After a 9-1 start in 2014, the Cardinals limped to a weak finish after losing Carson Palmer to an ACL injury. Will the now healthy QB pick up where he left off? Plus, Mike Tannenbaum's second chance, inside HBO's new football show and more
The most important knee in Phoenix will be resting in Lake Tahoe today. Not by choice, though. Carson Palmer hasn’t taken a vacation since he had surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee Nov. 18—and he wasn’t planning on taking this one.
“I’m being forced to do nothing,” he said by phone Thursday, the morning after Cardinals coach Bruce Arians ended the team’s mandatory minicamp a day early to reward his players for their work this spring. “I’m being forced to get away from my house, where I have a gym to train, so that I actually have to take a day off. The trainers and doctors are saying it will do way more for me than spending this first week back grinding hard.”
Right before we spoke, Palmer had received a text from a member of the Cardinals’ athletic training staff reminding him again of the mandate: During the first week of summer vacation, he’s only allowed to do a daily swim workout, and no other training.
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This is my first time filling in for Peter King on this column, and it’s a daunting task. After spending the past few weeks reporting for one MMQB column, I have an even greater appreciation for the boss being able to do this 48 weeks out of the year. Some of things I’ll cover:
• The second NFL act new Dolphins EVP Mike Tannenbaum wasn’t sure he’d ever get
• Why the new HBO show “Ballers” is going to make waves
• The familiar face who will be blocking for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson
• A neat story about a scout who made the most of an opportunity
• One ex-player’s explanation of why Tim Tebow’s throwing motion isn’t the problem
But first, I wanted to start with an update from Arizona, where some news that could have a huge impact on the 2015 season happened somewhat quietly last week: the Cardinals’ 35-year-old quarterback, whose team was 9-1 when he tore his ACL Nov. 9 against the Rams, was full-go on the practice field in 11-on-11 team drills exactly seven months later. That’s a faster recovery than Sam Bradford, 27, who tore his ACL in August, and the Rams’ 20-year-old running back, Todd Gurley, who also had surgery in November but hasn’t yet returned to practice. (The Cardinals were one of seven teams who held their veteran minicamp last week; the rest of the league, except the Rams, will hold it this week).
Did Palmer surprise even himself with how quickly he’s returned? “No,” he says definitively. “I really didn’t. This was my goal.”
Palmer previously tore the ACL in the same knee in a much more extensive injury in 2006, so his experience guided him throughthe tedious process of not only retraining his body to walk, jump, etc., but also re-learning the precise footwork the quarterback position relies on. For instance, he started walking through three-, five- and seven-step drops at the beginning of March. Then, he moved steadily faster: At 30 percent speed, 60 percent, 80, 90, up to full speed. Next, he rehearsed sliding in the pocket and avoiding the defender. Each step of the process, he said, was weeks long.
Confident players often say they’ll return better than they were before the injury, but in Palmer’s case, there is a tangible improvement he believes he’s making. Since he had to retrain his body anyway, he used the time to correct a flaw in his throwing mechanics--a bad habit he slipped into last season. He noticed on film that when he was working through reads on the left side of the field, as he was getting his eyes and his body to his second, third and fourth reads, he was putting his weight in his heels and leaning back, instead of staying on the balls of his feet. When that happens, he explains, your body naturally falls that direction. He saw on film that he was drifting to his left in the pocket, sliding into the left tackle and throwing off-balance.
“Going back to the foundation and starting from the ground up has paid dividends for me, mechanically,” Palmer says. “I’ve gotten back to the basics, some of the things I was really good at as a younger quarterback, and may have not spent enough time on over the years. It’s something you don’t typically do in the offseason.
“It will help my completion percentage, it will help with my accuracy and it will also help us as a unit, because I won’t be making my left tackle’s job as difficult. In turn, I’ll be able to step into more throws. As I’m getting to my second and third and fourth read, I’m holding onto the ball a little bit longer and that pocket is getting slowly smaller, so it will give me more room to work with inside the pocket because I will be more centrally located.”
He worked on this in some capacity, he says, each day for the past five months. During minicamp, there was a play that encouraged him about where he’s at physically—he went through 90 percent of his throwing motion, but then had to pull the ball back down to reload and get to his second read. He stepped to avoid a pass rush, and was still able to make an on-balance throw.
Successful rehabs depend on details, but Palmer took it to the extreme. One example: he got blood drawn every six weeks, the kind of extensive bloodwork boxers do before big fights. “The lady at the blood lab was arguing with me,” Palmer says, “telling me she’s never seen this much blood be taken from somebody.” The tests showed some deficiencies in vitamins that promote healing and tissue regeneration, so Palmer started taking a special pack of vitamins three times a day.
