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Friday, July 18, 2003
Dupree back in NFL as scout with Redskins

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

His recruitment was so intense that it was chronicled in a best-seller, and his legend was big enough to inspire a song, but tailback Marcus Dupree played just two seasons (1990-91) with the Los Angeles Rams before his career was ended by a knee injury.

Now Dupree, hired earlier this week by the Washington Redskins as a college scout in charge of the Southwest, is getting a long-sought second opportunity to make his mark in a league where he feels he still has unfinished business.

Marcus Dupree
Marcus Dupree rushed for 955 yards in his only season at Oklahoma.
In his two NFL seasons, Dupree played in only 15 games, and posted 68 carries for 251 yards and one touchdown. If his legacy will never be that of a star, Dupree has decided that maybe he can carve out a niche as a star maker instead.

"The way my career ended, with me never getting a real chance to show my (skills), it really tore me up," said Dupree, reached on his cell phone Thursday as he was driving from Philadelphia, Miss., to New Orleans, to check out apartments before he moves there. "I said to (vice president of football operations) Vinny Cerrato, when he told me I had the job, that he was giving me the chance to get rid of something that just ate at me for a lot of years. Maybe this is how I was meant to earn my stripes in the NFL."

A dozen years removed from Dupree's last appearance on the field and nearly two decades after he signed with the USFL's New Orleans Breakers as a 19-year-old kid after having a falling out with Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, he is ready to find a new way of satisfying his football itch. When he discovered that the Redskins were revamping their scouting department and needed a few young talent evaluators, he hounded Cerrato with phone calls.

"Almost every day," Cerrato noted. "He was persistent, say that for him, and you felt like you had to at least bring him in and talk to him."

Dupree, now 43, recently served as the general manager of the arenafootball2 (Arena Football's developmental league) franchise in Bossier City, La. The team's nickname, the Battle Wings, still makes him chuckle. And he laughs when asked about the experience. "Oh, yeah, it was an experience, all right," he said. It was a good entry to have, however, on an otherwise sparse resume.

I said to (vice president of football operations) Vinny Cerrato, when he told me I had the job, that he was giving me the chance to get rid of something that just ate at me for a lot of years. Maybe this is how I was meant to earn my stripes in the NFL.
Marcus Dupree on the Redskins hiring him as a scout

Dupree impressed the Redskins during an interview this week with his ability to assess video and to write a clear and concise appraisal of the players he had watched. Players born with talent can't always identify it when they see it in others, but Dupree seems to have no problems in that area, Cerrato said.

It's an entry level position and, given that Washington is working with a diminished scouting budget because the team is paying off the salaries of deposed personnel chiefs Joe Mendes and Ron Nay, it's a good bet Dupree won't get rich. But he'll get a hands-on scouting education and a grass-roots foundation.

"And, honest, that's all I've ever asked for," Dupree said. "I mean, everything happens for a reason, and I'm just grateful for the chance to contribute to a team in some way. This is going to soothe my soul, I know it, man. The people around me, my mother and my kids, they know how pained I have been. But this can fix all that. I think I'll be good at it. One thing I know: No one will out-work me at it. It's just good to be back in the NFL again and I plan to stick around a lot longer this time around."

Around the league
  • A gentleman's agreement and, quite honestly, the fear of retribution, precludes us from identifying the franchise currently involved in this situation: Seems the team, which had a top-10 selection in the first round of this year's draft, felt it had a tacit agreement "on the clock" with the agent representing the prospect it chose. During the 15-minute time limit for exercising first-round selections, the team faxed the agent a "letter of understanding," detailing the parameters of a contract. The agent initialed the letter and faxed it back to the team, whereupon the club then chose the player, in part because it was confident there was now a foundation for a contract relatively similar to the one awarded the player who had been chosen in the commensurate slot last year. Fast forward three months now and, surprise, the agent is backing off the letter of understanding. A high-ranking club official for the franchise in question declined to use the term "renege" this week when asked about the agent's reversal. "Technically, I guess what we did on draft day was to come to a long-distance handshake," said the official. "There was nothing binding about it but, hey, there's even honor among thieves sometimes, you know? We essentially said back on draft day, 'Look, we know we can't get an agreement finished in 15 minutes, so we'll give you last year's deal and tweak it some, all right?' And the agent and, I presume the player as well, agreed that was fair. Now it's like they're playing dumb about the letter and, I'll tell you what, it's going to hurt negotiations. We don't feel like we can trust (the agent). Can you blame us?" For years, the Dallas Cowboys used to strike deals "on the clock," at least on rough contract numbers, and there was never a situation where it blew up in Jerry Jones' face. At least none of which we are aware. But for the team in question here, it has exploded, and what management felt would be a facile negotiation figures to be rancorous now.

