When we last left our favorite Nuggeteer, he was just getting back from vacation and calling for the US involvement in the Russia-Ukraine situation. This week he starts his annual trip visiting training camps around the country. Hope he brings up Gaza down in Texas.
As always, this column has been edited from its original running time for length and sanity. Parental guidance is advised.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — This is what a real training-camp practice sounds like,
We’re not even a full sentence in and I’m ready to go watch Stephen A. Smith on “First Take” over reading the rest of this column. What a real training camp sounds like? Training camp is hyphenated? Who let the New York Times in here?
via the verbal stylings of New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his defensive coach, Bill Johnson.
That sound? “AAAAAAAAARROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”
The scene: First padded Saints practice of camp … Sunday morning, 9:19 a.m. … defensive line group in the southwestern end of the brand-new field at The Greenbrier … grass like an Augusta fairway (and I’m not kidding)
A fancy resort known for its golf courses knows how to grow grass? You are kidding.
… cool morning, about 71 … storm clouds rolling in from the west, white cumulus ones interrupted by the Allegheny Mountains—in fact clouding the view of the homes of Nick Faldo and Jerry West … the nine-man defensive-line group stretching and warming up before hitting someone else for the first time since January.
Ryan, moving from man to man: “Hit today. Hit. Hit. Be physical. Be physical. Get the ball out! Lotta life. Let’s go. Let’s go, D. C’mon now. First practice in pads. F—in’ pads!! Let’s go!”
The linebacker group joined the defensive linemen. One by one, the players lined up and attacked the individual sled. One after one, all of them plowed into it with their hands and upper bodies, lifted it up and tossed it aside.
“All right!” Ryan said. “Now this is football.”
AAAARRRROOOOOOooooooooooo? A sled is football? Football is Rosebud?
The group finished. Johnson began hustling to the next drill.
“Come on, Bill!” said Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan. “We always do two!”
Least favorite person on the line right now? Jordan asking for a second rep on the first day in pads.
“All right, baby!” Johnson said. “Let’s go!”
A second shot for everyone at the sled ensued. A few minutes later players lined up on either side of the ball for an inside-running drill. No tackle, but the defense could stand up the ball-carrier with a hard thud and try to strip the ball. Lots of hype and excitement here, followed by a couple of runners shaking loose and getting outside.
Ryan: “F—in’ lettin’ them run through you like paper! Awful!”
Next play: Running back Khiry Robinson got eaten alive inside. Never made it out of the mugging throng.
Maybe if they weren’t so tired after additional reps.
And so it ebbed and flowed, the first padded practice of a promising season. It was a fun scene, but the most impressive 20 minutes I spent in Week 1 on the Training Camp Tour goes to…
/Goes to Vegas and puts the mortgage payment down on the Saints to win the Super Bowl.
* * *
Saturday, July 26
Eagles facility, Philadelphia
Chip Kelly, unplugged
Someone had to be worse than Nickleback unplugged. May as well be Chip Kelly.
I’ve had only two extended conversations with Kelly since he was named coach of the Eagles 19 months ago. To say I know him well would be folly. But I’m starting to get a feel for him. Before his first training camp practice of the season on Saturday, we spent time in his office, and when we parted, I thought how much he reminded me of Jimmy Johnson when Johnson entered the league 25 years ago. Respectful of the other coaches and teams, but they aren’t going to dictate what he’s going to do. Totally confident that his style will work in the NFL. Unlike Johnson, Kelly’s not brash on the outside. Like Johnson, he knows deep down his way will win. Johnson brought a small, fast defense into a league that was going bigger and bigger. It worked. Kelly brings a fast-break offense from Oregon, and in the second half of the season, with different personnel groupings and a quarterback who could keep it all straight, the team went 7-1.
Sort of interesting to think that PK is entering the Lloyd Bentsen era of his career, comparing people to other people in olden times. (Nothing to criticize here, as I personally think Kelly is a fascinating coach and I hate thinking about happy Philadelphia fans with a winning team. They’re so much more fun when they’re losing.)
He also is the kind of guy who … I’ll put it this way. Imagine Ford was getting stale making cars (imagine that!), and execs there pursued a Honda VP to rejuvenate the company, and in the interview the Honda guy said five or six things that made the Ford team think, “Why didn’t we think of that?” That’s Kelly.
Wait, what? Seems like a gratuitous shot at Ford when he meant to say Saturn.
