VIDEO: Bryant McKinnie on AllCanes Radio

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VIDEO: Thomas Carroll on AllCanes Radio

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Devin Hester focused on producing, not retiring

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Despite comments indicating a possible desire to retire in the wake of the firing of former head coach Lovie Smith, veteran Bears return man Devin Hester admitted Thursday his remarks came as a result of overwhelming emotion, not his true intentions.

Upon hearing the news of Smith's firing back in December, Hester, clearly distraught, said, “I don't even know if I want to play again. That's been something on my mind for two years. It's not (much fun anymore). I've got my workers comp papers in my pocket. I'm going to go home and talk to my wife, and talk to my family and see where we go from there.”

Obviously, Hester determined a return to the football field was the best course of action.

“That was in the past,” Hester said. “At the same time, people were just emotional, upset. So I would say that (my remarks were) emotion and upset coming out of me. I really wasn't thinking about what I was saying. That's in the past. You say things you really don't mean when you're upset. That's how it was.”

Now, Hester is in a better state emotionally with the new regime limiting him strictly to duties on special teams, after spending the majority of his career also moonlighting at receiver. Hester holds the NFL record for career kick return touchdowns (17), and career punt return TDs (12) and needs one more return TD to tie Deion Sanders for the most overall.

A missed field goal returned for a touchdown gives Hester 18 total return TDs.

What sold Hester on his new stripped-down duties as a specialist was simply the new regime's desire to see him succeed.

“They want to see me do good,” Hester said. “Whatever it takes to bring the special teams back, the return game back to what we used to have, they really, really wanted that. They told me, ‘This is your passion. You know what you're good at. You know what you're great at. Let's get it back to what it was.'”

That's all Hester needed to hear. In his new role, Hester spends all of his times with the specialists and special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis. Hester no longer participates in meetings with the club's receivers. Asked if he missed it, Hester said, “Not at all.”

In Hester's role as solely a specialist, he'll also receive opportunities to contribute on kick coverage teams as a gunner.

“We'll see. It'll be fun," he said. "It's something I haven't done in a while, but at the same time, I'm a team ballplayer, and whatever these guys need me, that's where I'm gonna fit."

Hester hasn't burned a defense for a return touchdown since the 2011 season, when he scored two TDs on punt returns and another on a kickoff. Hester once endured a two-year drought without a return score (2008 and 2009).

He's not expecting another scoreless season on returns in 2013.

“It's not only me, but the special-teams unit as well (that needs to return to what it used to be),” Hester said. “These (new coaches) are putting together a great group of guys on the special teams unit from the assignments to the players, and that's what we've been missing.”


VIDEO: Calais Campbell tells ProTips4U about his greatest moment

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ESPN says Ray Lewis is most valuable pick of this era

Most Ravens fans will tell you that inside linebacker Ray Lewis was the greatest draft pick in franchise history.

But the fine stat heads over at ESPN have calculated that Lewis was the NFL’s most valuable pick since 1994.

In this week’s ESPN the Magazine, they put together a chart of the best draft picks from each franchise based on Surplus Approximate Value (AV), which essentially measures the difference between what each player produced during his career compared to what he was expected to produce based on where he was drafted.

Lewis, who was drafted 26th overall in 1996, led all players with a Surplus AV of plus-183.3. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was a sixth-round draft pick, is second at plus-170.1.

Three other players on the snazzy chart had a Surplus AV above plus-140: Terrell Owens (third round in 1996), Derrick Brooks (first round in 1995), and Peyton Manning (first round in 1998).

Lewis won two Super Bowls with the Ravens, a Super Bowl MVP award and two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards. He made more than 2,600 career tackles and he is the only player in NFL history with at least 40 career sacks and 30 career interceptions. The future Hall of Famer's numbers speak for themselves.

Still, it surprised me a little that Lewis edged out Brady because the expectations for a sixth-rounder compared to a first-rounder would be significantly lower. That being said, Brady can surpass Lewis in another year or two if he continues to perform at a Pro Bowl level.

According to Pro Football Reference, Lewis is tied with Reggie White for fifth all-time with an Approximate Value of 222. Brady is 24th at 178. With an AV of 254, Brett Favre is the all-time leader.

ESPN the Magazine also had a chart of each team’s worst draft pick since 1994, and linebacker Dan Cody was the Ravens' worst. The 2006 second-rounder had a Surplus AV of minus-23.0.

That being said, Cody, who made just one tackle and played in two games during an injury-riddled Ravens career, was still the “best” worst pick on the chart, which was a who’s who of NFL busts.

Overall, calculating the values of thousands of picks, ESPN says the Ravens ranked fourth in Surplus AV since 1994. Not too shabby.

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Devin Hester's Chicago Bears role to be expanded

Devin Hester is happy he won't be a wide receiver in the Chicago Bears' offense this season, but that doesn't mean new coach Marc Trestman will let him just return kicks.

For the second straight practice Wednesday, one of the greatest returners of all time also worked with the special teams coverage units.

"The biggest thing about a great gunner sometimes is the guy who can get there fastest," special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said, via the Chicago Tribune. "We had a guy in Denver long time ago, he was an Olympic sprinter named Sam Graddy. Sam wasn't the best tackler in the world, but he sure caused a lot of fair catches. So hopefully we can expand (Hester's) role and see what happens.

