Aug 09, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Denver Broncos running back Lance Ball (35) scores a touchdown against Chicago Bears linebacker Patrick Trahan (59) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE
I was browsing last night on twitter as the Broncos continued to extend their lead over the Bears and happened upon a very common phrase.
It's not that big a deal. It's just preseason…
Accountability in the preseason is a difficult tightrope that we all must tread carefully. We are often quick to provide praise when a player plays outstanding football in the preseason and we are just as quick (maybe even more so) to place blame when a player plays poorly. Remember a few years ago when Orton threw a bunch of interceptions in preseason and was essentially booed out of the stadium? Well, he threw 1 interception through the first 8 weeks of that regular season… and it was on a Hail Mary pass just before halftime against the Patriots. Were the 3 interceptions at the beginning of the preseason any indication of how he would play during the regular season? Hardly.
That said, the preseason is not meaningless. If your offensive line is getting blown up in the preseason and can’t hold a block to save their lives (or Peyton Manning's life)… things might not be pretty during the regular season. Procedural stuff (penalties, missed assignments, missed reads, etc.) can be corrected. A lack of talent, however, cannot be corrected so easily.
The frustration begins to mount, however, when players start getting hurt. Take Tim Tebow, for instance. He dove for a last second touchdown in the preseason week 1 game against the Bengals in 2010, aggravating his ribs. If you'll remember, there was a ton of criticism for him diving at the end of a "meaningless" game in a situation where scoring wouldn't have won the game.
All that was missing when Tim Tebow took off running on the final play of the game was significance... Tebow's touchdown would not turn Broncos defeat into victory. Victory would not give the Broncos a Super Bowl title.
This begs the question... is there significance for preseason games? Why risk going out on the field and having injured players (Ryan Mathews, for instance) to win a game that won't affect your regular season record?
I think the answer is "yes".
How else can coaches determine the ability or heart of a player unless they are laying it all on the line? Last night, when Robert Ayers made a bone crushing sack, coaches were forced to take note. Just last week, there were many saying that he was on the verge of getting cut since Jason Hunter has been creeping up the depth chart. Then you see a play like that and realize that Robert Ayers isn't going to go quietly into the night. He's going to beat up some opposing quarterbacks or die trying.
You also take notice of guys like Xavier Omon, who is trying to make the roster in what seems like a bottomless pit of Denver runningback depth. He was inside the redzone, juking Bear defenders out of their ankles and pounding the ball in for a touchdown. They literally had to horsecollar the guy to get him on the ground.
Tell Xavier Omon that preseason doesn't matter. Tell him with a straight face.
Think about Tony Carter. Here's a guy that played some decent football last year for the Broncos. The Broncos brought in Drayton Florence and Tracy Porter during the offseason and, all of a sudden, Carter is fighting for his spot on the 53 man roster, once again. Last night, he was called for a ridiculous pass interference call where the receiver lost his footing, grabbed the facemask and jersey of Carter, and dragged him to the turf. The replacement referees called a pass interference on Carter (for whatever reason) and Carter's frustration was palpable. If the preseason was meaningless, why would Carter have cared about the call? Why would John Fox have erupted?
Because it does matter. The preseason matters. It is the difference between having a job and not having a job. Without the preseason, Terrell Davis probably never helps the Broncos win the Lombardi Trophy. Without the preseason, Rod Smith struggles to make the roster and become one of the best receivers of all time.
You have young players go out there and put it all on the line, even if there is no chance of a victory. Wins don't matter, so you just go out there and make as many plays as you can, regardless of a score. If you're a 3rd string Safety and the team is already down 45 to 7, are you going to pack it in and not try? Absolutely not. That is a valuable rep you are getting and you are going to do your best to make the correct read and knock the kidneys out of the ballcarrier. Your sole purpose is to impress the coaches. It doesn't matter if you're Peyton Manning, Derek Wolfe, Nate Irving or Tony Carter. Why not go out there and put 6 points on the board or make that game changing sack?
Just because certain fans find the preseason uninteresting doesn't mean that it's not meaningful. It just means those fans don't particularly care for or understand the evaluation process.
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