Tuesday: New York Giants (University at Albany fields, Albany, N.Y.)
Three football nuggets: Play of the practice: Free-agent quarterback Ryan Perriloux's 52-yard go route TD to free-agent wideout Dan DePalma (from West Chester, Penn., via Verona, N.J.).
DePalma and Arizona free- agent wideout David Douglas are tearing up camp, and remember this: Tom Coughlin loves underdog story guys who tear up camp. Remember a fellow named Victor Cruz? ... Interesting joust at middle linebacker going on. Chase Blackburn -- he of the famous late Super Bowl interception that Tom Brady underthrew -- starts the season, but sentimental hero Mark Herzlich may get a shot to win the job if Blackburn doesn't make enough plays ... Hakeem Nicks, rehabbing a broken bone in his foot, is running now, and he's on course to start opening night, which is only 23 days away.
Helllllloooo! Anybody out there?
Eli Manning has two obligations after lunch at the University at Albany dining hall -- spending a few minutes with me, then talking to an Albany-area cable station for two or three minutes. Then he looks to his Giants media-handler, PR man Peter John-Baptiste, sees he's free for the afternoon, walks to his SUV, gets in and drives away. After dinner -- the early-bird special; he's out by 4:55 -- he walks out of the dining hall, says hello to a few fans standing outside, looks around, sees nothing he needs to do, and gets into the SUV again. He's gone. Pretty sleepy training camp for the two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, coming off another stunning upset of the Patriots last winter.
I used to cover the Giants for Newsday, and one of the competitors on the beat was Mike Eisen, who still covers the team -- now for Giants.com. He's covered the Giants for 27 years. He watches Manning come and go every day. "He could be a free agent from Kent State lots of days,'' Eisen said. "He comes out of the cafeteria, and if you want to talk to him, fine; he'll talk. If you don't, he just walks on by. It's no big deal."
This is the New York Giants' camp. This is the Super Bowl champion training camp. In all the years I've covered football, I don't recall a champion going through a camp as anonymously as the 2012 Giants.
"We've gone through camps with a little bit of chaos,'' Manning said. "I think we like it a little better this way."
A few factors here. The Giants have neither subtracted nor added any major characters; I don't consider a third receiver (Mario Manningham) and backup running back (Brandon Jacobs) big losses, nor are Martellus Bennett or Sean Locklear anything but meh acquisitions. And the normal media attention is fractioned further by Tebowmania with the other New York franchise, and the fact the Olympics have knocked non-Tebow football from some of the New York sports pages and airwaves.
Tom Coughlin loves it. Jerry Reese loves it. Because not only is there the benefit of working without an invasive microscope, but also it becomes easy, if need be, to play the "we get no respect'' card with the players when all the other teams are getting more attention.
But this afternoon at practice, I reached the conclusion that all of that won't matter one bit when the real games start. As the sun beat down on one of the dog days of camp, the Giants went 11-on-11, and a receiver on the bubble, oft-injured Domenik Hixon, was split right and ran about an intermediate curl route. Manning was the quarterback. With two steps left before Hixon turned to face the quarterback, Manning fired a line drive toward him. When Hixon stopped and turned, the ball was whistling toward him, just a few yards away. An impossible route, and pass, to defend. Hixon nabbed it. Gain of 13.
An August pass, of course, is nothing like a February one. But you set the stage for Super Bowl passes with precise ones in the dog days. The greatest pass Manning will ever throw came last season with the Giants down 17-14 and under four minutes left in the Super Bowl, pinned back at their 12-yard line. Manning looked safety Patrick Chung off the play with his eyes long enough to get a tiny window to rainbow a perfect ball into the hands of Manningham. Gain of 38. Biggest play of the game, by far.
Out on one of the practice fields, I asked Coughlin what sticks out to him about that memorable play six months later.
Coughlin was carrying a water bottle, and he put the bottle into the middle of his hands, stretched up into the air like a priest raising the host to heaven. There was a big smile on his face.
