On Denver, Los Angeles and Chicken-Bleep Hindsight
LOS ANGELES — “Amazing,” said Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith, walking off the hallowed ground of the old Coliseum on Saturday night. “Louder in the fourth quarter than the first quarter.”
What’s happening in L.A. leads the column this week, because selling 171,000 tickets to two preseason games, with the wave being done in the fourth quarter and a new generation of fans screaming for Rams fifth-string defensive end Ian Seau to sack Chiefs third-string quarterback Aaron Murray to preserve a 21-20 lead is … well, precisely what the NFL hoped would happen after the league left the market dry for 21 years.
Ten other items for your perusal this morning, as my four weeks on the road comes to a sleepy end:
• I left Denver on Wednesday thinking a two-year platoon quarterback for Northwestern would succeed the great Peyton Manning. But after a Saturday night of a pick-six and some Sanchize fumbles and a rookie outplaying them both, Gary Kubiak’s at ground zero.
• The Chargers careen toward a horrible possible outcome: joining the Rams here. Philip Rivers comes out swinging.
A photo posted by The MMQB (@themmqb) on
• Russell Wilson has some advice for Tim Tebow.
• Also on Wilson: Arizona GM Steve Keim, in the kind of self-flagellation mode that makes me like him even more, beating himself up to me Sunday about letting Wilson go in the 2012 draft. He accused himself of having no, um, well, bravery, shall we say.
• Throats are getting a little tight in Tampa. In two preseason weeks, the kicker whom GM Jason Licht traded up to get in the second round pushed 32- and 48-yard field goals wide right in Jacksonville, adding to his missed PAT last week. “I don’t know what’s wrong with Roberto right now,” coach Dirk Koetter said.
• Jack Del Rio’s doing what a good dad should do in 12 days.
• The Cowboys carried their punter off the field Wednesday.
• NFL players like the Olympics. “It sucks they’re over,” Carson Palmer told me, just after the marathon ended in Rio and the games closed on Sunday. “I love the Olympics. Now there’s nothing on TV the next two or three weeks.”
• Never thought I’d see a nine-time Pro Bowler in a Southwest Airlines middle seat, but there one was Thursday afternoon.
• Doug Baldwin does a cool thing. That is, unless you hate me.
Words and pictures follow.
Crazy talk: Siemian the starter?
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — This is crazy. We’re 17 days away from the Denver Broncos’ opening defense of their Super Bowl 50 title, and I truly believe the quarterback-decider-in-chief, Gary Kubiak, doesn’t know who he wants to quarterback his team against the dangerous Carolina Panthers. I don’t remember a Super Bowl champion entering Week 3 of the preseason with a three-headed quarterback race. That’s because it’s never happened before.
I am here to present the case for Trevor Siemian. I watched him against the Bears in the first preseason game. I spent 15 minutes with him the other day at Broncos camp. I watched the too-safe play calls Saturday night on tape after the game, including the dumb pick-six he threw that made this quarterback competition a three-man contest. But I think he deserves the opening-night start for four reasons:
1) Nothing bugs him.
2) Mark Sanchez turns it over too much; he can’t be trusted.
3) Paxton Lynch is a kid, and he’s likely to be the quarterback by Columbus Day. But against the unpredictable rush of Carolina on Sept. 8? I don’t trust him.
4) Gary Kubiak trusted Siemian enough against Chicago 11 days ago to call downfield throws on his first four passes. All four were on target. Those were big pressure throws, because for a kid trying to make the opening-day roster and contend for a starting job, it’s a big deal that the play-caller wants to give him real responsibility. Kubiak obviously trusted him to make those throws.
I met with all three quarterbacks in Denver the other day. All pleasant enough. But the thing about Siemian is his even-tempered approach to this. I don’t think—despite his odd pedigree (sharing the job at Northwestern, having a bummer last year there, ending his career with ACL surgery)—the starting quarterback job for the Super Bowl champs is too big for him.
When I asked about Siemian, Kubiak said: “Before the draft in 2015, I was handed a list of prospects by our scouting department—I think about 14 or 15 prospects for being drafted, and then a list of ‘Others.’ It was about six guys who were ‘Others.’ So for the main prospects, I watched a few games and made an opinion. For the ‘Others,’ I watched a game, maybe two. When I watched Trevor, I saw him beat Notre Dame and play really well, and then I watched his game against [Cal]. The trees are blowing sideways, and he’s completing NFL-type throws. I like him. So I told [quarterbacks coach] Greg Knapp, ‘Do some homework on this kid.’”
