All Canes Radio With Gerard Daphnis

Every Thursday Night joins All Canes Radio to bring the latest news on not only current Hurricane football but also proCane news and exclusive interviews with current and former proCanes live from the All Canes Store in Coral Gables. Click here to listen to this week’s show and hear our exclusive interview with proCane Gerard Daphnis. Gerard talks about his foundation Canes4Life, his expectations of the Hurricanes in 2012, his relationship with Warren Sapp, his days as a Hurricane and much more!

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Olivier Vernon Visits Steelers

Three collegiate LBs visited the Steelers on Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported: California ILB Mychal Kendricks, Virginia OLB Cameron Johnson and Miami (Fla.) OLG Olivier Vernon. The Steelers parted ways with defensive captain and longtime ILB James Farrior early in the offseason, so they may well look for help inside.

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Warren Sapp speaks out on bankruptcy filing

Warren speaks.

The voice is the same, a low growl that can turn blunt and pointed over the length of a conversation, punctuated by short bursts of laughter. It is the same sound you heard in the good times, and now that bad times have hit, it has not changed.

Warren Sapp still sounds like Warren Sapp.

Despite his financial problems, despite the headlines about bankruptcy filing, despite all the jokes about 240 pairs of sneakers and a large painting of a naked woman in his bedroom, Sapp still sounded positive Thursday as he attempted to explain his troubles in detail for the first time in a phone call to the Tampa Bay Times.

"Do you think I wanted to declare bankruptcy?'' Sapp said. "Do you think if there was any other way possible I would have done it? It was either this or go to jail. Those were my choices.''

In the days since Sapp, 39, filed for bankruptcy with $6.7 million worth of debt, he has once again become a polarizing figure in Tampa Bay. Sapp was a great player as the Bucs turned from one of the worst franchises in the NFL to one of the best, but a lot of people seem to remember a lot of stories about how rude he could be in public.

I wrote a column about Sapp in Tuesday's paper, and the email still hasn't eased. To be honest, there doesn't appear to be a great deal of sympathy for Sapp. Imagine the same financial troubles falling on another Buc, such as Derrick Brooks or Mike Alstott or Warrick Dunn, and more fans might try to feel their pain. Not so much with Sapp.

The trouble started, he said, with the wrong construction deal at the wrong time. By the time it went bad, most of Sapp's money was gone.

The idea was to build low-income housing in Fort Pierce in 2005. Sapp said the original agreement was the houses would not be built until a buyer had been approved for a mortgage, but one of his partners approved the construction of three houses so there would be something to market. But 2005 was not a good time for real estate, and the houses went unsold.

"It didn't go well,'' said Sapp, who has a condo in Hollywood, Fla. "At the end of the day, we owed them a million dollars, and the two numb- - - - put their heads in the sand. They went after me.''

Because of the debt, Sapp's earnings from the NFL Network — 100 percent, he said — were garnished for 11 months. That meant his bills went unpaid, causing the debt spiral that led to his Chapter 7 filing.

"You tell me what to do,'' Sapp said. "Do you keep working without a check? If you don't pay your child support, you go to jail. This wasn't something I wanted to do. This was something I had to do.''

Sapp said his financial situation has left him a little embarrassed but not distraught. After all, the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle estimates he made a gross of "about $60 million'' during his playing days.

"When you live like I do,'' he said, "you know where you are and what you have to do. I'm not at war with me. I promise you this. I will never go to jail.''

After Sapp's legal documents were released, there has been a lot of laughter and a lot of comments about his list of assets. Skeptics have wondered about his missing Super Bowl ring he earned with the Bucs in 2002.

"Is it so unbelievable that I misplaced my ring?'' said Sapp, a first-round pick out of Miami in 1995. "I wore it for 365 days, and we had a 7-9 season (in Tampa Bay in 2003) and I went to Oakland and I took it off. You never saw me with it anywhere. The only time I brought it out was when the NFL Network wanted us to wear it.

"We were at the Super Bowl, and I thought I handed it to someone, and he said I didn't. I checked my luggage to see if it was in a side pocket. I checked my suit to see if I put it somewhere. What was I going to do? Yell and scream because I lost a ring? That ring didn't make me a champion. Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith. That crew made me a champion.

"In my life, has anyone called me a liar? Why would I start now? Someone told me something that John Adams supposedly said. Facts are stubborn. I like facts.''

Sapp said he finds it funny that most reports of his assets mention the nude woman in the painting of his bedroom wall.

"I'm not an interior decorator,'' Sapp said. "Some designer put that on the wall, and I liked it. It's in my bedroom. By the time a woman gets there, she might be naked, too.''

He laughs, then the conversation turns to the lion-skin rug at the foot of his bed.

"It isn't as if I shot him,'' Sapp said, laughing. "I didn't go and get him. I just like the rug. I have a zebra skin rug, too, but I shot that one.''

As for the 240 pairs of Nike Airs?

"I didn't know I had that many,'' Sapp said. "I've said for years, if you wear size 15, I have some shoes to donate. I've been with Team Nike for a long time. I didn't pay for most of those.''

For the record, now that his NFL career is over, Sapp said he has moved for a reduction of child support payments. He said he "doesn't know'' if he will be retained by the NFL Network as an analyst. As far as Bucs' memorabilia, he said his ex-wife Jamiko has the jersey he wore in Super Bowl XXXVII and from one of his Pro Bowls.

"They can fight her for them,'' he said, "but I don't think she'll give them up. They can have it all, man. I put myself in this position.''

Despite the debt, despite the criticism, Sapp said he is positive.

"This is just another situation I have to get myself out of,'' he said. "I grew up without cable and without air conditioning. Things aren't that bad yet.

"This isn't as tough a situation as when I came out of college, and there were reports of seven positive drug tests, and I was a 21-year-old man. I was coming to the worst franchise in pro football, and Sam Wyche was running a five-ring circus, and my teammates were calling me 'super-rook' because they didn't want me here. You stick a diamond in a pile of s- - - and it's still a diamond.

"If there is air in my lungs, I'll find a way.''

Do you believe him? Do you doubt him? Are you disappointed in him? Amused by his situation?

Throughout Sapp's career, it has always been the same.

Even now, broke but unbroken, he seems to do the same.

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Lamar Miller Ranked 5th Best RB in Draft

5. Lamar Miller, Miami, 5-10, 212: He has all-around running skills and can gain yards between the tackles or on the outside. Miller's speed is enticing, but he doesn't always hit the hole hard. He has decent hands. Miller was a one-year starter, left college early and is not a finished product. He probably will need some time to develop. At the least, he should be a good kick returner as a rookie.

See the rest of the rankings here

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Sean Spence talks NFL combine, draft

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Breaking sports news video. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL highlights and more.

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Trial of accused Sean Taylor slayer postponed indefinitely

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MIAMI -- The trial of the man accused of shooting Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor more than four years ago was postponed indefinitely Thursday morning when Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Murphy scheduled another hearing for July 12.

The trial had been scheduled to begin Monday. Thursday’s decision was the sixth postponement of the trial.

The attorney for Eric Rivera, 22, who police say pulled the trigger in a botched November, 2007 burglary that left Taylor with a mortal wound in his leg, asked for additional time to prepare because he has been on the case only a month.

The attorney, Judd Aronowitz, requested a trial date in October or November, but prosecutor Reid Rubin said he wouldn’t be able to commit to a specific date until mid-summer because of an unsettled schedule.

“My schedule might be a little clearer by July or August,” Rubin told Murphy.

A new date will be discussed at the July hearing, Murphy said.

Rivera and three other men from Fort Myers, Fla., face felony murder and armed burglary charges in connection with Taylor’s death a day after he confronted them in his South Miami home in the wee hours of the morning. All face life in prison. Rivera will be tried first. Three of the defendants, Rivera; Jason Scott Mitchell, 24; and Timmy Lee Brown, 22, were present in court.

A fifth defendant, Venjah Hunte, 24, pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against the others. All five of the men remain incarcerated.
A gag order in the case prevents the attorneys involved from commenting.

The trial has been repeatedly postponed since the first date was set for April, 2008. Rivera fired his previous attorney, Clinton Pitts of Miami, just a month ago despite a warning from Murphy that the trial date would not be moved again.

Richard Sharpstein, a Miami attorney and family friend, said a typical murder case in Miami-Dade County might take one to three years to get to trial, but rarely more.

“This has been an excruciating ordeal for the family,” Sharpstein said during a recent interview. “This case has taken far more time than it should have to be prosecuted. I certainly don’t think the prosecutors have been dragging their feet, but a ridiculous merry-go-round of lawyers and a multitude of [questionable] decisions by the defendants have made it ridiculous and absurd.”

Each trial could last three weeks, especially if jury selection proves challenging, according to local attorneys who declined to be named because of the gag order.

Murphy decided early on that he would not have the case moved to another locale.

The Pro Bowl safety, who grew up in Miami and attended the University of Miami, had been rehabilitating from a knee injury when he visited his Miami home over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2007. Police say the defendants expected the house to be unoccupied when they broke in after 1 a.m. on November 26.

Mitchell had spent four days at the house about two months before the alleged break-in, helping prepare for the 21st birthday party of Taylor’s half-sister, Sasha Johnson. Taylor paid him $300 for mowing his lawn and other services, according to interviews.

Taylor “was literally revered in the community,” Sharpstein said. “He was a local young man who made good.”

Taylor’s girlfriend, high school sweetheart Jackie Garcia, was in the couple’s bedroom with their baby daughter, Jackie, then 18 months, when Taylor grabbed a machete and went to investigate loud noises in the house, she told police. He died a day after sustaining a gunshot wound to his femoral artery.

Jackie Garcia is a niece of actor Andy Garcia.

“Of course they want to see justice for their deceased,” Sharpstein said. “Victims of violent crime are indelibly tattooed for the rest of their life. Nothing can salve their pain.”

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Hall of Fame presenter laments Sapp’s recent off-field issues

Whenever we suggest that the sportswriters and broadcasters with the keys to the Hall of Fame consider as part of their deliberations factors such as off-field behavior and/or whether and to what extent the candidate was a jerk, one of the voters inevitably will claim that “no one has ever said ‘I’m not voting for [insert name of player who may be a jerk] because he was a jerk,’” and we inevitably will respond by saying, “No one is dumb enough to admit to it, but it remains an unspoken factor.”

Reinforcing our theory is Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune, a Hall of Fame voter who’ll be charged with the task of convincing enough of his colleagues to give a thumb’s up to former Buccaneers and Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp in February 2013.  As Kaufman recently explained on WHBO-AM radio (via, he’s concerned that recent controversies regarding Sapp will make it harder to make the case for induction.

“He’s killin’ me.  He’s killin’ me,” Kaufman said of Sapp.  “And by that I mean that in nine months it’s going my pleasure, my privilege to present the case for No. 99 in front of the Hall of Fame panel.  Forty-four people are going to be looking at him.  I have very powerful ammo to get this man in, I believe, based on the merits of what he did on the football field.

“But you’re right.  Some of those people in that room are looking for a reason to vote ‘no’ on this guy based on the way he treated them.  We don’t need anymore ammo.  We don’t need him getting fired from NFL Network, which could happen.  We don’t need the bankruptcy.  We don’t need him getting him in trouble with Jeremy Shockey.  Whether it’s true or not, he shouldn’t have said it.  All these ancillary things are not helping my case.  So from a very selfish and personal point of view, he’s killin’ me.”

It’s no secret that Sapp has few fans in the media.  At times, he can be very engaging and charming.  At other times, well, he can be neither engaging nor charming, to say the least.

But according to the voters who don’t want to see the voting process change, none of those extraneous issues even enter the thought processes of the folks who determine who does and who doesn’t get in.

Kaufman’s candid comments should forever put to rest the idea that the voters consider only on-field football feats.  The human beings who have to come up with a pass/fail assessment for each candidate are influenced by the factors that typically influence human beings.  And even if they know they shouldn’t consider the way Sapp treated them or Sapp’s comments about Shockey or the fact that Sapp filed bankruptcy or his claim (which some in the media find dubious) that he has lost a Super Bowl ring that otherwise would have been sold to pay off his debts or his ownership of a “Large Nude women painting,” at some level those thoughts are going to creep into their brains.

Of course, if the folks who determine who gets in to the Hall of Fame would like to try to prove Kaufman wrong, they can put Sapp through on the first ballot.  But that won’t change the fact that, regardless of what the Hall of Fame’s bylaws say, the voters can’t limit their focus to the space between the white lines.  Maybe the only way to fix this flaw is to change the rules so that they don’t have to try.

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Vince Wilfork big on Patriots this year

Nearly a month into free agency, quite a few AFC teams have been making moves with thoughts and hopes of taking down the Patriots [team stats].
Hearing that notion, Pro Bowl defensive lineman Vince Wilfork [stats] began chuckling.

“You know what? That’s fine with me,” Wilfork said yesterday. “We want to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and hopefully it’s good enough. We’re all starting from the same point once again. We start all over this year. Hopefully, we can finish it off right.”

t’s April, and this is a particular time of year Wilfork enjoys. The Bruins [team stats] began their playoff march last night. The Celtics [team stats] are closing in on the postseason. The Red Sox [team stats] play their home opener at Fenway Park [map] today. As a sports fan, it’s all good for Big Vince.

The Pats? Between March and April, teams retool and reload for the upcoming season. The NFL draft is at the end of the month, and Wilfork will be holding his annual draft party and fund-raiser at Pinz in Milford to benefit diabetes research.

