I was with my kids on Saturday morning, and there was a burning car from one of the protests—I can’t remember which one—on the TV. My 5-year-old, like a lot of little boys, thinks fire is cool, and asked me what was going on.
That stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t really know what to say. He’s still too young to comprehend what’s happening, so I just told him what he was seeing on the screen was really bad, and he moved on with whatever he was doing, like kids do. And then I thought about how much more complicated that conversation would be for some of my friends.
If my son were a few years older, I’d have had a longer conversation with him about the George Floyd murder, the resulting protests and the state of our country. That would’ve been tough. And it’s really, really hard to reckon with how much harder that would be for some of the guys I grew up with, now African-American parents, in trying to address it with their own kids, and telling them about what might lie ahead for them.
Tougher still is the thought of how ready they are for the conversation, because they’ve had to have it before.
I know that on this subject, I don’t know enough. So all I’ll say is the obvious, that police brutality should be unacceptable to all of us, that the division in our country has gotten to a really dangerous breaking point, and that we need to come together in the face of injustice, not be pulled apart.
Here’s the other thing I wanted to look into—and we will get to football soon—and that’s an athlete’s responsibility to speak up in a circumstance like this. Colin Kaepernick did in 2016 and paid a heavy price for it. Many more have in the aftermath of this case, as the problem Kaepernick was trying to shine a light on has gotten worse.
So what I was really looking for on Sunday was to get an athlete’s perspective on it. Earlier in the day, 49ers corner Richard Sherman tweeted, “[Neither] my profession nor my education change the fact that I’m a black man in America and to that end I will continue to fight for equality for the people that are treated unjustly in this country. And if that offends you or makes you uncomfortable, then maybe we are starting to make progress.”
That led to my question, on whether Sherman saw it as incumbent on him, or any other high-profile athlete, to use his or her platform to speak out in a case like this.
“It’s always based on the individual,” Sherman responded, via text. “Because not everyone has something to say and not everyone who’s an athlete should be forced to. There are many successful people in this world with platforms, but not everyone should speak.”
Now, the good news, to me, is that it’s become easier for athletes to speak. This isn’t the age of Michael Jordan. Kaepernick doing what he did, whether you agreed with the method or not, has opened the door for others to stand up for what they believe in.
And, as Sherman saw it, there was another breakthrough over the weekend that was significant. First, Eagles QB Carson Wentz said something. Then Bengals QB Joe Burrow said something. So too did Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and new Cowboys QB Andy Dalton. All those guys are white, and all could’ve kept quiet in the face of something like this, like quarterbacks routinely have in the past. But they didn’t.
As to the importance of that, I didn’t even have to ask Sherman to go there. He went on his own, volunteering his feelings on the gravity of their words.
“I’m impressed with the white QBs speaking up because those are voices that carry different weight than the black voices for some people,” Sherman said. “Which means the people who refuse to listen to a black athlete’s perspective will hear the same thing said from a white athlete, but receive the message much differently. So it’s awesome that more people are speaking out, because in sports, you really have a love and appreciation for your fellow man, regardless of race.
“And I think that’s what makes sports and teams so special, because a lot of the stereotypes are torn down. You really get to know one another, not judge based off nonsense.”
What Sherman’s saying here really gets to the root of where we can all make a difference.
I can’t begin to understand what this week has been like for some of my friends. But I know what I can do, and that’s treat the people around me right, raise my kids to do the same, and say something when I see the sort of wrongs we’ve all seen of late. Because I know now, the more people we have doing that, the better.
And then, maybe somewhere down the line, our kids won’t have to have these same conversations with their kids.
Alright, so there is football to get to this week too. And you’ll get lots of it in this week’s MMQB, including …
• A look at how some of the NFL’s highest-profile quarterbacks are making up for lost time.
• A deep dive into the rule changes, with the chair of the competition committee.
• More on a rising 2021 quarterback prospect that you’ll know well by next April.
And we’ve got all the other elements we always bring on Monday morning. Let’s dive in.
