1. I think if I'm a Patriots season-ticket holder, I'm steamed at paying full price for my ticket to the exhibition opener against Jacksonville, $40 to park my car, $8 for my beer ... and then seeing 14 starter-type players, including Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo and Wes Welker not play. Bill Belichick has a right to prepare his team the way he sees fit, but this is something the owners and players should have addressed in the recently concluded collective bargaining negotiations -- the ridiculous inequity of charging regular season prices for JV football. It's like going to Broadway and seeing eight stand-ins for the stars of the show. It's just wrong.
2. I think the Raiders might want to practice their coin toss procedure. Did you hear what happened in their opener against Arizona Thursday night? Raiders won the toss. One captain told the ref after the coin toss he wanted to defer. Another captain said he wanted to kick off. The ref heard the "we want to kick off'' more prominently, and so he said the Raiders have chosen to kick off. That meant at the start of the second half, Arizona would get the choice.
Of course, Arizona chose to receive to start the second half. That meant Oakland kicked off to start the first half and the second half in Game 1 of the Hue Jackson era. Of all the things Jackson figured could go wrong in his first game as an NFL coach, I bet his players botching the coin toss would be pretty much near the bottom.
3. I think this is my Twitter advice of the week, to all good beat men and women around the NFL. And I give this advice humbly, with the clear understanding that covering a team is hard, and you want to get an edge on the competition. I've done it, and I have been quite competitive at it, and the world has changed now, and when you're up against people who are aggressive, you have to compete. But tweeting play-by-play of practice is not good. Unless it deals with a player getting hurt or some guy making a spectacular play or something wowzy like Nnamdi Asomugha intercepting Vince Young in the first 15 minutes of them practicing against each other with the Eagles.
Reading that John Doe just beat Joe Blow in one-on-one O-line vs. D-line drills is tedious ... particularly when you do it 25 times in a practice. Just one man's opinion. Maybe others feel differently. But it's not my thing to read 25 tweets from a 90-minute practice -- and certainly not my thing when I follow multiple writers per team who do it.
4. I think it was great to have founder and owner Neil Hornsby of ProFootballFocus.com on the four-team swing through the NFC North. Neil's from Britain, and he fell in love with Dan Marino's Dolphins somehow, and now his passion -- along with his crew of tape-watchers -- is to analyze what every player does on every play in every game. This trip was his first up-close exposure to the players and coaches he sees on the tape every week. I asked him for a few observations on the trip, and here's what he gave me:
a. "Brian Urlacher is one very cool dude. There may be players who love football as much but, well, you get the drift. Nonchalantly munching on his ice cream as we stood chatting with him on the Olivet Nazarene campus, I thought this is someone completely at ease in his own skin.''
b. "Watch out for Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril. We at ProFootballFocus.com like him a lot. No one generated as much pressure on third down as he did last year. This from Urlacher. 'Yeah, he's a real player. I know when we played them last year he gave our offense as many problems as anyone.' ''
c. "I told Peter [King] before he interviewed Jim Schwartz that Ndamukong Suh had played 997 snaps (including penalties) last year, most among interior defensive linemen in the NFL, and I expressed the view this was too many. Schwartz, during his conversation with Peter, told him they would try to reduce his snaps this year. We had a view that Suh initially had trouble playing the run early in the year, but he improved as the season wore on.
"Chatting with (in our opinion) the most underrated guard in the NFL, Josh Sitton, and the player who played as many snaps against him as anyone, he backed this up. While quick to praise the phenom [Suh] and making no bones about who he thinks will be his most challenging opponent over the coming years, Sitton told us while immediately a superb pass rusher, the rookie had a few problems with the run in their first meeting but had improved hugely the second time they met.''
d. "As someone who sees these guys play in massive detail from afar it was a little uncomfortable at times to meet them close up. I constantly remind all the analysts to treat the players as numbers when we grade them as it helps to take any emotion out of the work. But here I was chatting with Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, a guy we thought blocked very poorly last year, and I found myself, when face to face with him, really, really liking him. He's an enormously charming guy with a huge smile, and as he started having a little fun at Peter's expense, I couldn't help feeling I'd love him to block better in 2011.''
Postscript: I have one major question with ProFootballFocus.com. It's one that some of his fellow analytical types have criticized the site for, and one I spoke with Hornsby about during our trip. The tape-graders judge each player on his performance on every play. When I introduced Viking outside linebacker Chad Greenway to Neil the other day in Mankato and explained what ProFootballFocus.com does, Greenway's first question was: "But how do you know what our assignment was on every play?'' Good question.
