Texas Two-Step, though one of them was in San Diego.
I concluded my tour of NFL camps last week with stops in Houston to see the Texans and San Diego, where the Cowboys practiced against the Chargers for a couple of days.
Houston: Finding the right fit on defense.
What's the best body type for a strongside defensive end in the 3-4 defense? About 6-5 and 290? Meet J.J. Watt, 6-5 and 288. The size for a good 3-4 outside linebacker? Maybe 6-4 and 255, DeMarcus Ware size. The Texans have three: Connor Barwin (6-4, 262), Brooks Reed (6-3, 250) and rookie Whitney Mercilus (6-4, 254).
"The synergy between our scouts and coaching staff right now is really good,'' said Rick Smith, Houston's GM. "There's really good back-and-forth between the two about what the coaches want.''
Reed, for instance, was a college defensive end making the transition to pro outside linebacker. Reggie Herring, Houston's linebacker coach, wants quickness, relentlessness and a strong initial burst at the snap of the ball. Last year, Reed and Von Miller had the two fastest times of any linebacker in the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash (1.58 seconds). The scouts got nothing but good reports on Reed's work ethic, and his six sacks last year, the coaches think, is a scratching-the-surface thing. "Brooks is having as good a camp as anyone on our team,'' said Smith.
Reed is a Clay Matthews lookalike and playalike, with the blond hair in the ponytail and the high motor. When the Texans let Mario Williams walk in free agency this year, it was because the cap was going to be flat for a couple of years, and because with Reed and Barwin playing so well on the outside where Williams would have been, they knew they could survive, and flourish, without Williams. Then, on draft day, there was Mercilus, who ran the first 10 yards of the 40- in 1.55, best at the combine this year, and Smith couldn't pass him up. Call it the can't-ever-have-too-many-pass-rushers lesson of the Giants. When the Texans rotate the three on the edge this year, it's going to be tough for the offense to figure out who to spend an extra blocker on.
The Ravens are still trying to figure out how to block Watt and Reed, by the way. They combined for five sacks in the Texans' narrow playoff loss at Baltimore in January. Two rookies, five sacks in a playoff game. Pretty darn good fits for the Texans.
Dallas: Brandon Carr knows he'll be judged on how he plays Eli Manning.
"Finally it's almost here,'' Carr said, smiling, waiting to board a team bus after practice at the Chargers' practice facility. "The moment I've been waiting for all offseason.''
Cowboys at Giants, Sept. 5. Last year, the Cowboys had their season ruined by Manning, and it's not the first time. In two December meetings, Dallas gave up 68 points to the Giants and 746 yards passing by Manning. The Cowboys went out and got two new cornerbacks -- Carr and first-round pick Morris Claiborne from LSU, the consensus best corner in the draft. All they have to do is walk into the Meadowlands on opening night and beat the Super Bowl champs and the Super Bowl MVP quarterback.
"Every defense needs two like that, and nobody's got 'em,'' said Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator. "The Giants did an unbelievable job against us last year. They had their way with us. It's a new year now. We'll see how it goes."
Ryan knows he has no business drawing a line in the sand against the Giants. His D just hasn't played well enough against New York, and he knows it. It's not time to talk -- which he loves to do -- until his players can back it up. Which is where Carr comes in.
Carr wanted to come to Dallas because of the money (five years, $50 million), and who wouldn't? He also wanted to come because he's watched what the Ryan defense does with corners. He's seen Rex Ryan put Darrelle Revis by himself on the opposition's best receiver often, and that's what he wanted. "I'm comfortable with it,'' Carr said. "I knew when I came in I'd be the one to check the number one receiver, and that's something you have to love doing. Watching Revis do it is something a cornerback would love. Against Eli, it's going to be a huge challenge. There's no throw he can't make, and he's not afraid to make the difficult throws in a big spot. I'm going to have a sense of urgency that night. It's why they brought me in.''
Playing in Kansas City, Carr played in some big games; you play in big games no matter where you play in the NFL. But this is a hotter spotlight, obviously. This will be the third straight Cowboys-Giants game on NBC primetime. Carr will be on an island against these five quarterbacks on nationally televised games this year: Manning, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Mike Vick and Robert Griffin III.
