11 May 2014

Pat O'Donnell Surprised Phone Rang On Draft Day

Like any NFL draft hopeful, Pat O’Donnell has plenty of confidence in his ability to play pro football.

But when the phone rang?

“I was actually surprised,” he said.

The Chicago Bears were on the other line, making him one of several in-state players selected last week in the final four rounds. O’Donnell, a Hurricanes punter and former Palm Beach Central High standout, was taken in the sixth round with the 191st pick overall.

“I think there’s so much talent across the country,” he said, calling it a “huge honor” to hear his name called.

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Examining draft pick Brandon Linder

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Taking a deeper look at each of the Jacksonville Jaguars' nine draft picks:

Guard Brandon Linder

Round drafted (pick): Third (No. 93 overall).

Height and weight: 6-feet-6, 311 pounds.

Stat(s) to know: Miami credited Linder with 10 touchdown-resulting blocks in 2012. … He led the ‘Canes with 84 knockdown blocks and 11 touchdown-resulting blocks in 2013. … He started 42 of the 49 games he played at Miami (37 at right guard, two at left guard, and three at center). … He did 30 bench press reps of 225 pounds at the combine.

Where he fits: The belief was that the Jaguars drafted him to become the starter at right guard and that was reinforced when the team released Will Rackley, who had started 11 games at the spot last season. The interior of the offensive line was a weakness last season and the Jaguars addressed left guard in free agency by signing Zane Beadles. Mike Brewster is the favorite to win the job at center and the addition of Linder completes the rebuild.

Concern(s): Though he's strong, nasty and tough, Linder is not exceptionally athletic. One scouting report says there's a concern with how effective he can be at cutting off linebackers when he's on the move. If he doesn't win the starting spot the Jaguars will struggle at the spot.

Rookie projection: Linder is smart and durable and should win the starting job at right guard and play every snap in 2014.

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Bills Sign Seantrel Henderson

The Buffalo Bills signed OT Seantrel Henderson Thursday, May 15. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

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Steelers “can’t wait to watch” Sean Spence play football

The Steelers got linebacker Sean Spence back at practice for a few weeks last fall, a significant step forward for a player who had not been on a field since a catastrophic knee injury in the 2012 preseason.

Spence went back on injured reserve to end the season, but that didn’t slow the momentum of his comeback too much. Spence has been given full medical clearance to participate in OTAs, minicamp and training camp, leaving coach Mike Tomlin to say that the team “can’t wait to watch him take the next step in this process, which is play football.” Tomlin also said that he didn’t think the 2012 third-round pick would be starting from square one despite his extended absence from the lineup.

“I don’t think that we’ll start from scratch,” Tomlin said, via the team’s website. “These haven’t been empty days for him since he’s been here with the rehabilitation process and what he’s been able to do in terms of learning our system of football. I’m not going to assume that he’s starting from ground zero. I think that’s to be determined with how he performs and plays, but he’s been given a clean bill of health and we’ll go from there.”

Spence’s return to the field in any capacity is a major achievement given the severity of tearing your ACL and LCL, dislocating your kneecap and suffering nerve damage in your first summer as an NFL player. If he’s able to become a contributor on defense as well it would be an unexpected bonus for the Steelers.

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Orlando Franklin Has No Problem With Position Switch

When moving from right tackle to left guard, the trick is to not stumble into two left feet.

The Big O of the Broncos is having no such problem.

"It's actually pretty similar footwork," said Orlando Franklin, the very large blocker who is making the blocking positional transition this spring. "I really won't know if I'm a good left guard in this league until in a few weeks, when I get to go against some D-tackles in this league (when organized team activities begin). It's different putting my hand down, but you talk about tracks as offensive linemen and the tracks are all the same."

Between the Broncos' star-power, free-agent haul in mid-March and their solid, if less splashy, draft selections last week, Franklin is the rare offensive lineman who became an offseason conversation topic.

He was a starting left guard and left tackle at the University of Miami, but when the Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft, they immediately put him at right tackle, were he had started for three consecutive seasons.

For season No. 4 in the NFL, the final year of his contract, Franklin is getting moved inside.

There were a couple of reasons for the switch. One, when the Broncos drafted Franklin, they were using a more balanced offense that in theory would mix a power-running style with 30 to 33 passes per game. Franklin was a 315-pound right tackle whose strength was run blocking.

When Peyton Manning became their quarterback two years ago, the Broncos shifted to a spread-'em-out, fast-breaking, short-passing offense.

They used more stretch-running schemes, and Manning has averaged 39 passes per game. The Big O on the outside was asked to be lighter on his feet.
At left guard, he will go inside and take on more big-bellied, super-strong defensive tackles than the faster, sleeker defensive ends and linebackers he faced at right tackle.

Initially, Franklin wasn't pleased when he was told of the proposed switch. But he is warming up to it.

"I always understood it was a possibility," he said after the Broncos' offseason workout Wednesday. "I knew when I was coming out that 50 percent of teams saw me at right tackle and 50 percent of the teams saw me moving back to guard because I played so many snaps there at Miami. But when I first heard about it, you get disappointed because you're moving positions. But at the end of the day, as long as I'm on the field and as long as I'm one of the best five, I'm happy with that."

Therein lies another reason for the switch: It gives Chris Clark a chance to stay in the starting five. Clark made 17 starts last season, including the playoffs, in place of injured all-pro Ryan Clady. Even though an occasional pass rusher presented matchup problems, Clark played well enough overall to warrant a starting position. With Clady returning to good health and left tackle, Clark is switching to right tackle.

Manny Ramirez remains the starting center and Louis Vasquez stays at right guard.

"I was told nothing is definite," Franklin said.

A position switch going into a contract year can be dicey for a player. A right tackle doesn't make the money that a left tackle makes, but the right side usually pays better than guards.

Then again, right tackles rarely are named Pro Bowlers, let alone honored as all-pro linemen. Left tackles hog those awards; the fourth- or fifth-best blindside blocker can receive mention before the top right tackle.

"I think that if I'm one of the best five players and I'm on the field, I think that benefits me either way, whether I'm playing right tackle or whether I'm playing left guard," Franklin said.

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Carlos Hyde will watch Frank Gore closely

SANTA CLARA — Carlos Hyde flashed a smile that reflected pure admiration Thursday when discussing Frank Gore, the legend he might eventually succeed in the 49ers' backfield.

For now, Hyde is just thrilled to be in position to learn from the 49ers' all-time leading rusher.

"Being able to watch Frank Gore and have an opportunity to learn from him is awesome," said Hyde, a second-round draft pick last week out of Ohio State. "Not too many people get to learn from a guy who's probably going to the Hall of Fame. I'm going to really pay attention to him and take notes."

Hyde hasn't yet crossed paths with Gore since arriving this week for offseason workouts. Gore gets his work in early in the mornings, and he's usually leaving just as Hyde arrives.

"That was a guy, even before I got drafted, that I was already comparing myself to -- he and Marshawn Lynch," Hyde said, "because those guys are relentless with the ball and they run tough."

Hyde did meet Gore earlier this spring while training at Bommartio Performance Systems in North Miami Beach.

"They've very, very different players ... but one thing in common is their love for football. Frank lives and breathes football," Pete Bommarito said Thursday in a phone interview. "It's good for Carlos to be around guys like that, to see what it takes to be a consummate pro."

Bommarito described Hyde's style as the "prototype of today's NFL," whereas he can be both a bruising back and also a receiving threat.

Hyde (6-foot, 235 pounds) is the biggest back in the 49ers' stable, which includes Gore (5-9, 217), Kendall Hunter (5-7, 199), LaMichael James (5-9, 195), Jewell Hampton (5-9, 210) and the untested Marcus Lattimore (5-11, 211).

