August 21, 1998
It's the NFL preseason -- time for young players to shine.
"I think everybody has expectations for rookies," says Denver Broncos quarterback Brian Griese, the team's 1998 third-round draft choice. "Everybody want's to see what you can do. Pressure is pressure. I've been dealing with it for a long time. All I can do is go out, have fun and do my best."
Following are some of the young players who have "done their best" in the 1998 preseason:
From One Champ to Another: Last fall, Griese led Michigan to a 12-0 record and was named Rose Bowl MVP as the Wolverines earned a share of the national championship. He is now a backup to John Elway of the Super Bowl-champion Broncos. "Training camp has been going well," Griese says. "I'm getting more and more used to what's going on with the offense."
Griese has the results to prove it. He has accounted for the game-winning scores with touchdown passes in each of Denvers two victories. In addition, he is the AFCs leading preseason passer, completing 12 of 18 attempts for 191 yards and two touchdowns for a 138.9 rating. "This guy is going to be one of the great quarterbacks in the league for years to come," says Broncos wide receiver Willie Green.
The Can-Do Cardinal: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer is picking up in 1998 where he left off in `97. As a rookie last year, he became the Cardinal's starter midway through the season, setting several team and league passing records, including most passing yards in a single game by a rookie (388 against the New York Giants). Plummer has an 87.3 quarterback rating through his first two preseason games with two touchdown passes, one a 40-yarder. "Everybody should have drafted Jake Plummer, " says former San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. "He's another Joe Montana. Same mobility, same touch on the ball. Potentially, he's a Hall of Famer."
Marshall Plans: Cincinnati Bengal's second-year quarterback Eric Kresser and Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Randy Moss connected on 19 touchdowns as members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd in 1996. The duo also is making its mark this preseason, albeit with different teams.
Kresser got off to an impressive start, completing 10 of 14 passes for 138 yards with a 48-yard touchdown toss while leading the Bengals on two scoring drives in the preseason opener against the New York Giants. ''I'm here to show people I can play, and all I want is the opportunity,'' Kresser says. ''I'm No. 4 on the depth chart right now, so when I get the opportunity, I have to make people notice.''
"He's here for a reason," says Cincinnati head coach Bruce Coslet. "We think he has a future."
Meanwhile, Moss has one touchdown reception in each of the Viking's two preseason victories against New England and Kansas City. In total, he has six catches for 87 yards. "I'll tell you what," said Chiefs Pro Bowl cornerback Dale Carter, "in a couple of years he will be one of the best receivers in the league."
"He has great talent," added Chiefs Pro Bowl receiver Andre Rison. "He can learn from Jake Reed and Cris Carter, who are two of the better receivers in the game."
Green Is Golden: Despite his being listed at only 5-9 and 172 pounds, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not hesitate to select Florida wide receiver Jacquez Green in the second round of this years draft. The speedster was a renowned deep threat in college. This preseason, he is second in the NFL with 149 receiving yards (on four catches) and first in the league with a 37.3-yard reception average (minimum three). Green scored his first NFL touchdown on a 69-yard reception against Kansas City in the Bucs second game. A kick-return star in college as well, Green had an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Miami last week that was negated by a penalty. "Hes probably averaging about 56 yards every time he touches the ball," Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy says. "I guess we should get him the ball a little more."
Silver & Black Attack: Among the rookie success stories for the Oakland Raiders are a Heisman Trophy-winning cornerback as well a free-agent receiver.
Charles Woodson, the Heisman Trophy winner who was selected fourth overall in last Aprils NFL Draft, made his first NFL start on the first-team defense which yielded no points against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. "Charles is really aggressive and alert," said Raiders six-time Pro Bowl cornerback Eric Allen. "He doesn't seem like a rookie. He already understands how offenses will try to attack him."
Said Raiders defensive coordinator Willie Shaw "As far as intelligence and feel for the game, he's probably ahead of most rookies I've ever seen." The Oakland free agent, wide receiver Rodney Williams, caught seven passes for 89 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown, against the Packers. "I was a lot more relaxed this week,'' he said. "Last week, I had a little bit of the jitters.''
"I told him he wouldn't need a wake-up call,'' added Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. "Opportunity would be knocking on his door.''
Packers New Sacker: When the Green Bay Packers traded up to the 19th spot in the first round of this year's draft, they did not expect North Carolina defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday to still be available. Holliday, who recorded a sack and forced a fumble in a 27-24 win over Kansas City in the Tokyo American Bowl on August 1, has made a smooth transition to defensive end and will play a major part in the Packs drive for a third straight Super Bowl appearance. "This kid is going to be great," teammate Reggie White said. "I'm glad I am getting to play with him." Safety Le Roy Butler adds, "I think he's going to be a Pro Bowler within three years, maybe the first two. No one will be able to block him."
Top of the Draft: Selected first and second in the 98 draft, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf are showing improvement with each preseason game. After an opening performance on August 8 in which he completed eight of 15 attempts for 113 yards with one touchdown against Seattle, Manning led the Indianapolis Colts on scoring drives on five of seven possessions -- two touchdowns, three field goals against Cincinnati on August 17.
"He will be a special player in this league," says Colts head coach Jim Mora. "Im confident of that. If anybody will learn quickly, it will be him. He will progress faster than most rookie quarterbacks because hes got special talents. He will learn from his mistakes and play better."
The San Diego Chargers have bolted to a 2-0 start as Leaf has completed 64.3 percent of his passes (27 of 42) for 316 yards with two touchdowns for a 93.0 passer rating. Leafs second scoring strike a 15-yard toss was so spectacular it surprised even the man who caught it.
"When I was running my route, I thought there was no way in the world I was going to catch the ball," said Chargers tight end Freddie Jones. "I looked up and it was just an incredible pass. It was thrown directly over the shoulder of the defender and right into my hands. He couldn't have thrown a better pass. I can't say enough good things about him."
Dan is Dandy: Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback Dan Gonzalez will likely be on the Cowboys sideline on Kickoff Weekend as the clubs third quarterback. Gonzalez, who threw for more than 2,500 yards as a senior at East Carolina but was bypassed in the 98 draft, has impressed the Dallas coaches in his three preseason appearances. He has completed 14 of 23 attempts for 141 yards, and his 78.4 quarterback rating is tops among NFC rookies.
Crowell Plays So Well: The Detroit Lions may have found someone to scare opposing defenses even more. As if Barry Sanders and Herman Moore werent enough for opponents to worry about, now the Lions feature rookie wide receiver Germane Crowell, a second-round pick (50th overall) from Virginia. Crowell, whose 6-3, 213-pound frame reminds many of his Lions teammates of fellow Virginia alumnus Moore, has 135 yards on seven receptions so far in the preseason. That places him third in receiving yardage in the league, and second among rookies (Jacquez Green, Tampa Bay, 149). Crowell had two receptions in overtime, including a 48-yard catch, in the Lions 13-10 win over Arizona in their first preseason game. "Thats play-making," head coach Bobby Ross says. "Thats the kind of thing that helps you in the NFL."
On Guard: The New Orleans Saints may have succeeded again with a first-round offensive line draft selection. Kyle Turley, the eighth overall pick in this years draft, was the Saints starting left guard in their game against the Denver Broncos last week. Turley lined up next to perennial Pro Bowl tackle William Roaf, the teams first-round pick in 1993. "He played hard and played the way you want him to," offensive line coach Dick Stanfel said of Turley, who was named the starter at left guard after just two practices. "They drafted me in the first round and they expect big things out of me," says Turley. "I expect the same out of myself. Im not surprised."