Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of training camp week one:
a. Ray Rice made the best offensive play I saw all week. Circling out of the backfield into the right flat, he reached for a Joe Flacco pass thrown high and caught it one-handed, with the nose of the lasered ball nestling against the palm of his right glove. Rice never put his other hand on it. Happened so fast. For that reason and many others, I would not be surprised if Rice beats out Willis McGahee for the starting job.
b. Best defensive play: In Philly camp, free-agent running back Eldra Buckley burst through the right tackle-tight end hole and looked to be headed for a nice gain. But underrated defensive end Juqua Parker sloughed off a block and nailed Buckley at the last second, bouncing him to the dirt like they both were wearing rubber suits. The play amazed because it happened so fast, and Parker attacked the rusher with such brute force while being blocked.
c. Baltimore's practice was more intense than Buffalo's or Washington's.
d. Philly's practice was as intense as Baltimore's, and more spirited and hard-hitting than Pittsburgh's.
e. So strange to see a Pittsburgh training camp without Dan Rooney, who's in Ireland as our new ambassador.
f. Great sign for the Ravens: At his first practice with the vets in camp, rookie right tackle Michael Oher, the storied one, popped Terrell Suggs on a pass-rush drill so hard it staggered him. "Don't go making a big deal out of that,'' Oher said, looking worried when asked about it. "He'll make it so much harder for me.''
g. Ooops. Just made it harder for you, Michael.
h. Very big year for Turk Schonert. And he knows it. The Bills offensive coordinator has the greater Buffalo area breathing down his neck.
i. Now that Tony Dungy is out of football, Dick Jauron takes the mantel as the nicest man in football.
j. NFL quiz: Who's the only player in the league who has played professional football since he was a teenager? Answer below, in number 10.
k. The Eagles players have gotten a stern lecture from security director Butch Buchanico about sports betting in Delaware, which appears to be on the way to happening. He told them that under no circumstances are they to go into a Delaware casino and bet on sports -- because of the public perception and also because of the "interesting'' friends they'd encounter if organized-crime figures knew they were sports gamblers.
2. I think, in case you missed it, the Jaguars signed second-round pick Eben Britton, the 39th pick in the NFL draft, Sunday. That brings to mind the greatest quote in the history of the franchise. "Every team that passed on me will regret it for the rest of the history of their franchise,'' this calm, cool and collected fellow said after the draft. We'll be watching, Eben.
3. I think Sage Rosenfels was the Minnesota starter before Tarvaris Jackson went down with a strained knee at practice the other day, and he's still going to be the starter now, obviously. And I wouldn't be surprise if John David Booty beat out Jackson for the backup job.
4. I think all reports are that Tom Brady looks better than good coming back from knee surgery.
5. I think the people at Footballoutsiders.com quite possibly have outdone themselves this year, with Football Outsiders Almanac 2009. I am a huge fan of their book every year, and some of the nuggets Aaron Schatz and company have unearthed this year are going to make you run, not walk, to your computer to order this year's edition. The stats/story lines they've dug up that you can't find anywhere else:
a. Football Outsiders uses a stat called "Adjusted Games Lost" to measure injuries, based on how often starters appear on the injury list in the various categories. The 2008 Seahawks had more Adjusted Games Lost on offense than any other team going back to 1996. Now you know why they stunk.
b. For three straight seasons, the Arizona defense has been average against formations with the quarterback under center and one of the three worst defenses in the league against formations with the quarterback in shotgun. Ben Roethlisberger marched the Steelers down the field to win the Super Bowl using shotgun, and the Patriots blew out the Cardinals by using shotgun, even though there was a snowstorm. Asks Football Outsiders: "Why don't teams use shotgun against Arizona all the time?''
c. Tony Gonzalez Memorial Least Likely Stat To Continue in 2009: Atlanta threw only seven percent of passes to the tight end in 2008, 31st in the NFL.
e. The 2008 Colts were the only team of the last decade with no sacks by linebackers or defensive backs.
f. Two years ago, before he got hurt and began to decline, Leigh Bodden was pumped up by Football Outsiders before people knew he was good. This year, the cornerbacks to watch are William Gay of Pittsburgh and Orlando Scandrick of Dallas. Gay led the league in Adjusted Yards Allowed per Pass among corners with at least 40 passes attempted against them. Scandrick was 17th, but more important, played better as a fifth-round pick than fellow rookie Michael Jenkins did as a first-round pick.
g. And now for the projection that interests me more than any in the 2009 book: The Chargers have the strongest projection of any team in the six years that this book has measured preseason projections. Previously, the strongest preseason projection belonged to the 2007 Patriots. "However,'' said Schatz, "this does not mean we are predicting that the Chargers will go undefeated or even make it to the Super Bowl, because they are still coached by Norv Turner."
