The 2016 – 2017 NFL season is only a couple of weeks away and closing quickly. In anticipation of the season’s kickoff on ESPN, the network’s new broadcast team of Jon Gruden, Sean McDonough, and Lisa Salters joined MNF producer Jay Rothman for a conference call with members of the media this week.
The group discussed its expectations for the upcoming season both on and off the field in during its time with the press. Among the many topics covered in the call were Kirk Cousins’ improvement during the off-season, expectations for the Titans and their young QB, teams to watch in general, and much more. The full transcript from Tuesday’s conference call is available below. Audiences that want to listen to the conversation can do so in full here.
Rothman: Good morning, everybody. Our team is very fired up to start this NFL season, and obviously it’s a new Monday Night Football for us. As everyone knows, we lost Mike Tirico, our longtime colleague, brother and tremendous talent, and we all wish Mike the best in his future with NBC. At the same time, we gained another longtime colleague, a longtime brother and a tremendous talent in Sean McDonough. We’re very excited to have Sean with us. As many of you know, and those of you who don’t know, Sean is a pro. He’s a great voice, a great call, smart, quick, a great sense of humor, probably even more of a – one who busts chops more so than Coach Gruden himself.
We’re all aware of Sean’s history, how far back his association with the NFL goes through his great dad, Will, his brother who works for the Arizona Cardinals. He has a huge passion for the NFL and for Monday Night Football and great respect for Monday Night Football, and we are very fired up to have Sean with us.
Jon, as you all know, has established himself as a premier analyst in sports television. And just as he was as a Super Bowl-winning head coach, the things that got him that Super Bowl trophy are what makes him great at this job. He’s smart, creative, a great innovator. His work ethic is second to none, just as it was as an NFL coach. He brings the same work ethic to Monday Night Football and coaches all of us up. As you all know, too, he can bust chops with the best of them and loves to laugh.
Lisa, who is on the sidelines with us again, a consummate pro, a journalist, great sensibility, and does a great job keeping us all in check.
We’re very excited about our new team. The camaraderie is there. We’ve gotten to spend some great time together in the off-season and in the preseason. And as we all know, too, chemistry takes time, and where Mike and Jon got after seven years together in the booth, you know, hopefully it will not take that long with Sean and Jon, but we expect great things for the two of them, and, more importantly, a great listen for fans. And I take great comfort with our respect and fondness for each other that we’ve had in the last several months and obviously take great comfort in the continuity we have in the truck. I am fortunate to partner with my director, Chip Dean. This will be our 26th season together, and we’re just as excited as ever to get going.
Our schedule brings us some great games, some we’re very excited about. Excited to be kicking off in Washington. Excited in our Week 3 game to celebrate the game we had 10 years ago with the re-opening of the Superdome in New Orleans. And probably on a personal note for me, I’m very excited about our game in Mexico City. I’ve taken a couple of trips there over the summer to see the facility, meet the people. It’s going to be a very, very special evening in Mexico City. It will be a great spectacle. World Cup meets the NFL. It will be a very unique scene and a unique weekend for us to showcase that game. So we’re excited and fired up to get going.
McDonough: I am very humbled and honored to be joining this iconic sports television franchise. It’s been repeated to me many times that I’m just the fifth play-by-play person in the history of Monday Night Football, and I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around that particularly when the four who have done this before are Keith Jackson, Frank Gifford, Al Michaels, and Mike Tirico, all of whom are Hall of Fame broadcasters or will be.
I can only echo what Jay said about our group. We’ve had a great opportunity to spend time together in the off-season and in the preseason. I’ve known Jay and Chip for a long time, probably almost 30 years, and I’m well aware of their work. I’ve known Jon a little bit and Lisa and admired them mostly from afar. But I would echo what Jay said. Having spent a lot of time with them this summer, it’s going to be even more fun than I thought. And I knew from talking to Mike that it was going to be a tremendous amount of fun. They’re both great people, fun to be around, great teammates, working incredibly hard at their job. I’m excited to get going. It seems like it’s been taking forever for September 12 to get here, at least for me, but it’s right around the corner now, and I’m more than fired up about it.
