‘Chuckstrong’ Is Gone, but the Urgency Isn’t

August 19, 2013 by Peter King

“Most roller coasters, you get off and you say, ‘Let’s go again! Let’s do it again!’ That was us last year. Right away this year, Chuck gave us our motivation: ‘Hoist that Lombardi Trophy.’ “

—Veteran Colts safety Antoine Bethea, on being motivated by coach Chuck Pagano in absentia last year, and in person this year.

ANDERSON, Ind. — Much to do this morning, winding up the 20-camp, two-game, 11,969-mile tour of NFL training camps, and covering another costly injury (Dustin Keller’s knee in Miami), but we start with the inspirational story and unlikeliest playoff team from 2012, and what the Colts are going to do for an encore.

First off, an acknowledgement of the real world in the NFL—even on good teams, change is constant. When Chuck Pagano stared out at his team on the first night of training camp here, he saw 47 percent new faces from 2012 (42 of the 90 players were first-year Colts), and, on the coaching staff, he saw a new offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) and special teams coordinator (Tom McMahon). Par for the course in today’s NFL. When Pagano watches practice, he sees so many new things. Such as first-round pass rusher Bjoern Werner working with free-agent Kenyan rugby player Daniel Adongo, teaching him about the game he just took up two weeks earlier. “We’ve got a German national teaching a Kenyan rugby player the art of the pass rush,” said GM Ryan Grigson. “Humanity at its finest! Our sport at its finest! That’s the new world of the NFL right there.”

Pagano lords over it all. Sitting in a golf cart on the practice fields at Anderson University one day last week, he couldn’t stop smiling about it. A year ago, Pagano felt worn down, run down, just plain lousy, in training camp. He thought he was just working too hard. But his energy was down, even after a good night’s sleep. He was diagnosed with leukemia, cancer of the blood, in late September. You know the rest. The team, inspired by Pagano’s fight and by late-game heroics by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, went 9-3 in his absence and earned a wild-card playoff berth.

Now for the encore. Whatever it is.

Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t just dropping by in Indy

Eight days ago, the Colts opened the preseason against Buffalo, at home. Before the game, on the field, Pagano watched a video montage of the 2012 season—the comebacks, the inspiring cancer-stricken coach appearing at a home game in the middle of it all, the cheerleaders who shaved their heads to be one with the hairless Pagano. Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen sidled up to Pagano.

“Did all that really happen last year?’” Christensen said.

“I say the same thing all the time,” Pagano said.

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Pagano gets checked every three months. Each time they’ve checked his blood, he gets a text from his doctor, Larry Cripe, that says (he has it memorized), “You remain in complete molecular remission.” He’ll take an anti-leukemia concoction for two weeks every three months until early 2015, then he’ll be checked for three years after that. “Five years is the magic number for this type of leukemia,” Pagano said. “I’ve got a while to go, but they say the cure rate is up around 90 percent now. So I’m very optimistic. But to say it will never come back again, I mean, there’s cases all over. Like Robin Roberts—she beat breast cancer and then something else hit her. To say it will never come back again, who knows?”

But sitting here, on a sunny, unseasonably cool day in his adopted home state, Pagano looks like he always looked as a coaching lifer—tanned, fit, lively, his salt-and-pepper goatee the same as when he took this job 20 months ago. A bad back forces him to bike, not jog. He lifts a few weights to, at 52, stave off gravity. “I feel a thousand times better than last year,” he said. “I was just tired all last summer.”

I ask about what he can use to drive his team this year, seeing as though there will never be the kind of goosebumpy motivation of 2012 available to him—or maybe any NFL coach—this year, or in the future.

Table of Contents

What you'll find in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback:


Page 1—One year after Chuckstrong. The 2012 season was an unforgettable one for many reasons in Indianapolis, but how did it impact Chuck Pagano's and the Colts' outlook? And what do they have planned for an encore, minus the motivation of Pagano's fight with leukemia?


