01 June 2014

AJ HIghsmith Retires From Football

Former UM safety AJ Highsmith, Alonzo's son, announced on Instagram that he will no longer play football. He auditioned for the San Francisco 49ers last month after going undrafted.

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Sean Spence Participated In All Six Steelers OTAs

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Sean Spence in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft with the hope he would add to the lineage of standout Steelers linebackers.

However, a gruesome knee injury in the 2012 preseason has kept Spence from appearing in a single game for the Steelers the last two seasons.

Spence suffered a torn ACL and LCL, a dislocated knee cap and nerve damage when he was blocked while chasing after Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Spence returned to the practice field for the Steelers last October after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list. After practicing for three weeks, Spence ultimately landed on injured reserve, officially ending his second season in the league.

However, Spence is continuing to progress toward a return that was once thought to require a “miraculous” recovery to even be possible.

According to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Spence has participated in all six of the Steelers OTAs over the past two weeks.

“It is still a process,” Spence said. “This is just step one of coming out and competing and reacting off of other guys instead of cones. When I get to Latrobe (for training camp), I will be able to test it even more there.”

Head coach Mike Tomlin said in May he “can’t wait to watch” Spence play football again. Considering how close Spence’s career came to being over, making it back on the field for preseason games should be considered a major accomplishment. If he can make the roster, Spence may be able to give Pittsburgh an unexpected boost on defense.

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Arian Foster is Calling Out to Andre Johnson

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Vince Wilfork extends workout

Vince Wilfork participated in about half the practice before departing to rehab in the bubble. Kelly and Smith practiced for about one or two drills less than Wilfork. It marks progress for all, as they were limited to stretching and jogging last Friday. Bolden departed around the same time, and the remainder of the limited participants left practice after stretching and jogging.

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Vernon Davis: Pay Jimmy Graham like a WR

San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who is angling for his own contract extension, said he believes that the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham deserves more than just a tight end franchise-tag salary.

"I think Jimmy Graham is trying to make an informed decision as far as his contract. He believes that he deserves more, and I believe that he deserves more," Davis said when asked during a "SportsCenter" interview Thursday about the franchise-tag grievance that Graham filed. "He's just a wonderful presence. He's a great player. He has a lot of potential to go above and beyond and just go further. He is one of those guys that is a part of that TE position that are changing the game -- Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, [Rob] Gronkowski.

"Those guys are some fantastic players. If it was me, if I was the owner of the team, I would give the kid everything he wants because he's that."

Graham's grievance hearing is scheduled for June 17-18, when a neutral third-party arbitrator will hear arguments as to whether Graham should be considered a wide receiver instead, since he lined up for 67 percent of his snaps either in the slot or out wide last season. The one-year franchise-tag salary for tight ends and wide receivers is $7.035 million and $12.3 million, respectively.

That ruling could have a huge effect on the long-term contract negotiations between the Saints and Graham.

Asked if he feels like tight ends should be paid more like receivers, Davis said, "If you're a guy who's catching a lot of passes and you possess some of the traits that wide receivers have, then yes, I agree. I think that he should get paid like a wide receiver."

And when asked if he himself should be paid like a receiver, Davis said, "I can't speak for myself. I'll let everybody else do that."

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Antrel Rolle likes the chemistry of the new-look Giants

The Giants brought in a lot of new faces this offseason, particularly in the secondary. Usually it takes some time for pieces to meld together in such situations, but Antrel Rolle said the Giants’ chemistry is so good right now it actually tops what he has experienced in previous years when there was far less roster turnover.

“I think this group and this unit that we have here is definitely a closer unit than we’ve had in the past,” Rolle said. “Everyone had their own thing going on but when you find guys that want to hang out with other players, it doesn’t matter what it is, just to get another guy off the field, get to know his mind, what triggers his mind. So far it’s been good for us.”

Rolle said that can only help on the field, especially in terms of communication. He pointed to the relationship he has with Jon Beason and Stevie Brown, saying that he can just share a look with those players and they will know what he’s thinking.

The key, of course, is getting the other new players up to speed on that non-verbal language. And it begins at this time of the year.

“Whether it’s going to watch the basketball game or picking up a game of basketball or even playing cards or shooting pool, I think the guys have collectively been in tune with one another,” Rolle said. “We’ve been hanging out a lot, we’ve been doing a lot of down time just relaxing, chilling, getting to know each other off the field. The new guys that have joined the Giants team this year, they’ve been embracing it and they’ve been having a ball with it.”

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Joel Figueroa Switches Positions For Team

The Ticats are testing driving a new look offensive line at this year’s training camp.

Tackles Brian Simmons and Joel Figueroa have flipped spots while a handful of others are competing for spots on the interior of the line.

Head coach Kent Austin says they want to see if the switch at tackle makes the o-line better.

Hamilton allowed a CFL worst 65 sacks last season, and Austin admits that he thought of making the switch in 2013.

“This year we’re at a little bit different place with our understanding of what we are trying to do,” said Austin.

Offensive line coach Allen Rudolph says it’s a good time to try the experiment.

Rudolph says, “In case of injury or whatever we can bounce those guys around,” adding they have some good depth in the trenches and are “mixing and matching” to see which player is the best fit at each spot.

Figueroa is willing to help the team in any way, saying “I do whatever the coach asks me, play both sides or any interior” position if it helps the team, “I’m glad to help.”

Moving from right to left tackle brings a change in stance, foot work and hand movements for the hulking Miami University grad, but says “it’s nothing really big, it’s pretty much the same.”

Simmons is relishing the opportunity to expand his skills, saying the technique and angles are different, but he likes it, “Because this is my fourth camp, I need a challenge.”

The 29-year-old Simmons is also rubbing some A5-35 on body parts that he doesn’t normally reach.

“I’m used to everything on the left (side of his body) hurtin’, now everything on the right side is hurtin’,” he said with a smile, “so it’s nice to get a change.”

Simmons says apart from the physical stress that comes with training camp, he says the mental preparation “is the biggest challenge for me.”

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Andrew Suarez First proCane Drafted in MLB Draft

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Shane Larkin To Boost Trade Value for Dallas Mavericks in Summer League

It was a lackluster rookie season for Dallas Mavericks point guard Shane Larkin. Larkin was aiming to prove all of his doubters wrong, but got put on the shelf with an ankle fracture just before summer league started.

But now we’re on the heels of summer league again, and Larkin is fresh and ready to go. He’s learned the dangers of getting off to a bad start, as well as the inhospitable conditions of head coach Rick Carlisle‘s doghouse. Of course, Larkin wants to get out of Carlisle’s doghouse and, at the very least, establish himself as a backup NBA point guard.

Circumstances this past season led to the former first-round draft pick falling out of the rotation completely, but this upcoming season can be different, especially if Larkin can get off to a hot start. Who knows? Maybe starting point guard Jose Calderon gets injured in the preseason, or Devin Harris bolts from Dallas for more money.

Either way, Larkin is basically getting a do-over in his sophomore season. Short in height but big in heart and talent, Larkin has what it takes to prove the doubters wrong. If he happens to boost his stock, that still probably won’t squeeze him into Carlisle’s veteran-heavy rotation, but it could benefit both parties, as the Mavericks can use Larkin as a trade piece and Larkin can get a fresh start elsewhere.

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VIDEO: Sean Spence At Steelers OTAs

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Peter O'Brien on a power surge

TRENTON — Peter O’Brien always wanted to hit for power.

He’ll never forget his first high school home run: “Junior year, left-center,” he said before a Double-A Eastern League game for the Trenton Thunder. It was a summer league game in the Florida Keys, a day he went 5-for-5, hit two homers and missed a third when it hit off the top of the fence.

