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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 23: Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland didn’t hear no a lot this offseason.

The team had been the bridesmaid many times in the last few years when pursuing players and coaches, but they landed plenty of big game this offseason. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Brent Grimes are just some of the players who decided to play in South Florida this season and their arrival has led to a lot of playoff talk around the Dolphins.

That may make it a win-or-else scenario for Ireland, which makes it a good thing that he seems to have positioned the team well from a personnel standpoint. Now that personnel needs to gel in order for the team to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.


Quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t have too many people to throw to as a rookie last season, which contributed to some of his struggles, and Ireland made sure that excuse disappeared. In addition to Wallace and Keller, Miami re-signed Brian Hartline and added Brandon Gibson as a free agent to give themselves a far deeper and considerably more talented receiving corps than they had last season. There’s been plenty of optimism about Tannehill’s growth this offseason and this group gives him a chance to show it off in a major way.

The Dolphins haven’t had any complaints about Cameron Wake’s pass rush ability over the years. Wake had 15 sacks last season, a career high, and did it without much help from his friends on the defense. If first-round pick Dion Jordan brings the heat as hoped, Wake will be even more dangerous to stop this time around.

Defensive line continues to be a Miami strength when you kick inside to the tackle spot. Randy Starks isn’t likely to get a long-term deal after being franchised, keeping his motivation high to turn in another productive season. Paul Soliai gives them a huge obstacle to opposing run games and Jared Odrick is a handy extra body to use at end or tackle.

Safety Reshad Jones, who is also looking for a new contract, is coming off a very strong 2012 season. A repeat performance will get him that deal and make him someone Miami can build around in the secondary.

Center Mike Pouncey has a good chance to join his brother Maurkice in the Pro Bowl sooner rather than later. He’ll anchor a line that has questions we’ll discuss below and the upside to be an effective unit.


It may not turn out to be a weakness in the long run, but there are certainly plenty of questions to answer about the cornerbacks. Grimes and Richard Marshall are both coming off of injuries that could leave them at less than full strength and one can never predict how much rookies like Jamar Taylor and Will Davis will bring to the table in their first seasons.

We’ll stay in the uncertainty more than weakness column as we turn our eye to the running backs. Reggie Bush went to Detroit, leaving second-year man Lamar Miller as the likeliest choice for the lead back role this year. Miller’s speed is intriguing, but he’ll need to show he can do the more mundane business of moving the chains and picking up pass rushers to help make Miami’s offense balanced and productive this season.

As mentioned above, no one other than Wake rushed the passer well enough. If Jordan doesn’t provide the extra pressure, it’s hard to see who might do it.

Camp will be important for the Dolphins because they have so many new players in the system and chemistry will be a must for units with major changes like the offensive line and linebackers. While you’d expect the players to pick things up fairly well, it’s never as easy as just plugging players into spots and letting them go.


There will be a new look on the offensive line for the Dolphins this season. Jake Long was the rare one that got away this offseason, heading to the Rams and leaving left tackle in the hands of Jonathan Martin. Martin played the position at Stanford and moved there after Long was hurt last season, so familiarity with the job shouldn’t be too big an obstacle.

The Dolphins also signed Tyson Clabo to play right tackle, a move some questioned because his style doesn’t seem to mesh with the zone blocking principles the Dolphins introduced last season. He’s a capable player, so the line should be in good shape if he takes to the new system.

Linebacker was another area of major change as the Dolphins shipped out Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in favor of Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. They definitely got younger and faster in the process, but both of the discarded vets were solid players and Ellerbe has a short track record of success for a player who got a big deal this offseason.

Wide receiver Davone Bess and tight end Anthony Fasano were each let go as part of the overhaul of the receiving corps.

One notable area without change was Joe Philbin’s coaching staff, which provides the team with continuity in their effort to build on last season’s result.

Camp Battles.

Richie Incognito should hold onto the left guard spot, but right guard will be a spot of contention for John Jerry, rookie Dallas Thomas and, assuming he’s healthy, free agent addition Lance Louis. Jerry didn’t play well last season, which should make the competition that much livelier.

There’s plenty to sort out at corner with Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson joining the players already named in a fight for roles in the secondary. The best-case scenario for the Dolphins is that all the competition helps answer some of their questions at corner before the start of the regular season.

Miller’s the odds-on favorite for the top spot on the depth chart, but Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee will be fighting for snaps as well. Thomas has disappointed to this point in his NFL career and Gillislee passing him by wouldn’t bode well for his future in Miami.

