Kellen Winslow facing drug charge

New York Jets tight end Kellen Winslow, who served a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs during the season, is now facing charges of possession of synthetic marijuana.

Winslow, 30, appeared Wednesday in an East Hanover, N.J., courtroom as part of the pre-trial process. He was found Nov. 19 in possession of the designer drug Fubinaca, according to the Morristown (N.J.) Daily Record. The alleged incident occurred two days after he played his first game following the suspension.

The criminal complaint wasn't signed until Dec. 30, the day after the Jets' season ended in Miami.

Winslow is charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance, a third-degree offense, the Daily Record reported. He could receive up to five years in prison if convicted.

"We are aware of situation," a Jets spokesman said. "This is a pending legal matter and we will have no further comment."
Winslow, who will be a free agent in March, made more news off the field than on it for the Jets. In October, he was slapped with a four-game ban for violating the league's policy on PEDs.

Upon returning to the team, Winslow offered a vague explanation, insisting he wasn't told what substance triggered the positive test. He said it may have been allergy medication, but he never specified what type of allergy.

Winslow, in his first season with the Jets, finished with 31 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns. His role diminished after his suspension, prompting him to express public frustration. He's not expected back with the team.

In a career that's included stops at Cleveland, Tampa Bay and the Jets, Winslow has 469 catches and 25 TDs 

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Frank Gore carries more than a running back’s usual load

SANTA CLARA -- Not surprisingly, Frank Gore had a crucial role in two of the 49ers’ biggest running plays in their 23-20 playoff win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

The twist: The running back didn’t have the ball on either one.

The 49ers’ longest gain of the day was Colin Kaepernick’s 42-yard scramble that keyed a second-quarter touchdown drive. As Kaepernick dropped back and took off, Gore, who had released out of pass protection, glanced back and saw his quarterback on the move.

Turning upfield, Gore located Packers linebacker Brad Jones near midfield and threw a diving block at Jones’ feet. By the time Jones bounced back up, Kaepernick was past him, heading for the sideline and open ground.

Kaepernick rushed for another vital first down on the 49ers’ game-winning drive – again with an assist from Gore. On third down and 8 from the Packers’ 38-yard line, Kaepernick lined up in the shotgun with Gore on his right. As Kaepernick took the snap, Green Bay cornerback Jarrett Bush blitzed off the edge from the quarterback’s left.

Gore, though, picked up the blitz, helping free Kaepernick to scamper to his left for 11 yards down the sideline. Five plays later, Phil Dawson kicked the field goal that sent the 49ers to Sunday’s divisional playoff game at Carolina.

Asked this week about Gore’s blocking on Kaepernick’s long runs, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh drew a pickup basketball analogy.

“The guy that’s just going to hit the 30-foot jump shots isn’t necessarily the best player,” Harbaugh said. “You want the guy that’s going to go in and compete, set the hard pick, go in there with the elbows and do the dirty work and compete and help your team win. And Frank does that as good as or better than anybody in the league.”

Gore has long drawn praise from coaches and teammates for his blocking ability in pass protection and his penchant for picking up blitzes. With a quarterback in Kaepernick who is liable to take off running at any time, though, Gore sometimes finds himself essentially becoming a fullback in mid-play, lead blocking for Kaepernick yards downfield.

Case in point: Kaepernick’s 50-yard run in Week 13 last season against the St. Louis Rams. After teaming with fullback Bruce Miller on a block in the backfield, Gore got out in front of Kaepernick and sprung the quarterback with a diving block that sent Rams linebacker Rocky McIntosh head over heels in the air.

“He’s one of the best,” Kaepernick said, “whether it’s lead blocking on a scramble or pass protection.”

Running back Anthony Dixon, who also has played fullback for the 49ers, said Gore’s success starts with his willingness to be the aggressor when throwing a block.

“Frank does a real good job of initiating the contact,” Dixon said. “If you let (a defender) bring it to you, they can slip you, they can push you into the quarterback; there’s a lot of bad stuff that can happen. If you (can) be physical, stand your ground, you can win.

“He’s kind of short, so he’s already got the leverage, and it also helps that he actually wants to do it. When you’ve got a combination like that, it’s hard to beat because he can get under you and he’s also physical.”

Dixon and Kendall Hunter said blocking is a source of pride for the backs under position coach Tom Rathman, whom Gore credited with impressing upon him the importance of being well-rounded.

“When we first got together, he really said if you want to be one of the top guys, all football people will look at that and say you can go a long ways with that,” Gore said. “So I took it in, and that’s why I’m out doing it.”

It helps, Gore said, knowing that giving Kaepernick a few seconds of leeway might be the difference between a lost play and a long gain.

“When things don’t go right and the play breaks down, he runs,” Gore said. “And I know that’s going to frustrate a defense.”

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With mentoring from injured Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton brings a youthful energy

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts had just finished one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, and the young man who capped it off stood in the corner of their locker room, with a neon green "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" backpack slung over his shoulders.

"I knew I was going to need a Ninja Turtle effort today, so I brought my Ninja Turtle bag," T.Y. Hilton said earnestly, with nary a touch of irony.

Hilton, the Colts’ second-year wide receiver, brings a different backpack to every game, and attaches personal meaning to each one. For instance, when he brought his Superman bag, it signified that "somebody gave Superman his cape," he said.

"It depends on the mood I’m in," Hilton said. "That’s what type of super hero I put on my back."