Gruden: Good morning, everyone. Just very excited about the upcoming season and the team that we have. Looking forward to working with Sean. I think he’s not only a great guy, but he’s got a great voice. I can imitate that voice. I’ve been working on that carefully in the backyard. But looking forward to the season. I love football and look forward to seeing you guys in all of our travels.
Salters: Hey, everybody. This will be my fifth year on the sidelines for Monday Night Football, and I couldn’t be more comfortable with the great crew that I’m honored to work with and with the teams and the game itself. So I’m really looking forward to just even taking it to another level up with my work and just trying to get better. Jon continues to be a great teacher. Jay and Chip continue to be great leaders. And like Sean said, even though we’ve never worked together before, his reputation certainly speaks for itself. He’s been a great play-by-play man, so I’m looking forward to that aspect of the season as well. So, you know, I know it’s probably hard to understand, but it just keeps getting better at Monday Night Football, and I’m looking forward to the season.
- Jon, you spent some time with Kirk Cousins this off-season. I’m curious what differences you saw from him and what are your expectations for him this season and why.
Gruden:He’s experienced now. He went through one full season as a starter. I think he took the bull by the horns in the off-season. He took the reins of this offense and really established himself as a leader on this football team. He’s got more input, more hands-on experience, a better understanding of what he likes. I think his communication with Jay Gruden, Sean McVay and the offensive staff is going to get better. And if they continue to improve around him, I think he’ll be a quarterback that continues to stay on the rise.
- Jon, at this time last year, I think you were optimistic about the Dolphins, as were a lot of people. Do you still feel that optimism, or might it be another 6-10 type team?
Gruden: Yeah, I wasn’t good last year in the Dolphin prognostication charts. I’m going to play it by what I see this year. They’ve got a lot of new faces not only in the coaching staff but their offensive and defensive systems. But a lot of new personnel they’re counting on heavily. I’m most concerned about the Dolphins secondary. I want to see how they play at the corner position and how Mario Williams and Ndamukong Suh play in that Miami heat. Can they get a fourth quarter pass rush, can the corners hold up for 16 weeks, and can Tannehill do it consistently in a new offense? I hate to give you one more, but I haven’t seen enough from the offensive line this summer. I was expecting more. I want to see that group pick it up as well.
- Jon, I know you spent some time with Dak Prescott. How did you have him rated before the draft, and what should the Cowboys expect from him as the season moves on?
Gruden: Well, we spent a lot of time with Dak before the Senior Bowl, and obviously we did a quarterback camp show with him on ESPN. He was the one real dual-threat in this year’s draft. And what I loved about Prescott is he got progressively better throughout his career at Mississippi State. He improved as a passer dramatically from year two to three, three to four. I really like the fact that he finished. He’s not one of these guys that came out two years early. He finished. He won at Mississippi State, which is really unprecedented. That’s a tough league to win in, let alone at Mississippi State. He had some Donovan McNabb-like qualities. I coached McNabb in the Senior Bowl when he was coming out of Syracuse. Similar size. Similar option football background. And I think you’re seeing a little Donovan McNabb, dual-threat, physical stature-type traits throughout the preseason. I’m not shocked that he’s played this well. I am stunned, however, that he looks like the opening day starter for the Dallas Cowboys.
- Do you think he’ll have problems with NFL defenses early?
Gruden: Well, the thing that he does to NFL defenses, as you know, after watching Cam Newton and some of these dual-threat quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor is you’re just not allowed to do the things you want to do against these running quarterbacks. Trust me. The playbook is going to change in Dallas. You’re going to see quarterback-driven runs. You’re going to see option football whether you like it or not. And that regulates what a defense can do. One thing the Cowboys are certainly going to do is they’re going to run the ball right down your throat, and they’re going to command an eight-man front, which is going to give Prescott some of these one-on-one isolations to guys like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten who have already seen in the preseason. Prescott can be really hard to defend because of his dual-threat abilities and what he does to defenses. He makes you play assignment football.
- Jay, have you made a decision as to the broadcast team for the second half of the Monday Night Football doubleheader? And if you have, why the decision to assign whoever you’ve assigned?
