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THE NFL / BILL PLASCHKE : Deaf Player, Cut by Broncos, Seeks Second Chance

September 04, 1993|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For once in his life, Kenny Walker didn't need a hearing person to tell him what was happening.

When he was summoned to Coach Wade Phillips' office on final cut-down day Monday, he brought not only his interpreter, but his playbook.

Walker, the first deaf player in NFL history, was put on waivers after two seasons as a Denver Bronco defensive end.

The company line is that he was pushed out by draft picks Dan Williams and Jeff Robinson. Walker lost his starting job and had to learn to play nose tackle.

But at least one person is wondering if some in the organization simply got tired of dealing with Walker's deafness.

"In a way, you could see it coming because of their draft picks, but . . . there are still people in this world who think when is person is deaf, he is also stupid," said Guy Smith, Walker's interpreter. "I think Kenny's deafness was always a bigger handicap to other people than to him."

Bob Ferguson, Bronco director of player personnel, disagreed.

"We have never treated him like he had a handicap," he said. "This was strictly a talent decision. Kenny will be a great backup for somebody. We are getting younger, and he just got beat out.

"There was a lot of sadness when Kenny was cut because he is such a great guy."

But there had been definite problems. Although Smith has been at Walker's side during every practice and meeting since Walker arrived from the University of Nebraska, Smith could never go on the field with him.

That presented difficulties when the linebackers shouted out changes in coverages and assignments.

Because Walker was facing the quarterback, he couldn't read the linebackers' lips and had to be tapped on the back.

"There's no doubt about it, there's a very strong handicap there," Ernie Stautner, Bronco defensive line coach, told reporters. "The rapid changes in the formations and recognizing what's happening in the defense are tough.

"And linebackers can't tell him. They have to come up and tap him, and they have enough to do with their own jobs."

Big deal, said Smith.

"How come Kenny always missed fewer assignments than anybody else?" he said. "If there is a team out there who is willing to treat him like a player, and not just a deaf guy, he could be a great guy to have around."

Walker was not claimed on waivers and has not been been contacted by any other teams. Smith, who was paid by the Broncos, also lost his job.

"I would tell anybody, if they want a hard-nosed, athletic backup, Kenny is their guy," Ferguson said. "But how other organizations will look at him, I just don't know."

HE'S THEIR GUY

Most young quarterbacks gain the respect of their teammates in the huddle.

It happened for Brett Favre in a bar.

Rich Moran, the Green Bay Packers' veteran guard, recalls a night in the summer of 1992, after one of Favre's first practices with the Packers after he had been traded by the Atlanta Falcons.

Some offensive linemen and Favre were getting acquainted when a stranger arrived and trouble started.

"This guy walks up to me and tries to start something, nothing serious, just saying a few things," Moran said. "Next thing I know, Brett has the guy pinned up against the wall."

Moran said he looked at his fellow linemen, then all of them looked at their young backup quarterback in shock.

"We had not even known this guy for two days, and here he is, backing us up," Moran said. "Stories like that filter through the locker room. By the time last season started, Brett was our guy."

Favre, who became the youngest quarterback to play in a Pro Bowl last year at 23, heard the story and shrugged. But then, he hears nearly anything and shrugs.

"Guys expect the quarterback to get down and dirty for them," he said. "They never expect me to make a block, but I do that, too.

"The captain is supposed to be up running the ship, but I think you ain't a captain if you also won't swab the deck."

On Sunday, he will attempt to swab the Rams in the season opener at Milwaukee.

DELAY OF GAME, OFFENSE

The rule change that will be noticed most by the fans Sunday is the shortening of the time between plays, from 45 seconds to 40.

Even after four exhibitions, Falcon quarterbacks figure they will have more trouble than most.

By the time Coach Jerry Glanville debates the play, rips the play, then changes the play, which was called by assistant coach June Jones, they will have already lost 20 seconds.

Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner, said Tuesday that the new rule is working. He said that teams in transition, particularly those with young quarterbacks, will be the ones having the most trouble.

"(Penalties) have been occurring when you have a mix of players in the lineup who haven't played much before, a young quarterback, people adjusting to new systems, new coaches," he said. "We feel once the season gets going, everybody will have a smooth transition."

The rule certainly has served its purpose of increasing the number of plays in a game. Teams averaged 152 plays in exhibitions, compared to 145 last summer.

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