Fifteen years and 11 seasons in, can "Hard Knocks" still surprise us? At a May press conference about the Los Angeles Rams' involvement with the series this year, I spoke with "Hard Knocks" director Matt Dissinger, who began his involvement with the series in 2007 as a worker bee in the robotic camera room at Chiefs camp. It is on Dissinger to tell the story of the Rams this summer without giving the ardent "Hard Knocks" fan a case of déjà vu.
"Absolutely, there's a challenge. The nature of training camp is just so repetitive and redundant," Dissinger said. "You're going to have your first day of camp, your first day of pads. And I think we take a lot of pride in ourselves in making those things unique to each environment. Really, it comes down to the characters and the people.
"That's the difference between teams. There's not a lot of variation in terms of how they run their camps, but you find the people. Like last year, Charles James, or E.Z. [Nwachukwu], those are unique to the Texans. J.J. Watt is obviously unique to the Texans. My group prides themselves on finding out who those people are here and getting with them and documenting them as early as possible."
The challenge, of course, is finding those compelling personalities as soon as possible, no easy task when 80 players arrive at training camp. Dissinger says the process of finding compelling personalities is largely organic, though pre-production legwork is part of it.
"You can do as much research as you can on these rookies and undrafted guys, but there's not a whole lot out there on them," Dissinger said. "It's only when you get in person and you talk to them and you're around them at practice. Wow, that guys sounds interesting. He's a little bit funny. Let's ask if we can wire him tomorrow. So it's just an ongoing process that really never stops."
Ultimately, a "Hard Knocks" season is often defined -- or at least remembered -- by a scene. In Kansas City, it was the Bernard Pollard dance. In New York, it was Rex's G-D snack speech. In Miami, it was Chad Johnson learning his career was over. Dissinger's job is to find those moments. Does he immediately know when an iconic "Hard Knocks" moment is in front of him?
"A lot of times, yes. I've been doing this long enough where I think I'm good enough to recognize, That was pretty special," he said. "Last year, there was a speech that Bill O'Brien gave. And I remember listening to it on the field, and I don't do any editing, but I could picture exactly how that was going to end up and it was just such a fantastic speech.
"It was where he said, 'We're the almost team. We almost made the catch, we almost made the interception, we almost made the playoffs.' And to me, he was just such a great speaker, and those speeches were so poignant. But as soon as I'm listening to it, I'm thinking, That's going to be good on the show."
"Hard Knocks" hasn't been immune to criticism. When I spoke with Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians at the "All or Nothing" premiere in June, he explained why he was open to participating in NFL Films' newest documentary series but had no interest in the flagship program.
"My problem with 'Hard Knocks' has always been the sensationalism of guys getting cut," Arians said. "Reality TV, seeing dreams come to an end. ['All or Nothing'] has none of that."
I recently asked Dissinger about that criticism, which we've heard in different forms for years in NFL circles. Dissinger strongly disagreed with the notion, calling the coverage of camp cuts "inevitable," given the nature of the show.
"All that we can do as a production is present what happens," Dissinger explained in a phone call on Monday from Rams camp. "I don't believe that we editorialize a conversation of a player being told he's cut, and there's certainly the reverse of that, where, on several occasions, you can say a little bit of extra exposure has helped some guys get jobs on other teams. Danny Amendola [currently with the Patriots] was cut on 'Hard Knocks.' Chris Hogan [also currently with the Pats] was cut on 'Hard Knocks.' Danny Woodhead [currently with the Chargers] was cut on 'Hard Knocks.' Last year, it was Kourtnei Brown, cut [by the Texans], got a job with the Buccaneers.
"I don't believe that we take these things and exploit a player for fun. I think a documentary series is to document what happens, just the same as you would if a player has a great game or if he gets criticized in a meeting. This is not a scripted reality show. We didn't write the cuts into the show. It's just a matter of course for what happens in a training camp."
Hard Knocks premieres Tuesday, August 9 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.
2016 Los Angeles Rams Finalize TV Broadcast Team For Preseason
Here’s your broadcast team for the Rams’ final three preseason games on CBS.
The 2016 Los Angeles Rams have named their broadcast team for the final three games of their preseason schedule which will be broadcast on CBS.
Andrew Siciliano, who had held preseason play-by-play duties for the Rams in St. Louis, will hold the same position this year. The NFL Network reporter will be joined by Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson as analysts. For field reporting, CBS’ Jill Arrington and the Rams’ own Dani Klupenger will take sideline duties.
Affiliate stations who will carry the broadcast include:
- KBFX FOX 58 – Bakersfield, CA
- KMPH FOX 26 – Fresno/Visalia, CA
- KDFX FOX 11 – Palm Springs, CA
- KKFX FOX 11 – Santa Barbara/Santa Maria/San Luis Obispo, CA
- KHON FOX 2 – Honolulu, HI
- KVVU FOX 5 – Las Vegas, NV
- KRXI FOX 11 – Reno, NV
- KMYU MyNetwork – Salk Lake City, UT
Additionally, the Rams struck a deal with Univision Los Angeles to broadcast the same preseason games in Spanish, “the first ever between Univision’s local media division and the NFL”:
As part of the three-year agreement, three Rams preseason games starting Aug. 20, as well as shows surrounding the team, will air on KMEX and KFTR, the network’s L.A. UniMás station, the company said. In 2016, preseason games and additional programming will also be simulcast on O&O KABE and KBTF UniMás in Bakersfield, Calif.
