1. I think Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee is the reporter of the week for tracking down Glen Coffee, the 49ers backup running back who stunned the team by retiring Friday. It's an interesting story. Football, Coffee told Barrows, "was a struggle for a long time. Actually when I look back I feel I never should have entered the draft in the first place. Football was no longer my dream. I found Christ in college. It changed my views on everything. But I still was a football player because it was expected of me, it was something I did all my life. I was basically wasting the [49ers'] time ... His [Christ's] will, I felt, wasn't football. He told me a long time ago to walk away from the game."
Barrows asked him if there was any way he'd reconsider. "No, man,'' Coffee said. "I've already told Christ it's time to go. I've already rung the bell. That's not going to happen."
When I visited 49er camp earlier this month, I sat with vice president of player personnel Trent Baalke getting background on the roster and the starting lineup, and it was clear he and the organization were happy with their running-back depth, figuring the 6-foot, 210-pound Coffee, the star of the 2009 preseason, was excellent insurance against a Frank Gore injury. Coffee never gave any sign of being finished with football -- until he walked into coach Mike Singletary's office and told him he was through. The game's not for everyone, obviously.
2. I think I could spend 10 days at Jets camp and not research all the stories that need to be told and interview all the players who need to be interviewed. What a camp. I've never seen one like it.
3. I think, speaking of interesting but ignored Jets stories, I expect Jason Taylor to play between 15 and 25 snaps a game as a designated pass-rusher. I think he'll not only be OK with not being a full-time player (he played about 80 percent of the snaps last year in Miami) but also will like this more, because for a guy who'll be 36 opening day, it's silly to think he'd get max production playing most of the game. And Taylor's smart enough to know that.
4. I think we'll find out this week that defending NFL sack champion Elvis Dumervil is out for the year with his torn pectoral. Now Robert Ayers becomes one of the five most important Broncos this year.
5. I think the saddest story of the weekend -- and maybe of the first eight months of 2010 -- is what happened to Titans rookie free-agent running back Stafon Johnson Saturday night in Seattle. Johnson suffered a crushed larynx while weightlifting at USC when a bar with 275 pounds on it crashed down on his throat during a bench-press. The Titans gave him a shot to win a roster spot with a free-agent contract, and Saturday was his first night with a chance to impress. The kid was filled with anticipation. Three hours before the game, he sent out a Tweet that said: "2day is the day that I have dreamed about for 16yrs now.'' But in his first NFL game, Johnson dislocated his ankle, a nasty injury that could put him out for longer than a year. He was a roster longshot anyway, and this will make his path to the NFL a one-in-a -hundred prayer, or longer, now.
Johnson was hit after making a reception on the final play of the third quarter and came down hard on his right leg. The leg was immobilized in an air cast while coach Jeff Fisher held Johnson's hand and a score of teammates knelt and prayed nearby; his former Trojan coach, Pete Carroll, came over from the other sideline and told Johnson he loved him.
The kid got a ton of love from his followers on Twitter and sent this note back to them early Sunday morning with words that I can only assume could have been affected by the pain medication he must have been on: "Thank u 2 everybody that sent up a prayer 4 me this is jus another bump in the round ill b good trust back better the b4 always know GHAP.'' GHAP: God Had A Plan.
I hope it includes a good future, in or out of football, for Johnson.
6. I think these are my other preseason Week 1 thoughts:
a. For those in central Indiana on Curtis Painter Panic Watch, the only way to judge whether the guy is hapless or hopeful is to see him for three or four series with lots of first-teamers on the field. He was playing with lesser guys against the Niners on Sunday. Relax, for now. Time to worry later. You'll see more of Painter with better players. Then judge.
b. Good debuts for two rookie left tackles who should start opening day: Washington's Trent Williams, St. Louis' Rodger Saffold.
c. Ditto, with an asterisk, Sam Bradford (six of 13, 57 yards) against Minnesota. The Rams had major protection issues with Bradford in the game -- right tackle Jason Smith looked particularly rusty, a bad sign for the number two overall pick in 2009 -- and he made a couple of poor throws. But he converted his first two third-down throws, ran the huddle well and took his first three hits since shoulder surgery 10 months ago. Hardly time to worry about Bradford. Might be time to worry for Bradford.
