Training camp (National Football League)
In the National Football League, training camp refers to the time before the season commences. During this time, teams will sometimes congregate at an outside location, usually a university, to conduct training camp for at least the first few weeks. This is similar to baseball's spring training.
Training camp is used in several different ways. New players and coaches use it to acclimate themselves to new teammates and systems. For younger players, it serves as a period of evaluation; for veterans, it is time to round back into form.
Training camp is divided into several different components. The first is scrimmages. These are pseudo-games where teams run nearly full games' worth of plays. Sometimes, two practice sessions are held on the same day. This concept is referred to as two-a-days. Other parts of training camp include drills, meetings with coaches and other players at one's position, weight training, and pre-season games.
The latter half of training camp leads directly into the exhibition season.
With NFL training camps starting in late-July, the biggest concern has been dehydration. In 2001, Minnesota Vikings player Korey Stringer died of a medical condition based from dehydration and heatstroke. The death of Stringer prompted the NFL to change their training policies. At each practice, every team must have the team doctor and trainers on the field; additionally, an ambulance must be present during practices.
With NFL training camps beginning in late July, severe weather can affect practice and exhibition games. In 2002, a Cleveland Browns exhibition game ended due to lightning near Cleveland Browns Stadium, and severe storms have been known to disrupt training camps.
Fans are often able to visit their favorite team's training camp to catch an early look at the players; admission to practices is often free or substantially less expensive than a game ticket, making training camp trips a popular option for fans who cannot attend many games due to financial or other reasons. NFL teams often sell souvenirs and concessions at camp sites along with offering activities and events to make training camp a more fan-friendly experience.
Organized team activities
Recently the NFL has let teams have off-season training sessions, officially called "organized team activities" (OTAs). Many teams use the OTAs to help develop players and make them better. These training sessions are in late April and early May. The OTAs are the only practices between the end of the previous season and the start of training camp. Players new to the NFL attend seminars and lectures organized by the NFL from mid-June to mid-July. For veteran players, they use the off-time to sponsor football camps for children, golf outings for charity, or even some family time.
Training camp sites by team
Differences with baseball
Unlike Major League Baseball spring training, where teams congregate at locations in two states (Arizona and Florida), NFL teams train all over the United States. However, an increasing number of teams do so in the same facilities at which they practice all year long - 19 teams in 2014, and 20 in 2015, up from five in 2000. Most teams have abandoned remote locations to "come home" for training camp, largely for practicality reasons. Many clubs have recently constructed state-of-the-art practice facilities, replete with amenities (practice fields, indoor practice fields, weightlifting rooms, meeting rooms, film study rooms, cafeteria, medical facilities, IT infrastructure, etc.) that can not be provided or matched at other distant locations (colleges, parks, etc.) In addition, the cost of temporarily relocating and accommodating the entire team organization to another location is substantial.
The attitudes about how to run training camp have also evolved - leading more teams to stay home. With Organized Team Activities ("OTAs"), mini-camps, and conditioning during the offseason, players remain in top physical shape year-round. The focus of training camp is no longer getting players back in shape, but more of fostering comradery.
For example, the Lions' camp was long held at Saginaw Valley State College, the Broncos trained at the University of Northern Colorado, the Patriots at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, and the Redskins moved in from Dickinson College, the former site of Carlisle Indian School. Tampa Bay used to train at the University of Tampa, then at Disney's Wide World of Sports before moving permanently back to their headquarters. Similarly, after many years on the road, the Jets (SUNY Cortland) and the Giants (Albany) both recently moved back to team headquarters.
There are still a handful of teams that use somewhat distant locations at the fringes of their markets to promote their team. For instance, the Bills moved their training camp from SUNY Fredonia to Saint John Fisher College in suburban Rochester to better capitalize on the Rochester market. The Arizona Cardinals trained at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff since the team relocated from St. Louis in 1988 through 2012, but chose to move to their home stadium in 2013. The Dallas Cowboys have historically hosted their training camp in locales very distant from their home market, even before they were given the moniker "America's Team" in the late 1970s. Their summer home in Oxnard, California will, however, cease when the team completes its new training facility in Frisco, Texas; in turn, however, the Los Angeles Rams relocated their training camp to Oxnard when the Rams relocated back to Los Angeles in 2016.
Another difference between spring training and training camp is that true intra-squad games do not take place (anymore), though informal scrimmages are very common. Split-squad games never happen in the NFL. It is also fairly common to see two teams hold a short joint camp and scrimmage at a neutral site in addition to their main camp.
- NFL Training Camp Information from NFL.com