1. I think I disagree with Buffalo GM Buddy Nix, who said the other day in the wake of the release of defensive end Aaron Schobel, "Our fans should know that this decision was made in the best interests of the Buffalo Bills and Aaron Schobel.'' That's half true.
It was in the best interests of Schobel that the Bills released him; it gives a 32-year-old defensive end a chance to play for a winner, or to play for a team closer to his home near Houston. But it was not in Buffalo's best interests to release a guy, instead of waiting until a team in camp got desperate for an eight- to 12-sack player and would pay a draft choice to get him.
2. I think there's a black cloud over the Broncos. Elvis Dumervil (torn pectoral), out likely for the season. Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and Correll Buckhalter (back), out for much of training camp. Rookie wideouts Demaryius Thomas (ankle) and Eric Decker (ankle), both hurt hurt in the Invesco scrimmage Saturday night. No wonder Josh McDaniels cancelled practice Sunday -- he has to do something to break the bad-luck streak.
3. I think I have a couple of book notes:
a. I think Tony Dungy is going to give John Madden a run for his money in the book department. Dungy's first two books have made The New York Times bestseller list. The other day, he rolled out his third, The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building Teams That Win Consistently (Tyndale), with Nathan Whitaker. It focuses on the kind of leadership Dungy was famous for. That is, leadership without a holler guy leading. "It's about being an effective leader by putting the group number one, not yourself,'' he said.
Most good coaches in the NFL don't treat every player the same. Dungy was big on that. He used Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison as examples to me. It was easy to motivate Wayne. Dungy could challenge Wayne, throwing little barbs at him to make him work harder, and he'd find Wayne always striving to do more and play better. Not so with Harrison.
Early in Dungy's Colts' coaching tenure, he sidled up to Harrison at practice the week of a game and said a certain cornerback was really looking forward to covering him, and he chuckled, and he asked Harrison how he was going to respond. Later that day, Harrison sought Dungy out. With a serious look on his face, Harrison said, "Coach, you don't know me very well, but I do not joke about my game.'' Dungy was stunned. But that taught him something. When he had a message for Harrison, he delivered it in a plain brown wrapper. Nothing fancy. Nothing funny.
"As a coach, your job is not to seem like you're in charge all the time,'' Dungy said. "Your job is to get the best out of everyone. With some guys, you might need to go ballistic on them to get their attention. With Marvin, if you went ballistic on him, you'd lose him.''
Dungy always seemed like a great leader, yet he was the quietest man in the room. That way works too -- if the group's going to respect you.
b. On Sunday's New York Times bestseller list, nonfiction, the Saints had Drew Brees' Coming Back Stronger (Tyndale) at number six and Sean Payton's Home Team (Penguin Group USA) at 16. Remember your bet, boys. Brees and Payton have a bottle of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet and a dinner on whose book sells more copies.
4. I think, if you're in a 12-team fantasy league, Ryan Mathews should be a first-round pick. I stink at those things, of course, so take that advice with a shaker of salt. But if the question is whether Mathews will be one of the most productive 12 backs in the NFL this year (the first round is almost exclusively running backs in most leagues), I say he will be, barring injury.
5. I think I think one of the most improved position groups in the league could be the Kansas City backfield. Jamaal Charles made his case to be an every-down back with a 968-yard rushing performance in the last eight games. But the Chiefs didn't draft the 198-pound Charles to be an every-down guy, and they don't want to burn him out the way Larry Johnson got burned out by overuse in Kansas City.
The Chiefs were interested in San Diego restricted free agent Darren Sproles last winter, but Sproles re-signed with San Diego. So K.C. used an early-second-round pick on the Sproles-like Dexter McCluster. And the Chiefs signed the league's second-most productive back over the last five years, Thomas Jones, to share time in the backfield with Charles.
McCluster has been fabulous in early Chiefs practices, lining up in the backfield, in the slot and at receiver. Jones has been the strong-work ethic guy the Chiefs knew they were buying and will be a good model for Charles. It's not unusual to see Jones, after a two-hour-long practice in the western Missouri heat, going to the Chiefs' weight room to lift for an hour. I don't know what this all will translate to come opening night against San Diego Sept. 13 -- coach Todd Haley is on record as saying he'll play the hot guy between Charles and Jones -- but I do know that Matt Cassel is a lot happier with his backfield options.
