Doug Pederson gets pulled over in Philly. Andrew Luck focuses on his feet in Indy. Drew Brees paints a playground in West Virginia. It‘s all here and much more as The MMQB van tours America in search of NFL happenings
PHILADELPHIA — On the road again. Reunited and it feels so good. The NFL’s 97th season is happening, and I saw quarterbacks training for redemptive seasons (Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck), a team trying to avoid The Biggest Distraction in the History of Mankind, and, on Sunday, a head coach who had run exactly one football team in his life—Cavalry Baptist Academy in Shreveport, a decade ago—learning the intensity of his new life.
Rookie Eagles coach Doug Pederson was driving home from the Philadelphia airport one night this off-season and got pulled over by a cop. Seems Pederson had been driving without his lights on, and the cop took his license and registration and went back to his car to write him up. The cop came back a couple of minutes later. He handed Pederson the license and registration back, with nothing else.
“Season-ticket holder 26 years,” the flat-line cop said. “Expecting big things.”
Think of the new head-coaching hires around the league. Invisible men, mostly. Dirk Koetter (Bucs) and Ben McAdoo (Giants), with the slightly more famous Adam Gase (Dolphins) and Hue Jackson (Browns) and Pederson here. Chip Kelly (Niners) and Mike Mularkey (Titans) are in their second chances.
I’d maintain Pederson had the oddest road to a head coaching position, and is facing the most pressure, with an impatient fan base that wants the third-string quarterback to play … and play yesterday.
Doug Pederson doesn’t seem too affected by it. Now, this is the time of year when coaches are optimists anyway, but Pederson seems giddy to be the coach of the Eagles—to be the coach of any team, really. When Pederson saw GM Howie Roseman on Sunday at the Eagles’ complex, they shared a gleeful fist bump. “Energy!” Roseman said, all cheerleadery. I mean, really, who would have ever thought Roseman, exiled by Chip Kelly a year ago, and Brett Favre’s eight-year caddy would be running the Eagles today? You can be fairly sure Roseman and Kelly hadn’t shared many fist bumps over the past three years.
I’m quite curious about Pederson’s prospects. He walks around with a Fred Flintstone beard and ever-tired eyes, talking football with whoever he meets. The coaches for the last generation here (Kelly, Andy Reid, Ray Rhodes) weren’t fireside-chat storytellers or particularly engaging with the locals. The fans here have plenty of questions for Pederson, but he’s made them feel good so far. Such as on Sunday, after a practice at Lincoln Financial Field, when he took the stadium mike and thanked the crowd profusely for coming and supporting “your Eagles.”
The Eagles subconsciously might be trying to recreate Andy Reid here after they couldn’t stay on the same page in the Kelly era. Or not so subconsciously. “Andy Reid’s really all I’ve known in coaching,” said Pederson early Sunday morning, before the Linc practice. Pederson played on a team with Reid as coach for four years, and coached under him for eight.
A photo posted by Peter King (@peterkingmmqb) on
“When I got to Green Bay as a backup quarterback in ’96, it was a great situation,” Pederson said. “In that quarterback room, we had Brett Favre sitting over in the corner, and Jim McMahon laid out on the floor on one of the cushions he took from the couch. Brett, at the time, was the wild horse they were trying to tame. Jim, believe it or not, was the voice of reason. The room was very gassy. Lots of jokes in there too. Marty Mornhinweg was the quarterback coach that year, but Andy was coaching the tight ends, and I used to go to him a lot to learn the blitz keys so I could help out. Andy taught me how to study.”
High school football in Louisiana kept Pederson around football, and taught him a love of teaching. But after four years he was getting bored. Reid got him started as an assistant with the Eagles—offensive quality control coordinator, then quarterbacks coach—and brought Pederson with him to Kansas City as offensive coordinator in 2013. He arrives here much the same way Reid arrived in 1999—as a total coaching unknown. Is he good enough? Smart enough? Can he command a room? Crack down when need be?
