Under center, McNown underachieves
Updated: Tuesday July 24, 2001 11:11 AM
This is the third in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.
Monday, July 23
Team: Chicago Bears
Site: The summer broiler known as the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Ever hear the line, "You can't get there from here?" To get here you have to jump on a commuter plane from Madison or Dubuque, Iowa, then drive a spell to reach this branch campus in far southwestern Wisconsin. Standing on the sidelines of Bears camp or hanging in anything but an air-conditioned car in Platteville, you get the ever-present whiff of manure. After all, it's farm country.
Five observations from practice that you just can't get anywhere else:
1. Very anonymous roster here. There's Cade McNown, Brian Urlacher and new arrival Ted Washington on the defensive line (the latter looking as if he should drop 20). After that, and this is a strange thing to say about a team playing in Chicago, it's a pretty starless group.
2. Shane Matthews, from one practice, is simply more accurate than McNown. With Jim Miller out for a couple of weeks with a bum hammy, Matthews is getting an edge in the three-horse race for starting quarterback.
3. The Bears put in a longer chunk of practice than most clubs do on special teams.
4. Mike Brown, a second-year safety, should be a big star. He's rangy, physical and fearless.
5. Center Olin Kreutz is as feisty a practice player as there is. Do not get on his bad side. Prediction: Though Dick Jauron fines his players $500 for camp fights, Kreutz will be in one or two donnybrooks before the Bears break camp.
Opinion/factoid that might be interesting only to me: I saw 308-pound Chris Villarrial, in full practice uniform, squeeze into a Port-A-Potty (actually, an ABC Relief Station) at the end of the practice field. Strange sight. About as odd as flipping on the TV Monday morning and seeing George Stephanopoulos co-hosting Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer.
The food: Bad day in the lunch line. Cheeseburger topped with mushrooms on a homemade white roll, plus some soggily cooked carrots. Good burger, but I didn't get a good run at the line because of lunchtime interviews. Walking out, I did try the creamsicle frozen yogurt -- vanilla and orange sherbet, in a twist -- and that raises the Platteville grade to a C-plus.
Dear NFL Junkie ...
What a vicious, breath-taking hit I saw this morning. McNown steps under center for his first full-squad, full-pads scrimmage drill. He underthrows the first pass, to free agent Kaseem Sinceno. On the second pass, third-year wideout D'Wayne Bates comes across the middle on a 12-yard cross, and McNown overthrows him. Reaching for it, Bates is totally exposed, running full-speed. Flashing across from the other side is one of the league's best hitters, special-teams ace Larry Whigham. Whigham never slows. Whigham drives into Bates' shoulder pads, and the hit draws gasps from the crowd standing 20 feet off the sidelines. Bates' body goes ragdoll. His head snaps back. His shoulders snap back. His entire upper torso folds back in an instant, his butt jamming back against his heels; the collision is so violent that his legs don't have time to adjust. Bates collapses, and you think you've seen a horrible, career-ending injury. Luckily, he's OK -- shaken up, woozy, but OK. And the hit livens up practice. Offense versus defense takes on some anger.
"Hey!" screams tight end Fred Baxter. "We got pads on too, g--damn it!" To which a defensive voice snaps: "Shut up, man! Just take it!"
After practice, McNown finds Bates.
"My fault," McNown says. "I feel awful. I'll never put you in that position again."
Postscript: Two plays later, McNown underthrows a wounded-duck bomb to Sulecio Sanford. It is not a good debut for McNown, and one writer standing on the sidelines gets off the line of the day: "Guess Wakefield's pitching today."
Next up: Green Bay Packers
Check back soon for more of Peter King's Postcards from Camp.