With Saturday’s preseason opener being nationally televised on ESPN, the Rams will have a huge national audience to play in front of before having their final three games presented by the above crew.
Los Angeles Rams Expand Attendance Capability For Preseason OpenerIt sounds like Saturday’s preseason opener could take place in front of a sold-out crowd at the Coliseum. How long will that size crowd last?
With unexpectedly high demand stressing the availability of tickets for Saturday’s preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys, the Los Angeles Rams have expanded seating to accommodate more fans:
Due to high demand, Rams have expanded attendance for Saturday's preseason game vs. Dallas. Tickets available at https://t.co/9V95MAxdTX.— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) August 10, 2016
We will continue to open up more seats throughout Coliseum this week to allow fans chance to attend historic game https://t.co/g2Sandmfer— Kevin Demoff (@kdemoff) August 10, 2016
It’s the first legitimate marker of the LA market’s interest in Rams football.
We got a sense of the initial exuberance the market had for the Rams’ return when more than 10,000 fans attended day 1 of training camp. Last weekend’s scrimmage was a bit more difficult to parse with less than 30,000 showed up for the first activity at the Coliseum, a weekend scrimmage.
A full crowd on Saturday would set the bar for the swell of interest the city of LA will ride into the Rams’ first season back in the city since 1994. As I’ve often mentioned in these attendance-related pieces, the question is one of sustainability.
As Rams OL Rodger Saffold himself alluded to on last night’s Hard Knocks premiere, if the Rams can’t change course after having played their last winning season in 2003, it’s hard to expect any market to show up to games in full force let alone Los Angeles.
That alone might put more pressure on Head Coach Jeff Fisher to succeed in 2016. And from the sounds of it, Saturday’s crowd might just be an indication of how that pressure will manifest even in a preseason game.
Los Angeles Rams Training Camp: Practice Recap
Another rough day for Goff with some standouts elsewhere. And the offensive line...well, no.
Special teams took on special emphasis today as the Los Angeles Rams held practice at their University of California, Irvine training camp site.
Here are my observations of the day:
- Notably missing from this week's earlier practices, WR Pharoh Cooper returned to today's sessions, even partaking in punt returning duties.
- Right tackle Rob Havenstein is still out. Third-year corner E.J. Gaines did not practice as well.
The Good? Jared Goff connected on a beautiful crossing route with WR Duke Williams for a completion early in 11-on-11s. The Bad? There was plenty. In the same 11-on-11 session, Goff overthrew WR Brian Quick and was intercepted by CB Troy Hill. Later on in in practicr, he was intercepted again by rookie defensive back Jabriel Washington. Goff threw that second interception directly into the defender’s hands.
- QB battle? Well, the fans started to yell “Put in No. 17,“ so I guess that tells ya.
- WR battle? With his return to practice, Cooper was back in there during team drills. Williams made a nice catch over the middle. Tavon Austin scored a TD (did not get to see if it was a crossing route or a jet sweep). Mike Thomas continues to be a receiver that keeps making plays as well.
- TE? Tyler Higbee is legit y’all. He’s a tough, physical target. He came up with two TDs during red zone drills.
- RB? Aaron Green took one to the house against the third team.
- OL? I made on emphasis to keep my eyes on the “big uglies“ today. Man, I wish I did not because I came away so disappointed. One reason the offensive line is not improving might be because they do a lot of nothing. The entire group just stood as other position groups took part in their respective drills. When they did begin their drills, they were a bit lackadaisical.
- Greg Robinson was the main culprit. He gave minimal effort during the first part of OL drills. During one-on-ones against the defensive line, GROb was easily pushed back. During 11-on=-11s, he wouldn’t finish his blocks, just barely pushing off the defender, but still allowing him to get past him. It really was awful watching this cat today.
- DE? DE Robert Quinn blew by past Robinson all day. Was not fair at all. Newcomer DE Quinton Coples had himself a nice outing, embarrassing OT Darrell Williams in one-on-one drills. The newbie appreciation did not stop there; DL Dominique Easley got easy penetration over center Eric Kush.
- At this point it’s safe to say that the second starting corner job is Coty Sensabaugh’s to lose? I’d say so. Especially with E.J. Gaines missing practice again.
- The corners had themselves a day. Rookie Jabriel Washington made a nice interception (nice that he held on to it, because it was a rocket). CB Troy Hill also made a nice pick.
The Rams will enter the Coliseum for actual (kinda) football today for the first time. Practice will be held at the Coliseum, so don’t head to UC Irvine. It’s “Family Day.” Make sure you’ve got a ticket too. Seating will be first come, first serve.
Rookie WR Pharoh Cooper got back in the mix. That leaves just two Rams reported on injured status: CB E.J. Gaines, who sounds like he might not make the preseason opener, and RT Rob Havenstein who is still on the PUP list.