"He has been a great returner and we want to add to that as much as we can. He's definitely going to be fresher to (cover) and that's something we're evaluating right now."

With three specialty players already on the roster -- kicker, punter, long snapper -- the Bears don't want a fourth player who only performs one duty.

Hester sounded upbeat about his role as a gunner earlier this week. He has to: If he can't play more than one position, he could find himself needing a Band-Aid before the regular season starts.

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Cowboys indeed are considering Eric Winston

There was a recent report the Dallas Cowboys were in talks with free agent right tackle Eric Winston and then that was shot down.

But where there is smoke, well, there might just be a fire. Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones told KRLD-FM on Tuesday that the club is indeed looking at Winston, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs and is one of several experienced and skilled right tackles on the market with Andre Smith and Tyson Clabo.

“He’s obviously somebody that we’re taking a look at,” Jones said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “We certainly haven’t dismissed Doug (Free). We really felt like when we went to rotating him and Jermey Parnell that he really picked up his game in terms of the competition, not to mention the fact that I think he got some clarity as to what (offensive line coach) Bill Callahan was after.

“I think there’s some interest and prospects there between what we have and what we could get. Obviously on the interior part of our line the same thing holds true. I think we had some injuries there. Another year under Bill and more work, and not to mention what might happen in the draft. We’ll just have to see how that goes.”

These experienced right tackles are looking for solid pay, though, and this has been primarily a buyers’ market. Winston and Co. might not find a team willing to pay $4 million or even $3 million per year. Before the Cowboys add a tackle, though, they have to figure out what they want to do with Free, who has long been rumored to be in line for a pay reduction. Free is due to earn $7 million this season coming off a rough 2012 season. This might be a situation that unfolds following the draft.

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What happened to Jemile Weeks?

SACRAMENTO -- There is an intriguing mystery in the corridors of the Oakland Coliseum, curling through the A's clubhouse and spawning theories among A's fans, baseball observers and scouts who study the game.

What happened to Jemile Weeks?

Sensational enough as a rookie in 2011 that A's general manager Billy Beane identified him as the key component to the team's future, Weeks is at Triple-A Sacramento and without an obvious place in Oakland's long-term plan. When second baseman Scott Sizemore last week sustained a season-ending injury, the A's summoned not Weeks but Andy Parrino, who was acquired from San Diego last November.

The 18 months since Weeks was the franchise poster boy, a sinewy action figure featured on billboards and magnetized team schedules, have been a haze of struggle and disappointment most graphically illustrated by not one but two demotions to Sacramento.

After arriving in Arizona in February hoping to reclaim his role as offensive catalyst and everyday second baseman, Weeks in March was kicked back to Sac for the second time in seven months. He began the season as, of all things, River Cats D.H.

"If he's the next man up, he'd be on the field," a National League scout said last week. "Doesn't sound good for his future in Oakland."

Though the April 10 promotion of Parrino put Weeks back on the field -- at shortstop for the first time in his professional career -- how did it come to this? How does a young man who lit up a franchise become so invisible so quickly?

Some baseball insiders attribute Weeks' offensive decline to an inability to counter-adjust after scouts and big league pitchers compiled a "book" on him. Some observers say his defense is suspect. Still others, fans and baseball insiders, wonder if he crossed Beane, who has first, firm and final say on all things baseball in Oakland.

Weeks, 26, blames his stumble through 2012 on largely losing his offensive identity.

"I was going through a transformation that I didn't need to, trying to create a swing that I had never used," he said recently. "It didn't look right. It was hard to get out of it. I couldn't get out of it. I continued to work on creating that new swing, and I couldn't perfect it. When I tried to go back to what I'm used to, I had lost that."

When River Cats manager Steve Scarsone was asked how Weeks went from face of the Oakland A's to Sacramento D.H., he offered a cryptic response: "That's a good question."

Upon posing the same question to Bob Melvin, Weeks' former manager in Oakland, his chin dropped and his eyes darted downward. He paused and sighed.

"That's the way baseball is," he said. "Some guys come to the forefront when the opportunity is there. If they don't take advantage of it ... it could swing right back in his favor again.

"I wouldn't rule anything out. We did see a guy who really was a dynamic player. I still think he has the ability to do that again, and I wouldn't rule him out. Even this year I wouldn't rule him out."

Weeks' career has been in steep decline since the summer of '11, when he seemingly seized the leadoff spot in Oakland for the next decade. The organization's No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft (12th overall), Weeks was delivering on promise, an exciting blend of speed, skill and athleticism. Over 406 at-bats, he hit .303, with eight triples, both categories leading all rookie regulars. He stole 22 bases.

Not since Miguel Tejada's arrival in the 1990s had an A's prospect so stimulated the fan base.

"He's a great talent, a unique talent," Beane gushed of Weeks in February 2012. "And he's only got a half-year in the major leagues. He's a guy who is very much part of our long-term future."

One year later, as Weeks fights to revive his career, it appears he is on the trade block.

