Reflecting on Reid's tragedy; nuggets from Week 2 of my tour
Black crepe paper hangs over the column this morning. Garrett Reid, Andy Reid's oft-troubled 29-year-old son, was found dead in his Lehigh University dorm room at Eagles' training camp Sunday morning.
We don't know what happened yet, and I won't speculate. But Garrett, who had drug problems and served time in jail for them, was working with the Eagles' strength coaches, helping players with their conditioning, trying to get his life together. His brother, Britt, who also has a history of drug problems, was on the comeback trail too, and both were getting some coaching experience to try to help.
There aren't many people around the league who don't think highly of Andy Reid. I can't think of one, honestly. I was in Atlanta with the Falcons Sunday when the news spread, and one of his former co-workers in the coaching business, Dirk Koetter, was visibly upset when he walked off the practice field in the morning. "I can't get the sick feeling out of my stomach,'' he said. Reid's players, former and current, felt the same way. "Stay strong and we LOVE you coach,'' Michael Vick tweeted.
Vick has a special bond with Reid, obviously. Three years ago, Vick was radioactive after his dogfighting conviction, and Reid and owner Jeffrey Lurie took a chance on him. Did you know Garrett and Britt Reid had something to do with Vick's signing? True story.
Andy Reid learned something valuable from his sons' jail terms -- particularly Britt's. He learned there are three phases that inmates who are successful in avoiding a return trip to jail go through. Phase one is blaming everyone else. Phase two is admitting that it's your own fault. Phase three is the vow to yourself that you hate jail, that you're going to avoid the behavior that got you in jail in the first place, and you'll never return.
When Reid met with Vick as he was trying to determine whether to offer him a contract, the most important factor to him was whether Vick was in that third phase. His sons stressed that Vick would always be grateful to the Eagles for giving him a chance to reclaim his life and he'd work daily to show they made the right decision.
The Eagles didn't sign Vick because Reid's sons urged their father to do it. But if you know Andy Reid, you know he listened to his kids, and their feelings became a piece of a very large puzzle. Three years later, Garrett and Britt have been right on the money on Vick. Small consolation for a family that has to bury a son Tuesday. So sad.
Now off to the camps. I have a few thoughts on the new Browns owner, Jimmy Haslam, after speaking with him on Sunday, and I'll use them in Tuesday's column.
I meet Williams, who had the two-muffed-punt nightmare in the NFC Championship Game last January, and there's no mistaking his allegiances: He was wearing a Chicago White Sox hat and Jordan T-shirt, and underneath his friendly and respectful exterior, he came across as being Chicago tough. I asked where he got the ability to cope with the crushing weight of his role in the Niners losing out on a trip to the Super Bowl, and it turns out it has much to do with his dad, Kenny, the general manager of the White Sox for the past 12 years.
"Growing up in Chicago,'' Kyle said, "I'd ride with my dad to White Sox games, and he'd have sports radio on. Some people would praise the job he was doing, and sometimes he'd be getting torn apart. I'd look over at him driving. He'd have no emotion. It didn't affect him one way or the other. His attitude was, 'No matter what you do, positive or negative, you'll get criticized.' His whole professional demeanor taught me a lot. I was a sponge. I soaked it in, all of it.''
I get Kenny Williams on the phone and relay what his son said.
There's a pause. Three, four seconds.
"That gives me chills, honestly,'' Kenny Williams said. "He never told me that. That's ... something I appreciate."
Kyle was 12 when his dad was named general manager of the White Sox. "When I got the job in Chicago, there was a lot of, 'He just got the job because he's black.' Some tough things happened. We had 'n-----' spray-painted on the side of the house.''
Young Kyle soaked it in, and the toughness he saw from his father showed up last Jan. 22. As the backup punt-returner pressed into duty because of an injury to Ted Ginn Jr., Williams dropped back to return a Giants' punt with 11 minutes left and San Francisco up 14-10. The punt bounced funny and nicked his leg, and after a replay challenge confirmed the muff, the Giants got the ball at the Niner 29 and scored the go-ahead touchdown. In overtime, fielding a punt on a bounce, Williams had the ball punched loose and the Giants recovered at the Niner 24. Two minutes later Lawrence Tynes' field goal won it.
