Mock draft: Lions take Miami OT Ereck Flowers

Quarterback Marcus Mariota announced he's leaving Oregon for the NFL Draft.

That's great timing for's Chris Burke — he has Mariota going No.1 to Tampa Bay in his Mock Draft 3.0 released Wednesday.

It's also good for the Lions, who again have just the draft, mock or otherwise, to look forward to. The more underclassmen who come out, the more talent is pushed down to them at the No.23 spot.

Burke has the Lions taking Miami offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, "who could develop into a long-term starter on the line. Detroit could consider him at left tackle."

But Burke adds: "Much of Detroit's offseason hinges on where Ndamukong Suh signs. But we've also seen enough from Martin Mayhew to know that he will not take a player just because his team appears thin at a position."

So he kind of qualifies it both ways.

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Ray Lewis backtracks from his comments about Tom Brady

Ray Lewis isn’t quite finished talking about the Tuck Rule.

After Tom Brady brushed off the former Ravens’ player’s comments that “we only know who Tom Brady is because of the Tuck Rule”, Lewis backtracked a bit on Twitter:

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‘Frank’s a 49er’

Although Frank Gore and general manager Trent Baalke have expressed a mutual desire to bring back the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher, two months remain for that to happen before Gore becomes a free agent.

Said Baalke: “Frank’s a 49ers. Frank knows exactly how we feel and that discussion has been had.”

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Calais Campbell make All-NFC Team

After every season, the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) vote to honor players as the best in the league. I happen to be a member of the PFWA, so I also get a vote.

Two Arizona Cardinals players made the PFWA All-NFC team -- defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback Justin Bethel (as a special teams player).

Not a single Cardinals player was named to the All-NFL team this year. Last year, Patrick Peterson and Bethel bother were on the All-NFL team and All-NFC team. Peterson was left off the teams this year.

Campbell had seven sacks, an interception and 59 total tackles, 12 for losses. He also was credited for an additional 17 pressures and 12 hits on opposing quarterbacks.

Bethel was credited with 18 special teams tackles on the season, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

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Tom Brady takes the high road when asked about Ray Lewis

FOXBORO, Mass. – Three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady took the high road Thursday in response to a statement by former defensive adversary Ray Lewis that the 2002 tuck rule controversy is the “only reason” we know who Brady is.

Before practice for Sunday’s AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts, the quarterback of the New England Patriots said he’d been informed about Lewis’ remarks by the Patriots media relations department.

“Yes, they told me that, yeah, everyone has an opinion,” said Brady.

“I think Ray’s a great player. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. I was fortunate enough to play against him.”

Lewis, former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and now ESPN analyst, mentioned Brady Tuesday on Sirius XM Mad Dog Radio.

“When we, the first time we created something called a tuck rule, it’s the only reason we know, I’m just being honest, the only reason we know who Tom Brady is, because of a tuck rule,” Lewis said on the Stephen A. Smith show.

“There’s no such thing as a tuck rule! If the ball is in your hand, and I knock it out your hand, whether it’s going backwards, forwards, lateral, sideways, however it’s coming out, that’s a freaking fumble.”

The play occurred Jan. 19, 2002, in the Patriots’ 16-13 overtime win against the Oakland Raiders in the AFC playoffs.

With the Patriots trailing by three late in regulation, Brady was in the act of passing when he cut short his throwing motion and pulled the ball down. Defensive back Charles Woodson knocked the ball out of the Brady’s hands and the officials ruled Oakland had recovered the fumble.

After video review, it was ruled an incomplete pass under the tuck rule, which said any forward movement of the arm starts a pass and that it was an incomplete pass “even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body.”

Adam Vinatieri kicked a tying 45-yard field goal for the Patriots in the snow and they won in overtime on a 23-yard Vinatieri field goal.
The tuck rule was eliminated after the 2013 season.

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Vince Wilfork remains hungry

FOXBORO -- He arrived at the height of the Patriots dynasty, accustomed already to championship games, having twice played for national titles while at the University of Miami (winning one).

In Vince Wilfork's rookie season with the Patriots in 2004, New England won its third Super Bowl title in four years.

The big defensive tackle never took the celebrations for granted. He always knew winning was hard.

Now a 33-year-old father figure who likens watching young Patriots linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower to watching "younger brothers or my kids grow up," Wilfork still reaches for a second Super Bowl ring.

Big Vince is again getting close. This coming Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium, Wilfork will be suited up for his sixth AFC title game. The winner moves on to Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 1.

"As far as having experience in this game, one thing I always try to do is try to treat it like a regular game," Wilfork said about preparing for yet another AFC title game.

"You want to look at it as the next game," Wilfork later added. "But the only thing with that is you lose (this game), you go home. And I don't think anybody in this locker room wants to go home."

The Patriots have reached the AFC title game for the fourth straight year, having lost the last two. This will be New England's ninth AFC title game appearance of the Brady-Belichick Era (5-3 record).

This one comes 15 months after Wilfork underwent surgery for a torn Achilles tendon that reduced him to spiritual sideline leader during the Patriots' AFC title game loss in Denver last January.

Wilfork has not made a big deal about a 6-foot-2, 325-pounder on the wrong side of 30 coming back from an Achilles injury. He has left that to us; all who speculated his injury might be a career-ender. Coach Bill Belichick apparently had his doubts. A contentious contract restructuring last March had Wilfork requesting the team release him. An incentive-laden deal was then hammered out -- and Wilfork reached all the incentives. He has started all 17 games and played more than 70 percent of New England's defensive snaps in his 11th NFL season, while being a team captain for the seventh straight year. All of which Wilfork chalks up to, "I'm a football player."

"I wasn't surprised that I can play and be effective at this level," Wilfork said last week. "Health was never an issue with me this year ... My goal was just getting back on this team and helping my teammates win, and we've done a lot of that around here."

Wilfork was the Patriots' top draft pick in 2004, the 21st overall selection, and the sixth Miami Hurricane taken that year after safety Sean Taylor (5th overall, Redskins), tight end Kellen Winslow (6th, Browns), linebacker Jonathan Vilma (12th, Jets), linebacker D.J. Williams (17th, Broncos) and offensive tackle Vernon Carey (19th, Dolphins).

Wilfork, who in 2002 had lost both his parents to health ailments, was undaunted about joining the reigning Super Bowl champs, who just lost massive nose tackle Ted Washington in free agency.

At the time he was drafted, Wilfork said, "I know what it's like for a team to come out and talk trash and try to throw you off your game. I know what that's about because at the University of Miami we get that year after year."

Wilfork is now a five-time Pro Bowler with one Super Bowl ring. The five Hurricanes drafted ahead of him in 2004 have totaled six Pro Bowls and one ring (though Taylor being murdered in 2007 almost certainly affected that Pro Bowl total). Wilfork and Bears linebacker Williams were the only players from that Miami first-round class still in the NFL this season.

Wilfork's only remaining teammate from his rookie season is Tom Brady, who was then a fifth-year Patriot.

Most of Wilfork's trash talking now is aimed at the Patriots' quarterback at practice.

"I'm in his ear. He's in my ear," Wilfork said. "But at the same time, we make practice live, we make practice competitive, because we try to get it as close to the game as possible ... We've been so successful around here doing that."

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Clinton Portis Miami’s Good Luck Charm?

Down went Duke basketball’s 41-game home winning streak last night, as proud Miami alum and former Redskins running back Clinton Portis was there to watch the whole thing happen.

Despite coming into the game as the No. 4 team in the country, Duke was throttled in the second half by Miami, as the Hurricanes’ 56 points in the final 20 minutes gave them a 90-74 victory.

So, is Portis the Hurricanes’ good luck charm?

Perhaps, but I’m sure Coach Jim Larranaga (who has ties to the Washington, D.C. area as the former coach of George Mason) and Co. enjoyed his presence in enemy territory regardless.

#UM came to invade Cameron indoor first time experience! #canesvictorybaby

A photo posted by CP (@clintonportis) on

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Ray Lewis: Tom Brady Is Only Known Because Of The Tuck Rule

BOSTON (CBS) — Ray Lewis spent 17 years toiling in the NFL, building himself a surefire Hall of Fame resume in the process. Because of that work on the field, Lewis is now a full-time football analyst, working for ESPN and dispensing his thoughts every week on the events of the NFL.