Knapp did. He worked out Siemian, nine weeks after ACL surgery, and despite his lack of mobility, Siemian impressed. “When you get hurt like that, all this doubt is entering your mind,” Siemian said. “You’re thinking, well, I thought I was a fringe guy to begin with. Shoot, now I have a bum knee. Am I going to get a shot? That was my thought process. I got to a point where I told myself, you know, I’ll be damned if a couple years from now I’m like, why didn’t I give this a shot? I love playing ball, I love the locker room, I love being in the huddle, and I just thought, those are things I can’t give up on right now.”
Interesting, to me, that Siemian said the biggest thing he learned from being in the room with Peyton Manning last year is, “He really found his success in the six days leading up to the game. He always had an answer for everything, and that was from his preparation on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.”
Every one of Siemian’s answers was like that. Not politically correct … just correct. What Kubiak has to determine in the next two weeks is whether he wants a mistake-prone quarterback (Sanchez) or a rookie quarterback (Lynch) or an inexperienced guy who’s made one major error this preseason (Siemian) to take the snap opening night. Not a big deal, really. But Kubiak is a stage-setter. So this is a big deal.
My money is on Siemian.
I love honest people
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Cardinals got lots of good buzz for “All of Nothing,” their eight-part Amazon/NFL Films series about their 2015 season. I’d call it “Hard Knocks” on steroids—about as real a look at the life and times of a team during an NFL season as you’ll ever see. I mean, any TV show that has the team president’s dog dying … well, they’re getting into some stuff you don’t see anywhere else.
Anyhoo, the show upped the profile of quite a few Cardinals, including GM Steve Keim, who came across as a reasoned but often blunt personnel man who paired so well with coach Bruce Arians. I’ve known him as a serial truth-teller, even when it didn’t necessarily serve him well. So Sunday, at the hotel that hosts the Cardinals during training camp, I asked Keim about the quarterback who will be the scourge of the Cardinals’ division for the next 10 or 12 years, assuming he stays healthy. Keim was VP/Player Personnel under GM Rod Graves in 2012 when the Cards were using Kevin Kolb at quarterback. Acquiring Kolb from the Eagles cost the Cards their 2012 second-round pick, which they could have used on Wilson. But they didn’t, and they wouldn’t have. And by the time they chose in the third round, Seattle GM John Schneider plucked Russell Wilson with the 75th overall pick.
Arizona chose a cornerback named Jamell Fleming five picks later.
“When I think back now, it was a chickens--- call by me,” Arizona GM Steve Keim says. “I didn’t have the balls to take Russell Wilson.”
“There’s this thing scouts talk about—‘comps,’” Keim told me and Jenny Vrentas on Sunday afternoon before the Cardinals’ camp practice. “It’s comparables [to similar NFL players], and for Wilson, who were they? Who at quarterback has had success in the NFL under 6-feet tall? Fran Tarkenton? Maybe Doug Flutie. But like John Schneider said to Pete Carroll before the draft, ‘Aside from his height, what’s wrong with him?’ Nothing.
“Look, I’m from North Carolina State. I study all the guys out of there hard. But I just didn’t think there was a good comp for Russell Wilson, and I was wrong. When I think back now, it was a chickens--- call by me. I didn’t have the balls to take Russell Wilson.”
Well, Keim made up for his error. Can all the other GMs in the NFL say the same thing? Keim got the GM job in early 2013, and he immediately addressed the quarterback position. He stole a good one. A year after Wilson went in the third round to Seattle, Keim traded a sixth-round pick to Oakland for Carson Palmer. All Palmer has done is win 30 of 40 starts as a Cardinal in three years, though his playoff bummer at Carolina is fresh in fans’ minds. “I love Carson Palmer,” Keim said. “I am all in on Carson Palmer.”
Keim may have scout’s remorse on Wilson. But unlike most of the other GMs kicking themselves for passing on Wilson, Keim actually did something about it.
NFL can’t allow Chargers to leave San Diego
SAN DIEGO — There is this freight train rolling down the tracks right now. It looks unstoppable. Unless two-thirds of San Diego voters approve a ballot initiative on Nov. 8 to raise $350 million to help build a new downtown football stadium, the Chargers likely will leave San Diego after this season and eventually play as the second team in Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s football complex in L.A. beginning in 2019.
There is so much wrong with that paragraph.
The NFL belongs in San Diego. It’s a perfect NFL town, full of passion for a franchise that simply won’t be there in Los Angeles. The Chargers, unless they string together consistent playoff seasons (which, obviously, they haven’t done), would be the Clippers in L.A. And the people who still come to the sinkhole of a San Diego stadium, Qualcomm, to support the team, most of them anyway, won’t drive 110 miles north to follow them as a stepchild to the Rams. On Nov. 8, San Diego voters will be asked to approve a four percent increase in the hotel/motel tax, and it’ll require a two-thirds majority vote. Even though it won’t cost the San Diego voter (“What could be sweeter than Raiders, Broncos and Patriots fans all helping pay for the project when they pay their hotel bill?” Dan Fouts says in a pro-stadium ad aired in the stadium Friday night, per The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas), it’s a tough task for any vote to get 67 percent support. “What it would bring to the city,” coach Mike McCoy said wistfully on Friday, “is Super Bowls, Final Fours, concerts. I sit at Petco [the Padres’ park] and look out in such a beautiful stadium at such a beautiful city, and think how great it would be for the Chargers to have that.”
