Single page view By Tim Keown
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There's nothing better than training camp, a five-week stretch when rash judgments and bloated self-importance are not only tolerated but encouraged. It's that glorious time of year when heat indexes are monitored and slap fights between mastodonic linemen are covered in the newspapers as if they were world wars.

Baseball's spring training is an overture, a time for the discussion of fifth starters and utility infielders. Football training camp is more of a John Philip Sousa march, all loud thumps and breathless discussions of backup tackles.

Less than a week into it, we've already got a favorite moment. Alex Smith threw five interceptions and three touchdowns in his first two noncontact scrimmages with the 49ers over the weekend, and we know this because someone kept track.

Keeping track of noncontact scrimmage statistics is bad enough, but when 49ers coach Mike Nolan was asked about it, things really got good.

Was Smith's timing off? Nolan was asked.

"Does it [look off]?" Nolan was quoted as saying in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Is that right? We're going to have to hire you as a coach."

Man, that's why we love football. There's nothing better than a football coach being in midseason form three days into training camp.

This is the kind of news for which we yearn the other 11 months of the year:

Dolphins coach Nick Saban turned down dinner with President Bush, stating, "Once we commit to camp, I'm out of everything." He said politics had no bearing on the decision, only camp, almighty camp.

On the Web site for the Dallas Morning News, there was a Cowboys blog Monday titled, "Explaining Rob Petitti" in a headline size usually reserved for non-Rob Petitti news.

In Miami, Daunte Culpepper moved freely and threw accurately in his first appearance with the Dolphins. We were told, in a tone that emphasized the importance of the occasion, that Culpepper's workout started outside before rains moved it into the beautiful new indoor practice facility.

And, of course, since it's training camp, there must be competing stories on the continuing education and alleged improvement of Michael Vick. Depending on what you read, he's either maturing as a quarterback and learning to operate within the system, or he's feuding with head coach Jim Mora Jr. and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and will never, ever alter his style to fit the parameters of the offense.

Perfect, and one thing you need to understand: Whichever choice you pick -- Vick as adapter or Vick as renegade -- there will be someone there to record the statistics that will fit either argument.

This Week's List
If Bruce Sutter gets into the Hall of Fame for revolutionizing the game with the split-finger, doesn't the guy who revolutionized the game with "Operation Shutdown" deserve the same respect?: Derek Bell, eligible for the Hall in the Class of 2007.

The Anti-T.O.: If anyone wonders, your role model for how to handle trade rumors and speculation is Greg Maddux, who didn't take anything personally and never said anything objectionable about anybody.

Continued...


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