In all seriousness depending on how he looks today, it’s time to ask when Rams fans will worry about Goff’s rookie season. The reports on his struggles are getting frequent. His readiness is being questioned. He’s reportedly lagging behind his peers. He’s still backing up Case Keenum...Case Keenum. Let that sink in.
I’m not suggesting that today is the threshold for worry to be justified. But that day does exist. And I’m eager to see how fans feel it approaching.
Recent reporting has done nothing to slow the rising expectations behind rookie TE Tyler Higbee. And given the production at that spot in recent years...
Jared Cook has been the Rams leading receiver for past 3 seasons. And he wasn't good. Boras(former TE coach) is now OC. #Higbee— Soul of Foles (@_BMule) August 6, 2016
It’s all about personnel rotation today. Cycling through at linebacker, cornerback and safety will give us our first real glimpse into the depth chart as it stands.
Bear in mind, all NFL clubs will have to make their first round of roster cuts to get to 75 the business week following the third preseason game. The final 53-man cuts will come September 3.
Today should give us a fair starting point to jump off of.
The Rams put on a show at the Coliseum. Here’s how TST’s Eddie Perez saw it.
The Los Angeles Rams showed off the run offense powered by RB Just Todd Gurley on Family Day at the Coliseum.
The team took part in special teams, positional, and team drills. Of note, rookie receiver Pharoh Cooper was taking part in kick return drills. This could be a way the explosive rookie can make an impact sooner than later, though you have to wonder what that means for veterans WR Tavon Austin and RB Benny Cunningham.
CB E.J. Gaines remains on the sidelines in street clothes. Same for RT Rob Havenstein.
Most of Goff's throws today were checkdowns to a running back or TE.
Rough summary of the Rams' team drills today at the Coliseum:— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) August 6, 2016
Pass to TE
Sounds like the Rams’ offense has been installed.
Chase Reynolds took a short out route from Goff for a TD. Newly-added TE Jake Stoneburner took in a TD with an out route in the flat. Goff put up a nice pass to Mike Thomas down the sideline for 23 yards. Negated by pass interference. Hit Duke Williams for a ten yard gain. Connected with Spruce and Williams more than once on two-minute drills .
While Goff just missed rookie TE Tyler Higbee on a post route for a TD with Bryant on coverage, he has been a terror. Looks the part.
Case threw a lot of underneath/hitch routes on 7-on-7 drills. Underneath routes definitely seem to be a staple of this offense. CB Trumaine Johnson grabbed an INT during the second portion of teams drills. QB/human Sean Mannion missed Austin HIll for what would have been a TD.
Tavon Austin seriously could get 100 receptions...but each would be a five-yard out route. He took a short hitch route all the way to the house.
WR Kenny Britt beat CB Coty Sensabaugh for a long catch down the sideline, and WR Bradley Marquez beat corner Sensabaugh on a post route for a TD.
UDFA rookie WR Duke Williams made a nice catch over Jabriel Washington. He connected with Goff multiple times on the two-minute drill, ending the drill with a touchdown.
Rookie UDFA WR Paul McRoberts went over Washington with an over the shoulder catch. Goff placed it perfectly.
Rookie UDFA WR Nelson Spruce connected with Goff twice in the two-minute drill.
Higbee worked over Christian Bryant all day. He beat S T.J. McDonald's on a post route for a TD.
TE Lance Kendricks came up with a TD from a nice pass by Keenum.
Gurley had a nice long run on his first full team rep. RB Benny Cunningham with a strong run down the right side. Malcom Brown posted a good strong run up the right with the twos. Aaron Green had a nice hard run to boot.
We definitely need to see more intensity for Greg Robinson. He struggled blocking DE Eugene Sims. Got into a lil' shoving match with Alec Ogletree and Tree punked him. I can't say Greg is weak, but Alec sure made him look that way. A few plays later, Robinson proceeded to just barely put his hands on DL Ethan Westbrook on pass protection.
Sensabaugh got beat by Bradley Marquez, but came back with good sticky coverage on Tavon Austin. CB Mike Jordan prevented what would have been a beautiful one-handed catch by Cooper. Flag on Sensabaugh covering Austin.
S Maurice Alexander in with the first team on all reps I saw. Cody Davis & Christian Bryant with the twos.
Rookie LB Josh Forrest in with twos at strong side LB it seems. LB Brandon Chubb would have ended practice with a sack on Sean Mannion, but the play was allowed to continue ending on a Spruce touchdown.
Alec Ogletree in on covering Britt, breaking up a potential TD. Definitely is able to react quick enough and get to the ball. Did get the defense lined up quickly and correctly but did not make many pre-snap calls. Definitely an asset in pass coverage.
Los Angeles Rams Name QB Case Keenum Starting QB For First Preseason Game
Case Keenum will start against the Dallas Cowboys in the Rams’ first preseason game with Jared Goff on the sideline. Los Angeles Rams QB Case Keenum has been named the starting quarterback over rookie Jared Goff for the Rams’ first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on August 13.
