- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

No quarterback was sacked more often last year than Buffalo’s Drew Bledsoe. Part of the blame for those 49 takedowns rests on the offensive line, but Bledsoe conceded after the season the internal clock that tells him when to get rid of the ball was out of whack.

“We have to do everything we can to protect Drew, but he has to do everything he can to avoid sacks and taking unnecessary hits,” new quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche said. “Getting rid of the ball just a second quicker can make all the difference in the world.”

Since the first day of minicamp, Bills coach Mike Mularkey has had strength coach Brad Roll stand behind Bledsoe in practice with a mail-order, hand-held timer that cost $49. Four seconds after the snap, the alarm rings, at which point Bledsoe is supposed to have unloaded the ball.

“I had it in New England one of the years there,” Bledsoe said. “Even when I’m standing back there next to it, I don’t hear it go off.”

But the training should help Bledsoe do a better job of finding his safety valves. Buffalo’s starting backs plunged from 86 catches in 2002 to just 39 last season.

“The focus is that when that primary receiver is covered that the quarterback immediately has instant recall of who to go to with the ball to save the sack,” said Wyche, the former Cincinnati and Tampa Bay coach. “Instead of seeing someone covered and searching for a receiver, he’s going right now to somebody. And if that guy by design is not there, he’s got a guaranteed [dump-off]. Drew’s working at it and doing well.”

Fassel’s new gig — Five of the six non-interim NFL coaches who lost their jobs after last season had losing career records. The sixth was Jim Fassel, who guided the New York Giants to three playoff spots and an NFC title in seven seasons while compiling a 60-56-1 mark. Fassel pursued the Arizona, Buffalo and Washington vacancies last winter before agreeing to be an offensive consultant to buddy Brian Billick in Baltimore.

“I wanted to jump right back into [being a head coach], but the way things turned out, this was absolutely the best thing that could have happened,” Fassel said. “This is like a professor getting a sabbatical. This experience has strengthened my belief in what I’m doing. It’s re-energized me. I’ve had enough down time, and I’ve been able to get away from the game, but I’m still close enough to be involved. Now all I think about is going back to being a head coach, going back to the Super Bowl and winning it.”

Fassel will watch the Ravens’ upcoming opponent on Sundays and be in Baltimore on Mondays and Tuesdays to help with game planning and to tutor young quarterback Kyle Boller.

“Jim’s ability to say to me, ‘Maybe you ought to re-think this,’ or ‘You’re doing the right thing — don’t let anybody tell you differently’ is great to have,” said Billick, who coincidentally dealt Fassel his most painful defeat, a 34-7 whipping in Super Bowl XXXV.

Tattoo you — Texans rookie linebacker Jason Babin is decorated with an array of self-designed tattoos that required 28 hours of needle time over seven sessions.

“My mom was pretty upset,” Babin said. “She said the only thing they’re good for is [that] she can pick me out on the field real easy.”

Texans center Steve McKinney has eight colorful tattoos on his arms and chest. His favorite is a rhinoceros inspired by a hunting trip to Africa two years ago.

“I got within about 5 yards of a rhino charging right past me,” McKinney said. “We could feel the ground shaking and hear the trees breaking as it was coming through the woods. I was just so impressed with that animal because it doesn’t really pay attention to where it’s going. It’s just like a big bull that runs stuff over.”

Tattoos are so popular in Houston’s locker room that straight-laced coach Dom Capers might even get one.

“If we won the Super Bowl, I’m afraid I would have to do it,” Capers said. “But it might have to be on the bottom of my foot.”

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