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These 11 Appear Ready to Step Out of Shadows

OK, so Doug Gabriel wasn’t perfect this summer.

The Oakland Raider receiver -- a second-year player who looks to be on the verge of a breakout season -- made three long touchdown receptions through three exhibition games, but all of them were thrown by Kerry Collins. Seeing as how Rich Gannon probably is going to be the team’s starting quarterback this season, Gabriel was buttering up the wrong guy.

What’s a little thraux pas among friends?

Otherwise, Gabriel has been the Raiders’ unexpected August blockbuster. Before this weekend’s games, he led the league with 238 yards receiving in exhibitions and has averaged 56 yards on his three scoring catches. He’ll be Oakland’s third receiver, and he’s making the Raiders feel a lot better about letting go of Tim Brown.

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Ten other players who, judging by the way they’ve looked lately, could be ready to say so long to anonymity:

Steven Jackson, running back, St. Louis -- Although he was projected by many to be a top-10 pick, Jackson fell to 24th in last spring’s draft, and already he’s looking like a steal. He led the league with 323 yards rushing during the exhibition season. It’s only a matter of time before he’s splitting time in the backfield with Marshall Faulk, who has undergone two knee surgeries in the last 11 months.

Tyrone Calico, wide receiver, Tennessee -- Calico has proved he can make spectacular leaping catches. Now, we’ll see how well he bounces back. He had arthroscopic knee surgery this week and will sit out the Sept. 12 opener at Miami. That might come as some relief to the Dolphins because Calico has been outstanding this summer and leads the Titans in receptions.

Will Poole, cornerback, Miami -- Poole probably will be the fourth cornerback this season, a guy used primarily in dime packages, but the former USC standout has had a great summer. He has forced more fumbles at camp than any other Dolphin, and he seems to make at least one big play every practice.

Javon Walker, wide receiver, Green Bay -- The Packers are expecting big things from Walker, their best deep threat since Antonio Freeman. He showed a knack for getting behind secondaries last season, was third on the team with 41 receptions and averaged 17.5 yards a catch, better than every Packer but Don Beebe, 17.9, in the previous 15 seasons.

Shaun Rogers, defensive tackle, Detroit -- Rogers is a very good run stopper, especially when he keeps his weight under control, and he reportedly showed up at camp in good shape for the second consecutive summer. A second-round pick in 2001, he started every game as a rookie, then went through a sophomore slump that had the Lions shopping him around for a trade. Nobody was interested. That seemed to inspire him, and he has been a better player since.

Lee Suggs, running back, Cleveland -- The Browns love this guy. When it comes to vision and instincts, he’s miles ahead of William Green. Suggs was expected to be taken as high as the late first round in 2003, but talk of a nagging shoulder injury surfaced the day of the draft and he fell to the fourth round. He’s very quiet, almost whispers when he speaks, but he should make noise with his numbers.

Madieu Williams, cornerback, Cincinnati -- The Bengals got the second-round pick they used on Williams as part of the Corey Dillon trade to New England. A former safety at Maryland, Williams is making the unusual move to pro cornerback -- it usually goes the other way -- and has shown he has the speed to make the transition. He’s very bright and he’s strong against the run.

Josh McCown, quarterback, Arizona -- McCown started three games last season and threw the winning touchdown pass in a stunning, last-second victory over Minnesota, knocking the Vikings out of the playoffs. Dennis Green knows how to develop quarterbacks and should be able to mold this kid -- as long as the Cardinals can get some sound receivers on the field.

Justin Gage, wide receiver, Chicago -- With Marty Booker now in Miami, Gage is the Bears’ best downfield threat. He’s a former Missouri basketball player who has the ability to battle for jump-ball passes and is faster than a lot of people think. If the Bears have big-play capability, which is debatable, Gage is the guy most likely to be making those plays.

Lee Evans, wide receiver, Buffalo -- Everybody in Buffalo might be talking about Willis McGahee, but Evans has a lot of potential too. He runs crisp routes and is fast enough to help loosen the coverage for Eric Moulds. The nagging questions about Evans concern his size -- 5 feet 10, 197 pounds -- and whether he’s strong enough to shed bump coverage at the line of scrimmage.

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If the NFL wants to get back in Pasadena’s good graces, the league had better do some fence mending.

The Pasadena folks were none too pleased last week when, just days after they’d unveiled their new Rose Bowl designs, they learned the NFL had been quietly courting Anaheim for about a month.

And to think the Pasadena City Council was just about over the snub of two years earlier, when the league dropped the news it had been two-timing with Carson all along.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard has been iffy for a while now on the NFL’s putting a team in a reconfigured Rose Bowl, and not just because his wife, Claire, is among the most influential historic preservationists in town.

“I just worry that it would be a continuing pressure on a city of 140,000 persons, to be dealing with an organization that is recognized throughout the nation as powerful and hard-dealing, and with an unrelenting emphasis on the bottom line,” Bogaard said.

Bogaard, who counts as one more vote on a city council that largely is in favor of continuing its relationship with the league, said he didn’t advocate an immediate change in the council’s pro-NFL stance.

“But from the beginning,” he said, “I’ve had reservations about the compatibility of the NFL and the Arroyo Seco.”

Investment banker John Moag, point man for the Rose Bowl project, said he understood the concerns of both Bogaard and the league.

“Mayor Bogaard’s concerns have been voiced in the past, and they’re shared by others,” Moag said. “The bottom line is, those concerns are not going to be addressed until we have a definitive agreement with the NFL. Then, the proof will be in the pudding.

“We objectively understand that if you’re going to be spending a half-billion dollars in a community, you need to keep your options open.

“In that light, the league’s looking at other sites is totally understandable.”

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Elton John, Mary J. Blige, the Boston Pops and Toby Keith will perform at Gillette Stadium for the “NFL Opening Kickoff Show” Thursday on ABC at the season opener between the Colts and Patriots.

Lenny Kravitz will be performing too. No word yet on whether he’ll have his touring buddy, the recently retired Ricky Williams, in tow.

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One team in serious need of a stadium upgrade is the San Francisco 49ers, whose Candlestick Park lease is up after the 2007 season but who almost certainly could break the lease immediately because of the decrepit condition of the crumbling venue.

About six years ago, the city scrubbed its plans to build a stadium-mall, and the commitment of a $100-million bond for a new home for the 49ers has long since expired.

John York, who owns the team with his wife, Denise DeBartolo-York, recently has been in lease discussions with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and the club is committed to spending about $4 million on immediate stadium upgrades, with the promise of getting that money back on future rent credits.

But the uncertain stadium situation raises the specter that -- strange as it sounds -- the team could eventually leave the city that has embraced it so tightly all these years.

Former owner Eddie DeBartolo was asked whether he thought the 49ers could wind up in Los Angeles.

“Their lease is up, let me put it that way,” he said, leaving the rest to interpretation.

Asked how San Francisco would react to losing the team, DeBartolo said, “It’s not my business, it’s not my team, I can’t speculate. But I think it would be worse than devastating.”

Messy as things might get when it comes to getting a new stadium built in the Bay Area, though, don’t bet on anyone ever uprooting the 49ers.


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