Page 2—One observation from every stop on my camp tour; Photos from my three weeks on the road.


Page 3—Quotes of the Week; Tweets of the Week; The offensive overhaul in St. Louis is remarkable


Page 4—Ten Things I Think I Think, featuring E.J. Manuel's and Dustin Keller's injuries and preseason Week 2 standouts; The Adieu Haiku

“That’s a great question that I get asked all the time, and it’s tough to answer,” Pagano said. “There’s always something, something that happens during the season—a devastating loss, an unfortunate tragedy, whatever it may be. To me, we play this game and make the sacrifices that we make for the love of the game, and the opportunity to hoist that Lombardi. But really, the only thing we are guaranteed as a group is this year. So, let’s take advantage of it and say this is our one shot. You think about the NFL today—we’ve got all these new faces in the meeting room. We’ve got this one year together, but are we guaranteed next year? No, so let’s throw all our chips in the middle and let’s give it everything that we have.”

Said Luck: “I can’t imagine anyone on our team—anyone in the NFL—needing some kind of extra motivation to go out and win. We don’t need it. We’ve all got it. We want to go further than we did last year.”

We’ll see. Motivation’s a tricky thing. We in the media probably overrate it. But I find it hard to believe there wasn’t something a little extra around this team last year when, 10 times a day, Pagano would text or phone from his hospital room or recovery bedroom at home to urge players on, with the littlest things. Like the time Pagano phoned Grigson one night at dinner to remind him to make sure he got a ball painted for castoff cornerback Darius Butler earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Or the time Pagano, at the first game he attended while still sick, got up on a swivel chair in the GM’s box to rap on the window between that booth and the assistant coaches and scream at them to look up at the replay because they might want to challenge a play. “I’m like, ‘Chuck! GET DOWN!’ ” said Grigson. “I mean, here’s this weak, sick guy, teetering up on a swivel chair, and if he falls …”

This year is going to be more football than made-for-TV movie. But Pagano will have no trouble passing on the message he’s believed since he took this job.

The message is what a privilege it is to play and coach in the NFL. Right when you start thinking that it is your right, you probably are gone.

“Basically,” he said, “the message is what a privilege it is to play and coach in the NFL. Right when you start thinking that it is your right, you probably are gone. Because there’s somebody working extremely hard to try to get your locker, get your jersey number. You know how we’re judged as coaches. By one thing and one thing only—wins and losses. On the heels of what we went through last year, that’s at a new level. It’s heightened even more. I think it’s something that if it ever happens again, I mean, they say lightning can’t strike twice but who knows?

“In the hospital, I met people who weren’t going home. For example, a kid named Cory Lane, who was one of those coin toss kids at one of our games. Cory had written me a note while I was in the hospital and sent me photos and things like that. Well, he lost his battle last spring. He turned 16 years old and he lost his battle. So I mean, cancer is a bully. I’m just one of the fortunate ones. I realize that every day.”

On this day, Pagano, one of the fortunate ones, took the field and moved from group to group—showing some technique to a couple of rookie linebackers at one point, talking to the visiting parents of Reggie Wayne for a while, huddling with his secondary. It’s a new season, and no one’s happier about experiencing it than Pagano.

Colts should be much better in Year 2 of Pagano era

Memories from the road.

One point from every camp/game I attended:

Dallas (Oxnard, Calif.). I got there on July 19th, in the afternoon. The team arrived around 6 p.m. But Tony Romo, who didn’t need to travel with the team because he was already in California, was there at 10 a.m., throwing on an empty field to a few Cowboys staffers who arrived early. Who knows how his season will turn out, but Romo was pretty anxious to get this camp started.

Denver (Englewood, Colo.). Felt like I was watching the old Raiders at the Broncos’ first practice of the year. Wes Welker (32), Stewart Bradley (29), Quentin Jammer (34), Shaun Phillips (32), Dan Koppen (33) and the youngster, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (27), all here to help Peyton Manning (37) drive Denver to a Super Bowl.

