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Rookie QBs star; Dolphins' Johnson tempted fate; more camp lessons

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- To Bears coach Lovie Smith, the Olympic competition he watched every night after training camp meetings in his dorm room at Olivet Nazarene University was a vital football lesson for everyone in the game.

"Imagine working four years for one moment,'' he said to me in his office on campus here Saturday morning. "This is their Super Bowl. Bigger, even. Such a good lesson for all of us. They work hard for hours a day, day after day, with no one watching. There's no result right away. You can't see the benefit of what you're doing right away. It's the same for us here in camp. In a football practice, you practice your craft every day. It's tedious, tiring, regimented. But if you don't do the tedious stuff, you'll never win. That's one of the things the Olympics can teach us all.''

One thing I noticed about the kid quarterbacks playing early -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden -- is none of them had happy feet in their pro debuts. The tiring, tedious, regimented stuff paid off, to varying degrees of success, and that's where we start our tour around the NFL this morning, the first day without the Olympics. Ten storylines of the first full weekend of football (albeit faux exhibition football) since January:

1. The big rookies didn't look like rookies.I wrote about Robert Griffin III from Buffalo the other night and noted that the best thing about his first pro performance is he never looked like a rookie. Ditto Andrew Luck on Sunday. The combined stat line for the top two picks in the 2012 draft is certainly no indication that they'll be enshrined in Canton someday, but it's certainly better than the alternative:

Luck was eerily terrific Sunday afternoon before a crazed crowd in Indy. Just as Peyton Manning had thrown a touchdown pass on his first preseason pass as a rookie 14 years ago, so did Luck, on a short pass and long run by Donald Brown against St. Louis. I remember sitting with Luck at the Scouting Combine in the hotel room of his agent, which overlooked Lucas Oil Stadium. Just as nothing seemed too big for Luck at Stanford, or at the Combine, or early in camp for the Colts, Sunday's contest looked like just another game of football for 25 minutes of the first half. Four possessions, three touchdown drives.

"Let's not get too excited about anything,'' Luck said afterward, "because nobody goes back and looks at the preseason record for anything." Good point. But that's not going to stop Hoosiers from waking up with big grins this morning.

2. Chad Johnson gets arrested and released in a 24-hour span. He and his new wife, police say, were arguing over a receipt for a box of condoms, and Johnson allegedly head-butted his wife. He was arrested for the domestic dispute and spent the night in Broward County (Fla.) Jail. Shortly after getting released from jail, he got released from the Dolphins -- which well could have happened later in the preseason because he wasn't off to a hot start anyway.

I can tell you this: When I was in Dolphins camp 12 days ago, it was the day Johnson did his irreverent press conference, saying he'd go into porn if he didn't make the Dolphins, that he was going to take his mates to a strip club on a day off, and other typical Chad malarkey. You know what's wrong with Johnson? He doesn't understand his environment. You think a straight-shooter like Joe Philbin's going to laugh at stuff like that? He's not -- and I can tell you, he didn't. Johnson had very little margin for error in Miami, and spending a night in jail over a domestic dispute erased the margin.

Not so funny, but in the first episode of Hard Knocks, Johnson turns to leave the Dolphins' facility before a day off for the players and says to club director of security Stuart Weinstein: "Hey, Stu, Stu! I promise I'm getting arrested while we're off.'' Weinstein isn't seen on camera, but a voice, sounding like Weinstein's, calls back: "Thanks. Call me. I'll come get you." Cable TV imitates life.

3. Peyton's back, but not all the way back. In his first game action since the Pro Bowl 18 months ago, Peyton Manning played one series at Chicago, and it ended with a slightly off-target interception. But all that matters is he got through it, felt good and reported no problems with either his surgically repaired neck or his right arm.

MACK: PEYTON BACK LIKE NOTHING AT ALL

4. The replacements need to be replaced. Not a lot of debacle plays over the weekend, but if you think the regular season will go smoothly with the replacement officials, you're mistaken. My favorite goof from the weekend: In Buffalo Thursday night, back judge Craig Burd saw a Bills player down the ball at the Washington 4-yard line. Burd dropped his beanbag there, then inexplicably started waving his right arm up and down, signaling a touchback -- even though he'd seen the ball downed at the four. A replay review corrected it.

Giants' rookie Jayron Hosley returned a punt against the Jags, and there was a holding call on the play, and the ref in Jacksonville called the hold on Hosley. Pretty tough for a ballcarrier to hold for himself. I hear the NFL's position has hardened regarding the regular officials, who want to keep their pension system a guaranteed-benefits plan rather than subject it to the whims of the stock market (who wouldn't?) and want a bigger bump in salary than the NFL is offering.

5. The Steelers, despite using their first two picks on a needy offensive line, still have major problems there. Steady, fairly invisible night for first-round Stanford guard David DeCastro, playing on the right side. Not so for second-rounder Mike Adams. Philadelphia didn't play either of its top defensive ends -- Trent Cole or Jason Babin -- Thursday night. But the left tackle Adams, from Ohio State, played 17 snaps over 13 minutes, and allowed either 1.5 sacks or 2.5, depending on if you'd dock him for a sack when Ben Roethlisberger stepped up into trouble in the pocket. So he was involved in three sacks, two of which ended in strip-sacks of the quarterback.

Now, Philadelphia might have the best defensive line depth in the NFL, but still, perpetrators Phillip Hunt and Darryl Tapp are not starting players. This was not the start the Steelers needed to see for the line. I have three words for Roethlisberger, who thought -- incorrectly, apparently -- that with the draft concentration on the line he wouldn't have many more nights under siege: Duck, Ben, duck.

6. A bad night for Ryan Mathews. Broken clavicle Thursday for the San Diego back against Green Bay. Norv Turner think Mathews can win a rushing title, but probably not this year. He'll miss at least a week or two of the regular season.

BURKE: CHARGERS MUST CHANGE THEIR THINKING NOW

7. If not for bad luck, the Browns would have no luck. Rookie rushing savior Trent Richardson had a scope on his aching knee Thursday; he's likely but not certain to play in the opener. Cleveland's best defensive back, Joe Haden, could be suspended for four weeks for taking a drug usually used to combat narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder. Rookie starting quarterback Brandon Weeden started sharp but finished 3 of 9 in his preseason debut at Detroit, and one of his starting wideouts, Mohamed Massaquoi, was concussed Friday night. It's only coincidental that a big summer storm followed the Browns back to Cleveland from Detroit in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

8. Adrian Peterson comes off the physically unable to perform list. All along, Peterson's said he'd be ready to open the season Sept. 9 against Jacksonville. Now we're starting to believe him. "I was like a kid in a candy store, and it was only a walkthrough,'' Peterson tweeted after working with the first team in a light practice Sunday.

