Monthly Archives: August 2014
LOS ANGELES — Sports fans today are more informed than they’ve ever been. Information about your favorite team is everywhere: legit league and team websites, fan blogs, Twitter, you name it. If you want to know what your favorite player is eating or doing at a given moment, check their Instagram or wait for TMZ to have a report later that night. It’s a blessing and a curse, living in this know-it-all-the-second-it-happens time that we do. But there is once place that exists, a lone Fortress of Information Solitude where everything walks in but nothing seeps its way out, where what happens there, truly stays there: the NFL locker room.
Save for once a year when one team volunteers to allow HBO’s hidden and very public cameras to film every punching player, coaching quarrel and ridiculously resilient rookie for its duration of training camp. The result is annually the best show on television. It’s the access today’s sports fan can’t get anywhere. It can scour the internet and follow every beat writer on Twitter until there is nothing left to click and scan, but it won’t ever know the details of a very real conversation Falcons head coach Mike Smith had with five-year defensive tackle Piera Jerry, who up and announced his retirement near the end of the first week and didn’t have a clue of what he was going to do next.
Yes, the Atlanta Falcons are the featured team on this year’s “Hard Knocks,” and if it wasn’t clear right from the opening video montage of Smith screaming over guys popping each other in a fully padded Day 1 practice, then over the course of the entire 60 minutes you figured out the coaching staff wants the Falcons players to put to bed the notion their physicality is how you say, lacking.
“You’re tough if you play this game,” Smith said in the coaches meeting room, as if trying to convince himself his players have what it takes to stand up and be physical this season, “and we got tough guys.”
This theme of being tough and smart and physical played throughout the entire episode with repeated clips of guys battling at the line of scrimmage for the play and then immediately head-slapping each other and talking tons of trash well after the whistle and usually until they had to be separated by teammates. It got rather old relatively quickly for my taste as it seemed ramped up for the show. Whenever a team featuring Osi Umenyiora claims to be tough, you know it’s B.S. And I know this because last year during the first NFL GameDay Morning meeting I mentioned the two-time Super Bowl winning defensive end’s name as a reason the Falcons defense might be improved and Warren Sapp immediately looked at me, his eyes got very wide and he said, “WHAT!?!” like I insulted the very spirit of the game. “Ain’t so soft tissue in this room, boy,” he said. It was then I realized you never, and I mean ever, bring up Osi’s name in front of Warren Sapp.
Inevitably what happens each year on “Hard Knocks” is you head into the season not really caring about the team in focus, but after a couple episodes find yourself cheering for a particular rookie or enamored with a foul-mouthed assistant coach. Last season on the Bengals it was Giovani Bernard and Mike Zimmer who fit the bill, this time around it appears Falcons rookie running back Devonta Freeman, and offensive line coach Mike Tice and linebackers coach Bryan Cox who’ll be in the spotlight in that regard. One of the most amusing segments of this first episode was a cut-up of Freeman looking for an apartment somewhere in Atlanta and safety William Moore telling us about, and playing with his kids, inside his mansion, which featured not only an indoor pool with a waterfall but a palm tree. Also indoors. While Freeman was marveling in what appeared to be a relatively pedestrian 4×6-foot walk-in closet, Moore, who signed a five-year, $29.5 million contract a year ago, was showing the world his shoe closet which contained every Air Jordan sneaker ever made. Ever. Of Air Jordans.
Freeman, in what was probably the greatest single scene in the history of “Hard Knocks,” then rode in a golf cart back to his car saying how blessed he was while taking a sip from a Capri Sun.
Do I think this is going to be an interesting season of the Emmy-award winning show? Good question. It was a rather uninspiring first episode. I was pleasantly surprised with how much Matt Ryan was shown, as well as Roddy White, who will probably come away as the biggest TV star when it’s all said and done. If you’ve followed him at all on social media or seen him on NFL Network’s Top 100 show any of the last two years, that’ll come as no surprise. He has a big mouth and it was clearly on display this first go-around. I particularly enjoyed him dropping a line I’m going to now use: that’s the difference between eating steak and still eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Other episode highlites:
– Flowerly Branch, where the Falcons team headquarters is located, is the name of a city that could only be located in The South.
– Rookie linebacker Tyler Starr’s fiance Megan Wheeler may have overtaken Lauren Tannehill has the hottest WAG in the history of “Hard Knocks,” and overall it was a fantastic episode for player’s better halves. Harry Douglas’s wife, a Miss Georgia International (whatever that means) and tight end Bear Pascoe’s wife were both getting it done. Also, respect for getting calf roping and hay farming in this episode, HBO. Mad respect.