The five or six things he said Saturday that made me think:
The biggest surprise of his first year and a half on the job. “The hype. [Director of public relations] Derek [Boyko] asked me the question and said I couldn’t say it … What’s the worst thing about the league? I said the draft. I mean, the hype that goes into the draft is insane. Totally insane. The biggest thing for me is that everybody thinks whoever you drafted or whoever you signed is now gonna be a savior. They come in just like me and you come in as freshmen in high school or freshmen in college, or your first year on the job at Sports Illustrated—you’re not telling people what to do, you’re just trying to figure out what room to go to. I think a lot of times the hype turns into really, really hard times for the individual who got picked, because there’s so many expectations of everyone building them up to be Superman because they had three months to write about them and talk about them. Then when they get picked, they’re a very, very good prospect, but there’s a learning curve when you go from any job out of college into a company. If you take a job at Wells Fargo when you get out of college, your first day of the job they don’t say, ‘He’s our first-round draft pick, he’s the savior to the company!’
Yes, because Chip Kelly would have no idea what that is like coaching for Oregon and what signing day is like. 17 year-olds saving entire college programs. That’s just silly.
“I think the byproduct to the hype that bothers me, is that to some guys it’s overwhelming for them. The NFL has their Rookie Premiere and they’re out there getting all these pictures taken and they’re missing practice time to go out to California and they’re treated like gods, and I’m like, I don’t know if he’s going to start. That’s not fair. And the analysis … We drafted [pass-rusher] Marcus Smith in the first round, and Jordan Matthews in the second round. Then you listen to people around here that say, ‘Well, we don’t like their draft. If they had taken Matthews first and Smith second, we would give them an A.’ Who cares who went one and who went two?
The players and the GM working out the deal that gets them paid?
It’s almost like there’s a lot of scrutiny on Marcus Smith because he went one, but Jordan gets a pass because he fell to the second round. If you ask both those individuals, they have the same goals and aspirations and they’re training exactly the same way. It’s just how people perceive things, and I think a lot of that has to do with the hype.
“Jerry Rice dropped a lot of balls when he was a rookie. He was a strong kid. He took it. But now, for some of these guys, it crushes them. It’s no different than bringing a pitcher up before you should and he gets racked. He’s a stiff. Send him back to the minors. There’s a maturation process for everybody. There’s no other profession like it. The hype part is just constant.”
And starts when weirdos (FINE – Scouts, alumni and bag men) start looking at high school sophomores tape on Rivals, not in the NFL.
On not seeming emotional—ever. “Oh, I get pissed off. Yeah. I have a lot of friends who are Navy SEALs, and I respect what they do. Part of their ethos is ‘I don’t advertise the nature of my work, nor do I seek recognition for my actions.’ We all have jobs to do. We’re not in this to see our names in the paper or have people say good things about you. Or we shouldn’t be. I love practice. I love being out on the field. I love game day. The sound bytes and ESPN and all those other things, that’s not of any interest to me.”
Except for when SEALs sell books about the Osama Bin Laden raid. Chip Kelly is totally writing a book now. This very instant. Has a copy in both Word and Scrivener.
On players buying into Kelly’s advanced nutrition program. (Note from me here. I asked LeSean McCoy about Kelly’s emphasis on nutrition. “I eat better than I ever have,’’ McCoy said. “Chip says things like, ‘Think back to your greatest games. How was your preparation that week? Did you get your rest? Did you eat right? And think of games you weren’t great. How were your habits that week?’ I got lighter last year. I’m maybe 209 now. I was about 10 pounds heavier the year before. And there’s no question I make people miss better now. I just feel better.”)
What the Eagles players do not know is that the advanced nutrition program actually has the same reveal as the advanced nutrition from CLOUD ATLAS.
Kelly: “I believe nutrition ideas have helped. I think that obviously our job is to be educators. So we’re educating them on what’s gonna make them the best football player that they can possibly be. We have to find people that are gonna use that information. That’s the key ingredient. We have a lot of guys here that are thirsty for knowledge. They eat up what we’re teaching. We’re not babysitting them. We don’t go home and watch what they eat. Nor should we. I want a bunch of guys that … We’re gonna provide you with everything we possibly can for you to be successful, but you have to do it. You have to work. You have to be the one that adopts those philosophies yourself. We don’t have you on lockdown. Nor should we. I don’t want guys like that.”
The old, “treat people like adults and they’ll behave like adults” of Silicon Valley HR.
Changing the practice week to a faster pace and heavier work load later in the week. “We’re not walking through. We’re running. Always running.”