Reached by phone yesterday, Wilfork, who has been relatively silent since the Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, talked about moving past that crushing defeat in February, and also being encouraged by what coach Bill Belichick has built over the past few years.

“It is what it is,” Wilfork said of losing the Super Bowl. “I’m not one to sit back and dwell over wins or losses. That’s just something I don’t do. Life is too short. It doesn’t matter how great I played, or how crappy I played. Right now, I’m getting ready for next year. Last year don’t matter. That’s the approach. I attack each day like that.”

That being said, Wilfork, who logged more snaps than he had in any previous season, is looking forward to the coming year. He believes the team will be fine, and that confidence is there because the foundation is sound.

“Each year this team is getting better and better. That’s what we want to do. We have a great group of guys in this locker room. And they love football,” Wilfork said. “They have a passion for football. And you can win with that. You can win with people like that, and that’s what we have in this locker room. We have a bunch of guys that love one another, they play for one another. You have to have that to be successful at this level.”

Well, the Buffalo Bills look like they’re trying to be successful by building a defense around superstar Mario Williams, as they signed the free agent lineman last month.

The New York Jets [team stats]’ idea of success is lighting a fire under quarterback Mark Sanchez by trading for Tim Tebow after the Denver Broncos signed Peyton Manning.

Belichick hasn’t been quite as dramatic. While he’s inked a ton of free agents, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd stands as the most prominent of the lot. For the most part, Belichick has brought in more than a dozen depth pieces.

“Whoever they bring in, they feel can help this ballclub win. That’s what it’s all about,” Wilfork said. “Bill, all those guys, they make the decisions, who comes in, who leaves. If they think they have someone that can help us win games, guess what, we’re going to go that route. If it don’t work out, it don’t work out. I’m just happy to be on this side with these coaches and this organization and the people who make the decisions because they’re proven. They’ve proven they can go out and grab guys, guys people never heard of, or guys who have a different role somewhere else, and come here and be successful.

“I know Bill knows what he’s doing. I don’t get caught up into why he’s bringing so and so in. I don’t think he would jeopardize this franchise or this organization by bringing in someone that’s a flat-out knucklehead.”

Wilfork believes the secret is having everyone on the same page, and that’s what the Pats had last season on the road to the Super Bowl.

“If you can get that, you’ll be successful. And we’ve had that over the years,” he said. “I’m very blessed going through college and pros, I’ve had a very good winning percentage. I can’t complain. But the one thing is that group of guys. Everybody gives everything up to win. That’s one thing that’s been similar. You have to have that group of guys that has that fight in them. If you don’t have that, you have a problem.”

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Calais Campbell not to expected to be at workouts

Arizona Cardinals franchise free-agent DE Calais Campbell is not expected to be present for the start of offseason workouts because he has not signed his tender offer or agreed to a long-term contract.

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Devin Hester's future in Chicago

Not to look too far ahead—there’s still an entire season left to play—but one point of concern that I have heard from Bears fans has to do with Devin Hester’s contract situation. (If it’s not one contract situation, it’s another, right?) Also of concern: his role on offense and special teams.

Let’s look at both . . .

Contract situation

No, Hester’s not looking for more money (at least not yet), but one quick look at his 2013 salary might be cause for concern. In 2013, Hester’s base salary will be $1,857,523, coupled with a $10,000,000 roster bonus. Yes, I said $10M. But that’s just at first glance.

The good news is that $10M bonus is “de-escalating.” Which means—in Hester’s case—it’s performance based. If he fails to live up to the performance goals, the bonus de-escalates.

When the contract was initially signed, the large bonus was contingent on Hester’s numbers at wide receiver being consistent with a No. 1. Don’t worry, the numbers aren’t even close. Exactly what those performance goals are, I don’t know, but you can bet they’re spelled out.

Given Hester’s salary and cap figure this season ($2,729,333), I’d guess (and keep in mind, this is only a guess), that his bonus in 2013 may de-escalate by as much as 90%. Meaning, that $10M now looks closer to $1M; putting Hester’s 2013 cap figure somewhere around $2.9M.

That could change drastically (always keep that in mind). But the point is that the Bears can probably live with his 2013 salary, although, Hester will be looking for extended paper next season.

Role on offense and special teams

When new GM Phil Emery brought in Pro Bowl kick returner Eric Weems, fans immediately speculated on Hester’s future. But Emery quickly squashed the idea that Weems was a Hester “replacement,” saying he was, instead, a Hester “supplement.”

“The Bears have a very strong tradition of having multiple returners and having more than one weapon as a punt and kick returner,” Emery said. In the wake of Johnny Knox’s career threatening injury, the Weems move had more to do with that than it did Hester. Weems can also play WR, and while he’s expected to, he won’t have a big role on offense.

But then the Bears added WR Devin Thomas to the mix, another strong return-man. When one plays connect-the-dots with the whole puzzle (new returners, high cap figure, Brandon Marshall compliment, etc.), it starts to look as if the Bears—yet again—intend to showcase Hester on offense . . .despite his underperformance at the position.

It’s even possible that, despite the extension they gave Earl Bennett last season, Hester could be their initial No. 2 in 2012. Bennett’s cap number this season is a full million dollars under Devin’s ($1,600,000), and while Hester is pulling double-duty, they’d like to pull the extra receiver value out of the receiver-esque contract they gave Hester in 2008.

For those who wonder what might be the best way to utilize Hester on offense, Matt Bowen of the National Football Post offered a great perspective on how the Bears could do just that this week.

But don’t fret, big offensive role or not, Hester will still handle duties as full-time punt returner. 

But wide receiver or not (so far it appears not), Hester is an incredible asset to the Chicago Bears. The mere threat imposed by his presence has helped the Bears win football games. So, in the spirit of that, and just for fun, here are some cool Hester stats I put together for you. And also, his complete return for touchdown list: 

Devin Hester has at least one return for touchdown against 12 of the existing 32 NFL teams (that’s 37.5%). More than a third of the League understands the Hester factor first-hand.
The Chicago Bears win, statistically, 76.5% of games in which Hester has a return for touchdown.
The Chicago Bears have won 17 total games in which Hester had a return for touchdown through four separate seasons (’06, ’07, ’10, and ’11). Broken down evenly, that’s 25% of their games each season.
The Chicago Bears have won four games as a direct result of a Devin Hester return for touchdown. Through every season in which he had scored one, that’s one win per season squarely on Hester’s shoulders.
No team has allowed more Hester returns for touchdowns than the Minnesota Vikings (4). There’s one division opponent who will never purposely kick to Hester again. They have two each against the Lions and Packers.
The only teams to have allowed more than one Hester return for touchdown outside the NFC North are the Denver Broncos (which both came in the same game in 2007, against the infamous Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall duo) and the St. Louis Rams (which both came in the same game in 2006).

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Future WNBA proCane Riquna Williams Q&A

This week we will be posting Q&As with some of the nation's top prospects so they can introduce themselves to WNBA fans.

Riquna Williams just finished her career at Miami. In four years with the Hurricanes, Williams averaged over 17 points a game, which pushed her over the 2,000-point plateau. Williams teamed up with fellow draft prospect Shenise Johnson to form one of the most formidable duos is Miami history. She was named a Third-Team All-American her senior year.

Check out Riquna's prospect profile.

One of your teammates, Shenise Johnson, is also expected to be a coveted draft prospect. Can you talk about what it’s like to play with someone of her talents?
Playing with Shenise Johnson was a great experience. Every day we made each other better. Her ability to rebound and defend is what made her better than all of the other guards around us.   

There’s a chance both you and Shenise will be first round picks.Can you talk about what that means for the Miami program that is often overshadowed in the ACC? For Miami this means history. Shenise and I have really put in a lot of work to become possible first-round picks. 

What will you tell teams if they ask you about not traveling with the team for the NCAA Tournament this season? 
I will tell teams that I am grateful for the opportunity that Katie Meier and the University of Miami have given me, even though I was unable to travel with the team, they still gave me the opportunity to showcase my talent at a high level which has put me in a great position.

What strengths, qualities or skills will be able to bring to a WNBA team?
My quickness and ability to be a leader, my drive and passion for the game, and wanting to get better every day and helping push my teammates in the same way. I know that in the WNBA that everyone pretty much has the same aspirations as one another and I’m just going to work my tail off every day.

What do you expect to be some of the biggest challenges or adjustments at the next level? Having to consistently run the point guard position because I have never ran the point consistently.

What specific skills do you need to work on in order to succeed at this level?
What I have been working on is finishing on the left side. I know I need to work on my shooting percentages from inside and out.

When were you introduced to the game of basketball? When I was 8 years old was when I was introduced to the game of basketball.

When did you know you wanted to be a professional basketball player? And, given that dream, when did you realize that you had a legitimate shot of doing so? My freshman year in college was when I knew that I wanted to be a professional basketball player. My sophomore year when I started getting attention from the media and we made it to the WNIT was when I realized I had a legitimate shot of doing so.

What do you think it will feel like when your name first gets called and who will you share the moment with?
I feel like I am going to be very emotional and I am going to share the moment with my agent Sharon Creer and my high school coach Anthony Whitfield.

Once you get settled in a new team, do you have any first-year goals in mind? 
My number one goal is to build relationships with my teammates and the coaching staff.

What WNBA players are you most looking forward to playing against or meeting? I’m most looking forward to meeting Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, and Candace Parker.

What is your best on-court moment? Playing and beating Maryland at Miami last season.

Tell your new fans something that most people do not know about you? I love to color.

How would you describe yourself? Shy.

What’s your favorite movie? What type of music do you listen to? Any particular artists that you listen to prior to a game? My favorite movie is any Tyler Perry movie. I love R&B music.

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Guillermo Diaz scores 17 points to lead Armia

proCane guard Guillermo Diaz scored 17 points to help lead Armia to their 89 - 69 win over Sokhumi on Friday in the Georgian Basketball League.

Diaz played a solid game, contributing to his teams win by hitting 6 of 11 shot attempts (1/6 from three-point range and 2/2 from the free-throw line) finishing with 17 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist and 2 steals in 29 minutes. The victory enabled Armia to remain undefeated and in first place with a 19 - 0 record.

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Jemile Weeks Hangs Out, Takes Questions From Fans

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Pat Burrell to retire as a Phillie

Philadelphia, PA –  The Philadelphia Phillies announced on Thursday that outfielder Pat Burrell will retire as a member of the organization.

The 35-year-old will sign a one-day minor league contract with the Phillies and will be honored in May. Burrell will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Philadelphia's game against the Red Sox on May 19.

Burrell was the first overall draft pick by the Phillies in 1998. He played in Philly for nine seasons and ranks fourth in club history in home runs (251), eighth in RBI (827) and ninth in extra-base hits (518).

To cap off his Phillies career, Burrell helped the team win a World Series championship in 2008.

Burrell spent the last three seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays and San Francisco Giants, winning another World Series with the Giants in 2010.

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Ryan Braun hears the critics but gets last laugh

CHICAGO — Ryan Braun can thank ESPN later.

Because the network had the game moved to 6:05 p.m. from its original start an hour later, Wrigley Field was about half full Monday night when the Brewers slugger came to bat in the top of the first.

From my perch in the left-field bleachers, overrated as one of the black holes of baseball, the reaction was positively . . . benign.

The booing, predicted to cause tidal action a few blocks away on Lake Michigan for Braun’s first road game, was loud at times. But mostly it was sort of like former Cub Tyler Colvin’s swing last year. Kind of weak.

I couldn’t see some of the signs being held aloft near center, so an usher closer to the small protest faction filled us in on some of the words.

"Cheater," he said. "Nothing too clever."

How Chicago . . . straight up, nothing embellished.

By the less-than-over-the-top reaction, Braun has far, far less of a public-relations problem than Ozzie Guillen, the former south-side manager who has whipped up some kind of a political firestorm in south Florida.

Then, somebody in the bleachers sort of surprised me. "Testoster-Braun," he chanted a time or two. That got a couple of chuckles from a handful of hecklers who weren’t busy socializing, but they were soon drowned out by four Brewers fans who got the "MVP" thing going.

Braun doubled, and the bleacher creatures went back to their beer.

So, I’m thinking, the negative vibe has to pick up for Aramis Ramirez, the former Cub, right?

Actually, there was a smattering of . . . applause.

I get the whole Wrigley scene, generally more about in-stand schmoozing than the on-field proceedings. I also understand that the Brewers are not No. 1 on the Cubs’ public-enemy list. But this was Braun’s first appearance outside the warm embrace of Miller Park following his acquittal on the positive drug test.

Then Braun took his position in left. From out there in the bleachers, it’s easy to see how lonely the position can be. His closest human contact was Cubs fans, and beyond a few "cheater" catcalls and a solitary one-finger salute, they pretty much left the guy alone until the crowd began filling in.
"The crowd is always going to be on him," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "That’s because he’s a great player."

After Braun picked up a hot-dog wrapper and stuck it in his back pocket, he turned to face the crowd for a second and flashed something approaching a smile.

"MVP, MVP," the four Brewers fans responded to Braun’s brief recognition of the crowd. To that, a Cubs fan asked the Brewers contingent if professional basketball were played in Milwaukee anymore. Apparently, the verbal arsenal from the bleachers had been exhausted, so I moved to behind the Brewers’ dugout to assess the up-close-and-personal reaction.

