Training camp is dominated by second-chance stories. Few, however, are as unlikely as the one quarterback Quincy Carter is living in San Antonio with the Dallas Cowboys this summer.
Carter started the first seven games for the Cowboys last season. On Oct. 20, he threw four interceptions in a 9-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. To punctuate the dreadful performance, he engaged in a shouting match with team owner Jerry Jones afterward. Carter not only was benched for Chad Hutchinson the next week, but his career in Dallas also appeared to be over.
One coaching change later, Carter has a shot at beating out Hutchinson for the starting job. New coach Bill Parcells swept Carter's 2002 mistakes out the door with the rest of the debris when he took over.
Parcells, who replaced Dave Campo, said the quarterback job was up for grabs at the start of camp. Even though Hutchinson got a $3.1 million signing bonus a year ago, Parcells is intrigued with Carter's athleticism.
"I wouldn't call it a rebirth because I was never dead," Carter said. "But it feels good to have a clean slate. I can't worry about last year. I can only learn from it. But I hoped to get an opportunity to be a starter again. That was my dream. I've just got to make the most of it."
In 15 starts (6-9 record) over two seasons, Carter has completed 54.2 percent of his passes and rushed for 241 yards. Hutchinson completed 50.8 percent in nine starts (2-7) last year.
"I don't pay attention to what everybody says about a player's past," Parcells said. "That is the worst thing you can do as a coach, come in here and listen to previous emotions about players. You just need to know [that a] player is looking for an opportunity or something new or something different, because all of a sudden you may have a different guy."
Sweating out camp
Avoiding heat-related illness in the dog days of training camp is a difficult task, even with all the precautions NFL teams take. The Jacksonville Jaguars sent two defensive tackles, Larry Smith and John Henderson, to the hospital with heat illness last week, a situation that had new coach Jack Del Rio defending his practices. Both players have since returned to work.
"In the body of practice, we're not overdoing it with our team," Del Rio said. "This is as scaled back a full practice as there is in the entire league."
Indeed, the Jaguars have scheduled only seven two-a-day sessions for the whole camp, along with nine afternoon special team practices. They even brought in portable lights to facilitate night practices. And newly signed defensive end Hugh Douglas, who played last year with the Philadelphia Eagles, described the atmosphere this way: "It's not like being in Philly. It's so laid-back here, it's ridiculous."
Del Rio's mistake apparently was suiting out the team in a full pad practice the second day of camp. Under former coach Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars didn't go full pads until the third day.
Marvin Lewis and Dennis Erickson, new coaches in Cincinnati and San Francisco, have their teams hitting more in camp, and the results are noticeable.
Under Lewis, the Bengals are in better shape and practices are more crisp than in recent years. Lewis draws the line at scuffles after the whistle, however. Asked how he maintains discipline without impeding aggressiveness, he said, "Pat them on the back and tell them to go back to the huddle and knock their head off on the next play."
Erickson has emphasized the physical aspect with his defense. He doesn't allow tackling to the ground, but defenders are encouraged to deliver a straight-ahead pop.
"This has typically been an offensive organization," 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. said. "Dennis brings a defensive mentality. He loves great defense - just look at his Miami teams and his Oregon State teams. Although he is an offensive coach, he takes pride in having tough, physical, aggressive defenses."
The Chicago Bears want to tap into the improvisational element of quarterback Kordell Stewart's game. Offensive coordinator John Shoop has installed a handful of quarterback running plays and also brought back pass plays with moving pockets and a pass-run option. The pass plays had been part of the offense, but were de-emphasized the past two years with Jim Miller and Shane Matthews at quarterback.
"If nobody's open, he doesn't have to throw the football away," Shoop said of Stewart. "That's when his creative ability, his innate athletic ability, will take over. It's something you've seen with Rich Gannon and Donovan McNabb, and it makes it easier to call plays on third down."
Around the league
The Denver Broncos' experiment of using Jason Elam as both kicker and punter was aborted. Coach Mike Shanahan fears that because Elam has a three-step "sidewinding" approach to a punt, he is liable to get hurt and the team would have to replace him at two spots instead of just one. ... Trying to come back from a torn Achilles' tendon, and after the death of his 5-year-old son, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer is now sidelined with a pulled muscle in his rib cage. ... Former Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram will listen to his own induction speech when he goes into the Hall of Fame today. Stram, 80, taped his speech with NFL Films. It was to be played over the public-address system with an accompanying video once he is introduced by former Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson. ... Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, the fifth pick in the draft, was working as the third-team left corner last week. His additional duty was fetching water for Parcells during practice. ... The Green Bay Packers want to insert running back Najeh Davenport into the offense to help spell Ahman Green. The 250-pound Davenport rushed for 157 yards in two games against the Detroit Lions when Green was hurt last year. ... The New England Patriots drafted Dan Klecko as a nose tackle, but the team also has tried him at outside linebacker, insider linebacker and at tackle in the four-man front nickel defense.
Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.