    Turnover story
    Since the NFL adopted the 16-game schedule in 1978, there have been only four teams that had fewer turnovers for the season than games played. Remarkably, two teams achieved the rare feat in 2002, and neither qualified for the playoffs. Here are the four:
    Year Team Turnovers
    2002 Jacksonville 15
    2002 Kansas City 15
    1998 Dallas 15
    1990 N.Y. Giants 14

  • Word is that the Houston Texans are very close now to an agreement with first-round draft choice Andre Johnson, the former University of Miami wide receiver who recently dumped agent Jeff Moorad and is now being represented by his uncle, Andre Melton. It's even being whispered that Don West, the agent hired by Johnson and Melton to review the contract language, is already perusing some document language. All major elements of the deal, ESPN.com has been told, have been agreed upon in principle and only a bit of fine-tuning remains. Johnson, whose performance has improved dramatically since he decided all those drops in minicamp might be cause to start wearing contact lenses, was the third overall player chosen. Agents for some players in that area of the first round are sweating gumballs, fretting that an inexperienced negotiator might settle for a below-market value deal. A few sources told ESPN.com on Thursday night, though, they need not worry. Texans officials, the sources suggested, have been more than fair in working off the contract signed by Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington, the third player chosen in the 2002 draft. The tag team of Melton and West have proven to be diligent and Texans lead negotiator Danny Ferens, one of the best and most ethical capologists in the league, has not attempted to sneak anything by the pair.

  • The New Orleans Saints, whose late-season collapses the past two years have kept the team out of the playoffs and resulted in a ton of organizational self-examination, should not count on coach Jim Haslett transforming training camp into Club Med on the Bayou. What the players can expect, though, is a camp in which they are off their feet more than they have been in the past under Haslett's stewardship. The Saints coach sampled several of his league peers, seeking ideas for avoiding December pratfalls, and many told him he has to make more of an effort to not drain his team's legs in July and August. One of the coaches who most hammered home that point was Jeff Fisher of Tennessee, whose clubs historically don't sag late in the year, and whose views on conditioning are considered to be sensible and effective. One concession that Haslett already has made is to have more evening practices. That seems to be a good start toward perhaps having the Saints keep some of their explosiveness down the regular-season home stretch.

  • Now that Tony Boselli's career has been truncated by injury, the five-year wait (and what figures to be a five-year debate, as well) will commence over his worthiness to be considered for Hall of Fame honors. A lot can change in five years, and the selection process is a sometimes quirky one, but the problem Boselli will face is a distinct lack of longevity. There is no denying that, in his prime, Boselli set a standard at left tackle. Reports on how many sacks he surrendered during his seven-year tenure in Jacksonville are set at between 12½-15½. The first overall pick of the Jaguars franchise was a monster, a guy with quick feet, a player of great power who appeared in five Pro Bowl contests. But these facts are hard to ignore: Boselli played in just six full seasons and in 91 regular-season games. He never played in a game after September 2001. So virtually all of his final two seasons in the league were spent on the injured reserve list. One of the many components considered by the Hall of Fame selectors is longevity and Boselli comes up short in at least that one key category. There have been exceptions, of course, to the issue of tenure. Gale Sayers, as most everyone knows, was a supernova who flashed across the NFL firmament and then was gone after just a mere seven seasons. Dwight Stephenson, the former Miami center inducted into the Canton, Ohio, shrine in 1998, was much-debated because his career lasted just eight seasons. In two of those seasons, he played just nine games and his stellar but brief career ended on the injured reserve list as well. He played in 114 games, had his tenure cut short by a knee injury sustained on what many feel was a cheap-shot block, and redefined the position. But there are still naysayers who don't feel Stephenson belongs among the elite. My good friend Peter King of Sports Illustrated annually points out at the selection meeting that there is a Hall of Fame and there is, at least mentally, a Hall of Very Good. Five years from now, we'll know into which of those Boselli fits.

