Ed Reed joins Showtime's 'Inside the NFL' as analyst

Former Ravens safety Ed Reed had his moments with the media during his superlative career here, some good, some bad. But now, he’s joining their ranks.

Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand reported Thursday afternoon that Reed would be joining Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the “Inside the NFL” show, which will air Tuesday nights on Showtime and re-air Wednesday on NFL Network.

Reed told reporters at Lardarius Webb’s charity softball game in June that he was “definitely preparing to play,” though he didn’t have plans to sign at all.

"I'm very excited to be part of the Inside the NFL team this season," Reed said in a statement. "It's an honor to work along side such an award winning cast and crew. I look, very much, forward to continuing to work in and promote the game I love so much."

He joins notable former Ravens like linebacker Ray Lewis, quarterback Trent Dilfer and tight end Shannon Sharpe among those who have transitioned from the field to the television studio. Former linebacker Bart Scott will join CBS as an analyst this fall.

Let’s hope for Reed’s sake that his transition is just as smooth.

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Allen Hurns Becoming Playmaker for Jacksonville Jaguars

Undrafted wide receiver Allen Hurns is not only making a case to earn a spot on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 53-man roster, but he could find himself earning meaningful regular-season snaps if he keeps playing at his current level.

Against the Chicago Bears in the second week of preseason action, Hurns flashed playmaking potential on a national stage.

But for those who have been watching him through Jaguars training camp, he's already begun to make a name for himself.

The former University of Miami receiver got his shot early on in the Jaguars' mandatory minicamp when rookies Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson as well as veteran Cecil Shorts were sidelined with injuries.

On June 19, receiving time with the first-team offense, he made a one-handed catch on a Chad Henne pass in a red-zone 11-on-11 drill that impressed his teammates.

"Allen Hurns had a heck of a camp," Henne told Fox Sports Florida's Ken Hornack. "He's a big, strong receiver and understands the offense ... Just a really reliable guy."

At practice on August 1, Henne squeezed the ball into a tight window and Hurns made the grab, as seen in this Vine from the team's Twitter:

After Ace Sanders' suspension was announced and Tandon Doss sprained his ankle, the door opened a little wider for Hurns, who earned the start alongside Lee against the Bears on Thursday.

At 6'3" and 195 pounds, Hurns is one of the tallest receivers currently on the Jaguars' roster. He led the Hurricanes in receptions (62) and receiving yards (1,162) in 2013, and was second in scoring with six touchdowns.

NFL.com indicates he ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at the combine and posted a 31-inch vertical jump.

His pedestrian speed is part of what caused him to tumble out of the draft, but the Jaguars don't need him to be a burner to be successful.
Without top speed, if Hurns can prove he's a reliable option on quick slants and has the hands to catch anything thrown his way, he can make a serious case for a spot on the 53. 

Hornack notes Hurns has learned all three receiver positions used by the Jaguars, which becomes a huge advantage while Robinson remains out with a hamstring injury. Ryan O'Halloran of the The Florida Times-Union reported that Robinson may not be available for "a few more weeks." Shorts missed the preseason action against Chicago as well.

Spending two years with Jacksonville offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch in Miami has also given Hurns a leg up through camp. "I had a good relationship with Jedd Fisch," he told Hornack. "I know his playbook. So coming in, that put me a step ahead."

Hurns was Jacksonville's leading receiver Thursday evening against Chicago, finishing the night with four receptions for 74 yards, including a 45-yard bomb from Blake Bortles with one second to go in the second quarter.

In the first half, Hurns helped the Jaguars convert two third downs, including one from Henne for 10 yards on 3rd-and-8 at the Chicago 19-yard line that set up a six-yard Lee touchdown.

ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco expects the Jaguars to carry six receivers into the regular season. With Shorts, Lee and Robinson as virtual locks for the top three spots, and Mike Brown having a solid offseason, Hurns is proving himself worthy of one of the two remaining spots.

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Travis Benjamin feels faster coming back from torn ACL

Cleveland Browns wide receiver and return specialist Travis Benjamin, the fastest player on the roster before he suffered a torn ACL in 2013, feels he’ll be faster in his comeback.

“I actually feel much faster than I was before. Mostly I focused on my lower body and getting it stronger knowing that I had an ACL surgery,” said Benjamin.

Benjamin was injured returning a punt on Oct, 27 and had to rehab relentlessly to be ready for the start of camp July 25.

He added after a 50-yard catch from Johnny Manziel that he also feels he can stretch the field and catch sharp balls and long balls.

Benjamin, a 2012 fourth-round draft pick from Miami, caught 18 passes as a rookie. One was a 69-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He caught five passes last year and one of those covered 39 yards. He had one carry for 45 yards in 2013 and six in 2012. One of those went for 35 yards.

He has six career kick returns for 222 yards — a 37.0 average, and has 25 career punt returns for a 16.7 average.

“I always feel like I’m the fastest guy in the NFL. I’m just waiting for the challenge,” said Benjamin.

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Leonard Hankerson could go on reserve/PUP

Redskins coach Jay Gruden acknowledged Thursday that reserve/PUP is a realistic option for WR Leonard Hankerson (ACL, LCL surgery).

Rookie Ryan Grant's strong training camp has given the Redskins reason to be patient with Hankerson, who underwent surgery last November. At age 25, Hankerson's career has reached a crossroads with a new regime in D.C.

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Colts should play Reggie Wayne during preseason

Reggie Wayne wants to be on the field in the preseason. He needs to be on the field in the preseason. If the Indianapolis Colts don't put him out there, they're making a mistake.

Wayne missed most of last season after his severe knee injury required surgery and months of rehabilitation. He's done the work, no question. He has looked good back at wide receiver in public training camp sessions at Anderson University, which ended on Wednesday.

Wayne has said all along he'd like to play in the preseason, if only for one game. The Colts play the New York Giants at 7 p.m. Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium, the New Orleans Saints at home on Aug. 23 and the Bengals in Cincinnati on Aug. 28.

“(We're) just kind of playing it by ear,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said on whether Wayne will play Saturday. “He looks really good out there, running around good. Obviously, we're keeping a close eye on him, watching his reps and things like that. We'll just play it by ear.”

Wayne seems itching to get on the field in a real game situation.

“I'm just following orders,” Wayne said. “As we always say, we're just here to serve. I'm just here to serve. Whenever they tell me it's time, I'll get ready. I'm going to do the same thing I have been doing, prepare like I am going to (play) and then once he gives me the bad news, I am going to sit it on down.”

If Wayne is back to full health, they should put him back in the rotation for the second and third games of the preseason. That will allow him to be comfortable with contact again, as well as work with the offense in game situations.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and the first-team offense are expected to play one quarter against the Giants, possibly less if they generate a couple of early scoring drives.

Typically, NFL teams play their starters into the third quarter in the third preseason game and that's been the Colts' routine in the first two seasons with Pagano in charge. If Wayne is only used in one preseason game, it should probably be the third. But if he can play in one, why not two?

The only benefit to holding Wayne out of preseason games would be if he needs more time to become fully healthy. That doesn't appear to be the case. He has run through every drill, taking days off only as determine by Pagano for veterans. During camp, Pagano believes in a two-on, one-off style of practicing for the veteran players to keep them fresh. Wayne has looked fresh.

The downside to holding Wayne out of the preseason entirely would be the fact he'd have to take his first hit in a regular-season game.

Now, that first hit will matter. Regardless of how confident a player is, nor how many years he has played, there remains uncertainty in testing the surgically repaired body.

The knee is so essential to Wayne's play, as he makes his living out of running crisp routes with sharp cuts and moves to find openings. He's not a speed demon. He's receiver-as-artist, painting the field canvas with precise strokes.

Wayne said he would prefer to have his first hit in the preseason.

“That's the mindset, but at the same time if the big dog tells me to sit it down, I am going to sit it down,” Wayne said. “Like I said, I am just here to serve. I am just a servant. I'm Semmi in 'Coming to America.' I'm just here to do my job and when it's time and the time comes, I am going to be ready, ready to perform the way I have been performing.”

Set aside the fact Wayne shows his age with his reference to a 1988 Eddie Murphy movie. He has been in the league long enough to know his own body.
Play Wayne. Let him work out the initial apprehension, presuming he has to have some, in the preseason. Then he'll be relaxed and ready to be his usual reliable self when it counts.

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Steve Young Lauds Frank Gore as 'Most Underrated'

Frank Gore speaks the loudest on the football field. 

Given his remarkable longevity and consistency at the most punishing position in the game, the 49ers veteran running back can let others do the talking off it.

For one, allow Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young to detail the light in which he views Gore.

“Frank is the most underrated football player – and this is not hyperbole – honestly that I’ve ever known,” Young said on KNBR. “He’s a well-known player, but no one understands how great he really is. He’s one of the best backs I’ve ever seen or watch play. The things he does, the things he helps with in all facets of the game, the kind of guy he’s on the field, he’s just a really good player.”

Those words come from Steve Young the ESPN analyst, not Steve Young the 49ers supporter. The high praise didn’t stop there, though. He went on to put Gore’s immeasurable value into a more luminous perspective.

“He might not explode for 80 (yards), but wouldn’t you rather have a guy that made every first down?” Young said. “Third-and-four and he got you five because of his unique, incredible ability to wait and hold. He has made more first downs just purely on guts and guile.”

Despite Gore beginning this season at 31-years-old, Young believes the hard-nosed rusher still has plenty left in the tank, but he’d like to see 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take the next step in his career progression to alleviate some of Gore’s responsibilities in the offense.

“Colin is going to have to drop back, read some defenses and deliver some footballs,” Young said. “Put the ball in the end zone without Frank doing it all. It’s going to be a challenge, but it has to come at some point.”

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Reggie Wayne exceeding expectations

The Indy Star's Stephen Holder says Reggie Wayne has exceeded his expectations in Wayne's return from an ACL tear.

Beat writer reports on Wayne have been glowing, even as the Colts limit his reps. Per Holder, the 35-year-old has "looked fresh and fast," and his "hands are as reliable as ever." If Wayne can keep this up, he should reemerge as the favorite to lead Indianapolis in catches. His ADP is in the middle seventh round.

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Brandon Meriweather sits out

Linebacker Darryl Sharpton (high ankle sprain) was also sidelined, as was Brandon Meriweather, who was nursing a minor toe injury.

“He hurt his toe,” Gruden said of his starting strong safety. “Got a little blood underneath his toenail, limping around a little bit. But he should be okay.”

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Greg Olsen misses practice

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen missed practice on Thursday with a leg injury.

Coach Ron Rivera said a player stepped on Olsen’s calf on the last day of training camp in Spartanburg. Olsen expects to play in Sunday’s home exhibition game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Season-ending shoulder injury could end Colin McCarthy’s Titans career

The star-crossed career of Tennessee Titans linebacker Colin McCarthy took another wicked turn with the news that he could miss the entire season with a shoulder injury.

McCarthy suffered the injury in Saturday night’s preseason opener, playing in the third quarter with the Titans third-team defense, hoping to show the new coaching regime that he is still a worthwhile entity, either as an inside linebacker or on special teams.

The question now is whether the shoulder injury spells the end of McCarthy’s time with the Tennessee Titans.

In just his fourth season, McCarthy has been through quite a rollercoaster ride in his time as a Titan.

When Tennessee selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, McCarthy made an immediate impact in preseason and on special teams by having a nose for the football and a knack for making big plays.

Back in 2011, the Titans were a team in transition, having moved on from Jeff Fisher with Mike Munchak in his first season as head coach.

They drafted Jake Locker to be the future franchise quarterback and lauded linebacker Akeem Ayers as a second-round steal.

And while third-rounder Jurrell Casey has had the biggest long-term impact from that draft class to date, it was McCarthy who became both a fan and locker room favorite.

Midway through his rookie season, McCarthy supplanted veteran Barrett Ruud as the starting middle linebacker and, by December, had garnered AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for a nine-tackle game against the Buffalo Bills, in which he forced one fumble and recovered two more.

His inspiring play helped keep the Titans in playoff contention during Munchak’s first year as a head coach. The team would eventually finish just out the money at 9-7.

The next year, McCarthy’s star was still on the rise as he entered training camp and was voted as the team’s defensive captain – quite an honor for a player who had only 13 NFL games under his belt and just seven career starts.

McCarthy appeared to be the type of playmaker in the middle that then-defensive coordinator Jerry Gray could build his unit around.

However, things soon began to go badly, and for whatever reason the likeable linebacker has never really been able to fully reverse the trend.

McCarthy suffered a high ankle sprain in the 2012 season opener, and the injury bothered him throughout the season. While playing through that injury, he suffered a concussion that landed him on injured reserve.

In all, McCarthy managed to play in just seven games that year.

He came back healthy in 2013, but wound up losing his starting middle linebacker role to Moise Fokou in training camp.

