Welcome to the Wednesday War Room, where Shutdown Corner’s NFL experts kick around two questions facing the league each week. Got a question for our crew? Email us! Today, we’re talking training camp questions and great nicknames. Onward!
Question 1: As training camp begins, every team has questions (See right here for Shutdown Corner’s complete breakdown of all 32 teams). But which team interests you the most?
Shalise Manza-Young: Dallas Cowboys
Let’s say Dallas Cowboys, mostly for the this-could-be-a-train-wreck situation. They’re what, three days in at this point? And we’ve already seen coach Jason Garrett laughingly declare that they have 90 high-character guys on the roster when one was away from the team for a domestic violence trial (he was found not guilty), and another released after he was accused of petty theft – which, as it turns out, was one of the very few occasions of “you got the wrong guy” that actually turned out to be true. Garrett followed up that egg-on-the-face moment with a mumbling, repetitive press conference that would make Bill Belichick proud.
The Cowboys have one of the NFL’s rising young stars (provided he stays out of trouble), a quarterback of the future, one of the best receivers in the game and an ageless tight end. They’re coming off an NFC East-winning 13-3 season, but their rivals and New York and Philadelphia are hot on their heels. Jerry Jones and Garrett aren’t exactly known for running tight ships, but the Cowboys will go off course quickly if chaos overtakes the team.
Frank Schwab: Houston Texans
How many 2017 playoff teams come into camp with a quarterback question? Only one: the Houston Texans. Houston was awful at quarterback last season with Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage, and they hope to be less than awful this season with Savage and 2017 first-round pick Deshaun Watson. Watson is fascinating. He was a college star at Clemson, though some scouts are dubious about his ability to replicate his college success in the pros. He should beat out Savage, but the Texans are giving Savage every chance to win the job by Week 1. Also in Texans camp, you have perhaps the NFL’s best player returning off a lost 2016. Defensive end J.J. Watt barely played last season due to back surgery, and whether he has rediscovered his old form will be a constant concern in camp. The quarterback battle or the Watt watch would be the most interesting story in most other camps, and the Texans have both to monitor.
Zach Pereles: Oakland Raiders
The most intriguing camp belongs to the Oakland Raiders, mainly because wherever Marshawn Lynch goes, intrigue follows. Beast Mode will surely bring some hilarious moments — he already has —but more importantly, he has to prove he can produce. Most people overlook his unproductive injury-riddled 2015 season and that he’s 31 and has over 2100 NFL carries’ worth of wear and tear on his body. It’s been three seasons since he was a legit lead back. Can he get back to that level? Add in the facts that Derek Carr is returning from a brutal broken leg, that the Raiders were as good as any team before said broken leg and that the team spent the first two rounds of the draft trying to fix their abysmal pass defense, and the Raiders have the most intriguing camp as they look to be a legitimate contender once again.
Kevin Kaduk: Chicago Bears
How is this even a question? Mike Glennon probably isn’t a future star, but Mitchell “Don’t Call Me Mitch” Trubisky might be. The Bears admitted as much last spring when they traded up to draft Trubisky despite signing Glennon to big money in the offseason. The pass-by-pass horse race down in Bourbonnais should make for some compelling theater and Trubisky could even give Bears fans some actual reason to go ahead with their annual canonization of whoever is holding the clipboard. Even if Glennon weren’t around, it would be fascinating to just watch Trubisky. This is a guy who only has one season of college football under his belt but a wealth of physical gifts. What did Ryan Pace see in Trubisky that made the Bears GM wager his entire career on trading up to get him? Bears fans and the rest of the NFL will be watching closely this month and beyond.
Jay Busbee: Carolina Panthers
Which are the real Carolina Panthers: the team that came within, well, 59 minutes of winning a Super Bowl just a year and a half ago, or the crew last year that looked lost and finished 6-10, three games out of a playoff spot. The Panthers revolve around Cam Newton, who’s still not yet confirmed at 100 percent after offseason shoulder surgery. How will Christian McCaffrey expand the Panthers’ offense? Will Luke Kuechly remain healthy? Conventional wisdom holds that the Cowboys, Falcons, and Packers are the class of the NFC; can the Panthers elbow their way into that group?
