Chip Kelly at the Center of Everything
CENTER OF THE FOOTBALL UNIVERSE — Well, or PHILADELPHIA. Either one. On Sunday afternoon, new coach Chip Kelly ran his 89 players (90 minus the mentally rehabbing Riley Cooper) through another practice. And I mean “ran.” It’s different here, with a fast pace and a soothing robot voice telling players what to do next, and music. Lots of loud music. Cooper was away, apparently trying to figure out why he would scream the worst racial epithet a white person can scream. Michael Vick battled for his starting life, and to keep his locker room from splintering. Just another day in the shaken-not-stirred new world of the Philadelphia Eagles. There’d have been enough news without the Cooper Affair, but that just added to the news swirl.
“This is the first training camp I’ve ever been to,’’ said a bemused Atlanta Braves pitcher, Brandon Beachy, as the session wound down. Beachy and four mates, in town to play the Phillies Sunday night, stopped by to see Camp Chip across Broad Street from the Eagles’ complex.
“It’s pretty different than I imagined. Do they all play music like this?’’
Nope, though a few (Seattle, most notably) do. I don’t know of any camps that run nearly all of their offensive plays without huddling, or during seven-on-seven drills use three ballboys with three-foot-high “fly-swatters’’ on shoulder pads to imitate very tall pass rushers with their arms up, or have each player wear GPS units and heart-rate monitors that track every step they take and every heartbeat they experience.
Watching practice Sunday showed Kelly’s emphasis on special teams; he counted down the seconds on a hurry-up field-goal attempt and seemed to have his team in more special-teams instruction than I see at most camps. The music, an eclectic mix ranging from rap to military music compiled by a staff aid (“anything’s fine, as long as there’s no cursing,’’ Kelly said), stopped only during “teaching periods’’ when assistants taught technique work. Players quick-jogged back to the line after plays during team drills; no shuffling allowed. It’s not your father’s training camp, in other words.
My simplest question to Kelly, back inside the NovaCare Complex after practice: “Why run it this way?’’
The Eagles imported Kelly from Oregon in January, and he quickly began to change things all over the facility, and in the locker room. His reign, I believe, will be the most interesting college-to-pro transition since Jimmy Johnson went from the University of Miami to Dallas in 1989. Lots of new thoughts from Johnson then, and from Kelly now.
“I've always been a ‘why’ guy,’’ Kelly said. “Like, I want to know why. And a lot of times the why is crazy. I understand it. I just always have been inquisitive. The only thing I won't accept is because that's the way we've always done it. I ask you: Why did you change from your old Monday Morning Quarterback format to a new one? Well, it wasn't just for the sake of change. It was because you figured out why it was a better idea, and you thought it made sense.
"That's the point. The inquisitive part is why do people do this or that? I think the one thing we're very conscious of is we don't have an ego in our program. So it's not: We are gonna do it our way no matter what and I don't care what anyone else thinks. If it makes sense, and the science is behind it, we’ll do it.’’
I said: “So science is more important than tradition to you.’’
“I love tradition,’’ he said. “And I love the history of this game. There's so much to learn from it. But I joked to our guys once, 'What if we came out and everybody sat on the bench like they did in the old days and we had a water bucket and drank out of a ladle?' I mean, the game has evolved. They used to give you salt pills in the old days. They used to tell you that if you took water during practice you were soft. The science aspect of things can help, and I think the biggest thing is when you look at the other sports out there's so many people out there that are more advanced than us from a science standpoint in sports that if you don't listen to them then …
“We study other sports, but I don't think there's one really close to ours. Because our sport is so unique. It's a stop-start game; four- to six-second bursts of action. Basketball's a free-flow game. Hockey's a free-flow game. Soccer is a free-flow game. There are some things that you can learn from those sports, but I don't know if there's one thing that's particularly just like us so let's just study that one.’’
If we always practice fast, and then when you get into the game it seems to slow down for you, it's easier for you.
Kelly said in his press conference Sunday he practices fast because it’s easier to slow down once you're in mental and physical shape to play fast than it is to practice slow and then turn it up in games.
“I just think it make practice efficient,’’ he said. “That's all it is. That doesn't mean we're gonna be a no-huddle team for the entire game. I've always believed that it's easier to slow down than it is to speed up. So if we always practice fast, and then when you get into the game it seems to slow down for you, it's easier for you.’’
One more piece of misinformation out there: The Chip Kelly offense is going to be great for the quarterbacks, not so great for the runners. In the last two seasons at Oregon, the Ducks ran on 64.7% of the offensive snaps (2012) and 62% (2011). “First off, when he came, I was actually worried whether we’d throw it at all,’’ said Michael Vick. “But we just play the numbers. We know why he’s doing what he does. He explains it. We know the ‘why.’ “
Late in practice, the robot voice droned over the loudspeakers: “Period 15. Seven on seven. Seven on seven.”
Now came a loud “Sweet Emotion’’ remix by some Aerosmith knockoff band. The ballboys with the fences built on small shoulder pads stood, one over where the right end would be, one over the left end, and one over center. Vick threw one up the seam, complete, then three straight outs to the right, to DeSean Jackson. Then three more completions in a row, two to Jason Avant. Vick looked good running the offense, better than Nick Foles on this day. Word around camp is Vick’s ahead, but that’s not Kelly’s word. He’ll let it play out through the month.
Pass, pass, pass. But what about those numbers—the 63% run ratio over the last two years at Oregon? Some of that, surely, comes from the fact that Oregon was beating up on some tomato cans and just wanted to run the clock out. But some, GM Howie Roseman said, was certainly by design. “I think what’s surprised me the most,’’ said Roseman, watching from the sidelines Sunday, “is how much he wants to be a physical offensive team in the image of this city.’’
Another surprise, in a summer full of them. It’s only Aug. 5. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I can’t wait to see what it is.
Now for a trip through the camps I’ve visited in the past week:
Monday, July 29: Foxboro, Mass.