Even though it’s an uphill fight (that’s a gross understatement), and even though part of me thinks the impossible should happen, and the league should step in and say it’s just flat wrong for the Chargers to leave and we’re not going to let it happen … this is where I believe Roger Goodell should pull out all the stops. I know he can’t be viewed as favoring one franchise over another, but the Chargers don’t want to go to Los Angeles. The Rams don’t want the Chargers in Los Angeles. The league, and the franchise, need to stay, even if it means a wholly unsatisfactory compromise such as, say, an $800 million facelift for Qualcomm. Nobody wants that, I know. But the alternative, frankly, is worse. Just as Paul Tagliabue kept the Saints in New Orleans, I think Goodell should pull every string to keep the Chargers in San Diego.
The last words go to Philip Rivers, who told me:
“Where it would be really hard for me to say you need to vote for the stadium is if it was going to come out of the people of this community’s pocket. I can’t tell them they should vote for that. I can’t in good conscience do that. But when I think about so many people coming to visit San Diego, and when I think about a four percent [hotel/motel tax] increase, they are still going to come. They are still going to come. I don’t think they are not going to SeaWorld and the zoo and not going on their summer vacation because that hotel is going to be a little more expensive. That’s how I look at it, in my most honest opinion. There are way more ins and outs to it I’m sure, but that’s why I think and I hope that we can educate everyone on that, because that’s why it does make sense to me, when it would be a lot more difficult when you are trying to tax the local residents.”
Couldn’t have written it better myself.
Quick thoughts on preseason Week 2, camps
1. Roberto Aguayo missed three of his last 35 college kicks. He missed three of his first nine NFL kicks. By pushing right 32- and 48-yard field goals on Saturday in Jacksonville, Aguayo endangered the confidence of Bucs fans and GM Jason Licht, who thought he was drafting a solution at kicker for the next decade. “We can’t hide behind it. He’s got to make them,” said coach Dirk Koetter. “He might be overthinking it. There’s definitely pressure on him.”
2. The Patriots lost stalwart tackle Sebastian Vollmer, perhaps for the year, due to injury. I’m not saying this is Tom Brady gone for four games. But the Patriots are thin on the offensive line.
3. Cool to see Byron Leftwich, a Cardinals camp intern, working with the quarterbacks and engaging with Carson Palmer quite often on the field. “I really think he can be a great coach,” Bruce Arians said of Leftwich.
4. Spent time with Jeff Fisher on Saturday after the game at the Coliseum. No question in my mind that he wants Jared Goff to sit and learn for a while.
5. The Coliseum, by the way, looked terrific Saturday night. Expect same going forward.
6. When I saw Colin Kaepernick on Thursday, he looked fit—and slim. Not sure what that means, but he could have been walking down a New York City runway as skinny as he looked.
RENTON, Wash. — “Any advice for Tim Tebow?” I asked Russell Wilson, the former minor-league baseball player, about the man trying to get a minor-league contract after being out of organized baseball for 11 years.
“Hope he can hit a curveball,” Wilson said.
Wilson was drafted as a second baseman in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies. In parts of two minor-league seasons, all in Class-A (low minors), his numbers:
“Baseball’s pretty hard,” Wilson said.
Coolest thing I saw at camp in my final week
OXNARD, Calif. — “Okay!” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said to his assembled players on the final evening walk-through of training camp, with the team due to travel home to Texas the next day. “You want the evening meetings canceled tonight?!” A roar went up. “Special teams meeting, 7:30 … unless we got a guy who can hit that star.”
I’ve seen this before, when coaches pleased with how their teams have worked in camp arrange some sort of contest to reward the players. Garrett pointed to the silver-and-blue star, maybe five feet in circumference, about 40 feet off the ground on a tower on the sideline of the practice field here. So here’s how the game would go: three offensive players and three defensive players would get a throw from 20 yards away, and if one hit it, players would be off that night—and make no mistake, no player wanted to go to meetings on the last night of training camp. Several had dinner plans in Thousand Oaks, 25 minutes away, and were counting on a reprieve from Warden Garrett on the last night in town.
Three offensive-player throws, one by Tony Romo. All missed.
Three defensive-player throws, one by Sean Lee. All missed.