The Dolphins drafted kicker Caleb Sturgis in the fifth round, which likely makes him a favorite in the battle with erratic incumbent Dan Carpenter.


With Aaron Hernandez in prison, Rob Gronkowski’s status uncertain because of surgeries and other questions about their receiving corps, many have opined that the Patriots could be in danger of losing their perch atop the AFC East.

If they do, the Dolphins appear to be the team in the best position to replace them as division champs. They were 7-9 last season before making additions that should be improvements in several places, Philbin and Tannehill have a year of experience under their belts and the Bills and Jets are riddled with more holes. It’s easy to see things coming together in a winning season and a playoff berth, whether or not the Patriots plummet.

That said, the Dolphins still need to do it. Teams with busy offseasons never suffer for a lack of buzz, but they do fail to answer the bell on occasion. The Dolphins have the pieces and we’ll find out soon enough if they know how to use them.

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Some fans burn Kaepernick jerseys

Kaepernickjersey AP

From time to time, fans become sufficiently upset with a player to burn his jersey. Usually, it happens when the player exercises his right to leave his team via free agency.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick exercised a different right on Friday night, and predictably some fans are reacting by setting his No. 7 jersey aflame.

The Daily Mail has a collection of the reactions from fans who have exercised their right to express disagreement with Kaepernick’s right to express disagreement with policies of the United States that he believes discriminate against African-Americans and people of color. Both sides have that right; the First Amendment allows Kaepernick to sit for the national anthem and to criticize the nation, and it allows others to criticize him for it, or to react however they want as long as their reaction violates no laws.

That’s the fundamental reality of a free society. If Kaepernick, knowing the business risk of taking a stand by sitting during the anthem, chooses to not participate — and chooses to explain that he refuses to show pride in the flag of a nation that oppresses a segment of his people, he’s doing nothing wrong. Others may think he’s wrong, but it’s still his right.

Beyond the right of fans to criticize him, businesses will have the right to no longer associate with him. The 49ers have been careful to say all the right things about Kaepernick, which could allow them to argue that any upcoming decision to cut or bench Kaepernick arises only from football reasons (even if it doesn’t). Still, the 49ers most likely would be violating no employment laws by declining to continue to employ Kaepernick for taking an unpopular position, and other teams would likely have the same ability to shun him.

Here’s the reality: If he’s perceived to be a good enough player, teams will find a way to make it work, regardless of how the fans may react. While Kaepernick is surely good enough to be one of the top two quarterbacks on a given NFL team, he’ll likely need to be better than good to persuade a team to embrace a player in an industry premised on persuading members of the public to part with their money and their time.

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Branden Oliver carted off with a lower leg injury

GEEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 18: Branden Oliver #43 of the San Diego Chargers runs against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 18, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Chargers 27-20. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chargers tackle Joe Barksdale apparently didn’t suffer a serious injury on Sunday. Chargers running back Branden Oliver apparently has.

Oliver was carted off late in the first half during Sunday’s game in Minnesota with a lower leg injury.

It’s unclear how he was injured or what the injury specifically is. It appeared to be a non-contact injury, prompting non-speculative speculation from the FOX broadcast booth that Oliver may have torn an Achilles tendon.

Oliver had a solid season as a rookie, but injuries limited him to eight appearances in 2015.

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Chargers tackle Joe Barksdale suffers an injury

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Joe Barksdale #72 of the San Diego Chargers pressures Brian Robison #96 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter at TCF Bank Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

Through most of the first half of the Chargers-Vikings game in Minnesota, no serious injuries occurred. The Chargers currently don’t know whether a serious injury has happened to tackle Joe Barksdale.

Barksdale suffered a leg injury when teammate Orlando Franklin fell into Barksdale from behind while pass blocking. He walked off the field, and he was being checked on the sideline.

A third-round pick of the Raiders in 2011, Barksdale joined the Chargers on a one-year deal in 2015. Earlier this year, he signed a new four-year contract after starting all 16 games last season.

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Steelers drop to 79 players

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dustin Vaughan (13) is sacked by Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Marcus Smith (90) during the second half of an NFL preseason football game in Pittsburgh, on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Don Wright) AP

The Steelers are among the teams that have started cutting down their roster ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to get to 75 players.

