Dwayne Hendricks makes most of opportunity against Jacksonville Jaguars

Giants (from l.) defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks and Adewale Omojo run through practice. 

With 90 guys on the training camp roster, it’s not easy to get Tom Coughlin’s attention. Last Friday in Jacksonville, Dwayne Hendricks definitely did.

The first-year defensive tackle, who spent most of last season on the Giants’ practice squad, had two sacks in the preseason-opening loss to the Jaguars and seemed to have his way with Jacksonville guard D.J. Hall. It’s the kind of performance needed for a team suddenly besieged by injuries on the defensive line.
“Well, he can see that there’s opportunity,” Coughlin said before training camp practice ended on Tuesday. “He goes a million miles an hour. I have the utmost respect for that kid. That kid works his ever-loving (butt) off. As a matter of fact, I use him as an example. If you’re going against him, you better be going full speed or he’s going to make you look bad.”

The 6-3, 305-pound Hendricks, an undrafted free agent out of Miami who grew up in Millville, N.J., understood what he accomplished. “It’s always good to make a name for yourself,” he said. He showed off what teammate Linval Joseph called his “sneaky strength” and the use of leverage he had been working on with defensive line coach Robert Nunn.

Now, thanks to his performance and injuries to Chris Canty (knee), Marvin Austin (back) and Shaun Rogers (calf), Hendricks is the third defensive tackle in the rotation and not far from at least a temporary starting assignment.

“Now I know that people know, so that only has to increase my play level, too,” he said. “I know anybody that’s going to line up or watch the film is going to have heard of (Coughlin’s) comment, so I need to pick my game up.”

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Reggie Wayne will line up in more places

ANDERSON, Ind. -- Never mind Where's Waldo?

Where's Reggie?

On Wednesday afternoon, Reggie Wayne, the Indianapolis Colts' veteran receiver, was here, there, a little bit of everywhere when quarterback Andrew Luck and the No. 1 offense were on the field.

No longer is he always stationed on the far left of the formation, on a so-called "island."

"Unfortunately it comes in year 12, but it's all good,'' Wayne said. "I'm excited about it. I have a little bit more freedom to do some things."

Consider some plays from practice. Wayne lined up: Wide right, went in motion to the left and caught a swing pass out of the backfield.

In the left slot, ran a slant to the right and caught a pass from Luck in stride.

Wide right, went in motion to the left, stopped and went back to the right.

In the slot to the left, motioned right and caught a short pass from Luck.

The idea is to maximize Wayne's versatility, and make it more difficult for defenses to locate and concentrate on him.

"Why leave him in one spot?'' asked offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "We're not a right and left wide receiver offense. He's going to be our flanker and our slot.

"He's got great decision making and he's really strong in the slot. It's a waste of talent to just have him out (left) all the time and let him be double covered."

In the past, the Colts ran a less complicated offense, and that worked rather well for many years, with Peyton Manning throwing to Wayne and Marvin Harrison.

Wayne's been able to deal with whatever defenses have thrown at him since the Colts selected him with the 30th overall pick in 2001. He ranks No. 2 in club history in virtually every meaningful receiving category, trailing only Harrison. Among active receivers, only Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez has more catches and yards.

And while it can be overly optimistic to project statistics, Wayne could secure a place among the most prolific receivers in NFL history.

Wayne, 33, has averaged 89.8 receptions and 1,226 yards over the past eight years. In March he signed a three-year, $17.5 million contract. If he is able to maintain his recent pace over the life of the contract, he'll push his career totals to 1,131 catches and 15,386 yards.

Only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (1,549), Gonzalez (1,149), Harrison (1,102) and Cris Carter (1,101) have more than 1,100 receptions.

Only Rice (22,895), Terrell Owens (15,934) and Isaac Bruce (15,208) have eclipsed the 15,000-yard mark.

This season, Wayne and all of the receivers will be moving around a lot. Wayne and Austin Collie are the starters, with Donnie Avery the No. 3 option. While Avery is dealing with a hip injury, rookie T.Y. Hilton is taking his place.

At any time, anyone can be anywhere. That's a dramatic switch from Harrison always split wide right and Wayne to the left.

"It's being able to move (Wayne) around in all different packages and not just having this guy here, this guy there, but move 'em all over the place," Arians said. "Run every route in the book, find out the ones they run the best.

"I think Reggie's having a lot of fun (in the slot). He's so big and strong and he knows how to get open. I think it's been like a rookie year for him."

Wayne isn't learning the slot position as much as he's re-learning it. Early in his career, that was his spot.

"My second year, that's actually how I got started, really, playing a little slot,'' Wayne said. "So it kind of brings you back a little bit to that time."

Arians, he added, "is showing me some new things. (He) didn't sell me on it at first. I guess that's because I've been (lined up) a certain way for 11 years. It's starting to grow on me. I'm starting to like it."

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Andre Johnson looking
 for some action in Saturday’s preseason home opener

Receiver Andre Johnson, who was kept out of the Carolina game to protect what had been a sore groin, hopes to play against San Francisco on Saturday.

“If the coaches want me to play, I’ll play,” he said. “If not, I’ll be sitting on the sideline. It’s not my decision.”

Johnson was replaced by Keshawn Martin, the fourth-round pick from Michigan State. He had two catches for 24 yards and ran once for 12 yards.

“Keshawn is a guy that doesn’t say anything,” Johnson said. “Everybody has always said that I’m quiet. He’s quieter than me. You have to really pull things out of him to get him to talk, but he has a lot of talent. Since he’s been here, he’s been making lots of plays.”

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Richard Gordon gets another chance

Raiders TE Richard Gordon will make his second straight start Friday night against Arizona in place of the injured Brandon Myers (shoulder).

Gordon started Monday night against Dallas despite an illness but left the game early. He's healthy now and will have a chance to make a case for why he should prevail in what's seen as a three-man battle for the starting job between Myers, Gordon and David Ausberry.

“Nobody's locked that job down,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “Obviously it's hurt Brandon that he hasn't been able to be out here with a shoulder, but I've been impressed with what Richard's been able to do. He gives us a little bit better blocking presence on the edge. I'll be interested to see how he comes out and plays.”

At 6-foot-4 and 268 pounds, Gordon is the Raiders' biggest and most powerful tight end. This year he's improved his route running, and he's been catching the ball better.

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Vinny Testaverde talks Jets-Giants, Tebow

Former New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde knows Saturday's game between the New York Giants and the Jets is just a preseason game, but it's still bragging rights for the city.

"It's a bigger deal for the players than you think," said Testaverde, who played six seasons with the Jets on two occasions. "Anytime you go shopping or eating or go to the gas station, people will let you know about it if you lose."

Testaverde, who now lives in Florida to help coach his son at Jesuit High School in Tampa, was in New York Thursday, along with former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer, to help MetLife unveil a unique symbol of luck -- an 8-foot statue of Snoopy dedicated to the fans of both teams.

"All of the years I played football, I didn't realize how big of a deal football was until I got to New York," said Testaverde, who played 20 years for seven teams. "With the statue, people can high-five it as they walk into the stadium for good luck."

The buildup for Saturday's MetLife Bowl II (Jets won last year 17-3) has been tremendous, with the Giants coming off winning the Super Bowl and the Jets signing lightning-rod Tim Tebow.

Testaverde said he knows attention will be paid more toward the Jets and how they manage Tebow and starting quarterback Mark Sanchez -- even in the preseason.

"I really believe it's going to be up to the coaching staff and how Mark handles all this," Testaverde said. "I don't know the game plan and the roles they will be playing, but if they stick to what they are talking about, it'll be a successful season."

Testaverde said he doesn't listen to all the barbs toward Tebow, even by former Jets such as Boomer Esiason and Joe Namath.

"All this negative talk doesn't help your football team. The situation is what it is," Testaverde said. "Tebow does bring certain things for that team. Imagine if Sanchez is on the wing and looks like he's running a route, what will the defenses do? They will have some troubles with that."

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Santana Moss talks fade route

The Redskins work on the route every day, with Robert Griffin III having a mixed record of success. And it’s a route the Redskins haven’t always run, especially in the red zone. But Santana Moss said he’s optimistic that the Redskins will use the fade route a little more this season.

He also said the Redskins run this pattern a little differently than other teams.

“Ours is a little more we have to be patient and then we burst so the quarterback can beat us with the ball,” Moss said. “Our coach doesn’t like us to beat the ball and then we have to come around and catch the ball.”

Also, running this pattern is not necessarily about size. Moss used to score on this route with the Jets. As for the timing on it with Griffin, Moss said, “It’s not like something he hasn’t done. It’s just together as a unit if we work on them more like we’re doing and coach will call them. We’ll have that connection when we need it. That’s why we’ve been doing them a lot [in practice].”

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Vinny Testaverde can relate to Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck situations

We’ll call it the “Arch of Vinny.”

Former NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde joined “NFL AM” Thursday morning and discussed many of the big name quarterbacks in the NFL.

The former No.1 overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft spent 21 seasons in the NFL and experienced the situations both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck currently find themselves in.

Vinny, who played until he was 44 years old, knows as few things about diminished arm strength and what it takes to play when the spry years are in the rear view mirror, said he’s optimistic with what he’s seen from Manning in preseason.

“From what I can tell and what I can see on TV he looks pretty good,” Testaverde said.  “I don’t know that he has the same arm strength yet, but hopefully he will continue to get stronger and get his arm strength back. He is a veteran, smart, crafty quarterback that understands defenses and how to manipulate defenses to get his guys open and I see him having a great year.”

As for the Indianapolis Colts’ current rookie quarterback, Testaverde said he understand the challenges Luck faces.

“I think Andrew and I in that regard have a lot in common,” he said. “No. 1 picks going to a team that didn’t play very well the year before. Andrew obviously has a lot of talent, he showcased that in last week’s preseason game but there is going to be high expectations. Once you show what you can do and show that potential like he did last week then the expectations go up even higher. He seems to have a really good head on his shoulders I expect great things out of him and I expect him to have a long career.”

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Jimmy Graham to play in Friday's preseason game against Jacksonville

New Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said Thursday that tight end Jimmy Graham will play Friday in an exhibition game against Jacksonville. Graham, who caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns last season had been out since injuring his back in practice last week.

Graham, whose 1,310 receiving yards last year were the second-most ever for a tight end, is one of the Saints' offensive weapons who creates matchup problems for the Saints with his 6-foot-7 size and superior athleticism.

Another of those matchup nightmares, diminutive running back Darren Sproles, is expected to miss Friday's game, a 7 p.m. kickoff at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with a sore knee. Sproles' 2,696 all-purpose yards led the NFL last year.

Interim Saints head coach Joe Vitt on Thursday broke down what makes Graham and Sproles such nightmares for defenses and why they're such important pieces of the Saints' offense.

"You have a big-bodied guy like Jimmy Graham that can go out and have matchup problems with a corner, have matchup problems with a safety, and you know you have matchup problems with a linebacker," Vitt said. "Then you have the same thing with Darren Sproles. It is kind of interesting, when Darren Sproles comes in to the game, how are people looking at him. Are they treating him as a wide receiver and are they going to bring their nickel in? Well, if they don't bring their nickel in, you are going to motion him out to the perimeter and you are going to guarantee a matchup on a linebacker. It's a chess match and those two guys give you the affordability to do a lot of different things.

"I think today's defenses are all matchup-oriented by personnel or like-people. I think that is one of the things our offense has done well with. Then you have a guy like Drew Brees that identifies the coverage so early in the down and goes to that mismatch and gets the ball out."

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League files evidence in Jonathan Vilma bounty case

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The NFL on Thursday provided a federal judge with what it says is evidence Commissioner Roger Goodell did not improperly pre-judge the four players suspended in the bounty investigation.

The evidence includes a copy of a letter the NFL Players Association sent the league on March 7 asking Goodell to delay punishment of players implicated in the bounty probe.

It also includes a sworn declaration from Goodell in which he states he was prepared to hand down player discipline at the same time he announced suspensions for coaches and executives on March 21. Goodell's declaration states he held off after verbally agreeing to do so in a phone conversation with union head DeMaurice Smith.

Attorneys for Jonathan Vilma, who has sued separately, and NFLPA lawyers representing the three other punished players have argued Goodell showed improper bias with comments he made before sending the players notice of their suspensions on May 2.

Attorneys for the players have been given until Friday to file their own evidence and briefs on the matter.

Vilma's consolidated lawsuits include a defamation claim against Goodell. Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, has argued Goodell made reckless and false statements about Vilma being the ringleader of a bounty program that offered cash for injuring targeted opponents.

Vilma has asked U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to grant a temporary restraining order that would allow him to return to the Saints while his case proceeds, and the judge has said she would be inclined to rule in his favor, but will hold off until she is comfortable she has jurisdiction to do so.

Berrigan has indicated that she might prefer to see how separate proceedings called for in the league's collective bargaining agreement play out.

One item still pending is the NFLPA's appeal of system arbitrator Stephen Burbank's ruling that Goodell had the authority to serve as arbitrator on the bounty matter because of the commissioner's stance that the violations represented "conduct detrimental" to the league, as opposed to standard on-field violations, which would call for an arbitrator other than the commissioner.

A three-member appeal panel is expected to review Burbank's decision late this month, and if it rules in the players' favor, that could negate the need for further action in federal court.

In the meantime, the judge has urged all sides to try to settle the matter with the help of a federal magistrate.

Vilma has been suspended the entire season and he is currently barred from Saints headquarters, where he was hoping to rehabilitate from offseason knee surgery.

Saints defensive end Will Smith has been suspended for the first four regular season games and is currently participating in training camp.

Two former Saints who are still active also were suspended: Green Bay defensive end Anthony Hargrove was penalized eight games and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita three games.

Goodell's discipline of non-players included a full-season suspension for Saints head coach Sean Payton, a half-season suspension for general manager Mickey Loomis and a six-game suspension for assistant head coach Joe Vitt. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely.

Goodell also fined the Saints $500,000 and docked the club second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.

The NFL's initial bounty reports, made public in early March, described Saints players taking part in a bounty pool that lasted from 2009 through 2011. The reports also said the Saints specifically targeted several star players for injury, including quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner in the 2009-10 playoffs.
However, during hearings for the players' lawsuits, seven current or former Saints, along with Vitt, have testified under oath that there was no pay-to-injure program.

They have said they only took part in a pay-for-performance pool that provided cash bonuses primarily in the hundreds for big plays such as sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions, and collected fines for missed assignments and penalties including unnecessary roughness.

They have also testified that violent sounding terms coaches used to track pool payments, such as "whacks, knockouts and cart-offs," were all for clean tackles.

Still, Goodell has seized upon the fact that player testimony indicated that "cart-offs," while legal, described hits that caused tackled players to take themselves out of games, at least briefly, to gather themselves or be checked by trainers. Goodell said during the weekend of Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions that players have essentially acknowledged the Saints' performance pool paid for injuries.

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D.J. Williams absent from practice a day after his conviction in court

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Linebacker D.J. Williams was excused from the Denver Broncos’ practice for personal reasons Thursday morning, a day after being convicted on two charges in a Denver court.

He was one of nine players who didn’t participate in the Broncos’ last training camp practice that was open to the public, a workout in which two more players got hurt, continuing a run of tough luck at Dove Valley this week.

Williams was found guilty Wednesday of driving while ability-impaired and driving without his headlights, the offense that prompted police to stop him near downtown Denver about 3 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2010.

Already facing a six-game drug suspension to start the season, Williams is subject to further punishment from the NFL because of his conviction on the impaired driving charge. The league said it will review the matter.

