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The Vick-signing scoop, my training camp tour, 10 Things and more

"Sign him."

That was the text message from Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to coach Andy Reid on July 26, soon after commissioner Roger Goodell announced reinstatement plans for Michael Vick.

"You're killing me," responded Reid, via text to McNabb.

Fast forward to 7 a.m. Saturday, when Reid ducked his head into the Eagles' weight room, where McNabb and Vick were lifting together. Early Sunday morning, McNabb and Vick worked up a sweat side-by-side on two treadmills where the players work out.

I write this morning to dispel a myth and to illuminate the personal reality in Reid's life that led him to bringing the potentially combustible Vick onto this Super Bowl contender. I'm also here to tell you that Vick is most definitely going to play an important role on what the Eagles do on offense. I believe there will be plays in which McNabb and Vick will be on the field together, and some plays (though not as many) in which Vick will be at quarterback and McNabb will be out of the game.

That brings me to the myth of the weekend, the one in which people contend: No matter how sincere McNabb has seemed in backing Vick's return to the team, he couldn't really want him that badly. Why would one quarterback support the signing of another quarterback who might take his job?

I can't tell you all of the dynamics here, primarily because McNabb is not an open book. He's a tough nut to crack for any Philadelphia reporter; he simply doesn't want to reveal too much of himself. He's like Derek Jeter. You see him all the time and he looks affable in front of the cameras, but does he ever really say anything revealing?

In my conversation with Reid Sunday night, there was an earnestness and a convincing tone in his voice that told me McNabb seriously has wanted Vick to be a part of the Eagles from the moment he sent that text message. "So many of the old guys are gone now," Reid said. "Donovan is taking it upon himself to do something that he feels is best for the team and best for Michael. I'm telling you, this is totally on the level. He wants Michael here, and he wants him to succeed. Donovan is being the best big brother in the world."

Reid went on. "This all started with Donovan. And when the other leaders of the team saw Donovan embracing him and embracing the idea here the last couple of days, they followed him, and they embraced Michael too. They brought him into the family."

McNabb is scheduled to speak today at the Eagles' training complex in South Philly. It might be hard for him to convince a skeptical public that he was behind this from the start. But if I were him, I'd just start with the text message to Reid. What more proof do you want that McNabb legitimately wanted Vick on the team?

*******

Now, about Reid's motivation to import Vick. It's logical to wonder whether the agonizing drug problems of Reid's two sons played a role in him acting as a Father Flanagan figure to Vick. Even Reid isn't sure how much of a role the drug problems of sons Britt and Garrett played in this story. But he learned one very important lesson from Britt's jail term; Britt Reid was in prison for drugs and weapons charges and is now out of jail. There are three phases that inmates who are successful in avoiding a return trip to jail go through. Phase one is blaming everyone else. Phase two is admitting that it's your own fault. Phase three is the vow to yourself that you hate jail, that you're going to avoid the behavior that got you in jail the first place, and you make a vow never to return.

So when Reid met with Vick as he was trying to determine whether to offer him a contract, the most important factor to him was whether Vick was in that third phase. Could he look in Vick's eyes during a couple of long meetings and be convinced that Vick would never go back to his dogfighting days. Reid knows that no one sells insurance for this, but after extensive talks with Vick and his mentor, Tony Dungy, Reid was sold.

*******

Now Reid has to figure out what to do with Vick, the player. Over the weekend Vick played some scout-team quarterback and threw to receivers in individual drills.

"We haven't seen him run yet," said Ike Reese, who played mostly special teams in Philadelphia before moving to Atlanta in free agency in 2005. He played with Vick for two years with the Falcons. Now he is a talk-show host at WIP-AM in Philadelphia. "Throwing the ball, I thought he looked surprisingly good. He's always thrown a beautiful spiral and [Saturday] he threw two great deep balls to Jeremy Maclin. From the looks of it, he might have put on five or six pounds. He looks a little thicker up top. But that doesn't change what he is. For me, he's the ultimate Wildcat player. Who is better-suited to play the Wildcat position than Michael Vick?"

Reid is going to play his Vick-game-plan cards close to the vest for now. He was encouraged over the weekend that Vick knows much of the Eagles' base West Coast offense, like the snap count, some of the exact play calls and the footwork fundamentals. As for how he'll use him in games, Reid said: "I have an idea. I just need to see if Michael is in good-enough shape to do it. I think I know the situations I want to use him in."

The most likely scenario is for Vick -- who could be reinstated by Goodell anywhere between Week 1 and Week 6 -- to be used as either the quarterback, running back or slot receiver in a Wildcat offense or as a shotgun quarterback with or without McNabb at receiver.

As I wrote Thursday night, Vick will not complain about playing time. For now, he's in Philadelphia to master an offense and to get acclimated to football and society again. The Eagles are convinced that whether he plays three plays a game or 23 (highly unlikely unless McNabb goes into an extended slump), it won't matter to him.

*******

There's one more thing that could play a part in whether Vick succeeds or fails. The negativity, the protests, the angry headlines, the livid dog owners ... will it be enough to penetrate the suit of public relations armor that Vick and his handlers have built to shield him in his return to public life? I don't care what anyone says. At some point, some fan or heckler in the street or some columnist is going to say something or write something that will make Vick fume.

"That's the big unknown," Reese said. "I wish I could tell you how Mike will react without his mentor [Dungy] or his teammates there for him. But I can't. Only time will tell. My advice to him is stay home or stay at the [Eagles] facility."

Reese gave Vick some good advice Saturday after his first practice with the team, "I told him, 'It's your time to fall in love with this game again.' When you're in the league for a little while, you get caught up in the business and the money side of it, and I think sometimes we do what we do for the wrong reasons. I just wanted to remind Michael he got into the game in the first place because he loved it. Remember that."

