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I didn't doubt Kevin Kolb. Nope, not for a second. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images).

Judging a team or a player during a preseason game can often be like assessing a girl’s attractiveness over the phone. Sure, she sounds pretty, but your imagination can be deceiving. We see and hear whatever we want, and whether it’s the model date, or model quarterback, the judgment phase can be more mirage than reality.

But an impressive throw is still an impressive throw, and there are nuggets of information to be gleaned about possible future stars and role players as they play in the August heat. As the preseason rolls along, each week we’ll look at who has impressed, disappointed, and developments in position battles.

In the good books

+ So, that Kevin Kolb guy is pretty good. You can count me among the doubters, but I must not be the only one who sees Kolb’s talent, but isn’t ready to jump on board after two measly regular season starts, right? Whatever. Kolb was highly effective against Jacksonville Friday night, connecting on six of his 11 pass attempts and throwing for 95 yards.

+ Hey look, Rex Grossman is still in the NFL. Neat. Grossman had one of the most ungraceful falls from grace, and sure, most of his snaps Friday came against second stringers, but it was still nice to see the former Bears QB connect on a few deep balls. Grossman threw for 140 yards and two touchdowns, showing that the Redskins may have capable backup on their hands if prized offseason acquisition Donovan McNabb–who has missed 10 games over the last four years–goes down.

+ Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams impressed early. Williams, the rookie fourth-round pick who has already made the Bucs’ starting unit, caught a long pass in the first quarter to set up the only score by either first team offence in Saturday’s 10-7 loss to Miami.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

+ Devin Aromashodu was buried on Chicago’s depth chart in the early part of last season until he emerged in an upset win over the Vikings in December, hauling in the game-winning touchdown in overtime and 150 receiving yards. If the Bears offence expects to bounce back under Mike Martz, they’ll need major contributions from the likes of Aromashodu, Devin Hester, and Johnny Knox. So far Aromashodu is doing his part, racking up 48 yards and a touchdown Saturday against the Chargers.

In the bad books

+ The infatuation with Matt Moore after his glowing finish last season–eight touchdowns over the final five games– has seemingly spread to every corner of the NFL media. Moore didn’t look terrible Thursday night against Baltimore, but he didn’t look great either. Meanwhile, until the heavens opened and the rain started to fall, rookie Jimmy Clausen had a solid debut. It’s widely expected that Moore will start week 1, and that it’s his job to lose. But Clausen showed he’s more than capable if Moore stumbles.

+ It doesn’t take much to send football-mad Dallas into a frenzy, and the Cowboys’ red-zone offence had the fans of America’s team seeing red. With Tony Romo and the first team offence in for one of the red-zone blunders, Dallas settled for a field goal three times deep inside of Raiders’ territory. There’s a trend here: The Cowboys were very middle-of-the-packish in the red-zone last season, finishing 14th in the league after scoring touchdowns on 52 per cent of their visits.

+ To the surprise of no one, Kansas City’s offensive line is still awful. Matt Cassel–who was sacked 43 times last year–went down twice against the Falcons during his limited playing time Friday, with one resulting in a fumble.

+ Unless Mike Tomlin is convinced to go with Dennis Dixon, Steelers fans saw the harsh reality they’ll face with Byron Leftwich at the helm of the offence to start the season. Chants of “we want Ben!” came down from the stands as Leftwich could only muster 48 yards through the air against the Lions. Capping off the unpleasant evening for the first team offence, Leftwich was sacked for an eight-yard loss and also had a mental lapse when he unintentionally spiked the ball.

In limbo

+ It’s as if C.J Spiller hired a hitman. Just when it looked like some ugly three-headed monster would emerge in the Bills’ backfield, Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch went down with injuries in Buffalo’s first preseason game Friday against the Redskins. Jackson’s hand injury is more serious. Not only will he miss the rest of the preseason, but Jackson could miss time during the regular season too. Spiller now gets an edge in the battle for carries in Buffalo with the increased reps he’ll receive in practice.