A side of Bill Belichick I’ve never seen.
The Patriots had their sixth annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony just outside Gillette Stadium, held a couple of hours before a night training camp practice. I’d never seen one before. It was terrific, Patriots alums there to support inductees Gil Santos, the longtime play-by-play man, and linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Thousands were there to watch and cheer. It’s great what owner Robert Kraft and his family have created at the stadium site, a Hall of Fame and museum that the region can be proud of. This was the kind of night Kraft dreamed about when he bought the team.
It got better when Bill Belichick stepped to the mic, after Santos and Bruschi accepted their red jackets from Kraft. I have heard Bill Belichick say some warm and grateful things about Harry Carson, about Bill Parcells, about Scott Pioli—those are the ones that come to mind; I’m sure there have been others. But I have never heard Belichick praise another person the way he praised Bruschi at the podium on this hot Massachusetts night.
“There’s great players and then there’s great players, and Tedy Bruschi was a great, great football player, because of his passion, his team attitude toward the game. All second to none,’’ Belichick said. “There is no player I’ve ever coached that epitomizes a football player ... When I look at the words ‘football player’ in the dictionary, you see Tedy Bruschi’s picture there. That’s the best way I can put it.”
He talked about a tackle Bruschi made against the Raiders in the Tuck Rule playoff game that saved the Patriots' season, saying without that tackle, there wouldn’t have been a Super Bowl win that year. On and on, great words about Bruschi.
I missed Bruschi after the event, and so I emailed him to find out what he was thinking when Belichick was saying those things about him. Seeing as, you know, Belichick just doesn’t do that.
“What was I thinking?!’’ he wrote back the next day. Next line:
“THAT’S MY COACH!”
A word or two about practice: Aqib Talib intercepted Tom Brady. Twice ... I’m skeptical, as is everyone, about the Patriots’ skill position players, but Shane Vereen is going to get a lot of touches from the look of things ... Take this for what it’s worth: Tim Tebow made three beautiful downfield throws that I saw, completions thrown 25 yards or more hitting receivers in stride. Tebow was also the personal protector on punts (kudos to you, Mike Westhoff, for getting him started on that last summer) and ran down on punts with energy. I bet the Patriots keep three quarterbacks, knowing they’re able to use Tebow as a utility player. Not necessarily a guy they’d have active every week, but a guy they could use in certain matchup situations against some teams.
Tuesday, July 30: Pittsford, N.Y.
Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett take a history lesson.
I wrote about the Bills last Wednesday. A couple of additional thoughts: I like when I go to a training camp and see a team that’s been down for a while have a legitimate reason to be optimistic. And that’s what I felt when I left Bills camp. I don’t know if the Bills will win, but I do know I’d trust coach Doug Marrone and coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to give the offense a chance to be good.
In fact, Hackett told me one of the best things he has done as a coach is study the Jim Kelly Bills offense of a generation ago, the K gun. That offense is a model for any era of football because it continually put pressure on the defense in both the running and the passing game. “I’ve talked to Jim, and he’s been very helpful,’’ said Hackett. “We’ve studied lots of offenses in the last few years, and one of the big keys to what we’ll do, I think, is for teams to not know what we’re doing. That was one of the great things about that Buffalo offense, and I enjoyed studying it and learning from it.’’
So how about that—E.J. Manuel winning the job (I’d say he’s in the lead, especially with Kevin Kolb’s weekend knee tweak) and becoming the quarterback the Bills have been seeking since Kelly left, running lots of the same stuff Kelly ran. Now that’d be a great story.
Wednesday, July 31: Cortland, N.Y.
Geno Smith has the look of The Man.
First pass I saw Smith throw in Jets practice on this day: a 25-yard back-shoulder fade down the left sideline, complete. His next one, also back-shoulder, was complete too. Look: I’m a victim of seeing one practice at most of these camps. I try to judge who is ahead at the competitive positions, and who the surprises are. Obviously, that’s tough, given that coaches will have 50 times more information than I would once the real decisions have to be made. But for one day in Cortland, Geno Smith, the rookie, looked better than Mark Sanchez, the fifth-year player with four playoff wins.
No one here is hand-tipping, of course. And it could be that Rex Ryan and John Idzik will do the safe thing and give the start opening day to Sanchez, figuring they can go to Smith in relief if Sanchez continues his erratic, buttfumbly type of play. If it’s close, I don’t think that’s a good idea. If Sanchez throws two straight incompletions in the opener Sept. 8, the crowd will shower him with boos. And is that really the way the Jets want to open the season, with that kind of negativity? I think not.
Watching the Jets at practice, you can tell a versatile, athletic and fast quarterback is going to be needed in this offense. Read between the lines. The Jets have mandated that writers at practice not write specifics about formations, patterns or schemes, and so (regrettably, because I think it’s a stupid policy that fans are able to tweet what the offense is doing at practice, but writers can’t write about it) I won’t. But Rex Ryan talked to the press about using the Wildcat the other day. He said he thought the team would use more of it this year than last. With the very iffy skill-position roster the Jets have, they’re going to need to use all the changeups they can.
So ... if you use the Wildcat, you’d probably use either a versatile back like Bilal Powell or a versatile receiver like Jeremy Kerley behind center, and the quarterback would be either on the sidelines or split wide—if you’re using the traditional setup of the formation. With David Lee as quarterbacks coach now (he was the guy spurring the Wildcat's use in Miami on Tony Sparano’s staff five years ago), it’s a no-brainer that the Jets would use it more than they did a year ago. When, by the way, they should have used it much, much more. Smith obviously is more athletic than Sanchez, and that’s one good reason why, if the battle is close, the Jets would be smart to use Smith early.
