Defensive Player of the Week
New England DE Chandler Jones. On his second play as a pro, Jones, starting at right end, pushed New Orleans left tackle Jermon Bushrod back into Drew Brees' lap, forcing Brees to roll right and throw an incompletion. Jones got good push on the next snap as well, and I am reminded of what Mike Mayock said on draft day about Jones, the 21st pick in round one last April: He said Jones' best football was ahead of him, and he'd turn out to be the best defensive player to come out of this draft.
Nice debut. I watched his snaps against New Orleans' starting offensive line on tape Friday morning, during which Jones played right end in the 4-3 eight snaps and right end in the 3-4 four times. Here's how I saw his production:
Snaps: 13 (not including two penalties).
Holding penalties drawn: 2 (both called on Bushrod).
QB pressures: 3.
Offensive Player of the Week
Kansas City QB Matt Cassel. The afterthought of all NFL quarterbacks heading into the 2012 season, Cassel played two series Friday night against the Cardinals. Eleven minutes. Two 72-yard drives. Two touchdowns. If he continues on that pace, the Chiefs will score 896 regular season points and Cassel will have a 152.8 passer rating. That just might be good enough to knock Peyton Manning off the AFC West front page occasionally this season.
Special Teams Player of the Week
San Francisco WR/KR Kyle Williams, who got back on the bicycle Friday night against the Vikings. Almost seven months after fumbling one punt and muffing another in the NFC title game loss to the Giants (see last week's MMQB and my item about Kyle Williams and his father, White Sox GM Kenny Williams), Kyle Williams returned two punts in a sure-handed way for 28 yards.
Coaches of the Week
Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith. For getting quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson ready to play in a new offense so quickly. Flynn and Wilson were a combined 23 of 29 Saturday night in the preseason-opening win over Tennessee.
Goat of the Week
Philadelphia CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, for his irresponsible launching and shoulder/upper arm cheap shot of a defenseless Byron Leftwich, the Pittsburgh quarterback, in the preseason game at Philadelphia. Rodgers-Cromartie is in line for a significant fine -- maybe six figures. I think it's worthy of a suspension. That's one of the most egregious hits I've seen in the league in the last couple of years -- worse than James Harrison on Colt McCoy, because you could argue that Harrison thought McCoy was a runner when he lined him up to hit him. Rodgers-Cromartie launched himself in violation of a well-publicized rule, and then hit Leftwich in the head in violation of a well-publicized rule. Luckily, Leftwich walked away, seemingly fine. The next victim may not be so lucky.
So the Jaguars wanted to ensure that they were protected in case Justin Blackmon implodes and has another run-in with alcohol and driving; he's already had two. And when his contract finally got on file late in the week, I read where Blackmon had a fully guaranteed four-year, $18.51 million deal.
How can this be? The answer: It really isn't.
The contract is fully guaranteed if the Jaguars choose to cut Blackmon at any time because of skill or injury reasons. But it does turn out the Jaguars will save 40 percent of the $11.9 million signing bonus ($4.79 million) -- if Blackmon has another alcohol-related arrest in the four-year term of the contract, and if the Jags decided to cut him.
Those are very big ifs, obviously. But I just didn't like reading the contract was fully guaranteed when there is obviously a way the Jags can get out from under some of the money if Blackmon makes another error in judgment.
At Bears' camp Saturday, there was an SUV parked between the dining hall and players dorm at Olivet Nazarene University. The vehicle had a Packers flag flying from the passenger window, and a Packers hat on the dashboard, so when players walked by they'd see it.
Bears chairman of the board George McCaskey walked by. He looked at the car, disapprovingly. He pulled a card out of his pocket and tucked it under the windshield wiper. It read: "Dear Friend, You still have time to save yourself. Go Bears!''
In April 1992, the Detroit Lions selected Washington State kicker Jason Hanson in the second round of the NFL draft. That was a week after a youngster in Rockford, Ill., Derek Dimke, celebrated his second birthday.
Hanson is still the Lions kicker, entering his 21st season. He's played more games with one team, 310, than any other player in NFL history. Dimke, a free agent kicker from Illinois, is in camp with the Lions trying to beat out Hanson.
Just before 3 a.m. Friday, the SI-EvoShield NFL Training Camp Tour docked in Sandusky, Ohio, and I roused myself and walked to the front desk of one of the local hotels. I said hello to the gal behind the desk and handed her my photo ID drivers license and my American Express card to check in. She looked at the cards and put them down next to her keyboard.
"Last name, sir?''
Not quite believing she asked this question after I handed her two plastic cards with my full name on both, I said, "Schwartz.''
She typed away for three or four seconds, and then said, "Uhhhhh ... "
"Last name is King,'' I said. "Just curious -- why'd you ask me my last name when I just handed you my license and my credit card?''
"Well, we just want to make sure it's you who's checking in instead of someone using your identification,'' she said.
