Scenes from an Ongoing Tour of Training Camps
Saints doing some hitting. E.J. Manuel taking shots downfield. RGIII getting his swagger back. The NFL's first week back was full of memorable sights, but the most impressive was a second-year coach making his 10-6 team even better
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — This is what a real training-camp practice sounds like, via the verbal stylings of New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his defensive coach, Bill Johnson.
The scene: First padded Saints practice of camp … Sunday morning, 9:19 a.m. … defensive line group in the southwestern end of the brand-new field at The Greenbrier … grass like an Augusta fairway (and I’m not kidding) … cool morning, about 71 … storm clouds rolling in from the west, white cumulus ones interrupted by the Allegheny Mountains—in fact clouding the view of the homes of Nick Faldo and Jerry West … the nine-man defensive-line group stretching and warming up before hitting someone else for the first time since January.
Ryan, moving from man to man:
“Hit today. Hit. Hit. Be physical. Be physical. Get the ball out! Lotta life. Let’s go. Let’s go, D. C’mon now. First practice in pads. F—in’ pads!! Let’s go!”
The linebacker group joined the defensive linemen. One by one, the players lined up and attacked the individual sled. One after one, all of them plowed into it with their hands and upper bodies, lifted it up and tossed it aside.
“All right!” Ryan said. “Now this is football.”
The group finished. Johnson began hustling to the next drill.
“Come on, Bill!” said Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan. “We always do two!”
“All right, baby!” Johnson said. “Let’s go!”
A second shot for everyone at the sled ensued. A few minutes later players lined up on either side of the ball for an inside-running drill. No tackle, but the defense could stand up the ball-carrier with a hard thud and try to strip the ball. Lots of hype and excitement here, followed by a couple of runners shaking loose and getting outside.
Ryan: “F—in’ lettin’ them run through you like paper! Awful!”
Next play: Running back Khiry Robinson got eaten alive inside. Never made it out of the mugging throng.
And so it ebbed and flowed, the first padded practice of a promising season. It was a fun scene, but the most impressive 20 minutes I spent in Week 1 on the Training Camp Tour goes to…
* * *
Saturday, July 26
Eagles facility, Philadelphia
Chip Kelly, unplugged
I’ve had only two extended conversations with Kelly since he was named coach of the Eagles 19 months ago. To say I know him well would be folly. But I’m starting to get a feel for him. Before his first training camp practice of the season on Saturday, we spent time in his office, and when we parted, I thought how much he reminded me of Jimmy Johnson when Johnson entered the league 25 years ago. Respectful of the other coaches and teams, but they aren’t going to dictate what he’s going to do. Totally confident that his style will work in the NFL. Unlike Johnson, Kelly’s not brash on the outside. Like Johnson, he knows deep down his way will win. Johnson brought a small, fast defense into a league that was going bigger and bigger. It worked. Kelly brings a fast-break offense from Oregon, and in the second half of the season, with different personnel groupings and a quarterback who could keep it all straight, the team went 7-1.
He also is the kind of guy who … I’ll put it this way. Imagine Ford was getting stale making cars (imagine that!), and execs there pursued a Honda VP to rejuvenate the company, and in the interview the Honda guy said five or six things that made the Ford team think, “Why didn’t we think of that?” That’s Kelly.
The five or six things he said Saturday that made me think:
The biggest surprise of his first year and a half on the job. “The hype. [Director of public relations] Derek [Boyko] asked me the question and said I couldn’t say it … What’s the worst thing about the league? I said the draft. I mean, the hype that goes into the draft is insane. Totally insane. The biggest thing for me is that everybody thinks whoever you drafted or whoever you signed is now gonna be a savior. They come in just like me and you come in as freshmen in high school or freshmen in college, or your first year on the job at Sports Illustrated—you’re not telling people what to do, you’re just trying to figure out what room to go to. I think a lot of times the hype turns into really, really hard times for the individual who got picked, because there’s so many expectations of everyone building them up to be Superman because they had three months to write about them and talk about them. Then when they get picked, they’re a very, very good prospect, but there’s a learning curve when you go from any job out of college into a company. If you take a job at Wells Fargo when you get out of college, your first day of the job they don’t say, ‘He’s our first-round draft pick, he’s the savior to the company!’
