The Daily Briefing Thursday, July 26, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
This from Peter King:
1. I think I have yet to hear of a compromise over the anthem issue that might bridge the gap between players and owners. It’s still an issue that could divide the league worse than it did last fall.
The DB thinks “some players and their union” instead of the generic “players.” And, we suppose “some owners, the bulk of the fans and Donald Trump” would more accurately describe the pro-Anthem side.
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The new helmet contact rule has potential for a lot of controversy – especially as we find out that a play the NFL showed to illustrate how the rule will be called left a team of officials split as to its legality. Tim McManus of ESPN.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ESPN.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=OZuV86zAPxqsbFxCGby2125ORJN9fU9tXh2HcgdvLJc&e=>:
– A presentation this week by NFL referees to the Philadelphia Eagles on the new helmet rule caused frustration among the players, according to team members, and created further confusion for some about what is expected of them.
“We were trying to ask questions to get a better understanding, and yet they couldn’t really give us an answer,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “They couldn’t give us what we were looking for.”
Under the new rule, a player will be penalized 15 yards and potentially fined or ejected for lowering his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.
During the presentation, which lasted close to an hour according to Bradham, players were shown clips of what are now considered illegal hits — some of which appeared to them as routine tackles.
Seeking further clarification during the Q&A that followed, the players showed the presenters a video of safety Malcolm Jenkins’ hit on wide receiver Brandin Cooks during Super Bowl LII that knocked Cooks out of the game. The refs were split on whether it would now be considered an illegal hit.
“I’m going to make that play 10 times out of 10. If it’s a flag, it’s a flag,” Jenkins said after practice Sunday, adding that he doesn’t believe that hit would lead to an ejection under the current policy. “You can’t slow yourself down thinking about rules in a split second. The game happens really, really fast, faster than the rules, I think, take account for, but I won’t let it affect the way I play.”
The rule applies to not only tacklers but linemen and ball carriers as well. The concern for running backs is that they are going to have to retrain themselves after years of attacking a certain way.
“It’s going to take a different approach to learn as individuals how to keep our head up and see what we’re doing,” Matt Jones, a 6-foot-2, 239-pound power back said. “But it’s going to be kind of hard because we’re taught to run through guys and put our helmet where their number is at. It’s like if it’s a third-and-1 and you have to have it, and you meet in the hole, there’s no way possible you’re not going to meet head-on-head and helmet-on-helmet.”
The meeting between the Eagles and refs was described as spirited, with the players expressing consternation over the new rule.
“[The refs] were kind of like, ‘Hey, we didn’t make the rules.’ Because I think guys were kind of frustrated,” running back Wendell Smallwood said. “Most of the defense was like, ‘Man, how are we supposed to tackle?’ They were frustrated.”
Peter King expects big changes in the Bears play-calling based on a stat nugget from Football Outsiders:
A change is gonna come: Chicago ranked No. 1 in run/pass ratio in the first half of games, running on 46 percent of first-half plays, while Matt Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs ranked No. 32, running on just 32 percent of first-half plays. With Nagy now the Chicago coach and offensive czar, expect to see the air filled with more footballs early in Bears games.
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The holdout between the Bears and their first round pick LB ROQUAN SMITH is not about the offset rule – rather the fear that the NFL will go suspension heavy for hard-hitting linebackers who don’t adapt to the new helmet rule. Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune:
The contract impasse between the Bears and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith centers on language governing whether Smith’s guaranteed money could be reclaimed by the team if he were to be suspended under the new NFL rule that prohibits a player from initiating contact with his helmet.
“That’s part of the issue,” coach Matt Nagy said Saturday.
Meanwhile, four additional league sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed that is indeed the root of Smith’s holdout, which on Saturday reached its 13th day.
Smith’s representatives at CAA Football are asking the Bears to include in the contract a written assurance that the team would not go after any of Smith’s guaranteed money if he were suspended under the new rule, the sources said. They all requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations.
The Bears have resisted putting that specific protection in writing. Instead, they have informally assured Smith’s representatives that they would be reasonable in assessing disciplinary action by the league against Smith under the new rule, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace has not been available to media since July 19. Smith’s representatives could not be reached for comment.
There’s fertile ground for an impasse because of how prominently tackling ranks in Smith’s responsibilities on the field and significant leaguewide uncertainty surrounding how the new rule will be officiated and enforced by the NFL.
Although that rule creates a new dynamic for rookie contracts this year, the Bears did work through an applicable situation last season. The team did not seek to reclaim any guaranteed money from inside linebacker Danny Trevathan after he was suspended for an illegal hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams.
Management deemed Trevathan’s infraction to be the result of a normal football play without malicious intent. The Bears did not want to punish Trevathan further and risk discouraging players from aggressively pursuing the ball with physicality.
Given Smith’s exemplary reputation for tracking and tackling ballcarriers, the new rule surely will apply to his game. It reads simply: “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”
The contact doesn’t have to be helmet to helmet, and it applies to offensive and defensive players the same. An infraction would result in a 15-yard penalty.
How game officials judge hits under the new rule is under a microscope this preseason. Walt Coleman, a referee entering his 30th season, acknowledged Monday to reporters at Bears camp that an adjustment period is imminent.
“Now it has gone from being a regular football play to being a foul,” Coleman said. “So it’s going to be how fast do the players adjust and how fast do we adjust that that is a foul? It’s going to be a challenge.”
In saying that, Coleman was referring mostly to hits garnering a 15-yard penalty instead of more egregious violations that could result in an ejection and a suspension. Hits that could trigger a suspension, the ones at issue in Smith’s contract negotiations, are rarer.
