The opening of NFL training camps has everyone talking football, even those playing baseball. It's a popular topic for the Rays, since they have a former Auburn quarterback in OF Gabe Gross, a former prized Nebraska quarterback recruit in LF Carl Crawford, other former high school football stars and a bunch of extraordinary athletes who could — or at least think they could — play with the big boys. (Plus, manager Joe Maddon played quarterback on the Lafayette College freshman team, and third-base coach Tom Foley was a two-year starter as a left-handed quarterback at Miami's Palmetto High.) So how could they line up? It depends on who is asked.
CF B.J. Upton is an impressive enough athlete that Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin envisioned him as a shutdown cornerback, but Upton admits, "I don't tackle." (Nor, he said, does he go over the middle to catch a pass.)
LHP Scott Kazmir — all, ahem, listed 6 feet, 190 pounds of him — bragged about playing quarterback at Houston's Cypress Falls High, but admitted, "I got blindsided quite a bit."
So we left it to Gross, since he has actually played the game (starting six times for Auburn as a freshman in 1998 and playing in three others) to make a football team out of the Rays team.
Crawford and Upton as wideouts, Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria alternating as a slot receiver, Jonny Gomes as a Mike Alstott-type single running back, and Cliff Floyd and/or Gary Glover at tight end, running a modified version of the Wing-T offense, with lots of motion and Gomes playing a big role.
"I could do a lot with that," Gross said. "A lot of funky stuff, all kinds of pitches, double reverses, fly patterns."
They'd need to, since there isn't much of an offensive line (given he talked about Dioner Navarro and — after some training table work — Jason Hammel).
The defense? Not quite as impressive.
He had a line of James Shields, Eric Hinske, Troy Percival and Floyd/Glover; a linebacking corps of Willy Aybar, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and Shawn Riggans; Edwin Jackson and Grant Balfour at safety, and Akinori Iwamura and Crawford at cornerback, with Upton as the nickel back. (Upton, though, wants Gomes at linebacker: "I've seen his technique.")
As for Kazmir? He and J.P. Howell can compete for the kicker's job. Pewter pirates?
The Rays may have stolen some attention from the Bucs, but manager Joe Maddon knows football is still the primary attraction.
"I am certain we have not elevated ourselves above a football team in this neck of the woods. This is football country, and I understand that," Maddon said. "I think people are paying attention to us, but the Bucs still have their niche here. I am certainly willing to share it. I have a lot of respect for that bunch. They won a Super Bowl, and we're trying to win a World Series."
And if both teams are playing in October? "I hope they're bringing their transistor radios to Bucs games." Rays rumblings
ESPN's Buck Showalter pegs the Rays as the AL team that most needs to make a trade, saying, "I think they need a little kick in the pants." … With RHP Jeremy Cummings leaving the Triple-A Durham rotation for the U.S. Olympic team, could LHP David Price take his spot? … ESPN.com's field for a SportsNation poll to pick the all-time greatest Ray: LF Carl Crawford, RHP Roberto Hernandez, INF/OF/DH Aubrey Huff, LHP Scott Kazmir and 1B/DH Fred McGriff. … Charlotte County officials say they have received 2,000 deposits on spring season tickets. … With Joe Magrane off Aug. 11-23 to do Olympics commentary for NBC, Brian Anderson and Todd Kalas will join Dewayne Staats in the TV booth. … Top bid for a Turn Back the Clock St. Pete Pelicans uniform is $3,021 for Akinori Iwamura; next is $2,081 for Evan Longoria. … So much for success: In a new Harris Poll asking fans to name their favorite team, the Rays were 28th, down three spots from last July.
Got a minute?
Best meal you make?
I like to go to Publix, get a nice kabob, put some special seasoning on it, marinate it, and grill that up, with some corn on the cob and asparagus.
Must-see TV show?
I'd say Hannah Montana, with my daughter.
Band you'd like to be on stage with?
The Eagles, without a doubt. I know all their songs. I'd love to rock out with those guys.
You've got to give me another question 'cause I'm going to say my wife (Pari), and you'll be bored with that.
Whose autograph would you pay for?
(Former Federal Reserve chairman) Alan Greenspan, below, so we could talk a little bit.