NFL Nation: camps 073109
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Thought I'd pass along a few thoughts after scanning the division following the first day of full-squad practices for the Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals:
- Reporters in St. Louis were razzing coach Steve Spagnuolo for running an easier first day than anticipated. Players were in shorts and shells. Spagnuolo promised a tough camp, but that doesn't mean he'll stage a slugfest every day.
- The atmosphere at Cardinals camp in Flagstaff is far more lively than in past seasons. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he remembered maybe 80 fans showing up for his first camp practice two years ago. There were at least a couple thousand this time. I had trouble hearing defensive coordinator Bill Davis following the afternoon practice because fans were chanting Larry Fitzgerald's name as the all-world receiver approached. Great atmosphere.
- Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones appeared lean and moved well in his first practice back from knee surgery, according to reporters I spoke with following practice. Patrick Kerney and Deion Branch also looked good. One day doesn't mean a whole lot, but those are encouraging signs. On the flip side, Marcus Trufant's back trouble might be minor, but missing the first day of practice following an extended layoff caught my attention.
- The 49ers won't practice until Saturday. Players are expecting lots of fully padded practices. We'll see if coach Mike Singletary follows through. Injuries will happen either way, but if Singletary runs an overly physical camp and the team loses key players, the coach will shoulder blame, fairly or not.
SAN ANTONIO -- The Cowboys only held one practice Friday, but it was a lengthy one and several players stood out. Wide receiver Roy Williams had his best practice by a long shot. He made several contested catches, and he and Tony Romo did a nice job of adjusting routes based on what the coverage dictated. I'm about to catch a flight back to Dallas, but here's a quick report of what took place on Day 3 of Camp Wade:
- Williams looked like a legitimate No. 1 receiver for the first time since he's arrived in Dallas. In team drills, second-year cornerback Orlando Scandrick tried to jam Williams at the line of scrimmage. Williams threw a forearm in Scandrick's direction and then made a nifty catch on the sideline. With each passing day, Williams looks much more comfortable in the Cowboys' offense. All the work that he put in with Romo in the offseason appears to be paying off. He's also bringing a lot of enthusiasm to practice, and there's some really nice give and take between the receivers and defensive backs right now. On a stutter-and-go route during 9-on-7 drills, Williams got some good separation on Scandrick. But I like the fact that Scandrick always wants to challenge Williams. He certainly doesn't shy away from the competition.
- Since some of you guys have asked about veteran linebacker Keith Brooking quite a bit, I decided to focus on him today. He looked solid in coverage, but what impressed me was the way he filled the gaps in the running game. When Felix Jones or Tashard Choice tried to cut back, Brooking was waiting on them. He appears to be a very instinctive player who has a good grasp of Wade Phillips' defense. Zach Thomas has been a great player in this league for a good while, but it's already obvious that Brooking is a better fit at inside linebacker. He and Bradie James seem to be doing a really nice job communicating, and that's made things relatively easy for them.
- Friday was a really rough day for Jon Kitna. He couldn't muster a lot of strength on the deep ball, and he just seemed to be pressing throughout the practice. Before today, he'd really been throwing the ball well. He just seemed loose with his throws all afternoon, and his timing with the receivers was off. Part of that's understandable since folks like Mike Jefferson and Kevin Ogletree don't always look certain about their routes.
- Wade Phillips continued to call out players for making mistakes in team drills. When Kyle Kosier had a false start, there was no hesitation in taking him out. Montrae Holland came jogging in, and Kosier had to go stand by offensive line coach Hudson Houck. Have I mentioned how worried you should be about the backup offensive linemen on this team?
- Alan Ball is an unheralded cornerback in his second year out of Illinois, but he constantly makes plays in practice. If a running backs comes through the hole a little bit high, Ball's waiting to smack them. He's also doing a really nice job of anticipating routes. I don't know if he'll make this roster, but he can certainly play in this league. He just looks so much more mature in recognizing plays in this camp.
