Prior to training camp kicking off around the league last week, the NFL Player's Association sent a memo to all players reminding them of various rules. There are no padded-practices for the first three days. Gone are two-a-day sessions as we once knew them. Padded-practices are limited to three hours and onfield work (including walk-throughs) are limited to four hours daily. Players love it, coaches are trying to adjust, but the amount of work a team could get in with a standard day during training camp has significantly decreased. This makes preseason games even that much more valuable.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis admitted on Wednesday that if he were forced to make cuts on the team right now, he could almost reach the 53-man roster maximum that's enforced during the regular season. Is that because he's not happy with players or can training camp only show you so much?
"Having names on paper is one thing," Lewis told reporters on Wednesday, "but going out and playing well in the preseason where you prove that if you're the backup of this spot, and you're worthy of playing more, or a third guy maybe if he's not going to be here, he gets an opportunity somewhere else for what he does in the preseason."
Lewis highlighted Ryan Whalen from last year, who forced the team to uncharacteristically keep seven receivers rather than the standard six because of his preseason production. He wants more than that this year, the head coach said. Instead of easily cutting most of your roster to reach the regular season maximum, Lewis wants to make difficult decisions by the time roster cuts start later next month.
"That's a great thing and that's what you want to have," said Lewis. "You want to have guys make the football team by producing. If I cut the football team right now, I could probably cut it to 56. Hopefully it's more like 60 and those guys can start proving that next Thursday night."
These comments are indirectly weighty due to the league's never-quieting hope to increase the number of regular season games to 18, removing two preseason games in the process. Though fans, owners, and the NFL care little for the preseason in the grande scheme of things, coaches find them to be invaluable. But with the CBA further restricting practices during training camp, the importance for preseason games will carry that much more importance for coaches.