Allen Hurns making most of shot with Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Before becoming the first wide receiver in NFL history with five seasons of at least 100 catches, Wes Welker wasn't even one of the 255 players drafted in 2004.

Allen Hurns has a long way to go before reaching anything close to that sort of lofty status with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But based on what he showed during their organized team activities and this week's three-day mandatory minicamp, the undrafted free agent from the University of Miami stands an excellent chance of sticking around for some time to come.

With veterans Cecil Shorts III and Tandon Doss both sidelined by calf injuries and second-round draft picks Marqise Lee (ankle) and Allen Robinson (hamstring) also out, Hurns has gotten plenty of work with what could be regarded as the first-string offense. The one-handed snag he made Thursday of a pass from Chad Henne in a red-zone 11-on-11 drill was just the latest case of him leaving a positive impression with teammates and coaches.

"Allen Hurns had a heck of a camp," Henne said. "I'm excited to see what he does in training camp once we get the pads on. He's a big, strong receiver and understands the offense .... Just a really reliable guy."

"Obviously we wish they could have practiced," coach Gus Bradley said of the four injured receivers. "But in the OTAs and the minicamp, you're trying to evaluate everybody. And I will say it has given us a chance. A guy like Hurns has stepped up because of it."

Hurns, who had 60 receptions for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns with the Hurricanes as a senior, is following a path similar to fellow Jaguars wide receiver Mike Brown. One big difference is that Brown was a quarterback in college when he was signed in 2012.

"Coming in as an undrafted free agent, you're not looking to get that many reps," Hurns said. "But when some guys go down and you get an opportunity, you've got to make the most of it."

Stephen Morris, his quarterback at Miami, was among the additional free agents signed last month by the Jaguars. But that wasn't as much of a determining factor to Hurns as the presence of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who held the same position with the Hurricanes for two years (2011-12).

"I had a good relationship with Jedd Fisch," he said. "I know his playbook. So coming in, that put me a step ahead. Also, I looked at their roster and saw they had a lot of guys coming in that were new and not that many veterans."

With Justin Blackmon still suspended by the league and his return to the Jaguars very much in doubt, Shorts and Brown are their only remaining wide receivers from before the hiring of Bradley. The only position coach left on the staff of the team that went 2-14 in 2012 is wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan.
Hurns' attention to detail has earned him praise in the past several weeks.

"He's a great listener," Shorts said. "Coach Sullivan comes to him and tells him a certain route technique, and he goes out there and does it."

"I take pride in that," Hurns said. "As a receiver, I don't like making mistakes, because one mistake can cause interceptions and things like that. So I just look up to Cecil and listen to my coaches. That helps me a lot."

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Hurns has learned all three wide receiver positions used by the Jaguars. Even with Shorts, Doss, Lee and Robinson expected to be ready when training camp opens in five weeks, that versatility should make him an asset.

Any stigma he might have had after going undrafted is now a thing of the past.

"It adds a lot of motivation when you're not drafted," he said. "You always see yourself as being drafted. But once you get here, it all goes out the door. You're just working to be the best person you can."

"I don't know what the other 31 teams were thinking," Shorts said. "But I know one thing: He's doing a great job. He's not worried about whether he was drafted or not drafted or whatever. He's out there having fun. He's out there competing, which is our culture."

Hurns hasn't decided whether to go back to Miami and work with Morris in the weeks ahead or stay in Jacksonville. One event which is definitely on his planner is a camp July 6-11 in Minnesota run by Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Shorts attended that last season with several of his Jaguars teammates.

Bradley cut short the final day of minicamp as a reward for what he described as "a more mature team than we were last year." The Jaguars went 4-12 a year ago and, following the release Thursday of defensive end Jason Babin, have only two players older than 30 -- kicker Josh Scobee and defensive end Chris Clemons.

"We've got to transfer from excellent football to football excellence during training camp," Bradley said. "That's our objective."

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proCane Rookie Punter Pat O'Donnell In Heated Competition

Rookie kicker Pat O’Donnell, the only punter drafted this year, by the Bears in the sixth round, has been making an impression ever since his first punt in rookie minicamp, which boomed into the Walter Payton Center roof 90 feet above the playing surface.

That hasn’t slackened, and on Wednesday the Bears used a “jugs” machine to deliver punts to returners during practice, since O’Donnell’s kicks were only infrequently getting to them without interference from the roof.

But coaches are more than pleased with the ball-launching of O’Donnell, selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft.

“That’s something that’s good, by the way,” said special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. “If it hits the roof in there, that means they are hanging the ball. If they don’t hit the roof that’s usually not a good thing because that means it’s coming right back at you in the return form. I’m glad that it’s hitting the roof, let’s just say that.”

If there is one surprise on “teams” it has been the showing of Tress Way, who came to camp last year as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma with virtually zero chance of unseating Adam Podlesh.

Podlesh punted his way out of Chicago this offseason and Way has seized the situation and is conceding nothing to O’Donnell because of the latter’s status as a draft choice.

“I think it's going to be a heck of a competition,” DeCamillis said. “I think when we drafted Pat, for whatever reason Tress really picked his business up. He's really punted well and it's going to be a heck of a competition…

“I've seen some guys fold and some guys rise to the occasion and obviously you want the guys that are going to rise to the occasion. You want a guy that knows how to compete and that's what we've seen so far so hopefully that continues.”

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Sean Spence healthy, finally ready to play for Steelers

PITTSBURGH — In his third season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker Sean Spence showed enough in minicamp that he might be ready to contribute in 2014.

Spence had a good week in minicamp, picking off his first pass in practice in two years and showing the kind of quickness that prompted the Steelers to draft him in the third round in 2012.

“I made some huge strides,” Spence said. “I’m still not where I want to be. I have time to do that and I look forward to doing it. Everybody tells me I’m looking good and moving well. I think my quickness is still there.

“Being out of football for two years and being able to read the quarterback and break on it and make an interception without thinking about it felt pretty great.”
In his final preseason game as a rookie, Spence tore three ligaments, including the ACL, and damaged the peroneal nerve in his left knee.

Many people thought he would never play again and linebackers coach Keith Butler predicted it would be a miracle if he did.

Spence was on injured reserve for 2012 and on PUP for 2013. He hopes to be on the roster in 2014.

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Vince Wilfork Not Holding A Grudge

FOXBORO — All is forgiven, if not forgotten, when it comes to Vince Wilfork and the Patriots.

The perennial Pro Bowl nose tackle spoke Thursday after the conclusion of minicamp for the first time since re-working his contract to return to New England.
Wilfork tore his right Achilles last September in Atlanta and was lost for the rest of the season.

Wilfork returned to Gillette Stadium to be around the team during his rehab but that loyalty didn’t immediately earn him the benefit of the doubt with the organization.

According to multiple reports, he felt slighted by the team and asked to be traded, going as far as removing his nameplate from his locker inside the Patriots locker room.

But after agreeing to a complicated, incentive-laden $23 million, three-year extension ($4 million signing bonus) in late March, Wilfork began the process of moving on. A big step in that process came this week when he stepped on the field for minicamp practices on Tuesday. On Thursday, he spoke for the first time about his return, making it clear that business is business and he’s all about football going forward.

“I’€™m here. That’€™s a dead issue,” Wilfork said. “I’€™m here for a reason. If I didn’€™t believe in the things that were brought to me, I wouldn’€™t have signed it. I’€™m here. There’€™s a reason that I’€™m here. I’€™m not upset. I’€™m not holding no type of grudge. Business is business. Everybody handles business different ways.

“But in my career, I think the right thing was for me to be up here with my family and my teammates and a staff that I’€™ve been around for so long, the organization that I know. It was just a smart decision for me and my family to be here. But if we think that it wouldn’€™t work, I wouldn’€™t be here. It’€™s a positive thing that I’€™m here. There’€™s no grudges. That’€™s something that happened a while ago. It’€™s the first time I’€™ve actually talked about it, but it’€™s a non-issue.”
As for his rehabbed right Achilles, Wilfork believes the mental hurdle will be much more of an issue than the physical one.

“At this level, everything I do is going be [about] with confidence,” Wilfork said. “I don’t think there’s anything that limits me, physically. A lot has to do with mentally go out and do it. The more I do it, the more confident I gain. With OTAs and the minicamps, the time that I spent with the guys, the time in drills, the time I spent with training staff, everything we do is for a reason. I can’t be any happier with where I’m at right now. For me, it’s continuing to build and knowing I’ll be ready to rock and roll hopefully come training camp. That’s my goal. My goal has always been there. Where I’m at now, I’m at a good spot.”

