A Guide to Watching Football Practice

Kent Horner

What should you be looking for while watching practice down at Chargers Park? Feet and hips, and definitely not the ball.

The first year I ever visited Chargers Park as a fan, I sat in the bleaches and stared out onto the field. I would occasionally pull out my phone and tweet an observation or two, but most of the time I stayed focused on the field.

A woman, who looked to be in her 50s, came over to me and said "What are you looking at?" I guess my focus had distracted her. I had to think about it for a moment, and said "The same thing everyone else is watching," while trying to not seem like an asshole.

"Everyone else is watching the ball. The guy takes off downfield and you're still looking over there," she said while pointing back at the line of scrimmage. "Oh! Well, I'm watching their feet and hips." Her puzzled look told me that she didn't really understand my answer.

"You can learn everything you need to know about a player by watching his feet and hips, even in practice. It will show you how smart he is, how confident he is, if he has good balance and speed. His hips will tell you whether or not he can tackle or avoid being tackled. The hips show you what he can do after the moment of impact."

The woman ended up laughing at me and muttering "Okay" to herself while going back to sit with her husband. I think she was just bored. Maybe she thought I was lonely because I was one of the very few there by myself. Either way, the conversation always stuck with me.

These days, I watch the crowd at training camp. Most of them are just there to cheer the Chargers on and hope for an autograph. That's always seemed like an odd reason to go to practice to me, but to each their own, right?

Since that conversation, I've had a lot of people ask me what I look for when I'm watching football games. I always go back to feet and hips, although these days I also pay attention to the coaches to see their reactions to certain players. That will show you which guys are actually getting the playbook and which aren't. It'll also show you which guys the coaches are rooting for.

So, as you head out to Chargers Park over the next few week to watch practice, don't just watch the ball. Pay attention to the feet and hips. You'll pick up on why you're looking that way quickly. Look at the feet and hips of the veterans (like, say, Ronnie Brown) and then compare it to the younger players.

Watch for how quickly a player squares his hips to the target and if they stay squared up after impact. For offensive players, watch for how quickly they hips catch up to their feet when they make a cut. Are the player's steps smooth and fluid, of equal timing and distance, or are they choppy and scattered? As soon as you see a player on his heels or toes repeatedly, instead of on the balls of his feet, you'll start to see the difference between him and someone that will actually make the team.

These are the things to look for as we try to better understand the NFL, football, and the 2013 San Diego Chargers.

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