The leading tackler in five of his eight seasons in Denver, Williams hasn’t been working with the starters during camp while the Broncos prepare his replacement, Wesley Woodyard, for the season.

Asked if Williams will play in any of the preseason games, coach John Fox said, “I haven’t decided that yet. We’re bringing him along, getting him ready for the season. And we’re about ready to go into a suspension time at the end of this month and we’ll go from there.”

Despite Williams’ off-the-field issues, he’s highly valued by the Broncos coaching staff for his technically sound play, and he’s still listed as the starter at weakside linebacker on their depth chart.

The Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro32) have been hit hard by injuries this week with two starters — defensive end Jason Hunter and right guard Chris Kuper — suffering injuries that required surgery. Hunter tore his right triceps and is likely out for the year and Kuper broke his left forearm and will miss up to six weeks.
“It’s hurtful to lose Jason Hunter,” Woodyard said. “He’s one of those guys that has a motor every day. Our coaches joke with him that he’s one of the type of guys that gets excited driving to work. He’s in the parking lot, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’ He texted me last night and said he was going to miss us, so we’re going to miss him.”

Starting defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (concussion) and backup cornerback Joshua Moore (hamstring) went down with injuries Thursday morning.
The linebacker corps has been hit especially hard.

In addition to the Williams saga, rookie Danny Trevathan (ankle) and veteran Keith Brooking (hamstring) have been sidelined. Both were getting snaps at Williams’ position behind Woodyard.

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Yasmani Grandal (oblique) hitless in first rehab game

Yasmani Grandal (oblique) went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Wednesday in his first rehab game with High-A Lake Elsinore.

Grandal served as the designated hitter on Wednesday and is expected to catch on Thursday. It's possible he could be activated as soon as this weekend. The rookie backstop was hitting .312/.349/.597 with five homers in 24 games prior to his oblique strain, so he's worth stashing away in most formats.

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Ryan Braun looking for answers

Even Ryan Braun couldn't remember the last time he participated in early batting practice.

"It's been a long time," said Braun, who could remember only one other time he took early BP since his rookie year in 2007.

Yet, there Braun was Thursday, taking swings with a group of teammates at Miller Park as he looks for answers to break out of a prolonged slump that prompted manager Ron Roenicke to sit him out Wednesday in Colorado.

"I'm big on my routine. I've always said you don't have control over results, focus on process that whole thing," said Braun, who is batting .143 with no homers since Aug. 1. "So, I don't like to break my routine too often. But, every once in a while, if things aren't going too well, it makes sense to come out and take a little extra BP.

"I normally hit off a tee and take soft-toss stuff every day before a game, so thats the equivalent of extra work. So, I don't normally do it. So, we'll see if it will help." 

Braun normally does stretching and workout routines before regular batting practice, a process of which he is a devout follower.

"The only time I'll do baseball stuff is right before the game," he says. "I'll do soft-toss, tee work before the game. I haven't taken extra BP on the field for years. I'm always quality over quantity. I don't like doing too much. You can only do so much of it.

"Plus, you can only really focus on baseball for so long and keep up the intensity and focus that makes it worthwhile. At some point, you can take a million swings but if you're not doing them correctly, you're building bad muscle memory. I've just never been a fan of quantity over quality." 

Braun said when you come up as a rookie, you almost have to participate in early BP as part of your transition to the majors. Since then, he could remember doing it just one other time but couldn't recall the exact situation.

"I took early BP pretty often in '07, not because I wanted to or felt like I was accomplishing anything but because I felt obligated," said Braun. "So much of baseball, the coaches want you to do things because they justify the fact that the players are working as hard as they can."

As for what's going on now," Braun said, "I feel good. BP is not the problem. I'm hitting 1.000 in BP. I'm dominating batting practice every day.

"It's a challenging game. You look at Albert Pujols, the greatest hitter of our generation and arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, and for the first five weeks he hit under .200 with no home runs. You look at Josh Hamilton. He was as good as anybody ever for the first two months of the season and then for two months he hit under .200. It's a really challenging game.

"You try to keep your sanity when you're going bad; you try to figure out what's going on. But I think a lot of times guys get themselves in trouble when they start trying to make too many changes. When you have a track record, you believe in what you do. I've proven to myself that what I do works. When I'm not going good, I don't want to make drastic changes; I don't need to make drastic changes.

"There's always subtle changes. I've always said the biggest challenge for me is plate discipline. It's not something that's ever come easy for me. When I'm going good, I'm swinging at good pitches. When I'm not, I'm getting myself out. Every once in a while you face a pitcher who's locked in and makes good pitches, and there's not a lot you can do about it. But, more often at not, I've felt like when I'm going good and swinging at good pitches, success is inevitable."

Braun did say that he feels healthy now. He has had nagging problems in the past and they often play a role when he's not going good at the plate.

"I feel good physically," he said. "As long as that happens, it's only a matter of time."

Braun said his initial reaction was not to sit out Wednesday but then realized it might be best.

"At some point, you can only continue to do the same thing for so long and not contribute, and not help the team have success before it makes sense to do something like that," he said. "I always want to play. You want to be in there every single day. It's not an issue of being tired or being hurt or being sore or anything like that. A lot of time it makes more sense to play through it but (Roenicke) thought it was a good idea and eventually I agreed."

Though Braun remains a confident player -- always -- Roenicke said it's only natural for any player to suffer some loss of confidence during a long period of struggle.

"This has been a long stretch for him," said Roenicke. "I don't know if he's had a couple of weeks like this I didn't see him early in his career. I know he didn't have any (long droughts) last year. He might have had two or three games, and that was it.

"I think no matter who the person is, when you fail for any period of time, there's a confidence issue there. That's why you stop seeing the ball so well. When you're confident and relaxed, your vision is better. It's proven that your vision is better.

"When you lose a little bit of that, he hasn't walked in a long time, he's been chasing pitches out of the zone. I think that has to do with the whole thing -- vision, confidence, everything."

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Larry Fitzgerald Tutoring LaRon Byrd

LaronByrd 2
Aug 15, 2012 - Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has taken LaRon Byrd under his wing. Byrd, an undrafted free agent out of Miami (FL), has a long road to climb in order to make the roster, but he's studying Fitzgerald and having a successful statistical preseason with 8 catches for 87 yards in the first two games. It's apparent that one of the top receivers in the NFL is a fan:

"I wish I was that tough when I was young," Fitzgerald said. "I wish I was that smart when I was young."

Fantasy Implications: The Cardinals already have a high-profile rookie wide receiver with first round pick Michael Floyd, but depth could certainly become an issue. After Fitzgerald, Floyd, Early Doucet, and Andre Roberts, there is a big enough hole to give Byrd the opportunity to make the team. Last season, it was undrafted free agents Doug Baldwin and Victor Cruz that shocked the fantasy football world, so it wouldn't be unprecedented for Byrd to contribute but he's certainly not draftable at this point. Just one to keep an eye on.

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Damien Berry not relinquishing backup RB competition

Perhaps the surest sign of the Ravens’ trust in Anthony Allen was the coaches’ decision to insert the running back to succeed Ray Rice in the second quarter of Thursday night’s 31-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

But after gaining just 9 yards on five carries (including one for a 2-yard loss) and letting a pass slip through his hands on third-and-5 from the Falcons’ 41-yard line, Allen understands that his grip as the first tailback behind Rice on the team’s depth chart could be loosening.

“It’s a competition,” he said after Wednesday’s practice at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills. “So everything’s being charted and everything’s being watched. So you want to have more good plays than you have bad plays because statistically, the guy that makes the most plays is going to be the one on the field.”

The organization’s seventh-round pick in last year’s NFL draft, Allen is embroiled in a tight contest with Damien Berry, Bernard Pierce and Bobby Rainey for the right to replace Ricky Williams, who retired from football during the offseason.

Like Allen, Berry spent last season with the Ravens, finding a place on the practice squad. And like Allen, Berry (seven rushes for 17 yards vs. Atlanta) said he’s not concerned about the number of snaps he’ll get in Friday night’s preseason home opener against the Detroit Lions.

“When I get in, it’s about what I’m going to do with that time,” said Berry, who was not drafted last year. “It’s not about how much time I’m getting, but what I’m going to do with that time. If I only get a couple series, what am I going to do with those couple series? That’s the question.”

At times during this preseason, Allen and Berry have been overshadowed by Pierce, a third-round choice in April, and Rainey, whose 5-8, 212-pound frame and pass-catching skills have reminded some observers of Rice.

At 6-1 and 223 pounds, Allen is a good mix of size and strength, but he has appeared hesitant to hit holes created by his blockers and is continuing to hone his ability to pick up blitzers. The 5-10, 223-pound Berry may be one of the fastest players on the team, but he’s still working on his hands as a receiver.

The final three preseason contests will help determine who has the edge, but Allen and Berry both said that they have every intention of competing for the job until the very end.

“Being a competitor, that’s the type of thing you want to see,” Allen said of the four-way battle. “You don’t want it to be given to you. You want to have to come out here and work because it’s going to make you better. So I think having guys like Bernard and Bobby and Damien Berry makes me try to step up my game every time I come out here on the practice field. Every time I’m in a game, every time I walk into the meeting room, every time I’m trying to study, I have to do better.”

Added Berry: “We all bring something different to the table. So the battle is really going on. We’re going to take it down to the wire.”

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Fullback James Bryant still fighting for Detroit Lions roster spot

ALLEN PARK -- Detroit Lions fullback James Bryant is still standing.

Such a simplistic statement, but yet, very impressive when you consider his lack of college and professional football experience. Bryant is still on a NFL roster despite have brief stints at the University of Miami, arena football leagues, and a CFL practice squad.

While many skeptics thought Bryant would never make it to training camp, he played in last week's preseason game against Cleveland. He is also expected to play against the Baltimore Ravens on Friday.

"I remember before the game, I was talking to (Mikel) Leshoure," Bryant said. "I said to him when I first got back onto the field in Canada, I cried. When I first got back on the field here, being my first NFL game, I was happy and joyous to be out there.

"Not only for the Detroit Lions, but knowing I'm going to be blocking for a core of running backs who know what the hell they're doing, and take their job seriously. That's what makes me take my job that much more seriously."

Bryant definitely took his job seriously against the Browns.

As the lead blocker on several running plays, Bryant helped running backs Keiland Williams and Joique Bell to combine for 160 of the Lions' 198 rushing yards this past Friday.

"I enjoyed being out there on Friday," Bryant said. "For one, (it was) my first NFL game, being removed from college since 2009, and then also playing a position I dreamed of playing since I was a little kid. Being able to come out here on Friday and do that was a great experience.

"Now we still got weeks on top of weeks to come in order for me to be here and be stuck here in the Detroit system. As we all know, it is what it is, but hopefully everything will come out on top for me."

It might be hard for Bryant to achieve his ultimate goal, which is to be on the 53-man roster.

Detroit does not use a fullback in its offense. Lions tight end Will Heller usually serves as the team's fullback on running plays. Bryant seems destined to this year's practice squad. While the practice squad is not his ultimate goal, it would be a good start to his NFL career.

Not bad for a person many skeptics never thought would make it this far.

Bryant is still standing.

"We're really not a fullback offensive team," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "Just like I said with the other running backs, it's not necessarily just playing fullback. You got to be available in the passing game; you have to be able to play special teams; you have to find a way to get on the field.

"It's also important for us to have a fullback for our defense to look at. We're going to play teams that have fullbacks. There's importance to the position. He's a young player. He needs to be more consistent. We're still working on that."

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Leonard Hankerson back after becoming dehydrated Tuesday

A day after being carted off the field because of dehydration, Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson said he was back to normal on Wednesday afternoon.

The 23-year-old said it wasn’t the first time he become dehydrated and he made sure to stay hydrated on Wednesday.

Last season Hankerson played in four games as a rookie and totaled 163 yards on 13 catches. He didn’t make an appearance until week seven after a poor training camp. Hankerson said he’s done everything coaches have asked this summer and is working to be on the same page with the entire offense.

“I feel good right now,” said Hankerson. “It’s a little bit different. I’ve been here the whole offseason, I know all the plays and I feel good out there. I’ve been running around all confident and just having fun.”

He said he’s recovered from the hip injury that cut last season short for him. He said it’s not on his mind when he’s playing and contact has not caused him any problems.

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Kenny Phillips wants to be closer to action like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu

He is a masterful deep safety, easily the best center fielder in a Giants uniform. And because of that, Kenny Phillips never gets to show off his other gifts.

It’s an irony that’s not lost on the 25-year-old. Phillips, who is in the final year of his contract, is coming off a career season in which he picked off four passes, made 82 tackles and helped knock away that Hail Mary pass to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XLVI.

But he aspires for more, to move closer to the line of scrimmage like elite safeties Ed Reed of Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu do. He wants to influence the game more, even if his training-camp experience indicates he won’t get that chance.

“I had four interceptions last year,” Phillips said. “I feel like this year, if I’m more involved in the defense, that number can go up. That’s really my goal.

“For the most part, I’m usually always back deep; it looks like I’m catching punts. I would like for that to change, to be more involved in the defense, in the box, just around the ball more.”

This isn’t about the money, Phillips said, and he seems to mean it. If the Giants approach him about an extension, he said he’d tell them to “talk to the agent,” and he’s hardly concerned about job security.

“At the end of the day, I know I’ll be playing football somewhere (next year),” he said, “so I’m not really worried.”

Mostly, Phillips just doesn’t want to spend every Sunday as an on-field spectator. He wanted a bigger role last season, too, when defensive coordinator Perry Fewell opened camp by asking the safety to take a “quantum leap” forward, and Phillips talked excitedly of becoming a ball-hawking defensive back.

But then, a rash of cornerback injuries so bad that fellow safety Antrel Rolle wound up at nickelback forced Phillips to play “security blanket,” as he said, dissuading quarterbacks from going deep.

Phillips excelled at the role, and that’s just the problem. As safeties coach Dave Merritt put it, Phillips is “really good, we all know, back in that back end.”
“How many balls do you see thrown back there?” Merritt asked. “Because 21 is that good. At the same time, would you like to have Kenny down low? Yes, because he’s a big man, and he understands run fits. But you also like to have him in that post.”

However, Phillips found it “boring” and “tough.” At times, the safety was visibly frustrated in the locker room, desperately wanting more action.

“I mean, you never want to go through a game and (be) like ‘What happened?’ ” Phillips said. “Just hoping someone breaks, just so you can make a tackle. That’s pretty bad.”

Things were supposed to be different this time, but while Fewell said, “We definitely have plans for Kenny Phillips,” injuries once again short-circuited that creativity in camp. With expected starting corner Terrell Thomas battling a knee injury and 2011 first-rounder Prince Amukamara still learning, Phillips is willingly again in his old role. However, Phillips is also hopeful Amukamara can develop into a one-on-one cover man, which will allow Fewell to use his safeties more freely.

If it doesn’t happen, Phillips said, he’s content to play “hero” against deep passes once again.

But hey, a guy can dream.

“I’m a team guy,” he said. “But hopefully, it all works out.”

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Jimmy Graham a better Olympian than Drew Brees?

"What events are we talking about here, a decathlon? I don't even know why I am pausing here because it is obviously him. I am just trying to figure out where I might have an edge. ... I can get him on archery. There's a few things. If you guys wanted to put together a 10-event Olympiad between me and Jimmy, then I'm game. Let's do it." - New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees on if he would be a better Olympian than tight end Jimmy Graham

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Antonio Dixon considered a poor fit for Eagles' style

Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News is concerned that DT Antonio Dixon is a poor fit for DL coach Jim Washburn's style.