Hyde's most likely role is to assume the short-yardage spot which the 49ers occasionally attempted to fill in past seasons with now-Buffalo Bills tailback Anthony Dixon (6-1, 233).

"The standard for bigger backs is 4.6. He's an exceptional big back with 4.5 speed," Bommarito said.

Hyde strained his left hamstring running the 40-yard dash (in 4.66 seconds) at February's scouting combine. He ran again for scouts prior to the draft earlier this month.

Gore's been training with Bommarito since before the 2005 draft, when the 49ers took a third-round gamble on the Miami tailback with two surgically repaired knees. Gore was unavailable for comment Thursday.

"The main thing Frank was doing here was we prepared him and got his body aligned for OTAs and what (the 49ers) wanted," Bommarito said. "He looks about the same as always. It's not like he ages."

Gore, who turned 31 on Wednesday, has turned several 49ers teammates onto Bommarito since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement restricted players' ability to work out at team facilities early in the offseason.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick worked out there for two months after the Super Bowl, along with wideout Quinton Patton and linebacker Nick Moody. Wideout Anquan Boldin and linebacker NaVorro Bowman also have trained there.

Hyde says his Ohio State upbringing has him ready to also protect Kaepernick, both in the pocket and out of it.

As for why he described his own running style as "violent" when interviewed on draft day, Hyde replied: "I just run with anger. I don't shy away from contact. I'm a relentless runner, a guy who's always scratching and clawing for those extra yards."

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Orlando Franklin: Learning curve steep for rookies

It will be one of the buzz phrases of the Denver Broncos' offseason. Perhaps right there with John Fox's "skins on the wall" or quarterback Peyton Manning's “put in the work."

But ask about anything going on with the Broncos’ offensive line these days and it won’t take long for somebody involved to drop "the best five" into the conversation.

And since he started 16 games as a rookie in 2011, Orlando Franklin has been one of those best five, at right tackle. But now, as the Broncos pursue a better protection plan for Manning as well as a little more muscle in the run game, Franklin is to get a kick-the-tires look at left guard, and one of the options to find "the best five" just might be a rookie.

Michael Schofield, the Broncos' third-round selection in last week’s draft, and Chris Clark will get the initial looks at right tackle, with Franklin having been bumped inside. Having been the last Broncos’ rookie to start on the offensive line and also having made the transition to Manning’s tenure at quarterback, Franklin does have a unique perspective on the challenges Schofield faces in the coming months.

When asked Wednesday about the potential hurdles rookies face on the offensive line, Franklin said.

"The amount of stuff you have to know, especially in this offense. I think if I was a rookie in this offense, I don’t think I would have played. I think it was a lot easier for me to play with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow (at quarterback) when I came in than it is to come in and play with a guy like Peyton."

Franklin also credited former Broncos captain Chris Kuper, who retired in March, for getting him through that initial season, something that shows the importance of mentoring a player like Schofield through the team’s offseason work and into training camp. The rookies will get their first real taste of things at a rookie minicamp Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"Chris Kuper was a great guy, he’s one of my best friends on this team," Franklin said. "If it wasn’t for 'Kupe' I never would have played as a rookie. He really took care of everything, there were times he was telling me what to do and yet he was still performing at a high level with what he had to do."

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Antrel Rolle: Giants defense won't need to be simplified again

It is a common narrative surrounding the Giants defense.

Every two years or so, Perry Fewell's scheme undergoes a simplification process that seems to re-energize the defense and cut down on the communication issues.

That, of course, is after there are issues.

But with a new, reloaded secondary this offseason, Antrel Rolle said he doesn't see that being necessary anymore.

"The way you keep it from getting complicated is everyone buying into the program at the same time," Rolle said earlier this week at the United Way Gridiron Gala in Manhattan. "And sell that. Whatever the scheme is. That way, Perry doesn't have to mix and gamble and do so many different things to overcompensate for one unit and so forth and so on.

"But so far, so good. Everyone is buying into the system. We're learning, we're all learning at the same speed so it will be great."

A free agency overhaul helped pique the energy level in camp this offseason. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Quintin Demps and Walter Thurmond were all brought in to strengthen a unit that had a good run under Fewell last year.

Instead of working their way up, though, a process solidified with the arrival of Jon Beason last year, Rolle hopes the Giants can avoid the pitfalls they saw a year ago during their six-game losing streak.

"Our energy level as opposed to the last couple years," Rolle said. "We're definitely on a pedestal right now. We're talking about energy level and more importantly how guys seem to be buying in and paying closer attention to detail.

"Film study, on-field, the competitiveness we have among each other is already insane. It's already a good thing."

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Yonder Alonso hits first home run of the season

Yonder Alonso went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI in the second game of Thursday's doubleheader against the Reds.

Alonso had an RBI single in the sixth inning and later added a solo home run in the eighth. The home run was his first of the year. The 27-year-old is still batting .200/.238/.289 on the year, but at least we are seeing some signs of life. He has four multi-hit games in his last six.

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Yasmani Grandal goes hitless in loss

Yasmani Grandal went 0-for-3 on Thursday and is without a hit since homering on May 6.

Grandal is just 4-for-32 this month, though at least all of those hits have gone for extra bases (two homers, two doubles). He hasn't stepped up as a mixed-league asset yet, though it could happen later this season.

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Peter O'Brien hits another homer

Yankees catching prospect Peter O'Brien went 2-for-4 with a home run for Double-A Trenton on Wednesday.

O'Brien has hit four home runs in five games for the Trenton Thunder, and is now hitting .261/.261/.826. He has 14 home runs for the season, which ties him with Rangers third base prospect Joey Gallo for the minor league lead. O'Brien has four walks and 34 strikeouts in 2014, but is hitting a combined .311/.338/.711 in 2014. He would be tied for 20th in the Eastern League with four home runs, but he does not have enough at bats to qualify.

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Ryan Jackson could need surgery

Padres minor league infielder Ryan Jackson could need surgery on his right wrist.

Jackson's wrist has been bothering him since spring training and didn't show signs of improvement after a second opinion this week. Surgery could cost him most, if not all, of the season.

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Jeremy Lewis Signs With Argonauts

proCane Offensive Lineman Jeremy Lewis, who was in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers camp last summer, was signed by Toronto Argonauts.

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Houston Texans would save nearly $4 million by trading Andre Johnson

The Houston Texans are going through some big changes at the moment and one of those changes could be to move wide receiver Andre Johnson before the trade deadline this season. Johnson has recently voiced his displeasure and frustration with the Texans which has many wondering what his future holds.

According to OverTheCap.com, should the Texans trade Johnson they’d have to eat over $11 million in dead money but would end up saving almost $4 million on the massive deal Johnson is playing out. as for where Johnson could land in a trade, it has been speculated that the Cleveland Browns could be a fit thanks to their scheme, the connection to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the basic need for a top receiver after the Josh Gordon situation.
Cleveland also has the cap space to trade for Johnson, and after moving around the draft they have some assets as well.

Trading Johnson may not be in the cards for Houston as there’s a lot of dead money involved, but if he’s really that unhappy and the Texans can get some return on their receiver then we may see something happen.

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Orlando Franklin makes transition to left guard

While conceding initial disappointment over the position switch, Orlando Franklin believes left guard could be the right move.

The 315-pound Bronco said Wednesday that the transition from right tackle is going well, but he won't get a better read until full contact drills.

"When I first heard about it, you get disappointed. But as long as I am on the field and one of the best five, I am happy with that," Franklin said at Dove Valley headquarters.

