What to watch for on Hall of Fame weekend
Yes, folks, it's that time of year again. That time when you turn on the TV on a Sunday night in August and say, "Holy crap, the NFL preseason started already?"
The Hall of Fame Game is back after a one-year, lockout-induced hiatus in 2011. This year's version will feature the Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints -- and I'm sure all that bounty talk won't come up at all ...
Either way, football is back, starting with the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday and continuing on through Sunday's game. Here's your primer for what to watch for as the NFL takes to the gridiron again.
• Which Hall of Famer will let loose?: There may not be a more humble class in Pro Football Hall of Fame history than this year's group. But while that type of attitude paid off for Dermontti Dawson, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf during their playing days, it doesn't exactly make for riveting Hall of Fame speeches.
So let's cross our fingers that someone jazzes us the proceedings. Maybe one or more of these guys breaks down and cries. Maybe Bill Parcells uses his pulpit as Martin's presenter to talk about how he's the greatest coach ever. Whatever the circumstances, let's hope that someone -- somehow -- will steal the show.
The sleeper pick? Jack Butler, the 84-year-old senior committee entrant for this year's Hall class. When the 2012 class was announced during Super Bowl week in Indianapolis, Butler was on hand and sat down with the NFL Network to talk about how it felt to make the Hall. He was like a kid in a candy store, expressing such enthusiasm that you couldn't help smile along with him.
• Drew Brees, back on the field: The Saints finally started to get some closure last month on their offseason of discontent when Brees signed a long-term deal, ending a stalemate between himself and the team over the franchise tag. New Orleans can take another step back toward normalcy on Sunday, with Brees expected to see at least a little playing time with the first-team offense.
We can safely assume that New Orleans won't exactly turn it completely loose and open the playbook against the Cardinals. But we will get our first look at how the offense will run sans Sean Payton. New Orleans probably won't mind having this extra exhibition to help work out the kinks.
• Are replacement officials ready?: The NFL has yet to reach an agreement with its officials union on a new collective bargaining agreement, so the preseason will kick off Sunday night with replacement officials on the field. One of those fill-ins could be Shannon Eastin, who would be the first woman to officiate an NFL game.
While it's great to break down that barrier, Eastin recently was making calls in the FCS' Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. It's a colossal leap from that level of football to the NFL -- and just about every replacement official will be facing a similar challenge. Sunday, we'll get some idea just how prepared they are.
• Introducing Michael Floyd: Neither the Saints nor the Cardinals figure to use their stars for very long Sunday evening, but Arizona fans ought to get their first in-game look at Floyd, a first-round pick out of Notre Dame in April. The Cardinals are counting on Floyd to take some pressure off Larry Fitzgerald at the receiver spot, and the expectations are high. Kevin Kolb is slated to get the nod under center to open the Hall of Fame Game. How often will he look Floyd's direction?