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Football is carrying Sabol through tough times; more draft education

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. -- Very quiet in Laborville, isn't it? And aren't we all happy about that? Ten days before the draft begins, I've got a draft-education MMQB, and you're going to get to know about players you might not know now (Jimmy Smith, Ricky Stanzi, Ryan Williams) but must get schooled on before the big weekend.

I've got Bill Belichick with Mark Ingram in his back pocket, Jon Gruden lecturing Jake Locker, Houston lusting after Patrick Peterson, Seattle lusting to trade down, Jeff Fisher lusting to climb four miles into the sky, Boomer Esiason slap-shooting the Flying Squirrels, Phil Simms tirading against numbers, and a polite Marcell Dareus returning a phone call three times.

Quite an action-packed column for the middle of April.

But I begin down the New Jersey Turnpike in an office park 40 minutes outside of Philly, with a man about to get very emotional.

***

Steve Sabol is about as upbeat as anyone in his shoes could ever be.

I walked into Steve Sabol's office at NFL Films the other day, stuck my hand out to shake his, and he said, "No. Come here.''

He gave me a bear hug.

"What you and your readers have done,'' he said, refusing to let go, his voice halting. "Nine thousand letters they've sent me! Nine thousand! From everywhere! Fathers and sons. I never knew ... Now I'm gonna start to cry.'' And then he couldn't speak for a moment.

Take a bow, MMQB readers and Twitter followers, and accept a huge thank you from Sabol, the 68-year-old czar of NFL Films who has a brain tumor that caused a seizure and a case of voice-altering aphasia.

Now don't think that Sabol can't talk well. He can. The voice is strong and unmistakably Sabol. He sounds 90 percent of the time precisely like the voice of NFL Films that you have all grown to know and respect so much. But there are times, when he gets tired or emotional or spent, when his speech is garbled. He sounded great to me in our 45 minutes together, but he said two or three times, "You should have heard me yesterday. Almost perfect.''

At one point during our talk, Mike Mayock walked into the office and the two men hugged the way Sabol had hugged me. Years ago, Sabol urged him to move from commercial real estate, a job that made Mayock unhappy, to analyzing football, which made him deliriously happy. Now Mayock reminded him, and Sabol sat down at the chair behind his desk, and the garbled words came in droves. Too emotional.

What I found most amazing about Sabol is his desire to talk about everything. I mean, anything I wanted to bring up, he welcomed. He's undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at a Philadelphia hospital to try to shrink the very dangerous tumor in his brain.

"I've got to ask you something morbid,'' I said.

"Good!'' he said. "Ask me anything!''

"What's the prognosis?'' I said. "Are you going to make it?''

"I don't know,'' he said. "I haven't asked. I don't want to know.''

But he did tell one of his doctors he had to make it until August, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct his father, Ed, the founder of NFL Films. "You'll make it,'' the doc said. Talk about buoying Steve Sabol's spirits.

Steve Sabol's always been a great storyteller, obviously. And when he got the news about the tumor, and realized he'd had a serious seizure last month, the storyteller in him began to percolate. His dad had been elected to the Hall of Fame in February; for son Steve, who took over the family business and made it even greater, it was a life highlight.

And now that's what he wanted to talk about. The story.

"For a company that prides itself on telling good stories,'' Sabol said, "This is one hell of a story. I mean, isn't it? Dad makes the Hall of Fame. Son's going to be his presenter. Son gets a brain tumor. Now the story is, Is the son going to be there? Will the son make it? What a great story this is going to be, however it turns out.''

I think we both had goosebumps right about then.

Out of the blue he said, "Who knows? I could be around until the Super Bowl in New York. But I've had a lot of time to think. People talk about heaven now. When things like this happen, you think about things like heaven. But the amount of years I've had on earth -- ''

Sabol has trouble saying most numbers. So now he writes his age on a yellow Post-It note, "68,'' and shows it to me.

"So they talk about heaven,'' he said, "and I don't know what is waiting for me up there. But I can tell you this: Nothing will happen up there that can duplicate my life down here. Nothing. That life cannot be better than the one I've lived down here, the football life. It's been perfect.