Franklin graded highly at right tackle after the Broncos' offensive line shuffle in the wake of Ryan Clady's season-ending foot injury last year. He has experience at guard, having split time there at the University of Miami. Playing inside lends itself to a more physical style of play where rushers aren't the primary concern.

"It's easier to get your hands on them at guard. I feel like the play begins when you get your hands on them. At tackle, you are dealing with a lot smaller guys who are a lot faster," Franklin said. "The battle is before you get your hands on them."

It's not concrete that Franklin will remain inside. He was told that "nothing was definite" as the coaches begin their evaluations.

"They want to play the best five. If Chris Clark can play right tackle and I can go back and play left guard at a high level, that's what the starting five will look like," Franklin said.

Franklin said he will miss Chris Kuper, who retired after eight seasons because of multiple ankle injuries. Kuper helped him with line calls, and Franklin said he would not have played his rookie season without Kuper's help. And he definitely would not have played in Peyton Manning's offense in his first season.

"The amount of stuff you have to know, it was a lot easier to play with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow when I came in," Franklin said. "Our offense is pretty complex because we run a lot of stuff at the line of scrimmage.”

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St. Rose's Ed Reed football camp planned

Ed Reed, a St. Rose native and NFL football player, will hold his summer football camp June 24-26 from 9 a.m. to noon at Destrehan High School. The cost is $40. Boys ages 7-17 may attend. For information call Jeanne Hall at 985.764.9946 extension 100.

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Not first time Andre Johnson, Texans have butted heads

Andre Johnson’s frustrated comments Tuesday were his most direct attack to date against the Texans, as the veteran wide receiver questioned the future of his 11-plus year relationship with the only team he’s ever played for.

But they weren’t unprecedented. Neither was the situation.

As the 2010 season approached, Johnson was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls. He led the NFL in receiving yards both seasons, totaling 216 catches for 3,144 yards in 2008-09.

In May 2010, Johnson missed three voluntary practices and the initial portion of organized team activities due to a contract dispute, despite having five years left on an eight-year, $60 million deal. At the time, Johnson was one of the premier receivers in the NFL but wasn’t receiving an elite salary.

“They say a closed mouth never gets fed, so I communicated with (general manager) Rick Smith and (owner) Mr. (Bob) McNair and told them how I felt,” said Johnson, who hired agent Kennard McGuire during the process.

Smith’s response: “Our policy’s been that we’ll look at deals and we’ll try to get things done during the offseason. But once the season starts, our entire focus as an organization goes to football and playing games.”

By Aug. 5, the best player in franchise history had the new deal he wanted. Johnson’s contract was extended two years at a base salary of $23.5 million and with a maximum value of $38.5 million. At the time, the revised contract made Johnson the highest-paid receiver in the NFL.

“I want to thank the organization,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what to say other than thank you from the bottom of my heart. I also want to thank my teammates. I’m very happy right now.”

Smith joked: “I know this sets a precedent. And if another player comes to my office wanting to (renegotiate), I’ll tell him to get some pelts on the wall like Andre, and we’ll talk.”

Smith said the revised deal would make Johnson a “Texan for life.”

“It’s important that Andre have one home — and that’s with the Houston Texans,” McNair said. “He’ll probably be our first Hall of Fame player. We wanted to make sure he went in as a Texan and he played his career as a Texan.”

Since 2010, Johnson has continued to be one of the league’s elite receivers. He holds the Texans’ franchise record in all-time receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. After an injury-plagued 2011, when Johnson was limited to seven games, he bounced back in 2012-13 to combine for 221 catches and 3,005 yards. In the Texans’ lost 2013 season, when the team went an NFL-worst 2-14, Johnson was one of the few consistent bright spots and the team’s undisputed offensive most valuable player.

Still, at the height of the Texans’ 12-4 season in 2012 — the franchise’s peak since Johnson was drafted by the team in 2003 — the veteran wide receiver echoed his comments Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t say that there was a time when I said, ‘Get me out of here,’ ” Johnson told the Boston Globe, referring to the Texans’ woeful expansion years. “Had I thought about it? Yeah.”

Now, the Texans are again entering a new era. Coach Bill O’Brien is in some ways building his vision of an NFL team from scratch. Johnson is entering his 12th season and will turn 33 on July 11. By the time many expect the Texans to be consistently competitive again, Johnson could be in his 15th year in the league.

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Frustrated Andre Johnson will not attend OTAs or mini camp, says he has decision to make

HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson skipped the Texans voluntary mini camp and said he has no plans to take part in the team's organized team activities or the mandatory mini camp in June.

Johnson said he is frustrated with the losing he has dealt with over his career, but also pointed out this is not about his contract and he has not asked to be traded.

"I've been thinking about things this offseason and I kind of wonder is sometimes is this still the place for me," Johnson told the Houston media who was covering a check presentation on behalf of his charity golf tournament.

"I haven't went to anybody about a contract. I haven't came out and asked for a trade or anything like that. It's just something I'm thinking about right now."

Johnson said he was in Houston when the Texans recently held their voluntary minicamp and he has had conversations with team officials, including head coach Bill O'Brien.

"We've talked," Johnson said. "They understand how I feel. Like I said it's just something I'm thinking about. It's not something I came out and flew off with 'hey I want to get out of there or anything like that'. It's not nothing like that.

"When you go through what I've been through as a player, now on my third head coach, I think it's just something you have to give thought to."

When specifically asked what is bothering him Johnson said, "losing."

And he reflected on what he has been through during his 12 years with the Texans.

"I just look over my career and just kind of wonder is it a place?," Johnson said. " I've only been to the playoffs twice. I think we've had only three winning seasons, two eight and eight seasons. I don't think any player wants to experience that. Over time it can become very frustrating.

"Losing, that's it. I don't play to lose. I don't think anyone in this league does, but that's probably the most frustrating."

Johnson acknowledged that he does have a decision to make, but did not get specific about what that means.

"When you bring a new coach in, you go through a rebuilding process," Johnson said. "Some people say it's not rebuilding and some people say it's a quick fix.

"Everybody has their own opinion. I've been through the situation more than once.

"Right now I'm just taking some time, think about some things and when I make my decision, I'll make my decision and go from there."

The Texans did not have a response.

On Tuesday Johnson presented the Houston Area Women's Center with a check for $30,000.

The non-profit organization is the beneficiary of Johnson's first annual charity golf tournament.

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Ryan Braun singles twice in loss to Pirates

Ryan Braun went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles as the Brewers lost to the Pirates on Wednesday.

Braun collected his first hits since being activated from the disabled list on Wednesday. He had been dealing with a strained oblique and played only six innings in his return. On Thursday, he went eight innings before being taken out for Logan Schafer. When Braun has been healthy, he has been very productive, now slashing .319/.365/.574 on the year.

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Brewers activate Ryan Braun from DL

MILWAUKEE -- One slugger back, one slugger down for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Outfielder Ryan Braun was activated from the 15-day disabled list after being sidelined with a right oblique strain. He started Tuesday night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, going 0 for 2 with a walk before being removed in the seventh inning. He was not expected to play all nine innings, the team said.

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez was placed on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. He got hurt fielding a bouncer in Saturday night's 5-4 win over the Yankees.

The battered Brewers lost another key player when outfielder Carlos Gomez left the Pirates game after the bottom of the fifth with lower back tightness. He was not in the team's lineup Wednesday.

Braun was hitting .318 with six homers and 18 RBIs when he got hurt. Seeing Ramirez go down didn't add any extra urgency, Braun said.

The Brewers had discussed possibly sending Braun to the minors for a rehab game Monday but weather and travel issues curtailed that plan. Instead, the slugger was back his customary No. 3 position in the batting order Tuesday.

