PHOTO: Joel Figueroa Celebrates A TigerCats TD


Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Left to Right) Samuel Giguere, Mike Ingersoll, Justin Hilton, Greg Ellingson, and Joel Figueroa celebrate Ellingson's touchdown. (CP/Aaron Lynett)

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Lamar Miller has not won starting job yet

Miami Dolphins RB Lamar Miller will have to show he can pass protect and stay healthy during training camp in order to hold off RBs Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee for the starting job.

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Dan Morgan Promoted

The Seattle Seahawks announced a handful of changes to their scouting staff on Thursday.

The team has promoted Tag Ribary to director of team operations, Trent Kirchner to director of pro personnel, Dan Morgan to assistant director of pro personnel and Josh Graff to national scout. In addition, the team hired former Kansas City Chiefs scout Jim Nagy to serve as the team’s southeast area scout.

Morgan has served as a pro scout for Seattle the last two years after a seven-year career as a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers. Graff has worked as an intern for the Seahawks’ scouting staff the last two seasons.

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Olivier Vernon Stock Watch

Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins defensive end: Vernon capped off a solid offseason with Miami during mandatory minicamp. After moving 2012 starting defensive end Jared Odrick inside to defensive tackle, Vernon is now the early favorite to start at defensive end heading into training camp. The 2012 third-round pick received an additional boost up the depth chart due to 2013 first-round pick Dion Jordan's absence. Jordan could not participate with the Dolphins this offseason due to the quarter system at the University of Oregon. He also is recovering from shoulder surgery in February. Therefore, Vernon got a lot of valuable reps with the first-team defense and showed many of the flashes he displayed his rookie year. It’s no secret that Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick last April, will eventually supplant Vernon in the starting lineup. But Vernon did all he could to hold his spot and may be in the starting lineup for Miami in Week 1.

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Frank Gore Fueled by Age Criticism

Frank Gore hears the comments of TV analysts speculating about his future. He has a good idea of what has been said and written as he enters his ninth season with the San Francisco 49ers.

Gore, 30, is well aware of critics downplaying his future production.

The 49ers all-time rushing king, however, is fueled by those negative words.

“I like it,” the 5-foot-9, 217-pound running back said at the end of veteran minicamp. “I like that type of stuff.”

Gore has kept tabs of his doubters throughout his NFL career. He never forgets those who question his ability to be a productive play-maker.

“I feel like every year is something with me,” said Gore, who noted he had to prove himself as a third-round draft pick entering the league in 2005 and once again after a fractured hip ended his 2010 season. “I’ve got to overcome everything, every year… I’m going to go hard and prove everybody again.”

Gore rushed for 1,214 yards and made the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in 2012. He continued his hard-running ways in the postseason to the tune of 319 rushing yards and four touchdowns for the NFC champions. Gore improved his yards per carry from 4.7 in the regular season to 5.1 yards per rush in the postseason. But even with the production, the NFL's talking heads want to know what Gore can do in his ninth season. Gore didn't carry the ball very often this offseason.

The aches and pains of a 19-game season lingered with the running back known for his aggressive running style in between the tackles. Gore didn’t participate in San Francisco’s mandatory minicamp, but did work sparingly during Organized Team Activities.

Gore said there’s nothing to worry about his absence at minicamp. According to Gore, it was the call of the team’s medical staff.

“I feel good,” the 49ers all-time leader in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns said. “I’ve been here all offseason getting better with the team and getting ready for training camp.”

Gore admitted that the loss in Super Bowl XLVII lingered into the offseason, but started to fade away once he returned to the team’s Santa Clara headquarters to participate in the offseason strength program.

“It was tough,” Gore began, “but once I got back and working out, I got better with it.

“I’m happy to be back. I’m seeing all the guys working and we’ll try to get back to where we left off last year.”

Most notably, Gore has been pleased to see the leadership of third-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“He did a lot when he got his opportunity and he took advantage of it,” Gore said of San Francisco’s starter. “He had a great run and we’re looking to see him do even more this year.”

Gore praised Kaepernick’s unique running style and how it opened up inside running lanes in the late stages of season. Opponents had to respect the running threat Kaepernick presented in San Francisco’s “Pistol” formations. Gore thrived in the new running system, showcasing his adaptability and usefulness in the process.

“With a new offense I think Kap freed me up a lot,” Gore said. “I’ll be fine this year.”

Come September, the 49ers running back will look to prove his age won't factor into continuing his role as one of San Francisco's feared offensive weapons.

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Chris Perez will not be activated this Friday

Indians closer Chris Perez was supposed to return from the disabled list on Friday. But it won’t happen.

According to Nick Camino of Cleveland’s WTAM 1100, the Indians are pulling back from their original plan for Perez because he got hammered in a rehab appearance on Tuesday night at Double-A Akron and they’re worried that his mechanics are off.

Perez will play long toss on Wednesday evening and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday.

The right-hander has been sidelined since May 26 because of discomfort in his throwing shoulder. Vinnie Pestano will continue to fill in at closer for the Indians, who are currently four games back of the Tigers in the American League Central standings.

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Yonder Alonso's right hand healing, has splint removed

SAN DIEGO -- First baseman Yonder Alonso, on the disabled list since June 1 with a right hand contusion, hopes to get clearance Monday to take part in baseball activities after visiting a hand specialist.

Alonso suffered a fracture of the metacarpal -- the bone above the knuckle -- on his middle finger when he was hit by a pitch on May 31.

He had been wearing a splint to immobilize the hand ever since landing on the disabled list, though he recently was able to take it off.

"I really want to burn it," Alonso joked.

Who can blame him? Alonso missed his 14th consecutive game with the injury Thursday, as the Padres opened a four-game series against the Dodgers at Petco Park.

Alonso is encouraged the hand is healing.

"[Training staff] took it off today and they started touching it around where it was hurting. [Before] it was probably an eight or nine [out of 10 on the pain scale]. But it's probably down to a three or four. It's made a significant amount of progress in the last week, week and a half."

Alonso is hoping a CT scan Monday could pave the way for him to resume his on-field baseball work. That said, it's not like he's been sitting around gathering dust.

"The good thing is I can run and have been able to do my top-hand stuff hitting. I've been doing a lot of baseball stuff. The hitting will be the easiest thing to come. I've been staying on top of it, watching a lot of film.

"But I've become more a student of the game. I watch a lot of film. I watch all the games, to get ready for when I do come back. I feel like I'm the third hitting coach, because I watch all the at-bats."

At the time of his injury, Alonso was hitting .284 with six home runs and 29 RBIs in 54 games this season. The Padres have mostly used Kyle Blanks at first base in his absence.

