01 September 2013

Antrel Rolle one of five NY Giants captains

Antrel Rolle was already the vocal leader of the Giants. Now, he’s an official team leader, too.

Rolle was one of the five 2013 team captains the Giants named on Thursday, joining Eli Manning, Justin Tuck, Zak DeOssie and Chris Snee. It’s the first time in Rolle’s nine-year NFL career that he’s been named a team captain.

“As a young kid, you always dream about certain things,” Rolle said. “You dream about playing in the NFL, you dream about making Pro Bowls, so forth and so on. And I think — well, I know — being named as a captain of the New York Football Giants is a huge accomplishment.

“It’s something I never even imagined would take place,” he added. “I’m definitely ecstatic for it. And I thank my teammates for even having that trust in me, that accountability to name me captain. I’m extremely honored.”

Rolle is the only member of the captaincy quintet who is not a lifelong Giant; he’s entering his fourth season with the team. But he’s been one of the Giants’ loudest voices over the past three seasons, and coach Tom Coughlin said the selection “says volumes about the young man, the transition that he’s made into the New York Giant culture and the way he feels about his team, and the franchise and his teammates.”

Not that Rolle plans to change anything this season.

“Just keep doing what you’ve been doing,” he said. “If they named me captain, particularly for what I’ve been doing, why change it?”
It’s not as if he could get much louder, anyway.

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Ed Reed has chance to play in Texans' opener

HOUSTON (AP) — Safety Ed Reed could play when the Texans open the season at San Diego on Monday night after returning to practice this week as he recovers from hip surgery.

"I don't want to say it can't happen because there's been such good progress," coach Gary Kubiak said. "So we'll see day to day."

Reed was taken off the physically unable to perform list on Saturday and returned on a limited basis. He has been recovering from April surgery to repair a partially torn labrum.

The nine-time Pro Bowler, signed in the offseason, will practice in pads for the first time on Friday. Kubiak said he'll know more about his status for the opener in the next couple of days.

"He's come a long way," Kubiak said. "There's some progress that would have to be made to get him ready to go on Monday, but boy, has he made a lot of progress."

Reed traveled to Vail, Colo., last month to visit the surgeon who performed the procedure on his hip. He received injections during the visit and went to Atlanta to continue his rehabilitation before rejoining the team. Kubiak was encouraged by the way Reed has moved around in Houston's three practices this week and is eager to see him work in pads.

If he plays on Monday, Kubiak noted that it will certainly be in a limited capacity since the 34-year-old did not see any work in a preseason game.

The Texans plan to start Shiloh Keo at free safety if Reed isn't ready to go against the Chargers. Keo was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 who spent time on the practice squad that year before appearing in 14 games last season.

"Shiloh has a great command of what we do defensively so there's a lot of confidence in him at this point," Kubiak said, adding that he's much-improved. "I just think he's taken advantage of an opportunity."

Also Thursday, Kubiak announced T.J. Yates will be Matt Schaub's backup at quarterback. Yates, who has filled that role the last two seasons, fought off Case Keenum for the job. Kubiak said they were both so good in camp that he couldn't have made a wrong decision on the spot.

"I think T.J. answered the bell," Kubiak said. "He got pushed and T.J. played as good as he's played around here throughout the preseason."

He believes the pair will continue to compete throughout the season; something that he thinks will make the team better.

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Santana Moss setting standard for longevity

Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss is quietly climbing the charts.

Entering his ninth year with the organization and 13th in the NFL, Moss’ career numbers put him in elite company. He has appeared in 120 games with the Redskins. A healthy 2013 and Moss will have played more games in Washington than franchise legend Sonny Jurgensen (135).

Moss needs only 21 receptions to pass Gary Clark (549) on the all-time list. At 529 catches entering the season, only Art Monk (888) and Charley Taylor (649) are out of reach. With 45 touchdowns, he could pass Bobby Mitchell (49) in that category, too. That would rank sixth in Redskins history.

The 5-foot-10, 189-pounder long ago proved concerns about his size coming out of the University of Miami were unfounded. Four times, Moss has topped 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

Now he’s trying to prove that age can’t slow him down, either. At 34, Moss is no longer the No. 1 receiving option as he was his first six years in Washington. That is Pierre Garcon now. Even in 2011, Jabar Gaffney and tight end Fred Davis had more receiving yards as Moss missed four games. Wide receiver is just not a position where you see many players in their mid-30s.

“I know a lot of people can’t do it,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “I think last year [Moss] was better for us than he was the prior two years even though the stats weren’t the same.”

That’s because Moss was a trusted, valuable weapon for quarterback Robert Griffin III last season with 41 receptions — 15 of them on third down — and he expects to be again as a veteran slot receiver on a team that hopes to defend its NFC East title.

In the preseason, at least, Washington showed well, but this journey has barely started and Moss has been around long enough now to know what really matters. The Redskins haven’t reached the playoffs two consecutive years since 1991 and 1992.

“I’ll put stock in it when it’s done, when it counts,” Moss said. “Right now, you grade yourself off what you put in. So when you go out there and see you’re putting in wins in the preseason and putting good stuff on film then all you can do is have high hopes for what you can do in Week 1.”

Those 41 catches in 2012 were Moss’ fewest since he had 45 with the New York Jets in 2004. And yet he still managed eight touchdowns and appeared in every game. Moss is no longer the deep threat he was in 2005 when he set the franchise record for single-season receiving yards (1,483). Even in 2010 he posted 1,115. Those days are gone.

But that slot receiver role is still an important one. With the veteran no longer expected to carry a heavy load, the Redskins could pick spots for Moss. Earlier in his career he faded at times late in seasons. Last year his legs appeared strong during the stretch run. Instead of working his way back into shape during training camp, Moss trained during the spring and arrived ready to go.

It made a difference last fall and the coaches have seen it again from him this summer. That’s given Moss a chance to stick with the Redskins and push himself higher into the franchise’s record books next to Hall of Famers like Monk and Taylor and a fan favorite like Clark. Despite his longevity in Washington, that recognition hasn’t always been easy for Moss to come by.

“You can’t help but look up to him,” said Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, a fellow South Florida native who worked out with Moss during the offseason. “He’s been doing this for a long time. He’s been one of the top receivers for so long and he really doesn’t get noticed for it.”

Moss’ name has even surfaced in the search for a punt returner in the wake of Richard Crawford’s season-ending knee injury. And while not thrilled about that option, Moss said he would take on that role, too, if asked. He has three careericon1 touchdowns on special teams, but his last punt return came in 2009.

“You can see some of the plays he has made thus far at camp, [see] that he’s hungry,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. “And he’s going to play at a very high level.”

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Travis Benjamin expects to return kickoffs vs. Miami

BEREA, Ohio -- Travis Benjamin is prepared for triple duty against the Dolphins.

The Browns' second-year receiver revealed Thursday that he expects to return kickoffs in addition to his punt return chores and sharing time with receiver Davone Bess in place of Josh Gordon.

"I don't know about the opening kick, but hopefully I'll be back there,'' said Benjamin. "Right now we're going through the schemes of the kickoff the Dolphins have. It depends on what they come out with.''

Johnson Bademosi is listed first on the depth chart at kick returner, but coach Rob Chudzinski said Benjamin and Buster Skrine, who was added to the injury report Thursday with a shoulder injury and was limited, can also handle the chore. New running backs Bobby Rainey and Dennis Johnson have also been working there.

"I'm in great shape,'' said Benjamin, a diminutive 5-10, 175. "I know I can return kickoffs, punts and play offense. I'm just ready to go out there and play.''

He said he didn't know if he'd be the first man up on kickoff returns. He returned a punt 91 yards for a TD in preseason and took one back a team-record 93 yards last season.

"It's really not a first-team (thing),'' he said. "It's kind of a scheme thing, knowing how they kick the ball, where the placement of the ball is. We'll just go in there and figure out what type of scheme they're in and we'll just rotate in.''

He said the three-pronged role is not too much for him, and that he doesn't let his size be a factor.

"I've done it plenty of times before,'' he said.

As a senior at the University of Miami, Benjamin returned 25 kickoffs for 592 yards and a 23.7-yard average. He returned 11 punts for 121 yards that year and caught 41 passes for 609 yards and three touchdowns.

The Browns kept Benjamin largely off the grid during preseason, but they'll be counting on him and Bess to make the kind of big plays that Gordon would make if he weren't suspended two games.

"They have to,'' said offensive coordinator Norv Turner. "We've worked on all the things that we’re going to do with them and they’ve been practicing at a high level. It's been great to have Davone back. He not only missed those games, he missed quite a bit of practice. He's a veteran player, he can handle it. It's still making sure he’s on the same page with Brandon (Weeden). Those guys just have to step up and make the plays that are there for them.''

Benjamin, one of the two fastest Browns along with Skrine, said he doesn't think any of the Dolphins' corners could beat him in a footrace.

"I wouldn't say that,'' he said. "(But) they have some pretty quick guys and it's all about technique and all about the little things.''

He said he and Bess are excited to fill in for Gordon.

"Yes, it's kind of the 'next man up' mentality,'' he said. "We know when the ball comes our way, just take advantage of the opportunity. Josh is a great player. He's a big target for us. We just have to get him out of the gameplan and me and Davone have to be the next man up to go and play well.''

He said it's not imperative to hit a big play early.

"No, not really,'' he said. "We don't want to play into their advantage. We just want to go out there and play our football, whether it's a deep one early, late or in the middle.''

He said he's most improved in route-running since his rookie year, when he caught 18 balls for 298 yards and two TDs, including a long of 69.

"(It's) getting in and out of my breaks because of my speed and going out there and keeping my advantage on the field,'' he said.