Two interesting examples of his reaction to problems. When Sam Bradford, ticked off that the team drafted the quarterback who would make him obsolete, Carson Wentz, went AWOL for a couple of weeks, Pederson knew he wasn’t going to stand for this in his starting quarterback. He also knew it was April, and there was no sense in picking a fight then. Bradford came back, of course, but everyone from Wilkes-Barre to Wilmington knows Bradford is just a seat-holder for Wentz.
And on the subject of whether Pederson can be tough enough: “You didn’t see me yesterday,” he said Sunday morning. “We have a 10-minute specialist period at the start of practice, and players catch punts and kickoffs out of the JUGGS machine. So the whistle blew for practice and two guys were still getting taped up and ready. Well, I lost my mind. I was like, ‘WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS ON SUNDAY, ARE YOU GONNA BE TAPING YOUR HANDS WHEN THEY’RE GETTING READY TO KICK THE BALL OFF IN THE GAME?’ ”
Pederson knows what he has to do. He has to be that guy consistently—cajoling when needed, yelling when needed, most often teaching when needed. He’ll conjure up how Reid handled teams in Philadelphia and Kansas City. But he also knows that life in the head coach’s chair in Philadelphia, where cops bypass tickets for subtle playoff warnings, will be different from the invisible chair of the Chiefs offensive coordinator. The Eagles’ success this year will be determined in no small part by whether Pederson’s ready for the upgrade.
“It’s not Kansas City anymore, Dorothy,” he said.
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So Andrew Luck doesn’t want to bore you, but …
ANDERSON, Ind. — Forget the ridiculous money here, the $140 million deal Luck signed in June. As GM Ryan Grigson said: “Andrew Luck would play for 200 bucks a week, and everybody here knows it. I’m glad we got the contract done, but it never was not going to get done.”
For Andrew Luck to be better than he was in last year’s nightmare of a season—and it wasn’t just because of injuries; his own decision-making and poor mechanics contributed—one thing was vital: improving his footwork. And it’s happening, with the help of new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and QB coach Brian Schottenheimer. “Actually,” Luck told me here, “having a plan in place for my feet on every single pass play.”
That doesn’t send the internet a-Twitter, but it’s real. You could see it at Indy’s practice on Thursday. Often, Luck would finish a play, and talk to Schottenheimer, and look down at his feet, and take a second to think—from the looks of it. Because as quarterbacks (and coaches) know, the positioning of the feet on every dropback has much to do with precisely where the pass goes. In the seven games Luck played last year, his accuracy was abysmal; never above 60 percent. His alarming plus-three touchdown-to-pick differential was near the NFL’s bottom, and his rating was 16.5 points below Brian Hoyer’s. Simply, Luck made too many risky throws using bad mechanics.
“New offense, right?” he said. “New QB coach, new coordinator. So it is back to basics on everything. When we were installing plays, Schottenheimer installed a play, and as important as the routes on the drawing was the footwork with that play. My job now is to know that plan as soon as you register what play it is. There are different types of seven-step drops, and I don’t want to get too specific because I don’t want to give the competitive edge away, but on a certain play, if you’re reading across the field, it is going to be more of a rhythm seven, then reset, reset, reset.
“But we aren’t perfect yet. I can tell you the five plays yesterday where I did not have a plan with my feet. If you don’t have a plan with your feet, you’re just dropping back, hoping something works.”
Luck said his biggest lesson last year wasn’t exactly revolutionary: “Turnovers are killer.” But he was adamant that he’s not going to change the way he plays.
“We don’t want him to!” said Grigson.
Luck was standing in the shade on a broiler of an afternoon here, sweating bullets after just a walkthrough installation period. He wanted to make the point that he wasn’t going to play safer. “One, I will always play with, I hope, an ability to make something happen if it is not going right. I’ve done that in my first four years, and sometimes we’ve made some plays out of it and sometimes it has bitten us in the butt. The goal is never to go into a play where the ball leaves your hand and you think, ‘Oh no, what’s about to happen?’ There are times and places to make someone miss and scramble and improvise in a sense; watch a guy like Ben Roethlisberger. He’s one of the best at it. Guys are falling off of him and he throws an incredible ball. The goal is to keep that aspect of your game, but never, at the same time, have the ball leave and say, ‘Shoot, this could be bad.’”
