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Original Issue

Inside The NFL

Star Treatment
New Vikings coach Mike Tice has a plan to get the most out of
enigmatic Randy Moss

In their first year with a team, head coaches are allowed to hold
an extra minicamp and 14 developmental sessions during the
off-season so they can install their systems. Veterans aren't
required to attend, but most usually do. When new Vikings coach
Mike Tice recently told wideout Randy Moss--hardly the definition
of a team player during his first four years in the league--that
he wanted him at both, Tice recalls Moss saying, "I'm down with
you, dog. I'll be there."

Is there a new Moss in the house? We'll see. The season doesn't
kick off for five more months, but Tice has made all the right
moves with the enigmatic wide receiver, showing him who's boss
while empowering him to feel like he's a major part of the
rebuilding of an offense that plummeted to 24th in the league in
scoring last season after ranking fifth the previous year.

Tice has instituted a few new rules, including at least one
designed to get Moss's attention: no cellphones in the locker
room or the trainers' room. Moss, observers says, was on his cell
frequently in both places during the last couple of years. Now,
Tice hopes, he'll converse with teammates instead. Tice has told
Moss he wants him to be more of a leader. Leaders are good locker
room guys, and good in meetings, too. Without being asked, Moss
sat in on a pair of three-hour sessions with new offensive
coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
Leaders also play hard, but Moss has led the league in dogging it
the last two years. For example, in a game against the Titans
last Dec. 9, by SI's count, Moss either jogged or walked off the
line on 21 of the 54 plays he was on the field. That's not the
kind of effort Vikings owner Red McCombs was looking for when he
handed Moss an NFL-record $18 million signing bonus last July.

"Randy and I have met three times since the end of the season,"
Tice said last week at the NFL owners' meetings in Orlando. "He's
with the program. Look, is he going to take a couple of plays off
in a game? Sure. All receivers do. But he knows if it happens too
much, I'll yank him. Then the s--- is going to fly between me and
him, believe me.

"But when we met, Randy made a good point. In a lot of games last
year he might get three balls thrown his way in the first
quarter, one in the second, then none till the fourth. He needs
to be the primary read more often. There were only five games
last year when we threw the ball to Randy on 40 percent of our
throws, and we were 4-1 in those games. This year, our offense
will be built around Randy Moss."

Last season Moss caught a career-high 82 passes. Now, with fellow
wideout Cris Carter gone, Moss should have his first 100-catch
season, provided he stays healthy and plays hard. "From the film
I watched," says Linehan, the offensive coordinator at Louisville
last year, "Randy's been an outside receiver who ran mostly deep
go routes and deep comebacks. This year, you'll see him line up
wide, in the slot, in the backfield, and he'll be in motion a
lot. We'll make it harder for a defense to find Randy."

Moss's career got off to a fast start: 308 catches and 53
touchdown receptions in four seasons. He has the talent to be in
Jerry Rice's league--Rice averaged 98 catches a year in his
fifth through 12th seasons--but only if he works as hard as Rice
does. Time will tell if Tice can make Moss the complete player
that his predecessor, Dennis Green, never could.

Bills Have Cap Room, Need QB
Drew Bledsoe's Future

"Last year at this time," Buffalo coach Gregg Williams said last
week, "we had 38 players signed and were $19 million over the
[salary] cap. This year, we've got 56 players under contract, and
we're about $5 million under." Coincidentally, Patriots
quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who lost his job to upstart Tom Brady
after suffering a sheared blood vessel in his chest last year, is
due to make $5 million in 2002. He'd be a nice fit for Buffalo,
which has only Alex Van Pelt, mainly a backup in his seven
seasons, in the picture. All parties--the Patriots, the Bills,
Bledsoe and agent David Dunn--were mum on the subject last week,
but it looks as though Buffalo and Cincinnati will be the only
teams to make serious pitches for Bledsoe before the April 20-21

Bledsoe would probably chafe at being sent to the Bengals, who
haven't finished over .500 since 1990. It would be tough for
Patriots owner Bob Kraft to trade him to a division rival, but if
the Bills offer a reasonable package--a high second-round pick
this year and a conditional choice in 2003--New England should do
the deal.

Schedule Option Makes Sense
Monday Night Proposal

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said last week that the league
might, during the course of the season, allow ABC to swap any of
its last four Monday night games with CBS and Fox for more
attractive matchups. Officials from CBS and Fox balked at the
idea--it benefits a competing network without any likely reduction
in their rights fees--but the plan makes some sense.

First, games that CBS and Fox tab for national broadcasts would
be off limits. Also, considering how quickly teams' fortunes rise
and fall in the salary cap era, it's unfair for ABC to be
assigned a game that could look strong in April but turn into a
match of 3-10 duds in December. Fox and CBS already benefit from
being allowed to shuffle their schedules, changing kickoff times
in order to send more attractive games to larger audiences. As
things now stand, ABC is locked in with one game.

COLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGES Tice vows to get Moss the ball more often, but he wants the wideout to be a leader, too.


COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Bledsoe showed he still has plenty left in the Patriots' AFC-title-game win over the Steelers.


This is how tired 49ers boss John York is of coach Steve
Mariucci's flirtations in the job market (Notre Dame, Tampa
Bay): The next time he tests the waters, Mariucci probably won't
be welcomed back.... The NFL last week tabled until May
discussion of the quarterback-tuck rule, even though anyone who
watched the fumble-that-wasn't-ruled-a-fumble in the
Patriots-Raiders playoff game knows the rule needs to be
changed. If the quarterback's clear intention is not to throw,
how can he be ruled to be in a throwing motion? The Raiders are
still upset about the call. "I'm not being obsessive, but it was
a fumble," says new coach Bill Callahan, recently promoted from
offensive coordinator.... The Rams are privately chortling over
the two-sack season of defensive end Kevin Carter, traded to the
Titans last March for a 2001 first-round draft choice. Tennessee
coach Jeff Fisher took the heat for Carter, saying he was
shifted too often from one position along the line to another.
"He's not finished," Fisher says of the 28-year-old Carter. "I
believe he'll come back and have a huge year." ... Free-agent
wideout Cris Carter, having turned off the Rams by rescheduling
his meeting with them to accommodate a negotiating session with
the Browns three weeks ago, is close to signing with the
Dolphins as their third receiver.... The Jets will give
third-year quarterback Chad Pennington a chance to beat out
Vinny Testaverde in training camp.... Bucs coach Jon Gruden,
acquired last month from the Raiders for four draft picks and $8
million, set his alarm for 3:17 a.m. daily in Oakland. Now, he
says, the alarm is set for 3:05. "I've got to get up earlier and
work harder," he says. "In fact, I may not sleep at all."