Week 1 on the training camp trail ... From a very deep team in San Antonio (Dallas) to the Big Top in Kentucky (Cincinnati) to the NFL's men of mystery (Carolina) to the youngest veteran team in the league (Atlanta) to the team (Miami) determined not to let the AFC East become a two-horse race -- and, by the way, I like its chances. Along the way, three stories intercede:
In some sort of chronological order, here goes:
I experience Dezmania in a very personal way. Dallas director of public relations
Such is the early love affair with Bryant, who, two days later, suffered a high ankle sprain that will cause him to miss the preseason. My first thought about the injury: Good for the Cowboys. Good for Bryant. First, the hype for Bryant was ridiculously out of control, so much so that when I sat with offensive coordinator
Bryant was practicing as if he were in an NFL playoff game, trying to win a starting job and to prove the Cowboys made the right decision by picking him in the first round when other teams were taking him off their draft boards. Dallas is lucky it was a high ankle sprain and not some season-ending thing.
Third, it's not like we're talking about a mature-beyond-his-years kid to begin with. It didn't appear as if the hype was going to his head, but who knows if all the pub eventually would have turned him into the kind of diva the guy on the other side of the field,
I just know this: Bryant has a chance to be a great player. But a little humble pie on the sidelines won't be such a bad thing for the kid.
So many thoughts after experiencing Bengaldom for a day.
1. In 27 years covering the NFL -- year one as the Bengals' beat man for the
2. Pacman, from one practice, looked a lot more mortal than he used to. He got singed two or three times by
"Coming here was the best thing I could have done,'' he told me. "It's been all football.'' Except, I learned, for the two times cops trailed his car and made him sweat, including once when they told him to stay out of the car while they ran his plates -- to see if it was stolen. Which it wasn't, and which, to Jones, seemed like a clear case of police harassment. "Back a few years ago, I might have gone after the cop,'' he said. "Now, I've grown up. I just waited 'til the situation was over, and I went on my way.'' Good for him.
After the practice I watched, he said, "Chad kicked my ass.'' He's got five weeks to play catch-up.
5. Marvin Lewis told me a couple of interesting things about the pursuit of T.O. He pointed out that Owens and Antonio Bryant were being pursued simultaneously by the Bengals in March, both on visits to the Queen City at the same time. The Bengals made Bryant rhe first offer, and he accepted, and T.O. found out about it through a text message before the Bengals told him. Owens was peeved. Lewis had to soothe Owens.
"Then, the first thing after we signed Bryant,
He took $2 million, plus incentives, and last Tuesday, when he was trying to decide whether to take the Bengals' offer, Lewis called him and apparently clinched it. "My team wants you as a teammate,'' the coach told him.
6. Still don't know how the Bengals are going to have enough balls for everyone on offense. Last year, Cincinnati had 1,011 offensive snaps. Half --505 -- were run plays, and Lewis told me the offense was still going to be centered around the run. Ochocinco, Owens and Bryant, if I had to guess, will get 350 chances, collectively, if they're healthy most of the year. But what of Gresham? Shipley?
7. Of all the things you don't expect to hear at an NFL training camp,
"I'm just so excited I can't stand it,'' Ocho said. "Carson's got to be out of his mind excited. Me, TO, Antonio [Bryant], the run game, Gresham, Shipley, our other young receivers ... How are they gonna stop us? The other guy who's got to be going nuts is
When I walked away from him, I said, "Have a good year.''
Chad quickly said, "No. Great year. I always have a good year. This is going to be a great one.''
Was that a fish that just went swimming by? Scorcher out here. But this team needs the work, because there are so many spots open for competition, with
The Panthers rarely have a really down season, but I'm not sure that streak is going to continue (suffice to say I'm wavering on my May pick of Carolina for the playoffs).
"Positive,'' he said. "I'd bet my game check on it.'' Smith also said he plans to make a beeline for Giants safety
The cellphone rings, and it's
The Merriman squabble is not difficult to understand, in my opinion, because the Chargers can't be sure what kind of player he is anymore. (He had four sacks in the past two years, over 15 total games.) But I find it odd and counterproductive -- as do many Charger fans -- that Smith hasn't negotiated long-term deals with two players I would consider cornerstones, McNeill and Jackson. Not only does he apparently not consider them vital players, but in lowering their one-year contract offers from $3.2 million to around $600,000 in June, he slapped two very good players in the face and made it nearly impossible for them to accept offers they certainly consider insulting.
Smith told me he does not plan to change the offers on McNeill or Jackson, nor will he enter into long-term contract discussions for them.
"We have a priority list of players we want to get signed, and that began 11 months ago with
Rivers and Gates are cornerstones. McNeill and Jackson aren't in the same category to Smith. That's got to be a bitter pill for two important players -- particularly McNeill, I would think. Jackson has had some off-field problems, and his recent violation of the league's personal conduct policy resulted in a suspension for the first three games of the 2010 season. Said Smith: "Disappointment lurks around every corner. You'd love to have everyone on your roster happy, but that's not the world of the NFL. It is disappointing, but I have to run the team and build the roster the way I see fit.''