Case Keenum will start the preseason opener next week against Dallas, said Fisher. — Joe Curley (@vcsjoecurley) August 6, 2016
Keenum joined the Rams in 2014 but couldn’t crack the top duo of Shaun Hill and Austin Davis. The Houston Texans plucked Keenum from the Rams’ practice squad. The Rams traded a draft pick to to the Texans to get Keenum back heading into the 2015 season. He took over for Nick Foles after nine games. In the Rams’ tenth game in Baltimore, Keenum suffered an obvious concussion but was left in to play. Keenum needed two weeks to recover to meet concussion protocols and would go on to start the final four games in which Keenum threw for 173 yards per game as the Rams went 3-1.
Goff was the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft following a trade between the Rams and the Tennessee Titans in which the Rams had to give up their two second-round picks and a third-round pick from this year’s draft as well as next year’s first-round pick and a conditional third-round pick. The Rams will play the Cowboys at the Coliseum at 8pm ET tomorrow night.
As part of the media release ahead of Saturday’s preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys, the Los Angeles Rams have released their first full depth chart of 2016 (with the repeated caveat that this depth chart is provided from the communications department and not the coaching staff):
Yes, Case Keenum is your starting QB over 2016 NFL Draft #1 overall pick and rookie franchise QB Jared Goff.
With RT Rob Havenstein still sidelined, Rodger Saffold kicks out to right tackle and Cody Wichmann takes over at LG.
At RB, it’s Just Todd Gurley and Benny Cunningham at 1-2 with Malcolm Brown and Terrence Magee at 3-4. Aaron Green, who has his share of Rams fans backing his candidacy, is in tied at RB5 with special teams contributor Chase Reynolds. And Tre Mason is still technically on the roster, but you have to wonder if that’s just a formality at this point.
For the wideouts, Brian Quick and Bradley Marquez are both listed ahead of drafted rookies Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas. The UDFA crop comes in next with Nelson Spruce and Paul McRoberts (!) both ahead of training camp starlet Duke Williams.
Only two surprises defensively. The defensive line is set, and the linebackers are crammed into two slots — nothing too wild there.
But S T.J. McDonald continues to have to work his way back from his non-alcohol-related DUI in May to regain his starting spot leaving Maurice Alexander and Cody Davis atop the chart.
And CB E.J. Gaines, who missed all of last year to a foot injury and is working on an injured quad, is behind both Marcus Roberson and first-year Ram Coty Sensabaugh.
Los Angeles Rams Sign S Jordan Kovacs
The Rams have signed the former Miami Dolphins contributor. The Los Angeles Rams have signed safety Jordan Kovacs:
Rams have added safety Jordan Kovacs to roster. Played parts of last three seasons with Miami. — Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) August 5, 2016
Kovacs, a four-year standout with the Michigan Wolverines, passed through the 2013 NFL Draft signing with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent. In the last three seasons, Kovacs played in 28 games for the Dolphins as a reserve defender and special teams contributor.
At the end of the 2015 season, Kovacs was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs on a reserve/futures contract but was waived back in May.
Kovacs joins a Rams safety group crammed on the back end. T.J. McDonald is likely to regain his starting role that he’s held since Week 1 of his rookie year that he lost due to a non-alcohol-related DUI in May. With Rodney McLeod having joined the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, that leaves Maurice Alexander, Cody Davis, Kovacs and three UDFAs in Rohan Gaines, Jordan Lomax and Brian Randolph clamoring for PT.
These are not the droids you're looking for.....This is why Trumaine Johnson is one of my favorite Rams
Rams DB Tru Johnson was walking back to the lockers, did an about face, & then walked back toward the crowd chanting his name w/arms raised— Josh Webb (Twist) (@FightOnTwist) August 9, 2016
They move closer to Silicon Valley and all the sudden Rams camp is getting taken over by robots.
Warren Sapp used to catch TDs. Why not Donald?
There's that Jeff Fisher 'edge' everyone is looking for
First good fight of Rams camp. Looked like Quinton Coples and Garrett Reynolds. There’s 5 minutes of next week’s Hard Knocks.— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) August 9, 2016
InjuriesE.J. Gaines and Rob Havenstein still aren't participating. Get well soon fellas.
QBs putting in overtime. Gotta love the enthusiasm
OffenseSean Mannion is a human....and he can throw a football
DefenseBig change from 2015 duo of McLeod and TJMac
Yet T.J. continues to 'run with the ones'.
While we look forward to Brett Favre's acceptance speech, what does his enshrinement -- along with those of Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel -- mean for everybody else (i.e., future Hall classes)? Much. Below is the butterfly effect from each person's entry into the big museum in Canton, as well as one thing you must know about his career.
Let's start with the headliner ...
Brett Favre, Quarterback, Falcons/Packers/Jets/Vikings
Most important thing about Favre: Toughness.
By now, you know all the highlights of Favre's career: the three MVP awards, the multitude of passing records set -- most of them broken by the guy in the Easy Like Peyton Mornings commercial (not Lionel Richie) -- and the various Favre-watches we all don't miss. While Favre won a Super Bowl and quarterbacked for 20 years, everyone points to his 297 consecutive starts streak (321 including the playoffs). But what is the embodiment of that record?
