Fighting for your cause: Players, coaches are split on camp quarrels
If they were to ever make a movie of the Philadelphia Eagles 2008 training camp, there would be only one logical working title: Fight Club II.
More so even than most summers, the Eagles have been a feisty, disagreeable bunch on the practice fields at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid is a staunch believer in full-contact workout sessions, and once the long, hot and monotonous camp days start to pile up, tempers inevitably flare.
During one recent morning practice session, no fewer than five skirmishes broke out among Eagles, all of them pitting one foul-mooded offensive player against one of his similarly-minded defensive counterparts. There was safety Quintin Mikell versus receiver Michael Gasperson; guard Scott Young versus defensive end Juqua Parker; safety Sean Considine versus guard Max Jean-Gilles; offensive tackle Winston Justice versus Mikell (a scrapper who apparently refuses to back down from anyone, no matter the weight disadvantage); and outside linebacker Omar Gaither versus Justice.
"You're hot and tired and somebody just pushed a little bit extra on the pile, and now you want to get a little get-back, so you push back,'' said Gaither, a third-year Eagles veteran, describing how a training camp fight is usually sparked. "At that point, it's blah, blah, blah in somebody's face, and then everybody starts pushing. Later on, you laugh about it in the locker room.
"We have had some fights this camp, but I think it's because of the intensity of our practices. We hit more than most teams, and I think that has something to do with it.''
The Eagles may be setting the pace in terms of training camp hostilities this year, but camp fights as a genre have been with us as long as there has been tackle football being played in the sweaty, dog days of August. Sometimes the showdowns turn ugly and costly, as Steve Smith's sucker-punching of teammate Ken Lucas in Carolina two weeks ago reminded us. But usually they're just entertaining, momentary, and represent another less-straightforward form of team-building, as the Rams-Titans melees in last week's joint practices in Nashville seemed to be.
"I love 'em, personally,'' Browns receiver Braylon Edwards declared last week after a particularly hot afternoon practice at Cleveland's camp. "I think they serve a purpose. When fights happen, it shows you that the guys there aren't just going through the motions. When you've got guys going after it, when they're intense, when guys are trying to get better on every play, you get fights. I like those fights.''
Not everyone shares Edwards' enthusiasm for seeing football and fights mix. Reid, entering his 10th year as Philadelphia's head coach, does not believe such fireworks are useful, and minced no words when asked about the skirmishes that have broken out amongst his players this camp.
"I'm not big on fights,'' Reid said. "We're not boxers. We're here to play football. I'd rather you get the number, get back in the huddle, and then somewhere along the line take care of the number. Fighting doesn't do anything for me. I'm not going to keep a guy because he's a good fighter.
"[But] things are going to happen. I understand that. They're hot and tired and irritable. But they're wasting their energy. It's not impressive.''
True enough. Training camp fights are usually more pushing and shoving than bobbing and weaving, but there's nothing like a little tension and testosterone to inject a practice session with some much-needed intensity. Training camp is, after all, a competitive exercise for most players on a team's roster. Coaches don't like the injury risk that fighting sometimes poses, but some value anything that gets the competitive juices flowing.
"You want guys to be aggressive,'' Browns head coach Romeo Crennel said. "You want them to be physical. And when it's hot outside like that, sometimes tempers flare. As long as it doesn't get out of hand, sure, it can be useful. It changes the monotony of practice. It picks everybody up, gets everybody excited, and they're talking and it generates some energy.
"You can tell when guys are fighting or just pushing and shoving. When they're fighting, then you need to try and get in there, because that's when someone swings and breaks a bone in a hand or something like that.''