Learning from the best

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So I joined Peter King on his training camp tour for the past week in order to continue my quest to become the best writer that I possibly can be now that my playing days are getting further and further in the rear view mirror. And I loved every second of it. I mean, is there really someone better to learn from than the preeminent professional football writer in America? But so many people have asked me what he was like, that I decided to devote the top of my mailbag column to giving you some insight into the man behind Monday Morning Quarterback.

He has fans ... and lots of them. Especially for a writer. So many people know him from either his writing, radio, or television work that traveling with him is like being with a movie star. OK, maybe just a television sitcom star. Actually, now that I think about it, so many people look at him funny and ask how they know him, without being able to put their finger on how in fact they know him, that it is more like traveling with a guy on a long-running television drama on a minor cable channel that most people have never actually watched but rather have seen the commercials or looked at briefly while flipping through the channels. Or else just an infomercial guy. To his credit, he always finds the time to stop for a picture or sign an autograph because he is just a genuinely happy guy.

He adores his job. One of the reasons why he is usually in such a good mood is that he really loves what he does for a living and never takes it for granted. He knows that most of you would die to switch places with him and so he makes absolutely certain to never, ever complain about his profession or place in this world. Unless he is driving in the middle of nowhere and can't get any cell phone reception. Or running late for a training camp practice or interview. Then he can get angry and spew venom. Which is scary but not as much as the fact that he sounds like a dog when he belches, which I think is intentional ... "Rufffff". But other than that, he is a pretty amiable guy.

In fact, he enjoys his life's work so much that he will literally stay out on the practice field after a training camp two-a-day and talk to players, coaches, and front office executives until there is nobody left to talk to. Seriously. It might be the assistant defensive backs coach or the third string offensive lineman, but King doesn't care. He is going to stay and talk football and ask questions until there is no one left who could possibly teach him something about the game or tell him a football story.

He really is that obsessed with Starbucks. And minor league baseball. I can't even venture to guess how many Starbucks we stopped at. It was literally like three a day. If Starbucks is ever looking for a spokesman, I know exactly who they should hire. I mean, the guy picks his hotels based upon their proximity to Starbucks. And he knows where practically every one of them is in a five-state region.

A close second to Starbucks is minor league baseball. I went to more minor league baseball games this past week than I had been to in five years. I mean, the guy would rather watch 17-year old rookies playing short season A ball than sleep, even if he has only had 12 hours of shut-eye in the previous three days.

He is a workaholic. He never stops. If it isn't a radio interview, it is a phone call with one of his high-placed sources. If he isn't writing something, he is on his Blackberry looking at something online or tweeting a nugget that he didn't put in his column. I guess if you love it as much as he does, it's not really work but man, the dude is tireless. Multiple times he stayed up until three or four in the morning writing only to wake up at six just two or three hours later, ready to attack the next challenge.

Everyone knows and respects him, so he gets time with the league's newsmakers. One of the reasons for this is the way he goes about his business and the way he treats people. People respond to that and so his personality and reputation allows him to get private interviews with the most important players, coaches, and front office executives in the league.

It was an honor and a privilege to spend a week on the road with him. It really was. He gave me so much advice about the media in general and journalism in particular that I will be forever grateful. Better yet, he included me every time it was possible and, because of that, I now have started to form a lot of relationships that should serve me well as I venture forward. My only hope is that we can do it again next year and maybe make it an extended run. It was really that fun.

Some interesting mail this week ...

Do players have to pay taxes in every state they play a game? What about playoff games? Does where it's played affect how much a player takes home?-- Larry, Philly

Yes, just like other entertainers, NFL players have to pay state income tax based upon the money they earn in other states for every away game whether it is regular season or a playoff game. It is a minor annoyance to be sure but the rules are the rules and every state has a different state income tax rate. It is one reason why teams in states like Texas and Florida should have a minor -- yet still significant -- advantage when it comes to signing free agents. They have no state income tax.

Ross, I've really enjoyed following your Tweets -- they are very informative. I have one question: You mention in a tweet to "Stay tuned for more updates like the fact that Steelers OL coach Larry Zierlein teaching a lot of Jim McNally technique stuff." Could you describe that technique and how does it compare to other techniques?-- Mike Kumpf, Atlanta

That would probably be a very long article Mike. The point is a lot of coaches pick up different techniques and drills from each other over time and Zierlein and McNally coached together in Buffalo, so it was pretty neat to see some of the same drills I had done previously. Most noticeable was the action of hitting and lifting with a powerful "lazy forearm" when engaging in a double team, as opposed to using your hands.

When we see an offensive lineman offer his hand to the QB after a sack in order to help him to his feet, can this be taken as a sign of respect the QB has earned from his teammates? I remember reading a story about the Los Angeles Raiders not helping Marc Wilson because they hated the way he crumpled like a saltine cracker after every hit. Conversely, John Elway, who was much respected by his teammates, was nearly always offered an assist to his feet after being knocked to the ground. As an ex-offensive lineman, I was curious if there was a protocol on helping the QB to his feet. Enjoy your column immensely.-- Timothy L. Dillow, Glenwood Springs, Colorado

The only protocol is that if you just got your butt beat and the quarterback blasted the least you can do is help him up off the ground. Some teams and players are more conscious of it than others.

Ross, do you and almost every other football writer for SI have a special dictionary where matriculate is defined as moving the ball? Every dictionary I have ever seen says something along the lines of being admitted into a university or enrolling in something. This is as far away from the way you and your colleagues use this term as you can get. Don't throw in big words to sound smart if they are not even applicable to the context you use them.-- Brandon, Quinnesec, Mich.

I got a lot of e-mails like this one. I am aware of what the literal definition of "matriculate" is, but Hank Stram uses it in the old NFL Films video of Super Bowl III and I love it so I use it from time to time in the exact same context. Doesn't make it correct, I guess, but it feels right, so I go with it.