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Backs Latta, Wright look for openings


If they posted odds on new players winning spots on the final 37-man roster of the Baltimore Football Club, running backs Willie Latta and Chris Wright, who have looked impressive in training camp, would be strictly long shots.

Baltimore has the league's most productive runner in Mike Pringle, and veterans Robert Drummond and Peter Tuipuloto, two versatile backs with pass-catching skills.

"Latta and Wright are both excellent football players, but we happen to have a lot of depth at that position, so it's going to be tough for them to make it," said coach Don Matthews. "But they'll get a chance to show their stuff in our [exhibition] game with Ottawa Saturday."

Their best hope is to win a job as a kick returner, and both Latta and Wright exhibited the ability in college to break free for long runs.

Wright, a rookie from Georgia Southern, holds the school record for longest kickoff return (96 yards) and punt return (85), while compiling more than 2,000 total yards in his last two seasons.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound speedster had earlier tryouts with Ottawa and Memphis, but accepted an invitation from Baltimore assistant general manager Jim Popp after a tryout camp.

"I just like my chances with Baltimore better," said Wright. "I like the way they utilize the tailback. I think my type of game is compatible to Pringle's."

Those words were echoed by Latta, who set a school record at Winston-Salem College by returning six punts for touchdowns of 50 yards or better. In the past two years, he has played sparingly in the Arena Football League due to knee problems, but since undergoing surgery has returned to form.

"I used to run the 40 in 4.3, but I can still do a 4.4," Latta said. "My speed and cutting ability is well-suited to the Canadian League style. I've been watching Pringle closely, and picking up some of his moves. But I can't read the coaches' minds. I'm just working as hard as I can every day to prove I'm worth keeping around."

Unscheduled bout

The first fight of training camp spiced yesterday's spirited two-hour workout. Guard John Earle and defensive end Grant Carter exchanged punches and wrestled for several minutes before order was restored.

"Fights are part of training camp," Matthews said. "It helped pick up the tempo of today's practice."

No blues singer

Matthews said his present roster is "better and deeper" than his 1994 squad that made it to the Grey Cup.

"Last year, we took a shotgun approach, matching skills to positions," he said. "This year we were able to restrict our scouting to specific type players.

"We've got good starters and backups at every position, strength and speed where it's needed. I don't cry the blues. I have high expectations for this team."

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