The many Bills who ride motorcycles for pleasure expressed concern for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was seriously injured when his bike collided with a car near an intersection in downtown Pittsburgh.
They also expressed dismay over why the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl wasn't wearing a helmet, something Roethlisberger said he would now do, if and when he climbs back aboard a two-wheel machine. Pennsylvania repealed its mandatory helmet law for adults in 2003.
"It happens. The sad part is that he didn't have a helmet on," linebacker Takeo Spikes said.
Spikes owns a bike similar to Roethlisberger's mangled Suzuki Hayabusa, a street-legal machine that's among the fastest on the market.
"You should wear one. Rule or not, it's safety first," Spikes said. "I could care less about a team, it's about my life and my family."
Free safety Troy Vincent, who like Roethlisberger is a resident of Pennsylvania and doesn't have to wear a helmet by law when he rides his motorcycles, said he'd never hit the streets unprotected.
"It's unfortunate," said Vincent, president of the NFL players union. "He (Roethlisberger) had been warned many times by family members, teammates, coaches, and it happened. I know we emphasize it to the player reps, 'Tell the guys to make wise decisions.' You don't want to tell a guy what he can and can't do. All you can say is, 'Take advantage of this window of (earning) opportunity and be smart.' We can all get hurt driving a car, but those other things -- riding a motorcycle, hang gliding, skiing -- just take some precautionary measures to at least be safer."
Unlike the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball, where contracts are guaranteed and clubs protect their investments by including a long list of off-field activities that are banned for players, the NFL's standard contract is a lot less specific.
It prohibits activities that "may involve significant risk of personal injury." But since these contracts are not guaranteed beyond the signing bonus, the clause seems to have little weight, leaving teams to count on players to use common sense.
That doesn't always prevail.
Since 1997, at least nine NFL players have been involved in motorcycle accidents. Three had to sit out the season recovering from their injuries -- Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr., in 2005, New York Jets cornerback Jamie Henderson in 2004, and Green Bay defensive lineman Jermaine Smith in 1998.Vincent said the issue of forfeiting signing bonus money if a player is injured in a thrill-seeking off-field activity wasn't addressed in the last round of labor talks. It mostly centered on teams recouping money if a player, like Terrell Owens, is suspended. But Roethlisberger's accident could force the NFL's standard contract to contain language covering such issues. Certainly, teams can write it into a contract for an individual player and the union has no problem with that, Vincent said.
"It could, from club to club," Vincent said. "It's a quarterback now. Other instances it happened, and it's 'OK, be careful.' But here's a young QB. Now maybe all the new QB contracts may have something in them, and then it goes to wideouts, and running backs, you're high-priced guys."
According to a Scripps Howard News Service study, motorcycle deaths in the United States have nearly doubled in a decade, to 4,000 annually, because more states have allowed riders to go without helmets.
Vincent, 35, a father of three, hasn't ridden in several years because his wife grew too worried about his safety.
"It wasn't because of football I chose to get off the bike, it was because of my wife and children," he said. "It was like, 'Every time you get on that thing honey, I'm feeling a bit (scared) and it's not so much you, it's the other people around you on the road.' Because of the way my wife felt, she -- I call my bike a she -- she collects a lot of dust now."
--LG Bennie Anderson, cut by the Bills after one season, quickly signed with the rival Miami Dolphins where he'll be reunited with former Bills head coach Mike Mularkey, now Miami's offensive coordinator. It's a peculiar move. Buffalo's offense was horrible last season, finishing 28th in yards and 30th in the red zone where Mularkey showed little confidence in his line by often electing to pass the ball inside the opponent's 20-yard line rather than grind things out. Anderson, plagued by penalty problems, was one of Buffalo's most inconsistent performers.
--FS Troy Vincent on coach Dick Jauron: "In my 14 years, I'm seeing and hearing things that you're not accustomed to hearing. Usually it's two-a-day practices and all of that stuff. This coach is allowing players to be men. That's not this era. But you've got a guy who has seen it and done it the other way, and now is really fine with doing it his way. I'm sure as a coach, he's motivated and if he's going to do down, he's going to go down doing it his way."