Braun was on-deck in the top of the third as the ancient stadium began to fill with people who were either unaware of the early start time or just had a really hard time reaching the corner of Addison and Clark, an intersection that is maddening to access even in off-peak traffic.

Still, Braun was not verbally assaulted with anything approaching a zealot’s enthusiasm. The boos were much more audible because many of the crowd of 38,136 had settled into their seats, but it was far from the level that would cause a mentally tough guy like Braun to glance over his shoulder.

"MVP, MVP," four or five Brewers fans from behind the backstop screen chanted as Braun walked and then stole second.

"Being the kind of player he is, he’s always going to get some razzing by the fans," said Brewers closer John Axford, who finished the too-close-for-comfort victory against the Cubs. "That’s just the way it is. But here, it’s always going to be a little different."

Different, but not that bad, as it turned out.

"I have no expectations at all," Braun said afterward. "It’s all about the team."

He got in the last word Monday.

He struck out in the top of the ninth and what was left of the Wrigley crowd cheered, but by then it was too late. The Brewers won, 7-5, and Braun is batting .375 after four games.

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Sean Spence Visits St. Louis Rams

Add another name to list of players coming to Rams Park prior to the draft. Miami, that's "The U" to you, linebacker Sean Spence visited the St. Louis Rams on Tuesday, according to Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch.

The Rams could certainly use another linebacker, for sheer numbers alone.

Spence looks like a third-round pick, and a natural fit for the weakside position.

According to his scouting report from CBS, his best asset is his natural read and react ability. The Rams linebacker have really lacked that core competency on the outside since losing Will Witherspoon. It's a big part of the reason they were beaten so easily on options and play action.

At 5'11" 231 lbs, size is not his strength. He makes up for that with the abilities mentioned above. He made 317 tackles during his career at Miami. His leadership qualities add to a strong bunch of intangibles on his resume. Coaches would not have to teach him how to play the game, instead focusing on getting him ready for NFL competition.

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Sean Taylor Draw Something Image


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David Wilson a better prospect than Lamar Miller?

On NFL Network's Path to the Draft Wednesday, Mike Mayock, Charley Casserly, and Mike Lombardi all agreed that Miami's Lamar Miller is an inferior running back prospect to Virginia Tech's David Wilson.
"If you put the Miami tape on, Miller doesn't show up on third down, short yardage, or goal line," observed Mayock. Lombardi also pointed to Miller's inability to pass protect as a reason he shouldn't go particularly high in the draft. Lombardi and Mayock, meanwhile, praised Wilson's pass-protection skills. An inability to pick up the blitz can keep backs off the field early in their careers.

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Bryant McKinnie Owes $4 Million For a Lockout Loan

Baltimore Ravens lineman Bryant McKinnie took a HUGE gamble on the eve on the 2011 NFL lockout ... but his gamble didn't pay off ... and now he's gotta come up with $4 million QUICK ... or else.

Back when McKinnie was a member of the Minnesota Vikings ... dude must have had a feeling a lockout was on the horizon ... because in February 2011, he took out a $4 million personal loan with Pro Player Funding ... which specialized in "lockout loans" for NFL guys looking to cover their asses during the impending pay freeze.

According to court docs obtained by TMZ ... the loan was VERY high risk ... with high interest rates and a clause that allowed PPF to call in the entire amount due if Bryant missed ONE payment.

And that's exactly what happened in August 2011 ... right after the lockout ended and Bryant was CUT from his team.

But there seems to be an explanation ... according to the docs, McKinnie had directed his paychecks to go directly from the Vikings to PPF. But when Bryant was fired and the paychecks stopped, he never arranged for PPF to get its payments ... and he missed his August bill.

PPF instantly went to the court and obtained a judgment against McKinnie ... ordering the NFL star to pay back his entire loan ... plus interest ... totaling $4.3 million.

During the lockout, several NFL players spoke out against loans of this sort claiming they weren't in the best interest of the players ... and now McKinnie seems to be living proof.

Calls to Bryant's rep have not been returned.

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Clinton Portis Talks About His Relationship With Sean Taylor

Clinton Portis and Sean Taylor were stars at the University of Miami before their paths crossed again with the Washington Redskins.  Portis was the the second true freshman to start at running back since the 1975 season at Miami and led them to a national championship in 2001.  Portis was then drafted by the Denver Broncos where he rushed for over 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons in Denver before he was traded to the Redskins in 2004.  Portis was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and is one of the best running backs to play for the revered Redskins.

Taylor was a free safety and consensus All-American for the University of Miami before he was drafted in the first round (5th overall) by the Redskins in 2004.  Due to his ferocious hits, Taylor’s teammates nicknamed him “Meast,” a portmanteau word from the expression “half man, half beast,” and in 2007, Sports Illustrated named Taylor the hardest-hitting player in the NFL.

Portis talks about his friendship with Taylor as well as what it was like dealing with the loss of a teammate and best friend.

Run to the national championship with Miami and Coach Davis:
Coach Davis was the coach that brought me to Miami and he was a great coach.  It’s unfortunate that his time ended abruptly at UNC-Chapel Hill because I thought they were going to be a national contender last year.  I have the greatest respect for Coach Davis, Coach Coker and the other Miami coaches.

Coming into Miami with the class that we had and seeing where everyone is today is really something special.  I came in with Andre Johnson, Ken Dorsey, Bryant McKinnie, Vernon Cary, Phillip Buchanan and Vince Wilfork in the 1999 recruiting class.

My freshmen year we competed in every game and lost to the traditional powerhouses like Florida State, Virginia Tech and Penn State at the time, but we were in every game and lost in the last couple minutes. The defining moment for us as a team was during my sophomore year when we were finally ranked nationally in the top 5, and we took a trip out to the west coast and lost to the Washington Huskies.  At that moment everyone realized that no one was going to bow down to us, no one was afraid of us and anyone could beat us if we walked in thinking that our opponents would just lie down because we were the University of Miami.  After that we never lost again.  Everyone on that team made up their mind that we were not going to lose again.  We were cheated out of going to the national championship game that year and ended up beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl.  As a team we were upset with the BCS because the BCS put Florida State ahead of us and we had beaten them that season.  After that happened we realized that we couldn’t leave our national championship hopes in the hands of the BCS system, we had to just outright win so there could be no debate.

The chase my junior year was unreal and we had a couple of really close games but we never lost sight of the ultimate goal.  It was tough but it was outstanding to be a part of that chase.

Sean came to Miami after me and he played both running back and safety at the high school level.  I remember thinking, “This kid Sean is tight at running back!” But Sean didn’t want to play running back- he wanted to play safety.  I thought he was crazy for wanting to play safety but it turned out that he was one of the best safeties to play the game so I would say he made the right decision.

Taking about the dynamic between the older and younger players at Miami:
There was definitely a team camaraderie between the guys so I think it made for an easier transition for the younger players from high school to college.  We knew Sean was a hard worker coming in and the older guys always tried to recruit the younger guys for the track team.  We wanted them to come out, run track and participate with us to help make the transition smoother and in turn they feel like part of the team.
By the time Sean came in, all we did was play basketball.  In the off-season you would find our whole team in the gym playing basketball and working out to build that brotherhood.

Talking about playing for Coach Gibbs:
It was the best thing that ever happened to me.  But I will say that Gibbs ran us into the ground!  Coach Gibbs taught me how to become a man and to take responsibility for your actions both on and off the field.   I have the greatest respect for him as a person and all the hard work and dedication that he put in- not only as a coach, but also as a mentor and friend.  He would always give his honest opinion and had the ability to talk to you without being judgmental.  He cared about his players more as people then he did about us winning games.   Don’t get me wrong…he loved winning too.  He got the best out of you when it came to football, but I think it came from how much his players respected him.
I think the defining Coach Gibbs moment for me was seeing how he handled the tragedy with Sean.  At that moment you realized it wasn’t about football with him, but it was about something so much bigger. We saw as a team how much his faith anchored him in all he did.

Talking about his relationship with Sean:
I kept pushing Coach Gibbs to draft Sean Taylor to the Redskins.  People didn’t realize how talented and gifted Sean was because he wasn’t a media darling all the time when he did interviews.  He was much quieter and to himself.  Coach Gibbs used to call me to get me to tell Sean to call him.

The way that Sean developed as a player and how he grew to trust Coach Gibbs was just outstanding.  He never complained and always worked hard.  For example if it was hot outside then he would go outside and run in a full sweat suit and if it was cold he would come out in shorts and a t-shirt and fight through the chills.  You would never hear Sean give excuses like it’s too hot or too cold.  I remember one day I came in to work out and Sean was there dressed in jeans, flip-flops and a sweater.  He said that he would run with me so I didn’t have to work out by myself.  So he ran 100’s with me and when we were done running I find out that it was his third time working out that day.  He had run with every group that came in to work out that day.  He was just that kind of guy.

Sean was on his way to becoming one of the best defensive players to ever play the game. He left his mark on the league for the short time he was here and it’s hard to imagine the player he would have become if he were still here.

SeanTaylor copy
Talking about what was going through his mind when he flew down to see Sean in the hospital:
I remember getting a call from a friend who told me what happened so I went down to Miami and saw Sean in the hospital and really thought he was going to get better.  His vital signs were strong and the doctors felt good about his recovery so I went to the hotel for the night but I planned to go back over to the hospital at 6 a.m. the next morning.  I was sitting at dinner with everyone who had flown down that night and the mood was definitely upbeat because we felt like Sean had turned the corner.

I remember getting a knock on my door at 6 a.m. and I could tell as soon as I saw Mr. Snyder’s [owner of the Redskins] face through the peephole that this was not news that I wanted to hear.   I opened the door and Mr. Snyder was crying and before he could say anything I said, “Don’t tell me that.”

And Mr. Snyder replied, “He’s gone.”

I felt like this was all a bad dream and this couldn’t actually be happening.  There is so much that goes through your mind when you get news like that.  When you start to reflect on your last moments or last conversation with that person you feel like there is so much that you wish you had said, so much that you wish you could have done, should have done, etc.

The week before Sean died, my first son was born and our last conversation was me coming to tell him that I had a son and how blessed I felt to be a dad.  Sean also had a little girl and he felt the same way about being a parent.

You never think that’s going to be your last conversation with that person.  I still remember him walking out of the locker room when we were leaving to go to Tampa, and it was impossible to imagine returning home and Sean not being there.

Everything that happens in life happens for a reason.  The contracts and things you see now would have happened a long time ago because the highest paid player in the league would have been Sean Taylor and the best player in the league would have been Sean Taylor.  There really was no other competition. I’ve played with and seen a lot of talented guys, but hands down anyone who had seen or played against Sean Taylor knew whom the best player to step on that field was.

Talking about how the team coped and came together after Sean’s death:
The team went through so much so quick because it was a shock.  So many people elevated their game and we were able to carry one another.  We came back and had to play Buffalo that next week with heavy hearts and heavy eyes and started the game with ten men on the field in honor of Sean.  Everyone came together and we fought hard to stay in the game.  Ultimately we lost that first game back but we didn’t lose again after that because we all had this attitude of “I can give a little more.”

My pre-game ritual involved pumping myself up with Sean and Santana, and I would talk, compete and argue with Sean about which one of us would have the best knock-out blow.  That was how we would each get hyped for the game.  We were the leaders of that team so the energy that we had set the tone for the rest of the game.  The bond that started at the University of Miami carried over to the Redskins and everyone else was able to feed off our energy.

Football takes a lot of faith because there are so many ups and downs that come with this game.  When it’s bad, it’s not really as bad as it may seem and when it’s good, you’re not as good as you may think.  You have to find steady ground through both wins and losses to not get too down and not get too high.  Coach Gibbs always kept us on steady ground.

Talking about what he’s currently up to:
 Right now I am just training and hoping to return to the NFL but if not I am going to keep myself in shape so I look good on a TV set somewhere!  I think being away from ball for a year has given me the chance to sit back and find a new love and appreciation for the game.  I definitely miss it and feel like I have a lot left to give.

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Harbaugh Confident Things Will Work Out With Ed Reed

Ravens safety Ed Reed, who is entering the final year of his contract, said he has been unable to get a new deal from the Ravens. Harbaugh said he isn't concerned about Reed's future in Baltimore. “Obviously we have utmost respect for Ed, he and I have a tremendous relationship," Coach Harbaugh said. "We’ve been texting back and forth, it’s been really positive, I know he is working really hard because he always does and last year I thought he was in the best shape of his whole career, at least the career I’ve seen, the last four years let me say that. He was in tremendous shape, he played very, very well, and I agree with him, I think he has plenty of years left to play and the rest of it is part of the business part of it and that’s part of the way it goes. That stuff has a way of working itself out so I’m not worried about it that way.”

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Bears’ hope for Devin Hester: Catch more passes, return fewer kickoffs

Devin Hester may be the best return man in NFL history, but that doesn’t mean that’s his primary role in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune connects the dots with the addition of Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, two players with experience as kickoff returners, and notes that last year Johnny Knox averaged more yards per kickoff return than Hester, and says it all adds up to the Bears making Hester an integral part of the offense at wide receiver and cutting down on his kickoff returns.

“We have that versatility now,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We added another good player into the [kickoff-return] mix in Devin Thomas.”