Last year’s five-game losing streak at West Virginia turned out to be good for Smith. He got used to what faces him here. “People say when I started with 24 touchdowns and no interceptions last year that it was my best football,’’ Smith said after practice. “I disagree. After that, I was something like 20 touchdowns and six interceptions, and I think it showed I could take the adversity. It helped me grow as a leader. I could have said, ‘I’m not playing bad. We’re averaging about 40 points a game.’ But we didn’t fracture. I didn’t get down on my guys. We were a team. That’s the test of a leader. It spoke volumes of what was happening when the world was on all our shoulders. That can only help me in the NFL.”
Maybe sooner than we thought.
Thursday, Aug. 1: Berea, Ohio
Well, at least the office is nice.
The Browns spent $5 million to re-do the second floor of their training facility—and their organizational personality. I’ve toured Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, and this floor reminds me of the Twitterverse: The Browns’ coaching, front-office, ownership and PR and broadcasting departments are all up here, wide open so that people see other people working. No one hides, and presumably no one loafs. Cameraderie is encouraged. Here, when a big group or luxury suite sale is completed, a bell is rung, and the sales team all claps. One day offensive coordinator Norv Turner ducked into the hall and clapped too.
It’s young, it’s bright, it’s energetic. Even owner Jimmy Haslam has an office in which anyone on the floor can walk by and see him through a floor-to-ceiling window wall. The Browns spent $65,000 soundproofing a state-of-the-art broadcast studio where a team-produced two-hour sports show is on the ESPN radio affiliate each afternoon. “It’s the energy of feeling like something’s happening, every day,’’ president Joe Banner said.
Everywhere, inspirational sayings from Roald Dahl to Mother Teresa dot the walls. Such as:
I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.
Or, on a mural featuring star cornerback Joe Haden:
Whatever you are, be a good one.
“Twitter attracts the youngest and brightest people, which is what we want to do,’’ said Banner. “But I don’t want to copy Twitter or Google. I just want to create an atmosphere where good people want to work, and good people want to stay and help build a winner. In my opinion, improving physical space is a great opportunity to help change the culture.’’
Is it close? Can the Browns finally turn the corner with a new coach, new GM, new president and new owner—and these shiny offices? My experience covering football tells me you’re close when you’ve got a quarterback. And the Browns don’t know if they’ve got one yet. Out on the field for the afternoon practice, former Yankees pitching prospect Brandon Weeden wound up and threw a BB straight into the picket-fence arms of two defenders, getting it batted down. The man who led the NFL in batted passes had better not do it again, or his Cleveland career won’t be much longer than Brady Quinn’s.
“We know at the end of the season we’ll still have work to do,’’ said Banner. “What positions those are, we don’t know yet.’’ I think they probably know about the most important position—and they’re hoping against hope Weeden proves them wrong.
Thursday night, Aug. 1: Canton, Ohio
The Hall of Fame community dinner.
The locals are mingling with the Hall of Famers, and it’s a great night to show off the new and improved Hall. In the back of the tented dinner area sit a couple of reminiscing HoFers, tight end Jackie Smith and guard Dan Dierdorf.
Dierdorf grew up here. He’s 64 now, walking with a cane from the years of football pounding his knees took. But he’s so immensely proud of the place, built a few short blocks from the house he grew up in.
“I remember riding my bike over here to check on the construction, and being so excited that such a great building was being built here, in our hometown. The day the construction started, my father and I watched them put the spade in the ground. You know who else was here that day? Another dad and his young son: Larry Csonka. He’s from near here.’’
The Hall turns 50 this year. I always find it sad that people love it for one week a year, and then for the rest of the year it’s rarely mobbed. Now that improvements have been made and it’s a more attractive, modern place, it’d be nice to see Dierdorf’s neighborhood get a few more traffic jams during the other 51 weeks.
Friday, Aug. 2, Latrobe, Pa.
Finally, a team that tackles.
Ninth team I’ve seen practice. First team that tackled.
But first, running backs against linebackers in blitz pickup. The back’s alone, behind center, protecting a ballboy with the ball—and with very nimble feet, because 15-year-old kids don’t want to get steamrolled by Larry Foote. The linebacker comes in with a running start, from five yards away. Maybe the backer jukes the back, and maybe the backer slams into the back to overpower him and get to the “quarterback.”
Mike Tomlin runs the drill. He loves it.
“Two-six!’’ the excitable head coach yells. “In there, two-six!’’
In steps Le’Veon Bell, the second-round running back who’s supposed to win the starting job. But he won’t win anything if he can’t pass-protect. And this is the crucible.
Across from him, to his left, is the 240-pound veteran inside backer, Foote. The whistle blows, and Foote sprints into Bell. BOOM! Foote plows into Bell’s solar plexus and pushes him back but doesn’t destroy him. The collision prompts hoots and howls. Cornier than thou, but this is what I’ve seen for nearly three decades coming to Steeler camp. Steeler football.
Foote, from Michigan, lines up again. Bell (Michigan State) lines up again. There will be a round two.
“Your problem is you went to Michigan State!’’ Tomlin hollers at Bell. “Foote don’t like you!’’
This time Bell handles Foote, blocking him to the outside and pushing him off his path. If Foote won the first, the second round goes to Bell. “The good thing about him,’’ Tomlin says later, “is he’s patient in his blitz pickup. That’s important. He doesn’t fall for the fakes. He focuses on the technique.’’
Then they go 11 on 11, and Bell jukes corner Curtis Brown to the ground in a move that leaves the crowd of some 10,000 oooohing. That, you don’t teach. The kid’s got the guts to stand in there against a veteran linebacker knowing he’s going to get plowed, and you can see he knows how to make people miss. He tweaks his left knee a few plays after the juke; the Steelers say it’s minor. But it is another reminder that the majority of teams never get too physical in training camp anymore, and the Steelers do.
Football is a game that’s continually evolving, and we acknowledge that. But the physicality of the game will never go anywhere. - Mike Tomlin
I ask Tomlin after the 150-minute practice why the Steelers do it this way when so many teams do not.
