Bills prepared for the T.O. Experience?
Training camps officially begin Thursday when the Cleveland Browns have their already well-worked rookies show up for a one-week orientation under new head coach Eric Mangini.
Mangini has worked these eight rookie draft choices and six remaining undrafted free agents harder than any other team has worked its newcomers. These rookies have had curfews during their OTAs. Once, they had a 10-hour bus ride to work Mangini's youth camp. Mangini has shown them who is boss, and they've responded by fulfilling every order.
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Rookie orientation has been part of training camps for decades, but the lengthy offseason workouts have allowed more teams to abandon them and just have the rookies report with the veterans. Mangini has the longest orientation with his one-week format. Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has his rookies coming in next Sunday, five days before the veterans. Twenty-two teams, however, are just having their rookies come in with the veterans, while the rest of the teams have short one-, two- or three-day baptisms.
Of course, the most watched camp opening will be Saturday when the Buffalo Bills report. Terrell Owens is scheduled to report to camp then, and, he says, "bring some heat to Buffalo." Owens' reality show is expected to debut on VH1 this week. Will training camp allow T.O. to focus on football, or will the Bills' camp be a circus?
No one knows for sure, and many readers of the mailbag wonder how Owens will do. Sure, the reality show will cause some headaches; you can see he can be a headache even to his closest friends and associates. Imagine how he can be with the strangers in Buffalo.
Still, Owens' talent could take the Bills over .500 because he could open up the offense for the running game and for wide receiver Lee Evans. Get the popcorn ready.
Let's go to the mailbag.
From the inbox
Q: Isn't it feasible to say if the Williams boys [Kevin and Pat] win their lawsuit, that states they can take any substance they want in the state of Minnesota as long as it is legal regardless of if it is banned by the NFL, this would completely change free agency? Any player who wanted to be shady and take whatever they want could sign with Minnesota and do it. What can the league do to stop such a travesty?
From Jason in Spencer, Iowa
A: You raise an interesting question and a potential problem for the NFL. If the NFL wants to wait a few years and take this to the Supreme Court, the league probably will win. It might be able to win in the appellate court. But Minnesota is tough turf for the NFL when it comes to lawsuits. The state protects the workers, and the NFLPA knows lawsuits in the Minnesota courts have a better chance of victory. If the NFL loses, it does leave the drug program at the mercy of the states. It wouldn't surprise me if the NFL settled. They can ultimately win the case, but there could be serious damage in the interim. I also suggest you read Lester Munson's ESPN.com story on the league's efforts to win an antitrust suit against a hat company that is going to be heard by the Supreme Court. It's interesting reading and will answer a few more of your questions.
To Kevin in Somerville, Mass.: I still think the Dolphins are little short at wide receiver, but let's wait to see how the rookies do in training camp. If they show that they can play, the Dolphins should be fine. The problem with rookies is that they usually need a year or two to transition to the pros. It has to be encouraging that Davone Bess surprised everyone by fitting into the system quickly last year. The Dolphins are hoping Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline can do the same. Wes in Hanover, Md., has been hearing some Cowboys players questioning whether the team was right in releasing Terrell Owens. That is one of the problems with having Owens. Once you let him go, he creates carryover problems in the locker room. In Philadelphia, Owens befriended defensive players and it took more than a year for the locker room to repair itself. Every team pays a price for having Owens. Gregg in Michigan wonders whether Julius Peppers still has a chance to be traded to New England. Nope. He has a $19 million cap number. No team can take on that kind of deal. He's a Panther through this season. Brian in San Diego is concerned about the Chargers' future, with several players becoming free agents over the next couple of years. I do believe they will get something done with Philip Rivers long term after the season. They could lose Shawne Merriman. Still, the Chargers are one of the most proactive teams in trying to keep their core players. They'll lose some, but not too much of the core. Reflecting upon the Plaxico Burress situation, Jonathan in East Brunswick, N.J., wants to know why teams can't include a clause in the contract that allows a team to void the contract if a player serves time in jail. The reason is simple: Another team might not ask for such a clause, and the player would sign there instead. Including such a clause works only when the player doesn't have negotiating leverage. Reggie in Chicago thinks the Bears will be fine at receiver. My question for you is, "Who is the No. 1 receiver, and is that No. 1 receiver good enough?" Pete in Oradell, N.J., studies schedules like I do and he noticed that Peyton Manning doesn't play a cold-weather game until Week 11. That helps. Manning likes consistent environments to operate his offense. Josh in Pismo Beach, Calif., wonders whether the Seahawks would consider bringing back Shaun Alexander if Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett aren't successful. Doubtful, but you never say never. Kabral in Honolulu caught my cameo performance in "The Game Plan" and wonders if any more acting bits are on the horizon. I've had my one moment on the big screen, and that might be it. But I'll stay by the phone in case Hollywood calls again. Carlo in Olympia, Wash., is a Bears fan who is concerned about the backup quarterback position. That should be a concern. Brian Griese would be a good fit, but I don't see them going back to that option.
