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Aug
25

NFL 2009 Preseason Surprises

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Just so you know where I stand, I am one of those fans who believes that the preseason should be two games—three at the most. I don’t like seeing my fantasy running backs tweak their ankles in games that don’t matter.

Still, preseason does bring us some good things. I mean, there are only so many reruns of “Burn Notice” and “UFC Unleashed” I can take. And, hey, at least it’s football. Preseason games always remind me of how crisp the NFL game is, even if these teams are only operating at about 75 percent. Seeing Peyton Manning fire one into Dallas Clark’s hands from 20 yards away is a thing of beauty.

Somewhere in the first quarter of the Cowboys-Titans game I started to think about how there are surprises in the preseason every year. Fans knee-jerk on rookies who have impressive games. Some of last year’s bad teams actually look like they could matter this year.

So, I jotted down some of this year’s preseason surprises, knowing full well that most may not matter a lick in about two weeks when “real” football gets underway.

But you never know.

49ers Throw it Back

At first I thought it was just some preseason tease: The 49ers were decked out in uniforms that looked very similar to their dynasty-era unis, and man did they look sweet! I grew up a big Dallas Cowboys fan, but I always loved those red and gold uniforms with the plain numbers. They’re the ones on all of my 49ers football cards and Starting Lineup figurines from back in the day. Seriously, I could stop down and watch an entire 49ers-Raiders game just to be swept back to the days of Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and John Taylor. Great move by the ’Niners!

montanared

Unassuming Rookie Running Backs

Yes, rookies get more playing time in the preseason, which lends itself to more exposure and more chances to break out. Some rookies disappear once September rolls around, but preseason games do give us some idea of the potential of some young players.

Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown and Chris Wells were the first-round picks, and Brown (Colts) is actually looking like he could steal a lot of carries away from Joseph Addai; but there are several other rookie runners who are turning heads.

LeSean McCoy (Eagles), Javon Ringer (Titans), James Davis (Browns), Glen Coffee (49ers), Tyrell Sutton (Packers), Kory Sheets (49ers) and Lex Hilliard (Dolphins) are second-round to undrafted players. Each has a good per-carry average and has looked ready for the NFL.

McCoy has worked with the first-team offense since Brian Westbrook has been healing from an injury, which will only help McCoy when he does need to step in for Westbrook.  Davis, a sixth-round pick, broke an 81-yard touchdown in his second game. Coffee (looking great in that new uniform!) had 129 yards on 16 carries against the Raiders.

mccoy
No Love for Edgerrin James or Marvin Harrison

They’re not that old, are they? The last time I saw Edgerrin James (just 31) he was busy helping the Cardinals through the playoffs after the team essentially wrote him off for most of the season. And Harrison, well, he’s only one of the greatest receivers to every play the game. You mean to tell me that there’s a spot on a team for a seven-round draft pick and not Marvin Harrison?

Maybe I’m missing something and these guys want to retire, or maybe they caught the swine flu over the summer. I just know that if they showed up on my front porch, I’d sign ’em up. (Edgerrin or Marvin: If you’re reading this, our flag football league gets going in about four weeks. We play on Saturday mornings and we’re not half bad. I can’t pay you, though. In fact, it’s $35 to cover league fees and your jersey. We might be able to find a spot for ya.)

Favre and Vick Sagas

Can the preseason handle two QB sagas? Apparently so.

We all knew that Vick was returning to the NFL, and as good as Favre is at throwing touchdowns, he stinks at retiring.

Vick with the Eagles really is a great fit. The Eagles love to run by throwing, and just getting the ball in Vick’s hands will make the offense tough to stop (especially with Brian Westbrook, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Macklin). Vick will also play some QB, but when will all this happen? Roger Goodell will decide by Week 6.

Favre joins the Vikings no doubt in another effort to stick it to the Packers. He has one of the top rushing attacks in the game, so Favre won’t have to sling it out to win games. This should also benefit Adrian Peterson, as defenses will have to worry about Favre.

Having said that, I have always liked watching Favre, but I’m sure ready for him to retire. At least he will get another record—most consecutive starts by any player.

No Michael Crabtree

OK, so this really isn’t a surprise. Crabtree is being mentored by Deion Sanders, but if the guy thinks he should get paid like the top receiver in the draft, he really needs to pull up April’s first-round draft results.

Yo, Mike, you weren’t the first receiver drafted.

This is what I hate about rookies. They want all the money up front. I just don’t remember demanding that in my last job interview: “Yeah, I just graduated college and have no significant real-world experience, but I’m gonna need about $100K a year plus a $20,000 signing bonus before I show up for training.”

