SANTA CLARA, Calif.—“So,” I asked Niners GM John Lynch Sunday, “what’s the story with Jimmy Garoppolo? What’s he been doing every day?”
From his office desk in the shadow of the 49ers’ stadium, Lynch craned his neck toward the picture window on the side of his office. He pointed to the far practice field, where a solitary figure was working out and throwing footballs efficiently.
Garoppolo, who quarterbacked this team to a win over Aaron Rodgers and the top-seeded Packers eight months ago, is a strange sight to behold these days. He works out, throws and rehabs apart from his teammates, most often when they’re inside in meetings. When the other 89 men on the San Francisco roster are practicing outside, Garoppolo is usually inside, or on his way home. I heard he does not have a playbook, does not attend quarterback or team meetings and barely knows new quarterbacks coach Brian Griese.
While Garoppolo awaits his fate — he’s most likely to be released before Labor Day unless a needy team suffers a major quarterback injury or Deshaun Watson is banned for the season in Cleveland — the new kid, Trey Lance, spent Sunday taking every snap of practice. Seriously: every one. Lance played little in the preseason opener Friday and won’t play next weekend at Minnesota, so afternoons like Sunday are crucial in his development.
Lance has thrown 389 passes in real football games since he graduated from high school, and this Final Four team in 2021 is working to try to be a Final One team in ’22. So every rep is gold for him now. And for his coach, Kyle Shanahan, who thinks that Lance, eventually, can take this team deeper into the playoffs and do more things with his arm and legs than Garoppolo could.
But whether Lance can do it is one of football’s great mysteries entering this season. Shanahan really likes coaching Lance and loves his potential, but sitting in his office after practice Sunday, he made a startling admission that really should be startling about a player who’s had one starting season—that in FBS football—in the last four years.
“Is Trey ready to take it on his shoulders?” Shanahan said. “He shouldn’t be. He hasn’t gone through it enough.
“I believe in him as a man, as a person. I believe in his talent. I don’t think he is going to make or break our season, just like in 2019 and last year, I didn’t think Jimmy was going to make or break our season.
“But what sucks is when you’re learning how to play and you’re not there yet, how do you not get worse sometimes when that pressure’s on you and you need to go through the growing pains?”
Complicated story, as you can see.
Column three from the camp trail, with storylines from Tampa to the Rocky Mountains and beyond:
- In Kansas City camp, I find the Big Reds plotting a logical and offensively unpredictable Life After Tyreek.
- In Denver, Russell Wilson, the empowered one, has all the wide receivers and tight ends reporting for work an hour early for extra practice time.
- Get to know Paulson Adebo, Davis Mills and Robert Hainsey. And get to love Cam Jordan’s ‘stache.
- Patrick Mahomes has no patience for you belittling his contract.
- I’m not bashing Deion Sanders over what he said about the Hall of Fame.
- Andy Reid went to Italy, not for the reasons most of us do.
- Take as much time as you need, Tom Brady.
- I get taken to task by a Browns fan.
We’ll continue with my trip to the Niners on Sunday, and a coaching point that says a lot about Shanahan, and maybe as much about Lance.
Most places I go, practice gets a little humdrum at times. I’ve been watching summer football practices since 1984, when I covered the Bengals, and I once had the audacity during a blazing-hot two-a-day full-padded practice to ask Cincinnati owner Paul Brown — only one of the greatest coaches in the history of this game — whether he ever got tired of four hours of football practice, daily, in the heat of camp.
“Young man!” Brown said sharply. “This is our lifeblood!”
I thought of that Sunday, watching Lance take every snap of a camp practice. For Lance, this is lifeblood stuff. Part of the heavy load was because the Niners had a game Friday night, so Shanahan wanted most of those who played big swaths of the game to sit out Sunday, with those who didn’t play Friday night getting lots of work here. Lance got 11 snaps Friday, ergo he played a lot Sunday.
I loved it. Facing lots of first-teamers on an excellent defense is the best medicine for Lance right now. I compared Lance of 2021 camp to Lance of today (no tape, just recalling from my mind’s eye), and the words that came to mind were “more decisive.” He’s more confident, more sure in the pocket. No wasted motion. The footwork is significantly better.
He made three superb throws, I thought, on Sunday: a lofted corner route to Deebo Samuel, throw right on target…a red zone TD throw, with soft, excellent touch, to tight end Ross Dwelley in the right corner of the end zone. “You stayed in,” the back judge working the practice said to Dwelley, nodding…a three-quarters-motion throw, also for a TD, to tight end George Kittle, who had to stretch to make the catch. The awareness, avoiding the rush by coming down with the arm angle on the throw, was perfect.
“Mentally,” he said later, “I feel like things are a lot more clear for me. I understand the offense, and I’m able to play fast.”
That’s the good. I worry a bit about the accuracy. In this practice, he threw high on a 15-yard cross for Brandon Aiyuk, a throw that should be easy. He missed an open Samuel twice, by my count.
There’s a lot to learn in all aspects of the game. Before practice Sunday, Shanahan met with the full team and reviewed the win over Green Bay. What bugged Shanahan was some of the sloppiness, even on big plays. One of the big stars for the Niners was rookie third-round wideout Danny Gray, who caught a 76-yard TD bomb from Lance in the first quarter. “Your game is speed,” Shanahan told him. Yet Gray broke from the line in a bad stance, negating his best asset, and the TD made everyone overlook it.
Same thing with Lance. On an early handoff to running back Trey Sermon, Lance was supposed to carry out a bootleg fake, so maybe a defender or two would chase him and not Sermon. No. Lance just watched the play develop, and didn’t carry out the fake. Shanahan said: Great, you threw a touchdown pass and we won. But you’ve got to do everything well, not just some things.
When I asked Shanahan about it, the answer was some about his own players, some about coaching, some about society. I think his answer’s important — all of it — to coaches and players.
“I don’t have to think too hard about things,” Shanahan said. “I just say what’s there. These guys are told after games they’re successful because they won a fantasy football game for their uncle or something. If you get the numbers and stuff, you played good, according to everybody. That doesn’t tell you anything. Nothing. We talk about what actually happened on the play. We can say we had a good game because we won, but that’s not really what we’re focused on here in the preseason. We’re focused on the product and how you did it.
“It’s up to me to teach these guys that the people who are deciding whether you make the team or people around the league who are deciding if you don’t make it here, whether they could sign you to their active roster, how those people see the play. I want them to know what coaches who are studying you see on tape. Then you actually get the reality. Stats don’t dictate success. Doing it the right way dictates success.”
So…the near future. What’s it say?
The Niners have two weeks to cut the roster to 53. Theoretically, they would want to make a decision on Garoppolo by then, because in an ideal world they don’t want a guy they have no intention of keeping count against their 53. But that’s out of their hands unless Cleveland or Seattle figures it would be smart to trade something for him. If they keep Garoppolo, they’d have to expose a make-it player on cutdown day and they could lose a valuable special-teams performer, let’s say. The next landmark is the week before the Sept. 11 opener. If Garoppolo is on the roster then, the club would have to guarantee his $24.2-million salary for the season.
