Jussel: Return of football brings joy to pigskin purveyors
The weary soul on the stool moaned about the humidity, took a sip from a frosty mug, eyed the silent television mounted above and watched another baseball highlight from a game that had been played three days ago.
“God, I wish football was here,” he said with a sigh.
With that, I wiped several stray drops of Budweiser off the front of my orange No. 18 Denver Bronco jersey, asked the busty blond behind the bar for a refill and said to my depressed buddy, “Don’t worry. Help is on the way.”
Yes, National Football League training camps open this week across the country, and, once again, all will be right with the world.
I know, I know. It’s just practice, man. Practice.
Training camp is six weeks of big guys swearing and sweating, followed by daily updates on muscle pulls and infighting to claim higher slots on depth charts.
Camp sessions are broken up only by the occasional preseason scrimmage in which fans shell out hundreds of dollars for a Mile High opportunity to catch a fleeting glimpse of their heroes. And if fans can’t attend the game, they will spend hours trying to figure out which sports bar will actually televise a contest in which roughly half of the participants won’t be on the active roster in another week or two.
It’s bizarre to the max.
You and I will be watching every move, breathlessly awaiting announcements from Bronco head coach John Fox:
“Yes, I thought Montee Ball looked very good today. He’s got a shot at being the No. 1 back.”
Or, the next day ...
“Yes, I thought Ronnie Hillman looked very good today. He’s got a shot at being the No. 1 back.”
Or, the next day ...
“Yes, I thought Peyton (Manning, of course) looked very good today. He’s got a shot at being our starting quarterback.”
We will, of course, also have plenty of updates from the team’s executive vice president, John Elway:
“Yes, I thought Montee Ball looked very good today ...”
And on and on it will go until the real fun starts with the Broncos hosting those pesky Baltimore Ravens on a warm and toasty Thursday night, Sept. 5, in the made-for-TV regular-season opener.
Indeed, we have six weeks to ferret out the big stories, tiny stories, nonstories — everything we need to know, whether our favorite team will be in contention or continue to rebuild.
With the Broncos, that does mean following the aforementioned battle for starting running back between rookie Ball and second-year man Hillman.
There is, of course, no battle for first-string quarterback. Manning is THE man. The only thing to monitor with him is his ability to remain upright. If he would go down more than once or twice in preseason, Fox, Elway and the rest of the Bronco Nation will want to know why, and heads might roll.
One other quarterback item of interest in the preseason will be monitoring the progress of second-year backup Brock Osweiler. Of course, with Manning trying to hurry the offense of new coordinator Adam Gaze even more than last year’s rapid pace, Osweiler won’t see much game time until the final “exhibition” at home against the Phoenix Cardinals.
Speaking of Manning, Bronco fans will be all a Twitter about the healing or lack thereof of offensive linemen Ryan Clady, Chris Kuper and J.D. Walton. Someone has to protect the franchise.
We’ll also hear and read plenty about new superstar wide receiver Wes Welker as he works on blending in with previous superstar wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Defensively, eyes will turn to defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio as he schemes on the defensive front to generate a pass rush now that Elvis has left the building, and superstar Von Miller is facing a four-game suspension.
There will also be updates aplenty on new defensive backs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer and old D-back Champ Bailey.
Linebackers Nate Irving and Stewart Bradley will be in the spotlight as they battle to claim the starting inside linebacker spot. Joe Mays figured into that equation until Tuesday, but he had the nastiest disease in today’s NFL: making too much money.
And we’ll be watching to see how top draft choice Sylvester Williams fits into the equation on the defensive line along with new free-agent run-stuffer Terrance Knighton.
Yes, it is indeed just practice, but it’s also six weeks of much-needed hype and speculation, created for us by the National Football League for the sole purpose of taking the edge off the long, hot summer.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.