NASHVILLE – NFL players are about to find out exactly how they feel about preseason games.
The importance of those contests as preparation for the regular season has greatly diminished in recent years. With each year, discussion about whether to reduce the number or eliminate them altogether grows.
Fans certainly have expressed their growing disinterest with an ever-growing number of empty seats.
Many players don’t like – and don’t particularly need – them. For example, running back Derrick Henry did not play a down during the 2019 preseason but ended the regular season as the NFL’s leader in rushes and rushing yards. In last year’s preseason finale at Chicago, the Tennessee Titans deactivated 44 of the 46 players on their roster at that time.
If nothing else, though, the preseason games break up the monotony of training camp for those players, who have to navigate roughly a month and a half before the start of the regular season.
“Even talking about leaving for a preseason game that's supposed to be played on a Saturday in August: You have a walkthrough, and then you get on a plane, and you leave,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Tuesday. “And you maybe get to Washington, and you grab a steak with the position group, and you have a team meeting at 7:30 or position meeting at 7:30. Another meeting at 10:30 in the morning after breakfast, and then you can sit around study the game plan, get prepared, whatever you need to do to play a game.
“You have the next day off. And so that's a little bit of a window and you're traveling breaks it up.”
That won’t be the case this year. Among the numerous concessions the NFL has made to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the cancellation of all preseason contests. That means there is little to distinguish one day or one week from the next until the regular season arrives.
In the Titans’ case, most players reported for the start of camp Tuesday. There will be several days of COVID-19 tests and virtual meetings before things really get rolling.
The first full-squad meeting is set for Sunday. The regular-season opener is set for Sept. 14 at Denver. In between is a whole bunch of workouts, meetings, practice sessions with the same coaches, same teammates and same surroundings day after day. There will be no joint workouts with another franchise. There will be no games to play – or even for which to prepare.
That is a lot of time to work, but it won’t be business as usual. Titans coaches have done their best to break up the monotony and to keep the players engaged throughout but can’t say for certain whether they will be successful.
“Well, we've thought about it and mental toll that takes place over the course of this process,” Vrabel said. “… So, [we are] very conscious of what the schedule looks like. And it was hard and difficult this year because again we didn't get the schedule up until just a few days ago. And so, it's been changed, and it's been tinkered with just a few times – quite honestly – to get where we feel like it's going to allow the players to work, and have a day off, and work a few days.
“We've built in some regeneration days where we're not practicing and we're just meeting and trying to get these guys out. Hopefully, we can settle into a schedule that's very functional and for the players.”