The elimination of preseason games possibly will place a significant emphasis on training camp for some New Orleans Saints this year, former tackle Zach Strief said.
Strief, a seventh-round pick by the Saints in 2006, currently is the team's radio play-by-play announcer for WWL AM-870.
"There's some reasons that you would say, 'No,' and there's also some reasons that you would say, 'It has to be,' " Strief said. "Obviously, with no offseason, there's going to be a ramp-up period. I know it's been one of the conversations between the owners and the players, of how long are they going to take to ramp up the guys and how much time do they give them to get ready.
"But also, the difficulty is can they kind of weigh and balance the difference between letting guys get acclimated to football so you don't have a bunch of injuries, but also creating the intense periods and points in practice that will act as simulation for a preseason game and a real, live game. That's going to be really important for their evaluation and I think because of that, you might see a little bit of a split type of practice.
"When we (held a joint practice) with the Patriots – and I can't remember off the top of my head what they called that period – but they basically have a full practice and then afterward, have a couple of team periods with their young players. I think you might see something like that with the Saints: A normal practice with a couple of added periods at the end to try to get young guys reps, to try to let them perform and to put all eyes on them.
"To put their peers watching, to put all of the coaches and staff all knowing, 'Hey, this is when we're watching and evaluating these young guys.' And in that way, they can make things intense for the guys they need to put in that situation for the first time, and yet, leave for the veterans a camp that's more familiar to them and not put the type of unnecessary risks that you might have to put on your veterans to simulate those games."
There's also the fact that with no preseason games, it'll be a tad more difficult for the Saints to identify the next Deonte Harris, J.T. Gray, Josh Hill or Shy Tuttle. Each of the four was an undrafted rookie, and this year's undrafted class will lose those evaluation opportunities now that there will be no preseason.
Strief said he doubted his roster chances even after playing in the preseason.
"I didn't think I was going to make the team," he said. "I think you can show a lot more in games than you can in practice. I was not active for the first seven weeks of the season, and then got to play in a game and was never inactive again. And so, it wasn't until that game experience that I think they really trusted me, and it's going to be that way for a lot of these undrafted guys.
"It's going to be very hard to show that type of performance in practice. And that's why I think the training camp itself is going to look really different to those guys, because almost every day (coaches are) going to have to find ways to put guys in highly stressful situations to see how you respond, to see if they can trust you in those big moments. I don't know that I would have made the team, but there's no question that guys who were undrafted this year, guys who were late draft picks, have an uphill battle. Especially on a team like the Saints."
New Orleans is a veteran-laden team that has won three consecutive NFC South Division titles. Few roster spots are available, and the Saints have a four-man draft class that likely will be included in the number.
"I think the Saints for this year are going to be really good at handling this situation – that's been talked about a bunch," Strief said. "There's a lot of veterans on this team, a lot of guys that have been around. There's consistency on the coaching staff and the systems that are in place. And so, those things will help the Saints out.
"Where I think it becomes an issue is when you look two and three years down the road, and you maybe let go an undrafted free agent that ended up being a difference-maker for another team, and now you don't have that young, cheap talent. And I think that's really how it's going to affect a lot of young teams or teams in transition this year. You really are trying to build that foundation and you don't have time to see a guy really perform under pressure.
"What the teams will be tasked with, and what I think we'll see – maybe not see, maybe we'll hear about – is more competition within the training camp itself. More opportunities for intra-squad to compete against each other. And I think it's going to be something that (Coach) Sean (Payton) will really focus on is, 'How do I put them in stressful situations, where I put a lot on the line, to see how guys perform under pressure?'
"Because we've seen over and over and over again over time, both things: Both the guy who in practice looks amazing and in games cannot perform, and we've seen the guys that cannot perform in practice and when the lights turn on, they turn into players. And so I think it'll be on the teams to find ways to create that type of pressure-filled situation, where guys feel like their job is on the line in that moment, to see how they respond in those situations. I think that'll be the big challenge for them in training camp."