Frank Gore said 49ers never told him in offseason his spot was in jeopardy

Running back Frank Gore isn’t sure where he’ll be next year for his 11th season in the NFL. But returning to the 49ers for this season was never in question, he said Thursday.

A NFL Network report before Monday night’s win at St. Louis claimed that the 49ers approached Gore in the offseason and told him his roster spot was in jeopardy. General manager Trent Baalke said before kickoff that was “not true,” and Gore said the same Thursday at his locker.

Gore is as curious as anyone if the 49ers will attempt to re-sign him, and he’s all for it in his quest to win his first Super Bowl ring, and the 49ers’ first since 20 years ago.

As much as Gore thrives on being an offensive catalyst, he wasn’t complaining how the 49ers’ pass-oriented attack beat the Rams 31-17 behind Colin Kaepernick’s 343 yards.

“I’m happy with that game,” Gore said. “Now we get to see how (the Broncos) play us.”

A stronger passing threat would seem to benefit Gore, who was coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games before Monday’s 38-yard effort on 16 carries.

Gore said he feels “great” and believed coaches were being smart in the fourth quarter by resting him in favor of Carlos Hyde, who failed to score despite three consecutive runs from within the Rams’ 2-yard line.

Gore returned on the 49ers’ next series and also failed to convert a fourth-and-1 run from the Rams 34. “They stopped it and played good defense,” Gore said. “Whenever you can’t get yards, you get (upset).”

The more yards Gore can gain Sunday night, the longer that will keep Peyton Manning & Co. off the field. Gore isn’t campaigning for a marquee role, however.
“We all have to play well as a group,” Gore said. “Whoever’s number is called, they’ve got to make plays.”

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Darryl Sharpton stepping in and stepping up

When Darryl Sharpton signed with the Bears Sept. 25, he didn’t expect to be starting at middle linebacker less than three weeks later. But that’s exactly what transpired last Sunday in Atlanta.

“It’s not something that I had on my calendar obviously,” Sharpton said. “But it’s what adversity brought and with the coaching, this organization prepared me for this adverse situation and I was able to step in.”

With the Bears’ top four linebackers all unable to play against the Falcons due to injuries, Sharpton stepped in and stepped up. He not only recorded 10 tackles and broke up a key third-down pass with a crushing hit on receiver Roddy White but called all the defensive signals.

So how did Sharpton know enough about the defense to get his teammates lined up and make all the checks?

“Just experience playing football, just being in the game for so long,” he said. “There’s some carryover from different systems and you try to gather all of your football knowledge and information and then take the new game plan and then just go out there and try to mesh the two and do your best.

“I didn’t play perfect. I made mistakes, which I have to correct, which is why we’re going to these meetings, so you can improve the next week.”

Sharpton was selected by the Houston Texans in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Miami. He appeared in 42 games with 19 starts over four seasons, recording 166 tackles, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

After ending each of his first three seasons on injured reserve, Sharpton became a starter midway through last year after Brian Cushing suffered a season-ending injury. The experience helped Sharpton excel in the same type of scenario last week with the Bears.

“It was a similar situation when ‘Cush’ went down,” he said. “Last year I stepped in his spot and I think I did a good job there. So it wasn’t unfamiliar territory [last Sunday]. It was like déjà vu.”

Sharpton left the Texans to sign with the Redskins in March. But he sustained an ankle injury in training camp and was eventually waived/injured Sept. 22. The 26-year-old signed with the Bears four days later, joining his third team in a six-month span.

“It just speaks to the nature of life, the nature of the league,” Sharpton said. “You never know what’s in store for you in the future. You don’t know what’s going to be there. Sometimes you don’t know whether you’re going to be on a team or you’re going to be starting on a team. You never know in this league. The only thing you control is your effort and your intensity and your willingness to play, As long as you keep that, you’ve just got to put the rest in the Lord’s hand.”

Sharpton is excited to reunite with Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring, his position coach with the Texans in 2011-12.

“He holds everybody to a high standard and he doesn’t keep it a secret what he wants from you,” Sharpton said. “He’s going to tell you exactly what he wants and if you’re not doing it the right way he’s going to correct you.

“Reggie’s very direct and to the point. He has a lot of memorable quotes. His general message is just stay focused, focus on your job at hand and take advantage of your opportunities. He’s a guy who coaches details and he’s very detailed-oriented and he demands that from his players, all players. It doesn’t matter who you are, he has a high standard for everyone.”

Sharpton is the second cousin of Reverend Al Sharpton. But that’s far from the most interesting thing about the linebacker given his journey to the Bears, which began with a tryout.

“When I first came here I only had the clothes on my back,” Sharpton said. “That same night I had to go to Walmart and get some underwear and socks and stay in a hotel, so it was pretty rough. It was the first time I did something like that, just living out of Walmart pretty much. My wife was able to ship my car and some clothes up to me now, so I’m a little bit more settled.”

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Greg Olsen continues long streak of consecutive games

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen took exception to Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict apparently trying to hurt his ankle last week, calling for the player with the long history of personal foul penalties to be suspended.

And while Burfict avoided suspension, he was not successful in taking Olsen out of the lineup.

Olsen, who has two sprained ankles, expects to play Sunday at Green Bay, which would be his 118th consecutive regular-season game.

It’s the second-longest active streak among tight ends, trailing Dallas’ Jason Witten, who has played in 177 consecutive games. As a rookie in 2007 with Chicago, Olsen sat out the first two games with a knee injury but hasn’t missed a game since.

“I put a lot of pride into that. It’s not easy to play in this league to begin with, let alone play tight end and do all the things we’re asked to do,” Olsen said.

“I try to take good care of my body, both in the offseason and during the season. Little things are going to get nicked. You learn to play while not feeling top-notch. If you learn that pretty quick in this league, you’ll be in good shape.”

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Ravens will challenge Devin Hester, not kick away from him

Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg says that as he prepares to face the Falcons and Devin Hester on Sunday, he’s not planning to wave the white flag of surrender and kick high and short or out of bounds to avoid giving Hester a chance to run the ball back.

Instead, Rosburg says, the Ravens will welcome the opportunity to compete with Hester, and plan to contain him.

“We have faced a lot of good returners this year already,” Rosburg told the Baltimore Sun. “When we play Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, we face very good punt returners of that caliber and of that type. We have a lot of confidence in our punt game. We have good gunners, we have a good punter and we have good inside core guys, so we are going to do all we can to try to contain him with what we do.”

Hester is the NFL’s all-time leader in kick return touchdowns, and this year he’s in the Top 10 in the NFL in both kickoff return average and punt return average. Rosburg says that makes the Ravens look forward to taking him on.

“It’s up to our guys. They relish a challenge,” Rosburg said. “And playing against the best returner touchdown-wise that there’s ever been, that’s a great challenge for our guys. They look forward to that challenge, but they also have a great deal of respect for whom we are playing. . . . He has the perfect combination of skills for a returner. He’s fast, and he has incredible change-of-direction skills. He can run up and smell somebody’s breath and then disappear. The other thing he can do, which people aren’t really that aware of, he can break tackles. He’s a strong runner. So, he really has the three-way combination to be the outstanding returner he is. Every time you give him the ball, he’s a threat to take it to the house, and that’s his goal.”

The Ravens’ goal is to keep Hester off the highlight reel on Sunday.


Jon Beason would like to win a game

Jon Beason tried to force a smile when he delivered the one-liner, but it was hard because there was so much truth behind the joke.

"Right now I'm messing it up," he said on Thursday. "When I play, we don't win."

Beason has played in three games this season. The Giants have lost all of them. He has been inactive for three games this season. The Giants have won all of them. That is certainly little more than coincidence, but it is something Beason would like to rectify on Sunday against the Cowboys.

Beason played last week against the Eagles for the first time since aggravating his toe in Week 2. He had three tackles credited to him.

"I thought I moved pretty well," he said. "I read plays well. I'd like to be more active. That's the starting point coming off an injury with a limited amount of practice. I was somewhat happy to make it through the game. Obviously I want to build on that. I can play a whole lot better. I have to play better."

Tom Coughlin said Beason has been practicing fully the last two days and said Beason is making "good progress." He said that Beason's energy and enthusiasm have been the same that he provided last season, and that the production should be following soon.

Beason said he still feels limited in practices.

"I would like not to be, but everything is about Sunday," he said. "It's on the back burner in my mind how many snaps I'm taking in practice. I just know that I'm ready to go and try to get this win on Sunday."

Which, as he knows, would be his first of the year.

"You say, 'Hey, do your job, do it hard, and hopefully you can be a reason why we win as opposed to a reason why we don't.'"

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Timeout With Chase Ford

Vikings tight end Chase Fordicon-article-link has eight catches for 85 yards in the past three games since being elevated from the practice squad to the active roster to fill in for injured TE Kyle Rudolphicon-article-link. After stops in Philadelphia and a brief stint in Dallas, the native of Corrigan, Texas, a town of less than 2,000 people northeast of Houston, Ford caught on with Minnesota for the final two games of 2013. took a Timeout with Ford for a Q & A this week.

Q: What did you like or not like about growing up in a small town?
Ford: I pretty much loved everything about it. I guess you could say the only downfall to it is you can’t just, you’ve got to drive to go to Walmart or the mall. That’s kind of the only down thing.

Q: Better not forget something on your grocery list then?
Ford: We’ve got a local grocery store, but if you’re trying to go get a TV or some shoes or something you’ve got to drive about 25-30 minutes. It’s not too far, but it’s not just hop in the car and “Let’s go.”