The Cardinals looked like a Super Bowl contender early last year, and Palmer signed a $50 million extension in November. But just a few days later, after his season-ending injury, he expressed uncertainty about his place on the team, saying he just hoped he was part of the equation moving forward. “I knew I wanted to be back and play for this organization, but you don’t get to control that,” he says now. “If we had gone on and won a Super Bowl with Ryan Lindley, I probably wouldn’t be back here.”
Instead, the Cardinals’ season veered off course without him. Palmer was 6-0 in games he started in 2014, but after backup Drew Stanton was also injured in December, the Cardinals lost their final three games—including a first-round playoff loss in which they managed just 78 yards of offense with Lindley at quarterback.
“[It's] as big of a feeling of unfinished business as you could have,” Palmer says. “That’s the main thing. We were 9-1, and things ended for me, and we just didn’t finish the year strong, and it left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths—no more than mine.”
That’s why Palmer didn’t stop for vacation. After his mandated Tahoe trip, he’ll get back to work: physical therapy one day a week, and throwing three days a week. Some of his receivers and tight ends will join him in Southern California—including promising second-year receiver John Brown—to put in extra reps before camp.
Palmer’s first goal for 2015 was to be ready for mini-camp. Check. You can guess what his last goal is. At age 35, and coming off his second knee surgery, the No. 1 overall pick in 2003 is actively aware of the fact that his window to win a championship is closing.
“I think about that all the time. Absolutely,” Palmer says. “You only get so many shots. I’m hoping this is lucky No. 13. I believe it is. It is another thing, though, to go out and prove it.”
The Second Act of Mike Tannenbaum
When I was a Jets beat reporter for The Star-Ledger from 2010-12, Mike Tannenbaum was the team’s general manager, and he had a habit of collecting certain motivational items in his office. After the Jets’ 2011 campaign ended in disarray with a New Year’s Day loss to the Dolphins, for example, Tannenbaum tucked the aqua-colored band used to tag his bag that afternoon at Sun Life Stadium in his top right desk drawer—a motivator to avoid another bitter end to a season.
That was of the first questions I asked when I recently spoke to Tannenbaum over the phone—did he have any such items in his new office in Davie, Fla.?
“Actually, I do,” Tannenbaum said, and he e-mailed a picture of a corner unit in his office. On the second shelf from the top, under a white Miami Dolphins helmet, was a peculiar-looking object: A metal gas pedal, mounted on a slab of wood.
The day in January when Tannenbaum was hired as the Dolphins’ new executive vice president of football operations—a role his mentor, Bill Parcells, held from 2008-10—the item arrived on his desk. It was a good-luck gift from an “unnamed Jets employee” Tannenbaum worked with during his 16-year career in the organization. An accompanying note read, “Never forget to keep your foot on the gas pedal.”
That was Tannenbaum’s m.o. during the years I covered him in New York. He had a competitive fire that matched his head coach, Rex Ryan, and was never afraid of making the bold move. By the looks of it, his two years out of the NFL haven’t changed that. No roster makeover this offseason has been as dramatic as the Eagles’, but during Tannenbaum’s five months with the Dolphins, they have made a series of moves to reshape the team’s identity: Landing the big free-agent fish, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh; signing quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a new six-year contract worth $95 million; extending center Mike Pouncey; shipping pricey wide receiver Mike Wallace to Minnesota; and adding Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron and DeVante Parker as new weapons for Tannehill.
“I didn’t come down here,” Tannenbaum says, “to work on my short game.”
The Tannehill contract underscores that, particularly in the context of what happened in New York. During Tannenbaum’s final year with the Jets, he extended Mark Sanchez with two years left on his rookie deal. The backfiring of that move, and the trade for Tim Tebow the same spring, contributed to Tannenbaum being let go after the 2012 season. While there are differences between the Sanchez and Tannehill situations, the concept is similar—giving the player immediate security with new guarantees up front, while betting that he’ll continue to ascend and will be under contract below market value in a few years. Each quarterback is his own case, but why wasn’t Tannenbaum gun-shy to make that bet again?
“The easy decision would have been to say, well, I extended a quarterback early in his career, so let’s not do that here. But I think that would have been selfish of me, moreso than what’s the best decision for the Dolphins,” Tannenbaum says. “We felt like this was a very reasonable bet to take. When you are doing an extension, it’s not about comparing Ryan to Sanchez, it’s much more about aspirationally, what do we want our program to truly be about?”
