Patriots draft TE, unlikely to want Olsen

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It was a long shot, but any chance the Chicago Bears had to deal Greg Olsen to New England vanished when the Patriots moved up to take Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski at No. 42.

Sitting with three second-round picks at the beginning of the round -- not to mention a major need at tight end -- the Patriots appeared to be a logical destination for Olsen. That's now history.

Gronkowski, who's drawn comparisons to Baltimore's Todd Heap, slid to the second-round because of concerns over his back.

Click here to order Greg Olsen's proCane Rookie Card.

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Photo of the Week - Darryl Sharpton & Jimmy Graham At the Senior Bowl

In light of this weekend's NFL draft we are posting a photo of the two highest rated proCanes-to-be. Here is Darryl Sharpton and Jimmy Graham posing for a photo while at this year's Senior Bowl. Good luck to both of them and all prospective proCanes in this week's 2010 NFL Draft.

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McGahee available during the draft?

The Baltimore Sun believes Willis McGahee could be traded for a third- or fourth-round pick if the Ravens pick up a running back in the draft.

Considering the value set the past couple of weeks, a third - or fourth-rounder is a pipedream. The Ravens would be lucky to get a fifth for an aging back such as McGahee. The Sun suggests the Lions as a possible trade partner, allowing the Ravens to dump McGahee's $3.5M salary.

Click here to order Willis McGahee's proCane Rookie Card.

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ESPN mock draft snubs Hurricanes’ Jimmy Graham

Does ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay hate Jimmy Graham?

In McShay’s seven-round mock draft — available only to subscribers of’s ‘Insider’ package — Graham isn’t listed.

I sent an email to McShay and haven’t heard back, although you got to figure that the snub is unintended. McShay actually has Graham, the Hurricanes’ one-and-done tight end, third among a group of players under the heading “McShay’s Top Five Late-Rising Prospects” behind Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and East Carolina defensive tackle Linval Joseph.

But McShay has been on Graham’s case for quite a while. During a telephone news conference with reporters in early February, McShay ripped Graham’s attitude during Senior Bowl practices and questioned whether the 6-foot-8, 260-pound former basketball enforcer was tough enough.

Here’s the most damning quote: “…does he love the game and is he tough enough? Those are the two questions I keep hearing over and over again. A lot of guys [were] talking about him not being excited about doing the next drill and complaining here and there. There’s always an excuse. That mentality is going to hurt him when it comes to the draft. Teams are worried that he’s just not ‘football-tough’ and that he might not be worth trying to spend two or three years developing because (a) [will he] take to the coaching and (b) be tough enough to ultimately an all-around starting tight end.”

McShay was still riding Graham hard as of a month ago, saying during another conference call that Graham is “ a tough case. The concerns are out there. Is he football tough? There’s always an excuse and there’s always a reason that something is going wrong. Does he have the mental toughness in addition to the physical toughness to develop and become a solid blocker and just be a consistent football player? Those are the biggest questions you have with him.”

McShay does have four UM players being selected over the next three days beginning with the St. Louis Rams taking offensive tackle Jason Fox with the fourth pick of the fifth round followed by tailback Javarris James (5th round, Pittsburgh), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (5th round, Minnesota) and defensive back Sam Shields (7th round, Tampa Bay).

In a four-round mock draft published earlier this week, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Graham going to the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round with the 92nd overall pick. No other UM players are listed in the top four rounds of Kiper’s draft.

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Jay helps 'Birds to third straight win

There's not a player on the Redbirds' roster having more fun than outfielder Jon Jay.

The joy he has when he takes the field is not because of the results he's had in the team's first 13 games. Instead, it's the reason why his numbers have been eye-pleasing.

Jay came into this season determined keep his head clear of the things that can frustrate a young player, which happened to him during the first half last year. The result has him riding a 13-game hitting streak to start the season as the Redbirds won their third straight game, beating Iowa, 6-5, Wednesday at AutoZone Park.

"You know like when you're a little kid, you go out and you don't think about stuff," Jay said. "You just go out and have fun with your teammates. That's what I'm trying to do here."

Jay's carefree approach has him showing signs of being a much more disciplined and confident hitter. As the Redbirds' leadoff hitter, the 25-year-old left-handed batter is hitting to all parts of the field. And when he's not busy collecting hits, Jay is drawing walks; he has seven.

"I'm just trying to swing at strikes," he said. "I know if I can just swing at strikes, I'll be all right. That's the biggest thing I'm working on. I'm just staying relaxed and trying not to do too much thinking. I'm clearing my head and having fun."

The win over Iowa was the Redbirds' third straight come-from-behind victory. It's not a coincidence that Jay has played a part in all three rallies.

Monday night against Oklahoma City, the St. Louis Cardinals' second-round draft pick in 2006 had an RBI single and scored the tying run in a three-run rally that led the Redbirds to a 4-3 win. On Tuesday, he had an RBI fielder's choice and scored in a three-run rally that led to a 4-3 win.

And against the Cubs on Wednesday, Jay drew a two-out, bases-loaded walk that kept alive a four-run rally to give the team another win.
"I know last year he didn't have a great first half, and he was kind of disappointed about it," center fielder Shane Robinson said. "It's good to see him swinging it like he is. He's our spark that gets us going."

Jay leads the Redbirds with a .364 batting average and is second on the team with 10 RBI. He entered Wednesday's game third in the Pacific Coast League in stolen bases with seven, third in hits with 19 before he added a double, and second in runs scored (14).

Last season, Jay bounced back from a slow start to hit .281 with 10 homers and 54 RBI. He was second on the team with 20 stolen bases.
"He's one of my favorites,'' Redbirds manager Chris Maloney said. "I've never seen a guy that loves to play ball more than him. He's like a Little League kid out there. He's excited. He plays hard and plays smart, just a lot of natural ability. He's a pleasure.

"I think he's just evolving, especially with his bat. His defense and all the other stuff was always there. I think he's learned how to turn on the ball a little bit. That's what it's going to take for him to play at the next level and he's doing very well."

Jay is rated the Cardinals' 13th-best prospect by Baseball America. After spending all of 2009 and part of 2008 in Memphis, the former University of Miami star is hoping this is the year he gets his first call-up to St. Louis.

But for that to happen, Jay realizes he must continue focusing on just having fun.

"I'm just trying to keep things simple," he said. "I'm trying to get on base. We've got some guys that can drive in some runs, so I'm just taking it one pitch at a time and try to swing at strikes and see what happens."

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Vikings To Trade McKinnie?