• 10:10 a.m., Monday (Lions camp, Allen Park, Mich.):I have just seen my first Matthew Stafford semi-wobbler, 90 minutes into the morning practice. He sprinted right, threw about 25 yards into the back of the end zone, the nose dipped and fluttered all the way there. That's it. Everything else has been a spiraled zinger.

Reporters get paid the big bucks to stand on the sidelines at these training camp practices and make judgments about kids who started shaving two weeks ago and drinking (legally) maybe two months ago. Let me be the first to say how absurd it is to answer the question I got later in the day at Detroit Metro Airport, at the gate of my flight to Indianapolis: "Hey Peter, have we got the right guy with Stafford?''

Here's what I said, and what I believe: Stafford's got an A-minus NFL arm right now. The only quarterback I'm sure who has a better one is Jay Cutler. The game's not too big for the rookie. He seems to know how to soft-pedal himself in the locker room from what I saw today and from what I heard from Lions people I trust. This is important because a quarterback has to earn his leadership spurs, not get them handed to him.

Game management? No clue. Accuracy? Good in college but not great, which raises a red flag for me. Huddle management? I think good. Jim Schwartz told me that's impressed him. "He owns the huddle, from what I've seen,'' he said.

He's smart enough, for sure. And what I like is he's not afraid. I tell the story of how Stafford took and gave barbs equally with Dustin Pedroia while working out in Arizona in the offseason.

Watching Stafford throw, I'm impressed. He has touch when he needs touch, a fastball when he needs a fastball.

So if you ask me about the future of Matthew Stafford, I say I think the Lions have their quarterback of the future. I think. "Drafting first-round quarterbacks is a 50-percent washout business,'' says Brian Billick.

He's right. So the draft history book says either Stafford or Mark Sanchez, but not both, will succeed. That's not set in stone, particularly with Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco playing boffo last year as rookies. But I'll be surprised if Stafford tanks.

11:45 a.m., Tuesday (Colts training camp, Terre Haute, Ind.): Stream of consciousness with Peyton Manning, on life without Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison, and playing with young receivers, and new coach Jim Caldwell and sunscreen:

"I always kind of knew when Tony walked into the meetings," Manning said. "Marvin was always a quiet guy in meetings. The day-to-day operations are the same. Do I know every day they're not here? Yes. There's not a day that goes by that I don't notice Dungy's not the head coach and Marvin's not the right wideout. Marvin's all I knew for 11 years. And for the past seven years, Tony's been such a strong presence. When am I going to get used to it? I don't know. It takes more than a couple of minicamps and a training camp to do that.

"I'm gonna kind of whisper this because I don't like rookies to read anything I say. But I think [third-round BYU receiver] Austin Collie's got a chance. He can run. He can really run. He is working the slot only. We haven't had anyone since Brandon Stokley to work the slot only. That's all he practiced. He doesn't have to worry about anything but the slot.

"The other young guy, Pierre Garcon, can run, too. He's an outside receiver only. What we're doing a better job of with the young guys is we're saying, 'This is your position. You don't have to learn everything.' Garcon is like Marvin; after he takes five steps, he's so fast, you'd better let it go. Last year , he took advantage of it being a semi-redshirt year. He learned. He didn't waste it. I guess what I'm saying is there's some undiscovered potential at receiver that's pretty exciting. Hard, but exciting.

"For a long time, it was 88 [Harrison] over here to the right, 87 [Reggie Wayne] there to the left, 44 [Dallas Clark] in the slot. My point of emphasis has been where I can throw the out route, the in route, the comeback, I can throw anything to Anthony Gonzalez with my eyes closed. With Marvin, I could be looking left, then turn right at the last second and throw to him almost without looking. With Collie and Garcon, they're probably going to be situational wide receivers. As a quarterback, I think you've got to have at least two of those receivers you have that trust in.

"You ask any of our coaches what we have to do better, and they'll tell you we have to run the ball better. No question. We got played cover-two on first, second and third down, daring us to run the ball, and we couldn't win those battles. We couldn't run.

"Everybody keeps asking, 'Is this Caldwell's team? What kind of coach is Caldwell?' Well, how can we know that yet? Let's play the games. Let's see him call a daring onside kick. Let's see him go for it on 4th-and-2 in a big spot. You can't know now.''

And now, from left field:

Me: "You and [Tom] Brady are close. But it isn't like the old days, when Marino, Elway, Kelly, Boomer and all the quarterbacks would spend half the offseason together and play in all of each other's golf tournaments. What's happened to the relationship between quarterbacks?''

Manning: "Interesting. I kind of think there are too many golf tournaments now, too many offseason events you're obligated to. You know when the left guard's having a charity golf tournament, there are too many golf tournaments. It never used to be that way when Marino played, I bet.''

Me: "And if the left guard has a golf tournament, the quarterback has to go.''

Manning: "Right.''

Me: "Jim Johnson died of melanoma. You're pretty fair-skinned. You take precautions against skin cancer?''

Manning: "I do. My dad always worried about it. Since we were 7, 8, playing baseball, my dad would be adamant to the point of being annoying and putting sunscreen on before we played. Now Eli [Manning] and I, before we play golf, we'll stay at [their parents'] house, and we'll put sunscreen on before we leave the house. And we'll be on the driving range and my dad will say, here's the sunscreen. I'm like, 'Dad, we already put the sunscreen on.' And he'll say, 'Put some more on. Here, nose and ears, nose and ears, nose and ears.' Here at camp, I put it one before we go out every day.''

Me: "What's the SPF of the stuff you use?''

Manning: "Fifty.''

