Bonjour, NFL: French player takes residence at Redskins training camp
ASHBURN, Va. -- Once a year at training camp, the Washington Redskins' veterans force the rookies to stand up and sing, one at a time, after a team dinner.
Philippe Gardent sang in French.
"I think the audience was in awe," defensive tackle Joe Salave'a said. "No one understood what he was saying."
There's no sense in concealing the fact that he's different, so Gardent chose a ditty called "Larirette," about a girl who walks through a forest. It was an appropriate choice, since no one could blame Gardent for feeling lost in the woods one week after arriving from France for his first NFL training camp.
"I had only two days rest and still had jet lag in my legs," Gardent said. "But that's the way it is. I have a lot of learning to do. This week I didn't sleep that much. I spent a lot of time with (the) playbook. A lot of players told me if I can learn this playbook I can learn any playbook in the NFL."
Gardent is part of a three-year-old NFL program designed to help promote the sport overseas. International players are assigned each year to teams in certain divisions, with the NFC East and AFC North taking part in this year's foreign invasion. The players are guaranteed spots on the practice squad for the entire season, but they cannot be promoted to the active roster.
So far, one graduate of the program has returned the following year to make a roster and play in a regular season game. Guard Rolando Cantu from Mexico was on the field with the special teams unit for Arizona in last year's season finale against Indianapolis.
Gardent, a linebacker, has as good of a chance as any to become the first player to make a real impact. The Frenchman was the co-defensive MVP in NFL Europe this year, leading with league with 70 tackles for the Cologne Centurions.
"He's got a long way to go," linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said. "But he works hard, gives us good effort. He's very intense. He's trying to learn. And for a guy with a limited background, I think he's doing a darn good job."
Gardent grew up as a budding alpine skier in Grenoble, but football grabbed his attention after he watched the Green Bay-New England Super Bowl on television in 1997. He joined a local team and later played in college at NSC Marseille, then for the French national team. Eventually, he caught the eye of scouts for NFL Europe, where he has played for four seasons.
"Everybody asks me 'Why didn't you play soccer in France?' But you don't choose a sport because it's a national sport in your country," Gardent said. "You choose a sport because you love it."
At 6-foot-1 and 237 pounds, Gardent is an acceptable size for a weakside linebacker, but the stat that works against him is his age. He didn't pick up the sport until he was 16 and is now 27, the oldest rookie in camp.
He is also somewhat of an awkward pupil for Lindsey. Every snap in every practice is precious, so how much time can the coach devote to a player who wasn't here for the offseason program and has no chance of playing for the team until next season?
"I don't want to slight him because he might be a great special teams player," Lindsey said. "We might need him. So I don't want to ignore him, but at the same time I don't want to take away from the other guys."
Meanwhile, Gardent is an enjoyable novelty for his teammates. He has educated them about his home country, and fellow linebacker Lemar Marshall interrupted an interview to greet Gardent with a "Bonjour" after Friday's workout.
"He's doing pretty well," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "There's a lot coming at him, and it's coming at him fast. That's amazing. I don't know if I could go to France and have to deal with the language and also have to pick up a different defense." ^Eagles=
Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley ended his holdout and agreed to a six-year deal, leaving three first-round draft picks unsigned.
Bunkley, the 14th overall selection, agreed to a deal worth $13 million, according to an official within the NFL. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because terms weren't publicly disclosed, said $10 million of that money is guaranteed, and the maximum value of the contract could reach between $25-$30 million.< ^Bengals=
Carson Palmer went 4-for-9 for 57 yards and a touchdown pass in Cincinnati's scrimmage, his first action under game conditions since tearing up his knee in the playoffs.
Palmer needed reconstructive surgery on his left knee after a hit from Pittsburgh defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen on Jan. 8 tore his anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament.
On Friday night, Palmer threw incomplete on his first four pass attempts but connected on four of his next five throws in his second go-around of the evening.
"I want to go out there and complete 100 percent of my passes and be perfect but I'm realistic also and realize that you're not going to complete every ball," Palmer said. "Every chance I step onto the field I feel it's a step forward and I need to take a step forward. So far this camp I feel like I've done that."
The Bengals open the regular season at Kansas City on Sept. 10.< ^Bears=
Running back Cedric Benson left practice Friday night on a cart after injuring his left shoulder.
Coach Lovie Smith said more would be known Saturday morning after X-rays are taken. Benson had his arm and shoulder in a sling as he was taken from Ward Field at Olivet Nazarene University.
The Bears' No. 1 2005 draft pick was struck by linebacker Brian Urlacher and then safety Mike Brown after catching a pass over the middle.< ^Cowboys=
Owens missed both practices Friday because of a twinge the new star receiver developed Wednesday. He declined to be interviewed Friday morning, saying only, "Day to day" as he left the field. Following the afternoon practice, he shook his head when asked if he planned to play in a scrimmage Saturday.
"It's up to the trainers," he added.< ^Giants=
Tight end Jeremy Shockey was back on the field at Friday's evening session for the first time since he suffered a concussion Monday, though he did not participate in drills. He did run several 100-yard sprints and catch passes from an assistant coach for about 10 minutes.< ^Cardinals=
Defensive tackle Kenny King was lost for about a month with a broken right hand, coach Dennis Green said. King was injured during Thursday morning's workout.< ^Browns=
Coach Romeo Crennel didn't give second-year quarterback Charlie Frye much action in a scrimmage in front of 24,749 fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"We were not as sharp as we need to be offensively," Crennel said. "We threw interceptions, fumbled snaps and missed field goals."
Frye played only one series of 17 plays. He went 5-for-10 for 54 yards -- and was intercepted on his final pass.< ^Jaguars=
Rookie running back Maurice Drew had two of the few offensive highlights in Jacksonville's first scrimmage.
The second-round draft pick from UCLA broke a 31-yard run, then capped it with a 3-yard scoring plunge two plays later as the Jaguars prepared for their preseason opener next week at Miami.
Drew ran for a team-high 39 yards on four carries.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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