Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this was the thing that piqued my interest from a couple of weekend conversations with Gil Brandt at the Rams and Chiefs: I asked him what teams surprised him the most, in a good way, on his camp tour across America for Sirius XM NFL Radio. “Arizona,” he said. I’m hearing that out here on the trail. It’s got extra currency when Brandt says it.
2. I think, having visited Carolina Friday night, there’s no question the organization feels its two leaders, and the two best players on the team for the long-term future, are Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. Who, by the way, are the last two top picks of former general manager Marty Hurney. Hurney was dumped by owner Jerry Richardson mid-season last year, and nowhere was his name mentioned that I heard on my visit. Newton was a gamble for some entering the draft, with his wayward college career. All he’s done in his first two seasons is throw for 7,920 yards—though he has not won enough. All Kuechly did as a rookie is average 10.2 tackles a game, most in the league. Just thought everyone should remember a guy widely panned when he got the gate left the franchise with its two most important players. And Newton’s 24, Kuechly 22.
3. I think the significant thing to remember about Havard Rugland in his battle with David Akers for the Lions’ kicking job is this: Rugland can kick off. Akers wouldn’t. Rugland’s three kickoffs Friday night against the Jets fell at the 1-yard line, two yards deep and five yards deep. It’s still probably Akers’ job. What makes the most sense to me, barring Rugland making three more 50-plus-yard field goals in the next three games, is Akers winning the job and Rugland landing on the practice squad.
4. I think for those of you in the preseason-mining mode, I’ve got a few bits from a fellow accompanying me on the tour this summer, Neil Hornsby of ProFootballFocus.com. You may know the site for its exhaustive work breaking down every player on every play of every game. Now, PFF is breaking down the preseason games. (Go here for a season or monthly subscription.) I asked Neil to cull a few items from the games over the weekend.
a. Although the Arizona first-unit offensive line—horrendous last year—played three short series in Green Bay, the news was positive. Carson Palmer was pressured once and not sacked in the three series.
b. There’s a camp battle in Atlanta worth watching: Who will start at corner opposite Asante Samuel? Our fourth-highest-rated corner this week was the Falcons’ second-round choice, Robert Alford (+2.8). Our third-lowest-rated? The Falcons’ first-rounder, Desmond Trufant (-2.7).
c. In 53 snaps in his pro debut at Carolina, Chicago rookie guard Kyle Long gave up zero sacks and one hurry with no penalties.
d. Green Bay needs to get injured corners Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward back quickly. Devon House started and in just 10 snaps in coverage allowed three of four passes targeted at him to be completed for 92 yards and a touchdown. That’s a QB rating of 156.3.
e. Jedd Fisch Alert: No team had their quarterbacks get rid of the ball as quickly as Jacksonville. The average time to throw for Blaine Gabbert was 2.1 seconds, while Chad Henne’s was 2.2. These were the lowest two of any quarterbacks to take at least 10 dropbacks.
f. We might have gotten a clue of what to expect from Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia offense. Of the Eagles’ 30 designed runs (all runs excluding quarterback scrambles), 27 were from shotgun.
g. With Michael Crabtree out, San Francisco’s first-round pick from 2012, A.J. Jenkins, needs to step up. Jenkins did not do much to help his cause, despite playing 56% of snaps for the 49ers. He ran 26 routes, caught only one ball on three targets and, after picking up a first down on that pass, fumbled.
h. Keep an eye on Baltimore’s new pick-up, Daryl Smith. In just 20 snaps he managed a hit, a hurry, three tackles and an assist.
i. With Tim Tebow in the game at Philadelphia, New England ran the option seven times and averaged 5.4 yards on these runs.
j. No offensive line struggled more over the weekend than the New York Jets, and no lineman epitomized that more than rookie left tackle Oday Aboushi. He gave up a sack, a hurry, three penalties and struggled with his run blocking.
k. San Diego quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was 0 for 10 when pressured by Seattle.