One of the moves the team announced on Sunday was that they have waived quarterback Dustin Vaughan with the injured designation. Vaughan fractured a bone in his thumb in the team’s second preseason game of the year, joining Bruce Gradkowski as an injured backup in Pittsburgh. The Steelers signed Bryn Renner last week to go with Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones.

The team also sent fourth-round pick Jerald Hawkins to injured reserve. The rookie tackle suffered a shoulder injury. The Steelers cut 2014 sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt, who has never played a regular season game for the team.

Linebacker Mike Reilly, wide receiver Issac Blakeney, wide receiver Levi Norwood, tight end Michael Cooper, defensive end Giorgio Newberry, defensive tackle Khaynin Mosley-Smith and cornerback Julian Whigman were also placed on waivers. The Steelers now have 79 players on their roster.

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Dez Bryant back to individual work

Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant smiles as he jogs back to the sideline after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins in the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) AP

It’s going to be a while before quarterback Tony Romo is able to practice for the Cowboys, but wide receiver Dez Bryant is on his way to a full return to action.

Bryant suffered a concussion in practice last week and wasn’t on the field when Romo broke a bone in his back during Thursday’s game in Seattle. Bryant probably won’t play in the fourth preseason game either, but chances are good that he’ll be in the lineup against the Giants in Week One after a Sunday return to practice.

Coach Jason Garrett said that neither Bryant nor defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford will do team drills, but that they’ll take part in individual work before “having a test of some sort later today or tomorrow morning” as part of the league’s concussion protocol.

Due to Romo’s injury, Bryant will be returning to a lineup that will likely be headed by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott and Bryant hooked up for touchdowns in each of Dallas’ first two preseason games this season.

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Bucs cut 12, including Jacob Schum and Major Wright

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 01: Connor Barth #10 celebrates a field goal with  Jacob Schum #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on November 1, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

It looks like Bryan Anger is going to be the Buccaneers’ punter in 2016.

The Bucs announced 12 cuts from their roster on Sunday afternoon, including last year’s punter Jacob Schum. Schum had a net average of 38 yards on 56 punts for the Bucs last season, but Anger, who was picked in the third round of the 2012 draft by the Jaguars, got the nod after an offseason competition.

Veteran safety Major Wright was also let go by the Buccaneers on Sunday. Wright joined the team in 2014 and made seven starts in his first season in Tampa before starting twice in nine games for the team last year. He fell behind Chris Conte, Bradley McDougald, Keith Tandy and rookie Ryan Smith this year, leaving him on the outside looking in with the Bucs.

Linebacker Jeremiah George, who played 15 games for the team last year, and defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, who has played for several teams since 2012, were also among the cuts. The others dropped on Sunday are defensive tackle Travis Britz, cornerback Daniel Davie, wide receiver Andre Davis, tackle Taylor Fallin, defensive end Martin Ifedi, running back Storm Johnson, safety Kimario McFadden and tight end Tevin Westbrook.

The Bucs have two more moves to make by Tuesday’s deadline to drop to 75 players.

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Panthers first cuts include receiver Stephen Hill

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 13: Wide Receiver Stephen Hill #84 of the New York Jets catches a pass and is tackled by defensive back Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 13, 2013 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers have commenced the process of cutting their roster from 90 players to 75 by collecting playbooks from 11 players.

The biggest name belongs to receiver Stephen Hill, a supposed can’t-miss size-and-speed receiving prospect who was picked in the second round by the Jets in 2012. He becomes a free agent immediately.

Hill tore an ACL last August and spent all of the year on injured reserve. He had two catches for 18 yards in three preseason appearances in 2016.

Also cut was recently-signed veteran tackle Willie Smith, who also becomes a free agent. The rest of the cuts will pass through waivers. They are: linebacker Jared Barber; receiver Avius Capers; tight end Braxton Deaver; center Dismukes Reese; defensive tackle Ray Drew; tackle David Foucault; defensive end Tom Lally; center Matt Masifilo; and receiver Miles Shuler.

All rosters must be at 75 by 4:00 p.m. ET Tuesday. Four days later, all teams must drop to 53.

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Colts sign Stevan Ridley

Stevan Ridley, Reggie Nelson AP

Veteran running back Stevan Ridley has his new team.

The Colts announced today that they have signed Ridley, who was cut by the Lions last week.

