The day is finally at hand, the day Rod Marinelli has been waiting for most of his life, even though he might not even have not even known it until recent years.
Not the start of the off-season program. Not the mini-camps or the organized team activities.
Nearly six months into his new job as the Lions head coach, it's time for the start of training camp. Players in helmets and pads. Contact. Hits. Finally, the real thing.
It's Marinelli's firm belief that games are won through preparation, toughness and hard work. And he has been waiting for July 28, the day the Lions begin practicing in pads.
"It's hard to teach skill at this level without pads," Marinelli said. "That's key. The other phase is your body needs to get hardened. Sometimes when you keep a team really fresh early, you come out of the blocks early, you feel pretty good but your body has a tendency to get worn down because it's not used to the hitting."
It is Marinelli's intention to avoid that wearing-down process in the 2006 Detroit Lions. He is more interested in getting the game-hardening than keeping them fresh in the early weeks of the season.
"I've always been around teams that finished strong at the end of the year and that's always been in my mind. There's a different conditioning you get when you're in pads. You can run all day but when it's body pushing and body shoving, that's a whole different world."
If players can fight through practice field fatigue during two-a-days in the Michigan July heat, he believes they will be ready for the Sunday afternoon battles in October and November and they will be able to avoid many of the injuries that can beset them as the season progresses.
"I worked for Tony Dungy and that's how we practiced," Marinelli said. "And most of the guys on this staff, their background, where they come from, it's been like that. Dick Vermeil was with Mike Martz. Physical. Tippy Brown was with Jimmy Johnson.
"I don't know if it's old school or anything but a lot of guys continue to do that today. It's just a philosophy; it's not so much a system but it's how you've been brought up in this profession."
CAMP CALENDAR: July 27 -- All players report to training camp; July 28 -- Two-a-day workouts begin; Aug. 5 -- Ford Field scrimmage, open to the public; Aug. 11 -- exhibition opener against Denver; Aug. 24 -- Kickoff luncheon, hosted by Economic Club of Detroit.
Bryant played his first five NFL seasons at Jacksonville under Tom Coughlin, who was considered a taskmaster during his early seasons with the Jaguars.
As tough as Coughlin was, Bryant says he believes Marinelli's staff, which includes defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, will be even tougher.
"I'd say this coaching staff (is tougher) just because of the added presence of Donnie, having been a defensive backs coach and knowing what to expect, knowing the relationship I have with him and the expectations he has with me," Bryant said.
"Coughlin was more of an offensive guy; he was with Mark Brunell and he was more of an offensive (coach). He looked at the defense but yet he didn't. At that point in time, I had Dom Capers (as a defensive coordinator).
"Here, when your head coach is a defensive coach and your defensive coordinator was a secondary coach just two years ago, it put more emphasis on the secondary."
In fact, it sounds like they will be in pads for at least the start of every session during two-a-days on the Allen Park practice field.
"We'll start in pads and I'll see as we go," Marinelli said. "If you think it's alright, you take 'em off if that's the right thing to do at that time. It's a judgment thing as you go. You don't want to just be locked into something, but that's how we'll start."
That includes the opening day of workouts on July 28.
That will be a change for players who have been on the Lions roster in recent years. Under former coach Steve Mariucci, the team often worked without pads in one of the two-a-day workouts. Mariucci was concerned with keeping players fresh.
The Lions offensive players seem to have bought into the theory that he really is an offensive genius, a motivator and innovator capable of bringing the offensive explosiveness to Detroit that he developed in St. Louis.
Coach Rod Marinelli is doing nothing to discourage his players' faith in Martz.
"There's no doubt," Marinelli said, referring to Martz's credentials as a builder of offenses. "That's what I said to you men and ladies before, when I was pursuing him to get him here.
"I would go into that personnel meeting and I could see the young talent on this football team and I just thought it was imperative that he became a Lion. I know how good he is. I think he's even better than I thought he was."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Donnie worked me out when I was coming out of college. He told me I look like my old self again, I'm looking like I'm having fun again, I'm running better, I'm understanding the scheme better and I'm reacting like when I was healthy. Everything is getting back to where it should be." -- Cornerback Fernando Bryant on defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson's expectations for him after missing most of the past two seasons with injuries.
General manager Ted Thompson indicated during the team's annual shareholders meeting July 19 that Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport won't be cleared to participate at the outset. Both players are recovering from leg injuries sustained last season and were held out of all off-season workouts.
"Ahman is a workaholic. He's feeling really, really good," Thompson said. "Some time during the preseason, maybe not the very start, we expect Najeh and Ahman to be back. We're going to try to be very cautious."
Davenport will be on the field before Green is. Davenport suffered a broken right ankle October 9 and declared himself fit to return for the organized team activities in June, but the medical staff thought differently.
Green is expected to be held back from contact drills for at least the first couple weeks of camp. He sustained a torn right quadriceps tendon October 23.
Thompson isn't concerned that the offense could be set back some without its incumbent number 1 and 2 backs initially.
"We kind of know what we have. Ahman is a marvelous athlete and an excellent football player. So, I don't think there's any unknowns there," Thompson said. "But, I guess coming back from the injury, you're never really certain. I think it's just getting them back and being able to say, 'OK, they're all healthy now.'"
Green stands to reclaim the starting spot when he's given the green light to practice. First-year offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, though, isn't set on going into the season with the four-time Pro Bowler as his featured back.
"I'd like to see him run down the field without hurting first," Jagodzinski said. "How can I say, 'Yeah, it's his starting job'? He hasn't played in over a year."
