Work in Sports
This is the 10th in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.
Sunday, July 30
TEAM: Oakland Raiders
SITE: The Napa Valley Marriott Hotel in Napa, Calif. A beautiful place, just down California 29 from the vineyards. It's cool in the mornings. I needed my suit coat for warmth, not just good looks, this morning for the 7 a.m. PST CNN NFL Preview show. But it turns plenty hot by 10 a.m. or so.
PLAYER I SAW WHOM I REALLY LIKED: You're in for a treat this season when you see Jerry Porter , the second-round pick from West Virginia, who played safety, wideout, quarterback and special teams in college. The Raiders have Porter working exclusively at WR -- that is, when he's not throwing bombs from a great rollout option play the Raiders have designed for him. He threw a bomb, on the run, 55 yards in the air this morning. There was not one flutter in the spiral and his receiver caught it in perfect stride. "I can throw it about 70 yards," Porter told me after practice. "I learned to throw playing quarterback in high school [in Washington, D.C.]." The Raiders love this kid, and he could get legitimate playing time at receiver when and if he learns the offense.
OPINION/FACTOID THAT MIGHT BE INTERESTING ONLY TO ME: Raiders coach Jon Gruden was at the Napa 7-Eleven buying coffee this morning at 3:30. I think we can all assume it wasn't decaffeinated.
THE FOOD: Raids don't let media into the dining room, so I settled for a barbecue place down the road.
I have a weakness for barbecue and perhaps I am spoiled by the best barbecue sauce in the land -- Zardo's of Kansas City -- but watery, ketchupy sauce won't fool me. Too bad. It spoiled some pretty good meat.
Dear NFL Junkie:
Watching Gruden coach is worth the price of admission to Raiders training camp. Well, it's free, but you know what I mean.
There is no coach in the NFL as active, as loud and as involved in camp practices as Gruden. He still has the Eddie Haskell young-kid look to him, but there is nothing but infectious energy radiating from him, from the time the Raiders get out on the immaculate turf practice fields at the Marriott at 8:30 until the walk off after special-teams work at 11:05.
"Good start to the morning, men!" he yelled when the offensive linemen finished two turns apiece on the antique blocking sled.
"Attaboy, Tyrone!" he yelled to running back Tyrone Wheatley after he ran a drill well. "Boy, it's good to have him back this year."
"Let's go Anthony White !" he yelled to a rookie running back from Kentucky during a handoff drill. "You might actually like this drill!"
"Jon, you gotta be urgent with your eyes!" he said to running back Jon Ritchie, talking about selling play-action to the defense.
My favorite Grudenism happened late in a very warm practice. The offense was beat. They broke the huddle in an 11-on-11 scrimmage dispiritedly on one play, plodding to the line. That's when Mt. Gruden exploded.
"BREAK the huddle please!!" Silence. Back to the huddle. Ten seconds later, there is a crisp break of the huddle, everyone clapping hands.
This is why going to training camp is so great. You can see who's good and who's not, up close. You can see the coaches who have control of their teams. You can see rookies trying to make it, playing the hardest. You can see the James Jetts of the world -- veterans on the cutting edge -- busting their rears trying to hang on one more year.
Summer is a great time to have this job.
"Jon," I said to Gruden afterward, "you really get involved out there. You're not half-hearted about very much."
"Isn't practice better than the game?" he said to me.
For Gruden, it sure looks that way.
Check back soon for more Postcards from Camp. Next: Arizona (Monday)