Football is back and each team is tied for first place in their division with a 0-0 record. It is a new year and a fresh opportunity for teams to showcase their newly acquired players. Whether you’re a New York Jets fan eager to see Le’Veon Bell debut in green and white or an Arizona Cardinals fan hankering to see the No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray run the offense, you will likely be disappointed in the amount of time they see on the field during the preseason.
Traditionally, teams only permit their expected starters to play the first quarter of any preseason game — at most. It’s difficult to gauge how well teams will fare based on these brief appearances. Last season, the Cardinals finished 3-1 in the preseason before posting a league-worst 3-13 regular season record. So if preseason wins and losses don’t translate into regular season results, what will? Individual performances.
Training camp in the NFL is the opportunity of a lifetime for many players, such as “bubble players”– players whose fate with their current team is uncertain. Before the regular season kicks off in September, each team must narrow their rosters down to 53 players, compared to the 85 plus currently playing for a given team. For undrafted free agents and bubble players, preseason games are their best stab at securing a roster spot for Week 1.
Unlike the quarterback competitions in Washington (Dwayne Haskins v. Case Keenum) and Miami (Josh Rosen v. Ryan Fitzpatrick), bubble players are often fighting for their spot in the 3rd and 4th quarter, so don’t change the channel when the starters trot off of the field.
Special teams are often an overlooked aspect of football games, but it remains a streamline for bubble players to earn their roster position. It’s common for teams to utilize their younger, lower salaried players to take on special team responsibilities, allowing undrafted free agents to obtain starting positions as a returner or a kickoff specialist.
Preseason football is not intended for the first-team to line up against their opponent to prove superiority, but rather, it provides the opportunity for the coaches to discover if any of their straws can be spun into gold. Players showcase themselves in practice throughout training camp, but when all 11 players are running at full speed, the true measure of their worth is truly determined.