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Darryl Sharpton dealing with a concussion

Oft-injured inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton, one of the team’s biggest hitters, is out again while he completes the NFL-mandated concussion protocol. Kubiak said it remains “unknown” whether Sharpton will play against the Chargers. Kubiak said Sharpton was diagnosed with a concussion before the New Orleans game, which wasn’t previously known.

Tight end Garrett Graham, who has been bothered by a hip pointer suffered against the Saints, will definitely play. Two guys who obviously won’t are rookie offensive linemen David Quessenberry and Brennan Williams. Both are on injured reserve and underwent surgery Wednesday, Quessenberry for a broken bone in his foot and Williams for a microfracture in the same knee he had scoped in May.

Quessenberry, a sixth-round pick, was hurt in practice Monday without being hit, Kubiak explained. “We were in a drill. He just comes off the ball. He didn’t even get touched. He stuck his foot in the ground and broke it. He had surgery yesterday.”

Kubiak admitted what the third-round choice Williams had done was “much more extensive” than the original procedure but said, “They’re both doing fine.”

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Rocky McIntosh anticipated re-signing with Detroit

ALLEN PARK -- Veteran linebacker Rocky McIntosh has seen it all before. 

One day after surviving final cuts to make the Detroit Lions' 53-man roster, McIntosh was released when the team claimed safety DeJon Gomes off waivers. 

McIntosh didn't panic, implying the team let him know they'd bring him back once running back Montell Owens could officially be place on injured reserve. 
"They had to move some guys around, but pretty much I knew I was going to be here," McIntosh said. 

Week 1 is a critical date for vested veterans near the bottom of the roster. If players with four or more years of accrued service time are on the roster for the first game of the season, their salary become fully guaranteed. 

With seven years of experience, the veteran's minimum is $840,000 for McIntosh.

In Detroit, McIntosh figures to have a prominent role on special teams. He played 24 snaps with those units in the preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills. 

"They definitely wanted to see what I can do," he said. "I was only here a couple weeks and still had the system down, but nothing beats hard work and going out there and showing what you can do."

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Ray Lewis declined invitation to attend last night's game

As the Ravens prepare for their first ever regular-season game without linebacker Ray Lewis on the team, one teammate wasn’t quite ready to proceed without Lewis around.

Sal Paolantonio of ESPN reports that Ravens running back Ray Rice invited Lewis to attend the game and join the team on the sidelines, but that Lewis declined.

Per Paolantonio, Lewis passed because of his post-football focus on his family.

Lewis will still be making an appearance, to the likely chagrin of Broncos fans.  Earlier this week, the NFL announced that 32 former NFL players — one per team — will appear in a video counting down to kickoff.

The video, we’re told, consists of each player counting off one of the 32 seconds before kickoff.  For the Ravens, the player is Ray Lewis.  For the Broncos, it’s Shannon Sharpe.

Doing the honors with the “one” to end the countdown is, we’re told, not Shannon Sharpe but Ray Lewis.

And they won’t be booing, they’ll be chanting LEWWWWWWWWis.

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Antrel Rolle guarantees he'll limit Cowboys' Jason Witten

Antrel Rolle practically guaranteed that Jason Witten will not be performing any more "miracles" on Sunday night.

The Cowboys tight end caught 18 passes -- an NFL record for a tight end in a single-game -- for a career-high 167 yards against the Giants last year. "He's done that one time since I've been here, had that miraculous game," Rolle said. "That's not going to happen again, I can assure that. He will not have 17, 18 catches a game. That's not going to happen again."

Tony Romo was asked if the Cowboys were able to exploit something scheme-wise in the Giants' defense that led to those record-setting numbers last year. "I don't really want to answer that question," he said after a pause. "It's a good question, though."

Witten has had some big games against the Giants. In 2009 he caught 14 passes for 156 yards (which was a year before Rolle signed with the Giants).

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Jonathan Vilma in Middle of Legal Battle With Miami Marlin

NFL star and Miami native Jonathan Vilma is in the middle of a legal battle with the Miami Marlins, claiming the team failed to live up to its promises and mismanaged a concession stand related to his barbecue restaurant.

The Saints linebacker, who is a co-owner of the Brother Jimmy's BBQ franchise in Miami, and the team have filed lawsuits against each other in Miami-Dade over the failed stand at Marlins Park.

The Marlins' lawsuit, filed in June, claims Brother Jimmy's breached a sponsorship agreement with the team and failed to pay $75,000 in sponsorship fees for the 2012 season. It also claims Brother Jimmy's didn't give the Marlins 60 days' notice that they were terminating the agreement for 2013.

"Brother Jimmy's failure to pay the 2012 and 2013 Sponsorship Fee is a material breach of the Sponsorship agreement," the Marlins' lawsuit reads. "Brother Jimmy's has been unjustly enriched at the expense of Marlins."

Emails and phone calls to the Marlins and their attorney weren't immediately returned Thursday.

Brother Jimmy's says they never reached an official sponsorship agreement, but they allowed the team to prepare and sell their food at a discount under the Brother Jimmy's name. The restaurant claims the team botched the food stand so badly it had to be shut down.

"We did voice our concerns and we actually personally went there, we went to the games and we wouldn't let them know who we were, we'd go and taste our own food and we'd tell them look, 'this food is not to our standards,'" Vilma said during an appearance Wednesday on the Kup & Crowder Show on 560 WQAM. "It hurts us as a business because if for the first time a fan goes to Marlins stadium, they taste Brother Jimmy's, they say 'this food is terrible,' and all they're gonna remember is the bad food and or service that they got at the Marlins stadium and we expected better than that."

Vilma, 31, along with Chicago Bears linebacker D.J. Williams and Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, opened their Brother Jimmy's restaurant at Mary Brickell Village last year. All three are alumni of the University of Miami. Other Brother Jimmy's restaurants are located in New York, New Jersey and even in Yankee Stadium.  

Brother Jimmy's claims they paid $25,000 to the Marlins in good faith, even though they never reached an official agreement.

"The service wasn't good and we're trying to build a name for ourselves and the Marlins and Levy group, the food company they're using, was putting out a bad product and it kind of was opposite of what we were expecting," Vilma said. "We expected something similar to the Yankees, where they put out a good product, what they sell you and what they market to you, what you're paying for is what you're gonna get.

"Unfortunately it just wasn't the case with the Marlins, they didn't sell us, actually they oversold us like they've done a few times now."

Phone calls to Levy Restaurants, which is based in Chicago and operates concessions in stadiums and arenas across the country, weren't immediately returned Thursday.

Brother Jimmy's and Vilma also claim the Marlins made promises that attendance for the new ballpark would average 28,000 per game for the 2012 season, a mark that wasn't hit.

"They unfortunately sold us a dream, the attendance wasn't what they were marketing to us, it was probably a fraction of that," Vilma said.    The Marlins came in 18th out of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball in 2012, despite opening their brand new, $600 million ballpark. So far in 2013, they're last in the league in attendance.

Brother Jimmy's claims the team also promised 40 non-baseball events at the stadium that were never held. Vilma said issues with bad service and bad food weren't rectified.

"This is huge for our brand, for our concept, for our food and they heard us but they won't really listen. It's the same old 'oh we're sorry, we're gonna do our best to make up for this, etcetera, etcetera, and instead, we got nothing, we got the same issues, the same complaints and the same problems," he said. "The next step for us, they filed suit, we filed a counterclaim and we let them know, the things that they tried to minimize in our suit is something that's very serious to our brand. Our food is our brand, the only way people are gonna want to enjoy or come to Brother Jimmy's is for the food and for the atmosphere."

Brother Jimmy's is seeking to get back the $25,000 they paid to the team plus damages.

"We can't have a one off in the Marlins stadium being the worst place to go for Brother Jimmy's and on top of that being one of the newer locations and a more visible location within Miami," Vilma said. "Hopefully we'll get it rectified. As I said, it's an unfortunate situation, they oversold us, I think we all know the Marlins have been doing a good job of that the past couple years."

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Ryan Braun calls Brewers season ticket holders to apologize

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — The Milwaukee Brewers confirm that outfielder Ryan Braun was calling season ticket holders on Thursday, September 5th to apologize for his actions involving performance enhancing drugs.

The fans being called were 20-game season ticket holders, season ticket holders and some individual ticket holders. Team officials say Braun will not be calling everyone.

The idea of calling Brewers fans was apparently Braun’s entirely. He approached the team about a week ago and officials gave him the list of names and numbers to call. The team did not give Braun any kind of script from which to read.

“It was Ryan’s idea, and his initiative.  He reached out to us and said he wanted to call season seat-holders and some fans.  We said great.  We gave him some names and the contact information for some full season and partial season seat-holders, individual ticket purchasers.  We didn’t give him a script.  We didn’t tell him what to say or what he should say.  He said ‘I’ll go from there.’  He’s obviously started calling and started having some direct one-on-one conversations with fans.  I suspect it might have taken a little bit of time for some of the fans to realize it was really Ryan Braun instead of an imposter, but I think he’s started those calls and he’ll keep making calls,” Brewers Chief Operating Officer Rick Schlesinger said.

Some fans receiving the calls from Braun don’t believe it is the Brewers outfielder — so it’s apparently taking a few moments for Braun to establish that fact with each caller.

“The feedback that we’ve gotten, again, they were initially skeptical that it was Ryan.  When they realized that it was, they respected the fact that he reached out and was talking to them.  I think, you know, regardless of how you feel about Ryan or what he needs to do, I think, you know, they’re going to respect him doing this.  And again, he doesn’t know what the response is going to be on the other end of that phone call.  He may be calling a season seat-holder that may just find him, you know, his conduct so unacceptable that he will never forgive him.  He may hear that on the phone.  I think Ryan understands that, you know, he is calling blind and is expecting a whole range of emotions and reactions.  I think even the fans that are very upset have said that they respect what he’s doing. And again, it doesn’t mean that one phone call cures all ills.  But again, for him to reach out is, I think,  at least an indication that he understands the depth of the effort that is needed to redeem himself, and he respects that the personal touch is important and necessary,” Schlesinger added.