Understood. But I wouldn't want to alienate two of my top six or seven players -- perhaps losing them for the season -- on the verge of a year when the Chargers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Figuring his team can survive this distraction is a big gamble by Smith.
Looking at the key players, and the ages of them, on the Falcons, I wonder: Is there a contender with more young, important players?
"We're young, but we're not inexperienced,'' Ryan told me.
I watched the morning practice with GM
Hustling through the Atlanta airport to make my flight to the next camp (Miami's, in this case), and on the phone I've got one of the very good guys I've covered in my career, Pats/Eagles/Steelers/Cardinals/Seahawks special-teamer Sean Morey. He's explaining his post-concussion-syndrome-prompted retirement, and I ask him: "What do you feel like right now, physically?''
"Like I just finished playing a tough game,'' he said, speaking softly from a Starbucks in Seattle. "Like I'd just made six or seven tackles.''
And, of course, it's been almost eight months since the 34-year-old Morey played. In the past couple of years, it had taken him longer each offseason to get back to his baseline, to feeling well with no lingering headaches from the season. This year, that time never came. And though he signed a multi-year deal with Seattle in the offseason to rejoin
At least two independent doctors told him he shouldn't play. And as co-chair of the NFL Players Association's concussion and traumatic brain injury committee, Morey knew he couldn't be a good union leader if he swept such an important injury under the rug.
"He's unlike any player I've ever met,'' said NFLPA executive director
Morey has walked a tightrope as a player trying to be one of the best special-teamers of this era (he was my special-teamer of the decade for 2000-09) and as a union man trying to get his peers to respect the brain trauma that so many players try to hide. "In many ways,'' he told me, "all the education I've gotten on the subject is a curse, but it also gave me the proper perspective to be able to make a decision like this one. I am held to a higher standard, and I should be. I owe it to the players in the game to help make changes that will help players going forward.''
Carroll told his first Seattle team about Morey's decision at his first team meeting the other night. He said Morey scratched and clawed to make the NFL, that his way to the league was paved with hardship and being cut multiple times. He even drove to Foxboro once in a furniture truck for a company he worked for, trying to get the Patriots to take another look at him after he'd been cut. That, Carroll said, is the kind of player he wanted with the Seahawks, and the room broke out in applause for Morey.
When Morey knew he had to tell Seahawk GM
"You know,'' Carroll said to Morey, throwing the ball in a tight spiral, "people ask me the best part of my job. I tell them, 'I get to go out and play catch.' ''
A couple of days later, the memory made Morey go quiet.
"That,'' he said, "was a nice touch. Football's the kind of game you love so much that you want to hold on 'til it throws you off. Because someday, for all of us, it will throw you off, no matter how tight you try to hang on.''
On the first pass play of Dolphins training camp Friday,
I remember going to Denver last summer and interviewing Marshall, who I've known for three or four years. Every answer was forced, clipped. He was ticked at the world then, a combination of being labeled a malingerer and feeling like he was lied to about getting a new contract. In the players' cafeteria Sunday, he grinned like a madman ... even when I asked him what he would have done differently in Denver before finally getting his wish via a pre-draft trade and new contract in Miami last April.
He paused, and I said: "Would you have punted the ball in practice that day?'' You remember the infamous tape, when he was a disruptive force in practice.
"I wouldn't have punted the football,'' he said. "There were a few things last year I didn't handle well. But what I've learned is that sometimes the more powerful lessons are the most painful lessons.''
Marshall doesn't want to return to the nightmare that was last year. He's married now -- to a different woman than the one he says caused "90 to 95 percent'' of his problems in the past. But he realizes talk is cheap, and no matter what he says now about being a different person in a different place, he's got to show it, day after day, week after week.
He has a five-year, $47-million contract extension, and he's on a team that he thinks is more suited to his physical style. "I've always had the attitude that I'm going to impose my will on the defense,'' he said. "So I fit in well with the philosophy of this team. Everyone in the building, everyone in the organization, has a toughness here. I like that. It's all football. We don't play games here. I see
"Because I'm a grown-ass man.''
"Walls needed painting.''
"Instead of fighting, why don't we work things out over brunch?''
The 10 Rangers also carried
"Colleges have mastered the art of secrecy. I don't think we get to know everything we need to know about players. Some colleges, I think they know where
Well, let's be fair here. Smith was the jiggly guy who, unexcused, walked out of the Scouting Combine early, then worked out for NFL teams looking like an advertisement for gastric-bypass surgery. The Bengals had plenty of warning that Smith wasn't a self-starter and, moreover, might become a disciplinary problem once he got paid. Which he has been.
So why'd I use this quote? I love the Hoffa line.
