While we're on the subject of passing numbers ...
I've been trying to quantify what these passing and receiving numbers will mean in history. The Pro Football Hall of Fame already has a tough time electing receivers -- three wideouts who played in the last 35 years have been selected in the last eight classes -- with Cris Carter (1,101 catches), Tim Brown (1,094) and Andre Reed (951) having been eligible for a combined 13 years and not elected.
Marvin Harrison (1,102) will be eligible in three years. On Sunday, Reggie Wayne passed the 800-catch mark. Could, and should, both Colt receivers go in the Hall someday? Wes Welker, 29, in his fifth year in New England, caught 16 balls from Brady Sunday in Buffalo and has 559 lifetime receptions -- more, now, than longtime Patriots Stanley Morgan and Troy Brown, each of whom retired with 557. I find that amazing. But that's the game today. Welker, who became Tom Brady's favorite receiver almost upon his arrival in New England in 2007, has averaged two catches a game more with the Patriots (7.3 per game) than the prolific Carter did with Minnesota (5.3). More yards too.
You can number yourself to death at the receiver position. That's why I favor the Hall of Fame voters -- of which I am one -- judging receivers as much by what they saw in the players as the numbers players accumulated. Carter's the best boundary receiver I've seen, a flawless catcher on the sidelines and endline, which I think should count for something. A lot, actually. That's a measure of how a receiver played the game, not just the raw numbers he accumulated.
Welker's the best slot receiver of the day, and a versatile player when times call for him to do other things. Hines Ward, for instance, is one of the best blocking receivers I've ever seen -- and now he's only 34 catches from 1,000; what happens to him when he's eligible?
A lot of worthy players. A big logjam in the coming years.
The death of Orlando Brown reverberates.
When last I saw Orlando Brown, he was bragging about his son, sophomore offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., of DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md. "He's going to be a player, a really good player,'' Brown said at Ravens' training camp this summer. Like father, like son.
Brown, who was found dead of undisclosed causes Friday in Baltimore at 40, is one of the most interesting, and misunderstood, men I've come across in my time in the NFL. To think of him only as the man who, in a rage, shoved down referee Jeff Triplette on Dec. 19, 1999, after Triplette inadvertently hit him in the right eyeball with a weighted penalty flag would be a mistake. It's a part of the picture, but not all of it.
Before the 1993 draft, then-Browns scout Scott Pioli went to work out a player at South Carolina State. Brown was a 380-pound defensive tackle at the school and wanted a tryout too. According to Ravens long-time PR man Kevin Byrne, Pioli said no; Brown wasn't on the scouting list for the Browns. Brown was insistent.
"Lots of times,'' said another scout on the Browns staff then, Phil Savage, "you'll show up at a small school and 15 guys will come out of the woodwork, wanting a tryout. Scott must have seen something in him.''
Pioli went back to campus to work out Brown, told coach Bill Belichick and personnel man Mike Lombardi he'd be worth a free agent look if he got his weight down, and so the Browns signed him. He was so needy in all areas that the Browns instructed him how to open savings and checking accounts; he'd simply cash his check and carry all of his money around with him.
On the field, assistant offensive line coach Pat Hill spent individual time with him daily to teach him how to be a tackle. Every morning at 6, Hill would set up folding chairs on the practice field to simulate players, and he'd teach Brown the basics of offensive line play for 45 minutes. Line coach Kirk Ferentz also did some tutoring of Brown. By late 1994, Brown, a dominating straight ahead blocker with decent feet, was starting at right tackle for the Browns. He had a hair-trigger temper, which his head coaches -- first Bill Belichick and later Chris Palmer with the Browns, tried hard to control.
Interesting career. He went from Cleveland to Baltimore when the Browns moved there, then back to the Browns at the rebirth of the franchise, then back to Baltimore in 2003 after recovering from his eye injury. That happened when Triplette, early in a game against the Jaguars, called a false start on Cleveland and threw a BB-weighted yellow penalty flag that struck Brown in the right eyeball. We later learned that Brown's father had lost his eyesight in one eye because of glaucoma, and it's something he feared happening to him someday.
I was at the game that day, and watched incredulously as Brown grabbed his facemask after being struck, and then watched Triplette hustle over to Brown to apologize. Brown left the field, and within seconds stalked back onto the field gesturing at Triplette -- then shoved him to the ground, Triplette landing, shocked, on his backside. To this day, that's the strangest act I've ever seen on a football field.