Having a potential new franchise center (rookie Ryan Kelly) should help a lot. Getting his feet right should help a lot. What I think is a huge key for Luck is a healthy Dwayne Allen being the kind of factor at tight end that the Colts are gambling he can be. Allen has missed 21 of his first 64 games with injuries. But now that Coby Fleener has left in free agency, Allen’s more vital than ever—because Luck needs an intermediate target who can take pressure off the quarterback and prevent Luck from thinking all his big plays have to come downfield. It’s a big year for Luck. He has to show he can fix his gambling and sloppiness from last year.
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When are we going to learn that the term ‘distraction’ isn’t apt in New England?
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There is this assumption that the Tom Bradyless Patriots will struggle in their first four games without the suspended quarterback. They well may. But if it happens, it’ll be because of what happens in Arizona on opening night, and on game days at home the next three weeks. It will not happen because of the gathering tornado on the outside of this place, among the fans and the media and particularly the legions of pit-bull folks in six New England states for whom time is not healing the Goodell-inflicted wound.
But I spoke with five veteran players after practice Saturday, and they were so in lockstep with The Patriot Way that it was almost like they were reading from a script. And this script was not anything they were reading under duress. I’ve known Chris Long since his rookie year in St. Louis, and he’s no politician. “This is great here,” he said, standing by the practice field at high noon on Saturday. “I really like it. It’s just football. Every day you do what you do to get better. You look at a guy like Tom Brady, and watch him play. He plays like every snap is his first—and his last.”
“What happens on the outside happens,” Rob Ninkovich said with a shrug. “I am in my 11th year, and I can honestly say the only thing I do is come out and work on my craft every day to get better.”
And, I asked, what about the four weeks without Brady?
“We’ll focus on building the best foundation we can build this summer, and we’ll play those games. If you don’t focus on that, if you don’t do The Patriot Way, with good work habits and consistency and being unselfish, you won’t be here,” Ninkovich said.
Right. If you get distracted—whatever that ridiculously overused word means—you won’t play for the Patriots.
So it’s Cliché 101, but I’m reminded of something J.J. Watt said to me once. Yes, what I say, they’re clichés. But they’re also what I believe, and the way I prepare and play. That’s the deal in Foxborough. That’s why I think the only thing that matters in those four weeks is how Jimmy Garoppolo plays in Brady’s place. Initial observations about Garoppolo from one practice: Mechanically, his strength is a quick drop and very quick set and release. The time it takes for him to go from planting his back foot to releasing the ball is top-level, and that could be important if his interior line is in flux, which it may be. He throws with enough velocity, and looked accurate Saturday. And though it must be hard to be in Brady’s shadow, Garappolo doesn’t show much of a presence on the field. He just plays. He’s not demonstrative or very much of a verbal leader. Will that matter? I don’t know; just observing.
I see the Patriots going at least 2-2 (at Arizona, then Miami, Houston and Buffalo at home) with Garoppolo, which is the popular forecast around here. Even if it’s 1-3, I think the Patriots win the division. It’s pretty obvious when Brady returns at Cleveland in Week 5—and against a manageable if road-heavy schedule the rest of the way—he’ll be out to play better than he ever has in his career. My takeaway from a snapshot here: The Patriots will survive September, and they’ll win their eighth straight AFC East title, and host at least one playoff game for the eighth straight year. Surprise.
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Kudos to the Saints and Sean Payton
When the Saints gathered for training camp last Wednesday in the remote town of White Sulphur Springs, W.Va, they expected to leave the first meeting of camp with coach Sean Payton and go straight to the annual conditioning test that kicks off each camp. Instead, Payton stood in front of his 90 men and said this day would be used for something different. He said they were going to rehab and refurbish two local homes and a large public park. The properties had been ravaged in the late-June flooding (1,200 area homes destroyed or badly damaged) in and around the town where the Saints train. Payton told the team this was the most important thing they could do.
And so approximately 120 players and coaches and staffers got to work for three to four hours. Teams of 15 or so rookies went to either house and cleaned up the devastation and, directed by construction experts, built the homes back up. Most of the veterans went to the park, clearing rocks, rebuilding play areas for children, repainting dugouts on the baseball field and wheelbarrowing mountains of mulch to play areas. Drew Brees painted the merry-go-round, among other tasks.
“[Tackle] Zach Strief said it best: If there’s any team that can empathize with a devastated community, it’s the New Orleans Saints,” punter Thomas Morstead said from West Virginia on Sunday. “At our meeting that night, Coach Payton put up before-and-after pictures of the places we worked, and it was amazing how much got done. He compared it to training camp. Sometimes it’s so daunting to look at a big task at the start of training camp, all the things we need to get done in a short time at camp. But it gets done, and you feel great when you’re finished with it. Same thing here—it was a great thing to do, and for us, a great way to start training camp.”
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Four camps, four new faces
It’s always good to go to camps and pore over the rosters and see new faces in new places. It’s a rite of summer in the NFL. In my first four stops, here are four boldface transplants who caught my eye:
Green Bay: Jared Cook, tight end. Classic Ted Thompson bargain-basement signing (one year, $2.75 million) once the market has shaken out. But the vet tight end with the huge opportunity (tight end was a wasteland for the Pack in 2015) underwent minor foot surgery a month ago and his return is likely a good two weeks away. “I’m not concerned,” said coach Mike McCarthy. Aaron Rodgers should be, though. Chemistry with a newbie, particularly in a precision offense such as this one, takes practice time.
Indianapolis: Joe Philbin, assistant head coach/offensive line. Philbin is back in the trenches, at a major need area for the Colts. Four rookies are expected to make the team on the line, including vital center and first-rounder Ryan Kelly, and Philbin has to get them ready to play at a high level early. In the practice I watched on Thursday, Philbin’s energy was high and his coaching shirt was drenched in the blazing central Indiana sun. One front-office guy told me that Philbin, one of a slew of new assistant hires (Brian Schottenheimer is Andrew Luck’s quarterbacks coach), loves just coaching and not dealing with the other duties of a head coach.
New England: Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle. “I always wanted to play here,” said Knighton, whose friends and family from Windsor, Conn., can get to Foxborough in 80 minutes. Could the Patriots have their latter-day Wilfork? Knighton, 30, is a space-eater and should be able to give the Pats 20 or so snaps a game. After practice Saturday, he said it was great to be in such a professional place, and he loved Tom Brady, on this day, letting an expletive fly against a defender rejoicing over a blocked pass. I mentioned to him that he’s one of the few now who can say they were teammates of Peyton Manning (in Denver) and Tom Brady. “I know!” he said. “People ask me the difference between them. So Tom will be pretty fiery, like he was today. Peyton will say the same thing—but he’ll do it quietly, kind of walking past you. I like the way Brady does it more.”
Philadelphia: Rueben Randle, wide receiver. He caught 188 balls in four years with the Giants, but he never was the deep threat or consistent wideout his second-round status merited. Though he made a brilliant one-handed catch in practice Saturday, he’s the fourth receiver at best here, and he may not make the 53-man roster.
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A note only nerdy sportswriters will love
Every time I attend Eagles training camp, I wait for this little doo-dad you see here—a pocket-sized, laminated 90-man roster that doesn’t wilt in the heat or rain of summer, and can last through a month, until the first roster cut. For me, it needs to last only a day or two. But everything is perfect for quick reference—from the clean font to offense on one side, defense on the other, broken down by position groups numerically. Watching practice, I refer to the roster 20 or 25 times, minimum, in two hours, and it came in handy on Sunday when 10 (Chase Daniel) threw a beautiful 9-route spiral 52 yards downfield that 14 (Hunter Sharp) caught with a dive. Hunter Sharp … who’s that? Undrafted free-agent wideout from Utah State, it turns out. From Palmdale, Calif., 5'11" and 198. Eagles media czar Derek Boyko originated the roster card about 15 years ago, and I applaud the cool invention. You may notice the extra plastic space at the top of the card. That’s for media types who like to hole-punch it and wear it as a lanyard around the neck, for even quicker reference.
