Before joining the Officiating Department in 2020, he coached with seven NFL teams between 1998 and 2019, primarily as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator. Fewell served as interim head coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2009 and Carolina Panthers in 2019 and was the New York Giants defensive coordinator for five seasons, including for the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI victory over the New England Patriots.
From his more than two decades on the sidelines, Fewell shares what a work week looks like for NFL coaching staffs and teams throughout an NFL season.
“This is when you get to find out the talent level of all the new players.”
During these early weeks, coaches start to evaluate the talent across the team during practices, which will eventually play a role in informing future roster cuts.
Full days consist of physical exams, meetings, conditioning tests, classroom instructions and on- field, position-specific drills designed to build players’ knowledge of the basic philosophies of the playbook.
Off the field, coaches meet nightly to critique, correct and evaluate players’ practice performances by reviewing video.
Here’s a look at a typical preseason week, though the dates and process vary from team to team.
“It’s all about maximum performance and talent evaluation – getting players to play the game and not think the game.”
During preseason, rookies and younger players are closely evaluated, especially in the first two weeks. When they stand out in training camp, they can earn more reps during practices and may even practice with the first-team units. Coaches are looking for standouts to provide them with more exposure.
Football players are creatures of habit, so during the regular season, coaches try to create a routine and repeat it each week.
The week starts with coaches assessing the team’s overall performance from the previous game. Over the week, the focus turns to the next opponent and coaches drill down into specific details. The number of plays and situations practiced decreases as the coaches and players become more detailed before the next game.
The process includes giving players time to recover from the previous week’s game. On Mondays, as coaches are breaking down film, players are receiving treatment and beginning the process of getting their bodies ready to play again.
Monday (after a Sunday game)
Tuesday (players’ day off)
Wednesday (first practice)
Friday (Fast Friday)
Sunday – Gameday
In the playoffs, it’s win or go home. There is less of a need for motivational speeches. A good playoff team has developed a bond by this point and their spirits are high. Players tend to elevate their performances in the postseason. The aches and pains collected over the long season are easier to overcome when the team’s collective goal of winning a Super Bowl is in sight.
There is renewed excitement in the locker room. The chance to play playoff football is not guaranteed. Many players never reach the postseason in their career.
The elusive nature of postseason football also makes for some difficult conversations. When a player sustains an injury that keeps him from playing in the playoffs, coaches often are the ones who have to help him come to terms with having to miss out on this opportunity.
In preparing for postseason games, coaches are watching a season’s worth of film and reviewing opponents’ tendencies, strategies and analytics to prepare players for all situations.
Coaches try not to curb the enthusiasm of their young players, but rather redirect their focus into preparation and performance. Keeping the focus becomes increasingly hard as a team advances deeper into the playoffs and outside distractions — like increased media coverage — grow.
“You can easily overprepare and outcoach yourself here.”
Coaches and players spend the two weeks before the Super Bowl by poring over their opponent’s game film and shoring up any areas of concern. Teams keep the same Wednesday through Friday practice schedule to maintain regular-season habits.
But now, there are many more distractions. Travel, media, logistics, and family and friends asking for tickets can sidetrack players. This is why coaches put a strong emphasis on practices the week before the Super Bowl.
Practices during Super Bowl week have a tendency to be without pads to minimize the risk of injury and allow players to recover.
Football is a year-round sport. As soon as one season ends, the next begins. This starts with getting ready for the draft by taking a deeper look at college players with the team’s scouts and getting ready for the National Scouting Combine. After the draft, coaches prepare for free agency and get ready to work with what is now a different team from last season. Coaches spend the offseason reviewing techniques to improve the team through self and system evaluations.
The work never stops and before you know it, it’s time for training camp.