Last Saturday, at the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers'
sweltering training camp in Rocklin, Calif., wideouts Jerry Rice
and John Taylor, tight end Brent Jones and the new star on the
block, fullback William (Bar None) Floyd, were finishing every
play from scrimmage with a 40-yard sprint. And the day before,
Rice, the nine-time All Pro, had detected a flaw in one of his
pass routes, whereupon he sought out the team's new offensive
coordinator, Marc Trestman, to ask, "How do you think I can run
that route better?" This is called staying on top, something the
Niners are very good at.
They are also very good at replenishing talent. Out goes Joe
Montana, in comes Steve Young. Out goes Freddie Solomon, in
comes Rice. Out goes Tom Rathman, in comes Floyd, the
effervescent bundle of talent from Florida State who was stolen
by San Francisco with the 28th pick of the first round of the
1994 draft. Floyd has emerged as crucial to the 49ers' hopes of
winning a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
The Niners lost only one offensive player to free agency during
the off-season, but that loss was significant. Running back
Ricky Watters took his big talent and his big mouth to the
Philadelphia Eagles, and it will be up to Floyd to make up the
bulk of Watters's 1994 harvest of 1,596 total yards and 11
touchdowns. And there's good reason to believe he can do it.
In just one season the 6'1", 231-pound Floyd established himself
as the best blocking fullback in the NFL: He rocked Pro Bowl
linebacker Seth Joyner of the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason
opener and steamrollered anyone who got in his way the rest of
the year. Floyd also rushed for 305 yards on 87 carries, most of
them short-yardage plays. Now that will change. Young estimates
that Floyd will get 200 or more carries in 1995 when he is not
clearing a path for the other runners.
Young thinks that Floyd is capable of doing nearly everything
that Watters did for the 49ers last season. "Where we'll miss
Ricky," Young adds, "is on the long passes."
The Niners will not miss Watters's tirades about the way in
which he was being used. Floyd, in contrast, is a team player,
though he does have some Florida State cockiness in him. After
Floyd boasted of his ability and then his agent, Roosevelt
Barnes, called him "the best fullback in football, bar none"
before last year's training camp, the 49ers dubbed Floyd Bar
None. Floyd took that zinger and zinged right back by calling
tackle Harris Barton, who is Jewish, Bar Mitzvah.
But Floyd is serious about his game. "I've watched great big
backs like Earl Campbell, Larry Csonka and Franco Harris," he
says, "and I like to take a little something from them into my
game. Twenty years from now, I want kids to be saying, 'William
Floyd was the best fullback ever.'"
Floyd may never knock Jim Brown off that perch, but he is easily
the best fullback to have entered the league in the 1990s, and
that's good enough for San Francisco fans. Floyd led all 78
Niners in autograph-signing after both of last Saturday's
practices, going 25 minutes in the morning and 20 in the
afternoon. When he finally excused himself from the throng to
grab a shower, one fan yelled after him, "Thanks, Floyd! Who
Floyd turned back to the assemblage, blew three kisses and said,
"I love you." For the 49ers, a different kind of star is born.
2 WHAT ON EARTH ARE THE JETS DOING?
Life isn't fair, New York Jet owner Leon Hess reminded his young
first-year coach, Pete Carroll, in January. "I'm 80 years old,"
the kindly Hess said, "and I want to win now." Then he fired
That same day, Hess hired Rich Kotite, who had been canned by
the Philadelphia Eagles 11 days earlier. Though Hess's win-now
edict presumably was ringing in his ears, Kotite allowed himself
to be outbid in the free-agent market for three of the five
starters from last season's Jet offensive line--including a
future Pro Bowl guard, Dwayne White, and left tackle, Jeff
Criswell--and he traded New York's only proven wideout, Rob
Moore, to the Arizona Cardinals without pursuing a veteran to
replace him. Unless they're able to sign a more experienced
receiver, like former Houston Oiler Webster Slaughter, the Jets
will rely on three young receivers who have a total of 16 NFL
catches among them.
Kotite decided that New York would play an NFC East-type
smash-mouth offense, yet he waived Johnny Johnson, the big back
who gained 1,462 total yards two years ago in just such a
system. As for the Jet defense, three veterans from last
season's secondary were dumped--though the pass defense should
benefit from the departure of cornerback James Hasty, who led
the NFL last year in blown coverages and locker room divisiveness.
