The Hit Job
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The Hit Job

Yes, NFL preseason sucks. Here are 3 stories worth watching.

If you’re looking for familiar faces on the field, don’t blink. Do keep an eye out for Dak Prescott, Derrick Henry and Trevone Boykin.

The novelty of NFL preseason football wears off fast. NFL football is back. NFL football, light, that is. It’s not even a matter of debate any longer — the NFL even admits preseason games are a sub-par product.

Yet, until the next round of savage negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, NFL followers can look forward (?) to four preseason games each and every year. Gee, thanks?

Meaningless only until something goes horribly wrong

Preseason fever — catch it. If you can. The good players don’t play long for fear of injury. The unknowns dominate the playing time as coaches frown, evaluate and frown some more on the sidelines. Here are three stories easing the frowns on the faces of their coaches and front office personnel.

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

The fourth-round draft pick out of Mississippi State impressed in his first NFL preseason action. Against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, Prescott authored a two-touchdown outing starting at quarterback instead of Tony Romo.

One partial game does not a career make, but given the longtime search for a capable, groomable backup to Romo, it’s exactly the kind of news the Cowboys have waited for. With the Aug. 3 news that projected backup Kellen Moore will be out long-term with a broken ankle, Prescott’s emergence is more than a hoped-for luxury. Expected to be out three to four months, the Cowboys are in a position that requires them to make a decision sooner than later about how to solidify the quarterback position behind the fragile Romo. Romo has not played a full season since 2012, including only four starts a year ago.

Prescott’s stats: 10 of 12 for 139 yards and two touchdowns equal a good half-night’s work. Prescott’s grade rates even higher when factoring style points: both incompletions were drops by tight end Geoff Swain. In the plus column, Prescott’s touchdown throw to Dez Bryant, who only played one series, was a nice end-zone fade play. His second score on the night was a nifty, 32-yard touchdown to receiver Terrance Williams with a perfectly placed throw over the defender.

More of the same this preseason will mean the Cowboys have finally landed a viable successor to the 36-year-old Romo.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Most teams hide their strategic intentions during the preseason. The Titans are announcing theirs loud and clear back in February: exotic smashmouth.

In the Tennessee Titans’ preseason opener, the “thunder and thunder” backfield of veteran DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry teamed up for 167 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 first-half carries against the San Diego Chargers. If Murray is destined for a bounce-back year after a season in purgatory (Philadelphia), Henry (as an equally effective backfield threat) may be the reason why.

While Murray’s stat line is sexier (highlighted by a 71-yard, untouched scamper for a touchdown), it was Henry who may have put in the best work in his first-half action. Henry ground out 74 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, making his case for equal, if not more, time in the Titans’ planned running back by committee approach for 2016.

With questions abounding over the Titans’ offensive line and the growth of second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Titans’ offensive success rests on a solid rushing foundation. Step one achieved.

Trevone Boykin, Seattle Seahawks

“Grab a clipboard, rook. We’re putting in the other guy.” In Seattle, that doesn’t mean your work is done. In a twist of trial-by-fire management, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll re-inserted undrafted free agent rookie quarterback Boykin after he had lifted him from the game in the third quarter.

By all appearances, Boykin exited the game as part of the regularly scheduled quarterback rotation that saw starter Russell Wilson take the first quarter, Boykin played the second and third quarters, with third-stringer Jake Heaps taking over for Boykin. As a planned surprise, Carroll called Boykin’s number again to lead two final drives against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Unimpressive up to that point (3.7 yards per pass), Boykin stepped up to the challenge and led the trailing Seahawks to a field goal drive and a game-winning, 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired (subsequent two-point conversion put the Seahawks ahead for good, 17–16.)

Considered to be yet again a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2016, the Seahawks are rolling the dice with no veteran back-up behind starter Russell Wilson. If Boykin continues to shine, as Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell expect, Boykin could well be a capable fill-in for Wilson, should he become unavailable for a short stretch of time.

© julian rogers | Juju Eye Communications

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