Rothman: Chris Berman, Steve Young, and Lindsay Czarniak are going to be doing the game. Lindsay has done the sideline reporting for the last couple of years and has done a great job, a huge NFL fan, and she’ll do a great job. Chris and Steve have a great working relationship together. Obviously the game is in San Francisco. Steve and Chris are longtime friends, longtime colleagues, longtime pros. Steve will do a great job. Chris will do a great job. Chris has been, as you know, the face and voice of our NFL since we’ve had it. Really enjoys the heck out of doing the game, and those guys will do a fine job.
- If Kaepernick sits through the Anthem in the 49ers-Rams game, will you guys cover that in the broadcast, and if so, how?
Rothman: Yeah, we absolutely would. The timing is such that, first of all, Kaepernick has to make the 53-man team, and that’s two weeks away, so we don’t know that yet. But the timing is such that because it’s a doubleheader game, we do not cover the Anthem. We will not cover the Anthem live in the second game regardless. However, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t record it and report it. And I think our job, especially with the whole Kaepernick deal, it’s our job to document and report the game. And those who are working on the game, if Kaepernick is on the team and chooses to sit again, I’m sure they’ll get perspective from Kaepernick, they’ll get perspective from Chip Kelly, they’ll get perspective from others and report. So that’s how we’ll handle that in San Francisco.
Salters: I think Jay said it perfectly. Our job is to document and report what happens. Lindsay will be the reporter for that game, and I’m sure she’s going to spend a bit of time talking to Colin before the game, should he make the team, about his position. She will get his reaction about why, about the criticism he’s gotten, the support he’s gotten, and she will present a report based on that and based on what actually happens during the National Anthem. He may stand during the National Anthem, and that would be huge as well, because it will be going against what he said he was going to do. So, like Jay said, our job is to document and report what happens, and I think they’ll do a great job.
- Jon, how has Mike Tomlin grown as a head coach since you’ve had him on your staff in Tampa? And the second part of that question, he’s already at 92 wins. Can you talk about the continuity in coaching? Is he a guy that could possibly win more than 150 games in this league?
Gruden: Well, he’s a really good coach, obviously. He gets players to respond. He’s been able to adapt to change. I look at their defense. I don’t see the formidable nose tackle like we’ve seen for decades there with most recently Casey Hampton, I don’t see the shutdown corner in Ike Taylor. Polamalu, their double safety, is not there. They changed their defense. They do an incredible amount of overload zone blitzing. I’ve even seen them go to some of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer over-front 4-3 principles that I remember seeing him run here.
And offensively, let’s be honest, the rubber meets the road in Pittsburgh with Roethlisberger and the skill that they have. They’re going to win games regardless, as long as No. 7 stays healthy and they surround him with the arsenal that they have. You could say Roethlisberger is as good as anybody playing. I personally think Le’Veon Bell is the best back in all of football. And I’ve got Antonio Bryant number one on my team also. So they are loaded, and they can outscore you. And if their defense continues to be creative and find ways to get stops, they’re going to be in the playoffs again, and that’s a credit to Mike, certainly, and their entire organization.
- I know you’re familiar with the Texans’ rather checkered history at quarterback. I was curious what you think Osweiler will do to set himself apart from that unfortunate group.
Gruden: Well, let’s hope for the best. It’s a lot of pressure on a young quarterback to sign a big contract and become a full-fledged starter without a big body of work. This really hasn’t been done many times where a man changes teams, signs a lucrative contract to become the franchise quarterback with only a half a dozen starts to his name. So, first of all, he’s got to apply pressure and not feel pressure, and he’s got to stay focused on what Bill O’Brien wants him to do and I think just utilize, first of all, his great defense. Don’t turn the ball over. I think they gave up less than 10 points a game the last half of the season. So you have the beneficiary of a great defense. You’re going to have a creative attack with Bill O’Brien, and they’ve added some weapons. I like what I see from Fuller in the preseason. I think Braxton Miller is going to be a huge wildcard, and DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best receivers in football, just like Antonio Brown. So he’s in a great situation. Just don’t feel the pressure, apply the pressure. Take care of the football, and use your supporting cast in this offensive system.
- Jon, what have you seen out of Trevor Siemian, and do you think he can even make the Broncos’ offense better given their struggles last season?