"The people who've written,'' he said. "They're amazing. It just shows you what football means to people. The coaches who've used our films to inspire their kids. The fathers, the sons, the people from all over the world, the people who've grown up wanting to make movies because they've watched our films. The letters, we've got them all stacked up. And from everyone in football. It's just so emotional.''

All Sabol can do now is take his treatments and hope the tumor shrinks enough to give him his normal life back. He held up a CD case, "The Power and the Glory: The Original Music and Voices of NFL Films.''

When Sabol goes to his hospital for radiation and chemo, he's allowed to pick his music for the time he's alone in the room. He handed the nurse this CD, with the famous NFL Films music, with John Facenda sometimes ominously and sometimes hopefully intoning the scripts that made Films famous. When Sabol starts the CD in the radiation chamber, this is what he hears from Facenda: "Professional football in America is a special game, a unique game, played nowhere else on earth. It is a rare game. The men who play it make it so.'' And so on.

"You know when Sabol's being radiated!'' Sabol said with a big smile. "You can hear this through the walls!''

Oh, we'll hear it through the walls for a long, long time.

***

Ten things I learned about the draft this week:

1. Rising prospects: Colorado corner Jimmy Smith, Baylor guard Danny Watkins and TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals will have had five contacts (interviews, workouts, meal) with Dalton before the draft.

2. One quarterback coach I know told me: "It's getting very hard for [Cincinnati offensive coordinator] Jay Gruden to hide how much he loves Andy Dalton.''

3. Falling: Alabama running back Mark Ingram (running backs are so cold), Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. Mallett might go 15 (Miami). He might go 49 (Jacksonville).

4. Someone who knows Bill Belichick well told me the other day his MO for this draft will be like it's been for many others: Approach a pick like he wants to trade it, wait until there's a minute left on the clock, and if he doesn't have a good offer, turn in a name to pick. This person said he thinks this could be the case at number 28, with Mark Ingram on the board. He'll have Ingram in his back pocket -- the Patriots love him -- and if they don't get a good offer from a team moving up (probably moving up for a quarterback), Belichick could say, "Turn in the card for Ingram.''

5. Talked to one team Sunday that has scratched Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor (foot) from its draft board and two others that haven't. I could see him going as high as 21 if the Chiefs think his foot's OK, or as low as the middle of the second if there are sincere doubts about it. This week is when lots of team set their boards. It's a big money week for Mr. Taylor.

6. Ryan Mallett's mobility is becoming a big concern. It always has been. But as one scout told me this week: "He's going into a league where every defensive end chasing him will be faster, and a lot of the tackles. Look at Marcell Dareus -- he's half a second faster in the 40 than Mallett.'' Well, that's mostly true. Dareus, all 319 pounds of him, ran a 4.93. Mallett ran 5.37.

7. Houston loves Patrick Peterson. Capital L. I smell a trade-up.

8. I think Bears assistant Mike Tice, who loves Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi, might have his heart broken late in round one. Carimi's not likely to last 'til 29, coach.

9. Seattle wants to trade down so bad from 25 that John Schneider can taste it.

10. The Panthers have put a nice lid on Cam Newton news emanating from their building. Looks like they'll take him number one, but no one can swear to it.

And one other thing: Adam Schefter was right this week when he said, in essence, Minnesota and Donovan McNabb. Perfect together.

PETER KING: 1-minute drills for every team's needs heading into the draft

***

Now for the maestro of film study you may not know, but need to.

Greg Cosell, the executive producer of the long-running "NFL Matchup'' show, is one of the best NFL talent evaluators I know -- and he doesn't even work for a team. He works for NFL Films, and it is in that capacity that he has studied tape of the best college football players in the country in preparation for the draft later this month. His job as executive producer is to know as much as he can about every prospect so he can act as consultant for Merril Hoge, Ron Jaworski and others who will need to be conversant on draft prospects for the weekend of draft coverage.

