As we do every week, let’s take a swing through the NFL to see what was going on during one of the last weeks of football before the summer.
So, what’s been up?
1. I spent a few days watching the Cowboys this offseason, including two days this week. There is a lot to like about this team (as is the case every year around this time), but I feel like I’ve found the thing Dallas fans should be most excited about: Dez Bryant. I know, I know, you’ve been waiting for this for a while. Yet you’ve heard more about his off-the-field issues (money problems, jewelry) than his on-the-field stuff. But man, he has looked excellent this spring. The highlight to me was on Tuesday when he made a ridiculous, one-handed catch while leaping and falling backwards. It was sick. C.O.O. Stephen Jones told KESN-FM Radio this week that he wants Bryant to be the No. 1 receiver. “He needs to be,” Jones said. I completely agree. Looks like he’s getting there, though he did have an underratedly good year last year.
2. There is still so much talk about teams hitting and how much has gone on during these minicamps and what is permissible and all of that. I guess in the first year of the new OTAs and minicamp rules, that’s just reality. But shouldn’t the difference be clear? I don’t really buy how teams pretend they don’t get what’s legal and what’s not. If you’re a team doing a drill and it looks the same as it always does with pads on, it’s too much. If you have to wonder, is this legal, it probably isn’t. That said, just because a fight broke out with a defensive back and a receiver (or a pass-rusher and a quarterback), it doesn’t mean it’s against the rules. Tempers will flare. That’s what happens in competition. Players will always fight for a little advantage, even in meaningless practices. Guys will always try to go a little harder. I guess the onus falls on the coaches to know the difference between a hitting drill and one that just simulates it. That said, if anyone is penalized for activities this past week – and if they lose training camp practices – wanna bet they bring it down a notch next time?
3. It was a bit eye-opening to see Patriots coach Bill Belichick shock his team and cancel the final minicamp practice. A nice reward for his players after an intense offseason, especially surprising them the way he did. The Packers did something similar. And it’s all good. But it means one more thing: Coaches don’t think these practices are meaningful. Eagles coach Andy Reid wondered how much he can really get done without tackling, and it’s obvious others think the same way. You know Belichick. If he can gain an advantage, he’ll seize it. He must’ve figured there was no advantage to be gained during a no-pads, offseason workout. I make the point to say, think of this next time you draw conclusions based on these few weeks (even as I did it a few paragraphs ago). If a coach doesn’t think it’s important enough to actually make use of all the practices, how important are any conclusions drawn in them?
4. It was interesting to read this week that the Jets are leaning toward making their base defense a 4-3 look. More interesting is that DC Mike Pettine told the NY Daily News’ Manish Mehta, “We might not play a snap of base defense in a divisional game this year. If it’s five snaps a game, that’s probably a lot.” And Pettine wouldn’t be alone. The Patriots, for instance, play more sub looks than they do base looks. And it’s by a wide margin. I remember when Belichick got annoyed at the questions about becoming a 4-3 team last year, and it’s easy to understand why. No one plays the 3-4. No one plays the 4-3. You play a variety of conglomerations of defenses. In some nickel looks, you’re in three-man lines. In others, four-man lines. Labeling is fun (I like to do it, too), but it’s useless for defenses. Teams nowadays are essentially base nickel teams, anyway. Just ask a team that drafts a slot receiver or an inside corner in the first or second round. That’s a starter. We all just need to come up with a way to describe and differentiate between these defenses now under the assumption that most teams play nickel.
5. One thing that stood out for me from my day at Eagles camp was how insanely hard Michael Vick throws the ball. I mean, every single play. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been to a bunch of camps, and no one fires it on a play-by-play basis like he does. It really amps things up for the receivers. I asked him why he does that.
“That’s just me,” Vick said. “That’s the way I throw the ball in a game, I’m accustomed to throwing the ball and I’ve been throwing it that way since I’ve been young. These guys do a great job catching it. They’ve been able to hone in and make sure they keep two eyes on the ball and put two hands on it to make sure they secure the catch. That just comes from working out every day and working hard.”
6. You didn’t think you’d make it through one of these things without a Mike Jenkins update, right? No chance. Who better to discuss than the disgruntled Cowboys CB? While Jenkins was at minicamp, he didn’t communicate much (if at all) with the team, despite what they say publicly. He was just kinda there, doing his rehab, but being a wallflower. Jenkins’ frustration (which I completely understand, by the way) was evident throughout the week. And when minicamp ended, it didn’t get much better. The Cowboys had a lunch for players and families on the club level following the last minicamp workout. Not a big thing, but just a nice gesture. Jenkins attended for, oh, one minute. As soon as he could, I’m told, Jenkins bounced. He headed out the door and back home, while his teammates and their families mingled. Nothing major… just one more example of him not wanting to be there.
7. No surprise in this one… but Dolphins TE Anthony Fasano said what I bet a lot of his teammates were thinking this week. He told SIRIUS radio that he “wasn’t too thrilled” about appearing on Hard Knocks, and that the announcement was met with a lot of groans in the team’s meeting rooms. Duh. The entire experience takes an already stressful training camp and puts it on blast. Everything is up for grabs now, and anyone who cherishes privacy has watched it go out the window. Hard Knocks can do crazy things to a team, and Fasano sounds like he’s bracing for it. So, that kinda sucks for him. But — I mean this nicely — too bad. For the individual players, it’s not fantastic. But for the franchise, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It’ll take a recently under-the-radar, kinda lame franchise and make it national again like the Dolphins used to be. So, it may be annoying for players. But in this case, they should literally take one for the team. Their franchise needs it for their PR purposes.
8. I must be missing something in Cleveland. There must be a piece of this story that I simply don’t understand. It’s cool that they drafted QB Brandon Weeden in the first round, if that was the highest rated player on their board. And they think he’s a starter already? Fine. But why the mad dash to trade Colt McCoy? Why the willingness to ditch McCoy for a very low price, as ESPN Cleveland describes it? In his two-year career, McCoy has been absolutely mediocre on an awful team with no weapons.His career passer rating is about 74, he has 20 touchdowns to 20 interceptions, and he completes 58 percent of his passes. Not Canton-worthy. But not God awful, either. Totally average. Some teams would kill for a backup like that… or even a starter. Were his dad’s (correct) comments last year really that bad? Is the team that sensitive? Guess so. Because if they are seeking just a late-round pick for a capable backup (at the very least), why not just hold onto him? Maybe he’s been divisive, which is possible. Maybe they just want to turn the page. But if they do and Weeden gets injured, they’ll be kicking themselves. The Browns should suck it up and keep him.
9. Well, last week of minicamps before the summer. Man, it’s been a long season. A great one and a fun one, but a long one. I’m back in Minnesota on Tuesday for minicamp, then who knows? The Vikings, by the way, push back minicamp a week to get better weather. Anyway, I may hit one more place, may be done until training camp with travel. It’s really a good news, bad news kinda deal. It’s nice to have some time off. But having football to cover is great. So, Minnesota will be fun… then it’s time to start gearing up for training camp. And then the season is around the corner, and then more craziness. A lot to look forward to, to be sure.