Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we wind our way through mid-August and approach the second week of the NFL's preseason ...
• With the league
I talked to one head coach in the league who foresees Pryor being taken in the fourth or fifth round of the supplemental draft, but only as a long-term project, and even then without enough upside to ever lead an NFL franchise at the game's most pivotal position.
"He's a heck of an athlete,'' the head coach said. "Very similar to Cam Newton in the type of athlete he is. But he doesn't have the mechanics, the throwing mechanics, that he needs. I see someone taking him as a three-year project, to get him to be an NFL-level quarterback. And if you can get him to be that, I think he'll only be a No. 2 [QB] for someone, just because he doesn't have that natural throwing motion. But yeah, I see somebody taking a shot and saying, 'We've got him for three years as a No. 3 guy.' I can see that happening.''
At this relatively late date, the calendar is obviously working against Pryor having any potential 2011 impact in the NFL, if he is cleared to enter the league at all before the 2012 regular draft next April. Most likely he'll be a headline the day he's selected, generate a little buzz in the market he winds up in, then fade into semi-obscurity this fall as he attempts to craft his game to NFL standards and work his way up some team's depth chart. At the moment, the only thing Pryor and current NFL quarterbacks have in common is they all have agents.
• I don't buy that Jay Cutler's knee injury suffered in last January's NFC title game against Green Bay has cast a shadow over his 2011 season or affected his standing in the eyes of his teammates, but it will at least be part of his story until the Bears quarterback does something that makes people stop talking about the firestorm of reaction he engendered.
The most realistic and enlightened take on Cutler's situation I've heard came from a member of the Bears organization in the early days of training camp.
"It will always be in people's mind to some degree, because everyone saw it and has an opinion on it,'' the Bears source said. "We're in the entertainment business, and it was a national story. We know it's going to be brought up until he goes out there and shows his mettle.
"But the truth is he got a bad rap. He showed his valor throughout last season. It was an injury, a legitimate injury. Was it a severe injury? No, but it was an injury that created imbalance in his play and it was real. Unfortunately it was in the biggest game of our season, and perceptions can become reality. We all have to deal with that. Will it leave a mark on him? I don't know. We'll find out.''
Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz doesn't think Cutler carries with him a lingering bad taste from the experience of being criticized for his lack of toughness by fellow NFL players. Martz said Cutler isn't consumed by the opinions of others.
"I think [the bad taste] is out of his mouth, because Jay doesn't worry about stuff like that,'' Martz told me. "People don't understand Jay. This thing started that day and just kind of snowballed. But Jay is just so different than the perception. He's one of the neatest guys you've ever been around. Very humble, very tough, very resilient. He can really divorce himself from something like that quite easily. Even with some of the shots he has taken, he's got such a great ability to turn things off and focus on what he does.''
Martz, however, has never been one to suffer fools all that well, and he still bristles at the scorn Cutler faced for his sideline demeanor, and the instantaneous reaction of fellow NFL players to the injured Chicago quarterback.
"That was just dumb. Shame on them,'' Martz said. "It was ridiculous. It made me angry, and it's just not right. You look at the Green Bay sideline in the Super Bowl, where they got a player or two injured, and they're standing there with their arms folded. Nothing was said about that. Go figure that out. One of the best quarterbacks and leaders I ever coached was Marc Bulger in St. Louis, and he didn't say much or react to much during a game. But guys loved him and would do anything for him, because he took things on his shoulders and handled them.''
• Here's an astounding statistic that probably won't help Redskins fans relax regarding the team's quarterback depth chart: Since the end of the 2007 season, Rex Grossman, John Beck and Kellen Clemens have combined to start just five games and attempt 237 passes in regular season action. For all three Redskins quarterbacks, their most recent significant chunk of playing time came in 2007, four long years ago.
-- All four of Beck's NFL starts, and all five games he has played in, came in 2007 in Miami.
-- Grossman has made just four starts since 2007, with only 204 pass attempts in the three seasons of 2008-2010.
-- Clemens made eight of his nine career starts in 2007 with the Jets, and has attempted just 33 regular season passes since then.
To repeat, that was 2007, the year the Patriots fell short in a bid for 19-0, and the season a resurgent Brett Favre led the Packers into the NFC title game against the Giants. Come to think of it, that was at least four Favre retirements ago.
• I don't know if Beck really is the answer at quarterback in Washington, but I left Redskins camp last week believing that Mike and Kyle Shanahan believe he is. Grossman won't win the starting job unless Beck falls flat on his face this preseason, and Beck will get his candidacy fully underway with this week's start at Indianapolis. Make no mistake: Beck will win the starting job if it's even remotely close. That much is clear after listening to Mike Shanahan rave about the ex-BYU standout.
"I'm not even worried about the quarterback position,'' Mike Shanahan said last week, after a morning practice session in which Beck was limited by a groin strain. "I think it's funny (meaning the doubts), because I know the guy can play. I don't even question that. I know [Beck] can play. John will be fine. He'll play and he'll be a good player, because he's athlete, because he can anticipate throws, and he's extremely bright. I watched him for a year, and I had him as my top (collegiate quarterback) coming out (in 2007). He can do it all. The guy just has never really had a chance in pro football. He hasn't played.''
