Once the training wheels come off
The LA Rams sit up to 35 players to prevent injury in preseason games. But if it was all so simple as that, all 32 NFL head coaches would have already poached and installed that mindset of only using starters in joint practices and only using backups in preseason games. Now, here is why that won’t ever happen.
There is a flip side to the coin. Some head coaches do not believe that scrimmages or joint practices simulate the dangers, speed, and overall conditions of the regular-season games. In a regulation game, if you toss an interception, that’s it. You go to the bench and the defense comes out. Do so at the wrong spot on the football field, and the offensive mistake can gift points to the opponent. Those conditions are not simulated in scrimmages.
Tackling is not allowed in scrimmages. Quarterbacks are not hit. There are a number of safety precautions installed in joint practices and scrimmages that are designed to protect players but that feel an awful lot like training wheels on a bicycle. It’s great. It’s a safety feature. But we all know how horrific it is whenever the training wheels come off the bike and our son or daughter solo for the first time.
We learned in 2020 that the NFL can deliver a meaningful product to the football field if everyone starts from the same basic level of preparedness. But not all teams share the Rams’ perspective. Brandon Staley, last year’s defensive coordinator, sat just four players against the Rams. Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has a different take. He will put his starters into the second preseason game for the first half. Is he somehow less concerned about the health of his players?
Not exactly. But he understands that bad habits, even well-meaning ones generated in the safe penalty-free test lab of joint practices and scrimmages can be tough to break. He opts to err on the side of better game-like simulations to ensure that his starters can play effectively when the regular season starts.
You know, it’s tough to argue against the strategy of the 19-13 LA Rams who have gone 1-1 in the NFL Playoffs over the past two seasons. Unless of course, you are the 26-6 Kansas City Chiefs who have gone 5-1 in the NFL Playoffs over the past two seasons, including a Super Bowl victory.