Tuesday, July 29, Philadelphia Eagles camp
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- If you want to know one thing about the Eagles right now, know this: Donovan McNabb is in charge, and his job is not in jeopardy with Kevin Kolb breathing down his neck. All you had to see was a couple of throws McNabb made on this morning, one a beautiful pass up the right seam, maybe 28 yards in the air, that nestled perfectly into Brian Westbrook's arms and that Westbook took to the house. "That's IT!'' offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg yelled as the crowd whooped.
Camp means many things to many people. But to McNabb, this camp is to show his teammates, and the locals who doubt him, there's no quarterback competition on this team. Andy Reid overlooks the McNabbisms that come out sometimes (they're about one-tenth as harmful as the Mannyisms, and Reid just doesn't sweat the small stuff) and realizes if McNabb is healthy for 16 weeks, the Eagles are going to win 10 or 11 and be a factor in the playoffs. It's a fact of life in Philly we almost forgot too soon.
Wednesday, July 30, Pittsburgh Steelers camp
LATROBE, Pa. -- Zen Ben Roethlisberger?
"Ben's a lot more comfortable in his own skin this year,'' Mike Tomlin said after practice this afternoon. "He's a lot more comfortable leading this team. He seems like he can be himself better.''
I relayed this to Roethlisberger. "I've grown,'' he said. "It might sound crazy, but veteran guys in the league would understand. Knowing I have the serenity of a long-term contract is so important, because now you know they trust you. They're saying, 'It's your team.' When they sign you for eight years at this position, it's a huge commitment, one I don't take lightly.''
Thursday, July 31, Baltimore Ravens camp
WESTMINSTER, Md. -- Post-lunch in the Best Western hotel room-turned-head-coach's-office of John Harbaugh. It's really hard not to like Harbaugh. He was a special-teams coach in Philadelphia until last year in, the kind of guy you meet in passing covering this league and you think, Really bright guy. Good personality, tireless, excellent coach, quite smart. And you just move on because there are three or four guys like that on most staffs.
What I like is that owner Steve Bisciotti thought outside the box on him because hiring longtime special teams coaches is not something most media-fearing owners tend to do. And though I don't know if Harbaugh will succeed or fail, I do know he's the kind of guy you want to do well because he appreciates the privilege of his lot in life.
One spring day, Harbaugh found himself in the weight room at the Ravens' 200,000-square-foot training facility. It was early in the morning, maybe 6, and the sun was starting to stream through the windows over the pines near the edge of the practice field, the light starting to illuminate the misty practice fields. "And I'm looking out at this, the head coach of a National Football League team, and all of a sudden it hits me,'' he said, leaning forward in his chair. "I know what happened. A few seconds ago, I was in a car accident, and I died. That's right. I've died and gone to heaven. This is heaven. That's how I felt, and that's how grateful I was. Still am.''
Friday-Saturday, Aug. 1-2, Dallas Cowboys camp
OXNARD, Calif. -- Much debate over what to call Pacman Jones. Adam Jones? Pacman Jones? He said the other day it was OK for his teammates to call him "Pacman'' because, in his words, "They're in the trenches with me.'' He said he wanted the media to call him "Adam.'' But as AP reporter Stephen Hawkins noted the other day, Jones signed a baby's outfit "Pacman Jones'' during an autograph session. Hawkins is doing the smart thing. "I'm writing 'Adam "Pacman'' Jones,' '' Hawkins said.
This all led to the amusing who's-on-first exchange between an incredibly fast-talking Fox Sports en Espanol reporter and Terrell Owens.
Fox Sports en Espanol: "You call Pacman Pacman?''
T.O.: "What's that?''
Fox Sports en Espanol: "Pacman.''
Fox Sports en Espanol: "Adam.''
T.O.: "What about it?''
Fox Sports en Espanol: "I thought he didn't like to be called Pacman any more. You said Pacman. Pacman Jones.''
T.O.: "What about it?''
Fox Sports en Espanol: "I thought he didn't want to be called Pacman any more.''
T.O.: "Did somebody call him Pacman?''
Fox Sports en Espanol: "You did, man.''
T.O., resignedly: "Dude, I don't care.''
Fox Sports en Espanol: "OK.''
Sunday, Aug. 3, Tampa Bay Buccaneers camp
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- "So,'' I said to Chris Simms after the Bucs' morning practice in this insanely hot hotbox, "what word describes how you are now -- better or bitter?''
"Good question,'' said Simms. "Depends on the day you ask.''
You recall Simms suffered a ruptured spleen in a 2006 game, lost a lot of blood, was close to being in grave condition, then tried to come back last year before his body was 100 percent healed.
Now the Bucs almost certainly won't keep him, and instead of releasing him to give him the best shot to win a No. 2 job somewhere, they're keeping him around as an insurance policy against injury. That ticks him off to high heaven.
They will start Jeff Garcia with Brian Griese as the backup and probably Luke McCown at No. 3. The Bucs broke camp with four QBs last year and I expect them to do the same this year; Josh Johnson, an impressive rookie from the University of San Diego, will be the fourth unless the Bucs believe they can sneak him onto the practice squad. That leaves Simms as an insurance policy.
Hey, life's not always fair. The Bucs want to get something for Simms if they can, but they'll probably end up releasing him toward the end of camp. My guess: Houston and Denver would be interested and could steal him away from Dallas, which probably will want him the most. With the Cowboys, Simms would beat out Richard Bartel for the third QB job, and go into 2009 as Romo's backup, or battling Brad Johnson to be that.
It's an interesting question: Should the Bucs, who clearly will keep Simms only if they have a catastrophic run of injuries, give a guy who gave his spleen for the team his freedom to make the best deal he can? Or do the Bucs, by virtue of having paid Simms $5 million since the injury and getting no playing time out of him, have the right to hang onto him until the bitter end of camp, hoping some team will get desperate and deal for him?
I wondered if the word "hostage'' had occurred to Simms.
"I would say so,'' he said. "There're days when I say, Why am I the guinea pig? But you know, after all I've been through, I'm just happy to be able to be out here making throws I couldn't have made a year ago.''
Like a 20-yard out, a laser, to wideout Maurice Stovall in tight coverage this morning. It showed, as Simms said, that he's able to move his torso the way he could before the injury, and that he can throw the ball as hard as he did before the injury too. "That throw, I guarantee I couldn't have made a year ago,'' he said of the shot to Stovall.
Simms is 27, and he should get a good chance somewhere else. When? My guess is Labor Day weekend, when the last cuts are made.