Video: Top NFL draft busts

What better place to talk busts than Hooters? Paul Brothers, who it’s fair to say is not a broadcasting bust after being “drafted” by The Score, and Brad James, who is a massive bust that we just can’t unload because of his big contract, take a look at some busts. NFL busts, that is…

Notice how Brothers (the top pick) did all the talking while James (the bust) just showed up for the Hooters part?

NFL Photos/Getty Images

Intense title for a sports blog, eh?

But considering all the dimensions involved in what Husain Abdullah is going through, intensity is sort of called for.

Abdullah, a Muslim, is set to observe the Ramadan, meaning he won’t be able to eat or drink during daylight hours for a 30-day period, beginning Wednesday.

Here’s how I described training camp in a post last week:

I played high school football and I still have nightmares about what we went through to prepare for the season. I remember doing slow, agonizing push-ups on coach’s orders. When he said “up” you went up, when he said “down” you went down. One after another — he’d force you to hold it at the bottom for what felt like hours. And then back up. And back down again. Lactic acid burning every muscle in your body like dozens of miniature branding irons. In the sweltering heat. After a 90-minute practice. If you couldn’t cut it, if you collapsed — as many guys did — you’d run laps. That was high school football in Canada. So multiply by at least 17.5 when taking into account what pros go through in the piercing sun in Arizona and Texas and Florida and Louisiana.

Now consider going through all of that, multiplied by at least 17.5, and remove the “luxuries” of water and food from the equation.

“I’m putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion,” Abdullah told The Associated Press. “This is something I choose to do, not something I have to do.”

But not only is ignoring your body’s desire for hydration a health risk — remember, the Vikings dealt with tragedy when offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of a heat-related stroke after collapsing on the field during training camp nine years ago — but it’s a major career gamble for a reserve player like Abdullah.

An undrafted defensive back who hasn’t started a game in two seasons, Abdullah isn’t Adrian Peterson or Brett Favre. His job is not secure and the way he performs in August can alter his career path drastically.

“Last year it occurred in early September, and we saw a dip in his performance,” Vikings head coach Brad Childress said. “We said, ‘What’s wrong with Husain Abdullah? It doesn’t seem like he has enough spunk.’”

And although Abdullah is trying to learn from last year’s experience by working closely with the team’s nutritionist and pumping meals, H20 and carbs every morning and night, it’s still quite scary to imagine a professional athlete going full tilt in the summer sun all day without the benefit of hydration. (I can’t envision this working if Abdullah played in a southern state. Maybe we should monitor his brother, Hamza, who plays for the Arizona Cardinals and also plans to fast during training camp.)

So the question becomes, where do you draw the line? Should religion interfere with one’s livelihood? Moreover, should it interfere with one’s life? Obviously this is a broad issue that has been debated for years, and goes far beyond Jewish baseball player Shawn Green opting to sit out for Yom Kippur.

Of course there’s also no right answer. It’s personal. Abdullah and his brother feel strongly enough that they’re willing to risk their health and their jobs, even though a grey area clearly exists between the spiritual side and the material side. 

A Muslim group and German soccer authorities determined last month that Muslim players could forego fasting if necessary:

Germany’s Central Council of Muslims said it sought advice from Al-Azhar in Egypt, the pre-eminent theological institute of Sunni Islam, and elsewhere.

Al-Azhar ruled that if a player is obliged to perform under a contract that is his only source of income, if he has to play matches during Ramadan, and if fasting affects his performance, then he can break his fast, the council said.

“The Muslim professional can make good the fasting days in times when there are no matches, and so continue to pay God and the holy month of Ramadan honor and respect,” Aiman Mazyek, the general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims, said in a statement.

So why doesn’t Abdullah just follow those recommendations and simply fast in March?

Again, it’s all personal. And rather controversial. As is pretty much anything that involves religion.

The New Orleans Saints visited the White House on Monday, and while US President Barack Obama is a Chicago Bears fan at heart, he made sure to point out how important the Saints’ Super Bowl victory was to the entire country.

