Dungy concerned about rookies missing minicamp
INDIANAPOLIS -- Never one to stir up controversy, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy nonetheless is taking exception to a league ruling that will keep the team's first-round draft choice away from a mandatory three-day minicamp that began Friday morning.
Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, arguably the top slot receiver in the 2007 draft and expected to earn a prominent role in the high-octane Indianapolis offense even as a rookie, was precluded from attending the weekend session because the league ruled that the former Ohio State star had to participate in Reebok's NFL Player Rookie Premier this weekend.
I'm a little concerned about it. ... We talk about team play and we talk about doing things as a group ... and then we take 35 guys and treat them a little special.
-- Tony Dungy
The ruling left Gonzalez, in the words of agent Mike McCartney, "distraught." And it left Dungy, who welcomed his defending Super Bowl champions back for the lone mandatory sessions of the offseason, a bit confused.
To say the least.
"I'm a little concerned about it," said Dungy before a Friday afternoon practice. "We talk about team play and we talk about doing things as a group . . . and then we take 35 guys and treat them a little special."
The Reebok bash, in Los Angeles, is deemed a major marketing event for the league and its sponsors, and features nearly three-dozen high-round draft choices. Gonzalez declined the invitation initially, because he preferred to attend the Colts' minicamp. But the NFL Management Council -- the league's labor arm -- ruled that attendance in Los Angeles was mandatory for any player invited, even if it meant skipping a team-related function.
In fact, the Management Council dispatched a memo to all 32 teams apprising them that their invited rookies had to attend the Reebok event.
Green Bay second-round choice Brandon Jackson, a Nebraska tailback who has a chance to win a starting job, also tried to squirm out of the Reebok Premier because the Packers also have their only mandatory minicamp this weekend. But like Gonzalez, the efforts of Jackson to place football above fanfare failed, and he was ordered to Los Angeles.
Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli, meanwhile, found out about the policy and the event right after the NFL draft, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. He chose to change the Lions' mandatory minicamp to Tuesday-Thursday this week, thereby avoiding the whole issue with the Lions' top pick, Calvin Johnson.
"I just think it sends a bad message," Dungy said.
League officials countered that all 32 teams were made aware of the dates for the Reebok event well in advance and could have scheduled minicamps to avoid a conflict. But Dungy noted on Friday that he typically convenes his minicamp later than most franchises, since he wants to avoid the Mother's Day weekend and wants his players to have sufficient time to recover from the previous season. And last year, of course, the Indianapolis season was a long once, since the team had four playoff games, including their Super Bowl victory. Dungy said it is also his understanding that minicamps are to be held on weekends. Some teams, however, have moved their minicamps to midweek dates.
"You better believe our schedule will change next year," Dungy said.
The final choice in the first round, Gonzalez seems an ideal fit for the slot position with a team that employs a lot of three-wide receiver formations. The Colts released No. 3 wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who suffered a ruptured Achilles early last year and missed most of the season, earlier this spring. Gonzalez is a prime candidate to replace him.
In three years at Ohio State, he had 87 receptions for 1,286 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Compounding the situation for Gonzalez is that he is forbidden by NFL rules to work with the Colts until Ohio State holds its commencement exercises. Dungy said that he expects Gonzalez to report for work June 4, but the unhappy Colts coach acknowledged that losing this weekend to the Reebok function is a setback for his first-rounder.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen was used in this report.
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