NFL Preseason Primer

Are you ready? #RedskinsRVA

Photo: Washington Redskins

I’ve never been one to actively follow the goings-on in training camp. Most of the interesting stuff happens in “closed-door” practices, and the media only gets to see what coaches want them to see—the minimum necessary to keep fans, and thus owners happy.

For me, RGIII changed all that.

Last year, there was the anticipation of him turning the franchise around. He did just that, with help from an underrated supporting cast. This year, with his injury in the Wildcard Playoff Game loss against Seattle, there’s the growing hope that he will be healed and whole in time to start the Monday Night Football opener against the Eagles.

Hope shared by the Redskins, their fan base, ESPN, and the NFL. RGIII vs. former Oregon Ducks mad-genius coach Chip Kelly is big ratings and big money.

So I’m paying attention, and if you are too—whoever your favorite team is—here is a primer for the NFL preseason.

Training Camp. The practices teams undergo from today through the eve of the second weekend of preseason games. Part of the preseason, but not to be confused with the preseason games. A player—like RGIII—can be cleared for training camp, limited in participation, and kept out of all preseason games if his coaches, doctor, and the team’s medical staff consider it the most prudent option.

Preseason Games. The four meaningless games played before the real season begins. These games serve two purposes, to make money and to allow coaches to evaluate rookies and players “on the bubble.” Starters see the shortest time on the field in the first game, a little more in the second, the most (usually a full half) in the third, and are benched for the fourth. Some wonder how necessary this game time is for veterans when weighed against the risk of injury in a game that doesn’t count.

Active Roster. Starts at 90 players, with cuts down to 75 (by 4 p.m. EDT on Aug. 27) and 53 (by 6 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31). There are no reserve lists (besides the exceptions explained below) or practice squads until the final cuts.

Active PUP. The preseason version of the Physically Unable to Perform List. A player must be placed on active PUP at the start of training camp and if he takes the field for even a few minutes he is disqualified. Once on active PUP, a player cannot participate in any team activities. All he can do is rehab and work out alone. This is why RGIII isn’t on PUP. He would be disqualified from the same practice drills he participated in during OTAs (Organized Team Activities). And despite not being able to practice with the team, Active PUP players still count against the 90-man roster limit.

Reserve PUP. If a player has spent the whole of training camp on active PUP and is still unable to play or practice due to his injury, the team can place him on the Reserve PUP list. Now he doesn’t count against the 53, but he has to stay on PUP for a minimum of six weeks. He may come off PUP and be added to the active roster anytime between weeks seven and nine taking a spot on the 53. If he is unable to play or practice at this point, he stays on PUP through the rest of the season.

UPDATE: Two days after I posted this, the NFL officially changed their reserve PUP rules. Here’s the updated version (via ESPN):

Commencing on the day after the conclusion of the sixth regular season weekend (October 15) and continuing through the day after the conclusion of the 11th regular season weekend (November 19), clubs are permitted to begin practicing players on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform for a period not to exceed 21 calendar days. Pads and helmets are permitted during the 21-day period. At any time during the 21-day practice period, or prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the day after the conclusion of the 21-day period, clubs are permitted to restore such players on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform to their Active/Inactive List. (Emphasis mine.)

Injured Reserve. Following the third preseason game (and into the regular season of course), any player who is seriously injured can be placed on IR. They’re are still under contract and no longer count toward the 53 once the season begins, but they cannot play until the following season. Beginning last season, one player can be “designated-to-return” in the ninth week of the season. In 2012, the Redskins extended that status to long-snapper Nick Sundberg, who played the second half of the season opener against the Saints with a broken arm. He came back just in time for the team’s seven-game winning streak at the close of the season.

Waived-Injured Reserve. A player who is injured and certain to miss the season may be placed on IR before the third preseason game and not count against the 90-man roster limit, but he must be waived first. If he clears waivers—most do since they’re out for the year—he can go on IR. The Redskins chose this option last preseason with undrafted-free-agent cornerback Chase Minnifield, and this year with two other UDFAs, tight end DeAngelo Peterson, and defensive end Doug Worthington.

Update: Peterson was released on July 25, and signed by the Broncos on August 6. He is currently on their active roster.

Reserve-Suspended. And finally, the category for players too stupid to learn from their mistakes. The NFL has strict substance-abuse and performance-enhancing-drug-use policies. Depending on the drug, a player can be suspended indefinitely for a repeat (or repeat, repeat) offense. Safety Tanard Jackson was suspended for his third violation on Aug. 31, 2012. His reserve status gives the Redskins first dibs if the NFL reinstates him, but he can’t apply until one year has passed. This means that he might be reinstated the same day the team makes final cuts. In the meantime, he hasn’t been in contact with anyone in the Redskins organization. So for those fans counting on his return, the best-case scenario is this. He is reinstated on Aug. 31. The Redskins are granted a roster exemption to get him up to speed, and he is added to the active roster in Week Six—following the bye week. I’d rather have one or both of the rookie safeties drafted in April  to step up and win a starting spot by then so that the team can move on from a bad decision.

For more on the Redskins’ training camp and preseason, including the latest news, passionate opinion, and excellent analysis, check out Hogs Haven. For information on your favorite team, go to SB Nation and find their page.

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