$.01—Andrew Luck was filmed throwing a football for the first time in well over a year. That might be the most significant minicamp development around the entire NFL. It certainly is for the flailing Indianapolis Colts, who quickly spiraled into one of the league’s worst teams without the 2012 No. 1 overall pick.
Luck has had shoulder surgery, complications in his rehab and then more surgery (allegedly). Discouraged with his progress and domestic medicine, Luck went to Europe for more cutting-edge treatments to try and fix his throwing shoulder. Apparently it’s working, at least enough that he can physically complete the act of throwing a football once again.
That is a significant step forward, and it’s understandable for Colts fans to get excited. I would caution them to curb that enthusiasm. It’s been a long time off for Luck, some 18 months since he last saw live action against NFL defenses, and he missed more than half the 2015 season due to injury as well. His play and development were already dangerously close to plateauing after a masterful ’14 season, and the Colts haven’t exactly built the team up impressively since.
All eyes will be on Luck and his every throw. The pressure on him will be as intense as for any player we’ve seen in recent times and that only adds to the difficult journey of coming back from such a devastating injury.
$.02—It’s a tough time for the Christian Hackenberg truthers. The one-time mega-recruit for Penn State and relentlessly hyped QB prospect is now a street free agent.
It took the Oakland Raiders, led by staunch Hackenberg fanboy Jon Gruden, just one minicamp practice session to dump “Hack” after trading a conditional seventh round pick to the New York Jets to try and salvage his career. In less than eight hours, the Raiders realized Hackenberg wasn’t worth the NFL equivalent of a sack of deflated balls.
Now the 2016 second-round pick is looking for work. He’s the only quarterback taken in the first two rounds of a draft to never throw a single pass in a regular season game in his first two years. Considering his QB competition in New York wasn’t exactly the ’27 Yankees (Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s INT-prone beard, Bryce Petty, the month of Josh McCown before his latest major injury), it’s readily evident all the air is gone from the hype balloon.
I tried my best to puncture the ridiculous Hack hype early on. Repeatedly. And while I don’t take any joy in seeing the young man face the foreclosure of his NFL dream, the oft-profane and personal vitriol sent my way for daring to doubt the Big Draft Media establishment and their relentless pimping of an obviously flawed prospect makes me want to take a deep hit off a victory cigar here. I don’t smoke, however, so I’ll try and spin it forward into advice for would-be draft experts: die on your own island, not some from a McDraftnik or someone who doesn’t watch prospects until after the player’s college career is complete. There was still way too much of that with Josh Allen this winter…
$.03—Former NFL running back Reggie Bush was awarded $12.5 million in damages from the Rams organization this week for their negligence and unsafe work conditions stemming from their days in St. Louis.
The play happened in 2015 while Bush was still clinging to a career with the San Francisco 49ers. A simple play turned catastrophic for Bush:
He tore knee ligaments during his slip on the concrete in his cleats. The Rams covered that perilous walkway with carpet for the remaining games at the Edward Jones Doe, a move which is simultaneously smart and a stark admission of guilt.
Bush tried to come back with the Bills a year after his injury. He lost three yards on 12 carries and called it a career.
His win here is a victory for players at large. Sure they wear pads, but unsafe work conditions are unsafe if you’re a football player, an oil rigger or a school nurse. Expect NFL teams to focus on areas which could possibly pose a threat to player safety. That’s a good thing.
It’s also a reminder that as much as the fans in St. Louis supported the team, the facility was simply not good enough for the NFL. As fans, we get caught up so much in all the money and politics of financing stadiums that it’s sort of numbing. It doesn’t seem real. The Bush situation reminds us of the human element.
Lots of quick thoughts on various NFL happenings…
--Texans safety Andre Hal has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s a rough break for a player who elevated his career last season, but he’s in a great place to succeed. Teammate David Quessenberry recently licked non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and both the Texans organization and Hal’s teammates have already shown tremendous attitude and action in helping their stricken friend.
I wrote a piece about Hal and the difference between Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for Texans Wire, if you want more on this subject.