Q: Describe the transition you made from junior college to Miami and then the NFL.
Ford: To me, the way I’ve always explained it when people ask me, I feel like that way it was good for me because the game, it was like your talent level rose with how you were playing. It’s not like an 18-year-old going to Tennessee or Miami or something like that, because it would take them by storm, like ‘This game is too fast.’ It was like a ladder that got me up here, a little bit better, a little bit better and then the top level.

Q: What did you learn from spending time with three NFL teams as a rookie?
I learned it don’t feel good to get cut (laughs). Do everything you can to not get cut.

Q: Did you learn something to take with you to your next team?
Ford: I learned a lot. In Philly, Tom Melvin, he’s the tight ends coach at Kansas City now, but he taught me a lot. There was stuff I didn’t know, little things with your route running and blocking that helped me out a lot. I was only in Dallas for a week, so I’m not going to say I learned anything there, but I’ve learned a whole lot from last year’s staff and this year’s staff here.

Q: How have those experiences helped you adjust to the new offensive system here?
Ford: You’ve just got to be prepared for anything. Coming from high school to junior college to college, I haven’t had the same playbook for more than two years since I’ve been playing football. Having the same playbook for years to come would be real nice.

Q: How much time do you spend in your playbook?
Ford: I’m going to start spending more time because that was something that I never really was taught, so it’s something I’m learning as I go, that it helps you to watch extra film and helps you to study your plays a little more. You might know it, but if you look over it one more time, you might not mess up.

Q: Would you rather block, catch the ball or run after the catch?
Ford: You know what? If I had to pick one, I’d probably say catch the ball. That’s really the reason I play football, because I like catching the football.

Q: How much emphasis do you place on catching the ball?
Ford: I’ve never been one of those guys that caught 100 jugs after practice every day. It was just a natural gift God gave me, where I can catch the ball. I’m thankful for that.

Q: What about the other parts besides the catch, the route running and things like that? How much of that did you have to learn more of at this level?
Ford: I had to learn all of it, pretty much. I didn’t even really know how to run routes until I got into the league. That was something that Tom helped me with in Philadelphia. You would see it on paper and draw it up on paper, but you wouldn’t know stuff like when you’re running this inside route, this dig route, you’re falling up field and you’re not supposed to do that, little things like that help you out a whole lot in any league but especially this one because they’re so fast and so good on their reads that the little things count, and I’ve picked all that up since I’ve been in the league.

Q: There’s a lot of Texas guys, lot of Florida guys, lot of California guys in the locker room. Do the Texas guys kind of hang together a little more or have a state pride thing?
Ford: No, everything’s better in Texas, don’t get me wrong. Our team ain’t like that. I feel like everybody’s cool with everybody, and I feel like the way we hang out would be less state-wise and more position-wise. I’m probably cooler with my tight ends than I would be with the defensive backs — nothing against them, they’re my boys too, but you spend more time with your position group.

Q: Do you have any pre-game habits or rituals?
Ford: Not really. I like to listen to a little, I don’t want to call it Gospel music because Gospel music puts out a different term, but a Christian music like Kirk Franklin cause it’s more upbeat but is still sending the same message, so I try to listen to that before the game to clear my mind.

Q: How long has your faith been important to you?
Ford: Coming from the South, they call it the Bible belt, so I’ve kind of always been brought up in it and it was really important to me when I was younger, but it’s something that I went through my teenage years living my life or whatever, but it’s something I’m trying to get back on like I was when I was younger.

Q: What goals do you have for the rest of the season?
Ford: Win. That’s the number one goal. I want to do whatever it takes to win. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have a catch and the receivers have 30 catches.


Saints list Jimmy Graham as limited participant Thursday

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was listed as a limited participant in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday due to a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 5. During his Thursday press conference, coach Sean Payton said he was "optimistic" about Graham's status heading into Week 7 against the Lions.

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Texans simply need a win on MNF, Andre Johnson says

The Texans are four days away from playing their final primetime regular-season game this season.

With the national lights of “Monday Night Football” and the Pittsburgh Steelers waiting, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson said his team simply needs a victory.

The Texans started 2-0 but are 1-3 during their last four games, including back-to-back near wins that ended in defeat.

“We just need to get a win,” Johnson said Thursday at NRG Stadium.

He added: “We’re not in a bad spot. Of course, we would like to be in a better situation — we feel like we’ve let some games get away.”

The Texans only have two primetime games this season. After recently falling to Indianapolis on “Thursday Night Football,” Monday at Pittsburgh is the final scheduled national showcase for the 2014 Texans.

“Everybody’s watching. It’s the only game on TV,” Johnson said. “A great big stage for us and hopefully we’ll go out there and put our best game on Monday night.”

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Eric Winston blasts Marvin Lewis

CINCINNATI -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has been criticized from the minute he made comments during his Wednesday afternoon news conference that concussions "linger longer" now because of the media attention that head injuries receive.

One of his most vocal critics was NFL Players Association president and former player Eric Winston, who expressed his thoughts on Twitter.

Winston's tweets also could be targeting Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who said wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin came in Monday complaining of a "little headache" after a receiving a hit Sunday from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Panthers doctors determined Benjamin had a mild concussion.

Lewis' comments came during a portion of his weekly news conference in which he was asked about Burfict and the intense, aggressive, emotion-filled edge he plays with. Those same traits have made Burfict one of the more penalized players in the league, and one who has started getting a negative reputation for some of his post-whistle antics.

A source told ESPN's Ed Werder that Burfict was fined $25,000 this week for twisting the ankles of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen after he had tackled both in last Sunday's 37-37 overtime tie in Cincinnati.

In a fiery interview session with Panthers reporters the day after the game, Olsen called for Burfict to be suspended for the actions and called out his style of play.

"He's a hard-nosed player," Olsen said. "His style of game is what he is. It's why he knocks himself out half the time."

The latter portion of Olsen's comment was in reference to the three concussions Burfict has had since the end of last season. He already has had two in back-to-back weeks this season. The concussions forced him out of the season opener at Baltimore and the Week 2 game against the Falcons. They also kept him sidelined for three weeks before he returned last weekend against the Panthers.

Despite leaving the game briefly for what the Bengals said was a "hit to the head," Burfict returned and finished the game.
It's the only game he has finished this season.

At one point during Lewis' news conference, a reporter asked about at what point the coach becomes concerned about Burfict not only as a player, but as a human being, given his number of concussions.

Replied Lewis: "He had a concussion against Atlanta. That's the biggest concern. You don't want him to have ... again, I coached defense and linebackers for a long time and concussions didn't linger. Now we've found that because of the media and things they seem to linger longer. There's a lot of attention paid to it. I don't know why they linger longer, but I don't remember them lingering like they do now."

The NFL in recent years has intensified its approach regarding concussions and renewed its policies related to the level of medical scrutiny players must go through before getting cleared to play again after a concussion. Many of the league's concerns stem from long-term health issues retired players have experienced, and recent research that has made some connections between former player deaths and head trauma.

Lewis was asked after Wednesday's practice if he wanted to clarify his comments. He declined, acknowledging he probably shouldn't have broached the topic in the first place.

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Reggie Wayne Talks His Bond With T.Y. Hilton

INDIANAPOLIS – With a short week last week, Reggie Wayneicon-article-link did not appear on his weekly radio show.

The 14-year veteran was back on it this Tuesday though for a more in-depth conversation.

On WNDE, Wayne talked his relationship with T.Y. Hiltonicon-article-link, the play of Pat McAfeeicon-article-link, the retirement of Pat Angerer and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Here are some of the highlights from Wayne joining Query and Schultz:

On T.Y. Hilton and the relationship he has with Wayne:

“He has that playmaking ability and he was able to show that Thursday night.

“T.Y. comes and he’s always asking questions. He asks, ‘What do you think I should of done there? Should have I gone inside or should have I gone outside?’ That’s the way you learn. That’s the way I was with Marvin Harrison. I would ask him things what I could do to run this particular route better. Whenever you have a guy that’s played a little longer I think you should use that. T.Y., he’s taken advantage of that opportunity. He’s asked me a lot of questions in his three years. He’s a true professional already. He’s a student of the game. He takes a lot of notes. He asks questions in meetings and you don’t see a lot of young guys that do that. He’s a guy that really wants to be good and whenever you see a guy that wants to be good, you want to do everything you can to help. At one point in time, I used to say in his rookie year, ‘You might want to think about doing this or doing that.’ Now I don’t have to do that much. He has that experience under his belt. He knows defenses. He understands his role. If we are talking anything football, it’s probably a question he comes and asks me and it’s probably pretty minor.”

On the first quarter against the Texans and if he remembers a time when the Colts had an opening quarter like that:

“That’s a good question. I’ve got a lot of games under my belt in 14 years (laughs). I don’t think there’s any to be honest with you. We were hitting on all cylinders. We went out and scored fast, had a surprise onside that worked and were able to take that turnover and score real quick. We saw early that things were going to be all right for us and that’s kind of the way it goes. I really believe that football is a game of momentum and it seemed like everything we dialed up was the right choice. We need to figure out a way to just continue to ride that wave, even though we know it’s going to be tough.”

On the play of Pat McAfee and special teams in 2014:

“I believe he’s changing the whole mindset of the way team’s think of that. If you look at what he’s already done this season, and the way he’s punting the ball, he’s punting the ball outstanding. He’s doing things that we aren’t really used to seeing on the special teams side as far as the Indianapolis Colts. He’s definitely become a weapon for us. He can make any kick that you can ask him.