As the eighth pick, Smith is the highest-drafted — and therefore will be the highest-paid — linebacker in this year’s class. That makes it trickier to find other rookie contracts that could help guide the Bears and Smith’s camp to an agreement.
CAA Football represents Bills inside linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who was drafted 16th and signed May 12. Inside linebacker Rashaan Evans, who is represented by Rosenhaus Sports, was drafted 22nd and signed May 15.
Smith is one of two draft picks who have yet to sign with their teams, along with Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. He has missed eight full-team practices, including five in pads.
Smith won’t play in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night. And with both sides refusing to blink in this staring contest, his status for the rest of the preseason is an open-ended question.
“We will continue to keep trying to do our best to make this thing happen,” Nagy said. “At the same time … we need to focus on who’s here right now, right?”
With Smith absent and Trevathan sidelined with a hamstring injury, third-year linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has flashed with the first string. He intercepted quarterback Mitch Trubisky in team drills Saturday and returned it for a touchdown.
“You’ve got to earn your spot,” Nagy said. “And Kwit right now is playing really well. He’s thumping people in the run game. I love his mentality.
“He didn’t blink when we drafted Roquan. He stepped right on in there and put the horse blinders on and went after it. … I’m excited for him. I’m proud of him and I want to keep that thing going.”
Peter King on the progress of rehabbing QB CARSON WENTZ:
Mantra around Eagles camp: Thou shalt not predict the opening-night starting quarterback. Don’t ask, because they won’t tell—because, truthfully, they don’t know if it’ll be franchise quarterback Carson Wentz or Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
But I’ll give you a couple of clues. Saturday was the first time in almost eight months, since he shredded left knee ligaments against the Rams in December, that Carson Wentz played or practiced football with pads on. Practice lasted 2 hours and 11 minutes; with stretching and pre- and post-practice work, Wentz was on the field for about 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Clue one: Minutes after taking the field, Wentz grabbed a football, ran left at three-quarters speed and, on the move, pirouetted on his left leg and fired a pass maybe 30 yards downfield.
Clue two: After being on the field for two-and-a-half hours and taking more reps than any of the other three quarterbacks in team drills, on a humid 81-degree morning with a hazy sun beating down, Wentz faced a rush from defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Josh Sweat. He nimbly hopped one way and then the other, evading the faux full-speed rush and tossing a short completion. Two minutes later, Wentz moved right in the pocket and fired deep down the right side, complete, to wideout Shelton Gibson.
Thirty-eight days till opening night. Coach Doug Pederson has said over and over again it’ll be a doctors’ decision when Wentz plays, and they certainly will not rush him back. But other than seeing Wentz lumber a bit going from drill to drill Saturday morning, he looked absolutely, totally like the Carson Wentz that made this Eagles-rabid place swoon for three months last year.
King points out that the Eagles won the Super Bowl with five key parts, including Wentz, missing:
Something always comes up to derail the effort to repeat. Right?
That’s true. It could certainly happen here, as lovely as the offseason has been. But there’s one difference. That difference could be seen during Super Bowl week last year. While the healthy Eagles practiced at the University of Minnesota’s football facility, the rehabbing Eagles who wouldn’t play in the game played a game of their own. This is important.
In the Golden Gophers weight room, five wounded Eagles worked like they had a game that week. Together. There was Wentz, very early in his rehab from left ACL and LCL tears, with a hooded sweatshirt, working out. Left tackle Jason Peters (knee), special-teams captain Chris Maragos (knee), running back Darren Sproles (broken arm) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (Achilles). There was nothing to say about the incredibly mixed feelings they all had, happy for their friends to be in a Super Bowl but miserable that they couldn’t play. All they could do is work.
“So when people ask me about the players’ attitude coming back, and will they come back with that same hunger,” coach Doug Pederson told me, “I tell them, oh, there’s a hunger here. You got five huge guys on this team who missed the Super Bowl, watched the game, and they’re dying to play in the game and win it this year. I’ve been ecstatic how our players have attacked the offseason.”
And this from King:
Excluding obvious catchup situations, only two coaches since 1986 went for it on fourth down more often than Doug Pederson’s 22 times last season: Bill Parcells (27) with the 1996 Patriots and—you’ll never guess this one—Jack Del Rio (26) with the 2007 Jaguars.
Elsewhere in Peter King’s Football Morning in America column, John Harbaugh says 10 years is a lifetime in the NFL. And King has a chart that shows that is the length of time it has taken Thomas Dmitroff to go from whiz kid to grand old man among NFL GMs.
With long-time GMs Jerry Reese (Giants), Rick Smith (Texans) and Ted Thompson (Packers) moving on after last season, only four men serving as general managers exclusively have been on the job for a decade—including Atlanta’s Thomas Dimitroff, who signed a three-year contract extension last week. In fact, when Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome retires at season’s end, Dimitroff will be the third-longest tenured pure GM (not including owner/GMs like Jerry Jones, or coach/GMs like Bill Belichick) in the league.
Brings to mind this story: Prior to his first draft in 2008, Dimitroff was poised to take Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan in the first round. I was having a drink with Dimitroff and his wife the night before the draft and mentioned in passing how important this draft was, with such a high first-round pick, because most GMs in the NFL don’t get a second chance; this pick would define Dimitroff’s tenure. I didn’t think it was that stark a pronouncement, but Dimitroff told me later I’d freaked out his wife and made her wonder exactly how tenuous a job this was. But Dimitroff has survived, and flourished, by surrounding his quarterback with a mix of a good young defense and talented offensive weapons.
The longest-tenured NFL men who work exclusively as general managers:
Assuming he’s still on the job in January, Dimitroff will rise to number three, at least. Newsome will retire at season’s end.
