FLORIDA— Yup, that’s right. A lot of Florida today, from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale. I’m wrapping up my camp trip, so let’s dive in …
• One thing that continually came up when I was with the Bucs the last two days: how Tom Brady is instilling confidence in the team’s younger skill guys. From Scottie Miller to O.J. Howard, the coaches and front office are seeing jumps they hadn’t previously, at least in part as a result of Brady’s presence. And as I heard this, I kept thinking about how, in New England, skill players would arrive from elsewhere and, if they clicked with Brady early, pretty quickly put up big numbers. Randy Moss. Wes Welker. Chris Hogan. Danny Woodhead. And on and on. Now, that should be working in reverse, with Brady coming to them rather than those guys coming to him. It’s one reason to believe that when we get to September, a bunch of good players will be better than they were before.
• Great results for the NFL over the last couple weeks, on the COVID-19 front. Over the nine-day period from Aug. 12-20, the league administered 23,260 tests to players, and had zero—that’s right, zero—positives come back. And the number of players league-wide, with 2,600 or so of them in camp, on the COVID-19 reserve list is down to three. Now, new elements will be introduced into the environment over the coming weeks. The children of staffers, coaches and players will return to school. Spouses of team employees could return to work. Hours won’t be as long as they are during camp on a daily basis, leaving guys more time away from the practice facility. All are variables, and we don’t know, at this point, how they’ll affect the numbers. But to this point? The NFL’s done a tremendous job.
• While we’re here, the NFL did release some protocols for scouts in 2020 last week, with the acknowledgement that some could change over time. Some highlights from the memo:
1) Advance scouting will be limited to, in essence, your next opponent. In other words, a team must grant another team credentials if that team is playing it or its opponent the following week. And it can be two weeks out if the team being scouted has a bye ahead of a game against the team requesting the credential.
2) That expands late in the regular season and the playoffs, where, obviously, teams are managing scouting multiple potential opponents. Also, in playoff settings, teams will be able to send two advance scouts, rather than just one.
3) Scouts from other leagues aren’t allowed at club facilities.
4) Until further notice, clubs are prohibited from visiting college campuses to scout players (with allowance to go to campuses for family reasons, like dropping a son or daughter off at school).
5) NFL scouts can go to college football games, but cannot access the field, and must maintain social distancing standards and wear PPE.
• So if we’re turning the page on Earl Thomas in Baltimore, I’ve got two things for you to chew. First, the Ravens’ built-in positional flexibility on defense, a bedrock of DC Wink Martindale’s system, will help. Last year, the team deployed Brandon Carr as a corner/safety swing player which helped it get through some attrition, and veteran Jimmy Smith should fill that role this year. Second, the team does like third-year safety DeShon Elliott.
• I had a good talk with Giants quarterback Daniel Jones the other day, and one thing he mentioned was his effort to get stronger this offseason, which wound up adding up to the 22-year-old packing on a few more pounds of good weight. “Overall strength was a goal of mine,” Jones told me. “I’m not sure I felt deficient at anything, but I knew I could use the time I had, use the offseason to make strides and continue to improve athletically. Football’s a physical game, and I was making sure my body was in position to play at a high level, just trying to improve athletically across the board.”
• I’ll say this about the practice I saw in Philly—Doug Pederson had those guys in 11-on-11 a lot. And it was very, very competitive, which should help the team reestablish the edge it’s played with when the Eagles have been at their best. If you dig in, you’ll see that the Eagles let go of a few guys who were on scholarship, so to speak, and brought in guys like Javon Hargrave and Darius Slay, who play with a certain attitude and intensity. The kind of attitude and intensity that was pretty apparent out there.
• Good for Trey Lance, getting the chance to at least play one more game before the 2021 NFL draft. As my buddy Pete Thamel first reported, North Dakota State was able to schedule a game for the fall—after the Missouri Valley Conference moved its football season to the spring—against fellow FCS powerhouse Central Arkansas. The move will allow the Bison to practice more than they would’ve otherwise under NCAA rules and, presuming Lance doesn’t decide to opt out of the fall altogether, give the quarterback at least one more shot at starring on the college stage. Lance is seen fairly uniformly by scouts I’ve talked to as a top-half-of-the-first-round prospect, and a worthy challenger to the more well-known Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields in the 2021 class.
• I can totally sympathize with Bills coach Sean McDermott, and understand his point on the inequities looming across the NFL—with some teams preparing to welcome fans into their stadiums while others, due to state regulations, literally can’t. McDermott said to reporters Monday that, “I think it’s honestly ridiculous that there will be, on the surface, what appears to be a playing field that’s like that—inconsistently across the league with the different away stadiums.” I also think he’s fighting an unwinnable battle here. The NFL and the 32 teams are going to do everything they can to preserve every last piece of revenue possible in a year when they’re expecting to lose a lot. That’s good for the owners, of course, and probably good for the players, too, in mitigating the damage expected to be done to the salary cap. And if that means one stadium will be half-full on the same Sunday that another is totally empty? Well, they’re OK with that, I can promise you. Competitive balance is important to the NFL and the players. Money is, too.
• Great news out of Washington today, with coach Ron Rivera telling the media that Alex Smith is moving closer to being cleared for 11-on-11 work. I’ll go on record saying it again: If that dude takes a real game snap this fall, just give him Comeback Player of the Year right there.
• Finally, good to see the Packers being thoughtful in addressing the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. Coach Matt LaFleur called together the players on his leadership council on Monday, which led to an emotional meeting. “I think there’s a lot of personal things that were said in those settings,” Aaron Rodgers said. “I think like I said in the video and like we talked about in the video that we put out, there’s a systemic problem, and until the problem is fixed, this is going to be an all-too-common sighting in this country. It obviously hits home being not far from Green Bay. I’m not going to comment directly on the video until more facts come out, but obviously it’s something where as a non-police officer, I think [for] a lot of us [the] natural question is, when is lethal force necessary? Again, I think that goes to a systematic problem that needs to be addressed at some point. There’s antiquated laws that are prejudicial against people of color in this state. I think the governor and the folks at the Capitol need to take a hard look at some of those systems that are in place.” If you’re interested, you can see video of a visibly emotional LaFleur here.