Hue Jackson started his first preseason as Cleveland Browns head coach by impressively checking off a critical box: decisiveness. Jackson told reporters that he would name his starting quarterback prior to the Browns’ first pre-season game on August 12th, and all signs point to that starter being Robert Griffin III.
Certainty in Cleveland? A compelling starting quarterback? Perhaps a new era really has arrived.
Enacting a plan for the game’s most important position is such an obvious must-do, even probable backup Josh McCown supports getting the probable bad news sooner than later. Good for Jackson for getting the inevitable over with.
That takes us to Denver and San Francisco, where there are seemingly no answers on the horizon.
It’s still astonishing that the Super Bowl champions could go from Peyton Manning (even noodle-armed Peyton) to the trifecta of Mark Sanchez (with his well-known limitations), Paxton Lynch (a promising talent but has been labeled “not-NFL ready,” and Trevor Siemian (known only to Northwestern grads). But who are any of us to question the tactics of John Elway?
Yet the Broncos should know by the start of the first preseason game who deserves the keys. They have a year of observing what Siemian brings first hand, plus minicamps and OTAs to see how he’s progressed. Sanchez is a known quantity, and has also participated in offseason workouts. The team has spent copious amounts of time dissecting Lynch’s college film, and he too has shown his stuff live. Teams are putting on pads now, and we’re in the throes of training camp, which is much more relevant for evaluation than any preseason game. Ask former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow who was deemed a national treasure during preseason games but was cast off as a short-term solution because coaches didn’t see the skills for sustained success based on what they saw in practice.
There are numerous benefits of decisiveness when it comes to naming the starting quarterback. Think of the extra weeks Josh Gordon, Marlon Moore, Corey Coleman & Co. will get to assimilate to either Griffin’s or McCown’s cadences, delivery and leadership styles, all the while sharing the same snaps and developing chemistry. Plus the locker room instantly becomes less ridden with eggshells. I have spoken with many players over the years about the experience of an extended quarterback battle, and they uniformly agree it can divide a locker room. Not to mention the effect all this yo-yoing will have on the eventual starter’s confidence. On Day 2 of Broncos training camp, Sanchez started with the first stringers but was immediately pulled for Siemian after throwing an interception. Sanchez’s confidence has already gone through many ringers at this point in his career, but if he is going to start for the Super Bowl champions, he should probably do so without imaginary Siemians all over the field gunning for his job.
Perhaps Gary Kubiak will name his starter before the Broncos face the Bears on August 11th. What is he waiting for? It’s not like he’s deciding between Steve Young and Joe Montana here. In this case, the process of the decision will likely be more consequential than the decision itself.
In San Francisco, the decision is more clear-cut. Blaine Gabbert has better footwork and makes smarter decisions, but lacks the overall package to be a bonafide star. Colin Kaepernick, as The MMQB’s Andy Benoit pointed out this week, greatly suffers when it comes to that thing we’re talking about here, decisiveness. He’s still way too raw for someone who has started 53 NFL games, including five playoff games and a Super Bowl. But Kaepernick’s ceiling is eons higher than Gabbert’s. The choice is clear—project or Gabbert. So why isn’t Kelly making it yet?
Hopefully Kelly and Kubiak follow Jackson’s path and wrap up their battles soon. Otherwise, we could be embarking on a ho-hum situation like the Houston Texans last preseason when Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett’s competition droned on so long it literally put one of the competitors to sleep.
Catching up with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce
“Who?” said Travis Kelce when I asked if his manager, Aaron, who appears on Kelce’s new dating show Catching Kelce, was like his Chris Harrison, a reference to The Bachelor’s ubiquitous host/advice giver. Kelce, who visited the SI offices this week as part of a tour promoting his televised quest for love, which premieres October 5th on E! actually thought I meant Broncos cornerback Chris Harris.
The basic blueprint for Catching Kelce is that 50 women from all walks of life are whittled down to 20 before moving into a fancy mansion in Los Angeles to vie for Kelce’ love. Sound familiar? But there are twists along the way like “all-access” dates where women get to choose competitors to join in.
Before Kelce embarked on training camp, we chatted love and football, and love of football. Here are the highlights:
Why on earth did you want to be the centerpiece of a reality dating show?
Honestly to find a lovely lady, possibly to find love. I’m so focused on being a professional athlete that I’ve put my love life and finding women on the backburner. And as a familiar face around [Kansas City] it’s hard to get the genuineness out of women. On top of that it’s a way for me to get my face out from under that football mask and into the rooms and lives of people who may not watch football.
Do you want a woman who doesn’t understand football?
It depends. I don’t know much about makeup and beauty and all the beauty pageants out there so it’s something where I had to be open to them as they’d be open to me. As long as her personality is awesome and she has a spark to her and she’s willing to understand football. Everyone has to learn football at some point—you’re not just given the opportunity to be in a football family. You either love the game or you don’t love it. It would make things easier if she understood football for her and me because of the scrutiny she would get if she only knew certain things and her boyfriend/husband is an NFL player. That’s not always a good look. If she’s open to cheering me on, I’m all for it.
