02 August 2015

LaDarius Gunter Picks Off Another Aaron Rodgers Pass

The training camp legend of LaDariusGunter carried over into another week. Gunter, an undrafted free agent out of Miami, raised eyebrows during the first practice of the season when he intercepted quarterback AaronRodgers on a pass intended for JaredAbbrederis. Since then, Gunter has established himself as a legitimate player in the cornerback rotation thanks to a physical brand of football that, according to cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr., is predicated on winning with his hands at the line of scrimmage. On Thursday, Gunter notched his second interception of Rodgers when he picked off a deep ball down the right sideline intended for receiver JeffJanis. "I think Gunter has done some good things," coach MikeMcCarthy said. "He's aggressive. But he's got a lot to learn, particularly on special teams."

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Patriots Release Harland Gunn

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots reshuffled their 90-man roster Thursday, releasing one player and signing two.

The Patriots cut offensive lineman Harland Gunn, who was claimed off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Patriots signed tight end Mason Brodine and offensive lineman Mark Asper.

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Colts believe Phillip Dorsett has superstar potential

The Indianapolis Colts' excitement for Phillip Dorsett hasn't dissipated since the speedy first-round draft pick earned rave reviews for his work in offseason practices.

Appearing on Wednesday's edition of the Around The NFL Podcast, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport relayed a sentiment at Colts training camp that Dorsett's skill set is essentially a carbon copy of Redskins deep threat DeSean Jackson's.

"They could not be higher on Phillip Dorsett," added Rapoport, who was onsite in Anderson, Indiana, on Tuesday. "I think they think they added a superstar."

When Rapoport asked a Colts coach if he was surprised they didn't address a porous defense with their top draft pick, the response was, "Well, no. This guy's that good."

For the sake of comparison, Jackson was an instant sensation as an Eagles rookie in 2008, blowing past defenses and coverage units for 1,460 all-purpose yards.

The Colts' optimism goes beyond Dorsett's 4.33 wheels.

"He's got really good hands," coach Chuck Pagano said in May. "He's really smart. He's picked things up. He looks really good."

Former Colts running back Edgerrin James, who counseled Dorsett at Miami, believes his protégé will make an instant impact at the NFL level.

"I tell him once he gets in that real good offense and he gets to playing, man, he's going to be unbelievable," James told Mike Chappel of WXIN in Indianapolis. "He works hard. He does it the right way. He's a good kid. He has a love for the game. You're not going to have to worry about him. Trust me on that. And Andre (Johnson) is going to mentor him."

Dorsett's potential is one of the primary reasons offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has whipped out the "Greatest 'Shoe on Earth" tag for his suddenly stacked offense.

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Ereck Flowers hoping to be ready for first preseason game

It seems like some kind of right of passage for a New York Giants first-round draft pick to be injured and missing practice time at some point during his first offseason. Last year, it was Odell Beckham Jr. who missed most of the offseason, and now 2015 first-round offensive tackle Ereck Flowers has been absent from practice with a hip pointer.

The Giants had been using Flowers with both the first and second-team offenses at left tackle in an effort to get him as many repetitions as possible to prepare him for life as a left tackle in the NFL. Before practice, Flowers told reporters that he was improving and that he expected to be ready to go again soon. 

“I’ve never been hurt,” Flowers told reporters, per Giants.com. “One time, I came back in a week and a half after surgery. I usually heal pretty fast and do pretty well, so I’ll definitely be out there really soon.”

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin echoed Flowers' optimism.

"He's much improved," Coughlin said of Flowers, per ESPN. "Whether they let him go (Thursday), I don't know. But he is much improved."

If Flowers can get back in time for Thursday's practice, this is great news for the Giants. In their first padded practice on Wednesday, the makeshift offensive line missing Flowers and Weston Richburg was a disaster. Flowers' return is necessary.

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Antrel Rolle relishes his new role

BOURBONNAIS -- Being asked to come to a new team and immediately take on a position of leadership can be a heavy burden -- but not if you're Antrel Rolle of the Chicago Bears.

It comes easy to the 32-year-old three-time Pro Bowl safety because he has the numbers, the confidence, the experience and the talent to handle his new role on his new team.

"You either got it or you don't," Rolle says with the self-assured air of a guy who's been there and done that.

"My resume probably speaks for itself, but that means nothing to me right now. It shouldn't mean anything to them.

"It's all about what I do once I'm here. Every year presents it's own new set of challenges, and I like to take each year as a new year and work on different things, always trying to get better at something."

The Bears gave Rolle a three-year $11.25 million contract in the off-season as one of their marquee free-agent signings.

He spent the previous five seasons with the New York Giants, where he started all 80 games and had 15 of his 26 career interceptions, including 9 in the last two years.

Rolle has returned 4 of his picks for touchdowns, including 3 in 2007.

The Bears are counting on more than leadership from Rolle. They've been in need of a talent upgrade and more consistency for most of the past 12 years, since the state of Lovie Smith's regime.

The situation at safety has been one of ever-changing mediocrity.

Ryan Mundy came in a year ago and provided some stability, starting all 16 games at strong safety, leading the team by a wide margin with 85 solo tackles and tying for the team lead with 4 interceptions.

He and 2014 fourth-round pick Brock Vereen, who started five games last season, are waging a training camp battle for the right to start alongside Rolle.

From 2004-11, the Bears' starters at strong and free safety changed 56 times.

Major Wright and Chris Conte provided some continuity at the position for the next couple years, but neither played well enough to be considered a long-term answer.

"I was aware of it," Rolle said of the Bears' checkered past at the safety position. "I knew that there was a need for a safety here. I was more than happy to come in and fill that role.

"I feel like I'm definitely going to be a versatile player and make a lot of plays in the secondary."

That appears to be a given for the 11th-year veteran, who has been making plays since the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the first round (eighth overall) in 2005.
"I've always found my way on the field," said Rolle, who has missed just one game in the previous nine seasons. "I'm no stranger to that. If you don't get action, you find action."

Rolle always seem to finds it, yet he almost always escapes unscathed. Despite being in on 788 tackles in his career, the 6-foot, 206-pounder has been an iron man, starting 143 of the last 144 games.

At an age when most NFL players have retired or are on the their last legs, Rolle just keeps on rolling.

How does he do it?

"Work," he said. "All work. I never stop. To me, age is nothing but a number because I can still go out here and outrun this guy and run with that guy all day. It doesn't matter to me.

"I feel like a lot of this is in your mind. Your mind is going to pretty much control everything. I don't go out there and see myself as a 32-year-old; I see myself as a player. Make plays when the opportunity presents itself."

That's the kind of leader needed on a Bears defense that was the NFL's worst in points allowed and second worst in passing yards allowed last season -- one who leads by example.

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Sean Spence putting injuries behind him

On Wednesday, coach Mike Tomlin said the defense controlled the momentum of practice. On Thursday, he didn't have to make it clear that offense was in control, and some of that could have been due to the absence of linebacker Vince Williams who missed practice because of a hamstring injury.

To fill that gap, second-string linebacker Sean Spence stepped in and got first-team reps.

Wednesday, Spence didn't get nearly as many reps in live plays, as he had more reps with special teams.

“That's just how the practice is scripted,” Spence said.

Spence, who missed his first two seasons with injuries, has recovered immensely and found a way to fit into the Steelers defense.

“It's been a journey,” he said. “My role is to do whatever they need me to do.”

It's hard to believe that it has been more than three years since Spence was taken in the third round of the NFL Draft out of Miami. A knee injury in the 2012 preseason was so severe that he missed the next two seasons, jeopardizing his chances of ever playing professionally.

First-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler didn't think Spence would ever play in the NFL after his consecutive injuries. But after Spence recovered and worked his way back into the system, he made contributions to the Steelers' defense and special teams.

Although Butler and others may have not given him a chance, Spence knew he would be back and he was going to do everything possible to prove it.

Spence appeared in all 16 games last season, starting nine. He contributed 53 tackles and one sack, and he had a fumble recovery. Perhaps Spence's best game came in Week 7 in a 30-23 win against the Houston Texas. He had six tackles and recovered a fumble.

He is among a crowded group at inside linebacker that includes Williams and former first-round picks Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons. When the Steelers released their first depth chart this week, Spence was listed as the second-team left inside linebacker, behind Shazier.

“I'm just trying to do what I can,” Spence said. “We're deep at every position and probably have the best linebacking corps in the NFL.”

In the goal-line drill Thursday, the defense gave up scores on each of the seven offensive attempts. In 11-on-11, it wasn't much different when wide receivers would get open cutting across the middle for more than 10 yards.

Through the defense's poor display, there wasn't anybody that could be a playmaker, not even Spence.

His next chance to make an impression will come Sunday when the Steelers open the NFL exhibition schedule by playing the Minnesota Vikings in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

“I feel better in this camp than I did last year,” Spence said. “The game has slowed down for me. I just have to keep improving.”

And stay away from the trainer's room and injured reserve list.

“I'm glad those days are behind me,” Spence said.

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Saints hoping Kenny Phillips can rediscover first round talent

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WEST VIRGINIA (WVUE)- - An under-the-radar signing for the Saints this offseason was veteran safety Kenny Phillips, who hasn't played a down since the 2012 season. 

Now that he's with the team in West Virginia, he's grateful to be back in the NFL and with this particular organization.

"I kind of put all my eggs in this basket, trying to take advantage of it. A lot of guys that I'm competing with are pretty good, [Rafael] Bush and Kenny [Vaccaro], but it's been fun. It's been competitive and I'm looking forward to what comes next," Phillips said.

After knee problems nearly ended the former first round draft pick's career, he showed up on the black and gold's radar.

Sean Payton appreciates the mindset of a player with Phillips' perspective.

"When you are removed from the game for a stretch and you've played it for quite a while. There is that hunger if you will to take advantage of the next opportunity," Payton said.

As for why Phillips signed with the Saints, he said the reason was simple, "They were the only team that wanted me."

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Danny Valencia likes 'different' atmosphere with A's so far

Danny Valencia has only been a member of the Oakland Athletics for a few days, but he's already appreciating the vibe of his new teammates.

Having been picked up by Oakland on a waiver claim from the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the week, Valencia started in his first game for his new club on Wednesday. 

As he told Trevor Hass of MLB.com, his initial reaction to being DFA'd by Toronto came as a shock: "Never saw that coming." Despite the shock, he's acclimating well to his new organization.  

Valencia, primarily a third baseman/outfielder type, is open to playing wherever Bob Melvin might want to use him, though second base doesn't seem to be his preference. As he told Hass, "I feel all right over there. I wouldn't say that would be a position I'd want to play on a regular basis. I'm a bigger guy -- I'm not as fast as your typical middle infielder -- but if you needed me to hold the position down for a day or two I think I could do it."

Arriving at O.co Coliseum prior to Tuesday night's game with the Baltimore Orioles, Valencia also told Hass of the warm reception given to him by his new teammates: "The guys are great. It seems like a good, fun clubhouse. It's a little bit different in here, but it's definitely going to be a good experience."

In Valencia, the A's hope to have another versatile option for the infield and at the plate, where he excels against left-handed pitching.

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Jemile Weeks accepts outright minor-league assignment from Boston Red Sox

Second baseman Jemile Weeks has accepted his outright minor-league assignment from the Boston Red Sox and will report to Triple-A Pawtucket, according to a Tweet by MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo.

Jemile, the younger brother of Mariners infielder Rickie Weeks, is in his second season in the Red Sox organization, having been acquired from Baltimore last August in the deal that sent Kelly Johnson to the Orioles.