Hilton, 24, has delivered youthful energy and wonderment to an offense that required him to produce more after superstar Reggie Wayne, the 35-year-old veteran receiver and Hilton’s mentor, tore his right knee’s anterior cruciate ligament in Week 7.

Hilton had the finest game of his career in last Saturday’s AFC wild-card victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, who led 38-10 with 13:39 left in the third quarter. The Colts stormed back for a 45-44 victory — tied for the second-largest comeback in NFL history, and the biggest in a non-overtime game.

Hilton caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, including the 64-yarder that put the Colts up for good with 4:21 remaining in the game.

The duo of Hilton and second-year quarterback Andrew Luck is peaking as the Colts prepare for tomorrow’s divisional game at New England, which ranked 18th this season in passing yards allowed per game, but fourth in lowest completion percentage surrendered.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano dubbed Hilton "a game-wrecker," and it’s hard to dismiss that as hyperbole after Hilton’s past two games. In the regular-season finale against Jacksonville, Hilton had a career-best 155 receiving yards. It was his fifth 100-yard game this season, following five last season, when he did not start as a rookie.

Hilton, a third-round draft pick from Florida International, arrived in Indianapolis and became teammates with Wayne, who ranks eighth in NFL history in catches, 11th in receiving yards and helped the Colts win their first Super Bowl in 36 years, after the 2006 season. Hilton grew up in Miami. Thirteen miles south of Hilton’s high school, Wayne starred at the University of Miami from 1997-2000.

Hilton turned 8 years old during Wayne’s freshman year with the Hurricanes.

"I kind of was nervous at first," Hilton said of meeting Wayne. "You know, I’m in a meeting room with Reggie Wayne. After that, whenever I got a chance, I would pick his brain. Whatever I could ask him, I made sure I asked him."

From defensive tendencies to route-running techniques, Hilton sought Wayne’s advice. They developed "a big brother-little brother relationship," said receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, in his first season with the Colts.

Hilton is still very much a kid, carrying not only those backpacks, but also the name from his childhood. Hilton’s given name is Eugene, which could not sound more adult. But his parents, Tyrone and Cora, long ago nicknamed him Little T.Y., after his dad. It stuck.

Playing in Wayne’s shadow last season, Hilton had 50 catches for 861 yards, second on the team behind Wayne. Hilton ranked first with seven touchdown catches. Before Wayne’s injury this season, Hilton averaged 58 receiving yards per game. Since, he has averaged 89. In the regular season, he led the Colts in catches (82), yards (1,083) and touchdown catches (five). All the while, Heyward-Bey noticed some of Wayne’s freelancing style rubbing off on Hilton.

"T.Y. just knows how to get open," Heyward-Bey said. "That’s what Reggie does. So many guys are so by the book. They’re going to run (the route) just the same way they put it up on the diagram. But that’s not how football’s going to be. There’s going to be people in the way. (Wayne and Hilton) are really good at just knowing how to get open and catching the ball."

A receiver "can earn that" right to run a route differently than planned, said Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Wayne has long since earned it. With each impact game, Hilton is earning it, too.

"I’m always freelancing," Hilton said. "You can’t be too detailed in your routes, because defenders watch film and they know how you do this or do that."

Hilton will sometimes "give you the mailbox signal," Hasselbeck said, quickly lifting his arm to form an L, in the manner of an up-turned mailbox flag, or a receiver waving to a quarterback that he is open.

"It means, like: ‘I’m gone. Forget whatever the play was. I’m gone,’ " Hasselbeck said.

However Hilton gets open, the Colts desperately needed him to do it after Wayne’s injury — a sight Hilton described as "painful." But even as Wayne went on injured reserved, he assured the Colts’ other receivers that "I’m going to be around, and I’m still going to be able to help you out," Hilton said.

So now, during the Colts’ receiver meetings, Wayne sits in the back of the room, a few rows behind Hilton, who is up front.

"Whenever I have a question, I look back," Hilton said. "And he knows that once I look back, I’ve got a question."

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Vince Wilfork on Achilles injury: 'I can't leave the game like this'

During an interview that aired on Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports” Wednesday night, New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork discussed the right Achilles injury that landed him on injured reserve and what his future may hold.

Throughout the segment, Kraft spoke highly of Wilfork, at one point calling him the “heart and soul” of the defense and an “inspiration,” though the defensive tackle knows that his relationship with Kraft will do him no good when his contract expires following the 2014 season.

“No,” Wilfork said. “It’s a business.”

At one point Wilfork was presented with a statistic that says nearly 66 percent of players who suffer an Achilles injury do not come back or return at a lesser level. Now 32, Wilfork knows that the odds are against him, and acknowledged that the road back may be difficult, but he remains determined to play again.

“I can’t tell you what the body’s going to tell me when I take the field,” he said. “Maybe the body is going to say, ‘You know what, Vince, it is enough.’ If it do that, I’m going to have to listen to my body. If it’s up to me, I’m playing. I can’t leave the game like this. I can’t.”

At one point, Kraft and Wilfork shared the details of their meeting after the defensive tackle tore his Achilles' tendon. Though he was in pain and upset with his current reality, Wilfork looked up and offered an apology when he first saw Kraft.

“Sorry, boss man,” Wilfork said, according to Kraft. “I’m sorry that I let you down.”

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Clinton Portis on the Redskins and anonymous sources

Media ethicist Clinton Portis became the latest person to weigh in on the rash of anonymous sources spraying information about the Redskins over the past two months. This happened when Portis asked if he noticed an obstacle in the way of sustained football success in Washington.

