Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the roster moves that caught my eye this weekend included:
a. Linebacker Adrian Robinson joined his third team in 10 days Sunday. He was dealt from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia Aug. 22, then got cut by the Eagles Saturday, and claimed by Denver Sunday. Robinson should either be a special-teams staple, or a weekly decision whether he’s active for Denver.
b. The starter at quarterback for the last Vikings game (playoffs versus Green Bay) was Joe Webb. He made the team as one of five wide receivers.
c. Your favorite undrafted rookie free-agent, fullback Zach Line of the Vikings (thanks, Jenny Vrentas) looks like a Week 1 starter as Adrian Peterson’s personal protector. Follow along as Line chases his NFL dream all season.
d. Matt Simms, an absolute roster afterthought with the Jets, is one of their four quarterbacks this morning. Stay tuned, but son of Phil wowed the coaches with his 33-of-44 preseason finale against Philadelphia. “Quite honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player make the improvements he’s made,’’ said coach Rex Ryan.
e. One of the game’s best corners for the last decade-plus, Antoine Winfield, will retire instead of playing one more season, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said after the Seahawks released him. Terrific outside and slot corner; much more physical than one of the game’s smallest corners should have been.
f. Daniel Adongo, a rugby player the Colts are trying to turn into a pass rusher, signed with the Indianapolis practice squad Sunday. He’s a Kenyan, and played in the world’s best rugby league, in South Africa, before being coaxed into giving football a try earlier this summer.
g. Defensive lineman Austen Lane wrote that wonderful piece for The MMQB, What It’s Like To Get Whacked, after getting cut unexpectedly by the Jaguars in June. We promised you a part two. Lane, picked up by Kansas City when Jacksonville cut him, was waived by the Chiefs Saturday. We’ll see what happens in the coming days, and Lane will certainly write a part two soon.
h. Jonathan Vilma stuck on the Saints’ 53-man roster despite being hobbled by an August knee procedure. New Orleans kept six inside linebackers, which could be a nod toward accounting for the rehabbing Vilma.
i. Curtis Painter beat out David Carr at the Giants’ backup quarterback. Somebody’s got to sign Carr.
j. What a disaster the Eagles’ 2011 first-round firefighter, Danny Watkins, turned out to be. Good example of reaching for a guy who never really loved the game. Watkins never played football until he was 22.
k. Austin Collie’s future has to be in doubt after being cut by the Niners. He has a history of concussions.
l. Geno Smith’s two favorite receivers at West Virginia, Tavon Austin (of course) and Stedman Bailey, were two of five wideouts kept by the Rams.
m. The Bucs signed Lawrence Tynes to be their kicker, but he came down with a serious infection, MRSA, that is resistant to antibiotics. So Rian Lindell won the kicking job, and Tynes, trying to get healthy, is bitter the team put him on the non-football injury list rather than injured reserve. The non-football injury status means Tynes won’t have this year count toward his NFL pension. His wife, Amanda, tweeted that the Bucs informed Tynes of the designation via email. That didn’t go over well in the Tynes household.
n. Pat White was the fourth Washington quarterback kept. Seems excessive, until you realize White is a mobile left-handed quarterback, and can play the mobile left-handed quarterback the team faces in Week 1, Michael Vick, on the scout team this week.
o. The San Diego offensive line, in Philip Rivers’ 10th season, will be bookended by two new tackles: monstrous King Dunlap on the left and rookie D.J. Fluker on the right.
p. The Chargers chose not to keep veteran tackle Max Starks after he gave up three sacks in the preseason finale.
q. Lousiana Tech’s Ryan Allen, with a monster leg, beat out Zoltan Mesko to punt for the Patriots.
r. The Raiders kept two punters on the 53-man roster Saturday, and unable to scare up any interest in a trade for Chris Kluwe, waived him Sunday. The Oakland punter is youngster Marquette King, who, when I was at Raiders camp, was punting the ball at high as the ancient evergreens around the training camp fields in Napa, Calif. Kluwe wrote about fighting for your NFL life, and being a good person to your competition, for The MMQB last month.
