The 10 Biggest Surprises of the NFL Preseason
The 2012 NFL preseason was filled with, well, a mixed level of emotions when acknowledging the element of surprise.
Although surprising nonetheless, there was frustration regarding the new referees, a good shock feeling from some rookie quarterbacks putting on a show, and confusion when it came to coaches not opting to try and move the chains on fourth down.
All of this and more ties into what makes the preseason necessary, albeit maddening: and that can rightfully include the release of Madden '13 (pun definitely intended), depending on how much you enjoy ripping hair out your skull when losing to friends.
Thankfully, the real games kick off next week and the greater slate of contests begin in almost one week.
So here, thoroughly enjoy what surprises came from this year's exhibition affairs.
Russell Wilson Winning Starting Role
Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
Everyone knew Russell Wilson was a stud, but lasting to Round 3 of the 2012 NFL Draft was a surprise.
Still, considering that the Seattle Seahawks had Tarvaris Jackson coming off his best season and Matt Flynn aboard, Wilson getting the backup role seemed more realistic. As the summer progressed, not much changed and it wasn't until August when the rookie looked like a veteran.
In his first game action, Wilson went 12-of-16 for 124 yards and one score with one pick against the Tennessee Titans. Game 2 brought more dominance as he shredded the Denver Broncos for 155 yards on 10 completions and two touchdowns.
Thereafter, Wilson kept rolling and sliced up Seattle's old AFC West rivals en route to a perfect preseason.
On an even brighter note, coach Pete Carroll stated in an article from ESPN.com:
"It's been a very exciting competition that has gone on, and Russell has taken full advantage of his opportunities and has done everything that we have asked for on the field and more than what you guys could know off the field in meeting rooms and with our players and how he's represented. He's earned this job," Carroll said on a conference call Sunday night.
Maurice Jones-Drew Still Holding out
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Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout is quite surprising, considering the Jacksonville Jaguars' potential this season—yes, with MJD the Jags are dangerous.
Mel Tucker's defense is easily one of the best in the league, which bodes well for the offense that still has to prove more explosion. That said, Jacksonville does have a spruced up receiving corps and head coach Mike Mularkey knows how to develop quarterbacks.
Unfortunately, Jones-Drew remains out and perhaps Charlie Casserly put it best.
From an interview with "NFL AM" in an article by Kevin Patra of NFL.com, Casserly stated:
“There is nothing to say positive about Maurice Jones-Drew,” former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager Charlie Casserly told “NFL AM” Friday morning. “He signed a contract, he was number three in the NFL when they paid him at that point, he has an obligation to finish that contract and be on the field.”
For the sake of Jaguars fans, let's hope some type of progress begins sooner than later.
Blaine Gabbert Proving Cynics Wrong, at Least for Now
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From a more optimistic perspective in Jacksonville, second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert has come on nicely this preseason.
Now, yes, the guy still must prove his ability once the regular season games kick off but Jags fans can't ask for much more.
Between the first two contests, Gabbert completed 69.2 percent of his throws (18-of-26) for 174 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions. Games 3 and 4 weren't as impressive, however, Gabbert did close out 18-of-33 for 181 yards and no picks.
For as rough as it was to watch Gabbert in 2011, it's not like the Jaguars supplied him with any receiving talent to develop. Now with stronger playmakers like rookie Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson, the signal-caller can be more effective.
Vince Young Getting Cut
Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE
Throughout his first six NFL seasons Vince Young had played in 60 games and despite the numbers, he did pose a winning record.
So when the Buffalo Bills cut the veteran earlier this week, per the Associated Press via ESPN.com, it was a little surprising given Young's repertoire of experience and Buffalo's need at the time for a backup quarterback.
It was the correct decision, however, as Young never truly developed and was more turnover prone than anything throughout his career. The 2011 season was arguably the final opportunity with the Philadelphia Eagles, but Young tossed nine interceptions to just four touchdowns in only six appearances.
Not to mention his 57.9 completion percentage was Young's worst since the 2006 season (rookie year).
All this being said, as a former No. 3 overall selection it's obvious that Young is a bust.
Terrell Owens Was Actually Given Another Chance
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
For as impressive as Russell Wilson was this preseason, not even Seattle's new franchise quarterback could save Terrell Owens' NFL career.
He first signed with the Seahawks in early August and was pumped to be in the Great Northwest:
God is good. Thankful. Grateful. To ALL my new teammates & the "12th Man"... Let's Do This!!— Terrell Owens (@terrellowens) August 7, 2012
T.O. was then released less than a month later:
I'm no longer a Seahawk. I THANK the organization 4 the opportunity, I'm truly blessed beyond belief. My FAITH is intact & will NOT waiver.— Terrell Owens (@terrellowens) August 26, 2012
We have to remember that this was a guy who is 38 years old and hadn't suited up in the NFL since 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals. So his opportunity was surprising, but its not lasting long was not.
Against the Broncos, he was targeted five times with no catches and made just two catches for 41 yards versus Kansas City.
Roger Goodell Believing in Replacement Refs
Who said a sequel to The Replacements was being made and why is the next installment using referees?
If this replacement of referees was only being made into a movie, then it would just be a box-office failure. Instead, the NFL is now frustrating football fans even more and those also a fan of the original replacements with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman.