To me, it was one game at Texas Stadium in 1994. Early in the first half, Favre managed to get himself high-lowed by Charles Haley and Tony Tolbert. As John Madden was pointing out that Favre was "picking his stuff up" off the ground, the man was actually gathering himself ... enough to throw four touchdown passes by game's end. Up until that point, Week 13 of his fourth pro season, No. 4 had trouble calming himself down during games. Something set in with Favre on that Thanksgiving Day. From there on out, the guy was on fire, streaking through the back half of the '94 season, before winning league MVP in '95, '96 and '97. Although that Pack-'Boys bout is more famous for Jason Garrett coming off the bench to lead Dallas to a Turkey Day win, it is also a sparkling exhibit of Favre's iron man M.O.
What Favre's enshrinement means for everybody else: With Favre now in the Hall of Fame, it should be a bit easier for Kurt Warner to find his way in. Favre will be the first quarterback enshrined since 2006, and typically, no one class contains multiple QBs.
Kevin Greene, linebacker/defensive end, Rams/Steelers/Panthers/49ers
Most important thing about Greene: Production as an old man.
If you loved Third Eye Blind, "Baywatch" and Lilith Fair, man is this Class of 2016 for you. Favre, Greene and friends represent the '90s with authority. The thing about Greene, though, is that he was great for the entire decade and kept getting better -- as in, all the way until he was 37 years old. Greene owns the rare distinction of posting WAY more sacks in his 30s than he did in his 20s. In fact, 97.5 of his 160 career sacks came after he was supposed to slow down. Only Bruce Smith had more QB traps after 30. Greene racked up 12 in his final season, in 1999.
What Greene's enshrinement means for everybody else: Putting Greene in should cover all of the longstanding Hall of Fame accounting -- i.e., taking care of those guys who were finalists for years and years. This list included Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Will Shields and so on. This should mean that players like Morten Andersen and Terrell Davis, whose names have been kicked around, have at least one open slot.
Tony Dungy, head coach, Buccaneers/Colts
Most important thing about Dungy: Overall scope.
Too often, we take the micro view with coaches ... The amount of Super Bowls they won, their winning percentage and how long they were the front man for an organization. That's like forgetting Mario Lopez's time on "Saved by the Bell" -- you can't just think of him wearing sleeveless shirts on entertainment shows now. Dungy went to the postseason 11 times in his 13 seasons at the helm of the Bucs and Colts, becoming the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl (in his fifth year with Indy). But he was also an outstanding defensive coordinator for the Vikings, as well as DBs coach for the Steelers and Chiefs. Then you add on what he added to the Cover 2 defense of Bud Carson -- Dungy's coordinator while a player in Pittsburgh in the late '70s -- and you have a macro view of what a Hall of Fame career looks like.
What Dungy's enshrinement means for everybody else: In theory, Jimmy Johnson or Don Coryell should see a clear path to the bust room. The former did not have the tenure in the NFL that Dungy did, yet nearly everyone I've spoken with -- be it media member or player -- has said they would take Johnson over Dungy if they were building a team. While that point is arguable, this is not: Coryell was an innovator. You cannot tell the story of modern football without him. So I, uh, guess you know where I stand on his candidacy. Sorry not sorry.
Marvin Harrison, wide receiver, Colts
Most important thing about Harrison: Consistency.
Harrison was as consistent as any player in NFL history. While he trails Randy Moss and Terrell Owens in yards and touchdowns, he was more reliable than both players. His career also reached a zenith that neither of those more exciting players enjoyed: He earned a Super Bowl ring and won 10-plus games in the majority of his pro seasons. What stands out the most about Harrison's time with the Colts was his run from 1999 to 2006, where he posted at least 80 catches, 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns every season. Despite more recent rule changes that favor the passing game, the unstoppable Antonio Brown still hasn't caught up to Harrison's all-time best 143-catch season.
What Harrison's enshrinement means for everybody else: With Harrison finally being inducted in his third year as a finalist, the WR logjam is officially over. Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown all made it into the Hall in consecutive years, each pushing the other to wait a bit longer. Most feel Owens didn't receive enough votes due to him being a "locker-room distraction." His number probably will be called in 2017. That said, at least we don't have to hear about Receiver X and the relevance-of-his-numbers issue anymore (until Steelers fans scream and yell about Hines Ward).
Orlando Pace, offensive tackle, Rams/Bears
Most important thing about Pace: Being the best at his position among other greats.
I received zero argument from Kurt Warner at the Hall of Fame ceremonies a couple of years ago when I posed the argument that Pace might have been the most effective player at his job for the longest time on those top-flight Rams teams. Left tackle has always been an important position, but especially in the '90s, when most quarterbacks were of the strong-pocket-presence/little-scramble-ability variety. With the passing game not as opened up over the middle as it is today, QBs held the ball longer. That meant protecting the blind side was uber-important.