But he also had some fun with Saints head coach Sean Payton, who obviously defined “gutsy” with his decision to use a surprise onside kick to start the second half of the biggest game of his life.

Here’s the video…

Oh and just because it’s impossible to tire of it (unless you’re a Colts fan), here’s the famous onside kick…

Getty Images

It’s far too difficult to pick just one Emmitt Smith run or Jerry Rice catch. And it’s nearly impossible to single out one Bone-crushing John Randle hit that seemed to sting more than the rest. So I won’t.

These three legends highlight the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees of 2010, and were honoured in a ceremony on the hallowed grounds of Canton, Ohio Saturday night. But there was an extra dash of character in this Hall of Fame class, a class which also honoured Dick LeBeau, the ball-hawking cornerback who starred for the Lions nearly four decades ago, and Russ Grimm, the guard who led the Redskins’ vaunted Hogs, one of the best offensive lines in NFL history.

Here’s a sample of what was written, argued, and reflected upon throughout the interwebs after the NFL’s 2010 Hall of Fame induction ceremony:

+ Alex Marvez of Fox Sports points out that during the 1991 season Smith’s primary backup Moose Johnston incredibly received only 17 carries.  Despite being such a workhorse early in his career, Smith was still able to break Walter Payton’s record and become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

The NFL has some impressive young RBs, most notably Tennessee’s Chris Johnson and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. But even if both were able to avoid injury and continue their torrid paces, Smith’s mark wouldn’t fall for another 11 seasons.

+ David Moore of the Dallas Morning News looks back on a Cowboys win over the Giants on Jan. 2, 1994 to clinch the NFC East and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. But this wasn’t just any win. It was the day that Emmitt Smith’s toughness was affirmed, even though it should have never been doubted. Smith’s shoulder was separated late in the first half, but he missed only two plays.

“He asked the offensive linemen to run down the field and pick him up after every play,” said Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton. “He said, ‘My shoulder is killing me.”

+ While heaping the usual praise on Jerry Rice for his renowned work ethic, Ray Ratto of reminds us that Rice was the NFL’s first wide receiver diva. Although by today’s standards rice’s “antics” were pretty tame (i.e. publicly questioning how often he was targeted in the offence).

“He didn’t mind complaining that he didn’t get the ball often enough before anyone else ever thought of speaking out on the subject, which was a big deal back in the day. Now, everyone does it, so nobody’s listening any more.”

+Trying to establish who is the greatest player in any sport is a time-honoured bar debate that only gets more ridiculous with each brown beverage. The older, perhaps wiser gentleman at the end of the bar makes his case for Johnny Unitas, while the middle-aged single guy eying the bartender turns away for a moment to yell something about Joe Montana. But Joe Cole of Yahoo! Sports isn’t interested in the glamour position of quarterback. He’ll take Jerry Rice in this game to name the best who ever played the game.

“Rice showed the NFL that the passing game was more than a phase and that wide receivers weren’t simply occasional contributors. Since Rice, receiving numbers have increased, the use of three- and four-receiver sets has become prevalent, and teams throughout the league consistently throw more than they run. Rice made receivers into essential players, so much so that they are considered more important than running backs these days.”

+ The most common number we associate with John Randle is 137.5, his career sacks total which is still good enough for the all-time lead amongst defensive tackles. But what about the number 14? That’s the total number of undrafted players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Randle is now one of them.

+ Thank God for Randle’s mom too, because the Texas-born tackler might have quit football to “hang out with the boys” if it wasn’t for the influence of his late mother Martha, writes Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express.

“At one point, I quit football,” Randle said. “She asked why and I told her I got tired of hitch-hiking a ride home from practice. She said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to hang out with my friends.’ So she took me down to the basketball court and said, ‘That’s what you want to do? Hang out with those boys? That’s all they do is hang.’”

+ Nowadays, Dick LeBeau is known as the architect of the Steelers’ defence, that hard-hitting unit which guided Pittsburgh to two Super Bowl championships in the past ten years. It may have been almost four decades ago, but Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Post-Dispatch tells us that LeBeau could play too, and he was pretty damn good.