Sometimes, that endeavor works out, and other times it does not.

And if there’s one thing that’s evident in the opinions expressed by the former linebacker, it’s this: thick, purple Baltimore Ravens blood still coursesicon1 through his veins.

That much was clear on Tuesday, when he joined Stephen A. Smith’s show on Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Radio. Lewis was talking about the controversial incompletion ruling on Dez Bryant over the weekend, and perhaps because he still feels the sting of seeing the Patriots beat his Ravens, Lewis took the opportunity to try to tear down Tom Bradylb_icon1.

(Please excuse the punctuation. It’s difficult to punctuate Ray Lewis sentences.)

“Listen, not to go all totally out of conscious [I believe he meant ‘context’], but just think about this, Stephen A., honest to God,” Lewis said. “When we — the first time we created something called a tuck rule, it’s the only reason we know — I’m just being honest! — the only reason we know who Tom Brady is, because of a tuck rule! There’s no such thing as a tuck rule! If the ball is in your hand, and I knock it out your hand, whether it’s going backwards, forwards, lateral, sideways, however it’s coming out, that’s a freaking fumble!

“But guess what we created? We created a freaking tuck rule!”

Hearing Lewis say that the tuck rule is the only reason we know about a man who’s won three Super Bowls, has twice been named NFL MVP (including the first-ever unanimous MVP), has made 10 Pro Bowls, has three times been named the AFC Offensive Player of the Year, owns the best winning percentage of all time and has been the one constant on the field in arguably the longest sustained run of success any one team has endured in NFL history … Stephen A. Smith had to ask: Did you really just say that?

“They don’t go to that championship game — they don’t go to that championship game if that tuck rule, if that ball is not called a tuck! That’s a fumble!” Lewis shouted. “Charles Woodson made that man clearly fumble the ball and they named it the tuck rule, something that we’ve never heard in today’s game. So now you’ve got to ask yourself: When did the legacy really start?”

Obviously, Lewis is saying that if Brady had not been bailed out by the tuck rule, then the Patriots don’t go on to face Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game, and they don’t beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI the following week, and then, who knows? Maybe the Patriots still would have won in 2003 and ’04, but Lewis believes it’s worth wondering if the Patriots dynasty ever would have come to be if not for that fateful ruling by referee Walt Coleman.

Of course, Lewis is leaving out the fact that despite his insistence that “there’s no such thing as a tuck rule,” the tuck rule did very much exist. It was put into place in 1999, and even after the famous play involving Brady, it remained on the books until 2013. In fact, the Patriots found themselves on the other side of the tuck rule earlier in that 2001 season, when a fumble was ruled to be an incomplete pass in a game they eventually lost to the Jets.

There’s also the fact that since that Tuck Rule Game, Tom Brady has been pretty damn good at football. Chances are, we would’ve heard of the guy by now, tuck rule or no tuck rule.

Yet it was, indeed, a real rule, despite Lewis’ belief that it appeared out of thin air to help the Patriots. Much like Terrell Suggs’ insistence that it was Brady’s injury and not Carson Palmer’s that prompted stricter rules for hitting quarterbackslb_icon1, Lewis’ comments reek of contempt, born from that special kind of hatred that’s existed between the Ravens and the Patriots over the past few years.

But as Lewis tells it, he’s just a regular old historian.

“See man, look, I’m a football historian. I love moments. I love moments,” he said. “See, a lot of people watch just the TV from the game and say, ‘Oh, that’s wrong, that’s wrong!’ Go back to the moment from when things started. That’s what I’m telling you we’re creating. When I came into this league there was no such thing as a defenseless player. There was no such thing, Steve! … Man, there are certain rules that should not be allowed to be in this game of football. That’s just the bottom line.”

He continued: “I’m just saying, listen, listen, I only speak about this because I did this. See, it’s one thing when you hear people talk; I did this, Steve. And what I’m telling you is, there’s a bunch of rules in our game that does not belong in our game. … If I’m the commissioner, I leave the game alone. I tell people, ‘Don’t bring me no rules that does not make sense in my game!’ And a defenseless receiver, that don’t make sense in my rules, in my game.”

So there you have it. Lewis has spoken. Normally, the two future Hall of Famers speak pretty highly of one another. But when Lewis is asked to talk about the Cowboys, it’s apparently too difficult for him to resist the urge to try to tear down Brady.

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Rob Chudzinski Being Considered as 49ers Offensive Coordinator

According to Adam Caplan, an ESPN NFL Insider, the Indianapolis Colts Rob Chudzinski is being considered as the next San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator along with former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

The San Francisco 49ers recently promoted their former defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula, as their new head coach. Of course, Tomsula will occupy the position previously held by Jim Harbaugh. Tomsula apparently likes both Chudzinski and Weis, and they are the frontrunners for the offensive coordinator vacancy according to league circles.

It’s the first news that we’ve heard of interest in Chudzinski, who is currently the special assistant to head coach Chuck Pagano. While we’ve heard of interest in the Colts current offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, there has been little to no action on Chudzinksi according to reports.

With over 20 years of professional and collegiate experience, Chudzinski has a wide array of football knowledge. Before joining the Colts this season, he served as the Cleveland Browns head coach in 2013. If Hamilton were to leave for a head coaching job, he was thought to be the heavy favorite to replace him as Colts’ offensive coordinator. However, it looks as though Chudzinski may be a new offensive coordinator elsewhere all together.

Among his strengths, Chudzinksi is known for being somewhat of a tight end guru. Having played collegiately as a tight end while at the University of Miami and later serving as a tight ends coach, he’s well versed in the nuances of the position. Several NFL tight ends have enjoyed some of their best years under Chudzinksi’s tutelage, including Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow Jr., Greg Olsen, and Jordan Cameron.

The Indianapolis Colts tight ends have undergone breakout seasons as well with Chudzinski’s guidance this season. Dwayne Allen has 29 receptions for 395 receiving yards and a tied-team high 8 touchdowns, while Coby Fleener has 51 receptions for 774 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns (tied with Allen). Chudzinski’s loss to the Colts’ coaching staff would appear to be significant, especially to the team’s tight end production.

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Vince Wilfork calls Andrew Luck one of NFL’s ‘best quarterbacks’

As the Patriots use this week to gear up for the AFC Championship game against Andrew Luck and the Colts, Vince Wilfork addressed the media Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s always a pleasure to be playing in this game,” the defensive tackle said. “It’s hard to get to this level. Winning is hard.”

New England has had major success against Andrew Luck, who is 0-3 in his career versus the Patriots.

“Our next opponent, which is a good opponent, a team that’s different now from the last time we’ve faced them. I think they play well together as a team,” Wilfork said.

New England defeated Indianapolis, 42-20, in Week 11, behind Jonas Gray’s 201 yards and four rushing touchdowns.

“[They have a] great offense. I mean, Luck is probably one of the best quarterbacks in the game. He is a young stud,” Wilfork said.

Wilfork had high praises for the quarterback who has had little-to-no success against a New England defense that has forced Luck to throw eight interceptions to his only six touchdown passes.

“Everything we have to do, leading up to this game, we have to do it at the highest level,” Wilfork said.

Sunday’s game is the Patriots their fourth consecutive conference title game appearance.

“To be playing in this game is always a great feeling,” Wilfork said. “As far as having experience in this game, one thing I always try to do is try to treat it like a regular game.”

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Jon Jay has spring in his step

When visiting St. Louis this week, Cardinals center fieldp:BC body copy 1st grapher Jon Jay spent some time at Busch Stadium, passed by the clubhouse, chatted with teammate Lance Lynn and felt that familiar sensation of “being ready for the season to start.”

Being ready for spring training, however, has to come first.

Jay came to St. Louis to meet with the surgeon who repaired his left wrist and gain clearance to increase his workouts and, in the coming weeks, swing a bat with intent. The Cardinals outfielder had a ligament repaired in the wrist at the end of last season, and he expects to start spring training in late February without limitations. The Cardinals intend to start the regular season with Jay as the everyday center fielder. That’s the role he has had to compete for in previous springs but one he has earned “moving forward with his performance,” general manager John Mozeliak has said.

“It’s obviously good to hear those words from the manager and from upper management,” Jay said after his visit. “But nothing changes for me. If there’s anything I’ve learned here is nothing’s given. You still have to perform. It doesn’t matter what they say. It does matter what you do after they say it.”

