KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The first NFL preseason game cost the Pittsburgh Steelers their center, Maurkice Pouncey. The Green Bay Packers lost wide receiver Jordy Nelson in their second preseason game.
Pouncey is out for the year because of a broken ankle that may need surgery. Nelson, the former Kansas State star, is out for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Two of the premiere players at their positions are done before the regular season kicks off.
In between those injuries, the Carolina Panthers lost promising wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending ACL injury in a practice.
Cue the criticism.
“It’s difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers said of Nelson, who was injured without absorbing contact after a reception.
The devastating injuries amplify the question that is asked every season: How much time is needed to prepare a team for the regular season?
For those who believe a couple of weeks of full-squad practice and four games are too many, and football would be better served with two or three games, consider Pouncey and Nelson injuries wouldn’t have been avoided in a reduced timetable. They happened in the team’s early games.
Same with Chiefs offensive lineman Jeff Allen sprained his knee in the preseason opener at Arizona, and two days last fellow lineman Eric Fisher suffered a high ankle sprain at training camp. Neither played in the second game against Seattle nor practiced on Monday as the Chiefs prepare for Friday’s home game against Tennessee.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he’s good with the status quo.
“I’ve got four down,” Reid said. “I’ve been around long enough, I know exactly how I’m going to play them, how many reps I want. I’ve kind of got that system down.
“If they gave us three, I’d work with that. But you don’t want to lose all of them. What counts, when it’s all said and done, is how they play in games.”
The business argument is organizations want 10 home games, two in the preseason and eight in the regular season. But losing star players in “meaningless games” is also bad for business.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said his thoughts on preseason length fluctuates with the circumstance. Teams with new coaches or new systems need all the time they can get.
Teams like the Chiefs, operating with the same quarterback and coordinators for the past three years, maybe less so.
“In a year when you have a lot of history together, and you have the same offense, maybe you’re ready to go sooner,” Smith said. “I’ve been in years where you love to have four games because you were still working out things when you had a lot of lot of turnover, maybe there was a new system, new guys and it got you ready for the season.”
For these Chiefs, the preseason has been invaluable to certain players. Linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive tackle Mike DeVito missed all but the first game of last season because of Achilles injuries. Allen also was hurt in the opener and lost for the year because of an elbow injury.
Defensive end Mike Catapano missed all of last season because of a virus and concussion. Safety Eric Berry, battling Hodgkins lymphoma, was out for the final 10 games.
All have used the preseason to regain form and return to game speed.
“No question, the reps have definitely been necessary,” DeVito said. “We’ve been out for so long, you get in your mind ‘I wonder if I can still do it.’ So these first two games have been huge for me confidence-wise to get out there and say I could still play at this level.”
Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said he wants all the teaching and evaluation time he can get.
“The league is getting younger,” Pederson said. “And if you can’t work with your younger players, in the bigger scheme of things, eventually you’ll suffer and it will affect you on the field.
“We need to do our due diligence, we need to study, we need to be teachers of the information and be good communicators to our players.”
That takes time, and games.