Gruden:It’s another quarterback that for the most part is obscure. You can look at the preseason all you want, but preseason football is not a real good gauge for how a first-time starter is going to get treated in the NFL. The thing I like about Trevor is he’s been with Kubiak for over a year now. He’s had a chance to sit in the meetings. He’s had a chance to watch Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler play. And they do have some really good players, particularly at the skill positions. I just think if they can take care of the ball and be productive in the red zone, they’re going to be a hard team to deal with because of this defense. They weren’t an explosive, consistent offense last year, and they won the Super Bowl. So if Trevor can play solid football, take care of the ball and use his support, I think Denver can win some ugly games early while this kid continues to progress and show the world what he’s all about.
- How do you think Doug Pederson has handled the quarterback situation so far in Philadelphia? And what makes you think this year will be any different for Sam Bradford?
Gruden: Well, first of all, I like what Bradford’s doing in the preseason. He was on fire the other night against Indianapolis. I think the system, the West Coast system, will suit him. I also think the incorporation of some of the college zone reads, not that they’re going to use Sam as a runner, but the spread offensive system that Pederson ran when he was in Kansas City is going to help the offense in general. I don’t know where Philadelphia’s going with their quarterbacks, honestly. Chase Daniels looks like a backup quarterback to me. I think he’s going to be ready if called upon. The game I saw against Tampa, Carson Wentz got peppered way too many times. Hopefully he gets well. He’s missing a lot of time to develop. So I don’t know. If you have a choice this year, I think Doug Pederson has his eggs in one basket, if you ask me, and it’s all on Sam Bradford.
- There’s seven teams that have an opening week starter that they didn’t have a year ago. Does that seem like an unusually high number? The second part is, is it surprising none of those teams are the ones that picked a quarterback in the past draft?
Gruden: Yeah, that’s surprising for sure. But, look, there are so many different head coaches every year and different coordinators, you might as well have new quarterbacks. It’s an incredible league right now the way that it churns out new talent at quarterback, offensive coordinator and head coach. You don’t get very long to establish yourself. So some of these new starters, they have to do what Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor did a year ago. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, I thought they did an excellent job coming in as first-year players. I love what Fitzpatrick did with the Jets. So you can look at what happened a year ago and say it’s probably not impossible to expect these several guys to come in and play well.
- Sean, a couple decades ago you had the chance to do baseball for CBS, a major spotlight. Did you ever think you’d get another opportunity to have a shot at a major package like Monday Night Football?
McDonough:Well, I had hoped so. It was a long time ago that I did the World Series. As you know, Pete, it was ’92 and ’93. I was very happy to be doing what I was doing. I had a chance to do a lot of great college football and basketball games, major golf championships around the world. But I did feel like I was one wrung sort of below where I had been when I was doing the World Series. With the passage of time, you look at the landscape. I loved being at ESPN. I wanted to stay at ESPN. But we had Brent Musburger for a long time as our number one college football play-by-play man. There was no reason to change that. When he moved to the SEC Network, they promoted Chris Fowler. To be totally candid, that was one I was hoping I might get when it opened. But I certainly understand the reasons why anybody would hire Chris. He’s one of the most talented guys in our business and exceptionally important to ESPN.
So when that one went by, I was in my, I guess, early 50s. You do start to wonder. But as much as you’d like one more shot at sort of the top wrung, I chose to feel blessed for what I had, because what I had was awesome, and mostly because of the people that I was working with. When you’re around Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery, and our producer was Bo Garrett for all those years, and you’re around Chris Spielman and Todd McShay and people like that, to me, as my life went along, I got less ambitious, I guess, and more grateful that I got to work all the time with people that I really loved and care about and who are great at what they do. And that’s the wonderful thing about this for me. Not just that it is a step up in terms of the prominence of the role, but, again, I know that I’m working with great people. Jay has been a friend, as I said, for about 30 years, and Chip Dean as well. And I know Jon and Lisa are going to become great friends. I think we already have, quite frankly.
So I wasn’t sure. I’m 54 years old, so the clock was sort of ticking. But I’m grateful they’ve given me this opportunity, and certainly well aware of the standard that’s been set by the people who have filled this role before me. And I’m going to do everything I can to uphold the high standard that viewers of Monday Night Football have become accustomed to for 46 years.