- When he wants to, Flozell Adams can be a dominant left tackle. He gave the great DeMarcus Ware fits in one-on-one drills. But when the team lined up to run sprints at the end of practice, Adams ran out of steam before anyone and had to finish by walking.
- Tough day for rookie cornerback Mike Mickens. As my former colleague Tim MacMahon from DallasNews.com pointed out, Mickens was doing "lots of turning and chasing" in the afternoon session. He's obvioulsy got some ability, but he's biting on a lot of fakes right now. He's pressing a lit bit, but I think he'll settle down. I also think he could be a solid contributor on special teams.
- Love the energy that former Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Williams brings to practice, but the man has to get in the weight room. His bull-rush is pretty weak right now. But with his quickness and motor, he has a chance to be successful in this league.
- I've found someone that reserve offensive tackle Pat McQuistan can block. His name is Steve Octavien and he played at Nebraska. Octavien's a pretty active player, but he's pretty raw as a pass-rusher. McQuistan, who was completely overwhelmed for most of Thursday's sessions, was solid against the young Octavien.
- Romo hit tight end Jason Witten on a beautiful pass up the seam. He dropped the ball over linebacker DeMarcus Ware's outstetched arm, and Witten took off for a "touchdown."
- Non-football note. Do not read if you are offended by non-football opinions: I'm still trying to recover after the Rangers decided not to make a move at the deadline. Perhaps they got too caught up in pursuing Roy Halladay and forgot that the Pirates were willing to deal pretty much anyone on their "big-league" club. Zach Duke anyone? It's just hard for me to stomach that Jon Daniels didn't do something to help this team in a pennant race.
- Surreal moment of the day came when Redskins executive director of football operations Vinny Cerrato asked me a question about Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson on Cerrato's radio show on ESPN 980. Did anyone hear that back and forth? They dropped me in midsentence. I was in the middle of a fascinating discourse on the life and times of Robert Brewster.
- If I had to pick a camp MVP at this point in training camp, give me Tashard Choice. He's a complete back who is very instinctive. Much quicker than I realized.
- I wasn't really familiar with former Florida State safety Jerome Carter's work before today, but he put a vicious hit on a Cowboys running back who was running a bit high through a hole. The hit brought a strong reaction from the Alamodome faithful. What a sad building that is.
- Before I got bored and walked away, Jerry Jones talked about his new "Party Pass" program at Cowboys Stadium for at least 20 minutes. He kept talking about something called a "Magnum Lodge" that he and his daughter Charlotte were really proud of. Could some of my archite
ctural experts weigh in on this topic?
- I can't wait to return to San Antonio next week and watch my man Victor Butler out of Oregon State. Strong start to camp for this guy. And I'm rooting for Stephen Hodge because I liked watching him at TCU. But he better get on the field at some point. It's not helping his cause one bit to remain on the sideline right now. As a famous man once said, "you can't make the club in the tub."
- Patrick Crayton is quietly having a nice camp. He's got the best hands on the team and he caught a deep ball from Tony Romo during one-on-one drills. Pretty impressive day for him. And yes, I'm still intrigued by Jesse Holley from "Fourth and Long." He runs really precise routes, which helps compensate for his lack of burst. He's a 4.6 guy, according to a popular scout who was sitting next to me during practice.
- My flight is "now boarding." Let's talk again tomorrow.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some quick thoughts out of the first practice of Titans training camp, which was not especially eventful.
First, the two things I tweeted (@espn_afcsouth):
- No contract for Kenny Britt meant the first round pick, a wide receiver, wasn't on the field. Chris Davis and Lavelle Hawkins got the additional work. No real indication of where negotiations stand except the standard optimism.
- Vince Young had a nice day, you'll find one detail about it below, and outperformed Patrick Ramsey by a good bit on the first day. If it's the start of a trend it'll be a good development, but let's not read a whole lot into a one day sampling of anything.
- Yes, LenDale White has kept the weight off. I would have thought he would have been in the locker room advertising the number, which could be under 230. White looks impressive.