– Speaking of Harry Douglas (I never miss an opportunity to write out his full name), what a strange dude. The women’s deodorant didn’t bother me as much as him being really anal and clean about packing. And that giant white teddy bear in his room. Bizarre.
– Devin Hester is on the Falcons? Who knew.
– Steven Jackson opened an art gallery in Los Angeles and I didn’t get the invite? My Hollywood swag is wearing off. Anyway, some of the pieces looked pretty cool, I’ll admit. Though let me ask you all this, which was more surprising: Terrell Owens finding a way to get himself back on camera for a few seconds or Jackson getting hurt during the first week of practice? Tougher answer than you think.
– Why is Jacques Smith messing with Jake Matthews? That just seems like a terrible idea.
– I think we should do the before/after photos with NFL Network employees. On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t.
– It’s safe to say we all could have learned a thing or two if we just played high school football with Byran Cox.
– Am I the only one who had no idea Kroy Biermann’s wife is that chick from Real Housewives? Also, no surprise it was low-cut shirt night in the Biermann household this week. Can’t wait to see what she wears for episode 2. And how on earth does he meet this broad to begin with? He’s some hick from Montana.
– The TV producer in me loved the end credits payoff of the earlier shot of Steven Jackson being pissed that someone had “taken” his room only to be revealed it was Matt Ryan, who unknowingly threw is stuff in there because he was first to show up.
– Thomas Dimitroff might have the best hair in football. He definitely is in a neck-and-neck running for Best Wearer of a Visor with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.
– First audio cut of the show was Atlanta rapper T.I.’s “Go Get It.” I’m really curious to see how they’ll use the bountiful music choices during this season. No doubt Ludacris makes an appearance. Also hoping for a Magic City segment. (look it up if unfamiliar)
LOS ANGELES — Unless you’re still in the theater watching Transformers 4 because that movie is 1800 hours long, or worse yet got traded by the Red Sox, you’re aware that NFL Training Camps started last weekend across the league in Cortland, New York, Oxnard, California and everywhere in between. Rookies are learning playbooks and carrying pads, while veterans are sharpening skills and honing in on what they hope is an upcoming season filled with good health and victorious Sundays. New coaches are finally realizing their dreams of sleeping less than four hours a night and never seeing their families, and us the fans are beginning the early stages of scouting for our upcoming eight fantasy football leagues. Ah, yes, football is back and not a moment too soon. This Sunday marks the officially opening of the 2014 NFL season with the festivities at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This year’s class is another star-studded affair with Michael Strahan and Andre Reed highlighting the honorees, and of course, the game between the Giants and Bills Sunday night kicks off football every Sunday from now until February.
So with all that in mind, here’s the latest 8 Things To Look For: NFL Preseason Week 1:
1.) Get Ready For JFFTV — If you’ve noticed a theme in your football programing in the last week, you’re not alone. The Browns haven’t got this much coverage since Jim Brown’s days and why not, between Josh Gordon and Brian Hoyer, they’re actually interesting. Though I’ll be the first to admit, a quarterback battle on a team coming off a 4-12 season isn’t exactly the most appetizing meal, but when one of those quarterbacks is Johnny Manziel all bets are off. Johnny makes headlines whenever he speaks or leaves his house. First it was saying he’s not going to change, then it was his biggest challenge is the playbook, then he threw a couple interceptions in practice, then he got spotted on his off day at a bar. He can’t win. His coach and owner have gone out of their way to praise Brian Hoyer which leads you to believe JFF will start the year holding the clipboard. But why then did the Browns draft him? There was the story about the team being shocked his partying was as ramped up as it was between draft day and camp kickoff. Do none of them have Twitter or Instagram accounts? Look, my position on the kid is well known, but I’ll be excited when actual football is actually being played and we all can judge the kid on what really counts: what goes on between the lines on game day. Until then, hope you got your popcorn ready because we’re going to have a front row seat to EVERYTHING he does for the foreseeable future.
2.) Don’t Listen To Anything Anyone Says — If you’ve heard all the player and coach interviews recently a theme has probably been observed: everyone is awesome, we are going to the Super Bowl. Brandon Marshall told Michael Irvin at Bears camp this week that Jay Cutler could win the 2014 NFL MVP. Now Irvin probably believed this because he was the one who said last year Dez Bryant would be MVP, but that aside, Marshall has seen Jay Cutler play football, right? Cutler is the man who’s thrown at least 14 interceptions in a year five times, including a league-leading 26 in 2009. I know he’s Marshall’s boy but take step back, 15. Do you trust Cutler to win a big game for you? Fourth quarter, two minutes to go, down by six? Didn’t think so. The Bears have seriously high expectations this season predicated on their explosive offense. They are a chic Super Bowl pick. I’ve heard that Las Vegas types are putting serious cashola on them as well. But it all hinges on Cutler. All of it. That should make Bears fans very nervous.