Wilfork did not test the Achilles in a soccer celebration at the end of the final minicamp practice Thursday. Bill Belichick brought the team together for a different kind of futbal, presumably in honor of the ongoing World Cup in Brazil.

“Bill always has a fun side to him,” Wilfork said. “Today was one of those days. Once we finished practicing and everything, he brought out soccer balls. I didn’t get in there. I don’t know how to kick a soccer ball. There are so many things you can do to bring a team together and I think Bill does a great job of that, finding whatever it may be he can do to bring a team together. Today was one of those things, the last day of minicamp, finished practice and he kind of surprised us with it so everybody was pretty pumped up and happy about it. It was fun. This game is meant to be fun and we definitely had fun today.”

Wilfork reiterated that he wanted no part of participating.

“No, heck no,” he said. “That ball moves way too fast for me. I’ll stick to football, the real football, American football. I’ll stick to that.”

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Reggie Wayne Ready To Go

Reggie Wayne was in full uniform and pads Thursday afternoon.

Unfortunately, this came well after the Indianapolis Colts were finished with the final day of mandatory minicamp, and Wayne was only in full regalia for a photo shoot inside the team's practice facility.

In time, though, he will be fully outfitted for the July 23 start of training camp in Anderson, at which time he will endeavor to answer the big question on everybody's minds: "Can a 35-year-old wide receiver come back from a full ACL tear and return to the same form he's shown through more than a decade of unbridled excellence?"

Look, we root for Wayne, one of the best players and best guys ever to come through Indianapolis. We root for him to come back like the old Wayne — not an old Wayne — running precise routes, taking over games, catching almost everything thrown his way.

If anybody can hold back the hands of time, it's Wayne.

But this is no sure deal.

Didn't we say the same thing about Marvin Harrison before a knee injury at roughly the same time in his career left him in a dramatically diminished state? Isn't 35 a little bit old, in football years, to be fighting back from major knee surgery?

"The bones and joints are a little older," Wayne said, comparing this ACL surgery with the ACL work he had done in 1998 while he was at the University of Miami. "You know that myth, they say you can tell when it's going to rain? It's true. So yeah, (rehabilitation) has been harder. In '98, I was a young buck. And I knew I had some time. I knew I had two more years, possibly a third because I never red-shirted.

"Now, I'm 35. I don't think I have any red-shirt eligibility left. Now I'm married, have kids, it's different all across the board … But for some strange reason, I seem to be hungrier than I was back then. I know I don't have that time now. I know what my age is. So I'm geeked to show everybody what I can do at age 35 (36 in November)."

The odds are against Wayne, and while the Colts won't acknowledge that, they've responded by adding at least two wide receivers, Hakeem Nicks and rookie Donte Moncrief, to the roster. At the very least, general manager Ryan Grigson and the Colts had to protect themselves. There's just no guarantee Wayne will be his old productive self when he returns. And they had to protect themselves in the future, knowing full well Wayne has less than a handful of good seasons in front of him.

So how does Colts coach Chuck Pagano know Wayne will return as his old self?”

"He just told me he will," Pagano said with a smile. "That's all I needed. Knowing him long enough (they were both at the University of Miami at the same time), that's all I needed to hear. I mean, you look at him, he looks phenomenal. You guys probably haven't seen him work out and run, but he looks great. Again, I'd be shocked if he wasn't ready. The only reason that he might not get reps early will be because of me if we decided to hold him back."
When that latter piece of information was shared with Wayne, he shook his head.

"I plan on bringing some extra boxing gloves for me and Chuck, so whenever he tells me I can't go, we're going to lace them up," he said. "I feel great. I can't wait until camp."

Wayne actually tore an ACL in high school but it was never diagnosed and he played two more years on it. Then he did it again at the University of Miami. This is roughly the same injury — a complete tear — but in the other knee. And that's a good thing, in a sense: Wayne has been through the rehabilitation process, knows what to expect. He said he's not going to need that feeling-out period when an athlete wonders if he can make the kind of violent cut necessary to elude a cornerback.

"Once you realize, 'Hey, it's probably the healthiest joint in your body,' you're good," he said. "I went through that in '98 when I wasn't sure, there was a little uncertainty, but I don't have that now."

So Wayne rehabs and watches and shares information with young receivers … and waits. In little more than a month's time, he will make his annual grand entrance into Anderson — how do you beat a helicopter arrival? — and will get back to work, insistent on beating back the ravages of time and injury.

"The most motivating thing for me now is my teammates," Wayne said. "I felt like I left them hanging last year a little bit. … Do I have to prove anything else? It's been 13 years. I have a resume. I can email it, mail it, whatever you want. I don't have anything to prove to anybody. I know what I can do; the guys in the room know what I can do. But I want to show the first-timers what I can do, the ones who call me 'Mr. Wayne' and say they played with me on Madden, I've got to show those guys.

"I'm excited, man. I feel great. There's no reason I shouldn't be ready in July."

If Wayne can make it back from this injury, at this stage of his career, it will be one heck of a second act.

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Antrel Rolle's Growth At Safety

Antrel Rolle was the Giants’ best defensive player in 2013. His position coach said he can still be better.

“Antrel is now starting to understand and develop as a safety,” coach Dave Merritt said on Thursday. “He was a corner as we all know, drafted out of Miami. Then all of a sudden he was a safety. He’s now starting to understand the position more than ever. Before, he didn’t see formations, he didn’t see the concepts. I’m saying when I first got him the first two or three years. And now the last two years, it’s all coming together for him and he’s feeling more comfortable.

“With Antrel’s ability to continue to learn and grow, he hasn’t, in my opinion, scratched his ability as a safety yet. Last year was a glimpse of what Antrel can actually become. Just imagine if he had started that maybe eight years before at the position.”

The problem, of course, if that Rolle is 31 years old and the clock is ticking on his career. He also has just one more season left with the Giants.

“I asked Antrel the other day, how many years do you want to play?” Merritt said. “He said ‘Coach, however long you want me to play.’ I said ‘Antrel, to be honest with you, I think you can play another four years.”

Rolle will be helped this year not only by his growth at the position, but by the Giants’ new depth at cornerback. With a strong rotation of players at the position, and the return of fellow safety Stevie Brown, Rolle will be able to focus on doing his job and not everyone else’s.

“The first couple of years we played him at nickel, we played him as bison, we played him at corner, we played him at safety,” Merritt said. “Now he’s able to just play strictly safety and it’s coming together for him.”

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Vince Wilfork excited to be back on field

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. >> Vince Wilfork tore his Achilles tendon. Then he clashed with the New England Patriots about his contract.

His future with the team — and in football — was uncertain.

But there he was on a sunny field Thursday, smiling, joking and excited about the upcoming season.

“I think this year is going to be one of the most exciting times of my career,” the defensive tackle said. “This year is going to be a little special just because of what I’ve been through and how far I came along.”

And that contract dispute?

He has put that in the past, too, after restructuring his deal into a three-year, $22.5 million agreement in March, allowing the Patriots to lower his salary cap hit.

“That’s a dead issue,” Wilfork said Thursday after the final practice of a three-day minicamp. “I’m not upset. I’m not holding (any) type of grudge. Business is business.”

In his first nine seasons after the Patriots drafted him in the first round out of Miami, Wilfork missed only six games. He became a team leader and a defensive mainstay who earned five Pro Bowl selections.

Then he ruptured his right Achilles tendon on the first defensive series of the fourth game, a 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons last year. It’s a difficult injury to recover from, particularly for a player like Wilfork who plays at about 330 pounds.

“Everything you do in life, there’s always something that says you can’t do it or you shouldn’t be able to do it,” Wilfork said. “So, for me, I know my body. I know what it takes to be at the top of my level, top of my game. I know how hard it’s going to be, but I’ve never shied away from competition or a challenge and this is a big challenge for me.”

After all, he’ll be two months shy of his 33rd birthday when the season starts.

“It’s going to take time, but I’m very positive with where I’m at,” Wilfork said. “Everything went well and healed up fine, so it’s just knocking the rust off.”

He said he has no physical limitations and never felt he couldn’t get back to where he needed to be.

“That was never in my mind,” Wilfork said. “From the time they told me I (tore the tendon), from the time that I had the surgery, I knew that I was going to be back, ready to rock and roll.

“I know how tough the injury is, but I tell myself over and over again, I’m not the average person. I just do things a little differently than most people that have this injury, and I’m going to stick with my guns until I prove myself wrong.”

One week after Wilfork was hurt, Tommy Kelly, the other starting defensive tackle, suffered a season-ending knee injury. He thought he could make it back but went on injured reserve about a month after being hurt.