“You’ve got a Hall of Famer in Adam Vinatieriicon-article-link always in his ear and I think Pat has taken his game to a whole ‘nother level. I think he’s realized how good he can be. He’s playing phenomenal.”

On Pat Angerer retiring from the NFL:

“Pat was a feisty guy. He was kind of an undersized guy. It was funny because he always played with a little chip on his shoulder and he brought a lot of energy to that locker room, to that team. I saw he shut it down and retired due to injuries and things like that. That just makes you realize that Pat was a young player and it seemed like he was doing so well, but the injuries kind of took over and forced him to retire.

“I enjoyed Pat. He was a great teammate, a great person. We spent a lot of time together laughing. Unfortunately a lot of that time was in the training room, getting healthy but that’s the way it is. We call the training room, the “barbershop.” Everybody is going to be in the barbershop trying to get back to 100 percent as close as they can and we had a lot of laughs in that training room.”

On the Bengals:

“They are always right in the mix, especially the last few years since they got the quarterback in Andy Dalton. He’s really had them in the fold of the AFC race. At one point in time in my career, you kind of looked at Cincinnati and figured, alright they are going to be one of the bottom echelon teams in the AFC but now you can’t do that anymore. They are a team that’s going to make you come out and play a good game or they will embarrass you.”

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Knicks to pick up guard Shane Larkin's third-year contract option

After some initial uncertainty, the New York Knicks plan to pick up the third-year contract option for guard Shane Larkin, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks have been satisfied with Larkin, 22, in the preseason, and will guarantee the $1.67 million on his contract for the 2015-16 season.

The deadline for guaranteeing the third-year option comes at the end of October.

As Knicks president Phil Jackson plans to use significant salary cap space for high-profile free agents in the summer of 2015, he’s been cautious on committing guaranteed money to the payroll. In the preseason, Larkin has averaged 2.5 points and 1.5 assists in 20 minutes per game for New York.

New York acquired Larkin, guard Jose Calderon and center Sam Dalembert from Dallas as part of a deal for center Tyson Chandler and guard Raymond Felton in June.

Larkin was the 18th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft in which he was part of a deal from Atlanta to Dallas. He averaged 10.2 minutes per game as a rookie for the Mavericks in the 2013-14 season. Larkin was an All-ACC player at the University of Miami.

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Lauryn Williams wins championship

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- This time last year, Lauryn Williams was getting into a bobsled for the first time.

Now she's not only an Olympic silver medalist, but a national champion as well.

Williams -- one of five people to medal in different sports at the Summer and Winter Olympics -- won the U.S. national bobsled push championship in the women's brakeman division Thursday, finishing her two starts on the wheeled track at Lake Placid in 9.56 seconds.

Katie Eberling, who's transitioning from push athlete to driver, won the women's pilot competition and Olympic veteran Nick Cunningham won the men's pilot title.

"It was really inspiring to get back out there and be on the track and to win my first push championships," said Williams, who became a two-time Olympic track and field medalist before turning to bobsledding. "I think it's really awesome to see all of the new girls so bubbly and excited about bobsled, and I really relate to that feeling since that was me not even a year ago."

Williams considered retirement after she and Elana Meyers Taylor won silver at the Sochi Games, doing so just six months after getting in a sled for the first time.

But she kept her options open, never making her plans to step away official, and now she's expected to lead the push athletes on the women's World Cup team this winter.

"I'm really looking forward to the season," Williams said.

Eberling finished her two pushes in 8.41 seconds, edging Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Greubel Poser (8.47) for the women's pilot title. Maureen Ajoku was third in 8.72.

Meyers Taylor did not compete because of injury. She had won six straight national push titles.

"I think anytime Elana isn't entered into the competition there's an asterisk next to the win," Eberling said. "But it feels good to start the season with a win and to get back into competition mode after a long offseason."

Cunningham won his third straight men's pilot title, his time of 7.93 topping Codie Bascue (8.00) and rookie Andrew Blaser (8.05).

Steven Holcomb, the 2010 Olympic champion, was fourth and Olympic veteran John Napier -- who is contemplating a return from retirement -- was fifth.

"As a competitor, I always want to win," Cunningham said. "We are going through a rebuilding phase with our program, so to come out here and start the season out like this and to see the depth of pilots is a great thing to see."

Napier isn't sure what his future holds yet.

"I am back to enjoy myself and to spend time with the team," said Napier, who was in college at Lakeland, Florida last year. "I missed being around the team and the guys. This culture is a part of my life and it seems no matter how far I run away, it will always be near to my heart."

The men's brakeman push championships are scheduled for Friday. On-ice training in Lake Placid is expected to start next week, weather permitting. National team selection races also start later this month.

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Dejected Jon Jay appreciates season of resiliency

SAN FRANCISCO -- Shortly after the Cardinals' season-ending 6-3 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park on Thursday night, Jon Jay lay flat on his back in the visitors' clubhouse, displaying the exhaustion and disappointment of a man who played his heart out, but ultimately came up short.

A second straight trip to the Fall Classic was not in the cards this year for St. Louis, which dropped the National League Championship Series to San Francisco in five games. But it was not for a lack of inspired performance by Jay, one of nine current Cardinals who's been present for all four of the club's consecutive runs to the NLCS.

"He was big for us all year," said first baseman Matt Adams. "Just a great ballplayer. Great all-around player, great defender, and he's a gamer. He comes to the field ready to go each day."

Jay went 14-for-29 (.483) this postseason and made big plays in the outfield, including a sliding catch in left field in the eighth Thursday to rob Gregor Blanco of a hit.

Now, the 29-year-old outfielder will enter his second offseason of arbitration, and after making $3.25 million this season, Jay will certainly receive a raise. Whether general manager John Mozeliak opts to give him a long-term extension, trade him or sign him to another one-year deal remains to be seen.

One thing, however, is clear: Jay was rock solid in 2014. He batted .303 during the regular season, before shining in October. And in Jay's fifth Major League season, he was also a key team leader.

"I want to thank him," Adams said. "He did a good job taking me under his wing this year and kind of showing me the ropes. He's just a great teammate.

"Just being there," Adams said when asked for specifics. "Some situations that he went through when he was younger. He just was able to help me out all year long. It was pretty cool."

Throughout the playoffs, Jay and second baseman Kolten Wong were the most consistent hitters in St. Louis' lineup.

"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for what they were able to do," Matt Carpenter said. "This team's got a lot of players that take a lot of pride in what they do, and those guys are a big part of it. You can't say enough about what they were able to do for us."

On Thursday, a dejected Jay was not yet ready to celebrate his personal performance. But he could appreciate being part of yet another deep postseason run with the Cards.

"This team, we dealt with so much adversity all year long," Jay said. "We kept getting hit with different things and a lot of people counted us out, and we played well the second half and we kept believing in ourselves, and we got to this point.

"Obviously, you want to go to the World Series and get a chance for a ring, but when you look back at the season, we'll know how hard we fought and how we really came together as a team and as a family. We gave it our all, but they were just better than us." 

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Lamar Miller: Practices in Limited Capacity Wednesday

Miller (knee) was a limited participant at Wednesday's practice, the Dolphins' official site reports.

Miller was one of 11 players listed as limited by the Dolphins on Wednesday, with his status worth tracking as Sunday's game against the Bears approaches. With Knowshon Moreno now out for the season, Miller's status as the Dolphins' lead back looks secure, assuming his health. That said, those looking to insure Miller, whose knee issue isn't believed to be serious or who are simply of a mind to secure a back that is an injury away from an expanded role, are advised to consider Damien Williams, who currently slots in as Miller's top backup.

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Darryl Sharpton Goes from No Name to Big Game for Bears

Who’s #53 for the Bears?  Who the heck is Darryl Sharpton?  I heard those questions a lot on Sunday during the Bears’ surprising 27-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons.  The Bears, who limped into the game with their top four linebackers sidelined with injuries, called upon a bunch of “no name” linebackers to lead the Bears defense against one of the top offenses in the league.  I have to admit, when I heard the names Christian Jones, Khaseem Greene and Darryl Sharpton as the Bears starting linebackers, I thought two things.  1) we’re screwed and 2) who is Darryl Sharpton?  After a strong showing on Sunday, I had to do a little research about Sharpton, who’s not just another random Phil Emery waiver wire claim.

Phil Emery has been churning the bottom of the Bears roster so much every week, that it’s easy to overlook who he’s bringing in.  Most of the guys coming in are undrafted free agents or late round roster cuts who couldn’t cut it elsewhere.  That’s not the case with Darryl Sharpton.  He’s an experienced veteran with a nice linebacking resume.

The 5-11 linebacker was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans out of Miami (FL).  Coming out of “The U” is a pretty good pedigree to begin with and was named 2nd team All-ACC in his senior season.  Sharpton appeared in 12 games as a rookie and recorded 34 tackles.  He played a reserve role for the Texans for the first three years with the Texans until he was pressed into action to fill in for Brian Cushing, who went out with a broken leg in 2013.  Sharpton had a terrific season including 87 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defended and 6 stuffs in 15 games.

Sharpton was targeted by the Redskins in the offseason, signing a 1-year deal in March of 2014 worth up to $2 million.  It didn’t get that far as a preseason high ankle sprain led to his contract getting terminated on September 22nd.  Phil Emery scooped him up on September 24th.