Weeks had been designated for assignment on July 29 when the Red Sox activated infielder Josh Rutledge, who was acquired from the Angels in the deal that sent Shane Victorino out west. He has spent most of this season with the PawSox, hitting .203 in 53 games there, and went 3-for-9 with one RBI in three games in the majors after being called up on July 26.

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Saints offered Kenny Phillips lifeline when 'nobody else wanted' him

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- After two years away from the NFL, New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Phillips isn't fooling himself.

"I came here because nobody else wanted me," admitted the former New York Giants first-round draft pick, whose career was derailed by a series of knee and quadriceps injuries.

Phillips, 28, went too long without the phone ringing -- too long riding what he called an "emotional roller coaster" of hope and doubt -- to pretend like he had any choice to make when the Saints offered him a futures contract in January after working him out late last season.

"It was the first workout, the only workout. And it worked out," Phillips said as a wide grin passed across his face.

"It's a blessing the Saints gave me that opportunity," said Phillips, who credited Saints secondary coach Wesley McGriff for extending the lifeline. McGriff coached Phillips at the University of Miami.

Phillips, who worked out in Miami with trainer Pete Bommarito during his hiatus, said he never stopped trying to come back -- though he admitted, "There was times that, man, I was on the verge of, 'You know what, I'm done.'"

"My family, they stayed behind me, they pushed me. Because I couldn't do it by myself, because it was tough," Phillips said. "It was an emotional roller coaster for two years. You're sent home, you want to play, and you talk to your agent and he says, 'Yeah, they say you're a good player but they're scared to bring you in.'

"One minute you're excited and the next you're down. ... It was taking a toll on me, my family. And just before I threw in the towel, Coach McGriff, 'Crime,' he gave me a call, and the rest is history."

So far, Phillips has been making the most of his opportunity.

The 6-foot-2, 217-pound safety has looked very good throughout the first week of training camp practices, rotating in with the first-string defense at times while starter Jairus Byrd is out with an injury. He snagged the first interception of full-team drills the other day with the second-string defense.

Phillips is still firmly on the "bubble," especially in such a crowded position group. But his arrow has been pointing in the right direction.

"So far he's done a good job of handling the system. I think he's in better shape than he was in the spring," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who said both Phillips and running back Tim Hightower (another great comeback story in this year's camp) earned positive reviews during the team's first full-staff review over the weekend.

"I think it would be pretty normal for a player like [Phillips] or maybe a Hightower, when you're removed from the game for a stretch and you've played it for quite a while, there is that hunger to take advantage of the next opportunity."

Phillips was last in camp with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, but he was released after battling a quadriceps injury. He said he had surgery soon after to repair a quad tendon. He also had microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2009 and missed a large part of the 2010 season with a sprained MCL in his right knee.

In between, Phillips still managed to help the Giants win a Super Bowl as a starter on their 2011 team. He has eight career interceptions, 26 passes defensed, one forced fumble and 263 tackles.

"I knew I was a pretty good player when I was healthy, and I know the reason I was sent home. It wasn't 'cause I couldn't play," Phillips said. "It was because physically I couldn't get the job done. So the biggest thing was get those [injuries] right and give myself a chance."

Phillips he knew he had to be humble coming back, knowing his body wouldn't respond the same way it did in his prime. And he admitted it's been frustrating at times. But he said teammates have been encouraging, and he feels like, "every day I'm doing something better."

"I kind of put all my eggs in this basket, and I'm gonna try to take advantage of it," Phillips said. "It's been fun. It's been competitive. And I'm looking forward to what comes next."

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Pep likes Andre Johnson

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton doesn’t have the history with Andre Johnson that Pagano has had. But it hasn’t taken long for the third-year assistant coach to realize just how much of presence Johnson can have within an offense.

“I think one of the things that’s allowed Andre to be such a good pro for so long is his ability to focus and pay attention to the details. He approached joining our team as if he was a rookie,” Hamilton said Wednesday. 

“He took copious notes and he was always focus and engaged in meeting. He’s constantly asking questions and he’s working overtime to build a relationship with [quarterback] Andrew Luck and the rest of our guys for that matter.”

It’s Johnson’s size (6-foot-3, 229 pounds) as well as his wingspan that can make a big difference in short yardage and red zone situations.

“I think it’s a skill set as well as his God given ability to go up and jump high and have the hand-eye coordination to make some amazing catches,” the coordinator said. “His catching radius is off the chart as well as the fact that Andre is a big, physical, strong man that understands how to leverage and use his body to give him an opportunity to make those plays.”

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Frank Gore on Andrew Luck: He runs the huddle, I’ve never had that before

During 10 years with the 49ers, running back Frank Gore played with a lot of quarterbacks.

Some of them were better than others and he made playoff runs with both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick running the offense, but no one’s going to confuse the members of that group with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Now that Gore’s had a little time to work with Luck, it doesn’t come as a big surprise to learn that he thinks this will wind up being the best offense he’s been part of in the NFL.

“I think if we keep working and keep going and get that gelled, I think by far it can,” Gore said to Nate Burleson of NFL Media. “Especially with No. 12, man. I’m not knocking my other quarterbacks, I respect them other guys, but being around this guy a couple months, he’s a different breed. He’s smart. He makes me feel young. He runs the huddle. I never had that.”

It’s not a knock on any other quarterback Gore’s played with to say that Luck’s in a different class just as it isn’t a knock on his 49ers offenses to say that this Colts group is capable of bigger things than they produced. If the defense we saw in the AFC Championship Game hasn’t improved, though, Gore probably won’t go any farther than he did with the Niners.

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Ereck Flowers sits with preseason opener in jeopardy

The Giants will be in full pads for the first time this summer on Wednesday afternoon, the first training camp session that will more closely resemble honest-to-goodness football. All players look forward to this day, none more so than offensive linemen, who finally get to hit someone, rather than go through the blocking motions in shorts and t-shirts.

Ereck Flowers will miss out on this. The rookie left tackle is still bothered by a hip flexor issue and he said, although he is feeling better, he has not yet been cleared to return to work on the field.

Flowers sat out Monday’s practice and said the problem with his hip started the day before.

“I just fought through it,’’ he said. “I guess it got a little worse so I started getting treatment.’’

This past season at Miami, Flowers underwent knee surgery and missed only one game.

“I usually heal pretty fast and do pretty well,’’ he said.

If Flowers cannot get back on the field in the next day or so, it will compromise his chances of playing in the preseason opener Aug. 14 in Cincinnati, delaying his NFL debut. He said missing the first day of full-pad practice will be “very disappointing,’’ but did not think he will have to miss the game against the Bengals.

“I should be fine by then,’’ Flowers said.

Justin Pugh moved from left guard to left tackle this past Monday to fill in for Flowers.

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Pagano goes back to Miami roots to bolster Colts

There’s something about those University of Miami connections for Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.

For the past three years, it was Pagano and veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Now that Wayne is no longer part of the Colts’ picture, it’s running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson.

Wayne, Gore and Johnson were all standouts at Miami while Pagano was an assistant coach. He ended up in having a hand in all three players winding up as Hurricanes as a recruiter.

Flash forward several years. Pagano had just been named as Indianapolis’ new head coach. Wayne had just played out his contract with the Colts and was fielding offers from several teams around the National Football League.

Just when it looked as if Wayne was headed out the door, presumably to New England, in stepped Pagano the recruiter once again. He convinced his long-time friend to stay with the Colts and be an important part in the remodeling of the franchise.

When the decision was made to finally part ways to Wayne after the 2014 season, largely due to age and a series of injuries that had finally begun to affect his on-field performance, Pagano went right back to his Miami connections.

This time it was Gore and Johnson. Both players had received lucrative contract offers from other teams. In fact, for awhile it appeared as if the former San Francisco 49ers running back was headed to Philadelphia.

But, as Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson likes to say, once Pagano gets a potential roster addition in the door, the chances are pretty good that they’re not going to leave. Such was the case with Gore and Johnson.

Both players are expected to be important cogs in the Colts’ offense this season. With Wayne gone, Johnson steps in to give Indianapolis another Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver. He gives the franchise something it hasn’t had for quite a long time, a big physical receiver.

While Johnson’s former team, the Houston Texans, decided to part ways, Pagano and Grigson both firmly believe the veteran receiver still has a lot left to offer.
“He’s the same. Same guy, just better version. From day one from recruiting him and then when he came to the University of Miami as a freshman until now. He’s a tireless worker. He doesn’t say anything. He does his job,” the Colts head coach offered.

“He’s where he is supposed to be, and he’s very trustworthy, accountable, a great teammate. Guys can look to him and say, ‘OK I’m a young receiver and I’m going to get in his hip pocket and whatever he does, I am doing.’ He just does everything the right way, plus he has a ton of talent.”

Pagano has the same feel for Gore, who may make his mark just as much as a pass blocker as he will as a runner.

“Certainly you have to have the mental aptitude to understand protections. You are going to get a bunch of exotic blitzes nowadays. People are going to challenge your protections on every third down situation. From a mental standpoint, [Gore’s] got the football IQ and aptitude to understand that and get on the right people. Then from a physical standpoint, he’s a tough guy,” the coach said.

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Jon Beason sets "Ironman" goals for 2015

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Jon Beason began his NFL career as an ironman. He started every game in each of his first four NFL seasons, 64 in all, for the Carolina Panthers.

Beason started the 65th game, on Sept. 11, 2011. But he tore his Achilles tendon that afternoon and has since been on the field far more rarely than he was earlier. In the last five seasons, he has played in just 24 games, starting 22. In 2014, Beason was right on his average for the last half-decade, playing four games (all starts) for the Giants.

But this year, Beason is confident he will return to the levels of durability and production he enjoyed early in his career. He is healthy, excited, and there’s no place he prefer to be than on the field in training camp with his teammates.

“This is the first year I’ve come in and not been injured or going through the process of going through rehab,” Beason said today. “I feel strong, I just need more reps, I need more contact. New system, obviously, with Coach Spags (Steve Spagnuolo, the team’s new defensive coordinator), so the more reps I get, the more time in it is going to help me.”

Beason said his relative inactivity the last few seasons has the side benefit of reducing the wear and tear on his body.

“That’s the one side that no one really looks at,” he said “The years that I was on I.R., I don’t have those years of pounding throughout the season. I should be fresher and be considered younger than I really am.”

Beason’s physical condition and mental outlook are both vastly improved over what they were a year ago. On June 12, 2014, he suffered a foot/toe injury in an organized team activity. He missed all of training camp and the preseason, though he did start the first two regular-season games. But he played in just two more before undergoing season-ending surgery. Not coincidentally, the defense ranked 29th in the NFL (allowing 375.8 yards a game) and 30th vs. the run (135.1), and the team allowed at least 400 points in a season for just the fifth time in the franchise’s 90-year history.

Significant improvement is expected this season, and not just because of the return of Spagnuolo (who coached two top 10 defenses here in 2007-08). The middle linebacker is healthy and doesn’t back away from the opinion that if he stays that way the defense can be good, and if he’s not, the unit might struggle.

“That’s the best kind of pressure,” Beason said. “You know, it’s an opportunity to do something great when people put a lot on you. Obviously, I think I can do a lot. I think, when healthy, I think we’re a better team, a better defense. The pressure of that, it pushes me, it drives me to do more.”

But can he stay on the field? In 2011, he had the Achilles injury. The next year, left knee and right shoulder injuries limited him to four games. In 2013, he played in 15 games, including 12 for the Giants. But last season he was on the field for just a quarter of the season.

Call him injury-prone if you wish, it won’t bother Beason.

