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The packers are raving about how a tackle who walked on at Wisconsin, seventh-round draft pick Mark Tauscher, now might walk straight into their starting right tackle job. In Chicago there's talk that a sidewinding kicker, sixth-round choice Paul Edinger, could be a poor man's Sebastian Janikowski. In New England tackle Greg Robinson-Randall, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, appears to be playing his way into the starting lineup. Undersized quarterback Joe Hamilton (5'10", 190 pounds), a seventh-round selection, enhanced his chances of making the Bucs' roster by directing a 50-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to beat the Redskins in his preseason debut Stories about rookies making names for themselves abound at this time of the year, and here are five first-year players whose stock has taken off during the first month of training camp:
Tim Rattay, QB, 49ers. Taken four rounds after San Francisco chose another signal-caller, Giovanni Carmazzi, Rattay, a seventh-round pick out of Louisiana Tech, has been cool in the pocket, right on his reads and flat-out better than Carmazzi in camp. "There's no doubt that Tim fell through the cracks," says Niners coach Steve Mariucci. "We're lucky he did." Rattay could be the backup to Jeff Garcia by the season opener.
Korean Larrimore, CB, Cowboys. He dropped in the draft after a positive drug test at the scouting combine. A two-year starter at West Texas A&M, Larrimore was a fourth-round selection, the 23rd defensive back taken in the draft. But he's been by far the best of the three rookie cornerbacks Dallas drafted in trying to replace the departed Deion Sanders. Larrimore broke a bone in his right hand in the preseason opener, but he's still been a thorn in the side of wideout Joey Galloway in practice. The rookie's a virtual certainty to start the season opener.
Jerry Porter, WR, Raiders. A second-round pick out of West Virginia, where he also played a little at safety and at quarterback, Porter is a project, carrying on Oakland's tradition of selecting such players (e.g., Bo Jackson and Todd Marinovich). Very fast. Good hands. Great arm. In a practice he threw a 55-yard strike on an option pass; moments later wideout Tim Brown followed with a wounded duck that traveled 35 yards. "Bet you feel like you just followed Tiger Woods into the tee box," coach Jon Gruden quipped to Brown. Though not expected to contribute much this year because of the Raiders' depth at wide receiver, Porter may force the team to find a way to get him on the field.
Sekou Sanyika, LB, Cardinals. About 10 minutes into camp Sanyika, a seventh-rounder from Cal, earned a special teams job with his relentless play. Now he's trying to win a job as an outside linebacker. He's big enough (6'4", 237) and quick enough to displace underachieving second-year man Johnny Rutledge, and a seven-tackle performance in the first intra-squad scrimmage helped. "He's going to be a very good linebacker," says Arizona general manager Bob Ferguson.
Chris Redman, QB, Ravens. A third-round choice out of Louisville, Redman has been more accurate in practice than veterans Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer, and he's quickly being accepted by veterans. "You're still in kindergarten, rook," wideout Qadry Ismail told Redman before a recent practice. When Redman rainbowed a perfect bomb to him later that day, Ismail sidled up to the rookie and said, "O.K., you've graduated to first grade." The Ravens have penciled in Redman, who completed eight passes for 71 yards in last Saturday's exhibition against the Jets, as their third quarterback.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Troy Edwards might not want to hear this, but based on the first month of training camp, rookie wide-out Plaxico Burress, the club's first-round draft pick, out of Michigan State, looks like star material. That makes the Steelers glad they didn't pull the trigger on a proposed draft-day trade.
Coach Bill Cowher told SI that following the first round of the draft last April, he offered Burress to the Jets for linebacker John Abraham and defensive end Shaun Ellis, a pair of players New York had selected in the first round. The Jets saw the physical 6'5" Burress as someone who could replace the physical 6'4" Keyshawn Johnson (traded to the Bucs), but they didn't want him badly enough to deal their new defensive nucleus for him. Burress, in practice and in games, has shown a precocious roughhouse style, getting away with bumping corners as he skies for passes. "It's not something I learned," says Burress, who in his preseason debut caught four passes for 60 yards and one touchdown against the Cowboys. "It's god-given talent. When the ball's in the air, I'm jumping, and it's mine."