Treatment of rookies. “We try to accept everyone when they first come in here. We’ve never had a rookie show… It’s difficult when you’re a rookie. You’re just trying to fit in. Then you have to get them to acclimate to offense, defense, special teams. All the other stuff that’s so different and they now have to worry about. Then to have to do other things on top of it? We try to be very accepting when young guys come in here and welcome them to what we’re doing. I think our older guys by and large have been really good with that.”
Also it’s hard to get into legal problems over hazing if there isn’t any hazing. Dammit, is Kelly to smart for the NFL?
Predictions. “No one knows. I don’t know. I don’t know anybody that does know. I was asked after the draft, ‘Give yourself a grade.’ I was like, ‘I have absolutely no idea.’ But it’s the truth! No one knows. I’ve said it all along. Everybody says, ‘What a great job by the Patriots getting Tom Brady in the sixth round.’ If you knew he was gonna be that good, you should have taken him in the first. No one knows. We all kind of luck out.”
And so it went.
The real question is did the interview go so well you can now rely on Kelly to be an anonymous source? Did you at least pitch the idea to him of joining the Anonymous Source program? It comes with Starwood points and Starbucks gift cards with each quote.
A few interesting points about year one of Kelly’s Eagles, from Neil Hornsby and Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus. Nick Foles is so much more a Kelly quarterback than Mike Vick was. Last year, Foles led all NFL quarterbacks with a 131.8 rating when blitzed. Vick’s rating: 78.4. That says Foles can think quickly under pressure, and a Kelly passer also has to think quickly because the offense is moving fast anyway.
Good thing Vick is with the non-thinking man’s coach, Rex Ryan then. He probably didn’t even see CLOUD ATLAS.
It’s going to be a fascinating year two. If the Eagles continue the fast-track of the last two months of last season, Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans are going to have competition for late January football in the NFC.
Friday, July 25
Bon Secours Training Facility, Richmond, Va.
Robert Griffin III looks like Robert Griffin III again.
Washington’s a mystery team in a mystery division.
It’s easy to look at the team and figure it was a 3-13 outfit last year, and maybe the quarterback is healthy again, but is that enough to make a playoff return? Robert Griffin III is back, and from the looks of this practice this morning—he ran, slid (surprise!) and threw the ball well—he’s got a chance to be the man he was two years ago. The big thing Griffin has going for him is the deepest roster of weapons in the NFC East. Couple DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and Andre Roberts, the former Cardinal (who looked elusive and very quick today), with a tight end with breakout-star potential, Jordan Reed, and a back with 2,888 yards in his first two years, Alfred Morris, and, I mean, who tops that? The defense allowed 30 points once in the last 13 games. But the mystery comes in because, at 24, Griffin now has had two ACL reconstructions, and he simply has to avoid some of the crash-test contact that’s gotten him in trouble in his college and pro career.
Yes, that is a list of impressive players and a note about surgery. Good to see everyone had to go to camp to get this very valuable information.
“Physically,” Griffin told me after practice, “I was able to go through a whole off-season without having to worry about injury or rehab. I was able to refine my craft in the off-season. It’s a lot easier to do that when you don’t have six hours of daily rehab to worry about. I am not having to come out to see if I can do anything. I know I can. On the field, two years of playing experience really helps you at any level of football.”
And then he had to pause a second, because the kids nearby were too loud, demanding he come over to sign for them. He would in a minute.
“Ro-BERT! Ro-BERT! Ro-BERT!”
Kids. So unoriginal.
He went on. “None of us shy away from the fact that we were 3-13 last year. We have a bad taste in our mouths. For us as a group, we get to play football again, and we have a new coach, a new direction. That direction’s up.”
Really hard to go down from 3-13, but it’s Washington. Nothing is off the table.
* * *
Thursday, July 24
Ravens facility, Owings Mills, Md.
Ray Rice resumes his career, chastened
Six seconds of mayhem, if that, ruined six seasons of reputation-building for Ray Rice, suspended for two games and fined $529,000 for striking his fiancée last February. And for one day anyway, the day I was here, Rice was a downtrodden man. Now the questions that remain:
Only six seconds? AND “MAYHEM” IS HOW YOU EXPLAIN AWAY A PHYSICAL FIGHT WHERE A PLAYER KNOCKS OUT HIS GIRLFRIEND? Fucking hell, PK. “Mayhem” is not what happened. “Mayhem” generally doesn’t drag an unconscious person around.
