As an active agent with 16 clients, I try to watch every preseason game I can to see how the coaches are managing my players. Many seasoned agents can read between the lines as to the prospects of our clients starting, playing a lot/or a little, or making it to the opening day roster. Therefore, I watch preseason games with intensity and a purpose. However, some fans may find them boring because the star players they love are not playing as much and the play can be sloppy in the second half.
Well before you give away your tickets or flip the channel to an HBO special, try looking deeper into some of the other storylines of August:
Don’t put much thought into why some players are playing or not playing: There is a tricky balance between keeping starters healthy and yet getting them sharper with playtime. The more they play in the preseason, the better. However, more than 50% of the players on the field are desperate to make their team, are unsure of the playbook and don’t quite understand the subtle ways players from other teams take care of each other. Actually, I would estimate that half of the injuries sustained during the preseason come from friendly fire in games and practice. Those young desperate players are flying around the field looking to hit anything that moves. It’s not a place a quality vet wants to be.
Every head coach and GM wants to get through the preseason without any major injuries. However, as we’ve learned time and again, players will get hurt (Kendall Hunter, Donald Thomas, Glenn Dorsey, even Sean Lee and Sean Weatherspoon in offseason activities). Only being in camp for two weeks, the injuries are already piling up. So, coaches have this unique challenge of getting players reps while preserving their health. Additionally, they don’t want players who won’t make the team to get hurt either. Why is that? Because they would have to carry a contract for a player who they were going to cut anyway. Therefore, a lot of the back-ups are taking most of the reps during the preseason. I had a TE who is still in the league get hurt 3 times in the last four years. Each time it was in the fourth quarter when he should have been on the sidelines with the other starters. However, there were injuries at his position so he had to take the reps.
So when you are watching a preseason game, take note of how coaches like to protect their projected starters. Some head coaches even talk to each other before preseason games so they can match up their starters against each other. Another reason why you can’t judge a team based on their preseason performances.
For those fantasy football players, I would especially keep an eye out for young running backs and wide receivers.
Watch the interaction between the Quarterbacks: We've all heard the stories that Brett Farve didn’t spend much time helping his underlings like Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner. True! Drew Bledsoe on the other hand had no problem helping Tom Brady. Why? It’s strictly a personality thing. Some guys are competitive to a point they don’t care about their competition developing. Others are so team oriented that they will go above and beyond doing what’s best for their team.
Watching the QB interaction on the sideline is always a good sideshow to the game. A seasoned and cerebral QB can really help a young QB even more than his coaches. Many vet backups are under contract just to do that. The QB meeting room is also an intimate place. The players spend more time together than any other position. A cohesive QB room is sign of a mature unselfish team. Body language on the bench and sidelines is always telling.
Special teams plays are a game within the game: Kickoffs and punts are not just an exchange of possession, but also a war of mercenaries fighting for their football lives. To put things in perspective, there will be 37 players cut from each team. There will be another 20 who make their team because they can play a position and contribute on special teams. So there are about 50 players per team all trying to get or keep a job on the roster. The intensity of special teams play during the preseason is at its highest level of intensity for the entire season. Young healthy players looking to make the team will sacrifice their body for a big play or hit. The majority of concussions and fractures happen during these plays. The next Heath Farwell, Kassim Osgood, or Steve Tasker will emerge during these battles.
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