The reality is that the Niners likely won’t keep Garoppolo with the big salary. But then there’s the danger of releasing Jimmy G before the season, and a motivated Garoppolo going to Seattle, for example (San Francisco’s week two foe), and interfering with the Niners’ contention plans.
With or without the solitary figure on the practice field, this team is Lance’s now. And I would advise patience for Niners fans. It’s absurd to expect a savior to show up at Soldier Field in the opener. Shanahan will be ready to take some pain in 2022. Will Niners Nation?
ST. JOSEPH, Mo.—I’m trying to keep up, charting offensive formations and plays in my notebook in a fast Kansas City practice at Missouri Western State University. When it was over, and when Patrick Mahomes had piloted about 50 snaps of work with the first-team offense, I noticed one thing in the 27 plays I’d been able to sprint-chart: The post-Tyreek Hill offense was utterly unpredictable.
Most noticeable was the usage of JuJu Smith-Schuster. I’d expected him to mimic his Pittsburgh slot-receiver role. In Smith-Schuster’s last two seasons as a Steeler, he was used 78.8 percent of the time in the slot, per PFF. But on this day, nine of the 27 plays I was able to chart had Smith-Schuster in the slot. The rest of the time he was split wide left, split wide right, or a motion man, or once in what appeared to be jet-motion.
I think this team is energized by the outside impression of, They’re screwed without Tyreek. This camp visit left me feeling very much like when I left Green Bay and just figured Aaron Rodgers will figure it out without Davante Adams. I’m slightly less certain about Kansas City, but my gut feeling is Andy Reid and Mahomes will figure it out without Hill.
Imagine lining up the speed of Mecole Hardman wide right and Marquez Valdez-Scantling wide left; tight end Travis Kelce everywhere; Smith-Schuster in the slot and outside; sure-handed fifth receiver Justin Watson mostly outside, and Reid’s new Swiss Army Knife, rookie Skyy Moore, everywhere including the backfield. (I saw that the other day — Moore explodes out of the backfield.)
Ever hear the expression, You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face? When I met with Smith-Schuster after practice, he was the kid who got a date with the Homecoming Queen, scored the winning touchdown against the archrival and found out he got straight A’s on his report card…all in the same day.
“It’s been fun, man, I’ll tell you that,” Smith-Schuster said. He loved life as a Steeler but thought he was in a Pittsburgh pigeonhole playing almost only in the slot. “This is what I’ve been waiting to do. Everyone has to know everybody’s position. You have to know the outside, inside. You could play anywhere. To be on so many personnel groups where we got so many great receivers who could play inside and outside, I love it. That’s what I’ve been wanting to do, to be used in so many different ways. It’s so great, the way Coach Reid gives Patrick Mahomes so many different options on every play.”
I was struck by how rejuvenated this offense seems. Reid likes Hill, is happy for him to be the highest-paid receiver in NFL history and knows Hill wanted to leave. So why keep Hill when his heart is elsewhere…and when giving him up and getting five draft picks in the process is the best thing for this team and for its ’23 and ’24 salary cap?
But was it the best thing for the team? We’ll see — and Reid acknowledged it, sort of, in his cinderblock dorm room on the campus of this small, classic middle-America university. Reid knows if Hill didn’t take the deal to max out his income and be closer to his family, the unhappiness about his personal life could have spilled over to his professional life. Now he’s got four new receivers giddy to be playing with Mahomes and coming to work every day saying, Whaddaya got for me today, coach?
“It’s good for him and it’ll be good for us,” Reid told me, sitting in the kind of dorm room he’s been living in for the last 10 summers here as coach of his second NFL team: small and rectangular, the kind of room I’d bet some freshman from Lee’s Summit will occupy in a month. “It’s a win-win. I think it’ll help him in his career with the Dolphins. Financially it’s phenomenal for him and his family.
“For us, it gives you a little juice that maybe you need when you’ve been someplace for 10 years.”
Reid seems rejuvenated. He also seems to like the chance to reinvent his receiver room. In Reid’s 10th season here, he gets to be a teacher again. He’s got to get four new guys in the offense — all of whom could play 40 snaps on a given Sunday in the most competitive division in the NFL in years — ready to hit the ground running in 27 days when KC opens at Arizona. From what I saw in 90 minutes of tempo offense last week, this offense has the juice Reid wants. Hardman, the speedster in the Hill mode, gets to be handed some of Tyreek’s old plays to see if he can be a big star. The four newbies—Valdez-Scantling, Smith-Schuster, Moore and the out-of-nowhere Watson—are all cramming to be targets for Mahomes. Kelce will play everywhere and be the NFL’s best security blanket east of Cooper Kupp.
I came here wondering if I should feel for the 2019 Super Bowl champs as they retooled after losing the electric Hill. I left thinking, Who wouldn’t miss Tyreek Hill? But there aren’t many teams with the versatility and the tools that this passing game has.
Mahomes has become a devotee (and spokesman for) WHOOP. You may have heard of it. WHOOP connects data from a device worn on the wrist that tracks your recovery, your sleep, and the daily strain on your body, and reports constant movement, heart rate and stress level by the second to an app on your phone. WHOOP is basically a health conscience. You drink a lot one night, it shows up. Get a bad night’s sleep, it shows up. Anyway, you can see the work Mahomes is putting in at training camp. He shared one of his daily summaries that showed only a 58 percent recovery … because he’d gotten only 5 hours, 41 minutes of sleep and clearly had a day full of strain, physical and mental, at training camp in practice and drills. That’s life this summer for Mahomes, because of all the work and teaching he takes on in training camp. He called that day, in a text shared with me, “a coach reid training day lol.”
“I can’t just focus on my job anymore,” Mahomes told me. “I’ve got to focus on every single person, every single detail.”
Sounded like it was contributing to his occasional exhaustion. But he said: “I think it’ll make me a better quarterback.”
Reid credited Mahomes for taking a major step forward in being open to the new receivers and understanding the whys of trading Hill.
“They showed me the plan,” Mahomes told me. “They showed me the reasons that this had to be done at this time. I obviously talked to Tyreek as well, tried to do whatever I could to bring him back. Once we kind of got past that bridge and he was going somewhere else, they had a great game plan of getting these receivers that we have out here now. Kind of keep this thing moving forward.”
Mahomes is a pragmatist. If he didn’t trust Reid and GM Brett Veach to know how to build a team for the next decade, he’d never have signed a 10-year deal two years ago. But there’s no question — he won’t say it — that Mahomes hears the outside world. He knows people think the other three teams in the mega-strong AFC West have gotten better while the world thinks Kansas City has regressed, and its six-season streak of AFC West titles is about to end.
“When you have a guy as special as Tyreek when you get any type of man coverage, you’re kind of saying forget the read, I’m going to get this guy a chance to go out there and make a play. Now, the thing is, you don’t know where that go-to guy’s going to be every single game. We’ll have a lot of different personnel [groups], a lot of different receivers, and tight ends and running backs on the field. It’s going to be hard for defenses to gameplan against.”