It will be interesting whether the Vikings consider trading left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who has disappointed them with off-field behavior, for a draft pick or player. Washington or Oakland would seem logical suitors. Phil Loadholt, the Vikings' second-round draft pick last year, has shown he could move into McKinnie's spot if needed.

Click here to order Bryant McKinnie's proCane Rookie Card.

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Jimmy Graham could be first UM player drafted

After 23 years, ``feeling different'' for Jimmy Graham has become the norm.

``Obviously, I look different,'' said Graham, a chiseled six-foot-seven, 260-pound former Miami Hurricanes basketball star and tight end who, despite playing only one year of college football, is expected to be chosen first this weekend among several NFL draft-eligible Hurricanes.
``I have red hair, freckles and I'm a black-and-white mix. I was a kid in elementary school that none of the black kids wanted to hang out with because I was too white, and none of the white kids wanted to hang out with because I was too black. But I always tried to look past what was happening at the moment and thought about the future.

``I was a different kind of kid. I was the kid who always dreamed big.''

Graham should get rewarded big this weekend in the NFL Draft. He is projected by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., to go as early as the third round.
No UM player is expected to get chosen in the first or second round, but others likely to be drafted are offensive tackle Jason Fox and linebacker Darryl Sharpton, with cornerback Sam Shields' blazing 4.28 40-yard dash at the UM combine giving him hope. Though the 2009 draft ended UM's heralded 14-year streak with at least one player selected in the opening round, another feel-good story -- Graham's -- emerged before the '09 season even began.

When he earned his degree with a double major in business management and marketing in 2009, Graham was read a commendation that began by praising his courage and ended by announcing he'd be playing football for the Canes.

``Madam President,'' the speaker announced to UM president Donna Shalala, ``this power forward known for his thunderous blocks has become a fan favorite over his four seasons with the men's basketball team. . . . and at this year's awards banquet he was named outstanding defender for the second-straight season.

``To say that Jimmy Graham is not only an exceptional student-athlete, but also an inspiration to those who face adversity would be an understatement. Due to his family circumstances, Jimmy raised himself from the age of 11. . . . Jimmy has gone from rebellious teen and straight-F student to college graduate.''

Graham's story is compelling : a father he never knew, a mother, he said, who left him on his own much of the time and put him in a North Carolina group home for children before he was a teenager. And a stepfather who didn't want much to do with him.

``The woman dropped me off at a group home right after my sixth-grade year,'' he said. ``I fell asleep in the car and woke up and I remember sitting at a table and seeing her sign me away. That's something you don't forget.''

Graham eventually met Becky Vinson, a church bible-study volunteer who became his mentor and legal guardian when he was 15. He moved into a small trailer with Vinson and her young daughter, and together they went without heat for two winters because of financial struggles. Graham's bedroom was so tiny that he could lie on the floor and touch all four walls.

The money was scarce, but the emotional support from his new family was plentiful. Graham's anger subsided and his grades improved.
``It's different when you're living through something and then you come out of it and realize, `Holy cow! We went through a lot,' '' said Vinson, who had no idea Shalala would single out Graham during graduation. ``I cried from beginning to end. Every parent is so proud of their child, but what are the odds that someone goes through what he did and not only gets by, but excels? He's phenomenal.''

Vinson now works as a nurse at Duke Raleigh Hospital, and the once lonely, depressed Graham has become a friendly, enthusiastic, candid young man who loves to talk -- and play sports. He gave up the chance to play basketball in Europe for the hope of being another Tony Gonzalez, a former hoops and football player at Cal who is a tight end for the Atlanta Falcons.

``Obviously you take a chance and roll the dice on a player, say, in the third round, that has the athletic ability that he has,'' Kiper said of Graham. ``I mean, with his size, the way he runs . . .''

Graham impressed Shalala well before he zipped to his 4.56-second 40-yard dash for NFL scouts, and before he broke the UM record for tight ends with a 40.5-inch vertical leap.

``There's a joy to him in everything he does,'' Shalala said.

Former UM and Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar worked with Graham last summer in Miami, calling Graham's ``thirst for knowledge and zest for perfection'' contagious. ``He's fantastic to work with because he's not satisfied with just being good,'' Kosar said. ``He's incredible. I don't think he'll get past the second round.''

After growing from five-eight to six-one the summer he entered high school, Graham played one year of junior varsity football in ninth grade as a defensive end at Eastern Wayne High in Goldsboro, N.C. But a subsequent move with Vinson to a new school took him away from football because the sport was not offered. He already could dunk a basketball with two hands by eighth grade, so basketball became his sport.
On the UM basketball team, Graham was known as an enforcer, using his power to intimidate opponents with blocks -- and fouls. His 290 career fouls in four seasons rank eighth most in UM history. His 104 blocked shots also rank eighth.

Graham's transition to big-time football was just short of amazing, his coaches say. Most players have four or five years to grow into their roles and master the playbook, not to mention four years in high school of learning the sport.

An NCAA rule that allows athletes to change sports in their fifth year of eligibility opened the door for Graham.

``Jimmy knew he had one shot to prove himself, and he took advantage of it,'' said UM strength coach Andreu Swasey. ``You saw the rawness, but he got better each game,''

Swasey still chuckles at the first pass that quarterback Jacory Harris threw to Graham in the opener at Florida State. It soared right by him. ``Instead of trying to get the ball at the highest point, he's trying to look at the defensive back to box him out,'' Swasey said of Graham's basketball instinct.

Graham also endured the criticism of dropping two passes -- each right in his hands -- in driving rain Sept. 26 at Virginia Tech.

After the loss, he vowed to make up for it. The next ball thrown to him was an 18-yard touchdown a week later in a victory against Oklahoma.
He ended the season with 17 catches for 213 yards, unspectacular numbers, but steadily improving over the season. His five touchdowns were second only to leading receiver Leonard Hankerson. Some analysts have questioned his toughness, but he insists he is eager to block and learn the intricacies that will help him improve.

Graham will be with his two best buddies -- they didn't play football -- during draft weekend. ``I don't want to watch it,'' he said. ``It's too hard. We're going to hang out and wait for the phone call.''

Graham knows the draft is unpredictable, no matter how much the experts pontificate.

``I just want the opportunity to prove myself,'' he said. ``One thing I take from growing up is that I'm not a quitter.''

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Braun hits solo homer in defeat of Pirates

Ryan Braun finished 3-for-4 with a solo home run in the Brewers' defeat of the Pirates on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Braun has been on fire for a few weeks and is now batting .393/.453/.661 through 56 at-bats. He has four RBI, three stolen bases and 15 RBI. Look for him to continue his domination of NL Central pitching all year.