HOW TOP QBS ARE PREPPING FOR 2020
For Adam Dedeaux, CEO of 3DQB, even when the pandemic hit, even living under California’s restrictive rules, the work never really stopped.
But it did look a heck of a lot of different than it has in the past.
Dedeaux’s been coaching quarterbacks for almost a decade now, and there’s a rhythm and a routine to this time of year—and this offseason started similar to any other one. Matthew Stafford brought the Lions’ receivers to the facility in Orange County for a week in March, and Dallas’s Dak Prescott spent a month out there, pre-pandemic. Rams QB Jared Goff, being local, was a regular through February and March, and Falcons QB Matt Ryan popped in, too.
Then everyone’s world got flipped upside down in middle of March, and soon enough, players’ access to team facilities and weight rooms cut off completely.
“For our guys, it was, O.K., we’ve got some uncertainty here, but I don’t want to lose what I’ve been gaining,” Dedeaux said Saturday. “We wrote up some programs, what they could work on just to keep their bodies in shape, without peaking too early. Some of the guys who waited, knowing, April 20 is when [they] report, had said, O.K., my plan is to start mid-March, and I’ll be with you for four weeks leading up to camp. Well, things really started shutting down around mid-March, so they didn’t get the opportunity to really get going.
“And we were O.K. with the fact that, because they hadn’t really started, we’d just kind of push it and play things by ear. And we kind of did it that way. It was, O.K., let’s talk every week to see what the updates are.”
Two-and-a-half months later, we have the updates: Things weren’t going back to normal for any of the quarterbacks, and that meant having to work to find a way to make up for what was going to be lost. Dedeaux, and 3DQB coaches John Beck and Taylor Kelly, huddled and leaned on the experience that Beck had from going through the 2011 lockout, an experience that clients Ryan, Stafford, Drew Brees and Tom Brady had also been through.
“Something we stressed to these guys, based on feedback we’ve gotten from our veterans: The year of the lockout, there was a group of players that really took advantage of it, O.K., I’m gonna get even better work—call it deep training, work you’re doing when nobody’s around, you’re orchestrating it—on stuff you get an opportunity to be super specific with,” Dedeaux said. “There’s no normal going-through-installs-you’ve-already-heard.
“During the lockout, there were guys who said, Well, this is an opportunity for me to outwork everybody. There were gonna be a lot of guys who were gonna take extra time off or have not very structured offseason workouts, not being able to rely on the structure of what an NFL operation and offseason provides. … So, O.K., I’ve gotta create an environment where I’m outworking everybody.”
And with the freedom to tailor workouts as they saw fit, and not have to wait for younger teammates to come along, what was left for the quarterbacks was finding a way to get the feedback they wanted in the areas they were working. With their teams, of course, they had their Zoom meetings. For the physical parts of the work they’d do with 3DQB, it took a little more ingenuity to set up the lines of communication.
Early on, it was tough to do much else. At one point, because of restrictions on gatherings in Orange County, Dedeaux and Co. would have to serve as receivers for the quarterbacks and wear masks for the workouts. Eventually, those rules were relaxed. And as Dedeaux said, the coaches adjusted as needed. Some examples:
• Saints QB Jameis Winston actually set up a camera and Facetimed with Beck over an iPad, having a friend hold the iPad steady so Beck could see Winston work. Both Beck and Winston wore earpieces, so Beck could coach him through the drills. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was something,” Dedeaux said. “I think there was enough value in it.”
• Prescott would get a script for his workouts and have someone film him. He’d then send the tape electronically to the guys in California, and they’d video conference to break down his mechanics, and areas he wanted to improve.
• Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert actually moved to Orange County a week after the draft, so he could do hands-on work with Beck. Herbert still can’t enter the team facility 25 minutes from the Golden West campus where 3DQB is, per NFL rules, but he’s been able to get settled, and work on his team-specific installs with Beck.