Schlesinger told FOX6 News he feels Braun knows rebuilding his reputation among Brewers fans and Wisconsin sports fans is going to be a very long process.

“I don’t want to speculate, because I haven’t personally talked with Ryan about his next steps or his next plans.  But I do think Ryan understands that this is Wisconsin.  The connection that the fans have to the sports teams and their athletes is very personal.  You know, I think fans expect a lot of the sports teams that they support, and they expect a lot of the players that they admire and root for.  And when the trust is damaged, it’s a personal thing for a lot of fans.  I think Ryan understands that Wisconsin is different than most states.  Brewers fans are very intense Brewers fans, very loyal fans.  You know, I think he knows that it’s a long process.  And that process is going to take a lot of different forms.  But I don’t have a lot of information on next steps or specifics other that I do, I’m confident that Ryan understands that there’s many things he needs to do,” Schlesinger said.

Major League Baseball announced on July 22nd Braun was suspended, effective immediately, without pay for the rest of the season, and Braun is accepting the penalty. There was no appeal.

Braun didn’t look like he could be stopped during the 2011 season, leading the Brewers to the National League Championship Series, and claiming the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.

However, in December of that year, a report of Braun testing positive for performance enhancing drugs surfaced and the spectre of a suspension loomed.
A month later, Braun accepted his MVP award against a backdrop of controversy.

In February of 2012, arbitrators ruled that the chain of custody for Braun’s urine sample in question was compromised, clearing Braun from any MLB punishment. He forcefully defended his name at a Spring Training press conference.

Roughly a year later, Braun was back in the spotlight, connected to the disgraced Biogenesis Clinic in Miami, along with several other Big Leaguers. Braun claimed the connection was simply for consulting services during his successful 2012 appeal.

On July 9th, ESPN reported Braun’s refusal to answer investigators’ questions about the clinic and his possible PED usage subjected him to punishment once again.

Braun’s suspension will amount to 65 games.

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Yonder Alonso gets pain-killing injection in hand

Yonder Alonso was given a pain-killing injection in his injured right hand on Wednesday.
Alonso suffered the hand injury last Friday on a check swing. The 26-year-old first baseman is not expected to be available for live action again for another two weeks and can be dropped in standard fantasy leagues.

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Ryan Braun loses restaurant deal

Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, who in July accepted a 65-game suspension for his ties to the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal, still is seeing fallout from corporate America. On Thursday, SURG Restaurant Group, the company that manages restaurants in Wisconsin affiliated with Braun, announced it will sever its relationship with him. "We've appreciated the relationship we had with Ryan over the last several years, and the entire SURG family wishes him success in the future," Michael Polaski, CEO and co-owner of SURG, said in a statement. The group had a licensing deal with Braun for an Italian restaurant called Ryan Braun's Graffito Restaurant. SURG said it will keep the restaurant open until the end of the year "to honor its pre-existing obligations to its customers and employees." SURG also said it will change the name of its 8-Twelve MVP Bar & Grill -- the numbers of Braun and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, respectively -- at its current location, as well as at another restaurant that will open this fall. The company's deal with Rodgers will remain unchanged. "We look forward to the future with optimism, particularly with the opportunity to introduce and rebrand two, new exciting restaurant experiences," Omar Shaikh, SURG president and co-owner, said in a statement. The restaurant deal seemingly is the last shoe to drop for Braun, who also lost a deal with convenience store Kwik Trip and a shoe deal with Nike after he was suspended. A month after accepting the suspension, Braun apologized in a statement through the Brewers, admitting that he had used a banned substance in cream and lozenge form. "It was a huge mistake for which I am deeply ashamed and I compounded the situation by not admitting my mistakes immediately," Braun said in the statement. "By coming forward when I did and waiving my right to appeal any sanctions that were going to be imposed, I knew I was making the correct decision and taking the first step in the right direction. It was important to me to begin my suspension immediately to minimize the burden on everyone I had so negatively affected -- my teammates, the entire Brewers organization, the fans and all of MLB."

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NFL U Updated Rosters

NFL U Rosters 9.6.13

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NFL U Week 1 Matchup Guide

NFL U Matchups 2013 Week 1

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Rocky McInosh Signs

Linebacker Rocky McIntosh was one of the players who made his team’s initial 53-man roster only to get axed the next day to make room for a waiver claim, but McIntosh wasn’t out of work for long.

He also didn’t have to go far to find work. McIntosh re-signed with the Lions on Wednesday after the team placed running back Montell Owens on injured reserve with the designation to return. Owens will miss at least six weeks of practice and eight weeks of games before he can be activated.

Owens injured his knee in the team’s third preseason game and his loss will be a blow to Detroit’s special teams. Owens made two Pro Bowls as a special teamer while with Jacksonville, who released him in May.

McIntosh signed with the Lions in the middle of August and gives them experienced depth for both the defense and special teams. McIntosh had 44 tackles and a sack for the Rams in 2012, who he joined after six years with the Redskins.

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Adewale Ojomo Signed To Active Roster

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Fifteen minutes before Saturday’s 6 p.m. ET deadline, Adewale Ojomo received the call that he wouldn’t be part of the Giants’ 53-man roster. The fact that it came down to the wire meant he was one of the last men out.

The defensive end took some consolation out of it, but he was still without a team.

“I spoke to [Giants general manager] Jerry Reese, and he told me that I was good enough, that it was just a numbers thing,” Ojomo said Wednesday. “And that if something happened, I’d be the first guy that they would move up. So it was just a little disappointing, but I still would have a job so I kept the faith and knew that I would have another opportunity.”

He was right.

A day later, after clearing waivers, Ojomo was signed to the Giants’ practice squad. Then the “something” happened when running back Andre Brown was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list on Wednesday, freeing up a roster spot.

Ojomo, who was on the active roster all of 2012 as a rookie but dressed for only one game, was promoted and once again part of the Giants’ 53.

For how long or what it will bring, Ojomo will find out.

“I’m closer to the field, and that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I want to be great on the field. It’s not about fame. It’s not about money. It’s not about anything else. I just want to play football at this point. That’s it.”

Undrafted out of Miami in 2012, Ojomo earned a roster spot with four sacks in three preseason games last year. He followed up with 2.5 more in 2013, including a sack in the preseason finale against New England.

However, there is more to football than rushing the passer. Ojomo hadn’t shown enough in the other departments, as evidenced in him being the odd man out.

But such is life in the NFL. He, his teammates, and one former Giant-turned-Falcon knew he wouldn’t be on the outside looking in when the 2013 season began. 

“Kiwi [defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka] is always in my ear,” Ojomo said. “He told me when you play that well, you’re going to be on somebody’s 53, you’re going to be playing football somewhere. I spoke to Osi [Umenyiora], too. Osi is over there in Atlanta, and I told him I haven’t forgotten the techniques that he showed me. He responded and said, ‘Well, you’ll be on somebody’s 53-man roster for sure.’ That just gave me motivation and encouragement to keep the faith.”

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Steve Smith: Chudzinski was problem

Carolina Panthers veteran wide receiver Steve Smith said some of the team's problems on offense last season were caused by former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

"The prior offensive coordinator [Chudzinski] really was positioning himself to just apply for that head coaching job," Smith said Wednesday on a conference call with Seattle Seahawks reporters. "I think our offense suffered a little bit because of that.''

Smith, 34, a five-time Pro Bowler, felt Chudzinski had the Panthers get away from some of their strengths last season.

"At times, we got cute," Smith said. "We did things that weren't necessarily us, like the underutilizing of [running back] Mike Tolbert. But we're out of that. The past is the past."

Mike Shula, the former Alabama coach who was Carolina's quarterbacks coach last season, is the club's new offensive coordinator.

"I think Coach Shula is going to change things up, and he has so far," Smith said. "He just does little different things. Some of it looks small, but we're focusing more on the details, and that's the difference."

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Ed Reed unlikely for Houston Texans' opener

Houston Texans fans likely will have to wait at least one more week to see what Ed Reed looks like in their favorite team's uniform.

Reed is "highly unlikely" to play Week 1 when the Texans take on the San Diego Chargers on "Monday Night Football," CBS Sports reported Wednesday.

The veteran safety missed the Texans' entire offseason program while dealing with a hip injury after signing as a free agent in March.

Reed reportedly is progressing, but the Texans have proven throughout the process that they won't rush him onto the field.

The Super Bowl champion was signed from the Baltimore Ravens to add a winning pedigree to a team trying to get over the playoff hump, not for a Week 1 matchup.

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Santana Moss Tunes To ‘Robert Channel’

Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss has been through countless changes since being acquired from the Jets in 2005. He’s played under three head coaches, found a way to make every catch he hauls in look perfect from nine different starting quarterbacks and his hair has gone from long, to short to now medium.

Through it all though, the veteran’s consistency is what has made him one of the most popular players in Redskins history not only with the fans, but the media as well. At each opportunity the media gets to access the players, it’s a certainty that the crowd mobbing the first stool in the Redskins Park locker room is to grab a quote from none other than No. 89.

In this weird development he’s always asked about Robert Griffin III and his progression. Want to know how he gets his answers though?

Well if you haven’t already asked yet, please ask you cable provide information on how to get the Robert channel.