“You know, up until Coach Gibbs leaving, honestly, I never paid attention to the media, I never paid attention to the outside world,” Portis told Danny Rouhier and Grant Paulsen on 106.7 The Fan. (Listen here) “It was just a fun environment. I think the guys we had in that locker room, the brotherly love, the ins and outs — you know, guys would argue and keep it moving — but I never really paid attention to the media until after Coach Gibbs was gone. And all of a sudden, it was like how is everything that happens here leaked, and inside information, and sources say. It’s always sources say. And then that became the staple.

“Now it’s all of a sudden a trust issue within, because you don’t know who’s saying what,” Portis continued. “It’s always sources say. And I think that’s the quickest way to tear down a locker room. You have so many reporters from the Washington Redskins putting out a story, and all of it is sources say. And you’re looking around like, ‘How many people can talk to the media?’ And guys that you see talking to the media, you’re like well, I don’t THINK he said it. But all of a sudden it just becomes so many questions of who in this locker room is throwing me under the bus.

“And that’s the obstacle that’s in your way in that organization, because you don’t know,” Portis said. “Anything I ever said, it was, ‘Put Clinton Portis said,’ and let’s be clear, and I’ll correct it later if it was an issue. But outside of that it’s sources said, and anonymous, and the leaks that come out of the locker room. It just makes you look around like, wow, who’s in here?”

Now, first of all, anonymous sources have existed for as long as the Redskins have existed. See this, for example. That didn’t stop during the four years of Gibbs II.

Also, it’s easy for Portis (or me) to talk bad about anonymous sources when we aren’t beat writers, tasked with the unenviable chore of breaking news while making sure other local or national outlets do not get ahead of us on any stories.

That said, he (and I) could point out that you have to make judgment calls on when information is important and newsworthy enough to offer the protection of anonymity. And that some of the character attacks on various Redskins figures this season — comments that clearly wouldn’t have been made if the talkers were required to put their names on the line — might really have failed that judgment test, depending on the judge.

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Damien Berry has already sold his Super Bowl XLVII ring

This may ruffle some of the fans' feathers that would do anything to have the chance to be a part of a team that goes on to win a Super Bowl championship.

Former Ravens running back Damien Berry, one year removed from being a part of a franchise that won Super Bowl XLVII, has sold his ring, which is now being offered to online consumer, according to Goldin Auctions.

Berry was a member of the Ravens' practice squad in 2011 and spent 2012 on injured reserve. He did not make the regular season roster or practice squad in 2013.

In addition to Berry's ring, former Ravens safety Jamie Sharper auctioned his ring off to the memorabilia company too. In addition, Jamal Lewis' Super Bowl trophy is available for sale too.

In a news release, the company also mentioned the other memorabilia items for sale.

"This is a rare opportunity for a fan or a collector to own a Super Bowl ring less than a year after it was earned and one from a landmark NFL game," said Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions. "NFL Championship rings and Super Bowl player rings are coveted by collectors because it is rare for them to become available. That is why we are so excited to offer these unique finds in our 2014 Winter Auction."

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Antrel Rolle to receive Munson Award

Antrel Rolle will be honored at the 34th annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner on Feb. 4.

The Thurman Munson Awards are presented for success on the field of play and philanthropic works off the field. Others who will be honored this year include Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner, Mets pitcher Dillon Gee, former pitchers and baseball broadcasters Jim Kaat of MLB Network and David Cone of YES Network, and Knicks Hall of Fame forward Bernard King.

The awards and dinner pay homage to the late, great Yankees catcher and captain Thurman Munson. Diana Munson, Thurman’s widow, will attend her 34th consecutive benefit, having been involved since its inception. The Thurman Munson Awards Dinner has raised more than $12 million for programs that serve New York City children and adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

It’s a prestigious award, but sometimes an ominous one for Giants players.

Other Giants who have been so honored in recent years include David Tyree and Chris Canty. Neither, however, played another down for the Giants after their award. Tyree, who won the award in 2009, a year after his amazing catch in Super Bowl XLII, did not make the team the following spring. Canty was cut by the Giants the day after receiving the award last year. Both of those players were recovering from injuries, though.

For tickets and information on the Munson Awards Dinner call 212-249-6188 or email Tickets may be purchased on line at

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Jon Beason's case to stay is strong

Jon Beason
Position: Middle Linebacker
2013 Stats w/Giants: 93 tackles, 1 INT in 12 games
'13 Salary w/Giants: $1 million (prorated over 12 weeks)

There were two versions of the Giants defense this past season -- one with Jon Beason at middle linebacker, and one without him.

It wasn't even close which version was better. There was a stark contrast in the two units: The Giants allowed 18.3 points in the 11 games he started and 36.4 in the five he didn't.

It's no coincidence either. Beason was a stabilizing force on the field, in the locker room and, most importantly, in the huddle. The Giants previously lacked a middle linebacker with significant experience to command the huddle.

That seventh-round pick they used to acquire Beason from the Carolina Panthers in October proved to be a bargain. Beason was everything the Giants hoped they were getting ... and more!

"Jon came in and I think he stabilized our defense. He came in, he had a voice right away and he fit in very quickly with the players," general manager Jerry Reese said. "He did a good job for us. We think it was a good trade at the time and we still think it was a good trade. We'll evaluate Jon as we move into the offseason and we'll see where that goes."

Beason, 28, had such a significant impact that veteran safety Antrel Rolle deemed it "a must" that the Giants re-sign Beason. Former offensive lineman Shaun O'Hara, who works for NFL Network and for the Giants, called Beason the Giants' No. 1 offseason priority.