• Slowly but surely, receivers have been incorporated back into the mix. Brees has worked with Dedeaux’s co-founder, Tom House, in San Diego, and he’s gotten with his receivers, too. Brady had the ballyhooed workouts in Tampa (which I spoke to Bucs center Ryan Jensen about). Goff has hosted Rams workouts in L.A. And Ryan had the Falcons wideouts at Golden West last week, and will have the tight ends and backs there this week, with Julio Jones, who lives in L.A., with him for both sessions. All of 3DQB’s starters have gotten at least some work with teammates, per Dedeaux.
• When it’s been allowed, the coaches have traveled, too. Dedeaux went to Atlanta to work with Ryan in May. Beck has plans to go to Dallas to work with Prescott in June.
And there’s an acknowledgment here, too, that there are things that can’t be duplicated. One is getting re-acclimate to the speed of the game with a defense on the field. Another is the progress an offense can make with everyone in one place (we’ll get to that in the Takeaways section below, in an item about Gardner Minshew).
So the key, as these quarterbacks have approached it, is to make up for that in other areas. The good thing for Dedeaux is that he’s had to use this sort of creativity in the past—he once staged a workout with Brady on the side of a hill at Will Rogers State Park near Brentwood—and he and the guys are working with players, many of whom were already making progress when the virus struck, who don’t need to be prodded to do the work.
“Now, the question is, ‘How do you keep that?’” Dedeaux said. “And it takes an investment. It takes money, it takes ownership of time, it takes all those things. But there are gonna be people that have a better offseason process going forward, because of this.”
And, the hope is, a better 2020 season, too.
VIRTUAL RULE CHANGES
Nothing about this year has been normal, and that includes the process of putting in new rules, led annually by the league’s competition committee. Normally, it goes like this:
• Meet in New York before the Super Bowl to review the season and look at the big picture.
• Meet in Indy at the combine with the coaches’ subcommittee and GM advisory committee.
• Convene in Florida for seven days to create new rules and vet team proposals for new rules, and come up with a final list.
• Meet with the owners at the annual meeting, where votes are taken, then address any tabled rule proposals at the spring meeting in May.
This year, the Florida meetings were replaced with a couple lengthy conference calls, and the votes were pushed back to May. And I’m laying all of that out because I wondered if, maybe, the league moving a little slower on the Eagles’ proposal to replace onside kicks with a fourth-and-15 may have been because coaches and GMs weren’t on hand for the discussion. I’d heard that theorized by some informed parties, so I wanted to run it up the flagpole with someone involved.
“We did it with two virtual calls, that were really long and productive, but different,” Falcons president Rich McKay said, late Saturday afternoon. “We didn’t watch as much video as we would’ve in the past. Maybe that impacted it? But I don’t think the debate over fourth-and-15 was impacted much at all. I thought on the call there was really good discussion. It went on for 20, 30 minutes. It was good.”
So that’s that. And here’s some more on the results of the final results of the 2020 rule changes/adjustments.
Fourth-and-15 isn’t necessarily going away. By now, you’ve seen the Eagles’ proposal, I’m sure. The idea was to give teams the option, up to twice per game, to replace an onside kick attempt with a fourth-and-15 from their own 25. Last year, there were only eight or nine teams in favor of the idea. This year, I’m told the vote was 16-16—still eight short of the 24 needed to pass. So there’s been progress, but there’s a ways to go.
“Twenty-four votes is a lot.,” McKay said. “These things just seem to have their own natural course. The extra point, I just cannot tell you how many times we thought we had the votes on the extra point, to make that change, to move it to the 15-yard line, and hell, we came out some years with less votes than the year before. And then finally [in 2015], we had a strategy, we exercised the strategy and it worked. But it took a long time.”
There were traditionalist arguments against this rule change, and the criticism that it was too gimmicky, too, in the lengthy discussion, per McKay. There was also the question of holding the value of playing well for, say, 55 minutes—and that maybe there shouldn’t be such an easy path back into the game for a team that’s outplayed for that long.
“It is more advantageous, no question in my mind, to have your skill players trying to convert fourth-and-15 than trying to recover an onside kick,” McKay said. “Personally, I’m O.K. with that. But there are people that say, ‘Hey, that’s a big change.’ And I’m with them on that.”