“When you both go down in back-to-back weeks, it was a blow,” said Kelly, who spent his previous nine seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Wilfork “was a really good person to lean on, coming into a new scheme and system. When I got confused about stuff, I would just ask him. He just made it really easy for me.”

Kelly also has been practicing but won’t say whether he’s fully recovered.

“All I know is I feel good,” he said. “I have no problems.”

Wilfork has yet to be tested in pads. That will come when training camp starts in late July.

“Before I get to training camp,” he said. “I should be at the point where I’m very, very happy.”

Wilfork has been a key member of the defense, making tackles or occupying several offensive linemen and allowing unblocked teammates to stop ball carriers. He doesn’t plan to play any differently than he did before he was hurt.

“For what? If I approach it differently, I may as well walk away from it. I only know how to play this game one way, that’s hard and fast and tough,” he said. “That’s it. That’s how I expect to play. If I can’t do that, it’s time for me to retire. And I don’t think it’s time for me to retire right now.

“If I work hard,” he said, “if that’s not good enough, it’s time for me to call it quits. Until that day happens, you’re going to keep seeing my pretty face.”

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Andre Johnson Just Wants to Win, Since When Is That A Bad Thing?

The position has been filled with David Carr, Matt Schaub, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. These are the primary Houston Texans quarterbacks of the Andre Johnson era. This is a sad, pathetic list of QBs. And yet many people still wonder why Andre Johnson is having second thoughts about continuing to play for the Texans.

Johnson's the greatest player in the history of the Texans. He's on that very short list with Earl Campbell as the greatest player to ever play for a professional football team in Houston (if you want to count his short tenure with the USFL's Houston Gamblers, then you can include Jim Kelly). But unlike Campbell, Johnson's never been in the position to put the Texans on his back and carry the team to the playoffs. Johnson's a receiver, and there's only so much a receiver can do with QBs who can't get him the ball, or when the head coach wants to use him as the fifth decoy to a third string tight end in the red zone.

But for 11 seasons Johnson has taken to the field and excelled at the game of football. He's started 154 games, caught 927 passes for 12,661 yards and 61 touchdowns. He's blocked on running plays, served as a decoy. He's attempted to dodge injuries caused by the Texans crappy turf, and he's come to near stops on wide open bombs because certain QBs didn't have the arm strength to get the ball deep enough.

Johnson's made a habit of restructuring his contract, giving up guaranteed base pay. This has allowed the Texans to stay under the cap and work new deals with other players -- most recently being last season when he allowed the team to cut his base pay from $10.5 million to $5.5 million so the team could sign Brian Cushing to a 6-year deal.

Johnson's stated that he wants a chance to play on a winning team. That he doesn't want to start all over again. Isn't this the attitude that all fans should want, a guy who wants to win football games? Yet the primary fan response is that Johnson should suck it up, take his pay, and play for a rebuilding team. It's one thing to say this to J.J. Watt who's still young, or to Ryan Fitzpatrick who's a mediocre journeyman known as much for his awful TD/interception ratio and for going to Harvard than he is for his abilities as a QB.

But Johnson's about to play his 12th season. It's a career that's seen his team reach the playoffs just twice. It's a career that's seen his team rebuild multiple times. He's been the face of the franchise, going out into the city performing charitable deeds and setting the perfect example for his teammates. He's been the consummate professional. The guy just wants one last chance to play for a winner, yet somehow he's the bad guy for not wanting to just sit back and take it.

It's hard to name another top-notch wide receiver who has played with such a string of crappy QBs for his entire career -- even Larry Fitzgerald had Kurt Warner for a few years. Jerry Rice had Joe Montana and Steve Young for most his career. Reggie Wayne's caught passes from Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Calvin Johnson now has Matt Stafford's big arm and Stafford's belief in Johnson's ability to catch any pass thrown in his direction.

How would those receivers do if David Carr was slinging the ball in their direction, or if they dealt with a QB who'd rather throw a short pass to a running back than to the best receiver in the game? Just think of what Andre Johnson's numbers might look like if Tom Brady was throwing him jump balls in the end zone every week.

Johnson's career will end soon -- the odds are the Texans will drop him after this upcoming season because they no longer want to pay him. All he wants is a chance at the Super Bowl. Instead the Texans have provided him with a coach who's reputation is built on the legend of Tom Brady (just like the reputation of his previous coach was built on the legends of John Elway and Steve Young) but has yet to prove anything as a head coach. He got to watch his bosses pass on drafting a potentially elite QB in the first round so that a Mario Williams clone could be selected instead. The guy should have demanded a trade by now, instead he's expressing displeasure and thinking out his options.

Maybe Texans fans should lash out at Bob McNair instead of Andre Johnson. McNair's the one, after all, who's been happy fielding a mediocre product from year to year. Andre Johnson doesn't want to take anymore. It's a shame the fans don't feel the same way.

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Seantrel Henderson gets first-team reps

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills continued to shift their offensive line Wednesday, moving rookie Seantrel Henderson from the third-team to the first-team at left tackle.

Henderson stepped in for Cordy Glenn, who did not participate in team drills Wednesday. Glenn missed Tuesday's practice with an illness, but was replaced by Chris Hairston with first-team. On Wednesday, Hairston split reps at right guard with Kraig Urbik.

Henderson, a seventh-round pick, did not practice Tuesday because of travel-related issues, but was thrown into the fray Wednesday.

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Allen Hurns Getting First Team Reps With Jaguars

Wide receiver Allen Hurns, an undrafted free agent from Miami, has really benefited from the extended playing time he has gotten because of the injuries at receiver. At one point seven receivers were out, and though Mike Brown and Ace Sanders have returned Hurns continues to get reps with the first-team offense. "Allen Hurns has really caught our eye [as] a guy that can play multiple positions [at receiver]," coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday. "We'll see how he handles it when we put the pads on." Hurns made a couple of nice catches during 11-on-11 drills. He's intriguing because of his size (6-foot-3, 196 pounds), which would make him the team's second-biggest receiver behind Allen Robinson (6-3, 210) if he were to make the 53-man roster.

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Jonathan Vilma Works Out For Falcons, Doesn't Sign

When linebacker Sean Weatherspoon went down recently while working out with the Atlanta Falcons, the team was left with a huge problem on their hands. Not only did they lose a key part of their defense, but they lost him so close to the season beginning.

Therefore, they had to look outside of the organization for a potential replacement, and on Wednesday, they brought in former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for a workout.

Some thought that the not long after the workout, the Falcons might have their man in Vilma, and a contract would be immediately signed.

According to Fox Sports’ Mike Garafolo, however, that won’t be the case as he won’t be inking a deal with the team at the moment. But, that doesn’t rule out a potential signing right before the season gets underway.

Given the amount of experience that Vilma has under his belt, this really isn’t all that big of a deal. The team still has ample time over the summer to explore the options for Weatherspoon, and then at that point they could see if investing in Vilma for the year would be a smart idea.

Plus, considering the fact that Vilma himself spent a good portion of last season on the injured reserve, it would be a risky investment to begin with.

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Lamar Miller leading way in Miami Dolphins' backfield

After landing on our "Making the Leap" list last summer, Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller hopes to make good on those expectations one year later.

The third-year back has spent the past three weeks as the starter in Bill Lazor's Eagles-inspired attack. It's no surprise to see Miller earning snaps ahead of the plodding Daniel Thomas, but free-agent signee Knowshon Moreno was expected to lead the way.

Moreno, though, has toiled behind Thomas with the third- and fourth-string, telling The Miami Herald last week that he's "definitely not there" physically.
"I've been competing my whole life," Miller said Tuesday, per the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "Whether it was at the University of Miami or in the NFL. (Competition will) bring the best out of all players. ... I want to get better as a player, too, so I'm up to the competition."

As Chris Wesseling pointed out in last year's "Making the Leap" feature, Miller led all runners at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. His burst and change of direction are tantalizing, but when handed a bigger role last season, Miller's rookie average of 4.9 yards per carry tumbled down to 4.0.

It's a fool's game to put too much weight into backfield pecking order in June. The lasting change in Miami, though, should be an offense that attacks opponents the way Philadelphia did in 2013. Chip Kelly's Eagles finished first in rushing yards (2,566) and yards per attempt (5.1) last season after ranking 13th in total ground yards the season before with the same stable of backs.

Lazor told Around The League this month that he plans to unleash a "pretty deep group of proven guys" in a running attack that figures to suit Miller's speed.
"Every single day we're pushing them to see them make big plays in the running game," Lazor said. "And I think that's what separates some teams in this league, is the ability to get those backs in space."