Q: I am curious why some quarterbacks who are used to playing in the spread formation are immensely hyped up whereas some are almost completely ignored. To pick the four most prominent examples, neither Graham Harrell and Chase Daniel were drafted in this year's NFL draft. However, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford are both predicted to be top 10 picks next year . Anything you can do to shed some light on this for me?
From Jeremy in Madison, Wis.
A: I guess you have to be your own scout and determine which quarterbacks pass the eyeball test. Harrell and Daniel probably don't pass the eyeball test as NFL quarterbacks. If the quarterback is too short, he needs to be more athletic in order to move around the pocket and get good vision of his receivers. McCoy is tall enough and has a chance to develop into a decent backup. Bradford is different. He has it all. He has the height and arm strength to be a top first-round choice. Some quarterbacks are great college quarterbacks. It's still the thrower, not the system.
Q: Derrick Mason's retirement this past week was a surprise to everybody, including myself. He is leaving a Super Bowl-caliber football team with a good chance to make a strong run again this year. Since Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams are not the answer at WR, what are the chances the Baltimore Ravens step up their bidding for disgruntled receivers Anquan Boldin, Chad Ochocinco or Brandon Marshall? Or perhaps give a call to Plaxico Burress or even Marvin Harrison?
From Ryan in New York
A: The Ravens need to talk Mason out of retirement. If not, they must start looking at Harrison or Amani Toomer. Forget the trade possibilities. Boldin, Ochocinco and Marshall aren't going to be traded. The free-agent market is painfully thin. The Ravens entered the offseason needing a receiver. If Mason stays retired, they need two receivers. It's a problem.
Q: Which of the rookie running backs do you think will have put up the most impressive numbers this season? Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, LeSean McCoy, and Donald Brown all are in good position to do really well. Are there some other guys to watch out for? And who is going to be the No. 1 receiver in Chicago? I think Earl Bennett will surprise the entire league after teaming up with college teammate Jay Cutler. Devin Hester is more valuable as return man than receiver.
From Joey in Hot Springs, Ark.
A: Of the three rookies, Moreno might be the most talented running back, but Wells has the best chance to succeed. He's probably going to be a starter on the best team of the three. I love the fit of McCoy in Philadelphia, but he's not going to be the starter. If everyone's forecast that the Denver Broncos will be among the worst teams in the league is correct, Moreno will have a hard time getting second-half carries in what is a crowded backfield. Bennett will be an interesting receiver to follow because he has talent, and Cutler knows him from when they played together at Vanderbilt.
Q: On paper, it looks like the Detroit Lions have improved in every position and have a better chance to compete than they did in past years. What do you think of the additions they've made, namely Jon Jansen, Larry Foote, Ephraim Salaam, Anthony Henry, and Phillip Buchanon? I hear a lot about their draft and not that much about their free agents and trades.