Now, entering the 2014 season, with a new coaching staff, a new 3-4 system and in the final year of his rookie contract, McCarthy is in an uphill fight to stay on the roster.

Saturday night’s injury certainly doesn’t help his chances, and neither does his $1.431 million base salary, which the Titans probably deem as way too much for a non-starter and special teams player.

It’s doubtful that McCarthy could get healthy quickly enough to play this year. Indications are season-ending surgery will be required.

Would the Titans place him on injured reserve and either reach a settlement or pay off his 2014 salary? Seems unlikely.

Perhaps McCarthy would be better off finding a fresh start somewhere else in the league and put his Titans days behind him.

But if Saturday night proves to be the end of Colin McCarthy’s run with Tennessee, it closes yet another promising Titans career with fans and coaches wondering what might have been.

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Jon Jay's 2-run double lifts Cardinals over Padres 4-3

ST. LOUIS — Pinch-hitter Jon Jay wasn't choosy when he came up to bat for the Cardinals in the eighth inning.

Jay delivered a two-run double on the first pitch and right fielder Shane Robinson threw out the potential tying run at the plate in the ninth to help St. Louis hold off the San Diego Padres 4-3 Thursday night.

"I was trying to be aggressive," Jay said. "I wanted something over the plate I could handle. I was able to do that."

Jhonny Peralta hit an early two-run homer for the Cardinals, who moved ahead of Pittsburgh into second place in the NL Central. St. Louis remained two games behind division-leading Milwaukee.

San Diego had its five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 16-9 since the All-Star break.

Trailing by two in the ninth, the Padres loaded the bases with one out against closer Trevor Rosenthal. Pinch-hitter Jake Goebbert came through with an RBI single to right, but Alexi Amarista was cut down at home when he tried to score from second.

The replay review lasted 4 minutes, 9 seconds. Padres manager Bud Black then was ejected by plate umpire Bob Davidson for continuing to argue the call.

"You saw two major league players react to a play that indicated that a tag was missed," Black said. "You saw their catcher go back and try to tag our runner because he knew he missed him. You saw our player react knowing that he wasn't tagged. So you saw two experienced major league players react to a play that they both knew wasn't a tag.

"That's what's frustrating to us."

Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who entered in the ninth, disagreed.

"I thought I got his arm," Pierzynski said. "I couldn't hear Bob. It was a big play in the game for sure. I couldn't see the umpire who was behind me. You just go. You hope they stay with the call. I think they got it right."

After a four-pitch walk to Will Venable loaded the bases again, Rosenthal struck out Tommy Medica for his 36th save in 40 opportunities.

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Titans' Colin McCarthy to likely need surgery

The Titans are preparing for life without inside linebacker Colin McCarthy.

After injuring his shoulder in Saturday's 20-16 preseason win over the Green Bay Packers, McCarthy underwent initial tests that suggested he'll require season-ending surgery, according to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean.

McCarthy is slated to get a second opinion next week before going under the knife.

A fourth-round pick of the Titans in 2011, the oft-injured McCarthy was battling for a roster spot under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, who called the injury "significant."

The addition of Wesley Woodyard in the offseason pushed McCarthy down the pecking order, as did Tennessee's scheme shift to a 3-4 defense under coordinator Ray Horton. In the final year of his rookie deal, this could be it for McCarthy in Tennessee.

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Jon Beason progressing, waiting, coaching

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Standing on the sidelines and watching practice while healing from a foot injury has been an eye-opening experience for Jon Beason. The New York Giants' middle linebacker said he's gained a greater appreciation of his coaches' perspective.

"I see how coaches can get frustrated, because you're always right," Beason said. "You've got that great vantage point. You're not tired. You have the script. You get the chance to kind of think about the play longer. So that part of it has opened my eyes, and I get where they come from, their frustration when we don't do things right."

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said last week that Beason has been in his ear all throughout training camp with opinions and suggestions, and that it's been a help. It's about all Beason can do right now. He broke his foot during OTAs and spends time early in practice running by himself on a back field. He tracks his progress day by day while still hoping he can be ready for the Sept. 8 season opener in Detroit.

"You try to get out there and tax it a little bit, see how it feels, and then everything is based on gauging it the next day," Beason said. "Is it really sore? Is it just a little bit sore? And then if you can have consistent days, then you know you're kind of building up a tolerance. So that's usually the process in any rehab. Toes are a little iffy, because it doesn't take much pain to have irritated feet, makes it hard to change direction, especially as a defensive player where you have to do a lot of reacting."

Beason said earlier in camp that he hoped to play in at least one of the Giants' preseason games. But there's no way he'll be ready for Saturday night's game in Indianapolis, and at this point it would be pretty surprising if he were ready to play the Aug. 22 game against the Jets. That would leave only one more preseason game -- Aug. 28 against the Patriots -- for Beason to fulfill that goal. But he's staying patient.

"It's coming along," Beason said. "We still have time. I'm just trying to listen to the staff, who I trust, and trying to listen to my body. But we are playing on Monday night (in the season opener) and it's still a little over three weeks before the game, so a lot can happen between now and then."

Jameel McClain has been manning the middle linebacker spot in Beason's absence, with rookie Devon Kennard playing the strongside linebacker spot that had been slated for McClain.

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Andre Johnson practices at full speed vs. Falcons

Receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster returned to practice against Atlanta today.

Johnson and Foster had been sidelined because of hamstring injuries.

Foster refused to speak with the media, but, as always, Johnson was polite and cooperative.

“Its good to be back out here with my teammates running around,” Johnson said. “I was able to do things full speed.”

Johnson worked full speed on Monday and Tuesday on an adjacent practice field and told the trainers he was ready to return to practice against the Falcons.

He didn’t participate in every drill.

“It was just being careful about the way they work me back in,” he said.

As far as playing against the Falcons on Saturday night, Johnson said, “I don’t know. That’s the coaches decision. We’ll see what happens.”

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Travis Benjamin Sees Increasing Role

The Rabbit, the fastest player on the Browns’ roster before a knee injury ended his 2013 season, is back and hopping faster than ever.
The Rabbit is slender Travis Benjamin, who earned his nickname as a legendary rabbit catcher in his hometown of Bell Grade, Fla. More on that in a few paragraphs.
Benjamin is the kick returner, punt returner and deep-throw threat on a Browns team that sorely is in need of a reliable wide receiver. Josh Gordon is that player now, but he is likely to be suspended for all or part of 2014 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Any day now, or maybe that should be any month, the league is expected to rule on Gordon’s appeal, which concluded Aug. 4.
Benjamin’s season was smoothly sailing along last year until a gruesome knee injury in Kansas City ended his season.
Brian Hoyer has received more attention for his torn ACL because he’s a quarterback, but Benjamin was injured returning a punt on Oct, 27, 24 days after Hoyer went down, and had to rehab just as relentlessly to be ready for the start of camp on July 25.
“I always feel like I can stretch the field, catch sharp balls, long balls.” Benjamin said on Aug. 13 after a 50-yard catch from Johnny Manziel on the right sideline highlighted a very productive practice. “I actually feel much faster than I was before. Mostly I focused on my lower body and getting it stronger knowing that I had an ACL surgery. I always feel like I’m the fastest guy in the NFL. I’m just waiting for the challenge.”
Speed and quickness were priceless traits for a young boy growing up in Belle Grade, where rabbit catching is a rite of passage. Benjamin said his older brother would tell tales of the sport when Travis was too young to chase Peter Cottontail.
Benjamin’s time of glory came when he reached middle school. The game was on when the sugarcane was burned and the rabbits started running. “The biggest trick is, as a group, surround the bushes and when the rabbits hear you coming they just rush out and go any way,” Benjamin said. “Knowing you have a circle, you’re able to catch it.
“Sometimes you dive. Sometimes you have a stick or something in your hand so when you see it you just have to jump on it. One day I caught 20, 25 rabbits. I was telling (teammates and coaches) the story and they didn’t believe it, so they’ve called me “Rabbit” ever since. Now I go to the grocery store and everybody calls me Rabbit.”
Rabbit is a delicacy in Bell Grade.
“Kind of tender, almost like pork chops,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin, a 2012 fourth-round draft pick from Miami, has six career kick returns for 222 yards — a 37.0 average. He has 25 career punt returns for a 16.7 average. He had an 86-yard kick return (no touchdown) plus a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown last year. He returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown in 2012.
Benjamin caught 18 passes as a rookie. One was a 69-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He caught five passes last year and one of those covered 39 yards. He had one carry for 45 yards in 2013 and six in 2012. One of those went for 35 yards.
The Rabbit doesn’t get his hands on the ball often. But when he does, good things happen for the Browns.
“It’s hard to have a roster spot just for a guy and all he does is return,” Coach Mike Pettine said. “He has to be able to function on one side of the ball or the other. In Kyle’s offense over the years, he’s had that guy that can kind of take the roof off. I think that’s important.”
Benjamin is ready to tear that roof off, even if he’ll find no rabbits under it.

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Antrel Rolle is smiling thinking out of the box

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Coming off his best season, New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle has reason to smile.

Not only have the Giants restocked the secondary in the offseason, they finally have enough cornerbacks to allow Rolle to stay at safety in passing situations instead of switching to the nickel back.

It was a position that he has disliked since joining the Giants in 2010, but one he played every week to help the team.

With the free agent signings of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond III and Zack Bowman and the return of Prince Amukamara, Jayron Hosley and Trumaine McBride, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has the depth and talent to keep Rolle in his natural position.

For now, Thurmond is the nickel back.

"Yeah that's great," Rolle said Wednesday as the Giants (2-0) continued preparations for Saturday's preseason game in Indianapolis against the Colts.

"Having Walter here is a huge plus and a huge asset for our defense. He's a phenomenal player. Not just nickel back, but a player. You talk about special teams, you talk about just being a corner on the boundary and being a slot-nickel. He can do it all."

Rolle did it all last season for the Giants. The 31-year-old led the team with 98 tackles and six interceptions, both career highs. It earned him his third Pro Bowl appearance.

As a full-time safety, Fewell said there is no telling how good Rolle can be this season.

"That's up to Antrel," Fewell said. "We're giving him all the reps back there, he uses the term, 'I'm getting my eyes back.' So he can now see the field instead of seeing down in the box and the perimeter. Now he sees the entire field. I think that's important for him to develop that to become as good as he can be as a safety."

This is also going to be a season where Rolle emerges as the undisputed leader of the defense.

For the past couple of years, he and defensive end Justin Tuck shared the role. Tuck signed with Oakland as a free agent in the offseason and now it's fair to say Rolle is in charge among the players.

Linebacker Jon Beason might have shared that role, but he injured a foot in the offseason and has been on the physically unable to perform list.

So Rolle is the spokesman for the defense, which has allowed one touchdown in two preseason games.

"I'm very pleased with I've seen thus far," Rolle said. "Obviously, there's a lot of areas to clean up and fine-tune. Cut down on a lot of the penalties, especially in the defensive backfield, and eliminating a lot of the big plays: big play run and big play pass.

"Overall, I think we've been doing a great job in keeping a team out of the end zone, which is always our number one priority as a defense. So far, so good."
The defense will be challenged this weekend, facing the Colts and Andrew Luck.

"I think Luck is an elite quarterback," Rolle said. "He's an outstanding young and rising star in the league. I think he possesses great tools and great poise as a quarterback. This is going to be the best test that we've done thus far this year with the receiver tandem they do have."

Indianapolis should test the secondary with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and former Giant Hakeem Nicks.

"I think we've been gelling excellent. Not just good, but excellent," Rolle said. "As a defensive back unit, I think our chemistry is definitely where it needs to be and it's going to continue to rise.

"We're friends on and off the field, which is always something you need when you're dealing with people on an everyday basis. We all love each other and we all play for one another. More importantly, we all understand what we have at task right now, which is to go out there and see the ball and get the ball."

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'Underrated' Calais Campbell would love more recognition

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians calls Calais Campbell one of the most underrated players in the NFL.

It's a description the big defensive end doesn't really like.

"To me it's a term that you don't want because you'd rather be viewed as one of the best in the game," he said, "but it's nice that if you're not getting the top accolades, at least people know that you're working hard and they recognize you a little bit. So it's better than nothing."

An imposing 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, Campbell is widely lauded for his talents by coaches and players around the league.

Yet he has never made it to the Pro Bowl, something that Arians says "baffles" him.

One reason is the 3-4 defensive scheme the Cardinals use. That leaves Campbell inside to fight off double teams while others make the play. In the 4-3 system, defensive ends rush the passer and accumulate the kind of sack totals that result in a Pro Bowl invitation.

"When you start getting guys with all the sacks and stuff as rush ends in a 4-3, they're going to get the hype to go to the Pro Bowl," Arians said.
Last year, at least, he was a Pro Bowl alternate.

Campbell toils in the trenches and, as far as responsibilities go, his duties often are nearly the same as a defensive tackle.