And down goes Tampa Bay’s first round draft pick as DT VITO VEA heads off the field on a cart on Sunday. It was after receiving treatment for what looked like a shin injury.
But there is optimism per Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ProFootballTalk.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=4fDayVqRMi970KaCj5qBKCBAJ9m-YPcYkKBX7-2zjAQ&e=>:
Buccaneers first-round defensive tackle Vita Vea appears to have dodged a bullet on the practice field today.
Although Vea was carted off the field at this morning’s practice, multiple reports out of Tampa indicate that he was not seriously hurt.
Vea was hurt early in the Buccaneers’ first padded practice. The injury appeared to be to his left calf.
The Bucs used the 12th overall pick in the draft on Vea, a 347-pounder out of Washington. He is expected to start next to Gerald McCoy on the Buccaneers’ defensive line.
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QB RYAN FITZPATRICK completed a long pass that has Rick Stroud talking in the Tampa Bay Times:
In 13 seasons, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a starter. He’s been a backup. But what do you call him this year for the Bucs?
At 35, Fitzpatrick is the player who has to save the Bucs season before it really gets started. He has to navigate the turbulent first three games — at New Orleans, home against the Super Bowl champion Eagles and hosting the Steelers on Monday Night Football — while Jameis Winston serves a suspension.
“I mean, I thought I had seen and been through it all,” Fitzpatrick said Friday, “but another year, just another different situation.
“I have been thrown in so many different situations and thought things were great one week and then thrown six interceptions the next week, and then got benched one week, and thrown six touchdowns the next week. So it’s an absolute circus in this league and you have to look at it one week at a time.”
In a way, Fitzpatrick may be the perfect quarterback to clean up Winston’s mess. He’s a survivor, a long shot to ever earn a job in the NFL as the 250th pick in the 2005 NFL draft out of Harvard.
But somehow he has been good enough to start 119 of the 133 games he’s played with seven teams.
Fitzpatrick went 2-1 as a starter for the Bucs last season while Winston was out with a shoulder injury. The Bucs then signed him to a one-year, $3.3 million contract, including a $1.3 million signing bonus, hoping they wouldn’t need him in this role.
But the team and coach Dirk Koetter gained confidence in Fitzpatrick when he beat the Jets and Dolphins. He finished with 1,103 yards passing with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
“I think he’s just got the right moxie to play quarterback, and he’s done it for a bunch of different teams,” Koetter said. “We’re fortunate enough to have him. We saw what he could do when he was our starter last year for three games. There’s no reason for us to be afraid of Ryan playing quarterback for us. He’s going to play fine.”
At this stage of his career, what Fitzpatrick may lack in arm strength he makes up for with experience and anticipation.
On Friday, during the 11-on-11 portion of practice, Fitzpatrick connected on a deep pass to receiver DeSean Jackson, something Winston struggled to do last season.
“Did you see that 60-yard bomb!” Koetter said after practice.
Said Fitzpatrick: “I feel like I have to go ice my arm… I think it went over 30 yards without a flutter so that was a record for me.
“But yeah, (Jackson) is obviously a home-run hitter and guy that defenses have to account for and they’re afraid of, so we’re going to try to give him as many opportunities as possible.”
Coach Steve Wilks claims that QB SAM BRADFORD is the frontrunner for the starting quarterback job. Marc Sessler of NFL.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__NFL.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=2aSibxa98QUrKCxSm22U1BNHMbGIstB6ux_wsXQP_l4&e=>:
The Cardinals have their passer of the future in Josh Rosen, but the job — for now — belongs to veteran Sam Bradford.
First-year Arizona coach Steve Wilks made that clear Saturday, telling reporters, per the team’s official website: “I don’t waver that Sam is our starter. It’s his job to lose.”
Wilks went on to note that Rosen’s first order of business is battling journeyman Mike Glennon for the backup role, but NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reported the rookie has a chance to win the No. 1 job in August.
“[Bradford] will open camp as the starter, that does not mean he will finish camp as the starter,” Wyche noted Saturday, saying: “… It’s his job to lose, [and] he has every opportunity to hold onto it, [but] coaches are going to be telling Rosen, ‘You go get that starting job.'”
Wilks hinted as much Saturday, telling reporters: “Competition across the board makes you better and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want Josh with the mentality he wants to start.”
With Bradford scheduled to receive a rash of rest days in August, Wyche revealed that Rosen — not Glennon — will take “first-team reps” when the veteran is off the field. That’s telling.
After handing Bradford $15 million guaranteed, it makes sense to begin with the veteran at the helm. Besides, Bradford put together a stellar 2016 campaign before shining in a Week 1 win over the Saints last season. The issue is durability after Bradford missed almost all of last season due to knee issues and hasn’t started 16 games in a season since 2012.
Veteran teammates believe in Bradford, though, with All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson touting him as the starter and saying “when Sam is healthy and is on the field and has talent around him, he’s a top-tier quarterback.”
Rosen impressed Wilks and the staff this offseason, appearing “comfortable and poised” and living up to his reputation as a heady, rapid-processing signal-caller with the tools to succeed early as a pro.
This is Bradford’s job today, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rosen take over the minute Arizona encounters trouble.
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Five weeks could be just a base, not a ceiling, for the length of GM Steve Keim’s suspension. Kent Somers in the Arizona Republic:
Team President Michael Bidwill doesn’t usually meet with reporters on the day players report to training camp, but the Cardinals have never been in the position of opening camp with a general manager suspended.
So after the players’ conditioning test on Friday, Bidwill held a news conference on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium.