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Programming note from the road
Now this could be either disastrous or entertaining, or it could be a combination of the two. But on Wednesday, The MMQB Training Camp Tour will go live—on Facebook Live—for the day. Follow us from South Carolina hotel to Falcons camp in Georgia back, then to South Carolina for a minor-league baseball game (the Greenville Drive, in Greenville, S.C.), and back to South Carolina hotel. (We’ll explain the geographical eccentricities on Wednesday.) I’m not sure if this is going to be any good—there’s the ringing endorsement of the year—but we’re going to give it a try, with videographer John DePetro leading the effort of The MMQB Team. You’ll even get to see the inside of our groovy Sprinter Van. Just go to The MMQB’s Facebook page on Wednesday morning, and it’ll happen. We’ll see how it goes.
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Quotes of the Week
“You’ll always be the Cowboys. But this year, play for Dallas like you never have before.”
—Mayor Mike Rawlings, speaking to Cowboys players and coaches Saturday at training camp in Oxnard, Calif. The Cowboys brought families of the slain Dallas officers and members of the Dallas Police Department to California, then walked arm in arm with them to the practice field as a show of support.
The video of those moments, players and families and Dallas police officers arm in arm, is so good.
“I’m not blowing smoke … Everybody we touch gets better.”
—Tom House, the off-season quarterback tutor and mechanics coach for 13 projected NFL starting quarterbacks this year, to Albert Breer of The MMQB, in a video story we’ll post this week on this site. I’ve seen it, and it’s a really good, insightful look at the Brees/Brady-whisperer in SoCal.
Football quiz of the week: House pitched for eight big-league seasons in the ’70s as a reliever. He was 29-23 in a nondescript career for Atlanta, Seattle and Boston. But he is most famous for a catch he made in 1974. What, far and away, is Tom House most famous for? (Answer below in No. 10 of 10 Things I Think.)
“It almost feels like the pressure on him is off, now that he is in jail. He must have felt a lot of pressure. It makes you feel sad. Why didn’t he try to deal with it through counseling or something?”
—Mark Ziogas, Aaron Hernandez’s Little League baseball coach, in Michael Rosenberg’s terrific Sports Illustrated profile of the damage Aaron’s murder conviction has done to the life of Hernandez’s brother, Jonathan.
“It’s going to show itself really quickly, and it would definitely be before our first preseason game.”
—Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, in a surprise move to start camp, saying the team would pick the starting quarterback to open the season in less than two weeks.
It’s looking very much like Robert Griffin III.
“We feel like we don’t care if George Bush is playing quarterback. We’re going to win because you can’t score. You can’t score, you can’t win.”
—Denver safety T.J. Ward to The MMQB’s Robert Klemko, in his piece on the Broncos’ title defense.
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Stat of the Week
Indianapolis Colts GM Ryan Grigson put a premium on experience when he drafted for the offensive line last spring. Has there ever been a draft crop of offensive linemen that averaged 50 starts in a collective collegiate career? Likely not. But of the four linemen Grigson tabbed in the seven-round draft, three started for four years in college and the other for three, amazingly enough. Documenting the résumés of the four Colts rookie linemen:
|Le’Raven Clark||Texas Tech||3||51||Yes|
|Joe Haeg||N. Dakota St.||5||60||Yes|
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Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Titletown Brewing is a downtown Green Bay brewery with a swell rooftop deck. (Maybe I sat there Tuesday night with a Dousman Street Wheat, or maybe I didn’t.) Titletown also has a beer called Green 19 IPA.
The name sounded vaguely familiar, and I tried to understand. I asked one of the hosts there about it.
“Aaron Rodgers,” he said. “You know, at the line of scrimmage … Green 19! Green 19!’”
A beer named after a quarterback’s cadence. Only in Green Bay.
Tom Brady turns 39 Wednesday.
Brady was born six years and 25 days before the second-oldest of the 90 Patriots in camp, 32-year-old wide receiver Nate Washington.
There were more people at the third practice of Patriots training camp (21,781) than attended any game in the 2016 NBA Finals or Stanley Cup Finals.