--Bills' top draft picks Donte Whitner and Ashton Youboty were eager participants in the club's mandatory camp. The two rookies took part in one OTA after the draft but by NFL and NCAA rules couldn't participate in any other activities with the Bills until their college exams were finished. "I was just waiting patiently," Whitner said. "I felt I knew everything and knew what I could do. Hopefully I'll just have to refine some things to be ready to play."
--Defensive line coach Bill Kollar is recuperating after back surgery but he's expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp.
As expected, the Bills did not name a starting quarterback heading into training camp at the conclusion of their off-season workouts.
Coach Dick Jauron said spring drills provided him the chance to formulate an opinion on each, but not enough to name one a starter. He needs to see how each quarterback performs under fire through at least a couple of preseason games.
"We're going to wait and see how it plays out," Jauron said. "We like the competition. We think competition is healthy, and they're still competing. I think they've all done pretty well at times, and at times they've looked bad, which quarterbacks will tend to do. We've got time in front of us and we're going to use it, and we're going to use training camp to make any decision on those guys."
Jauron said he won't set a timetable on picking his starting QB but sooner would be nicer than later.
There were new starters at three different positions on Miami's offensive line during the team's recent minicamp, but another change may be forthcoming with the signing of ex-Buffalo guard Bennie Anderson to a two-year contract.
Anderson is expected to compete for the starting right guard position against Seth McKinney, who manned the position during minicamp. Rex Hadnot replaced McKinney at center, while L.J. Shelton started ahead of incumbent Damion McIntosh at left tackle.
Hadnot played center extensively at the University of Houston but has worked primarily at right guard since being a 2004 sixth-round draft choice. Hadnot started at center for the final three games last season in place of McKinney, who was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.
McKinney played left guard as a rookie in 2002 but has subsequently manned the center position.
"I'm getting more comfortable there as time goes by," said McKinney, who was re-signed to a one-year contract during the off-season. "I'm happy with my progress. It might not be as fast as I want it to be, but I'm happy with it.
"Anytime you're putting down a different hand, it's going to be more of an adjustment. Right guard and center are not too big of an adjustment. The assignments are the only difference pretty much."
Anderson should be able to learn his assignments quickly, as he played last season under Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey in Buffalo. A 70-game starter, the 6-foot-5, 345-pound Anderson is markedly bigger than McKinney (6-3, 310 pounds).
"At the first meeting (Mularkey) had with us, he told us we're going to be the most physical team in the NFL," McKinney said. "That's his goal, and that's our goal too. That's the way we're looking at it.
--WR Marty Booker suffered a sprained ankle during the second minicamp and was held out of the third session. DT Rodrique Wright, who had shoulder surgery in May, didn't participate in the camp.
"He's doing a nice job," coach Nick Saban said. "He's a good athlete. We're pleased with his progress. He also played quarterback a couple of times today. I'm sure the multiple roles may not totally enhance his development as a receiver, but he really only spends about two periods a day with the quarterbacks. The rest of the time he's with the receivers. He's had a really good attitude about it all, playing both spots."
Cs Dominic Furio and Chris McNeil were waived after not attending the minicamp. Furio was claimed off waivers in May from Philadelphia, which made him a 2004 seventh-round draft choice. McNeil quit shortly after being signed as a rookie college free agent from Mississippi State.
DT Manny Wright is now working at nose tackle, where he could become the heir apparent to 36-year-old starter Keith Traylor. Rookie DT Fred Evans, a seventh-round pick, also is getting snaps at nose tackle, with 2005 backup Jeff Zgonina working primarily at end.
"We're trying to give those two guys (Wright and Evans) the majority of the work at nose to see if we can develop a young nose that can play nose," coach Nick Saban said.
Zgonina, 36, could find himself as preseason trade bait if Wright, Evans and 2005 seventh-round pick Kevin Vickerson show more promise. The Dolphins also recently entertained DT Dan Wilkinson on a free-agent visit.