9. The Packers sign a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, Cedric Benson. He's rushed for 3,429 yards over his past three Cincinnati seasons, and it's a why-not signing: Green Bay got the 29-year-old Benson for the veteran minimum.

10. Jacksonville cuts Lee Evans. It will be a shame if the last ball thrown to Evans in his eight-year career was the difference between Baltimore going or not going to the Super Bowl last January. As you'll recall, Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore batted it out of Evans' hands in the end zone, and the Ravens went home instead of on to play the Giants for all the marbles. On Sunday, as expected, Jacksonville cut Evans. A needy receiver team such as Jacksonville cutting Evans with three weeks left in the preseason? Bad sign to the other 31 teams.

Now for my week's travelogue, which started with a 607-mile jaunt from Georgia to the shadow of the nation's capital and finished in the parched midwest.

***

Monday: Washington (Redskins Park, Ashburn, Va.)

Three football nuggets: Washington's counting on two secondary rejects -- Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson -- "to help buttress" a good front seven. When the Redskins talk about how much the $36 million cap penalty imposed by the league hurts, the two spots I notice most are safety and the offensive line ... Four-way battle at running back. In time, I could see sixth-round pick Alfred Morris from Florida Atlantic winning the job -- if he blocks well. Good one-cut runner, improving receiver ... Last year's fifth-round pick, tight end Niles Paul from Nebraska, might be 6-foot-1 and just 233 pounds, but the coaches are high on his ability to be an above-average pass catcher on short and intermediate stuff, which will help Robert Griffin III when he's being pressured. From the looks of the offensive line, that will be early and often.

Perhaps I was mistaken: RGIII's looking very much like a runner.

I counted 20 plays of 11-on-11 piloted by Robert Griffin III in the afternoon practice. Five were designed runs for Griffin. On this afternoon, he ran it a lot better than he threw it. There's little doubt that Griffin's ability to run quarterback draws and rollouts and options will throw a wrench into opponents' preparation for Washington. But he wasn't getting hit in practice, obviously, and he will when the real games start -- maybe even when the Colts visit Washington in Week 3 of the preseason, and Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis get a few shots at him.

Many thoughts. Among them:

• I know mobility is a great attribute for a quarterback, particularly in a division when you're facing DeMarcus Ware, Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck each twice a year. But Griffin weighs 217 pounds. Getting him out on the flank so much, trying to make people miss, is a dangerous proposition.

• Before you argue, "Well, Cam Newton ran 128 times last year and he never got hurt,'' let me remind you that Newton's a full-grown thoroughbred and Griffin's a young colt. Griffin is not Newton. At 217 pounds, RGIII is 31 pounds lighter than Newton, and doesn't have the physical suit of armor Newton has. (And I would guarantee you the Panthers don't want Newton running it 128 times a year anyway; that's a sure-fire way to no more 16-game seasons for him.)

• I talked to one influential Redskin source here, who said, basically, that Griffin ran with abandon for the past two years and didn't get hurt. I looked it up: 26 Baylor games, 328 rushes, 12.6 rushes per game, and he survived. But a 217-pound quarterback is risking his future if he runs 100 or so times a year in the NFL.

• Just my gut feeling, but it sounds like the Redskins don't want Griffin sitting in the pocket behind such a shaky line -- and don't want him to completely change the way he played in college. Which, in essence, was as a young Mike Vick or young Steve Young.

Asked whether he feared being exposed to lots of hits this year, Griffin said: "I don't want to give away any secrets for the season ... I can't talk about how I'm going to be used during the season. Trying to keep that under wraps.''

The van we're driving around the country in is courtesy of EvoShield, the protective-equipment manufacturer. It's got a huge photo of Griffin, one of their pad-wearers, on the side. When I saw Griffin Thursday night in Buffalo, I patted him on the side and wished him well. And there the rib-protectors were.

Memo to EvoShield: The world's watching. If Griffin runs 100 or so times this year and stays upright, we're all buying your stock.

"A lot of people don't want to wear the traditional rib-protectors because they make them look fat,'' Griffin said. "These ... you can't even tell you have them on, and you're also protecting your body the best way you can, rather than them sliding all over the place.''

Griffin looked great running in this practice. One advantage: He had the red shirt on. No one could touch him. Look at a 15-day stretch in October on the Redskins' schedule. Jared Allen, the Giants, James Harrison. I'm thinking Griffin might want a bullet-proof vest as well as the EvoShield.

Tuesday: New York Giants (University at Albany fields, Albany, N.Y.)

Three football nuggets: Play of the practice: Free-agent quarterback Ryan Perriloux's 52-yard go route TD to free-agent wideout Dan DePalma (from West Chester, Penn., via Verona, N.J.).

DePalma and Arizona free- agent wideout David Douglas are tearing up camp, and remember this: Tom Coughlin loves underdog story guys who tear up camp. Remember a fellow named Victor Cruz? ... Interesting joust at middle linebacker going on. Chase Blackburn -- he of the famous late Super Bowl interception that Tom Brady underthrew -- starts the season, but sentimental hero Mark Herzlich may get a shot to win the job if Blackburn doesn't make enough plays ... Hakeem Nicks, rehabbing a broken bone in his foot, is running now, and he's on course to start opening night, which is only 23 days away.

Helllllloooo! Anybody out there?

Eli Manning has two obligations after lunch at the University at Albany dining hall -- spending a few minutes with me, then talking to an Albany-area cable station for two or three minutes. Then he looks to his Giants media-handler, PR man Peter John-Baptiste, sees he's free for the afternoon, walks to his SUV, gets in and drives away. After dinner -- the early-bird special; he's out by 4:55 -- he walks out of the dining hall, says hello to a few fans standing outside, looks around, sees nothing he needs to do, and gets into the SUV again. He's gone. Pretty sleepy training camp for the two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, coming off another stunning upset of the Patriots last winter.

I used to cover the Giants for Newsday, and one of the competitors on the beat was Mike Eisen, who still covers the team -- now for Giants.com. He's covered the Giants for 27 years. He watches Manning come and go every day. "He could be a free agent from Kent State lots of days,'' Eisen said. "He comes out of the cafeteria, and if you want to talk to him, fine; he'll talk. If you don't, he just walks on by. It's no big deal."

This is the New York Giants' camp. This is the Super Bowl champion training camp. In all the years I've covered football, I don't recall a champion going through a camp as anonymously as the 2012 Giants.

"We've gone through camps with a little bit of chaos,'' Manning said. "I think we like it a little better this way."

A few factors here. The Giants have neither subtracted nor added any major characters; I don't consider a third receiver (Mario Manningham) and backup running back (Brandon Jacobs) big losses, nor are Martellus Bennett or Sean Locklear anything but meh acquisitions. And the normal media attention is fractioned further by Tebowmania with the other New York franchise, and the fact the Olympics have knocked non-Tebow football from some of the New York sports pages and airwaves.