What Pace's enshrinement means for everybody else: The run on tackles is pretty much over. Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones and now Pace are all in, with Tony Boselli still a maybe. So we might not see another guy from this position group for some time. Guard is another deal altogether. Alan Faneca is available for induction (again) in 2017; Steve Hutchinson will be eligible in 2018. Both of those dudes could play, and should not have to wait long to make it to Canton.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr., owner, 49ers
Most important thing about DeBartolo: Flirting with the enemy.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. was quite intrigued with Jimmy Johnson. DeBartolo is lauded for running a first-class organization that won five Super Bowl titles under his stewardship, but he also knew the "it" factor when he saw it. Coming out of the 1988 season, DeBartolo knew Bill Walsh was going to call it a day. George Seifert, Walsh's defensive coordinator, would end up being the heir apparent (reportedly because of Walsh's efforts). But don't think for a second that DeBartolo didn't kick the tires on the Miami Hurricanes head coach who had won the national championship in 1987. How would history have changed? Johnson's Cowboys bested the 49ers in the 1992 and '93 NFC Championship Games. Perhaps DeBartolo's Niners would have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to three-peat. Ah, speculation is pure joy.
What DeBartolo's enshrinement means for everybody else: In this particular case, it's difficult to say. Obviously the voters are forgiving (Terrell Owens??), as many wondered aloud how the riverboat-casino debacle that hastened his departure from the league would affect his candidacy. Frankly, the contributor category is so new that perhaps the most logical outcome is that next year's contributor will be a GM or executive, and not another owner.
Ken Stabler, quarterback, Raiders/Oilers/Saints
Most important thing about Stabler: It's about time!
For Raiders fans, making sure voters don't forget the leader of their team from the '70s has been a top priority every year at this time. Stabler certainly has a résumé worthy of inclusion, even if his statistics are paltry when compared to today's standards. He was the 1974 league MVP, and he was one of only three quarterbacks during the decade to enjoy a season with a 100-plus passer rating. Stabler also authored three memorable plays that are impossible to ignore. And I am not referring to the "Holy Roller" -- just watch this video. Oh, did we mention he won a ring, as well?
What Stabler's enshrinement means for everybody else: Stabler's entry opens the door for another '70s Raider who hasn't received a heckuva lot of Hall chatter. Cliff Branch was the premier deep threat of the decade, a first-team All-Pro three consecutive years from 1974 to '76. There are many league observers who felt he had as good a career as Lynn Swann, who, of course, has a likeness already in the bust room. (And actually, some think Branch's NFL tenure was better than Swann's.) Not to mention, Branch wore a sweet number for a wide receiver. #21
Dick Stanfel, offensive guard, Lions/Redskins
Most important thing about Stanfel: Getting it right.
This pertains more to the Pro Football Hall of Fame than to Stanfel specifically, but the mere fact that the Seniors Committee culled pro football's expansive story to find a deserving offensive guard -- from 60 years ago, mind you -- is awesome. It reflects a level of attention to detail that is all too important from a sport that clearly lags behind the MLB (and maybe even the NBA) in honoring its players from decades past. Stanfel was named All-Pro five times despite only playing seven years. Quality offensive line play equals winning football games since 1920.
What Stanfel's enshrinement means for everybody else: While the team can boast a decent number of Hall of Fame players, the most underappreciated squad in pro football history is the 1950s Detroit Lions. This group won three championships during the decade, and in each title game, Detroit beat the team everyone considers the premier bunch of that time: the Browns. In fact, most people think the era's pecking order went like this: 1) Browns, 2) Colts, 3) Giants. It's sad, really. Thus, Stanfel's enshrinement doesn't ring hollow. Now maybe the head coach for most of that Lions run will earn some voter consideration. Buddy Parker might have departed the franchise awkwardly, but he was quite a leader from 1951 through '56.
Hall of Fame, Class of 2017: Forecasting the next Canton clique. Another Hall class in the books. This one was a cherry, too. So what's next?
Clearly not a football game.
So how about the Class of 2017? Too soon? It will be announced in, oh, about six months. Doesn't mean we can't start Snapchatting, Periscoping and LinkedIning about it now! In fact, my forecast sits just below.
Before we get into it, though, please note: The players listed in the next section of this piece are the guys I think will be voted in, not those whom I would personally recommend. My prognostication spawns from various conversations with Hall of Famers and HOF voters this past weekend in Canton, as well as some good old-fashioned tea-leaf reading.
Ultimately, we all will find out together the Saturday before Super Bowl LI -- and that includes the voters, who acknowledge they are never sure how this deal is gonna go.
The Class of 2017 is more difficult to predict than any I can remember, with at least two of the contemporary spots being completely -- completely -- up for grabs. Only one recent retiree is sure to be inducted. Let's start there ...
Predicted Class of 2017
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers/Jets: The easiest choice among all the eligibles -- Tomlinson is going to walk right into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next August. There won't be any hesitation among the voters when it comes to a guy who earned league MVP honors, holds the single-season touchdown record (31, in 2006) and once caught 100 balls in a year when he also rushed for 1,645 yards. As it stands right now, Tomlinson is the only running back in the top 10 of career rushing yards who does not have a bronze bust.
Terrell Davis, RB, Broncos: Davis' candidacy amounts to a Hall conundrum for voters and fans who pay close attention to this process, mostly due to the short walk that was his career. He only played seven seasons. So did Gale Sayers, and he's in, right? That's not enough in many people's minds. This debate typically follows a familiar script ...