Crabtree is only hurting himself. If he’s as good as he thinks he is, the money will be there. Let’s just catch a pass first, shall we?

The Raiders

Every year one team due for a good season catches my eye. This year it’s the Raiders.

I know that I’m probably just getting sucked in and that the preseason is more about individual players than how teams perform, but the Raiders have surprised me.

JaMarcus Russell looks like he’s “getting it” and they still have Jeff Garcia even if he doesn’t get it. Darren McFadden should break out this year, and don’t overlook a healthy Michael Bush. The receivers need to step up, but I think the Raiders could challenge the Chargers this year in the AFC West.

David Lee is a Dallas-based writer, and the former editor of Beckett Football and Beckett Basketball. To see more of his work, visit his website at www.MrWriteMedia.com.

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Aug
11

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Every year I wait for it.

Around this time, I know it’s going to hit me. It always does.

When the summer is at the hottest in Texas, and when we are just coming out of the sports black hole known as July, it’s hard to miss the first signs of football season:

Walking into Dick’s Sporting Goods and seeing clean helmets, cleats and Under Armor in the newly organized football section.

Seeing football tryouts signs stuck into park fields all over town.

Fantasy football and season preview magazines falling off of racks in bookstores.

It’s simply the most wonderful time of the year, and there are many things that make it so. Here are my favorite things about being on the verge of another football season:

Training Camps

Local and national media are scouring every camp across the country held at no-name colleges in search of the next headline: which rookies are not in camp, who got injured, or which third-stringer is looking like a Pro Bowler. It’s not that I really care about these things, I just get jazzed knowing that they’re happing all over the country.

Preseason Games

Yes, there are too many of them. And yes, it seems like they account for about 90 percent of NFL Network’s programming in August. But you know that scene in the movie Spaceballs when Dark Helmet orders the ship to bypass light speed and go straight to “ludicrous speed”? That’s what preseason games do for me — they act as a wormhole to the regular season. I know that if we can just get to the preseason games, then the real season is just around the corner.

You also get a glimpse of all the rookies — the ones that got their contracts settled in time, anyway. Sure, some will shine in the preseason against second and third-string players before disappearing into the regular season, but it’s still cool to see how these newcomers are fitting in with their teams. It’s also funny to watch football card collectors and their knee-jerk reactions towards rookies who have strong pre-seasons. eBay prices on key cards can practically jump instantly after a rookie has a couple of big touchdown runs.

Everyone Has an Opinion

“The Cowboys can’t win the East without T.O.”

“Steve Slayton will have a monster season.”

“LaDainian Tomlinson is done.”

There are so many experts at this time of year. We all do it. By January, though, half of what we knew in August never happened. It’s the nature of the fan. It’s part of the fun.

Fantasy Football Draft Prep

If we could get congress to analyze their own economic stimulus and healthcare bills as much as we analyze fantasy football, things could really get accomplished in this country.

It seems like there are more and more fantasy guides out every year. Having worked on Beckett/Rotoworld’s magazine in the past, I can confirm that they’re all pretty much the same, just with a few names moved up and down countless lists.

Even if you’re kind of tricking yourself, it’s still fun to prepare for the draft. Me? I like knowing my draft spot weeks in advance. How else am I supposed to waste hours with mock drafts, seeing who might be there in my spots?

Just don’t be the tool who shows up to your draft with a laptop, three or more fantasy guides, two highlighters, three different-colored pens and your own perfected master draft sheet.

Preseason College Polls and All-American Teams

The Coaches Poll is already out. The AP and Harris polls soon will be, along with many others that don’t really matter. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a fan of how preseason college polls put some teams on the fast track to the national title, and chain bowling balls to the feet of other teams. But they’re great talking points.

Plus, these early polls create the backdrop of some exciting early-season match-ups. Almost as if there are mini-playoffs taking place in September.

Madden NFL and NCAA Football Video Game Releases

Like most 20 and 30-year-olds, I grew up playing video games; everything from the Atari 2600 to the PlayStation 3. And I’ve played sports games more than any other kind. It’s really cool to see the Madden and NCAA titles signal an unofficial start to football season.

The new games aren’t all that different from the past years, but they provide a virtual gate to the new season. I just like seeing the window ads in stores and the commercials on TV. I can’t help but stop and give a little nod every time I see them.

So, what are your favorite signs that football season is here? It’s OK — you can share with us. You’re among friends here.