"Me and (Darnell) Dockett pretty much do the exact same thing but he is considered a D-tackle and me a D-end," Campbell said, "but that's a good thing because when I got the franchise tag I got the defensive end money."

Campbell spent a mere two months as a franchise player in early 2012 before signing a five-year, $51 million contract, with $31 million guaranteed.
The defensive tackle-defensive end confusion even spread to quarterback Carson Palmer, who called Campbell "probably one of the more underrated D-tackles in the league."

In reality, Campbell plays all along the defensive line, depending on what set is employed by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
"I move around a lot," he said. "I play nose tackle sometimes ... and even outside on the tight end sometimes."

That versatility is a tribute to Campbell's athleticism, Arians said.

"He's got great extension and length. Also he bats a lot of balls down," the coach said. "It (his height) is an advantage as long as he can bend. Some tall guys can't bend, they have to stay out on the edge. He can bend so he can play all four positions across the front. His athletic ability allows him to do that."

Campbell was an integral part of a defense that ranked sixth overall and first against the run last season.

"It's a team effort," Campbell said. "It comes down to playing well with your team and motivating the guys around you. The good players make the ones around them better. Those are the guys who really are the top of the game, the ones that go out there and command double teams and don't get any stats but make the team around them better. The linebackers and other linemen are able to make big-time plays."

Two and a half weeks shy of his 28th birthday, he is in the prime of his career.

Despite the persistent double-teams, Campbell had a career-high nine sacks last season and 72 tackles. His 12 tackles for loss tied for most on the team. Campbell also forced a fumble, recovered two fumbles and had 27 quarterback pressures. It was the fifth straight season he had at least 50 tackles and six sacks.

And, no matter what anyone says, Campbell is a defensive end.

"I've always been a D-end growing up and I feel like a D-end," he said. "I want to compete against the best and I want to be considered the best just from hard work and dedication. Right now there's a lot of good players in this league. It feels good to be amongst them, but when it's all said and done I want to be the best in the game. That's always been the motivation."

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Yonder Alonso likely back to DL

San Diego Padres 1B Yonder Alonso (wrist, forearm) suffered a right wrist/forearm injury Tuesday, Aug. 12, according to manager Bud Black. Alonso is expected to have to go back on the disabled list. He returned from the DL July 26 from a similar ailment and was hitting .421 (16-for-38) since returning. Alonso will have an MRI exam Wednesday, Aug. 13, after an MRI Tuesday showed a right forearm strain. He said he felt something "pop" while batting Tuesday. C Yasmani Grandal was starting at first base Wednesday, and Black said INFs Tommy Medica and Jacob Goebbert could also see time there.

Fantasy Tip: You can cut Alonso in most mixed leagues at this point. His wrist/forearm issue seems like it could be pretty serious, so his performance might be affected if he's able to return before the end of the season. Grandal probably benefits the most, with regular playing time at either catcher or first base throughout the end of the regular season.

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Greg Olsen limps away from final camp practice

SPARTANBURG The Carolina Panthers had a scare Tuesday when starting tight end Greg Olsen limped off the practice field and was carted to the locker room during the final practice of training camp.

It turned out to be a cramp – a byproduct of the hot and humid temperatures that were nonexistent for the majority of the 14 practices at Wofford.

Olsen and right tackle Nate Chandler were treated for cramps Tuesday during the nearly two-hour session under sunny skies. Olsen said his left calf “locked up” toward the end of practice, but he said he would be fine after the Panthers’ scheduled off-day Wednesday.

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Brandon Linder getting center snaps

An interesting development the last two days at Jaguars camp has been rookie Brandon Linder getting snaps at center, including with the second team Tuesday.

Throughout the first three weeks of camp, Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon, Luke Bowanko and Matt Stankiewitch have taken the center reps. Patrick Lewis played the position in college.

So why Linder now?

The Jaguars, naturally, are downplaying it.

“He did a nice job [Monday] – it’s new [for him],” coach Gus Bradley said. “You may see him in there some at the center spot. When? That’s what we’ll decide tonight.”

I asked offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch this morning if center is a three-man race between Brewster, McClendon and Linder.

Fisch said: “We talked [last week] about the interior line and how we’re trying to figure out which two of the three we’re going to play. It’s still the same discussion.”

Kinda, sorta.

Last week, the discussion was Brewster playing center and Linder/McClendon playing right guard.

This week, the discussion has changed.

I asked Bradley if the Linder-working-at-center deal is the Jaguars’ acknowledgement they have a problem at center three-plus weeks before the opener.

“No,” said Bradley, who added, “The challenge for us is, ‘OK, we have to keep continuity.’ But, yet, we have to find out what the best combination is. … But Brewster has really done a nice job this week. I think that he’ll play good against Chicago.”

Some thoughts at what could be happening:

*The Jaguars intend to start Linder at right guard and Brewster at center, BUT like another player (maybe Drew Nowak) at guard more than they like McClendon. In this roster math, they would keep Nowak as a reserve guard and make sure Linder is able to move over to center if called upon.

*Brewster has experience at guard (left side) and the Jaguars could be thinking about moving him to right guard and Linder to center. A long shot theory.

*They don’t think Bowanko is even close to being ready to play and  might try to stash him on the practice squad.

*The Jaguars are going to give Linder a crash course at center to get him ready for Week 1. This would be the panic button.

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Sean Spence Talks About Returning To Game Action

Linebacker Sean Spence on returning to game action against the Giants after missing the last two seasons with a knee injury:

“It was fun. It was very emotional at the beginning of the game. But once I got in there I felt at peace, at home. I felt pretty good. I can continue to improve and I am going to try and do that. I think I did okay, but I think I can get better. I just need to work on some technique stuff, some alignment stuff.”

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Colin McCarthy roster spot may be in question after injury

NASHVILLE — Colin McCarthy’s future with the Tennessee Titans may be in limbo following a shoulder injury in Saturday night’s preseason opener with the Green Bay Packers.

McCarthy suffered a left shoulder injury in the third quarter of the game and was escorted from the field to the locker room.

Asked after the game, Coach Ken Whisenhunt, while not offering specifics on the injury, said McCarthy “probably is going to be out for a while with a shoulder.”

That is not good news for a player who took the Titans by storm as a play-making rookie middle linebacker in 2011 and was Tennessee’s defensive captain in the 2012 season. Also working against McCarthy is his $1.431 million base salary in the final year of his rookie contract — something that might be too big of a number for a backup player.

Since being named captain, McCarthy has seemingly been unable to catch a break — or rather he has had too many of them.

After playing 13 games with seven starts as a rookie, McCarthy struggled through his second year with a high ankle sprain, playing just seven games before going on IR. When he came back last season, he had lost his starting job to free agent Moise Fokou.

Saturday night when McCarthy suffered the injury, he was running with the third team unit and trying to secure a spot on special teams.

The Titans will be careful in their evaluation of the former Miami Hurricanes star. Speaking on McCarthy and backup center Chris Spencer, who suffered an ankle injury, Whisenhunt said the Titans would not be in a hurry to make a decision on either of them.

“They’ve been checked out today, but we’ll know more as the week progresses,” Whisenhunt said.

“We’re not faced with anything like (putting them on injured reserve) right now, so there’s no reason to even talk about that.”

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Chase Ford on course to come off PUP list

MANKATO, Minn. -- Vikings tight end Chase Ford is on course to be removed from the physically unable to perform list by the start of the regular season.

"I feel like I see light at the end of the tunnel," he said this week.

A broken left foot has sidelined Ford since the start of training camp. He learned it was fractured after participating in OTAs.

Ford, who caught 11 passes for 133 yards late last season, was a pleasant surprise for the Vikings, whose depth at tight end is in flux.

The team this week signed six-year veteran Kory Sperry, a former Arizona Cardinal, to replace AC Leonard, who was released before playing a game for Minnesota.

Ford was expected to compete with veterans Allen Reisner and Rhett Ellison behind 2012 Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph. Mike Higgins, another free agent, also is in the mix.

"I'm always in my playbook and listening to the plays called, running it through my mind," Ford said. "I try to visualize it before they even run it."

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Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell still has youth on his side

If it seems a little strange to see the words "seven-year pro" and the name "Calais Campbell" in the same sentence, relax. You're not the only one.
Campbell almost can't believe it, either.

"Yeah, it seems like I turned into a vet overnight or something," the 6-foot-8 defensive end said Monday as the Cardinals returned to practice for their third week of training camp.

Maybe it's the baby face and that boyish smile. Maybe it's because he's still only 27. Or maybe it's because he still hasn't been voted into his first Pro Bowl. He was named as a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time in 2013.

But it's true: Campbell is entering his seventh NFL season and even though he has accomplished a lot, he still doesn't feel as if he's scratched the surface.
He's had five straight seasons with at least 50 tackles and six sacks — the only Cardinals player to accomplish it on five occasions. But to Campbell, that's not good enough.

He had a career-high nine sacks a year ago, moving him into 10th place on the franchise's all-time list with 36½. With 10 more this year, he'll be sitting in fifth place. But that won't be good enough, either.

He's been to the Super Bowl, but he's also played on two teams that finished 5-11.

"I want to be the best," he said.

Campbell has had a chip on his shoulder since the day he got drafted out of Miami in 2008. He expected to be a first-round pick. Instead, he went to the Cardinals in the second round with the 50th overall selection.

"I didn't get drafted as high as I want to and part of that was my fault for not working as hard as I could leading up to the (scouting) combine," he said. "Going in the second round was motivation for me. I knew I could be a good player in this league.

"But I wanted to be one of the best in the game. I had high expectations for myself."

In his opinion, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Campbell has met all the expectations. It's just a shame, he added, that Campbell doesn't receive the type of notoriety as a rush end in a 3-4 defense as he would in a 4-3 scheme.

"When you start getting guys with all the sacks as rush ends in a 4-3, they're the one who are going to get the hype and go to the Pro Bowl," Arians said.

"I think (Campbell) is probably one of the most underrated guys in the league. It baffles me how he doesn't go to the Pro Bowl. With his size and length and the rush he gets — he commands double teams — to me, he's one of the premier 3-4 defensive ends in the league."

Campbell admits that getting overlooked for the Pro Bowl has been humbling. But not getting there, he said, continues to make him hungry to make it.

"It's something I know will come eventually," he says. "I just have to keep working hard and eventually I'm sure it will come if I do everything the right way. It has to."

If it's ever going to happen, this figures to be the season. Campbell insists he is a better player now than he was last season, that he's honed his pass-rushing technique and learned a few new tricks on how to get the jump on opposing tackles and tight ends.

"I'm not going to miss as many tackles," he promised. "I'm stronger. I've got more power. I know how to use my hands better now. … Now that I'm getting a little older and wiser, I'm trying to add more moves to my arsenal."

It also helps that he's leading the charge up front in what many NFL observers are projecting to be one of the more dominating defenses in the league. If the Cardinals make some noise again in 2014, it will be impossible not to notice Campbell.

"I want to win Super Bowls and be the best defense year in and year out and always be playing at the highest level," he said. "That's the ultimate goal and this year is the most critical because our expectations are high. We're a talented team and we're in an interesting situation right now."

So is Campbell. He's entering his seventh NFL season and it seems like he's still one of the younger players on the team.

"I'm definitely young at heart," he said, laughing. "But man, when you look around and start seeing a lot of guys that are younger than you, you really do start feeling like a vet, officially. For me, I still feel like I've got a lot of good years and good football left. I'm still young."

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Chuck Pagano interviews Reggie Wayne

ANDERSON, Ind. -- Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano had some time to kill before it was his turn to address the media Tuesday morning.

So rather than sit back and wait until receiver Reggie Wayne finished talking, Pagano decided to join in the interview session.

Here’s the transcript of the interview:

Pagano: Have you forgot how to play the game, Reggie?
Wayne: I have not forgotten how to play. It’s been some months, been since October. I’m excited about this opportunity to be back out here with my teammates. After you have been playing since you were 7 years old, I don't think you can forget.

Pagano: Is it like riding a bike?
Wayne: I think it’s even easier than riding a bike. I have probably played football more than I have ridden a bike the last nine years of my life. It’s easier; it’s like waking up and brushing your teeth.

Pagano: When it is taken away from you, how much do you miss it?
Wayne: It puts everything into perspective; it really makes you think about going out there and treating it like it could be your last one. One thing it did, it made me understand and respect it even more. When you’re out there on a daily basis, you always think I am going to be alright, I am going to be here "X" amount of time. But then when it’s pulled from right under your feet, it’s humbling. Last year was rough for me, it really was. I took that time to get back right and at the same time it made me respect it, it made me understand it, it made me even hungrier to take each day that I’m out here practicing with my teammates. It made me want to be out there even more because you never know, so you have to treat it as such.