One person who helped Tannenbaum answer that question was San Antonio Spurs GM R.C. Buford, who spent an afternoon at the Dolphins facility earlier this spring. Tannenbaum is a big fan of idea exchanges, something he did frequently with the Jets. Buford told the Dolphins front office about his team having to institute a “Tim Duncan Rule”—closing the facility during some days in August, because otherwise Duncan would be in there working out every day of the offseason.
“I’m not comparing Ryan to Duncan in terms of what they’ve accomplished so far, but it’s that sort of mindset and approach,” Tannenbaum says. “That organization is filled with selfless, competitive people who have incredible work ethics. Ryan has those intangibles. That competitiveness, that incredible work ethic.” Tannenbaum felt his decision reaffirmed when he saw Tannehill first to arrive in the weight room the morning after signing his contract, a players’ day off.
“Getting fired hurts a lot,” Tannenbaum says. “It was devastating, and I had the range of emotions, including humility and self-doubt. I questioned everything.”
There were questions when Tannenbaum was first hired about whether GM Dennis Hickey would report to him on personnel matters. The team’s official line has been that both men report directly to owner Steve Ross—but when Ross singled out Tannenbaum for forging the Suh deal with agent Jimmy Sexton, it seemed to affirm who was running the show. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition now: Tannenbaum’s vision in Miami, Rex’s vision in Buffalo, separately pursuing the same goal they shared all those years in New York—trying to knock off the Patriots.
Tannenbaum admits he was “worried” after he was fired in New York. Where does a 43-year-old ex-GM go from here, especially when he knew the history of fired GMs: Most don’t get a second chance. Minnesota’s Rick Spielman and Washington’s Bruce Allen are the exceptions, but he points to former Bears GM Jerry Angelo and former Panthers GM Marty Hurney, who didn’t get second chances despite directing their teams to the Super Bowl. “That was always in the back of my mind,” he says.
“Getting fired hurts a lot,” he continues. “You need to have a lot of conviction and belief and self-confidence [to run a team], and I had all those things. I felt like I was the best man on the planet to run the Jets. Woody Johnson felt differently, and I totally get it. I’d been the voice of that franchise a long time. But it was devastating. I had the range of emotions, from being really angry, like, why did this happen, to humility and self-doubt. I questioned everything. Could I have been a better listener? More prepared? Were there missing conversations with a head coach or owner?”
Within 48 hours of Tannenbaum being fired after a 6-10 Jets season, Parcells called. His message, in typical fashion, was brief and to the point: This is not going to be one of those pity conversations you’re probably getting from everyone else. I just want you to know, what matters in life is what you do after you get knocked down. I’m here if you need anything. Goodbye. The two are still in regular contact, sometimes talking as often as multiple times a week.
Tannenbaum spent 18 months at the other side of the table, working with Priority Sports CEO Mark Bartelstein to develop the agency’s coaching division. He landed two of his clients their first NBA head-coaching gigs, and one of the two—Steve Kerr and David Blatt—is about to win a championship. He also found sounding boards in a variety of places: Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP; Bobby Green, one of Parcells’ closest friends; and a man named Winston Lau, a Hong Kong native who rose through the ranks in international business before becoming an executive coach. Lau had done some work with the Jets while Tannenbaum was there. (For those who follow the Jets, Lau was Rex Ryan’s “sensei”—Ryan’s word—during the 2012 season.)
Tannenbaum and Lau met, of all places, at the Florham Park Starbucks near the Jets facility. In several hour or hour-and-a-half meetings, Lau probed Tannenbaum with uncomfortable questions: What was it like to work for Mike Tannenbaum at the Jets? Would your employees say you were fair? Lau introduced the concept of a servant leader—being there to serve other people, rather than expecting them to serve you. He also forced Tannenbaum to consider why some of his Jets teams were loaded with franchise-type players, but didn’t produce. “You have to pay attention to the entire dynamic of the team,” Lau said.
“I felt like it was transformative,” Tannenbaum says, “because here I am, my office is a quarter mile from MetLife in East Rutherford, and now I’m meeting this guy who’s turning into my sounding board at a Starbucks a mile from my greatest successes and failures. I always left those coffees completely stimulated. Trying to take self-doubt, and not the depression, but the uncertainty, the unknown of what the future holds, to make me better and more prepared if and when I got another chance.”
In retrospect, Tannenbaum thinks at times he was too loyal to players or team employees when he should have moved on sooner. In Miami, he’s also vowed to be more deliberate with decisions—the Stills trade being one example. Instead of just telling team employees that his door is open, he actively sought the opinions of a range of people in the building, including the college scouting director, who gave him a specific idea of the kind of player they would have gotten with the draft pick they planned to give up. “Not to say we weren’t methodical at the Jets, because I know we were,” he says, “but now I’m taking that to a whole other level.”