I’m just saying: I left that practice the other day, with the dizzying array of players playing everywhere, and I believe Mahomes is onto something. How do you gameplan against this offense, even minus Hill?
Last point out of Mayberry RFD, aka KC camp:
I’m only tangentially interested in the social-media noise on all things NFL, but one thing I’ve noticed is the drumbeat of Mahomes’ contract looks bad. Too many players are jumping over it. He should be unhappy.
“Do you hear that stuff?” I asked. “What do you think?”
“If you’re ticked off making all the money that I’m making, you’re probably a little bit messed up. I know I’m going to be taken care of for the rest of my life. Being in this organization and being on the platform that the NFL has given me, I’ve been able to make money off the field as well. If you watch some of the great quarterbacks, man, it’s not always about getting the most money. It’s about going out there and winning and having a legacy that you can kind of live with forever. For me, that’s what I want. Obviously, I want to make money and be able to buy everything I want and all that different type of stuff, but that’s not the reason I started playing football. The reason I started playing football was to win Super Bowls, to enjoy these relationships that I’m building on this field with all my friends who are my teammates. I think at the end of the day if I do that, I’ll be a happy guy in the end.”
That’s the guy you want leading your team.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Last Thursday, 7 a.m., Broncos training camp, indoor turf field. Players have to be at training camp at 8, but this 7 a.m. meeting has become a regular camp thing. No coaches out here, except coach Russell Wilson, working with the 17 wide receivers and tight ends on the roster. Four hours from now, the young receivers and tight ends would have a big test in a joint practice against Dallas’ defense, and now Wilson was going over coaching points, points about routes, with every receiver on the field.
One of the plays Wilson would call against Dallas was a deep route designed for likely starting tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Wilson told “Albert O” (Wilson’s moniker for him) he wanted him to take a slightly different cut upfield on a specific route. Okwuegbunam practiced it, got it down, and Wilson said, “Exactly!”
Against the Cowboys, about 45 minutes into practice, the play for Albert O was called. The tight end took the new path, Wilson hit him, and the play gained about 40 yards. Later, Wilson singled out that play as one that was made possible by the cadre of tight ends and receivers coming out an hour early, voluntarily, before coach Nathaniel Hackett’s required report time. “It’s the ownership of the players owning our own offense,” Wilson said. “This has to be a player-ran kind of team. Coach Hackett gives us the keys to do that.”
Wilson has given this team, this organization, this region a giant shot of adrenaline this summer. On consecutive days last week, Peyton Manning and John Elway, the two best quarterbacks in franchise history, showed up to watch. Kenny Chesney’s been a spectator, as has the mayor of Denver. It was 95 degrees with no shade for a midday workday Thursday practice, and 6,500 fans packed the sideline berm to watch. Wilson spent 80 minutes post-practice signing for fans, doing media, playing with his kids on the field, greeting team legends Rod Smith and Terrell Davis and their families, and talking to one of his QB advisors, Marc Trestman. Basically, he’s the mayor of this place. He’s taken over. It’s happened in a matter of months.
For Wilson, this summer is mindful in a larger way of summer 2011, when Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, showed up as a fifth-year player at Wisconsin. Five weeks later he was a captain of the team. Four months later, he quarterbacked the Badgers to a win in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
“This is Wisconsin all over again,” agreed one veteran Wilson-watcher. His coach then, Paul Chryst, talked about Wilson setting a tone for the 2011 season from the moment practice started that summer.
Ditto Denver. “He’s a machine,” said GM George Paton. “You don’t really understand it until you see his car here at 5:30 in the morning and then see him roaming the halls at 9 at night.”
Another person who knows Wilson well said the collaboration between Wilson and Hackett is different than what he experienced in Seattle: “Coach and Russell are not coach-player. They’re partners.” They seem to be having a good time. Hackett, a Star Wars freak who likes to keep the atmosphere very light, and Wilson were debating naming audible calls after Star Wars characters one day last week.
This franchise, of course, has been in a quarterback desert since Manning retired after 2015. Eleven quarterbacks started here in the past six years, and the franchise is on its first five-season losing streak in a half-century. That’s why not a soul in these parts questioned Paton trading 2022 and ‘23 first- and second-round picks, plus three useable players, to Seattle for Wilson. No price for a franchise QB is too steep, particularly when the alternative was Drew Lock.
The honeymoon’s in full bloom now. And though I think Hackett/Wilson is going to work, a few things have to happen for the union to flourish.
Wilson’s got to accept all principles of the West Coast Offense, including selling play-action, getting the ball out to open receivers, and not trying to wait-wait-wait for the big plays. NFL Films must have 50 Seattle plays of Wilson from his last two or three Seattle seasons running around, extending plays, trying to make something, anything happen behind a leaky offensive line. Here, in OTAs and in camp, Hackett told me he’s working on cutting those down and forcing Wilson to take earlier options. He said: “It’s gotten to the point that I go, ‘Hey, you’re late.’ Or Russ says it before I do. Or he talks about it because he knows that that’s the standard I want. I don’t want him to be touched. I don’t want him to have to run around. Now sometimes, you have to, but those ones I can’t control. The more that he feels that and understands that, the better it’s going to be.”
There’s also the matter of playing in an ungodly division. The AFC West is so strong top to bottom, as one coach told me last week, that any road division win shouldn’t be considered an upset. Wilson could be his classic self with a 101.8 career rating and 11.3 wins on average a year (including playoffs), and it might not lead to the promised land in a division with Mahomes, Herbert and Carr. Kansas City’s won six straight division titles, and even without Tyreek Hill, the offense looks ridiculously formidable.
What’s the old coaches’ saying? Control what you can control? So Wilson is doing that, as much as he can. The Broncos lost the sure-handed 6-4 target Tim Patrick to an ACL injury in camp, which will hurt Wilson. What he really needs is the return of Denver’s poor man’s Tyreek Hill, ex-second-rounder K.J. Hamler, trying to return from a combination ACL and torn hip labrum injury. The Courtland Sutton/Jerry Jeudy 1-2 punch is good, but no team survives on two receivers these days. There’s optimism about Hamler, who had two solid days of practice last week, but he’s a small guy coming back from a severe injury. So no guarantees there.
I heard something from Sutton at camp that intrigued me. Wilson actually varies his cadence to throw curves at the defense. I’ve never heard of this before. I wish I knew exactly how Wilson did it, but I don’t — it’s proprietary information. But the fact is, Wilson is drilling down with his receivers so they understand how each cadence varies from the norm.
“All the different cadences we have, we try to give ourselves an advantage of getting off the ball and catching the defense off guard,” Sutton said. “He makes it all sound the same, which is dangerous. If we understand when the ball’s supposed to be snapped, we can play at a different level, a different speed. It’s fun to be able to manipulate it the way he does because it gives us that small advantage. It allows us to be able to play fast.”
Sutton mirrors many in the organization, player and coaches and staffers, on Wilson as the rising tide lifting all boats. “He brings that buzz of energy we’ve really needed,” Sutton said. “People who were here when Peyton played say it’s the same kind of feeling.”
