the AFC East
By Scout.com Staff
Legislation is now before Congress that would standardize drug testing in professional sports, putting the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer under one umbrella. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is against the move, claiming the league knows its players better than anyone and its drug testing system "is a special program directed at our sport." Buffalo Bills free safety Troy Vincent, head of the NFL Players Association, said the commissioner has the players' support.
"We've had several discussions about this. Nobody knows our
game or our business like we do," Vincent said. "We're not saying we
can't make improvements. Obviously we can. "Listen, we'd love to be in a
perfect world where nobody is doing any type of steroid or taking a performance-enhancing
drug (in sports). But is that reality? No. The stakes are higher. We're talking
about billions of dollars a day and the men and the women, they want a piece of
that pie and they'll
do whatever it takes, whether it's harmful to their body or not, to win and get an edge. But we believe we've set a protocol in the NFL to protect the integrity of our game."
The NFL has the most extensive and punitive testing policy in pro sports but its program is being poked with holes lately. A CBS "60 Minutes" report said three members of the Carolina Panthers had prescriptions filled for steroids less than two weeks before the 2004 Super Bowl.
Most recently, Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith was nabbed at the airport with a store-bought contraption designed to beat drug tests. Tagliabue said before Congress that since the NFL's testing policy went into effect in 1989, 111 players have tested positive. A total of 54 served a four-game suspension (akin to a $300,000 fine for the average player), and another 57 retired immediately.
Skeptics suggest that catching only seven out of more than 1,700 players annually only proves players know how to beat the system, particularly when players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever. "I disagree," Vincent said. "At the end of the day, our system works. Four games is hundreds of thousands of dollars to a player. The way you affect us is start taking money out of our pockets."
Vincent wasn't called to testify before Congress on behalf of the players no current players, in fact, were called. There was no need, Vincent said. "The leadership of the NFLPA and the league office, we stand behind our policy," Vincent said. "We know our program is strong. The commissioner has mentioned the numbers of cases we've had and the fact there have been no repeat offenders. We know our system works. We know our policy works. If I'm sitting at that table, I'm saying the same thing."
--The Bills will start the OTA (organized team activity) segment of their offseason starting May 26. Workouts and practices over a four-week period are voluntary but Buffalo's attendance in recent years has been well over 90 percent. The same is true for the team's offseason conditioning program. "I don't care if you're a rookie or a Pro Bowler, you can get something out of the work here voluntarily," coach Mike Mularkey said.
--Bills defensive coaches are eager to get another look at rookie CB Eric King in their OTAs. The fifth-round pick out of Wake Forest was impressive in mini-camp, showing strong leaping ability and recovery speed. Buffalo has had good success with later-round defensive backs in recent years: Terrence McGee (fourth round, 2003) and Kevin Thomas (sixth round, 2002).
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bills juggled their depth at running back with the signing of former Dallas Cowboy RaShard Lee and releasing Dante Brown. Both are big backs, but Lee has much more upside and can return kickoffs, potentially improving what already are the NFL's top special teams.
Depth behind Willis McGahee is still sorting itself out and the picture won't come into focus until the Travis Henry situation is resolved. For now, Lee joins Henry, Joe Burns, Shaud Williams, and rookie Lionel Gates behind McGahee. Daimon Shelton is the fullback with Burns and Gates capable of playing that role as well.
Lee, who played at Middle Tennessee State, signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in 2003. Last year, he carried 27 times for 128 yards and a touchdown in a reserve role. He led Dallas in kickoff returns with a respectable 23.5 average on 41 attempts. Pro Bowler Terrence McGee, who led the Bills with a 26.3 average and three touchdowns on 52 attempts, doesn't need to be pushed but Buffalo is concerned about kick return depth. Lee could fill that bill. As far as the punt return job goes, the candidates are lining up and they're impressive.
Starting CB Nate Clements led the Bills in punt returns with 35 last year for a 9.3 average and 1 TD, but exposing a key defender in this role isn't the wisest move Buffalo can make. Second-year man Jonathan Smith (nine attempts, 17.4 average, 1 TD) will get a shot at winning the job outright, and will be pushed by rookie WR Roscoe Parrish, who averaged 16.2 yards and two TDs on 20 punt returns at the University of Miami last fall, and rookie free agent safety Jim Leonhard of Wisconsin, the Big Ten's all-time leader in punt return yardage (1,347).
What was once unthinkable for many Dolphins fans -- the return of tailback Ricky Williams appears closer to becoming a reality later this summer. "I talked to Ricky and Ricky still seems to be very, very interested in coming back," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said Thursday. "As I've said before, that the things that we discuss, we decided not to talk about them publicly. I think I can safely say that you all know as much about his situation as I do. There are issues that need to be worked through and we're all in the process of evaluating those issues and how they can be resolved."
-- Even though he sat out all of the 2004 season, Williams is believed to still be facing a four-game suspension from the NFL for failing a third drug test for marijuana. Under terms of the league's substance-abuse policy, Williams also can't officially apply for reinstatement until July 28 or risk a one-year suspension.
