My August Plan
The days of getting to watch 14 hours of football camp the first few weeks of August are gone. It's now 20 minutes per day - around two hours per week if there's six practices - and all we get to see are the individual drills. The next time we get to watch some actual football will be the Nebraska game.
There's not much you can learn from 20 minutes of "indy". Individual drills are exactly what they sound like - the safeties work with the safety coach and the tight ends work with the tight end coach and the kickers and punters goof around and practice kicking into trash cans - so you don't get to watch much "football". If you're watching the linebackers, it's likely some kind of walkthrough with trash cans. The trash cans represent the defensive linemen, and the linebackers are given a play call, and then the walkon linebackers simulate the tailback and blockers, and the linebackers have to react to the gaps (trash cans in the drill; defensive linemen during actual football) based on that assignment. It's, uh, boring (but necessary).
It's also why I go nuclear eye-roll when some "Tarique Barnes looked fantastic in practice today" tweet makes its way across my timeline. I'm there for all 20 minutes watching a player walk through a walkthrough drill. I guess he... walked fantastically?
Now, I'm not saying I'm NOT one to stretch 20 minute of practice into 1,500 words. There's still stuff to evaluate. This is the first (and only) chance to see the freshmen do anything, so you can get a read on what kind of athlete Daniel Edwards will be at cornerback by watching some "backpedal and then flip and go" drill. Just like an assistant coach recruiting at some satellite camp, when you watch 12 players go through the same drill, it's easy to separate the 4-star athlete from the walkon. If you're wondering why coaches give the marginal recruits the "come camp with us in June and we'll chat" message, it's because they can learn so much from an individual workout.
So yes, there will be things to learn from individual drills. Especially on offense. Even if it's the assistant coach throwing passes to the receivers, you can still watch them come out of a break and then snatch the ball out of the air. You can tell if a QB is accurate or if he throws behind too many guys. If you watch three offensive linemen go through the same blocking drill, you can rank them 1-2-3. It's a small sample size, but it's something.
All of that to say that I'm going to have to adjust my camp coverage. Two years ago, if picking percentages of camp that was then applied to writing articles, 47% came from watching 11-on-11 drills, 24% from 7-on-7, 16% from OL-DL head-to-heads, 9% from individual drills, and 4% from special teams periods. Now we're restricted to only watching the 9% part and then we have to leave practice. I hate it hate it hate it, but that's the reality now.
(I should note that I get it. The idea is to go into the first game with the opponent completely in the dark. If practices were open to the media and the public the first three weeks like they were in the past, Nebraska would send spies to try to figure out what we're running. I understand why coaches do this. I was hoping it would be like other Big Ten programs who open certain practices to credentialed media, asking them to not report things like "wow, running a lot of corner blitzes here", but Christmas 1979 taught me that you don't get everything you want in life because I did not find Stretch Armstrong under the tree.)
So I need a new plan. Here's the new plan.
Daily Updates On Slack. This is one of the main reasons we added the Slack channel. I wanted a safe, private space to talk directly to subscribers. "Here's what I saw, here's what the players said afterwards, here's what I think about that" all in a place that's not public and accessible to everyone. I mean, maybe some Nebraska coach will find my site and sign up for an Orange Tier membership just to read "I really like freshman cornerback Kionte Curry", but I doubt it.
A lot of this whole revised structure that we launched last September was specifically for things like this. I wanted a way to talk directly to the people paying for the Orange ($60) tier. There's still hundreds and hundreds of articles for the Blue ($30) tier, but for those who have doubled that to support what I'm doing here, I wanted a place to deliver the content directly to them. That's the Slack channel (and the bi-weekly newsletter).
There are still 175 Orange Tier subscribers who have never activated the Slack link I sent them, so if that's you, just email me (robert at IlliniBoard dot com) and I can get you another activation link. I added a football camp channel there today so that people can directly ask questions about anything we get to see (individual drills, player/coach interviews, etc). Please don't hesitate to use that channel (or any of the others). Remember, I work for you.
Mailbags. I won't be answering every question over there on Slack. I'll still play the hits. I've always done post-spring mailbags and during-camp mailbags, so after I've been able to see maybe a week of 20-minute practices, I'll try to answer any questions you might have. The mailbag side of this won't change all that much.
Podcast Episodes. I plan to put some of the audio from player and coach interviews into some podcast episodes. Not exactly sure what it will look like just yet (I have a lot of ideas), but look for that in the We Love No Other feed. You can find that feed on Apple Podcasts here and on Spotify here and on Google Podcasts here (the Google Podcasts link is finally fixed).
If you use a different service to listen to podcasts, just search for We Love No Other. You should be able to find it.................. wherever you get your podcasts.
Articles On The Website. I'll still write stuff on the site (duh). The main change here is that the "here's what I learned at practice today" stuff that I've written for the last 11 years is pretty much dead. I can't write some big "Donny Navarro made three ridiculous catches in 11-on-11" anymore because we can no longer watch 11-on-11. So most of what I learn from 20 minutes of practice will just go on a Slack update (where I can be a little looser with "not sure he's going to be in the rotation this season" stuff) and then I'll concentrate other thoughts into different articles throughout the week. There won't be individual practice reports (like the last 11 years).
Which means if you came here looking for "thoughts from the first practice", there aren't many. What I can squeeze out of 20 minutes I'm putting on Slack, and then the rest goes into a mental file to be assembled every few days. Audio stuff? Gonna try to send that directly to the podcast feed.
I guess I should close with a recap of our tiers. I don't think I've written about it for six months.
If you're an occasional reader, you get two free reads per month per device. If you're really good, you can go two on iPhone, two on iPad, two on your work computer, and two on your wife's phone and push that to eight per month.
If you find yourself reading more than that, it's $30 for the Blue Tier. That gets you every single article throughout the year. This is my job now, so that $30, like, pays my salary and stuff.
If you want more than just that, there's a $60 Orange Tier. That gets you the Slack channel, a biweekly newsletter (delivered to your email inbox), a 17% discount at the IlliniBoard store (another thing that pays my rent - buy my shirts), and the IlliniBoard previews before the various seasons (also sent via email as a PDF).
If you're interested in subscribing, you start with the registration page. You'll need an IlliniBoard account first (allows you to comment - you don't ever have to), and then you can tie the subscription to it. So if you've never done that, the registration page is here.
After you're registered and logged-in, you can go here to purchase your subscription. Choose Blue or Orange, make the payment, and presto, you start getting all of the content. $30 or $60 and then I'm your on-demand fan-in-the-pressbox for the next 12 months. IlliniBoard will be at every home and away game (football and basketball) this season.
Speaking of the newsletter, uh, today is newsletter today. I'd better go get that one written.
Maybe I'll go with "34 things I learned by watching the linebackers walk through drills for 10 minutes".