The early-morning sessions, conducted against a virtual defense on the indoor field, have helped the receivers understand what Wilson sees too. “I really feel like when you talk football with him it’s like he’s playing the game — playing the game in his mind,” Sutton said. “He’s envisioning the defensive line, linebackers, safeties, corners, the fans. Everybody. He wants us to master the little details the same way he has. All those little details, they hit for him because he sees the game in a different light than other people.”
Wilson told me he loved his “great first decade in the league” with Seattle, which was, altogether, a glorious time for football in the Pacific Northwest. But here, he can be more of a coach to a young group, with a coach who lets him run his own walk-throughs and be the titular head of the organization. The honeymoon’s on. Now, about breaking Kansas City’s six-year stranglehold atop the division…
Teams I’ve seen, and camps I’ve visited, compartmentalized:
When I saw them: Saturday interviews at their downtown Houston hotel, then the preseason opener at the Texans.
Five things: Weird to see the Saints for the first time since 2005 without Sean Payton lording over the team. “People ask me what I’m doing differently,” Payton’s successor, Dennis Allen, told me. “Not a lot. This team was in great condition when I took over. It’s like walking into your house on Thanksgiving and the table’s set and the food’s ready. All I’ve got to do is carve the turkey.” One difference in the two fellows, perhaps: Payton was a fiery gameday coach, and Allen will likely be calmer, particularly with his players and officials. Allen was 8-28 in his first head-coaching spin with the Raiders in 2012-’14 after the death of Al Davis…Ran into Andy Dalton, the best backup quarterback in football, at the hotel. “So happy to be here,” he said and with good reason. He led the Saints’ lone TD drive Saturday night on his first and only series of the game. Excellent insurance for Jameis Winston, coming back from his torn ACL…Winston’s had a minor foot injury and didn’t make the trip to Houston, but his knee’s been good and all expectations are that he’ll be ready to play at full health in September when the Saints have a 15-day NFC South test: at Atlanta, Tampa at home, at Carolina…The receiver group was New Orleans’ weakness last year. Now it might be the strength of the team. Imagine an opening day threesome of Michael Thomas and rookie Chris Olave outside and sage vet Jarvis Landry in the slot with Tre’Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway playing significant snaps. Thomas has been hurt most of the last two years; his 149-catch 2019 season is a distant memory. “The last few days in practice we saw the Michael Thomas of before the injuries,” Allen said. “We think he’ll be ready.”…Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye will be the starting safeties, barring a surprise. There will be hitting.
Player to watch: CB Paulson Adebo. While talking to me at the team hotel about Adebo Saturday afternoon, Coach Allen said: “There’s Adebo now. That’s a corner.” Adebo’s 6-1 and a well-built 195; walking through the hotel, he carried himself confidently and could have passed for a safety. The Saints are very high on the former third-rounder from Stanford to be a fixture at left corner opposite Marshon Lattimore. “He’s had an outstanding camp,” Allen said. “He challenges every play. Totally unafraid.” With the big receivers of the NFC South — 6-5 Mike Evans, 6-3 Robbie Anderson and 6-5 Drake London — the Saints think they have a physical matchup corner to challenge bigger wideouts.
He said it: Pro Bowl defensive lineman Cam Jordan, when I asked, What continues to drive you?…“My mustache.”
Then he said: “The idea that I want more. I always want more. I feel like, last year, I’m looking at the playoffs on the outside and I want more. I sat there and announced some in-game announcements in the Super Bowl and that was the first time I actually was able to stomach being in the Super Bowl. My energy is, let’s try and win one.”
What I’ll remember: Jarvis Landry, a little emotional, about his homecoming in his ninth year as a pro. He grew up in the area and played at LSU, and he smiled like a kid in his Saints hoodie at the game Saturday night. “I really can’t explain what this means to me, because I never thought I’d play here,” he said. “It’s surreal, emotional and so motivating.”
When I saw them: Friday interviews at their NRG Stadium facility, then Saturday preseason opener against the Saints, NRG Stadium.
Five things: Reality bites. The Texans won the meaningless summer opener, when the bottom 30 guys on their roster beat the bottom 30 on the Saints. But they’re not ready for prime time. On the first three snaps of the game, running back Marlon Mack got leveled for a two-yard loss, then wideout Chris Conley got stopped for a loss of one and a sideline gain short of the sticks. The offensive line is still a question, even after the investments in Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard at tackle…Lovie Smith’s got two years for his patient, teaching approach to work. Houston’s not going to repeat the one-year run of David Culley last year. There’s still a buzz of Josh McCown coaching here at some point hanging over the franchise, but for now Smith is GM Nick Caserio’s kind of coach with a team that has a long way to go…Best young offensive skill player on the roster: wideout Nico Collins, the big second-year target from Michigan. If he’s healthy for 17 games, Collins, 6-4 and physical, could become QB Davis Mills’ favorite target, with an outside chance at a 1,000-yard season. Collins has had a very good camp…Hard not to dream about the future, with Houston having its own and Cleveland’s first-round picks in 2023. The Texans have five picks in the first three rounds next year. Everyone, including Mills, knows the Texans will be scouting Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young hard this fall…One day there will books dissecting the Deshaun Watson post-mortem, but talking to people inside the team, they’re just relieved he’s not here to compromise a second straight season.
Player to watch: QB Davis Mills. Out to prove his 102.4 rating over his last five games (with a head-to-head outdueling of Justin Herbert) was no fluke. Interesting perspective about why he chose to come out from Stanford in the 2021 draft despite having just one starting season and having the world tell him: Kid, you’re not ready. Go back to play for David Shaw another year. “I heard it,” he said. “But if you remember, there was a lot of uncertainty then with Covid [in January 2021]. Would we be able to train as a team at Stanford? Would it be a normal year with a normal schedule? There were no guarantees.” Now he’s got a season to prove he should be the long-term guy. Interesting thing I talked about with Mills: He’s lucky to have been the 67th pick in the 2021 draft with zero pressure on him, instead of the first (Trevor Lawrence) or second (Zach Wilson), with instant production demanded. “Didn’t Peyton [Manning] set the rookie interception record?” Mills said. “I got to play, then watch and learn, then play, in my first year, and I thought I had a lot of growth by the end.”
He said it: Coach Smith on his style with a young and impressionable team: “I don’t think you can coach on fear. I don’t know a teacher at any level who yells and dog-cusses his student.”
What I’ll remember: The confidence of Mills. “We’re ready to go out and shock the world,” he told me. We can chuckle at that, because the Texans have too many holes to shock the world. But there is a certainty about him that will make this season intriguing, even if the Texans go 4-13.
When I saw them: Aug. 3 at Bucs training camp. Indoor practice after a stretch of debilitating heat in Tampa area. (Obviously, before Tom Brady left on his 10-day sabbatical.)