“Football is injury prone,” he said. “It’s seriously out of your control. That’s the most frustrating part about it. When people say that this happens to one guy more than not, there’s been great players that never were - high school, college players that never were, due to injury. So, I’m blessed, I’m fortunate to have come this far, to have the time that I have, I enjoy it. Now, I just focus on being in the moment and enjoying the very next rep, because I know that’s all that is guaranteed.”

Beason is certainly not being overly cautious in trying to stay healthy. He has been on the field for every practice. Today, the Giants are in full pads for the first time, a circumstance Beason would prefer to see far more often, which happened when he entered the NFL as the Carolina Panthers’ first-round draft choice in 2007.

“I miss that,” Beason said. “With the new CBA, I understand taking care of guys’ bodies. Everything has changed so much. But the two-a-days, pads every day, banging every day helps you. Think about the brand of football that you see during preseason. It’s sloppy. The teams that get it figured out, hopefully they come out Week One looking good. Blocking and tackling is always at a premium when you’re trying to take care of guys. So you take advantage of these full-padded days because you know that’s the game. On Sunday, there’s no tagging off. So, we need to work our craft.

“I’m just happy to get my feet back under me, be back out here working hard. Missed the heat, missed the battles. I’m happy for 9-on-7 (running drill), actually it’s a blessing for 9-on-7 today. I just want to get out there and get my nose bloody a little bit, and get back in the swing of things.”

Seriously, he won’t be upset if his nose is bloodied – though he’d prefer to bloody someone else’s nose. He is, after all, a linebacker with 811 career tackles.

“Sometimes that’s the cost of doing business, Beason said. “They say, ‘You look bad, but you should look at the other guy,’ right? It’s a huge respect factor.

“When you’re doing something you feel like you were born to do, I tend to get excited about that. It’s tough, but I like it that way.”

So do the Giants, especially if Beason can stay on the field this season.

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Duke Johnson will likely sit out scrimmage at Ohio State

In addition, the running back corp has been hit hard over the past five days, with the loss of Duke Johnson (hamstring), Terrance West (calf), rookie Luke Lundy (concussion) and fullback Malcolm Johnson (shoulder). Glenn Winston is also idle with a knee injury and will likely sit out the scrimmage. 

Start of Brightcove Player

Pettine expressed frustration Tuesday over the loss of Johnson, his valuable rookie back, during "this formative time of camp.''

The backfield is so decimated that two defensive players, lineman Dylan Wynn and linebacker Scott Solomon, served as fullbacks Wednesday in goal-line drills.

"I know it's a part of camp, but (nagging injuries are) something we try to prevent,'' said Pettine. "We really stress being proactive with it, getting the sleep the hydration, the nutrition. We evaluate how we do things all the time. When that number starts to get above what the norms are, then that's an area for concern and that's something as an organization that we're looking to address.

"Also, a lot of it comes down to the player, as well, just making sure that they're doing the right things. It is a source of frustration when you have limited (players) and when it starts to pile up at a position, and now, you have a ripple effect... sometimes the consequences of it are frustrating."

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Leonard Hankerson early star of Falcons camp

According to the Falcons' website, Leonard Hankerson has been "the best wide receiver at Flowery Branch so far."

It should be noted that Roddy White is taking it slow on his balky knee. Still, Hankerson appears to have parlayed his big spring into a productive early summer. "I think it’s the length, he’s got such a big catching radius," coach Dan Quinn said. "You’ve probably seen some of the sideline plays, he’s got such a knack for keeping it in bounds and going to stretch for the ball, so that’s probably one of the biggest things that stand out for me with Hankerson." Hankerson has the inside track on the Falcons' third receiver job.

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Allen Hurns closer to locking himself in as a starter

The Jacksonville Jaguars wisely made some huge investments on the offensive side of the ball to help ensure that Blake Bortles has a much better sophomore season, but the steps forward from their second-year wide receiver trio of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Marqise Lee could prove to be even more important than the signing of possible No. 1 target Julius Thomas.

This morning, the Florida Times Union’s Ryan O’Halloran gave some more unsurprising praise to Robinson for his impressive work in training camp, and he also confirmed that Hurns continues to run as one of the starting wide receiver in two-wide sets. This, of course, means that he continues to be over the more touted and physically gifted Lee, who would have been a first-round pick in the 2014 draft had he not had injury concerns.

Lee, in addition to the injury issues, also had drop and consistency issues as a draft prospect, and those marred his elite playmaking ability and smooth route-running. He flashed both of those at times as a rookie, but those flashes were few and far between. He finished his first season in the league with a 54.4% catch rate, as per Advanced Football Analytics, failing to make the most of his 68 targets.

Meanwhile, Hurns immediately looked like the biggest UDFA steal of the class by putting up 110 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles easily-torched secondary. Hurns’s star faded after that, but he still managed to look like a promising find by finishing with 51 receptions for 677 yards, six touchdowns, and a hefty 13.3 yards per reception as the offenses’s main source of playmaking juice.

Hurns had some negatives to mull over as a rookie, as he dropped seven passes, as per Pro Football Focus, and was 70th out of 90 qualifiers in yards per route run. But on the bright side, Hurns had a lower drop rate than Lee and averaged slightly more yards per route run than his more touted rookie counterpart. And when it comes to efficiency, he did well on a “per target” basis with a team-leading 7.0 yards per target to overcome his 52.6% catch rate.

Lee and rookie Rashad Greene, whose ability to get open in college was a treat to watch, will give Hurns plenty of competition, but the 6’3″, 195-pound Miami product is well on his way to being the team’s No. 2 wide receiver again as a sophomore after receiving 97 targets last year. Those targets will go down as Thomas and Robinson get targets (Robinson will surely have more than 77 targets thrown his way), but Hurns continues to lead the way over Lee, whose consistency and injury issues have been the story.

There’s a chance Lee could blossom in the preseason and may just be dealing with a run of bad health, but Allen Hurns is getting closer and closer to locking up that No. 2 job. He’s an intriguing player due to his relatively high yards per reception and semi-respectable yards per target marks as a rookie, and only Robinson looked more impressive last season when examining the Jaguars wide receivers last season.

As it stands right now, it looks like Hurns will be the “Z” to Robinson’s “X” in two-wide sets before kicking inside in three-wide sets, which will allow Lee to move to the outside. But in a run-heavy offense that figures to turn to Thomas and Robinson frequently (they are clearly the team’s two most talented pass-catching weapons) when Bortles steps back to pass, Hurns, again, can’t expect to have a high volume of targets headed his way in 2015.

Like Lee, Hurns has his own consistency issues to work out, but it wasn’t surprising to see a UDFA disappearing from stretches of games as a rookie. He clearly doesn’t have the athletic ability that Lee does, but he does have a good size-speed combination and is a more productive and less injury-prone player than the former USC star. Lee has the upside, but Hurns has the leg up.

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LaRon Byrd suffers minor injury

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DAVIE - Miami Dolphins receiver LaRon Byrd suffered what a source is labeling a minor injury to his lower extremity during Tuesday's practice.

The former University of Miami standout spent five minutes on the practice field having his left hip area examined by the Dolphins' medical team. The team initially put Byrd on the training cart and took him inside the facility

Before suffering the injury Byrd, who played four years for the University of Miami, where he caught 106 passes for 1,254 yards and scored seven touchdowns, had a respectable first week of practice with the Dolphins.

It appeared Byrd was running with the second-team offense because he was often paired with quarterback Matt Moore.

Last year, Byrd spent five weeks impressing Dolphins coaches while on the team's practice squad before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in early December. The Dolphins re-signed him back in April hoping his size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) could fill a void.

If Byrd has to be sidelined because of the injury he'll become the third receiver shelved because of a lower extremity issue. DeVante Parker, the Dolphins' 2015 first-round pick, had a screw in his left foot surgically replaced back in June, and Kenny Stills sat out his second straight practice because of a left calf injury he's been nursing since mini-camp back in June....

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LaDarius Gunter has a mentor in Sam Shields

Green Bay — Tramon Williams is gone, but life goes on for Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields.

Same meeting room, same Joe Whitt, same defense.

"I still sit in the same seat, coach still talks the same," Shields said.

The difference is that Shields, 27 and in his sixth year, is the oldest player in the room. The young guys look to him for guidance, not to the venerable Williams.

The only thing is Shields isn't a big talker in meetings.

"When I see something on film, I'll put my input in," he said. "Coach likes that. I'm not a real loud guy, I'll just pull them aside (to say something)."

Someone Shields has had a natural bond with is rookie LaDarius Gunter, who joined the Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Miami just as Shields had. Gunter signed in part because of Shields' story.

The 6-1½, 201-pound Gunter had a pretty good spring and was rewarded with an elevated position going into training camp. With second-round pick Quentin Rollins missing the first three days with a hamstring injury, Gunter worked as the No. 4 cornerback behind Shields, Casey Hayward and first-round pick Damarious Randall.

Gunter probably didn't get drafted because he ran a slow 4.65-second 40-yard dash, but he thrived at Miami by being physical at the line of scrimmage. His long arms and strong hands have given even Jordy Nelson trouble at the line.

"He's long," Shields said. "He's long and strong. People have trouble getting off the line with him. I just say use that to your strength."

Shields said he also told Gunter he had to perform on special teams. Rookies don't make the team unless they can play special teams. He said Gunter takes everything he says to heart.

"He's quiet," Shields said. "All he does is listen. He don't talk back. When he listens, he corrects his mistakes. That's something that being an undrafted free agent, you have to do that. You just bite a lot of bullets and keep working."

As for Shields' season, he has plenty of things to work on. He has gotten away with a few bad habits because he's so fast. He needs to be more consistent. He could work on playing run defense a little more, too.

Because he's the best corner the Packers have, he occasionally may follow the other team's best receiver around the field, something Williams did some in his prime.

"I'm very comfortable (doing that)," Shields said. "I did it before, just for a little bit. Not too much, but it's nothing I haven't seen before. I've been out there to guard those type of guys before."

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Seantrel Henderson Fighting For Starting Job... Again

Seantrel Henderson came to Buffalo as a 7th round longshot and, yet, won a starting job he kept all 16 games last year. 

His reward is another uphill battle to keep that 1st team spot against fellow sophomore Cyrus Kouandijo.

"I like that because it makes me be on top of my job even more, knowing that I have to come in and do everything right every day," Henderson said. "It makes me not be complacent."

After a litany of failed drug tests before the draft, GM Doug Whaley told Henderson last May this was his last shot. Despite the demotion into a competition to start, Henderson still believes the Bills are behind him. 

"I think the organization really wants me to be successful," he said. "They just want me to do everything the right way. As far as all the coaches and the whole staff, I've been getting a good vibe from everybody."

Henderson got into the Rex Ryan doghouse when he showed up late for mandatory minicamp in June. He was flying through Chicago and got stuck when storms hit. It's something that could happen to anybody. However, in the NFL, it's unacceptable.

Henderson says he's learned, but his actions are speaking louder.

"He clearly showed everybody by coming in shape that he's ready to compete," head coach Rex Ryan said. "I think that and the accountability... I think that was a great sign that he gets it. He gets what we want."

"It's kinda been a roller coaster for me, but that's life," Henderson said. "I just keep my head up everyday and pray about everything. I just keep moving forward and try to do everything in the right way and believe the outcome will be great for me.

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Colts hoping Frank Gore can provide boost to ground game

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) -- Frank Gore came to Indianapolis to win a championship.

The Colts needed him to get their running game off the ground.

Now it's time for this seemingly perfect combination to start producing results.

''I am happy to be here. I wanted to be here as a free agent. I'm here to come and do the best that I can and be the best player that I can be in every phase of the game: blocking, catching and running,'' Gore said after Tuesday morning's workout. ''I want to do some good things here.''

