Future is now in Seattle, but Dolphins are playing for next year
Russell Wilson outplayed Matt Flynn; Tarvaris Jackson shakes things up in Buffalo
Colts gave up a bit of their future for Vontae Davis, Dolphins loading up on picks
OL injuries hurt Bucs, Steelers; Weekly Awards; Ten Things I Think I Think; more
MMQB preamble, Homage to the Opening of High School Football Season:
On the close-knit Tampa Bay Buccaneer teams of the late '90s, close friends Dave Moore, a tight end from New Jersey, and Mike Alstott, a fullback raised in Illinois, roomed together during road games. When they left football, Moore in 2003, Alstott in 2006, both had families, including boys who loved football. Moore and Alstott wanted to stay close to the game, and both had dreams of coaching their sons in high school. So after last football season, Moore and Alstott, both of whom live in St. Petersburg, did something about it. Moore took a job, his first as a head coach, at Shorecrest Prep in St. Petersburg. Alstott took a job, his first as a head coach, at Northside Christian in St. Petersburg.
The high school regular season begins Friday night with the close friends coaching against each other. Shorecrest at Northside kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
"What are the odds of that?'' Alstott said. "It'll be pretty incredible looking across the field and seeing Dave.''
Now on with the show, the NFL show, in a busy week during which we've found out a few things -- that Pete Carroll was serious when he said the best man would win the quarterback job in Seattle, that Jim Irsay was not crying (Ron) wolf with all his trade tweets, that the Cowboys are worried about Dez Bryant the person and more. I've got only one thing as cool as what I just wrote about Moore and Alstott -- my Ernie Zampese note, way down in the column.
Nine days before the season opens, here are the 10 stories of the preseason weekend:
1. The Saints prepare for the worst ... on an eerie seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With Hurricane Isaac bearing down on the Gulf Coast, the Bucs have given their players an unscheduled day off today. The organization still plans for the team to fly Tuesday to Washington, where the Bucs play Wednesday night. The Saints, two days further along on the path of Isaac, told players during a team meeting Sunday to take care of their family situations on today's day off and "Be prepared for anything on Tuesday."
The team could hunker down in New Orleans or fly north early in advance of Thursday's game in Nashville. As of Sunday night, the path of the hurricane showed it could hit the New Orleans area on Wednesday, which would be seven years to the day after Katrina ravaged the region. Late word Sunday night was that the airport in New Orleans could close on Tuesday, which could accelerate the Saints' decision to leave town. Stay tuned.
2. Pete Carroll announced the inevitable late Sunday night: Russell Wilson's the starting quarterback for Seattle. "He's earned the job,'' Carroll said to Seattle reporters. "He really validates what [GM] John Schneider saw in the draft from day one."
The naysayers said to just wait until Wilson had to play against someone's starting defense; that would expose him. Uh, not so much. Wilson started and had seven possessions in Kansas City Friday night. The drives: 41 yards and a field goal, 41 yards and a field goal, 37 yards and a field goal, 62 yards and a touchdown, 59 yards and a touchdown, 55 yards and a touchdown, 54 yards and a missed field goal. By the time Seattle inserted Tarvaris Jackson to replace Wilson, the Seahawks led 44-7.
At the start of camp, I was told by Someone Who Knows that Wilson would have to be markedly better than free-agent signee Matt Flynn to win the starting job. Well, Wilson's performance in the past month defines "markedly better."
3. The Colts deal for Vontae Davis, and south Florida begins to say, "Wait 'til next year." In the aggressive, rush-heavy defense new Indy coach Chuck Pagano plays, the Colts need cover corners. Now they have one after Sunday's trade with the Miami Dolphins for Davis. Though the fourth-year veteran had fallen out of favor with the new staff in Miami, Pagano is likely to make him a poor man's Darrelle Revis, putting him on an island against the Andre Johnsons and Justin Blackmons on the Colts' schedule.
The Dolphins now have dealt two of their former stalwarts from the Tony Sparano regime, Brandon Marshall and Davis, and they'll have a rich draft (five picks in the first three rounds) in 2013 to show for it. Whether GM Jeff Ireland will be making those picks remains to be seen, but let me say this in his defense: Miami did well to get two third-rounders for Marshall, and if a devalued Davis were on the bench to start the season, Miami wouldn't have been able to get a second-rounder for him before the trading deadline.
4. Ryan Grigson will worry about tomorrow tomorrow. The Colts' new GM dealt his fifth-rounder next year on draft day to move up for wideout T.Y. Hilton (who caught a nifty TD pass from Andrew Luck Saturday at Washington), and now gives up his second- and possibly his sixth-rounder next year for Davis. So, if Davis is Indy thinks he is and his playing time requires the Colts to give up a sixth-rounder, Indy will have just three picks in the top 200 next year. But Davis is 24, has started for three years, and the Colts simply had no other potential cover corners like him.
5. Tarvaris Jackson is headed to Buffalo ... for pretty meager compensation. Seattle will get a seventh-round pick that could improve to a sixth- if Jackson is active for six games this year; the Seahawks couldn't get more because the rest of the league knew Seattle wasn't going to keep Jackson and his $4 million salary to be a third-string quarterback. The deal means Vince Young could be on the street any day now.
We all thought the Seahawks would deal Jackson, the odd man out in the three-man QB derby in Seattle, but maybe to Green Bay. That it's Buffalo means the Bills might get rid of both prospective backups, Young and Tyler Thigpen, because they've been giving option quarterback/wideout Brad Smith some work at quarterback this summer. Young could be headed to his fourth team in 20 months (Tennessee, Philadelphia, Buffalo) if the Bills cut or trade him.