Miami's runner-friendly scheme, as much as anything, tells us Miller is going to eat come September.

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Colts reining in Reggie Wayne at minicamp

The Colts are 58 days into their offseason work, and two days of mandatory minicamp remain before they hit the pause button.

Players report July 23 to Anderson University for the start of training camp.

The closing objective: make the most of what time remains.

"Each week in the offseason you can be here there's a lot of importance to," quarterback Andrew Luck said following Tuesday afternoon's first minicamp session. "(There's) a limited amount of work time as a team in the offseason.

"It is minicamp. There's a little extra energy, vigor in there. We're looking forward to getting out and running full speed and getting better, getting a lot of plays in.''

The opening minicamp session unfolded under bright sunlight and with temperatures reaching the high-80s.

In team exercises, it was the starting offense vs. the starting defense. It was non-contact, but play appeared crisp and on a few occasions tempers flared.

"We want to finish this minicamp strong going into training camp come July 23," coach Chuck Pagano said.

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Cramping isn’t Calais Campbell’s style

When Miami Heat star LeBron James went down with a cramp in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the role of hydration in sports was thrust into the headlines.

Take a spin through the countless stories about James' cramps and it's clear that being hydrated doesn't always prevent cramps, and dehydration isn't always a reason for cramps.

Any athlete in Arizona knows this. They also know how important hydration is when temperatures straddle 100 degrees, as they did Wednesday when Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell spoke to a group of kids as part of Gatorade's "Beat the Heat" program.

Before Campbell stood in front of them and told his football story, the sweat began beading on his forehead and soaking through his grey T-shirt. Even out of his uniform, Campbell said he understands the need to stay hydrated.

That becomes even more important during the season or during organized team activities and minicamp, when Arizona is practicing outside as the temperatures reach 100 or higher like it did at times during the last month.

"Me personally, I sweat a lot," Campbell said. "I'm a big sweater. I have to hydrate two, three days before. I just kind of try to stay hydrated all the time. I'm always hydrated. I'm never dehydrated."

Campbell learned about hydration the hard way. He remembers cramping during his time with the Hurricanes to the point he couldn't move. Even his neck was cramping. That experience showed the boy from Colorado staying hydrated is important.

Growing up in the rocky mountains, consuming water or a sports beverage wasn't always a priority like it was for high school football players playing in warm-weather environments. When Campbell got to the University of Miami, he experienced how humidity could make him sweat -- profusely. And in Arizona, Campbell saw how excruciating extreme heat can be, especially on his body.

"In college, you learn that a lot," Campbell said. "I go out there coming from Colorado and didn't know any better. I'm like, 'OK, it's hot out there and I'm just going to keep drinking.' Drink a lot.

"Pulled muscles come from being dehydrated. And the one time I've ever really had a pulled muscle or got hurt was when I tore my calf. I missed a couple games because I was dehydrated. You can't be that way."

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Colts have no concerns over status of Reggie Wayne

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Reggie Wayne watched anxiously as the Colts' offseason workouts rolled on without him Tuesday.

He's not permitted to be in the huddle and wasn't even allowed to be on the sideline as the Colts' mandatory three-day mini-camp opened. For a 35-year-old Pro Bowl receiver who has preached the importance of practice for more than a decade, it was pure agony.

Yes, Wayne would have preferred to be out on the field on this warm, blustery afternoon.

"Yeah, he was ready to run in there right at the end of that team drill. He looks great," coach Chuck Pagano said when asked about Wayne occasionally poking his head out from the team's indoor practice facility to catch a glimpse of practice. "Again, we're going to have to have plenty of security around him so he doesn't sneak out in pads come training camp time and try to get in there too soon."

Indianapolis has clamped down hard and with good reason given the league's spate of offseason injuries this year.

While Wayne has been cleared to do essentially everything on his own, including running, team officials have held him out of team work as he attempts to recover from a torn ACL in his right knee at an age most of the league's top receivers ponder retirement. There's no rush to make it happen now anyway because the Colts expect Wayne to be healthy during training camp.

But there's no doubt Wayne has made an impression on those around him.

He's continued his usually rigorous offseason routine in Miami's scorching heat in hopes of proving all the doubters wrong, and he's served as a mentor to teammates and coaches whenever he's been in town.

Last week, Indy's assistant coaches appeared ready to draft him onto the staff even though they know he'll be more valuable catching passes from Andrew Luck, and Wayne has been popping up in strange places around the team complex, too.

"He's like another coach, and he's not just in the wide receivers room," said tight end Dwayne Allen, who missed most of last season with a hip injury. "He's been in a lot of different rooms, showing you how to come back from an injury, how to run different routes and stuff like that."

It was originally thought Wayne would speak with reporters Tuesday, something he hasn't done since April. Instead, he left that task to his teammates and Pagano. Wayne is expected to talk either Wednesday or Thursday.

But he's only part of the story at this week's final offseason mini-camp.

Three of Indy's defensive starters sat out Tuesday — cornerback Vontae Davis, safety LaRon Landry and defensive end Cory Redding.

Pagano said Redding was excused to tend to deal with "family stuff," while Davis was out with a groin injury after signing a four-year, $39 million deal in March.

Landry, meanwhile, was undergoing team physicals after skipping all of Indy's previous offseason workouts following a season in which he did not meet his two-time Pro Bowl pedigree.

"He (Landry) works probably as hard as anybody, but we wish he was here more time," Pagano said. "But he's working, probably too hard."

The Colts also are trying to fill holes after losing defensive end Fili Moala and safety Corey Lynch with season-ending injuries last week.

They recently signed former Broncos safety Mike Adams, who hopes to compete with Delano Howell for a starting job, and brought in two more players for workouts Tuesday — defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and linebacker-safety Jonathan Sharpe. Sharpe was in camp with Seattle last season as an undrafted rookie. McKinney ended up on the Colts' injured reserve list for the second straight season and made the two-hour drive from Dayton, Ohio on Monday to work out for the coaches.

"My main thing is show them I can still move around, still cut on it," McKinney said, referring to his surgically-repaired left knee. "I'm just trying to prove I can come in and play the game."

Wayne doesn't have to prove he can play the game — just that he can be his old self.

And there's no shortage of motivation.

He needs 97 receptions and 1,015 yards to break Marvin Harrison's franchise records, he's in the final year of his contract and has made no secret of his desire to demonstrate he's no ordinary 35-year-old football player.

Luck expects nothing less.

"I leave that up to the doctors and coaches to decide how much we do, but it's always nice to have him in the building," Luck said. "He's a great presence. He's also a great learning tool for a lot of young guys. He's always willing to share his thoughts if you ask him. So it's just nice to have him around."

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Skeeters acquire outfielder Brian Barton

The Sugar Land Skeeters announced today that the club has acquired former Major League outfielder Brian Barton from the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in exchange for future considerations. The announcement was made by Skeeters Manager Gary Gaetti.

Barton, 32, joins Sugar Land after playing 30 games for Southern Maryland this season, hitting .131 (14×107) with two home runs and seven RBI. The California native is currently in his fifth season of Atlantic League play, having spent time with Southern Maryland (2011-14), as well as Bridgeport (2010) and Newark (2010). In his 446 career Atlantic League games, the outfielder is hitting at a .295 (492×1669) clip with 218 RBI and 73 stolen bases. Over his 10 professional minor league seasons, Barton owns a .294 (1042×3541) average with 182 stolen bases and 508 RBI in 985 games.

Known for his community involvement and charitable efforts, Barton also wrote and published his first book “Mindset” while with Southern Maryland in 2012. The book, inspired by his time spent with troubled youth in the St. Louis area, is intended to encourage thought and self-awareness of influencing factors of the mind while suggesting courses of action to overcome mental weakness.

Originally selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 38th round of the June 2000 Draft out of Westchester High School (Los Angeles), Barton spent parts of two seasons in the Major Leagues with St. Louis (2008) and Atlanta (2009), playing primarily left and right field. In 83 career big league games, the righty hit .268 (41×153) with two homers and 13 RBI.

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Yonder Alonso DL Candidate

Alonso is out of the lineup Wednesday with a hand injury and is considered a DL candidate, Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Alonso was left out of the Padres' lineup again Wednesday, and it was later revealed that a hand injury is to blame. According to the report, the ailment is more than a day-to-day issue, and if Alonso indeed ends up on the DL, Yasmani Grandal and Tommy Medica will likely be tasked with splitting duties at first base.

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Jimmy Graham's Twitter Bio May Cost Him Millions

All-world tight end Jimmy Graham trying to make the case that he isn’t a tight end may seem like a silly semantical argument to the majority of football fans and people with rational minds.  However, it makes a big difference in terms of the paycheck he is able to collect from the NFL’s franchise tag.