11 a.m., Wednesday (Rams training camp, Earth City, Mo.): This is going to be a longish year for the Rams, but if I'm a Rams fan, I like what I see. Steve Spagnuolo has the veterans who count -- Steven Jackson, Leonard Little, Marc Bulger, Will Witherspoon, Chris Draft -- on his side, and he's doing the cosmetic things new coaches do to change the attitude in a place. Here, it's taking down the individual photos and replacing them with all team-related things, and it's lots more padded practices and raw hitting.

This morning, Spagnuolo was supposed to have the players in pads again, two days before their preseason opener in New Jersey, but he backed off because of the physical toll and nicked-up players.

"Defensive coaches tend to want to build teams that way, with really physical practices,'' said Jackson. "He [Spagnuolo] took away our comfort zone.''

With the exception of the forgettable two-year run of Rich Brooks (who ran off Jerome Bettis) in 1995-96, the Rams hadn't hired a defensive head coach since Ray Malavasi in 1978. "I don't know who that is,'' Jackson said. You're forgiven, though Malavasi nearly led the Rams to a Super Bowl XIV upset of the Steelers.

GM Bill Devaney narrowed his coaching search to four men, and only one (Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett) was an offensive coach. He chose Spagnuolo over fellow coordinators Rex Ryan and Leslie Frazier. "I wanted someone to jolt the building,'' Devaney said. "Defensive guys challenge you. They attack, they blitz. I just thought we needed someone to shake us up.''

Check out my Ram-related quote of the week later in this column and you'll see whether the leaders here agree with Devaney.

4 p.m., Wednesday (Rams camp):Leonard Little finds himself in the news again, tangentially, and it's not something he likes much. As a rookie with the Rams in 1998, he drove drunk one night and killed a local woman, Susan Gutweiler, earning a sentence of 90 days in jail, 1,000 hours of community service and four years' probation. The league suspended him for eight games when he got out of jail. In 2004, he was arrested and later acquitted of drunk driving and speeding charges. Little has long been held up as an example of what was soft about the NFL's system of punishing players for off-field problems. That system has turned hard under Roger Goodell. It's highly doubtful Little would have gotten eight games if his offense happened 10 years later. He likely would have been banned for a year.

It's hard enough to last 12 years in the NFL anywhere, let alone in a place where in your first year you killed someone in your new pro town. But ask anyone here about the leaders on this team, and Little's name comes up quickly. In fact, he's tutoring (and schooling on the field) first-round tackle JasonSmith in the tricks of how to joust with the top defensive ends in the game. "There is no let-up in Leonard, and he's the perfect guy to be working with Jason,'' said Devaney.

More about the education of a rich rookie by a 12-year vet in our upcoming SI NFL Preview issue (sorry for the tease, but I've got to hold some things back, people). For now, I said to Little it was amazing he's lasted in one place so long, considering how the first year of his career went.

"Something happened early in my career that I will always regret,'' he said, "but every since then, I've just tried to be the best player I can every day I come to work, and the best person I can be. That first year, I thought my career might be over. I was out looking for a job -- a real job, not in football. At first, I didn't think people would ever allow me to forget what happened.''

So how were you able to move on, I asked.

"Just realizing that we all make mistakes in life. We're all human," he said. "Bad decisions have been made since the beginning of time, and you have to work to make sure you don't make them again. But I truly believe you can make a positive out of a negative. It's what I tell kids. I just talked to a bunch of high-school students during prom season. I tell them my story, and I tell them, 'Please ... don't make the mistake I made.'''

I was curious -- I think we all are -- about his second arrest for drunk driving six years after the first. It's the kind of arrest that might have doomed his career and totally derailed his life, justifiably, had he not been acquitted. Many in the media and public have said over the years that Little should have been banned in 2004 after his second arrest, without the addendum of the fact that he was found not guilty of the charges, despite the arresting officer saying he failed three field sobriety tests.

Little wouldn't be specific about it with me, other than to say: "That case should never have been brought. It was not credible. It's sad. People make judgments about that arrest and that case when they don't know the story.''

He said he hopes Vick gets a chance to rebuild his life, the way he has rebuilt his. Reaching out to Little might be a good phone call for Vick to make one day.

• 6:55 a.m., Thursday(Bears training camp, Bourbonnais, Ill.): My favorite story from breakfast with Lovie Smith is not a poignant or dramatic one, but one that I thinks sums up just what Chicagoland feels about the events of April 2, when the Bears acquired Jay Cutler:

The day after the trade, Cutler flew to Chicago for a press conference and to meet his new team. Smith did not know Cutler. He asked him out to dinner, and they sat together, not talking much football at all, but about families, and how each grew up, and how Smith treats his players. Smith doesn't reveal much of himself in public, or at press conferences. But when he talks to you at a meal, in a setting like this, in the cafeteria at Olivet Nazarene University, he puts his utensils down and looks you in the eye, and tells you the way it is.

And that evening north of Chicago, he said to Cutler: "Chicago's been waiting for a player like you.''

I liked that he said that to Cutler instead of, "You'll be a piece of the puzzle, but don't worry, we're not going to overload you with pressure. We'll take a lot of that off you.'' Nope. He would have been lying. Jay Cutler, in Chicago, would have to win four Super Bowls to be [Michael]Jordan. But he's big enough to be on that very next level, and the pressure, like it or not, will come in waves. Smith knows that, and all he wanted to do with Cutler is state a fact. No surprises.

Noon, Thursday (Bears camp): Brian Urlacher is back. I am seeing it with my own eyes, right here in front of me outside the dining hall on a central Illinois scorcher. He looks buffed, bigger than last year and certainly better defined.

