The World According to Gruden

The World According to Gruden

How the coach is melding the old with the new in Oakland, an explanation of his “analytics” take, and why things might not be going the way you’d expect. Also, the Jalen Ramsey/Dante Fowler suspensions in Jacksonville, the turnover in Seattle, Tom Brady’s incentives, takeaways from the rookie QBs’ preseason debuts, next-man-up in Washington’s backfield, Andrew Luck thrills Indy’s coaches and much more
August 13, 2018

NAPA, Calif. — In case you were wondering, Jon Gruden did hear you going in on him for his comments on analytics at the combine. You might have called him a dinosaur, or suggested the game passed him by, and that’s O.K.

The new/old Raiders coach—who was actually branded an innovator 20 years ago, the Sean McVay of his era—knew it was coming when he said it. And even if you disagreed then, and maybe you still do now, he doesn’t have to look far to find a pretty difficult-to-dispute response to the criticism.

“I was the first quality control guy in NFL history, just so everybody knows, with the 49ers,” Gruden told me, after Monday’s practice in Wine Country. “What I was there—What are the tendencies? What are they doing on third down? How many times did we run the ball in split-backs? Right? What’s our ratio of run-to-pass in the shotgun? Don’t get me wrong. I love analytics and we can use it.

“Character profiles for the draft, which we do, we can use it all. But sooner or later, you gotta get up there and you gotta call a play. When it’s third-and-3, and I think you’re blitzing, I’m gonna take that into account. I don’t give a damn if it’s 33% zone, I think you’re blitzing. After a while, you need someone to shorten the stack.”

Therein, you have the dichotomy of Jon Gruden in 2018. On one hand, he still carries the playsheet, and he’s still on the quarterback’s hip (in this case Derek Carr’s) when his offense is on the field. It’s also tough to imagine him being more engaged than he was on the morning I was there. At one point, he worked himself up to where his black ’90s-era Raiders hat sat crooked on his head from all the tugging.

When the offense jumps? “Come on!” he yells. “That’s three false starts!” So yes, in a lot of ways, he is the same guy that left coaching behind after being fired from the Bucs following the 2008 season, which is to say he’s not playing CEO.

“This is how I’ve always coached,” he says. “And don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a great staff, and I’m sure I’ll utilize them the best way possible. But I’ve got a vision for what I wanna try to do. … And I gotta lead the charge, I gotta lead the team in effort. That’s one thing I know I can control. I want to outwork myself, the Gruden that was here in 1999, the Gruden that was coaching in Tampa in 2007.”

On the other hand, he learned a lot in his time away, maybe more than he would’ve had he never left the sideline, which sets the stage for his much anticipated second run as Oakland’s coach, with a foundation melding the old principles he won with before, and new ideas he picked up in nine years of calling games at ESPN.


In this week’s MMQB, we’ve got the Seahawks’ revival, the Jaguars’ fight and swift fist of justice, more on Tom Brady’s contract, and a look-in on how the rookie quarterbacks played. And we’ll keep bringing the nuggets from the camps I’ve been to, with my travels hitting the home stretch.

But we’re starting with Gruden. More specifically, The World According to Gruden. During our talk, we started talking about his reentry into football and wound up covering so much on the Raiders and NFL that it made sense to break it up, and give it you in pieces…

The adjustment back in. It would be easy to figure Gruden would have to re-acclimate to the life of an NFL coach, and going back into the bunker for 16-hour workdays. Which would be assuming, of course, that he actually ever came out of it.

“No one’s really been with me the last seven or eight years, no one really knows what I’ve been doing,” Gruden says. “I’ve been grinding. In my own way, I’ve been grinding hard, and year round, really. I got very little going in my life, man. I got a bad elbow, I can’t golf. I don’t know much about the stock market. I don’t have many other interests but family and the man upstairs and football.

“Everybody’s getting real deep and philosophical about how different everything is. The real players want to be coached, they want structure, they want discipline, they don’t want it to be easy.”

The players he’s looking for. Are those players harder to find this time around (see: the stigma around the term “millennial”)? Gruden says they really aren’t. The reason why was that the Raiders had a lot of needs, which gave him and GM Reggie McKenzie room to renovate the roster in his image.

“We were gutted,” Gruden says. “We didn’t have a linebacker that we knew of on the team. Our secondary, I think they’re all gone. I didn’t know who the right tackle was, Donald Penn was hurt. We needed some depth at all positions. ... We didn’t have a ton of cap money to spend at that time, so we brought in guys that we thought could come in and play right away, guys that could come in and be leaders in every room.”