Now to clear up some of the fog about the work of the Senior Committee.
I like what the five members of the Senior Committee, along with Hall of Fame consultants Paul Warfield and Joe Greene (the Hall brings in two consultants to talk to the committee about long-retired players each summer), came up with this year.
Curley Culp was traded from Kansas City to Houston midway through the 1974 season because Oilers coach Bum Phillips wanted a true nose tackle to play in his 3-4 defense. The Oiler had had successive 1-13 seasons, and were 2-5 when Culp was acquired. Houston finished that season 5-2 and went 10-4 the next year. Phillips always said Culp was the biggest factor in making his defense work. Hall of Fame Pittsburgh center Mike Webster said Culp was always his toughest day.
Most people in and out of football thought if a glory-days Packer ever got nominated by the committee, it'd be guard Jerry Kramer. But Robinson has been highly recommended by a string of Hall of Famers over the years.
As a sideline-to-sideline playmaker, he was in the shadow of middle linebacker Ray Nitschke for much of his prime, even though Robinson made more Pro Bowls, and Vince Lombardi always credited Robinson for his play, even though he didn't get the headlines of other Packer stars. "Outstanding player, and totally unselfish,'' Bart Starr told me Saturday from his Alabama home. "As a player, I don't recall anyone who had the sense of anticipation on the field Dave did. And I don't know if there was a better example on our championship teams of a player who constantly exhibited the commitment, unselfishness and team-player aspect of the game that coach Lombardi valued so highly. He is tremendously deserving."
I've heard from many of you critical of Robinson over Kramer. That's your right. I said on Twitter the other day, regarding Kramer, that the men in the media who watched him play for 15 years never voted him in, so we would essentially be overruling the decision of those who watched his entire career. Many of you have asked me on Twitter a logical question: Well, isn't that what the Senior Committee is for? That committee is set up to correct the perceived wrongs of the past.
Yes. Absolutely. But understand something about Robinson versus Kramer. Jerry Kramer retired following the 1968 season, and he was a Hall of Fame finalist nine times in his 15 seasons as a modern-era candidate: 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984 and 1987, and then once again as a Senior Committee nominee, in 1997, once his modern-era eligibility expired in 1988.
Kramer's case, then, has been heard before the full Hall of Fame selection committee 10 times over a 24-year span. Robinson has never had his case heard by the full selection committee. Culp has never had his case heard by the full selection committee.
I don't serve on the Senior Committee; nine of the 44 Hall of Fame selectors make up the committee, and five meet in Canton every August to nominate two candidates for selection. The committee doesn't have as its stated objective to get the cases of the forgotten heard. But those are the players who make the most sense to me to get in the room.
Back when the Pro Bowl meant something, Culp made five of them, Robinson three and Kramer three. Is it fair that Kramer should have an 11th time as a finalist while Robinson or Culp would again not have a chance to get in the room as a Hall finalist?
I've always thought we should hear the cases of seniors whose candidacies fell through the cracks. Kramer never fell through the cracks. He was judged by those who watched him play 10 times in 24 years and deemed not as worthy as others. The fact that he was named to the NFL's 50th Anniversary Team and then not to the Hall of Fame ... I have no explanation for something that happened in 1969, but it's obviously curious that many of the same voters who judged him one of the greatest linemen ever then didn't back him for the Hall of Fame.
One last point. On Saturday, Bart Starr told me there was one other candidate he felt strongly about. "Bob Skoronski,'' he said. "Forrest Gregg was great, and he protected me on my front side, at right tackle. Bob protected my blind side at left tackle, and you know how important the blind side is for protection to a quarterback. You'd look at their grades when the coaches graded the film after the game, and their grades were virtually the same, game after game. I am so disappointed he hasn't gotten in the Hall. Some of the guys [offensive linemen] who have been selected to the Hall over the years, I'm just aghast. Bob Skoronski is a level above them.''
Skoronski and Gregg were the bookend tackles on the five Green Bay championship teams. You could hear Starr's passion for Skoronski -- who played 146 games between 1956 and 1968 for the Packers -- come through on the phone.