He reiterated his disappointment in Keim, who was arrested for extreme DUI on July 4. Bidwill fined Keim $200,000 and suspended him five weeks, but Bidwill made it clear that Keim won’t return that soon unless he meets other requirements, including counseling.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are moving forward and will be able to function as usual, even without a general manager, Bidwill said.
“We can pretty much predict what Steve’s decisions here (would be) with pretty good accuracy,” Bidwill said. “We’ve taken the philosophy that, in his absence, we’re going to try to make the kind of decisions Steve Keim would make.”
For examples, Bidwil cited the recent signings of safety Tre Boston, and signed defensive ends Arthur Moats and Jacquies Smith.
“We feel there has been no drop-off here with his absence,” Bidwill said.
Keim is not allowed to be around the team, nor have contact with team employees during his suspension.
“It’s obviously not a great time to not have your general manager,” Bidwill said. “Training camp is an important time. He’ll be able to, hopefully, be here for the end of training camp if he completes everything. The whole plan is there is no impact from his absence.”
Keim served two days in jail after pleading guilty to extreme DUI and spent a week in detention at his house.
Bidwill said he has been hard on Keim because “in this day and age there is no excuse to drink and drive. We have Lyft. We have Uber. And there are consequences, not just legal consequences for the person that is arrested. People can be hurt and killed.
“There is no excuse. I’ve had the conversation with our staff, with our players, to talk about what the expectations are. Everybody can have a designated driver or leave their car at home and take Uber or a Lyft.”
Left unsaid is the presumption that drunken Cardinals personnel will keep their hands to themselves once they are in the relative safety of said Uber or Lyft.
We shouldn’t make too much of one training camp play, but Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ProFootballTalk.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=4fDayVqRMi970KaCj5qBKCBAJ9m-YPcYkKBX7-2zjAQ&e=> saw this:
Not long ago, the title to this blurb would have prompted a conclusion that cornerback Richard Sherman locked down receiver Marquise Goodwin, keeping him from getting off the line of scrimmage and ultimately preventing him from getting a chance to even get a pinkie finger on the football. On Sunday, that’s not what happened.
Video from Rob Lowder of USA Today shows Goodwin badly beating Sherman in a one-on-one drill.
It begins with a juke at the line of scrimmage that sends Sherman off balance. Goodwin then breaks to the outside and sprints away from Sherman.
By the time Goodwin makes an over-the-shoulder catch, he has two or three steps on Goodwin.
It’s just one snap, of course. And Sherman continues to work his way back from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in November. By the time the regular season begins, Sherman could be ready to play like he has since emerging as one of the league’s best cover corners in 2012.
Still, that clip will be viewed many, many times. And many will assume it means Sherman’s gas tank is getting close to empty. Premature as that conclusion may be, in an age where lying is becoming more commonplace and casual, the film never does.
Peter King suddenly reveals that he finds Pete Carroll to be verbose:
I think sometimes Pete Carroll says 58 words when seven would do. The other day, asked about contract holdout Earl Thomas, Carroll said: “He’s been here for a long time. We always expect him to be here. It’s kind of how it is. He should be here and he’s not. It’s really about the guys that are here now and we’re going to keep moving and grooving and putting it together. It’s unfortunate. We’re expecting him back. He’s under contract.” Wouldn’t it have been just fine if he left the Walt “Clyde” Frazier moovin’ and groovin’ stuff on the sidelines and just said: “He should be here and he’s not.” I mean, that’s the end of the story, right?
Lindsay Jones of USA TODAY says the Broncos running back slots are wide open…
Running back job is totally open, and will be the most compelling battle here through camp. Four guys got 1st team reps on Sunday, we’ll learn a lot more once pads come on this week.
Devontae Booker, third-round rookie Royce Freeman, De’Angelo Henderson, and Phillip Lindsay all received first-team reps Sunday. It still seems most likely that Devontae Booker will be the lead back at least at the beginning of the regular season because the third-year back has a greater command of the offensive playbook than rookie Freeman.
Conor Orr of SI.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__SI.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=Tp_hckaCOnoOvYFOgDDQR2GhkVP57kcVGHa9Uy-CAy0&e=> asks some of Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers what the Raiders can expect.
Chris Simms couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
There was Jon Gruden scurrying around the league meetings this past March with his head buried in the Raiders playbook. The man more resistant to change than almost any Simms had met in his football life was trying to make alterations to his notoriously wordy play calls before rookie camp. With a different generation of player coming in, there was no time to holler out War and Peace before the snap. It was time to streamline the operation.
“He was quizzing himself because it wasn’t natural to him either,” said Simms. “He’s going to make it easier for these college kids, these free-agent kids, so they can come in and not have to learn a play that’s a paragraph long. Ten years ago he would have said, ‘I’m Jon Gruden, and if you can’t keep up you’re outta here.’”
When Simms was quarterbacking Gruden’s Buccaneers in 2004, a typical call would, verbatim, sound like: West right slot, Z counter orbit, 72 Z bingo U split can it with 58 Lexus apple 314 hammer. Dummy snap count on one. To apply some pressure to his young QB during practices, Gruden would throw Simms into the huddle with no prior warning, knowing that his rookie was wearing an NFL Films microphone and was in danger of embarrassing himself by stumbling through the words on camera.
“That was him. He’d ask NFL Films to mic us,” said Simms, who started 15 games for Gruden in Tampa from 2004 to ’06. “The games were easier. I didn’t have this psycho five feet behind me yelling at me all the time.”
As Gruden begins his first head-coaching gig in nearly a decade, he does so buoyed by a talented, big-name Oakland roster and a briefcase of new ideas from his time in his fabled Florida film laboratory. But some of his former players wonder whether he has also taken the time to operate on some old habits. Ex-Bucs say Gruden’s, stubbornness, hubris and occasional disingenuousness could sometimes color their relations with an otherwise likable guy and brilliant football mind.
