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PEETE’S THE MAN TO BEAT AS LIONS’ QB

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The defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers reduced to one their number of unsigned rookies Saturday, coming to terms with cornerback Eric Davis.

Davis, a second-round pick from Jacksonville State, signed a three-year contract reportedly worth nearly $1 million.His signing left wide receiver Ronald Lewis of Florida State, the 49ers' third-round selection, as the only unsigned draft pick.

Veteran nose tackle Michael Carter worked out Saturday with the 49ers. He had offseason surgery on his right foot and isn't expected to be ready for the season opener.

Ten-year cornerback Hanford Dixon, signed by the 49ers as a Plan B free agent, said he would have quit pro football rather than return to the Cleveland Browns.

"I didn't like the way Coach Bud Carson handled things," Dixon said. "He said some things that I didn't like. I thought he could have told me instead of me reading about it in the papers."

Detroit Lions

A year ago, Rodney Peete was considered the Lions' quarterback of the future after winning the starting job in training camp.

But injuries limited Peete to eight starts in what was for the most part an uneventful rookie season. Worse, journeyman Bob Gagliano (Utah State) was the starter when Detroit won its final five games last season, then the Lions took Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware with their first pick in the draft.

But don't close the book on Peete yet.

He's been impressive during the first week of training camp and is currently the club's No. 1 quarterback, Coach Wayne Fontes said.

The fact that Gagliano reported late to camp and Ware is unsigned haven't hurt Peete's case. But that doesn't matter to Peete.

"I'm approaching this camp as if I'm going to be the starter," Peete said. "After playing a little last year, I feel a lot more comfortable and have a lot more confidence."

"Rodney Peete right now is the quarterback of record and these other guys are going to have to come in and try to beat him out," Fontes said.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills, two-time defending AFC East champions, opened training camp Saturday with spirited competition for several important jobs on offense, defense and special teams.

The Bills are looking to replace offensive lineman Joe Devlin, a starter since 1979. Devlin retired after last season.

There also is an opening for a third-down specialist in the backfield. Former first-round draft choice Ronnie Harmon, who filled that role last year, signed as a Plan B free agent with the San Diego Chargers.

There also are two major holes on defense. Art Still, the starter at left defensive end, and Fred Smerlas, who started every non-strike game at nose tackle since 1980, were not protected by Buffalo. Still retired, while Smerlas signed with the 49ers.

And Buffalo is looking for a punter who can master the swirling winds at Rich Stadium as well as John Kidd, the starter for the past six seasons. The Bills didn't protect Kidd and the Chargers signed him.

Phoenix Cardinals

Joe Bugel, Phoenix' new coach, is trying to settle on a starting quarterback among Timm Rosenbach, Gary Hogeboom and Tom Tupa.

"We want to know who our leader is," Bugel said. "That position dictates whether you're successful in the National Football League. We need to have a No. 1 in place."

Phoenix has struggled to find a solid replacement for Neil Lomax, a two-time Pro Bowler who retired after missing all of last season with degenerative arthritis in his left hip.

"It's wide open . . . It's going to be an interesting battle," Bugel said. "I'd be disappointed if it isn't."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sylvester Stamps isn't saying much about his decision to return to the Buccaneers four days after retiring.

His chances of making the team probably are no better than they were before he quit, but he didn't want to give up without a fight.

"The main thing is I didn't want to do it," Stamps said, reflecting on Monday's announcement that he was leaving football after six NFL seasons.

"When I sat down and thought about it, I thought I still had a couple of good years left. I'm still running good, so I decided to come back and give it my best shot."