David Lee is a Dallas-based writer, and the former editor of Beckett Football and Beckett Basketball. To see more of his work, visit his website at www.MrWriteMedia.com.

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I always wanted a 2001 SP Authentic Michael Vick rookie card. But it was just too darn expensive. I wanted it more for its innovation than for the player on it.

I never really was a big Vick fan. I loved him as a college quarterback, and was disappointed when he left Virginia Tech with two years of eligibility left.

In the NFL, he’s been a Pro Bowler and a professional bonehead. He may be the most athletic quarterback of all time, but Vick never changed the quarterback position like many people said he would. Now he’s on the verge of making his comeback—not from injury, but from prison.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick just before training camps opened. While he can participate in preseason games, it will be decided by Week 6 when Vick can play in regular-season games.

He needs a team first.

Personally, I wouldn’t touch the guy if I were an NFL team, not as a quarterback, anyway. In Vick’s last four seasons, his quarterback rating didn’t crack the 80s. But surely Vick will land somewhere, maybe even as a hybrid offensive weapon if not a quarterback.

Below are a few teams that might be a good fit for the former No. 1 overall draft pick. I’m not saying that these teams need Vick, but they have holes, and some of them just might be Vick-shaped.

vickpatch

New England Patriots

In a lot of ways, this seems like a terrible fit, and in a lot of ways it seems like a great fit. Do the Patriots need Vick? No. But that’s the genius of it: No other team may be better equipped to handle the circus that he will likely bring. Matt Cassel is gone, and Vick could be the backup or perhaps used as an extra offensive weapon.

While it now seems more likely that this won’t happen, it’s not hard to see why this makes a lot of sense.

San Francisco 49ers

Does anyone know who’s going to QB the 49ers this year? Bring your quarters, because it will probably be a carousel ride. Vick would give them some experience, and at least he’s won a playoff game. Rookie Michael Crabtree won’t make much of an impact if there’s no one to toss him the ball.

The 49ers might not want to go away from one No. 1 pick bust (Alex Smith) to another one who just got out of prison. (Not good PR with the fans.) Shaun Hill was decent last year, and the 49ers went 7-9, but you know they’d like to raise the bar.

Seattle Seahawks

Matt Hasselbeck turns 34 next month and played in just seven games last year. He doesn’t have many more good years left in him (if any). Seneca Wallace has been adequate, but he’s a poor man’s Vick. He and Vick are also the same age. The ’Hawks drafted QB Mike Teel (whoever that is) in the sixth round, but could get a boost with Vick. Seattle finished 29th in the NFL in passing yards last year, so they can’t be too picky.

Buffalo Bills

You’ve gotta love Trent Edwards’ moxie, but he’s … wait … T.O. plus Michael Vick? Never mind.

Denver Broncos

Kyle Orton? Seriously? The Broncos sure got the raw end of the Jay Cutler trade. The second-best passing team in the league last year is likely to take a big step back in 2009. New head coach Josh McDaniels might not want to take on Vick and his full set of luggage, but he’s more talented than Orton.

Minnesota Vikings

This summer’s Brett Favre saga showed that the Vikings are interested in giving another QB a shot. It also showed that the position is still as solid as a bowl of Jello. They drafted the junior varsity version of Vick in 2006 (Tarvaris Jackson). Why not just upgrade to the original?

The Vikings ranked 25th in passing last year, and while Vick would have some definite adjusting to do, the team doesn’t have much to lose in the air game. Plus, they have established themselves as a running team anyway, and they’d have Vick and Adrian Peterson in the same backfield. Tasty!

Like I said, Vick will probably land somewhere, but don’t expect to see much of him this year. Does he deserve a second chance? I don’t know.

Yes, bankrolling a dog fighting ring and lying about doing it is despicable. Then again, some athletes have done even worse things and remained active athletes. No matter who gives him that second chance, he’s on the fast track to being out of the NFL for good: but maybe there are a few more 60-yard touchdown runs left to thrill the fans.

David Lee is a Dallas-based writer, and the former editor of Beckett Football and Beckett Basketball. To see more of his work, visit his website at www.MrWriteMedia.com.

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Jul
28

Top NFL Off-Season Moves

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Today’s NFL is like the pop music top 40 — it’s always changing. Teams want to win now, and they will fill in whatever pieces they think are necessary to get to the Super Bowl.

This Wall Street-like action makes for interesting headlines in the off-season, but many moves, whether by free agency or trade, just don’t put teams on a direct path to the Super Bowl like they would have hoped. However, some teams come out looking like geniuses (Patriots-Randy Moss, 2007).