Because I feel he's so prescient, I asked him if he would be good enough to take 10 intriguing players in this draft and analyze them for Monday Morning Quarterback. His insight is not full of cliche. It's full of facts, some of which you can't find anywhere else. For example, of the highly regarded Purdue defensive end, Ryan Kerrigan, Cosell says: "In many ways, Kerrigan is a glorified try-hard player. In three games I broke down, I did not see one explosive or dynamic move.''

That's why I'm airing out the film study of Cosell today. I want you to know the truth. Off we go. I'll list the player, the area of the draft I estimate him to be taken, and then Cosell's review:

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado (late-first round): The most confident press-man corner in this draft. Physical and patient. Loose hips. Smooth change of direction in off coverage. Only potential negative: lack of explosive speed. Physical prototype for NFL press corners. Has the mindset of a man-to-man corner, and mindful of Darrelle Revis when he came out of Pittsburgh a few years ago.

Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson (mid-first round): Quick athletic feet, but not explosive or sudden. Naturally strong with powerful hands. Tendency to play upright and lose leverage and power. More of a power rusher than a pure speed rusher. Don't see comparable athleticism and movement to Julius Peppers. Good closing speed, but not explosive off the edge like Dwight Freeney or DeMarcus Ware. Didn't strike me as the number one pick, but a strong upside.

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa (late-first round): A top athlete for his position. Has the feet of a smaller man -- athletic and light. Quicker and more sudden than Bowers. Struggled at time with the initial strength of Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi. Strong and active, with hands that never stop working. Liked his playing personality -- consistent motor. Didn't show sudden moves against Missouri. Will be a polarizing player in some draft rooms. Intense competitive energy whose play is at times erratic.

Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn (high-first round): Watched him play three-technique and nose against Mississippi State. Explosive off the ball with natural leverage and power. Flashes of lateral burst and explosion. Strong. Difficult to move when he plays with leverage. Consistent effort a concern. Translates to a three-technique DT in the NFL. Better combination of speed, quickness and explosion than Gerald McCoy. He has the movement of a good defensive end. Plays tackle like an athlete. Saw him make a sack against Alabama from a two-point stance, out of a linebacker position. Consistent effort a concern against Alabama too.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama (high-first round): Saw him play DT and DE in four-man line, and DE in 3-4 front. Very good athlete. Good initial strength with violent and active hands. Stronger and more explosive than Oregon State's Stephen Paea. Works hard against double-teams. Like his effort. Strong player with consistent ability to shed blocks. Quick and explosive enough to play the three-technique in the NFL, with good closing speed as a pass-rusher.

Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State (high-second round): Showed a strong arm against Oklahoma, with good juice on intermediate throws. Seems similar to Mark Sanchez. Good feel for the timing of the drop-back passing game and should transition well to the NFL. Reads coverage well, and can stick throws into a tight window, essential for an NFL quarterback. Needs to work on manipulating the secondary and eye discipline, and on recognition of safeties on deep throws. Must get quicker with footwork on his drop. A little uncomfortable in a muddied pocket. Feet have to calm down under pressure. More of a touch passer than a fastball pitcher. Comfortable throwing the ball to the outside with timing.

Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa (late-second round, or high-third): Has elements of Matt Schaub when he came out of Virginia -- slightly above average arm strength but understands the subtle nuances of the position. Ran an NFL offense at Iowa. Rhythmic and balanced -- comfortable in pass drops from center. Average arm strength. More of a touch passer. Good command of the pocket. Saw him against Arizona, and he consistently found the single coverage on the outside. Didn't drive the ball; not much velocity on the intermediate throws. Calm and poised, and understands check-downs. Showed excellent play-action command against Michigan. Against Ohio State, threw a big-time TD against a corner blitz. In the bowl game, he picked up his tempo when he read blitz. Has a chance to be a solid NFL starter with time.

Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama (late-first round, or high-second): Naturally strong running. Powerful, with good downhill instincts. Excellent balance and body control, with deceptive lateral agility and explosiveness. Good feet in the hole. There's a toughness about his running style that's impressive. Workmanlike, naturally powerful. Not fluid or overly patient, but a very workmanlike professional runner. Needs a lot of work on his blitz pickup. No physicality as a blocker. I don't see the comparisons to Emmitt Smith -- not as shifty or laterally explosive.

Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech (second round): Dynamic change-of-direction running with burst and acceleration. Can get to the perimeter well. Can move safeties and run through initial contact. Tough and physical. He has a chance to be a dynamic NFL back with a big-play mentality but needs to develop a sustaining mindset. Not a true, home-run speed burner, but that's way down the list of necessary attributes for a quality NFL back. I think he has the skill set of a good starting NFL back. Interesting: I see him as a better back than Knowshon Moreno, who was the 12th player picked in the '09 draft, but certainly won't be drafted in the top 15, or maybe not even in the first round.

Anthony Castonzo, T, Boston College (mid-first round): BC runs a lot of pro sets, which will transition well to the NFL. Against North Carolina State, his tenacity was evident from the first snap. Physical presence, both as a run-block and pass-protector. Good balance and body control -- essential for a pass-protector. Needs to pass-protect with hands and arms more as weapons. Against Florida State, struck and moved defensive linemen. Aggressive and relentless. Struggled a few times against the inside spin moves against FSU. Tendency to overset and give up the inside, which can be corrected with coaching. Similarities to Jake Long, but may be better in pass-protection. A complete left tackle, better than Colorado's Nate Solder.

This is what Jon Gruden should be doing, and I told him so.

The second annual "SportsCenter Special: Gruden's Quarterback Camp'' show, featuring five top quarterback prospects for the 2011 draft, will air Thursday night at 7 p.m. Eastern. Gruden analyzed video and worked out Andy Dalton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett and Cam Newton on a field at the University of South Florida. I've watched a few snippets of the show, and I'm more convinced than ever that this is Gruden's calling. This is what he should be doing full-time.

I know he wants to coach again, but with all due respect, he's one of many coaches who knows what he's doing. He might be the only one, however, who can look a prospect in the eye and talk to him, acerbically and authoritatively. He did it in this show with Locker, the oft-injured Washington quarterback. He showed a play on video with Locker whamming into a defender instead of sliding and avoiding the hit.

"See that right shoulder right there?'' Gruden said to Locker.

"Yeah,'' Locker said.

"We throw with that shoulder. You aware of that?'' Gruden asked.

"Yeah, I know that,'' Locker said.

"You get hit a lot in every game I pick up. HARD. You think you can use a little better -- I don't know -- get out of bounds or take care of your body, you know, get-out-of-bounds mentality?''

"I was trying to get down ... '' Locker began.

Gruden shot back: "Your ability to run is a weapon and a resource that has to be there for you for about the next 10 years of your career. You don't want to abuse that.''

When you listen to Gruden, you understand he's going to be a players' guy. He'll be pro-player most of the time. When I spoke to Gruden, he was mostly very sunny about every player, but you know that going in.

• On Newton: "I've heard all the thunderstorms about his football character and his work ethic. When I was with him, he was great -- bright-eyed, eager, sharp, coachable, into it, alert, smart. I'd love to have a chance to get this guy. He can run over you and through you. Do you realize he ran for 1,500 yards last year. In the SEC. In the pros, the question will be, Can he handle the grind? I think he'll be wide open to that.''

• Locker, he said, "is as tough as any man in this draft. He'll fight you, scrap with you. I think he's probably got to change facemasks at halftime every week. But there are some issues with his accuracy, for sure. I watch some throws and say, 'How'd he miss that? Mind-boggling.' But I see a big upside.''

• Mallett, he said, had the advantage of being coached hard by a guy who knows what he's doing offensively, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. "Ryan's parents were both teachers, and he responded well to Petrino,'' Gruden said. "I think you can get on his ass. He responds to coaching.''

Gruden's careful not to pass judgment on the five guys, because he doesn't know how they've checked out on all the off-field evaluations. But I sensed he likes Newton, Dalton and Mallett the most of the group. Watch the show for yourself and see.