To discuss Gruden with members of his Buccaneers teams is to hear about two different men. Gruden is at once inspiring, complicated, two-faced and hysterical. He is forthcoming, and perhaps a little hard to trust. In a lot of ways, such characterizations sound no different from the common neuroses associated with many NFL coaches. Most players possess a deep love-hate relationship with their leaders. Some of those who played under Gruden, however, wonder if the extremes were more pronounced with him, and whether that aspect of his personality can change at all.
Consider Simms, who had a brief falling out with Gruden after, he said, the coach started a disinformation campaign in the media about his recovery from emergency surgery to remove his spleen, after he was injured in a game in September 2006. In an interview with SI for this story, Simms said that Gruden “tried to run me out of town 10 months after I almost died on the field,” by telling reporters he was healthy but just not practicing well. Minutes later in the interview Simms added: “I just found myself randomly thinking about him one day [years later]. It was kind of f—ed up how he treated me at the end, but there were a lot more positive times and growth that I didn’t forget about, so I found his number and sent him a text.” (The Raiders did not respond to requests for Gruden to comment for this story.)
In conversations with a handful of former Buccaneers, their skepticism of Gruden derives from a sort of hard-to-digest middle ground in his personality. He is neither cold and distant enough to be Belichickian, nor warm and engaging enough to be Pete Carroll.
Players like to know where they stand with a coach, and a few ex-Bucs mentioned the difficulty they had getting such a read from Gruden, who won a Super Bowl in Tampa during his first season but went 45-51, with two playoff appearances and no postseason wins, over his final six years.
• His use of the media as a tool to pressure or motivate a player, or change the narrative about him.
• His tendency at times to bash a player who was not present at a meeting and then later speak warmly to that player on the field or in the hallway. Simms said this showed observers “the flaw in the human side of Jon Gruden.”
• His failure to properly empower some of his most important players, despite preferring to stock his team with veterans rather than develop rookies.
• His penchant, some said, for overloading his offense with concepts during preparation, then pulling back on the reins on Sunday.
“It was a situation where it worked for some guys and it didn’t work for some guys,” Joey Galloway, a receiver in Tampa from 2004 to ’08, said of Gruden’s approach. “I liked his energy. I thought it was a genuine energy, and a lot of guys feed off that.”
When asked if the divide between players who liked the head coach and those who didn’t was similar in the five other stops he made in his career, Galloway said: “It happens in a lot of locker rooms, but maybe the gap was wider [in Tampa] between guys who liked him and guys who didn’t.”
Gruden’s manic energy and brilliant schematic mind had definite appeal, and may have helped keep other issues from surfacing. Jeff Garcia, who played quarterback for Gruden in 2007 and 2008, said the coach’s Rolodex of explosive offensive sets forced many opposing defenses to present a vanilla zone front on game day, simplifying looks the quarterback had at the line. Garcia says if he coached collegiately or professionally he’d draw on some of Gruden’s theories.
It was his handling of the emotional aspect of coaching, and perhaps a lack of an eye for chemistry, that underlay some of the difficulties. Lack of camaraderie or emotional and physical support from teammates can make a season feel like an eternity. “That quarterback room in 2008 was probably the most uncomfortable quarterback room I’ve ever been a part of in my entire career,” Garcia said of a season in which he was benched for Brian Griese without warning after a loss in the opener, only to reclaim the job in October. “The mix of personalities didn’t blend, and there wasn’t any support for whoever the starter was at the time.”
So what man are the Raiders getting in 2018?
His reunion with the Davis family in Oakland was treated with all the oversaturation and hype of a new Walmart-exclusive U2 album. The problem is that Oakland’s fan base is accustomed to a persona that has been largely bolstered across ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” and “Quarterback Camp” platforms. Is that who Gruden is now, who he has always been, or who he imagined he would be if he ever got another chance to coach?
That depends on whom you ask.
“In my experience, I always felt like he was a stand-up guy,” said former Bucs defensive end Stylez White, one of Gruden’s best pass rushers in 2007 and 2008. “Maybe some of his ways people didn’t agree with it, but his ways worked. You can’t make everybody happy, and what he thought was best for the team was what he did.”
White added: “He’s fair. He loves you when you’re doing well, and he’s on top of you when you’re not. You’re going to get what you give. Sometimes he comes across as he wants the love, he wants to be a players’ coach, and I think he is, but there’s a fine line.”
Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson had a rocky relationship with Gruden when the two were together in Tampa in 2002 and 2003. Johnson was a star on the Super Bowl-winning team in ’02, but by the following season he had fallen out with the coach and was deactivated by the Bucs for the final six games of ’03. “It’s a good thing when you know who you’re dealing with,” Johnson said of Gruden. “He’s a football coach, and most football coaches play a game [with players] because they know they have to. The successful ones, in my opinion, stay true to who they are and their true values.”
When asked who Gruden was trying to be, Johnson said: “I don’t know who, but I could certainly tell it wasn’t as genuine as the media wanted it to be. And I get the media and what they buy into, and I believe that Jon is a good football coach. But I think because of the media and the way they portray things, they make you think he has all the answers.”
– – –
In observing his former coach over the last few years, Chris Simms has noticed signs that make him optimistic for the latest version of Jon Gruden, NFL coach. Maybe the man can change—or at least realize he has to be more than a persona, to his players at least.
“I feel like there’s a little more personal side to him now,” Simms said. “In the old days, Jon used to just wait for his turn to talk. Now, he listens.”
