The Pro Bowl wide receiver finally showed up at training camp, an apology to his teammates in hand, no longer a distraction or a source of concern to a team that went deep into the playoffs last season and expects to do so again.

There were smiles, handshakes and hugs, rather than whispers of resentment or questions about his sincerity, when Hines Ward resumed practicing Wednesday with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Terrell Owens, this was not. Anyone looking for controversy or a sideshow needed to travel about five hours east in Pennsylvania to the Eagles’ camp to find it.

“I could tell today that everybody was up because Hines Ward, he’s back,” rookie wide receiver Fred Gibson said in Latrobe, Pa. “The tempo of the practice today was great.”

If there was any hostility or unhappiness, Ward’s teammates didn’t express it – a contrast to the Eagles’ camp, where Owens’ behavior and standoffishness before his one-week suspension clearly alienated some of his teammates before Owens also returned Wednesday.

That didn’t prevent Ward, who ended a 15-day holdout Monday, from going from dorm room to dorm room at St. Vincent College, catching up with his teammates and, he said, apologizing for being away.

“There’s been no player come up to me and say, “Hey, you should have been here,’ ” Ward said. “Most of them said, “Man, you’re lucky you got to miss two weeks of training camp. … Guys weren’t talking about the contract, they’re just glad to have me out here and I’m glad to be out there.”

Dolphins

Three days into training camp, Miami’s first-round draft pick, Ronnie Brown, already is winning raves – from Ricky Williams of all people.

Brown reported Monday after ending a three-week holdout, and teammate Williams likes what he sees from the rookie running back.

“When he first got drafted, you hear people wonder why you’d take a No. 2 (overall) pick for a guy that didn’t even start in college,” Williams said. “But seeing him out there, there is really nothing that isn’t wonderful about him.”

Brown shared playing time at Auburn with Cadillac Williams, also a top-five draft pick. Now Brown will compete for playing time with another Williams, 2002 NFL rushing champion Ricky, who is coming back from a one-year retirement.

Brown probably will start the opener Sept. 11 against Denver because Williams must sit out the first four games of the season for violating the league’s drug policy.

Bills

Buffalo’s Pro Bowl cornerback Nate Clements informally opened negotiations for his next contract with a very high asking price.

“I’m the best and I don’t settle for nothing less,” said Clements, a four-year veteran entering the final year of his contract. “It’s just like if you’re the best at your job, you want to be compensated for being the best at your position.”

Clements shrugged when informed that Denver’s Champ Bailey is the highest-paid cornerback after he signed a seven-year, $63 million contract last year that included an $18 million signing bonus.

“I don’t know what the figures look like, yet, I really don’t get into that,” Clements said. “I just worry about producing on the field.”

Panthers

Carolina agreed to a five-year contract extension with Pro Bowl linebacker Dan Morgan that will keep him with the Panthers through 2010.

“We’re excited about this,” general manager Marty Hurney said. “Dan is a very valuable asset to our defense. He’s a difference-maker and we thought it was very important to get him extended.”

Morgan was in the final year of his contract. He missed four games last season and most of a fifth because of a pair of concussions, but had a career-high 109 tackles along with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries to earn his first Pro Bowl trip.

Titans

The Titans finally reached a deal with their top draft pick Adam “Pacman” Jones, ending their longest contract holdout since relocating to the state of Tennessee.

Jones had missed the first 20 days of training camp. But with his agent Michael Huyghue meeting with the Titans on Tuesday and Wednesday, they finally reached agreement in principle on a five-year deal with $13.5 million in guaranteed money.

The Titans selected the cornerback with the sixth pick overall and made him the first defensive player taken in the draft based on his speed and his return skills on kickoffs and punts.

Rams

St. Louis Rams cornerback Jerametrius Butler will have knee surgery Monday and miss the season, coach Mike Martz said Wednesday.

Butler torn a right knee ligament on the first day of training camp July 28. He went to New York City this week to see a specialist, who agreed with Rams’ doctors that Butler should have an operation.

“He’s going to have surgery on the knee, so obviously he’s done for the year,” Martz said. “It’ll take about four months to recover and rehab from that thing.”

Butler will have the operation at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Butler said the injury happened when he broke for the ball and felt his knee give out.

He kept playing, but asked the trainers to look at it because it didn’t feel right.

“He was just starting to realize his full potential,” Martz said. “He’s obviously a terrific corner. We’ll move on. It just provides an opportunity for somebody else to fill in the ranks and be a good player.”

Backup DeJuan Groce, drafted in the fourth round in 2003 out of Nebraska, will move into Butler’s position. Groce started five of the 11 games he played last season and saw action in both postseason games.

Travis Fisher, the other starting corner, said he will miss Butler, but has confidence in Groce.

“The same bond I had with Butler, I can get with the next guy, too,” Fisher said. “DuJuan is consistent. He makes plays on the field. He can get it done.”

Butler, selected in fifth round of the 2001 draft, was one of nine Rams to start all 16 regular-season games and started both postseason contests. He had career highs with 100 tackles (78 solo), one fumble recovery and led the Rams with five interceptions and 22 passes defended, which tied him for second in NFL.

Rams veterans Corey Ivy, Terry Fair, Kevin Garrett and rookie Ron Bartell complete the secondary.

AP-ES-08-17-05 1613EDT


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