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SHULER EXPECTS TO START; DILFER SIGNS

SHARE SHULER EXPECTS TO START; DILFER SIGNS

Heath Shuler spent the last three seasons eluding enraged tacklers in the Southeastern Conference, so he knows a little bit about standing up to pressure.

Pressure is certain to be Shuler's constant companion as he hustles to make up for the two weeks he missed while negotiating the eight-year, $19 million deal he signed with the Washington Redskins Wednesday. Washington fans are also going to be watching closely to see if he warrants such a windfall.Given all that, the former Tennessee star expects he can not only catch up, but be the Redskins' starter in time for the season opener.

"That's what I'm going to push for," Shuler said. "That's why I'm here, to push and do all I can. And that's certainly what I'll try to do. I'll push and give it all I have."

Shuler said it wouldn't be the end of the world if John Friesz, who is currently the starter, takes that job into the regular season.

"If he is the starting quarterback, then I'm going to be 110 percent behind him, because you never know what can happen in a season, and I'm just going to push him as hard as I possibly can," Shuler said. "He knows that and I know it."

Trent Dilfer, the second quarterback picked in the first round of the NFL draft, followed Shuler's lead and signed with Tampa Bay. The Cleveland Browns got their two first-round picks, defensive back Antonio Langham and receiver Derrick Alexander, under contract Wednesday.

On the other side, Roger Craig, one of the top players in football as San Francisco won four Super Bowls in the 1980s, retired on Wednesday.

Shuler was on the field in pads Wednesday morning about seven hours after signing the largest contract in Redskins history.

"I've been packed for two weeks," he said. "The most frustrating thing was knowing there's guys out here working day in and day out and putting forth a lot of hard work. My big thing was, I'm going to try to compete with them even when I'm not there."

"He's way behind," coach Norv Turner said. "The plays we ran with him today are the plays we put in in minicamp. He's got a lot of work to do, but the good thing was he ran those plays well."

Tampa Bay Bucs

Dilfer agreed to terms of a contract that will pay him an average of $2.47 million per year in his first four seasons with Tampa Bay. He's expected in camp today.

Dilfer was the sixth pick overall and one of only two quarterbacks selected in the first round. His contract is similar to Shuler's in that it includes voidable years and provisions for Tampa Bay to buy back years five through eight.

Dilfer said his threat to re-enter the draft in hopes of being selected by one of the expansion teams next year was not a negotiating ploy.

"That was very serious and very viable," Dilfer said by telephone from Fresno, Calif., where he has been working out since leaving the precamp drills. "I always made it very clear Tampa was my first choice, but I had to have a backup plan."

Cleveland Browns

Langham, the ninth player drafted overall, came to terms late Wednesday on a four-year, $4.6 million deal, a day after Alexander approved a four-year pact worth $700,000 a year.

Neither player appeared to have accomplished much by holding out for three weeks.

"This is a crucial week for us and they were falling further and further behind," coach Bill Belichick said.

Owner Art Modell said Langham "is the one getting hurt through this process. He's not doing himself any good back in Alabama."

San Francisco 49ers

Roger Craig helped San Francisco win three Super Bowls and set records as the most prolific pass-catching back in NFL history.

"It was a great run while it lasted. The memories will definitely last a lifetime," Craig said.

Three years after leaving the 49ers, Craig was signed again by San Francisco so he could retire as a 49er. Team owner Eddie DeBartolo had promised he'd do the same for quarterback Joe Montana and defensive back Ronnie Lott when they are ready to retire.

Craig rushed for 8,189 yards and caught 566 passes in 11 seasons. In 1985, he exceeded 1,000 yards both rushing and passing and set a record for backs by catching 92 passes.

NY Jets

James Hasty, the team's best cornerback, will miss three weeks because of surgery to have scar tissue removed from his right knee. It formed after he had arthroscopic surgery on the knee in March.

Trainer Bob Reese said the scar tissue was a "constant irritant" to Hasty, who was held out of practices this week.

The Jets said Hasty should be ready when the season opens Sept. 4 at Buffalo.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tests confirmed that rookie quarterback Jim Miller broke the thumb on his throwing hand during a passing drill when his hand struck a rushing defensive lineman.

"He had his hands in the air and I hit his arm," Miller said.

After practice Tuesday, a police car took the former Michigan State player, heavily bandaged, from training camp to Latrobe Area Hospital.

The injury will prevent Miller from playing in an exhibition game Saturday against the Dolphins in Miami. He probably would have played at least a half. His rival for the third quarterback position is rookie free-agent Andy Kelly.

Miami Dolphins

Quarterback Dan Marino, who missed most of last year with a torn Achilles tendon, gets his first game action Saturday night in an exhibition game against Pittsburgh. He hopes he'll get the starting nod.

"It would help me from the standpoint that it's been a long time since I played a game," Marino said Wednesday. "It would help me to get back in the flow."

With Miami's first regular-season game a month away, the idea of playing Marino came as a surprise to some. The quarterback still walks with a limp and admits that his right ankle hurts.

"Forget this preseason stuff," said tight end Keith Jackson, who recognizes a meal ticket when he sees one. "Dan Marino has been doing this for how long? Twelve years? He doesn't have to prove anything. Dan Marino could take two years off and step out there and throw a perfect pass."

New Orleans Saints

The enemy is going to look very familiar as the New Orleans Saints take up their annual quest of trying to catch the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners got a big boost Wednesday by signing All-Pro linebacker Rickey Jackson away from the Saints, who didn't offer enough money.

"To see Rickey in that uniform is going to hurt deep. ... I think he's going to be a big contributor to the 49ers," said defensive lineman Robert Goff.

"All I can say is they got a serious player," said linebacker Sam Mills. "I just wish he was back with us. Frisco made out on that deal."

"This is a big loss to our defense," said running back Vaughn Dunbar.