Williams introduces changes as Bills open 3-day camp
Updated: Wednesday March 14, 2001 1:14 PM
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- Six short weeks on the job, coach Gregg Williams is not wasting any time making a distinct impression on the Buffalo Bills.
Kicking off a three-day camp Monday, Williams made it clear that he has no patience for "fat guys," wants players training together in Buffalo to build camaraderie, and is preparing to revamp the defensive scheme.
"I'm excited: first day back with the guys and back in my element," said Williams, the former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator who took over following Wade Phillips' dismissal. "There are some ways that we're going to go about doing things here that have not been done before in the past."
Evidently, the recent cutting of Doug Flutie, ridding the Bills of the persistent quarterback controversy, was only the beginning in this new era under Williams.
Living up to his reputation as being acutely organized, and seizing the opportunity of his first NFL head coaching job, Williams is carrying out his detailed plan.
The camp will serve as a chance for coaches and players to get to know each other, and marks the start of a 16-week conditioning program.
The last thing Williams wants is out-of-shape players.
"Don't like them at all -- at all," Williams said. "When all of a sudden your body weight inhibits your ability to move fast, it doesn't make a difference how much technique we coach you.'
Williams has already informed players what weight they're expected to report at coming into training camp.
Just as important, the Bills coaches are using the time together to introduce the team's new West Coast offense and a switch to a 4-3 defense -- featuring four down linemen instead of three, and three linebackers instead of four.
Backup QB Frerotte returns to Broncos
"He's been treated with a lot of respect by the Broncos organization," Frerotte's agent, Ralph Cindrich, said. "Immediately at the close of the season, they put an offer out on the table that was a strong one. There was never a threat of taking it off or lessening it."
Although Griese is a restricted free agent and recovering from shoulder surgery, he is expected to remain in Denver next season.
Cindrich also represents Griese but had nothing new to report on his contract talks. He said the Pro Bowl quarterback appears to be healing as expected.
"Brian still has the same scowl and the same caustic remarks, so I think he's doing pretty well," Cindrich said.
Frerotte went 4-2 as a starter in 2000 and helped the Broncos win their season finale when Griese was injured in the first quarter, but he was ineffective in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC wild-card playoff game.
For the year, Frerotte completed 138 of 232 passes for 1,776 yards in 10 games. He threw for nine touchdowns with eight interceptions.
The Bengals nearly became Frerotte's fourth team, but he turned down a four-year offer that included a $4 million signing bonus.
His latest contract with Denver allows Frerotte to test the market again in 2002 as he searches for a long-term deal in a city where he can be the starter.
"There are a number of teams that have him ranked very high or even at the top but may not have had a need or be in a position this particular year to do something," Cindrich said.
While Frerotte was job-hunting, the Broncos visited with Chicago Bears backup Shane Mathews on Monday.
Head coach Mike Shanahan also spoke with Bubby Brister, who spent three seasons with Denver as the backup to John Elway and Griese.
Matthews, Bears agree to terms on two-year deal
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Quarterback Shane Matthews agreed to terms Tuesday with the Chicago Bears on a two-year contract.
Matthews had visited with the Denver Broncos on Monday, but he decided to stay put. Terms of the deal were not released.
The 6-3, 196-pound Matthews played in six games for Chicago last season, and was 3-2 in his five starts. He set a franchise record by completing 15 consecutive passes against New England. He also had a career-high four touchdowns against the Patriots in that Dec. 10 game.
In his seven-year NFL career, the former Florida standout has played in 16 games, including 12 as a starter. He has 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 2,767 yards passing. He has a 60 percent completion percentage, 282-of-470 passes.
He sat on the bench for two seasons with the Carolina Panthers, 1997-98, and for two previous with the Bears, 1993-94.
Matthews, Cade McNown and Jim Miller have been sharing the Bears' quarterback role for the past two seasons. Last year, they all passed for more than 1,000 yards.
New England signs free-agent linebacker Vrabel
Terms of the deal were not disclosed Monday, but The Boston Globe reported that Vrabel was thought to have gotten a four-year deal with minimum salaries and a six-figure signing bonus.
Vrabel, 25, a third-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 1997, has play in 51 NFL games. He was used primarily on third down and special teams for the Steelers last season, finishing with 11 tackles and a sack.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are trying to extend defensive tackle Henry Thomas' contact by two years to lessen the $2.7 million salary cap hit they are due to take. Thomas is scheduled to earn $2.2 million for the upcoming season, and also has a $300,000 roster bonus payable March 29.