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Saints Looking At McIntosh?

LB Rocky McIntosh appears to be headed to a new location for the 2010 season.

The New Orleans Saints may be keeping an eye on McIntosh as well as Oakland’s Kirk Morrison, who started at MLB for the Raiders last season. Morrison could supply depth for the Black and Gold at the LB spot. McIntosh, who played his first two pro seasons under Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in Washington, could start on the outside.

Click here to order Rocky McIntosh's proCane Rookie Card.

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Martz: Olsen needs to get grounded in blocking

New Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz says tight end Greg Olsen "needs to get grounded in blocking" as he becomes acclimated to the team's offensive system.

Martz, who spoke during and after the presentation of the Brian Piccolo Awards to Olin Kreutz and Johnny Knox on Tuesday at Halas Hall, also said: "If there is a player who can't fit a system, then there is a problem -- if he is a good player -- with the system....Our deal is that we will give everybody an opportunity to find who they are and how they will contribute."

Martz said he was pleased with Olsen's progress so far in workouts.

"I am not disappointed in any respect," Martz said. "It's hard to run the ball if you don't have a tight end that's going to handle the edge."


Click here to order Greg Olsen's proCane Rookie Card.

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Source: Jimmy Graham worked out for the Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The  Baltimore Ravens recently conducted a private workout with University of Miami tight end Jimmy Graham, according to a league source.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron oversaw the workout.

Graham is a rangy converted basketball player.

The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder is like a big wide receiver.
He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds. He registered a 38 1/2 inch vertical leap and a 10-foot broad jump at the NFL scouting combine.

At his Pro Day workout, Graham bench pressed 225 pounds 15 times.

Graham turned down professional basketball opportunities in Europe to try football last season.

In his lone season playing football for the Hurricanes, he caught 17 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns.
Although he still has a lot of developing to do in terms of technique, Graham is regarded as an aggressive, willing blocker. His ability to stretch the field as well as how he can operate as an imposing red-zone target are major pluses.

Graham has been projected as a potential second-round or third round draft target.

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Ray Lewis To Announce Ravens Draft Pick

Ray Lewis was recently voted by fans as one of the top 25 NFL Draft picks of all time, and as part of the draft celebration, he will unveil a Ravens’ pick this weekend in New York.’s all-time-pick initiative is meant to honor the draft’s 75th anniversary with the 75 best selections in draft history.

No. 52’s position among the elite draftees still isn’t known, however.

On Friday night, Lewis will join a star-studded group of fellow honorees for the 2010 selection party. Unless a trade occurs, Lewis will take the podium at Radio City Music Hall to unveil a second-rounder, a pick that should carry a significant amount of weight considering the depth of this class. With polls closing on April 18, picks 11 - 75 will be announced from April 19 – April 21 on and NFL Network.

The 10 Most Valuable Draft Picks will be announced during Round 1 on Thursday evening, when many of the Top 10 will be in attendance. The order of the Top 10 will be revealed after the conclusion of the second round on Friday night, with many of those players on hand for the announcement.

Lewis was the 26th-overall selection in 1996, as what some teams deemed as less-than-ideal size pushed him down the draft boards. But, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome pulled the trigger on the former University of Miami star, and Lewis repaid him by earning 10 Pro Bowls, two NFL Defensive Player of the Year trophies and a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award.

For his storied career, Lewis is Baltimore’s all-time leading tackler with 2,182, adding 33.5 sacks, 28 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 14 recoveries.

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Shockey to host draft party at Nitetown Thursday

To help Lafayette celebrate the first round of the NFL draft, Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey will be a special guest Thursday night at Nitetown on Jefferson Street downtown.

According to owner George Favaloro, the former Pro Bowl tight end and first-round draft pick will arrive at the club at 9 p.m. to mingle with guests, take pictures and sign autographs. Shockey will not, however, be seated at an autograph table; it’s strictly casual.

The NFL draft will be televised live beginning Thursday night on ESPN and NFL Network. Because they won the Super Bowl, the Saints have the 32nd and final pick of round one; the team is expected to make it’s selection around 10 p.m.

Attendees must be at least 18 years old to get into Nitetown.

Click here to order Jeremy Shockey's proCane Rookie Card.

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Salmons says he'll turn focus to contract after season ends

Atlanta — John Salmons is putting his focus on the present and trying to help the Milwaukee Bucks in their first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.

But he understands there are questions about his future in Milwaukee and whether he will sign an extension with the Bucks or choose to become a free agent this summer. The 30-year-old Salmons has a $5.8 million player option for next season, which led the Chicago Bulls to deal him to the Bucks at the February trade deadline.

Salmons has the right to opt out of the final year of his contract when the Bucks' postseason run concludes. If he chooses not to opt out right away, the Bucks would retain exclusive rights to negotiate with him in the interim period.

Prospective free agents have until June 30 to declare their intentions and may not negotiate with other teams until July 1, when the league's free agency period begins. It promises to be an active summer with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh among the players available.

Salmons has increased his value in the last two months by helping the Bucks reach the playoffs and averaging 19.9 points in 30 regular-season games with Milwaukee. The Bucks went 22-8 after Salmons arrived in a Feb. 18 deal that sent the expiring contracts of Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander to the Bulls, who are looking to make a free-agent splash in the off-season.

"Definitely I'm not going to worry about that now," Salmons said before the Bucks played Atlanta in Game 2 of their playoff series Tuesday. "I just want to finish off the playoffs and go as far as we possibly can, win as many games as we can.

"After the season, I'll sit down with my agent (Joel Bell) and my family, pray on it and see what happens."

Salmons said he would be open to staying with the Bucks even if he decides to opt out and test his value in free agency.

It's clear he has enjoyed his time with the Bucks and playing for coach Scott Skiles, and Salmons has fit well with rookie point guard Brandon Jennings and fifth-year center Andrew Bogut.

"We appreciate what John has done for our organization and we appreciate his efforts," Bucks general manager John Hammond said. "We will continue to explore all options and opportunities with John and his representative as we move forward."

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Bubba Franks & Jason Michaels To Be Inducted in the Hall

On April 29 the University of Miami will induct it's 2010 Hall of Fame class.

Bubba Franks and Jim Cox (football); Jason Michaels and Alex Santos (baseball); Sid Schwartz (tennis); Jenny Keim Johansen (diving); and Ed Morris (basketball).

Click here to order Bubba Frank's proCane Rookie Card.