“I think the byproduct to the hype that bothers me, is that to some guys it’s overwhelming for them. The NFL has their Rookie Premiere and they’re out there getting all these pictures taken and they’re missing practice time to go out to California and they’re treated like gods, and I’m like, I don’t know if he’s going to start. That’s not fair. And the analysis … We drafted [pass-rusher] Marcus Smith in the first round, and Jordan Matthews in the second round. Then you listen to people around here that say, ‘Well, we don’t like their draft. If they had taken Matthews first and Smith second, we would give them an A.’ Who cares who went one and who went two? It’s almost like there’s a lot of scrutiny on Marcus Smith because he went one, but Jordan gets a pass because he fell to the second round. If you ask both those individuals, they have the same goals and aspirations and they’re training exactly the same way. It’s just how people perceive things, and I think a lot of that has to do with the hype.
“Jerry Rice dropped a lot of balls when he was a rookie. He was a strong kid. He took it. But now, for some of these guys, it crushes them. It’s no different than bringing a pitcher up before you should and he gets racked. He’s a stiff. Send him back to the minors. There’s a maturation process for everybody. There’s no other profession like it. The hype part is just constant.”
On not seeming emotional—ever. “Oh, I get pissed off. Yeah. I have a lot of friends who are Navy SEALs, and I respect what they do. Part of their ethos is ‘I don’t advertise the nature of my work, nor do I seek recognition for my actions.’ We all have jobs to do. We’re not in this to see our names in the paper or have people say good things about you. Or we shouldn’t be. I love practice. I love being out on the field. I love game day. The sound bytes and ESPN and all those other things, that’s not of any interest to me.”
On players buying into Kelly’s advanced nutrition program. (Note from me here. I asked LeSean McCoy about Kelly’s emphasis on nutrition. “I eat better than I ever have,’’ McCoy said. “Chip says things like, ‘Think back to your greatest games. How was your preparation that week? Did you get your rest? Did you eat right? And think of games you weren’t great. How were your habits that week?’ I got lighter last year. I’m maybe 209 now. I was about 10 pounds heavier the year before. And there’s no question I make people miss better now. I just feel better.”)
Kelly: “I believe nutrition ideas have helped. I think that obviously our job is to be educators. So we’re educating them on what’s gonna make them the best football player that they can possibly be. We have to find people that are gonna use that information. That’s the key ingredient. We have a lot of guys here that are thirsty for knowledge. They eat up what we’re teaching. We’re not babysitting them. We don’t go home and watch what they eat. Nor should we. I want a bunch of guys that … We’re gonna provide you with everything we possibly can for you to be successful, but you have to do it. You have to work. You have to be the one that adopts those philosophies yourself. We don’t have you on lockdown. Nor should we. I don’t want guys like that.”
Changing the practice week to a faster pace and heavier work load later in the week. “We’re not walking through. We’re running. Always running.”
Treatment of rookies. “We try to accept everyone when they first come in here. We’ve never had a rookie show… It’s difficult when you’re a rookie. You’re just trying to fit in. Then you have to get them to acclimate to offense, defense, special teams. All the other stuff that’s so different and they now have to worry about. Then to have to do other things on top of it? We try to be very accepting when young guys come in here and welcome them to what we’re doing. I think our older guys by and large have been really good with that.”
Predictions. “No one knows. I don’t know. I don’t know anybody that does know. I was asked after the draft, ‘Give yourself a grade.’ I was like, ‘I have absolutely no idea.’ But it’s the truth! No one knows. I’ve said it all along. Everybody says, ‘What a great job by the Patriots getting Tom Brady in the sixth round.’ If you knew he was gonna be that good, you should have taken him in the first. No one knows. We all kind of luck out.”
And so it went.
When we talked about year two, Kelly was very coach-like. No magic pills here. Just progress. Slow and steady progress. “Last year,’’ he said, “we grew as the season went on. We started off at 3-5 in the first eight, then finished 7-1. It was evident to us as coaches that we were growing weekly. It started to show up on the scoreboard. Just guys getting more comfortable in what we’re doing. Guys being able to finish other guys’ sentences, instead of turning to look to somebody that has to tell them what to do, and then having to do the thinking they have to do themselves. In the short time that we have them, it’s hard. We knew there were going to be growing pains, because it was a total new offense, defense, and special teams system than the existing guys had ever had. What excites me is these guys are very invested in what we’re doing and really, really want to be good. They don’t just say it. Their actions back that up.”
A few interesting points about year one of Kelly’s Eagles, from Neil Hornsby and Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus. Nick Foles is so much more a Kelly quarterback than Mike Vick was. Last year, Foles led all NFL quarterbacks with a 131.8 rating when blitzed. Vick’s rating: 78.4. That says Foles can think quickly under pressure, and a Kelly passer also has to think quickly because the offense is moving fast anyway.
