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Seems as if We’ve Been Down This Path Before

Terrell Owens is causing problems? Of course he is.

Chicago is looking for a new starting quarterback? No news there.

Cincinnati can’t get its No. 1 pick into camp? Yawn.

With less than three weeks to go before the NFL opens its regular season, a lot of familiar headlines are resurfacing. For a league that prides itself on its unpredictability, the NFL is loaded with players and teams who seem to do the same thing -- good or bad -- year after year.

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Five news flashes from the when-will-they-learn file:

* Owens and the Philadelphia Eagles are starting fresh. That was the message out of team headquarters this week after the star receiver returned from his seven-day leave of absence. His outfit -- a camouflage get-up described by one reporter as a Beetle Bailey Halloween costume -- was only slightly less embarrassing than the male fan who showed up at the NovaCare complex wearing only a black thong and bra. In short, the circus has returned.

* Chicago is quarterback shopping. After passing on the chance to sign a veteran quarterback in the off-season, the Bears watched in horror as starter Rex Grossman suffered an ankle injury in an exhibition game against St. Louis. The injury required surgery and could keep him out three to four months. Add him to the long list of fallen or failed Bear quarterbacks. And consider this: During the time Brett Favre has started 189 consecutive games for division-rival Green Bay, the Bears have gone through 16 starting quarterbacks.

* Randy Moss’ mouth could get him in trouble. In the same week some Raider teammates proclaimed him a born leader, the star receiver went public with his penchant for smoking marijuana “every blue moon.” In an interview for HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” scheduled to air Tuesday night, Moss said: “I have used, you know, marijuana ... since I’ve been in the league. But as far as abusing it and, you know, letting it take control over me, I don’t do that, no.” Well, that should comfort the folks at league headquarters.

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* The New England Patriots are doomed. I’ve said it, and so have others. But the number-crunchers at STATS Inc. point out the Patriots have made some key moves since 2003 that have made all the difference. After finishing 31st in run defense in 2002, they traded for defensive tackle Ted Washington and improved to fourth on their way to winning the Super Bowl. In 2004, after finishing 27th in run offense in 2003, they traded for Corey Dillon and improved to seventh. The team’s most glaring statistical weakness from last season? A pass defense that finished 17th.

* Cincinnati has another first-year holdout. Why bother with training camp? David Pollack didn’t. The rookie linebacker, drafted 17th by the Bengals, didn’t sign until Thursday, missing all of the team’s 20 days in Georgetown, Ky. Pollack became the third of Cincinnati’s top picks in the last five years to stage a lengthy holdout, joining defensive end Justin Smith, who missed the entire camp in 2001, and running back Chris Perry, who missed the first 11 days of camp last summer.

*

The Baltimore Ravens have added a touch of gray to their color scheme. They’re hoping to get between 15 and 20 plays a game from their antique nickel-back tandem of Deion Sanders, 38, and Dale Carter, 35. What’s more, the Ravens are hoping to use Sanders as a slot receiver when they go to three wides.

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You’ll never catch Sanders complaining about the extra work.

“I’m not shy about my game,” he told reporters recently. “I know what my game consists of. That’s why you have the microphone in front of me, because I can make plays.”

So far this summer, he has proven that. He had two sacks in a recent scrimmage against Washington, and last Saturday had a sack and forced fumble against Michael Vick in an exhibition game against Atlanta.

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The most extreme makeover of the off-season happened in Kansas City, where the Chiefs have at least five new defensive starters: linebackers Kendrell Bell and Derrick Johnson, cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Ashley Ambrose, and safety Sammy Knight.

The team had to do something after another year of futility. The Chiefs ranked 31st in total defense last season and last against the pass. The change in defensive coordinators from Greg Robinson to Gunther Cunningham didn’t have the desired effect; Kansas City was slightly better against the run, worse against the pass, and rarely forced turnovers.

*

Once star players for the Tennessee Titans, Frank Wycheck and Eddie George are now media hacks. Wycheck is an analyst for the team’s flagship radio station; George is doing color commentary for a local affiliate airing the Titans’ exhibition games.

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A rather influential critic will be watching and listening to the broadcast replays.

“I’m going to have to hear how Eddie does,” Coach Jeff Fisher told reporters recently. “If Eddie’s critical of the team, then I’d lean to Frank. Because Frank is never going to say anything to upset this apple cart here.”

And why is that?

“He likes his parking spot too much.”

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