A timeout for the Houston flood before we get to the rest of the column... The more images we see from Texas, the more harrowing Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath looks. Some around the country wonder, “What can we do?” J.J. Watt wondered, and then he did something. A local timeline of Watt’s flood relief efforts from his hotel in Dallas, where the Houston Texans are staying because they couldn’t get home after their Saturday night preseason game in New Orleans:
• 2 p.m.: After watching rescue efforts and the enormity of the flooding on TV, Watt begins thinking of ways to crowd-source some funding to help.
• 3:15 p.m.: He sets up a page on YouCaring.com, choosing that site because of its relatively low cost per donation, and offers to match the first $100,000 in donations.
• At about 7 p.m.: The YouCaring.com site crashes from the number of visitors. The Texans reach out to YouCaring.com, and the CEO tells the team the site is increasing its bandwidth for the campaign. By 9:20, the site is back up.
• 7:45 p.m.: Watt does Skype interviews with CNN, CNN International and CBS This Morning (to air Monday morning) to push the site. During the evening, Rockets guard Chris Paul texts Watt, saying he plans to donate $50,000.
• 10:10 p.m.: The campaign, with 2,088 donors so far, hits $228,000. Watt’s $100,000 matching goal has been passed. Now the goal is $500,000. There will be hundreds of causes when the floodwaters recede, and Watt will find some worthy ones.
“Incredible to see so many people come together on this,” Watt said to me, via Twitter direct message, shortly before 10.
People are good.
ATLANTA — A 73,000-pound stainless steel falcon with talons gripping a football, constructed in Hungary and cut into four parts and shipped to America and reconstructed here, welcomes Georgians to the NFL’s newest stadium. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is on the footprint just steps south of the old Georgia Dome. I went to the first game Saturday night, and it just might be worth $1.5 billion. With a B.
More about that after Jay Cutler, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Vontaze Burfict, Julian Edelman, the ageless Dick LeBeau … and, also, the Dr. Z memoirs, the Mike Martz/Sean McVay skirmish, the all-name preseason team in Arizona (Cap and Ironhead and Gump, oh my), the eloquent Torrey Smith, the breaking of the Jerry Kramer logjam, the rise of the Ravens defense, the goodness of Jason Pierre-Paul and Myles Garrett, the Kaepernick “distraction” myth, the Bills’ Marcell Dareus problem, why we’ll miss Chris Berman, and the craft beer explosion inside the Falcons’ new stadium. (That last one, obviously, is the most important piece of this column.)
Man, how can this be the preseason? The weight of the news makes it feel like mid-January.
We’ll get to it all, from many precincts, starting with the oddest feeling I’ve felt in the five weeks since camps opened. It’s what I felt watching Jay Cutler play quarterback for the Dolphins in the searing heat of a joint practice with the Eagles in south Philly last week.
Jay Cutler looks positively nimble
PHILADELPHIA — Me to Jay Cutler: “Did you practice doing TV much this offseason before coming back?”
Cutler: “I mean, I’d be lying if I said I did.”
Cutler never worried about being politically correct. Or correct. He’s the Paul Zimmerman of quarterbacks. So when he walked away from football after last season for the FOX booth, at age 33, and to be a husband and dad to his three kids in Nashville, it just felt odd. In an era when the best quarterbacks talk about (and not flippantly) playing into their 40s, Cutler walked away totally healthy, five or seven years before his time. Was he a great quarterback? No. Could he be a top-15 quarterback, a good player on a playoff contender, in the right place? Absolutely. “Without Jay, and I told him this, I’d never have gotten this job,” said his Chicago coordinator in 2015, Adam Gase, now Miami’s coach.
Then came the Ryan Tannehill knee surgery, and here came Cutler out of retirement. Strangely, I found myself rooting for him watching him practice against the Eagles. Two reasons: Just because a guy’s got a prickly personality doesn’t mean he’s an idiot. And there was this nagging thought when he retired that there was this unfulfilled part of his career, that we never saw the optimum Cutler. Will we now? Who knows. But it’ll be a fascinating story. No one knows if this is a five-month detour on the way to a quiet life in Tennessee, or the rekindling of a fascinating career, a la Jim Plunkett. That’s why watching Cutler now, in his second act, will be fun.
Here, on one play, flushed from the pocket by the Eagles’ rush, Cutler moved right, bought time, and with his feet not set, slung a 33-yard pass to the end zone—a strike to backup back Storm Johnson. “As I’ve always told him: ‘You’re like Houdini. I call a bad play and you get me out of it,’” Gase said.
Cutler had his best year of an uneven career under Gase in 2015. He’s got a chance to reprise it now; that was my takeaway watching Miami practice. He’s picked up the offense quickly, is bonding well with his three big receiving weapons—Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills—and says they “definitely” comprise the best receiving tandem he’s had. Cutler looks trim; he’s lost the pudgy early-career look he had and appears to have lost weight in the few months of retirement.
