When the CFL Colts open training camp at Towson State on Friday, offensive tackle Karl Nieberlein will at least be familiar with the territory.
A four-year starter at Towson State who was passed over in last month's NFL draft, Nieberlein signed a one-year contract, with an option year, to play for Baltimore's Canadian Football League expansion team.
"It'll be a lot more comfortable being here at home," Nieberlein, 6 feet 5 and 280 pounds, said yesterday.
His signing was one of four announced by the club, bringing the roster to 100 players. Also signed were cornerback Karl Anthony, a free agent who started the past three years for the Calgary Stampeders; free safety Michael Brooks, who played for the Dallas Cowboys in 1990; and former Georgia Tech quarterback Shawn Jones.
Nieberlein is the second Baltimore native to join the Colts. Punter Kirk Maggio of Calvert Hall and UCLA was the first. At Division I-AA Towson, Nieberlein was a third-team All-American last season, anchoring a line that gave up only four sacks.
"Because of his ability to maneuver and move, he should have a great opportunity there," Towson State coach Gordy Combs said of Nieberlein's CFL decision. "He has the capacity to be a 325-pounder. He's got a big frame and great feet."
Nieberlein's athletic resume includes a successful run as a high school basketball player for Mount St. Joseph's, where his father, Gene, served three decades as athletic director. Three of his four older brothers also played Division I basketball.
Still, the NFL passed on his potential. And when the New York Giants invited him to mini-camp recently, they passed again because his weight had dropped to 265. Now he says he's back in the 280 range.
"This will be a little easier transition for me," he said. "I'll get a year under my belt with pass blocking, put more weight on, get stronger and have better technique. The year after next, I can go for the NFL. The main point is to keep playing."
Anthony and Brooks further strengthen what is fast becoming an experienced defense for the Colts. Anthony had 14 interceptions in 52 games at Calgary, 11 coming in the last two seasons. He is the third CFL veteran added to the secondary, joining halfbacks Ken Watson, a free agent from Calgary also, and Enis Jackson, who was acquired in a trade with the Toronto Argonauts.
In other CFL developments yesterday:
* The Colts trimmed 74 aspiring cheerleaders to 32 semifinalists in a tryout. Another group of 32 will be chosen next week, and the team of 28 cheerleaders will be picked the following week.
* Team owner Jim Speros said he has decided to lease a 34-foot-by-49-foot JumboTron screen for this season. He will use the same JumboTron that was used at Pimlico for Saturday's Preakness. "It's one of the most significant things we've done in this renovation [of Memorial Stadium]," he said. "I went with a Cadillac."