Offensive Player of the Week
Jacksonville QB Blaine Gabbert. Twenty-four hours after venting to Yahoo!'s Mike Silver about the critics who (justifiably) ripped his 2011 play ("They can't do my job; there are 31 other guys that can do my job, and that's it''), Gabbert continued his ascending preseason at New Orleans with a 13-of-16 night, for 112 yards and two touchdown passes. Gabbert looks night and day from last year, when Curtis (House) Painter had a better passer rating.
Defensive Player of the Week
Minnesota LB Audie Cole. Pretty easy choice, because of one of the craziest 13-second spans of any preseason game ever. Cole, a seventh-round rookie from North Carolina State, picked off a Tyler Thigpen pass late in the fourth quarter against Buffalo Friday night and rumbled 20 yards for a touchdown. On the next play from scrimmage, Cole leaped ahead of a Bills receiver and picked off a Brad Smith throw at the Bills 30 and returned that for an easier score. "I'm just trying to make the team, and I hope this helps my cause,'' said the 6-5 linebacker who, apparently, has a nose for the ball.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Arizona S Justin Bethel, who now has blocked a field goal, extra point and punt this preseason. He blocked a punt Friday night against Oakland and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown, then blocked an extra point a quarter later. I have some late-breaking information for the sixth-round pick who played for the Presbyterian Blue Hose last year: Justin, you are officially permitted to get an apartment in Tempe. You're in.
Coach of the Week
St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. When I visited the Rams the other day, Sam Bradford emphasized how Schottenheimer had quickly brought the disparate pieces of a new offense with mostly first- or second-year men (except for Bradford, Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola) together so they could find solutions to any defense quickly. It didn't look like that last week in the debacle at Indy, but in the first five minutes against the Chiefs Saturday night, Bradford took but nine plays collectively to lead 80- and 31-yard touchdown drives. The Rams were a confident offensive team Saturday night, which, with all the newness, is a credit to Schottenheimer.
"The real problem was that no one seemed shocked.''
-- Steve Gleason, the former New Orleans special teamer now suffering from ALS, to HBO "Real Sports'' correspondent Jon Frankel in a story that will air Tuesday night, on his memory of the reaction by those in the room to Gregg Williams' pregame speech before a January playoff game in San Francisco.
The speech, of course, was recorded and released by filmmaker Sean Pamphilon and recorded Williams as graphically identifying potential injury points on the 49ers. In the HBO piece, Gleason, who has been quiet to this point about the events of that night in the hotel in San Francisco, said the speech was fairly run of the mill until Williams mentioned the places they could hurt 49er players. "That, to me, was over the line,'' Gleason said.
"Counting tonight, two."
-- Rookie Minnesota linebacker Audie Cole, with two touchdowns on interception returns Friday night against Buffalo, asked how many times in his football career he has ever returned interceptions for touchdowns.
"We've offered raises of 5 to 11 percent. Just because the owners can afford to pay more doesn't mean you do it. You've never paid for an NFL ticket to watch somebody officiate a game. Nobody has ever paid to watch me be the league supervisor for a game."
-- NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson, to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, on the NFL's negotiating stance with the locked-out game officials.
"It's the single worst-officiated game I have ever been involved in. Talking to them during the game, no question some of them were star-struck.''
-- Anonymous player who played in the New Orleans-Arizona Hall of Fame Game, speaking of the replacement officials.
"Sorry about that!''
-- Bruce Springsteen during his Fenway Park concert last Tuesday, interrupting the song "Wrecking Ball'' with an apology.
"Wrecking Ball'' contains these lyrics:
"Now my home's here in these Meadowlands where mosquitoes grow big as airplanes,
"Here where the blood is spilled, the arena's filled, and Giants played their games ... "
Get it? Springsteen was in the land of the Patriots. When he said these words, the ultimate Jersey guy got booed heavily. Patriots fans don't exactly love the Giants, or anything New York/New Jersey, in fact. Thus the good-hearted apology.