1. How will he respond to the suspension, and to the world at-large that thinks commissioner Roger Goodell let him off way too easy? Rice was significantly down, I’m told, when GM Ozzie Newsome told him the news before practice Thursday. Not about the length of the suspension, but because of the weight of feeling he let so many people down. He will have to rebuild a shattered reputation brick by brick, and continue to work on his marriage, all while trying to jump-start a career that was blown off course by an awful 2013.
Not to be an old person, but the “brick by brick” now just has me hearing “Another Brick in the Wall” and in my head, PK is the school teacher filling the kids with terrible explanations of violence.
2. Is he really out of the woods with his wife, and can he be trusted to never hit another woman? Obviously this is the crux of the ongoing story. His wife, Janay, told Goodell this was a one-time event that would never happen again, and Goodell apparently believed her, though domestic-abuse experts say that as often as not a victim won’t tell the truth, so as to save her partner’s neck. Rice won’t get a third chance from society, so he has to know this can’t happen again.
Can you imagine having to talk about your marriage with the NFL commissioner? Of all the indignities Janay Rice has had to suffer in the aftermath of her assault, this has to be one of the lowest. He studied economics, not counseling.
3. What about Rice the player? Rice was making changes to his physical life before he struck his fiancée, losing about 15 pounds this off-season. He was too heavy last year to be effective, and couldn’t make anyone miss. Now 204, around his rookie-year weight, Rice seems to be ready to be very good again—for 14 games, at least. “I honestly think he’s going to dominate the league the way he did two or three years ago,’’ one Raven said. Rice had 2,068 rushing/receiving yards as recently as 2011. He looks and moves like he can still be an impact player.
But at the end of the day, it comes back to the game and look. Ray Rice is back at his rookie weight. Well that’s good. We might want to stop calling him an “impact” player though.
Rice will leave the team after the fourth preseason game, and he can return after the Ravens’ Sept. 11 Thursday night game against Pittsburgh. You can’t play football with your tail between your legs. So he’s going to find a way to make sure he’s ready when he walks back into football in September, trying to recapture the drive he had three years ago as a player.
Again, back to the football and what it means to the football. Football.
* * *
New York Giants
Wednesday, July 23
Giants facility, East Rutherford, N.J.
How do you change everything at age 67?
Tom Coughlin would be a good study for AARP or the Harvard Business School. Or both. This year he did two very uncharacteristic Coughlin things:
He blew up an offense he’s been associated with or ran every season for the last 27.
A noted control freak, Coughlin handed the offense to a stranger, Ben McAdoo, a Green Bay assistant.
“YOU MEAN BEN MCADOODOOHEAD.”
A stranger! “Well,” he said, “Bill Parcells didn’t know me when he hired me [as a Giants assistant in 1988] either.”
“Why, for the first three months of my career Parcells thought I was the copy boy.”
So, I asked the oldest head coach in the NFL, what does it take to hit restart at age 67?
“Have you seen the number of Cialis ads during an NFL game, Peter?”
“I looked at our team and I just felt like what I needed to do from a leadership standpoint was stimulate our veteran players,’’ he said. “Stimulate Eli. Create some energy, some renewed vigor, some enthusiasm for the unknown. Eli had played in this system for 10 years. We won two Super Bowls with it. His numbers from time to time have been out of sight. He’s a leading guy in the two-minute offense for any number of years, when we had great running teams, we had balance, he’d been incredible. He’s been the MVP of two Super Bowls. Eli’s had to do it like a young guy coming in. That’s exactly what he’s done. For me, I have to force myself, just like all the players, to learn a new system. It is stimulating. It does create a little bit of pressure. You remember when we used to practice twice a day in pads? You had about an hour between and you ran around like a crazy guy as an assistant coach. You came off the field, you grabbed lunch, you got back in a meeting, you went back in with the players, you taught a whole new installation list for the afternoon. Those things have kind of mellowed out because of the new system that we’re in. But now, I think there’s some energy that maybe we haven’t had.’’
The TL;dr of Coughlin: romance was dead, needed a new spark. Brought in a third to spice things up.
* * *
Monday, July 21
St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, N.Y.
You want to feel pressure? Be E.J. Manuel for a day.
In a recent Bills’ practice, young GM Doug Whaley, who cut his teeth watching some bombs-away quarterbacks win games and titles in Pittsburgh—most recently Ben Roethlisberger—sidled up to E.J. Manuel and said, “Don’t be perfect. Be a football player.”
“Would a perfect person send porn around the office? No. A football player though…”
Translation: Take some chances downfield, man. You’ve got some weapons out there now.
