Central Issues

<b>LIONS</b> The Detroit Lions recently announced that they have claimed offensive tackle Robert Hicks off waivers.

Hicks, 6-7, 325, was recently released by the Buffalo Bills (August 16) where he spent his first three seasons in the NFL. During his tenure with the Bills, he played in 38 career games (23 starts), including 14 games played (seven starts) in 2000. The right tackle played and started in 14 games during the 1999 season, and played 10 games (two starts) as a rookie in 1998. He originally joined the Bills as their third-round draft choice in the 1998 NFL draft. Prior to joining the Bills, Hicks started 21 games at Mississippi State.

The move might have been made to provide depth at that position as offensive tackle Ray Roberts is on the verge of retiring.

"It appears that he is going to retire," head coach Marty Mornhinweg said. "We had a few discussions and like I said the other day, he came to me before the first preseason game. Really, I did talk him out of it and I wanted to get him through the first preseason (against Cincinnati) game just so he would know."

"It appears that he does want to retire based on our discussion. His agent and our people are getting together and making sure this thing is done right. Ray (Roberts) asked me to wait until all of the things are complete until he gives any official word."

Roberts, a nine-year veteran who started 10 games last season for the Lions, has missed several practices due to injury.

Roberts has been hobbled with lingering injuries, mostly related to knee surgery in December of 1999.

During his nine NFL seasons, Roberts played 117 games (106 starts), and saw action in 60 games (60 starts) since he joined the Lions as an unrestricted free agent prior to the '96 season. Following the ‘99 season, he was voted the Eric Andolsek Top Offensive Lineman by his teammates.

The Packers were busy on the personnel front as the team closed training camp, completing four roster moves, acquiring two players and waiving two others.

Quarterback Michael Bishop was claimed on waivers from the New England Patriots. Defensive tackle Giradie Mercer was also acquired on waivers, also from the Patriots.

The Pack then waived quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver and tight end Troy Drayton to make roster room for Bishop and Mercer.

The 25-year-old Bishop, was a hot commodity after being released by the Patriots. Among the teams rumored to be interested in the former seventh-round draft selection were the Miami Dolphins and the Bears. Bishop came out of Kansas State in 1999, has appeared in 8 games for New England during two previous NFL seasons, all of them during the 2000 season, and completed 3 of 9 passes for 80 yards and one touchdown, with one interception. A year earlier, as a rookie, he was listed among the Patriots' inactive players prior to 15 of their 16 regular-season games.

During the NFL's offseason, Bishop played in six games for the NFL Europe League's Frankfurt Galaxy and completed 76 of 153 passes for 1,090 yards and 11 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He also rushed for 244 yards on 35 carries, a 7.0 average.

The 6-2, 285-pound Mercer, a second-year professional from Marshall College, spent his rookie, 2000 season on injured reserve with the Philadelphia Eagles after suffering a torn triceps tendon injury during the preseason and undergoing surgical repair of the tendon.

VIKINGS The Vikings decreased their roster by recently releasing six players including linebacker Gabe Northern and longsnapper Mitch Palmer.

"Both guys have played in the league and both guys can play in the league still," Head Coach Dennis Green said. "Because they sort of fell behind the guys they were competing with, we felt it was best to release them now and see if they can catch on with someone else."

The team also released guard Oscar Comeaux, defensive tackle Tim Engelhardt, wide receiver Tyrone Sutherland, and defensive end Antwone Young.

Northern played in nine games for the Vikings in 2000 and started twice. He had seven tackles and two special teams tackles on the season.

"Right now Lemanski Hall will be our starting Sam (strong side) linebacker and special teams player," Green said. "We've got a lot of competition from some young guys, like Patrick Chukwurah, Fearon Wright. There is always a chance that (Craig) Sauer could play Sam linebacker also."

Palmer played in all 16 games for the Vikings in 2000, and handled all longsnapping duties on punts and kicks.

"We've got Brody (Heffner-Liddiard) and (Mike) Solwold," Green said. "I think both of those guys have the potential to snap for us." The moves now reduced the Vikings roster to 78, which has to be cut to 53 by September 2. Practice squads of up to five players have to established by September 3.

Pro Bowl fullback Mike Alstott returned to practice for the Buccaneers on Tuesday (8-21).

Alstott hadn't practiced with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in any form since suffering a significant hamstring strain on August 3 of training camp. Veteran punter Mark Royals also returned for the first time since suffering a right knee sprain on July 30.

While no exact date has been set for the return of either player, it seems almost certain that both will be back for the regular season at the latest.

"Mark Royals kicked a little bit and did fairly well," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "Mike Alstott went through individuals and did well. Those guys are right on schedule."

Tampa Bay also announced that the team has signed free agent LB Al Rice, most recently of the San Francisco 49ers, to a one-year contract. To make room for Rice on the 80-man roster, the Bucs released WR Mike Chandler.

Rice (6-2, 218) was one of four linebackers to work out for the Buccaneers following Tuesday afternoon's practice. He originally entered the NFL with San Francisco in 2000 as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi. He was released in June, but was re-signed by the 49ers after the season and immediately allocated to the NFL Europe League.

Rice went on to the Amsterdam Admirals this past spring, starting all 10 games and finishing with two interceptions, 44 tackles, 0.5 sacks and four passes defensed. On special teams, he added a blocked field goal and two kick-coverage tackles. Rice became a free agent again when the 49ers waived him on August 14.

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