Reminded of his previous statement, Beane acknowledges saying it but concedes that things change all the time in baseball -- sometimes quickly.

Beane says Weeks needs to continue working on his defense. That he is playing shortstop broadens his versatility, while allowing another foundering prospect, Grant Green, an opportunity to play second base. The G.M. insists Weeks has major-league ability and, moreover, works hard to mine it.

"That's never been an issue," Beane said. "One of the reasons everyone was so patient last year is that he does play hard, and he obviously cares. I've never had any concerns about that."

What then? Did he say something wrong, do something improper, fail baseball's subjective "attitude test?" There is rampant speculation that some of Jemile's comments last August, upon being demoted while batting .220, were not sufficiently humble.

"I'm going to be a star in this game, man," he said on his way out of the Oakland clubhouse. "You've got to have ups and downs. It just makes the story so much sweeter when you come back. I don't want to expound too much on it, but you're looking at a star, period."

Recently reminded of those words, Weeks is quick to say they were part of a larger point he was trying to make. He understood why he was being sent to the River Cats, even wondered why it took until late August. He wanted to make it evident his confidence was not shaken, that he believes he has something to offer the A's and that recapturing his mojo was a matter of going back to basics.

"After the first four or five games last year, (A's management) wanted me to work on a different type of game," he said. "The team wasn't hitting, so it was brought to my attention to do whatever it took to get on base to help the team. I tried to do that. I took more pitches. I tried (not to overswing). When I got out front and my swing looked big, the perception was I was trying to hit home runs. I have never tried to hit a home run."

Both Beane and A's hitting coach Chili Davis said they never insisted Weeks take more pitches, only that they believed his swing resulted in too many fly balls. And at 5-foot-9, 161 pounds, Weeks is not going to send many fly balls over the fence.

"It takes a lot to get your mind back into the position where you were in, knowing how good you were," Weeks said. "I've never had a season when I hit .220; that was my first time. It gets frustrating, that people might believe you're a .220 hitter. But I'll just go out this year ... I know I won't do that."

Though there are signs Weeks' stroke is back -- a .379 batting average and .463 on-base percentage through 13 games for the River Cats -- there is no indication he'll be back in Oakland any time soon.

Moreover, every member of the A's who spoke about Weeks, including director of player development Keith Lieppman, floated the possibility of Weeks moving to another organization.

"He is swinging the bat well, getting back to being who Jemile Weeks should be," Davis said. "I hope he continues doing that to get that second chance. He deserves a second chance here."

Parsing through comments from those within the Oakland organization, two more questions bobbed to the surface:

Can Weeks ever regain the form that for four months made him such a dynamic catalyst in Oakland?

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Ryan Braun hits third homer, Brewers down Giants

Ryan Braun slugged his third home run of the season on Thursday as the Brewers defeated the Giants.

The first-inning home run snapped a mini slump for Braun. He boasts a cool .275/.396/.575 batting line, three home runs and 10 RBI through 11 games this season. The 29-year-old should again challenge for the NL MVP.

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Ravens coaches high on Tommy Streeter

At the NFL Owners Meetings in March, coach John Harbaugh and owner Steve Bisciotti both brought up 2012 sixth-round pick Tommy Streeter when quizzed about how the Ravens will replace Anquan Boldin.
Streeter ran a 4.40 flat official forty time at 6-foot-5, 219 two Februaries ago before redshirting his rookie NFL season. "(The coaching staff) liked Tommy Streeter's development by the end of the year," Bisciotti said. "They thought that he finally started to get what it was like to be a pro." Streeter is a height-weight-speed prospect to keep tabs on during training camp.

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Browns: No contact with Kellen Winslow

Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski said Wednesday, April 17, that he has not had any conversations with free-agent TE Kellen Winslow (Seahawks) about returning, but he didn't discount the notion either. "Not specifically with him coming back but I've kept in touch with Kellen over time. Obviously, I've known him and been close with him for a long time," Chudzinski said.

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Trestman: Hester has to be the returner

As the offensive players broke for individual drills Tuesday at the Walter Payton Center on Day 1 of voluntary minicamp, Devin Hester stood on the sideline swinging his helmet alongside long snapper Pat Mannelly, kicker Robbie Gould and punter Adam Podlesh.

For right now, Hester can no longer call himself a Chicago Bears receiver. He's fine with that. So are the Bears.

“I'll make it clear because I've been asked a number of times," new Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Devin's gonna focus on being our returner. He's got to be the returner for him to be here. Once that's locked into place, which we expect that it will, then we'll see where it goes from there."

Asked at the NFL owners meetings in March whether Hester would practice with as a receiver during the offseason, Trestman expressed uncertainty, saying the matter hadn't yet been fully discussed. The coach left little doubt Tuesday about Hester's expected role.

Since the start of the 2011 season, Hester has caught 49 passes for 611 yards and two touchdown with the team looking for ways to give him more of a role on offense. Hester returned 40 punts last season for an 8.3-yard average, but didn't score a touchdown and also failed to find the end zone on any of his 24 kickoff returns in 2012.

The Bears hold a 13-4 record when Hester scores on a return.