By the way, after receiving the gas-pedal gift, Tannenbaum sent a thank-you note to the Jets employee who had given it to him. “You got the right guy,” he wrote. “That won’t be my problem.”
A Zach Line update
During The MMQB’s first year, we followed the journey of an undrafted rookie—Zach Line, who chased Eric Dickerson’s career rushing record at SMU. He converted from college running back to NFL fullback and beat the odds to make the 53-man roster as a rookie. When veteran fullback Jerome Felton was suspended for the first three games of 2013, Line found himself on the field in Week 1 as a blocker for reigning MVP Adrian Peterson.
After being thrown into the fire, Line only played in three more regular-season games during his first two seasons. But Felton opted out of his contract this offseason and signed in Buffalo, giving Line a wide-open opportunity to be Minnesota’s full-time starting fullback this season.
“It’s definitely been a long wait, but maybe that was a good thing,” he says. “I think I finally have a grasp of the fullback position. It was hard to transition from running back to fullback, as far as finding contact, rather than avoiding it. Now I’m able to work on fine-tuning the footwork and pad level that make you a technician at the position.”
He’s been using late-night film sessions at home to hone those finer aspects of his technique, like the number of steps he takes before making contact. There are mental demands to the position, too: running backs coach Kirby Wilson reminds Line that running backs are usually only thinking about their last run and their next run, so the fullback needs to know both positions in case he has to remind the running back of the snap count or pass-protection responsibilities.
Through the offseason program, Line has been working with the first-team offense—which recently got a boost with the Peterson’s return to the team. There was a bit of an uptick in the energy in the building when Peterson returned, Line says, not to mention speed on the practice field.
“It was awesome to get him back,” Line says. “You can see, even with our defense when we run a playaction, they pull everybody to where he’s going and that opens room for receivers. Mentally, I know for me, when he’s in there I have to get moving [to block for him]. Even though I think I’m moving for the other running backs, I have to consciously think about it, because he’s extremely fast.”
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The NFL Goes to Israel
On Tuesday, a plane carrying Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker and 19 Pro Football Hall of Famers will leave for Israel.
The backstory: About a year ago, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, visited Canton with his son and staff. Dermer, a Miami-born former quarterback who is in the Israeli American Football Hall of Fame, suggested they should arrange for some of the gold jackets to visit Israel. Kraft, a champion of the NFL's international efforts and sponsor of the Israeli Football League, stepped in to make the idea happen, starting with the funding (Kraft is paying for the trip, including travel and accommodations for 19 Hall of Famers and their guests).
During the weeklong “Touchdown in Israel” trip, Baker and the Hall of Famers will attend a scrimmage of the Israeli national team, which is preparing for its first international competition, and host an event at the Kraft Family Stadium, the American football facility in Jerusalem that Kraft funded the construction of in 2000. There's never been this kind of trip, with this many Hall of Famers coming together as international ambassadors for their sport and their country.
“Robert Kraft has a great heart for growing the game through the world,” Baker says. “It’s a historic trip for the NFL, the Hall of Fame and our game, and I hope it is the first of many. Politics causes divides, but sports has an ability to unite.”
Among the Hall of Famers traveling: Andre Tippett, Tim Brown, Jim Taylor, Mike Haynes, Jack Youngblood and Curtis Martin, who was a regular guest at Kraft and his late wife Myra’s home for the Jewish holidays during his Patiots career. The Krafts planted a tree in Martin’s name during one of their philanthropic visits to Israel, which the running back will get to see in person for the first time.
Martin says witnessing how the game is growing outside the U.S. will be educational for him, as someone who’s been interested in breaking into NFL ownership. The Hall of Famers will also have the chance to visit religious landmarks and meet with Israeli government officials. “We all need a different understanding of Israel,” Martin says. “And to see it in this way, it could be the most significant trip any of us has ever been on.”
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HBO's salacious new football show
On June 21, right after hit "True Detective," HBO will debut a 10-episode season of its new show, "Ballers." The show is built around a retired pro football player, Spencer Strasmore (played by Dwayne Johnson) who is transitioning to a new life and new career as a financial planner for his football-playing buddies. After watching the first four episodes, I came to this conclusion: You can count on this making waves in the NFL.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio wrote thoroughly last week about the show's use of real NFL team names, logos and uniforms, most prominently the Miami Dolphins, which an HBO spokesman told him did not require consent from the NFL.