Manuel led all quarterbacks in football last year in percentage of pass attempts to running backs. That usually means a quarterback is checking the ball down, playing it safe. When the Bills drafted the most dangerous receiver in college football in May, Sammy Watkins, they didn’t draft him to block for running backs.
In one practice I saw, Manuel was ultra-disciplined and careful not to turn it over—I thought far too safe to ever get the full benefit out of playing with Watkins. But the next day Manuel got the ball downfield a few more times, particularly down the sidelines to Watkins. That’s going to be something Whaley and the coaching staff must monitor. You don’t want to browbeat your quarterback, but you don’t want Watkins to be running clear-out routes either.
The next two weeks of camps will be nothing but “trust falls” for Manuel. This being the Bills means Manuel will be dumped to the ground about 278 times.
“There is discipline in checking it down too,” coach Doug Marrone said. “We’d never have beat Baltimore last year if he wasn’t so efficient moving the ball downfield with short throws in the two-minute offense. But I won’t say you’re totally wrong either. We’ve got to get it downfield.”
ELITE check downs. Maybe Flacco can learning something from the loss. As for the Bills, this is a lot of words for a team that still plays in the morass of the AFC East.
* * *
It’s Tweetup Time.
Please join me at Louisville Slugger Field in Louisville next Sunday at 5 p.m. for a Tweetup, to discuss everything you need to know about the 2014 NFL season. Actually, I’ll be there to answer any questions you have and to meet and greet whoever is interested. I’ll have The MMQB Team with me, along with our country-touring RV (which is starting to get a little gamey; imagine what it’ll be like in a week), on the heels of watching the Titans practice Saturday night in Nashville.
Which one of the KSK readers is going to be a hero and give us a full report? COULD IT BE YOU?
A Tweetup, for those not well-versed in Tweetdom, is this: I show up at a public place, you come and see me, we talk for a while, maybe have a beer, and then we leave. The minor-league Louisville Bats play that night, and this being a Serenity Now evening for me, our team will relax at the ballpark.
Follow me on Twitter (@SI_PeterKing) for exact details and location, which I’ll post Friday on my Twitter feed.
This like a normal meet up, but the details are posted on Twitter. I think this terminology is all Shaq’s fault. Guess PK’s daughter still works there? MAYBE.
Quotes of the Week
“The really great athletes makes their news on the field, not off the field. We expect better from him.”
—Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam, on his life-of-the-party quarterback, Johnny Manziel.
It’s clear the Browns are chapped by their rookie QB’s lifestyle, which I’ll address in Ten Things on Page 4.
*Note to self: take own life before getting to Page 4.*
“On Sundays, and depending on how many games Roger makes us play—some Saturdays, some Thursdays, some Mondays—those are going to be the guys that I’m out there with. Those are the guys who are important.”
—Former Steelers safety Ryan Clark on his new teammates in the Washington secondary.
I also liked this one the other day from Clark: “We don’t have the man with the hair, but we’ve really got a great secondary, I think.” There’s only one Troy Polamalu.
“I think” sounds like a question so have fun there in DC, Clark. As a Steelers fan, going to miss you, but all good things must come to an end and it’s not your fault you couldn’t play in the game we lost to Tebow.
“I feel 30 and I want to coach until I’m 80.”
—New Orleans coach Sean Payton, who is 50, responding to Drew Brees saying he wanted to play until he’s 45.
Payton sounds like all divorced 50 year old men. It’s fucking creepy how all men after their midlife crisis sound alike. (INCLUDING YOU, DAD.)
Sign of the Week
“Don’t sign Dalton. He sucks”
—Banner on a highway overpass near the Cincinnati Bengals practice fields at training camp Friday, referring to contract negotiations with quarterback Andy Dalton, not the biggest fan favorite after three straight Wild Card playoff losses in his three NFL seasons. Tough crowd in Bengal-land.
Also could be part of an anti-ginger extremist group.
Stat of the Week
I was on the sidelines of Saints practice Sunday when it became very clear what the emphasis of camp will be—forcing turnovers.
First: New Orleans bucked the conventional wisdom about needing to take the ball away on defense to have a good chance to win. The worst takeaway teams in the NFC last year show that, mostly, when you don’t force turnovers, you don’t win a lot:
Team W-L-T Turnovers forced
New Orleans 11-5 19
Minnesota 5-10-1 20
Atlanta 4-12 21
Detroit 7-9 22
Green Bay 8-7-1 22
Washington 3-13 26
It’s almost like offense also matters in this discussion.
