Future is now in Seattle, but Dolphins are playing for next year
On the close-knit Tampa Bay Buccaneer teams of the late '90s, close friends Dave Moore, a tight end from New Jersey, and Mike Alstott, a fullback raised in Illinois, roomed together during road games. When they left football, Moore in 2003, Alstott in 2006, both had families, including boys who loved football. Moore and Alstott wanted to stay close to the game, and both had dreams of coaching their sons in high school. So after last football season, Moore and Alstott, both of whom live in St. Petersburg, did something about it. Moore took a job, his first as a head coach, at Shorecrest Prep in St. Petersburg. Alstott took a job, his first as a head coach, at Northside Christian in St. Petersburg.
The high school regular season begins Friday night with the close friends coaching against each other. Shorecrest at Northside kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
"What are the odds of that?'' Alstott said. "It'll be pretty incredible looking across the field and seeing Dave.''
Now on with the show, the NFL show, in a busy week during which we've found out a few things -- that Pete Carroll was serious when he said the best man would win the quarterback job in Seattle, that Jim Irsay was not crying (Ron) wolf with all his trade tweets, that the Cowboys are worried about Dez Bryant the person and more. I've got only one thing as cool as what I just wrote about Moore and Alstott -- my Ernie Zampese note, way down in the column.
Nine days before the season opens, here are the 10 stories of the preseason weekend:
The team could hunker down in New Orleans or fly north early in advance of Thursday's game in Nashville. As of Sunday night, the path of the hurricane showed it could hit the New Orleans area on Wednesday, which would be seven years to the day after Katrina ravaged the region. Late word Sunday night was that the airport in New Orleans could close on Tuesday, which could accelerate the Saints' decision to leave town. Stay tuned.
The naysayers said to just wait until Wilson had to play against someone's starting defense; that would expose him. Uh, not so much. Wilson started and had seven possessions in Kansas City Friday night. The drives: 41 yards and a field goal, 41 yards and a field goal, 37 yards and a field goal, 62 yards and a touchdown, 59 yards and a touchdown, 55 yards and a touchdown, 54 yards and a missed field goal. By the time Seattle inserted Tarvaris Jackson to replace Wilson, the Seahawks led 44-7.
At the start of camp, I was told by Someone Who Knows that Wilson would have to be markedly better than free-agent signee Matt Flynn to win the starting job. Well, Wilson's performance in the past month defines "markedly better."
The Dolphins now have dealt two of their former stalwarts from the Tony Sparano regime, Brandon Marshall and Davis, and they'll have a rich draft (five picks in the first three rounds) in 2013 to show for it. Whether GM Jeff Ireland will be making those picks remains to be seen, but let me say this in his defense: Miami did well to get two third-rounders for Marshall, and if a devalued Davis were on the bench to start the season, Miami wouldn't have been able to get a second-rounder for him before the trading deadline.
We all thought the Seahawks would deal Jackson, the odd man out in the three-man QB derby in Seattle, but maybe to Green Bay. That it's Buffalo means the Bills might get rid of both prospective backups, Young and Tyler Thigpen, because they've been giving option quarterback/wideout Brad Smith some work at quarterback this summer. Young could be headed to his fourth team in 20 months (Tennessee, Philadelphia, Buffalo) if the Bills cut or trade him.
We're in an incredible time for quarterbacks in the NFL. With offensive systems getting more complex by the season, NFL teams are saying the more precocious the QB the better. Fourteen of the 32 starting quarterbacks in Week 1 (15 if the Cards start John Skelton) will be either rookies or 25 or younger when they take the first snap of the season. That's 44 percent of the starters in the NFL.
The count: five rookies, five second-year players and four third- or fourth-year guys.
The stunner of the bunch, obviously, is Wilson. Lone-wolf Seahawks GM John Schneider doesn't care if half the league laughs at him when he picks tackle James Carpenter in the first round in the '11 draft, or Bruce Irvin in the first and the 5-foot-11 Wilson in the third this year. When Seattle had a mini-camp last spring, Pete Carroll was so impressed with Wilson's poise and smarts that he put him in the mix for the starting job. And Wilson never took his football off the gas.