Chicago has pushed Hester as more of a receiver and less of a returner before, in 2009, when he had a career-high 57 catches and career lows in both kickoff returns (seven) and punt returns (24). Hester has always been a better punt returner than kickoff returner and will almost certainly remain the primary punt returner this year after leading the league with a 16.2-yard average last year.

But on kickoff returns it appears that the Bears are ready to phase him out. Knox is recovering from a serious back injury and may not play in 2012, but the presence of Weems and Thomas will allow Hester to sit kickoffs out.

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Ray Lewis' Foundation Hosting Spring Fest

LAKELAND | Three years ago, Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis wanted to establish a wing of his foundation in Lakeland. After all, Lewis graduated from Kathleen High School.

So far, so good.

The Ray Lewis Foundation will host Ray's Spring Fest this week, filled with meet-and-greets, fundraisers and activities for adults and children.
The activities start at 7 tonight when Lewis will be on hand for a meet-and-greet at the Dream Center, 635 W. Fifth St., Lakeland. On Friday, he participates in a celebrity bowling tournament at Orange Bowl Lanes as well as an after party.

On Saturday, Lewis will hold a youth fitness clinic during the day, then give the coin toss at the Lakeland Raiders football game at The Lakeland Center at night.

The activities tonight and Friday are fundraisers that help the foundation do other activities during the year, like back-to-school and holiday activities.

"Ray's goal has been to bring his foundation back to the community where it all began," said Gwen Gentry, vice president of the foundation. "His foundation has been active and involved in the Baltimore community, and now Ray is making an impact here in Florida through the activities of the foundation."

The jewel of the weekend is the youth fitness clinic on Saturday at his alma mater, Kathleen High School.

The clinic is not a football camp.

Lewis and area coaches and athletes will lead the youth participants through various exercises meant to get them physically active. Registration for the camp is closed.

"Ray really wants the kids to get out there and have fun and understand, one, the importance of exercise," said John Ruffin, chairman of Lewis' foundation in Lakeland. "And two, how the cultivation of determination in this capacity can be carried forward to build the character needed to be successful in all aspects of life. He's a living testament to that every day of his life."

Tickets to the fundraisers tonight and Friday are limited. For more information on the foundation, contact Ruffin at 863-712-6125 or Gentry at 863-279-2122.

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Shenise Johnson Invited To 2012 WNBA Draft

NEW YORK, April 11, 2012 – Fifteen of the world’s top female basketball prospects have been invited to the 2012 WNBA Draft presented by Boost Mobile, which will be held on Monday, April 16 at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. ESPN2 will provide coverage and analysis of the first round beginning at 2 p.m. ET; in addition, ESPN3 will simulcast the entire Draft. The second and third rounds will be televised on ESPNU and NBA TV.

Among the top prospects invited to this year’s WNBA Draft presented by Boost Mobile telecast are seven players who earned All-America honors either from the Associated Press or the WBCA Coaches' poll this season, including Stanford forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, an All-America pick the past three years. Also invited are three sets of teammates: Tennessee’s frontcourt trio of Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and Vicki Baugh; Miami (Fla.) guards Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams; and guard Natalie Novosel and forward Devereaux Peters of Notre Dame.

Rounding out the list are guards Tiffany Hayes (Connecticut) and Samantha Prahalis (Ohio State); forwards LaSondra Barrett (Louisiana State), Kayla Standish (Gonzaga), and Julie Wojta (Wisconsin-Green Bay); and centers Sasha Goodlett (Georgia Tech) and Lynetta Kizer (Maryland).,

Shenise Johnson of Henrietta, N.Y., an AP and WBCA All-America selection the past two years, also has an ACC Player of the Year award to her credit. Williams, a product of Pahokee, Fla., has ranked among the ACC scoring leaders each of the past three seasons.

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Ryan Braun says he tunes out ‘creative’ barbs from fans

Ryan Braun said he didn’t notice that oversized picture of his head with the two big muscle-bound arms coming out of either side that a fan held in the stands Monday night. Or any of the other signs in the bleachers directed at him.

The Milwaukee Brewers left fielder said he didn’t notice the constant boos and chants of “cheater!’’ and “MVP! HGH! PEDs!’’ the first two nights of this week’s series his Brewers played at Wrigley Field — the first road games he experienced since his positive drug test and subsequent, successful appeal over the winter.

But he knows this: The blustery, harsh reception he got from Cub fans prepares him better for the hostile road environments he’ll face than any other place could have gone for a first road series.

“Without a doubt, it’s probably the most, or one of the most, challenging environments to play in regardless of any extracurricular circumstances,’’ he said. “It’s never an easy place to play as a visiting player. They’re always loud, they’re always into the game, supporting their team, and they’re pretty creative.’’

Braun, who sat out Wednesday’s game because of tightness on the left side of his chest, seemed to do well tuning out the extracurricular “creativity’’ Monday and Tuesday nights — going 3-for-8 with a double, RBI and walk in a pair of Brewers’ wins.

“My focus has nothing to do with fans’ reaction. It’s about playing the games,’’ said Braun, who expects to return to the lineup Thursday as the Brewers try to complete a first-ever four-game sweep of the Cubs.

“People ask about it, but I’ve never come to Chicago and had them cheer for me. I don’t think any good player’s ever gone to a rival [ballpark] and had them cheer for him. So it’s not really too much different than what I’ve experienced before.’’

The intent, persistence and volume certainly were different. “To be completely honest with you, I don’t really notice it. Sometimes on defense I do, but while I’m hitting I don’t really hear much.

“When I do hear it, it’s certainly motivating, but it’s not something I think about. It’s about our team, playing to win. It’s not about the fans’ reaction to me.’’

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Jon Jay: Guillen needed to apologize

CINCINNATI • Jon Jay watched Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen with interest Tuesday. Guillen, in the aftermath of comments praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in Time magazine, offered a very public and at times painful hour-long apology to those offended by his sentiment.

"I thought what he said today was good; it needed to be said," Jay said. "Maybe they can get back to playing baseball now."

The Cardinals center fielder grew up in south Miami and attended the University of Miami as a descendent of Cuban refugees who fled the island nation following Castro's takeover in January 1959.

He understands first-hand the pain many Miami residents felt over Guillen's comments.

"What happened, happened," Jay said Tuesday before the Cardinals' game against the Cincinnati Reds. "But people don't understand a lot of it. People's families picked up and left. The people that left were doctors, lawyers and others with college degrees. They left the country for freedom. But they left with little, if anything. They came to the United States and struggled. They came over here and learned English while raising their families."

Jay's grandmother had been a schoolteacher in Cuba. She worked in a factory after emigrating, learned English and eventually found a job as a kindergarten teacher in Florida. His grandfather found work as an air conditioning repairman.

"They were comfortable in Cuba," Jay said. "They lived in the same surroundings where they had grown up. But they had to pick up and move to a new place. I know the impression that made on my family."

Guillen's comments picked at an old wound that still festers within the Miami community.

"It's a very sensitive subject, especially to the older Cuban community," Jay said. "The older I get the more I understand about the sacrifices my family made for me. I wouldn't be sitting here today if it wasn't for them. I know why they had to make those sacrifices."

While Guillen praised Castro for his longevity in power, those forced from their native country await regime change. Guillen was particularly tone deaf given that he's in the employ of an organization committed to marketing itself to Miami's Latin community.

"He needed to say something," Jay said. "The topic still cuts very deep."

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Ryan Braun: Minor Tightness In Chest

Update: Braun is sitting out Wednesday due to minor tightness in his chest/ribs,'s Adam McCalvy reports.

Recommendation: Teammate Jonathan Lucroy will not play for the same reason, so it's possible both are dealing with an illness. Regardless of the diagnosis, the setback does not sound serious, and manager Ron Roenicke does not think it is either, so hopefully it does not cost Braun more than the lone game. Expect another update on his status before Thursday's series finale.

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Blake Tekotte Off To Hot Start

Triple-A Tucson (1-5): Sacramento 18, TUCSON 6 – It all fell apart for the T-Padres after right-handed starter Joe Wieland allowed two hits and a walk while striking out four in two scoreless innings before coming out because he’s reportedly headed to San Diego to join the Padres rotation. Sacramento had 20 more hits against Tucson relievers in seven innings and scored seven runs on seven hits in 1 1/3 innings against Brian Tallet, who the Padres just acquired from Pittsburgh. CF Blake Tekotte was 3-for-4 with a double, triple and RBI. 1B Matt Clark had a homer and three RBI and RF Sawyer Carroll hit a two-run homer. 3B James Darnell, who is off to a .438 start, was 2-for-4 with a double, and DH Vincent Belnome was 2-for-4.

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Jon Jay homers

During the 2011 run to World Series Championship, St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay had himself quite an interesting season.

After bumping Colby Rasmus out of town, Jay spent most of the 2011 season hitting in the second spot in the Cardinals lineup.  Of the 107 times former manager Tony La Russa wrote Jay's name on the lineup card, Jay hit second in the lineup 72 times and he did so quite well.  Jay posted a .303 average and scored 41 runs in front of former first baseman Albert Pujols, now first baseman Lance Berkman, and left fielder Matt Holliday.

Now it is 2012 and despite his success at the top of the order in 2011, Jay finds himself further down in the lineup.  New manager Mike Matheny has employed an often used La Russa tactic by putting "thunder" in the two hole.  Thunder's name is Carlos Beltran, who's presence has moved Jay down to the seventh spot in the lineup on a regular basis.

Beltran was out of the lineup in the Cardinals 4-3 loss to the Reds on Wednesday afternoon and Jay suddenly found himself back hitting second and responded with his first home run of the season.

Jay has shown he is comfortable in his new home in the lineup though, hitting .304 on the season while getting on base 36 percent of the time while playing a stellar center field. 

While Jay showed up in the two hole on Wednesday, it is more likely that Matheny will continue to use the switch-hitting Beltran in the two hole for most of the season.

From the looks of the early season, that suits Jay just fine as the former Miami Hurricanes star has not missed a beat.   The Cardinals will need him to be an RBI threat at the bottom of the order and so far it looks as though Jay can fill the role.

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D.J. Williams to Eddie Royal: “I’ll smash you”

On Tuesday afternoon, Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams took to Twitter to dish out some smack — on a division rival.  Williams started by asking Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal “you went to San Diego?”

Did Williams really just find out or realize that Royal had signed with San Diego? Regardless, it appears that Williams knew Royal was headed out of town because Royal wrote back, “Yup, you got your wish.”

That wish, presumably, was for Royal to stay in the AFC West so Williams could play against him.  Williams noted,  ”I get two chances a year… I’m going to smash ya soft ass!”

Royal responded, “Haha, I heard this everyday in practice from D.J. for four years.”  To which Williams concluded:  ”Couldn’t do it then (in practice), now it’s on!”

Royal signed a three-year, $13.5 deal with the Chargers last month as a free agent.  Williams is entering his ninth season as a starting linebacker in Denver and could miss six games this season if his performance enhancing drug suspension is upheld.

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Chase Ford Projected To Go in 5th Round

TE Chase Ford, Miami (Fla.): Had a good showing at this year's East-West Shine Game. For a guy at his size (6-6, 245 pounds) with his body control, Ford looks like an option you can draft late and try to mature into an every-down type option. Has the frame to add weight and get much bigger.

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Colin McCarthy hopes to make sophomore splash

Colin McCarthy likes to call them “splash” plays, the kind of moments that can pump up a defense, deflate an offense and turn a game’s momentum in a matter of seconds.

Despite starting just seven games last season as a rookie, he made plenty of splashes — leading the Titans with eight tackles for loss and adding two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.

As the expected full-time starter at middle linebacker for 2012, McCarthy is hoping to make an even bigger impact on a defense that ranked 18th overall last season.

“You have to make plays in this league because the way the offenses are now, it’s all so high-scoring,” McCarthy said Tuesday, prior to participating in the Christmas 4 Kids Celebrity Golf Tournament at Pine Creek Golf Course.

“So whether you’re getting interceptions or sacks or causing fumbles or whatever, they’re all key to winning games. It’s something the coaches stress and something we work on, so to add a few more of those next year would be great.”

McCarthy’s ability to make those kinds of plays is what separates him most from his immediate predecessors.

Stephen Tulloch was a tackling machine, but he never forced a fumble while playing 80 games — and starting in 46 — over five years. And Tulloch never produced more than seven tackles for loss in a single season; McCarthy had eight in limited time last season.

Barrett Ruud started more games at middle linebacker for the Titans than McCarthy did last season, but he didn’t cause or recover a fumble and only recorded two tackles for loss.

“That’s what you need to do, those little splash plays,” McCarthy said. “They’re out there. Throughout the game, there are opportunities to make interceptions, opportunities to get the ball out. You just have to stress that, and to have that mentality when you go in for tackles.”

McCarthy got a crash course as starting middle linebacker last season, forced into the role earlier than expected because of the injury issues that eventually landed Ruud on injured reserve.

He piled up 76 tackles — the fourth-highest total for any Titans rookie since 1999 — while admitting the transition from college life to the pros wasn’t easy.

“Everything seemed like it happened fast last year,” McCarthy said. “You get here and you’re learning the defense, and you’re learning your way around the city, too. There’s so much other stuff going on besides football.”

That’s why McCarthy is looking forward to a full offseason with the Titans coaching staff, something he was deprived of last year because of the lockout. He wants not only to learn more about his responsibilities, but also about the roles of his defensive teammates as well.

