I used to be with some of you, heaping scorn on exhibition games as useless encounters pitting the marginal against the hopeless.
You know, when most of the game features future insurance salesmen trying to block future gym teachers. All taking place in front of fans being gouged full price for tickets and beer.
But watching Seattle Seahawks rookie Tyler Lockett return a kickoff for 103 yards in the second period of the 2015 preseason opener against Denver, and it all seems worth the effort.
No, it’s more than that, it’s a glimpse into the future.
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Fans seeing Lockett jet up the sideline have to start drooling with warm thoughts of many returns to come — feeling whatever is the future equivalent of nostalgia.
There was a lot of that sort of thing Friday night. And there likely will be through the entire preseason because these exhibition games are more important in the evaluation of talent than they’ve ever been.
Especially for the Seahawks. You can thank the NFL Players Association for that.
As part of the bargaining for the most recent labor contract, the players’ union pushed for more days off and fewer contact practices. Players were thinking about their bodies and the length of their careers.
Owners, on the other hand, think about money. So they were delighted to go with the practice limitations because they cared mostly about a greater percentage of gross revenues.
As a result, training camps are no longer an endless series of double-day practices in pads with full contact horrors with names like “The Nutcracker.” Now, camps are five gatherings a week with players dressed in beach wear.
There’s no question that it reduces the wear and tear on the players’ bodies.
But coaches now have such little time to evaluate young players in full-speed, contact situations. Except for the four exhibition games. And that’s when these guys cut loose trying to make good impressions.
Head coach Pete Carroll lives by his commitment to give young guys chances to get on the field — be they drafted or off-the-street.
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin earned a job that way. Even as well as Russell Wilson was playing in practice during the 2012 training camp, it was his play in the exhibition games that fully convinced Carroll that Wilson was game ready as a rookie.
Who will it be this year?
On Friday it was Lockett, who returned his second kickoff 46 yards, which was only a prelude to his touchdown. It’s not a surprise that, as a third-round draft pick, he would impress. Hard to expect that he’d make it look this easy, though.
Second-round defensive lineman Frank Clark also flashed, breaking through and making a tackle for a 5-yard loss on his first play. He played with a lot of energy, several times getting penetration through the gaps and being pretty stout against the rush.
Maybe the best play by a young defensive lineman, though, came in the second quarter, when undrafted free agent rookie T.Y. McGill burst through the line to make a stop on a third-and-1 run in the red zone to force a Denver field goal.
The young offensive linemen were mostly dubious, except for fourth-round rookie guard Mark Glowinski, who seemed very strong and surprisingly competent for most of his time out there. He was playing right guard behind J.R. Sweezy, but if he keeps this up, they might consider giving him a shot to earn the start at the unsolidified guard position on the left side.
A couple of young guys who missed much of last season because of injury also were noticeable on the defensive line. Cassius Marsh and Jordan Hill both put pressure on the quarterback and also both made big hustle plays on tackles well down the field.
That’s how you earn playing time. That’s how you earn starts.
And that’s how fans can start envisioning the team’s future even during games that seem otherwise meaningless.