"I refuse to be average,'' Wilson told me the day I was in Seahawks camp four weeks ago. "I refuse to be good. All I want to do is work to excel every day."
I went back to my notebook to check my notes after seeing Wilson in camp on July 29. I noted how, flushed from the pocket and sprinting right, Wilson kept his eyes downfield and launched a 32-yard high strike to wideout Ben Obamanu, who came down with it in close coverage. Those are the kinds of throws he'll have to make in the NFL, escaping the land of the giants in the pocket to get a better view of the landscape.
As I walked away from a 20-minute conversation with Wilson, I could see why people in Wisconsin loved him so much. He was genuine, charismatic, earnest. That day, Carroll added a few adjectives: "Smart. Bold. Makes the right decisions under pressure. He scrambles to throw; he doesn't scramble to run. Extremely adept at making things happen when the pocket breaks down. He's worth making this a three-man quarterback competition."
And so, like his four draft-mates (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden), Wilson went out and earned the job. Why are so many players playing so well so young? More and more, college football offenses are translating better to the NFL. Quarterbacks are throwing more (and in the case of a few of them, 7-on-7 passing leagues in high school give passers a jump on the college game), and throwing more pro-style stuff.
Tannehill was coached by one of Brett Favre's Green Bay coaches, Mike Sherman, at Texas A&M, and Sherman is now Tannehill's offensive coordinator in Miami. Andrew Luck's Stanford coach and offensive coordinator, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, now do the same jobs with the 49ers. And so on. The cross-pollination of the NFL and college coaches means there's no patent on good ideas, no matter where they flow from.
Should be a fun season of growing pains and new stars.
I concluded my tour of NFL camps last week with stops in Houston to see the Texans and San Diego, where the Cowboys practiced against the Chargers for a couple of days.
What's the best body type for a strongside defensive end in the 3-4 defense? About 6-5 and 290? Meet J.J. Watt, 6-5 and 288. The size for a good 3-4 outside linebacker? Maybe 6-4 and 255, DeMarcus Ware size. The Texans have three: Connor Barwin (6-4, 262), Brooks Reed (6-3, 250) and rookie Whitney Mercilus (6-4, 254).
"The synergy between our scouts and coaching staff right now is really good,'' said Rick Smith, Houston's GM. "There's really good back-and-forth between the two about what the coaches want.''
Reed, for instance, was a college defensive end making the transition to pro outside linebacker. Reggie Herring, Houston's linebacker coach, wants quickness, relentlessness and a strong initial burst at the snap of the ball. Last year, Reed and Von Miller had the two fastest times of any linebacker in the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash (1.58 seconds). The scouts got nothing but good reports on Reed's work ethic, and his six sacks last year, the coaches think, is a scratching-the-surface thing. "Brooks is having as good a camp as anyone on our team,'' said Smith.
Reed is a Clay Matthews lookalike and playalike, with the blond hair in the ponytail and the high motor. When the Texans let Mario Williams walk in free agency this year, it was because the cap was going to be flat for a couple of years, and because with Reed and Barwin playing so well on the outside where Williams would have been, they knew they could survive, and flourish, without Williams. Then, on draft day, there was Mercilus, who ran the first 10 yards of the 40- in 1.55, best at the combine this year, and Smith couldn't pass him up. Call it the can't-ever-have-too-many-pass-rushers lesson of the Giants. When the Texans rotate the three on the edge this year, it's going to be tough for the offense to figure out who to spend an extra blocker on.
The Ravens are still trying to figure out how to block Watt and Reed, by the way. They combined for five sacks in the Texans' narrow playoff loss at Baltimore in January. Two rookies, five sacks in a playoff game. Pretty darn good fits for the Texans.
"Finally it's almost here,'' Carr said, smiling, waiting to board a team bus after practice at the Chargers' practice facility. "The moment I've been waiting for all offseason.''
