Before today’s joint practice between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, Cincy head coach Zac Taylor, a former Rams assistant coach, had high hopes for their first face-to-face with the team that barely slipped past them in Super Bowl LVI.
“Much easier than doing this with any other team in the league,” Taylor told reporters. “We know what we’re in for. We know how they practice.”
Ummm… yeah. Aaron Donald had other ideas.
Under searing 85-degree temperatures, Donald had no time for B.S. during their joint practice on Thursday afternoon after an offseason in which he casually entertained retirement on the cover of Sports Illustrated,
According to Cincinnati Enquirer Bengals reporter Charlie Goldsmith, their skirmish with the Rams was set off by newly-acquired left tackle La’el Collins throwing haymaker punches at Leonard Floyd at the end of a play. In retaliation, Donald ripped the helmet off of the 6-foot-4, 315-pound La’el Collins. For good measure, Donald added another helmet to his other hand, channeled his inner Incredible Hulk, and began swinging down from above his head at Bengals players.
After the teams were separated, both coaches ended the scrimmage. Well played, Aaron.
Donald shouldn’t even be out there. Does anybody think he needs the reps in a no-stakes joint practice at the age of 31? Also, who thought the Bengals and Rams matchup should take place IN THE PRESEASON?! My Deadspin colleague, Criss Partee, recently previewed the list of revenge games in 2022 and you know who wasn’t on that list? The Rams and Bengals…
Joe Burrow is fresh off an appendectomy, which led to him losing weight. I get Cincy wanted to see how their new offensive line for Joe Burrow fares, they wanted to risk subjecting him to Donald’s quarterback bloodlust again. At least this time, he got to wear a red no-contact jersey, which probably explains why Donald was so testy. The man just had to hit something.
From a macro perspective, it’s difficult to tell if joint practices seem more intense because we haven’t seen them take place since 2019 before the COVID pandemic compelled teams to isolate as much as possible or if starters are just more fired up after not getting to hit opposing players in joint practice environments since 2019. The recent spate of training camp fights has exemplified the ugly side of joint practices. The most intense melee took place of the offseason took place between the Patriots and Panther when a fan was injured after the shoving spilled into the bleachers, but it’s been a common occurrence.
Because this isn’t the regular season and a precious quarterback wasn’t involved, the NFL may not crack down harshly on Donald as it did on Myles Garrett two years ago. But nothing is for certain when players swinging helmets are involved.
As if that weren’t enough, joint practices in themselves are an insult to the NFL’s consumers. The average price of a preseason ticket to an NFL game is $123.42. That’s a fraction of the average regular season ticket, which can cost $800 and $400 in the secondary market. Yet the starters and Hall of Famers are out here saving their best for daytime scrimmages?
The premise of joint practices is flawed. They’re essentially organized before preseason games as a means of getting the starters involved in high-intensity football against an opposing team. Methinks, the folks doling out cash for a preseason contest would prefer to see the starters getting warmed up for the regular season in one of the three preseason games they pay to attend, not via selective clips from joint practices posted on Twitter in the middle of the workday.
The league did just fine without joint practices for the last two seasons. Maybe it’s time to rethink them completely.