"It was our dream to do that," creator Stephen Levinson told The MMQB about using real team names. "But I think that's a question [for] HBO."
After talking to a few lawyers, my understanding is that the “fair use” exception to copyright law gives HBO the ability to do so in the context of telling a story (the movie “Silver Linings Playbook” and the TV show “South Park,” for example, have used real NFL team names). An exception to fair use is when the content is being applied for a commercial use, and while a TV show may not be a commercial use, ads promoting the TV show could be considered a commercial use. That might be why HBO scrubbed Dolphins and Bills logos from helmets and uniforms in an action shot featured in the show's online trailer, but not from the show itself.
HBO's lawyers most certainly have vetted this carefully. But obviously, using real team logos suggests to the audience the cooperation of the NFL and its teams, which given some of the content of the show, may not sit well with either entity (the league and the Dolphins had no comment when contacted by The MMQB). In the four episodes I watched, the characters playing current and former NFL athletes engage in activities including painkiller drug abuse, recreational drug use, philandering, sex in nightclubs and locker-room hazing.
“It's still fiction, but it's based on reality without pinpointing specific teams,” Levinson says. “Ultimately, we have great respect for the game, the people in it, the effort that goes into it and the fact that it's a high-stakes business. Everything is supposed to be through the lens of appreciation.”
The depiction of the more salacious elements of the NFL culture is akin to the ESPN show "Playmakers," which came out in 2003 and was soon canned by the network after pushback from the NFL about the way professional football was characterized. "Playmakers" didn't use real team names, instead the fictional Cougars.But ESPN is a broadcast partner, which gave the league recourse. HBO is not, though the network teams with the NFL on "Hard Knocks." When I mentioned "Playmakers" to Levinson and asked if he or the network was concerned about potential pushback from the NFL, he again deferred to network execs. He also emphasized that "Ballers" has a "lightness" to it.
“It's very, very different,” he said. “I've never watched ["Playmakers"], but I will tell you [our] show is a half-hour. We obviously could have done an hour. An hour is a drama. Thirty minutes is a dramedy or comedy. I hope people will like it and get it.”
“Ballers” also has the participation of real NFL players in cameo roles. Some of the scenes are what you'd expect—DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown teasing about who is the best wide receiver—but others are edgier. In one episode, Jaguars defensive end Jared Odrick delivers a line referencing a topless bar and makes a gesture mimicking the act of "motorboating"; in another, Arizona's LaMarr Woodley is dancing with two bikini-clad women he refers to as "bitches." Given the current climate, and the NFL's concerns about repairing its image after a run of off-field incidents involving women and children within the past year, those scenes are sure to raise some eyebrows. Said one NFL veteran who was briefed of the show's content, in a sarcastic tone, “Thanks for representing us like that, guys.”
When I asked Levinson how he thought the NFL or people around the league would receive the show, he said he didn't know the number of people who had seen it yet. He said during his research for the show, he talked to many players, but did not speak with individual NFL teams or the league.
“We have an interesting knowledge of situations even many people in the business don't have access to. Many people tell us stories,” Levinson said. “But we go out of our way to be respectful of the way things work. We have a true love of the game, the sport and the people in it, and friends and relationships that go back years and years. We tried to tell a good story, and we tried to tell the truth.”
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“I'm going to tell you one thing I am not: I am not bored in the least bit.”
—Peyton Manning, on learning an entirely new offense at age 39.
“We was talking about the fact that our conditioning and things like was going to kick in because we worked harder than everybody in the National Football League with the Chip Kelly thing. We got out there, we got our teeth kicked in. So all that conditioning didn't necessarily work. … I think towards the end of the year we were exhausted, and we got outcoached the majority of the games.”
—CB Cary Williams, the latest ex-Eagle to take a parting shot at Chip Kelly, to Seattle radio station 710 ESPN.
“It's safe to say we won't have LeBron at quarterback.”
—Rex Ryan, after a Bills OTA. Blunt-force trauma, as he likes to say when being brutally honest in his assessments.
—Eli Manning, on whether or not he’ll see the new Entourage movie.
Doug Ellin, the series creator, recently ripped Manning after he said the Giants quarterback reached out for a cameo appearance but then blew off Ellin. Manning responded thusly.
