For seven of the past eight years I have worked as the television show play-by-play broadcaster for the Miami Dolphins pre-season games.
It is apart from my regular season duties for Fox Sports.
I have enjoyed getting back to the NFL routine, working with former Dolphin greats, Bob Griese and Nat Moore, and having a local presence in my South Florida residence.
It is purely by coincidence that in our other abode, Carefree, Arizona , that I will be working Arizona Cardinals games in five of my first eight games when the 2018 campaign gets underway.
The four Dolphins exhibitions are produced by the CBS Miami affiliate. The games are picked up as well by other stations in the South Florida area.
Pre-season games seem to have been a steady habit. Over the years I’ve been a part of these games for the Steelers, Patriots, LA Rams, Redskins, Ravens, and one game for the Bears.
They are some of the most difficult games to broadcast, which I will explain.
But they are critical to a team’s coaching staff and executives, and to the fans, who get to see how their team is developing, and which prospects might earn a place on the club.
In reality, the games do not indicate much, other than filling out the back end of the roster. There have been teams who have won all of their pre-season games only to experience miserable years when it counted. The opposite is also true.
Teams do not game-plan against their opponent. It is always better to win than lose, as any coach will tell you, but it’s more about which players, or units of a team stand out.
There is no question that the greatest aim of every team is to avoid injury, especially to key players. Seasons have been ruined by injuries to a quarterback, or a left tackle, or a prominent pass rusher etc. etc. etc.
I am fortunate that I work with Griese and Moore, who are adored by Dolphins fans.
We have fun doing the games, don’t take ourselves seriously, and emphasize the Dolphins almost exclusively, as opposed to assessing the opponent’s performance.
When the Dolphins have the ball, it’s all about their offense. When the opponent, such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday is in possession, we discuss the Miami defense. It is nothing like our broadcast when the regular season begins.
It is all about how the Dolphins are doing. There is simply not enough time to give equal time on a telecast when the focus has to be on the showing of the Miami Dolphins in all phases of the game.
What makes broadcasting these games more of a challenge is the fact that there is no strategy involved and match-ups to watch against the other team.
There are some 70 players who will see action, many of whom will have little or no chance of making the squad.
Then there is the issue of starters playing very little.
The well-known skilled players may only play one series in the first game, or only one quarter in the second contest. It’s the third game, when the starters see their most action.
When it comes to the final “tune-up” 10 days before the start of the regular year, many, if not most of the players who will take their field for the opening game won’t even dress for the game.
But it’s the football season. And fans who are hopeful, and have hungered for the start of a new year are happy again.
I promised a report on our Fox NFL seminar which was held last week in Los Angeles.
The focus was on the new rules and this could be a big story in 2018.
To put it simply, the NFL is concerned more with player safety than any other issue.
With the alarming reality of concussions resulting in brain disease resulting in lasting
and tragic circumstances has put the future of the sport in question.
How many parents are directing their children to play sports such as soccer and lacrosse, rather than risk serious head injury in football? Time will tell, but the NFL is taking no chances in attempting to lessen a huge problem.
The incredible speed of the game, as it’s played today, makes one new rule imperative.
Any player leading with his helmet will be penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness and could face ejection. Lowering the head to make a tackle is no longer permitted.
Neither is a running back, or any offensive player will be allowed to lower his head and initiate contact with his helmet.
Same for tackles, guards and centers on the line of scrimmage.
When you see these kinds of plays in slow motion, they are obvious.
In real time, not so apparent.
So now, the head must be up, which is totally opposite of the way the sport has been taught and played since its beginning.
The idea, clearly, is to change the culture of how football will be played, starting with the youngsters.
But there have been questions from many players on many teams on how efficient this
rule can and will be officiated.
Judging from the early returns, it won’t be easy.
The other rule concerns the big question, what is a catch?
So many games have been decided by officials calls on interpreting what constitutes a reception by a player, and when is a pass incomplete?
Here is the explanation.
For a player to have made a legal catch, there are three parameters.
One, a player must have control. There can’t be movement, or juggling of the ball in his hands.
Two, he must have two feet on the ground, or a body part, such has a thigh, an elbow , a knee etc.
Three, the receiver must show an ability to make a football move, such as reaching with the ball, or attempting to run with it, etc. There has to be a third move. But control must be apparent.
There used to be standard corollary that the ground can’t cause a fumble.
That’s no longer the case. If a player with the ball falls without an opponent contacting him, the ground can indeed cause a fumble.
If those keenly interested in analyzing rules has a question or disputes this writing, please get in touch with anyone other than this reporter.
I am glad I don’t work on the sidelines wearing a striped shirt.
I honestly believe it is impossible to know all the rules, or even most of them
I am getting exhausted talking about this, so I will move on.
Finally, our Fox meetings was a celebration of 25 years of NFL coverage by the network.
I was proud to be part of the eight on-air broadcasters, who began in 1994.
There were many other behind-the-scenes personnel; producers and directors who also have been on the scene for a quarter-of-a-century.
To work for a company that promotes good will, and simply allows you to do your job without having to constantly look over your shoulder is rare indeed.
And greatly appreciated.
It was a great start to a new NFL season.
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