NFL Roundtable #1 - Preseason: Should It Stay or Go?

Welcome to the first ever NFL Roundtable.  Throughout the next season, the NFL bloggers here at SB Nation will give their take on a certain subject each week.  No matter the topic, opinions will definitely be voiced, which leads us to the very first subject.

Preseason football has been debated greatly in recent years because of many things.  Some players complain because it lasts too long and that training camps are too hard, and others don't like the fact that there's a chance of being injured in an exhibition game.  The debate has flared up again in the last week or so because of some injuries.  Clinton Portis, one of the best running backs in the league, hurt his shoulder when making a tackle on an interception during the Redskins/Bengals game last Sunday.  Shortly after he criticized the preseason by saying this: "Let's get rid of some of these games. Four preseason games is ridiculous."

An injury that is even more serious than Portis' was sustained in a preseason game during this week's Monday Night Football.  The Minnesota Vikings' 1st round pick of the 2006 draft, linebacker Chad Greenway, tore his ACL on a kickoff and will be out for the entire season.  With stuff like this happening, many players wonder what the point of preseason football is.

First, I'll give you my take on the preseason, and then we'll see what some of the other NFL bloggers at SBN have to say.

When it comes to the preseason, there are two groups of players that are involved. The first is veterans. The veterans have been through training camps and preseason games many times before and probably don't need it as much as they did when first coming into the league. The second group is the young players. The young players use the preseason and training camp to get a feel for the NFL if they're a rookie, and/or are trying make the final roster.

For the players that complain about training camp, they really need to just put a lid on it. During high school, college, or any other level of football, the way to get ready for the season is by doing two-a-days. Sure, most players are in shape, but two-a-days make that a positive. As far as the actual preseason games, I think they're a good thing.

I'm not talking about the length quite yet, I'll get to that in a second. Overall, preseason games are a good way to get used to playing full speed football again. Some will play the argument that "college doesn't do it, so why does the NFL need to?" The NFL's level of play is significantly higher than college in the sense of the players speed and strength. Using the preseason to get used to the hits and bumps of NFL football is good to make sure that a veteran player doesn't go out there and get his block knocked off during week 1.

There is absolutely no reason to get rid of preseason football. The veterans and starters may only be in for a few plays at most sometimes, but it's all good when getting them ready for the upcoming season. As stated earlier, the young players use the preseason and benefit from it the most. For the rookies coming into the league that don't have a sense of what to expect, it allows them to adjust and make the transition from college easier. And for the players trying to make a spot on the roster, it allows them to show off what they got to coaches and impress them.

The biggest part of this debate is the length of the preseason. Four games is a lot, but it's nothing compared to the six that used to be played. Do I think four games may be a bit much nowadays? Yes. I think that three would be the best number. Some want to bring down the number to a single game in the preseason, so I think three is pretty reasonable. In the long run there's probably not that big of a difference between three or four preseason games, but I just think that the smaller number is better.

The reason owners don't want to see the preseason be tampered with is because of the dollar signs. Money makes the world go around, and that's the case in the NFL as well. In the preseason, owners don't have to pay their players any salaries, but still get revenue. Let's say the NFL did change the preseason schedule from four to three games, and added a seventeenth game onto the regular season schedule. The owners would still probably see a big revenue come in, but they would also be forced to pay their players for another game.

When it comes down to it, I say that the NFL either leaves the preseason alone altogether, or experiments with the three-game schedule for a year and either keeps it that way or goes back to the old format after. But, why mess with something that only a few are complaining about?

Now that you have my opinion, let's see what some of the other NFL bloggers here at SBN had to say.

Kirkendall (Cincy Jungle):

Some suggest we stop pre-season games completely. I think that's absolutely absurd. I don't have a problem reducing games provided it's done reasonably and for the benefit of the game. Does a player's financial earnings promote a higher degree of proof whether or not pre-season should be reduced or abolished? I think it's a good idea to adjust pre-season; but not because one money-maker went down.

There are two groups of people complaining about pre-season games; the media and veteran players. As of right now, I think the silence of head coaches is very telling.

