WEST DES MOINES, Iowa—Pondering the biggest stories of the NFL weekend from a hotel room halfway between the Chiefs (St. Joseph, Mo.) and Vikings (Mankato, Minn.), as The MMQB training-camp tour rolls on:
1. A kicker from Norway, who’d never appeared in a football game in his life, kicked 49- and 50-yard field goals for the Lions.
2. On opening day eight years ago, the Colts, with Brandon Stokley keying the offense with a seven-catch game out of the slot, beat the Ravens. In the playoffs seven years ago, Indy tight end Dallas Clark caught the key pass in the fourth quarter to beat the Ravens. The Ravens, in need of warm bodies to catch balls, signed Stokley and Clark (average age: 35 years, 8 months) over the weekend.
3. Andy Reid coached Kansas City. Chip Kelly coached Philadelphia. Brian Banks played an NFL game. Sean Payton coached his first game in the Superdome in 19 months. Tom Brady played two series for New England and led two 80-yard touchdown drives, with Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson the starting wideouts and Zach Sudfeld the starting tight end.
4. On the first pass of the Marc Trestman Era, Jay Cutler threw an interception. On the first series of the Jets’ preseason, Mark Sanchez threw a pick-six. And the band played on.
For the sheer story-telling of it, Havard Rugland has to be this morning’s winner. He’ll tell his story at The MMQB in detail Tuesday, but the short version is this: Soccer player from a small town in southwest Norway, enchanted with American football. Ordered a football online in early 2011, began kicking it for fun, made a YouTube video of him powerfully kicking a football, Norwegian TV picked it up, it got some buzz on American TV, and the Jets invited him for a tryout late last year. Detroit tried him out, then signed him last spring.
“I scored some points in a real football game,” Rugland said from the Lions’ facility Sunday, still sounding incredulous about it all in his quite-good English. “It is such an incredible feeling, when that first kick went through.”
It showed. For a third-quarter first-preseason-game field goal, Rugland’s 49-yarder engendered huge emotion on the Lions’ sidelines. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch lifted Rugland in the air, and the team gathered ‘round, pounding him on the pads and helmet. It’s hard to have a feel-good, memorable moment in a first preseason game, but this was certainly one.
“Now,” Havard Rugland said, “I just have to focus on getting better, doing something every day to make myself better.”
Sounds very much like he’s gone to the NFL School of Quotology. Then I asked if he thought this good game would put him closer to winning a job. He’s in competition with David Akers.
“All I can do,” he said, “is focus on controlling what I can control.”
“You have already learned a lot with quotes like that,” I told him. “You talk just like an NFL player.”
“You see right through that, don’t you?” Rugland said.
The one thing he does know: If he keeps nailing 49- and 50- yard kicks, someone’s going to find a job for him. He already kicks, and talks, the part.
Now for the tale of a week on the NFL road—this time in inverse order, because the Andy Reid/Alex Smith story was my favorite of a very interesting week.
Sunday: St. Joseph, Mo.
Should this fresh start have happened sooner?
Andy Reid comes to the door of his Missouri Western State dorm room, in his red CHIEFS hoodie, and the first thing you notice is how happy he is. For 40 minutes, you notice that over and over. To the public, Reid rarely shows exactly how he feels, and I doubt he’ll do that now, on a different sideline, in a different state, in red and not black and green. But even in private, toward the end of his 14-year period coaching the Eagles, it wasn’t quite like this. Not that he was sullen. But as a very good friend of Reid’s told me last spring: “Usually when a coach gets fired, he thinks of everyone to blame but himself. But in this case, Andy actually wanted to go, and he wasn’t mad at all that Jeff Lurie wanted to make a change.”
And that’s how it seemed on this unseasonably cool morning in the heartland. For one thing, though he won’t say it, it’s clear that he’s happy to have a GM like John Dorsey in his corner, because he clearly was tired of refereeing the front-office skirmishes that quietly characterized the last two or three years in Philadelphia. He just wanted to coach. And here, he’s basically just handed all personnel decisions to Dorsey. You know how most coaches are dying to buy the groceries? Well, after a few personnel debacles in Philadelphia (the Dream Team fiasco, mostly) and the front-office in-fighting between what used to be a tight band of brothers, Reid’s happy to be a personnel consultant and leave the heavy lifting to Dorsey.
