• 08/12/2008, 10:22AM ET

Can NFL training camp fights be beneficial to teams?


Two men, clad in armor and a helmet, square off in an effort to prove their toughness and competitive fire. How stupid is this behavior? It clearly shows a lack of being able to control the competitive spirit.

Football is a violent game. Teams that win have extremely tough players who overcome adversity and think smartly while under great pressure. To me thinking smartly and fighting a teammate are not synonymous.

I like clear thinking. I like coaches and players who always appear poised and have a quiet confidence in their behavior that sends subliminal messages they are under control.

I understand why it happens. I have been around players who have fought and the results are never positive. Usually it happens from something off the field -- a comment, insult or someone crossing the line. It then turns into a stupid fight where the risk of injury is great.

There is a separation that occurs from teammates fighting on the field. No matter how much the coaches try to reconnect the team, there is an underlying bitterness that never goes away.

I believe in Bill Walsh's theory of thinking man's football: Controlled rage is more preferred then unfettered anger.

Spoken like a true front office executive, Lombardi. This topic needs the perspective of a player who has been his fair share of training camp fights trying to earn a job in the NFL.

I am not in any way talking about fights that happen as a result of off the field occurrences. The recent Steve Smith situation is unacceptable and I don't condone that type of behavior.

I am talking about fights that occur on the field, between two heated combatants after the play during a tough period on a rough day during camp. As a guy who made roster decisions, you should know how critical it is that the guy you are going to keep is someone you can count on for all-out effort every play of every day.

These fisticuffs are productive because it usually means someone is playing hard to the echo of the whistle. And someone else isn't and doesn't like it. Almost every fight I ever got in during my NFL career was because I was playing harder than my opponent and they finally had enough.

Fights like these establish a tempo and an attitude for a football team. If you don't like how hard your teammates are practicing, you only have two choices: match their intensity or get embarrassed.

It's clear I have some work to do.

Setting the tempo and the attitude is very important for practice, but it is about practicing the right things, not the wrong things. Going hard and fighting should never be confused.

Tucker said he felt he was "playing harder" than his opponent. Playing hard is what you are paid to do. Playing until the whistle stops is what the rules clearly state. And if your actions are causing others to retaliate, then why not step aside and keep your poise? Act like you have always played hard, like it's a normal, everyday occurrence, much like a player who scores a TD and simply flips the ball back to the ref. Once you fight back, you let your coaches and teammates know you are just a sparring partner, not ready for the real title fight.

I admire playing hard, I admire playing to the whistle, but why do you have to fight back? You follow the rules perfectly to the end of the whistle and then by fighting back you lose everything you gain.

Every team needs a "Rocky" kind of player; there are very few Apollo Creeds. But even Rocky knew his real purpose was to establish his dominance during the round, not after.

I agree: Practice is about practicing the right things, and that includes finishing every single play. The finish is critical as it could be the difference between a big play or not. It also wears on your opponents as they become overwhelmed by your persistence and desire to physically dominate them.

I can honestly say I never started a fight during practice. Instead, I finished plays the way every coach expects. Some of the best players in the league, like the Chargers' Kris Dielman, developed a reputation because of a propensity to punish opponents any chance they got.

When you consistently finish plays, guys are going to get agitated and they are going to start the fights. They are the ones that lose their poise. Not Dielman or I or anyone else who is trying to play the game the only way it is really fun: all out.

You can't just walk away as another man punches you, even if you were just doing your job. You don't make it to the NFL if you are the type of guy that refuses to defend themselves. Fighting back lets everyone know that you are going to play to the whistle, and if they don't like it and want to start something, you are more than happy to oblige.

I don't need an Ivy League education to know that when I throw a punch into a helmet, the risk of me hurting myself is far greater than me hurting my foe.

Respect is earned through performance. The one thing I have learned in over 20 years in the NFL is most players are astute evaluators of talent. Respect is earned in the film room as a result of the actions on the field. Too often after one of the clashes is over, I can recall hearing one player say to the other, "That boy just loves to fight," and never, "Wow, that guy is so tough because he loves to fight."

The following eight rules were pulled directly from my 2002 Raiders manual:

1. There is no place for fighting on our team.
2. Respect your teammates.
3. Don't waste everyone's time.
4. Be disciplined and control your emotions.
5. Practicing bad habits can be reflected in the game.
6. We have a huge investment in each one our players, we don't need anyone stirring up problems.
7. We lose a player in a fight, we have the right to fine you.
8. We are on the SAME TEAM.

We went to the Super Bowl in '02, following these rules. They are supported by the most important element in the NFL: Wins.

The difference between wins and losses in the NFL is so small that a team full of players that finish every play will prevail against a bunch of guys who let up once they think the play is almost over. Though that mindset may result in a couple of fights during practice, it will pay dividends during the game in the form of one or two personal foul penalties when your opponent retaliates on Sunday.

Besides, there really is very little chance of doing any serious harm. The only injury I ever received was when an incensed Lavar Arrington somehow got my helmet off and caught me with a right hook to the ear while our teammates were trying to break it up. I had to get four stitches after practice, but it was worth it.

The '02 Raiders manual is great, but you can throw it out the window because all the coaches I know love the intensity a finisher like the Patriots' Logan Mankins brings to the table.

Coaches want players who truly care. The same players that hate going against the Mankins of the world in practice are the happiest guys in the world to have them on their side come Sunday.

If that isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.


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