"I think he's going to be good. He's a guy that when he sat in the past he's been pretty good right off, so I'm hoping that's what happens," manager Ron Roenicke said.

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Chicago Bears sign Pat O'Donnell

The Bears Signed 6th Round proCane Draft Pick, Punter Pat O’Donnell to a 4-year deal estimated to be worth around 2.3 million dollars with a $105,000 signing bonus.

Additionally, O’Donnell was able to keep the same number he wore at the University of Miami, 16, with the Bears.

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Brandon Linder likely to start for Jaguars

Jaguars third-round G/T Brandon Linder is expected to be given a real opportunity to start as a rookie.

The Jaguars traded back into the third round with the Patriots to take Linder with the 93rd overall pick. He made 42 career starts in college on the right side of the line and has some nastiness to his game. We expect Linder to win the right-guard job and be flanked by C Mike Brewster and RT Austin Pasztor.

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Asante Cleveland was coveted free agent

Matt Barrows is reporting UDFA tight end Asante Cleveland was coveted by a few teams. We break down some of the details, and find some scouting reports.

The San Francisco 49ers announced their undrafted free agent signings Monday evening, and the 49ers appeared to win out a modest battle for the services of tight end Asante Cleveland. According to Matt Barrows, the Miami (FL) product was sought after by the 49ers, Eagles and Patriots. Our man Jason Hurley is reporting the 49ers ended up paying him an $8,000 signing bonus. UDFA contracts are usually for the league minimum, and generally are three year contracts instead of the normal four year version for drafted players.

There is not a ton of information about Cleveland, in large part because he was used almost exclusively as a blocker. Over the course of his college career, Cleveland had 14 receptions for 151 yards and one touchdown. The folks at Draft Insider offered up a scouting report, in which they described him as a wait-and-see type of prospect. They said his strengths included having good size, solid blocking skills, and generally moving well on the field. However, he lacks much speed, and without seeing what he’s done as a pass catcher, he’s looking mostly like no more than a third tight end for now.

The Palm Beach Post had similar comments:

Tight end Asante Cleveland wasn’t given the chance to showcase his pass-catching skills at UM – his only touchdown grab came in his final college game, the 2013 regular-season finale at Pitt – but was an effective blocker in double-tight end sets. He’s 6-5, 260 and could be a solid depth tight end on an NFL roster.

The 49ers head into the bulk of their offseason workout program with five tight ends on the roster. Cleveland joins Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Derek Carrier. Davis and McDonald are not going anywhere, but there will be plenty of competition for that third tight end role behind that.

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Jimmy Gaines sees Bills as his ‘best choice’

Jimmy Gaines knows the odds are stacked against him.

But the Getzville native and Canisius High School product is determined to make the most of his opportunity with the Buffalo Bills.

Gaines is one of nine rookie undrafted free agents who have signed or agreed to terms with the Bills ahead of the team’s rookie minicamp this weekend.

“It’s amazing. It’s amazing being back home and being well-received from people back home – from my high school teammates and everybody just excited for me to be here,” Gaines said Tuesday at One Bills Drive, where he spoke with Western New York reporters.

Gaines signed with the Bills after a four-year career at Miami (Fla.). With the Hurricanes, he started 27 games and appeared in 41 games, registering 199 tackles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions in his career. As a senior in 2013, he started all 13 games at middle linebacker, making 83 tackles.

“I was told I would go late rounds or be a free agent, so I wasn’t surprised by the fact that I was a free agent,” Gaines said. “The Bills, I really wasn’t expecting it honestly because I wasn’t really in contact with the Bills. When they called I felt like this was the best decision for me. This was the best choice.”

The opportunity to come home is an obvious selling point, but Gaines said the defensive scheme the Bills run is another reason he chose Buffalo. “The linebacker situation that we have here, I have the ability to compete for a job,” he said.

Gaines landed at Miami after originally committing to play at the University at Buffalo. He decommitted after Turner Gill left, and some bigger programs then came calling.

“Nothing came easy for Jimmy. When he got the opportunity at Miami, he was not a five-star recruit,” said Canisius coach Rich Robbins. “He was the only guy from New York State on Miami’s roster and anybody that I’ve talked to down there, they love the kid.”

Robbins explained what the Bills were getting in his favorite Gaines story.

“We’re playing a team in Ohio, and they’re kicking our butt. This is back in the day. We weren’t very competitive like we are now with Ohio teams,” Robbins said. “Jimmy was in there and he got his hand caught in a kid’s helmet. He ripped the webbing of his hand between his ring and his middle finger.

“He ripped his hand open and he was gushing blood. He’s bleeding all over the place and nobody notices it. The kid stays in the game. Finally the referee saw all the blood and got him out of the game. I’ll never forget an Ohio referee saying ‘that’s the toughest kid I’ve ever seen.’ Work ethic, toughness, leadership … that’s what Jimmy brings.”

The Bills last year got big contributions from cornerback Nickell Robey. Gaines said he’ll lean on him for advice on making the final roster.

“It just shows his work ethic,” Gaines said of Robey. “With the odds stacked against him, he was able to overcome them and have a great rookie season. … I’m excited to talk to him.”

Gaines, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder, won the Hurricanes’ strength training athlete of the year award in 2013 – a good sign of his commitment.

“His work ethic and his leadership in our program in the decade I’ve been there are second to none,” Robbins said. “We’ve had some real good players over the years, but not even John Urschel was the leader that Jimmy was. He was the unquestioned leader of our team. In his senior year at Canisius, we only had six seniors on the team, and he put the team on his back and led us to a championship.”

Gaines was named to the All-Western New York first team in 2009 after finishing with 154 tackles, three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.

“We talk about it still. My whole staff – we had a bit of a meeting a little while ago – and we were looking at that picture of him up on the podium today with the Bills sweatshirt on, and it was just such an awesome moment for all of us, but at the same time none of us were surprised. Even as a 16-year-old we saw the potential and the ability to do what he’s doing now, so it’s been awesome,” Robbins said.

Gaines didn’t have the luxury of a redshirt season with the Hurricanes, as former Miami coach Randy Shannon elected to use him on special teams.

“That was unfortunate, because with another year in school, who knows what could happen?” Robbins said. “But everything happens for a reason and he’s getting an opportunity with his hometown team, the one he grew up rooting for. At the end of the day, he’s happy with how things worked out.”

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Stephen Morris Occupying Justin Blackmon's Locker

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars general manager David Caldwell has said the team is planning to not have suspended receiver Justin Blackmon for 2014 and there was finally some concrete evidence of that on Tuesday.

The third-year receiver no longer has a locker in the Jaguars' locker room. Quarterback Stephen Morris, whom the team signed on Monday as an undrafted free agent, is occupying the locker that Blackmon used during his first two seasons.

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Frustrated Andre Johnson on Texans: 'Is this still the place for me?'

The vibe in Houston should be good this week, with No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney headlining the latest draft class.

But Andre Johnson doesn't have the time to wait for this draft class to come in and develop and eventually improve Houston's 2-14 record from last year. Johnson has run out of patience, and although he hasn't specifically asked for a trade, he obviously isn't happy with the Texans anymore.

Johnson voiced his frustration to the Houston Chronicle about his situation. Johnson is likely on his way to the Hall of Fame, but is 32 and has barely experienced any team success in his 11 seasons with Houston.

"I just look at my career. ... I've only been to the playoffs twice," he told the Chronicle's Brian Smith.

He made it clear this isn't about his contract. But he doesn't plan on attending OTAs or the mandatory minicamp, so even though he hasn't officially requested a trade, it seems he wants out. 