So the Saints’ defensive coaches harped from the start of the first padded practice about taking the ball away. “Get the [expletive] ball out!’’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan screamed as Khiry Robinson tried to power through the line on an inside run drill. And so on.
On a sideline completion to fullback Eric Lorig, right corner Champ Bailey stripped the ball out violently, the ball bounded toward the white stripe, safety Rafael Bush dove and batted it in-bounds, and another defender recovered it and sprinted downfield. Well, you’d have thought the defensive backs just won a playoff game. They went wild. “That’s who we gotta be!’’ one of the DBs yelled.
Training camp. Can you just feel the excitement coming from PK’s fingertipsssssszzzzzzzzz…
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Baltimore wide receiver Steve Smith and quarterback Joe Flacco have an interesting competition going: They wager $25 Starbucks cards…
… when they disagree on on-field reads they have made. Case in point: Smith and Flacco viewed one adjusted Smith route differently, causing an errant throw; Smith said he was reading a Cover-2 alignment by the defense. Flacco said it was Cover-3. They went to the videotape. Flacco was right. They saw on video two corners covering the deep third of either side of the field, with the free safety dropping to cover the deep middle.
In the Starbucks Card standings this offseason, Flacco has a two-card lead on Smith. Oh, and Smith pays up—usually the next day.
Of course, Joe is never going to use the gift cards. Not after the “all of the syrups” incident of 2013.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
First: thanks to GoRVing.com for the groovy 30-foot RV.
As an aside, have any of the KSK readers looked at renting an RV for a trip? We looked into it with some friends to Cannonball Run it up to Devil’s Tower from LA for a special screening of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS a few years back and it was prohibitively expensive. Tahiti would have been cheaper with first-class tickets. Scotland cost us less. Now whenever I see someone in GoRV ride, I cannot help but say, “Check out those millionaires. Must be nice to have RV rental money.”
Anyway, just another footnote in the “PK understands the cost of nothing” chapter of this column.
Now, here have been the movements of The MMQB Team, piloted by trusty driver/tour manager/pinch-hitting columnist/office mainstay Andy DeGory:
Sunday July 20: Drive 330 miles from New York City to Pittsford, N.Y., to see the Bills for two days.
Monday night, July 21: Drive 330 miles back to New York.
Tuesday, July 22: Off day.
Wednesday, July 23: Drive eight miles from New York to the Meadowlands for Giants practice.
Thursday, July 24: Drive 199 miles from New York to Owings Mills, Md., for the Ravens, and, after a long day there, drive 163 miles to Richmond in advance of Washington’s practice there Friday.
Friday, July 25: Watch Washington practice, work for awhile, then drive 88 miles to Woodbridge, Va., for the Potomac Nationals-Carolina MudCats minor-league ballgame.
Wondered where our baseball reference was this column. A minor league game to boot! In an RV!
Then drive 118 miles to Newark, Del., to stay for the night.
Saturday, July 26: A bear. Drive 42 miles to Philadelphia for Eagles practice. Late in the afternoon, drive 198 miles to Winchester, Va., eat dinner at Violino Ristorante (thank you, internet), and drive 186 miles to White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. A Hampton Inn bed never felt so good.
Geographical-interlude highlight: We were in three states—Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia—in the span of one minute Saturday around 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 27: Drive 308 miles from White Sulphur Springs to Gaffney, S.C., just shy of Panthers’ camp, for their Monday practice.
Late Sunday afternoon, we passed a “Welcome to Virginia” sign. Amazing. Virginia to West Virginia to Virginia to West Virginia to Virginia … in one weekend.
That last line sounds like the travel log of a Civil War reenactment cosplayer.
Tweets of the Week
Colts owner Jim Irsay passed out $100 bills to fans today at training camp.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) July 26, 2014
There’s something slightly creepy about that. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s strange.
If you cannot identify what “buying love” is anymore, you’ve been part of the junket game for too long. See also; a free RV rental.
Ten Things I Think I Think
Oh boy. This is my least favorite part of Fun with PK duty. Honestly. Just once let it be only ten things. It would be like all of the Christmases in my life combined.
1. I think if there’s any question about America’s appetite for pro football, consider this: The Broncos got 21,933 to watch an early-camp practice Sunday, and the Patriots got a total of 25,000 over the weekend for two practices.
Who is questioning American’s love for the NFL? WHERE? Every article in the world talks about how the NFL is a huge juggernaut that cannot be beaten. It leads the prime time ratings race. Are the shadows on the RV wall telling you otherwise, PK? Whispering to you as you try to sleep that this is all for nothing?