Rolle and O'Hara should know. Rolle is a leader in that locker room and O'Hara remains plugged in just several years removed from his playing days.

All signs indicate that Beason will return in 2014. The Giants have already expressed their interest and Beason has made it known he'd love to remain with the organization. There is a strong likelihood he's back next season with Big Blue.

Of course, there are some factors that need to be taken into consideration. His asking price needs to be right. The Giants must be cautious, given Beason’s injury. He tore his Achilles in 2011 and had microfracture surgery on his knee the following year.

Your Desire to Keep 'Em or Dump 'Em: 98.5% Keep Chance for Return: 85%
Why? Beason wants to return to the Giants. The Giants want Beason. All they need to do now is find a reasonable number of years and price for the middle linebacker.
Projected Contract: 3 years, $12 million

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VIDEO: Clinton Portis does ‘Pulp Fiction’

During the lead-up to Monday night’s BCS title game in Southern California, forever-Redskin Clinton Portis acted out the “Royale With Cheese” scene from “Pulp Fiction,” with his ACC Digital Network colleague Jeff Fischel playing the part of John Travolta.

Kind of a tough scene to do without profanity. And sideburns. And an Afro. Still, Portis has potential, as displayed in his famous Ram Hunt scene with Chris Cooley. Add the three previously mentioned items and boost the production budget, and I’d give it another try.

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Giants Announce Signing Of A proCane To A Futures Contract

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants today announced the addition of five players to their roster, including four with NFL regular-season experience – tight end Daniel Fells, wide receiver Preston Parker, linebacker Spencer Adkins, offensive lineman Troy Kropog and kicker/punter Brandon McManus. Only McManus has not previously played in the NFL.

Adkins, 5-11 and 222 pounds, was a sixth-round draft choice by the Atlanta Falcons in 2009, the 176th overall selection. From 2009-11, he played in 24 regular-season games with one start and was credited with five tackles (three solo) on defense and 10 on special teams. He played in the 2011 NFC Wild Card Game vs. the Giants and had four tackles (three solo).

Adkins was waived by the Falcons on Aug. 21, 2012. He was signed by the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 3, 2013 and waived on Aug. 26, 2013.

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John Salmons plays 29 minutes in loss

John Salmons came off the bench and played 29 minutes on Tuesday, but finished with just four points, four rebounds and four fouls.
The minutes were big and Salmons has been seeing enough run off the bench to be given consideration for pick up in many leagues, in case he gets hot. That hasn't happened yet though, as he's scored eight or fewer points in his last five games, averaging just 5.0 points and 1.8 3-pointers in 26 minutes per game during that stretch. Just keep an eye on him in case he ever gets hot.

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Sam Shields avoids serious knee injury

While Sunday ended up being a bad day for his team, things could have been even worse for Packers cornerback Sam Shields.

He exited in pain during the 49ers’ opening offensive drive after a teammate fell on Shields’ leg during an effort to tackle San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree.

Believed to be an MCL strain, an MRI exam reveals that Shields suffered only a bone bruise.  And that’s great news for Shields, given that he’s due to become a free agent in March.

Shields started 14 regular-season games in 2013, missing two with a hamstring injury.

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Tommy Streeter: Bucs sign a dozen to reserve/future pacts

Bucs signed WR Tommy Streeter, QB Jordan Rodgers, DB Marc Anthony, OT Emmett Cleary, OG Jace Daniels, DT Everett Dawkins, DB Bobby Felder, OG Jason Foster, DT David Hunter, K Patrick Murray, LS Patrick Scales, and P Jake Schum to reserve/future contracts.
Streeter is a size-speed freak but has never translated it to the field at the NFL level. Rodgers is the far less talented brother of Aaron Rodgers. Anthony was a seventh-round pick of the Ravens last April.

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Frank Gore totals 77 yards, TD in victory

Frank Gore rushed 20 times for 66 yards and a touchdown and caught an 11-yard pass in the 49ers' Wild Card round win over Green Bay.
Gore scored his second-quarter touchdown from ten yards out on a read-option play, giving San Francisco a 13-7 lead. Although Gore failed to generate big plays on the ground, he chipped in a crucial 11-yard reception in the fourth quarter on San Francisco's game-winning drive, which was capped by Phil Dawson's 33-yard field goal. Look for Gore to have a similar workload in next week's Divisional Round showdown with the Panthers.

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Devin Hester: Return to the Bears Next Season "Not Up to Me"

The Chicago Bears headed into the 2014 offseason with a lot of questions as to who will be on their roster when the team convenes for training camp in July, and one of the biggest question marks is the one following the name of kick returner Devin Hester.

Hester, who has 13 career punt returns for touchdowns (including an 81-yarder against the Washington Redskins in the 2013 campaign) and has five more kick returns for touchdowns, could be on his way out of town as it seems like the team might let him test the waters of free agency.

As Dan Widerer of the Chicago Tribune points out, the Bears might give a look to Chris Williams, a receiver that they signed off the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad the last week of the regular season, and that spirit of looking at cheaper options might mean that Hester’s days in the Windy City are over.

The caption to the photo reads "To all my true Chicago fans, its not up to me whether I stay, its up to the coaches and guys upstairs n the Chicago Bears front office. #Beardown." 

