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Five things to watch in the Hall of Fame Game

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Football is back!

Well, kind of. It's not kickoff weekend, but a professional exhibition will take place Thursday in the cradle of football: Canton, Ohio.

This year's participants hail from the East Coast and the Midwest, and feature enshrinees who will be celebrated on Saturday. But first, the new crop of players must battle on the turf at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

You're still wondering why you tune in? My, what a fortuitous path you've traveled to this very web page. We have not one, not two, but FIVE reasons why you should find a television and watch this here

1. It's football!


There's a considerably large group of people I don't have to sell on this. This faction of football fan has already been gobbling up CFL action for weeks. They're poring over training camp reports, have bought their fantasy magazines and pre-ordered Madden NFL 19. They have a countdown to kickoff on their phones. They're ready.

And then, there's the casual fan. This isn't the Super Bowl. But what it is is viewable, live football with an ending of which you aren't sure. The guys scoring the final touchdowns might not be recognizable, but the ones taking the field early will be! And that's enough to rope in the average viewer, because this is America's sport -- and it's back for another wonderful season.

2. Lamar Jackson!


We've spent many, many paragraphs and television segments discussing this fine talent at the quarterback position.

The Ravens stunned many by trading up to draft him, and finally, we get to see Lamar Jackson on the field for live, NFL action. It's fair to guess Jackson will get at least a quarter of action, making it worthwhile to tune in when the second- and third-stringers take the field. If he remains QB No. 3 on the Baltimore depth chart Thursday, he'll probably get the entire second half. That's 30 minutes for Jackson to dazzle us, much like he did when he was making college defenders miss while he was winning the Heisman Trophy at Louisville.

Will this factor into where he stands in the long-term picture at quarterback? Perhaps. Russell Wilson, a third-round pick, won the starting job out of camp as a rookie. It seems Joe Flacco will likely keep his job for the time being, though we who get to project when changes might happen can see Jackson taking the job at a point by some set of circumstances or another. We will also receive a chance to check out Baltimore's revamped receiving corps, and we might get a look at those rumored two-quarterback sets the Ravens have been considering. Hall of Fame Game trick plays?! We're down for that spice on our preseason plate.

3. Trubisky, Year Two


Mitch Trubisky joined a team that was essentially slogging through a lame-duck season with John Fox finishing his final season in Chicago before being unceremoniously let go. That wipes the slate for Trubisky clean, even though he wasn't bad as a rookie.

Year Two for Trubisky is new, with a fresh head coach and a new system that also includes a new No. 1 receiver in Allen Robinson. Our first look at that new era of Bears football begins with Trubisky, in firm possession of the keys of the offense, taking the field.

We don't expect to see earth-shattering accomplishments, but we do get to see a bit of a preview of what the 2018 Bears might look like. That's worth watching.

UPDATE: NFL Network's Steve Wyche reported on NFL Total Access one hour before kickoff Trubisky isn't going to play in Thursday night's contest. That's deflating for this point, but the game is definitely still worth watching!

4. First look at the Matt Nagy Bears


Year Two of Trubisky is also Year One of Matt Nagy. That aforementioned system change will be at least partially on display, with Nagy calling the shots for his team as a first-time head coach.

Will we see a run-heavy attack on the backs of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen? A short passing game similar to the one Alex Smith engineered in Kansas City? A combination of both? Can you feel the intrigue building? Is it time for kickoff yet?

5. The road to Lombardi starts here


I have a longtime friend who always sends me the same text message precisely when the Hall of Fame Game kicks off every year: "The road to the Super Bowl begins now."

Maybe I'm a bit partial to this game because I grew up 30 minutes north of where it's annually played, but every time that first boom of a booted ball off the tee graces my ears and I read those words after the play is over, I get full-body chills. There's something unique about this game that isn't replicated by any other sport, a quality so special it entrances a nation for six months every year. This game, however exciting or otherwise it ends up being, is the official marker that another season is underway.

For as long as I live, that will always be special to me.

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