NFL Preseason chat with Mark Maske

Aug 11, 2011

The NFL preseason begins tonight and Washington Post NFL reporter Mark Maske answered reader questions about the league's free-agency moves and what to expect after short training camps.

Will this week's preseason games be any different in the past thanks to the lockout?

   First of all, hello everyone. I'll get to as many of your questions as I can.

   I would think these games certainly will be different than preseason games we've seen in the past. It was the most unusual offseason in the history of the sport, probably, so it would stand to reason that it will be a highly unusual preseason as well. There were no offseason practices for these players and teams, and these teams basically have been assembled on the run the last few weeks.

   My guess is that we'll see a very, very sloppy preseason, even more so that usual. We might see a lot of injuries, based on what we've seen in training camps with all the Achilles' injuries that players have suffered.

   It will be very interesting to see how much coaches play their veteran players in these preseason games. I would think the veterans will have to play more than usual, particularly in the second and third preseason games.

Which NFL team had the best offseason this year, even having to deal with the lockout?

    Obviously the team that has drawn the most attention for what it has done in free agency and on the trade market is the Eagles.

   I'm not sure I'm willing to pronounce the Eagles have had the best offseason of any team, but I do like what they've done.  Remember, in the Eagles' case, they were adding to a team that already was quite good, not trying to turn a bad team into a good team through free agency. There already was a core of very good players on offense, and the Eagles added some very good players to their defense.

    I would stop short of saying they have made themselves the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC. I think that distinction still belongs to the Packers, being the defending champs and having a lot of good players coming back from injuries. But the Eagles certainly are in the conversation, and the moves they made have made them probably the most interesting team to watch heading into the season.


Last year the Redskins brought in a potential HOF quarterback, then (after requiring that he change his entire approach -- including making throws that do not match his strengths -- placing him behind a porous offensive line, only giving him minimal quality receivers, and ensuring that they had no running game) the Redskins placed blame of the entire failed season on that quarterback. What has changed this year to make them believe that this year -- at least offensively -- there will be an improvement?

   That's a good question. This always has been a quarterbacks' league and with the rule changes over the last seven or eight years, I would argue that it's a quarterbacks' league more than ever.

   I'm willing to believe there's a chance that John Beck can be a productive quarterback for the Redskins. He was well regarded by a number of teams coming out of college, and we have seen other cases in which a quarterback takes a little while to develop before he gets his chance to play and then is successful.

   But that's only a chance. We don't know that John Beck can be a productive NFL quarterback because we haven't seen him do it before. If the starter ends up being Rex Grossman, and not Beck, there will be questions there as well. So until there's some evidence that the starting quarterback for this team can get the job done, there's very little reason for an objective observer to believe that this offense will be better. I'm not saying it can't happen. I'm just saying that if you're being realistic, you have to be skeptical at this point because of the quarterback situation, and you are waiting to see some evidence that it will work.


Can Ochocinco and the Haynesworth formerly known as fearsome actually help the Pats this season?

   Absolutely, yes. Those guys certainly can help the Patriots.

   In Chad Ochocinco's case, I always viewed him in Cincinnati as a usually well-intentioned, mostly harmless showman. I never really saw him as a divisive force in the way that some of the "me-first" receivers have been in other places. To me, he will fit in fine in New England and he will help that offense.

   In Haynesworth's case, clearly the talent is there for him to be a highly productive player if he's happy and used in a way that utilizes his skills. That wasn't the case with the Redskins. You would assume that it will be the case in New England, given that Bill Belichick thought it was worth his while to go out and trade for Haynesworth. And if things don't work out, Belichick undoubtedly won't hesitate to send Haynesworth on his way. But we've seen Belichick get production in the past out of players who were thought to be malcontents elsewhere, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see these two moves pay off handsomely for the Patriots.

   If they don't work out, the Patriots gave up very little in those two trades so the risk is relatively minimal for them.


Are team strategies regarding preseason games going to be noticeably different because the lack of OTAs and a shortened preseason camps?

    There are eight teams that changed head coaches since the start of last season. Now, in two cases, with Jason Garrett in Dallas and Leslie Frazier in Minnesota, you're talking about a guy who was the interim coach last season. And in two cases, with Hue Jackson in Oakland and Mike Muchak in Tennessee, you're talking about a guy who was promoted from within. But that still leaves four teams, or one-eighth of the league, with coaches basically starting from scratch: John Fox in Denver, Pat Shurmur in Cleveland, Ron Rivera in Carolina and Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco.  That's going to be really tough and it's definitely worth watching how things are handled and how things go on those teams in the preseason and into the early part of the regular season.

   You also had four quarterbacks taken in the top 12 picks in the draft in April, then you had Andy Dalton go to Cincinnati very early in the second round. The progress that those rookie quarterbacks make in the preseason, under these unique circumstances, definitely will be worth watching. It will be interesting to see how much those young quarterbacks play with the starting offenses, especially given that the Vikings brought in Donovan McNabb to go with their rookie, Christian Ponder, and the Titans brought in Matt Hasselbeck to go with their rookie, Jake Locker.

   So I think those will be the places where the preseason strategies--the division of playing time and the progress that's made--will be particularly interesting to watch. And just in general, it will be interesting to see how coaches around the league handle the playing time for their starters, trying to get those guys ready for the season while walking that line to avoid injuries. That's always the decision that coaches have to make in the preseason, but it's even tougher under these circumstances because of the lack of offseason work.


Does the short offseason and smaller number of transactions than usual mean that teams returning most of last year's starters should fare better than expected?

   Yes, I would think teams with stability, both in terms of returning their coaching staffs and returning the core players on their roster, would have a significant competitive advantage heading into the season. Now, I would add the disclaimer that a team that already was good and made some additions, like the Eagles and Patriots, should still benefit from that. In both of those cases, you have the stability of bringing back a good team, and the hope for improvement with some additions. But teams that weren't very good and made big changes to try to improve, especially a coaching change or bringing in a young quarterback, that could be very difficult under these circumstances.


Any chance we see during the preseason how Belichick plans to really use the new members of the Patriots defense? Or will he stick with basic schemes in order to keep things under wraps?

    I wouldn't think they'll tip their hand too much during the preseason, no. I would think it will take into the regular season to see exactly how all the parts on that defense will fit together.


Who do you see starting for the Panthers? Would they really throw Newton out there in Game 1?

    That's a very good question. As I've said, I would think it would be very difficult for any rookie quarterback to step in as the immediate starter this season, under the unique circumstances, and succeed.  Even so, given the Panthers' circumstances, it shouldn't surprise anyone too much if Ron Rivera goes with Newton as the starter right away.

   Anyway, folks, our hour is up and I'm going to run. Thanks for the questions and I look forward to doing this again soon.



In This Chat
Mark Maske
Mark is Redskins and NFL beat reporter for the Washington Post.
Recent Chats
  • Next: