Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we mercifully count down the dying days of August ambiguity and await the refreshing clarity of the NFL's regular season. ... There will be clarity, right?
• Mark Sanchez's battle-scarred psyche has endured another pummeling this preseason, and now he even has some physical pain to accompany his well-damaged reputation. But, hey, at least the fifth-year Jets' quarterback has a job, and his banged up throwing shoulder looks to be a short-term issue.
There are plenty of his 2009 NFL draft first-round classmates who don't share his relative good fortune. As a group, that particular collection of once-elite prospects is faring worse by the minute. In a stand-back-and-soak-it-all-in-kind-of-way, it has been a brutal summer of setback for the boys of '09. To wit:
-- Jason Smith (No. 2 overall pick) -- Released by the Saints last week after not cutting it in their competition at left offensive tackle, Smith is back with the Jets, the team he was traded to last year during the preseason in the Wayne Hunter deal. The former Ram is trying to stick with New York as a backup swing tackle, but he'll need to beat out fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi. Yep, you read that right.
-- Aaron Curry (No. 4) -- Like Smith, Curry was already on the third team of his star-crossed career this season, and it was not a charm. Like the Seahawks and Raiders before them, the Giants last week decided they could live without Curry's talents, opting to keep Kyle Bosworth as their backup strong-side linebacker. When you're a certified draft bust at linebacker and you're beaten out by a Bosworth -- who is the nephew of former Seattle draft-bust linebacker Brian Bosworth -- well, there's only so much lower you can sink.
-- Sanchez (No. 5) -- As if taking the whole wild ride on the Jets-coaster these past four-plus years hasn't been a book deal waiting to happen, Sanchez has gone from Tebow to Geno in the past two summers, while being both mocked (see the Butt Fumble) and nominated for martyrdom by the media (see his insertion into Saturday night's preseason game against the Giants in the fourth quarter behind a second-team offensive line). Maybe we should make up our minds about No. 6 and be done with it.
-- Michael Crabtree (No. 10) -- Having finally produced a breakthrough season for San Francisco in 2012, the 49ers' lead receiver tore his Achilles tendon in late May and is working his way back from that injury at a pace that will -- at best -- have him back on the field in late November. Whatever San Francisco can get out of him this season must be filed under the heading of gravy.
-- Aaron Maybin (No. 11) -- The former Bills and Jets linebacker is now an ex-Bengal as well, having received his walking papers in last week's installment of HBO's Hard Knocks.' But from what I understand, his burgeoning painting career is thriving, so at least he got something out of the experience of doing training camp on TV.
-- Jeremy Maclin (No. 19) -- The talented Eagles' receiver looked poised to hang up some serious numbers in Chip Kelly's spread-the-field offense, in a pivotal contract year, no less. But Maclin went down with a season-ending knee injury on the second day of training camp workouts, and we won't hear from him again until 2014.
-- Percy Harvin (No. 22) -- Traded from Minnesota to Seattle this spring, Harvin was awarded a rich new contract extension and a featured role in the Seahawks' offense and return game. But so far the payoff has been slow on Seattle's end. Harvin needed late-July hip surgery, and if all goes well in rehabilitation, his return should coincide with the dawn of December and the final month of the regular season.
-- Beanie Wells (No. 31) -- The former Cardinals' running back can't get anyone to give him a second chance, so he remains a free agent, waiting to see if an injury thins out some team's backfield and prompts a call. But Arizona released Wells in March in part because of his injury history, and no team seems willing to overlook the reports that his ongoing knee problem has officially reached "bad-wheel'' status.
• Speaking of underwhelming NFL careers that haven't quite matched exalted draft status: a penny for Matt Leinart's thoughts. The former Heisman winner and top-10 pick in 2006 just restarted his career -- sort of -- in Buffalo, where the QB-needy Bills signed him over the weekend after losing Kevin Kolb to a concussion suffered in Saturday's preseason loss at Washington. Buffalo's first-round pick, E.J. Manuel, is also out, recovering from knee surgery.
Despite Leinart's relative wealth of league experience compared to rookie Jeff Tuel and former Browns and Lions reserve Thad Lewis (the two have combined for one NFL start), Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone said Monday that Tuel would start Week 1 against visiting New England if Manuel isn't ready. That would make Tuel the first undrafted rookie quarterback to start a season opener in the NFL's common draft era (1967-present), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Tuel, by the way, had a collegiate starting record of 4-22 at Washington State, which was Leinart's win total in a typical month at USC. If that isn't a slice of humble pie for Leinart, there's nothing that would ever do the trick.
• Seems like it wouldn't be summer without seeing the Giants' secondary lose a key performer for a significant stretch. This year it's safety Stevie Brown, who tore the ACL in his left knee on an interception return against the Jets Saturday night. Brown was a revelation for New York last season, intercepting eight passes (second most in the NFL) despite starting only 11 games.