“We made a collective decision organizationally. I've talked to the guys that have been here. (General manager) Phil (Emery) and I had a long conversation about it as well," Trestman said. “Just talking to Devin (I want to) let him get back to doing what he does best first. Then when that's all in place, we'll see if we need to or if we're in a position to be able to incorporate him in doing more things."

Set to earn $1.857 million in the final year of his contract, Hester isn't spending time in the meeting rooms with his fellow receivers, and he isn't learning the new offense. Instead, as a specialist, that's where he's spending all his time: with special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis.

“He'll spend all his time with Joe," Trestman said. “When we're in an offensive meeting, he'll be with Joe. He'll be with (long snapper) Pat. He'll be with Robbie and the kickers. He'll be spending time totally focused in on being the best returner in the National Football League."

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San Diego Chargers & New Orleans Saints Interested in Bryant McKinnie

Despite being a well regarded veteran at a very desirable position (left tackle), no team has picked up Bryant McKinnie as of yet, with the Baltimore Ravens still trying to break through the wall of suitors, consisting of the San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints, and bring him back to the fold.

McKinnie, a 13 year veteran, spent most of his career with the Minnesota Vikings, playing there until 2010, making the Pro Bowl a season earlier. With the Baltimore Ravens, McKinnie has been playing for a couple of years, which include two AFC Championship games and the Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers, playing in all 32 games in 2011-2012 for Baltimore.

But heading into what might be his final NFL contract, or at least the last one meant for a starting role, McKinnie is quite patient with his selection, hoping that more money will be thrown on the table, or another team joins the mix that is currently made up of three teams, one of them his former one.

For the San Diego Chargers, the interest is still there although they’re already entertaining other players at the position, trying to fix the mess of a situation they have with their offensive line. While McKinnie isn’t at his best, anything seems to be an improvement to what they currently have.

For the New Orleans Saints, it’ll simply be replacing their most important offensive lineman for the last four seasons, protecting the blindside of Drew Brees into a Super Bowl win in 2009. He left to sign with the Chicago Bears, leaving an opening the Saints are still hoping McKinnie is interested in filling.

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Warren Sapp to announce picks

We previously told you former New Orleans player Steve Gleason will announce the Saints’ third-round pick in next week’s NFL draft.

We had a separate post on Gleason because the Saints released that information ahead of the rest of the league. But I don’t want to sell the other former players that will announce second-round picks for the other three NFC South teams.

Warren Sapp will announce Tampa Bay’s pick. That’s only fitting since Sapp will be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame this summer.

Deion Sanders, who already is in the Hall of Fame, will announce Atlanta’s pick. Mike Minter will announce Carolina’s pick.

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Devin Hester's special teams role could grow

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – There is a possibility Devin Hester could be asked to do more than return kicks next season for the Chicago Bears.

In addition to serving as the Bears' primary return man, Hester lined up on the second-team kickoff and punt-team coverage units during the second day of the team's voluntary mini-camp.

While the Bears already have a strong nucleus of special teams tacklers already on the roster, such as Blake Costanzo, Eric Weems, Zack Bowman, Sherrick McManis and Craig Steltz, special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said after the workout the Bears are evaluating Hester for an expanded role on special teams, seeing as how he no longer participates on offense or sits in on offensive meetings.

"He's definitely going to be fresher to do those things," DeCamillis said of Hester covering kicks. "Again, that's something we are evaluating right now and still working on all those things. He'll be working on all the cover teams, and he'll also be working on other things for us too. He's a great weapon, and we want to try and use him as much as we can."

Although Hester rose to NFL stardom due to his ability to avoid tacklers, he does have experience on defense and actually entered the league in 2006 as a cornerback. Hester had 11 tackles his rookie season before the Bears moved him to wide receiver the following year, but at least there is some history of Hester attempting to take down a ballcarrier in live game action.

Regardless of how serious the Bears are about having Hester cover kicks, DeCamillis said the three-time Pro Bowl return man reported to the offseason program sporting a terrific attitude.

"Change is hard for a lot of people," DeCamillis said. "We all have to go through it in this league. He probably said too much at the start (of the offseason), but he's in a great frame of mind right now and we want to get him back to where he was."

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Mike Pouncey "Guarantees" Lamar Miller tops 1300 yards rushing next year

Dolphins Center Mike Pouncey "guarantees" Lamar Miller will top 1300 yards next year, which shouldn’t be too difficult for Miller if he is given around 16-20 carries per game.

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Devin Hester not among Bears receivers

Devin Hester was conspicuous by his lack of participation in the Bears' first minicamp practice under new head coach Marc Trestman.

Hester was not involved with the receivers at any time during Tuesday's practice inside the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall.

And that was by design of the coaching staff.

About the only activity Hester had was fielding a handful of punts, although he did join other special teamers in a kick-coverage drill that involved taking a tackling dummy to the ground.

Under Lovie Smith, Hester was touted as the Bears' No. 1 receiver, and for a brief moment in time that almost seemed possible.

He caught 57 passes for 757 yards in 2009. But his receptions and yardage have plummeted in each of the past three seasons. It dropped all the way to 23 catches and 242 yards last season, when he was a mere footnote to the offense.

So for now Hester is exclusively a special-teams player.

