Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: NFL preseason begins, but the games don’t matter

By Don Wanlass

Staff Writer

I won’t be watching.

The National Football League returns to action Aug. 9 with 26 of the 32 teams scheduled to open their exhibition season after the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens kicked things off for everyone Aug. 4 with the Hall of Fame Game.

I didn’t watch that one, either.

NFL exhibition games (the league prefers calling them preseason games) are good for the coaches and front office people who have to make final roster decisions. They are good for the players on the bubble of making the roster or getting cut because they get a chance to show the coaches and front office people what they can do in live game action.

They also are good for the owners of the teams who sell tickets at regular game prices, even though you and they both know not many stars are going to be playing for very long. And they are good for the fans of football who have been going without since the Super Bowl last February.

I understand the need for preseason games, but I can wait until the real season starts and the games matter.

This year figures to be an interesting year for us in Southern California, with the Rams and Chargers part of the sporting landscape now and both expected to contend for a division title.

The Chargers have the grizzled veteran at quarterback in Philip Rivers. The Rams counter with the blooming star potential of Jared Goff. The Rams have another superstar in running back Todd Gurley. The Chargers have star potential at wide receiver with Keenan Allen and second-year player Mike Williams.

On defense, the Rams have Aaron Donald (not a fan of training camp; he’s missing again). The Chargers have Joey Bosa.

Both coaches are beginning their second year on the job. The Rams went 11-5 under Sean McVey, the youngest coach in the league. The Chargers were 9-7 under Anthony Lynn.

Both teams play in tough divisions and will need to stay healthy to contend, but both teams definitely have the rosters to make it to the playoffs come January. For the next four weeks, they will be determining who will make the final roster cuts while hoping no one important gets injured.

That’s the NFL preseason. The Rams play at 4:30 p.m. in Baltimore Aug. 9. The Chargers face the Arizona Cardinals in Phoenix at 7 p.m. Aug. 11.

It’s OK to watch. But the games don’t mean anything yet.

TELEVISION VIEWING: Just to prove I’m not opposed to football in August, I watched the Hamilton Tiger Cats play the Montreal Alouettes Aug. 3. That’s Canadian Football League action.

The attraction was the debut of Johnny Manziel starting for the Alouettes after being traded by the Tiger Cats a few weeks ago.

Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 as a redshirt freshman for Texas A&M, turned pro after the next season and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 draft. He was out of the NFL within two years, too small, too undisciplined to make it.

After two years trying to catch on anywhere, Manziel went north to Canada, hoping to play well enough to find his way back to the NFL.

His first start did not go well. Manziel threw four interceptions in the first half and Hamilton defeated Montreal, 50-11.

The Canadian game is different in several ways from the U.S. game. The field is wider and longer. They play three downs instead of four downs. And receivers can be moving forward at the snap, meaning timing is everything in the passing game.

Three of Manziel’s interceptions were his fault. The fourth bounced off a receiver’s hands and into the hands of a defensive back.

When he won the Heisman Trophy nearly six years ago, Manziel played with a swagger and a zest that was contagious for his teammates. He has little of that swagger left.

Hamilton traded Manziel to Montreal because they have a solid quarterback who had a successful college career in the U.S. who was considered too small to be an NFL quarterback.

Jeremiah Masoli played two years at the University of Oregon before spending his senior season at Mississippi when Marcus Mariota (now with the Tennessee Titans) showed up in Eugene.

Masoli is now in his sixth season in Canada, starting the last three years for Hamilton.

He is about the same size as Manziel, so it is too early to rule the Manziel experiment in Canada a complete failure. But Manziel is going to have to learn the nuances of Canadian football to make an impact in the league.

One place he can make an impact in Canada is in the television ratings. ESPN2 outdrew ESPN head-to-head for the Hamilton-Montreal game. ESPN was showing the championship game of a celebrity basketball tournament.

The game drew an estimated 406,000 viewers, about 150,000 more than the highest-rated CFL game had drawn for ESPN2 this season. Manziel can still produce viewers. Can he still produce football magic?

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gets lots of input from the team front office that shapes how he manages a game. The Dodgers don’t bunt and steal very often because management doesn’t like to waste outs. (Courtesy photo)

GRIPING OR GRIPPING?: The worst time to follow the Dodgers on radio is the postgame show following a loss. Do these people actually follow baseball?

The Dodgers play 162 games a season. They are going to lose at least 60 times most years. This year it might be closer to 70.

But here it is, early August, and the Dodgers are in first place (by half a game) and their fans are nervous. If this is a pennant race that goes all the way to the wire, they will be nervous wrecks by the end of September.

All Dave Robertts has done is led the Dodgers to two division titles in two seasons as manager. Last year he took the team all the way to the World Series.

Yet, there is a vocal faction of Dodger fans that want Roberts fired. He goes to the bullpen too often, he doesn’t pull starters soon enough. The team doesn’t steal enough bases and doesn’t bunt much.

Cody Bellinger should be sent to the minors, along with Joc Pederson.

Get a grip and quit griping. Enjoy the games.

Number one, Roberts doesn’t make his decisions in a vacuum. Team president Andrew Friedman and General Manager Farhan Zaidi provide Roberts and his coaching staff with lots of numbers every day and the staff uses those numbers to set the batting order every day. The team doesn’t steal a lot of bases because they don’t have a lot of base stealers and Friedman and Zaidi don’t like wasting outs by having guys on base thrown out stealing.

Bunting also leads to outs. If the Dodgers hitters are going to make an out, Friedman and Zaidi would rather see a flyball to the warning track, not a bunt that moves a runner from first to second base.

The same thing goes with the pitching moves Roberts makes. The statistics show that most pitchers — Clayton Kershaw being an obvious exception — have trouble their third time through the batting order. That’s why Roberts uses such a quick hook with his starters.

Once he pulls a starter, he has to mix and match his bullpen to get a lead to the ninth inning for Kenley Jansen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Those are Major League players in the other dugout, too.

If the games down the stretch run of a pennant race are too intense for you, there’s always NFL preseason games.