It’s finally here; NFL football has finally arrived – sort of. Those of you looking for a reason to have the buddies over to tailgate, brush the dust of the jerseys, and feast on the greases of grilled meats, can breathe again.
If you’re like me, you understand that this first game is the equivalent to AAA baseball teams playing in May. So what are the things we can expect to see from the Bengals and the Falcons in Atlanta tonight? Let’s take a look.
What to expect:
1. A glimpse of the Bengals
We can look forward to the first string teams conducting warm ups and immediately following that with cooling down. That’s about how long they will be on the field. All of the teams in the NFL understand the high-risk, low-reward scenario that the first preseason game presents for its players. Cincinnati fans will be lucky if they see quarterback Andy Dalton play more than two series, and that’s being optimistic.
But what we can expect in those few plays is a healthy dose of running plays involving Giovanni Bernard, and some passing plays to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert. Both players were the focus of training camp and HBO’s first episode of “Hard Knocks.” Besides that, look for short passes and the dismissal of Dalton and the other first string offensive players until next week.
2. Hard-nosed Defense
Even though the same applies about the first string with the defense as the offense, there will be plenty of excitement to see, especially in the secondary. There are a number of players vying for a starting spot – Taylor Mays, Shawn Williams, and George Iloka are all looking to start opposite Reggie Nelson on September 8th; likewise, Terence Newman, Brandon Ghee, and Dre Kirkpatrick are all looking for a starting role at left-side corner back. It will be fun to watch what each of these players does because they all have something unique to offer.
This is the first opportunity for the Bengals’ coaching staff to assess their rookie players at the NFL level. Eager to impress, and even more so to make an impact, the rookies provide the most entertainment during the preseason because of the aura around them that has been built up during the preseason. With another solid draft class this year, the Bengals’ rookies Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, Shawn Williams and Margus Hunt should put on a good show.
4. What’s his name?
Nothing like a healthy dose of second and third string players playing like it’s the Super Bowl. If you’re a diehard Dalton, A.J. Green or Geno Atkins fan, this game isn’t for you – come back August 29th. If you can appreciate hard-nosed football regardless of the name on the back of the jersey, than the second and third quarters are for you. This is when players vying for a spot on the roster are in the game giving it their all because they know that, in the NFL, tomorrow may never come. I only say the second and third, because often times by the fourth quarter, it’s just sloppy junior varsity play.
What not to expect:
1. See “what to expect” number 1.
2. A.J Green
Still dealing with the bruised knee from the first day of training camp, A.J. Green will be sidelined this week. Judging by how things were originally assessed as “missing a few practices” to being out a few weeks, there’s a good chance Green will be sidelined a good amount during the preseason so he can come back strong for the regular season. If you’re into Fantasy Football, keep an eye out during the next few weeks for the guys losing their cool over Green’s absence – you might strike gold.
3. A clean game
It’s going to be a long night with the penalties racking up in the first official game of the year. The rust has to be knocked off somewhere, and what better place to start than in the neutral zone in the first quarter. How many false starts or holding calls will we see tonight? Five? Eight? 12-plus? It’s the beginning of the “grind” as head coach Marvin Lewis likes to call it, and for those NFL aficionados it will be a grind through these first few weeks as we witness teams finalizing their back up spots to get the roster down to 53 for Week 1 of the regular season. Until then, enjoy what football is playing tonight because the NFL is back.