|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Joe Philbin and the Miami Dolphins did not win a game in the preseason with HBO's cameras recording it all.|
In his robust Inside The NFL notebook below, NFL Network's Albert Breer touches on multiple topics including (click on the link to take you directly there):
» Four things he's looking forward to in Week 1.
» What big advantage Andrew Luck had in preseason.
» Which Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Barkley is comparable to.
» And much more, beginning with Joe Philbin's thoughts on the HBO sideshow in Davie, Fla. ...
HBO's "Hard Knocks" wraps up another season Tuesday night. One of its primary stars, Joe Philbin, isn't planning on watching. The Dolphins coach hasn't caught any of the previous four episodes, either.
If you're looking for a review of the popular NFL reality series, you've come to the wrong place, especially considering Philbin didn't watch any of the previous installments either.
Eventually Philbin will watch this in-living-color chronicle of his first training camp as a head coach. "At some point, maybe next offseason, I'm sure I'll take a peek," he said. For now, Philbin says things went just fine.
"I don't have any regrets," Philbin said Sunday night from his Davie, Fla., office, which America was invited into this summer. "I'm not sitting in my office and saying, 'Geez, why did we do that?' And if we win 15 games, it's not gonna be because they were here, just like if we lose 13 games, it won't be because they were here. It was a good experience, we met a lot of good people. That's really it."
The history of the teams that have been on "Hard Knocks" in the past backs up what Philbin says. It's pretty tough to draw correlations. The 2001 Ravens, the first team on, didn't repeat as Super Bowl champs, but they did return to the playoffs. The 2002 Cowboys and 2010 Jets had similar seasons to the years previous. The 2009 Bengals rose. The 2007 Chiefs and 2008 Cowboys crumbled.
I still remember talking to ex-Cowboys captain Bradie James about the show in the summer of 2009. He came out swinging. "I was never OK with it. Never. You had characters. We play football. This is not soap-opera central. Training camp's important and when you have people still worried about being individuals, you never come together. That's what the cameras did -- we became part of the show."
Philbin swears his staff and players didn't get caught up in having the cameras around.
"They become part of the fabric of the team," he said. "You know their names, they know you. You see them earlier in the day than you do a lot of other people, and later, too. You get used to them being here, and so you go about your business. It doesn't change the way we do anything."
That doesn't mean there weren't things he had to get used to. Philbin said he went home one day and tried to take his shirt off, not thinking about how he was wired for sound. He moved a little too quickly, and "I almost got strangled by the wire."
Most of those kinks were worked out early, with the club having the HBO folks around for the end of its offseason program. Philbin also took that time to be clear with his players, so they wouldn't be hesitant to come to his office knowing that it was, in essence, a set for the show. He also wanted them to know he wouldn't be throwing a towel over the camera every time an important moment came.
Still, you can't prepare for everything. And that was illustrated when one of the biggest stars of the premier episode, Chad Johnson, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in the course of HBO taping the second show. Johnson's release from jail made air, as did the subsequent meeting in which Philbin notified Johnson of his release from the team.
"I felt bad for him," Philbin said. "He didn't want that out there necessarily. But, for example, we'd released Derek Dennis from Temple earlier, and that was in front of the cameras. I just didn't feel like it was right to treat Chad any different than someone like Derek Dennis. If you're going to do it in front of the cameras with other guys, you gotta do it with him. I just felt like it was the right thing to do, but it wasn't easy."
Philbin might not have gotten a look at how it came off on TV, but he also wasn't leaving all of that perception to chance. The Dolphins had employees watching and reporting back on anything significant that showed up. And there were things that were off limits.
"If it ever got to the stage where (things were too sensitive), I didn't have to stay in the room," Philbin said. "I certainly had conversations that weren't going to be aired, for any of a number of reasons, and so I'd try and get somewhere where it wouldn't be recorded."
There are side benefits for Philbin. He jokes that he spent his first 10 years in coaching trying to convince his parents that it was, in fact, a full-time job. So he enjoyed that his father, in his 90s, and his mother, in her 80s, now have proof.
He also likes that the fans might feel a stronger connection to the players and coaches, and see them more as people after watching the show.
And then there's the personal side of this for Philbin, who's been through a tumultuous year after the death of his son in January and the transition to his first head coaching job. Whenever he finally gets around to watching the show, Philbin thinks he'll be glad he has a record of this time.
"It'll be fun, a good way to remember our first year here, the first camp together with the team," he said. "Some of the memorable things that occurred, I'm sure that stuff was good for TV. But it was real. We didn't fabricate anything. And I think it'll be good, over time, to gain a greater appreciation and memory of this time together."
Four things to look for in Week 1
1) The team around Robert Griffin III. For as much as Griffin and Andrew Luck are compared, their situations aren't the same. Luck is the centerpiece of a rebuilding project in its first year under a rookie GM (Ryan Grigson) and coach (Chuck Pagano). Griffin has a coach with two rings and two years under his belt remaking the roster. The team around him is much more developed. Mike Shanahan told me that what stuck out about this camp was "the competition at each position. This is the first year we had competition at all the positions." Indeed, 19 of the 22 players projected to start (London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo and DeAngelo Hall are the exceptions) first won their starting jobs in Washington under Shanahan. So while we're all watching Griffin develop, we'll get a good idea about the status of the Redskins' rebuild, something Shanahan characterized as a five-year project to owner Dan Snyder when he was hired in 2010.
