Two's a Crowd
Will there be enough passes in Oakland to keep Jerry Rice and
Tim Brown happy?
Ever since Jerry Rice signed with the Raiders on June 5, there
has been speculation about whether he can coexist with new
teammate and fellow wideout Tim Brown. The 38-year-old Rice, who
spent the past 16 years with the 49ers, holds virtually every
major NFL receiving record. Brown, 34, is the Raiders' alltime
leading receiver. Each player has a history of demanding the ball
and complaining when he doesn't get it often enough. Given that
Oakland has gone to a more balanced attack (Brown caught only 76
passes in 2000, his lowest output since 1992) and that no Raiders
wideout other than Brown has totaled more than 50 receptions in
any of the past eight years, something has to give, right?
"I know him well enough to know he's not a jerk, and neither am
I," Brown says. "I don't think there will be an issue. As long as
the focus is on the team and not us, that's all I care about.
Plus I'm a low-key guy. If he wants all the attention, he can
Both men have tried to paint a picture of harmony. They played
golf together three times last week before reporting for a
three-day minicamp and then had conversations at their adjacent
lockers. Brown is helping tutor Rice on Oakland's version of the
West Coast offense. Though Rice played under a similar system in
San Francisco, he is learning new terminology and new positions.
(Brown plays flanker, the role Rice primarily occupied with the
As has been his custom, Rice is practicing like a maniac, but
he's also trying to prove himself all over again. "He's nervous,"
says Raiders coach Jon Gruden. "He's a little uncomfortable. He
had a rhythm to his routine [in San Francisco] that came
instinctively, and that's gone."
"I do feel like I've lost some of what I had established," says
Rice. "These guys have their own cliques, a certain way of doing
things. The only way I'm going to fit in is by busting my butt.
Guys accept you when they see how you approach the game."
Even assuming Rice and Brown can coexist, Oakland faces another
personnel issue at wideout. Rice's arrival likely makes free
agent Andre Rison the odd man out. Rison, 34, signed a one-year
deal with Oakland last August, then caught 41 passes for 606
yards and six touchdowns as the Raiders advanced to the AFC
Championship Game. He became a favorite of some of the team's
younger stars, like cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive
tackle Darrell Russell, who says Rison brought "a nastiness" to
the offense. Russell and Woodson have lobbied for Rison's return.
However, Rison wants a two-year deal with an annual salary
comparable to the five-year, $6 million contract that Oakland
recently gave James Jett, the club's No. 3 wideout. The Raiders,
though, can't afford to tie up too much money in receivers. Plus,
having three high-profile, thirtysomething pass catchers doesn't
make much sense. In this case, particularly, two will be plenty.
Andre Wadsworth's Plight
Former Cardinal Tries to Get Well
How far has defensive end Andre Wadsworth fallen? Consider that
on June 1 the Cardinals rescinded their one-year, $512,000 offer
to the restricted free agent, thereby relinquishing their rights
to the player who was the third pick in the 1998 draft.
In three seasons with Arizona, Wadsworth racked up only eight
sacks. The past two years he was slowed by knee and toe injuries,
missing a total of 12 games, and over one 15-month stretch he has
had four knee operations. The most recent, in January, were a
microfracture procedure on his right knee and surgery on his
left to repair cartilage, and he hasn't run without pain since.
His agent, Roosevelt Barnes, says several teams have called, but
Wadsworth is focusing on getting into competitive shape within
the next three months.
"My main thing is to get healthy, not just sign with another
team," says Wadsworth. "When I sign, I want to be someplace where
I can stay." So he works out five days a week with a physical
therapist in sessions ranging from three to five hours.
If he doesn't come back, Wadsworth will join quarterback Ryan
Leaf and running back Curtis Enis, the No. 2 and 5 picks
respectively, as the biggest busts of the 1998 draft.
Chiefs Start Anew
Vermeil Likes What He Sees
Carol Vermeil smiled as she watched the silver-haired man in the
rumpled T-shirt and khaki pants stroll around the Chiefs'
practice fields last week. He shuttled from one drill to another,
making sure everything was running according to plan, rarely
raising his voice. Carol knew that her husband was at home again.
"Dick did a lot of charity work and speaking over the past year
because he was trying to fill his time with meaningful things,"
Carol says, referring to her husband's one-year hiatus after he
led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory in January 2000. "But he
isn't good at relaxing."
If there is one certainty about Dick Vermeil, it is that he feels
the need to lead. Carl Peterson and Lynn Stiles, who are Kansas
City team executives as well as close friends of Vermeil's,
reminded him of that last January, when they were selling him on
the idea of becoming K.C.'s coach and trying to take the Chiefs,
who haven't made the playoffs since 1997, to the Super Bowl.
The 64-year-old Vermeil believes he can do that faster than he
did at his previous two NFL stops. He had the Eagles in the
playoffs in his third year, 1978, and two years later they
reached the Super Bowl. St. Louis won it all in Vermeil's third
year with the Rams. Kansas City is the first team he has taken
over that didn't have significant questions about the players'
work ethic. "You can see these guys want to win," says
free-agent defensive tackle D'Marco Farr, a former Ram who was
in town last week for a tryout. "In St. Louis, we had to be
convinced of that."
"It's already easier for me than the last time I came back to
coaching," Vermeil says. "[Former Chiefs coaches] Marty
Schottenheimer and Gunther Cunningham laid a good foundation
here, and now we're trying to add to that and win. Plus, when I
came to the Rams in 1997, I had been away from coaching for 14
years. Now it's only been a year since I've done this."
As in Philadelphia and St. Louis, Vermeil's first order of
business was to improve team chemistry. He had TVs installed in
the locker room, and 30 players watched Game 3 of the NBA Finals
together. He wrapped up the three days of drills with a barbecue.
"Team unity is important," says Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez.
"When I talk to friends on Super Bowl teams, they always say they
love coming to work. That's the sign of a winner."
Still, good chemistry will carry a team only so far. Talent is a
larger issue for the Chiefs. Vermeil will install an offense not
unlike the high-octane system he used in St. Louis, even though
Kansas City doesn't have the phalanx of speedy wide receivers
that the Rams do. Instead, new offensive coordinator Al Saunders
will feature Gonzalez and ask running back Priest Holmes, a
free-agent pickup from the Ravens, to be K.C.'s version of St.
Louis's multipurpose back, Marshall Faulk.
Vermeil must also come to grips with a suspect defense and the
health of quarterback Trent Green, whom Kansas City acquired from
St. Louis in a predraft trade. In February, Green had a fourth
operation on his left knee, which he originally injured in a 1999
preseason game. He didn't participate in all the drills at the
mini-camp, but he's expected to be at full strength by training
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in Vermeil, who is charging
toward September with his characteristic zeal.
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Rice has things to learn about Oakland's offense, but he remains his usual hardworking self.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO It was only a minicamp, but Vermeil still had his game face on as the Chiefs went through drills.