The National Football League’s preseason is routinely viewed as a set of games that have no meaning, except for lining franchise owners’ pockets with extra money.
This could not be farther from the truth.
Preseason is the time for young players to show what they have to the pro football world. It's not just an audition for their coaches and the fan base of their team, but also for the General Managers and Coaches of the other 31, should they not make the 53-man roster when the cuts end.
The four weeks before the NFL season, are also a time for both rookies and veterans alike, to get their bodies and skills out of the off-season rust bowl, and prepare for the pressure and hits awaiting them.
However, one of the major reasons for preseason, which gives it meaning to both fans and coaches, is the chance to have off-season questions and concerns answered; and hopefully, put to rest.
The Washington Redskins headed into the preseason with high expectations of their first round draft pick (13th overall), Texas DE Brian Orakpo.
After two preseason games against the Baltimore Ravens and the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, it would seem that Orakpo has met expectations. In limited action, Orakpo has six tackles and four assists in his first two chances at live NFL action.
The stat lines do not tell the whole story though.
Along with this off-season’s free agent pick up, Albert Haynesworth, who only had limited time during the Pittsburgh game, Orakpo has helped generate a pass rush that's been missing from Washington’s arsenal for quite some time. This pressure spark is what Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache was looking for from his rookie defensive end, who is also seeing time at linebacker.
The Redskins have also been pleasantly surprised by the production of their seventh round selection, WR Marko Mitchell.
Mitchell, who attended Nevada, is currently ranked fourth on the Redskins wide receiver stats list with three receptions for 21 yards and a touchdown.
For the second year in a row, RB Marcus Mason is leading the preseason RB squad. He is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, and his 18 yard run against Pittsburgh’s defense is the second longest rushing pick up this preseason, behind rookie QB Chase Daniel’s 22 yard scramble in that same game.
Speaking of the Redskins’ quarterbacks, there was definitely controversy surrounding starter Jason Campbell.
In the summer months, the Redskins showed interest in Jay Cutler when Denver was shopping the disgruntled pro-bowler in early spring. After Denver’s new Head Coach, Josh McDaniels, turned down an offer from Washington that was identical to the offer made by the Chicago Bears, it was clear that other coaches and front offices were not convinced of Campbell’s future as a starting quarterback in the league.
The Redskins even showed interest in moving up in the draft to take USC’s Mark Sanchez. But the Redskins did not have the draft picks to match the Jets offer, and therefore, missed another trade opportunity to upgrade their quarterback position. This was after the Redskins approached several teams about a possible trade for Campbell, but no organization exhibited interest.
With the questions surrounding the reliability and the psyche of their quarterback, preseason is an opportunity for coaches and fans to see how Campbell will respond to the off-season mayhem.
Unfortunately, for Jason Campbell, the preseason has not pointed in the direction that he and his team were hoping.
After two preseason games, Campbell is 4/13 with 48 yards (a completion percentage of 30.8%) and has a quarterback rating of 43.1%. This puts Campbell in the No. 32 spot when compared to other starting quarterbacks’ numbers this preseason; and has Washington’s offense ranked 29th for yards, 30th for points, and 31st for passing. (By contrast, Kyle Orton’s completion percentage is 64.3% with an overall rating of 50.9%, Jay Cutler’s completion percentage is 56.5% with an overall rating of 79.1%, and Mark Sanchez has a completion rate of 50.0% with a rating of 82.3%).
There is no denying that Campbell must perform better this Friday when the Redskins travel to take on the New England Patriots. As one official in the Redskins organization remarked, “It would put a lot of peoples’ minds at ease, and I’m not just talking about the fans.”
Hopefully, for the team and Campbell, the second half of the preseason will prove to be more promising than the first. So, it appears that the need and meaningfulness of the preseason is still alive and well in Washington.