With the Saints franchising Graham this offseason, he’s due just over $7 million dollars as a tight end.  If Graham was labeled as a wide receiver, that would jump to over $12 million.  Obviously, the Saints would much prefer for Graham to be considered a tight end while Graham wants that wide receiver money.

Why is this even an argument?  Well, Graham has a good case – the letter of the law states that the position of tagged players depends upon where they lined up for the majority of snaps.  Graham played 67% of his snaps off the line either in the slot or split out wide.

However, that doesn’t take into account the changing nature of the tight end in today’s NFL.  The league and the Saints have a few pieces of evidence at their disposal as well as the grievance hearing takes place today.  Perhaps the most interesting is that Graham labels himself as a tight end in his Twitter bio.

I don’t think a Twitter bio alone will cost Jimmy Graham $5 million dollars this year, but it is quite the irony.  He and his representatives are trying to build a case convincing everyone that he’s not a tight end… and yet there he is calling himself a tight end.  It kinda blows a hole in everything he’s trying to accomplish, doesn’t it?

Regardless of what happens in the grievance hearing and whether Graham is a tight end or a wide receiver or a slash or a dunking superathlete, hopefully it won’t matter too much in the end and he and the Saints can come to a long term solution.  At least that’s what this Saints fan is hoping for…

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Lamar Miller Still Starting

DAVIE - Lamar Miller has no intentions of backing down to Knowshon Moreno.

Moreno, who accounted for 1,586 total yards and 13 touchdowns in his fifth NFL season, is far more accomplished as a NFL tailback than Miller. But Miller has no interest in stepping aside, relinquishing the starting spot he held last season with the Miami Dolphins.

That explains why Miller has spent the past three weeks as the Dolphins starting running back. During day one of the team's three-day minicamp Moreno sparingly worked, and when he did get reps during team drills he was working behind Miller and Daniel Thomas.

“I’ve been competing my whole life. Whether it was at the University of Miami or in the NFL,” said Miller, who accounted for 879 total yards and two touchdowns last season. “[Competition] bring the best out of all players….I want to get better as a player too, so I’m up to the competition.”

Miller had a couple of impressive runs during the Dolphins' team period on Monday. One of them would have been a 40-yard sprint for a touchdown out of a draw. Miller was so quick getting away from the trenches he wasn't touched by any of the second-team defenders.

Head coach Joe Philbin stiff armed questions about Moreno, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal as a free agent, saying the coaching staff has been pleased with what they've seen from the former Broncos starter.

However, Philbin wouldn't explain why the former University of Georgia standout has been working with the third team offense for the past few practices. He simply pointed out Miller and Thomas are tailbacks Miami's giving the reps to.

"Knowshon's had a good camp. He brings a lot of energy into the building every single day. He's very good in the meeting rooms," Philbin said of Moreno, whom he previously admitted could be in better shape physically. "He's picked up the system well and he's competed hard on the practice field."

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Bruce Johnson still hungry

One member of the large secondary group that has distinguished himself lately at Bombers training camp has been Bruce Johnson, a former New York Giants safety.

The Florida native spent four years with the G-Men, but injuries derailed his NFL career and now he finds himself in Winnipeg, trying to keep the dream alive.

“I’m still hungry,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I got a taste of it before and had a promising career. Unfortunately injuries came along, so I just want to show people I still got it. I still love this game at the end of the day.”

Johnson had a strong mini-camp in Tampa, and he has performed well during training camp despite being a member of the third-string defence. He likely would have had an interception in the first pre-season game if a teammate hadn’t tipped the ball just before it arrived, and he had a pick on Saturday night in Calgary during Winnipeg’s pre-season finale.

On Tuesday he was running with the first-team defence since Alex Suber was on the sidelines with an injury.

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Position U: Tight ends: The U

1. Miami (84 points): While it has been relatively quiet since its positional heyday early in the 2000s, Miami still easily tops this list. With seven tight ends drafted, including first-round picks Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen, the Hurricanes far surpassed the next closest programs at the position. They don’t get extra points for this, but they also produced arguably the top tight end in the NFL today in 2010 third-round pick Jimmy Graham, who's now starring for the New Orleans Saints.

Award winners: Kellen Winslow, Mackey (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Kellen Winslow (2003).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Shockey (2000, 2001), Kellen Winslow (2002, 2003), Greg Olsen (2006).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jeremy Shockey (2002), Kellen Winslow (2004), Greg Olsen (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Everett (Round 3, 2005), Jimmy Graham (Round 3, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dedrick Epps (Round 7, 2010), Richard Gordon (Round 6, 2011).

See the rest of ESPN’s rankings here

ESPN failed to remember proCane TE Bubba Franks.

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Texans keep moving on without Andre Johnson

Newly named starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t know Andre Johnson well but is looking forward to finally working with him.

After head coach Bill O’Brien made Fitzpatrick the starter, the veteran quarterback was asked about the absence of seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson.

“He’s a true professional in terms of everything I’ve heard about him, everything I’ve seen from afar and the tape that I’ve watched,” he said about Johnson. “Obviously, you guys (media) know and have seen him play over the years and be very consistent and play at a high level.

“For me, it’s going out there with the guys that are here and trying to perform. It’s kind of different situation right now. I don’t know Andre all that well, but the guys that have been here, I think it has been a pretty productive offseason — just getting to throw to all of the different guys.

“When I first got here, I hadn’t thrown to any of them, so it’s been a really good experience for me in terms of getting to learn a lot of different guys.”

O’Brien has maintained regular contact with the veteran wide receiver, despite Johnson missing all of OTAs and the first day of a mandatory minicamp Tuesday at NRG Stadium.

As a whole, though, the Texans are carrying on without Johnson, who remains at odds with the organization and has no timetable for his return.

“It’s all about the guys that are here,” said O’Brien, who has spoken and exchanged text messages with Johnson during the receiver’s holdout. “The guys that are here seem to be really focused.”

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Reggie Wayne sits on sidelines as Colts open mini-camp

An injured right knee has kept Colts receiver Reggie Wayne on the sideline the entire offseason.

Team doctors weren't even willing to clear him for Tuesday's opening practice in the team's mandatory three-day mini-camp.

But the Pro Bowler is still making an impact around the team complex.

Wayne is instructing younger players such as tight end Dwayne Allen on how to deal with injuries, run crisper routes and make progress when nobody else is paying attention. Allen says he's been showing up in other meeting rooms, not just with the quarterbacks and receivers. He's been so active that the Colts assistant coaches are ready to make Wayne one of their own.

By August, though, coach Chuck Pagano expects Wayne back where he belongs - catching passes.

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Vince Wilfork Participates In 11-On-11 Drills

BOSTON (CBS) — Vince Wilfork was back on the practice field for the Patriots last week, and on Tuesday, another one of their big bodies on the defensive line returned.

Both veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and Wilfork participated in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday at Gillette, as the Patriots kicked off their mandatory three-day mini-camp. While there were no pads or contact Kelly said just lining up to his teammates was a big step forward in his return from a torn ACL, and he’s confident he’ll be healthy for the upcoming season.

“I’m very happy, but you can’t get too high about it or can’t get too low about it,” Kelly told reporters. “Just keep working and whatever happens, happens. But I’m going to be OK.”

Kelly joked that he’s been at Gillette Stadium since he underwent surgery in December, and he could probably be considered a resident of Foxborough.

Kelly was signed last off-season to bring more depth, and size, to the New England defensive line. The 6-6, 330-pounder recorded 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks in the five games he played in before tearing his ACL in Week 5.

Now, Kelly says he has some unfinished businessicon1 to tend to this season. But he knows he’ll also have to prove himself on the field to earn his spot.
“You have to go through the process of proving to Bill [Belichick] that your knee is healthy enough, prove to your coaches that your knee is strong enough and getting your teammates to trust you,” he said.

While Kelly and Wilfork were on the field, receiver Aaron Dobson, corner Alfonzo Dennard, first-round draft pick Dominique Easley and offensive lineman Jesse Armstead were all absent for the Patriots. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, receiver/special teamer Matthew Slater and receiver Jimmy Gallon were all limited with injury on Tuesday, along with quarterback Ryan Mallett. With Mallett out, rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was able to take the majority of the snaps at QB.