Tom Coughlin loves it. Jerry Reese loves it. Because not only is there the benefit of working without an invasive microscope, but also it becomes easy, if need be, to play the "we get no respect'' card with the players when all the other teams are getting more attention.

But this afternoon at practice, I reached the conclusion that all of that won't matter one bit when the real games start. As the sun beat down on one of the dog days of camp, the Giants went 11-on-11, and a receiver on the bubble, oft-injured Domenik Hixon, was split right and ran about an intermediate curl route. Manning was the quarterback. With two steps left before Hixon turned to face the quarterback, Manning fired a line drive toward him. When Hixon stopped and turned, the ball was whistling toward him, just a few yards away. An impossible route, and pass, to defend. Hixon nabbed it. Gain of 13.

An August pass, of course, is nothing like a February one. But you set the stage for Super Bowl passes with precise ones in the dog days. The greatest pass Manning will ever throw came last season with the Giants down 17-14 and under four minutes left in the Super Bowl, pinned back at their 12-yard line. Manning looked safety Patrick Chung off the play with his eyes long enough to get a tiny window to rainbow a perfect ball into the hands of Manningham. Gain of 38. Biggest play of the game, by far.

Out on one of the practice fields, I asked Coughlin what sticks out to him about that memorable play six months later.

Coughlin was carrying a water bottle, and he put the bottle into the middle of his hands, stretched up into the air like a priest raising the host to heaven. There was a big smile on his face.

"The ball was right there!'' he said, still amazed after all these months. Just like it was when only a few hundred fans on a field in Albany were watching, not 119 million across the country.

***

Wednesday: New York Jets (SUNY-Cortland, Cortland, N.Y.)

Three football nuggets: Looks like Wayne Hunter at right tackle, and though everyone is saying all the right things about Hunter after his shaky 2011, he'll be the X factor the Jets will have to help all season with extra blockers ... I don't see another veteran pass rusher who will help Aaron Maybin much, so that means extra pressure's on first-round rusher Quinton Coples ... Can't believe Josh Brown won't beat out Nick Folk (8 of 13 from 40-plus last year) for the kicking job.

The Jets have a plan for Tim Tebow. They're just not saying what it is.

It's all starting to add up now. Rex Ryan says the Jets are going ground and pound. Jets trade for Tim Tebow. Jets want Tim Tebow to play a role. Tebow bulks up to 250. The new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, brought the Wildcat back to football four years ago, and there's little doubt he's going to use Tebow in some diverse roles out of the backfield here. Tebow is given to special teams coach Mike Westhoff, the mad scientist of NFL kicking-game game coaches, to figure out some role in addition to whatever he'll do on offense. Westhoff rubs his hands in glee, gets Tebow into his team meetings, and Tebow suggests a few ways he can be used.

So the Jets look like they know how they'll get Tebow in the game, and the situations and formations in which he'll be used. And the incumbent quarterback is well aware of what's going on.

"It's sort of a natural next step, and it didn't surprise me,'' Mark Sanchez told me. "We advance to the championship game the first two years, then we don't make the playoffs last year. They're going to do something to give us a spark. They bring in Tim. You can see they're going to get Tim in the game.''

Pause.

"I trust Tony,'' Sanchez said.

In other words, the Jets are going to put Tebow in the game, on offense and on special teams, regularly. They've been careful not to ruffle Sanchez's feelings about it, apparently even letting him know what the plan is, and Sanchez, who has a very good relationship with the new offensive coordinator, feels Sparano's not going to trample on him to make Tebow a part of the offense. It's a tight rope walk, and who knows what Sanchez really is feeling if part of the plan is subbing Tebow for Sanchez when the Jets get inside the opponents' 5-yard line, for instance.

"They've got a plan, a pretty precise plan,'' I was told here. "But they're just shutting up about it.''

Tebow ran four times Friday night in Cincinnati. He threw it eight times, but that's meaningless because of preseason. His runs? Not meaningless. "If you want to come after him, you better get to him. In time, he'll kill you running," Ryan said after the game.

In Sunday's New York Post, beat man Brian Costello had what I thought was a revealing look into Sparano. He pointed out Sparano says Sean Payton was the best influence he had into how to call a game. But Payton, he said, found a way to run even with his great passing attack. Costello noted that there never has been a year with Sparano as the head coach or play caller that the team didn't pass more than it ran. What does it all mean? To me, it plays right into Tebow's hands. Sparano, when he has the weapons, will throw changeups at the defense (don't laugh, Miamians; the passing game stunk under Sparano in Miami, except when Chad Pennington played), and Tebow is the perfect man to throw those changeups.

It says here a good chunk of the ground-and-pounding will come from the 250-pound quarterback/punt protector/option runner. I'll put the over/under of Tebow's average snaps per game, including plays in the kicking and punting game, at 18. And if I had to go to Vegas with that, give me the over.

***

Thursday: Buffalo (Bills-Redskins preseason game, Orchard Park, N.Y.)

Three football nuggets: Odd first game for the starting offense: 14 plays for the starters, 14 passes, no touchdowns. "What it was was a great lesson in our lack of discipline at this point,'' said coach Chan Gailey ... Wondering, as was the rest of western New York, when C.J. Spiller is going to make the explosive plays he was drafted to make ... Ryan Fitzpatrick (6 of 14 in the opener) has some proving to do, which he knows, to justify what the Bills paid him last year. He was banged up in the second half of the season last year, so that's some justification to his mediocre play. But he has enough weapons to win with here.

There's a thing about expectations, and what happens when they're not met.

I was at a tailgate with some fans before the game, and expectations here are as high as I can recall since Drew Bledsoe was the hot guy. Steve Tasker said on the local telecast of the game he expects the Bills to make the playoffs. And in the press box before the game, club president Russ Brandon said: "We've got the highest expectations we've had around here in a long time.''

That centers around the defense, of course. After signing Mario Williams in free agency, the Bills have one of the best defensive fronts in football -- maybe the best. Williams at left end in the 4-3, Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus at tackle, and Chris Kelsay and Mark Anderson on the right side.

"You want to kick off tonight, don't you?'' I say to Brandon.

"I do,'' he said.

They did, and they made Robert Griffin III go meekly on his first two series, the run defense pulverizing the Redskins' offensive front. But on the third drive, Washington took it 80 yards in eight plays for the game's only touchdown. Preseason's preseason, but that's not the kind of drive you want to show your fans when the clear expectation is that the defensive front will stifle most of what's put in front of it.

Now, I know players aren't going to go overboard with effort in the preseason, and I don't blame them. Why should Mario Williams risk injury in a practice game with nothing riding on the outcome? The games stink for the most part, and we draw too many conclusions from them. But an 80-yard drive by an efficient rookie quarterback into the teeth of the best unit of your team ... let's just say the Bills need to go to Minnesota Friday night and harass Christian Ponder more than they bugged RGIII the other night.

