EJ

Second Take with Brad Gelber- Why I Hate Preseason Football

I want to preface this week’s column by stating that I know preseason football is a necessary evil so save me the lecture. Borderline players can have careers made or broken thanks to a few snaps. Rookies can gain valuable real-time experience that is impossible to simulate in practices or scrimmages. Position battles can be won or lost and so on and so forth. However, just because I understand it doesn’t mean I have to like it. In fact I’ll go a step further. I hate preseason football, here’s why.

I turned on the first preseason game feeling the buzz that had been culminating amongst Bills fans for months. As we all know, “the right QB changes of everything” so ever since the Bills decided to use their 1st round pick on EJ Manuel the anticipation has been mounting. Would he be the long awaited answer for Buffalo at QB? Would the franchise finally have a player in place to help us begin to forget about the past 17 years since Jim Kelly was under center?

Other than training camp, which has received more coverage this year than any other year I can remember, the preseason is our first chance to really see what EJ and the rest of this team can do. The only problem is it doesn't mean anything. Other than the first few drives of the first quarter, most teams aren’t running out all of their starters, or giving it 100%. Most teams are also experimenting with play calls that they would never use when the game counts or trying out guys in spots where you’ll never see them again. The preseason is essentially a fantasy world that we as fans treat as reality.

I’m not blaming fans for being excited. Hell. I was excited on several levels myself. I wanted to see how Manuel would perform vs. the Colts first team defense. I wanted to see how Jeff Tuel would do after receiving nothing, but rave reviews during camp from media members and fans alike. Most of all I was just excited to see the Bills get back to playing football after seven long months. The problem with preseason excitement is that is has a funny way or morphing into regular season expectation, which in turn results in postseason disappointment. This team may have talent, but it’s young, unproven and full of the always-dreaded “potential.”

EJ Manuel had a decent first game under center going 16 for 21 with 107 yards, 1 TD & 0 INT. His final drive before halftime that culminated in the touchdown helped him out from a stats perspective, but I was still not blown away. EJ continued to struggle with decision making and having confidence in his throws. Of course it’s still so early that it's almost pointless to write that, but it’s important to remember guys like RGIII and Andrew Luck, who are the “gold standard” among rookie QB’s, had an inherent sense of confidence and poise from snap one in their NFL careers.

With Kevin Kolb still recovering from his fluke injury involving a rubber mat at training camp, Jeff Tuel took over at QB in the second half. He ended up going 19 for 23 with 212 yards, 2 TD’s & 0 INT. Tuel’s performance to me is a better indicator of just how dumb preseason football can be. Folks were fired up, as Tuel didn’t disappoint early, making laser throws around the field while moving the offense quickly and efficiently in the no-huddle. Aside from a botched call fumble, Tuel looked right at home in his NFL debit. My issue? The guys he was doing it against were players who will most likely not be on an NFL roster come September. The second half of preseason games is designed to take a look at the players who are hanging on for dear life. As fans we either seemingly refuse to accept that or just don’t care and like to make believe our QB would have had an identical performance vs. any team’s starting defense. Again the theme of fantasy vs. reality appears to rear it’s ugly head.

My other big gripe with exhibition football is injuries. While the Bills managed to escape game one without any of them, the Colts weren’t so lucky. It seemed like every other series another Colt player was laying on the ground surrounded by the training staff as the telecast cut too commercial. All in all four members of the Colts (Hickman, Spears, Vaughn & Hughes) required medical attention before the game was said and done. I hate it. I understand football is a violent game and injury is unavoidable, but when a guy is out there not to win a job, but just because the NFL says his team has to play 4 preseason games and then catastrophic injury occurs, I get physically sick. If I had it my way CJ Spiller would play three more drives TOTAL this preseason. These players have short enough careers as it is and playing in a game that does nothing to further that makes zero sense to me.

Seeing EJ Manuel scramble around midfield, refusing to slide gave me heart palpitations. If you think I’m being melodramatic I’ll kindly remind you of Michael Vick snapping his fibula in a 2003 preseason game or how about Jason Seahorn ending his career thanks to torn ligaments back in the 1998 preseason. While these occurrences are perhaps rare, if it happens once it’s happened one time too many.

There it is, false expectations and unnecessary injury are the main bullet points as to why I despise preseason football. The Bills managed to set a preseason franchise record in their first game of 2013 scoring 44 points. This was also their first preseason victory since August 27, 2011. However, since the W does nothing more than perhaps boost some rookie player’s confidence, I’ll pass on declaring this team destined for the Super Bowl just yet. With all my less than amiable opinions of preseason action dispersed upon you, it’s only fair to also share my favorite part. The best part of preseason football starting is that we are that much closer to it ending. See you in four weeks real football.

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