I think it's interesting to note the entire Armageddon reaction by the sports media was initiated by an injury to a big-name player. Yet, we (including Will) didn't mention it as our main points. Coaches too have been rather silent on their take of modifying the pre-season -- it's not like the coaches want less time for evaluations.

As for preparation, let me share a small story. It may surprise you guys the Bengals were one of the worst franchises in sports history -- yes yes, I know, impossible, right? No, it's true. One of the biggest things Marvin Lewis was forced to change was the training and conditioning programs during the off-season and training camp. With previous head coaches, week one came around and the players wore down quickly taking a few weeks before they were in "football shape". My point is previous coaching regimes in Cincinnati assumed the players were keeping to conditioning regiments and were proved wrong. And as a result, we lost... a lot. I'd be willing to bet that more players rely on training camp to get in shape rather than them doing it themselves.

BigBlueShoe (Stampede Blue):

My take: pre-season is fine. Could they get rid of one game? Yes, but I do see value in playing 4. When you have young guys and new guys getting used to a system, pre-season is vital. It's vital for veterans to get their timing down, especially on offense. A player like Clinton Portis does not, necessarily, need pre-season. He's a running back playing in a simple offense. My question is what was he doing out there? And why was he trying to body slam the guy, when a strong push out of bounds would have done the job? I can see pre-season going down to 3 games with one additional regular season game, but that's it. I know for a fact that 4 pre-season games will greatly help a player like Joseph Addai.

Chris (Arrowhead Pride):

Going back to 2003, the Chiefs are 4-11 in preseason games. What really annoys me is that sports writers are MUCH more willing to write off a team that performs poorly in the preseason than to endorse a Super Bowl contender based on the preseason.

Why doesn't this go both ways? Because its easy to point out a loser-- if they succeed, no big deal. If you adamantly predict a winner, who loses, then your Nostradamus football skills are called into question.

Lets put it this way. Hypothetically speaking, in any regular season game this year, the Chiefs are missing Trent Green and LJ, or other players of significance. The Chiefs play a horrible game without their stars and the media chalks it up to not having our best talent in the game. We've all heard this story before right? No worries...they'll bounce back. The team wasn't playing at full capacity.

Exactly. The preseason is the same way. Casey "Calvin Klein" Printers was in for most of the Texans game. No wonder we lost. Will he even be on the team come September? Who knows. The point is this:

The preseason has veterans and stars who play only a few series; newbies and younger players are in the game simply so their coaches can get a good look at them; there is a lack of overall effort because of the fear of injury; and many experimental schemes being tried out.

I'm totally fine with 4 games. Its the regular season predictions coming out of the preseason that bother me. I understand it does play an important role, just not something to get worked up about.

Grizz (Blogging the Boys):

The preseason is definitely not worthless. For some of the veterans on the team, it can seem like a nuisance, but for the backups and the special teams players it is essential. I spent two weeks watching the Dallas Cowboys practice at training camp, and the one thing they never tried to run at full speed was kickoff and punt coverage. The preseason games are the test lab to see who has the special ingredient that makes a great special teams player. It also helps the coaching staff evaluate the bottom of the roster in game conditions, 11-on-11 drills against your own players are no substitute for the real thing.

As for the starters, they also benefit from the game conditions the preseason provides, so it's up to the coach to decide if and for how long he wants to play the them. No one forces the coaching staff to play the starters, Coach Parcells just held Drew Bledsoe out of the first preseason game, he didn't take a single snap. Part of the reason was to evaluate backup QB Tony Romo, but he also hinted that he was unsure of his offensive line play and didn't want his #1 QB taking a beating. So the coaches have the option of playing their veterans or sitting them out.

As to the length of the preseason, that certainly is worth debating. Most teams only use the 3rd preseason game for extended playing time for the starters. The 4th game is usually the last chance for a backup to make an impression and grab a roster spot. You could argue that cutting the preseason down to just 2 or 3 games would give the coaches the same opportunity for evaluation. Of course, the owners like having 4 games where they can charge the fans for tickets but not pay the players game checks.

I don't see any particular reason to change the preseason format. Players get hurt in practices just as often or more often than they do in preseason games. Every once in a while a high-profile player sustains a major injury in preseason and everybody clamors for a change. These things happen, it's professional football, and the opportunity for injury is always there. The coaches need the preseason to evaluate the players, maybe they just don't need 4 games.