d. Dallas' first offensive unit, against Cincinnati and Oakland, has struggled mightily to score touchdowns. Cowboys gave up four sacks in the first 20 plays to Oakland.
e. The Raiders looked better than we all thought. Smart to keep Tom Cable and give the team continuity, and smart to play an attacking style of defense from the first preseason series. I also hear nothing but good things about the job Hue Jackson's doing as offensive coordinator.
f. Mike Smith told me in Atlanta recently he was happy with the speed and intensity of his youth on defense, and it showed in the preseason opener. Will linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive end Kroy Biermann, particularly, looked fast covering and rushing, respectively.
g. With Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson lost for the preseason, it'll be interesting to see how much work Chan Gailey gives C.J. Spiller, who wasn't a workhorse at Clemson. You don't want Spiller entering the season nicked up, particularly with a physical Miami team opening the season on the turf in Orchard Park.
h. Bears could be looking for a backup quarterback, with already-iffy number two Caleb Hanie (shoulder) possibly out for a while.
i. Thought Jahvid Best looked terrific for the Lions. Quick, fast, not afraid of contact. He's looking very much like a first-round pick.
j. Speaking of first-round backs, Ryan Mathews (surprise!) looked very much like a 12th overall pick should look, with 61 yards on 11 touches. I was impressed with his physicality from the highlights I saw.
k. Saw nothing of it, but how about Aaron Rodgers completing his first 10 throws and 12 of 13 overall, for 159 yards, against Cleveland? Can you find a weakness in that guy's game?
l. I get the feeling the Eagles really want fifth-round receiver Riley Cooper, Tim Tebow's big (6-3, 222) target from Florida, to make the final 53.
m. Ryan Torain looks like he's ahead of all the backs in Washington save Clinton Portis.
n. Stat of the Weekend: First-half total yards at Dallas: Oakland 95, Dallas 88. Even with the Cowboys' second-stringers on the field for much of the second quarter, that's a good number for Oakland.
o. Best sign by far for Cleveland: Jake Delhomme looked like the old Jake -- though he was throwing some safe routes. He had time to throw too.
p. Can't figure out for the life of me why Tarvaris Jackson, the presumptive starter if Brett Favre doesn't return, would play just one series in St. Louis. Thought the object of this preseason would be to get him enough reps so he'd feel comfy if he has to play.
q. Pete Carroll Moment of the Night in Seattle: He high-fived the National Anthem singer at the end of the song.
r. Why preseason games mean nothing: The Jags lost to the Eagles 28-27. Looks respectable. But with the ones on the field, Philly steamrolled. In the first quarter, the Eagles outgained Jacksonville 165-10.
s. Why preseason games mean everything: Cards almost lost Larry Fitzgerald for a long time with a knee injury. Lucky for him it's just a strained knee -- apparently -- and he'll be fine for the opener.
t. I realize I shouldn't pity a man traveling on a bus that's nicer than some hotel suites, but when I heard Adam Schefter say on ESPN radio late Sunday, "I'm on fumes here,'' I had to call to find out the particulars. He and his crew were on the last leg of the trip, from Atlanta to New Orleans, scheduled to arrive at the Saints' headquarters about 4 this morning. Schefter told me the bus had gone 5,164 miles in 19 days, through 18 states and, with his bed on top of the bus' motor, he hadn't had more than three hours of sleep in a row since the trip began. "The toilet's been backed up for four days,'' he reported. But time to go home.
7. I think the Torry Holt-on-IR story brings up a couple of points. He's 34, so if he chose to try to make a comeback next year (and if the NFL is open business in 2011), he'd be 35, and he'd be four years removed from an impact wideout season. And now you ask yourself: Does he have Hall of Fame numbers?
With 920 catches, 13,382 yards and 74 touchdowns, the numbers show him to be one of the best 10 to 15 statistical receivers ever. (He's 11th in receptions, 10th in yardage, 27th in touchdowns.) But by the time he's eligible for the hall in 2015 (if he is through now), there could be 25 receivers with more catches, 50 with more touchdowns. It's already hell to get into Canton as a receiver. Holt's road will be very tough.
