Each week, the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.
First and 10: Aug. 10
1. What’s next for Aldon Smith? | 2. Hall of Fame game
3. All DeflateGate, all the time | 4. Fight breaks out at joint practice
5. Really Hard Knocks | 6. Redskins control the message
7. Scherff at guard | 8. Texans’ running back situation
9. E. Manning aims for 70 percent | 10. Beckham’s role models
Owners and NFL officials will assess sentiments about the sport’s pending return to Los Angeles when they meet Tuesday in Chicago, with some feeling within the league that the bid by the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders eventually could end up being favored by the owners over that of the St. Louis Rams.
Those who feel that way appear to believe that there is at least some hope of working out a stadium solution to keep the Rams in St. Louis while the stadium situations of the Chargers are Raiders are, in their view, more dire.
There also is the notion that the owners will support the bid of Dean Spanos, the chairman of the Chargers who is respected within the league. Some within the sport likewise have taken note that Raiders owner Mark Davis has gone about the process as the league has wished and has not sought to challenge the NFL in the way that his late father, Al Davis, once did over relocation issues.
The NFL consistently has maintained it is in control of the relocation process and the identity of the team or teams that will end up in L.A. will be determined by a vote of the owners. It remains to be seen if the franchises jockeying to move to L.A. will abide by that or if any would, if in danger of being thwarted, consider Al Davis-like tactics.
There appears to be strong sentiment within the league that there will be at least one franchise in L.A. in time for the 2016 season. The market has been vacant since the Rams and Raiders left town following the 1994 season.
No vote of the owners is scheduled and no major announcement is expected at this meeting. But those within the league, many of whom are eager for the NFL to return to the Los Angeles market, potentially could emerge with a stronger sense of which way the NFL is headed.
“I was sad 20 years ago when I came into the league, the two teams moved out of the L.A. market,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said earlier this year in Phoenix at the annual league meeting. “It was just very unfortunate. I don’t think it’s good that we’ve let a generation of fans, young kids, grow up without a team.… It’s not good for the NFL. I really believe within the next year we’ll have two teams in this market. I think there are good plans.… We have some real good options. And now we’ll see what happens in the end game.”
There are competing stadium projects in the Los Angeles area, one by Rams owner Stan Kroenke in Inglewood and the other in Carson by the Raiders and Chargers.
Kraft said in March that he favored having two teams in Los Angeles.
“I’m just speaking what I believe,” Kraft said then. “There might just be one team. But I really think to support the financial commitment of doing the kind of stadium that’s necessary in L.A., you need the resources of two teams. That’s just my feeling. I might be wrong. And then whether it’s done simultaneously or not–personally I feel that would be the best way.… It could happen that one would come in later. But I would like to see it be simultaneous.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that the owners will receive updates Tuesday on the stadium projects in Los Angeles and on the stadium situations in St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego. According to the Times, a memo sent by the league to teams last week said that St. Louis and San Diego have offered “significant public contributions” to potential stadium projects but Oakland has made “no specific proposal” to the league or the Raiders.
Kraft said at the league meeting that the owners and the NFL would have to be sensitive to any city that might lose a franchise.
“I think we have to be very careful and responsible to different markets to really step up and do what they want to do,” Kraft said then. “And if they do, I think we have a responsibility to make sure there’s a team in that market.”
… AND TEN
1. Aldon Smith’s next move?
Executives with two NFL teams said over the weekend they didn’t have any immediate sense of what the next moves for Aldon Smith will be after the talented but troubled pass rusher was released by the San Francisco 49ers last week following his latest legal issue.
Smith potentially could face disciplinary action by the NFL so teams don’t know when he might be eligible to play. The executives said it wasn’t clear yet whether any teams will seek to sign Smith sooner rather than later, or wait until the legal process and the league’s deliberations about his playing status play out at least a bit.
“I think the dust has to settle a little on that one,” said one of the executives, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “He’s obviously a talented player who could have an impact on your defense. He’ll be back in the league. It’s not if. It’s when and where.”