The 6'3/322 Dixon is a strong run-stuffer, but Washburn's primary objective is getting to the passer. Despite Bowen's concerns, Dixon figures to make the team and play regular snaps, especially with Mike Patterson (brain surgery) out of action. Dixon will rotate with Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and rookie Fletcher Cox.

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Jon Beason targeting 3rd preseason game

Aug 15, 2012 - Carolina Panthers LB Jon Beason says he’s hoping to play in the team’s third preseason game against the Jets. If that doesn’t happen the veteran is instead targeting the season-opener with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Beason is still recovering from a hamstring injury.

Analysis: This has to be a little frustrating for the Panthers, who will be counting on Beason to help their defense improve from last season. From a fantasy standpoint, the Panthers as a unit are better with Beason on the field but owners shouldn’t count too heavily on a defense that has to face the Saints and Falcons twice a season. Beason has more value in IDP leagues, as he will likely lead the team in tackles if he is healthy. Monitor his status but there is no reason right now to adjust your rankings because of this.

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Jury convicts D.J. Williams in DUI trial

DENVER -- Jurors convicted Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams on Wednesday of driving while ability-impaired and driving without headlights.

Williams was charged with driving under the influence and traffic charges, but the jury returned the lesser verdicts after a trial that lasted less than a day.

Williams already is facing a six-game suspension for failing an offseason drug test.

Williams left court with his attorney without commenting. He wasn't immediately sentenced.

Williams was arrested about 3 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2010, after police stopped him for driving without headlights, cited him for DUI and took him to a detox facility.
During the trial in Denver District Court, Williams' attorney Harvey Steinberg questioned how the Denver police officers handled the traffic stop and criticized them for not taking into account whether concussions or other head injuries could affect sobriety tests given to Williams.

Steinberg peppered the officers during questioning about how much they remembered from the night of the traffic stop and called their testimony a "moving bullet."

He said one officer said after Williams had been taken into custody that he didn't notice slurred speech and that Williams appeared to be walking fine, contrary to what the arresting officer noted during sobriety tests.

"That's the evidence that creates the doubt," Steinberg told jurors during closing arguments.

Denver prosecutor Brian Dunn argued that Williams knew he was drunk and pointed to his refusal to take a blood test as evidence.

"I mean if you're wrongly charged, isn't that the easiest way to take care of things?" the prosecutor said.

Dunn told jurors that Williams failed the roadside sobriety test, despite the athleticism he shows on the field.

"This is somebody who can absolutely wreck a quarterback, wreck a running back, but he can't walk a straight line," he said.

The Broncos stripped the linebacker of his team captain title shortly after his arrest. Then last spring, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for six games over a failed offseason drug test.

It was not immediately clear how Wednesday's outcome might further affect Williams' ability to play.

Williams sued to have that suspension overturned, but a judge dismissed his lawsuit.

Because of his pending suspension, Williams hasn't practiced with the starters at training camp, so the team can prepare his replacement, which appears to be Wesley Woodyard.

Williams didn't do any contact work at camp until Monday when he worked with the second stringers after free agent linebacker Keith Brooking left practice with a pulled hamstring.

Williams led the Broncos in tackles the past three seasons and five times overall in his eight years since joining the NFL as Denver's top draft pick in 2004 out of the University of Miami.

Williams' trial was delayed several times, including after he suffered a dislocated right elbow last fall during a game.

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Sam Shields hoping to be back next week

After injuring his elbow at practice on Aug. 6, Packers cornerback Sam Shields believes he’s about another week away from returning to the field.

The third-year cornerback has missed four practices and last Thursday’s preseason game with the elbow, but said he’s been going through treatment and has seen increased movement in it.

Shields had a slow start to camp before the injury, but looks to have an opportunity to contribute when he returns with cornerback Davon House now out for two-to-three weeks because of shoulder injury he sustained in the Chargers’ game.

With the team’s No. 2 cornerback spot still up for grabs, Shields is anxious to get back, but knows you can’t rush it. When he returns, however, Shields wants to continue to show his coaches he can be physical.

“I’m ready,” Shields said. “Keep doing what I’m supposed to do. Not a lot of mess-ups and like everyone keeps talking about, tackle. Getting them to trust that I can tackle.”

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Ed Reed returns to Ravens practice

With free safety Ed Reed, wide receiver Jacoby Jones and left guard Bobbie Williams all returning to the practice field on Wednesday, the Ravens appear to be the healthiest they have been since the start of training camp.

Reed was given a day of rest on Tuesday and Jones and Williams hadn't practiced since Sunday evening.

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Dwayne Hendricks has Coughlin's attention and a shot

With 90 guys on the training camp roster it’s not easy for young players to get Tom Coughlin’s attention. Last Friday night in Jacksonville, Dwayne Hendricks definitely did.

The first-year defensive tackle, who spent most of last season on the Giants’ practice squad, had two sacks in the Giants’ preseason-opening loss to the Jaguars and he seemed to be having his way with Jacksonville guard D.J. Hall. It was exactly the kind of performance needed for a team suddenly besieged by injuries at that position.

And not only did Coughlin notice, but he wasn’t surprised.

“Well, he can see that there’s opportunity,” Coughlin said. “He goes a million miles an hour. I have the utmost respect for that kid. That kid works his ever-loving off. As a matter of fact, I use him as an example. If you’re going against him, you better be going full speed or he’s going to make you look bad.”

The 6-3, 305-pound Hendricks, an undrafted free agent out of Miami who grew up in Millville, N.J., understood what he accomplished on Friday. “It’s always good to make a name for yourself,” he said. He showed off what teammate Linval Joseph called his “sneaky strength” and also the use of leverage he had been working on with defensive line coach Robert Nunn.

Now, thanks to his performance and injuries to Chris Canty (knee), Marvin Austin (back) and Shaun Rogers (calf), Hendricks is the third defensive tackle in the rotation and not far from at least a temporary starting assignment. But, he added, he’s not done yet.

“Now I know that people know, so that only has to increase my play level too,” he said. “I know anybody that’s going to line up or watch the film is going to have heard of (Coughlin’s) comment, so I need to pick my game up also.”

“Hopefully now I’ve made a name for myself and I can just continue to build off of that and go in the right direction.”

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Against lefties, Yonder Alonso has the right stuff

ATLANTA -- If the Padres ever had designs on sitting first baseman Yonder Alonso more often than not against left-handed pitching, it passed early.

Alonso, a left-handed hitter, has shown that he's more than just proficient against southpaws. Going into Wednesday's game against the Braves -- and against left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm -- Alonso is hitting .274 in 110 at-bats with a .352 on-base percentage against lefties.

The Padres have used Jesus Guzman on occasion at first base against a tough left-handed pitcher. But more often than not, it's Alonso.

"It's crazy, but my whole life I've hit lefties well," Alonso said. "So I think for me, it's not that much of a shock. Even in college, I hit lefties well. I think you have to be patient and aggressive with lefties. You know that you're going to have to hit their pitch."

Overall, Alonso is hitting .276 with 31 doubles, six home runs and 42 RBIs this season, which is his first full Major League season. His average is as high as it's been since June 2, when he was hitting .280. And in the month of August, he's hitting .349 in 43 at-bats.

On Monday against Braves' left-hander Mike Minor, Alonso was able to hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield to allow Chris Denorfia to advance to third base. Cameron Maybin then hit a sacrifice fly to give the Padres an early lead.

Later in the game, and with Minor still on the mound, Alonso was able to shorten his swing and single up the middle through a drawn-in infield to score Denorfia from third base.

"I feel comfortable with him in there," said Padres manager Bud Black.

Black didn't just laud Alonso for his success against lefties, but for what he sees as a young hitter who is faring better in terms of situational hitting with runners in scoring position.

"It's become a focus with him," Black said. "He's learning how to drive in runs [different ways]. I think his situational hitting has been much better."

Alonso has knocked in 24 runs in his last 136 at-bats dating back to July 1. Prior to that, he had 18 RBIs in his first 266 at-bats in April, May and June combined.

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Warren Sapp Comments About His Jordan Collection in Bankruptcy

News broke about Warren Sapp’s bankruptcy several months ago despite his career football earnings of over $40 million plus additional endorsements.  One of those, Jordan Brand, appeared in his bankruptcy filing when he declared his Jordan shoe collection as an asset in his Chapter 7 filing.  Last week the shoes were auctioned off to help to satisfy creditors for his reported $6.7 million in bad debt selling for $16,100 (far above the expected $6,500 it would bring).

When photos were posted of the Jordan collection, many readers wondered if that was everything and where were some of his more limited edition Player Exclusives, or even retros from before 2011.  While Warren Sapp might have watched over 240 pairs of his collection be sold off, apparently not all of his Jordans are gone.

Responding to @IamAirMax95 on twitter about losing all of his Jordans, Sapp responded by Direct Message “…believe none of what you hear”. While it’s great to hear that Sapp might still be holding onto some Jordan heat, player exclusives, and even game worn shoes, his creditors might not be so thrilled.
Whatever the case is, sometimes the best response is silence.

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Any more questions? Ryan Braun answers doubters

First came the news that Ryan Braun's partner in the middle of the Milwaukee lineup, Prince Fielder, had followed the free-agent path of riches to Detroit.

Then came the confidentiality breech that made public the fact Braun was appealing a positive drug test.

Then there was the reality that even though his appeal was upheld and suspension was lifted, Braun's reputation was tainted forever in the minds that feel an allegation is a fact.

Finally, the season began.

And finally Ryan Braun is smiling again and talking again and producing runs like he always has, having handled the offseason turmoil professionally and productively.

Braun knew there was only one way to answer the doubters.

"I had to go out and put up the numbers I have put up in the past," he said.

His answer has been resounding.

Braun went into Wednesday leading the National League with 29 home runs, seven more than he had a year ago after 115 games. He is tied for fourth with 77 RBIs, six more than at this time last season. He even has 19 stolen bases, one shy of allowing him to enter the 20-20 club for the third time in his career, and 10th time in Brewers history.

He's only hitting .299, 27 points behind a year ago, but he does rank 10th in the NL, and face it, without Fielder's left-handed power bat behind him, Braun is being pitched to much more carefully. Yes, Aramis Ramirez is having a nice year hitting fourth for the Brewers, but he's right-handed, so right-handed pitchers are less likely to work around Braun than they were a year ago when the alternative was Fielder.

Bottom line: Braun has driven his offseason issues into the outfield seats.

His mission is far from accomplished.

The Brewers are not even in the mix to defend their NL Central title, facing a 17 1/2-game deficit. That, however, is more of a bullpen issue. The Brewers have, after all, suffered a league-leading 22 late losses, and lead the Majors with 22 blown saves.

"That is what we play the game for -- to win, to help our team," said Braun. "We all think of things we could have done to be better."

And there will be the haters who won't give up in their harassment of Braun for what happened.

"Every year you deal with unique challenges," he said.

Braun has handled the challenge well.

He was, however, silent for the longest of times. Always in the middle of the clubhouse scene, and cooperative with the media, Braun was barely even seen in the Brewers' clubhouse during Spring Training, and was rarely heard from. And when he did speak, it was a very controlled environment.

Once he initially responded to the fact he won the appeal, and made it clear he was unhappy to have been a media punching bag in the offseason, Braun declined interviews in general, speaking only about a day's game after it was over.

"It wasn't going to do anybody any good to continue the debate," he said. "I felt I had said everything that needed to be said. I respect that people have a job to do, and [I] cooperated with the media and fans, but just felt that would be too big of a fuss. I needed to focus on taking care of business."

After a season-opening stumble -- hitting .245 with one home run and five RBIs two weeks into the season -- Braun got into a comfort zone.

Oh, there was hazing in ballparks in which he was a visiting player, but Braun said there was nothing overboard.

"I was ready for that," he said. "When people brought up how fans might react, I knew they hadn't been to Wrigley Field or Philadelphia or Busch Stadium.

"Truth is that [fan reaction] makes me play better. It keeps you focused. I've enjoyed that throughout my career. [Fans] can be creative."

And Braun has proven that he can be every bit as productive on the baseball field this year as he has ever been in his career.

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Scouting shortstop Ryan Jackson

More than a year ago, shortstop and Cardinals fifth-round pick Ryan Jackson was starting to match his offensive production with his defensive reputation at Class AA Springfield. For the weekly Minor League Insider, I started to calling around to get more info on Jackson's awakening at the plate.

I heard a lot about his defense.

One phrase stood out to me.

"He's a baseball rat," a former coach said.

He meant it as a compliment.

Jackson, 24, is set to join the Cardinals' major-league roster this evening in Philadelphia. He'll be added to the 40-man roster today and he could make his big-league debut as early as tonight. He is widely considered one of the Cardinals' top 20 prospects entering this season. The words that come up often in the descriptions of his potential and his play in the field are "instinctual" and "nimble." I wrote in one report that he has a "high baseball IQ" -- a quote that came from a scout. In short, he's a baseball rat, a twist on the "gym rat" name given to the basketball players who are always found taking shots in the gym, long after the lights go out. Jackson, the coach explained, was that kind of fielder. He was there on the field, gobbling grounders, after the workouts were over and while the grounds crew waited to rake.

Here are some of the scouting reports on Jackson.

John Sickels' Minor League Baseball ranked Jackson 15th in the Cardinals' system, graded him as an above average prospect, and wrote:

15) Ryan Jackson, SS, Grade C+: Scouts have always been impressed with his glove, but he is starting to show something with the bat now, showing more pop. A larger-scale breakthrough is plausible.

Kevin Goldstein, the respected prospect specialist at Baseball Prospectus, ranked Jackson No. 11 in the Cardinals system for his annual Top 11 (published here in February). He wrote:

The glove-first shortstop showed some signs of life at the plate in his first season at the upper levels.

The Good: While Jackson is not a fast player, he's very quick; he has outstanding instincts and reactions at shortstop to go with soft hands, a plus arm, and outstanding actions. He's an instinctual hitter who waits for his pitch, has a decent feel for contact, and gap power.

The Bad: Jackson's numbers always look better due to his ability to hit left-handers hard; his platoon splits are a bit troubling. He can't afford to lose a step because he'll have little big-league value if he can't play on the left side of the field.

Ephemera: Jackson hit at least .323 in three different months of the 2011 season, but he hit just .208 in May and August combined.

Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday shortstop, with the floor of a nice utility player.

Jonathan Mayo, the top voice on prospects over at MiLB.com, ranked Jackson 17th overall in the system coming into this season. He described Jackson in this way:

When Jackson was taken out of Miami back in 2009, he had a reputation as a slick-fielding shortstop who had some shortcomings with the bat. He still has those impressive defensive skills, but he’s been more productive offensively than some anticipated. He showed some extra-base pop in Double-A in 2011 and has a solid approach at the plate. In the Arizona Fall Leauge, he played all over the infield in the event he’s needed to play a utility role, but there’s still a chance for him to become an everyday shortstop at the big league level.

And, finally, in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, a project that I work on each season with the editors at BA, Jackson was No. 13 on the list of the Cardinals' top prospects. Here is part of his entry from the book:

When major-league infielder Nick Punto visited Double-A Springfield on a rehab assignment he saw one hitch in Jackson’s fielding: hesitation. Jackson had a habit of pausing to wait on a better hop – an approach that works fine in college, but is too slow at higher levels. Punto worked with Jackson because Jackson his headed to those higher levels. The shortstop validated is reputation as a nimble fielder with a high baseball IQ and strong instincts. His footwork and accuracy give him an above-average arm, and improvement in the field have some believing he can handle that position in the majors. The bat has become less of a question. Jackson has a disciplined approach and improved his ability to make sharper, harder contact this season. He maintained his strength this season and a swing that found that gaps. His 34 doubles ranked second in the Texas League, and he finished in the top 10 for total bases (221). His season earned him an invite to the Arizona Fall League, where he served as a utility infielder, getting starts around the diamond. He’s expected to advance to Triple-A as the starting shortstop, though his utility turn preps him for the majors, where his initial role could be utility, like Punto’s.