While the 32-year-old Gore may not possess the upside of younger, cheaper running backs, he certainly provides the Colts with something they've been lacking -- a known commodity.

Coach Chuck Pagano has preached the importance of power football from the moment he arrived in 2012.

But while Gore excelled as the lynchpin in San Francisco, the Colts kept going through players. Donald Brown left in free agency, Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw finished the past two seasons on injured reserve and Trent Richardson flamed out.

The results didn't change much, either.

Indy still hasn't produced a 1,000-yard runner since 2007, the year after it won the Super Bowl. And Ballard's 814-yard season in 2012 is the only time a Colts runner has topped 700 yards since their 2009 AFC championship season.

Now the Colts are asking the stocky, steady Gore to solve the problem.

''He's got great vision. He makes great decisions, great reads and he's very decisive,'' Pagano said. ''When he puts a foot in the ground he gets north and south and he can jump cut and do all those kinds of things.''

It shows.

Since winning San Francisco's starting job in 2006, Gore has topped the 1,000-yard mark eight times, been selected to five Pro Bowls and helped the 49ers reach three NFC championship games. He finished his time there as the 49ers career rushing leader (11,073) and second in franchise history in rushing touchdowns (64).

While some questioned whether Gore might be running out of steam, the Colts didn't. Instead, after Gore initially agreed to sign with Philadelphia, Indy welcomed his change of mind.

So far, Gore looks like he hasn't lost a step.

During the first three days of training camp, he's broken long runs, caught long passes, plowed through hopeful tacklers and, perhaps most important, protected Andrew Luck against the blitz.

But the Colts also realize that most teams in today's game need multiple backs to be successful, so they've worked on the depth.

Daniel ''Boom'' Herron, who replaced Richardson as the starter late last season, is back.

Ballard has been cleared to practice after missing 15 games in 2013 with a torn ACL in his right knee and all of 2014 with a torn left Achilles tendon. But Ballard left Tuesday afternoon's practice after his left hamstring tightened up.

Indy also drafted Josh Robinson in the sixth round and still has Zurlon Tipton from last year's team, too.

Add the new weapons in the passing game and what they hope will be an improved offensive line, and the Colts believe they can alleviate some of the burden Luck's had to carry without a ground game -- if Gore is indeed the missing piece.

''We did the numbers, we crunched all that stuff and took a good look at it, but tape doesn't lie,'' Pagano said. ''He has taken great care of himself so there was enough there, and the type of player that he is, how he is wired, his competitive nature. All those kind of things. He looks great.''

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Travis Benjamin putting up fierce battle at crowded position

Even though he led the Browns in touchdown receptions last season, Travis Benjamin is clawing and scratching through every training camp practice to prove to the Browns he deserves more playing time – and a secure spot on this roster.

So far, so good.

In terms of incumbent skill players, the argument can be made nobody has had a better start to camp than Benjamin.

With five days in the books, Cleveland’s offense has featured a flurry of short passes in the middle of the field, and the 25-year-old receiver has been cleaning up against the first-team defense. At Tuesday’s practice, Benjamin was a recipient of a trick pass-play from Terrelle Pryor he hauled in for 40-yards, all the while with Pierre Desir and Tashaun Gipson draped on his back.

Now 21 months removed from ACL surgery, Benjamin finally feels like himself again, and if that’s the case his speed is nearly unmatched in the AFC.

“I'm just getting my feet (back) underneath me,” Benjamin told Nathan Zegura on Tuesday’s Browns Huddle.

The thing is, Benjamin has always been a smooth player in practice. Speed flourishes in training camp. His in-season production is still the question.

In three NFL seasons, Benjamin’s career-highs are 18 receptions and 314 yards. With new veteran additions generating a majority of the buzz and a plethora of players nipping on his heels – Pryor, Vince Mayle, Darius Jennings, Josh Lenz and Shane Wynn – competition at receiver has reached a boiling point for Benjamin. He senses it.

“Continue to separate myself from the others,” Benjamin responded to reporters when asked about steps he needs to take during camp. “Showcase my skill, showcase my speed and be willing to be that guy for when it’s time, the calls, just be able to make that play.”

Competition is just as thick for Benjamin at return man, where he made a name for himself in 2013 by ranking third in the NFL in punt return yards before his knee injury. But 2014 saw a dizzying array of returners for the Browns, none of whom were more effective than the other. So Taylor Gabrielicon-article-link, Tramon Williamsicon-article-link, and Wynn have been fielding punts and kicks in practice to add some flavor.

The theme is a common one: Benjamin does not want to relent his spot.

“Out of one to 10, I’d say 11,” Benjamin said, responding to how badly he wants to be Cleveland’s return man. “I want to be back and help the Browns and get back to the point where I was where I’m the best in the game.”

There’s no arguing Benjamin has been vigorous in training camp. On Friday, the Browns head to Columbus for the Orange and Brown scrimmage. Coach Mike Pettine said the Browns coaching staff will put more weight into players who excel in the more pressure-filled situations of playing in front of screaming fans at Ohio Stadium.

“I just like it because we’re going somewhere different and it will be a different atmosphere,” Pettine said.  “Guys can make plays out here on the practice field but now you have to – I mean we play games in that type of atmosphere and that’s important to see who’s going to thrive in that environment and who might drop away.”

Because he’s a proven player with a track record for big plays still in his youth, Benjamin clearly has value. But the temperature of the competition in the Browns’ receiving room is only going to get hotter.

The receiver nicknamed “rabbit” isn’t losing any sleep.

“I don’t look that far into the future,” Benjamin said. “You have at least four-to-five weeks until that call. I’m just focused on getting better every day.”

That focus is doing wonders so far.

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Sean Taylor Gets His Own Wall In Kam Chancellor's House

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Mike Pettine on Duke Johnson's hamstring: 'He'll have a lot of catch up work to do'

BEREA, Ohio -- Browns coach Mike Pettine lamented the loss of rookie running back Duke Johnson to a pulled hamstring for awhile.

The Browns' third-round pick, Johnson pulled the hamstring Saturday in practice and will be sidelined for an unspecified length of time. But any amount of missed work is too much for a rookie in training camp.

"It's just disappointing that a guy that we're counting on to be a big part of what we do, to lose him at this formative time of what we're getting done, that's tough,'' said Pettine. "He'll have a lot of catch up work to do. We're making sure he gets all of those reps mentally. But there's no substitute for actual live reps."

Johnson also had a strained right hamstring during the NFL combine in February, which prevented him from lifting or running shuttles. He ran the 40, but in a disappointing 4.54. He recovered on his pro day, clocking back-to-back 4.47s.

In addition to Johnson, the following backs are also sidelined: Terrance West (calf), Glenn Winston (knee), and Luke Lundy (concussion). In addition, fullback Malcolm Johnson left Tuesday's practice with a shoulder injury and did not return.   

It's hard when the lineup is constantly being churned like the way it is. You want to be able to settle in at some point during camp. That's important because those guys are all young, they need their reps. When they're not out there that is a source of frustration.''

To make up for the injuries, the Browns signed reserve backs Timothy Flanders and Jalen Parmele, who both received plenty of reps Tuesday.

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Jimmy Graham to block '75 percent' of the time

Jimmy Graham isn't perceived as a good blocker. Whether perception is reality -- or whether recent injuries have sapped his ability to block -- we will find out now that he's in the Seattle Seahawks' run-first offense.

"(In New Orleans) the last two years, I was pretty banged up, so midway through the year I kind of stopped blocking and I just routed people up," Graham said Monday, per the Seattle Times. "Now here I'm blocking quite a bit, and I love it. It's very important to me to be a part of that here. That's about 75 percent of the offense here. When you have a back like that, you want to be in there on those explosive runs, and you want to be a part of that."

On the other 25 percent of plays, Graham will do what he does best: Catch the ball.

"Third-and-10 is when I'm going to make my money and that's when I'm going to have to be special for this team," he said. "Down there in the red zone. That's just what I've always done. I'm doing the most down there. There's a lot of matchup problems and with Marshawn (Lynch) in the backfield and their safeties play too flat and I just see a ton of opportunities there."

The Seahawks brought in Graham to bolster a huge red-zone weakness. The 6-foot-7 target should make Russell Wilson's life easier near the end zone and in third-and-long. In all other situations Graham is prepared to block for Beast Mode. 

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Ray Lewis, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss Sue BB&T for Negligence

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom is allowing six current and former NFL players to move ahead with a negligence lawsuit against BB&T Corp. for allegedly allowing unauthorized financial transactions.

In a 51-page order issued July 27, the Fort Lauderdale judge granted summary judgment on numerous counts filed by more than a dozen professional football players against the bank.

However, she allowed negligence claims by Ray Lewis, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Lito Sheppard, Fred Taylor and Derrick Gaffney to move forward.

The case alleges the athletes' former financial management firm, Pro Sports Financial Inc., opened bank accounts in their names with forged signatures and withdrew nearly $53 million without their permission or knowledge.

BB&T was sued because it assumed the liabilities of the former BankAtlantic, which was accused of "aiding and abetting fraud" and failing to act in good faith and reasonable care.

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The Wilfork: Two-Pronged and Barbecue-Friendly

Just back from a Super Bowl ring ceremony in Boston, where he’d received a parting token from the town he’d left behind for the Bayou City, Vince Wilfork, the Houston Texans’ new 325-pound nose tackle, was tucking into a meal of brisket, collard greens, dirty rice and fried mac ‘n’ cheese at Jackson Street BBQ.

“There’s a rumor you left the Patriots and signed with the Texans because the barbecue in Houston is so much better than the barbecue in Boston,” we said, prompting Wilfork to set down his fork and smile. “Let’s just say it didn’t hurt.” The fact that he could create the most fearsome defensive line in the NFL, along with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, probably didn’t hurt either. 

“There aren’t any barbecue joints in New England. I had to cook for myself,” said the Florida native, explaining that he loves to make ribs, pork chops and chicken. Wilfork even built his own barbecue smoker, something the internet caught a glimpse of last May, after his wife posted what became a viral video of her husband tending a batch of ribs, all the while singing and dancing to a chopped and screwed version of “Wanna Be a Baller” by Houston’s own Lil’ Troy. 

And with that, Wilfork went from being an interesting addition to the Texans’ line-up to a fledgling Houston celebrity. “It’s like he knew he was coming to Houston, already jamming to H-town music,” commented an excited new fan on YouTube. “Welcome to H-town, Vince. Looks like you [are] going to fit in perfectly.” 

Eager to compare techniques, we asked him about his pork ribs, which he barbecues untrimmed and without either parboiling or braising them. “Cooking in the oven is not barbecuing,” he said. “I wrap them in foil when they are done and hold them in an ice chest.”

 What about brisket, we asked. Turns out, Wilfork was initially reluctant to embrace the Texas favorite. “Back in Boston,” he said, “a friend of mine came over one day and said, ‘Let’s cook a brisket!’ We put it on at 9 o’clock at night. We got a 24-pack of beer to keep us awake. About midnight, we decided to take a little nap. I woke up in the middle of the night and asked him if he’d been checking on the fire. He said he had, but when I got up and went outside, there was snow on top of the smoker.”

Undeterred, Wilfork tried again and again over the next few months, each time with mixed results. “I cooked brisket a few times after that and got it right—it tasted okay. But the truth is, brisket is hard to cook—you’ve got to have 12 or 18 hours or whatever, and I like my sleep.”

