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In the NFL's preseason, teams try to prepare and try not to get hurt

Cleveland Browns center Ethan Pocic gestures during an NFL football camp, Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, in Berea, Ohio.
Sue Ogrocki
Cleveland Browns center Ethan Pocic gestures during an NFL football camp, Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, in Berea, Ohio.

NFL teams over the years have been trying to figure out the best way to prepare for a very physically demanding season. The Browns spent a week practicing at a resort in West Virginia last month, and this week the team is holding joint sessions with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said the fear of injuries is at the forefront of the NFL preseason.

“That is the storm clouds hanging over every practice, every preseason game. What if the quarterback gets hurt? Say, what if Deshaun Watson gets hurt? What if Myles Garrett, their star defensive end, gets hurt?" Pluto said. "Myles Garrett, the other day in the joint practice with Philadelphia, kind of walked off with a sore foot. He was fine, but everybody goes, ‘Oh my goodness, that's the second-highest paid defensive player in the NFL and he's got a bad foot!’ You know, so that hangs over it."

Pluto said that’s why the NFL preseason is mostly for show.

“In the preseason, you don't play your starters much. And you also have all these drills. For example, on the Browns, in these joint practices, you're not allowed to, quote unquote, tackle anybody to the ground. You sort of wrap them up in your arms. The quarterback is wearing this red shirt. 'Don't touch him! You're not allowed to touch him!'” Pluto said.

The Browns played it extra safe at quarterback in the Hall of Fame game vs. the Jets on Aug. 3, he said.

“In that game, they didn't play Watson, the starter. They didn't play Joshua Dobbs, the backup (quarterback). They started a guy named Kellen Mond who'll be lucky to even make the team,” Pluto said.

It's a delicate balance for coaches.

“Now, common sense is, ‘I want to have physical practices because it's a physical game and I want my guys physically ready.’ And then you go out there and, say, Nick Chubb gets hurt in some preseason game. You know, their star running back. Or, say, Deshaun Watson, he could even just sprain his ankle. And [you say] ‘I shouldn't have done it.’ So, it comes down on you as the coach. 'Why did you do that?'" Pluto said. "And then the other side is when your team comes out early in the season and they don't look ready to go, it's like, 'Why didn't you get them ready to go?'”

Pluto said most of the work during preseason is done in the weight room and studying plays. But he said there are some aspects of the joint practices he likes.

“They'll have things called seven on sevens, which is where the quarterback goes back to throw and the Browns, like their star receivers Amari Cooper (and) Donovan Peoples-Jones, are out there and they're being defended by defensive backs from Philadelphia. So you get to kind of watch your guys against their guys. And these guys are playing hard to try to defend passes and that. But you get exposed in these practices, especially if you're a defensive back or you can make a name for yourself as a receiver in these practices,” Pluto said.

The NFL preseason, Pluto said, is unlike the preseason in any other sport.

“In that, just the fear of injury. And for good reason. But also, is this the best way to prepare? I don't think so, but I don't have a better idea either. Here's the bad part. They make the season ticket holders buy full price for these preseason games. Yikes,” Pluto said.

Some of the work is left to the regular season.

“Some coaches are just like, ‘We're playing 17 games now. We're almost going to use the first couple of regular season games to I'll just save all my veterans for that and I'll just throw them in there and hope they use those games to get in shape,” Pluto said.

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