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Warren Sapp: ‘I Almost Threw Up’ When I Saw McCoy Helping Other Players Up

NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp joined The Booger and Ryan Show to discuss what’s gone wrong for the Bucs this season.
Sapp said what he’s watching from the Bucs defense isn’t the Tampa 2.

“That ain’t (Tampa) 2,” Sapp said. “No, they’re not playing that defense I mean it’s a different version.”

Sapp did say though that even with Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson and John Lynch the Bucs were 1-7 in their first 8 games with the new system. It takes time to learn.

Sapp said it’s plain as day on film. It’s about the players on the field.

“It’s the Willys and Joes, not the X’s and O’s,” Sapp told Booger and Marc. “Me and Gerald (McCoy) had a real frank conversation this morning. He said ‘I had a bad day at the office, I’ve chalked it up and I’ve got to get better.’ I said there we go.”

Sapp told us that there are quality players there they just need to make some plays.

Gerald McCoy defended helping up opposing players. Sapp said he didn’t like that.

“Too see him (McCoy) reach down and help the running back up and help the lineman up, I almost threw up. Uh! This could never happen, this could never happen. There’s a certain mentality you play this game with.”

So far though, Sapp said he likes Lovie Smith and what he’s doing. It takes time for a bad team to let all the bad habits go. Sapp said even in his day, it took him time to become a disciplined DT.

In today’s current NFL, Sapp said that you can’t rely just on defense.

“You can’t come out and play like we did anymore,” Sapp said. “We can forget those days, Buc ball is dead fellas. The 17-10 games all that 13-9 uh-uh. It’s over. There will be some points put up on the scoreboard, the defense has to keep you in it and the offense has to win it for you.”

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PHOTO: Bears LB Darryl Sharpton Forces Fumble

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Calais Campbell jogging, could return Week 8

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday that defensive lineman Calais Campbell (knee) is jogging, reports.

Campbell likely won't be able to play this week, but it appears he could return in Week 8 against the Eagles. He was injured by an ugly cut block in Week 5.

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Lamar Miller riding exercise bike at practice

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller did not participate in the start of practice Tuesday and rode an exercise bike instead, reports the Palm Beach Post. It's unclear if Miller was limited or held out of practice entirely, the report said.

Miami won't issue an injury report until after Wednesday's practice.

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Sam Shields: Injury Not Considered Serious

The knee injury Shields suffered in Sunday's game is not believed to be serious, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The full extent of Shields' injury is uncertain, and he could miss this week's game against the Panthers, but head coach Mike McCarthy said he isn't concerned about Shields missing an extended period of time. Shields' participation, or lack thereof, during practice this week will likely determine whether or not he suits up for Week 7.

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Calais Campbell 'hopeful' to return this week, play at Oakland

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Despite Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians saying a return by Calais Campbell this weekend against Oakland is "very slim," the star defensive end is holding out hope.

His goal is to practice by the end of week, which, in his eyes, would mean he could play Sunday.

"I understand that it's a process and all depends on how my body feels," Campbell told ESPN on Monday night at his annual CRC Foundation fundraiser dinner in Scottsdale. "The process right now is just listening to my body and just to see how it progresses over the next few days."

Campbell's initial prognosis was one-to-three weeks. Sunday marked a week since Denver's Julius Thomas injured Campbell with an illegal chop block. The end of the second week would be in Oakland and the third would conclude at home against Philadelphia on Oct. 26.

The process of returning from a strained MCL in a week is different for Campbell than that of a player less agile on the field, such as an offensive lineman, he said. His knee is feeling "way better," but he feels the injury is going to linger.

"I guess the biggest thing is making sure the muscle or ligament reattaches and gets strong enough where it won't re-injure itself," Campbell said. "That's the hardest part, so I won't re-injure myself. Once I get through that point, it's just tolerating pain and being able to play."

On Monday, Arians was asked whether he expects Campbell against the Raiders.

"There's a chance," Arians said. "But it's a very slim one, I think."

Watching Sunday's win from the sideline was tough for Campbell, who only missed four games in his first six seasons. It was harder, he said, knowing he was just starting to find a rhythm that could've taken him straight to the Pro Bowl.

He had 16 tackles, a sack and an interception, in the first four games this season, in which Arizona went 3-1.

"It's frustrating because I felt like I was just getting into the groove," Campbell said. "I felt explosive. I felt like I was getting to that mentality where I could dominate. Really felt in Denver, that second half I was going to dominate.

"Things happen and the beauty of it is whenever I do get back, it's still a lot of football left to be played. I can still do what I want to do and help the team win games."

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Chase Ford goes 4-37 against Lions

Vikings TE Chase Ford caught four passes for 37 yards in Minnesota's Week 6 loss to Detroit.

Ford finished second on the team in receiving behind Jerick McKinnon on a day where Teddy Bridgewater absorbed eight sacks and threw three interceptions, failing to engineer a scoring drive until fourth-quarter garbage time. Ford is the Vikings' pass-catching tight end with Kyle Rudolph on the shelf.

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Allen Bailey, unsung hero for the KC defense

Travel back to Week 1 for a second. Yes, I know, remembering that dumpster fire of a game against the Titans is painful. But I need you to get into the mindset for just a second.

You there? Suppress that vomit, you! Power through, you can do this! All right, now that you've retched your way into your mindset following that awful, awful loss, let me ask you a question.

What would you say if I told you that through Week 6, the Chiefs would have the fifth ranked defense in the NFL in points allowed despite only having three total takeaways (INT/FUM) and losing Eric Berry to injury midway through their second game?

You'd tell me I was insane, right? After all, we'd just witnessed Jake Locker and the Titans hang roughly a thousand points on the Chiefs without all that much difficulty. The secondary looked problematic, the pass rush looked problematic, the run defense looked problematic ... the word of the day was "problematic."
Never mind that the Chiefs had dates with the Broncos, Patriots, and 49ers prior to that date. Every one of those teams has a more potent offense than the Titans, and looked primed to shred a struggling Chiefs defense. Mike DeVito was gone. Derrick Johnson was gone. The entire secondary (minus Husain Abdullah) had just gotten handled in a way that looked very, very repeatable. Times were grim.

Yet here we are, five weeks later, and the Chiefs are indeed ranked fifth in the NFL in points per game allowed at 20.2 points per game being given up (it says something about the "new" NFL when 20.2 points per game allowed leads to a top five ranking). That includes holding offensive powerhouses New England and Denver both to under their season averages by a decent margin (New England, in particular, had nothing but a pair of garbage time touchdowns to boast about).

So ... how is that happening? Without Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson, or Mike DeVito? And no, the answer isn't "The Chiefs defense is better without those guys." That's an insane theory I've seen regarding one of those players, and it's asinine enough that I refuse to acknowledge its existence. Those three players are all better (two of them significantly so) than the players they've got replacing them. So what's happening?

Well, a few things could be pointed to for an answer. Sean Smith is playing really solid football. Ron Parker has been significantly better at safety than he was at cornerback (how it took the coaches this long to put him at safety is beyond me. Great speed, terrible at mirroring routes). Tamba Hali and Justin Houston have been doing their thing and terrorizing quarterbacks. Husain Abdullah has been playing out of his mind.

All of those have been important factors, but it's the pass rush that stands out as the principle reason the defense has been highly competitive (despite the defense struggling against the run, giving up 4.8 yards per carry. We'll worry about that another day). In fact, the Chiefs pass rush has been arguably the most efficient in the NFL this season.

The Chiefs are currently tied for seventh in the NFL with 15 sacks. On the surface that's good, but not great. However, as always, looking at base stats themselves doesn't tell the story accurately. Because some teams (including the Chiefs) but not others have taken their bye week, those numbers are skewed.

A more accurate method would be to look at passes attempted per sack. The Chiefs have only had opposing quarterbacks attempt 159 passes against them. No other team in the top 10 for sacks has had fewer than 193 passes attempted. Obviously, more passes attempted means more opportunities for a sack. In fact, only two teams, Oakland and St. Louis, have seen fewer pass attempts than the Chiefs. Those teams have five sacks and one sack, respectively.

When you instead look to see how many passes opposing teams attempt per sack, the numbers are starkly different. The Chiefs sack the quarterback every 10.6 pass attempts. Only the Lions (with a sack every 10.35 pass attempts) are getting to the quarterback at a higher rate.

In other words, the Chiefs (despite playing the legendarily tough-to-sack Fivehead) are sporting a pair of the two best pass rushes in the NFL.

And that's where we get to the point (700 words later). While a great deal of credit needs to go to the ridiculous duo of Houston / Hali, this year has been slightly different when it comes to the Chiefs pass rush. And that difference has started with a player most of us had given up on: Allen Bailey.

Last year I finally made peace with the fact that Bailey was a decent run defender who would forever be a liability against the pass. Despite constantly seeing individual matchups due to the presence of Dontari Poe, Bailey was generally unable to generate any pressure of his own when quarterbacks dropped back to pass. Teams picked up on this, and over the second half of the season last year quarterbacks benefited from beautiful pockets as Poe was double teamed and Bailey was stonewalled.

This year has been markedly different. Bailey already as 2.5 sacks through five games, or 250 percent of his production last year for the ENTIRE SEASON (yeah, it's only an increase by 1.5 sacks. But 250 percent sounds way better, no?). While Bailey is being credited with "hurries" and "hits" at about the same rate as last year per ProFootballFocus, he's simply been more impactful this season when rushing the passer.