“Understanding what everyone is doing out there, I think that’s going to be real important,” McCarthy said. “Last year we were kind of throwing new things every week and trying to get a grasp of them. I knew them, but I didn’t know them inside out.

“I couldn’t understand where a safety might be dropping or ... where my help is, taking on certain blocks. That’s going to be key as far as the new year and to understand that stuff.”

In separate interviews last week, General Manager Ruston Webster and Coach Mike Munchak both said McCarthy, despite his youth, might be looked to for leadership on a relatively young defense.

McCarthy said if that happens, so be it. But he’s not actively trying to change himself to serve that function.

“I think it sometimes comes with the role of being a middle linebacker because you make the calls and get everyone lined up,” McCarthy said. “But in the NFL, and with these guys, there are veterans who’ve been in the league for 10 or 11 years. Those guys don’t want to hear you talk. They just want to see you play and the results.

“... I’m going to continue to do what I do. If players on the team want to follow me or look to me, I’m more than happy to take on that role.”

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Bears want more from Hester? Then align him in the slot

As the Chicago Tribune’s Vaughn McClure wrote today, the Bears could be looking to give WR Devin Hester a larger role in the offensive game plan. And that would mean limiting his duties as a kick returner (a possibility for Chicago with FA pickups Devin Thomas and Eric Weems).

I get it. Hester would still be the primary return man in the punt game, but when you add special teams talent in Thomas and Weems (on top of the lack of returns with the ball being kicked from the 35-yard line), the Bears can reduce his workload on kickoffs.

Sounds good and looks good in early April. Get Hester more involved in the offense.

However, from my perspective, if you want to see Hester produce in the passing game, then let him run the short to intermediate route tree inside of the numbers.

Here’s what you will see from Hester in a practice setting (or during individual period in camp): speed off the release, a burst out of his cuts and dynamic lateral ability in one-on-one sessions. He looks the part of a player you don’t want to match up with in the open field.

But that hasn’t translated to true production when he is aligned outside of the numbers. CBs can get their hands on Hester, ride him into the boundary and force him to widen his release.

An occasional deep ball (think fade or post), but not enough to make opposing defensive coordinators worry when they turn on the tape.

Fix that. That should be the goal of new offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Move Hester in his pre-snap alignment, use motion, bunch or stack looks and target him inside of the numbers—where he can use that lateral movement to win matchups.

Talk to any DB in the NFL and they will tell you that playing the nickel (or dime) role in sub packages is tough. It allows the WR a “two-way go” (inside or outside release) and the ability to play off your leverage on a basic option route.

GM Phil Emery made the right call to go get Brandon Marshall from Miami and the Bears might not be done adding talent at the WR position depending on the prospects they target in the upcoming draft.

Will Hester fit with Marshall? Of course, and he should see more on-on-one matchups because of it. But the real prodcution will come if the Bears utilize his skill set in the middle of the field.

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Clinton Portis listed as ‘special guest’ for Biden fundraiser

As learned by tweet from DJ D-Nice — via @MetalLungies — Vice President Joe Biden is hosting a fundraiser for President Obama with special guest Clinton Portis. Not exactly the Clinton one would expect listed on an event like this.

Portis once compared his situation with the Redskins to Obama’s election. Obama also drafted Portis to his fantasy football team a few years ago so I guess now they’re buddies.

If nothing else, we’re sure to get some interesting pics out of this.

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Warren Sapp and Four Other Former NFL Players Who Are in or Near Bankruptcy

Warren Sapp currently averages more than $100,000 per month in income. Despite having earned millions during his time in the NFL with both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders, he has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy will lead to the liquidation of his assets to pay his creditors and some of his back owed child support and alimony. He is far from the only former NFL player to earn millions of dollars during his career only to retire and become bankrupt.

Johnny Unitas
Johnny Unitas was drafted into the NFL in 1955 and he was the quarterback for the Baltimore Colts until 1972. He retired after one final year as a San Diego Charger. After retiring, Unitas joined some business ventures. After a business dealing failed, Unitas had little choice but to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1991. This bankruptcy is one that would allow Unitas to avoid liquidation of assets. Unitas died in 2002.

Chris McAlister
A more recent example of a football player who made millions but found himself nearly in bankruptcy is Chris McAlister. McAlister played in the NFL from 1999-2005 and made millions. In 2011, however, he sought modification of the child support he was being ordered to pay. He had originally been ordered to pay approximately $11,000 per month in child support. He sought a modification of the order stating that he had no income and lived with his parents.

Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor spent more than a decade in the NFL and was considered one of the top players in the 1980s. Between a drug addiction, tax troubles and a failed business, Taylor quickly became insolvent after his career ended and he was forced to file for bankruptcy. However, Taylor ended up have much bigger problems than just financial troubles. In 2011, Taylor was sentenced to probation for allegedly having sex with an underage prostitute. He is required to register as a sex offender.

Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens was once a top football player in the NFL who made millions. After leaving the NFL at the end of 2010, the player quickly ran out of money. As he has four children by four different mothers, he was paying over $40,000 per month in child support. Though he has not filed for bankruptcy, he is, according to court filings, out of money. Owens is hoping to return to the NFL, but he currently has no contract in place.

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Tim George Jr, No. 2 Applebee’s Chevrolet Silverado Rockingham Speedway Preview

Tim George Jr
No. 2 Applebee’s Chevrolet Silverado
Event Preview Fact Sheet

This Week’s Applebee’s Chevrolet at Rockingham Speedway … Tim George Jr. will pilot Chassis No. 047 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Camping World Truck Series stable in this weekend’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200. RCR acquired this Chevrolet Silverado from the Kevin Harvick Inc., merger at the end of the 2011 season and transformed it into a RCR racer during the off season.

Welcome Aboard … This weekend’s 200-miler marks George Jr.’s first appearance behind the wheel of the No. 2 Applebee’s Chevrolet Silverado for the 2012 season. George Jr. is slated to compete in a total of 12 Camping World Truck Series races for RCR this season. The New York City native will share the No. 2 Chevrolet seat in Camping World Truck Series competition with RCR teammates Kevin Harvick and Brendan Gaughan with Marcus Richmond serving as crew chief. The 31-year-old driver will also see on-track action at Kansas Speedway (April. 21), Texas Motor Speedway (June 8), Iowa Speedway (July 14 and Sept. 15), Kentucky Speedway (June 28 and Sept. 21), Pocono Raceway (Aug. 4), Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 18), Atlanta Motor Speedway (Aug. 31), Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 6) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16).

No Stranger Here … George Jr. has three previous starts at the historic one-mile track in the ARCA Racing Series. In his first-career appearance at Rockingham Speedway, George Jr. earned his best finish of 15th after starting in the 22nd position. The veteran RCR driver completed 89.9 percent (539 of 600) of the contested laps at “The Rock.”

No Place Like Home … Five members on George Jr.’s No. 2 team call North Carolina home including crew chief Marcus Richmond (Leasburg), truck chief Mark Setzer (Newton), jackman Adam Crigger (Asheboro), rear-tire carrier Chris Martin (Mount Airy) and tire specialist Richard Boyles (High Point).

Meet the Driver … George Jr. is scheduled to participate in the Camping World Truck Series autograph sessionfor Rockingham Speedway on April 13.He will sign for gathered fans beginning at 7 p.m. on the Harrington Square located in downtown Rockingham.Prior to the autograph session, fans can participate in the 2012 Rockingham Thunder Fest. The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday. George Jr. is also scheduled to participate in a Rheem® autograph session on Saturday, April 14 at 12:30 p.m. in the Fan Zone at Rockingham Speedway.

Double Header … Before competing in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200, George Jr. will pilot the No. 2 Applebee’s Chevrolet UARA Late Model for Team Dillon Racing on Saturday, April 14. George Jr. is slated to run 12 events under the TDR banner this season in the UARA Late Model.

Beyond the Track … George Jr. had an adventurous off season. His travels include trips to the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Fla., and the Masters Golf Tournament last week in Augusta, Ga. The RCR driver also scored his first 10-point buck in South Carolina during a hunting trip with family.

This is your first Camping World Truck Series race of the 2012 season. What are your goals for the year?
“My goal for Rockingham Speedway this weekend is to do everything to the best of my ability. There are a few new guys in the mix for my team that I’d like to get to know better. Coming off the win at Martinsville with Harvick, everyone is in good spirits and that is a good way to start the weekend.”

You’ve raced at Rockingham Speedway on previous occasions; will racing there before help you at all this weekend?
“I have raced at Rockingham Speedway a few times in the ARCA Racing Series. I will be racing in both the Camping World Truck Series race and UARA Late Model race this weekend. Those two vehicles are extremely different. The late model is very light, you need to keep it wound up and have higher mid-corner speed. The ARCA car has the most horsepower out of all three vehicles, and takes a different driving style. I think the truck will be the most challenging to drive and race at “The Rock” because it has a lot more down force. The equipment is great at RCR. My new crew chief, Marcus (Richmond) feels confident that I can be comfortable and go fast. I’m looking forward to it.”

What is the transition like between racing in the ARCA Racing Series and the Camping World Truck Series?
“There are a lot of differences between the ARCA Racing Series and Camping World Truck Series. The ‘no testing’ rule is something that I haven’t had to deal with before but at least we get an extra set of tires for practice. I look forward to working with my crew, and the experience of racing with a team like RCR in the will give me.”

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Yasmani Grandal has been placed on disabled list

Padres catching prospect Yasmani Grandal has been placed on Triple-A Tucson's 7-day disabled list with a right hamstring injury. It's not clear at this point how long the young catcher might be out.

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Sean Spence : No. 1 OLB to target in mid-rounds

Miami (Fla.) LB Sean Spence (5-11, 231) is a tackling machine who can easily go from sideline to sideline. Spence is regarded for his thorough preparation in film study and his quick reaction time. The former Canes LB also played alongside starting MLB Colin McCarthy in college and can fit in immediately with the Titans' scheme.

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Devin Hester may be relieved of kick-return duties

The addition of Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, two players with experience as kickoff returners, has the left the Chicago Bears with an interesting question: Should Devin Hester be relieved of all kickoff-return duties in 2012?

"We have that versatility now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We added another good player into the (kick-return) mix in Devin Thomas."

The Bears had the luxury of limiting Hester’s kickoff returns during the 2009 season, when Johnny Knox and Danieal Manning combined for 60 returns. Hester had just seven kickoff returns that year as he caught a career-high 57 passes.

The Bears seem even more intent on making Hester an integral part of the offense at wide receiver -- even despite the addition of top target Brandon Marshall -- which is likely to encourage them to limit or totally eliminate Hester's work on kickoffs.

Last year, Hester returned 33 kickoffs for 723 yards, including one score. His 21.9-yard average ranked 24th in the league. Knox averaged 26.5 yards on 15 kickoff returns.

Hester has five career kickoff-return touchdowns.

Thomas, who played with the New York Giants last season, ranked 14th in the league with an average of 24.3 yards per kickoff return in 2011. Weems, a member of the Atlanta Falcons, finished 18th at 23.5 yards per return. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Weems has a natural feel and great understanding of angles, which could lead to him being the primary kickoff returner.

Of course, the new rules allowing kickoffs from the 35-yard line instead of the 30 have affected kickoff returns dramatically. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the percentage of touchbacks on kickoffs increased from 16.4 percent in 2010 to 43.5 percent last season.

Still, it always helps to have explosive returners capable of setting up solid field position. The Bears had arguably the league’s best duo in Hester and Knox. With Knox’s status uncertain coming off spinal fusion surgery, Weems and Thomas (6-2, 221) could comprise the next tandem.

"This offseason, we’re still talking about the roles of different guys," Smith said. "First off, we want to get good players. Then we will put them in their perfect spots a little bit later."

Hester will continue to be the team’s primary punt returner. He led the league with an average of 16.2 yards per punt return last season despite posting a career-high 15 fair catches.  Hester also returned two punts for scores, pushing his all-time NFL record to 12 punt-return touchdowns. He has an NFL record of 17 total kick return touchdowns in 92 games.

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Warren Sapp just another example of poor planning

Though his best football was left behind in Tampa Bay, where he won a Super Bowl and polished his Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials, Warren Sapp still had plenty to offer when he signed with the Raiders in 2004.

Sapp was the voice of experience, a locker-room counselor who often settled in front of his cubicle to dispense advice to teammates, team employees and even reporters.

He was loud, sometimes obnoxious, but he usually made sense.

So the news that Sapp is the latest former multimillionaire athlete to file for bankruptcy was a surprising jolt of reality.

Athletes frequently go broke, but it seems we're in the midst of an epidemic. Recent news accounts have told the sad tales of -- take a deep breath -- Dennis Rodman, Terrell Owens, Lenny Dykstra, Antoine Walker and Allen Iverson. They all made tens of millions and lost it.

Sapp, though, figured to avoid that fate. He seemed to have learned from his restless youth, when he fathered two children with his wife and two more with other women. Divorce had made him more thoughtful and discerning. He retired with relative quiet and made a smooth transition to the TV studio.

Sapp's big, bold personality graced Showtime and NFL Network, even got him a gig on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars."

But behind the contented grin and the hearty laugh was a man who had made a string of unwise business decisions and, moreover, felt the sharp end of those relationships.

He now is a cautionary tale, but how often do folks actually study and learn?

Too many athletes spend as if their money is being grown on a 400-acre orchard. They trust the wrong people, too often turn to "friends" and relatives, actual and otherwise, for advice and investments. They dive onto the money pile, having so much fun they fail to realize their dollars are evaporating.