It's a Giants tradition by now. Cornerback Terrell Thomas had two consecutive seasons wiped out by knee injuries, 2011 and '12, and makes his return to the field this year. Safety Kenny Phillips was felled for the year by a knee problem early in 2009, and New York's first-round pick in '11, cornerback Prince Amukamara, missed the first nine games of his rookie season with a broken foot. With safety Antrel Rolle and cornerback Corey Webster having some injury issues to fight through this preseason, the Giants might be wise to not field a secondary in Thursday's exhibition finale at New England.
• I'm not saying the fight for the 2014 No. 1 pick and Jadeveon Clowney's draft rights won't be worth the trouble, but if I'm a Raiders, Jets or Jaguars fan (or fill in the blank), I would at least temper my enthusiasm over a potentially franchise-fortune- changing selection. Playmaking defensive ends are incredibly valuable, of course, but they're not always an overnight difference-making addition. There have been some recent hits and some notable misses.
Yes, J.J. Watt (11th overall) greatly helped a Texans team get over the hump and finally into the playoffs in 2011, but Houston had been on the cusp of that step for a while and had significant roster talent around him. Houston's Mario Williams (No. 1 in 2006) didn't add instant impact in the standings, with the Texans being .500 or worse his first three seasons in the league.
Julius Peppers was a quick success story, however. He went second overall in 2002 and by '03, Carolina was in the Super Bowl. Dwight Freeney (11th) helped the Colts make a playoff run starting in '02, but clearly Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy had something to do with that, too.
Then there's Courtney Brown (No. 1) in Cleveland in 2000, Andre Wadsworth (No. 3) in Arizona in 1998, Chris Long (No. 2) in St. Louis in '08, Gaines Adams (No. 4) in Tampa Bay in '07 and Jamaal Anderson (No. 8) in Atlanta in '07. None of those players wound up as cornerstone pieces in a resurgent, winning franchise.
• With Watt taking the league by storm in 2011 and Russell Wilson following suit in even more surprising fashion last year, which ex-Wisconsin Badger will keep the streak alive this season? My best guess would be Denver's second-round running back Montee Ball, who this week is starting to see regular work with the first team in practice, after starter Ronnie Hillman fumbled for the second time this preseason in a win against St. Louis on Saturday.
Ball leads all Broncos rushers this preseason with 80 yards on 25 carries, and has improved his pass-blocking skills, after nearly getting Peyton Manning killed in a Week 2 loss at Seattle. The NCAA's all-time big-school touchdown leader with 83, Ball scored his first career six-pointer against the Rams and I'd take a fantasy draft flyer on him if I had time for that sort of thing.
• Tony Gonzalez is this year's example of the overstated importance of training camp. The Falcons' veteran tight end took a full three weeks off of excused family time to watch his 12-year-old son, Nikko, launch his own budding football career, then came back to Atlanta last week in time to catch a couple Matt Ryan passes for 21 yards in a 27-16 loss at Tennessee on Saturday night.
Like riding a bike -- which is probably how Gonzalez spent some of his free time at home in California. Not many veterans, of course, will ever have the kind of leverage Gonzalez did this offseason, when he "retired'' from the NFL, only to be coaxed back onto the roster by the Falcons. But it's always nice to see the sanctity of training camp get a wee bit exposed.
• It has been a way too newsy preseason for some former football stars turned media members, and I'm not even including Randy Moss in that assessment (because as Randy told us, he's not media. Former Titans linebacker turned team TV analyst Keith Bulluck was the latest talking head to encounter trouble, getting arrested early Sunday morning in Nashville after allegedly stealing $100 from a cab driver in a dispute. As a result, Bulluck is not working this week's Titans at Vikings preseason finale.
Cleveland quarterbacking legend Bernie Kosar gave us that memorable on-air rant about the Rams in Week 1, and let's not forget former Eagles and Jets linebacker Hugh Douglas, who threatened to beat up his ESPN colleague Michael Smith at a night club in Orlando, peppering him with racial slurs in the process.
How would ESPN's Monday Night Countdown crew put it? C'mon, man!
• Looks like the Lions are definitely ready for the regular season, because they're in midseason form when it comes to committing personal fouls. Detroit took three of them against the Browns two weeks ago, and followed up with five more in their blowout home win over the Patriots, a crucial August victory that apparently infused Jim Schwartz's team with over-confidence.
Lions defensive end Willie Young, clearly losing track of the calendar, wagged his finger in the face of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, drawing a taunting flag and a benching from Schwartz. But if Schwartz is going to start benching everybody who plays in this typically undisciplined Detroit style, a couple of things are going to happen: first, the Lions might have trouble fielding a team; and secondly, the silly penalties might actually stop.
• I see those 1972 Dolphins, the team of my boyhood, are at it again. At least three of them. Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg, center Jim Langer and defensive tackle Manny Fernandez all declined the team's recent invitation to the White House, a long overdue honor that most of the Dolphins relished as a way to salute their historic 17-0 perfect season. Citing their differences with the politics of President Obama, the threesome told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that they didn't want to appear in the same room as him.
"We've got some real moral compass issues in Washington,'' Langer said. "I don't want to be in a room with those people and pretend I'm having a good time. I can't do that.''
Oh, the irony. Richard Nixon, the president who was in office at the time of Miami's triumph, and should have saluted the team, was a little busy being the moral compass of his time and never got around to it.