Here are some of this off-seasons biggest swaps and signings as the 2009 NFL season starts to take shape. We’ll look at how each move went down and examine who’s most affected (good or bad).

Jay Cutler
From: Broncos
To: Bears

Rewind to three years ago, and Jay Cutler was the third-best quarterback available in one of the most hyped rookie classes in years. Vince Young and Matt Leinart were the coveted future superstars. Since then Cutler has thrown for more yards and touchdowns than Young and Leinart combined. In 2008, his 4,526 yards passing were third most in the league, but his 18 interceptions were second only to Brett Favre’s 22.

Cutler’s ability to rack up fantasy football numbers made him arguably the most attractive commodity this off-season, even though he wasn’t a free agent. Denver’s interest in former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel this off-season was just another jab in Cutler’s mind, and he quickly made it known that he wanted out of the Mile High City. By March, the Broncos decided to cut ties and traded Cutler to Chicago for Kyle Orton and draft picks.

Cutler gives the Bears something they haven’t seen in, well, decades. The team has ridden the QB carousel so much that they’re finally out of quarters. But now, they finally have a big arm to go along with speed at receiver, which could unclog things for second-year running back Matt Forte.

Who’s Affected: Devin Hester (+): Watch for Hester to get even more down-field looks in 2009.
Matt Forte (+): He had more than 1,700 total yards in 2008, but could get that much on rushing alone this season if the passing game spreads the field.
Greg Olsen (+): The big tight end will keep defensive coverage busy in the middle, helping the wideouts on long routes.

casselMatt Cassel
From: Patriots
To: Chiefs

When Tom Brady shredded his knee in Week 1 last season and was out for the year, it was time for Matt Cassel to do something he hadn’t done since high school: start a football game at quarterback.

Cassel spent his college days at USC behind Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Then he entered the NFL and got stuck behind its most successful quarterback of the decade in Brady. But like all players who dream of getting their shot to stand out, Cassel got his. He started 15 games (winning 10 of them), and passed for 3,693 and 21 TDs. The Patriots franchised him after the 2008 season, and the Cassel sweepstakes was underway.

The Chiefs came out on top, trading a second-round pick to the Pats. Cassel joins the NFL’s 20th-worst passing offense, minus Tony Gonzalez, and K.C. has more issues than just a hole at QB. He might find that crossing the goal line is a little tougher without Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

Who’s Affected: Dwayne Bowe (+): He put together his first 1,000-yard season last year and should rack up more yards in 2009.
Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle (-): Once considered for the future behind center, these two will have to watch from the sidelines, but don’t be surprised if they see some meaningful time in 2009.

Albert Haynesworth
From: Titans
To: Redskins

The Tennessee big’n totaled 8.5 sacks and 51 tackles in 2008, making him the most high-profile free agent of the off-season. It’s no surprise that Washington threw the most dollars at Haynesworth — 100 million to be exact.

The Redskins were actually one of the top defenses in the league last season, ranking fourth and sixth in yards and points allowed, respectively. Pass rushing should get even fiercer with Haynesworth, in a division that includes Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Donovan McNabb.

Who’s Affected: London Fletcher (+): Still going strong after 11 seasons, Fletcher should have even more room to roam, as offensive linemen will be tangling with Haynesworth up front.
Carlos Rogers, Fred Smoot and DeAngelo Hall (+): The impressive DB group should be able to jam receivers more if the pass rush up front is giving QBs fits, forcing them to throw quicker.

Terrell Owens
From: Cowboys
To: Bills

A 12-year playoff win drought. A one-for-four December. A chemistry-killing receiver. Those things don’t cut it for Cowboys fans longing for the ’70s and ’90s. The result was Terrell Owens being shown the door. But it didn’t take long for him to find his fourth NFL home.

The Bills picking up T.O. is perhaps more of publicity move than an honest attempt to bolster the offense. Buffalo does need help moving the ball, however, finishing 23rd in points and 22nd in passing yards. Owens will provide another deep threat, but Lee Evans has been that tool. However, Owens can give the Bills something they don’t have — a big, strong pass grabber who will be a great target in the red zone.

Owens still has the talent, but will he let young Trent Edwards lead the offense? Will Lee Evans be cool with sharing catches? Same questions. New team.

