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Preseason Football Depth

   by Bryan Leonard - 08/17/2007

One of the more essential elements of handicapping preseason football is depth. The starters get a lot of attention as to how much playing time they’ll get, which varies greatly from Week 1 to Week 4 in exhibition football. But one thing that is constant is a team’s depth.

For instance, the Buffalo Bills have had numerous injuries thus far. The offensive line has been banged up, with second-year player RG Brad Butler out a week with a hamstring injury. He continues to limp in practice. Second-year man Aaron Merz is also out with a shoulder injury. The secondary is also a concern. They let ace cornerback Nate Clements walk in the offseason, but now starting safety Donte Whitner is battling a stomach ailment, while veteran CB Jason Webster has missed two practices with a leg injury. "We need depth at that position," admitted Bills defensive backs coach George Catavolos this week.

These are the kinds of comments and injuries that are important to list in preseason. Because the exhibition season is not about the starters, at least in Weeks 1 and 2, but about depth. Minnesota needs to upgrade its skill position talent and did so by drafting Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson in the first round. However, Peterson suffered a hip pointer last week, RB Chester Taylor has a minor bruise and had his right arm wrapped up, while backup RB Wendell Mathis missed practice this week with a muscle strain.

Depth is essential in pro football. Being such a violent, physical sport, a team understands that it’s not possible to go through a whole season with no injuries, or even minimal ones. Successful teams expect this and add depth in the offseason, either through free agency or the draft. It’s interesting that the Patriots defense managed to help win a Super Bowl last season despite an enormous number of injuries to key players. What’s also evident is how they’ve addressed those needs and really stocked up on depth this offseason defensively.

A team to keep an eye on early in preseason is the Browns. All the talk is on Brady Quinn, but a more important concern for sports bettors should be both sides of the Cleveland line. Starting left guard Eric Steinbach, the Browns' blockbuster signing of the off-season, fell on his right knee in practice and should miss up to two weeks. The line has been in transition with right tackle Ryan Tucker getting suspended the first four games of the season because of steroid use. That bumped rookie Joe Thomas up to the starting job at left tackle and moved Kevin Shaffer from left to right.

On defense, the Browns 12-year veteran DE Orpheus Roye will undergo arthroscopic on his right knee and be lost for the rest of the preseason, a serious blow to Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. While Roye is out, four players will try out in his place in backup NT Shaun Smith, J'Vonne Parker, Simon Fraser and Orien Harris. That’s a lot of shifting in early August! Successful sports wagering is not about luck or guesswork, but a careful analysis of all the pieces factored into the betting line.

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