My mind raced. If someone was doing that, wouldn't someone have had to bug my phone or steal my personal information from somewhere to know I had a room at this $119-a-night palace in Sandusky, Ohio, and then use my stolen or forged cards to check into said Sandusky palace?
It's the most colossally stupid thing I can remember at a hotel front desk, but I had no desire to say anything else at 3 in the morning in Sandusky, Ohio, other than, "Where is the nearest pillow?''
Sometimes you're on a grinder of a trip -- which this SI-EvoShield NFL Training Camp has been, even though it's been tremendously educational and fun -- and you build in what you hope will be a relaxing night in which the subject is something other than whether the Jets will be OK at right tackle with Wayne Hunter. And so last Wednesday, I saw we'd be finished at the Jets by 2 or 3 in the afternoon and headed to Buffalo for the Bills-Redskins preseason opener Thursday night, and there, between Cortland, N.Y., and Buffalo, was a New York-Penn League town, Auburn, with a 7 p.m. game against Jamestown.
So Team SI -- me, video man John DePetro, staff writer Matt Gagne, intern/driver Jack Ford (who, when wearing his Ray-Bans, could pass for Tom Cruise in Risky Business) and Pro Football Focus' Neil Hornsby, along for the ride -- dropped into Auburn for the game. The GM, Adam Winslow, invited me to throw out the first pitch, and Matt Gagne came up with the brilliantly potentially embarrassing idea of me throwing out the football in our van for the first pitch instead of a baseball. "Go for it!'' Winslow said.
Falcon Field is nestled in a big-tree neighborhood just outside of the town of 28,000, a classic Single-A park with ads filling the outfield fence of an immaculately kept field. I shared the first-pitch duties with a local leukemia survivor, 6-year-old Alex Brown, and his cute-as-a-button sister, Abby. Alex threw a strike. I did not. Mine was low and outside, but not in the dirt, and Craig Manuel, the Auburn catcher, made a nice save. Laughing.
Then we lined up outside the Auburn dugout, Team SI right next to Abner, the Doubledays' mascot (Abner Doubleday once lived here). "The mascot's a 16-year-old kid from here,'' Winslow said. "He grew up coming to the games, loved the Doubledays, and always wanted to be the mascot. So he came to us this year and got the job. That's how much this community loves the team -- kids grow up wanting to be Abner."
We settled into seats on the third-base side, talking to locals who've been coming to the games for years. They told us the history of the town -- about the homes of former Secretary of State William Seward and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and the maximum-security prison in town, where the electric chair was first used in 1890.
Whoa. The first electric chair. That's interesting, I said.
"It's downtown now, in Swabe's,'' one of the friendly fans said. "That's a bar.''
"Well,'' I said, "we're going to have to see that.''
The nice woman in front of us, Cathy Techman, drew us a map to Swabe's on the back of the night's stat sheet. And so, after Hornsby beat me in the seventh-inning keg-rolling contest on the field, we set out. "Sometimes when your expectations are low for something, those are the best times, because you smash them so far out of sight,'' said Hornsby, walking out to the EvoShield van. "This was a tremendous night.'' It wasn't over.
At Swabe's, a bar with lots of prison memorabilia, the electric chair is housed behind bars, and the bartender said there'd be no chance of us sitting in it. So the boys played pool while I read up on the chair. And here was something I didn't expect: The assassin of President McKinley was put to death in the chair in 1901. What a story, in so many ways. The Auburn paper from Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1901, reported on the electrocution of Leon Czolgosz, a self-proclaimed anarchist born to Polish immigrants in Michigan. Amazing the description of the assassination, which occurred at a world's fair in Buffalo on Sept. 6, 1901.
Czolgosz bought a revolver in Buffalo four days earlier for $4.50, and simply took his place in a receiving line at the fair where President McKinley was shaking hands with fairgoers. There was no mention of security. When Czolgosz reached the front of the line, the president extended his hand, and the assassin slapped it away, taking the gun wrapped in a handkerchief out of his pocket and shooting McKinley twice in the abdomen. McKinley died eight days later.
Ten days after the president died, Czolgosz, who'd been tried and convicted without cooperating in his defense, was sentenced to death. Talk about a rush to justice. He was put to death in Auburn, in the same chair that started it all, the same chair I was looking at now. The paper quoted Czolgosz as saying: "I killed the president because he was an enemy of the good people and the working people. I am not sorry for my actions. I am awfully sorry that I could not see my father.''
Sometimes you never know what you're going to get when you set out on the summer camp trip. But this is a day I won't soon forget, and Auburn's a town I won't forget.
"The morning after at Heathrow: Hope Solo, wearing her gold medal, on the gold elite line.''
-- @StevePoliti, the Newark Star-Ledger columnist, at 2:15 Eastern this morning (7:15 a.m. London time), apparently in line, waiting to return home along with some our country's finest.