***

Jeff Fisher and Tedy Bruschi are going to the top of the world.

In mid-May, Fisher (the newly unemployed former Titans coach) and former Patriots linebacker Bruschi, along with ex-Eagles tight end Chad Lewis and four Wounded Warriors (Woundedwarriorproject.org) will gather on the east coast of Africa to climb 19,336-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. They'll be doing so to raise awareness and money for those men and women wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Funny thing: When Fisher first looked up Mount Kilimanjaro, he saw the height was about 6,000 ... and he though it was 6,000 feet. Nope. Meters. Multiply times three and a fraction.

Funnier thing: Fisher is finalizing a weekend of practice climbs and climbing at high elevation in Colorado for the weekend after next ... at the same time the NFL Draft is going on.

"I don't have any picks in the first few rounds,'' he said Sunday night, "so it's OK.''

Fisher, 53, sounded very happy in a phone conversation, the first I'd had with him since just after he and the Titans parted ways Jan. 27, after he'd coached the franchise for 16 full seasons. "When I wake up in the morning, I'm happy,'' he said. "It was not an easy decision [to stop coaching], but it was the right decision. My hope is to get back into coaching next year. For now, it'll be fun to see parts of the year coaches never get to see because we're always coaching. I'm going to take some time off, play some golf and watch my son play at Auburn.''

Trent Fisher, a redshirt freshman, is a walk-on safety for Auburn. Perfect timing for Jeff Fisher, who should be able to see all the games.

Fisher took a USO Coaches Trip to Afghanistan two years ago, then held a turkey shoot on his 260 acres for some wounded soldiers last year. "I'll do whatever I can for the Wounded Warriors because of what they've done for all of us,'' he said.

What he can do now, of course, is train for a five-and-a-half-day trip four miles into the sky. "It's becoming the focus of my day, every day,'' he said. "I'm always thinking, 'I've got to do something today to get ready for the climb.' ''

***

Almost last call for some really good fun.

Vince Wilfork, the rollicking Patriots nose tackle who is to New England what Big Papi is to the Red Sox, has joined the starry cast for the Matt Light Lockout Breakfast to be held April 26 at the Liberty Hotel in Boston. That brings three Patriot Pro Bowlers to the breakfast table for you to schmooze with and pose with and so forth. Tackle Matt Light and guard Logan Mankins will be there, as will former Patriots lineman Russ Hochstein, now with Denver. (Information: margrette@goodwinpr.com, or www.mattlightfoundation.org.)

I'll host and give a draft tidbit or two, Patriots beat man Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston will delve into all things Patriot, and the players will have a excellent perspective on the labor issues. Light is the Patriots' player rep, Hochstein Denver's player rep, and Mankins one of the 10 named plaintiffs in the antitrust suit against the NFL.

Sounds like a great morning for all you lawyers -- clubhouse and otherwise -- to come and get the scoop on the labor deal, or lack thereof. The players will do photos, autographs and maybe even tell you a story or two on Tom Brady that'll make you the hit of the tailgate this fall when the games begin. If they do.

Looking forward to seeing as many of you as can make it in eight days at the Liberty Hotel.

"The lockout's weird, man. I was in New Orleans yesterday visiting the Saints. I'm looking around, and their strength coach [Dan Dalrymple] is there, just looking for somebody to coach, somebody to start lifting. Weird.''-- Former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, to me on Friday, after a visit to the Saints' camp in Louisiana.

Which leads me to this rejoinder:

"Yeah, it's tough. Our strength coach moved the StairMaster four inches to the left today. He's going to polish all the machines tomorrow.''-- Sean Payton, on Gruden's observation about the activities of the coaching staff.

"The stat guys are idiots. I mean it very strongly.''-- CBS analyst Phil Simms, to The Big Lead.