That's kind of the point, but Shanahan is determined to provide Beck that opportunity. You get the sense Shanahan sees Beck as a difference maker, while Grossman is viewed as a very serviceable quarterback you can win with, providing he has a quality supporting cast. If anything, the Shanahans are so confident in Beck that they're trying not to build him up too much, so his play can do all the talking.
Beck knows enough about how the NFL works to know having someone who believes in you and gives you an opportunity is about 70 percent of the equation. And four years after he got a first chance with a horrible 1-15 Dolphins team, he has his long-awaited second chance in Washington.
"I've always believed in myself, but no one knows all that stuff that really went on in Miami,'' Beck told me. "Everybody wants to have their own opinion about what they think happened, but nobody but me and the people who were there really know what happened. So I've held onto that belief, worked hard, and hoped someone else would believe the same way.
"I didn't know who it was going to be or when it was going to come, but I felt like somewhere down the road somebody would be like, 'Hey, I still think this guy can do it.' I feel like I'm in that situation right now, and this is the good opportunity I've waited for.''
• If I've heard a common theme about the AFC West this season during the course of my camp travels it's this: No one outside of Oakland is unhappy to have ex-Raiders head coach Tom Cable out of the division. The Raiders played hard for Cable last season, going 6-0 in the division and finishing with Oakland's first non-losing record since its 2002 Super Bowl season.
"The Raiders were a tough team last year,'' one AFC West source said. "You got beat up coming out of that game. Cable had those guys playing hard for him, and nobody's sorry to see him go. Why Al Davis got rid of him after that team made so much progress, nobody understands.''
As for new Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, the team's former offensive coordinator, let's just say there's very divided opinion around the league when it comes to him. Some view him as a strong motivator, and others consider him something of a manipulator and self-promoter. I know this to be true: When Jackson left his gig as Ravens quarterbacks coach after the 2009 season, joining Oakland as its offensive coordinator, Baltimore and head coach John Harbaugh didn't mind seeing him go in the least.
• I'm going to go out on a limb and name Sam Bradford the class of the NFC West quarterback crop for a second year in a row, given that both Arizona's and Seattle's starters (Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson, respectively) were backups in 2010, and San Francisco's Alex Smith appears trapped in an endless cycle of hope followed by failure and frustration with the 49ers.
But if there's anything I'm certain about in the formative stages of the 2011 season, it's that Bradford is going to have a monster second season in the NFL, with far better stats than last year's 18 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions and 76.5 passer rating as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Rams have so many more offensive weapons, and Bradford told me he already sees a night and day difference in terms of his comprehension in year two.
"It's not even close,'' Bradford said. "Obviously we're running a new offense [under first-year Rams coordinator Josh McDaniels], but I just see things so much quicker, so much clearer now. It's not even funny. You really don't know what you don't know as a rookie. A couple days ago I was sitting in a meeting, and after I left it, I realized we were talking about some pretty deep stuff in there. I've never had a meeting like that before, and I was kind of like, 'Wow, I really didn't know much at all last year.' Now I understand the things Josh is trying to teach me that are at a level I wouldn't have understood last year.''
• Shortly after free agent receiver Steve Breaston signed with Kansas City, he made a headline by tossing out one of the all-time back-handed compliments to Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, his former offensive coordinator in Arizona.
"Coach Haley's not always a butthole,'' Breaston said in a radio interview.
Haley's phone almost immediately lit up, with folks telling him of his new receiver's not-so-endearing endorsement. "He made that comment, and I'm getting all these messages on my phone, 'You sign him and that's the thanks he shows you?'" Haley said. "But I said if you knew how I coached him for a couple years in Arizona, he can call me anything he wants. Because nobody's been put through more than him by me. And oh by the way, he's coming back to me, voluntarily. Don't forget that.''
Breaston laughed when I brought up the "butthole'' quote, and backed up Haley's version of the post-interview conversation. "He said, 'You called me a butthole?' But he didn't give me a hard time,'' Breaston said. "He knows how he coaches. He knows how to push your buttons. He pushes you to the limit, but he's trying to bring out the best in you. You can't be over-sensitive to him. You know where he's coming from, and he also knows how to put players into position to succeed.''
• Quiz Time: Who's the only NFL owner who successfully dealt with the re-signing of two likely Hall of Famers in this year's free agency period?
Answer: The Colts' Jim Irsay got both Peyton Manning and Adam Vinatieri to re-up in Indy, and not even Philadelphia managed anything on par with that.
• Quotable: From new Bears receiver Roy Williams, when asked about the early stages of his relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler:
"Well, I know I sat down at lunch with him and he didn't tell me to get up, so I'm good. As far as communication goes, I tell him 'good ball' when he throws a good ball, and I tell him 'terrible ball' when he throws a terrible ball. I want him to understand I'm not here just to kiss your butt, I'm here to tell you the truth.''
OK, but I'd love to hear what Cutler gets to tell Williams after a key drop.