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Hurricanes likely to see only three go in NFL Draft, but wait 'til next year

CORAL GABLES — For the second year in a row, the University of Miami will be little more than a bystander in the NFL Draft.

Tight end Jimmy Graham, who played only one season for the Hurricanes, is the first UM player expected to be taken, but probably no earlier than the third round. The only other UM players likely to be drafted are offensive tackle Jason Fox and middle linebacker Darryl Sharpton.

Three draftees is hardly worth bragging about for a football program that has produced more draft choices (66) since 1999 than every college in the nation except for Ohio State (77) and Southern Cal (67).

But it's better than Miami's output last year when Spencer Adkins, a rarely-used linebacker who may gone undrafted if not for a spectacular performance at UM's Pro Day, was the lone Hurricane selected.

Thursday's first round will be particularly dull for UM fans. After setting an NFL record by producing a first-rounder in 14 consecutive drafts (1995-2008), the Hurricanes will not have a No. 1 pick for the second consecutive year unless something crazy happens. Since 1999, Miami has developed 27 first-round picks, with Ohio State being a distant second with 19.

This year could also mark the first time since 1980-81 that Miami has gone back-to-back drafts without a player chosen in the first two rounds.
But it's not all doom and gloom. The good news is that the Hurricanes' draft drought could be coming to an end soon, thanks to a roster loaded with talented juniors and seniors. Four UM players are ranked among the top 5 at their positions for next season by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.

That list includes senior Allen Bailey, who Kiper rates as the No. 1 defensive end in college football heading into the 2010 season. Also on the list are receiver Leonard Hankerson (No. 3), outside linebacker Colin McCarthy (No. 4) and Orlando Franklin, ranked as the No. 5 guard although he will play left offensive tackle for the Hurricanes next season.

"The next two or three years here, you're going to see a big change," UM coach Randy Shannon said of the team's talent.

Graham, the 6-foot-8, 260-pound red-head who played basketball at UM for four years before trying football, is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. Graham turned down what he said was a "six-figure contract" to play basketball in Europe so he could accept Shannon's invitation to play football, which he hadn't played since his freshman year in high school.

Graham caught 17 passes for 213 yards and was second on the team with 5 touchdown catches. His stock shot up at the NFL Combine in February after he ran 40 yards in 4.56 seconds, the second-fastest time among tight ends.

Despite questions about his experience and toughness as a blocker, Kiper has Graham going in the third round with the 92nd overall pick to the Cleveland Browns.

"It's not easy, but obviously you take a chance and roll the dice on a player maybe in the third round that has the athletic ability that he has," Kiper said. "Sure, he was a little bit unnatural catching this year. Sure he didn't look like a guy who could play in the NFL, but who would have expected that [after one year]?"

University of Miami potential draftees
TE Dedrick Epps (6-4, 253 pounds) 7th round or free agent — Nine months after ACL surgery, started 9 games for 'Canes.
OT Jason Fox (6-7, 314) 4-5th rounds — Stock has dipped for UM iron man because of knee surgery.
TE Jimmy Graham (6-8, 260) 3rd round — Athleticism overcomes questions regarding experience, toughness.
RB Javarris James (6-0, 215) 7th round or free agent — Fast start to career ruined by injuries.
LB Darryl Sharpton (6-0, 235) 5th or 6th round — Finished career with a bang, leading UM with 106 tackles.
CB Sam Shields (6-0, 190) 7th round or free agent — Spectacular Pro Day workout could get him drafted.

School — No. 1 picks, Total picks
Ohio State — 19 — 77
Southern Cal — 16 — 67
Miami — 27 — 66
Tennessee — 63 — 11
Georgia — 62 — 12
FSU — 60 — 13
Florida — 58 — 11

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Back with Shanahan, Portis is a believer

ASHBURN - The commitment is different, Clinton Portis claims. Maybe it's because he's pushing 30 years old, inching closer to the end of his career. Maybe it's because of the criticism leveled at him at the end of the season and into the offseason. Maybe it's because of the presence of two former Pro Bowl running backs.

Regardless, Portis says he's more committed.

He says it's because of coach Mike Shanahan.

"It's a difference when you say commitment and you want someone to buy into a system that you don't believe in," Portis said. "Having Coach Shanahan here, you believe in whatever he says. If he tells you, 'I think that we can jump off the room and land safe,' it's like, 'All right, [bleep] it; let's jump.' ... He'll approach you like a man and tell you what he wants from you and he'll get it done."

What he wants from Portis is different than what the Redskins back delivered in 2009, when he missed the last eight games with a concussion. That came after a 2008 season in which Portis rushed for 944 yards and was talked about as an MVP candidate at midseason but had just 543 yards the rest of the way.

Now his future is uncertain. He's playing for a coach who once traded him, albeit in a system that fit him well last time around; Portis rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of his two seasons with Shanahan in Denver.

"Clinton has worked very hard; he's done everything I've asked," Shanahan said.

Now, because of his age, injuries and the presence of two other backs in Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, it's fair to wonder where Portis' career is heading. Portis recently was cleared to practice, and Shanahan said he has missed only one offseason workout.

"I say keep wondering, man," said Portis, who turns 29 in September. "I'm at the point of being tired of proving myself. ... You get [written] off so quick, and people get tired of having a mainstay. I always put this organization on my back and gave it everything I had, and it's still like I'm an outcast. 'Get Portis out of here.' Like I'm the reason the Redskins weren't winning.

"I was the guy who gave everything he had to the organization and to feel like everyone wants you out? To not have [your] back? ... But for all the naysayers and haters, they finally opened my eyes. That's the motivation I needed just to feel like it's me against the world again."

Portis -- who is 876 yards shy of breaking John Riggins' all-time Redskins rushing record -- says he's fine with Johnson and Parker on the roster. Of course, there are no carries to divide in April. Still, for now teammates say they see a change.

"Clinton has been beaten up in the papers and taken a lot of [heat] from everybody," Redskins center Casey Rabach said. "From what I see he's back to the old Clinton. He's working his butt off. There's definitely a difference; he's here every day. I expect big things from him."

Click here to order Clinton Portis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Scheffler trade could impact market for Olsen

They are not the same player, but if the Bears have any plans to engineer a draft-day trade for tight end Greg Olsen, they'd better hope the market for Tony Scheffler doesn't impact anything they hope to do.