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Ryan Braun likely to remain on DL longer than expected

When Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun was placed on the disabled list with a thumb injury last week, the initial expectation from Brewers camp was that he'd only miss the minimum 15 days. Instead, the hand injury -- inflammation around a nerve between Braun's right thumb and index finger -- could keep him out as long as a month (

The report indicates Braun returning next week when eligible is still an "outside" shot, but the most likely scenario is that he won't be ready in time.
As things currently stand, Braun will avoid surgery but has been completely shut down. The longer he stays shut down while allowing the hand to heal, the more likely he'll need a minor-league rehab assignment before being ready to rejoin his teammates.

Braun, 29, is hitting .304/.380/.595 with nine homers and 36 RBI this season.

This is the first disabled list stint of Braun's seven-year career.

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Kellen Winslow's contract is bare bones

Kellen Winslow's one-year contract with the Jets is worth $840,000 and contains no guaranteed money.

Winslow didn't even get a signing bonus. It's a reminder that although he's the most talented tight end on the roster, he's not a lock to make the final 53. Winslow must prove that his knees can survive a full training camp.

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Bryant McKinnie won't need to be NFL's best tackle

Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie raised eyebrows -- well, he at least raised mine -- last week when he said that his goal for the season is to be “the best left tackle in the league.”

"When people turn on film, they’ll just see that I’m dominating, and I just feel that I’m going to do better than everybody else this year," the 6-foot-8, 350-plus-pounder said after Thursday’s minicamp workout.

While there is nothing wrong with that mindset -- shoot for the stars, big man -- I think Pro Bowl left tackles like Joe Thomas, Duane Brown, Ryan Clady and Joe Staley might have something to say about that this season.

That’s OK, though. The Ravens don’t need McKinnie to dominate for their offensive line to be better in 2013 than it was in 2012.

During the regular season, with McKinnie chained to the bench because of poor performance in practice, the Ravens’ offensive line allowed starting quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked 35 times.

As for the Super Bowl run, you know the narrative by now. McKinnie started at left tackle during the playoffs, the offensive line protected Flacco better (six sacks in four games) and Flacco went off.

But outside of the wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts, McKinnie was pretty much average in the playoffs. He was beaten for a sack in the AFC championship game and another in the Super Bowl win, allowing seven total pressures in those two games, according to Pro Football Focus.

Plus, Pro Bowl back Ray Rice and the Ravens averaged 4.3 yards per carry in the regular season but just 3.9 in the postseason.

But what playoffs proved was that even if McKinnie’s inclusion in the starting lineup doesn’t significantly improve the left tackle position, it greatly improves two others on the offensive line.

Michael Oher wasn't as much of a liability in pass protection when he started at right tackle. And rookie Kelechi Osemele played at a Pro Bowl level once the Ravens moved him inside to left guard.

The question remains: Can the Ravens count on McKinnie again?

As of this writing, McKinnie is in shape (so far, so good), he feels fresh (he claims he feels like he is 26, not 33) and he sounds motivated to play hard (he certainly said all the right things Thursday).

We’ll see if McKinnie still checks off all those boxes in late August -- and more importantly, in late December and early January.

He doesn’t have to be the best tackle in the league. If McKinnie can simply be reliable, the Ravens will be better because of it.

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Warren Sapp takes more shots at Strahan

ORLANDO - The feud between Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan took a fresh turn Wednesday when the Hall of Fame defensive tackle of the Buccaneers said Strahan wasn't even close to former Tampa Bay teammate Simeon Rice as a pass rusher.

"Nobody ever talks about Simeon,'' said Sapp, who played three seasons with Rice in Tampa and saw the right defensive end average 14 sacks between 2001-03. "Simeon was a better rusher than Michael Strahan any day of the week and twice on Sunday.''

Sapp also said Strahan's 15-year career with the New York Giants didn't take off until he was moved from right end to the left side.

"(Rice) didn't rush the worst lineman,'' said Sapp, who beat out Strahan for a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013. "You know the right tackle is the worst of the five. Strahan played right end his first four years. When they were putting the label on him as a bust, they put 'B-U-S . OK, let's transition him on the other side and see if he can play in his fourth year.'

"They put him at right end and he couldn't do it, so they moved him to the weak guy. One-on-one with the (Eagles right tackle) Jon Runyans for eight quarters every year. Sim won't ever have his name brought up (for the Hall of Fame), and that's a shame. He's one of the best pass rushers I've ever encountered in my life.''

Efforts to reach Strahan Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Rice posted 122 sacks in 12 NFL seasons and was a key component of Tampa Bay's 2002 championship team with four sacks in three postseason games.

Strahan ranks fifth on the league's career list with 141.5 sacks and he set the single-season mark with 22.5 sacks in 2001, breaking Mark Gastineau's record by taking down Green Bay's Brett Favre, who called an audible and appeared to concede the historic sack.

When Sapp arrived at Bucs training camp in Orlando the following summer, he questioned Strahan's record-breaking takedown.

"This is a man who wants something given to him and they gave it to him,'' Sapp said. "So have it.''

In February, after making the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in a class that included Strahan, Sapp termed the television co-host a "media darling.''

Strahan promptly responded on Twitter.

"You never cease to amaze me!'' Strahan wrote, addressing Sapp. "Enjoy your moment. You don't need to take a shot at me to justify yourself to other people.''

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Greg Olsen contributing $289,000 to Levine Children's Hospital fund

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is giving from his heart.

Olsen, whose son, T.J., was born with a heart defect, will donate more than $289,000 to Carolinas HealthCare System's Levine Children's Hospital through his foundation that will help provide home care support to pediatric heart patients once they're discharged.

The contribution will be presented Friday at 2 p.m. at the hospital as part of Olsen's HEARTest Yard Fund. According to a press release, the fund will "extend the family-centered care concept beyond the hospital walls so the transition from there to the home will be easier for other families with children suffering with congenital heart defects."

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OKC Thunder: Size is only drawback to Shane Larkin

At 5-foot-11, Shane Larkin isn't tall in stature.

But the Miami point guard sure knows how to play.

All he needs is an opportunity, a team to look past his size and give him a shot.

Perhaps the Thunder will be that team.

Oklahoma City is in the market for a third point guard behind Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, and Larkin has an intriguing, if not spectacular, combination of skills that could fit well with the Thunder.

He's got speed and quickness, a sweet shooting stroke, exceptional range and a vast knowledge of how to run the pick-and-roll.

But … he's 5-11.

That could be a deal-breaker for the Thunder, which historically has preferred players with size, length and versatility.

“If you're doubting me in any way, that's just going to give me more drive, more motivation, more determination to go out there and do it,” Larkin said at the NBA Draft combine.

Larkin's size certainly will be his biggest barrier.

But he showed throughout the Hurricanes' run to the Sweet 16 this season that he has just about everything you would want in a point guard. He uses his speed to blow by defenders and get into the teeth of defenses. He makes good decisions, setting up teammates regularly and with pinpoint passes. He even is scrappy on defense.