Five things: The Bucs brought every major coach and player back from the 2020 Super Bowl team and did win 14 games, but they lost, justifiably, to the Rams in the Divisional Round at home. This year, the plan was different. Imports: receivers Russell Gage and Julio Jones, guard Shaq Mason, safeties Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. “I’ve thought a lot about what we did last year, and I’d probably do the same thing again,” GM Jason Licht told me. “But we’re excited about the fresh blood. A lotta guys want to come and play with Tom.”…Ryan’s been one of coach Todd Bowles’ favorite additions. “He wants to learn every position, he holds guys accountable, he communicates. He can play safety, nickel and emergency corner. The ultimate professional,” Bowles said…Strange to see Bruce Arians at practice, watching from a golf cart mostly and contributing to the dialog with the quarterbacks and coaches. He resigned in the spring and is staying on as a consultant…Julio Jones is a total unknown. The day I was there he was one of five players to have a vets’ day off, and the Bucs are being cautious with a guy who rarely practices in-season now and played only 38 percent of the snaps his last two years. They’ll probably jettison a younger receiver and keep Jones. For Brady’s sake, I hope the younger receiver isn’t the Edelman-like Scotty Miller, who should have a fourth or fifth receiver role on some team…
Player to watch: Center Robert Hainsey. A pall fell over the Bucs on the second day of training camp when center Ryan Jensen, one of the players Tom Brady viewed as vital to his success, went down with a knee injury — perhaps for the season. Coupled with the loss of both starting guards in the offseason, a solid front was crumbling before Brady’s eyes. Taking over for Jensen was Hainsey, a third-round college right tackle at Notre Dame who’d spent last year and this offseason making the transition to center. What a leap of faith the Bucs are showing in Hainsey. I spent 20 minutes with him after practice, and the most notable thing about this now vital player, I thought, was that he is not at all scared about the prospect of being the first line of defense for the GOAT. “I think when the bullets are flying, we’re rolling and I’m communicating, getting everyone on the same page. Tom will know he’s got a guy in front of him he can trust,” said Hainsey, who’s very confident for a guy who’s never started a game at center in the NFL. “I would expect him to make it as hard on me as possible so by the time we get to game time, he knows I’m ready to go.” In practice, he looked prepped. Part of that comes from getting tutored by A.Q. Shipley, a former NFL center and Bucs assistant line coach last season who was tasked with getting Hainsey up to speed on playing center in the big leagues. Hainsey trained with Shipley for eight weeks in Arizona this offseason. “I think it’s going to go well,” Shipley said. “I’ve hammered the mental side of the position with him, and he’s responded well. He’s ready.” He’ll need to be.
He said it: Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen on the mechanics and throwing of Tom Brady: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him throw the football better. It’s remarkable — 45 years old and the ball comes off his hand with such zip, throw after throw. How does that happen with someone who’s 45? It’s like a lot of things about him. It defies common sense. This just hasn’t happened before. What he’s done is incorporate his whole body into his throws. He has trained his arm to be a part of his throwing, not all of it.”
What I’ll remember: The ease and cool of Bowles in his return shot at being a head coach. He’s got no fear in his second full-time around. A coach needs to exude an I-belong-here vibe, and that’s Bowles.
Editor’s note (particularly to Vikings fans): I said I would write about the Vikings in the column this week, and intended to. I just ran out of clock. I’ll be sure to have some notes about them next week. My apologies for that.
Jacoby is starting week one.
— Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski, after the Browns’ first preseason game Friday in Jacksonville, on quarterback caretaker Jacoby Brissett.
Egregiously awful from Quincy, and he knows that. He knows better. And those are the plays that Quincy has to get out of his game if he wants to become the linebacker that I think he can be.
The hit was ridiculous, and good for Saleh, publicly calling out one of his own players for doing something that has no place in the game.
This may be the most talented Dolphins team since Wannstedt took them to the playoffs.
— Former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson to the Miami Herald.
Dave Wannstedt, the Miami coach from 2000 to midway through 2004, coached playoff teams in 2000 and 2001.
I’ve got to voice my support for Kyle Shanahan’s hat. I have seen that they are trying to make him change. I just want to say, let my guy live. The camouflage pattern they offered [for us to wear], it’s not doing it. If you are in a deer blind in New Braunfels, Texas, you can pull it off, but not on the sideline.
— Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury, on the league telling Shanahan he can’t wear the non-NFL-sponsored flat-brimmed cap he’s worn on the sidelines for games.
Once he left that press conference nobody heard from him for weeks and weeks. He didn’t return calls, he didn’t return texts — he basically just vanished. And we were looking at each other going, ‘What just happened?’
— An unnamed 49ers assistant coach on the 2018 Niners coaching staff, to Mike Silver, new sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, on Jimmy Garoppolo’s reported lack of attention to detail after signing his $137-million contract extension in early 2018.
Russell Wilson went to Wimbledon this year with his wife, Ciara. Knowing Wilson, I thought he’d have gone for the education as well as the fun. I asked him what he learned from the great tennis players that means something in his professional life.
“You know me too well.”
(I don’t, really.)
“Well, I think I learned, ‘One serve at a time. One serve at a time. One serve at a time. Just the ability to go in and go out, to regain your focus. To be able to…The crowd roars, and the crowd boos, ‘ahh,’ ‘ooh,’ and the crowd roars again. One serve at a time. One stroke at a time. It’s just, one moment at a time. I think that that is what you gain. That’s what I search for when I watch sports. One free throw at a time for Steph Curry. One shot, one moment, one pitch, one at-bat. You know?
“The ability to refocus, to refocus, to refocus, to refocus, to refocus, over and over and over and over again. That’s what tennis is. That’s why I went to Wimbledon. It was an amazing experience. Obviously, we had a blast, me and Ciara, and sitting in the Royal Box. But to be able to watch greatness too, it was really special.”
Regarding Deion Sanders’ statement to “Well Off Media” claiming the Pro Football Hall of Fame is being watered down by a plethora of new enshrinees:
Sanders said, “The Hall of Fame ain’t the Hall of Fame no more…There needs to be an upper room. My head don’t belong with some of these other heads that’s in the Hall of Fame. I’m sorry. I’m just being honest. And a lot of y’all Hall of Famers are thinking the same thing. This thing is becoming a free-for-all now, man.”
Leave it to Deion: My head don’t belong with some of these other heads that’s in the Hall of Fame.
Let’s examine that.
In the 1970s, 43 men were enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
In the 1980s, 45 men were enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
In the last 16 months, 36 men were enshrined in the Hall of Fame. (That would have been the last two years, but Covid delayed by eight months the celebration for the Centennial Class of 15 men elected by a specially appointed subcommittee of the Hall of Fame.)
The Centennial Class is going to have an impact on future classes for years to come. The idea of the Centennial Class was, at least in part, a brainchild of Hall voter Rick Gosselin, who believed a “cleanup class” of players and coaches who’d been vital in the first 40 years or so of the NFL but overlooked by early Hall voters would do justice to the history of the league as it celebrated its 100th season. The Hall agreed and established a voting bloc of 25 voters — some Hall electors, some distinguished NFL people like Bill Belichick and Ozzie Newsome. But Gosselin’s blueprint got waylaid. Only four of the 15 Centennial Class members were true old-timers from the game’s first 40 seasons. The other 11 men who got in through the Centennial passgate were involved in the game as players, coaches, GMs or a commissioner since 1970.
