The Most Overlooked Storyline of Training Camp
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — What I love about NFL training camps was on display Sunday, around 4:30 in the afternoon, as the sun beat down on the fields where the Super Bowl favorites (in the eyes of many) went through their fourth practice of the summer. From the right slot, Anquan Boldin, the uber-valuable Ravens wideout who broke so many Niners-loving hearts with a 100-yard receiving game in the Super Bowl less than six months ago, cut across the middle of the first-team 49ers defense. Nnamdi Asomugha trailed, but just barely, in tight coverage on him. The quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, went elsewhere with the throw. But just seeing Boldin in Niners red, wearing his familiar No. 81, was notable for a couple of reasons: One, the best receiver in the 2012 postseason moving from brother (John Harbaugh) to brother (Jim) in a lightning-fast trade has gotten far too little attention in the NFL world. Two, with the Achilles injury to top San Francisco wideout Michael Crabtree knocking him out until at least midseason, Boldin, traded for a pittance (the 199th pick in the April draft) could be the most important receiver on two different Super Bowl contenders, just months apart. And nobody’s talking about it. It’s the NFL story hiding in plain sight.
"It’s amazing how quiet it’s been," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said after practice Sunday.
There are good stories in every camp this time of year. I’ve seen five teams out west in Week 1, and I’ll share some of the best ones with you this morning. But first, the two things about the Boldin deal, and its aftermath here, that interest me the most:
1. The story at the time was how quickly the March 11 deal between Baltimore and San Francisco came together, after the Ravens decided they’d rather cut Boldin than pay him the full $6 million he was due in 2013. Just how sudden did the deal get done? "From start to finish, about 40 minutes," Jim Harbaugh said in his office Sunday.
2. Boldin asked a Niners staffer for a white greaseboard the other day. Sure ... but why? "I want to be able to quiz some of the young guys on their routes," Boldin said.
"I was told to be myself from day one," Boldin said as the Niners opened defense of their NFC title in the shadow of the quickly rising stadium that will be their home beginning in 13 months. "So I feel comfortable to speak up if I see something that can help this team."
In Baltimore’s improbable Super Bowl run last winter, Boldin started with a 145-yard game against Indianapolis, keyed the AFC title win over New England with two touchdown catches, and then made the kind of catch that so few receivers in the NFL can make—at a vital point of the Super Bowl. Baltimore led 31-29. It was 3rd-and-inches at the Ravens' 45. Joe Flacco had four options. He could sneak it, or hand it to Ray Rice, or run some kind of option play. Or he could throw to Boldin on the right side, about a 12-yard out. Huge play. Kaepernick was on fire, and Baltimore couldn’t afford to give them the ball back needing only a field goal to go ahead. That night, at a family celebration at a bar in the French Quarter, Joe Flacco told me the Niners' defensive formation took away the run and the option, and he said he’s always felt the sneak’s a crapshoot for quarterbacks. "I had only one option: throw to Anquan," Flacco said.
Flacco’s throw was right in Boldin’s gut—but so was the arm of cornerback Carlos Rogers. Boldin is strong, and he hung onto the ball for dear life. He and Rogers fell together, and the ball stayed caught. Gain of 15. A field goal made it 34-29. Now San Francisco would need more than a field goal in the last four minutes to win, and a Ravens goal-line stand (with a controversial non-interference call on Baltimore corner Jimmy Smith on the Niners' last chance) clinched it. Without the Boldin third-down conversion, who knows?
And there he was Sunday, rambling across the middle and exchanging ideas with Kaepernick after plays, rushing to get on the same page.
"That’s a grown man out there," a grinning Kaepernick said. "He’ll help the young guys whenever they ask him something. He’ll tell them how he kind of works things, but he just has a savvy for the game that you can’t teach. He knows how to position his body to make a catch, he knows how he wants to stick and work routs. To me as a quarterback, that’s what you want. You want someone who knows, ‘All right, I need to be in this window in this amount of time.’ He’s going to be there and make sure he’s open."