Couple those traits with the new wave of small ball that's sweeping the NBA and you can see how Larkin could find success. Recent successful guards who stand less than 6 feet tall include Ty Lawson, J.J. Barea, D.J. Augustin, Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas.

Larkin, the son of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, thinks he's next.

“I think I'm very ready,” Larkin said. “My game I think will translate well to the NBA just because I ran so much pick-and-roll in college, and the NBA is so much pick-and-roll. … It really depends on the team in the NBA, but everybody runs pick-and-roll. So I think I can go in there and contribute as a pick-and-roll guard.”

According to, 47 percent of Larkin's offense this season was from pick-and-roll sets. Defenders can't go under screens because Larkin can make them pay with his shooting. If they go over, he can use his speed to get to the basket. And if the defense collapses, Larkin can and will find the open man, either on a drop-off at the rim or a kick out to shooters.

“He's so good at what he does,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga.

Larkin exploded onto the national scene this season as a sophomore on a senior-laden Hurricanes squad. He averaged 14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and two steals while leading Miami to both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles.

Larkin led Miami in minutes, points, assists and steals while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from 3-point range.

“I don't think there has been a more valuable player to any team,” Larranaga said of Larkin.

Thanks to Larkin's sharpshooting and world-class athleticism, his value figures to translate to the NBA level. He doesn't project to be a star player, but he could add depth to a team in need of an additional ballhandler and someone to help space the floor.

The obvious drawback would be Larkin's ability to defend. Bigger point guards like Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, John Wall and Jrue Holiday could have their way with Larkin in the post or simply shoot over him. But if used in tandem with a player like Westbrook in small-ball lineups, Larkin could be hidden on a lesser scorer.

But for Larkin to get an opportunity, he'll seemingly need two things: a freethinking general manager and a creative coach.

Will the Thunder be that team?

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Chris Perez will not be activated this Friday

Indians closer Chris Perez was supposed to return from the disabled list on Friday. But it won’t happen.

According to Nick Camino of Cleveland’s WTAM 1100, the Indians are pulling back from their original plan for Perez because he got hammered in a rehab appearance on Tuesday night at Double-A Akron and they’re worried that his mechanics are off.

Perez will play long toss on Wednesday evening and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday.

The right-hander has been sidelined since May 26 because of discomfort in his throwing shoulder. Vinnie Pestano will continue to fill in at closer for the Indians, who are currently four games back of the Tigers in the American League Central standings.

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Ryan Braun: Suspensions likely in Biogenesis case

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that people who have spoken with MLB investigators feel it's likely that "at least some" suspensions will be issued in the Biogenesis case.
MLB has begun interviewing players associated with the case, though they have yet to talk to Ryan Braun or Alex Rodriguez, seemingly because they want to gather enough evidence before confronting them. Interestingly, Heyman notes that MLB officials believe the league's Joint Drug Agreement may allow it to announce suspensions before any appeal process because the names involved have already been leaked. The MLBPA obviously wouldn't be happy with that. While Braun and Rodriguez have garnered most of the attention in the case, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Everth Cabrera, Francisco Cervelli, Jesus Montero are among the other players who have been connected to the now-shuttered clinic.

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Trading or cutting Hester would be easy, cheap for Bears

If Devin Hester is “competing” to be the primary return man for the Bears, there’s a chance he’ll lose the competition.

Which means there’s a chance he’ll lose his job.

If the Bears decide to make a change, it would be simple to accomplish for a cap standpoint.  Hester is in the final year of his contract, at a base salary of $1.857 million.  With or without him on the roster, the Bears will carry a bonus proration of $833,335, according to a source with knowledge of the terms of the deal.  He also has earned a workout bonus of $250,000 (assuming he participated in the requisite number of offseason sessions).

As a result, trading Hester or cutting him would clear his $1.857 million from the Bears’ books, with no further acceleration or charge beyond the $1.083 million in bonuses that already apply.

Presumably, the Bears would prefer to trade Hester, if they choose not to keep him.  By trading him, the Bears can control where he lands.  Or, more accurately, where he doesn’t land.  After giving the other teams in the NFC North fits since 2006, one of them surely would be interested in giving Hester a chance, twice this year, to stick it to the Bears.

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Buccaneers donate Sapp items for Hall of Fame display

TAMPA - Warren Sapp won't officially be inducted until Aug. 3, but the former All-Pro defensive tackle of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has already left a mark at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

To celebrate Sapp's upcoming honor, the Bucs donated several artifacts from the two-time All-Decade player's career for permanent preservation in the NFL's shrine to excellence.

Sapp, who played nine of his 13 seasons in Tampa, is the second Buccaneer to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, joining the late Lee Roy Selmon. Among the items now on display in a special exhibit dedicated to the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 are the jerseys worn by Sapp during the 1996 and 2000 seasons.

Sapp earned NFL All-Decade honors in the 1990s and 2000s and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 1999. The next season, he posted a career-high 16.5 sacks, earning one of his seven Pro Bowl berths with Tampa.

In 2002, Sapp was an integral part of the franchise's first and only Super Bowl victory. To commemorate that accomplishment, the team sent a special collector's edition bobble head of Sapp following Tampa Bay's win against the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII and a commemorative issue of Sports Illustrated, chronicling the franchise's run to the Super Bowl. Sapp is featured on the magazine's cover.

Sapp and the six other members of the Class of 2013 - Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells, and Dave Robinson - will be enshrined Aug. 3, when a bust of Sapp will be unveiled. Sapp already met with lead sculptor Blair Buswell as the Hall prepares for its 50th anniversary, with a record number of members expected to attend the weekend festivities in Canton.

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Bryant McKinnie Is Ravens' New Old-Timer

With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed gone, tackle Bryant McKinnie, 33, is the team's oldest player.

Last week, Bryant McKinnie was sitting at his locker at the head of the Ravens locker room, looking at all the young faces surrounding him.

“I looked around and I was like, ‘Wait, who’s been around longer than me?’” McKinnie said. “Ray Lewis is gone, Ed Reed is gone, Matt Birk is gone. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute …’”

Yes, McKinnie is the oldest player on the Ravens roster at 33 years old. Born on Sept. 29, 1979, McKinnie is two days older than Ravens cornerback Chris Johnson.

Last year, Lewis (38), Reed (34), Birk (36), defensive lineman Ma’ake Kemoeatu (34) and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (36) were all older than McKinnie.

The roster has undergone a youth movement this offseason, however. McKinnie’s not worried about it though.

“I’m alright because I feel young,” he said.

“I hang with young people and just stay active. People start feeling old when they sit down and get in that cycle of doing the same thing. That’s why I had to pick up tennis. It gives me something else to do to stay active and stay young.”