Why on earth won't these slow-motion train wrecks pick up a phone and start making calls until they reach another ex-jock who also has been in the news lately -- but for impressive and admirable reasons.

Magic Johnson is the face of the group selected to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers. The $2.15 billion bid submitted by Guggenheim Partners not only leveled the competition but stands to change the landscape at the highest levels of all major American sports. If the transaction is approved, perhaps as soon as this week, the vast majority of current MLB owners instantly become appreciably richer.

Though Johnson is not the primary money man in this proposed deal, his very visible involvement speaks to his astonishing rise from a national championship at Michigan State to world championships with the Los Angeles Lakers to an oversized seat at end of the biggest tables of high finance.

While Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods built their financial empires through uniquely spectacular careers and immensely profitable marketing partnerships, Magic's came through building relationships. He learned from Lakers owner Jerry Buss, picked the brains of the moneyed folk sitting courtside at games in L.A.

Though he partied plenty during his NBA career, Johnson also was careful about spending, insistent on saving and committed to financial growth. He spent $10 million to buy a small percentage of the Lakers in 1994 and sold it for at least three times that in 2010.

He made less than $20 million in salary as a player, and now he likely is the world's richest ex-athlete, with net worth estimates as low as $500 million (Forbes magazine) and as high as $800 million (Fortune magazine).

Moreover, Johnson is a titan in the community. His companies, largely concentrated in underserved areas, employ an estimated 40,000 people.
And folks thought Magic was "set for life" in 1981, when he signed a $25 million, 25-year Lakers contract that was the biggest and longest deal in pro sports history.

Twenty years after many presumed he would die young as a result of an AIDS-related disease, Magic is the template for athletes who wish to avoid going broke. He says he gets calls all the time from active athletes seeking advice.

Why wouldn't a guy like Scottie Pippen or John Daly or Latrell Sprewell or Walker or Sapp -- who I know appreciates intellect and welcomes knowledge -- reach out before their pockets are empty?

Failing to seek advice, or ignoring it, is as unfathomably dense or stubborn as ringing up a $20,000 bar tab, staggering to a $150,000 car and getting behind the wheel -- rather than spending $500 for a driver.

Such inexplicable negligence happens far too often among athletes. So sad, when it's so incredibly easy to avoid.

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Lamar Miller, Third-Ranked Running Back in 2012 Draft

Matt Waldman is the author of The Rookie Scouting Portfolio, a testament to his obsession with film analysis, now available for download. Examples of his work can be found at his blog. He is helping The Fifth Down rank skill position players before the draft:

3.     Lamar Miller, running back, Miami (5-10, 212)
Lamar Miller is a potential Pro Bowl back. He’s at the sweet spot in terms of height, weight, speed and acceleration. He runs with patience and balance, and he protects the ball. He understands how to stay close to his blocks until an opening develops, and like Clinton Portis and Edgerrin James before him, he knows how to shorten his steps in traffic until he finds a cutback lane or alternate crease when the primary hole does not open.

He runs with good balance and power between the tackles. He can run through contact, and he has good enough footwork to prevent defenders from getting angles on him. He bends runs with good speed, and he has shown some skill to pick and slide toward creases or press a crease and cut back. He keeps his legs moving after contact, and his pad level is consistently low enough that he bounces off hits and maximizes his output on carries. He knows how to minimize his surface area in the hole and still get downhill fast.

Miller is fast, and his burst is Pro Bowl-caliber; when given a hole, he can accelerate past all three levels of a defense and turn a 10-yard gain into a 40-yard touchdown. There is little doubt that Miller has physical talent, but there are plays in which he seems to go out of bounds too willingly, even when time is not a factor.

Miller catches the ball as well as any back in this class. He snares passes, and he repeatedly demonstrated the ability to use his body control and concentration to help catch a ball. I saw him make an acrobatic catch that was over 25 yards from release point to reception, a play that many college wide receivers cannot make.

Miller’s effort as a blocker is not good enough. He will deliver a punch, and he has skill at getting the correct angle to make a block. But he does not sustain the contact and work hard enough to maintain that position. Miller diagnoses blocks effectively, but he has to do better with his cut blocking. He drops his head too early. As a run blocker, he seems more worried about getting hit from behind or hurt in the act of blocking than helping his teammates make plays.

I can see the Portis comparisons because Miller has game-breaking speed, explosive lateral agility and enough downhill power and balance to generate big plays in multiple ways. The difference is that Miller makes running the football look easier than Portis did in college, and I think it might be part of the perception that his effort isn’t always there when in fact, he’s just more graceful than people realize.

Purely on ability, he could start for an N.F.L. team today. The key will be how well he transitions from a college campus to professional life.

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Leonard Hankerson’s Twitter bet

On Friday, Leonard Hankerson tweeted an apology to his fans.

“Peeps I'm apologizing b4 hand lol I have to change my profile pic for a couple days, I lost a bet lol #HeatNation they let me down Vs BOS”

It turns out that with all of the Redskins’ betting going on, Florida native Hankerson had made a wager of his own with a hometown friend. While this bet wasn’t monetary, it did put the wide receiver’s pride on the line.

“It was the Miami vs. Boston game,” he explained in a text message. “Miami lost, so I had to wear the Boston green and hat as my avi.”

The picture, shown in the tweet above, stayed up until 6 p.m. on Sunday, at which point Hankerson was allowed by the terms of the bet to change it.
Boston and Miami meet again on Tuesday, so did Hankerson put his avatar on the line again?

“Naw, I bet him lunch or dinner.”

Smart move.

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Miami Dolphins like Tommy Streeter

In the NFL Draft, teams often find themselves drafting players close to home. This phenomenon is not about it being easier to cultivate local talent, it’s about building a relationship with players.

It just happens to be, that in most cases, college players are more apt to build pipeline relationships with teams close to them. There are exceptions to that rule, for example, the Patriots’ connection with Florida players because of Bill Belicheck’s relationship with Urban Meyer.

The Miami Dolphins, at least in recent memory, haven’t had that sort of a relationship with Florida schools.

According to reports, they’re looking to start building a rapport with Florida kids. The Dolphins happen to need help at Wide Receiver, and Tommy Streeter is fairly high on the Dolphin’s board.

Streeter’s height, weight, and speed really turned heads at the combine. Anyone that watched Miami, however, shouldn’t have been surprised with Streeter’s game-changing athleticism.

In contrast to his athleticism, Streeter’s ability to grab the ball in traffic has been going under the radar. Although Streeter is admittedly raw, he’s a lot further along than most draft experts give him credit for.

Streeter didn’t get a lot of time before last season, but he proved to be a play-maker with a Quarterback that couldn’t hit a barn from ten yards away. He can get deep at will, and that should help him get on the field early on in his career.

Tommy Streeter’s stock has been falling as of late, but I think he’ll be drafted in the late third or early forth.

The Miami Dolphins will probably look to add multiple Wide Receivers in this particularly deep draft class. The Dolphins are weak at Wide Receiver after they traded away Brandon Marshall.

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Leonard Hankerson says he'll be off crutches early

Leonard Hankerson’s health after missing the last part of the 2011 season with a hip injury is one of the big questions of this offseason. It looks like there is some good news there. 

Hankerson tweeted the following this afternoon from his @HankTime85 account:

Finishing up with rehab, got some great news, I'll be off the crutches a whole week earlier... #Yesss

At the NFL owners meetings last month, Mike Shanahan said that Hankerson should be able to participate in offseason activities by about June 1. It’s not clear if the fact that he will be off crutches a week earlier means that he can take part on OTA’s any earlier. Regardless, being able to get off of crutches early is a good sign that his rehab is coming along well. 

Hankerson did let us know that he still has a lot of work to do in this followup tweet:

Still go ways 2 go, but off the crutches is a plus

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Darryl Sharpton a likely starter for Texans

For what the Texans need out of their second inside linebacker, I think they are quite happy with the idea of Darryl Sharpton filling what used to be DeMeco Ryans’ spot.

Sharpton created a solid buzz back in his first training camp in 2010, when the Texans were still playing a 4-3. As a rookie he started six games as an injury fill-in, five on the weakside and one in the middle.

Coming off a quad injury that cost him most of the 2011 season, he could have to battle a draft pick for the inside spot next to Brian Cushing. The other veteran on the inside last year, Tim Dobbins, is a free agent whose name hasn’t come up at all to this point.

Here’s what Scouts Inc. has to say about Sharpton:

Sharpton is a bit shorter than you'd like a linebacker to be but is a superior athlete. He has excellent lateral range and does a good job of coming to balance as he squares up, in the hole, to make the tackle. He needs some work on recognizing blocking schemes and making quick decisions. Once he makes the diagnosis he is quick to pull the trigger. He can deliver a big hit when tackling the ball carrier and flashes good pop to neutralize blocks. He needs work on using his hands. He gets excellent depth in his pass drops but needs work on route recognition and reading the quarterback's eyes.

Coach Gary Kubiak said Sharpton doesn’t automatically get the spot, but will get the opportunity to take it.

“He’s physical, he can run, his problem has been staying upright, staying healthy,” Kubiak said. “So I think if he can stay in one piece he’s got a heck of a chance to help us out.”

Ryans likes him, and thinks he will fare well as a starter.

“Sharpton is going to be a good player,” Ryans said. “He’s a very instinctive player and he’s going to make a lot of plays in the open field. He’s a good young linebacker and he’s capable of stepping in and making plays.”

The Texans don't head into the draft with a long list of needs. They need restocking.

They'll draft a receiver, an outside linebacker and an offensive lineman, I feel certain. Beyond that they have a lot of freedom to find the best players available. Cornerback, inside linebacker and tight end qualify as secondary areas where they need new depth.

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Kenny Phillips Highlight 2011-2012

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Jonathan Vilma bounty punishment coming soon

SI’s Peter King would be "surprised" if the league doesn't announce its punishment for the players involved in the Saints' bounty scandal this week.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has left players like MLB Jonathan Vilma twisting in the wind for nearly three weeks after handing down his punishment for the coaches and executives involved, but could make a ruling as early as Monday. King also expects Goodell to rule on coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis' appeals within the next 48 hours.

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Alessia McIntosh talks Gameday, the GRAN Foundation and more!

Rocky McIntosh has spent the past six seasons wearing burgundy and gold. Drafted out of the University of Miami in 2006 and recording a career-high 110 tackles for the Redskins in 2010, the linebacker finished off the 2011 NFL season with 65 combined tackles, one sack and one pass breakup. While Rocky is currently a free agent, we don’t think is the last we will see of the McIntosh’s in the DMV.

In January, Rocky and his wife, Alessia, founded and launched a non-profit organization called A GRAN Foundation, focused on empowering youth and giving underserved children the guidance needed to achieve success. No matter where the 2012-2013 season takes them, the couple plans to continue developing the foundation in Maryland and Northern Virginia and will play an active role in the DC area community.

Rocky and Alessia first met during the third week of school at the University of Miami and got married on the beach just three days before the 2006 NFL Draft.

Now married for six years, WOW sat down with Alessia to talk about how she does it all with their two children, Gavin and Natalie (ages 4 and 3 respectively), learn more about the foundation and it’s message and get a sneak peak at what gameday is really like for the McIntosh family!
Tell us a little bit about Rocky’s Road and recent launch of the GRAN Foundation.

Rocky's Road is a multi year partnership with Prince William County Schools and specifically Yorkshire Elementary in Manassas, VA. Our students meet every Tuesday after school with High School mentors, and two teachers who lead the curriculum (Megan Link and Mallori Kiryluk).

They learn about eating well, being active, and also spend time doing academic enrichment activities. They also take a monthly field trip that is related to the curriculum. My favorite part of the program is seeing the students so excited about learning and their active engagement in all of the activities We definitely feel that if you are able to reach students at a young age that the chances for establishing a better foundation are much greater. We hope that at the end of the 5-year program, our students will be achieving academically at high levels, leading healthy and active lifestyles and be excited about both learning and their futures.

Do you and Rocky plan on implementing the program at other local elementary schools?
We would love to be able to do more programs in other schools, but at this time we are busy working to ensure the sustainability at Yorkshire Elementary for years to come. Hopefully with increased awareness and great results, we will have the opportunity to expand the program into other schools.

The GRAN Foundation name comes from the four names in your family - Gavin, Rocky, Alessia and Natalie - and it's clear family is an important theme. Why did you start the GRAN Foundation?
We have been involved in charitable giving and community work since arriving to the area six years ago. We have long felt that it is our duty to serve others and try to affect change where possible. The creation of A GRAN Foundation allows us to focus more intensely on certain groups, which we hope results in better outcomes for our youth.

Family is of tremendous importance to us. We are excited for our children to grow up understanding how important service to others is, and that it is one of our family's lifelong goals. We feel blessed to have been put in a position to be able to work together as a family in supporting our communities and giving back. This is just the beginning of what we hope will be years of helping support youth and their families with sustainable programs.

You and Rocky recently held a dinner at The Palm in D.C. for A GRAN Foundation. What are some of your other favorite places to dine in DC?
Two of our favorite DC area restaurants are Zatinya in DC and Woo Lae Oak, in VA. Rocky loves the ribs at Woo Lae Oak!

What's your favorite part about gameday?
My favorite thing about gameday and has been since college, is just the possibility that each week holds for something amazing to happen. Even when we aren't winning every game, the excitement in the atmosphere - that today may be the day for a big win - is intoxicating

Now that the kids are getting older, they love attending games and seeing their dad on the field. We try and attend every home game!

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James Jones builds case for rotation spot

MIAMI – With less than a dozen games remaining before the playoffs, Erik Spoelstra hasn't exactly posted a 'Help Wanted' sign as he looks to shore up his team's postseason rotation.

But it appears the Miami Heat coach is currently poring through resumes.

And if that's the case, it might be time for Spoelstra to amend his view of at least one applicant. James Jones shouldn't be seen as a luxury as the Heat look for reliable shooters who can space the floor around LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

It's time to make Jones a necessity in the rotation.

Of course, it's easy to endorse Jones' application after his latest job performance, one that included matching his career high with six 3-pointers for 18 points off the bench in Sunday's blowout win against Detroit. But this isn't a spur-of-the-moment argument.

Jones has done this kind of thing before, this thing that allows him to respond to being pushed to the back of the bench by splashing threes out of nowhere the moment he enters the game. A nine-year veteran in his fourth season in Miami, Jones is like one of those characters from a pop-up book.

The only way to keep him down is to close off any chance for him to see action. But the moment there's an opening, boom. He turns in the kind of performance that makes you take notice, makes you question why he hasn't been a part of the rotation all along.

Makes you wonder why Spoelstra just won't let him do his thing.

Jones has had promising moments this season when he showed he could be a reliable and fearless shooter to complement the attacking styles of James and Wade. But Sunday's game was Jones' most playing time since January. With Wade sitting out to rest an ankle injury, Jones went 6 of 8 from 3-point range and also had four steals in 23 minutes. It was an oasis of an opportunity amid limited stints and DNP-Coach's Decision distinctions.

“I didn't know that Dwyane wasn't playing until 20 minutes before the game,” Jones said. “Coach didn't tell me anything. He just expects all of us to be ready.”

Staying in a state of perpetual readiness is the only place Jones knows where to reside. It's been that way since he arrived as a free agent in 2008 to be a Mike Miller-type shooter for this team well before Miller actually was signed.

Miller was brought in as the team's fourth-highest paid player in 2010 when the roster was reloaded around James, Wade and Bosh. Then last offseason, Shane Battier arrived to add even more depth on the perimeter. Indirectly, Jones helped to facilitate the makeovers by taking a buyout in 2010 to create salary cap space for the Heat. He then re-signed with Miami each of the past two offseasons.

“I made the adjustment last year where, mentally, I convince myself that I get paid and I'm here to be ready to play, not (necessarily) to play,” Jones said. “So I spend all my time and preparation just knowing that when I do get a chance to play, they expect me to perform. I prepare as if I'm a rotation guy even though I'm not playing. So when nights come up like (Sunday), I can help my team.”

Jones has shot 43.4 percent from 3-point range this season and has appeared in 41 games. But he's been the victim of a numbers crunch. He's not as versatile as Miller, but he's proven to be far more durable. And Jones is not nearly as effective a defender as Battier, but he's a far more consistent shooter.

The Heat also has used rookies Terrel Harris and Norris Cole ahead of Jones for stretches this season. Jones has taken it all in stride without losing any confidence in his stroke.

“It was extremely difficult early,” Jones said of adjusting to sporadic opportunities to play. “I'm starting to get a feel for it. I know that it's not an indictment of my skill level. It's just that some great players are in front of me. We're loaded. Coming into this season, I understood that. All of the guys knew we'd have to make a sacrifice. Unfortunately for me, it's been playing time.”

But that might soon change if Spoelstra truly is open to tweaking his playoff rotation, even in the slightest way.

It's safe to assume that five players are locked into extensive roles in what's likely to be an eight-man rotation: James, Wade, Bosh, Battier and Udonis Haslem. From there, expect Chalmers and Ronny Turiaf to maintain starting jobs at point guard and center – although it doesn't guarantee they will finish games.

That accounts for seven players already, which basically means one more spot – possibly two – would be up for grabs in a traditional playoff rotation.

Despite still being in striking distance of the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder for the league's best record and homecourt advantage through the playoffs, the Heat remain very much a team trying to see which pieces fit best around James, Wade and Bosh.

Ideally, Miller would have a key role. But he just returned Sunday after missing a month with an ankle injury, the latest setback in a line of injuries he's dealt with over two seasons.

“(Spoelstra's) got to get a rotation set so we can get ready for the playoffs,” Miller said. “I think he's going to be juggling for the next few games to see how it works out. We'll see what happens.”

Spoelstra considers this a good problem to have.

“A lot of guys are making compelling cases to play, but there will ultimately have to be a sacrifice for the team,” Spoelstra said. “I hope I have to make tough decisions as we go forward. Everybody has the right mindset in that locker room. When their number is called, they’re ready to step up for the team.”

And those who don't get many chances to step up have remained professional enough to sit down without being much of a distraction.

Jones has excelled at both.

He's even taken on the role of the always popular backup quarterback when it comes to fan support. Jones said he's heard the chants for him to play at games and has listened to sports talk radio shows, which sometimes have been flooded with callers disappointed in his limited role.

“Every guy is on edge pretty much, trying to play to their utmost capabilities,” Jones said. “What you see now is a sense of urgency with the coaches as far as the rotation, a sense of urgency as far as all the players, knowing we don't have (much) more time to figure it out. We have (11) games. After that, you win or go home.”

Miami is home for Jones.

The challenge now is whether Spoelstra can find a resting spot for the sharpshooter in his rotation.

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Jason Hagerty's walk-off HR lifts Missions

Missions catcher Jason Hagerty ripped a home run on the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth to lift his team to a 4-3 win over Northwest Arkansas on Monday night at Wolff Stadium.

Hagerty's first home run of the season capped an impressive comeback after the Naturals jumped out to an early 3-0 lead.

“Everyone says they try to hit a home run, but that's when you wind up playing 15 innings,” said Hagerty, who also singled in the sixth. “I was just trying to get on base.”

First baseman Nate Freiman, who contributed two RBIs for the Missions, said “there was no doubt about that one. That was pretty cool to see.”

The game-winner would have simply tied the score if Hagerty hadn't made a great defensive play at the plate in the top of the ninth.

The Naturals' Christian Colon tried to score from first on a double by Johnny Whittleman, but a strong relay by Missions second baseman Dean Anna went up the third-base line.

Hagerty flagged down the throw, only to miss the initial tag on the sliding Colon. The Naturals shortstop overslid home, however, and Hagerty scurried back and beat him to the plate to keep the score 3-3.

Hagerty sent the first pitch from NW Arkansas pitcher Matt Mariot over the right-field fence to keep the Missions from a 1-4 start.

After spotting the Naturals a 3-0 lead through 51/2 innings, the Missions finally broke through on the scoreboard for the first time in 24 innings.

Freiman had the honors of breaking the drought, reaching on a fielder's choice with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth.

“I'm not looking to expand the strike zone (in that situation), I'm looking for a ball to hit,” Freiman said. “You can't start thinking too big and try to clear all the bases.”

Missions starter Robbie Erlin, returing to the mound after a left oblique injury, was on a pitch count and made it through 22/3 innings, allowing two runs.

Four pitchers finished the game, with 6-foot-9 right-hander Matt Lollis getting the win.

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Yonder Alonso Struggling A Little at Petco

Yonder Alonso, 1B, SDP: Alonso’s first three games at PETCO Park? 2-for-12 without an extra base hit. San Diego is an exceptionally difficult place to hit, and it’s doubly so for left-handed batters. It took a special one with insane opposite-field power to do so in Adrian Gonzalez; no other left-hander has really sustained success in San Diego since the Padres’ move. Even if Alonso’s power develops, it probably won’t play well as a Padre.

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Ryan Braun's ovation on Opening Day created a lasting memory

It's amazing how quickly time can fly.

This evening is already game number four of the 162-game Major League Baseball season. Opening Day at Miller Park is in the rear view mirror with the Milwaukee Brewers on the road until April 17.

At that point, 10 games will be in the books.

It does seem like forever ago when I wondered about the appeal of Opening Day, but Brewers fans did not disappoint in making that game unlike any other I've attended with the way they welcomed their MVP home. (Watch the at-bat here).

Of course, I didn't expect anything less. You cheer for your guy.

But this ovation was something different.

The sound was unique to me. Maybe it was because it was indoors, I don't know. But it had a feel to it, an energy, which made me look up, look around, and think "now this is something."

After the game, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke played it cool.

"Well, that's what I expected it to be," he said. "People like him here, and there's a reason they like him. He's a classy guy. He's a great ballplayer. He goes out of his way to sign autographs. He goes out of his way for the community. So I understand why they feel the way they do about him."
But the man who it was intended for genuinely seemed moved by it.

"From the bottom of my heart, it meant a lot to me," Braun said. "It was definitely much appreciated."

He tipped his cap. Then waited. And waited some more. He tried to get in the batter's box, and get things going, but couldn't quite follow his traditional pre-at-bat routine.

That ovation was powerful enough that a major league baseball player, a professional, a superstar, couldn't quite figure out how to get in the batter's box.

"It was certainly something that I appreciated, but it's a little uncomfortable, because you don't want to take away from the game, you never want to be disrespectful to an opponent or anything like that," he admitted after the game. "It's not really something you can be prepared for or know what to do. So I just kind of wanted to get the at-bat under way."

For lack of a better word, it was unbelievable.

Now, we're on to more important things: Will Yovani Gallardo find his rhythm at a cold Wrigley Field? Which Shaun Marcum will we see? How long will Corey Hart stay hot? Will the middle relief improve?

All are legitimate questions, and all will be answered in due time.

And as the season, and especially the years, go on – all will be forgotten, replaced by new concerns. There is always a new "something" to talk about.

One question that will never go away, and one Ryan Braun will always be glad to answer, about that ovation, that at-bat, on Opening Day of 2012. And he'll always remember.

Now that is something.

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Five Questions with Chris Perez

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Five questions with closer Chris Perez after he failed to convert a save in Thursday's Opening Day 16-inning loss to Toronto.

Q: Did your strained oblique muscle in spring training affect the way you pitched in the ninth inning?
A: "It had nothing to do with my injury. It was all about bad pitches and giving guys too many pitches to hit."

Q: Given the way Justin Masterson pitched for the first eight innings, how frustrating was it not to be able to get him the victory?
A: "Oh, man, he did everything you wanted in an ace. He dominated. Two hits in eight innings with 10 strikeouts. ... This feels twice as bad. Any loss hurts, but this was the easiest save in baseball ... a three-run lead."

Q: Did you say anything to Masterson?
A: "I already apologized to Masterson. ... I'll have his back the rest of the year. That's my job."

Q: How tough is it to bounce back from failing your first save opportunity of the season?
A: "It's not the easiest thing, but I've been here before. I blew the first save opportunity in Class AA. It's not the same as the big leagues, but I've bounced back before. Hey, everybody wishes they could be Mariano Rivera."

Q: You pitched in two minor-league games and three Cactus League games in spring training because of your injury. Do you think you were rusty?
A: "If I had struggled in spring training, I might say that, but I was sharp. I was throwing strikes, attacking hitters, I had my stuff. I won't use that as an excuse.

"It wasn't the most ideal conditions in spring training for me, but if I wasn't ready to pitch, I wouldn't be here."

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Gaby Sanchez leads Marlins over Phillies, 6-2

PHILADELPHIA -- Anibal Sanchez took a three-hitter into the seventh, Omar Infante hit a pair of solo homers and the Miami Marlins spoiled the Philadelphia Phillies' home opener with a 6-2 victory on Monday afternoon.

Sanchez (1-0) allowed two runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings, outpitching two-time All-Star Cole Hamels (0-1).

Gaby Sanchez had two hits and two RBIs, Emilio Bonifacio had three hits and Austin Kearns hit a solo shot off Jonathan Papelbon.

Missing Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the middle of their lineup, the Phillies continued to struggle offensively. They've scored eight runs and are off to a 1-3 start.

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Sleeper WRs to target in the later rounds: No. 3 -- Streeter

The Titans' willingness to meet with Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd and South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery may show their need for a bigger receiver. If both are taken by the time Tennessee picks, Miami (Fla.) WR Tommy Streeter may be a viable alternative. At 6-5, 219, Streeter is a tall, rangy receiver who is tough to defend on fades in the end zone. Streeter has also flashed exceptional speed for his size.

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Lamar Miller: A running back with home-run potential

Corey from Orlando, Fla., asks whether the San Francisco 49ers would consider using the 30th pick in the 2012 NFL draft for Miami running back Lamar Miller.

"He's tough, like Frank Gore, he's not overly big and probably not as gritty as Gore is, but he's very fast and is also an impact running back," Corey writes. "Gore is obviously coming close to 30 and will need to be replaced within the next two years. Do the Niners go back to 'The U' to pick up their next franchise back? Kendall Hunter cannot do it alone."

Mike Sando: Miller's name came up during a conversation with Todd McShay at the combine in February. Miller was the first player McShay mentioned when I asked about playmakers available outside the top overall choices. I had the St. Louis Rams in mind because they've needed impact players on offense the most.

The chart shows Miller starting fast last season, topping 100 yards in each of his first five games, including three times against top-50 rush defenses, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A shoulder injury suffered a month into the season was likely a factor.

Miller averaged 2.1 yards per rush after contact, lowest among Scouts Inc.'s five highest-rated backs. But his big-play ability was striking.