The brisket at Jackson Street, however, seemed to be working its magic. “This is good” came the verdict. “I want to put this on a sandwich!” Overhearing the request, Jackson Street pitmaster Brandon Allen sent out the restaurant’s popular burnt-ends biscuit. Wilfork took a large bite before roaring his approval. “Gol dog it!” 

Wilfork was given an up-close look at Jackson Street’s twin J&R Oyler smokers, which are heated exclusively with wood but contain electric rotisseries that rotate the meat, necessitating little supervision. “You can even go home and get some sleep when you cook briskets on one of these,” laughed partner Greg Gatlin. Wilfork seemed to consider the idea, or at least store it away for future reference.

“Cooking is in my blood—I may want to open a restaurant some day after I retire,” he said, speculating that Houston might be a great place to gather ideas. “I want to learn all about Texas barbecue. I’m in the capital of barbecue, and I’m going to take advantage of that.”

Wilfork said he was only 6 or 7 when he started barbecuing with his dad. “I would keep an eye on the grill and move things around. And I got a little sample as my reward.” His father having passed away in 2002 while Wilfork was still in college at the University of Miami, he sees tending the pit as a way of connecting to his roots. 

“I am carrying on a family tradition with my barbecue. I think of my dad every time I make barbecue sauce.”

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Matt Ryan: Falcons have to get ball in Devin Hester’s hands

FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is confident that the team will find a role for wide receiver Devin Hester in the new offense.

“He’s a playmaker,” Ryan said. “Anytime that you’ve got guys like that, you’ve got to get the ball in their hands.”

Hester arrived at camp unsure of his role after the Falcons released No. 3 wide receiver Harry Douglas and signed Leonard Hankerson and drafted Justin Hardy in the fourth round.

“It’s still up in the air,” said Hester, who was the fourth receiver last season. “I really don’t know as of right now.”

Ryan believes that Hester proved his worth last season. The team is installation a scheme and looping Hester into the action may not be an early priority.

“I think he showcased last year just what kind of wide receiver that he is,” Ryan said. “He’s a guy who can go out there and give you as many reps as you need from that spot and he’s going to make plays. I love having guys like that. Guys who go out there and do anything that you ask them to do.”

Hester, 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, caught 38 passes for 504 yards and two touchdowns last season.

He’s one of the most prolific return men in NFL history, holds NFL records for punt return touchdowns (14) and combined career return touchdowns (20).

Over his career, he’s totaled 3,481 yards on 282 punt returns. He has also added 6,632 yards and five touchdowns on 267 career kickoff returns.

Hester led the NFL in yards per punt (13.3), number of kickoff/punt returns (63), and combined kick and punt yards with 1,368 yards in 2014.

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Luck to Andre Johnson. Get used to it.

Luck to Johnson. Luck to Johnson. Luck to Johnson. Get used to it.

No receiver has caught more passes from Andrew Luck over the first two days of camp than Andre Johnson, the veteran target who is settling in just fine in his new offense. Why? So much of the Colts’ aerial attack centers on the home run (see: the speed of T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Duron Carter). That allows Johnson ample space to get open underneath, and that’s all he’s done in the first two practices of the 2015 season. And Luck has looked his way over and over again.

Johnson might not catch the long passes that Hilton, Moncrief and Carter grab this season, but he’s going to catch plenty. He’s averaged 84 catches a year for 12 years. Don’t be shocked if he hauls in more this coming season, even at age 34.

Also of note, Carter made his first highlight play of training camp, darting behind rookie safety Clayton Geathers for a deep touchdown catch. Moncrief earned one of his own later in the practice, fighting for a contested ball over second-year cornerback Deveron Carr and hauling it in for a score.

Needless to say, the passing game looks alright.

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Ereck Flowers misses Giants practice with injury

EAST RUTHERFORD —Already short at the tackle position, Giants first-round pick Ereck Flowers sat out Monday's practice with a hip flexor injury.

Flowers is considered day to day.

Coach Tom Coughlin seemed to think it wasn't anything serious. 

"He doesn't seem to be bad," Coughlin said. "This morning he was sore and by the time I caught him in the meeting room he was [turning his hips]. Hopefully it's just a short amount of time [he's sidelined]."  

Flower originally hurt the hip several days back. He tried to play through the problem, before sitting out on Monday. Flowers was taking first and some second-team reps during practices as the Giants are trying to get him up to speed quickly. 

They need to. Starting left tackle Will Beatty tore his pectoral muscle in the spring and is out until at least mid-October. Flowers had taken all the first-team reps at left tackle the first three practices at Giants training camp. He spent Monday's workout with trainers on the side field, before joining the team during team drills. Flowers watched from the sideline with his helmet on and took mental reps. 

His replacement for the day was Justin Pugh. The former right tackle moved to left tackle on Monday. Adam Gettis stepped into Pugh's new position of left guard.
Pugh's practice at left tackle included a fist-throwing fight with defensive end Damontre Moore. 

The Giants offensive line can't afford for the injury to Flowers to be serious. They already have an entire first-team unit comprised of players that didn't man the position they are playing for them last year.

The Giants are counting heavily on Flowers, the No. 9 overall pick in the draft this season, maybe even more than they'd like. 

"He's a first-round draft choice," Coughlin said. "The left tackle from last year tore his pec. [Flowers] is out there trying to learn how to play. He's important."
And so is his health. 

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Denzel Perryman Steps Up on Sunday

With four days of camp and two days in pads under his belt, training camp is becoming a smoother ride for inside linebacker Denzel Perryman. 

Having shown some flashes in shorts, Sunday’s second padded practice proved beneficial for the rookie.

Even Head Coach Mike McCoy was impressed with the rookie’s performance today.

“(Practice) was outstanding,” McCoy said.  “You saw 52 step up there and make some big collisions on lead blockers whether there was a running back, fullback or a guard at the second level.”

Perryman, who was grateful for his coach’s comments, said he feels like he’s getting more comfortable as each day passes.

“I feel like I did pretty good today and that means a lot,” Perryman said.  “It means I’m progressing as the days go on and camp goes on which is what every player wants to do.  The day was pretty intense.  We did a half-line drill today and in college that was the drill to get practice started.  It brought a lot of energy to the front seven because right after that we went to team drills so it was a pretty physical day.”

At 5-11, 240-pounds, Perryman is a thumper who enjoys playing downhill football.  He’s currently one of four rookies on the inside linebacking corps but said he’s been enjoying soaking up as much knowledge as he can from his veteran peers.

“You just learn from those guys,” Perryman added.  “Even when I’m not in, I just sit back and watch and ask questions while I’m on the sideline.  You just get a lot of knowledge overall and add things to your game based on what (the veterans are) doing.”

Although Perryman’s a new addition, his position coach is as well.  Linebackers coach Mike Nolan joined the team this offseason and his familiarity with players from Perryman’s alma mater has helped the former Miami Hurricane.

“Coach Nolan had the opportunity to coach guys who came from UM so he’s given me stories on how they did it and how they became pros.  With him being in the league for so many years, he’s sharing his knowledge with me.”

While rookies have to prove themselves in order to carve out their own roles on the team, Perryman’s sights are set high.  He’s taken the training camp mindset of competition to heart and is willing to do whatever he can to contribute game in and game out.

“I want to execute my role on special teams and hopefully take a starting job.  It’s all about competition on this level and it’s all a business.  If I don’t get the job done, I’m pretty sure then next year they’ll bring someone else in to get the job done.  I just want to get in and help this team win.”

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Jaguars coaches see bright future for RG Brandon Linder

The Jaguars couldn’t be happier that they traded up to acquire Brandon Linder in the third round of the 2014 draft.

Linder, a South Florida native who played for the University of Miami, started 15 games as a rookie at right guard last season. The sky seems to be the limit for him.

After the players put on shoulder pads Sunday for the first time in camp, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said Linder has exceeded the team’s expectations.

“I would think that he is better than what we thought,” Bradley said. “We knew he was pretty good, but we’re very pleased with him.”

Now that Linder has a year of experience, he will combine with right tackle Jermey Parnell, who signed as a free agent, to solidify the right side of the line. They should help improve a line that gave up 71 sacks last year.

Linder now seems to be a fixture, and it won’t be a surprise if the Jaguars lock him up with a new contract when he becomes eligible after his third season next year.
Bradley said he likes Linder’s toughness and leadership ability.

“He doesn’t have a lot of words, but the guys really follow him,” Bradley said. “I think the guys really respect his work ethic and how he goes about it. I would say that what people would say first of all he’s really good and second of all is his toughness.”

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson also likes what he has seen of Linder.

“He’s got good power,” Olson said of Linder, who added about six pounds in the offseason and now tips the scales at 320 pounds. “He’s one of the more powerful guys we have up front. He and Parnell complement each other very well because of their strength and power. He’s just a real intelligent hard worker. He’s becoming more of a vocal leader, and we like that as well. He did a good job in the offseason, and he’s looked good here these first three days.”

Linder and Parnell seem to have a good rapport in the short time they’ve been playing alongside each other.

“He’s strong, athletic and young, and he can move,” Parnell said.

Parnell said he’s not surprised at how good Linder has looked.

“Some of the guys said in the room that despite how young [23] he is, he’s advanced at what he does,” Parnell said. “I like what I’m seeing.”

Linder said of Parnell, “He’s a great tackle, very explosive and very smart. I’m excited to be able to mesh with him and get going. He’s a very passionate guy who loves football.”

Although Parnell is in his sixth year, Linder has started more games. While Linder had 15 starts last year, Parnell had seven the last three years.

The team’s other guard, veteran Zane Beadles, also is impressed with Linder.

“He’s had a great offseason,” Beadles said. “I think he’s definitely improved. He’s a strong, smart guy and moves well. I expect him to make a big jump this year. He understands the game. I’m so happy for him with the way he’s playing so far and how he’s improved.”

Linder, who loves to hunt and fish, takes advantage in the offseason of being close to South Florida. His routine back home is to work out in the morning and fish in the afternoon. He’s been going out on the water since he able to crawl, and his father took him out on his 19-foot boat. His father would keep him amused by throwing him shrimp and other bait.

“My mom used to wash my clothes, and I’d have a pocket full of dead shrimp,” Linder said.

It wasn’t long before he was fishing himself, and now he’s an experienced fisherman. He has taken Jaguars offensive tackle Josh Wells out on his boat, and they got caught in a storm one time.

“It was crazy weather. It was rough,” Linder said. “We just rode it out and made it back to land safely.”

He also likes to free dive, going down 15 to 40 feet, holding his breath without air tanks and spearing fish. He’s had some close encounters with bull sharks.

“You keep an eye on them and eventually get out of the water if it gets too hairy,” Linder said.

After staring down sharks, taking on a defensive lineman can just be a day at the beach.

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Sam Shields taking leadership role in stride

GREEN BAY – As suddenly the Packers’ oldest veteran cornerback with a number of young prospects looking up to him, Sam Shields knows his every move is being watched.

It’s how he felt five years ago as an undrafted rookie, but for a completely different reason.

“When I came in, it was like that. I couldn’t make a mistake, or I was going home,” Shields said.

Shields isn’t going anywhere now except across from the opposing team’s top receiver. He embraces both the accountability and the leadership role that come with the duty, carrying on the mentoring he received from veterans such as Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.

There are plenty of young guys looking to Shields, beginning with Green Bay’s first two draft picks, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. After missing the first three practices due to a hamstring issue, Rollins took the field for the first time Monday, easing back into things.

Randall was the one making the big-splash play, intercepting a throw from Aaron Rodgers intended for Davante Adams in the back of the end zone, ending the No. 1 offense’s crack at the two-minute drill.