The Ravens’ offensive line is particularly youthful. The next closest in age to McKinnie is Marshal Yanda at 28, and Michael Oher and center A.Q. Shipley are both 27.

McKinnie said some rookies have come to him and said they liked watching McKinnie – when they were in middle school.

“I was like, ‘Whaaaat!?!?!’” McKinnie said. “That’s kinda scary.

“That’s probably why [Run Game Coordinator] Juan [Castillo] keeps using me as an example in the meeting rooms. I didn’t really get it. He’ll say, ‘Bryant, isn’t this right?’ I’ll be like, ‘I don’t know why you’re asking me, Coach.’”

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Greg Olsen showing rapport with Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen is showing great timing with QB Cam Newton during offseason workouts.

Fantasy Tip: Olsen could re-establish himself as a solid No. 1 tight end option this season. He's expected to play most snaps and could develop into Newton's top target. Look at him as a sneaky low-end No. 1 option.

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Allen Bailey aiming for 10+ sack season

Allen Bailey has been a bit of a forgotten man in the Kansas City Chiefs defense. The third-year defensive end came into the league the same year as Justin Houston but it's been Houston, not Bailey, who has made a leap as a pass rusher.

Don't tell that to Bailey, though. He said on this podcast, The Trapasso Report, that his goal is a 10-plus sack season.

"Of course staying healthy," Bailey said when asked his goals for the 2013 season. "Then try to get a 10-plus sack season. Rolling into my third year, with a new defense that's more of an attack defense that allows you to make a lot more plays, I'm setting myself up with a 10-plus sack season."

Bailey has one career sack so that would be one hell of a jump if he surpassed 10 sacks. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston rushing from the edges, Allen Bailey putting up 10 sacks ... now THAT would be a hell of a defense.

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Jimmy Graham: A Tale of Two Seasons

Most Saints fans would consider last season a "down" year for tight end Jimmy Graham. A little ridiculous when you consider he put up 982 yards receiving and scored 9 touchdowns. Still, everything's relative, and compared to his record-breaking 2011 campaign those numbers actually were a drop off.

Which puts Graham at a crossroads of sorts as he looks toward the upcoming 2013 season. Down one path is a bounce back to another freakishly godlike year, complete with 1,200+ yards and 10+ touchdowns. Down the other is a return to normalcy, an above average performance at best with stats that stay within the stratosphere.

And therein lies one of this off-season's biggest questions: Which Jimmy Graham shall we expect to see in 2013? You could also ask the question another way: Was Jimmy Graham's 2011 season an anomaly? Either way, the answer is exactly what Saints fans everywhere are eager to learn this year.

As much as I hate to say it, my gut tells me we won't ever see anything from Graham like we did two years ago, so my confidence is tempered. It's also probably a bit unreasonable to expect. But I'm genuinely curious to know what all of you guys out there think.

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Injured Braun visits hand specialist

HOUSTON -- Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun was in Phoenix on Tuesday to see Dr. Don Sheridan, the hand specialist who has worked on a number of players over the years including second baseman Rickie Weeks.

Assistant general manager Gord Ash said the trip represented "a due diligence second opinion" on the injury that sent Braun to the disabled list for the first time in his career, and was not a reflection of any new development.

Braun had been playing through an inflamed nerve between his right thumb and forefinger for several weeks, hitting with diminished power. When skipping the Brewers' three-game series in Miami did not cure the problem, the club opted to put Braun on the DL.

Ash said Braun was expected to rejoin the team on Wednesday. He is eligible for reinstatement from the DL on June 25.

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PHOTOS: Jacory Harris Scores His 1st Professional TD

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Jacory Harris bulls into the end zone for a touchdown while being tackled by Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Anthony Heygood during the third quarter of their pre-season Canadian Football League game at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Harris who started the third quarter trucked through LB Heygood for his rushing TD after Roughrider returner Phillip Livas wasn't able to handle a Grant Shaw punt one play after the fumble.


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Devin Hester no lock for roster spot on Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears don't even allow Devin Hester to wear the same colored jersey as the other Bears wide receivers in practice. He's a return man, and a return man only.

But is a he return man who's guaranteed to make the roster?'s John Mullin wrote Sunday night that Hester is just "working to hold on" to the primary return job in offseason practice. Other players like Earl Bennett have been returning kicks in practice. And Bears coach Marc Trestman has said that Hester is "competing" to win the returner job.

The Bears have given up on Hester playing a role on offense. Since he's due $1.85 million this season, the Bears are giving him every chance to earn his worth as a return man only. If Trestman doesn't think Hester can be a difference-maker after watching him in training camp, it's still possible Hester won't even make the team.

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Edmonton Eskimos sit Jacory Harris to reduce likelihood of more injuries to QB corps

EDMONTON - The last time the Edmonton Eskimos held practice at Commonwealth Stadium, six quarterbacks were splitting the reps.

Just five days later, that number was cut in half on Monday.

With Matt Nichols undergoing medical exams on the knee he injured in Friday’s preseason-opener and unsigned non-import prospect Austin Kennedy gone back home to Windsor where he will start for the Lancers in the CIS this fall, the Eskimos stable of arms was further reduced when Jacory Harris sat out the balmy 22C session.

“Yeah, we were a little light, but we’re a little light at all positions,” said quarterback Mike Reilly, who will start Friday’s exhibition game in Vancouver. “It’s been a long camp and you get a little heat like this and guys are out there running around.

“It was a long day and we were in our up-tempo, no-huddle mode the whole time, so guys definitely put in some good work (Monday).”

The good thing for Reilly is the fewer the quarterbacks, the less the reps have to be shared.

“Yeah, it’s getting to that point where camp is kind of winding down a little bit and we’re getting into season mode,” Reilly said. “So it’s nice to get those reps and maybe run some of the plays a little more often that you haven’t ran in the past and get some different looks.

“You’ve just got to take advantage of every rep.”

Just like Harris took advantage of resting his body in hopes of avoiding any further injury to the quarterback stable.

“It’s not a vet day for him, but he was a little sore after (Sunday’s) practice and because of that, we don’t want to risk it,” said head coach Kavis Reed. “Until we understand fully what’s going on with Matt (Nichols’s knee), we’re going to be very careful of our quarterbacks.

“It’s nothing (Harris) shouldn’t be out here (Wednesday), but we wanted to be as careful as possible with him.”

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A year makes big difference for Bryant McKinnie

A year has made a big difference for Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, dramatically improving his standing with the Super Bowl champions.

Last year, McKinnie was taking up residency in coach John Harbaugh's doghouse. The former Pro Bowl blocker wasn't in good enough shape to participate in a series of offseason practices and was instructed to focus on his conditioning.

