reporters who are getting acclimated.
“Everyone, including the players, is learning the routine. I love seeing the rookies opening wrong doors or realizing they probably should’ve brought their own pillow since the ones at the dorms aren’t awesome,” said Darlington, who joined ESPN in 2016. “It’s always a good reminder, before the spotlight of the regular season, that these are real people just like the rest of us.”
Knowing that everyone is learning, Darlington says it’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions when evaluating camp performances.
“Early in my career, more than a decade ago, I remember watching a quarterback throw a few interceptions during one practice. Everyone watching practice roasted him,” said Darlington, who since 2004 has covered the NFL for various media outlets.
“They questioned the season ahead — and whether this QB would have what it takes to be a starter. In the world of immediate reactions, we all failed to do one thing: Get context.
“It turns out, during that drill, the defense knew all of the plays that the offense was running. The lesson was simple: In camp, you can’t always trust your eyes. It’s important to be patient and fair with evaluations — and remember that players are allowed to fail in practice.”
At the end of the day, Darlington says training camp is a celebration that football is back and restores a new hope in sports fans.
“Those first couple of days are special. And the days that follow, even if redundant, provide a great opportunity to reconnect with sources; to see and feel what rookies are standing out … and to eat really good food in a lot of different cities.”
Darlington reports from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers camp on Monday and the Miami Dolphins practices on Tuesday.