One more thing about Niners camp on Sunday: Anyone who watched practice understood why Jim Harbaugh chose Kaepernick over Alex Smith last November. In a half-hour span Kaepernick flicked five sizzling passes of 21 yards or more, right on target, throwing three of the receivers open in very tight coverage. With a needy receiver corps until Crabtree returns (and maybe longer), Kaepernick’s going to have to make the most of some fledgling receivers. From the looks of practice, one of the newbies, second-round tight end Vance McDonald from Rice, could get a very long look in the preseason.
News of the Weekend.
On Dennis Pitta. In the Ravens’ 4-0 playoff run last year, Boldin and Pitta averaged nine catches and 136 receiving yards per game. Now Joe Flacco will have to win without either of them this year. That’s one of the reasons why Flacco, I’m told, was walking around the Ravens’ complex looking disconsolate after Pitta was lost for the season with a dislocated hip on Saturday. I’d argue Pitta was Baltimore’s second-most valuable offensive player. First, he’s Flacco’s best friend on the team, and their wives are very close, so personally it’s going to hurt Flacco. But without Boldin, Pitta was going to be more important as a security blanket for the quarterback. Now Flacco will have to build more trust with backup tight end Ed Dickson, which has clearly been an issue; he targeted Dickson only three times in the championship game and Super Bowl combined. The Ravens may have to forge a completely different offensive identity, perhaps built around the speed threats Baltimore has at wideout. GM Ozzie Newsome told SI.com’s Don Banks on Sunday, "We don't know yet what our identity is going to be on offense, because it hasn't been established yet. Are we capable of running the football? Are we capable of getting the ball out faster? It could be an offensive identity where we're running, going play action, and having speed at receiver. Because we've got three guys who are going to get behind people now. And people are more afraid of that than the 10- to 12-yard completion ... They're going to have to defend the full field because of Torrey [Smith], Jacoby [Jones] and Deonte [Thompson, an undrafted speed receiver]."
On Percy Harvin. Harvin flies to New York to be examined by a hip specialist on Tuesday after feeling some restrictions while running last week. He got nervous about it, saw the usually conservative Seahawks doctors (who believe the injury isn’t season-threatening) and decided to exercise his right to have a second opinion. Last year, Seattle safety Kam Chancellor played a full season after getting a cortisone shot and some rest for a similar injury, a torn labrum in his hip. That leads the Seahawks to think they’ll escape a season-ending injury for Harvin. I’ve got a little different opinion on this than most. Harvin had trust issues with authority in Minnesota dating back to a poor relationship with head coach Brad Childress. So now the Seahawks can establish that they’re going to be different—they’re going to give their blessing on getting the second opinion, and they’re going to tell Harvin, We want you to have peace of mind about your hip. Opening day is 41 days away, and aside from the fact that Russell Wilson and Harvin need to be building familiarity, there’s not a major issue with a guy who has a history of missing time (10 games in four seasons) getting as healthy as he can in the preseason and feeling confident in his body when September comes. As one Seattle source said to me, "Percy’s a confidence player—he needs to feel good about his condition and himself. This time should give him the best chance to feel right entering the season." That is, unless a doctor in New York tells Harvin he needs surgery this week. My money’s on rest and treatment—and Harvin to be ready on opening day.
On Von Miller. I’ll be very interested to hear Miller’s defense in challenging a four-game league suspension. The process is ongoing, and should be decided by opening day—in time for Miller to miss games against Flacco and Eli Manning to kick off the season. Miller’s argument could be that he didn’t test positive but simply missed a test. The NFL’s procedure is that a missed test can count as a positive test. Or, as one source with knowledge of the case told me, Miller at least has a chance to beat the rap—partially or in whole—if he can prove he was simply late for the test or has a valid excuse for missing it.