- Speaking of running back size: I said during OTAs that I thought rookie Javon Ringer was not well-served by being assigned No. 3, which made him look too thin for the part of a physical back. He looks a lot better, honest, in his new No. 21.
- Kicker Rob Bironas was not in uniform, Jeff Fisher said he was going to be held out for a few days with a slight pull, then called it soreness that "is nothing to be concerned about." He declined to reveal a body part. Undrafted rookie A.J. Trapasso kicked during a field goal period and was unimpressive, but Fisher emphasized Trapasso is a punter first, a kickoff guy second and a place kicker third. If we don't have to be concerned about it, why does it have to be top secret?
- Bironas got bigger in the offseason and I know I risk some wrath here, but I have to be candid and say it's not all muscle.
- Hard not to find symbolism when Paul Williams, very likely on his last legs, drops the first pass thrown to him, in a period with quarterbacks and no defenders. Same result for undrafted rookie Dudley Guice. Later, Williams got scolded by offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. If the coach is making hand gestures about the course you should have taken as opposed to the one you took before you even get back to the line of scrimmage, that's not a good sign.
- Bud Adams watched some practice from the balcony off the second-floor executive office, which has a new awning to provide some shade. He pulled out binoculars to check out the action on the field furthest from him, where the main action happened to take place. Earlier in the day he reminisced about the AFL on a national media conference call.
- During receiver work, Nate Washington, Dominique Edison, Hawkins and Phillip Morris lined up on the left and Justin Gage, Davis, Williams, Mark Jones and Guice were on the right.
- Washington breaks down smoothly and makes sharp cuts. He did some coaching of Edison during the receivers' period alone with the quarterbacks. I want to see him run all out, which I haven't seen for myself yet.
- In seven-on-seven work, Chris Hope broke up a quick pass for Chris Johnson from Kerry Collins. Then Hope and Cortland Finnegan broke up a bullet of about 10 yards from Collins intended for Alge Crumpler, who was moving downfield. Hope topped things off by picking off a mid-range pass intended for Davis, also from Collins.
- No lineup surprises at all that I saw. Leroy Harris is at center for Kevin Mawae (elbow), who said he's start getting into the swing of things in two weeks and ideally needs a little preseason time but is concerned only with being ready for Sept. 10 in Pittsburgh. Tony Brown started off at right defensive tackle -- Albert Haynesworth's old spot -- next to Jason Jones.
- Young hit rookie tight end Jared Cook with a nice midrange pass up the left sideline over linebacker Colin Allred and was generally on target from the pocket and on the move.
- DeMarcus Faggins moved quickly to come from behind Gage, dive and break up a pass delivered from Young on the run
- It seemed like the offense didn't complete anything deep, which is always what a crowd wants to see. The first team defense flew around and clearly had the better day, picking up where it left off at the end of OTAs. But it was just one day.
- Check out Keith Bulluck on Twitter -- @kbull53. He's doing live chats with video, though Friday's was postponed: "No show this evening folks,got things 2 do @ work. Hopefully I get the kinks worked out b4 the next episode. Good day @ prac tho. I'll holla." He was being coy about it, and is clearly looking to grow his own thing without any advertising from an outlet like this one. Sorry Charlie.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- On Friday the AFC North blog got its first look at the Cincinnati Bengals during their 2009 training camp.
The team practiced in shorts and will not do any heavy hitting until the weekend. But here are some observations from Friday's practice:
|(AP Photo/Al Behrman)|
|Quarterback Carson Palmer will be watched closely in training camp.|
- Let's start with a little contract news. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said there was no update on the progress of contract talks with first-round pick Andre Smith, who was a no-show for the opening of training camp. Second-year player Anthony Collins worked with the starters at right tackle in place of Smith.
- Starting quarterback Carson Palmer remains on a pitch count, but it will be divided and monitored closely over both practices when there's two-a-days. During minicamp, Palmer threw in the morning session and shut it down for the evening practice. But the coaching staff wants the quarterback and the first-team offense to maintain a rhythm throughout the summer.
