NEW YORK — It's time to climb out of the pool, put down that frosty drink, discard the shades and fire up the high-definition TV. The NFL is back.
Some training camps opened this weekend, and the first preseason game will be Aug. 3, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Players, coaches and front-office staffs had down time, although less than in past years, and with the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants headed to the Hall of Fame game, their break was even shorter.
"You've got to be very smart this time of year with how you're conducting yourself, what you're doing," Coach Tom Coughlin of the Giants said. "You can never lose sight of the prize."
The Vince Lombardi Trophy is hard to see through the haze of summertime heat and humidity, and opening day isn’t until Sept. 4. Until then, here are some things to watch during the preseason.
u Keeping cool: Although the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement put limitations on the length and frequency of practices, Mother Nature doesn't care. In the preseason, there’s no hiding from the heat.
Teams have become more cognizant of that, incidents of heat-related illnesses at training camps are rare, and there has been nothing approaching the tragedy of Korey Stringer, who died of heat stroke in 2001.
"When athletes do intense exercise in the heat, the risk of exertional heat stroke is ever-present," said Dr. Douglas J. Casa, the CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. "The NFL has taken some important strides to make players stay safe."
u Rules changes: Some will be noticeable, and fans will have to look hard for others.
Extra-point kicks in the first two preseason games (three for the Bills and Giants) will come from the 15-yard line. Commissioner Roger Goodell has suggested that conversions need more excitement. But even from that distance, fewer than 10 percent of kicks fail.
The goalposts will be 5 feet higher, making it easier to judge what's good and what’s not.
When there's a loose ball, the recovery can undergo video review. Also, when the referee uses review, there will be consultation with the NFL officiating department in New York, but the ref still has final say.
The clock won't stop momentarily after a sack outside of two minutes remaining in a half. And there’s no more dunking over the crossbar to celebrate a touchdown.
u Famous rookies: With LeBron James' return, Johnny Manziel might not be the top star in Cleveland, but he will still get plenty of attention for the rest of the summer.
Top pick Jadeveon Clowney, when he recovers from hernia surgery, will dominate headlines in Houston, and with so much expected, if he doesn't look like a star in the preseason, the critics will be chirping.
Whether Michael Sam makes the Rams final roster to become the NFL’s first openly gay player will remain a hot topic.
u New bosses: Coach Bill O'Brien of Houston is one of seven new head coaches, and his task might be the most difficult, straightening out a team that lost its last 14 games last season.
Among other newcomers, Jay Gruden in Washington needs to find a way to keep quarterback Robert Griffin III healthy; Mike Zimmer can't be sure who to can rely on in Minnesota other than running back Adrian Peterson; Mike Pettine has Manziel festival in Cleveland; Lovie Smith has a drastically altered roster in Tampa; and Jim Caldwell inherits a team in need of discipline in Detroit.
Ken Whisenhunt landed in Tennessee and might have the best shot at fast improvement if he can get the offense to click. That's his specialty.