Chicago safety Mark Carrier wasn't surprised that he was named National Football League Defensive Rookie of the Year yesterday.
"If someone had mentioned this earlier in the year, I'd have been surprised," Carrier said. "But when the season was over, I knew I had a good chance."
Carrier led the league with 10 interceptions, was in on 122 tackles, forced five fumbles and recovered two. He started all 16 games and was named to the Pro Bowl, the first Bears rookie to do that since Wally Chambers in 1974.
Carrier got 72 of the 80 votes from a panel of sportswriters and sportscasters. Linebacker James Francis of Cincinnati received seven votes and San Diego linebacker Junior Seau got one.
Francis might have been the Bears' first pick instead of Carrier, but he reportedly rejected Chicago's demand that he sign immediately. The Bears then picked Carrier, who quickly agreed to a five-year, $4.2 million contract.
At the time, many people questioned the selection. But Carrier silenced the critics with his outstanding rookie season.
"Early signing was the No. 1 thing," he said. "Getting in camp on time and getting a big chunk of learning the system was a big factor.
"I made the right decision. It took away a lot of pressure. There were no negotiations and it let my teammates know that I was ready to play right off the bat. I had a chance to grow with the other players and get familiar with them."
Like All-Pro Ronnie Lott of the San Francisco 49ers, Carrier is a hard-hitting safety from Southern Cal. But Carrier says he hasn't tried to copy Lott's style.
"Lott is a great player and I admire him, but the only way I want to be like Lott is to help the Bears win championships like he has done for the 49ers," Carrier said.
* COWBOYS: Quarterback Troy Aikman says he was not involved in the decision-making process that led to Dave Shula's demotion from Cowboys offensive coordinator to receivers coach.
"If I had any input, Jerry Rhome would still be here," Aikman told The Dallas Morning News.
Rhome was the Cowboys' quarterback coach in 1989, Aikman's rookie season. Rhome left the club in the off-season to become the Phoenix Cardinals' offensive coordinator.
Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson announced staff changes Wednesday, including Shula's reassignment.
* COLTS: Indianapolis has announced that Leon Burtnett will serve as the team's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 1991.
Burtnett, who has been the Colts' running backs coach the past four seasons, replaces Larry Kennan, who was fired this week from his job as offensive coordinator.
The promotion means Burtnett will be working more closely with Jeff George, the quarterback he recruited out of high school to Purdue University before Burtnett left after the 1986 season. George, who finished his collegiate career at Illinois, started as a rookie for the Colts this year.
Kennan and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia were fired on Tuesday.
The Colts have not yet announced a replacement for Scarnecchia or a new running backs coach.
* STEELERS: Guard Terry Long underwent exploratory surgery on his right knee.
Long, who was treated at Divine Providence Hospital in Pittsburgh, was one of only four Steelers offensive players to start all 16 games during the 1990 season. Long joined the Steelers in 1984.