Look no further than the third quarter of the 49ers game if you want to see the havoc Poe and Bailey have been causing. One of the primary reasons the Niners weren't able to do much on offense in that quarter is the Chiefs interior defenders were terrorizing Colin Kaepernick when he dropped back to pass.
Last year Bailey couldn't be counted on to help Poe finish plays. So even if Poe was able to get penetration, quarterbacks were able to move away and either scramble or complete the pass from an open area in the pocket. Not so this season.

Again, go back to the third quarter of the Niners game. That's where Bailey picked up a sack and a half. On both plays, Poe was right beside him causing chaos (including this life-altering club on Alex Boone, which will never get old). Bailey actually wasn't even the principle issue for the Niners on either sack; that would be Poe.

But that's the thing: the Chiefs don't NEED Bailey to be the primary disruptor in the inside. All the need is for him to be able to beat individual matchups often enough to make teams pay for doubling Poe, or that he at least be able to get free to chase down quarterbacks Poe / Hali / Houston have forced to move out of the pocket. Last season, Bailey doesn't clean up on Poe's massive club because he wasn't able to separate himself from blockers as plays broke down. This y/ear, he's been just a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and a little bit more decisive.

Additionally, Bailey has shown a newfound ability to successfully participate in stunts this season in tandem with Poe. The shared sack of Kaepernick is a demonstration of this. Poe drives right and takes the left guard and left tackle with him, if only momentarily. Bailey, with speed he seems to have re-discovered this season, sprints to the gap and gets hit by Frank Gore and the left guard, who recovers nicely.

In the meantime, Poe (because he's Poe) has discarded the left tackle with a club and is headed toward Kap with bad intentions. The left guard sees this and tries to move toward Poe, only to be pushed off balance by a well-timed shove from Bailey. Gore, because he was forced to help with Bailey on the stunt, doesn't get into his route on time and isn't open until Kap is about to get hit by Poe and Bailey. Shared sack for Poe and Bailey.

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Knowshon Moreno's torn ACL means Lamar Miller could shine

Knowshon Moreno's to return this past week was supposed to boost an already strong Dolphins run game. Instead, his return was the last we'll see of the running back as he's done for the season with a torn ACL.

Moreno returned to the Fins after dealing with an elbow injury that caused him to miss two games earlier this year. He played against the Packers in Week 6's loss but only carried the ball six times for 10 yards, including a stuff on fourth and goal from the one.

Signed as a free agent away from the Broncos in the offseason, Moreno was supposed to be the answer to the Dolphins rushing woes. He came out blazing for the Fins in Week 1, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts.

The season-ending nature of his injury means it's Lamar Miller's time to shine. Heretofore, the former Miami Hurricanes star hasn't met expectations; he was supposed to pair with Daniel Thomas as a lightning/thunder combo.

That ... hasn't exactly worked out.

Theoretically a modern-day, explosive feature back (a.k.a. an "air back"), Miller didn't impress out of the gate. Part of that was his running style and inability to break off big plays, and part of that was the offensive line issues that've plagued the Dolphins over the past few years.

He totaled just 959 yards in his first two seasons and looked like a major disappointment. In Bill Lazor's offense this season, and with Moreno sidelined, Miller has been revitalized.

The former fourth-round pick is averaging 5.2 yards per carry with two scores plus 15 catches for 93 yards and a receiving touchdown to boot.

Miller is quietly 13th in the NFL in rushing yards during a season in which few feature backs have stepped up.

In games without Moreno, Miller has averaged 5.74 yards per carry (13 carries, 73 yards) and nearly a touchdown per game.

With Moreno gone, the Dolphins have to adjust their plan of attack -- Miller hasn't topped 15 carries yet this season and might not be an ideal "workhorse" back -- but they've got a talented enough back in the young ex-Cane that the rushing offense could continue to thrive.

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Antrel Rolle: Can’t get Victor Cruz screams ‘out of my head’

Antrel Rolle has watched the replay of the Victor Cruz injury “at least 15, 20 times to see what could have possibly happened’’ and admits he is having a hard time dealing with the season-ending loss of one of the Giants’ most invaluable players and personalities.

“Man, I just can’t get it out of my head the way he was just down there screaming, screaming to the top of his lungs and you didn’t know why,’’ Rolle said Tuesday on his weekly WFAN spot. “I don’t know, man, that’s a hard pill to swallow.’’

The fateful play, in the third quarter of last Sunday’s 27-0 loss in Philadelphia, was a fade thrown by Eli Manning. Cruz leaped for the ball in the right corner of the end zone and reached for his right knee before he even hit the ground. He had surgery Monday to repair a torn patellar tendon and faces a long and arduous recovery.

“I’ve seen Victor run that play 20 times in practice, I see him catch it 20 times in practice, some things are just freakish and that’s just a freakish accident,’’ said Rolle, who acknowledged that finishing the game was difficult when Cruz’s injury was “the only thing on your mind.’’

The Giants must move on without Cruz and must shake off the devastating loss in time for Sunday’s game against the Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. Rolle said the Giants must keep Cruz in their thoughts.

“As a Giant and as a player, we need to definitely go out there and honor this guy,’’ said Rolle, one of five team captains, along with Cruz.

“You always find a reason to play this game for something bigger than yourself, and right now here’s an opportunity to go out there and play the game for something that’s bigger than yourself. Here’s a guy who contributed so much and put so much on the line for this team and for this organization, we have to make sure we go out there and do something to inspire him while he’s going through this tough time.’’

Rolle said he thought the Eagles and their fans “showed great character’’ for showing such concern for Cruz once everyone realized this was a serious injury.
As far as the rest of the Giants’ performance, Rolle was bewildered.

“Once the whistle was blown, there was no Giants team to play,’’ he said.

Rolle was asked to evaluate the performance of an offensive line that surrendered six sacks of Eli Manning (and two more of backup Ryan Nassib).

“I really don’t know exactly how it breaks down with the offensive line, what I do know is you take care of the guy in front of you,” Rolle said.  “You whup the man that’s in front of you, it’s just mano a mano. To me that’s what it looked like, we just got whupped, we got manhandled, we got punched in the mouth and we didn’t fight back. Scheme is one thing and there’s your heart and the way you attack the game.

“No one’s gonna be perfect, we all get beat at some point in time, but how you respond to that, how you respond to getting beat? Are you going to hang your head and allow yourself to stay beat, or are you gonna raise up and fight like a man? I didn’t see anyone raise up and fight like a man throughout the entire course of the game. We lost that team as a whole, I don’t care who may have thought they had a decent game or who may have thought they played OK, no one played OK. When you lose 27-zip, no one has a good game.

“There are no individuals on our team, especially when you lost 27-zip, I don’t care who you are. In my opinion, everyone’s grade is an F. 27-zero, that’s embarrassing, man.’’

What he perceived as a lack of fight is what bothers Rolle most of all.

“The loss is bad and the loss obviously bothered everyone within our organization, but I don’t like the way we didn’t fight back,’’ he said. “That’s my biggest concern, that’s my biggest problem. I felt like we took it, we took it, we took it, we took it and never once did we ever turn and fight back. That’s not being a football player, that’s about being a man. We need to do something about that this upcoming Sunday.’’

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John Salmons earns his first start in the preseason at small forward

For the first time in four games, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams made a change at small forward.

Instead of Darius Miller, 34-year-old veteran John Salmons earned his first start in the preseason on Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets. After the first three games, Salmons had shot a lackluster 28.6 percent from the field and had averaged 2.0 points.

But Williams said he wants to see how Salmons performs with the starters. Neither Miller, Salmons or Luke Babbitt had been able to emerge at the spot. It appears now that swingman Tyreke Evans will earn the starting small forward spot when he returns from a strained right hamstring.

Although he sat out Tuesday's game, Evans is expected to get his first game action in the preseason on Thursday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Smoothie King Center.

''He’s (Salmons) had some minutes and they've all had a great shot,'' Williams said before Tuesday's game. "But John hasn’t had a chance to play with the starters. I want to see how that goes before Tyreke gets himself ready to play.''

Salmons said he has been slow to make progress but it has taken him time to get acclimated to Williams' system and adjust to new teammates. Last week against the Washington Wizards, Salmons scored three points on 1-of-3 shooting.

In 20 minutes during Tuesday's 117-98 victory, Salmons was held scoreless. He grabbed five rebounds, had a block and steal.

''It's a process because we're all still trying to adjust to each other,'' Salmons said. ''I just have to continue to develop and try to find where I can fit in and find my niche. I'm trying to get in game shape.''

The Pelicans signed Salmons to a one year, $2 million contract this summer after the team decided not to pursue re-signing Al-Farouq Aminu, who had started the past two seasons at small forward. 

Williams said Babbitt would likely draw more minutes off the bench against the Rockets than he did in the previous two games. He kept his promise by playing Babbitt almost nine minutes in the first half.  Babbitt had struggled since scoring 15 points in the preseason opener against the Miami Heat. In the previous two games before Tuesday, Babbitt had combined to make 1-of-10 shots from the field for five points. But he enjoyed a good start against the Rockets, making his first three shots, including all two 3-point attempts, in the first half.

''As a player, you always want more minutes,'' Babbitt said. "But I’m used to playing sporadic minutes. It’s something I’ve done a lot in my career. So I’ll be ready whatever minutes are available. I’m not really concerned. It’s a long preseason and it’s a long season.'' 