Well it is, but that has nothing to do with football’s popularity.
2. I think this would worry me—a lot—if I were Cleveland coach Mike Pettine, and Cleveland owner Jimmy Halsam: the photo of first-round rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel tightly rolling a $20 bill in the bathroom of a bar, as reported by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. There’s no crime in that, obviously. But it’s certainly suspicious. And even if Manziel was kidding around (I have no knowledge of what he was doing), it’s not funny, and it gives every Manziel hater the fodder they need to say, “I told you so. I told you it was a waste to pick party boy in the first round.” Good for Pettine to call Manziel immediately upon learning of the photo. That’s got to stop.
Too bad Pettine’s call went straight to cash-money phone voicemail.
3. I think if you’ve read me since March, you know I’m a champion of Manziel the player. I think he has a chance to be a terrific NFL player and game-changer. I don’t want him to go to a monastery every night. I want him to understand this is the big leagues, not the big party leagues. And image counts. It’s not everything, but it counts.
“I’m in the bag for Manziel, but not if that bag says ‘Crown Royal’ on the outside.”
4. I think Doug Marrone sure looks like the smart one for passing on Ryan Nassib, his quarterback at Syracuse, in favor of E.J. Manuel in the draft last year. Nassib’s had a poor start to his second camp, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Curtis “House” Painter win the Giants backup job in the next month.
Not for nothing, but asking a second year backup quarterback to learn a second playbook in two years is tough for anyone.
5. I think you can tell his contract is weighing on Ben Roethlisberger, and not just because he told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, “Playing this year at my current salary, it’s like I’m taking a hometown discount.’’ Roethlisberger is due to make $12.1 million this year and $11.6 million in the last year of his deal in 2016, and Steelers president Art Rooney II said over the weekend to Steelers.com the team would not be re-doing the contract this year. Thirteen quarterbacks currently have a higher average salary than Roethlisberger’s 2014 base. This is Roethlisberger’s 11th season. He’s been beaten up his share in his career. It’ll be interesting to see if the Steelers pay him what the going rate for playoff quarterbacks is—somewhere between $19 million and $21 million a year. I think he’d have to come through this season healthy and having played well for the Steelers to commit another $100-million deal to him over the next five years.
From the AP on Friday, since I don’t think there is any real drama to the contract talk out of Pittsburgh this weekend:
Steelers president Art Rooney II said Friday the team is putting off awarding Roethlisberger a lengthy — and certainly lucrative — extension until the offseason so it can focus on improving a roster that has missed the playoffs each of the past two years.
Pittsburgh typically renegotiates with its starting quarterback when there are two years remaining on the current deal. Roethlisberger is about to enter the penultimate season of an eight-year, $102 million contract he signed before the 2008 season.
While Rooney is adamant about making sure Roethlisberger is a Steeler for the remainder of his career, putting something together in 2015 makes more fiscal sense than ironing something out before the 2014 opener against Cleveland.
6. I think one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in Week 1 of the camp trip is the undue pressure some players and coaches feel from big-money fantasy-football players. I had one coach tell me there’s so much money in some of these fantasy-football playoff pools that people who used to gamble with bookies illegally are now gambling in high-stakes fantasy-football leagues, which is not illegal. The NFL has its antennae up over this, and it’ll be interesting to see if the pressure escalates to more serious threats on players or coaches.
“But we know fantasy football will never go away because it’s what helps keep our product interesting to the fans. Why else would you watch a Cards-Rams game if not for the fantasy implications?”
7. I think the way the league operates this will not happen, but if I were Roger Goodell, I’d take time this week to explain why I suspended Ray Rice for two games and not more. The reason he won’t do this is because it will extend an ugly story for another couple of news cycles, because whatever he says he’ll get bashed over the head for it by people who think he went far too soft on Rice for domestic violence on his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. But this is the one time, even if the criticism continued sharply, I think Goodell needs to come out and explain himself. Too many women, and plenty of men, feel outraged over this.
What’s curious is that PK himself really hasn’t said if he thinks in the punishment is too short. It’s a weird line you have to walk in Nuggetlandia, one that cannot be good for the soul.
8. I think one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a while is Buzz Bissinger’s claim in his Nick Foles story for Philadelphia Magazine: “Acolytes get to heaven. Strut gets you to the Super Bowl.” It makes a good story, that quarterbacks need to be Joe Namath or Johnny Manziel or Brett Favre to be great, but it’s absolutely false that they have to be. Let’s look at the last four Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks:
Super Bowl 48. Seattle (and Russell Wilson, altar boy) 43, Denver 8.