***

Friday: Detroit (Browns-Lions preseason game, Detroit)

Three football nuggets: America's pulling for Boise's Kellen Moore to make the roster, and I think Jim Schwartz is too. But Moore didn't help himself with a 4-of-14 performance (with three drops) against Cleveland. Arm looked below average, which had football cognoscenti saying, "Told you so." ... Free safety Louis Delmas likely will be ready for the start of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery ... Foes licking chops at corner duo of Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith.

Welcome to modern life, NFL.

"The day of the dumb football player is over,'' says Jim Schwartz, and he's about to show me why.

In his office Friday, a few hours before the preseason opener, Schwartz listed the reasons the Lions -- and they're hardly alone; many teams in the league have gone to the iPad for gameplans and playbooks -- have gone to tablet form instead of the tree-killing paper way of life.

But this says it all: It used to be that when the Lions would have a correction to make in a game plan, they'd fix the page or pages, print them out fresh for every one of the players on the roster and for all the coaches ... and the secretaries would have to go through every game plan, remove the bad page for the good one, then put it all back together again, in each individual player's or coach's binder. Now coaches can make corrections up to the last minute before a team meeting and send the corrections to the iPads of every player and coach, and the fix would be made. When those late corrections would have to be made, the joke around the office was, "Well, gotta go kill another tree.'' And each week, the secretaries would spend significant time shredding all the old game plans every week.

What's amazing, and the part I didn't know, is the security of it. We've all heard stories about players who lost playbooks and got fined. Now there's a double edge of security for the iPads, if one is lost. First, each unit is password-protected, Second, Schwartz or the program administrator at the Lions can erase anything the club wants to scrub remotely. So, every Monday night this year, after the Lions have reviewed the tape from Sunday's game, the game plan for that week's game will be erased from everyone's iPad. By late Tuesday night or early Wednesday, the new game plan will be sent to every tablet, and another week begins.

To prevent any funny business by the players or coaches, the tablets are not set up to print, copy or email anything on the iPad.

"It's a lot more secure, a lot more green, and a lot more portable,'' Schwartz said. "I'd like to say we're doing it because of conservation, but the truth is it's more about the ease of operation than anything else.''

The Lions are in the home stretch of building in video on the tablets -- it should be in place for the start of the regular season. When that happens, players will be able to look at a play in that week's game plan and see the complete history of it. They'll have the ability to look at video of every time they'd run a particular pass play that season, for instance.

"It's funny,'' Schwartz said. "In a couple of years, we'll all laugh at how we did it the first year with the iPad, because it's bound to get more advanced. But right now, it's pretty cool.''

Saturday: Chicago (Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Ill.)

Three football nuggets: Alshon Jeffrey, scarred during the draft process, fell to the second round, but the Bears love him so far. Watching receiving drills, the kid belongs ... Can't wait to see what a great special teams coach, Dave Toub, does with a great all-around special teams player, Blake Costanzo, who comes over from the 49ers ... J'Marcus Webb has about as tenuous a hold on the left tackle job as any other offensive lineman in football. Saw Mike Tice drilling the lineman at the afternoon practice, and I don't think he'll hesitate to pull Webb if he struggles like he has the last two seasons.

Finally, some size at receiver -- and some size with good ability.

Sometimes at these practices your eyes glaze over. You're watching drills that often don't directly translate to what players are going to do on the field, and you wonder what exactly you're watching -- and why.

Then there is a duel between two good players.

This afternoon, right in front of a few media folks on the sideline of camp, we got to see four snaps, just feet away, of 6-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall against 6-2 cornerback Charles Tillman. Tillman's the leader of the pack in the secondary, the best corner on the team, with a good resume that includes 30 career interceptions. Marshall's the Pro Bowl receiver in from Miami via trade this year, still feeling his way a bit with his new teammates but respected as a guy who gives the Bears what they haven't had: a productive big receiver in a division with a few of them.

Just before he and Marshall squared off, Tillman watched cornerback Jonathan Wilhite lose a step on free agent receiver Chris Summers by trying to joust him downfield. "Run!'' Tillman yelled at Wilhite. "Just run!'' Tillman turned to another corner prospect, Cornelius Brown, and said, "See? He's too busy trying to reach for him. Just run with him!''

Now Tillman lined up across from Marshall. Quarterback Jason Campbell hut-hutted, and they were off. Marshall ran a shallow cross. Campbell's pass was on target. Tillman got a fist in and knocked it away. Tillman, 1-0.

Two minutes later, Tillman got beat by a step down the left sideline, and Jay Cutler threw it perfectly for a long gain. Tie, 1-1.

Now another cross, from left to right. Marshall juked and got an edge just after the snap. Another completion, and now secondary coach Jon Hoke went to Tillman to confer. Marshall, 2-1.

Number four: Marshall ran a stutter-and-go, hesitating and trying to throw off Tillman with hip fakes. Then Marshall sprinted by him. Easy catch. By the time the ball landed in Marshall's hands, 35 yards down the left side, he had a couple of steps on Tillman. Marshall, 3-1.

There will be other duels on other days, and the object is for Tillman to get practice going up against a Calvin Johnson type of big receiver, and for Marshall to get used to how the big corners of the division will play him. Cool to watch.

***

Sunday: In Summation ...

Phase one of the SI-EvoShield Training Camp is over. Home now for three days, to write and veg out a bit. Before we parted Saturday night at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, ProFootballFocus czar Neil Hornsby, who accompanied me on the first 19 days of the odyssey (and he urges you to take advantage of his newfound knowledge and contacts by buying his premium stat service on the website), asked each other this question: What's the one major thing we took from every team's training camp and/or first preseason game? The answers:

Arizona: Rookie Ryan Lindley, the sixth-round quarterback from San Diego State, isn't far behind incumbents Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Don't see him playing anything but a cameo this year, though, barring the other two stinking up the place.

San Diego: Antonio Gates is as healthy as a colt. Saw him smiling and happy and running freely. He could put up Gronkian numbers.

New Orleans: The Drew Brees- and Chase Daniel-led offense (and don't laugh; Daniel was very good the day we watched) will not let Sean Payton's absence drag down a great attack.

Denver: I wrote last week about Peyton Manning not being near 100 percent with his arm strength, and he isn't. I don't much care. Hornsby and I both thought he had -- and will have -- plenty of arm to win with.

Seattle: Read so much of people putting down Seattle's draft as a monster reach, particularly pass rusher Bruce Irvin in the first round and quarterback Russell Wilson in the third. Funny, then, that we heard three or four GMs or personnel people on our trip say, "I loved Irvin,'' or "I would have taken Wilson. Great pick."