6. The best kicking leg in the league: whacked. You can look it up. Over the past two years, Billy Cundiff is a 90 percent field goal kicker inside the 50 (53 of 59), and no other kicker averaged more yards per kickoff (69.5) or had more touchbacks than his 84. But the Ravens, bugged more by his 1-of-7 from 50-plus in the last two seasons than his crucial miss in the AFC title game last January, cut him Sunday. They prefer to save $1.5 million on the cap and go with a four-year kickoff man from the University of Texas, Justin Tucker. Risky move for a Super Bowl contender.
7. The Steelers get a bad, bad injury. One of the best guards to come out of college football in years, David DeCastro was playing like a five-year vet for Pittsburgh in the preseason. Now he's out, likely for the year, with a torn MCL and dislocated kneecap suffered Saturday night in Buffalo. The Steelers drafted DeCastro first and tackle Mike Adams (who has been poor in preseason tests) second in April, and now they may get zilch out of both this season. Left to right, the Steeler front looks like Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert ... not exactly the retooled lined they had in mind in the spring.
8. Want the good news in Tampa? Or the bad? Let's start with the bad. Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph went down against the Patriots, reportedly with a broken kneecap, and will be out about three months. For a team trying to play a pounding running game this year, losing a road-grading guard for the majority of the season is going to put more pressure on Josh Freeman to carry a suspect offense.
Now for the good ... Friday night against the Patriots, Tampa Bay's top three draft picks (strong safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and outside linebacker Lavonte David) all started, and coach Greg Schiano left little doubt that's how they'll line up in the opener against Carolina. Martin over a refocused LaGarrette Blount? That's because Martin catches it better and blocks better.
9. Is Dez Bryant allowed to go the men's room by himself? The Cowboys aren't just a little worried about Bryant's maturity level, they're petrified. According to Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com, Bryant will not drink alcohol nor visit strip clubs this season, and he'll have a midnight curfew. He'll also have a three-man security crew, including one security man with him at all times, with rides from security to and from practice. If Bryant screws this up, he'll have to be Houdini.
Speaking of controversial receivers. In Seattle, it's Braylon yes, T.O. no. Terrell Owens dropped three passes in the first three preseason games, and that's not going to win many 38-year-old receivers a job. Seattle cut him Sunday. Meanwhile, Braylon Edwards has played like a professional receiver and is likely to win a job on a Seahawks' team with a paper-thin receiver corps.
10. Defensive tackle Curley Culp and linebacker Dave Robinson take a big step toward Canton. More about the two finalists who came out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Senior Committee deliberations later in the column -- and about the process -- but I'm told the five committee members who voted to nominate Culp and Robinson believe they have tremendous cases for election. Culp, the first true nose tackle in the NFL (he played primarily for Kansas City and Houston) and Robinson, the strongside linebacker on three Packer title teams in the '60s, will join the 15 modern-era finalists in having their cases heard in front of the 44 Hall of Fame selectors on Feb. 2 in New Orleans.
Skelton would make it 15, if he gets the nod over Kolb in Arizona.
We're in an incredible time for quarterbacks in the NFL. With offensive systems getting more complex by the season, NFL teams are saying the more precocious the QB the better. Fourteen of the 32 starting quarterbacks in Week 1 (15 if the Cards start John Skelton) will be either rookies or 25 or younger when they take the first snap of the season. That's 44 percent of the starters in the NFL.
The count: five rookies, five second-year players and four third- or fourth-year guys.
The stunner of the bunch, obviously, is Wilson. Lone-wolf Seahawks GM John Schneider doesn't care if half the league laughs at him when he picks tackle James Carpenter in the first round in the '11 draft, or Bruce Irvin in the first and the 5-foot-11 Wilson in the third this year. When Seattle had a mini-camp last spring, Pete Carroll was so impressed with Wilson's poise and smarts that he put him in the mix for the starting job. And Wilson never took his football off the gas.
"I refuse to be average,'' Wilson told me the day I was in Seahawks camp four weeks ago. "I refuse to be good. All I want to do is work to excel every day."
I went back to my notebook to check my notes after seeing Wilson in camp on July 29. I noted how, flushed from the pocket and sprinting right, Wilson kept his eyes downfield and launched a 32-yard high strike to wideout Ben Obamanu, who came down with it in close coverage. Those are the kinds of throws he'll have to make in the NFL, escaping the land of the giants in the pocket to get a better view of the landscape.
As I walked away from a 20-minute conversation with Wilson, I could see why people in Wisconsin loved him so much. He was genuine, charismatic, earnest. That day, Carroll added a few adjectives: "Smart. Bold. Makes the right decisions under pressure. He scrambles to throw; he doesn't scramble to run. Extremely adept at making things happen when the pocket breaks down. He's worth making this a three-man quarterback competition."
And so, like his four draft-mates (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden), Wilson went out and earned the job. Why are so many players playing so well so young? More and more, college football offenses are translating better to the NFL. Quarterbacks are throwing more (and in the case of a few of them, 7-on-7 passing leagues in high school give passers a jump on the college game), and throwing more pro-style stuff.
Tannehill was coached by one of Brett Favre's Green Bay coaches, Mike Sherman, at Texas A&M, and Sherman is now Tannehill's offensive coordinator in Miami. Andrew Luck's Stanford coach and offensive coordinator, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, now do the same jobs with the 49ers. And so on. The cross-pollination of the NFL and college coaches means there's no patent on good ideas, no matter where they flow from.
Should be a fun season of growing pains and new stars.
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