Neil explained that he doesn't. PFF grades the players on what they are attempting to do. If a right tackle attempts to block a blitzer and fails and the blitzer sacks the quarterback, the right tackle gets the blame, even though it's possible that the sack was the blitz-pick-up running back's fault. So you have to take the PFF grades with a grain of salt ... but I've seen the work and the spreadsheets, and the work is legit. It's about as close as you can come to accuracy for what the site attempts, without knowing every player's assignment on every play.
5. I think if you're depressed about the current state of athletes -- their greed, their ego, their selfishness -- spend some time around Aaron Rodgers. He's what's right about sports.
6. I think it'd be ridiculous to dismiss the Giants' inactivity in free agency, while their main rivals down the Jersey turnpike in Philadelphia have stocked up. At the same time, I think GM Jerry Reese has built up enough currency with the job he's done over the past four seasons to see how this season plays out before throwing him out the door.
What's Reese's biggest crime? Not bringing wide receiver Steve Smith back? Let's see how Smith plays. For those who aren't familiar with the surgery Smith had, microfracture surgery on his left knee, this is not a garden-variety ACL repair. When a player has microfracture surgery, it involves trying to regenerate blood flow and cartilage growth in knees, poking holes into bones to stimulate blood flow.
This is not a simple surgery, although by all indications Smith's procedure was not as serious as some. He is feeling good, from what he says, and will be able to run without restriction sometime soon. But how long will the freedom of movement last? He might be back to his old self, he might not. We'll see.
My point is, when a player has microfracture surgery, it is an illustration of severe dissolution of cartilage in a knee. And that is not good. Think back on Reese's tenure. In 2007, his rookie year, every player he drafted played in the playoffs for a Giant team that won the Super Bowl. The Giants have won one more Super Bowl than the Colts, Patriots, Eagles and Cowboys since he took office. Again, I'm not saying you should build a statue for the guy. I'm saying you should let the season take shape and see if the defensive front and running game he's helped build can lift the Giants into the playoffs and beyond. Nothing's won on Aug. 15.
7. I think I'm not questioning Jerry Jones' belief that Nnamdi Asomugha wanted to be a Cowboy (he told the Dallas Morning News he thought for an hour on July 29 that Asomugha would be a Cowboy), but when I spoke to Asomugha about where he wanted to be, he told me the top two teams on his list were the Eagles and Jets. The plot thickens.
8. I think I almost buy that Chad Ochocinco or Albert Haynesworth might not make the Patriots, a possibility longtime football writer Dan Pompei wrote Sunday on National Football Post. Pompei has a good relationship with Bill Belichick, so when he writes something Patriot-related, it's worth a close read. But unless they're either hurt (Haynesworth has presumably been hurt because he hasn't practiced for over a week) or troublemakers (hard to believe in either case because each knows he's at the Last Chance Saloon), I think it's likely they make it.
9. I think no matter what Jim Harbaugh says -- and I am sure he's serious when he says there's an open competition at quarterback between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick -- that Smith's going to win the job. He's so much more of a sure thing right now, and he'd be devastated to not win the job.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Very strange to be around so many of our troops in the last couple of weeks, knowing many of them may be put at risk overseas soon. The loss of 30 in the downing of the Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan nine days ago resonates with many of them, obviously. I asked the leader of our tour across America with the USO, Leigh Edmonds of the USO, to try to put into words the juxtaposition of having these fun days at NFL training camps with the knowledge that life in the military can be so dangerous. Here's what she wrote:
"As the Peter King Mobile USO Tour made its way to Detroit and Green Bay early last week and laid plans to bring smiles to the faces of our troops, another USO team was making its way from Virginia Beach to Dover Air Force Base to assist our USO of Delaware staff and up to 30 families of our nation's fallen as they welcomed home the 30 service members killed in that tragic helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
"Our mission during those two days was to work with the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers to make sure that regionally-based service members had an unforgettable experience with each team; the mission for my co-workers from Virginia and Dover was to deliver comfort and a steady presence for the wives, mothers, fathers, children, etc. of the Navy SEAL community, some of which we have served in much happier times.
"The only way that I can explain this is to say that it brought the USO mission full circle. Our ultimate job at the USO is to bring smiles to the faces of our military and their families. It's the fun times that we have with troops that the public is most familiar with (concerts, large homecoming celebrations, family events, etc.), as that is generally what the media covers. It's the tough times, however, sometimes the absolute toughest, when smiles are hardest to muster, that the USO is needed the most and where the USO is at its very best.''
b. Thanks to every team in the past week -- the Lions offensive linemen for stopping practice to shake hands with some Marines, Jim Schwartz spending 45 minutes with them, talking in their language about the similarities of their lives, Mike McCarthy letting some Wisconsin troops (so excited a couple were shaking) into the middle of a post-practice huddle to break the team down, the Bears letting troops on the sidelines of practice -- for their hospitality to the USO and the people who serve us. Looking forward to seeing what this week brings. Teaming with USO people has been a great reward for me, and I'm lucky to be in their midst.