“When I got into coaching a long time ago,” he said, sitting on the RA’s couch in the Spartan room an hour north of Kansas City, “I got into it to coach. That’s the fun part of the game to me. Now I’m able to do it again—all of it. The hands-on coaching at practice, the install [installation of plays and the gameplan], and to call the plays.”
It’s odd to see Reid without one of his old confidants—former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg with the Eagles. Mornhinweg’s now with the Jets. It’s not because Reid and Mornhinweg clashed or disagreed over play-calling; it’s because if Reid was going somewhere—and both men knew midway through the 2012 season that the party was over in Philadelphia, and the staff was going to be fired after the season—he was going to go back to doing the coaching himself. So Mornhinweg looked out for himself, and ended up with Rex Ryan, calling the offense in New York. Reid and Mornhinweg both know when a coach takes play-calling and installation of the offense back from a coordinator after years of the coordinator calling the shots, it’s going to be an awkward situation. Reid knew it wouldn’t work, and so he took a young coach, Doug Pederson, with him to support him as a different style of coordinator.
“I’m enjoying the heck out of it,” Reid said. “I loved Philadelphia. I love the Eagles—still do. I love the organization. But I think, change can be good, and right now, it’s very good for me, and I think it’s very good for the Eagles.”
On the field for the morning practice—Reid’s practicing at 8 a.m. most days here, to beat the Midwest heat—he spends significant time with the offensive linemen, coaching, and with the quarterbacks. “You see it out there,” Dorsey said, “how happy he is, back to coaching.”
“I knew he loved offensive linemen—that’s what I heard,” said tackle Brandon Albert. “But I never had a coach who knew the offensive line before like coach Andy. He gets down and actually teaches us little technique things. One day out there, in this thing we call the cut-off drill, he’s out there sprawled on the ground showing us the right technique. I don’t see many coaches doing that. You say, ‘Wow, our head coach is really into line play.’
“The other thing about coach Andy: This is a hard game. Sometimes I think coaches forget that. I mean, I’ve got Tamba Hali over me. Sometimes I’m going to get beat. I understand if I get beat I’ve got to do it better, and I’ve got to have better technique. But the attitude here, with this staff, is not to yell and tell you how you messed up. It’s ‘Okay, on to the next play. Make the next play great.’ Then, we’re watching tape after practice, and I see what I did wrong, and I’m taught the right thing. Like, ‘Stop ducking your head.’ To me, that’s the right way to teach. That gets your players wanting to play hard for a coaching staff.”
Two other things about Reid: In the New York Times Sunday, he admitted he’d twice tried to trade for Alex Smith while in Philadelphia. He didn’t say when, and he told me that while it was true, he didn’t remember exactly when it was. Once was around the time the Eagles were in the process of fact-finding on Michael Vick before they signed him. “I just always watched him and thought, ‘Man, I’d like to coach that kid,’ ” Reid said of Smith.
And it was 53 weeks ago today that Garrett Reid was found dead at Eagles training camp in Bethlehem, Pa., of a heroin overdose. Garrett and Britt Reid, sons of Andy Reid, had drug problems during his tenure in Philadelphia. Garrett couldn’t beat it. Britt has been clean for several years now, and after a stint on the Temple University coaching staff, he’s working for his dad as a defensive quality control coach. Britt Reid is working under Tommy Brasher, the veteran defensive line coach, learning the NFL coaching business. “He’s with the right guy,” Andy Reid said.
This is a good spot for Reid. The fans are ready to adore the Chiefs again, after the nightmare of a 2-14 season in 2012 and the ouster of GM Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel. Kansas City is one of those fan bases that will give a coach and GM more of the benefit of the doubt than in Philadelphia. One thing, though: He sure looks strange in red.