"I'll make it clear because I have been asked that a number of times," Trestman said. "Devin is going to focus on being our returner.

"He's got to be the returner for him to be here, and once that is locked into place, which we expect that it will, then we'll see where it goes from there.

"We made a collective decision organizationally. I talked with the guys who have been here. (General manager) Phil (Emery) and I had a long conversation about it as well. Just talking to Devin, let him get back to doing what he does best first.

"Then, when that's all in place, we'll see if we need to or if we're in a position to, be able to incorporate him into doing more things."

Hester indicated that his role would expand from the current level of working only with special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis.

"During the season we're going to have stuff I'll be doing, not standing on the sidelines," Hester said. "I'll be catching punts, doing little small drills. I will stay motivated and stay conditioned.

"It's just a new year for me. Fresh start for me, new coaching staff."

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Rob Chudzinski conducts 'learning camp'

After his first minicamp practice, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski talked about the importance of learning during this camp.

The Cleveland Browns held the first practice of their three-day voluntary minicamp on Tuesday, and rather than looking for perfection, coach Rob Chudzinski wanted to see retention of the information his staff has given to the players over the first two weeks of the offseason program.

Tuesday’s work was the first for the coaches with the players on the field. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, coaches can only be in the classroom with players for the first two weeks of the offseason.

“With these three days, it’s important to understand this is a learning camp as much as it is, or more so than it is an evaluation camp or an assessment camp,” Chudzinski said. “This is our first chance to get out on the field with these guys and really teach them on the field what we want, for them to understand how we want to practice and bring those things together.

“It’s great to be out there, finally get a chance to get out with these guys and get out on the field. Just seeing these guys out here for the first day, I was impressed with the team. I thought the energy, I thought the effort, I thought the focus were all outstanding, and this is a hungry group. That’s something to work with, for sure.”

Chudzinski said the coaches have “thrown a lot” at the players in the two weeks’ worth of meetings, and that’s a challenge the players have embraced.

“We get the playbook with just a little bit of time before we head here, and it’s pretty much getting in the book and visualizing it,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “When you come out here, it’s a little bit different. It’s a little bit faster, and I thought we responded really well offensively. The guys took the information the coaches have thrown at us, and they’re throwing a lot at us, and it’s been outstanding. The guys have really done a good job up to this point.”

In addition to the scheme changes being implemented on both sides of the football, the new Browns players have been acclimating themselves to the team.

“I was surprised about how much everybody was on the same page,” said outside linebacker Paul Kruger, whom the Browns signed in the first 24 hours of free agency in March. “It went a lot more fluid than I thought for the first day. It’s pretty good stuff. We’re all getting familiar with each other. Just getting to know each other and getting familiar, it went really well.”

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Ryan Braun's neck 'still bothering him some'

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said that Ryan Braun's neck is "still bothering him some."

Braun has played the last four games after missing three contests with a neck ailment, but he's gone 0-for-7 while striking out six times over the last two days against the Cardinals. "(Braun's) neck is still bothering him some," Roenicke said. "He's not 100%. You can see some of his swings aren't his usual self." At this point, it doesn't appear that the disabled list is under consideration for the outfielder, but things might be different if the Brewers weren't already so undermanned.

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VIDEO: Gino Torretta to Andre Johnson highlights Miami’s spring game

There aren't many programs that can trot out a former Heisman Trophy winner to throw a touchdown to a future Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver during the spring game like Miami can.

Like Cal letting Marshawn Lynch score during the spring game, Miami had an alumni touchdown as well. Gino Torretta, the 1992 Heisman Trophy winner, put on a jersey and took a snap from former All-American center Brett Romberg, and threw deep to Houston Texans star receiver Andre Johnson, also wearing a Miami jersey.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the duo hooked up for the score, considering the defenders were probably told they'd never be allowed on campus again if they even thought about hitting Johnson. And Torretta looks like he can still throw the ball a bit more than 20 years after winning his Heisman (which should have gone to Marshall Faulk, but that's another story).

Miami always has former players come back around the current team, often working out in the offseason with them. It doesn't hurt that the school is located in Miami. Why wouldn't players want to come back? You can see the Miami players come off the sideline to congratulate Johnson on his easy touchdown, and the whole idea of former Hurricanes stars hanging around the program is a pretty fun thing for the current players.

This is actually a pretty cool trend of having famous alums come back for ceremonial spring game plays. Seeing as how it is fun and harmless, expect the NCAA to step in and stop it soon.

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Sam Shields, Pack still talking extension

The Packers are still talking with restricted free agent CB Sam Shields about a long-term contract.

Nothing is imminent as Shields is at least third in line for a new deal behind Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. There's no urgency because he'll eventually sign the one-year, $2.02M RFA tender. Per Pro Football Focus, Shields graded out as a top-eight corner in coverage last year.

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D.J. Williams "just trying to be myself"

D.J. Williams is the new guy in town, even though the 10-year veteran linebacker already has made a name for himself around the NFL as an aggressive tackler with the Denver Broncos.

When the Chicago Bears moved on from their longtime relationship with future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the urgency heightened for Williams to fill the void.

