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Mark Schlereth: Mike Shanahan’s training camp is about tempo

Mark Schlereth experienced six training camps under coach Mike Shanahan with the Denver Broncos from 1995-2000, so he’s got a great idea of what 80 Washington Redskins are about to endure.

(He also went through four with Joe Gibbs and the Redskins, and we’ll get to those comparisons in a moment.)

I chatted with Schlereth by phone yesterday to find out what to expect from a Shanahan-led training camp.

I’ll admit that I was intrigued to learn two weeks ago that the Redskins will have 15 two-a-days this summer, but that each afternoon session in those pairings is listed as a “walkthrough.” My initial reaction was to wonder whether having no afternoon practices with pads is a bit soft.

Schlereth, however, insisted that’s not the case because up-tempo practices are the defining characteristic of a Shanahan camp.

“He’s gonna treat you like a man,” said Schlereth, a two-time Pro Bowl guard who is now an analyst for ESPN. “He’s gonna get the most out of you as a player, but at the same time, he’s going to give you time. He’s gonna give you time to rest, time to heal. You have a hard grind-it-out practice followed by one that’s not gonna be as difficult. They call it a ‘10-10-10’ practice. It’s basically no pads, just kind of helmets and foam shells, but you’re not gonna beat the living snot out of each other.

“The other thing is tempo of practice. You’re flying around even when you don’t have pads on. We used to say, ‘No pads, full go.’”

I asked whether reducing the amount of hitting in camp was ever detrimental, keeping in mind that Schlereth won two Super Bowls in his six seasons in Denver.

“I always felt like I was getting an advantage when we practiced against guys without pads on because those other guys are going to have pads on [in the game] and that gives me more to grab and it slows them down just a hair, and it keeps me fresher.

“But again, you have to practice. It’s not time to lollygag. It’s not patty-cake. ‘Oh great, we don’t have pads on. Let’s pat each others’ hineys.’ It was full-go. It was snot-bubble, try-to-beat-the-living-snot-out-of-one-another. You’re just eliminating collisions. You still say we’re gonna double team up to the linebacker. Nobody is taking a bit hit, and that’s the difference.”

That sparked Schlereth’s memory of a 1996 scrimmage against the Carolina Panthers. It made me laugh, so I’ll give you the whole thing.

“We go through the first practice, which is full pads,” he said. “Grind it out for two hours and 40 minutes of basically just beating the living snot out of each other, right? So we get done with that practice and it’s all good. We go in the afternoon in one of these 10-10-10 practices without pads on. Just helmets and foam shells to make sure your shoulder doesn’t get hit by a facemask.

“So we’re flying around, and Carolina is basically taking it as a glorified walkthrough. And I’ll never forget as we’re going back in, we were in Greeley, Colorado, and our guys are all walking off the football field saying, ‘Man, those guys have no idea how to practice without pads on!’ And all of their guys are walking off saying, ‘Man, those guys have no idea how to practice without pads on!’ We were out there basically putting it on the Carolina Panthers without pads, and they’re treating it like a glorified walkthrough. So tempo is a big thing with Mike.”

Schlereth also raved about how responsive Shanahan was to players who needed to take it easy because they were either coming off of surgery or simply were older.

He joked that training camp was usually rehab time for him because surgery was a part of his typical offseason routine.

“In training camp, Mike takes care of the veteran guys,” he said. “He took great care of me. He added years on my career. Older guys like myself who had injury issues and whose bodies can’t do [it every day]. I just got to the point where I can’t be out there beating myself. I’ve got to save it for the game. And he was always really good about taking care of me and letting my offensive line coach go, ‘OK, I need him on these three plays, but these eight plays he can do in his sleep.’”

And with the Dez Bryant-Roy Williams-shoulder pads saga ongoing, I asked Schlereth about Shanahan’s stance on rookie hazing/rite of passage/etc. I’m sure we’ll find out more when Shanahan meets with media tomorrow, but Schlereth said that Shanahan is in favor of upholding traditions.

“He understands the game,” Schlereth said. “He understands what you do as a veteran player. He gets that. He’s all for it. That’s part of the deal.”

Schlereth has an interesting frame of reference for all this. He played 12 NFL seasons, including six with the Redskins from 1989-1994. He was on teams coached by Gibbs (including, of course, the 1991 championship team), Richie Petitbon and Norv Turner.

He likened Shanahan’s approach to Gibbs’ in terms of intensity but not the amount of hitting.

“I think Joe Gibbs was short and sweet,” he said. “They were shorter practices and incredibly intense, a ton of contact. That was a different time, obviously. I think one of the things about Mike’s practices is the tempo. They move. Practice does not drag. That’s a good thing.

“Norv Turner’s practices were awful because we’d be out there for three hours plus. For me, there was a lot of standing around time. As a player, the more you have to stand around and think about it the worse off you are, right? Especially the down time gives you an opportunity to get stiff and all that kind of stuff.

“To me, the tempo of practice, you have to practice like you’re gonna play. If you’ve got a lot of standing around, that’s just not good. I think those two things really mimic each other from Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan. The difference is Mike took us out of pads a lot. For an aging veteran, I can’t tell you how important that was for me.”

Only 48 hours left until we start to find out for ourselves…