1) I think there will be two runaway stars on Hard Knocks this year: Bill O’Brien and Ben Jones. O’Brien is a colorful, candid coach who famously got into a sideline screaming match with Tom Brady when he was a Patriots assistant. When I covered O’Brien at Penn State, he was thoughtful and cared deeply about his players, and he’s always had a fierce desire to win. As for Jones, the team’s center: he’s been known to drink cold tub water and eat cockroaches (the linked sound clip of him explaining his preference for certain insects—such as a cricket instead of a praying mantis—is tremendous). If that doesn’t make for great television, I don’t know what does.
2) Speaking of Tom Brady, I think we are all inherently aware of this statistic, but it’s still pretty shocking: Since Brady took over as the Patriots starting quarterback three games into the 2001 season, New England has started only two men under center (Matt Cassel is the other). Over the same 13-year span, the rest of the AFC East has cycled through 38 starting QBs (the Dolphins have had 16, the Bills 12, and the Jets 10). With Jimmy Garoppolo all but guaranteed to start at least one game this fall, the Patriots can start making up some ground.
3) I think it felt surreal to be in Inglewood on Sunday as the last remnants of the Hollywood Park racetrack crumbled in a controlled demolition. The track, which has been closed for more than two years now, was once a place to been seen for the likes of Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. About 75 “Bring Back the Rams” fans watched the implosion of the grandstand and Inglewood mayor James Butts even wore a Rams hardhat while videotaping the moment. The door is now opened for a roughly $2 billion football stadium to be built on the grounds, and there’s a tangible feeling among locals that an NFL team will play there in 2016. Adding to the bizarreness on Sunday, many residents were unaware of the 6 a.m. blast and initially thought it was a gunfight or an earthquake.
4) I think Dean Spanos is going to begin alienating fans in San Diego if he doesn’t show his hand soon. To recap: the Chargers’ chairman has spent 14 years lobbying for a new stadium, constantly reiterating his commitment to San Diego. But during the owners’ meetings in May he was seen quite often with Oakland owner Mark Davis, a potential partner for a $1.7 billion stadium in Carson. This week, Spanos is reportedly meeting with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to negotiate a 65,000-seat facility. Sealing a deal of this magnitude requires leverage, so Spanos might be closing in on his endgame. If not, he’ll continue to drive San Diego fans nuts—and perhaps away from his franchise.
5) I think a lot of people overreacted when Antonio Gates said he wanted to play fewer snaps in 2015. It’s not because he’s suddenly turned lazy. At 32, he feels a decline in his body and knows he’s not the go-to, every-down threat he once was. Gates is keenly aware that he may only have a season or two remaining, and it makes sense for someone else—likely Ledarius Green—to start taking on a larger role. You might want to rethink drafting Gates high in your fantasy league, but I think he’s still the consummate pro.
6) I think the Green Bay Packers’ cameo in Pitch Perfect 2 did not disappoint. (Click here for the trailer.) I don’t consider this a spoiler—if you haven’t seen it yet, let’s face it, you probably aren’t going to—but there is nothing that can adequately prepare you for Clay Matthews & Co. singing “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child. Amazing. Just watch them practice their moves.
7) I think I find it amusing that there’s even a discussion about whether Cam Newton deserves a contract reportedly worth up to $100 million over the next five years. Is he the best quarterback? No. Is he the worst? No. But it doesn’t matter where he ranks. A precedent has been set for teams to overpay quarterbacks, and Newton has demonstrated that he can develop as a passer and win in the playoffs—even with a shoddy offensive line and mediocre supporting cast around him. What was the Panthers’ alternative? Pray that an aging veteran falls to them in free agency down the line? Hinge their fortunes on a draftee? In today’s NFL, once you find a sure enough QB, you keep him unless there’s an obvious upgrade. Why are some people acting so surprised?
8) I think Michael Bennett isn’t going to get a raise from the Seahawks this summer. According to the Seattle Times, the defensive end is sitting out OTA’s in he hopes of generating a new contract that would make him among the seven or eight highest-paid players at his positions. Bennett probably deserves that. He can line up inside or outside and is an integral part of Seattle’s schemes (which will be cycling through its third defensive coordinator in four years). Though he memorably said after Super Bowl XLVIII that he wouldn’t take a hometown discount because “this is not Costco,” Bennett passed on two higher offers and re-signed with the Seahawks for four years and $28.5 million. Sorry, Michael, you don’t get to change your mind after a year, especially on a team with a noted policy of not redoing deals with more than one year remaining. Plus, the Seahawks’ have a pressing need to lock up a star who isn’t under contract after 2015: quarterback Russell Wilson.
9) I think I commend Rams players Chris Long and William Hayes, who went undercover for a day to live as homeless men in St. Louis. What’s most impressive is not the stunt, which raised awareness and was captured eloquently in a segment on ESPN, but rather that both men seem dedicated to impacting their community before and after the cameras were rolling.
10) I think my heart breaks for Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, who announced that his 5-year-old daughter, Leah, had another setback in her fight against cancer. Leah has shown incredible resilience, and we should all send thoughts and prayers her way.
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