The NFL has the shortest season out of North America’s four major pro sports leagues, and consequently its offseason is the longest and most painful even in a normal, non-lockout year for fans. That’s why the anticipation for players showing up to team facilities in the days prior to training camp has always bordered on being obsessive, with our craving for pigskin cranked up after months of withdrawal.
This year after the threat of Sundays without football in September that anticipation has grown to unhealthy, maniacal levels. Only a few short years ago before tweeting became a well-established verb, we had little to feed this monster, relying almost solely on quick ESPN sound bites. Now beat writers are doing day-long stakeouts at team facilities, allowing us to devour their grainy cell phone images.
Earlier this morning the padlocks were busted open on the 32 team facilities for the first team since that depressing day on March 11 when the lockout started. Players slowly–or in some cases, rapidly–started to stream in through the gates for workouts, and so did the Twitpics and 140 character or less observations from media members on their fifth coffee. This gave us our first images of players sans suits in over four months.
One of the first sightings was in New England, where Darnell Jenkins–a practice squad player recognizable to only those who sleep in Patriots pajamas–strolled into Gilette Stadium. Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe evidently chose a child’s tree fort as her stakeout perch, and caught this image of Jenkins carrying his groceries to his workout from high above.
After she climbed down from her tree, Young also elbowed her way through the maze of cameras and recorders to get the proverbial shot of Tom Brady talking to a hoard of reporters.
Tom Curran of CSN New England also caught Wes Welker facing the media in Foxborough. Literally.
New England wasn’t the only place where an unknown player was the first to arrive. In Seattle some guy named Isiah Stanback and his five career receptions led the pack.
With no Favre Watch (we hope) this year, and Vikings players showing little interest in breaking down the gym door immediately, poor Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had nothing to do. He amused himself by taking pictures of a cab waiting for someone…anyone. Maybe Vikings players still aren’t sure about the structural integrity of the new Metrodome roof.
A notable storyline in the early arrivals was the heavy presence of quarterbacks, especially the young arms. Tim Tebow was the first one through the door in Denver at 8:01 a.m. It would have been so much cooler if Tebow was wearing a psychedelic shirt with stuff that moves, but I guess that’s not suitable for weight lifting.
Jake Locker was also the first to arrive in Tennessee, while Cam Newton showed up exactly two minutes ahead of Jimmy Clausen, introducing Clausen to the feeling of being outclassed on the practice field early. Clausen was likely late because he was busy trying to impress his teammates by buying a fresh batch of team chemistry at Wal-Mart and bringing it on Day 1. Newton knows that’s not possible.
Rookies like Newton were able to take to the field/workout room since today’s activities are voluntary, and training camp hasn’t officially started. But they’ll need contracts before camp, and teams were able to begin negotiating with drafted and undrafted rookies last night. Jaguars first round pick Blaine Gabbert was also among the rookies taking advantage of the practice field time, showing up at 7:45 a.m. ET. Rounding out the heavy early QB presence was Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills passer who was the first player through the doors at Orchard Park.
Lastly, the turnout at the Cowboys facilities in Valley Ranch was sparse early in the morning, but Doug Free was one of the few players to pull up in the driveway. The offensive tackle will officially become a free agent on Friday, and is said to be Dallas’ first priority as they re-sign their own players this week.