On Jeremy Maclin. What’s most hurtful about Maclin's being lost for the season with a torn ACL after collapsing at practice Saturday is that Eagles coach Chip Kelly needs the quickness and playmaking Maclin surely would have provided the offense. Now Kelly will have to find it in a far less experienced player like Riley Cooper. This increases the pressure on DeSean Jackson to be a home-run hitter. I remember talking to one NFL GM last fall about Kelly's strengths. The GM said one of the reasons Kelly would be in such high demand in the NFL is because at Oregon he consistently took players other colleges didn’t want and turned them into high-functioning contributors in a fast-paced offense. I wouldn’t count out the Eagles. I just figure Kelly will use the summer to test two or three guys down the depth chart (Greg Salas, Cooper, Arrelious Benn) and find a way to make plays. I still think who the quarterback is, and how fast the offense can play competently, will be a bigger factor in Philly’s success or failure than the loss of Maclin. As for Maclin, he will enter his free-agency offseason in 2014 rehabbing from ACL surgery.
On Santonio Holmes. The Jets already were in contention to be the team with the worst offensive skill players in the league. Now there’s no indication when, or if, the best one, Holmes, will play. He’s had two foot surgeries in the last nine month, and he still feels pain when he runs. Asked if he was sure he’d play at some point this season, Holmes said, "I can’t answer that question." Just one more reason not to feel good about the Jets right now.
On Amber Theoharis. You recall from last week’s column (or maybe you don’t) that NFL Network anchor Amber Theoharis had a baby by Caesarian section four hours after going off the air hosting NFL Total Access July 17. Theoharis was in labor during the show. Now for the rest of the story, from Theoharis, via email: "We weren't expecting her to come while I was still working. I should have known better. My first girl, Dylan Mattea, was 12 weeks premature. I began labor with her in the Chicago White Sox press box while working as a beat reporter for the Orioles in 2010. That time Jim Palmer held my hand, but that's another story. Back to Kamryn. When I began to feel contractions about an hour before NFL Total Access' airtime, I knew I was most likely in labor. What I didn't know was how quickly she was coming. Here's where it gets surreal. Never in my life would I believe Willie McGinest and Warren Sapp would be part of my child's birth story. They were. Willie McGinest was sitting next to me during that break when I knew the contractions were getting stronger. As a father of three, he knew what was up. He just put his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was okay. I nodded yes. Warren was another story. This is why we love Warren. He just kept yelling across the set. 'She's going to have that baby!' To his credit he did predict correctly it was a girl. Needless to say, it's a funny story. I'm sure I'll never live it down. I can say, however, if you want to improve your street cred, just host an NFL show in labor."
Big surprise here.
So on Friday of draft weekend last April, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and his family rented a room in a Madison hotel to celebrate his being drafted. It happened in round two, when the Broncos chose Ball.
"My phone started blowing up," Ball said the other day. "You know, friends and family all texting and calling to congratulate me. I couldn’t read ‘em all, there were so many. Then this real long one came in, from a number I didn’t know. Like, Congratulations, so proud of you, you worked so hard to get to this point, you made your mark at Wisconsin, and now this is what we expect of you. Stuff like that. I scrolled all the way down, and at the bottom, it said, ‘P. Manning.’ Whoa! Peyton Manning texted me. I said, ‘Hey! I got Peyton Manning’s phone number!’ "
I am not surprised. Manning did the same thing after the Colts drafted Donald Brown in 2009, and I’m sure if I asked every offensive guy drafted by his team in recent years, they’d say Manning reached out to them and began laying the plan for the guy to get to know the offense.
Manning, 37, and I spoke for The MMQB when I was in Denver on Thursday (more coming soon in our every-weekday 3Q Interview), and I asked him if he was starting to get to the point where football was becoming wearisome—in any way. The prep, the sameness ... anything.
"The reason I’m lucky," he said, "is because I still love working at it. I’ve heard older players say, ‘The game’s the easy part. I dread the meetings, the practice, the preparation.’ That’s not me. [Brother] Eli and I had a little minicamp with some of our receivers down at Duke in the spring. Which, obviously, we didn’t have to do. But I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved working with the receivers during the day, loved having dinner at night and talking football. I think if it doesn’t eat you up and you’re not consumed by it, it’s time to go. It’s not time for me yet."