“I have accepted it because if you don’t have a guy like that then you ain’t doing nothing,” Moss said of the constant bombardment of questions involving Griffin III.  “I’ve been on this team awhile and sitting in this locker room it [got] boring at times, but every day it’s about Robert. I kind of tuned into my Robert channel in my head and be ready for any questions you all have about Robert.”

After it was confirmed that Griffin III is indeed starting on Monday night, he was asked his thoughts of Robert Griffin III’s injury story being “over”.

“It’s really not over [laughs]. You all don’t know how I feel, but at the end of the day I know it comes with the territory and I’m glad we have a guy like that on our team to be talked about a lot. He’s a tremendous player. He’s done a lot for us thus far since we’ve had him, but I’m just glad that he’s able to go out there and showcase on Monday.”

As for the last time the words Robert Griffin III, Santana Moss and the Philadelphia Eagles were murmured in the same sentence together:

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Duane Starks helps rebuild elementary school playgrounds

BALTIMORE (WMAR) - Volunteers came to Hilton Elementary School as part of the NFL's season kickoff program. Their goal is to convert an old, dilapidated and underused playground into something that children wouldn't be afraid to play on.

Fencing, cement and power tools are being used to replace splintered benches and outdated play equipment. Former Ravens and Superbowl champs Jamal Lewis and Duane Starks were among the many workers who helped renovate the playgrounds.

"You know if you're gonna do it you gotta do it right so I can't miss a spot," Duane Starks, former Ravens DB said.

The two have been very busy since retiring but haven't retired from representing the NFL and the Ravens. The NFL’s play 60 program encourages children to be active for at least an hour a day, something Starks highly supports.

" When I was a kid it was more about basically going out playing football going out playing sports you're always outside and then they came with all these video games and now a lot of kids are inside doing this and working their thumbs instead of working their minds and their bodies," Jamal Lewis, former Ravens RB said.

Youth also learned that eating balanced meals helps them perform at top levels on the field and in the classroom.

" If you have fast-food on every corner a lot of times that's what you resulted to, but I think if we educate these parents and educate the kids as well what they should be eating and what they should put in their bodies," Lewis said.

They also planted a garden to further emphasize the points of healthy eating.

" And then they'll take it right thru the crop and then my wife who's the art teacher does cooking classes with the kids she actually teaches them how to eat cooked foods and eat that they've never done like swiss chard and Brussels sprouts things like that," Kevin McCarthy, the art teacher’s husband said.

In the end the children showed their appreciation and cheered for their favorite team.

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Travis Benjamin will make steady leap

Chris Pokorny on Dawgs By Nature talks about Travis Benjamin making the biggest jump in improvement this season.

"Although I feel quarterback Brandon Weeden will make steady improvements in his second year, I'm going with wide receiver Travis Benjamin. He had just 18 catches for 298 yards in 2012, but should be given a lot more opportunities to use his speed to stretch the field in Norv Turner's offensive system. More important, though, will be his contributions as a punt returner.

Benjamin's success rate in his recent punt return attempts is simply remarkable. When he got one opportunity late last season to return a punt, he took it back 93 yards for a touchdown. In the first preseason game this year, he had a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. In the second preseason game, he had another punt return for a touchdown (which was nullified by an iffy penalty). Benjamin could very well be one of the league's fastest players, and it won't be long before teams are trying to angle the ball away from him. He could really help the offense out in terms of field position in 2013."

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Looks Like Jason Fox Has Won The Starting Job

ALLEN PARK -- The Detroit Lions aren't expected to announce a starting offensive line until Sunday, when they open the season against the Minnesota Vikings.

But all signs point to Jason Fox winning the job at right tackle, and Larry Warford at right guard.

"If I do, great. If I don't, I'm just going to keep working," Warford said of starting. "Obviously everyone's goal is to win that starting job and hopefully if I stay on the track I'm on, I'll eventually earn that spot."

Warford is a rookie third-rounder out of Kentucky. He said he's improved his game dramatically since joining Detroit thanks to the tutelage of veterans such as center Dominic Raiola.

He said he's in a position to start due somewhat to improving his balance, which was a problem area when he arrived here.

"When I first got here, I was coming off the ball explosively -- but that's not always the greatest thing for me because I tend to get top-heavy," he said. "I get off-balance, and all you have to do is pull on me and I'd fall to my knees.

"When I was in college, I used to get worried about, 'Ugh, if I don't get off the ball, I'm getting blown up.' Here, it's not all about just getting movement. Sometimes you just have to stalemate to keep your balance."

Coach Jim Schwartz said he doesn't plan to name starters before the opener, but Warford is in a good spot to win the job over veterans Dylan Gandy and Leroy Harris. He started the final two preseason games, and also worked with the ones during Tuesday's practice.

The last time Warford wasn't a starter was as a freshman at Kentucky. It bothered him then, but it gave him perspective for his first pro job battle.

"At Kentucky, I was like, 'Man, these guys gave me a scholarship but I feel like I'm letting them down (by not starting)," he said. "But you can't think of it that way. They have to work with you to get you to the level where you're very polished, so they can feel comfortable putting you on the field. You don't want to put an unfinished product out there.

"So it wasn't as bad when I got here, because I understood that. I understood not starting wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I still obviously really want to start -- that's my goal -- but like I said, I don't want to be out there if I'm not the best choice."

By all appearances, he is.

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Leonard Hankerson learning to manage family life with football career

NORTH LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The two football fields at Lauderhill Middle School come alive each weeknight during the summer and fall. Youth football teams of all ages practice on their allotted sections of turf. Whistles chirp between the crunch of shoulder pads and helmets. Cheerleader squads rehearse their routines on the periphery.

Hundreds from this South Florida community — mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, cousins and grandparents — sit in lawn chairs or walk the fields and share each other’s company. They sell conch fritters at the concession stand and serve chocolate cupcakes in the parking lot.

On a Wednesday evening this summer, two hours after the day’s thunderstorm blew past, Leonard Hankerson II stared from the sideline as his 7-year-old son performed a tackling drill. Across the field, his 4-year-old daughter ran around with her fellow cheerleaders. At Hankerson’s feet, his 11-month-old son sat in his stroller delighted by the taste of a green watermelon lollipop. To Hankerson’s right stood his high school sweetheart and the mother of his three children, Marketria Smith.

Hankerson stood immersed in fatherhood, oblivious to the violence that changed his life just four miles south.

Lisa Williams, only 19, was seven months pregnant with her third child the night her boyfriend loaded his .38-caliber revolver and left to settle a dispute. His 6-foot-3 frame and special basketball talent once made college a possibility. He veered off, though, toward a life involving drugs, and in that world, resolving disagreements sometimes required firepower.

At approximately 8:30 p.m., sheriff’s deputies responded to a shooting at 1741 SW 40th Terrace, a section of Fort Lauderdale best avoided even in the daytime. Witnesses described to police a shootout that punctuated an argument about the location of a recent drug sale. Williams disputed that during an interview this summer, saying her boyfriend defended his sister in a confrontation unrelated to his drug dealings.

Whatever the circumstances, they yielded an uncompromising result. Her boyfriend, Leonard Hankerson, 23, lay dead near the street from a gunshot wound in his neck. Two men were arrested at the scene and later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Hankerson’s death so distressed Williams that her body could not hold the pregnancy. Twenty-seven days later, on Jan. 30, 1989, she gave birth to a healthy 8-pound, 6-ounce, 23-inch long boy. When it came time for her to choose a name, there really was no debate.

The boy would never know his father, but he would bear his name.

Now, Hankerson is experiencing what his father could not. Being a dad fortifies his identity as he becomes a man himself at age 24. He navigates typical challenges of fatherhood in an atypical dynamic: He is operating without a blueprint; he’s the product of a culture in which raising children is optional for fathers in many cases, and his job as a receiver for the Washington Redskins significantly impacts his role as a provider and caretaker for his children.

Hankerson doesn’t dwell on his father’s absence because he never knew anything else. Instead, he is driven by a fatherly instinct, an innate responsibility. It’s an uplifting example but not a fairy tale life. The obligations of fatherhood, his children’s needs and his own youth are too real for that.

“I love two things more than anything,” Hankerson said. “Football and my kids.”

At practice that day, Hankerson’s son missed a tackle when he ducked his head and couldn’t see the ballcarrier. Hankerson had not interjected his football acumen until now.

“You gotta keep your head up!” he yelled.

Smith leaned over and muttered: “You’re gonna have to teach him.”

The family dynamic
Hankerson’s kids perked up when the waiter served a plate of honey butter croissants at lunch. They’re an adorable trio whose bright personalities are outdone only by their energy.

All five family members go by nicknames. Just about everybody calls Hankerson “Hank,” including his kids sometimes. To his right sat 7-year-old Leonard III. They call him L.J., short for Leonard Jr., a misnomer with a tragic subtext.

Hank is the Redskins‘ quietest player, an observant man who usually speaks only when spoken to. L.J., on the other hand, always has something to say, whether he’s showing off the golf swing his dad taught him or a new game on his Nintendo DS. With his wide smile, earrings in both ears and fauxhawk haircut, he looks like an NFL wide receiver in training.

Lenaris — Naris, for short — sat in a booster seat next to L.J. He picked up the package of three crayons provided for kids by the restaurant and put it in his mouth. Hank told L.J. to replace the crayons with a French fry. Naris’ face illuminated when he tasted it, and Hank laughed.

Marketria, known as Kie Kie, is the glue that holds together the operation. She’s the fulltime caretaker. During the football season, she lives in North Lauderdale as a single mother of three. Her relationship with Hank is complicated by ups and downs not uncommon of a partnership between a 24- and 25-year-old.

She and Hank acknowledge they technically are not a couple right now, but “we’re communicating,” Hank said.