“Dak!” Garrett yelled. “Take a shot!”
Garrett felt generous. Dak Prescott threw it high. Third QB Jameill Showers had a shot. Way high.
Now it was down to punter Chris Jones. Garrett was going to try until he found someone who could erase the night meetings. Without even flexing or stretching his arm, Jones threw a bullet that nailed the middle of the star.
The crowd went wild, wilder than it would if Jones had coffin-cornered a punt at the 1 on opening day against the Giants. Dez Bryant was so excited that he began to lift Jones up to his shoulder, and, with the help of a teammate I couldn’t identify, carried him for 10 yards in triumph on his shoulders. Garrett then said, “Let’s take this to another level! One more guy hits the star, and I push curfew back from 11 to midnight!”
This time it was easy. I didn’t see who hit it, but it got hit, and Garrett got what he wanted—a reward for the players on the last night of camp.
“When’s the last time you were carried off a football field?” someone asked Jones.
“Never,” he said. “Ever.”
College football player of the week: Luke Del Rio
ALAMEDA, Calif. — A proud pop sat in his office Saturday.
“You want to hear the short version or the long one?” Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said.
We’ll start backwards. Del Rio will be in the stands in Gainesville, Fla., eight days before the Raiders start the regular season, to watch son Luke start at quarterback for the Gators against UMass. Florida coach Jim McElwain named Luke Del Rio the starter last week. To say it’s been a long strange trip for Luke Del Rio would be an understatement. To get to this point, Luke played quarterback for six different schools in six straight years. The trail:
• 2010—Luke plays in a predominantly running offense at Boles High in Jacksonville as a sophomore. Decides to transfer to a school that throws it more.
• 2011—Luke plays at Episcopal High in Jacksonville. His dad gets fired as coach of the Jaguars late in the 2011 NFL season.
• 2012—Jack takes the defensive coordinator job in Denver. Luke moves with the family and enrolls at nationally respected high school program Valor Christian and quarterbacks a team with Christian McCaffery in the backfield. Gets some mentoring by new Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in the process.
• 2013—Luke enrolls at Alabama and walks on to the football team. AJ McCarron quarterbacks Alabama.
• 2014—Luke doesn’t get a scholarship at Alabama and wants a better shot to play. He enrolls at Oregon State, scholarshipped under head coach Mike Riley.
• 2015—Riley leaves Oregon State, and the new staff picks another quarterback to start. Luke enrolls at Florida, where McElwain—who once recruited Del Rio while the coach at Colorado State—is the coach. Luke redshirts.
• 2016—Completing the Florida-to-Colorado-to-Alabama-to-Oregon-to-Florida football excursion, Luke is named starting quarterback for the Sept. 2 Gators opener.
The Raiders play at Jacksonville on Oct. 23. Jack Del Rio will be on the (opposite) sideline of the stadium where he coached for nine years.
The Raiders play at Tampa Bay the following Sunday, and so the team will stay in-state, practicing at IMG Academy in Bradenton all week.
Florida plays Georgia in the annual rivalry game in Jacksonville on Oct. 29. After the Raiders’ walk-through that Saturday, Jack Del Rio is likely to buzz up for the game, sitting in the stands at the stadium where he coached from 2003 to 2011.
That’s some serendipitous scheduling right there.
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Quotes of the Week
“It’s been a long time. To get a sack on a man I watched growing up, yeah, that was great. But I'm looking forward to next week now. I've got to keep improving. I’ve got a lot to learn. I messed up on some things. Gotta get better.”
—Houston pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, after sacking Drew Brees and playing impressively Saturday night in a win over New Orleans. Clowney has missed 16 of his first 33 NFL games after being the first pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
“God, whatever happened to Kaepernick? That’s a book right there.”
—An NFC West player, to me, on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who, because of a combination of factors including a sore arm, may lose the Niners starting quarterback job to Blaine Gabbert. Three years ago, of course, Kaepernick was an NFL sensation.
“It’s not fair. He’s not human.”
—Broncos rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch, to me, on Usain Bolt, after Bolt won the 200 meter race at the Olympics with ease.
“I thought about our troops. I thought, to not get up for this would be a dishonor for our country.”
—U.S. women’s beach volleyball player April Ross, to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, in my Story of the Week, in No. 10 of Ten Things I Think.
What a match by Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings. What a story.
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Book of the Week
Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter, by Frank Deford.
Recommended by Cowboys tight end Jason Witten
This is the great sportswriter’s memoir, and what thrilled me about Witten’s pick was that he’s a player, and he appreciates the stories and the prose of one of the great writers—of sports, or anything—in recent American history.