Jahnke unearthed a great one here: The Eagles, particularly with 2013 rookie Zack Ertz, got great at multiple tight end packages. In the first half of the season, they used one back and two tight ends 17 percent of the time. In the second half, they used one back and two tights 33.4 percent of the time. Ertz contributed four regular-season touchdowns, all in the second half of the season. Now, Brent Celek, Ertz and James Casey are in their second year in the new offense, and they’ll be better—and more productive, most likely.
Finally: The line learned on the run as the season went on, and was superb in the second half. The five offensive linemen allowed 199 quarterback disruptions (sacks, knockdowns or pressure) in the first eight games, only 57 in the last eight.
On the practice field Saturday, Darren Sproles was running around from three spots—the backfield, the slot, out wide. Big target Matthews worked with the second unit—maybe not for long. DeSean Jackson will be missed, but as The MMQB’s Greg Bedard said watching the workout: “No one person will replace Jackson. Chip’s scheme will.”
It’s going to be a fascinating year two. If the Eagles continue the fast-track of the last two months of last season, Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans are going to have competition for late January football in the NFC.
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
* * *
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
* * *
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.
* * *
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
* * *
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.
Quotes of the Week
“The best cornerback in the league? Me.”
—Dee Milliner, second-year cornerback of the New York Talking Jets. Pro Football Focus rated Milliner 55th of 79 NFL cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps in 2013.
These cornerbacks were graded higher by PFF after film study of every game: Logan Ryan (30th), Jimmy Wilson (41st), Terrell Thomas (44th), Nolan Carroll (45th), Robert McClain (50th), Darius Butler (51st), and Melvin White (52nd).
“The really great athletes make their news on the field, not off the field. We expect better from him.”
—Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam, on his life-of-the-party quarterback, Johnny Manziel.
It’s clear the Browns are chapped by their rookie QB’s lifestyle, which I’ll address in Ten Things on Page 4.
“To me, shotgun spread is the new Pro Style.”
—University of Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez, on the changing face of college football, and the NFL game too.
“On Sundays, and depending on how many games Roger makes us play—some Saturdays, some Thursdays, some Mondays—those are going to be the guys that I’m out there with. Those are the guys who are important.”
—Former Steelers safety Ryan Clark on his new teammates in the Washington secondary.
I also liked this one the other day from Clark: “We don’t have the man with the hair, but we’ve really got a great secondary, I think.” There’s only one Troy Polamalu.
“I feel 30 and I want to coach until I’m 80.”
—New Orleans coach Sean Payton, who is 50, responding to Drew Brees saying he wanted to play until he’s 45.
Sign of the Week
“Don’t sign Dalton. He sucks”
—Banner on a highway overpass near the Cincinnati Bengals practice fields at training camp Friday, referring to contract negotiations with quarterback Andy Dalton, not the biggest fan favorite after three straight Wild Card playoff losses in his three NFL seasons.
Tough crowd in Bengal-land.
Stat of the Week
I was on the sidelines of Saints practice Sunday when it became very clear what the emphasis of camp will be—forcing turnovers.
First: New Orleans bucked the conventional wisdom about needing to take the ball away on defense to have a good chance to win. The worst takeaway teams in the NFC last year show that, mostly, when you don’t force turnovers, you don’t win a lot:
So the Saints’ defensive coaches harped from the start of the first padded practice about taking the ball away. “Get the [expletive] ball out!’’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan screamed as Khiry Robinson tried to power through the line on an inside run drill. And so on.
On a sideline completion to fullback Eric Lorig, right corner Champ Bailey stripped the ball out violently, the ball bounded toward the white stripe, safety Rafael Bush dove and batted it in-bounds, and another defender recovered it and sprinted downfield. Well, you’d have thought the defensive backs just won a playoff game. They went wild. “That’s who we gotta be!’’ one of the DBs yelled.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Baltimore wide receiver Steve Smith and quarterback Joe Flacco have an interesting competition going: They wager $25 Starbucks cards when they disagree on on-field reads they have made. Case in point: Smith and Flacco viewed one adjusted Smith route differently, causing an errant throw; Smith said he was reading a Cover-2 alignment by the defense. Flacco said it was Cover-3. They went to the videotape. Flacco was right. They saw on video two corners covering the deep third of either side of the field, with the free safety dropping to cover the deep middle.