Ten things I learned out West.
1. Coaches watched the Jason Garrett speech. A couple were surprised that the Cowboys allowed the 35-minute tape of Garrett's pre-training-camp speech to his team to be shared with The MMQB. Two coaches I’ve spoken to watched the entire 35 minutes. "A good resource," one said. "I liked how he stressed camaraderie, because with teams being so fluid and changing so much, that becomes an important issue." This coach said he enjoyed the section of the speech when Garrett discussed eating together as a team. Said the Dallas coach to his players: "Eat your meals with your teammates. I’m about to ban the Styrofoam deals, guys. [Dallas allows players to go through the team-meal line with a Styrofoam container and get food to go.] ... This is an incredible opportunity you guys have. It’s one of the great experiences of your life to be a teammate with somebody in the National Football League. The camaraderie you develop at a team meal is like nothing else. When people retire from the game, you know what they say? ‘I miss the locker room. I miss the camaraderie at the meals.’ So lose the Styrofoam thing, get a tray, sit down next to one of your teammates, and let’s build a football team. Let’s build a football team. It’s really important stuff. You’re gonna thank me for it later. Trust me. You’re gonna thank me for it later."
2. The riskiest draft pick in the first round isn’t hitting anyone yet. Oakland cornerback D.J. Hayden, who nearly died from a heart injury on the practice field at the University of Houston last November, has a red shirt on at practice, as so many quarterbacks wear this time of year. That signifies a player who shouldn’t be hit. I watched Saturday’s practice in Napa, Calif., and Hayden, who has not had a collision since the day he was hurt, ran and covered well—except on a play on which he clearly interfered with a receiver in deep coverage. There’s no plan for precisely when Hayden will put on pads, in part because his recovery was hampered in the spring when he kept vomiting on the practice field. Turns out scar tissue from the surgery was wrapped around part of his bowel, so he needed bowel-obstruction surgery. When we spoke on Saturday, he seemed tired of talking about the story. "I just want to play football," he said. "I really think after the first collision, I’ll be fine. I really don’t think it’ll be an issue."
3. Most impressive unknown player I saw: Oakland tight end David Ausberry, who had the best single move—a nifty catch, juke and run—in the first week of my tour.
4. Eric Mangini's back. Hidden, quiet and understated, Mangenius watches practice as a Niners offensive consultant—he, of course, has been a longtime defensive coach—and tries to absorb Greg Roman's offense.
5. Quentin Jammer could be reborn in Denver. The Broncos are looking at him at safety in the nickel and also at slot corner. His impact could be felt most in his versatility. And by the way, John Elway loves him some Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Thinks he'll be reborn playing next to Champ Bailey and Chris Harris.
6. Of the Denver DUI twins—personnel men Matt Russell and Tom Heckert—I expect to see Heckert back first, perhaps within a month. Both are undergoing counseling. Sounds like Russell's is significantly more involved, and if he returns to the team it will be well into the season.
7. The Niners are getting a kick out of Lawrence Okoye, the British Olympian trying to make the transition to football. He put on pads for the first time Friday, and put the thigh pads in upside down. He's trying to make it as a 6-6, 304-pound defensive lineman. The British record-holder in the discus asked one day which bloke he was supposed to block. Justin Smith liked that one.
8. Seattle and Denver fans are drunk on Super Bowl Express punch. The fervor in those places is noticeable at practice and in the city. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, it's a pretty business-as-usual atmosphere. "No hoopla here," new corner Nnamdi Asomugha said. "Just football. I like it."
9. Most beloved player on the trip: Oakland safety Charles Woodson. Raiders fans are smitten with their guys anyway. Woodson, who spent his first eight seasons in Oakland before leaving for Green Bay in 2006, is being feted as though Howie Long or Lester Hayes returned.
10. Best sight I saw: Marcus Lattimore, on a side practice field, running at about 85 percent speed and in perfect form on Sunday afternoon. Lattimore is only 10 months removed from his gruesome knee injury at South Carolina, and he told me he's confident of being on the field with full contact by midseason. I expect the Niners, who drafted Lattimore in the fourth round, will treat this as a redshirt year for him. "This," he said, looking out on the field before practice, "is my reward." What an optimistic, hopeful kid.