“I just think physicality is an asset of ours, collectively,’’ Tomlin says. “In order to make it an asset, we’ve got to do it. You’ve got to pit man versus man out here. You’ve got to compete. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to run away from it. Football is a game that’s continually evolving, and we acknowledge that. But the physicality of the game will never go anywhere."
You see the players, in an 11-on-11 first-team two-minute drive, competing excitedly. Tomlin has always put a premium on drafting and acquiring guys who love what they do. Give him a choice between the better player and slightly lesser but feistier player, and Tomlin will take the latter every time.
“That love [of football] is essential for us,’’ he says. “In football, we spend a lot of time talking about things you can measure. But that’s black and white. Everyone, every team, can measure those things. So, internally, we spend our time talking about things you can’t measure, the things that are truly mystical. We realize that’s what’s going to be critical in winning and losing. And to me, love of the game is going to be a critical part in finding Steelers.’’
We can see that.
Sunday, Aug. 4, Philadelphia
I see Riley Cooper getting a second chance.
We’ve probably all done a lot of thinking on this story of Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper using a racial slur when confronted by a black security officer at a concert in Philadelphia in June. If you’re human, you’re disturbed by it. The fact that Cooper is white, and plays on a team with some black players who are now inclined to hate him, makes this a very slippery slope for a team in modern sports to handle. The first response—and maybe the second and third—was that the Eagles should cut him. Make a statement that this won’t be tolerated by any employee of their organization.
That’s a justifiable reaction, certainly. But I don’t see the Eagles doing it. I see the Eagles giving Cooper counseling for as long as he needs it, and my gut feeling is they’ll bring him back to the team, likely as a member of the 53-man roster when they're set in four weeks.
Why? Lots of reasons. But one of them could very well be the ghost of LaGarrette Blount.
In 2009, after Oregon's first game of the season at Boise State, star running back Blount punched a Boise player in the head in the heat of a post-game skirmish. Kelly, the first-year head coach of Oregon, suspended Blount for the rest of the season. A month later, convinced Blount truly regretted what he’d done, Kelly changed course, setting in motion a plan for Blount to rejoin the team if he followed a strict set of guidelines on the field and at school. Blount followed the rules, and played the last two games of the season. One of Kelly’s advisers on the Blount case was former Colts coach Tony Dungy. Kelly’s reinstatement of Blount allowed Blount to rehab his image and gave him a shot at the NFL. So when Blount unexpectedly rushed for a rookie-high 1,007 yards in Tampa Bay, Dungy took a photo of a big banner celebrating Blount’s accomplishments and emailed it to Kelly. Dungy told Kelly, in effect, that without the coach’s forgiveness, Blount probably never would have been in the NFL, never mind rushed for 1,000 yards.
Chip will make the right decision. He doesn’t care what the popular opinion. He cares about what’s right. - Tony Dungy
And over the weekend, Kelly reached out to Dungy again, asking him for his thoughts on the Cooper case.
“I told him to trust his instincts,’’ Dungy said Sunday night, reached in Canton before working the Dallas-Miami preseason game for NBC. “He can use this as a teaching moment, and his decision could pull this team together.’’
Three years ago, Dungy recalled Sunday night, “Chip could have kicked Blount to the curb. He chose to believe in him. And it worked out. With Riley Cooper, this kid made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. The big issue, too, is the alcohol. That has to be dealt with. But Chip will make the right decision. He doesn’t care what the popular opinion. He cares about what’s right.’’
I don’t know the players nearly as well as the local beat people do, and I don’t doubt a few of them want Cooper gone today and forgotten tomorrow. I spoke to Kelly Sunday before I spoke to Dungy, so I didn’t get to ask about the specter of Blount impacting this call. But Kelly sounded dove-like here. “I think Jason Avant said it the best,’’ Kelly said. “He said, ‘This isn’t something you sweep under the rug.’ You’ve got to address it and communicate with our players, and they need to be able to communicate with us and have an open forum. I do believe, though, that Riley understands the ramifications of what happened. But there’s still a process of everyone going through their acceptance of him. I believe I know what the endgame will be, but I don’t know what the timetable is.’’
“The last thing you want,’’ Michael Vick said to me after practice, “is for a man to be helpless. We should help. Some people might not understand that, but I don’t care what other people think. I’m past that point of my life now.’’
Vick has run the gamut of emotions, but he’s now willing to give Cooper a chance.
“Just because he made that one mistake doesn’t mean he can’t overcome it,’’ Vick said. “Or he can’t be condemned for it. Everybody deserves a second chance ... Just for one second, expand your mind. Expand your mind and have supernatural thinking about it. Everything doesn’t have to be negative. Everything can be fixed. So many people forgave me. And it took time. It’s still taking time.’’
I left the Eagles’ complex Sunday feeling Cooper will have the chance to—as he told the team when the news broke last week—“make it right.” Then it’ll be up to him, and to how forgiving his mates will be.
My feeling? I definitely think the Eagles should keep Cooper, unless the situation becomes powerfully untenable in the locker room.
I think back to Martin Luther King preaching nonviolence and forgiveness. I think, just last month, of Trayvon Martin’s parents making this surprisingly placid statement after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of wrongdoing in the killing of their son. “For Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful,’’ they said.
I do not mean to make Cooper a sympathetic figure. I truly don’t. But three points are valid here: Cooper has told friends (believe it or not; and I’m not sure I believe it) that he was shocked when he saw the video of himself using the racial epithet, because he says he doesn’t remember doing it. That’s how drunk he claims to have been that night. Two of his best friends on the team over the years have been black. He cried when Cornelius Ingram, a tight end, was cut in 2011. He put a towel over his head and displayed anguish when Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL in training camp a week ago. And one of the team’s biggest leaders, Michael Vick, who has had personal experience with being forgiven for a heinous crime, has both publicly and privately forgiven Cooper.