Johnson probably has a point. He's still among the top 10 receivers in the NFL, coming off a 109-catch, 1,407-yard season. He's also looking at being a part of a team with a new coaching staff, with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick poised to start at quarterback with no clear franchise quarterback of the future on the roster, on a team that could quadruple its 2013 win total and still not make the playoffs.

If Johnson ever does hit the trading block, there would be a tremendous battle for his services. Johnson has 12,661 career yards, has passed 1,400 yards four times in the past six seasons and is still very effective. Imagine what he could do for Seattle, Baltimore, Kansas City or New England, to name a few? Or if you stick him on New Orleans with Drew Brees, or if Denver decides he'd be a great replacement for Eric Decker? The possibilities would be intriguing. Perhaps the relationship hasn't gotten to that point, and his contract would make a trade difficult (he has more than a $12 million cap hit this year, and it jumps past $16 million next year). Johnson told the Chronicle the Texans are aware of his displeasure, so if Johnson was going to get moved it probably would have happened before the draft.

But for all the teams that would love to add Johnson to their offense, it's clear that one of the teams Johnson doesn't want to be on is the one he plays for now.

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Ryan Braun has no health issue

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said after Tuesday's game that Ryan Braun being removed after six innings was planned ahead of time.

Fantasy owners can exhale. The Brewers are planning to ease Braun back into things as he returns from an oblique strain, but he should be back to a full workload soon.

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Asante Cleveland joins 49ers as undrafted free agent

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers on Monday signed seven players bypassed in the NFL draft over the weekend, including Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov and Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner.

Another player they agreed to terms with is Asante Cleveland, who played at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento and the University of Miami.

The Eagles and Patriots also wanted to sign Cleveland, but the 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end chose the 49ers because he thought he had a shot to become the team’s No. 3 tight end. He’ll have to beat out Garrett Celek and Derek Carrier, both of whom also went undrafted in recent years.

Cleveland was used mostly as a blocker as a senior last season and caught only three passes. He was featured more in the passing game as a freshman under previous coach Randy Shannon, however, and he turned heads in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January by catching a 27-yard pass over his shoulder for a touchdown.

Cleveland said he spoke briefly with Eric Mangini, the 49ers’ new tight ends coach, on Saturday, and Mangini told him to be ready to work hard when he arrives in Santa Clara. Cleveland said he hopes the 49ers are impressed by his blocking.

“I think I definitely have that down pat, or at least I’ll come in with some skills,” Cleveland said.

To make room on the 90-man roster, the 49ers released three players, including linebacker Darius Fleming, a fifth-round pick in 2012. Fleming tore an ACL in each of the last two seasons and never played a snap for the 49ers. Only two players from that year’s draft class – second-round pick LaMichael James, a running back, and fourth-round selection Joe Looney, a guard – remain with the team.

The other two players let go are cornerback Dax Swanson and wide receiver DeMarco Sampson.

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Jimmy Graham hearing on June 17-18

METAIRIE, La. -- We're one step closer to finding out whether the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham should officially be considered a tight end or wide receiver.

The grievance hearing over Graham's franchise-tag designation has been scheduled for June 17-18, according to a league source. It's unclear whether a third-party arbitrator has been selected.

At stake is how much the Saints will be required to pay Graham under the franchise tag. The NFL's management council declared Graham a tight end when he was franchised in early March, requiring the Saints to offer him a one-year salary of $7.035 million.

Graham, however, filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association last week asking to be declared a receiver -- a position that comes with a franchise-tag salary of $12.3 million.

More importantly, the arbitrator's decision would give one side a tremendous amount of leverage in their long-term contract negotiations.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis declined to answer specific questions about the pending debate over the weekend, but he did say the Saints' side of the argument will be handled by the management council.

"Obviously we get consulted and talked with," Loomis said. "But that's the management council's duty."

The players' association will present Graham's case. The sides will agree on the selection of the arbitrator.

Graham's argument will be that he should officially be considered a receiver because he lined up either in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last season.

It's a compelling debate that has come up in recent years with hybrid tight end/receivers like Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley, but it has never reached the point of a grievance hearing.

Similarly, Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs filed a grievance in 2008 over whether he should be considered a linebacker or defensive end. Before an arbitrator ruled, all parties agreed to split the difference in the salaries.

It's possible the Saints and Graham work out a similar compromise. Or they could work out a long-term contract extension in the meantime and avoid the need for a hearing altogether.

The deadline for franchised players to sign long-term deals with their teams is July 15.

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Andre Johnson should be frustrated

Andre Johnson didn't attend Texans voluntary workouts last week, which is within his rights because they are, after all, voluntary. But his absences were unusual because he has had so few in his 11-year career and also because it would have been the wide receiver's first opportunity to acquaint himself with a new coach and a new offense.

So it was natural to ask if Johnson was sending a message.

In fact, he did send one. People close to him said he informed the Texans he was occupied with other business and will be in Houston this week to fulfill commitments.

He's not angry.

That leads to another question.

Why not?

Anger is not an emotion often associated with the reserved Johnson, although we did see that side of him late in the loss to Oakland last season when he and Matt Schaub exchanged words on the sideline. Johnson walked off the field before the game ended.

But no one could blame Johnson if he were frustrated, especially after the lack of urgency the Texans seem to have in regard to their offense this offseason. That was never more apparent than during the three days of the NFL draft that ended Saturday.

Defense upgraded

They unquestionably upgraded their defense, selecting the best player in the draft, South Carolina's extraordinary pass rusher J.D. Clowney, with the No.? pick overall and trading up into the third round for a run-stopping nose tackle, Notre Dame's Louis Nix, considered by some to have first-round talent.

Otherwise, the Texans' draft was uninspiring.

We might judge otherwise in retrospect. Bill Polian, a former executive with three NFL teams, said it takes four years to determine whether a team's draft was successful.

But it appears today as if the Texans did little to address their most apparent offensive needs, adding replacement parts during the first two days, a guard in the second round and a tight end in the third, and waiting until the middle of the fourth round Saturday to acquire a quarterback.

That was Pittsburgh's Tom Savage, the 135th player and the seventh quarterback drafted.

Texans general manager Rick Smith said before the draft the team was open to a more unorthodox quarterback considering the success of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

"They've given people some confidence that you don't necessarily need to have a traditional type of quarterback to be successful in our league," he said.
If the Texans were among the confident, they would have taken Georgia's Aaron Murray. NFL Network's Mike Mayock said two quarterbacks had the potential
to start in the NFL from day one, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Murray.

Going with prototype

Instead, the Texans went with a prototypical 6-4, 228-pound quarterback, the type those who have followed coach Bill O'Brien's career said all along he preferred.

Savage didn't receive much attention in his only season at Pitt, where he transferred from Arizona, where he had transferred from Rutgers. He impressed O'Brien during his pro day in March, along with so many other coaches he couldn't fit all of them in for private workouts.

"Savage is one of the great American mysteries right now," Jon Gruden said before the draft. "It is a limited body of work. He's a pocket passer with a strong arm. I'm sure some people have seen it and fell in love with him because of that."

Gil Brandt, who built the Cowboys' scouting department, compared Savage's arm to Troy Aikman's.

"From an arm talent perspective, it doesn't get much better than Tom Savage," Mayock said.

But he added, "You'd like him to have better feet. He takes too many sacks."

To be exact, 43 last season. That was the most in college football's top division.

Some of those no doubt were due to an offensive line less than adept at pass blocking, which should make Savage feel at home with the Texans.

Besides quarterback, the Texans' most pressing offensive need was for a right tackle. They didn't take one in the draft.