Yeah, but Sayers was a legend, a true one of a kind.
OK, so what about Doak Walker, who played just six campaigns for the Detroit Lions?
Sure, man, but what about all those Broncos running backs who ran for 1,000 yards after Davis' prime?
Yep, Olandis Gary (1999), Mike Anderson (2000, 2005), Reuben Droughns (2004) and Tatum Bell (2006) all did. Here's the deal: Davis averaged over 1,600 yards over his first four seasons (when he was healthy). In their years as the leading rushers for the Broncos, Gary, Anderson, Droughns and Bell averaged about 1,100 yards per year. Big difference. Not to mention, Davis put up 142.5 rushing yards per game in the postseason.
Davis made it to the final 10 for the Class of 2016, and I believe there is enough momentum for two fantastic running backs to reside in the same class. It happened in 2010, when Emmitt Smith (who carried massive career numbers on his résumé) and Floyd Little (who did not) both were enshrined. See any symmetry there?
Kurt Warner, QB, Rams/Giants/Cardinals: Like Davis, Warner should get his Hall due in 2017. With Brett Favre out of the way -- and all the Ken Stabler supporters finally receiving their wish -- there are no quarterbacks up for selection who could possibly outshine Warner. In fact, the only other QB who has received any mention is a Seniors Committee candidate: former Bengals great Ken Anderson, who won the league MVP in 1981. Being named Most Valuable Player means you were the top guy in pro football for a season. That brings instant credibility and should not be downplayed in terms of Hall of Fame credentials. Cool. So what do we do with Warner, who owns two MVPs?
"If a guy has the numbers, and it is debatable, then [winning an MVP] should be the closer," Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow told me.
"I think it's a just a matter of time for Kurt Warner -- I really do," said USA Today's Jarrett Bell, a Hall of Fame voter. "In terms of Kurt's case, specifically, I love his story. Who would not like his story? I'm still stuck on the beginning of it -- the supermarket part -- then the Arena League and then to get the opportunity to play in an emergency situation, and then end up being MVP. I mean, who does that? And then the back end, you take another team to a Super Bowl, right? So you've proven it with two organizations that you can get to a Super Bowl, be this elite player."
Bell also pointed out that while people argue that Warner had a "hole in the middle of his career," many players have endured those lows. True that. Who dominates the NFL from stem to stern? Joe Montana, Dan Fouts, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath and the recently enshrined Stabler all had inconsistencies in their careers. It's not a badge of dishonor, folks.
Joe Jacoby, OL, Redskins: Jacoby or Alan Faneca will make the Class of 2017. The former "Hog" was named first-team All-Pro twice, while making four Pro Bowls. The key number here is two -- i.e., Jacoby only has two years of eligibility left before he becomes a senior candidate. Seeing as that he made it to the final cutdown for the Class of 2016, the voting room might see fit to finally say yes.
"They won three Super Bowls," Hall of Fame OT Anthony Muñoz said of Jacoby's Redskins. "That's an accomplishment."
John Lynch, S, Buccaneers/Broncos: This final spot could go in many, many directions -- including being vacant. Lynch boasts the skins on the wall -- with nine Pro Bowl selections, two first-team All-Pro nods and a Super Bowl ring -- and he was just in the final cutdown to 10 candidates for the Class of 2016. Obviously, five of those '16 finalists were inducted Saturday night. That left five guys behind: Lynch, Davis, Warner, Jacoby and Don Coryell, with Tomlinson crashing their party as the only 2017 shoo-in. These guys being so close in quality could translate to the Class of 2017 being smaller than the usual count of five modern-day-player inductees. Fewer easy choices means more dissension, which leads to someone like Lynch not receiving the requisite number of "yes" votes to be inducted. Still, Coryell, whose innovation truly changed the game, could be the odd man out.
Missing the cut
Terrell Owens, WR, 49ers/Eagles/Cowboys/Bills/Bengals: Owens is, once again, a lightning rod. Sports radio hosts scream and yell about his incredible numbers. Numbers. True. For all the grief Owens absorbed for his "That's my quarterback" days in Dallas, he caught 38 TD passes in three years there. In one three-year span in San Francisco, Owens hauled in a staggering 42 scoring tosses.
Stats are stats. The Hall of Fame is the Hall of Fame.
Many of the premier players in history had to wait. My sense is that Terrell Owens is going to fall just short, again. I was on the fence coming into this past weekend in Canton. One Hall of Fame voter, Clark Judge, provided an astute observation:
Every team this guy played for couldn't wait to get rid of him -- how can he still be considered a Hall of Fame snub?
It's a fair point. The voters are asked to not factor in off-the-field stuff. Owens never really found himself in trouble off the field. But some of his antics on the field -- and in the locker room -- are the reason he isn't in, and might be enough to keep him out again.
Legendary general manager Bill Polian had this to say on the "Talk of Fame Network": "The Hall of Fame ought to be for people who've made their teams better, not who disrupted their teams and made them worse."
