- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - 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 open this weekend, and the first preseason game is Aug. 3, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If it seems like the Texans just ended the draft by taking Mr. Irrelevant (defensive back Lonnie Ballentine of Memphis), well, it was only two months ago.

Players, coaches and front office staffs got some down time, albeit less than in past years, and with the Bills and 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,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “You can never lose sight of the prize.”

Certainly, a Vince Lombardi Trophy is hard to see through the haze of summertime heat and humidity. Even opening day is still a long way off, but the preseason will be here soon.

Here are some things to watch for during the NFL preseason:

KEEPING COOL: While the 2011 collective bargaining agreement has placed limitations on the length and frequency of practices, Mother Nature doesn’t care. From Berea, Ohio to Bourbonnais, Illinois, and from Renton, Washington to Richmond, Virginia, there is no hiding from the heat.

NFL teams have become more cognizant of that, and incidents of heat-related illnesses at training camps are rare. Thankfully, 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,” says Dr. Douglas J. Casa, CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. ” The NFL has taken some important strides to make players stay safe.”

RULES CHANGES: A few alterations will be noticeable, and fans will have to look hard for the others.

Extra-point kicks in the first two exhibition 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 NFL kickers are trying to put the ball through will be extended another 5 feet in height, making it easier to judge what’s good and what misses.

When there’s a loose ball in the field of play, the recovery now can undergo video review. Also, when the referee uses review, there will be consultation with the league’s officiating department in New York. The ref still has final say.

The clock won’t stop momentarily after a sack outside of two minutes remaining in a half. And, to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham’s chagrin, no more dunking over the crossbar to celebrate a touchdown.

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