“Coming in here, I am not trying to be him. Just trying to be myself,” Williams said Tuesday following the team’s first day of minicamp in the Walter Payton Center. “I'm just trying to blend in and fit in with the guys and help them win games. I don’t think any player ever tries to be like anybody else.”

Williams, 30, played just seven games last season because of a suspension for failing a mandatory league drug test.

“It’s a rebirth (with the Bears). Last year I didn’t have the greatest year,” Williams acknowledged. “I got suspended multiple games. I get the opportunity now to play a full season and just get out there and play some ball.”

The once familiar linebacking trio of Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach now has only Briggs returning this season.

“Lance has been a staple here for many years, a great player, a Hall of Fame player. He has a lot of knowledge and he is a play-maker. Whenever I do have a question, he is able to answer for me,” said Williams, who has played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense in the past.

“Most (teams) play the same defenses, just different terminology. But I'm playing a different position. I played (middle) linebacker before. Now I just have to get used to the reads and the position.”

With a new team and coaching staff, Williams is confident it will not take him long to get up to speed with the Bears’ way of doing things.

“Things are going pretty well. I’ve gotten in a few extra days with the coaches and the defense,” Williams said. “Football is football."

Williams, who started his college career as a fullback at Miami, was drafted in the first round by the Broncos in 2004. He has 20.5 career sacks. In 2007 as a middle linebacker he was credited with 106 tackles and in 2010 he had 94 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a left inside linebacker.

“I'm a physical player," he said. "I run to the ball and cover (on pass plays). I consider myself able to do just about everything.”

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Colin McCarthy recovering from ankle surgery

Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy had a procedure earlier this offseason on the right ankle he injured in Week One of the 2013 season.

McCarthy sent a message via Twitter on Tuesday he’s already running again, however.

McCarthy suffered the injury on September 9 against the Patriots, and ended up missing four games. Later in the season he suffered a concussion, which caused him to miss the final five games of the regular season. He ended the season on Injured Reserve.

The Titans begin their offseason program on Monday. The team is scheduled to hold its first minicamp beginning on May 29.

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Ravens still open to re-signing Bryant McKinnie

Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome hasn't closed the door on re-signing free agent LT Bryant McKinnie.

"Could he be our left tackle? He potentially could be," Newsome said Tuesday. "I have a good relationship with (McKinnie's agent). It's a process." McKinnie has been insisting he could return to the Ravens, but this is the first time they've acknowledged as much. Newsome doesn't appear ready to hand the blindside keys over to Michael Oher or Kelechi Osemele. McKinnie has also drawn cursory interest from the Saints and Chargers.

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Dallas Cowboys are ‘taking a look’ at free agent RT Eric Winston

The Dallas Cowboys could certainly afford to upgrade their offensive line and free agent right tackle Eric Winston is on their radar.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones talked about the team’s interest on Tuesday.

“He’s obviously somebody that we’re taking a look at,” Jones told the Elf & Slater show on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. “We certainly haven’t dismissed Doug [Free]. We really felt like when we went to rotating him and Jermey Parnell that he really picked up his game in terms of the competition, not to mention the fact that I think he got some clarity as to what [offensive line coach] Bill Callahan was after.

“I think there’s some interest and prospects there between what we have and what we could get. Obviously on the interior part of our line the same thing holds true. I think we had some injuries there. Another year under Bill and more work, and not to mention what might happen in the draft. We’ll just have to see how that goes.”

Winston, who has played for the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs, has started 103 games over his seven seasons in the NFL. That has included six consecutive seasons without missing a start. Winston, 29, is looking for a deal that will pay him between $3 and $4 million annually.

Free, the Cowboys’ current starting right tackle, is due to receive $7 million in 2013, making him the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL. The 29-year-old turned in a disappointing 2012 season and the Cowboys are likely looking for him to take a pay cut.

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Vince Wilfork Raising Money for Boston Marathon Relief Efforts

There has been an outcry of support for the city of Boston from athletes around the country over the past 24 hours, and now Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is doing his part. Wilfork is committed to raising money for the relief efforts and victims of the Marathon Monday bombings.

He has agreed that all donations made to the Vince Wilfork Foundation for the entirety of April will go to benefit Monday’s victims and their families. Text “VINCE” to 50555 to donate $10 to the efforts. If the foundation raises $10,000 in the effort then Wilfork has also agreed to match that donation amount.

Wilfork’s wife Bianca joined in the effort, too, spreading the message on her own Twitter account. Wilfork joins new teammate Danny Amencola in agreeing to raise money for those impacted by the events.

On Monday, Amendola tweeted out that he would donate $100 for every catch he made during the 2013 season and $200 for every dropped pass. Both gestures show just how committed the Patriots, both old and new, are to supporting the city of Boston and the local community.

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Chudzinski 'excited' for first Browns minicamp

After two weeks of workouts with strength and conditioning coach Brad Roll, the Cleveland Browns’ players will take the field and work with their position coaches and coordinators for the first time when the team opens up its voluntary minicamp at the Berea training facility Tuesday.

And first-year Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski could not be happier to get his charges onto the field for the first time.

