PHILADELPHIA — It would seem to be something that would torment any NFL coach.
There are four preseason games (ridiculously too many, of course).
So just how many snaps should starters play each week? How does one weigh the value of live snaps against risk of injury?
How much does Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase deal with an internal conflict about all this?
“Zero,” Gase said this week. “You’ve got to play. That’s how you get better. It is what it is.”
There’s more to it, of course.
Against Philadelphia tonight, the Dolphins are projected to use their starters for at least a half.
Traditionally, the third preseason game has been the one in which starters play the longest. It allows players to establish a comfort level heading into the regular season.
And, in the unfortunate event of a minor injury, there is more time to recover than if the injury were to occur in the final regular season game, when starters traditionally rest.
For example, any Dolphin to sustain an ankle sprain or a concussion tonight would have 17 days to recover for the home opener against Tampa Bay.
When Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was hit low on the ankle during a play this week that could take him out of the regular-season opener, his friend and former teammate, Jarvis Landry, lashed out on Twitter.
‘This is why I hate preseason bull—-,” Landry tweeted, though he declined to expand upon his comments this week.
Landry, who is hoping for a new contract, has only one catch, for a loss of yards, this preseason.
It is possible Landry would prefer not to play much at all in the preseason, for risk of injury. Although it should be noted that Landry made a good-faith effort by showing up for voluntary workouts and participating in training camp, as opposed to holding out with one year left on his deal.
Surely Landry (and almost all NFL players and fans and even the commissioner of the league) believes four games are unnecessary and present more downside than benefit. But Gase is a coach and he’s going to try to capitalize on the system as designed, whatever the system may be.
“If they tell us to play four games, we play four games,” Gase said.
Gase said he has “no idea” if three games, for example, would be sufficient to prepare for an NFL season.
Since starters and even some key reserves would seem likely to be held out in the preseason finale at Minnesota, it seems likely the real answer is actually: “duh.”
Gase had intended to keep center Mike Pouncey off the field this preseason, entirely, as he rebounds from a pattern of hip problems. But Pouncey wants badly to get some preseason action and because he is a football player and he wants badly to play football, Gase will acquiesce and Pouncey starts tonight.
But how long will Pouncey be allowed to go?
“We’ll play it by ear,” Gase said. “I’ll go by gut a little bit.”
New starting quarterback Jay Cutler was allowed only six pass attempts last week, in large part because Cutler was playing without his projected starting left tackle, right tackle and center.
Gase’s “gut” told him “get Cutler the hell out of there!”
Of course, coaches will hold their breath during mostly meaningless preseason games.
But every situation is different and every player is different.
It may make little sense to have Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Reshad Jones on the field for more than, say, a quarter tonight.
It makes perfect sense to give Cutler a chance to establish live-action chemistry with receivers DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills (maybe even, dare we suggest, tight end Julius Thomas) for two quarters or more tonight.
It makes perfect sense to allow Cutler to hear Gase’s play calls and to take snaps from Pouncey as he and the entire offense attempt to play catch-up in the wake of Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending injury.
Gase stressed that while he enters any preseason game with a plan, he must allow for flexibility.
For example, in a preseason game against Dallas last season, Gase felt Tannehill and the first-team offense may have seen enough.
“And all those guys were like, ‘We’re not coming out. We want to go another round,’” Gase recalled. “So that’s what we did. When those guys communicate like that and they want to stay in there when we thought we were going to take them out, that was good to see from our guys.”
Gase noted that there is a potential benefit in the offense making halftime adjustments and getting back into a rhythm at the start of the second half tonight.
In the end, Gase has the authority, of course, to pull any player or group off the field, at any point tonight. Gase may say, as Conor McGregor’s corner may say to him on Saturday night, “Enough’s enough.”
Gase says he doesn’t think too much about all this — the ramifications of a few extra reps against an increased risk of injury. He’s a football coach. And football coaches coach and football players play.
Even if the game doesn’t count.
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