Cooper is a fighter, and a guy who lives hard. But there hasn’t been any sign that he is a racist to anyone on the team, from what I was told by three Eagle sources over the weekend. There’s something disturbing inside the man, and if he’s being honest (we’ll know soon enough), he wants to learn why such a vile thing came out of him that night two months ago. Easy for me to say, because I am neither black nor spend six months living in close quarters with the man. But the humane thing to do is give Riley Cooper a second chance.
Now, some Darrelle Revis news.
The headline of the Revis story, after a week of practicing, is this: Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik tells me he is “almost certain’’ the new Bucs cornerback will play opening day against the Jets in New Jersey in five weeks. That’s not much of a surprise; the Bucs have been encouraged by his progress from major knee surgery last fall and thought when they traded for him that he’d be ready to play at the start of the season.
I spoke with Revis, Dominik and coach Greg Schiano late in the week and, interestingly, Revis was probably the least optimistic of them all about his September readiness.
“At this time,’’ he said by phone from Tampa Friday, “I can’t tell you. But it is my goal to be ready for the first game, and it’s coming along well.’’
Revis said he has had no swelling in the knee; has been able to test it consistently; and that it has responded well to his testing, torquing and quick-twitch movements. He’s been on a strict training, conditioning and practice program that Schiano refuses to vary even if Revis reports he’s feeling great—which he has done.
Revis has been working against a camp receiver on the side, in both press coverage and off-coverage, running downfield and playing his physical style. “I don’t care how great a player you have been,’’ Schiano said. “Confidence is a funny thing. When you’re talking about a guy as good as Darrelle, you don’t think a guy needs to feel confident. But we just got [Pro Bowl guard] Carl Nicks back in live drills [from a serious 2012 toe injury], and he just stoned a defensive guy rushing hard. And you could see the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders. I mean, this is his livelihood. It’s the same with Darrelle. He needs to know he’ll be good when he gets into a game.”
So I asked Revis: Do you wonder how the knee’s going to react a month from now?
“Not really,’’ he said. “I’m very confident. Very. My mindset is, when they tell me I could cut, I figured it meant I could cut hard on it. I did, and it didn’t hurt and the knee didn’t swell. And I’ve been out there putting pressure on it and it hasn’t hurt. So I feel when I get out there, I’ll be confident I can do everything I need to.”
Schiano said he hasn’t decided whether Revis will play in a preseason game (it won’t be until the third game, at the earliest), but he sounded like he was leaning toward Revis not playing at all. “I don’t see playing in a preseason game as paramount,’’ Schiano said.
I think you’ll see [me playing on an island] a lot. I might have to dust the cobwebs off, but it’s the way I play best.
It also sounds like Schiano is okay with Revis going back out to Revis Island—taking the opponent’s best receiver one-on-one. It’s what Revis did to become the best corner in football in 2010 and 2011, and he expects to be able to do it again—with Schiano’s blessing.
“Coach and I have talked about it,’’ Revis said, “and he’s open to it. It’ll be predicated on the gameplan. But I think you’ll see it a lot. I might have to dust the cobwebs off, but it’s the way I play best. I’ve said, ‘Coach, this is the way I play best,’ and I think he agrees.”
I’ll be stunned if Revis is held out of the first game. Which, as you know, has a little bit of meaning for him. It’s against the Jets, in New Jersey, Sept. 8.
My must-have book of the preseason is out.
I’m a big fan of Football Outsiders Almanac, the incisive tome edited by FO boss Aaron Schatz that emerges from the shadows every preseason and tells us 587 things about the NFL we didn’t know. It’s a deep-think look at every team in the league, trends and players that tries to predict the unpredictable NFL future. For example, this year, longtime FO analyst Doug Farrar, recently hired to write for SI.com, says Washington’s play-action usage in 2012 was “more successful than any other team, with the league’s biggest difference in ... yards per play (10.1 with play action, 5.5 without). There was no aspect of the Redskins’ offense that [Robert Griffin III] did not affect in a monumentally positive sense. Griffin is not just another Velveeta spread-boosted quarterback better outside the pocket than in it. Unlike Vince Young, Jake Locker, and (gasp) Tim Tebow, he is totally comfortable when asked to stand in the pocket, scan his reads, and fire the stick throw under pressure.’’ Farrar also reports Washington used the pistol 100 snaps more than the rest of the NFL combined.
Anyway, it’s a book any thinking football fan has to have. These notes prove it:
• Re athletic tight ends: It wasn’t Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham, or even Antonio Gates who lined up outside the traditional tight-end spot the most last year. Try Detroit’s Tony Scheffler, who lined up wide on 84 plays and in the slot on 278 plays.
• Brandon Marshall was targeted on 40.2% of Chicago's passes last year, by far the most of any receiver since at least 1991.
• The 49ers in 2012 were better running from one-back sets (5.9 yards per carry) than two-back sets (4.3 yards per carry).
• We'll have to wait to see if this was a one-year fluke, but the worst possible thing you could do last year was blitz RG3. He averaged 7.3 yards per play with three or four pass rushers, 9.0 yards per play with five, and a mind-blowing 13.1 yards per play against six or more pass rushers. Opponents may have understood this, because Griffin was blitzed less often than any other quarterback in the league (20% of pass plays).
• Brandon Weeden led the league with 24 passes batted down or tipped at the line, five more than any other quarterback.
Buy either the print or PDF version of the book here.
Quotes of the Week
“I’ve often thought about that day in 1996 when you drafted me instead of Lawrence Phillips. I think that worked out well for everyone.’’
—Former Baltimore tackle Jonathan Ogden, during his Hall of Fame speech, looking at the man who drafted him, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome.
Well, I guess for everyone except Phillips.
“The more I think about what I did, the more disgusted I get. The organization and my teammates have been extremely supportive, but I also realize that there are people who will have a tough time forgiving me for what I’ve done ... As long as it takes, and whatever I have to do, I’m going to try to make this right.”