- As advertised, Bengals veteran safety Roy Williams worked with the first-team defense Friday ahead of Chinedum Nduwke. The two are locked in one of the better position battles on the team.
- Speaking of Williams, he made the play of the day in team drills with a pick six off Palmer. Receiver Jerome Simpson dropped a slant across the middle and had the football bounce off his chest and into the hands of a sliding Williams. The safety then popped up quickly to take the football the other way for a score.
- Receiver Chad Ochocinco was a crowd favorite Friday. One woman in the stands screamed "I love you, Chad!" Ochocinco turned to the fan, signaled his hand next to his ear and said "Call me."
- It's easy to tell that rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga is getting antsy for full contact. On several occasions Friday, Maualuga put forth extra effort in wrapping up ball carriers in what was expected to be a low-contact day. In particular, Maualuga laid a pretty good shot on an unsuspecting Chris Henry when the receiver caught the ball in his area. The coaching staff may have to work on toning down Maualuga's aggressiveness against his own team in practice this summer. But for the Bengals, it beats the alternative.
MANKATO, Minn. -- Some notes and observations after Minnesota's first set of two-a-day practices:
- Owner Zygi Wilf joined coach Brad Childress in saying the team won't revisit the possibility of signing Hewhoshallnotbenamed if the legendary waffler changes his mind about playing this season. "No, no," Wilf said. He added: "We realize, like he did, that when training camp came around that it was in or out and we're very happy with what we have here."
- After much offseason hoopla about his weight, tailback Adrian Peterson said he reported at 220 pounds. That's three pounds over his listed weight from last year, but trust me when I tell you he doesn't look fat. Peterson said in February that he wanted to weigh 230 pounds when the season began. "One thing I learned is not to talk about my weight. It's something that you'll hear about all summer. ... I feel like  is a pretty good weight if I can stay 220, in that range. I'm feeling good. I'm not feeling too heavy. I put on some good weight in the offseason."
- Rookie Phil Loadholt worked exclusively as the first-team right tackle throughout the day, while Ryan Cook split time between right tackle and center on the second team. Coach Brad Childress termed right tackle a "competition," but it seems pretty obvious who the prohibitive favorite is.
- The Vikings spent 25 minutes at the start of each practice working on special teams. That scheduling was notable coming after a season in which the Vikings gave up seven special teams touchdowns. It's not an unusual amount of time to spend on special teams, but its placement at the beginning of practice was symbolic -- at least to me.
Check back in a bit for a look at the day's happenings in the NFC North.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Cardinals practice is beginning as I type, so I'll make this quick before heading out. A few notes from around the division:
- The 49ers placed defensive end Ray McDonald on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He still counts on the 80-man roster, but he cannot practice because he hasn't passed a physical examination. The 49ers also released guard Matt Huners.
- The Seahawks are expected to make an announcement on Mike Wahle's future. Seattle is beginning its first training camp practice of the summer now. First-round choice Aaron Curry has not yet signed and I haven't heard any indications that a deal is imminent.
- The Rams are holding their first camp practice of the Steve Spagnuolo era Friday. I'll be interested to hear what kind of tone is being set.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
|Stephen Dunn/Getty Images|
|A healthy Robert Geathers should boost a Bengals pass rush that registered only 17 sacks in 2008.|
"Maybe October, or maybe November," Geathers said, unsure of the exact date. "So it's been a while."
Geathers suffered a severe knee injury on November 20 in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The injury resulted in microfracture surgery, which kept him out of all offseason workouts with the Bengals this spring.
But Geathers said he would make it back for the first day of training camp, and on Friday the sixth-year veteran was on the field getting reps with the first-team defense. Geathers seemed to move well and had decent explosion off the football in his first action in more than eight months.
"I feel good," Geathers said. "I'm free for the first day. I still got a ways to go to get my legs under me. But so far I don't think I'm that far off. We're still on schedule."
A healthy Geathers could be the missing link to the Bengals' defense.
