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Rams Revolution: Sparing Starters Preseason Punishment

September 10th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Football, NFL, Rams

The Rams offense this summer did something that has never happened in National Football League history:

Ten of their 11 starters on offense did not play a single minute of preseason football, according to The Orange County Register.

Players have been complaining for years about the four-game exhibition season, and so have some coaches. And fans, too — exhibition games are included in season-ticket packages, and the preseason usually is played by guys who are not going to make the team.

But the main reason for keeping starters out of harm’s way?

So that they arrive at Week 1 of the regular season in peak condition.

Exhibition games do not count. They are rehearsals. Walk-throughs that perhaps help clubs sort out backup players and position battles.

The Rams, however, are quite pleased with the players they have on offense, and coach Sean McVay decided not to risk exposing 10 of them to the rigors of preseason football. (Guard Jamon Brown is the one exception, among projected starters, to play in the preseason, according to The Register.)

Every year, important players get badly hurt in exhibition games, playing for nothing. The ultimate example? The spinal injury New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley suffered in a preseason game at Oakland in 1978. Stingley never walked again.

McVay and the Rams decided to short-circuit the process.

When they open the season tonight in Oakland, quarterback Jared Goff, star running back Todd Gurley, new receiver Brandin Cooks, et al, will go into the game having not played one minute of football in anger. Not one snap in an exhibition game.

They have endured some hitting, during the weeks and weeks of practice ahead of the season, but it has not been full-blown, knock-someone’s-head-off contact they could expect from opponents trying to impress their own team.

It may seem like a gamble, by the Rams. No NFL team ever has blown off the exhibition season as have these Rams. A case can be made that they are demonstrating how little exhibition games mean, perhaps cutting into, a teensy bit, the money NFL teams make on the four extra games.

With others sure to be watching to see if the untouched Rams look sharp — or to see if they start badly and fall out of contention … McVay and the front office will get catch some flak, and maybe a lot of it.

I prefer to see it as a way to keep your best players healthy until the games matter.

It has been suggested that playing in an NFL game is equivalent to being in an automobile crash at 30 miles per hour. Enough to seriously hurt lots and lots of players. Especially when they are trying to play 16 regular-season games and as many as four playoff games.

Why expose your players to an extra four games that don’t count? Why expose then to two? Or even one?

Someone will say “they need to get their timing down.” The idea being that even the most brisk of practice cannot simulate a real NFL game.

Back 30 years or so, players also used to talk about “getting bodies ready” for regular-season contact by experiencing it in the preseason. Getting beaten on in August was key to a good season.

To many people in the modern game, such as McVay, all that exhibition games really accomplish is getting people hurt before the games that count. They believe they should risk their stars only when the risk is worth taking.

I wish them well. For the sake of players whose careers won’t be derailed in August. For the sake of coaches willing go against football tradition. For ownership brave enough to let it happen.

A victory over the Raiders would vindicate the risk.

And did we mention none of the Rams’ stars go into the game nursing injuries? It is a success already.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Eric Yauger // Sep 14, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    Former Highland resident here who went to school with Drew. I’ve been following your blog for years, but decided to finally comment.

    As a lifelong Rams fan, I was very concerned that the offense would look rusty because of the lack of preseason. And, for the first half against the Raiders, that fear was justified. While the defense did play more in the preseason, it wasn’t much, and they seemed off in that half. Heck, Lynch looked like he was back in Seattle! That said, from the beginning of the second half, it was total domination by the Rams on both sides of the ball. So, I guess we can chalk the first half up to “being the preseason.” Since it’s seemingly worked for the Rams, expect more teams to do it next year.

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