Walking the thin line between hype and news
Posted: Thursday July 15, 2004 10:08PM; Updated: Thursday July 15, 2004 10:08PM
By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
How can you tell it's really July? Well, for perceptive fantasy owners, it's as easy as glancing at the latest NFL headlines. With a vast majority of the league's players taking time off before training camps open, very little news is made.
But that doesn't mean the media grinds to a halt. There are still papers to be sold, audiences to be wowed and Web sites needing hits.
As a result, less important -- but splashier -- stories get more attention than they would at other times of the year. Making matters worse, these more speculative pieces often push less provocative -- but perhaps more important -- stories out of the spotlight.
This annual phenomenon makes the ability to see through "hype" vital to fantasy success. Fortunately, two recent stories provide an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast the difference between hype and news.
We'll start with last week's highly-publicized rumors -- with the word "rumor" being the key word here -- that ongoing knee problems might force St. Louis halfback Marshall Faulk to retire. While this story generated considerable interest among fantasy owners, it also lent the local radio personality behind it much greater prominence than he previously enjoyed.
But as the Sports Xchange framed it Monday, "In the slow time just before training camps begin, [the] recent report that Faulk might retire was taken out of context in regards to the situation that exists."
In fact, I'll take that notion a step further and suggest these "new" rumors -- as exciting as they might be -- are nothing new at all.
As I wrote in this very space a week before the "rumor" surfaced, "While there was reportedly more to this year's offseason cleanup surgery than advertised, head coach Mike Martz believes the procedure could prolong Faulk's career."
And my contention there might be more to the procedure "than advertised" was backed up by a variety of reports -- some published as early as two weeks prior to the draft, citing sources close to Faulk who claimed the veteran halfback had expressed concern about the knee.
Martz still believes Faulk will be ready to go, but others within the organization are concerned -- something that became even more obvious in the wake of April's draft.
Indeed, the Rams made no secret of the fact their staff studied the production of runners once they reach the age of 30 and realized there was no guarantee Faulk, who turned 31 in February, could continue to play at a high level on an every-down basis.
Therefore, after seriously considered selecting Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones, the team traded up to snare Steven Jackson when the Cowboys bypassed him and plans were already being made for Jackson to get some of Faulk's carries long before the lurid headlines surfaced last weekend.
As I reported in May, Martz hinted at the notion Jackson, who will compete with Lamar Gordon for the No. 2 spot, might be asked to contribute as early as this year, lightening Faulk's load by allowing him to be used more as a receiver.
Other reports published shortly after the draft noted that Jackson might play a more significant role in the red zone than initially expected after difficulties in that area hurt the team during their playoff loss to Carolina.
But the best overall assessment of the situation came from Monday's piece by the Xchange, which summed up: "Might Faulk retire if his knee remains a problem? Certainly. But no one believes it will actually reach that point. Even at less than 100 percent, Faulk would have value to the Rams' offense as a runner and receiver."
Looking beyond the hype, that's the "real" story in this case.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, we have an excellent example of a story that seems rather mundane on the surface, but which might actually be of greater importance.
The East Valley Tribune reported Tuesday, "New coach Dennis Green wanted to make his first offseason with the Arizona Cardinals an extension of training camp.
"Monday, the Cardinals were told Green took that too far."
Following an investigation based on player complaints, the NFL Management Council and NFL Player's Association deemed the Cards violated the collective bargaining agreement "pertaining to the intensity level and tempo of drills conducted during organized team activity days."
As punishment, the Cards had the final week of their 14-week offseason conditioning program -- which began Monday -- canceled. The Cardinals report to training camp Aug. 1.
"We're very respectful of the [collective bargaining agreement] and are taking the appropriate measures to make sure this does not re-occur," Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves told the Associated Press.
But as Urban noted, several players had privately complained about the physical nature of the practices during the offseason. At one point, a player posted the NFLPA's rules on offseason work on a bulletin board in the middle of the locker room, where every teammate would have an opportunity to see them.
While the Cards did not use pads (which is prohibited), that was part of their complaint -- that the work was too intense without protection. After the last practice, a couple of players even expressed dismay that the NFLPA had apparently ignored their complaints.
However, after hearing of the complaints, the NFLPA asked the Cardinals to turn over tapes from the workouts, and the Cardinals complied.
While the loss of practice time probably isn't a make-or-break issue, the fact that player complaints initiated the investigation might be.
As those who follow the team closely have repeatedly noted, Green made changing the team's mindset a priority upon arrival in Arizona. Part of his strategy has been to create a bunker mentality, to drive home the point that few people respect the Cardinals.
On June 29, Arizona Republic beat man Kent Somers wrote, "Almost every day, [Green] works on his players' minds as well as their skills. And the overhead projector is one of his favorite tools.
"One day, he puts up a list detailing the team's horrible road record in recent years. Another day, it's a list of great players and coaches who have worked for the team. The delivery message differs but the intent is the same: changing the losing attitude that pervades the organization."
And according to Republic columnist Paola Boivin, "Players who say the wrong things to the press find their quotes on overhead projectors in the next day's meeting."
Even though the Faulk story appears to much "sexier," its really nothing new. The Arizona story, on the other hand, not only tells us something we didn't already know, it offers a glimpse at the difficulty Green faces in turning around a moribund franchise.
Given the fine line separating hype from news, Fantasy owners would be wise to use this quiet time to hone their ability to better discern between the two.