“LeBeau wasn’t the fastest cornerback, but he compensated with a natural knack for the ball, honed by a dedication to preparation that was ahead of his time.”

+ Russ Grimm was one helluva guard, and was part of the offensive line that spearheaded the Redskins to three Super Bowl championships during the team’s glory days in the mid-80′s and early 90′s. But, as Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Blog writes, Grimm was also from an era where off-field shenanigans were not only encouraged, but accepted. Including having your equipment set on fire.

“Dave Butz put honey on a photographer’s stand to attract a swarm of bees. Donnie Warren hung the special teams coach’s bike atop a flag pole. Jeff Bostic filled Bubba Tyer’s car with popcorn. Grimm himself put hair-removal cream on George Rogers’s athletic supporter.”

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Apparently, Brett Favre is retiring.

Apparently, the reason for the rather shocking decision is a wonky ankle.

But there’s more to the story. With Favre, there always is.

Maybe he’s just looking for an excuse to sit out for awhile. Last year, Favre took much of August off. Maybe this year, he’s looking to pull a Roger Clemens and miss a chunk of the season.

Favre knows his body. If he thinks he can’t possibly go 16 regular-season games and three or four playoff games on that ankle, he won’t attempt it. When asked at his press conference Tuesday if such a scenario would be acceptable, Vikings head coach Brad Childress didn’t rule anything out.

And consider this: maybe Favre wants a raise.

We all see Favre as a fun-loving gunslinger who simply loves the game of football. A kid at heart, right? But he’s more calculating than we give him credit. Maybe he feels that if he’s going to risk his body in its current state, and if he’s worth that much to the Vikings, he’s owed more than the $13 million he is/was supposed to make in 2010.

If you don’t believe a guy like Favre would carry that sort of sense of entitlement, consider the way he’s treated training camp the last two years.

I don’t doubt Favre will be back. He’s emotional and probably wasn’t happy with the public perception that his return to the field was a foregone conclusion. The way things are now, there are no expectations. If he decides to play in a month, he’s a hero again in Minnesota. If he decides to stay retired, he’s not letting anyone down.

H retired in the 2008 offseason, eventually got the itch again and returned.

He retired in the 2009 offseason, eventually got the itch again and returned a little bit later than the previous year.

He retired today, but a few extra million bucks or a good day throwing to high school kids will eventually be Favre’s football mosquito bite. He’ll have to itch it once more.

We’ll see No. 4 in  September, maybe October.

Remember when player movement was this really cool, novel idea? Remember when free agency hit the NFL and was supposed to revolutionize professional football, sling-shotting it out of the 19th century, where it had supposedly been stuck?

NFL free agency is fun, but most fans would argue that the offseason carousel hasn’t spun as quickly and as wildly as we all expected when the Green Bay Packers made that initial splash with Reggie White in 1993.

Franchise tags and hefty signing bonuses have made it so that while the NFL is a free market, teams and players are still encouraged, financially, to stick with their teams.

That’s why Peyton Manning is synonymous with the Indianapolis Colts, Tom Brady with the New England Patriots and Brian Urlacher with the Chicago Bears.

Tom Brady is slated to become a free agent next year, but no one believes he's going anywhere.

In the NFL, stars rarely get a chance to jump ship and ditch their original franchises; the system simply isn’t designed to make that process an easy one. When big names do move, it’s usually only once they’ve passed their prime (see: LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Tony Gonzalez).

Call me old-fashioned, but that’s the way I like it. I am intrigued by a hot trade rumour or a sexy new signing as much as the next sports fan, but I’ve also noticed that the novelty wears off quickly.

Take the NBA: Is this LeBron James-Chris Bosh-Dwyane Wade Miami Heat super team intriguing and exciting? Sure, just as the Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen-Paul Pierce Boston Celtics super team was, too. But the shock value of seeing a dude like Garnett in Celtic green or LeBron in Heat colours doesn’t last forever … and then, eventually, you’re just left with a disparity problem, which is fun for nobody (expect maybe Heat or Celtics fans).

