With the start of training camp beginning, it’s about that time of year when fans of all teams start to tell themselves, “The preseason doesn’t mean anything; the starters hardly even play.” While it is historically and undeniably true that starters receive extremely limited playing time in preseason games, that’s not the point. The preseason is the time for the second, third, and fourth stringers to prove what they can add to the team in hopes of earning a roster spot. While these four games in August may display some of the sloppiest moments of football you’ll see all year, they’re worth watching so you’re not clueless when week one rolls around of guys like Allen Hurns or Malcolm Butler, two of the more well-known emerging sleeper additions.
The preseason is when the identity of a team should start to take shape. OTAs establish which players want to continuously improve their craft, training camp is the mental and physical installation of offensive and defensive schemes, and the preseason is the opportunity to put it all together. Questions to ask yourself as you watch a preseason game are: Is the timing of completed passes evident? Are the lineman making the correct checks? Can you see wide receivers blocking with tenacity? Are the defensive backs communicating to each other? Does everyone appear to know their assignments?
Ultimately, the preseason is more than a mere four week stretch for the first team to develop chemistry. It’s also a time to uncover what secret weapons you possess on your team, who shows potential, who demonstrates drive, character, and work ethic, and ironically, who isn’t trying. Coaches uncover the gems on their team, the players who aren’t expected to do much but are in fact making plays. Similarly, coaches begin to notice bad habits and players who may turn out to be draft busts or free agent busts only in it for the money. Most importantly, the preseason is the most competitive time of year within each team. Players are trying to beat the next man up because trimming rosters from 80 to 53 players means a lot of guys are going to be packing their bags.
August is the time for those later draft picks and undrafted players to surprise people, raise a few eyebrows, and make a name for themselves. Who doesn’t love rooting for the underdog? Granted, these players may not have the longest NFL careers but it’s still fun to tell your friends that you’ve been watching some long-shot since the first preseason game.
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