When McKinnie reported late to training camp after informing the team that he had injured his back during a slip-and-fall at his South Florida home, he didn't initially pass the conditioning test.

After the Ravens restructured his contract before the regular season, McKinnie was replaced at left tackle by Michael Oher before regaining his starting job in the playoffs.

Now it's a much different story for McKinnie after the Ravens re-signed him to a two-year contract worth up to $7 million that includes a $2 million signing bonus, annual $200,000 workout bonuses, a $200,000 reporting bonus each year and a $500,000 roster bonus next year.

The Ravens are happy with how McKinnie has worked this offseason to maintain the conditioning that he improved throughout last year.

“Bryant did a really good job," Harbaugh said. "He moved really well in this camp, as well as he moved at the end of the year last year when he started practicing so well and playing so well.

"He looks healthy, and he will continue to work on his conditioning. He seems to be very committed. Love the way he’s playing and his effort.”

The reporting bonus and workout bonuses should provide motivation for  McKinnie, but the 33-year-old seems geared toward proving himself again this season.

The 6-foot-8, 354-pounder has been a regular at offseason practices since rejoining the team.

“Physically, I feel like I’m 26, so that’s a good thing," McKinnie said. "I feel really good this year. I’m moving around pretty well, so I’m pretty happy with that. ... This time last year, I didn’t even participate, so yeah, I definitely feel a lot better in minicamp.

"Right now, I’m more focused so I can have a good year and be the best left tackle in the league. That’s my goal.”

How will McKinnie gauge his success?

"When people turn on film, they’ll just see that I’m dominating, and I just feel that I’m going to do better than everybody else this year," he said.

McKinnie started every game at left tackle during the playoffs as the Ravens' offensive line allowed just six sacks in four games while the offense averaged  410.3 yards of total offense during their Super Bowl run.

After the NFL draft, McKinnie visited the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers prior to reaching a deal to return to Baltimore.

There were times that he wasn't sure if he was going to be back.

“Yes, after the draft, and I started taking a couple of trips to other teams, maybe I’d be somewhere else," McKinnie said. "But luckily I ended up coming back. I always wanted to give the Ravens an option to match whatever other teams offered. So, I would tell my agent to check back to see what the Ravens have going on and we’ll decide from there.”

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Kellen Winslow to see limited reps?

New York Jets TE Kellen Winslow impressed in a tryout in minicamp, leading to a one-year contract. However, an opposing personnel executive is not sold Winslow can be 100 percent effective anymore. "I think it's a lot like (former QB David Garrard). He'll be fine in a workout, moving and running, but taking a hit, the grind of training camp and a full, 16-game season will be the litmus test," the executive said. "I'd watch him closely to see if they manage his reps and practice time."

Fantasy Tip: Winslow has had multiple knee surgeries since 2005, including microfracture surgery in 2007. Last season, Winslow said he plays in constant pain, so it is uncertain if he suddenly feels better or is just saying the right things to get a job. Either way, his fantasy appeal is rather minimal heading into the regular season, if he even makes it that far.

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Detroit Lions are best fit for tackle Eric Winston

Given his apparent price tag, Winston may be perfectly content to wait for a team to suffer a catastrophic injury or realize that it has a performance issue at right tackle. Chances are, he'll have some choices by early August if he's still unsigned. Best fit: Lions

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Chris Perez expected to return Friday

Cleveland Indians RP Chris Perez (shoulder) will make another rehab outing Tuesday, June 18, and is expected to be activated from the disabled list Friday, June 21.

Fantasy Tip: Perez should immediately return to closing duties for the Tribe, moving Vinnie Pestano back to the eighth-inning setup role. There's no need to hold onto Pestano in mixed formats when Perez returns.

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Ryan Braun remains fourth in all-star balloting

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun remains fourth in the balloting among National League outfielders according to the voting totals released by Major League Baseball today.

With 1,645,084 votes, Braun has fallen way behind the pace. St. Louis' Carlos Beltran, who ranked third in the balloting last week but has surged into the lead this week with 2,385,240 votes.

Atlanta's Justin Upton (2,054,225) and Washington's Bryce Harper (1,981,030) rank second and third.

Braun isn't likely to gain any ground in the coming week either, as he's now on the disabled list with a right-thumb contusion.

Carlos Gomez jumped up one spot to 11th this week with 1,027,684 votes.

Other Brewers leaders include shortstop Jean Segura, who remains at third in the balloting at that position with 1,188,317 votes.

The leading vote-getter at shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki (2,443,772) suffered a broken rib last week and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

That could open the door for Segura to be the NL's starting shortstop, considering second-place vote-getter Brandon Crawford of the San Francisco Giants (1,293,476) doesn't have near the numbers Segura has posted to this point.

At catcher, Jonathan Lucroy moved up to fourth place with 630,902. Lucroy trails NL leading vote-getter Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants (2,606,434), St. Louis' Yadier Molina (2,543,588) and New York's John Buck (866,471).

The All-Star Game will be played on July 16 at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. The all-star teams will be announced on July 7.

Both the NL and AL teams will have eight fan-elected starters. The pitchers and reserves are determined through a combination of player ballots and selections made by the managers for each all-star team.

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Jet sign veteran Kellen Winslow, Jr.

The New York Jets have signed tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr., according to multiple reports.

Winslow, a former first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, has bounced around the NFL in recent years, most recently with the New England Patriots briefly last year, as he caught one pass for them.

Winslow was in the Jets mini-camp this week on a tryout basis and made good on that opportunity by landing himself a contract and another shot in the NFL

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Jonathan Vilma practicing as starting ILB

Jonathan Vilma and Curtis Lofton worked as the Saints' starting inside linebackers throughout OTAs and minicamp.

Vilma is playing the weak-inside position, while Lofton is the strong-side inside linebacker or "Mike." David Hawthorne doesn't appear to be pushing Vilma, who is superior in terms of both range and coverage. Lofton led the Saints in tackles (123) last season and figures to do so again this year.

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Jimmy Graham snubbed in 'Top 100' list?

When Rob Gronkowski landed at No. 25 on the NFL Network's "The Top 100 Players of 2013," the New England Patriots star also became the list's final tight end to make the cut.

Gronk's inclusion is a no-brainer, but a grievous oversight has bubbled up: New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was left out in the cold.

Graham -- with 85 receptions, 982 yards and nine touchdowns in just nine starts last season -- was deemed less worthy by his peers than the likes of Antonio Gates (No. 73), Heath Miller (No. 97) and Dennis Pitta (at No. 100).

While the "Top 100" holds its own as breezy, offseason fare, Graham's omission reveals its true nature as a raging farce.

Yes, Graham battled injuries last season, but he played through the pain to catch more passes than all but Jason Witten (No. 41) and Tony Gonzalez (No. 47) among the list's tight ends. Pitta, Miller, Gates, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez all caught fewer passes.