It's bad movie idea that doesn't need to ruin a great original and Roger Goodell seems oblivious.
According to the Associated Press via ESPN.com:
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says possibly using replacement referees for regular-season games is worthwhile to ensure long-term improvements to officiating.
"These officials have been trained," Goodell said of the replacement refs who have been calling preseason games. "We've been working with them. We think they'll do a very credible job."
All I can figure out regarding this situation is two things:
1. Where is Jon Favreau when we need him? And,
2. This debacle must get fixed soon.
Fortunately, there is hope. According to ESPN.com:
The NFL and its locked-out officials will meet Friday in an attempt to resolve their stalled labor negotiations, two sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
It marks the first time in a month that the league will meet with the NFL Referees Association.
We're back to football, but correct calls appear/remain optional at the moment.
Jets Offense Worse Than Anticipated
To say that the New York Jets' offense would be a dud in 2012 is a foregone conclusion.
Tim Tebow may have taken the NFL by storm in 2011, but his inept completion percentage significantly begs to differ. A lot of the Broncos' success last season is due to defense and kicker Matt Prater, not Tebow.
And we're clearly seeing the lack of decision-making this preseason from him and the rest of Gang Green's offense.
Through the first three preseason contests, the Jets mustered only 21 points and zero touchdowns. Even worse, Tebow went just 13-of-36 for 151 yards with two picks and was sacked seven times.
Unfortunately, Mark Sanchez wasn't much better and was sacked six times.
The offensive line fails to hold up in pass protection, the receiving corps is unreliable even when a pass comes on target, and unless Tebow scrambles, the ground game gets easily isolated by a stacked box.
For the sake of Jets' fans everywhere, let's hope the defense is insanely more dominant than usual. Otherwise, New York will have quite a bit of trouble avoiding numerous goose-eggs this season.
Rookie Backup QBs Make Some Noise
Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
We can thank Russell Wilson for this rookie backup quarterback trend since the preseason began.
After Wilson's impressive performance earned him the green light as Seattle's starter, Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles and Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins have been electric.
When Foles took his first NFL snaps in Philly's first preseason game, he found himself down 13-0 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Sure it's a preseason game, but this kind of situation really tests a rookie's composure and patience to bring his team back. Foles did this to a T by going six-of-10 for 144 yards and two touchdowns before Trent Edwards came in.
When Foles exited, the Eagles were only down 20-14 and a potential backup was in the making. Since, Foles has continued to spread the field and utilize all levels of the defense. He tossed for 217 yards against the New England Patriots and 146 yards against the Cleveland Browns.
All together, he finished with six touchdowns to only two picks and was sacked just once.
Cousins going to the Washington Redskins itself was a surprise, but then again a necessary selection, as Rex Grossman is the other option to back Robert Griffin III.
Well, Cousins has proven to be a legit selection. After a slow start, he caught fire versus the Chicago Bears. There, the former Michigan State Spartan went 18-of-23 for 264 yards and three scores in his second exhibition opportunity.
After seeing basically no time versus the Indianapolis Colts, Cousins shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 222 yards on 15 completions. He's a much more mobile quarterback than given credit, however—Cousins also sees the field well and possesses solid pocket awareness.
Regardless of where and when it happens, this guy, like Foles, will earn a starting opportunity one day.
Facemasks Becoming Game's Next Evolution?
The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE
Justin Tuck pulled a double-whammy with this facemask.
The look out-Shredders Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and out-does teammate Chris Canty for the same appearance.
This new look, though, does provide more safety for defensive linemen as the design virtually prevents anything from getting inside to obstruct vision. Also, in an article by Dan Salomone of the Giants' official website:
An extension of what he [Justin Tuck] switched to last fall, the new cage was debuted this week by Tuck, who dares anyone to aggravate his neck again with the protection of 12 diagonal bars and five horizontal ones.
“The idea is he doesn’t want to get grabbed,” said [equipment director] [Joe] Skiba, who was honored this offseason with the Whitey Zimmerman Equipment Manager of the Year Award. “But then it becomes one of those situations where when you make a facemask with so many bars like that how much weight is going to be too much weight. So what Schutt did was we made that out of titanium, which is light as a feather. You can feel his helmet now, it feels just as light.”
Tuck's new face sure looked interesting this preseason and it wouldn't be surprising to see this catch on before 2012 concludes.
Offenses Refusing to Attempt More on Fourth-Down
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
We see it every preseason and it's something difficult to wrap the brain around.
Coaches attempting chip-shot field goals or coffin corner punts during the preseason are literally unnecessary.
These are professional kickers and punters and it's basically a given for them to nail a field goal inside 40 yards or boot one 40 yards. Gaining a competitive advantage, though, would make the offense astronomically more confident when facing a fourth down in crunch time.
One of the underappreciated aspects about the preseason is that the games don't matter.
The final score is irrelevant and getting the starters to buff out the rough spots while developing the rookies is what counts. And the best way to get a more concrete evaluation is from fourth down.
This is the down that really forces the offense to focus and execute. Everyone can benefit and learn-by-doing with no winning/losing consequences in the preseason, so getting more confident on the final down is a win-win situation.
When the real games begin, this added experience would simply pay stronger dividends, leading to a greater competitive advantage.
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