5. I think it won’t show up high on anyone’s radar for big injury losses, but Kelvin Hayden being lost for the year with a torn hamstring is significant because teams play so much nickel now, and slot corners like Hayden are hard to find. “Especially at this point, when every team has 90 guys in camp,” said Bears GM Phil Emery. Hurts that the Bears didn’t re-sign D.J. Moore, who took his game to Carolina. The Bears need second-year corner Isaiah Frey to emerge from a green field of slot candidates.
6. I think the Ravens are grasping, obviously, in signing Dallas Clark, 34, and Brandon Stokley, 37, over the weekend. But this is a time of desperation, with the trade of Anquan Boldin, the injury to Dennis Pitta and with Ed Dickson out for a while also. Both are short-term scotch-tape moves. The most encouraging thing, I’d say, is how Stokley was able to stay healthy all year at 36 in Denver after a string of seasons marred by injury. “I think all of our younger receivers have ability,” Joe Flacco told me the other day, “but we’re going to have to get them in game-time situations, and they’re going to have to build that confidence and say, ‘I do belong here.’ Now we’re going to have to rely on our three-wides package a little more in those situations.” It would really help Flacco if Clark could give the Ravens at least half a season of hold-the-fort football at a suddenly needy position.
7. I think, by the way, Pitta is not assuredly out for the season. Asked a Ravens coach the other day what percentage there was that Pitta—thought to be out for the year after surgery two weeks ago to repair a dislocated hip—would play this year. “Don’t know the percentage,” the coach said, “but it is not zero.”
8. I think if I were Rex Ryan, and my job might depend on competent quarterback play, I’d sure as heck be watching Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith live. Every snap.
9. I think I can’t quite figure it out, but I am hugely sad for Plaxico Burress, whose season and probably his career ended with a torn rotator cuff suffered in practice last week.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Amazon’s honcho buys the Washington Post. Talked to a wealthy Washingtonian the other day, after the sale, who predicted there wouldn’t be a print edition of the Post within two years. I find that shocking, but nothing about the media should shock anyone today.
b. The Angels bought Albert Pujols for $254 million. Jeffrey Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million.
c. That says something dire about our society; I’m just not sure how dire.
d. Bernie Kosar, doing color on the Browns preseason game against St. Louis Thursday, had some harsh things to say about the Rams. He called the Rams receivers, including the eighth pick in the 2013 draft, Tavon Austin, “horrible,” said their parents “would be embarrassed” if they were watching the game, and, about backup quarterback Kellen Clemens, said, “Bless me Father for I have sinned. I have to watch him the whole fourth quarter.”
Kosar’s a good guy, and I have always liked him. But I found the comments pretty far over the top and asked rhetorically, on Twitter, whether Kosar had been drinking. Which brought on a raft of criticism from the Twitterverse, saying I’d gone over the top. I don’t think I was over the top, but many of you felt I’d gone too far given the sea of trouble Kosar has had in his personal life. (None of which, from what I can tell, involve treatment for alcohol, or any admission of alcoholism.) My point was, I think there’s a way to be critical of players and teams, and analysts should definitely do that. But Kosar went too far, in my opinion. And not just mine. Kosar called Rams coach Jeff Fisher Sunday to apologize, and Browns CEO Joe Banner said Sunday the Browns “don’t condone the personal and unprofessional approach” Kosar used.
e. Just when you think Miguel Cabrera can’t get any better, he homers in the ninth inning off Mariano Rivera twice in one road series. We’re seeing the prime of one of the great hitters any of us will ever see.
f. John Madden used to say it all the time, and I am merely copycatting him by saying what a beautiful country this is, and I’m lucky over the past two weeks to be driving through it instead of flying over it. Particularly beautiful: the hills and small mountains around Asheville, N.C., with trees so green and countryside so lush.