I remember walking into Palmer's office after the game and seeing him utterly depressed. He said, "That's not him. That's not him.'' At the time, I took that to be a defense of a player on his team who'd done an indefensible thing, a coach just trying to stick up for a player in trouble. He also said: "I have tried to work with the player and his emotions during the course of the year, and obviously I failed in this situation.''
Palmer, now the Titans' offensive coordinator, told me Saturday, "It really wasn't him. I loved Zeus. He was really the gentle giant. He was good to all kids, and my kids loved him. When he passed, my son and my daughter both called and were very sad. Just tells you a little bit about how he affected people, and what a loving, caring person he was.''
Brown never forgot the incident, obviously. We even discussed it this summer, though I don't recall exactly what he said. But when he came back to the Ravens in 2003 to resume his career (with a shield over his facemask, and goggles to protect the eye), he was not a bitter man. Every Friday, he'd give free tickets to home games to the people working in food service at the Ravens' facility. He bought equipment for his high school team in an impoverished section of Washington, D.C. Phone calls came into the Ravens about Brown pulling up in his car to a football practice somewhere in the Baltimore area -- multiple times this happened -- and stopping to offer help to the coaches if they wanted his advice. He began tutoring the young tackles who might one day take his spot. This summer, he was in camp working one-on-one with rookie Jah Reid and second-year tackle Ramon Harewood, from Morehouse (Ga.) College.
Harewood, on injured-reserve with an ankle injury, said Friday: "We had similar backgrounds, with me only playing football for four years and him having to work his way into the NFL the hard way. He helped me grow as a player. He was always upbeat, always encouraging, and would never let me get down on myself.''
On Sunday in St. Louis, Ravens coach John Harbaugh told his team before the game: "Let's salute Zeus. Let's play the way he'd play -- let's play relentless.''
No team got off to a 21-0 start in the first quarter Sunday, except Baltimore. I'm not saying it's because of the pregame speech. I'm just saying it happened, and maybe it's a coincidence. But the Ravens sure came out strong against the Rams.
The Orlando Brown story says something about a lot of things. Without Brown's persistence, maybe he never gets an NFL tryout. Without Pioli, Belichick and Lombardi seeing something in him, maybe he never gets a roster spot. Without Hill's tutelage, maybe he never becomes a starter. Without the Triplette accident, maybe we never focus on how a life in turmoil became a life with a lot of giving in it.
Rod Marinelli might have Warren Sapp Jr. on his hands.
One of the most interesting stories of the first three weeks of the season is Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton, and not just because of his explosive Week 1 performance (two sacks of Matt Ryan, one forced fumble and seven quarterback hits -- yes, seven) against Atlanta, or his sack and two additional tackles for loss against the Packers Sunday. Melton, five years ago, was a running back at Texas. A 270-pound running back, who arrived in the same recruiting class as Jamaal Charles.
"Everybody thinks I was a fullback at Texas,'' Melton said the other day. "I actually had a fullback blocking for me -- Ahmard Hall.''
Check out how much of a factor the 6-3, 270-pound megaback Melton was, before switching to the defensive line after two seasons in Austin. In 2005 and 2006 combined, here were the leading rushers, ranked by rushing touchdowns, at Texas:
"I got a lot of the short-yardage carries,'' said Melton. "But I was not just a goal-line back. Look at the stats. My teammates now, they didn't think I ran the ball like a real running back, but I did.''
He moved to the defensive line because he, and the coaches, thought he could be more of a factor there and play more. And you've got to give Chicago GM Jerry Angelo credit for taking a shot on Melton in the fourth round of the 2009 draft after a mostly unimpressive period on the line for the Longhorns. Credit Lovie Smith, too, for trusting Melton with the starting under-tackle job this year, and Rod Marinelli for teaching him enough to be successful -- in brief -- at the job. He basically made Tommie Harris cuttable in the offseason.
Melton said Marinelli puts him in position to succeed by running a lot of run and pass stunts, trying to take advantage of his quickness at 295 pounds (now) to cut through gaps in the offensive line. "My footwork has helped me,'' Melton said. "I had some quickness when I ran the ball. But I didn't think I'd even be close to this kind of player in the NFL. I'm in the right place for what I do -- in this defense, the [three-technique tackle] is made to be disruptive.''
If the hot start continues, Melton's going to be pretty happy Mack Brown took the ball out of his hands four years ago.
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