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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dilfer to start at QB vs. Rams

Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After Alex Smith and 49ers coach Mike Nolan reached a temporary peace in their spat about the quarterback's injured arm, Trent Dilfer capped his first day as San Francisco's new starter by getting in a fight with a rookie defensive back in practice.

The 49ers might be losing every week, but at least they're getting interesting.

Dilfer will start for the 49ers (2-7) on Sunday in place of Smith, who aired one of his team's many problems in public this week by finally acknowledging a serious arm injury has been affecting his play during San Francisco's seven-game losing streak.

Dilfer, the 14-year veteran who struggled through three straight losses while filling in for Smith earlier in the year, reclaimed the starting job Thursday for at least one week, though Smith's injury could sideline him for the season.

Dilfer then went after cornerback Tarell Brown in Thursday's practice after an apparent exchange of trash talk. Teammates had to separate the 35-year-old Super Bowl winner from the 22-year-old rookie from Texas -- and given the way this week is going, Nolan wasn't even surprised.

"When things are important to people, they show their emotions in a lot of ways," Nolan said. "Out here on the football field, you can show your emotions in a lot of ways. The only thing I'm worried about it somebody getting hurt. Other than that, they can punch each other all they want."

In that case, a few haymakers might do the pent-up Niners a world of good.

A day after Smith and Nolan traded veiled criticisms, they were more harmonious Thursday. Smith and Nolan had a lengthy meeting Wednesday following the quarterback's public disclosure that his recently separated right shoulder led to a forearm injury that prevents him from throwing well. Smith and Nolan previously denied Smith's arm injury was causing his poor play.

"Alex has got good toughness," Nolan said. "I've never questioned that about him. In the long term, Alex is part of the solution here. ... Any time you're injured, it does something to you, but the communication needs to be better than it has been."

The 49ers still aren't certain whether Smith's injuries will keep him out for the season, though Smith has entertained the possibility. So with newly revealed fractures in a locker room that usually seems united under Nolan's leadership, the 49ers will turn to Dilfer as they attempt to stop their skid Sunday at home against the St. Louis Rams (1-8).
"There's no time for me to be sympathetic [toward Smith]," said Dilfer, who has a close relationship with the former No. 1 draft pick. "My job is to go out and play the best football I can play. ... My relationship with Alex won't change, but I don't have time for that drama or any other type of drama."

Dilfer got his first snaps since 2005 after Smith was injured on the third play of San Francisco's loss to Seattle on Sept. 30. Dilfer went 47-of-90 for 463 yards with three touchdown passes and five interceptions for the 49ers.

Though Smith's 57.2 passer rating is the worst among all quarterbacks with enough snaps to qualify, it's still higher than Dilfer's 55.0. Those struggling quarterbacks are just two reasons San Francisco's offense is last in the league in several categories.

"I have some major things I need to improve on from the last time I played, so it's time for me to do that," Dilfer said.

Smith, who sat out practice for the second straight day, acknowledged a bit of regret for airing his communication problems with Nolan in public before discussing them fully with the head coach.

"This is like a family, it's so tight," Smith said. "Mike and I have been close ever since I was drafted. You're going to have disagreements. It's going to happen in any family. It's working through this. Could I have done anything differently? Yeah, maybe. He said I need to communicate better, and I need to."

Smith will be in uniform Sunday, but Nolan hasn't decided whether Smith or third-stringer Shaun Hill will be the backup QB. Before Dilfer threw down with Brown, Hill hit his finger on a teammate's helmet Thursday -- so receiver Arnaz Battle, a former quarterback at Notre Dame, took the last few practice snaps for the scout team.

Smith said he might travel to Alabama to meet with Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedist who has reviewed the results of his recent MRIs, but doesn't have any current plans to do so. Smith realizes he could be done for the season.

"It will have to do with what the doctors think is best for the long term," Smith said. "I think the point is to come back when you're functional."