STAT OF THE WEEK
After cutting Evan Mathis, nine of the Eagles’ 22 opening-day starters in 2014 are no longer with the team. They are:
|Player||How He Became an Ex-Eagle|
|QB Nick Foles||Traded to Rams|
|RB LeSean McCoy||Traded to Bills|
|WR Jeremy Maclin||Free agent, signed with Chiefs|
|RG Todd Herremans||Cut, signed with Colts|
|LG Evan Mathis||Cut, TBD|
|OLB Trent Cole||Cut, signed with Colts|
|CB Bradley Fletcher||Free agent, signed with Patriots|
|CB Cary Williams||Cut, signed with Seahawks|
|S Nate Allen||Free agent, signed with Raiders|
FACTOID OF THE WEEK THAT MAY INTEREST ONLY ME
Andre Williams, the Giants’ second-year running back, is producing a self-designed performance shirt he plans to wear in practice and games during the 2015 season. Williams has been working on the design since last spring, and recently visited a Portland-based company, High Impact Technology, that manufactures shock-absorbing material for the military and will make a prototype of his design. After suffering a shoulder injury during his Heisman finalist senior season at Boston College, Williams came up with the idea of performance-wear that could help stabilize the body’s joints. Last summer, he filed a patent for his design, which includes four elastomeric bands housed in a compression sleeve, to lock the joint in place while still allowing for mobility. “I needed something that could facilitate my run style,” Williams says, “and increase my longevity.”
STARWOOD PREFERRED MEMBER TRAVEL NOTE OF THE WEEK
I traveled to Savannah this weekend as part of a wedding party. The temperature Sunday was 97 degrees, and when I got to the airport, I made the rookie mistake of forgetting about the water bottle I'd been carrying around in my purse all day. That wouldn't have been a big deal, except for the fact that when the TSA agents swabbed the bottle at the security station, the machine made a startling beep. Apparently, it had tested positive for “potential explosive residues.” I was sternly taken off to the side, where the agents emptied all my bags, swabbing every square inch. The female agent then asked me, “Are there any sensitive areas of your body?” before embarking on a thorough frisking. The fact that I had two cell phones seemed to raise eyebrows. I had no reason to be worried, but I was quite panicked. About 10 minutes later, after I was deemed a safe passenger, they released me, but one final swab of my water bottle—right around the opening—set off the alarm on the machine again. I don't mind the extra scrutiny in the interests of security, but it did make me wonder: What the heck was around the lip of that water bottle I purchased at the drugstore earlier? I'd apparently been putting my lips on some kind of potential explosive residue all afternoon.
TWEETS OF THE WEEK
Hopefully no more players make the mistake of thinking Chip doesn't mean what he says about culture. He said it trumps scheme. Believe him
— Joe Banner (@JoeBanner13) June 11, 2015
The former Eagles exec after Mathis’ release.
Geno finishes practice with 3 INTs. Offense now running sprints. The Porsche is sputtering #nyj
— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) June 9, 2015
Willie Colon, you’ve unwittingly provided the metaphor for the Jets season. #Porsche
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 10, 2015
Special place, Green Bay.
Should we read into Broncos playing "Georgia on My Mind" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" with Demaryius Thomas skipping mandatory camp?
— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) June 9, 2015
TEN THINGS I THINK I THINK
1. I think the biggest surprise of the Evan Mathis release is that the Eagles couldn’t recoup some value for him via trade. The $5.5 million salary must have been a non-starter, but his price tag could creep pretty high for interested teams in free agency. The fact that Chip Kelly made the move nonetheless, proves how committed he is to doing things his way.
2. I think, Richard Sherman, that I have seen a No. 1 defense with a cornerback switching from side to side: The 2009 Jets. The player was named Darrelle Revis, and he tracked the opponent’s top receiver all over the field to the point where, before each snap, he would stand over the ball waiting to meet his guy as soon as the huddle broke just like Lester Hayes did in the old days. I agree with Sherman’s larger point, that it’s silly to challenge his role in a Seahawks defense that has been the most dominant in the league two years running. But while you can’t argue with Sherman’s play, I can correct his facts.
3. I think there’s a great story behind how Brett Veach, recently promoted to co-director of player personnel for the Chiefs, rose through the scouting ranks. Veach, a former Delaware wide receiver, got his start in the NFL working as then-Eagles head coach Andy Reid’s assistant in 2007. The assistant to the head coach role is usually a way to break into coaching, but since Reid was also in charge of personnel, Veach got to learn the ropes of scouting and eventually started to assist with the cross-checking of players for the draft. In the spring of 2009, with Brian Westbrook nearing 30, the Eagles were looking to draft a young running back. Veach was given a list of draft-eligible backs to cross-check, a process that usually asks a person with fresh eyes to offer an unbiased evaluation from the tape, often for players who have grade discrepancies or peculiar measurables. One player on that list was LeSean McCoy, the Pitt running back who didn’t have great size and had an unusually bad 29-inch vertical jump. But according to the person who shared the story with me, Veach trusted the film and saw that McCoy’s running skills—his vision, instincts and ability to make people miss in small areas—were head and shoulders above anyone else in the class. It became a little bit of a good-natured joke in the building about how hard Veach was pushing for McCoy, offering to fill any downtime in Reid’s day with a few minutes of McCoy tape. The Eagles took McCoy in the second round, and Veach’s assessment proved true—he has been far and away the most productive back in the class. Reid’s trust was confirmed, and from there Veach moved up the scouting ladder, tasked with the critical southeast region for the Eagles before Reid asked him to come with him to Kansas City. I'd guess that Veach, like most of his scouting brethren, wouldn't want to be singled out, but it’s a cool story about making the most of an opportunity.
