According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, the NFL owners are discussing the possibility of reducing the preseason from 4 games to 3 games. This is a terrible idea.
It's universally lamented by coaches that teams don't have enough time with their players to teach them proper technique under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which limits contact and practices. Further reducing the time coaches have with players will only increase the chance for injury once the season actually begins.
"Due to the limited number of padded practices, you have to evaluate them mentally on the non-padded days," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said about coaching his young offensive line during a Tuesday press conference. "There are some technique fundamentals certainly you can get done without them hitting each other...and then you need to take advantage of each one of the padded practices that you do have to try to make sure that you get good, solid work done and try to find some improvement in the areas that each player needs it in."
Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier wrote a fantastic article that covers how teams can limit soft tissue injuries by coaching smarter instead of decreasing preseason games. Teams have access to an incredible wealth of personalized information regarding player health, status, and usage. The problem is that teams aren't using the information correctly.
[Sports performance director at Catapult] Gary McCoy watched from the sideline as one of the many NFL teams he consults for opened its training camp in late July. On the first day, the coach brought players just back from a few weeks of inactivity straight onto the practice field and, after some basic stretching and drills, ran them through nearly 100 scripted plays. The players planted, cut, jumped and ran at full speed in the summer heat, over and over again.
It was an old-school start-of-camp baptism in the summer heat. It was also a nightmare for hamstrings, tendons and those ligaments in the knee that can cause Super Bowl chances to nosedive with a single snap.
"If that's the way they are going to run this camp, going zero to 100 miles per hour, all that you can manage is the recovery side of it," McCoy told the team's strength and conditioning coach, who was also unhappy with the intensity of the practice.
Instead of reducing the time players see on the field, coaches should focus on how they can improve under the current system. Former Patriots player Matt Chatham notes that star players are only playing the equivalent of a single game in the preseason as it currently stands. The Patriots are currently treating the early part of the season as an extension of the preseason by rotating their young players in-and-out of the starting line-up in traditionally non-rotational positions like the offensive line.
Reducing the time available would only further hurt the inexperienced players that don't have the necessary technique and that truly benefit from the preseason time.
In addition to smarter coaching techniques, why don't the owners discuss a different preseason change: moving the date for roster cuts after the 4th preseason game.
During the preseason, teams had to cut rosters from 90 players to 75 prior to the 4th preseason game. Those 15 players would greatly benefit if they were able to play during that final preseason game from a tape perspective, and also because teams would be able to play with greater depth during the final game.
Of the league's starting quarterbacks, only four saw any time on the field during the final preseason game: the Rams Nick Foles played 11 snaps, the Titans Marcus Mariota played 4 snaps, the Seahawks Russell Wilson played 2 snaps, and the Falcons Matt Ryan played 1 snap. The Patriots played Ryan Lindley the entire game. If starters aren't playing in the final game, why not give teams a bigger pool of players to evaluate?
Asking teams to nearly half their rosters from 90 players to 53 players between the final preseason game and opening week would be the primary fall out. Teams already have an idea of who will be making the final roster, apart from a small handful of back-end positions, so asking to make these cuts one week later shouldn't greatly change how teams decide the final roster.
Owners shouldn't look to further reducing playing time to protect the players. There are smarter options right in front of their faces.