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Batch, back home, now backs up

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002

To say this will be an adjustment season for Charlie Batch would be an understatement. For the first time in years, Batch is the clear second-string quarterback and, barring something unforeseen, will ride the bench for the season.

That is the downside to Batch signing with the Steelers. He goes in knowing he's not competing for the starting job, but is being counted on to back up Kordell Stewart, who is coming off one of his best seasons.

The upside is that being in Pittsburgh puts Batch closer to his hometown of Homestead, Pa.

"Things simply felt right about Pittsburgh," said Batch, who turned down more lucrative offers to play in Pittsburgh.

Still, the prospect of spending the season on the sideline isn't comforting to Batch. In fact, he is adamant about being a starter again. He likely will get the chance because his contract with the Steelers is for one season, after which he could be a hot free agent. "I certainly don't see this as being the way I'll be remembered," he said. "The goal has always been about being a starter and that hasn't changed. This should be a real interesting year for me, but it doesn't change my mind-set, not at all. The timing this year, being released in June, didn't work out for me. Next year, I think, there will be a lot more (starting job) opportunities."

ALL HAIL THE CHIEF: Tight end Tony Gonzalez must be driving Chiefs management crazy with this latest announcement he is going to try out for the NBA's Miami Heat next month.

Chiefs officials have been saying they aren't worried about their standout tight end getting injured playing hoops, but the thought of him banging bodies with the likes of Alonzo Mourning must have them on pins and needles. That's not even counting Gonzalez is in a contract dispute with the team.

"It's a pretty big deal," Gonzalez said of plans to attend the Heat's tryout camp in early July, which might conflict with the start of Chiefs training camp. "Not only am I staying in shape, which is preparing me for football, but I'm out there doing something I love to do, playing basketball, and I'm also exploring the possibility of trying to play both sports and be the first person to do it.

"I'm not going to let basketball interfere with football. If I happen to get a contract signed (with the Chiefs), I would leave the Heat right away and show up and get football started."

ALL EYES ON THEM: Training camps open late next month, but perhaps none will be more watched than the Vikings camp, which starts July 26 at Minnesota State University.

It will be one year since the training camp death of offensive lineman Korey Stringer. The team plans to put players through a conditioning test after the first practice at training camp.

HOME COOKING: If quarterback Cade McNown revitalizes his career in San Francisco it won't be by coincidence.

McNown played high school ball in the bay area and former UCLA coach Terry Donahue, who lured McNown to the Bruins, is the 49ers general manager.

"Hey, it's worth a try, right?" Donahue said of the team signing McNown, who bombed in Chicago and Miami partly because of a bad attitude.

JUST WAIT UNTIL THE FIRST BLIZZARD: Drew Bledsoe may or may not perform as well in Buffalo as he did in New England. But the quarterback is at least enjoying himself so far with the Bills.

"The process happened pretty quickly for me, really in a very short time that I started to feel like this is where I belong," he said. "Would I have been as comfortable this quickly had I gone to another organization? I can't say, but I don't think so.

"This organization, this situation, this community, this team seems to be a good fit."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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