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Danny Valencia: Right place at the right time

Danny Valencia spent a week in the minors and is now starting at third base for Boston after rookie Will Middlebrooks, whose rise was the reason Kevin Youkilis was traded to Chicago, broke his wrist Friday night.

Valencia was on the field in Cleveland by Saturday night and has started two games, getting his first hit Tuesday in nine at-bats.

After passing on the chance to talk to Twin Cities media about his trade (for a low-level minor leaguer), Valencia told Comcast SportsNet New England: “It’s nice to be able to start over and have a clean slate. It’s great to come and try to help a team that’s right in the middle of a playoff push. It feels good. It was definitely a rough April for me. They had guys come in and do a great job and there was no room for me anymore. But I’m over here now and it’s worked out for me. So that’s nice.”

The Red Sox blog Over the Monster concluded about Valencia: "If he leans closer to his prospect potential than the career he's actually had, consider it a gift from Red Sox scouting.

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What do Cardinals have in Ryan Jackson?

If you were to map out a projected lineup of the Cardinals for the next three, four or five years, many of the everyday positions wouldn’t be that difficult.  Matt Holliday’s under contract for a while.  Yadier Molina is, too.  Allen Craig and David Freese don’t figure to be going anywhere.

But what about shortstop?  That’s got to be the hardest one to figure out.  Rafael Furcal is signed through 2013 and, at 34, isn’t exactly getting much younger.

The Cardinals have tried and tried and tried to draft young shortstops and develop them in big leaguers.  And time and time again they’ve failed.  2007 1st round pick Pete Kozma has just 556 hits in 2355 career minor league at-bats (for those scoring at home that’s a borderline embarrassing .236 average).  The recently departed Tyler Greene actually made it to the big leagues but couldn’t crack even a .300 on-base percentage for his career.

There is someone else though.  He’s slowly but surely worked his way up the minor league system without the burden of carrying the label of “1st round pick” unlike Kozma and Greene.

In 2009 the Redbirds drafted this kid named Ryan Jackson out of Miami (FL) in the 5th round.  When he was picked, then-VP of amateur scouting Jeff Luhnow called him major league ready defensively.  It was his offense that needed to catch up.

By all accounts and reports, Jackson hasn’t really done anything to lose his value on the defensive end.  In fact, in my experience watching him in spring training, I’ve seen someone who is remarkably consistent and can make the occasional great play.  Think just a notch below what Brendan Ryan used to do.
Jackson’s offense though has been better than the pessimists feared.  However, there are still questions about whether he’ll hit enough at the big league level to be a starter.

The Miami native usually hangs around the .300 mark for a while but has ended up finishing every season in the .270 range to go along with a .330 or so on-base percentage. 

If that holds true in the majors, I think the Cards would find that to be serviceable on a daily basis.  Getting gold glove caliber play defensively at a premium position while getting solid-if-unspectacular offense hitting, say, 8th is nothing to sneeze at.  Especially if someone like Kolten Wong gives them a long term option hitting leadoff. 

Ryan Jackson will start to get his first taste of the big leagues as he is brought up to take the roster spot vacated by Tyler Greene.  Time will tell if he can develop into a legitimate starter or just be a simple utility guy. 

Otherwise the search for the future shortstop on this ball club might continue for a few more years.

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Jon Jay stays hot

Jon Jay stayed red-hot Monday, going 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBI in a win over the Diamondbacks.

Jay has now piled up six multi-hit efforts during his eight-game hitting streak, pushing his average up from .284 to .315 during that stretch. He's settled into the leadoff spot for the Cardinals.

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St. Louis calls up ex-Springbird SS Ryan Jackson

Ryan Jackson was the Springfield Cardinals’ everyday shortstop just last season. On Thursday night, the St. Louis Cardinals called up him up to the big leagues, according to published reports.

Jackson was batting .269 with a .331 on-base percentage and .398 slugging percentage this season at Triple-A Memphis. He has hit 10 home runs and 23 doubles, collecting 45 RBIs.

Jackson was a fifth-round draft pick in 2009 out of the University of Miami (Fla.) and teamed with slugger Matt Adams in the Double-A Texas League. He hit .273 last season, doing far better in many stretches, and had a penchant for hitting to the opposite field. He also was one of the best defenders in the league.
His call-up came hours after the Cardinals traded infielder Tyler Greene to the Houston Astros.

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Olivier Vernon to get shot on the D-line

The Miami Dolphins' colors are aqua, orange, white and navy, but the team's defensive line has looked pretty green in recent practices.

Miami touts a solid starting lineup of veteran defensive ends Jared Odrick and Cameron Wake and tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, all Pro Bowl candidates. However, it gets very inexperienced very quickly after the projected starters. Rookie defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby are listed as second-teamers and first-year tackle Kheeston Randall also is listed as a top backup.

Combine that with an injury to second-team defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, then it falls to rookie Chas Alecxih to take his place.

If you have been doing the math, that's a second unit comprised entirely of rookies.

However, first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was pleased with the play of the reserves in a preseason-opening 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay and expects the team to build on that against Carolina on Friday.

“When our seconds got in the game, the intensity level, the execution level was terrific,” Coyle said. “They had four three-and-outs in the second half. There was only one drive that they were able to muster up anything and they got a field goal off of that one I think.”

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Leonard Hankerson Will Be Fine After Heat-Related Illness

Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan informed the media after practice on Tuesday that wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is fine after suffering a heat-related illness that required him to be carted off the field earlier in the day. The Redskins head coach stated that he was given an IV drip to help replenish his fluids.

After missing the majority of the 2011 season due to injury, the 23-year-old is expected to be the team's No. 2 receiver in 2012.

Mike Shanahan: Leonard Hankerson got a little heat illness and got an IV and should be fine.

In addition to Hankerson, wide receiver Josh Morgan also suffered heat illness on Tuesday and was given an IV.

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Dwayne Hendricks' persistence is finally paying off

Dwayne Hendricks had two sacks in the Giants' preseason opener against the Jaguars.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Dwayne Hendricks was too big to play Pop Warner football in seventh grade. The Giants defensive tackle was about five pounds over the weight limit, and as much as he wanted to be a player like his big brother Damien, he just didn’t want to lose the weight necessary to get on the field.

And that may be the last time Hendricks opted out of hard work when it came to football.

“I have the utmost respect for that kid,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “That kid worked his ever-loving off. In fact I use him as an example.”

The Giants have waived Hendricks four times. That’s four times that he’s gone back to his mother’s house in Millville, N.J. Four times he’s hit the gym harder than he thought possible -- working with his old high school team while confident that another shot was going to come his way.

“It’s all about perseverance,” Hendricks said. "I look at a lot of people’s stories around the league, like (former Giant and current Raiders defensive end) Dave Tollefson. He told me he got cut and he wasn’t even playing football for two years.”

This is the training camp when Hendricks' time may finally come. After spending the bulk of the 2011 season on the practice squad, Hendricks is hearing effusive praise from his coaches, including the notoriously tight-lipped Coughlin.

“I’ve told anybody that goes against Dwayne Hendricks -- he’s going full-speed every play,” Coughlin said. “So if you’re foolish enough to think that he’s not going to make you look bad, you’re ridiculous. So he goes out and plays the game just like he practices. He did very well for himself.”

It’s all fitting together for Hendricks. He is catching the coaching staff’s eye, and some injuries -- both Shaun Rogers and Marvin Austin are hurt -- could result in some playing time. Even if that wasn’t the way he wanted to get it.

“You never want to see somebody go down like that, it’s never a good thing,” Hendricks said. “You play this game because you want to compete and be the best and not be given something by default.”

The Giants are looking to bring in another veteran defensive tackle. As it stands, Chris Canty could be on the PUP list to start the season with a knee injury. Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph are healthy, but Rogers (blood clot) is out for the year and Austin’s results from a trip to the Hospital for Special Surgery are not yet in.

On the last day of Giants camp in Albany, Hendricks worked with both the second- and third-team defense.

After playing for the University of Miami, Hendricks was signed as a rookie free agent on May 9, 2009. Since that day, he’s been waived four times and, between practice and regular rosters, signed nine times.

When he was home in 2010, not sure whether his football career was over, Hendricks volunteered to help coach defense at his old high school. Head coach Jason Durham said Hendricks had always been one of the most popular people at the school -- not just because he was a football player, but because he was a good student as well.

Hendricks maintains relationships with his former teachers, and Durham laughed while saying that Hendricks couldn’t get in and out of the school in less than an hour with all the people he stops to talk to.

“He’s very personable and very patient,” Durham said. “Some athletes have a hard time explaining things to young players, but that wasn’t the case with Dwayne.”

Clearly patience has been key for Hendricks, ever since watching his brother Damien -- seven years his senior -- and wanting to be a part of the game he played. The patience and hard work is finally coming to fruition. Damien played four years as a lineman at Temple, but didn't go on to the NFL. Now Dwayne is making that dream come true for both of them.

“All the things that he told me and advice that he’s given me, it’s paying off,” Hendricks said.

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DJ Williams On Trial For Dui Charge

DENVER (AP) — Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams is going on trial on allegations of driving under the influence that could sideline him for several games if he is convicted.

Williams' trial in Denver District Court on Wednesday is the result of his arrest on Nov. 12, 2010, when police stopped him for driving without headlights and then cited him for DUI.

The weakside linebacker is already facing a six-game suspension for failing an offseason drug test. A conviction in the drunken-driving case could result in an even longer suspension.

Williams has filed a lawsuit challenging the NFL suspension. His DUI trial was expected to conclude in May but a judge declared a mistrial after Williams' attorney objected to the jury selection process.

Williams has led the Broncos in tackling five times.

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South Miami LB Korey Moss following in his family’s footsteps

Santana Moss, Sinorice Moss and DeMarcus Van Dyke all used their speed to make it to the NFL.

Korey Moss is hoping his strength will be the ticket to follow in his family’s footsteps.

Moss, a 5-9, 220-pound senior linebacker at South Miami, is the nephew of the Moss brothers — stars at Carol City and the University of Miami — and a cousin of Van Dyke, a former Miami Monsignor Pace star who plays with the Oakland Raiders.

“I’m one of the biggest ones in the family,” Moss said. “My uncles and my cousin were fast and played wide receiver in high school. But I’m the powerful one. I’m the one that likes to kill the guy running with the ball.”

Moss showed his strength and skill as a linebacker to record more than 100 tackles and 10 sacks last season in a breakout year for him and the Cobras.

Moss led Miami-Dade County in tackles for the first seven weeks of last season before being hobbled by an ankle injury. His efforts were key during a turnaround season in which South Miami won its first playoff game since 1987.

Moss keeps in contact with Santana when his schedule with the Washington Redskins permits, and with Sinorice, who currently plays for Saskatchewan in the Canadian Football League.

Although Korey said he doesn’t have a college picked out yet, the University of Miami, where his three famous relatives played, is a school he grew up watching.

“Even though I’m not the same type of player they are, I learned a lot from watching them growing up,” said Moss, who would like to study veterinary medicine in college. “They’ve taught me how to stay focused when I’m on the field and what to do off it so I can make it big in life.”

Moss has yet to attract offers from major colleges but is hoping a big senior season to follow up last year’s performance will draw more attention from college recruiters.

Moss will still be a key cog for South Miami, which changed coaches in the offseason, hiring David Gray following the departure of Lamont Green to Southridge. Gray inherits a defense (led by Moss and senior linebacker Matt Delavega) that returns several starters.

The Cobras will have to account for the loss of some major weapons on offense because quarterback and all-around athlete A.J. Leggett graduated and leading running back Johnny Hankins transferred.

If a new quarterback emerges, he will have a solid receiving core led by junior Keyshaun Taylor.

Moss believes there is still enough talent to keep the Cobras in contention for another playoff run in District 14-8A.

Columbus is the heavy favorite to win the district again, coming off a state semifinal appearance in what was its best season since 1982.

But the Cobras (9-3 in 2011) appear to have as good a chance as last year to vie for the runner-up spot with Coral Gables, Miami High and Coral Park.

“We lost our coach from last year, but we’ve been doing well with Coach Gray, and we pretty much have the same team,” Moss said. “We expect another great season if we keep showing our dedication and heart.”

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Greg Olsen has his eyes on the ball

The complement to star receiver Steve Smith for whom Carolina has been endlessly searching could finally emerge this season in the form of tight end Greg Olsen.

The immensely athletic 6-foot-5, 255-pounder has long held the skills to be as much a consistent pass-catcher as blocker, and now with the departure of veteran tight end Jeremy Shockey, Olsen should receive quite an uptick in his chances to shine with the football.

“I prepare each year to try and go in and be the best guy, and even as a young guy I always played with a lot of confidence that I felt I could do anything that any of the (older) guys could,” Olsen said. “I’ve always approached it to be the main guy and be one of the top guys in the league and that never is going to change. Once it does, you’re going to be in trouble.”

The Panthers still hope that Brandon LaFell or Louis Murphy can admirably fill the second receiver slot, but head coach Ron Rivera thinks Olsen has all the tools to become a playmaker along the lines of top receiving tight ends like New England’s Rob Gronkowski or New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham.

“I think (Olsen) can be right in with them,” Rivera said. “This is going to be his first opportunity with us to step up and be the starting tight end and be the guy. You watch him catch balls and watch him run routes and you see he has the traits where he can fit right in with that group (of elite tight ends).

“So we’re excited and I think it’s an opportunity for Greg and it’s a chance I know he looks forward to.”

Olsen has long since held abundant self-belief that he has the skill to be one of the league’s best, and feels that statistics don’t always tell the true story of a player’s season. Last year in tandem with Shockey, Olsen caught 45 balls for 540 yards and five touchdowns to his counterpart’s 37 for 455 and four scores.
Those numbers in his first year with the Panthers were the third highest totals of a career where the first four seasons were spent in Chicago. The 27-year-old’s most productive season came in 2009 in his first year as a full-time starter, when he caught 60 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns.

He’d shown flashes of brilliance in his previous year when he grabbed 54 for 574 and five touchdowns despite only starting seven games.

“That’s how I’ve always thought of myself,” Olsen said when asked about Rivera saying he could join the league’s elite at his position. “Sometimes situations dictate statistics and I’ve had years where I had good stats but thought my overall play wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, and others where I played good but didn’t catch as many balls as I had. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.”

“Last year with me and Shock both being here, things got a little deluded and at first glance you think you’ve had a down year, but all you can do is with the opportunities you have, and I feel like that was the case, and the two of us were pretty productive as a unit rather than as individuals.”

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Kellen Winslow listed as No. 2 TE

Seattle Seahawks TE Kellen Winslow was listed as the No. 2 tight end on the team's initial preseason depth chart behind incumbent TE Zach Miller.

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Andre Johnson gives young Texans receivers something he never had

Andre Johnson’s rookie year was a long, long time ago, but he still remembers his very first practice when he was thrown into a role as a starting receiver.

The first-team offense huddled. Johnson stood and watched them.

“I was just standing around looking,” Johnson said. “Coach Kippy Brown looked at me and I was like what the hell are you doing? Get in there.

