Thinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Antowain Smith.
— Happy New Year! Well, it’s what we’ve been waiting for since, oh, last January, right? Football is back, but with a few twists and turns along the way to always keep things interesting.
— Attendance on opening day of Patriots training camp: 12,393. More than Tampa Bay can draw for most Rays baseball games. Twenty states and at least four foreign countries represented among the fandom. Nope, nothing to see here.
— There’s the always-alarming physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which really means guys like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will be OK — but the team is taking little chance to get them injured before playing in games that actually mean something. Injuries kept NE from a possible fifth Lombardi Trophy more than anything else last winter.
— And for the first time in 15 years, New England will head into a regular season preparing to start someone at quarterback not named Tom Brady. Brady’s falling on the sword in taking the four-game suspension from the NFL means Jimmy Garoppolo gets the spotlight, the attention and a lot of reps over the next month. It’s his chance to shine and to set himself up — if not in New England, certainly somewhere else — for a solid career.
— Evaluating the Pats’ strongest position heading into camp, there’s a lot of depth along the defensive front. Even with Chandler Jones’ departure for Arizona, there’s size in the middle and potentially more speed on the ends.
— But for pure talent? I’ll take the linebacking one-two punch of Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. Both can be free agents after this year, so expect new contracts to be part of their storylines until deals get done. Or not. Collins wasn’t present for opening day Thursday, but CSNNE’s Tom Curran says it wasn’t contract-related. Bill Belichick says he was excused.
— Speaking of done, Tom Jackson is out at ESPN. A part of the “NFL Countdown” show with Chris Berman since 1987, Jackson has been thinking about his future for some time — contrary to several published reports that the network wants him gone. He’s 65 years old, which is hard to believe, so it’s understandable he may wish to take a different tact on his professional journey.
— Jackson was the only analyst from last season who wasn’t fired or replaced in the offseason. Former Boston College quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will be a part of the new “Countdown” mix.
— Guess the J-E-T-S aren’t done with Ryan Fitzpatrick. At least, not right now. But a one-year, $12 million endorsement of a deal isn’t exactly a ringing vote of confidence for Gang Green, is it?
— The last shall be first? Boston’s sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers this week makes the Red Sox the last team in the majors to be swept in a series this year. No, this does not make me feel differently — certainly not any better.
— Losers of five of nine on the recent homestand, the Sox have embarked upon easily their most difficult stretch of the season with 11 straight on the road, in a traditional tough spot — the West Coast. After the sweep at the hands of Detroit, Boston faces 41 of its final 63 games away from Fenway. Who’s feeling confident?
— Certainly not Drew Pomeranz, who has been little more than dismal in his first couple of starts in the rotation. Who did the Sox trade again for this guy? One of the top pitching prospects in Major League Baseball, Anderson Espinoza. If I’m sounding a little like, well, Chicken Little, it’s because the sky is falling.
— OK, OK. So I’m overreacting. Perhaps. Koji Uehara might be done. And there is the curious conundrum that is David Price right about now, too. Did I miss the memo? The alleged “ace” certainly was better Thursday night, but I’m just wondering: Is it possible that Boston’s bright lights are hard for these guys to play up to? Is it possible Price was overpaid a tad and has been having a hard time living up to his lofty bank account?
— Not for nuthin’, but if the Red Sox need anyone to step up right now during this potential make-or-break West Coast stretch, it is Price. Be the ace, David. Be the ace.
— Joe Kelly, for all of his previous successes in the big leagues, is nothing but a 4A pitcher. What’s a 4A pitcher, you ask? A guy who can rule at the Triple-A level but never quite reach the same level of play in the major leagues. There seems to be no reason for a 100-plus mph pitcher like Kelly to struggle the way he does against big league hitters.
— His fastball, while certainly fast, is right down Main Street for most hitters. And they can park that stuff. Kelly, if not 4A, might find his way back to the National League before too long.
— Tweet of the Week, from the Globe’s Peter Abraham (@PeteAbe) prior to the West Coast swing: The last six #RedSox losses are by a total of nine runs. Whoa. Doesn’t bode well for the trip, huh?
— And when you lose a game like Thursday’s in Anaheim — a 2-1 heartbreaker dropped in the bottom of the ninth — it has a way of sticking with you. That’s a season-high four straight losses. Price came up aces, and Hanley Ramirez decides to airmail one to the plate that allowed the winning runs to score. Boston had been 50-0 when leading going into the ninth inning this season before Ramirez’s special delivery. Ouch.
— Chris Sale’s temper tantrum and subsequent suspension for cutting up those White Sox throwback jerseys should cause any team — and any fan — to stop and think before you buy in. I appreciate his desire to win, but really, should the shirt you wear really matter? C’mon, man.
— I’ll give him this: I didn’t like those ugly shirts back in 1976, and as much as I dig nostalgia, they’re still butt-ugly today. And yes, manager Robin Ventura should have defended his pitcher to management but instead left him twisting in the wind. Unless he actually liked those jerseys, of course.