Their next most pressing offensive need was for a running back to play behind Arian Foster, coming off an injury. They took one with their second pick in the sixth round, Alfred Blue, who started only two games last season at LSU.

Savage shouldn't be too discouraged because by the time he's ready to play in a year or two, the Texans might have improved their offense. Their second-round choice, UCLA guard Xavier Su' A-Filo, might become a tackle. Their third-round choice, Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, might become the next Rob Gronkowski.

Andre Johnson, however, should be discouraged. He will be 33 in July. He doesn't have enough years left for the offense to slowly rebuild.
He surely didn't volunteer for that.

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Peter O'Brien goes deep twice

Yankees prospect C Peter O'Brien went 2-for-5 with a pair of home runs and five RBI on Sunday for Double-A Trenton.

O'Brien, 23, hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning and then added a two-run shot in the sixth. He was promoted to Double-A Trenton before the weekend series and hit safely in all three games, with each of his four hits going for extra-bases (three home runs and one double). It'll be interesting to see how much time O'Brien sees behind the plate, as top prospect Gary Sanchez is already playing at Trenton and ahead of him on the organizational depth chart. Prior to his promotion, O'Brien batted .321/.353/.688 with nine doubles, 10 home runs, 19 RBI and a 29/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 games for High-A Tampa.

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Brewers counting on Ryan Braun

With Carlos Gomez expected to miss some, if not all, of the three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning Tuesday night at Miller Park due to his suspension and Aramis Ramirez poised to go on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring, impact bats are going to be at a premium for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Enter Ryan Braun, who should be ready to go after his own stint on the DL with a strained right oblique. His prep work done, a discussed one-game rehab stint at Class A Wisconsin scuttled by rain Monday, Braun will need to hit the ground running as the Brewers try to build off a weekend that saw them take two of three interleague games from the New York Yankees.

"I think there's always a sense of urgency," Braun said Sunday. "I think that sense of urgency may increase slightly with the fact that Rami's most likely going to go on the DL and there's a good chance that Gomey is suspended for possibly the whole series.

"But I think most important is getting me to a point where I'm able to play. It's not something you can force your way through. Obviously, you don't need to be 100%, but you need to be somewhat close before they're comfortable putting me back in there."

With Braun in the final stages of his recovery, Milwaukee squeezed out a pair of one-run victories over the Yankees. Sunday's was most impressive as the Brewers posted their first walk-off of the season with an unlikely heart of the order that included Logan Schafer, Rickie Weeks, Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds.

That foursome accounted for seven of the Brewers' 12 hits and five of the six runs batted in as manager Ron Roenicke tried to fill the gaps in a lineup that opened the season strongly but has since been compromised by injury and inconsistency brought about by a free-swinging approach.

In Braun, Roenicke would have his best all-around hitter back in the third spot, giving him a much-needed power threat as well as someone who is also selective at the plate. In 22 games, Braun is hitting .318 with six home runs and 18 RBI with an on-base percentage of .361, a slugging percentage of .591 and an OPS of .952.

Adding to the frustration of losing him to the DL was the fact that Braun was doing some of his best work just before being injured.

Three of his six homers came in the final two games of a four-game series with the Pirates at PNC Park. He hit two, including the game-winner in the ninth inning, in an 8-7 victory on April 19 and then another in the ninth inning of an eventual 3-2, 14-inning victory the following day that saw both teams engage in a benches-clearing brawl.

Both of the ninth-inning homers came against all-star closer Jason Grilli, who went on the DL with an oblique strain of his own shortly thereafter.

Since Braun was sidelined, the Brewers have gone 6-8. Ramirez was also battling through a major slump before being injured, leaving the offense without its anchors in the third and fourth spots and the team trying desperately not to suffer a second consecutive May swoon.

Getting a healthy Braun back should help, but the Brewers are still going to be at less than full strength until Ramirez returns. They entered the week tied with the San Francisco Giants with 24 victories, the most in the major leagues, and tied with the Giants for the best record in the National League at 24-14.

"You look around baseball and there's so many guys that are hurt, so many good players, key players, big-name players that are injured, and I think that makes it challenging for teams," Braun said. "You know from the beginning of the season that your depth will be challenged as a team, as an organization. It's an opportunity for other guys to step up, and I think we're up to the challenge.

"You never expect to get through a year with everybody healthy; you just know that inevitably throughout the grind of a 162-game season that you're going to deal with a lot of challenges as a team. Certainly it's a challenging time for us right now, but I really do think that we're up to the challenge."

One player who stepped up against the Yankees was Weeks, who figures to get opportunities against the Pirates. Pittsburgh starts right-hander Gerrit Cole in the opener Tuesday and then lefties Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez the final two games.

Weeks went 3 for 5 Sunday against the Yankees, driving in two runs and scoring the game-winner after doubling to lead off the ninth.

Milwaukee has won six of seven against Pittsburgh, including a three-game sweep of the Pirates at Miller Park in early April. Getting continued contributions from Weeks as well as others will be key with Roenicke now needing to fill the holes both in the leadoff spot and in center field because of Gomez's pending suspension.

"Every day and every game is important," said Gomez. "Rami's going to be out, but Rickie's the hot guy in the lineup, so put him in there and he's going to take care of business until Rami comes back. We need Khris Davis to start getting hot again — I don't think he's going to be like this for the whole year. He's in a little bit of a slump, but he'll be fine."

Cole and Gomez, of course, were two of the key players in that Easter Sunday brawl that also saw Martin Maldonado and Pirates players Travis Snider and Russell Martin suspended.

Snider has served his suspension, while Martin remains on the DL and won't play in the series. Even with some of those key players unavailable, the circumstances might well lead to an even more spirited rivalry between the two NL Central teams.

"I think they're going to come with more intensity," Gomez acknowledged. "I think it's good for the Pirates and it's good for us. You just come with more intensity in the game. Just play right and be clean and I think we'll be fine when all the emotion (is gone). They're going to come after us. They want to beat us bad and we want to do the same.

"It's good, competitive stuff."

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LeBron calls for James Jones to play

NEW YORK -- It’s not usual for LeBron James to question Erik Spoelstra’s coaching decisions, at least not publicly. James has built up tremendous respect for the Miami Heat coach and consistently credits him for his strategies.

But James did send a little message to his coach heading into the Heat’s Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets. James wants to play more with James Jones, the Heat’s little-used but valuable sweet shooting wing.

James and Jones have been the Heat’s most productive tandem in the playoffs when looking at plus/minus data. But after playing a significant role in the first round against the Charlotte Bobcats, Jones has been out of the rotation in the three games so far against the Nets.

“We have to find some minutes for him, I don’t see why he shouldn’t play,” James said. “He’s huge for our team when he’s in the lineup.”

Jones is 10-of-20 on 3-pointers in the playoffs and he and James complement each other well on the floor. Because Jones is an elite spot-up shooter, James likes to play on the same side of the floor and force defenses to choose between the two. When playing together in the playoffs, Jones and James have combined to shoot 56 percent from the field.

Spoelstra has not used Jones much over the past two seasons, mostly for defensive reasons as he sometimes struggles on that end. James, though, always is more comfortable when playing with shooters, one of the reasons Ray Allen has been such a good fit with the Heat over the past two seasons.

“The space James provides and his ability to shoot the ball is great for us,” James said. “You can’t do both when he’s out on the floor. You can’t help on my drives and contest 3-pointers on him. They have to keep an eye on him.”

Jones came in for nine minutes in garbage time in the fourth quarter of the Nets’ Game 3 victory on Saturday after the Heat were down by double digits, his first extended time in the series. He drilled three 3-pointers in that stretch, two of them off feeds from James.