If this doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will.
Seeing this line on the camp roster of the New York Giants:
Eli Manning, a 10-year veteran. Same for Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, of course.
Just another reminder of how time marches on for everyone in this game, and how it won’t be long before the Giants, Chargers and Steelers have to start thinking of life after their franchise quarterbacks.
"It’s gone by quickly," said Manning, upon checking in for his 10th camp. "It really has. Each year I’m very grateful to be here and have another opportunity to play for the New York Giants and compete for championships for the Giants and the organization. They put a great team together, a great coaching staff, and Coach Coughlin and everybody is going to be on the same page and determined to go out there and win a championship, and that’s what we’re trying to do."
That quote is another reason why Manning is so invaluable to the Giants. In an era when anything that smells remotely controversial ends up in a screaming headline on the back pages in New York, Manning, in the tradition of his family, can always be counted on to say and do the right thing—win or lose.
Quotes of the Week
"I like it. I love it. To be honest with you, I've been hoping that they did this a long time ago, to even out the playing field and make guys be honest and true to themselves. So I can't wait 'til they draw my blood ... I’m clean as a whistle."
—Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, to Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, on the looming blood test to check for the presence of human growth hormone in players.
"We have the potential to be the best offense ever."
—Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
In related news, I have the potential to be the slimmest sportswriter ever.
"It doesn’t feel great being lied to like that. He looked me in the eye on multiple occasions and repeatedly denied these allegations and said they were not true."
—Aaron Rodgers, on former National League MVP, business partner (well, maybe not anymore) and good friend (well, maybe not anymore) Ryan Braun’s insistence that he hadn’t used banned substances. Braun was suspended for the final 65 games of this season for using a banned substance.
"If I call 20 read-option plays with Nick Foles in the game, you should fire me."
—Eagles coach Chip Kelly, on his not-so-fast starting-quarterback candidate.
—San Francisco cornerback Tarell Brown, asked how he heard he lost $2 million in 2013 earnings because he failed to earn a workout bonus, which he would have received had he trained this offseason at the team facility. He worked out near his home in Texas instead. On Thursday, Brown announced that he'd fired his agent, Brian Overstreet, claiming Overstreet didn’t tell him he had to work out in Santa Clara to get the bonus.
Stat of the Week
In Praise of Wes Welker Dept.:
Receptions by Wes Welker over the past six seasons: 672.
Receptions by Jerry Rice over the most productive six-year period of his career: 604 (from 1991 to ’96).
That’s right: Welker’s last six years, in total, produced 68 more catches than the best six-year run of Rice’s great career.
"Wow," Welker said in Denver the other day when he heard the stat. "That’s unbelievable. I mean, holy crap."
Then Welker said: "I just hope I can be as productive as Jerry was at the end of his career."
Well, let’s run the numbers. Rice was 33 years and 3 months old when he finished that 604-catch run. Welker was 31 years and 8 months old when he played his last regular-season game for New England and finished his six-year roll.
Rice caught 499 passes over the remainder of his career, playing until he was 42. To think Welker couldn’t have at least two vintage seasons playing with Peyton Manning in the slot (Manning has made slot receivers wealthy and vital in his career), and then play two or three more years after this contract expires ... let’s just say I wouldn’t put it past him to catch 500 more balls before he retires. He played in 93 of 96 regular-season games in New England and enters this season healthy.