The SkyJudge is coming piecemeal. McKay spoke glowingly of the work the coaches did in bringing the concept of the SkyJudge, or booth umpire, or whatever you want to call it, back to life by compromising with the committee in Indy. The Ravens/Chargers proposals, Rules Proposals 6 and 7, wound up being withdrawn, but with the agreement that the league would test the idea with its own replay officials in the preseason.
“Coach Harbaugh came in with a passionate plea, and a PowerPoint, and a page of talking points that went behind it,” McKay said. “And I thought he made some points in the talking point that spoke right to the concerns that he knew a lot of us had. This idea that the person would be able interject themselves in subjective calls like penalties, he said, ‘No chance, that’s not what they want out of that person.’”
Another big key (as we outlined in Thursday’s GamePlan column) was keeping the power in the hands of the referee, with the booth umpire positioned as a resource to him, rather than a corrective force against him. And the sides agreed on a need to use the technology they have better.
“The idea that the official sitting up there, call him an official, whatever want to call that individual, could have a bigger impact on game and help us with officiating makes perfect sense,” said McKay. “Go back 30 years ago, and Tex Schramm’s days, when they first got into the replay business, which was ’86-’92, there was that thought that eventually, ‘Hey, the referee may have a wrist band, being able to watch the play.’
“There was a lot of thought on how technology could be involved, and yet not slow the game down. We shouldn’t be the league that says, ‘We’re great right where we are, we don’t need any more technology to help us.’ That should not be our position.”
McKay said that two words will be key going forward, and this is where the PI review rules last season failed—accountability and predictability. If ramping up the replay official’s communication with the referee brings that, expect this to be implemented in the regular season, and maybe expanded on in 2021.
The IR rule change is a significant one. Being able to bring back three guys off IR, rather than two, will change roster management, and it’s a good change for teams in how they’ll be able to ƒurther hold on to young players they like when headliners suffer serious injuries. That said, I was surprised that another adjustment to the IR rules—one that would’ve allowed teams to put guys on the list before the 53-man cutdown and designate them for return later—didn’t pass.
You may remember last year that this quirk in the rules forced the Browns to cut Greg Robinson and the Bills to cut Kurt Coleman at the cutdown to get other guys through to IR, only to bring those guys back the next day.
“Where the debate lies in that—if you don’t do it that way, then they really have a roster of 54, 55, or in this case with three, 56,” McKay said. “They don’t have a roster of 53, because they never had to make that player available on waivers. So they can just take the other player and put him on IR in training camp. It’s an expansion of the roster, and it’s not an end-of-the-world type of issue, but that’s always been one, when we did the designated for return rule, the one thing we said we weren’t doing with it was expanding the roster.
“And the way we were not going to expand the roster was to make people use it on players that were on the final 53.”
At any rate, that one is going to the CEC for further review, and could still wind up being voted on down the line. And the one other thing I did ask about, before we move on here, was whether or not there was any discussion on a sort of one-year coronavirus reserve list for players who test positive for COVID-19.
McKay said, to this point, that hasn’t been discussed.
MEET TREY LANCE
I didn’t know who Trey Lance was until a few weeks ago. I know now. And you’ll know about him soon too, if you don’t already.
The North Dakota State quarterback, who just turned 20, has a shot to crash next April’s Trevor Lawrence/Justin Fields party atop the draft—and I didn’t totally believe that, based on what I know about the other two, until I did some work the last couple weeks. Scouts I know, and trust, gave me early indications that he belongs, at the very least, in the first-round discussion, and has potential to challenge the guys at the top.
He’s 6' 3", 224 pounds, has wheels, a big arm and, even though it’s been just one year, an absolute boatload of production at an FCS power that sent his two direct predecessors (Carson Wentz and Easton Stick) to the NFL. In his first year as starter, as a redshirt freshman, Lance posted an eye-popping 28-0 TD-INT ratio with 9.7 yards per attempt, and led the Bison to a 16–0 campaign, culminating in the school’s eighth national title in nine years.
