Are you ready for some football?
Even if it’s only preseason football the answer is a resounding YES, YES, YES!!
And so it shall be that the 2011 season – saved virtually in its entirety with last week’s agreement between players and owners – will get underway next Thursday, Aug. 11 with a full weekend of preseason games.
The only tangible casualty of the NFL owners’ lockout was the cancellation of the annual Hall of Fame Game that was scheduled for this coming Sunday in Canton, Ohio between Chicago and St. Louis. Thus all 32 teams will have four dress rehearsals playing preseason football games over a 3½ week period ending Sept. 2, – six days prior to the start of the regular season on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Given that there were no organized team activities (OTAs) or mini-camps during the nearly five month lockout, teams have a very limited period of time to integrate new personnel into their new teams as well as implement new offensive and/or defensive schemes.
Starting with training camps, all of which have opened just within the past week, coaches have less time than ever before to make player evaluations regarding rookies and other free agents with less time for repetitions and workouts in pads than in past summers.
Although preseason results are meaningless and of little value in predicting what will occur when the games start counting for real, the manner in which they will be played will be anything but meaningless as a result of the lockout.
The well run franchises were better prepared to handle the flurry of activity once an agreement was reached in terms of free agents to pursue and agendas in running training camps over a relatively short period of time. It’s no surprise teams such as New England and Philadelphia inked some of the biggest free agents available.
Established coaches and quarterbacks should have an edge throughout the preseason. It will be worth monitoring if teams with new head coaches have more difficulty in crisp execution than teams with greater coaching and player stability.
There will be eight new head coaches this season. Although Dallas’ Jason Garrett and Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier were interim coaches in the second half of last season both will be running their first training camps. This new responsibility should be much less of an unknown with Garrett who’s been part of the Dallas family for many years.
The other new half dozen coaches include Ron Rivera in Carolina, Pat Shurmur in Cleveland, John Fox in Denver, Hue Jackson in Oakland, Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco and Mike Munchak in Tennessee.
In next week’s column I’ll try to give an idea of what specific teams may be trying to accomplish in getting ready for the regular season as each of the games for will be previewed.
Historically, teams generally have their starters see extremely limited action in their preseason opener followed by close to a half of action in the second contest and play into the third quarter of the third. Most teams rest their starters in the final preseason tune-up.
That pattern may not necessarily be the case this season which could lead to some opportunities to case tickets in the “exhibitions” that will pass for preseason contests over the next month.