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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kinoshita begins bid to be first Japanese to play in NFL

Staff writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Noriaki Kinoshita firmly took his first step toward becoming the first Japanese player to make it on an NFL roster on Thursday.

News photo
Noriaki Kinoshita catches a pass at the Atlanta Falcons' training camp on Thursday in Flowery Branch, Ga. Kinoshita played three seasons in NFL Europa. KYODO PHOTO

And it was in the midst of an extraordinary atmosphere.

The Atlanta Falcons began the first day of their training camp without starting quarterback Michael Vick, who was indicted by a federal grand jury for illegal dogfighting, and star running back Warrick Dunn, who has recently undergone back surgery and will be out for three to four weeks.

Even so, the other "Dirty Birds" stepped onto a hot and humid field at their practice facility in the Atlanta suburbs focused solely on the task at hand.

It's all about practice, preparation and the upcoming season.

Kinoshita, who has been a Vick fan — a fact that was indirectly part of the reason he chose the Falcons over other teams that had sent offers — showed up with the same attitude and mind-set.

The 24-year-old wide receiver/kick returner, who wore the offense's red practice jersey, went through every workout drill with a very serious look on his face.

"Their attitudes are so much different," Kinoshita said of the 88 players at training camp, sizing up the difference between an NFL camp and other teams he's played on. "They are so professional, and I felt like they are chosen ones. They never get loose and are demanding on (everything)."

Kinoshita is one of the newcomers on the team, but what handicaps him is that while most of the rookies went through a rookie mini-camp during the spring, being part of a NFL camp is a totally new experience for him. Kinoshita played in NFL Europa during the last three seasons.

Even so the Atlanta coaches show no mercy. The practice's tempo was quick, and every five minutes the players had to go through the next set of drills.

"I was told the tempo would be fast in the first 10 days or so, though. It was indeed fast," Kinoshita said.

Kinoshita said that everything was so different from the past leagues he played in, including NFL Europa.

"I really feel that I am in the highest level," he said. "This is a totally different thing (from NFL Europa). I worked out for the first time here, and realized the NFL is absolutely a different thing — like the attitudes and professionalism of the players — they've got super things."

Kinoshita made his name as a kick returner in NFL Europa, but spent the bulk of his time with the wide receivers during Thursday's practice. He never participated on kick-return drills.

Also, in the scrimmage that was held toward the end of the day, he only had a couple of opportunities to actually join in and mostly stood and observed.

"Right now we've just started out," said Paul Petrino, the Falcons' wide receivers coach and younger brother of head coach Bobby Petrino. "And in the couple of plays I told him what to do. Let's see how things go and how things work out for him."

Vick in free fall

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Nike suspended its lucrative contract with Michael Vick on Friday, while Reebok took the unprecedented step of stopping sales of his No. 7 jersey.

In another dose of bad news for the indicted quarterback, a top trading card company announced it was pulling Vick's likeness from any new packs.

Facing protests from animal-rights groups, Nike announced it was suspending Vick's endorsement deal without pay, as well as halting sales of Vick-related shoes and other products at its retail stores.

"Nike is concerned by the serious and highly disturbing allegations made against Michael Vick, and we consider any cruelty to animals inhumane and abhorrent," Nike spokesman Dean Stoyer said in a statement.

Reebok, the official uniform supplier of the NFL, said it would stop selling Vick's replica jersey at retail stores and through its Web site.

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