No time to whine in Napa
This is the 12th in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.
Wednesday, Aug. 8
Team: Oakland Raiders
Site: The Marriott Hotel in Napa, Calif., just down the road from some of the greatest vineyards in the world. Watch practice in the morning, sip Mondavi Merlot in the afternoon. (I didn't do that. Honest. I'm really working here. Oh, it's a grind. You can't believe how hard I'm working. And if you hear that "Peter King from CNNSI.com" snuck over to the Red Sox-A's game in Oakland -- just because the Red Sox are my guys and I like baseball -- I can tell you that must have been some other Peter King from CNNSI.com. No, I'm working too hard to even think of having any fun at all. And by the way, that's some glorious Red Sox career Bret Saberhagen is having, isn't it?)
Five observations from practice that you just can't get anywhere else:
1. At Wednesday morning's 10-minute workout (first half in pads, second half in shorts and shirts), the nicest throw I saw came from Marques Tuiasosopo, who lofted a gorgeous 20-yard soft touchdown pass to Alex Van Dyke in the corner of the end zone. Tuiasosopo throws a beautiful ball, and he throws it effortlessly. I bet the Raiders have a keeper there.
2. I am amazed that Napoleon Kaufman retired and no one said much. I mean, the guy had 14 career rushing games of 100 yards or more, he was just 27, and to watch him was to watch a slightly smaller Bo Jackson, I always thought. He retires, and it's like, who cares? Kaufman left, as it turns out, because he didn't love the game. He loved the ministry, and now he's working for God, not Al Davis. (They are not the same, you know.) "Some people just have a different calling in life," Jon Gruden told me. "He was 27. Twenty-seven! And what a player, when he wanted to be. But I tip my hat to the kid. All you can do is grow up and do something you're passionate about, and now he's doing it. I sort of knew something was up last offseason when I saw him and he looked awful. He weighed 155, 158. He'd lost a bunch of weight. Turns out he'd been fasting as part of his faith." (Kaufman played at 185 in 2000.)
3. Raiders Reclamation Society, rookie roster, 2001: Reggie Barlow, Eric Bjornson, John Bock, Andrew Glover, Yatil Green, Jon Harris, Terry Kirby, Eric Metcalf, Darren Mickell, Ryan Phillips, Shar Pourdanesh, Jerry Rice, Van Dyke.
4. No one asked me, but I say Joe Nedney, who is kicking for Tennessee this year after getting booted by the Raiders when they drafted Sebastian Janikowski last year, will be more efficient and score more points than Janikowski in 2001.
5. Al Davis is here, seeing everything, watching his troops lift weights and talking to Jerry Rice after practice about footwork on pass routes. And seeming absolutely undaunted. He is still bitter over what he considers the light penalties handed to the 49ers and Steelers for violating the salary cap, and he doesn't like how the league went about suspending Darrell Russell, testing him near the CBA's monthly maximum and then suspending him when he was late taking a recent test.
Opinion/factoid that might be interesting only to me: As the defensive huddle broke before the first 7-on-7 snap of the morning, this shout came in unison from the 11 defensive players: "Tupac lives!" Wow. I really am out of it.
The food: Sorry again. I am in a food slump. I didn't eat lunch. Interviewed and wrote instead. I had the sesame chicken at a Wok Bowl, or some such nearby place. Believe me, it was not worth reviewing.
Dear NFL Junkie ...
Backup cornerback Brandon Jennings lined up in single coverage in a full-pad scrimmage drill this morning against Jerry Rice, split wide right. Rich Gannon took the snap from center. Rice stutter-stepped, shook his hips, and sprinted down about 10 yards. Then he stutter-stepped again, turned, and broke for the right sideline. Gannon threw just as Rice broke. And here came Jennings, hustling and straining and diving, and he got his right hand in to slap away the ball, maybe 12 inches from Rice's midsection. Great play, I told him, one of the best I've seen on my camp tour.
"Thanks," Jennings said afterward.
"Did you know," I asked him, "that you were six the day Jerry Rice was drafted by the 49ers?"
"Wow," said Jennings, who turned 23 on July 15. "I know I always picked him in Nintendo when I used to play. When I was 10, 12 years old, and through high school, I'd watch him and want to be like him."
"What's it like to play with him now?"
"An honor," he said. "The first few days, I wanted to see how his speed is, and I wanted to see how he ran his routes. Let me tell you, he's still got it. He's really good. I was nervous at first, but you can't be that way and play out here. I'm in a situation where I'm on the bottom of the totem pole and he's on top, and I have to prove I can play with him."
That's one of the great things about training camp. Doesn't matter if you're the biggest star or the 80th player on the roster. You'll be tested at some point against the best on the team, and the video eye in the sky will record the moment for posterity, and if you make enough of those plays, all of a sudden you won't be in obscurity anymore. In Jennings' case, he'll be in the nickel package.
Next up: San Diego