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And So It Begins… Again

By Mark Solway | August 11th, 2011

Yes it’s that time of year again, thankfully, the 2011 NFL Preseason kicks off this evening at 8pm. Fans have been locked in cages and unfed for 6 months, devoid of all football nourishment until but a few weeks ago. We are hungry. We are ravenous. Our football appetites need to be quenched. It begins tonight – but what about that adage that preseason games are for the most part – vanilla and useless?

Ever heard the phrase, “You can’t draw any conclusions from a preseason game”?

Throw out that theory in 2011. The NFL Lockout will make this particular preseason infinitely more useful to watch, and here’s why:

Compressed Timelines. Coming into a regular preseason, the teams and players have usually been back playing football for months. They’re all in shape – they’re all ready to go for the most part – they just need to work on some timing and maybe a bit of cohesiveness, but not enough that players are left out on the field too long – not starters anyway. The logic being, why risk them getting hurt when they are ostensibly ready to go?

But they aren’t ready to go in 2011 – they haven’t had the same preparations. Some guys – MANY guys – have only been with their respective squads for less than a month. Many guys are just fighting to get their bodies to that physically charged state that is required for them to be successful. Coaches still have no idea how the new pieces of the puzzle they got in the offseason, are going to fit into their respective ball clubs. Rookies and free agents are falling asleep nightly with their playbooks cradled in their arms. It’s been a veritable whirling dervish.

So how will it change the preseason? WILL it affect the preseason? I think the answer is both yes and no.

The answer is duplicitous, because the answer is different for different teams. If a team had little changeover from last year, and a solid club to begin with, then the status quo will likely remain the same for those teams this preseason – get the starters some work – see how they look in different packages – and then get ’em off the field before anything happens to them.

Where this preseason veers off in a different direction is for teams that have had a lot of changeover, or a lot of draft picks, or a coaching change. Teams like the Washington Redskins, who meet two of those criterion, have more work to do this fall, than the aforementioned, more stable teams will.

It will still be a balancing act, because injuries are even more of a possibility. There have already been dozens of injuries in NFL training camps across the country this offseason, is that in part due to the lack of offseason workouts? Probably. I have no idea if that bears out statistically, but there does seem to be an inordinate amount of camp injuries in 2011. So coaches STILL aren’t going to leave their starters out for four quarters of work, but you will likely see an extra series or two out of the first units.

The second units are also likely to see a lot more work. Over the last few seasons, games have seen more work from than the proverbial ‘scrubs,’ than they have of first and second stringers. There just isn’t the time to use games only for sorting out fringe players that can make it via special teams. Coaches haven’t been watching players in drills for months on end, the Redskins will likely have ten to twelve new starters in 2011 – you have to see those guys work to know what you’re getting. It’s all well and good to watch them swat at each other in practice, but its another thing entirely when they start swinging for the fences on game day.

You can’t judge a lineman on either side of the ball, based on how he does at practice. You can watch their techniques, you can watch their relative speed, and you can watch their effort levels, but you cannot see how they react to getting smacked in the mouth on a dozen consecutive plays. You cannot see how a line works as a unit until you’ve seen them at full speed, and against competition. I don’t care how heated a ‘battle’ gets at training camp, it doesn’t hold the venom of a live NFL football game.

Ironically, I think the OUTCOME of preseason games, will be even more meaningless in 2011, than in any other. This preseason will have different value for different teams, and therefore, you may see drastically different approaches. Usually if one coach takes out their starters, the other coach will do the same. Evaluating is less valuable when the competition level drops even that slightest notch. Some teams don’t have that luxury this year – some teams will just get added value in evaluating, by virtue of the game environment alone. That means that you may even see instances where first stringers are playing against another team’s thirds. That can make for very slanted, unrealistic scores.

So in my opinion, thanks to compressed timelines, there just isn’t time to do anything but get the starters ready, and get your depth established, whatever the costs will be. That might make for a slightly more meaningful slate of preseason games, than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

It all starts tonight for some NFL fans… tomorrow night for the Redskins faithful. Are you ready for some football?


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