Scheffler was sent packing from the Denver Broncos to the Detroit Lions on Monday in a three-way trade that also involved the Philadelphia Eagles. The Broncos sent Scheffler and a seventh-round draft pick to the Lions and in return received a fifth-round draft pick from the Eagles.
That's not much for a productive tight end who was once a top target for quarterback Jay Cutler. Scheffler didn't seem to mesh with coach Josh McDaniels and was rumored to be on his way out the door. The Broncos did a much better job getting value for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and, well, Cutler than they did Scheffler.

Scheffler, who has been in the league one more year than Olsen, caught 31 passes for 416 yards and two touchdowns last season. His biggest year came in 2007 when he made 49 receptions for 549 yards and five touchdowns. In four seasons, he has 138 catches for 1,896 yards and 14 scores. He's averaged 13.7 yards per reception.

In three years with the Bears, Olsen has 153 receptions for 1,577 yards and 15 touchdowns. His biggest season came last year when he made 60 catches for 612 yards and eight scores.

The Bears have an abundance of tight ends on the roster with Olsen, Desmond Clark, Brandon Manumaleuna, Kellen Davis, Richard Angulo and Kevin Brock. There has been some speculation that the team would use Olsen in an effort to get a pick in the top half of the second round. Judging by the Scheffler trade, that could be difficult to pull off, even if a team valued Olsen considerably more.

The trade improves the Lions, who shed a linebacker in Ernie Sims that didn't fit their scheme. Scheffler will help out on offense with Brandon Pettigrew, a first-round pick last season, working his way back from a torn ACL.

Click here to order Greg Olsen's proCane Rookie Card.

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Jon Beason back on home turf to help high school football players

It was an opportunity Jon Beason never had. And one he's always wanted to provide.

On Sunday, the former Chaminade-Madonna and University of Miami standout finally got his chance.

Beason, a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, teamed up with XL212 to run a combine at Cypress Bay to help promote high school athletes and get them a jump start on recruiting.

"When I was a kid we didn't have these types of outlets, but this is what college and NFL coaches rely on when looking at kids," Beason said. "The best part about this combine is that it's for everybody. Even a kid who isn't a top-tier player can still be noticed and get a scholarship."

The combine was run by certified Nike SPARQ trainers and had athletes competing in drills such as the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, powerball toss and standing broad jump which are used at the NFL combine.

Official results, player bios and videos are packaged together by XL212 and sent to universities around the country, giving players a head-start in the recruiting process. Athletes paid $79 for preregistration and $99 for day-of registraion to participate.

When Beason recently approached his former coach with the idea, Mark Guandolo jumped at the opportunity.

"I'd do anything for Jon," the Cypress Bay coach said. "The great thing about the combine is it just gets the kids used to running these types of drills, putting themselves up against the clock and seeing how well they do."

Beason's super-agent Drew Rosenhaus was even in attendance, possibly on the lookout for potential clients?

"Nah, he's really just here to support me," Beason said. "But he's sharp. He's the kind of guy who would remember some of these kids' names years down the road."

The combine featured tons of underclassmen, including Cypress Bay sophomore Josh Witt (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), a former quarterback who Guandolo is converting into a linebacker.

"For a quarterback he was a very aggressive kid, he loved to hit guys," Guandolo said. "He's got all the intangibles for a linebacker though, as far as pass coverage, hitting ability, quickness and change of direction. He's a good athlete at quarterback, but he's a great athlete at linebacker."

Added Witt: "I was tired of being the one getting hit, I wanted to hit someone else for a change and I thought playing defense would be more fun."

Guandolo says that after spending the next two years learning the position, Witt will become an "upper-tier" outside linebacker.

Another promising prospect from Cypress Bay was junior cornerback Kendall Fullington (5-foot-11, 155 pounds), who's 4.42 time in the agility shuttle drill was the tops of the combine.

Fullington, who also had a strong showing in the powerball toss (30-feet, 9-inches) is currently being looked at by Vanderbilt and Rice.

Click here to order Jon Beason's proCane Rookie Card.

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Bucks working to extend John Salmons

Bucks writer Michael Hunt notes the team "quietly negotiating a contract extension to make John Salmons their shooting guard for the next two or three seasons."

Salmons' arrival propelled Milwaukee into the playoffs and he fits the system perfectly, especially on defense. His presence also complicates Michael Redd's role on the team next season.

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Yonder Alonso Heating Up

Double-A Carolina's Yonder Alonso went 3-for-4 and homered in a second straight game Sunday.

Alonso is hitting .270/.400/.514 while splitting time between first base and left field. He'll almost surely prove to be a liability in left, but maybe he'll adequate enough to find a home there if his bat justifies it. The Reds, though, do have plenty of more athletic outfield options on the way in Todd Frazier, Chris Heisey and Juan Francisco.

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First impression: Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill

Ryan Braun fancies himself a Renaissance man. A five-tool player in the business world, the Brewers slugger appears in numerous national TV spots, endorses his own baseball bat, and designs some of the fugliest T-shirts known to man. April 5 was opening day, both for the Brewers and for Braun’s latest business venture, Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill (102 N. Water Street). The A.V. Club paid a visit to the new restaurant to see if it has what it takes to be a hit (sorry!) in the Third Ward restaurant scene.

The space: Being that it's situated at the former site of Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant, it’s no wonder Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill managed to open with such a quick turnaround, just one month after plans to open were made official. The new establishment looks a lot like its predecessor, with semi-upscale decor, a Top 40 music soundtrack, and paper tablecloths. Aesthetically, the main draw here is the patio and the view of the condo-lined river it’s nestled by.

The service: Our faux-hawked server sat us at a table near the patio. Once seated, his table service was nothing less than attentive—almost annoyingly so. Over the course of the 30-minute lunch, he twice asked how we were enjoying our food, and we found our water glass refilled following each sip. Frankly, the constant attention got in the way of the meal itself, but hopefully that can be blamed on the young restaurant’s staff trying to keep busy despite a sparse lunch-hour turnout.

The A.V. Club’s food: The menu, like the decor, seems lifted from Fratellos. The waterfront grill offers up pricier fare such as steak, seafood, and pasta along with everyday options like burgers, sandwiches, personal pizzas and an assortment of salads. With most selections ranging from $7 to $15, we opted to see how Braun and company handled a Milwaukee mainstay and went for a reuben grill. The marble-rye-bread sandwich burst with flavorful corned beef, but the cheese and sauerkraut seemed a bit lacking by comparison. We paired the reuben with a side of garlic and parmesan fries, which just seemed like normal fries. At $9.80 for the meal, the portioning left something to be desired, but the taste and quality held pat.

The verdict: Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it does manage to provide a sleek-yet-affable dining experience to a wide spectrum of diners. Still, we’d advise Braun to keep his day job.