But I digress. Let's get to the important stuff, the People Magazine stuff, about Urlacher supposedly calling his new quarterback, Cutler, the 'P' word. (I'm not about to spell it out in a family column.) Anyway, former Bears receiver Bobby Wade says that while out socially with Urlacher this summer, the Bears leader called Cutler a p----. Urlacher immediately denied it. That led to all sorts of media speculation about the relationship of the Chicago football giants, that they'd had a physical fight somewhere, that they hated each other, that Cutler was dating Urlacher's former squeeze.

"Did you do it?'' I asked Urlacher. "You call him the P word?''

"Never said it. Guaranteed,'' he said, and he laughed. "As soon as this came out, I called Jay to tell him it was BS, and I said, 'Hey, what's up, p----?' That sort of broke the ice, and now we laugh about it. I don't now how these things happen, but by the time we got to camp, it was absolutely true, and I'd supposedly had fights with him in the locker room, out in a bar. It's so funny. Here at camp, somebody slipped a note under my door, and I look down and it says, 'P----.' So you can see how seriously we're taking it.

"Look, that's not the kind of thing I'd say about a teammate anyway. But you think I'd say it to a guy on another team? It was Bobby just trying to stir things up.''

Back to business. I said to Urlacher: "If anyone ever told me you'd play a season with no sacks and no forced fumbles, like you did last year, I'd never believe it.''

"I just wasn't around the football,'' he said. "Most frustrating year of my career. I had a couple of picks [interceptions], but you know, you just fall into those sometimes. The problem was, I haven't been able to train the last two years the way I normally would. Two years ago, it was my lower back. Last year, my neck. I get to camp, and I'm not nearly as strong as I need to be, and my play suffers. No excuses, that's just the fact. So this year, I trained all offseason, did plyometrics, did lots of power-cleans, ran a lot. I got to camp feeling like I need to feel to have a big year.''

I tell him he must hear what the masses are saying. It's his 10th year, he's 31, he's played the physical position of middle linebacker for so long that he's naturally wearing down. He nods.

"I know,'' he said. "But I've gotten to the point in my life where I only care what the people on this team and the people closest to me think. And what I think. I've been through the meat-grinder here. I don't know if Butkus and Singletary had to go through all this, but I doubt it.''

I walk away thinking: For Urlacher to truly make the Chicago-to-Canton linebacker connection, he's going to have to be classic Urlacher again, for a couple more years.

Interesting observation from Lovie Smith at breakfast about Urlacher. "What I see in Brian this camp is he's able to bend. He just hasn't been right the last two years,'' Smith said.

5:20 p.m., Thursday (Bears camp):The noise walking off the practice field at Olivet Nazarene is maybe at 70 decibels. A cacophony of sound. Like "JAYYYYYYJAYHEREHERE!!!COMEON!!!JAYJAYJAYJAAAAAAAAY!'' I sidle up to Cutler and shake his hand and he says, "Howyadoin!'' I quasi-yell that he never returned my calls or texts back in the spring, and I just wanted to tell him I ripped the crap out of him then for the way he left Denver, and if there's anything he wanted to say to me, here's the chance.

But I could tell he didn't hear everything I said. Maybe he heard nothing. How could he? And now he was being pulled in other directions, and so I just shook his hand again and said see you.

A couple of minutes later, the Bears' PR man, Jim Christman, came up to me. "What did you say to Jay? He couldn't hear it.''

I told him what happened. Just told Christman to tell Jay what I said, and we'd all move on. I bet that's a big concern in Cutler's life right now.

• 5:15, p.m. Friday(Denver-San Francisco preseason game, Candlestick Park): I haven't been here in years; I can't remember the last time I saw the 49ers live at the Candlestick wind turbine. (When I walked off the plane around noon today, it was 61 degrees with winds about 20 mph. Welcome to San Francisco.)

As I walk through the parking lot, I see a few RICE jerseys, a few MONTANAs, more than a few GOREs. Almost half the jerseys I see pay homage to the defensive cornerstone of the franchise, the number 52 worn by linebacker Patrick Willis. I do not see a single Michael Crabtree jersey.

Michael Crabtree, the receiver picked No. 10 by San Francisco, is in the middle of the dumbest holdout in the NFL in years. It defies logic. The NFL has a slotting system that is ever-so-slightly malleable, where a player who gets drafted one spot lower than another player occasionally gets a smidgeon of a better deal. And sometimes a quarterback gets an above-market deal. But position players and non-quarterback skill players are slotted, and despite the efforts of agents to break the slotting system when picked lower than the agent or player thinks he should be picked, the league mostly holds firm.

So this spring, most people told Crabtree he was either No. 1, or 1a with Jeremy Maclin of Missouri, at wide receiver in the draft. Crabtree was confident he'd get picked in the top five of the draft. On draft day, the Raiders, picking seventh, made a stunning choice, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Then Jacksonville and Green Bay ignored Crabtree, who ended up going 10th overall, to San Francisco.

The Crabtree camp was stunned. First, they were stunned that he was not picked in the top five. And they were stunned about what this would mean financially. The third overall pick, Tyson Jackson, got $31 million guaranteed, about $13 million more than the estimated slot at number 10. So Crabtree thought he'd been jobbed, and he hasn't gotten over it. His camp has made it clear he won't accept a contract for less money than Heyward-Bey, and so he sits. Here's how his neighbors in the first round, above and below, fared in negotiations:

A couple of things to keep in mind: San Francisco ownership is not from the ownership school that says, "Let's throw money at the problem and make it go away.'' And GM Scot McCloughan is the same way, having learned much about football from his apprenticeship in Green Bay under old-school GM Ron Wolf. I spoke at length with McCloughan here, and I believe he would rather lose his job than pay a rookie $10 million more than his slot in the draft says he should be paid.

