Early lessons from NFL preseason: Problems for Washington and Tom Brady is going nowhere


Assessing teams and players before the season proper gets under way is an inexact science but early storylines are already emerging

1) Early problems for Washington

Running back Derrius Guice, a second-round draft pick who was expected to feature prominently in Washington’s offense as a rookie, will miss the entire season after tearing his left ACL in the first quarter of Thursday night’s game against the New England Patriots. To add insult to the injury, the 34-yard gain that Guice ran for on the play in which he was injured wound up getting called back for a holding penalty.

Washington coach Jay Gruden touted his team’s ability to thrive with a cast of other backs, including last season’s team leader in carries and yards, Samaje Perine, but this is a ground game that ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing yardage last year, and 30th in yards per carry. There is a reason that Washington drafted Guice, and planned to shift Perine, Chris Thompson, and Rob Kelley into lesser roles. The pressure on new quarterback Alex Smith to lead the offense through the air is only that much greater now.

2) Tom Brady will be around for a while

Tom Brady sat out the Patriots’ preseason opener, ostensibly with a sore back, but it’s also worth remembering that the future Hall of Famer often appears on the injury report for things that are no big deal. At this point in Brady’s career, at the age of 41, it’s all about making sure that he is in the best shape when the games really count.

It still was a busy weekend for Brady, as a restructuring of his contract signals that this season will not be his last under center for New England. A lot of that is based in reading of tea leaves from the salary cap math attendant to the redone deal, but it does make sense to speculate that Brady’s plans to play extend beyond 2018 if the Patriots are willing to make things harsher on themselves with $5m more in “dead money” should the 13-time Pro Bowler call it quits rather than play in 2019.

3) A mixed bag from the new generation of quarterbacks

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. Photograph: Ron Schwane/AP

Among quarterbacks who actually did play this weekend, the spotlight was brightest on ballyhooed rookies seeing their first action in professional games, even if they did not count. The No 1 draft pick, Baker Mayfield, allowed Cleveland to dream of big things as he threw a pair of touchdown passes against the Giants, with five completions of 20 or more yards as part of his 11-for-20 night. The Jets’ Sam Darnold, the No 3 pick, went 13-for-18 for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons, while Josh Allen (No 7) and Josh Rosen (No 10) struggled with accuracy in their debuts for the Bills and Cardinals, respectively.

Darnold’s performance may have been the most intriguing because the Jets have to figure out whether their starter should be the rookie or former Vikings first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, who went 7-for-8 for 85 yards and a touchdown in his first outing with New York. Bridgewater made a cameo with Minnesota last season, and is trying to get back on the path toward stardom that he was on when he suffered a career-threatening knee injury in 2016.

4) Putting statistics into perspective

In case any of those rookie quarterbacks need a reminder of how important statistics are in the preseason, the NFL’s current leader in passing yards is Tyler Bray, a sixth-year pro who has thrown a total of one regular-season pass – an incompletion – in his career. Bray, third on the Bears’ depth chart, has an advantage because Chicago had played an extra preseason game, getting things going with Baltimore a week ago at the Hall of Fame Classic in Canton.

Among players who got their preseasons started this weekend, the passing yards leader is Geno Smith, with 218, on 14-of-23 passing with a touchdown and an interception for the Chargers in their 24-17 loss to the Cardinals. Safe to say that neither Mitch Trubisky in Chicago nor Philip Rivers in Los Angeles is sweating the possibility of someone coming for their jobs.

5) The NFL is still sweating the anthem question

Donald Trump raged again at NFL players’ methods of protesting systemic oppression, because of course he did. The players have no reason to stop their demonstrations during the playing of the national anthem, and the president scores political points with his base every time he conflates protesting during the anthem with protesting the anthem itself. The NFL remains caught in the middle, criticized from the left for not doing enough to stand up to Trump’s unending pressure, and from the right for not cracking down on the players’ peaceful protests. It’s easy to see the bind that league leadership is in, much harder to see a way out.

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