He has hit a lot of home runs since then, but it wasn’t until the end of his sophomore season in college that he realized his swing might actually be plugged into a power socket. As a catcher at Bethune-Cookman (Daytona Beach, Fla.), he hit 20.

Going into last night’s game in Richmond, he led the league with 10 home runs, including a grand slam, a go-ahead, pinch-hit shot and two in one game. Including his early season stop at Single-A Tampa, the right-hander has hit 20 homers this spring.

He is one of only six minor league players with a .660-plus slugging percentage.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson recently compared O’Brien’s smooth, easy swing to Willie McCovey, Dave Kingman, Darryl Strawberry, Dick Allen and, of course, himself. Trenton manager Tony Franklin used the name Barry Bonds.

“He has big-time power,” Franklin said about O’Brien, who turns 24 next month. “He has a special gift. When you see this kid hit a baseball, you have to say to yourself, ‘That’s a little different than anyone else.’

“Bonds had that kind of power. He (O’Brien) hit a home run a couple of weeks ago, when it left the bat, I couldn’t see it; I couldn’t look high enough. It’s a different sound, too. That was one of the loudest balls I’ve heard in a long time. It’s different from the other hitters.”

O’Brien’s background is different as well.

His mother, who speaks very little English, is from Cuba, and was a member of the National Cuban Ballet. His father is Irish and speaks even less Spanish.
“They met on a set when she was doing a show in the U.S.,” O’Brien said about his parents. “He kept asking her out, but he couldn’t speak any Spanish and she couldn’t speak any English. It must have been pretty funny.

“She was still dancing when she was pregnant with me, then she stopped after my brother was born.”

Younger brother Patrick graduated from high school last week and also plays baseball. Their father was a pitcher at Western Michigan and their uncle played ball in Cuba.

His passion for the game followed O’Brien to Bethune-Cookman College, where he and his roommate and a couple of other guys on the team would take reps in a batting cage off campus.

Cookman played its games on Jackie Robinson Ball Park, sharing it with the Daytona Cubs, a minor league affiliate of Chicago.

The players would hop a 7-foot fence and head to the batting cage, where the stadium groundskeeper would leave them a bucket of balls.

“We’d finish practice, go eat dinner, then come back to the field, and if the Cubs had a night game, we’d wait until everyone was gone and go hit until one or two in the morning,” O’Brien. “We’d hit off a tee or toss in the cage out in left field. We never got chased.

“I wanted to get better,” he said about the extra workouts, “and I was going to do whatever it took to do it.”

That went on for three years until his mother, who was diagnosed with leukemia when O’Brien was in high school, had to have an operation. After turning down an offer from the Colorado Rockies, he transferred back home, enrolled at the University of Miami and was granted an NCAA waiver and played his senior year with the Hurricanes.

“My grandmother lives with us,” O’Brien said, “and my mom’s family lives in South Florida, so on the Cuban side everyone speaks primarily Spanish. When we’re together at dinner we go back and forth all night, so when I tell a story I have to say it in English and Spanish.”

There are no language barriers during the annual Thanksgiving Day Wiffle ball game.
“My mom and dad take it seriously,” said O’Brien, whose family eventually built a batting cage in the yard. “They have all these wild pitching motions and throw sinkers, curveballs and knuckleballs. My uncle always reminds me of the times I was little when I would hit the ball over the roof.”

O’Brien’s longest home run — though some might assume it came this spring a couple of times at Arm & Hammer Park — was apparently hit during a Cookman game at Delaware State.

“Left-center, off a building,” O’Brien said with a smile. “I think that was the farthest, or at least it felt the farthest. But that was with a metal bat. When I hit one here, sometimes I’ll come back to the dugout and joke and say, ‘That’s a good wooden bat.’ But I usually don’t say much after a home run.”

Others do the talking when he cranks one over the wall toward Route 29, or when they hear the sound of a quick swing saying hello to a 90-mph fastball carrying his future.

“I feel like I’ve always taken the tough route when I had to do things. My parents and my family always taught me to work hard for whatever I want,” O’Brien said, “so I’ve always been that guy and never take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Getting to the major leagues will be the final answer.

“I feel confident,” he said. “I know what I have to work on and what I have to keep doing. I feel physically ready for sure, but most importantly, mentally I’m ready. I’m in a good place right now.”

And he’s not surprised.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I don’t think I’m that far away at all, and I think the sky’s the limit. I always knew I wanted to be that guy.”

The power guy.

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Knowshon Moreno Out of Shape, Lamar Miller Starter

It’s early June, but Dolphins tailback Knowshon Moreno doesn’t look game ready. He’s currently working as a backup behind starter Lamar Miller and didn’t look sharp at OTAs. Moreno also looks a little thicker than usual. Philbin was asked Monday about Moreno’s conditioning. “I think my instincts tell me for this time of the year it’s pretty good,” Philbin said. “But I think there is certainly some room [for improvement] as we get rolling.”

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Ed Reed is still not an option for the Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was only natural for the question to come up.

Safety is an area of concern for the Indianapolis Colts since Antoine Bethea calls San Francisco home now. The player who is currently available has a history with the head coach.

Ed Reed and Chuck Pagano spent time together at the University of Miami and with the Baltimore Ravens. Pagano respects Reed. Pagano was the Hurricanes' secondary coach from 1995-2000, the Ravens' secondary coach from 2008-10, then their defensive coordinator the following season.

The question about them possibly being reunited was asked by fans when the Houston Texans released Reed last season.

It was asked again by fans after Reed told reporters he plans to play next season during a charity softball game in Baltimore over the weekend.

And just like last November, don't expect the Colts to have any interest in Reed. He's a nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winner, but his best years are clearly behind him. He didn't struggle and eventually get benched and released from the Texans for no reason.

The Colts would have signed a safety during free agency or selected one during last month's draft if they were really concerned about the position.

The starting safety spot is right there for Delano Howell. It'll stay that way until he somebody else beats him out for it.

"Delano Howell has played some really good snaps for us," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said last month. "We feel good about Delano and we're hoping some of these other guys rise to the occasion. We signed Colt Anderson. We've got some guys that have had some starts in this league. Corey Lynch has played 12 starts in this league. Someone is going to emerge."

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Brandon Linder Will Be a Starter, Just a Matter of Time

“The question isn’t whether he’s going to play or not but when. It’s just a question of when his time is going to be. He’s going to be a great player. He’s definitely got the tools and the mind-set. He’s a great guy,” McClendon said.

The Jaguars traded up in the third round to take Linder to be their right guard of the future after Uche Nwaneri was released in March.

Linder wasn’t simply handled the job. He’s in a friendly competition with McClendon, who originally entered the league in 2010 as a fourth-round pick of the Colts.

The Jaguars are McClendon’s fifth team, although he’s played in only nine NFL regular-season games and spent a lot of time on practice squads.

The players are in a close competition that coach Gus Bradley said won’t be decided until training camp.

“It will be an intriguing competition,” he said.

When Bradley was asked if McClendon has the edge because he’s got more experience, Bradley said, “I would say that’s to his advantage with his experience, but I wouldn’t say one of them has the edge over the other.”

McClendon is mentoring Linder even as they fighting for the same starting job.

“My job is to be somebody he can look up to and ask questions to,” McClendon said. “My job is to help this team win in every way possible. If that’s as a starter, it’s as a starter. If that’s as a backup, it’s as a backup. If you think about what is going on behind the scenes or upstairs, you kind of get out of your game.”

Linder comes in with a good resume. He was a four-year starter at the University of Miami, starting 42 games, 37 of them at right guard. He also played for current Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch for two years and is familiar with the offense and the zone-blocking scheme.

Linder is a 6-5, 311-pounder. McClendon is 6-3 and 324.

Bradley said McClendon is good at the gap scheme because of his mass, and Linder has the athleticism for the zone schemes.

Linder said he’s not thinking about a battle for the starting job.

“For me, it’s just about trying to get better every day and do my best and kind of watching what the vets do,” Linder said.

Linder said McClendon has been helping him adjust to the pros.

“He’s helping me with the plays and my technique and showing me how it’s done with him being a veteran,” Linder said.

Center Mike Brewster, who plays alongside the right guard, said he’s only worked with McClendon so far because McClendon has been getting the snaps wit the first unit.

“I haven’t had a chance to play next to Linder, but it seems like he’s coming along really well and knows his stuff. Jacques is really reliable, a great guy and a great teammate. And he’s getting a chance to focus on the guard spot instead of flipping back between guard and center. And he’s helping to bring him [Linder] along, which says a lot about Jacques,” Brewster said.

McClendon grew up in Tennessee playing basketball until the eighth or ninth grade before he started playing football because of his size. After his sophomore year, when he started getting interest from the colleges, he dropped basketball and played football full time.

He decided to play at the University of Tennessee because it was a 45-minute drive from his hometown of Cleveland, Tenn. At Tennessee, he started 26 of 49 games at right guard, including 13 as a senior.

The Colts drafted him in the fourth round and cut him, and he started the long trek to the Jaguars. He played in four games as a rookie and was waived at the end of the 2011 camp. Detroit claimed him and waived him a month later and put him on the practice squad. He was waived by the Lions at the end of camp in 2012 and spent a couple of weeks on Pittsburgh’s practice squad before he was waived. The Falcons signed him to their practice squad. That’s where Jaguars general manager David Caldwell got to know him. And when the Falcons waived McClendon, the Jaguars claimed him. He played in five games and started two.

“He’s a very, very hard worker, and he’s very intelligent. He’s got good strength and very good initial quickness. He’s a pro, and he’s getting better,” Caldwell said.

Despite all the bouncing around, McClendon has nothing but positive things to say about his career.

“It’s given me a lot of things people wish they had. I’m living a dream, and I’m very thankful for it,” he said.

McClendon loves playing for the Jaguars.

“It’s an awesome place, and we’re all blessed to be in this locker room just because there aren’t many locker rooms like this,” he said.

That probably explains why McClendon’s emphasis isn’t on starting but staying on the team.

“What I want to do every day is make sure I’m good enough to stay in the locker room,” he said. “So I’ll just stay on top of my p’s and q’s and attack every day as a new day and give it my best.”

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In retirement, Edgerrin James enjoys being a 'tourist' of life

If it's Tuesday, and Edgerrin James' fluid schedule has him in Naples, Fla., you'll find him at Champion Billiards. It's league night, and James considers himself quite the pool hustler.

"For a football player, I'm probably one of the best you're gonna find," offered the self-assured former Indianapolis Colts running back. "Yeah, I'm near the top.

"I joined the league a couple of years ago, and whenever I'm in town, it gives me something to do."

Finding something to do has been a year-round job since James retired from the NFL following the 2009 season.
onsider a recent travel itinerary:

— in New York to watch his Miami Heat face the Brooklyn Nets in an NBA playoff game
— a junket to Las Vegas for, well, a good time
— an ensuing trip to Los Angeles
— a stop in Albuquerque, N.M., which included a side trip to Cibalo National Forest
— back to South Florida

It was near the end of his seven-year stint with the Colts that James shared his view of a post-NFL life.

"I plan on being a tourist. Full-time," James offered, smiling but dead serious.

Reminded of that exchange in a recent telephone interview, James laughed lightly. The man had a vision, and is living it.

"I am a tourist," he said. "I'm always moving around. It's non-stop reading and learning and trying to listen to everything.

"Just livin' life. It's everything we talked about in the past. I don't want to be on someone else's clock. None of that."

Generally, home base is South Florida. Specifically, James divides his time among Orlando, Miami and Naples. The latter is where you'll find him during the school year.

James has six children — three boys, three girls — and they dictate his whereabouts.

"I'm never too far away from them," he said.

He chuckled when asked for their names.

"Nah. All of them start with 'E' and all have the last name James. That's all you need to know."

The oldest, Equisha, just completed her junior year in high school, and she plans to attend Howard University in Washington, then enroll in law school at the University of Miami.

"We already did the college tour thing," said James, who's single. "We did it the right way.

"Everything is working the way it was kind of laid out. I'm just following the map."

The NFL provided the means to the developing that map, and carrying it out.

The Colts selected James with the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft and he repaid their faith by setting franchise rushing records for a career (9,226), season (1,709) and game (219). He won league rushing titles in 1999 and 2000, and was selected to four Pro Bowls.

When the team opted not to re-sign him after the 2005 season, he spent three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and one with the Seattle Seahawks. In 11 seasons, James rushed for 12,246 yards, the 11th-best total in league history, and piled up 15,610 total yards from scrimmage, No. 13 all-time.

He's eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015.

"I did my part, on the field and off the field," James said. "Whatever happens, happens."

When the college football season resumes, James once again plans to frequent games at The U. He's hooked on tailgating, something his playing career kept him from experiencing.

"You knew how much fun everybody was having, but not you," he said. "I love to tailgate when they have the night games. You have all day.

"I don't get to do the NFL games because they're too early in the morning."

At some point, James plans to write a book aimed at sharing his life experiences.

"Too many guys are in a bad position right now, financially and otherwise," he said. "I want to lay out my route, how I've done it. So many guys have similar backgrounds, so you hate to see so many guys making those mistakes and having to struggle after their (careers are over).

"For me, everything is moving in the right direction because I did things the right way. It was all part of planning it from the beginning."
James paused.

"Life has always been good," he said. "You know me, man. I make the best out of everything, so life's always going to be good no matter what's going on.

"I'm just Edge. Just being Edge."

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Trial begins for second suspect in Sean Taylor's murder

SeanTaylor copy
MIAMI (AP) - Trial has begun in South Florida for a second man accused of taking part in a botched 2007 burglary that ended with the fatal shooting of Washington Redskins star safety Sean Taylor.

Opening statements were set for Tuesday for 25-year-old Jason Mitchell, one of five men from the Fort Myers area charged with murder in the case. The alleged shooter, Eric Rivera Jr., was convicted last fall of second-degree murder and sentenced to 57 years behind bars.

Evidence in Rivera's trial showed Taylor was fatally shot after confronting the would-be burglars in his home. Investigators say the group thought Taylor was out of town.

Two other men await trial. One has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary.

Taylor was Pro Bowl safety who also starred at the University of Miami.

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Sage Steele recalls Warren Sapp critiquing her undergarments

Women seeking to carve out a career in sports, heads up: this is the kind of stuff you'll deal with on a regular basis. Sage Steele, host of ESPN's NBA Countdown, is one of the most accomplished journalists in sports, of any gender. But there was a time when she was just a cub reporter herself, and she drew the joyous assignment of interviewing Warren Sapp on a regular basis.

Speaking on Jimmy Kimmel's show, Steele conceded that she is completely gray because of locker room experiences. Kimmel prodded her for specific names, and Steele relented, giving up Sapp.

Steele told the story of the first time she covered the Buccaneers after a stint in Indianapolis. "I was young and scared and trying to impress," she said. "I'm a journalist and all business." Sapp spotted her and waved her over, "and the idiot that I was, I walked over," Steele said.

Steele introduced herself and said she was from Indianapolis, and Sapp nodded knowingly, saying "I could tell." Steele couldn't figure out how he knew, and he promised to tell her during bye week.

The secret, according to Sapp? "All women from Indianapolis, Naptown, wear granny panties," Steele said.

"Were you wearing them?" Kimmel laughed.

"Apparently I was!" Steele replied. "I need to thank Warren Sapp for being that obnoxious, because I went shopping and I've evolved. I try to teach women who want to get into business -"

"Wear thong underwear," Kimmel finished, and the scowl that Steele fixed him with said plenty.

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Mike James Takes Part In Cut for a Cure

Mike James had his head shaved for the first time in his life on Tuesday, and afterward he didn't even ask for a mirror. He didn't need to see how he looked; instead, he was picturing his own son's face.

James, a second-year running back and the father of one-year-old Michael James III, was one of 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneer players who took part in the Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s Fifth Annual Bright House Networks Cut for a Cure Charity Challenge after practice on Tuesday. The goal of the event was to raise $20,000 to add to the nearly $280,000 the Cut for a Cure initiative has generated so far this year and aid in the PCF's efforts to provide medical research, programming and pediatric care for children and their families fighting pediatric cancer and blood disorders.

James was only doing what he hoped others would do if his son ever needed the community's help.

"Being around kids who have had a setback in life, who have had to struggle with an unfortunate disease, it touches my heart very deeply," he said. "Anything I can do to help push them forward, to show them that it's everybody that cares – men, women, adult, children – I want to show them that as much as I can. I have a son and it hits home with me. My son is healthy, thank God, but if he wasn't I would want somebody to show him that we're all here to support him."

A total of 20 Buccaneer staff members also sat down in the makeshift barber chairs in the One Buccaneer Place media studio on Tuesday to submit to the clippers. Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy were among the dozens who adopted the close-shaved look in order to support the cause. Kicker Connor Barth participated for the second year in a row and was pleased to see the young cancer patients who were on hand to help with the buzz cuts, some of whom he remembered from the 2013 event.

"These kids, you see them with the smiles on their faces. My buddy Josh was having a ball over there, and I just want him to know how much the Bucs care about him. It's an inspiration to us, because what we do is nothing compared to what they have to do, what they have to fight for. This is a great cause.

"Like Brian Ford said, they're the real heroes, the kids. They just want to be normal kids and have a normal life, and we just want to show the support we have for them. We want them to know that it's cool to have no hair. I love it – I can just get up and roll out of bed!"

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Greg Olsen may expand leadership role

At this early juncture in the offseason, two names stand out above the rest: center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen.

Kalil is entering his eighth NFL season, all with the Panthers, behind only Davis and running back DeAngelo Williams in terms of current continuous service. He had always chosen to stay a step behind Gross when it came to taking on a leadership role but began stepping up last season, when he was a team captain for the first time (incidentally, Newton and Kuechly also were first-time captains in 2013). When the Panthers returned to Bank of America Stadium for the offseason workout program in April, three players addressed the media: Newton, Kuechly and Kalil.

Olsen is also entering his eighth NFL season, his fourth with the Panthers. Olsen, selected by the media as recipient of the 2013 Tom Berry Good Guy Award, has always been willing to impart his vast knowledge to the media and has done so more and more in the locker room as his tenure has increased. Like Kalil, Olsen is a student of the game, and it obviously doesn't hurt his credibility that he led the team in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns last season.

On defense, it's going to be interesting to track who assumes a leadership role in the revamped secondary. Charles Godfrey was asserting himself before a season-ending injury early last season, and now the Panthers have added 20 seasons of NFL experience between safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud and cornerback Antoine Cason.

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For Chris Myers, every workout is like Day 1 with Texans

As a nine-year NFL veteran, Texans center Chris Myers said one of the things that keeps him going is maintaining a competitive edge. To keep that going in OTAs, Myers is treating each practice the same way he did when he was a rookie.

“For me, it is learning from scratch again too,” Myers said. “Nine years and this my first time with a whole new offense as well. We are going about it like it is Day 1 and I think that is the way you need to treat it. Go in there and try to earn your spot day in and day out. I think if you get complacent and think you’ve arrived, that is when you lose it.”

Myers said that he has treated every NFL season like it is his first and his last. He wants to play with the determination of someone just starting out and wants to compete like someone who has been around for years.

He tries to pass those lessons onto younger players, while he is trying to keep up with them.

“The older you get, the harder that is but I have motivation,” he said. “I treat every year like it is my last and my first year. There are always good players chasing right behind me. I treat them like my little brother, take them under my wings, learn the ropes and it is helping. Having those guys keeps me better.”

Myers said OTAs are the perfect time to set a veteran example and he is taking advantage of that each day.

“Right now, we are in OTAs, but when you get to training camp and the nitty gritty, that will be essential for us to have the vets in there competing on a day in and day out basis with the young guys,” he said.

“If you compete as a vet and young guys see that, it makes them more hungry.”

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Ryan Braun falls to 6th among OFs in all-star voting

Brewers rightfielder Ryan Braun, who was third among National League outfielders in fan balloting for the all-star team in the first round of voting, has dropped to sixth in the second round.

Teammate Carlos Gomez moved ahead of Braun into fifth place among NL outfielders. The top three outfielders in fan balloting will be starters in the All-Star Game in Minneapolis on Tuesday July 15.

Yasiel Puig of Los Angeles moved into first place among NL outfielders, followed by Colorado's Charlie Blackmon and Miami's Giancarlo Stanton. Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP, is fourth, followed by Gomez and Braun.

Puig had more than 935,000 votes, with Blackmon at 883,186 and Stanton at 863,307. Gomez had more than 819,000 votes and Braun more than 750,000.
Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy moved up one place into third among catchers, following St. Louis' Yadier Molina and Buster Posey.

Shortstop Jean Segura moved up to third among shortstops, behind Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki and San Francisco's Brandon Crawford.

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez dropped one spot to third among third basemen in the balloting, trailing Colorado's Nolan Arenado and New York's David Wright.

Tulowitzki, the NL's starting shortstop in 2013 and a three-time all-star, has taken the overall lead in the majors with 1,419,718 votes to pull ahead of the top American League vote-getter, Mike Trout (1,361,649) of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 

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Cowboys Considering Brian Urlacher, Jonathan Vilma To Replace Sean Lee

The injury to middle linebacker Sean Lee has left a gaping hole in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys defense, and the team is considering all of its options to find a replacement.

Two names that have surfaced in the team’s attempt to find a replacement include Brian Urlacher and Jonathan Vilma, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported.

Cowboys evaluating all options for replacing LB Sean Lee, including vets like Brian Urlacher and Jon Vilma. Will likely be 2-player platoon
— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) June 2, 2014

Urlacher, 36, spent last year in the broadcast booth instead of on the football field. At this time last year, Urlacher retired from the NFL after 13 seasons manning the middle of the Chicago Bears’ defense.

It’s unknown whether Urlacher has an interest in returning to football and leaving his comfortable seat with FOX, or if he’s in game shape. One positive about Urlacher is that he’s seasoned in defensive coordinator’s Rod Marinelli’s scheme.

Vilma, 32, missed the 2013 season due to a lingering knee injury. The New Orleans Saints let the veteran backer walk in  free agency, but last week, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Vilma is now “healthy and ready” to return to action.

If Dallas is in market for a LB, one who is recovered from knee issues is former Saint Jonathan Vilma. Now said to be healthy and ready.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 27, 2014

Vilma reached out to the Miami Dolphins, his hometown team, but they showed no interest, according to the Miami Herald. The Dolphins also passed on two other former Hurricanes – Jon Beason and Darryl Sharpton – in free agency over the offseason. Vilma has received little to no interest on the open market.

When Lee tore his ACL during Cowboys OTAs last week, it was presumed Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round draft pick out of Iowa, would have the first crack at earning the starting job. But Werder is suggesting the team wants a two-player platoon at middle linebacker.

Based on age, it seems like Vilma is the more probable fit. He’s younger and has shown an interest in playing this season.

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Ed Reed: I can still play in NFL despite 2013 season

Ed Reed doesn't want to ride into the sunset just yet.

At a charity softball game with former Baltimore Ravens teammate Lardarius Webb, the veteran safety said he still wants to play in 2014 and will be patient looking for the right opportunities.

The 35-year-old Reed said he's "still preparing to play," per The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. Reed added that he knows that teams "need safeties."

Now that we've hit June, it will be easier for organizations to add veteran free agents -- which will not count against a team's compensatory draft picks in 2015.

Reed, however, doesn't intend on signing with a team in the short term, telling reporters he doesn't plan to attend a training camp.

"I know I can still play," Reed said, reiterating that he could see himself rejoining the Ravens organization in some capacity.

He added that any team interested in him would have to be "the right fit."

After a dreadful 2012 campaign, he began the 2013 season with a rocky start in Houston. After the Texans cut him, the 13-year veteran teamed up with the New York Jets and ended an ineffective season with Rex Ryan.

Reed might still want to play, but teams aren't generally in the business of paying a safety who has lost all his speed.

His best chance at playing in 2014 is injury -- that is, an injury that causes a team to get desperate after the season starts.

As usual with Reed, he hedged his comments, saying that if no team wants to bring him back he'd be fine disappearing, a la Barry Sanders -- the difference here being that Sanders didn't play long enough for his skills to diminish.

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Drew Brees calls Jimmy Graham a 'hybrid' wideout/tight end

As we patiently await whether or not Jimmy Graham, tight end for the New Orleans Saint, will be ruled a tight end or a wide receiver in an upcoming arbitration hearing, the Saints march on in their preparation for the 2014 NFL season.

And while Drew Brees told CBS Sports Network's The Boomer and Carton Show he's focused on OTAs right now, he also added his two cents to the Graham argument, calling the star pass catcher a "hybrid."

"I would describe him as very important," Brees said. "The fact is he's really kind of a hybrid. He's really revolutionizing the position. There's probably an argument to be made [either way], that's why he's filing the grievance."

Brees understands Graham's position right now. He was there a few years ago before the Saints gave him a mammoth contract extension and reiterated on Monday he's "confident" the Saints and Graham will sort things out.

"I'm confident everything will get worked out with Jimmy at some point, hopefully sooner than later. It would be nice to have him in and have some time with him. But I also know how this goes," Brees said. "I kind of went through this two years ago. My advice to Jimmy is just hang in there, don't take it personal and stay in good shape and get ready to roll when you do get here. I'm excited about OTAs right now and seeing these young guys come together and how they can incorporate in our offense."

We'll stick with the same prediction we had before this whole drama began: the Saints will tag Graham (like they did Brees), take a stubborn approach through most of the offseason about paying him (like they did Brees) and eventually cave and hand him a lot of money right before deadline to negotiate with players who got tagged (like they did Brees).

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Ed Reed Wants To Play This Year, Open To Coaching For Ravens

Ed Reed isn’t ready to give up football quite yet.

The future Hall of Fame safety remains a free agent, but he’s still preparing to suit up at some point during the 2014 season.

“I know that I can still play. It’s a matter of the right fit,” Reed said while he was in Baltimore for Lardarius Webb’s charity softball event Sunday.

“[I’m] definitely preparing to play. If I wasn’t, you would have heard something by now. The offseason is going great. I’m spending time with my family. I’m not in any rush at all.”

Reed, 35, looked to be in good shape as he moved around the softball field set up at M&T Bank Stadium, and he was also no longer sporting the grey beard and long hair that he’s had the last couple of years.

Reed spent last season with the Houston Texans and New York Jets after playing the first 11 years of his career in Baltimore.

“I learned a lot about the process last year, and know my worth,” Reed said. “I’m taking my time, getting myself all the way back to where I want to be. It will come back down to it somewhere in the season. I’ll probably wind up somewhere. Or not.”

Reed finished last season with 38 tackles and three interceptions. The Texans cut him midway through the season, and then the Jets picked him up for the final seven games.

For several years, Reed has expressed interest in coaching once his playing days are behind him, and he said Sunday he could see himself returning to the Baltimore in that role.

“I could see me working in the organization here,” Reed said. “I could see me working for Ozzie [Newsome] and those guys, and Steve [Bisciotti] because I put so much into it and I know how they work. And they taught me so much.

“I think I can help pretty much any organization if I’m a position coach, a consultant, whatever. But I still have a lot to learn, and I’m willing to learn because it’s a different craft when you’re talking about coaching.”

Reed is clearly still a fan favorite in Baltimore, as the cheers for him were louder than anybody else at Webb’s softball game. He also maintains a relationship with his old teammates, and he spent much of the afternoon talking with as many people as possible.

“Anytime you’re around him, you know it’s going to be a good time,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “He enjoyed himself and you know Baltimore still loves him, so it was special to see how they welcomed him.”

The next move for Reed is somewhat unclear, as he plans to take his time determining if there is a place that makes sense for him to play this year. He laughed when asked about signing by training camp this year, and responded, “I’m not going to anybody’s training camp.”

Time will tell if he’s able to find a team interested in signing him, but he also knows that he could end up riding off into the sunset.

“I’m not worried about the end. I’m not under contract. I’m not under contract, so I’m already at the finish line,” Reed said. “If not, you guys will probably never see me again. I don’t have to put in any papers. I don’t have to sign anybody’s contract. I don’t have to go to any organization. Ed Reed and Barry Sanders, they did it their way.”

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Jason Garrett compares Dez Bryant to Michael Irvin

Dez Bryant recently claimed that he deserves to become one of the NFL's highest-paid wide receivers.

He's not going to get any disagreement from coach Jason Garrett, who compared Bryant to Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer Michael Irvin on Monday.

"I have a great fondness for Michael Irvin. I had the good fortune of playing with Michael for eight years," Garrett said. "Michael Irvin set the pace and the tempo for our team all throughout the 90s. He worked harder than anybody else. And Dez Bryant has a lot of those same traits."

After four seasons, Bryant boasts 293 catches for 4,104 yards and 40 touchdowns compared to 171 receptions, 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns for Irvin over the same period in his career.

Garrett also lauded Bryant's hands as the best he's ever seen and complimented the contract-year wideout for his "passion" for football and diligence in becoming a better player.

Two offseasons ago, Bryant was viewed as too high risk to ever land a second contract in Dallas. Now there's speculation the Cowboys will resort to the franchise tag if necessary next year.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said over the weekend that a long-term extension for Bryant is a "possibility" before the start of the 2014 season.

"You know, if that was to happen (a deal done before the season), that would be great," Bryant said Monday, via the team's official website. "I'm still going to go out there and perform at a high level, because that's how I work. It will take care of itself."

For all of the hand-wringing over Bryant's perceived character concerns, his early-career numbers are on a Hall of Fame pace. That's going to get him paid like a top-tier receiver this year or next.

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Shane Larkin's mid-season spark against Suns serves as blueprint for Year 2

DALLAS — It was a bumpy entry into the NBA for Dallas Mavericks rookie Shane Larkin this season, but he took it all in stride.

Fracturing his right ankle in the final practice before the Mavericks’ summer-league squad headed to Las Vegas last July, the former Miami standout and first-round draft pick would be forced to sit and watch helplessly while rehabbing during training camp. But it wouldn’t take long for Larkin to make an impact and an impression on Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, suiting up for his long-awaited season debut on Nov. 18 and filling up the stat sheet with three points, three assists and three steals in nine minutes of reserve work off the bench during Dallas’ 97-94 home win over Philadelphia.

“Larkin showed that he’s a guy that can be a factor in this league as a point guard,” Carlisle said while highlighting the bright moments in the first-year guard’s season.

