Applying An Ounce of Skepticism to Practice Reports

If there's a current player along the continuum of receivers comparable to David Boston, it's Brandon Marshall. Photo by Casey Rhees.
Practice reports are troublesome beasts… Photo by Casey Rhees.

I’m gradually reaching the conclusion that the most unreliable aspect of football journalism is the practice report. When done well, they’re invaluable. But how do you know that the observations are sound?

Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News posted a trio of tweets about Brandin Cooks this morning and it was a reminder of this point. Let me first say, that I’m singling out Iyer’s example, but not Iyer in particular. Iyer’s tweets and video example could have come from hundreds of other sideline observers in camp. At one time, they could have come from me.

Here are the tweets and the video.


Link to video:

 What was “wow” about this play? Is it that Cooks caught the ball? I don’t think so. Is it the separation he got? Hard to say, it could have been a blown assignment. What about the effort of the cornerback?

We didn’t learn anything from these posts about Cooks’ work to separate from the defender. If you look at it close enough, Brees is short of the target and Cooks has to wait for it. How as Cooks looked when he has faced tight coverage on an under thrown ball? This has been an area of inconsistency of his game.

The larger point I’m making is the reactions of the reader when they see tweets like this. The information can get blown out of proportion.

These observations from Iyer seem casual in tone — like a fan more than a reporter. But in today’s digital media environment, these observations get picked up and used as evidence in any number of training camp reports — regardless of Iyer’s intention to offer these tweets as a salient piece of hard-hitting football information or as a fan-boy moment.

In addition, my point isn’t to say that the potential for Cooks’ game is being overrated by the media. What we have learned thus far from reporters and in the first couple of weeks of the preseason is that Cooks is performing well enough to earn a role in the offense and he’ll be featured a lot.

However, what we don’t really know from tweets and many training camp reports is how good Cooks has been and where are the potential areas where he needs to improve?

I witness this problem every year at the Senior Bowl practices. At the end of practice, I’ll hear writers sharing takes on players that can be so different from what I saw. Sometimes the writer didn’t see the detail clearly on the play that they’re describing. I know I have been guilty of it and will continue to be — one of the fundamental issues is that we’re all still learning the game.

However, there are many writers who “watch” practice than actually study the game. The bar for great technical information is set pretty low, because the mass demand for it isn’t that high.

There are other writers that seem blown away by athleticism and if the player isn’t making splash plays based on dominating athleticism that earns terrific separation as a runner, receiver, or defender, some of these writers aren’t impressed.

Sadly, I’ve seven heard writers state a criticism of a player during practice, have that statement debated by a writer with more credibility, and then later hear that first writer plagiarize the more credible writer’s take as his own.

There is a lot of water cooler gossip on social media and training camp reports. It’s why there is often a disconnect between “glowing practice reports” and actual in-game performance. I’m sure there are some excellent writers who deliver strong practice reports, but I haven’t compiled a list.

My recommendation, keep reading the reports but pay attention to what the information doesn’t say before reacting too swiftly to its content.

3 responses to “Applying An Ounce of Skepticism to Practice Reports”

  1. Alex Kozora has been doing fantastic practice reports on Steelers camp over at Steelers Depot. But I completely get your point about overreacting to practice reports.

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