g. Coffeenerdness: The other day, the Starbucks on Kingston Pike in Knoxville got a gold star from me. I went in there to work with my tour pal Neil Hornsby, struck up a conversation with the two baristas about the area, and went to work. The fellow later brought us over small cups of coffee to try from their Clover brewing process and, when I left, the other barista called us both by name. Not sure, but I don’t think that’d happen at the Starbucks on the corner of 55th and Lex.
h. Beernerdness: One of the great nights on this tour was made possible, in part, by Porter Hardy IV, the president of Smartmouth Brewing Company in Norfolk. On Tuesday in Richmond, after viewing a Redskins practice, Hardy was waiting for me with a growler of beer from his brewery. It was his Alter Ego Saison. Porter, good news: The growler didn’t last until Atlanta. (And no, our drivers/reporters, Andy DeGory and Dan Greene, didn’t dabble on our night drive to the Falcons.) But the Saison was delicious. Thanks, Porter. And sorry about RGIII not signing for little Sarah.
i. Congratulations, Michael Gehlken of UT-San Diego, for writing this memorable piece about the incredible journey to the NFL of Chargers rookie tackle D.J. Fluker.
j. So Larry David told Rich Eisen on Eisen’s podcast that he could be an NFL play-caller. “If they gave me a chance, I could turn the fortunes of an NFL team around,” David said. Only if Jeff Garlin could play right guard.
k. So I’m on the road Wednesday, and my daughter Laura, who lives in San Francisco, texted to say she was going to San Jose with a couple of San Francisco cops. Seems they’d got a lead on her stolen bike. “Nervous,” she texted. “It’s a sting.” A WHAT! Seems she got wind that some guy on Craigslist was trying to sell her bike and lots of other ones.
It’s a cool story, and so I asked her to tell it.
I wasn’t scared until I found myself holding a bike I never thought I’d see again, standing along side a still-running maroon Ford Escort while two undercover cops chased the guy who tried to sell it back to me. It was probably only two or three minutes, but it felt like a good half an hour before Officer Brett Bodisco and Officer Matt Friedman emerged from around the corner of the Chase Bank parking lot in East San Jose. “Is it your bike?” Officer Bodisco called out. We flipped it over and checked the serial number to be sure. It was. Four thousand bicycles were stolen in San Francisco last year, and only 142 were returned to their owners. Aside from cell phone theft, it’s the most common crime in the city. But, like any major metropolis, San Francisco faces many more serious issues. So when I woke up to find my bike missing from my locked entry way, I certainly wasn’t optimistic about recovering it. I dutifully filed a police report, and scoured Craigslist in case it turned up. I also listed my stolen bike on our city’s registry, and followed two Twitter handles—the first, @stolenbikesfo, belonging to Bryan Hance, and the second @SFPDbiketheft, owned by Park Precinct Officer Matt Friedman. When a gray and aqua Specialized Dolce turned up on Craigslist in East San Jose after a week, I was ecstatic. Officer Friedman volunteered to help. Within 4 hours of arranging a meeting, I was riding in the back of an undercover cop car down to East San Jose to meet “Dennis,” whose number, at the time, was linked to 12 different bike listings on Craigslist. Officer Friedman and his partner, Officer Brett Bodisco, told me most bike thieves in San Francisco are looking to score some quick cash.
They’ll sell an $800 bike for, say $50. The person who pays $50 will then take the bike to a flea market (common locations in the Bay Area are the Oakland Coliseum and Capitol Expressway in San Jose) and sell it for about half its value. Then, someone like “Dennis” tries to make the full value back by listing it on Craigslist. Amazing what you learn in the back of a cop car for three hours … and even more amazing to meet two policemen who care so much about their community. Thank you, officers Friedman and Bodisco. I am so grateful.
Once on the freeway, Officer Bodisco turned back to me. “Sure beats an episode of Cops, doesn’t it?” That it does.
The Adieu Haiku
Randy Moss? TV?
I’m in the Doubters Club, but …
I can’t wait to watch.