And he’s seeing it now—Jordy Nelson helps Amari Cooper, Leon Hall helps Rashaan Melvin and Gareon Conley, Derrick Johnson helps Marquel Lee. In other words, where some saw Gruden reaching for aging vets, he saw players with something left who could set the tone for what he and his staff were expecting.

“I tried to bring in a lot of guys like that, like [Marcus] Gilchrist, guys that’ll play for nothing,” Gruden says.

NFL
In Oakland, Jon Gruden Is Ready to Grind

The basis of his program is the same, but it has evolved. One thing all that time “away” gave Gruden was a chance to watch his ex-assistants work. Four of them—McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Mike Tomlin and Jay Gruden—are leading their own programs now.

“It’s like, ‘You know what? The program, it did work,’” he says. “So confirming some things was good. Seeing how different people practice, like today I had a timeout in practice, a TV timeout. Taking the pads off after a certain period, after you get your contact work done. Certain drills, turnover drills, anti-turnover drills. You steal things, you tweak things. So trying to get better practices, that helped me a lot.”

Indeed, the Raiders took the pads off for the last half-hour of the 150-minute session I watched, and you heard those TV timeouts announced over the PA. You also saw some new technology put to work—the staff had video boards adjacent to the practice field (I saw the Rams using them in camp earlier, too) so coaches could correct things right there during drills. Which brings us to…

Incorporating technology. We’re going to get to analytics in a second. But technology—and how it has changed—was where we started in on that conversation. Gruden brought up how, on Monday Night Football, there would be a new gadget to play with every year. And he remembers thinking, “We buy it because it’s new. And you know what? Sometimes the thing we had last year was better. It’s new. It’s not better.”

So he’s tried to take that approach in looking at the advances in football he saw on his trips through the NFL over the last nine years, and deciding which to cherry pick.

“I had a chance to ask all these coaches, ‘What are you doing out with these GPSes? What are you getting out of that?’” he says. “And I hear a lot of the guys saying, ‘Not much.’ I hear that. Then I go another place, and they’re using it, and they’re spending a fortune on it. They got sleep bracelets, they got time chambers, they got the goggles, the quarterbacks are watching 3D vision.

“You can buy all that, spend millions of dollars, and turn this into whatever you want. And we have. We have as good a technology as anyone. But what can you use? I ticked a lot of people off for some reason when I said, ‘We’re gonna get back to the nuts and bolts of football,’ because I have seen a lot of the gimmicks and gadgets not really be beneficial. Is it helping them get better?”

Shortening the stack. When Gruden says he needs to “shorten the stack”, it applies to technology as well it does to analytics, where he sees a need to filter through what he doesn’t see as useful, so he can get his players what is useful in a way that makes the most of the now limited time the team has with them.

“I’ve sat in team meetings, I’ve had a lot of access,” Gruden says. “And the first 10 minutes, the first 15 minutes of the team meeting they talk about hydration and they talk about their workload. ‘You three guys, and you, Albert, you worked too hard yesterday, your story went too long so you’re gonna take it easy today. And you over here, you have to have this recovery shake after practice.’ And that’s the first 15 minutes of the meeting! And I don’t know. I don’t know about that.”

Don’t get it mixed up. Gruden’s not saying strength and conditioning, nutrition and recovery aren’t important. What he is saying is there’s a point where valuable time is taken from the football operation if a team is going over the top with it. And that spills into all the data teams are getting. “I don’t need that much analytical data,” he says, closing his index finger and thumb together, “I need that much, so I can use it.”

He’s not wild about the rules. With all that has changed since 2008, Gruden has taken the good and weighed it against the bad. But there are certain shifts that have taken place in the NFL that he has strong opinions on. The CBA is one.

“When I got this job, I couldn’t even talk to anybody for two months,” he says. “We let Marquette King go, everybody’s saying I’ve got a bad relationship with him, I’d never met the guy! I’d never met him. But we had to make some cap decisions, and you wish you could meet these guys. You wish you could really sit down with Derek Carr and teach him the offense, so you feel behind.

“I don’t like the CBA. I think it stinks. I think it stinks, personally. If the guy wants to work, he ought to be able to come in and work. When you start regulating work ethic, it’s not the American Way.”

NFL
Which Jon Gruden Are the Raiders Getting? Ex-Bucs Players Weigh In on What to Expect

Carr, Cooper, Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson played six snaps on Friday night against Detroit. Nelson played five. The defense was in there for two series, and without Gareon Conley and, of course, holdout Khalil Mack (Gruden: “We hope to get Khalil in here, that’s been a challenge”). And there are still a lot more questions than answers on where these Raiders are going.

But one thing that’s unmistakable: Gruden can’t wait to find out. And a little of that came out when he was talking about the CBA. Some coaches have trouble relighting the fire when coming back for a second stint. Not Gruden. It’s pretty obvious, he can’t get enough of it.

“I’ve got a lot of responsibility and passion for this place,” he says. “We’ve had one winning team in 15 years, I think I’m like the 10th head coach to come through here since I’ve been gone. And that’s hard. Hard on the fans, hard on Mark Davis. You gotta put a system in place. So now we’ve got a system.”

And the truth is, it’s a little different than you might have heard.


Logan Bowles/AP

I was in Jacksonville, and saw the scuffle—and fallout—on Sunday that led to the suspensions of Dante Fowler and Jalen Ramsey. From my perspective, it didn’t seem much out of ordinary. A fight I saw at Cowboys camp in California a week ago went further than this one did. These guys have been hitting each other for almost three weeks now. It’s football.

Why the suspensions? I sat with Doug Marrone for a while just before he assessed them. My interpretation is it plays into his and his staff’s priority of sticking with what got them to the AFC title game a year ago.

Fowler has had maturity issues in the past, and got in two scuffles (one with Yannick Ngakoue, the other with James O’Shaughnessy) within minutes of each other Sunday. Ramsey has seen his star explode over the last year, and felt emboldened to curse out reporters on the field, then on Twitter. Both are now playing on a team with expectations, rather than one with just potential.

NFL
Jalen Ramsey Is the Best Cornerback in Football. Now What?

Their circumstances clearly aren’t quite the same as they were. But the standard, as Marrone sees it, has to be. This seemed to be an opportunity to cement that point. In a certain way, this goes back to how Marrone has recreated the grinding training camp he turned heads with last summer. Sunday was the team’s 11th consecutive session in full pads (which accounts for every one allowable up to this point), all held under the midday Florida sun, with the team traveling to Minnesota later this week for joint practices and its second preseason game.

All of it worked last year—and so it should surprise no one that Marrone is being stringent with discipline. He’s gotten buy-in, because he’s made sure his players understand why he’s running the show like he is.

“My first time doing this, when I was in Buffalo, I didn’t know if they trusted—and I’m not blaming them—that I’d be able to get their legs back by the time the season started, because we work them very hard,” Marrone told me. “So I used that story when I talked to the players. I said, ‘I’ve done this before, it’s what I believe in. I’ve seen it work. And what I’m gonna need from guys, I’m gonna need you to trust me.’

“I told them, ‘You’re going to feel tired. You’re gonna feel it. You’re gonna wonder if you’re gonna be back. But I promise you the way the schedule and everything is laid out, you’ll be ready for the first week.’ And I’ll give them credit, basically telling them to trust me, they did.”

Of course, the real key came when that trust paid off.

“People may say, ‘You’re the coach, you can tell them what to do,’” Marrone says. “But that’s a big part of it. And I think when you do it, and they trusted you, there’s still the success part, the performance part that needs to be there. They felt good, and were able to really go after it in the first game. All of the sudden it was, ‘O.K., that was pretty good.’ … No matter what you do, if it doesn’t equal results, that process is always going to be questioned. And it should be. I don’t have a problem with that.”

It will be interesting to see if his players have any problem with how Ramsey and Fowler were handled yesterday. My guess is that, seeing how he earned that trust, and has gotten players coming off a big year committed to an old-school camp, they won’t.


Aaron M. Sprecher/AP

We’ve written a couple times over the last few months on the turning of the page in Seattle, and how Pete Carroll and Co. are trying to recapture the ethos that fueled a five-year run that ended in the Super Bowl twice. The idea, on paper, was to open more positions to competition, get younger, and focus on finding guys who had to overcome to get to the NFL.

Is it working? It certainly felt different being at a Seahawks practice lacking the chirping and the energy of Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, among others. But when I brought that up to Carroll on Tuesday, he raised a point once made to him by UCLA legend John Wooden: “You either have a philosophy or you don’t. Players change … The philosophy doesn’t.” And therein lies Carroll’s biggest takeaway from early in camp.

“They’re just different people,” Carroll told me. “Nobody knew who Richard was or who Kam was back in the day. There are guys in that room right now that they’re going to know about in time. It’s thrilling. It’s a thrill to go through this and watch it happen, watch it emerge. There’s so much energy, so much positive juice from these guys, the effort they’re giving. Wait and see.

“I ain’t worried one bit. Not one bit. I see who they are and what they’re doing.”

NFL
For Pete Carroll’s Seahawks, It’s Time to Compete Again

Shaquill Griffin is in Sherman’s spot as the top corner. Tedric Thompson is in Earl Thomas’ place. Bradley McDougald has slid over to Chancellor’s old home. And Frank Clark and the still banged up Dion Jordan are going to have to replace much of the production that Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril consistently brought to the table.

On the flip side of all that, it’s not like everything has changed. Back in 2011 and well into ’12, the quarterback spot was in flux. It’s not now.

“The difference is the quarterback has been playing for years, it’s not like we’re starting with a new guy, this is not that at all,” Carroll says. “This is so much different. We’ve got extraordinary performance and leadership ability from the QB spot. I don’t know what you guys are thinking, he’s the best he’s ever been. That’s so instrumental in your future.”

That’s a decent starting point. In a way, in fact, the torchbearers for the Carroll Seahawks are Wilson on offense, and his 2012 draft classmate Bobby Wagner on defense. For their part, both understand that—and as the quarterback and middle linebacker, it’s not like being in front is new for them.

At the same, the two guys get, and have talked about, the fact that, because of all the change, the operation isn’t as turnkey as it once was. So it’s on them to set the bar, and that’s one reason why Wagner got more vocal at the end of last year.

“When I first got here, we had Brandon Mebane, we had Red Bryant, you had all those guys, those were the guys that people considered Seahawks,” Wagner says. “And when they went kind of went out, it was Kam, Sherm and those guys, it was a chance for them to do it. Now it’s myself, K.J. [Wright], Doug [Baldwin] and Russ, so I’ve tried to keep this football team alive in Seattle. It’s a dope opportunity.”

To be sure, it will be a challenge, too, to keep things where they’ve been.

“The standard was set a long time ago, and I think it’s still there from Day 1 when we started practicing this year—the standard is super high,” Wilson told me. “And it’s a great example, 2012, when we were coming in as rookies, and nobody really knew us. The year before we were 7-9. Nobody had high expectations. And you change circumstances by the way you prepare every day, the way you compete, and the way that you win. That’s the great thing about it.”

The good news is that some of the negative energy of the last couple years—and this isn’t pointing the finger at anyone, it’s just stating fact—isn’t there the same way it has been. That should help as Seattle tries to develop a new core around Wilson, Wagner, Wright and Baldwin. The bad news is it won’t be easy to get the roster to the level it was when the Seahawks were flirting with becoming a dynasty.


Jim Mahoney/AP

It’s worth looking, one more time, at Tom Brady’s contract incentives—and examining what they mean. There are five $1 million triggers in the deal …

1. Top 5 in passing yards (he was 1st last year)
2. Top 5 in passing touchdowns (3rd last year)
3. Top 5 in QB rating (3rd last year)
4. Top 5 in yards/attempt (5th last year)
5. Top 5 in completion percentage (5th last year)

If the Patriots win Super Bowl LII, then each incentive goes from $1 million to $2 million, with the total capped at $5 million. And he needs to hit a minimum of 224 attempts (he has doubled that number in 13 of his 18 seasons) and play 70% of the team’s snaps (easy, if he’s healthy).

You can say it will be moderately difficult for Brady to make that $5 million. And even if he does, that would put him at $20 million for 2018, which is well below the going rate for top quarterbacks. Sixteen quarterbacks, not including Brady, are on deals worth that much per year or more going into this season. (To be fair, Brady got a $28 million signing bonus as part of his current deal, which should be factored in.)

NFL
Seven Win Totals to Consider Betting on for the 2018 NFL Season

And now that we’re past all that, what does it mean? A few things, on my mind…

• The Patriots re-did Brady’s deal with two years left in 2002, ’05, ’10 and ’16. There are two years left on Brady’s deal now, so this is the first time the Patriots will go into a season with their franchise playing into the second-to-last year on his deal. That’s hardly a big, immediate problem. But it is an anomaly.

• If they want to play the leverage game with Brady, the Patriots could look forward and say that they have Brady this year, next year, and could franchise him in back-to-back years as he turns 43 in 2020 and 44 in 2021. But doing this deal would make that a little more painful. With $5 million moved to next year’s cap, his number for 2019 is now $27 million. His tag number for 2020 has to be at least 120% of that, which means it would be set at $32.4 million.

• What if the Patriots want to do a long-term deal with Brady next offseason? He’d have some leverage. There are those big franchise-tag figures to set the floor. And then there’s the fact that, unless Danny Etling is a revelation, chances are the Patriots won’t have a succession plan in place until at least April 2019. Brady could hold their feet to the fire.

• What about Rob Gronkowski? He got a similar adjustment to his deal last year, and his contract lines up with Brady’s—up after 2019. Will he get another bump? Or something more substantial? I have to think Todd Gurley getting $14.375 million per from the Rams got his attention. Both Gurley and Gronkowski watched as the receiver market exploded this offseason. Each could make the argument they were better than players making $14 million (Allen Robinson) or $16 million (Sammy Watkins) per. Both guys seemed handcuffed by his position. Gurley broke free and into that stratosphere. Will Gronkowski?

In the end, I think the Patriots tried to do right by Brady, perhaps as a peace offering after a tumultuous offseason. And in getting there, they tried not to break principle (see: incentives, not a raise).

But I think it’s pretty clear that this is a band-aid, more so than a full-on fix. Unless, that is, Brady doesn’t play beyond the two seasons left on his deal.


WELCOME TO SI GAMBLING: Sports Illustrated's gambling vertical launches on Monday, including NFL win total best bets with help from the staff of The MMQB. Find your edge all season long at SI.com/Gambling.


… OF THE WEEK

TWEET

I’m trying to stay away from political statements here, so—just to be clear—this is not a political statement. I am, in fact, only here to point out that “Goober” is a pretty great way to take a shot at someone, which is why I laughed the second I saw Jordan’s tweet.

MEME

Good commitment by the young fella there in not letting go of the dummy when it was pretty clear that J.J. Watt was about to take down anything attached to it.

QUOTE

“I don’t know what the [expletive] has been going on here, and I don’t know why it’s been going on here. But if you’re not hurt, like if your hamstring ain’t falling off the [expletive] bone, your leg ain’t broke, you should be [expletive] practicing. Like straight up. Like that [expletive] is weakness, and that [expletive] is contagious as [expletive]. And that [expletive] ain’t going to be in this room, bruh. That [expletive] has been here in the past, and that’s why the past has been like it is, bruh. And this [expletive] is over with, bruh. If you can [expletive] practice, [expletive] practice. You can’t get no better—ain’t nobody going to get better by being on the [expletive] sideline if you ain’t [expletive] hurt. If you’re not [expletive] hurt, you’ve got to [expletive] practice, because you make other [expletive] work even [expletive] harder. Now they’re at more risk of getting [expletive] hurt because you don’t want to [expletive] practice, because you’re being a [expletive]. Straight up that [expletive] is [expletive] real. That [expletive] ain’t happening here… I’m hurt and I’m tired just like every [expletive] body in this [expletive] but I ain’t taken no [expletive] days off because I can’t be [expletive] great that way. That’s got to be the [expletive] attitude and the mentality all the [expletive] time. All that weak [expletive] don’t [expletive] live here no more. That [expletive] don’t exist. It’s contagious, bruh.”

—Browns WR Jarvis Landry to the receiver room on Hard Knocks.

Great first episode—maybe the best in a few years from the NFL Films crew on the HBO series. The Hue Jackson/Todd Haley back-and-forth was fascinating, and so too was Landry getting after his position mates. I know it caught the eye of the people in Miami who worked with him the last four years. One of the problems last year’s Dolphins had, in fact, was that when things went wrong (Ryan Tannehill’s ACL, Chris Forester’s escapades, Hurricane Irma), front-and-center vets like Landry and Ndamukong Suh didn’t do much to steer the train back onto the tracks. It’s interesting to see Landry play that role in Cleveland now, with the cameras rolling.