Jay, 29, is one of four Cardinals who are eligible for arbitration, and all must exchange formal salary requests with the club by Friday. That deadline, which sets the figures for an arbitration hearing, has already spurred agreements around baseball between players and their teams. The Cardinals have had discussions with Jay’s agent and the other players’ representatives to see if a deal can be struck. The Cardinals have talks set for Thursday with agents.

It’s possible that the team and Peter Bourjos will have an agreement before the deadline. Jay expressed optimism about his agent’s talks with the Cardinals. Backup catcher Tony Cruz is going through the arbitration process for the first time. The Cardinals and Lynn’s representative have expressed a mutual interest in exploring a multiyear deal as he reaches arbitration for the first time.

This is Jay’s second turn through arbitration, and he made $3.25 million as a result last year. He and Lynn are set to see the biggest raises. Jay claimed the starting job in center with a .303 average and a .372 on-base percentage. Jay hit .483 in the playoffs.

The Cardinals have previously expressed a willingness to go year-to-year with Jay, who would become a free agent after 2016. He’s open to a multiyear contract, he said.

“I would love to be a Cardinal for as long as possible,” Jay said. “Hopefully, something like that can happen. This is all I know. From my perspective there’s not a better place to play.”

Jay is one of a handful of Cardinals who had surgery at the end of the season to address nagging ailments. Bourjos, who was acquired a year ago to vie with Jay for the starting job in center, had surgery on his hip. He will meet with a team doctor in St. Louis on Friday to determine if he can push his rehab. He has been running on a treadmill without discomfort, something he couldn’t do before the surgery. Bourjos said he may be able to start hitting as soon as Monday.

Jay came earlier in the week for his checkup because he has a friend’s wedding to attend and will miss the team’s annual fanfest.

After surgery in October, Jay spent six weeks in a cast. Dr. Charles Goldfarb met with Jay on Monday and gave him permission to increase his workouts, Jay said. The start of spring training is a week later this season, and that gives Jay time to strengthen his wrist and start hitting only a few weeks after he normally would.

Despite limiting his batting practice to protect the wrist, Jay hit .325 in August and September, and he had his best postseason average. He had only one extra-base hit in the postseason and seven total in his final 189 at-bats of the year.

“It was grinding, grinding through it,” he said.

Jay started the increased workouts immediately at Busch Stadium on Monday. He said the familiarity of the place brought back that sense of a season fast approaching.

There will be differences, though.

From a tight group of five Cardinals who grew up together at Class AAA Memphis, only Jay and Cruz remain Cardinals. David Freese and Allen Craig have been traded. Daniel Descalso, Jay’s closest friend, signed with Colorado. They are still close, connected by texts. Jay and Descalso vacationed together. This week, Jay intends to spend time with Craig in California. Playing “with the same guys forever isn’t going to happen,” Jay said. Salaries rise. Trades happen. The business of baseball marches on.

Change happens.

“You have to understand what can happen in this game, nothing is set, how expectations are always high around this organization,” Jay said. He added, wryly: “I’m excited about having a healthy wrist and the same batting stance for two years in a row.”

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Peter O’Brien’s Development at Catcher Helping Diamondbacks Avoid Trade

When prospect Peter O'Brien was traded from the New York Yankees in exchange for Arizona Diamondbacks utilityman Martin Prado, the biggest knock on the slugging catcher was that he wasn't very good defensively.

But the Arizona Diamondbacks and general manager Dave Stewart are seeing things differently nowadays, as they claim O'Brien's development behind the plate was the biggest thing of note from the 24-year-old in the Arizona Fall League.

The D-Backs are putting some major stock in O'Brien, who Stewart admits is allowing the team to avoid making a costly trade for a catcher this offseason, per Nick Piecoro of

"I've decided that I'm not going to pursue another catcher," Stewart said. "I talked with my people and my coaching staff. They believe that O'Brien is going to be around sooner than later. If that does happen, there's no need to go out and get another guy.

"We would have had to trade somebody we didn't want to trade to make it happen. We're going to be patient and allow the progression of O'Brien to take place and stand pat on that."

The Diamondbacks liked what they saw from him defensively in the Arizona Fall League, and in recent days he began working with coaches at Salt River Fields.

The D-Backs acquired O'Brien during the 2014 season when the Yankees came calling looking for Martin Prado. Of course, Prado is now no longer part of the Yanks' plans after he was dealt to the Miami Marlins for starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi.

On the flip side of that deal with New York, the Diamondbacks appear ready to get their money's worth with O'Brien. It remains to be seen just how effective he ends up being behind the plate, but Stewart sounds confident in his young catcher.

At the time, the Yanks looked wise in trading what seemed to be a one-dimensional prospect, but if O'Brien pans out on both sides of the diamond, the trade for Prado becomes more painful—especially since he had such a short trip in the Bronx.

Not a good move when you consider the youth movement happening in the Bronx right now. At least Yanks GM Brian Cashman turned Prado into another young player who can help in Eovaldi.

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Several Future NFL proCane Draft Projections

The highest-rated prospect is Ereck Flowers, UM’s former left tackle who skipped his senior season to turn pro. WalterFootball is high on Flowers, projecting him ninth overall to the New York Giants and the second offensive lineman taken. A website called Great Blue North Draft Report believes Flowers will go 14th to the hometown Dolphins. Flowers is projected 21st overall by CBS Sports’ Rob Rangand by FootballsFuture. CBS’ Dane Brugler projected Flowers 30th to Denver.

Perryman is a projected as a first-rounder per Sports Illustrated, the 21st overall pick. He also snuck into the first round of’s latest mock draft, going 30th to Denver.

Duke Johnson was a second-rounder on WalterFootball’s four-round mock draft, going 45th to Minnesota. WalterFootball listed third-round projections for Dorsett (82nd to Houston) and Walford (87th to Pittsburgh).

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has Flowers, Perryman and Johnson as second-rounders.

The website DraftTek did a seven-round mock draft that included eight Hurricanes, led by Perryman (second round, 42nd to Atlanta). Flowers (65th to Tampa) and Johnson (73rd to Atlanta) were third-round picks. Also projected to be drafted: Walford (fourth round, 125th to Green Bay), Gunter (fifth round, 132nd to Oakland), Dorsett (seventh, 194th to Tampa) and Pierre (seventh, 212nd to Philadelphia). The site also listed junior Tracy Howard (sixth, 183rd to Pittsburgh), who has not declared for the draft.

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Pat O'Donnell Named To PFWA All-Rookie Team

The Pro Football Writers of America has revealed their All Rookie Team for the 2014 season and the Chicago Bears are just one of seven teams with multiple players selected. Cornerback Kyle Fuller and punter Pat O'Donnell were both recognized for their outstanding play this season.

This is O'Donnell's second all rookie honor, and as I mentioned last time, he was the only rookie that punted during the 2014 season.

O'Donnell's net average of 37.7 was 28th best in the NFL. His average of 43.8 was 27th. He had 20 punts placed inside the 20, which was 28th.

During his 2013 season at the University of Miami his punting average was 47.1, so you can see what a big leg he has. I think an off season of working solely on his craft will allow him to come back and have a much improved 2015 season.

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Focus on the future: Allen Hurns

The Jaguars’ wide receiver said he doesn’t like publicly discussing numbers or goals specifically, either, but that whole time-tested theory about a player improving from Year One to Year Two in the NFL?

Hurns definitely buys into that.

And he said that’s definitely what the coming offseason is about.

Hurns, perhaps the surprise player of the Jaguars’ rookie draft class this past season and definitely a player who earned a key role in the offense moving forward, said the offseason is about preparing for a future he believes is bright – for himself, and for the organization.

“I’m not going to put any numbers out there, but I just know this is just the beginning,” Hurns said recently in the wake of a 2014 season in which he set a franchise rookie record for receiving touchdowns. “I feel like it’s going to be greater later.”

Hurns’ beginning was good. Very good.

That’s particularly true considering he wasn’t just a rookie receiver this past season, but an undrafted rookie receiver on a team that also included two second-round draft pick rookie receivers.

Hurns, who played collegiately at the University of Miami, signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent shortly after the 2014 NFL Draft. He was familiar with the offensive scheme, having played for offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch for two seasons at Miami, and he immediately took advantage of that familiarity.

While Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, the Jaguars’ second-round selections, missed much of the offseason program with injuries, Hurns participated in the drills and entered training camp very much in the receiving rotation.

He led Jaguars receivers with 14 preseason receptions for 232 yards and a touchdown, and despite his collegiate free agent status there was no mystery surrounding him when the Jaguars trimmed the roster late in the preseason.

Hurns started the regular-season opener, catching four passes for a season-high 110 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles and scoring touchdown passes on his first two NFL receptions. He finished the season playing in all 16 games – the only receiver in the Jaguars’ front-line rotation to do so – and started eight games, catching 51 passes for 677 yards and six touchdowns.

“I think I established myself, but there have been ups and downs,” he said. “I feel I could have made a lot more plays.”

Up next for Hurns:

Improving, which he said specifically means adding weight to his 6-feet-1, 195-pound frame and continuing to improve as a route-runner. That last part is an area he said he improved as a rookie while working with wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, but he said it remains a focus.

“Since I got here, Coach Sullivan has done a tremendous job helping me improve my routes,” Hurns said. “I felt like that’s what separated me this season as far as going against veteran defensive backs. I want to work on that, because I know how much it worked.”

Hurns said that sort of improvement doesn’t happen by simply showing up for the offseason and organized team activities in mid-April.

“Once OTAs come I want to be ahead of the game as far as staying in shape and working on my route-running,” he said.

Hurns will enter next season as a key member of not only a young, talented receiving trio that includes Lee and Robinson, but as a key part of an offense that will feature a new coordinator along with a quarterback, Blake Bortles, entering his second season as a starter.

He also will enter it knowing something he didn’t know this time a year ago – that he absolutely, positively can play in the NFL. That means the short-term future is about improving, and Hurns said his short-term past should help with that.

“It’s just the beginning,” Hurns said. “I’ve shown that I can play in this league and now I know what to expect. I feel like it’s only going to get better from here as far as having a year under your belt and knowing what to expect as far as taking care of your body, knowing what coverages to expect and getting familiar with things.
“Your confidence just grows as you get familiar with those things.”

And while Hurns said he is confident he can improve, he said that’s just as true of the offense and a team that he said has only started to mature and grow.

“We had three wins,” he said. “I’m not very pleased with that. You see the opportunity there as far as our offense. We’ve got a lot of potential, a lot of guys making plays, but at the end of the day, we haven’t put up many points. I feel like it’s just the beginning of what we’re going to get done.”

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Brandon Linder Deserves Praise

Cleveland Browns guard second-round pick Joel Bitonio and Dallas Cowboys first-round choice Zack Martin were two of the most impressive rookies at any position last season, but the Jacksonville Jaguars also had an excellent rookie performance out of one of their guards in Miami Hurricanes product Brandon Linder.

A third-round pick, Linder has been one of the unsung rookies of an excellent 2014 NFL Draft class, as the Jaguars starting right guard has shown that he is already one of the team’s most valuable players. A solid pass protector who shows a real mean streak in the running game, Linder jumped on my radar as a potential draft sleeper after he did a stellar job of handling St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald, who is a prime Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate after being a huge impact player on an elite defensive line in his first season.

Linder’s offensive line in Jacksonville will never earn the adjective “elite”- let alone “good”- after causing rookie Blake Bortles to be the NFL’s most-sacked quarterback (55), but it’s possible that their guard duo could earn that label in the future. The Jaguars main addition to their offensive line wasn’t the drafting of Linder, as the signing of former Denver Broncos Pro Bowl guard Zane Beadles to a five-year, $30 million deal was one of Jaguars GM David Caldwell‘s biggest moves of the offseason.

Beadles and Linder were seventh and ninth in pass blocking efficiency, respectively, and they did it despite playing with a well below-average guard duo. Luke Bowanko and Jacques McClendon didn’t exactly provide any cover in between those two guards either, so the Jaguars positive play on the line was largely restricted to their two guards. Per PFF, Luke Joeckel caused Bortles to be hit 15 times last season, so left guard Beadles seemed to have the most work cut out for him.

To wit, Linder allowed five sacks last season, which is as much as Charlie Johnson and Davin Joseph, which clearly doesn’t look good at face value. But if we use pressure to evaluate him, Linder allowed Bortles to face pressure just 15 times, and that’s well below the two veterans mentioned above, who both allowed more than 30 pressure each. Just seven guards allowed less overall pressure than Linder, though he did log less than 100 snaps in pass pro than Beadles, who is likely the better pass blocker overall, especially since he’s been good for more than just one season.

Even though offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is no longer with the team, he did bring one player with him from Miami who will have a lasting impact with the Jaguars organization. Well, maybe he’ll leave for free agency after his rookie contract, but I have a feeling he’ll be so good that the Jaguars will do what they can to keep him. Beadles is the more expensive and experienced hand at guard, but Linder is already a significantly better run blocker at 6’6″ and with a violent motor reminiscent of a stud DT lining up across from him.

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Clinton Portis: Media should leave Marshawn Lynch alone

Former NFL running back Clinton Portis told the Washington Post he thinks the media should just let Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch be if he doesn't want to answer questions. 

Last week, Lynch lost his appeal of a $100,000 fine by the NFL for not speaking to the media. Several weeks after he was fined, Lynch did speak to the media but replied "thanks for asking" to nearly every question. 

"I don’t think it’s funny," Portis said. "You’re making him talk, and this is what you’re getting. He tried to walk out. He tried to avoid the media. Now you’re forcing me to say nothing. You’re forcing me to stand here and make a mockery of the situation instead of letting me walk on by … You can avoid all of that. If a guy don’t want to do an interview, then he don’t want to do an interview."

Portis said he thinks Lynch should have the right to not want to talk to the media after games, and said in his own work as an interviewer for the ACC Digital Network he will "move on to the next guy" if a player doesn't want to talk.

"I think people should just let [Lynch] be," Portis said. "Man, let him be."

The Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC Championship game.

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Jon Jay cleared for increased activity, set to swing soon

ST. LOUIS • Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay spent a few days in St. Louis this week to have his surgically repaired wrist examined and the green light given to workouts that, he said, will make sure he's available when spring training starts next month.

"It's too early to tell when I'll be 100 percent, but it's a good thing there are seven weeks until spring," Jay said Tuesday. "That extra 10 days (before spring workouts start this year) is huge. I've already been working. I feel good. I have the time I need. I expect to be ready."

On the same day that general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny asserted that Jay will return as the team's starting center fielder, the team also revealed that Jay had wrist surgery to tidy-up a troublesome frayed ligament. Jay called the injury the product of "wear and tear," and he added Tuesday that it was something he dealt with for the previous two years.

He modified his work the final three months of the season to compensate for the soreness that took up residency in his wrist. Jay was the only regular to hit better than .300 in 2014, and he took over the everyday job in center on his way to a .303 average, a .750 OPS, and 52 runs in 140 games. After struggling in previous postseasons, Jay hit .483 for the Cardinals in the postseason and had a .571 on-base percentage. His OBP was boosted by the three times he was hit by a pitch in the nine playoff games.

In October, Jay had the ligament repaired.

Six weeks in a cast followed.

He has been out of the cast for four weeks. And this week after meeting with the surgeon who did the procedure he has been cleared to begin activities with the wrist. Jay said he's already started those workouts with two days here in St. Louis. He'll rebuild his strength and within a couple weeks pick up a bat and begin swinging. Jay said he would normally begin taking swings in a batting cage at this time of year in preparation for spring training.

Cardinals position players do not report until Feb. 24, as much as 10 days later than they have in recent years. Jay said he expects to be ready to participate without limitations when spring begins.

"Everything looks good," Jay said. "Getting back to full strength is the next step. I don't anticipate anything that would slow me down. I'm optimistic."

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Reign re-sign forward Bev Goebel

The Reign announced today that they're bringing back forward Beverly Goebel for the 2015 season. That's another bit of promising news as the team builds up to Friday's amateur draft.

Amid the high profile signings in the lead-up to last season, Goebel slipped under the radar as a sort of bonus prize from INAC Kobe Leonessa, the team from which the Reign loaned Naho Kawasumi. But she wasn't under the radar long, as she brought size, skill, and versatility to the front line and would go on to the be the only player to appear in all 24 regular season matches. Goebel finished the season second on the team in shots taken and tied for third in goals with five.

