Is Miami’s addition of RB Knowshon Moreno a bad thing for Lamar Miller?

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Following in Jimmy Graham’s footsteps, two Miami hoop players turn to football

It’s becoming something of a Miami tradition for basketball players to suddenly take up football with hopes of becoming a star tight end.

Jimmy Graham did it and has gone on to become one of the best players in the NFL at his position as a member of the New Orleans Saints.

Now two more Hurricanes are looking to follow in Graham’s footsteps.

Erik Swoope, an athletic 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward who averaged 5.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last season, has decided to enter his name into the upcoming NFL draft – even though he’s never played organized football at either the high school or college levels.

“I’m excited to enter my name in the NFL Draft and pursue a professional football career,” he Tweeted on Tuesday.

At least one team appears to be taking Swoope’s bid seriously. The Denver Broncos gave him a private workout last week.

Like Swoope, Hurricanes teammate Raphael Akpejiori is also exploring the possibility of playing football. The 6-foot-9, 241-pound forward has announced his intention to play tight end for Miami’s football team as a graduate student next fall.

Akpejiori, a native of Nigeria, averaged 0.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in his final season of college basketball.

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Broncos schedule workout with QB Stephen Morris

Even if the Broncos can’t draft every prospect they like, it can’t hurt to check out as many as possible while they’re unattached.

The Broncos have Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief and Miami quarterback Stephen Morris on their workout schedule.

Morris probably wouldn’t become a candidate for the Broncos’ roster unless he fell to the seventh round or undrafted pool. The Broncos already have two young backup quarterbacks in Brock Osweiler, a second-round draft pick in 2012, and Zac Dysert, a seventh-round selection in last year’s draft.

The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Morris is an intriguing prospect because he has superior arm strength and ran the 40 in 4.63 seconds.

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Cowboys Will Work Out LaRon Byrd

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IRVING, Texas -- With the NFL draft at the forefront of their minds, the Dallas Cowboys are not ignoring free agency.

Two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph visited with the club earlier in the week, and wide receiver LaRon Byrd will work out for the team on Thursday, according to sources.

Byrd, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, spent last year on injured reserve with the Arizona Cardinals because of a concussion. He was released earlier in the month and worked out recently for the New York Giants.

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Aubrey Huff Unloading Beautiful San Diego Pad – $3.995 Million

I’m having a hard time believing Aubrey Huff only made $57,825,001 during his MLB career. This guy hammered out 242 dongs and the most he ever made in a season was $10,000,000.

Anyway, Huff is selling his San Diego pad for just shy of $4 million.

According to his realtor:

Resort living in this single-level estate on one of the prettiest corner lots and locations in the prestigious guard gated community of Rancho Pacifica. Beautifully constructed with the finest attention to detail and design, and wonderful integration on the elevated south- and west-oriented lot for maximum enjoyment of the open vistas, sunlight and ocean breezes.

Real Highlights Of Aubrey’s San Diego Resort
• 5 beds, 5 full baths and a half
• Basketball court
• Pool that is perfect for a bikini photoshoot
• 15 miles from Whole Foods
• 14 miles from Goldfingers strip club

Mortgage: $15,477/mo. before you start talking about taxes and gardeners

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Yonder Alonso fields grounders at third base just in case

SAN DIEGO -- With Chase Headley nursing a mild strain of his right biceps, and with the Padres short on options at third base, first baseman Yonder Alonso crossed the diamond during batting practice prior to the game Wednesday against the Rockies.

Alonso took ground balls three hours before the game under the watchful eye of manager Bud Black and others.

Consider it insurance in case the team gets in a bind and needs someone to man the hot corner in a pinch.

"We've got a third baseman who is day to day with a biceps strain, and if something happens tonight, we might need someone to go over there," Black said. "[Alonso] has got good hands and a good arm. We're going to look at it a little."

Alonso has appeared in two games at third base during his Major League career -- with the Reds in 2011 and once with the Padres last season.

Alonso isn't a complete stranger to the position. He played it a lot as a youth and moved over to first base at the University of Miami because Ryan Braun played third base.

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Ryan Braun still bothered by thumb

Milwaukee Brewers OF Ryan Braun (thumb) is still being bothered by his ailing right thumb, which is why he was held out Wednesday, April 16. He's hitting .269 with three home runs and 10 RBIs, but his homers and seven of his RBIs came in one day on April 8.

