Friday, July 25
Bon Secours Training Facility, Richmond, Va.
Robert Griffin III looks like Robert Griffin III again.
Washington’s a mystery team in a mystery division. It’s easy to look at the team and figure it was a 3-13 outfit last year, and maybe the quarterback is healthy again, but is that enough to make a playoff return? Robert Griffin III is back, and from the looks of this practice this morning—he ran, slid (surprise!) and threw the ball well—he’s got a chance to be the man he was two years ago. The big thing Griffin has going for him is the deepest roster of weapons in the NFC East. Couple DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and Andre Roberts, the former Cardinal (who looked elusive and very quick today), with a tight end with breakout-star potential, Jordan Reed, and a back with 2,888 yards in his first two years, Alfred Morris, and, I mean, who tops that? The defense allowed 30 points once in the last 13 games. But the mystery comes in because, at 24, Griffin now has had two ACL reconstructions, and he simply has to avoid some of the crash-test contact that’s gotten him in trouble in his college and pro career.
“Physically,” Griffin told me after practice, “I was able to go through a whole off-season without having to worry about injury or rehab. I was able to refine my craft in the off-season. It’s a lot easier to do that when you don’t have six hours of daily rehab to worry about. I am not having to come out to see if I can do anything. I know I can. On the field, two years of playing experience really helps you at any level of football.”
And then he had to pause a second, because the kids nearby were too loud, demanding he come over to sign for them. He would in a minute.
“Ro-BERT! Ro-BERT! Ro-BERT!”
He went on. “None of us shy away from the fact that we were 3-13 last year. We have a bad taste in our mouths. For us as a group, we get to play football again, and we have a new coach, a new direction. That direction’s up.”
Greg A. Bedard’s Washington camp report: Getting it going under Gruden. FULL STORY
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Thursday, July 24
Ravens facility, Owings Mills, Md.
Ray Rice resumes his career, chastened
Six seconds of mayhem, if that, ruined six seasons of reputation-building for Ray Rice, suspended for two games and fined $529,000 for striking his fiancée last February. And for one day anyway, the day I was here, Rice was a downtrodden man. Now the questions that remain:
1. How will he respond to the suspension, and to the world at-large that thinks commissioner Roger Goodell let him off way too easy? Rice was significantly down, I’m told, when GM Ozzie Newsome told him the news before practice Thursday. Not about the length of the suspension, but because of the weight of feeling he let so many people down. He will have to rebuild a shattered reputation brick by brick, and continue to work on his marriage, all while trying to jump-start a career that was blown off course by an awful 2013.
2. Is he really out of the woods with his wife, and can he be trusted to never hit another woman? Obviously this is the crux of the ongoing story. His wife, Janay, told Goodell this was a one-time event that would never happen again, and Goodell apparently believed her, though domestic-abuse experts say that as often as not a victim won’t tell the truth, so as to save her partner’s neck. Rice won’t get a third chance from society, so he has to know this can’t happen again.
3. What about Rice the player? Rice was making changes to his physical life before he struck his fiancée, losing about 15 pounds this off-season. He was too heavy last year to be effective, and couldn’t make anyone miss. Now 204, around his rookie-year weight, Rice seems to be ready to be very good again—for 14 games, at least. “I honestly think he’s going to dominate the league the way he did two or three years ago,’’ one Raven said. Rice had 2,068 rushing/receiving yards as recently as 2011. He looks and moves like he can still be an impact player.
Rice will leave the team after the fourth preseason game, and he can return after the Ravens’ Sept. 11 Thursday night game against Pittsburgh. You can’t play football with your tail between your legs. So he’s going to find a way to make sure he’s ready when he walks back into football in September, trying to recapture the drive he had three years ago as a player.
Greg A. Bedard’s Ravens camp report: Looking beyond Ray Rice. FULL STORY
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New York Giants
Wednesday, July 23
Giants facility, East Rutherford, N.J.
How do you change everything at age 67?
Tom Coughlin would be a good study for AARP or the Harvard Business School. Or both. This year he did two very uncharacteristic Coughlin things:
- He blew up an offense he’s been associated with or ran every season for the last 27.