6. I think Tim Tebow's a better man than I to take that haircut in stride. I'm told he laughed it off. I'd have gone postal.
7. I think I saw an awful lot of wobbly throws by Alex Smith when I watched the 49ers the other day. The attitude around the 49ers is basically this: We don't need Alex Smith to be a great quarterback, we just need him to execute the offense. Understood. But the 49ers led the NFL last year in a long-yardage category (third down and eight yards or more), which says to me that the 49ers quarterback is going to need to make a lot of accurate throws down the field. That's going to be the real test for Alex Smith: Can he throw an 18-yard out to Michael Crabtree on a line? Or a deep throw?
8. I think one of the most interesting things I have seen in my tour of (so far) 12 camps is the sight of rookie pass-rusher O'Brien Schofield working out without pads with some of the injured players on the Cardinals on a side field in Flagstaff. If you're a draft nut, you remember the sad story of Schofield. After playing well at Wisconsin last fall and starring in the East-West Shrine game in January, he went to Mobile, Ala., to solidify his likely second-round standing. In his first practice for the North team, Schofield got tangled with UMass guard Vladimir Ducasse and went down in a heap, screaming. The result: torn ACL, torn meniscus. Looked as though he'd be out for the year, and there was no certainty that he'd be drafted at all, and certainly not high. But the Cardinals were willing to risk a blown 2010 season because they think he has such good potential for the long haul.
The team has been pleasantly surprised with Schofield's rehab and his range of motion in the injured knee, and Schofield is determined to play in 2010 at any cost. Arizona has him on the non-football injury list, meaning he can sit and continue to heal for the first six weeks of the season; then the team will have until Week 12 to determine whether to activate him this year.
"My mindset is that I will be back and ready to play," Schofield said. "I won't come back unless I feel I'm totally myself. The last thing I want to do is come back and play soft." I asked him if he looks back on the Senior Bowl practice accident with any regret, seeing as it probably cost him about $1.8 million in salary and likely-to-be-earned bonuses over four years, compared to a mid-second-round pick.
"It's football," he said, shrugging. "Accidents happen. I actually look at it this way. I tore my ACL, there was a lot of doubt about me, and I still got drafted, and I got drafted by a team that's a really good fit for me. I get to learn from two guys who have had great careers at linebacker in this league -- Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. I could've made more money if I was drafted higher. I know that. But I also know it's better to be drafted by the right team a little lower than another team higher." You'd drive yourself crazy if you thought any other way.
9. I think these are my early odds on the 2011 Hall class:
When the five-man Seniors Committee meets later this month to determine the two other candidates to be considered by the 44 voters next February, the names with the most traction would appear to be one at linebacker -- Chris Hanburger, Chuck Howley or Maxie Baughan (did you know Baughan was voted to the Pro Bowl eight more times than Ray Nitschke?) -- and an offensive lineman ... maybe Jerry Kramer or Dick Stanfel. I hear lots of sentiment for Hanburger.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Eighteen over in a tournament he owns ... Time to take some time, Tiger.
b. Great to meet you in Flagstaff the other day, Brennan Smith. Work hard at Arizona State and you'll have my job someday.
c. Anyone have any idea how incredibly dangerous it is to be outdoors in Russia right now? The smog, forest fires and intense heat in some areas mean that if you are outside for one hour, it's the equivalent of smoking 1-2 packs of cigarettes.
d. Excellent column by the Miami Herald's Dan Le Batard on media and the subjects we cover.
e. Coffeenerdness: Guy in an Army camouflage outfit comes up to me at the Houston airport Friday night and I expect him to ask, "How's my team gonna do this year?'' Instead, he says, "What's your drink at Starbucks?''
f. What can I say, other than, "Thank you, Mr. Onion?'' By the way, I write left-handed. You'll have to fix that photo.
g. Is it possible that a young Toronto catcher, J.P Arencibia, just had the best debut of a player in major-league history in the Toronto-Tampa Bay game Saturday? First pitch he saw: home run. First four at-bats: homer, double, single, homer.
h. Alan Schwarz of the New York Times is doing a fabulous job of illuminating the effects of head injuries on NFL players.
i. While we're praising writers, props to Ian O'Connor of ESPNNewYork (or however it's spelled) for his line on the New York Knicks reuniting with Isiah Thomas, who will do consulting work for the team: "It's like the Jets bringing back Rich Kotite.''
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