It's a wrap: Prisco's camp tour worth the trips
Aug. 18, 2008
By Pete Prisco
CBSSports.com Senior Writer
The training camp tour we do here each summer at CBSSports.com is both enjoyable and infuriating.
The enjoyment comes on the field and in the locker rooms, where we get to watch the excitement of a new season at practices and spend time with gracious coaches and players after they're done.
Traveling is the bad part. Missed connections, canceled flights, weather delays, crowded flights, baggage fees, $30 to park a car, full-day charges for one hour over on a car rental, hard beds, loud hotel neighbors and finding places to try and eat right make it tough on the road.
NFL football makes it worthwhile. I wouldn't trade this time of year for anything. The dawn of a new season means hope for all 32 teams, and you'd swear by the way they talk in camp they're all going 16-0.
Is anybody bad?
My part of the camp tour took me to see 13 teams in 20 days, a fast-paced agenda that took me from Green Bay, Wis., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Of the 13 teams I saw, I'd say seven have legitimate playoff possibilities.
My tour started in Cleveland and ended in New Orleans. In between, I got rid of a nasty sinus infection -- man, planes kill your ears when you have one -- learned to love spacey commuter jets, found out again why I have no kids (screaming babies, ouch), learned that Fantasy advice can lead to a first-class upgrade, came to hate afternoon thunderstorms for what they do to the airline schedule and met many nice people.
I also saw a lot of football. Practice, mostly, but that's where the foundation is laid. There wasn't as much hitting this summer, not with rosters limited to 80 players, so I saw a lot of pass-and-tap drills. But that's OK. That means more throwing. You know how I love seeing the ball in the air.
Here's a quick look back at my 20 days on the road with 13 NFL teams:
How I rank the 13 teams I visited
1. Indianapolis Colts: This team is better and deeper than the 2006 team that won it all. That's if they have Peyton Manning back.
2. New Orleans Saints: The offense will be a joy to watch with Drew Brees adding Jeremy Shockey, but it's the defense that will get the Saints deep into the playoffs.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: They're deep. They're big. They're fast. Now it all has to come together in the passing game and with the pass rush.
4. Green Bay Packers: I am one of those who think the Packers will be fine without a certain No. 4. Aaron Rodgers will lead this team to a division title.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers: People forget they won the division last season, not the Browns. The offensive line, which was terrible last season, looks improved.
6. Tennessee Titans: It's all on Vince Young. If he throws the way he did the days I watched him practice, they'll be good. If he throws the way he has in two preseason games, they won't be.
7. Cleveland Browns: I just get the feeling that this team is a year away. But Phil Savage is building a Super contender.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If Jon Gruden can get another good year out of Jeff Garcia, they will push for a playoff spot. It'd be nice if he got out onto the practice field.
9. Carolina Panthers: Jake Delhomme's rebuilt elbow and Julius Peppers' rebound season will be the keys for the Panthers.
10. St. Louis Rams: Where is Steven Jackson? When is he coming in? It's a good thing the defense will be better.
11. Houston Texans: They will be improved over 2007, but it might not show in the record. Their division is brutal.
12. Miami Dolphins: Bill Parcells is in the first year of a rebuilding process, which is why signing Chad Pennington is strange. Throw Chad Henne in there and let him go.
13. Atlanta Falcons: This team is being built for 2010. The word patience has to ring loud and often when talking about the Falcons.
Five rookies who caught my eye
1. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans: I don't usually come away from a couple of days with a team raving about a guy, but Johnson was one exception. He's fast, but, oh, those feet.
2. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: Watching him, you'd swear he was a veteran. Talking to him, the same thoughts come through.
3. Henne, QB, Dolphins: He sees the field. His head spins. That's vital to success in the NFL.
4. Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans Saints: He's just what the Saints need in the middle of their defense.
5. Antwaun Molden, CB, Texans: He isn't starting right now, but he will be at some point this season. He's a big corner with cover skills.
Five things that should concern fans
1. Manning's injury: They say he'll be there for the Colts on opening day, but that isn't a definite.
2. The Jaguars' pass rush: With top pick Derrick Harvey unsigned, they haven't shown any improvement in two preseason games.
3. No Jackson: He'll get there eventually, but did anybody think it would last this long? The Rams need their star runner.