Yes, that’s right. Zero losses. Zero interceptions. And that’s without getting to his 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. As a first-year starter.
“His stats speak for themselves,” Bison coach Matt Entz said Friday. “I could go back and brainstorm and think about practice, and I bet there were minimal interceptions thrown even during practice. You never go into a season with the anticipation you’re not going to have any interceptions thrown, but he’s a very smart, intelligent young man. He makes great decisions. He prepares as well as anybody we’ve ever had here.
“He knows what defenses are trying to do, he understands safety rotations, he understands leverage by corners. He does a great job of seeing all those things and making accurate throws. And he has a strong arm. We knew that he was gonna be very efficient with the football going into it. But like I said, you never anticipate your quarterback’s gonna throw zero interceptions.”
What’s so interesting about the battle Lance will wage over the next year on the draft front is the contrast with who he’s up against—Lawrence and Fields are among the 10 highest-rated players (not quarterbacks, players) of the last 20 years, according to 247’s composite rankings, and both come from the recruiting hotbed of Atlanta, and now play for college football bluebloods.
Lance, on the other hand, comes from Marshall, Minn., more than 150 miles west of Minneapolis, near the South Dakota border, and it was Ivy League schools like Cornell and Brown, rather than those from the Big 10 or Big 12, battling the Bison for his commitment.
“He played 4A football in the state of Minnesota, not big-class football. I suppose that was probably held against him a little bit,” Entz said. “He’s an uber-athletic young man, so I’m sure there were some programs that thought he could get on the field quicker at another position. That was probably where the initial evaluation for different schools was. All I know is we thought he was the best candidate for us and had all the tools.”
Maybe the most valuable of those tools was his head for the game, an aptitude that explains why the Ivies were after him was a big part of the equation for the NDSU coaches. As Entz explained, “We feel like we play offensively like NFL teams—we’re gonna be under center, we’re gonna huddle, there’s a lot of verbiage to a play call in our offense here at NDSU, so we have to do a lot of background work before we extend an offer to a young man.”
And that piece of the equation showed up pretty quickly when he arrived on campus in June 2018. He proved himself quickly enough to where Entz’s defenses—he was the Bison’s DC in 2018 before being promoted a year ago—were rarely seeing him as the scout team quarterback while he was redshirting. Instead, he was running with the second offense, as Stick ran the first group, and absorbing all he could.
He even arranged his class schedule so it would match up with Stick’s, so he could do all the work alongside the three-year starter. Obviously, all of that wound up working out for everyone after Lance won the starting job last August, then set the FCS world on fire with numbers that would make even Wentz and Stick blush, and led the Bison to a season in which they only played three one-possession games, and won those by six, seven and eight points.
Now? Now, Entz says that the IT people actually had to expand the access that Lance already had to tap into the NDSU editing system remotely, because he tore through so much of his work so quickly early during the pandemic. And that comes back to who the kid is, and the one area in which his coach is happy to compare Lance to his NFL predecessors.
“I’m not gonna get into a lot of comparisons—they’re all unbelievable young men and have great futures ahead of them,” Entz said. “The place I’ll compare them, all three are winners. You see that every day in how they deal with people, the relationships they have with their teammates, the relationships they have with their coaches. That’s where I get excited. I see the process that Trey has. His preparation is similar to the other two. Extremely thorough, extremely thoughtful in how he prepares each and every week, and in how he’s preparing in the offseason as well.”
So how do you improve on a 42-touchdown, zero-turnover season? Entz says the focus for Lance now is on tightening up is delivery, and continuing to work on his pre-snap process—the coach says the QB is already adept at getting the team out of bad plays before the snap, now he’s working on knowing how to get the Bison into the perfect play from there.
He’ll keep chipping away at that. And we’ll see him in a few months.