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Beefed-up Allen Bailey ready for new starting role

The Kansas City Chiefs’ decision to not offer Tyson Jackson a monster free-agent contract last offseason is leading to an opportunity for Allen Bailey.

Bailey, a four-year defensive end out of Miami (Fla.), is expected to step into a starting role this season for defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

Seeing more time last season, Bailey feels even more confident with the fresh defensive scheme that Sutton brought in upon being hired last year.

“It’s my second year in the defense so I’m a lot more comfortable with it. It makes it a lot easier,” Bailey said. “Being around the same guys as last year helps.”

Listed at 6-foot-3, 288 pounds, Bailey said he is pushing around 300 pounds since arriving at training camp after beefing up this offseason.

“I feel good out there,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay healthy and get better.”

Bailey will fill in for Jackson, now on a five-year $25 million contract with Atlanta, who provided a consistent threat on the Chiefs’ defensive line. In his five seasons in Kansas City, Jackson averaged 39.8 tackles per year before agreeing to join the Falcons, where former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli works.

Bailey is coming off a career-best 25 tackles and one sack in 15 games in 2013.

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The Value Of Calais Campbell

Calais Campbell is so good that some of guard Jonathan Cooper’s problems in training camp have been directly attributed to having to face one of the best defensive ends in the NFL on a daily basis.

Yet Campbell not only has never made a Pro Bowl, he’s only been an alternate once.

Campbell is good enough that the “Madden” video game franchise gave him a 96 overall rating in their new version, trailing only elite ends J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn and tying him with Cameron Wake – all of whom were Pro Bowlers last season. He’s good enough that the Cardinals gave him a giant contract extension back in 2012.

Yet Campbell has never been included in the NFL Network’s Top 100 players list.

Campbell isn’t the sort to step up on a soap box to complain. He’d admittedly finds it awkward when asked to talk about his place in the game. But he’s noticed what is said and not said about him.

“The term underrated, it’s a term you don’t want,” Campbell said. “You’d rather be viewed as one of the best in the game. But if you’re not getting the top accolades at least people know you are working hard and they recognize you a little bit. It’s better than nothing.”

The Cardinals know what they’ve got. It’s why they signed him long-term and why, when the team drafted Kareem Martin in the third round in May, they were thrilled to discuss him as a Campbell clone. Given that he is a 3-4 end, Campbell’s tackle numbers are usually higher than expected. He had a career-high nine sacks a year ago and a team high 12 tackles for loss.

Darnell Dockett still gets the spotlight along the defensive line, but it is Campbell who anchors the crew.

“When Calais came out, he was 274 pounds and the questions were, 'Is he a 3-4 end, is he a 4-3 end, is he an under tackle, is he a linebacker?' ” General Manager Steve Keim said. "Our projection the whole time was when he hits puberty, he's going to be a 300-plus pound man with long arms and tremendous leverage. He's 308 pounds now, and still scratching the surface. It is scary how the guy just continues to get better.

"When you look at the national scene and J.J. Watt and Ndamukong Suh and the elite defensive linemen, I am obviously biased, but in my mind there is no reason why Calais Campbell wouldn't be considered among the top five defensive linemen in the NFL."

The defensive ends with the flashy sack numbers are the ones who earn Pro Bowl trips. Campbell’s rise to complete player also came after the Cardinals’ division title run, so his play has been undervalued.

What Campbell might value himself, however, won’t help in getting him on any top 100 list. He’s a believer in the best players making those around him better. In games, that might mean absorbing a double-team so a linebacker can go make a play.

Off the field, it might mean tips for Cooper or fellow guard Earl Watford, the men against whom he often battles in practice.

“He’s a really good player, he’s a unique talent, a good leader and he’s always looking to help guys, especially me,”

Watford said. “He helps with (my) weaknesses and stuff I can work on to put me in better positions against not just him but other players.

“You’re going to line up against good players every Sunday. You learn and get better from it, and limit the number of times he beats you. That’s how it works. It’s good to have players like Calais to go up against.”

Those are veteran moves for a guy who still has a hard time seeing himself as a veteran. As he goes into his seventh season, Campbell insists he can improve considerably.

If he were in a 4-3 defense, perhaps the numbers would be more flashy. As it is, Campbell moves around all along a defensive line – in both the 3-4 base and the four-man nickel line – and has even been used as nose tackle.

Dockett has had much better success making Pro Bowls, and to this Campbell shrugs. Dockett is listed as a defensive tackle and Campbell an end, even though “me and Dockett do pretty much the exact same thing.”

Then again, Campbell smiles when he notes that being called an end helped him tremendously on the financial end when he received the franchise tag with such a designation. He likes the challenge of playing end.

When the coaches and front office are in his ear saying he should be able to take over games, Campbell knows his talent is appreciated and needed. So maybe sometimes, he isn’t going to be on a “Sunday Night Football” promo, or be on the NFL Network Top 100 countdown.

“You can control what you can control,” Campbell said. “With that, all it can be is, ‘Wow, left off again?’ ”

Campbell smiled.

“Madden knows what they’re doing," he adds. "They’ve always given me good rating though. They know good football.” 

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Yonder Alonso getting MRI on right forearm strain

SAN DIEGO -- First baseman Yonder Alonso left Tuesday's game against the Rockies with a right forearm strain, the team announced.

The Padres' first baseman was replaced on defense in the top of the fourth inning. Alonso walked in his only plate appearance and scored a run in the second inning.

Alonso returned from the disabled list on July 26 after missing 30 games with tendinitis in his right wrist. He was hitting .421 (16-for-38) since returning.

Alonso wasn't available for comment after the game as he was getting an MRI.

"That was a weird one," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He was standing right next to me and had a bat in his right hand. He did something with the bat that triggered some discomfort."

Black indicated that the pain was in the same area where Alonso has previously had issues this season.

The Padres moved Tommy Medica from left field to first base after Alonso left the game, and then sent third baseman Yangervis Solarte to left field. Chris Nelson came off the bench to play third base.

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Pelicans Sign John Salmons

AUGUST 12TH: Salmons has finally signed his deal, tweets Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders. The team has yet to make an official announcement. It’s indeed for $2MM, all of which will count against the cap for the Pelicans this year, even though $500K of the payout is deferred, as Pincus adds in a second tweet.

JULY 14TH: The Pelicans will ink a deal with swingman John Salmons, whom the Hawks waived last week after acquiring him from the Raptors, tweets Marc Stein of ESPN.com. New Orleans appears to be choosing a deal with him over Omri Casspi, whom the Pelicans are reportedly likely to release after the trade that brings him and Omer Asik to New Orleans is finalized. It’ll be a one-year, $2MM deal for Salmons, reports Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com (Twitter link). Presumably, it’ll come out of the team’s $2.732MM room exception.

The Joel Bell client split this past season between the Kings and Raptors, receiving a similar amount of playing time with both teams. He averaged 5.2 points in 22.1 minutes, but his 38.7% three-point shooting was a career high outside of his 41.7% mark in 2008/09.

The 34-year-old’s name was reportedly a part of predraft trade talks between the Raptors and Grizzlies, but Memphis apparently wasn’t too motivated to advance the discussion further. It seems like he’ll nonetheless stand a decent chance of starting at small forward for New Orleans, which renounced its rights to incumbent starter Al-Farouq Aminu and has little other means to acquire a replacement.

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Steelers' loss is Sean Spence's gain during preseason opener

The Steelers haven't won an exhibition game since Aug. 30, 2012, a date Sean Spence remembers all too well.

Until Saturday night, it was the last time the linebacker and 2012 third-round pick wore a Steelers uniform, made a play, stopped a run, looked ahead to the next game and felt like he belonged.

Now, Spence is back, and everything he missed so badly for two years has returned, too. It's one reason this Steelers preseason has an entirely different, new-as-it-gets feel.

“The Steelers organization stayed with me, waited for me, and words can't explain it,” Spence said following a 20-16 loss to the New York Giants on Saturday night. “I feel great. I can't wait (to play again).”

Neither can Dri Archer, LeGarrette Blount, Stephon Tuitt, Jarvis Jones, Mike Mitchell, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Daniel McCullers and all the other new — or almost new — Steelers.

They can't wait until tomorrow to play for a team that seemingly cares nothing about the Steelers' recent, disappointing yesterdays.

“It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun. I can't wait to be able to go in there and play, a lot more than I did,” Blount said after carrying three times in his first Steelers preseason game. “Behind that offensive line? It's going to be a fine year.”

Those veteran-heavy teams of the 8-8 records in 2012 and 2013 couldn't help it as they kept looking back — at the three Super Bowls many played in, all the close games they lost, all the look-alike breakdowns they couldn't overcome, all the opportunities missed.

These 2014 Steelers made plenty of mistakes, failed to convert at key times and — flash back to the recent past — gave up a big play on defense on Rashad Jennings' 73-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

“It's a start. You just want to see where you are,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “The season isn't here until the first week of September, and we have a long way to go. It's just like a test right now.”

Tuitt, the second-round pick, started his first NFL game of any kind, making a tackle and flashing the kind of speed Dick LeBeau said a defensive end rarely displays.

And the speedy Archer didn't disappoint the teammates who were eager to see him in a game, gaining 46 yards on a screen pass that was one of only two attempts by Ben Roethlisberger, who made an early exit.

Archer had the second-fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26) at the NFL Combine in eight years, and he flashed that speed in a hurry.

“Coach (Tomlin) always says, ‘Fast guys play fast,' ” Archer said. “It was the perfect play, my teammates blocked it well, and I just ran behind my blockers.”
What's different is the player running it might be the fastest in team history.

No wonder the Steelers are looking ahead. Blink, and they might miss something. Something new and different they haven't seen before.

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Tommy Streeter facing logjam at WR

TAMPA, Fla. – After I put out my projected roster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier Monday, I’ve gotten a lot of Twitter questions asking why Tommy Streeter didn’t make the cut.

The reason is simple. I don’t think Streeter is going to make the roster.

I know Streeter has had a tremendous camp and he caught a touchdown pass in the preseason opener against Jacksonville. Streeter has done enough to put himself in the conversation for a roster spot. But the Bucs are going to have to crunch numbers at wide receiver, and Streeter might get squeezed out.

Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are locks to make the team. Same for Chris Owusu. But here’s where things get tricky and you have to pay attention to who can help on special teams. Eric Page continues to work as the top return man, so he should get a roster spot.

Rookie Robert Herron also has return ability. Herron hasn’t had a great camp, but he’s a draft pick and teams don’t like to cut draft picks. Veteran Louis Murphy also has some special teams ability.

The Bucs are likely to keep either five or six receivers on the roster. I think Streeter will end up getting cut. He could end up on the practice squad if another team doesn’t claim him.

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Darryl Sharpton Nursing High Ankle Sprain

Sharpton is currently nursing a high ankle sprain, the Redskins' official Twitter account reports.

Sharpton is expected to be sidelined for a couple weeks while he recovers. Following 87 tackles for Houston last season, Sharpton signed with the Redskins to help fill the void at inside linebacker, left in wake of London Fletcher's retirement. However, with Keenan Robinson now healthy, Sharpton may be more of a rotational player next to Perry Riley this season.

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Devin Hester hopes the Hall of Fame door is open to special teamers

Devin Hester watched with interest as punter Ray Guy was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hester liked seeing someone get a bust in Canton for contributions on special teams because Hester is hoping to join Guy in the Hall some day.

“When you talk about the Hall of Fame, you really don’t talk about special teams,” Hester told the Chicago Sun-Times. “You talk running back, linebacker, receiver, quarterback kind of guys. The first time a special-teams guy made the Hall of Fame — he just opened up the window for everyone else.”

Guy wasn’t actually the first special teams guy to make the Hall of Fame (that would be kicker Jan Stenerud), but Hester said he thinks Guy’s induction may have been a positive sign for Hester’s own chances. And Hester believes he has nothing left to prove and has already earned a spot in the Hall of Fame.
‘‘I pretty much have all the return records,’’ he said.

Hester owns the all-time NFL records for combined special teams touchdowns in a career, combined kick return touchdowns in a season and punt return touchdowns for both a season and a career. Is that enough to get Hester in the Hall of Fame? He thinks so. But if the voters are as skeptical about Hester as they were about Guy, Hester will have to wait until he’s an old man to enjoy his Hall of Fame induction.

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Tom Brady: Revis like Ed Reed & Ray Lewis

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was a guest on Boston sports-radio station WEEI on Monday morning, as part of his weekly in-season interview, and he shared insight on what it’s like to practice against cornerback Darrelle Revis.

In doing so, Brady drew a connection to former Baltimore Ravens Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.

"It’s been so fun to go against him because he challenges every throw, he challenges every play, he’s really just so smart and so instinctive," Brady said.