4. I think NFL teams should follow through on what players union president Eric Winston suggested during an annual meeting with the competition committee in February: That GMs and coaches should address their players at the beginning of training camp and reinforce that they want them to self-report injuries. Injury statistics was one of many topics that came up during the meeting, and Winston took the opportunity to share his thoughts on the subject. “I told them, it’s important to us that we hear it from you guys, that you want us to be safe, and it’s OK to take yourself out if you’re hurt,” Winston said. “It’s not the trainer saying that; it’s not the assistant coach saying that. It's the head coach or GM saying that, so players know they believe it. Most of us in the NFL, we didn’t reach the pro level because we were the first one to raise our hand and say, ‘Hey, I can’t play.’ But I know what it's like to be in a room and hear a coach say, ‘this is the way I want it done.’ They hold a lot of sway.”
5. I think ESPN’s Jane McManus wrote a well-reasoned and well-reported take on why Ray Rice deserves a second chance in the NFL. Rice’s age and declining production before his banishment are no doubt contributing factors as to why no team has signed the 28-year-old running back, but McManus confronts this difficult question: What should the path look like for NFL players to come back from a domestic violence incident? “A horrific night of assault doesn't have to be the final word in Rice's story—and that's according to many with deep roots in the anti-violence community,” McManus writes. She quotes Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a consultant to the NFL, who says, “I firmly believe in second chances. Particularly for communities of color, you can't just throw people away.’ ”
6. I think you should check out a podcast called “The Learning Leader Show,” created by Ryan Hawk. If you recognize that name, it’s because he’s Bengals linebacker A.J. Hawk’s older brother, and he was the one asking the questions in the podcast A.J. recorded in February to talk about his release from the Packers. Since then, Ryan, a father of five and business executive who lives in Dayton, Ohio, created his own show. He’s had a really impressive roster of guests, including retired 49ers linebacker Chris Borland and former quarterback Brady Quinn (full disclosure: I was a guest, albeit the least interesting one). Here are excerpts from each of those episodes, but I recommend downloading to the whole thing.
- Borland, on the NFL’s response to his retirement:
“I agree there may never have been a safer time to play football. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe. [A statistic] that was released around the same time was that concussions are down 25 percent. By that logic, in three years they won’t exist. I don’t think concussions are down 25 percent. I didn’t report a couple this past year. … I do think they’ve taken some positive measures to have neurologists on the sidelines, and for the targeting and the spearing, taking that out of the game is a good step. Just to be truthful, though, it is a dangerous game, and it’s not good for you in any way physically. That’s part of the story, and that’s OK. I don’t want to be a crusader against football. I love football. But it is dangerous, and it’s OK to be honest about that. Life is not about getting out alive. If it’s part of your equation to play the game, by all means, play it. Just understand what you could be getting yourself into.”
- Quinn, a Tim Tebow teammate from 2010-11 in Denver, on Tebow trying to pick up complex NFL offenses early in his career:
“I think that’s where he probably had some of his biggest struggles. … We had to adapt to him and try to do the best we could. I remember sitting down in the quarterback room, by myself, taking clips, putting them into folders and emailing them to our quarterbacks coach Adam Gase and saying, ‘Hey, can we make this work?’ … There were things like that we were trying to do to help him adapt because we had to break it down very simply. If it’s two-high, throw to the right. If it’s one-high, throw to the left. It got pretty basic at times. It was due to the fact that he was a young player. … It was basic, but look. His big thing was he was able to improvise. At some point it didn’t mater what we called, he was going to go out there and do his thing and he was going to find a way to score and win anyways. That was always the fun part to watch.”