Cowboys at Giants, Sept. 5. Last year, the Cowboys had their season ruined by Manning, and it's not the first time. In two December meetings, Dallas gave up 68 points to the Giants and 746 yards passing by Manning. The Cowboys went out and got two new cornerbacks -- Carr and first-round pick Morris Claiborne from LSU, the consensus best corner in the draft. All they have to do is walk into the Meadowlands on opening night and beat the Super Bowl champs and the Super Bowl MVP quarterback.
"Every defense needs two like that, and nobody's got 'em,'' said Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator. "The Giants did an unbelievable job against us last year. They had their way with us. It's a new year now. We'll see how it goes."
Ryan knows he has no business drawing a line in the sand against the Giants. His D just hasn't played well enough against New York, and he knows it. It's not time to talk -- which he loves to do -- until his players can back it up. Which is where Carr comes in.
Carr wanted to come to Dallas because of the money (five years, $50 million), and who wouldn't? He also wanted to come because he's watched what the Ryan defense does with corners. He's seen Rex Ryan put Darrelle Revis by himself on the opposition's best receiver often, and that's what he wanted. "I'm comfortable with it,'' Carr said. "I knew when I came in I'd be the one to check the number one receiver, and that's something you have to love doing. Watching Revis do it is something a cornerback would love. Against Eli, it's going to be a huge challenge. There's no throw he can't make, and he's not afraid to make the difficult throws in a big spot. I'm going to have a sense of urgency that night. It's why they brought me in.''
Playing in Kansas City, Carr played in some big games; you play in big games no matter where you play in the NFL. But this is a hotter spotlight, obviously. This will be the third straight Cowboys-Giants game on NBC primetime. Carr will be on an island against these five quarterbacks on nationally televised games this year: Manning, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Mike Vick and Robert Griffin III.
I like what the five members of the Senior Committee, along with Hall of Fame consultants Paul Warfield and Joe Greene (the Hall brings in two consultants to talk to the committee about long-retired players each summer), came up with this year.
Curley Culp was traded from Kansas City to Houston midway through the 1974 season because Oilers coach Bum Phillips wanted a true nose tackle to play in his 3-4 defense. The Oiler had had successive 1-13 seasons, and were 2-5 when Culp was acquired. Houston finished that season 5-2 and went 10-4 the next year. Phillips always said Culp was the biggest factor in making his defense work. Hall of Fame Pittsburgh center Mike Webster said Culp was always his toughest day.
Most people in and out of football thought if a glory-days Packer ever got nominated by the committee, it'd be guard Jerry Kramer. But Robinson has been highly recommended by a string of Hall of Famers over the years.
As a sideline-to-sideline playmaker, he was in the shadow of middle linebacker Ray Nitschke for much of his prime, even though Robinson made more Pro Bowls, and Vince Lombardi always credited Robinson for his play, even though he didn't get the headlines of other Packer stars. "Outstanding player, and totally unselfish,'' Bart Starr told me Saturday from his Alabama home. "As a player, I don't recall anyone who had the sense of anticipation on the field Dave did. And I don't know if there was a better example on our championship teams of a player who constantly exhibited the commitment, unselfishness and team-player aspect of the game that coach Lombardi valued so highly. He is tremendously deserving."
I've heard from many of you critical of Robinson over Kramer. That's your right. I said on Twitter the other day, regarding Kramer, that the men in the media who watched him play for 15 years never voted him in, so we would essentially be overruling the decision of those who watched his entire career. Many of you have asked me on Twitter a logical question:
Yes. Absolutely. But understand something about Robinson versus Kramer. Jerry Kramer retired following the 1968 season, and he was a Hall of Fame finalist nine times in his 15 seasons as a modern-era candidate: 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984 and 1987, and then once again as a Senior Committee nominee, in 1997, once his modern-era eligibility expired in 1988.
Kramer's case, then, has been heard before the full Hall of Fame selection committee 10 times over a 24-year span. Robinson has never had his case heard by the full selection committee. Culp has never had his case heard by the full selection committee.