Seattle (Renton, Wash.). Music washes over the field, for the entire practice. This is the first camp on the trail to be alive with the sound of music. The reason: Pete Carroll wants players to get used to playing with constant noise as their companion, because that’s the way it’ll be during games.

Oakland (Napa, Calif.). GM Reggie McKenzie is not pleased with the public perception of his team—namely, that the Raiders have a 3-13 look about them. “We have better players than people think, and we’ll be better than people think,” he said. “It was bleak last year, but we see the light at the end of the tunnel now that we’ve fixed our cap.” Maybe the light will be bright in 2014. I’ll be surprised if this team approaches .500 this year.

Lessons Learned

So ends another fun, revelatory training camp tour. Here are the sights, experiences and impressions that stand out most to Peter King from his jaunt across the country.


And you can get the full lowdown on what's going on this preseason with The MMQB's Postcards From Training Camp.

San Francisco (Santa Clara, Calif.). Watched Marcus Lattimore, he of the devastating 2012 knee injury, work out on a side field. He’s running hard straight ahead. For a guy who was sure 10 months he’d never play football again, this is a significant moment. “If it’s over at any point now, and I don’t think it will be here,” he says, “I know I’ve left my mark on the game. I know I’ve done things the right way.”

New England (Foxboro, Mass.). Shane Vereen looks like the kind of multi-threat weapon the Patriots could use out of the backfield to take some of Aaron Hernandez’s touches. Soft hands, can break a tackle, makes linebackers miss. “This is going to be a year we really have to grind it out,” said Vereen. My other takeaway five days after the Bill Belichick press conference on the waived and jailed Hernandez: No one here mentions his name.

Buffalo (Pittsford, N.Y.). First meeting I’ve had with new GM Doug Whaley, who was heavily influenced by his Pittsburgh years—and by meeting vital Steelers scout Bill Nunn. “Bill taught me, ‘Be careful of guys who don’t love football, who aren’t smart, and who don’t have the heart for football,’ ” Whaley said. So that’s why E.J. Manuel’s here.

Cleveland (Berea, Ohio). Watching the defensive line against the offensive line in one-on-one drills, I gain healthy respect for nose man Phil Taylor. Twice he power-swats away interior lineman and gets into the backfield. Taylor’s about to make an impact in the AFC North, folks.

Pittsburgh (Latrobe, Pa.). Le’Veon Bell, the heir to the starting running back job, makes the most memorable play of the tour: Running upfield, he jukes cornerback Curtis Brown to the ground. I’m standing in the end zone, behind the play, and the speed and quickness of Bell is stunning. He’s been plagued by a knee strain, but when he plays, he’s going to be a major upgrade for Pittsburgh in the backfield.

Philadelphia (Philadelphia). I never saw a huddle in two hours and 20 minutes. I saw Mike Vick complete seven passes in a row in seven-on-seven drills. I have no idea if the Eagles can play any defense, but this is going to be a fun offense to watch.

Baltimore (Owings Mills, Md.). No Ray Lewis. No Ed Reed. And I will be very surprised if this defense isn’t better. Daryl Smith would have been a $7 million-a-year player in Jacksonville right now if he hadn’t gotten hurt, and Lardarius Webb was on his way to being a top-five NFL corner before shredding his knee last year. You watch. Those are just two of the guys who will upgrade this defense.

Washington (Richmond Va.). Feel like a broken record on this, because I’ve written and talked about it so much. But Robert Griffin III, on a side field, at the direction of Kyle Shanahan, is running and cutting the same way he will on opening night, Sept. 9, when he’ll take the field against Philadelphia. I wouldn’t get too excited about the Shanahan-RG3 tiff, or whatever it is. The kid wants to practice full speed. The coach wants to save him for the opener. Now, long-term, is it smart to move him out of the pocket so much? I’m still skeptical he’ll have a 15-year career that way. But we’ll see how it plays out.