S/O TO …

Cam Newton for handling his issue with Kelvin Benjamin one-on-one. Here’s what Benjamin said to The Athletic’s Tim Graham last week: “If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying? Any other accurate quarterback, like [Aaron] Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben [Roethlisberger]—anybody!—quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It felt like I wasn’t in that position.” Normally, in 2018, that would lead to a nasty twitter back-and-forth, followed by some jawing whenever the involved parties met again. Instead of going through that song-and-dance, Newton actually confronted Benjamin about it. I don’t know if Cam knew cameras would catch it, or if that’s what he was going for, but it felt to me like a genuine attempt to address something that teed him off head on. And the world would be a better place if more people handled things like that.



TEN TAKEAWAYS

1. Some quick hits from the camps I went to this week: The Raiders are really excited about rookie defensive linemen Maurice Hurst, Arden Key and P.J. Hall, and it sounds like all three are in position to carve out serious roles in Paul Guenther’s defense. Hurst (medical) and Key (off-field) were both at one point considered as first-round talents . . . Tedric Thompson was generating a lot of buzz at Seahawks camp. And running back Chris Carson, back from a broken ankle, is another ’17 draft pick who a few people brought up as far as having great potential . . . For what it’s worth—and he didn’t play on Thursday night when I saw them—the Redskins’ belief is that Alex Smith is an upgrade at quarterback. As they see it, there’s very little in the playbook they can’t do with him, in part because he has such varied background over his 14 years in the league . . . The Jags receivers are worth watching. They have five guys who run 4.4 or better: holdovers Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and Marqise Lee, free-agent pickup Donte Moncrief, and rookie D.J. Chark. They’d like an Alpha to emerge, but the big-play potential of the group has been obvious, even when working against a top-flight defense in practice.

2. While we’re on the Redskins, I do believe they’ll give Samaje Perine a fair shot at winning the job with Derrius Guice out for the year. He showed some promise last year and was incredibly productive at Oklahoma. He’s not as versatile as Guice, but behind a healthier offensive line it’s not hard to see him doing damage. And Byron Marshall, signed off the Eagles’ practice squad last November, is worth keeping an eye on too.

3. The NFL, I hope, has learned the obvious by now: Donald Trump is not going to turn down the heat on the league, no matter what it does with its anthem policy. If they strengthen it, he declares victory. If they loosen it, he calls foul. And that should be freeing in that it should allow the league to work with the players to do what it feels is in its best interests. The real challenge is how intensely local this subject is for the owners. What a team in Houston is facing is different than what a team in New Jersey is, the same as being in New Orleans is different than being in San Francisco, which is a big part of the divide among the clubs.

NFL
Robert Quinn, the Raised Fist and the Man Behind It

4. For Jets fans pumped about Sam Darnold’s debut: rest assured, there was reason to feel good. In fact, as I understand it, that showed up in the coaches’ assessment of his night against the Falcons. What you couldn’t see was how he executed the calls, showed command in the huddle, and—despite playing behind backup offensive linemen—didn’t drop his eyes in the face of pressure. One of the things I picked up when I did my story on the Jets’ pursuit of Darnold showed up, too. You could see, especially on the touchdown pass to Charles Johnston, Darnold playing fast. I’d be surprised if Darnold is not starting in Detroit on Sept. 10. I’ve said since May that I think he has a better than 50/50 chance of starting in Week 1. I’ll stick to that, which is where we mention that Teddy Bridgewater looked awfully sharp too, and that presents the Jets with a problem they’re happy to have.

NFL
The Jets’ Long Road to Sam Darnold

5. Ditto for the Browns, with Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield both acquitting themselves well on Thursday night. Mayfield’s pocket presence, composure, and accuracy both from the pocket and on the run were easy to pick out. But he also got away with a couple throws that might have been picked if there were better defensive players out there. One such play was Mayfield’s first touchdown, to tight end David Njoku. The throw was beautiful—an easy-to-catch ball fit in perfectly between defenders. The decision was not. That ball, as the Giants saw it, was there to be picked off, and had the backside corner been Janoris Jenkins and not journeyman Chris Lewis-Harris, it probably would’ve been going the other way. And that’s a good example of the difference between the preseason and the regular season. Rookie QBs can get away with a few things now that they won’t be able to in September. This was one for Mayfield, who was really good overall, and will learn.

6. Speaking of the Browns, it’s worth mentioning that, as I understand it, GM John Dorsey and free-agent WR Dez Bryant struck up a relationship before the draft in 2010 as Dorsey did his recon work for the Packers. So even as things have gone a little sideways with unreturned phone calls over the last two weeks, there is a foundation there. And Bryant’s trust hasn’t always been easy for NFL people to earn. So maybe there’s a little something to Bryant calling the Browns GM “Mr. Dorsey” on Twitter.

