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Published: Tuesday, 5/9/2006

Local rookies jilt the jitters

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The jitters accompanied Chris Morris and Josh Huston as they traveled to take part in NFL minicamps in Oakland and Chicago, respectively, over the weekend. But once they got on the practice field, the butterflies departed and it was just football.

"You are a little anxious leading up to that first practice," said Morris, the Bedford High graduate who was a standout center at Michigan State the past three seasons before signing a free-agent contract with the Raiders.

"You think about it a lot and you are not quite sure what to expect, but that's all over as soon as you step out there. Then it's football - the guys are all bigger and faster - but it is still football.''

Huston, the Findlay native who displayed his strong kicking style last season at Ohio State, worked out with the Bears as a free agent invited to their minicamp.

"I think you try and settle yourself down a bit before you go out there, so you maintain good focus, but after you set up and kick a few balls, that routine is pretty familiar," Huston said. "Basically, it is a lot like Ohio State. It's a business, and it's our job to go in there and play football."

Huston, who expects to battle the Bears' incumbent kicker, former Penn State player Robbie Gould, for the roster spot, comes in as the top college kicker in the country, according to Chicago's scouts. Huston produced touchbacks on almost 75 percent of his kickoffs last season.

"I think they know what you are capable of, and that is why they bring you to camp, for a closer look," Huston said. "Once you are in camp, they don't really care about who played at what school or who got picked where - all they are looking for is a good football player."

Huston, who made 22 of 28 field goals for the Buckeyes last season, will return to Chicago in a week and spend the bulk of the summer there working out with the team and taking part in a second minicamp in June.

"I wanted to come there and learn and compete for a job, and I think the first minicamp went well," he said. "The special teams coach said I have some work to do adjusting my form and converting from a three-step kicker to a two-step kicker, but we've already started on that and I hit the ball pretty well. This whole thing is a long process that you hope lands you on the roster at the end of the summer."

Morris, who was cited by the Oakland staff for his work ethic and ability to execute assignments, went through two-a-day practices with most of the Raiders' team. He said digesting the offense was his top priority.

"When I got there, they threw the whole playbook at me, and I spent a lot of time at night studying it,''Morris said.

"It is a different system than what I am used to, since they use a fullback on offense and we ran a spread at Michigan State, with no fullback. But really, plays are plays, and you have the same basic do's and don'ts once you get through everything else.''

Morris said the rookies and veterans went though a lot of scrimmaging, drills, and special teams work.

"Throughout the whole minicamp, I went up against the veterans every day, so you have to be at your best all the time,'' Morris said.

"I think it went real well. I mean the coaches yell at you when you mess up, like anywhere, but overall it was good. It's the big time, so you get all of the perks involved with that, but it's a lot of work, too."

Morris expects to return to California in a week to take part in offseason workouts, and prepare for the next minicamp in June.

"They've got a couple of other centers on the team, but I've got some experience as a long snapper in college, and I hope that works in my favor," he said. "Right now, all you can do is work and study and prepare, and let the rest of that sort itself out."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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