San Francisco: Randy Moss, in terms of burst and quickness, looked far better than we'd expected. Will it last? Who knows. Might be worth a ninth-round fantasy-draft flyer, though.

Oakland: Talking to new GM Reggie McKenzie, you can tell the Raiders still have miles to go to clear up the salary cap -- and it could hurt them this year at shallow positions like linebacker, offensive line and tight end.

Miami: Could this be the worst receiving corps in the NFL? Could be, unless wing-and-a-prayer wideouts like Legedu Naanee and Roberto Wallace, at least one of them, come through.

Tampa Bay: In terms of leadership and practice performance, the $11 million-a-year man, Vincent Jackson, has come in and dominated camp. That must continue for the Bucs to contend.

Jacksonville: Not convinced about Blaine Gabbert's renaissance. You can tell new coach Mike Mularkey is trying to do everything he can to boost the kid QB's confidence, with low-risk routes galore. Won't know if it works until the games count.

Atlanta: Handcuffs are off Matt Ryan. He'll have the ability to throw for some ridiculous numbers (5,000 yards is very realistic) with new coordinator Dirk Koetter sending Julio Jones flying deep.

Washington: This is Robert Griffin III's town. Everyone else but Obama is just renting space.

New York Giants: A loose team that's so happy to be overlooked this summer. Sleeper guy who's going to play a lot and has caught Coughlin's eye: Jayron Hosley, third-round corner from Virginia Tech.

New York Jets: In a suburb of Tebowville is concern about where the pass rush will come from. Aaron Maybin and then who?

Buffalo: Slightly underwhelmed with the performance of The Greatest Defensive Line of All Time. Played the run well against Washington, but gave RGIII too much time. Preseason, though, can be so misleading.

Cleveland: If they're missing Joe Haden and Scott Fujita for the opener, added to the loss of Chris Gocong already, and if Trent Richardson doesn't play in the preseason because of the knee, and if Brandon Weeden struggles as many rookie passers do, look out below. The Eagles, Ravens and Giants are on the slate in the first five games.

Detroit: Running game, meh. If it's mediocre again, the Leos need someone like tight end Brandon Pettigrew (speaking of meh) to finally play worthy of his first-round pedigree.

Chicago: For the first time in any of our lifetimes, the Bears are north of meh (speaking one last time of meh) at wide receiver.

***

So long, Bob Ryan. You've been a role model.

The Boston Globe columnist wrote his farewell column Sunday in the paper after 44 years (well, sort of a farewell column; he wrote one on the Olympic basketball final in today's paper, and will stay on as a contributor to the paper), and I think I speak for everyone in our business when I say how much I'll miss Ryan.

So matter-of-factly eloquent. His lead from the Sunday goodbye:

"LONDON -- Day One did not begin well. En route to the Globe for my first day as a summer intern, I was sideswiped on Storrow Drive by a Bloodmobile.

"Since then, no complaints.

"Forty-four years later, I'm still here, which is truly remarkable. How many columnists on a major American daily newspaper have spent their entire journalistic lives with one newspaper? The answer is close to zero. But why would I want to go anywhere else?''

Simple, declarative sentences are good things. Ryan specialized in them. He said what he thought without couching it, column after column. "I do want it known that I have spent 44 years doing it from the heart,'' he wrote Sunday. I have never once written to provoke or attract attention. I have always done what has come naturally, which doesn't mean it's always been right. But no one is right all the time.''

You came close, Bob.

"I thought I did a really good job, especially for the first time being out there. I was really, really calm. I just trusted what I saw.''

-- Rookie Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, after playing the second half of Seattle's 27-17 win over Tennessee. He completed 12 of 16 passes, including a 39-yard touchdown throw to Braylon Edwards, and ran three times for a game-high 59 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown run that sealed the game.

"Channeling my inner Tebow."

-- Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, on making a nifty scramble in New York's preseason opener Friday night in Cincinnati.

"I was young at one time. I've made some mistakes. Like I've been saying, I've made some mistakes in my life and I've moved on from them and I wish that everybody would, also. I've put those things behind me and I'm just focused on being a better person and moving forward in life ... If I don't play football, let it be because I can't perform physically, not because of what my past has been or what somebody has said. The crazy thing about it is nobody's even seen me or seen the kind of shape that I'm in. I just want to get out on the football field and get back to dominating my position.''

-- Free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress, to KILT radio in Houston via sportsradiointerviews.com. Burress, who turned 35 Sunday, has watched Randy Moss, 35, and Terrell Owens , 35, get chances to play in San Francisco and Seattle, respectively, and is frustrated no team has given him a chance to show he can play.

"Arizona will be not charged with a timeout.''

-- Replacement referee Craig Ochoa in the Baltimore-Atlanta preseason game.

That's good to note, especially since the Arizona Cardinals were 803 miles away at the time, and their game in Kansas City wasn't due to start for another 24-and-a-half hours.

Defensive Player of the Week

New England DE Chandler Jones. On his second play as a pro, Jones, starting at right end, pushed New Orleans left tackle Jermon Bushrod back into Drew Brees' lap, forcing Brees to roll right and throw an incompletion. Jones got good push on the next snap as well, and I am reminded of what Mike Mayock said on draft day about Jones, the 21st pick in round one last April: He said Jones' best football was ahead of him, and he'd turn out to be the best defensive player to come out of this draft.

Nice debut. I watched his snaps against New Orleans' starting offensive line on tape Friday morning, during which Jones played right end in the 4-3 eight snaps and right end in the 3-4 four times. Here's how I saw his production:

Snaps: 13 (not including two penalties).Holding penalties drawn: 2 (both called on Bushrod).QB pressures: 3.

Offensive Player of the Week

Kansas City QB Matt Cassel. The afterthought of all NFL quarterbacks heading into the 2012 season, Cassel played two series Friday night against the Cardinals. Eleven minutes. Two 72-yard drives. Two touchdowns. If he continues on that pace, the Chiefs will score 896 regular season points and Cassel will have a 152.8 passer rating. That just might be good enough to knock Peyton Manning off the AFC West front page occasionally this season.

Special Teams Player of the Week

San Francisco WR/KR Kyle Williams, who got back on the bicycle Friday night against the Vikings. Almost seven months after fumbling one punt and muffing another in the NFC title game loss to the Giants (see last week's MMQB and my item about Kyle Williams and his father, White Sox GM Kenny Williams), Kyle Williams returned two punts in a sure-handed way for 28 yards.

Coaches of the Week

Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith. For getting quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson ready to play in a new offense so quickly. Flynn and Wilson were a combined 23 of 29 Saturday night in the preseason-opening win over Tennessee.

