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Here's the chance for Seau to prove his point

It is a duel still waiting to happen, but Keith McCants and Junior Seau finally walk onto the same field Sunday. Uh, don't expect them to embrace.

In the NFL, a draft choice never enters the league alone. Always, there is someone with whom he is compared. Because of position. Because of where they went in the draft. Because of contract negotiations.

All of which means that McCants and Seau will be compared with each other for a long time to come.

In last year's NFL draft, McCants went fourth and Seau _ who said he told Tampa Bay not to draft him _ went fifth. Seau then asked for more money than McCants, saying he was better. Even before the draft, as he worked out, he said he had McCants on his mind.

"What motivated me?" Seau said at the time. "Keith McCants (the Alabama linebacker) did. I don't like being second, and that's what I was reading and hearing. Keith McCants was being set up as the best linebacker in the draft, and I didn't like it. It bothered me. It destroyed me. It isn't very comfortable being in the back seat. I didn't like it."

Remember that? And remember how Seau ripped McCants for being out of shape at the scouting combine workouts?

"Everyone made him (McCants) out to be Superman, but then they saw he couldn't fly," Seau said. "Everyone wanted to give him the cake, and he ate it. He came in fat, because he took it easy. He didn't excite me at all."

So far, neither McCants nor Seau has been the player he will be, largely because both the Bucs and Chargers have good linebacker corps. McCants has played more the last two weeks, but as yet has not been the destructive force he can be. Seau has started since the second week of the season for the Chargers, but he hasn't been much of a force as an inside, rather than outside, linebacker. Last week, Seau said he felt like "a fish out of water" at his new position, and spoke longingly of the opportunity to move back outside.

This week, you'll get a chance to grade the two of them again. But right now, neither has had the kind of season that James Francis of the Bengals or Aaron Wallace of the Raiders has had.

Best surprise: There is no doubt who's the early favorite for the Rookie of the Year Award. Johnny Johnson of the Phoenix Cardinals might just run away with it.

So far Johnson has 531 yards, a pace that would give him 1,416 by the end of the season, the fourth-best rookie total in history. Considering that Johnson was the 25th back taken _ and the third by the Cardinals _ in last year's draft, that's phenomenal.

"There's no goo-goo, ga-ga about him," said Phoenix coach Joe Bugel. "I don't want to pump his tires, but I think he should be Rookie of the Year."

Just wondering: Wouldn't the Atlanta Falcons be better off if Charles Dimry, rather than Tony Casillas, missed the next team flight?

Quiet, please: The Dallas Cowboys mistreated more players last week than those on the Tampa Bay Bucs. After linebacker Jesse Solomon finally (and reluctantly) ended his holdout, owner Jerry Jones approached him _ with television cameras rolling _ and stuck out his hand. Solomon refused to shake it.

For that, the Cowboys fined him $5,000. But Jones should know that you don't approach a man you've just beaten down in a contract negotiation and expect him to be happy about it.

Dunce award: Pittsburgh rookie Barry Foster left college early, but even that is no excuse for not knowing that you can't let a kickoff roll free. Yet, Foster did against the 49ers, allowing San Francisco's Mike Wilson to recover at the Pittsburgh 5. Call it the world's longest onside kick.

"I just blacked out," Foster said. "It makes me look stupid."

"I don't feel sorry for him," San Francisco special-teamer Spencer Tillman said. "I just wonder what the guy's thinking. It's such a basic rule. It's like putting a period at the end of a sentence. You don't even think about it."

No passing lane: Eric Dickerson returned to the Colts on Sunday, but you couldn't tell when the team threw the ball. Dickerson was ignored on his routes, although he stood waving his arms on occasion.

"He's not going to do much damage hanging around in the flats," Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "A guy like him, you don't throw it to him. You hand it to him."

Parting shot: Cincinnati Bengals' center Bruce Kozerski, on the Bengals' running game that gained 233 yards against the Cleveland Browns: "It was great to see the backs of the running backs' jerseys."

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