“I really didn’t have a veteran guy to look up to when I first got here. It was kind of tough at first. You have to learn a lot of things on your own. I was able to see veteran guys during the offseason and talk to them a little bit. Talk to guys I played with.”

The four-time All-Pro selection did just fine on his own, but he’s able to pass along some of what he learned to the gaggle of young receivers on the Texans’ roster. That means their transition will be easier than his was.

He feels comfortable letting them know when they mess up.

“I think when you tell people the truth, I think they respect you for it,” Johnson said. “I don’t have a problem with them telling me the truth just because they’re a rookie. I tell them that if you see me doing something wrong, tell me. I want to know because I want to get better as a player. I think that’s the only way you get better. I think that if you don’t tell them the truth and if you tell them they’re doing something good and they’re really not, then they’re not going to get better as player. That’s one thing we do around here. We tell each other the truth about what’s going on.”

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Jason Fox continues to impress

Offensive tackle Jeff Backus was given the day off on Tuesday with tightness in his back so Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox split the first-team snaps at left tackle. Simply put, Fox looked outstanding matching up head-to-head with Willie Young, Lawrence Jackson and Everette Brown. Fox is moving very well, and while he admitted to general camp soreness, he appears be as healthy as he's been since joining the Lions.

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Jon Jay Does It With Defense

One gradually is being acknowledged as one of the best center field defenders in the game. The other is a good outfielder who gradually has become more than passable at second base.

Together, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker comprised the defensive backbone of the Cardinals' 8-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium.

The highlight reels will feature Jay's running catch, after a long chase of Stephen Drew's fifth-inning drive. Jay, reaching high, gloved the ball a step or so in front of the wall and then bounced off it.

The ball popped loose but Jay somehow was able to trap it, keeping the ball from falling to the ground and then, with the help of his bare hand, nudging it back into his glove. The ball tried to escape his clutches one more time before he finally corralled it, getting winning pitcher Joe Kelly out of the inning.

Jay, seeking to reduce the explanation to its basics, said, "The ball went up, I ran after it, I caught it. I don't know.

"I had to jump for it and as I was landing, I kind of saw it coming out and I was able to snatch it back. It all happened so fast I was happy to make the catch."

An appreciative Kelly said, "Anything hit out into center field, I feel like there's a play on it every time. The ball could be crushed, laced, whatever. He can lay out or climb walls to rob homers. He enjoys it. It's good to know that when he's out there you can get away with a miss on a pitch."

Manager Mike Matheny said, "(Jay) is as good as anybody right now. The catch against Drew was a terrific jump. He's got great instincts with the ball off the bat. He's making our whole outfield better."

A couple of innings earlier, Jay felt he should have made another catch on Drew, but the ball hit directly at Jay tipped off his glove after he broke a bit late.

"I messed that one up," said Jay. "It's a ball I thought I should have had. Joe did a good job getting a big double play there and I could breathe a little easier."

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First part of Yasmani Grandal's rehab assignment set

ATLANTA -- Rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal, who was a hit in his first full month in the Major Leagues, will fly from Atlanta to San Diego on Tuesday to begin a Minor League rehabilitation stint with Class A Lake Elsinore.

San Diego manager Bud Black said that Grandal will serve as the designated hitter Wednesday and then catch for the Storm on Thursday. Lake Elsinore is situated about one hour north of San Diego.

Grandal has been on the disabled list since July 31 with a strained right oblique muscle, an injury that occurred taking a swing on July 30 against the Reds.
Grandal, a switch-hitter, has reported no pain while throwing to the bases and taking batting practice in both the indoor cage at Turner Field and on the field the last two days.

At the time of the injury, Grandal was hitting .312 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in his first month in the big leagues.

There's a chance that Grandal could be reinstated from the disabled list before or during a weekend series against the Giants at Petco Park that begins Friday.

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Chris Perez notches 100th career save

ANAHEIM -- When Indians closer Chris Perez notched the 100th save of his career in Monday night's 6-2 win over the Angels, he did so in a way that he probably wouldn't have, say, 100 saves ago: with total command and composure.

Perez came into a two-on, no-outs jam in the ninth and proceeded to throw 12 strikes in 15 pitches to retire the side and nail down his 32nd save in 36 chances. Perez says that efficiency is a sign of the growth he's experienced since tallying his first career save as a 22-year-old Cardinals reliever in 2008.

"I'm a much more polished pitcher now," Perez said. "Back then I would just try to throw as hard as I could to get guys out. Now I'm setting them up, trying to make my pitches. I've learned a lot."

With those lessons in tow, the 26-year-old seems poised to eclipse his career high of 36 saves, a mark he set last year after recording 23 saves in the previous campaign. He's allowed just 18 earned runs in 43 2/3 innings this season and struck out 49. His walk totals are down (11), he hasn't hit a batter, and hasn't thrown a wild pitch.

"The command's just there," Perez said. "The more innings you throw, the more pitches you go, the more comfortable you get. ... It's not as frustrating as it used to be. It's going where I want it."

His manager, Manny Acta, sees a clear progression from the time Perez assumed the closer's role midway through the 2010 season to this year.

"He has really grown into the [closer's] role. This year it's a totally different guy," Acta said. "He spent the first year setting up until we moved him there last year. ... He started with some forearm issues and the velocity wasn't there, he was getting used to it. This year he's been the whole package."

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Ryan Braun certain he'll break out of mini-slump

DENVER -- The longest home run drought of Ryan Braun's 2012 season just happens to come with him sitting on 29 home runs. Perhaps it is a coincidence. Perhaps not.

"When you get close to a number, I don't think you necessarily try to force yourself to get there, but you are absolutely conscious of it," Braun said. "Anybody who says they're not, he's lying. Guys say, 'Oh, I didn't even know I was at 99 RBIs.'

"Yeah, right."

He spoke while stretching in the clubhouse, part of Braun's extensive pregame routine that begins hours before batting practice, and includes weight work, stretching and dips in hot and cold tubs. None of that has changed.

"I've said it many times: It's all part of this game," Braun said of his mini-slump. "You go through stretches where you're really good, stretches where you're not so good, and you try to keep your sanity in those bad times."

Braun has been enduring some relative bad times, which have been rare in his defense of the National League MVP Award. Including Tuesday's 0-for-5 in an 8-6 loss to the Rockies, he is homerless in 49 plate appearances and 47 at-bats since engaging Astros reliever Fernando Rodriguez in a 14-pitch battle at Miller Park on Aug. 1 that finally ended with a line-drive home run, Braun's NL-best 29th this season.

Since that home run, Braun is 9-for-47 with four doubles, four RBIs and no home runs, for a .191 batting average in that span. On Tuesday, he struck out in the eighth inning and the Brewers trailing, 8-3. He flied out to end the game, representing the go-ahead run.

But Braun astutely points out that this is not his first stretch approximating a "slump" this season. He endured an 8-for-39 stretch with no home runs in April. He came out of that funk with an April 21 home run against the Rockies, then surged into the All-Star Game with 23 homers in his next 67 games.

"For the most part, I've been really consistent through most of this season," Braun said. "My numbers, month to month, have been really consistent. It just lets me know that the longer I don't go good, the higher the likelihood is that I will have a good game and get locked back in.

"I feel good. As long as I feel good, physically, I'm fine. I have no doubt that I'm going to finish the season strong."

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PHOTOS: proCane LB Baraka Atkins Terrorizing Terrelle Pryor

Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor is sacked by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Baraka Atkins in the fourth quarter at O.Co Coliseum.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Baraka Atkins (59) pressures Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (6) during the second half of their preseason game in Oakland, CA, on Monday, August 13, 2012. 

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Soreness keeping Travis Benjamin out of practice

Browns fourth-round WR Travis Benjamin (soreness) has missed the last two days of practice.

Benjamin's size (5'10/173) was already a concern and now he's too sore to practice after his first game at the NFL level. Benjamin's poor durability will hold him back in his competition with Mohamed Massaquoi and Jordan Norwood for regular snaps.

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DeMarcus Van Dyke Having Best Training Camp of All DBs

We’re told second-year veteran DeMarcus Van Dyke is having the best training camp of all the Raiders’ cornerbacks thus far. We hear Van Dyke is playing more physical than he did as a rookie and is doing a better job of using his hands in press coverage.

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Richard Gordon is not content just being a blocker anymore

When the Raiders drafted tight end Richard Gordon out of Miami last season, it was a bit of a surprise. Even as a sixth round pick, it was a head scratcher. He had just ten catches from the tight end spot his entire four year college career so what did the Raiders see in this guy that made them think he was worth a draft pick? The answer: blocking.

And it takes a seriously good blocker to have a team drafting a player based on that skill alone. Well, unless that player is an offensive lineman. The tight end is the next best thing to an offensive lineman but if he can't catch, there is no point.

The small sample size for Gordon at tight end was due to his switching positions several times in college.

"I went from D end to D tackle." Said Gordon. "Going into my sophomore/junior year I went back to tight end, then went back to defense, then went back to tight end. So I've been switching around in Miami, played kickoff return, I played everything."

"I went to Miami as a defensive end. The only reason I ended up at tight end is because the tight ends went down and I [said] ‘coach, I can play it, coach, I can play it.' The biggest thing was the aggressiveness and I didn't get that many balls but when the ball did come my way, I made my best to catch the ball but I put the best out there in blocking and that's how I got here. And since I got here, I've been trying to step my game up."

The Raiders took a real flier on him because of how great a blocker he was. They hope he could develop the receiving part of his game and become a more complete tight end. Last season, he ended up in the same situation as he had at Miami. This time it was the fullback position which needed a fill in. The result was one catch for Gordon the entire season. Now he's no longer going to be content with just paving the way for others.

"I came in as a blocker. In training camp last year, I showed a couple catches and everything. I had a big game against Seattle in the preseason so I think I forced to coaches to see that I could receive the ball rather than in Miami I was just ‘alright coach, I just wanna block coach, I'll just block all day' and didn't really care about catching the ball but now I think trying to get to the next level in my game and trying to catch the ball."

"Always been developing. I work with the receivers. I worked with Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers, I work with Chad Johnson, everybody down in Miami, I work out with Andre Johnson. So I take things from them and then when I'm here I see [Darrius] Heyward-Bey, I look at his when he runs through the ball... just taking skills from everybody and trying to put it together."

That hard work has been showing dividends in training camp. The lumbering tight end has developed into a surprisingly good receiver. He still has the occasional concentration drop but no more than any other receiver on this team and sometimes less than many of them.

The staff showed their faith in him by naming him the second team tight end coming into camp and despite his being out the first week with an injury, he retained his spot at the primary backup once he returned.

"I was in a rush to get back. You can't stay out too long. In this game you stay out too long, somebody's gonna step up, somebody's gotta step up, the team gotta keep moving."

The next move for this team comes Monday night when they face the Cowboys in their preseason opener. Brandon Myers was slated to start but he went down in practice Friday with a shoulder injury and hasn't practiced since. So unless David Ausberry leapfrogs him, Gordon is in line to be the starter.

Whether Gordon is technically the starter or not, he will see the field a lot. His blocking skills are invaluable to the team on offense and special teams. But now he can be a receiving threat as well. Monday night will be his first big test to see how far he has come as a receiver. And if what we have seen in training camp is any indication, he is could be ready.

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Harland Gunn In The Cowboys OL Picture

The Cowboys were already displeased with their interior OL situation when they found out that C Phil Costa, the uninspiring favorite to start, had suffered a back injury, the extent of which is not currently known. That means that David Arkin (a guard by trade) could be switched to center in the meanwhile, but Harland Gunn (who suddenly is in the picture) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (initially pegged as a starting guard) also could factor in there once he’s healthy enough to play. Journeyman Derrick Dockery and undrafted Ronald Leary have entered the mix at guard now with C Kevin Kowalski (ankle), OG Nate Livings (hamstring) and OG Bill Nagy (ankle) all hobbling. Even the known elements, OTs Tyron Smith and Doug Free, are not showing their best. It’s madness along the line, and the Cowboys do not like what currently sits on the free-agent market. Improvement and better health must come from within now.

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Dwayne Hendricks Not Afraid To Compete, Impressing Coaches

Dwayne Hendricks isn’t one to shy away from competition. It’s the reason he chose to play at the University of Miami. It’s the reason he’s hung around the Giants organization, being waived and signed again four times since 2009. It’s also the reason Tom Coughlin tells anyone going against the defensive tackle to watch out.

“If you’re foolish enough to think that he’s not going to make you look bad, you’re ridiculous,” were his exact words after Sunday’s practice, the first one back at camp since the preseason opener.

At the time, Coughlin was talking about how players translated practice reps into game action. Hendricks, who has spent most of his career on the practice squad (solely with the Giants), did exactly that and notched two sacks against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“He goes out and plays the game just like he practices,” Coughlin concluded. “He did very well for himself.”

Hendricks wasn’t aware of his coach’s comments, but knew he had a solid enough performance to get his name out there.

“It’s always good to make a name for yourself,” he said on Monday. “Anytime I can go out there and show them I can get the job done, I think it only raises my stock and the value that I have.”

Signed to the active roster for a little longer than a month last season, Hendricks made his only NFL appearance in Week 9 against the Patriots. And at a deep position along a talented defensive line, he doesn’t know when the next time will be.

For the time being, all he can do is compete.

“You have to like to compete,” Hendricks, a Millville (N.J.) native, said. “I didn’t go to Miami not to compete. I went there to compete, and it’s the same here. You come here, you want to compete. It’s only going to bring the best out of you. If you go somewhere where you’re not really competing, how can you get the best out of yourself?”

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Finally healthy, Jason Fox is starting to show promise

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is right when he says it’s not always about ability, but rather availability.

Offensive tackle Jason Fox has been the poster boy for that cliché his first two seasons in the league. It’s no secret that Fox has been injured for most of his career with the Lions. It's been hard to truly evaluate Fox over the last two years because of all the injuries. When he’s been healthy – like right now -- he's played well.

Fox had a mild scare in June when soreness developed in his knee and he missed the team’s minicamp, but he hasn’t missed any training camp practices so far and the Lions are hopeful he’ll begin to fulfill some of the promise they had in him when they selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Fox missed Miami's Bowl game in 2010 so he could have surgery on a left knee that had been bothering him his senior year. The knee was never 100-percent in training camp that rookie season. He then broke a foot early in training camp last year and developed problems in his other knee.

Besides a few bumps and bruises that all players feel around this time, this is the first training camp Fox has been healthy. He’s been getting reps on both the left and right sides and split first-team reps with Jeff Backus at left tackle during a team period in Monday’s practice.

“He’s looked like we thought he would look,” Schwartz said of Fox after Monday's practice. “He’s been very consistent through camp; he’s playing right tackle, he’s playing left tackle. You know, he can get some snaps in at guard but he’s answered the bell every practice and that’s been a big thing for him.”

Fox’s emergence early in training camp has allowed the Lions a lot of versatility with the way they use their tackles. Fox, rookie Riley Reifficon-article-link and veteran Corey Hilliardicon-article-link have been alternating between both right and left tackle during training camp. The ability to be able to plug players into multiple positions along the line will only help the Lions in the long run.

“Obviously if you’re taking first-team reps there’s pressure to perform, but you don’t really look at it as pressure,” Fox said. “You just want to go out there and play football and improve every day and master your craft and become as technically sound as possible.”

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Robert Griffin III and Sean Taylor--rookies in name only, says Chris Cooley

SeanTaylor copy
Veteran tight end Chris Cooley says quarterback Robert Griffin III is only the second Washington Redskins rookie he has seen arrive in the NFL and immediately carry himself with the confidence and demeanor of an established player.