How have your Chiefs teammates reacted to this?
So far the locker room—I don’t want to say pumped—but let’s say they’re interested to see how things are going to play out. I know I’m going to catch some crap for it at the end of the day but it’s a fun experience that will get people talking.
On to the field where I know a lot of Chiefs fans and many fantasy owners who wish you were used even more. What are the prospects this season for both you and the team?
With Doug Pederson in Philly, we have [co-offensive coordinators] Coach [Matt] Nagy and Coach [Brad] Childress. Coach Nagy has been awesome, what’s he’s been for our quarterbacks last year he’s been for the entire offense this year. I can’t wait to see what we piece together. As far as this offense goes, we have weapons. We have a three-headed monster, arguably a four-headed monster, in the backfield, including the offensive line pickups. This could be pretty interesting where this offense can go.
I see us giving this Super Bowl run a chance. I say it every year as you have to; you have to believe in the opportunity and task you have at hand. If your eyes are not on the Super Bowl you’re not playing for the right reasons.
What’s one thing about Alex Smith we don’t know?
He doesn’t get flustered, man. He’s cool, calm, collected on the field every bit as off the field. He’s one heck of a leader. The biggest thing people don’t know is the guy graduated form college in three years as the no.1 overall pick. His intellect is through the roof. He’s non-stop talking about the guys around him and telling everyone what he’s seeing.
You’re entering your fourth season. It’s next to impossible to find a non-rookie pumped about training camp. How are you feeling as you head to St. Joseph this week?
I’m wired just a little differently. I think the food’s great. The a/c’s always on blast so even if it’s a hot day you’re feeling great. There’s something about building the team’s camaraderie, taking it from 105 or so guys down to 53. There’s something there that gets me excited. On top of that, it’s another opportunity to perfect my craft.
A lot of guys absolutely hate it, you know, sometimes you have to embrace the process of the grind.
In other news and notes around the league…
Any lessons learned?
It’s been two years since the Ray Rice video surfaced, a pivotal period that was supposed to begin a major cultural shift throughout the league. The NFL named a social responsibility director, set harsher penalties for domestic and sexual abuse violations and starting a DV education program that supposedly reached all tentacles of the league. Yet this week new Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, when asked about Nelson Agholor’s status following the recent dismissal of sexual assault charges against the second-year wideout, first said he “wouldn’t comment too much,” but then he commented. “We all learn from our mistakes, we learn from them, we move on,” said Pederson nonchalantly as if a sexual assault charge was the same thing as an errant tweet or sleeping in and missing a morning meeting.
Down south in Jacksonville, Jags David Caldwell brought in free agent defensive end Greg Hardy for a workout last. Hardy, convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend before getting off on appeal because she was a no show, has never shown real contrition and overflowed with toxicity during his second chance in Dallas last season. Any team knows the bad PR that comes with associating itself with Hardy, even if it was just “homework” as Caldwell called. The Jags didn’t sign him but they didn’t close the door on the possibility.
And meanwhile, Ray Rice says that if a team were to sign him he would donate his entire 2016 salary to domestic violence education programs. But no one believes he can perform on the field anymore, which as the NFL keeps proving over and over, is the only thing that matters.
Hair there, Florham Park!
Don Banks got some major scoopage at Jets camp Friday when Todd Bowles revealed that Chewbacca Fitzpatrick was going to let the players vote on the fate of his hair. Hopefully the players do the world a favor and suggest that the Jets starting QB remain a Chia Pet in a jersey. Breaking it down, the chances are quite good. Assumedly, the almost half of the current roster that is destined to be cut in the coming weeks will vote to keep it status quo. You’ve, say, bounced between three CFL teams in the last year and you’re going to prance around telling an NFL starting QB what he should do with his hair? Don’t think so. Add in players like Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker who double as fashionisters and know aesthetic excellence when they see it and a burgeoning new trend should be on the horizon. The only remaining question: When will the NFL concoct a way to fine Fitzpatrick?
Misleading tweet of the week
As usual, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games. Same as last time w/ Bernie. Unacceptable!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2016
The debate dates and locations are not chosen by the Democratic nominee; they are named by The Commission on Presidential Debates—a year in advance!
Programming note #1: When I’m not writing this column, I double as our NFL editor so allow me to use this space to share my excitement for our coverage this upcoming season. We have a big time hire coming in the next couple of weeks. Add that to Annie Apple’s new weekly column (Tuesdays), an increased fantasy presence, the continuation of popular weekly must-reads like Don Banks’s Snap Judgments (Sundays) and Greg Bedard’s Blanket Coverage (Thursdays), plus an overload of analysis, features and plenty of surprises along the way and we can’t wait for Week 1. You can read it all on our sleek, newly redesigned SI.com (which you know given how you’re reading this right now.)
Programming note #2: A funny thing happens to NFL addicts in August with the start of preseason games—the definition of a week shifts from Monday-Friday to Thursday-Monday. With that sentiment in mind, Week Under Review will move to Mondays starting August 7th, the day after the first real NFL game of the season is played. Well, real enough.