TENNESSEE TITANS UPDATE 

lROUNDUP: GEORGE TRYING TO STAY FOCUSED & MORE

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker reported Tuesday, Eddie George is still under contract with the Tennessee Titans, so he plans to keep showing up for work.

George, recovering from operations on his left ankle and right knee, arrived Tuesday for the first of six final mini-camp workouts that conclude on June 24, although he didn't actually take part in the festivities this week.

He is likely to sit out mini-camp practices again next week, but should be ready for the start of training camp on July 30.

He is also waiting for a revised contract nearly two weeks after agreeing to cut his base pay for the upcoming season. He hoped for a new deal before getting married next Sunday, but admitted Tuesday he doesn't expect that to happen.

"Quite honestly, I'm not going to worry myself about it. I'm more or less concerned about how I'm going to look coming down the aisle," George said.

The Titans want George to cut his base salary for the 2004 season from $4.25 million to approximately $1.5 million to clear space to sign their rookie class starting in July.

"All I can say is that we're moving in a positive direction right now," George said of the negotiations.

But as Nashville Tennessean staff writer Jim Wyatt suggested this morning, with George reduced to a spectator during mini-camp workouts again this offseason, one can't help but wonder if the inactivity might hurt his production this fall, whether he's a Titan or not.

Team officials don't seem too concerned. Neither does George.

But his conditioning level is not where it would be at this time of year, and Wyatt reports that some in the organization say George's state of mind isn't great either due to the contract negotiations.

But George insists he's remained focused. He also told Wyatt he's much better physically now than he was at this time in 2001.

"I came off a surgically-repaired toe. That was a totally different situation, where I was hindered the whole year from a toe injury and having it repaired," the former first-round pick said. "Going through that whole process is totally different. It is not any concern at all. ... It's no comparison all."

In 2001, George had surgery in February, spent six weeks in a cast and missed all the mini-camps. He didn't participate in team drills for the first two weeks of training camp and played in just one preseason game.

Head coach Jeff Fisher seems to believe he's in better shape this year.

"He is way ahead of where he was during that difficult time with the toe," Fisher said. "These are minor things that we've had to clean up. There wasn't a major structural issue like with the toe. He literally had to learn to run again, and that's not the case (this year). ..."

In a semi-related note. ... Also according to Wyatt, Steve McNair participated in his first full practice since the 2003 season Tuesday and said his surgically-repaired left ankle is improving.

"It felt good," said McNair, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on the ankle in February. "I still want to take it slow. We wanted to go out there and at least try and push it a little bit and see how my foot was going to be."

McNair worked in individual drills as well as 7-on-7 drills. The majority of his passes were on target, but he misfired on some long throws.

"I haven't done that in six months, but that is going to come," McNair said. "It is all about getting the timing with the guys. Today wasn't all bad, though. We got some rust off. ..."

Other Fantasy-specific news and notes from around the NFL. ...

Jake Delhomme was rewarded for helping guide the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl Thursday with a five-year contract extension Thursday worth $38 million.

Delhomme will get $12 million up front, including a signing bonus and option bonuses. Delhomme had one year remaining on his two-year contract.

Delhomme relieved Rodney Peete at halftime against Jacksonville in the first game of the season and led the team back from a 17-point deficit to win 24-23.

He started 19 straight games after that, leading the Panthers to playoff victories over Dallas, St. Louis and Philadelphia.

Then he threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns in a last-minute 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

In the regular season, Delhomme threw for 3,219 yards with 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

The deal came on the final day of the team's three-week mini-camp.

"Everybody in the league is trying identify their quarterback and when you identify that guy, getting him locked up for the future is paramount to your success," head coach John Fox said. "I'm glad it happened before we got away from here."

Delhomme was also relieved to get the deal done.

"I've been around guys who haven't performed their best with a contract lingering over their heads," Delhomme said. "Having that behind me, now it's just total football when training camp starts."

According to Charlotte Observer staffer Pat Yasinskas, the Panthers lowered Delhomme's salary-cap hit for 2004 by more than $200,000 with the new deal. They have about $1.9 million in cap space.

Delhomme had been scheduled to count $3.52 million against this year's cap, but the Panthers dropped that to $3.3 million by reducing his base salary from $1.37 million to $535,000.

