Biakabutuka Resumes Talks with Panthers
Representatives for Tshimanga Biakabutuka, drafted to give the Carolina Panthers a running attack to go with the passing of second-year quarterback Kerry Collins, are talking with the team again.
Tuesday was the 25th day of the holdout by Biakabutuka, drafted by the Panthers with the eighth overall pick out of Michigan. The negotiations have been punctuated by acrimony, skipped meetings and unreturned phone calls.
``I’m very optimistic that we’ll get it done,″ Panthers president Mike McCormack said Tuesday night after Carolina finished a workout at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.
Carolina last week withdrew its offer of a seven-year, $12.5-million contract with a signing bonus of more than $5 million, and broke off talks. Biakabutuka vowed to sit out the entire season.
McCormack said the Panthers put an offer back on the table Tuesday, when they spoke repeatedly by telephone with Biakabutuka’s representatives.
Also on Tuesday, Panthers coach Tom Capers said he was moving Blake Brockermeyer, one of Carolina’s star rookies last year, from left to right tackle, leaving converted tight end Mathew Campbell to deal with the NFL’s best pass rushers.
Capers said he was making the change because of several injuries that have thinned the line during training camp and because of Campbell’s rapid progress at his new position.
``We felt it would be better to take a look at things this week rather than to wait until our last preseason game,″ said Capers, whose team plays the third of its four exhibition contests Saturday night against Buffalo.
Guard Matt Elliott and tackle Greg Skrepenak, both listed as starters on the right side entering training camp, have leg injuries and are not practicing this week.
Sean Love, Elliott’s backup, has moved into a starting role at right guard, and Brockermeyer has begun working out as the right tackle.
When Campbell makes his first start Saturday night, he will play opposite Bruce Smith, one of the best pass rushers in NFL history.
``He’ll certainly get a test,″ Capers said of Campbell, who as a rookie tight end last year caught three passes for 32 yards but impressed Carolina’s coaches with his blocking abilities.
Pro Bowl offensive tackle Mark Tuinei will be out 2-4 weeks after rupturing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Tuinei was injured Monday night in a 31-7 exhibition loss to New England.
Switzer said he will switch Pro Bowl right guard Larry Allen to replace Tuinei at left tackle. Third-year backup offensive lineman George Hegamin will replace Allen at right guard.
``Sometimes you’ve just got to play the default and hope they play well,″ Switzer said.
Switzer said the Cowboys have not eliminated the possibility of contacting offensive lineman Derek Kennard, who came out of retirement last year to help at center in place of injured starter Ray Donaldson.
Kennard, who has battled weight and motivation problems, was not brought back by Dallas this year.
``It’s not the time of year he (Kennard) plays well,″ Switzer said. ``He likes that cold weather, hog-killin’ time. We don’t know whether he wants to play. He would obviously fit us better than anyone out there, but I am sure he’s not in condition.″
Switzer said this week’s injuries to Tuinei and backup receiver Orande Gadsden, on top of several others, have made the Cowboys ``the thinnest team in football.″
Heath Shuler will start the game that will decide Washington’s quarterback battle.
Coach Norv Turner said Shuler will play the first quarter and most of the second Friday night against the Cincinnati Bengals at RFK Stadium. Gus Frerotte will then take over, continuing with the first team through the third quarter and possibly into the fourth.
``He has to put one of us ahead of the other,″ Shuler said. ``We both can’t put our hands up underneath center at the same time.″
The third-year quarterbacks are basically even going into the last of the three-game exhibition series that is supposed to settle the dispute for good. Turner will name the regular season starter Sunday or Monday after consulting with general manager Charley Casserly and owner Jack Kent Cooke.
During training camp, Frerotte and Shuler split the first-team work, and both were listed at the top of the depth chart. Shuler got to start the first exhibition game against Buffalo by default because Frerotte pulled a rib cage muscle, and Frerotte started last week against Detroit.
Mike Tomczak, the senior man in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ three-way race for the starting quarterback job, gets his second start Saturday against Tampa Bay.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher plans to go into the final exhibition game against Philadelphia with a starting quarterback in place _ either Tomczak, Jim Miller or Kordell Stewart. That makes Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay the last chance for all three to make a case.
The Steelers have averaged 14.3 points in three preseason games while searching for Neil O’Donnell’s replacement. All three quarterbacks have played well at times, but none has clearly seized the job.
Tomczak, a 12-year veteran, won his only two starts in 1994, and was 2-2 last season when O’Donnell missed a month with a broken hand.
Offensive tackle Leon Searcy, the Jaguars’ $17 million free agent, gave the team a scare when he injured his left knee during practice.
``A little drama,″ coach Tom Coughlin said. ``I think he’s going to be fine. The ankle got caught trying to squeeze it out of a pile and his knee gave him a little tweak.″
Coach Wayne Fontes is becoming concerned about Michael Brooks’ knee injury.
Brooks is slated to take over at inside linebacker, where Chris Spielman was the Lions’ leading tackler the past eight seasons. When Spielman signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills, the Lions signed Brooks, formerly of the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
But Brooks has been out since the first week of camp. He missed the first two exhibition games and will be out again Friday night at Houston.
``He hasn’t worked with that first unit since the first week of camp,″ Fontes said. ``This guy is in the middle of the defense and makes all the down calls and all the adjustments inside. He’s new here and he has to get used to playing with the guys we have, and he hasn’t done that.″
Cedric Jones, the New York Giants’ first-round draft choice and the fifth overall selection, left practice after being poked in the same eye that underwent a cornea transplant in December.
The defensive end was in a pass rushing drill against Jerry Reynolds when the backup tackle’s hand slid under a protective visor and poked Jones’ left eye.
``His vision is OK,″ Giants trainer Ronnie Barnes said. ``But he is being examined locally by an eye doctor, and we’ll know more tomorrow.″
Jones, Oklahoma’s career sack leader, had the cornea transplant to correct a birth defect.