As weird as it would be to see Hester returning kicks in another team’s uniform, the fact of the matter is that the Bears have got to be looking very closely at how they are allocating salary cap space due to the constraints put on them by some of the bigger contracts they have on the books, and if they choose to pay Hester, that limits their options in other areas.

A reunion with Lovie Smith down in Tampa Bay could always be in the cards for Hester if he doesn’t end up rejoining the Bears next season, but as of right now, his future is unclear as the Bears evaluate their financial obligations.

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Some proCanes Advance in the NFL Playoffs, While Others Are Sent Home Packing

With the first round of the NFL playoffs complete, some proCanes were sent home packing while others continue their quest for a Super Bowl ring.

With the New Orleans Saints defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, Jimmy Graham and Jon Vilma (IR) advance to the next round of the playoffs to take on the proCane-less Seattle Seahawks. Go Saints! The Eagles lost because they didn’t have any proCanes. Happy

Two proCanes were sent home with the Kansas City Chiefs losing a thriller to the Indianapolis Colts. DL Allen Bailey and TE Richard Gordon were sent home while Reggie Wayne (IR) will continue to help his team from sidelines in their next game versus the New England Patriots who have proCane DL Vince Wilfork who is also on IR.

The San Francisco 49ers behind the solid running of proCane RB Frank Gore ended up defeating the Green Bay Packers who lost proCane DB Sam Shields in the first quarter of their defeat. The 49ers will face the Carolina Panthers who have proCane TE Greg Olsen on the field and QB Coach Ken Dorsey on the sidelines. The Packers also have scouts Glenn Cook and Alonzo Highsmith on their staff as well as Winston Moss.

The Chargers who don’t have a proCane and defeated the proCane-less Bengals (boooooring), will face the Denver Broncos with their solid proCane offensive lineman Orlando Franklin.

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FIVE Future proCanes Invited to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine

Five Miami Hurricanes have accepted invitations to participate at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, while will be held Feb. 22-25 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The four-day combine will be televised live on NFL Network.

QB Stephen Morris, OG Brandon Linder, OT Seantrel Henderson, WR Allen Hurns and P Pat O'Donnell will be among the more than 300 prospects evaluated by all 32 NFL teams. Linder, Henderson and O’Donnell will work out on Feb. 22, while Morris and Hurns will work out Feb. 23.

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PHOTO: Clinton Portis Wearing An Awesome Jacket on NFL Access


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Devin Hester unlikely to return to Bears in 2014, per report

The star returner would be an unrestricted free agent.

Star return man Devin Hester is unlikely to return to the Chicago Bears in 2014, Len Pasquarelli is reporting.

Pasquarelli reports the team is unsure as to whether Hester fits within the Bears' plans, and he is likely to become an unrestricted free agent. The former Miami Hurricane star had previously hinted at retiring when the team and head coach Lovie Smith parted ways, but it appears he is willing to latch on to another team when his deal is up.

Hester has also played wide receiver in his time with the Bears, but is best known as a returner. This season he caught 23 passes for a career low 242 yards and one touchdown (his second straight season with just one score), but led the league in kick return yardage (1,436 yards on 52 returns) and scored a punt return touchdown.

That kick return mark was a career high for Hester (no doubt inflated by Chicago's poor defense giving up a lot of points), and his 27.6 average per return was second highest of his career.

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In end, 49ers' Gore answers the calls

The question lingered into the second half: Was it going to be another one of those games in which the 49ers ignored Frank Gore at a critical juncture?

It happened the previous Sunday in Arizona when Gore carried only 13 times for 14 yards and was visibly frustrated after the game.

And it looked like it was happening again Sunday, in a game that weather conditions appeared to dictate the necessity of a strong running game. Twice in the first quarter, the 49ers drove inside the red zone. The first time, the 49ers threw three incomplete passes and settled for a field goal. On the second, Gore carried once (for 4 yards), a third-down pass fell incomplete and the 49ers settled for another field goal.

For some people, including those vocal ones on Twitter, it was all getting a little too reminiscent of the end of the Super Bowl when the 49ers seemed determined to pass rather than give the ball to Gore.

But on Sunday, when the 49ers absolutely needed a running game - in the final two minutes of the game, when they needed to eat up the clock and get a first down - they turned to Gore.

First-and-10: Gore for 5 yards.

Second-and-5: Gore for 2 yards.

Third-and-3: Gore for 3 yards and a first down that set up Phil Dawson's game-winning field goal.

"It was big," Gore said. "It was a playoff game. We knew we had to get the first down. The O-line did a great job. That was big."

Gore, a South Florida native who played at Miami, went sleeveless and wore a hand warmer around his waist - but he wasn't going to pretend the conditions were anything short of brutal.

"It was tough," he said, adding that he wore a different type of spikes on his cleats for the field. "We knew it was going to be a cold game. But once you were on the field, you didn't think about it."

Gore was invaluable in other ways. He had key blocks on both of Colin Kaepernick's long runs.

Last January, Gore was vital to the 49ers' playoff success. He carried the ball 63 times in three games for an average of 5.1 yards per carry. It wasn't until the final, critical moments of the 49ers last game, the Super Bowl, that the coaches seemed to forget about Gore.

A word of advice: remember No. 21 this January - and, perhaps, February.

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How Reggie Wayne worked behind scenes in Colts' epic win

INDIANAPOLIS -- Reggie Wayne offered a sheepish smile when a reporter approached the injured, six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver inside a euphoric Indianapolis Colts locker room after Saturday's epic 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC wild-card game.

The 35-year-old who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 20, zipped up his backpack and politely answered a question before excusing himself.