No one in the league likes the rookie-salary conundrum. The union says it likes rookies getting paid this money before they've ever played a down, but I've talked to scores of players about it over the years, and about the only ones who remotely support the Heyward-Beys of the world being handed $23 million before his career begins are NFLPA board members and maybe some player reps. It's a stupid system. But it's the system they're living with until a new one is invented. For Crabtree to think he's going to buck it is insane.

Now that's it has gotten to this point, and we're 27 days from opening day, and only two first-round receivers in the past decade have exceeded 60 catches in their rookie years, I don't expect the 49ers to be very aggressive in getting Crabtree in. An impact first year is now unrealistic if not highly improbable. So what's the pressure on them to up the offer to get a deal done? There is none. This holdout could be long, or it could end Wednesday if someone who understands how the NFL works can get to Crabtree. But for him to think he'll do better by entering the draft next year is even dumber than this holdout.

"I feel like Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ought to be in this story,'' one agent said to me the other day. "You know, it's dumb and dumber.''

7:50 p.m., Friday (Candlestick Park): All of a sudden, the Broncos have a crisis at quarterback. Remember the good old days of old Whatshisname? The guy with 4,526 passing yards and 25 touchdowns last year? Gone. But they won't be forgotten when Denver plays its first home preseason game two weeks from last night ... when Jay Whatshisname returns with the Bears.

Kyle Orton just threw his third interception in three first-half series. Add the two picks he threw in a scrimmage at home last weekend -- eliciting more than a few boos -- and you're starting to have a major problem. It's a good thing the Broncos play on the road against this weekend (at Seattle) because Orton does not want to step out on the field at Invesco coming off this performance.

I really liked how Orton opened -- just the way coach Josh McDaniels wanted. Move the chains, don't take high risks, put the ball on the numbers. None of his first seven passes traveled more than 11 yards past the line of scrimmage, and the 69-yard opening drive had Denver second-and-goal at the 49er 3-yard line. Then he made a ridiculous decision, trying to wedge a ball into tight coverage to Daniel Graham (with cornerback Nate Clements, San Francisco's best, on him) while 15 feet away running back Peyton Hillis was open at the side of the end zone.

Orton can't make those kinds of decisions and have a future in the NFL as anything other than a roster filler, and it's the kind of decision that, if duplicated enough this summer, is going to make McDaniels do what I believe he is loathe to do -- remove the more accurate Orton in favor of Chris Simms. The former Texas Longhorn, by the way, was terrific Friday night. Simms continued his admirable recovery from his scary splenectomy in Tampa Bay by going 11 of 17 for 142 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions ... and some excellent improvisation.

"We're not going to go into this thing after the first preseason game and start tailspinning and making knee-jerk reactions,'' said McDaniels after the game. Nor should he. This should still be Orton's job. But Bill Parcells, who'd often make interesting lineup decisions based on exhibition-game play, used to have this saying about August football: "I go by what I see.'' And if McDaniels sees much more of this, he'll have no choice but to seriously consider Simms.

• 7:50 p.m., Saturday (Seattle-San Diego preseason game, Qualcomm Stadium): The verdict after LaDainian Tomlinson played in his first preseason game since 2005 and Shawne Merriman played his first game, period, in 11 months: Tomlinson looked like the real Tomlinson in his cameo, making a move we rarely saw last year, bouncing one run outside for six yards. "We want to get in a rhythm running the football,'' he said after the game. "We would like to start fast this year.'' Thus, look for Tomlinson to run some more in the remaining three preseason games.

Merriman, in his first three series, didn't have the explosiveness we remember. He didn't make a play that made you say, "That was Merriman.'' Then again, he didn't get a chance, and there's absolutely no way in a meaningless game that I'd be selling out if I was coming off a major knee surgery.

The thing I noticed about both is they ran well, showing no signs of favoring their 2008 injuries. Because I saw the burst in Tomlinson and not in Merriman doesn't mean Merriman won't be good. He told me after the game he'll be better in 2009 than he's ever been because of his attention to the little things in offseason training and in this camp. We'll see.

Gut feeling: I believe in the defense, which is totally sold on coordinator Ron Rivera's schemes and the teaching of the Rivera staff. If Philip Rivers gets protected well, and the Tomlinson/Darren Sproles/Jacob Hester (the big back who hurts you when he hits you) combo platter stays mostly healthy, no team will come within four games of the Chargers in the AFC West.

Three other California notes after two games in two nights: Candlestick is crumbling and Qualcomm is very needy; I'm sure the Coliseum in Oakland is nearly as bad. The NFL has 31 stadiums, and with the possible (and I mean possible) exception of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, numbers 29, 30 and 31 are the three California venues. Not that I think the state should be paying for them, particularly with the financial crisis California is in. It's a statement of fact, though.

Two: I know this is taking in a lot of ground, but I do believe the 49er and Charger crowds lead the NFL in tattoos. Walking through the parking lot tonight on the way into the stadium, on a beautiful night for anything, there was a 30ish man without a shirt, barbecuing behind his car. On his tanned back, stretching from outside shoulder blade to outside shoulder blade, was the Chargers' lightning-bolt logo, a good 20 inches wide.

Three: Shawne Merriman has a thin navy-blue Mohawk stretching from forehead to neckline, with no other hair on his head. I have to admit that's a hairstyle I have never seen.

• Noon, Sunday(Denver International Airport): The results of my very unscientific Twitter poll are in. On Friday, I asked followers of Twitter account (there are 39,000 of you, incredibly): Yes or no -- did the Eagles make the right decision in signing Michael Vick? As of 1:45 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, 674 of you had responded, and your Tweets rang loudly in Vick's favor.

Your vote: 490 said give Vick a chance; 184 said he has no place in the game. That's 72.7 percent pro-Vick. Based on what I'd seen and heard the last few days, that surprises me. I thought it'd be much more split.