“I just recently finished it,” Witten said. “Frank Deford gets it, you know? It would be hard for me to simply define that, but from an athlete’s perspective, he lays out what it takes to be great. It really hit me in my own life. So many people talk about the fight and the toughness and the grit. I just think if there’s something you can think of that you want in life, you work for it, and some of this book tells those stories, about pressing on.”
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Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Earth Wind and Fire played at the wedding of Russell Wilson and Ciara on July 6 in England, at a castle near Liverpool.
Former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was there, as were Seahawks coaches Carl Smith and Darrell Bevell.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes of the Week
Had the chance to meet some heroes Sunday morning in Phoenix, getting off our plane from Los Angeles: six members of the Blue Ridge Hotshots, who fight fires in the West and who were on this day coming home from outside Boise. The Hotshots are part of team of 1,800 firefighting personnel trying to contain and extinguish the Pioneer Fire, which spreads across nearly 90,000 acres in Idaho.
I stood with them for a photo, the six firefighters, and they smelled strongly of smoke. Said one, “You take a shower, and you’re still going to smell like smoke.”
Some of us see the fires on the evening news but don’t have the chance to even meet the men on the front line. I felt honored. These guys are risking their lives to protect our national forests and pristine acreage. I asked the guys—Charles Ebert, Keith Lemcke, Ivan Martinez, Jacob Miller, Juan Quiroga and Corey Ball (an Iowa Hawkeye, he’ll have you know)—how the fire season is going. “We’re doing all right, compared to other years,” said Ebert. They looked beat. Tired, with bloodshot eyes. They were headed home, at about 10 a.m. on this Sunday morning, for two days of R&R, and then it was back on a plane Tuesday for Boise, to keep fighting the fire. God bless them.
Denver International Airport, Thursday, 3:45 p.m., Terminal C, gate 46. John Lynch is leaning against a pole near the back of the boarding area.
“Hey John,” I said, “you going home?”
“For the day,” Lynch said. “My son’s got a football scrimmage tomorrow. I really want to see it. Then I’m back for the game Saturday.”
So Lynch is on the Broncos’ preseason TV team, and on Thursday he and the crew met with Broncos coaches and players in advance of their Saturday preseason game with San Francisco. Instead of staying in Denver for the dead day Friday, Lynch hustled to make a Southwest flight at 4:30 back home to San Diego. Jake Lynch, a junior linebacker at Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego, would have his dad in the stands Friday night.
My boarding position was C-30. Lynch’s was C-30-something. Do you understand the Southwest boarding process on full flights? We were the dregs. We were at the end of the line, behind the A’s and the B’s, and the low C numbers, and sure to be in middle seats in coach for the two-hour flight. So we stood together and the thought occurred to me: John Lynch, the nine-time Pro Bowl safety and the FOX analyst, was going to get wedged into coach like the rest of the C’s. “You’re a Hall of Fame contender and you’re sentenced to a middle seat, just like the rest of us!” I said to him. He smiled and said, basically, no big deal.
And that’s where this picture came from. Fan Kimberly Heffner sat in front of Lynch and asked to have this photo taken. We have seat envy, Kimberly.
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Tweets of the Week
Werder tweeted this Sunday while on a tour of the new facility opened by the Cowboys, The Star, in Frisco, Texas.
This is a phenomenally cool thing to do and to share with the public. “Has all the physical and mental tools to be an outstanding QB,’’ the report, written before Aikman’s senior year at UCLA, said. “All intangibles are good to very good. Could be the best quarterback in the country next fall.”
Dak Prescott's preseason: 6 TDs, 5 incompletions.— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) August 20, 2016
New at Redskins Games: Red velvet chicken & waffles with maple syrup and powdered sugar pic.twitter.com/p8Z07mteIa— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 20, 2016
The Lions have been booed twice. We're still in the first half of their home opener of the exhibition season.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) August 19, 2016
Nobody gets to the truth like Ryan Lochte on his fourth attempt.— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) August 21, 2016
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think sometimes you have to bury the past and move on. Case in point from Seahawks camp. I saw wide receiver Doug Baldwin after practice and wanted to just say congratulations on his next contract. The last time we’d spoken—I’d use the word “spoken” advisedly; it was a one-way conversation—was on the Friday before the Seattle-New England Super Bowl, at the Seahawks’ practice, at which I was a pool reporter. Baldwin walked up to me on the sideline in the middle of practice, and this was the exchange:
Baldwin: “You into this mediocre receiver sh--, right? I read your sh--!”
Me: “Huh? No idea what you’re talking about.”
Baldwin: “You’re one of them! I read your sh--!”