Half of the coaches in the NFC East --
This is not to say
On the sidelines of Carolina Panthers practice Friday afternoon at Wofford College, players were conscious to hydrate in the 91-degree, 88-percent humidity of Spartanburg, S.C. During one break, a defensive player chugged a 12-ounce bottle of G2, the low-cal Gatorade drink, finished it and tossed it to the ground. Walking by, club president
I have renamed the travel note -- for the season -- in honor of
This note comes to you from the general manager's office of the Atlanta Falcons, Saturday afternoon about 2:15. Afternoon practice was 75 minutes away. Here was Thomas Dimitroff, one of the most interesting and different football people in the league, inviting me in for some Mighty Leaf Organic Green Dragon tea and tiny chocolate-chip cookies.
"I thought we would have high tea,'' he said.
OK. I must say I have had a few beers and more than a few meals with general managers over the years, but green tea ... this was a first. Dimitroff, a serious cyclist, outdoorsman (he has a sophisticated spinning bike next to his desk) and conscientious citizen (CNN was on in his office, not ESPN) who prefers Boulder over Brooklyn, is conscious about everything he puts in his body.
It was a calm interview. Placid, even. It seemed funny to be drinking green tea and listening to Dimitroff talking about how his goal is to build a defense that's fast, brutal, smart and attacking. You know, words you don't usually associate with green tea.
"Hey 2011 NFL Free-Agents--->58 degrees at Seahawks' training camp today.''
1. I think, as it is every year, the most overplayed story entering training camp is the first-round-holdout story. As of this morning, 26 of 32 first-rounders are in the fold, with
The reason angst over these things is silly can be seen in the Hughes negotiations. The Colts have their first practice today at 8:30 a.m. in Anderson, Ind. Most often, contract negotiations are deadline deals, and so why would anyone get too exercised over a contract not being done before practice begins? I'll say what I've said about these things forever: The only time a contract holdout is truly damaging is when it's a player the team is counting on to play a key role in year one, and when it's at a position where catching up is going to be very hard -- as in quarterback.
2. I think
3. I think Albert Haynesworth thinks Mike Shanahan's being unfair to him by forcing him to pass this conditioning test. I don't agree. Shanahan has two gate-keeping ways for players to be admitted to training camp. They can either participate in 50 percent or more of the offseason workouts at the Redskins' facility. Or they can complete a conditioning test.
For linemen, the test consists of two 300-yard shuttles (running 25 yards back and forth six times). The first 300-yard shuttle must be run in 70 seconds. Then the player gets a three-and-half-minute break. The second shuttle must be run in 73 seconds. Most teams have conditioning tests something (but not exactly) like this. The bottom line is if Haynesworth were in tip-top shape, he'd pass it. I think if a player has made $35 million in the past 16 months, he ought to be in tip-top shape entering camp.
4. I think the Broncos just might be regretting dealing
5. I think it's looking like a Maryland Tweetup on Aug. 18 -- either in Westminster, site of the Ravens' training camp, or in Baltimore. Hang in for further details. I'll let you know the deal on Twitter
6. I think if you'd like to come and heckle me at one of my remaining stops, bring it on. My schedule:
• Today: Tampa Bay (but leaving early for NBC "Football Night in America'' meeting in New York)
7. I think I've got bus envy. I want a bus for this trip next year. In fact, I know I do. I figured that out while waiting four hours for my 36-minute flight from Atlanta to Greenville, S.C., the other night, after I figured I could have driven to and back from Greenville in the time I was drinking at the Atlanta airport hotel bar. I also think I probably won't get a bus -- unless
8. I think I'll start worrying about
9. I think, at the end of the day, what dooms the Revis talks from a soft-landing of a resolution is the $15-million-a-year deal
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Welcome back to the ranks of the employed,
b. Those who heard it said
d. Found myself in the same hotel Sunday night, the SpringHill Suites in Tampa, where I stayed for my spring-training trip with my two brothers and brother-in-law. Eerie feeling, thinking back on the great time we had and
e. Palms getting a little sweaty,
f. Can't believe I didn't eat a four-way at Skyline last week in the Cincinnati environs. Miss that culinary delight.
g. Experience four innings of Gwinnett Braves baseball the other night. A fun place. I counted 34 beers on tap, and came up with the reality of what successful minor-league baseball is. At a good minor-league game, the ticket price really is a cover charge. For farm-team owners, isn't minor-league ball really all about the concessions?
h. That airport in Lexington, Ky., is beautiful. Clean. Very horse-conscious. No long lines, even at rush-hour times.
j. Coffeenerdness: Back to my two triple grande hazelnut lattes on this road trip. Have mercy on me. The schedule's fun, but it's a killer.
k. I think I've settled on the half-marathon I'm going to do, as my punishment for saying something really dumb last winter about Terrell Owens. (I said if Owens signed with the Bengals, I'd run an ultra-marathon. He signed with the Bengals. I'm not running 50 miles. As you probably can figure, I would die on the course. Face it: I'd crawl to run 20. But I'm running five now, twice a week, so I think I can work myself up to 13.1.)
The New Hampshire Half-Marathon is Oct. 2, a Saturday morning, in Bristol, N.H. Let's try to figure out a good charity to benefit me trying to do something I may have no business doing. Send your ideas to either email@example.com or on Twitter