Camps have become a series of hard knocks

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

August 04, 2002|By Ken Murray

It was a violent week in the NFL, and the games haven't even begun. Teammates beat up on each other, coaches tried to play down the hostilities, and perhaps in a few instances, team chemistry was cooked.

Worst of all the week's combatants was Kansas City Chiefs right tackle John Tait, who threw the first punch in a short fight, then took a helmet to the face, breaking his nose and requiring 17 stitches. Struggling to learn a new position, Tait will miss a week of training camp he badly needed.

Rookie defensive tackle Eddie Freeman, who hit Tait with the helmet, may or may not miss the $2,500 fine assessed - reluctantly - by coach Dick Vermeil. The second-round draft pick received a $1.45 million signing bonus, so $2,500 isn't going to hurt.

On Thursday, Vermeil said he would not impose any fines for the fight. On Friday, after speaking with Tait, he slapped the rookie's wrists. The rookie didn't mind.

"I'm satisfied with the situation," Freeman said. "One thing we have to do is put this behind us. We've got to work together. This will help us do that."

Maybe. Fights are a routine part of training camp, but sometimes they're a sign of a bigger discord. Take the New York Giants, for instance. When they went to camp in Albany, N.Y., defensive end Michael Strahan and running back Tiki Barber weren't talking, the fallout from Strahan's contract negotiations.

Last week, the Giants saw fights breaking out all over the place, including the cafeteria. That's where veteran Brandon Short lunged at - and then pummeled - Jeremy Shockey when the rookie tight end was slow to sing in front of the veterans, a rookie ritual. Short also scuffled with Dan Campbell the same day.

Coach Jim Fassel broke up the Shockey fight, but sent an odd message to his players by saying: "I kind of like them feisty. I'd rather calm them down than kick them in the butt."

A day later, Fassel said he didn't mean to imply he condoned the fighting. Then he got angry at the media.

Thanks, we think

Linebacker Bill Romanowski's domineering personality grated on some of his former Denver Broncos teammates. That much is clear in the wake of his defection to the Oakland Raiders. Here's what the starting linebackers had to say about him.

"Romo did a lot for the organization and for the team," Al Wilson said. "But at the same time, a lot of guys got overlooked because of who he was and some of the things he did."

Said John Mobley: "In a way, Romo held a lot of guys back from being the vocal type on the field because he wouldn't give guys a chance."

And from Ian Gold: "He'll be missed, but at the same time, he won't be. It'll be a positive and a negative without him."

Introductions came later

When the Philadelphia Eagles signed Levon Kirkland last month, coach Andy Reid - out of the country on a family vacation - had not spoken to his prospective middle linebacker. He did speak to Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who had just cut Kirkland, apparently because of Kirkland's excessive weight (around 300 pounds).

The rationale is the Eagles are paying Kirkland the veteran minimum and it's pretty much a no-lose situation. If Kirkland beats out Barry Gardner for Jeremiah Trotter's old job, all is good. At worst, they expect to use him in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Indianapolis Orphans?

Eighteen years after the Colts left Baltimore in a fleet of Mayflower vans, they still aren't the darlings of Indianapolis. It's not just that they haven't been consistent winners. Owner Jim Irsay is pitching for increased revenue (read: new stadium) and the fans aren't receptive.

The Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis television station WTHR conducted a survey of 400 Marion County residents recently. Seventy-one percent disapproved of using tax dollars to finance a new stadium, hardly shocking. But 55 percent identified the NBA's Pacers as the most important sports franchise in the area; only 16 percent named the Colts. That's alarming for a team with Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison.

The price of running backs

For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Browns paid well above market value to end a contract dispute with their top draft choice. After a five-day holdout, running back William Green essentially got a five-year deal for $7.85 million as the 16th pick. That's a 10.5 percent increase over what last year's No. 16 pick, Santana Moss, got ($7.1 over five years). Green's guaranteed money is 14.5 percent better than Moss' guarantee.

Familiar territory

With the addition of defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, the Washington Redskins' starting defensive line consists entirely of former first-round picks. Gardener, cut by the Miami Dolphins, joins Bruce Smith, Dan Wilkinson and Renaldo Wynn. Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who built the Ravens' Super Bowl defense, sees some similarities.

"I think defensively we're maybe a step away from where [the Ravens] were three years ago because these guys have been together and played together for the most part," he said.

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