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It's time for Cardinals fans to get over their issues with Jon Jay

On Monday night St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay seemed to put an exclamation point on his argument to be the starting centerfielder for his club.
Jay got on base three times, two by hit and one by a walk, and scored in all three instances. He's batting .307 for the season, nearly 100 points better than his chief competitor for the job, Peter Bourjos who's batting .206 in roughly the same amount of at-bats. Jay's getting on base at a .367 clip while Bourjos has a .279 on base percentage.

It's obvious that the Cardinals have responded to Jay's offensive spark. They've won their last four games -- in which Jay is batting .400. And they have won eight of 11. Over that span he's hitting .406 with a .457 on-base percentage and nine runs scored.

So why do I wake up this morning to read web posts from Cardinals fans who complain that he was unable to throw a runner out at the plate on a sacrifice fly and, therefore, his defense is "killing" the Redbirds?

I'm not up on the Common Core math standards. But my old school calculations tell me that Jay's three runs produces are roughly three times more valuable than the one run the complainers say he cost his team. But let's be realistic, when's the last time you saw a runner thrown out on a sacrifice fly? Does it happen once in 50 attempts? 100? It's obvious the Jay haters are grasping at straws on this occasion.

Earlier this season the contingency of people convinced that Bourjos is the superior player blamed manager Mike Matheny for not giving the imported former Anaheim Angels outfielder enough playing time to get into a groove. So Matheny gave Bourjos a second chance and he still couldn't produce.

From May 17-30 Bourjos played in nine games and had at least three plate appearances in eight those nine contests. He batted .182 with seven strikeouts and two walks. Since then, Bourjos has played about every other day, amassing 34 at-bats in a part time role. He's batting .176. Still he has his faithful supporters.

I remember sitting in the bleachers at a recent game hearing one fan say to another after Jay hit a grounder and got nipped at first by the throw "Bourjos would have beat that out."

The fan on the receiving end of the comment replied "Bourjos would have struck out."

Potential is one thing. Practice is another.

Anyway... I am not here to rip Bourjos. I am here to question why fans are so hostile toward a guy who was good enough to start for two St. Louis teams that made it all the way to the World Series. 

I'm tired of hearing about what a superior outfielder Bourjos is. Regardless of his reputation, I can count his great plays this season on one hand. I am running out of fingers to count the times he's booted or dropped balls or laid up on balls in front of him that he had a chance to catch.

People act like Jay is the worst outfielder who ever lived. He's not, people. He's average at least. We're just spoiled from watching two of the greatest defensive centerfielders who ever lived, Jim Edmonds and Willie McGee. Those guys don't fall off of trucks everyday in front of the ballpark.

I don't want Bourjos to fail. I wish he would have even come close to his spring training boast that he was going to steal 30-40 bases this season. If he did, it would be good for the Cardinals as a whole because that would mean he was getting on base at an acceptable clip and the club would probably be scoring a lot of runs.

He just hasn't lived up to his billing. The season isn't over. Maybe he'll turn it around. But, in the meantime, can folks lay off Jay? Beyond the fact that he's played well enough in his four years in St. Louis to earn some respect from the club's alleged fans, it's obvious that not only has he been playing his butt off, but that he currently represents the best chance for this team to win. And if you've watched a Redbirds game over the last month and you don't realize that, you're in denial.

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Buy Willis McGahee's 2011 Porsche Panamera For Just $89890

We’re still trying to figure out if this 2011 Porsche Panamera being sold by Willis McGahee is the same Porsche that had its windshield busted by an errant Kyle Orton pass way back in 2011. You might remember that Orton’s pass sailed out of the end zone and into the players’ parking lot, drilling McGahee’s ride.

This Panamera (featuring an ass-kicking 4.8L V8 turbocharged engine) is currently listed on eBay for the low Buy It Now of $89,890. MSRP for this car is $150,000. Now a free agent after starting six games last season for the Browns, McGahee put some serious cash into this ride.

According to the listing:


Look closely at the subwoofer box. That’s a customized “WM” box.


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Andre Johnson won’t be coming to mandatory minicamp

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson hasn’t volunteered for any of the voluntary workouts this offseason.

And he won’t be volunteering for the mandatory ones, either.

According to Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle, Johnson won’t be attending this week’s mandatory minicamp, via his adviser and uncle Andre Melton.
That will subject Johnson to nearly $70,000 in fines if he skips all three days.

But for a guy scheduled to make $10 million this year, that’s palatable, if he’s able to parlay his absence into a new address, which seems to be what he wants.

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Eric Winston could still be option for Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals still could ink free-agent OT Eric Winston for another season, but a large part of that will depend on how OT Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell fare in training camp.

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Leonard Hankerson trying to learn new offense while rehabbing

Nobody is sure when Leonard Hankerson will return from a knee injury he suffered last season.

The wide receiver, who is going into his fourth NFL season, tore his ACL in Philadelphia on Nov. 17. That was seven months ago and the normal recovery period for such an injury ranges from seven to nine months.

But Jay Gruden cautioned against using the calendar to set expectations for Hankerson. “It’s totally different,” he said. “Different guys handle it [differently] at different positions and the rehab could be longer for certain guys, so we’ll wait and see.”

Redskins training camp will open on July 24 and while Hankerson is optimistic about being ready he is of the same mindset as is his coach.

“I should be good by training camp but you never know,” he said. “Hopefully no setbacks or anything like that.

“I just got to keep working, keep pushing. Keep doing the little things I’m doing every day and keep moving forward and hopefully no setbacks.”

Hankerson needs to get back on the field to fight for playing time. The Redskins signed receivers Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson during the offseason, pushing hi further down the depth chart. But Hankerson understands why.

“We needed help all the way around,” he said. “We won three games last year so something had to happen. Andre Roberts, DeSean, two great players.”
He also has to learn Jay Gruden’s offense. While both Gruden’s and Mike Shanahan’s schemes are in the West Coast family there are distinct differences that Hankerson has to get up to speed on.

“We have meetings every day,” he said. “We’re learning it. Every time you get a new coach there’s always going to be some different things. I should have it once I get out there and start running this stuff.”

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Andre Johnson is committed to his position, but would he retire for it?

Veteran wideout Andre Johnson already has forfeited a $1 million roster bonus by not participating in the offseason program. It’s a no-brainer that he’ll risk another $70,000 in fines by not reporting for mandatory minicamp.

The far more important question: What comes next?

If Johnson stays away from training camp, he’ll risk $30,000 per day in fines and, eventually, the loss of bonus money he previously received.  If Johnson retires (and he might), he faces no fines — but he may have to surrender $8.694 in previously paid bonus money that was prorated for cap purposes.

That’s the biggest difference between Johnson’s potential retirement and former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer’s decision to call it quits in Cincinnati three years ago. With all previously paid bonus money earned, the Bengals were unable to recover any cash from Palmer. If Johnson retires, the Texans could play hardball.

At a certain point, it would be unfair to make Johnson pay back money. Last September, he agreed to convert $5.5 million of his base salary to signing bonus for cap purposes. That created $4.125 million in space that the team needed, at a time when Johnson could have insisted on his full salary.

Unless his contract exempts the unearned portion of the bonus from forfeiture, Johnson could be required to give back $4.125 million.

In hindsight, Johnson possibly wishes he had. For now, his gratuity gives the team extra leverage, if his commitment to his position ends in a retirement.

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Antrel Rolle picks Redskins to finish ahead of the Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles are favored to win the NFC East in 2014. The Redskins have the worst odds to win the division. But Giants safety Antrel Rolle — in a kind of unusual move nowadays — offered his full divisional prediction to ESPN, and he had the Redskins finishing ahead of the Eagles. (Rolle had the Giants finishing first and the Cowboys finishing last.)

“I think if you have the right defensive scheme against the Eagles, you can definitely shut them down,” he said. “I think we displayed that in the second game we played them. As far as Washington, I think Washington has more weapons, and I think they added more weapons, especially to the offensive system. I think RGIII will definitely bounce back and have a better season this year. And defensively, I think they’ve added a lot of veteran leadership to their defense that’s gonna help them out a whole lot.”

Rolle also praised Washington for bringing in DeSean Jackson.

“I think that’s a huge move for them,” he said. “I think he’s definitely gonna help the Redskins out a lot. DeSean Jackson is a phenomenal player in this league, and I think he has a chip on his shoulder. I think he has something to prove. So I wish DeSean the best of luck to go out there and do what he does best, which is to make big plays. But against the Giants it’s going to be a different story.”

Rolle becomes at least the second NFC East safety to pick the Redskins ahead of the Eagles. Ryan Clark, of course, had Washington going 16-0.

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Jimmy Graham, Saints should strike deal now

It’s probably fair to paint Jimmy Graham as the underdog in his long-awaited grievance hearing, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

However, I think it’s the New Orleans Saints that stand to lose the most.