Goat of the Week

Philadelphia CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, for his irresponsible launching and shoulder/upper arm cheap shot of a defenseless Byron Leftwich, the Pittsburgh quarterback, in the preseason game at Philadelphia. Rodgers-Cromartie is in line for a significant fine -- maybe six figures. I think it's worthy of a suspension. That's one of the most egregious hits I've seen in the league in the last couple of years -- worse than James Harrison on Colt McCoy, because you could argue that Harrison thought McCoy was a runner when he lined him up to hit him. Rodgers-Cromartie launched himself in violation of a well-publicized rule, and then hit Leftwich in the head in violation of a well-publicized rule. Luckily, Leftwich walked away, seemingly fine. The next victim may not be so lucky.

So the Jaguars wanted to ensure that they were protected in case Justin Blackmon implodes and has another run-in with alcohol and driving; he's already had two. And when his contract finally got on file late in the week, I read where Blackmon had a fully guaranteed four-year, $18.51 million deal.

How can this be? The answer: It really isn't.

The contract is fully guaranteed if the Jaguars choose to cut Blackmon at any time because of skill or injury reasons. But it does turn out the Jaguars will save 40 percent of the $11.9 million signing bonus ($4.79 million) -- if Blackmon has another alcohol-related arrest in the four-year term of the contract, and if the Jags decided to cut him.

Those are very big ifs, obviously. But I just didn't like reading the contract was fully guaranteed when there is obviously a way the Jags can get out from under some of the money if Blackmon makes another error in judgment.

At Bears' camp Saturday, there was an SUV parked between the dining hall and players dorm at Olivet Nazarene University. The vehicle had a Packers flag flying from the passenger window, and a Packers hat on the dashboard, so when players walked by they'd see it.

Bears chairman of the board George McCaskey walked by. He looked at the car, disapprovingly. He pulled a card out of his pocket and tucked it under the windshield wiper. It read: "Dear Friend, You still have time to save yourself. Go Bears!''

In April 1992, the Detroit Lions selected Washington State kicker Jason Hanson in the second round of the NFL draft. That was a week after a youngster in Rockford, Ill., Derek Dimke, celebrated his second birthday.

Hanson is still the Lions kicker, entering his 21st season. He's played more games with one team, 310, than any other player in NFL history. Dimke, a free agent kicker from Illinois, is in camp with the Lions trying to beat out Hanson.

Just before 3 a.m. Friday, the SI-EvoShield NFL Training Camp Tour docked in Sandusky, Ohio, and I roused myself and walked to the front desk of one of the local hotels. I said hello to the gal behind the desk and handed her my photo ID drivers license and my American Express card to check in. She looked at the cards and put them down next to her keyboard.

"Last name, sir?''

Not quite believing she asked this question after I handed her two plastic cards with my full name on both, I said, "Schwartz.''

She typed away for three or four seconds, and then said, "Uhhhhh ... "

"Last name is King,'' I said. "Just curious -- why'd you ask me my last name when I just handed you my license and my credit card?''

"Well, we just want to make sure it's you who's checking in instead of someone using your identification,'' she said.

My mind raced. If someone was doing that, wouldn't someone have had to bug my phone or steal my personal information from somewhere to know I had a room at this $119-a-night palace in Sandusky, Ohio, and then use my stolen or forged cards to check into said Sandusky palace?

It's the most colossally stupid thing I can remember at a hotel front desk, but I had no desire to say anything else at 3 in the morning in Sandusky, Ohio, other than, "Where is the nearest pillow?''

Sometimes you're on a grinder of a trip -- which this SI-EvoShield NFL Training Camp has been, even though it's been tremendously educational and fun -- and you build in what you hope will be a relaxing night in which the subject is something other than whether the Jets will be OK at right tackle with Wayne Hunter. And so last Wednesday, I saw we'd be finished at the Jets by 2 or 3 in the afternoon and headed to Buffalo for the Bills-Redskins preseason opener Thursday night, and there, between Cortland, N.Y., and Buffalo, was a New York-Penn League town, Auburn, with a 7 p.m. game against Jamestown.

So Team SI -- me, video man John DePetro, staff writer Matt Gagne, intern/driver Jack Ford (who, when wearing his Ray-Bans, could pass for Tom Cruise in Risky Business) and Pro Football Focus' Neil Hornsby, along for the ride -- dropped into Auburn for the game. The GM, Adam Winslow, invited me to throw out the first pitch, and Matt Gagne came up with the brilliantly potentially embarrassing idea of me throwing out the football in our van for the first pitch instead of a baseball. "Go for it!'' Winslow said.

Falcon Field is nestled in a big-tree neighborhood just outside of the town of 28,000, a classic Single-A park with ads filling the outfield fence of an immaculately kept field. I shared the first-pitch duties with a local leukemia survivor, 6-year-old Alex Brown, and his cute-as-a-button sister, Abby. Alex threw a strike. I did not. Mine was low and outside, but not in the dirt, and Craig Manuel, the Auburn catcher, made a nice save. Laughing.

Then we lined up outside the Auburn dugout, Team SI right next to Abner, the Doubledays' mascot (Abner Doubleday once lived here). "The mascot's a 16-year-old kid from here,'' Winslow said. "He grew up coming to the games, loved the Doubledays, and always wanted to be the mascot. So he came to us this year and got the job. That's how much this community loves the team -- kids grow up wanting to be Abner."

We settled into seats on the third-base side, talking to locals who've been coming to the games for years. They told us the history of the town -- about the homes of former Secretary of State William Seward and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and the maximum-security prison in town, where the electric chair was first used in 1890.

Whoa. The first electric chair. That's interesting, I said.

"It's downtown now, in Swabe's,'' one of the friendly fans said. "That's a bar.''

"Well,'' I said, "we're going to have to see that.''

The nice woman in front of us, Cathy Techman, drew us a map to Swabe's on the back of the night's stat sheet. And so, after Hornsby beat me in the seventh-inning keg-rolling contest on the field, we set out. "Sometimes when your expectations are low for something, those are the best times, because you smash them so far out of sight,'' said Hornsby, walking out to the EvoShield van. "This was a tremendous night.'' It wasn't over.

At Swabe's, a bar with lots of prison memorabilia, the electric chair is housed behind bars, and the bartender said there'd be no chance of us sitting in it. So the boys played pool while I read up on the chair. And here was something I didn't expect: The assassin of President McKinley was put to death in the chair in 1901. What a story, in so many ways. The Auburn paper from Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1901, reported on the electrocution of Leon Czolgosz, a self-proclaimed anarchist born to Polish immigrants in Michigan. Amazing the description of the assassination, which occurred at a world's fair in Buffalo on Sept. 6, 1901.

Czolgosz bought a revolver in Buffalo four days earlier for $4.50, and simply took his place in a receiving line at the fair where President McKinley was shaking hands with fairgoers. There was no mention of security. When Czolgosz reached the front of the line, the president extended his hand, and the assassin slapped it away, taking the gun wrapped in a handkerchief out of his pocket and shooting McKinley twice in the abdomen. McKinley died eight days later.