—Philadelphia wide receiver Riley Cooper.
“We do not read anything. When you read, you become uncertain. We want the ball in the running back’s hands. We do not want the quarterback carrying the ball. The option can put the ball in his hands, but the defense can force it out of his hands. We want the quarterback to give the ball unless he cannot. When you start to talk about the read player’s shoulder or jersey number, you over-complicate the play. If the running back is continually getting tackled by the defensive end, the quarterback should be pulling the ball. The analogy is a two-on-one fast break in basketball. You tell the player with the ball to take it to the basket. If the defender commits, you get rid of the ball.”
—Eagles coach Chip Kelly, explaining his view of the running game and to a lesser degree the read-option, from a Nike coaches clinic in 2009.
In the same clinic, Kelly said Oregon had four running plays—four. “The best way to beat the team you are going to play is to have your team play with conviction,’’ Kelly said at that clinic. “Are there any basketball coaches in here? The one thing I cannot understand about their sport occurs in the clutch stages of the game. With the game tied and five seconds left, the coach calls a timeout. He picks up a white board and draws up a play. I do not know how long I would last in Eugene, Ore., if I did that. If your players have not run that play in a critical situation over a thousand times in practice, you will not have a chance to be successful.”
In other words: We are going to practice all these plays in training camp over and over and over, and we are going to do it fast, and at the end of the day, we’re going to challenge you to stop it. If you can, you’ll stall our offense. If not, we’ll score 30 points a game. Or more.
"Baltimore is now without one of its best and someone who was a foundation for the tremendous popularity of football in our area. The world is not as bright tonight because we lost someone who could make us all smile."
—Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on the passing of Colts legend Art Donovan Sunday.
Stat of the Week
What I’ve always thought was a silly theory was out in force again over the weekend: namely, that Bill Parcells was nothing without Bill Belichick. It’s true that Parcells won his two Super Bowls with Belichick as his defensive coordinator, and he made his only other Super Bowl appearance with Belichick on his coaching staff—in 1996, in New England.
Still, we often hear it said, “Football’s the ultimate team game.” Yet when we want to make a case for the uselessness of some head coach or some quarterback or some whatever, we point out how he was nothing without a valuable person or two in his organization or on his coaching staff or on his team. I think it’s wrong-headed.
Did you know:
• Don Shula, in 15 coaching seasons without Bill Arnsparger on his defensive staff, was a 6-7 playoff coach with no world titles?
• Paul Brown never won a playoff game without Otto Graham as his quarterback.
• Bill Belichick’s career record without Tom Brady under center: 51-62 (.451).
• Bill Walsh’s career record without Joe Montana under center: 17-23-1 (.427).
I’m all for giving a guy credit for assisting someone, and to not credit Belichick for his immense assistance to Parcells is short-sighted. Parcells got a ton of help from very valuable coaches and players. As did Brown, Shula, Walsh and Belichick.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Interesting tale I heard on my trip out west:
On June 2, Raiders owner Mark Davis fired team PR director Zak Gilbert over an article by Jim Trotter in Sports Illustrated that, while positive about the future of the new-look Raiders under GM Reggie McKenzie, was critical about the latter years of the Al Davis regime. Mark Davis is the son of the late Raiders’ scion.
In the 2013 Raiders media guide, the first entry after the table of contents is a three-page bio of Al Davis, who died in 2011. The story calls Davis “a true legend, a giant among giants, a star among stars,’’ “an innovator, a pioneer,’’ and said: “No one has had a more profound and lasting impact on pro football.” The bio told of Davis’ tireless work for inclusion and diversity (for minorities and for women), and how football icons like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick viewed Al Davis “as the NFL’s most intellectual individual.’’
The writer of this bio: Zak Gilbert.
New England linebackers coach Pepper Johnson wore a T-shirt to practice Saturday that read: “Happy 40th birthday Tom.” Tom Brady turned 36 Saturday.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Five notes from the road:
1. Save the Jamestown Jammers. In the western New York hamlet of Jamestown Wednesday night, The MMQB RV stopped for five innings of tip-top minor-league baseball. Jamestown is the birthplace of Roger Goodell and Lucille Ball, a town of 35,000 about 70 minutes south of Buffalo. I was very sad to hear that the franchise, with its historic 72-year-old ballyard, Diethrick Park (where Randy Johnson threw his first professional pitch), might be an endangered species. The New York-Penn League may move a franchise to a shiny new stadium being built in Morgantown, W.Va., which is in neither New York nor Pennsylvania, and the word on the street here is that the team in either Jamestown or Batavia, N.Y., will be moved to Morgantown in the next year or so. So the Jamestown mayor, who was in attendance for the game, saw our little crew and came over to our seats in the grandstand to see how we were enjoying Jamestown … and to make his case to keep the team in this lovely hamlet. We sat about 15 rows behind home plate and looked out at the perfect scene: Dorms for the players at a local college over the left-field fence, a forest of evergreens lining the area beyond the outfield fence, an aging but user-friendly seating area with Southern Tier Hop Sun beer sold behind home plate. In short, a perfect way to spend a sun-setting 78-degree summer night.
“If a team is bleeding money and drowning in red ink, which we are not doing, I can understand moving a franchise,’’ said the mayor, Sam Teresi, a lifer here. “Maybe I’m naïve, but there has to be a place for tradition in our lives. We are American history here, one of the places America’s pastime has flourished and grown. Jim Leyland played here, and last week, his son, who’s playing in this league, played here. These stadiums cannot all be cookie-cutters with 5,000 seats and 25 luxury suites, or else they’ll price out the places like Jamestown. That would be a shame. Beyond a shame. I sit here many nights and see two or three generations of the same family bonding, relaxing and just enjoying a nice night out. I believe strongly that baseball needs to maintain a presence in Jamestown and other small places with these kinds of classic facilities that helped give birth to the game.’’ Amen, mayor.