“It’s fun,” he said, stopping before getting on the team bus post-practice. “I am enjoying it a lot more than the past two years, just because I know how short-lived your NFL career is. It’s kind of a bonus. It’s a really good group of guys, and Adam does a great job of taking care of quarterbacks and the rest of the team, so it’s been fun.
“How do you think you’ll play?” I asked.
“No idea. With the talent we have on offense, we should be pretty good. We’ve got some guys who can play football, which makes it easier for me. A lot of things happen in a football season so we’ll have to see how it goes.”
Final question: “Ever get pissed at how you’re perceived?”
Pause. “Ummm,” he said. (His only pause to think during a short interview.) “Not really. Some of it is my fault. Some of it is how things went down. It is what it is. Right now I am just trying to make an impact with these guys and get to know them as quickly as possible so that we can have a good season.”
I feel for Tannehill, a worker bee and great teammate. But the Dolphins could be better with Cutler. They’ll sure be a lot more interesting.
What Did We Learn From Cam Newton’s First Game Since Jan. 1? Not Much
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before Thursday night, Cam Newton hadn’t played in a game in 33 weeks. It had been almost five months since his torn right rotator cuff was surgically repaired, and about three weeks since his sore shoulder forced him to sit out some practice time in training camp. So it was a matter of intense interest to see how Newton played in Jacksonville.
He played one series. Ten snaps. Two passes among those 10 plays—and both were thrown exactly three yards past the line of scrimmage. Both were complete. But there was no sign, positive or negative, about the arm. And though some around the Panthers feel coach Ron Rivera will give Newton a series or two in the preseason finale against Pittsburgh on Thursday night, the coach said he might not.
No one—Newton, Rivera, offensive coordinator Mike Shula—seemed too worried about Newton’s condition after the game. Rivera and Shula see him every day; who am I to doubt them? But if Carolina opens at San Francisco in 13 days, and that’s all anyone sees of game action for Newton, I’d be fairly concerned how he plays early in the season … and the high-scoring Saints and world champion Patriots loom in Weeks 3 and 4. Said Shula: “I’m sure there’s going to be some rust. We’re going to have to live with it.”
The good news in Newton’s one series? The running game was what Rivera has been harping on all off-season. Eight carries, 54 yards, a mixture of Christian McCaffery and Jonathan Stewart. And credit Newton for not pressing the issue, for not trying to change plays to make the kind of low-percentage throws that plagued him last year. Ten plays, 75 yards against a rising defense is good. Newton said he wasn’t worried about the lack of playing time. “If I don’t play next week, I have to pick it up in practice,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.”
It will be big, though, for Newton to be more accurate, and to take more of what the defense gives him. Maybe shoulder strength will be less important this year because theoretically he’ll be throwing shorter, higher-percentage passes in 2017, trying to recover from his seven-percentage-point drop in accuracy from 2015 to ’16. The idea for Newton is to still run some, but also to make more economical throws closer to the line of scrimmage—the way he did on his only two passes Thursday night.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said. “People will see that this year.”
They may not see much before the opener. But look on the bright side if you’re a Panthers fan: Andrew Luck hasn’t even practiced yet after his offseason shoulder surgery. Newton’s ahead there. But with two significant new weapons on offense, the Panthers look to be a work in progress for a while early in the season. Newton’s got to get to know his guys.
The Burfict Ban: Fair or Not?
With virtually all other players in football, the Aug. 19 crushing hit on defenseless receiver Anthony Sherman of the Chiefs would not have resulted in a suspension by the NFL. But Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict is not like many other players. He is one of the most fined and suspended players for egregious hits in recent NFL history. And as Adam Schefter reported Sunday night, Burfict will be suspended for the first five games for the hit on Sherman. The history: You’ll remember how he cheap-shotted Steelers receiver Antonio Brown into wooziness in a playoff game two years ago, knocking him out of the following week’s game at Denver. Greg Olsen and Ben Roethlisberger have both accused Burfict of trying to intentionally injure them, and he was fined for both incidents. The Brown hit caused Burfict to be suspended for the first three games of 2016. So, barring a successful appeal, Burfict will miss the opening five games this year after missing the opening three games last year.
On the hit in question in the Bengals’ second preseason game, Sherman came out of the backfield and had his head turned, so he was not looking upfield. It appears from the replay as though Sherman could not see Burfict coming and thus was defenseless. Burfict blasted Sherman either on the upper arm or shoulder pad/neck area (the replay is not conclusive), and down went Sherman. It was a big hit, and the 242-pounder flew to the ground.
A new rule this year gives defenseless receiver protection to an offensive player running a pass route—if the receiver is contacted from the side or from behind. Burfict approached Sherman from the side and hit him. The defenseless part is certainly correct. With his history, it’s going to be a tough case for Burfict to win.
There will be those, perhaps with good reason, who will say it's absurd to erase 31 percent of a player's season for a play that happened in a preseason game. I would be one of those. But the league will be quick to point out that Burfict lost the benefit of the doubt long ago. Clearly the NFL is tired of his act.
Dick LeBeau Will Run a Contender’s Defense—At 80. Listen to Him
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Programming reminder from your friendly football guy: I’ve got a special podcast coming up this week. My regular Wednesday “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King” features Falcons CEO Rich McKay and owner Arthur Blank on the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, followed by a conversation from Colts camp with kicker Adam Vinatieri. Then comes a treat for your Labor Day Weekend getaway pleasure: A special podcast on the life and times of Tennessee defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who turns 80 on Sept. 9, the day before Oakland-Tennessee opens the season with LeBeau calling plays from his perch upstairs. I recorded LeBeau for a half-hour in Nashville recently, and he’s great on the birth of the zone blitz and on a Hall of Fame life in football. But what was cool to do was to record so many people on my training camp trip talking about LeBeau’s life in football and his influence on them: Rod Woodson, Bruce Arians and James Harrison, among a dozen or so football people.
“Without him, there is no me,” Harrison told me.
I’ll link to the podcast later in the week, but please look out for it. It’s some tremendous football fun.
The New Falcons Stadium Has 2,600 TVs In It
ATLANTA — And a pretty cool “Halo Board” encircling the area just beneath the roof. That’s a circular scoreboard/video board/social-media board with vivid color and picture. You know what’s interesting about the board? It’s situated higher in the stadium than the 180-foot wide high-def screens high above either sideline in Dallas. I’ll tell you the difference: When you’re in the second or third level of the Cowboys’ stadium, your eyes almost lock onto the screens because you can see the game far better on the screen than you can in real life. In Atlanta, you have to think to look up to the screens. You’re rewarded when you do look up, because the circular board is a stunner.
Two other things: The Georgia Dome lasted just 25 seasons. It’s almost like the Falcons barely liked it, and Blank was determined to build a showplace downtown. But you can’t go building new downtown football stadia every 2.5 decades; the cost and waste are just too high. “We designed this one to last 40 to 50 years, maybe longer,” Blank told me. It needs to.
The field seemed to play softer than some artificial turf fields, and the players agreed. “It was soft,” said center Alex Mack. “But the softer the better. Slows down those defensive lineman, who get faster every year.”
Kaepernick: We’ll be covering in depth the story that will not die
Look for Tim Rohan’s wide-ranging anthem-protest story on The MMQB today, with reports from preseason games in Los Angeles, Tampa, East Rutherford, Jacksonville, Denver, Detroit and Philadelphia. The most interesting thing our seven correspondents found is that this is not a one-player issue. It’s not that players don’t want to all be painted with the Kaepernick brush, because they seem truly grateful that he sacrificed and got the ball rolling on giving them more of a voice on social issues. But not all players view this as, for instance, solely a matter of police treatment of minorities, the issue that initially motivated Kaepernick to protest. Rohan found the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins, for instance, far more concerned with mass incarceration rates of young black males. Make sure you read our all-encompassing story later today, and more on the subject in the coming days.
Paul Zimmerman: Appreciate his memoirs, out now
I knew my longtime brilliant Sports Illustratedcolleague, Paul Zimmerman, was knee-deep in his memoirs when a series of three strokes hit him on Thanksgiving weekend 2008. I also knew how frustrated he was that no publisher seemed interested in the life story of one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. But all of that took a back seat for two or three years while Paul and Linda tried to get their lives in some sort of order. Hope for a recovery faded over the years. Dr. Z would not be able to finish his story of a writer who boxed Ernest Hemingway and drank wine with Chuck Noll and was a trusted storyteller for every great modern football player through the early part of this century.
He was also good, and true, with me. He’s one of the few colleagues I’ve had who could be brutally honest with me and would never spare my feelings. We were both Hall of Fame voters, and I’ll never forget presenting the case of Paul Tagliabue before the Hall of Fame voting committee in 2008. When I was done, Paul tore my case to shreds. He just didn’t believe Tagliabue had any business in the Hall of Fame. As much as I was supremely pissed off at him that day, it’s one of the reasons I loved the guy: Love his opinions or hate them, you knew where he stood, and his backbone was the strongest of anyone I’ve met in this business.
So, a couple of years after the strokes, Linda gave me the manuscript, probably 70 percent complete, and asked me to read it to see what I thought. Well, I thought quite a bit of it. I howled at parts of it and learned from it all, and I told her at one point, “That has got to be published. It’s fantastic.” I tried to get publishers interested, to no avail. So last year, The MMQBhad a Dr. Z week, running a couple of passages from the memoirs, and a few of his classic SIstories from a glorious career. It was one last attempt to get the publishing world to see the light. And Triumph Books did, thankfully. They have the book in stores now (the official pub date is Sept. 1), and Sports Illustratedmagazine will run an excerpt of the book this week, fittingly in the annual pro football preview issue. It’s where Dr. Z belongs. It’s the issue he owned for so many years.
I highly recommend “Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer.” And I urge you to experience it this fall as you fall in love with football again, and read the story of the man who made so many people around the world fall in love with it the first time.
The world. That’s right. Last April, in Scotland, I was covering a group of NFL players in Great Britain preaching the gospel of the game, looking into the future of football in Europe. Afterward, a fan in a Ravens jersey, 45ish, walked up to me and said, “Please say hi to Dr. Z for me. He’s the one who got me interested in football.” Consider the message delivered. And enjoy the book. You won’t be alone.
You can find the book several ways: through Triumph Books or Amazon or IndieBound or Barnes and Noble. Paul and Linda (and Triumph Books) sincerely appreciate your interest in a project that’s been a decade in the making.
Quotes of the Week
“It’s not a one-race issue. It’s a human issue. Everybody needs to be involved, and everybody needs to listen to each other, and everyone needs to have a part in improving the country. It’s not going to happen unless there’s input from everybody. That’s my personal belief.”
—Cleveland tight end Seth DeValve, to Bette Marston of The MMQB on Saturday night in Tampa. After kneeling last Monday in solidarity with the movement of previously predominantly African-American players to protest conditions of minorities in America, the Browns linked arms on the sideline before their game against the Bucs. DeValve told Marston the Browns’ actions are fluid, and could change going forward.
“What’s been done to Mr. Kaepernick is evil. We will, in terms of my local chapter, and others across the country, invite people to not support this evil institution. The sports world has always been evil when it comes to how it’s treated black people. … This is another instance where blacks became the tool to support the economic interests of white men, same as they did during slavery.”
—Amos Brown, member of the national board of the NAACP, to Jonathan Jones of The MMQB, on Colin Kaepernick’s continued unemployment, and the NAACP’s plans to protest against the NFL as a whole.
“You can have a lot of body parts replaced. But you can’t do a brain transplant.”
—Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who also told Tim Rohan of The MMQB that he’s taking his future football career a year at a time.
“What is he, a couple of months older than Jared? They hired a buddy for Jared. The NFL has nothing to do with being the friend or the buddy of the quarterback. You’ve got to coach them and work them hard with respect. But buddy? And this guy is a quarterback expert? An offensive expert? Wait a minute while I puke.”
—Former Rams coach Mike Martz on the current Rams coach, 31-year-old Sean McVay, coaching Jared Goff, to SB Nation.
I wonder what the encounter between Martz and McVay will be like at the 2033 meeting of the Rams Head Coaches Alumni Association?
Come to think of it, I doubt Jeff Fisher, Steve Spagnuolo or Martz would attend.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and I can understand that, and the bottom line is this—I’ve never been a head coach before, I haven’t won a game, I haven’t done anything. I know that it’s going to be a great learning curve, and I’m not going to pretend to have the answers to things that I don’t know. But what I am going to do is continue to look at myself critically and try to be the best head coach and leader that I can be for this team and this organization.”
—McVay, in one of several deflecting responses to Martz’s criticisms. I hope when I grow up I handle someone ripping me to shreds as well as McVay handled this.
“You f------- sh------ me? Why you gotta do that? Jameis, you’re playing a great game and then your greed takes over. You’re so much better than that. ... You can’t do that, ever, ever, ever.”
—Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter, as captured by NFL Films for the HBO “Hard Knocks” show last week, ripping into quarterback Jameis Winston for throwing a careless, inexcusable interception at Jacksonville.
That’s the benefit of “Hard Knocks”: seeing real stuff when it happens, and when teams don’t over-edit the show. I credit the Bucs as an organization, and Nelson Luis as the keeper of the communications flame there. If “Hard Knocks” is going to exist, and it is going to be real, you need to see what really happens.
Stat of the Week
Great line by Kevin Duffy of Mass Live, following the Julian Edelman ACL tear Friday night in Detroit, and what it could mean to the Tom Brady-led offense this year: “Devastating as [Rob] Gronkowski can be, Edelman is the straw that stirs Brady’s electrolyte solution.” So now the question is: How will the Patriots replace Edelman?
It’s not an easy question to answer, and mine would be tempered with the knowledge that, between now and next weekend, when the Patriots cut their roster from 90 to 53 and then set their practice squad, I would expect them to comb the wire for a receiver—and perhaps send a low-round draft pick or conditional pick for a quick inside receiver who might remotely approximate what Edelman does. What he has done, obviously, is provide the security blanket at the biggest moments that Brady obviously needs. Edelman’s average numbers in the past nine New England playoff games:
Brady targeted Edelman 195 times in 19 games, including playoffs, last year. To take up that slack, I would suggest—in addition to whoever could arrive next weekend via trade or waivers—that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could:
• Expand the role of Chris Hogan, who was gold (17 receptions, 332 yards, 19.5-yard average) in the playoffs last season and built great chemistry with Brady.
• Take comfort in the fact that new Patriot Brandin Cooks (past two years in New Orleans: 246 targets) is durable and trustworthy about running precise routes.
• Expand the role of another precise route-runner, Malcolm Mitchell, who played 637 snaps last year and was coming on strong at the end. (This is assuming a nagging knee strain heals enough for Mitchell to be the kind of consistent factor he was in the Super Bowl.) I would not expect a lot more Danny Amendola, because he hasn’t proven he can be a 1,000-snap player with his injuries.
• Turn new running back Rex Burkhead into the receiver scouts think he can be. He caught only 35 balls out of the Cincinnati backfield in the past two years.
• Make physical back Mike Gillislee a latter-day Corey Dillon in terms of a go-to runner—though Gillislee carried the ball just 101 times last year. New England was a 47 percent run team last year, and if Gillislee is as good as the Pats think, he could be the kind of 280-carry back they’ve used in the past to take pressure off of Brady. Gillislee has a career per-rush average of 5.6 yards, so it’s certainly tempting to hand the ball to him a lot more than he’s gotten it to this point.
McDaniels always is good at using the puzzle pieces he has, with, of course, Tom Brady there to make everything fit. But I’d still watch for a Patriots transaction in the receivers group in the next six days.
An aside from the postgame scrum at Cards-Falcons: I ran into Larry Fitzgerald on his way to the team bus. “Man, I really feel for Edelman,” he said. That’s the sentiment I've sensed about Edelman around the league—respect from his peers for making so much of his career after being an option quarterback in college at Kent State, and working his way up from the seventh round of the draft in 2009. Fitzgerald also said he felt awful for the 31-year-old Edelman because of the contract he signed before this season, a two-year, $11-million deal that binds him to the Patriots through 2019. He didn't have to say why. The NFL’s 42nd-highest-paid receiver this year has vastly outperformed that status as Brady’s go-to wideout. It’s the ugly truth that Edelman is due $15.5 million over the next three seasons (Antonio Brown will average $17 million per year over his current deal), and coming off an ACL tear, it's going to be exceedingly hard for him to get a market-value deal at his age in 2019 or 2020.
Factoid That May Interest Only Me
American League MVP Mike Trout is an Eagles superfan and season-ticket holder from south Jersey.
The Eagles play on the West Coast in Week 13 and 14 this year (at Seattle, and at the Rams), and after the Seahawks game the team will fly to Orange County and practice beginning on Dec. 4 in southern California … at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
Angel Stadium, of course, is where Trout patrols centerfield.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
In the span of four weeks, I twice stayed in long-ago Super Bowl hotels where I have incredible memories.
• Westin South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, Calif. |Rams-Chargers camp coverage | Three days before Super Bowl 21, I got to spend an hour in the corner of the lobby at 6 a.m. with Bill Parcells and mentor Mickey Corcoran, his high school basketball coach back in Oradell, N.J. The hotel has changed massively in 30 years, but the memory is vivid. The late Corcoran was giving Parcells reminders of how good and dangerous John Elway was. Got the feeling Parcells already knew.
• Renaissance Waverly Hotel, Atlanta. | Falcons coverage | I don’t recall the name of the hotel when the Bills stayed there 23 years ago for their fourth and final Super Bowl loss. Might have been the Waverly. But as soon as I walked in the front door on Friday afternoon, it hit me: I was here to cover the Bills for Super Bowl 28. On the morning of the day after that loss, I was alone in the elevator about to go up to my room and pack for the trip home. “Hold that,” said a voice. It belonged to Marv Levy. The Buffalo coach looked like a beaten prizefighter. I didn’t know what to say other than, “Tough one, Marv.” He said a few things, but the only thing I recall: “They’re all tough.” He mustered a wry smile.
Tweets of the Week
I suggest TSA Precheck for the moose.
This is Alicia Kramer, daughter of former Packers guard Jerry Kramer, on hearing the news that the Pro Football Hall of Fame Seniors Committee nominated Jerry Kramer as a finalist for the Hall in 2018. Alicia Kramer has been the driving force behind keeping her father’s candidacy alive.
Names of the Preseason
Arizona has them all.
• Cap Capi, LB. Longshot linebacker after stints in Baltimore and Miami. His name is actually Nordly Capi, and he sacked Matt Simms in Atlanta on Saturday night.
• Ironhead Gallon, S. The rookie free agent from Georgia Southern got the name from his father, who grew up a big Ironhead Heyward fan. Real first name: Deshawntee.
• Gump Hayes, CB. Formerly known as De’Chavon Hayes, he got the Gump nickname as a kid because of his Forrest Gump-like speed. Run, De’Chavon, Run didn’t quite work for a fast kid.
Haven’t even mentioned Budda Baker, Frostee Rucker or Scooby Wright III.
This week: Philadelphia wide receiver Torrey Smith and Houston coach Bill O’Brien.
• Smith, a 49er for the past two years, on what he saw of Colin Kaepernick last year in San Francisco: "I don't know anyone who worked harder than Kaepernick, physically. He was the first one in, last one to leave type of guy. He always pushed everyone … I know people like to say he didn't study or whatever. I can't speak on that because I don't know, but I know that he knows his assignments … I think ultimately in San Francisco, it was just a lot of different things. Sometimes it was him, sometimes it was protection, and sometimes as receivers we let him down. It was a lot of things, but I feel like for him. Right now, there are a lot of guys in this league that he is better than.”
