We’re getting closer and closer to one of the more popular events on the yearly calendar, the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady’s Buccaneers won’t travel anywhere, instead they’ll welcome Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL.
But before the players can have their last sleep prior to hitting the field, before those same players tighten their shoulder pads and strap on their helmets, before they play in the most important game of their lives, they have to carry out a duty.
A duty that so many players… alright enough with the antics, it’s media week.
Usually, you’d have players lined up at booths in the select Super Bowl, along with cameramen and reporters fighting for space to ask them whatever questions they have on their minds.
But because of the pandemic, media week is all virtual this year, with select reporters asking players their questions via Zoom.
I got the chance to listen in on these interviews, and ask a couple of questions myself. Below are my 10 observations from media week so far…
1. The All-Virtual Setup
Media week is usually full of reporters scrumming in front of interview podiums in the Super Bowl’s host city, like I explained above.
We’d usually have some funny questions and stunts from your not-so-normal “reporters,” and plenty of the usual proceedings that make it feel like, well, Super Bowl week.
But as we all know, the current times aren’t normal.
COVID-19 is still running rampant across the country, and because of that, media week was delegated to select media members getting cozy in their own homes and firing up Zoom to ask whatever questions they had on their minds.
For me, it was interesting to say the least.
Nothing beats taking in the atmosphere and pure electricity that comes with Super Bowl week, that’s for sure.
But it hasn’t been too bad of an experience to wake up, check the schedule, and ask questions that I’d have for whoever piqued my interest.
Waking up at 8 AM for media availability is no bueno though, that’s for sure.
2. Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes is the “talk of the town”
I think we all knew this was going to be the big talking point throughout the week.
The old man, the GOAT Tom Brady playing in his 10th career Super Bowl, but with a new squad in Tampa that hasn’t reached these sort of heights in years. His opponent, the wonder kid who has become the face of the entire league — and has been proclaimed as the player with the best chance to topple Brady’s historic legacy — Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
This storyline alone is a ratings juggernaut, but the matchup itself is nothing short of a potential quarterback masterpiece.
The media knows it too, and boy have they been hammering the questions about Mahomes and Brady all week long.
3. Eric Bieniemy focused on Super Bowl, not head coaching frustration
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has studied under the genius known as Andy Reid, he’s become a key figure when discussing Patrick Mahomes’ development into the star that he is today, he’s earned the respect of every single notable player on the prolific Chiefs offense, and he’s even eased concerns that he doesn’t handle the playcalling for Reid’s offense.
Two head coaching hiring cycles have passed, and Bieniemy is still without an official head coaching job.
Bieniemy has erased all doubts about his ability as a coordinator, as an assistant, as a leader of men. But even with all those boxes checked off, it still hasn’t been enough.
It has to be frustrating for Bieniemy, who has put in so much work and time into building up his resume, only to see it not matter when the time comes for teams to hire new faces for their organization.
Despite all of that, Bieniemy hasn’t complained about the process, nor has he looked upset about the events that have transpired.
Instead, he’s purely been focused on winning another ring with Kansas City, and has pushed all of the head coaching talk to the rear view mirror.
Bieniemy was positive, upbeat, and he looked excited during the 30 minutes of availability earlier this week.
In fact, you couldn’t even tell if the guy was upset about the whole head coaching fiasco.
But you have to imagine that it’s weighing on him.
4. Mike Evans and Lavonte David tasting success after so many years of failure
Lavonte David and Mike Evans have both starred on the Buccaneers for the entirety of their careers, checking off a long list of individual accomplishments and achievements along the way.
But what’s eluded both of these players has been the chance to compete in football’s greatest winter tournament.
However, that all obviously changed this season, and the two stars are grateful for the opportunity that’s laid out in front of of them.
I asked Mike Evans about the journey he’s taken to this point, the overwhelming amount of downs he’s had team-wise, and the sheer emotion he’s feeling knowing that all the hard work he’s put in has on the verge of potentially taking home a Super Bowl ring.
Skip ahead to 26:20
Players like Evans and David have played the game the right way for years, by simply putting in the work and executing to the finest detail each and every time their team has stepped onto the field.
If you want to find some guys to root for, these respected veteran players are the ones for you.
5. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell excited to play each other after rough exits in Pittsburgh
This was another storyline that popped up on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown both had a bit of a messy exit from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that was after the years of highlights both of them produced while donning the black and yellow.
Now on different teams, and playing against each other in the biggest game of their careers, they both had a chance to reflect on the time they spent together in Pittsburgh.
While Bell was the one who did most of the reflecting, it still gave us a chance to revel at the thought of these two once elite players finally reaching the Super Bowl, but not as members of the Steelers and in totally different roles from the ones they possessed years ago.
They’ll both be in line to contribute somewhat on Sunday, with Bell probably being the one out of the two with bigger questions regarding his potential role.
6. Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette finding their strides in Tampa
Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette have both battled with inconsistency during their rather short careers so far.