3.) Vampire Injury Biting Back — Sure, “True Blood” is going off the air soon, but vampires are still cool, right? OK, forget it … Regardless, in consecutive days the league lost running backs Vick Ballard (Colts) and Kendall Hunter (49ers) to season-ending Achilles’ and ACL tears, and Giants back David Wilson got concussed again. Texans receiver Andre Johnson strained his hamstring this week and on and on. No quarterbacks have gone down yet, thanks goodness, and while injuries are part of the game, every year a handful of stars go down and the domino effect is palpable. You hate to see anyone go down this time of year, especially, but it makes you appreciate how hard everyone works and just how precious our time in this game is.
4.) Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons — Yearly, it’s the best show on television, and “Hard Knocks” returns next week down in Flowery Branch as the Falcons will be this summer’s featured team. What’s funny is that owner Arthur Blank and head coach Mike Smith volunteered for the gig. Atlanta didn’t fall under the new league-mandated guidelines with having made the playoffs in the last two seasons, but I’m guessing Blank wanted to ramp up the team’s profile and put a little pressure on his talented group of veterans in wake of a disastrous 4-12 2013 campaign. I think this will be a fun season of “Hard Knocks.” There are players we all know and are familiar with in Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Steven Jackson, and inevitably a few with personalities we never knew existed will emerge. That’s the beauty of the show; you go in not caring and come out invested in a whole new group of guys.
5.) How Will Holdout Affect Beast Mode — Marshawn Lynch proved last week he’s not only ’bout that action, boss, but he’s also ’bout that paper, boss. The Seahawks running back phoned into NFL Network to announce his hold out and returned Thursday with little bustle. Michael Silver reported Seattle tacked on a few more Skittles onto his existing contract for this season, $1.5 million to be exact, which is always nice. And while Money Lynch was the biggest name who held out this Training Camp others such as Lions all-world DT Ndamukong Suh and Chiefs QB Alex Smith want a new deals before the season kicks of in early September. Many thought Andre Johnson was going to skip Texans training camp but he showed and promptly injured his hammy. How will surrounding contract issues affect these guys? That’s always the question when it appears their main offseason focus has been their wallet and not their body. I’m guessing it’ll be minimal but you never know.
6.) Who’s Awesome/Who’s Trash — Did you hear the one on Monday where Nick Foles is garbage because he came from a rich family and neighborhood and doesn’t scream at his teammates like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Look, I like Buzz Bissinger as much as the next “Friday Night Lights” fan but seriously, Buzz, I think your leather pants are too tight on this one. It’s amazing to me a guy coming off one of the greatest statistical seasons in some time (8-2, 2,981 yards, 27 TD, 2 INT) could be criticized for not being a leader or having what it takes to be an elite quarterback in this league, but all it takes is a keyboard to take someone down, and that’s what Buzz did this week. This also plays into a larger preseason theme of declaring a player a superstar or on the cut list when no games have been played.
7.) Revis Island Taking Reservations for Weekend Getaways — The first English settlement of Martha’s Vineyard came in 1642 by Thomas Mayhew and since then the island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts has become a playground for the affluent. This fall, however, a new inhabitant will take over the 87.5 square mile paradise island and plant his flag: Darrelle Revis. By all accounts, the Patriots new defensive back has been terrorizing New England practices this July. He even had the gall to intercept Tom Brady not once but twice! In one day! How dare he?! Revis has proven thus far to be the real deal, which is good news for a Patriots secondary that couldn’t stop me and three friends in recent years. If he is locking down half the field this fall, coupled with a healthy Vince Wilfork and Jarod Mayo, New England will be back to being a force defensively.
8.) I Still Have No Idea Who I’m Keeping In Fantasy — I know my fantasy team is always on your mind, but it’s a serious problem I’m having right now and I know I’m not alone. Surely I can’t be the only one who is pacing like Scrooge McDuck trying to decide on two keepers among six legit possibilities, and then after having done a fantasy mock draft factoring in who I think everyone else in my league is going to keep, pacing even more because I can’t decide if I should take Dez Bryant or Brandon Marshall or Jimmy Graham or Julio Jones with the third overall pick?! Right? Bueller? OK, fine. Screw you guys. Never mind. I got this. (no, I don’t. help.)