2. Hall of Fame game
Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play. Adrian Peterson didn’t play. But the NFL preseason is underway after the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 14-3, on Sunday night in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was relatively sharp in his brief appearance, completing 5 of 6 passes for 44 yards. But, as is the case every year, the freshness of preseason football wore off quickly after some initial excitement about the sport’s on-field return.
The regular season can’t get here soon enough.
3. All DeflateGate, all the time
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to be in Chicago for the owners’ meeting, then is to return to New York and is to participate in Wednesday’s settlement conference in federal court in the Tom Brady case. Brady also has been instructed to attend.
There remained little to no sense among some of those connected to the case over the weekend that either the league or the NFL Players Association is inclined at this point to move much from its current position to strike a deal on a settlement of Brady’s four-game DeflateGate suspension.
So while U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman has made it clear he is interested in bringing about a settlement, the same obstacles seemingly remain in place that prevented such a compromise before the case landed in court.
4. Went to a fight and a joint football practice broke out
As training camp fights go, the melee Saturday between Houston Texans and Washington Redskins players during their joint practice in Richmond was unusually spirited. There wasn’t only one brawl but a series of them, first on one field and then another. The two teams ended the day practicing separately on adjacent fields to avoid further fisticuffs.
“It just happened,” Texans wide receiver Cecil Shorts said. “When two teams have been practicing for a while against each other, tempers [flare] the last day. You want to end on a good note. We kind of figured something was gonna happen. We were prepared for it. We did a good job staying together. Nobody got hurt. It’s over with. Let’s move on.”
Such joint practices are relatively commonplace these days. They present opportunities for teams to get practice-field work against someone else. But they also are chances for training camp fights to become a bit nastier than usual as teammates rush to one another’s aid.
“After two days, you kind of get sick of each other…. It happens a lot around the league,” Texans linebacker Brian Cushing said, adding later: “You definitely don’t want to have a soft football team. I definitely don’t think we have that. It’s a very competitive sport. You’ve got to come out every day and prove yourself.”
As Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall pointed out, players know they won’t be fined by the NFL for a training camp fight.
“It’s training camp,” said Hall, who was on the field Saturday but wasn’t practicing because of groin and knee injuries. “Everybody knows it’s training camp. It’s not game situations. So it’s kind of like you know you can get away with a little more. There’s not going to be fines issued and suspensions through the NFL. This is practice. I think a lot of guys are smart enough to understand that.”
According to Hall, the ill feelings started with a play Friday involving two rookies, Redskins running back Matt Jones and Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson.
“Some of the Texans coaches were telling me it kind of started the other day when Matt Jones ran over one of their DBs,” Hall said. “I’m like, ‘Well, if that’s the case, the DB needs to either get out of the way or get his weight up.’ If I didn’t want to get ran over by a big running back in practice, I’m probably going to just run past him and tag him off instead of trying to put my shoulder on him. I think the young guy Matt Jones is just trying to protect himself. He’s just running the ball and the guy came in front of him. He wasn’t supposed to stop. So it’s a carryover.
“Training camp is hard, grueling. We walked off shoulder to shoulder. It wasn’t like we were lining each other up trying to find somebody to go fight. It happens. They’ve got their guys’ back. We’ve got our guys’ back.”
As with most training camp fights, it made for a few interesting moments while it lasted, and ended up meaning next to nothing.
“Everybody has their own opinion,” Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson said. “They might have thought we did. We might have thought they did. But at the end of the day, it don’t really matter. Extra or not, it’s football. We just came here to be competitive as players and get some good work in, and I think we did that these three days.”
Asked about the chances that the brawl will make the final cut to be featured on the show, Shorts said: “Probably 100 percent.”
Several Texans players said they haven’t paid much attention so far to the cameras following them for the program.
“You don’t realize they’re out here until you start walking around doing your own thing, and they’re following you,” Shorts said. “But when you’re at practice and stuff, you don’t even realize it. You’re so focused on what you’ve got to do. When you’re in meetings, you’re focused on listening to everything. So you don’t really realize it.”
Said Cushing: “We’ll see how it turns out. For the most part, they’ve done a good job of kind of staying out of the way, letting us do what we have to do. But like I said, we’ll see.”
While the Texans were in Richmond, the Redskins got their chance to observe the Texans being observed.