He deferred the spotlight to Andrew Luck, record-setting receiver T.Y. Hilton and his teammates. Yet others cited Wayne's role as a vital motivational coach to Luck's young receivers, contributing with words the way he long has with yards and big catches during 13 seasons in Indianapolis.

"I'm proud of how those guys never wavered, kept making plays and just found a way to get it done," Wayne told USA TODAY Sports. "They just wanted to get this playoff win.

"Talk to them, boys, they deserve it."

It took Luck's unflinching playmaking and a lot of resolve for the Colts to roar back from a 38-10 deficit 1:21 into the third quarter to cement the second biggest comeback in postseason history.

Yet Luck couldn't have done it without Hilton, Wayne's second-year protege, posting a franchise-record 13 catches for 224 yards with two touchdowns, including the 64-yard game winner with 4:21 left.

Although it wasn't Wayne catching the passes, his impact was felt on the offense.

"Reggie's been on injured reserve, didn't necessarily have to be helpful or be around. But he spoke to the offense Friday night about his feelings and perspective on playoff football," backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "Reggie and T.Y. are very, very close. And T.Y. has had to step up to be that go-to guy for us.

"Having Reggie there to share some of that load has been very helpful."

Hilton, a third-round pick in 2012, had 82 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns this season as he helped fill the void left by Wayne. He has 24 catches for 379 yards the past two games as the Colts head into next weekend's divisional round riding a four-game win streak.

"I can't put a price tag on it," Pagano said during Sunday's conference call referencing Wayne's influence. "For him to come into this building day after day going through the circumstance that he went through … he spends more time here than anybody between rehabbing, going to meetings, staying with the offense, then mentoring those guys.

"It's meant the world to all of us, especially those young guys. They should be forever in debt to Reggie Wayne."

Wayne's injury ended his consecutive games streak at 189, the third longest for a receiver in league history. He has 1,006 catches for 13,566 yards for his career, and 92 receptions in the postseason for 1,242 yards.

Hilton's play Saturday was reminiscent of Wayne's, especially when he split safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps to track Luck's 64-yard winning strike with 4:21 left as Lucas Oil Stadium erupted in a raucous roar.

"He has helped me a lot," Hilton said of Wayne. "He helps all of us in the receiving group.

"We all came in and made big plays. One thing Reggie told us: 'When your number is called, make sure you're ready.' We all stepped up and made plays in our own special way."

Wayne has tutored a young receiving group of Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers on opposing defensive back tendencies. And he knows just when to provide a pep talk.

"One thing he told us before the game even started and at halftime, 'Hey, leave it out on the field,'" Hilton said. "That's what we all did. We're all dead tired right now."

And yet they never felt more elated.

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Jimmy Graham near unanimous All-Pro selection

NEW YORK (AP) -- Peyton Manning was the only unanimous choice for the 2013 Associated Press NFL All-Pro team Friday. It was his seventh time as a first-teamer, tying Hall of Famer Otto Graham for the most by a quarterback.

The Denver star set NFL records this season with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 yards through the air.

He was chosen on all 50 ballots from media members who regularly cover the NFL. Manning also was an All-Pro in 2003, `04, `05, `08, `09 and last season.

New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham and Indianapolis outside linebacker Robert Mathis each drew 49 votes. Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy and Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman had 48.

Manning and Graham do not hold the mark for most All-Pro appearances. Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, for example, was a 10-time All-Pro.

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Antrel Rolle named second team All-Pro

Antrel Rolle felt he got "screwed" out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he did earn a different honor. He was named a second team "All Pro."

The Giants’ 31-year-old safety was one of six safeties named to the second team of the Associated Press All-Pro team, which is voted on by a panel of 50 members of the national media. Rolle had a terrific season with career highs in sacks (two) and interceptions (six) and was one of the best players on a Giants defense that finished ranked eighth in the league.

Rolle was furious last month when he wasn’t one of six safeties – three strong safeties – selected to the Pro Bowl, especially since he was third in the fan balloting at his position. He was a second alternate, but he was beaten out for a guaranteed trip to Hawaii by Kansas City’s Eric Berry, Seattle’s Kam Chancellor and Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu.

The All-Pro team didn’t make a distinction between free and strong safeties. The two first-team All-Pro safeties were Berry and Seattle’s Earl Thomas, who made the Pro Bowl as a free safety. Rolle was joined on the second team by Chancellor and two other Pro Bowlers – Buffalo’s Jarius Byrd and San Diego’s Eric Weddle, who both will go as free safeties. The other second-team All-Pro safeties were Cleveland’s T.J. Ward and New Enland’s Devin McCourty.

Polamalu did not make the All-Pro team.

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Greg Olsen gives up his razor for good of the team

CHARLOTTE –– The playoffs haven’t begun for the Carolina Panthers, though the season has already taken a toll on tight end Greg Olsen.

Not the weekly pounding of a 16-game schedule — he is as healthy as any player can be at this point. Olsen also has playoff experience. He played in two playoff games for the Chicago Bears in 2010, so the extended season isn’t a shock to him.

But there has still been a change in lifestyle that has the seven-year NFL veteran wondering what each day will bring. His routine has been disrupted for weeks — and that is a suffocating feeling for a professional athlete, whether the change is big or small.

In Olsen’s case, it is because he hasn’t shaved in nearly three months.

“Beard living is not easy,” Olsen said late last week. “It’s unchartered waters for me.”

He leaned on a chair in front of his locker at Bank of America Stadium. His head was bowed as if weighed down by a long, sandy-brown anchor he tethered himself to weeks ago.

