Work in Sports
A veteran's Cardinal rules
This is the 11th in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training-camp tour.
Monday, July 31
TEAM: Arizona Cardinals
SITE: The athletic facilities at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff (elevation 7,000 feet) are bucolic, with pine-tree-lined practice fields in the long shadow of the San Francisco Peaks. It's cooler here than almost any camp in the league, though the mercury was in the high 80s.
PLAYER I SAW WHOM I REALLY LIKED: Running back Thomas Jones, the Cards' first-round pick, darted into a hole twice Monday morning at a spirited workout. And at the point where it looked like he'd get squashed like a squirrel in the road (a Jimmy Johnson phrase, not mine), he juked right with his shoulders and went left with his legs. Terrific moves, leaving a safety in the dust both times. This is an impressive-looking kid who, at 21, seems mature beyond his years. "He's been here a couple of weeks," Cardinals GM Bob Ferguson told me, watching practice on Monday, "but he has a veteran's demeanor. This is no average rookie." Fantasy football note: If Michael Pittman is healthy, he'll start over Jones. I say that lasts a month.
OPINION/FACTOID THAT MIGHT BE INTERESTING ONLY TO ME: The average size of Arizona tackles L.J. Shelton and Anthony Clement: 6-7, 351. Clement looks like a Rocky Mountain top.
THE FOOD: I'm dying for a good cup of joe up here. But on to the lunch:
celery and carrots (with lite Italian) ... A
What a feast. Some of the players are grousing here because the nutritionist has taken away rich desserts, ice cream and soda. They're nuts. I have not seen a better training table on my travels so far, though the Giants' is right up there. The raspberries with yogurt thing was so good -- and I just had to finish it -- that I was almost late for my interview with Jake Plummer. Priorities, priorities.
Dear NFL Junkie:
Just one note before I take you onto the practice field at Northern Arizona University:
Do not -- I repeat, do not -- ever get on a 16-seat airplane for a trip from Phoenix to Flagstaff in a dust storm, with lightning clearly visible in the distance.
I did it Sunday night.
And let's just say, about 20 minutes into this ping-pong tournament of a flight, that I wished I'd taken nine Dramamines before I got on that little tube.
But I'm alive. In a town, apparently, that does not believe in latte because I sure couldn't find one. A good one, anyway.
After the two-hour-plus morning workout, all the veterans went in. Except one. Veteran long-snapper Trey Junkin stayed out for 20 minutes to work with Tywan Mitchell and Sekou Sanyika, two rookies who will play critical roles on special teams. And then Junkin ran five 50-yard sprints with them. Interesting. The 39-year-old veteran of 18 seasons hanging with kids almost young enough to be his sons. I asked him why.
It took him a minute to get it out. Have you ever tried to have a conversation right after you've run sprints at 7,000 feet? Didn't think so. It's not pretty.
"I'm helping them ..."
"... because they're going to help us ..."
"... win a game this year."
Huff. Deep huff.
"When I came into this league 18 years ago, the veteran helped coach the rookies. You saw it all the time. That's what I'm doing. You know, your position coach can be a great coach, but sometimes you don't get everything from a position coach the way you should. So if a veteran helps a rookie, sometimes the message gets across a little clearer. Basically, I'm reinforcing what [special teams coach] Hank Kuhlman wants done."
Then Junkin got adamant. Surprisingly so.
"These are MY players, MY teammates. They are important, very important, to the success of this team. And so they are important to me."
Interesting stuff. There are so many little tributaries of stories and information at a training camp.
Check back soon for more postcards from camp. Next: Pittsburgh