Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I don’t think I’m quite ready for it to be football season already.
In today’s SI:AM:
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Football is back tonight
I can’t believe that we’re only about a month away from the start of the NFL season. The preseason slate begins tonight with the Raiders facing the Jaguars in the Hall of Fame game in Canton before the rest of the league starts playing exhibition games next week.
Since veterans reported to training camps last week, two story lines have dominated the headlines: Deshaun Watson’s suspension (which the NFL is now appealing) and Jimmy Garoppolo’s fate with the 49ers. But there are plenty of other things worth paying attention to. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
The Steelers’ QB situation
Pittsburgh is going to have a new starting quarterback for the first time in 18 years after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. The leading candidate is Mitch Trubisky, who signed as a free agent after backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo last year. He’s been splitting first-team practice reps with Mason Rudolph, who has started 10 games over the past three seasons for the Steelers. Both guys appear to be solidly ahead of rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett on the depth chart.
Replacing a future Hall of Famer with one of those three guys is a tall order, and the early returns on Trubisky’s performance aren’t great. According to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, Trubisky has struggled in a common drill called “Seven Shots” in which the ball is placed at the 2-yard line and the offense has seven tries to score as many times as possible. Through Tuesday’s practice, Trubisky had only converted three of 20 tries, including a streak of 16 straight misses. (He did, however, lead the first-team offense to a touchdown in the two-minute drill in yesterday’s practice.)
It’s silly to put too much stock in training camp performances but Bears fans can tell you that Trubisky’s struggles aren’t anything new. Whether he or Rudolph wins the starting job, it won’t be long before fans are clamoring for Pickett to take over.
Matthew Stafford’s elbow
The Rams also have some cause for concern with their quarterback situation. Stafford had an anti-inflammatory injection in his throwing elbow in March to address an issue that had bothered him throughout last season. It sounds like the injection was no walk in the park. Stafford spent time this offseason with his arm in a brace and a sling as a result of the shot.
After not throwing at OTAs and minicamp, Stafford still isn’t back to a full workload. He threw during the individual portion of Monday’s practice but coach Sean McVay said yesterday that Stafford won’t be participating in team drills for the time being.
McVay has downplayed the injury but it isn’t promising that the starting quarterback for the defending Super Bowl champions is already banged up after not taking a hit for six months.
Here are a few other notable injuries:
- Tim Patrick, who led the Broncos with five touchdown catches last season, tore his ACL in practice
- Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen injured his knee and isn’t expected back until November or December
- Bills safety Jordan Poyer hyperextended his elbow but is expected to be ready for Week 1
- Cowboys receiver James Washington broke his foot, which will reportedly keep him out for 6–10 weeks
- Giants receiver Sterling Shepard entered camp on the physically unable to perform list after tearing his Achilles last season
- Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins is also on the PUP list after tearing his ACL last year but was adamant in a Twitter rant last month that he’ll be ready for Week 1
Only two players are holding out for new contracts but they’re significant ones.
The first is Bears linebacker Roquan Smith. Smith, who was named second team All-Pro in each of the past two seasons, has reported to camp but is not participating in drills as he angles for a new deal. He’s entering the final year of his rookie deal and wants an extension.
“They definitely got a ways to go when it comes to a long term deal,” SI’s Albert Breer told NBC Sports Chicago this week.
The other player is Bengals safety Jessie Bates III. Bates started 15 games for the AFC champions last year, plus all four playoff games. The Bengals slapped him with the franchise tag but Bates has refused to sign the tender and has not reported to training camp. He would earn $12.9 million this year under the tag but is hoping for a long-term extension. The Bengals are prepared for life without Bates, though. They picked Michigan’s Daxton Hill in the first round of this year’s draft to fill in if Bates isn’t around.
The best of Sports Illustrated
Because there’s no such thing as too many Vin Scully tributes, today’s Daily Cover, by Steve Rushin, is about how Scully’s humility endeared him to generations of baseball fans:
That voice conveyed his humility. Scully had a self-effacing instinct that always failed, for the smaller he made himself, the larger he became. He is remembered, among many other calls, for failing to describe Henry Aaron’s 715th home run, after which he removed his headphones and walked to the back of the booth so as not to talk over the action. His mentor, Red Barber, taught him two things: “Shut up and slow up.”
