A slew of mid- to late-round draft picks are earning plaudits--and
The Packers are raving about how a tackle who walked on at
Wisconsin, seventh-round draft pick Mark Tauscher, now might walk
straight into their starting right tackle job. In Chicago there's
talk that a sidewinding kicker, sixth-round choice Paul Edinger,
could be a poor man's Sebastian Janikowski. In New England tackle
Greg Robinson-Randall, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State,
appears to be playing his way into the starting lineup.
Undersized quarterback Joe Hamilton (5'10", 190 pounds), a
seventh-round selection, enhanced his chances of making the Bucs'
roster by directing a 50-yard touchdown drive in the final
minutes to beat the Redskins in his preseason debut. Stories
about rookies making names for themselves abound at this time of
the year, and here are five first-year players whose stock has
taken off during the first month of training camp:
Tim Rattay, QB, 49ers. Taken four rounds after San Francisco
chose another signal-caller, Giovanni Carmazzi, Rattay, a
seventh-round pick out of Louisiana Tech, has been cool in the
pocket, right on his reads and flat-out better than Carmazzi in
camp. "There's no doubt that Tim fell through the cracks," says
Niners coach Steve Mariucci. "We're lucky he did." Rattay could
be the backup to Jeff Garcia by the season opener.
Kareem Larrimore, CB, Cowboys. He dropped in the draft after a
positive drug test at the scouting combine. A two-year starter at
West Texas A&M, Larrimore was a fourth-round selection, the 23rd
defensive back taken in the draft. But he's been by far the best
of the three rookie cornerbacks Dallas drafted in trying to
replace the departed Deion Sanders. Larrimore broke a bone in his
right hand in the preseason opener, but he's still been a thorn
in the side of wideout Joey Galloway in practice. The rookie's a
virtual certainty to start the season opener.
Jerry Porter, WR, Raiders. A second-round pick out of West
Virginia, where he also played a little at safety and at
quarterback, Porter is a project, carrying on Oakland's tradition
of selecting such players (e.g., Bo Jackson and Todd Marinovich).
Very fast. Good hands. Great arm. In a practice he threw a
55-yard strike on an option pass; moments later wideout Tim Brown
followed with a wounded duck that traveled 35 yards. "Bet you
feel like you just followed Tiger Woods into the tee box," coach
Jon Gruden quipped to Brown. Though not expected to contribute
much this year because of the Raiders' depth at wide receiver,
Porter may force the team to find a way to get him on the field.
Sekou Sanyika, LB, Cardinals. About 10 minutes into camp Sanyika,
a seventh-rounder from Cal, earned a special teams job with his
relentless play. Now he's trying to win a job as an outside
linebacker. He's big enough (6'4", 237) and quick enough to
displace underachieving second-year man Johnny Rutledge, and a
seven-tackle performance in the first intrasquad scrimmage
helped. "He's going to be a very good linebacker," says Arizona
general manager Bob Ferguson.
Chris Redman, QB, Ravens. A third-round choice out of Louisville,
Redman has been more accurate in practice than veterans Tony
Banks and Trent Dilfer, and he's quickly being accepted by
veterans. "You're still in kindergarten, rook," wideout Qadry
Ismail told Redman before a recent practice. When Redman
rainbowed a perfect bomb to him later that day, Ismail sidled up
to the rookie and said, "O.K., you've graduated to first grade."
The Ravens have penciled in Redman, who completed eight passes
for 71 yards in last Saturday's exhibition against the Jets, as
their third quarterback.
A Good No-Trade
Steelers Happy To Have Burress
Pittsburgh wide receiver Troy Edwards might not want to hear
this, but based on the first month of training camp, rookie
wideout Plaxico Burress, the club's first-round draft pick, out
of Michigan State, looks like star material. That makes the
Steelers glad they didn't pull the trigger on a proposed
Coach Bill Cowher told SI that following the first round of the
draft last April, he offered Burress to the Jets for linebacker
John Abraham and defensive end Shaun Ellis, a pair of players New
York had selected in the first round. The Jets saw the physical
6'5" Burress as someone who could replace the physical 6'4"
Keyshawn Johnson (traded to the Bucs), but they didn't want him
badly enough to deal their new defensive nucleus for him.
Burress, in practice and in games, has shown a precocious
roughhouse style, getting away with bumping corners as he skies
for passes. "It's not something I learned," says Burress, who in
his preseason debut caught four passes for 60 yards and one
touchdown against the Cowboys. "It's god-given talent. When the
ball's in the air, I'm jumping, and it's mine."
Despite catching 61 passes last year as a rookie first-round
draft choice, Edwards underwhelmed the Steelers with his work
ethic and a propensity to run his mouth. "I'm not trying to
complement Plaxico," Edwards says. "He should be complementing
me. Nothing against him; I'm glad he's here. But I still say I'm
the man in this offense."
Based on what Burress has shown so far, it's not quite that cut
Lewis Prepares for Worst
Raven Needs Thick Skin
Linebacker Ray Lewis must become an All-Pro at turning the other
cheek to the taunting he is sure to hear from fans this season.
Even though murder charges stemming from his connection with the
fatal stabbing of two men in the early morning hours after Super
Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta were dropped in June, Lewis pleaded guilty
to misdemeanor obstruction of justice and figures to be a target
for hecklers wherever the Ravens play.
Lewis insists he'll stay focused on the game at hand, but that's
easy to say in the training-camp quiet of August. What happens
when Lewis, an emotional player, takes the field in Week 1 in
Pittsburgh--which has as tough a crowd as any in the NFL--and the
fans behind the Baltimore bench start screaming at him? Maybe it
happens in Miami or Cleveland or Jacksonville or Washington
(during a preseason scrimmage three weeks ago at FedEx Field,
some fans yelled, "We know you did it!"), all places the Ravens
travel in the first seven weeks. "If a person says something
about the situation," Lewis says, "that would be heartless. Have
some respect. Two people lost their lives, man. Don't go
introducing that kind of behavior into a sports environment."
And when it happens? "If you let that affect your game," Lewis
says, "you're guilty [of the crime]. I'm not guilty. I'm not
going to let it affect me."
After being allowed to freelance for much of his career at Penn
State, outside linebacker LaVar Arrington is struggling in the
Redskins' system because defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes is
ordering him to play a more disciplined style. "LaVar is having a
very, very hard time," Washington defensive tackle Dana
Stubblefield said last week. "It'll take him two or three weeks
into the regular season before he knows what's going on." ...
Bears offensive coordinator Gary Crowton on second-year
quarterback Cade McNown's promising performance in camp: "He sees
plays before they happen, whereas last year he saw plays as they
happened. But I'm waiting to see if he performs with
Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica, who as a rookie last season made
27 of 32 field goal attempts, the longest 53 yards, hit all
three of his 60-yarders in a practice against the Dolphins last
Panthers coach George Seifert expects to play his dream
defensive line--ends Chuck Smith and Reggie White plus tackles
Sean Gilbert and Eric Swann--15 or 20 plays a game. But Swann, a
veteran of seven knee operations, may not even suit up until
Carolina's final preseason game, putting his availability for
the season opener at Washington in question....
New Saints general manager Randy Mueller can't figure out why
previous regimes had trouble working with owner Tom Benson. "He
basically gave me the key to the city in building this team,"
says Mueller. "His only instructions to me were 'Don't call me
after nine at night.'" The Saints, by the way, hope quarterback
Aaron Brooks--acquired in a trade from Green Bay--beats out
Billy Joe Tolliver and Jake Delhomme as the backup to Jeff
Blake. Brooks is thought to be much more of an athlete.