I’d expect some pain in the George Kittle contract negotiation. The tight end position has lagged badly behind the other skill positions—the top of the receiver market is at $22 million per year, the top of the tailback market is at $16 million per and Austin Hooper tops tight ends with the deal he just did at $10.5 million—and Kittle, at this point, is clearly the most important skill player in the Niners offense. I’d heard a few weeks ago that this one was going to very tricky, and my buddy Mike Silver, over at NFL Network, echoed that sentiment this week in reporting how far the sides are apart. When I asked Kittle himself about it a couple weeks ago, he just said, I’m not gonna talk contract stuff. … I’m gonna avoid all those questions,” and deferred to his agent. So as I see it, it’ll probably take a while to hash this one out, and that’s really no one’s fault. It’s just the oddity of the way an increasingly important position has been compensated, which may be best illustrated by the fact that the market has barely moved at all from the $9 million per year that Rob Gronkowski got on a six-year extension back in 2012.
We mentioned Cam Newton’s situation in the mailbag on Wednesday, and how the likelihood is he waits for the right situation. And I think something Joe Flacco said this week to Jets reporters, shortly after signing with the team, did a decent job of illustrating the kinds of quarterbacking work that’s available right now. Asked about mentoring Sam Darnold, Flacco responded, “I’m fully embracing it. It’s where I am right now and I’m glad to be on a team playing football in some capacity. And I think it’s going to be huge to get in there and know the guys and develop a relationship with the team and do anything I can to help the team get better and in that process help Sam with whatever he needs help with.” This is where the holes on rosters are, and for better or worse teams with young quarterbacks a lot of the time want their backups to be resources rather than threats to the starter. It’s easy to wrap your head around Chase Daniel doing that, harder with someone like Flacco or Newton. And it surely helped that Flacco had a sponsor in the building—GM Joe Douglas was the Ravens’ Northeast area scout when Baltimore was evaluating and drafting him out of Delaware—in convincing the Jets that he’d be OK in that kind of role. As for Newton? The sense I’ve gotten is, for now at least, that’s not the kind of job he wants, and it’d be harder for teams that don’t project him into it anyway. So the play for him now may be to wait for camp and either an injury cropping up somewhere, or some teams’ plans at quarterback not playing out as planned.
I’m with those who are expecting big things for Kyler Murray in 2020. And part of it is knowing how quarterbacks like Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson exploded in Year 2 after showing great potential in Year 1. Another part? How Murray could be similarly set up to succeeded. The three aforementioned guys had head coaches and coordinators committed to building a scheme for them who were creative enough to pull it off. I think Murray has that in Kliff Kingsbury. The previous three had very healthy tackle situations on their teams. If third-round pick Josh Jones (seen by some as a late first-rounder before he slipped) hits as D.J. Humphries’s bookend, Arizona will have that. And all had a top-shelf skill player on board, be it a tight end or receiver. The Cardinals just brought DeAndre Hopkins aboard, and already had Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. Bottom line: The situation around Murray should be significantly better than it was last year, all things considered. And he became the second rookie ever to break 3,500 yards passing and 500 yards rushing last year.
I know this column has had a bunch on the offseason work of coaches and players the last couple months, but I do think it’s worth paying attention to the number of Bills that showed up to Josh Allen’s workouts last week in Florida. In the pictures that went up on the internet, I counted 19 players. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to pull off, and it reflects something that gets overlooked in the criticism of Allen two years in: His teammates very much like and respect him. Now, that’s not going to make him more accurate down the field, or be the next step he has to take in Brian Daboll’s offense. But I think it does say something in how committed he is, how hard he works, and everything else they see from him on gameday (he’s pretty tough, the way he plays) and otherwise. I’ve had conversations with people in that organization about how Allen really won them over through the process—and they already liked him going in. And this should be another piece of evidence as to Allen’s intangible traits. Again, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to make it. But these are important qualities for a quarterback to have.