Now some of those elected will influence future classes. And, presumably, incur more wrath from Hall critics like Sanders.
Four of the last 36 people elected were coaches. Examining the average record of the last four coaches in—Bill Cowher, Jimmy Johnson, Tom Flores, Dick Vermeil:
Average record: 120-93.
Average Super Bowls won 1.5 (six total by the four coaches).
Coaches with at least 120 wins and one championship not in the Hall: 12.
Those 12 coaches, with their career wins: Bill Belichick 321, Andy Reid 252, Tom Coughlin 182, Mike Shanahan 178, Mike Holmgren 174, Pete Carroll 163, Mike Tomlin 162, Sean Payton 161, Mike McCarthy 153, John Harbaugh 148, George Seifert 124, Jon Gruden 122.
And what of Marty Schottenheimer (205 wins) and Dan Reeves (201)? They never won Super Bowls, but as the ninth- and 10th-winningest coaches ever, should they be eliminated because they have zero rings? Schottenheimer coached 13 teams to the playoffs in 21 seasons, and he can’t get a sniff. That’s not right. Championships are important in this process and should be. The fact that Schottenheimer has the ninth-most wins ever and doesn’t have a Super Bowl win shouldn’t be disqualifying.
When Sanders throws a Molotov cocktail at the Hall process, it’s easy to say he’s way off base. But his contention, stripping away the inflammatory words, is that it’s easier to get in the Hall than it used to be. And he’s right about that.
The Broncos hired an “instructional designer” on their coaching staff when Nathaniel Hackett was named coach. John Vieira, who went to college at UC-Davis with Hackett and has been a good friend since then, is on staff now. He coaches the coaches. “He teaches teachers how to teach,” Hackett said.
Vieira’s a great example of teaching people how to reach Gen Z and engage with players so they’ll soak in the learning, as Hackett told me. “At first, everyone thought, who the hell is this guy? John wondered, ‘Am I gonna have enough work?’ Then they saw my first team meeting with the presentation John created, with graphics popping off the screen, and video of a basketball game with our guys’ heads on the players. And everybody was like, Whoa. That opened up the floodgates. I walked by his office the next day and there’s two coaches in there telling him what they want for their meeting.
“Learning’s about inspiration. It’s about keeping things fresh. In a long season, you gotta continually do that.”
Now this was cool: Walking into the Texans press box at NRG Stadium Saturday night before the New Orleans-Houston game, I was greeted with this new display:
Yes, John McClain is the charter member of the John McClain Media Wall of Fame in Houston. It recognizes those who cover the franchise and football in the area. Of course, he should be the first member of his own club. McClain covered football in Houston and Waco for 51 years, reported on the Oilers in their heyday and covered every Texans event since their inception for the Houston Chronicle.
He retired from the Chronicle March 31 at 70, but I’m not sure I’d call writing a web column, doing 10 weekly talk shows in six cities and three Texans podcasts and planning to be a sports columnist for a soon-to-be-announced local website, “retired.”
The Texans didn’t tell him they were doing this. One day in the spring they told him to come up to the press box for an event, and when he walked off the elevator he saw the John McClain Media Wall of Fame — he had no clue — and they asked him to say a few things.
“I can’t tell you the last time I got choked up — maybe when Old Yeller died,” he said Saturday night. “But I was blown away by this. It’s something else.”
Thursday, 7:24 pm MT, United Airlines, Denver to Houston flight, delayed.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the reason we have not pushed off the gate is that we don’t have fuel.”
Andy Reid and his wife, Tammy, took a vacation to Italy this offseason.
When they got there, Andy Reid had a conversation with one of the locals at the start of the trip.
Local: “What kind of wine do you like?”
Reid: “I don’t drink wine.”
Local: “Coffee — what about coffee?”
Reid: “I don’t drink coffee.”
Local: “YOU DON’T LIKE WINE OR COFFEE — WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN ITALY?”
Reid: “I like to eat.”
Wynton Bernard telling his mom he’s going to the Major Leagues after 10 seasons in the minors is the best thing you will ever see pic.twitter.com/rRJiqw3OeZ
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) August 13, 2022
The all-purpose sports site is not kidding.
Mom to Wynton: “If you get up there, and you stay for one day, you made it. You made it to the mountaintop.”
Bernard’s debut: 1 for 3, infield single to third in the seventh inning at Coors Field off vet Chris Devenski, stolen base, final run scored in a 5-3 Colorado win over Arizona.
Alright Arizona, this is a new one for me…
I’ve got a baby rattlesnake in my bathroom.
What do I do?
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) August 13, 2022
Don’t pet it.
Did the Bears say something about moving to Arlington Heights? https://t.co/WeLyy0Q1To
— Dan Pompei (@danpompei) August 13, 2022
Pompei, long-time Bears’ authority, now writes for The Athletic, pointing out the condition of Soldier Field before Saturday’s preseason opener.
One of the most underused coaching tips:
“Leave it alone.”
— Tom House 〽️ (@tomhouse) August 11, 2022
The former MLB pitcher and current quarterback-throwing and pitcher guru. Man, I love those words.
This is the greatest athletic performance by a pitcher I’ve ever seen! pic.twitter.com/KPPF3k73y9
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) August 10, 2022
BaseballBros celebrates all things baseball.
After getting hit in the head with a pitch, this little leaguer showed a true act of sportsmanship by comforting the pitcher 🥲 pic.twitter.com/AbzXaLL5uz
— ESPN (@espn) August 9, 2022
Objects to the “rigged” comment about the Browns. From John Janovec of Norton, Ohio: “In a league rife with hypocrisy, I find it laughable that the league, the other 31 owners, and you find it unseemly that the Browns ‘rigged’ Deshaun Watson’s contract this year to minimize any financial losses suffered as a result of games lost to suspension. Where was the outrage in 2016 when the Patriots restructured Tom Brady’s contract in a similar fashion to minimize any financial losses he would suffer as a result of his four-game suspension?”
You make a point worth considering, John, but let’s examine the difference in the two situations. Brady cut his 2016 salary from $9 million to $1 million while at the same time adding two years to his contract, before serving his four-game ban. He saved $1.88 million by doing that. Compare that to Watson six years later. If Watson has his suspension upped to, say, 10 games, he will be docked $575,000 for the games missed. His total 2022 compensation is $46 million, so if that were used as a base for the fine, a 10-game ban would cost Watson $27.1 million of his $46 million. A little bit different, Watson gains an advantage of $26.5 million if his fine is just $575,000.
One other thing I’d like to address. The Browns didn’t cheat by setting up the contract this way. When I used “rigged,” it doesn’t mean they did anything illicit. That’s just the effect of the way they did the deal, with 98 percent being in a bonus and a relatively tiny portion in salary. They’re allowed to do it. They’ve done it with other contracts as well to soften the blow of the big contract in the first year. Obviously, though, I believe the league needs to fine Watson significantly because of the games he’s missing. Is it fair, really, for a player suspended for more than half the season — if that’s what happens — to make 98 percent of his compensation for the year? Of course not.
