- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

There is one true objective for 32 clubs during the NFL’s preseason: Stay healthy. Quite a few teams fell far too short of that goal.

The Rams lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford for what would have been a make-or-break season. He went down along with four other starters in the third preseason game, although the others are not out for as long.

“It’s every head coach’s and general manager’s and player and assistant coach’s nightmare,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher says. “In the first half, we had five starters come out of the game and then not return. Very, very difficult experience to go through in the preseason.”

The Cowboys went through some bad times even before the games began. Their best defensive player on an already weak unit, linebacker Sean Lee, didn’t even make it to training camp. He tore his left ACL in his first offseason workout.

Not to forget Miami (center Mike Pouncey), Atlanta (linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, left tackle Sam Baker), Denver (linebacker Danny Trevathan), Buffalo (linebacker Kiko Alonso), Green Bay (DT B.J. Raji), and Arizona (DL Darnell Dockett).



Like Lee, Weatherspoon and Alonso were lost for the season before their teams opened camps this summer.

That doesn’t even cover the nicks and pulls that could sideline other key players for a short time. The Giants, for example, barely have had their top draft pick, receiver Odell Beckham Jr., on the field for practice all summer.

Dallas has been hit particularly hard, and these Cowboys hardly are in a position to withstand losing important guys. Their offense could be stout - provided Tony Romo’s back doesn’t act up, or DeMarco Murray can stay out of the infirmary and keep his game-breaking running skills in the lineup. As for their defense, well, even some of the youngsters coach Jason Garrett hoped would step in and develop rapidly have gotten hurt. Most notably absent is end DeMarcus Lawrence, the second-round pick who is on short-term injured reserve with a broken right foot and will miss at least half the season.

“You want them to have experience playing and for a lot of different reasons we haven’t been able to do that,” Garrett says. “Guys have been banged up, a couple of other situations that prevented guys from playing a full complement of snaps over the course of the preseason. But you live in the world that you do.”

It’s a rugged world, pro football. It’s even more precarious when the games don’t count, yet the starters need some work. All kinds of scenarios unique to exhibition games can present themselves and place significant players in jeopardy.

Perhaps an opponent trying to prove himself is going against a veteran simply looking to get in some work. The level of intensity doesn’t match, and injuries sometimes occur.

Inexperienced players often wind up in spots the vets don’t expect, particularly in the trenches. That increases the danger.

Conditions, especially the heat, can also play a role.

The NFL might soon consider reducing preseason games. Because of the risk of injury, coaches are reluctant to put stars on the field. Fans at preseason games have a much better chance of seeing Adrian Peterson in a ball cap rather than a helmet.

The NFL, pushed by the players’ union, has instituted new rules to decrease the number of workouts and contact allowed in the offseason. The champion Seahawks were just punished for breakings those rules.

It’s a slippery slope that leads to this weekend’s opening kickoffs. Coaches like four preseason games and six or more weeks of preparation so they can install offensive and defensive schemes; identify potential contributors; familiarize themselves with newcomers, especially rookies; and develop camaraderie along with competition for positions.

But they also dread the possibilities of leaving the field without a Bradford, a Raji, a Dockett.

“He’s obviously done for the season but I plan on having him on the sidelines with us all year long because of his spirit and leadership,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians says of Dockett, who tore up his right knee in an 11-on-11 drill. “It’s something we need and don’t want to lose.”

At least it’s something, but hardly as impactful has having a Dockett on the field wreaking havoc.

But that’s what happens when the preseason wreaks havoc on a roster.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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