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Perspectives differ but Cardinals agree, camp ain’t what it used to be

Arizona Cardinals offensive linemen Mike Iupati (76) and Will Holden (69) work on blocking drills during an NFL football training camp Monday, July 24, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is little nuance in Bruce Arians’ assessment of modern-day Cardinals training camp.

“You practice once a day. You stay in a five-star hotel. That ain’t camp,” said Arians, who has famously dubbed this Camp Cupcake. “A sh***y dorm room, practicing twice a day — now that’s camp.”

The Cardinals players have a different perspective on the changes the latest collective bargaining agreement has delivered them, and the luxuries that team owner Michel Bidwill has afforded them, but one opinion is unanimous: training camp ain’t what it used to be.

“The length of the days is so different now,” quarterback Drew Stanton said. “Having two-a-day practices was a grind. I remember showing up to rookie camp and it felt like I had gone through a whole college camp by the time the veterans showed up, and then we had those long practices. The regulations that were in place 11 years ago were completely different from what they are now.”

Stanton remembers the toll it took on bodies.

“It was grueling, especially for those guys who were hitting every day,” he said. “I remember going out there and making 60 to 70 throws and then going back out there and doing it again. I remember trying to warm up my arm on Day 5 of camp and wondering, ‘is it even going to raise up today?’

“The fatigue sets in now, but as sports science develops and all the recovery methods improve, it’s just amazing to see the impact it has now in comparison to back then. Back then, we had ice troughs and everyone would just go hop in those. That was the treatment.”

Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby, Stanton, Phil Dawson and A.Q. Shipley are part of a shrinking group of Cardinals players that remembers the old days, and that is the most striking difference to Dawson when he surveys expanded camp rosters.

“When I came into the league, being a veteran was something that was esteemed and looked up to and a team tried to accumulate as many of those guys as they could and now it almost seems like the opposite,” he said. “You just look at a roster and the number of 10-plus year players is shrinking. It’s just a much younger league than when I started.”

Somehow, Dawson escaped another trademark element of past camps. Dawson is taking part in his 19th NFL training camp, yet he has never stayed in one of those sub-par dorms Arians referenced.

“I’ve been very blessed to have never had to go anywhere remotely,” he said, laughing. “It’s always been at my team facility, whether it was in Cleveland all those years, San Francisco, or now here. I’m living a charmed life.”

Shipley is on the opposite side of the karmic wheel.

“When I was in Pittsburgh we went to Latrobe, Pennsylvania — St. Vincent College,” he said. “When I was in Philly, we went to Lehigh in Bethlehem and when I was in Indy, I went to Anderson University.

“Everybody likes to sleep in their own bed. When I was in Baltimore, after one week, veterans got to sleep in their own bed and that was like a game changer for me.”

Stanton said when he arrived in Arizona, most of the players told him they hoped the team would continue going to its traditional camp in Flagstaff. That story doesn’t exactly jibe with some of the opinions we heard from Cardinals players when Bidwill moved camp to Glendale, but Stanton said something was lost in the move.

“There’s a certain nostalgia of going to some remote place and being off the reservation; focusing on football,” he said. “It’s a change of scenery. You’re completely quarantined up there. You’re working solely on football. There’s not all this external stuff like going to restaurants or all the exposure we have here. You’re forced to come together with teammates, playing cards, hanging out at night and you really get to know guys off the field. Some of that still takes place, but not to the extent that it used to.”

Arians sees more casualties.

“You had more players and you practiced — some coaches, three times a day, but that was too much,” he said. “Twice a day, you’ve got so much more teaching involved, and you didn’t practice as long. When you look at a (current) three-hour practice, you’re going to get most of your injuries in the last 45 minutes because they’re exhausted. If you practice twice a day, in the same amount of time, you’re going to have less injuries; only makes sense, but it didn’t pass the CBA.”

Stanton said he’d like to see the month-long grind of camp broken up with a visit to Flagstaff, just as the Colts did at Anderson University when he was in Indianapolis. Shipley said no matter where camp is staged, there are still plenty of challenges for players.

“I know Bruce calls this Camp Cupcake but it’s still a grind,” he said. “We’re out there two hours every day, hitting. It’s more of a mental grind now. The physical aspect is still there for those three hours, but you don’t have to worry about dragging your body back out of bed for a second physical practice like you used to.”

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