• Smith on players speaking out: “We all have a voice. Whether you are a parent and you're talking to your child, you can speak life into them and you can speak death into them with the same voice, the same person, the same mouth. There's power in that. To me, if you remain silent about issues, then you are just as guilty as the perpetrator, in my opinion. Whether that is police brutality, whether that is racism, whether that is domestic violence, if you stay silent, in my opinion you support it. We can collectively create change, and we need to acknowledge that America is a great country [but] America has some issues. And there is nothing wrong in a country that you love, trying to change it for the better.”
• O’Brien on his special-needs son Jack: “Millions of families around the world deal with special-needs children, so it's not like we're special or anything, but Jack will turn 15 on Aug. 28. When he was about two years old, Colleen and I can remember that a doctor said he probably won't live past three. So, for him to be 15 is a pretty incredible achievement. He was born with a brain malformation called lissencephaly—‘liss’ is a latin term for smooth and ‘cephaly’ is a term for brain, so it's a smooth brain. It just was a fluky thing, because we had a second son, named Michael, who is in seventh grade and is as healthy as a horse … My wife is 24/7 with Jack. We do have a lot of great people who help us in Houston, but she is the one who should get all the credit for what Jack has achieved in his life. She has been a huge champion for him, with Easter Seals, and his school, and all the things that she does for him and around Houston. She loves Houston, and she does a lot in Houston for special-needs children. It's taught me a lot about how football is important, hugely important. It's where we spend most of our lives as coaches, but in the end what is most important is your family and doing what's best for your family … I think being the father of a special-needs child helps you with your players. Patience, and having empathy for some of the things that they go through at times. It is a pretty unique thing … As Jack gets older, it gets a little tougher just physically, because he's big, and so he is dependent on us, 24/7, for everything. His condition is associated with seizures, and he has probably three or four seizures a day, which is tough, but that's been going on for a long time. That's Jack, that's Jack's life, that's our life, that's normal for us.”
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my thoughts about the preseason weekend:
a. Biggest positive surprise of the preseason? Baltimore’s defense. Now we have to divine whether that means anything. But what the Ravens’ first unit-plus has shown is great speed and pursuit, stout run defense led by Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, and a fairly ancient secondary playing extremely well (47 percent opposition completions and 52.5 opposing passer rating). Shouldn’t overrate this stuff, of course, but the Ravens won’t be pushovers. And Marlon Humphrey, the first-round corner, is not afraid, a vital attribute for his position.
b. The Bills’ offensive yardage on their first five possessions: minus-1, minus-3, 36, minus-4, minus-1.
c. Watched the first three Kansas City offensive series in Seattle. And if the Seahawks stay healthy, they could win the NFC West by a lot because of that fierce defense.
d. News item: Blake Bortles named Jaguars starting quarterback over Chad Henne. Does it really matter? Does anyone doubt Henne or someone else will be the quarterback by Halloween?
e. Best preseason competition I saw: Dallas linebacker Sean Lee, in his first game of the preseason, zeroing in on Marshawn Lynch on a run play early in the first quarter, slamming him to the ground, and then chasing down Lynch on a sideline pass play. Lynch looks strong and quicker than he was at the end of his time in Seattle. Lee looks fast. That was great football.
f. The Lions’ first units are absolutely not ready for prime time, judging by their 24-0 deficit early in Friday’s home tilt.
g. The Eagles should be worried about their running game, but not their quarterback or the passing game.
h. Blair Walsh: 10 of 10 on PATs, eight of nine on field goals in three games. Looks like he’s rebuilding his lost Minnesota trust with the Seahawks. Then again, these games don’t count.
i. So that draft deal between New England and Carolina, the Pats moving down eight picks from 72 overall to 80 to pick up defensive end Kony Ealy, was a dud. The world champs cut him Saturday.
j. Chris Johnson didn’t help his case to earn the prime backup role to David Johnson in Arizona’s game at Atlanta. Fumbled twice, dropped a pass in his breadbasket … all in the first four minutes of the game. Andre Ellington looked significantly better.
k. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Beehad a superb reminder of the great “distraction” Kaepernick was last year for the Niners.
l. If Jason Pierre-Paul plays in September the way he’s played in August, in very limited snaps, the Giants could have the NFC’s best edge combination—in Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon. “I am just getting warmed up,” Pierre-Paul said after the bizarro 32-31 Giants’ win over the Jets. Pierre-Paul was dominant against the Jets. My Lord: The way Pierre-Paul tossed aside right tackle Brandon Shell to get to Christian Hackenberg … scary.
m. Christian Hackenberg … scary.
n. Tyrod Taylor, concussed. Well, the Bills may end up seeing a lot more of Nathan Peterman than they ever thought in year one.
o. I loved Hue Jackson not babying DeShone Kizer in his start at Tampa. Kizer was throwing deep, and trying to find good and tight windows to throw into—and, more importantly, he was looking downfield consistently. Kizer’s not afraid. He needs to play.
