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Preseason? Two Games Should Do

This time around, the debate began to rage minutes after Clinton Portis went down with a shoulder injury as he pulled down Cincinnati cornerback Keiwan Ratliff.

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NFL players, coaches and media types across the country chimed in on the relative merits of the NFL's preseason schedule.

Are four games excessive or is that the right length? Are the pre-season games indispensable or little more than a series of glorified scrimmages?

Marcus Washington, for one, said he thinks four games are justifiable and that he needs them to get prepared for the regular season. On this count he's probably in the minority, though, among NFL players.

On playing starters in the preseason, Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs said after the Portis injury: "We came to camp late, we've had no real contact in our camps. The pre-season games are the first time you can have real contact.

"For us, you put your starters out there, there are 22 guys and everyone knows every one of them is important, certainly including Clinton. You hope to put them out there, love to get them eight or 10 plays, and in Clinton's case, one or two carries. You'd like to get them started with some contact and get them in some type of a groove. You always run a risk, so it's something we hold our breath on."

Added Gibbs: "It's a contact sport. We don't go full-tilt in practice. The preseason is really the only chance we have to step it up a notch and go against good people and do the things we're going to do when we open."

For his part, Portis said he agrees with other veteran players around the league who speak about shortening the preseason.

"We have mandatory and optional preseason training, and conditioning all offseason," the fifth-year running back began. "This is my livelihood. If you understand your position and know what you're after, you'll show up ready and in shape for the season.

"Most of the guys in the NFL have common sense. I'd expect them to come into the season in shape. The preseason is a time to evaluate guys who are unproven. But injuries happen in football, at any time."

Four points:

1) It's hard to argue that the preseason is not necessary. For the Redskins, who are trying to grasp Al Saunders' offense, any live game action can be a situation in which learning takes place.

2) To take the position that the preseason needs to be done away with, as some have argued, overlooks the particular facts surrounding the injury to Portis. It began with a mistake: Mark Brunell and Brandon Lloyd, new teammates, failed to make the same reads on a pass play. Brunell and Lloyd obviously need a preseason in order to work things out.

3) The worst of all possibilities (albeit a radical one) would be to alter the rules of pre-season games in some fashion. That outing in Cincinnati featured enough blitz packages, by both teams, to give a mid-season feel to it. But don't advocate some weak rule such as cutting out blitzing opportunities. You can't play this game in a vacuum.

4) Maybe the best solution is to cut the pre-season games in half, to two. To further increase the chances that star players such as Portis can stay afloat, how about taking one of those extra pre-season weekends and giving all NFL teams an additional bye week during the regular season? That way, players can heal, or at least be afforded a greater chance to do so.

They used to call these affairs "exhibition games" until the NFL basically eradicated such a term. Let's think about a two-game "exhibition" season for future years. Really, they're exhibitions and not fully-hatched games.

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