Atlanta (Flowery Branch, Ga.). It’s a light workout the day before a preseason game, but Matt Ryan’s very accurate—and he doesn’t even have Tony Gonzalez on hand. Gonzalez has a few camp days off, part of his agreement about spending more time with his family during camp. No team’s going to have a skill-player roster like Atlanta’s.

Deep Dive

Everything you need to know about all 32 teams and their prospects for the 2013 season, courtesy of Andy Benoit.

Tennessee (Nashville). Chris Johnson, outside the Titans’ locker room after their first preseason game, is ebullient about coach Mike Munchak’s offensive plans. Namely, steamroll people in the running game. “Go back to 2008, when we were 13-3,” Johnson says. “People knew what we were going to do—just pound people—and it still worked.” I looked it up. Tennessee ran the ball 52 percent of the time that season. Johnson: 251 carries for 1,228 yards. (Where Have You Gone) LenDale White: 200 carries for 773 yards. I see a 320-carry season for Johnson, even with Shonn Greene in the house.

Carolina (Charlotte). For the Panthers to have a chance against the two top-tier quarterbacks in the division, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei’s going to have to cave in the middle of some lines. All the news is good so far—he’s had a good camp—and he’ll have to be an impact rookie, the way Luke Kuechly was last year, for Carolina to be an impact team in the division.

St. Louis (Earth City, Mo.). Very good practice for the Rams on offense. A year ago, the defense won most of the summer sessions. Not anymore. But the Rams were held to 20 points or less in 10 of 16 games last year, and there’s no question the pressure will be on Sam Bradford to form an instant bond with new weapons Jared Cook and Tavon Austin.

Kansas City (St. Joseph, Mo.). Funny set-up in the end zone after practice. Ball machines are set up next to each other, one throwing tennis balls, the other footballs, both at high speed to receivers. It’s part of Andy Reid’s receiver drills. He figures you work on your eyes with the tennis balls, and your hands with the football. And your concentration with both.

Minnesota (Mankato, Minn.). For twenty minutes, GM Rick Spielman talked about his uncomfortable breakup with Antoine Winfield, who’d been a Viking for nine years. Neither thought it would come to this, but Spielman had no idea six priority free agents would all re-sign with the Vikes, leaving Winfield, 36 and with some juice left, out in the cold. “Toughest decision I’ve had to make in this business,” Spielman said. “Antoine was a great player for us.” He’s got the kind of physical corner Winfield was, rookie Xavier Rhodes, to soften the blow, but Winfield’s the kind of missing link that won’t be easy to overcome.

Green Bay (Green Bay). The offense is sluggish in practice, and coach Mike McCarthy, colorfully and loudly, tells his offense to start the period over. Underrated part of McCarthy’s coaching game: getting his players to play hard, and not having players roll their eyes even now, entering his eighth season as coach.

Indianapolis (Anderson, Ind.). Best night of the trip: Three hours of football talk at Riviera Maya, a Mexican place in this town an hour northeast of Indianapolis, with GM Ryan Grigson. Who knows if it’ll work out, but Grigson is excited about his 6-5, 257-pound Adonis from Kenya, the professional rugby player Adongo mentioned earlier. The Colts are using training camp to try to make a pass rusher out of him. “Our sights are high,” said Grigson. “We have to be able to look everywhere for players, whether it be Canada, Arena ball, rugby, I don’t care. You never know who might want to play, and who might be able to help.”

Cincinnati (Cincinnati). Everyone from Marvin Lewis to the TSA guy in security at Greater Cincinnati Airport (no kidding; he brought it up with me) knows Andy Dalton’s got to play better for the Bengals to play deep into January. The Bengals are working on Dalton getting the deep ball out quicker, and with more trajectory. In the practice I saw, Dalton lofts one into the arms of A.J. Green far downfield. They need about 25 more of those when the games start counting.