"That doesn't really surprise me,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid told me from his office. "Most people want to see other people do good. I think it's probably the same percentage here in Philadelphia.''

"Hide Your Beagle. Vick's An Eagle.''-- Protest sign outside the Eagles' Nova Care Training Complex Friday morning, when Michael Vick, inside the complex, was introduced as a quarterback for the Eagles.

"For the life of me, I can't understand why I was involved in such a pointless activity. Why did I risk so much at the pinnacle of my career?"-- Vick, on his dogfighting exploits.

Now, the NFL is going to give Vick this second chance. And I'm going to wipe the slate clean, with one asterisk: Vick didn't quit as the king of the dogfighting ring. He was arrested and had his life stripped of all material things and spent 20 months in confinement. So we really don't know if he would have ever seen the light without being forced to. As Vick has said, his actions will be what matters from now on, not his words.

"Necessary.''-- St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger, when I asked him this question at training camp: What was your first reaction when you saw that the Rams hired Steve Spagnuolo, and he started making some radical changes around the building?

"Eugene, I heard they washed your pants with money.''-- Jacksonville defensive end Reggie Hayward to first-round rookie Eugene Monroe, as Monroe took the practice field for the first time Friday, after signing a five-year, $25-million contract and reporting to camp.

When I visited the Colts last week, I noticed big people on the defensive line. Last year, part of the Colts' downfall -- they could neither run nor stop the run -- was a small defensive front, and new coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Larry Coyer have moved from the idea of cover-two and cat-quick on defense to a little more aggressiveness, less cover-two and more size up front. Six of the eight defensive tackles on the camp roster are 290 pounds or heavier.

How does the Colts' season-ending 2008 defensive line match up against the 2009 edition? For the case of this chart, I'm going to assume the Colts will keep 10 defensive linemen; Ed Johnson will be suspended for a 2008 marijuana-related arrest for the first game, so they may go with either nine or 10 when he returns in Week 2.

In Detroit, 53 percent of the people who really count did not go 0-16.

As of Friday morning, 42 of the 81 players in Lions' training camp were new to the team in 2009. Eleven of the 19 coaches were not with the team in 2008. So 53 of the 100 players and coaches just give you a blank stare when you say, "Does this team have a hangover from going 0-16?'' Because they weren't around for it.

*******

Lions record in their last five preseason games: 5-0.

Lions record in their last 17 regular-season games: 0-17.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning played golf together at Cypress Point in Monterey, Calif., recently. On the first hole, both slightly sliced their shots on the border of the first fairway and the club's driving range. Uh-oh. Needle-in-haystack, lost-ball time.

But it didn't take long to find them. Brady was playing a Titleist 12, Manning a Titleist 18. Get it -- 12, 18? Talk about your unique-to-one-person golf balls.

To boycott Westin Hotels or to not boycott Westin Hotels. That is the question.

I booked this training-camp trip in June, cars and flights and hotels. Most places I stayed were the Fairfield Inn types, clean hotels with free Internet, the things you need for the seven hours a night in the hotel. But for San Diego, I booked the Westin downtown because it's a good hotel in a nice area, and it's close to the airport.

On the way there Saturday night around 11:15, after the Seahawks-Chargers game, I called to make sure I had the right place, because there's another Westin in the city. "We've got you sir,'' said the man on the other end of the phone. Ten minutes later, I arrived. The front desk told me they were overbooked, and they were very sorry, but they had no beds. But if I had a reservation for the last two months, I asked, wouldn't you have held a room for me.

"That's how it should be, but we just ran out of rooms,'' I was told.

I get it. The hotel business is now like some in the airline business. Westin intentionally overbooks rooms hoping X number of us will be stuck somewhere and not make it to the hotel. The hotels now can abuse us the way some airlines do, when they sell 70 seats for a 64-seat plane and then say, "Don't blame us.''

I seethed while listening to 47 apologies from two front-deskers. "I don't want an apology,'' I said. "I want a room.''

No problem, sir. They would book me at the Indigo Hotel, and they would comp my room (who cares when you're traveling on business and have six hours in the hotel before your next trip to the airport), and here are the directions.

Serenity now. Serenity now. Serenity now.

So I set off to find the Indigo, at Tenth and Market. I go to Tenth and Market. No Indigo. I put the flashers on and walk over to a bar with lots of TVs and say to a guy at the door, "You know where the Indigo Hotel is?'' He doesn't know. He goes inside and asks two others. They don't know. I go back to the car and call 411.

"San Diego, California,'' I say to the automated woman. "The Indigo Hotel. Market Street.'' A voice came on, a real woman, who said, "Checking San Diego and all outlying areas. No listing for an Indigo Hotel. Can I check anything else for you?''

I pull up the number for the Westin and oh-so-politely (not!) tell the same dude at the front desk that NOT ONLY DID YOU SCREW ME OUT OF A ROOM TONIGHT, YOU GAVE ME DIRECTIONS TO A HOTEL THAT DOESN'T APPARENTLY EXIST.

"I'm so sorry, sir,'' he said.

"You have to stop apologizing to me,'' I said.

He got me different directions to the Indigo, which is new. It's a nice hotel, just up the street from Petco. And by Sunday morning, the steam had stopped coming out of my ears.

But now I am left with the decision whether to boycott Westin, which is my favorite hotel chain. Maybe I should let you, the readers, vote. What do you think?

One hour and 26 minutes. That's how long it took me to drive the 19 miles from the fringe of downtown Chicago to the Hertz car-rental return area at O'Hare Airport Thursday evening around 7.

At one point, I was stopped in the far left lane of the four-lane westbound Kennedy Expressway for about two minutes. Dead stop. And there was no accident, at least none that I could see as I crawled along, and no sirens or lights flashing.

