Kenny Decker

The Preseason Perspective

Created on Aug. 13, 2014 8:39 PM EST

Football is back! Well, at least the preseason has kicked off. It doesn’t have the full effect of the regular season, but the beginning of football brings back a certain comfortable feel. While the average fan may find little or no interest in preseason football, the die-hards have a reason to be interested.

As a fan, the approach to preseason football must be entirely different than it is for the regular season. Many of the superstar players will see little or no time in the preseason. Adrian Peterson hasn’t played in the preseason since 2011. Elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers may play a few series throughout the whole preseason. The first unit on offense often doesn’t get a chance to get into a rhythm. Small injuries will keep players out simply as a precaution. So a preseason game is much different than a regular-season game. But there are many things that are important and significant in preseason games.

These games have to be watched with a much different approach. Instead of watching as a fan by putting every ounce of energy into rooting for your favorite team, these games must be watched as if a scout were watching them. It would be difficult for the average fan to watch as a scout, but then again, the average fan wouldn’t be watching a preseason game.

Wins and losses don’t mean much in the preseason. Often by the time the fourth quarter rolls around and the game is being decided, the teams have their third- or fourth-string units on the field. Players who are on the field may not even make the 53-man opening day roster. Teams can carry 80 players for preseason games, so the players who are playing late in these games may end up as free agents or practice players within a few weeks. So preseason records should be overlooked. It is much more important to see how your team has done in the first and second quarters. That is when the many players who will have an impact on the regular season are playing.

While watching preseason games as a scout instead of a fan, there are a few things to know:

First off, scout your own team. Don’t waste too much time watching divisional teams and other foes play because there is no way to keep track of every team’s injuries, progress, positional battles, new coordinators and so on. Focus on your team and how it is playing.  

Pay attention to play calls, especially if your team has a new coordinator or coach, as it is important to see if additions have been made to your team’s playbook. Teams will hold trickery and other secret plays until the regular season, but you may see your team running new sets or formations.

Watch the trenches. Linemen often play more snaps than other players do, and it is important to see how the linemen are playing together — particularly on the offensive line. Whether or not a running back hits the hole, was there a hole? How quickly did it close? Whether or not the quarterback finds an open receiver, did he at least have time in the pocket? Offensive and defensive lines need to have chemistry, and given the amount of movement in NFL offseasons, training camp and preseason is when they build the chemistry.

The only positional battles that can be watched on TV are at quarterback and running back. Decisions will be made for all positions based on more than just the preseason games. But while watching, the easiest two positions to watch are quarterback and running back. If your team has positional battles at neither of those, then you are in for a hopeful season. The Cleveland Browns’ quarterback situation will get the most media attention, but there are many more than that one. If your team is having battles elsewhere such as at corner or outside linebacker, you won’t be able to tell who is progressing better based on preseason games.

Don’t let the games stress you out. It is perfectly acceptable and reasonable to be stressed out each and every week during the regular season. But the preseason isn’t worth your stress. Teams struggle every year in the preseason and then make the playoffs. The only thing to worry about is what every team with a superstar holding it together fears: injuries. Those are worth your stress, but an injury during camp or preseason is better than one occurring during the season because it at least gives the coaching staff time to fill the spot.

The most important thing about preseason games is every one that you sit through means you’re one game closer to the real deal. It’s less than a month away, and that feels so damn good to say. Carry on with your summer average NFL fans while the rest of us die-hards spend our time analyzing our team’s preseason progress.

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