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HOPES SPRING ANEW AS TRAINING CAMPS OPEN

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In the new era of National Football League free agency, bringing hope for rebirth and resurgence, perhaps there is no more appropriate team than the Los Angeles Raiders to be first to open their training camp.

The Raiders report to camp at Oxnard, Calif., Sunday afternoon. They will play Green Bay in the Hall of Fame game at Canton, Ohio on July 31.The Raiders' owner, Al Davis, has a history of taking the rebels, free spirits and outcasts from other teams and trying to meld them into champions. The formula hasn't worked since 1980, the last year that the Raiders won a Super Bowl. But with the advent of free agency, Davis, and the rest of the NFL owners, have a different route to take to reach the Super Bowl.

As the other 27 training camps open during the next two weeks, familiar faces will inhabit different uniforms - all in search of a Super Bowl championship.

Several established starting quarterbacks changed teams. Jeff Hostetler left the Giants for the Raiders. Boomer Esiason was traded from Cincinnati to the Jets.

Jim McMahon, drifting between languishing and flourishing since leaving Chicago, is getting a fresh chance in Minnesota. Bobby Hebert, a starter in New Orleans, will be in a dogfight in Atlanta with starter Chris Miller.

And everyone wants to know if Joe Montana can work the same magic in Kansas City that he did in San Francisco where he helped guide the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships.

After criss-crossing the country in search of a new team, Eagles defensive end Reggie White landed in Green Bay where he joins a team that he compares to the young 49ers of the 1980s.

NATIONAL CONFERENCE

Atlanta (6-10, missed playoffs)

Key changes - The departure of free-agent offensive linemen Houston Hoover (Browns) and Bill Fralic (Lions) left some holes to fill. But they picked up valuable offensive help with quarterback Bobby Hebert (Saints) and running back Eric Dickerson (Raiders). The defensive line got help with the acquisition of Pierce Holt (49ers) and Jumpy Geathers (Redskins).

Major challenge - Hebert and Chris Miller, returning from a knee injury, will fight it out for the starting quarterback job.

Chicago (9-7, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Fullbacks Brad Muster and Craig (Ironhead) Heyward did a free agency flip-flop, with Muster going to New Orleans and Heyward landing in Chicago. By drafting Curtis Conway of Southern Cal in the first round the Bears upgraded their speed at wide receiver.

Major challenge - New coach Dave Wannstedt will be taking basically the same tired team as last year and trying to infuse them with some vitality and life.

Dallas - (13-3, beat Buffalo in Super Bowl)

Key changes - Quarterback Steve Beuerlein went to Phoenix as a free agent and the Cowboys lost a valuable backup. They signed Hugh Millen, a starter with the Patriots last year, to replace Beuerlein.

Major challenge - With quarterback Troy Aikman coming off back surgery, he won't get a lot of work in camp and may not be ready for the start of the season.

Detroit - (5-11, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Jerry Ball, a three-time Pro Bowl nosetackle, was traded to Cleveland, cornerbacks Mel Jenkins and Sheldon White left via free agency. The Lions beefed up their offensive line by getting free agents David Richards (Chargers), Bill Fralic (Falcons) and Dave Lutz (Chiefs) and landed Pat Swilling, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, from the Saints in a draft-day trade.

Major challenges - Is this the camp that quarterback Andre Ware, a Heisman Trophy winner in 1989 and the Lions first-round pick in 1990, steps up to grap the starting job from Rodney Peete and Erik Kramer?

Green Bay - (9-7, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Free safety Chuck Cecil signed with Phoenix as a free agent, but was replaced by Mike Prior from Indianapolis and running back Vince Workman went to Tampa Bay as a free agent. Running back John Stephens was picked up in a trade with New England. Free agents Reggie White (Eagles) at defensive end, guard Harry Galbreath (Miami), nosetackle Bill Maas (Chiefs) will fill some big needs. Ken O'Brien picked up in a trade with the Jets will back up Brett Favre.

Major challenge - With Favre coming off a brillant first season, coach Mike Holmgren has to refine, polish and hone the offense.

L.A. Rams - (6-10, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Lost a valuable pass rusher in linebacker Kevin Green, who went to Buffalo but picked up Bills linebacker Shane Conlan as a free agent. And they lost a good pass protector in tackle Gerald Perry, but picked up Irv Eatman, the Jets free agent tackle. Signed defensive end Fred Stokes from Washington to help with their pass rush.

Major challenge - Coach Chuck Knox wants to know if Jerome Bettis, the 243-pound monster fullback and the Rams first-round pick out of Notre Dame, is the type of beef he needs for his Ground Chuck offense.

Minnesota - (11-5, lost to Washington in playoffs)

Key changes - Lost two starters off the offensive line to free agency - center Kirk Loudermilk and guard Brian Habib - and free-agent defensive end Al Noga signed with Washington. An intriguing signing was that of Eagles quarterback Jim McMahon. By signing free-agent linebacker Fred Strickland and cornerback Izel Jenkins the Vikings have strengthened their defense.