2) Jets tackle Austin Howard vs. Bills DE Mario Williams. This will get the headlines, but the overall battle at the line of scrimmage in the Bills-Jets game should be fascinating. Part of the Jets' decision to bring in Tim Tebow and hire Tony Sparano was to try and reestablish the physical edge offensively that helped accentuate the strengths of a loaded defense in 2009 and '10. That starts up front with a line that still has good core pieces, but has lacked the end-to-end balance that it used to possess. Buffalo is banking on its defensive line to lead a defensive revival, with veterans Mario Williams and Kyle Williams joined by promising giant Marcell Dareus. Maybe it's too early for referendums, but the matchup between that trio and the Jets' front could at least give us a better read on what's ahead.
3) Peyton Manning's chemistry with his receivers. The combination of age and the healing process from his neck procedures has made Manning look for other ways to compensate. It's why he was meeting his new Broncos receivers at high school fields before they were allowed at the team facility. It's why he and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have been working on a Broncos/Colts hybrid scheme. And it's why John Elway emphasized to me that it's about having the right guys as much as the best ones: "He's gonna make certain receivers look better than they are, so it's not always going out and getting the marquee wideouts." That explains the presence of Jacob Tamme and Brandon Stokley on the 53-man roster. It will make Manning's interactions with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker worth watching against Pittsburgh.
4) Mike Wallace's impact. Folks around Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger want to wait for the real bullets to start flying before passing judgment on their burgeoning relationship. Word is the quarterback was as involved and motivated as he's been in any offseason in his career, and Haley did once get a few pretty epic years from another ring-bearing veteran quarterback (Kurt Warner). The Steelers also got the goods from Antonio Brown from April through August, which explains their new financial commitment to him. And if Emmanuel Sanders keeps developing, Rashard Mendenhall gets healthy and the line comes together, Haley could have a real good group after they get a couple months together. But the X-factor is Wallace. The coaches expect that he'll be able to fit right back in (he's had the playbook for months) coming off his contract strike. It'll be fascinating to watch how No. 17 is used to threaten defenses, and whether or not he'll instantly open up things for other guys the way he has the past two years.
1) Andrew Luck will be in the Pro Bowl within three years. And it wouldn't completely shock me if the Colts' new quarterback is there this year. Based on his background and skill set, there has never been a quarterback more prepared to get started than Luck. One big advantage? Pagano is installing a complex, attacking defense in Indy, and that means Luck was able to see a lot of looks in his first training camp. "The good thing for him is he's seeing a lot of exotic things," Pagano said. "When we do our third-down situational stuff, he's seeing a lot there. That's good preparation for him, so it won't be like, 'Oh, boy.' "
2) The Giants are as prepared as they can be to defend their title. Tom Coughlin's crew started the year after the 2007 title with 11 wins in 12 games, despite losing Osi Umenyiora in preseason. The operation only went south after Plaxico Burress, a vital cog in that machine, shot himself. So it's a good sign that this summer has looked a lot like the summer of 2008 for the team, with a professional club working systematically through the process. Eli Manning assessed the offseason like this: "I thought the guys worked hard and understood that 9-7 is not good enough, and the way that we played at the end of the season is the way we have to play at all times, at that level."
3) The replacement refs better be ready for the worst. At most of the 14 camps I visited over the summer, coaches I spoke with wore out the thesaurus in the verbiage they used to describe what they were expecting from the replacement officials. We've had our visuals in preseason, too. One came last Wednesday during a particularly conspicuous moment of official bewilderment, when Bill Belichick and Coughlin looked across the field at each other and both, more or less, threw their hands up in incredulity. This dispute has come down to the benefits issue. Until the NFL and the refs can bridge the gap, expect coaches to adapt, scout the replacements and find every way possible to take advantage of them.
Two college players to watch this weekend
1) Texas A&M RB Christine Michael (vs. Florida, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Michael's past two seasons ended in injury -- he broke his leg in 2010 and tore his ACL last fall. But when he's been healthy, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior has shown the ability to be one of the best backs in college football, going for 899 yards and eight touchdowns on 149 carries (6.0-yard average) in just nine games and six starts as a junior. "He's got potential to be a starting NFL tailback and had potential to be a first-rounder, pre-injury," one AFC college scout said. "But nobody knows how he's going to look."
2) USC QB Matt Barkley (vs. Syracuse, at East Rutherford, N.J., 3:30 p.m., ABC). Let the nitpicking of Barkley begin! Hey, if it could happen to Luck, it can happen to anyone, and Barkley isn't nearly the lock for the first pick in 2013 that Luck was in 2012. Saturday will be Barkley's 38th start at USC, which matches the number Luck had at Stanford. Luck holds an edge in career completion percentage (67.0 to 64.1), TD/INT ratio (82/22 to 84/33) and yardage (9,430 to 9,426), but Barkley has a whole season to change that. The windy Meadowlands should be a good place to address the one aspect of Barkley's game that scouts are questioning. "You want to see his arm strength. Does (the ball) jump off his hand like (Joe) Flacco or (Matt Stafford), or is it manufactured by torque and core strength?" asked another AFC scout. I had a team executive last December compare Barkley to Troy Aikman. But by returning for his senior season, Barkley has opened himself up to the same questions Luck faced last year.
The NFL initiated the tradition of having the Super Bowl champion host its Kickoff Game in 2004, and the reigning kingpin has won all eight games since. So I'm taking the Giants over the Cowboys 24-13 to make it in nine in a row.
I still don't trust the interior of the Dallas offensive line against New York's defensive front, and I think Eli and Co. will be able to do enough against a defense still integrating a bunch of new parts.
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