The beard has been his constant companion since a 22-6 loss to Arizona on Oct. 6, a defeat that dropped Carolina to 1-3. The Panthers rebounded to beat Minnesota the following week. And whether true or not, Olsen felt that season-changing victory could be directly linked to his sprouting facial hair. Not wanting to tempt his –– or, more importantly, the team’s –– fate, he decided the beard would remain so long as the Panthers were engulfed in good vibes.

A 12-4 regular season and a division title have Olsen scared to even look at a razor these days. It is quite a change for a traditionally clean-shaven guy. And it is a different adjustment than what the team as a whole recently endured.

Having secured a first-round bye, the Panthers had to allow the first round to play out before learning next Sunday’s opponent. That means no in-depth scouting reports or long film sessions focusing on a specific team.

Instead, the days since last week’s NFC South-clinching win at Atlanta have been devoted to internal issues. The Panthers have tried to fine-tune all phases of their game while rehashing things that were lost in translation since training camp. Carolina will return to its regular routine next week.

The way of the beard
Olsen, meanwhile, will continue to travel down a foreign highway. With the Panthers having won 11 of 12 games since the beard emerged, he really has no choice.

He has navigated his way with the help of savvy teammates familiar with the way of the beard. Helpful pointers have included aficionado basics such as how to properly trim the beard, manage tangles, etc.

There have also been tips on how to deal with otherwise simple, day-to-day tasks. Meals and a plan of attack often have to be considered well in advance in order to avoid embarrassment or complete disaster.

Olsen, to the chagrin of a few of his mentors, has gone his own way on occasion. He has chosen to trim the mustache more closely than the rest of the beard, giving it an off-balance appearance. Still, even the detractors of that particular style embraced it as an expression of creativity and individualism.

“It is a lifestyle,” center Ryan Kalil said. “There’s definitely a sense of respect for a guy with a beard. I think there’s science that guys with beards are more trustworthy. Abe Lincoln (is a good example). Shakespeare was big on beards, too.”

Those are solid examples. Fortunately for Olsen, his wife, Kara, has bought into the initiative, as well.

An understanding spouse
The possibility of a playoff beard, or any other sort of facial hair, was never mentioned before they were married five years ago. Olsen said that if it had been included in any sort of prenuptial agreement, then he would have to “break the promise.”

It was unclear whether he was talking about his marital vows or his pledge to do whatever is necessary to win a championship.

“She’s not crazy about it, but she understands what’s at stake,” Olsen said. “She’s a team player and gets it. This is strictly for team benefit.”
Having support at home is important.

It certainly makes it easier for Olsen to focus on the task at hand, that being the Panthers’ first playoff game since 2008. And the beard will grow with each win — along with Carolina’s chances of advancing to the Super Bowl.

The end will eventually come for both, however. The beard will vanish either with a Panthers championship or an early playoff exit.

“It’s not an offseason commitment, it’s simply an in-season commitment,” Olsen said. “I don’t know if I could live my whole life with this beard.”

Olsen says that now.

But what if the beard delivers a Super Bowl title? He might want to consult with Kara as to if shaving would jinx next season before it even begins.

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Ravens Missed Ray Lewis, Ed Reed

Just last week, Head Coach John Harbaugh saw cornerback Chykie Brown listening to a Ray Lewis speech on his iPhone.

“I’m just trying to get fired up, coach,” Brown said.

A lot of the chatter before the season was about how the Ravens were moving on from two organizational institutions and locker room leaders, Lewis and Ed Reed.

After the season ended, Harbaugh was asked whether it really was an issue not having their leadership.

“I missed them, personally, and I think our guys missed them,” Harbaugh said, before citing the Brown anecdote. "So, Ray Lewis lives.

“You’re always going to miss guys. I think those guys are doing their thing now and doing real well at it, and they’re always a part of us going forward. They’re good friends; we miss them.”

Reed played for the Houston Texans, where he struggled on the field and clashed with coaching staff, and then the New York Jets, where he played well with three interceptions in six games.

Lewis became an analyst on Monday Night Football and other ESPN programming.

The Ravens, meanwhile, found other sources of leadership – both old and new.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata became a stronger voice and leader by example. Fullback Vonta Leach was relied on for leadership on offense, as well as guard Marshal Yanda, wide receiver Torrey Smith and quarterback Joe Flacco.

Safety James Ihedigbo stepped up in the secondary, and defensive end Chris Canty and linebacker Daryl Smith both became highly-respected veterans amongst their teammates.

The Ravens had leadership. They just didn’t wear No. 52 and No. 20.

But Lewis and Reed were still missed around Baltimore.

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PHOTO: A-Rod, Manny Machado and Yonder Alonso hangin’ at the Jay-Z show


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Aubrey Huff has officially retired from Major League Baseball

Aubrey Huff has officially announced his retirement from baseball, ending a 13-year Major League career, reports Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish.

“I’m officially done. I have no desire to play anymore,” Huff said over the phone on Saturday. “That has come and gone. I couldn’t even imagine picking up a bat and trying to get ready for the whole grind of a baseball season anymore. I’m enjoying this way too much, just hanging out.”

Huff already has a new job lined up, as he will be a broadcaster with the Pac-12 network starting next month.