p. Case study needed on how many teams passed for three full rounds and most of a fourth on Dak Prescott. Amazing how poised and confident he looks, and how confident he is throwing downfield. His play-action touchdown pass to Jason Witten was Boomer Esiason play-action stuff. (Which is very good. Boomer was the king of play-action.)
q. Darren McFadden is making the Dallas front office a little less worried about the outcome of the Zeke Elliott appeal with nights like Saturday against Oakland.
r. Myles Garrett is going to get his sacks unless left tackles have consistent help. Did you see the play when, almost like the old dance move the Limbo, the Cleveland pass-rusher literally slithered under Bucs tackle Donovan Smith to pressure the quarterback? Such an athletic move for a big man.
s. “I was hoping he’d look like that tonight,” Denver coach Vance Joseph said of Jamaal Charles (four carries, 27 yards) in his first NFL appearance in a color other than red.
t. Read Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globeon Chris Berman. Heck of a column.
u. The reason Andy Reid can feel so comfortable making Tyreek Hill a full-time receiver (likely to make kick return cameos only) is that he has De’Anthony Thomas in reserve. Quite a reserve. Thomas burst 95 yards for a kickoff-return touchdown in Seattle.
v. Carson Palmer throws such a beautiful ball. His 28-yard fade to John Brown for a touchdown at Atlanta … perfect.
2. I think the Texans will be staying in Dallas at least through mid-day Tuesday, minimum. And it’s likely that their final preseason game, currently scheduled for Thursday night in Houston against the Cowboys, will be moved. The Cowboys have offered their stadium for the game, and they also have opened their practice facilities to the Texans. Houston will be practicing at The Star in Frisco on Monday at 9:30 a.m.
3. I think, as many have said, the Jaguars exercising the fifth-year option on Blake Bortles at $19 million will be a haunting decision for the franchise.
4. I think, regardless of the flippancy of the comment, this is another one that could, and should, haunt NFLPA president Eric Winston, the Cincinnati tackle. WCPO TV in Cincinnati, in an interview with Winston, quoted him saying about the future of football: “Honestly, I don't care, and I don't think the guys in this locker room care whether [the NFL] is going to be around in 20 years because none of us are going to be playing. … If this thing dies out in 20 years, it dies out in 20 years. That's not really my concern.” On FOX Sports 1, former player Seth Joyner said he was “appalled and really blown away” by the comments. I have a lot of respect for Winston—he once guest-authored this very column—and have known him for most of his career as a guy who cares a lot for his fellow players. I did not like these comments at all. Those words are totally not in keeping with the history of the union, which has always said it makes decisions today for the players of tomorrow.
5. I think for an 84-year-old “reporter,” Gil Brandt is pretty darned young and frisky. Late Saturday afternoon he Tweeted that Odell Beckham Jr., trying to accelerate recovery on his sprained ankle and improve his chances to play opening day, had his second special treatment on the ankle at a facility in Phoenix. “Giants not involved in plan,” Brandt wrote. Hmmmm.
6. I think there’s not much of a chance Jacksonville pursues Colin Kaepernick. I talked to a few fans at the Jags game Thursday night, and five of them said definitively they’d want the team to sign Kaepernick; two others equivocated but said they’d be okay with it. I told Tom Coughlin, who gave me the equivalent of a wet-fish handshake. “That’s interesting,” he said.
7. I think this hole the Bills have dug for themselves just seems to get deeper every day. The team last played a playoff game eight days into this century. Seventeen years into this century, the drought is far from over. The Bills, who sent Marcell Dareus home before the preseason game at Baltimore over a disciplinary issue, now need to have a serious discussion about his future in Buffalo. “Obviously, a guy with his contract status, you would hope that he would be a better leader than that,” GM Brandon Beane said. Since being drafted in 2011, Dareus has been arrested twice, suspended by the league for substance issues, and now gets sent home for team disciplinary reasons. Since signing a six-year, $96 million extension in 2015, Dareus has had a four-game suspension and now this, and the Bills have to choose between paying Dareus $9.75 million in salary this year … or face the onerous task, if they choose to cut him, of splitting a $38.35 million hit for dead money over 2017 and ’18.
It’s all onerous, frankly. The contract was an idiotic one to agree to in the first place, based on Dareus’s off-field history. And now the franchise has another anchor on it. Say you were 10 years old and just getting into pro football when the Bills last made the playoffs. Now you’ve gone through middle school, high school and maybe four years of college, and gotten married, and maybe just started a family. And your team’s been miserable every season. How much more are you ready to take? Not sure of that … but it ain’t over.
8. I think one of the coolest things I saw over the weekend in Atlanta happened Friday morning at the John Lewis Invictus Charter School on the West Side, in the neighborhood that the Falcons hope gets a boost from the new stadium. There, about 150 gym teachers and school volunteers from around the state gathered to get taught the basics in flag-football coaching and league organization as part of the Falcons’ Rise Up 159 flag football programs. The franchise is funding flag football programs at one school in all 159 Georgia counties, and providing a pool of grant money for other interested schools and youth programs, to encourage kids to play the game—and, frankly, to play anything. This is something all 32 franchises should be doing, in my mind.