I asked Starr if there were other players he wanted to recommend, and he said no.
Neil Armstrong dies at 82.
Forty-three years ago, nearly everyone in America was glued to the TV to see a self-described "nerdy engineer'' walk out of a space capsule, Apollo 11, and become the first person to step foot on the moon. There were estimates that one-fifth of the people on earth watched the moon landing and moonwalk. Armstrong's first words on the moon will never be forgotten: "That's one small step for man ... one giant leap for mankind."
When Armstrong and his crew returned, there were parades in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and then a world tour. A quiet hero in so many ways -- as a Korean War combat pilot, a man who would never try to make money on his accomplishments as an astronaut, and a soft-spoken professor at the University of Cincinnati. Armstrong defined "the best and the brightest.'' On Saturday, his family said this, fittingly: "Honor his example of service, accomplishment and honesty.'' In a me-first world, Armstrong was a selfless American original.
Previewing the Game of the Week
Ohio University at Penn State, Saturday at noon. The game's a big one for all the obvious reasons -- the most obvious being that I went to Ohio and we might have a chance to beat Penn State in State College. I also noticed the other day that SI.com's Holly Anderson picked the Bobcats to go 12-0 this season. Using the deduction skills honed at Ohio 35 years ago, I figured that must mean Holly has the Bobcats beating the Nittany Lions. OU fever, baby.
So I got in touch with the OU quarterback, Tyler (Son of Mickey) Tettleton, and took the temperature of our crew before the big game in Happy Valley.
"Ever play in a place with 107,000 fans, like you'll see at Penn State?''
Tettleton: "No. We played at Tennessee a couple years ago, but I didn't play. The people just went on and on, way up in the stands. It's pretty intense at Marshall; they've got the craziest fans -- people everywhere you go. The crowd at Rutgers was pretty big last year. But not like this.''
"It'll be a pretty emotional atmosphere there, probably. The fans at Penn State will be all fired up to defend their program after so many people have been critical of it."
Tettleton: "Yeah, I know. There's not much we can do about that. I know our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, and I really feel bad for the people involved. It's a terrible thing that happened. But our coach, coach [Frank] Solich, has told us, 'Treat it like another game. There's nothing we can do about all that other stuff.' We just need to go in there and play football and not worry about anything else.''
"But 107,000 people. It'll be intense."
Tettleton: "Well, 107,000 is no different to me than playing in front of 25,000 here. There's a couple more bleachers. Not going to change the game for me."
"How do you like your chances?''
Tettleton: "We think we have a good chance if we play our game. We feel like this is an amazing opportunity for us. We win this, and we keep winning, and we'll have a chance to get ranked in the Top 25."
"So I've got a way for you to really get at your father. Tell him you thought he was a home run hitter in the major leagues, and now you've found out that Derek Jeter hit more home runs than him, so how good could he really have been?''
Tettleton: "That's a good one.''
"Why not baseball for you?''
Tettleton: "Well, I played a lot of it, but I think I found out I was more of a physical sports type of guy. Being out in the outfield, that can get old. I was bored with it.''
"How tall are you?''
"You watch Drew Brees and Russell Wilson?''
Tettleton: "Sure. I love watching Brees. And the fact that Russell Wilson's competing for the starting job in Seattle ... is really great motivation for me. It shows I might have a chance at the next level. Those guys proved size doesn't matter."
"What's your major? What do you want to do with your life if you don't play in the NFL?''
Tettleton: "Sports Management. Whatever happens with football, I've got to do something in sports. I love sports. I always thought it would be fun to be a sports agent. I'd like to stay involved with sports somehow.''
We made a little small talk, and I told him when I was a freshman in 1976 I saw Bruce Springsteen on campus, in the little auditorium on the College Green. And afterward, Bruce and the band went drinking in the bars on Court Street.
"Bruce and the band partying with the students!'' he said. "No way! That is awesome! Awesome!''
Coming in Tuesday's column: Some big offensive changes in Baltimore ... and why Tony Romo was up very late one night in San Diego. (Hint: It's all very innocent, and has everything to do with football.).
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