In 2021, the NFL added a 17th regular season game, meaning each club would only be playing three preseason games. With that, it brought about a philosophy shift on how coaches use the preseason to develop young players and get their starters ready for the regular season.
Because this was new, not every coach and front office treated preseason the same way as long as they achieved the same result: being ready to play games when they count. Now that we are in the third year of the new format, the philosophies of each club are becoming more in line with each other. Though still not entirely the same, most are similar to one another.
The thing that has become more abundant each year and will continue to do so is joint practices. As I wrote earlier this week, a joint practice is like a mini-game but in a much more controlled environment than a game. The starters actually get more “live’ reps than if they played in a game, and a team can practice “live” things they wouldn’t do in a preseason game. By that, I mean using certain plays, formations, blitzes, etc. Remember, practice tape isn’t shared with the other teams in the League. Only the two teams involved in the practice actually see that tape, while the tape of each preseason game goes to every club in the League.
Chicago Bears Head Coach Matt Eberflus referenced this in his post-practice press conference on Thursday when he said the two practices with the Colts were like having two extra preseason games. With the starters getting more meaningful reps in practice, it is unnecessary to use them in today’s game. The Bears accomplished what they wanted with the practices.
Flus also mentioned that if he could have more joint practices, he would. Next year, I look for the Bears to have joint practices with two of their three preseason opponents. Whether before games one and two or before games two and three remains to be seen. It’s my thinking that the best way to handle it is to schedule joint practices before the second and third preseason games.
With the starters getting a lot of quality work this week, many of them won’t be playing in tonight’s game. That is not a bad thing, and in actuality, it’s very good for development. A team must prepare its young players to play in case they are needed during the regular season. There is no better way for young players to develop than by getting extended play time in the preseason. Those added game reps will get them much more prepared for the regular season.
In tonight’s game, look for the backup players who the Bears feel have a strong chance of making the 53-man roster to get the bulk of the playtime. Next week in Game Three vs Buffalo, I would expect the starters to see more extended playtime. Game three is still game three, and it’s the final tune-up for the regular season. There are two full weeks after game three to rest and prepare the team for the opening game of the regular season. The old game four was useless and is now part of history. Like everything else in the world today, football is evolving, and that includes treating preseason much differently than it used to be treated. With more and more joint practices, you will see much less of the star players in the preseason games. And no, they won’t be less prepared; in fact, it will be just the opposite.