s. I wrote about agent Joe Linta driving through a snowstorm to work out Southern Illinois linebacker Jayson DiManche, a very marginal prospect not invited to the Scouting Combine … while Linta was in the middle of negotiating the largest contract in NFL history for Joe Flacco. Linta signed DiManche. Kept saying DiManche was one of those classic players lost in the cracks, a guy who should have been drafted. DiManche got signed by Cincinnati after the draft, and that wasn’t a great place for a linebacker to sign, because the Bengals were stocked in the front seven. Well, DiManche made it. He was one of five linebackers (a thin class, meaning he’ll play special teams and probably some from scrimmage) kept by head coach Marvin Lewis.
2. I think the most underrated roster move of the weekend was Denver placing desperately needed pass rusher Quanterus Smith on injured-reserve because he was slow to return to full speed after undergoing ACL surgery late last November. “The knee just never came back,’’ said John Elway. “He was favoring it the whole training camp.” Smith was the defensive end from Western Kentucky who had three sacks against the vaunted Alabama offensive line last season before tearing the ACL in a later game. Now this is what would worry me the most if I were John Fox approaching the Thursday night opener between his Broncos and the Ravens: Last season, his two best pass rushers, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, combined for 29.5 sacks, 26 additional quarterback hits and 89 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Dumervil has left for Baltimore in free agency and Miller, of course, is suspended for the first six games of the season. The four men who will start—presumably—Thursday night are Derek Wolfe and Robert Ayers at end and Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan at outside linebacker. Those four players combined for nine sacks, 17 hits and 26 hurries last year. Obviously, the best nickel rusher Denver has is free-agent signee Shaun Phillips (9.5-6-23), who should add some edge pressure. But he’s 32 and who knows what he has left. Fox told me in camp he’s confident he can develop a way to get pressure. We’ll see what he has up his sleeve Thursday. That’ll be a major storyline to the game.
3. I think it wasn’t a good weekend for bonus baby quarterbacks, and not just ones named Tebow. Five quarterbacks picked in the top 50 of the last seven drafts were cut: Vince Young and Matt Leinart (2006), Brady Quinn (2007) and Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen (2010). Brian Billick says picking a quarterback is no better than a 50-50 proposition between success and failure. Let’s see, based on the five drafts between 2006 and 2010. (It’s too early to make definitive judgments on quarterbacks in the league for two or fewer years.) Let’s look at the quarterbacks picked in the top two rounds from 2006 to 2010, and their fate:
Of the 21 quarterbacks drafted in the top two rounds of these five drafts, six are solid starters, and eight are out of football.
Let’s now cut it down to first-rounders only. Billick, it turns out, is on the money. If you don’t count Sanchez as a starter—and I don’t see how you can term him a starter right now—six of the 12 first-round picks over a five-year period are starting in the league. So it’s still a crapshoot. Six players in the first two rounds of the ’11 draft will be opening-day starters, but let’s see if Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, among others, can stand the test of time.
4. I think if there was any doubt the Panthers are shaping the roster in new GM Dave Gettleman’s image, here’s proof: Only one of the eight 2011 draft picks from the Marty Hurney regime is on Carolina’s active 53-man roster this morning. The last man standing from a two-year-old draft class is Cam Newton.
5. I think the Ravens will be a very interesting chemistry experiment. Has there ever been a Super Bowl team that changed seven defensive starters? This one will. Joe Flacco will have a new snapper, Gino Gradkowski, after the retirement of Matt Birk; and he’ll have two new targets in Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley. I’m fascinated to see how different this team will be Thursday night in Denver.
6. I think the most daunting task of Week 1—even playing at home—would be Jeff Tuel (4-22 as a Washington State starter) trying to beat Tom Brady. But as coach Doug Marrone said Sunday, if the rehabbing E.J. Manuel (August knee surgery) can move well by Wednesday, the Bills obviously will start Manuel against the Patriots Sunday.
