After a brief hiatus, we’re back in business for our usual Sunday swing through the NFL. Hey, sorry! Vacation called. Anyway, expect this to continue through the season, as we look at nine random things going on. This week, as you’d expect, it’ll be material taken from our Lake Tahoe Trip.
What’s been up?
1. Falcons coach Mike Smith spent the latter part of the 2011 season getting criticized for his propensity to go for it on fourth down. There was the early one against the Saints. Then two against the Giants. I liked every call, honestly, since you have a chance to win it with your productive offense and not give the ball back. What I think doesn’t matter. I wondered if Smith had re-thought his strategy. Nope.
“I think the decision was the right decision,” Smith told me, speaking about the move against the Saints. “Maybe the play-call and the execution would be something that we’d want to do a little bit differently. Obviously, when they don’t work, you’ve got to look at a number of factors of why the play wasn’t successful. But in terms of going for it on fourth down, it’s very important that you have a mindset that the team knows you’re going to be aggressive. You gotta be aggressive in this league. Most games come down to three or four plays and you don’t want to leave a play you could’ve kept on the field in your pocket.”
2. Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick takes a lot of optimism with him into camp at Rochester, N.Y. But it’s not just because the team went shopping in the offseason and came back with Mario Williams. It’s also because Buffalo hired QB coach David Lee, one of the more respected gurus around. He’s been re-tooling Fitzpatrick’s mechanics in his usual demanding way. As he told me this week, Fitzpatrick is pumped about it. He’s noticing a difference in a bunch of ways. “I’ll tell you what, it’s helped out my golf game,” Fitzpatrick told me. “He always uses golf analogies. I shot a 79 (Wednesday) which is good for me. But the biggest thing with what he’s taught me is that a lot of it is lower body. He’s not trying to change my throwing motion, he’s not trying to change a lot of the stuff that comes natural to me. A lot of it’s foot placement, making that muscle memory. It’s hard to change throwing angle and the way that I throw just because I’ve done that my whole life. But I think the footwork part of it is something that’s really going to help me. … Going into the season, consistency is the big thing. Being able to play at that high level all year.”
3. The way the Packers season ended last year wasn’t pretty. An ugly loss to the Giants sent them home early and ruined a dream season. That was months ago. But, as LB A.J. Hawk told me, they haven’t forgotten. “You never forget it,” Hawk said. “It’s tough to not have that in the back of your mind to drive you. I mean, everyone has a million reasons why you’re motivated, but it’s something. We know we kinda wasted a big opportunity. Had such a great year, and it goes to show you, it didn’t matter. If you’re not peaking at the right time, that can happen. It definitely reminded us how tough it is to win the Super Bowl.” QB Aaron Rodgers did his best to turn the page. “It’s a different feel. We’re going to be focused on one goal. Thirty-two teams enter camp with a goal of going to the Super Bowl and winning it.“
4. One thing about Vikings DE Jared Allen is that he’s honest. Even more so than you’d even expect. We learned that yesterday. Allen flashed more of the same traits when I asked if he’s looking forward to training camp. Um, he’s 30. He’s been through a million of these. What do you think? “Not so much,” Allen laughed. “Actually this year, we’re at camp three weeks. I don’t know what Coach (Leslie) Frazier was thinking, keeping us away from our families this year. But yeah, starting to have flashbacks.” Clearly, he was joking. He said the whole thing with a smile. But he did sound like he’d like the offseason to continue. “Unfortunately, every year, it goes by faster and faster. This year was the fastest. This offseason went by even faster, it’s one of those things where, I really don’t want to go but I have to.”
5. Rodgers was in town all week, keeping a relatively low profile for a Super Bowl MVP. He seemed very pleased to fade into the background, though it didn’t happen completely. With a bunch of other QBs there, including Cowboys QB Tony Romo, I wondered if the passers commiserated and shared secrets. “It’s mostly non-football,” Rodgers said. “There’s a respect between the quarterbacks in the game. And there’s always some bragging rights that occasionally go along with this (golf) tournament, so you’re trying to beat the other guys. Tony’s kind of exempt because he’s better than all of us by far. He’ll probably win this thing this week. The rest of us are always trying to beat each other.” Don’t think they aren’t competitive. Yup, they are keeping score.
6. In news that probably doesn’t surprise you, pretty much all of the random celebrities are big football fans. Pitcher David Wells loves the Chargers, Hockey player Jeremy Roenick loves the Patriots, etc. That means if the public is long-suffering, so are they. A bunch I talked to also liked random teams, too, which was weird. Wells also called himself a Redskins fan. Baseball player David Justice is a big Bengals fan… who also roots for the Patriots. “I’m a front-runner,” he said. Still, Justice’s heart is with the Bengals. “I played football as a kid growing up, so I love all three sports,” Justice said. “I’m from Cincinnati, the Bengals are my favorite team, they always will be my favorite team. I’ve taken a beating for a number of years. But that’s OK, because when they finally win a Super Bowl, you will remember I told you that. Hey, I love football. I’m an offensive coordinator right now for my son’s 12-year-old team. I live for it. The best season is football season. I live for football season and it’s about to start again.” Thankfully.
7. Teams spend all OTAs and minicamp with their teams, and you’d think they can’t help but draw conclusions. In my mind, I feel like I know what a lot of teams will look like. A ton of the players I spoke with took a different view. Pretty much no one knows what to expect. Take Cowboys WR Miles Austin, for example. I asked if this Cowboys team is better equipped than in recent years to break a playoff drought. “I can’t really … again, that’s tough to judge,” Austin said. “It would be tough to judge. Now, it’s July 17 (when we spoke) and we haven’t even gotten in. We haven’t practiced yet, played in actual games. For me to throw out a speculative dart, would be asinine on my part. But I feel like as a team, we’re competing. We’re working hard at those are the things you need to do to be effective in games and compete in games and that’s what we’re trying to do.” Um … OK. It’s like those workouts never happened. But it also helps you start anew in camp, I guess.
8. I wrote about the Broncos a bunch this week, focusing on executive VP John Elway’s search for balance. Still, so much of the focus will be on Peyton Manning, his new QB. And the expectations will be high. Really high. I wondered if Elway cared about that, if what the world figured his team would accomplish weighed on him. Nah. For a good reason. “I really don’t care about the expectations, because of what my expectations are and what we want to do as a team and as an organization,” Elway told me. “The expectation that (owner) Pat Bowlen has on us is to compete for world championships. And so, all the other expectations really don’t matter. Because our expectations are higher than all those others. We want to be able to compete for world championships.“
9. I can’t lie, I’m pretty amped for this week. On Wednesday (for me, at least), it all gets going. I’ll be heading out to camps beginning with, I think, Cowboys. I expect at least one trip to the West Coast (maybe the 49ers & Chargers) and then who knows? It should be a whirlwind, my first experience doing a training camp tour. Since I like the traveling part (except about being away from The Banktress, of course), that facet will be fun. But the best thing is that there is no better way to learn a team than from up-close. To meet the people, see the new players, understand what they are trying to do. The goal is to have the gist of the league by the end … and to eat some good and random food. We won’t forget that.