The drafting of QB LAMAR JACKSON seems to have lit a fire, at the moment, under QB JOE FLACCO. Peter King:
How much is one practice worth? How much can Joe Flacco change the minds of doubting fans—and confidence-shaken coaches—in two hours? For a quarterback who’s been 30th, 24th and 26th in NFL passer rating in his three seasons since turning 30, a quarterback who raised so much doubt in his organization that it traded up into the first round to draft his logical successor in April, the practices that used to be one-more-dog-day-closer-to-the-regular-season deals now matter. A lot.
One longtime Ravens observer told me here Thursday that this first week of camp for Flacco has been “far and away” the best he’s looked in camp in his 11 years as a Raven. Quite a thing to say for a former Super Bowl MVP, for a guy who’s been the no-doubt starter almost since he walked onto campus as a rookie in 2008. But on my visit to training camp Thursday, Flacco made, by my accounting, six beautiful medium-to-deep throws right on the money in team drills. Two traveled more than 40 yards in the air to former Card wideout John Brown (a big star in early camp) and nestled perfectly in his hands—and Brown was covered tightly both times. Another zippy shot went up the seam, deep, to precocious rookie tight end Hayden Hurst. Vintage Flacco bombs.
Flacco is 33 now, and it’s hard to overestimate the pressure he had coming into camp. Ex-Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is one of the most popular athletes in town—he’s already got the 20th-best-selling jersey in the NFL—though he’s yet to play a snap. But these are the types of plays I saw Thursday in team drills: Rookie wideout Jordan Lasley, covered by former first-round corner Marlon Humphrey, deked Humphrey on a stutter-and-go, got three steps on the cornerback sprinting down the right side, and Flacco hit Lasley in stride. Again, perfect throw.
“I see Joe Flacco out there,” a beaming John Harbaugh said on the field after this display. “Healthy. Obviously very determined.”
“That’s an NFL quarterback,” Jackson told me. “I’m learning a lot watching him.”
There’s another factor in how impressive this is. It is very possible that Baltimore’s top three (maybe four) receivers this year will be new: Brown, Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and maybe Lasley or DeVier Posey. It is possible his top two tight ends, eventually, will be rookies: Hurst (first round) and Mark Andrews (third round). That makes Flacco’s performance so far in camp more remarkable; the vast majority of his throws are to men he didn’t know five months ago. The Ravens are starting from near-scratch at receiver and tight end, like an expansion team. Add to that the fact that Flacco did not participate in training camp last year (herniated disc) and was rebounding from a reconstructed knee in camp two years ago, and you can see why there would have been so much doubt in him, and in this rebuilt offense.
The Ravens definitely weren’t giving up on Flacco by drafting Jackson. It’s a dog-eat-dog league, and they needed better quarterback play than they were getting. It’s impossible to be critical of the move, because, even if health was the biggest factor, Flacco just wasn’t playing well, and the Ravens had to look to get better. The value of Jackson, chosen with the 32nd overall pick, certainly seems worth it. Now it’s in Flacco’s control. When Harbaugh called him after the Jackson pick, Harbaugh said: “Play great and win games, and none of this matters.”
Flacco says the right things when we meet after practice. People who should know have told me he’s ticked off about this but realizes there’s nothing he can do except play great and stick it to those who think he’s in decline.
“There’s definitely a certain feeling you have,” Flacco told me. “I don’t know if it’s the worst feeling in the world, but it’s definitely means something. There’s definitely a little bit of a message in there. But this is the NFL, man. I’ve been in it for 10 years, seen pretty much everything. Surprised by this [the drafting of Jackson] a little bit. My approach is I’m gonna show these guys every day what kind of quarterback I am, and I can’t really worry about anything else.”
Harbaugh said he and Flacco had a couple of conversations about the drafting of Jackson. “I called Joe the night we drafted him,” Harbaugh said. “My message was, ‘You’re the quarterback.’ But he’s realistic too. This adds another dimension to us.” That dimension, the coach said, is embryonic. “We have ideas. People are seeing it out here. Sometimes Lamar will be the quarterback. Sometimes we’ll have two quarterbacks. Sometimes Joe will be doing something else. Sometimes Lamar will be doing something else. We’ll try to be creative. That’s really about all I can tell you: We’re going to try to be creative with them.”
The reaction of both men? Seemed tepid to me.
“I’m a quarterback,” said Jackson. “I’ll do whatever they want that’s best for the team.”
“I don’t know too much,” Flacco said. “We’ve messed around with a few things. If the other stuff is gonna help us win football games, then good.”
This is going to be a fascinating season in Baltimore. The offense should be exciting—maybe with some RPOs (the original RPO man, and we haven’t even mentioned him, is backup quarterback Robert Griffin III)—and some weird option stuff with two quarterbacks on the field at once. Whatever, there’s a quarterback with his job on the line, and maybe a coach with his job on the line, and an incredible turnover in personnel. Quite a chemistry experiment. But a needed chemistry experiment.
A key offensive lineman for the Steelers will miss most of the preseason, but it could have been worse. This tweet from Aditi Kinkwabhala:
Huge sigh of relief from #Steelers camp. LG Ramon Foster hyperextended his knee, but did not suffer any ligament damage and will NOT need surgery. Should be out 4-5 weeks.
Remember: no Steeler has logged more snaps since 2009 than him.
So far so good for QB ANDREW LUCK.
The “jitters” were mixed with excitement, some bad throws and moments when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck even looked pretty “silly” when he watched himself on film after his first training camp practice in two years.
But through it all — the rustiness, the soreness and the timing issues — there haven’t been any setbacks in Luck’s return from right shoulder surgery in January 2017.