Ridley once looked like a budding star in the NFL, having gained 1,263 yards for the Patriots in 2012, his second year in the league. But since then his production has significantly declined: He gained 773 yards in 2013, 340 yards in 2014 and 90 yards in 2015. He spent just a few months with the Lions before they cut him.

In Indianapolis, Ridley joins a backfield that includes starter Frank Gore and backups Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman and Josh Ferguson.

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Was low hit on Chris Gragg “dirty”? Rex Ryan says, “I don’t know”

ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 20:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the Buffalo Bills speaks to players and coaches on the sideline during the second half against the New York Giants on August 20, 2016 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo defeats New York 21-0.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills have lost tight end Chris Gragg for the year with a torn ACL. Washington defensive back DeAngelo Hall has explained that he went low because of the rules limiting hits to the head.

“The good thing is you’re not targeting the shots to the head and all that,” Bills coach Rex Ryan told reporters on Sunday. “I think we’re getting that out of the game, which is a real positive. This was an unfortunate thing, there’s no question about it. Could’ve been avoided? Maybe, but that’s the tough thing that you’re seeing. The good thing is we are taking the hits to the head [out of the game], and I think that’s a great thing sometimes — this was an unfortunate thing. Was it dirty or whatever? I don’t know. I think you can probably tackle a guy above the waist or something but unfortunately, this game, it’s a physical game.”

Physical it is, and it’s another reason why the NFL should seriously consider reducing or eliminating the preseason. That will only happen, however, if the regular season also grows. Which will still result in 20 games being played (unless one regular-season game is traded  for two preseason games), but at least more of them will count.

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Subscribe now to the PFT Live podcast (well, not literally right now but soon)


Last week, PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio returned to NBCSN for a two-hour simulcast of the three-hour program. Every hour of every show is available as a podcast, too.

And you can (should) subscribe to the podcast, at iTunes or audioBoom. (It’s apparently on Google Play, too, but I’m too lazy busy to find a link.)

Last week’s shows included visits from Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones, two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis, and a lot more.

Subscribing means you’ll never have to go looking for any specific show, and that you’ll be able to listen to all 15 hours of content each week, whenever and wherever you want.

The next live show is coming Monday at 6:00 a.m. ET, with the final two simulcast on NBCSN. After everything that happened on Saturday, we’re gonna need a bigger show.

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Dwight Freeney says Chargers should just pay Bosa his bonus

SAN DIEGO - AUGUST 28: (L-R) Head Coach Mike McCoy, Jarret Johnson #96, Dwight Freeney #93, and Nick Hardwick #61 of the San Diego Chargers look on from the sidelines against the Arizona Cardinals  during their NFL Preseason game at Qualcomm Stadium on August 28, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Vikings prepare to host the Chargers for the first NFL game played at U.S. Bank Stadium, the visiting team won’t have its first-round draft pick. And surely there will be plenty said during the FOX broadcast about holdout defensive end Joey Bosa.

Plenty of things said about Bosa have been aimed at pressuring him to cave. “What’s the big deal?” they say. “They’re not arguing over significant dollars. He should just take the money. Does he not want to play for the Chargers?”

Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, who played at one point for the Chargers and now is a member of the Falcons, recently turned that argument around in a visit to XTRA Sports 1360.

“Guys, if you sign a player he should get his bonus, get his money, and let’s go play,” Freeney told The Mark and Rich Show (via the San Diego Union-Tribune). “But if you’re trying to defer the signing bonus to 2017 so the kid doesn’t have the money so the team holds onto the money just so he can get more interest on it, or whatever. . . . Guys, you’re a two billion dollar franchise, OK? Give him his money and let’s just go.”

Indeed. What’s the big deal? They’re not arguing over significant dollars. The team should just pay Bosa the money. Do the Chargers not want him to play for them?

Actually, the two sides should find a way to compromise. There’s surely a middle ground that allows everyone to both proclaim victory and save face. For whatever reason, neither side is willing at this point to try to take the high road. Which means that Bosa eventually could be back on the path to the draft.

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Colts start paring down roster

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 17:  defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin #95 of the Arizona Cardinals sits on the sidelines during the NFL preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 17, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Tuesday is the first cutdown day heading into the 2016 season as teams will be dropping their rosters to 75 players.

The Colts got a head start on the process Sunday by announcing 10 departures from the roster. None of the players who were relieved of their roster spots have any regular season experience with the team, although defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin played in seven games for the Cardinals and Raiders before signing with Indianapolis in January.