Super Bowl 47: Baltimore (and Joe Flacco, who does have a little bit of counter-culture to him) 34, San Francisco 31.
Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha “Joe Flacco” and “counter-culture” in the same sentence. Does Joe secretly have a copy of “Best of The Clash” in his locker that PK once spotted?
Super Bowl 46. New York Giants (and Eli Manning, sleepy and totally non-controversial) 21, New England 17.
Super Bowl 45. Green Bay (and Aaron Rodgers, a swell guy who, like Manning, hates all aspects of fame) 31, Pittsburgh 25.
Foles is a boring guy in front of the press and maybe even throughout his real life. Fine. In his fraternity, that makes him neither a winner or a loser.
Thank god he didn’t cherry pick going back too far or we’d be back at Roethlisberger and Brady.
9. I think that was a touching thing you did, Christian Ponder and Samantha Ponder, naming your daughter Bowden, after Bobby Bowden, and surprising him with the news over the phone.
“Who is this again? Do I know you? Don’t call during supper and sell me life insurance.”
Holy crap. We’re through nine points without additional A, B or C sub-points. YOU CAN DO THIS, PK. TEN AND WE CAN ALL GO HOME.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Great to see Liz Clarke, a pro’s pro, in Richmond, back covering the hometown team for the Washington Post.
c. The MMQB crew had a pleasant evening at the Potomac Nationals’ ramshackle home ground in Woodbridge on Friday night. We have Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus on the trip, and I tried to show off my massive baseball intellect in the first inning.
By reciting all of the Red Sox rosters for the past ten years.
Carolina had the bases loaded with none out in the top of the first. Next batter walked. Potomac pitcher can’t find the plate. Goes to 2-0 on the next hitter. I announce: “Neil, the batter won’t swing here. Manager will make him take a pitch until this pitcher can throw a strike.” Words are just out of my mouth. Windup. Pitch. CRACK! A Puig-like laser lines into the trees high over the left-field fence. Boy, I know my baseball.
So PK is like every other Red Sox fan on the planet. Knows very little, likes hats.
d. Tough call, whether to pay Jon Lester. I have no doubt the Yankees would sign him if he became a free-agent after the season and the Red Sox didn’t come close to the New York offer. The knee-jerk reaction is to say, “You’ve got to pay him! He’s your ace!” I lean toward agreeing—but at what price for a pitcher who’s 31 next opening day? Look at the track record of paying thirty-something players $20 million-plus, and it’s not good at all. I think if Boston offers $105 million over five, or something like that, it almost certainly wouldn’t get the deal done. But $25 million a year, for a 31-year-old pitcher? Count me out.
Why does it matter when there isn’t a salary cap and it’s two of the richest teams in the league? As a friend of mine recently said about Kevin Smith still making movies, “Ain’t my money.”
e. Coffeenerdness: Thought it was funny to see at the Hampton Inn in Lewisburg, W.Va., a coffee urn labeled “robust” put out with breakfast. It jut might have been robust if they put 8 ounces of water instead of 64 through the grounds. That coffee was as weak as a two-week-old Calico.
The only joy I feel in reading this column is now knowing PK suffered through a terrible cup of coffee in the last week. Not sure if you should capitalize “calico” for a kitten though since they are not named after the town and aren’t a separate breed from other cats.
f. Beernerdness: Thank you, Potomac Nats, for having SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale from Atlanta on tap at your game. I think Bedard and Hornsby are hooked.
Funny enough I too recently had some Sweetwater while I was down in Atlanta. Decent regional beer but I don’t think anyone is “hooked” on an extra pale ale. They just might be drunks or maybe they just wanted to make a minor league baseball game more exciting. Plus, the more you drink, the less you care about hearing the conversations around you, like about the Sox.
g. Caught snippets of the Hall of Fame speeches from Cooperstown. Greg Maddux should teach a graduate class in Cool at Harvard. And so much admiration for Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre. I love the way they managed, always adjusting their styles to their talent. Great day for baseball.
Except for that whole thing about inductee Bobby Cox punching his wife, but hey that was nearly 20 years ago so who remembers that.
The Adieu Haiku
Why I love these camps:
Rob Ryan’s a blast to watch.
And the voice. Priceless.
Summer Peter King
Should take time out to learn what
What a haiku is.
I want more like this!
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