The Patriots talked Friday in Foxboro with free-agent defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, but reached no agreement.
Former Carolina safety Eric Davis is expected to visit the Patriots in the near future, and New England reportedly also is interested in former Denver fullback Howard Griffith and former New York Jets wide receiver Dedric Ward.
Rivera signs contract extension with Packers
The deal includes a signing bonus of between $2 million and $2.5 million, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in Tuesday's edition.
The move was done quietly in the past week or so.
The deal would mean Rivera won't become a free agent next year and would clear about $1.3 million in salary cap room.
Rivera, who started all 16 games last season, was scheduled to receive $1.4 million in base salary and a roster bonus of $600,000 this season. The new deal reduced his base salary to $700,000 and cut the roster bonus.
"You're always looking for an opportunity to extend a player who is a year away from becoming a free agent," team negotiator Andrew Brandt said. "We feel strongly about Marco. And the added bonus is that it allowed us to create some cap room."
The Packers have shown no interest in signing left guard Ross Verba, an unrestricted free agent, mostly because the team does not think it can afford him.
Falcons sign former Bills P Mohr
Mohr, 34, finished his tenure in Buffalo as the Bills' all-time leader in nearly every punting category, including single-season punts (101 in 1996), longest punt (80 yards) and most punts inside the 20 (188).
In 1986, he led the AFC with a career-high 27 points inside the 20. He has played in 15 postseason games, including three Super Bowls.
Mohr originally was taken in the sixth round of the 1989 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The following season, he lost his job to Mark Royals and spent the year out of the NFL before signing with the Bills in 1991.
Stryzinski, 36, had been Atlanta's punter since 1995. He enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2000, leading the NFC with a career-best 37.9-yard net punting average.
Patriots release three, re-sign DT Johnson
FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots on Tuesday released two former Pro Bowl selections, nose tackle Henry Thomas and special teams star Larry Whigham.
The team also waived wide receiver Tony Hamler and re-signed free agent nose tackle Garrett Johnson.
Thomas, 36, is a 14-year NFL veteran who has registered 1,061 career tackles, including 93 1/2 sacks, with four interceptions, 20 forced fumbles and 11 fumble recoveries. The two-time Pro Bowl selection was originally drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 1987.
Whigham, 28, played seven seasons with the Patriots and recorded 120 career tackles and four interceptions as a safety. He also had 97 tackles on a special teams career that included a trip to the Pro Bowl in 1997.
Giants hire von Appen as special teams coach
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Fred von Appen, who stood on the Stanford sidelines with Jim Fassel during one of the most memorable kickoff returns in college history, was appointed the New York Giants special teams coach Tuesday.
Von Appen replaces Larry Mac Duff, who resigned after four seasons to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Arizona.
Von Appen coached special teams for the San Francisco 49ers when they won five NFC titles and two Super Bowls in the 1980s.
Fassel and von Appen were both members of Paul Wiggin's staff at Stanford in 1982, when California beat the Cardinal with a return that was run through the Stanford band as time ran out.
The 57-yard play featured five laterals. Kevin Moen crashed into a trombonist in the end zone to give Cal a 25-20 victory.
Lawrence Phillips signs with Arena League's Bobcats
PLANTATION, Florida (Ticker) -- Lawrence Phillips has returned to the site of one of his past transgressions.
The Arena Football League's Florida Bobcats took a chance on the troubled running back Tuesday, signing Phillips to an undisclosed contract.
It is the third professional league for Phillips, who has been kicked off a pair of NFL teams and has been arrested three times since his college days at Nebraska.
In the summer of 1998, a woman filed a complaint against Phillips in Plantation, claiming he punched her in the face after she refused to dance with him. The complaint was dismissed, as was Phillips by the Miami Dolphins.
Conduct problems prompted both the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers to cut Phillips midway through his only season with each club. The Rams drafted Phillips in the first round in 1996 and the Niners took a chance on him in 1999.
In between, Phillips showed his potential with NFL Europe's Scottish Claymores, where he rushed for 1,021 yards and 14 touchdowns -- single-season league records -- in 1999.
At Nebraska, Phillips had 2,777 rushing yards and 30 TDs in just three seasons. But he also pleaded no contest to charges of trespassing and assaulting his ex-girlfriend in 1995, which led to one year probation and anger counseling.
