Charger Camp : Fouts Optimistic About Return; Wilson Signs

Times Staff Writer

While Charger owner Alex Spanos was playing golf in Colorado Monday, Dan Fouts was playing quarterback.

He threw his hardest spirals of the year on the sideline before Monday's workout and said he thought he could return to practice as soon as this week.

But he'll have to pass his physical first. And then he'll have to give Spanos the password, which is: "I'd be happy to play under my current contract ($750,000 a year)."

In the meantime, Fouts, who has a sore lower back, said he is here trying to get ready to play.

"I think my actions speak for themselves," he said. "I'm preparing myself to play, and I'm waiting for the go ahead to take the field."

Fouts said he found out on the radio Monday morning that he'd been placed on the "physically unable to perform" list. Steve Ortmayer, the Charger director of football operations, said Fouts has been on that list since July 31 when he failed his physical.

But, apparently, no one told.

Ortmayer, who had two private visits with Fouts on Monday, explained: "Well, they (doctors) basically passed him on everything but his back. The doctors basically said, 'When your back is right, you pass the physical.' "

Fouts said most of the treatment he's getting involves aligning the lower back. When it's not properly aligned, he said, taking a direct hit could be dangerous.

"Every day I've seen him (throwing) out there, he's looked stronger and stronger," Coach Al Saunders said. "I hope (he can practice soon). I'd have liked to have seen him practicing last week."

Ortmayer said defensive end Earl Wilson signed a 1987 contract on Monday, but Wilson still did not show up at the afternoon practice or the defensive meetings later that night.

Still, Ortmayer expected Wilson to practice today.

Wilson was unavailable for comment Monday night.

A year ago, Wilson was fined approximately $3,400 during training camp because he couldn't get down to 275 pounds.

This year, defensive line coach Gunther Cunningham wants Wilson down to 280 pounds.

"That's the project," Cunningham said. "But I know one thing: Earl's got quick hands, quick feet and he's a nasty (guy)."

George Kalafaitis, the agent for unsigned linebacker Billy Ray Smith, said he spoke three different times Monday with Ortmayer, but no significant progress was made.

Kalafaitis had flown out to San Diego last week to negotiate with Ortmayer, but he said Ortmayer was tied up with the Fouts situation and couldn't give him much time.

Now, however, negotiations are speeding up. Kalafaitis said Smith's salary over the last four years averaged out to $500,000 a year, and he wants a substantial raise.

"We're just saying we want to go to a reasonable level from that point ($500,000)," Kalafaitis said. "We're not asking for an exceptional amount."

The only other unsigned veteran is starting inside linebacker Thomas Benson. Ortmayer said he was unable to reach Benson's agent, Jack Feldman, on Monday.

Saunders said of Benson: "Of those players that are not practicing, he's the one that needs the work more than anybody. And I'm certain that if he is not able to reach an accord soon, we'll have to go on with the feeling that he may very well not be here at all."

Saunders also said the Chargers are looking to "shore up" the inside linebacker position. He said a trade is always possible.

Charger Notes

Running back Barry Redden injured his right ankle Monday, but Saunders said it was a "mild sprain." Redden is expected to miss a day or two . . . Nose tackle Terry Unrein (knee) is out two or three days; punter Joe Prokop strained a quad muscle while warming up for last Saturday night's Dallas game, and his status is day-to-day.

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