"The Chargers project to have the offense of the 2008 Chargers and the defense of the 2007 Chargers. They were the highest-rated offense by Football Outsider stats last year, in particular the best passing game in pretty much every possible fashion except, amazingly, when throwing to tight ends, because of Antonio Gates' injury. The defense is likely to rebound from last year's decline, especially given the level of injury it had last year. The Chargers also have excellent special teams and we project them with one of the easiest schedules in the league, partly because the projections have the rest of the AFC West as really weak."
h. The best "miracle season" possibility? St. Louis, believe it or not. Teams that draft offensive linemen high almost always improve. Teams that are horrible in the red zone almost always improve. Teams with that many offensive injuries (the Rams were third third behind Seattle and Cincinnati last year) almost always improve.
i. To order this annual gem, go to footballoutsiders.com. You can order the PDF version online for $12, and get a real book in the mail for $21.95. I can't recommend it highly enough. If you don't learn five things about your team that you didn't know, I'll guarantee -- well, I was going to say I'll guarantee your money back. But since it isn't my money, I'll just say this: Go get the book.
6. I think this is the second or third year in a row where People Who Know say the Houston Texans are going to be the team to make the big jump to the playoffs. I'm not sold. But what would really encourage me about this team is what's going on with running back Steve Slaton.
Most people who follow the game, particularly the Fantasy Football players, would be happy if just repeated his 2008 performance: 1,282 yards, nine TDs, a gaudy 4.7-yard average per carry. But Matt Schaub tells me Slaton's going to be markedly better -- potentially -- and his reasoning is solid. Not only are all five offensive-line starters returning intact, but Slaton's been paying attention to the small things in the lat six months.
"Go back and watch film on Steve,'' Schaub told me. "He had 1,200 yards or whatever, and there were so many more yards out there for him. When you have to adjust from zone blocking on your offensive line [at West Virginia] to our way, which is more man, it's tough to get used to. You've got to be sure your blocks are set up. I've seen Steve really grow in that job.''
Interesting stat about Schaub: Over the last two years, the three times he's been hurt to miss time, all three injuries came on hits that resulted in stiff fines against the defenders who hit him. "I am definitely not injury-prone,'' said the man who has missed 10 games due to injury over the past two years. He's going to have to prove it this year.
7. I think this is my favorite Matt Schaub stat of the week: Over the past two years, Schaub has completed 66.3 percent of his throws, Peyton Manning 66.2.
8. I think there is no team that is as good to its fans in training camp as the Ravens. When their two future immortals, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, sign for fans for more than 30 minutes apiece at the same practice, that's class.
9. I think if you'd been with me Sunday in Latrobe, you'd have seen why the Steelers are so good, and why the R word -- repeat -- is on the mind of a few of their fans. With third-team units on the field at the end of team drills, Dennis Dixon led the offense downfield until the ball lay at the two-yard line. James Harrison, who was sitting in the end zone, stood up to encourage the defense, and James Farrior ran from the sidelines to the end zone to do the same. "Get us off the field, D!!!'' Harrison yelled. "We be foaming at the mouth today!!!'' And when the offense scored on an end sweep, the defenders were angry. I mean, angry. "I feel violated,'' said Ike Taylor. As Santonio Holmes said later, it's why they're good. One of the reasons, anyway.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. David Ortiz. Yes, 2004 and 2007 are tainted, but my problem in making judgments is I have no idea how many of the 104 players who tested positive in 2003 play for the teams Boston beat in the playoffs in those years. So what does it mean? I just don't know -- except I don't like it. And sorry, I don't buy the I-don't-know-what-I'm-taking argument.
b. Some guy named Reddick hit a homer for the Red Sox on Sunday. Never heard of him. Go away for a week and the world gets weird.
c. I agree with Bill Simmons. This is just a star-crossed year, a year that just doesn't feel right, for the Sox.
d. Coffeenerdness: Can't believe I'm praising Sheetz Coffee, but the dark roast there would give the Starbucks Sumatra a good run. It fueled me on two of these long jaunts last week.
e. Twitter is changing the news business before our eyes.
f. Answer to the quiz: Washington fullback Mike Sellers, who went to Walla Walla (Wash.) Junior College for a year out of high school, and, at 19, began playing professionally in Canada. (Amobi Okoye was 19 when drafted by the Texans, but turned 20 before signing.)
g. I miss news. I miss the New York Times crossword even more. Well, the Monday through Wednesday crosswords. Once we get to Thursday, I stink.
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