Blitzburgh (Behind the Steel Curtain):

In my opinion, what needs to change is not the preseason format itself, but the way we cover it. We all need to RELAX and be patient! ESPN's question of the night last night was 'which sporting event are you most excited about this weekend?' The choices were Yankees-Red Sox, the PGA Championship, something else, and preseason football. Sheesh, those are some marquee events and to include some meaningless exhibition games seems shocking to me. Hey, I love football much more than the average guy, but let's get real. If we just took a step back and waited a few more short weeks without all the unnecessary hype and hoopla, football would be upon us quite quickly.

Remember, Major League Baseball has an even longer preseason, yet it garners nowhere near the attention that football does. Let's face it, we're just starved for football and we want the real deal starting as soon as possible. In my mind, this is the only reason this is a talking point...because we want our football to be meaningful and we want it now!

I agree with Grizz, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the current preseason format. Remember, training camp was only a week and a half or two weeks before the exhibition games got started. That's not a whole lot of time. Maybe it should be three games, instead of four, but in general the format's just fine. The games allow us to get a look at some of the younger guys. The Steelers, who I cover, are being pleasantly surprised by the play of rookies Willie Reid and Santonio Holmes. If not for the preseason, they perhaps would not have had the chance to familiarize themselves enough with Big Ben and the system in order to make a meaningful contribution once the real games begin.

Leave it be and if you're that fed up with how long it is, pay attention to something else while you wait for football to start.

Skin Patrol (Hogs Haven):

I go back and forth on the preseason. On the one hand I understand the necessity of getting your players prepared and also the value of offering position competitions for players who would otherwise not get a chance to see (pretend) playing time.

On the other hand, preseason injuries are heartbreaking and four games is just as arbitrary as 5 or 3.

Regarding preparation, it isn't 1970 anymore. The NFL is a year-round full time job. Players aren't retiring to their trucking jobs during the offseason; presumably they train and keep themselves in physical condition -- the ones that don't shouldn't be in the league. Certain positions require more tuneups than others, but it's hard to imagine any position that needs 4 full preseason games to get a feel for game speed or back in shape for the regular season. In that sense, I can appreciate shortening the preseason.

As noted above, however, the preseason isn't merely about preparation but about giving players the opportunity to come out and compete for jobs. Teams could really benefit from the added opportunity of finding those few jewels in the rough. In this sense, I can appreciate keeping the preseason at 4 games; no need to increase. If you can't earn a spot in 4 preseason games, chances are you can't earn it in 5, 6, or 90.

That said, the sports writing rhetoric on preseason is always caustically bombastic. There's never calls for discussion, just calls for "Get rid of the preseason!" or "Preseason is here to say, no questions asked!" Even the more restrained writers always suggest cutting the preseason in half, immediately, as if piecemeal improvement is implausible. If the preseason is too long, we should start small and see how that works out. I haven't made up my mind yet where I stand, but if I truly divorced myself from the idea of the preseason, I think the logical first step would be lower it to 3 games (not 2, not 0, not -27) and see how that pans out.

One of the strengths of the National Football League over others is its ability to evolve. But I support baby steps over exceedingly ambitious hyperbole.

WCG (Windy City Gridiron):

I don't know that I can add much to the books that were written, but it is pretty easy. Nobody says you have to play your starters at all. If you are worried about injury than don't play them until game 3. Gives you more time to evaluate your backups that way.

Shrug (Field Gulls):

I've changed my mind a little. At first I thought no more than two preseason games would be sufficient, but I'd be in favor of either keeping it at four, or lowering it to three.

Coaches need to evaluate unknown quantities in game simulations, especially if a starter goes down.

I think the problem is more that the beginning of training camp to the beginning of regular season is an agonizingly long time for us football junkies -- at least that's what it feels like to me.

Of course, keep in mind, I say all this in light of the fact that the Seahawks have had a galling number of preseason injuries this time around...

Next week the tentative schedule is for BigBlueShoe of Stampede Blue to host the next NFL Roundtable and ask the question of who the greatest quarterback of all-time is.

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