Ricky Williams to rejoin Dolphins

By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer
November 15, 2007

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -- Ricky Williams stood at a window in the Miami Dolphins' player lounge and watched the start of practice as he chomped on an apple, so close to an NFL return he could taste it.

Coach Cam Cameron decided Thursday to welcome Williams back, and he'll be on the field starting with Monday's workout. His first game in nearly two years could come a week later, Nov. 26 at Pittsburgh.

"He'll be a member of this team," Cameron said. "He's a Miami Dolphin."


Williams has tested positive for marijuana at least four times since the Dolphins acquired him in 2002. Miami's franchise-record playoff drought began that same year.
But it's difficult to imagine how Williams could sabotage a team that's 0-9, and so the long, strange trip continues. Cameron said his players favored Williams' return from a 1 1/2 -year suspension, and the 2002 NFL rushing champion embraced yet another fresh start.

"I'm at a place now where it's easier for me to appreciate being a football player," he said. "I hated being a football player before."

As part of the NFL drug program, Williams underwent therapy for the past 5 1/2 months in Boston. He declined to discuss the treatment, but said he was confident drug testing won't derail his latest comeback.

"If I wasn't confident, I wouldn't have even tried," he said. "I wouldn't have made the effort."

Cameron said his faith in the treatment program and in commissioner Roger Goodell was a factor in allowing Williams to return.

"I have a lot of respect for the commissioner and how he has handled a lot of situations in this offseason, and this situation in particular," Cameron said. "I know how thorough everything was done as it relates to Ricky. For him to be reinstated by our commissioner, knowing what he stands for, that impacted me tremendously."

When Williams' most recent suspension was lifted, he quickly flew to South Florida and met Thursday morning with Cameron.

"The meeting was positive," Cameron said.

For months, Miami's first-year coach had been mum regarding whether he would want Williams. In May, when discussing Williams' latest relapse, the coach said it's difficult to salvage the careers of troubled players.

He conceded an 0-9 record altered his perspective.

"Circumstances have changed," Cameron said. "However, you still rely on the leadership of your locker room and quality professionals like we have, and you get their input, and that was the major part of the decision."

Those endorsements of the decision were as quirky as Williams.

"I don't know if I had a daughter if I'd want her to date him," linebacker Channing Crowder said, "but as a football player, as a teammate, I love him."

Added linebacker Zach Thomas: "He won't be a cancer in the locker room. He has always had a good work ethic. He's always been a good person and a good teammate. Everybody deserves a second and third chance."

And fourth and fifth, apparently, at least in this case.

Other teams were buzzing about Williams, too. Fellow University of Texas alum Cedric Benson, a third-year pro with the Chicago Bears, described Williams' comeback as "awesome."

"We've got this thing that when he gets in the league we're going to compete to see who's the better running back," Benson said. "We always wanted to see who's the better running back."

Ricky's return created a familiar circus-like atmosphere at the Dolphins' complex. Photographers and cameramen began a stakeout across the street at 7 a.m. and awaited the arrival of the elusive running back. He showed up around 11, riding in a team van.

Cameron's daily news conference was almost all about Williams, with not a single reference to rookie quarterback John Beck, who'll make his NFL debut Sunday at Philadelphia.

Williams followed Cameron to the microphones and wrestled with the first question.

"My motivation for coming back to the NFL? Could we start with an easier question?" he said with a chuckle.

"My motivation is to get my life going again. Being out of football in the situation I was in makes it difficult, you know? I want to create a better life for myself and for my family, and being a football player, for me, is a big part of that."

Williams, who has played in only 12 games since retiring in the summer of 2004, said he has been working out for about six weeks and is in "pretty good shape." He offered no prediction regarding when he might play, and offered no pledge that his latest chapter with the Dolphins would end on a high note.

"I'm not necessarily looking for it to end on a high note," he said. "It's just going to help me get to where I want to be. I want to get on with my life. I want to go back to school and pursue a profession outside of football. Playing football is the best way for me to get there."