It’s obvious Kienarria, whom they call Na Na, has her father’s genes. She’s 4 going on 7. She’s strong enough to carry Naris up and down the stairs, and she’s only five pounds lighter than L.J. “Her feet are growing overnight,” Kie Kie said. “Pretty much every month she’s up another size.” The plastic beads in her hair augment her warm smile.

The family lunch, spurred by a reporter’s invitation, was one of their last experiences together before Hank left for training camp four days later. They generally dread his annual departure.

Football has a bilateral impact on Hank’s fatherhood. It enables him to provide for his loved ones well beyond his impoverished upbringing — he is scheduled to earn $580,000 this season, his third, according to league records. But it also pulls him away for half the year to Redskins headquarters in Ashburn.

Kie Kie and the kids could move to Northern Virginia, but Hank prefers his South Florida roots stay rooted, and changing the children's school district mid-year is not an option. So Kie Kie and Lisa commute to all 16 games, and they bring the kids to Washington for the eight home games.

“The kids, they kind of understand, but they don’t understand why we don’t stay with dad,” Kie Kie said. “It’s really hard for them, if anything. They like flying up and flying back, but they don’t like leaving him. That’s the hard part for the kids. It’s a lot on them.”

Kie Kie has help when she needs it. Her mom and Lisa are two of many extended family members who pitch in, similar to how Lisa had help raising her six children. But the daily routine during the football season casts Kie Kie in a solitary role.

“She do a great job,” Hank said. “It’s hard work 24 hours a day.”

Hank stays connected to his kids by video chatting over cell phone. L.J. got his own phone this year, partly because Kie Kie got tired of him hounding her for hers. L.J. calls him up to 50 times a day, Kie Kie said, and Hank confirmed that’s no exaggeration. The second grader just started riding the school bus for the first time; that’s usually when he calls.

“Daddy, what is you doing? When you coming over?” Hank said, recalling how his kids question him over the phone. “It’s bittersweet. I got to take care of my business.”

Hank is as much his children’s friend as their father, but he does discipline them when necessary. And along with the kids’ adoration for him comes respect.
When Hank asked L.J. to put his uniform on for practice, L.J. did. When Hank wanted Na Na to take her open can of strawberry soda off the couch and return it to the refrigerator, she did.

Near the end of the family’s lunch that day, an elderly man approached the table on his way out of the restaurant. Local fans sometimes recognize Hank because of his record-setting career at the University of Miami, but this man didn’t seem to make that connection.

“When I saw all the kids come in, I thought, ‘Oh, no, they’ll be raising Cain,’” the man said. “But no. Keep up the good work.”

Hank and Kie Kie thanked the man. When he was out of earshot, they glanced at each other and chuckled.

‘It was a struggle’
Kie Kie didn’t think she’d hear from Hank after he asked for her phone number that Saturday in the park more than eight years ago. He didn’t write it down, so how would he remember?

“Later that night he comes calling me, and he asked me what I was doing,” she recalled. “I asked him what he was doing, and he said, ‘Waiting for you to be my girlfriend.’ I was like, ‘OK?’ Just connected since that Saturday night. We moved so fast and got to know each other through that time.”

Hank’s life stabilized during that period in high school. It was difficult before then, although to hear him tell it: “I always felt like my life was good.”

One of Lisa’s six children is Leonard’s full biological sibling — Leonarda. She’s 25 with an 8-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.

“It was a struggle for us,” she said. “I’m not going to say it was a good life. It was crazy. We wasn’t fortunate, and we wasn’t able to get anything we want.”
She and Hank frequently stayed with their paternal grandmother. To this day they remind her of her lost son.

“It’s only me and Leonard that she still babies,” Leonarda said.

Lisa and all six kids, and occasionally a couple other cousins, lived in a two-bedroom apartment at one time. She worked for the Broward County school system as a bus attendant and bus driver. “It was always chaotic,” she said. “I thank God for the help I did have.”

Lisa never had to worry about Hank acting out. He always has been self-disciplined. He never fought in school or stirred up any drama. He doesn’t drink alcohol.

“As far as a bad bone in his body, there isn’t one,” said George Smith, his high school football coach.

Being around so many children then helped Hank learn how to care for them. He would change their diapers and play games, following the lead of his mother and grandmother.

After Hank’s freshman year at Dillard High, a public school, he transferred to private St. Thomas Aquinas High. He was a standout basketball player like his father, but he decided to try football. It turned out his talent in that sport was even more elite.

“I think the place kind of encompassed him, and he thought this is a place I could be successful,” Smith said. “His entire culture changed, which meant that he changed this way of thinking about what the world was. That’s how I read it.”

Hank and Kie Kie’s relationship began during the summer after his 10th-grade year. She was a year ahead in school at Dillard. Within months, he began living with her. Hank was in 11th grade when Kie Kie got pregnant with L.J.

She worked at Lady Foot Locker and Victoria’s Secret. Hank washed cars for friends and neighbors for $20 per car.

“When you’re in high school,” he said, “that’s a lot of money.”

Kie Kie saw in her partner a dedication to her and their son. That continued when the family of three moved south after Hank began classes at Miami.

“I always felt like I was lucky because I watched all my other friends that had kids, and their baby dad wasn’t helping, wasn’t around, didn’t see them,” she said. “I just watched them struggle, I guess.

“But with Hank from high school and college, I felt like I was lucky because he was always here. We lived together. He helped me. So I always thought I was lucky even before he got to the NFL.”

In some ways, Kie Kie remembers those as easier times. His presence as a caretaker means that much to her and the children.

“If I could trade it in,” she said, “I would prefer him to be around more.”

Role model for teammate
Na Na held her daddy’s burgundy and gold football helmet with both hands while he spoke to a reporter coming off the practice field at training camp in Richmond last month. About 10 yards away, L.J. spotted his dad’s teammate, receiver Pierre Garcon, and raced over to request an autograph. Na Na toted the helmet as she went running after him.

Redskins receiver Aldrick Robinson, Hank’s closest friend on the team, has seen many of these moments since Washington drafted both of them in April 2011. In advance of his wife’s October due date — they’re expecting their first child, a son — he and Hank have discussed how to be a positive influence raising children.

“He always talk to his kids,” Robinson said. “He love his kids, and you can see it. When they around him, they don’t want to leave him. I look up to him as a father. I see how he handles his kids and everything. I plan to treat my kids the same way that he treats his kids.”

If Hank’s fatherless childhood motivates him, he does not admit it. Maybe he isn’t conscious of it.

It doesn’t, he said, because others filled the caretaker role when he was a boy. But Hank grew up without a dad who provided for him and the family. That’s an aspect of fatherhood at which he is determined to excel.

That would be more difficult if he weren’t making NFL money, although he did graduate from Miami with a degree in liberal arts.

Kie Kie admired how Hank pushed himself toward the financial security the NFL would provide. She recalled a conversation Hank had with his son while he was at Miami.

“I don’t remember what L.J. asked him, but I remember Hank saying, ‘That’s why Daddy working so hard, L.J., so you can have stuff.’ That stuck with me because he was only in college. He worked hard to make sure he improved to get that chance, training and everything.”

Now, L.J. and Na Na can navigate an iPad like pros. Kie Kie and the kids last month moved to a new apartment 10 minutes away because their old two-bedroom had been broken into three times since the spring. And Hank agreed to put Naris in day care until 2 p.m. each weekday to help Kie Kie’s workload and stress.

Hank extends that outreach beyond his kids. “I don’t want for nothing,” Lisa said. Leonarda knows she can ask her younger brother for help, but she’d rather follow his example.

“I’m happy that he made it the way he did, but I’m trying to get there, too,” she said. “I want a child care license for myself so maybe we could open a day care in the future.”

After practice that day in Richmond, when L.J. and Na Na finished chasing down their dad’s teammates, Hank spent a few minutes with them before he had to go shower and eat lunch.

His father didn’t have moments like that.

“I know I had a responsibility to my kids,” Hank said. “I mean, those are my kids. I’m sure there’s things I can do better. I know I’m not perfect. Na Na will say, “Daddy, you’re No. 1,’ so I know I’m doing something right.”

On other side of the rope that sections off the field from fans, Kie Kie stood wearing her Redskins T-shirt and holding Naris.

Next to them stood Lisa, as proud a mother as she could be.

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Dollars and Sense: Shane Larkin

The NBA is about competition on the floor, but it’s also about dollars and cents. Teams now must find players who can outperform deals they’re signed to and use them as assets on the floor or as assets to flip in order to acquire a game-changing piece. ESPNDallas.com will grade how the Dallas Mavericks fared in terms of contracts of their new acquisitions.

Shane Larkin: Signed to a four-year, $7,395,002 contract. Larkin will be paid $1,536,960 in 2013-14.

The rookie guard signed to 120 percent of the rookie scale deal this season. Players drafted in the first round have to be signed to within 80 percent to 120 percent of the salaries based on the slot in which they were drafted. Dallas has contractual rights to Larkin up to the next four years.

While fellow rookie Gal Mekel provides more control and facilitating from the point guard position, Larkin presents more dynamic scoring potential and the ability to stop on a dime off a pick-and-roll situation and pull up for a jumper.

A fractured ankle prior to the Las Vegas Summer League derailed Larkin’s adjustment period into the NBA. It’s a speed bump, but it likely won’t take away from his outlook on the big picture.

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Ryan Jackson "in the mix" to start at shortstop

Ryan Jackson could "definitely be in the mix," to draw starts at shortstop, according to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.

Jackson hit .278 with a .352 on-base percentage at Triple-A Memphis and was promoted when rosters expanded. St. Louis' current shortstop tandem, featuring Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, isn't producing at the dish, which may provide an opening for Jackson, who isn't an elite defender like Kozma but would slot nicely into some sort of platoon. Jackson tortured Triple-A southpaws this season, batting .331 with a .397 OBP.

