Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
31 May 2012
by Mike Tanier
Roman Harper cannot understand a word Steve Spagnuolo says.
Harper admitted in a recent interview that he has trouble with Spagnuolo’s accent. "I kind of felt bad because I interrupted him on his meeting, but I didn't understand what he was saying, so I had to ask," Harper said. Harper hails from Prattville, Alabama. Spags is from Northbridge, Massachusetts. English is the language that divides them.
Spags’ accent is not quite the traditional Cliff Clavin Bostonian. He does make the braying lamb noise when trying to pronounce words like "bar," but his time in Philly and New York have created subtle overlays of Passyunk Avenue and Bensonhurst. Spags’ accent is more like the non-denominational Little Italy wiseguy, with a little Beantown flair. Philly radio host Angelo Cataldi has a similar linguistic scramble, as does Emeril LaGassi, another Massachusetts émigré. Harper probably doesn’t understand any of them.
Then again, Harper may just be confused when his defensive coordinator tells him that he won’t lead the team in sacks anymore. "You want me to what? Play deep in coverage? Can you repeat that?"
Tom Brady, a native Californian, does not have a Boston accent despite over a decade in New England. The folks at Under Armour pointed me toward this Funny or Die clip in which Brady is accused of having a "wicked" brogue. Brady plays unhinged well, just as Peyton Manning makes self-absorbed cluelessness work very well in his comedy bits. There are some Matt Damon jokes in the video as well, if you are in to that sort of thing. Harper joked that he is doing "research" to try to understand Spags, and that can only mean lots and lots of viewings of Good Will Hunting.
It is wonderful to hear a little laughter coming from Saints mini-camp. The Saints are without their head coach or quarterback, and their star linebacker is suing the commissioner, but they have found time for levity. Chase Daniel, leading the first team offense, reportedly scrambled for a 60-yard touchdown during a drill last week. Defenders cannot touch quarterbacks during OTAs, of course, and quarterbacks are not really supposed to scramble during drills. But a 60-yard touchdown is a 60-yard touchdown, except in Jets camp, where it is an imaginary sack for Quinton Coples.
Daniel must have been pooped at the end of that 60-yard run, but he had little time to take a breather. Daniel and Sean Canfield were the only quarterbacks at Saints OTAs. The Saints knew that Drew Brees was unlikely to attend, but they did not bother signing an undrafted free agent to soak up some throws while trying to make a name for himself. It’s almost as if the team’s decision makers were somehow distracted. Anyway, fullback Jed Collins and tight end Dave Thomas filled in as emergency quarterbacks for some drills. Collins is a well-known fantasy football leech who scored four touchdowns last year. Now, you have to worry about him throwing option passes as well.
Saints players said all the right things about Daniel at camp while making it 100 percent clear that they really, really, want the Brees dispute settled. No quarterback ever looks bad in mini-camp, of course, except Jimmy Clausen, who Tweeted earlier in the month that he got a bad haircut from Super Cuts. If I were Clausen, I would never utter the word "cut" under any circumstances. Clausen reportedly threw the ball well during Panthers OTAs. Then again, Collins and Thomas also got good reviews.
Even Tarvaris Jackson is allowed to have his moments in May. The Seahawks signed Matt Flynn and drafted Russell Wilson, but Jackson is still competing for a starting job, sharing mini-camp first-team reps with Flynn. Jackson is the Taylor Hicks of quarterbacks. Hicks is a comically inept Karaoke-caliber singer who won American Idol a few years ago. I am told by those who follow such things that he won because a large cabal of habitual voters assumed that he was too awful to actually win the overall competition, so they supported him en masse, using him to defeat talented singers who posed a real threat to their favorites. Then, suddenly, Hicks' support took on its own life, the other good candidates were gone, and a guy who looks and sounds like William Shatner covering Rick Astley was crowned America’s great pop-music superstar. That no one took this as a terrifying cautionary tale for the state of democracy in the digital age is troubling in its own right; if Steven Tyler appears at either political party convention, start digging a shelter.
Anyway, Jackson is Taylor Hicks. He doesn’t win starting jobs; the other guys keep losing them, and most fans just assume he will go away on his own, but he never does. Jackson will somehow win the Seahawks starting job by default, with Flynn growing a thick beard and morphing into Charlie Whitehurst and Wilson relegated to complaining about his haircut on the Internet.
It is hard to generate bad news during mini-camp, unless you are Eagles tackle Jason Peters and you fall out of a Roll-a-Bout while puttering around your kitchen, re-injuring the Achilles tendon that put you in the Roll-a-Bout in the first place. There’s no joke here: just picture the image of Peters flailing about on his kitchen floor in your mind, the Roll-a-Bout careening through the neighborhood out of control. Brandon LaFell also made some bad news by dropping three passes during a Panthers OTA. Maybe he was distracted by Clausen’s hair. Or a rider-less Roll-a-Bout rolling about. Or perhaps the balls were thrown by a fullback.