This offseason has been a good test of the makeup of certain teams, and the Texans are one team pretty happy with how its group has responded. The coaching staff adapted quickly to the technology, and that was important, given some of the changes afoot—33-year-old OC Tim Kelly is taking over play-calling and 39-year-old Anthony Weaver has replaced Romeo Crennel as the team’s defensive coordinator. But maybe even more impactful has been the players’ investment in the program, which plays right into Bill O’Brien and the team’s brass re-emphasizing the importance of stocking the locker room with pros. Holdovers like Kenny Stills and Will Fuller, and newcomers like Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks have already shown their ability to be difference-makers in that regard. And that all four are in a receiver room charged with replacing the production of Hopkins is no small thing.
There’s a method to how the Browns have set up their front office. And it’s rooted in the year that GM Andrew Berry had in Philadelphia. The new structure is, in fact, one reason why so many of the guys Berry worked with previously had to go—former assistant GM Eliot Wolf and VP of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith would have had to take de facto demotions to make it work. As the Eagles have it, the scouting department is set up in two silos. One is headed up by a VP of player personnel (Andy Weidl), the other by a VP of football operations (Berry’s old role). The former basically leads scouting, the latter everything else (analytics, etc.) In that structure, there was no room for an assistant GM like Wolf, and Highsmith likely would’ve had to be re-assigned to allow for Berry to have his own guy as scouting head (remember, Highsmith was hired over the top of Berry by GM John Dorsey). So those guys are gone, and ex-Niners exec Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is in as VP of football ops, with assistant director of pro scouting Glenn Cook promoted to VP of player personnel. So yes, there’s definitely an “analytics” feel to the front office. But the blueprint is actually borrowed from Philly.
I’d keep an eye on Falcons rookie Matt Hennessy. He’s already proving a quick study in Atlanta, and has shown himself to be professional, consistent and accountable in his early meetings with the team—which lines up with the background work the Falcons did, that showed the center to be a pretty beloved figure in the Temple program. Add to that the strong pre-COVID work he’d done (Senior Bowl, combine), and the Falcons are pretty happy they got him, just ahead of where the Jets (who have his brother, Thomas) and Cowboys were picking, and where I can say both (New York at 79, Dallas at 82) were in play to take him. And it’s good for the team to have a player they believe is capable of replacing 34-year-old cornerstone Alex Mack, with Mack heading into a contract year, and someone they’d envision lining up next to 2019 first-rounder Chris Lindstrom for a long time to come.
I think new Jaguars OC Jay Gruden did a good job of illustrating the challenge in front of new coaches this year, in explaining how he and Gardner Minshew will mesh. “It better mesh,” Gruden said. “It’s my job to make it mesh, to take on the personality of the quarterback and get him to understand what we’re trying to get accomplished on the play-to-play, game-to-game, week-to-week basis, it’s going to be critical. I love Gardner’s competitive spirit. You could see it shine through on tape when he was in college and obviously last year in the games he got to play. Now it’s just a matter of him getting some general knowledge of our offense and me figuring out what he likes, what he doesn’t like, what makes him tick and go from there. I’m pretty easy to get along with. I know he is too so I think it will be a great relationship between the two of us.” So two things stick out there. The first—finding a way to make personalities come together—can happen remotely. The second will be harder. The process of coach and quarterback going through what the latter likes and doesn’t like, to streamline an offense, is one that normally needs to be done on the field, so the player has a better feel for how each play works on the grass. And that’s something that, really, you can’t make “virtual.”
I always think it’s interesting to look into why teams take risks. Which brings me to the second of the Vikings’ first-round picks, Jeff Gladney. The Vikings were able to pick up an extra fourth-rounder to move down from 25 to 31, which better positioned them to roll the dice on Gladney, who’d had some issues (failed drug tests were part of it) at TCU. One reason they felt OK? Geography. The hope is that getting Gladney (who they believe is a good kid) out of Texas and bringing him to Minneapolis will force him to grow up a little bit, the same way such a move from Florida led Dalvin Cook getting past some of the trouble around him at Florida State. Will it work? We’ll see. But it’s clear the Vikings believe they can create the right kind of environment for guys like Gladney. Another interesting risk, from a geographic standpoint? Ex-Ohio State CB Damon Arnette going to the Raiders. Arnette showed a ton of growth, both personally and as a player, toward the end of his run in Columbus, but more than a couple teams have wondered aloud to me how he’ll handle being in Vegas. Which is interesting, because that dynamic is something new for the Raiders’ franchise to take into account when they’re drafting and signing guys (the Dolphins have balanced these things for years, of course).