The Dolphins were thinking more in terms of Williams getting them to the end zone. Maybe that will happen, too.

AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed to this report.

Titans cornerback 'Pacman' Jones gets plea deal in Las Vegas strip club triple shooting

By KEN RITTER, Associated Press Writer
November 15, 2007

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A judge accepted a plea deal Thursday reducing felony charges against suspended NFL player Adam "Pacman" Jones to a gross misdemeanor that will get him probation in return for his testimony about a strip club triple shooting.

The Tennessee Titans cornerback did not appear before Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Tony Abbatangelo, who accepted the written agreement and waived Jones' preliminary hearing on two felony coercion charges.

Abbatangelo scheduled Jones to plead no contest Dec. 5 in state court to one charge of conspiracy to commit disorderly conduct.

Jones will be sentenced later to one year of probation, Clark County prosecutor Victoria Villegas said after a brief hearing. Two charges of coercion, a felony carrying a possible sentence of one to six years in prison, will be dropped.

"The goal is to find the shooter," Villegas said.Las Vegas police have not linked Jones to the Feb. 19 gunfire that left three people wounded outside the Minxx Gentlemen's Club at the end of NBA All-Star weekend in Las Vegas. No one has been charged in that case.

But police called the 24-year-old Jones "an inciter" of a melee that broke out after he showered dancers inside the strip club with dollar bills pulled from a black plastic trash bag -- a stunt known as "making it rain."

Witnesses told police that Jones and members of his entourage threatened people while they were being ejected, and that Jones spoke outside the club with a man who was suspected of opening fire minutes later.

Defense attorney Robert Langford declined to say if Jones knew the identity of the gunman. He cited the ongoing police investigation.

Las Vegas police Lt. George Castro declined to say what information police believe Jones can provide.

Under the Las Vegas plea deal, Jones will received a suspended one-year jail sentence. He also must attend an anger management program, complete 200 hours of community service within a year and submit to random drug testing.

Langford said the probation and community service requirements might be fulfilled near Jones' home in Tennessee. Jones already is subject to the NFL's drug testing program.

The three people who were wounded -- club employee Tommy Urbanski, co-worker and bouncer Aaron Cudworth and club patron Natalie Jones -- have each have filed civil lawsuits seeking damages from Jones.

The lawsuit by Urbanski, who was paralyzed from the waist down, also seeks damages from the NFL, the Titans and the owners of Harlem Knights, a Houston strip club that hosted events at the Minxx club.
Urbanski's wife, Kathy, expressed anger this week about Jones' plea deal and said she wants the shooter identified and charged. She declined comment Thursday.

Two co-defendants in the case also are taking plea deals, said Langford, who represents all three.

Jones' bodyguard, Robert "Big Rob" Reid, 37, of Carson, Calif., is scheduled to plead no contest Dec. 5 to conspiracy to commit disorderly conduct and receive one year probation. Reid faced one felony coercion charge.

Sadia Morrison, 25, of New York, will plead no contest to a felony battery charge in return for dropping other felony charges. Morrison faced five charges, including coercion, felony assault with a deadly weapon and battery. She is expected to receive up to three years' probation, and her conviction would be reduced to a gross misdemeanor if she stays out of trouble, Langford said.

Jones' Atlanta-based attorney, Manny Arora, has said he believed Jones could beat the coercion charge, but a trial might hurt Jones' chances for reinstatement to the NFL. Arora did not immediately respond Thursday to messages seeking comment.

Jones has been arrested six times since the Titans drafted him in April 2005 from West Virginia, and has other criminal cases pending. A felony count of obstruction in Georgia from a February 2006 arrest has been postponed, and August 2006 public intoxication and disorderly charges in Tennessee were delayed pending the outcome of the Las Vegas case.

Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Jones for the 2007 season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The NFL Players Association is asking Goodell to reconsider.

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