Beisel Ready For Second Chance
The adjustment for Monty Beisel from last Kansas City to New England was anything but smooth for the five-year pro. Headed into his second season with the Patriots Beisel says he's had time to adapt to what's expected of him for 2006. After minicamp, it looks like Beisel is going to be given another opportunity to show he has what it takes to fit in alongside Tedy Bruschi in the starting rotation.
--LT Matt Light, who didn't play after breaking his right leg against the Steelers in Week 3 last season, was back on the field for minicamp and was working with the first unit.
"It's fun being back out here," Light said. "I'm feeling good. Everything's good. I'm doing what I've got to do right now. I'm not going to say that I'm any percentage (of the way back). That's always a stupid thing to say. It would be bad if I never made it out there in camp at all; then you guys (in the media) would wonder what happened to me. But, no, I feel good."
C Dan Koppen, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 10, did not participate in the minicamp. Neither did SS Rodney Harrison, who tore three ligaments in his left knee in the same game that Light was hurt.
"In 12 years I haven't been 100 percent," Harrison said at a charity golf tournament the day before the minicamp started. "So if I can get back to 90 percent, I'll play football. I believe, truly in my heart, that I'll be back."
--DL Johnathan Sullivan, acquired in a trade that sent WR Bethel Johnson to the Saints, said he was glad to get a second chance with the Patriots. However, Sullivan, the sixth overall pick in the 2003 draft, just shrugged when asked if he was relieved to be out of New Orleans. "I was happy in New Orleans," he said. "I'm happy here."
Sullivan played as a defensive tackle in the Saints' 4-3 system. With the Patriots, who are mostly 3-4, he is backing up NT Vince Wilfork. At the minicamp, Sullivan also saw time at defensive tackle when the Patriots went to their 4-3 look.
The Saints were unhappy with Sullivan's conditioning, but he declined to discuss that topic with the media at the minicamp, saying, "I left that in New Orleans."
--LB Tedy Bruschi was asked if he had done anything special on the one-year anniversary of his stroke, which felled him on Feb. 16, 2005.
"Sure, I was in Disney World in Florida," Bruschi said. "My kids were on school break and we took them down to Disney World for the week. My wife and I sort of looked at each other (on that date) and just smiled and said, it's been a year and we got through one of toughest years we've been through. We've moved on and we're excited about continuing our lives and playing more football."
Bruschi missed the June minicamp last season while he was recovering.
"I've said before that I believe in the process - offseason workouts, minicamps, training camp, preseason," he said. "To truly get ready for the opener you need all that stuff. You need steps like this. It's nice to see that everybody's got a good attitude out here and is excited about getting back to work."
"I feel real disrespected" by anyone who believes Maroney will be the starter sometime this season, Dillon said. "I feel like I have accomplished zero, not even a grain of salt in this league. And that's terrible for a guy of my status. I've been doing this for a long time."
Dillon has rushed for 10,429 career yards, the 17th best total in NFL history, but he was hurt and ineffective last season when he ran for just 733 yards. With Maroney in the mix and Dillon's age (he turns 32 in October) a popular topic of conversation among his doubters, Dillon altered his offseason conditioning program.
"I switched up a little bit," he said. "Honestly, I'm getting a little bit up there (in age), and those are things I understand. So I wanted to switch it up and do something different and just try to get my body in the best shape possible and come here this year and perform well."
Dillon joked that the specifics of his new workout regimen were "top secret," but he said they've paid dividends already. "To be honest with you, this is the best I've felt at this point in time in the last three years," he said. "I feel good about where I'm at. I'm still not close to where I want to be. I'm going to get there, and hopefully by training camp I'm going to be ready to go."
For most of an 11-year NFL career in which he has become a cinch Hall of Famer, the classy, non-demonstrative Curtis Martin has flown under the radar.
So it was again on the first day of the Jets' three-day full-squad mini-camp. Martin, who is trying to come back from knee surgery in December, was overlooked Friday by most of the media as they flocked to talk to Chad Pennington about his rehab from shoulder surgery.