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Burrell's big day powers Rays to victory

BOSTON - The night began in the cold rain at 7:13 p.m. and ended 19 minutes past midnight. In that span the Rays managed to finish one game with a victory and start and finish another with another win.

"It was worth sticking around for," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Their 3-1, 12-inning win against the Red Sox in the suspended game that resumed before Saturday's scheduled game and their 6-5 victory in the scheduled game that ended early Sunday morning increased the Rays record to 5-0 halfway through this 10-game road trip and moved them into a tie for first place with the Yankees.

"We got to keep this thing riding," pitchers James Shields said. "I know the last couple of years our road record has not been too good, so to be able to go 5-0 right out the gate is huge for us."

Shields earned his first ever Fenway Park victory after working 6 2/3 innings and throwing a career-high 121 pitches in the nightcap.
"It feels pretty good," Shields said. "We've been playing really well on the road, so it's nice to get off a 5-0 start on the road, that's good for our confidence."

The Rays really needed a long outing from Shields with the bullpen gassed from the 12-inning affair. Grant Balfour, who pitched two innings before the rain halted Friday's game, and Lance Cormier, who pitched three innings and got the win in the suspended game were unavailable, and Shields delivered.

He allowed nine hits and four runs, but never gave up the 4-0 lead the offense built in the first inning. Neither did Andy Sonnanstine, who replaced Shields and gave up a two-run homer to Kevin Youkilis, nor Randy Choate, Dan Wheeler and Rafael Soriano, who closed out both victories.

"These guys are young and I tell them keep the lead, keep the lead," Maddon said. "And if you hold the lead, you're going to win games."
The Rays won the first game, thanks to some solid pitching by Cormier and some nifty defense by Carlos Peña, Dioner Navarro and Evan Longoria, who each combined to stop a bases-loaded, no-out threat in the bottom of the 11th.

After two singles and an error by Longoria loaded the bases, Maddon brought right fielder Ben Zobrist in as a fifth infielder. Cormier got David Ortiz to ground to Peña, who forced J.D. Drew at the plate, but not after Navarro fielded a one-hop throw and held on to the ball despite a collision with Drew. Cormier then got Adrian Beltre to bounce to Longoria, who stepped on third and threw over to Peña to complete the double play.

"(Cormier) putting the ball on the ground twice was what got us out of that jam," Maddon said.

Said Cormier, "Once (Longoria) made the error, it was like, 'All right, bases-loaded, not a fun situation to be in. It's raining. It's freezing. Let's make the best off it,' and that's what I tried doing. Once that next play happened I felt good about it. I was like I'm going to get another ground ball."

Pat Burrell then gave the Rays a 3-1 lead with a two-out, two-run homer over the Green Monster – his first home run and first RBIs of the season.

"To touch one off like that under these circumstances has got to help his confidence I would have to believe," Maddon said.
Maybe so.

Burrell helped stake Shields to that 4-0, first-inning lead in the second game with a two-out, three-run double.

"I figured at some point I'd be able to drive in a run," Burrell said. "I have been really trying to get back to the basic things I've done in the past, and I've seen some results here and there. I'm supposed to be a run producer, so it's nice to get out there and get the opportunity and take advantage."

An RBI double by John Jaso in the sixth inning and a home run off the light tower in left field by Longoria in the seventh gave the Rays a 6-1 lead.

But the Red Sox clawed back with four in the seventh on a pair of two-run homers, the first by Dustin Pedroia and the second by Youkilis.

But the Rays bullpen held again.

Soriano informed Maddon he would be able to pitch again after playing catch with bullpen coach Bobby Ramos before the eighth inning. That allowed Maddon to use Wheeler in the eighth.

Soriano came on in the ninth the face Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Youkilis and, for the first time all season, retired the side in order for this fourth save of the season.

"It's certainly tough to come in twice in one day with a two- and a one-run lead and be successful, let alone against a team like this coming through the middle of the order," Burrell said. "So you have to give him a lot of credit for, one, being available and, two, going out and getting three outs."

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Portis back on the field for minicamp

ASHBURN — They claim to be satisfied with who’s not in camp, even Albert Haynesworth. That’s debatable. But there’s no doubt they had to be happy with this: Clinton Portis participated.

That might not have been a surprise to them, but there had been mixed reports about his availability throughout the offseason. There isn’t now. After missing the final eight games with a concussion last season, Portis is able to practice, Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said.

Of course, they don’t have to worry about playing a real game for five months. But Portis’s ability to practice enables the Redskins, and the running back, to proceed without worry for the rest of the offseason.

Ironically, Allen spoke to a group of 170 area high school football coaches at Redskins Park Saturday morning as part of forum on concussion awareness and education.

“You have to be patient with a head injury,” Allen said. “That’s one of the common sense lessons you will learn is patience.”

Shanahan said he was impressed by several players during the three days of voluntary practice - though he wouldn't divulge who had caught his eye - and also acknowledged that a turnaround shouldn't be expected during the offseason, or a three-day minicamp.

Asked about running back Clinton Portis, Shanahan praised the veteran for his work over the offseason and this weekend and later touched on whether the Redskins would employ a running-back-by-committee system with the addition of veterans Larry Johnson and Willie Parker.

"I think the end result is you want a productive running game," he said. "The experiences I've had through the past is we've done it different ways. We've had a 2,000-yard back, we've had a 1,750-yard back, we've had a 1,500-yard back and we've had a 2,500-yard back with three guys doing it. So [it's] who gets it done, it really doesn't matter if you're doing three guys, one guy or two guys, you want to be productive in the running game, that's the bottom line. It's just not yards; it's yards per attempt."

Click here to order Clinton Portis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Bibla Drafted By Omaha

Less than 24 hours after he was announced as the first head coach in the history of the Omaha franchise of the United Football League, Jeff Jagodzinski selected 20 players who will compete for a place on the team’s roster for the 2010 season.

The league’s first expansion draft allowed the Omaha head coach to select 20 players who impressed for the California Redwoods, Florida Tuskers, Las Vegas Locos and New York Sentinels during the 2009 UFL Premiere Season.  An initial roster of 70 players will attend training camp before being trimmed to 52 for the regular season.

Martin Bibla Led the offensive line for the UFL's Las Vegas Locos in 2009. Bibla spent three years with the Atlanta Falcons before he earned All-Arena team honors with the Philadelphia Soul in 2008.

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Redskins to move Sean Taylor's locker to public area at FedEx Field

The Washington Redskins plan to share the tangible memories of slain S Sean Taylor with their fans.