Fantasy Tip: This is something you'll need to keep an eye on. Braun started slow, minus the breakout game against the Phillies. He may need to continue to be rested in the near future to avoid making his thumb worse.

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New York Giants Meet with Wide Receiver LaRon Byrd

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The Giants brought in free agent wide receiver LaRon Byrd, who previously spent two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

Byrd, an undrafted free agent who signed with the Cardinals in 2012, opened eyes in his first camp and preseason, even drawing comparisons to teammate Larry Fitzgerald. However, in his first NFL season, the 6'4'' wideout managed only a single reception for eight yards and often struggled with drops. Then, in his second camp with the team, found himself on the wrong end of a Bruce Arians criticism.

"Not really, to be honest," Arians said last season. "He had a couple nice catches that were unbelievable throws. He's too inconsistent right now. He has talent and a good future, but he's got to get more consistent."

Ultimately, Byrd suffered a concussion and was waived. Upon clearing waivers, he was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve (IR). The Cardinals then released him earlier this month.

In addition to Byrd, the Giants are also reportedly interested in wide receiver Sidney Rice (Seattle Seahawks), although it remains unclear if he'll also be meeting with the team on Tuesday.

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Is Erik Swoope the next Jimmy Graham?

Miami’s Erik Swoope is following in the footsteps of a former Hurricane, Jimmy Graham. Swoope officially declared for May’s NFL draft Tuesday.

Erik Swoope @eswoope21 “I’m excited to enter my name in the NFL Draft and pursue a professional football career.”

The four most productive NFL tight ends in 2013 each have basketball backgrounds. The list doesn’t even include the Denver Broncos’ Julius Thomas, who played basketball at Portland State before turning to the gridiron his final year on campus.

As a forward for the Hurricanes, Swoope averaged 2.6 points during his career. Swoope’s time in Miami is defined by his athleticism, leadership and rim-rattling dunks.

At 6-5 and 220 pounds, Swoope is an impressive specimen, but he’ll need to add weight to play tight end in the NFL. Swoope lost 20 pounds prior to his senior season, according to Miami’s official website. If Swoope can play at 240 to 250 pounds, he’ll be more effective.

Swoope will inevitably be compared to Graham, because they came from the same school. However, the better comparison is to Antonio Gates. Swoope, like Gates, didn’t play football at the collegiate level. Swoope never even played football at the high school level. Whereas Graham, Thomas and the Cleveland Browns’ Jordan Cameron all played at least one season of college football before making the leap to the NFL.

But that doesn’t mean teams aren’t interested in Swoope. NFL teams now scout basketball programs for the types of talent that could possibly translate.

The Denver Broncos, for example, already struck gold with Thomas, and they may attempt to do so a second time who worked out Swoope last week.

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Mike James gained muscle, recovering well

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed off some excellent depth at the running back position last season, as they were able to recover from two season-ending injuries to their top two backs. Doug Martin was the every-down, workhorse back and face of the offense to start the season after his excellent rookie year, but he tore his labrum relatively early in the season and was replaced by rookie Mike James.

The Miami product always looked solid, but now he looks like a guy who could blossom after impressively racking up 295 yards on 60 carries (4.9 YPC) before breaking his ankle in mid-November. Bobby Rainey showed some flashes replacing him and Brian Leonard wasn’t an awful fourth guy on the depth chart overall, so the Buccaneers can definitely feel confident about their RB situation going forward, especially with Martin leading the way and James behind him.

620 WDAE’s Bucs beat writer Tom Krasniqi tweeted that he recently spoke with James, and he added that James “looks bigger” after adding some more muscle. The running back told Krasniqi that “he’s coming along well” from surgery to repair his broken ankle, so it sounds like he’s ready to threaten for some significant snaps behind Martin in a new-look Buccaneers offense that will feature a revamped line, Josh McCown at quarterback, and possibly Mike Evans replacing Mike Williams as the WR opposite of Vincent Jackson.

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Brandon Linder Awaits His Fate As NFL Draft Nears

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Hometown boy, Brandon Linder, is looking to make it to the NFL.

Brandon, a former University of Miami offensive lineman, loves the outdoors as much as he loves the football field.

With the NFL draft less than a month away, Brandon is getting ready for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Brandon at the annual draft will hear his name called—where he ends up is anybody’s guess and, to be honest, Brandon just wants to play football.

