CFL Colts a mix, match of vets, rookies, risks

March 09, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

They have oral agreements, contracts in the mail and a roster in waiting.

The Baltimore CFL Colts are assembling a team the hard way: piecemeal. An NFL castoff here, a Canadian Football League free agent there, a former college hero in between.

Three weeks into the task of creating a 37-man roster that will compete in the CFL's Eastern Division, Don Matthews says there's plenty of talent to go around.

"We've got 64 commitments, and we'll bring in over 80 [for training camp in June]," the coach and director of football operations said yesterday. "We're at the point now where I think we've got very good guys on board. Now we can get very selective in recruiting."

Selective is Baylis, Brigance and Fairholm. That's no law firm, burather Baltimore's wish list. If the team winds up with nose tackle Jearld Baylis, linebacker O. J. Brigance and slot man Jeff Fairholm, they will go a long way toward fulfilling Matthews' promise of a playoff berth in the Colts' first year.

All three are CFL free agents who have an interest in BaltimoreBaylis, playing for Matthews' Saskatchewan Roughriders last season, was defensive player of the year with 11 sacks and 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Brigance, playing for the British Columbia Lions, had 20 sacks, second in the league. And Fairholm, who also played for Matthews in Saskatchewan, was among the league's top deep threats with a 19.3 average per catch and nine touchdowns.

Put those three with marquee quarterback Tracy Ham, already signed, and former Washington Redskins cornerback Barry Wilburn, who might sign if he doesn't wind up back in the NFL, and you've got a start.

"If you get five key players in here, whether you split them up on offense or defense, it would make a tremendous difference," said Jim Popp, the team's director of player personnel.

Although the Colts have not released the names of those who've committed -- and in fact have announced only a handful of signings-- the list already is conspicuous for its last-chance flavor.

There is former Redskins running back Tim Smith, a Super Bowrecord holder, who hasn't played a game in five years. He is signed.

There is former Pittsburgh Steelers guard Terry Long, who hasn'played since 1991, when he left the team under a cloud of steroid suspicion. He has committed.

And there is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers place-kicker Donald Igwebuike, who hasn't played in the NFL since he was charged in 1990 with drug-smuggling, for which he was acquitted. He has signed.

Popp, who served as personnel man/part-time coach in Saskatchewan under Matthews, says there's no special fascination with this seeming resuscitation act.

"We're taking guys who've had problems in the past, or failed for some reason," Popp said, "and we're giving them a chance at revival. I look at guys like that every day. Not everybody I come across like that I give a chance to . . . These are guys we think can possibly still play."

Smith, Popp said, has lost 40 pounds -- down to 210 -- since he became an overweight, one-game wonder whose questionable work ethic proved his undoing. "For a guy to do that, he must want it bad enough," Popp said. "If he can perform at the level he's capable of, he's worth our time."

Saskatchewan signed Long, 34, to a contract a year ago, but he injured a knee before camp and never joined the team. Popp said he believes Long still can play.

Youth, meanwhile, will be served by the likes of a pair of former Maryland Terps -- record-setting receiver Marcus Badgett and reserve defensive tackle Derek Steele, both of whom signed one-year contracts.

Badgett excelled his senior year, the first year of Mark Duffner's run-and-shoot attack. His 75 catches, 1,240 yards and nine touchdowns in 1992 are school records. But when scouts timed his 40-yard -- at 4.6 or above, his NFL stock fell. Undrafted and uninvited to camp, he played for the Albany (N.Y.) Firebirds in the Arena League last year.

Steele, a seventh-round NFL draft pick in 1992 by the Indianapolis Colts, was cut by them and the Redskins, and had a brief fling with the Toronto Argonauts last season.

"I looked at my chances for getting picked up in the NFL, and I saw I need more professional experience," he said.

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