The phrase “pad level” has almost become an inside joke at Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s press conferences. The term is used so often it has reached cliché status despite its intrinsic value to the game.
Pad level issues may become more prevalent around the league in 2011 because of rules written into the new collective bargaining agreement. Teams are limited to 14 padded practices during the 17-week regular season and just 11 in the first 11 weeks. They are allowed three over the final six weeks of the season and can have two padded sessions within one week just once. The deal provides for one each week throughout the playoffs.
The guidelines were written into the CBA as one of several health-related provisions and there hasn’t exactly been a backlash from players who will have less wear on their bodies. But the rule could impact the play of offensive linemen, who benefit from padded workouts more than any other position.
“Obviously, most of the work in pads is for us up front,” right guard Josh Sitton said. “Hardly ever do you actually go live where everyone’s being tackled. Especially during the season, you want to have a padded practice a week.
“It’s different in pads. You have to learn how to practice and play in pads. To get the fit with your tackle or the fit with your guard and getting the knee bend with the pads on.”
The concept is simple, line play revolves around leverage. Low man wins the individual battles.
“You’re adding that weight to your body, so it’s different,” Sitton said. “When you’re just in shorts and a helmet, you obviously don’t feel that weight. … It’s a little more difficult to bend and stay low when you have your pads on.
“Typically when you get the pads on you tend to get higher and higher the longer the practice goes. You start standing up more, so that’s something you have to work on.”
The desire for more padded, and inherently physical, practices isn’t likely to be a popular idea among players. And the CBA is a 10-year deal, so there won’t be changes any time soon. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin acknowledged coaching staffs will have to adjust. They will have time restrictions on full contact work within the run game, blocking schemes and blitz pickups.
Certain specifics can’t be replicated at full speed in helmets and shorts.
“It’s a brave new world for all us … it’s going to make it a little more challenging, no question,” Philbin said. “If you don’t have pads, you’re looking to avoid collisions. Maybe you’re not trying to slow down, but the tempo is a little different.
“The games up front, those types of moves with the D-linemen are not as quick and decisive. It’ll be something we have to work through.”
Those limited in-season padded practices instantly become more valuable. There’s simply less time to get in particular work. Offensive line coach James Campen said they have to practice smarter.
“You have to look at it how you’re going to train the guys and be creative in your fundamental work and make sure they’re getting enough good things against the sleds,” Campen said. “There’s a lot of things out there you can do. Just being creative and make sure their pad level is down and use the tools that we have. We have a lot of sleds and a lot of different shields and things we can do. We’ll adjust with it.
“We’re going to be proactive and do things to make sure their fundamentals stay intact.”
The rules, could benefit those who are more meticulous in practice. Those who pay more attention to technique detail on non-padded days should have an edge.
“It’s not a matter of how many we have, it’s a matter of making the most out of them when we are in pads,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “It’s even more important when you don’t have pads on and you’re just in shells, that you focus on your technique and hand placement and staying low even more. If you’re not doing that, when you put your pads on you’re going to be playing high.
“It’s a matter of really focusing on that when you’re out of pads so that it translates when you put it on.”
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