Rookie Diagrams His Future
Sitting in a darkened Lambeau Field film room, Green Bay safety Marques Anderson works a computer keyboard as skillfully as a techno-geek. He taps in a command and a play from the Packer-Dolphin game appears on the movie screen that fills one wall of the room. He starts the play, then freezes the frame.
“See this?” he says, pointing the cursor at himself against an offensive lineman. “If I’d have gotten to his outside shoulder, I could have stopped that run at the line of scrimmage. But Ricky [Williams] got four yards. I’ve got to correct that.”
It was Tuesday morning, not even 12 hours after the Packers had beaten the Dolphins on “Monday Night Football,” and the players had the day off. But Anderson, a rookie from UCLA, wasn’t about to take a break. He arrived early, after a fitful night, eager to check out the video of fhis debut as the starting strong safety.
Green Bay is a league-best 7-1, and quarterback Brett Favre has received much of the credit for the strong start. But the Packer defense is just as responsible, having surrendered one touchdown in the last two games and an average of 12.8 points in the last five games. That’s down from an average of 33.3 points in their first three games.
The season is only half over and already Anderson twice has been selected NFL rookie of the week. After hobbling through training camp because of a hamstring injury, and being deactivated the first two games, he intercepted passes by New England’s Tom Brady and Detroit’s Joey Harrington -- an interception he returned 78 yards for a touchdown. He also recovered fumbles in the Detroit and Miami games. It’s no wonder, then, his teammates have nicknamed him “Playmaker.” Not bad for a third-round selection, the 20th safety taken in the 2002 draft, who would have been a backup but for the surprise retirement of LeRoy Butler.
Anderson had anticipated being chosen earlier and called his draft experience “humbling.” But nothing was quite so humbling as his experience at UCLA, when he was one of the Bruins caught using a handicapped-parking pass. That shameful episode led to Anderson’s missing the 1999 season as he was suspended for the fall quarter.
“I was young and I made a mistake,” said Anderson, who attended Compton College during his UCLA suspension. “Now, I’m glad it happened. It made me open my eyes and realize how much I had to lose, how it could all go away so fast.”
That’s one of the reasons Anderson isn’t taking his situation for granted. He spends as much time at the practice facility as anyone and devotes most of his waking hours to working out, studying video, practicing, anything to fine-tune his game. He started two games in place of injured free safety Darren Sharper, then moved to strong safety when Sharper returned to the lineup.
“He’s rare for a rookie,” Sharper said. “A lot of guys will make plays, but then they’ll make a mistake and give up a big play. Marques hasn’t done that.”
The season is still young, of course, but Anderson is doing everything he can to be as prepared as possible. That’s not to say he spends all his time thinking football. In the apartment he rents, he has a flat-screen TV, a surround-sound system and a huge DVD collection. He never misses “The Sopranos,” and could watch “Scarface” again and again.
Unlike his days at UCLA, where he was relatively anonymous when he stepped off campus, Anderson is widely known in Green Bay. All the Packers are.
“The people here know your schedule,” he said. “They know when your day off is, when you’re practicing, when you have to be at the airport. They know what car you drive and where you live. Any store you walk into, you’ve probably walked into it 15 times before, so they know you there. The fans here are great -- they’ve always got your back -- but it’s kind of spooky.”
Spooky? Considering his almost clairvoyant knack for being around the ball, the same might be said of Anderson.
All the rain Friday got me thinking: The Rose Bowl uses Brookside Golf Course as a parking lot on UCLA football Saturdays, right? But the regular season for college football ends in early December. The NFL stretches through December, of course, when it tends to rain more. The average December rainfall in the Arroyo Seco area isn’t overwhelming, 3.8 inches, but it’s more than the total for July through November.
So, if the Rose Bowl becomes home to an NFL team, where will all those spectators park if it’s too wet to use the golf course (assuming cart paths only isn’t an option)?
I called Pasadena City Councilman Steve Madison, who represents the Linda Vista area, to ask about the rainy-day alternatives. He didn’t return the call -- perhaps a wise policy when the Rose Bowl’s surrounding streets are bumper to bumper with parked cars and those angry phone calls start rolling in.
Around the League
AFC EAST -- The Jets play host to Miami Sunday, which means lots of barking back and forth. But there’s no comeback for some trash talk. “They’re a little arrogant and they know that,” Jet defensive tackle Josh Evans said of the Dolphins, who won the teams’ first meeting, 30-3. “In the third or fourth quarter, we were jaw-jacking at each other. One of them was like, ‘Look at the score. We’re fixing to run down y’all’s damn throat.’ And they did, man. They kicked our butt and made us like it.” ... Trying to confuse Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots used their “dollar” defense, which sometimes meant there were six linebackers on the field and one defensive lineman with his hand down. Other times, there were seven defensive backs and four blitzing linebackers. “When you’ve lost four games in a row, you need to try something different,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “It did cause confusion for them sometimes. Us too.” ... More evidence this is one of the strangest seasons: The Jets, a few weeks ago one of the league’s worst teams, will be one game out of first in the division if they beat the suddenly vulnerable Dolphins (5-3).
AFC NORTH -- In the last two games, he has completed 78% of his passes (39 of 50) for 456 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Who, Tom Brady? Brett Favre? Jeff Garcia? No. Believe it or not, it’s Cincinnati’s Jon Kitna. His passer rating is a gaudy 144.25 over the last two games.... A season after setting a franchise record with 48 sacks, the Bengals’ defense is on track for fewer than half of that, 20.... Lots of things are going wrong for the Browns, but the kicking units have played pretty well. Through nine games, those special teamers have returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns, have blocked three field goals and executed two successful onside kicks.... Cleveland players would have gotten their entire bye week off, had they beaten Pittsburgh last Sunday, which they didn’t. That tickled Steeler safety Lee Flowers. “They were supposed to get the week,” Flowers said. “Now they’re telling their wives, ‘Oh, baby, I can’t come home. I’ve got to go to work tomorrow.’ ” ... With Tommy Maddox firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, will Pittsburgh reprise Kordell Stewart’s “Slash” role as receiver-running back-quarterback? Not if Stewart has any say in the matter. “I play quarterback,” Stewart said. “Those days are over. As far as doing those gadget plays, I’m a quarterback on this football team. When an opportunity comes to play that position, I’ll go out and play. Other than that, I’ll be sitting back and watching and trying to help Tommy.”
AFC SOUTH -- This is why the Colts would never work as an L.A. team: They would be fading by the time the crowd showed up. In the last three games, all Indianapolis losses, the Colts have fallen behind by a combined 64-0 midway through the second quarter. They trailed Tennessee, 23-0; Washington, 20-0; and Pittsburgh, 21-0.... Jacksonville has had five-game losing streaks the last two seasons and now is one loss away from repeating that dubious distinction a third time.... Spurrier is talking trash again. Not Steve Spurrier, his 81-year-old mother. She lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and recently told a reporter the Jaguars wouldn’t be so bad had they hired her son.... Rocky Boiman, a rookie linebacker for Tennessee, has some nerve. He got in a practice-field fight this week with tight end Frank Wycheck, one of the team’s standout players. Then, after Boiman had intercepted a pass intended for Wycheck, he spiked the ball at the veteran’s feet.... Cincinnati scored 38 unanswered points in a victory over Houston last Sunday, prompting this from Texan tight end Billy Miller: “They took their belts off and whipped us.” Normally, it’s the Bengals being marched to the woodshed.
AFC WEST -- Conspicuously absent from Kansas City’s circus on offense are Chief receivers Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton. Combined, they have 38 receptions and three touchdowns. After averaging 73 catches in his last five seasons with Detroit, Morton has 16 at the midway point in Kansas City.... The Chiefs have blocked kicks in each of the last three games -- a field goal against Oakland, and punts against Denver and San Diego.... As if things aren’t bad enough for the Raiders, Charles Woodson tweaked his hamstring in practice Wednesday and limped off the field. He was coming off his first game in seven weeks because of a broken shoulder.... The Chargers had a throwback helmet with “37" on the side painted at midfield for last Sunday’s game against the Jets. Was that in honor of safety Rodney Harrison, suspended for the game after an allegedly illegal hit? No, team officials said, it was in honor of
NFC EAST -- The Eagles have won three in a row, but they have to be fretting about their offense. They have averaged 18.7 points a game over that span, after averaging 33 points in their first five games. Keeping them in contention is a defense that has surrendered one touchdown in the last 12 quarters. In the last three weeks, the Eagles have converted only two of 12 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, and Donovan McNabb has thrown one touchdown pass.... The 3-6 Cowboys are last in the division, and the playoffs are a pipe dream, but don’t call them cheap. Jerry Jones shelled out $41 million for contract extensions, free-agent signings and draft picks. That makes this season, which follows consecutive 5-11 disappointments, particularly painful. “I never thought we’d have back-to-back 5-11 seasons, but this is a lot more frustrating and a lot more disappointing,” Jones told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Last year was about the [salary] cap. We didn’t have any money. This year, we spent money. That was huge. That’s the difference. To win three games
NFC NORTH -- Not much is going right for the Bears, who have the league’s longest losing streak, six. At least linebacker Brian Urlacher is doing well. Without defensive tackle Ted Washington in front of him, Urlacher is making tackles like crazy. He’s averaging 10.4 a game and leads the NFL with 83 -- seven more than Zach Thomas.... Detroit rookie quarterback Harrington was featured in a Cosmopolitan article last month as one of the country’s “50 hottest hunks,” and this week he’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
NFC SOUTH -- You might wonder what Atlanta’s defense is doing after big plays, crouching in a circle with one player wiggling his fingers at the others like some sort of genie. The Falcons are calling the celebration “Pass the Magic.” Well, it beats the Dirty Bird.... Speaking of superstitions, the Falcons have practiced indoors during their four-game winning streak, even though the weather has been unseasonably mild. “I’ve been wondering about that,” receiver Shawn Jefferson told reporters this week. “It was awesome outside [Nov. 1]. My experience with coaches is that when something works, you don’t change it.” ... Carolina first-round pick Julius Peppers has nine sacks through eight games, meaning he’s on track to shatter the rookie sack record held by Jevon Kearse, 14.5.... Talk about a lifestyle change. Dwight Stone, a former standout special-teamer for the Panthers, is now a Charlotte, N.C., police officer. He was making $500,000 a season, and now makes $33,800 a year. He rises at 4:15 every morning so he can get to his south Charlotte district in time for 6:15 roll call. And he wouldn’t change a thing. “It’s never the same -- no radio call, no hour, no second,” he told the Charlotte Observer. “I love that about it.”
NFC WEST -- Garcia and Terrell Owens steal all the headlines, but the unsung hero in the 49er offense is fullback Fred Beasley. With Beasley as the lead blocker, the 49ers have rushed 137 times for 716 yards, an average of 5.2 yards. Without Beasley, they have rushed 66 times for 232 yards, an average of 3.5.... Be on the lookout for an Owens-inspired Sharpie commercial that will air this weekend. The 15-second spot is set in a high school football locker room with the coach delivering his pregame talk. He tells his players they should leave their mark on the game, not on the football. The coach holds out his hand as the players reach into their socks and grudgingly hand over their Sharpie pens. Bet the folks at NFL headquarters are in stitches.