With Week 1 and 2 of the preseason now behind us, plenty of information can be gained from what we’ve seen so far. Certain players have impressed; others, not as much.
It’s not just the play itself, however, that has defined the preseason and, ultimately, the regular season. Injuries and suspensions have marred, as they always do, the first group of exhibitions.
With the preseason now halfway over, a lot more will be discerned in the following weeks than anything we learned over the first two. Starters will now begin to receive more and more reps.
Here are some of the trends we’ve seen so far and what they mean going forward.
So far in the preseason, we’ve gotten what we’ve come to expect from the rookies getting significant playing time: inconsistency.
Some, such as Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals, Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers, Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals and EJ Manuels of the Buffalo Bills have had impressive camps and preseason debuts.
Of all the rookies so far, Bernard has impressed me the most. The speed and decision making that he’s shown have been impressive, and if his production is a sign of things to come, the Bengals might just have their running back of the future.
His scoring drive against the Tennessee Titans showed just how explosive he could be. Beginning with runs of nine, nine and seven and then proceeding to extend the drive with a 22-yard reception, it was all punctuated with a one-yard touchdown run.
Fisher is the rookie who needs to show more. He was absolutely decimated by the pass rush of the San Francisco 49ers. Granted, many players struggle against that dominant front seven, but Fisher was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick, ahead of fellow lineman Luke Joeckel. If he wants to warrant that spot, his play must improve dramatically.
The Old Guys
Going into the preseason, several question marks loomed over the heads of some of the more established players in the league.
Could Tom Brady make it work with his receiving core decimated? Could Peyton Manning—or more particularly, his neck—make it through another season? Or could guys like Frank Gore and Steven Jackson, both now at the dreaded age of 30, continue to produce at the level we expect of them?
Well, the answer so far has been an emphatic "yes" for all of them. Brady looked like vintage Brady as he picked apart the Philadelphia Eagles secondary with surgical precision in their first preseason game. The same can go for Manning against the vaunted Seattle Seahawks secondary; they were shredded as well.
Gore has not had many opportunities, but did he ever make the most of them. His 52-yard explosion against the Chiefs showed that the vision and ability was still there. Jackson, meanwhile, has looked to be every bit the battering ram he’s been over the course of his career.
All four of those old-timers have impressed thus far, and they haven’t been the only ones. Both Michael Vick and Reggie Wayne have continued to impress early on as well. While injuries will always be on the radar, it appears that these guys have found an answer for Father Time so far.
With more playing time on the horizon this week, we’ll see if that high level of play continues.
Injuries Take Their Toll
Getting nicked up and playing at less than 100 percent is an intrinsic part of football. Very rarely does a player go a full season without suffering some sort of injury that leaves question marks about his availability up in the air.
Just as much as injuries are a part of the regular season, they’ve dominated the preseason as well. Players are falling at an alarming rate, some out for just a few weeks, while others have not been quite as fortunate.
To scour the list of injuries so far this preseason is both depressing as well as eye-opening. As much as football wants to do its part to make the game safer, safety and football will never go hand in hand. Just ask Dustin Keller, who exchanged a possible head injury with his ACL and MCL instead. Well, at least the head was protected.
With established stars like Victor Cruz and up-and-coming sensations like EJ Manuel succumbing to the injury bug, it’s a stark reminder that no player is ever truly safe in the NFL. With two preseason games left, we’ll see who else injury claims for the season.
Suspensions On the Rise
It appears that suspensions are racking up at an alarming rate this offseason, with Von Miller’s six-game suspension the most notable so far.
The list of players already set to miss time is staggering, with 21 already gone for at least one game and a combined 80 games set to be missed. The most disconcerting thing is that just one of the suspensions, Antonio Smith of the Houston Texans, will be for something other than PEDs or substance abuse.
This is an ugly trend that the NFL must try to buck now. The ongoing saga in MLB is proof of that.
The NFL is obviously trying to amp up their drug-testing policies, but more must be done. In the NFL, a player's body will break down all on its own. They don’t need the ill effects of PEDs or banned substances to help with that.
Once HGH testing is finally instilled, the NFL will be well on its way to recovery. Until then, however, expect players to keep using. And the more players use, the more they get suspended. Roger Goodell must nip this now to ensure that the NFL does not spiral out of control like baseball did.
If that means doubling the amount of suspensions, so be it. Expect more suspensions by the end of the preseason.