- Cam Newton had a season last year where — an incredible season, MVP, really excitable. Then he kind of bottomed out for the Super Bowl. He didn’t dive for a loose ball. He was pretty sullen after the game. I’m curious what you think and how he’ll bounce back from that and what you think you’ll see from him this year. And what do you think of the whole concept of the Las Vegas Raiders?
Gruden:Well, I’m confident that Cam will bounce back. He’s proven he has thick skin. He’s not been criticized just once, but he is a dynamic talent, certainly, almost impossible to defend. You don’t know how to defend Carolina’s offense. You have no idea what plays they can run with this quarterback that can do the things he can do. I’m sure he’s going to use it as motivation. That’s the way I look at it.
But in regards to the Raiders, the Raiders, the Las Vegas Raiders, I don’t know, man. That’s hard for me to imagine. The Oakland Raiders has a real place in my heart. I’d hate to see them leave. I love where they are. I love the tradition of the Raiders, and I’m getting teared up right now thinking about them moving. But I certainly understand their situation and I hope it all works out for them. If Las Vegas was to acquire the rights to the Oakland Raiders, that would certainly, I think, be interesting.
- Coach, have you seen a trend with Wentz and Goff this year probably sitting, whereas last year Winston and Mariota were able to play the old-school sitting versus some of the guys the last couple of years being able to get out and play as young quarterbacks?
Gruden: I think every situation is different. These quarterbacks that come into the league are so different than they were five, six, seven years ago. It’s incredible. As far as Goff goes, he’s never been in a huddle. Never called a play. Wasn’t asked to do a lot with his snap count. Look, there’s an incredible amount of information that he has to learn and distribute and execute. And it might take him some time. He’s only a true junior. This is just a puppy. Wentz, he’s been derailed already by injury. Unfortunately, at the quarterback position, that often costs you dearly when it’s time to lace them up. So I think both these guys could certainly use some time to watch, to see the league closely and learn. And I know there is going to be pressure, serious pressure from both fan bases to play these guys, given what these teams gave up. It will be fun to watch and monitor that.
- Discuss DeMarco Murray and the Titans’ effectiveness potentially as kind of a power running team?
Gruden: This is the one team I spent a lot of time in the preseason studying because it’s fun to watch a team go back to the way it was. There’s a song I like to listen to called “The Way We Were.” That’s what I feel like I see when I watch the Titans play. I’m seeing old-school gap schemes. Russ Grimm, the offensive line coach. They look like the old Washington Redskins under Joe Gibbs. You see shifts. You see all kinds of different tower, counter gap schemes, and you see big backs that get downhill. I like Murray. I’ve always liked Murray a lot. I think he can run it. He can catch it. He’s outstanding picking up blitzes, and he gets better as the game unfolds. He can finish you. And Henry is uncommonly huge. He’s one of the biggest backs I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t look like a tailback. He looks like a power forward to me. They’ve got a one-two combination that can really punish you. I’m interested in Tennessee. I think it stimulated the football team. I think their defense is playing better because they practice against this every day. And the wildcard will be Marcus Mariota. He can really play, and his running and passing with this running game could get interesting.
- Jay, last year you guys added the pylon cams and some high frame rate, 1080p and 4K gear. How did these additions really enhance your coverage, and are there any new production elements for this season?
Rothman:We’re standing pat in terms of cameras and recording devices. The 4K has helped a ton especially on goal line and goal line situations. The pylon cams helped in critical situations. Especially there was one catch we had in Miami with Odell Beckham that really determined the call of a no-catch, actually a catch, a touchdown. So that helped us tremendously. The one little wrinkle we’re adding this year is virtual technology through our sky cam. And I just went through a session this morning of all of the renderings we’re going to have for that, and that’s pretty exciting. But other than that, we’re standing pat.
- Sean, I was wondering if there’s any adjustment you have to make working with Jon than maybe some of your other assignments in the past, that sort of thing?
McDonough:That’s an interesting question. It is the first time I’ve worked with someone that’s offered that he does do a good imitation with me. He does. He’s not Frank Caliendo yet, but it’s pretty good. So I just think Jon, as Jay said at the beginning, has established himself as one of the premier analysts in not just football but sports. And I think the thing I want to do, and Jon and I talked about it after the one preseason game we had a chance to do, was to make it conversational and make it fun. He’s got the football part buttoned up as much if not more than anybody I’ve ever seen. And I’ve never seen anybody with the work ethic that he has. I think just try to kind of bring Monday Night Football back to what it was in its beginnings, which was a lot of fun. I know he and Mike had a lot of fun. I’d just like to keep that going because Jon has a great personality and sense of humor. I think you see that when you watch him both on the games and on the QB camps.