7. I think this is the one stat of the weekend that says the most about the Philadelphia Eagles, courtesy of beat man Reuben Frank of CSN Philadelphia, after they waived 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins: The Eagles drafted 94 players between 2003 and 2012, and four of those 94 made the Pro Bowl. Maybe that’s the big reason why Andy Reid wanted so badly to divest himself of personnel duties in Kansas City. He just wasn’t very good at it in his last few years in Philadelphia.
8. I think I got to thinking when I saw the Colin Kaepernick/Russell Wilson EA Sports/Madden commercial, the one that has little Colin and little Russell training in weird ways to be NFL quarterbacks: A year ago today, people had barely heard of these guys. If you don’t think the NFL can invent stars out of whole cloth, look at the story of the second- and third-round picks who might own the future of the quarterback position. It’s amazing how fast things change in the NFL.
9. I think The New York Times has made a smart hire in retaining Scott Fujita as a regular correspondent. Fujita’s first column (I’m guessing his take on the settlement between the league and the 4,500 players over head trauma) will appear this week. The reason it’s a smart hire is that Fujita’s one of those players who always saw every side of the game—from the league’s perspective, the union’s perspective and the player’s perspective. That, plus he can write a sentence. Looking forward to reading what he has to say regularly. He’s also writing for FOXsports.com, including this gem on what cutdown day is really like, including the memory of a teammate throwing a chair when he heard he was about to be cut.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Welcome to the world, Taylor Mattingly Eisen. The third child and first daughter of Rich and Suzy Shuster Eisen came into the world Friday. And yes, the middle name is for the first baseman Rich has sort of a thing for. And Mattingly knows. Rich believes it’s not the first time someone has named a child for him.
b. Saw a cool indie film over the weekend, In a World, written by and starring Lake Bell. Never thought I’d find the dog-eat-dog world of voice-overing making a good film, and I never knew Lake Bell before Saturday. But the movie’s good, and she’s a star.
c. The Red Sox have a 5.5-game American League East lead with 24 games to play. They wouldn’t be fixing to break hearts from Millinocket to Woonsocket, would they?
d. I hate the one-game Wild Card in baseball. It devalues the 162-game season. Having said that, a sudden-death playoff game in the National League Central, with Cincinnati playing at either Pittsburgh or St. Louis, will be pretty dramatic. And that’s how it’s shaping up.
e. I want Miguel Cabrera to get healthy, fast. I want him to win two straight Triple Crowns.
f. So … are you actually trying to convince me that Teddy Bridgewater is better than my alma mater’s Tyler Tettleton? Is that what you’re trying to say?
g. One request about Week 1 of the college football season: Can we wait a few more games—one or two at least, please—before saying Jadaveon Clowney has blown the No. 1 pick in a draft that is 36 weeks away? Thank you. Clowney, by the way, is tops on Andy Staples’ draft board.
h. Coffeenerdness: Sunday marked the last three-espresso-shot day of the season. From now on, it’s a minimum of nine per Sunday. Let the all-nighters begin next Sunday for this column.
i. Beernerdness: I have no idea what it means to be a Double Imperial IPA, but I do know it tastes very good—a classic IPA. Had one the other night: Calalyst Double IPA, by Backlash Beer Company in Holyoke, Mass., and if it hadn’t been so lethal (8.5 percent alcohol), I’d have had more than two.
j. For those saying, “How can you pick Robert Griffin III to be the Comeback Player of the Year?’’ (Which I did.) He played through the end of the season, then had knee surgery. So he actually played the 2012 season. A couple of things. There are no rules for the Associated Press voters for postseason awards (I have one of those votes) concerning the Comeback Player. A player can be coming back from major surgery, or from a lousy year the previous season. And there is precedent for voting for a player who gets hurt late in the previous year. In 2012, Adrian Peterson got 17.5 of 50 votes for Comeback Player, suffered his injury in the second-to-last game of the 2011 Vikings season.
k. Now for all the rest of my picks … I accept all over-ripe tomatoes, right in the forehead.
l. Good luck in surgery, Jack Bowers. You’re in good hands.
The Adieu Haiku
Long U.S. nightmare?
Over. Next 20 Sundays
Are football Sundays.