— If Dealer Dave Dombrowski could swing a deal to get Chicago interested in packing Sale and sending him eastward, we should anoint the Red Sox GM Grand Poobah For Life. That would be some steal, a front-end rotation guy for prospects and with a very palatable contract for three years. But don’t deal Yoan Moncada, right?
— Speaking of Chicago, the Cubs landed ex-Yankee Aroldis Chapman for the back end of their bullpen. It’s a good move, anytime you can add a guy that throws 100-plus mph on every pitch. Chapman, for what it’s worth, says he hopes to go back to New York next year. What if the Cubbies actually win something this year? Does immortality mean anything to anyone anymore, or is it all about the $$$?
— Don’t answer that question. I know the answer.
— A belated congrats to Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award recipient, named for the long-time, late editor of The Sporting News. The award honors a baseball writer for his meritorious contributions to baseball writing and is voted upon and presented by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
— Like him or not, Shaughnessy broke into the biz as a young man covering Earl Weaver and the Baltimore Orioles and has been serving the sport well for decades. Maybe some of Weaver’s cantankerousness rubbed off?
— The inaugural class of the Pawtucket Red Sox Hall of Fame was inducted Friday night at McCoy Stadium, and for anyone who has lived even a minute around here, you know they got it right with the inclusion of Ben Mondor, Jim Rice and Wade Boggs.
— Rice and Boggs certainly are a given, seeing as they both made their way to Cooperstown through Pawtucket, and both have had their numbers retired at Fenway. Mondor was a friend to everyone, it seemed, and while he also was a former boss for me (I did PawSox radio broadcasts in the early ’90s after leaving Channel 12), I never once looked at him as anything other than “Ben.”
— But I never called him “Ben.” That would have been disrespectful. It was always “Mr. Mondor.” And Mr. Mondor always treated me with respect in kind. On one road trip I was mistakenly left off of the team’s per diem list — you know, where they dole out the meal money. Mr. Mondor pulled two 20s out of his pocket (which was more than the per diem the players received in those days) and handed them to me, apologizing for the mix-up. I’ve never forgotten the gesture.
— So let’s see if I can figure this out: Michael Jordan was criticized while he was in the midst of his playing career for not speaking out about issues that affect minorities or political issues because he chose to remain private — which is his right. Now because he’s decided to speak out on the atrocities being committed among his own race — not to mention the crimes being committed against law enforcement officials — he’s still being criticized?
— Is this because you feel it’s “too little, too late” for him to speak up, or because you feel he missed the window of opportunity years ago for an agenda to be driven? Maybe, just maybe, he’s simply disgusted with what he’s now witnessing, or he’s embarrassed, and he didn’t feel the need or have the desire to be a polarizing political figure in the ’80s and ’90s? Who can blame him for that?
— Among the stories that never seem to gain enough publicity, along comes this one from the current King of the Roundball, LeBron James. Through his Family Foundation’s “I Promise” program that guarantees four-year college scholarships to qualified kids in Akron, Ohio, James now is footing the bill for more than 1,100 students (with co-sponsors University of Akron and JP Morgan Chase) at a cost of almost $42 million.
— Not for nuthin’, but it’s a significant, magnanimous give-back to the local community that deserves praise and attention. If you criticize Jordan for his one-time indifference to the world around him, what about James’ willingness to put his money where his mouth is?
— Stop the presses. URI is picked for last place in the preseason football poll for the Colonial Athletic Conference race this fall. Yawn.
— This really isn’t a dig at Rams football, nor an indictment of coach Jim Fleming. But if the decision-makers at the state university actually care about the sport, why does it remain a traditional, annual doormat? Either ante up and get in the game, or get out and let someone else (or another sport) have a shot.
— I like the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s new alignment plan for high school football this season, but it didn’t quite go all the way as it could have. Reducing the number of divisions is always a good thing for a state this size. Increasing the number of teams in Division 1 also is a positive. But two Division 1 state championships?
— Seems to me the decision-makers on this one expect Hendricken and LaSalle to win out, so having a second title game for the runners-up (or for the losers to Hendricken and LaSalle) is just silly. This is further proof the RIIL considers football a two-team race this year, if not every year. Why play the season at all?
— Solve the problem. One. True. Champion. Maybe the Hawks or Rams win it anyway (more likely, the Hawks), but the intrigue and the “puncher’s chance” always adds to the story and excitement of the season. Make it a “Hoosiers” scenario for the gridiron.
— Can’t blame public school and other private school coaches for crying foul when it comes to competing against the state’s Big Two football programs. So do something about it. Either play their game, improve yourselves or blow the whistle on any alleged improprieties. Or sit around and talk about it, and let the RIIL come up with another plan that gets changed in two more years. Stupid is as stupid does.
