Last indelible memory from my training camp tour: Last Tuesday, with Dallas practicing against the Chargers in San Diego, the first-team Dallas offense was throwing against the starting San Diego nickel defense. Tony Romo got blitzed from the right, and it wasn't picked up. He couldn't escape and was "tackled'' (touched, but the quarterbacks don't go down in such scrimmages) for a sack. Angry, Romo spiked the ball hard and yelled something I couldn't make out. But it was something angry.
Last indelible words spoken to me on my training camp tour: "Now you have completely ruined my chances of getting any sleep tonight.''
Those words come from Romo, near midnight Pacific Time Tuesday, near the end of a conversation about the opening game against the Giants. I don't normally talk to quarterbacks at midnight Pacific time, but we'd missed each other after practice, and we were both tied up in the evening, so he told me to call before 11, and I did, and he was talkative, so we spoke for a while. The quote had to do with us talking about how complicated some defenses are getting, and how smart the Giants' defensive front was and a few other things, and Romo, who was sitting in his hotel room in San Diego studying some tape of the Giants, just knew that no matter how much he studied, the Giants would do some things in the opener 15 nights away that he wouldn't -- couldn't -- be prepared for. On this night, he looked at six Giants games from last season. He said he felt good about being able to study the Giants so much -- but he's no fool. He knows Eli Manning is probably doing exactly the same thing, studying the Dallas D back in New Jersey, whether it's on this night or some others.
"We run an offseason study on the teams we're going to play, like all teams,'' Romo said. "They [the Giants] will structurally be the same team; why would you change when you've won the Super Bowl? Structurally, they'll probably run the same blitzes. But when you look at games from last year, you see their imagination. Against Buffalo [way back in Week 6], they did some really new stuff. I've watched a lot of that Buffalo game, with how they played a stack alignment and how they handled the [Bills'] screen game. What you do is take all that in and try to determine how they'll react to what you're going to do.''
Chess match. Spy vs. spy, especially in a first game, when two teams that played each other twice in 22 days at the end of last year then had eight months to wonder: How will they counter us when we do X?
"The first game of the year is always an in-season adjustment game,'' Romo said. "But I feel good about where we are. We've changed our two guards (former Bengal Nate Livings and ex-Panther Mackenzy Bernadeau now start), and they'll be important to what we do. If they can give me an extra half-second more after the snap, that can be eternity for our offense. It's interesting to consider what we'd be able to do.''
That presumes that ascending star Tyron Smith, at left tackle, and right tackle Doug Free can also keep pressure off Romo. Last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Free allowed 49 pressures/hurries/sacks, so it's no sure thing that Romo will be cleaner this year.
Romo was better last year than our memories of him: 66 percent accuracy (and one memorable overthrow of Miles Austin in the close December loss to New York), 4,184 yards passing, 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 102.5 rating. "He's more than capable of winning a Super Bowl in this league,'' Jason Garrett told me earlier in the day. "Look at John Elway. He went 14, 15 years without winning one, and all of a sudden Denver runs it better and plays better defense, and he wins two, and now people think of him as a top three quarterback of all time. With Tony, we've just got to be better around him, and I think we will be.''
The reason I'd feel good about Romo as my quarterback if I were a Cowboys fan was accentuated late in our conversation. We were talking about the contentious practice session against the Chargers, which ended with a Romo rainbow deep into the end zone to a fifth-round receiver who looked like he didn't get both feet in. The official looking at the play looked around for help. The Chargers screamed that the kid was out of bounds. With no help coming, the ref threw both hands in the air and called out "Touchdown!'' The Chargers were furious.
"I went back and looked at the play on tape tonight,'' Romo said. "Threw it to Danny Coale. Cover 2, soft zone. Safety bit on the fake too hard. Danny came down with it. Great play. And he got both feet in. He definitely got both feet in.''
Manning-Romo, for the third time in nine months. Eight days away. Looking forward to it.
I'm going to hold my Joe Flacco stuff until next Monday, because I want it to get a wide airing, and because I'd have to keep it too short here. Flacco and I talked a bit about the no-huddle, and how much the Ravens are likely to run it this year -- "I'm looking at our offense as total no-huddle" -- and what it could mean to the efficiency and explosiveness of what they do.
Sorry to keep all you Ravens fans waiting. Come back next Monday to get your Flacco fill.
Now for your email:
BERNARD DOESN'T LIKE THE SENIOR PICKS.
That is exactly what I meant. Who is to say who is "most deserving?'' The Senior Committee is composed of human beings, five of them who meet in Canton with two former Hall of Famers, to try to whittle down the list of old-timers who deserve a chance to have their cases heard by the committee of 44 selectors to the Hall. You say yourself that Robinson and Culp will be good additions to the Hall. Isn't that what the Senior Committee should do? Give those who have never had a chance to have their cases heard, so the deserving can have a legitimate chance to get in?
The players you listed are good ones, and many are among the 15 each summer that the Senior Committee considers. There is a backlog of those who have never had their cases heard by the selectors. And I am not on the Senior Committee, so I can't tell you about the deliberations or who was considered most strongly this year. If you're interested in contributing to the process, I would suggest writing to Joe Horrigan at the Hall, and asking him to pass your ideas on to the Senior Committee.
Safety. Our history of putting safeties in the Hall is terrible.
HE DOESN'T LIKE JIM IRSAY.
He's not disloyal. He also had the guts after last season to look at the organization not meshing well with the Polians at the top and know it was time to make a change -- and change toward an independent scout not afraid to make a decision like trading a second-rounder for a benched corner. The other thing I'd say in Irsay's defense is he's the only owner in the NFL who takes to Twitter to interact so freely with the fans. Isn't that a plus? I'm glad he's in the league. And the Rooneys are the gold standard, to be sure -- but all humans are different.
ON BILLY CUNDIFF.
I don't think they were convinced they wouldn't keep Cundiff this year until they saw how good Justin Tucker was. Cundiff is 1 for his last 10 from 50 yards and beyond, and you can't eliminate that from the equation.
WELL, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THEM TO SAY?
Should they have said, "We stink, and we have no chance?'' Postgame comments are tremendously overblown in our sporting society. You're right -- They're in big, big trouble. Just don't expect them to admit it.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE PRESEASON.
Great point. That's why I think teams should play two scrimmages and two regular preseason games. Let Tom Brady play 20 snaps. Let Russell Wilson play 100.
SAM THINKS I'M NAÏVE.
Thanks, Sam. I don't view the Barnwell piece as hack science, though. It's another study. It's not THE be-all, end-all study, and many readers wrote in Monday to complain, like you, that I have over-simplified things in the baseball versus football comparison. But you have over-simplified too, haven't you? In pulling out Sabathia and Fielder, two overweight guys, you go to extreme. Why not pull out more fit players -- Corey Hart and Matt Kemp -- who are much more indicative of normal-looking baseball players? Anyway, thanks for writing and making me understand that there hasn't been a study done that answers every question about athletes' longevity.