Rookie QBs star; Dolphins' Johnson tempted fate; more camp lessons
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III didn't play like rookies in their exhibition debuts
Chad Johnson didn't realize how small his margin for error was with the Dolphins
Observations from my latest camp tour stops; Ten Things I Think I Think; more
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- To Bears coach Lovie Smith, the Olympic competition he watched every night after training camp meetings in his dorm room at Olivet Nazarene University was a vital football lesson for everyone in the game.
"Imagine working four years for one moment,'' he said to me in his office on campus here Saturday morning. "This is their Super Bowl. Bigger, even. Such a good lesson for all of us. They work hard for hours a day, day after day, with no one watching. There's no result right away. You can't see the benefit of what you're doing right away. It's the same for us here in camp. In a football practice, you practice your craft every day. It's tedious, tiring, regimented. But if you don't do the tedious stuff, you'll never win. That's one of the things the Olympics can teach us all.''
One thing I noticed about the kid quarterbacks playing early -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden -- is none of them had happy feet in their pro debuts. The tiring, tedious, regimented stuff paid off, to varying degrees of success, and that's where we start our tour around the NFL this morning, the first day without the Olympics. Ten storylines of the first full weekend of football (albeit faux exhibition football) since January:
1. The big rookies didn't look like rookies. I wrote about Robert Griffin III from Buffalo the other night and noted that the best thing about his first pro performance is he never looked like a rookie. Ditto Andrew Luck on Sunday. The combined stat line for the top two picks in the 2012 draft is certainly no indication that they'll be enshrined in Canton someday, but it's certainly better than the alternative:
|Andrew Luck & Robert Griffin III|
Luck was eerily terrific Sunday afternoon before a crazed crowd in Indy. Just as Peyton Manning had thrown a touchdown pass on his first preseason pass as a rookie 14 years ago, so did Luck, on a short pass and long run by Donald Brown against St. Louis. I remember sitting with Luck at the Scouting Combine in the hotel room of his agent, which overlooked Lucas Oil Stadium. Just as nothing seemed too big for Luck at Stanford, or at the Combine, or early in camp for the Colts, Sunday's contest looked like just another game of football for 25 minutes of the first half. Four possessions, three touchdown drives.
"Let's not get too excited about anything,'' Luck said afterward, "because nobody goes back and looks at the preseason record for anything." Good point. But that's not going to stop Hoosiers from waking up with big grins this morning.
2. Chad Johnson gets arrested and released in a 24-hour span. He and his new wife, police say, were arguing over a receipt for a box of condoms, and Johnson allegedly head-butted his wife. He was arrested for the domestic dispute and spent the night in Broward County (Fla.) Jail. Shortly after getting released from jail, he got released from the Dolphins -- which well could have happened later in the preseason because he wasn't off to a hot start anyway.
I can tell you this: When I was in Dolphins camp 12 days ago, it was the day Johnson did his irreverent press conference, saying he'd go into porn if he didn't make the Dolphins, that he was going to take his mates to a strip club on a day off, and other typical Chad malarkey. You know what's wrong with Johnson? He doesn't understand his environment. You think a straight-shooter like Joe Philbin's going to laugh at stuff like that? He's not -- and I can tell you, he didn't. Johnson had very little margin for error in Miami, and spending a night in jail over a domestic dispute erased the margin.
Not so funny, but in the first episode of Hard Knocks, Johnson turns to leave the Dolphins' facility before a day off for the players and says to club director of security Stuart Weinstein: "Hey, Stu, Stu! I promise I'm getting arrested while we're off.'' Weinstein isn't seen on camera, but a voice, sounding like Weinstein's, calls back: "Thanks. Call me. I'll come get you." Cable TV imitates life.
3. Peyton's back, but not all the way back. In his first game action since the Pro Bowl 18 months ago, Peyton Manning played one series at Chicago, and it ended with a slightly off-target interception. But all that matters is he got through it, felt good and reported no problems with either his surgically repaired neck or his right arm.
4. The replacements need to be replaced. Not a lot of debacle plays over the weekend, but if you think the regular season will go smoothly with the replacement officials, you're mistaken. My favorite goof from the weekend: In Buffalo Thursday night, back judge Craig Burd saw a Bills player down the ball at the Washington 4-yard line. Burd dropped his beanbag there, then inexplicably started waving his right arm up and down, signaling a touchback -- even though he'd seen the ball downed at the four. A replay review corrected it.
Giants' rookie Jayron Hosley returned a punt against the Jags, and there was a holding call on the play, and the ref in Jacksonville called the hold on Hosley. Pretty tough for a ballcarrier to hold for himself. I hear the NFL's position has hardened regarding the regular officials, who want to keep their pension system a guaranteed-benefits plan rather than subject it to the whims of the stock market (who wouldn't?) and want a bigger bump in salary than the NFL is offering.
5. The Steelers, despite using their first two picks on a needy offensive line, still have major problems there. Steady, fairly invisible night for first-round Stanford guard David DeCastro, playing on the right side. Not so for second-rounder Mike Adams. Philadelphia didn't play either of its top defensive ends -- Trent Cole or Jason Babin -- Thursday night. But the left tackle Adams, from Ohio State, played 17 snaps over 13 minutes, and allowed either 1.5 sacks or 2.5, depending on if you'd dock him for a sack when Ben Roethlisberger stepped up into trouble in the pocket. So he was involved in three sacks, two of which ended in strip-sacks of the quarterback.
Now, Philadelphia might have the best defensive line depth in the NFL, but still, perpetrators Phillip Hunt and Darryl Tapp are not starting players. This was not the start the Steelers needed to see for the line. I have three words for Roethlisberger, who thought -- incorrectly, apparently -- that with the draft concentration on the line he wouldn't have many more nights under siege: Duck, Ben, duck.
