Tales from the training camp trail
Who looks good and who's in trouble around the NFL
Posted: Monday August 6, 2007 1:44AM; Updated: Monday August 6, 2007 8:41PM
Snippets from the first 11 days on the camp trail, from Manhattan to Minneapolis:
Thursday, July 26
NEW YORK -- Roger Goodell has one question in his Park Avenue office as he settles in to talk about his first year in office. "How long,'' he wonders, "am I going to be 'the rookie commissioner?'''
Until Wednesday, actually. Aug. 8 will be the one-year anniversary of the day Goodell was selected as Paul Tagliabue's successor. So, commish, after Wednesday you'll have a new title: sophomore commissioner.
By the way, I got some interesting reactions on the camp trail to what Goodell's done in his first year. This from 39-year-old Ted Washington, sounding quite law-and-orderish: "I'd be doing the same thing if I was commissioner. I think he's done a hell of a job. I'd clean up the game too. I'd tell those young guys: 'All right, you want to play the fool? Fine. I'm taking your money.'"
Friday, July 27
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- On the artificial-turf football field at St. John Fisher College (as picturesque a campus as you'll see on the training-camp circuit), the Bills precocious young left tackle, Jason Peters, is working on defending pass-rush moves with assistant line coach Pete Kugler. I'd describe Peters as a bulked-up power forward with the feet of a small forward. He's a former tight end from Arkansas who made the switch to tackle with the Bills, and he's on the verge on being one of the best offensive linemen in football. Kugler is rolling off Peters, getting punched and pushed away by the tackle, and trying to be a nuisance, all in the name of teaching Peters moves in defending his quarterback from pass-rushers.
"It's harder than it looks,'' Peters says later. "You've got to have at least three good pass sets, and you've got to mix it up so the defensive end can't get a book on you. All these little things, they're what you have to do well if you want to be a great player.''
Saturday, July 28
LATROBE, Pa. -- My first oh-my-God moment of training camp: Ken Anderson is coaching the dreaded enemy! Ken Anderson coaching quarterbacks for the Steelers! Has this news traveled down the Ohio to Cincinnati yet? When the Queen City finds out the former striped quarterback is coaching Terry Bradshaw's heir, well, there's going to be heck to pay.
Ben Roethlisberger looks good physically, and sounds good. From the looks of Bruce Arians' retooled offense, not much will change in Pittsburgh. It still will be a pounding, ball-control team, but it might be a little more varied. More three- and four-wide stuff on logical run downs, and other wrinkles to disguise running back Willie Parker. But at the end of the day, this team will still run 55 percent of the time.
Sunday, July 29
BEREA, Ohio -- "Jeez, you picked us last!'' GM Phil Savage says, spying me in the cafeteria. "Thirty-second! We're that bad?''
Well, if the typeface fits ...
I did not grow up here. Once, early in my Sports Illustrated life, my wife and I looked for a home in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, because the magazine doesn't care where you live and actually likes people living outside the New York area. So I like Cleveland well enough. And I have to say it pained me to rank the Browns last in my preseason Power Rankings. Because after Cleveland's eight seasons of almost pure pain since returning to the NFL, I would like to see this team do well, if only for the people who live here. They really like the Indians and Cavs. They live for the Browns to return to glory. As the airport screener said when he read the name on my ticket last Sunday night, "Do we have a chance this year? Tell me we have a chance.''
I'd like to. But you're looking more like a team for 2008 and beyond. You need a quarterback first.
I couldn't tell that to Jamal Lewis, though. "We are going to be a lot better than people think,'' Lewis said after the Browns finished their afternoon practice. "People kill this offensive line, but you watch. We'll be better than anyone thinks.''
(Postscript: The starting right tackle, Ryan Tucker, was suspended for four games for violating the league's steroid policy last Friday, the same day Brady Quinn's holdout reached eight days. Is there a black cloud over this franchise or what?)