Ten Rams offensive players didn’t take a single preseason snap in ’18
Planning on catching any NFL preseason games this month, in person or on TV?
Perhaps more than ever, don’t expect to see a team’s stars get much playing time, if any at all after last year.
We’re in what’s officially called Week 1 of the league’s preseason. Action kicks off Thursday night with a whopping 11 games, followed by two more Friday night, and three Saturday night.
You might recall that the Los Angeles Rams last year did not play a single established offensive starter in any of the four preseason games — an unprecedented move.
Yet that inactivity did not hamper the Rams attack one iota come the regular season in September. Los Angeles went 13-3, finished No. 2 in the league in both total offence and scoring offence, won the NFC championship in January, and battled New England deep into the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIII.
It was Rams head coach Sean McVay’s call to not play any of quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, receivers Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, and four-fifths of the first-string offensive line in the preseason. Not a single game snap for any of them.
McVay also sat out most Rams defensive starters, other than for literally a few snaps — in particular, the entire first-string secondary and most impact linemen and linebackers.
For the Rams, injury prevention trumped experience accumulation.
“You have so much respect and appreciation for the value of those live repetitions that you get in the four preseason games,” McVay said last August. “But, at the same time … it’s a really delicate balance of measuring the importance of getting some experience (against) making sure that you don’t put guys in harm’s way, and at the risk of losing them for the season.
“You certainly don’t ever want to play scared, but you also do want to try to balance how can you do it in a smart way, getting guys ready to go. Especially those guys that you know you’re counting on when the regular season kicks off.”
So now, because the NFL is a copycat league, can we expect other teams to follow suit in 2019, beginning over the next three nights? And again next week, in the just-as-mostly-meaningless Week 2 slate of games?
As I wrote on this topic during Super Bowl week from Atlanta, any NFL team resting its starters — especially highly paid starters — for at least most of the first and second preseason games, and for all of the fourth and final one, is nothing new. In recent years some veteran quarterbacks have taken only 10 or so snaps across all preseason games.
For example (and take note, Winnipeggers): Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers took seven game snaps all last August, in Week 2 only. The Packers play the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 this year at Winnipeg’s IG Field, on Thursday, Aug. 22.
The Rams last year just took such carefulness to the next step: Zero game snaps for Goff and Co.
Sorry, ticket buyers. Not remotely worth the full-price cost, is it?
Also, the Rams sure never apologized for their player shelvings.
On media night at Super Bowl LIII, I asked Rams COO and executive VP of football operations, Kevin Demoff, about it.
“I think the business plan is trying to help our team win games,” Demoff told me. “So if that helped us win more games this year, great. But I think had we gone 4-12, people would have said we’re morons. This is one where we looked at it as process over results.”
McVay applied the same principle during the 2018 regular season, Demoff said.
“After our Thursday night game when we didn’t practise, and I think we scored 41 or 42 points, he goes, ‘If we can score 40 points without practising in a short week, maybe we can reevaluate how we look at a longer week.’”
So McVay decided after Week 3 to basically cease practising on Wednesdays; thereafter they just conducted walk-throughs.
The results, from an injury standpoint?
“This year we were among the healthiest teams,” Demoff said at the Super Bowl. “The last two years we’ve led the league in fewest missed games.”
That’s not to say McVay is a super softy with his players, either. Demoff insisted McVay works his Rams particularly hard in training camp.
One way the Rams and other teams in recent years have been making up for those lack of live reps in preseason games is by lining up joint practices for one, two or even three weeks in August.
This year there are more joint training-camp practices (14) than ever before. Six teams lined up two: the Rams (with the Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders), Chargers (Rams and New Orleans Saints), Houston Texans (Packers and Detroit Lions), Lions (New England Patriots and Texans), Patriots (Lions and Tennessee Titans) and Baltimore Ravens (Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles).
Teams with single-week joint practices: the Buffalo Bills with Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins with Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns with Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers with Denver Broncos.
I attended Monday’s first of three such practices in Detroit between the Lions and Patriots. Even if Patriots QB Tom Brady or Lions QB Matthew Stafford takes the field for a handful of plays in Thursday night’s preseason game at Detroit’s Ford Field, the more meaningful experiences from this week for each actually occurred over the three preceding days, when each guided his offence against the other team’s starting defence for a combined dozens of reps.
Importantly, 11-vs.-11 scrimmages at all of these joint practices are controlled. For instance, head coaches usually agree that there is to be no tackling to the ground, or cut blocking, and quarterbacks always are hands-off.
So it’s not entirely real football. But a joint practice is the closest thing an NFL team can arrange.
In future years, expect to see many more of these scheduled. And fewer star players suiting up in preseason games. If at all.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019