Originally created 08/04/98

NFL notebook



Eric Zeier started in the Baltimore Ravens' final three games last season, going 2-1 and throwing for six touchdowns without an interception.

A lot of good it did him.

The former Georgia star is still the Ravens' backup quarterback and no closer to being a starter than he was during training camp last year. There are, however, three important changes in his status:

Zeier is making a lot more money than in 1997;

He's backing up Jim Harbaugh, not Vinny Testaverde; and

The Ravens now have a lot more faith in him than they did 12 months ago.

Zeier went 58-for-97 and threw for 855 yards in place of Testaverde last December, proving he has the talent to be a bonafide starter in the NFL. His performance attracted the attention of the Atlanta Falcons, who during the offseason offered the restricted free agent a two-year deal worth $2.6 million.

The Ravens -- convinced that the 6-foot-1 quarterback could indeed lead Baltimore to victory if pressed into action -- matched the offer.

"We know now that Zeier can do the job," coach Ted Marchibroda said Monday.

Zeier, 25, probably would have been given the opportunity to compete against Chris Chandler for the starting job in Atlanta. In Baltimore, he is clearly Harbaugh's backup.

COLTS: Peyton Manning will no longer be off limits. Hitting Manning in training camp and in last week's practice and scrimmage with the St. Louis Rams was a no-no. The ban will be off on Saturday when the Colts open their exhibition season at Seattle.

"It's got to happen sometime. That's the only way you're going to get better," Manning said Monday.

Seattle has an advantage of having already played its first game, defeating Dallas 20-19 on Friday, while the Colts will be playing their first exhibition.

"It will be a challenge on both sides of the ball. No matter what happens, I think we'll get a lot of benefit out of it," he said.

Manning expects to lean heavily on tight ends Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard. The 6-foot-5, 259-pound Dilger and the 6-4, 257-pound Pollard will provide Manning with the big targets he didn't have at Tennessee.

"I had a lot of good receivers in college, but never really had a tight end like those two guys. They've got good hands. They're so big, its easy to spot them in a pattern," Manning said. "And they're both excellent blockers.

"I look for them to be a very big part of our offense."

Dilger and Pollard are equally excited about catching balls from Manning. With an inexperienced line and a revolving door at quarterback last season, Colts tight ends combined for only 50 of the team's 317 receptions and 609 of the 3,560 passing yards.

"Marcus and I are pretty good tight ends as far as running and blocking. The more talented people we have out there on the field, the better it is for the team," said Dilger, who spent much of the offseason preparing himself mentally and physically for an added workload.

"We've had a pretty good tempo in camp. It's been a carryover from offseason work both on and off the field," Dilger said. "Obviously, I'm excited about catching more balls and gaining more yardage than last year. But the important thing is to win more games."JETS: Bryan Cox, fined more than $100,000 for violent outbursts during his career, contends he was "blackballed" by NFL teams until being signed by the New York Jets.

The linebacker, who was signed by the Jets two months after being cut by the Chicago Bears, said Monday he had been close to signing with other teams the past few weeks, only to see the agreements fall through.

"I all but had deals on the table with two or three teams and the day I was supposed to leave to sign, my agent called me back and said the deal was off," said Cox, a three-time Pro Bowl selection. "I was getting blackballed."

Jets coach Bill Parcells, however, was quick to recruit Cox after the club's star middle linebacker, Marvin Jones, tore ligaments in his left knee last Friday. Jones, a former first-round draft selection, will have season-ending surgery this week.

"The slate is clean as far as I'm concerned," Parcells said of Cox. "I don't ask that anybody's personality correspond to mine. I told him, `Just be Bryan Cox.' I just want him to come in here and help the team. He'll know what we're trying to do here. I think he wants to win. He's going to try hard and that's all I am about."

Besides, Parcells added, "He's the one paying the fines, not me."

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Cox has been temporarily installed as the backup to Mo Lewis at strongside linebacker. It's likely that his long-term spot will be in the middle of the Jets' 4-3 defensive scheme, where journeyman Dwayne Gordon and veteran Pepper Johnson currently are fighting for the starting role.

DOLPHINS: Miami receiver Yatil Green, recovering from minor knee surgery, is expected to return for the team's final two exhibition games. Green, who missed all of his rookie season last year with an injury to his right knee, underwent arthroscopic surgery Sunday on the same knee to remove damaged cartilage.

SAINTS: New Orleans quarterback Heath Shuler returned to training camp on crutches and wearing a toe-to-knee cast on his left leg. Shuler, who had offseason surgery that removed the bones in the ball of his left foot and repaired torn ligaments, returned to the doctor who performed the operation this weekend. He had experienced numbness in the foot. Tests revealed a cyst under the scar tissue on the foot.

BEARS: Chicago rookie tight end Alonzo Mayes grudgingly ended a 10-day holdout by signing a three-year contract late Sunday night that, in his opinion, is not commensurate with his ability.

"I'm still not satisfied, but what's the purpose of holding out if you're not going get anything out of it," Mayes said. "I just have to go out and prove who I am."

PATRIOTS: After one game, New England coach Pete Carroll is happy with the Tebucky Jones experiment. Jones, the second of New England's two first-round selections in this year's draft, played tailback and safety at Syracuse, but Carroll is trying to make Jones into an NFL cornerback.

"Tebucky made it through the game," Carroll said after a 14-13 exhibition loss to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night. "At least he went out there and got to play a game. He had a couple of plays where he knocked the receiver into the backfield."

Jones had one tackle, when he pushed the man trying to block him into the ball carrier. None of the receivers he was covering had any receptions.

SAINTS: Call him the poster boy for the un-recruited. The delight of the long shot. The New Orleans Saints' Sammy Knight, an undrafted rookie free agent last year, proves scouting combines don't know it all. Knight hit training camp this year as the Saints' starting safety. A big change from last year when he came in as one of the many camp-bodies, guys needed to fill out practices but not expected to be around when the final cut is made.