"I played against Ed Reed for a long time and just a little bit of an example, Ed Reed he'd play the deep middle of the field but sometimes he’d make tackles 3 yards from the line of scrimmage when his responsibility was 40 yards down the field. You’d say, 'God, how did he know that the team was running a shallow cross?' He just knew. He saw something and that freedom of his deep-field responsibility allowed him to play with confidence that the ball was going to be [in] a certain spot.

"That’s a lot how 'Reeve' is. You don’t know what he sees, or what he knows, but he always is in the right place and has incredible instincts for a corner when sometimes he runs the routes [before] the receivers. He has great intuition and he obviously sees everything on the field. He sees the quarterback, he sees the split of the receiver, he sees the eyes of the receiver, he sees the technique of the receiver coming off the line of scrimmage, and it’s probably hard for him explain at times what he sees. He just sees everything and he makes great breaks on the ball. That’s what makes a great defensive player -- the anticipation.

"Ray Lewis was another one, where when you would play-action, he wouldn’t even step toward the line of scrimmage. He would just drop back into a zone, and when you’d run the ball, he’s be downhill faster than anybody. He just recognized plays and combinations; it’s a great skill and the instincts for a particular player.

"'Reeve' has definitely got all those traits, and I knew that when I played against him with the Jets. He was so good for them. He eliminates a big part of the field for a particular offense, so you always have to know what you’re doing when you throw the ball in his area, because you know he’s going to be right there closing on the ball."

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Devin Hester wanted to stay with Bears

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Devin Hester doesn’t follow the Bears’ search for their next kick returner.

‘‘All I hear is them trying to compare whoever’s back there with me,’’ he said.

Filling the shoes of perhaps the best returner in NFL history might not fair to Chris Williams, Eric Weems and the others. But Hester, sitting in the end zone at Atlanta Falcons camp Saturday, didn’t seem sympathetic.

‘‘I just look at it as a compliment,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s like any kid growing up playing basketball. They want to be the next Michael Jordan.’’

Hester, another famous No. 23, said he signed a three-year, $9 million deal with the Falcons in March only after it became the clear the Bears didn’t want him back. He wanted to retire with the Bears — ‘‘because of the things that happened there, that I accomplished as an individual and we did as a team,’’ he said — but was met with reality, like others before him.

‘‘It’s not like I had a choice to sign with them again,’’ he said. ‘‘They didn’t even call me to let me know they were willing to bring me back. I didn’t hear from them at all. It made it a lot easier for me to say, ‘OK,’ and then go look for another team.’’

Hester narrowed his choices to three teams: Lovie Smith’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Arizona Cardinals and the Falcons. When the Falcons heard he planned to visit Arizona, they suggested Hester fly his wife and two young children to Atlanta.

‘‘You want to go to the team that shows the most interest because those are the ones that really want you,’’ he said.

Not that it has been easy. Hester found a home near the Falcons’ practice facility but needs GPS to go almost every-where else. He rode to the team’s preseason opener Friday with running back Antone Smith, who had to show him the way to the home locker room at the Georgia Dome.

Hester wore No. 17 — his and his younger son’s birthdates subtracted from his wife’s and older son’s birthdates — and asked the Falcons to play the same Rick Ross tune the Bears did before his returns.

He lined up at receiver, too — Hester wants to play 10 or 12 snaps there per game — after a year of being exclusively a returner with the Bears.

The night was strange.

‘‘It’s a learning process,’’ Hester said. ‘‘Like starting all over again.’’

His career doesn’t need a rewrite. Hester’s 13 punt
returns for touchdowns are the most of all time, and his combined 19 return touchdowns — including on five kickoffs and one on a missed field goal — are tied with Deion Sanders for the most in history.

When punter Ray Guy entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the odds of Hester being awarded a gold jacket improved.

‘‘When you talk about the Hall of Fame, you really don’t talk about special teams,’’ Hester said. ‘‘You talk running back, linebacker, receiver, quarterback kind of guys. The first time a special-teams guy made the Hall of Fame — he just opened up the window for everyone else.’’

Hester said he thinks he
belongs in the Hall ‘‘once my
career is said and done’’ and said he doesn’t have to prove anything else.

‘‘I pretty much have all the return records,’’ he said.

If that Hall of Fame day comes, he’ll go in as a member of the Bears, the team the Falcons will host Oct. 12 and the team he might return to, even if only ceremonially, to retire.

‘‘We’ll see how we’re feeling, if both parties can come up with an agreement,’’ Hester said. ‘‘Who knows? Maybe so.’’

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No longer a top receiver, Santana Moss has become a teacher, adviser and locker room leader

RICHMOND — An adorable little girl wearing a pink Washington Redskins jersey and pigtails thought she missed her chance to meet wide receiver Santana Moss, who signed every football, jersey and miniature helmet put in front of him after practice here the other day. Headed to the locker room, Moss noticed the frowning child and doubled back, giving her his autograph and a hug. His thoughtfulness wasn’t surprising.

Entering his 14th NFL season and 10th with Washington, Moss, the Redskins’ longest-tenured player, continues to set a positive example. Although his statistics have declined along with his role in the offense, Moss still occupies an important position on the team. He’s a tell-it-like-it-is leader who believes that with success comes responsibility. When he finishes his work each day, Moss proves it.

While many players often ignore fans’ pleas to sign items and pose for pictures, Moss spends significant time working the rope line. It’s not uncommon for Moss to accommodate late-arriving spectators. Fans, Moss said, have helped him provide a great life for his family. He owes them — and never forgets it.
“They’re out here, watching us, supporting us,” Moss said. “They’re doing that, so I can take a little bit of time out. You know what I’m saying?”

Absolutely. Moss sees the big picture. It became clear to him early during a productive career that eventually will end with Moss ranking high on the franchise’s all-time receiving lists. Long ago, Moss developed a simple approach to playing in the NFL, “and it’s really about just staying true to myself.”

“I know ‘Father Time’ is going to catch up to all of us,” he said. “Depending on how it catches up to you, you have to determine what you still can do. As long as I can be an example — show the guys how to work, show the guys how to make plays and how to be [professional] — then I feel like I’m doing my job.”

Even late in the game, Moss continues to get the job done. Formerly Washington’s longtime No. 1 wideout, Moss, 35, no longer possesses the speed that helped him set a franchise record with 1,483 receiving yards in 2005. Younger players have passed him on the depth chart. And after three consecutive seasons in which his yardage totals have decreased, Moss figures to only have a bit part under new coach Jay Gruden.

Coaches want Moss on the roster, though, because they have learned to rely on him. In countless situations over the years, Moss has proven his dependability.

“He’s a consummate pro and a great leader” in the locker room, offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “With all the experience he has, a whole lot of guys look up to him. I mean, what a great job he has done over the course of his career. It’s a credit to him, being a No. 1-type player, to be able to transition to [a reduced role].

“But he has been able to do it, and do a great job with whatever we’ve asked him to do, because he’s so smart. What a smart player he is . . . being able to play all three receiver spots for us. He understands exactly what we’re trying to get done. He understands situational football. He’s an asset.”

He’s also a great teacher. Inexperienced wideouts regularly seek Moss’s counsel. Some ask him to critique their route running. Others pepper Moss with questions about how to attack the defense. No matter how much time they need, Moss carves out enough.

President and General Manager Bruce Allen enjoys watching Moss work with up-and-comers. “He’s handled himself, his entire career, the same way,” Allen said. “He has become just a great role model for the younger receivers.”

Not only receivers. You don’t have to be in Moss’s position group to benefit from his wisdom. When Moss talks — which is often — about how to prosper in the NFL, most in the locker room listen.

“He’s my favorite player,” fullback Darrel Young said. “For a guy who’s in Year 14, to still be out here outrunning guys, taking care of his body, not missing any days of camp and not wanting a day off . . . he’s special.

“That’s why he has been playing for as long as he has. He understands the game and what you have to do to stay in this game. I love him as a person. He’s a good dude. But he also takes people under his wing. He helps people make it. It’s not about being selfish. He shows that.”

When the Redskins talk about Moss, you get the sense he’s well suited to coach someday. Moss does, too. “When the time comes when I can’t do my job,” he said, “then I’ll be on the side with those guys [receivers] probably helping them as a coach.”

But that’s down the road. Moss can still play. Just ask his teammates, coaches or the fans along the rope line.

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Lamar Miller every-down back with 1st team

Lamar Miller managed 11 yards on four carries in the Dolphins' preseason opener against the Falcons, adding two catches for eight yards.

He was the every-down back on Miami's opening possession; the starters only played one series, marching downfield on a 10-play touchdown drive. With Knowshon Moreno (knee) and Daniel Thomas (hamstring) nursing injuries, Miller is locked in atop the depth chart. In Friday night's exhibition matchup with Atlanta, Mike Gillislee and UDFA Damien Williams worked with the twos.

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Erik Swoope turning heads with Colts

ANDERSON, Ind. -- Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was in the middle of the team’s offensive meeting the night before last week's preseason opener against the New York Jets when he tried to remind his players that playing in MetLife Stadium is no different than playing football in little league, middle school or high school.

It’s just football. That was Hamilton's message.

Hamilton continued and asked all the players who played football growing up to raise their hands.

You’d think every offensive player in the meeting room would have raised his hand since they're in the NFL.

Wrong. And tight end Coby Fleener made sure to let Hamilton know.

Fleener got Hamilton’s attention and pointed to tight end Erik Swoope. This is the first time Swoope has ever played organized football. He played basketball at the University of Miami.

“I was caught off guard, it was an honest mistake,” Hamilton said. “Even so, that’s more of a reason that you have to commend Swoope and (tight ends) coach Alfredo Roberts for the progress that he’s made to get to this point where he was able to go out and give us a few good snaps in a pro football game. That was his first time of playing contact football.”

Swoope played five snaps and didn’t have a catch against the Jets, but the fact that he’s reached this point is a step in the right direction for him. Swoope didn’t play football growing up in Southern California because he was too big to play with his friends. He needed somebody to show him how to put pads on after the Colts signed him as an undrafted free agent in May.

“At the point of attack he was physical. He didn’t shy away from contact,” Hamilton said. “He didn’t have an opportunity to catch a pass, but there was a play where he released and he ran downfield and ran a seam route. He looked like he knew what he was doing.”

The Colts are set at tight end with Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Weslye Saunders and Jack Doyle, but Swoope is a prime candidate to be a practice squad player because he has the necessary tools to potentially play in the NFL.

“We’re still in the process of molding Swoope, but he has all the things that you can’t teach, and that’s amazing athleticism, phenomenal strength and balance and hand-eye coordination, and it’ll be fun to watch him grow and progress,” Hamilton said.

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Seantrel Henderson Still Present

In Cordy Glenn’s absence, rookie seventh-round selection Seantrel Henderson has played surprisingly well for a first-year player, especially in two preseason games against great pass-rushers like Jason Pierre Paul and Greg Hardy. Marrone said Henderson could start at left tackle with Glenn not back for game action yet, which the second-year head coach quickly pointed out could “be a long time”, stating that “Seantrel can play left tackle in this league.”

Wood said Henderson has done “a great job”, and that his experience and talent is a “great” addition to the front five lineup.

Henderson said after practice that he’s tried to “get better” every day, and the hands-on coaching of Marrone on technique has helped him be successful. Henderson’s outstanding play in place of Glenn has begged the question of whether or not the former Miami Hurricane could start on the offensive line even when the team’s left tackle is ready to be on the field.

Henderson told the media that coaches haven’t talked to him about moving to right tackle, but he is willing to play whatever role needed.

“Whatever the coaches want me to do I’m going to do it,” said Henderson. “Whether it’s going to guard or going to the other tackle that’s fine with me, I just want to play.”

The structure of the offensive line still has yet to be determined, but it would be a surprise if Henderson doesn’t play into the discussion of the starting 5, with or without Glenn.

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Whisenhunt says Colin McCarthy will be out 'a while'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said linebacker Colin McCarthy probably will be out for a while after hurting his shoulder Saturday in Tennessee's 20-16 preseason-opening victory over Green Bay.

McCarthy was hurt in the third quarter and went straight to the locker room. Whisenhunt didn't know if McCarthy would need surgery. The coach said after the game that he hadn't talked to the team trainer but spoke briefly with the linebacker.

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Leonard Hankerson to meet with Dr. James Andrews soon

RICHMOND — Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson continues to improve while recovering from last fall’s surgery to repair ligaments in his knee. He soon will meet with Dr. James Andrews to see if he’s ready to be cleared for practice.

Hankerson, entering his fourth season, is on the physically unable to perform list while he continues his rehabilitation.

Washington’s trainers and strength coaches have worked with the former third-round pick to help him improve his strength and explosiveness. Hankerson said during the first week of training camp that he could tell he hadn’t yet completely regained his speed.

But Hankerson has observed progress since then.

“I’m getting better every day,” he said.

On Sunday, he did a series of sprints with a sled and 90 pounds of additional weight strapped to him.

Hankerson will not receive clearance until he meets with Andrews, who conducted his surgery. The receiver said that he expects to meet with the surgeon next week.

After the meeting — and depending on the findings — a target date for Hankerson’s return will be set, he said.

The knee injury represented the second major injury of Hankerson’s young career. He missed half of his rookie season with a torn labrum in his hip, and then missed six games with the torn ACL last season. He played all 16 games in his second season and recorded a career-high 38 catches for 543 yards and three touchdowns. Hankerson was on pace to set new career highs last season, having notched 30 receptions for 375 yards and three touchdowns before being lost for the season.


Big Plans For Devin Hester On Offense

Devin Hester found his niche in the NFL by way of kick returns. During his time with the Chicago Bears, the team essentially gave up on him as a wide receiver and kept him as a special teams star. He has not played an offensive snap since 2006 when he was a rookie. However, now he is with the Atlanta Falcons and the team plans on changing that after seeing the skill set he has on the field.

Hester will not only serve as the resident kick return specialist, but he will also return to his original role as a wide receiver. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has big plans for Hester in the upcoming season and not all of them include special teams. Referring to the veteran as a true weapon, Hester will join the wide receiver rotation once again.

"When we picked up Devin I personally wasn't sure if he was going to be more than a returner for us ," Koetter said, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I've been very happy, as have all of the coaches, with how Devin has taken to the wide receiver stuff. (Assistant coach) Terry Robiskie has done an awesome job with him and the other receivers have helped him. Devin is going to be an exciting player, definitely a weapon that we added in the offseason that's going to help."

While Hester does own the NFL record for combined punt and kick return touchdowns, the Falcons need him as a full-time wide receiver to help with depth. Last season, the receiving corps took a huge hit when Julio Jones and Roddy White went down with injuries. Having both players back plus 2013's breakout star, Harry Douglas, will help the offense regain its form, but adding Hester could take it to another level.

"The thing that people don't understand," Jones said, via TheMMQB.com's Peter King, "is that for us, he's not just going to be a returner. We've seen it out here. He can help us as a receiver, and he is helping us."

The addition of Hester helps make up for the fact that Tony Gonzalez is no longer on the team and that Steven Jackson is once again nursing a hamstring injury. The Falcons are relying on Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman for the ground game. Early reports surrounding the rookie have been mixed as Koetter says he is having some growing pains adjusting to everything in Atlanta.

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Seantrel Henderson making the most of his opportunity

Pittsford, N.Y. — The question hasn't changed for Seantrel Henderson.

It followed him from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Minnesota to the University of Miami, and now it's hovering over his head as he stands on the practice field at Bills training camp, sweat pouring down his face.

He was once considered the most talented high school player in the country, but it took the Bills taking a chance on him in the seventh-round of the 2014 NFL Draft for him to be standing on the campus of St. John Fisher College competing for a spot on an NFL roster.

"It was to the point where no team could've given me an opportunity," Henderson says. "Even though everybody said I have this unbelievable talent, if I would have never been picked up, then who was I?"

Nobody doubts Henderson's talent. He moves his feet in such a way that most 6-foot-7-inch, 330-pound men could only dream of. He was the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school and started as a true freshman at Miami.

No, the question surrounding Henderson has never been one of talent, it's one of commitment to the game on and off the field.

"I think he's someone that can play in this league," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "We knew that coming in. It's just a matter of, on a daily basis, can he do everything he can? It's more from the outside than on the inside. He has what it takes to play."

That's why Henderson has been taking all of the reps with the Bills' first-team offense at left tackle during training camp while Cordy Glenn is sidelined with an illness. Most seventh-round picks don't walk into a starting spot in their first NFL training camp, but most seventh-round picks don't have first-round talent, either.

"It's crazy, I never thought it was going to come this soon," Henderson said.

Henderson wasn't even sure if an NFL team would give him a shot. By the time the NFL Draft rolled around in May, Henderson's football career was spiraling out of control.

Coming off a troubled career at Miami in which he was suspended three times for marijuana use and dealt with multiple injuries, Henderson failed his drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine and left his pro day workout early. Some said he quit, while Henderson said he was dehydrated.

At that point, the reason didn't matter. It was just another one of a long series of events that demonstrated a pattern of poor decisions from Henderson, which he realizes now.

"Down in Miami, it's not what went wrong, it's what I was actually doing as a player and as a student," Henderson said. "I was just maturing. At the same time, I was enjoying the fact that I came from Minnesota and that I was down in Miami. I was still young. I was still me. I was a kid. I was just trying to adjust to the work, adjust to not having my parents around, adjust to football being my job but in college."

The adjustment wasn't easy, and Henderson matured slower than most. So when he was waiting to hear his name called on draft weekend, panic started to set in. Henderson was finally seeing the consequences of his actions.

"After Friday night was over, they said I was a top five pick for the next day. I didn't get drafted in the fourth round, fifth, sixth. In the seventh, every time the phone rang, whether it was a coach or a family member, my stomach sank."

Finally, Henderson got the call he was waiting for. Bills general manager Doug Whaley was on the other end to tell him he was their pick in the seventh round. Whaley recognized the talent, but the message for Henderson was simple.

"We just need you to meet us halfway, be on time, do everything you're asked to do, and you'll be successful."

Fast forward three months. Henderson is fresh off his first NFL start at left tackle, a preseason game against the Giants in the Hall of Fame Game. He admits he was nervous to go up against Jason Pierre-Paul, but he more than held his own. After mauling the veteran defensive end a few times, the pressure seemed to fade for Henderson.

"I feel one certain type of way during the game," Henderson said. "I get in my zone and I just don't get out of it."

The night wasn't perfect, though. Marrone said Henderson has a long way to go. He overheated a bit before exiting the game and had a few lapses in technique.

Left guard Chris Williams knows what Henderson is going through. Williams was a first-round pick expected to play left tackle as a rookie. He struggled and has bounced around to various teams. Now he's a guard.

"His head's spinning right now a little bit," Williams said. "I wish I was as physically gifted as he is, that's for sure."

It's still early for Henderson, but he's handling himself the right way. Maybe he's finally recognizing the talent he has. He says falling in the draft was the final wakeup call he needed.

As he stands in that late July heat, he speaks softly. He's still catching his breath from a long afternoon practice. There's genuine appreciation in his voice when he talks about Whaley and Marrone taking a chance on him. Henderson is, for the first time in a long time, happy to be on the football field, and it's all because the Bills gave him a shot.

"It means everything to me," Henderson says.

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Raphael Akpejiori trying to be the next Jimmy Graham

Former Miami basketball player Raphael Akpejiori is attempting to follow in the big footsteps of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and play football for the Hurricanes.

Akpejiori (6-foot-9, 241 pounds) played four seasons of basketball at UM as a reserve -- he scored just 97 points and had 128 rebounds in his career -- and now is trying his hand at football as a tight end. Akpejiori, a native of Nigeria, never has played football before (well, never played American football, anyway).

Like Akpejiori, Graham (6-7, 265) played four seasons of basketball at Miami before trying his hand at football. He played one season for UM, in 2009, when he had 17 receptions for 213 yards and five touchdowns. The Saints took him in the third round of the 2010 draft, and he is the best tight end in the NFL now.
Akpejiori (whose last name is pronounced AHK-peh-jour-ee) has practiced with Graham and with former UM star wide receiver Santana Moss, and also participated in 7-on-7 workouts with current Hurricanes players during the spring and summer.

"At first I was getting jammed a lot," he told reporters Tuesday. "I didn't know how to get a release. But I've been doing pretty well so far. I've been finding myself open a lot. I dropped a few balls, but I think I caught more than I dropped. It's been great."

Akpejiori certainly doesn't lack for confidence.

"I won an ACC championship as a basketball player (in the 2012-13 season), and my goal is to win one as a football player," he told the Palm Beach Post. "One day in the future, they can tell my story as a two-sport athlete at the University of Miami who succeeded at everything he did."

Interestingly, Akpejiori is the second player whose basketball career at UM ended in March to try his hand at football. Erik Swoope (6-5, 220) didn't have any college eligibility left and signed as an undrafted free-agent tight end with the Indianapolis Colts. Colts coach Chuck Pagano praised him Saturday: "For a guy who never played the game, he's picked it up extremely fast. You see the talent level out there on the football field -- the athleticism, the catch radius, the hands."

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Erik Swoope Makes Football Debut

We did see former basketball player Erik Swoope get his first taste of football at any level.

Swoope, who played basketball for the University of Miami last year, logged nine snaps (five on offense) on Thursday night.

“I’d say it was a big learning experience,” Swoope, who also called his first game “thrilling” and “exhilarating”, said.

“One of the first things that surprised me or was different was the stils (pictures) on the sideline. After you get a chance to play, then you get a chance to see what you did, see different looks, then make your adjustments. Overall, I would say it was a tremendous experience.”

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Travis Benjamin will return kickoffs and punts

BEREA, Ohio – Browns coaches have given Travis Benjamin a couple days off during training camps as he returns from a serious knee injury.

But the special-teams standout known as The Rabbit will draw double duty on game days.

Special teams coach Chris Tabor said Benjamin will return punts and kickoffs, a multi task he was performing at midseason a year ago when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

"He's obviously an explosive weapon," Tabor said. "We're in the business of winning games and he gives you the opportunity for a big play. You can't play this game scared and you can't coach this game scared."

Benjamin averaged 11.7 yards per punt return a season ago and set a franchise record with 179 yards on Oct. 3 against the Buffalo Bills. He was just starting to return kickoffs – three for a 48.7 yard average – at the time of his injury Oct. 27 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Tabor doesn't seem concerned about overextending Benjamin, who also will get some reps at receiver.

"(Against) Kansas City he went to spin another time (on a punt return) and it (was) a non-contact injury," Tabor said.   "That can happen at any time. He's healthy, he's running well, he's catching the ball well and to me he appears very fast."

First-round pick Justin Gilbert expressed interest in returning kicks, but coach Mike Pettine wants him focused on cornerback. He'll be used only on an "emergency" basis.

 Benjamin is anxious to test the surgically-repaired knee in a game. It's unclear if the coaches will use him Saturday against Detroit.

"It's going to be great," Benjamin said. "Knowing that I've been out of football for seven, eight months now. Just to get back in the swing of things, there's going to be butterflies for that first hit, just to get the jitterbugs out of the way."

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Getting to know: Darryl Sharpton

Each week I'll feature a different Washington Redskins player, asking them a handful of questions that, hopefully, gives you more insight into who they are away from the field.

Player: Darryl Sharpton
Age: 26
Position: Linebacker
College: University of Miami
Year in NFL: 5th

Best season: 2013. He started eight games and recorded a career-best 55 tackles with two forced fumbles.

Person you most admire: "I'm a big boxing fan so I always admired Muhammed Ali for his competitive nature and the way he works, his attitude, the way he approached things. His confidence. I always admired him."

Biggest obstacle you've overcome: "The injury when I tore my quad tendon (in 2011). You have a major injury, there's a chance maybe you can't come back from that and rehabbing from that and staying positive and not going into the tank and coming back and being a productive player afterward…That's one thing that sticks out in my mind."

Favorite football moment: "It was probably the game where I came back from the injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars and I had probably one of my best NFL games. I think I was second on the team in tackles. They were going to ease me in but they needed me and we ended up winning in overtime and I made some really big hits all over the field. It was a great game. Very memorable."

Most overrated part of pro sports: "I guess when you get so used to being in the big arenas, the crowd and the number of people around you doesn't affect you as much as you think. Once you lock into the game you can play against a team with no crowd or a big crowd. So the effect of the crowd is a little overrated."

Most underrated part: "Never thought about this. I guess just the stress and the pressure. You can't take anything for granted. You have to come out every day and prove you belong on a team no matter if it's midseason or training camp. It's just a lot of the pressure and stress that people go through, every individual is under an enormous amount of stress. It's a year-round thing. You have to watch what you eat year-round. It's really non-stop working and non-stop under the microscope. That's something people don't realize."

What did you dream of being when you were a kid: "With my dad being 5-6, I didn't necessarily think I was being bred to be an NFL linebacker. I was going to follow my dad's footsteps. My family has a financial background. I got a degree in finance so I was looking to be an accountant or in wealth management. That's something I found interesting and always saw myself doing."

What's something people don't realize about you: "I speak Spanish and I speak it well. I started learning it in first grade; I was in a language program in Miami."

What topic riles you up: "I'm really into politics. If I hear people talking about politics and I feel they don't know what they're talking about it might rile me up. But as far as football is concerned it's who's a hard hitter. I might be, ‘Oh, man I want to be in that discussion.' If someone tries to challenge me on the physicality of the game, that will light a fire into me to let you know I'm here."

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Sam Shields proves free agents can succeed

GREEN BAY — Every undrafted free agent who has set foot in Lambeau Field wants his story to unfold like Sam Shields.