"Davie police said fight between Chad Johnson and his wife started over a receipt for a box of condoms."
-- @BenVolinPBP, the Palm Beach Post's beat writer for the Dolphins, Saturday evening.
I must say that was an eye-opener.
"The way Poole is running for the Panthers, he'll have a new contract by halftime."
-- @PriscoCBS, CBSsports.com football write Pete Prisco, on Carolina rookie back Tauren Poole, having a good first half in the Panthers' preseason opener.
This came on the heels of Carolina paying a second running back to a big money deal (Jonathan Stewart, five years, $36.5 million) Saturday. Last year, the Panthers gave DeAngelo Williams $43 million over five years.
"@SI_PeterKing How could Woody be surprised at the amount of Tebow coverage?"
-- TonyDungy, asking me the question after Jets owner Woody Johnson said he was surprised at how much media Tim Tebow, the crossover religious/sports news magnet, was getting in training camp.
I asked Alex Marvez, the NFL columnist for FOXsports.com and Sirius XM NFL Radio host, for his observations after spending time doing radio shows on the training camp trails with veteran former GM Bill Polian, who is on the road for Sirius this summer. His thoughts:
Three days into a whirlwind five-day SiriusXM NFL Radio training camp tour with Bill Polian, Miami Dolphins media relations guru Harvey Greene told me something that had already become obvious. "If you don't become smarter hanging around someone like Bill, you're stupid," Harvey said.
It wasn't just my football IQ that rose during last week's visits to the Dolphins, Falcons, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Panthers. I also got to see the personal side of someone whose graciousness and humor stood in stark contrast to the intimidating, dour image Bill often showed while running the Indianapolis Colts. Four things I learned from or about Polian during our time together:
The respect that Polian has around the NFL is evident by the revealing answers he solicited from our guests. One particularly thoughtful exchange came between Polian and Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland after both watched last Tuesday's practice. Polian told Ireland that cornerback Vontae Davis "jumps out at you with his feet and hip movement" and "should be a big-time contributor." Yet Davis was demoted to a second-string role because he reported to training camp out of shape and, judging by the debut episode of "Hard Knocks,'' has yet to fully buy into new head coach Joe Philbin's program. "He's got more talent and ability (than most cornerbacks)," Ireland said of Miami's 2009 first-round draft pick. "He's got to turn those flashes into consistency.'' That answer led to Polian's main point: Davis has probably coasted on sheer physical talent for the bulk of his football career.
The cover-two defense as we know it could be on the road to becoming obsolete. Polian got into a fascinating exchange with Tampa Bay free safety Ronde Barber about this topic. Barber is entering his 15th NFL season playing in the acclaimed "Tampa-2," a scheme predicated upon the strong safety disrupting receivers who are funneled toward the middle of the field by cornerbacks playing zone coverage on the outside. Many of the bone-jarring safety hits once allowed are now banned as the NFL has instituted rules to better protect pass catchers. That has Polian, whose Colts used that system from 2002 through 2011 after Tony Dungy was hired as head coach, questioning whether it can be used effectively in today's NFL. Said Barber: "Our theory was all these guys got to the ball and intimidation was a physical act. It was, 'Get guys to run through zones. We'll shoot our guns and separate them from the ball.' The rules will definitely affect it ... I know we don't play cover-two now the way we used to."
It's a bad idea for a team to participate in "Hard Knocks'' because of the outside distractions the show can create. Polian would never sanction making the Colts available for HBO's cameras despite the extra publicity it would bring. After watching the aftermath of Miami's debut, his decision was sage. Off-air, Polian pointed out to me several examples of negative media stories that stemmed solely from Miami's first episode, particularly when it comes to the conversation Philbin had with wide receiver Chad Johnson about watching his language during media interviews. Normally, that's the kind of chat that would, and should, stay in-house.
Polian isn't who I once thought he was. I'll admit earlier in my journalism career that I was a bit intimidated by someone whose red hair reflects a temper even more fiery when it flashes. Bill can still get riled in a heartbeat. Just bring up the New England Patriots. But he's also a mesmerizing storyteller. During the 1987 strike season in Buffalo, Polian signed a replacement left tackle known for dirty play with the specific intention of trying to hold and frustrate New York Giants pass rushing demon Lawrence Taylor. Bill says he had no choice despite having to guarantee the player's contract for the entire season to seal the deal. "Our quarterback would have literally gotten killed," said Polian, who told team owner Ralph Wilson exactly that when seeking permission to approve the transaction because of this player's reputation. The tackle did the job -- and never played for the Bills again when the regulars came off the picket line the following week.
Polian hasn't told me this, but it wouldn't surprise me if he is running another NFL franchise in 2013. That will make me cherish working with him on SiriusXM even more this season.
Phillips: Outfielders are on the move at MLB winter meetings
SI Now Live Wednesday December 11, 2013