“This something that–ever since I was a pee wee in football–this has been a dream of mine. Ever since high school and college, it started ‘hey I can do something with this, I can make this my career and this is something that I want to do,” said Linder.

Linder, who is expected to go anywhere from the third to the fifth round, spends hours a day preparing for his next big step. But despite his dedication to football, Brandon always finds time for his other passions; bow hunting, diving and fishing whenever he gets the chance to use his custom UM rod and reel.

“You know I work out five days a week, it’s like seven in the morning to like noon, so like in the afternoon I can sneak out and get a little trip and even if I’m driving around here fishing the lakes, fishing for a peacock bass, that’s something that satisfies me,” Bradon said.

What the South Florida native can’t escape from is the wait, the wait to see what the next chapter in his life holds.

Whether it’s in Green Bay, Seattle, Kansas City, or maybe right here in Miami in his hometown with the Dolphins.

“I’ve been born and raised here, you know it would be something cool to be being a hometown kid, going to high school and college here, I think that would be awesome. But again, it’s really not up to me and I’m grateful for any opportunity that I do get”

Whether it’s dodging alligators in the everglades or avoiding sharks off the Bahamas, Brandon knows that those adventures will pale in comparison to the challenges he is about to face in the NFL.

“Now that I’ve transitioned about learningicon1 about the NFL and all that stuff, I feel like it’s a big gap , that I can’t wait to start learning all this new stuff that I would have to be learning”

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Clinton Portis, former NFL star, sells Miami condo to avoid foreclosure

Clinton Portis, former running back who played in nine NFL seasons, has avoided a foreclosure on his condominium in Bristol Tower in Miami by selling it for $900,000, reports the South Florida Business Journal.

Purchased for $665,000 in 2004, the 2,070-square-foot condo sold for enough to allow Portis to repay his full loan as well as earn a 35 percent profit.

According to the report, the property was slated for foreclosure by JPMorgan and Chase, which filed a lawsuit against Portis and his mother regarding the original $512,000 mortgage Dec. 12. The mortgage was granted in 2004, the year in which Portis joined the Washington Redskins after his first two seasons at the Denver Broncos for an eight-year contract for $50.5 million.

An earlier report on the website says that as the property is not listed as his homestead residence, it may be an investment property or housing for a relative.
Portis began his career at the University of Miami. When he was still relatively unknown, Lee Corso singled out Portis' performance during a defeat by Florida State, saying "that kid can play for me any time." Portis' sophomore season was not as successful as he lost his job to Michael Rainha. However, in 2001, Portis bounced back as the Hurricanes won the National Championship.

Portis last suited up in 2010, playing only five games due to injury. He officially retired from the game in 2012 and was one of several dozens of former players in a lawsuit against the NFL over concussions they suffered. However, the lawsuit was resolved when the NFL agreed to compensate the players and provide for their medical care.

Last April, Portis was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame.

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Ray Lewis sells Highland Beach home for $4.77 million

Ray Lewis, the former Miami Hurricanes and Baltimore Ravens linebacker who retired as a Super Bowl champion last year, has sold his oceanfront mansion in Highland Beach for $4.77 million, Palm Beach County property records show.

Lewis bought the 6,788-square-foot home at 3573 S. Ocean Blvd. for $5.22 million in 2004. He listed it for sale at nearly $5 million.

The buyers were Dragos Alexe and Susanne Kramer. The home, built in 2001, has seven bedrooms, eight and a half bathrooms, a five-car garage and 58 feet of water frontage, according to the listing. 

Listing agent Emily K. Roberts, of Tauriello & Co. in Delray Beach, declined to answer questions, saying Lewis is “pretty private.”

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Gaby Sanchez makes most of starts at first base

CINCINNATI -- Gaby Sanchez's two home runs Monday night proved crucial in what ended up as a win after rain suspended the game. For him, they also were important because they came against right-handed pitchers.

"We don't face too many lefties or anything like that," Sanchez said. "Being able to come in and help the team out any which way is definitely a positive. That's what I'm here for."

Through their first 13 games, the Pirates have faced one left-handed starting pitcher, the Chicago Cubs' Travis Wood. As a result, the left-handed Travis Ishikawa started 10 of those games at first base, leaving the right-handed Sanchez with only three.

