When Should the Stars Align? Preseason Volume for the Game’s Best

NOTE:

On a certain level, this blog post will piggyback my last one regarding my thoughts as to why so many players seem to be getting injured across the league this preseason. It appears that many coaches are attempting to remedy this situation by treating it with kid gloves so much so that they are limiting the amount of repetitions that the players take in camp (which I am all for in most situations) or making the decision to hold star players out completely when it comes to team’s preseason games. This blog will briefly address my thoughts on this topic as it’s a hot one across the NFL right now.

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If you accept the stance I took in last week’s blog (if you haven’t read it yet simply scroll down and check it out) then you may already be thinking of some of the things I am about to discuss today.

To give a quick recap of what ideas I introduced last week:

-Preparedness levels in today’s NFL athlete usually does not co-inside appropriately with the athlete’s level of mastery and/or qualification

-Intricacies and characteristics of technical execution of on-field movements are constantly changing for each and every athlete including those who play in the NFL

-The above two ideas need to be further considered when we are talking about athletes who are representative of the highest performing human beings walking the planet

-If we do not account for the above 3 points then we are going the right way to have a bad situation, boys and girls (aka; a rash of catastrophic injuries across the NFL)!

Because many of the solutions that I discussed in last week’s blog post haven’t been considered yet among those in the league (such as coaches understanding movements at the level that they should or those coaches having the balls to cease practice when players are not ‘feeling’ it for one reason or another), those in charge of player personnel of teams with superstars are faced with a decision that needs to be made. This issue centers on if those particular star players should be on the field for meaningless games with what would appear to be redundant, un-needed repetitions for players at the highest level.

This week here in Minnesota there has been a fair amount of discussion on the sports talk shows regarding if the reigning NFL MVP should do more than suit up for any of the team’s remaining preseason games. Last week, he didn’t even sniff the field as he was in nothing more than his jersey watching the game and the only strenuous activity for him may have come from eating sunflower seeds. Of course, the fans want to see him. In fact, they are paying to see him. If A.D. is on the field in a preseason game, there are going to be more as*es in the seats and if it’s one thing teams and the entire League enjoys its people watching AND paying. But, those same teams also enjoy having the stars around for the long, grueling haul that is known as the NFL season grind. So, where is the happy medium and what is the right precautionary steps to take when it comes to playing the best your team has to offer in preseason games?

To start, I should make it clear that I am a believer in having four preseason games (and not adding any games to the regular or post-seasons). These games are essential to both the team decision-makers and to guys on the bubble of the 53-man roster that are doing everything in their power to show that they belong in the NFL fraternity. In addition, even though it’s true that those guys are constantly auditioning and being evaluated all through camp and really the entire offseason (OTAs and mini-camp), it’s how the guy performs in the preseason games that make him non-expendable. Even very well-established players in the league feel the continual pressure to perform anytime they step on the field for a real live game. All in all, it doesn’t matter how you perform in simulation situations…it’s when you’re in the fire that counts.

When listening to some of the takes given by the talking heads on the sports radio shows, it seemed like most were simply concerned that Adrian wouldn’t “sufficiently have his legs underneath him” when the season would begin in September. This is code in the NFL for being conditioned enough (though not having one’s legs underneath him isn’t defined this way in my vocabulary). Yet after the various discussions on multiple shows I didn’t hear a consensus from them regarding what was the right way to handle it (Side note: did they forget that Adrian didn’t take a single preseason game snap last year and went on to have the 2nd greatest season as a RB ever?). Thus, I decided to offer a little more food for thought from my perspective.

I can certainly understand where teams are coming from with being cautious with its stars. These guys are not only worth the most amount of all the guys on each roster but they are also the guys who’s performance will determine what their team is capable of and if they end up playing in January or not. Its often said that football is ‘ultimate team game’ but if you take Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, or Peyton Manning off of their respective teams just how likely are they to reach their ultimate destination and win themselves some bling in New York in February?

However, here’s the thing: every player in the League knows he is “one hit away” from it all being over. Every step they take is risky and it could be the last one that they take in the League. An NFL player’s body is going to be subjected to high amounts of force which will be absorbed and exerted both to the ground and to your opponent countless times on each and every play. There’s another issue here: sure, football is always fast. However, ask any NFL player and they will quickly tell you that the speed and tempo goes up to a whole separate level when September football rolls around in comparison to any football played in August. Thus, if a player is ill-prepared for the demands of the game this can be more risky than if we held them out of the preseason and threw him out there once opening week rolled around. This happens not because he is not sufficiently conditioned but more-so because the neuromuscular efficiency isn’t quite up to par yet for the increased speeds of contraction, rates of movement velocity and its changes (faster deceleration/re-acceleration), as well as how the corresponding biomechanical positions change. Neuromuscular coordination patterns (i.e. the way that the brain controls what muscle places the given joints in positions to exert force) change and so do biomechanical positions (i.e. how your body is actually placed in space) when the body has increased cognitive and perceptual demands. Meaning, this occurs when someone is chasing you wanting to detach your head from your neck when you were only accustomed to ‘thud tempo’ or even less (aka the limitations often placed on stars in practice). Thus, the body immediately gets placed at more risk the first time this happens because it hasn’t positively adapted to this type of stressor.

As I have alluded to numerous times on this page so far, I have attended Vikings camp more than any other camp. In the probably 10 times I was there, I can’t say that I actually saw Adrian on the ground a single time in 3 weeks (camp ended yesterday)…rightfully so. The guy is the current best player on the planet and he shouldn’t have to concern himself with unnecessary stress. But he is going to have to play against guys who want to take him down with a much higher speed, intensity, and overall vigor very soon. Of course, it could be said that it will take less reps for an athlete with a higher level of mastery (i.e. the game’s best) to get reacquainted with those differences in the on-field demands and I would agree with this. But, as a coach or GM, do you want the first action of this kind to come when the games count or when they don’t count?

In addition, when you are playing against the other guys at your respective level in preseason games, at least in the majority of cases, most guys with any experience in the league will have the mutual understanding and respect for their opponent. There will always be exceptions and you will find some blokes who don’t know when to turn it off. But hits that typically happen when the games count to a greater degree may not happen when it’s ‘just the preseason.’ Guys will be less apt to go at a running back’s knees to take him down, less violent hits will occur around the quarterback, so-on and so-forth. Will it still be risky? YES! Its football for gosh sakes…it will ALWAYS be risky. But do the risks of keeping the guys out actually outweigh the potential reward?

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