6. A bad night for Ryan Mathews. Broken clavicle Thursday for the San Diego back against Green Bay. Norv Turner think Mathews can win a rushing title, but probably not this year. He'll miss at least a week or two of the regular season.
7. If not for bad luck, the Browns would have no luck. Rookie rushing savior Trent Richardson had a scope on his aching knee Thursday; he's likely but not certain to play in the opener. Cleveland's best defensive back, Joe Haden, could be suspended for four weeks for taking a drug usually used to combat narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder. Rookie starting quarterback Brandon Weeden started sharp but finished 3 of 9 in his preseason debut at Detroit, and one of his starting wideouts, Mohamed Massaquoi, was concussed Friday night. It's only coincidental that a big summer storm followed the Browns back to Cleveland from Detroit in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
8. Adrian Peterson comes off the physically unable to perform list. All along, Peterson's said he'd be ready to open the season Sept. 9 against Jacksonville. Now we're starting to believe him. "I was like a kid in a candy store, and it was only a walkthrough,'' Peterson tweeted after working with the first team in a light practice Sunday.
9. The Packers sign a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, Cedric Benson. He's rushed for 3,429 yards over his past three Cincinnati seasons, and it's a why-not signing: Green Bay got the 29-year-old Benson for the veteran minimum.
10. Jacksonville cuts Lee Evans. It will be a shame if the last ball thrown to Evans in his eight-year career was the difference between Baltimore going or not going to the Super Bowl last January. As you'll recall, Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore batted it out of Evans' hands in the end zone, and the Ravens went home instead of on to play the Giants for all the marbles. On Sunday, as expected, Jacksonville cut Evans. A needy receiver team such as Jacksonville cutting Evans with three weeks left in the preseason? Bad sign to the other 31 teams.
Now for my week's travelogue, which started with a 607-mile jaunt from Georgia to the shadow of the nation's capital and finished in the parched midwest.
Monday: Washington (Redskins Park, Ashburn, Va.)
Three football nuggets: Washington's counting on two secondary rejects -- Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson -- "to help buttress" a good front seven. When the Redskins talk about how much the $36 million cap penalty imposed by the league hurts, the two spots I notice most are safety and the offensive line ... Four-way battle at running back. In time, I could see sixth-round pick Alfred Morris from Florida Atlantic winning the job -- if he blocks well. Good one-cut runner, improving receiver ... Last year's fifth-round pick, tight end Niles Paul from Nebraska, might be 6-foot-1 and just 233 pounds, but the coaches are high on his ability to be an above-average pass catcher on short and intermediate stuff, which will help Robert Griffin III when he's being pressured. From the looks of the offensive line, that will be early and often.
Perhaps I was mistaken: RGIII's looking very much like a runner.
I counted 20 plays of 11-on-11 piloted by Robert Griffin III in the afternoon practice. Five were designed runs for Griffin. On this afternoon, he ran it a lot better than he threw it. There's little doubt that Griffin's ability to run quarterback draws and rollouts and options will throw a wrench into opponents' preparation for Washington. But he wasn't getting hit in practice, obviously, and he will when the real games start -- maybe even when the Colts visit Washington in Week 3 of the preseason, and Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis get a few shots at him.
Many thoughts. Among them:
I know mobility is a great attribute for a quarterback, particularly in a division when you're facing DeMarcus Ware, Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck each twice a year. But Griffin weighs 217 pounds. Getting him out on the flank so much, trying to make people miss, is a dangerous proposition.
Before you argue, "Well, Cam Newton ran 128 times last year and he never got hurt,'' let me remind you that Newton's a full-grown thoroughbred and Griffin's a young colt. Griffin is not Newton. At 217 pounds, RGIII is 31 pounds lighter than Newton, and doesn't have the physical suit of armor Newton has. (And I would guarantee you the Panthers don't want Newton running it 128 times a year anyway; that's a sure-fire way to no more 16-game seasons for him.)
I talked to one influential Redskin source here, who said, basically, that Griffin ran with abandon for the past two years and didn't get hurt. I looked it up: 26 Baylor games, 328 rushes, 12.6 rushes per game, and he survived. But a 217-pound quarterback is risking his future if he runs 100 or so times a year in the NFL.
Just my gut feeling, but it sounds like the Redskins don't want Griffin sitting in the pocket behind such a shaky line -- and don't want him to completely change the way he played in college. Which, in essence, was as a young Mike Vick or young Steve Young.
Asked whether he feared being exposed to lots of hits this year, Griffin said: "I don't want to give away any secrets for the season ... I can't talk about how I'm going to be used during the season. Trying to keep that under wraps.''
The van we're driving around the country in is courtesy of EvoShield, the protective-equipment manufacturer. It's got a huge photo of Griffin, one of their pad-wearers, on the side. When I saw Griffin Thursday night in Buffalo, I patted him on the side and wished him well. And there the rib-protectors were.
Memo to EvoShield: The world's watching. If Griffin runs 100 or so times this year and stays upright, we're all buying your stock.
"A lot of people don't want to wear the traditional rib-protectors because they make them look fat,'' Griffin said. "These ... you can't even tell you have them on, and you're also protecting your body the best way you can, rather than them sliding all over the place.''
Griffin looked great running in this practice. One advantage: He had the red shirt on. No one could touch him. Look at a 15-day stretch in October on the Redskins' schedule. Jared Allen, the Giants, James Harrison. I'm thinking Griffin might want a bullet-proof vest as well as the EvoShield.