- Jon, I know you touched on the Titans. I was going to see if you can elaborate on Marcus Mariota. I know you’ve got expectations for year two, and how far is he from maybe the upper tier and quarterbacks in the league?
Gruden: Well, I really liked him coming out. I think – you probably haven’t had a chance to cover him, you realize he’s very special. He’s a special young man. His work ethic, his compassion for his teammates and all that stuff. The intangibles are off the charts. And I think his experience that he got last year understanding protections, understanding NFL defenses, personnel match-ups, what is the best play against that coverage, what are the plays I have to get out of and how do I eliminate the hits. He’s the one player that can’t play with a sore right shoulder. So I think he learned a lot of those things the hard way. And if you know Marcus, you know the 2-14 doesn’t sit well with him. This is a kid that’s really never lost. I’d be shocked if they don’t make dramatic improvements in Tennessee.
- And what is a dramatic improvement in Tennessee do you think?
Gruden:Well, they’ve got to get an identity on offense. I think this running game is going to help them because it’s going to get some time of possession. It’s going to hopefully give Tennessee 33, 32.5 minutes clock, take pressure off of their defense. And I think the physical identity of a Titan running game will set up the play-action passes, the bootlegs and the explosive plays that you need to have as a good offense. And hopefully Dick LeBeau in year two, they’ve added some pieces that can apply pressure and get some critical third-down stops when they need them. Those are the big things. They need to improve on defense, certainly. They’ve blitzed a lot under Coach Horton, fired a Dick LeBeau getting there. They’ve got to show improvement on defense. They’ve got to prove that they can run the ball like they have in the preseason, and they’ll have to make some shot plays in their play action and their bootlegs.
- I wanted to ask you what you believe Derek Carr will do in his third year in the league and where the expectations lie for his team going forward?
Gruden: I think everything you see about the Raiders, this is the year for them to take a giant step forward. There’s quarterback transition in Denver. The Broncos have lost some key players. Kansas City has had some injuries. I think the slate is pretty clean right now in the AFC West. It’s about time that Oakland, I think, backs it up. They’ve got some good players in place. Coach Del Rio’s done a nice job, obviously. And, look, Derek Carr’s got some weapons. You have to love Cooper, you have to like Crabtree. I think Wilford is coming on. But most importantly they’ve solidified the offensive line. They bring in Hudson. They bring in the big guard from the Ravens. They’ve got Donald Penn, the old guy from Tampa. This is a salty group that can run the rock with Murray and Khalil Mack, one of the best closers in the fourth quarter. And I even see Janikowski still kicking. Hell, I drafted Janikowski. You can tell I get excited talking about the Raiders. This ought to be a good year for them.
McDonough: I would add to that, if I could. This time of year we get asked a lot about predictions for the season, and Oakland has definitely been a trendy pick to be a team that will take a big step forward. And I really think that they will. They played Arizona in the beginning of the preseason. My brother is the vice president of player personnel for the Cardinals. And I talked to Terry after the game, and he just echoed what people have been saying: Oakland has a lot of talent. And he thinks they’re going to have a terrific year. So I would expect that they will, given what Jon just said.
Gruden: I will say this too, we are really excited to have the Raiders on Monday Night Football. It will be the first Monday Night Football game ever outside American soil. We’re going to go to Mexico City. I’ll be doing my McDonough imitations out there. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
McDonough: Can you do it in Spanish?
Gruden: Yes, I can.
- Jon, you just talked about Derek Carr a little bit. In 2014 you said he had the best talent in the draft, and last year he made the Pro Bowl. Which quarterback from this year’s draft do you think could follow a similar path? And for all of you guys, which young quarterback are you looking forward to seeing this year?
