Welcome to the dog days of football's fall training camp.
The excitement associated with the start of camp has worn off. The excitement associated with "Game Week" is yet to come. Now is grind time. Two-a-day practices. It's hot. Players are becoming tired and sore and frustrated, a witches' brew for short tempers. And fights.
Scuffles, skirmishes and sucker punches have been the talk of NFL training camps this season. Jets quarterback Geno Smith was famously left with a broken jaw in a locker-room confrontation. More prevalent have been practice punch-ups, wrestling matches and impromptu boxing bouts in the middle of practices.
A brawl in the middle of a joint practice between the St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday in California caused the two sides to cut the workout short. HBO's Hard Knocks camera crew documented a throw-down between the Redskins and Texans in another joint practice. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton got into a shoving match with one of his own cornerbacks in a recent Carolina practice.
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College players aren't immune to on-the-field confrontations. Put 100-plus young men on a field under the hot sun, tell them to run into each other and chances are a few feelings will be bruised to the point of punching back.
"I think there's gonna be some of that," Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said after his team's Wednesday morning practice. "Tensions get high — guys are competing for jobs, guys get frustrated — so there's gonna be some of that. We had a little of that last week and we've grown out of it a little bit. Haven't seen much of it lately."
Stoops quickly corrected himself. In a recent practice, the coach was working with the skill players when he noticed some linemen pushing and shoving at the other end of the field.
"But that ended quick," he said, "and I didn't see any carryover into the team, period. There's gonna be some hotheads at times, but I don't get overly concerned unless it's a problem."
Some coaches actually like the fights. Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells was known as an instigator. If a practice lacked energy, he might encourage a player to start something just to get everyone's attention.
"Again, I don't mind it, unless it's a real problem or it's getting to be too big of a distraction," Stoops said. "Then we just look silly and I've had enough and generally I tell them, next time that happens we're gonna just separate them and let those two go at it for a good 20, 30 minutes until they get it figured out. And usually they don't have enough energy to do that."
"For the most part, we don't want players to fight and we break it up as quick as we can," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said Wednesday. "The worst thing you can do is to have somebody get hurt in a fight. They throw a punch and break their hand and they're out for the season."
Jimmy Brumbaugh was a defensive lineman at Auburn. Now he coaches Kentucky's defensive line. He's seen it from both sides.
"Stuff like that is going to happen," Brumbaugh said. "I tell guys, 'Hey, when you're fighting it wastes time. If you get in a fight in a game it's going to be a 15-yard penalty.' "
Then again, sometimes it can't be helped.
"We're definitely competitive and little things will happen," said defensive tackle Melvin Lewis. "But it's nothing serious."
"We shake hands and go back to playing," said defensive tackle Regie Meant. "It's part of the game."
"We haven't had anything like where everybody gets into it because that's when people get hurt," said Lewis' backup Matt Elam. "But sometimes I feel like, if you don't have fighting what's a team doing?"
There is one overriding rule: No punching the quarterback. "They're not allowed near the quarterback," said Stoops with a grin. "Any of our quarterbacks."