On draft day, with glaring needs at receiver and running back
and on the offensive line, the Jets stunned the league by making
a tight end, Kyle Brady, their first pick. Still, Brady is the
best tight end to come out of college in the 1990s, and Hugh
Douglas, New York's second pick, could turn out to be a fine
pass rusher. The jets also won the free-agent war for one of the
most valuable players among this year's crop, safety Gary Jones.
But can they win now? Not with this bunch. Not in the AFC East,
the deepest division in the league.
"We've had a lot of changes," says Kotite, "but they weren't
winning with the guys they had here, were they? You've just got
to give these guys a chance to perform.''
Hess retired as chairman of Amerada Hess Corporation this
spring, which means he will have a lot more time to attend to
the Jets. And he has had a birthday since firing Carroll. He's
81. Clock's ticking, fellas.
3 HAVE THE STEELERS AWAKENED FROM THEIR NIGHTMARE?
It has been nearly six months, but cornerback Rod Woodson still
can't conceal his disgust. He is sitting in a chair in his
backyard while his kids cavort in the pool, and when the subject
of the AFC Championship Game is broached, Woodson just starts
shaking his head. "Third-and-14," he says. "We've got the best
defense in football, our season is on the line, it's
third-and-14, and ... well, I just don't know what that
cornerback was thinking."
With a little over five minutes left in the game and Woodson's
Pittsburgh Steelers leading the San Diego Chargers 13-10,
veteran Steeler cornerback Tim McKyer made a Pop Warner mistake.
Instead of giving wideout Tony Martin a big cushion, McKyer
jammed him. Then McKyer glanced back at Charger quarterback Stan
Humphries, and as he did, Martin steamed past him. Then
Humphries lofted the winning touchdown pass to Martin.
Woodson has not been able to watch a tape of the game. Nor has
Steeler coach Bill Cowher. But no team in the league will derive
greater motivation from a single loss than the Steelers have
from that January disaster.
For the first time in Cowher's four-year reign, every one of the
58 Steeler veterans who reported to camp last week passed the
annual sprint-endurance test: Each man ran 14 40-yard dashes in
less than his required time. Some teams call this the Vomit
Test, but no Steeler breakfasts were surrendered. "I refuse to
take a negative out of the San Diego game," says Cowher, "and so
do my players. I draw energy from it."
"I don't want to block it out," adds center Dermontti Dawson. "I
want it to hurt. It makes me hungrier."
Starving might be better for the Steelers, because a bunch of
AFC teams improved themselves in the off-season, and Pittsburgh
did not. Gone from last year's Steelers are kicker Gary
Anderson, running back Barry Foster, tight end Eric Green, guard
Duval Love--all former Pro Bowl players--and defensive coordinator
Dom Capers. In addition, corner Deon Figures could miss all of
September as he recovers from a gunshot wound to his left knee
sustained when he was hit by a stray bullet in Los Angeles.
Still, every key player from the AFC's No. 1 defense returns,
and there is a jarring running game led by Bam Morris. "We
aren't naive as to what we lost," says Cowher, "but look at our
core." That core will keep the Steelers alive in January.
4 CAN THE BROWNS FINALLY OVERTHROW THE STEELERS?
You had better be a Bill Belichick guy if you're a Cleveland
Brown. Belichick, entering his fifth year as the Browns' coach,
has run off the nonbelievers one by one--for instance,
linebackers Eddie Johnson and Clay Matthews in 1994 and
defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry this off-season--and replaced
them with players who are loyal to him. Belichick, a former New
York Giant defensive coordinator, has brought in two ex-Giant
linebackers, Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks, over the past two
seasons, and this winter they helped the Browns recruit Andre
Rison, who has caught 475 passes in six NFL seasons.
Perry, now with the Denver Broncos, thinks he knows why
Cleveland couldn't beat Pittsburgh last year. "The Steelers
intimidated us," he says. "It's like they had this attitude:
We're gonna kick your ass. They had big S's on their chests. And
we had P's. For pussycats." Now you know why Belichick and Perry
had to divorce.
The Browns scoff at Perry's assessment. After all, last season
they held Steeler runners to only 3.66 yards a carry in the
teams' three meetings. "But," Pittsburgh cornerback Rod Woodson
observes of this year's Cleveland defense, "the Browns lost
Perry and his backup [James Jones]. I don't know how they're
going to stop the run now."
But the Brown-Steeler rivalry is likely to turn on Rison's
impact on the Cleveland offense. The Browns will present a
three-wideout set on as many as half of their plays, with
Michael Jackson and butterfingered Derrick Alexander split wide
and Rison lined up in the slot. What the Steelers do to try to
contain Rison will provide the most intriguing chess game of the
season. They will probably leave Woodson at corner and try to
stifle Rison by throwing a gantlet of linebackers, safeties and
other cornerbacks at him.
