SPECTATOR'S GUIDE

Fred Faour: 5 things to look for in the NFL preseason games

The Texans offensive line bears watching. Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Football returns this week -- sort of -- with a full slate of exhibition games (the NFL likes to call it “preseason games.”). It is where you pay full price to see a lot of players who will be working in non-football jobs in a few months.

But there are some things you can look for in these games that might give you an indication of what to expect when real football starts for your team. Obviously in Houston, all eyes are on the Texans, but this really applies to almost any team:

1. Vanilla is the flavor of the day

Most teams will play basic packages on both offense and defense. With some exceptions, there will be little blitzing on defense and little in the way of trick plays on offense. Mostly because teams do not want to give much away, but also because many of the players you will see are trying to make the team, and coaches will keep it simple to see what they can do. In addition, many teams do not have their full programs in yet, and there is little to no game-planning. Some players who have little chance of becoming anything can look really good in these situations, so it is important to take it all with a grain of salt.

2. How to watch the quarterbacks

Almost every starter should look good, go 7 for 10 for 102 yards in a couple drives then take a seat. They are playing with the 1s, and the defenses they will be seeing are a step above 7 on 7. Conversely, don’t judge young quarterbacks too harshly. High picks who are not starters yet might be playing with the 2s or 3s. A lackluster effort might be as much because of that than a lack of ability..

3. New rules

It will be interesting to see how many additional penalties are called because of the new helmet rule, and what impact the changes on kickoffs will actually have. Players and coaches will use these games to alter techniques and strategies. Most likely, tons of penalties will be called in the preseason and then the officials will back off when real football begins.

4. Troubled position groups

Almost every team has at least one weak spot (hey Texans, we are looking at your offensive line and running backs). Preseason is a chance to work on improving, and hopefully a place where some new faces can make an impact. No matter what your team’s weakness, keep an eye out for that surprise player who steps up and earns a role.

5. Watch for potential cuts from other teams who could help yours

Every team will have some players who look good, but simply can’t find a spot on a roster that is strong at one position group. The last cuts can often find jobs quickly on teams that have specific needs, and the preseason is a chance to earn not just a roster spot on the team they are playing for, but also to catch someone else’s eye.

Enjoy the “games,” such as they are. The score is completely meaningless (unless you are betting, and that is a different story), but there are at least a few things to watch for in the exhibition season.

 

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The future is bright for the Astros. Composite image by Jack Brame.

2020 has shown us lots of things. A few of the things it's shown us is that anything is possible, expect the unexpected, and do not be surprised at the outcome. Well, the Astros checked all three of those boxes in this pandemic season and post season. Anything was possible when they finished the 60 game season 29-31 and barely made the playoffs (yes, the new format helped, but they made it). We should've expected the unexpected when they were able to beat the Twins in the first round 2-0 after the A's ran away with the division this season. We for damn sure shouldn't have been surprised at the outcome of their ALCS series when they forced Tampa to a game seven after being down 3-0 because this team is experienced and scrappy. We are talking about the team that's made it to the ALCS four years running and won it all in 2017.

Sure, there are some high dollar guys that mean a lot to this team that they may lose (looking squarely at George Springer and Michael Brantley), but that's the end of it. They'll also be without Justin Verlander after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Some will say coming back from a 3-0 deficit to force a game seven was good enough. They'll tell this team to accept its fate and fall into the background. They replaced their manager and general manager after the cheating scandal, no way they can move forward and succeed right? (insert your favorite GTFOH GIF)

Springer and Brantley could both leave as free agents

This team may not be thought of a contender moving forward, but I have faith in the talent that's still there. I believe Jim Crane knows who and what he can't live without moving forward, so I think he'll shell out the cash necessary to keep guys like Springer and Brantley...as long as it's within reason. Crane won't, and shouldn't, get into a bidding war with another team for either guy, but I think he will make a fair offer to both. Verlander being out in his last season under contract is a big blow. However, I think it can work to the team's advantage.

Let's say they're only able to bring back Springer OR Brantley, but Kyle Tucker takes that next step. Let's say Forrest Whitley, Framber Valdez, and Jose Urquidy all take that next step while Lance McCullers continues his accent. What will the league say when Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman return to their previously dominant forms? All of this speaks to the continued era of the dominant Astros.

Even if they lose Brantley and/or Springer this offseason, I still think they have enough in place to keep the lineup competitive and threatening. The pitching staff has enough firepower to put some fear into opposing lineups. If they continue to make the right moves and develop the talent they have in-house, this team won't fall off or take a dip. Instead, they'll continue to be a force if they hold true to the talent they have, and acquire the complimentary talent they need to accent the players they have now. The pitching staff will be in good hands. McCullers, Framber, and Urquidy are guys I feel that can carry the load. Meanwhile, Forrest Whitley is waiting in the wings. Kyle Tucker is poised for the next step in the lineup, and Captain Correa clearly established himself as a leader this post season.

The future is bright for Astros fans. If ownership and the front office pony up the money to keep some guys, it'll be even better.

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