Forced to sit behind veterans Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris in the backcourt most of the season, the 21-year-old Larkin would have to wait his turn from there while finding himself at the end of the bench. However, he would continue to provide the Mavs with glimpses of talent throughout the season while gaining more and more confidence from his head coach and teammates.

Scoring a season-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting while dishing out five assists in 27 minutes of action during the Mavs’ 110-107 win at Phoenix on Jan. 17, Larkin showed that he remained ready to answer the call when Calderon was hampered by a right knee contusion. The effort then quickly earned the respect of his coach and the team’s veterans while showcasing what Larkin could provide in future seasons.

“This is why we drafted him,” Carlisle said following Larkin’s best performance of the season. “We felt like he could have this kind of impact. Jose banged a knee in the first half and it wasn’t quite right in the second half, and so we totally changed our rotation and Shane responded in a big way. He made plays down the stretch, made free throws and hit guys. He was probably our leading scorer in the last four or five minutes, which is huge on the road. It’s hard to win on the road in the NBA.”

Attacking relentlessly to get into the lane, Larkin showed a cat-quick ability to run the team as a floor general on the offensive end of the floor. He also stepped up his game on defense, proving to be a one-man press against Suns point guard and Most Improved Player of the Year Goran Dragic.

All of which could be utilized in the backcourt next season, according to 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, as Larkin tries to expand his game in Year 2.

“I think it was his kind of game, an up-and-down game, and he was phenomenal,” Nowitzki said in regard to his young teammate’s night. ”He made big shots, he knocked down big free throws and we needed him, obviously, with Jose going down. The little guy was phenomenal. He competed, he picked up fullcourt and pushed the pace for us when we needed, so he was phenomenal.”

Perhaps more importantly, however, the performance also gave the rookie confidence in himself as he grew more comfortable in Carlisle’s system. That game could now serve as a blueprint for Larkin’s success going forward as he looks to continue developing this summer before heading into his second season.

“I was like, ‘I’ve just got to go play now. I mean, I’m not coming out, so just go out there and do you,’” Larkin recalled of his performance after seeing Calderon go down in the second half. “Sometimes you think as a rookie you don’t want to mess up. You want to play smart and you don’t want to do things that Coach [Carlisle] isn’t comfortable with you doing yet. … It was just go play.

“Phoenix likes to get up and down, and I’ve always been accustom to the up-and-down style. It was just a great game, 110-107, and just to be able to know I contributed and was a part of the win in a big way really just helps your confidence.”

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Dolphins pass on Jonathan Vilma

The representation for free agent LB Jonathan Vilma recently reached out to the Dolphins, but the team "showed no interest."

Vilma is 32 now, and hasn't been an effective player in several seasons. The Fins were smart to pass. Vilma's left knee has been problematic since 2011, and ended his 2013 campaign after just one appearance with the Saints.

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Ed Reed preparing to play in 2014

BALTIMORE -- Ed Reed said he's not planning to retire this year, although the perennial Pro Bowl safety may not sign with another team until the season begins.

"Yes, definitely preparing to play," Reed said Sunday at cornerback Lardarius Webb's charity softball game at M&T Bank Stadium. "I'm not in any rush at all. I learned a lot about the process last year and I know my worth. I'm taking my time getting myself all the way back to where I want to be. I'll come back down to it somewhere in season. I'll probably wind up somewhere, or not."

Reed, 35, spent nine Pro Bowl seasons with the Ravens and won a Super Bowl in his final game with them in February 2013.

He signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Houston Texans as a free agent last year but struggled mightily and was eventually benched. He was released after making no interceptions in seven games.

Reed finished last season by signing with the New York Jets and reuniting with coach Rex Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator.

During his time with the Ravens, Reed battled through a nerve impingement in his neck and a hip injury. He routinely didn't participate in offseason workouts.
Not surprisingly, Reed wants to wait before signing with another team.

"I'm not going to anybody's training camp," Reed said. "I sat and watched the league from a different perspective and learned a lot. I saw they had teams that needed safeties in the latter part of the year. Right now, I'm just about taking care of me. I'm getting myself back to where there's not questions on my part. I know you guys (the media) may question, but I'm not really worried about that. It's about how I feel."

If there is no interest from other teams, Reed said he won't make any formal retirement announcement.

"I know that I can still play," Reed said. "It's just a matter of the right fit. If not, you guys probably never see me again."

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Devin Hester expected to lift Falcons' special teams

ATLANTA — As the ball sailed through the air, special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong had a smile on his face.

When the ball came down, returner extraordinaire Devin Hester cradled the punt and made his way up field during the Falcons’ OTA practice Wednesday.

It was the second of 10 practices allowed by the league and the first that was open to media.

Armstrong was delighted to see his new pupil, perhaps the most-feared returner to play the game — Deion Sanders notwithstanding — make the catch and weave his way through imaginary traffic during the non-contact drills.

“I think that one thing that I really enjoy at this point in time is the way he’s approaching it,” Armstrong said. “He’s approaching it like a pro. He’s not approaching it like, ‘hey, I’ve been there before.’ He knows and understands that this is a different team, and he’s working his tail off.”

Since he was drafted by the Chicago Bears out of Miami in the second round of the 2006 draft, Hester, 31, has terrorized special-teams coverage units league-wide for eight seasons.

Hester, who was voted to the all-decade team for the first decade of the 2000s, signed a three-year contract worth $9 million with the Falcons in March.

He holds the NFL record for the most return touchdowns (punt and kickoffs combined) with 18 and has the most punt returns for touchdowns with 13. Also, he’s had 34 career fumbles and lost seven of them.

“My role is going to be pretty much kickoff and punt return,” Hester said. “I’ll take over full responsibility of that duty, and as far as on offense here and there.”
The Bears didn’t re-sign Hester, and he became a free agent.

“I don’t think I have to prove anything. You know, my stats and my play ability that I did over the past couple of years speaks for itself,” Hester said. “I just have to go out and concentrate on the techniques and little things like that and I should be pretty good.”

The Falcons, who haven’t had a lethal return man since Allen Rossum left after the 2006 season, are counting on Hester striking fear into the opposition. They haven’t had an above-average return man since Eric Weems left to sign with Chicago after the 2011 season.

“The good thing about Dev is that he brings a lot of fear,” wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie said. “There is a fear factor around the NFL because people know what that guy has done. They know that he’s a home-run hitter. That’s going to be exciting for us.”

In addition to Hester, the Falcons had wide receiver Harry Douglas and cornerbacks Robert McClain, Robert Alford and Javier Arenas fielding punts. McClain ended last season as the main punt returner.

Running back Jacquizz Rodgers has been the kickoff returner the past two seasons.

Armstrong hopes that having Hester will help lift the level of play across the special-teams units.

“When guys know that somebody is back there, and it started happening with Robert McClain last year at the end of the season, when guys know that the guy knows how to hit (a seam), they are going to start blocking harder,” Armstrong said. “That urgency will pick up.”

When and if Hester needs a break, Armstrong is much more comfortable with the depth behind him.

The Falcons also want to use Hester as a wide receiver. He caught 57 passes in 2009, but was phased out of the passing game last season in Chicago and didn’t catch a pass.

“Chicago did a good job with him (earlier in his career), moving him around and doing some things with him,” Robiskie said. “I think we’ll do the same. To sit down and say, he’s going to be a slot or he’s going to be an outside (receiver) … we are going to try to move him around and match him up on some people and hopefully see if we can get some mismatches.”

Armstrong looks forward to unleashing Hester.

“It’s like anything else, when we were going against him, guys knew that you went to bed at night, you went to sleep with your fist balled up,” Armstrong said. “It’s the same thing. Now, that he’s on our team, we’ll see the best that other people have.”