“That’s what the coaches are looking for, plays like that, so he can get the trust from the coaches, and from the older guys, too,” Shields said. “That was a good one.”
A handful of other first- and second-year corners are in the competitive mix as well, none more impressive so far than LaDarius Gunter. Undrafted from Miami, just like Shields, the quiet Gunter does far more listening than talking, the same approach Shields took back in 2010.

“Being an undrafted free agent, you have to do that, just bite a lot of bullets and keep working,” Shields said.

With Monday’s practice focused on red-zone work, Shields’ day mirrored the up-and-down play of the defense as a whole. The offense got the best of things early before the defense rose up later.

In one period, Shields was juked in the open field after a short catch by rookie receiver Ty Montgomery, and then Jeff Janis out-fought Shields for a jump ball in the end zone.

Later, though, Shields batted away a pass from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson, and he broke up a quick hitch to Janis.

“They caught balls, I made plays, but that’s how it goes,” he said. “You’re one-on-one out there. It’s me or him.”

 It’s the type of message he delivers to the young corners, never to get too hyped about a good play or too down about a bad one. Such is life at the position.

“I’m doing more talking, not out loud, but taking a guy one-on-one, helping him out, like ‘Wood’ did me,” Shields said.

Rollins didn’t take any team (11-on-11) snaps on his first day, but he hopes to do more on Tuesday.

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Jimmy Graham excited to be part of 'something special'

New tight end Jimmy Graham has been a perfect fit for the Seahawks.

He has immediately hit it off with his teammates and his quarterback, Russell Wilson.

"It feels incredible to be here, to be part of something special like this," Graham said.

He has fit in well with the rest of the tight ends on the team. His relationship with Luke Willson, who finished last season as the starter, is so good they have come up with the nickname "The Bash Brothers." The name comes from "The Mighty Ducks" movie.

Graham talked Monday about how the team was involving him in blocking roles. As a New Orleans Saint, he wasn't asked to block much, and when he did, he wasn't very good at it.

"Yeah, I’m blocking here," Graham said. "Out there last year in New Orleans, I was pretty banged up. Midway through the year, I kinda stopped blocking. I just routed people up."

At 6-foot-7, 265 pounds with great speed, Graham is a matchup nightmare for opposing defense. If he can develop as a blocker, it could significantly add to the running offense that ranks among the best in football. Graham even predicts the team could use more two- and three-tight end sets.

As great as Graham was in New Orleans, he concedes he could be more dangerous in the Seahawks offense. The reason for the optimism is the mobility of Wilson.

"From what I've seen on film where they are special first, when they run the ball and No. 2, when Russell is extending plays," Graham said. "I love it because normally I'm the biggest guy on the field and hopefully I draw the most attention. The play truly is never over."

Graham said Drew Brees' immobility creates plenty of plays in which once he planted his feet on routes and he wasn't involved, the play was over for him. Because of Wilson's ability to extend plays, the play might be just beginning in the middle of a route.

It's pretty easy to see Graham is having a blast. Off the field, he has spent his off time flying around the area. Graham loves to fly planes. Even meetings are fun, he said. Coach Pete Carroll keeps meetings loose with videos and practicing up beat with music.

There are even basketball challenges taking place in every morning meeting. Surprisingly, the former college basketball star lost a one-on-one challenge Monday.
He’s so tall Graham complained the room doesn't have enough height that he can put the perfect arch on his shot.

"I felt like Shaq out there," he said.

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A's claim Danny Valencia off waivers from Toronto Blue Jays

OAKLAND -- The A's grabbed infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia off waivers from Toronto on Monday and expect him to join the club on Tuesday.

Also, Oakland reinstated switch-pitcher Pat Venditte from the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A Nashville.

Valencia primarily plays in left field and at third base, but he also has spent time at first base, second base and right fielder.

The 30-year-old veteran is hitting .296 this season, but the Blue Jays, who needed space on their 40-man roster after making several deals before last week's July 31 trade deadline, put him on the designated for assignment list Saturday. Previously he'd played with the Twins, Red Sox, Orioles and Royals.

He hit seven homers and had 29 RBI in 58 games for Toronto this season.

Venditte went on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder and had been on an injury rehabilitation assignment, getting two games with Class-A Stockton and Triple-A Nashville, He gave up no runs for the Sounds in back-to-back relief appearances Friday and Saturday.

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Anthony Chickillo Turning Heads

LATROBE -- July football doesn't normally involve Mike Tomlin acknowledging a rookie's performance, or even a rookie.

But when Tomlin was asked if sixth-round pick Anthony Chickillo showed him anything Thursday, Tomlin said, "Good work."

The outside linebacker caught Tomlin's eye during the backers-on-tight ends drill. Chickillo bested Cameron Clear, a 270-pound rookie tight end who just had his way with first-round pick Bud Dupree.

In the next period, a run-heavy team scrimmage, Chickillo seemingly dominated. In his series with the second team, Chickillo made a tackle-for-loss and another tackle at the line as he spent plenty of time in the opposing backfield.

In a later appearance against the first team, Chickillo beat Marcus Gilbert inside and had a bead on Le'Veon Bell, but Bell cut back sharply to the vacated side as Chickillo learned an NFL lesson.

The converted 4-3 and 3-4 defensive end from Miami also caught the eye of Steelers broadcast analyst Tunch Ilkin, who, during a live spot for Steelers Nation Radio, said, "If you came here knowing the Steelers drafted an outside linebacker in the first round, and these guys weren't wearing numbers, you would think that first-round pick was Anthony Chickillo."

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Travis Benjamin shines at Browns training camp

BEREA, Ohio -- It's not unreasonable to think that Travis Benjamin came into training camp on the bubble. His days as the heir apparent as a return man took a hit in 2014. There are plenty of other small, quick guys on the roster -- though, to be fair to Benjamin, he towers over some of the other players in the receiver room with his 5-10 frame.

Just play the numbers game, though. Add Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline to Andrew Hawkins, plus Taylor Gabriel coming off of a strong rookie season, Vince Mayle coming in as a draft pick, plus guys like Rodney Smith and others trying to squeeze in, and, on top of that, Terrelle Pryor showing signs that maybe he can make the transition from quarterback to receiver. Someone has to get pushed out. Benjamin finds himself in with the group fighting for a spot.

Sunday, he made a case that there's still room for him.

On its surface, it wasn't a day that's going to blow you away. Camp hasn't had many highlights to speak of regardless, but it was a day where Benjamin was something that can't be overstated in a receiver: reliable.

Here were the key plays from Benjamin:
• Josh McCown finds Benjamin deep.
• McCown quick throw to Benjamin in front of Pierre Desir. • McCown finds Benjamin underneath.
• McCown goes over the top to Benjamin for 15+ yards.

Two things of note: First, Benjamin was catching passes from McCown, meaning he spent much of his time with the first team. Second, he made a couple of deep catches but also made catches going over the middle and as a safety valve. Sometimes a guy just has to do the dirty work, even on a hot Sunday morning in early August.

It's easy to forget that Benjamin is still developing as a wide receiver. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2012 as the guy who could possibly replace Josh Cribbs. He even showed signs that he could. He caught 18 balls that year, too, including a 69-yarder against Washington.

He matched his rookie year catch total last season after catching just five passes in eight games in 2013, scoring three touchdowns (including the go-ahead score against Tennessee and the game-tying score in Game 1 against Pittsburgh) and had some observers wondering early on if maybe he could take the next step as a receiver.

Competition is never bad. So far, it's brought out the best in Benjamin. He wins Sunday.

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Chargers rookie Denzel Perryman makes a play

It was just one play.

But it was a play most rookie linebackers don't make.

Denzel Perryman got the jump on a pass and knocked it down.

There was no false step, no long pause that you see from most rookies. There was no fat to be trimmed from the route Perryman took to the ball.

It was a bam-bam play, defending an intruder, on the first day of Chargers training camp Thursday, and the rookie won.

"That was a pretty big play for me today," Perryman said.

A few teammates hollered praise, and veteran safety Jimmy Wilson congratulated him.

It was better than Perryman served in spring camp, when a hamstring injury sidelined him. He said he's now at full speed, having worked out in Miami in recent weeks with several NFL players who are fellow University of Miami alums, such as Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Lamar Miller.

Tom Telesco, who drafted him in May, said Perryman will lend thump to the defense. The inside linebacker said he's excited that the pads will come on Saturday.
Finally, he'll get a chance to take on blockers and at least bump or grab the ball carrier.

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Falcons Release Harland Gunn, Signed Quickly After

The Falcons signed one offensive lineman and released another, the team announced Saturday. The team signed offensive lineman Pierce Burton and released guard Harland Gunn. Gunn was subsequently signed by the Patriots.

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Ereck Flowers sings for team on Eli Manning’s demand

Giants rookie offensive tackle Ereck Flowers has a reputation for being a quiet guy, but on Sunday the first-round pick was thrust into the spotlight by none other than Eli Manning, and he apparently came through with flying colors.

According to second-year lineman Weston Richburg, who is shifting to his preferred center position from guard this season, Manning "stood up and demanded" that Flowers go up on stage in the team's media room and sing for the team. The reserved Flowers obliged.

"Very quiet," Richburg said about Flowers. "He's a good singer though. He just sung for us in the media room. It was actually very good."

Richburg wasn't sure exactly what song Flowers sung, but he said it was "really good. I was surprised. It was good stuff."

"I was really looking forward to his singing because I didn't think he would do it, but he performed very well," he added. "But I think it takes time just to get to know us and to know guys and to be able to open up like that, and I think he slowly is. It's been fun to kind of see him grow and get more comfortable out here."

Last season, Richburg said Manning made him do the same thing. Richburg sung a George Strait song - "a tribute to my favorite singer," he said, but he prefers not to think about it.

"It wasn't good," Richburg said. "I did it on purpose though. I think if you do bad you won't have to do it again. Don't tell them I said that though."

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Kenny Phillips snags first INT of Saints camp, boosts comeback attempt

The New Orleans Saints secondary has been off to a strong start in training camp, with a good amount of rejected passes. But it wasn’t until Day 4 of practice that safety Kenny Phillips finally broke the seal with the first interception in full-team drills.

Phillips undercut a pass thrown by quarterback Ryan Griffin (who might have been sacked on the play). Phillips practically looked like the intended target on the play, reading it the whole way while crashing down from his center field position.

The pick was the latest promising sign for the 28-year-old Phillips, a former first-round pick of the New York Giants who is attempting to crack a NFL roster.

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Matt Bosher 3rd Best Punter in Maden 16 Rankings

Punters aren't the most appreciated players in the NFL, but there's a scarcity of stars at the position who can consistently stick and do the singular, high-pressure job they're tasked with on the gridiron.  

EA Sports' Madden 16 revealed its top five punters on Sunday. Leading the way is Indianapolis Colts first-team All-Pro Pat McAfee, whose prowess makes life difficult for adversaries who already have to deal with stud quarterback Andrew Luck and Indy's explosive passing game.

Below is a list of the top five punters and the notable attributes that make them elite in the eyes of Madden creators:

Top 5 Punters in 'Madden 16'
Overall Rating
Notable Attributes
Pat McAfee
Indianapolis Colts
97 Kick Power, 92 Kick Accuracy, 88 Awareness
Johnny Hekker
St. Louis Rams
97 Kick Power, 97 Kick Accuracy, 79 Awareness
Matt Bosher
Atlanta Falcons
92 Kick Power, 97 Kick Accuracy, 83 Awareness
Thomas Morstead
New Orleans Saints
95 Kick Power, 91 Kick Accuracy, 86 Awareness
Sam Martin
Detroit Lions
96 Kick Power, 95 Kick Accuracy, 80 Awareness

Checking in at No. 3 in Madden 16 is Atlanta Falcons punter Matt Bosher. Only Hekker matches the 97 kick accuracy Bosher boasts, and such precision is particularly useful when trying to finagle a punt inside the 20.