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MANCHESTER, Conn.-Team The MMQB on road to Foxboro. Good morning everyone. pic.twitter.com/YzN4Iiw5fO— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) July 30, 2016
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes of the Week
My favorite airport is Indianapolis International Airport. Spacious, pleasant, nice places to eat—Café Patachou for breakfast, in the rotunda pre-gate, is particularly good. And I’ve never had a long TSA line there.
Airport runners-up: 2. Spokane, 3. Salt Lake City, 4. Seattle and 5. Portland. (I sense a trend.) Next would be Minneapolis, though you have to walk too far there, and Detroit. (I applaud Detroit. Good places to eat there, and a good space.)
The week to come with The MMQB at camps: Albert Breer and Emily Kaplan will be on the road in the Midwest early in the week. I’ll be in The MMQB Van with writers Tim Rohan and Jenny Vrentas, along with social media czar Kalyn Kahler, videographer John DePetro and intern Evan King. The schedule for our Sprinter Van:
• Monday: Baltimore. Evening practice, M&T Bank Stadium, downtown Baltimore.
• Tuesday: Washington. Afternoon practice, Richmond, Va., camp.
• Wednesday: Atlanta. Morning practice, Flowery Branch, Ga.
• Wednesday night: Greenville-Asheville minor-league baseball game, Greenville, S.C. (Come by. There will be a surprise or two in store.)
• Thursday: Carolina. Morning practice with Spartanburg High.
• Friday: Jacksonville. Evening practice at Everbank Field.
• Saturday: Tampa. Morning practice, Tampa training camp.
As the van heads north from Tampa, I’ll break off for a couple days to hit some camps too distant to drive:
• Saturday night: Miami. (Flying) Evening practice, Dolphins Stadium.
• Sunday: Houston. (Flying) Morning practice, Texans training camp.
Come by and say hi. Meet us at the ballgame in Greenville, or at one of our camp stops.
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Tweets of the Week
Asked about possible retirement, @larryfitzgerald replied: “I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight."— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) July 31, 2016
Twitter has made following training camps easier and at the same time infinitely more maddening.— Tom Mantzouranis (@themantz) July 29, 2016
TMI, all the time.
Wow. Le'Veon Bell lied. Never saw that coming. Oh, wait...I did.— Mark Madden (@MarkMaddenX) July 28, 2016
The Pittsburgh radio host reported in June that Le’Veon Bell had evaded a drug test. Bell vehemently denied it at the time. Last week the story was confirmed.
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think Anquan Boldin, signed by the Lions for one year and $2.75 million last week, will be the best money Detroit GM Bob Quinn spends this year. Not that he’ll out-catch either Golden Tate or Marvin Jones, both of whom should exceed 70 receptions. But Boldin will be a rock in the receivers’ room, a lead-by-example guy on the field, and Matthew Stafford will love him because he’ll always be where he’s supposed to be and won’t make mental errors. I love that signing.
2. I think, as was widely reported over the weekend, I hear no one from the NFL sent Donald Trump a letter regarding the timing of the presidential debates. The NFL obviously doesn't want one of the three debates on a Sunday night and another one on a Monday night, because it will thin the ratings for two big NFL games. But I’m told there was no correspondence about it. I doubt it will affect the ratings more than a point or two, unless there's a blowout early. (In one of the games, not one of the debates.)
3. I think nothing is guaranteed about a rookie coach’s eventual success in his first week of training camp as a head coach. Absolutely nothing. But a coach can show his new team a lot about who he is early on, and he also can bond with the players. And reading Jenny Vrentas’ piece about Ben McAdoo on our site Saturday, I was impressed by McAdoo’s self-awareness when she asked him about his first speech to his full squad last week. McAdoo told Vrentas: “They are looking at me like, This guy is a white man, he’s the head coach of the Giants before he is 40 years old. How can he identify with us? I just told them, ‘Hey, I have never walked in the shoes of a black man. I have never walked in the shoes of a woman. I have never walked in the shoes of a police officer, or I have never walked in the shoes of someone in a religion other than what I know. But I choose empathy over violence.’” That’s an impressive way to begin to identify with your players, I believe, and to humble yourself before them.