Kenny Williams was sitting in the stands watching the game. I asked him if his heart broke when he saw the misplays. "It did. It did. But as much as it hurt, I thought, 'OK, here's an opportunity to see what my son's made of.' ''
"The first one took an odd bounce and got me,'' Kyle said last week. "I didn't feel it at the time, but it got me. The second one, I saw a seam, tried to make a play and 57 [Jacquian Williams] got a paw on it. After the game, I was crushed. But honestly, I was more worried about my teammates than anything else because we worked so hard to get that far.''
Kyle Williams stood up and faced the media music after that game. He took the blame. His father stood nearby and watched him. "As much as my heart sank when those plays happened,'' Kenny Williams said, "my pride soared when I watched him answer each question, look his questioner in the eyes and accept total responsibility.''
When they met after the game -- "even before I hugged him,'' dad said -- he looked at Kyle and said, "How are you going to come back from this? You man enough to handle this?''
"Absolutely,'' Kyle said.
The days that followed brought Twitter threats of harm to Williams and his family. (Sound familiar?) Kyle said he wasn't concerned about that as much as what his teammates thought. To a man, they were supportive. Kyle Williams looked for averted eyes from his teammates, heads shaking at him, anything. He knew he'd probably cost his team a shot at the Super Bowl. He never saw, or heard, anything suggesting disloyalty -- and if he did, he wouldn't have blamed them.
So now he's back at camp, with a tougher road to a roster spot than last year. The 49ers lost wideout Josh Morgan in free agency to Washington, but they've gained Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and Ginn returns. Williams (20 receptions, 12.1 yards per catch last year) is in the mix and should make the roster if the Niners keep six receivers, but nothing is guaranteed. "I've come to terms with it,'' he said. "It's plays I made, not the player I am. I think they know they can trust me.''
Do they? Loyalty to a well-liked and respected teammate is one thing. But this is a dog-eat-punt-muffer business. I asked Jim Harbaugh: Can you put Kyle Williams back there again to field a big punt?
"We like Kyle Williams; he is one of us,'' Harbaugh said. "The folks who want to continue bringing this up -- this is not going to be a continuing story. It isn't with us. We will not allow the media to hang an albatross around his neck. He is on the inside of the team looking out.''
The Raiders have had training camp on fields behind the Napa Marriott for years, and nothing much is different back here. Except for one thing: the small media tent, with Wi-Fi if they want to write out here, and a cooler of bottled water. Welcome, media! How can we help you? Then you see the media guide -- in living color for the first time -- and you look in the records section, and you see more signs of détente. Color photos of Mike Shanahan and Lane Kiffin! What else could there be on the premises? A statue of Al Davis and Pete Rozelle hugging?
Here's what else is new: drafting a wide receiver who ran a 4.68 in the 40 at the Scouting Combine. True fact. Arizona's Juron Criner, 6-2 ½ and 224 pounds, ran glacially for a wideout at the combine, and the new general manager of the Raiders, Reggie McKenzie, saw past it and drafted Criner in the fifth round, the only wideout Oakland drafted this year. Al Davis drafted wideouts with sprinter speed; it was a Raider trademark. McKenzie likes sprinter speed, but good receivers who run in the 4.3s aren't going to be available with the 168th pick in the draft, as Criner was. So you improvise.
"I'm pretty sure this guy wouldn't have been on Mr. Davis' board,'' McKenzie said, chuckling before practice. "We kid around about that, because Mr. Davis' shadow will always be over this organization. And you know, I want 4.3 corners and 4.4 wide receivers. But they have to be good football players too.''
"I've heard that," said Criner, "and when I got here, people told me they were always a speed team. I see what's going on here -- I'm surrounded by pure speed. But I think there are things I can do, with instincts and angles, that make me a good receiver.''