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Jon Jay feels ecstasy of a GIF-able catch


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Alex Cora no longer candidate for Rangers manager job

Torey Lovullo and Alex Cora, two of the eight individuals who interviewed for the Rangers' vacant manager position, have confirmed that they are no longer candidates, per Evan Grant.

Mike Maddux and Steve Buechele, who also interviewed for the position, are also expected not to make the final cut.

That leaves four possible choices -- Tim Bogar, Jeff Banister, Kevin Cash, and Joe McEwing.

Evan says in the blog post linked above that Banister "appears to be gaining momentum," with the Rangers talking to people around the league about Banister over the past week.

My guess is that Bogar, Banister and Cash end up being the finalists, with Bogar ultimately named the manager, though that is just a guess.

Bogar, of course, was the Rangers' bench coach in 2014 until Ron Washington resigned, at which point he took over as interim manager for the final few weeks of the season.  The Rangers played well under his watch, and he's generally been considered the favorite.

Banister is the bench coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he has worked under manager Clint Hurdle, the Rangers' former hitting coach, and someone who has ties to Jon Daniels and Thad Levine dating back to JD and Levine's days in Colorado.

Cash was a journeyman catcher who spent a lot of time in both the majors and minors, including spending the 2011 season with the Round Rock Express, before becoming Terry Francona's bullpen coach in Cleveland in 2014.

McEwing is the third base coach for the Chicago White Sox.

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49ers GM Says No Truth To Frank Gore Report of His Roster Spot In Jeopardy

General manager Trent Baalke said there is "no truth" to an NFL Network report Monday that the 49ers approached Frank Gore in the offseason and told him his roster spot was in jeopardy.

Gore, the 49ers' all-time leading rusher, is earning close to $6 million in the final year of his contract. Baalke was incredulous at the notion the 49ers wouldn't have brought Gore back for this season, his 10th.

The 49ers are not negotiating a possible extension with Gore, Baalke said, adding that any such deal wouldn't happen until after the season. Gore had 16 carries for 38 yards, his second-lowest total this season behind a six-carry, 10-yard outing at Arizona.

Gore entered Monday night's game at St. Louis as the NFL's 11th-leading rusher (365 yards), and he was coming off consecutive 100-yard rushing games for the first time since 2011. He's finished in the top 10 each year since Harbaugh arrived as coach in 2011.

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Andre Johnson had no idea what lady was doing when he jumped in stands

HOUSTON -- Throughout Andre Johnson's career, the Houston Texans haven't often thrown touchdown passes to the greatest receiver they've ever had. But When Johnson scores a touchdown in Houston his usual ritual is to leap into the stands and share the moment with delighted fans.

Something strange happened when he did that on Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts. So strange it's gone viral.

"I got a lot of text messages about that," Johnson said.

Most of the texts included a photo of a woman wearing a J.J. Watt jersey slapping Johnson's bottom.

He had no idea at the time.

"No, when that happens you don't realize what's going on," Johnson said. "Everybody's hitting you. They don't even want to let you go. When I saw the picture I couldn't do nothing but laugh."

It's true those moments are relatively rare for Johnson. This is his 12th season with the Texans and he's only caught 62 touchdown passes, ranking 64th all-time among receivers. By contrast, Johnson's 13,080 yards ranks 15th all time among receivers. On Thursday, he became the second fastest player to reach 13,000 yards, and only Jerry Rice, the player in whose honor Johnson wears No. 80, did it faster.

Thirty-six of Johnson's 62 touchdown catches have been at home, giving him an average of three chances per year to leap into the crowd behind the end zone. Thursday's was his first touchdown of the season, so when he does it again, is he going to think twice about his usual celebration?

Johnson chuckled about the whole thing.

"I wouldn't let one person spoil it for everybody," he said.

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Leonard Hankerson set to return to practice

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Monday defensive lineman Stephen Bowen (knee) and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (knee) will return to practice this week. Both players are on the PUP list and eligible to return Week 7 vs. Tennessee.

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Behind The Facemask: Harland Gunn

Frank Kleha: What was your first car?
Harland Gunn: It was an old white Ford Explorer. All the lights stayed on all the time (on the dashboard); the brake light, the engine light, all of them. I bought it used and it was a true bucket. Not soon after I got it I went and traded it in for a Blazer.

FK: What kinds of things do you like to do outside of football?
HG: If I’m not taking in a movie or dinner I play video games on XBox One. A new game I just started playing that I like is Destiny. I also play Call of Duty. I’m a first-person shooter guy and don’t really play Madden because especially during our season I like to get away from the fake football.

FK: What type of movies do you like best?
HG: I like comedies. Some of my favorites are "Kings of Comedy" and "Harlem Nights," but I love action movies, too. I grew up watching Bruce Lee movies like "Enter the Dragon." That’s my all-time favorite. Also, I do like "Blade," with Wesley Snipes, and " Diehard" with Bruce Willis.

FK: Who is your favorite athlete in another sport?
HG: I never watched sports growing up. Seriously, no one played sports in my family. I watched TV shows instead like "Dragon Ball Z" and watched a lot of Disney shows like "Growing Pains." Even when I got to college my teammates would talk about big-name players that I was supposed to know and I didn’t know who they were. Like they asked me about (Hall of Fame Bears running back) Walter Payton and I said, ‘Who is that.’ (Pro or College) Football was foreign to me growing up. I just played it.

FK: How did you get started in football then?
HG: The movie "Little Giants" got me started playing football. I got home early from school one day and I was sitting in the house with my mom watching TV and that movie came on. I said, ‘"Mom, I want to play football. I want to try football." My uncle (Scott English) played it at Iowa State and I would always go over his house and see his Iowa State pictures on the walls. My mom told me that my uncle was now a coach and I could go see him. I was around seven-years old and I’ve been playing it ever since. The only other sport I played was one year of organized basketball when I was 9 years-old but I didn’t like.

FK: What’s your most vivid sports memory?
HG: We were playing little league football and we went into double overtime against the Bellevue Panthers. We were the North Omaha (Nebraska) Bengals. I just remember fighting so hard to win that game and we didn’t. (In overtime) one of my teammates (on the line) was like, "I’m tired; we aren’t gonna do this. I’m about to let it go." And I couldn’t believe he said that. I told him, "No man, we have to win this game." He quit on me; we lost and I cried after the game telling the coach, "he quit on me." I always think about because I’m not going to quit on the next man. That really hurt.

FK: What’s strangest thing we would find in your suitcase when we go on road trips?
HG: I take my own protein shakes (pack of four) with me to keep my energy up. I just drink them warm and they taste just fine like that. They are called Lean Shakes.

FK: If you could sit down with any four people in history for dinner who it would be?
HG: They would be Jesus, Martin Luther King, and my great grandparents. I think I would I would gain a lot of insight on my family talking to my great grandparents.

FK: What was your Hollywood crush growing up?
HG: Halle Berry. She is so pretty and is a good actress.

FK: Name one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
HG: Most people don’t know that before I was born, my mother had two near fatal car accidents. She didn’t lose me the first time but she nearly did. They found out at that time of the first accident that she was pregnant with me. When it happened again, I don’t know how far along she was, but she was scared about losing me.

FK: Other than a pro football player, what did you want to be growing up?
HG: I wanted to be an engineer because I was always good in math and it came to me naturally. My first year in college I started off in engineering school.

FK: If you were required to perform in a talent show, what talent could you do?
HG: I could do b-boy dancing and I would be poppin’ a lot; b-boxing. My father was a DJ (Big Harland) growing up. I still clown at the house all the time. It’s called poppin’ and lockin’. That’s what I could do.

FK: What is the greatest invention ever?
HG: The dishwasher is the greatest invention. I hate washing dishes. I would be angry if I didn’t have a dishwasher. I would have disposable everything if I didn’t have a dishwasher.

FK: Is there anything you wish would come back in to fashion?
HG: Kango hats. I’ve never worn one but I’ve always wanted to.

FK: Do you a hat collection?
HG: Yes, I have about 10 hats right now. I have basketball and college football teams. I have an old Raiders hat and I have a lot of bucket hats. That’s my thing right now is bucket hats. My favorite is Brooklyn Nets. I just like the color scheme.

FK: Fictional character do you wish was real?
HG: The Juggernaut. He’s a super villain in the Marvel comic book series. He’s an unstoppable force. Whatever he hits, he just runs through it.

FK: What’s the worst gift you ever received?
HG: I hate to say this but I got a pair of socks and a book for Christmas one year. My brother got like a remote control car and my sister got something good. And I got socks and a book!

FK: Have you ever been star struck?
HG: Yes, when I met Tony Gonzalez. My uncle loved watching him play and he said, "I can’t believe you are on the same sideline with Tony Gonzalez." So I thought that was cool.

FK: What are three things on your bucket list?
HG: I’d like to climb a mountain. I want to go skydiving and I want to go snowboarding down a nice slope.

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Greg Olsen: NFL should suspend Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict

Panthers kicker Graham Gano isn't the only player in Carolina who has a problem with the way Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict plays; Greg Olsen has a problem, too.

The Panthers tight end said on Monday that the NFL needs to suspend Burfict for taking "premeditated" cheap shots on several Panthers players, including Olsen and quarterback Cam Newton.

"It's pretty obvious that's not what this league is all about," Olsen said, via "We understand that sometimes there's penalties and guys kind of go above and beyond the lines with some hits. That's all in the flow of the game and hard to avoid at times, but instances like that are so clearly premeditated that he had in his mind if he had those opportunities that he was going try to attack not only guys' legs, but guys who were coming off ankle problems specifically. There's no room for it."

