As we do every week, let’s take a swing around the NFL, looking at a bunch of random things …
So, what’s been up?
1. Is there a better place to start than the New York Jets? Oh, and for a spoiler alert, we’re not talking about Tim Tebow right off the bat. So… you might not be interested. But anyway, we’ll talk about the Jets issues at right tackle. What a mess. Wayne Hunter, who the coaches praised all offseason, was benched after two horrific performances in preseason games. Duh. Even he said, “I was waiting for it.” I imagine this makes for a bit of an awkward time for OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo, who said this spring that until they kick him out of the building or “until they shoot me dead in my office, that son of a gun is going to be the starting right tackle and he’s going to play well.” Sounds like none of that is happening. Instead, it’s going to be somebody named Austin Howard from Northern Iowa. Of course, this raises significant questions. I have many of ’em.
Like… How can you praise Hunter so publicly and effusively, when you know what he is? That’s not giving him confidence, because he knows what he is, too. He’s a third tackle. Even Hunter, listening to it, had to know it was garbage. I don’t see NFL players responding well — or raising their level of play — with mind games that they know are fake. And this answer, inserting Howard, may help. But it’s not a long-term solution. If Howard was better than Hunter, he’d have been in there in the first place. Remember, there wasn’t a right tackle competition. It was Hunter’s job, until it wasn’t. I asked a high-ranking personnel guy in the league who the Jets could trade for at right tackle. His answer? “No clue.” Me either. There’s no Bryant McKinnie floating around this year, which doesn’t bode well for the Jets. Oh, and one more thing. GM Mike Tannenbaum, who has done an excellent job building the Jets over the past few years, is starting to come under criticism. Guaranteeing Hunter $2.5 million this year doesn’t look good, neither does not targeting a tackle in the draft or free agency. The lack of attention at receiver looks bad, too. Tannenbaum has done so much for the Jets. I wonder if — in NY especially — a tough 2012 could undo it all.
2. Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green had a big rookie year in 2011, shining almost immediately. As NFL-ready as he appeared at Georgia, he was more than that with Cincy. Yet Green, as he told me earlier this week while I was working on this story, wants more. While gaining 1,057 yards, Green mostly played just one position. This year, he wants to play them all, and don’t be surprised when you see him all over the place. “Just learning to play multiple positions, moving around and learning the playbook a little more,” Green said, describing his goals. “I did it a little bit towards the end of the year. But with the lockout and everything, we didn’t really have much time to go over everything like that. But towards the end of the season when I comfortable at a lot of positions, we moved around a lot.” It has taken more studying, and Green spent an increased amount of time with QB Andy Dalton during OTAs and minicamp watching film, trying to figure it all out. Now, when he’s moved around, he can feel the more advantageous matchups. “Definitely because they couldn’t just key on me at one position,” Green said. “I was in the slot a lot, doing a lot of quick screens, and then just little stuff like that. Definitely when I moved around, see more different matchups, I’m getting open a little bit more.”
3. I thought former NFL OL LeCharles Bentley had an interesting point when we discussed the rehabilitation for former first-round draft pick Jeff Otah. He was talking about getting Otah better and getting him ready to play this season, at some point. And he pointed out how many nagging injuries Otah had struggled with, most of which revolved around his knees. Yet first, physical rehab wasn’t the deal. Before all of that, Bentley targeted the mental aspect. “(Otah has had) nothing what you would consider a catastrophic injury. It’s just been nagging, chronic issues,” Bentley said. “When you start looking at nagging, chronic issues, you have to always look at the root of those issues. And he’s fortunate enough to now be in the situation where he can address the root of those issues and hopefully they’ll get resolved.” My understanding is that Bentley meant fixing what’s going on in Otah’s noggin, first. Help him deal with the mental part of playing through injuries and how to keep going when it hurts. That, it seems, is the root. It’s kind of a skill, and one that Otah has lacked. Ask those in Charlotte, and they’ll never talk about him fighting through his variety of ailments. Because he didn’t. Thriving when all is not going well is on Otah’s to-do list. If he can handle it, a comeback might be coming.
4. I’ve made no secret about how much I think of Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. I think he’s going to really improve that franchise, really teach them how to win, and I think he’ll do it quickly. And this week, while the Patriots and Bucs held joint practice, we got to hear one more reason why. Example A1 is Devin McCourty, the Patriots Pro Bowl corner who went to Rutgers under Schiano. He got to reunite with his old coach, and when asked about why Schiano will be successful in the NFL, McCourty explained. “I wasn’t a guy that had any other offers, I only had Rutgers,” McCourty said. “Even with that being said, he was always trying to change the program around with the right things and was all about winning and being competitive.” Rutgers, a place that’s impossible to recruit to, has a ton of guys like McCourty. Unrecruited, undersized, fairly raw… and they become NFL players. I can’t imagine a school with their lack of cache turning out so many late-rounders and free agents who stick on rosters. Schiano just taught them how to play. “He (ran) things like an NFL team,” McCourty said. “When I got to the NFL I was like, ‘You know, he was right.’ ” All of this bodes well for the Bucs this year. The fact that they cleaned out some riff-raff in the locker room helps, too. Because Schiano isn’t for everyone. But if you want to learn, he’ll teach you.