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PHOTO: Ray Lewis Poses With New ESPN NFL Countdown Crew


It’s going to be weird without Ray Lewis — even more weird with him breaking things down on ESPN. Garrett Downing of the Baltimore Ravens official website tweeted the photo above of Lewis posing front and center with Keyshawn Johnson, Tom Jackson, Chris Berman Mike Ditka and Cris Carter.

Sweet shoes, Ditka.

How will Lewis fare on television? Hopefully Joe Flacco‘s recent comments aren’t any indication of Lewis’ fate. Richard Deitsch of MMQB.SI.com discusses the new gig.

Lewis was the most notable sports broadcasting hire of the offseason and he’ll travel to the Monday Night Football site each week to serve as an analyst for Monday Night Countdown. He’ll also work eight Sundays at ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn., appearing on Sunday NFL Countdown. The former Ravens linebacker debuts the morning of Sunday, Sept. 8, when he joins the cast of Countdown. The following day Lewis will be in Landover, Md., for his Monday Night Countdown spot, leading into the Eagles-Redskins game at FedEx Field. “I honestly think the sky is the limit for me,” Lewis told The MMQB in July. “A lot of people have only been introduced to my football mentality—and it is hard to get people to understand the football mentality unless you’ve lived it. I think I am totally different when I’m not thinking about battle, and I’m going to try to be the best at this. When people learn my personality and actually get into my head, they are going to be surprised by the way I think on an everyday and every-second basis.”

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Kellen Winslow will rest one day a week

In an attempt to manage chronic pain in Kellen Winslow's surgically repaired right knee, the Jets will put the veteran tight end on the LaRon Landry program -- meaning he'll be allowed to miss one practice per week. That day, Winslow said, will be Wednesday. That's how they did it last year with Landry, who dealt with an Achilles tendon issue and didn't miss a game.

Wednesday is a heavy day for game-plan installation, but Winslow said he doesn't see that as an issue because Wednesday is devoted primarily to "regular" personnel. Winslow doesn't have many responsibilities in regular groupings, as he plays mostly in passing personnel packages.

That Winslow made the team is no small accomplishment, considering his knee problems. In training camp, his reps were monitored, and there were times when he sat out two or three days in a row.

This is a nice comeback story. Remember, Winslow arrived in minicamp without a contract and had to audition, as if he were a first-year player. He was basically out of football last season, except for a cup of coffee with the Patriots. Monday marked the one-year anniversary he was released by the Seahawks, and that still bothers him.

"I got a bad deal in Seattle," Winslow said. "It was wrong, but things happen for a reason. It gave me a chance to sit down and reflect on what I've accomplished and, moving forward, what I still want to accomplish."

He said he was "very frustrated" not to garner much interest on the free-agent market. He still feels he's the same player who caught 75 passes in 2011 for the Bucs, the Jets' Week 1 opponent. He was a productive player for the Bucs, but he reportedly clashed with coach Greg Schiano, leading to his trade to the Seahawks. Sunday might be a revenge game for Winslow. He's just happy to have a game, period.

"I'm proud and honored to make the team," he said. "That's a big deal, man."

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Texans' Andre Johnson hones interview craft, too

HOUSTON -- Andre Johnson isn't widely known as a media darling. He doesn't seek the spotlight off the field. He doesn't always come across on television because he speaks softly. Reporters who covered him in college remember him as a shy guy who tended to mumble. On a team full of stars, Johnson wasn't sought after when he was eligible to speak.

Somewhere along the way, the Houston Texans' star receiver realized his role had changed.

It's made him one of the most professional and best interviews on the team. That isn't always the case with superstars, especially one with his longevity (he's entering his 11th NFL season).

"I just think you have to be careful about what you say," Johnson told me after one of the Texans' preseason games. "Sometimes certain things shouldn't be said, and sometimes things need to be said. I just think because in the media, sometimes your words can get twisted up."

He doesn't see his thoughtfulness as a favor, rather as a way to make sure he is represented properly.

Teams are allowed to limit one or two players to one interview a week, but Johnson never hides behind that, rarely declining if asked.

I've never heard Johnson snap at someone or be even close to rude. Not letting words bother him is something he's honed on the field. In fact, when Johnson fought with then-Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan in 2010, the incident surprised players around the league because it was so out of character for him. His professionalism off the field translates on it, too.

"I'm not going to go back and forth with you; I gotta play the game," Johnson said. "You want to talk all game, I'll go out there and have 10, 11 catches, and X amount of yards. You can keep talking, but you look bad. The more you talk to me, the more damage I'm going to do to you on the field."

He's made a decent career of coming through on that promise.

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Jonathan Vilma to short-term IR

The New Orleans Saints placed linebacker Jonathan Vilma on injured reserve-designated to return Tuesday.

Vilma, 31, underwent knee surgery in August, and has had numerous surgeries on his left knee during the past two seasons. He missed five games in 2011 and started last season on the physically unable to perform list.

Tuesday marked the first day teams could use the short-term IR designation on a player. Vilma would be able to return to practice after Week 6 and get back on the field after Week 8.

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Colin McCarthy not close to regaining starting job

Titans coach Mike Munchak expects Colin McCarthy to be limited to a reserve linebacker role and special teams this season.

McCarthy was a starter and team captain in 2012, but fell behind Moise Fokou in training camp due to a hamstring injury. "He has to work his way back to where we feel he can do all the things he needs to do on an everyday basis," Munchak said. "Right now he is not where he needs to be to be an every down guy." The Titans have "no plans" to replace Fokou any time soon. Even when he gets fully healthy, McCarthy isn't expected to regain his starting job.

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Ed Reed continues to impress Texans, moves closer toward playing vs. Chargers

Will veteran safety Ed Reed play during the Texans’ regular-season debut Monday at San Diego?

Neither the Texans nor Reed have made an official announcement. But Reed’s recently gone from being taken off the physically unable to perform list to practicing this week with the Texans, and his new teammates are already impressed with his initial contributions.

“I don’t know how he’s feeling but he’s looking good out there,” rookie defensive back A.J. Bouye said Tuesday. “I’m just watching him, just learning stuff from him and how he takes practice and how he plays. It’s good. It’s a different type of atmosphere when he’s out there … you see him competing and everything, especially on the back end.”

Coach Gary Kubiak didn’t address the media Tuesday and Reed wasn’t available for comment. But Kubiak’s often said Reed will make the final call as to whether he plays Monday and the recent sight of the veteran on the practice field has many Texans believing he’ll be on a real field against the Chargers.

“Only Ed knows that,” veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson said. “I know he was real close to feeling well, just from talking to him. Just seeing him on the field is a positive. If he wasn’t feeling well he wouldn’t be out there. He knows when he’ll be ready. Hopefully, it’ll be for Monday night.”

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Lamar Miller gets call to start in backfield

The Miami Dolphins’ running back competition appears to be over, and the guy expected to win it all along — Lamar Miller — has done just that.

Late Monday afternoon, the Dolphins released their depth chart for this weekend’s season opener in Cleveland, and Miller — the homegrown talent from the University of Miami — occupied the top line.

Meaning: Short of a last-minute change in plans, Miller — and not Daniel Thomas — will start against the Browns.

If so, Miller will officially succeed Reggie Bush as the Dolphins’ featured back, which should come as little surprise. His soaring potential was a major factor in the team letting Bush walk in free agency back in March.

“It would be a great accomplishment,” Miller said, when asked about that scenario earlier in the day. “Everybody dreams about it.”

The Dolphins’ other position battles also played out as expected. John Jerry essentially won the right guard job when the Dolphins cut Lance Louis.

Dimitri Patterson did the same at corner when Miami released Richard Marshall. Both moves were made official by Monday’s depth chart.

As for defensive tackle, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks were again listed as co-starters, as they’ve been all summer.

So the only real intrigue was at running back, and even that played out as most predicted.

Miller, who starred at Killian High and UM before joining the Dolphins in 2012, won the job after being the statistically superior back in the preseason.

In five games, Miller had more yards (72 to 52), more touchdowns (1 to 0) and a better yards-per-carry average (4.2 to 2.7) than Thomas.

Miller was even a comparable pass blocker, according to Pro Football Focus, which had been a weakness early in his rookie season.

Still, the Dolphins held off on naming a starter until game week, saying recently that Thomas, a third-year back out of Kansas State, had a legitimate shot to start.

And on Monday, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman made clear he expects both to get significant carries this fall.

“I think because they are so different they offer ... a different dynamic when in the game,” Sherman. “I think there will be a challenge defensively to be able to put both running backs on the field separately.”

What remains unclear: Who will be the team’s short-yardage back. Intuitively, the job would belong to Thomas, who outweighs Miller by 17 pounds. But don’t discount Miller, who got most of the goal line work in the preseason.

Whoever plays that role needs to do it better than the Dolphins did a year ago, when they converted just 60 percent of their third or fourth-and-2 or shorter situations.

Tyler Clutts, the fullback claimed off waivers Sunday, believes he’s on the team for that very reason.

“That’s what they brought me in, to be a traditional fullback and to move guys and give some space for a running back to get through,” Clutts said. “That’s my job.”

Miller’s job will be to gain yards on most every down and distance. Center Mike Pouncey thinks he will, predicting a 1,300-yard season for Miller, and believes the offense will be at its best when Dolphins run the ball some 30 times a game.

“I think we have to,” Pouncey said. “Our biggest advantage is running the football. We’ve got a big offensive line. We’ve got the right zone scheme. And now we’ve got the speed on the outside so guys can’t stack the box. Our run game should be really good.”

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Kenny Phillips Could Find a New Home

Kenny Phillips, S: Phillips has gradually drifted into the Bob Sanders Zone. Sanders, a Colt from 2004-10 before a brief stop in San Diego, had all the talent in the world and simply could not stay on the field. Phillips has had similar issues, though he started 15 games in both 2010 and ’11.

Lingering knee woes led to the Giants letting Phillips walk this offseason, and he was then unable to secure a spot in the Philadelphia secondary. He’s an extremely solid player when healthy … which has not been often enough.

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Matt Bosher Practicing Field Goals

PK Matt Bryant (back) worked out with the trainers and is expected to be available against the Saints. P Matt Bosher kicked field goals in practice with Matt Bryant out with a back injury. Matt Ryan took on Bosher's usual duties as the holder.

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Reggie Wayne’s World

At 34, Reggie Wayne is only 1,518 yards away (or two mediocre seasons) from surpassing Marvin Harrison as the alltime receiving leader in Colts’ history. But he plans on catching passes from the fun-loving Andrew Luck much farther into the future

ROBERT KLEMKO: Someone in the Colts organization asked you how long want to keep playing and you said, “Infinity years.” At 34, do you realistically think you could still be playing five years from now?
REGGIE WAYNE: As long as these legs keep me upright. As long as I continue to feel good, I’m going to keep playing. I don’t have no mark on it or a timetable, I’m just going to keep playing the game. The day I feel like I cant get any separation, that’ll be it.

KLEMKO: What’s the difference between Andrew Luck and all the other quarterbacks you’ve played with?
WAYNE: In practice, he has fun, he’s not totally serious. It’s almost like a grown man in a Pee Wee league. He just likes to have fun. He’s laughing, he’s joking, he’s into it. That’s what I like about him. He makes me want to go out there and have fun. So whenever you see your leader like that, that’s what you want.”

KLEMKO: How do you assess Luck’s command of the playbook in Year 2?
WAYNE: This is the offense he ran in college, so he knows it like the back of his hand, better than last year’s offense. He can maneuver guys, move them around, tell them what they’re supposed to do when they’re unsure. He knows how to pick up the blitzes and the protections to put everybody in. He’s already ahead of the curve. Everybody needs to catch up with him this time. I’m not sure if that’s possible, but we’re lucky that we got his offensive coordinator from college.

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Andre Johnson restructures Texans contract to facilitate Brian Cushing deal

For the third straight year, Andre Johnson restructured his contract to create salary cap space for the Texans. Houston reworked Johnson's deal on Tuesday, in order to create enough room for Brian Cushing's six-year extension.

Johnson was set to earn a base salary of $10.5 million this season, but he and the Texans agreed to a deal that reduced his base salary to $5 million with the other $5.5 million converted to bonuses, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. The Texans and Johnson agreed to similar deals in each of the past two seasons, reducing his base salary and converting the difference into a bonus.

Although the latest restructure will help Houston in the short term, it could have an impact on Johnson's long-term standing with the team. Joel Corry, a salary cap expert for National Football Post and former agent, said Johnson could eventually become candidate for release because each restructure raises his future cap numbers.

Johnson's salary cap numbers aren't likely to be a factor as long as he remains productive. However, at 32 years old, he could begin to decline soon, at which point his cap number may be too high for Houston to justify or manage.

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Jon Beason easing into new role with Panthers entering the regular season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Just as Jon Beason was about to answer a reporter's question on his play Thursday night, general manager Dave Gettleman had a few questions for the linebacker at his locker.

"How many snaps did you get today?" Gettleman asked Beason.

"Twelve, I think," Beason responded.

"How do you feel?" Gettleman asked. Beason said, "All right. I wanted to do something,"

"I know, I know," Gettleman said. "How's your knee feel?"

"It's pretty good," he said.

The general manager's questions were good enough to replace the first few questions of a more formal interview with Beason after the Panthers' 25-10 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the team's final tune-up.

Beason played 26 snaps in two exhibitions this preseason, getting his first game action since last September in Week 4 against the Falcons. Microfracture knee surgery in October put him on injured reserve and sidelined him for all of training camp before he made his return to the practice field in mid-August.
Are those 26 snaps and handful of practices enough for Beason to be ready for Seattle on Sunday?

Panthers coach Ron Rivera was pleased with Beason's involvement in practices and meetings while he was injured, saying his mental reps didn't go to waste. Beason will be playing at weakside linebacker after sliding over from middle linebacker, where he went to the Pro Bowl three straight years. That spot is now occupied by second-year star Luke Kuechly.

"Me, I get stronger as I go, and I'm accustomed to not coming out at all, ever," Beason said. "So it's going to be an adjustment. I'm in a situation with the knee and coming back where taking pressure off that is going to be the best thing, especially early. It's a good situation actually."

Beason said he's comfortable playing at weakside, but he has to adjust to a position that doesn't require him to roam around the middle. Instead he has specific assignments, and at times this preseason has over-pursued in an effort to make the play.

"I saw a great athlete running out there trying to make something happen," Rivera said of Beason Thursday night. "It was really fun to watch. I know he's frustrated with himself, he ran himself out of a couple of plays trying to make them. It's good. It really is good to see.

"He's got so much ability, and couple him with Luke and (Thomas Davis) and I think those three guys are going to be very formidable."

Beason was frustrated Thursday. He played two series, tallied zero defensive statistics and was part of a defense that allowed one touchdown.

The coaching staff emphasizes not only tackles, takeaways and pass breakups, but also "factors." The staff grades for factors, plays a defender does well enough to enable a teammate to make a play.

After the game, Beason said he felt like he didn't contribute because he couldn't get in on a play.

"The game didn't really come to me," he said. "It was two drives, and it was early. It's going to be a lot longer come next week. I'm trying to work through it and get comfortable and do your job knowing that everyone has a fit, and as long as we do well that's all the really matters."

Beason likely won't see every defensive snap Sunday against the Seahawks. He said 30 snaps is a safe number considering the long-term health of his knee. With veteran Chase Blackburn as the primary backup, Rivera feels comfortable with the Panthers' depth at weakside.

If all goes to plan, eventually Beason won't have to be restrained by a snap limit.

"We'll be ready to roll," Beason later told Gettleman on Thursday. "That's all that matters, right? The other stuff will come, right?"

"Yes, Jon," Gettleman said. "It will."

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Ray Lewis: Super Bowl XLVII blackout was no accident

Ray Lewis will go down as one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, and he almost certainly will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It turns out that Lewis also is a noted conspiracy theorist.

During an interview for NFL Films' "America's Game," which aired Monday night on NFL Network, Lewis let on that he didn't think the infamous power outage during the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory in New Orleans was an accident.

"I'm not gonna accuse nobody of nothing -- because I don't know facts," Lewis said, according to USA Today's Nate Davis. "But you're a zillion-dollar company, and your lights go out? No. (Laughs) No way.

"Now listen, if you grew up like I grew up -- and you grew up in a household like I grew up -- then sometimes your lights might go out, because times get hard. I understand that. But you cannot tell me somebody wasn't sitting there and when they say, 'The Ravens (are) about to blow them out. Man, we better do something.' ... That's a huge shift in any game, in all seriousness. And as you see how huge it was because it let them right back in the game."

The San Francisco 49ers nearly erased a 28-6 deficit after the power outage at the Superdome, but they came up just short on the final drive.

It's easy for Lewis to prod at the power outage while he wears his second championship ring, but there is no question that the more than 30-minute delay -- ultimately traced to a faulty electrical delay device -- derailed the Ravens' momentum.

In a show of humor (we assume), 49ers CEO Jed York responded to Lewis' claims via Twitter:

"There is no conspiracy," York wrote. "I pulled the plug."

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Willis McGahee, Kenny Phillips are longshots for NY Giants

According NYG Cap Central last night, the New York Football Giants will be limited by salary cap concerns if the team seeks to bolster its roster in the wake of injuries to safety Stevie Brown, offensive tackle David Diehl, and running back Andre Brown. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams must have their entire roster, practice squad and injured players under the cap by 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 4th.

OvertheCap.com explains the new rule, "By 4 PM on September 4 the cap valuations change. For salary cap purposes rosters expand to include everyone under contract. At a minimum that pushes the roster to 53 players plus a Practice Squad, which every team fields. The cost of two players adds at least $810,000 to the roster and a PS costs a team another $816,000. For teams that have players on Reserve lists such as PUP or IR the salary for the players who are replacing them will now count. For some teams that can be an additional four to five players that will now be accounted for. It quickly adds up and it all adds up by Wednesday."

Taking this rule into account, NYG Cap Central stated, "After adding in the practice squad, injured reserve, injury settlements, the entire 53 man roster and the physically unable to perform (PUP) list they'll be about $2.5 million over [the salary cap]."

Therefore, while various outlets state the G-men appear to have $3.2 to $3.3 million left under the cap, and with veterans like Kenny Phillips, Brandon Jacobs, Jonathan Dwyer and Willis McGahee as unsigned free agents, the fact is that currently New York has no money to ink any of these players, unless a current player or two restructures his contract.

NYG Cap Central highlighted the situation, if nothing changes, last night, "[The team] will need another $2.5 million in space plus $1 million in 'breathing room' by Wednesday at 4 pm. They'll probably turn to Snee again."

There are very few options for the Giants to turn to for cap relief. For example, of the ten ten paid players on Big Blue's roster, Victor Cruz, Matthias Kiwanuka and Will Beatty are already operating under new contracts. In addition, Cruz's contract is very cap friendly this season as well.

Don't expect another Eli Manning restructuring until next season, when a restructuring would most likely come with an extension.

Center David Baas has been injury prone in his tenure with New York, it remains doubtful that the Giants would extend a contract that already expires in 2016.
Corey Webster already restructured his contract, and David Diehl and Justin Tuck are in the final year of their contracts. That seemingly leaves only Antrel Rolle and Chris Snee available for restructuring.