Postscript: Welker's productivity underscores what a crazy and crowded wide receiver field the Hall of Fame will have to consider a decade or so down the road. Barring a disabling injury, Welker is destined to break the 1,000-catch barrier; he's 232 receptions away. There are 11 players with 900 or more catches who are not in the Hall yet—some either still playing or not eligible—and the field will be teeming soon, with Andre Johnson, Jason Witten, Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald likely to go over 900 in the next couple years. I believe 15 years down the road, there will be 15 receivers knocking on the Hall doors with 1,000 catches on their resumes. A grim task faces the 46 Hall voters at receiver, to be sure.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
To underscore the historic impact Tony Gonzalez is having on the tight end position:
Gonzalez has 427 more receptions than any other tight end in NFL history. Mike Ditka had 427 catches in his Hall of Fame career.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
LaGuardia Airport, New York, Wednesday afternoon, gate B1, Frontier Airlines, pre-flight announcements and reaction for a flight to Denver:
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Frontier Airlines and our flight to Denver. We will be boarding by zones today. Any families with small children who need some extra time to board, please approach the gate.
Four or five families approach the gate. Twenty or so other people, adults traveling without children, clog the gate area. Welcome to air travel in the U.S. The families wedge their way through the idiots who shouldn’t have gotten up but did, and who are blocking the way.
Now if we have any Ascent members, you are free to board. Ladies and gentlemen, please step aside to allow our families and Ascent members room to board.
No one steps aside. The moochers have to be walked through. Now there are more of them. Thirty, maybe. Two minutes pass. The frequent Frontier flyers excuse themselves repeatedly to move through the louts who don’t belong there.
Now ladies and gentlemen, if your boarding card is marked with Zone 1, you may board.
The non-Zone-1 people are eight-deep. I have a Zone 1 boarding pass. I excuse myself through the mass of people, over and over. The man in front of me has a midsized rolling suitcase, a bulging hanging bag fastened and slung over his shoulder, and a fat black backpack. “Sir,’’ the gate attendant says, “you’re in Zone 3. You have to wait. Please stand to the side.” He starts saying there won’t be overhead space when he boards, and asks if he could please board now. The attendant says, “No." Sanity prevails.
Over the years, the airlines have slowly lost control of the boarding process. And this crap is what happens. It’s aerial line-cutting. Would you try to cut a line at, say, a movie theater? Then why do so many people do it at airports? If you’ve got too much luggage and are afraid you won’t be able to store your bag, check it. And airlines, get control of the process with better pens to separate us cattle. Southwest, you’re off to a good start. That is all.
One more reason to fly Alaska Airlines: Alaskan Summer Ale is sold on board.
Not that that matters or anything.
Tweets of the Week
"I would like to thank the Cardinal organization for 3 amazing years, my teammates, my media buddies and more importantly the fans. Thank you"
—@Ob_Scho, veteran NFL linebacker O’Brien Schofield, after being let go by the Cardinals.
Normal, everyday tweet. Nothing special about it. So why’d I use it?
To show you the class of O’Brien Schofield. On Thursday, walking out to practice with his team, Schofield was stopped by a Cardinals employee. Schofield needed to go see the GM, Steve Keim. And right there, at the same time the rest of his mates were practicing, Schofield was cut, after a full offseason of training. Turns out the Cardinals, after signing veteran pass rusher John Abraham, deemed Schofield expendable.
As you learned the other day if you read the Austen Lane story on this site on what it’s like to be cut, it’s fairly remarkable to be able to be grateful and magnanimous so soon after getting your dreams crushed. Which is why I post this tweet.
Schofield will have a shot to make the Seahawks now. Seattle picked him up Saturday afternoon.
“England has the royal baby. We have A-Rod”
—@ScottMCBS, Scott Miller, columnist for CBSSports.com, after Alex Rodriguez went on a campaign to say he’s healthy and the Yankees basically are sabotaging his return to baseball.
“Heading out to Big Ten media day. If you have any good questions for the Wisconsin coach, such as ‘what is your name again?’ let me know.’’
—@StevePoliti, Newark Star-Ledger sports columnist, on his way to something readers in Somerset and Sussex and Hoboken and Hackensack won’t give two flips about.
And may I say: It’s strange and stupid for Rutgers to be in the Big Ten. Is it possible to call Rutgers in the Big Ten a non-sequitur?