From Gary in Waxahachie, Texas
A: The problem with the Lions during the Matt Millen years was that paper wasn't worth anything. The problem is the losing culture. Sure, Millen didn't help that by having suspect drafts and bringing in veterans who lost interest by midseason. On paper, the Lions have improved, but I think there is a chance the culture could change toward the positive. Jim Schwartz provides good energy and leadership as the head coach. Martin Mayhew appears to have drafted well, but he's also shaken things up with the number of veterans he brought in. The key is developing Matthew Stafford. If this group can come together around Stafford, the future looks much brighter.
Q: Are the Dallas Cowboys going to strengthen their offense this year because the thing that hurt them last year was nobody blocked for Tony Romo. I would think that somebody from the main coaching staff would be let go because firing the special teams coach isn't addressing their problem, which is their offense.
From Richie in Dallas
A: You've hit on why I think the Cowboys will finish third or fourth in the NFC East. They have five offensive line starters in their 30s. The last two teams that did that in the past two years -- the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins -- watched their lines collapse by the middle of the season. If Romo doesn't have protection, it will be tough. Don't get me wrong: The Cowboys will contend. They have talent. They have a good quarterback. I like the coach. The defense should be good. But the line is the key to the season. If the line crumbles, so will the Cowboys.
Q: Just a further comment on your response about Michael Vick playing in the Canadian Football League. There was a lot of upset people when Ricky Williams came to play for Toronto while he was away from the NFL and, worried about a trend of the CFL being a training ground for suspended NFL'ers, CFL commish Mark Cohon instituted a rule that prohibited a CFL club from signing a player who was under suspension from the NFL. So unless Vick becomes eligible and just doesn't draw any interest from NFL clubs, you won't see Vick in Canada.
From James in Calgary
A: Thanks for further explaining this option for Vick. Had that rule not changed, Vick might have been able to get his best contract from the CFL. I'd be surprised if he gets much more than minimum in the first year of an NFL contract, but, of course, he has to be reinstated for that to happen. There is no guarantee of a reinstatement. The CFL had to do something because it left itself vulnerable to criticism by taking on too many players with shaky reputations off the field.
Q: Why have I seen reports of the Philadelphia Eagles looking toward Warrick Dunn? We have a ridiculous running back when healthy in Brian Westbrook and a rookie in training in LeSean McCoy. Why would they add another small running back when what they really need is a bruiser for those short-yardage situations? And even then, we have Leonard Weaver and Kyle Eckel for that. I just don't see the point of adding another small running back, especially one who is past his prime.
From Andy in New Brunswick, N.J.
A: The only reason they are looking at Dunn is because Westbrook isn't healthy. Remember, he had surgery that will keep him sidelined into mid-August. While the prognosis is good for a solid recovery, Westbrook has had a lot of leg problems in the past couple of years and is getting older. You cite a solid stable of running backs, and you clearly understand that Weaver can be used as a big back alternative. But what if one of the healthy backs suffers an injury? The Eagles are just trying to do their due diligence, as they always do.
Q: As a die-hard Indianapolis Colts fan, I was upset to see Marvin Harrison not take Bill Polian's offer to stay for lesser pay (I mean, he would have taken up the most cap space of any receiver). I couldn't help but think with him imagining that his price tag was so shiny he would sit on the free-agent market waiting with no reply. Now that we see this happening, what do you think are the chances he comes back to the Colts with his head down?
From Steven in College Station, Texas
A: The Colts never gave Harrison a low offer to return because they know he wouldn't accept it. The Colts know it's hard for a veteran player to return to a locker room after taking a huge pay cut. The player doesn't feel as comfortable. Players have egos, and the egos are bruised when the pay cut is taken. Imagine how bruised Harrison would feel if the Colts asked him to go from $9 million to $845,000. He's one of the greatest players in Colts history. He will at some point return to have his number retired. But his decreased speed and problems with his knees forced the Colts to move on. It's one of the inevitable transition problems in sports.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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