2. And thanks to your groundskeeper, Josh Waid. I did a dumb thing in Jamestown, but it led to a very cool thing. I directed our staff aide and RV driver, former Colgate safety Andy DeGory, to park on the slightly sloping grassy area outside the park that serves as the parking lot for Diethrick Park. And so, of course, the RV got stuck on the soft ground. In the sixth inning, Waid brought a tractor out to gently coerce the back of the RV out of the little trap. We attracted a local crew of do-gooders, maybe 10 or 12 in all, who helped us push, and Waid used the tractor to do the final bit of work, and we were free. “It’s like an Amish barn-raising,’’ I said to Waid, thanking him profusely. Great place, Jamestown.
3. Visit Pittsford Farms Dairy before you die. And have the black raspberry milkshake. It will be one of the best sugary things you ever taste.
4. While you’re in Pittsford, make sure you find the white house across from Starbucks. This week, with the PGA at nearby Oak Hill, don’t be surprised to see a golfer or two at the little white house in downtown Pittsford. It’s a bar with no sign noting it, anywhere. “Thirsty’s.” Lovely place, with a long bar and some local beers. Seems the city fathers didn’t like the sign that owner Gerry Clifford put up, and made him take it down. If anything, it’s helped business. “Most people are just happy to find the damn place,’’ said manager Brent Coleman. “A couple of years ago, we’d gotten so much attention that the mayor came in and said, ‘You can have a sign now.’ We said no. The mystique would be lost. Not long ago, I got a request from Australia for some Thirsty’s T-shirts. I sent them. I mean, all you can do is smile.”
5. Gotta love Homer, N.Y. A gas-station attendant in Homer provided us our quote of the trip. We’d just filled our 40-foot RV with gas—it was near empty—when the country fellow shook his head and mused, “Boy, that beaver was thirsty.”
Snapshots from The MMQB's week on the road at training camps:
Tweets of the Week
“Remember, if ruled ineligible, Johnny Manziel wouldn't be eligible for any sort of supplemental draft, because he's not 3 years out of HS.”
—@albertbreer, the NFL Network reporter, in an important factoid about the Texas A&M quarterback after he was accused by ESPN of accepting cash for signing autographs earlier this year.
“@Eagles need to keep Riley Cooper. Be big in this debate … It was raw. He was drunk. He’s a grown up he knows he was wrong and has apologized. He feels bad. Moving on.”
—@TrevorPryce, former NFL player.
“It amazes me that Riley Cooper is not suspended—that is PATHETIC.”
—@DickieV, announcer Dick Vitale.
“Insane stat about state of journalism: Guy who owns Red Sox bought Boston Globe for less than he paid for former outfielder Carl Crawford.”
—@EllingYelling, a tweeter named Steve Yelling, after Red Sox owner John Henry bought the Boston Globe on Friday for a reported $70 million.
"Fueling up at gas station. Guy is trying to convince wife to let him go to bathroom. She's yelling at him, telling him no. His life stinks."
—@granthpaulsen, beat reporter for Washington's 106.7 The Fan.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are a few one-liners about the first full week of the preseason:
a. RIP, Art Donovan, one of the best players and most colorful personalities at a time when the game began growing. What a fun man he was.
b. If Mike Florio's right, and Packers left tackle Bryan Bulaga is out for the year, it's almost as bad an injury as the Ravens losing Dennis Pitta for the year. Green Bay will probably have to move Marshall Newhouse back to left tackle and use an inexperienced right tackle—maybe Don Barclay, the West Virginia find from last year. But it's a very big blow if Bulaga's gone.
c. Check out the photo to the right, from Saturday's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Jonathan Ogden made Bill Parcells look like a little person.
d. Booing Mark Sanchez? Already? Lord, he’s not Ed Whitson.
e. Over-under on how much longer Mike McCarthy will keep Mason Crosby: I say 30 days. His case of the yips has extended into 2013.
f. Intense practice/scrimmage for the Saints Saturday. Sean Payton means business.
g. Great idea by the Super Bowl champ Ravens, practicing at the Naval Academy Sunday. Love that kind of stuff.
h. Washington drew 25,000 at camp in Richmond Saturday. Great example of a community inside your market zone going nuts to see their heroes.
i. The Jags had 19,000 at Everbank Field Saturday night, more than doubling last year’s stadium practice attendance. Gus Bradley Fever, evidently.
j. And a record 6,034 at Lions camp Saturday to watch practice. The team did a nice thing, picking some kids out for Matthew Stafford to throw passes to before the workout. Previous record crowd at the team complex in Allen Park: 2,200.
k. I still think it’s best for fans—though teams try to accommodate them at home facilities—for teams to go away to camp. It allows more fans to come, and allows them a better chance to meet the players they follow.
l. Biggest applause-receivers at the Friday night Hall of Fame dinner in Canton, in order: Jim Brown, John Madden, Joe Namath, Joe Greene.
m. The Cards love Ryan Williams, but he’ll never make the team if his chronic injury history continues.
2. I think Sarah Thomas is already famous (any other officials profiled on CNN's State of the Union?), and she’s still a year or three away from NFL employment.
3. I think one of the good developing training camp stories is that the Cardinals just might have the next Roy Green in camp. Remember Green, one of the last players (Troy Brown, Julian Edelman, too) to play significant snaps on both sides of the ball, had a 21.5 yard-per-catch average in 1981, the same year the Cards used him in the defensive backfield. He had three picks that year. Now, Patrick Peterson is doing double duty, playing cornerback for parts of practice in Arizona, then shifting over to play wide receiver, slot receiver and a sort of wingback in Bruce Arians’ offense. I’ve said this since I spent a day with the Cards in June, but Arians is going to try to be imaginative and explosive—and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t shock the three teams in the division with schemes they’ve never seen from the Cards. He’s got Peterson in about 15 offensive plays, and could use him as a wideout at anytime. On Saturday, Arians said Peterson could be one of the top five wideouts in football if the Cards chose to put him there. So it’d be very surprising if you didn’t see Peterson on the field in some four-wide sets for Arizona this fall.