c. Still shaking from the viewing of There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane, the HBO documentary about the rock-solid Long Island woman (or so her family thought) who inexplicably got drunk and high in 2008 and drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in New York and killed eight people -- including her daughter and three nieces. An incredible nightmare. It's the kind of documentary -- though it has too many holes I wish were filled in by those who made it -- that has you talking about it two days after you've seen it. So many unanswered questions.
d. The E Street Channel on Sirius/XM is saving me on some very late-night drives.
e. Why no U2 channel, Sirius/XM? Are you sure you have more Buffett fans than Bono?
f. Save for last night, I'm caught up on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Couldn't you just feel Susie's Pinkberry rage rising? The angrier she gets, the better it is for the show. By the way, have I said "More Funkhauser'' lately? More Funkhauser.
g. Guilty pleasure upcoming: watching the Little League World Series. As much as I hate the pressure these 11- and 12-year-old kids are under, I love watching them play baseball. They want a championship so bad. So great to see.
h. Tremendous job on the Dustin Pedroia story in this week's SI by Tom Verducci. A great sentence: "If you think of the Red Sox clubhouse as a cattle farm, Pedroia would be the little herding dog, a Corgi, that by nature must run and bark and nip at heels to make everyone function with some order.''
i. Just a gut feeling, but unless the Red Sox are scoring seven runs a game, they won't beat Texas in the playoffs, and I can't imagine them beating Philly in the World Series. Their starters, after Beckett and Lester, are very tough to watch. I know you might get by in one series by beating up on a bad staff, but three series? I can't see it.
j. Ian Kennedy, 15-3. There's one the Yankees would like to have back.
k. Trevor Cahill for Cy Young, 9-11. There's one I'd like to have back.
l. What a cool hitting streak by Dan Uggla, the 33-gamer. Cool because he was batting .173 when it began. Sorry to see it end Sunday.
m. I pity the Pirates. A couple weeks ago -- maybe three -- they were tied for the NL Central lead. Today they're 13 games out.
n. I'd love to know what Carlos Zambrano's shrink bills have been over the last four or five years.
o. Good to see you, Matt Rubel. And a lovely family you have there.
p. Good luck, Evan King, as you depart for the next adventure in your life. You'll love college life in Maryland.
q. And congrats, Liz Whiteley! We are so pleased for your engagement!
r. There was a heavy-metal death the other day -- Jani Lane, the lead singer of Warrant, which had the hit "Cherry Pie.'' He was 47. What interested me about his New York Times obit was the fact that his parents, whose last name was Oswald, gave him the first and middle names "John'' and "Kennedy.'' So his name growing up was John Kennedy Oswald. I bet he is the only person in history with the first and middle names of the president and the last name of the man who assassinated him. Unless someone 140 years ago named a son Abraham Lincoln Booth.
s. I'm pretty dangerous when you give me an hour to read the New York Times. No telling what I'll find.
t. One more remembrance of New Haven Register columnist and former Giants beat man Dave Solomon from Chris Mara, the longtime Giants' personnel man: "I became friends with Dave when he was covering the Giants and in subsequent years UConn. In 1992 I was scouting a game at the University of New Hampshire against UConn. I was sitting in the stands watching warmups and Dave came over and sat next to me. We were talking about the players I was looking at and after I went through the guys he had this perplexed look on his face and said to me, 'You're not looking at Connecticut's best player.'' I said to him in a this-reporter-thinks-he-knows-more-than-me tone, 'Who might that be?' He said, 'Brian Kozlowski, the tight end for UConn. I signed Brian to a college free agent deal after he was not drafted and he went on to play for 14 years with the Giants, Falcons and Redskins. Not a Hall of Famer, but 14 years in the league is not too shabby. All because Dave Solomon gave his name.''
u. Coffeenerdness: For mass produced coffee, Delta, yours is not bad. Ten percent bolder and I might rave about it ... Almost forgot this one: Woman in my Boston Starbucks over the weekend ordered a "135-degree tall skim latte with seven Splenda.'' A lukewarm latte overwhelmed with phony sugar. Mmmmm-mmm!
v. Beernerdness: With my pizza in Mankato the other day, I tried one of St. Paul's finest, Summit Extra Pale Ale. Excellent. Good bite to it, with a strong flavor that was surprisingly light, and a hint of citrus.
w. Beernerdness II: By the way, a few of you have asked if I've tried Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. I have. I love a lemon in some of my beers, but I'm not a big fan of alcoholic lemonade, which is what this Shandy thing tastes like.
x. People who live in Wisconsin and Minnesota must have a mandatory high school class in Pleasantness.
SI Now Live Friday December 13, 2013
SI Now: Dule Hill talks TV, theater and his namesake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar