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Pro Bowl practice begins; feuds under spotlight

KAPOLEI, Hawaii (Feb. 6, 2007) -- LaDainian Tomlinson now thinks Bill Belichick has nothing but class, and Belichick says the feeling is mutual.

Meanwhile, Jason Taylor has no problem starting alongside Shawne Merriman at the Pro Bowl -- but it's still unclear whether Merriman is less than thrilled to play with the Miami star who said the steroid-tainted San Diego linebacker shouldn't be allowed to play in Hawaii.

Though Peyton Manning and his four offensive teammates from the champion Indianapolis Colts hadn't yet arrived, the star-studded AFC squad enjoyed the first day of workouts on Oahu's gorgeous west shore.

While league MVP Tomlinson no longer has any bad feelings toward the New England Patriots' three-time Super Bowl-winning coach after their playoff meeting, another San Diego player's feud still might be simmering: Merriman pointedly refused to speak to reporters after working out alongside Taylor, Miami's NFL defensive player of the year.

In late December, Taylor spoke out strongly against players who test positive for performance-enhancing substances. Though only some of his comments were addressed directly to Merriman, Taylor said players who use banned substances shouldn't be allowed to receive postseason honors or even play in the league.

Taylor and Merriman didn't speak during meetings the evening of Feb. 5 or in practice, but Taylor believes the situation is workable.

"We'll talk," said Taylor, who beat out Merriman for the defensive player award. "Shawne and I are on the same team, and I don't think it's going to be a problem for any of us. It's not a big deal. I never said it was anything special about Shawne. I just felt like it's something that it's time for the league to address."

Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney directed even more pointed comments at Merriman last week, echoing Taylor's viewpoint. The NFL is reportedly considering a Pro Bowl ban as a consequence of a positive test.

"I'm glad the league has done something about it and is looking at it," Taylor said. "Sometimes it takes somebody with enough guts to stand up and say something. I'm not a pioneer or anything. I just think it's good they're doing something."

While Merriman had nothing to say, his teammates stuck by his side. Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal also said he supports more stringent drug-testing -- and he thinks Merriman would agree.

"It's not Shawne that's in question," Neal said. "He shouldn't be slammed because of one bad mistake he made. He knows he was taking something he shouldn't have been taking, but it wasn't the way people are making it out to be. He didn't read the labels (on a legal supplement). He made his choice, he paid his dues, and I think people need to let it go now."

Tomlinson's now-squashed problems with Belichick occupied much less time before practice.

New England cornerback Ellis Hobbs added an insult to the Patriots' road playoff victory against San Diego last month when he danced on the Chargers' midfield logo with some of his teammates. Moments later, Tomlinson said the Patriots "showed no class, and maybe that comes from the head coach."

After having nearly a month to cool down, Tomlinson no longer blames Belichick. Tomlinson said both the coach and the running back "kind of apologized" Feb. 5.

"He was joking around, having a good time with all the guys," Tomlinson said. "We even joked about the (playoff) game. I told him that I said some things that maybe I shouldn't have said, and in return, Bill said he didn't even see Hobbs doing it, but after the game, he definitely said something to him about handling the situation better.

"I still think Hobbs was wrong, but when I sit back and think about it, I don't think Bill has any control over how his players act. He can tell them all day long, 'Guys, let's act like we've been there before,' like Marty (Schottenheimer) does to us, but guys can always do whatever they want to do."

Tomlinson now wishes he hadn't invoked Belichick's name -- and he's excited to see how New England's coaching staff will use him in the Pro Bowl along with Manning, Marvin Harrison and the rest of the offensive talent.

"We talked," Belichick said. "I have all the respect in the world for LaDainian as a person, as a player, and it's fun to be out here working with all of those guys from the Chargers."

Belichick had less to say about retired Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, who claims Belichick forced him to participate in full-strength practices shortly after incurring a concussion. Johnson says the resulting brain injuries left him with memory loss, depression and an addiction to amphetamines.

"I wish Ted well," Belichick said. "I know he's going through some things, and I hope it works out well for him. ... I really don't want to go into the past. I just hope things work out well for Ted. I really do."

The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2007, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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