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Quotes of the Week

I
“I’d like to semi-disappear. The game’s been incredible to me. But disappearing’s good too. Disappearing to me is not being on TV, not being on the radio. I’d like to coach somewhere at a high school, trying to help the next generation, trying to help the next kid overcome the odds and be the best he can be.”

Aaron Rodgers, to me, Thursday.

II
If the media did their research on this guy, no one would be surprised.”

—Former Heisman winner and NFL back Ricky Williams, on Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, to an Austin, Texas, TV station.

Oh, the media’s doing the research, Ricky.

Like Johnny Manziel, who has been criticized for his party lifestyle, fellow former Heisman winner Ricky Williams had character concerns coming out of college, albeit for much different reasons. (Instagram :: Adam Nadel/AP)
Like Johnny Manziel, who has been criticized for his party lifestyle, fellow former Heisman winner Ricky Williams had character concerns coming out of college, albeit for much different reasons. (Instagram :: Adam Nadel/AP)

III
As permitted under the CBA, the League will require players to wear non-obtrusive tracking devices in select practices and games. The purpose of these devices will be to collect positional and performance data (e.g., speed, distance traveled, and location on the field). The data captured from the 2013 testing will be used for internal evaluation purposes only, and will not be disclosed to any club … Finally, it is likely that all players will be required to wear tracking devices in all NFL games at some point over the next few seasons.”

—Memo from NFL vice president Ray Anderson to teams obtained by The MMQB last week. Such GPS devices are already used by at least three NFL teams, the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, and several rugby and soccer teams internationally to study fitness and conditioning among players.

IV
It looked like a move out of The Matrix. He’s still got it.”

—Text message from Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson to owner Jim Irsay on Wednesday, after watching 32-year-old defensive end Robert Mathis make a pirouetting/power/crawling move between tackle and guard in a pass rush drill.

V

Your Turn

Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in Tuesday's mailbag.

They rolled him out there like an invalid and made him look like he was finished as a ballplayer … The legacy of George Steinbrenner would be horrified.”

—Attorney Joseph Tacopina, representing Alex Rodriguez, charging to The New York Times that the Yankees intentionally played Alex Rodriguez while knowing he was too injured to play in the 2012 playoffs, and, additionally, charging that Yankees president Randy Levine told the surgeon who performed ARod’s offseason hip surgery, “I don’t ever want to see him on the field again.”

The Yankees are, at least peripherally, involved in a pennant race. Alex Rodriguez is the third baseman on the Yankees. His appeal of the 211-game suspension is not going to be decided until the offseason. Which leads me to believe that of all the selfish acts of Rodriguez’s career, he is in the middle of the biggest one of all: doing his best to look out for his own image while at the same time being the biggest distraction in the recent history of baseball. As MLB executive VP Rob Manfred told the newspaper: “I have yet to see Alex Rodriguez or any of his representatives say that Alex Rodriguez didn’t use PEDs. They’ve adopted a strategy to make a circus atmosphere of irrelevant allegations. I don’t know why anyone who represents Alex Rodriguez has any credibility or standing to complain about anyone’s conduct, let alone ours.”

Stat of the Week

Maybe it’s me. I find this amazing:

The Rams have 46 offensive players under contract at training camp this summer in Earth City, Mo. Sam Bradford, 25, drafted in the first round in 2010, is the longest-tenured St. Louis offensive player.

We’re still three weeks away from the season, but here’s the way the neophyte Rams could line up in 2013 at the offensive skill positions:

rams-chart1

Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I

When Minnesota sporting couple Christian Ponder (Vikings QB) and Samantha Steele Ponder (ESPN sideline reporter) snuck away to get married last fall in Hudson, Wis., they had their wedding lunch at Arby’s.

II

The first-round pitching matchup in the Little League World Series featured 6-4 Grant Holman of Chula Vista, Calif., versus 6-3 Chad Lorkowski of Grosse Point Shores, Mich. Each is 13 years old.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

trave-photoI traveled almost 12,000 miles and saw some fun sights and lots of highways and backroads and good cities and towns over 26 days of touring NFL camps. And my best sight of the week came five miles from my home in Manhattan—at the 9/11 Memorial on Saturday afternoon.