Manager Clint Hurdle said in spring training that he would not use a strict platoon between Ishikawa and Sanchez. The slew of right-handers out of the gates, combined with the fact the Pirates are scheduled to face five right-handers the rest of the week, means Hurdle must start Sanchez against right-handers if he wants to start him at all.

"It's not all hard numbers," Hurdle said of how he decides when to start Sanchez. "We're kind of old-school here. We'll look at what our eyes tell us and what our gut tells us and sometime the numbers scream at you. Sometimes, you can look at a batting average and it can read .200 and if you dig deeper it's four hard-hit balls and he only got two hits in 10 at-bats."

In 18 plate appearances through eight games, Sanchez had an .333 on-base percentage and .688 slugging percentage. In the weekend series in Milwaukee, Hurdle said, Sanchez worked on nothing but hitting the ball the opposite way.

"[Monday] felt good," Sanchez said. "Things that I'm putting in play in the cage and on the field during [batting practice] paid off. The thing is just to continue it, continue that feeling, continue getting the pitch that I need."

Sanchez's two home runs represented a third of the Pirates' long-ball output Monday night. The teams combined for 10 home runs in six innings before rain stopped the game.

"Definitely crazy," Sanchez said. "I'd never been in a game where that many home runs are hit by both teams, let alone one. It's one of those things that happens. Both teams were swinging the bat well."

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Peter O'Brien Named FSL Player of the Week

Tampa, Fla. - The first Player and Pitcher of the Week for the 2014 FSL Season was named today by the Florida State League. This was for games played April 3-13, 2014.  

The Player of the Week was Tampa Yankees Catcher Peter O'Brien. He played in 10 games, batting .333, with thirteen (13) hits in 39 plate appearances. His hits included four (4) homeruns and two (2) doubles. He had six (6) RBI's and scored (6) six times. His slugging average was .692 and his OBP was .366. This is Peter's third year in professional baseball and he resides in Miami Gardens, FL.

The Pitcher of the Week was Dunedin Blue Jays Lefthander Matt Boyd. Matt started two (2) games and had two (2) wins. His ERA was 0.00. In (12) innings pitched he allowed eight (8) hits, issued one walk, and struck out nine (9) batters. This is Matt's second year of professional baseball and he was born in Mercer Island, WA.

The Tampa Yankees are the Single-A Advanced Affiliate of the New York Yankees. For more information about the Tampa Yankees call (813) 673-3055 or visit

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VIDEO: Lamar Thomas - UM Hall of Fame acceptance speech

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VIDEO: Clinton Portis - UM Hall of Fame acceptance speech

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VIDEO: James Jones - UM Hall of Fame acceptance speech

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Broncos work out University of Miami basketball player Erik Swoope

The Broncos were rewarded for taking a chance on a former college basketball player when Julius Thomas blossomed into one of the most productive tight ends in the league last season and it seems they’re trying to see if lightning will strike twice. was the first to report that Erik Swoope went through a workout with the Broncos on Thursday and Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald snapped a photo of the session while it was going on. He averaged five points and 2.7 rebounds for the Hurricanes as a senior forward and never played football for Miami coach Al Golden’s squad.

Swoope is listed at 6-5 and 220 pounds, which would make tight end or wide receiver seem like the spots he might be able to fill on a football field.

Should Swoope make it to the NFL, he wouldn’t be the first former Hurricane hoopster to transition to the gridiron. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham made the same switch, although Graham played a year of football at the U before heading to the NFL. Expecting the same would be foolish, but NFL teams have been intrigued by athletic basketball players since Antonio Gates hit the league and strong workouts could position Swoope to be the next to benefit from that interest.

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Andre Johnson's University Of Miami Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speech

"Well I didn't prepare a speech... a lot of people know I don't talk much. But I'm truly humbled to be here tonight. To be inducted into the UM Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor. I had a childhood dream of being a Hurricane and playing for the University of Miami.

"I'm looking at guys in this room like Michael Irvin, Lamar Thomas, Horace Copeland... you know these guys have laid the foundation and when I came into UM in 1999 with Clinton, we had a goal, and our goal was getting the University of Miami back to where it was. And the guys before us had laid the foundation, and we accomplished that goal in 2001 and beat Nebraska in the National Championship.

"I'd like to thank my mom, my uncle and my brother who've been pretty much my support system since I've been playing the game of football. I don't think they've missed a game that I've played since little league, to high school to professional, so I'd like to thank them for being there for me.