I don't serve on the Senior Committee; nine of the 44 Hall of Fame selectors make up the committee, and five meet in Canton every August to nominate two candidates for selection. The committee doesn't have as its stated objective to get the cases of the forgotten heard. But those are the players who make the most sense to me to get in the room.
Back when the Pro Bowl meant something, Culp made five of them, Robinson three and Kramer three. Is it fair that Kramer should have an 11th time as a finalist while Robinson or Culp would again not have a chance to get in the room as a Hall finalist?
I've always thought we should hear the cases of seniors whose candidacies fell through the cracks. Kramer never fell through the cracks. He was judged by those who watched him play 10 times in 24 years and deemed not as worthy as others. The fact that he was named to the NFL's 50th Anniversary Team and then not to the Hall of Fame ... I have no explanation for something that happened in 1969, but it's obviously curious that many of the same voters who judged him one of the greatest linemen ever then didn't back him for the Hall of Fame.
One last point. On Saturday, Bart Starr told me there was one other candidate he felt strongly about. "Bob Skoronski,'' he said. "Forrest Gregg was great, and he protected me on my front side, at right tackle. Bob protected my blind side at left tackle, and you know how important the blind side is for protection to a quarterback. You'd look at their grades when the coaches graded the film after the game, and their grades were virtually the same, game after game. I am so disappointed he hasn't gotten in the Hall. Some of the guys [offensive linemen] who have been selected to the Hall over the years, I'm just aghast. Bob Skoronski is a level above them.''
Skoronski and Gregg were the bookend tackles on the five Green Bay championship teams. You could hear Starr's passion for Skoronski -- who played 146 games between 1956 and 1968 for the Packers -- come through on the phone.
I asked Starr if there were other players he wanted to recommend, and he said no.
Forty-three years ago, nearly everyone in America was glued to the TV to see a self-described "nerdy engineer'' walk out of a space capsule, Apollo 11, and become the first person to step foot on the moon. There were estimates that one-fifth of the people on earth watched the moon landing and moonwalk. Armstrong's first words on the moon will never be forgotten: "That's one small step for man ... one giant leap for mankind."
When Armstrong and his crew returned, there were parades in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and then a world tour. A quiet hero in so many ways -- as a Korean War combat pilot, a man who would never try to make money on his accomplishments as an astronaut, and a soft-spoken professor at the University of Cincinnati. Armstrong defined "the best and the brightest.'' On Saturday, his family said this, fittingly: "Honor his example of service, accomplishment and honesty.'' In a me-first world, Armstrong was a selfless American original.
Ohio University at Penn State, Saturday at noon. The game's a big one for all the obvious reasons -- the most obvious being that I went to Ohio and we might have a chance to beat Penn State in State College. I also noticed the other day that SI.com's Holly Anderson picked the Bobcats
So I got in touch with the OU quarterback, Tyler (Son of Mickey) Tettleton, and took the temperature of our crew before the big game in Happy Valley.
We made a little small talk, and I told him when I was a freshman in 1976 I saw Bruce Springsteen on campus, in the little auditorium on the College Green. And afterward, Bruce and the band went drinking in the bars on Court Street.
"Bruce and the band partying with the students!'' he said. "No way! That is awesome! Awesome!''
"There is no sleeping around here."
"Do you want to punch me in the face?''
Esiason has said the Jets should cut Tebow because his presence is a distraction, and Esiason doesn't think he's a quality NFL quarterback.
Tebow said no, followed not long after by "God bless you."
"There has never been a position player this good this young,'' Verducci writes. The best anecdotes are about Trout the athlete and Trout the competitor. He called home one night on a lark bowling outing with friends and said to his mother, "Mom, guess what? I bowled a 300!''
Trout in 105 games this year: 100 runs scored, 24 homers, 41 steals.
"Thanks for listening to me. You and your family have a very nice day."
I wonder now, and I've wondered after my six or eight encounters with Starr over the years: Has a classier man played in the NFL?
Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones in 5.5 quarters of play this summer: 13 catches, 240 receiving yards, 18.5 yards per catch.