That drive -- the downtown area to O'Hare -- is officially the worst drive in the United States. None can top it. The Cross Bronx Expressway on an August Friday night at 6 contends, but it's just not the same. L.A. freeways are awful, consistently, but you move on them. Crawl sometimes, but you're moving faster than you do most of the time on the Kennedy. I've made it in 25 minutes a couple of times, but mostly in 50 minutes or longer, at all hours of the day and night. It is sheer misery. How do the people in Chicago stand it?

And so I get to my room at the Hilton at O'Hare Airport Thursday evening, just in time to rush through a Michael Vick reaction story and hurry it on to SI.com, and I log onto the wireless in my room.

For $17.50.

I complained so loudly about the Providence Westin charging me $10 to use an elliptical machine a few years ago that it got onto my Wikipedia bio. But this is worse. Online for two hours, max, for $17.50. Shame on you, Barron Hilton, or whoever it is charging people $239 for a room and robbing them further to get online.

"As a lifelong Philly fan all I can say is BOOOOOOO!!!!! We don't need a felon like him on the team.''-- commish24, posting one hour after the Vick-to-the-Eagles story broke.

Then I Tweeted how surprised I was that this was the overwhelming sentiment of the fans, and that the majority who Tweeted me called him all sorts of names in the dog-mutilator vein, and did the fans really favor Vick never having a chance to ply his trade again after spending 20 months in jail for a heinous offense? Then it got a little more sane. Such as these.

"You're right. Vick did his time. If that's meaningless, why do we let people out of prison at all?''-- Rob McDonagh.

"Shame on people for not giving 2nd chance. That's the prob in American prisons. True restitution is not rewarded so they go back.''--mtathelm, of Richland, Ind.

1. I think the Minnesota Vikings, should they struggle at quarterback, will call Brett Favre. It's a pretty strong feeling, based on knowing the people involved and based on the desperation of the Vikings to do more than win a division this year.

But I'll also say this: It's also quite possible, should the Williams boys not be suspended for testing positive in the Starcaps case, that the Vikings could start very strong, and either Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson could solidify his grip on the job and the team will decided it's fine at quarterback. (First five Viking games: at Cleveland, at Detroit, San Francisco, Green Bay, at St. Louis.)

Wouldn't you agree Minnesota could be 4-1 or 5-0, even with mediocre quarterback play? Now, the happiest man in the NFL this morning has to be Brad Childress --unless it's Rosenfels. The first two series Rosenfels quarterbacked for the Vikings, he went 10 of 13 and drove the Vikings 72 yards to a touchdown and then 75 yards to a field goal. Again, the call to Favre won't be made if Rosenfels (or Jackson) plays to a B level. If not ...

2. I think, speaking of how much I like the Vikes, and not to underplay how well the Packers looked over the weekend, I still like the Bears a whisker better, especially after seeing Jay Cutler throw the ball Thursday and Brian Urlacher looking like the '06 Urlacher after a strong strength-and-conditioning offseason. It's a shame that we have to wait 'til Nov. 29 to see a Chicago-Minnesota game. "We play some incredible games,'' Urlacher told me.

Baltimore-Pittsburgh's the best rivalry game in football right now, followed by New England-Indianapolis. But Minnesota-Chicago ... Check out what they've done over the last 10 years:

• The series is tied 10-10.

• Each team is 7-3 at home against the other.

• Twelve of those 20 games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

• Minnesota has outscored the Bears by 28 points in the 20 meetings, so the Vikes are an average of 1.3 points per game better.

• With the exception maybe of Daunte Culpepper, neither team has fielded a top quarterback in the last 10 years. That's why a potential Cutler-Favre matchup on Nov. 29 or Dec. 28 is so appealing.

3. I think if you gave Vick sodium pentathol, he would say one of the things he regrets in a strictly football sense about the two-year gap in his career is that he never got to play in Bobby Petrino's offense. He thinks he'd have been a perfect match with Petrino, and he has told friends he thought they could have won a Super Bowl together.

4. I think we found out everything we needed to know about Josh McDaniels' Denver offense Friday night. We knew it already, really. If Kyle Orton's not efficient, the Broncos could go 3-13. Orton dropped back to pass 16 times in four series, and no throw traveled more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. He moved the ball well. All he did wrong was throw interceptions to end his first three drives. That's like saying all the Brink's truck driver did wrong was pick up a million-dollar shipment and get the truck safely to the depot -- except he arrived without the money.

Orton had but 27 interceptions in 913 career throws in his first three seasons. In 16 throws against the Niners, he threw three. I'm sure Denver fans are panicky, as they should be, after watching the first post-Cutler start. There's nothing I can say to ease your worries -- except that this is uncharacteristic for Orton, and one half in a preseason opener shouldn't convince you the guy's a bum.

5. I think one of the good things about preseason football (and there aren't many) is watching the maturation of the top rookies. The education of Aaron Curry was in progress Saturday night at Qualcomm in his first game at outside linebacker for the Seahawks. My observation: You can tell he's still swimming, trying to be in the right place at the right time.

Lined up at right end late in the first quarter, he dropped in a fire-zone coverage toward middle linebacker, patrolling for a crossing receiver. Here came Chargers wideout Legedu Naanee, running a shallow cross, and Curry was caught getting back to his zone, and by the time he shifted to catch up with Naanee, Philip Rivers' pass was in Naanee's gut and he went zooming past Curry and up the left side. Gain of 14. It's a cliché, but I found it true watching him: Rookies can't be great until they play the reaction game, not the thinking game.

6. I think I'm setting the over/under on Sal Paolantonio's days spent reporting from Eagle headquarters or Eagle games this season, and I'm doing it right now. There are 139 days between today and the end of the regular season. Over/under: 140.