The club revealed Friday that it would transfer Taylor's locker, which still has his uniform and possessions sealed behind Plexiglas, from Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va., to FedEx Field in Landover, Md. It will be displayed in public view at the stadium.

Taylor suffered a fatal gunshot after confronting robbers at his Miami-area home in November 2007.

GM Bruce Allen said the Redskins sought to include the fans in keeping Taylor's memory alive and that the club was "happy to be able to share this with them."

The 6-3, 220-pound Taylor, the fifth pick of the 2004 draft out of Miami (Fla.), was a two-time Pro Bowler whom many predicted would become one of the elite safeties the NFL had ever seen. -- Nate Davis

Click here to order Sean Taylor's proCane Rookie Card.

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Frustrated over contract situation, McIntosh to skip minicamp

Linebacker Rocky McIntosh, who has expressed frustration about his contract situation, said Friday he will not attend this weekend's voluntary minicamp and intimated that the Redskins might trade him soon.

Contacted by phone at home Friday morning while the Redskins' first practice under Coach Mike Shanahan was underway at Redskins Park, McIntosh said he was not upset with the coaching staff, adding, "but I've got to do what I've got to do."

"I'm just chillin'. I respect their decision and I'm not upset at the coaches or anybody. There's nothing I can do about that now. Whatever happens, happens."

Asked whether he has requested a trade, McIntosh paused and chuckled for a few seconds before responding. "Ah, that's between me and them," he said. "I'm going to keep that private. You can probably answer that better than I can. Let's just say I hope the situation will be resolved soon."

McIntosh is one of many restricted free agents who would have been unrestricted in a "normal" year. But under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement for the uncapped 2010 season, McIntosh, cornerback Carlos Rogers and quarterback Jason Campbell, among others, remained under the Redskins' control as long as the team made qualifying tender offers to retain right of first refusal. (Rogers reported for the start of minicamp. Campbell is out of town.)

The Redskins on March 3 offered McIntosh a second-round tender, meaning they would receive a second-round pick as draft compensation for McIntosh if he signed with another team until Thursday's deadline. First, however, McIntosh had to sign the one-year, $1.759 million contract that would only become guaranteed if McIntosh suffered a season-ending injury during the offseason or if he were on the 53-man roster for the season opener. He has not signed the contract.

After having the best season of his career in 2009, McIntosh believes he deserves a multiyear deal. McIntosh was credited with a career-high 94 total tackles, which ranked second on the team only behind middle linebacker London Fletcher. He also had a personal-best 64 unassisted tackles and finished second on the team with two interceptions. McIntosh was considered the Redskins' best linebacker in coverage.

"I worked hard and I did everything I was supposed to do," McIntosh said. "No one can say I didn't do my job. They can't say that about me."
In the final year of his rookie contract last season, McIntosh had a base salary of $535,000. He also received a $100,000 workout bonus. In 2008, the former University of Miami standout had a $445,000 base salary and received workout and roster bonuses totaling $620,000.

"I just want what's fair," McIntosh said. "I'm definitely not at the end of my career. I would love to stay here. And I would love to be in camp right now, but they've got to take care of the other part of it and get me in. I'm just trying to do what's fair."

Despite skipping the first of Washington's three minicamps, McIntosh, if he remains with the team, would not be far behind his teammates in learning defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme, he said.

"The system is not that complicated," McIntosh said. "It's not that hard. It's just a different variation of what we did when we blitzed a lot [under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2004-07]. It's kind of an under front. But it's pretty simple."

If things can be worked out with the Redskins, McIntosh would be pleased, he said. But he would be fine if he had to go elsewhere to get what he believes he deserves based on his performance and dedication to the Redskins these past four seasons.

When asked about the possibility of receiving an extension offer from the Redskins, McIntosh chuckled again. "I don't know about that," he said. "But I think we're close to finding a resolution."

Click here to order Rocky McIntosh's proCane Rookie Card.

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Calais Campbell Aiming For Double-Digit Sacks

It hasn't taken long for Calais Campbell to acknowledge the hard realities of life in the NFL, where star players come and go with increasing regularity.

Entering his third season with the Cardinals after exceeding expectations in 2009 as the replacement at right end for free-agent departee Antonio Smith, Campbell has wasted no time coming to grips with the loss of key defenders Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle, who signed with the Dolphins and Giants, respectively, on the first full day of this year's free-agent period.

"Players are always out to make a lot of money, Every year key people are going to other teams. It's kind of become expected," Campbell told PFW during a break in his participation in the Cardinals' offseason workout program.

"I'm happy for Karlos and Antrel. They were great players who contributed a lot to our team. But we've brought in some really good players like Joey Porter. He is a huge pickup."

As important as anything in the Cardinals' offseason workout program is the bonding experience it provides, especially with new additions to the team.

Campbell has really enjoyed bonding with Porter, a four-time Pro Bowler who is expected to provide a big boost both on and off the field.

"He's going to help us tremendously," Campbell said of Porter, who didn't send the best early signal when he was arrested on a number of counts in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., just eight days after signing with the Cardinals (the charges were later dropped). "He's the kind of guy you want in the locker room. He's very funny. And he's sure going to make my job easier with the way he can rush the passer."

Campbell did his job quite well in his first full year as a starter, tying linemate Darnell Dockett for the team lead with seven sacks. But he won't be totally happy until he's racking up double-digit sacks on a yearly basis.

"That's my goal," he said. "I have the potential to be a double-digit pass rusher and one of the best in the league every year."

Campbell played with a special cast to protect a fractured left thumb late in the '09 season and in the playoffs.

"It's about 85 percent healed," Campbell said of the thumb. "But I'm not limited at all and can do everything in the weight room."

Click here to order Calais Campbell's proCane Rookie Card.

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Bills Shopping Roscoe Parrish

According to John Clayton of Buffalo is looking to deal wideout Roscoe Parrish. So far the asking price is not known.

I’d hate to see Parrish leave Buffalo, but he’s done little in the way of adding any depth to the passing game and Buffalo may believe they are over paying for a punt returner. Parrish is due to earn base salaries of $1 million in 2009, $1.025 million in 2010, and $1.025 million in 2011.

Josh Reed finally emerged as a reliable slot receiver in 2008 and will more than likely be the number three man behind Terrel Owens and Lee Evans. The Bills also like what they see in second year wideouts James Hardy (6′5&rdquoWinking and Steve Johnson (6′2&rdquoWinking who add size to the receiving core.

