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Saints pleased with Howard

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


The Tampa Bay area's ability to produce baseball talent is well-known. Now its football products are beginning to shine in the NFL.

Boca Ciega's Darren Howard is the latest to step out. The New Orleans rookie is looking like a steal as a second-round pick out of Kansas State. He's recorded three sacks and 14 tackles, second most among the team's defensive linemen.

The league named the 6-3, 281-pound Howard NFC defensive rookie of the month, and Saints coaches are raving about the 23-year-old's maturity and toughness. Word out of New Orleans is that Howard should be a fixture with the Saints for years.

Another making big strides is former Tampa Catholic standout Darrell Jackson. The 22-year-old Seattle receiver's statistics rank among the best of the rookies. His 235 yards are second to Kansas City's Sylvester Morris and Cincinnati's Peter Warrick. And his 16.8 yards a catch are the best among rookies.

DILLON ON THE DEFENSE: It's rare for an NFL player to speak out about legal problems before the court rules on the case, but Bengals running back Corey Dillon did just that last week with a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter.

Dillon tried to set the record straight about his arrest for domestic violence for an incident involving wife Desiree in August. He insists he was defending himself.

"I'm in the car," Dillon said. "We're on our way to get our daughter (20 months) from her mother's house. We get halfway down the block, and she hit me several times. I put my hand up to keep from being hit, and she accidentally gets hit in the mouth. If that's assault, if that's domestic violence, I'm sorry. I didn't intentionally hit her.

"I didn't ball my fist up. I never reached back open-handed and hit her. Let's just be honest. My wife's 135 (pounds). I'm 225. I get hit every Sunday by people way bigger than her. What kind of satisfaction am I going to get out of hitting my wife? None whatsoever. And look at it this way: If I'm going to intentionally hit my wife, and God forbid that thought even comes to mind, there's going to be some serious damage."

Dillon has a long juvenile record, and he says he became a born-again Christian on Easter 1998. He spent about 45 minutes explaining what he said happened in the case, and why and how he is a Christian.

"I was baptized, and when that happens, you become a new creature. All that past stuff, that's not me. If I wasn't the person I am today, I couldn't handle this. I would have lost my mind. "God, why is this happening to me?' But I'm a strong person, and I've been through stuff like this before. And I refuse to let something like this dictate or ruin my future."

The case has been continued until Nov. 1.

NO D IN DENVER: The Broncos were picked by many to bounce back from a disappointing 6-10 campaign in 1999. The offense has done its part, but the defense is lagging.

The Broncos have been victimized by big plays and strategic changes. The Patriots scored 28 points last week by letting Drew Bledsoe throw more than he had in New England's first four games. Bledsoe came into that game with three touchdown passes in four games. He left Mile High Stadium with four more, including a 44-yarder to Troy Brown.

"We were giving up big play after big play through preseason and now in the regular season," coach Mike Shanahan said. "For us to be the team we can be, and want to be, we have to eliminate those mistakes."

Some of those mistakes came from a defense that was unprepared for what it ran up against on game day.

"Take for instance this past game against the Patriots," safety Billy Jenkins said. "They lined up with a receiver in the backfield. They hadn't shown that against anybody else the whole year long. We hadn't practiced how to line up against that, specifically with our extra cornerback in. It caught us off guard, and we had guys looking all around, going, "What do we do?' It's situations like that.

"That's one problem. Another one is missed assignments and missed tackles. We just have the whole spectrum." BAY TO BAY: While the San Francisco Bay area baseball teams were trying to take a bite out of the Big Apple this weekend, the football teams meet for Golden Gate bragging rights. Players fron San Francisco and Oakland are minimizing the rivalry because this is only eighth time since 1970 the teams have played.

But for Raiders coach Jon Gruden the game is about family. Father Jim Gruden is the southeast region scout for the 49ers. Gruden said last week that he expected to talk with his father, but was certain the Raiders and 49ers would not be mentioned:

"We'll talk about my three boys. Everything else is off-limits."

BLAMING KORDELL: Steelers quarterback (Kordell Stewart) has been the scapegoat for all of Pittsburgh's woes, but since the start of the 1998 season, the Steelers have won 14 games and Stewart has started 13 of those. Pittsburgh is 1-7 in the other games.

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

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