“Favorite Gage Hall memory. Rookie walks in, looks at room. ‘Man, I've stayed in prisons nicer than this!’ #completelybelieveable‘’
—@ChrisWarcraft, Oakland punter Chris Kluwe, tweeting about memories of Vikings camp in Mankato, Minn., and the Gage Hall players’ dorm.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my early training camp thoughts:
a. And so you say, regarding all the training camp injuries: Why are teams so willing to risk injuries to vital players by practicing full-speed so often during the summer? I say: It’s the game. Would you want Miguel Cabrera opening the regular season in baseball having faced nothing but soft-toss in spring training?
b. "It’s back to normal," Saints GM Mickey Loomis said as camp began. Observers said that’s exactly how it appeared late in the week at the Saints’ training complex, after the mayhem of 2012.
c. Keenan Lewis got off to a good start in his first practice as a Saints cornerback. He picked off Drew Brees in team drills.
d. Sedrick Ellis retires. There’s one of the most nonimpactful seventh overall picks ever.
e. Tim Tebow caught three passes in the first practice of Patriots training camp. I see him being in the mold of a utility player if he makes the team, active some weeks and inactive others, not playing one set position.
f. He won’t get the Mariano Rivera retirement treatment on his last swing around the league in 2013, but long-time Broncos PR czar Jim Saccamano, one of the great PR professionals I’ve ever encountered, deserves it as he works his last full-time season.
g. Great to see Brian Banks, the former wrongly incarcerated high-schooler from California, begin his camp journey in Atlanta. He went down to his knees to thank God for the chance just before his first practice on Friday.
h. Shouldn’t take Kyle Long long to win the starting right guard job in Chicago.
i. Eight Washington players suspended for drug violations over the past three years, according to the Washington Post. Not good. Sounds like it’s time for GM Bruce Allen to chat with his scouts about character.
j. The more Greg Jennings says about his former team, the more you realize it was time for him to leave Green Bay.
k. Jason Pierre-Paul (offseason back surgery) opened camp on the physically unable to perform list. If a player stays on that list after camp, he has to miss at least the first six weeks of the season. The Giants think he’ll be ready to play opening day.
2. I think it’s foreign to most of us that a player can significantly improve his speed, but Colin Kaepernick thinks he’s done just that this offseason. He trained in Atlanta with some speed technicians, including long-jumper Dwight Phillips. "I trained with a few Olympic runners and jumpers," Kaepernick told me. "Just to try to get a little bit faster, a little bit better. Anything I could do to try to get a little bit better and stay ahead of the competition. I think the biggest thing was the form of running and how to be more efficient when I run. I feel like that has helped me to this point, and it’s something I’m trying to improve on more and more, but I think those few weeks with them were very valuable." He said he improved his stride and "the way I contact the ground. There are a lot of details to running that I never even thought about. I just went out and ran. I think I can be faster. I think I can be quicker." Not sure if we’ll notice, but talking to Kaepernick, and seeing how excited he was about his running training, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a tick faster in 2013.
3. I think it’s amazing to me Matthew Stafford’s just 25. Born the same year as Russell Wilson (1988), Stafford will finish his fifth season in the NFL before turning 26 next February.
4. I think the star turn of Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman may be just beginning. Not just because of his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week (if you haven't, read the first of a series of guest columns he's writing for The MMQB). But walking through the terminal at Denver International Airport late Thursday, I saw a young boy with a "YOU MAD BRO?" t-shirt.
The Most Overlooked Storyline of Training Camp
5. I think one of my favorite things about the first week of The MMQB came after our intrepid Jenny Vrentas wrote a revealing profile of the Eagles’ version of a CIA operative, sports science coach Shaun Huls. Now, Vrentas asked to interview Huls, and the Eagles turned her down. The MMQB sent a photographer to Eagles minicamp practice one day in June, and Huls uncharacteristically and conveniently was absent that day. So Vrentas wrote her story, and a day later received a nice thank you email from Huls. At the bottom of the email, sent from an Eagles address, was the same kind of thing you see at the bottom of many emails but which seemed particularly appropriate given the circumstances: "CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE."
