I confess that I'm baffled by preseason football.
I complain about it incessantly, in part because NFL teams don't seem to know what to make of it.
On one hand, coaches talk about how important the reps are and cringe whenever anyone begs them to shorten it.
On the other hand, they routinely waste snaps they could be using to develop younger players because they are terrified of injuries in "games that don't count".
This contradiction is something the Indianapolis Colts should avoid.
Andrew Luck should play far more snaps than rookies normally get.
Every year, Week 1 rolls around, and everyone talks about how everything is new for the rookies and how little experience they have.
Part of the reason for that is that teams utterly waste the preseason.
Last year, of the top five quarterbacks selected in the draft, only one attempted as many as 20 throws in a preseason game.
In some cases, the rookie wasn't the starter, so teams had to balance development with the need to get the starter reps. I'll buy that argument, but is that any excuse for the Titans to have asked Jake Locker to throw just four passes in a game?
If preseason reps are valuable for the development of a young quarterback, how can teams justify giving so few of them to the quarterbacks that they need to develop? How can the Titans say Locker isn't ready when they declined the opportunity to help him get ready by asking him to spend a half handing off?
The Colts will likely give Luck no more snaps than the other players on the list above. They question is why?
They'll argue that they need to see the other quarterbacks on the roster.
No. They don't.
The franchise has one mission right now: develop Luck.
The faster and better they develop him, the sooner they start winning. With all due respect to Drew Stanton and Chandler Harnish, they don't matter. Preparing and evaluating them is a distant second to developing Luck.
They'll argue there's no reason to risk Luck in a game that doesn't count.
I would argue that the only thing that matters in 2012 is getting Luck ready to play. There's always a risk in football, but it's not like the Colts' lofty Super Bowl aspirations go down the toilet if he turns an ankle. The preseason is just as much "real" to the 2012 Colts as the regular season. They both represent stepping stones toward a destination that is at least 18 months out.
In 2012, the Indianapolis regular season is nothing but an extended preseason for 2013.
The Colts have a choice.
They can either play Luck extensively, say three quarters of every game, or they can give up the pretense that the preseason requires four games.
What they can't do is talk about the importance of preseason with a straight face and then let so-called valuable snaps go the likes of Stanton and Harnish.
The Colts have four games to make sure Luck knows the offense and is comfortable with all phases of the game. If they don't maximize the opportunity, they won't be able to use his inexperience as a crutch during the regular season.
The only way they can justify letting other quarterbacks play extensively is if Luck is so sharp and comfortable that they feel he has nothing left to learn from playing in the preseason.
I don't believe preseason football matters. I think it's a crass money-grab by the NFL and an affront to season ticket holders.
Come preseason Week 4, the Colts can prove me wrong. All they have to do is let paying customers watch Luck for more than a few snaps.
If they don't, they'll have no cause to ask fans to pay money for games that even the team doesn't value.