Final preseason game still key

I think when the real games begin on Sept. 8, the good teams will not only look good, but they’ll look even better because the bad teams come off even worse. And when those good teams go against a new coaching staff that didn’t have the opportunity to teach its young players because there was no offseason work, well, there’s going to be a vast difference between the good and bad teams.

So, the extremes are going to come to light. The veteran teams like the Packers, Steelers and Saints will be solid and play very well, but the bad teams will live down to their billing, particularly during the first part of the season.

Veteran teams can approach this final preseason week just like they have in the past. But for the ones with new coaching staffs and those counting on a lot of new players in their starting lineups, I would play them a lot, just like they did in the third preseason game. If I was a young team, I wouldn’t be sitting my players in these final preseason games.

I know a lot of coaches are torn about what to do in this regard because it is so foreign from their past routines. But I’ll tell them what to do. I can tell by watching some of these preseason games that a bunch of teams aren’t ready to play — including some good ones, like the Philadelphia Eagles.

Some of those new players, even the high-priced guys, need to be playing in the fourth game because they need to get ready to win when the games start counting. If you have a bunch of new faces, they won’t be ready to play come Week 1 if they aren’t playing well right now.

This may sound strange to say, but coaches have to give serious consideration to playing even the veteran players in the fourth game.

The key to the preseason is how well you prepare and how much you put into the game plan. There’s a lot that goes into it. In my first preseason in Dallas we were 3-1 and then we finished 1-15 in the regular season.

You see, we played and worked hard in the preseason. I coached the Cowboys in preseason like I did in college. I didn’t know anything different because I never coached in practice games like this. So we prepared for preseason games like we did for the regular season. I found out quickly that the teams that we were beating in preseason didn’t do it that way.

This season there are going to be teams playing extremely young quarterbacks, even rookies. I have to believe these teams are going to be inconsistent. Just think of Cam Newton in Carolina. For a young quarterback to be successful early, a lot depends on how good a team they are on.

Newton has shown some signs that he’s going to be probably better than most rookies because of his athletic ability, but he’s on a bad team. In looking around at some of the rookie quarterbacks, they are going to show signs that they can play, but it’s going to be a while because the lockout forced them to miss so much time with the coaches and their teammates.

Preseason Observations

* Well, I don’t like the new kickoff rule. I think it has taken away one of the game’s most exciting plays and it has pretty well eliminated some of the more exciting players in the game. And I understand the concern about injuries, but there are going to be injuries in football.

I can fix the game to where there wouldn’t be a single injury. How’s that? Well, don’t play the game. Stay home on the couch. In essence, they are taking away a big part of the game for the sake of avoiding injuries.

I can understand the frustration of a team like the Chicago Bears, who have a returner like Devin Hester. If I was coaching, I would deal with whatever the rules are but that doesn’t mean that I would have to like them. Watching today’s kickers boot the ball out of the end zone is boring.

I also thought Bill Belichick made a good point when asked about the kickoff rule change, saying the league should do away with kicking the extra point, too. It’s a non-play, the one-point conversion. The only ramification of doing away with the extra point is where the ball would be spotted. Teams need the opportunity to go for two points.

As far as the extra point goes, Belichick is right. But I’m not sure I would be in favor of moving it back 15 yards. Then what do you do on the two-point play? Having it in that position, you have the threat of the two-point play, which does help a team catch up and can be a big part of the game. But I agree with him that the actual extra point is not really exciting.

* For the Patriots, I really liked Belichick picking up Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, because the team isn’t paying them the same as what they were making with other teams. And don’t forget Haynesworth, before he signed with the Redskins, was considered maybe the league’s best defensive tackle.

* I think the Cowboys will be solid and be a lot better than a year ago. I’m curious to see how Rob Ryan does with that defense.

* Mike Shanahan is a proven, successful veteran coach. So he knows how to put together a good football team. How good is open to debate. But the Redskins are playing much better than expected in the preseason. But, then again, it is just the preseason.

Making Practices Easier

I’ve heard all the coaches complaining about the new CBA rules limiting padded practice. I don’t like the reduction to just 15 padded practices during the season. When I coached, we always practiced in pads; and three days a week.

But I was never one for making rules or rules changes. I have always believed as long as the rules were the same for everybody, I could deal with them.

There is a way to practice hard and be physical without pads. You can still be a physical football team and be efficient in practice without pads. The 49ers practiced like that for a long period of time in the 1980s under Bill Walsh and were extremely successful when all the other teams were practicing in pads. So there is a way to do it.

* I know you all want to know my Super Bowl teams for this season. All I can say is that you have to watch The Lead Dog make his picks on our show, Sept. 11.