"I give him a lot of passes on things that I am usually pretty cool on when you evaluate a running back because the guy flies," McShay said. "He is Chris Johnson. He really accelerates off his cut and he goes. He absolutely flies. Second round."

McShay wound up sending Miller to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 53 in his two-round mock draft from March 28. His reference to Johnson played into my vision for Miller in St. Louis, where Johnson's former coach with the Tennessee Titans, Jeff Fisher, could use help for Steven Jackson. But the 49ers likewise need to prepare for life after Gore.

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Warren Sapp likely out at NFL Network

Warren Sapp could be facing more financial hardship. It appears the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders defensive tackle is likely done as a studio analyst for the NFL Network.

Citing two unidentified league sources, The Boston Globe reported Sapp's next appearance on the network has not been determined and his contract is not expected to be renewed. Sapp reportedly is paid $540,000 annually with the NFL Network.

Sapp owes more than $6.7 million to creditors and back child support and alimony, according to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing in South Florida.
Sapp's $6.45 million in assets includes 240 pairs of Jordan athletic shoes worth almost $6,500, a $2,250 watch and a lion skin rug worth $1,200. He also reported losing the 2002 Super Bowl ring he won with the Bucs and the 1991 NCAA national championship ring from Miami (Fla.).

The court documents were filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on March 30. first reported the filing. A phone message and e-mail left Saturday with his attorney, Chad Pugatch, were not immediately returned.

Sapp's average monthly income is $115,881, according to the filings, and includes $45,000 for a final contract payment with Showtime, $48,000 for an appearance with CCA Sports and $18,675 as an advance for a book deal. His contract with the NFL Network ends in August, the filings show, and it was unknown if the contract will be renewed.

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Jon Beason Workout April 2012

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Michael Irvin: “I almost threw up” when I heard Gregg Williams audio

Former Cowboy and Hall of Fame WR Michael Irvin of the NFL Network was so sickened listening to the audio of Gregg Williams telling his players to injure certain 49ers that he almost tossed his cookies:

“Since you were a baby you’ve understood never take out a man’s knees and on this tape he’s talking about taking out an ACL,”…

“I almost threw up when I heard it. I pulled back any covers that I may have had for a coach. If he is out of the league forever, it would be only the right thing to do.”

Williams is currently serving an indefinite suspension.

Whether Roger Goodell decides to let Williams back at some point, Irvin goes on to say “The Commissioner, you can’t let [Williams] back in,”

Williams’ indefinite suspension may just turn out to be a lifetime ban. With all the concern going on in the league regarding player safety, this has to be really disappointing to the NFL brass to hear a coach cross the line like this.

While this does not bode well for the Saints’ appeal, it all but destroys Gregg Williams’ NFL coaching career.

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Ed Reed said he feels disrespected by the Ravens

Will he or won’t he? What’s a Ravens offseason without some drama surrounding Ed Reed’s future?

Hours after general manager Ozzie Newsome reiterated that the team expects Reed to be its starting free safety in 2012, the enigmatic future Hall of Famer said in a Wednesday night interview on 105.7 The Fan that he feels disrespected by the Ravens -- enough to make him question playing this season.

“I plan on playing. Everybody in the world knows that plans tend to change,” said Reed, who is in the final year of his contract. “I’ve got some unfinished business. I got a lot on my mind I’ve been thinking about and the truth of the matter is that it’s about respect. It’s about getting respect and it’s a business.”

Discussing what he perceives as a lack of loyalty in the NFL, Reed brought up the Indianapolis Colts cutting Peyton Manning and the San Francisco 49ers doing the same with Joe Montana years ago. He also said money equals respect, and after hearing him say that he isn’t getting enough respect from the Ravens, it’s not difficult to see what Reed, who will make $7.2 million in 2012, is really hinting at here.

He said the team discussed a contract extension with him last offseason and that both sides “know it’s there,” referring to the possibility of reaching an extension that could free up cap space this offseason. At Wednesday’s annual draft luncheon, Newsome said that he hadn’t spoken with Reed since the team’s loss in the AFC championship game. But the Ravens are counting on him to play this season.

(It’s worth noting that earlier in the interview Reed said he wanted to do a free autograph session for Ravens fans “before the season.&rdquoWinking

Reed said he is open to discussing a contract extension to “help the team” free up salary cap space, but he didn’t say specifically how much money would buy enough respect to convince him to play. He did mention the five-year, $96 million contract the Denver Broncos gave Manning last month. He acknowledged that each position is valued differently, but he clearly feels he is an exception at safety.

“For what I offer on the football field, for what I give on the football field and for what they know they’re going to get, it’s much more than these young guys out here today and what they’re getting,” the 33-year-old said. “And I’m talking at any every defensive back position right now, not just safety.”
Reed picked off three passes and made 52 tackles last season, but was criticized for missing tackles, something he bristled when asked about Wednesday. He has been selected to six straight Pro Bowls.

Last week, Reed made some interesting comments down in Florida, where he was inducted into the University of Miami’s Hall of Fame. He told The Miami Sun-Sentinel that he wants to play four or five more years, but that he wasn’t 100 percent sure if he would play in 2012. He also said that his home is in Baltimore “unless they say otherwise.” And now he is talking about being disrespected.

“When I’m on the football field, I’m giving you everything,” Reed said. “Do the Ravens know that? Yes they do. Did Ozzie know that Ed Reed was going to be playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers regardless of negotiating his contract? Yes he did. Did Ed get the respect that he deserves? No he did not. Am I going to get it? Probably won’t. Hopefully he do. If I don’t, then, hey man, I’m alright with me.”

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Zach Railey, 2nd Place, Finn Class

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Ten questions with Yonder Alonso

Q: Your dad was a baseball coach in Cuba, so you grew up with a bat in your hand. What was baseball like in Cuba?
A: It was a little bit different than here. A little bit more fire. It’s such a different game when it comes to the aggressiveness of the game. You don’t play as many games as you do here, so every day is pretty much do or die.

Q: You came to the United States when you were 9, moved to Miami. What was the biggest culture shock for you?
A: You know what, everything was a shock. You kind of appreciate things a little bit more, things that people here maybe don’t appreciate, like even a moving car, or air conditioning, or a microwave. Those are little things that you appreciate when you get here.

Q: You had to learn the language, you and your family lived in a small apartment, and you worked during high school and college. At a time when all your friends were going out on Friday nights, you’re this baseball star and you were helping your family clean offices. What was that like?
A: Sacrificing, you know. It was something I had to do for my parents. They needed the help and you can’t really say no when it comes to family stuff.

Q: Did you hate it at the time?
A: Yeah. It was awful. You wanted to go out with your buddies, you wanted to hang out and kinda live your college and high school life a little bit, but it’s things that I don’t take for granted at all. Now that I look back, it made me the person that I am today and I’m stronger for it.

Q: You were traded to the Padres from the Reds. What did you take from your time with the Reds?
A: So many things. Great friends, good teammates. They showed me the way to play the game the right way. Not just on the field but outside the field. All the preparation it takes to play the game and learning how to be a Big Leaguer.

Q: What do you love most about first base?
A: If I had to go with one thing, it’s probably talking smack to the other team when they get on first base. Sometimes they’re in a bad mood and that’s when I really get after it with them. Just trying to get in their heads a little so they don’t steal.

Q: I’ve always wondered what you guys talk about. Are you catching up on family? What?
A: Depends on the guy. If I know the guy well, we talk a little bit about family, but once that’s over, I start telling them, “Hey, he might pick over this time, he’s got a really good move, just be careful, this guy is really good.” Just trying to blow up our pitcher, blow up our catcher, our defense, so that way he’s kinda tentative to go to second base.

Q: So you’re getting psychological?
A: I’m trying to get in their heads as much as possible. Even when they’re getting the signs I’m talking to them so they kinda get confused a little bit.

Q: If you weren’t a major-league baseball player, you would be a ...
A: Firefighter. Seems pretty cool. And girls like them, so why not.
Q: One thing you want to do in San Diego?
A: So many things. Go to the beach, of course. Sea World. And I really want to hit up all the breakfast spots, so hit me up on Twitter (@YonderAlonsoU) and tell me all the breakfast spots.

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Gaby Sanchez seeking a full year of success

CINCINNATI -- The crowd at Marlins Park gave Gaby Sanchez a rousing ovation on Opening Night during the pregame introductions. The Marlins’ homegrown first baseman hopes the cheering continues all the way to the end of the season.

That’s because Sanchez is out to prove that his second-half slumps the past two seasons — his first two full seasons in the majors — have been aberrations and not some inherent deficiency.

“I felt like I came into last year a little better prepared for it,” Sanchez said. “And this year I feel a little more prepared.”

In 2010, Sanchez hit .302 the first half of the season but only .237 the second half. In 2011, Sanchez hit .293 the first half of the season and landed on the All-Star team but tailed off again in the second half, hitting just .228.

Sanchez said there are explanations for both, neither of which are related.

Because 2010 was his first full season in the majors, Sanchez said he was “just trying to teach my body how 160-something games was.” In other words, he wore down a bit from the fatigue of the long grind.

Last season?

“Last year was tough because I was dealing with some things in my knee, but I felt like I was still hitting the ball well,” Sanchez said of his second-half struggles. “I just was not getting hits. It’s just one of those things that’s baseball. You’re going to go through streaks in baseball where you’re hitting the ball good and not getting any hits out of it.”

Sanchez points out that while his batting average declined, his strikeout rate remained unchanged and his walk rate increased slightly.

“That means I was seeing the ball well and having good [at-bats],” he said. “Definitely, the power numbers weren’t there [in the second half] because I couldn’t hit off my back side.”

But Sanchez said his knee issues are behind him.

He popped an opposite-field home run in the first of two exhibition games against the New York Yankees and has one of the team’s seven hits — a double on Thursday in Cincinnati.

The former University of Miami star is also developing into a fan favorite as evidenced by the ovation he received Wednesday.

Only new manager Ozzie Guillen and new shortstop Jose Reyes received appreciably louder applause.

“I think it just shows that I’m a hometown guy, and I think Miami wants their hometown guy to succeed,” said Sanchez, who was born and raised in Miami.

“It was nice. It was definitely a nice way to start things off.”

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Ryan Braun out to show he can shake off rough offseason

MILWAUKEE — For Ryan Braun, winning an appeal of a 50-game suspension was only his first step toward redemption.

Now the Milwaukee Brewers slugger is out to show fans that he can shake off what became a tumultuous offseason after a failed drug test that tarnished his reputation, and regain the form that made him the NL’s MVP last season.

Speaking Friday before the Brewers’ opener against the St. Louis Cardinals, Braun said he’s looking forward to the chance to prove he can handle what transpired.

"Of course," Braun said. "It’s not so much about proving anybody wrong as it much as it is proving the people who all believed in me and supported me right. So I’m definitely excited. Very motivated."

Fans gave Braun a rousing ovation in pregame introductions and were even louder during his first few trips to the plate, cheering and chanting "M-V-P!"

After helping power the Brewers to the NL championship series and winning the league’s MVP award, Braun’s achievements came under suspicion when ESPN reported that he failed a drug test with a high testosterone level.

Braun went on to win his appeal and avoid a 50-game suspension. Then he made his case to the fans upon his arrival in spring training, saying that chain of custody issues with his urine sample cast doubt on the validity of the test.

That didn’t end the controversy; baseball officials were unhappy with the arbitrator’s decision, and a urine sample collector issued a statement saying he followed proper protocols and that there was no evidence of tampering. Braun also has hinted that there’s more to the story than he’s letting on, refusing to share those details.

And Braun struggled for much of spring training.

But with the regular season set to start, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke likes what he has seen and heard from Braun.

"Right now, he’s in a really good place," Roenicke said. "First couple weeks of spring? A little difficult. He’s back to the guy he was, I saw last year. He’s very confident. He knows he had a tough offseason mentally, and I think he’s in a place right now where his focus is on having another repeat year and even better - which is hard to believe, but that’s the way he talks. And it’s hard to say that he wouldn’t."

But Roenicke acknowledged that Braun is likely to face adversity from opposing fans when he goes on the road.

"I think there’ll be challenges," Roenicke said. "I think it’s just not going to be comfortable going to some different places. But I don’t think with his personality, I don’t think that’s going to affect the way that he goes about his job. It may not be quite as fun and relaxing as he usually is and when he goes to different cities and opposing (fans) that for whatever reason are going to get on him. What I’ve seen, especially the last couple weeks, there’s not any effects of what I thought ... could be there mentally with him. And so he really is in a good place now."

Braun has the support of Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio.

"I’ll be giving him a standing ovation," Attanasio said before the game. "I hope others will stand and cheer for him. It’s obviously huge for our club. Ryan does so many things well. Obviously, we really didn’t want to talk about it, but it would have been a big loss to have him out for 50 games."
Now that he’s able to play a full season, Braun thinks the Brewers can contend again.

Even without Prince Fielder, who signed a free agent deal with Detroit in the offseason, Braun said this year’s team is the best he has been a part of.

"As an opposing pitcher, when you look at a lineup and you see the name Prince Fielder, it’s intimidating," Braun said. "You know that’s a guy that can hit a home run at any point, that alters the way you approach the hitters before him and the hitters after him. So you don’t replace him with a single guy, but I think collectively, as a unit, we’re honestly better than we were last year."

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