For his part, Rolle has never had his deal restructured, and because New York has had salary cap issues over the period that he has been a Giant, it is reasonable to assume that the veteran safety has been approached by the team in the past, and declined.

NYG Cap Central believes that a Snee restructure makes the most sense, "Snee can give them give them as much $2.93 million more in cap space. His deal has two years left on it, and his base salary in 2013 is $6.7 million. Snee's $6.7 million base can be reduced to as little as $840,000. That's a $5.86 million difference. Divide that by two and you get the $2.93 million gain."

And while fans clamor for a big name or two to be brought in before playing Dallas on September 8th; less than $3 million has to last the entire season, and Big Blue also has to account for Will Hill's salary when he comes back from suspension in four weeks. So is it worth it to bring in a veteran safety for what will amount to a three-week audition?

The Giants' salary cap risk only grows if the team considers an injury-prone player like Kenny Phillips, assuming as well that Phillips would accept the veteran's minimum salary ($715,000). If he injures himself again, his salary will count against the cap in one shape or form; fully guaranteed if he's on the roster on opening day.

On the running back side, Willis McGahee, as a ten-year NFL veteran would command a $940,000 salary which would be guaranteed if on the roster on opening day as well. Signing the injury prone McGahee, before opening day especially, would pose a risk given both a guaranteed salary and injury history.

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Steelers Waive CB DeMarcus Van Dyke From Injured Reserve With A Settlement

The Pittsburgh Steelers made several transactions on Saturday as they trimmed their roster down to 53 players, but one insignificant move went unreported.

According to the official NFL transaction release from Friday, the Steelers waived cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke from injured reserve with an injury settlement.

Van Dyke, who the Steelers signed last year at about this time, was waived injured last week with a hamstring injury that he suffered during training camp.

Depending on the terms of the settlement, the former third-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, can now begin looking for work once he is fully healthy, so there is a chance Van Dyke might find a home on a roster over the course of the season

Van Dyke is no longer eligible for a practice squad, so a team that signs him must keep him on their 53 man roster.

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Coach Kenard Lang sees Wekiva blank former team

Teddy Atkins had a huge night on defense with six tackles, three for loss, an interception and a sack for a safety to lead Wekiva to a 30-0 victory over Jones (0-1).

Deandre Fair came up with two rushing scores for the Mustangs (1-0). Yawn Coleman had a 45-yard scoring reception.

"I feel great for Wekiva," Wekiva coach Kenard Lang said. "This is a great way to start and get the ball moving in the right direction. Tonight we showed great effort and focus from beginning to end."

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Bernie Kosar says taking part in NFL lawsuit was not for him

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Despite having suffered post-career head issues himself, former University of Miami star and ex-NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar did not join nearly 4,500 former NFL players in a lawsuit accusing the league of hiding risks of concussions and repeated hits to the head.

The two sides reached a settlement worth $765 million on Thursday.

"Whether I got a dollar or a billion dollars, that wasn't going to help how I was feeling," said Kosar, who said he endured such things as equilibrium issues, sounds in his head and insomnia.

"I focused more on trying to figure out something ... I feel like I got a second chance, a blessing from God ... to have found a doctor, kind of a holistic way to treat some of the issues I had."

In January, Kosar said treatments he got from a Florida doctor named Rick Sponaugle helped reduce the pain and other symptoms resulting from at least a dozen concussions during his playing career.

"I was more focused on trying to find something that made me feel better," Kosar said Friday night. "I was able to kind of fix that stuff as opposed to, no disrespect to any attorneys ... but to sit through depositions and kind of talk about that, wasn't really going to help me feel better."

Kosar, 49, was at Sun Life Stadium for the season opener between the University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University. He was among members of UM's 1983 national championship team being honored at the game.

The 12-year NFL quarterback said he endured bleeding and contusions in his head for almost 25 years.

"The Junior Seau thing was an eye-opener to me ... he was like a little brother to me ... to find something that at least could help me," said Kosar, who added he saw Seau five or six days before the former linebacker's suicide.

Kosar cited former Florida Gator and 12-year NFL linebacker Wilbur Marshall and former offensive lineman Steve Everitt as peers dealing with serious post-career injuries.

"The acceleration of this stuff is starting to happen to these younger guys," Kosar said. "It's tough to see all lot of your friends going through stuff like that."

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Kenny Kadji to Join Cavs’ Training Camp

Undrafted forward Kenny Kadji has agreed to sign a non-guaranteed contract and play in training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a league source told RealGM.

Kadji, 25, turned down several substantial offers from European clubs to focus on starting his career in the NBA. He will travel to Cleveland next week to begin preparing for camp.

Kadji was on the Cavaliers’ summer league team in July, averaging 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds.

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Jemile Weeks Promoted

OAKLAND – With rosters expanding Sunday, the A's called up four players from Triple-A Sacramento: infielders Jemile Weeks and Andy Parrino, reliever Pedro Figueroa and outfielder and 2010 first-round draft pick Michael Choice.

Manager Bob Melvin said none of the call-ups are simply rewards for strong minor-league performances.

"In the position that we're in, when you add guys, they're not just going to sit around," he said. "There's reasons for it."

Weeks returns to Oakland after a trying year in which he was demoted at the end of last season, battled injuries in spring training and played outfield for the first time in his career this season hoping greater versatility would get him back to the majors.

"I learned as I went on," said Weeks, who batted .271 with a .376 on-base percentage and scored 96 runs for Sacramento. "Just tried everything possible to see what my route was to get back here, and here we are."

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Yonder Alonso hurt

SAN DIEGO -- First baseman Yonder Alonso had an MRI on his sore right hand Tuesday that revealed fluid in and between the joints in the hand.

"That's what's causing it to hurt," Alonso said.

Alonso was scheduled to have a cortisone shot in the hand later Tuesday, but at this point he's been told the only thing he can do for the hand is rest it.

"We're working through a couple of scenarios where we'll give it rest with the hope that I will be able to come back sooner than later," he said.

The good news was that no surgery is expected on the hand, which caused him to miss 34 games earlier this season. He said that even after returning from the disabled list, the strength in his hand wasn't the same as it was earlier in the season.

The initial diagnosis was that Alonso would miss between seven and 10 days, but it now appears that he will miss more time than that.

"He could be back in a couple of weeks," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He wants to get back and play again, which is great."

Alonso said there's no sense in him rushing back, especially since there's just 24 games remaining in the regular season after Tuesday.

"I'm not even 90 percent now, so what's the point in coming back before I'm healthy?" he said.

Alonso said his hand hasn't felt fully healthy since before his previous injury. He hit .284 with six home runs, 29 RBIs and seven doubles in 190 at-bats before that first injury. Since then, he's hitting .278 with four doubles and 16 RBIs.

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Back with Cards, Jackson had his share of obstacles

CINCINNATI -- Ryan Jackson's road back to the big leagues was a bit more difficult than that of the average player.   

Jackson, who opened the season with St. Louis before being optioned to Triple-A Memphis when third baseman David Freese was activated from the 15-day disabled list April 8, was one of six players added by the Cardinals to their roster on Tuesday. While all of them were happy to be joining the Major League team, Jackson might've been a little happier because of the obstacles he had to overcome.

After hitting .300 before the International League All-Star break, including a torrid .345 in July, the right-handed hitter managed just a .221 average in the second half. It didn't help that he lost about six or seven pounds in mid-August after dealing with a bout of food poisoning.

"I'd rather get hit by a pitch," Jackson said while talking with the media in the visitors' clubhouse at Great American Ball Park before Tuesday night's game against the Reds.

He should know. He took a fastball on the outside of his left knee in the second-to-last game of Memphis' regular season Sunday.

"It caught me pretty flush," he said. "It feels pretty good. I'll be out there, ready to go."

Manager Mike Matheny indicated Jackson would be added to the mix at shortstop, especially when the Cardinals are facing left-handed pitchers.

"We're a team trying to figure out left-handed pitching," Matheny said.

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Chris Perez pleads no contest

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio -- Cleveland Indians two-time All-Star closer Chris Perez pleaded no contest and was convicted Tuesday of misdemeanor drug abuse for marijuana shipped to his home in the family dog's name.

Perez withdrew his not guilty plea in Rocky River Municipal Court outside Cleveland and was found guilty and fined $250. He also was placed on probation for one year and was ordered to speak to youngsters about drugs.

"You're highly regarded; kids look up to you," Judge Brian Hagan said. "But you made a big mistake. I hope that through your efforts you can deter someone else from making that same mistake."

Postal inspectors tipped off police about suspicious packages mailed to the Perez home. They say Perez's wife, Melanie, accepted two packages with about a third of a pound of marijuana.

The related criminal case against her is pending. If she passes a drug test, she will face a $50 fine and will not be required to serve probation, said prosecutor Michael O'Shea.

Authorities say Melanie Perez, whose maiden name is Baum, told the undercover officer delivering the packages that they were intended for her dog, named Brody. The package was addressed to Brody Baum.

According to investigators, Perez told drug agents with a search warrant that he had pot for personal use and pointed out two jars. Asked about any drugs or weapons by officers who went to the Perez home, Perez "volunteered to direct the officers to the location of it," an investigative report said.

Under the drug agreement between Major League Baseball and its players' association, marijuana offenses generally result with the player undergoing a treatment program rather than discipline.

Perez is participating in the treatment program and is subject to regular drug tests, defense attorney Terry Gilbert told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.
"For all intents and purposes, his life is on a good track," Gilbert said.

The 28-year-old Perez (5-2) has 21 saves on the season in 25 opportunities with a 3.15 ERA.

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