How Clubs view the Preseason

  The NFL preseason opens this Sunday with the Steelers facing the Patriots in the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio. While fans want to see their team win in the preseason, most coaches view the games as a glorified practice session. The preseason is more about evaluation than anything else. Winning all four games has no relation to how that team will do in the regular season. In the early preseason games clubs rarely have a game plan. The focus is about evaluating individual players, not winning or losing. The only game clubs plan for is the third week of the preseason because the starters play more in that game than any other. In the opening game starters usually play just a few series, only enough to get some good contact work in. The following week they may play one or two more series, but rarely play a half of the game. In the third game, most clubs have their starters play the first half and then play one series in the second half. The fourth game is almost a joke as very few starters even suit up for that game. Depth Charts One thing you can’t put any stock into is the preseason depth charts. What is on the depth chart and what is reality are two different things. The preseason depth charts usually have a lot to do with veterans and their seniority more than anything else. If a young player is having a strong camp, coaches don’t want to bring attention to it by showing that player as a possible starter on the depth chart. The intention is to  keep it a secret as long as you can. Clubs will often put together a package for that young player for some time in the early games so the player is in the game for some snaps with the starters. Anything more can bring attention to the player, especially if he is a later round draft pick. The few snaps the young player gets gives the coaches an idea of what to expect once the regular season begins. Play Selection The thing that cracks me up about watching preseason games is that they are so vanilla. You seldom see any exotic formations on offense or defense. On offense, they usually have base packages with two and three wide receiver formations. On defense, it is mostly just base schemes with maybe a few blitzes shown but nothing out of the ordinary. While you will often see nickel in the preseason, you seldom see dime packages. Play Time The only really planning fans will see is how play time is divided. Coaches usually want to see the young players in certain types of situations so they can evaluate their overall play time.  If events out of the coaches control change the flow of the game things can then change. For example, if a coach wanted to see the backup quarterback play twenty snaps in the second and third quarter, he may have to carry that player’s playtime into the fourth quarter if his team lacks any kind of possession time during the game. You always have to be ready to improvise and adjust the plan. Fans often want to see how the young players will play when in game situations. While coaches want to see the same thing, they might keep a player who shows fairly well in practice but isn’t quite ready to make the final 53 man roster out of game action. This can happen with a lower round draft pick or an undrafted free agent. While the coaches like what they see in practice, they don’t want to risk that the player will show well in a game. The reason for that is they may want to keep him on the practice squad after the final cut and they don’t want to risk losing him on waivers. Every team in the league studies the preseason game tape trying to find a young player with traits to fit their scheme. While that may upset the player because he feels he isn’t being given a chance, that may not be the case because of the plans the club may have for that player. There is a lot of gamesmanship that goes on in the preseason and clubs have to find a way to keep the players they feel can help them either now or in the future.   Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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