Bosher is in line for another big year in 2015—and may not be leaned on quite as heavily. The Falcons have a new coach in Dan Quinn whose experience in Seattle figures to upgrade the defense. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has a zone-blocking scheme capable of fixing Atlanta's rushing woes too.

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Duke Johnson could be out awhile with hamstring

Browns rookie running back Duke Johnson, who figures prominently in the offense this season, could be out awhile with the pulled hamstring he suffered Saturday in practice, coach Mike Pettine said.

The unfortunate thing with Johnson is that he's had hamstring injuries before, and they often linger or recur. He had nagging hamstring issues as a freshman at Miami and they were at least a small factor in him wanting to quit football. He also opted not to lift or run shuttles at the NFL combine in February because of a strained right hamstring.

"I'll be all right,'' Johnson said Saturday after practice. "I've experienced much worse.''

Miami's all-time leading rusher, Johnson suffered a season-ending broken ankle in 2013, but didn't miss many other games because of injuries. Still, Johnson will have to take his time with the hamstring to make sure he's ready for the season.

Fortunately for the Browns, Draughn has been impressive both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield, and can serve the third-down back role that Johnson excels at.

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Matt Bosher led the NFL in hang time in 2014

Atlanta Falcons punter Matt Bosher has no shortage of fans. Heck, most of you want to cut William Moore and give Bosher the starting nod at strong safety. But all joking aside, Bosher's leg strength is beyond belief.

Pro Football Focus highlighted special teams players this week. On Wednesday, they focused in on punters. Give the article a read, if you have a moment. It appears Bosher led the entire league in hang time last season.

Pasted Graphic

His average hang time on "open field punts," of which he had 22, was nearly five seconds. Those are the punts where Bosher was between the Falcons goal line and 40 yard line; basically where he has ideal field position for punts with a lot of hang time. But wow. Just wow.  Think about that football, flying through the air for 4.67 seconds - it's glorious. Men have conquered countries in less time.

We are witnessing Bosher's prime. Overall, Bosher punted 67 times in 2014. He amassed 3,000+ punting yards, punting 4.2 times a game. His longest punt was a career best 66 yards.

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Vince Wilfork Guiding Defensive Line On Field and Off

HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – The signing of Vince Wilfork was indeed a notable one this offseason. The Texans had never had anyone with his resume man the middle of their defensive line. Little did they know they were adding to J.J. Watt’s family with his addition.

“Vince and I have, like, a brother relationship,” said Watt. “Like a younger brother older brother relationship.”

Watt said he is close to the veteran and talks everyday with him about life, football, and everything in between.

“It’s nice to be able to have a guy like that who I can talk to everyday about anything.”

Wilfork does some talking in the meeting room too.

After pointing out his ability on the field, Jared Crick noted that the veteran tackles sharpness and ability extends to the film sessions and even his position.

Crick lauded Wilfork’s ability to point out details that as an end Crick wouldn’t have been thinking about. The experience of Wilfork’s career leaving a mark on the defensive line.

“Like I said he’s a force on the field, he’s gonna be awesome on the field but he’s also awesome off.”

Watt and Wilfork toss a football to each other in the early parts of the workout before stretches. They do often display the jovial brotherhood but like any elder sibling, Wilfork knows when to get to business.

“Today he told me ‘why you messing around all the time man?’ At that moment I felt like the little brother that’s like ‘hey you wanna play? Like come on let’s go outside and play.'”

Watt said though Wilfork had dealt with enough and wanted to get back to work.

They’re never too serious though.

“We have fun, and that’s what’s fun about training camp…it’s the little things that people would never think are cool that we are going to remember for the rest of our lives.”

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Duke Johnson running with 3rd-team offense, nursing injury

Rookie Duke Johnson was running with the Browns' third-team offense before tweaking his hamstring in Saturday's training camp practice.

He's been behind Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. "I'll be alright," Johnson said after the injury. "I've experienced much worse. I just felt something in my hamstring, stopped for precautionary reasons. We're going to take a look at it today." The Browns don't seem concerned, but Johnson needs to get back on the practice field to make up ground on the depth chart.

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Seantrel Henderson working back into Bills' right tackle race

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- When the Buffalo Bills have separated into two 11-on-11 drills during the first two practices of training camp, two offensive linemen have joined the starting five at one end of the field: guard Cyril Richardson and tackle Seantrel Henderson.

Both players have rotated in with the first team -- Richardson at guard and Henderson at right tackle -- since Friday, with Richardson getting extended time at right guard Saturday following an ankle injury to starter John Miller.

For Henderson, it's a sign that he's made progress since the spring. A 16-game starter from last season, he could barely crack the second team during OTAs -- a problem exacerbated when he missed the first mandatory minicamp practice because of travel issues.

Coach Rex Ryan was coy when asked Saturday if the demotion was intended as a wake-up call for Henderson -- "Oh no, we would never do that," Ryan said with a smile -- but there are signs that Henderson has stopped hitting the figurative snooze button.

"I’ve been really impressed with him," Ryan said. "I talked to him today a little bit about, you know, he spent time in Minnesota and then also went down to Miami and trained -- talk about one extreme to another -- but I’ve been really impressed.

"He came in great shape, and he’s ready to compete, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, so that’s where that competition is going to be. It’s going to be great to watch and we’ll see how it shakes out in the end."

The Bills won't practice in full pads until Sunday, so gauging how Henderson stacks up to Cyrus Kouandjio -- who took over first-team right tackle duties this spring -- is tough. The Bills also had veteran tackle Gosder Cherilus in for a visit Wednesday and claimed tackle Terren Jones off waivers Saturday, so there could be additions to the right tackle race as camp continues.

Yet if the first two practices of training camp are any indication, Henderson is back in the mix.

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Ereck Flowers remains at left tackle on Giants' first team O-line

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the New York Giants took the field for their first practice of training camp, the first-team offensive line alignment was the same one they used in organized team activities and minicamp. Rookie Ereck Flowers was the first-team left tackle in place of the injured Will Beatty. Justin Pugh was at left guard, Weston Richburg at center, Geoff Schwartz at right guard and Marshall Newhouse at right tackle.

Now, that doesn't mean that's for-sure the starting offensive line for Week 1 in Dallas. But with Beatty out until at least November while recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle, it seems the Giants want to give this year's first-round draft pick every opportunity to show he's ready to handle the all-important left tackle spot right away.

"What we'd like to see him do is just take off in this circumstance and become the player we know he can be, grasp things as fast as he can and move quickly from all the spring work and the experience he had there and into what we're going to face right now," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Flowers after Friday's practice. "We want him to just take off at that spot."

The Giants drafted Flowers with the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft because they believed he could play left tackle in the NFL at some point in the future. With Beatty at left tackle, they believed they could ease Flowers in, either at right tackle or in a backup role, while he developed into a franchise left tackle down the road. But once Beatty got hurt in May, Flowers became the Giants' best option as Eli Manning's blindside protector -- whether he's ready or not.

The Giants remain in contact with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, a free-agent tackle who's recovering from a second ACL surgery in as many years, and could still add him or another veteran to the tackle mix before the end of camp. Newhouse was signed as a backup and is no sure thing at right tackle, after all. But the Giants are working Flowers at left tackle with the first-team and second-team offensive lines because they want to accelerate his learning curve in the hope he can handle the job starting in Week 1.

"I'm confident in Ereck," said Pugh, the 2013 first-rounder who started at right tackle right away as a rookie and played there last year before being moved to guard this spring. "He's a great player. We drafted him ninth overall for a reason, and I think he's going to show that to people. To come in and play as a rookie right away, it's really just getting an understanding of the plays inside and out. I think that's going to be the biggest obstacle for him. It was for me. So we're just here for him to lean on us, and I think we'll be all right."

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Leonard Hankerson impresses during Falcons' Training Camp

FLOWERY BRANCH — Prior to the start of Friday’s training camp, Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn told the media to look out for wide receiver Leonard Hankerson.

“Hank I thought has really jumped out to me on the offensive side with some big catches throughout the OTAs,” Quinn said in June.

During the first day of training camp Hankerson impressed again. The 6-foot-2, 211-pound wideout made a handful of impressive grabs.

“He did good,” fellow receiver Roddy White said. “He made a lot of plays today. Especially on the bench he caught over (near the sideline) and an over the middle route. He did a lot of good things today.”

Hankerson played in just one game last season for the Washington Redskins as he recovered from knee injury suffered during the 2013 season.

The former University of Miami star said he feels comfortable in Atlanta after signing with the team in March.

“Definitely,” he said. “I’m good, man. I’ve been working. Working hard in the offseason, doing what I’ve got to do, putting in work, and that’s what it’s all about. Coming in and doing your job and doing it consistently and making things happen.”

Hankerson does have a bit of a level playing field when it comes to competing for playing time with the other receivers, in that the Falcons are installing a new offense with coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

The Falcons are playing faster on offense now than they were during the first series of OTAs with the new system Hankerson said.

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “Everybody knows it now, so we can go out there and be comfortable. We complete passes, we can do what we’ve got to do and make the plays.”

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Jon Beason: I better not be limited in training camp

The 2014 season was an especially tough one for New York Giants linebacker Jon Beason. After emerging as the defensive leader in 2013, Beason was forced to miss the majority of the 2014 season with a toe injury.

During the Giants' spring practices, Beason was a limited participant as he worked his way back from injury. As the giants get set to host their first practice of training camp on Friday, Beason expects to be a full participant. Beason wants to fly to the ball and lead by example, but if the coaches ask him to take a snap or two off during camp, he will oblige.

"I better not be (limited), but if the boss says that I’m limited, then I will be," Beason said to reporters on Thursday, per Big Blue Interactive. "It’s hard to lead from the back and obviously, as a leader, you want to lead by example, so you need to be out there taking all the reps, running to the ball, practicing hard, to set that example. Then when you tell someone they need to do the same, then it’s a merit to it. It’s on the film as opposed to you doing a rep or two, come out, we’re being smart, but then how do you get on a guy about practicing hard, so I hope not."

Earlier this week, Beason elaborated on his current status in an interview with Steve Serby of the New York Post.

"I feel great. I can tell you I feel the best I’ve felt in four years," Beason said.

In 2015, the Giants' defense gets even younger, and former leaders like Justin Tuck and Antrel Rolle are no longer with the team. The Giants certainly hope that Beason can emerge as a leader of the defense, just like he did in 2013.

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Phillip Dorsett Addresses Media

Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, the Colts' first-round draft pick, addressed the media shortly after arriving at camp. Here's what he had to say:

On how he feels entering camp: "Basically excitement, my first NFL training camp. Just looking forward to going to work tomorrow, knock out this conditioning stuff today, and get to work tomorrow."

On high expectations for the Colts: "Obviously it's a lot of big expectations for this team, but I definitely just try to block it out, and we just go out there and try to do our job. That's what Coach Pagano really tells us, is don't put any extra pressure on yourself. Just go out there and do your job, and everything will take care of itself."

On how much of a challenge it is to join such a potentially potent offense as a rookie: "I would say it's definitely challenging, with the magnitude of this offense and the weapons that we have. But I feel like it's something I can get through. It's something I did in OTAs and minicamp, just going out there and looking over the playbook every day, and going out there and working hard every day. And I feel like I've earned some respect; I'm looking forward to going out there and earning more and whenever my number's called, just making a play. I just want to be a playmaker, that's it."