James’ hints that he wants more of that suggests he’s taken his pleas for Jones to play more meaningful minutes directly to Spoelstra. But the Heat coaches were playing coy when asked about lineup changes before Game 4.

“We’ll find out,” Spoelstra said.

The Heat coach is more concerned about his defense than his offensive-based lineups. The Heat gave up more than 100 points for the first time in the playoffs in Game 3, mostly because the Nets set a franchise playoff record by hitting 15 3-pointers. That is what Spoelstra focused on Monday, trying to get the Heat to not write that off as a fluke shooting performance.

“It’s always an easy crutch in this league [to blame lucky shooting],” Spoelstra said. “You have to decipher what can you do better and harder and then within a seven-game series, what can you adjust. It was tough to figure out what adjustments you need to make in Game 3 when you don’t bring other things that are necessary to our defense first."

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3 NFL proCanes Drafted, 11 Sign Free Agent Contracts

Three NFL proCanes were drafted this past weekend during the NFL Draft, while 11 other proCanes signed Free Agent Contracts.

3rd Round, 93rd pick overall: Brandon Linder, Jacksonville Jaguars.
6th Round, 191st pick overall: Pat O’Donnell, Chicago Bears
7th Round, 237th pick overall: Seantrel Henderson, Buffalo Bills

Free Agent Signings:

Stephen Morris, Jacksonville Jaguars
Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
Maurice Hagens, Atlanta Falcons
Jared Wheeler, Carolina Panthers
Justin Renfrow, Arizona Cardinals
Shayon Green, Miami Dolphins
Jimmy Gaines, Buffalo Bills
AJ Highsmith, San Francisco 49ers
Curtis Porter, Oakland Raiders
Asante Cleveland, San Francisco 49ers
Erik Swoope, Indianapolis Colts

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Pat O'Donnell selected 191st overall

Bears selected Miami (FL) P Pat O'Donnell with the No. 191 overall pick in the NFL draft.

O'Donnell (6-foot-4 1/8, 220) spent one year with the Hurricanes after transferring from Cincinnati and set The U's single-season record for yards-per-punt average (47.1), also handling kickoffs and holding. 23 of O'Donnell's 53 senior-year punts went for 50-plus yards. A good athlete for the position, O'Donnell ran 4.64 at the Combine with a 30 1/2-inch vertical, which could come in handy on fakes. He'll immediately become the favorite for punting duties in Chicago, over Tress Way and Drew Butler.

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Loomis says Jimmy Graham hearing is expected in about 30 days

The Jimmy Graham grievance hearing is expected to be heard by an arbiter in approximately 30 days, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis confirmed Saturday.

The crux of the issue is whether Graham should be considered a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes. Graham has been tendered as a tight end at $7.05 million for one year, even though he lined up outside or in the slot approximately 67 percent of his snaps, which the NFLPA argues would make him a wide receiver, according to the collective bargaining agreement. If Graham wins, his franchise-tag salary would increase to $12.3 million.

The NFL Management Council and NFL Players Association (which is representing Graham) will argue the merits of the case before an arbiter. Both sides can reach an agreement before the hearing date.

The winner of the hearing would gain significant leverage in future long-term contract negotiations.

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Colts sign Erik Swoope to play TE

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Colts hope they've found the next Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham.

The Colts on Sunday signed Erik Swoope, a former four-year basketball player at the University of Miami, to play tight end.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Swoope has never played organized football at any level, but he did start 27 of 110 basketball games while with the Hurricanes.

His athleticism is what intrigues the Colts, the same way the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints were interested in Gates and Graham, respectively.
Swoope was one of 19 undrafted free agents the Colts signed Sunday.

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Baltimore Ravens could sign Eric Winston

The Baltimore Ravens had a productive draft, getting several players who could be long-term starters.

They did not, however, address one of their biggest needs, the right tackle position.

According to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com, the Ravens could sign veteran tackle Eric Winston.

Newsome pointed to the Ravens’ in-house options at right tackle with Ricky Wagner (a fifth-round pick last year) and the potential of moving Kelechi Osemele over from left guard to tackle, where he played his rookie season.

“We’ll just shake things up and see how the best thing happens,” Newsome said. “[But] if the opportunity presents itself for us to acquire a player to play tackle if we need to, we’ll be able to do it.”

Newsome seemed to point towards the possibility of signing a veteran. One player pundits point to is Eric Winston, who is still a free agent. He played six seasons under new Ravens Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak in Houston. Winston is just 30 years old and hasn’t missed a start since 2007. He bounced between the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals the past two years, however.

Winston was a third-round pick (66th-overall) of the Houston Texans in 2006 and played there until 2011. He joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 and spent last season with the Arizona Cardinals.

Winston was elected President of the NFL Players Association in March.

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Leftovers from Vince Wilfork's draft party

Vince Wilfork held his 11th annual draft night fundraiser last night at Pinz Entertainment in Milford. As always, the event was well attended, and the Patriots defensive lineman raised a ton of money for the Vince Wilfork Foundation, the Joclin Diabetes Center and the Diabetes Research Institute.
Here are a few leftover odds & ends from the event:

*** While Wilfork and wife Bianca addressed the crowd, thanking everyone for their continued support, Big Vince declined all media requests. So we can't tell you how he's progressing from his Achilles surgery, or if he'll be participating in any of the upcoming organized team activities or mini-camp. We also can't convey his thoughts since signing an extension with the Pats, and what went down leading up to that extension.

*** Aaron Dobson, who had surgery on his left foot two months ago (March 10) to repair a stress fracture, is still in a walking boot. At least, he had one on at the Wilfork's draft night event. He also opted not to speak with the media when asked. It's hard imagining him taking part in the organized team activities if he's still in a boot.

*** Wilfork always draws a crowd. By my count - and there might have been more - there were 21 current Patriot players in attendance counting Vince, a list that included Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones, Julian Edelman, Rob Ninkovich and Dont'a Hightower. Wilfork even drew an outsider, as Bears receiver Brandon Marshall also attended, hanging out with the Patriots. Marshall is in town taking a class at Harvard.

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Antrel Rolle challenges Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to be the best

The Giants paid Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie like one of best cornerbacks in the NFL. Now Antrel Rolle wants to see him play like it.

The Giants' veteran safety, who played alongside Rodgers-Cromartie when the two were with the Cardinals, issued a challenge to the cornerback to live up to his potential - something that hasn't always happened during Rodgers-Cromartie's meandering NFL career.

"I still don't feel like [Rodgers-Cromartie] has shown what he can truly be in this league, which is one of the best corners in the NFL," said Rolle, who was in Manhattan Friday morning along with teammates Henry Hynoski and Spencer Paysinger to promote the Promax protein bar nutrition system.

Rolle was teammates with Rodgers-Cromartie in Arizona in 2008-09 before Rolle joined the Giants as a free agent in 2010. He saw plenty that he liked about Rodgers-Cromartie, but also saw what was lacking - which may be a reason the cornerback is playing for his fourth NFL team at age 28.

"I've played the corner position. I've been around several corners, and I know the talents and athleticism he brings to the game." Rolle said. "He's freakish. You put that together, along with the knowledge of the game, understanding where your team is going to be, when to gamble here and there, when not to. I think he has the best safeties around, with Stevie Brown, myself, Will Hill and Quintin Demps. Now he needs to show how good he can be."

Rolle hopes Rodgers-Cromartie quickly gets up to speed with the defense, partly because Rolle doesn't know how much longer he'll be in a Giants' uniform. He's entering the final year of his contract, and knows the team may go in a different direction in 2015.