Simms was asked about a stat I had in this column recently, quoting Mel Kiper saying Blaine Gabbert had completed 44 percent of his throws on third down at Missouri last fall, while Andrew Luck was 71 percent on third down at Stanford. The inference being, of course, that not only was Luck a better prospect but also, seemingly, better on the most important down, which some might take to mean he's a better clutch player. If you're 27 percentage points better on third down, it's a brick in the wall (to me, anyway) that you're a better quarterback than the much-lesser guy on third down. A brick in the wall, I might add -- not incontrovertible proof.

This, apparently, made Simms go volcanic for some reason. I'll leave the emphasis the way The Big Lead wrote it for the rest of Simms' quote about third-down efficiency for quarterbacks: "That means nothing. I could not care less. My face gets red thinking about that stat. WHO CARES! Well get him out of there on third down! Keep him in on first and second down! You're not drafting his college coach or his college team. You're drafting Blaine Gabbert. These numbers ... why do I need numbers? ... Believe what your eye tells you. I have never looked at one quarterback ever on tape through all the years and then when it's done, I have never even thought, 'What were his numbers?' I never have. It has never even crossed my mind.''

Wow. The anger. What makes a man go off on statistics?

"If he's not a top 10 player [in this draft], then I quit.''-- Simms, on Ryan Mallett, the Arkansas quarterback, to Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan, on Sirius NFL Radio's "Moving the Chains.''

I might want to put a latte on that one right there.

A gem from Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson, the longtime Bengal authority:

If the Bengals don't pick a quarterback with the fourth overall pick in the April 28 draft, common wisdom says, "They could wait to pick a quarterback with their high second-round choice, or trade up from their slot in the second round to get the quarterback of their choice late in the first round.''

One problem with that. Hobson checked the Cincinnati draft history recently and found the Bengals have traded up two times in 43 previous drafts. That's correct -- two trade-ups in 43 years.

Last year, there were 23 trades made to move up in the draft. San Diego made more in a weekend, three, than the Bengals have made in their history.

In other words, if you're making up your mock draft this week, and you want to give the Bengals a quarterback, it might be a good idea to do it in the first round.

Boomer Esiason turned 50 yesterday. Did you know how big a hockey person he is? For his birthday, he sat in his 12th-row-behind-the-visitors-bench seats at Game 3 of the Caps-Rangers series at Madison Square Garden (I bet you a latte he booed Ovechkin on the Cap star's second-period goal), and last night he played for his Long Island recreation hockey team, the Wasps, against the Flying Squirrels.

Just a quick one this week, from the Acela Quiet Car. Had a trip from New York to Boston the other day, and was whispering (truly) to the man in the seat next to me. After about three minutes of that, a man directly behind us said, "Excuse me. Sorry, but no conversations on the Quiet Car.''

That's not entirely true. Very quiet conversations like the one we were having are allowed. But this Quiet Car was so quiet that people across the aisle and diagonally in front of us were giving us looks, and I realized how much we were stretching the bounds of quietude. So we shut up, got up and resumed our conversation in the café car.

That is one quiet Quiet Car.

"I missed the first two calls from #Alabama DT Marcell Dareus for a phone interview and he called back a 3rd time. That's one fine young man.''--@MaryKayCabot, Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Saturday at 4:55 p.m.

"Best. Shooter. Ever."--@AaronRodgers12, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, minutes after Ray Allen's three-point bomb near the end of the game lifted the Celtics to an 87-85 victory over the Knicks in the opener of their playoff series Sunday night.

1. I think I still have some of the same questions about whether Cam Newton's going to be a great quarterback in the NFL. But I was talking to a veteran NFL coach the other day who crystallized something for me. "Cam Newton was down 24-0 at Alabama, in a game against one of the great defensive minds [Nick Saban] in football, in one of the toughest places to play in all of football, with the national championship on the line for his school, and he came back to win it. That's not one of the best performances of the year. It's got to be one of the best performances by a college quarterback ever.''

Add these two things: 101,000 screaming fans, 90 percent of them anti-Auburn; and the pressures of playing with the NCAA investigation of his father allegedly asking for money for Newton to enroll after his 2009 junior-college season. The PA played "Take the Money and Run,'' by the Steve Miller Band, in pregame warmups, and when Newton came out of the tunnel, fans threw monopoly money at him. That's one heck of a day to have on a quarterback résumé.