“Jitters like before a game for that first practice. Haven’t felt that way in a long time,” Luck said about his first training camp since 2016. “Responding well. Name of the game for me is to improve every day. Feeling-wise. Technique-wise.”
Luck practiced fully during the first two days of training camp before being limited to just handing the ball off and doing moving-in-the-pocket drills without throwing Saturday as part of a rest day with his arm that was preplanned heading into training camp. The Colts are keeping a close eye on Luck throughout the entire process.
A significant sign for Luck is that he said he had not experienced any pain in his shoulder.
“Soreness, tiredness, for sure, and stresses on my arm that are different,” he said. “Stresses on, shoot, everybody’s body at this camp that are different … and being able to recover, and get ready for the next one, and use the sort of days I’m not throwing at practice, lifting, training day, I still very much believe in that to get me to the point where I want to be, feeling-wise.”
It’s like a school session for Luck. He’s familiar with receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle, but he’s learning new coach Frank Reich’s offense along with new key skill position players like receiver Ryan Grant and tight end Eric Ebron.
“He needs the reps. He needs to get reps every single day,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “We have a lot of the same concepts that he’s had in the past here, but we also have new concepts. He’s got to see some of the new concepts. He’s got to even get the old concepts that he may have a limited amount of reps on, like 100 reps on. He still has to see those just to get them back into his muscle memory and to get him back seeing the field again and everything like that. It really is day by day.”
Luck is expected to play in the August 9 opener against Seattle.
A bad hamstring for WR JORDAN MATTHEWS. Jeff Howe of The Athletic with the Tweet:
Jordan Matthews departed with a right hamstring injury that he suffered in 1-on-1s. Went into the tent for a couple minutes, emerged to change cleats, tried to jog once then left for the locker room.
– – –
QB TOM BRADY is ticked off when the media tries to probe the suspension of Brady buddy WR JULIAN EDELMAN. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ESPN.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=OZuV86zAPxqsbFxCGby2125ORJN9fU9tXh2HcgdvLJc&e=>:
— New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady cut his Saturday news conference short when asked whether he had a reaction to those who have linked his personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, to wide receiver Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy.
“I have no comment. It is just ridiculous,” Brady said when asked if he felt such a connection was fair because Edelman, in addition to others, trains with Guerrero. “I’m out. See you guys.”
Brady then picked up his helmet and ultimately walked to the team’s locker room, putting an abrupt end to his first remarks since reporting for training camp earlier in the week.
Brady, who had briefly addressed reporters during June’s mandatory minicamp, elaborated on several topics Saturday for about five minutes before the inquiry on Guerrero, who is also his close friend and business partner.
He touched on his excitement for a 19th NFL season, how thankful he was to have offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels back with the team, his offseason work to become a better player, and how he spent important time with his family this offseason as he balances his personal life and the game he loves.
One topic that he didn’t address, which might reflect his frustration with media coverage surrounding the team, was reports of tension surrounding the franchise.
Asked his thoughts on Patriots turmoil, Brady said, “I have no thoughts.”
Brady, 40, who stayed away from voluntary spring practices to be with his family, stressed how football remains a big part of his life.
“Football is very, very important to me. It always has been, and I love being out here with my teammates,” he said. “As you get older, you have different responsibilities, and I think that’s just part of life. Everyone’s got to deal with those responsibilities differently and what works for them. Football is a huge part of my life. I love being here with my teammates and playing, and hopefully we can have a great season.”
Brady called this time of year “exciting” while noting the sizable amount of work facing the team.
“Obviously, not a lot of things are perfect at this point,” he said.
He said he didn’t know whether he was behind where he would normally be with his wide receivers had they practiced together in the spring, before saying, “We have a long time. We have a lot of work to do. We’ll do the best we can every day to get the work in when we can and try to go out there and have a great year.”
As for the approach of spending as much time with his family in the offseason so he could be at his best for the Patriots come training camp, Brady felt that he achieved that goal.
“Yeah. You know, there’s a lot of commitment and a lot of sacrifice from a lot of people that play the game,” he said. “Our families, they work just as hard just like every working family shares the burden at different times. It’s a full-time commitment for this team, and everyone’s got to do whatever it takes to help us win.
“So I feel good, ready and trying to improve like everyone else. It’s a daily process. Football’s a very humbling sport, and you never have it quite figured out. Every year, there’s different things, challenges, plays, schemes, opponents, conditions, situations, and it’s just about adapting to what you have and the situation. It’s never perfect. Hopefully there’s a lot more good than bad, but you just work it every day and try to do better each day.”
As for what he focused on football-wise in the offseason, Brady said he always stresses footwork and mechanics, while putting himself in the best position to stay healthy over the course of the season.
“That’s what it comes down to being a professional athlete. It’s being in good condition, being in good shape, making the right plays and reads, techniques, fundamentals for your position,” he said. “I spend a lot of time doing that, and that’s got to transfer over to the field.”
Of McDaniels’ return as offensive coordinator, which seemed unlikely after he had verbally accepted the Indianapolis Colts’ head-coaching job before altering course, Brady relayed thankfulness.
“Josh and I have had a great relationship for 18 years, and he’s one of my best friends. I love working with him and we have a very special relationship that I cherish, and it’s kind of been that way for a long time,” Brady said. “I love him, I love his family, and we’re very close. When you work together with somebody for that long, you have a great rapport and relationship. I’m happy he’s on our team, happy he’s coaching me, and I want to go out there and do well by him.”
NEW YORK JETS
QB SAM DARNOLD and the Jets are having a hard time coming to terms with the sticking point being how much money he would earn if he is a bust. Marc Sessler ofNFL.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__NFL.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=2aSibxa98QUrKCxSm22U1BNHMbGIstB6ux_wsXQP_l4&e=>:
As Jets camp wages on, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is nowhere to be seen. What gives?