If you watched the Chiefs much last year -- and in the NBC viewing room, we got to see a lot of every team -- you noticed a sloppy team. When I visited the Chiefs last week, I noticed new head coach Romeo Crennel and his staff spending time monitoring the little things -- defensive linemen stepping over bags in side-to-side drills properly, precision of snap counts, quickness in and out of the huddle, etc. Turns out the Chiefs were the league-leaders overall in dead-ball fouls. The Chiefs had:
Twenty-seven false starts, tied for most in the NFL.
Four encroachment penalties, tied for most in the NFL.
Three 12-men-on-the-field penalties, second-most in the NFL.
Three illegal shifts, two illegal motions and two illegal substitution penalties, all tied for most in the NFL.
Janoris Jenkins, the second-round pick for St. Louis, will start at cornerback for the Rams. He was the 39th overall pick in the draft. The Rams have put a program in place to be sure he can concentrate on football while still taking care of his parental obligations.
It is well-documented that Jenkins has children with three different women. But the amount of work the Rams have done with him to clear his plate and let him focus on football has been quite significant.
The Rams had a consultant to the team manage the child-support payments for the five children. The complicating factor there: Each of the three mothers lives in a different Florida county -- with different child-support laws the consultant had to navigate to put a plan in place so Jenkins would be in compliance monthly. In addition, the consultant arranged for Jenkins' mother to live in a duplex home in her hometown in Florida -- and found a friendly neighbor to live in the other half of the duplex.
I don't know how a team could get a player to concentrate on football better by managing a difficult situation to the benefit of the player and his extended family the way the Rams have with Jenkins.
As the SI-EvoShield NFL Training Camp trip reaches its conclusion this week (I'll see the Texans today and Cowboys Tuesday), I noticed one thing on the driving portion of the trip (Flagstaff to San Diego, then Miami north up the Eastern Seaboard, and across into the Midwest and back): We've got some great high school nicknames in this country. These come from the towns we either drove through or skirted close by over the last three weeks:
1. Yuma (Ariz.) Criminals. Love Yuma High's website: "Proud Home of the Criminals."
2. Effingham (Ill.) Flaming Hearts, so named because a local resident started a campaign to call the town "the heart of America.'' More importantly, Uwe Blab played there.
3. Cairo (Ga.) Syrupmakers. The Roddenberry's Syrup Plant used to be there. I also like the name of the Cairo High yearbook: The Raconteur. (I have to admit we weren't that close to skirting Cairo -- likely about 70 miles. But the nickname was too good to let it pass.)
4. New Berlin (Ill.) Pretzels. Is there a better high school logo in America? Check it out.
5. Speedway (Ind.) Sparkplugs. Well, I may have spoken too soon. Kids in Speedway grow up wanting to be Sparkplugs.
Of course, had we traveled through the rolling hills northwest of Hartford, I would have included the alma mater of Brian Leetch and Juan (No Hit) Nieves: the Avon Old Farms Winged Beavers. But then I would have had to knock out the Sparkplugs, and you wouldn't have wanted that.
"I hope so but I doubt it.''
-- @MikePereira, the FOX officiating czar and former NFL director of officiating, asked by a fan if he thinks the locked-out officials will return for the start of the season.
"When I saw on the crawl that someone is suing Jerry Jones for burning butt cheeks on a bench, my mind went straight to Kevin Ogletree.''
-- @MikeTanier of the new "Sports On Earth'' site, on the suit brought by a fan against the Dallas Cowboys. The fan, Jennelle Carillo, claims she was burned on her buttocks by sitting on a hot bench at a Cowboys scrimmage in 2010.
"Review of press box meat: 'This steak still has marks from where the jockey was hitting it.' ''
-- @IzzyGould, the Dolphins' beat reporter for the Sun-Sentinel in south Florida, apparently not pleased with the quality of the evening meal Friday night in Charlotte prior to the Dolphins-Panthers game.
"I have a good feeling about this year.''
-- @pick_six22, Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel.
I should hope so. That team's loaded.
"Tim Tebow protects the punter better than Wayne Hunter protects the quarterback #ThingsIveLearnedTonight''
-- @MoveTheSticks, former NFL scout and now NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah, watching the Jets-Giants game Saturday night.