He doesn’t like Aaron Rodgers. From Joe Saraco of Elkins Park, Pa.: “Here’s a clown who is perfectly willing to go to the jungle to use hallucinogenics but refused to take a scientifically proven vaccine to protect himself and family and teammates from a deadly virus. Was he ‘immunized’ while he was in the jungle? I really think you should have questioned him on this. I’m 66 years old and have always had a fondness for the Packers because of their greatness in my youth but I can never root for Rodgers to have success. I think back to a description of then Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling by the GM at the time, Ed Wade, who said, ‘He’s a horse on the field but a horse’s ass off the field.’ “
Rodgers is a complicated guy, Joe. I fervently disagreed with his vax stand and wrote that. But I think it’s laudable that he’s trying — at least in his mind — to better himself and perhaps build a bridge with his estranged family. Hard to find fault with that.
Why Scully mattered. From Ron Lawton: “Thinking about Vin Scully and other fine baseball announcers, it strikes me that I would tune to a baseball game because of the announcer (Vinnie in particular) but I watch football on TV because of the match ups. For all the money that the TV guys make, I can’t say that I ever tuned to a game (or away from the game) because of the broadcasters. Baseball radio announcers matter, football TV guys don’t.”
Great point. Scully is one guy I think tens of thousands of people found so inviting that they’d listen to him even if they were only marginally interested in the game.
I flunked geography. From Dorron Katzin: “Why did your schedule last week have you travel from Green Bay to Chicago to Minneapolis? I live in Chicago. When my wife and I were first married, her parents had a summer home west and north of Green Bay, so I made that trip many times. Chicago to Green Bay to Minneapolis is somewhat shorter. I am curious why you traveled from Green Bay to Chicago to Minneapolis.”
It’s all schedule-related, Dorron. Because I wanted to do the Vikings on Saturday and drive six hours to St. Joseph, Mo., on Sunday for Kansas City’s Monday practice, and because the Packers had “Family Night” practice Friday night (not good for spending time with players or coaches), Thursday was the best day for me to be in Green Bay. I flew from Tampa to Green Bay late Wednesday, saw the Packers practice Thursday morning (and got Matt LaFleur and Rodgers afterward), and that meant Bears on Friday. I would have preferred Bears-Pack-Vikes in that order, but you can’t always get what you want.
On the topic of my age. From Josh Hager, Las Vegas: “65??? 65!?!?! As I read today — as a decades-long reader — I still see the same sharpness to your thinking and writing. I actually get to work early on Mondays so I can read your column, guilt-free. Don’t let anyone but you tell you when to slow down!”
That is so good of you to say, Josh. Thank you. I don’t feel 65, but the birth certificate, as they say, is what it is. I want to respect that and stay active and try to outrun my family history.
Lots of objections to me saying the addition of Rich Bisaccia as Green Bay special-teams coach would be more significant than the subtraction of Davante Adams for the Packers in 2022. From Daniel Ruiz (via Twitter): “Coach Rich is awesome. Raiders fans and players know that more than most. And Rodgers is great, but if he can’t win with Adams he will with a special teams coach?”
Well, Daniel, I could look really dumb for saying that if Rodgers is inefficient and the Packer offense struggles. It’s just a gut feeling. Green Bay will be much improved at its weakest area, special teams, by adding one of the best special-teams coaches in the game after falling out of the playoffs last year due to a blocked punt by San Francisco at Lambeau Field. My point is that Rodgers has a history of figuring out how to win with a lesser receiving corps, and I think he’ll do it again, and they’re not totally bereft there with the early-camp emergence of Romeo Doubs. But we’ll see. Those beating me up over this could be right, but I’ll stand by what I wrote.
1. I think my first reaction to Deshaun Watson telling reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala he was “truly sorry to all the women that I have impacted in this situation,” was, it’s about time. “The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back,” he said. “But I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character.” Okay. Flashback to the press conference introducing Watson last spring. Watson then: “I never disrespected and I never harassed any woman in my life.” So … which is it?
2. I think it’s good to see Watson taking responsibility, finally. And it’s probably a case of being lawyered up for a long time, but the first thing Watson has to address if he’s really coming clean is to explain why he said for months he never did anything wrong. If he truly felt that way, what switch was flipped, and when, and why?
3. I think the most significant quarterback news of the preseason weekend was not Kenny Pickett going 13 of 15 with a walkoff TD pass in his preseason debut for the Steelers — immediately becoming the most popular man in Pittsburgh. The most significant news was Joe Burrow returning to practice Sunday after 18 days away (appendicitis surgery). Any doubt he opens the season under center for the AFC champs…pfft. Gone.
4. I think the team that goes away to camp the longest is Kansas City, and when I went to St. Joseph, Mo. last week to take the temperature of this perennial contender, I found out a couple of interesting things — interesting to me, anyway — about going away. Reid enters his 10th season as Kansas City coach (where has the time gone?), and he has steadfastly kept his love of going away to training camp intact at a time when scores of teams are retrenching and staying at home facilities. This year, Reid’s team will be away at camp the longest of any team in the league: 27 days (minus the days away from St. Joseph, Mo., for preseason games and league-mandated off days). In his cinder block dorm room at Missouri Western State University, an hour before a recent morning practice, he said: “Peyton Manning told me, ‘I love that you still go away to camp. That’s the best.’ I think it creates an atmosphere where you can totally focus on football. No distractions. We’re here, we’re working. It’s all football. It’s great for camaraderie, for guys getting to know each other. One other advantage for us is it gives our fields back at our facility a break. They take a lot of wear and tear. Having a long period with no one on them means they’ll be in good shape for the season when we get back.”
5. I think I feel strongly about this Tom Brady deal about taking 10 days off for a personal matter in the middle of training camp. Very strongly. Brady has so much currency in the bank with coaches and teams regarding dedication to the job and devotion to his craft that when he comes to the Bucs and says he needs 10 days away, my response would be: “Take more if you need it.”
6. I think I don’t care to speculate on what it might be. He deserves the right to call his shot here and to keep the reason to himself.
7. I think only one thing in the preseason meant anything much this weekend: 17 penalties by the Cowboys. That has to stop, and it has to stop now. Ridiculous.
8. I think, re Seattle defensive lineman Shelby Harris saying the 2022 training camp experiment of some position groups wearing the padded Guardian Caps surrounding their helmets, “They’re stupid:” I am going to resist the temptation to say “That’s stupid.” I don’t play football. So I don’t know if Harris’ contention is correct. He thinks because linemen and linebackers who wear the caps could get so used to the extra padding they’ll let their guards down once the Guardian Caps come off, and use their helmets to make contact more than they would without the experience of Guardian Caps. Harris might be right. But when I was in Steelers camp, I thought what T.J. Watt said to me was smart: “I don’t know if they’re going to do any good. But they can’t hurt. Anything I can do to have a chance to play longer and do less damage [to the brain], I’m in favor of.” Harris’ contention that guys will get used to the extra padding and play more carelessly…I guess it’s possible. But to assume players will lead with their heads more, to me, is a faulty assumption.