In the first quarter of Sunday's game, Burfict was called for roughing the passer.

Then in the third quarter, things got a little uglier. After the Panthers quarterback scored on a 12-yard run, Burfict grabbed Newton's left ankle and gave it a hard twist, as you can see below.

"Punishment needs to go beyond a fine," Olsen said. "Guys like that don't learn from that stuff. He's been fined a 100 times for head hunting, and he did it to Kelvin [Benjamin] again. You watch the film, that's just what he is."

In the second quarter, Burfict was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after hitting Benjamin, who was a defenseless receiver on the play.

"At some point, if the NFL wants to really say they care about guys' safety, they've got to start putting guys out for weeks," Olsen said, alluding to a suspension. "Me and Cam are lucky we aren't out for weeks, or Kelvin isn't out for weeks. If you're going to start putting guys on other teams out, then the ramifications need to equal that."

Olsen's complaint about Burfict echoes the one made by Gano on Sunday. After the game, Gano tweeted that he hopes the NFL "lays down the law."

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Peter O'Brien's homer steers Rafters' big inning

D-backs catching prospect Peter O'Brien was eager to make a strong impression with his new organization after joining Arizona in a July trade from the Yankees. But a foul ball off his shin derailed that plan, ending his season in his fourth game with Double-A Mobile.

In the Arizona Fall League, he's getting a mulligan on a first impression. So far, he's making it count.

Arizona's No. 7 prospect took the AFL lead with his third home run in five games as Salt River used a six-run seventh inning to earn a 7-4 win over Surprise on Monday.

"It feels good," O'Brien said. "I missed quite a bit of games, and I thought it would be tough getting back into it. I've been hitting for a couple weeks. I'm still trying to get into the rhythm and am working on the things I was working on the whole year and at the end of the year."

Salt River went into the seventh trailing, 4-1, but changed that with six runs off Padres' No. 19 prospect Tayron Guerrero. Miami's Austin Nola started the hit parade with a one-out single. After Twins' No. 19 prospect Max Kepler walked, Minnesota's top prospect Byron Buxton drove a double to left that scored Nola.

Kepler scored on a sacrifice fly by Twins' No. 10 prospect Eddie Rosario, with Buxton advancing to third. From there, Buxton scored on a wild pitch.

D-backs' No. 6 prospect Brandon Drury followed with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. Then O'Brien drove a 91-mph fastball out to left-center field.

"I was trying to find something up, stay in the middle of the field with it," O'Brien said. "I got enough of one and stayed through it enough to get it out."

O'Brien said he's relishing the opportunity to get some extra reps after missing the end of the 2014 season -- his last game with Mobile was Aug. 6.

"It's a really good time to work on your craft," the University of Miami product said. "I got to go to instructs and stuff like that, but it's nice to play games against tough competition and keep working on things I've been working on the whole year."

After O'Brien's blast, the Rockies' Ryan Casteel followed with a single to left, and then scored on a double by Astros' No. 9 prospect Rio Ruiz to cap the scoring. All six runs were charged to Guerrero.

O'Brien was working his second game with Arizona's top prospect Archie Bradley. The right-hander saw his ERA rise to 7.20 in two AFL starts after allowing three earned runs in three innings.

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Ryan Braun takes batting practice Monday

Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun took batting practice Sunday and felt "pretty good," reports. It's Braun's first action since undergoing a cryotherapy procedure on his injured thumb.

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Lauryn Williams returns to bobsled

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Lauryn Williams isn't done with bobsledding after all.

Williams, one of five people to medal in different sports at the Summer and Winter Olympics, was announced Monday as a returning push athlete by the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

Williams considered retirement after the Sochi Olympics, which capped her first bobsled season.

The USBSF is holding its push championships Thursday and Friday and Williams is expected to compete. Push championships are the official opening to the annual selection process for the national team.

Williams, a former University of Miami track star, teamed with Elana Meyers Taylor to win bobsled silver at the Sochi Games. She's also won gold and silver medals as a sprinter at the Summer Olympics.

On-ice training in Lake Placid is expected to begin next week.

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Lamar Miller scores another rushing TD Week 6

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller got the start and received the majority of the carries while scoring a touchdown in his team's 27-24 defeat to the Packers in Week 6.

Miller rotated series with his running mate Knowshon Moreno, but solidified himself as the top back when it mattered the most late in the game. Moreno barreled into the end zone from 5 yards out in the fourth quarter. He took 14 handoffs for 53 yards and a score, averaging 3.8 yards per carry. He also caught three passes for 27 yards. Miller has 330 yards and three rushing touchdowns through five games.

The Dolphins will travel to Chicago to face the Bears in Week 7.

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Sam Shields believes he avoided major knee injury

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 27-24 victory Sunday over the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium:

Nothing torn: Cornerback Sam Shields limped out of the Packers' locker room in pain but was relieved that the initial diagnosis on his left knee is that nothing was torn. The weird thing about Shields' injury was how it happened. He was lining up in coverage when he went down before the first snap of the Dolphins' final drive of the third quarter. "It just gave out," Shields said. "I felt like a little pinch. They say nothing's torn, but it hurts." Two plays later, the Packers lost their other starting cornerback, Tramon Williams, to an ankle injury. So the Packers finished the game with Casey Hayward and Davon House as their top two cornerbacks and Jarrett Bush as their nickelback. Coach Mike McCarthy had no updates on their injuries or the neck injury that Jamari Lattimore sustained in the first half. Shields was expected to undergo more tests Monday.

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Greg Olsen already has five TDs through six games

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen recorded his fifth touchdown during a 37-all tie Week 6 at Cincinnati, becoming the only active tight end with at least five touchdown catches in every season since 2008.

Olsen, who was targeted a team-high 11 times, finished with six catches for a team-high 62 yards. He gave Carolina a 31-24 lead with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter with a 13-yard touchdown reception.

Olsen's career high in touchdowns is eight, which he set in 2009 with the Bears. The Panthers are back in action Week 7 at Green Bay.

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Jimmy Graham expected to miss 2-3 weeks after bye

Jimmy Graham's time off will extend beyond the New Orleans Saints' bye week.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported on GameDay First on Sunday that the tight end will miss a few weeks after the bye, "likely two or three," with a shoulder sprain, according to two sources informed of the situation.

The news comes after coach Sean Payton said Graham was "doing fine" this week and noted that the bye came at the perfect time.

With the Saints' offense lacking explosive plays through five games this season, missing Drew Brees' favorite target will not help lift the malaise in which New Orleans is currently stuck.

Graham has 34 receptions for 376 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Brees might miss most the mismatches the tight end creates in the red zone after Graham had 16 touchdowns last season on a bum foot.

The Saints signed tight end Tom Crabtree this week as insurance in case Graham missed time. Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill will also fill in on tight end snaps, but expect Payton to supplement Graham's absence by going to more multiple receiver sets.

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Darryl Sharpton Starts For Bears

Being without the top four linebackers on the depth chart adds a difficulty factor for the Bears’ or any defense. The NFL doesn’t grade on a curve, unfortunately, but then, the Bears didn’t need special consideration, turning in one of the better group performances of the season against an offense that was No. 3 in the NFL in scoring and yardage.

With Lance Briggs, Jonathan Bostic, Shea McClellin and D.J. Williams all out, Darryl Sharpton started at MLB, Christian Jones at SLB and Khaseem Greene at WLB. Sharpton drew the responsibility of relaying defensive signals, and he and Greene were tasked with duty in nickel situations, the normal domain of Bostic and Briggs.

“These guys did great,” coach Marc Trestman said. “It starts with Mel [Tucker, defensive coordinator] and our staff with getting these guys ready. The guys on the defensive line really came back and wrapped their arms around these young linebackers. They played hard; they were in the right places.

“We asked them ‘just do your job and not do anything more than that. They played exceptionally hard and our entire defense and staff deserve a lot of credit.”

Coaches disdained conservatism and boldly committed their inexperienced ‘backers to blitzing into gaps in ways that stacked up the Atlanta run game. The Falcons managed just 3.2 yards per carry on 13 rushes, with the only serious damage coming on a well-executed and well-blocked screen pass for 41 yards and a touchdown by running back Antone Smith.

The Bears blitzed Sharpton on the third play but were victimized for a 15-yard completion. But Sharpton’s soft blitz and drop-back in the second quarter flummoxed Falcons center Peter Konz and allowed Stephen Paea to get in for a sack with Greene bringing a weak-side blitz as well. Greene and Jones were each credited with three tackles in the first half.

“We just went out there and played,” said Greene, who started four games when Briggs was injured last season and had less-than-stellar results. “We know that we can’t control nothin’ but what we do and that’s what we did. Every time we were on the field we played with maximum effort.”

Greene led the Bears with eight tackles, six of them solo. Sharpton had five, plus a quarterback hit and pass defensed. Jones, in fewer snaps because of Atlanta’s use of nickel packages, added four.

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Brandon Meriweather evaluated for concussion

Washington safety Brandon Meriweather has left today’s game at Arizona to be evaluated for a concussion.

Meriweather tackled Cardinals tight end John Carlson on the first play of the game and was shaken up. He walked off the field slowly and went to the locker room.

Meriweather has a history of concussions and also has a history of giving other players concussions, and he’s been suspended for violating the league’s rules on helmet-to-helmet contact. But his hit on Carlson was low and not illegal.