CAMP CALENDAR: Opens July 28 in Green Bay, closes Aug. 26. There will be an intrasquad scrimmage the evening of Aug. 5 before a sellout crowd at Lambeau Field. In a change from previous years, the team will have eight evening practices, including the initial workout of camp.
Chairman/CEO Bob Harlan said the club figured 11,400 attended the meeting, which was moved to Lambeau Field after a nearby arena couldn't handle the big crowds that turned out for the meeting.
The publicly owned Packers rewarded the stockholders by giving them a tour of the team's locker room and other facilities for the first time. Tours were held for 10-hour periods July 18 and 19. Harlan said an estimated 15,400 people took the team up on the offer.
"People have come from all around the country, literally, to take this tour," Harlan said.
Harlan, who will retire next spring, indicated that the shareholders meeting will remain at Lambeau Field in future years.
Harlan said there's no timetable for when Jones, 54, will be back at work, though Harlan didn't rule out a return by the end of August.
"It's up to John and the doctors," Harlan said.
"If you didn't cry when you saw that, I don't think you'll ever cry," Harlan said.
White, the team's all-time sacks leader, is the lone inductee in the Packers Hall of Fame this year. A ceremony was held July 22 in the Lambeau Field Atrium with a number of White's former teammates in attendance.
White died Dec. 26, 2004, at age 43 from a respiratory ailment. He will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 5.
"I've been calling (general manager) Ted Thompson, and I told him, 'Yo, man, I understand how the situation is, but I know you all have a dollar sitting on the shelf around there somewhere. Give me the dollar so you can look good on paper that you're paying me and let me come back and play. He said he had to think about it," Brown told WGBA-TV in Green Bay.
Brown, 35, hasn't played since he sustained a season-ending torn bicep in a preseason game in 2004. The famously heavy nose tackle said he works out four hours per day.
While he awaits a call from an NFL team, Brown keeps active in sports as a part owner of The Milwaukee Mile racetrack in West Allis, Wis.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Once we hit the period (in late April) where Brett (Favre) came back, Charles Woodson signed and we had what looked like a very promising draft, it was like the phone company and the postal service went out of business at the same time. The calls stopped, and the mail stopped." -- Team chairman/CEO Bob Harlan on how the fans' outlook for the 2006 season changed from pessimism to optimism.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
After making threats last month that he would hold out from training camp if his demand for a reworked contract wasn't met, cornerback Al Harris now says he'll report on time.
Harris told both the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in the past week that he will be on hand for the first day of practice July 28.
"My thing man, honestly, is I don't want to be a distraction, and I refuse to be distracted myself," Harris said. "This will be a big year for me."
The ninth-year veteran participated in only a mandatory post-draft mini-camp in early May. He purposely skipped a voluntary mini-camp in late May and optional organized team activities in June because he's unsatisfied with the six-year, $18.6 million extension he received at the start of the 2004 season. Harris has four years left on the deal.
With the addition of Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson, Harris figures he'll have more balls thrown his way and will cash in with a bigger payday from the team by the end of the season. If the team doesn't restructure the contract in a timely manner, however, Harris suggested that he'll bolt after the season.
"I don't want to make threats, and I told my agent, 'Let's just chill out and see what's what,'" Harris said. "But, to me, if it's not done by a certain time, you have to look elsewhere.
"My whole thing is if you play to a certain level, you should be rewarded. I think it will get done. It's just right now, (the Packers) have a lot on their plate."
Indeed, the team is in the midst of locking up its big rookie class with contracts. General manager Ted Thompson said he's confident all 12 draftees will be signed by the first day of camp, including No. 5 overall pick A.J. Hawk.
Five lower-round rookies are under contract -- cornerback Will Blackmon (fourth), offensive tackle Tony Moll (fifth), defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (sixth), safety Tyrone Culver (sixth) and defensive end Dave Tollefson (seventh). All of them received four-year contracts with minimum base salaries.
Mike Tice's instincts as a former offensive line coach told him that Marcus Johnson had big-time potential that was equaled by his big-time size (6-6, 321 pounds).
Tice, in fact, liked Johnson so much that he made him the starter for the first four games of his rookie season at right guard. When that didn't pan out, Johnson was moved to right tackle and started four games at that position before sitting out the final two games because of an ankle injury.
While Tice is no longer around as the Vikings coach, Johnson's potential hasn't been overlooked by new coach Brad Childress.
The Vikings' second-round pick in 2005 remains atop the depth chart at right tackle as the team prepares to open training camp. The feeling among all involved is Johnson is best suited to play tackle because of his long arms.
He did struggle at times with false-start penalties as a rookie, but the hope among the coaching staff is a more mature Johnson will be able to avoid such miscues.
Johnson will lineup alongside right guard Artis Hicks, who was acquired in a draft-weekend trade with Philadelphia. Hicks is highly thought of by Childress, the Eagles' former offensive coordinator.
CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies and selected veterans will report on July 27; the remainder of the veterans will report July 30; training camp officially will open July 1. Training camp will break from Mankato, Minn., on Aug. 18. There will be an evening practice against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 4.
The Vikings were one of five teams to offer fullback Ahmard Hall a contract after he wasn't selected in the supplemental draft. Hall ended up signing with Tennessee.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's a key to any offense. I think it's going to be a key to being a better player." -- Tight end Jermaine Wiggins on the importance of him having added quickness in the Vikings' offense as a result of his noticeable weight loss this off-season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Vikings signed four of their six draft picks in a three-day span last week, leaving first-round linebacker Chad Greenway and second-round quarterback Tarvaris Jackson as the only unsigned choices.
Griffin received a four-year contract worth $3.23 million. Cook got a four-year, $3.12 million deal. Terms for Blue and Edwards' deals were not available.