BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- The reconciliation between Jeremiah Trotter and Andy Reid began in the oddest of places, at the oddest of times.
It was Sept. 16, 2002, and Trotter's old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, was en route to handing his new team, the Washington Redskins, a humiliating 37-7 defeat at FedEx Field on "Monday Night Football" in Steve Spurrier's second game as an NFL coach. "It was that game when they killed us like 90-3,'' Trotter recalled over the weekend.
The loss was particularly galling to Trotter, since the two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker had signed with the Redskins the previous offseason after the Eagles removed his franchise-player designation and made him a free agent on the heels of a bitter set of negotiations between Trotter and Reid. But when the Eagles players and coaches spilled onto the field late in the game because pepper spray -- being used by police to break up a fight in the stands nearby -- drifted into the area of their bench, Trotter ran into the Philadelphia coach and the two began to make amends.
"I told him I appreciated the opportunity they gave me to play,'' Trotter said. "He said, 'Hey, you were a big part of this thing, where we are now.' ''
Trotter said he had no idea at the time that the brief conversation would be the beginning of the process that would lead to his return to the Eagles, but it was. Reid called Trotter to lift his spirits after the linebacker's first season with the Redskins was ended early by a knee injury, and Trotter called Reid this past offseason after he was released by the Redskins. A month later, Trotter signed a one-year, minimum-salary contract with Philadelphia, and he's in training camp at Lehigh University with the Eagles as they prepare for a Super Bowl-or-bust season after three straight NFC title-game losses.
"Never in a million years could I have imagined that'' he'd end up returning to the Eagles after leaving on such unpleasant terms, Trotter said. "It's amazing how God works things out for you.''
He has been through what he calls "a humbling process.'' His two seasons in Washington were his worst in football, he said. The Redskins went 12-20 under Spurrier and Trotter never lived up to the expectations created by his seven-year, $36 million contract. Trotter tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a Thanksgiving game at Dallas in 2002 and never made it back to full strength last season, he says. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs called him just before a March minicamp to tell him that he no longer was in the club's plans and had permission to seek a trade.
"They just said they're moving in a different direction,'' Trotter said. "That was basically it. I didn't try to dig any deeper. I just let it go at that. . . . I wasn't bitter at all. I understand that in the NFL it's a business, and all I can focus on is what I can control -- working hard. . . . I was looking forward to playing for [Gibbs]. I heard a lot about him. I knew he was a great leader. His statistics speak for themselves. I was looking forward to working with him and the coaching staff that he put together, but it didn't work out that way.
"It [his Redskins tenure] was tough. It's always tough losing. No one likes to lose. You're having a losing season and you're going into the games knowing there's a slim chance that you're going to win. . . . I couldn't play the way I wanted to play, even though I led the team in tackles the second year. . . . I played the season about 70 percent. It was tough on me mentally because I couldn't do the things I wanted to do, even in practice. But that's something you deal with. Everybody goes through tough times. You just keep working hard, and eventually you come out of it.''
The Redskins released Trotter in June after they couldn't trade him. He is only 27, but teams are wary of the creakiness of his knees, and he couldn't scare up any offers for more lucrative contracts or starting jobs on the free agent market. Still, Trotter said he wasn't necessarily looking for a job when he called Reid.
"At the time, I wasn't calling for that,'' Trotter said. "I just wanted to tell him I appreciated him calling me when I got hurt, and to apologize for how I handled things when I left. Even though things got kind of tense, things always get tense around contract times. But there's still a way to handle it. There's a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and I didn't handle things the right way. I wanted to apologize to him as a man. I said, 'Hey, I didn't handle things right.' You live and you learn.''
But things progressed from there. Trotter signed with the Eagles last month and now is in camp as a backup, with Mark Simoneau starting at middle linebacker. But he says he feels healthy again and he'll do his best to be ready if needed.
"It's hard,'' Trotter said. "But I've just got to tough it out. It's a growing process. . . . It's going to happen. Things are going to turn out okay. I'm a firm believer in that. It's going to happen soon.''
The St. Louis Rams suddenly are in desperate shape at offensive tackle. Orlando Pace is absent from training camp because of a contract dispute, and Kyle Turley is seeking further medical opinions on his career-threatening back troubles. The club signed free agent Greg Randall, a former starter for New England and Houston, as an insurance policy. Randall has bounced around in recent months. He signed with San Francisco in April as a free agent but was abruptly released by the 49ers in June.
The Rams also have expressed interest in signing guard Chris Dishman, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought they'd be deep at wide receiver this season after trading for Joey Galloway and using their first-round draft choice on Michael Clayton to go with veteran starters Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius. But that depth quickly is being tested, with McCardell holding out from training camp because of unhappiness over his contract and Jurevicius scheduled to undergo surgery today in Los Angeles for a herniated disk in his back.
Jurevicius hurt his back while rehabilitating the knee injury that caused him to miss most of last season, Coach Jon Gruden told reporters Monday.
"Obviously it's frustrating, but it's been frustrating for some time,'' Gruden said. "Let's get him right. The knee is better. He's rehabbed the knee, which is very good. He'll have the back surgically fixed and hopefully he can return sometime soon. . . . We'll see the extent of this injury once he has the surgery performed. It could be a couple weeks. It could be a couple months. It could be the season. I don't know. I don't want to speculate until I get all the facts.'' . . .
Far more encouraging to the Buccaneers is fullback Mike Alstott's return from the herniated disk in his neck that ended his 2003 season early. Alstott cleared an enormous mental hurdle Monday when he participated in the team's first practice of camp to be conducted in full pads, telling reporters afterward that he'd proven to himself that he'll be ready for the season.
"I'm ready,'' Alstott said. "Just putting on pads and hitting a little bit satisfied me.''
Alstott has said that he'll retire if he can't resume playing his old, rugged style.
"I felt normal -- rusty, but normal,'' he said. "I think everybody felt rusty out there on the first day with pads. But as far as hitting the hole, being aggressive and lead-blocking, I felt comfortable. . . . The rehab process in the offseason, as you know, isn't real. The reality was [Monday's practice] -- going in there, trying to figure out when you're a lead blocker, figuring out where the hole is and getting up to your guy. . . . Hitting and doing all those fundamental things that we talked about, I felt comfortable. I feel like I did fairly well [Monday] in that regard.''
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the 11th overall choice in the draft, reached agreement with the Pittsburgh Steelers today on a six-year contract. The deal came after agent Leigh Steinberg traveled east for face-to-face negotiations with the Steelers, and means that two of the draft's Big Three quarterbacks have signed. The New York Giants got Eli Manning to training camp on time, but the San Diego Chargers still are negotiating with agent Jimmy Sexton to try to get Philip Rivers to camp. With cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the eighth overall selection, reaching a contract agreement with the Atlanta Falcons earlier, five first-round picks remained unsigned as of early this afternoon. Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, the 23rd overall choice, has a deal with the Seattle Seahawks nearly in place but is home with his ailing mother. . . .
New England put defensive end Rodney Bailey on the injured reserve list because of a torn Achilles tendon. The Patriots acquired Bailey from Pittsburgh via restricted free agency in the offseason.