After serving a two-game suspension to start the season, Meriweather has started the last four games.

UPDATE 5:15 p.m. ET: The team announced that Meriweather was cleared to return

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49ers don't want to wear out Frank Gore

If you've sat next to a San Francisco 49ers fan for any game this season, you're likely to have heard "just give the ball to Frank" muttered or shouted more than once.

Frank Gore's carries have gone up the past two weeks -- 24 and 18, respectively -- since a low of six in a Week 3 loss. But the 31-year-old running back has carried the ball just 77 times for 365 yards through the first five weeks. It's the second-fewest carries through five games in Gore's career (in 2009, he had 65 but was dealing with an ankle injury).

The reduction in carries is something offensive coordinator Greg Roman said was planned entering the season.

"We don't want to just ride that stallion all day, every day," Roman said, per CSN Bay Area. "There's a point of diminishing returns at some point. That's almost true for any player at that position. Who gets hit more than running backs?"

Carlos Hyde has looked solid rushing for 132 yards this season, and the 49ers' staff has said on multiple occasions that they trust him in any situation.
The issue hasn't been how many snaps one back has gotten over the other; The question many 49ers fans have asked is why the team is going to the air with more regularity when the ground game is clearly working.

Both Gore and Hyde have a fantastic matchup Monday night against a St. Louis Rams run defense allowing 152.5 rushing yards per game (tied for 29th in the NFL) and has given up 21 running plays of 10-plus yards (tied for most in the league).

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Allen Hurns goes 2-18 against Titans

Allen Hurns caught 2-of-4 targets for 18 yards in the Jaguars' Week 6 loss to the Titans.

Although Hurns was demoted off the Jaguars' first team, he played early, securing a 10-yard pass from Blake Bortles on the game's opening drive. After an error-filled Week 5 game, however, Hurns again committed a miscue on a third-quarter route where he slipped, and Blake Bortles' pass was intercepted by Titans CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson. We didn't see much of Hurns after that. Hurns can be comfortably dropped in 12- and 14-team fantasy leagues.

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Devin Hester shares a few moments with old teammates

ATLANTA -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Atlanta Falcons' 27-13 loss to the Chicago Bears:

Devin Hester didn't show much emotion as he addressed the media at his locker despite all the hype about him facing his old team Sunday. Hester did share a few moments with his ex-teammates prior to kickoff and after the game, specifically Tim Jennings, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte. "I just told them congrats on the win and keep it up," Hester said. "I just said good luck the rest of the season and stay healthy." Hester mentioned that Jay Cutler said "What's up, Dev?" during pregame warm-ups. Hester acknowledged Cutler back with a head nod.

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Shane Larkin’s freakish speed may change the Knicks’ offense

New point guard Shane Larkin is so lightning-fast he will try to pull the Knicks out of the triangle offense at times.

That’s the plan, according to Larkin, whom coach Derek Fisher is leaning toward as backup point guard over Pablo Prigioni despite his inexperience.

Fisher wants speed on the second unit and the second-year Larkin, whose rookie campaign in Dallas was a whitewash because of a broken ankle, is regarded as one of the NBA’s fastest players. Larkin was timed during the 2013 pre-draft combine, running a 3.09 (a combine best) in the three-quarter court speed drill.

Larkin, whose father, baseball Hall-of-Famer Barry Larkin, watched the Knicks preseason opener in Hartford, Conn., Wednesday, would fit wonderfully in former coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense, but he might fit with Fisher, too.

“That’s my role on this team,’’ said Larkin, who logged 24 minutes Wednesday, and pushed the pace, but committed three turnovers. “I saw a lot of the stuff they did last year. They told me last year we were one of the slowest teams so to come here and push the tempo and get guys to run with me.’’
That could mean less triangle when Larkin is in.

“It doesn’t mean necessarily running into the triangle,’’ Larkin said. “We can get up and down there 4, 5 seconds and see if we have anything. And if we don’t, pull it out with 17 on the clock and get into the triangle.”

Prigioni’s role is unclear. There were summer rumblings the Knicks had shopped the Spanish point guard. Prigioni’s chances may he hurt because he plays a similar game to former Spanish League teammate, starter Jose Calderon.

“That’s probably best asset I bring to this team,’’ Larkin said of speed. “Jose and Pablo are both older and know how to get the team into the offense, are great shooters and offensive leaders. When I come into the game I want to be the sparkplug and get everything going, speed them up on the defensive and offensive end and create easy buckets.”

Fisher said he likes Larkin with the young, fast second unit featuring Tim Hardaway Jr. and rookie forward Cleanthony Early.

“That’s the thing we have this year,’’ Larkin said. “[Cleanthony] has young legs, Tim has young legs. When I’m in there with those guys, I’ll push the ball, and it’s going to make them run.”

“He has all the tools to be successful,’’ Fisher said. “I think he’s going to help up this year.’’

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Rangers interview Alex Cora

The Texas Rangers appeared to conclude their first round of interviews for the vacant managerial position when they spoke with interim manager Tim Bogar and Alex Cora, the Caguas Criollos general manager/manager and ESPN analyst, on Friday.

In all, the Rangers interviewed eight potential candidates to replace Ron Washington, who resigned on Sept. 5.

Bogar took over for Washington and finished 14-8. Bogar was hired last offseason to become the Rangers' bench coach and seems to be the front-runner to be the next manager.

Cora was a finalist for the Seattle Mariners job in 2013. He was a third base coach/bench coach with the Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins from 2004 to 2012. Cora, who played 14 seasons for four big league teams, has managed in minor leagues systems for the then Montreal Expos and the New York Mets. He also managed a winter ball team in Venezuela.

Whether he gets a second interview is uncertain. Rangers officials had no comment regarding the candidates.

Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Triple-A manager Steve Buechele, Boston bench coach Torey Lovullo, Pittsburgh bench coach Jeff Banister, Chicago White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing and Cleveland bullpen coach Kevin Cash have also interviewed.

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Peter O’Brien moves up in minors

Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson, who earned the “Mr. October” nickname as a clutch, five-time World Series champion in the 1970s, was in the dugout earlier this year when former University of Miami star Peter O’Brien hit a monster home run.

O’Brien, playing for the New York Yankees’ DoubleA team in Trenton, New Jersey, at the time, hit his shot well over the 407-foot sign in center field.

After O’Brien rounded the bases, Jackson, who was there in his role as a roving mentor to young hitters in the Yankees’ chain, shook the young slugger’s hand.

“He said: ‘I’ve been in baseball a long time, and that’s the longest ball I’ve ever seen hit in the minor leagues,’” said O’Brien, recalling his brief conversation with Jackson.

“Coming from him, that meant a lot.”

O’Brien’s majestic blast wasn’t a fluke. He hit 34 homers this past season, finishing fifth among minor-leaguers.

Counting the majors, there were only 11 players who hit more homers than O’Brien last season, with Cubs minor-leaguer Kris Bryant leading the way with 43.
But of those 11, only Bryant (11.4) and Rangers prospect Joey Gallo (10.5) hit more homers per at-bat than O’Brien (11.7).

Bryant, 22, and Gallo, 20, are two of the elite prospects in the game. And O’Brien, 24, who played in the prestigious Futures Game this past summer, is not too far behind.

The Arizona Diamondbacks thought enough of O’Brien that they sent infielder/outfielder Martin Prado, 30, who was an MLB All-Star in 2010, to the Yankees in a July31 deadline deal.

“It was tough at first,” O’Brien said of being traded. “You get drafted by a team, and you envision being in the big leagues with that organization.

“On the other hand, Arizona made a big trade to get me. They see me as their future, so I’m going to give it my all.”

So far, O’Brien’s “all” has been impressive. After his high school career at Miami Braddock, he played three years at Bethune-Cookman before finishing at UM.
After the Yankees drafted him in the second round in 2012, he broke out the next year in his first full season as a pro. O’Brien hit .291 with 39 doubles, four triples, 22 homers and 96 RBI.

Last season, between SingleA and DoubleA, O’Brien was strong again, hitting .271 with 23 doubles, two triples, 34 homers and 74 RBI in about 100 fewer at-bats.

He likely would have hit even more homers had he not missed the final month due to a shin injury sustained when he fouled a pitch.

He has since recovered and homered Tuesday in his first game in the Arizona Fall League.

O’Brien figures to start 2015 in TripleA but could possibly make the leap to the majors — either out of spring training or later in the year.

The biggest question is where to put the 6-3, 215-pounder. His favorite position is catcher, and he takes pride in calling a game and working with pitchers.

But some baseball people, such as John Manuel of Baseball America, think O’Brien might fit best as a versatile player who could play catcher, first base and a corner outfield spot.

“I do not see him as a [full-time] catcher,” Manuel said. “He could wind up as a Jim Leyritz type.”

Leyritz played 11 years in the majors, hitting 90 homers and winning two World Series.

Jim Morris, who coached O’Brien at UM in 2012, knows the pop he can bring to a lineup.

“There are not many guys like him who can hit with power,” Morris said. “And if you can hit, they will find a position for you.”

O’Brien, who has made a quick adjustment from the aluminum bats of college to the wood he uses in pro ball, is focused on improving his pitch selection at the plate.

“I’m an aggressive hitter,” said O’Brien, who walked just 21 times last season, down from 41 in 2013. “But I’m learning to lay off pitchers’ pitches. That comes with maturity.

“But I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished so far.”

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