Who’s Affected: Trent Edwards (-): Edwards doesn’t have the arm to force the ball to Owens. So, if Owens starts crying for the ball again, and Edwards tries to appease him, watch the INT meter climb.
Lee Evans (+): If Owens can occupy the middle on some plays that allow Evens to streak on the outside, Evans could see more deep-ball catches.
Marshawn Lynch (+): With Evans and Owens keeping everyone busy downfield, Lynch could have a lot more breathing room. Expect his receiving numbers to rise.

winslowKellen Winslow Jr.
From: Browns
To: Buccaneers
A former top-10 draft pick, Kellen Winslow Jr. was swapped to the Buccaneers for the Browns’ 2009 second-round pick. The athletic tight end played just eight games last season, but put up a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2007. The Buccs got just 397 yards from tight end Jerramy Stevens last year. Winslow provides an experienced target that can stretch the field and move the chains.

Tampa Bay’s quarterback position is a huge question mark. Jeff Garcia is now in Oakland, and the Buccs are left with a gaggle of career back-ups, but someone has to start. This certainly could be bad for Winslow, but a below-average QB’s best friend is a solid, reliable tight end.

Who’s Affected: Whoever Stars at QB (+): It could be a carousel ride in the Buccaneer backfield, but maybe Winslow can establish a connection with one of the QBs.
Antonio Bryant (+): Bryant surprised the team with a 1,200-yard, seven-touchdown season last year. Defenses will be ready in 2009, but perhaps Winslow will draw attention away from Bryant.

Tony Gonzalez
From: Chiefs
To: Falcons

He’s 33 years old and spent 12 years with the Kansas City Chiefs. 2008 was arguably his most productive year, catching 96 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns. And he did it catching passes from three different quarterbacks.

After setting the all-time yardage record by a tight end last year, Gonzalez was shipped to Atlanta for a second-round pick. Most players are winding down their careers at this point, but Gonzalez is eyeing a Super Bowl win — just about the only thing he hasn’t accomplished in his career.

He joins 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan and should give the young QB an effective weapon to go along with receiver Roddy White and runner Michael Turner. Reliable tight ends can be a young QB’s best friend. Gonzalez could be the final piece that allows Atlanta to make a legitimate push for a championship.

Who’s Affected: Matt Ryan (+): Falcons TE Justin Peelle had just 159 yards receiving last season, but Ryan will be able to spread the ball more and make defenses divide coverage.
Roddy White (-): White should still get 1,000 yards, but he may not have as productive of a season like he did in 2008.
Michael Turner (+): Gonzalez is a solid blocker, which will give Turner more confidence running around the end.

With training camps starting up all over the country in the following weeks, fans will be getting a first look at their new stars. Will they help set the team on track for a championship? Or will the preseason anticipation turn into December disappointment? Fans are gitty, and at least they have that for now.

David Lee is a Dallas-based writer, and the former editor of Beckett Football and Beckett Basketball. To see more of his work, visit his website at www.MrWriteMedia.com.

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Fans love knowing that the players they follow are genuinely nice people, or at least try hard to be. The irony is that some pro athletes get so much media coverage for their athletic accomplishments, but their real personalities rarely get to shine.

I have been fortunate to meet and interview more than 200 professional athletes over the years, mostly from the NFL. Some are as you might expect—uninterested, and issuing as many short answers as they can come up with. But I’ve also come across plenty who have been remarkably friendly and as accommodating.

Some of you can probably relate. You’ve had the chance to meet a player you’ve been following for years. Maybe he was cooler than you ever imagined. Maybe he was a jerk for whatever reason. Either experience can greatly affect your opinion of him, and how closely you’ll continue to follow him.

It’s always refreshing talking to a player who seems to be interested in meeting you. A handful stand out as the nicest and friendliest players I’ve ever met: here’s a recap of some of my experiences with them.

newmanTerrence Newman, CB, Cowboys

When I introduced myself to Newman (a.k.a. T-New), I told him I was from Dallas and was glad that the Cowboys picked him. We just sat down and talked a bit about the Cowboys and playing his college ball in the Big 12.

Newman is a really funny guy. We were at the NFL Rookie Premiere Photo Shoot and he’d grab the photographers’ cameras and start taking his own pictures of other players.

He posed for a quick, impromptu photo shoot for the cover Beckett Football—the magazine I was covering the event for. He wasn’t being paid any extra for it, and he wasn’t contracted to do it. But he was more than willing and accommodating.

Several weeks later, when the magazine was printed with him on the cover, he even signed several copies for us to show his appreciation.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings

As a life-long Texas Longhorns fan, I used to have a respectful distain for Adrian Peterson. Before I met him, I had this vision of a cocky, entitled superstar.