Ten days after the president died, Czolgosz, who'd been tried and convicted without cooperating in his defense, was sentenced to death. Talk about a rush to justice. He was put to death in Auburn, in the same chair that started it all, the same chair I was looking at now. The paper quoted Czolgosz as saying: "I killed the president because he was an enemy of the good people and the working people. I am not sorry for my actions. I am awfully sorry that I could not see my father.''

Sometimes you never know what you're going to get when you set out on the summer camp trip. But this is a day I won't soon forget, and Auburn's a town I won't forget.

"The morning after at Heathrow: Hope Solo, wearing her gold medal, on the gold elite line.''

-- @StevePoliti, the Newark Star-Ledger columnist, at 2:15 Eastern this morning (7:15 a.m. London time), apparently in line, waiting to return home along with some our country's finest.

"Davie police said fight between Chad Johnson and his wife started over a receipt for a box of condoms."

-- @BenVolinPBP, the Palm Beach Post's beat writer for the Dolphins, Saturday evening.

I must say that was an eye-opener.

"The way Poole is running for the Panthers, he'll have a new contract by halftime."

-- @PriscoCBS, CBSsports.com football write Pete Prisco, on Carolina rookie back Tauren Poole, having a good first half in the Panthers' preseason opener.

This came on the heels of Carolina paying a second running back to a big money deal (Jonathan Stewart, five years, $36.5 million) Saturday. Last year, the Panthers gave DeAngelo Williams $43 million over five years.

"@SI_PeterKing How could Woody be surprised at the amount of Tebow coverage?"

-- TonyDungy, asking me the question after Jets owner Woody Johnson said he was surprised at how much media Tim Tebow, the crossover religious/sports news magnet, was getting in training camp.

I asked Alex Marvez, the NFL columnist for FOXsports.com and Sirius XM NFL Radio host, for his observations after spending time doing radio shows on the training camp trails with veteran former GM Bill Polian, who is on the road for Sirius this summer. His thoughts:

Three days into a whirlwind five-day SiriusXM NFL Radio training camp tour with Bill Polian, Miami Dolphins media relations guru Harvey Greene told me something that had already become obvious. "If you don't become smarter hanging around someone like Bill, you're stupid," Harvey said.

It wasn't just my football IQ that rose during last week's visits to the Dolphins, Falcons, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Panthers. I also got to see the personal side of someone whose graciousness and humor stood in stark contrast to the intimidating, dour image Bill often showed while running the Indianapolis Colts. Four things I learned from or about Polian during our time together:

• The respect that Polian has around the NFL is evident by the revealing answers he solicited from our guests. One particularly thoughtful exchange came between Polian and Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland after both watched last Tuesday's practice. Polian told Ireland that cornerback Vontae Davis "jumps out at you with his feet and hip movement" and "should be a big-time contributor." Yet Davis was demoted to a second-string role because he reported to training camp out of shape and, judging by the debut episode of "Hard Knocks,'' has yet to fully buy into new head coach Joe Philbin's program. "He's got more talent and ability (than most cornerbacks)," Ireland said of Miami's 2009 first-round draft pick. "He's got to turn those flashes into consistency.'' That answer led to Polian's main point: Davis has probably coasted on sheer physical talent for the bulk of his football career.

• The cover-two defense as we know it could be on the road to becoming obsolete. Polian got into a fascinating exchange with Tampa Bay free safety Ronde Barber about this topic. Barber is entering his 15th NFL season playing in the acclaimed "Tampa-2," a scheme predicated upon the strong safety disrupting receivers who are funneled toward the middle of the field by cornerbacks playing zone coverage on the outside. Many of the bone-jarring safety hits once allowed are now banned as the NFL has instituted rules to better protect pass catchers. That has Polian, whose Colts used that system from 2002 through 2011 after Tony Dungy was hired as head coach, questioning whether it can be used effectively in today's NFL. Said Barber: "Our theory was all these guys got to the ball and intimidation was a physical act. It was, 'Get guys to run through zones. We'll shoot our guns and separate them from the ball.' The rules will definitely affect it ... I know we don't play cover-two now the way we used to."

• It's a bad idea for a team to participate in "Hard Knocks'' because of the outside distractions the show can create. Polian would never sanction making the Colts available for HBO's cameras despite the extra publicity it would bring. After watching the aftermath of Miami's debut, his decision was sage. Off-air, Polian pointed out to me several examples of negative media stories that stemmed solely from Miami's first episode, particularly when it comes to the conversation Philbin had with wide receiver Chad Johnson about watching his language during media interviews. Normally, that's the kind of chat that would, and should, stay in-house.

• Polian isn't who I once thought he was. I'll admit earlier in my journalism career that I was a bit intimidated by someone whose red hair reflects a temper even more fiery when it flashes. Bill can still get riled in a heartbeat. Just bring up the New England Patriots. But he's also a mesmerizing storyteller. During the 1987 strike season in Buffalo, Polian signed a replacement left tackle known for dirty play with the specific intention of trying to hold and frustrate New York Giants pass rushing demon Lawrence Taylor. Bill says he had no choice despite having to guarantee the player's contract for the entire season to seal the deal. "Our quarterback would have literally gotten killed," said Polian, who told team owner Ralph Wilson exactly that when seeking permission to approve the transaction because of this player's reputation. The tackle did the job -- and never played for the Bills again when the regulars came off the picket line the following week.

Polian hasn't told me this, but it wouldn't surprise me if he is running another NFL franchise in 2013. That will make me cherish working with him on SiriusXM even more this season.

1. I think I think I love Lovie Smith's love of the Olympics. "They're on my bucket list,'' he told me. "After I finish coaching, I'm going to go. I'll just be another American supporting our athletes. That's the one thing I really look forward to doing.''

2. I think I have to agree with Neil Hornsby, the Pro Football Focus guru who traveled with Team SI to 16 camps and/or stadia over the past 19 days, about Ben Roethlisberger. On Friday, we watched the Eagles chase Roethlisberger all over Lincoln Financial Field in the first quarter of the preseason opener. I mean, Big Ben was running for his life, dealing with yet another leaky offensive line. I don't know how long the guy's going to last until the Steelers figure out how to protect him.

3. I think it's clear Jonathan Vilma had a very good day in federal court Friday, trying to overturn the NFL's suspension of him. Very good, but not great. Great would have been Judge Helen Berrigan dismissing the NFL's suspension of Vilma, and though it seemed clear she wanted to act in his favor and strike down his one-year ban by Roger Goodell, she felt she couldn't do so because she wasn't legally empowered to. She said holding off on a decision "makes me crazy because I don't think it was fair,'' speaking of the suspension process. So it appears Berrigan will take some time to try to find a way to examine what exactly Goodell has a right to do and what he can't do.

One more note on the Vilma case: His court filing last week identified me as someone "commonly known as a go-to-source for NFL leaks.'' When I saw that, my chest puffed out a bit. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. But if it is, isn't that what reporters want? Don't reporters want to be known for finding people in the business they cover to tell them things that are hidden from the light of day? I'll never be a twentieth of a Woodward or a Bernstein, but this business is all about telling readers and listeners and viewers things they don't know. And I'd be proud if in this case I've done that.

4. I think I have no inside information on this -- I really don't -- but I'm hearing that no one in the Cleveland front office or coaching staff should feel secure beyond December. Prospective new owner wants to judge everyone fresh.

5. I think I have not seen as symmetrical a schedule as Atlanta's: road, home, road, home, road, home. Bye. Road, home, road, home, road, home, road, home, road, home. Not saying it's unique in recent history, but when's the last time a team played a season without two straight games on the road or at home? By the end of this regular season, it'll be 20 straight regular season games alternating between road and home for Atlanta, seeing that it finished last year in a road, home, road, home rotation.

6. I think the Falcons would have paid Curtis Lofton more per year to stay in Atlanta than he got (five years, $25 million) in New Orleans, but at some point Lofton didn't feel he got the love he deserved with the Falcons, so he decided to take less at a place he felt better about. Happens sometimes. Guys get sideways when they feel they're not appreciated, and they'd rather go somewhere else, even if they could make a little more money staying.

Lofton, by the way, had a nice debut for the Saints Thursday night in Foxboro. As James Varney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote after the Saints-Patriots game: "Lofton was the best defensive player on the field ... On the first Patriots plays that resulted in tackles, Lofton made or assisted on everyone of them.''

Lofton still has to show he's a plus player in coverage, but his first game was a good one.

7. I think, and it's long overdue, I owe the lads at Ourlads Scouting Services thanks for their work on this camp tour. Not that they're driving the EvoShield van or tucking me in at night on the road in the various inns of America, but the tattered pages of the Ourlads Guide to the NFL Draft and Free Agency attest to how good Ourlads' work is. Each team is given a page, and that page has a post-minicamp depth chart, a review of the draft, a review of free agency and a five-year draft review (2007 to 2011) chart, grading each year with categories such as starters and players out of the league.

They interpret. For instance, when I was in New Orleans, I liked how fourth-round wideout Nick Toon was fitting in with Drew Brees -- he runs confidently and competes well against the veteran corners, and his athleticism will serve him well in the Saints' fast-paced scheme. So I go to the Guide and read this about Toon: "Nick Toon left a positive impression on the Saints' coaching staff after the rookie minicamp in May. He demonstrated good hands during drills. Talent is not a problem, but overcoming a history of injuries will be the only thing holding him back."

I rave about how Ourlads keeps up on NFL depth charts during the season -- it's a fabulous service, and it's free -- and now I can say the same about the work they do after the draft in this invaluable guide.

8. I think it's a good idea, at this time of year (and as we've just passed the 11th anniversary of the death of Korey Stringer), with high school football practices happening all over the country, for players like Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt to work to get the information out that young athletes need to hydrate. Not a sexy topic, but a necessary one.

"Kids are better than they used to be about this,'' said Watt, who was pushing Gatorade's "Beat the Heat'' program last week, emphasizing hydration and sports drinks to stave off heat-related illnesses. "But they have to understand how much fluid they can lose in one practice, and how important it is to be drinking before and during the practice."

9. I think I need to get buried in writing before going back out Wednesday, but here's the next round of camps on the SI-EvoShield Training Camp Trip: Chiefs Wednesday (St. Joseph, Mo.), Rams Thursday (Earth City, Mo.), Colts Friday (Anderson, Ind.), writing Saturday, Packers Sunday (Green Bay), Texans next Monday (Houston), Cowboys a week from tomorrow (San Diego, practicing against the Chargers). After that, news will dictate my fate.

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

a. "How about Aly Raisman?!'' said Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum when I saw him the other day, the day after Raisman won. Raisman, like Tannenbaum, is from Needham, Mass.

b. Separated at birth: Paul Ryan, Andrew Siciliano.

c. Can't take credit for that comparison. Chicago radio man Zach Zaidman of WSCR gave it to me. I looked Ryan up, and it's spot on.

d. Worst roads of the trip, by far: Chicagoland's. The I-294 area between O'Hare and I-80 are an absolute disgrace.

e. Regarding the Auburn Doubledays on Wednesday night: I got a great kick out of their front office staff. The Doubledays have a Head Groundskeeper/Vice President of Moisture Management, Brian Rhodes ... and an Assistant GM/Vice President of Tarp Operations, Jason Horbal.

f. I finally got to see a bunch of Olympic highlights on NBC Sunday night. Wow, we're good. It bugs me that I missed the Olympics -- the stories and the competition. I totally missed the Mo Farah story, and Oscar Pistorius. Bummer. Glad I caught up on Missy Franklin and that crazy U.S. soccer win over Canada. And though I'm not a great hoops fan, congrats to the men and women on their golds too.

g. Coffeenerdness: Really, Marriott Towne Place Suite and Residence Inns. Have you tasted the stuff you call coffee? It's barely coffee-flavored water. I congratulate you on your fine morning oatmeal, and when you have Cheerios -- plain, good old-fashioned Cheerios -- I couldn't be more pleased. But the coffee tastes like you've used the same coffee through the same filter about four times. Weak beyond belief.

h. Beernerdness: Sometimes in this business, you just get lucky. Leaving Washington's camp, we found a shop, Total Wine, with Bell's Oberon Ale. I'd only had this once, a couple of years ago, but had fond memories of it. Wasn't disappointed sitting in the back of the EvoShield van on the way to Giants' camp, writing and having a couple. It's a lighter wheat ale, a little spicy. Just what I needed on the Jersey Turnpike at 11 at night.

i. This is either my favorite hard-news newspaper lead of the week, or This Week's Sign That We're a Really Screwed-Up Country, or both, from Brian Ballou of the Boston Globe: "The longtime parking enforcement officer tried twice to wave veteran MBTA bus driver Lataria Milton out of the left turn lane at a busy Kenmore Square intersection Thursday morning. But Milton defiantly returned the hand gesture and continued eating a breakfast sandwich inside the empty bus parked on Commonwealth Avenue, transportation authorities said. The officer wrote a $75 ticket, and when she tried to place it on the windshield of the bus, Milton inexplicably hit the gas, authorities said. The bus lunged forward and struck the officer, who managed to get out of the way before the bus plowed into several vehicles waiting at a traffic light."

j. Speaking of good writing at the Globe, how's this for interpretive beat writing six days before Chandler Jones' impressive debut against the Saints, by Greg Bedard.

k. Got a lot of catching up to do on "The Newsroom." Someday.

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