I hadn’t been to the Memorial, which honors the 2,977 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001, since it opened almost two years ago. I strongly recommend it (visit 911memorial.org for tourist information). Two large pools sit in the footprints where the Twin Towers were, and the rushing water in the North and South pools cuts off the city noise you’d normally hear standing in this hallowed spot. There are 30-foot waterfalls emptying into a void in the center of the memorials, and the names of the dead are inscribed on broad bronze railings around the pools.

Two notable things for me: I bet a quarter of the visitors Saturday afternoon when I was there were 16 or younger—meaning they’d have little or no memory of the day of the attacks. They’d have heard about the tragedy, from family or history books. But the attacks seem so recent that it’s strange to fathom so many young people wouldn’t remember them. And there’s a “Survivor Tree’’ right next to the South Pool, a pear tree that has grown to 30 feet now, the only remaining tree from the site on the day of the attacks. The tree was damaged into little more than an eight-foot stump. But New York City arborists nursed it back to health at a city park. Though it was uprooted by a severe storm in 2010, the tree recovered and was returned to the site 20 months ago. Check out the photo. Looks good, doesn’t it? It needs guide wires now, but soon, the city hopes, it will be able to stand on its own. For decades.

Tweets of the Week

I
“Everybody pray 4 dustin keller….i pray you have a speedy recovery bro…and kill it when you get back…. DEFINITELY wasnt intentional.”

—@JungleBoi_Swagg, rookie safety D.J. Swearinger of the Houston Texans, after diving into the planted right knee of Miami tight end Dustin Keller in a preseason game Saturday night. No doubt the knee is severely damaged, and it’s likely Keller will be lost for the season.

Swearinger’s Twitter profile says, “If I DON’T #HUNT I DON’T #EAT.” (BIZARRE USE OF ALL-CAPS HASHTAGS.) But the hit was not dirty. It’s the way scores of players are tackled every week in the NFL. Keller just happened to have his leg planted, and Swearinger’s hit caved it in.

II
“The NFL needs to protect defenseless receivers from low hits. To me that is way more important than helmet to helmet. #nfl”

—@KellenWinslowJr, Jets tight end, on the Swearinger hit.

Sorry. Defensive players have to be able to tackle somewhere. If you allow defenders to hits ballcarriers only between the shoulders and waist, penalties would skyrocket and you’d see a lot of 47-36 scores.

III
“How you know you’re in training camp – You legitimately complain about being ‘Back in Napa again for four more days.’ “

—@ChrisWarcraft, Raiders punter Chris Kluwe, back in Napa on Sunday.

IV
Must admit, Seahawks looking like more of a threat to New England in AFC than Denver is right now.”

—@RealSkipBayless, the ESPN commentator.

Seattle moved to the NFC in 2002.

Ten Things I Think I Think

Brandon Browner's 106-yard fumble return (top left) and Zach Scudfeld's two-point converstion catch (bottom left) marked the good of preseason's second week; while Dustin Keller's likely season-ending knee injury (top right) and Dez Bryant's fumble after a 27-yard catch (bottom right, one of the Cowboys' six turnovers on the day) marked the bad. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images :: Eric Gay/AP :: Daniel Wallace/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com :: Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Brandon Browner’s 106-yard fumble return (top left) and Zach Scudfeld’s two-point converstion catch (bottom left) marked the good of preseason’s second week; while Dustin Keller’s likely season-ending knee injury (top right) and Dez Bryant’s fumble after a 27-yard catch (bottom right, one of the Cowboys’ six turnovers on the day) marked the bad. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images :: Eric Gay/AP :: Daniel Wallace/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com :: Norm Hall/Getty Images)

