Indianapolis Colts rookies reported this weekend to Anderson, Ind., to open the NFL’s first training camp of the season. All 30 teams will be encamped by July 20, but even some of the most wily veterans will feel like the rookies who started work Saturday. An off-season of dizzying move ment has left a good portion of the NFL to reorient itself this summer.
Four teams will be training at new sites. One will be training for a new city and another, the Washington Redskins, will be training to play in a new stadium. Five, at least, will be training new starting quarterbacks. Twelve will be training under new coaches.
The Seattle Seahawks, who trained in Cheney for the first 10 years of their existence from 1976-85, return to the Eastern Washington University campus.
Although quarterback John Friesz started several games last season, this will be his first Seahawks camp as the starter. He will be pushed by veteran Warren Moon and youthful Jon Kitna, who led Barcelona to the WLAF championship.
“Like everyone else, I guess, I’ve got a new coach,” New York Giants general manager George Young said from his office last week, “and that usually adds to your interest. I guess you could say a lot of people are going to be watching things very closely before the season starts.”
Young hired Jim Fassel after firing Dan Reeves, who will coach the Atlanta Falcons, hus joining the Great Coaching Shuffle that left one of the NFL’s most highly regarded franchises with an inexperienced coach and one of the NFL’s most highly regarded coaches with an inexperienced team. Several teams were left in between.
“It’s wild,” Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell said in February. “There is so much pressure on the coach to win, and win now. There’s owner pressure, media pressure, fan pressure, you name it.”
The 49ers will open camp in the charge of Steve Mariucci, who was hired one day after George Seifert resigned in January. After four seasons as an assistant in Green Bay, Mariucci was credited with helping Brett Favre become a premier NFL quarterback. But Mariucci’s only head coaching experience came last season at the University of California, where he went 6-6.
In contrast, the New Orleans Saints recruited the legendary Mike Ditka, 57, to return to the game after a four-year absence.
The St. Louis Rams landed Dick Vermeil, 60, who hasn’t coached in 14 years but has been a coach of the year on four levels-NFL, NCAA, junior college and high school. Like Reeves in Atlanta, he measures his record in decades.
The other new faces are Bobby Ross in Detroit, Pete Carroll in New England, Kevin Gilbride in San Diego, Joe Bugel in Oakland and, of course, Bill Parcells - who ignited controversy when he bolted from New England after the Super Bowl to gain control of a 1-15 team-the New York Jets.
“People’s organizations change so much, you don’t know who the real team is anymore,” Young said. “Who’s who? Where’s he? It’s crazy. It’s been a long time-maybe since the 1970s-since there’s been this much change. This is unusual, and it could cause some confusion in camp.”
Elvis Grbac is in Kansas City. Rick Mirer is in Chicago. Heath Shuler is in New Orleans. Jeff George is in Oakland. The Buffalo Bills’ job, left vacant by the retired Jim Kelly, is up for grabs between Todd Collins and Billy Joe Hobert.
And don’t forget Steve Bono, who signed with Green Bay to back up Favre. He may have the most fun of all, because the Packers, though they lost Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard to Oakland through free agency, will be a happy camp. They acquired versatile wide receiver Qadry Ismail and retained their championship nucleus.
San Francisco and Dallas have reloaded to challenge Green Bay. The 49ers added running back Garrison Hearst and left guard Kevin Gogan, and the Cowboys, while keeping their stars, signed wide receiver Anthony Miller. But the 49ers have further rebuilding to do, and the Cowboys will miss cornerback Deion Sanders for camp and the first part of the season while he plays baseball for the Cincinnati Reds.
That leaves the expansion exceptions, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, with a chance to expand beyond their appearances in the conference championships last year. The Panthers made several off-season moves and resigned key free agents: running back Anthony Johnson and linebacker Sam Mills. The Jaguars stayed intact and made Chris Palmer offensive coordinator, hoping he can do for quarterback Mark Brunell what he did for Drew Bledsoe last season in New England.
Carolina and Jacksonville “are for real; they’ll still be up there,” Young said. “They have teams older than mine, for goodness’ sake. They’ve been able to get free agents, experience, and are settled in for the long haul.”
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