Cincinnati, despite being ranked No. 12 defensively last season, recorded just 17 sacks in 16 games, which was tied for the second fewest in the NFL. Geathers had his best year in 2006 when he recorded 10.5 sacks, and it's an important year to see if he can return to form.
"Up front on the defensive line with me and Antwan Odom, we get paid to get to the quarterback," Geathers said. "So it's kind of embarrassing for us to only finish with 17 sacks [as a team]. For us to have a top-notch defense, getting to the quarterback is going to be a big key to that."
|Courtesy of Jay Feely|
|Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez chill.|
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- You gotta love Jay Feely.
I'd love to see your best suggestions for a caption in the comments section below.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald appears to be applying the sky-high standards he sets for himself to the Cardinals as a whole. The Pro Bowl receiver used the term "mediocre" to describe Arizona's record last season.
The comment followed a reporter's question asking Fitzgerald what coach Ken Whisenhunt said to the team Thursday night as players gathered for training camp. Quarterback Kurt Warner answered a similar question a bit later. I'll pass along their answers.
Fitzgerald: "Don't forget what happened last year, but use it as an example of how close we were able to get and the hard work that it took for us to get there. We need to start that early because last year we were not a good football team. Nine and seven, that's very mediocre. I mean, we feel as though we are a 10-win team and we need to go out there and accomplish that and show people that we can do it."
Warner: "I think his biggest message was really about the fact that the thing we have to overcome now is everybody saying we're a one-year wonder or the team that loses the Super Bowl, they're going to fail the next year, and the mindset that last year we weren't supposed to accomplish the things that we did because everybody said this about us and said that.
"And look what we did. We proved everybody wrong. That was his message going into this year. 'This is what everybody is saying, this is what everybody expects, but we know we can prove people wrong and accomplish it and exceed expectations and that is what we have to do this year.'"
Speaking to reporters after practice, Whisenhunt said there's a different feel at practice this summer. He senses players are more confident following the Super Bowl run. But he also agrees with Fitzgerald, to a degree, in that the Cardinals have much to improve.
Whisenhunt: "We haven't had sustained success. We were a 9-7 football team that won the divisoin and played our best football at the end of the year. We've got a lot to prove and I'm excited about our team doing that."
A question for NFC West fans: Would you take a 9-7 record for your team this season, or would you rather take your chances? I suspect a Rams fan might take 9-7. What about the others? The manner in which the Cardinals finished 9-7 -- after starting 7-3 -- didn't allow them to enjoy it as much, at least until the playoffs.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
NAPA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders continued their slow-motion beginning to training camp in Friday's morning session.
The practices are glorified walk-throughs. The coaching staff is emphasizing teaching. Thus, the practices are more of an extension of the offseason than training camp. The Raiders, who started to practice Thursday, will continue this teaching session twice a day through Sunday. The hitting portion of camp begins Monday.
After the morning session, Oakland coach Tom Cable said he wouldn't be surprised if his team is raring to go when it's time to hit Monday. Cable said several players are asking questions on the field and he sees great benefits coming from the sessions. Cable said he used the same approach as the head coach at the University of Idaho.
Some of the players were skeptical when they were told of the plan in a team meeting Wednesday.
"I was wondering about it, but I really like it," said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. "It's about learning. We're really figuring things out."
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly continued to have trouble with jumping offside Friday morning. He jumped offside three times Thursday and once Friday morning.
Receiver Javon Walker intrigued reporters Friday by saying he had an innovative medical procedure on his knee. Yet, he offered few details. Walker said he will reveal the details after he reaches the practice field, which he expects in a couple of weeks. Walker had offseason knee surgery.
MANKATO, Minn. -- One thing is clear about Tarvaris Jackson: He isn't pouting after an offseason in which his team nearly signed a new starting quarterback. Jackson was his usual even-keeled self as Minnesota took the practice field for the first time Friday morning. Afterwards, he insisted he had been through too many ups and downs in his short career to allow the Vikings' pursuit of Brett Favre to upset him.
|AP Photo/Jim Mone|
|Tarvaris Jackson's familiarity with the Vikings' offense has given him an edge over Sage Rosenfels.|
"I went through it last year," Jackson said. "It wasn't any different."