Martin, too, is trying to make a full recovery from injury and regain his form after an injury-plagued 2005 in which he finished with only 735 yards, the first time in his career he didn't reach the 1,000-yard mark. The Jets finished 4-12.
"Yeah, it was a frustrating year," Martin said, "but more so because we lost, not because of the yards or anything but because we weren't winning games."
When asked if this was another challenge, he responded, "I don't even consider it a challenge. I just consider it something that I'm going to do. I've been through this a million times and it's just a matter of working as hard as I can like I always do. The routine doesn't change for me."
Martin participated in most of the drills on the first day of mini-camp, but much like Pennington, he appeared to be somewhat limited. Of course, new coach Eric Mangini didn't talk much about Martin's rehab status, just as he didn't give many details about Pennington's limited practice throwing reps.
"Curtis is involved in all of the drills," Mangini said. "We're monitoring him as well. But he is taking part in all the drills and he is a guy that we are watching and making sure that it's within the framework of his rehab."
Mangini was more expansive in talking about Martin himself.
"I wish everybody had Curtis' approach to getting some work," the coach said, "because he can't get enough work. That's what makes Curtis, Curtis."
Martin said of the new regime, "Everything's cool. We're all getting to know each other, and in my opinion, it's going along well."
Unlike with Pennington, who is being pushed by newcomer Patrick Ramsey, the Jets don't appear to have a Plan B for a featured running back. In fact, projected backup Derrick Blaylock, who missed much of 2005 with a broken foot, didn't participate in the first day of mini-camp because of a leg injury. Mangini said it was unrelated to the broken foot, but provided no other details.
--C Trey Teague was held out of the Jets' full-squad mini-camp with what coach Eric Mangini termed an injury to his left leg. According to a source, it's an ankle injury. It is serious enough to keep the free-agent pickup out of this important mini-camp and Mangini refused to say whether Teague would be ready for the start of training camp in late July.
If he is a question mark, that will further accelerate the demands on 29th overall pick Nick Mangold of Ohio State, who figured to compete with Teague anyway. Mangold said he has added 15 pounds and is up to 305, but promised he wouldn't lose the quickness that has made him effective on sweeps.
Teague apparently was hurt during one of the voluntary mini-camp sessions, or organized team activities, as the Jets call them.
--Also limited at the mini-camp were DB Ray Mickens and QB-turned-WR Brad Smith, who suffered what Mangini termed "bumps and bruises" before mini-camp. It appears that even Mangini's OTA practices are much tougher than those of previous coach Herm Edwards.
--QB Patrick Ramsey, obtained in a trade with the Redskins, realizes he has a chance at the starting job because of Chad Pennington's status. Plus, everyone, including holdovers such as Pennington and Brooks Bollinger, is learning a new offensive system.
"It puts everybody on an even slate," Ramsey said. "Everyone's trying to learn the small intricacies of what we're doing."
Ramsey, who has a stronger arm, looked impressive during the first day of mini-camp, but was a bit erratic the next morning, and also showed his tendency toward quickly escaping the pocket when the rush gets close.
--Every player is under the microscope with a new regime, but on defense, Bryan Thomas definitely is in the spotlight. The new staff has been working him both as a standup linebacker and a defensive end in a three-point stance in the hopes that he can be a Willie McGinest-type of player.
The staff also is trying DT Dewayne Robertson at both the nose and the end, as part of their commitment to making players more versatile.
On defense, the new staff is trying some holdover personnel in new roles, such as DE Bryan Thomas at both end and OLB, and DT DeWayne Robertson at both NT and DE. They also signed free-agent LB Alonzo Jackson, a fourth-year player who has spent time with both the Steelers and Giants. In fact, Jackson started in the Giants' playoff loss to Carolina because of all the injuries plaguing them at that position at the time.
QB Chad Pennington is still on a "pitch count," as he termed it, but he is throwing and throwing long occasionally. C Trey Teague (ankle) is out for the mini-camp and his status for the start of training camp in late July is very much up in the air.