She re-joins an attack that led the league in scoring by a mile and is expected to return at least Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux as well.

Here's the full release from the team:


SEATTLE (January 13, 2015) – Seattle Reign FC announced today that the club has signed forward Bev Yanez (née Goebel) for the 2015 season. Per team and league policy, terms of the deals were not disclosed.

“Bringing Bev back to Seattle was one of our primary goals of the offseason,” said Reign FC general manager and head coach Laura Harvey. “Bev was a critical part of our squad last season and we expect her to be a focal point of our attack in 2015.”

In December 2013, Yanez joined Reign FC on loan from INAC Kobe Leonessa for the second season of the National Women’s Soccer League. During the 2014 regular season Yanez played in 24 matches, starting 21. Bev played 1736 minutes in 2014, picking up five goals and four assists over that span.

"I want to thank INAC for the past two and a half seasons. It was a wonderful place for me to develop my technical and tactical side of the game. I am grateful for the opportunity to play for a world class organization with world class players,” Reign FC forward Bev Yanez said. “During my loan to Seattle, I thoroughly enjoyed myself on and off the field. The style of soccer Seattle implements is definitely something I want to be a part of. I am looking forward to moving from one world-class organization to another and continuing the next chapter of my career with Reign FC and the talented squad they have put together."

Reign FC will open the 2015 season at home on Sunday, April 12 against Abby Wambach and the Western New York Flash. Season ticket packages for Seattle's upcoming season start at just $195. Fans looking to purchase tickets can call (855) REIGN-FC or visit today.


Lauryn Williams makes international bobsled return this week

Lauryn Williams, who in Sochi became the fifth athlete to win Summer and Winter Olympic medals, will compete in an international bobsled race for the first time since the Olympics in Konigssee, Germany, on Friday.

Williams, 31 and a three-time track and field Olympian, said she was all but retired in April but decided to come back at the U.S. push championships in October.

She didn’t compete in the first three World Cup stops in Calgary, Lake Placid, N.Y., and Altenberg, Germany.

Williams is the only push athlete from the Sochi Olympics still bobsledding. Both Aja Evans and Lolo Jones are pursuing track and field, a sport Williams said she is definitely finished with.

Williams won silver in Sochi with driver Elana Meyers Taylor, who won all three races so far this season and leads the World Cup standings over Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries.

It hasn’t been reported if Williams will return with Meyers Taylor or another driver in Konigssee.

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Broncos' Orlando Franklin wants to return

ENGLEWOOD — Orlando Franklin's time in Denver might have ended with Sunday's playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. But the guard hopes it didn't.
Franklin, one of the Broncos' 12 players headed for free agency, made it clear Monday that he wants to return.

"I don't know anything else. I'm a Bronco," he said. "I'd love to be a Bronco for the rest of my life."

Emotions were high as Denver players cleaned out their lockers and answered myriad questions about the uneasy feeling left in the wake of Sunday's loss. But Franklin, who was been with the Broncos since they drafted him in 2011, seemed to feel the sting more, especially in regard to the possibility that Peyton Manning might not be back.

"I played with three quarterbacks since I've been in this league. I'll take Peyton Manning any day of the week," Franklin said. "He's a phenomenal quarterback. Yes, we're all going to make mistakes. It's football. No one is going to be 100 percent perfect each and every play. But nine times out of 10, he's going to put you in the best situation and the best position to win games."

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Reggie Wayne waiting for his moment to help Colts

Before the sentence was complete, Reggie Wayne interrupted the question.

The Indianapolis Colts' veteran wide receiver heard the word "rebuilding" and just had to chime in.

"We reloaded," Wayne said. "We didn't rebuild."

It's an important distinction for Wayne, the senior member of the Colts' offense and one of only a handful of players to bridge the Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck eras in Indianapolis. As a free agent in 2012, Wayne, too, could have been part of the exodus of veteran players.

If general manager Ryan Grigson or head coach Chuck Pagano had used that word -- "rebuilding" -- in their conversations with Wayne back then, Wayne would have been gone, following former core Colts players like Manning, pass rusher Dwight Freeney and center Jeff Saturday in signing with other teams.

"I don't have time for a rebuild," Wayne said Sunday night.

This playoff run very likely could be the final stage of Wayne's career. At 36, he's contemplating retirement after this season. His body failed him in 2013, when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and though he was able to play in 17 of Indianapolis' games this season – including two playoff games – he's no longer the focal piece of the Colts' offense.

And it's not just that he's no longer Luck's favorite target. Wayne's role has been so diminished that despite playing 57 of 77 offensive snaps in Sunday's divisional round win against the Denver Broncos, he had just one pass target (it was incomplete), while Luck completed passes to eight other players.

"I felt like I was coaching [Sunday] more than I was playing," Wayne said, laughing. "But you know, it's just part of it, man. This is a team game, I just want to do everything I possibly can to help this team win."

That Wayne is such a bit player in the Colts' offense, which finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the NFL in passing yards, is a sign of just how much the offense has evolved in the three years since Luck's arrival. Luck finds himself relying now on speedy receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, all members of the 2012 draft class, and even running back Boom Herron, who had a game-high eight catches against the Broncos.

"I think everyone knows 87 is waiting, you know?" Wayne said. "I'm just doing my job, waiting on my number to be called, and between there I'm still doing all the blocking, I'm still being that leader as much as I possibly can."

The leadership role is now where Wayne can be most valuable. While the young players like Luck and Hilton have playoff experience, including playing at Gillette Stadium in New England in last year's postseason, Wayne is one of few Colts players who have reached a Super Bowl.

Receiver Hakeem Nicks, who signed with the Colts as a free agent this year, won one with the New York Giants in 2011. Luck's backup, Matt Hasselbeck, started for the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Adam Vinatieri, of course, has rings with both the Colts and the Patriots.

But on the offensive side, Wayne is that reminder of the Colts' postseason legacy, something new players had to learn when they arrived for that rebuilding – ahem, reloading – process.

"I think there were high expectations; I remember the first day I walked in the building," Luck said. "It's a winning franchise and it seems to be in the DNA of the Colts that you win. It's good for us to be here now, but there's more work to do. But, definitely high expectations from the moment all of us walked in that building."

Wayne shared a quick moment with Manning on the field at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Sunday evening, before both headed to opposite locker rooms, where Manning told reporters he couldn't commit to returning in 2015.

Wayne understands that feeling. But unlike Manning, he doesn't have to face that decision yet.

"I have no idea. [Shoot], we're trying to figure out what Reggie's doing," Wayne said. "We're trying to figure out what's up with Reggie. Don't have time to worry about everybody else, you know. But I'm sure he's going to make the best decision for him and his family. As an old friend, as a teammate, I wish him well."

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Devin Hester makes PFWA’s All-NFC team

FLOWERY  BRANCH – Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant and kick returner Devin Hester were named to the 2014 All-NFC team, chosen in voting conducted by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).

Trufant was one of the few bright spots on the Falcons defense, which finished the season ranked 32nd in the league. Trufant made 61 tackles (53 solo), 16 passes defense, three interceptions and had one tackle for loss.

Of the 16 passes defense, he had at least six other opportunities for interceptions. If he’d made those, he’d likely would have received more consideration from Pro Bowl voters.

Also, Devin Hester had 43 kickoff returns for 1,128 yards (25.1 averaged per return).

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Peyton Manning congratulates Reggie Wayne

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne had little interest in talking about former teammate Peyton Manning heading into their playoff match.

"[Manning's] on the other team right now," Wayne said last week. "I'll holler at him later. Right now, it's all about [No.] 12."

That time came Sunday.

After the Colts beat the Denver Broncos to advance to the AFC Championship Game, Manning found Wayne on the field and congratulated him on the victory.

"It’s family," Wayne said. "Even when you’ve played with him and they've moved on, you still have that relationship. Wish each other the best. I expect nothing less from Peyton by him coming over and congratulating and wishing us well. If it was vice versa, I would have done the same thing."

In what could be the final meeting between Manning and Wayne, the Broncos quarterback finished 26-of-46 for 211 yards, was sacked twice and had only one touchdown pass. Wayne didn't have any receptions, as he was only targeted once by quarterback Andrew Luck.