5. I can’t help but think the Maurice Jones-Drew Saga is coming to a close. How do I know? Because he’s talking. And the Jaguars running back is openly saying that his best bet is to stay with Jags. Which, ya know, duh. But the fact that he’s saying it is important. MJD noted that he’s not ready to miss games yet, and while teams are calling the Jags for possible trades, it doesn’t sound like that’s happening, either. Ya know, I think there’s a slight misconception when these holdouts happen. The assumption is that there is no dialogue. But the fact that GM Gene Smith and MJD talk every other day means they are inching toward something. Oh, and hearing Jones-Drew say that he slightly admires owner Shad Kahn for speaking his mind is important, too. I just don’t see any other outcome besides Jones-Drew showing up within the next week, expressing his love for the game, his devotion to his teammates, and his displeasure with his deal, which will likely get looked at by the team if he finishes this year with them. The only problem… without training camp, he may not be good right away. And that’s going to make MJD look terrible. Only problem with holding out is, you still gotta show up and be yourself. Can he be?
6. I think I have a solution to the Cardinals QB saga. I’m no genius (clearly), but this just came to me. They can’t name a starter. They just can’t. Coach Ken Whisenhunt waited and waited for Kevin Kolb or John Skelton to emerge, and neither has. Really, they’re both kinda terrible in their own way. Kolb has flashes of competence, and that two-minute drive he led on Thursday night was a great example. Then, he’ll throw a bone-headed interception that will make you wonder if he’s even seeing the field. As for Skelton, he’s simply underwhelming. He rarely looks great, he’s inaccurate, but he makes (slightly) fewer mistakes. The Cardinals are likely waiting for some QB to shake loose from the QB tree when cuts are made, but is a team’s third-stringer really going to be your starter? Doubtful. That’s why Whisenhunt should continue the competition into the season. Alternate drives, alternate quarters. Don’t worry about them getting into a rhythm, because that’s not happening anyway. Just go with each go for a prescribed amount of time and see if one, finally, without the craziness of the preseason, emerges. Why not just pick one? Because players know. They value credibility. And simply going with a guy who hasn’t stood out over the other guy won’t buy value in the locker room. Players will know it’s not believable to say one guy has stood out.
7. A word of caution when looking at the preseasons by Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III… and maybe some reason to worry if you’re into the Dolphins (Ryan Tannehill) and the Browns (Brandon Weeden). You see, Luck and Griffin have impressed through three games in the preseason, and both were solid when they played each other yesterday. Luck has gone 39 of 64 (61 percent) for 514 yards with three TDs and two INTs through three games. RG3 has gone 20 of 31 (65 percent) for 193 yards with two TDs. And I don’t want to take anything away from that. But… these are definitely not the defensive coverages that they’ll see Week 1. The theory is that on offenses, the play-calling has to be most of what you got to stay on the field. You want your guys to get into a rhythm. On defense, it’s just the opposite. Essentially, you show nothing. Against the Rams, for instance, Luck saw two coverages — and the same one every third down. That’s far, far different from what he’ll see during the regular season. Expect both Luck, RG3, and the rest of the rookies to see head-spinning schemes in the first few weeks. Then, we’ll find out how ready they are. Because if you look back, rookie QBs have often impressed in the preseason. It’s the carryover that’s important.
8. I think this may be outing myself as a nerd, but I am l legitimately interested in how coaches handle the preseason. OK, make your jokes now. Cool? Anyway, when I covered the Patriots, and Bill Belichick was doing wacky things, I always wanted to know why. Play your starters in the fourth preseason game after having them go deep into the third, but not play the second — why? Stuff like that. Well, I think the Rams way of doing things under Jeff Fisher is interesting. Actually, I kinda like it. Fisher doesn’t view the third game as a dress rehearsal. He plays his starters a little bit, tinkers and does things like play backup RB Isaiah Pead with the first OL, and then has then gets them outta there. The starters, under Fisher, will play in the fourth preseason game, though. The idea is that the layoff from the third preseason game is so long that players get rusty. That’s forever. So, play them in the fourth game and keep them sharp. The only downside is that players who are injured get only a week to recover before the opener. But sounds like that’s a risk Fisher is willing to take.
9. The Cowboys defense is starting to look good. Really good. No points allowed against the Raiders. No points allowed in the first half against the Chargers with the ones on the field. And then six points allowed in the first half against the Rams. Rob Ryan said the familiarity would be better in the second season, and he was pretty psyched about having the time to slow it down and really teach. Well, they are showing it. Against the Rams, it looked like the first time they really let loose a bit, showing what they’ll show during the season as far as blitzes. And the CBs covered, the LBs blitzed, and the Rams were in trouble. “I think I am impresed that the M.I.s, mistakes, have been minimized,” owner Jerry Jones said. “I know the schemes that we’re playing and what we’re trying to do defensively, I was really interested in what we would be like (Saturday). We haven’t have many (mistakes) in the first two games, and we didn’t have many (Saturday). That was good to see.” The Cowboys will not be perfect on offense, and the injuries haven’t helped. The offensive line will be leaky, at least to start. Who knows if the receivers are healthy. But this is the forgotten thing. Last year, they had a porous defense. Wanna bet they won’t this year? This’ll keep the Cowboys in every game. “We’re very confident in what we do,” CB Brandon Carr said.