Tampa Bay Bucs practice -- Q&A with ESPN'S Chris Mortensen
ESPN's veteran pro football reporter Chris Mortensen arrived in style Thursday morning at One Buc Place -- aboard his 44-foot-long black ESPN bus, complete with a gigantic caricature of himself embossed on each side, along with the words "Mort Goes To Camp." Fittingly, there's a cellphone pressed to his ear -- a nod to Mortensen's reputation as a top-notch news man in the world of the NFL.
The tour covers 21 camps in 24 days and will wind up taking Mortensen more than 7,000 miles zig-zagging from camp to camp -- often marked by 18-hour work days. (To help offset the grueling hours, Mortensen's bus comes equipped with wi-fi and DirectTV, a kitchen, and a comfortable bed to catch up on whatever sleep he can). He paused Thursday in between broadcasting reports back to Bristol-based ESPN to give us some of his insights on the Bucs and the NFL.
On news of cornerback Aqib Talib's arrest Thursday: "Coach Morris knew this when he took this job. You go home thinking you know what the next day will be like and something always happens. It might be minor, or it might be getting that call in the middle of the night saying you have a player in trouble. In Aqib's case, it might not be that big of a shock, but a disapointment. You don't want those things to happen and it'll be interesting to see how (Morris) reacts. You've got a team here that in the previous three years were building an offensive line -- they go out and sign Derrick Ward. They get a Kellen Winslow. They have Antonio Bryant. The quarterback situation is the big story."
On that QB situation: "It's interesting because Jeff Jagodzinski is the offensive coordinator and he's been in Atlanta and I know the scheme he runs -- and that's why Luke McCown is the guy who makes sense on the one hand. But the bottom line is, if you look at their schedule the first seven games, it's frightening if you're a Bucs fan. It kind of makes you say, 'Okay, he's going to pick between (Byron) Leftwich and McCown. Do you take the guy who's been through it, like Byron, who has some swagger to him -- 'cause you're going to need some swagger -- or do you take a guy who technically fits the offense better like Luke? Then there's the other part of the equation: after the first seven games and the bye week, where's the team? ... You've got to be projecting Josh Freeman at some point into your plans. And I don't know when that comes. It's easy for us to say, 'Get him ready.' But Bill Parcells always said, 'That's easy for you.' But every win and loss goes on one person's resume -- the head coach. So (Morris) is thinking, 'let's win some games.' ...So I think the schedule does favor a Leftwich, unless something happens this weekend that makes them think they're better off with McCown because of his mobility and the bootlegs he can do."
On Raheem Morris: "Anybody who has been around Raheem Morris knows he has great charisma. What I like about him a lot is that he's had some interesting mentors -- Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli, Herm Edwards, Mike Tomlin. Mike's his easiest resource. He's a very close friend and he can talk to Mike about anything at any time. ... So Raheem is wise enough to seek from his mentors and be his own man. Naturally, I thought he was too young -- but I thought Jeff Fisher was too young and Jon Gruden was too young. So as Boomer says, that's why they play the games."
On what teams he likes this season: "Two months ago, I said I liked the Eagles and Patriots. I still like the Eagles. I like the Eagles and Giants. I look whoever wins the NFC North -- I think the Packers will be much better. And I think the Bears will be much better. The Vikings seem to be the natural pick for everybody. And I like whoever comes out of the NFC South. It's so wide open. But I think the Eagles are really good."
On whether Michael Vick will make a difference: "I think he will. I expect him to contribute to some wins. Maybe it's one win he makes the difference in between 12-4 and 11-5."
On the sentencing of Plaxico Burress to two years in prison Thursday. "I know that what teams were hearing about Plaxico was that he didn't want to do any jail time. But that wasn't going to happen. Not with those laws in that state (New York). ... I also know the commissioner was poised to suspend him for a year. Now, as with Michael Vick, we'll hear that he's indefinitely suspended and that his case will be reviewed when he applies for reinstatement down the line. And down the line he'll be 34 years old."
On Brett Favre's coming out of retirement to join the Vikings: "You always had a suspicion. I knew when I visited the Viking camp two weeks ago. I had a veteran player tell me, he said, 'You know, Brett can kind of suggested to me that if he only didn't have to come to training camp, he'd probably would have said yes right away. Well, they broke training camp on Aug. 13. So it all lined up with Brett not wanting to go to training camp. And there he is."
(Pictured - The Mort bus. Photo provided by ESPN.)
-- Dave Scheiber, Times Staff Writer