Indeed, the Vikings benched him after two games last season and named Gus Frerotte their permanent starter. Jackson eventually reclaimed the job after Frerotte injured his back, but the episode left Jackson and many other observers wondering whether he would ever develop into the Vikings' long-term starter.
I can't tell you that he is any closer to claiming that status after watching a typical Jackson performance Friday morning: A few ropes mixed in with some one-hoppers. But I can tell you Jackson has a sophisticated and, I think, accurate sense of where he stands with the organization: He knew he didn't have the team's full confidence before the Favre pursuit began, not because of it.
"It wasn't a celebration [when Favre declined the Vikings' overtures] as everyone was trying to make it," Jackson said. "I just want to come out here and work hard regardless of who is here."
The Vikings have been grooming Jackson since 2006, but injuries and poor performance have left him unable to complete a full NFL season. You'll be hard-pressed to find many people in the NFL who believe he can be a long-term starter, especially after coach Brad Childress -- his primary backer -- spent three months recruiting an alternative. Suddenly, Jackson is in the final year of his rookie contract and probably down to his last chance.
"He has some pretty good calluses built up," Childress said. "You get that way as a quarterback. It's high highs and low lows. And usually the highs aren't as high as the lows are low. But you've got to be able to take that as a quarterback. You know what? He does pretty well with that."
For what it's worth, I'd say Jackson has entered camp a bit ahead of competitor Sage Rosenfels, who still seems to be playing catch-up after arriving in a March trade. Receiver Bobby Wade said Rosenfels is "a slight step behind" because of Jackson's familiarity with the offense, and I think Rosenfels now understands that Minnesota's West Coast offense isn't as similar as he might have thought to the version he ran in Houston.
"A lot of the language is similar," Rosenfels said. "It would be like two people reading books. If it's in English, it's much easier to read and make sense out of it all. But there are a lot of differences, in my opinion, between this offense and the Houston offense."
Even Childress noted there is a bit of separation between the two from "the familiarity standpoint."
Said Childress: "Tarvaris has been through training camp and he has been through the installations more than Sage has. He probably has a little better understanding when we start, but Sage ... will get up to speed very quickly."
I'm heading out to the Vikings' second practice in a bit and then will bring you some non-quarterback thoughts -- and a division-wide roundup by early this evening.
NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert previews the upcoming season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Training camp at Northern Arizona University has a decidedly different feel now that the Cardinals are defending NFC champions.
What appeared to be 2,000 or more fans lined the fences and covered the hills along the two inhabitable sides of the lower practice fields. Perhaps 100 or 200 showed up for the first day of camp when Ken Whisenhunt took over as head coach before the 2007 season.
Winning changes everything.A few quick observations from the morning practice before I run over to the lunch area for Whisenhunt's and Kurt Warner's media sessions:
- Larry Fitzgerald extending one hand to snatch a pass from Brian St. Pierre along the sideline. He does it regularly, but it's still fun to watch, particularly when lesser-known receivers such as Edward Gant dropped similar passes when using two hands.
- Cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and sometimes Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie trying to play the ball physically, only to have Fitzgerald catch it anyway.
- Stephen Spach participating without obvious limitations after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL. The tight end situation is so wide open that Dominique Byrd could seriously challenge for a roster spot. I watched Spach engage a big defensive lineman during in-line blocking, without buckling. That would seem to count as a positive for him.
- Steve Breaston was the most sure-handed punt returner out there. Michael Ray Garvin muffed two. Gant muffed one. Breaston turned and ran about 10 yards before snatching one punt over his shoulder, Willie Mays-style.
- The Cardinals aren't trying to beat up one another out there. They practice in a controlled manner. They will hold relatively few grueling two-a-day sessions. This is a veteran team. No need to get anyone hurt.
- Byrd made a nice grab while back-pedaling along the right sideline, but he was unable to keep his balance to gain additional yardage.