I’m not ready to say that the NBA has a player movement problem on its hands, especially considering this offseason may very well be an anomaly. But if players like Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets continue to push for trades when they see fellow stars meet up in more luxurious locations, you could very well have an issue on your hands.

That’s exactly what Ken Berger of drove at in a recent column questioning whether the NBA should adopt NFL-like player movement rules.

“As part of the labor negotiations that are expected to resume next month, should the NBA look at an NFL-style system with signing bonuses in lieu of guaranteed contracts? As a way to prevent star players from fleeing their teams as unrestricted free agents, would an NFL-style franchise tag be useful in the NBA?”

And from my NFL-centric perspective, that’s the key: the franchise tag. It’s an easy solution to keep a big-name player in his original city for at least one more year (or more, depending on how things are ironed out in collective bargaining). It rewards the star in question with a contract that immediately makes him one of the five highest paid guys at his position (again, that’s the NFL’s policy) while giving the team in question one more year to get said star the supporting cast he requires/requests/prays for at night.

Only problem: the players hate it.

Obviously, right? I mean, these guys want their money and they want their money now, but they also risk limbs every day they take the field/court/ice and they want long-term security as quickly as possible, which is understandable. As Berger states it, “a series of one-year deals” is not enticing.

And that’s why franchise tags and non-guaranteed contracts (both of which exist in the NFL and not in the NBA) are crucial poker chips in CBA negotiation process.

LeBron James jumped ship and took less money to team up with other stars in Miami.

Berger adds that “if the NFL’s system is so good, the NBA union would argue, why are so many people looking to change it?” And he’s got a point. The NFL’s CBA expires after the 2010 season and it’s completely possible that the franchise tag — again, dreaded by players and agents — ends up in the garbage bin behind the NFL offices at 280 Park Ave. in Manhattan.

And then there’s the idea that player movement isn’t such a bad thing. After all, it does spark interest from fans at what would otherwise be down times.

“Look how much interest there was in the NBA this year with all the player movement,” NFL and NBA agent Mark Bartelstein told Berger. “Look at how much interest there has been in the NFL in the last month with all the player movement and with no salary cap. People like player movement. It drives ticket sales. There’s no question the NBA had the biggest increase in ticket sales it’s probably had in a long, long time.”

But, amazingly, what sells tickets and jerseys (trades and free agency have undoubtedly boosted the jersey market), isn’t always what’s best for the game. And as someone who spends time with sports fans seven days a week at my job and in my personal life, I don’t think I’m off base in saying that the NBA has turned a significant number of fans against it in the last three weeks.

So what if the NBA had a franchise tag in place right now? One that, as Berger proposes, allowed teams to discount the salary of its franchise player from its annual payroll?

James would likely still be a Cavalier and Bosh would likely still be a Raptor. The league would have more parity and — with the extra money made available by the payroll exemption — those teams would have a chance to spend money on complementary players to keep their stars in town long-term.

And what if the NBA had non-guaranteed contracts that hinged more heavily on signing bonuses and less on year-by-year commitments?

Chris Paul never would have had a chance to weasel his way out of New Orleans, as he very nearly did. He’d have had to play out his contract, because the Hornets wouldn’t have been able to cut bait and pay out his bonus all at once.

The beautiful thing about the NFL, especially this time of year, is the sense of optimism that flows in every city (except Cleveland). Never mind any given Sunday — in the NFL, it’s any given year. No North American sports league has as much balance. And with balance comes hope for every team (except Cleveland), which puts more fans in the seats than almost any trade or signing can.

How many NBA teams will realistically head into training camp in nine weeks thinking they can win an NBA championship? Based on what happened in July, that number probably won’t be very high.

The franchise tag and related restrictions on player movement might feel unfair, borderline anti-democratic. But sports are about the fans first, the people who pay big bucks so that the players and owners can make the big bucks. And while fans might be temporarily dazzled by glitzy trades and tantalizing signings, they ultimately want good games, which come from good competition.

And that’s something you can’t have when one or two super teams hijack a league.