--Early indications from Ravens minicamp are that Lamar Jackson is legit. The first-round rookie QB from Louisville is earning praise from teammates on both sides of the ball as well as coaches and media watching the noncontact practice sessions. There are whispers he will see a lot more playing time than you might think as a rookie, Joe Flacco and his elite contract be damned. And some notable draftniks wanted him to play wide receiver…
--Congrats to Dallas Cowboys guard Zach Martin on his new contract. Six years and $84 million, with $48 million guaranteed makes Martin the highest-paid guard in the league, and by a wide margin; his deal is almost $18M more than Andrew Norwell of the Jaguars.
Martin is great and deserves to be the top-paid guard, but it sets up an interesting spending pattern for Dallas. The Cowboys now have the most expensive guard in Martin, center in Travis Frederick, and left tackle (by $30M) Tyron Smith. Remember, this team cut Dez Bryant at least in part because they couldn’t afford him.
--Oddity from researching the guard salaries. Prior to Martin’s new deal, the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders had four of the top 5 guard contracts in total value. The one interloper was Norwell with the Jaguars. Martin’s massive deal pushes Cleveland’s Joel Bitonio down to No. 6, with teammate Kevin Zeitler now third. Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson in Oakland are 4-5.
--In covering the Detroit Lions (personal note: I’m now the managing editor at Lions Wire for USA TODAY sports media group) I’ve unfortunately had to deal with the phenomenon of fake news. I try to avoid such a derisive and often misapplied concept, but every indication I’ve gotten from Lions players, staffers, even other people who cover the team on a closer basis than me, is that Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press flat-out fabricated his story on Lions players being upset that new coach Matt Patricia is working them too hard. It’s simply not true, not at any level. It also disrespects former coach Jim Caldwell and that’s not fair to a good man who can no longer defend himself.
--Disgraced former NFL pass rusher Greg Hardy is now in the UFC. He clobbered another NFL alum, Austen Lane, in his battle. Nice to see him assaulting someone legally for once…
--I’ll have something more in depth on the Supplemental Draft as it gets closer (July 11) but all three defensive backs who are in it should be drafted. Western Michigan CB Sam Beal is a better prospect than college teammate Darius Phillips, a fifth rounder for the Bengals. Phillips is a playmaker extraordinaire, but Beal is a better cover man and tackler. Virginia Tech CB Adonis Alexander has some legit warts but offers size, speed and a ridiculous level of self-confidence in his ability. Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant is an athletic marvel, someone who has documented 4.3 speed and can deadlift 600 pounds. He’s not translated that into football very well, unfortunately.
$.05—Happy Father’s Day
Most years I write a stand-alone piece honoring Father’s Day. I set out to do so once again, but I kept coming up with thoughts I’ve already covered in past years.
One of my favorites is the 2013 edition, a tumultuous year where I lost my grandfather and my father-in-law in less than a month. That series of unfortunate events led my wife and I to move our family back from Houston to Michigan, which has turned into something wonderful for all of us. You can’t tell me those great men haven’t had a hand in our relative happiness.
The 2015 edition was a personal triumph. It came three weeks after my open heart surgery. It was the first real work I did in my recovery, and it was difficult. I read it now and remember the coughing fits while writing it and how it made me nearly pass out from the pain.
This year I did want to give a brief summary of my kids. I wrote about them frequently when they were younger, but now Layne is a rising seventh grader and doesn’t exactly like the spotlight. My daughter Lizzie is a rising fourth grader and very much inherited my “hot dog gene”, as my wife likes to roll her eyes and call my demonstrative personality and enjoyment of attention. Since it’s my holiday, I’ll celebrate by being a proud dad.
I’m blessed with two wonderful, distinct, remarkable children. Both are excellent basketball and volleyball players for their age levels. Layne can legitimately beat me in 1-on-1 and blocks my patented turnaround baseline fadeaway more than I like to admit. They’re both kind-hearted and empathetic, almost to a fault. They’re both intelligent and diligent students. I’m proud of them every day, often tearfully so.
I know I’m lucky. I still have my own dad and we get along great. My brother is an excellent dad to his daughter, and my sister married a wonderful guy (Hi Johnny!) who is a fantastic dad, too. My wife’s brothers are also great dads to their sons, and it’s awesome to see my nephews grow into really interesting kids.
In reading the older columns from Father’s Day, I’m reminded of how often I advise everyone to take advantage of the time they have with their fathers and kids. I’m unfortunately reminded I don’t follow my own advice well enough. I’m going to try to do better this year, and I hope you can too. It’s worth trying.