2. I think this was the funniest thing I heard all week in putting together my mock draft. It came from a longtime pro personnel director: "By the time we get done looking at these guys, none of 'em can play.''

3. I think you can blame this opinion on me being friends with Bob Papa if you wish, but it's downright foolish for NFL Network to be playing with his job by making him audition for it. Foolish. There's no other word.

I absolutely do not think Papa should be replaced. But let's say the bigwigs atop the Network don't think Papa's sexy enough, or something enough, to be the voice of the Network for the Thursday night games. To have him audition after he's done play-by-play on the games for three years is a slap in his face. If they were so enamored of Gus Johnson -- and there's good reason to be; Johnson's fun -- they should have simply auditioned Johnson, then made a decision. How is Papa sitting in a booth with Mike Mayock going to sway anyone's opinion of him?

Papa's the ultimate solid play-by-play man, with strong lines and excellent set-up capability. I love listening to him, because I learn things. Yes, I do a radio show with him at Sirius, and we're friends. But I believed he was very good before I ever worked with him, and I believe it even more now. In the immortal words of Mad Dog Russo, "That's a bad job, NFL Network. Bad job!''

4. I think the reason it's so difficult to place the quarterbacks in the proper order in this draft is simple: Different teams like different players. Take Andy Dalton. The Bengals interviewed him at the combine, went to his pro day, had a private workout with him, hosted him for a visit in Cincinnati ... and will visit him one more time before the draft. Seattle's got a quarterback need too, and spent 15 minutes with Dalton at the combine. That's it. But you can't always make a judgment based on personal contact. Remember Jay Cutler and the Broncos on draft day 2006? The first time he talked to coach Mike Shanahan was in taking a phone call from the Broncos, congratulating him on being drafted by Denver.

5. I think Plaxico Burress, nearing the end of his sentence in upstate New York for carrying a concealed weapon in Manhattan and discharging it in a nightclub, is beginning to sound a lot like Michael Vick did when he neared the end of his stay in Leavenworth. When Tony Dungy visited Burress, he found a man saying all the right things and wanting very much to be a reformed person. Burress wants to attend the NFL Rookie Symposium and alert the prospects to learn from his mistakes. My guess is at least two or three teams will be in the mix to sign Burress as receiver insurance when he exits prison this summer.

6. I think the NFL-NFLPA talks were very quiet Thursday and Friday, the way they should be. They should be leakproof if the two sides are serious about getting something done. I continue to think the mediated discussions won't amount to much, because the players won't be motivated to really negotiate before Judge Susan Nelson decides whether to issue an injunction against the league; if that happens, the ruling would mean the owners have to end their lockout of the players.

7. I think, based on what I'm reading from your e-mails and tweets, we need a quick lesson in 2011 draft trading. What is allowed: the trading of draft picks in this draft or an upcoming one. What isn't allowed, unless the judge in Minnesota rules for an immediate injunction, thus opening the 2011 league year before an appeal can be heard: any trade that involves a player, or any free-agent signing of a player. There's been too much confusion on that one. Also, teams cannot discuss future trades involving players, either. That'd be a sure fire starter with the league if it surfaces, with NFL sanctions sure to follow if it finds out teams have been discussing player deals.

8. I think it sounds like Ray Lucas' interview with Armen Keteyian on "HBO Real Sports'' Tuesday will be must-see TV. Lucas, a recovering addict after getting hooked on painkillers as a backup NFL quarterback and special-teamer, tells Keteyian: "You know, 450 pills a month is not a game. That was my life. That was my life every friggin' day. And the only time I got out of bed was to go do my TV show, the only time. So family life, was none. Father, wasn't there. Husband, not there."

9. I think, even though I took Baylor nose man Phil Taylor out of my mock draft Sunday when it was reported he had a foot condition that was scaring away some teams, he still could get picked near the end of the first round. I know a couple of teams that haven't eliminated him from consideration yet.