-- The Dolphins were awarded an $8.6 million judgment against Williams for violation of his contract, but the franchise has the option of deciding whether to pursue collection.
-- Because of his retirement, Williams would return to play for his 2004 salary, which was slated at $3.74 million in 2004. Assuming that figure still stands in light of his retirement, Williams would count $3.74 million against the team's salary cap, which would cause the Dolphins to either restructure contracts or release players to fit that figure.
began courting Williams to return shortly after becoming Miami's head coach in
January. Although he had received positive feedback from Williams previously,
that didn't prevent the Dolphins from selecting Auburn tailback
Ronnie Brown with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft. A Brown-Williams combination would potentially provide the Dolphins with the NFL's most potent running back tandem. But Williams also has to prove he can mount a comeback, especially after dropping significant weight in retirement, and convince a skeptical locker room that he is serious about his return.
Williams also would have to submit to the terms of the NFL's substance-abuse program as a three-time offender, which includes random drug testing 10 times a month for up to three years.
If the Miami Heat wins the NBA finals, team management should consider giving the Dolphins a championship ring. Miami's trainers are helping to treat Heat center Shaquille O'Neal, who is still struggling to recovery from a thigh bruise suffered in mid-April. "The injury that he has is more of a football-type injury," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said. "I think a deep thigh bruise is not a very common thing (for an NBA player), and (the Heat) just asked if we would offer our medical staff to try and help him out. We have the kind of machinery that you can get range of motion and things like that."
O'Neal has spoken highly of the Dolphins' decision to hire Saban, who coached at Shaq's alma mater (Louisiana State) the previous five years before coming to Miami. The feeling is mutual. "I'm a big-time Shaq fan," Saban said. "He's probably done as much to carry the banner for LSU ... and he was always very positive in trying to do that. He came back and graduated when I was there. I wish the guy nothing but success, and anything that we could do to help him get back on the floor we would do because we'd like to see all of our sports teams here be successful. I'm sure they'd all do the same for us. And I kind of like the guy.
"Now I did ask him if he'd play tight end. I said, 'We need a tight end. We could use your size at that position.' He says, 'If I don't have to come to the meetings and I don't have to come practice, I'd be glad to come play in the games.' I said we have a couple other guys around here like that."
NEW YORK JETS
After nearly two months of speculation regarding Donnie Abraham's possible retirement, the Jets said they expect the 31-year old cornerback to attend the team's organized practices next week. Abraham, who started 34 games for the Jets from 2002-04, including all 16 games in 2002 and last season, was excused from the team's recent mini-camp and offseason conditioning program as he contemplated retirement.
But after talking with coach Herman Edwards the past week, Edwards and his agent seem to have come to an arrangement to allow Abraham to spend more time with his family in Tampa, Fla. It's believed that Abraham will be able to skip Mondays, the team's lightest practice of the week, so he can combine it with Tuesday's off-day to maximize the time off with his family. The Jets made a similar arrangement with guard Dave Szott a few seasons ago so he could spend time with his family, which lived in the New York area.
Abraham's return has the Jets sighing in relief. Other than trying to sign free agent Ty Law, who likely won't be able to work out for team until just before training camp because of a broken foot, the Jets had few options as far as a starter to play opposite David Barrett. Nickelback Ray Mickens, 32, was to be given the first shot at the starting job because second-round pick Justin Miller is too raw and Derrick Strait has been pigeon-holed into being nothing more than a nickel or dimeback.
Abraham can still play but his speed has diminished slightly and so has his playmaking ability. He had just two interceptions last year and has made just seven picks since joining the team in 2002, the year after he made six for Tampa Bay.
Law and Edwards have had several conversations over the past month and Law has also been calling running back Curtis Martin often. Originally the favorite to sign Law, the Jets likely won't make a move to sign home with Abraham back and a handful of other teams now intent on looking at Law.
--CB Jamie Henderson, 26, has been cleared to play football and continues to work out in his native Georgia, but the Jets say he's not in their immediate plans. Henderson suffered serious head trauma in a near-fatal motorcycle crash last April but has worked his way back to full strength. The Jets have needs in the secondary and even though they have remained in Henderson's corner and even helped support him financially over the past year, they don't seem willing to bring back the former draft pick.
--The Jets are still high on QB Brooks Bollinger but don't believe he's ready to be Chad Pennington's primary backup just yet. The signing of veteran Jay Fiedler makes Bollinger, a sixth-round pick in 2003, the No. 3 quarterback this season. Bollinger got into a game last year when both Pennington and Quincy Carter were hurt, completing 5-of-9 passes.
MEDICAL WATCH: QB Chad Pennington is continuing his rehab process in order to build strength and mobility in this surgically repaired right shoulder and should resume throwing in June. He will likely be limited at the start of training camp but said he expects to start the regular season opener.
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