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Devin Hester Hoping To Showcase Talent in 2015

First impressions are a big deal, and Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester made the most of his in year one with the team. The nine-year veteran signed with the Falcons in March as a free agent, later admitting that being welcomed by coaches and teammates with open arms instantly made him feel like part of the family.

What ensued was a season that included several highlight special teams returns, like his 20th-career score (NFL record), a 62-yard punt return in Week 3. Hester also saw plenty of action as a wide receiver, totaling 38 receptions for 504 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a 20-yard rushing score as well.

"It was OK," Hester said of his 2014 season. "I felt as though I could’ve done a little better. It was the first year for me here, getting into the mix and getting used to the offense, surrounded by a great group of receivers. The relationship we built in that receivers room was real strong, and I’m just hoping we can continue that together next year."

Hester didn't just thank his coaches and teammates for all the support this year but also his fans for acknowledging his efforts by voting him to his fourth-career Pro Bowl. As for what will unfold next season, under a new head coach, possible free agent signings and the NFL Draft, Hester's focus remains where it has been throughout his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

"I can only handle what I’m capable of, doing my part," Hester said. "I’m going to go into this offseason and try to get better and work on my craft and hopefully next year I can showcase more talent."

ICYMI: Click here to vote for Hester's historic punt return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be named the NFL's Performance Play of the Year.

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Another proCane Super Bowl Ring Guaranteed This Year In Super Bowl XLIX

#proCane #Colts WR Reggie Wayne, TE Erik Swoope, Special Assistant Rob Chudzinski and Head Coach Chuck Pagano have advanced to the #AFCChampionship to take on DL Vince Wilfork and the #Patriots, while in the #NFCChampionship game #Packers DB Sam Shields, Senior Personnel Executive Alonzo Highsmith and Scout Glenn Cook will take on the #Seahawks and Practice Squad T Justin Renfrow and Scout Dan Morgan.

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Future proCanes in Post Season All-Star Games

Anthony Chickillo, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott will play in the East-West Shrine Game (4 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network). Feliciano and McDermott (of Palm Beach Central) will play for the East team, while Chickillo is on the West roster.

Olsen Pierre will play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl as will UCLA’s Malcolm Bunche, a former Cane (4 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2). Team practices will be televised Wednesday and Thursday on ESPNU.

Phillip Dorsett, Ladarius Gunter, Denzel Perryman and Clive Walford (Glades Central) will play in the Senior Bowl (4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, NFL Network).

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Future proCane Ryan Williams named MVP of the Medal of Honor Bowl

Future proCane quarterback Ryan Williams was named MVP of the Medal of Honor Bowl on Saturday in Charleston, S.C. Williams went 7-of-15 for 115 yards and threw an 11-yard touchdown pass.

His touchdown, which put the National team ahead for good in the third quarter, was to South Carolina’s Damiere Byrd. Miami lost to South Carolina 24-21 in last month’s Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

The National team won 26-14 in a game attended by scouts from numerous NFL teams.

Williams, who backed up Stephen Morris for two seasons, was the expected starter heading into last spring. He tore his ACL, leaving the door open for Brad Kaaya‘s emergence. Williams attempted one pass in his final year as a Cane. Last month, he said the Medal of Honor game was “pretty my entire senior season.”

Future proCane linebacker Thurston Armbrister registered one tackle.

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Dane Brugler: Anthony Chickillo a rotational end in the NFL

Miami senior DE Anthony Chickillo is more of a "run stuffer than pass rusher and projects as a rotational end," according to CBS Sports' Dane Brugler.

"The first three-generation student-athlete at Miami, Chickillo arrived in Coral Gables as a top recruit, but his senior game tape looks very similar to his performance as a true freshman. He is more of a run stuffer than pass rusher and projects as a rotational end," Brugler wrote. Chickillo, a former five-star recruit, has started almost every single game Miami has played during his four years on campus. CBS grades the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Chickillo as a high-Day 3 prospect.

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Sam Shields: ‘The refs made a good call’

GREEN BAY—Sam Shields had solid coverage, and Dez Bryant made a remarkable play.

Those facts will never be in dispute, but whether or not Bryant’s leaping 31-yard catch down to the 1-yard line on fourth down with just over four minutes left should have been overturned will be a subject of debate for a long, long time.

After the Packers challenged the reception, replays showed the ball hitting the ground as Bryant reached it out toward the goal line. According to the rule regarding players going to the ground during a reception, they “must maintain possession of that football throughout the entire process of the catch,” referee Gene Steratore said in the official pool report.

In conjunction with the replay office in New York, Steratore ruled the pass incomplete. Instead of the Cowboys being less than a yard from a go-ahead TD, the Packers got the ball back with 4:06 left and never let Dallas get it again.

“I don’t think it was complete,” Shields said. “The refs made a good call on that. Things go down like that. It’s part of football.”

Shields confessed that, without seeing the replay, he thought Bryant caught it, but he said fellow cornerback Casey Hayward was the first on the field to see the ball jostled as it hit the ground.

“He hauled tail to the sideline to tell the coach he didn’t catch it,” Shields said.

Other teammates were thinking the same thing. It turned out to be the first challenge by Head Coach Mike McCarthy this season that was successful.

“Once you see it on the video board, the first thing that came to my head was the Calvin Johnson rule,” cornerback Tramon Williams said, referring to the controversial ending to the Lions-Bears game in Week 1 of 2010, when Johnson was ruled to not have completed a catch while going to the ground in the end zone on a play that would have won the game for Detroit. “I thought it was clear.

“Same exact thing. The referees made the right call in my book.”

Williams also wasn’t surprised at the Cowboys’ play call there, going for broke despite needing just two yards for the first down.

“When it’s do-or-die, throw to your main guy,” Williams said. “I felt that’s exactly what they were going to do. We sent the guys at (Romo, with a blitz), and we have to hold on in the back end.”

Shields got a hand on the ball as Bryant leaped over him to grab it, and that movement of the ball may have factored into the officials declaring that Bryant never had full control of the ball.

“Sam fought for that ball, got his hands in there,” Williams said. “I think he might have made it move it a little bit. That’s why the play happened the way it did. Game of inches, and we fought for all those inches.”

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Frank Gore Reportedly Interested in Colts

According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, longtime San Francisco 49ers’ running back Frank Gore is interested in signing with the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent after the season. The 10-year veteran running back just played out the final year of his contract, which paid him $6.45MM in 2014.

However, if it were up to Gore, his 1st choice would be remaining with the San Francisco 49ers:

“One player who will be intently watching the weekend’s Colts-Broncos game? Running back Frank Gore. His top choice is to remain with the 49ers. But he’s also curious about playing with Andrew Luck and wonders whether a quality tailback is the missing element in Indianapolis’ offense.”

While Gore is getting up there in years for a running back (he’ll turn 32 this May), he’s still been incredibly durable and consistently productive throughout his NFL career. This season he rushed for 1,106 rushing yards on 255 carries (4.3 ypc) for 4 touchdowns.

As a former 3rd round pick of the 49ers in 2005 out of the University of Miami (FL), Gore is the 49ers franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 11,073 career rushing yards, all in red and gold. He’s a beloved veteran player in San Francisco, much like Reggie Wayne is to the Colts’ franchise.

It’s worth noting that the Colts could clearly use an upgrade in their backfield too with Ahmad Bradshaw‘s (free agent) brittle health, Trent Richardson‘s ineffectiveness, and Dan “Boom” Herron best served as part of a platoon at running back. Gore could give the Colts an element in their offense, that they simply haven’t had without a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw.

However, while he could become a revelation like Eddie Lacy has been for the Green Bay Packers, giving the Colts’ high profile passing offense a unique smashmouth element, he could also become a bit of free agent disappointment like Steven Jackson has recently been with the Atlanta Falcons.

After a great career with the St. Louis Rams, the then-29 year old acclaimed running back signed a lucrative contract with the Falcons in the 2013 offseason to provide a new power rushing game to their offensive attack. Yet in two seasons in Atlanta, Jackson has yet to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in a season. He’s rushed for a combined 1,250 yards on 347 carries, resulting in a mediocre 3.6 yards per carry.

While Gore’s best years are likely behind him, he could still be a productive running back for the Colts and upgrade the position next season. However, there’s tremendous risk in investing a lot of money and cap space in a running back on the wrong side of 30 with a lot of mileage on his tires even if they’ve been as productive and durable as Gore has proven to be.

