© St. Petersburg Times, published August 11, 2002
The Rams can't stop talking about the improvement of Zephyrhills High product Ryan Pickett, a faceless defensive lineman a year ago who has become the talk of their training camp.
"I'm excited for him, very excited for him," coach Mike Martz said, "because he's made the most progress of any football player I've ever been involved with in my coaching career."
Pickett, a first-round draft pick in 2001, reportedly was out of shape and slightly overweight during the Rams' run to the Super Bowl last season. But he worked relentlessly in the offseason and came into camp playing better than ever.
"This year, I was in better shape, and just ready to learn," Pickett said. "Now, I have the confidence to do things, and I'm doing them."
Pickett has been especially impressive in one-on-one blocking drills, often beating would-be blockers. He has been working with the first unit lately.
"It's a day-and-night difference compared to last year at this time," said Rams defensive line coach Bill Kollar, who played for the Bucs on the same line as Lee Roy Selmon from 1977-81. "Of course, you hope that he can keep going. But he's really improved his pass-rush techniques. He's playing stouter. He's totally different than he was last year at this time."
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: From Giants linebacker Micheal Barrow, talking about the lick rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey delivered in the preseason opener Monday against the Texans: "I hate to say it because he's a rookie, and I don't want to say it too prematurely, but he is special."
TONY HEADED FOR TEXAS?: The word out of Dallas is the Cowboys are considering making a play to get disgruntled Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Chiefs claim they haven't been contacted by the Cowboys, but they also haven't done anything to squash the rumor.
"I would consider anything if the price is right," team president Carl Peterson said. "I doubt that it would be."
Gonzalez reportedly is seeking a long-term deal with a signing bonus in the $10-million range. The Chiefs supposedly are offering a one-year deal with an $8-million bonus.
BACK WITH A VENGEANCE?: Vikings receiver Randy Moss, who impressed observers with his offseason work, continues to dazzle. Moss has looked like his old self in training camp, making spectacular catches, and is being a model citizen.
He came into camp saying he planned to make up for his subpar season in 2001 and remains determined as ever. So far, he hasn't appeared to take plays off.
"He's been unbelievable, hasn't he?" receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "I mean, in just everything. All around. He's catching the ball so well. I really think he's focused. I really do."
DID YOU KNOW?: Apparently, Candlestick Park isn't going to get a new name any time soon.
After the stadium's naming rights contract with 3Com expired, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors turned down a proposal to sell the stadium's naming rights to another corporation, calling the facility "our modern day coliseum."
WAS IT SOMETHING HE SAID?: Vikings coach Mike Tice already is winning fans in Minnesota. After his car was towed from a parking lot while he went to buy chicken wings for the team, fans came to his aid, pitching in to pay his $60 fine, plus the $10 he paid a teen to drive him to his car.
Hmm, wonder if the fans would have done the same for Dennis Green?
TALKING THE TALK: The Cardinals like what they've seen from their offense in training camp. They are promising to do daring things in daring situations.
"You can't play scared. This is going to be an attacking offense," offensive coordinator Rich Olson said. "Everybody is so much more confident because they've been in this offense a year now. Plus, we've got some weapons."
STILL GOING: The talk in Dallas is about Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith's plans to go after that magic rushing mark. No, not Walter Payton's all-time record, which is 540 yards away. Rather, the 20,000-yard career rushing mark.
If and when Smith passes Payton's record, he'll be 3,273 yards from 20,000 and Smith thinks he'll play long enough to make a run at it.
"People want to know, "What's next?' What's next is I'm not ready to quit," said Smith, 33. "I don't think about leaving the game. I don't think about quitting or retiring. I think about (20,000)."
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.