Training camp is an absolute blast to watch, and it's fun to follow from a distance. This is an opportunity to see rookies really work for the first time, to carry realistic and unrealistic hopes and dreams for your favorite team, and to follow along obsessively with dozens of updates every single day. It's a little dizzying, frankly.
It's also a prime opportunity to get sucked into the space-filling stories, the ones that will be long forgotten by the time the season rolls around. With less than a week to go until training camp, I'm dredging up five storylines that you'll want to take with a grain of salt.
1) Dan Quinn's practices have such a great tempo!
This was relevant and welcome in the spring, when the practices don't mean a ton and we're looking to get a sense of direction for the new regime. The fact that Quinn wants faster, more physical practices and that he's got some great playlists is a lot of fun
You'll hear this a lot, however, over the next month or so. The change is so marked and the team's fortunes so dim after the last two years that I'm sure it's borderline electrifying to experience in person, so it will be remarked upon again and again and again. Make no mistake: It's welcome, but in terms of impact on this team's 2015 fortunes, it's likely to be negligible. Enjoy those blaring songs and let these mentions wash over you.
2) Borderline Roster Guy reported in the best shape of their life!
Ra'Shede Hageman showing up looking like he's auditioning for the next Terminator movie is great, especially given the context of his rookie season. Bernard Reedy coming to camp ridiculously jacked is less meaningful, even if (like me) you're rooting for the second-year receiver to make a huge impact.
The fact is that fitness and looking like a Greek god who just walked out of the mists of myth isn't enough, particularly when you're down the depth chart, to make a meaningful difference for most players. It's very different if you were injured or out of shape in your first year, and perhaps even if you're an aging veteran trying to do battle with Father Time. For the most part, though, you should be beyond skeptical of the
3) The offensive line is really gelling!
Sorry, I just can't listen to this one after the last two seasons. The Falcons' offensive line in 2014 looked vastly improved, but then injuries smacked the team so hard it hardly mattered.
No matter how good the offensive line looks, keep in mind that it's a motley crew of incumbents who weren't working out of a pure zone blocking scheme, newcomers like Chris Chester who have mixed track records of success and that guys like Joe Hawley may never be 100% this year, even if they're nice scheme fits. I'm bullish on the line's chances of being noticeably better than years past, but don't buy the feel-good story until you see it in game action.
Oh, and as a corollary...
4) Player X is recovering nicely from injury.
We've just been burned so many times. Dan Quinn may not approach injuries with the same mix of skulduggery and secrecy that Mike Smith & Co. utilized, but he's still an NFL head coach working for one of the 32 NFL teams, where misinformation and half-truths are the norm when it comes to injury. If you hear William Moore is bounding back from his injury, that's great news, but take it with a grain of salt until you see him (again, I repeat) in game action.
5) Player Y is primed for a breakout
I'm more guilty of this than most, so I'm basically telling you to ignore me. You guys should already be comfortable with that.
We have to be very careful of anointing players who have strong camps and even strong preseasons, as those players routinely fade into the background by the time the season comes around. I'm still getting questions about why Amsterdam isn't being talked about, despite the fact that he was waived with an injury settlement late last August and hasn't latched on with an NFL team since. The franchise's recent history is littered with the names of players like Brandyn Harvey, Amsterdam, and others who delivered eye-opening training camps and then disappeared. Unless the player has a role lined up and is making the most of that opportunity, be cautious about this story.
There are times when these stories will come true, particularly #5, but you're better off treating them as background noise in July and August until you receive a concrete reason to do otherwise.