Buddy Nix did not accomplish much in his three years as Bills general manager, but at least he knew when to walk away. Nix survived the January axe, orchestrated one last busy offseason, then stepped down from the front office and into a "consultant" role on Monday.
On the one hand, the game was passing Nix by, as the March incident when prank callers convinced him they were Tampa Bay Buccaneers representatives illustrated. On the other hand, Nix proved one last time that he understands the rhythms of the NFL like only a lifer can. May is honeymoon season, when hope springs eternal. The Bills have a new coach and quarterbacks, minicamp offered visions of E.J. Manuel touchdowns and C.J. Spiller highlights to come. It's the best time to get out of Dodge, or at least Buffalo, where there is usually no place to go after the draft but down.
Funny, giddy things happen during honeymoon season. Jay Cutler becomes lovable. Sort of. "He's borderline football brilliant," new quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh said. Cutler would probably like to have his intelligence/personality described just once without the word "borderline." Cavanaugh said that Marc Trestman's staff came in without a "mandate" on and that the coaches are welcoming Cutler's input. "It's a good working relationship now," Cavanaugh said. If the last three letters of that quote don't sound ominous, then you weren't reading carefully. But May is not the time to read negativity into such a borderline enthusiastic endorsement.
All injured players are ahead of schedule in mid-May, especially in Washington, where Dr. James Andrews will remain shackled to an MRI machine until Robert Griffin leads the Redskins to a Super Bowl. Tight end Jordan Reed, one of the top Redskins draft picks, did not participate in rookie camp because of a quad injury. "We're going to put him through a little bit of rehab and hopefully he'll be able to go in a couple of weeks," Mike Shanahan said. Fellow rookie Chris Thompson is six months removed from an ACL injury, but Shanahan believes he will be ready for training camp "He's working out now and doctors say the ACL is looking great," Shanahan said. The greatest looking ACL is the one a doctor never sees, but you get the idea.
Redskins optimism, it must be pointed out, operates at a different level from the usual NFL post-draft endorphin glow. Redskins fans have been conditioned for a decade to cheer a little too hard at offseason news; until last year it was the only thing they could cheer for. Now that things are going well, the tether to reality is straining. Redskins blogs currently read like fan fiction. Reed is already Aaron Hernandez, and Hernandez is Rob Gronkowski. Shanahan is revered on a level somewhere between Captain Picard and Rainbow Dash. If happy honeymoon reports from Redskins headquarters have been limited, it's partly because Mike Shanahan is not a sunny guy (note that there will be no Patriots segment in this roundup) but also because expectations cannot get any higher without leaving orbit.
Some Redskins fans are biding their time by buying Robert Griffin wedding gifts from his well-publicized Bed Bath & Beyond registry. Here are some suggestions, not listed, that Griffin could use: lawn seed, a spreader, premium mix topsoil, divot repair tools, a patio tamper that is also rated to flatten a poorlymaintained playing surface, or just one of those cute Mother's Day hand-made coupons: "One Free Chance to Not Run an Option When Already Injured Against a Great Defense on a Field That Looks Like an Abandoned Quarry."
In other good Redskins news, rookie safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo scored borderline brilliant on the SAT: the Shanahan Assertiveness Test. "We have different tests that they take that tell us what kind of mental quickness they have, what kind of dedication, commitment, those types of things that are very important to us," Shanahan said. "Those two guys, one had a 10 and one had a 9 out of 10 points. That's as good as you see." It makes you wonder how other past and present Redskins scored on the SAT. Albert Haynesworth must have eaten his. DeAngelo Hall passes each year by roughing the proctor. London Fletcher completed his when it was administered on blue mimeograph.
There is no good way to determine dedication and commitment on a written test, of course. Shanahan probably made them build a birdhouse from scratch. It will be Griffin's wedding present.
Eagles optimism, it must be said, currently puts Redskins excitement to shame. Chip Kelly is running a rookie camp for the modern micro-attention span: Drill sessions are chopped into five-minute intervals, and Black Sabbath and Nicki Minaj blare from speakers around the practice field. "There's some science behind it," Kelly said of the tuneage. Eagles fans can now admonish me for only skimming the abstract of Kinesthetic Learning, Cardiovascular Recovery, and Pink Friday: A Heuristic Model for Offensive Pedagogy and System Installation (C. Kelly, P. Knight, K. West, et al).
The Kellymoon was briefly threatened by news that running back Shady McCoy faces a civil suit in conjunction with an alleged assault that took place on a party bus in December. There are currently three versions of the story: McCoy's, his plantiffs and a police report of the incident, which resulted in no criminal charges. The three accounts only agree on the fact that there was a bus, and that there was no Nicki Minaj or Black Sabbath playing. And one third point: No one on the Eagles had any business partying last December.