I'm a week late on this, so let's call it the Stat of (Last) Week. But it's so interesting I wanted to make sure you didn't miss it in the absolute avalanche of good football data and stories as we approach the season.
Bill Barnwell, a writer for Grantland.com who I respect greatly, did a mortality study comparing retired baseball players with retired football players. He compared players in both sports who played at least five professional seasons between 1959 and 1988. There were 1,494 baseball players and 3,088 football players. Of the baseball players, 238 have died. Of the football players, 394 have died.
That means 15.9 percent of the major leaguers who played in the three decades of the study have died, which is more than the 12.8 percent of football players who died.
This comes on the heels of the March news from the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, which reported retired football players were living longer than people in the general population.
This is a nascent subject in society right now, but at the very least it appears a faulty premise that football players, who have thought for years that they were taking years off their lives by playing the sport professionally, actually die earlier than the average Joe who watches at home. The NIOSH study said former players lived longer than the general population, and Barnwell's valuable study suggested a cross-section of football players lived longer than their baseball counterparts--also a surprising piece of evidence. There are sure to be more studies, but Barnwell's unexpected findings contribute valuable data to an emotional subject.
Remember Ernie Zampese? He's a former offensive coordinator for the Rams, Chargers, Cowboys and Patriots. Now 76, he lives in San Diego, and was a visitor to Chargers-Cowboys practice Tuesday at the San Diego practice facility.
Zampese used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day. In 2002, he had a stroke, and the first seven days after the stroke are a blur to him. But when he began to get his wits about him, he realized he didn't want to smoke anymore. He had no desire to smoke anymore. His doctors think the part of his brain that signaled his desire for a cigarette somehow shut down due to the stroke.
"To this day, I don't want a cigarette,'' he said.
And he honestly believes if he hadn't suffered the stroke, he would have kept smoking to excess, and there's a good chance he'd be dead today.
Derrick Mason retired in June with more receptions, 943, than any of the 21 wide receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame except Jerry Rice.
On my final camp stop, in San Diego to see the Cowboys on Tuesday, I stayed at a hotel I'd never heard of: the Andaz. "What's Andaz?'' I asked our
I'm not a fan of dark hotels. I don't understand them, first of all. Who favors dimly lit rooms? Arriving close to midnight, I saw how W-ish it was, with pillows and comfy chairs in the lobby. I was checked in by a man using his iPad. Then I went upstairs to my room, to write my Chicago Bears scouting report/team preview for the magazine's NFL preview issue. (I wrote eight of them for the preview, and being on the road for much of a month, a person has to work at some odd hours to get things done.)
I looked all around the desk. Couldn't find a light. No light on the desk. "#$%^&*@#$!!!'' I said, or something like that, and then turned on every 40-watt-bulb lamp in the place (exaggerating, but it wasn't too bright in there). So I finished my work by candlelight, shut the computer, and accidently touched what I'd thought was some silver sculpture or piece of curved art on the desk. And a light went on. The silver thing was a light, and I officially was a dufus.
I'm probably more a Marriott TownePlace Suites or Spring Hill Suites guy on the training camp road. There, I know how to turn on the lights.
Imagine how the late Matthew Ianniello would have felt if he could have seen a copy of his
What a fine legacy Matthew Iannello left on the planet.
The first paragraph of the obituary of the former organized crime figure in the Friday Times, written by Paul Vitello:
"Matthew Ianniello, the low-key reputed Genovese crime boss known as 'Matty the Horse,' who was convicted of rigging construction bids, skimming union dues and wringing protection money from bar owners, pornography peddlers and topless dancers during a half-century career that, among other highlights, helped transform Times Square into the dingy world capital of peep shows in the 1960s and '70s, died on Aug. 15 at his home in Old Westbury, on Long Island. He was 92.''
Kill him with kindness, Paul.
"If u don't like it buy ur own team and try to make the playoffs 9 season n a row n put together 7 straight 12 win seasons n a row as Owner!"
