NFL TRAINING CAMP
Just like in midseason, the Browns’ suspect quarterbacking has led to a slew of deflected passes and interceptions, the rehabbing Adrian Peterson looks superhuman and Lions coach Jim Schwartz is spitting out cuss-fueled demands. (US Presswire)
Training camp may have just started, but NFL coaches are in “midseason form.”
Midseason form was once a great NFL cliché, the football equivalent of a baseball player being “in the best shape of his life” or an NBA player getting mentioned in a Dwight Howard trade rumor. It was high praise in an era when players worked summer jobs and arrived at camp looking like they had spent four months eating their way out of a vat of mayonnaise.
Now, the phrase is usually used with a wink because players spend the offseason running sprints with transmission blocks on their backs. Most players are now in midseason form year-round. Their coaches, whose idea of a “vacation” is adding an extra pillow to the seat off the office chair for 20-hour game-film sessions, are in a form all their own.
Calvin Johnson was in midseason form during early drills, according to MLive.com, diving for passes and flinging his unpadded, expensive body to the ground. Johnson’s reckless practice style leaves Lions coach Jim Schwartz sleepless. “If I’m going to wake up at night, it’s probably [because of him],” Schwartz said. Either Johnson or a call from the Michigan state police, anyway.
Despite the night terrors, Schwartz wouldn’t change a thing about his star receiver’s practice habits. “I’d much rather have that situation than having to yell giddy-up all the time.” That explains Schwartz’s failed career as a movie serial cowboy.
Schwartz does not actually yell giddy-up. What he yells is not printable, even on the Internet. Schwartz dressed down rookie Ryan Broyles for trying to run a one-on-one drill with his chinstrap unbuckled. No one printed Schwartz’s exact words, but here is what the coach was trying to convey:
Look, kid. This is Lions camp. At any given moment, one of our defensive players will forget this is practice and think he is in the Brixton Riot or a Thanksgiving game against the Packers — same difference to him. So keep the chinstrap buckled on the field, and in the showers, and probably until camp ends and you pull into your driveway at home if you want to be extra safe.
When Lions owner William Clay Ford heard the bad language, he grabbed Schwartz by the ear and demanded to know where he had learned such awful words. “Jim Harbaugh!” Schwartz cried. Ford then called the Niners and got Harbaugh in trouble while Schwartz had his mouth washed out with Lifebuoy.
Schwartz’s chinstrap demands and cuss-fueled penalties are understandable; other coaches are in midseason form when it comes to behaving like bloodthirsty Bronze Age despots. Mike Mularkey plans to fine players $10,000 for talking about injuries to the media, in the unlikely event that any Jaguars player finds himself talking to the media. Mularkey’s guidelines should cover questions that Jaguars players are more likely to be asked by a football writer, such as, “Who exactly are you?” and “I’m sorry, I thought this was Gainesville. I shouldn’t have gotten off I-75, right?”
There’s no word on how much a Jaguars player will be fined for talking openly and honestly about his feelings. If the player is Maurice Jones-Drew, probably a lot.
Mularkey was not alone in his assault on the First Amendment. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told his team that they were not mature enough for Twitter. “I don’t see how tweeting is going to help us win a football game,” Lewis said, demonstrating the broad perspective about the human condition for which NFL coaches are famous. Hugging your children or watching the sunset isn’t helping the Bengals win either, guys, so could you please grow up and get your priorities straight?
Bengals players plan to take out the garbage, do extra chores and not whine before bedtime for as long as it takes to get their cell-phone privileges back.
Not all coaches are as philosophically myopic as Mularkey and Lewis. Packers coach and associate professor of metaphysics Mike McCarthy was in mid-semester form last week when asked if starting receiver Jordy Nelson would still be asked to block for kickoff returns. “Philosophically, I believe in starters should or could play special teams,” he told Packers.com. “I don’t think there’s an absolute as far as starters play or don’t play. I don’t believe in that theory.”
Indeed, the Theory of Special Teams Absolutism was a hot topic of debate in the Enlightenment. McCarthy’s bold stance puts him in the same camp as David Hume, whose argument that “the riske of Aaron Rodgers throwing the pig’s skinne to Andrew Quarless in-stead of a hobbled Nelson in a playoff game cannot keep reason from becoming slave to the passions” vexed scholars until about three days ago.
McCarthy also believes in quick decision-making. The Packers are using a new clock to alert Rodgers and other quarterbacks when they hold the ball too long. After two and a half seconds, the clock flashes swirling colors to signal either a likely sack or the start of a rave. Another new feature at Packers camp: a catapult that fires a 300-pound sack of flour in a Ndamukong Suh jersey onto the field four seconds after the whistle. The device is designed to get players off the ground and back in the huddle, and to make sure their chinstraps stay buckled.
Some coaches want to see their players in midseason form, even if there is no reason to think that is even possible. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wants Adrian Peterson back in the lineup in time for some preseason carries. Peterson tore his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve. Most mortals would still need the neighbor’s kid to mow the lawn at this point in their rehabilitation, but the superhuman Peterson is already running solo drills with team trainers. Still, asking him to risk further injury in preseason games makes as much sense as asking him to run across a freeway.
Peterson later threw the Vikings a scare when he was hospitalized after a severe allergic reaction to seafood. For Peterson, the most dangerous ACL tear is an Alaskan crab leg. Let’s hope none of the Vikings’ preseason games take place at Red Lobster.
Saying a team is in midseason form can be faint praise when that team is typically awful in midseason. Stephanie Storm of the Akron Beacon-Journal wrote that the Browns’ defense was in midseason form during an early practice. “Defensive back Joe Haden jumped a route and knocked the ball away on a pass from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden to receiver Mohamed Massaquoi early in practice, then later made another diving deflection of a Weeden pass,” Storm reported.
Interceptions? Deflected passes? Suspect quarterbacking? Sounds like the Browns’ offense is in midseason form. Blaine Gabbert completed just one pass in 14 drop-backs during one Jaguars practice, giving players something else not to talk about.
And of course, the Jets’ Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow quarterback tandem combined for a 2-of-14 performance during Sunday’s drills that could be a precursor to November box scores. Rex Ryan rewarded his defensive players by letting them wear black jerseys. He should have given offensive coordinator Tony Sparano a black armband.
There is no offseason for spin control, so it is no surprise that Harbaugh was in midseason form when applauding the progress of controversial first-round pick A.J. Jenkins and taking shots at media figures who dared to question Jenkins’ readiness. “The scribes, pundits, so-called experts who have gone so far as to say that he’s going to be a bust should just stop,” Harbaugh said at a camp press conference. “I recommend that because they’re making themselves look more clueless than they already did.”
Sorry, Harbaugh and other coaches. You threaten players with draconian fines for speaking to us, restrict them from social networking, and answer our simple questions with vague evasions and philosophical gobbledygook. It leaves us with little to do but speculate, at least until we know for sure whether your decisions to reach-draft an unheralded rookie, rush a superstar back from injury, or use a player who caught 15 touchdown passes like a third-string tight end are truly wise.
And we will not know any of those things until midseason.