Then he walked back to practice, leaving a stunned me and stunned Seahawks media relations guy trying to figure out what just happened. I didn’t remember dissing him. What had I written that so enraged him? I looked back that weekend, and I couldn’t find anything. Anyway, that was that. I was planning to say something to him after the game if Seattle won and I worked the Seattle locker room, but you know what happened—New England won the game with a very strange ending. I hadn’t come across Baldwin since, until last week, when I did get to say congrats on the new deal—you play hard and it’s a nice reward. And he looked at me, and I wondered what he’d say. He said, “Man! I owe you an apology!” He explained he got something I hadn’t written confused with something some other writer had said, and he felt bad about berating me. “Gimme a hug!” he said, and so, sort of awkwardly, we hugged. “I am so sorry, really. By that time, that point of the season, I was so far gone, so mad at everyone.” Hey, life goes on. There are some guys I’d dismiss as dillweeds after an incident like that, but by all accounts Baldwin’s an okay guy who is just highly emotional about football. So sometimes those things can happen.
2. I think the NFL needs more Michael Bennetts. Spent 30 minutes with the smart and excellent defensive end last week at Seahawks camp, and I wish it was four hours and 30 minutes.
3. I think I saw something cool when the doors were opened to the home locker room in Qualcomm Stadium after the Chargers’ 19-3 win over Arizona on Friday night. It was a group of three linemen clustered around giant left tackle King Dunlap, their eyes focused on Dunlap’s smart phone. They were watching something. “What a race!” one of them said. The Olympics. The men’s 4x100 relay, with Usain Bolt anchoring the Jamaican team. The Chargers players had just come in from their game, and the first thing they wanted to do was check out who won the men’s relay. That’s one thing that’s been common over the past couple of weeks. Chatter about Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt. The latter, especially, was a topic in the camps I’ve been to. And why not? “It’s crazy,” said San Diego nose tackle Ryan Carrethers, referring to Bolt’s wins in the individual sprints. “Who goes up against the greatest sprinters in the world and basically jogs the last 20 yards?”
4. I think the Bills could have used some good news Saturday, after a camp from hell, and Tyrod Taylor gave it to them. Against the rising Giants defense (and who knows how much stock to ever put in preseason performances), Taylor was seven of 10 for 132 yards and a 145.8 rating. Earlier Saturday, Buffalo cut its overweight but starting-caliber back, Karlos Williams, and troubled defensive lineman Marcell Dareus announced he was going into substance-abuse rehab. Already this summer, rookie Reggie Ragland, counted on to be the starting middle linebacker, has been lost for the year with a torn ACL, and first-round pick Shaq Lawson will be lost for a few regular-season games after shoulder surgery. Those are four of the 10 best players on the team. Taylor’s going to have to be prolific to make up for some of the folks they’ll be missing.
5. I think you would be smart to ask this question right about now, with Dak Prescott an 82 percent passer (22 of 27) with a perfect rating (158.3) and six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) and such presence and poise after two Dallas preseason games: How in the word did the strong-armed Prescott last until late in the fourth round of the 2016 draft? Prescott lifted a formerly downtrodden program (Mississippi State) to the No. 1 ranking in college football for a time in 2015, accounted for 111 touchdowns in his four starry college seasons and was, according to many NFL people, one of the best leaders in the draft pool this year. But he dropped in the draft because, in March, Prescott was arrested in Mississippi on speeding and DUI charges. The arrest tarnished Prescott’s stock before the draft, to be sure, and the Cowboys faced scrutiny for taking Prescott even low in the fourth round. The case was adjudicated in July, and Prescott was cleared of the charges. The Cowboys, who were poised to trade up and draft Paxton Lynch at around pick 25, instead got Prescott at 135, without trading up. There’s no sense in debating the worthiness of either decision now—we’ll see how history views this in 10 years—but early on at least, Prescott has been much more impressive than a typical 135th pick would be.
6. I think this the best explanation I can give for the two nominees advanced by the Contributors Subcommittee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame—of which I am a member—in Canton on Tuesday: Our charge as a group of five Hall voters was to find the two candidates who have had the biggest impact on pro football in their lives, and we chose Paul Tagliabue and Jerry Jones for that reason. There were other excellent candidates who have strong cases for the Hall, including Denver owner Pat Bowlen. Several points to consider:
• Our job is not to consider which candidates would have the easiest time getting enough votes to be approved by the Hall voters next February (39 of 48 votes, or 80 percent, are required), but rather to select the two we felt had impacted football the most in their careers.
• It wasn’t “Jerry Jones over Pat Bowlen,” at least to me. We judged not owner versus owner or GM versus GM; we judged candidate versus candidate. After our meeting, when it came time to vote, I felt Jones had the strongest case of the candidates—he’s been the biggest agent of change in the league in the past quarter-century. He fought and improved marketing and sponsorship revenue, opposed givebacks to TV partners in 1994 that actually led to network riches by adding FOX, upped the stadium game by building his monolithic new place, helped make the draft a TV show by installing a War Room Cam in his draft room, oversaw three Super Bowl wins in 27 years. He has holes in his game, of course, not the least of which is the Cowboys’ continuing mediocrity this century. My view though, is that it’s about a body of work, and the fact that his three Super Bowls came in his first six years doesn’t mean they should count less than if they’d come in the past six years.