4. I think Gil Brandt is amazing. Brandt is 83, and among his several jobs, works as a radio host for SiriusXM NFL Radio. These days, the satellite channel is doing a string of training camp shows, featuring a number of player and coach interviews over the course of three-hour shows. Check out Brandt’s itinerary for one portion of his trip:
• Wed., Aug. 3: Rams show, from camp in Irvine, Calif. Drive to airport after show ends at 7 p.m. PT. Board red-eye flight for Cleveland for Hall of Fame ceremonies.
• Thurs., Aug. 4: Land in Cleveland at 5:30 a.m. Drive one hour to Canton and begin to record a series of interviews Thursday and Friday for Hall of Fame radio shows.
• Sat., Aug. 6: Do the Hall of Fame show in Canton.
• Sun., Aug. 7: Fly from Canton-Akron to Atlanta. Record interviews for Monday show.
• Mon., Aug. 8: Do show from Falcons camp in Flowery Branch, Ga. Drive to Atlanta airport after the show. Fly to Houston.
• Tue., Aug 9: Do show from Texans camp in Houston. Drive to Intercontinental Airport in Houston after the show. Fly to Phoenix.
• Wed., Aug. 10: Do show from Cardinals camp in Glendale. Drive to Phoenix airport after the show. Fly to San Diego.
• Thurs, Aug. 11: Do show from Chargers camp. Drive to San Diego airport after show. Fly home to Dallas.
The man likes his life. And he can tell a story.
5. I think the only apt reaction to the question in Patriots training camp the other day about whether Tom Brady would reclaim his starting job in Week 5 no matter how Jimmy Garoppolo plays in the first four weeks came from Bill Belichick. He shook his head and muttered, “Jesus Christ.”
6. I think my early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year is Ezekiel Elliott. How can it not be? If healthy, he should gain 1,300 yards, minimum. But after visiting Colts camp, I saw how much Indy (and new line coach Joe Philbin) has put on rookie center Ryan Kelly’s shoulders, and how much faith Andrew Luck has in Kelly to play well technically and mentally. And knowing how superbly Kelly played at the highest level at Alabama, I walked away thinking Kelly has a shot at top rookie honors if he does everything the Colts think he’ll do. Interesting note about Kelly: Late in the college football season, when the Colts began to form their draft board and think about their pick midway through round one, one name was foremost to both GM Ryan Grigson and his top lieutenant, Jimmy Raye, vice president of football operations: Ryan Kelly. They never wavered, and chose him with that mid-first-round pick. And there was Kelly on the first day of his first spring practice after being drafted, on the first snap, with the first-unit offensive line.
7. I think I don’t know what makes people go to see certain movies—promotion, big stars, time of year, buzz, whatever—and so when the Gleason documentary opens in many American cities this Friday, I would just advise you to believe my word-of-mouth advice. I will not steer you wrong. It’s must-see.
8. I think Jason Witten showed perfectly Saturday why he’s one of the best men to play in the NFL—ever. It was Witten who approached Dallas ownership and pushed to do something special and memorable for the five slain police officers in Dallas, and what resulted was Saturday’s “mythic moment,” according to mayor Mike Rawlings, when police, players, families of the slain officers and Cowboys officials and coaches walked arm in arm to the field before practice. The show of solidarity was perfect—not over-the-top showy, just an arm around the community when it was needed most. Kudos to Jerry Jones, too, for flying and housing the families and the cops, and giving them an experience they’ll long remember. “We’ll never forget the Cowboys organization in our time of grief,” said Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown.