7. I think these are my thoughts of preseason Week 1:

a. Other than the weird fly ball he threw not deep enough down the left side that got picked by Sheldon Brown, Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady against the Eagles, and the northeast corner of the United States exhaled.

b. The first play of Mark Sanchez's NFL career is one he'll remember for a while -- the 48-yard bomb called by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to speedy David Clowney while fans were still filing in from the parking lot. Said Sanchez: "I was joking with Coach Schottenheimer; I told him, 'I'm coming off the bench cold and shooting three-pointers. What's the deal?' It was a great call and we executed well.''

c. How Sanchez doesn't win the starting job ... that's beyond me.

d. Saw the first quarter of Jets-Rams, and Marc Bulger looked sharp. Good for him. Good guy, and I still think he can be a top-12 quarterback if he's protected, and if Donnie Avery comes back in time for the opener from his stress-fractured left foot.

e. It won't matter what kind of play the Broncos get out of Orton or Simms if they play defense the way they played against the all-star lineup of Shaun Hill, Alex Smith and Damon Huard. I know, I know. Preseason Week 1. Who cares? Half of these guys will be gone in two weeks. But 14 of 18 passing, for a 143.5 rating? And 30 San Fran carries for a 4.5-yard average? Not good.

f. Really liked what I saw out of Glen Coffee, the Niner rookie back from Alabama. After scotch-taping together the running-back situation behind Frank Gore last year, GM Scot McCloughan used the 74th pick in the draft on Coffee (14 for 67, a 4.8-yard average Friday). He looks like he runs heavier than his 209 pounds -- tougher to tackle, with some lead in his pants.

g. Willis McGahee, I hear, is practicing harder than he ever has in training camp, not willing to give Ray Rice his starting job.

h. Keep repeating after me, Redskin fans: It's only the preseason. But zero points scored and 500 yards allowed?

i. Welcome back to the NFL, Jeremy Shockey. His TD against the Bengals was his first in 21 months (21 months!) You can look it up: Nov. 11, 2007, Dallas at Giants. Jint fans might recall that tour de force Shockey game -- 12 catches, a career-high, for 129 yards. Where did it all go?

j. That is not a misprint: Peyton Manning was sacked three times in his first five snaps against the Vikings. Several reasons, not the least of which was his tackles were Corey Hilliard and the banished-from-the-starting-lineup Tony Ugoh.

k. You don't want to make too much of Trent Edwards going 10 for 10 against Chicago, but the one thing it tells me is he's getting comfortable with Buffalo offensive coordinator Turk Schonert's offensive ideas, particularly the no-huddle. I said it when I visited the Bills' camp -- that no-huddle, played excessively, could be a matchup nightmare for defenses, particularly early in the season when it's warm and the Bills are used to it and defenses aren't.

l. Brady Quinn 1, Derek Anderson 0.

m. Kicker Brandon Coutu is nine-for-nine in two preseasons with Seattle, but probably won't make the team because Olindo Mare is five yards stronger on kickoffs. Coutu drills 'em. He should find a home when cuts are made.

n. I can think of about 10 teams that need the special-teams presence and leadership of David Tyree if the Giants whack him.

8. I think Plaxico Burress is about to go down for the count. Knowing Goodell 's hatred of gun crimes by players, I believe the commissioner will suspend Burress soon, for all of 2009. I agree with Gary Myers, who wrote in the New York Daily News that Goodell will suspend Burress for eight games at a minimum, and potentially for the entire 2009 season if any team wants to sign him. Count me in on the more side. The NFL warns players time and again, starting with the rookie symposium after college, that it will have zero tolerance for gun crimes. So when a player takes an unlicensed weapon into a crowded night club in the state of New York and the gun goes off, well, it's not a very difficult decision for a tough commissioner to banish a player for a year.

9. I think anybody who was surprised at Goodell's banishing Donte Stallworth of the Browns for a year for his vehicular homicide conviction hasn't been paying attention to the new police chief at 280 Park Avenue. This one wasn't even hard. Stallworth was legally drunk, admitted smoking marijuana the night his vehicle struck and killed a man, and he was driving over the speed limit. Why would anyone be surprised that he has to take the year off?

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

a. Best wishes to the retiring Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, one of the greatest baseball writers ever. Almost 30 years ago, I was a young pup covering the Cincinnati Reds and was privileged to learn much about the craft from McCoy. What really struck me about Hal was that he could go to work every single day for seven months and find something new and interesting at the same job. There's a great lesson for all of us right there.

b. I hit a deer on the highway out here in Colorado Saturday night. Crunched up the car pretty well. Killed the poor deer. Scared the living heck out of me. Quite an experience. I think my heart rate is back down to near normal now, but just barely.

c. I've never seen anything quite so violent in baseball as the line drive off pitcher Hiroki Kuroda's head Saturday night. I can't believe he's OK. After the second replay, I just couldn't watch it anymore.

d. Coffeenerdness: I've often sung the praises of Peet's Coffee. But the thing I've realized landing in San Francisco Friday and walking into the terminal was that part of the greatness of Peet's is the aroma of the espresso. It's like smelling the grass in baseball or the leather smell of the ball at the first football practice of the year. The aroma is part of the reason you love it.

e. I've learned three things from my summer Tweetups. One: the football fan's appetite for information is absolutely voracious. Will Carroll and I spent three hours talking about everything football with fans in Indianapolis last Monday, and fans would have stayed three more hours if we'd let them. Two: The football fan is smart. Three: It's a heck of a lot of fun, and I'll be doing more of them. I hope to do one in or around Boston before the start of the season.

f. I have to get home. Today is Day 21 of my trip -- I'll see the Broncos practice this morning -- and after one lost rental car, one killed deer, one ridiculous hotel snafu, and way too much fun, I can't wait to sleep in my own bed tonight.

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