6. I think, speaking of the Eagles, give Chip Kelly credit for having an open mind, which I believe he does when it comes to his quarterback competition. "I think we've got to figure out who our quarterback is before we understand the direction of where our offense is going,’’ Kelly said after running his first NFL training camp practice Friday. "Tell me who’s going to stand in the pocket against a full rush. I haven’t seen them do that.”
7. I think we’re going to enjoy Marc Trestman’s use of the English language. Every team has a conditioning test at the start of training camp, to see if the players have reported in the kind of shape the job demands. The Bears, under Trestman, now call the conditioning test "an accountability exercise."
8. I think I’m going to start calling the drinking of water "hydration ingestion."
9. I think I love the fact that Bears GM Phil Emery closed the window on all contract discussions as training camp began. This includes Jay Cutler, scheduled to play the final year of his current deal at $8.47 million. To those who say you’ve got to lock up the guy at the most important position, I’d agree most of the time—and there’s a good chance the Bears will do it after the season, at perhaps a higher cost than it would be today. But when you’ve got a new head coach, it makes no sense to sign the quarterback to a franchise-altering contract when you really don’t know if the coach is going to want him to be his guy long-term. You think it’s likely, but you really don’t know. So the question is: Would you want to lock up Cutler at $19 million a year (or some such figure below $20 million) for six years, or would you like to have the season to judge whether to make him the quarterback for a long time, and then maybe have to pay a bit more of a ransom and commit to him for, say, $21 million a year? Give me the option any day, with as much uncertainty as the Bears have right now.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. It’d be hard to get used to having medium-to-loud music of all sorts playing at every camp and in-season practice, the way Seattle coach Pete Carroll does. His theory: It’s going to be noisy every week in the NFL, at every stadium, during every game. So let’s get used to dealing with noise at all times. Carroll’s an eclectic music guy. I thought a polka might break out at some point Friday.
b. It’s so much fun, and so energizing, to be part of The MMQB, with so many good people.
c. Story of the week from the outside world: This vivid and slightly disturbing piece by Ed Caesar of the New York Times magazine on the dangerous "sport" of base jumping. With the feeling of what jumping from thousands of feet wearing wing-like costumes is like described by a retired (lucky for him) base jumper, Ed McDonnell: "If you're all tuned in, there’s 'Yes.' On the mediocre days, there are two other voices. One's 'Fear.' Your body is screaming out at you, 'Don't do this,' because it's dangerous, unnatural. You're there to conquer your fear. But there's another voice that hangs around every now and again, and that's called 'No.' Something's not right. You can never put your finger on it—it could be something in your pack job, or the weather, or the people you're jumping with, or your mindset. It's just, 'Walk away, don't go jumping today.' The difficulty is trying to discern between 'Fear' and 'No,' because they're both telling you the same thing. 'No' is your sixth sense that's trying to save your life." Recommended if you've got 15 minutes to read something very good about something very unusual.
d. No one in baseball deserves big money more than Dustin Pedroia. That comes from someone who watches him 40 times a year and who is never disappointed.
e. Told you the Rays would be great. Man, they can pitch.
f. Poor, poor A-Rod.
g. Joe and Maddie Mauer had twin girls Wednesday. Good luck to all. And may I say ...
h. Well played, Mauer.
i. Coffeenerdness: Two tries at a vital 6:10 a.m. Macchiato at two different Starbucks at the Seattle airport. Two fails. That’s my biggest Starbucks problem: the inconsistency of the espresso shots. Sometimes rich and perfect, sometimes bitter or watery.
j. Beernerdness: I’d been familiar with only one New Belgium Brewery beer—Fat Tire—before seeing the Rockies at Coors Field the other night. Now I have two I like. Ranger IPA is among the best IPAs I’ve had, flavorful and with the slight bitterness that characterizes all good IPAs.
k. I don’t say this because we had the pleasure of Olivia Munn on The MMQB Wednesday. I say it because it’s true: Last week’s episode of The Newsroom was the best in the short history of the show.
The Adieu Haiku
Pitta, Maclin. Shame.
Brutal July injuries.War of attrition.