LaFell is getting a lot of attention in Panthers camp: he is now the No. 2 receiver, replacing Legedu Naanee, who has been exiled to Miami. "I guess, to me, Brandon LaFell encapsulates who we are," coach Ron Rivera told the Charlotte Observer. Rivera may have been using LaFell to represent the current state of the Panthers: exciting but flawed, in the dangerous place where they could fail to recognize how much work they have ahead of them. I interpret Rivera to mean that LaFell encapsulates who we are as a society and culture. It’s a radical new cosmology: human existence boiled down to its essence, an elephant riding on a tortoise, being carried by a slot receiver.
Perhaps something was lost in the translation.
Let’s give Harper credit for interrupting Spags and asking him to clarify his comments. The last thing the Saints need is a garbled message from a defensive coordinator. Spags’ brogue arrives too late for players like Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, who could have used misunderstanding as the ultimate legal defense. "His accent was so thick, we thought he was saying ‘bunnies!’"
Yeah, it’s still hard to laugh along with the Saints. After reading mini-camp reports about Daniel, Clausen, LaFell, Tarvaris, and professional athletes finding ways to injure themselves using motorized devices that are safety rated for the elderly and nearly paralyzed, I really, really just want the Drew Brees dispute settled.
A very good running back from 2001 through 2003, a great one in 2004 and 2005, and a bit of a paycheck guy after he started getting banged up and 370 Cursed from 2006 on. Alexander is a classic Near-Hall of Famer. A Super Bowl win might have pushed him into Canton consideration, but we probably don’t want to go into that now.
2. Curt Warner
Warner left Penn State in 1983 as a rival to Eric Dickerson, and after a 1,400-yard, 13-touchdown rookie season, Warner looked like he and Dickerson would battle for rushing titles for the rest of the decade. But Warner tore an ACL in the 1984 season opener, then returned from meatball ACL surgery in 1985 to barely grind out 1,000 yards. He bounced back with a fine 1986 season just in time to have his 1987 season truncated by a work stoppage. Ever the survivor, Warner had one more 1,000 yard season in 1988 with Chuck Knox’s run-heavy offense. It was a fine career, but the injury probably robbed Warner of the Hall of Fame.
3. Chris Warren
DVOA and DYAR were very impressed by Warren’s 1994 and 1995 seasons. He finished in third place in DYAR during 1993, then had a fourth-place finish in 1994, rushing for 1,346 and 1,545 yards respectively.
Warren used to be my go-to example of a player who only existed in the minds of many fans as a fantasy football stat producer. When I first started playing fantasy in 1992 or so, Warren was some West Coast running back for a team no one watched who produced 1,000 yard seasons. I could form no image of him in my mind. I just plopped his 1,000 yards into my lineup and tracked his progress in USA Today.
Now, I watch so much football that no running back really lives in my mind as only a stat line; Frank Gore was almost there for the Niners down years, and perhaps a Beanie Wells-type falls into that bin when his numbers are up and his team is down. The experience may be different for fans who don’t live and breathe football. Is there any successful player, running back or otherwise, who only exists as a database entry for you?
In 1992, Williams caught 72 passes as the fullback for a 2-14 Seahawks team. No one else on the roster had more than 27 catches. Wait, it gets scarier: wide receiver Tommy Kane had those 27 catches, but the guy who finished third on the Seahawks in receptions was backup fullback James Jones, with 21. Want to be terrified? We have the play-by-play for 1992. Williams was targeted 120 times. His 72 catches amounted to 19 DYAR, because diminishing returns kick in real fast when throwing 7.5 passes per game to a fullback.
Let’s enjoy one quick box score from 1992 together: . Stan Gelbaugh completed 22-of-32 passes for 130 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Let those stats sink in a moment. Williams caught 11 passes for 45 yards and rushed 11 times for 44 yards. Warren rushed 10 times for 29 yards and lost a yard on one catch. Tight end Mike Jones caught three passes for 18 yards. What an amazing offense! On the plus side, the Giants only managed two sacks, but if the offense is going to average less than four yards per pass, you might as well hang back and let them do their thing.
Williams led the Seahawks in receptions a few other times, but the situation was not as dire when Knox was head coach and Brian Blades was around to add a little deep spice to ground Chuck. Williams also rushed for 700 yards or so in his best years. Just as Warner was the shadow of Dickerson, Williams was a shadow of Roger Craig in many ways: not quite as good, stuck in a much weaker offense, but still similar.
I can’t keep him off this list without losing all credibility. Watters gained more yards for the Seahawks than he did for the Eagles or Niners, yet he was less impressive (at least superficially) for the Seahawks than he was for the other teams. That is somehow appropriate: the Seahawks got the essence of Watters, empty 1,200 yard seasons that existed for their own sake.
DYAR liked Watters’ 1998 and 2000 seasons a bit and was impressed with his late career receiving. That counts for something, because our stats were not fooled much by his efforts in Philly. So Watters must have been doing something productive for those .500 caliber teams, besides keeping Ahman Green and Shaun Alexander on the bench. Here you are, Ricky: fifth-best running back in Seahawks history. You earned it!
Marshawn Lynch is now eighth on the Seahawks all-time rushing list. Give me one more year of big runs, Skittles, and maybe a playoff berth, Marshawn, and I will start dusting off the fifth-place seat for you.
200 comments, Last at 16 Jun 2012, 4:27pm by Mr Shush