  • This interesting Boselli observation from one former NFL offensive lineman: Most of Boselli's problems were with his left shoulder, a joint that underwent three surgeries in the past 20 months, and which was basically rendered bone on bone. That left shoulder was key for Boselli, in part, because he played the left side. That means that, when he was setting up to block an outside speed rusher, the left arm went up first -- proper technique for riding the defensive end up the field in pass protection and beyond the quarterback in the pocket. "How many times in his career," wondered the lineman, "did Boselli throw that left arm up there? Probably thousands of times, going back to high school and to college, you know? If he had any kind of pain at all in that (left) shoulder, it was made that much worse, because that was his lead arm. No wonder the guy quit."

  • Carolina officials don't want to beat the drum too loudly, and perhaps awaken the poor (and perhaps overmatched) offensive right tackles who will have to contend with Julius Peppers in 2003, but they feel the second-year defensive end is going to have a superb campaign. The second player chosen overall in the '02 draft, Peppers posted 12 sacks in just a dozen games as a rookie before his season was cut short by the league-imposed suspension when he tested positive for a banned substance. The former North Carolina star should improve on that total this year, if he is healthy and plays the entire schedule. As early as a year ago, in camp, Panthers coaches were trying to project just how good Peppers would be when he got a full offseason of NFL-caliber weight training under his belt. Those dreams could turn into reality if Peppers is as improved, from both conditioning and body definition standpoints, as Carolina coaches claim he is now. "You don't want to raise the expectations too high because, I mean, the guy is only in his second season," said one Panthers staffer. "But, my God, he's been an absolute monster in the offseason."

  • He was a defensive back during his 10 seasons as an NFL player but, in a conversation earlier this week about how he gauges the pace of training camp, New York Jets coach Herm Edwards noted that it's the "big guys" on the team from whom he takes his lead. "Those guys, the people 280 pounds or more, they're banging on every play," Edwards said. "The skill-position guys, who play outside, they're rarely getting hit. So when you're looking to see whether you should cut back or not, alter the schedule a little bit, the guys you look to first are the linemen. They are the ones who suffer. There are days when you have to decide whether to throw 'em a bone or hit them over the head with a bone. And the conditioning of your linemen, in a lot of those cases, is the deciding factor." And, no, Edwards was not speaking specifically about veteran Chester McGlockton, the big body signed this week to help fill the breach in the Jets' defensive tackle dike. McGlockton is said to be about 370-375 pounds and won't do much of anything, except for individual conditioning work, for the first two or three weeks of camp. If the Jets can get him onto the field for the final preseason game, they will be satisfied, provided first-round tackle Dewayne Robertson is signed by that point.

  • Trung Canidate
    Canidate
    For some reason unbeknownst to Redskins officials, there were rumors this week that Washington had already soured on tailback Trung Canidate and were likely to trade him or release him by the start of the season. There isn't a scintilla of truth to the whispers. The three-year veteran, acquired from St. Louis in an offseason trade for a fourth-round draft choice, missed practice time in the spring because of some leg problems. But he has been back in Arizona working out with a personal trainer, and is expected to be full-go for the beginning of training camp. Canidate is still projected as the Washington starter, with the coaches convinced he is a solid fit for what Steve Spurrier wants at the tailback position, and will add a big-play dimension to the Redskins running game. The battle at tailback will come at the backup spot, between Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson, a couple of second-year veterans. Both youngsters played well at times in 2002 but roster quotas might mean only one will make the team this year. Canidate is a lock and the Redskins are listing kickoff return specialist Chad Morton as a tailback, and hope to utilize him as a third-down back. Not many teams retain four tailbacks on their roster. Then again, since Spurrier makes so little use of his tight ends, the Redskins could go "light" at the position on their roster, and keep an extra back.

  • Cincinnati coaches got some good news this week when their excellent backup tailback, Brandon Bennett, was cleared physically for camp. Bennett missed considerable practice time as he rehabilitated from disc surgery and Bengals officials had grown concerned enough at one point to begin considering alternatives to the No. 2 back and understudy to star Corey Dillon. The team looked into a possible trade for Thomas Jones, before the former Arizona first-rounder was swapped instead to Tampa Bay, but decided to wait and see how Bennett's recovery progressed. A four-year veteran, Bennett doesn't get much publicity, but he is a productive role player and a good guy to have around. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is very high on longshot running back Ray Jackson, a free agent who wasn't even in a training camp last year. The former University of Cincinnati standout, who began his college career at Michigan and then transferred, spent the year working for the local recreation commission, stocking shelves at Wal-Mart and redefining his frame. His weight went from 215 pounds to 227 pounds and his 40-yard time, remarkably, improved from 4.6 to 4.41. Jackson has a chance to earn a roster spot as a kick returner.