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Sean Spence proves worth the wait during 'rookie' year

It turns out during the 2014 season, Sean Spence learned the same thing about himself that the Steelers, their coaches and their fans learned about him.

“That I still know how to play football,” Spence said.

A four-year starter at Miami lauded for his instincts and intangibles, Spence said he “knew how to play football” when the Steelers took him in the third round of the 2012 draft and pictured him as a long-term fixture at inside linebacker.

They just never got to see him play it — at least during a regular-season game — until this season.

Spence's career — even his ability to walk or run — were being questioned after he suffered a gruesome knee injury during the 2012 preseason finale.

That was supposed to be his rookie season. Instead, after two full years of rehabilitation, 2014 became Spence's debut campaign.

“This year,” he said, “I was pretty much a rookie.

“Even though I had two years in the system, it's different when you've got to go out there playing (because of) the speed of the game. So next season I'm going to understand the defense better and understand myself better.”

Spence fought his way back onto the field after destructive damage was done to his left knee when his cleats stuck awkwardly in the Heinz Field turf against Carolina on Aug. 30, 2012.

The diagnosis was lengthy and cringe-worthy enough that a medical degree wasn't needed to interpret its severity: torn ACL, torn posterior cruciate ligament, torn lateral cruciate ligament, dislocation of the kneecap and peroneal nerve damage.

“I beat a lot of odds,” Spence said. “(God) really blessed me, and I thank Him for that. ... I just try to give it back to him the way I play.”

For his efforts, Spence has become an inspiration — to teammates, fans, coaches and those who played and coached him at Miami, where he was an All-ACC honoree.

“The fact he got through the season healthy is truly a blessing,” Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said. “We're all really proud of him and happy for him.”

D'Onofrio, a former Penn State linebacker, noted Spence's greatest attributes as a linebacker — instincts, football IQ — aren't affected by injuries.

Spence was productive in college and high school, but it was never pure physical tools that made him a standout. Spence was the shortest (5-foot-11) and smallest (231 pounds) of any of the Steelers linebackers who played this season, and his 4.71-second, 40-yard dash time at the 2012 NFL Combine was hardly eye-popping.

“He has really excellent football intelligence. He understands the game, very instinctive, which are huge attributes in playing linebacker,” D'Onofrio said. “If you know where the ball's going, if you're an instinctive player, you can play fast.”

With some of Spence's burst robbed by the injury, the Steelers found out about him this season. He started nine games, including the entire four-game winning streak on which they closed out the regular season.

“I was out for two years and had to knock off some rust,” Spence said, “but I feel like every game, every practice, I got better, and I'm just going to try to carry it over to next year.”

With 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier playing his position, Spence isn't expected to start next season.

Then again, the odds he faces pale in comparison to those he already has scaled.

“It was a good start for him in terms of getting back on the field,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “But … he's going to be working to ascend, and he better.”

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Focus on the future: Brandon Linder

JACKSONVILLE – Brandon Linder wouldn’t say he was thrilled with his season.

The Jaguars’ offensive guard also is quick to tell you he has a lot of work to do – and a long way to go –before he could get close to being happy with himself as an NFL player.

But as a rookie this past season he did accomplish a few things:

He established himself as an NFL player. He showed himself he could play professional football.

And he got a decent handle on where he needs to improve and how to approach the NFL on a game-by-game, week-by-week basis.

And Linder said all in all that made this season a pretty good start.

“The big thing was I wanted to come in, take it day by day, make a routine and not look too far ahead,” Linder said recently. “I think that’s the big thing, that you don’t overwhelm yourself – and that’s the advice I got from the vets.

“That’s the big thing, creating a routine, taking it day by day and doing what you do every day.”

Linder didn’t use that approach to just “get through” a rookie season.

He used it to take over the Jaguars’ starting right guard position, and to play well enough there to establish himself as one of the team’s better offensive linemen and a potential long-term starter on the interior of the offensive line.

Linder, a third-round selection from the University of Miami, may have been the Jaguars’ best offensive lineman this season. And if he wasn’t the best, he was in the conversation.

“We were pretty pleased with getting him out of the draft, but I didn’t realize he’d be this consistent and the toughness that he brings,” Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said when discussing Linder late in the 2014 season.

Bradley said not only was Linder consistent – particularly for a rookie – he quickly established a presence in the team’s offensive line room.

The Jaguars’ line – and indeed the entire offense – was young this season. Linder was among four rookies or second-year players to start much of the season on the line, and the Jaguars also started three rookie wide receivers, a second-year running back and a rookie quarterback a significant portion of the season.

Within that young environment, Bradley said Linder exhibited maturity.

“He’s a guy I think they all look to and can feel his leadership,” Bradley said. “I think he’ll be a really strong leader in that room for years to come. I think he’s learning it now, but just how he’s handled himself … I’m really, really pleased with his progress.”

Linder, after working with the backups early in the offseason and sharing time with veteran Jacques McClendon at right guard in organized team activities, moved into the starting lineup in preseason and started 15 of 16 games. He missed one game – the team’s loss to Dallas at Wembley Stadium in London in Week 10 – with a shoulder injury.

He also performed as consistently as any member of the Jaguars’ line, earning a 16.6 grade from Pro Football Focus. That made him the Jaguars’ highest-ranked offensive player by the website, and he graded out with eight positive games and three negatives.

Linder said one “obvious” objective in the offseason is the same facing most of the offensive line: to get bigger and stronger. He said he will be in the weight room soon – after a brief break for hunting and fishing.

“Now, I know what to expect and what to train for at this level now,” he said. “I’m excited to elevate my offseason training, and specifically train for what I need to do.”

And Linder said, yes, he showed himself as a rookie that he can play effectively at the NFL level – but as far as the future … well, in a very real sense he must continue approaching his career in the only way he knows how.

“I don’t look too far ahead, but it’s something where now that I’ve played a year, I do say, ‘I can do this,’” he said. “Now, the question is, ‘How do I get better? How do I strive to get better? How do I elevate my game?’ Of course at the beginning you’re wondering if you can play and wondering what’s going to happen and what it’s all about. It’s the unexpected.

“Now, I know what to expect and I know what I can do better, so I’m looking forward to that even more.”

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100 days, 100 players: No. 28 Brandon Harris

In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Brandon Harris, No. 28 in 2008 class

Harris picked Miami on national signing day over Florida, Ohio State and UCF after making official visits to all four universities. He was a member of the Hurricanes' No. 1-ranked class in 2008 that included Arthur Brown, Travis Benjamin, Ramon Buchanan, Marcus Fortson, Jacory Harris, Sean Spence, Davon Johnson, Tommy Streeter and Brandon Washington.

Harris was an impact player as a true freshman for the Hurricanes in 2008 playing in 13 games with six starts. He totaled 30 tackles and an interception in his first season in Coral Gables.

In 2009, Harris became one of the top cornerbacks in college football after recording 55 tackles and two interceptions. He was selected to the All-ACC first team and received various All-American honors.

Harris would again receive All-ACC honors (second team) following his junior campaign. He totaled 44 tackles and a third career interception in 2010.

Following his junior season, Harris announced that he would forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. He left Miami having played in 39 games in three seasons, including 32 starts. He made 129 career tackles and three interceptions.

Harris was selected in the second round, No. 60, in the 2011 NFL draft by the Houston Texas. He just finished his fourth season in the NFL and his first with the Tennessee Titans.

Honorable mention: Josh Oglesby, No. 28 in 2007 class. Oglesby signed with Wisconsin following a standout prep career at St. Francis High School outside Milwaukee. Despite six knee surgeries that ended a potential NFL career, having failed 31 of 32 NFL team physicals, the 6-foot-7, 330-pound offensive tackle appeared in 41 games, including 28 starts despite constantly battling knee issues. He was All-Big Ten first team following his senior season in 2011.

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Reggie Wayne goes catch-less Sunday

Reggie Wayne was held catch-less on one target in the Colts' Divisional Round win over the Broncos.

Wayne had some nice blocks in the running game, but was a non-factor as usual as a receiver. Peyton Manning looked washed up in Sunday's playoff game, and so does his old teammate. Don't expect 36-year-old Wayne to reemerge as a passing-game weapon in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.