You make the Green Bay Packers’ roster, slowly develop into a reliable starter and are rewarded with a four-year, $39 million contract once you hit the free-agent market.

If only it was that simple.

Nothing about being an undrafted free agent is easy. Even if you make the opening roster, you still have to fight to stay there. It takes talent, hard work and a touch of luck to make that happen.

Of the 14 undrafted rookies who have made the Packers’ initial 53-man roster during Mike McCarthy’s first seven years as head coach, half didn’t last more than one season in Green Bay.

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith, perhaps the team’s greatest success story outside of Shields, was even cut after one season only to be re-signed later that year.
That’s why Shields gives every rookie he encounters a similar message: Nothing is given. You work hard to make the roster. If you survive, you work harder to stay there.

“I see guys who get cut and it’s not pretty,” said the 26-year-old cornerback, reflecting on his first NFL season. “My whole mindset was making this team whether it’s special teams or however — just get on this team.”

Over the next three weeks, you’ll hear about another class of undrafted rookies making a bid for the 53-man roster. South Carolina State linebacker Joe Thomas has flashed early. Colorado State-Pueblo defensive lineman Mike Pennel has made his presence felt against the run.

Meanwhile, second-year players such as outside linebacker Andy Mulumba, offensive lineman Lane Taylor and safety Chris Banjo are trying to hold onto their spots. The same goes for receiver Myles White and tight end Jake Stoneburner, who started last season on the practice squad before being promoted.
Nobody wants to go backward, especially Mulumba, who saw the most work of last year’s undrafted class in 2013. He played nearly 300 defensive snaps in place of an injured Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and finished with 30 tackles and a sack in 14 games.

He spent the winter at his alma mater, Eastern Michigan, rehabbing a sprained knee he suffered in the Packers’ 23-20 playoff loss to San Francisco, which he played through due to a lack of healthy outside rushers.

People remember him being fooled by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on an 11-yard run on third-and-8 late in the loss, but what you didn’t see was the six weeks Mulumba spent with his knee in a brace afterward.

“You have to put everything on the line,” Mulumba said. “I knew my knee was bad, but I said why not give it another shot if we can win and go to the other round? I just told them put some tape on it and put me back on the field, and then we’ll see what happens. I went out there trying to give it my 100 percent, but couldn’t get to 100 percent.”

Mulumba returned for the offseason program healthy and hungry to maintain his spot in a now-cluttered group of outside linebackers, which now includes veteran Julius Peppers and fourth-round pick Carl Bradford.

Outside linebacker (five) and offensive line (four) have produced the most undrafted rookies on the Packers’ opening roster since 2006, but there’s been a lot of turnover, too.

Vic So’oto (2011) and Dezman Moses (2013) both went one-and-done with the Packers. Frank Zombo lasted three seasons, but was non-tendered when he reached restricted free agency after the 2012 season.

Only Jamari Lattimore was offered a second contract, but he’s since shifted to inside linebacker.

Under general manager Ted Thompson, the Packers have tied for the third-most undrafted free agents on their Week 1 roster since 2010 with 13. At least three undrafted rookies have made the Packers’ roster in each of those seasons.

The Packers will give you opportunity, but they’ll also provide plenty of competition for your job going forward.

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Antrel Rolle could stay at safety all season for Giants

Whenever defensive coordinator Perry Fewell wants to tease defensive back Antrel Rolle, or put him in his place, or just draw a smile from the Giants' only Pro Bowl player from a season ago, he knows what he has to do.

"I say, 'I'm going to put you back at nickel,'" Fewell said.

That's enough to shake the unshakable Rolle because for the last few years he has lived half his life as a safety and half as a slot cornerback. It's something Rolle has come to expect, even though every summer he starts out at just the one position. Then a cornerback gets hurt and next thing you know Rolle is back down at the line of scrimmage face-guarding a receiver.

This year, though, promises to be different. The Giants bolstered their cornerback position so much that there are players who would have been starters for them a year ago who will likely have trouble making the 53-man roster. And most appealing to Rolle is the addition of Walter Thurmond III, a true nickel cornerback who plays the slot.

Fewell jokingly searched for wood to knock on when asked about Thurmond allowing Rolle to play safety the entire year. He finally tapped a reporter on the head for good luck.

"We feel confident in the development of Walter and we're trying to develop several other players so that we can allow Antrel to play that safety position," he said.

That would not only make Rolle happy, it should make him better.

"We're giving him all the reps back there," Fewell said. "He uses the term, 'I'm getting my eyes back.' So he can now see the field instead of seeing down in the box and the perimeter. Now he sees the entire field. I think that's important for him to develop that to become as good as he can be as a safety."

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Travis Benjamin caps successful comeback with new title

BEREA — Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin underwent reconstructive right knee surgery last Nov. 15, but his recovery is well ahead of schedule.

Special teams coach Chris Tabor has been so impressed with Benjamin’s comeback that he named him the team’s primary kickoff and punt returner Thursday.

“We’re in the business of winning games, and Travis gives you an opportunity for a big play,” Tabor said. “Obviously, he’s an explosive weapon, and if he’s our best player doing it, then we’re going to put him out there and do it.

“He’s done a great job already in training camp, which is why Travis is going to be our returner this season.”

Benjamin averaged 48.7 yards on three kickoff returns and 11.7 yards on 22 punt runbacks before disaster struck eight games into the 2013 season.
While returning a punt on Oct. 27, the speedster from Miami (Fla.) caught his right cleat in the turf during a spin move at Arrowhead Stadium, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

“It was a non-contact injury in Kansas City that can happen at any time,” Tabor lamented. “But Travis is healthy now, he’s running well, he’s catching the ball well. And to me, he still appears very fast.”

Benjamin also believes that is the case, which is why he was pleased to hear Tabor’s announcement. The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder has wanted to serve as Cleveland’s lone return man since being drafted in 2012, but this will mark his first opportunity to do so.

“It’s going to be great, knowing that I can be a big factor, that playmaker that gives us that extra yard we need to be a successful team,” said Benjamin, who has scored two touchdowns on 25 career punt returns.

“Just to get back in the swing of things, there are going to be butterflies on that first hit, so it will be nice to get the jitterbugs out of the way.”

Though the Browns play their preseason opener Saturday in Detroit, it’s likely that Benjamin won’t see significant time until the regular season begins Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh.

Tabor said he plans on using several other players to run back kicks against the Lions, preferring to save his most dangerous weapon for the Steelers.

“It makes no difference to me,” Benjamin said. “Whether it’s a kick return or punt return, it’s all about setting the offense up so we can go down and score touchdowns. As a unit, we’ll scheme it up and block it how Coach Tabor wants us to, and make the best out of it for the team.”

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D.J. Williams returns with 'a lot to prove'

BOURBONNAIS — By now, the rehabilitation process has become boring to D.J. Williams. 

That’s how the 11-year veteran linebacker described his latest stint of having to rehab a ruptured left pectoral muscle that ended his season after just six games. Williams, 32, has always dealt with a handful of injuries throughout his career, having missed games due to injury in three separate seasons.

Even in his first year as a Bear, Williams, who spent nine seasons with the Broncos, dealt with a nagging calf injury throughout July and August of 2013. In addition to that, he caught bronchitis leading up to the Week Five game against the Saints before ultimately rupturing his pectoral muscle towards the end of the third quarter against the Giants in Week Six. 

But Williams sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Everyday you just keep grinding and going ahead,” Williams said. “I’m very eager (to get back). I know I have a lot to prove to a lot of people, especially climbing up in age at 32. But I’m in the greatest shape I’ve been in in a long time.”

Williams said being in great shape involved returning to his rookie weight, where he weighed 250 pounds out of the University of Miami.

Williams will also play middle linebacker, a position that he was brought in for last season and again when he re-signed to a one-year deal. Williams, who has played at every other linebacker position, said he doesn’t mind and loves playing the middle.

“I don’t want to say our defense is simple, but it highlights what I do pretty well,” Williams said. “It allows me to run sideline to sideline and play defense inside out. We play Cover-2 a lot where guys are breaking and making plays.”

The 32-year old enjoyed success in his limited time in 2013. Williams earned two sacks, which was still the second-most for the Bears’ linebackers, despite missing 10 games.

However, not only is Williams out to redeem himself, but he also added the defense is out to make up for the disastrous year they had as a group. The defense ranked 30th in total yards allowed and dead last in run defense.

Williams said the team is ready to get out and start tackling opponents. The Bears' first preseason game is Friday against the Eagles.

“Playing one of the opponents that I say personally embarrassed [us] last season, we’re eager to see how far we’ve come and still see what we have to do,” Williams said. “I want to shut them out. That’s how you approach every game, whether it's preseason, regular season or practice.

“I just want to see everybody beat their guy and get to the ball, be energetic and follow the plan."

While he wants the defense to succeed, Williams also has to prove himself to his coaches. Bears head coach Marc Trestman has stressed that competition has been the theme of training camp and Williams is in one that could be considered the closest.

When the preseason depth chart was released, Williams and second-year linebacker Jon Bostic were listed as co-starters for the middle linebacker spot. In camp, Bostic has been the starting nickel linebacker, with Williams taking the first-team reps with the base defense.

“It kind of reminds me of me and [former All-Pro Broncos linebacker] Al Wilson when I first came in the league,” Williams said. “It’s a competition and I want to play as many reps as possible, and know that he does as well.

“But you know, it’s a brotherhood and we consider each other family, It doesn’t matter who’s out there, we’ll both be rooting for each other.”

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Jimmy Graham 'flying' at Saints camp

The New Orleans Saints dominated the conversation when our podcast crew asked on Wednesday which NFL offense would finish the year as the league's most prolific.

Drew Brees fronts an outfit that boasts a deep backfield, younger wideouts and a dazzling newcomer in rookie receiver Brandin Cooks. The Saints' attack, though, still channels back through Jimmy Graham, a tight end being paid much more than his peers because he's one of the NFL's more unique players at any position.

Graham has accounted for an outrageous 270 catches, 3,507 yards and 36 touchdowns over the past three seasons, doing a chunk of that damage while saddled with a plantar fascia injury. Now fully healthy, the playmaking pass-catcher is turning heads at Saints camp.

"The dude's flying. He's faster than last year, he seems stronger," safety Kenny Vaccaro recently told ESPN.com's Mike Triplett.

The praise came after Graham whipped down the field past Vaccaro, whom coordinator Rob Ryan called "the best overall safety" in the game last season.
Like Vaccaro on Ryan's defense, Graham can be utilized all over the field on offense, using his speed and tackle-breaking ability to dominate matchups. Only Julius Thomas had more yards after the catch (472) than Graham's 433 last autumn, but it took Thomas 247 more snaps to do so, per Pro Football Focus.

With Graham fully operational and Cooks stepping into a version of the Darren Sproles role on offense, the Saints loom as a megaton-level headache for the rest of the NFC.

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Coaches Excited About Devin Hester On Offense

When news came of the addition of Devin Hester to the Falcons roster, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter barely looked up. Hester came with the reputation of being perhaps the best returnman in NFL history but his offensive resume didn't exactly stand out.

Once Hester arrived in Flowery Branch, all that changed. He's got Koetter's attention now.

Fans have wondered just what Hester's role could possibly be in an offense already crowded at wide receiver with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. After all, there's only one ball to go around, but Koetter sounds confident that Hester can play a big role in what the Falcons are planning to do in 2014.

"I've been very happy, as have all the coaches, with how Devin has taken to the wide receiver stuff," Koetter said Thursday. "Terry Robiskie has done an awesome job with him. The other receivers are helping him and Devin's going to be an exciting player — definitely a weapon that we added in the offseason that's going to help."

When the Falcons coaches see Hester on the practice fields in Flowery Branch, they see potential and capability. There's not much more to go on for a wide receiver who hasn't come close to surpassing 1,000 receiving yards in his career.

Instead, the coaching staff can only go on what they've seen so far from him in XFINITY® Atlanta Falcons Training Camp sessions and it's enough to make them think that, while 1,000 yards isn't what they'll need from him, a play here or there that goes for a big gain could be enough of a role for Hester that pushes the Falcons' offense to an unstoppable level.

"He’s got the capability of playing and playing fast," Robiskie said. "He’s going to do some things and make some plays for us that I think, at the end of the day, when we get a chance to sit down, we'll say, 'Wow I didn’t know that’s what I was getting when I got him'

"Like I tell him every day: There’s not one person (here) who really gives a crap about what you did in Chicago. I’m happy for you that you’re in the record book. I think I’m in there, too. But can you help us win a Super Bowl? We need your help. I think he’s going to do some good things for us."

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Jimmy Gaines Looks To Make “Homecoming” a More Permanent Residence

Jimmy Gaines is a native of Buffalo, and played at nearby Canisius High School. But when he went undrafted, he had no indication that his hometown NFL team had any interest in him.