The future of youth football is going to go more and more to flag, and rightfully so, with the legitimate fears of head trauma in tackle football for children before their brains are fully developed. “We wanted to include the entire state,” said owner Arthur Blank, “because every child should have a chance to play. We wanted to find a way to share the game and encourage more playing and teamwork, and to get kids out doing things instead of being in front of a screen all the time.” The Falcons paid for the cost of substitute teachers for any school employees who came to Friday’s training, and some drove three to four hours from rural parts of the state to come. Laudable effort.
9. I think this about the Jerry Kramer nomination to the Hall of Fame: I am glad he will get another day in front of the full committee of 48 voters next February in Minneapolis. He will need 39 yes votes for enshrinement (as will fellow Seniors Committee nominee Robert Brazile). Once and for all, Kramer’s fate will be decided. That’s a very good thing. The way the system works, it’s rare to come out of the morass of the Seniors pool, which consists of all players retired for more than 25 years. Kramer came out of the pool in 1997 and did not get 80 percent of the vote, so he was not enshrined. Now he comes out of the pool again, and if he doesn’t get 80 percent, I doubt he’d ever again come out of the Seniors pool, which has at least 50 truly legitimate candidates waiting to have their cases heard. Kramer, in the years he was eligible as a Modern Era finalist, was a finalist nine times and never got the vote. So overall he’s 0-for-10. This is it.
10. I think these are a few other thoughts of the week:
a. I cannot imagine 50 inches of rain. I can barely imagine 10 inches of rain; it seems absolutely outlandish. Please join me in sending fervent hopes for the best to the people of southeast Texas. Here’s the link to Watt’s donation page again.
b. You are on a roll, Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post. The story of how the Cleveland Browns came to protest during the national anthem is a winner.
c. Journalism Story of the Week: By Alan Shipnuck of Golfmagazine, about what happens when the winner of a major gets really mad at you.
d. Let’s see if I get this right.
e. Tuesday night, Phoenix: President Trump, prefacing his remarks in a campaign-style rally (the election is 3.2 years away) with “Our movement is a movement built on love,” then said CNN is “so bad and so pathetic,” name-called ABC’s George Stephanopoulos “Little George,” said of the American “elite” that “I went to better schools than they did; I was a better student than they were; I live in a bigger, more beautiful apartment,” and said “if we have to close down that government, we’re building that wall” between the U.S. and Mexico.
f. Wednesday morning, Reno: Trump said, “It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us. We are one people with one home and one great flag. We are not defined by the color of our skin, the figure on our paycheck or the party of our politics. We are defined by our shared humanity—by our citizenship in this magnificent nation, and by the love that fills our hearts.”
g. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of consistency I want in my president.
h. Sarcasm font.
i. Coffeenerdness: Excellent espresso in the lobby coffee bar, KoFi, in the Renaissance Waverly north of Atlanta. The three-shot medium latte compares to any I’ve had.
j. Beernerdness: One of the highlights of my Atlanta stadium tour was the visit to the Terrapin Brewery (Athens, Ga.) brew pub, one of nine craft beer spots in the new stadium. Nine little neighborhood-type bars, sprinkled around the stadium. My favorite: the Terrapin Golden Ale, a creamy-type ale that reminded me of the cream ale of my youth: Gennessee Cream Ale. “It’s funny,” said the Terrapin sales manager who gave me a four-beer taste test, James Zarzour. “But our chief brewer grew up in Connecticut, and that was his cream ale too.” Good for Terrapin, and good for the other regional brewers, Sweetwater most notably, who have found homes in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
k. Have always like your columns, Bob Kravitz, and this one about the 2017 Colts is no exception. But that type face, with the drunken “J,” has to go.
l. Really? Some Masshat burned an Isaiah Thomas jersey? Thomas deserves nothing but a parade for what he did for the Celtics.
m. That is one wild trade. No idea who won it, but the Celtics gave up an awful lot, including the potential first pick in the 2018 draft. And if they have to give more because of Thomas’ iffy hip, well, that’s a heck of a haul for Cleveland.
n. Steve Wyche is doing a really good job on TV.
o. How cool is it that Allie Kiick, daughter of former Dolphins running back Jim Kiick, qualified for the U.S. Open tennis tournament? She’ll face the 25th seed, Daria Gavrilova, in the first round. The unfortunate thing, as she told The New York Times, is that her father, who suffers from early-onset dementia, probably won’t comprehend her accomplishment. “I’ll call him and tell him I qualified, but he won’t understand,” Allie Kiick told the Times.
p. Do you know who Rhys Hoskins is? First player to hit 11 homers in his first 20 games in major-league history. And he did it in 18 games. He’s a Phillie. I do believe they have some playing time open there.
q. What a weird quasi-opening day for the college football season. Hawaii at UMass. Oregon State at Colorado State. South Florida at San Jose State. Buzzless.
The Adieu Haiku
The issue won’t go away.
What will Roger do?
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