The first preseaon game of the year conjures up the most bizarre emotions in a football fan's life. I will relate those emotions to you here in a tale of two conflicting psyches:
It's preseason! Football is back!
Of course, but it's still preseaon.
Who cares?! Fooootbbbballllll!!!!!
Fair enough. Since it's only the first game, let's not jump to conclusions and just enjoy some live football with a beer.
That QB guy is a bum! CUT HIS ASS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
He's certainly not performing like we'd hope he will--
CUT EVERYONE!!!! SEASON OVER!!! FIRST DRAFT PICK!!!
You've had way too many PBRs this early in the evening.
The first preseason game is fascinating to me for several reasons. For starters, they don't really play in the first game. They'll show up in the first series or so, give fans a reason to tune in at opening kickoff, and shuffle off to the bench to save their real effort for games that actually matter.
Enter the backups and UDFA stragglers. These people are playing for a completely different reason than the starters--job stability. Preseason is reviled and mocked by everyone in the sports world, except for these guys. This part of the season is their only chance to show they have a reason to be on an NFL team, and often the effort shows up in the game. Jumping offsides, blanketing a receiver in a blatant PI, hitting the ball carrier just after the whistle blows--these are amatuer mistakes, yes, but they are the natural result of football nobodies trying to become football somebodies.
For some reason, I've always gained an attachemt to the so-called "camp fodder." They have literally nothing to prove, and nothing to lose, so of course they'll take that extra "effort" in dumb penalties and questionable late hits. If this is all they have to show for a summer's hard work, might as well make the most of it.
As for the actual game, I don't have much to add to Danny's bullet points, but this.
The QB debate was a simmering tea kettle that is now boiling over with game action. Tarvaris Jackson looked like the same Tarvaris Jackson years ago in Minnesota, with bad pocket presence, an inability to find his second read, and a reflexive action to scramble at the first sign of phantom pressure. Know who else that reminds me of? Seneca Wallace. Yikes.
Here's the part where apologists try to point out that Jackson didn't have the two best WRs (Sidney Rice, Mike Williams), an experienced O-line, or time to learn the playbook. These are easy cop-out answers that ignore the fundamental skill of a great QB: adapt to the talent around you and make the offense move through you, not the other way around. With the usual small-sample-size caveat, Jackson showed none of that skill. He frequently panicked under false pressure, ran backwards rather than stepping up, and kept throwing off his backfoot, usually while back-pedaling in the process.
Those are not flaws that can be excused away by surrounding talent; Tarvaris Jackson dug his own grave tonight. By contrast, let's look at Charlie Whitehurst. I'll make the usual tired caveats (second string defense, less pressure, whatever...), but the Charlie I saw tonight was vastly different from the Charlie that polarized Seattle fans last year. He stood tall in the pocket. Never panicked. Stepped up when the pressure called for it. He was patient and let his routes develop. When push came to shove, he was smart about his scrambling decisions, only going out-of-bounds or sliding at the first down marker.
I may have something to write about Josh Portis, but don't bet on it.
So what's the real lesson to take from tonight? Judge the process, not the results. Despite the limited snaps, Tarvaris Jackson has shown no real improvement from his middling Minnesota days. Despite facing a lesser defense, Charlie Whitehurst has shown some capability of being an NFL quarterback. It's only preseason, but we have just three weeks till that stops being an excuse. Show me something, Tarvaris.