• To me, it came down more to Tagliabue versus Bowlen for the second spot. I thought seriously of Bowlen here, on the strength of his building a franchise with the best winning percentage in the 32 years since he bought the team, and his work with the TV committee, most notably having a crucial role in the establishment of Sunday Night Football on NBC. Tagliabue got the edge, for me, because of his key roles in the salary cap, 17 years without a work stoppage, establishment of the Rooney Rule, keeping the Saints in New Orleans post-Katrina and leading the NFL in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But his candidacy will have to overcome failure in the Los Angeles market and some missteps early in the NFL’s evolving struggle against head trauma and concussions.
• We can’t take into account the health of any candidates, or the fact that it might be someone’s turn via his perceived place in line, because that candidate has been in the game longer. Tagliabue and Jones are healthy. Bowlen has been in ill health with Alzheimer’s disease. I can’t speak for anyone else on our committee. I just know that, for me, it’s not something I take into account.
• I don’t know the odds of Tagliabue and Jones getting 80 percent of the vote next February. But it wouldn’t surprise me if either or both did not make it. There will be opposition for both. I understand why. On balance, I do think both are historic figures in pro football and deserve to be enshrined. I also believe it will be soon—one years, two years, three—that Bowlen makes it.
7. I think I totally understand the NFLPA’s reticence about allowing three active players to speak to NFL investigators after what could well be a horsecrap report accusing said players of using PEDs. That was the December Al Jazeera report that implicated James Harrison, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. But without talking to those three people, the NFL is in a tricky spot. The league is supposed to be vigilant about PEDs. To not pursue a report about PEDs would allow those who think the NFL looks the other way on the issue to get on high horses and say the league really doesn’t want to find PEDs in its game. So even though the precedent is a very difficult one for players because charges of PED use should have some legitimate basis in fact, it’s understandable that the NFL pushed the envelope on this by threatening suspensions to those involved. And at the end of the day, I think it was smart for Harrison, Peppers and Matthews to decide to talk, which they will do before the start of the season.
8. I think the strangest event of preseason Week 2 is this: Christian Hackenberg was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. If he doesn’t play in two of the three most meaningless games of the season, when does he get seasoned? (Most meaningless: preseason Weeks 1, 2 and 4. Game 3 has some significance.)
9. I think this is the T-shirt of the week. For those who don’t remember what happened last fall to inspire this T-shirt, I’ve asked one of the combatants, our Robert Klemko, to give you a briefing of what happened in the Cowboys’ locker room that day. He writes: “A Dallas beat reporter was arguing with Dez Bryant during open locker room about the content of a recent story when the reporter was interrupted by Cowboys receiver Devin Street. The reporter (who is black) told Street, ‘Wasn’t nobody even talking to you,’ and Bryant started screaming, ‘He called Devin a n-----!’ over and over again. Teammates were able to calm down Dez, but not before I tweeted that Dez had blown up at a reporter and disavowed the media at large. Dez, now scrolling through his phone, looked up and said, ‘Who’s Robert Klemko?’ I stepped up and said that was me, preparing to be screamed at. Dez came chest to chest with me and launched into a tirade about the media and that I should’ve reported the racial slur part of the story. I told him I hadn’t heard such a thing said. Dallas media relations and staff pulled Dez away. As he was being led away, he turned his attention to veteran PR man Rich Dalrymple and hollered, ‘Fix this sh--, Rich!’ Thus, the T-shirt. Still waiting for an apology from Dez, but I'll settle for a hilarious shirt.”
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Don Banks, who is as good a friend and conscience as I have in this business, got laid off the other day at SI.com. It’s that kind of business right now, where supremely talented writers are endangered, and I have sorrow for him and his family as he figures what to do next in life. A few words about Banks here. The year I founded this site, I asked him to do an occasional column that I called “The Conscience,” and he did it for two years. That’s because I consider him the ultimate conscience, a totally straight-down-the-middle, call-’em-how-he-sees-’em writer with nothing even close to an agenda. That is exceedingly hard in this business. He’s been a great friend and adviser. Whoever gets to work with him next will be exceedingly fortunate. And they will get an idea man too. In this era of NFL media excess (media at the 2000 Scouting Combine: 15 to 20; media at the 2016 combine: 1,241), Don just knows what to write. Like his oral history of the quarterbacks in the 1971 NFL draft, Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning and Dan Pastorini and Lynn Dickey and Ken Anderson and Joe Theismann, 45 years later. Genius idea, so well executed. Manning to Banks, on how he spent his draft day at the University of Mississippi during his senior year: “On the day of the draft, I went over to the athletic department. And at 9:15 a.m., the Saints called and I talked to the owner, John Mecom Jr., then I talked to Vic Schwenk, the GM, and then he puts me on the phone with J.D. Roberts, the head coach. And those were like 15-second conversations, just welcome to the Saints and we’re glad to have you. So I hung up and the AP came in and took a picture of me sitting downstairs in the athletic department building. By 10 a.m., I was in class. So that was my draft day.” The man knows how to tell a tale—either in his own words or the words of others.