“The exciting part, as a coach, is you get the chance to get out on the field and help guys get better,” Chudzinski said Monday during an appearance on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford.” “The guys that are here, we’ll work with them and give them every chance to be the best that they can be and ultimately, help the team.”

While the players will not be in full pads or have contact per the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, Chudzinski said the minicamp is a “good opportunity” to see how the past two weeks of work translates to the practice field.

“We’re excited about getting out there,” Chudzinski said. “It’s just good to get out there and actually start coaching. This is the first opportunity. We have some team periods, and some periods of seven-on-seven to get a chance to really coach them up. It’s hard at this point because it’s so early to get evaluations, but we’ll get a little bit of that, an early assessment for that.

“We really want to make sure the guys understand us and get to know us. We need to get to know them, (making sure) that they understand how practice operates, the tempo that we want, the style and how practices are laid out and set up. We also want to start introducing our concepts from an Xs and Os standpoint and go out and get a chance to execute those things, and get a chance to work on some of the base techniques and lay the foundation for our team.”

Under Chudzinski’s direction, defensive coordinator Ray Horton will begin implementing his version of the 3-4 defense, a switch from the 4-3 the Browns had utilized under Dick Jauron in the last two seasons.

“We had a chance the last two weeks to install and go through some things on the playbook, and we’re actually using a computer program to do that, and we’ll get some game film to look at it,” Chudzinski said. “The guys had a chance to see it in the playbook, see it on tape and see how it works. Now, they’ll get a chance to get out on the field, and it’s a progression.”

In addition to the defense, the team’s three quarterbacks -- Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Thaddeus Lewis -- will be learning a new scheme, something Chudzinski referred to as “a process all three need to go through during the offseason.”

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Jon Jay scores three times in win

Jon Jay went 2-for-4 with a two-run double, a walk and three runs scored in a 10-6 win over the Pirates on Monday.

Jay entered with two homers and no doubles, which was quite a change from a 2012 season in which he finished with four homers and 22 doubles in 443 at-bats. He'll be worth playing in mixed leagues for as long as he remains the Cardinals' primary leadoff man.

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Browns high on Travis Benjamin for punt returns

The new Browns regime believes second-year WR Travis Benjamin is capable of becoming an "outstanding" punt returner.

This probably explains Cleveland's complete unwillingness to try to re-sign Josh Cribbs. Benjamin, the 100th pick in last year's draft, possesses 4.36 wheels and broke off a 93-yard punt return touchdown as a rookie despite seeing only three punt return chances all season. In addition to situational deep threat duties on offense, Benjamin will replace Cribbs as the Browns' return specialist.

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Jason Fox reportedly to sign tender for Detroit Lions

With a chance to win a starting tackle job, Jason Fox wasn't about to miss the Detroit Lions' offseason workouts.

Fox, a restricted free agent, will sign his one-year tender Monday and take part in the voluntary workouts, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The fourth-round pick in 2010 spent last season as the Lions' No. 4 tackle, but with the departure of Gosder Cherilus via free agency and Jeff Backus to retirement, the injury-plagued Fox has a chance to win one of the starting tackle jobs.

The Lions' 2012 first-round pick, Riley Reiff, also will battle for a starting job at either tackle spot or at right guard.

If Fox can stay healthy and prove to be a solid right tackle, it would allow the Lions some versatility along their offensive line. The thought process in Detroit appears to be: draft a left tackle with the No. 5 pick in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft, have Fox win the right tackle spot and move Reiff inside.

That plan would make the Lions a much better run-blocking team -- an area in which they struggled mightily last season. However, with Fox's injury concerns and relying on a rookie left tackle (who might be off the board at the fifth spot), Detroit could be gambling with Matthew Stafford's protection.

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Dolphins not showing interest in Bryant McKinnie

The Miami Herald reports the Dolphins haven't shown any interest in free agent LT Bryant McKinnie.
The Dolphins have a glaring need at left tackle, but won't be making any signings until after the draft. Multiple reports have Miami targeting Lane Johnson in the first-round, and packaging the No. 12 pick and one of their two second rounders to move up. GM Jeff Ireland is also reportedly open to trading down if the Dolphins don't land one of the top three tackles.

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Kiper Says Mike James & Brandon McGee Late Round Picks

For the fifth consecutive year, UM will not have a player picked in the first round of the NFL Draft.

In fact, it seems likely only two Hurricanes — running back Mike James and cornerback Brandon McGee — will be drafted and neither will go until the third day of the selection process during rounds four to seven.

Only once since 1987 has UM not had a player drafted within the first three rounds. In 2009, Spencer Adkins was the only UM player drafted and he went in the sixth round.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. spoke this week about what he sees in store for James and McGee.

“I like Mike James. He was one of the guys I think you can get probably a little later in the draft. I think about day three. It’s a kid over 220 pounds, has better quickness than he does 40 time. He runs inside very effectively. Can bounce it to the perimeter. He’s got some skills. I think as a later round pick, he’ll make a team and contribute. You saw what [FAU's} Alfred Morris did last year as a sixth round pick.

"[I'm] not as high on Brandon McGee as some people may be. He has recovery ability. He flashes in coverage. I think he still needs a little bit of work. I projected him more as a late round pick. So they’re both late round picks, I’m just a little higher on James right now as I am on McGee as an overall rating.”