All the best to the McCourty family. A really terrible tragedy hit Devin and his wife over the last week. And I’d just say that Devin’s among the most genuine, solid guys I’ve come across in 15 years covering the league. Not that you wouldn’t wish the best for anyone in the situation they’re in, but I’d say it sucks a little more seeing it happen to a guy like that. Prayers are with all of them.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
1) I don’t know if it’s possible to handle coming out of a pandemic worse than everyone in baseball is right now. What they’re missing, among a lot of things, is that the average fan doesn’t care whose fault it is that this turf war between billionaires and millionaires has erupted. Most aren’t even paying attention to that. What they will notice is the lack of baseball when basketball and hockey come back. And that’ll make it even harder to get that average fan to watch again whenever baseball is played again. Which only accelerate the decline the sport’s been on for a while in America.
2) Love what the NBA’s doing, with ideas of play-in tournaments leading into a full playoff being thrown around. Credit to that league and its union for doing what it takes to get this done. Should be fun to see it play out—whatever format they eventually land on—in a unique environment at Disney World.
3) And the NHL’s expected system looks awesome too, with the top four teams in each conference in a round robin to determine seeding, and another 16 teams playing in a play-in round to qualify for the tournament.
4) It was interesting to see how much more aggressive college football coaches were than NFL coaches to comment on George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests and riots. And I don’t think you have to be too much of a cynic to surmise that the reason for that might relate to recruiting.
5) Ten days until the PGA Tour is back on.
6) Be sure to check out the story of Ohio State basketball player Seth Towns. In the space of 24 hours, the graduate transfer received his degree from Harvard and landed in the back of a police van at a protest in Columbus.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
I’ve said this since well before he became Dolphins coach—Brian Flores is one impressive dude.
I understand most NFL owners have blown the benefit of the doubt on these matters. But I’ve seen Jed York take stands on these things when it wasn’t popular to do so in those meeting rooms, and so I’m taking what he’s saying here, and the contribution he’s making, as genuine.
Since we had Lance in the column, good to get his message in here too.
… And it struck me how the young quarterbacks—here we’ve got this year’s first overall pick and next year’s presumptive No. 1—were the quickest to respond to what’s happening in our country. To me, there’s some hope in that, as young, successful white kids, they felt it was important enough to have their voices heard on what’s going on in our country, even if that something doesn’t affect them like it does some of their teammates.
It wasn’t lost on me, either, how people responded to what Burrow said. Rightfully.
There’s good reason why so many have chosen to put Malcolm out front on important matters, football or otherwise.
So this isn’t a football tweet. But it’s definitely a 2020 tweet.
Also not football. But I figured you guys would wanna see it.
I’m not great at math, but I believe Saquon Barkley is repping 585-pound squats here.
I don’t know if Mike Vrabel could play in an NFL game right now, at 44 years old. But I’m not ready to say he couldn’t.
Very creative. And something I know my five-year-old would try to do if he saw a hill of gravel like that.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The NFL’s decision to extend the virtual offseason two more weeks makes June 15 the earliest date players could report. And the players and league negotiated a June 26 end date to the offseason program. That leaves a two-week window that the NFL and union has left, if players are going to return before training camp. And based on how protocols are working in other leagues, it seems unlikely all the players will return at once, to begin with.
What is possible is that the NFL and union work out a plan to have some players in to facilities somewhere in that two-week span to take physicals and get tested for COVID-19, which would allow teams to start to test their protocols for when players return en masse.
And if that’s going to happen, announcements from the governors in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York last week—that they’d allow pro sports teams to start practicing—certainly help. But there are still a lot of questions on how this is all going to work, and it sure does seem like when players return, that return will be handled very cautiously, and not with the kind of everyone-in-the-pool re-opening we saw post-lockout in 2011.
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