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

a. John Mara's not an alternate juror anymore. He's a real live juror on that South African drug case in Manhattan, because another juror was excused, and the intrepid AP reporter on the case, Larry Neumeister, says the conscientious, note-taking Mara might even be elected jury foreman when the group retires to deliberate. The trial may last into next week, which means there's a chance he could be deliberating when the NFL draft begins on April 28.

b. I don't know how it's possible for Steve Carell and Will Ferrell to be on the same 30-minute sitcom, playing off each other, and not be funny. But that was the case Thursday night on "The Office.'' So unfunny, I thought, that it was awkward.

c. RIP, "All My Children,'' the soap of my youth. Phoebe Tyler. Langley Wallingford. Erica Kane. Etched in my subconscious.

d. Soap Quiz: For how many years did Susan Lucci play that little vixen, Erica Kane, on AMC? (See answer at bottom.)

e. Congrats, Justin Masterson. Three wins for a great guy.

f. And Jered Weaver -- I looked up on Tax Day and saw him 4-0. What pitcher in history had four wins by the time we all had to pay our taxes? Turns out Elias Sports Bureau discovered that no one's ever had four wins by mid-April. Guess that means Weaver's going 48-0.

g. And Josh Beckett, Texas boy, throwing seven superb innings in 31-degree windchill at Fenway Saturday against Toronto. Heck of a job.

h. Stop slapping around the Globe's Pete Abraham, Red Sox readers and tweeters. The guy's a gem. He's tough when he has to be, and he's had to be a few times this year, obviously.

i. I love how much Toronto manager John Farrell is running early in the season. So smart, especially against a poor team at nabbing stealers like Boston, even when your baserunners have just average speed. Aaron Hill had eight steals in the last two years. He got his sixth of the season Sunday at Fenway, a cheap steal of home.

j. Relax, Carl Crawford.

k. Hey: The Bruins were supposed to have the hot goalie, not the cold one.

l. You happy about your Canadiens, Clark Judge?

m. Coffeenerdness: Guy in front of me the other day in Starbucks in the South End of Boston ordered a tall quad latte. I said to him: "Is there any room for milk in that?'' Four espresso shots in a tall cup? That's hardcore. That's like when Jon Runyan used to play for the Eagles, and early in his career, he'd drink nine shots of espresso in a venti cup before games.

n. Beernerdness: Found a gem at the Spotted Pig in the West Village in Manhattan the other night -- Captain Lawrence Pale Ale, from the bustling metropolis of Pleasantville, N.Y. Haven't had too many pale ales with the distinct taste of citrus, but it worked perfectly in this hoppy beer. Nice job.

o. Tweetup of the Week: Don Banks, the SI.com NFLmeister, will be in Mt. Horeb, Wisc., Tuesday night at 6:30 at a bar called Le Cork Lounge, 1204 Business 18. Ask him how he got the nickname "Donnie Brasco.'' It's really complicated.

p. I like what I saw last week, with the San Francisco Giants auctioning off a personalized World Series ring to benefit 16,000 children from 5 to 18 playing baseball and getting life lessons in 85 co-ed leagues in northern California, Nevada and Oregon. To have a shot at a real ring, go to www.sfgiants.com/ringraffle. Minimum purchase: $10.

q. Great job by the 28-member Arizona Cardinals delegation, led by coach Ken Whisenhunt, in supporting Pat's Run in Tempe, Ariz. The race, organized by the friends of the late Pat Tillman, drew 28,000 fun-runners in Tempe for the 4.2-mile course (Tillman, of course, wore number 42 at Arizona State), and satellite runs from El Salvador to Boston drew a few thousand more. Whisenhunt has run the race every year but one since becoming the Cardinals coach in 2007 (he had knee surgery one offseason) and has been a major magnet to get attention and local participation in the run. Jake Plummer, one of Tillman's best friends, was on hand to run too.

r. Hold me to it, everyone, and remind me. I want to run that race next year in Arizona.

s. Hang in there, Jess Sarfati. Better days are ahead.

t. Quiz answer: 40. Forty!!!

Close

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