The Eagles signed former Cowboys running back Felix Jones on the same day news of the McCoy charges broke; think of that as a "borderline coincidence." Jones gives Kelly lots of running back depth but deprives Jerry Jones of his favorite talking point. The Cowboys owner spent four years giving weekly dissertations on Felix Jones' optimal role in the Cowboys offense; finding the precise number of touches that would turn Felix Jones into Tony Dorsett was like the Alchemist's Stone for the Cowboys owner.
Jones will now bide his time trying to turn Tony Romo into a different Cowboys legend of yesteryear. Instead of blowing kisses at the rookies, Jones borderline clarified his remarks from last month about Romo's game-planning expectations. "What we want to use, more than we ever have, is the kind of thing that [Roger] Staubach contributed -- input into designing a plan that helps us beat that opponent," Jones said on Tuesday. Maybe he wants Romo to fret endlessly about the running back rotation, saving him the trouble. Jason Garrett remains available for comment, but wisely rarely does.
Jones did find time to contradict his coaches about first-round pick Travis Frederick. Jones said after the draft that offensive line coach Bill Callahan compared Frederick to Nick Mangold. "It's really unfair to even try to make that comparison right now," Callahan said on Friday. "He has good command at the center position. But he's a long way off. He's got a lot to learn," Garrett added. In the rainbow-unicorn rush of honeymoon season, faint praise like that sounds like borderline damnation. Jones will handle the communication from here on out.
Frederick will do his learning while perfecting his cell phone app. Yes, the Cowboys rookie center doubles as an Android program designer. "I can't talk about it yet," he told the Dallas Morning News. "We haven't gotten the copyright." A center with a high-tech, cutting-edge, scientific hobby? How did Chip Kelly miss him? Maybe it's an app that can help Romo design game plans. Or selects wedding gifts for quarterbacks. Or protects Buddy Nix from crank calls, arriving on the market just a few weeks too late.
The Colts ended rookie camp with The Detroit Scenario: everyone left town to find better opportunities elsewhere. No, no. The Detroit Scenario may sound like a Kurt Russell sci-fi movie from the late 1980s, but it just a recreation of last season's final play against the Lions: fourth down from the 20-yard line, four seconds left, touchdown or go home. Simulated Colts quarterback Tanner Marsh hit simulated Colts tight end Justice Cunningham for a simulated Colts game-winning touchdown. "We try to do all these must-win mock situations," Pagano said. "Fourth down, gotta have a touchdown and we hit a walk-off home run, if you will." By the time the starters arrive, Pagano will be clearer about which sport he coaches.
It's rarely sunny at Jaguars camp, at least metaphorically, but pouring rains could not temper optimism for the new Gus Bradley regime. Nor could a minor ankle injury to intriguing rookie free agent quarterback Matt Scott. "It looked like he had a good skill set," Bradley said after making the Jaguars practice through rains and howling winds. "I'm excited to see how he progresses." Many Jaguars players cramped up during the nearly two hour practice." I think they're just learning the tempo of practice," Bradley said. "They were running a lot." The field is a mess, the players are out of shape, and the quarterback is injured. But it's rookie camp, so hooray!
The Chiefs are also excited: Former Nevada coach Chris Ault, one of the innovators of the Pistol formation, has signed on as a consultant and will help Andy Reid install a package of plays so state-of-the-art that the Chiefs used them extensively in 2008, when the team finished 2-14. No word yet on whether Ault is bringing an MP3 player full of Nicki Minaj.
Some honeymoons lead to lasting, happy marriages of course. Cutler and Cavanaugh may see eye-to-eye forever. Romo could finally become Captain America, Kelly could DJ the Eagles to the playoffs, the Redskins could have the best-looking ACLs on earth and Travis Frederick could end dropped calls as we know them. But even the most devoted spouses look back on the sweetest nothings of their honeymoons and cringe, albeit wistfully. The gushing reports of May inevitably give way to the grueling heat of August, and we learn then that some of things that were said this week were simply the things teams wanted us to hear.
While working on another project, I came across an article from last year on the Bengals website about Orson Charles, then a mid-round rookie and a tight end I gave a high grade to in the draft. "Physically he's shown things that are very exciting," Jay Gruden said during last year's honeymoon. "His strength is unreal." Marvin Lewis agreed: "Orson has exceeded in every way my expectations. I knew he was a big, strong guy. But his ability to run and catch the ball has been impressive."
That's about as ringing an endorsement as a player can have. But Charles, active for all 16 games, caught just eight passes. He played just seven offensive snaps in the Bengals' playoff loss to the Texans. The team drafted Tyler Eifert to join Jermaine Gresham at tight end this season. There has been no reported injury to Charles, no incident, no explanation why a guy with "unreal" strength who once exceeded his boss' expectations in every way would be fighting for a third string role.
Honeymoon season may well have been the highlight of Charles' career. Marsh and Cunningham will probably never connect for a game-winning touchdown. Honeymoon optimism is borderline hysteria. A man who has been around as long as Nix knows that this is the best time to leave on a high note.