|DREW BLEDSOE Teams have called|
Staying with the no-huddle
Retired QB Bledsoe can't be lured back
The phone has been ringing, but Drew Bledsoe has been holding his ground. Despite interest from a handful of teams, he's not coming back to the NFL.
When Bledsoe decided to retire in April, he figured a run of injuries to quarterbacks might create an opportunity for him to enjoy a 15th season as a starter.
But much like his on-field style, Bledsoe isn't moving off the spot.
"I thought about it long and hard before I made the decision to retire," he said. "That's why I took two to three months; to be sure it was what I wanted to do. I felt like I had reached the point in my life where it was the right decision, a final decision.
"I feel good about it. I do miss the game and I knew I would miss the game. But I'm at a spot in my life where I'm staying busy and I'm completely 100 percent healthy, and I'd like it to stay that way. And to give what you have to give to play this game - that 100 percent level - I'm not at that point."
When he retired, Bledsoe told his agent, David Dunn, that he didn't need to know - and didn't want to know - if teams were calling to express interest in him. But over the last few weeks, as teams such as Carolina, Arizona, San Francisco, and Jacksonville have lost starting quarterbacks, the volume of calls increased to the point that Dunn felt he wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't inform Bledsoe.
"He said he felt he owed it to me to make sure I was still feeling the same way, that I was in the same place I was before," said Bledsoe, who most recently declined a feeler from the Jaguars last week. "I told him that I was really sure. It feels good to know."
So in a season in which Carolina has signed 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde as an emergency starter and Arizona has brought in two younger backups in Tim Rattay and Tim Hasselbeck, Bledsoe couldn't be swayed.
"I really felt, late in the season last year, that was it. It was time and I was done," he said. "I kind of stepped away from it because I really wanted to make sure it was the right decision. Was I really ready to step away from something that was so important to me? I talked to people and in the end my feelings didn't change. I felt it was time to move on to the next phase."
Bledsoe, a father of four, said he's been busier than expected in retirement, from coaching flag football, to business ventures in wine, coffee, and real estate, to charity work. Last weekend, for example, he traveled to Florida to watch the Patriots-Dolphins game at the home of a fan who bid $8,107 as part of a Miller Lite promotion to benefit the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research.
As he transitions into the next phase of his life, the 35-year-old Bledsoe is aware that some might believe he wasn't willing to put in the necessary work - or had the required passion - to be a great quarterback.
Some of the latest ammunition for detractors came in May in the Whitefish Review, in an interview with Bledsoe. Whitefish Mountain in Montana was a favorite spot for Bledsoe, and in the interview he said, "The best day of my year was always the day after the season when we landed in Whitefish and I could feel myself exhale. Like this pressure was lifted off my shoulders - a physical feeling when we would get into Whitefish. I always looked forward to that day every year and it never let me down. The worst day of my year was always that last day of my summer. I would sit on the dock at my house on Whitefish Lake with my legs dangling in the water before I would fly back on the plane to training camp."
While that may sound like the words of someone who didn't enjoy the demands of football, Bledsoe said otherwise.
"To say I didn't love football, that's way, way crazy," he responded. "Those were friends of mine who were putting together a literary journal and they asked if I would share my affection for a place that means a lot to me. I said it was the best time of year when I could be there, and it was very tough to leave it. It was purely about my affection for Montana. I guess some people twisted it and spun it, and felt that meant I didn't love to play football.
"I don't know where somebody gets that from. I love the game of football. My dream, for as long as I can remember, was to play in the NFL. I got to do that for 14 years and I loved most every minute of it."
At some point, Bledsoe said, he would welcome the opportunity to return to New England, where he played the first nine years of his career before stops in Buffalo and Dallas.
"I would imagine at some point I'll get back up to New England; I still have a ton of friends, and when it comes to the Kraft family, I'm a huge fan of what they've accomplished," he said. "I respect their family and consider them good friends. It wasn't the storybook ending I wanted, but I have a lot of affection for the organization. I'm proud of my time there and what we were able to accomplish."
And Bledsoe is content to close the book on his career.
"When I say the decision is final, I know there are no guarantees," he said. "But the chances are very, very slim I'd come back."
Thomas gets defensive help
Ed Hartwell isn't aware of the particulars of last week's spat between linebackers Ray Lewis and Adalius Thomas, but he was surprised it reached the point that they were firing salvos through the media.
"I can see how that would hurt Adalius, because they were real good friends in their early years," said Hartwell, who played alongside Lewis and Thomas with the Ravens from 2001-04. "Maybe they didn't hang out as much toward the end of their time together, but even then, you wouldn't expect the word 'coward' to be brought up like that. When you're talking about two old friends, you figure that's something you can talk out, instead of hitting someone unsuspectingly."
Thomas and Lewis, it turns out, privately hashed out their differences last week.
As for Hartwell, he not only shares a friendship with Thomas but also a bond, because the two both played under Lewis's large shadow in Baltimore, which wasn't always the easiest assignment. Hartwell wasn't the only linebacker who sometimes felt Lewis received credit for plays he wasn't always making.
"You noticed that, too?" Hartwell said, when asked if Lewis sometimes jumped on top of a pile to be credited with a tackle. "Ray has had a great career and obviously he's gone out and made plays. That's who he is.
"But sometimes he might barely touch a guy, and if that's what worked for Ray and the TV would keep mentioning he was in on another tackle, why wouldn't you do it? People might say to me, 'Edge, you're being overshadowed, making plays and not getting the credit,' but it didn't bother me. The respect that mattered to me was when you turned on the tape and people saw that I was making plays."