Get the feeling Darius Heyward-Bey might not have been the seventh pick in the 2009 draft if McKenzie had been running the show?
It's unmistakable around here: There is respect for the late Al Davis -- reverence by some. But there's only one Al, and when he died, his way of roster-building and team-operating went with him. McKenzie hired a defensive coach, Dennis Allen, who will play some (a lot, probably) zone coverage. Davis had hired nothing but offensive head coaches over the last 40 years, and his defenses played man coverage.
In football, McKenzie and Allen stressed to me, reverence will get you nowhere. You have to be yourself and manage and coach your way, not with some homage to the strongest personality in NFL history.
"We're going to be constantly reminded, 'That's not an Al Davis pick,' or 'You've got to get back to Cover 1 [man coverage],'' McKenzie said. "We can't let that interfere with what we're trying to do, which is building a team the way we think is best.''
Said Allen: "The tradition here is second to none, and we obviously respect what Al Davis did. None of us here now are Al, or can be Al. But we have to coach football and run the football team the way we've been trained. We have to be ourselves and live with the results."
Allen's running a high-energy camp. His two most important players, Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden, have bought in. Palmer says he's never been more excited about a football season in his life, and Allen has rid the team of worrying about anything but football.
Imagine being Palmer, being told you're definitely not being traded by the Bengals last year, not doing any football training or much throwing after the season started, getting traded on the day of the deadline, and playing an NFL game five days later?
I'm not close to Palmer, but I've known him pretty well over the years, and when we met here at the Marriott, I saw an enthusiasm I hadn't seen since he entered the league. The Bengals years beat him down, and he didn't play well near the end, and he decided he wasn't going to play football anymore unless the Bengals traded him. Which, finally, they did.
Palmer told me offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is "a phenomenal teacher, a genius'' (someone call Terrell Owens for comment). Palmer also said running back Taiwan Jones "is the fastest man in the league,'' Darren McFadden "is as good as any running back there is,'' called back Mike Goodson "shockingly good,'' and added, "I know I can play as well as any quarterback in this league.''
On the field in the afternoon practice, Palmer was accurate and fast with the ball, throwing to his cadre of world-class sprinters. And Criner. Big target. Showed good hands. Around here, he's part of the new future.
I wrote about this in my Dolphins training-camp postcard (
Here's how he changes it up to get the play count up: On a full field, the coaches line up at the 50. One full team plays 11-on-11 heading north on the field; when I was there, David Garrard piloted the first offense against the defense. As soon as Garrard ran a play and the whistle blew, ending the play, the coaches turned around to see an entirely separate 11-on-11 play, the offense led by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. When that play ended, boom, the coaches turned around and Garrard was calling signals for his next play. And so on. Ten plays per period per 11-on-11 unit, so 20 in all -- in maybe four or five minutes.
In the first five practices this summer, Philbin's coaches scripted what he called 572 competitive plays. Because of the hurry-up concept, the players ran 657. That's an extra 85 plays -- 17 per day.
"I've never seen it before,'' said GM Jeff Ireland. "The tempo's earth shattering.''
Garrard was very good the day I saw him, throwing well on the run and hitting Wallace on a deep go. And very determined. "I've got a fire in my belly to finish my career the right way,'' said Garrard, released just before the Jacksonville opener last year. Which, by the way, still hurts. "They introduced me at the team luncheon as the starting quarterback, and as soon as we get back after the luncheon I'm told to go see [coach] Jack Del Rio, and he says, 'We feel it's best to go in a different direction.' They threw me under the bus, which I didn't appreciate.''
Now he has a chance to climb out from under the bus and get the last laugh. But he'd better be fast about it.
I say Schiano's going to be the best of this new lot of head coaches. He coached in the NFL as an assistant, then made the worst program in major-college football (Rutgers) top-25 caliber, turned down Michigan to wait for a job that felt right, sorely tempted the Rams in January, and then got the job he wanted -- a young team with defensive talent, a quarterback and room on the salary cap.