b. He’s not the only excellent journalist to lose his job in this climate, through no fault of his own. He’s just the one I know the best, and the one I feel for the most.
c. Story of the week: Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times gave me goosebumps with this riveting story about two Americans in Rio, beach volleyballers Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, having to play a bronze-medal match 24 hours after the most devastating loss of both of their careers … against the home Brazilians, in front of a raucous and unfriendly crowd … starting the match horribly and on the verge of going home with two straight losses … and then things turned.
d. And Plaschke wrote the column on deadline. Wow. What a fantastic piece.
e. Walsh Jennings is 39. According to Plaschke, she has had five shoulder surgeries. She has three children. Watching her in the past couple of Olympics, it’s hard to not have tremendous admiration for who she is and what her career means.
f. How great are Simone Biles and Aly Raisman?
g. Biles does things on the mat that a human being shouldn’t be able to do. Amazing to see athleticism and physicality and grace, all in the same performance. I pay attention to gymnastics once every four years, so this is hardly a ringing endorsement, but I have not seen a better gymnast than Biles.
h. Aly Raisman is close. If Raisman played football, she’d make a great Kam Chancellor. Determined, cool under pressure, powerful. So fun to watch.
i. Mookie for MVP.
j. Who’d have thought, 4.5 months into the season, that the best three players of the season would be Mike Trout, Jose Altuve and Mookie Betts? The first two, okay. But Mookie Betts? Great thing about all three: Watch them and you see happiness, a love of playing.
k. Altuve got his 1,000th major-league hit last Tuesday. Hasn’t he been in the league for, like, six weeks? Hate to jinx the guy, but we could be watching one of the great modern careers in its adolescence.
l. As Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe points out, Rick Porcello is 21-7 with a 3.20 ERA in 33 starts since he came off the disabled list 51 weeks ago. He’s 17-3 this year.
m. I love the fact that Kevin Acee, accustomed to covering the big leagues in San Diego, has been dispatched to Williamsport to cover the local team, the Park View Little Leaguers, in the Little League World Series.
n. Regarding my two hours at Petco: I have never seen so many craft beers in one place in my life. Nowhere else in America is this more true: The game ticket is basically a cover charge for $13 beers.
A photo posted by The MMQB (@themmqb) on
o. Beernerdness: Had the Orange Ave. Wit (Coronado Brewing Company, Coronado, Calif.) at Petco and really enjoyed it. The mark of a good witbier with a touch of fruit is that the fruit doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the beer, and this doesn’t. Smooth and flavorful.
p. Coffeenerdness: I’d prefer that Starbucks do food with local bakers. Same food in every outlet is a bit tedious after three-plus weeks on the road. But maybe that’s just me. In San Diego for instance, there must be 20 great bakers who’d be thrilled for the business and would make Starbucks less cookie-cutter.
q. Dare I call “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” the best song Adele has ever made? I think it is. I am wearing it out on the training camp tour, and already my video mate, John DePetro, hates me for it. I wonder why people are unhappy when you play a song 53 times in close quarters. Can’t quite figure that out.
r. My apologies to those offended (and you should have been) by my tweeting the photo the other night of our car in the bicycle lane for a few hundred feet near Qualcomm Stadium, hustling to get there in time for an interview. Dumb by me for sure, and I’m sorry for the post.
s. For those who miss the Training Camp Meal Reviews (and your silence on their exclusion in recent years tells me you really are lost without them), how about this one from Seahawks camp the other day:
t. Entrée: Apple Wood smoked turkey burger, with seasoned and smoked ground turkey, with leaf lettuce and pickled red onion, topped with molasses-infused ancho chili barbecue sauce.
u. Sidecar: Craisin cole slaw. Cabbage, onions and carrots, with dried cranberries added, in a creamy dill vinaigrette.
v. Beverage: Dasani water.
w. Grade: A. And thanks to the caterer, Seattle restaurateur John Howie, for the free food.
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The Adieu Haiku
Press box. Look! Waaaay over there!
The Hollywood sign!
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