That’s why the best play for both sides is to come together and strike a long-term contract agreement on their own, before an arbitrator ever makes a ruling on whether Graham is officially deemed a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes.

They should find common ground somewhere between $10 million and $11 million per year -- which I absolutely believe Graham is worth, regardless of what position he plays.

I can understand why the Saints and general manager Mickey Loomis would feel confident that Graham’s request to be declared a wide receiver will be denied. I agree with them that Graham is a tight end, even though he lined up 67 percent of the time either in the slot or out wide last year. Tight ends have always been a hybrid between receivers and blockers.

However, there’s no way they can feel completely certain of how an independent arbitrator will rule.

And if the arbitrator rules in Graham’s favor, it would open up a huge can of worms for the Saints.

They would have to increase their one-year franchise-tag tender from $7.035 million to $12.3 million. That would immediately require New Orleans to carve out more than $3 million in salary cap space. New Orleans could do this by restructuring some current contracts.

More importantly, it would become extremely difficult for the Saints to convince Graham to accept a long-term deal worth less than $12 million per year. Graham could choose to play out his one-year deal at $12.3 million, then hit the open market next year. And a training camp holdout would become likely under that scenario.

There’s even a remote possibility the Saints would consider removing the franchise tag altogether if they don’t feel Graham is worth a one-year, $12.3 million deal.

However, that’s not to say the Saints should panic.

Most observers seem to agree that Graham is more likely to be declared a tight end than a receiver. And if that happens, Graham and agent Jimmy Sexton would also lose a great deal of leverage in their long-term contract negotiations with the Saints.

If Graham’s grievance is denied, the Saints could lock him up for two straight years with the franchise tag at costs of $7.035 million in 2014 and $8.44 million in 2015. And the Saints, therefore, wouldn’t have much incentive to offer Graham more than $10 million per year.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, now an analyst for ESPN, offered some insight into what the Saints might be thinking as the hearing approaches.

Dominik believes Graham is a tight end. “My gut is that’s the way the grievance is going to go, because that’s really the position he does play.”

However, Dominik said the Saints will have to at least consider the idea of working out a long-term deal before the grievance is decided.

“I think you would like to get a deal done, just because you want to get a deal done for your organization, for your franchise, for peace of mind,” Dominik said. “But I also think there is that bit in the back of your mind that says if you win the arbitration, then his number is probably a little bit lower than what they want to be.

“Because they're probably trying [to make Graham] the highest-paid tight end, but below the $10 [million] to $13 million the receivers are getting right now. And if you win the arbitration, it gives you a little bit more leverage. But Jimmy’s represented by very good agents, and they’re gonna try to maximize it.”

As nice as the idea sounds, it’s obviously easier said than done for the Saints and Graham to agree on the value of a long-term contract.

Graham will certainly surpass the $9 million per year that the New England Patriots gave Rob Gronkowski in a 2012 extension, the previous high for a tight end.

But how much higher will the Saints be willing to go?

Personally, I think Graham is worth more than $10 million per year. Graham has led the NFL, regardless of position, with 36 touchdown catches over the past three seasons. He has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per season in that span.

That kind of consistent production can’t be dismissed by dissecting where he lines up or whom he lines up against. The business side of these negotiations shouldn't make anyone lose sight of the fact that the Saints and Graham are one of the best marriages in the NFL. He’s been a model player for them on and off the field. He’s a perfect fit with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in an offense that thrives on exploiting mismatches. And he has consistently fought through injuries and continued to produce.

I think Graham belongs in the same class as receivers like Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall, whose deals range from $10 million to $11.2 million per year, the fifth- through eighth-highest salaries among receivers.

Dominik, however, feels there is a distinction between Graham and those top-flight receivers -- something that was exposed last year when teams like the New England Patriots quieted Graham by putting their top cornerback, Aqib Talib, against him.

That’s why Dominik said he would lean more toward basing Graham’s contract off the top tight end deals rather than those second-tier receiver deals.

“I think he’s at the highest point of the tight end market, which is why I think he’s gonna break through and be the highest-paid tight end when his deal is done,” Dominik said. “But I do think the position is gonna be suppressed a little bit in terms of not being a Brandon Marshall or a Vincent Jackson, just in terms of what happened with Aqib Talib and a little bit of that.

“There are a lot of mismatches you can create [with Graham], but there are things that are limitations for him in the run game or when he’s manned up against a very good corner.”

One thing Dominik and I wholeheartedly agree on, however, is this: “It will be extremely fascinating to watch it play out.”

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Jacory Harris among 10 cuts made by Eskimos | Edmonton Journal

The Edmonton Eskimos’ roster is beginning to take shape. The team announced 10 cuts Sunday morning, after playing its first preseason game on Friday night.

On the heels of their 14-11 loss to the B.C. Lions, the Eskimos have released nine international (formerly import) players:
• QB Jacory Harris
• WR Mark Dell
• WR Kevin Cummings
• DT Cedric McKinley
• DE Ernest Owusu
• LB Donovan Richard
• OL Trevis Turner
• DB Anthony Watkins
• OL Justin Wells

The Eskimos’ only national (formerly non-import) release was DB Shea Pierre.

Harris’ release provides some clarity to the Esks’ quarterbacking picture. Mike Reilly headlines the group as starter, while Matt Nichols, Jonathan Crompton and Pat White will head into this week’s preseason game in Regina looking to establish the remaining three spots behind the starter.

Harris, 24, spent last year on the Eskimos’ practice roster. He had the least amount of playing time of the quarterbacks on Friday night, making 0-2 passes and rushing once for four yards. One of those passes was a pretty looking fourth-quarter heave to Dell, who couldn’t hold onto the ball.

The Eskimos’ training camp continues this morning, with a Father’s Day practice in Spruce Grove from 1 to 3 p.m. An autograph session will follow.

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Texans coach O’Brien unsure when Andre Johnson will return

First-year head coach Bill O’Brien is unsure whether veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson will attend an upcoming mandatory three-day minicamp, which runs Tuesday through Thursday.

“I don’t know,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know.”

Johnson, who is at odds with the organization, missed all 10 of the Texans’ OTAs, which concluded Friday.

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Vince Wilfork is on the right track

It’s difficult to take much away from organized team activities, especially when trying to evaluate the play in the trenches, since it is a glorified passing camp. But the fact that Wilfork, who is working his way back from an Achilles injury, is this far along should be taken as a positive sign.

We saw the defensive tackle increasingly take on a bigger role in each of the three OTAs that were open to the media, and by the end he was taking part in 11-on-11 drills and was able to plant his leg and take on would-be blockers. It’s too soon to tell if he will be fully healthy in time for training camp, but things appear to be headed in the right direction.

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No firm timetable given yet for Leonard Hankerson’s return

Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson says there’s no firm timetable yet for him to resume practicing with the Washington Redskins as he works his way back from knee surgery in November.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Hankerson said this week at Redskins Park. “I’ve been out here moving around a whole lot more. I’m seven months out now. So I’ve probably got another couple months to go. I should be good by training camp but you never know. Hopefully [there will be] no setbacks or nothing like that. But I’m feeling good right now.”

Hankerson’s anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee were repaired after he was hurt during a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I’ve just got to keep working, just keep pushing, keep doing the little things I’m doing,” he said. “I’m out here working each and every day, moving forward and hopefully no setbacks and I should be good to go.”

Hankerson had 30 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games last season. The former third-round draft choice has 81 catches for 1,081 yards and six touchdowns in three NFL seasons. The Redskins upgraded their wide receiver corps in the offseason by signing DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts as free agents.

“It’s coming along pretty well,” Hankerson said. “We needed help all the way around. We won three games last year. So, I mean, something had to happen. Andre Roberts, DeSean, two great players. We should have a pretty good year this year.”

Once he gets healthy, Hankerson must work to adjust to the offensive system of the team’s new head coach, Jay Gruden.

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Giants lose linebacker Jon Beason with foot injury; hopes to be ready by opener

Call it the offseason curse of the linebacker, whatever you want, but yet another high-profile 'backer has gone down in offseason (non-contact) training with a serious injury.

Following the season-ending injuries to the Dallas Cowboys' Sean Lee and the Atlanta Falcons' Sean Weatherspoon, the New York Giants' Jon Beason suffered a foot injury that could keep him on the shelf until September, as first reported by's Kimberly Jones.

The Giants later confirmed the news. Suddenly, Beason is in serious doubt to play in the Monday night opener on Sept. 8 — which is just past the 12-week mark — at the Detroit Lions, but Beason said he remains hopeful he can return for that game.