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Sean Spence: Steelers linebackers want to 'inflict pain' in 2015

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' inside linebackers group, one of the deepest on the roster, delivered several loud hits in one-on-one blocking drills last night. The Steelers have five inside linebackers with NFL experience, and everyone got in on the hitting last night, particularly Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence and Vince Williams. Lawrence Timmons got one rep in this drill, executing a beautiful spin move.

Spence said it's all about a mindset with this group.

"We have to make sure we inflict that type of pain next year on offensive players," Spence said. "We’ve always had that mindset. We've had a lot o great linebackers come through here. It all started thereon defense. That’s what we're tyring to do, keep and raise that level."

Continue to watch this group because if young outside pass rushers Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones need more time to produce, the Steelers could blitz more from the inside spot. Early in camp, I've spotted Timmons rushing from the inside several times.

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Ereck Flowers 'looking to keep progressing'

EAST RUTHERFORD — Many eyes will be on Giants rookie Ereck Flowers this training camp - and this season, for that matter - as the first round pick steps right in at left tackle. 

And like during minicamp earlier this year, Flowers will get plenty of reps as he gets his feet under him. The 6-foot-6 Miami product took snaps with both the first and second teams on Friday during the first practice of training camp in an effort to try and accelerate his progression a bit. 

"What we'd like to see him do, is just take off in this circumstance and become the player that we know he can be," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Grasp things as fast as he can and move from all the spring's work and the experience that he had, quickly move past that into what we're doing and what we're going to face right now. ... We want him to just take off at that spot."

Flowers will have plenty of support along the way. Guard Justin Pugh said he and center Weston Richburg, both younger players, are there to be a resource for Flowers about the transition as a rookie.

"He's a big, strong, tough kid," Pugh said. "He fits right in with the mold we're trying to create here and what we're trying to do. "

And tackle Will Beatty, who the Giants initially planned to have on the left side before he tore a pectoral muscle in May, was seen taking Flowers to the side once he exited team drills for a few moments on Friday to give him some pointers.

"Everybody in the locker room helps everybody out," Flowers said. "I'm a lot more comfortable (with the offense) then when I first came in. I've made a lot of progress, and I'm looking to keep progressing." 

Flowers had some good moments during Friday's quick practice, as well as some things to work on. But he will get plenty of time - sometimes double time - to grow into the franchise left tackle the Giants thought he could be when they selected him with the ninth overall pick.

"I worked really hard leading up to this," Flowers said. "I'm pretty proud of what I did, and I'm ready to take this next step."

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Vince Wilfork's daughter gets her wish, meets J.J. Watt

HOUSTON -- "I'm the best dad in the world right now," Vince Wilfork said with a grin after practice Saturday.

What Herculean feat won him the title? Introducing his daughter, Destiny, to J.J. Watt.

"One of the reasons I came here was because of my daughter," said Wilfork, who signed with the Texans this spring after 11 seasons with the New England Patriots. "She said the only reason she was going to move here is if she got a chance to meet him. I said, 'OK, well' and I made that promise some months back. It finally paid off for me right now."

The meeting produced this adorable photo:

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Jimmy Graham show begins in Seattle

RENTON, Wash. -- The crowd watching Seattle Seahawks training camp Saturday along the shore of Lake Washington roared its approval when Jimmy Graham leaped high to snatch a pass from Russell Wilson some 20 yards up the left sideline. This sort of play was precisely what the Seahawks had in mind when they traded a 2015 first-round pick for the Pro Bowl tight end.

Left unsaid, for the most part, was a key area where Seattle expects Graham to develop his game: Blocking. While Graham's former team, New Orleans, ranks first in total receptions and receptions by tight ends since 2012, Seattle ranks 32nd and 31st in those respective categories over the same three-year time period. Seattle has run the ball a league-high 46.9 percent of the time during that span. The Saints were at 34.3 percent, the second-lowest rate.

The running game will remain the Seahawks' top priority, even with Graham.

"That is not going to change," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said after practice. "That is something that is part of us. It is at our core. It is our philosophy."

With contract-related stories involving Wilson, Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor dominating headlines early in camp, Graham was not immediately available for interviews (he was scheduled to speak Monday). Numbers available through ESPN Stats & Information say a lot about the adjustment awaiting Graham.

Last season, the Saints ran the ball only 26.2 percent of the time on the 744 plays when Graham was on the field, compared to 55.7 percent on the 350 plays when he was not in the game. The difference between those two rates -- 29.5 percentage points -- was the second-largest in the NFL among the 10 tight ends with the highest totals for receiving yardage. Only the San Diego Chargers and Antonio Gates were more predictable from a run-pass differential standpoint among those 10 teams.

"We are going to run the football," Bevell said. "Jimmy is going to be in there. He is more than willing to do it. He is excited to do it."

Graham figures to be at his most valuable as a receiving target in the red zone, where Seattle ranked 20th last season with a 51.7 percent touchdown rate.

"What an exciting addition for a club and everyone can feel it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He and Russell have been together already, they’ve already got a feel for one another and we’re thrilled about it."

A 6-foot-7, 270-pound frame makes Graham a receiver quarterbacks have an easier time finding as they scan the field. That was helpful for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose height is listed at 6 feet. It could be similarly helpful for Wilson, who stands 5-10.

What's harder to see is whether Graham can be an asset as a legitimate blocker, not just a tight end who casually nudges a defender before releasing into pass routes. That is one area where Graham will need to develop.

"We have to move along further in camp to be able to assess everything, but right now, just his mentality, that is not something he is going to shy away from," Bevell said. "As we get through pads we'll be able to teach technique and those things and be able to move along."

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Frank Gore set up for success with Colts

Chuck Pagano, Colts head coach: "If you want to try and stop (Frank Gore) and slow him down, I'd recommend you being in an eight-man spacing."

Our analysis: Around the NFL's Chris Wesseling wrote a dynamite piece detailing why Gore will be able to thrive in Indy this season. Chief among the reasons is the presence of Andrew Luck and an all-star passing attack, which will prevent defenses from lining up in the eight-man fronts Pagano referred to in the quote above. Gore, while lacking the explosion of his youth, will be playing in the best offense of his career and should be able to post RB2 numbers easily. So draft him accordingly.

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Jon Beason reflects on what it's like to have his passion taken away

For some NFL players, football is their one true passion. You've seen stars of the past have trouble walking away from the game even when all signs point in that direction. Just look at Brett Favre's final few years in the league. New York Giants linebacker Jon Beason is another human being who is built in that mold.

In 2014, a serious toe injury forced Beason to miss the majority of the regular season. Beason was also forced to miss most of the team's offseason program. The result was a world without football for a player who has centered his life around the game.

When speaking to reporters on Thursday, Beason was asked if he can relate to what Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is currently going through as he attempts to make a comeback from a gruesome patella tendon injury. What transpired was an honest and insightful look into what Beason and many other NFL players go through when they are forced to miss an extended period due to injury.

'I think there are some benefits to having something you love taken away from you," Beason told reporters, per Big Blue Interactive. "In my situation, maybe one too many, I will say. I think when you can step back and see how the games just keep going. Someone else takes your position, and the games are still sold out, fans are still crazy about the Giants. You thought you were a big part of the equation and then you realize you are really just paying rent. I think there are some benefits in that, having it taken away from you, and I think you value it when you get it back. I look forward to him (Cruz) having a huge season this year."

Both Beason and Cruz have avoided the dreaded PUP list, and both players will be participating in training camp's opening practice on Friday. Cruz will most likely be eased into things, but Beason expects to be a full participant.

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ChiSox, Rangers, O's interested in Danny Valencia

Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the White Sox, Rangers and Orioles have emerged as the most likely destinations for Danny Valencia.

In a bit of a surprise move, Valencia was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays on Saturday. He is expected to be claimed off trade waivers on Monday, which will give the Jays an opportunity to deal him. Valencia is having a terrific season, slashing .296/.331/.506 with seven long balls and 29 RBI in his 162 at-bats.

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Danny Valencia vents frustration after being designated for assignment

Some baseball observers found it surprising the Blue Jays designated Danny Valencia for assignment Saturday.

The move certainly caught Valencia by surprise. He took to Twitter Saturday afternoon to express his frustration.

Valencia’s stats (296/.331/.506, seven home runs and 29 RBI in 58 games) are respectable for a utility player. But Toronto’s acquisition of outfielder Ben Revere from the Phillies on Friday made Valencia the odd man out.

With his ability to play multiple infield and outfield positions, and his offensive pop as a platoon player against lefties, chances are Valencia will draw interest around the league. He is earning $1.675 million this year after going to arbitration this winter.

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Jemile Weeks clears waivers, heads to Pawtucket

Second baseman Jemile Weeks cleared waivers and has been sent by the Red Sox to Triple-A Pawtucket, per the Providence Journal.

Weeks played in three games for Boston after his recent promotion and managed three hits in nine at-bats.

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Pat Burrell greeted warmly before induction to Phillies' Wall of Fame

AS PAT BURRELL walked to the stage, Phillies fans of all ages showered him with a healthy mix of cheers and applause.

His reception at yesterday's Phillies Alumni Luncheon paralleled the support he enjoyed throughout a nine-year career in Philadelphia, where he became a fan favorite and a 2008 World Series champion, before finishing his career in 2011 after quick stints with the Tampa Bay Rays and San Francisco Giants.

Burrell, who was drafted out of Miami with the first overall pick in 1998, was selected as a Phillies Wall of Famer through fan voting on Phillies.com.

Burrell, now 38, hit .257 in 1,306 games with the Phillies, driving in 827 runs, 10th on the team's all-time list. The former leftfielder also hit 20 or more home runs in eight consecutive seasons in Philadelphia and finished with 251, putting him behind only Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard and Del Ennis.

Commonly referred to by the Phillies faithful as "Pat the Bat," Burrell voiced his appreciation to the fans in attendance at Citizens Bank Park's Diamond Club for sticking with him through thick and thin.

"I can remember a game when, it was terrible, I was bad for a long time and it wasn't getting better," Burrell said. "I wasn't playing in the game and I pinch-hit probably in the 10th inning and got a double, and I remember standing on second base, and it was like a standing ovation, and I was like, 'I should do this more often.'

"The fans were behind me 100 percent. There were some ups and downs, but, in the end, it was such a great experience to play here for so long."

After chatting one-on-one with Scott Palmer, the Phillies' director of public affairs, for about 15 minutes, Burrell was joined by the first group of surprise guests, which featured John Kruk, who played for the Phillies from '89 to '94, and Larry Andersen, another former Phillie ('83 to '86, '93 and '94) and current radio commentator for the team.

While most of the conversations on the day revolved around inside jokes and playful jabs at Burrell, Andersen made time to acknowledge Burrell in a more serious light.

"He was oftentimes taken out for defensive purposes, and when he was taken out, I always saw him right on the front rail for the last two innings," Andersen said. "When the game was over and we won, he was the first one on the field and, to me, that spoke volumes about Pat Burrell."

Other surprise guests to join Burrell on stage included former Phillies outfielder Jason Michaels (2001-05), former second baseman Marlon Anderson ('98-'02), former outfielder Bobby Abreu ('98-'06), former manager Charlie Manuel ('05-'13) and current second baseman Chase Utley.

Utley, one of the last players remaining from the '08 World Series team (along with Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz), expressed his gratitude to Burrell for mentoring him after the Phillies drafted Utley out of UCLA in 2000.

"He took me under his wing right when I got here," said Utley, who debuted with the team in 2003. "He'd been here for a few years and he kind of just pulled me along, showed me the ropes, showed me how to pay clubhouse dues, showed me how to get a cab . . .

"It's something that I'll always be thankful for."

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