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Jimmy Graham could receive $11M annually

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett expects franchise player Jimmy Graham to receive an extension worth between $10.5 million and $11 million annually.
Graham is sitting out OTAs and has a grievance hearing scheduled on June 17-18. He could earn an additional $5 million if he's declared a wide receiver, so there's incentive for the Saints to extend him in the next two weeks. Graham lined up in the slot or split wide on 67 percent of his 2013 snaps. The deadline for signing franchise-tagged players to long-term deals is July 15.

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Reggie Wayne (ACL) running on the side at OTAs

Reggie Wayne is barely six months removed from ACL surgery, yet yesterday’s progress (running along the side) was another step in the right direction for the 14-year veteran trying to make a comeback in 2014.

Fantasy Impact:
Wayne tore his ACL in late October, so he'll be 10 months removed from the surgery by the time the season starts in September. We're not optimistic that the 35 year-old Wayne is going to look like his old self anytime soon. The Colts signed Hakeem Nicks as insurance.

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Bryant McKinnie Back To Dolphins?

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald believes the Dolphins should sign veteran offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.

Morning take: For the veteran minimum, this move could make sense to improve depth. Miami may keep McKinnie on the short list in case there is an injury.

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Santana Moss: 'Ain't too much changed'

ASHBURN, Va. -- The lack of another receiving weapon for years left Santana Moss without much help. Or without anyone to deflect attention. That’s changed the past couple years, though, so, too, has Moss’ role.

And there’s even more talent now.

“It’s fun to be around all these guys,” Moss said, “now that I’m much older. But there’s no age. When you’re out there you’re out there so it’s fun to have different targets.”

The question is, however: Will Moss benefit from those targets in games this fall? Or will he struggle to make the roster? Moss turns 35 on Sunday and is coming off a season that featured 42 catches, but he also dropped seven passes. His drop rate of 8.9 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information, was better than only six of 145 players listed.

If he makes the team he’d no longer be the Redskins’ starting slot receiver. Not after they signed Andre Roberts (and then added DeSean Jackson). More likely, Moss is an insurance policy in case Leonard Hankerson isn’t ready to open the season. Or in case rookie Ryan Grant will take a couple of years to develop. Moss signed a one-year contract with a signing bonus of only $65,000, making him easy to cut if necessary.

"I don't have any decision made right now," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, "as far as our starting two, three, four wide receivers or five wide receivers."

Regardless, Moss, who has caught 571 passes in his Redskins’ career, can’t be bothered by any of this.

“I let you guys do all the worrying,” Moss said. “I don’t worry myself. I put stuff on tape and at the end of the day I make it undeniable for a coach to have to question me. That’s all I do, man. I’ve never been a negative guy so therefore I think positive and as long as I think positive and do what I do, what I know how to do …”

He cut off his sentence and pointed out that he looked sharp in practice. Indeed: Moss looked the same, even catching one deep ball down the left seam. What does it mean? It’s only May, after all. To Moss, though, it means something.

“If you’re watching out there,” he said, “you can see ain’t too much changed.”

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Vince Wilfork's progress a top area to monitor

Vince Wilfork's recovery. A ruptured Achilles is a tough injury to come back from, which is why Wilfork's presence on the practice field stood out in a video posted by the Patriots' official website on Thursday. Watching Wilfork run indicates that he continues to make solid progress from the serious injury sustained Sept. 29. In addition to Wilfork, Friday is also a chance to check on the progress of some other injured Patriots players, such as linebacker Jerod Mayo (torn pectoral muscle, Oct. 13) and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (broken ankle, Oct. 27).

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Greg Olsen: Underrated

Carolina Panthers: Greg Olsen, TE
Olsen already led the Panthers in receiving last season with 73 receptions for 816 yards, and his role should expand now that the team’s top four wide receivers left the team. Olsen is already used primarily as a receiver and spends most of his time lined up wide. It allows some leeway to overlook the fact he’s a below average blocker.

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Chiefs’ cornerback cousins DeMarcus and David Van Dyke compete for same job

Chiefs newcomers DeMarcus and David Van Dyke have waited a lifetime for this opportunity.

For as long as they can remember, the first cousins always wanted to wear the same uniform. It didn’t matter … high school, college or the NFL.

They finally got their opportunity when the Chiefs signed DeMarcus as a veteran free agent in the off-season and David as an undrafted rookie free agent in May.

One problem.

Both are cornerbacks. It’s going to be difficult for one of them to crack a roster that includes 10 corners heading into training camp, much less both.

So while the cousins may be close companions, they’re also keen competitors.

“May the best man win,” said DeMarcus Van Dyke, 25, a veteran of one NFL season with Oakland and two with Pittsburgh. “I’ll be proud of him if he does make it, because I want him to win an opportunity in the NFL. He’s worked hard since little league to get here, so anything I can do to help him win a job, I’m down for it.”

David Van Dyke, 23, put his personal feelings aside when it comes to battling his cousin on the field.

“You have to compete for a job,” he said, “no matter what team you go to.”

While the Pro Football Hall of Fame lists 348 sets of siblings who have played in the NFL — most famously the Manning brothers — few were teammates. Though there are no records kept of first cousins, it’s rare for a team not only to have first cousins on the roster, but two who play the same position.

David Van Dyke, who played free safety at Tennessee State, is embracing the opportunity.

“I knew it would be a nice fit because all my life I’ve been learning from him, following in his footsteps,” she said. “He’s the reason I’m here. He pushed me (to sign with the Chiefs).”

The Van Dykes played at different high schools in Miami, and DeMarcus, 25, went on to the University of Miami where he used his blazing speed as a football and track athlete for the Hurricanes.

The cousins could have played together one year at Miami, but David Van Dyke went to Tennessee State, where he was a second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference selection. He recorded four interceptions last season, including a 46-yard touchdown return.

“I pushed Miami to offer him a scholarship,” DeMarcus said, “but there was a coaching change. The third time is a charm ... we got it right.”

Though DeMarcus Van Dyke never was a fulltime starter at Miami (21 starts in 50 games) his stock rose after he ran a 4.28 in the 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine. That time, which is still the fifth-fastest at the Combine since electronic timing began in 1999, endeared him to the speed-loving Oakland Raiders, who selected him in the third round as the 81st overall pick in the draft.

Van Dyke lasted just one season with the Raiders. He appeared in 14 games in 2011, starting four, including a game at Oakland against the Chiefs in which he intercepted a Matt Cassel pass, his only career pick. He was released in the final roster cut down before the 2012 season and was signed by Pittsburgh.

On his first snap on opening day at Denver, he downed a punt at Broncos 1, but Van Dyke missed the last seven games of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury and appeared in just two games last season because of hamstring issues.

“If I stay healthy, I’ll be okay,” said Van Dyke, who lined up mostly at left cornerback during last week’s Organized Team Activities. “I can bring a lot of things to this team … on special teams, covering guys, whatever the coaches need me to do, I can do.

“I love this defense, playing with guys like Sean Smith and Eric Berry …”

Van Dyke’s 6-foot-1, 187-pound size and his outstanding speed made him attractive to the Chiefs, who play a lot of man-press coverage.

“He was a good player in college,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “He’s had some ups and downs in the NFL. We brought him in for competition. We’ll give him an opportunity to see how it works in the scheme. We do a little bit more bump and run than maybe he’s done before. We think that’s one of his strengths.”

David Van Dyke, 6-0, 185 will have a tougher road to making the team, though he could have the opportunity to work on making the conversion from safety to cornerback on the practice squad.

“He’s a tough kid,” Reid said. “It looks like he’s made the transition from safety pretty good. He needs as many reps as he can possibly get to make that transition. It’s good competition when (the cousins) work against each other.”

DeMarcus Van Dyke felt a connection to the Chiefs long before he came to Kansas City.

