By: Joseph Sykes | Sports Editor
Sunday was a typical workday for two of the NFL’s premier franchises. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers converged at Heinz Field for a glorified training camp session known as preseason football. This was just the second time in five years that the two clubs faced off since Green Bay won in Super Bowl XLV.
What was supposed to be a meaningless game in the eyes of star players who weren’t competing for a spot turned a dismal afternoon for each squad.
Just under three minutes into the first quarter, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers took a snap before dumping the ball off to star tight-end Jordy Nelson. Nelson carried the ball about two yards before falling to the grass awkwardly after trying to use a spin move against Steelers cornerback Antoine Blake. On Monday, the Packers’ front office confirmed their fears: Nelson must undergo surgery for a torn ACL, which will result in him missing the season.
One drive after Nelson was escorted off the field, four-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers was carted off after Packers’ safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix fell and crushed Pouncey’s ankle during a running play. According to ESPN writer Jeremy Fowler, Pouncey will also undergo season-ending surgery. Nelson and Pouncey’s preseason drawbacks are an all too common occurrence in today’s NFL.
Just like the regular season, the preseason is a harsh arena where there is no guarantee you’ll make it out 100 percent uninjured. However, unlike the regular season, the preseason provides no real benefit unless you are a practice player or undrafted free agent looking to make the 53-man roster by season’s start. Veterans, primarily star players like Nelson and Pouncey, have proved themselves time and time again in past seasons, but are forced to start meaningless games as well as endure the harsh environment of training camp in between each match.
Unfortunately, there seems to be only a couple ways the NFL can help crack down on these devastating setbacks. One way would be to turn down the intensity of training camp and preseason games all together.
Carolina Panther’s second-year wide out Kelvin Benjamin knows just about the tough conditions training camp has to offer. Benjamin barely made it past the first week of preseason after tearing his left ACL in an intense one-on-one drill last week. In order to turn down the intensity, players shouldn’t be practicing in full pads at full speed. This should only happen during games. Too much contact each day of the week is going to gnaw at a club’s physical state.
The other way is to shorten the four-game preseason to two. Teams have already adopted the idea of practicing with other teams during their weekly training camp sessions. For example, last week the Cleveland Browns had a Tuesday practice with the Buffalo Bills in Rochester, New York before playing them in an actual game last Thursday in Cleveland. The Browns and the Bills could have eliminated their games that Thursday and rested their players for the following week. That’s just too much football.
Many people are calling for change, however. After Nelson went down Sunday, CBS Sports’ John Breech asked Rodgers what he thinks about his teammate’s injury and the current preseason format.
“It’s difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game,” Rodgers said. “I think a lot of players around the league probably do [want to eliminate it]. At least cut it down, maybe, to a couple.”
As Rodgers stated, he thinks there are many players who have the same mindset as him. If more start to voice their opinions, the NFL will be forced to crack down on the absurdness that is preseason football.