- A noted control freak, Coughlin handed the offense to a stranger, Ben McAdoo, a Green Bay assistant.
A stranger! “Well,” he said, “Bill Parcells didn’t know me when he hired me [as a Giants assistant in 1988] either.”
So, I asked the oldest head coach in the NFL, what does it take to hit restart at age 67?
“I looked at our team and I just felt like what I needed to do from a leadership standpoint was stimulate our veteran players,’’ he said. “Stimulate Eli. Create some energy, some renewed vigor, some enthusiasm for the unknown. Eli had played in this system for 10 years. We won two Super Bowls with it. His numbers from time to time have been out of sight. He’s a leading guy in the two-minute offense for any number of years, when we had great running teams, we had balance, he’d been incredible. He’s been the MVP of two Super Bowls. Eli’s had to do it like a young guy coming in. That’s exactly what he’s done. For me, I have to force myself, just like all the players, to learn a new system. It is stimulating. It does create a little bit of pressure. You remember when we used to practice twice a day in pads? You had about an hour between and you ran around like a crazy guy as an assistant coach. You came off the field, you grabbed lunch, you got back in a meeting, you went back in with the players, you taught a whole new installation list for the afternoon. Those things have kind of mellowed out because of the new system that we’re in. But now, I think there’s some energy that maybe we haven’t had.’’
Coughlin knows energy is one thing, wins another. He’s one win away from passing Paul Brown on the all-time NFL list (“Wow,’’ he said when he heard this), and to get many of those this year, he knows he’d better have picked right when he chose the West Coast guy from Green Bay, McAdoo. The Giants’ season depends on it.
Peter King’s Giants camp report: The short story of Eli’s new offense. FULL STORY.
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Monday, July 21
St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, N.Y.
You want to feel pressure? Be E.J. Manuel for a day.
In a recent Bills’ practice, young GM Doug Whaley, who cut his teeth watching some bombs-away quarterbacks win games and titles in Pittsburgh—most recently Ben Roethlisberger—sidled up to E.J. Manuel and said, “Don’t be perfect. Be a football player.”
Translation: Take some chances downfield, man. You’ve got some weapons out there now.
Manuel led all quarterbacks in football last year in percentage of pass attempts to running backs. That usually means a quarterback is checking the ball down, playing it safe. When the Bills drafted the most dangerous receiver in college football in May, Sammy Watkins, they didn’t draft him to block for running backs.
In one practice I saw, Manuel was ultra-disciplined and careful not to turn it over—I thought far too safe to ever get the full benefit out of playing with Watkins. But the next day Manuel got the ball downfield a few more times, particularly down the sidelines to Watkins. That’s going to be something Whaley and the coaching staff must monitor. You don’t want to browbeat your quarterback, but you don’t want Watkins to be running clear-out routes either.
“There is discipline in checking it down too,” coach Doug Marrone said. “We’d never have beat Baltimore last year if he wasn’t so efficient moving the ball downfield with short throws in the two-minute offense. But I won’t say you’re totally wrong either. We’ve got to get it downfield.”
Peter King’s Bills camp report: Watkins wows, but it the end it’s up to E.J. FULL STORY
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It’s Tweetup Time.
Please join me at Louisville Slugger Field in Louisville next Sunday at 5 p.m. for a Tweetup, to discuss everything you need to know about the 2014 NFL season. Actually, I’ll be there to answer any questions you have and to meet and greet whoever is interested. I’ll have The MMQB Team with me, along with our country-touring RV (which is starting to get a little gamey; imagine what it’ll be like in a week), on the heels of watching the Titans practice Saturday night in Nashville.
A Tweetup, for those not well-versed in Tweetdom, is this: I show up at a public place, you come and see me, we talk for a while, maybe have a beer, and then we leave. The minor-league Louisville Bats play that night, and this being a Serenity Now evening for me, our team will relax at the ballpark.
Follow me on Twitter (@SI_PeterKing) for exact details and location, which I’ll post Friday on my Twitter feed.