4. I think, re the Sunday night Hall of Fame Game, I am reminded of this after seeing so little of any players we've ever heard of: In one camp last week, a GM said to me on the sidelines: "We've got, what, about 25 practices and four preseason games before we play a game that counts. Every day we're on the clock, counting down time, hoping no one gets hurt."
5. I think if I’m Josh Freeman, I know I have to impress my coach and GM in camp—and early in this season—to have a good chance to be the Bucs’ quarterback long-term. GM Mark Dominik says the team won’t address Freeman’s contract situation until after the season, which is smart. They need time to make a complete judgment. If he’s shaky early, his job will be in jeopardy, and he’ll never get an extension then.
6. I think one of the fastest risers around the league in the first week or so of camp play has been Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford. The second-round pick could challenge first-rounder Desmond Trufant—one of the most experienced college corners to enter the league in recent years—because of the clinging coverage ability he’s shown early in Falcons camp. I remember GM Thomas Dimitroff telling me before the draft not to be shocked to see Alford go in the first round. Though he went 60th, he’s a threat to beat out Trufant for the starting corner slot alongside Asante Samuel.
7. I think one of the great things about Hall of Fame weekend—and one of the things we should not overlook—is the entry of a longtime sportswriter covering the NFL into the Hall via the Dick McCann Award, recognizing long and meritorious service. Dan Pompei, longtime Chicago football writer and a good friend of mine, won it this year. He wrote about his honor in a moving piece for the Chicago Tribune Saturday that you should read. In it, Pompei thanks those who got him to the stage in Canton Friday night. “There is my father, Joe. I learned from his example that there are no excuses in life, and that failure is not an option,’’ he wrote. For those of us who had similar families (so much about Dan’s family I recognize), what Dan writes is uplifting. From all those who strive to write well about football, Dan, congratulations on an honor richly deserved.
8. I think I keep hearing great things about two offensive weapons: St. Louis utility star Tavon Austin and the guy who, to me, is a sort of Tavon Austin Jr., Jacksonville wideout/multipurpose player Ace Sanders. The Rams practiced in the Edward Jones Dome Saturday and gave local fans a whiff of what to expect from Austin, playing him at several spots. “You’re going to have to come out, watch and see what we do with him,’’ said coach Jeff Fisher. “Obviously, there’s things everybody does across the league in camp that they don’t show until the regular season.” During draft prep in St. Louis, the Rams privately knew if they somehow weren’t able to get Austin, they’d have gone after Sanders, who is emerging in camp as the kind of versatile weapon Jacksonville hoped it was drafting last April.
9. I think this is how I’d handicap the 2014 class of Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates, in order: Michael Strahan 4-5 ... Charles Haley Even ... Will Shields 7-5 ... Marvin Harrison and Derrick Brooks 2-1 ... Andre Reed, Aeneas Williams and Tony Dungy 3-1 ... Jerome Bettis 7-2. And if you ever read my predictions, you will crumple up this item and throw it away, mentally.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Johnny Manziel’s got to have a death wish. I mean, is he trying to get the NFL to hate him?
b. May I please say a very big thanks to all of you who have responded via email and text and in person about The MMQB? Some with criticism, many with praise. And I need it all. We want to make this a site you visit two, three, four times a day, and we need the feedback from you so we know what you want to see more of, along with suggestions on graphics, presentation and all the other things that make a site rewarding for readers. Please send thoughts and digs to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Google+.
c. The mailbag is back, every Tuesday. I won’t have a top on it, but I’ll answer the best eight or 10 questions emailed or communicated to me through one of the aforementioned forums.
d. The MMQB NFL Podcast will begin in late August.
e. Wow: Clint Dempsey a Seattle Sounder, for big dough. Met him at the World Cup in 2010, and he’s a great competitor. Good luck to him, and to that franchise.
f. Peter Schrager, an all-around good dude and Fox Sports NFL maven, just got back from his honeymoon to Italy and Greece. Happy to report he is still happily married.
g. Depressing how out of touch I get on the road. Really depressing. Now I see we’re under a terrorism alert. Hope I’m safe driving all over the land the next two weeks.
h. For the masochistic set, my Super Bowl predictions and order-of-finish story is due to my SI NFL editor, Adam Duerson, on Aug. 23 (also the 30th birthday of my daughter Laura—now there’s some inside football for you). The magazine’s NFL preview issue is set for the Sept. 2 issue, on newsstands and your tablet Aug. 28, and in your mailboxes Aug. 28-29.
i. No, I have not decided my Super Bowl pick yet, though I did tell Charlie Rose my early guess is Denver-San Francisco.
j. A-Rod banned until 2015? What a shame. Should be a fun pre-game in Chicago tonight with Rodriguez appearing on the Yankee scene.
k. Pete Abraham covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe. Red Sox owner John Henry just bought the Boston Globe. I assume at some point John Henry, as new owners/publishers of media outlets do, will walk into the paper’s newsroom and speak to the reporters, editors and photographers about his hopes for the paper. I can’t imagine how strange it would be to have the boss at my job also be the boss of the entity I cover.
l. Coffeenerdness: Angel In A Starbucks Dept.: Nice man walks into the Starbucks on Broad Street in Philadelphia Sunday evening. Introduces himself, says he enjoys my work. I thank him. He goes and gets a coffee. I am pounding away at my column. He comes back five minutes later, shakes my hand and hands me a $10 Starbucks card. Thanks me again. I am ... without speech. “Th-th-thanks!’’ I said. People are good.
m. Beernerdness: Southern Tier Hop Sun. Find it. Very good summer beer. More hoppy than most summer brews, and that’s a good thing.
The Adieu Haiku
Six months of football
started Sunday in Canton.Life is good. Quite good.