The other, Cooley said, was the team’s late safety, Sean Taylor.

“I haven’t seen anything from him [Griffin] to say that he’s a rookie…. It is a phenomenon that he’s come in and not been a rookie,” Cooley said.

Cooley also said of Griffin: “I never see doubt in that kid’s mind.”

Griffin’s ever-growing celebrity continues to be noteworthy. After the Redskins arrived back at Dulles Airport following last week’s preseason-opening triumph at Buffalo, Cooley said, the players turned on a television—and in short order saw two commercials featuring Griffin.

“He’s everywhere,” Cooley said.

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Rashad Butler Playing Like A Veteran

Coach Gary Kubiak watched the new right side of the offensive line in tackle Rashad Butler and guard Antoine Caldwell. He also kept a close eye on their backups, tackle Derek Newton and guard Brandon Brooks.

“Butler and Caldwell played like they were more veterans than the other two, which you would expect, but I think they all did some good things,” Kubiak said. “The kid (Brooks) did some good things, especially in pass-pro (protection).

“I thought Newton was a little inconsistent but continues to flash. It’s going to be a good battle. We played those guys probably more than any of our older players, and that will be on a continuous basis over the next couple weeks. I think they kind of played the way I expected them to play.”

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Willis McGahee still making 'em miss

DENVER — It all started nearly 10 years ago when Willis McGahee went crashing to the turf in the Fiesta Bowl.

Since then, he has kept a running tally on how many times he has been written off.

“About eight or nine times,’’ said the Denver Broncos running back. “Since I’ve been coming into the (NFL), I’ve been written off. I’ve been written off ever since that (Fiesta Bowl).’’

That was the Jan. 3, 2003, game in which the then-Miami Hurricanes star tore three ligaments in his left knee in a 31-24 overtime loss to Ohio State for the national title. The injury resulted in McGahee missing all of the 2003 season after being drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills.

McGahee soon bounced back with a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons and a 990-yard one for the Bills and a 1,200-yard campaign for the Baltimore Ravens. But then it was a return to being written off again.

McGahee looked close to being done when he was a relegated to mostly backup duty for three straight seasons in Baltimore, culminating with a meager 380-yard rushing effort in 2010. McGahee then signed with the Denver Broncos, and many thought he would be playing out the string.


McGahee ran last season for 1,199 yards. That was despite missing one game because of injury and gaining only three yards in the opener, when he was a backup.

So you would think McGahee would have mostly believers now. He doesn’t think so.

“People say I can’t do this because I’m 30 years old,’’ said the Miami native, who turns 31 in October. “It motivates me. It makes me work a little bit harder. That puts fuel to the fire. That keeps me going. People are always doubting me.’’

For the first time since 2008, when he was the Ravens’ top guy before eventually losing time to Ray Rice, McGahee will head into a season as a starting running back. And there’s no reason to think he can’t have another big season.

With Peyton Manning having replaced the often-erratic Tim Tebow as Denver’s starting quarterback, defenses won’t be able to key as much on McGahee as they did last season. He still responded in 2011 with seven 100-yard rushing games.

“I thought he stepped in last year and did a tremendous job,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox. “He’s come (into training camp) in great shape, and I look for him to build on top of that and have a bigger season.’’

McGahee is planning on doing just that, although he’s not going overboard with his goals.

“My thing is to be better than I did last year,’’ said McGahee, whose 7,366 career rushing yards ranks him 49th in NFL history and third among active backs, trailing St. Louis’ Steven Jackson and San Francisco’s Frank Gore, his former Hurricanes teammate. “I had 1,199. I want 1,200.’’

That would give McGahee a third season of 1,200 or batter. He racked up 1,247 for Buffalo in 2005 and 1,207 for the Ravens in 2007.

But after that big 2007 season, John Harbaugh replaced Brian Billick as Baltimore’s coach. And McGahee soon found himself replaced by Rice as the primary back.

McGahee obviously wasn’t enthralled at the time. But looking back, he sees a positive in his 2-1/2 seasons spent in a reserve role. He says it kept tread wear off him.

“I didn’t have to rotate my tires,’’ McGahee said. “I still got the same old tires. I got the same body. I didn’t have that much wear and tear, like every other back has.’’

For that reason, McGahee jokes that, even if his birth certificate reads Oct. 21, 1981, he’s actually in his late 20s. His teammates buy that logic.

“He’s (going to be) 31, but you can’t really tell,’’ said Broncos wide receiver and former Florida star Andre Caldwell. “He looks like a guy coming into the league.’’

Perhaps that why McGahee doesn’t talk about playing until a certain age but uses how many total seasons he seeks to log. He wants to remain in the NFL through 2017.

“I’m going for 15,’’ said McGahee, who counts the injury-missed 2003 season as his first. “That’s the goal.’’

If McGahee does end up lasting that long, the number of times he’s written off could climb well into double figures.

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Antonio Dixon on roster bubble

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Antonio Dixon is on the roster bubble.

The Eagles defensive tackle has been there before. But this year he may face his toughest challenge even with the team down a defensive tackle with Mike Patterson currently sidelined.

“I was a free agent so I never feel like I got it made -- until you get that big contract,” Dixon said. “But I’m still out here every day grinding, doing what Coach Wash wants me to do.”

“Coach Wash” would be, of course, Jim Washburn. The defensive line coach can be heard from long distance barking at Dixon for long stretches of practice. Washburn likes his defensive tackles to be fast and athletic because he stresses the pass rush above all.

Dixon doesn’t necessarily fit the mold. He’s a big-bodied run stopper, probably better suited to play nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. He came into camp last year after the lockout weighing a whopping 355 pounds. The additional weight put pressure on his back and slowed his motor. Dixon suffered a season-ending torn triceps in October and then needed back surgery in the offseason.

Despite Washburn’s system, the Eagles retained Dixon, who was an unrestricted free agent, in March. They still need run-stoppers, after all.

“He’ll sort of treat me different,” Dixon said of Washburn. “He let’s me do more stuff on my own. Let’s say there’s a big gap, he’ll tell me to jump over and play the run because I’m a legitimate nose tackle.”

With Patterson out till who knows when because of his January brain surgery, Dixon could be assured a roster spot based on his run-stopping abilities alone. But he hasn’t looked as swift as he did in 2009 and 2010. He said he currently weighs 335 pounds, slightly more than his listed 322.

Defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox and Derek Landri are guaranteed roster spots. If Patterson starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List that could leave Dixon and second-year defensive tackle Cedric Thornton fighting for the last spot. The Eagles could keep five defensive tackles, though, depending on how many ends they keep.

“We’re going to miss Mike P. Hopefully he comes back soon,” Dixon said. “But we’re really going to need a run-stopper. Last year we struggled in the run game. I think I can be a big help especially now that we got [middle linebacker] DeMeco [Ryans].”

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Ed Reed Had To Break In His Uniform

Ed Reed wasn’t expected to play last week in Atlanta, as long-time veterans like he and Ray Lewis sometimes sit out the preseason opener. Reed was even listed as a scratch when the Ravens first announced their inactive players.

But the veteran safety had a change of heart before the game, and when the Ravens defense first took the field, Reed was out there.

"A couple teammates asked me to play and I was like, ‘cool, I’m not doing anything else,’” Reed said Sunday after the practice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. "I was physically able to play. I was looking forward to playing anyway, just getting out there with the guys and seeing how everything was moving.”
Plus, Reed said that he had to get his jersey ready for the season.

"I had to get my uniform acclimated to the season, so it was about breaking my uniform in the first preseason game,” he said.

Reed only played in the first quarter and did not register any statistics. He expects to get more reps this Friday when the Ravens welcome the Detroit Lions to M&T Bank Stadium.

"This one here will be about a little bit more repetition, being a little bit more professional about it,” Reed said. "We’re looking to get some quality reps against Detroit and I’m sure they’re looking to do the same thing.”

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D.J. Williams gets reps while waiting for courts

To mark the final week of training camp, Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams finally got to participate.

"We want to get him up to speed. We don't want to totally waste his time," coach John Fox said after practice Monday. "Eventually he'll be back."

Williams was a Broncos starter through his first eight seasons, but until Monday had done little in camp nine except observe and absorb.

Blame the inertia on his pending NFL-issued, six-game suspension stemming from a failed drug test. In all, Williams' troubles has led him to the Holy Trinity of local court appearances — U.S. District Court in the Colorado District; Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver; and Denver County Court.

The Broncos are operating as if Williams' six-game suspension is a done deal even if there remains a slim chance it could be stayed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

His first lawsuit against the league was dismissed by a U.S. District Court in Colorado District, but he appealed that decision to the Circuit Court.

Williams' lawyers have filed their briefing with a request for an expedited hearing but the Circuit Court has yet to respond.

Williams, who ignored a request for comment as he walked off the practice field Monday, is essentially using the "Ryan Braun" defense, citing chain-of-custody errors in his lawsuit against the NFL.

Meanwhile, Williams' trial for driving under the influence and other traffic charges is scheduled for Wednesday in the Denver County Court, although there is a chance the case again will be continued. The incident in question occurred Nov. 12, 2010, when police allege Williams was spotted driving at 3 a.m. with his headlights off.

With the 2012 season approaching, the Broncos couldn't wait for Williams' cases to drag through the legal system. Prior to camp, Broncos football operations boss John Elway and Fox met with Williams to reveal their plan.

"We've got a plan for here (in camp), and we'll have a plan when he's gone," Fox said.

Williams' suspension is to start with the setting of the 53-man roster Sept. 1, at which point he must leave the team's facility. He would not be able to return until after the Broncos play their Week 6 game on Oct. 15 at San Diego.

Although the NFL personal conduct policy could come into play, Williams should be available to the Broncos on Oct. 16.

"I mean, if it wasn't for his suspension, he'd be with the first team," Fox said. "He's a very talented player."

But because Williams is facing a likely suspension, the team initiated an alternative from the first day of camp. Wesley Woodyard has taken most of Williams' first-team reps in camp and last week the Broncos signed veteran Keith Brooking who is a weakside linebacker by trade.

The Broncos' first six games is so loaded with formidable opponents — Pittsburgh, at Atlanta, Houston, Oakland (which has won four consecutive games in Denver), at New England and at San Diego _ it's like a postseason schedule times two.

Williams will be able to use a bye week to get back in shape before the Broncos play game 7 against the New Orleans Saints.

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Zach Railey Returns Home From Olympics

TAMPA (FOX 13) - The summer Olympics are over, and now the mass exodus from London has begun.  More than 100,000 travelers flooded Heathrow airport Monday.

The airport even had to build a temporary games terminal with 31 check-in desks, just for the Olympics. Among those athletes who left late Sunday and returned to Tampa Bay were a pair of Olympic sailors from Clearwater.

Siblings Paige and Zach Railey told us they were wiped-out from the long trip back.

They got on a bus minutes after the closing ceremonies wrapped-up in London on Sunday night. They were up all night essentially before they touched-down at TIA.

"Thank you for being here everybody," said a humble Zach Railey to the crowd who'd gathered to greet them at TIA.

It was a hero's welcome, with flags and cheering.  The pair is weary from a long journey home.

"Alright! Smile," said Paige Railey with a big smile as she took a picture of the crowd, but they were not so tired they'd lost their sense of humor.

"It was a great time representing my country over there, but there's nothing like coming home," she said.

"There you go! Welcome home," a member in the crowd yelled, as they were both handed rose bouquets.

There was also a hug and a kiss for Zach from girlfriend Heidi Sedlmayr, who told us they'd been apart for a month.

There's a five-hour time difference she said, which also made it tough on the athletes.

"There's a lot of passing out really early and waking up really early," Sedlmayr said. "Go to sleep at 7, wake up at 3 in the morning; it definitely takes a few days of adjustment."

There was a huge contingent from the Clearwater Yacht Club, where Zach and Paige trained as youth sailors, starting at 8-years-old.  Folks waved flags and welcome signs, they couldn't have been more proud.

"Crazy, cheering the whole time, it's hard, hard work, they train left and right," he said. "They're great young kids. They really are."

Paige missed Bejing, but was first alternate, so she was hungry for a medal this time.  But it didn't happen.

"Having all the support back home was definitely a big motivator for me over there," she said.

"I'm incredibly proud of my sister," said Zach. "It's always been a lifelong dream to go to an Olympic games together."

Zach did have one win in London. He was named captain of the team.

"I got selected by my teammates as captain of the team," he said. "I was very humbled by that, and that was a huge honor for me."

This was Zach's second go at gold.  He brought silver back last time.

"I felt like I was a strong medal contender going into this, and unfortunately, the results weren't there," said Zach, who explained they had a plan and they stuck to it.

"Obviously disappointed with the result for sure, but the Olympic experience was absolutely amazing," he said.

"Honestly, I'm disappointed, I'm not happy," said Paige. "But you know, having all the support and seeing everyone cheer me on and being proud, has really made everything a lot better for me. So it's definitely given me the motivation to go back and try harder and make sure I bring that medal back home next time."

"We're going to spend some time with friends and family and obviously all the supporters and everyone who's helped us get there," Zach said.

They are looking forward to some down time with family and friends, but then it's right back to training hard.

After all, they've only got four years to get ready for Rio de Janeiro.

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PHOTO: Marcus Forston was a force to be reckoned with Thursday night


Marcus Forston might have been the most impressive UDFA Thursday night. He gets off the snap incredibly fast and used that to his advantage getting behind the line of scrimmage. If Forston can stay healthy, he could be a great player in the NFL. Forston finished the night with two tackles and one tackle-for-loss.

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PHOTO: proCanes Richard Gordon DeMarcus Van Dyke sign autographs for the fans


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PHOTO: Harland Gunn At Center For Cowboys


Cowboys guard Harland Gunn snaps the ball to quarterback Stephen McGee during practice. Gunn was at center because the position has been beset by injuries.

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Travis Benjamin proves his speed can bolster offense


Rookie Travis Benjamin has given the Browns’ receiving corps the elite speed it lacked in recent years, and the payoff was evident Friday night in his NFL debut.

During the Browns’ first possession of their preseason opener against the host Detroit Lions, Benjamin burned rookie cornerback Dwight Bentley on a fade route along the visiting team’s sideline. He then caught a perfect pass from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, tapping both of his feet on the turf and securing a 34-yard reception before drifting out of bounds.

“My speed got me open on that catch,” Benjamin, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, said after the game. … “It was a great throw by Weeden. I knew if I could catch the ball and keep my feet inbounds, it would be a great play.”

The completion gave the Browns a first down at the Lions’ 23-yard line, but they squandered the opportunity when Weeden lost a fumble three plays later. Bentley later intercepted a pass from Weeden, and the Browns’ starting offense went scoreless before the backups took center stage toward the end of the opening quarter and ultimately pulled off a 19-17 win.

Nevertheless, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Benjamin used the momentum he gained from his stellar performances in training camp and proved he has the ability to become a weapon on game days. In addition to catching two passes for 46 yards, he returned two kickoffs for 55 yards (27.5 average).

“I think Travis looked good in this game like we’ve seen him look in practice, and I think that’s an encouraging thing because he’s been able to bring it to the game,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “He looked fast on the return. He caught the ball well. He caught the ball with his hands. He had to leap, so he did some of the things we’ve seen him do in practice here in the game, and so that’s a credit to him.”

Weeden knows Benjamin’s quickness can be lethal for opposing defenses.

“The one to Travis, I was really hoping to see single high safety like they did,” Weeden said. “When we broke the huddle, I said, ‘Hey, man, get on your horse.’ I said, ‘Run fast.’ And so he did. He can fly. I put it out there, and he made a heck of a catch.”