— My buddy Bernie’s minister had all of his teeth pulled recently, making way for new dentures. He told Bernie that the first Sunday using his new teeth, he could only preach for 10 minutes. The following week, he made it to 20 minutes. By the third week with his new choppers, he was able to preach for an astounding hour and 30 minutes. When Bernie asked him about it, the minister replied, “The first Sunday, my gums were very sore, so it really hurt to say anything. The next week was better, but my new teeth were still adjusting. Last week, I grabbed my wife’s dentures by mistake and I couldn’t shut up.”
— God Shammgod finally has a full-time gig in the NBA, 19 years after his pro playing career fell a bit short of that lofty goal. His departure for the Dallas Mavericks as their assistant director for player development is good news for the Mavs, but not necessarily bad news for the Friars. Sham is again pursuing a goal, one in which he would have had less of a chance to achieve if he hadn’t paid some coaching dues on the PC staff.
— Plus, what a great advocate he’ll be for Providence basketball in the NBA. He’ll always be a Friar, and will always be someone the staff can count on for an assist — one way or another. The “Shammgod” (his signature crossover dribble, too) is always in vogue, as strong as ever.
— ICYMI, St. John’s captured one-time UConn basketball commit Zach Brown. Brown was arrested in May on armed robbery charges in Miami, but at least some of the charges against him reportedly have been dropped. The 7-foot-1 center, ranked as a top 25 national player by ESPN for the Class of 2017, de-committed from UConn before his arrest.
— Did someone just infuse Chris Mullin with a dose of Steve Lavin? Just asking the question, after Mullin ran off some players of questionable character recruited by his predecessor. I believe in second chances, but does anyone in their right mind believe if Brown weren’t a 7-foot-1 potential hoop star that Mullin would be so generous with his offer? Of course you don’t.
— ESPN.com college basketball writers Jeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello report there were more than 700 Division 1 basketball transfers in the past year. That’s astounding. In the past decade since these figures have been recorded annually, the transfer list has grown from around 200 student-athletes to today’s total. Nothing to see here, nothing to fix, right, NCAA? Move along.
— We’re just a week away from the opening of the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the complaints are such that this Olympiad will be memorable for several wrong reasons. For one, the athletes village is not complete in many areas, with some teams seeking alternate lodging due to the “un-livability” of their quarters.
— Australia’s team says its representatives’ apartments have poor electricity and plumbing. Water came down the walls when they turned on faucets and flushed toilets. Maybe this is why the water in Rio is full of trash and disgusting waste? Just sayin’.
— For another, the Russian track and field team has been banned from competing in Brazil, for engaging in an elaborate cheating plot involving the still-illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps Russian president-for-life Vladimir Putin is too engaged in political espionage in trying to decipher Hillary Clinton’s missing 30,000-plus emails? Or the Super Bowl ring he “received” from the Patriots’ Robert Kraft continues to blind him with its shining diamonds? I don’t know.
— The Patriots have announced they will be celebrating the 15-year anniversary of the first Super Bowl championship team from 2001 this season, with special features and appearances culminating in a team reunion during halftime of the Dec. 4 game against the Los Angeles Rams in Foxboro. The star running back on the ’01 team, Antowain Smith, never had it better than when he had it going that year. It was his best season as a pro, rushing for 1,157 yards with 12 TDs, and also gaining 204 yards in the playoffs on the way to the 20-17 shocker over the “Greatest Show on Turf,” the then-St. Louis Rams.
— Smith played two more seasons with New England, in 2002 and 2003, rushing for 642 yards in the ’03 Super Bowl season before giving way to Corey Dillon as the alpha dog in the running back corps. With two rings on his hand, he finished his time in the NFL with his collegiate hometown of Houston (where he played for the Houston Cougars) in 2006 before retiring. Starting his career in Buffalo, Smith played nine full season in the league, rushed for almost 7,000 yards and scored 57 touchdowns. He lives in Texas and has worked in education as a school principal since leaving pro football.
— Andrew from Berkley, Mass (@MacMandrew) tweeted this week: Caught some of your Periscope show [Wednesday]. Nice to see so many young sports talk minds. Nice work. Andrew: First off, thank you for representing Berserkley. Secondly, appreciate your following on Periscope. Thirdly, I was privileged to instruct 10 very talented young men (from as far away as Hawaii and China) at Dean College’s Summer Discovery Sportscasters Camp for the past two weeks, and these gentlemen appeared on the air with me during July’s Patriots Playbook on Patriots.com Radio, where you saw and heard them. Intelligent, unafraid, bold, sometimes a little brash. The future of sports radio (these guys did two hours solo on Franklin’s Power 88 FM Thursday night) is in smart hands. But where will the next generation take us? It’s a Work In Progress.
— Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ’em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke.
— Don’t forget to tune in to Providence’s 103.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. for Southern New England Sports Saturday! Call in at 401-737-1287 or text us at 37937.