Delhomme's cap hit will remain relatively low in the early years of the contract. He'll have a $4.3 million cap figure in 2005 when he's scheduled to have a $655,000 base salary. His cap figure in 2006 jumps to $6.4 million, including a $4.8 million base salary.

Delhomme's cap figure will be $8 million in 2007 and $8.4 million in 2008 and 2009.

Earlier this offseason, the Panthers also wrapped up Delhomme's favorite target, receiver Steve Smith, with a six-year, $28 million contract. ...

In Buffalo. ... A month of mini-camp sessions ended Wednesday with a new offensive scheme installed, leaving Drew Bledsoe optimistic and prepared to put last season's troubles behind.

"I'm extremely optimistic to be honest with you," the veteran signal caller told the AP. "I feel like at this point in the season, this is as good a team as I've been on."

Bledsoe acknowledged he and his teammates might have been saying the same thing at this time last year -- before his struggles began and before the Bills stumbled to a 6-10 finish.

What's different this time is Bledsoe's belief the necessary changes have been made to make it work.

The Bills have a new head coach in Mike Mularkey, who took over after Gregg Williams was fired in December. Mularkey, an offensive expert, has worked to simplify a Bills scheme that was considered convoluted and too one-dimensional last year.

The Bills have back a healthy No. 1 receiver in Eric Moulds, who was hobbled by a groin injury for most of last season. The team also bolstered its receiving corps by selecting Lee Evans -- a speedster, who could take the pressure off of Moulds -- in the first round of last April's NFL Draft.

And then there's the Bills commitment to running the ball, something the team neglected to do for parts of last season. Besides having starter Travis Henry back, Buffalo's ground game should be bolstered with a healthy Willis McGahee, the first-round draft pick who missed his rookie season last year recovering from a knee injury.

While Bledsoe's place as the Bills' starter remains intact, questions have surfaced about how long he will keep that job.

Bledsoe is coming off his worst full season as a pro. He finished with 2,860 yards passing with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

The Bills also have begun making plans for a future without Bledsoe. The team gave up its first-round pick in next year's draft to trade up and select in April's first round quarterback J.P. Losman, who had a strong finish to Wednesday's mini-camp session with some impressive throws.

Bills president Tom Donahoe continues to back Bledsoe.

Earlier this week, during an hour-long interview on Buffalo's WGR Radio, Donahoe said: "I never felt that Drew's skills were diminishing."

"He didn't play well and in many cases we didn't help him," Donahoe added. "But as far as his ability to get back, throw the ball, make the throws, read the defense, we felt that the skill level was still there. ..."

In Detroit. ... As Detroit News staffer Jerry Green framed it, "Rookie runners have figured prominently in the Lions' history for years. Barry Sanders, Mel Farr, Billy Sims, Altie Taylor and Steve Owens, when he wasn't injured, excelled in the Lions' backfield when they were first-year players.

"Now Kevin Jones, a first-round draftee, is figured to be the starting running back in his first pro season."

But according to Green, Artose Pinner has issued a challenge for training camp.

"I know first-round picks usually get priority," Pinner was quoted as saying in the Lexington Herald-Leader, "but I've been around for a year and am familiar with the system."

The Lions drafted Pinner, who ran for 1,414 yards his senior season at Kentucky, was drafted in the fourth round last year. He had been ticketed as a possible first-rounder until he broke his leg at the Senior Bowl. The injury kept him inactive with the Lions until the final weeks of the 2003 season.

"If you're a competitor, you want every rep," Pinner told the Lexington newspaper. "But if it's a situation where you've got two good backs, at least you know you'll be put to use."

Also according to Green, Mikhael Ricks played hard and well for two seasons at tight end for the Lions. But with the addition of free-agent veteran Stephen Alexander to an overloaded group of tight ends, Ricks was deemed too expensive.

The Lions gave him a permission to seek a trade after the signing of Alexander. No trade materialized. So last weekend the Lions released him, a victim of the NFL's salary-cap limitations.

The Lions gained about $1 million in maneuvering room under the cap.

They have younger Casey Fitzsimmons and John Owens to back up Alexander and play in two-tight end alignments.

According to ESPN.com insider Len Pasquarelli, Ricks is generating considerable interest as a free agent. Still a very good receiver, Ricks, the Lions' second-leading receiver last season with 37 catches for 434 yards, has visited with Green Bay and New York Jets executives.

Washington initially indicated some interest but seems to have backed off a bit.


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