king-story

Lessons Learned on the Road

And so ends another fun, revelatory training camp tour. Here are the sights, experiences and impressions that stand out most from my jaunt across the country

Thoughts on seeing 20 teams in training camps, seeing two preseason games, seeing America from a 33-foot RV … and tasting that black raspberry milk shake in upstate New York.

1. I think, after flying 6,471 miles and driving 5,498 more (well, Andy DeGory and Dan Greene of The MMQB drove; I rode) in search of the NFL this summer, I realize again why the summer camp tour is so much fun: “Nobody’s lost yet.” That’s what Buffalo coach Doug Marrone said, and he’s right. There’s legitimate optimism. In the last four years, four different teams have won the NFC East; and three different teams have won the NFC North and West, and the AFC North and West. The NFL has sold parity since before most of us were born. It’s on sale from San Diego to Foxboro this summer.

2. I think the single-best player we saw on our tour was St. Louis tight end Jared Cook. What a catch radius. How he caught only 44 balls last year in Tennessee I’ll never know.

3. I think the best rookies we saw were:

a. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Cleveland. Beat two left tackles with speed moves, and didn’t even look like he was sweating. Just hope the lung injury he suffered Thursday night against Detroit isn’t serious.

b. Tavon Austin, WR/KR/PR, St. Louis. Saw him make Cortland Finnegan, a $10 million-a-year cornerback, look very mortal on an eight-yard curl. Preview of things to come.

c. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh. Stands his ground in blitz-blocking drills against 250-pound linebackers, and he can juke safeties too. Hobbled with a knee sprain now. Steelers really need him.

d. E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo. Saw his eighth camp practice. Impressed by his poise and self-assuredness in and out of the pocket for a player so early in his first camp.

e. Kyle Long, G, Chicago. Played very well in the Friday preseason opener at Carolina. Poised and very strong. Looks like a 10-year pro.

f. David Amerson, CB, Washington. A feisty, combative corner, just what an aging secondary needs.

4. I think the best slice of Americana we had was in Chattanooga. I always like staying at the older hotels when possible on the road, and seeing new places I haven’t seen. So after seeing a morning practice at the Falcons, and before a night game at Nashville the next day, we stopped at the midway point in southeastern Tennessee, stayed the night, watched the Double-A Lookouts play Huntsville for a few innings, sampled the local IPA, and slept in at The Chattanoogan, complete with rocking chairs in the lobby.

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5. I think I left Philadelphia with the requisite respect for Chip Kelly that I thought I’d have, and something a little extra. His emphasis on running a fast-paced, no-huddle offense is making football fun for his players. I didn’t see a huddle in two hours.

6. I think these are my camp tour awards:

Most intense practice: Pittsburgh (Latrobe, Pa.), Aug. 2. First tackling I saw—almost two weeks in—and a full-on blitz-pickup period between backs and linebackers. Lots of crunching. “Physicality is an asset of ours,” Mike Tomlin says after practice. “In order to make it an asset, we’ve got to do it.”

Best veteran: Robert Mathis, DE, Indianapolis (Anderson, Ind.), Aug. 14. Darted outside, crawled inside, got down on his hands and got through the gap to get to the backfield. “I still can’t believe I saw that,” GM Ryan Grigson said a couple hours later.

Best new coach: Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator, Buffalo (Pittsford, N.Y.), July 30. Bonded well, and quickly, with E.J. Manuel, and imagination oozes out of him. Book-learned before he really got into football as a kid, and his NFL knowledge doesn’t just come from his genes (his dad is long-time NFL assistant Paul Hackett). He’s learned from several stints on NFL staffs, and from a trial-by-fire with Doug Marrone at Syracuse.

Best arm: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco (Santa Clara, Calif.), July 28. What a howitzer. Said to someone on the sidelines. “Now everyone can see why Alex Smith got benched last year. Look at this guy throw.”

Best hands: A.J. Green, Cincinnati (Cincinnati), Aug. 15. He caught one bomb from Andy Dalton eight inches off the ground, and reached behind himself, gumbylike, to catch another. Believe the hype.

Strangest sight: James Harrison, in a striped helmet.

The Good, Bad and Ugly

Greg A. Bedard has been on the road visiting training camps and studying preseason tape. He's got 10 takeaways from what he's seen on the field so far, including starting QBs on the hot seat and trouble for one of the offseason's most hyped teams.

7. I think, in culinary terms, the highlights of the trip were:

a. The black raspberry milkshake at the Pittsford (N.Y.) Farms Dairy. Few ice cream items in American history can top it.

b. The four-way (spaghetti, chili, onions, shredded cheese), reliving the regular dinner of my 20s life, in Cincinnati.

c. The bison dog in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.

d. The pork barbeque at Hillbilly Red’s in Richmond.

e. Jake’s Stadium Pizza, Mankato, Minn. Please don’t tell my wife I had the pepperoni.

8. I think my worry spots from the trip would be, in no particular order: Oakland generating a pass-rush … Oakland generating points … The Niners finding a bookend receiver to Anquan Boldin … the Jets at quarterback (surprise!), receiver, tight end and running back. Have I left anything out there? … Baltimore’s intermediate receiving game … Jay Cutler … Percy Harvin’s durability and what he’ll be like for the final six weeks when he comes back from hip surgery … Brandon Weeden and Christian Ponder keeping the wolves at bay.

9. I think the best night we had—and there were several, including an evening in the bleachers at Wrigley Field—was the night swapping tales with Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson at Riviera Maya, a surprisingly good Mexican spot in Anderson, Ind. With live music.