Ask the Atlanta Falcons -- scorched for seven receptions, 146 yards and two touchdowns in early November -- if Graham is a top 100 player. Or the Carolina Panthers, who allowed Graham to slash them for nine catches, 115 yards and a touchdown in the season finale.

Graham scored in eight games and had five or more receptions in 11 appearances during a season that required wrist surgery when it was over. Saints coaches are intimately familiar with Graham's versatility. He's used not only as a tight end, but you'll find him split out wide on a regular basis, furnishing the Saints with a field-stretching mismatch.

Entering his contract season in 2013, Graham is betting on a big campaign, but either way, he's fully worthy of the "Top 100." There's no bigger blotch on the player-generated voting results than this.

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Leonard Hankerson hopes to build on 'consistent' offseason

While 2013 probably isn’t a ‘make or break’ year for Leonard Hankerson, the wide receiver certainly ranks high on the list of Redskins in need of a breakout performance.

He’s coming off a sophomore season in which he established career highs in receptions (38), yards (543) and touchdowns (3). But more is going to be expected of Hankerson as he enters his third NFL campaign.

And, if his strong showing this offseason is any indication, he knows it.

“If you ain’t your own biggest critic, then you ain’t got nothing,” Hankerson said, responding to a question about Coach Mike Shanahan acknowledging recently that the 24-year-old was “pretty tough on himself last year.”

Hankerson added: “You have to be able to see and know when you did stuff wrong because if you don’t, you’ll never get better. That’s the key, man, improving each and every day, learning from your mistakes and capitalizing on your chances.”

Although much of the offseason program was conducted without media present, when reporters were allowed to observe practice, Hankerson often stood out. He appeared more polished and, when balls were thrown his way, more times than not, he made a play. One of the highlights from Tuesday’s session, in fact, was a deep completion from Kirk Cousins to Hankerson, who had to adjust to the slightly underthrown pass. In one fluid motion, Hankerson reached up, snagged the ball between the approaching safety and cornerback, then quickly turned upfield.

Hankerson acknowledged that he’s feeling more confident and comfortable these days. The reason for it is simple: practice. As a rookie, the NFL lockout cost him the entire offseason. Last summer, his primary focus was rehabbing a serious hip injury, not refining his game like most second year players.

“It makes a huge difference,” he said. “When you’re healthy, it lets you just focus on getting better.”

Hankerson says he’s working to hone all facets of his game.

“You can’t just go out there and pick one thing,” he said. “You have to go out there and keep grinding and work on everything, blocking, route running, focus, everything.”

Hankerson will likely enter training camp next month as the No. 4 receiver on the Redskins’ depth chart behind Pierre Garçon, Josh Morgan and Santana Moss. That isn’t likely to change after the addition of veteran wide receivers Donte’ Stallworth, 32, and Devery Henderson, 31, this week. But it does mean Hankerson can’t afford to slip during training camp and the preseason.

“He’s trying to step it up,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “Hank’s been as good as anyone at times, and sometimes he has his little bad moments. He’s been very consistent through OTAs, and I think Hank can be as good as he wants to be.”

Most important, it seems Hankerson is starting to believe that, as well.

“I’m getting better, figuring things out, but I still have a long way to go,” Hankerson said. “I’m still young. We all want to make plays, but you just have to go out there, keep working hard and it’s going to come.”

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Willis McGahee reportedly cut due to health issues

Did a 2012 injury factor into Willis McGahee's recent release by the Denver Broncos?

Upon reporting to the Broncos' mandatory minicamp last week, the veteran running back insisted he was fully recovered from a torn medical collateral ligament and compression fracture in his leg. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase corroborated McGahee's take the next day.

There's a difference between healthy enough to practice and healthy enough to remain effective against NFL defenders. Paul Klee of the Colorado Springs Gazette has it "on good authority" that McGahee's questionable health was the "No. 1 reason" for his release. Per Klee, it's also why McGahee's reps were severely limited in the two practices before he was cut.

The Gazette might not be in the habit of scooping The Denver Post, but this is a strong report. If the Broncos don't believe McGahee's knee is right, it's going to leave any potential suitors second-guessing the merits of adding a 32-year-old tailback.

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Devin Hester having to prove his worth as returner

The Bears are going to make Devin Hester solidify his roster position as a returner, creating an interesting dynamic as it is difficult to evaluate special teams without live action.

A coverage team running down the field in Bourbonnais isn't the same kind of challenge for Hester or his blockers when hitting isn't involved. They're not moving as fast as in a game either. So special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery face a challenge to ensure Hester remains an elite game-changer.

Trestman is dedicated to maintaining the team's solid standing in special teams, and the Bears get ample work in practice. They spent time on kickoff return Wednesday, and it didn't look like Hester, 30, had lost a step.

But isn't it hard to determine where Hester is without an actual game?

"It is and it isn't," DeCamillis said. "One of the things he's done a great job of is he's got a lot of reps. He's got a lot of catches. He's got a lot of situational things we've done. He's in a great frame of mind right now. He is right where we need him to be.

"Obviously, the competition part of it is going to come from the games, but it is also going to come in practices. We'll get him evaluated that way as well."

Hester has done little return work in the preseason in recent years because the goal always has been to ensure he's healthy for the regular season. In the last five years, he has returned five punts in the preseason (one for 54 yards) and made three fair catches. He hasn't returned a kickoff since the 2008 preseason.
Hester, who has a base salary of $1.85 million in the final year of his contract and will count $2.94 million against the salary cap, struggled last season in the return game, and former coordinator Dave Toub said it was a mental issue.

His punt-return average of 8.3 yards was nearly half of his mark in 2011, when he had three return scores. He made errors fielding some balls, and there were issues with the blocking units as well. But Hester is not worried about proving his value in practice this summer.

"I look at my past history and I know what I am capable of doing," he said. "We all know I am the best return man that is stepping on this field. Coach Joe D. and I, we have spent a lot of time watching film on some of the things that can be corrected. It's a team thing."

Hester believes his legs will be fresher for returns now that he has been removed from the offense. That, he says, will make him feel like he did in 2006 and 2007, when he scored 11 of his 17 career return touchdowns.

"I was always explosive then," he said.

Hester said DeCamillis has made minor adjustments to the schemes, trying to ensure big guys are blocking big guys and smaller players are manned up on smaller players. It comes down to Hester following a key block and then finding a way to dominate with his athletic ability.

"The mistakes that I made and the mistakes that we made as a unit, those are easy to correct," he said. "At the end of the day, I am the best returner in this game, and I know that for a fact. What man can sit here and tell me that I lost it when I know what I am capable of doing?"

