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Preseason Structure Popular Topic Among Steelers, NFL

It hasn’t always been four preseason games. There used to be more, six prior to 1977. And now, the league may look into whittling that list down a little bit further.

The news cycle kicked up when the always-outspoken John Harbaugh was, well, outspoken for his distaste of the four game slate. The Baltimore Ravens lost Ben Watson for the season on the first play of their third preseason game. Various reports have suggested cutting the preseason in half, to a pair of games, and adding in a couple more scrimmages. I’m sure some, like Harbaugh, would like to go as far as scrapping the preseason entirely.

Naturally, any national conversation lends itself to a local spotlight. And several Steelers have been asked for their thoughts.

“This fourth preseason game has always been a game whee guys start to stick out and they kinda show their coaches and get their attention,” DeAngelo Williams told reporters during today’s media session via Steelers.com.

Still, he was generally indifferent to the league’s decision to decrease the number of games.

“I think we could go right into a season. But for me to say that, I’d also have to say that we can use the preseason games as well. I’m not for or against either one because I know it’s a hot topic right now.”

Lawrence Timmons felt more strongly about keeping the four games where it’s at.

“Me being an established veteran, I feel like it’s a younger guy game,” he said, responding to the preseason finale. “We have to make the cuts soon but before a guy has to make his biggest test by being cut, I feel like he needs to state his case. A lot of guys out here are working hard may not have got enough reps the last game or the game before. But this game is totally devoted to that guy. So I say let’s devote that time to him so they can have all the opportunities hey can so they can further stat a case for themselves making this team.”

On a personal level, I echo Timmons’ sentiment a thousand times over. Steelers’ fans have to look no further than last season when Roosevelt Nix’s blocked punt against the Carolina Panthers cemented his roster spot as a special teams playmaker.

Even Harbaugh’s Ravens have examples of undrafted players who have used those preseason games to vault them into the spotlight. Justin Forsett was a 7th round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2008, bouncing around the league before finding a home in Baltimore. Kamar Aiken was a UDFA who did the same and played well in the Ravens’ fourth preseason game in 2014, leading all receivers with 57 yards on four catches. It was a game where, funny enough, Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for over 100 yards. And Tyrod Taylor did reasonably well for the Ravens that day.

There alone is three players able to use that game to their advantage and further their NFL career, in the same city or elsewhere. It’s gut-wrenching to see a player get hurt in a preseason game and it’s easy to dismiss them as meaningless. But they mean the world to the bottom half of the roster, who because of CBA restrictions and general supply and demand, are given so few chances to succeed. To rob them of more opportunity is simply a slap in the face.

It isn’t as if there is no reasonable solution to solving preseason injuries to key players.

Just don’t play them.

No one made Harbaugh start Ben Watson. It is a cultural norm but not a requirement and Harbaugh could start a trend by sitting all of his starters out if he truly wanted to be careful of injury. We already know many stars see few to zero reps. Adrian Peterson hasn’t played in a game that doesn’t count since his days at Oklahoma.

Maybe some other minor steps are needed. I kicked the idea around in my head but also saw the idea of eliminating the 75 man roster cut altogether, allowing those 15 extra players to stick around for the entire preseason. I floated the idea of a continuously running clock in the preseason to cutdown on total number of plays, and therefore injuries, while still giving those end-of-roster players some reps and owners keeping their ticket sale profits.

The NFL can not push the idea of preserving players by cutting the preseason and at the same time, advocating for an 18 game regular season.

Diluting the preseason more when there are sensible options? That’s anything but player friendly.

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