Five questions, five minutes with Schiano after practice:
Let's assume wideout Justin Blackmon, the last remaining first-round holdout, will make it to camp soon; the two sides are battling over how much risk the team should take if Blackmon, who has two alcohol incidents while driving, has another. Then the question becomes whether the team will cave to rushing champ Maurice Jones-Drew, who has two years left on his deal at $4.5 and $4.95 million. (Doesn't look like they'll address the contract and set a precedent for players with two years left on their deals.)
With such a shaky performance by last year's first-rounder, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, common sense says Jacksonville has to have Jones-Drew playing great for the team to have a chance. But wise, old Jacksonville scribe Vito Stellino has it crystal-clear correct when he notes that the Jaguars aren't going to prosper, Jones-Drew or no Jones-Drew, unless Gabbert is significantly better than he was last season.
And I mean significantly. There were times last year Gabbert looked scared under a heavy rush, and his numbers reflected it -- Curtis Painter had a better passer rating with Indianapolis, for crying out loud. I could accept the he-had-no-offseason-program reasoning, what with the NFL lockout. And each player is different. But I'd argue Cam Newton had the best rookie season an NFL player has ever had -- 4,051 yards passing, 35 passing and rushing touchdowns combined -- and the lockout didn't seem to hurt him.
So fast-forward to the Jags' night scrimmage inside their stadium Friday night. Unfair as it is, this was a significant test for Gabbert, to see how the new teaching group of Mike Mularkey, Bob Bratkowski and Greg Olson were working with him. He threw a nice 21-yard cross to Laurent Robinson, led a 70-yard scoring drive, and threw two accurate line-drive touchdown passes in the red zone. I'm not sure he threw a ball 18 yards past the line of scrimmage in the session, so this certainly wasn't the acid test. The coaches accomplished what they wanted to. This summer is about building Gabbert's confidence after the shattering 2011 debacle (he was the lowest-rated quarterback among NFL qualifiers), and this was a start. No deep throws, just an emphasis on chain moving.
Mularkey emphasized to me that he didn't think Gabbert ever played scared last year. (Sure looked it to me.) His best point to me: "When I coached Matt Ryan [in Atlanta], he entered the league after his fifth-year senior year. This is the equivalent for Blaine, his fifth year [of college and pro football combined]. He came out as a true junior.''
Mularkey's right -- the expectations probably were unfair last year. But Gabbert was picked 10th overall, and the coaches probably will have more patience with him than the fans this year.
What a yappy, infectious practice. If you don't watch much football practice, you'd be surprised at the competition that goes on, and the taunting on some teams. It's almost immature. No: It is immature. But that's the game that goes on. "You compete, and you have fun,'' said Sean Weatherspoon.
For the last four years, Samuel was the mouth that roared in practices and in games for Philadelphia. Now he's the mouth of the south. "Guys see the fun he's having and they can't help but have fun too,'' Weatherspoon said.
Matt Ryan has to hold onto a ball in the pocket too long. Samuel screams: "Coverage sack! Coverage sack! I do it all!"
Backup cornerback Christopher Owens intercepts a ball off a Falcon backup quarterback, and the hooting starts. Insults against the offense, derisive laughter.
Cornerback Dominique Franks picks off John Parker Wilson, the backup quarterback. Two plays later, Franks dives to break up another pass. Samuel begins doing a graceful Hula, mocking the offense right near their huddle. "Going to Hawaii, baby!'' he sing-songs out.
Julio Jones pushes off slightly (very slightly, really) and catches a deep ball from Ryan, and Samuels makes a beeline for the back judge. "WE CAN'T GET NO DAMN CALLS!'' he shrieks. "All we want is one call! I'm gonna tell my mama, 'Don't watch.' ''
Huh? Watch what?
Anyway, it was a fun late afternoon at the old ballyard, with good plays on both sides and comic relief thrown in for good measure.
"Football's got to be fun,'' Weatherspoon said. "You get motivated to play well out here by guys like Asante. I think we all feed off him."
I can see how Samuel would grate on an offense. But you know what coaches would say about that? You don't want him cackling like a hen all day, score some points and shut him up.