Jordan Schultz: Seattle Seahawks
Ever since Seth Wickersham penned his damning ESPN The Magazine article about the severed relationship between Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson—among other issues—football fans have been left wondering if the Seahawks locker room is a dumpster fire. Sherman, to his credit, says it’s not: “We’re pros,” he recently told ESPN. “We get along. Everybody gets along.”
Whether or not players get along is hardly a barometer for success at this level, but it certainly can’t hurt. Head coach Pete Carroll has built his program around trust and an open dialogue, which has led to two Super Bowl appearances, including the team’s only world championship. The Seahawks have an assortment of elite players and personalities to go along with Sherman—Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor come to mind—not to mention a coach whose hardly afraid to speak his mind. All of these pieces must come together if Seattle hopes to once again contend for a title.
Question 2: In honor of the ironically named now-ex-Dallas Cowboy Lucky Whitehead, what’s the best nickname in NFL history?
Kevin Kaduk: Gilbert “The Gravedigger” Brown
He certainly isn’t the biggest name on this list, but I’ve always been a fan of the lunch pail guys who earn their own nicknames. And Gilbert’s moniker is the best of them. Roughly the size of the monster truck that shares a nickname, the 350-lb Brown made a name for himself for digging fictional graves for each quarterback that he sacked. He became a big star on those ’90s Packers teams, even inspiring a Burger King sandwich I can remember eating at Madison’s University Avenue location (RIP). In an age where the influence of fantasy has driven most nose tackles into virtual anonymity, it’s fun to remember what an outsized personality Brown created for himself in Green Bay.
Jordan Schultz: Walter “Sweetness” Payton
Seriously, what is better than “Sweetness?” The reason why the nickname still stands out above the rest is how accurate it reflected Payton as a player. The three-time NFL MVP ran with a certain grace and precision you seldom see. Payton glided in between his cuts and seemed to play the game at a different speed than everyone else. Sweetness describes his style, but doesn’t undermine how sweet it was to watch him bulldoze a linebacker on his way to six.
Frank Schwab: Calvin “Megatron” Johnson
It’s sad that there are no good nicknames anymore, though the return of “Beast Mode” helps. So I have to go to my all-time list, and I’ll go with “Megatron.” You know a nickname is good when it fits perfectly and it can be used on first reference. When you said “Megatron” everyone knew you were talking about Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who really did look like he was made in a “Transformers” lab. Perfect, fun nickname.
Zach Pereles: Marion “The Barbarian” Barber
Marion “The Barbarian” Barber has got to be up there because it was such a perfect fit for his running style. Take the play below, for example, which features Tony Romo reacting angrily to the failed play, only to realize the play is still going and lay a block on a defender. No two yard run will ever come close to this.
Shalise Manza-Young: Purple People Eaters
This isn’t one player, but Purple People Eaters, the name given to the Minnesota Vikings defensive line in the late 1960s and into the 70s. Led by Alan Page and Carl Eller, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame, they were dominant. When I was a kid and I heard about the Purple People Eaters, I loved the nickname because I loved the color and it was funny; now, it’s because I’ve seen how fantastic they were. And I still love the color purple.
Jay Busbee: William “The Refrigerator” Perry
Good nicknames rhyme (“Mean” Joe Greene, Dick “Night Train” Lane). Better nicknames play off a player’s geographic connection (Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, “Broadway” Joe Namath, Joe “Montana”). But the best nicknames completely obscure the original name. When’s the last time you heard anyone refer to “William Perry”? It’s the Fridge, forever and ever, amen. (Side note: best forgotten player nickname has to go to Stephen Baker, “The Touchdown Maker.” Who? Exactly.)
Got a suggestion for a future War Room question? Hit us up by email. Only a few more weeks till football, friends.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.