Five things to keep in mind while watching preseason games

Kim Klement/US Presswire
Is Tyler Palko a viable option for the Chiefs as a backup quarterback? The preseason is the time to find out.

When I worked in the front office for NFL teams, I would keep an ongoing list of players during the preseason who in my mind already had made the team. Ideally that list was 40 deep -- 20 offensive players and 20 on defense. That left 13 spots up for grabs for the 53-man roster and an additional eight more for the practice squad.

One of my many pet peeves while I was in the league was the notion that one person has to have complete control of the roster. For me, who picks the final grocery list was not a battle worth having. It's my belief that the head coach should control the roster from 1-46, which are all the players who can dress on Sunday and help the team win. It's important for the players to know they work for the head coach, and that only he controls their place on the roster. If not, the coach is marginalized and loses respect in the locker room. Factoring in injuries extends the coach's control of the roster to an even 50.

However, from 51-63, the front office should have final control, which leads to another pet peeve of mine. I hated putting together a practice squad of players who help the team from Monday through Saturday, but don't really prepare the team for the future. I was never interested in keeping players on the practice squad who "knew what to do" but could not play in a game. 

What good is a bad player who might know what to do, but can't actually do it?

So with that in mind, the preseason was used as a time to target players who might be worth developing for the practice squad and those who round out the 53-man roster. Here would be a few items on my check list heading into a preseason game:

1. Do we have a backup quarterback who can play and help the team win? Backup quarterbacks have a specific job description. For example, they must:

» Be able to finish and win a game without having any practice reps.
» Have the ability to stay focused when not the starter.
» Be able to check their ego and support the starter.
» Give the defense a good week of practice by efficiently running the "look" team.
» Make the team calm and confident when they walk into the huddle.
» Be man enough to let the starter know when he screwed up.
» Have a team-first attitude.

When watching your team play this weekend, ask yourself the questions above. Do you think rookie Colin Kaepernick can do this for the 49ers? Or can Tyler Palko for the Chiefs? Or Matt Moore for the Dolphins? Or Vince Young for the Eagles? So many teams have question marks at backup quarterback, and this weekend is going to provide some of the answers.

2. Make sure players on the bubble face good competition. Preseason games are difficult from an evaluation standpoint because the level of competition is inconsistent. A player might look good in a game, but it might come against a team's second or third unit and players who are never going to play in the league. Therefore, it is critical to understand not only who to play, but also when to play them.

3. Find out if new players are handling the volume of information. The amount of information players get in training camp can be overwhelming, but they must learn it quickly and still play fast in games. Teams are adding new plays, defenses and adjustments every day. How a player responds under game conditions is vital in determining if he can be ready for opening weekend.

4. Does our team have enough diversity to be adaptable? This is critical for teams with Super Bowl aspirations. Some teams can force opponents to play out of their comfort zone. When this occurs, can the team be as effective playing away from its strength? For example, when a team takes Chris Johnson away, do the Titans have enough of a passing game to win when he is not the main producer? Or, do the Chargers have enough of a pass rush to compensate when teams double-team outside rusher Shaun Phillips? The second week of the preseason is the time to improve on these areas, in terms of personnel and scheme, that are outside of the team's comfort zone and not an area of strength.

5. Understand the competition inside the division. For example, now that the Ravens have acquired Lee Evans, all the AFC North teams must understand how he is being integrated into their offensive system. They will face him two times this season and better be prepared to handle his skill set. That process starts now.

This is not just any weekend; this is move time for many teams. Some will move toward improvement. Some will lag in mediocrity. Others will come to the realization they better make changes or else the season will be a bust.

I just love this time of the year.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi



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