In the Starbucks Card standings this offseason, Flacco has a two-card lead on Smith.
Oh, and Smith pays up—usually the next day.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
First: thanks to GoRVing.com for the groovy 30-foot RV. Now, here have been the movements of The MMQB Team, piloted by trusty driver/tour manager/pinch-hitting columnist/office mainstay Andy DeGory:
- Sunday July 20: Drive 330 miles from New York City to Pittsford, N.Y., to see the Bills for two days.
- Monday night, July 21: Drive 330 miles back to New York.
- Tuesday, July 22: Off day.
- Wednesday, July 23: Drive eight miles from New York to the Meadowlands for Giants practice.
- Thursday, July 24: Drive 199 miles from New York to Owings Mills, Md., for the Ravens, and, after a long day there, drive 163 miles to Richmond in advance of Washington’s practice there Friday.
- Friday, July 25: Watch Washington practice, work for awhile, then drive 88 miles to Woodbridge, Va., for the Potomac Nationals-Carolina MudCats minor-league ballgame. Then drive 118 miles to Newark, Del., to stay for the night.
- Saturday, July 26: A bear. Drive 42 miles to Philadelphia for Eagles practice. Late in the afternoon, drive 198 miles to Winchester, Va., eat dinner at Violino Ristorante (thank you, internet), and drive 186 miles to White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. A Hampton Inn bed never felt so good.
- Geographical-interlude highlight: We were in three states—Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia—in the span of one minute Saturday around 7 p.m.
- Sunday, July 27: Drive 308 miles from White Sulphur Springs to Gaffney, S.C., just shy of Panthers’ camp, for their Monday practice.
Late Sunday afternoon, we passed a “Welcome to Virginia” sign. Amazing. Virginia to West Virginia to Virginia to West Virginia to Virginia … in one weekend.
Tweets of the Week
Training camp B.O. might be the worst smell on the planet.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) July 26, 2014
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Colts owner Jim Irsay passed out $100 bills to fans today at training camp.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) July 26, 2014
There’s something slightly creepy about that. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s strange.
The NFL is sending a message with the Ray Rice suspension. Unfortunately, it’s to women.
— Cindy Boren (@CindyBoren) July 24, 2014
Travelers glossary: when a hotel says,”Thank you for your feedback,” they mean , “There’s nothing we can do.”
— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 27, 2014
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think if there’s any question about America’s appetite for pro football, consider this: The Broncos got 21,933 to watch an early-camp practice Sunday, and the Patriots got a total of 25,000 over the weekend for two practices.
2. I think this would worry me—a lot—if I were Cleveland coach Mike Pettine, and Cleveland owner Jimmy Halsam: the photo of first-round rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel tightly rolling a $20 bill in the bathroom of a bar, as reported by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. There’s no crime in that, obviously. But it’s certainly suspicious. And even if Manziel was kidding around (I have no knowledge of what he was doing), it’s not funny, and it gives every Manziel hater the fodder they need to say, “I told you so. I told you it was a waste to pick party boy in the first round.” Good for Pettine to call Manziel immediately upon learning of the photo. That’s got to stop.
3. I think if you’ve read me since March, you know I’m a champion of Manziel the player. I think he has a chance to be a terrific NFL player and game-changer. I don’t want him to go to a monastery every night. I want him to understand this is the big leagues, not the big party leagues. And image counts. It’s not everything, but it counts.
4. I think Doug Marrone sure looks like the smart one for passing on Ryan Nassib, his quarterback at Syracuse, in favor of E.J. Manuel in the draft last year. Nassib’s had a poor start to his second camp, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Curtis “House” Painter win the Giants backup job in the next month.
5. I think you can tell his contract is weighing on Ben Roethlisberger, and not just because he told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, “Playing this year at my current salary, it’s like I’m taking a hometown discount.’’ Roethlisberger is due to make $12.1 million this year and $11.6 million in the last year of his deal in 2016, and Steelers president Art Rooney II said over the weekend to Steelers.com the team would not be re-doing the contract this year. Thirteen quarterbacks currently have a higher average salary than Roethlisberger’s 2014 base. This is Roethlisberger’s 11th season. He’s been beaten up his share in his career. It’ll be interesting to see if the Steelers pay him what the going rate for playoff quarterbacks is—somewhere between $19 million and $21 million a year. I think he’d have to come through this season healthy and having played well for the Steelers to commit another $100-million deal to him over the next five years.