Major challenge - McMahon is the man in the eyes of coach Dennis Green. McMahon will have to spend some time convincing his teammates that he deserves that distinction.

New Orleans - (11-5, lost to Philadelphia in the N.F.C. playoffs)

Key changes - Some big losses in All-Pro linebacker Pat Swilling, who was traded to Detroit, fullback Craig (Ironhead) Heyward, who signed with Chicago as a free agent, and quarterback Bobby Hebert, who went to Atlanta as a free agent. Saints added free-agent quarterback Wade Wilson (Atlanta) and fullback Brad Muster (Chicago) to help the offense.

Major challenge - They need to find a starting quarterback among three unlikely candidates - Wilson, Steve Walsh, who hasn't played since 1991, and Mike Buck, who threw four passes last year.

New York Giants - (6-10, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Quarterback Jeff Hostetler went west (Raiders), receiver Mark Ingram went south (Miami) and linebacker Carl Banks went to an old rival (Washington). Two top-flight receivers in Mark Jackson (Denver) and Mike Sherrard (49ers) join some solid free-agent defensive players in linebacker Michael Brooks (Denver) and linebacker Carlton Bailey (Bills).

Major challenge - Finding out whether linebacker Lawrence Taylor, coming off surgery on a torn Achilles tendon, still has it and finding someone to replace Banks at outside linebacker.

Philadelphia - (11-5, lost to Dallas in N.F.C. playoffs)

Key changes - Defensive end Reggie White's departure as a free agent to Green Bay leaves a cavernous hole on the defensive line. They also lost a knowledgeable backup in quarterback Jim McMahon (Vikings) and a solid tackle in Ron Heller (Miami). Tim Harris, a 49ers free agent, could offset the loss of White. Free agent tight end Mark Bavaro was a key acquisition.

Major challenge - Developing some depth at quarterback for starter Randall Cunningham and trying to find a way to compensate for the departure of White on the defensive line.

Phoenix - (4-12, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Pro Bowl safety Tim McDonald went to San Francisco as a free agent and running back Johnny Johnson was traded to the Jets on draft day. By signing free-agent quarterback Steve Beuerlein (Dallas), receiver Gary Clark (Washington) and drafting running back Garrison Hearst in the first round, the Cardinals instantly gave their offense a jolt.

Major challenge - Trying to meld all the new offensive talent that they've signed into a cohesive unit and filling the hole left by McDonald.

San Francisco - (14-2, lost to Dallas in NFC championship game)

Key changes - Quarterback Joe Montana was traded to the Chiefs. The defensive line took a big hit when Pierce Holt (Atlanta) and Tim Harris (Eagles) left via free agency, but receiver Mike Sherrard's departure to the Giants shouldn't hurt that much. Safety Tim McDonald, a free agent from Phoenix, should give the secondary some juice.

Major challenge - Getting some of the younger defensive linemen to step up and fill the void left by Holt and Harris and finding out whether Steve Young can run the offense without Montana looking over his shoulder.

Tampa Bay - (5-11, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Receiver Mark Carrier and quarterback Vinny Testaverde were the only big losses. The Bucs added experience with tackle Anthony Munoz (Bengals), beefed up their secondary by signing cornerback Martin Mayhew (Redskins) and safety Barney Bussey (Bengals) and added linebacker Hardy Nickerson (Steelers).

Major challenge - Since Testaverde left, the Bucs have been trying to find a starting quarterback. It will be decided in camp between Steve DeBerg, Mark Vlasic and Craig Erickson.

Washington - (9-7, lost to 49ers in the NFC playoffs)

Key changes - Linebacker Wilber Marshall was traded to Houston and receiver Gary Clark went to Phoenix as a free agent. Tim McGee, a free agent from Cincinnati, was signed to offset the departure of Clark.

Major challenge - Quarterback Mark Rypien is coming off shoulder surgery and will be pushed by Cary Conklin in camp. Receiver Desmond Howard, last year's first-round pick, will try to move into a starting role.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE

Buffalo - (11-5, lost to Dallas in Super Bowl)

Key changes - Two big losses on defense with the departure of free-agent linebackers Carlton Bailey (Giants) and Shane Conlan (L.A. Rams) and on offense with tackle Will Wolford going to Indianapolis. Acquired defensive end Oliver Barnett from the Falcons.

Major challenge - Finding an adequate replacement for Wolford, one of the premier left tackles in the league, and trying to restore depth in the linebacker corps.

Cincinnati - (5-11, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Receiver Tim McGee signed with the Redskins and cornerback Eric Thomas signed with the Jets, but the Bengals picked up cornerback Mike Brim from the Jets. John Copeland, the first-round pick in the 1993 draft, could be a valuable asset to the defensive line.

Major challenge - As a rookie last year, quarterback David Klingler took over for veteran Boomer Esiason after 11 games, but he was still a raw talent. He'll need more seasoning before the start of this season.

Cleveland - (7-9, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Tight end Mark Bavaro signed as a free agent with the Eagles, but the Browns picked up some valuable free agents in guard Houston Hoover (Atlanta), receiver Mark Carrier (Bucs) and quarterback Vinny Testaverde (Bucs).