Two months after he was drafted, Phillips was charged with drunken driving in California. As a result, he had his probation revoked and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Phillips has totaled 1,466 rushing yards in 35 NFL games. He joins an Arena team that was 3-11 in 2000 and scored a league-low 611 points.
Bengals re-sign punter Pope
CINCINNATI (AP) -- The Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday signed punter Daniel Pope to a one-year contract.
Contract terms were not disclosed. The Bengals held exclusive NFL rights to Pope, who has played two years in the league.
In his first season with Cincinnati last year, Pope saw action in every game as the punter and as the holder for field goal attempts.
He set a club record with 94 punts (none blocked), averaging 40 yards, with 18 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line and 14 touchbacks.
Browns sign Enis to one-year deal
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Curtis Enis is getting a chance to start his football career over -- not far from where it began.
Enis, a running back who failed to live up to expectations during three disappointing seasons with the Chicago Bears, on Tuesday signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Browns.
"I'm elated," said Enis, a former Mr. Ohio in football. "This is where it all started. It's a great feeling, and I can't wait to come back and get things going. This is all I could hope for. It's like a childhood dream coming true."
Enis, the fifth overall pick in the 1998 draft, signed an incentive-laden deal that his agent, Joel Segal, said included "a small bonus and a high escalator."
Cleveland head coach Butch Davis has been shopping for an every-down running back during free agency, and the club is banking on Enis turning his career around in a new environment.
In addition, the Browns, who appear to have cooled in their interest to pursue Cincinnati free agent running back Corey Dillon, could be focusing on next month's NFL draft to find a feature back.
The Browns also agreed to terms Monday with unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Mark Smith, who played the past four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.
The 6-foot-4, 294-pound Smith had 33 tackles and three sacks last season. In 1998, he had nine sacks to help lead Arizona to a playoff berth.
Enis, who starred at Mississinawa Valley in Union City, was one of the nation's top running backs when the Bears drafted him after his junior year at Penn State.
But he held out of training camp as a rookie in a contract dispute with Bears management and reported late. Enis averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and made just one start before suffering a torn left knee ligament in November.
In his second season, Enis rushed for 916 yards in 12 starts but wasn't the breakaway back he was in college and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.
Last season, the Bears asked him to put on more weight and he came to camp at 245 pounds. Chicago then moved him to fullback and he gained just 84 yards on 36 carries.
Enis said he won't dwell on why things didn't work out with the Bears.
"I'd rather concentrate on what it's going to take to get things straight and make things right," he said.
Enis was in Cleveland for a visit last week and said he was impressed with Davis and the Browns' organization.
"It's so classy," he said.
Enis said Cleveland was a perfect fit for a number of reasons, one of which was Davis.
"He's been a proven coach in this league and he has shown that he can turn things around, and that played a part in my decision," Enis said. "When you talk to him you can hear in his voice how much he wants to win."
Davis has said he wants a back who doesn't have to come out in passing situations.
Enis caught just six passes as a rookie but had 45 receptions for 340 yards and two TDs in 1999.
Injuries contributed to the Browns having the NFL's worst rushing attack last season, averaging just 67.8 yards per game. Rookie Travis Prentice led the club with 512 yards and got the bulk of the carries after Errict Rhett suffered a season-ending injury.
Enis said he isn't concerned about sharing time in the backfield.
"To get a chance like this is great," Enis said. "His [Davis'] plan is to use all of us in a way that we can win football games and that's all I care about."
Vikings could keep Steussie under current contract
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings are considering keeping offensive tackle Todd Steussie under the terms of his current contract and cutting cap room in other areas.
It had been expected the team would release Steussie this week if he did not accept a renegotiated contract. But as the Baltimore Ravens filled their open right tackle job by signing veteran Leon Searcy, Vikings officials spoke briefly with David Dunn, Steussie's agent.
Steussie is due a $1 million roster bonus by Wednesday. He rejected an offer last month that would lower both his 2001 salary cap number and his actual annual earnings.
The Ravens were interested in Steussie, but Searcy's signing eliminated that possibility. Cleveland and Cincinnati also are believed to be interested.
Aggressive Ravens add Searcy to retooled offense
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- The Baltimore Ravens are taking an aggressive approach to get back to the Super Bowl.
Unwilling to merely admire the Vince Lombardi trophy they received just six weeks ago, the NFL champions significantly upgraded an offense that last season played a supporting role to the Ravens' record-setting defense.
The addition of free agent quarterback Elvis Grbac and offensive tackle Leon Searcy should enhance an offense that last year ranked 16th among 31 teams.
