In just two days, the NFL season starts. Three days after that, we have a Sunday full of games. It's a far cry from those days in April and May, when it seemed a foregone conclusion games would be missed.
So with this new start, I'll be rolling out a few weekly dot-com staples to supplement my television work. This column is one. Every Tuesday, I'll take you around the league with some notes as teams transition from the week of games that just ended into the ones that lie ahead.
Nothing too complicated. So let's go...
Tom Brady isn't ruling out a comeback by retired wideout Randy Moss -- in fact, he's encouraging it. Brady said Tuesday that he'd welcome him back with open arms. More...
» Pats should pass on Moss. Count me among those believing that, much as Randy Moss might want to return to New England, the Patriots have moved on from their old record-shattering threat. And that's even considering that Chad Ochocinco's been a bit slow to pick up their offense. Last year, when New England jettisoned Moss, there was a belief in the organization that they could wind up having a better quarterback as a result; the thinking was Tom Brady is at his best when he's forcing the defense to defend the field, rather than one player. That belief was dead-on. Freed of having to feed the beast, Brady completed 212 of his 326 passes for 2,697 yards, 26 touchdowns and 0 interceptions over the season's final 11 weeks. Meanwhile, Moss had 19 catches for 254 and two touchdowns for two teams. Translation: Moss needs the Patriots way worse than they need him.
» One-liners on five things I'll be interested to watch in Week 1:
- How the Saints employ Mark Ingram, the kind of tackle-to-tackle runner they haven't had since Deuce McAllister.
- How the Patriots employ Aaron Hernandez, a different kind of athlete as a move tight end who seems to have earned Brady's trust.
- How the Steelers look offensively, with a wealth of young talent at receiver and a couple of old reliables, in Hines Ward and Jerricho Cotchery, steadying the group.
- How the Chargers look defensively, with Greg Manusky -- who had great success with Wade Phillips in San Diego -- returning to run Norv Turner's defense.
- Where Mario Williams lines up, and how Wade Phillips tries to turn him loose, as the coach did with DeMarcus Ware in Dallas.
» Explaining Pryor. So why is everyone making such a big deal of the Terrelle Pryor case? It actually is much deeper than this quarterback's particular case. The bottom line here is that a group of veteran players and agents are concerned, for obvious reasons, about the NFL setting a precedent in which they're able to enforce punishments over NCAA violations. The really interesting thing is the league's concern is more about protecting the supplemental draft and not having it become an easy out for college players who change their mind after the January deadline to declare for the draft. Ultimately, the suspension was considered a compromise when it came down, after two weeks of discussions between Pryor's folks and the commissioner's office, as a way to allow the player to go pro and the league to prevent sea change in the way the supplemental draft is employed. But the larger issues came to the forefront.
» Examining the Jets' roster philosophy. The Patriots were lauded for their depth when their castoffs drew a slew of waiver claims after final cuts, something colleague Jason La Canfora pointed out earlier in the week. On the flip side, their archrival, the Jets, put in claims on a league-high seven players, leading some to believe they had a depth problem. That isn't quite accurate. GM Mike Tannenbaum has adopted a philosophy in recent years, based on a team-run study, that undrafted free agents and cutdown-weekend additions are just as effective as back-end draft picks, which can be used as currency to move up the board. As a result, the team has used just 13 picks in Rounds 4-7 over the past five years, and has dealt up for players like Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Dustin Keller, Mark Sanchez, and Shonn Greene. So the Jets' activity over the weekend isn't a sudden recognition of anything. It's their M.O. to be roster-churning into September. It's cost them at times (see: Danny Woodhead), but overall, it's worked well.
Brooks: College stock watch
Each Monday, NFL.com draft expert Bucky Brooks shares his notes and observations on how potential NFL prospects fared over the weekend. More ...
» Keep an eye on the college quarterbacks. If you love college football like I do, then you've been hearing about Andrew Luck, Landry Jones and Matt Barkley for years now. Fans that only follow the game at the pro level would do well to become acquainted with them now. Those three represent the front of what could be a very, very good 2012 draft class of quarterbacks, though it's imperative to note each still has a year of eligibility remaining beyond this season. The 2011 class wasn't a great one, and many in the league view that group of signal-callers as being the most overdrafted in recent memory. Both the Redskins and Seahawks, for example, studied the 2011 group closely, and decided to pass, perhaps with the thought of what's ahead. Luck, in particular, could have an impact on the late stages of this season. Say you're an owner, your team is 1-11 or 2-10 in December, and the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning is on the horizon. Could make for some interesting decision-making.
» Bumper crop of 1998. When I saw Charles Woodson on "NFL Total Access" the other day, I thought of how he beat out Peyton Manning for the 1997 Heisman Trophy. So I looked up the vote from that year. Check out the Top 5 in balloting: Woodson, Manning, Ryan Leaf, Randy Moss and Ricky Williams. Not bad. Manning is a surefire Hall of Famers. Moss and Woodson certainly have strong cases. Williams might've had one, were it not for his bizarre mid-career issues. And Leaf is, of course, the bust. Kinda reminds you of the Top 5 draft picks in 1989: Troy Aikman, Tony Mandarich, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders and Derrick Thomas.
» The other Ryan's debut. For several reasons, not the least of which is being a New York team playing in the shadow of Manhattan on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the Jets will be on center stage Sunday night. But the other team will be interesting to watch, as they always are. The Cowboys will be debuting a new head coach in Jason Garrett, now free of the interim tag. And they'll be rolling out a new defense, run by Rob Ryan, who'll face his brother Rex. But as much curiosity as there is over how Rob will create chaos with stars like DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff, just as important will be his ability to turn around young players, primarily Mike Jenkins and Anthony Spencer, who went off the rails in 2010. Ryan's success there will go a long way in how he's judged in Year 1.