4. Who's the Texans running back? They say they'll do it by committee. Can that work? I say they need a feature guy.
5. Is Derek Anderson a one-year wonder? We'll see.
Five players ready for bust-out seasons
1. LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Steelers: This explosive edge rusher has a chance for 15 sacks this season.
2. Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Dolphins: Ginn looks smoother in his routes and he made a tough catch last Saturday against Jacksonville in traffic.
3. Rodgers, QB, Packers: He's ready. Forget the stats from the San Francisco game. He had drops in that game, just like the first one.
4. Gaines Adams, DE, Bucs: He has worked on his conditioning and it shows. Adams will get double-digit sacks in his second season.
5. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: The Panthers drafted Jonathan Stewart in the first round and his presence maybe has helped motivate Williams. He has had a good preseason so far.
Five interesting things from my camp tour
1. Nearly getting run by security in Charlotte. While shooting my CBSSports.com videos in the stands before the Panthers-Colts preseason game, a security guard tried to remove me and cameraman Curtis Martin. Then he saw our press passes and said we were OK. Later, he apologized. "The call came from the guys high up in security," he said. Damn, Bill Belichick. He has everybody looking for cameras in the stands and on the field.
2. Hearing that Titans center Kevin Mawae lives in an RV during camp. The vehicle is parked in a loading dock at the team's facility. As a veteran, Mawae can go home, but chooses to sleep in his RV. Of course, it's not any pop-up camper or anything like that. It's luxurious.
3. Ricky Williams might be the Dolphins' best player. Hard to believe, but it could be true. At the team's minicamp in May, Armando Salguero, a columnist for the Miami Herald, told me Williams was the best player on the roster. I wasn't so sure then, but I am now. Williams might have a big season -- if he stays away from the ganja.
4. I asked Packers receiver Donald Driver before the Brett Favre trade who he preferred catching passes from this season. "It doesn't matter," he said. "I'm a receiver. My job is to catch whoever throws it." No preference? "None," he said. I then asked him if he watched that television show where people get dinged for lying. I then buzzed him and told him he failed. "You lose," I said. Driver laughed. Of course he had a preference. He just wasn't saying.
5. Turning our One man vs. One fan segment into One man vs. One relative with the brother of Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels. Since the Texans were in New Orleans we couldn't find a Texans fan, so we opted for Rosenfels' brother. He played along well.
Five favorite places
1. Jacksonville: Hey, it's home. Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King called it "Hartford with palm trees" after his visit last week. Keep writing that stuff, Peter. We don't want anybody else moving here anyway.
2. Latrobe, Pa.: There is no better camp setting than what the Steelers have at St. Vincent's College. You should all try and see it once.
3. Green Bay: Can a real football junkie ever get enough of this place?
4. New Orleans: It's so good to see the city bouncing back from Katrina the way it has.
5. Nashville: The Titans have a great setup, training at their facility with an open locker room. It's perfect for a writer wanting access.
Five best things about the camp tour
1. The enthusiasm for a new season. Every team, every player, every coach thinks they have a chance for something special.
2. Seeing a player come from nowhere to surprise the coaches and his teammates and have a chance to make the team.
3. Talking with coaches on a one-on-one basis in a relatively pressure-free environment. They're much looser than during the season.
4. Seeing the little kids in Green Bay giving bike rides to the Packers players. What a great camp tradition.
5. Talking with players and coaches who are pleasant, accommodating and really love the game. Some of those players are Colts safety Bob Sanders, Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, Saints running back Deuce McAllister, Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, Bucs center Jeff Faine, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Steelers running back Willie Parker, just to name a few.
1. Paranoid teams. It's the NFL. It's not the CIA. You know who you are.
2. The Favre mess. Being in Green Bay on the opening day of camp was akin to being at a three-ring circus. Only there were 87 media members there to cover it.
3. Rude people on planes. The idiots who try to race to the front of the plane as soon as it lands. Where are you going?
4. USAIR charging $2 for water on the flight and $17 to check my bag curbside. Are you kidding me?
5. Travelers who insist on ramming a much-too-big suitcase into the overhead. Check it.
5A. Those fliers who have to put their seat back in your face and lean it on your computer. Do you realize how small the space is already? What's the point? Just don't complain when I bang on your seat for two hours.