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Playing Starters? Risk Worth More Than Reward

It was not a difficult decision at all, say the coaches. To play or not to play was answered very easily, in fact. The Eagles won't play many (any?) starters in Thursday's preseason finale and instead will turn it over to the rest of a roster fighting for a job in the NFL. That concept doesn't sit well with some who see the ups and down of there preseason games, but it certainly is the smart thing to do.

What, exactly, will another game of running vanilla plays and basic formations accomplish for the starting offense? Isn't the risk of losing a front-line player to an injury far greater than the reward of seeing the starters playing "at game speed" one more time before the September 12 opener against Green Bay?

I'm not here to discuss the merits of four preseason games. That is a conversation for another day. As far as I know, this is the last preseason of its kind in the NFL, and if that is the case, hey, fine here.

But I'm not going to go overboard on what the Eagles have done, and what they haven't done, in the preseason. This is all a dress rehearsal for the regular season. This is a chance to evaluate the roster and make the 53-man roster the best it can be.

And in the NFL, see, practice means something. The Eagles run a fast practice. Not game tempo, of course, but as close as they can replicate the speed and the intensity. What they are doing in practice as far as the scheme is far closer to what they want to do in the regular season than the plays they run in these preseason games.

Thursday is for the reserves to show the Eagles that they belong on this roster. The one thing I have prayed for every day in this preseason and every day in the spring practices and in training camp is that the team escapes without a serious injury. One misstep can change an entire season, as the defense found out last year when Stewart Bradley blew out his knee.

If Kevin Kolb started and the entire offense played and put up 35 points against the Jets, do you think that would make a difference in the regular season? I don't. Not when the defense is just as vanilla as the offenses, not when teams are not specifically game planning to win that week.

This is the fourth preseason game. To borrow the worst phrase in the American vernacular right now, it is what it is. And what it is is a time for the starters across the league to get their focus on the regular season and to put in good practice sessions and then to be great teammates on game night as dozens of NFL hopefuls state their cases after putting in grinding hours and countless repetitions waiting for their opportunities to play in NFL games that mean something.

Make no mistake, Thursday night means something. It means a lot. If you understand the game and value the 53-man roster and the additional practice squad, then you know how vital Thursday is in the evaluation process.

Just not for the starters. Thursday is a night of rest and preservation, for those players are needed for 16 games and then some beginning on September 12.

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