Why I actually like the preseason
NFL preseason is full of intriguing personal storylines
Aaron Brown is example of unknown rookie trying to make a splash
Watching an aging veteran like Jon Jansen trying to hang on is compelling
I thoroughly enjoy preseason football and I am not afraid to admit it. How can you not be enthralled by the real life drama and personal stories that unfold in August? The breakout rookie. The veteran trying to squeeze out one more year in the game he has played nearly his entire life. Or even the former Super Bowl hero trying to hold on to a roster spot. It's a Hollywood movie every week.
To be clear, I am not saying I prefer preseason football over the regular season. Not by a long shot. In fact, I don't think four preseason games is necessary in the NFL today because of the proliferation of Organized Team Activities and offseason minicamps. On average, about 45 of the 53 spots on the opening-day roster are pretty much decided before the first day of training camp. Injuries and holdouts and all the like can change those plans to some extent, but for the most part the salary-cap era dictates that you have a pretty good feel for who will play the key roles for your team before training camp begins.
That said, I still find the preseason to be extremely compelling. Maybe it's because it is actual football with helmets, pads and score-keeping after so many months of idle talk and projections. Or maybe I like to see guys battling for playing time because I lived that for so many years and can relate to what they are going through.
A lot of these guys are trying to avoid having to go back to their hometowns and figuring out what they want to do with the rest of their life. That is why it always makes me laugh when I hear about how much pressure is on guys like Tony Romo or Donovan McNabb. I guess it is a different kind of pressure, but I would think the practice squad running back from last year who has two kids at home and is trying to make the team as the number three running back is under a little more pressure than a unquestioned starting quarterback with a long-term, big-money contract.
Here are just some of the intriguing stories that caught my attention over the first two weeks of the preseason:
The no-name rookie making an impression
I had never heard of Lions running back Aaron Brown, a sixth-round pick from TCU, until I watched the Detroit-Atlanta game in Week 1 and saw him make two of the most impressive and explosive plays of the preseason thus far. One was a run, one was a pass, but the end result for both was the same: a virtually untouched touchdown in which none of the defenders could seemingly get within five yards of the speedy Brown. Then he topped off the second score with a flip in the end zone, flashing even more athleticism. Immediately I made a mental note to keep an eye on Brown the rest of the preseason and into the regular season as a change of pace back who could really help the Lions this season.
The aging veteran trying to hang on
In the same Lions-Falcons game, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I saw my former teammate Jon Jansen playing against a bunch of no-names in the fourth quarter. Watching Jansen wear a No. 68 jersey in Honolulu Blue after he had spent 10 seasons manning the right tackle spot wearing No. 76 for the Redskins was almost surreal. Jansen is not the player he once was, having been slowed by a couple of devastating injuries over the years. He is the prototypical aging veteran trying to squeeze out another year, playing late in a preseason game against a bunch of young guys who'll be lucky to land on the practice squad. It has to be humbling for a guy like Jansen, considering he probably never played in the second half of a preseason game before.
The former college star trying to make it
Remember Ian Johnson, the running back from Boise State who proposed to his girlfriend on national television right after his Broncos upset the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl a couple of seasons ago?Three years later, he's now running hard for the Minnesota Vikings behind sure things Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, trying to kick start an NFL career as an undrafted free agent.
The former Super Bowl hero who might get cut
This one has to be tough for everyone involved. Giants wide receiver David Tyree, the Super Bowl hero with the pin-the-ball against his helmet catch two years ago, has struggled in both preseason contests and looks unlikely to make the final roster. At a minimum this seems ironic, given that guys like Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning are much richer and certainly more secure in their jobs as a result of Tyree's famous play. Yet that play was then and this is now, and dropping passes and blowing plays on special teams is not going to get it done for Tyree given the young receivers competing for roster spots with the Giants.
The disappointing player seeking redemption
The preseason can also be a time for second chances, and perhaps no player embodies that more than Eagles defensive end Jason Babin. The former first-round pick with the Houston Texans has been an NFL afterthought the past three seasons, playing in only 11 games for the Seahawks and Chiefs. The Eagles signed him a couple of days into camp for what is probably his last shot, and Babin has made the most of it every day. He was all over the field against the Colts in Week 2, getting a sack of Peyton Manning for his second quarterback takedown in as many weeks.
So yeah, I like the preseason and I am not going to apologize for it. I enjoy the stories and the real life situations that get lost in the shuffle during the regular season.
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