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Antrel Rolle 2014 Grade

Antrel Rolle
Rolle's 10th season in the league, and fifth with the Giants, also doubled as one of the worst performances of his career. Coming off of an excellent 2013 season, in which he made the Pro Bowl as one of the top safeties in football, the expectation was that Rolle would continue to be the rock of the defensive backfield, alongside his newly-signed buddy Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and an emerging Prince Amukamara at cornerback.

But that's the problem with relying heavily on players on the wrong side of 30 — you never quite know when the wheels will completely fall off. What's interesting about Rolle's 2014 is that he actually got off to a good start before tailing off dramatically a quarter of the way through the season. He recorded three interceptions and a forced fumble in the first three games, then none for the rest of the season.

Those numbers really tell the story for Rolle. He's a guy who has made a career off of being a playmaker in the secondary, but those impact plays were nowhere to be found at crucial moments this season. His -13.9 Pro Football Focus rating placed him as the seventh-worst safety in the NFL. His rating was dragged down by Rolle's poor season as a run defender, and his seven penalties were the second-most on the team and tied for third-most among safeties. That three of those penalties were of the unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct variety is a bad look for the Giants defensive captain.

We've spilled a lot of ink speculating on whether the Giants should re-sign Rolle to one last contract and allow him to retire with the team. Ultimately, the question comes down to this: are they confident that Rolle's 2014 season was a fluke? And do they have a capable replacement waiting in the wings? We don't yet know the answer to the first question, but the answer to the second question is a pretty resounding "no."

Grade: C-

Pros: At his peak, Rolle was a Swiss Army Knife defensive back, whose experience as a former cornerback made him invaluable as a safety for his ability to cover tight ends and slot receivers. In the past, Rolle has been a real ball hawk, with 26 career interceptions. For all of his flaws on the field this season, Rolle also remains a strong voice in the locker room. If ex-Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell did not have Rolle as a strong ally, things might have gotten ugly for him this season.

Key Stat: Three interceptions

It may not seem like a lot, especially since Rolle had zero picks after Week Six, but that total did tie him for second on the team. But those three picks mostly served as a reminder of what Rolle used to be in his prime.

Cons: Rolle has never been as comfortable as a "box" safety playing close to the line of scrimmage against the run, but his rush defense fell off dramatically this season. His -10.5 rush defense rating (via PFF) was third-worst among NFL safeties in 2014, and his run stop percentage was a pedestrian 4.2 percent (the highest being Kam Chancellor's 8.7 percent). He also did a mediocre job of wrapping up receivers in coverage, and was a big part of the reason the Giants were so bad at defending the middle of the field against the pass.

Key Stat: 17 missed tackles (tied for 8th-highest among safeties), 244 yards after the catch allowed (sixth-most among safeties).

Normally a sure tackler, these numbers are hardly encouraged for those in the "Giants should keep Rolle" camp. As the last line of defense in the secondary, Rolle simply can't afford to give up that many yards after the catch and is perhaps a sign that he was half-a-step slower than he used to be as he gains more tread on his tires.

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Padres Roster rankings: No. 13 Yonder Alonso

Position: First base
2015 Opening Day age: 27
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible for the first time; made $980,000 in 2014.
Key stats: .240 avg., .285 OBP, .397 SLG, 7 HRs, 27 RBIs, 27 R, 6 SBs, 267 ABs

Trending: Down – Three years ago, Alonso set a rookie record with 39 doubles, instilling some faith that there was some untapped power potential in his left-handed stroke. But right hand/wrist injuries not only torpedoed his last two campaigns with the Padres, they made him a serious non-tender candidate as rookie General Manager A.J. Preller took a wrecking ball to his inherited roster. What he has in Alonso remains something of a mystery: He’s a first-round talent who was slashing .421/.477/.737 upon returning from the disabled list in late July until one last wrist injury sent shelved him for good until 2014, but he has yet to stay healthy since that rookie season.

2015 outlook: According to Alonso, season-ending surgery appears to have taken care of his right hand/wrist issues once and for all. With all of their upgrades in the outfield, the Padres would be happy to have Alonso turn in a campaign along the lines of his rookie season (.273/.348/.393), especially considering their loack of left-handed bats in the lineup. Preller, however, may be short on patience if Alonso starts as slowly as he did last year (.167/.198/.229 in April). Already, Alonso will likely take a seat for Tommy Medica or Will Middlebrooks against tougher left-handed pitching.

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Royals sent INF Ryan Jackson outright to Triple-A Omaha

Royals sent INF Ryan Jackson outright to Triple-A Omaha.

Jackson had been designated for assignment, but he cleared waivers and will remain in the organization. The 26-year-old was limited to just 11 games in the minors last season due to wrist surgery.

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Yonder Alonso feels '100 percent'

While General Manager A.J. Preller went about overhauling the Padres’ roster last month, Yonder Alonso watched from afar.

Alonso, the Padres’ incumbent and oft-encumbered first baseman, was in France in early December for the wedding of his sister, Yainee, to Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. By mid-December, Alonso was back at his offseason home in Miami, ramping up his training regimen. Meanwhile, in one 48-hour stretch, Preller traded for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks, putting San Diego squarely in the national spotlight.

“I was all up for it,” Alonso said by phone Thursday. “I was enjoying what everyone was watching and enjoying. I was just excited, not only for the pieces we got but for the future and present of this club.”

Whether Alonso himself figures into the present – to say nothing of the future – has been muddled of late.

Though the likelihood of Alonso’s opening a fourth season with the Padres grows with each passing day, just weeks ago the 27-year-old was considered a non-tender candidate. Three years after the Padres acquired a highly regarded prospect from the Reds, he has yet to fulfill that promise.

“I really thought he would unleash some power,” one rival scout said recently. “It’s been disappointing.”

Alonso turns 28 on April 8, mere hours into a new season for which the Padres have high hopes. In recent years, their offense has been torpedoed by a combination of misfortune and underperformance. Both describe the left-handed-hitting Alonso, who batted .240 with seven home runs in 2014, again missing chunks of time with right wrist and hand injuries.

The latest doubled as the most disheartening. In August, Alonso, coming off a bout with wrist tendinitis, was preparing to go in the on-deck circle when he felt a pop. Later that month, he underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn tendon in the top of his right forearm.

Alonso, however, has retained his relentless optimism. He has been working out and throwing at full strength since a little more than a month ago. He has been hitting in the cage since Jan. 1.

“I feel 100 percent, making strides toward obviously being ready for spring training,” Alonso said. “I feel amazing. ... I’m pain-free, which, for me, my goodness, was like taking a monkey off my back. It was a stressful period I went through.”

Alonso’s injury troubles began May 31, 2013, when he took a pitch off his right hand, suffering a fractured metacarpal bone. He ended up playing 97 games that year, hitting .281 with six home runs.

Even including his rookie season in 2012, when he finished with 39 doubles, Alonso has hit .268 with just 22 home runs in 1,150 at-bats with the Padres. He has slugged only .387.

Simultaneously, he has made himself into an above-average first baseman and is one of the few lefty bats on a roster now loaded with right-handed power. Alonso, who could make about $1.5 million in his first year of arbitration-eligibility, is confident that surgery has cleared what was a lingering obstacle.

“People talk about injuries. They say, ‘You’re injury-prone,’” Alonso said. “At the end of the day, it was one injury. I was hit by a pitch. With that being said, it took a little long (to recover). But I’m over the hump. I’m healthy.

“It’s going out there and knowing I’m a good player, just worrying about the things I can control. What I can control in the offseason is making sure my body’s completely healthy.”

What he can’t control are the decisions above him. While Preller has said the Padres are “looking at a situation most likely with Yonder and (the right-handed-hitting) Tommy Medica,” the new GM certainly has not hesitated to upgrade at multiple other positions. First base still rates as a question mark; Middlebrooks, who will compete for the third-base job, also could see time across the diamond when the opponent starts a left-hander.

In theory, a healthy Alonso should provide solid production. At the same time, the new acquisitions should provide him with a lower-pressure environment. He may never hit 20 home runs, but with all the power coming aboard, the Padres would gladly take, say, 35 doubles.

“I’m very happy and very excited for not only how I feel but for all the things that have been going on with the team,” said Alonso, who is scheduled to arrive in San Diego this week for a few days of working with hitting coach Mark Kotsay. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch. … I want to be able to be myself and be able to help the team win.”

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