10. I think I owe many people thanks for the great trip of the past 3.5 weeks: GoRVing.com, for the comfy 33-foot suite-on-wheels; drivers DeGory and Greene for keeping us alive, particularly on the 740-mile overnighter from Charlotte to St. Louis; the comic and statistical and football-knowhow relief of Pro Football Focus’ Neil Hornsby; and the staff of The MMQB for keeping the home fires burning while I was out on the road having one fun day after another.

More from The MMQB
29 comments
peter_wittmann
peter_wittmann

DGB - Right click the little emblem on the right hand side at the top of the page, then click archives, find Monday's articles and then click 'Andy Reid is Loving Football Again.' That's this week's MMQB.

DGB
DGB

It is now Friday, and I still can't find this week's regular MMQB column that I've been reading and enjoying for years. I'm all for progress, but if I want other news/columnists, I will read them in the standard SI pro-football section. All I want is to read Peter King's normal MMQB on Monday. It is now impossible to find with all the new distractions and features/ guest columnists and celebrity tweets.

PatioBeef
PatioBeef

@DGB Hover your cursor over "Columns" and click "Monday Morning Quarterback." Boom.

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

Whoa! With the diet you listed, I'm surprised you didn't try to eat Chip Kelly.

Breezy04
Breezy04 like.author.displayName 1 Like

 "I think my worry spots from the trip would be, in no particular order...Brandon Weeden and Christian Ponder keeping the wolves at bay"

How exactly is Brandon Weeden keeping the wolves at a bay a worry spot. Peter King really has a thing against Brandon Weeden. This is his second year! Give the guy a chance to prove whether or not he can be an effective quarterback. His name should not even be mentioned in the same sentence has Christian Ponder, a guy who has been in the league for 4 years. BTW, the people who say well he is so old. Who cares. Its the Cleveland Browns. If this guy can be a good quarterback for 6 years, Browns fans will take it. Browns haven't had relevant quarterback since Bernie Kosar. 

Shane Mac
Shane Mac

Hey Peter - rename your site MMBBQ - Monday Morning Barbeque.

jzo
jzo like.author.displayName 1 Like

Let's see. You had a milkshake, spaghetti, chili, onions & cheese, a bison dog plus pork barbecue and you say don't tell my wife about the pepperoni? She has a lot more to worry about than pepperoni if that is your diet Peter.

Theo
Theo

Clown and so are the loser old men slurpers below. Bunch of jokers. This clown is no foodie and he is a classless mess. Probably like the old white chaps below posting Peter's greatness. What tripe. 

WCoastPro
WCoastPro like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Some really dumb comments today. 

Kalzy
Kalzy

His lukewarm Viking analysis, will come back to haunt him. Mark my words.  They will be in the Medowlands, Period.

nyjets011269
nyjets011269

@Kalzy Thanks Mr. expert.  Hope you're laying down a bet with Vegas.

rokrjon
rokrjon like.author.displayName 1 Like

The MMQB articles are like methadone for my NFL addiction.  All of these awesome articles are great.  But I know I'm not alone in saying that the regular season can't get here fast enough.

PhilSwift
PhilSwift

I'm a chowhound, so always enjoy your culinary enjoyment observations. I'd love to try the barbecue at Red's(?) in Richmond and esp. a black raspberry shake, anywhere. Lots of fun reading your observations on teams/players too. You'll have to expand on why you have doubts about Jay Cutler...I have a good friend who is a staunch Bears fan, but as a lifelong Broncos fan, don't miss Cutler at all. Easy to say for me, with an HOF guy at quarterback.

dkatleman2
dkatleman2 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Peter, wonderful stuff, as always.

But please, have Under Armour provide you with more flattering tops to wear.

KidHorn
KidHorn like.author.displayName 1 Like

@dkatleman2 I don't blame the clothes for making him look blubbery. I blame the blubber.

thomasoverley
thomasoverley like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think Colin Catnip is starting to rise the charts up their with the Pats in Peter King Man Love

KidHorn
KidHorn

@thomasoverley He still has a ways to go to match the Favre crush.

thomasoverley
thomasoverley

@KidHorn @thomasoverley Yes this is true he did tend to love him some farve, of course 10+ years of NFL experience 10 NFL games experience that is a lot of love for a guy that has played so little

letsbecivil
letsbecivil like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

You can't seem to mention Kaepernick without knocking Alex Smith in the same breath. I seem to remember your outrage when Harbaugh first made the switch, saying the move was too risky, etc. Fine, but why are you now taking every opportunity to make the opposite point? Alex Smith  deserves a fresh start, not a continual dig- he handled the whole situation with class, and now maybe you could try to do the same. 


deggie
deggie

@letsbecivil Saying Colin Kaepernick has a better arm than Alex Smith is not "knocking" him. And he was explaining that he now understood the switch.

MyDogWally
MyDogWally like.author.displayName 1 Like

@letsbecivil Read that section again.  He was quoting someone else.

letsbecivil
letsbecivil like.author.displayName 1 Like

@MyDogWally @letsbecivil The line is "Said to someone on the sidelines. Now everyone can see why Alex Smith got benched last year. Look at this guy throw.”". I assume that means PK himself "said to someone on the sidelines."  Otherwise, it doesn't make sense, unless it's a typo. 

MyDogWally
MyDogWally

@letsbecivil @MyDogWally No, then PK would have said, "Said to me by someone on the sidelines."  What he's saying is that he overheard a comment said BY someone TO someone else.

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