Gruden:Well, Carr, he broke all of my cameras when we had our Gruden’s QB Camp. We had a bullseye and a little camera in the bullseye. He hit the bullseye three times in a row. We couldn’t film any more of the shoot. I don’t think there is anybody in this draft that throws a ball like Carr. He’s one of those guys that comes down the pike every so often. It’s time for him, I think, to take his next step. But in this year’s draft, we already talked about the first two guys. It appears that Wentz and Goff are going to sit down and watch. Connor Cook is in a tough situation, sitting behind Derek Carr in Oakland. Prescott is the one guy that has a chance to really flourish because he has the opportunity, number one, and the supporting cast, number two. The Cowboys are loaded up front on offense. You would love to have that group to play quarterback behind from Tyron Smith to Doug Free, Frederick. This is an outstanding offensive team, and they can run the ball and they have the weapons outside. So I would say Prescott this year would be the guy to keep an eye on.
McDonough:I think the guy I’m most curious to see what happens with him as the season progresses is Jared Goff. We were just in Los Angeles for our preseason game a couple weeks ago and spent some time with him. Obviously they didn’t make a huge trade to have him sit on the bench for a long period of time. I think it’s a foregone conclusion at some point he’ll be the number one quarterback. It’s a tremendous amount on him. The Rams moved back to Los Angeles after two decades-plus being away, and there is great anticipation there, as we saw when we were there with almost 90,000 people at the exhibition game for their return. And I think it’s a lot on a young man who, as Jon mentioned when we were doing the game, still has a lot to learn in terms of the differences between professional football and college football. So how he progresses and when he gets the opportunity I think will be very interesting to watch. I think it’s very important to a lot of people, because Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are getting to the point in their tenure of doing a nice job building it back up and making the team competitive. But now they have to contend, not just be competitive. And I think that’s a tough thing, perhaps, to do, if you have to throw a guy in there who has never played in an NFL game before in your most important position.
- Jon, I know you’ve covered your brother Jay’s games before, but now your son is also on staff here with the Redskins. I’d think you’d have to be like a robot not to speak about your brother and your son. So I’m curious how you approach these games as an analyst.
Gruden: Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve done this. He was the offensive coordinator for the Bengals on Monday night and obviously the head coach of the Redskins the last couple of years. My son is an intern. He wants to be a coach, so he’s hanging out there learning the ropes like I did years ago. But blood is thick in our family just like it is across America. You want your brother, you want your family to be at their best and have good things happen to them. But at the same time, I’ve got to be professional and broadcast a football game. And I look forward to this one. It should be an outstanding match-up. I know the crowd will be excited. It’s a really cool venue to see the Redskins play on Monday night at home.
- Year two for your brother went so dramatically better than the first year did. I wonder if you’ve seen changes in him as a head coach or football mind or just as a guy the last couple of years.
Gruden:Well, we spend quite a bit of time together. I think the team he inherited honestly had some holes in it. They had some issues in personnel and whatever. They obviously had to fight through the quarterback situation a year ago. I admire him tremendously for being able to assemble a staff. That’s the number one thing a head coach has to do. He’s got to get a good staff. And you can’t get it your first year. You just don’t snap your fingers and get everybody out of their contract and bring them with you. But it says a lot about Jay. He had the foresight to hire Sean McVay, who I think is going to be excellent. He was able to get Bill Callahan from the Dallas Cowboys, Perry Fewell from the New York Giants, Matt Cavanaugh, Joe Barry. He’s brought in some really good coaches, and he’s implemented his system that works for Andy Dalton. As a rookie, he went to the Playoffs. I don’t know many quarterback coaches or offensive guys that see a rookie go to the Playoffs as a starter, second-round pick. And then first year Cousins plays wire to wire, he goes to the Playoffs and breaks numerous team records. Look, I can sing my brother praises all day long. I’m proud of him and have high expectations for him. If he doesn’t win a lot of times, I’ll be on his case.
- Sean, MNF obviously has another game on the schedule that involves a sibling with your brother out in Arizona on October 17th.
McDonough: Yeah, I know how much Jon loves his brothers, and I feel the same way. I have two of them involved in professional sports at a high level. Terry’s the vice president of player personnel for the Arizona Cardinals, and my youngest brother, Ryan, is the general manager of the Phoenix Suns. When I watch their games, you live and die with every play. But I would echo what Jon said. We both care more in terms of when we’re doing our job about the integrity of the broadcast and that you’re cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of people rooting for the other team. No viewer wants to feel like the broadcasters are pulling against their team.