1. I think these are my takeaways from the second full weekend of preseason football:

a. As if Seattle needed another defensive weapon, undrafted free-agent defensive end Benson Mayowda from Idaho has looked very good in the first two games: 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits. He could come in handy in the first four weeks, with Bruce Irvin suspended.

b. It’s totally unfair, because it’s not a quarterback versus quarterback game, and because Seattle scored a touchdown on special teams and on defense in the first half Saturday night. But Russell Wilson’s Seahawks beat Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers last year, and he was up on Peyton Manning 27-7 when they were on the field together Saturday night.

c. Passer rating by Seahawk quarterbacks Saturday: Tarvaris Jackson 141.4, Russell Wilson 141.3.

d. Some teams can pass this off by saying, “It’s just the preseason.” Not Dallas. Not six turnovers Saturday in Arizona.

e. Neither can Arizona and new coach Bruce Arians, getting in the red zone four times in the first half and scoring zero touchdowns.

f. Brian Cushing looked like Brian Cushing against Miami.

g. The loss of Dustin Keller for the season hurts doubly because Joe Philbin, knowing Keller was more of an offensive weapon than Anthony Fasano, was planning on making the tight end position more of a focal point this year than the 59 catches and 544 yards Fasano and Charles Clay produced last year.

More and more, injuries impacting business in NFL

h. New England undrafted free agent tight end Zach Sudfeld is on the verge of going from a roster longshot the week after the draft to making fantasy football owners wonder, “How high should I draft this guy?”

i. Can’t make the team throwing like that, Tim Tebow.

j. Matt Flynn got sacked five times in the first half Friday night in a 20-minute span at New Orleans. Amazing thing is, he still found time and passing lanes to complete 12 of 16 passes in the half.

k. For those scoring the Chris Kluwe-Marquette King Raiders punting battle at home, each has had four punts. Average: King 55.5, Kluwe 46.0. Net: King 49.0, Kluwe 37.5. King has had one touchback, Kluwe none, and each has hit one punt inside the 20. Not enough to go on, certainly, but sometimes the preseason doesn’t allow you the kind of sample size you need for ultimate fairness.

Chris Kluwe’s first-person account of fighting for your NFL life

l. Speaking of small sample size, the Lions kicking job was David Akers’ to lose, and he’s not losing it. Havard Rugland didn’t have much of a chance Saturday in Cleveland, but a 33-yard field goal and a kickoff to the Browns’ 1-yard line don’t turn heads the way 49- and 50-yard field goals did last weekend.

m. The Colts did so many things right Sunday night. The Reggie Wayne one-handed catch, the spot-on Andrew Luck touchdown throw, the consistent pressure on Eli Manning. Good night for Indy.

n. David Diehl didn’t exactly take a chokehold over Justin Pugh in the right tackle battle for the Giants, getting beat for a 13-yard sack by Colt Erik Walden.

ICYMI

Highlights from the last week at The MMQB:


Now That’s How Your Start!

Jenny Vrentas


Hard Knocks: The Realest Reality TV

—Richard Deitsch


Where Is Titus Young? Who Is Titus Young?

—Robert Klemko


Everyday Life, but No Ordinary Thing

—Brandon Moore


Will the ‘Silly Season’ Ever End?

—Don Banks


Aaron Rodgers, From the Heart

—Peter King


Good, Bad and Ugly First Impressions

—Greg A. Bedard


Feeling the Pain of Preseason

—Andrew Brandt


Don Shula Abides

—Jenny Vrentas



An Insult to Dumps Everywhere

—Jim Trotter

2. I think the Bills were intent on starting E.J. Manuel in their opener against New England, and it would have been the smartest choice. But with Manuel having undergone a minor knee procedure Sunday—21 days from the first game—it’s more likely he won’t be ready then. That’s deflating news for a Buffalo crowd that surely thought it could steal one from a Gronk-less Pats team (which the Patriots are looking more and more like on the opening Sunday).

3. I think this will be Jon Gruden’s last year in the ESPN booth—assuming there is significant interest in him as an NFL head coach. And there will be.

