DAVIE, Fla. -- There are flecks of gray on his beard these days. Gus Frerotte is the old guy among the contenders to be the Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback this season, the grizzled veteran. He has become an NFL survivor, managing to last long enough that the first person against whom he competed for a starting quarterback job in the league, Heath Shuler, is well into retirement and is running for Congress in North Carolina.
"I've been through a lot in my career," Frerotte said here this week at the Dolphins' training camp. "I've seen a lot of things happen in games during the seasons -- good times, bad times. I've had a lot of adversity I've dealt with in my career. I know we're going to go through that this year. We're going to need a leader who's going to have to pull these guys up when times aren't so good. I've been through a lot, and I am just ready to take control."
It has been 11 years since Frerotte was the underdog seventh-round draft pick out of Tulsa who took the Washington Redskins' starting job from first-round bonus baby Shuler. He outlasted Shuler in D.C. and reached the Pro Bowl in 1996, although his Redskins career is best remembered for the time he knocked himself out of a game in '97 by head-butting a stadium wall as part of a touchdown celebration.
He has bounced around the league since losing the starting job in Washington to Trent Green and leaving the Redskins following the 1998 season, making stops with the Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings and now the Dolphins. He has made 18 starts in the six seasons since leaving the Redskins. Last year marked the first time in his 11 NFL seasons that he didn't have any starts, sitting all season behind Vikings standout Daunte Culpepper.
The Dolphins signed him as a free agent this past offseason after releasing Jay Fiedler, and he is vying with A.J. Feeley for Miami's starting job. Feeley was a gamble gone bad last season for the previous Dolphins' regime, and Frerotte appears to be the favorite to get the starting nod because of his experience and his familiarity with new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's system. The two were together in Minnesota, and Frerotte says that Linehan's system is similar to the one used by former Redskins coach Norv Turner.
"I've been through them a bunch of times, and every competition is different," said Frerotte, who turns 34 on Sunday. "I just have to go out and practice and prepare as if I'm the starter, and hopefully that's good enough to be the starter and lead the team."
Frerotte and Feeley say that first-year Dolphins coach Nick Saban hasn't given them any indications about when he'll make a decision or what it will be.
"He said, 'We'll probably need both of you through the year,'" Frerotte said. "More than likely, that's going to happen. I've been through one year in my career where I played every game, but that doesn't happen very often."
Feeley, 28, was obtained by the Dolphins last year in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. But he, like the rest of his teammates, struggled mightily last season. He threw 15 interceptions, and he said this week that he got so beat up that he had to stop lifting weights and lost about 20 pounds. But he said he's back to his usual playing weight now -- about 226 pounds -- and he's eager to justify the trade in which the Dolphins sent a second-round draft pick to Philadelphia to get him.
"Everybody wants to start," Feeley said. "That's my plan. You always expect to start, and that's my goal."
Saban said: "I'm pleased with the progress the two guys have made. I think it's really important that they continue to make improvements and progress in terms of their confidence and comfort zone with what we're trying to do offensively and the players that we have. Both guys have shown at times that they can do this pretty effectively. And I think both have probably shown at times that continued work would help their consistency.
"Our focus is just to continue to try to make progress with both guys, and hopefully we'll get both guys to the point where they can play well enough for us to have a chance to be successful offensively."
There's No Crying In Football -- Or Is There?
A stern on-field lecture by Saban reduced rookie defensive tackle Manuel Wright to tears Tuesday.
Saban assailed Wright verbally as the team's afternoon practice was about to get under way, and Wright wiped tears from his eyes as he left the field. He later returned and participated in the practice. Wright had showed up for the practice, which was supposed to be in full pads, in only shorts and a jersey, and the Dolphins coaches apparently feel that he has been suffering from back problems because he reported to camp out of shape. The club selected Wright in the fifth round of this month's NFL supplemental draft out of USC and signed him to a four-year, $1.13 million contract that included a $190,000 signing bonus . . .
Saban has a unique practice schedule. When the Dolphins have two practices in a day, the first comes at 9 a.m. and the second comes at 7:30 p.m., and he never has two practices on consecutive days. On the day after a two-practice day, the club has a single late-afternoon practice.
The theory, Saban says, is that this way, players have two meal periods between each practice to eat and drink and rejuvenate their bodies. That, he maintains, results in fewer injuries.
"We practice a tad bit longer in the practices," Saban said. "Obviously a team that practices twice a day is practicing four times over two days, and you're practicing three. But we studied it and we actually had more players on the top 60 players on our team practicing more plays this way than they had previously doing it twice a day every day. They had more guys hurt and more guys having knee problems, so they had less guys on the field."
Saban said he devised the practice schedule during his previous coaching stop at LSU after consulting with doctors and asking them what the best time of day to practice would be to limit injuries and heat-related illnesses.
"They said the best time to practice is 4 o'clock in the morning," Saban said. "I said, 'Give me the next alternative.'"
Saban said that he and Dolphins General Manager Randy Mueller, formerly the GM of the New Orleans Saints, spoke Monday night and agreed that while the heat and humidity of South Florida are oppressive, the conditions are not as stifling as those in Louisiana. But Saban conceded: "I'm sure these players out there would argue with me on that."
S. Alexander Signs With Seattle
Shaun Alexander signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday and is scheduled to report to the team's training camp Thursday. The deal is for the same $6.32 million salary that Alexander would have received under the franchise-player contract offered to him earlier in the offseason, but it also contains provisions prohibiting the Seahawks from trading Alexander this season without his permission or naming him the franchise player again next offseason. . . .
According to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, tailback Edgerrin James will report to training camp with the Indianapolis Colts today. James signed his one-year, franchise-player contract in March, but spent the offseason embroiled in a contract dispute with the team. The Colts agreed to consider trading James but haven't dealt him, at least not yet.
The Colts signed their first-round draft pick, cornerback Marlin Jackson, to a five-year, $6.975 million contract that includes a $4.38 million signing bonus. He was the draft's 29th overall choice. . . .
The players drafted immediately before and after Jackson, San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Luis Castillo and Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller, also agreed to contracts. Castillo agreed to a five-year deal worth as much as $7.035 million, including $4.664 million in bonus money, and Miller got a five-year, $6.89 million contract that includes a $3.95 million signing bonus. . . .
St. Louis re-signed veteran guard Tom Nutten to a one-year contract. . . . The Lions, Jets, Jaguars and Chiefs appear to be the most serious bidders for free-agent cornerback Ty Law.