Will Stringer’s death turn teams on to the 49er’s style of practice?

Aug 5, 2001 at 12:00 AM


The tragic and shocking death of Minnesota offensive tackle Korey Stringer last weekend has people questioning the safety of not only NFL training camps, but football practices at all levels. Stinger’s death followed the death of a Florida State recruit from heat stroke. The death of a Northwestern player last week from asthma only made matters worse.

Shortly after Stringer’s death, Paul Tagliabue called on all NFL teams to reassess their practice habits.

Is this an overreaction? Perhaps. The fact that such a tragedy even happened -- from something that seems so preventable -- almost assures that it will be over-analyzed. But perhaps, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe said on Sunday, we should overreact, because that’s the only way change often happens.

"I've coached in some of the hottest places in the country," ex-Cowboys and Oklahoma Sooners coach Barry Switzer told Cafardo last week. "As a coach, I'm not an expert on the subject, but there are warning signs and you have to pay attention. In some cases, the kid - and I'm sure Korey Stringer was like this - is so competitive that he wants to show he can take it and beat it. Sometimes that competitive edge can be a detriment, especially in situations like this. But teams have to be able to recognize when a big guy has had enough and get him out of there."

"If the heat index was too high, we'd take the pads off, get into shorts, or cut practice in half," Switzer said.

Sounds like a routine habit for one NFL franchise we all know -- the San Francisco 49ers. There will be all kinds of solutions and ideas presented -- shorten the camps, practice indoors, etc -- yet an even better alternative is being played out every day in Stockton, California. In the wake of Stringer’s death, and to avoid future heat-related problems, the NFL may want to take a look at the practice habits of the 49ers.

The 49ers practices are legendary, and they have been run the same way since Bill Walsh arrived in 1979. Despite the rather steamy temperatures in Stockton -- where the team holds its training camps -- the style of the practices helps the players beat the heat. There are very few full contact practices. Players wear shorts in the afternoon. Veterans are given lots of time off.

Some coaches will bemoan such an approach. Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells, and Marty Schottenheimer encourage contact. Phil Simms once said that getting hit was necessary in order to prepare you body for the contact, since it was not something your body usually had to incur. Yet the 49ers have been doing what they have been doing for over 20 years, and have a huge track record of success with it.

Of course, this goes much deeper than just the lack of constant contact. There are other benefits to the system as well.

The West Coast Offense requires a maniacal attention to detail, and that kind of precision is honed in practice. Practices need to be run crisply. The 49ers understand this better than anyone, and that is the reason, more than anything else, that other franchises have faltered when they try to emulate the WCO.

Really, how much of the physical, contact drills and full-pads practices are really necessary at the pro level? This equation gets a little tricky when applied to high school and college players, since they are all players who are developing. Coaching staffs at those levels need to see what they’ve got. Certain players tend to play a step slower in their pads. What kind of instincts does a player have? A running back might look great running out a play, but you can’t wait until game day to see how aggressively and decisively he hits the hole. You can only find out by putting on the pads and hitting. There’s a lot of evaluating going on.

But the NFL is a different story. The majority of players in the NFL are much more established. Most players with just one year of experience have shown their coaches what they are capable of. And training camp is not an all-out war for starting spots -- most NFL coaches will tell you that 80 percent of any given roster is already decided before camp even opens.

So why put that 80 percent of your final roster through hell for four weeks in August? The reason used to be simple -- to get in shape.

"When we came to camp, we were out of shape," said Merlon Olson, the great defensive tackle for the Rams. "Today, players are expected to come to camp in shape."

In Washington, veterans have been grumbling about Marty Schottenheimer’s college-style, full-pads practices (of which there are 24 scheduled for the first 3 ½ weeks of camp). I, for one, would be inclined to grumble, too. What is Bruce Smith going show you in training camp that would effect how and when he plays during the season? Why even put him in pads? Just give him a banana daiquiri, tell him when to show up for week one and let him do his thing. But even with rookies and free agents who actually have something to prove, it still makes no sense to practice in heat. In searing heat, the players are suffering too much to get much out of practice anyway.

"You know, some of these big linemen out there can lose 8 to12 pounds a practice," coach Steve Mariucci said. "That’s why we have water and Gatorade available. The days of 'suck-it-up’ and 'just work through it’ are over, or at least they should be. That is just an old school way to run things and frankly, it’s an absurd way to do things."

When defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield left for the Washington Redskins in 1998, one of his first complaints (in a long list of them during his three years there) was that the Redskins were too sloppy in practice. On July 31, former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called off Detroit Lions practice due to a small degree of sloppiness from the staff and the players. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. The move was a calculated one, most believe, to make a point: practice is done right, it is enforced strictly, and it is executed precisely.

"Mornhinweg knows the point that everyone misses about the West Coast scheme he’s installing: more than anything, its success is about attention to detail," Chris Mortenson said on ESPN.com. "It’s about how you practice, how you meet, how you eat, how you rest…any detail that’s out of whack is considered a threat to the team’s success."

"It's not just the 'West Coast’ scheme. It really is a system, or a culture, about how you do things as a team."

The NFL should take a closer look at how the 49er conduct practice -- and learn from it.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


0 Comments

  • No Comments

Facebook Comments



More San Francisco 49ers News



10 NFL teams above 85 percent vaccination threshold, 2 teams under 50 percent, per report

By David Bonilla
Jul 16, 2021

As of June 15, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers were still about 25 players away from reaching the 85 percent vaccination threshold that would eliminate several training camp, preseason, and regular season restrictions in 2021. It is unknown where the 49ers sit now in terms of their player vaccination percentage. However, the team has had a 100 percent vaccination rate among its Tier 1 and Tier 2 staff for a while now. According to Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press, 10 teams have now met or surpassed the 85



CBS Sports lists 49ers among NFL's most overrated teams ahead of 2021 season

By David Bonilla
Jul 12, 2021

Some fans seem to relish the idea of their favorite team entering a season as an underdog. If you are one of those fans and cheer for the San Francisco 49ers, you will love Tyler Sullivan's recent feature for CBS Sports. The writer named the Bay Area squad in his list of the NFL's most overrated teams ahead of the 2021 season. Yes, San Francisco earned just six wins last season. However, as almost anyone will tell you while defending the team, the roster endured a historic number of injuries in a bizarre 2020. In fact,



8 NFL teams are above 85 percent vaccination threshold

By David Bonilla
Jul 13, 2021

NFL players had until Monday to become fully vaccinated. Doing so will allow them to avoid training camp, preseason, and in-season restrictions in 2021. That means getting their second shot of Pfizer, Moderna, or a single shot of Johnson & Johnson. The league continues to encourage players, staff, and fans to protect themselves and those around them by getting the vaccine but isn't making it a requirement for the upcoming season. On Tuesday, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported that eight teams are above the 85 percent threshold for player vaccinations necessary to avoid league-mandated limitations. Seventy-one percent of players across



49ers reportedly among teams 'in mix' for WR Dede Westbrook, work out two D-linemen

By David Bonilla
Jul 23, 2021

The San Francisco 49ers are among the teams "in the mix" for free agent wide receiver Dede Westbrook, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. According to Tomasson, the receiver says he is visiting the Minnesota Vikings this weekend, but the 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Cincinnati Bengals have expressed interest. Talked to FA WR Dede Westbrook. He's in Twin Cities now Confirmed workout with #Vikings Saturday, Said Seahawks 49ers Bengals also in mix. Has Seattle workout scheduled Monday "If Minnesota doesn't end up


Featured

More by Bradford Seaman

More Articles

Share 49ersWebzone