4. I think there are only so many games a coach who still is a coach can do in the booth, and only so many times driving to an office to watch tape without a team to boss around, before Gruden says No mas, and takes the reins somewhere next year. Dallas, Carolina, Detroit, Tennessee, Jets. Who knows? Oakland … not so fast. Gruden turned 50 Saturday. I think he’s got at least one six-year reign in him.

5. I think I’m as eager to see Randy Moss on TV as the next football-watcher is. I love the hire, because he might actually be honest and say some smart things. But I’m skeptical of his staying power. Can he stay interested in TV? It seems so anti-Moss, to sit in a studio and talk football. Moss is part of the new Fox Sports 1 Fox Football Daily show, with rotating analysts each evening at 6 p.m. ET. Jay Glazer and Curt Menefee will host the show. “Two things on Moss,” Glazer said over the weekend. “One, he’s telling us stuff about [Tom] Brady and [Bill] Belichick that no one else knows. He’s so damn smart. He’s telling us how Tom Brady thinks. This is going to be really valuable. Two, he really, really wants to be good.” We shall see.

6. I think the longer Arian Foster (calf, back) misses time—and he hasn’t practiced in training camp, or since spring OTAs, and he’s stuck on the Physically Unable to Perform list—the more I’d worry about his ability to play 16 games this season. And you know how valuable he is to the Texans.

7. I think if you wonder what a good portion of the concussion lawsuit between former players and the NFL will be about, you need to read this important story from ESPN and its Outside the Lines program. I’m not talking specifically about the doctor-patient relationship between Elliot Pellman and Paul Tagliabue as much as I’m talking about what the plaintiffs’ side will bring up about the qualifications of Pellman, and how many doctors put players back into games without knowing the full extent of their head injuries. The NFL will argue that the doctors didn’t let concussed players back in games, of course. And that will be the crux of a large part of the case. Pellman’s resume, and his influence over NFL policy, will be attacked by the plaintiffs.

8. I think my least favorite assignment of the year is nigh: By Friday, I’ve got to pick my Super Bowl matchup and every team’s record for Sports Illustrated. I’ve started sketching out my picks, and I can reveal this exclusively: I won’t be picking a San Diego-Atlanta Super Bowl for the second straight year.

9. I think if Champ Bailey misses the first couple of weeks of the season with his foot injury—and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie remains out with his high ankle sprain—the position Denver thought would be such a strength could have Tony Carter and Chris Harris (the normal slot corner) starting against Joe Flacco in the opener. That’s not good.

Your Turn

Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in Tuesday's mailbag.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Anyone who had Max Scherzer to have 18 wins by Aug. 18, you win the Baseball Genius Pool.

b. Funniest thing about the A-Rod beaning by Ryan Dempster, after Dempster threw behind Rodriguez once and inside the next two pitches, was Red Sox manager John Farrell saying the pitch got away from Dempster, and he had to establish the inside of the plate, and blah blah blah. Good one, John. Most amazing thing about it was the corners of your mouth didn’t curl up even slightly when you said it.

c. Well, there was one other funny thing. This tweet from the Iron Shiek: “Ryan Dempster I owe you $20 bubba.”

d. Good to see a Red Sox-Yanks instant classic anyway.

e. The more stuff leaks around Ryan Braun, the more I think he’s just not a good person. In any way.

f. Miguel Cabrera could have a significantly better season than his Triple Crown year and not win the Triple Crown this year. What an amazing player.

g. Did the Dodgers actually lose Sunday?

h. The MMQB has its one-month anniversary on Thursday. I hope we get more sleep in the second month.

i. Coffeenerdness: Macchiato beats latte. The espresso sitting on the foam does it.

j. Beernerdness: Glad to see Alaskan White sold in Mankato. Haven’t had one of those in a couple of years, and it didn’t disappoint.

The Adieu Haiku

No Champ, DRC?
No Pitta or Anquan B?
One scarred opener.