Chargers' QB not exactly turning over a new leaf

ON THE NFL

June 06, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Ryan Leaf isn't exactly making a good first impression with his new boss.

While new San Diego Chargers coach Mike Riley was conducting a "voluntary" summer camp over the weekend, Leaf was in Clinton, N.J., playing in the Cadillac NFL Golf Classic. He shot rounds of 88 and 89 and was eliminated.

He obviously needs as much work on his golf game as he does on his football game.

Leaf had a nightmarish rookie season on and off the field and was supposedly going to get a fresh start this year.

But he has been the same old Leaf recently.

Leaf, who threw 15 interceptions and two touchdown passes last year, told Riley and other club officials last month that he was working out with a personal trainer after he stopped working out at the team complex. When reporters contacted the trainer, he said he hadn't seen Leaf in a year. Leaf updated the story to say he was using the trainer's regimen.

Leaf also gave Riley the impression that he was going to miss only one day of the team's summer school. As it turned out, he didn't even head back to San Diego after being eliminated from the golf tournament. He said he's going to Orlando, Fla., for a children's telethon.

That's a worthy cause, but Leaf has to show the team that he's committed to football.

"We have a summer school next week and I'll be back for that," Leaf said after his round Thursday.

Riley conceded that Leaf's absence is a bigger story because of Leaf's background.

"It's not a story when some other guys have done the same thing around the country, but this is special because of his history, for sure. I can tell you that," the coach said.

When Leaf finally arrives back in San Diego, he's got some explaining to do.

Second chance

Defensive lineman Neil Smith of the Denver Broncos was considered a good bet to be cut after the June 1 deadline when teams can save salary cap money by releasing players.

But Smith, who was scheduled to earn $2 million, is now negotiating a pay cut. If the two sides can reach a deal, he'll stay with the Broncos.

"Right now, I have to be open-minded," he said.

Smith's attitude shows why there were so few players cut last week. The Chicago Bears' Andy Heck, Minnesota Vikings' Dixon Edwards and Dallas Cowboys' Billy Davis were among the handful of players to get pink slips.

There's not much June 1 activity because teams are managing the salary cap better and a lot of veterans are willing to take pay cuts rather than face uncertainty in June.

For example, Ravens safety Stevon Moore agreed to slash his original $1 million salary this year because he's currently listed as a backup behind Rod Woodson and Kim Herring. Once players aren't listed as starters, they have to be, in Smith's words, open-minded.

The salesman

Despite three straight losing seasons, the Ravens sold 3,000 more PSLs this year to boost their total to 57,000, getting closer to the 59,500 figure they hope to eventually cap the PSLs at. Only about 20 accounts -- or about 50 tickets -- were canceled.

David Cope, the Ravens' vice president of sales and marketing, gives new coach Brian Billick much of the credit for the increase.

Besides preparing for his first season, Billick has been an effective spokesman for the club in various appearances around town. He quotes everybody from Bill Gates to Colin Powell in his presentation and sells an upbeat message.

"It's been fun," Billick said. "It's been great for me and given me a real pulse of the fan base. They're incredibly upbeat. It transcends a new coach. They're upbeat about pro football and they're ready to forgive us for not being the Colts. It's very positive."

Billick's only problem may be in living up to the expectations he creates in his appearances. Without saying so directly, he makes it obvious that he thinks the Ravens can go 9-7 and make the playoffs this year.

He compares this year's team to the 1993 Minnesota team that had Jim McMahon and Sean Salisbury at quarterback and Scottie Graham and Barry Word as the top two rushers and won nine games with the 17th-ranked offense and top-ranked defense.

If Billick can match that season with the Ravens, he'll be a Coach of the Year candidate.

Ravens vs. Redskins?

Now that Daniel Snyder has been approved to become the new owner of the Washington Redskins, there's a chance the Redskins and Ravens could start a preseason series.

The Ravens have been for it since they moved to town, but the late Redskins owner, Jack Kent Cooke, and his son, John, were opposed.

When Snyder was asked about the possibility of playing the Ravens every year, he ducked the question by saying he hadn't made any decisions about the future.

But after paying $800 million for the team, he'll be looking for ways to make money. A Ravens-Redskins preseason series would mean virtually no travel expenses for the visiting team, and Snyder may go for that idea.

Quotable

"You hear rumors about nobody wanting to come to Cincinnati, but you know what? I want to stay. Loyalty is definitely out of sports. I'm a loyal guy. I want to be here for the good times. " -- Tight end Marco Battaglia on why he re-signed with the Bengals.

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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