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Tom Coughlin Praises Dwayne Hendricks

Tom Coughlin with huge praise for DT Dwayne Hendricks: "I’ve told anybody that goes against Dwayne Hendricks, he’s going full speed every play, OK? So if you’re foolish enough to think that he’s not going to make you look bad, you’re ridiculous.”

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Richard Gordon Raiders' Best Blocking TE

The Raiders listed Brandon Myers as the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart heading into their first preseason game, but we hear the competition at the position is not over. Of the players in contention to see time — second-year veterans David Ausberry and Richard Gordon could carve out roles — Myers has established the best connection with QB Carson Palmer thus far, we hear.

Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp would like to utilize the tight end as a receiver more than Oakland did last season when former head coach Hue Jackson was calling plays.

Ausberry, a former wide receiver, could factor as a receiving specialist. We hear he has been very up and down in camp, however. Gordon has been the best blocking tight end. While Gordon’s hands are the weakest part of his game, he has flashed some receiving ability and could give Myers a strong push for the No. 1 job if he shows more consistency as a pass catcher.

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Brandon Washington still not cleared

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid said Saturday, Aug. 11, that OG Brandon Washington (head) still has not been cleared from his concussion.

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Sam Shields' Elbow Feels 'Much Better'

Cornerback Sam Shields says he’s feeling “much better,” though he’s not certain when he’ll be back on the practice field for the Green Bay Packers.

Shields injured an elbow on Aug. 6. It was a strange and scary situation, with Shields going down in a heap as running back Alex Green ran past him after catching a screen pass in a noncontact drill. Shields stayed on the Ray Nitschke Field turf for about five minutes before going back to the stadium for testing.

“My arm got stuck between Alex and the receiver and somebody ran by me and I was still caught and it just bent,” Shields said on Sunday. “It was scary at first. It’s a feeling like I’ve never felt before. It felt like it was broke. But I got back in (for testing) and it wasn’t that bad. It could have been worse. I’m good now.”

Shields, who worked as the Packers’ third cornerback for most of his first two seasons in the league, had fallen to No. 5 by the end of the first week of training camp. Shields, however, had gotten back on the upswing and was poised to push for his old job.

“He’s just got to stay focused on his opportunities in these other preseason games,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said last week. “We just have to get him back and back doing what he was doing. I’m not worried about the setback, I’m worried about what he does when he gets back.”

Shields found himself demoted at the end of last season, throughout the offseason and into training camp because of his poor tackling and general distaste for physical play. Shields heard the criticism and responded. Before the injury, Shields was clearly more physical.

“That was something that I needed to work on,” Shields said. “I was working my butt off trying to work on that. Each day, it got better and better. It’s just learning and wrapping my arms around. It felt like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ Now it feels natural to me, like I’ve been doing it. “


Javarris James may be losing ground in his battle to make the Cardinals'

James (hip) may be losing ground in his battle to make the Cardinals' final roster after both William Powell and Alfonso Smith played well during Friday's preseason game.

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Orlando Franklin A Right Tackle With Flexibility

In the preseason opener against the Bears, the Broncos’ Orlando Franklin started at his customary right tackle position but switched to right guard with the No. 2 offense.

There are no plans to make the switch full-time. While the Broncos are expected to keep nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, only seven typically dress on game day.

“You’ve got to get ready for a whole season,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox. “And a guy’s flexibility is critical especially when you set your active game roster with seven linemen. So you need to have swing guys who can play inside and outside.’’

The Broncos usual right guard, Chris Kuper, was given the Bears’ game off so he could continue to ease back from his lower left leg and ankle injuries. Kuper is expected to start the second preseason game next Saturday against Seattle at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

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Antrel Rolle played with two torn rotator cuffs

ALBANY — He knew there was something very wrong with both his shoulders last winter, but Antrel Rolle refused to go through the customary routine of getting an X-ray or MRI to determine why he was in such excruciating pain.

No time for that. Not with a regular season to be saved and a Super Bowl title to claim.

“I wasn’t going to go for any tests, I didn’t want to know what it was,’’ the Giants safety told The Post yesterday after lunch at the University at Albany. “I knew it was something. I know my body. I’m a fast healer, not too many things really bother me. Little nicks and bruises, I kind of get over it in a day or two.’’

Not this time. Rolle didn’t seek answers because he didn’t want anyone to tell him he had to take a seat.

“I’d rather just eat the pain and we’ll handle it in the off-season,’’ he said.

Oh, he ate the pain all right. He revealed to The Post he played down the stretch last season with a Grade II tear of the right rotator cuff. His left rotator cuff wasn’t as severe — it was partially torn. His range of motion was nearly non-existent. If he could brace for impending impact, the discomfort was tolerable. The action on a football field cannot always be choreographed or calculated, and when the unexpected pull or tug occurred he saw stars.

“There were definitely times where my shoulder felt like it was almost coming out, or if I jumped up to bat a ball down it felt like the worst things I’ve ever felt,’’ Rolle said. “Yeah, it definitely hurt. I’m not Superman, you know.’’

His left shoulder was damaged in the Dec. 11 game at Cowboys Stadium. Rolle dealt with it as best he could but in the first playoff game, Jan. 8 against the Falcons, his right rotator cuff was torn.

After that, on game days, Rolle said he got his shoulders wrapped tightly by assistant trainer Leigh Weiss, “keeping them restricted, but not too restricted.’’ He took a shot of Toradol to blunt the inevitable pain and took the field.

In the critical final regular season game against the Cowboys — essentially a play-in game for the playoffs — Rolle said he hit running back Felix Jones on a slant pattern and then made a guttural sound to describe what happened next. “I just lay on the ground for a second,’’ he said. “I just had to jump up because I didn’t want to get myself into that mind-frame that, ‘Damn, you’re shoulder’s hurting.’ I had to keep going.’’

At Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship, Rolle said on one play his shoulder bent all the way backward.

“That was another moment,’’ he said, not appearing as if he enjoyed the recollection. “It was very painful. Very, very painful.’’

As last season wore on, Rolle evolved into an emotional leader for the oft-battered defense and his sounding the “All In’’ rallying cry became one of the seminal moments in the title run. Justin Tuck admitted Rolle’s plea for anyone and everyone to participate in practice — no matter how banged up — struck a chord and provoked him to ignore his own ailments.

Rolle now had to practice what he preached.

“There was no coming out, that wasn’t an option,’’ he said. “I can’t say it and not live by it, that wouldn’t be me.’’

Yesterday, Rolle looked frisky intercepting an overthrown Eli Manning pass and he says his shoulders are no longer a concern. He said the Giants doctors “suggested’’ he have surgery on both shoulders.

“I asked them, just give me a month,’’ Rolle said.

He worked extensively on his shoulders, sometimes twice a day back home in Miami, and reports his shoulders are “probably stronger than they were before.’’ He hasn’t missed a beat in training camp.

“Thank God I was able to be successful with that miracle,’’ said Rolle, adding he doesn’t regret what he put himself through. “God forbid, if it has to be an issue, I’m doing the same thing again.’’

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Leonard Hankerson savors his first taste of game action since last November

Second-year wide receiver Leonard Hankerson came away from Thursday’s preseason opener at Buffalo with a sense of encouragement as he works his way back from a season-ending hip injury.

Thursday’s game represented the first game that Hankerson has played in since Week 9 of the 2011 season. Hankerson, who is competing for the starting wide receiver position opposite Pierre Garcon, got the start and had one reception for 12 yards — the only play in which he was targeted.

Hankerson and his fellow starters played only 14 snaps, but the activity was enough to indicate to the receiver that he is making progress in his recovery.
“It felt good to be back out there with my teammates,” Hankerson said Saturday after practice. “Going on the right track. Feeling good. Making plays.”

The last time Redskins fans saw Hankerson in a game, he caught eight passes for 106 yards in a loss last season to Miami, a breakout performance in the city where he went to college.

The outing has tantalized ever since. Hankerson tore the labrum in his hip that game and did not return until the preseason opener at Buffalo.
Redskins fans might reference Hankerson’s memorable outing from last season, but he does not.

“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about that Miami game until you brought it up,” Hankerson said. “I can’t be thinking about it. It doesn’t count now. It’s all gone. So I’ll just have to work on getting another one of those games this year.”

The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Hankerson struggled with dropped passes at times last season as a third-round pick out of Miami and did not play until the seventh game. Because of the hip injury, he not only sat out the rest of last season but also organized training activities and minicamp this year.

At Buffalo, Hankerson caught a sideline pass from Griffin, kept his balance as he slipped a defender, then picked up another 10 yards.

Did he feel like the old Leonard?

“I want to be better than the old Leonard,” Hankerson said. “That’s what I’m striving for.”

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After riding bench in rookie year, Harris making impact for Texans

Cornerback Brandon Harris made no impact on the Texans’ secondary as a second-round draft choice last season.

Fans wondered why the Texans had used such a high pick on a player who didn’t make an immediate contribution.

“I was a three-year starter at Miami, and to come in as a second-round pick and not play was a very humbling experience,” Harris said. “When I sat down and looked at it and really thought about it, it turned out to be a blessing for my career.

“I got to learn from guys like (cornerback) Johnathan Joseph. It was tough not being able to contribute as much as I wanted to, but in the long run, I think it helped prepare me for this season.”

The Texans used a second-round pick on the 5-10, 194-pound Harris because they thought they would need to develop a new cornerback to play inside. Brice McCain had struggled in 2010.

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Madden ranks Willis McGahee as 19th-best RB

EA Sports has been revealing player ratings for Madden NFL 13 in weekly announcements leading up to the game’s August 24th release.  On Friday, they announced complete running back ratings.

Denver’s Willis McGahee saw a +6 rating jump from 2011, going from an 79 overall rating last year to 85 overall in 2012.

Ranked 19th overall among running backs (24th overall including fullbacks), McGahee is the highest-ranked back in Denver and features ratings of 93 (trucking), 86 (speed), 85 (acceleration), 83 (strength) and a brutal 58 (elusiveness).  Seven backs who rushed for fewer yards than McGahee in 2011 are rated higher than the veteran in this year’s Madden.

1.  Maurice Jones-Drew, rated 97 overall.
2.  Adrian Peterson, rated 97 overall.
3.  Arian Foster, rated 96 overall.
4.  LeSean McCoy, rated 95 overall.
5.  Ray Rice, rated 95 overall.
6.  Matt Forte, rated 93 overall.
7*.  Vonta Leach, rated 92 overall.
7.  Frank Gore, rated 92 overall.
8.  Steven Jackson, rated 92 overall.
8*.  Greg Jones, rated 91 overall.
9.  Jamaal Charles, rated 91 overall.
10.  Michael Turner, rated 91 overall.
11.  Marshawn Lynch, rated 90 overall.
12.  Chris Johnson, rated 90 overall.
13.  Mike Tolbert, rated 89 overall.
13*.  Michael Robinson, rated 89 overall.
14.  Fred Jackson, rated 89 overall.
15.  Darren Sproles, rated 89 overall.
16.  Ahmad Bradshaw, rated 88 overall.
17.  Ryan Matthews, rated 87 overall.
17*.  John Kuhn, rated 86 overall.
18.  Rashard Mendenhall, rated 86 overall.
19 (24).  Willis McGahee, rated 85 overall.
61.  Knowshon Moreno, rated 76 overall.
99.  Lance Ball, rated 71 overall.
118.  Ronnie Hillman, rated 68 overall.
136, Chris Gronkowski, rated 65 overall.
141, Jeremiah Johnson, rated 65 overall

It’s hard to argue for higher ratings for any of the backs besides McGahee, who rushed for 50 more yards than Tolbert and Bradshaw combined in 2011.  It was nice of EA however to give McGahee a (much deserved) higher ranking from Madden 12.

The Top Ten wide receivers in the game will be revealed by EA Sports on Monday, with complete WR ratings coming out next Friday.  Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are expected to see significant rating jumps from last season (73 and 69, respectively), but are unlikely to crack the Top Ten.
This year’s Madden will be available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Vita and Wii. The Denver Broncos are expected to have an 81 overall rating (a +7 improvement from last year).

McGahee, 30, is coming off a Pro Bowl season and is looking to prove that he still has some gas left in the tank.  After several years of minimal wear on his tires in Baltimore, McGahee’s goal is to rush for 1,200 yards in 2012 — one more yard than he rushed for last season.

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Kubiak expects Andre Johnson active against 49ers

Last night’s game led to plenty of talk about how the Texans defense was ahead of its offense right now.

It’s true, but a big part of it involved the personnel. You didn’t see much of running back Arian Foster, and receiver Andre Johnson wasn’t active.

That is expected to change this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers.

“It’s Sunday, but yeah, he should play,” Kubiak said of Johnson. “If everything goes according to schedule, he should play this week.”

In the Texans’ second preseason game, Kubiak plans to play the first team for a quarter and a half. Johnson won’t get quite that much time.

Johnson said during a sideline interview in Charlotte that he could have played Saturday night. Kubiak concurred, but said it just didn’t make sense to risk playing Johnson given that he’s behind in practice reps. Add to that the fact that Kubiak is already having difficulty getting enough reps for his evaluations of the young receivers and you have more reasons to sit Johnson than play him.

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Ed Reed decided to play in game vs. Falcons since he 'wasn't doing anything else'

Ed Reed wasn't supposed to play for the Ravens against Atlanta on Thursday. The team's website announced he scratched about an hour before kickoff.

But there he was, No. 20 starting at FS right after kickoff. So what changed Reed's mind in order to get him on the field in Baltimore's first preseason game?

"A couple of teammates asked me to play and I was like, 'Cool. I'm not doing anything else,'" Reed said. "Physically, I could play. I was looking forward to playing anyway."

It looks like it doesn't take much to convince Reed to play some football.

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Bryant McKinnie Back On The Field

ATLANTA – Ravens tackle Bryant McKinnie has been a first-team player in the NFL from the day he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2002.

Of his 148 career appearances, 147 have been starts – and the outlier came a decade ago in his rookie season. Since then, he has started 140 straight regular-season games.

Thus it felt strange, to say the least, when he found himself on the bench for the Ravens’ first four offensive series in their preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons Thursday night in the Georgia Dome.

“Sitting there trying to stay in the game and stay warm (after warming up), that was a little different,” McKinnie said with a smile in the locker room after the Ravens’ 31-17 victory. “Someone asked me when was the last time I didn’t start, and I was like, ‘I don’t know, this might be the first time.’”


After watching the first quarter, McKinnie made it onto the field and played left tackle during the second and third quarters.

“I was able to get a lot of reps in the no-huddle. That let’s me know where I am, and I felt good,” he said.

His health and conditioning have been major issues, but competing mostly against rookies and backups Thursday night, he appeared to move well and handle his assignments easily. Asked if he felt he was effective, he said, “I was. I definitely had some aggression I wanted to release. I’ve only had one day of practice in pads.”

McKinnie is penciled in as the Ravens’ starting blind-side tackle but is playing catch-up after reporting late to training camp, reportedly because of a back injury suffered in a fall at his home in Florida. The Ravens have since patched together a “Plan B” offensive line with Michael Oher in McKinnie’s left-tackle spot and rookie Kelechi Osemele on the right side, but it is assumed McKinnie will regain his job in the end as long as he is healthy, in shape and effective. Oher would then switch back to the right side.

Oher and Osemele started Thursday night, but the line struggled early, as quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked twice.

McKinnie, meanwhile, looked solid, albeit against backups.

“I have more confidence in my abilities this year,” he said. “Compared to last year, I just feel a lot better this year.”