Second point: The Patriots have brought in four old veteran receivers in the last two seasons -- Joey Galloway, Greg Lewis, Torry Holt and David Patten -- for wideout depth. Unless they bring back Patten (doubtful, with him turning 36 this week), those four vets would have played a combined three games for New England and caught a grand total of seven passes. It could be that Wes Welker will have the comeback of comebacks this year and be full speed on Labor Day. It's possible that third-round pick Taylor Price is a very quick study and will be ready to go early. They'd better be, for Tom Brady's sake.
8. I think the Texans suffered the biggest loss of the preseason weekend, with rookie running back Ben Tate going down with what coach Gary Kubiak called "a very significant ankle injury.'' Along with Steve Slaton fumbling (again) at Arizona, that means Arian Foster, one of the most interesting rushing prospects in the league, is solidifying his hold on the primary back in the Houston offense.
I can hear you know: Who? Foster got his chance late last season (54 carries, 257 yards, 4.8 per rush), and he's the kind of physical presence Kubiak wants in the backfield. But he wanted the changeup that 4.43-in-the-40 second-round pick Tate could have provided. Chris Henry, another 230-pound battering ram, will get some carries in the Texans' offense as well. Not saying Tate could have been Darren Sproles, but the Texans needed some backfield speed, and now that's out of the picture.
9. I think one of my questions to the Steelers in Latrobe today will be: "Are you sure Dennis Dixon doesn't give you the best chance to win the first four weeks of the season?''
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. You feel a lot smarter than you really are when you run through Cambridge, Mass. You think, "All these Harvardians and MITians are passing me, looking like they could run a marathon before breakfast. Maybe it'll rub off on me!''
b. Thanks sincerely to Jeff Vaclavik, the proprietor of Deja Brew, for opening his eatery in downtown Bethlehem Sunday so that I, some Eagle scribes, the Eagle PR staff and pal/SI alum Mike Silver could have some of the greatest sandwiches in the United States. Mine: ham, turkey, tomato, a dash of olive oil and vinegar on whole grain toast. Fabulous. A bowl of tomato basil soup on the side, with pomegranate iced tea.
Eschewing sugar, I had to pass on the peanut butter balls, but the rest of the marauding sportswriters destroyed the platter of the 50-cent balls with peanut bits covering each one. Then I wrote in there for a while. I think if Jeff gave me a sleeping bag, I could live in the funky place with the cool movie posters everywhere (like "Kansas City Bomber'' with Raquel Welch). My sincere appreciation for your kindness, Jeff.
c. Ditto to Mark Braun and the folks at Doug's Fish Fry in Cortland, N.Y., Friday. Superb fish chowder.
d. Happy 50th, Fred Gaudelli. May you have, oh, about 50 more years to do the Sunday night games on NBC.
e. Coffeenerdness: Living on six shots of espresso a day is not the way to go. My jittery hands should tell me that. I'll be home soon, ensconced in writing mode, back to no caffeine after noon.
f. John Lackey reminds me of the old George Young proverb about paying veteran players big money. When I covered the Giants, I heard Young say a hundred times, "They don't play better just because you pay 'em more money.'' Lackey's actually significantly worse. No pitcher in baseball has allowed more baserunners than Lackey -- 235 in 154 innings. Pretty interesting value for $16.5 million a year through the end of 2014.
g. Lay off Jacoby Ellsbury, all you tough guys out there. You think he wants to crack his ribs? You think a headfirst-diver should play with cracked ribs? This is the speed guy at the top of the order the Red Sox have never had. Don't run this guy out of town. You'll regret it, I promise you.
h. I have done a lot of idiotic things in my Rotisserie League this season, but picking up Starlin Castro was not one of them.
i. Tweetup alert: I'll be having a get-together for my Twitter followers, and anyone else who wants to talk football, in Baltimore on Wednesday, 4:30 p.m, at Amicci's Of Little Italy in downtown. I'll be joined by Nestor Aparicio, local radio poobah, and would love to see a lot of Ravens fans there.
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