- Breaston ran right through the offensive line drills while running a deep pass pattern. Someone could have gotten hurt. No one did.
- Nose tackle Alan Branch does appear to be in better shape. Let's see how he holds up through a full camp.
- As noted, the receivers played the ball aggressively. Jerheme Urban beat Ralph Brown to a contested ball. The receivers are the Cardinals' strength and you see it repeatedly during practice.
- Fulback Dan Kreider left the field briefly after appearing shaken up. I'll ask Whisenhunt about what happened. Didn't appear serious.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|The Buccaneers plan to bring rookie quarterback Josh Freeman along slowly.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
He's their future and maybe even their present. Keep that in mind as we recap the show the Bucs put on in their auditorium at the sparkling palace that is One Buccaneer Place.
It was short and sweet -- a press conference to announce that the Bucs would wear their orange jerseys from 1976 as part of a throwback promotion for the Nov. 8 game against Green Bay. They had current players Antonio Bryant, Gaines Adams, Barrett Ruud and Earnest Graham walk out on stage as models. They also showed a video of the early years of the Bucs. Understandably, it was very brief.
But there was one shining moment in the video. It came as No. 12 flashed by a couple of times.
That's Doug Williams, the only true franchise quarterback in Bucs history. Let's remember that because it relates directly to Freeman.
A lot of people prefer to forget the early Bucs years, when the team lost its first 26 games and was headquartered at a bunker right off an airport runway. So why bring out the orange and white -- even as a ceremonial gesture -- when the pewter has worked pretty well the last dozen years?
"The answer is simple,'' Bucs co-chairman Ed Glazer said. "This is our history. This is where it all started.''
Truly, it started in 1978 when the Bucs drafted Williams out of Grambling in the first round. Former owner Hugh Culverhouse told Williams he'd have to start off as a backup and earn his job as he handed the quarterback a contract that was below standards even at the time.
Then, coach John McKay turned around and handed Williams the starting job. Throwing Williams to the wolves worked. The Bucs came darn close to getting to the Super Bowl the next season.
|Takashi Makita/NFL/Getty Images|
|Quarterback Doug Williams started immediately for the Buccaneers. The franchise might do well to follow the same blueprint with Josh Freeman.|
That's the lesson. You don't have to coddle a franchise quarterback.
Even though the Bucs have talked a lot about bringing Freeman along slowly, maybe that's not a formula for success. Stick with the history here. Coddling didn't work the other two times the Bucs thought they were getting a franchise quarterback.
Say what you want about Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer. They both did some good things later in their careers. But neither turned out to be the savior the Bucs thought they were getting when the quarterbacks were drafted.
In 1987, Ray Perkins drafted Testaverde with the top overall pick and elected to sit him behind Steve DeBerg. In 1994, Sam Wyche selected Dilfer and followed a plan to play him behind Craig Erickson. What did the Bucs get from going with DeBerg and Erickson when it was common knowledge that they were only there for the short term?
Only a bunch of losses. It's nice to think long term and believe that a quarterback can gain more by sitting safely on the bench. But I'm not sure Testaverde and Dilfer benefitted from that and I know the Bucs didn't.
That's all part of what Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik need to decide as they ponder the plan for Freeman over the next few weeks. They've got Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich as alternatives.
Both have some experience. Both have some skills. But is McCown any different from Erickson? Is Leftwich any different than DeBerg?
No, they all are -- and were -- just "guys."
Morris and Dominik just invested $26 million (maybe as much as $36 million) in Freeman because they believe he's more than a "guy." Freeman was looking awfully good by the end of June workouts and he stuck around One Buc Place for much of the time his teammates were off.
"I'm going to try to give them every reason I can to start me," Freeman said as he checked into camp Friday morning.
That is going to be up to Freeman as the Bucs begin practice Saturday morning. Although the decision to draft Freeman was booed by Bucs' fans in April, there are some reasons to believe he can succeed -- and do so quickly.
He has the arm and the size and he seems to have the charisma of a franchise quarterback. He may be a little unpolished after coming out of Kansas State a year early. But there are general managers and coaches around the league who will tell you they thought more highly of Freeman than they did of Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, the first two quarterbacks taken in this year's draft.