"The ball was right there!'' he said, still amazed after all these months. Just like it was when only a few hundred fans on a field in Albany were watching, not 119 million across the country.
Wednesday: New York Jets (SUNY-Cortland, Cortland, N.Y.)
Three football nuggets: Looks like Wayne Hunter at right tackle, and though everyone is saying all the right things about Hunter after his shaky 2011, he'll be the X factor the Jets will have to help all season with extra blockers ... I don't see another veteran pass rusher who will help Aaron Maybin much, so that means extra pressure's on first-round rusher Quinton Coples ... Can't believe Josh Brown won't beat out Nick Folk (8 of 13 from 40-plus last year) for the kicking job.
The Jets have a plan for Tim Tebow. They're just not saying what it is.
It's all starting to add up now. Rex Ryan says the Jets are going ground and pound. Jets trade for Tim Tebow. Jets want Tim Tebow to play a role. Tebow bulks up to 250. The new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, brought the Wildcat back to football four years ago, and there's little doubt he's going to use Tebow in some diverse roles out of the backfield here. Tebow is given to special teams coach Mike Westhoff, the mad scientist of NFL kicking-game game coaches, to figure out some role in addition to whatever he'll do on offense. Westhoff rubs his hands in glee, gets Tebow into his team meetings, and Tebow suggests a few ways he can be used.
So the Jets look like they know how they'll get Tebow in the game, and the situations and formations in which he'll be used. And the incumbent quarterback is well aware of what's going on.
"It's sort of a natural next step, and it didn't surprise me,'' Mark Sanchez told me. "We advance to the championship game the first two years, then we don't make the playoffs last year. They're going to do something to give us a spark. They bring in Tim. You can see they're going to get Tim in the game.''
"I trust Tony,'' Sanchez said.
In other words, the Jets are going to put Tebow in the game, on offense and on special teams, regularly. They've been careful not to ruffle Sanchez's feelings about it, apparently even letting him know what the plan is, and Sanchez, who has a very good relationship with the new offensive coordinator, feels Sparano's not going to trample on him to make Tebow a part of the offense. It's a tight rope walk, and who knows what Sanchez really is feeling if part of the plan is subbing Tebow for Sanchez when the Jets get inside the opponents' 5-yard line, for instance.
"They've got a plan, a pretty precise plan,'' I was told here. "But they're just shutting up about it.''
Tebow ran four times Friday night in Cincinnati. He threw it eight times, but that's meaningless because of preseason. His runs? Not meaningless. "If you want to come after him, you better get to him. In time, he'll kill you running," Ryan said after the game.
In Sunday's New York Post, beat man Brian Costello had what I thought was a revealing look into Sparano. He pointed out Sparano says Sean Payton was the best influence he had into how to call a game. But Payton, he said, found a way to run even with his great passing attack. Costello noted that there never has been a year with Sparano as the head coach or play caller that the team didn't pass more than it ran. What does it all mean? To me, it plays right into Tebow's hands. Sparano, when he has the weapons, will throw changeups at the defense (don't laugh, Miamians; the passing game stunk under Sparano in Miami, except when Chad Pennington played), and Tebow is the perfect man to throw those changeups.
It says here a good chunk of the ground-and-pounding will come from the 250-pound quarterback/punt protector/option runner. I'll put the over/under of Tebow's average snaps per game, including plays in the kicking and punting game, at 18. And if I had to go to Vegas with that, give me the over.
Thursday: Buffalo (Bills-Redskins preseason game, Orchard Park, N.Y.)
Three football nuggets: Odd first game for the starting offense: 14 plays for the starters, 14 passes, no touchdowns. "What it was was a great lesson in our lack of discipline at this point,'' said coach Chan Gailey ... Wondering, as was the rest of western New York, when C.J. Spiller is going to make the explosive plays he was drafted to make ... Ryan Fitzpatrick (6 of 14 in the opener) has some proving to do, which he knows, to justify what the Bills paid him last year. He was banged up in the second half of the season last year, so that's some justification to his mediocre play. But he has enough weapons to win with here.
