Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the eye-opening story of the week was CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora reporting several team officials were upset that NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino was captured by TMZ getting off a Dallas Cowboys luxury bus in Los Angeles recently while the Cowboys were in Southern California for training camp. The problem, LaCanfora reported, is that Blandino, who is obviously supposed to be wholly impartial, should not be on a Cowboys party bus. I am told this is the story Blandino (whose honor I’ve never heard questioned inside the league or by any club officials) was telling in the wake of the TMZ footage: He met Stephen Jones, a member of the league’s Competition Committee, for dinner in Los Angeles. After dinner, Jones suggested they get a drink. Blandino accepted. They went to a bar and had a drink. From there, Blandino parted ways with Jones and others in his party. TMZ got some shots of several people, including women, through the windows of the Cowboys bus, but Blandino was not among the group at that time. He was gone. On Friday morning Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported the league had received no complaints from any club officials about the alleged impropriety. On Saturday afternoon I checked with two league officials, who confirmed Florio’s report and said in the day-and-a-half since it appeared there were still no complaints about Blandino’s behavior.
I’m fine with Blandino dining (and wining, to some degree) with key team officials; it’s part of the job. But I’d draw the line at late-night beering or club-hopping. This doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it does these anonymous people quoted by LaCanfora, because officiating czars are going to pal around with significant league and team officials. But if I’m Roger Goodell, I’m telling Blandino: Dinner fine, revelry beyond that not so fine.
2. I think these three things struck me about the Washington-New England joint practices last week:
- Crowds of more than 20,000 two days in a row? In Richmond, Va.? That’s the power of the NFL, and of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the Washington brand in Virginia. Startling still, though.
- Some great observations by my buddy Don Banks of SI.com from the scene: “Nothing prepared me for the frenzied scene at Washington’s Bon Secours Training Center early last Monday morning. The Patriots were in town for the first of their three days of joint workouts with Washington, and to say the presence of Bill Belichick and his perennial AFC powerhouse had created a bit of a buzz qualified as massive understatement. The front page of Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch had heralded the impending arrival of Tom Brady and the Patriots like visiting royalty, and thousands of fans lined up hours before the 8:35 a.m. workout started. Everywhere you looked there were cars circling the area and vying for parking spaces that now seemed non-existent. Washington’s burgundy and gold was in no short supply, but you could say the same thing about the sea of Patriots’ red, white and blue, with maybe four of out every 10 fans sporting the enemy colors of the visiting New Englanders. Through five-plus hours of practices Monday and Tuesday, a gaggle of media members from New England, Washington, Richmond and plenty of national outlets were there to cover every last snap of it, and I’ve never seen a training camp setting where the reporters had to fight for space like it was Super Bowl media day. My favorite snapshot? The sight of about 50 reporters/cameramen huddled tightly in a horseshoe configuration around one goal post, waiting for Brady to climb into the middle of all that for his post-practice press conference on Tuesday. I watched Brady survey the mob scene as he approached, then slowly shake his head and laugh … I’ve been to dozens of preseason games, and even some meaningless regular season affairs, that lacked the excitement and energy of these joint workouts. The Patriots consistently got the better of Washington during the workouts, with Brady slicing up Jim Haslett’s defense in the two-minute drills, and New England’s much-improved cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner keeping Robert Griffin III and Washington’s receivers largely under wraps. But that’s about what you’d expect from the teams that finished first in the AFC East and last in the NFC East. The real winners seemed to be the city of Richmond and all those people who were more than ready for some football.”
Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston isn’t just good on the Patriots. He’s strong on the ancillary things. Such as this, after the Patriots’ trip to Richmond: “One of my biggest takeaways from Patriots-Redskins joint practices was surprise that Robert Griffin III didn’t look like the best quarterback on his own team. In fact, I thought Kirk Cousins was better than him, from the perspective of running the offense, fine-tuned mechanics and how decisively the ball came out of his hand. I wondered if I was alone, and then heard the same sentiment echoed by some others in the Patriots organization.”
- To me, Cousins is worth a second-round pick from a quarterback-needy team.
3. I think you could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard the Scott Mitchell news the other day. NBC announced that the former Dan Marino backup and free-agent millionaire (five years, $25 million) Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell will be a contestant on “The Biggest Loser” show. Mitchell is 6-foot-6. He weighed 238 pounds as a player. He weighs 366 now. That’s a 128-pound inflation. Twenty years ago this season, Mitchell signed a five-year, $25-million contract with the Lions. I covered his free-agent search for Sports Illustrated, and I remember he was the hot guy in free agency that year. And look at this season he had in 1995 with the Lions:
That year, Mitchell outdueled Steve Young on a Monday night in the Silverdome. He threw three touchdown passes to beat Brett Favre and the Packers. He beat Warren Moon and the Vikings with a 410-yard, four-touchdown afternoon. Two years later, in the midst of Green Bay’s 13-3 NFC Championship season, Mitchell and the Lions were one of the three blips on the Packer record, with a 26-15 win. In a dramatic Sunday-nighter in Miami, Mitchell had a memorable duel with his Miami mentor, Marino. The situation: With five minutes left, Miami had a 30-22 lead. Detroit was backed up on its four-yard line. Mitchell led Detroit on a 13-play, 96-yard drive, finishing with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Herman Moore with 1:14 left. Then he threw a two-point conversion pass to Moore to tie. Marino came right back and led a winning field goal drive. The final: Miami 33, Detroit 30. I mean, for a while, Scott Mitchell was a player. Thus the triple-take when you hear, “Scott Mitchell weighs 366 and will be on ‘The Biggest Loser’ this season.”
4. I think it’s early (about three months early) to start talking about 2015 head-coaching candidates, but I hope Kansas City special-teams coordinator Dave Toub gets a legitimate chance next year. You never know if a special-teams guy can follow in John Harbaugh’s footsteps, but Toub’s such an impressive coach and person. In the first quarter of a new preseason Thursday night, his kick-return team had a 65-yard return, and his punt-return unit had an 80-yard touchdown return. Not surprising that Toub would have his guys ready, even after just two weeks of the preseason. And that De’Anthony Thomas, the rookie from Oregon … that was his 80-yarder, and it was a thing of return beauty. He bounced off one tackler immediately, and used a ridiculous burst to the outside to run past Cincinnati’s entire team.
5. I think I learned one thing on this trip that’s yet another reason why so many football people are against a permanent team in London. Last year, when the Jaguars were in London, GM David Caldwell was looking at the waiver wire and saw a linebacker, Martez Wilson, he liked on waivers. It was Thursday of a game week. Caldwell, number one, didn’t want to cut a player on his roster in London and unceremoniously ship him home from Europe before the game. Number two, he didn’t know what kind of game shape or mental shape with the Jags’ playbook Wilson would be in if he arrived, let’s say, on Friday evening in London. So Caldwell passed on the waiver claim (and because the Jags had waiver priority with the worst record in football, they would have gotten Wilson). Wilson was then claimed by the Raiders. Wasted chance. So I wonder how often a competitive issue like that would come into play if a London team was trying to do business in competition with the other NFL teams on this side of the Atlantic.
6. I think this is what I was talking about all along with the Jets’ quarterback situation: We’ll see what happens in the preseason. That’s the only way you’ll tell who is better, and who wins the job. And in Mike Vick’s only drive with the first team, he led a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Geno Smith didn’t hurt his case Thursday. But Vick excelled.
7. I think I’m not sure which quote I hear more from players of these two:
- “I am in the best shape of my life at this training camp.”
- “I learned that a supplement I took caused the positive test. I deeply regret not investigating the supplement.” (Miami safety Reshad Jones said that Friday afternoon, when the league suspended him for the first four games of the season for a positive PED test.)
8. I think I’m long past questioning the intelligence—or the honesty—of these players who test positive for banned substances. I question the intelligence of someone who innocently says, “I want to take this over-the-counter product to get me in better shape even thought I’m not sure if it will trigger a positive PED test.” I question the honesty of players who want us to believe it was an innocent mistake. Sometimes, clearly, it was an honest mistake. But not every time.
9. I think I won’t be shocked if the Patriots cut Ryan Mallett … or get a seventh-round pick for him from someone.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Good for federal judge Claudia Wilken, for ruling major-college football and basketball players should get at least $5,000 per year in compensation for the millions of dollars the players earn for lucrative college sports teams. In my opinion, it’s not enough to give semi-pro players full scholarships to school, not when they’re raising the amounts of money they are for the schools.
b. Get to know Indians pitcher Corey Kluber.
c. Clayton Kershaw’s last nine starts: 8.0 innings per start, nine earned runs allowed.
d. Corey Kluber’s last nine starts: 7.2 innings per start, nine earned runs allowed.
e. Felix Hernandez’s last nine starts: 7.2 innings per start, 10 earned runs allowed.
f. I screened “When the Game Stands Tall,” the movie about California high school football coach Bob Ladouceur and his impact on the players he coached, based on the book by Neil Hayes. I liked it. Really good lessons in it for players and coaches in team sports, and for their parents. If I’m a high school coach of any sport, I’d take my team to it.
g. Coffeenerdness: Raise your coffee game, Marriott Towne Place Suites.
h. Beernerdness: Good to see so many parts of this country we’d never see if we flew over it. Case in point: The Bell’s Brewery restaurant and garden in Kalamazoo, Mich., where we had lunch on our way to see the Lions-Browns Saturday. If there’s a better brew on draft than Bell’s Oberon, I haven’t tasted it—at least this summer. Great place and food and beer in the town where Derek Jeter spent his youth.
i. Went to my first funeral with full military honors, for my uncle, Andy Keir, an Army veteran, in Enfield, Conn., last week. Hadn’t heard the Star-Spangled Banner in a church before, and had never seen the flag being handed to the widow, and had never heard graveside taps at a funeral. I have to say, I loved it all. Very moving, particularly the taps. Uncle Andy would have loved it.
j. A note on the discourse in this country, and on social media, in the wake of my Cam Newton column last week. I accept the fact that some people won’t agree with what I write, or find ulterior motives about why I wrote about an olive branch Newton offered to me. But can we disagree and be critical without telling me to go bleep myself 19 different ways?
k. Finally, here’s the good of social media: Donations to ALS research have jumped significantly with the Ice Bucket Challenge, thanks to stars like Andrew Luck, Sidney Crosby, Matt Lauer, much of the Boston Bruins team and, seemingly, half of New England dumping ice water over their heads and challenging three friends/peers to do the same; if the friends/peers do or do not, it’s strongly suggested they donate to ALS research.
l. So, prodded by buddy Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, I did it Sunday at Vikings camp. It was cold, and it was not pretty.
The Adieu Haiku
to lose QB job pre-Sept?
Money’s on Matt Schaub.