"Clearly you can see what we're doing. We have to change the dynamic a little bit if we want to go back to the Super Bowl," head coach Brian Billick said. "I don't think there's any mistaking what our intentions are. We aren't sitting back. We feel these are huge steps in us getting back to the Super Bowl."
Baltimore signed Grbac last week to replace Trent Dilfer, who won his last 11 starts with the Ravens but is considered to be a less efficient passer.
To give Grbac some protection, Baltimore on Tuesday signed Searcy, who will play right tackle, to a $31.5 million, six-year contract.
"I've got a big smile on my face. The offense has just gotten a lot better," Grbac said Tuesday.
Left tackle Jonathan Ogden is a four-time Pro Bowl starter, and Searcy is a former Pro Bowler who will protect Grbac's other side.
"To play for the world champions is not half bad," Searcy said. "I was thankful, coming off a devastating injury, to have the world champions interested in me."
Searcy, 31, is a significant improvement over last year's right tackle, 14-year veteran Harry Swayne. Although he missed last season with a torn muscle in his right leg, he expects to be 100 percent by minicamp.
Shortly after the Ravens' 34-7 rout of the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome said the team's priority in the offseason was to improve the offense.
Consider it done.
The Ravens cleared salary cap room for Searcy by allowing starting center Jeff Mitchell to sign with Carolina and replacing him with the cheaper Mike Flynn, who moves from right guard. Kip Vickers and Orlando Bobo will compete for Flynn's vacated spot.
Either way, it beats the offensive line that Baltimore started in the Super Bowl.
"I don't think there's any question this is a more dominant group," Billick said.
At this point, Baltimore is making all the right moves. That's why Grbac chose the Ravens despite receiving a more lucrative offer from the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I'm 30 now, I've got five or six years left and I want to get back to the Super Bowl," said Grbac, a backup on the 1994 world champion San Francisco 49ers.
"The direction of this organization is geared toward going back to the Super Bowl. Getting a player like Searcy says something to the players here and sends a message to everybody else in the NFL."
Said Searcy: "They got the job done, and now they want to do it again. They told me that winning it once isn't enough."
Chiefs release punter Sauerbrun
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Less than a week after signing unrestricted free agent punter Dan Stryzinski, the Kansas City Chiefs have waived punter and kickoff specialist Todd Sauerbrun.
Sauerbrun signed with the Chiefs last year. Before joining the team, he was an unrestricted free agent in Chicago, where he spent five years with the Bears.
He was a second-round draft pick in 1995 out of West Virginia.
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said kicker Todd Peterson would assume kickoff duties 'if the season began tomorrow,' according to the team's Web site.
Browns sign LB Boyer to three-year contract
CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- The Cleveland Browns on Tuesday signed their second linebacker of the free agent period, agreeing to a three-year contract with Brant Boyer, who spent the past five years with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Boyer, 29, was released last month by the Jaguars to create salary cap space. He was a top backup for Jacksonville at weakside linebacker and also filled in as a key member on the Jaguars' special teams unit.
Boyer played 12 games last season, recording a career-high 45 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and one interception. He led the Jaguars in special teams tackles three times in the last five years.
On March 4, Cleveland signed former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Dwayne Rudd to a five-year contract. The position has been a major weakness for the Browns, who ranked 26th in the NFL last season in total defense.
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported Tuesday that the Browns are close to signing running back Curtis Enis, 24, to a one-year deal. A team spokesman was unavailable for comment.
Enis was taken by the Chicago Bears with the fifth overall pick in the 1998 draft. But he was released by the Bears after three disappointing seasons.
Defensive back Brown signs contract with Bills
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- Lance Brown has returned to the National Football League, signing a one-year contract with the Buffalo Bills.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but the defensive back's contract is believed to be for or slightly above the league veteran minimum of $477,000.
In Buffalo, Brown is reunited with Bills president and general manager Tom Donahoe, who drafted Brown for Pittsburgh in the fifth round in 1995 out of Indiana University. He split that season between the Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, played in '96 for Arizona and returned to play in Pittsburgh for two seasons before being cut last season. Brown was out of football in 2000.
Both Brown and Bills head coach Gregg Williams stressed versatility as the player's greatest asset. "I can mix it up at cornerback and safety, and in the dime and nickel defense," Brown said. "And I played special teams a lot in Pittsburgh."
