The National Football League is facing the potential of a two-game preseason this year -- a radical change from the four-game preseason schedule teams are used to.
Last week, it was reported by my NFL Network colleague Tom Pelissero that the NFL and NFL Players Association were discussing the possibility of shortening the 2020 preseason. Cutting the preseason in half would allow for a longer ramp-up period, giving players time to prepare physically to participate in training camp and games coming off an unusual offseason that was restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to approach a two-game preseason will be a big internal discussion for teams, provoking questions like: How much should teams play their starters? Should first overall pick Joe Burrow take any preseason snaps? What about Tom Brady, who will turn 43 in August? How can teams like Chicago hold a quarterback competition?
This is where the NFL can learn a lot from the Canadian Football League, which has played a two-game preseason for years. I recently spoke to two former NFL coaches who also have extensive experience in the CFL about how NFL teams should approach this change, provided the league and the NFLPA come to an agreement. Here is what I collected:
A shortened preseason would favor more experienced teams. With significant game action in preseason taken away, call sheets might be limited early on in an effort to avoid overwhelming skill players and quarterbacks new to schemes in which they have little exposure. Organizations with new players at skill positions -- particularly at quarterback -- would likely emphasize the run game and screens early in the regular season, letting the passing game evolve over time, while teams with strong continuity from 2019 would be better positioned to deploy their full game plans sooner.
What might practices look like? Practices would likely involve even more situational strategies, stealing time away from the individual and fundamental periods. Expect less live tackling, with more walk-throughs during 11-on-11 sessions and more form tackling drills in individual groups.
How will teams approach playing time in the preseason? One of my sources said his starters did not play in the CFL preseason, except for the offensive line, for whom it was key to learn and get used to playing together. Having your best skill players healthy for the season opener was more important than having them take some preseason reps. It's not out of the question to have a veteran quarterback play one quarter of game action in the CFL preseason, but how much that really helps is questionable. As for rookie quarterbacks, like the Bengals' Burrow, if they know enough of the system, they might play so that they can get acclimated to NFL speed.
Quarterback development and competitions. There is limited time to evaluate backups, who see a majority of their playing time in the preseason. Taking away two games of valuable on-field action could ultimately hurt teams with young QBs. Look at Dwayne Haskins in Washington. He had eight quarters of preseason action last year to learn as a rookie before eventually taking over the starting job midway through the regular season. Imagine how much more difficult things would have been for Haskins had he played in just four quarters in the preseason, giving him less time to develop before being thrust into regular-season action. Or consider Aaron Rodgers, who had three years of four-game preseasons with which to prepare before replacing Brett Favre as Green Bay's QB1 (in addition to the 2008 preseason, ahead of his first season as starter). He was well-trained and had the proper time to develop.
Quarterback competitions will be decided by what coaches see in practice and in preseason games. That won't change. The top two QBs will likely split playing time in both preseason games, with each QB getting equal time with the starting O-line. Beyond that, what will ultimately help determine who gets the starting job will be more competitive situations (including in full scrimmages and simulated games) that will be graded in practice.
Follow Charley Casserly on Twitter @Charley Casserly.