There's a thing about expectations, and what happens when they're not met.
I was at a tailgate with some fans before the game, and expectations here are as high as I can recall since Drew Bledsoe was the hot guy. Steve Tasker said on the local telecast of the game he expects the Bills to make the playoffs. And in the press box before the game, club president Russ Brandon said: "We've got the highest expectations we've had around here in a long time.''
That centers around the defense, of course. After signing Mario Williams in free agency, the Bills have one of the best defensive fronts in football -- maybe the best. Williams at left end in the 4-3, Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus at tackle, and Chris Kelsay and Mark Anderson on the right side.
"You want to kick off tonight, don't you?'' I say to Brandon.
"I do,'' he said.
They did, and they made Robert Griffin III go meekly on his first two series, the run defense pulverizing the Redskins' offensive front. But on the third drive, Washington took it 80 yards in eight plays for the game's only touchdown. Preseason's preseason, but that's not the kind of drive you want to show your fans when the clear expectation is that the defensive front will stifle most of what's put in front of it.
Now, I know players aren't going to go overboard with effort in the preseason, and I don't blame them. Why should Mario Williams risk injury in a practice game with nothing riding on the outcome? The games stink for the most part, and we draw too many conclusions from them. But an 80-yard drive by an efficient rookie quarterback into the teeth of the best unit of your team ... let's just say the Bills need to go to Minnesota Friday night and harass Christian Ponder more than they bugged RGIII the other night.
Friday: Detroit (Browns-Lions preseason game, Detroit)
Three football nuggets: America's pulling for Boise's Kellen Moore to make the roster, and I think Jim Schwartz is too. But Moore didn't help himself with a 4-of-14 performance (with three drops) against Cleveland. Arm looked below average, which had football cognoscenti saying, "Told you so." ... Free safety Louis Delmas likely will be ready for the start of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery ... Foes licking chops at corner duo of Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith.
Welcome to modern life, NFL.
"The day of the dumb football player is over,'' says Jim Schwartz, and he's about to show me why.
In his office Friday, a few hours before the preseason opener, Schwartz listed the reasons the Lions -- and they're hardly alone; many teams in the league have gone to the iPad for gameplans and playbooks -- have gone to tablet form instead of the tree-killing paper way of life.
But this says it all: It used to be that when the Lions would have a correction to make in a game plan, they'd fix the page or pages, print them out fresh for every one of the players on the roster and for all the coaches ... and the secretaries would have to go through every game plan, remove the bad page for the good one, then put it all back together again, in each individual player's or coach's binder. Now coaches can make corrections up to the last minute before a team meeting and send the corrections to the iPads of every player and coach, and the fix would be made. When those late corrections would have to be made, the joke around the office was, "Well, gotta go kill another tree.'' And each week, the secretaries would spend significant time shredding all the old game plans every week.
What's amazing, and the part I didn't know, is the security of it. We've all heard stories about players who lost playbooks and got fined. Now there's a double edge of security for the iPads, if one is lost. First, each unit is password-protected, Second, Schwartz or the program administrator at the Lions can erase anything the club wants to scrub remotely. So, every Monday night this year, after the Lions have reviewed the tape from Sunday's game, the game plan for that week's game will be erased from everyone's iPad. By late Tuesday night or early Wednesday, the new game plan will be sent to every tablet, and another week begins.
To prevent any funny business by the players or coaches, the tablets are not set up to print, copy or email anything on the iPad.
"It's a lot more secure, a lot more green, and a lot more portable,'' Schwartz said. "I'd like to say we're doing it because of conservation, but the truth is it's more about the ease of operation than anything else.''
The Lions are in the home stretch of building in video on the tablets -- it should be in place for the start of the regular season. When that happens, players will be able to look at a play in that week's game plan and see the complete history of it. They'll have the ability to look at video of every time they'd run a particular pass play that season, for instance.
"It's funny,'' Schwartz said. "In a couple of years, we'll all laugh at how we did it the first year with the iPad, because it's bound to get more advanced. But right now, it's pretty cool.''
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