"Dramatic decision coming for South Florida NBC affiliates as overhyped forces collide. Tebow or Isaac?''
"Adrian Gonzalez is the Dodgers 1st baseman, an O'Malley owns the Padres. Other than that a very normal yr in baseball''
"Apparently the Dodgers front office doesn't get NESN."
Meaning: The Dodgers dealt with the Red Sox to acquire, among others, the tremendously disappointing Josh Beckett and just-regular disappointing Carl Crawford, and NESN telecasts most of the Red Sox games.
"Jeter barks at Kluber after hit in head. Never seen him yell at P b4. I wonder if Skip Bayless will think that is roid rage? #Yankees"
I'm reminded of one famous Jerseyan, Bill Parcells, when he once picked up a Giants media guide when I covered the team in the '80s, and he began flipping back through the records section. "No one cares who was hurt, or what problems you had before any of these games,'' Parcells said, pointing at the Giants' year-by-year record. "All people care about is the 'W' or the 'L.' Did you win or lose? All the other stuff, nobody cares. Don't tell me how tough it was during labor. Just tell me: Did you deliver the baby or didn't you?'' Keep that in mind this week, NFL and the real refs, as you enter the most important negotiating week of this whole mess.
a. Journalism of the Week award goes to Steve Dilbeck of the
b. As far as the deal goes, I like it as a Red Sox partisan -- particularly the part about the Dodgers taking $250 million or so (96 percent) of the remaining salary of the four Red Sox vets. Adrian Gonzalez is a big loss. Carl Crawford might be, but he also might be a player who isn't suited for the big-headline places, and who won't be able to play until next April or May because of elbow surgery. And Josh Beckett, well, you can have him. Never met him; don't know any of these guys. But he strikes me as one of the most miserable people ever to put on a Sox uniform -- and that encompasses a lot of miserable people.
If you pitch well and you're miserable, people have to stand you. If you pitch horribly (as he had this year), and you play golf the day after you've been scratched from a start with a bad back and then are bitter when people have the audacity to question you about it, then people say, "Good riddance.''
The Sox have paid $46 million for Beckett to go 24-24 over the past three years. Maybe he'll be good in the spacious parks of the National League West, but that won't make this trade any worse. He's spent the last 12 months helping drag down a franchise that was paying him like a king. In the
c. Gonzalez's first at-bat for the Dodgers: three-run homer. James Loney's first at-bat for the Red Sox: double play. And so it goes.
d. This is no little slump Boston's in. Red Sox in last 162 games: 73-89.
e. Pirates in last 162: 80-82.
f. The Pittsburgh Pirates are seven full games better than the Red Sox in the last full season.
g. How must the Rays feel? Hottest team in baseball last Monday. Coming off an 8-2 road trip and a four-game sweep in Anaheim. Breathing down the Yankees' necks. They come home on Monday night and draw 9,913. Is Tampa-St. Pete trying to lose an excellent franchise?
h. I mean, I hate the Trop as much as the next guy -- it's a bad place to watch baseball -- but that is a pathetic showing by that fan base.
i. While I'm on the topic of baseball box scores, is it too much,
j. RIP, Jerry Nelson. Throughout my
k. Regarding Lance Armstrong, for a guy who fought so hard for so long proclaiming his innocence, it's pretty uncharacteristic to throw hands up in the air and give up. Not like him -- unless he knew there was no way he could convince anyone of his innocence.
l. Coffeenerdness: Good to be home and have my daily Italian Roast fix. Tough times on the road without it.
m. Beernerdness: Safeco Field is a great stadium for beer nerds -- 23 variety of beers sold in the concourse, by my count, the last time I was there. But Petco Park ("Petco! Where the pets go!") will give it a run for the money. I was there with the Cowboys media contingent and Dallas PR czar Rich Dalrymple Tuesday night (thanks for the tickets, Troy Aikman) and we found an alley behind our seats of five local microbrewers with their wares on tap. How considerate.
n. As that wise owl Brian Hyland texted me after seeing the front page of the