Conor Orr explains how the NFL’s investigation into the Dolphins will impact the entire league. … Michael Rosenberg writes that recent scandals have only worsened Roger Goodell’s credibility problem. … Ben Pickman breaks down the significance of Paige Bueckers’s torn ACL.
Around the sports world
Marlins ace Sandy Alcántara recorded his third complete-game shutout of the season, dropping his ERA to 1.88. … Home plate umpire Jim Wolf called a third strike on Yordan Álvarez but didn’t call him out. … A group of LIV Golf players, headlined by Phil Mickelson, has sued the PGA Tour for antitrust violations. … Saints rookie Trevor Penning was kicked out of practice after starting a fight for the third straight day. … Nick Saban says last season, during which Alabama went 12–1, was a “rebuilding year.” … The president of Serie A club Napoli said he won’t sign any more African players unless they agree not to play in the Africa Cup of Nations.
The top five...
… things I saw yesterday:
5. Hunter Renfrow snagging the front seat of an Uber while his bigger teammates squeezed into the back row.
4. Shohei Ohtani’s nasty slider to strike out Tony Kemp.
3. Two slick plays by the Rockies’ José Iglesias and Brendan Rodgers.
2. Another long, long home run by Oneil Cruz.
1. This dinger from Cleveland’s Amed Rosario.
On this day in 1982, which MLB player became the first to record a hit for two different teams in two different cities on the same day?
Yesterday’s SIQ: How many games was Phil Niekro suspended for after he was caught with a nail file on the mound?
Answer: 10. In the fourth inning of a game against the Angels, the second base umpire, Steve Palermo, saw Niekro slip something into his back pocket when he was on the mound. Home plate umpire Tim Tschida came out to check his glove while Palermo ran in and made sure Niekro didn’t dispose of anything from his pockets. Manager Tom Kelly ran out to protest the search but Niekro was made to empty his pockets and as he turned them inside out tried to surreptitiously throw away his emery board. That led to the unforgettable image of the look of disbelief on Palermo’s face as the nail file went flying through his peripheral vision.
Niekro became the first player ejected for doctoring the ball since Gaylord Perry was caught throwing spitballs in 1982.
“Those balls weren’t roughed up,” Angels manager Gene Mauch said. “Those balls were borderline mutilated.”
Niekro tried to claim that the emery board was simply for keeping his fingernails trimmed during games so he could throw his signature knuckleball.
“I’ve been carrying [an emery board] for 15 years,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune at the time. “Being a knuckleball pitcher, I sometimes file my nails between innings. And if I need to, I’ll even do it between pitches, which is why I carry it with me.”
The explanation was about as believable as his innocent act on the mound. Niekro had his suspension upheld on appeal and he lost some $43,000 in salary as a result.
Niekro was in on the joke, though. While he served his suspension, he flew to New York and was a guest on Late Night with David Letterman, where he appeared wearing a toolbelt loaded with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos, including a belt sander.
From the Vault: Aug. 4, 1969
When Bill Russell decided to hang it up after the 1968–69 season, he chose to break the news in Sports Illustrated. In a first-person piece under the byline William F. Russell, the future Hall of Famer announced that he was walking away from the Celtics.
“Since 1943, when I first saw a basketball, I’ve played approximately 3,000 games, organized and otherwise,” Russell wrote. “I think that’s enough.”
Russell, 35, explained that he simply wasn’t interested in playing or coaching any longer.
If you’re really looking for a reason why I feel I’ve played enough, I’ll tell you this. There are professionals and there are mercenaries in sports. The difference between them is that the professional is involved. I was never a mercenary. If I continued to play, I’d become a mercenary because I’m not involved anymore.
I have a year to go on my contract with the Celtics. It’s one of the most lucrative in sports, and I was very happy with it. A couple of my friends think I should at least stick out that year because of the money. Believe me, I wouldn’t mind having all that money. But I’m not going to play basketball for money. I’ve been paid to play, of course, but I played for a lot of other reasons, too.
I was planning to feature this cover even before Russell died over the weekend, because it’s always fascinating to hear a frank account of why an elite athlete is deciding to step away. But it’s especially worth reading the man in his own words alongside any other Russell tributes you’ve seen this week.
Check out more of SI’s archives and historic images at vault.si.com.
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