NFL Network’s Michael Silver reported Sunday that the contract holdup between Gang Green and Darnold’s camp isn’t based around “offsets or money payouts,” per sources close to the negotiation.
Instead, the snag centers around forfeiture language, which is standard in most NFL contracts and a parameter the Jets include in all their deals with players.
Essentially, forfeiture language allows the team to recoup money if a player is injured while engaging in certain activities outside of football, with Silver offering “skiing” and “mountain climbing” as examples.
While the Bears are at odds with fellow first-rounder Roquan Smith over the league’s new lowering-of-the-helmet rule — and the financial protections in Smith’s deal should the linebacker be suspended for such a hit — Darnold’s delay is based around language most fans would deem exceedingly nebulous.
Darnold’s cadre, though, feels otherwise and continues to battle for the best pact possible. As Silver noted, “forfeiture language seems like a strange hill for his agents to die on but … that’s the way it’s playing out.”
With Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater on the roster, days missed by Darnold genuinely impact his chance to win the job.
McCown was a mostly reliable veteran starter for the Jets a year ago, while Silver reported Bridgewater, two years removed from a severe knee injury, “looks very impressive.”
We largely ignored Darnold’s absence a week ago, but his contract status is now officially on the radar as the Jets mine their way into August.
Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ProFootballTalk.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=4fDayVqRMi970KaCj5qBKCBAJ9m-YPcYkKBX7-2zjAQ&e=> says the Jets are trying to drive a very hard bargain on another issue as well:
Rich Cimini of ESPN.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ESPN.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=H4xUZcYud0Wi95VF0EHFqnlXsOXls_MqKWyRZnGhgI0&s=OZuV86zAPxqsbFxCGby2125ORJN9fU9tXh2HcgdvLJc&e=> reports that offsets are an issue as they have been for other first-round picks, but that a bigger sticking point is language regarding the guarantees in Darnold’s contract. Per the report, the Jets want to void Darnold’s entire guarantee, which is expected to be around $30 million, in the event he is fined for his conduct on or off-field at any point during the life of the contract.
Cimini points out that neither Baker Mayfield nor Josh Allen have such language in their contracts. Both players do have language voiding their guarantees in the event of a suspension.
Cimini adds that it is believed that no other top-three pick in the last 10 years has had that language in their deal either, but that apparently isn’t keeping the Jets from making a push to have it in place before Darnold can resume practicing with the team.
So a defensive lineman stomps on Darnold after making a sack. Darnold gets up and shoves him. Lineman fined $30,000, Darnold fined $5,000, Darnold loses $30 million guarantee? Are we only talking NFL fines, because team fines are easy to get for things like missing the start of a meeting when caught in traffic.
Peter King notes that the Jets have not brought in any camp arms.
How odd it was on the first day of camp to see Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater as the only quarterbacks in camp. I’ve never seen a first day of camp, ever, with only two quarterbacks on the field. “Right?” McCown said to me afterward. “We were talking about that out there, how strange it was.” Usually there’s four or five quarterbacks, to save the arms of the first couple of guys on the depth chart. Darnold should be here to take 40 percent of the snaps, to speed-learn everything about this offense and about his mates. I don’t care who’s at fault—some silly team policy about offset language, or agent Jimmy Sexton insisting on something that very likely will never come into play over the five-year life of the deal. End it. Get the future in camp today.
THIS AND THAT
SOCIAL MEDIA AND PLAYERS
It used to be that players were advised not to read the sports pages during the season. Now, Peter King notes, there is a lot more bad advice to worry about:
I’ve been thinking about this for a while—in fact, I’ve talked about it with players in three camps so far. It’s the pervasive effect of social media, Twitter in particular, on NFL players. And Jason Witten raged against it the other day in a story for his new employer, ESPN. Witten’s words:
One of the defining images of the modern locker room isn’t a fiery postgame speech or a group of guys strategizing—it’s players with their heads down, buried in their phones.
The impact? It’s not good.
I’ve seen the negative impact social media can have, particularly on younger players, who grew up with Twitter and Instagram as an integral part of life. A player checking Twitter at halftime? I’ve seen it … The most concerning? Watching a really talented player corrupt his mind and confidence by reading all the critiques from anonymous football experts around the world. Negative social media can ruin a player. Reading your mentions? It’s poison.
I got into a discussion with a veteran Ravens player at camp Thursday, just talking. He told me in passing how he advised the guys in his position group to avoid two things during the season: Twitter and Pro Football Focus. Not that he hated either one. But he said the only people who really know how you’re playing, and the only people who can help you get better, are the teammates and coaches in your building. He said he saw former Baltimore Torrey Smith driven nuts by social-media critics, and he couldn’t understand why, during the season, a player couldn’t just put that stuff away. Regarding PFF, he said he valued the grades and the opinions, but never took them as gospel. And the more a player obsessed about what some PFF grader thought of his play, the more he might not listen to his own coach as closely as he should.
At Bears camp, Kyle Long told me he was going off social media for the season (he’s a Twitter-lover, normally) and trying to wean himself from phone-addiction. He and quarterback Mitch Trubisky agreed to go Twitter-free this season. “It’s so time-consuming,” Long said. “All of it. I got one of those apps where you can measure how much time you spend looking at your phone. It’s absurd, the number of hours you waste in a week. If you spent, say, one-eighth of the time you spend looking at your phone looking at your playbook or talking to your teammates, you wouldn’t be beating yourself up over something so much. How you played, comparing yourself to others, whatever. It’s a waste.”