"We just hit 1,000 miles,'' SI staffer Matt Gagne said this morning around 1:30 as we busted it for northern Virginia toward Redskins camp. It feels like it. Matt and fellow driver Jack Ford, a Villanova kid working for SI this summer, have been terrific on the SI-EvoShield NFL Training Camp Trip, sponsored by the five-year-old Georgia-based company making protective gear for athletes. Jack's been a horse, handling the entire Davie-to-Tampa and Tampa-to-Jacksonville and Jacksonville-to-Atlanta drives on back-to-back-to-back days.
Jack and Matt have allowed me to write and tweet while the miles pass by, as they did through the pitch-black of a southern night and early Monday morning.
So here's our schedule for the week. For all the Bills fans out there (I'll make it up to you; promise) I apologize in advance for missing the Thursday night game and not being able to work the locker room afterward. I just feel the Eagles' preseason game is more important, given the events of Sunday.
I'll be home for three days, and resume the trip for one more week beginning Wednesday, the 15th, at Chiefs camp in Missouri.
"I've watched Andy [Reid] try so hard with his family over the years. He cares so much about his family that it's a hard one. You see a man that really cares, and sometimes what happens happens in life, and, you know, as he and I discussed it's like life throws you curveballs. The thing to do, and I've always felt this and I think Andy feels the same way, is you gain from loss, you gain from tragedy. I always think that there's no way today I would own an NFL team if I hadn't lost my dad when I was nine and it was shocking. It made me stronger. There's choices to be made when tragedy happens. You can become stronger and even more focused and learn from it and treat life as a challenge, or you can bow down. And Andy is somebody ... He said to me, 'I'm going to hit that curveball and hit it out of the park' on the field and off the field. That's the message he wanted me to have."
"I was asked by a reporter earlier this week if I would allow my child to play football. I don't know, I would probably be reluctant. But if my kid can learn what I learned from this game, I'd let him play. I think it's worth the risk.''
"All of it. I'm very, very average."
"Thinking about going into porn. I got to earn a living. I'm being serious. I mean, that's what I would do."
"I went home and my mama told me, 'DeMarcus, I'm your No. 1 fan, but you dropped too many interceptions last year.' "
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night brought back to the fore the never-ending Canton debates that we can't seem to get enough of. Case in point: My Twitter feed was chock-full of vitriol when I said I haven't supported Denver running back Terrell Davis, despite his 2,008-yard rushing season, Super Bowl MVP, league MVP and amazing seven 100-yard rushing games in eight postseason starts.
First, the numbers:
My rationale is pretty simple, and it's beyond the salient facts that Sayers had a pretty impressive career for numbers and honors, being named All-Pro five straight years (Davis three) and to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1995. I simply believe Sayers was spectacular as a rusher and return man, as explosive and shifty and hard to tackle as any other player in history, including Barry Sanders. And you can add that Sayers is the only player to average 30 yards per kick return in NFL history, and he scored six touchdowns in one game as a rookie.
Sayers had five outstanding seasons, Davis four (three truly outstanding ones and one very good one).
I look at Sayers and see a transcendent back, one of a kind, whose career was cut short by two knee injuries. I look at Davis and see a terrific back, not one of a kind, whose career was cut short by knee problems as well.
As I say whenever I discuss the Hall, I'm one of 44 voters. It's just my opinion. Maybe the other 43 feel differently, but apparently not enough of them do. Davis hasn't made the finalist list in the five years he's been eligible since retiring in 2002.
White Sox GM Kenny Williams, father of 49ers wideout Kyle Williams (see above), got some puzzled looks when he hired Robin Ventura as manager last October. Turns out he got the inspiration to make the Ventura hire from visiting with San Francisco GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh. Ventura, you may recall, didn't have any previous professional managing experience.
"I haven't told anybody this,'' Williams said by phone from Chicago the other day, "but in talking to Trent Baalke and coach Harbaugh, and watching the dynamics of how their organization works, sometimes they think out of the box, and that can take you from a bleak situation to a solution. Talking to them, and listening to some of the things my son's told me about the way they operate -- that helped give me the courage to make what some people thought was an unorthodox move.''