I was completely wrong.

Physically, my first impression of Peterson was just as I’d expected—a lean, rock-solid natural athlete. In fact, when I shook his hand, he squeezed my knuckles like they were cotton balls. He truly doesn’t know his own strength. It made me feel about a foot tall.

But Peterson has a very inviting disposition—as if he’s comfortable with anything you throw at him. He was constantly smiling every time I looked over at him. He was more than happy to pose for a couple pictures with a copy of Beckett Football with him on the cover.

It’s always cool to see a personality like Peterson taking over the league. The guy as rushed for more than 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns in just two seasons. No doubt, he’s added a ton of fans to his crowded bandwagon: those fans can rest knowing that Peterson is a kind-hearted guy who absolutely loves football.

leepeterson

Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons

Matt Ryan takes home the Mr. Nice Guy trophy. In fact, he was almost too nice.

Ryan was a rookie when I interviewed him, and at first he seemed more like a church youth minister than an NFL quarterback. He was kind of thin and baby-faced, but I could tell he was smart and confident in a Peyton Manning sort of way. You can tell when a player is really listening to what you are saying to them when they start talking to you in more of a conversational tone, instead of just answering questions you are firing off. Such was the case with Ryan.

About halfway through our interview, Ryan had to be at another spot at the event we were at, but he insisted that I walk with him to finish the interview. So I did. I could tell he was trying his best to listen closely to my questions and answer them with as much detail as he could.

A couple of days later it was announced that Ryan had signed a six-year, $72 million contract with the Falcons. Maybe that’s why he was in such a good mood. Either way, Ryan is on to a great start to his career, having led his team to the playoffs in his rookie year. Heck, his first pass in the NFL went for a touchdown. It’s great to see a guy like him having such early success.

Patrick Willis, LB, 49ers

There are just a few players I’ve met who stand out as guys who seem to take football very seriously, and truly love the game. Guys like Texans WR Andre Johnson, 49ers RB Frank Gore, Lions WR Calvin Johnson, and Patrick Willis.

Willis was a beast in the SEC for Mississippi. I’ve asked several former SEC offensive players to name the toughest player they’ve ever had to face, and many of them named Willis. He led the NFL in tackles his rookie year (2007) and was second last year.

As dominating as he’s already become, when I met him, talking to Willis was like talking to an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. He also was one of the more conversational players I’ve ever interviewed. He went on and on about his approach to the game and what he needs to get better at. I could tell right away that there was no way Patrick Willis was going to fail in the NFL. If he was a stock, I would have bought all I could. He was one of those rare athletes that you just want to get to know more about on a personal level.

Dallas Clark, TE, Colts

Clark is possibly the most down-to-earth player I’ve ever come across. He instantly struck me as someone who does not belong among the superstar Hollywood-persona athletes. He had this overwhelming awe about actually being in the NFL. He’s more shy farm boy than Pro Bowl tight end.

I showed him the value of some of his early football cards in an issue of Beckett Football, and while flipping through the magazine he said, “I hope I’m not a common.”

Kind of ironic (not to mention funny), I think. Clark is now one of the best tight ends in the game, but is as much of a common man as anyone you’ll ever run across.

Trent Edwards, QB, Bills

You’d never peg Trent Edwards for an NFL quarterback. He looks as average as can be, and isn’t the prototypical big-frame, strong-arm signal caller you’d expect to see from an NFL starting QB.

Edwards’ quiet demeanor was refreshing when I met him in 2007. He was signing a bunch of autographs for NFL Auctions and I noticed how slowly he signed, which was completely different from just about every player out there. Then I looked closer and saw him signing every letter in his name in nice cursive handwriting: T-r-e-n-t E-d-w-a-r-d-s.

I asked him if it was important to him to sign a neat signature on autographed items. He responded, “Absolutely.” He said that if people are going to spend money for a simple thing like his signature, he would feel terrible if it wasn’t perfect.

Edwards clearly came across as someone who felt almost overwhelmed about making it to the NFL. He was completely respectful of the league and the career ahead of him.

Not all players can be Dallas Clarks or Adrian Petersons. But the ones who take the time to really show their respect for the game they play, and their appreciation for the fans that follow them: those are the ones who are humble at heart.

Those players are the ones who will be loved years after they retire, the ones who make cheering for our heroes so much fun.

David Lee is a Dallas-based writer, and the former editor of Beckett Football and Beckett Basketball. To see more of his work, visit his website at www.MrWriteMedia.com.

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