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A Troubling Offseason For Seahawks

August 24, 1995

SEATTLE (AP) _ More trouble for the Seattle Seahawks. More problems for first-year head coach Dennis Erickson.

Chris Warren, one of the NFL’s premier running backs, was charged with misdemeanor assault after a woman accused him of slapping her buttocks after she refused to dance with him in a night club.

It’s just what the Seahawks don’t need after a year in which defensive lineman Mike Frier was paralyzed in an auto accident; wide receiver Brian Blades was charged with manslaughter in the shooting of his cousin; and Erickson himself was convicted of drunk driving and blamed for drug problems when he coached at the University of Miami.

So the Seahawks enter the season trying to live down their off-field reputations. But it’s hard.

``The players in this league understand that anything can happen,″ says cornerback Corey Harris. ``It’s just a situation where it’s happened here. Every team has their gray-cloud days.″

``That’s part of normal life,″ insists Pro Bowl punter Rick Tuten. ``All that stuff happens to everybody all over the place. It happens to all the other teams all the time. Those were unfortunate occurrences, but we don’t feel like we’re getting especially picked on or anything like that.″

That’s true to a point.

The Minnesota Vikings of the early ’90s had a dozen players arrested for drunk driving over a two-year period and the New York Giants had three players contract cancer and two of them die over a six-year period.

But no one seems to have had the variety of misfortune that’s struck the Seahawks.

In fact, Erickson himself has been the focus of problems after he was hired to rebuild the team after a hellish 1994 season in which Frier was paralyzed Dec. 1 in an auto accident that also involved two other Seahawks, Warren and Lamar Smith. Smith was driving in the crash.

Smith, who will be Warren’s backup this season, faces trial on a charge of vehicular assault. The trial was postponed to Jan. 8.

Erickson, meanwhile, was arrested April 15 near Marysville, north of Seattle, with a blood-alcohol level of .23 percent. The legal threshold of drunkenness in Washington state is .10 percent.

In Miami, athletic director Paul Dee placed a majority of the blame for Miami’s failed drug policy on Erickson, who coached there from 1989 until last season. The issue came to a head during the NFL draft after it was disclosed that Warren Sapp, the Hurricanes’ star defensive tackle, had not been penalized after failing several drug tests there.

Then, on July 5 in Plantation, Fla., Blades, the Seahawks’ best receiver, was involved in the fatal shooting of his 34-year-old cousin, Charles. He later was charged with manslaughter in the shooting, which police said happened after Blades took out his .38-caliber semiautomatic handgun to confront his brother, Bennie, a Detroit Lions safety.

Blades, who caught a franchise-record 81 passes for 1,086 yards last season, says the shooting was an accident and has dedicated his season to his late cousin. ``I’m glad football is here,″ he said.

So is Erickson, who was hired to turn around a team that had been 14-34 in three seasons under Tom Flores, hasn’t had a winning season since 1990 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1988.

John Friesz, Seattle’s new backup quarterback, played for Erickson at University of Idaho in 1985. He insists Erickson is a tough guy, the disciplinarian the Seahawks want after the Flores regime.

``He’s got the team under control,″ Friesz says. ``He’s always been a very confident coach. There’s a feeling that anything can be done.″

That is, if the Seahawks can stay out of trouble off the field.

Erickson isn’t about to solve the Seahawks’ problems by cutting the players involved.

Blades and Warren, who rushed for 1,545 yards last season for his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, will be a key in Erickson’s offense. Erickson loves the potential of Smith, a third-round draft choice from Houston last year.

But this week Erickson cut cornerback Orlando Watters, who started eight games last season. Watters was arrested last season for driving while intoxicated, possessing marijuana and carrying a concealed knife.

``Maybe it’s good for Orlando to get a fresh start someplace else,″ defensive backs coach Willy Robinson said.

Erickson is trying to push forward in the face of adversity, including his own.

``We’ve got to put these distractions in the past,″ he said.

End Adv For Weekend Editions Aug. 26-27

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