Preseason is a delicate balancing act for head coaches, who want to prepare their players fully for the regular season without putting them at too great an injury risk.
The more important a player is to the team, the further the risk-reward ratio is tipped towards the former, whereas those on the roster bubble almost exclusively see the latter.
Preseason games are far from pointless, but they are less necessary for experienced heads, particularly those of high importance to a team’s success.
Take Julio Jones as an example. The benefits of suiting up in the Atlanta Falcons’ exhibition games are far outweighed by the consequences of a significant injury. Jordy Nelson tore his ACL last August, resulting in the worst offensive performance we’ve seen from a Packers team led by Aaron Rodgers. Had he been rested for their preseason outing at Pittsburgh, injury would have been avoided.
Easy to say in hindsight, of course, but should teams learn from the Packers’ loss and act with more caution in preseason?
Coaches would soon be criticized for resting stars should their team struggle early in the season, but for the sake of a player’s health, is it worth it?
Injuries aren’t exclusive to preseason, of course. There is as much chance of a player getting hurt at practice or during the first snap of the regular season. This isn’t touch football, injuries are part of the job description.
Winning or losing is irrelevant in preseason, however, which makes injury blows all the tougher to stomach. For that reason, Falcons coach Dan Quinn needs to be smart with his stars.
Jones played all of 19 snaps over four preseason games last season. Matt Ryan was on the field for 38. Coach Quinn was evidently cautious last summer, but could Jones’ snap count reduce even further?
The risk of a serious injury occurring in 19 preseason snaps is unlikely, but the Packers would have said the same about Nelson last summer. All it took was one awkward landing on a routine catch to effectively end their Super Bowl aspirations.
On the flip side of that, how important were those 19 snaps to Jones’ 136-catch, 1,871-yard and eight-touchdown season? Likely not a great deal. Could he have posted similar numbers without taking a single preseason snap?
That’s a question Dan Quinn must answer ahead of the Falcons’ preseason, which gets underway on Thursday against Washington.