JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We know this about Doug Marrone. At his core, he is an old-school football guy.
He played and coached the offensive line. He’s from the Bronx. He once said that he would like to run the ball every play if he could. His instinct tells him that football is hard and the practices and training camps to prepare players for games should be even harder.
But this year, Marrone’s approach in the preseason has been vastly different from what we’ve seen from him in the past. He is so concerned about the threat of injuries that he has made radical changes in the way he has approached training camp and preseason games.
For instance, training camp practices already made lighter by the collective bargaining agreement (two-a-days are a thing of the past) were moved to the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day. It worked. Marrone said Tuesday that the move to avoid the heat, or at least limit exposure to the hottest days, has worked, noting that the usual number of players dealing with cramping has gone done dramatically.
That’s just the start of the changes.
“In the preseason last year, everyone that was here was able to see the amount of injuries that occurred,” Marrone said. “I started going back and I started looking. Again, you know, you put people in jeopardy a little bit. More importantly, I think people have not seen a lot, or maybe I haven’t clearly defined what’s going on.”
In past years, Marrone would get his starters a handful of snaps during the preseason opener. This year in Baltimore, he sat 32 players, some with minor injuries, others with no injuries at all, during the opener.
“I used to go really hard the first 10 days or the first eight days and then once you hit this preseason schedule and your players start playing, I would say normally you are talking about 10 plays, 20 plays, 32 plays and no plays. That’s basically what you’re doing,” Marrone said. “The first game, about 10 plays. The second game, about 20 plays, the third one, about 32 plays and then the fourth one, no. In order to play those 10 plays or to play those 20 plays, you have to make sure from a player standpoint that the day before, you can’t do anything with the players. Then you have the whole day the next day to sit around a hotel and then you are going to go play a night game. Then the next day you have off and then the next day, you bring them back slowly. There is a lot of time in between that where you are sacrificing a lot of work to prep for 10 or 20 plays. What we have done differently is obviously those players haven’t played, but what we have done differently is we have added a ton of reps.”
As for the quarterback, Marrone isn’t likely to send Nick Foles into action until the third preseason game, when left tackle Cam Robinson and left guard Andrew Norwell could both be back on the field.
“If the third preseason game comes and someone doesn’t play, it’s probably on the verge of just being cautious,” Marrone said. “I’d like to get all of the offensive linemen back before I put Nick back there.”
Marrone admitted that some starters have asked to play more, including safety Jarrod Wilson, who asked to play this week. Marrone has found a way to accommodate him.
“Now when a player says that, we have to manage,” Marrone said. “Now, I have to go back and say, ‘Hey, listen, if he’s going to get a couple snaps, then we have to make sure he doesn’t take all these snaps during the week.’ There are adjustments. They have that option. They have the option of let’s discuss it, which some players can and some players I wouldn’t if I thought it would put them in jeopardy.”
It's an obvious storyline to see Foles play against his former team, although it’s not as big a thing for Foles as it might be for fans. When asked about the likelihood of reduced snaps in preseason games, Foles, as he typically does, gave a measured and pragmatic answer.
“I’m going to leave all of those things up to coach," Foles said. “All I’m going to do is handle what I can control, and that’s coming out here and competing with my teammates, working hard, studying the film, working in meetings and walkthroughs and whatever he decides, I’ll go with.”
Marrone’s approach leaves two big questions to be answered. First, can a player still be prepared for the season with limited action in preseason games? And second, will Marrone—and other coaches—adopt this approach as standard operating procedure moving forward?