So I have had this experience a little on the air with Syracuse University. I’ve done so many basketball games that involve Syracuse over the years. I went there, very proud of to have gone there. Loved the school, loved the people there. And there are times when you do the game that you can almost feel yourself getting upset about a call that you think is bad that went against them, and you just can’t let that come out. Because you owe it to the viewers to be straight down the middle. I would just echo what Jon said. I love my brothers and want nothing but good things to happen to them. When I got this job, they were happier for me than I was. My brother Terry, I’ve told this story before, got very choked up and sent me a picture of him from the Arizona Cardinals draft room with tears in his eyes. So we’re very close. And I want them to do well. But when we step into the booth in October when they’re in Arizona playing the Jets, I will remind myself frequently that it’s very important that no matter what I’m feeling inside there is no hint of bias as we call the game.
Q. Coach, what advice would you give to someone in Garoppolo’s shoes, making his first start and replacing Tom Brady for four games?
Gruden: Don’t be Tom Brady, just be Jimmy Garoppolo. And knowing Garoppolo after being around him coming out of Eastern Illinois, I think he’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s been well trained. He’s been with Josh McDaniels and Belichick for a while, and he knows this offense. But just be true to yourself. Go out there and put your spin on the offensive scheme. Don’t try to make decisions or try to make the throws that Brady made. Just be honest with what you like, what you don’t like. What you feel good about, what you don’t feel good about, and find a way to win a football game. Take it one snap at a time and just go out and play your best. Trust your preparation. Go showcase it.
McDonough: He has tough shoes to fill. The first game is really hard. He has impossible shoes to fill in Tom Brady who, in my opinion, probably is the greatest quarterback of all time. But I think the game at Arizona will be very tough. And they have three home games. He strikes me, though, Jimmy does, as a pretty mature, poised guy. He’s going to benefit from not only having Tom Brady to lean on as he gets ready, but a Hall of Fame coach on the sidelines during the game. But I think it’s an important start to the season for them. How they fare in those four games without Tom will play a big part in the way their season goes. That’s a considerable chunk of the season, obviously.
Jon, Sean and Lisa, please offer your thoughts on teams you’re looking out for, not only in the Monday Night schedule, but also just with the season overall, who you expect to do well and stories you’re watching closely?
Gruden: I think the great thing about our schedule is we have a lot of unknowns in the NFL right now. I think the league is set up, honestly, for everybody to be somewhat equal. There is a lot of mystery. I’m anxious to see Green Bay. I think they’re my team in the NFC. I think in the AFC we talked a little bit about the Oakland Raiders. I’d like to see the Raiders realize their potential. But I think there are a lot of teams that have reason for optimism and reason for concern. I think the schedule will be interesting. We’ve got some great games. Baltimore at New England on December 12. I’m really anxious for the Green Bay-Philly game on November 28th. And most importantly the Texans at the Raiders in Mexico City. That one fires me up.
McDonough: I think I would go back to what Jay Rothman said at the beginning of the conference call. I think the schedule is terrific. The first thing that I did when I got the job after celebrating was look at the schedule and think, wow, week to week you look forward to doing any of those games. Like Jon and Lisa and Jay, I’m really looking forward to going to Mexico. We did a game where Jon Sutcliffe from ESPN Deportes joined us, and he lives in Mexico City. He echoed what Jay said already about the tremendous anticipation for that when we’re there. And that’s going to be special. You’re looking forward to going to Minnesota. They’re a team a lot of people have been talking about. They’re going to be in a new stadium. I think they’re a team that could do a lot this season. And Jon mentioned it just now, for me, having a chance to do a game in Foxborough will be special having grown up going now to the old stadium in Foxborough many, many times with my dad, to have a chance to broadcast Monday Night Football from that spot will be really emotional thinking about my dad in particular.
Salters: I can’t wait to do them all. Football is back. I’m ready. Let’s go.
More information on ESPN’s MNF coverage for the NFL’s 2016 – 2017 season is available online now along with all of the latest NFL headlines at http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/page/MNFHQ/monday-night-football-hq-nfl.
To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.