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Jonathan Vilma, NFL in court; no ruling on motion to dismiss

NEW ORLEANS -- A U.S. District Court judge didn't rule Friday on the NFL's motion to dismiss Jonathan Vilma's lawsuit, which seeks to overturn his season-long suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints' "bounty" scandal.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Ginger Berrigan said she doesn't know how long a ruling would take, but she hinted that it could be days before a decision is made.

"I thought today went as smoothly as it could go," said Vilma, who noted he wasn't disappointed with the lack of ruling. "I didn't come in with any expectations."

Berrigan said during Friday's proceedings that she's inclined to rule in favor of Vilma if able to do so legally, citing the NFL's ruling as not being "transparent or fair." Berrigan added she wasn't sure if she could make a ruling before Vilma's Aug. 30 appeal hearing in front of arbitrator Stephen Burbank.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees attended Friday's hearing in support of Vilma, who appeared surprised by his teammate's presence.

Vilma had requested a temporary restraining order against the NFL while his lawsuit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell moves forward. Lawyers for Vilma have argued that Goodell previously made biased public statements about the linebacker's involvement in the "bounty" program before player punishment was handed out, making the commissioner an impartial arbitrator, as outlined in NFL's collective bargaining agreement.

Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell.

Goodell suspended Vilma for the 2012 season, along with handing suspensions to three other players for their involvement in the "bounty" program that offered Saints players cash bonuses for targeting opponents.

Saints defensive end Will Smith and former Saints players Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita are using lawyers provided by the NFL Players Association, which also has filed suit in federal court in New Orleans seeking to have the suspensions overturned.

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Jimmy Graham expected back at New Orleans Saints practice this week

New Orleans Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt reported mostly good news on the Saints' injury front Friday, following their 7-6 preseason loss to the New England Patriots the night before. He didn't report any new specific injuries, and he said several players are expected back when they return to the practice field Monday.

Tight end Jimmy Graham (back), tailback Mark Ingram (undisclosed - but likely resting his knee) and cornerback Patrick Robinson (shoulder) are all expected to practice Monday. Linebacker David Hawthorne (hip) is also likely to return on a limited basis, depending on how he looks on Sunday night.

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Healthy Andre Johnson needed for Texans to take next steps

HOUSTON—Andre Johnson waited nearly a decade before he could dip into the NFL postseason pool, and now that he’s made his initial splash, he’s determined to dive a lot deeper.

Since the Houston Texans drafted Johnson No. 3 overall in 2003, the wide receiver has stuck it out through the team’s inconsistency and his own injuries to endure as the face of the franchise for nine stellar seasons. Because of two hamstring injuries that caused him to miss nine games a year ago, he didn't add to his five Pro Bowl appearances, but the end of the season brought a much more desired reward.

“That was a goal of mine to get this organization to its first playoff berth,” Johnson said. “We did that, won our first playoff game, and we played a great game in Baltimore (in the divisional round)—just came up a play short.

“It definitely makes you hungry. It was a great experience. You want to not only experience that again, but experience more, keep winning and hopefully accomplish that ultimate goal.”

The big question for Johnson going into 2012 is his health. At 31, he’s had a lot of wear and tear, missing 12 games over the past two seasons with leg injuries. After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in May, he wasn't able to participate in the Texans’ organized team activities and minicamp. Early in training camp, he fought through a groin injury to get back on the field.

Not surprisingly, the Texans are being cautious with their offensive difference-maker. After returning on Monday from the groin injury, he was limited to 20 plays per day in practice—and he's not expected to play in Saturday's exhibition opener at Carolina. The Texans need Johnson at full strength to start the regular season, and he's working to get there.

While he's been busy rehabbing for most of the offseason, he has kept one thing in the back of his mind—a return to the postseason.

“Every year, the goal has been the Super Bowl. I didn’t think it would take this long,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we will get it done this year.”

The small taste of playoff success hasn’t spoiled Johnson or changed his approach toward what he likes to do more than anything—strive to stand out at wideout.

“He’s still the same guy. He’s going to come here, week in and week out, and put in the work, and that’s why he’s the best receiver in the league,” said Texans center Chris Myers, a college teammate of Johnson’s at the University of Miami and has played with him in Houston since ’08. “Going back to college—and I played against him in high school (in Miami), too—he’s been that way his whole career.”

While it could be natural for there to be an emotional letdown after the high of the Texans’ first division title, Johnson remains even-keeled.

“That’s the one thing great about having a guy like that, a franchise receiver—he’s going to be here no matter what,” Myers said. “Win, lose or draw, he’s going to be that same person.”

Matt Schaub has spent five years throwing to Johnson as his primary receiver with the Texans. While Johnson has helped Schaub settle in as one of the league’s better starting quarterbacks, he has impressed his passer with the most underrated part of his game.

“I don’t know if it’s overlooked because people don’t see it every day, but it’s his work ethic,” Schaub said. “He is one of the hardest workers I’ve been around. He doesn’t talk or say a lot, but he just goes out and plays. It’s all about the team for him. When your No. 1 guy is like that, it makes everything work that much easier.”

Not that it should be a surprise, but expect Schaub and the Texans’ passing game to continue to lean heavily on Johnson in ’12. After Johnson, fellow starting wideout Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels, there is big drop-off in experience within Houston’s receiving corps.

Consider that rookie Keshawn Martin, a fourth-round pick, is leading the training camp battle over several other youngsters for the No. 3 wideout job. Martin has been praised by coach Gary Kubiak for his combination of explosiveness and surprising maturity.

Johnson, with his experience and big-play history, is also doing his best to serve the Texans’ youth with his knowledge, knowing that Martin and others will be called upon to help the team move closer to its goal.

“You never think that you’re going to be the old guy, and right now I’m the oldest guy in the room,” Johnson said. “I try to go out and teach those guys everything I can because those guys have to be out there Sunday making plays to help us win.”

After enduring the two hamstring injuries last season, Johnson showed just how much pop he had left by coming back strong in the playoffs. He had a 40-yard touchdown catch in the wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals and was effective in defeat (eight receptions for 111 yards) against a good Baltimore secondary.

Even though it might seem like he’s reached the peak of playing wide receiver, he won’t be satisfied with his individual game until it factors into more sustained playoff success for the Texans.

“I’ve always been motivated to get out here and get better as a player,” Johnson said. “Football is a game I love, and whenever I’m out here, I’m going to do whatever I can to make the team become better. “

Johnson has the same football drive he’s always had. A postseason trip has just accelerated that mentality.

“Andre’s always been that quiet guy, but you could get a sense last year, when we got to the playoffs, he was that much more anxious,” Myers said. “He wants to build upon that.”

With the championship window of opportunity starting to shrink for the Texans’ best all-time player, Johnson is aware his time needs to be now—and that feeling is shared by his teammates.

“With him going into Year 10 in the league, his years are getting a little slimmer now, so he wants to be able to produce and get this team back where it’s supposed to be,” Myers said. “He’s the most tenured guy on this team, and everyone wants to win for him as well.”

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James Jones surprises Fla. foster boy

MIAMI (AP) -- Miami Heat star James Jones is surprising a Florida foster boy with a personal invitation to attend his summer camp.

Child welfare officials orchestrated Thursday's surprise, telling the 11-year-old he is meeting Jones to get an autograph at Little Haiti Cultural Center. But Jones has made arrangements for the child to attend his Camp for Champions next week along with other South Florida foster youth.

The annual camp includes sports and leadership activities designed to build self-esteem and confidence.

The Department of Children and Families has been encouraging parents to include foster children in normal activities such as team sports, summer camps and family vacations in an effort to create a more normal upbringing.

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Danny Valencia appreciates chance for fresh start

CLEVELAND -- Danny Valencia knew things weren't going to work out for him in Minnesota. The once-promising third baseman prospect seemed to have fallen out of favor with the Twins, and he wasn't going to get many more opportunities.

"It was definitely a rough April," Valencia said. "I got off to a slow start, and they had guys come in and do a great job, and there really wasn't room for me."

The Red Sox acquired Valencia from the Twins last Sunday, and they called him up from Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday to take the spot of injured third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Valencia arrived at Progressive Field about 30 minutes before the start of Saturday night's game, and he entered as a defensive replacement at third base in the eighth inning.

Valencia was in the lineup at third, batting eighth, on Sunday afternoon.

"It [felt] nice because I wanted to get the early jitters out," Valencia said of playing Saturday. "I don't really know many people. Everybody's been really great. ... It's nice to be able to start over and have a clean slate, and try to help a team win that's right in the middle of things."

Valencia said he hasn't yet talked with manager Bobby Valentine about what his role will be with the Red Sox, but Valencia figures to get a substantial amount of playing time at third. The 27-year-old struggled with the Twins this season, hitting just .198 with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 34 games, but he's been a productive hitter in the past. Valencia had 15 homers and 72 RBIs in 154 games last season.

Whatever his role is, Valencia will be happy to have it. He's glad just to be part of a big league team.

"What happened to Will is unfortunate," Valencia said. "I feel bad for him. I just want to come in and help the team win, no matter what I can do, whether it be off then bench, starting, whatever it is. It's nice to just be able to get back with a team that's playing for the playoffs."

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Chris Perez shuts down Red Sox to earn save

Chris Perez shut down the Red Sox on Saturday night, allowing just one hit in his one inning of work while earning his 31st save of the season.
That's two strong outings in a row for Perez after a pair of epic blown saves last week. While he isn't the prototypical shutdown closer, he's more than capable of succeeding in the role and should make a push toward 40 saves before the season is over.

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Cubs activate Castillo, option Scott Maine to Iowa

CHICAGO – The Cubs made it official before Saturday’s game, activating Lendy Castillo from the disabled list and optioning left-hander Scott Maine to Triple-A Iowa.Castillo has been out since May 11 with a left groin strain and just completed a lengthy minor-league rehab assignment.In seven outings earlier this season, the right-handed Castillo had a 7.40 ERA. Maine is 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA over three separate stints with the Cubs this season.

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10 questions with Eddy Rodriguez

Let's talk about your road to the big leagues. You're in Single-A Lake Elsinore, the next day you're on a flight to Cincinnati to join a major league team. What is going through your head?
I almost didn't have time to have anything go through my head. It was a pleasant surprise. It's that call that I've been waiting for since I started playing this game when I was nine years old. I was surprised. I didn't really know what was going on. I've played this game long enough now to know that you can't really worry about what's going on in front of you. It takes care of itself, and I can't control it so I don't even worry about it. To tell you the truth, I went fishing that morning, and I was just happy I had a good day on the lake (laughs). I got a call at 10:45 and they said, "Hey, you're going to the big leagues" and I said, "Did you call the right guy?"

That jump from Single-A to the Big Show. That's huge. How did you mentally stay in the right place -- excited, but still under control?
I've had a smile from ear to ear since I got here. It hasn't changed since the minute I got the news. There's been a couple tears here and there in between but they've all been tears of joy. The path that we take -- I mean, every single ball player here has their unique story. And that's why this game is beautiful. You never know what's gonna happen.

To top it off, your first major league at-bat, you hit for a home run. I mean, can it get any better?
I couldn't have scripted it any better. I get Johnny Cueto, who is a possible Cy Young winner, an outstanding pitcher. I was at that point where I knew I had nothing to lose. I put in the hours of work, and you can't exchange anything for that. That peace of mind that you've put in the work, and whatever happens, happens. The game is going to take care of itself. All you gotta do is be prepared for that moment.

You're from Cuba. You and your family defected on your father's fishing boat when you were eight years old. The boat nearly capsized and drowned you all. What do you remember about that?
We snuck out. We spent three days on the ocean. It's one of those stories that takes about 30 minutes for me to get out. I normally get goose bumps. I was eight years old, and I couldn't be happier or more grateful to my parents for taking that opportunity. I wouldn't have played baseball in Cuba, just because of where I was. I lived out in the country.

You got to Miami. Was it tough to acclimate?
It was tough. The language barrier and the cultural barrier were the toughest things. But the thing is, you get to Miami. Miami is a mini-Cuba. That made it a little easier. But I got teased when I was younger because I didn't know English and people made fun of me and all that. And that's just kids being kids. But that's what made it a little tougher. Also, going from our home in Cuba to a tough financial situation, my mom cleaning houses and my dad working 40,50,60 hours a week on a consistent basis. It made it tough, but it just makes a moment like this more gratifying.

What's your relationship with Yonder?
We've grown up together. He's like my little brother but he got to the big leagues way before I did (laughs). It's awesome. The last time I saw him play, I was in Cincinnati after my independent league season was done. I was sitting in the stands. Two years later, it's a whole different situation. We're teammates.

Fishing is your hobby, your passion outside of baseball. How often do you go?
Last offseason, I fished at least twice a week. This offseason is going to be a little different. The most important thing is that I get ready for the season, but after I get back from this season, there's about a month where I won't do anything. There's 30 days in that month, about 25 of them I'm going to be on the water.

Does anyone fish with you?
I fish by myself. Its a passion that I've had. It's my getaway, my little sanctuary.

One thing on your bucket list?
Going to the World Cup.

Last meal on earth?
White rice, black beans, chicken and fried plantains.

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Yasmani Grandal making steady progress

PITTSBURGH -- The Padres injury front is improving, with a couple of players making progress. Rookie catcher rookie Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Tim Stauffer are both making strides with their rehab assignments.

Grandal has been working his way back from an oblique strain.

"Grandal hit on the field on Saturday and he came out of it OK," Padres manager Bud Black reported. "He hit both left- and right-handed. The right-handed swing was much more fluid, the left-handed a little guarded. We are going to continue to watch him, but he's getting better."

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Danny Valencia excited to make first start for Red Sox

CLEVELAND – An interesting week for Red Sox third baseman Danny Valencia ends with him in the starting lineup for the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon.

It started last Sunday when the Sox acquired Valencia in an August waiver trade with the Minnesota Twins, and continued when the corner infielder joined the Pawtucket Red Sox to play against Minnesota’s Triple-A club in Rochester for a pair of games. When Will Middlebrooks went down with the fractured right wrist, Ben Cherington’s prudent depth acquisition was called up to the big club. On Sunday, he is batting eighth between Mike Aviles and Kelly Shoppach.

To say it’s been a dizzying flurry of moves for Valencia this week would be an understatement.

“It’s been crazy. I went back to playing against my old team in Triple-A and now I’m here. But I’m ready to go and excited to play,” Valencia said. “I feel bad for [Middlebrooks], but I just want to be able to start, come off the bench or do whatever is going to help this team win.”

Valencia hopped in for a few innings as a defensive replacement in Saturday night’s loss to the Tribe, and was asked whether he was happy to get his feet wet.

“I got them soaked out there,” said a smiling Valencia. “It was nice. You just want to get the early jitters out. I don’t really know anybody here, so it was good to get out there and stretch my legs a little bit.”

The Twins third baseman fell out of favor in Minnesota this season while struggling with a .198/.212/.310 line in 34 games following a horrendous April performance. That led to his trade away from the Twins, and Valencia is hoping it leads to a fresh beginning in Boston during their time of need.

He went 3-for-7 with a pair of doubles in his two games against Triple-A Rochester, and said he’s now beyond his early season struggles.  

“It’s nice to be able to start over and have a clean slate. It’s great to come and try to help a team that’s right in the middle of a playoff push,” said Valencia. “It feels good. It was definitely a rough April for me. They had guys come in and do a great job and there was no room for me anymore.

“But I’m over here now and it’s worked out for me. So that’s nice.”

Valencia will try to continue the “nice” story of his time with Boston in his starting debut against the Tribe on Sunday afternoon.

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