Football. It's here!
Yes, I know. It's "just" the preseason. But the first full week of games starts Thursday night, and I'm ready.
I never pay attention to scores and wins and losses. I don't care about results when games are decided by fourth-stringers and other never-will-be players. But I am champing at the bit for live action and craving various storylines.
I never like to overreact to what I witness in August, but there are opportunities to learn. And preseason football certainly whets the appetite.
Here are nine things that I'm foaming at the mouth to see in the six preseason games scheduled for Thursday night.
And of course, he's teaming with another living legend in Peyton Manning. I'm fascinated to see if there will be any early rapport with Manning, who is a stickler for timing. I think the adjustment is going to be a process.
Also, Welker apparently has a short memory. He ended what had been a great career in New England on bad terms, with his agents becoming very unhappy with the Patriots and owner Robert Kraft. Since then, Welker has taken some shots at the "Patriot Way," telling Sports Illustrated he "put up with" coach Bill Belichick.
Welker seems to have forgotten how Brady and Belichick made his career. He caught more than 100 balls in five of the six seasons he was with New England, becoming a true Pro Bowler and a star after being jettisoned by the San Diego Chargers and having a few merely solid years with the Miami Dolphins.
2) Tavon Austin's speed
I've seen NFL Network's Mike Mayock get so excited when talking about Austin's game on air that it looked like he was literally going to combust -- and I don't think he was overreacting. Austin is worthy of the hype.
Usually, rookie wide receivers face a learning curve. It takes them a while to learn an offense and adjust to the speed and physicality of the NFL. But I think Austin is way ahead of the curve. Barring anything unforeseen, I expect that the St. Louis Rams' receiver will be my pick for offensive rookie of the year.
The reviews of Austin's practice work, study habits and play with the Rams have been stellar and eye-opening. General manager Les Snead was smart to trade up in April's draft to nab him.
The Rams have a great opportunity to be a true sleeper team this year, and Austin is a big reason for that.
3) Josh Freeman vs. Mike Glennon
Meanwhile, after drafting Glennon, Schiano seemingly left the door ajar to the possibility that the N.C. State product will see the field this year. Phil Simms and Rich Gannon told me this summer on a special "NFL Monday QB" on the CBS Sports Network that they thought Glennon was the best quarterback in the draft.
Whether Freeman struggles in Week 1 or later, I'll bet that Glennon plays for Tampa Bay this year. The Bucs are vastly improved on defense and loaded on offense. They aren't going to let Freeman sink their season. If Glennon acquits himself well against the Baltimore Ravens, watch a controversy rightly mushroom.
In truth, I'm just amped to watch Kaepernick, even though I know he won't be on the field for long.
5) The Chargers' defense
I've focused this offseason on the changes that the San Diego Chargers have made at head coach (hiring Mike McCoy), general manager (hiring Tom Telesco) and offensive coordinator (tapping former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt). I think one of the smart things McCoy did was to retain defensive coordinator John Pagano. But this defense is going to look different.
6) The Falcons' cornerback battle
7) Gio running
8) Bernard Pierce
This cat is an absolute monster. The second-year running back is going to get major burn with the Baltimore Ravens this season.
I've argued that Baltimore can be better this year, even with all the injuries and roster turnover. I think Pierce is going to get many more carries and pound the opposition. He has an incredible blend of power and speed.
9) Horton working his magic
There's not too much to be optimistic about Thursday if you are a Cleveland Browns fan, especially since oft-injured running back Trent Richardson won't play in the team's first preseason game.
But allow me a rare occasion to stress the positive and explain why I am excited to watch the Browns take on the Rams: Ray Horton is coaching the Cleveland defense.
I think Horton is one of the great defensive coordinators in the NFL. He's smart and tough, and players love playing for him. He demands accountability. I think he's a future NFL head coach.