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Mike James Joins Ahmad Black at Tampa Bay

TAMPA | Following a recent offseason workout, Bucs rookie running back Mike James was talking to the media when safety Ahmad Black, who was walking past, yelled, "Polk County!"

Black then threw two fingers in the air and kept walking.

James, a product of Ridge Community High and University of Miami shook his head and smiled.

Despite playing at rival schools — Black played at Lakeland High and the University of Florida — and playing on different sides of the ball, the two have a established a connection that some might not understand. Nothing against the players from Dade, Broward or even Duval counties, they are from Polk County and proud of it.

"It's great having someone from the county on the same team," James said. "I'm hardly home, but I'm always repping." (That's short for "representing," if you're not up on the slang.)

If there was any doubt, Black makes sure the rookie doesn't forget where he's from.

"I don't call him by his name. I call him Polk County," Black said. "All the time.

"He's come out, and it's obvious he's a pretty good player. I'm excited to have him here."

The Bucs are excited to have the sixth-round pick, as well.

During the draft, the Bucs traded running back LeGarrette Blount, then were able to move up in the draft to select James.

The team loved him off the field, too: his dedication to charity work, his maturation. They think James can make an impact in his rookie season.

"Although you could tell he had a lot of football knowledge coming in, Mike was open to growing on this level," running backs coach Earnest Byner said. "He's been open to the teaching we've had in this room. The guy has the ability to compete. He's going to make the room better by his attitude and his approach to the game."

The Bucs see the 5-foot-10, 223-pound James as a backup to Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin. They also see James being a mainstay on special teams this year.

James said by the end of the team's offseason workouts, he was starting to get more comfortable.

"Things are starting to slow down a little bit," he said. "I'm starting to get the hang of things, and I feel good.

"The toughest part was getting acclimated with everything around me, learning the schedule, learning how to conduct myself here, conduct myself there," James said. "That's probably been the toughest thing, getting acclimated to everything — the attention, the people around you, the other players, how to conduct yourself in the locker room, the meeting room, on and off the field. It's just a different demeanor."

James said Black has helped in the transition.

"He's a guy that I listen to," James said. "I try to understand what he does and then mimic him because he's been in this for a while."

About to enter his third year, Black had a good offseason. Known as a guy who likes to have fun with his friends and teammates, there has been a noticeably different side of Black, whether he's between the goalposts or in meeting rooms. He's focused.

And while he still keeps everyone in stitches in the locker room, Black is slowly developing into a leader.

"Having last year under my belt has made me real comfortable," he said. "I just have to keep going and keep grinding and getting better from here."

During a recent workout, the Tampa Bay Bucs defense was going against the offense in a passing situation. Right before the offense could snap the ball, you could hear Black yelling a call to his defensive teammates. The players switched to another defense and came up with a stop.

Following the play, safety coach Jeff Hafley called Black over and gave him a low five and patted his helmet.

"I think the biggest thing with Ahmad is his understanding of the defense," Hafley said. "It's his second go-round, and he's playing a position where there is a lot to learn. He's got to do a lot back there. Where he's impressed me is his knowledge of the defense; his knowledge of the game. He's become quite a leader back there — making some of the calls and making the checks has impressed me. He's very focused, and I'm really excited to get him to preseason."

Last year, Black played in all 16 games and finished with 32 tackles, two interceptions, five passes broken up and one forced fumble.

Even with the addition of All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson, Black is expected to see plenty of action in passing situations this season.

Black, who won two state high school titles and a BCS national title at Florida, wants to add the NFL's ultimate prize to his mantle.

"I just want to win," he said. "Whatever my coaches and teammates need me to do, that's what I'll do."

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Ray Lewis Gets Kids Moving With Youth Football Camp

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — He was supercharged on the football field and rallied his fellow teammates to perform well.

Now, Ray Lewis takes his enthusiasm back to the field, but this time, he is inspiring kids.

Vic Carter reports.

For far too many children, a Saturday morning is spend inside front of a TV or video game console.

But when Ray Lewis says “let’s get moving,” you do.

While the real Ravens wrap up mini camp, mini pro football players are following the lead of their idol–Ray Lewis.

“I like the workout and the way I use my muscles,” a boy said.

Some of the future stars impressed Ray by their work ethic at his camp.

“[My fans are] the reason why I’m motivated,” Lewis said.

“Because I was never the biggest, I was never the fastest, I was never the strongest. But the bottom line–my effort. My effort and how I did things,” he continued.
While these camps raise money for the Ray Lewis Foundation, there is a deeper value to the children, who benefit from the generosity of this champion.

“In a world now of social media and the video games and all these different things, kids are missing the essence of life. And the essence of life is being outside, being active,” Lewis said.

“You don’t have to always be in a sport or try to be chasing something. But the bottom line is–get outside and just be active. Take care of yourself,” he continued.

It has been a busy weekend for Ray Lewis.

Friday night he was bowling and playing paintball with his fans, again, to help raise money for his foundation.

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Greg Olsen draws inspiration from infant son's difficult journey

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Greg Olsen is a football player all his life, starting tight end for the Carolina Panthers, presumed tough guy. And he marvels at the strength of his infant son, T.J.

"I wish I was as tough as him," Olsen said. "If I was as tough as him, I'd be in good shape. What he's gone through in his first eight months of life is more than any of us have gone through in a lifetime. You know, two open-heart surgeries, the countless medications, the exams; you know he's been through it all, and he just bounces back."

In April 2012, a prenatal diagnosis indicated that one of the twins being carried by Greg's wife, Kara Olsen, had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a severe congenital heart defect characterized by an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta. On Oct. 11, two days after birth, T.J. underwent a long, delicate surgery. On Nov. 6, he went home, though the certainty of another complex surgery always loomed. About two weeks ago, T.J. had the second of three surgeries required by the time he's a toddler.

These days, T.J. plays at home with his twin sister, Talbot, and their older brother, Tate, who recently turned 2. In a family playroom, T.J. appears to be the picture of health.

"Even the doctors and nurses say, 'This is a hypoplast (baby)?' " Kara said. "A 'single-ventricle baby' is what they call them. He's so big and he looks so healthy. You know, he's just truly a miracle in every way, shape and form. He just truly amazes us every day."

These are happy times for the Olsens, who want no pity, are determined to help other families facing similar challenges, and treasure every moment with their three children.

"It's almost hard to put into words what (T.J. has) taught us about the true importance of family," said Greg, 28, "and the true importance of what it means to just have all three kids screaming -- but they're home, screaming at the dinner table."

Said Kara: "Having the five of us together is what truly matters."

During pregnancy, Kara knew her son had to weigh at least 5 pounds at birth in order to undergo surgery 48 hours later. He weighed in at 7 pounds, 9 ounces. "It was such a sigh of relief," Kara said. (Talbot, born healthy, was a hardy 8 pounds, 1 ounce.)