9. I think the NFL can be a gossipy, jealous place very often, and I found it interesting in the past few days to note the genuine happiness that several GMs or scouts had for Seattle GM John Schneider getting rewarded by owner Paul Allen with a new contract that will keep him in Seattle through at least 2021. In this business, fellow general managers and the men who road-scout often diss peers who either haven’t paid dues, or don’t have the work ethic they had at a younger age, or have lousy track records. But there was a happiness for Schneider getting a big deal (reportedly north of $3 million a year) because he puts his guts on the line in the draft and free agency with some counterculture picks—some that work and some that don’t—and because he’s still in a film room in Tuscaloosa or Ann Arbor on a Tuesday afternoon of a big game week for his Seahawks. Schneider will be 50 at the end of this contract, and he could have a much longer run in him. “I think as long as you’re challenging yourself and you never feel like you have all the answers, then I think the shelf life is endless,” Schneider said.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I always love watching the Olympics, summer and winter. I love the stars invented for three weeks. Bummer is the timing of the summer games. I’ll get into a hotel room in Fort Lauderdale or Houston or Latrobe late at night, turn on the TV and see I’ve missed the drama of the evening. Seems like we’ve got a pretty good squad this year.
b. Story of the Week, from Richard A. Oppel Jr., of The New York Times, on Pakistani-born U.S. citizen Khizr Khan and his family, including Capt. Humayun Khan, who died protecting his troops in Iraq. The story said of Capt. Khan: “In his spare time, he taught disabled children to swim.” Once a year Khizr Khan hosted a dinner for the ROTC students at the University of Virginia, and gave each a copy of the United States Constitution. What a great American family.
c. What a great American success story.
d. In other news …
e. Ichiro wants to play until he’s 50, I see. I love that. You know that guy can fall out of bed and slash a line drive to left center.
f. My buddy Tim Rohan and I were talking Ichiro while driving through the rain down the Jersey Turnpike to Philly, and Rohan said, “Ten straight 200-hit seasons, starting with his first year in the majors.” That guy’s a gift. I’ve loved watching him figure out how to get hits into exact spaces year after year.
g. Answer to Tom House quiz. (See Quote of the Week II.) On April 8, 1974, House was in the Atlanta bullpen when teammate Hank Aaron came to the plate against the Dodgers. At that moment, Aaron and Babe Ruth were tied for the all-time home-run lead, with 714 homers. Aaron hit a home run over the left-centerfield fence—and the ball fell right into the glove of House. Yes, Tom House, a relief pitcher, caught one of the most famous home runs (maybe the most famous home run) of all time.
h. One other football connection to that Aaron home run. Al Downing of the Dodgers threw the pitch. In New Jersey American Legion baseball more than a half-century ago, in a game in Trenton, Downing gave up two home runs to a northern New Jersey baseball prospect … Bill Parcells.
i. Coffeenerdness: Two weeks of SpringHill Suites/Courtyards, etc. Let me just say the coffee could use a boost.
j. Beernerdness: “The Indiana beer scene is crazy!” Andrew Luck said the other day. (Among other things, including the fact that he doesn’t read the top of this column, but does enjoy other parts of it. “That Mr. Starwood Note, I like those,” he revealed exclusively. “And the beernerdness.”) Anyway, Luck reeled off six or eight Indiana breweries he liked (3 Floyds, SunKing and Upland were the ones I recalled), and I had the pleasure of trying the Upland Wheat Ale (Upland Brewery, Bloomington, Ind.) Thursday night. A true gem. Normally, with wheat beers, I like a lemon or orange slice, but this one’s terrific right out of the bottle … While in Wisconsin, I noted that Spotted Cow is experimenting with a new label, adding gold to the green. Packers trolling, perhaps? But label, schmabel. The Cow is still Wisconsin’s finest.
k. I am confused about the Cow. Why oh why can’t it be bought outside the state of Wisconsin? Why deprive Andrew Luck of pure joy on a Sunday evening, after a big Colts’ win?
l. Spread your wings, Spotted Cow. Mike Silver needs you in California.
m. One other Andrew Luck item here. (Lucy Kalanithi, please take note.) Now, I don’t believe I have ever brought a gift to a player in an NFL training camp. But this year, on the heels of Luck beginning the Andrew Luck Book Club (standing ovation for Luck, please) last spring, I gave him “When Breath Becomes Air,” by the late Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. That’s my book of the year, an inspiration tome with life lessons from a man who knows he’s dying. I’d love to see Luck feature it in his club.
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
Hair contest! Who wins?
Mel Kiper or Fitzpatrick.
Bouffant of the Week.
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