“I always rooted for Kansas City growing up because of Derrick Thomas came from Miami,” he said. “I got my first interception against Kansas City …

“And when I was hurt last year, I watched Kansas City because (defensive lineman) Allen Bailey was my roommate at Miami. So it’s kind of crazy. I rooted for
them every game.”

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Redskins safety Ryan Clark honors Sean Taylor's memory

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Redskins safety Ryan Clark will wear jersey No. 25 on Sundays. But he’ll wear No. 21 the rest of the week to, in his words, keep alive the memory of the late Sean Taylor.

“I like starting the conversation,” Clark said this week. “It’s a good reminder for me, which I really don’t need, because I think of him every day.”

Clark played with Taylor in 2004 and 2005, making 22 starts alongside him during their time together in the Redskins’ secondary. The two developed a tight bond on and off the field.

After Taylor died from a gunshot wound he suffered during a home invasion in 2007, Clark, then a member of the Steelers, began wearing Taylor’s No. 21 to practice in Pittsburgh. He decided to continue honoring his good friend upon returning to Washington this offseason—but only after receiving permission from, Jackie, Taylor's longtime girlfriend and mother of his daughter, and team owner Dan Snyder.

“It starts conversations,” Clark continued. “People ask me why do you wear it? And how you feel about wearing it? So I get to talk about Sean and then it starts more conversations about him. It’s my way of keeping his name in the consciousness. It’s my way of making people have reason to talk about him.”

In practice, Taylor also wears a black and gold towel that hangs from his waist. The towel is emblazoned with Taylor’s nickname and jersey number.

“I got it the year he passed and I just kept it,” Clark said. “Since we do have gold in our colors, I can wear it until I can get a new one. It’s something that matters to me.”

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Peter O'Brien Leads All of Professional Baseball in HRs

C/RF Peter O'Brien, Yankees: Through the first two months of the season, O'Brien leads all of professional baseball with 20 home runs. That includes the majors and minors. The 23-year-old out of Miami swatted 10 homers for New York's High Class-A affiliate before being promoted to Double-A, where he's hit 10 more. His overall season line is .297/.330/.682, though his strikeout (47) and walk (eight) numbers are warning signs that his plate discipline isn't the best. He also has some exploitable holes in his swing. The Yankees have already tried O'Brien in right field and at third base because his defense behind the plate is subpar. He's basically a one-tool guy, but if you're going to only have one tool, power is the one to have. That thunder in his bat will earn him plenty of opportunities.

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Twins thought to be interested in Jon Jay

No sooner did Oscar Taveras arrive in St. Louis than the ESPN radio affiliate in Minneapolis/St. Paul reported that the Minnesota Twins may be interested in Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay.

Jay, 28, is batting .288 with one homer and 18 runs batted in so far this season with the Redbirds. He is a career .292 hitter with a .355 on-base percentage. But he found himself in a time share in centerfield this season with former Anaheim Angel Peter Bourjos who is batting .204 with a .274 on base percentage this year.

Both Taveras and fellow rookie Randal Grichuk are capable of playing centerfield and figure to fight with the two veteran outfielders (and slugging first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig when Matt Adams comes off the disabled list) for two slots in the outfield.

Someone needs to go. But I'm not sure it's Jay because of his vastly superior offensive numbers. The statistics say that Bourjos is the best outfielder in the group. But his play this season hasn't lived up to his reputation. He has a knack for falling short of fly balls and has made a couple of ugly plays including a dive in which he missed connections with the baseball Friday night.

I'm not sure that Bourjos, who was supposedly happy to escape Anaheim because he was never able to hold onto a spot in the starting lineup there, would be content to be a fifth outfielder in St. Louis. On the other hand, he probably has virtually no trade value at this point. So would the Cardinals release him for nothing in return?

I thought, dating back to last season, that Adams was the mostly likely to go because he can only play first base and he's a lefty hitter. With the lefty Taveras in the lineup alongside Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter and potentially Jay, that's too many lefties.

If Adams was traded to a team that needs a slugging first baseman/designated hitter type, Allen Craig's righty bat could return to first base and there would be room for Taveras to play every day in right.

But Adams' recent injury probably takes him off the trade market. And I wonder if his value has cratered because he's chosen to become an opposite field singles hitter instead of a pull-happy slugger.

If the Cardinals were to trade with Minnesota, I wonder what Jay could fetch in return. Fans on the Twins chat boards seemed to think that a middling prospect sounded fair. Although other snarkily suggested that the Twins should offer former catcher Joe Mauer who is off to a slow start in his role as a converted first baseman.

Ironically, Mauer was the American League answer to Albert Pujols when the pair were nearing free agency at the same time, threatening to leave their small market clubs. Mauer signed with the Twins before he hit the open market -- and now Minnesota seems to regret his crippling contract -- while Pujols walked and the Cardinals were able to gain some financial flexibility to extend Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.

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Yonder Alonso finding groove at plate after slow start

CHICAGO -- On Friday, Yonder Alonso hit a two-run home run against the White Sox. On Saturday, he just about did the same thing, flying out to the warning track in right field in the eighth inning.

"I'm evolving a bit as a hitter," Alonso said. "Maybe some of those line drives are going out of the park."

Alonso has hit two home runs on this road trip and has three in his last nine games. He knows his game is still using all field and hitting doubles -- he had 39 of them in 2012.

At this point, Alonso is just happy to see some of his hits find anything but gloves. After a slow start, he believes he has found something -- something successful -- with his swing.

Alonso, who is hitting .211, has eight multi-hit performances during this 21-game stretch after he had two such games during his first 35 games this season.

"I think it was just a matter of time … and I was saying that in April," Alonso said. "It was just a matter of time before things got better. I kept hitting balls right at people. I just had to stay with it and trust what I was doing.

"I know the type of hitter I am. I know the player I'm going to be. I've always heard that if you're a good hitter, you're going to hit balls right at people."

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Jon Jay getting consistent starts in crowded outfield

ST LOUIS -- In a crowded outfield, Jon Jay has started to emerge as a player who will continue to receive consistent playing time.

"Obviously Jon's swinging the bat well," manager Mike Matheny said. "[He] had another big hit [Friday] night and continues to make the most of the opportunities he's had."

Over the last nine games entering Sunday's series finale against the Giants, Jay has hit .370 (10-for-27), making starts in six of nine games. Off the bench, the prototypical center fielder has gone 4-for-4.

Since the recent additions of young outfielders Randal Grichuk and Oscar Taveras on Friday and Saturday, Jay has started in center on both Saturday and Sunday.

"I just show up every day ready to go," Jay said. "I've been working hard, so I'm trying to stay ready."

Even while the Cardinals will work to get at-bats for their young outfielders, another spot in the lineup will present itself beginning Wednesday, when the Cardinals play in American League ballparks with a designated hitter spot for seven games.

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Yonder Alonso to host celebrity golf tournament

CHICAGO -- If you ask Padres' first baseman Yonder Alonso about his golf game, don't expect him to brag or boast of a better game than he actually has.

"It's terrible," he said, flatly.

So in that sense, Alonso's inaugural Celebrity Golf Classic at the Barona Creek Golf Course might be very interesting to watch, as Alonso and several of his Padres teammate putt and chip for a good cause.

Benefits from the event will support the Ramona branch of the Boys & Girls Club of San Diego. Alonso will also hold the Boys and Girls Club close to his heart, as he essentially grew up playing sports at the Boys & Girls Club of Dade County in Miami.

"I grew up at the boys and girls club so it's easy for me to hang out for a few hours with the kids," Alonso said.

Several current Padres and a handful of former players and other local celebrities will participate in the event, including Rene Rivera, Joaquin Benoit, Donn Roach and Nick Vincent.

For more information on the event, see http://www.sdyouth.org/Playgolfwithyonder.aspx.

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