“Everyone talked about Tim’s throwing motion, and they tried to make it seem like, ‘Oh, he needs to be fixed; he needs to go to some quarterback guru.’ Even now, he just signed in Philly and people are like, ‘Tom House fixed him.’ Look, the thing that I always noticed—Tim threw the same way in college, and he had maybe one of the greatest careers ever in the history of college football. It wasn’t as if his throwing motion wasn’t effective then. Now you’re saying, well he’s in the NFL, that’s why… No, it was the mental aspect of things where if he mentally wasn’t sure, he wasn’t going to be as confident in his throwing motion. And if you’re not confident in your throwing motion, you’re not going to be as accurate. You’re not going to put the ball where you want to put it. Or you’re going to hesitate, and then your rhythm is going to be off, your motion is going to be off, the ball is not going to come out the way you want it to. I think that was what people saw. People saw a guy who was in the early parts of his career trying to play, and mentally he just hadn’t been given the reps and the opportunity he needed yet to be comfortable and confident in his ability.”
7. I think it’s time to stop talking about the ground game being de-emphasized, not when a team’s best chance of going deep in the playoffs is having a strong running game. “The team that won the Super Bowl last year, when they were struggling early in the year offensively, what did they start to do in order to turn their season around? They started to run the football more,” says Bills defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. “Seattle has been running the football since Pete [Carroll] got there. There’s no one better during the regular season at throwing the football than Peyton Manning, but toward the end of last year, what did they start to do to get ready for playoff football? They ran the football. You throw to score, and you’ve got to run it to win.”
8. I think, despite the results, the fact that David Wilson competed in a different professional sport event 10 months after receiving an NFL-career-ending neck injury diagnosis is very impressive. The former Giants running back, still carrying a football player's frame, competed in the triple jump at the Adidas Grand Prix this weekend. At Virginia Tech, Wilson was actually an All-American in track and field before he was named one in football. Wilson was several feet short of his goal this weekend, but he's made an admirable pivot, from a devastating moment in his sports career to pursuing a different dream.
9. I think it was neat to see Tom Coughlin, Todd Bowles and Rex Ryan—three New York coaches with very different personalities—together in one place to support Boomer & Carton’s celebrity softball game earlier this month. The WFAN hosts organized the game at Yankee Stadium to honor the memories of the three NYPD officers killed in the line of duty and raise funds for the officers’ families and police charities. “You see the officers from the different precincts representing the officers who were murdered, and you realize they have to have something to hear people say, ‘Thank you, we appreciate it,’ ” Boomer Esiason said. “It’s nonstop negative, and it’s coming from the wrong places. We have to change that.” Ryan drove down after a Bills OTA practice (but he left his custom-made Bills-mobile in Buffalo).
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a) Happy 40th anniversary to my parents, who may have been given the worst wedding day advice of all time. They were standing on the steps of a church in Chicago on June 8, 1975, when a police car driving past spotted their wedding attire. “You’ll regret it!” one of the officers boomed out of his car’s bullhorn. I think, 40 years later, they have officially proved him wrong. We all have different support systems in our lives, but for my older sister, Cathy, and me, it has been our parents, unwaveringly and unconditionally. They are also responsible for at least one click per day on The MMQB.
b) All the best in retirement to two people who have been instrumental in not only my journalism career, but an entire generation of students.
- Sandy Padwe, fellow Penn State grad and former senior editor at Sports Illustrated, who spent more than two decades as a professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. He was famous for giving each of his students a brown paper bag on the first day of his sports writing class, which I took in the spring of 2007, with the instructions to pack our own lunches when we went out in the field, so as not to be beholden to the teams or people we cover. Yes, I’ve broken that rule, but the larger lesson was a way of thinking—to be independent, ethical and a critical thinker—that all of his students will carry through the rest of our careers. Prof. Padwe singlehandedly made sure sports journalism was taken seriously at Columbia, and I hope the school is committed to continuing that after his retirement.
- Tom Owens, who spent 16 years as a supervisor for The Daily Collegian at Penn State, which meant he was an indispensible safety net for a bunch of college kids trying to put out a newspaper that 20,000 people would read. It was a rite of passage as an editor for your first set of page proofs to be obliterated by Tom’s red pen. By the end of the semester, when the proofs came back clean, no one was prouder than Tom.
c) With Caitlyn Jenner bringing greater understanding to transgender, this Nature article offers a fascinating explanation of the scientific reasons why gender is not as binary—male, or female—as we have long assumed.
d) Coffeenerdness: Since visiting Buffalo in April, I’ve been drinking Tim Hortons coffee nonstop. Not the iced capp with whip Rex Ryan consumes. Just the original blend, brewed at home.
The Adieu Haiku
Chip K’s hard-line stance:
Culture beats scheme every day
But will it win games?
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