Morris, who spent a year coaching at Kansas State, and Dominik fall firmly into that category. They traded up a few spots to grab Freeman at No. 18 because they believed someone else would beat them to the punch.
So why turn around and sit him?
Especially when you've got a good offensive line, solid running backs in Derrick Ward and Graham, and targets like Bryant and Kellen Winslow. Perkins and Wyche didn't have luxuries like that when they sat Testaverde and Dilfer. Heck, McKay didn't have an offense like that (although the Bucs were pretty good on defense) when he tossed Williams out there and it worked.
If Freeman shows much of anything in camp and the preseason, just start him.
There's a school of thought among some fans that the Bucs will open with McCown or Leftwich. Maybe they go about halfway through the season and then hand it off to Freeman. It makes plenty of sense because they play an Oct. 25 game in London against the Patriots. After that, they have a bye week followed by the unfreezing of the Creamsicles against Green Bay.
You just might see Freeman making his starting debut in orange and white. Then again, why not Week 1 against Dallas in pewter and red?
|William Perlman/US Presswire|
|Kellen Clemens, left, is getting more reps with the starters but rookie Mark Sanchez drew praise from coach Rex Ryan.|
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- When asked what he thought of Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez on the first day of their quarterback battle, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan had the most complementary words to offer about the rookie.
Here's Ryan's entire response after a waterlogged practice Friday morning at SUNY Cortland:
"It probably wasn't the best day, throwing completions," Ryan said. "But I thought Sanchez had a really good day. When you look at it, he threw a couple balls that could've been picked. Some trap coverages that [defensive coordinator Mike] Pettine and his crew threw out there, he threw into a couple, but other than that I thought he threw the comeback and deep out exceptionally well today.
"Clemens, I thought he had good command of that huddle and did some things well. It just wasn't putting up the numbers or those deep completions. I think they weren't as many as we're used to seeing."
Ryan is treating Clemens more like the starter for now. The fourth-year pro, who split starts with Chad Pennington two years ago, is getting the first-team reps. But Sanchez will be slipped in. The percentage will change as the competition dictates.
Sanchez was pleased with his first NFL day in full pads, the first step in trying to overtake the veteran.
"I think you just keep plugging away one practice at a time and then, try and not look at the big picture," Sanchez said. "Just take it one rep, one drill at a time and get completions, build those completions on top of each other, get a few in a row, get a little momentum going and those guys will start to feel. That's when you can start talking and gaining a little confidence as camp goes on.
"It's only Day One, and it was a great start, but I've got to keep working."
Clemens suggested he's not looking over his shoulder.
"Coach Ryan has designated me the starter going in," Clemens said. "So my goal, my preparation, my concentration is to prepare myself and my teammates to make a run at the world championship."
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- As a steady rain drenched the first session of New York Jets training camp Friday morning, plenty of it fell on Rex Ryan.
There was a lot of surface area to hit.
|AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli|
|The first day of Jets training camp also marked the start of a new diet for coach Rex Ryan.|
"Nice little rain out there," Ryan said after his first practice as head coach. "Like I told the players, it never rains on a football player. I was soaked.
"But rain doesn't really affect them. You get out there, and you're just playing football and enjoying playing."
Ryan won't be the only one trying to get into shape. The rotund coach symbolically started a diet Friday.
"It is my first day on a diet," Ryan said with a grin. "So we'll see how long that gets. If you guys want to have a bet with each other ... It's all liquid or something like that for five days.
"I did have orange [juice], lemons and all that stuff squeezed in there. It was a great breakfast. Looking forward to the vegetable thing that they got for me today."
Ryan muttered he weighs 340 pounds. He said he weighed between 300 to 310 pounds last year as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.
"I finally hit that spot I was looking for," Ryan said. "I hope I can go back down the other direction.
"It was a good summer. It really was. ... You know, the move and all that. There's so many Italian restaurants around [New York]."
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