"I'd like to thank all my coaches: Coach Kehoe, Coach Soldinger, Coach Mark. And I'd be wrong if I didn't thank Curtis Johnson. He was a hell of a receivers coach. He's the head coach over at Tulane now. He saw things in me that I didn't see in myself. Coming into UM, he wanted me to play in a way that I wasn't used to playing. He wanted me to play very physical and I wasn't used to that, so he started calling me "soft." I think as a player you don't like to be called soft; I don't care who you is. Like I said he saw things in myself that I didn't see in myself and he was hard on me. At first I didn't understand it, but as time went along, I figured it out. Me and him became real close friends and we still talk now today, so I'd like to thank Curtis Johnson because he's had a heck of an impact on my career.

"To sum it all up, this is where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a Hurricane, living my childhood dream, but I never thought I'd be in the UM Hall of Fame. I guess all the hard work has paid off and I thank everyone who supported me through it all... everyone who's been there for me and kept me positive and kept me on track, so thank you."

- Andre Johnson April 10, 2014

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Terrell Davis Expects Longevity from RB Frank Gore

Jim Harbaugh said last month that he expects 30-year-old running back Frank Gore to have “three more good years” in the NFL.

Terrell Davis agrees.

"What we've seen for 10 years has been a rock,” Davis, now an NFL Network analyst, told over the weekend. “How long can he continue to be solid for the Niners? Hopefully for a few more years.”

Gore, the San Francisco 49ers all-time leading rusher, rushed for 1,128 yards in his ninth season for the team last year. He enters 2014 with one year remaining on his contract and turns 31 in one month.

Davis, the Denver Broncos all-time rushing king, knows a thing or two about playing the contact-heavy position of running back. He played seven seasons in the league but was limited to 17 games over his final three.

Gore, meanwhile, has never played in fewer than 11 games in any one campaign.

“I expect him to continue to do what he's been doing, being a guy that once the opportunities are there and he's presented with the ball, he's going to make good on it,” the three-time All-Pro said of Gore, who entered the NFL in 2005, four years following Davis’ retirement at the age of 29. “I don't see anything changing for him this year unless the injuries crop up for him."

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Pressure is on Greg Olsen

Greg Olsen last season became the first Panthers tight end to lead the team in receiving since 1997 – and that was before the team held a fire sale at the wide receiver position.

Coming off the two most prolific receiving seasons by a Panthers tight end, Olsen has as much to gain as anyone following general manager Dave Gettleman’s tear-down and rebuild of the wide receiver corps.

And while Olsen said last week he’s always thrived when given more opportunities to catch the ball, he’s not ready to sound the alarm the way many Panthers fans – and at least one of his teammates – have.

“I know everyone at one point was kind of panicking. Would it have been nice to have those (receivers) back? Of course,” Olsen said at a screening of the movie “Draft Day.”

“But I think we’ve signed a lot of guys that can fill a lot of those roles,” Olsen added. “We’re putting it together. It’s hard to judge a team in March. When the season gets closer, that will be a better example of what our team is.”

Running back DeAngelo Williams said he was “still in shock” after the series of events that saw the Panthers release franchise receiving leader Steve Smith and lose wideouts Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon via free agency during a three-day stretch in March.

“I joked with people that my fantasy value went up after we got rid of our four receivers, but it’s the truth,” Williams said last week during an appearance on the NFL Network’s “NFL AM” show. “I went from probably being drafted in the fifth and sixth round to being in the first round – me and Jonathan (Stewart) alike because we have no receivers.”

The Panthers have begun to replenish the wideout position, but the tight ends and running backs figure to be featured prominently in 2014 – as they were in Mike Shula’s first season as offensive coordinator.

Shula is said to want to use more “12” personnel this year – one back, two tight ends and two receivers.

Fourth-year quarterback Cam Newton seems most comfortable running two-tight end sets. During his rookie season, when he passed for 4,051 yards to break Peyton Manning’s rookie record (since broken by Andrew Luck), Newton had the luxury of throwing to two pass-catching tight ends in Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.

The past two seasons Olsen hasn’t had a wing man.

But the Panthers added a potential No. 2 tight end last week when they signed Ed Dickson, who caught 54 passes three seasons ago in Baltimore. They previously re-signed fullback/tight end Richie Brockel and acquired blocking tight end Mike McNeill.