Hartwell believes any attack on Thomas's integrity is misplaced.
"He's a great guy, on and off the field, so I don't see how you can attack his character as a friend or a co-worker," he said. "I've shared the locker room with a lot of guys, seen different personalities, and there are some players I couldn't say that about."
A little inside information on the Indianapolis offense
The Patriots visit the Colts next Sunday in one of the most anticipated regular-season games in recent NFL history. From discussions with coaches and scouts around the league, here are three nuggets on the Colts' offense:
1. Commitment to the run: Defensive coordinators facing the Colts have generally used the same approach, splitting their safeties in the back half of the field in an attempt to take away the big passing play. In past years, quarterback Peyton Manning might have still tried to hit the big play, but this year - more than ever - he's content to hand the ball to running back Joseph Addai (100 carries, 492 yards) when defenses present a seven-man front.
2. 12 personnel: In past years, offensive coordinator Tom Moore has favored a personnel package with three receivers and one tight end, but that has changed this year. Instead, Moore uses mostly 12 personnel - two receivers and two tight ends. The key is tight end Dallas Clark (30 catches, 6 TDs), who creates mismatch problems for a defense because - like Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson - he plays the role of both tight end and receiver. "If you decide to put your sub defense in, they will line him up next to the offensive tackle and go into a run formation and identify where the nickel is and run to it," said one assistant coach. "If you stay with your base, they can put him in the slot and attack you that way."
3. Quicker throws: With a rookie left tackle in Tony Ugoh, the Colts are getting the ball out of Manning's hands quicker. One of the team's trademarks - the deep crossing route off play-action - hasn't been as prevalent, apparently because the Colts aren't as confident in their protection after 10-year veteran Tarik Glenn, Manning's longtime blind-side protector, unexpectedly retired this offseason.
Backup plan is just fine
This year, 14 teams rolled the dice by keeping just two quarterbacks on their opening-day rosters. In the 2006 season, only nine teams (including the Patriots) kept just two, up five from the previous season. Why the change? The Jaguars, who went with just two, did some research and noted that in 1,528 games since 2001, there were only 19 contests in which three quarterbacks threw at least one pass. Last year, in 256 regular-season games, a third quarterback played just four times, and it was a coach's decision, not one made because of injury. So the thinking is that the third quarterback isn't as valuable as a player at another position who might contribute more, specifically on special teams. "Certainly it's a calculated risk you take," said Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who lost starter David Garrard to an ankle injury last week and is turning to backup Quinn Gray today in Tampa Bay. "Obviously not having [your] starting quarterback can affect you. I can't imagine Indianapolis right now going to [backup Jim Sorgi] and not thinking they might have some issues to work through. We're no different. We've got to work through this and understand we've being faced with a challenge and a little adversity."
Deal could be a steal
The Patriots lost their 2008 first-round draft choice as a result of the NFL's ruling regarding illegal videotaping, but things are setting up nicely with the team's other first-round pick, acquired from the 49ers. When the Patriots traded the 28th selection in this year's draft to the 49ers (so San Francisco could select offensive tackle Joe Staley), they received a 2007 fourth-round pick and a 2008 first-rounder. The Patriots ended up trading the fourth-round pick to Oakland for receiver Randy Moss, and with San Francisco struggling at 2-4, the first-round pick would be fifth overall if the season ended today.
Star still earning stripes
Ken Anderson played 16 seasons at quarterback for the Bengals and served as an assistant coach for another 10 seasons, and he remains one of the team's most revered figures. Anderson, 58, will make his first appearance in Cincinnati as a visitor today, returning as the Steelers' quarterbacks coach. Anderson downplayed his return, but Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was happy to talk about the positive impact Anderson has had on him. "My old quarterback coach, Mark Whipple, and I were very close and still are very close, so it was really tough when he left," said Roethlisberger, who is completing 63.3 percent of his passes. "But I think Ken's done a great job of stepping in."
Foreign exchange of ideas
With the Giants and Dolphins playing today in London, commissioner Roger Goodell and a few NFL executives traveled overseas to promote the league and take part in a conference called "Sport 2020: The changing face of the global sports industry." Patriots chairman/CEO Robert Kraft was among the group, which included Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, Buccaneers owner Joel Glazer, and Rams co-owner Stan Kroenke. Kraft served on a panel that discussed building the optimum business model.
For all the talk about whether Chad Pennington can hold on to the quarterback job with the Jets, perhaps overlooked has been how poor the team's defense has performed. The Jets are allowing 138 rushing yards per game (28th in the NFL), 240 passing yards (30th), and can't get off the field on third down as opponents are converting 51 percent of the time (31st) . . . The Rams are struggling, so it's hard to blame fans for staying away. The Rams host the Browns today and the game will be blacked out in St. Louis because it did not sell out 72 hours before kickoff, marking the second blackout this season and only the third since the franchise moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995 . . . The Jaguars play their next three games on the road - at Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Tennessee - the only NFL club that has to play three straight road contests this season . . . The Titans, on the other hand, open a three-game homestand against the Raiders, with quarterback Vince Young expected to return after missing last week's game because of a quadriceps injury . . . Defensive end Aaron Smith, one of the Steelers' unsung performers who has not missed a game since his rookie season in 1999, is expected to be sidelined today with a sprained medial collateral ligament. Smith has played in 115 consecutive games (including playoffs), a remarkable stretch.
Did you know?
Running back Larry Johnson has scored each of the Chiefs' last 35 rushing touchdowns. That's the longest consecutive streak of rushing touchdowns by one player in NFL history.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.