6. I think one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in Week 1 of the camp trip is the undue pressure some players and coaches feel from big-money fantasy-football players. I had one coach tell me there’s so much money in some of these fantasy-football playoff pools that people who used to gamble with bookies illegally are now gambling in high-stakes fantasy-football leagues, which is not illegal. The NFL has its antennae up over this, and it’ll be interesting to see if the pressure escalates to more serious threats on players or coaches.
7. I think the way the league operates this will not happen, but if I were Roger Goodell, I’d take time this week to explain why I suspended Ray Rice for two games and not more. The reason he won’t do this is because it will extend an ugly story for another couple of news cycles, because whatever he says he’ll get bashed over the head for it by people who think he went far too soft on Rice for domestic violence on his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. But this is the one time, even if the criticism continued sharply, I think Goodell needs to come out and explain himself. Too many women, and plenty of men, feel outraged over this.
8. I think one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a while is Buzz Bissinger’s claim in his Nick Foles story for Philadelphia Magazine: “Acolytes get to heaven. Strut gets you to the Super Bowl.” It makes a good story, that quarterbacks need to be Joe Namath or Johnny Manziel or Brett Favre to be great, but it’s absolutely false that they have to be. Let’s look at the last four Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks:
- Super Bowl 48. Seattle (and Russell Wilson, altar boy) 43, Denver 8.
- Super Bowl 47: Baltimore (and Joe Flacco, who does have a little bit of counter-culture to him) 34, San Francisco 31.
- Super Bowl 46. New York Giants (and Eli Manning, sleepy and totally non-controversial) 21, New England 17.
- Super Bowl 45. Green Bay (and Aaron Rodgers, a swell guy who, like Manning, hates all aspects of fame) 31, Pittsburgh 25.
Foles is a boring guy in front of the press and maybe even throughout his real life. Fine. In his fraternity, that makes him neither a winner nor a loser.
9. I think that was a touching thing you did, Christian Ponder and Samantha Ponder, naming your daughter Bowden, after Bobby Bowden, and surprising him with the news over the phone.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Great to see Liz Clarke, a pro’s pro, in Richmond, back covering the hometown team for the Washington Post.
b. Two other media shout-outs to indefatigable peers: Alex Marvez of FOX Sports and Sirius NFL Radio, and Steve Serby of the New York Post. I get tired just keeping up with Serby’s bylines, and Marvez simply cannot sleep. If he did, no way he’d be able to be as voluminous and productive.
c. The MMQB crew had a pleasant evening at the Potomac Nationals’ ramshackle home ground in Woodbridge on Friday night. We have Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus on the trip, and I tried to show off my massive baseball intellect in the first inning. Carolina had the bases loaded with none out in the top of the first. Next batter walked. Potomac pitcher can’t find the plate. Goes to 2-0 on the next hitter. I announce: “Neil, the batter won’t swing here. Manager will make him take a pitch until this pitcher can throw a strike.” Words are just out of my mouth. Windup. Pitch. CRACK! A Puig-like laser lines into the trees high over the left-field fence. Boy, I know my baseball.
— John De Petro (@John_DePetro) July 26, 2014
d. Tough call, whether to pay Jon Lester. I have no doubt the Yankees would sign him if he became a free-agent after the season and the Red Sox didn’t come close to the New York offer. The knee-jerk reaction is to say, “You’ve got to pay him! He’s your ace!” I lean toward agreeing—but at what price for a pitcher who’s 31 next opening day? Look at the track record of paying thirty-something players $20 million-plus, and it’s not good at all. I think if Boston offers $105 million over five, or something like that, it almost certainly wouldn’t get the deal done. But $25 million a year, for a 31-year-old pitcher? Count me out.
e. Coffeenerdness: Thought it was funny to see at the Hampton Inn in Lewisburg, W.Va., a coffee urn labeled “robust” put out with breakfast. It jut might have been robust if they put 8 ounces of water instead of 64 through the grounds. That coffee was as weak as a two-week-old Calico.
f. Beernerdness: Thank you, Potomac Nats, for having SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale from Atlanta on tap at your game. I think Bedard and Hornsby are hooked.
g. Caught snippets of the Hall of Fame speeches from Cooperstown. Greg Maddux should teach a graduate class in Cool at Harvard. And so much admiration for Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre. I love the way they managed, always adjusting their styles to their talent. Great day for baseball.
The Adieu Haiku
Why I love these camps:
Rob Ryan’s a blast to watch.
And the voice. Priceless.