"I do think about it," Rolle said. "This is a business and this is the last year of my contract. Whether or not I come back or not is really not up to me. The only thing I can do is go out there and play the best possible ball I can possibly play and try to continue to be the same guy I've always been, for myself, for my teammates, for the organization. We'll see how the season unfolds. I just want to play ball. Play reckless, make plays when the opportunity presents itself."

Rolle hopes his play will be good enough for the Giants to keep him beyond this season.

"Absolutely, I want to finish my career with the Giants," he said. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I've been with other organizations, and there is a difference. I think it will definitely be good to end my career here."

Rolle, Hynoski and Paysinger all agree the Giants' flurry of free-agent moves, coupled with their drafting of LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the first round Thursday night, put them in excellent position to rebound from last year's 7-9 season.

"Without a doubt, the sky's the limit for this group," Rolle said. "We have a lot of great playmakers on paper. That means nothing unless we put it all together on the field. So far, so good. It all starts with the chemistry on the team. For the guys coming in from different organizations, they've pretty much accepted the challenges we've put on them, which is to come in and contribute right away. Those guys are all eager, we've embraced them and so far the chemistry has been great."

Hynoski, who is healthy after recovering from a shoulder injury last season, believes Beckham will be a major factor in the offense.

"I think we got a great pick in Beckham," Hynoski said. "I think he's going to be a tremendous asset, be very explosive in our offense. We have a high-powered passing attack, so if you key on him, you're going to open up the running lanes, too."

All three players agreed the Giants had a successful off-season in filling several needs through free agency, adding players such as running back Rashad Jennings, linebacker Jameel McClain, defensive end Robert Ayers and wide receiver Mario Manningham, who came back to the Giants after playing for San Francisco. They believe it's good enough to put them back in contention in the NFC East.

"Since my first year with the Giants, we've made the most explosive moves in free agency that I've been able to witness," Rolle said. "Right now, we're trying to change the atmosphere in the locker room a little bit, have guys who are a little different here, guys who want to go out there and play and compete, no matter how the game is going. I think upstairs [in the front office], they're doing an excellent job with that, with the guys that have been here, teaching them the Giants' way, maintain that attitude, that swagger that we need to be a dominant unit. So far, so good. I think the chemistry is awesome. This is the first time I've seen it this upbeat so early. I'm extremely excited about this year."

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James Jones Says Shelly Sterling Can’t Own Clippers

James Jones is not a fan of Shelly Sterling, quote-unquote wife of suspended Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, taking over ownership of the team.

Jones, a National Basketball Players Association executive, said the players have made it clear that Shelly Sterling is not part of an acceptable solution to finding new, less-racist ownership.

“No, that’s not something that’s acceptable to us,” Jones said in advance of Saturday night’s Eastern Conference semifinal playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets. “That’s our stance, and it hasn’t changed, and it won’t.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Jones said.”But all indications are that Adam is in agreement with the players and that they’ll do what is right for the league and the player.”

Via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 

Jones, as well as union president Chris Paul, are more concerned about advancing in the playoffs, but are being kept in the loop while Adam Silver and the NBA take care of the details.

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Thunder get power-hitting catcher O'Brien from Tampa

TRENTON — A power bat departed Trenton Friday, and another was right behind it to take its place.

First baseman Kyle Roller, who had torn up the Eastern League by hitting .385/.456/.808 with nine home runs in 21 games for the Thunder this year, was promoted to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

The Thunder filled Roller’s roster spot with catcher Peter O’Brien, who had hit 10 homers in 30 games for High-A Tampa.

“We lost Roller who was off to a great start, but as for a comparable replacement, I think we have that in O’Brien,” manager Tony Franklin said before his squad’s game against the Reading Fightin’ Phils.

Despite Roller’s huge start, the 23-year old O’Brien is considered the better prospect. A right-handed batter, he led the entire Yankees organization in both home runs (22) and RBIs (96) for Tampa last season, and is three years younger than the 26-year old Roller.

“I’m definitely excited, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” O’Brien said of the promotion. “I want to go out there and do the same thing I’ve been doing my whole career, just go out there and have fun and stay within myself.”

Some of that extra value also comes from playing a premium defensive position. The Thunder, however, already have a highly-touted backstop in Gary Sanchez — who is generally considered the best prospect in the entire organization — so for the time being at least, O’Brien will see some time in the Thunder outfield.

“A little bit of outfield, DH, catch every now and then,” O’Brien said, when asked where he was told he’ll be playing. “I want to be in the lineup every day, so wherever I am, I’m happy with that.”

With Roller gone, the Thunder also don’t have a clear-cut option at first base, though Franklin played down that possibility.

“You’ll probably see him in the outfield and behind home plate before you see him at first base,” the manager said.

The Thunder also sent reliever Brandon Pinder to Scranton, and Chrs Leroux was sent down to Trenton. Pinder posted a 0.52 ERA in 12 games for the Thunder this season, while Leroux has a 6.03 ERA in parts of six major league seasons.

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Yonder Alonso reaches five times

Yonder Alonso reached all five times he was up Saturday, going 3-for-3 with an RBI and two walks.
Alonso also had a couple of doubles last night. Prior to that, he was hitting a disgusting .157/.183/.217 in 115 at-bats for the season. If not for the fact that he was out of options, he might have already been sent down to find his swing in Triple-A. Now that he's found it anyway, the Padres will probably stop giving him as many days off as they had been of late.

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Yankees prospect Peter O'Brien raking in Double-A

The jump from Class A ball to Double-A is supposed to be the toughest one to make. It seems that Yankees prospect Peter O'Brien never got that memo.

On Sunday, in just his third game since joining the Trenton Thunder in the Eastern League, O'Brien homered twice and drove in five runs. He now has three homers over his last two games. All four of his Double-A hits -- he's hit in all three games and is 4-for-15 overall -- have been for extra-bases (He doubled in his debut).

The power outburst shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed O'Brien's career. The 2012 second-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft hit 10 homers in his summer debut, then belted 22 (and slugged .544) across two levels of A-ball during his first full season in '13. He added four more in the Arizona Fall League.

O'Brien, a product of the University of Miami after transferring from Bethune-Cookman, picked up this season where he left off. Starting the year back with Tampa in the Florida State League, he hit 10 homers in his first 112 at-bats while putting up a .321/.353/.688 line. His 13 home runs tie him for the overall Minor League lead with Rangers prospect Joey Gallo, who topped the Minors in the category a year ago.

The Yankees continue to find ways to get O'Brien's bat into the lineup wherever he is. He split time between catcher and third base in 2013. This year, he's caught and played the outfield. O'Brien is likely to continue to move around, especially with top prospect Gary Sanchez getting most of the time behind the plate with Trenton.

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Gaby Sanchez sees time in outfield

Pittsburgh Pirates 1B Gaby Sanchez and SS Jordy Mercer both saw action in the outfield for the first time in their major league careers Saturday, May 10, against the St. Louis Cardinals. Both players spent time in right field but neither Sanchez nor Mercer had a ball hit to them. The Pirates were shorthanded on outfielders during the game due to injuries to OFs Starling Marte (back) and Andrew McCutchen (foot).

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Ryan Braun not a given to be activated Tuesday

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Saturday that Ryan Braun (oblique) isn't a given to be activated from the disabled list when first eligible on Tuesday.
Braun took batting practice on the field again Saturday and also did some defensive work in the outfield. He feels fine, but Roenicke wants to make sure the outfielder is 100 percent. "He feels good; he swung a lot better today in BP, but he's still not probably there," said Roenicke. "We're still hopeful for Tuesday (against Pittsburgh), but I'm not sure. There's a difference in feeling it and whether it's bothering him. That's what we have to make sure of."

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