Oilers wait for Bishop, scan waiver wire
TERESA M. WALKER
Aug. 25, 1997
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The longer safety Blaine Bishop stays away from the Tennessee Oilers, the closer they get to considering another option.
``If we can't get this thing worked out soon, we have to go on,'' coach Jeff Fisher said Sunday after cutting seven players.
``There are other safeties out there. If they can come in and provide depth and help us, we have to go on.''
Bishop, the team's leading tackler the past two seasons, was designated the Oilers' franchise player in February.
He held out of training camp and has stayed away from the team's new practice facility while negotiating a new contract giving him at least $2.42 million, the average for the top five safeties in the league.
Second-year Rayna Stewart will be the Oilers' starting strong safety Sunday in their opener against the Oakland Raiders if a deal isn't reached with Bishop in the next couple days, Fisher said.
``Blaine's our No. 1 priority and would be our preference. I think that speaks for itself. But if it doesn't work, you have to consider different alternatives,'' Fisher said.
The Oilers released seven players Sunday afternoon, reducing their roster to the maximum 53. At least one or two more cuts are likely this week depending on negotiations with Bishop.
``This is an unsettling week,'' Fisher said. ``I'd like to say (today) to the team `Look around this room. These are the guys you're going to war with.' We have to consider all possibilities.''
Second-year player Sheddrick Wilson lost out as the Oilers kept six wide receivers. Wilson played on special teams last year and caught only two passes for the Oilers. At the team's request, he went to the World League and led the league with nine touchdowns for Barcelona.
But rookie Derrick Mason, a fourth-round draft pick from Michigan State, earned a roster spot by leading the Oilers in receiving yardage during the preseason.
``Shed was probably the hardest decision because of the work,'' Fisher said. ``Most of these players with the exception of the rookies took part in the off-season program on a daily basis in Houston, and Shed's already been through his second training camp this year. He'd already played 12-16 games this year.''
The Oilers also cut their long-snapper on punts, tight end James McKeehan, a second-year player from Texas A&M. Although the Oilers usually find a way to keep their draft choices, they cut fifth-round pick George McCullough, a cornerback from Baylor.
The remaining players cut were all rookies including running back Spencer George from Rice, safety Blaine McElmurry from Montana, offensive guard David Bailey from James Madison and tackle Winston Alderson of Arkansas.
Veteran guard Bruce Matthews now will handle snapping for both kicks and punts, Fisher said.
The Oilers kept kick returner Mel Gray, a 12-year veteran with $450,000 of his salary guaranteed this year, and third-down specialist Ronnie Harmon among four running backs.
``Ronnie Harmon is here in our opinion because he is still the top third-down back in the league. If I were getting ready to game plan the Oilers, I would be worried about defending Ronnie Harmon,'' Fisher said.