In Jacksonville, it's new Rison so far With mature attitude, receiver could provide big boost to 2nd-year club

August 31, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When the Jacksonville Jaguars were practicing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the start of training camp, Andre Rison broke free on one play and caught a long pass as the fans cheered.

Rison even did a little dance to celebrate.

But he didn't get any congratulations when he returned to the huddle.

Instead, he heard offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride telling the players that free-lancing wouldn't be tolerated.

It turned out that Rison was supposed to run a short pattern on that play.

Rison's tendency to free-lance -- along with his habit of being late or missing meetings -- is one of the reasons he's on his third team in three years even though he leads all other seven-year veterans in receptions (522) and receiving yardage (7,154).

However, Rison didn't sulk after getting chewed out by Gilbride.

Instead, he went up to Gilbride after practice and apologized, saying he read a coverage that he thought should have sent him deep.

"Everything I've seen has been positive," Gilbride said. "I've been nothing but delighted by the way he's been. He's anxious to do the right thing, very receptive to coaching, very anxious to make a good impression."

So far, so good for the Jaguars' gamble on Rison.

When Rison was waived by the Ravens, Jacksonville desperately needed a long ball threat.

They already had signed another Ravens receiver, Keenan McCardell, as a free agent to bolster a passing offense that ranked 27th in the league last year.

But they needed to complement McCardell with a receiver who could go deep.

The only problem was that Rison didn't seem to be a good fit with coach Tom Coughlin, who is noted for his no-nonsense style. Rison, by contrast, seems to specialize in nonsense.

Coughlin decided to take a risk on Rison.

As Michael Huyghue, the Jaguars' vice president of football operations, said: "I think it would be great if we can go to church and get guys who were former altar boys. But that's not the way it is. However, Andre has not done anything to demonstrate that he's a drug guy who has major character flaws. He's matured as a player, and we're catching him at that cycle."

Rison, meanwhile, has been saying all the right things.

"I have something to prove to my head coach and the organization for making a commitment to me," he said.

When the subject of maturity was brought up, he said: "It comes with age.

"You could say I've had a lot of ups and downs. Now, I'm on the upbeat. I'm more focused than at any time in my career."

If Rison, 29, has changed and doesn't cause any problems off the field, there's no doubt he can help the Jaguars.

The numbers he has put up in seven years prove that.

Well, make that six years.

"I didn't play last year," Rison said. "Don't count that one."

Rison wasn't a good fit in Cleveland, where he caught only 47 passes, the first time he has caught fewer than 50 passes in a year in his career. It didn't help that he alienated Browns fans after the move to Baltimore was announced.

He also guaranteed a home victory over Jacksonville, only to see the Browns lose.

"At the time, the fans were on us. We needed something positive," Rison said. "I didn't know what it was going to take, but here we were playing an expansion team, so you take a chance. It didn't work. Jacksonville kicked our butts.

"The things I did to myself at times that are part of me that created a bad side, I admit to. Things I haven't done, that's what I don't admit to. I'm very respectable in the community I live in. I'm very respectable in Atlanta, and you'll find out I will be in Jacksonville, too."

Rison also said he should get some credit for signing with Cleveland in the first place because he thought the team was a Super Bowl contender.

"Last year, I proved I'm not a selfish player," he said. "I chose to go to Cleveland, which didn't throw the ball a lot, but I felt they were a step away from being a championship team. I was accustomed to a wide-open offense. I was accustomed to catching the ball all through the game. I knew coach [Bill] Belichick liked to run, but I took a chance on going to a team I thought was a step away from going to the Super Bowl."

Rison now says he has found a home in Jacksonville.

"If I can finish my career here, I'll leave the game smiling," he said. "When your head is clear and you're happy, everything else is easy."

Pub Date: 8/31/96

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