“It’s not what we signed up for,” Hall said. “But it’s okay. No more than you guys [reporters] running up on us after [practice]. But they’re just kind of constantly always there. That’s always difficult. But you adjust. You try to just forget about them and go about your business.”
6. Redskins control the message
The Redskins, the team that now sends certain news items to its season ticket holders before announcing it publicly, were doing their best to control the message Saturday when the fight with the Texans broke out.
Team representatives told media members that they could not film or take pictures of the brawl because it happened during a period of the practice in which that was prohibited.
That was despite the fact that many fans were taking video of the fight with their phones — and despite the fact that ESPN was on the air from Richmond when the brawl took place and carried it live. Soon after, the team posted video of fight on its own Twitter account.
Eventually, the team relented and other media outlets, such as The Washington Post, used images of the fight.
Maybe the Redskins should have sent punch stats to their season ticket holders first.
7. Scherff at guard
Brandon Scherff, the rookie offensive lineman taken fifth overall in the NFL draft by the Redskins, has been spending time lately practicing at right guard after beginning training camp working at right tackle.
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden and his highly regarded offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, must make whatever moves are necessary to put the best offensive line on the field that they can. If that means putting Scherff at guard and Morgan Moses at right tackle, so be it. They can’t worry at this point about maximizing the value of the team’s draft choices.
But the Redskins, remember, passed up Leonard Williams in the draft to select Scherff. A standout right tackle is well worth the fifth overall selection in the draft. A starting guard probably isn’t.
8. Texans’ RB situation
The Texans tried but failed to sign free agent running back Pierre Thomas last week after losing Arian Foster to a groin injury. Thomas declined to sign a minimum-salary contract with the Texans.
Chris Polk returned to practice over the weekend and the Texans also have Alfred Blue. The Texans still could add a running back but it does not appear that signing Ray Rice, who remains out of work after being reinstated from his indefinite NFL suspension late last year, is under consideration.
9. Eli Manning aims for 70 percent
Quarterback Eli Manning completed 63.1 percent of his passes last season in the first year of coordinator Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offensive system being in place with the New York Giants. That was a career-best completion percentage for Manning, but still shy of the 70 percent mark that was last season’s goal.
It remains the target for this season.
“I think 70 is kind of the goal,” Manning, who has a career completion percentage of 59, said recently at the Giants’ camp in East Rutherford, N.J.
Manning has a host of receiving options at his disposal this season, from wideouts Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle to tight end Larry Donnell. One thing that could particularly help Manning’s completion percentage is the arrival of an accomplished pass catcher out of the backfield with the offseason signing of Shane Vereen.
“I think Shane just kind of brings that versatile running back — catches the ball well in the backfield, runs good routes,” Manning said. “You can create mismatches with him. [He] runs the ball well. I think we’ve got to keep kind of figuring out how he’s gonna fit in the offense, what he can do, what’s the best way to utilize his abilities.”
The key for Manning could be how quickly his offensive line progresses with the addition of rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers, a first-round draft pick.
“I like big, mean, nasty offensive linemen,” Manning said. “If you can grow them, that’s the way you grow them. I think this group has a little of that in them. There’s offensive linemen that are tough, that hang together, that are smart and play well together. Those are the best. It’s not how good each one of them is. It’s how good they are all five of them working together, having that toughness about them.”
“I’ve watched film on pretty much anybody you can think of–the Jerry Rices, the Randy Mosses, Cris Carter, even present-day guys, even guys on our team,” the second-year standout said. “I just watch and I observe because I like to see what people did to be successful and make notes off of that and try to incorporate it into my own game and my own style of play. I am a watcher. I’m watching everybody.”
He also was asked how closely he watches Manning for hints on how to carry himself as a professional.
“He’s a ghost,” Beckham said. “You know, I only see him when we’re around here [at the team’s training complex]. I know he’s got a family and he has to take care of all that. So a guy like that, you just watch. You watch what he does in the meetings. You watch how he takes notes. You watch how he takes his notes and then brings them to the field — not literally bring them to the field. But he brings them to the field and he uses that every single day. Whether he or anybody else knows it or not, I’m always watching. I’m always trying to learn something new from these older guys.”