Hard as it is to fathom for those who know him, Mike Pringle has turned up his level of intensity with the Baltimore Football Club this summer.
Considering he arrived here a year ago in a deep funk, with an indelible scowl, after a one-sided trade from the Sacramento Gold Miners, this seems almost impossible.
Except it's true, by all accounts except his own.
Pringle denies it, of course. But the people who see him every day in training camp know. There is a difference, however slight, in his approach.
"He is very, very intense," said coach Don Matthews. "If he can be any more intense, then I think may be he is."
Offensive coordinator Steve Buratto left no doubt: "I think he's more intense in his preparation, more intense in his practice habits. He really is striving to repeat what he did last year. He's doing things better than last year."
Pringle's body language this summer seemed to say his career year in 1994 -- when he set Canadian Football League records in rushing (1,972 yards) and scrimmage yards (2,414) -- was no fluke. His work habits suggest that if there is any way to repeat last season, he will find it.
Tonight at Miami's Orange Bowl, Pringle will show his game face to the first-year Birmingham Barracudas. In Baltimore's final tuneup before next week's season opener against the B.C. Lions, he expects to play three quarters.
"Hopefully, my work habits will spill over to games," said Pringle, who ran out every carry at full speed -- and 30 yards beyond where most backs stop -- in training camp.
Pringle was the ramrod in Baltimore's Grey Cup run last season. He was voted the Most Outstanding Player in the Eastern Division. He was unanimous first team All-CFL. He led the league with 3,228 all-purpose yards, and Baltimore was 8-0 when he rushed for 100 yards.
"It made a statement to me," said Pringle, a sixth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons. "I always knew I could do this. It wasn't a surprise to me. I'm just happy I was given the opportunity to do it. Some other people's eyes may have been opened."
Matthews said he wants to spell Pringle more this season with Robert Drummond. Last year, Pringle averaged 17 carries and 109.6 yards a game, including the season opener when he ran only once for 4 yards. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in midseason and missed the first playoff game with a strained groin.
Buratto said he thinks it's realistic for Pringle to rush for 1,300 to 1,500 yards this season, assuming he avoids injury. "There's no question he'll get 1,000," Buratto said.
In Pringle's preseason, he has worked at making defensive reads quicker, and his teammates have noticed.
"I see him trying to make better reads on the cutback lanes," said tackle Neal Fort. "Now he's trying to run downhill instead of ++ through people."
Said Buratto: "He's able to concentrate on the finer points of the position, [like] where he's taking the ball and on reading defenses."
As good a season as Pringle had last year, it wasn't enough to get him the new contract he had hoped for. "We explored the possibilities, but nothing came of it," he said.
In the option year of a contract that paid him $42,500 in 1994, Pringle, 27, wouldn't say if he still holds NFL aspirations.
But it seems clear he is motivated to produce another monster year in the CFL. When he went home to Mission Hills, Calif., near Los Angeles, at the end of the season, he was gratified to learn the news of his success had spread west.
"A lot of people knew about the amount of yards I got and about this Baltimore team getting to the Grey Cup," Pringle said. "I had more exposure than I thought. It was nice other people noticed."
BALTIMORE-BIRMINGHAM EXHIBITION TONIGHT
Site: Orange Bowl, Miami
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)
Last week: Baltimore beat the Ottawa Rough Riders, 45-11; Birmingham lost to the Shreveport Pirates, 31-28.
Outlook: Quarterback Tracy Ham, held out of the exhibition opener, is scheduled to play the first three quarters and backup Shawn Jones the fourth for Baltimore. That could change if the coaches think Ham needs more work. On defense, Lester Smith will try to win the starting free safety job. Also to be determined is who starts at strong-side end. Greg Tucker, who missed last week's game, will play the first half, and Grant Carter and Jock Jones will split the second. Birmingham is expected to use Reggie Slack and Jimmy Klingler at quarterback; veteran Matt Dunigan will sit out with a hairline fracture of his right index finger. Even without Dunigan, Birmingham's offense out-gained Shreveport's, 406-333, in its first game.
Baltimore vs. Birmingham
Site: Orange Bowl, Miami
When: 7:30 tonight
TV: Ch. 54
Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)