  • Although the league has advised exiled cornerback Rashard Anderson that he cannot file for reinstatement until December, since he tested positive again for marijuana during his treatment, look for the former first-rounder's camp to mount an effort to have the NFL consider an August appeal. The tack likely won't succeed, but some feel that it is worth a shot, since the most recent positive test occurred when the Carolina Panthers veteran was extremely close to having successfully completed his one-year suspension. Nearly as slim as the chances for that argument succeeding are the chances the Panthers will ever take Anderson back again. Given past off-field indiscretions by Panthers players, the franchise is trying to sanitize its image. Because he has prototype size and lots of untapped potential, Anderson might get another opportunity in the league, but it won't be until 2004 and it won't be in a Carolina uniform. By the way, sources confirmed to ESPN.com that at least one of Anderson's positive tests also included the drug Ecstasy.

  • It seems like every week, there's a note in this column about safeties -- how many remain in free agency and how many teams seem to still need a veteran backup. But perhaps no team is in more need of a proven safety than the Philadelphia Eagles, whose depth chart behind starters Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis is nearly as bare as Mother Hubbard's pantry. The top backup for now is rookie Norman LeJeune, a seventh-round selection from LSU. But don't expect LeJeune to be the primary backup for long. Coordinator Jim Johnson has conceded he is concerned about the depth problem. With a ton of money still left on their salary cap, bet the mortgage the Eagles will sign a veteran safety either before or during training camp.

  • Mark Bruener
    Bruener
    The Pittsburgh Steelers wanted tight end Mark Bruener to accept a salary reduction from $2.05 million to $750,000, or face the likelihood of being released. When Bruener acquiesced and took the pay cut last week, it was widely reported that he was able to get a little more than the $750,000 the Steelers suggested. Well, he didn't get much more. His base salary for 2003 is $800,000, more than 60 percent less than he was to have made. Of course, the eight-year veteran still has a job, and 800,000 of anything is always better than zero. The contract reworking, though, didn't assure Bruener of any security past this year. The base salaries for the final three seasons of his contract -- $2.395 million each in 2004 and 2004 and $3.06 million for 2006 - remain unchanged. So the two sides likely will go through the trimming process again next summer or Bruener will be released. Notably, it appears Bruener could retain his starting job. The word in the 'burgh is that former Buffalo starter Jay Riemersma, released by the Bills for salary cap reasons, will be used primarily on third downs. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has rarely deployed a tight end on third down, but wants to better control the middle of the field in 2003. Riemersma is a solid receiver who should now give the Steelers a presence between the hashes.

  • There have been a lot of tales told this week about the late Tex Schramm, truly one of the giants of the game, and we're certainly not going to endeavor to top those stories. But one insight, if you will, into just how creative, inventive and resourceful Schramm could be in almost any circumstance: In 1964, when the Dallas Cowboys were re-designing their uniforms, Schramm had a certain shade of blue in mind for the new game-day duds. Problem was, the color didn't exist, except in the fertile Schramm cranium. So he simply invented the color. Lore is that Schramm went through hundreds of combinations before he finally struck the formula for the tint that he wanted. He described it as "a sort of blue-hued silver sort of." It's still the primary color for the Cowboys uniforms.

  • We were remiss last week in failing to note the passing of longtime college offensive line coach Joe Moore, who passed away in Pittsburgh after a too-long battle with cancer. Why does Moore merit a mention in the "Tip Sheet," a vehicle about the NFL, when he never coached a down in the professional ranks? Hey, sometimes you make exceptions, and Moore was an exceptional coach and a guy your humble correspondent knew well. Plus he sent plenty of players to the NFL ranks, all of them polished blockers, none shy of work ethic. In one amazing five-year stretch, when he was coaching at the University of Pittsburgh, every senior lineman from the Panthers went on to play in the NFL. Two of the most notable, Jimbo Covert and Bill Fralic, considered Moore the best line coach they ever had. In 26 seasons of covering the league, we've seen first-hand the work of some superb line mentors: Jim Hanifan, Joe Bugel, Jim McNally, Dan Radakovich, Bill Muir, among them. Moore was right up there with all those guys. He smoked way too much, threw down a few beers too many, didn't particularly like to recruit, and usually needed a diligent graduate assistant to break down film for him, but in the coaching laboratory of the practice field, there weren't many guys better than Joe Moore. Our condolences are extended to his family.