Williams, who coached against Brown as Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator, said, "He has great speed on the outside covering kicks, and on defense he can cover like a corner and hit like a safety."
Titans owner says NFL will have to live with salary cap
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams says the NFL's salary cap is not a wise policy but the league will have to endure it.
"It's kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul," he told The Tennessean newspaper Monday. "It's not a good system, but there's nothing we can do about it. It's the system we have and we've got to live with it."
The Titans cut nine players March 1, saying they were primarily victims of the salary cap rather than their performance on the field. They included place kicker Al Del Greco, starting safety Marcus Robertson and wide receivers Yancey Thigpen and Carl Pickens.
The team also lost starting defensive end Kenny Holmes, a free agent who signed with the New York Giants because the Titans could not afford his salary.
"It was bound to come, league-wide, a day of reckoning or however you want to say it," said Adams, franchise owner since 1960. "It was correction day. A lot of teams were over the cap."
Broncos deal with Walker seems less likely
DENVER (AP) -- It looks like the Denver Broncos aren't that close to a deal with cornerback Denard Walker after all.
Denver was on the top of Walker's list and the two sides have been negotiating for several days, but his agent said an agreement wasn't close.
"They've submitted their second proposal and we're sitting here mulling it over," John C. Hamilton Jr. said. "It doesn't appear that anything is going to happen real soon."
Walker has been disappointed by the team's offers, the Rocky Mountain News reported, citing an anonymous source close to the talks.
The newspaper reported that Walker wants a deal similar to those given to other top cornerbacks. Several players, including Chicago's Thomas Smith and Atlanta's Ashley Ambrose, have gotten five- or six-year deals with signing bonuses of at least $6 million.
The Broncos don't appear to want to pay that much for Walker, a free agent who started 15 games with the Tennessee Titans last year.
Walker, 27, visited Seattle on Monday, and Seahawks head coach and general manager Mike Holmgren reportedly told the cornerback he would pursue him aggressively on the open market.
Tennessee and Chicago were waiting to see how interested Seattle was, and Oakland has also made inquiries.
Phoenix, Tempe at odds over flight noise at stadium
PHOENIX (AP) -- Phoenix officials are questioning the accuracy of a Tempe report that found aircraft noise wouldn't be a problem at the site chosen for the Arizona Cardinals stadium.
A consultant hired by Tempe tracked flight noise for 30 minutes each Dec. 7 and Jan. 2 at a site near where the stadium will be built. The site is about two miles east of Sky Harbor International Airport's north runway, from which eastbound flights are a concern.
The Phoenix concern is that flight routes may have to be changed when the stadium opens in 2004.
Nancy Faron, Sky Harbor noise information manager, said the study is flawed because it did not monitor the site long enough and mostly tracked departing flights off the middle runway, which is farther away.
Faron said Phoenix believes noise will be a problem in the stadium even with the retractable roof closed.
The study requested by Tempe planners said the highest noise level -- close to 80 decibels -- occurred less than 5 percent of the time and is "well below average crowd noise levels normally associated with sports events."
The study was submitted while the Tourism and Sports Authority was considering the Tempe and other proposed sites.
Ted Ferris, the sports authority's president, said the panel thinks the noise level at the new site won't be much different from that at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, where the Cardinals now play.
In any event, Ferris added, it's obviously a fight between Tempe and Phoenix, and the panel intends to stand clear.
"We still feel we have a great site for a stadium," he said.
Hayes says he'll be at track meet Saturday
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Former Olympic gold medalist and NFL star Bob Hayes says he'll be out of his hospital bed by Saturday so he can greet competitors at the annual Bob Hayes Invitational track and field meet.
The 58-year-old Hayes has been in the hospital since Feb. 27, when he underwent prostate surgery. He also has been treated for heart, liver and kidney ailments.
"If I have to go out in a wheelchair, I'm going to be there," he told WJXT-TV in Jacksonville on Tuesday in an interview from his hospital bed. "The little girls and boys don't just come to run track. They come to see Bob Hayes."
Saturday will mark the 37th Hayes Invitational, named after the Jacksonville native, who starred at Jacksonville's Gilbert High School in the late 1950s.
Hayes won two gold medals in the 1964 Olympics and went on to a successful 11-year career as a receiver with the Dallas Cowboys.
His doctor, Davida Manor, said Hayes was making slow, steady progress. Although he is still having trouble walking, Hayes said he was feeling much better.
"There's nothing ailing me now," he said. "I'm just weak in the bottom of my legs."