Almost immediately after birth, T.J. was whisked away to the cardiovascular intensive care unit. "I was able to hold him for about 20 minutes the day before his surgery, but that was the only time I got to hold him," Kara said. "And that was really, as a mom, that was probably the hardest thing."

The day after T.J.'s initial surgery, Kara and Talbot were discharged from the hospital. It was heartbreaking, Kara said, "leaving the hospital with only one baby."
"We got through it," Greg said. "We got through it, and we're here with only one more (surgery) to go."

Because of T.J., Greg and Kara have learned about perspective and how to dismiss the "little things" that are, truly, little things.

They felt the generosity of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson -- T.J.'s full name is Trent Jerry, his middle name given in honor of Richardson -- who provided his private plane and traveled with them to Boston to make sure the Olsens received proper medical advice after the diagnosis.

And they came to appreciate the circumstances that led them to the Charlotte area --- which, it turned out, was exactly where they needed to be.

Greg and Kara met at the University of Miami. He was a first-round draft pick by the Bears in 2007, then was traded to the Panthers in July 2011. How perfect: The Carolinas HealthCare System's Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte has provided T.J. and his family with the best possible care, spearheaded by Dr. Benjamin Peeler, the Chief of Pediatric and Adult Congenital Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Peeler said T.J. "is doing great," largely because of the daily attention he received during his first six months at home. The Olsens were able to afford round-the-clock help as T.J. awaited his second surgery. Particularly with two other infants in the house, it was a full-time job: T.J. had to eat every three hours, with every meal charted to make sure his intake was sufficient; his oxygen saturation levels were checked regularly, as was his weight; he was given medications.

"It was very, very scary," Kara said, "because they stress to you how important it is and how critical this time is."

The Olsens know that most families facing similar challenges cannot afford such care. But they want them to have it.

Before T.J. came along, Greg started a foundation, Receptions for Research, in honor of his mother, who is a breast cancer survivor. The Olsens have since added another arm to the foundation: The HEARTest Yard, which will provide resources for families with single-ventricle babies.

"This is our platform," Kara said. "This is our way to help these families and help these babies."

The idea is to guide families through the critical period between the baby's arrival at home and the second surgery. The Olsens, who are working in conjunction with Peeler, officially will announce the initiative at a June 21 event at Levine Children's Hospital. They expect to begin providing financial assistance to families this summer.

There will be "no insurance companies to jump through, no cost to the hospital," Greg said. "The hospital will administer it, but the funds to provide this care -- to pay for the doctors, nurses, therapists -- will be completely funded through The HEARTest Yard."

The goal is to lower the mortality rate -- which Peeler said is thought to be as high as 15 percent -- between the first and second surgeries. "We feel this is the most tangible, direct way to impact that percentage and change these babies' lives forever," Greg said.

Said Peeler, who estimated that "about a thousand" babies are born each year in the United States with hypoplastic left heart syndrome: "It's really a great thing for the babies, and we really think that it has a chance of making a huge difference as the years go by for their physical and neurological development."

Peeler said that while T.J. still has "a severe heart condition," he has given Greg and Kara this advice: "Now just let's go home, let's let T.J. be a baby, let's go live our life, and we'll catch back up with you in a couple years."

T.J. can travel now; he can play with other children. To the Olsens, that kind of normal never sounded so good.

"Looking back, it's taught us so much as people," Greg said. "(T.J.) has brought us so much joy. He's brought us so many life lessons (and) really opened our eyes to what's important in life and where priorities lay with our family."

"He's changed a lot of lives already, changed ours," Kara said. "(He has) changed our family, but now that it's affecting others positively, it makes us very proud."

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VIDEO: NBA Draft Prospect: Durand Scott (Miami)

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Brewers place Ryan Braun on DL

CINCINNATI -- The Brewers lost another close game and their best player, the latest setbacks to an already disheartening season.

Milwaukee put outfielder Ryan Braun on the 15-day disabled list after a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.

The Brewers hoped Braun could get back into the lineup on Friday. He'd missed four games while resting a sore right thumb, but went out to take batting practice. The session didn't go well, leaving Milwaukee with no other choice.

Braun is batting .304 with nine homers and 36 RBIs. He won the NL's Most Valuable Player award in 2011 and finished second to San Francisco's Buster Posey last year.

"He went out and swung today, took batting practice and the soreness is still there," manager Ron Roenicke said. "This is a move we tried to avoid. After talking to him, I think this is the right way to go."

Earlier this month, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported that Braun is among a group of major league players facing a suspension for his connection to an anti-aging clinic at the heart of an ongoing performance-enhancing drug scandal.

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Yasmani Grandal starting to turn focus toward improving defense

SAN DIEGO -- Yasmani Grandal has had trouble sleeping. Instead of wasting time staring at the ceiling or watching late-night TV, the Padres catcher routinely reviews scouting DVDs on his next opponent. He logs a few hours a night in front of his flat screen, looking for clues to get the other team out.

The extra work in the video room, enhanced by an offseason's worth of catching drills, has turned Grandal into a standout defensive player. The same couldn't be said last season, when he was in the lineup for his bat as opposed to his glove.

"I didn't like the way I played defensively last season," Grandal said. "This offseason, I made a point to make catching come first and let the hitting run its course."

That's why he spends so much time watching video. That's why he spent significant time on catching drills this offseason. He wanted to change his reputation as a purely offensive catcher. He wanted to be a complete player.

Since he couldn't swing a bat this offseason with strained ligaments in his left middle finger, Grandal didn't have a choice.

"I would spend 2-3 hours a day on different elements of the position, and I believe it helped me grow as a defensive player," Grandal said. "There are times when I'm at home and I can't sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning, and that's when I break down the video. That's the most productive use of my down time, because being a good defensive catcher is my number one responsibility."

His hard work has been recognized. The Padres starting rotation lauded Grandal's work and spoke highly of his commitment to catching. That's been proven in the win column too. The Padres are 10-3 in games he's started behind the plate, a short stint after serving a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's policy on performance enhancing drugs.

While Grandal has struggled offensively in that span -- he's hitting just .191 with three extra-base hits -- manager Bud Black has been impressed by his ability to separate offense from defense.

"He's been able to separate the offense from his defense," Black said. "His bat has gotten off to a slow start, but he hasn't let that affect his job behind the plate. His game calling has been outstanding, and he always seems to be in sync with the catcher. That's a big pat on the back to him."

Grandal did a little bit of everything on Saturday night. He called a quality start for Jason Marquis, and supported him with a three-run home run in the fourth inning.

"I've been making good swings, but I don't think the ball had been traveling as far," Grandal said. "When I made good contact, it seemed to be right at someone. I knew that it would turn eventually, and it was a relief to have it work out last night."

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