7. Meanwhile, the Cardinals didn’t get a great look at Josh Rosen on Saturday night, and part of that was by design. Arizona didn’t ask him to do too much because of a middling group around him. The bad snaps those guys rolled to him are proof of why it was the right call. The Cardinals are in New Orleans on Friday night.

8. Think the Colts are excited about how Andrew Luck did the other night? One member of the organization pointed this out to me on Sunday: Luck got minimal work in the spring, hadn’t played in a game since 2016, is learning a new offense and had about 10 days of practice under his belt heading into Seattle. And somehow, he was efficient running Frank Reich’s scheme and accurate with the ball. Another bonus: Indy’s young offensive linemen graded out well. Quenton Nelson came as advertised at guard, and second-rounder Braden Smith was solid in showing why he’s pushing for playing time at both guard and tackle. Should both start, Indy will have four Top 40 picks on its line, which would be a pretty different experience for Luck.

NFL
Andrew Luck Looks Like Andrew Luck Again

9. After a full weekend of games, a lot of coaches are going back to study how the helmet rule was officiated. I solicited some opinions from defensive guys that basically wound up being, “We’re going to wait and see.” One defensive coordinator texted, “I think the concept is good, but it is hard to officiate properly. I’d rather them not continually change the game.” Another defensive coach added that with new tackling techniques out there—like the rugby style that the Seahawks have embraced—there are ways to teach that can help you avoid flags. “Defensive players track the crotch to near hip of the ball carrier, and bend to hit on the rise,” he said. “Shoulder pads down near the belt of the ball-carrier, strike with your near shoulder and wrap up, that’s Seahawks tackling. If you teach it that way, there’s no issue.” To be honest, what I was surprised I didn’t feel a forceful push against the rule at all. The enforcement of it, like I said, is warranting another look from many coaches.

10. I think what Sean McVay said Saturday about dialogue increasing between the Rams and star DT Aaron Donald is noteworthy. Credit to each side in not letting the talks get personal or nasty, which has allowed everyone to ride out some bumps along the way.


OFF-FIELD ISSUES

1. Tiger Woods made the cut in three of four majors this year, and contended in the last two well into the final round. On Sunday, at the PGA, he came as close as he has in a long time to winning. And if you don’t think that’s great news for golf, check the ratings. The sport is going to have some buzz going into 2019.

2. Also allow me to be the three millionth person to say it seems like Brooks Koepka is underappreciated. I don’t know if it’s that he’s a little bland, or that he didn’t bust on to the scene at age 20 like a lot of other phenoms. But winning three majors in 14 months is damn impressive.

Golf
In the Shadows of Tiger's Undeniable Comeback, Brooks Koepka Remained Unflappable at Bellerive

3. The Red Sox are in first place with a legit ace (Chris Sale) who struck out 12 in five innings on Sunday, and two MVP candidates (Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez), and they can’t seem to generate any juice in Boston. Which is amazing, and probably a really bad sign for baseball.

4. I don’t mind Maryland putting D.J. Durkin on administrative leave. The school should have acted quicker in the wake of lineman Jordan McNair’s death, without question. But firing Durkin without a thorough investigation, just to make a point, would be ridiculous. Putting the coach on leave effectively gives the school time to turn over every rock. It goes without saying that if Durkin is found culpable in McNair’s death, he should be done.

5. I’ll say it again: Jay Cutler is a legit star on Very Cavallari. And I’m caught up now to where I’m only one episode—Sunday night’s episode—behind.


FIVE-DAY FORECAST

The preseason is about those rookie quarterbacks, which is why Friday night’s Bills/Browns showdown is being picked up by NFL Network. Rosen and the Cardinals kick off in New Orleans a half-hour after Baker Mayfield’s Browns and Josh Allen’s Bills. And the Jets are in Washington (which should be interesting after Sunday’s donnybrook) on Thursday night, with Darnold looking more and more like the lead dog in a three-man race.

As always, keep an eye on how much time these rookies get with the 1s. That can tell you, without the coach actually telling you, how hard a team might be thinking of starting him.

As far as that goes, my belief is we’re still where we’ve been since the draft, with Darnold and Rosen having the best shot at starting in Week 1.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)