9. I think for those surprised Watson started the first preseason game for Cleveland, why? If I were Stefanski, I’d be playing Watson and the first-team offense max snaps in games before he has to leave the team for his multi-week suspension. As I wrote last week, it’s tough to count on Watson being ready to hit the ground running with a new team after almost two seasons of not playing in real games.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Football Story of the Week: Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com on the life and times of Sean McVay
b. Two words come to mind: masterful, vivid.
c. Wickersham’s great. We in the business know that. A story like this reinforces the importance of granular details and stories from the heart of a person’s being, when knitted together in a well-written jigsaw puzzle, make up the perfect story.
d. Wrote Wickersham of the time when, as a young head coach, he supremely ticked off his young offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur:
During one practice, there was a disagreement between offensive line coach Aaron Kromer and LaFleur. McVay entered the fray, weighed in, backed Kromer and went about practice, not thinking much of it.
Later that day, LaFleur entered his office, livid that McVay had sided with Kromer. “You showed me up in front of the players,” LaFleur said. “With all due respect, you should just fire my ass right now.”
McVay felt his blood pressure rise. The Rams were playoff-bound — and LaFleur, one of his best friends, was complaining about this?
“You know what?” McVay replied. “I f—ing hate this job. I’m f—ing quitting. F— this s—. I hate myself. I hate that I’m treating you like this …”
“No!” LaFleur said. “You can’t do that!”
e. The quote about trading for Stafford with the five F-bombs and the hanging courage just adds to the unvarnished truth.
f. American Story of the Week: Marin Cogan of The Highlight, via Vox (H/T “Sunday Long Reads), on the most dangerous road in the country, an eight- to-10-lane highway in Pasco County, Fla.
g. I never think of these gigantic roads with stoplights and excessive speeds as death traps, but they were never made for pedestrian traffic to traverse, and this story tells you why.
h. Writes Cogan:
Crashes are so ubiquitous that some talk about an old bumper sticker on cars that read: “Pray for me, I drive on US-19.” Another part of US-19, in neighboring Pinellas County, is sometimes called “death valley.” But the road is pretty much unavoidable for most people trying to move freely through the area, and the alternatives aren’t much better. No one is more endangered on the road than those who use it unprotected by a ton of steel — and there are a lot of them.
“This road has so many cars,” says Julie Bodiford, a nurse who lives in the area, “and it’s death after death.”
Julie’s brother, Kevin Bodiford, knew US-19 well. He didn’t have a car and he liked to walk, so the 33-year-old traveled it often, to visit friends and to move between his extended family’s houses. Each morning, he met his mom for coffee at the 7-Eleven on US-19 and New York Avenue in Hudson; it was their daily ritual, the way he checked in with her to let her know that he was okay.
Just after 2 a.m. on June 10, 2021, Kevin was walking on the side of the road. Surveillance footage from the 7-Eleven shows him in a baby blue shirt, blue shorts, a UNC baseball cap, and a backpack. He’d been at a friend’s house for a bonfire earlier in the night; Julie thinks he was headed for their mom’s house.
In the official crash report from that night, the police said that Bodiford was trying to cross the road. The footage Kevin’s family obtained from a nearby business is grainy, but it shows something else: Kevin walks, and a truck towing a trailer passes him without incident. Then he appears to stop. Headlights illuminate his body. A white Chevrolet pickup truck plows through. In the video, Kevin is there one moment and gone the next. He was thrown from the road. His backpack was knocked off. The driver tapped the brakes and drove off, leaving Kevin to die on the side of the highway.
i. Five years, 48 pedestrian deaths. Wow.
j. Coffeenerdness: Flew United a few times last week, and man, those folks need to up their coffee game. It’s more coffee-flavored water than real coffee.
k. Beernerdness: Maybe it was the 94-degree practice in Denver Thursday. Maybe it was my fondness for wheat ale. Or maybe a combination of the two. Whatever, I highly recommend a beer I had at Elway’s in the Denver airport before flying to Houston: Beehive American Wheat Ale (Bristol Brewing Company, Colorado Springs, Colo.). Talk about a perfect beer for just the right time…light, very cold, classic wheat taste and spices. I got a second one.
l. Nice Roasted Corn and Chicken Chowder at Elway’s, BTW.
m. Lindsay Jones: So happy to see someone as distinguished as you get a job as influential as helping run NFL coverage at The Ringer. Great deal. And made for all the right reasons. Good for you.
n. Societal Story of the Week: Danielle Abril of the Washington Post, on the change of life as a young white-collar worker today: “Gen Z workers demand flexibility, don’t want to be stuffed in a cubicle.”
o. Headline says it all. Writes Abril:
When Ginsey Stephenson moved to San Francisco for work in February, she finally met and mixed with her colleagues for the first time. It was something the 23-year-old had longed for since entering the professional world out of college seven months prior.
The boutique public relations firm she works for follows a hybrid schedule of three days in the office per week, meaning she no longer has to nervously message people on Slack she had never met in person. Most importantly, being in the office has helped her transition from working from her parents’ Virginia home — much like she did in school — to life as a working adult.
“I actually love going into the office — it feels more organic,” Stephenson said. “But I don’t know how anyone went into the office every day. I don’t know if we were cut out to work in a pre-covid world.”
p. Office mandates…weird. Understandable, but weird.
q. When in Houston the other day, on the 12th floor of a downtown hotel, I looked at the office building across the street. I could make out the insides of eight floors. The bottom two had people in them on Friday, working, apparently. The six above them, empty.
r. This is a vibrant city, or used to be. When my producer Annie Koeblitz and I drove to interview some Texans in mid-morning Friday, it was like a ghost town downtown. When we came back in the afternoon, same thing. I hope people come back to work, for the sake of the cities.
s. On my night table at home is “Path Lit by Lightning: The life of Jim Thorpe,” by David Maraniss. Fired up to dive into it. The Maraniss treatment on anyone is excellent, and his work on one of the great athletes in history who we know so little about is an important contribution to the sporting world.
t. How many times do we have to see the Nets try to live with the superstar ethos and fail (Garnett/Pierce as ancients, Durant/Irving/Harden as incendiary devices) before we say: Perhaps the way to build a team is to, you know, build a team.
u. Scott Pioli used to have a saying on his wall in New England as Bill Belichick’s chief personnel man. “Individuals go to Pro Bowls. Teams win championships.”
v. Wow, Fernando Tatis. Eighty games. I don’t pretend to know everything about the story, but for a player to take a medication with ingredients he wasn’t aware of (if that’s the case here) is mind-boggling. Doesn’t Tatis have people around him who could monitor that stuff? Shouldn’t he? Eighty games. The Padres’ season. It’s just not understandable that one player could make a mistake that massive.
w. Warm thoughts and wishes to one of the great gentlemen in the game, Len Dawson, who has entered hospice care at age 87 in Kansas City. Such a good man.
Ruling on Watson.
We wait. No way I’d wait now.
Settlement: 12 games.