Alan Faneca, OG, Steelers/Jets/Cardinals: Faneca's Hall of Fame teammate certainly supports the cause.
"I told Alan I knew he was going to be good the first time he stepped on the field," Steeler great Dermontti Dawson said told me. "We did not miss a beat when Alan was drafted."
Also ran into former Vikings/Ravens center Matt Birk over the weekend, who emphatically backed Faneca's candidacy: "Alan Faneca should be put in, stat!" Birk talked about how guys like Faneca and Steve Hutchinson dominated opponents and didn't merely "get in front of their guy."
If I were a voter, I would certainly recommend Faneca. That said, with him being newly eligible, and with Jacoby only having a few years left before falling into the Seniors Committee abyss, I think Faneca waits again.
Steve Atwater, S, Broncos/Jets: Former Packers wideout Antonio Freeman put it best: "Steve Atwater was a monster." The former All-Pro safety boasts two Super Bowl rings -- and plenty of respect -- but with Lynch, Brian Dawkins and a slew of qualified seniors available, don't think 2017 is the year for him.
Brian Dawkins, S, Eagles/Broncos: Again, if this were my ballot, Brian Dawkins would be a shoo-in. I might be higher on Dawkins than others, but why should he have to wait? Because all these other safeties have had to? (So keep repeating the same cycle?) Dawkins made nine Pro Bowls, was named first team All-Pro four times and was named to the Hall of Fame's All-2000s Team. Frankly, he was the best safety in the league until around 2004, when Ed Reed took the torch. Dawkins also started a Super Bowl and five NFC Championship Games, making the postseason nine times.
Seniors Committee candidates
Trying to predict who will be nominated as a Seniors Committee candidate is darn near impossible. But I can tell you a few names I heard kicked around by a few voters, Hall of Famers and even a couple of my colleagues:
Jerry Kramer, OG, Packers: Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News -- and a member of both the Seniors and Contributor committees -- thinks 2017 might be the year for Kramer.
Chuck Howley, LB, Bears/Cowboys: Been suggesting this guy on NFL.com and NFL Network for so long that maybe someone is listening. Gosselin thinks he has a strong chance, sooner than later: "Howley had 43 takeaways -- that's second all time among linebackers. The top guy? Jack Ham." Ham, of course, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and legend in Pittsburgh.
Donnie Shell, S, Steelers: I asked Tony Dungy about his presenter on Friday. The coach's response: "Shell, in my opinion, should be in. Shell was the best safety in the league in the late '70s, early '80s. Donnie Shell was John Lynch before John Lynch ... with 50 interceptions."
Cliff Branch, WR, Raiders: In the wake of Stabler's induction, Raider fans have shifted to the "Cliff Branch needs to in the Hall" discussion. There are a large number of Raiders in the Hall already. It's possible Oakland teams of yore had as many (or more) premier players than the Steelers. Perhaps Pittsburgh simply had more Hall of Very Gooders. Either way, Branch came up in a couple of discussions this weekend.
Drew Pearson, WR, Cowboys: "He was the glue of that Dallas team," Jarrett Bell told me. Pearson was a starter on the 1970s All-Decade Team alongside Lynn Swann, who is already in. FYI: Pearson's #s > Swann's #'s.
Cliff Harris, S, Cowboys: I asked Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith to name the one guy he thought should be in the Hall. He looked at me and thought for maybe 1.5 seconds. "Cliff." Amen.
Billy Howton, E, Packers/Browns/Cowboys: Saleem Choudhry, the director of museum exhibits and services for the Hall, wonders how Howton has been overlooked. "Just look at the numbers," he implores. The end posted a 1,100-yard and 1,200-yard season in the 1950s, when 700 yards was the gold standard.
Cornell Green, DB, Cowboys: Rayfield Wright, a Hall of Fame tackle on the '70s Cowboys, got pretty animated about Green's relevance. "I mean ... how many times was he All-Pro?!" Five.
Ken Anderson, QB, Bengals: Winslow faced Anderson in the "Freezer Bowl," and he pointed out that the former Bengal quarterback's MVP award (1981) should carry plenty of weight.
Don Doll, DB, Lions/Redskins/Rams: Doll's grandson begged me on Twitter to research his grandfather. Gosselin is also a supporter of the former ballhawk. Doll picked off at least 10 passes three times.
Johnny Robinson, S, Dallas Texans/Chiefs: Robinson has been brought up by commenters on our Hall articles multiple times, and he is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the AFL. Discussed him with voters and his former teammate Bobby Bell in the past, but safety is a tough HOF sell.
A few more names to watch
A few non-Seniors Committee came up in conversations over the weekend, as well -- guys like RBs James Brooks, Edgerrin James and Priest Holmes, who might be the most underrated player ever. Kellen Winslow thinks that, for a time, Brooks was "pound for pound, the best back in the league." James led the NFL in rushing in each of his first two seasons and currently ranks 11th on the all-time list for total rushing yards. Holmes' three-year explosion from 2001 to '03 brings up the age-old debate of what we should value more: being good for a long time or dominating the league in a small window? Where do you stand?
Sports, at their core, are all about debate. And that will certainly be the case with the 2017 Hall of Fame class.
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