Preseason Debate

The question has been asked for years, but is a four-game preseason schedule too much work before the start of the regular season? The Bears have an additional exhibition game on their plate and have already lost their starting quarterback for at least half the season.

Every head coach has a different take on how to use starters in the preseason.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden didn't mince words when asked why running back Carnell Williams didn't get a single touch in his first preseason game. He was in for one snap, and it was as a decoy.

Even though rookies face a steep learning curve to get acquainted to the NFL, Gruden will go to great lengths to protect his first-round pick from getting injured.

"If you want to have a long, drawn out conversation about it, we could. But we don't want to get (Williams) hurt, we don't want to get him nicked up, we don't want to get him too many looks early in the preseason," Gruden said.

While Williams will certainly see an increased load in the next two preseason games, Gruden said his touches will continue to be limited.

How to best prepare a team for the season while keeping your key players healthy is an annual preseason battle for coaches. Lose an important skill position player, and you run the risk of your season being over before it starts.

Just as Chicago coach Lovie Smith, who is suddenly faced with entering the season with Chad Hutchinson at quarterback following the broken ankle starter Rex Grossman suffered in the team's preseason opener.

While many quarterbacks make only a token appearance in the first preseason game, Grossman played into the second quarter. Having missed most of last season with a knee injury, he needed the game work and time in a new offensive system. But now he's out 3-4 months, which makes more conservative approaches like Gruden's understandable.

Two years ago, Michael Vick broke his fibula in the preseason. He missed the first 11 regular season games, while the Falcons went 5-11 sandwiched between two playoff appearances with him behind center.

So, if most first-stringers only play a handful of snaps in the preseason opener and many are held out of the final one as well, does training camp really need to include four games?

"I'd like to see two myself," said Bills nine-year veteran quarterback Kelly Holcomb, 32. "Obviously, the owners are making money with four preseason games, but I think pretty much the coaches (already) know whom they want and what they need to do with the depth chart. I can understand where some guys need four, but four, along with 16 regular season games, that's a lot on the body, especially when you get to be my age."

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