On his first day of minicamp with the Washington Redskins last month, newcomer Shar Pourdanesh traded words, shoves and ultimately punches with flinty veteran Sterling Palmer.
If first impressions are lasting, Pourdanesh, a first-year offensive tackle in the NFL, left an indelible image in the mind of general manager Charley Casserly during combative pass protection drills that day.
"Sterling is a tough son-of-a-gun," Casserly said. "Shar didn't back down. He had a look in his eye you wouldn't want to see."
It was the obsessive look of a man determined not to squander this opportunity, as he did once before.
Cut by the Cleveland Browns in training camp three years ago, Pourdanesh took a two-year tour of duty with Baltimore's Canadian Football League team, where he met instant success. He was voted the Most Outstanding Lineman in the CFL as a rookie in 1994. A year later, he helped the Stallions win the Grey Cup championship.
When Redskins training camp starts next month, Pourdanesh will try to prove himself all over again at age 26. He is one of 12 Stallions who found spots on NFL rosters since the CFL season ended. His is the siren call for the Stallions' Dirty Dozen.
"I want to show that I'm for real," Pourdanesh said, "and that the CFL isn't a joke."
From a team that technically no longer exists -- the Stallions moved to Montreal and renamed themselves the Alouettes in the wake of the Browns' shift to Baltimore last spring -- 12 players represent nearly one-third of the team's roster.
Among those signing were record-setting running back Mike Pringle with the Denver Broncos, linebacker O. J. Brigance with the Miami Dolphins, defensive back Charles Anthony with the San Francisco 49ers, place-kicker Carlos Huerta with the Chicago Bears and punter Josh Miller with the Seattle Seahawks.
"Usually, the CFL will produce that many from all its teams," said Bob Ackles, director of football operations for the Dolphins and former executive with the CFL British Columbia Lions.
"It says they managed to scout and sign some pretty good players who won the championship for them, guys who maybe can't play in the NFL but will get onto NFL rosters [for camp]."
It is a number inflated by the laws of supply and demand, as well as timing and economics. Nine of the 12 players had one-year contracts with an option year; those contracts expired with the Grey Cup victory.
CFL saved Pourdanesh
Expansion helped, too. CFL expansion in the United States gave American players such as Pourdanesh a new life. That increased the supply of talent. NFL expansion in 1995 created the demand. For the NFL, it became an inexpensive pool from which to replenish rosters.
"Without the CFL, Shar is out of football," Casserly said.
Given his new life, Pourdanesh is positioned well to make Washington's opening-day roster. He was bound for London to play in the World League last March when he signed a one-year contract with the Redskins, who were about to lose injury-hampered tackle Jim Lachey to retirement.
Pourdanesh, up to 320 pounds from his CFL weight of 275, will challenge Joe Patton for the starting left tackle job. Casserly on Pourdanesh's chances: "He's big enough, physical enough and mean enough. I like his potential."
Broncos need pounder
Of the Stallions' other signees, those with the best chances appear to be Pringle, Anthony, Huerta, Miller and perhaps Brigance.
Pringle, who rushed for 3,763 yards the past two seasons, was set to sign with the Oakland Raiders when the Broncos intervened. Denver wants him to replace Glyn Milburn as kick returner and back up Terrell Davis at tailback. Although Pringle, 28, is vying for Milburn's job, his role would be different.
"Mike's not going to catch the ball out of the backfield," said Gary Kubiak, Broncos offensive coordinator. "He's a more physical-type runner. If Terrell goes out, we want to be able to continue to pound the ball in there. His chances are very good."
Brigance fits scheme
Brigance, 6 feet and 220 pounds, has his best shot with Miami because new coach Jimmy Johnson's scheme uses small, quick linebackers. Brigance said he must be a "special teams terror" and play well on defense when he gets the chance.
"There are some doubts, but I have confidence in my ability," Brigance, 26, said. "I knew I'd be capable of playing in the NFL with the right opportunity."
The salary cap will play a role in who stays, too, especially with the Stallions' two kickers. Miller seems a lock to win the job in Seattle after the Seahawks paid Montreal $80,000 to buy out the third year of his CFL contract. Counting a $17,500 signing bonus they gave Miller, that's an up-front commitment of $97,500.
Miller's two-year deal is worth a total of $338,000 with incentives of up to $120,000 each year. That spells trouble for incumbent Rick Tuten, who led the AFC with a 45.0 average last season and made more than $500,000 with incentives.
Tuten became a free agent in the off-season. Once the Seahawks signed Miller, they reduced their offer sheet to Tuten.
Miller, who led the CFL with an average punt of 47.7 last year, said four NFL teams wanted to work him out, but only the Seahawks were willing to meet Montreal's price.
"I thought I was going to Montreal," he said. "It's a business, and the absolute bottom line is I walked into their office [the Stallions'] and signed for three years. I had to honor that contract."
Huerta was not so encumbered. A free agent, he turned down an offer from the Kansas City Chiefs -- who had released Lin Elliott -- to sign with the Chicago Bears, who have Kevin Butler. Decisive factors were a signing bonus and a history with Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, an assistant at the University of Miami when Huerta was there.
Huerta got a $75,000 signing bonus on a three-year contract that will average $218,000 per year. He will have to beat out Butler, who made $575,000 last season off his base salary and signing bonus. Butler no longer kicks off for the Bears.
"The contract symbolized they were taking me very seriously," Huerta said. "They're looking to improve on that position, whether Kevin improves or someone else does."
K.C. likes CFL prospects
The Chiefs have led the way on CFL signings. Mark Hatley, Kansas City's director of pro personnel, plumbed the CFL for two starters (defensive end Vaughn Booker and receiver Tamarick Vanover) in recent years, and will bring in four more candidates this summer. Among them is Baltimore lineman Robert Davis, an excellent long snapper who needs work on his short snaps.
"Baltimore had one of the better programs in the CFL," Hatley said. "They did an excellent job of scouting. That's the reason they won the thing -- because they had good players."
Pourdanesh, who still lives in Baltimore, sounded sentimental about his time with the Stallions.
"That team will always be in my heart," he said. "I get chills when I go through my album and look at pictures of the guys. I don't know if the people in Baltimore knew what they had, or cared. But it was something special. I'm very proud of that."
Pub Date: 6/21/96