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Even Jets offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt sounded down in the
dumps on the eve of his team's opener in Denver as he discussed
a couple of the organization's off-season free-agent
acquisitions, Jumbo Elliott and David Williams. "We sign these
two tackles for all that money [$27 million], and we can't keep
them on the field," Erhardt said, lamenting the fact that
Elliott (pulled groin) and Williams (sore back) worked together
only five days in the preseason. "It's tough to get offensive
momentum going."

The tackles' absence on Sunday contributed mightily to the
Broncos' getting nine sacks in a 31-6 laugher. Roger Duffy was
moved from left guard to right tackle, a position he had never
played in the NFL. Harry Galbreath, who was released by the
Broncos early in camp, filled in for Duffy. Galbreath had not
played left guard since his rookie season, in 1988 with the
Dolphins. Harry Boatswain, who played for the Eagles in '95
after being waived by the expansion Panthers, started for
Elliott at left tackle.

Quarterback Neil O'Donnell, the Jets' $25 million free-agent
pickup from Pittsburgh, lost more yards as a result of being
sacked (53) than he gained passing (50). He went down seven
times in the first half; last year the Steelers didn't give up
their seventh sack until the fourth game of the season.
O'Donnell was replaced in the fourth quarter by Frank Reich. "I
don't think it was a question of Neal being ineffective," said
Reich, who was sacked on his first pass attempt. "I think it was
a question of his safety."


Ki-Jana Carter of the Bengals and Lawrence Phillips of the Rams,
the best back, respectively, in each of the last two drafts,
faced off on Sunday at the Trans World Dome, and their
performances in their NFL debuts prompted this opening-week
question: What's their problem? They totaled 60 rushing yards on
35 carries, a scintillating 1.7 yards per carry.

The Rams won 26-16, and Phillips scored on--what else?--a pair
of one-yard runs. But with 46 yards on 21 carries, Phillips, the
sixth pick in last April's draft, was hardly an impact player.
And Carter, who was the first player picked in 1995 and then
missed all of last year with a knee injury, picked up 14 yards
on 14 carries.

"I'm really disappointed in myself," said Carter, whose
afternoon included six carries for negative yardage. "I've never
been in this situation before, and I have to erase this game
from my memory." But he can't erase the league's most
inexperienced offensive line. Like Carter, center Rich Braham
and guards Ken Blackman and Rod Jones were also making their
first NFL starts, and Blackman and Jones are both rookies.
Carter is still not running with the authority that inspired the
Bengals to trade up in the draft and then sign him to a
seven-year, $19.2 million contract.

Phillips, whose longest run was six yards against a defense that
ranked 26th against the run in '95, wasn't much happier. "This
is the first time I've felt like a rookie in my life," he said.
"I don't think I did a good job, and I don't think I performed
like a first-round pick."

Potentially bigger roadblocks lie ahead for both players.
Phillips is on probation for assaulting a former girlfriend in
1995, and if convicted on an off-season DWI charge (he is
scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 30), he could face six months
in jail for violating his probation. Carter, meanwhile, has
Cincinnati's newly acquired back, Garrison Hearst, breathing
down his neck. Hearst ran the ball just three times for six
yards against the Rams, but the Bengals have big early-season
plans for him: Hearst could get as much as one third of the
rushing workload until Carter is capable of playing full time
without pain.


Receivers coach Gil Haskell is back on the Packers' sideline,
having recovered from a fractured skull suffered during the NFC
Championship Game last January (SI, Feb. 19). Haskell, who was
bowled over and struck his head on the Texas Stadium artificial
turf when a play carried out of bounds, says he has no residual
effects from the fracture and brain contusion and swelling.
Here's one lingering memory from his hospital stay in Dallas:
"One morning about 6:30, I looked up, and there was [Cowboys
owner] Jerry Jones. It was a few days before the Super Bowl, and
he's in my room for 90 minutes. Before he left, he told me that
when I was ready to go home he would send his private plane for
me." (As it turned out, Haskell wasn't able to take Jones up on
his offer. He needed a fully equipped medical plane to take him


Anybody want Bucs holdout running back Errict Rhett? Offer Tampa
Bay general manager Rich McKay an overly generous deal--like two
first-round picks--for the overrated Rhett, and he's yours.
Rhett has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but he has also
averaged less than four yards a carry. Before training camp the
Bucs offered a six-year, $12 million deal, but Rhett, who is
supposed to collect $336,000 this season, rejected it because
the contract was back-loaded. Rhett's firm belief that there's
no better back in the NFL may help make him a good player, but
it has also made for an ugly, illogical holdout.... Raiders
quarterback Jeff Hostetler, on rumors about the severity of the
injury to his right knee, which kept him out of Oakland's opener
in Baltimore: "I don't know where all these things come from,
but I can guarantee you I'm not out for the year. I'm not even
out for the month." Hostetler expects to play against the
Jaguars in Week 3 and could even be back for this week's game
against the Chiefs....Friends of Cowboys tight end Jay Novacek
believe there's no way his ailing back will permit him to play
this season....Second-year coach Rich Brooks of the Rams was
thinking of pulling ineffective quarterback Steve Walsh, until
he heard St. Louis fans howling for rookie Tony Banks. "If I
start listening to the fans," Brooks said, "I should go back to


Cast-off kicker Matt Bahr, late of the Patriots, faxed this
letter to every NFL team last week:

Dear Sirs,

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I am alive
and kicking. If something untoward happens to your kicker
(either mentally or physically), please call me.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER In three quarters of work, O'Donnell was sacked eight times and fumbled twice. [Neil O'Donnell dropping football]

COLOR PHOTO: DOUG DEVOE Phillips was looking for daylight but didn't find much in his NFL debut against the Bengals. [Lawrence Phillips in game]