“The [opener] is within that time frame,” Beason said. “I expect to be back [for that game]. If not, I’ll be back as soon as I can. That’s really how you have to look at it. If it’s not 16 (games played), maybe it’s 15 or 14. Whatever it is, you want it to be that number as opposed to one."

In the meantime, the Giants must have plans to replace Beason and must identify three starting linebackers in case he's out. Jameel McClain, Mark Herzlich and fifth-round pick Devon Kennard all could get reps at middle linebacker, and/or on the strong side, too. Spencer Paysinger will vie for a starting spot, as will Jacquian Williams. But the point is that there suddenly will be a wide-open competition for playing time — at all three spots.

Beason joined the team following an early-season trade from the Carolina Panthers a year ago and instantly established himself as a leader in the Giants' locker room. He returned this offseason and, despite a history of injuries, figured to be a key figure on the defense.

The surgeon performing the procedure on Beason's foot, Dr. Robert Anderson, is considered one of the most respected foot experts in sports medicine and has repaired Beason before — his season-ending Achilles injury back in 2011.

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Blake Tekotte’s blast lifts Charlotte Knights

PAWTUCKET, R.I. Down to a final out and trailing 1-0 in the ninth inning, Charlotte’s Blake Tekotte drilled a two-run home run against reliever Drake Britton to propel the Knights past the Pawtucket Red Sox 2-1 in front of 8,226 fans Sunday afternoon at McCoy Stadium.

The teams split the four-game series.

The PawSox lost despite carrying a no-hitter through 62/3 innings. Felix Doubront, making his second start with Pawtucket as part of his MLB rehab assignment, did not allow a run or a hit in five innings.

The PawSox were held to two hits, none after the second inning, and struck out 16 times.

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Yankees prospect C Peter O'Brien rips 23rd home run

Yankees prospect catcher Peter O'Brien went 2-for-4 with his 23rd home run of the season for Double-A Trenton on Saturday.

O'Brien's line in the Double-A Eastern League has been pretty brutal, as he is hitting just .242/.286/.568 with 31 strikeouts (22.1%) and seven walks (5.0%) in 140 plate appearances. He's fifth in the Eastern League with 13 home runs, but pitchers have been able to pacify him with better quality pitches. O'Brien's power is real, but he needs substantial work on his approach at the plate if he has a chance to succeed at the major league level.

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Danny Valencia hopes to start rehab stint, rejoin Royals soon

Danny Valencia tested his sprained left hand in batting practice Friday, and expects to start a rehabilitation stint as early as Sunday.

Valencia is eligible to rejoin the Royals from the 15-day disabled list Monday in Detroit. He expects to spend a few games with Class AA Northwest Arkansas in the interim.

Valencia never before required a stint on the disabled list. He initially injured his hand May 24 in Anaheim. After sitting out five games, he aggravated the injury.

“Nobody is 100 percent right now,” Valencia said. “As long as I feel like I can compete. Like in Toronto, I was hurt. It got to the point where I felt like I was going to give away at-bats if I kept staying out there.”

His injury accelerated the return from the minor leagues of Mike Moustakas. After an ugly start to his comeback, Moustakas showed signs of progress near the end of the last homestand. He homered Tuesday and supplied a two-hit game Wednesday.

Yost declined to reveal how he would split playing time between the two third basemen when Valencia comes back. But a platoon once again appears likely, with Valencia facing left-handers and Moustakas seeing the bulk of the playing time.

For now, Yost insisted he was only concerned about Valencia avoiding a “relapse” of injury, he said. “You don’t want it to fall back to where it did before.”

Valencia described the injury as “weird.” It occurred while he swung the bat against the Angels. He is still working his way back to full strength.

“I feel like I’m pretty close to being able to do almost everything,” he said. “I’m definitely not there yet. But I’m real close.”

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Move to first base could help Peter O'Brien realize his awesome power potential

TRENTON, N.J. -- About midway through a recent interview, while he was standing in a clubhouse hallway at Arm & Hammer Park, Peter O'Brien's conversation was interrupted by a Thunder teammate playing reporter.

"How do you hit so many home runs?'' he asked.

O'Brien laughed.

The question for O'Brien, now a first baseman for Double-A Trenton, is not so much how he's capable of crushing baseballs at such a prolific rate but whether he can keep doing it. And whether the Yankees ultimately will find him a position that someday enables him to flex that muscle in the majors.

Through his first 63 games this season, including Saturday, O'Brien has 23 home runs, including 13 in 33 games since his May 9 promotion to Trenton, where he's putting the boom in the Thunder. During his time there, he has gone deep once every 10.1 at-bats.

The Orioles' Nelson Cruz, who leads the majors with 21 homers, averages one every 11.7 at-bats. Jose Abreu does it once every 11.2 at-bats for the White Sox.

Trenton manager Tony Franklin seems more surprised by the rare occasions when the fences actually are able to contain O'Brien, who had a slash line of .234/.279/.547 with 30 RBIs for the Thunder through Friday.

"Every time he comes to the plate, he's one of those guys, you think he's going to hit a home run,'' Franklin said. "It doesn't always happen. But when it does happen, it's pretty special.''

What Franklin means by that is that O'Brien, who turns 24 next month, doesn't leave much doubt when he connects.

The outfield walls at Arm & Hammer Park are piggy-backed by billboards that extend another 30 feet or so above the yellow demarcation lines for a home run. Also, in center, there is a towering blacked-out batter's eye.

O'Brien regularly clears those barricades. During a round of batting practice last weekend, he peppered the very top level of ad space, slamming line drives off the leftfield banners for Stark & Stark attorneys-at-law and White Eagle Printing Company.

Franklin describes O'Brien, a second-round pick by the Yankees in 2012, as possessing "easy power,'' an uncommon trait he said also was displayed by the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Frank Howard and Dick Allen. That's more than 1,000 home runs combined right there, but Franklin was referring more to the flight patterns than the frequency.

Strawberry was legendary for clearing scoreboards. Howard had upper-deck seats at RFK Stadium painted white to commemorate his long-distance drives. One of Allen's mammoth shots was estimated at 529 feet.

"He just takes a nice, easy swing and produces prodigious home runs,'' Franklin said of O'Brien. "Balls go out of the ballpark and they make a loud noise.''
It's the other part of O'Brien's game -- the glove half -- that has made him a work-in-progress at a number of positions. He's played catcher, third base, even rightfield. But when Franklin got the call on June 6 to start getting him reps at first base, that shed some light on the Yankees' plans.

The assignment was so new that O'Brien didn't own a first baseman's glove. And when he went through a number of fielding drills during BP, he looked like a novice, whether it was charging a bunt or figuring out which foot to extend in reaching for a throw.

But with Gary Sanchez, the club's top catching prospect, sharing the Trenton roster with O'Brien, he can't expect much time behind the plate.

Plus, O'Brien has struggled at third base -- 18 errors in 38 games at high Class A Tampa last season -- as well as rightfield. He sounded eager to try first base. Almost relieved.

"I think it's going to come a little bit easier,'' O'Brien said, "because at third base, you have to move a lot more and kind of set your feet to throw. First base is pretty much just pick it, catch some throws and drop bombs.''

O'Brien smiled. Obviously, that last part is what he enjoys the most, and with the dearth of righthanded power in the game, he's a valuable commodity -- either for the Yankees or as a potential trade chip as the July 31 non-waiver deadline gets closer.

That value grows with O'Brien as a catcher, but maybe the best thing that can happen is to move him from behind the plate, where the added responsibility can hurt a prospect's offensive development.

Look what has happened with the Mets' Travis d'Arnaud, who was demoted last week after wilting offensively at the major-league level. Josh Donaldson became an MVP candidate after the A's were forced to move him from catcher to third base.

"It's definitely easier,'' Donaldson said. "You get to play every day. You don't have to deal with the nicks and bruises catching comes with. Or handling an entire pitching staff, calling a game.''

O'Brien felt the same way.

"As a catcher, you have to focus on a lot of things -- receiving, blocking, throwing,'' he said. "Your first priority is the pitcher, so everything else comes second to that.

"At first base, your priority isn't other things, so it kind of slows the game down. And you might be able to focus in between innings on your at-bat instead of what you're going to throw the next three hitters in the lineup.''

That peace of mind could help O'Brien move up sooner rather than later. But if he continues with this power surge, the Yankees will figure out a way to make the necessary adjustments. Even if O'Brien still has to do that himself.

"The people in the organization feel like, let's see what he looks like at third, let's see what he looks like at first, let's see what he looks like in the outfield,'' Franklin said, "because he looks pretty doggone good at the plate.''

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