Huff was drafted by the Devil Rays in the fifth round of the 1998 draft and spent seven seasons in the big leagues with them. Over the rest of his career, he would play with the Astros, Orioles, Tigers, and Giants. He was a big part of the 2010 World Series champion Giants, posting an .891 OPS during the regular season with a few multi-hit games during the post-season. Perhaps his most important contribution to that team, though, was the inception of the “red rally thong“. He won a second ring as part of the 2012 Giants as well, but his role and contributions were reduced, as he was 35 years old.

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Shane Larkin learning on the run

DALLAS — That cushion afforded most players when they enter the NBA hasn’t applied to Shane Larkin.

That’s because the rookie point guard from Miami fractured his right ankle on the day the Mavs were slated to leave for Las Vegas to play in the summer league.

In addition to missing summer league play, after surgery Larkin also missed the Mavs’ training camp, the eight preseason games and the first 10 games of the regular season.

“That put me a little bit behind, but I’m catching on, making my reads here and there,” Larkin said. “The best thing about summer league and the preseason is that’s when you get to go out there and you just get to play and make your mistakes and get all of your mistakes out of the way and just learn, and learn by playing.”

Larkin is averaging 3.0 points and 1.8 assists in 12.6 minutes per game while splitting backup playing time behind Jose Calderon and rookie Gal Mekel.

Coach Rick Carlisle likes the effort and speed that Larkin has given, but admits that catching up has been difficult.

“How do you make up for four months of NBA activity and eight exhibition games and five or six summer league games?” Carlisle asked. “But all things considered he’s made great progress, he’s working hard.”

What Larkin would like to do on a regular basis is get in the lane and create havoc.

He was able to do some of that Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers when he scored six of his eight points in the fourth quarter.

“A big part of my game is getting into the lane and creating for others,” Larkin said. “It’s just that I haven’t had the opportunity to make the mistakes to get them out of the way.

“Coach has given me the opportunity by playing me and telling me to get into the lane. But it’s just I know that I don’t want to go in there and mess up and maybe be pulled, and maybe not.”

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Sprinter Lauryn Williams switches to the bobsled

Lauryn Williams left Pittsburgh a dozen years ago for the University of Miami's elite track and field program and never looked back, making her home in sunny South Florida, where she set her sights on becoming an Olympic champion.

It was nothing against Western Pennsylvania. She held a special place in her heart for her hometown of Rochester, but Miami was a natural fit for a world-class sprinter. She could train outside 365 days a year -- give or take a hurricane warning or two -- without fear of even a regular old cold front blowing through.

So to catch a glimpse of her Monday afternoon, bundled up in a red jacket in the lobby of a hotel in Winterberg, Germany, streaming live from her iPhone's FaceTime app, it was hard not to share an irony-laced chuckle with Ms. Williams.

Another chapter has begun, and if you know the heroine of this story, no plot turn should come as a surprise. Lauryn Williams, bobsledder. What, did you think that she was just going to retire from track and field and quietly disappear, toil away at a day job, find a husband, start a family? Ms. Williams, 30, is an adventure seeker, and this latest quest, to make the U.S. Olympic bobsled team for next month's Sochi Winter Games, is rich with intrigue. Never mind the idea of her competing in sub-zero temperatures wearing nothing but a spandex suit, asking for her trademark dreadlocks to freeze over.

"I've done a lot of channeling my inner childhood," Ms. Williams said, laughing. "I've been spoiled in Florida. The last race was -17 degrees. The high that day was 5. There was no indoor facility to warm up in. It was quite different."

What isn't different is the deep reservoir of competitive hunger that dwells within Ms. Williams, who won a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Games in the 100-meter dash, followed by a fourth-place finish in the 2008 Beijing Games. She took the 2010 season off, did some soul searching, then returned to the track in time to qualify for the 2012 London Games as an alternate. She was one of four runners who blew away the field in the semifinals of the 100-meter relay and brought home her first gold medal, even though she didn't run in the final.

After London, Ms. Williams knew that her days as a track star were numbered. An injury in the summer of 2013 forced her to retire, at peace with an illustrious career that many would not have predicted based on her 5-foot-3 frame. But Ms. Williams' legs could churn faster than most others in the world. Where would they take her now?

One day, she was at the airport and ran into Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, who made her move to the bobsled in 2012. Ms. Jones told Ms. Williams about the "brakeman" spot in the two-woman tandem. Brakemen need to be able to run fast and generate enough power to give the driver an edge. Ms. Williams figured, why not?

She showed up at the U.S. National Push Championships in July in Calgary, one of 22 women with varying degrees of experience. With a bum leg and only one training session, she finished third. Soon, she'd have her first actual bobsled experience.

"I compare it to a roller coaster," Ms. Williams said. "Multiply it times 10, take the seat belts out, and yeah, that's bobsled."

Ms. Williams likes roller coasters (she went to Kennywood every year growing up, but admits that her favorite coasters were at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio). As thrilling as each bobsled run is for her, she seems to have it under control. In her first two World Cup races in December, she and her driver finished with silver.

There are three World Cup races left -- this weekend in Winterberg, next weekend in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the next in Igls, Austria -- before the Olympic team will be announced on Jan. 19. There are six brakemen left who are competing for three spots. The selection will be made based on finishes down the stretch and overall chemistry with the drivers.

In a short time, Ms. Williams has proven herself to be a legitimate contender for Sochi, and, unexpectedly, her lifelong Olympic dream has been extended -- albeit into colder territory.

"I'm not surprised, because I know how I work under pressure," Ms. Williams said. "For this, someone else is depending on you. It's just like a relay. Your performance makes a difference for their performance. I think I've done really well because I know the driver is counting on me."

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