“I really wasn’t in too much contact with Buffalo during that process,” said Gaines. “Once the draft ended, I got a call from my agent telling me that Buffalo was interested in signing me. That was an amazing feeling, just being able to come back home.”

It’s been a long trip for Gaines to return back to the Buffalo area, as he was a star for Canisius, playing linebacker, safety, tight end, tailback and receiver in his senior season. He came to the University of Miami in 2010 as a small 6’2”, 215 pounder who had some room to grow, and came out as a well-built, 6’3”, 240 pound linebacker who shows the versatility to play multiple roles and positions.

Gaines started 27 games at the University of Miami, with 13 of them being this past season, all of them at the middle linebacker spot with 83 tackles and two fumble recoveries. With Gaines putting on 25 pounds since he began playing for the Hurricanes, he was named the Strength Training Athlete of the year for Miami.

Gaines’ improvement from year t0 year as a player coincided with the Hurricanes’ advancement, as they went from 7-6 his freshman season to 9-4 as a senior. Gaines enjoyed helping the once-vaunted University of Miami football program re-establish itself.

“It was a great experience,” said Gaines. “The guys at Miami really want to be great. It wasn’t very hard to help those guys achieve greatness and to try to turn that program around from where it was before. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to do that.”

Gaines told me that “it’s been cool” to begin his NFL journey in Buffalo, as he has seen “a lot of guys from Canisius” attend practices.

“It’s been cool. A lot of guys from Canisius that have came out to the practices. It’s pretty much a homecoming for me, so it’s a great feeling.”

Gaines was listed as the third-string outside linebacker on July 28, and got his first NFL action in the Hall of Fame game on Sunday, getting two tackles. Gaines called the experience “amazing”.

“Having the opportunity to play in my first NFL game, it was a dream come true,” said Gaines. “I’m just glad I was able to do a couple good things but there are things I still have to clean up, too.”

With the injury to Kiko Alonso, the Bills’ linebacker core has undergone a lot of experimentation with players taking turns playing at different positions. Under that difficult scenario, Gaines has very much appreciated the guidance from linebacker coach Fred Pagac and the veteran players at his position.

“Coach Po, he’s a great coach,” said Gaines. “He’s a great football mind. I try to take as much from him as I possibly can. And the experience of a guy like Brandon Spikes, and Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham, those guys have really helped me out in the transition just understanding the playbook and understanding little details within the game.”

The rookie linebacker’s work ethic and film study were profiled during Gaines’ senior year at Miami by 247sports.com’s Christopher Stock:
Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onforio has a message to his players that has resonated with Gaines.

“When you’re done learning, you’re done,” D’Onofrio says.

“That’s what I’ve tried to continue to do since I’ve been here,” Gaines said. “I try to always work on my deficiencies. I’m working. I’m never complacent with where I am like right now. I’m not satisfied with where I am. I want to improve and get better every day. Every day you’re either getting better or worse. You’re never the same. I try to get better. Once you feel like, ‘Oh I know it’ or ‘I got it’, then what’s when you start messing up like Kansas State for me.”

Even though he has 31 games under his belt, he’s continued to take the same amount of notes as he did as a freshman preparing for his debut.

“I’ve always taken a lot of notes,” Gaines said. “I did it because that’s how I learn. I learn better if I just go over it and keep writing it down so I don’t try to keep anything to memory. If I forget something I wrote it down and I’ll check my notes. That keeps me up-to-date with my assignments and what I’m supposed to do.”

Gaines has brought along that willingness to study to his first stop in the pro game.

“Take the same approach to every meeting,” said Gaines. “Make sure I have a notebook, pen, and paper, be ready to write and to takedown whatever details that need to be taken down.”

Gaines said he is willing to play “whatever role” they need him to, whether it is at linebacker, special teams, or both.

“Whatever I can do to help this team, that’s what I would like to do,” said Gaines.

Off the field, Gaines is a big Los Angeles Lakers fan due to Kobe Bryant being his favorite player, with teammates giving him “a little stuff” about their struggles, but “all in good fun”. Gaines also sang in a church choir and for teammates at Miami, according to Stock, though he laughed and said nobody with the Bills has asked him to sing.

Though he has other interests and skills, Gaines very much wants to be a Buffalo Bill.

“It would mean a whole lot to me,” Gaines said of making the team’s roster. “Just like I said, it’s a dream come true. Just trying to make the most of every opportunity I get every day, and hopefully at the end of the day I’ll make the team.”

Gaines has both the work ethic and talent to make it in the NFL. But whether a deep linebacker depth chart will stop him in his attempts to do so for Buffalo has yet to be answered.

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Jon Beason nearing return

New York Giants linebacker Jon Beason says he expects to be ready for week 1 of the regular season. Beason is recovering from a broken bone in his foot, but Dan Graziano at ESPN.com reports that the veteran is getting closer to returning to the field.

Beason went down during OTA's in June. He suffered a sesamoid bone fracture and a torn ligament in his foot. The injury required surgery and a 3-month recovery process.

Sesamoid fractures can occur when an athlete plants his foot sharply, causing the big toe to bend too far upward. Beason says he was changing directions when his injury occurred.

Although Beason has not been able to take part in full practices, he's still on the field soaking up knowledge with his teammates and running.

When he returns, Beason is expected to play the middle with either Jameel McClain or rookie Devon Kennard on the strong side. Jacquian Williams is projected as the weakside linebacker.

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Once a rising star, Titans’ Colin McCarthy fights for job

Colin McCarthy was a starting linebacker as a rookie in 2011.

A year later, his Titans teammates elected him a team captain. He was the talk of training camp, seemingly on the verge of a breakout season.

McCarthy finds himself in a much different situation these days. In his fourth training camp, he’s trying to prove himself all over again. What used to be a given — a roster spot — is no longer guaranteed.

“It humbles you,” McCarthy said. “I got an opportunity my first year, my second year, to play a lot. But now, I have the opportunity to battle back and try and get on the field. The opportunity to compete brings the best out of you as a player and as a person, though. I’m excited about a fresh start. I’m just going to work hard and do the best I can.”

With a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator and a new position coach, McCarthy wasn’t sure what to expect when players reported for offseason workouts in April. He quickly found out: After playing in a 4-3 defense all the way back to high school in Clearwater, Fla., he’d have to adjust to an inside linebacker role in a 3-4.

He also faces a climb up the depth chart.

Wesley Woodyard and Zach Brown have worked with the starters at inside linebacker throughout training camp and are listed as starters on the unofficial depth chart. McCarthy has worked with the second team on some days, the third team on others. He’s third on the depth chart behind Woodyard and Moise Fokou. Zaviar Gooden and Avery Williamson are also in the competition.

McCarthy has started 19 of 36 games in his first three seasons. Last year in training camp, he lost his job to Moise Fokou but got five starts when Fokou was injured.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton insists McCarthy remains a contender for the starting lineup.

“Everybody is in the same boat. There are no favorites, I don’t have a favorite player or anything like that,” Horton said. “We are not looking at the past. We are looking at what you’ve done since we started the offseason. Everybody has to show us what they can do …

“Can Colin win the starting job? Well, sure he can. And we are grading them by what they do right here.”

Veteran cornerback Jason McCourty, a captain with McCarthy in 2012, said the linebacker’s attitude has been great.

“The one thing about this league is at some point it’s going to humble you, no matter who you are. For it to happen to him early, he has reacted well,” McCourty said. “He can’t choose when he goes in or the reps, but he can control how he works, and he has continued to work hard … and at the end of camp we’ll see where that leaves him.”

Injuries derailed McCarthy in his first two seasons, when he missed 12 games. He dealt with a concussion, an ankle injury and a hamstring, among other ailments. It left McCarthy and his coaches frustrated.

He managed to stay healthy a year ago, played in all 16 games and finished with 51 tackles.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said when he was an NFL player, it was difficult for him to accept a different role, “but that is this job; your role changes. I think the big thing with players who’ve had a long career is they are the ones who understand their role and are efficient in their role.”

McCarthy said he understood he needed to come in with a good attitude, work hard, learn the defense and stay healthy. After what he called a “long year,” he feels comfortable in a new defense — and on a team — he wants to be a part of.

“I’m maybe more hungry than I was in the past, but I am not going to change the way I play,” he said. “It is a little different, but it has hasn’t changed me much. Whatever I can do to help this team win, whether it’s on defense or special teams, I’m going to do it.

“I’m just trying to get better, trying to make sure I know my assignment and make sure I am healthy. I just want to compete.”

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Trent Richardson's Mentor? Edgerrin James.

ANDERSON, IN --- 2014 is very important to Trent Richardsonicon-article-link. He’s acknowledged such, and Saturday he had the Indianapolis Colts all-time leading rusher Edgerrin James watching him practice for the first time.

“It was a blessing, man. Just to watch practice, he said he’s going to do a lot more with me, going to be hands-on,” said Richardson Saturday after practice. “We’ve been having phone calls back and forth, but I never had the chance to practice in front of him.”

Richardson says the relationship started around the time he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy at Alabama in 2011. As fate would have it, Richardson was traded to the same team Edge burst onto the NFL scene with in 1999, with four 1,500 yard rushing seasons through 2005 with the Colts.

“Last year when he got here during the middle of the season, it wasn’t fair to him to try to get in with all the stuff he had going on,” said James Saturday after spending more than 30 minutes with Richardson following the end of practice. “I told (Colts owner) Mr. (Jim) Irsay that I would come up during training camp.”

“We’ve had a lot of phone calls. Mentally, he’s always been on my side, keep me positive and stuff,” Richardson said of James. “Even with the stuff that was happening last year, we always kept in touch. Even before I got (to Indianapolis).”

Richardson’s struggles last season are well documented. He averaged less than three yards per carry, after the Colts traded a first round pick for him to the Cleveland Browns. But James says getting traded week 3 in the middle of an NFL season would have been hard on any player.

“It’s unfair to kind of judge him on last year, because it’s two different systems, and the terminology is totally different,” James explained. “He was just kind of thrown out there. You can’t really get an assessment.”

James said Richardson is going to be a better player in 2014, and he’s helping to make that happen.

“It’s just a blessing to have him critique you, to have him be your critic. That’s a good critic, to have him to show you...it’s going to be big for me. It’s a big help,” Richardson elaborated.

So what advice did James give Richardson? “He said when you practice just make it like a game.”

Richardson said James offered more critiques as well, from a resume that includes four Pro Bowls and two NFL rushing titles.

“Just little stuff, stay behind my pads. That’s one thing I’ve always done, one thing he’s always told me that’s been a positive about me,” Richardson recalled. “And make sure I finish runs. That’s when you’re at practice and not at practice, it all shows up. You’ll be ready for the game with that.”

Richardson said James will be back out at practice Sunday to watch him practice again. When you’re talking about a player who has his own section in the owner’s private memorabilia room, alongside other great Colts like Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Eric Dickerson, that’s a pretty good mentor to have.

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Andre Johnson could return vs. Atlanta

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans played without three offensive starters and two defensive starters in their preseason opener Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals.

They could get at least two of those players back next weekend against the Atlanta Falcons.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien said running back Arian Foster and receiver Andre Johnson have "a shot" to return for the team's second preseason game. Both have soft tissue injuries, Foster suffered injury on July 27 and Johnson on July 28. Foster returned for one day of practice since then, which means both have missed the same number of days while healing.

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Danny Valencia to get chance at 3B vs. RHP

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Friday that he plans to give Danny Valencia a shot against right-handed pitching.

"We want to see what he can do," Gibbons said. Valencia has already shown what he can do (or can't do) versus righties in his career, batting .228 with a .623 OPS. Evidently Gibbons needs to see it with his own eyes, though. With Brett Lawrie (oblique) out again, the Jays don't have many options at third base.

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Ryan Braun drives in lone Brewers run vs. Kershaw

Ryan Braun went 2-for-4 with an RBI single in a loss to the Dodgers on Sunday.

Braun and the Brewers were held in check by Clayton Kershaw most of the afternoon, but the right fielder came through with an RBI single in the first inning to give the Brewers an early lead. Braun hasn't had the same kind of production this season after last year's suspension, but he's hitting .285/.338/.496 and is sixth in the National League with 67 RBI after Sunday.

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Danny Valencia takes out full-page ad in Star to thank Royals fans

The trade deadline was littered with headline-making trades from the Red Sox dealing Jon Lester to Oakland to Tampa Bay dealing David Price to Detroit. Those long-time players took to the local newspaper to thank the fans, as Lester took an ad out in the Boston Globe to thank Red Sox fans and David Price took out at an ad in the Tampa Bay Times thanking Rays fans.

The Royals were quiet at the trade deadline, but earlier in the week had already made a move sending third baseman Danny Valencia to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for catcher Erik Kratz and pitcher Liam Hendriks. Not to be outdone, Valencia recently took to the pages of the Kansas City Star to express his thanks to Royals fans for a magical ride.


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