Steelers sign Markham, just in case


Pittsburgh Steelers: With kicker Jeff Reed still recovering from hip surgery, the Steelers have bolstered the position by signing free agent John Markham, and allocating the former Vanderbilt star to the NFL Europe league.

Originally chosen by the New York Giants in the fifth round of the 2001 draft, Markham has never appeared in a regular-season game. But he is said to have a strong leg, can drive the ball deep on kickoffs, and scored 209 points in college.

Reed underwent surgery last month and is expected to be fully rehabilitated by the time the Steelers convene a June mini-camp. But team officials felt it was prudent to add an inexpensive insurance policy and Markham probably will attend training camp to help take some of the workload there.

Markham signed a two-year contract at base salaries of $230,000 for 2004 and $305,000 for 2005. Those are the league minimums for each season. Pittsburgh also considered Hayden Epstein, who previously kicked for Jacksonville and Minnesota, and who does have some regular-season experience.

As a rookie, Markham was released by the Giants in training camp. Despite numerous workouts, he was out of the game until last summer, before going to training camp with the Atlanta Falcons, who subsequently released him in camp.

San Fracisco 49ers: Speaking of kickers, how far might the San Francisco 49ers go to upgrade a placement game that was shaky in 2003? Perhaps back to the future.

Niners coaches on Thursday auditioned kicker Dean Biasucci, who has not appeared in an NFL game since 1995, and who is attempting a comeback at age 41. Biasucci kicked 11 seasons in the league, converting 185 of 262 field goal attempts and 268 of 275 extra point tries. He spent 10 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and one with the St. Louis Rams.

Since leaving the league, Biasucci has been pursuing an acting career and has appeared in more than a dozen movies and a variety of television shows.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers have signed veteran cornerback Bryant Westbrook, who would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency next month, to a one-year contract worth $660,000.

Westbrook, 29, did not play in 2003, having suffered the second major Achilles injury of his NFL career in training camp. He spent the entire season on injured reserve, but the Packers coaches like his size and aggressiveness and, if he is recovered, he can perhaps fill the role of "nickel" defender in 2004.

The former University of Texas star was a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions in the '97 draft, the fifth player chosen overall that year, and he has played in 71 games and started 55 of them. Just as his career was starting to take off in 2000, he ruptured his Achilles tendon and it took him nearly two years to full recover.

In stints with Detroit (1997-2001), Green Bay (2002) and Dallas (also 2002), Westbrook has 229 tackles, 13 interceptions and 47 passes defensed.

New England Patriots: Staying in-house to fill a void on his staff, New England head coach Bill Belichick on Thursday promoted offensive assistant Josh McDaniels to the position of quarterbacks coach.

"Josh has been a valuable asset to our defensive coaching staff
for much of the past three seasons," Patriots coach Bill Belichick
told the Associated Press. "Now we look forward to his contributions on offense."

The vacancy was created when John Hufnagel departed the Patriots just days after their victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII to become the New York Giants offensive coordinator. McDaniels has been on the Belichick staff, largely working in quality control, since 2001.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.