Eight of the other players placed on waivers — wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby — also signed with the team as free agents this offseason. Linebacker Junior Sylvestre spent last season on injured reserve after joining the team as an undrafted free agent in May 2015.

The Colts have five more moves to make to get to 75 players before Tuesday’s deadline.

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Hue Jackson: I don’t think the sky is falling

Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Chris Conte (23) jumps on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (11) after a reception during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) AP

The Browns have run through a lot of coaches since returning to the league in 1999 and all of them have had moments where they’ve had to react to poor performances by their teams.

Hue Jackson got his first chance to do so after Friday night’s 30-13 loss to the Buccaneers that saw Cleveland struggle with just about everything outside of deep passes to Josh Gordon. Jackson said that the outing, which saw Robert Griffin III sacked five times while the defense was allowing 259 passing yards in the first half, is part of the growing pains that the team has to go through.

“All of a sudden the sky is falling?” Jackson said, via “I don’t see that. I don’t think the sky is falling at all. I think what you see is a young football team that you’re going to see some of that [struggle], especially early until they get well grounded. I think, like I said, there were some good things, and obviously there were some things that were concerning. We got to continue to work at it. I never said we’d be a juggernaut today, or yesterday.”

Expecting the Browns to go from zero to 60 overnight would be foolish and their emphasis on collecting draft picks while clearing out unwanted holdovers from the roster makes it clear they aren’t planning on a quick fix. Signs of progress will be needed at some point, however, and there weren’t many on Friday night.

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Jonathan Freeny signs two-year extension with Patriots

New England Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny (55) wraps up Chicago Bears running back Jeremy Langford (33) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) AP

Linebacker Jonathan Freeny joined the Patriots last season and posted 50 tackles and a sack in 13 games that appear to have impressed the team enough to want Freeny around a while longer.

According to multiple reports, Freeny has agreed to a two-year extension with the Patriots that will keep him under contract in New England through the 2018 season. No financial terms have been reported.

Coach Bill Belichick didn’t confirm the extension when he met with the media on Saturday, but he did explain why the Patriots would like to keep Freeny in the fold.

“Jonathan is a very dependable player; he is able to do a lot of different roles for us,” Belichick said in comments distributed by the team. “He can play inside and outside on the line of scrimmage and off the ball defensively. He’s been very valuable for us in the kicking game, obviously with some size. A four-phase special teams player and one of our overall top workers in terms of the offseason program, preparation, training; he always does things right. He works hard, doesn’t say a lot, but is very dependable and consistent. I think all of the other players — everybody in the organization looks up to him.”

Freeny started seven games filling in for injured players last year and should remain in a backup role while playing a lot of special teams with the Patriots in 2016.

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John Harbaugh shares his disdain for preseason football

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh gestures on the sideline in the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) AP

The Ravens lost tight end Benjamin Watson to a torn Achilles and they are waiting for word on an MRI of rookie running back Kenneth Dixon’s injured knee, which makes it unsurprising that coach John Harbaugh used some of his time with the media on Saturday to lament preseason games.

Harbaugh said that he wasn’t a fan of preseason games before those injuries — he said his ideal number of games would be zero — and that he hopes that there will be changes to the way the preseason works to eliminate some of the risk involved in the four-week exhibition schedule.

“I know the league and the Players Association is working very hard and trying to figure out ideas to work out the preseason,” Harbaugh said. “These are big, fast, strong men running around out there. It’s not 25 years ago. … It went to four [games] in the 70s. It’s not the 70s anymore. These guys playing in these games, it’s tough, and they’re not meaningful games. They are important to get better, and they improve us. But we football coaches can find ways to get our guys ready and get our players evaluated without the kind of risk that a game necessarily entails. I’m really hopeful that the union and the league can get together and do something that’s good for everybody, especially what’s good for the players. And for the fans.”

Harbaugh has expressed other displeasure with the offseason schedule, particularly the limitations on how much players can work with members of the coaching staff. The league has also expressed its displeasure with the Ravens putting rookies in pads during a period in the schedule when that isn’t allowed by fining Harbaugh and the team.

There is a risk of injury any time players are on a football field, be it in a practice, scrimmage or game, but this year has seen a rising number of teams opting to severely limit playing time for established players if they put them on the field at all. That would suggest that other coaches share some of Harbaugh’s feelings about preseason football, although it remains to be seen if there will be any changes to the status quo.

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