And then there’s the tight end/basketball forward/bodybuilder whom Newton calls ‘Swole Bones’ – Brandon Williams, the former Oregon tight end and small-college basketball player who remains something of a project.

But all that tight end inventory and well-paid running back depth won’t matter much if the Panthers don’t have wideouts consistently catching passes and stretching the field vertically – as Williams noted on his NFL Network appearance.

Williams’ concern isn’t necessarily the quality of the new receivers, but the fact they won’t get any work with Newton until training camp, when Newton is scheduled to return from ankle surgery.

“I just don’t want to see eight, nine guys in the box week in and week out because we’re working on our timing,” he said.

Olsen said it was tough to watch Smith go – as both a teammate and friend (the two remain neighbors). But he’s eager to see what Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood bring to the offense as well as the locker room.

Williams, the franchise’s all-time rushing leader, was asked whether the receiver shakeup puts more pressure on him.

“No, it puts more pressure on the front office because you make these moves and getting rid of our four receivers and then you have to bring in guys,” Williams told NFL Network. “Not saying that they’re no-name guys, but our guys made their name all on themselves.”

But Olsen said Gettleman made a name for himself last year by taking other teams’ castoffs and turning them into starters and contributors on a 12-win, playoff team.

“There is a plan. We have to trust in that,” Olsen said. “Mr. Gettleman’s done an awesome job since he’s gotten here in a short time putting pieces in place to fill holes. And doing so with guys other people maybe overlooked. Last year a lot of the guys that came in were in that type of situation and were huge parts of our team.”

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D-Jax signing hurts Santana Moss' roster chances?

ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim believes Santana Moss' road to making the roster became more difficult when the team signed DeSean Jackson.

Jackson's signing shifts Andre Roberts into the third-receiver, slot role formerly manned by Moss. Turning 35 in June, Moss was a shell of his former self last season, struggling to a 42-452-2 campaign. Moss will likely have to beat out one of Aldrick Robinson or Leonard Hankerson in training camp to keep his job.

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Clinton Portis evades foreclosure on Miami condo

Similar to how he skirted linebackers in the NFL, former Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis evaded foreclosure on his Miami condo by selling it for enough to repay his loan.

JPMorgan Chase Bank filed a foreclosure lawsuit in December against Portis and his mother over the 2,070-square-foot unit in Bristol Tower at 2127 Brickell Ave. It concerned a mortgage granted for $512,000 in 2004.

Portis recently sold the unit for $900,000 to 2127 Brickell Property, which is managed by Paulo Javier Taborga Diaz.

Not only did that fully repay the loan, the sale was a 35 percent premium over the $665,000 that Portis paid for the condo in 2004, as the former University of Miami star benefitted big time from the real estate rebound.

Portis played for the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins and last saw game action in 2010.

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Dwane Casey has his players’ ears, and John Salmons would know: ‘He gave us something to shoot for’

TORONTO — Here is the list: Larry Brown, Randy Ayers, Chris Ford, Jim O’Brien, Maurice Cheeks, Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Vinny Del Negro, Scott Skiles, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Dwane Casey.

John Salmons is in his 12th year in the NBA, and he has played for 14 head coaches. Because of the volume, that means some have been good coaches and some have been bad. Some have had the respect of their players, and some have not.

“It’s a tough spot for a head coach,” Salmons said in a conversation with three reporters earlier this week. “The majority of the players get paid more than the coaches. A lot of times players have more power than coaches. If it’s a good organization from the top, the coach pretty much follows. If the organization gives the coach some leeway, some power from the top, then he [has respect].”

The Raptors have yearned for that type of stability for years now. June 2004 was the last time a general manager and coach ascended to their positions at roughly the same time for the Raptors, when Rob Babcock and Sam Mitchell landed those jobs, respectively. Last year, it was clear that general manager Bryan Colangelo and Casey, the Raptors’ coach, disagreed on some rather essential points.

This year, it seemed like a lock for that pattern to continue. Colangelo was removed as general manager, replaced by Masai Ujiri, who was emboldened with a five-year contract. Ujiri retained Casey, but did not extend his contract, which ends after this season. The situation still looked like a petri dish capable of growing more organizational dysfunction.

Yet, there was Casey on Wednesday, punctuating a four-game winning streak by harping on the Raptors’ diminished defence. He has continued to coach to his beliefs, and the players have not sensed any interference from above.

