Week 3 of the NFL Preseason will be the closest thing fans will actually see to REAL professional football (or at least regular season games) than anything throughout the past month. As the days begin to close down and Training Camps and NFL clubs start focusing on their rosters entering into 2014, many young players on the bubble have literally only a few days to convince decision makers to create room for their service and not send them packing.
The First Cut is the Deepest
I’d say that a good 95% of the major questions have been answered as a result of the work already put in through the OTA’s, mini-camps, training camp practices, and two preseason games. Certainly there are particular aspects of the FINAL 53 that still hold question marks as to which direction to take; impending suspensions, injuries yet healed, youth over veteran experience. These can be tough calls for any General Manager or Head Coach.
As the last evaluations are both weighed and measured, youth and experience are both best served when they bring an extra degree of flexibility to the table. “Give them an added reason to keep you around.”
I thought I’d list (by position) the factors that gave an edge to one bubble player over another when we were attempting to split the final hairs of who to take along the seventeen week journey that IS an NFL Regular Season.
Quarterback – SMARTS
So much is put into the physical capabilities of young signal callers; arm strength, foot quickness, bodily stature. Clubs seem to want youthful playmakers entering into the offseason, yet the risk of turning the reigns over to an unprepared backup is frightening to many coaches and front office execs. The QB with the best combination of experience and understanding of the game is more likely to win out over sheer athletic talent. Picking up where the starter left off after a catastrophic injury in the 3rd quarter of Week 7 and or helping the starter prepare throughout the week (as a pseudo coach), might be more important than the ability to scramble out of pressure because you missed the correct read.
Wide Receiver – RETURN ABILITY
This was always one of the most contested battles throughout training camp. Usually clubs have a solid idea of their top 3 headed into the regular season. But there always seems to be a conflict looming between going with the journeyman pro or gambling on the potential of youth at the fourth and fifth spot. Safe to say most coaches would like to see the cagey vet step up in a pinch, but here’s where Special Teams needs usually trump any other requirement. If the “spring in the step” and explosive playmaking speed of youth and or the steady reliable hands of an experienced returner show up on the backend of the corps, they’re usually the ones that round out the position.
Tight End – BLOCKING
With most clubs looking for the match up nightmare at the Y position, more emphasis is placed on the downfield playmaking ability of the Tight Ends. This is just the trend in the game and probably one that won’t go away for a while. Power Forward types appear to rule, with their fluid movement off the line of scrimmage and Red Zone leaping ability to out rebound defenders. But there still appears to be room for the old fashion TE that will knock a DE off the ball in short yardage situations. Veteran and young TE’s that have the sustain and lower leg drive on the edge of the LOS can look to get the call as a club’s #3.
Running Backs – SIZE/STRENGTH vs QUICKNESS/SPEED
Today’s pro game almost demands a running back combination. It’s not atypical to see a mirror image or polar opposites at the position. Teams predicated running the football around a system will look for backs of similar skill and physical makeup. Clubs with a less predictable approach on offense might be more apt to mix it up with power in one, shiftiness in the other. Ultimately clubs will want to have a stable of running backs that bring unpredictability to their roster and scheme. Those bubble backs that might have a bit more of one thing in their game (whether strength or speed) over what the primary rotation brings to an offensive game plan have a better chance of sticking. Here, special teams plays a huge role as well.
Offensive Line – SWING ABILITY
This is almost a prerequisite in modern day offensive linemen. But those looking to hang in at a position that probably carries as many on the roster as any other MUST have some versatility to their game. Most teams left standing by the end of the season do so because of some degree of stability in their offensive line. But even the most injury free fronts will be faced with some shifting of personnel from week to week. Whether rookie or aged vet, OL’s that give their team the ability to swing their service from center to guard, guard to center, tackle to guard, guard to tackle, left or right, will most likely have better odds of dodging “The Turk” than those stuck in one place along the front five.
Next up – DEFENSE