July 20, 2001

Falcons, with First-Pick Vick, First to Open Training Camp

They had the first pick in the NFL Draft in April. Now with that selection — quarterback Michael Vick — the Atlanta Falcons was the first NFL club to open training camp Wednesday, July 18 in preparation for the 2001 season.

"He has worked as hard as any player I've ever coached," says Falcons quarterbacks coach Jack Burns of Vick's offseason preparation.

Come next week, though, Vick, the Falcons, and every NFL player will be at work.

It's time for two-a-days for players, lots of fun for fans — all in preparation for another sure-to-be-unpredictable NFL season.

The day after the Falcons report to their Furman University camp, the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers set up at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and St. Vincent College, respectively. By the end of the week, five other clubs open camps. And on it will go through the end of July _ 75 years after the first NFL team conducted a training camp out of town (see chart below).

All around the NFL, there'll be players getting accustomed to new teams, and eight new head coaches introducing new schemes.

One of those coaches, Gregg Williams of the Buffalo Bills, promises to bring loyal Bills fans real close to those "schemes."

Williams plans to hold pad-popping, full-speed drills in the end zone in camp - right in front of the fans. "They'll really like those situations down around the goal line and those short-yardage areas," says Williams.

He'll also hold two Monday-night practice sessions so fans who work during the day can come out to St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York to see their team. A 30-minute autograph session with all players and coaches will precede the practices.

"Camp is hard on players physically and emotionally," says Williams. "There's nothing fun about it. But when fans are cheering, it does make the day go faster, and from a coaching standpoint, the effort and intensity is better when players know people are looking at them."

Williams' attention to the fans in training camp is mirrored by many NFL teams.

Pittsburgh will conduct two summer practices at local high school fields ("They allow fans who may not get an opportunity to visit training camp a chance to see us in person," says Steelers head coach Bill Cowher). The Green Bay Packers will host their third annual "Family Night" scrimmage at Lambeau Field on August 4 after which fans can win a "Shirt Off Our Back" player jersey worn in the scrimmage they just watched (last year, more than 50,000 fans attended the scrimmage). The Indianapolis Colts will visit the Tennessee Titans for three days of workouts and scrimmages in August, bringing with them quarterback Peyton Manning, a state fan favorite from his University of Tennessee days.

And talk about "going that extra step" for the fans — how about the Dallas Cowboys? They're going "extra miles" — a lot of them!

The Cowboys will move their entire training camp operation from Wichita Falls, Texas to Oxnard, California for two weeks in August. The team trained in Southern California from 1963-89 and has a strong following in the area. A

mini Cowboys theme park will be set up for fans during the team's stay. "We are building interest in the Cowboys and expanding that interest," says Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

And if fans can't make it to Western Maryland College to see the Super Bowl XXXV champion Baltimore Ravens prepare to defend their title, they can watch them do so on HBO television this summer for six consecutive weeks.

The team will star in "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Baltimore Ravens," a weekly inside look at an NFL training camp that will be captured by NFL Films and shown every Wednesday night from August 1 through September 5 at 11:00 PM ET.

"We welcome the focus HBO will put on us," says Ravens head coach Brian Billick. "We are the team to beat, and we'd better learn how to handle the attention that comes with being the defending champs. This series will help us do that."

NFL fans can watch other teams as they prepare for the season through 11 nationally televised games, beginning with the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio between the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams on Monday night, August 6 (ABC-TV, 8:00 PM ET).

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