Major challenge - Quarterback Bernie Kosar fractured his ankle in the season finale and had surgery to repair it. Can he carry the load or will Testaverde be the man?

Denver - (8-8, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Running back Gaston Green was traded to the Raiders, receiver Mark Jackson and linebacker Michael Brooks signed as free agents with the Giants. Running back Rod Bernstine, a free agent from San Diego, and tackle Don Maggs, a free agent from Houston, should help the Broncos offense.

Major challenge - Wade Phillips, the Broncos former defensive coordinator, was promoted after Dan Reeves left.

Houston - (11-5, lost to Buffalo in playoffs)

Key changes - Tackle Don Maggs, a free agent, signed with Denver. The two big pluses might be the addition of Buddy Ryan as defensive coordinator and linebacker Wilber Marshall, who came in a trade with Washington.

Major challenge - The onus will be on the defense to learn Ryan's complicated attacking style of defense, which was his signature in Chicago and Philadelphia.

Indianapolis - (9-7, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Receiver Billy Brooks left for Buffalo and safety Mike Prior went to Green Bay as free agents, but the Colts made some big gains by getting tackle Will Wolford (Bills), center Kirk Loudermilk (Vikings) and speedy receiver Aaron Cox (Rams).

Major challenge - Defensive tackle Steve Emtman, the No. 1 pick over all in last year's draft, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and missed the last seven games. He will be trying work his way back from the injury.

Kansas City - (10-7, lost to San Diego in playoffs)

Key changes - Joe Montana's arrival, via trade with the 49ers in April, has overshadowed everything else here. Running back Marcus Allen joined the Chiefs as a free agent.

Major challenge - The Chiefs will try to work the bugs out of their offensive system installed by new offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. Montana should make the training camp transition much easier for the others.

L.A. Raiders - (7-9, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Losing Ronnie Lott to the Jets could hurt. Quarterback Jay Schroeder went to Cincinnati as a free agent and running backs Marcus Allen and Eric Dickerson left for the Chiefs and Falcons, respectively. The Raiders added quarterback Jeff Hostetler (Giants), tackle Gerald Perry (Rams) and running back Gaston Green (Denver).

Major challenge - Hostetler has to hit the ground running in a style of offense that is much different from the one he was involved in for eight years with the Giants.

Miami - (11-5, lost to Buffalo in the AFC championship game)

Key changes - Fullback Tony Paige, a receiving threat out of the backfield, retired. The Dolphins beefed up their receiving corps getting Irving Fryar (Patriots) and Mark Ingram (Giants) as free agents, and drafting O. J. McDuffie in the first round.

Major challenge - Quarterback Dan Marino will be trying to find the same groove with his new set of receivers that he had with Mark Clayton and Mark Duper.

New England - (2-14, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Receiver Irving Fryar just couldn't take it anymore and went south to Miami and quarterback Hugh Millen wasn't in the plans and went to Dallas. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe, the No. 1 pick, is the most exciting of the new crop of Patriots.

Major challenge - Coach Bill Parcells will be looking for a few good men, some hard hitters, and a solid quarterback to emerge before the season starts.

New York Jets - (4-12, missed playoffs)

Key changes - Free-agent tackle Irv Eatman wasted no time signing with the Rams and his loss was not offset. The Jets filled some big holes by trading for quarterback Boomer Esiason and picking up free agents Leonard Marshall (Giants), Ronnie Lott (Raiders) and Eric Thomas (Bengals).

Major challenge - Trying to fit all the new pieces, including rookie linebacker Marvin Jones, into the right places on defense could be tough. Esiason will have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's the best man for the quarterback job.

Pittsburgh - (11-5, lost to Buffalo in AFC playoffs)

Key changes - The Steelers lost two solid linebackers, Hardy Nickerson and Jerrol Williams, and a veteran guard, Tunch Ilkin, via free agency. But they added a pass rusher in Kevin Greene (Rams) and picked up quarterback Mike Tomczak (Green Bay) to provide valuable backup to Neil O'Donnell.

Major challenge - Trying to maintain everything they gained last season, without losing a step, is going to be the trick for training camp.

San Diego - (11-5, lost to Miami in AFC playoffs)

Key changes - Two big losses were running back Rod Bernstein (Denver) and guard Dave Richards (Detroit) who left as free agents. The offensive line was beefed up with the addition of Stan Brock from New Orleans and Joe Milinichik from the Rams.

Major challenge - Quarterback Stan Humphries, who took over after John Friesz was sidelined for the season with a knee injury, has been given the starting job. But Friesz isn't going away quietly.

Seattle - (2-14, missed playoffs)

Key changes - They matched an offer from the Jets to keep running back Chris Warren, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, which might have been their best move. The addition of offensive linemen Ray Donaldson (Oilers) and Mitch Ferrote (Bills) may or may not solve their problems with this unit.

Major challenge - The hope is that the competition between Dan McGwire and first-round pick Rick Mirer will produce a bonafide NFL quarterback.