Don't rush to judge based on preseason games

Brian Urlacher says he'll be ready for the Bears' season opener after a procedure on his knee.
Bradley Leeb/US Presswire

Moral of the preseason: Don't take it too seriously.

The Patriots lost to Tennessee and Tampa Bay in the 2007 preseason, then went 16-0 in the real games. The Colts lost 21 of 25 preseason games in the Manning Era at one point, and averaged 11 wins per regular season at the same time.

I bring this up because fans of the Cowboys (three points in the opening 3-0 snoozer at Oakland Monday), Rams (38-3 losers to a rookie coach and quarterback Sunday) and Bills (7-6 losers to Washington) are a little antsy this morning. The offseason promise has been tarnished. Fans are nervous.

I'll tell you what should make you nervous: Brian Urlacher undergoing an arthroscopic knee procedure this week, putting his opening day status in doubt ... The second-round left tackle for the Steelers, Mike Adams, being turnstiled by backup pass-rushers in Philadelphia ... Ryan Mathews breaking his clavicle and being out for four to six weeks. That stuff matters. It also matters what rookie quarterbacks did in the first full weekend of games, especially those who could be relied on come opening day (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson).

Smart coaches use the preseason to do things they want to do. Lovie Smith benched Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Urlacher and Julius Peppers for the opener. Denver 31, Chicago 3. "Some people in Chicago might be upset with that game,'' Smith told me, "but I've got to take care of my team.'' Maybe some coaches would want Cutler, who is not injured, to play two or three series in the first preseason game, but on a muddy field, wanting to see Jason Campbell play a lot? That was preferable to Smith.

One more thing: Teams don't gameplan for preseason games. So the Jets aren't going to be on offense in the preseason what they'll be against the Bills on opening day. "What bothers me about people who make judgments on preseason games,'' one coach told me last week, "is that they don't realize how little coaches care about them. [Bill] Belichick walks off the field after a preseason game, and what he cares about is whether Chandler Jones fits into his defense and plays well. I can tell you he couldn't care less about the final score. None of us do, really.''

Care about the play of the young players who your team needs to fill a major hole. Care about rehabbers. Care about coming out of games healthy. Care about your first unit's play in the third preseason game -- a little. That's it. And look forward to the real games, not these.

Now on to your email:

ON THE PETRINO APOLOGY. "You've been pretty hard on Bobby Petrino in the past. What was your take on his interview and willingness to admit he royally screwed up?''
-- From John Bastian, of Parker, Colo.

I didn't see it, but read his words. It's a start. But it's pretty hard to undo the mess he left in Atlanta, and the way he left.

STOP KILLING THE REPLACEMENTS. "Read and enjoy your column every week. But, please: can you lay off the replacement refs? Obviously, they are a downgrade from (in theory) the best football refs in the world, but the nit-picky things you are harping on are, at best, unfair and at worst, malicious. A guy misspeaking a team's name deserves ridicule in a nationally read article? Stuff like that happens with the "real" refs all the time. That's the equivalent of a typo for you. I saw a replacement ref face the wrong way when announcing a penalty the other night, but I chuckled. I didn't throw anything at the TV or scream that the guy is incompetent.

Have you seen any glaring officiating errors? I haven't watched nearly as much preseason football as you, but I haven't seen anything egregious missed. I think they are doing a decent job and deserve a little bit of a break.''
-- From Chris, of Melrose, Mass.

They're probably not going to get one from me. I realize they're in a tough spot, but they chose to put themselves in that spot. They, in effect, crossed a picket line in a nationally televised spotlight, and when one of them spots a punt at the 4-yard line and calls it a touchback -- I'm sorry, he's going to get skewered.

GREAT QUESTION. "I agree that replacement refs are not the way to go, so how come the players and the Players Association aren't making any noise? Why aren't the players showing some solidarity with the officials? I think things would get resolved quickly and fairly if players started to suggest they may not play this fall without real refs.''
-- From Pete Stevenson, of Peterborough, N.H.

Pete, I think you'll see some of that after, say, the third preseason game, if the real officials are not back. And I agree with you -- the players should step up, as Victor Cruz of the Giants did, and say it's time to get the real officials back.

THERE'S A GOOD REASON. "Any reason that the NFL couldn't use college refs instead of these replacement refs? I have no idea how grueling it is to ref but seems like even you could use the refs Saturday and Sunday."
-- From Greg, of Kennett Station, Ga.

Five NFL officials are supervisors of officials for major college conferences, and they will not allow their officials from conferences like the Big East and Big Ten to do NFL games. And the other major conferences, in solidarity, will not allow their officials to do NFL games either. So the NFL games are being called by small-college, high-school and dismissed officials from large conference.

THANKS, DAE HO. "First off, I just wanted to thank you for this column. I've been reading it for close to 10 years and I look forward to it every week. My question is regarding the replacement refs and the NFL's refusal to pay their regular refs their full value. You've alluded to the fact that the replacements won't cut it for the regular season, but I feel like there has been little reporting done regarding why the NFL refuses to increase their salaries and benefits. I'm not quite sure what they're justification is. NFL refs make the least amount of money (compared to other professional refs), but work in one of the most popular and highly scrutinized work environments in the country. To me this simply boils down to Goodell and the owners being miserly, greedy and cheap.''
-- From Dae Ho, of Portland, Ore.

The average salary for the 120 game officials in 2011 was $149,000, according to the NFL, and that would increase to $189,000 per year in 2018, the last year of the NFL's contract proposal. Many people feel that's a fair wage for working two to three days a week for five months a year. There are two things at play here -- the officials want a little more than what the league is offering, and the officials want to keep their current pension plan instead of moving to a 401(k)-type of plan for retirement.

This is important because under the current pension, officials have a guaranteed payout upon retirement, and it isn't subject to the fluctuations of the stock market. The NFL's point is that many businesses around the country, including NFL teams, are taking away the guaranteed pensions, and the NFL's proposal to the officials is simply reflective of an American trend. It's up to you to decide which side to take.

PEOPLE WOULD WATCH. "I would love to see NFL teams start to televise their training camps. The Pats have been averaging over 10,000 fans per practice this year. I know most teams don't have that kind of following on a daily basis, but it seems to me that there's an unmet need there. I've seen some coverage, but it's been dominated by the Tebow and Manning shows. From a purist's prospective, I would probably tune in occasionally just to see how my rookies, star free agents and previously injured players are doing. Not to mention that there might be a Fantasy Football draw as well.''
-- From Ray, of Southboro, Mass.

The NFL has proven that it could televise anything and get ratings. As I've gone from camp to camp, I've noticed quite a few camps televised lived on NFL Network. Don't think the league's not thinking about it.

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