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Leonard Hankerson Predicted to Have a Breakout Season

Leonard Hankerson. I struggled finding a 2013 breakout player for the Redskins, but I do think Hankerson should be in line for a much bigger role and his skill set fits what Mike Shanahan wants to do with this offensive attack. First of all, wide receivers must be very good blockers in this offense. Hankerson has the size and overall physicality to develop into a very good edge blocker. He also is built to run quick-hitting routes like slants -- which work really well off Washington’s fantastic play-action game -- and to do something after the catch with a physical running style. Hankerson isn’t an elite deep threat and has just average wide-receiver speed, but he can go up and get the football downfield or in a crowd in the end zone. Drops have been a problem for Hankerson, but I expect him to take a noticeable step forward in 2013 and become a solid No. 2 receiver opposite Pierre Garcon.

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proCane Eddy Rodriguez off to a HOT Start

After two starts, three Padres minor league starting pitchers – Burch Smith, Matt Wisler and Joe Ross -- have yet to allow a run and three others have allowed only one earned run.

But the focus this week is on offense, particularly the hitters at Double-A San Antonio where the team batting average is .301 after 10 games.

Five of the 10 leading hitters in the Texas League after the first 1 ½ weeks of the season are from San Antonio led by former Padres catcher Eddy Rodriguez, who is off to a .379 start.

Also in the top five of Texas League hitters are third baseman Jake Blackwood and first baseman Tommy Medica.

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Yonder Alonso seeks leading role with Padres

It might seem an odd image, Yonder Alonso working out alongside Alex Rodriguez, these days a fading baseball player who stars only in tabloids.

But there’s an explanation that goes as far back as Miami, where both men spent their formative years.

Back then, Alonso was simply awestruck. The pros walking through the doors at the preteen’s Boys and Girls Club weren’t just any pros.

Marco Scutaro. Derek Jeter. Rafael Palmeiro.

And then there was Rodriguez, who took a particular liking to the aspiring pro.

“After I met him, we really got to talk about baseball,” Alonso said recently. “It was really cool.”

In his own way, the Padres first baseman would like to be that version of his former offseason training partner. Alonso certainly devoted last winter to changing his swing — incorporating more of his legs and torso in hopes of increasing his power while retaining his contact rate — but back home in Miami, he still found the time to stop by his old after-school haunt.

Just about every afternoon, Alonso hoisted jump shots and shared advice with the youngsters at the Boys and Girls Club.

“Those are just things I want to do here in San Diego, since I’m gonna be here for a while,” Alonso said, “kinda do a little bit of what they did for me and help out as much as possible.”

They being the pros Alonso admired. They being the leaders he’d like to emulate, and not just in the community.

Partly by necessity, partly by innate ambition, Alonso has become the Padres hitter saddled, at the moment, with the greatest expectations. In a lineup without projected heart-of-the-order staples Chase Headley and Yasmani Grandal, the first baseman hit the team’s only home run on Opening Day in New York. It would stand as the Padres’ lone home run until they belted two against the Dodgers Monday.

Alonso hit his second home run of the season in Friday's loss to the Rockies, which dropped the Padres to 2-8.

“I gotta do my part,” Alonso said, “but there’s obviously other guys who have to do their part also. This is a team thing here, and you can’t rely on one guy or two guys. You gotta rely on all 25 guys so we can get the job done.”

While those words may sound a bit advanced for someone coming off his first full season in the majors, there’s an unmistakable humility there too, honed by nights cleaning offices in Miami with his father, even during a college career as one of the ACC’s best.

“He’s a very confident player,” Padres manager Bud Black said. “He’s got a lot of pride in his game.”

Which can make it easy to forget Alonso turned 26 Monday. The left-handed hitter is likely to show more power this year than last (nine home runs, 39 doubles), especially given the cozier confines at Petco Park, but he’s still seen barely more than 700 major-league at-bats.

“I told him in San Antonio he doesn’t need to carry the load,” Black said. “He doesn’t need to pick up any production with Chase out or if (Carlos Quentin’s) not in the lineup. He doesn’t have to put everything on his shoulders.

“There have been a couple swings where I thought he was trying to do too much, but he’s gotta get back to using the whole field. We’ve talked about where he is in his career, he doesn’t need to have that pressure to produce offensively.”

But there’s still the sense that Alonso remains perhaps the most crucial piece in the early going, what with the Padres trying to salvage another slow start. On April 3 you could almost hear the collective gasp of a fan base in lieu of a frightening play against the Mets.

Coming off the first-base bag to field a wide throw, Alonso made a swipe tag on Collin Cowgill, only to immediately dangle his left arm in considerable pain.
Much to the team’s relief, Alonso stayed in the game and singled twice the next day, having escaped with nothing more than minor hyperextension in his elbow, ready to resume what he hopes will be a career year.

“We need Yonder to play his game, which is steady defense, which is collect hits, hit his doubles,” Black said. “If a homer’s in there, great. But hit for average, get on base, score runs, knock in runs.

“Pressure’s a good thing, but he doesn’t need to put more on himself.”

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