“A lot of organizations don’t allow coaches to do certain things,” Salmons said. When asked if that included setting a team’s rotation, Salmons nodded. “In this organization, they give [Casey] a lot of leeway to coach. Players see that and know that he’s got the back of the organization and they have to fall in line.

“All year he’s been trying to build for this moment. He was always looking at the bigger picture. Even when we were in the middle of making our run, he always had the bigger picture in mind … He gave us something to shoot for.”

They have not yet hit their target. The Raptors are 12-6 since March 9, an excellent record. However, the raw win-loss numbers lie a little bit: The Raptors have allowed 105.7 points per 100 possessions, just 17th in the league. In the three months prior, they had ranked fourth in the same category.

For Casey, who has preached defence for his entire tenure, that is worrisome. Part of the slippage has been injury-related, with Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry all missing some time and playing hurt in other games. Casey also pointed to calendar-related distractions — the playoffs are close, so it is hard not to let your mind wander.

However, for a team with so little playoff experience, it is critical that a coach has his players’ attention at this time of the year.

“You can tell if a coach is saying one thing and don’t really mean it or saying one thing and doing something different,” Salmons said. “That’s when players tend to lose respect for coaches. With [Casey], what you see is what you get. Straightforward, tell you how it is.

“Players want honesty. Just tell me what you want or what I’m not doing. You know what I’m saying? Just let me know. Don’t just hang me in the wind not knowing. I think they do a good job of that here. That’s a big deal.”

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Loomis: No deadline for Graham deal

BATON ROUGE, La. -- New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis shot down the notion Wednesday that the Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham will aim to strike a new deal by the middle of this month.

A report by Pro Football Talk last month cited a source as saying the two sides would try to reach a long-term contract agreement before the April 22 deadline for Graham to file a grievance over his franchise-tag designation. Graham was officially designated as a tight end, though it’s expected that Graham and agent Jimmy Sexton will file the grievance to argue that he should be considered a wide receiver based on where he lined up most often last season.

“Look, I’m always optimistic. But there’s no deadline here,” Loomis said when asked if that April 22 date was being used as a target.

Loomis, who spoke to the media while attending LSU’s pro day, declined to give any specific updates on how talks are developing with Graham. But he seemed to indicate that the pace hasn’t picked up much since the Saints first placed the franchise tag on Graham more than a month ago.

When asked for the most rational way for fans to look at the situation, Loomis cracked, “Well, when does training camp begin?”

“I don’t have an answer for that,” Loomis continued. “That’s a two-way street. You know, you guys [in the media] have been through this lots of times. I think all of us would rather have things done sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t always happen that way. So we’ll keep going, well keep at it in the process. Obviously we want to have Jimmy Graham on our team when training camp begins, and I am sure he wants to be with us.

“So we’ll just keep plugging away at the process. He’s got a great agent. And all his people, they know what they’re doing, and so do we. Hopefully we’ll come to a conclusion at some point.”

Saints owner Tom Benson gave a similar response during the NFL meetings last month when asked about the timetable for a new Graham deal, suggesting that he wouldn’t be surprised to see talks drag out like they did with franchised quarterback Drew Brees until July two years ago.

However, the potential grievance could throw a wrinkle into things.

If Graham does file a grievance, then his case would eventually be heard by a third-party arbitrator, who would be agreed upon by the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association. If that arbitrator agrees that Graham should be considered a wide receiver, his franchise-tag salary would soar from $7.05 million to $12.3 million.

That decision would give one side tremendous leverage in its long-term contract negotiations. So it remains possible that both the Saints and Graham’s camp would ultimately prefer to work out a deal on their own terms before it reaches the point of an arbitrator’s decision.

One way or another, Graham will almost certainly become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing Rob Gronkowski’s $9 million average with the New England Patriots. The biggest question is whether Graham’s deal will be closer to $10 million per year or $12 million.

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Jon Jay hits three-run homer in win

Jon Jay got the start in center on Monday and hit a three-run homer off the Brewers' Matt Garza.

Jay has started five of the Cardinals' 13 games so far, with four of those coming in center. That's probably a bit more than he should play over Peter Bourjos, but the Cardinals do want to keep Bourjos healthy. Obviously, it worked out nicely tonight, with Jay making his first big contribution of the year.

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