Jones struggled to make impacts on the field during the first two years of his career, fighting fumbling issues and never carving out a true role on offense.
Fournette’s had it worse.
The former top-five draft pick flamed out during his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and was edging close to “bust” territory.
However, things have changed in 2020 for Jones and Fournette, and in big ways too.
Jones finally secured a prominent role in the Buccaneers’ backfield, rushing for 978 yards on 192 carries while tapping into the big play potential Tampa Bay knows he possesses.
Fournette didn’t have the same success as Jones in the regular season, but he’s also stepped up his game and has used the postseason as the stage to do so.
Tampa has leaned on these two talented running backs and will continue to do so on Sunday. If one of these two guys puts on a show, their hard work to turn around their respective careers in 2020 will be recognized even more.
7. Devin White receiving heaps of praise
Devin White’s name has come up a lot this week, and it’s due to the fact that the second-year pro from LSU has stepped up big time this season.
He’s cemented himself as a building block for the Buccaneers’ defense, one that’s full of young talent at a number of important positions.
Some of the team’s veterans have talked highly of White and his contributions this year, including standout linebacker Lavonte David, who I asked about White’s impressive play so far during his short time in Tampa.
Skip ahead to 17:05
White has had some trouble in coverage this year, but he’s brought physicality as a run defender and has always had his nose around the ball.
Compared to his rookie season, this sort of play marks a massive step forward, one that will probably catapult White towards stardom as he gains more and more experience in the next couple of years.
8. Tyrann Mathieu wary of the Buccaneers’ tight ends
The Buccaneers have had a lot of attention placed on their wide receiver group, and respectedly so.
But what’s really been such a big factor during their three postseason wins so far is the play of their tight ends.
Rob Gronkowski has been used as a blocker for most of the regular season and postseason, but when his number has been called, he’s delivered, and has looked a little like the old Gronk in the process.
Cameron Brate was a little bit of a forgotten man in the offense this year, but he’s turned it up in the playoffs, catching at least three passes in wins against Washington, New Orleans, and Green Bay.
Both of these players can be lost in the shuffle when it comes to production, but when they get the ball in their hands, they’ve proven they’re still dangerous weapons against opposing defenses.
I wanted Tyrann Mathieu’s input on Tampa Bay’s tight ends, since his versatility in the secondary will lead him to roaming around the areas both Gronk and Brate love to do damage in.
Skip ahead to 41:00
9. Chris Jones vs Vita Vea isn’t getting the attention it deserves
While a lot of the talk this week has been about Mahomes vs Brady, another star-studded matchup has flown too far under the radar.
We’re getting a big time battle between two of the best interior defensive lineman football has today, a battle that could potentially play a big role in determining which team walks out of Tampa with a Super Bowl title.
Chris Jones vs Vita Vea is the battle we’re discussing, and boy it’s bound to be a good one.
We know what we’re getting with Jones, an athletic defensive tackle that’s extremely physical, agile, and brings a lot of trash talk whenever he steps on the field.
With Vea though, when you look at him, you think you’re going to see a big guy who can’t move all that well and is mostly good for clogging up space in the run game.
But that surprisingly isn’t the case at all.
Vea is a gigantic human being, but he doesn’t move like one. You hear a lot about how coaches love defensive linemen who can move and make life hard for opposing offensive linemen. Vea can do that, while also bringing the physicality so many defensive coaches love to see from their big guys inside.
This’ll be Vea’s second game since coming off injured reserve though, so expectations might have to be tempered for any potential production from him.
Vea’s skill set and Jones’ production sets the stage for a matchup to watch for football fans, and linemen enthusiasts everywhere. But the battle hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves this week, at least from what I’ve seen.
Interior pressure and disruption is key to shutting down any offense, and both of these guys disrupt from the interior extremely well.
Jones was asked about the importance of dominating in the trenches, along with his position specific battle with Vita Vea.
Skip ahead to 42:12 and 43:09
10. The success of the Chiefs’ late-round secondary pieces has been magnified
If you take a look at the Chiefs’ defense, specifically their secondary, you won’t see a whole lot of household names.
Of course Tyrann Mathieu is still the main guy patrolling the back-end, and doing so by taking on a plethora of roles. But aside from him and maybe Juan Thornhill, you probably won’t recognize the names that have played a significant amount of snaps this year.
L’Jarius Sneed, Charvarius Ward, and a few others who’ve contributed so much to the Chiefs’ defense this year aren’t exactly stars or players little kids will have jerseys of.
They’re former late-round picks, or afterthoughts that have been cast aside by other teams around the league.
But despite that, they’ve come to Kansas City and have somehow elevated their play to levels many didn’t expect. Because of that, their play has been put under a microscope this week, and for good reason.
It’s always good to see underdogs come into the NFL and make a name for themselves, especially when their play has a chance to be a deciding factor in the biggest game of the NFL season.
The Super Bowl kicks off at 5:30 p.m. CT on Sunday, February 7th.