At one of our hotels in the South the other day, a Marriott TownePlace Suites, there was a breakfast buffet. I'm a Cheerios, Shredded Wheat or oatmeal guy in the morning, preferably with some blueberries or some other berry. No Cheerios. No Shredded Wheat. No oatmeal. No blueberries. No berries of any sort.
There were, however, three kinds of grits: creamy, bacon and a third I don't recall.
"Love coach Reid my heart breaks for him and his family. Please keep them in prayer.''
"reporters always warn fans not to draw conclusions from preseason games, then we draw conclusions from preseason games."
"'Heard @FranklinMissy is a fan of mine. Now I'm a fan of hers too! CONGRATS on winning GOLD! #muchlove' ... I just died. Thank you!''
DeMocker said Brees asked Payton if son Connor, who looked bigger than Brees recalled, was going to be playing tight end this year. Connor Payton is 12, and Sean is going to help coach his team in Dallas this season.
Payton got permission to attend the induction ceremony because former Saint Willie Roaf was going in, and because a good friend of GM Mickey Loomis, former defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, was being enshrined as well. Payton left from the Akron-Canton Airport on Sunday morning, well before the Hall of Fame game involving the Saints.
I also hear New England might have been willing to offer a sixth-round pick for Winslow at one point. The Pats ended up signing Visanthe Shiancoe, another solid veteran. Belichick obviously is going to continue using the tight end tight to the formation, split out, set in the slot and lined up in the backfield.
a. I'll be running my second half-marathon, God willing, on Sept. 29, the Hamptons Half-Marathon on eastern Long Island. I'll run to benefit retired NFLer Steve Gleason's efforts to build an in-patient residence to serve ALS patients in New Orleans and allow them to live as independently as possible. Gleason, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2011, figures the residence -- which he hopes to build as a separate floor of a New Orleans nursing home -- will cost between $750,000 and $1 million to establish. So let's see if we can help him. I'll pledge $1,000 to the cause if I finish the run in 2 hours 20 minutes or less, and $2,000 if I either don't finish or run slower than 2:20. Here's how
b. If anyone has any fundraising ideas for the ALS residence, please let me know.
c. Now, as to whether I can run the 13.1 miles on one of the most picturesque half-marathon courses ... let's just say I'd feel a little better about my chances had I not skipped by scheduled seven-mile jog Sunday morning in Atlanta. No excuses, King.
d. Michael Phelps should be everyone's hero.
e. I just wish I'd gotten to see a couple of his races. I did see Bob Costas' interview with him late Saturday night, and he seems pretty set on retiring. I've pretty much missed the entire Olympics, except I caught that English heptathlete, Jessica Ennis, winning her gold. What a beloved athlete she seems to be in her homeland.
f. Regarding the Wisconsin Sikh temple shootings that left six dead Sunday: When, oh when, will our leaders in this country lead and do something about gun violence?
g. What In the Name of Buster Olney Dept.: In 106 minor league games in A and AA ball this season, Cincinnati farmhand Bill Hamilton has 126 steals. He had three Sunday again for the Southern League Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Thanks, Buster, for the heads-up tweet on that.
h. Coffeenerdness: I'm not denigrating Jacksonville or anything, but I stayed at the Omni Hotel downtown late last week and went down to the lobby in the morning, looking to take a walk to get a coffee. "Where's the nearest Starbucks?'' I asked the parking guy in front. He said the nearest one was a little more than two miles away, and there wasn't one in the city's business district downtown. Amazed, I said, "Any other coffee bars downtown?'' None, the guy said, at least to his knowledge.
i. An American inner city, without a Starbucks. Now I've heard it all.
j. Beernerdness: The Beer of the Week (and trust me, there was a lot of competition, particularly from Intuition Brewery in Jacksonville) is Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale, which made me think I was back in Seattle. Really crisp and wonderful on the palate.