  • Baltimore defensive end Michael McCrary is really struggling with a retirement that Ravens officials thought would have been announced by now. In fact, McCrary, 33, is beginning to wonder if he can squeeze out an 11th season by playing just as a situational pass rusher. Certainly in his prime, McCrary was a scourge to quarterbacks -- one of the top upfield rushers of the '90s. But injuries have slowed him in recent seasons and there is no way the Ravens are going to pay him the $3 million base salary scheduled for this season. Even if McCrary agreed to a reduction that took him to the NFL minimum of $755,000, it's doubtful the Ravens would keep him around. If he doesn't announce his retirement, the Ravens will likely release McCrary, sometime next week before camp begins. Then, if he wants to continue playing, it will be up to him to find a team and to convince some coach that there is a little bit left in the gas tank.

  • We're not typically alarmists when it comes to rookie signings because, at some point, nearly everyone gets into camp in time to prepare for the season. That said, this year's pace is especially slow, with just 85 of the 262 draft choices having agreed to terms as of Thursday night. That's fewer than one-third of the draft class with deals. Of course, the middle and late rounds will fill in quickly over the coming week as camps begin to open. What is troublesome, though, is that only 10 of the 97 players chosen on the first day of the draft have reached contract terms. That redefines slow, folks, and there are going to be some contentious battles in the first round. One trend that continues: Teams are still signing middle- and late-round choices to four-year contracts, virtually unheard of in the past. Even some seventh-round picks are being pressed into four-year deals.

  • Punts: The official transfer occurred quietly, but Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., the man who shepherded the San Francisco 49ers to five Super Bowl titles, is now officially out of the business. His sister, Denise DeBartolo York, made a $70 million payment to Eddie Jr. early this month and that essentially completed the division of family assets. She owns the franchise lock, stock and barrel now. . . . Despite their optimism about Luther Elliss' return from a pectoral injury in time for the start of the season, Detroit Lions officials are, indeed, considering signing a veteran defensive tackle. . . . The Colts really had little choice in restructuring the contract of tailback Edgerrin James, a maneuver that created about $1.8 million in cap space. About the only two other veterans from whom the club could have elicited cap relief were quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, and negotiations with the pair are getting nowhere. The Colts needed the cap room, desperately, to be able to sign their draft choices. . . . The agreement with tailback Larry Johnson on Thursday means the Kansas City Chiefs avoided yet another first-round holdout from camp. In the last 13 seasons, only four of the team's first-round choices made it to camp on time and Johnson is the first since offensive tackle Victor Riley in 1998. . . . St. Louis Rams coaches continue to privately brag about the work of wide receiver Troy Edwards, the former Pittsburgh first-rounder acquired in a trade last year. Edwards might well prove to be the No. 3 wideout the Rams have missed since the free agency departure of Az-Zahir Hakim. . . . The coaching staff and front office in Tampa Bay are not in agreement on the potential signing of free agent tight end Wesley Walls, who auditioned for the club this week. The coaches are pressing the organization to bring in the veteran but, so far, their entreaties have not been acted upon. . . . The Arizona Cardinals, who seem to never have a first-round draft choice signed in time for camp, have told the agents for Bryant Johnson and Calvin Pace they plan to be more progressive this year in structuring contracts. The team certainly needs to get both its first-round choices to camp, and as quickly as possible, because both figure immediately into the coaching staff's plans. . . . The seven-year contract agreed to by Buffalo Bills punter Brian Moorman earlier this week was kicked back by the Management Council because the two sides violated the 30 percent raise rule on base salaries. Not to worry. The parties raised the 2008 base salary to come into compliance, and took the difference off the '09 salary, but the total numbers still add up the same.

  • The last word: "Do you know, they even asked me that on my vacation, in Alaska. Yeah, I told them, but (the answer) will take 12 weeks to get here. They're bringing it by canoe." -- Browns coach Butch Davis, when asked whether Tim Couch or Kelly Holcomb was his starting quarterback.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.