Belichick, who doesn't say much about anything, allows himself a
smile at the thought of Rison's running routes up Pittsburgh's
gut. "He gives us a good weapon inside, and they won't be able
to ignore the two outside receivers," Belichick says.
5 HOW ARE EMMITT SMITH'S HAMSTRINGS?
When last we saw the Dallas Cowboys' star running back, Emmitt
Smith, he was a beaten man. In the visitors' locker room at
Candlestick Park, after Dallas's 38-28 loss to the 49ers in
January's NFC Championship Game, Smith winced as he shifted his
weight from one leg to the other. He struggled to put on his
socks. His will hadn't failed him; his hamstrings had.
Smith swears that his million-dollar legs won't let him down
this season. The strain in his left hamstring that plagued him
through all of the 1994 season and the sudden pop of the right
hammy during the loss to the 49ers compelled Smith to be an
off-season workout fiend--which, much to the Cowboys' chagrin, he
had not been in the past. The result: "He's phenomenally
stronger in his legs than he was last year," says Marty Huegel,
the director of rehabilitation at the University of Florida, who
worked with Smith four days a week.
Indeed, the 5'9", 209-pound Smith who walked off the practice
field last week had upper legs that were more chiseled than they
were last season, and his torso also had a more sculpted look.
To strengthen those hamstrings, Huegel had Smith run on a
treadmill that had been placed in a chest-deep pool of water.
Afterward Smith would do traditional hamstring curls in a
nontraditional way--on a University of Florida invention called
the NeGATOR. Smith would lift, say, 50 pounds as he curled his
leg up, then the machine would double that amount as he eased
the weight back down. "My legs were dead, and Marty would keep
killing me," Smith says, smiling.
Smith also worked on improving his flexibility. "Out of the
blocks--whoosh--I'm quicker now," Smith says.
He will have to be if Dallas harbors any hope of toppling the
49ers. Entering his sixth NFL season, Smith claims, "My body
tells me I have many years left." Around Dallas, folks are
hoping that it's Smith's legs that are doing the talking.
6 WILL KI-JANA CARTER SURVIVE CINCINNATI?
Before the April draft Penn State's All-America running back,
Ki-Jana Carter, compiled a wish list. He hoped to be selected by
a team that had an established offensive line and played its
home games on natural grass in a city with warm weather for most
of the fall. When the Cincinnati Bengals traded up to make him
the first pick overall, Carter found himself negotiating with a
team with a woeful offensive line, a slatelike AstroTurf field
and weather that can be bitter from Thanksgiving on.
Last week the 227-pound Carter signed a contract for $19.2
million over seven years. Extraordinary numbers, to be sure, but
consider what lies ahead for him. Carter must be asking himself
whether--like Ricky Bell, who was sentenced to begin his career
with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two decades ago--he will be used up
before the hapless Bengals turn the corner.
Summoning his best diplomatic voice Carter says, "When a team
picks Number 1, it's not going to have every aspect of the team
in great shape. I mean, you'd like to run behind a line like San
Francisco's or Dallas's. As for artificial turf, you hear horror
stories about what it does to your legs and your feet, although
it will make me faster. I have concerns. I do wonder how long my
career will last. But when you think positive, positive things
"One of the key things is predicting how a player's going to do
when, at 21, he's financially set for life," says Bengal coach
David Shula. "We're confident Ki-Jana's going to stay focused."
So is Carter. "The glory of being the top pick is over," he
says. "I'm just some snot-nosed rookie now."
Carter's head seems to be in good shape. Keeping the rest of him
in one piece will be the Bengals' toughest chore. Cincinnati had
counted on linemen Dave Cadigan and Eric Moore to provide some
stability up front, but Cadigan unexpectedly retired two weeks
ago and Moore, a restricted free agent, is expected to sign with
the New Orleans Saints. That leaves a couple of marginal
pickups, tackle Kevin Sargent and guard Rich Braham, to man the
left side. Center Darrick Brilz and guard Bruce Kozerski are
solid starters, but 33-year-old right tackle Joe Walter is
coming off his second reconstructive knee operation. "If we get
anybody on the line hurt, we're in trouble," says offensive
coordinator Bruce Coslet. Comforting words in July.
On the field Carter is explosive. With thighs like redwoods and
the mentality of a shifty back, he is the type of runner who can
make something out of nothing. And he'll have plenty of
opportunity to prove it.
7 SO, WHAT'S UP WITH DEION?
For the answer, turn the page.