Parrish also has more fumbles (seven) than receiving touchdowns (five) in four seasons with Buffalo.

Click here to order Roscoe Parrish's proCane Rookie Card.

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What happens if McIntosh doesn't sign tender?

Let's look at what could happen if Carlos Rogers and Rocky McIntosh decline to sign any time soon.

Again, as restricted free agents who received one-year contract tenders, Rogers and McIntosh cannot become unrestricted unless the Redskins withdraw their tender offers. Barring unforeseen developments, I don't see the team withdrawing the offers.

Today is the last restricted free agents can sign offer sheets with other teams, but it's not the last day restricted free agents can sign their tenders. It's not even close to the deadline.

There is a deadline, however, if Rogers and McItosh want to play this season -- and be paid.

Rogers and McIntosh must sign by the 10th week of season (the official season that began with the first day of free agency, not the playing season) or they can't play during the 2010 season. Also, if they haven't signed by June 15, they risk having their tender amounts lowered to 110 percent over their salaries from the 2009 seasons.

As we previously reported, Rogers and McIntosh are among many players who have been denied unrestricted free agency because of the uncapped season. And they've expressed displeasure with the Redskins for declining to offer them multiyear extensions or simply releasing them to potentially better situations for themselves.

There has been little movement in the deep restricted free-agent market because teams have been extremely reluctant to part with draft picks. But there also are other factors that might have contributed to teams being reluctant to pursue Rogers and McIntosh and also offer them the long-term contracts they seem to believe they deserve.

McIntosh, who is coming off a strong season, has had knee issues since his days at the University of Miami.

To be sure, Rogers and McIntosh are talented, and they could continue to be major contributors to the Redskins under Coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who will continue to install the team's new 3-4 defense during the first voluntary three-day minicamp that begins Friday at Redskins Park. Will Rogers and McIntosh sign their tenders? Will they participate in the minicamp?

I understand why Rogers and McIntosh are upset, but the Redskins are only using the tools available to them under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Rogers and McIntosh can become unrestricted free agents after the season, so they could help themselves down the road by getting with Shanahan's program, including attending the minicamp, and doing everything they can to prepare in an attempt to have productive seasons before going into the unrestricted market. Perhaps that's what they need to focus on right now.

Click here to order Rocky McIntosh's proCane Rookie Card.

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Jason Fox: ‘I don’t know when I’ll get drafted’

The last time we saw Jason Fox, he was on the ground at Greentree Practice Field clutching the back of his left leg at UM’s Pro Day.

Fox pulled his hamstring while running a 40-yard sprint in front of NFL scouts and was unable to continue. It was the latest epsiode of misfortune to strike the 6-foot-7, 314-pound offensive tackle from Fort Worth, resulting in his draft stock taking a hit.

After starting 47 games for the Hurricanes – third most in school history – Fox’s career ended in November after he decided to have surgery to repair knee damage that had made it excruciatingly difficult to play. Fox missed the regular-season finale against South Florida and the Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin and was unable to compete in the college all-star games.

Because he was still rehabbing the knee in late-February, Fox was unable to do most of the drills at the NFL Combine. Pro Day was supposed to be crucial for Fox, but it ended prematurely. He ran 40 yards in 5.45 seconds on his first try and went down with the hamstring midway through his second attempt.

“Honestly, I’ve heard good things and I’ve heard bad things,” Fox said from Indianapolis last weekend where his knee was being re-examined by NFL medical staff. “I’m hoping for the best. I was hearing second to third round in January and then with the process of skipping the bowl game, skipping the Senior Bowl and not participating in the combine drills and then pulling a hamstring in the 40, those are things that don’t help your draft status.

“I’m hearing mid-to-late rounds. Hopefully, [somebody] will take a chance on me. I think I have all the potential in the world and the makings of a first-round pick. Just with everything that’s happened, I don’t know when I’ll get picked.”

Fox may have maintained his draft value if he had chosen to shut himself down earlier. He started each of the 11 games he played in 2009 before he was advised by Dr. John Uribe, UM’s former team physician, to have surgery.

Despite being named an All-ACC first-team selection, Fox said he was never at his best last season.

“I was in a lot of pain, but it’s not in me to give in and not play and put myself before the team,” Fox said. “Maybe, that’s going to end up hurting me because I don’t think I played as well as I potentially could have. But you know what, when it’s said and done, I don’t have any regrets. I just wanted to go out there and help the team and that’s how I thought of it.”

Fox said he’s resumed running since pulling his hamstring on March 26. The injury, Fox said, wasn’t a matter of trying to come back too soon from his knee surgery.

“It was just one of those things that happens,” Fox said. “I had been running for several weeks up till Pro Day. The knee felt good. I never had a hamstring [problem] ever. It was just…a funny thing, I guess you could say. It’s just another thing that I’m going to have to overcome.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said last week that Fox would likely be a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Fox continues working on elevating his draft value. The medical exams in Indianapolis showed that his knee “was good and I’ve improved a lot” since it was first examined at the NFL Combine in late February.

Fox will visit the Detroit Lions this week and has already met with the Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys. He’ll eventually return to his parents’ house in Texas and watch the draft with his family. That will be the end of a tough few months.

“I don’t want to say it hasn’t been stressful,” Fox said. “At times, it has been. But I just tell myself that I’m blessed to have this opportunity. I’m getting a shot to play in the National Football League. At the end of the day, that’s all I can really ask for. I’m going to have to compete once I get there anyway so wherever I get taken, it’s a blessing and I’ll go from there. “

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Texans Rashad Butler Signs RFA Tenders

Houston Texans restricted free agent offensive linemen Chris White and Rashad Butler have signed their one-year tenders.

Butler was a third-round pick (89th overall) out of the University of Miami by the Carolina Panthers in 2006, who the Texans claimed on waivers at the start of the 2007 season. Butler has appeared in 24 games over the last three seasons, including all 16 in 2009, as a back-up at tackle and guard.

The Texans tendered Butler at the "Original Round" level, which carries a $1.176 million dollar base salary.

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Kenny Phillips likely to return for training camp

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants coaches and medical staff have told safety Kenny Phillips that a return to action in training camp is a realistic goal.

Getting his starting job back may be more problematic.

Not only does Phillips' surgically repaired left knee have to respond over the next few months, but he'll also face competition for his job.
The Giants didn't sign Deon Grant in the offseason for show. The 10-year veteran, who was cut by the Seattle Seahawks in a cost-saving move, is a durable cover safety who can step right in if Phillips' microfracture surgery keeps him out.

"Training camp is a goal of mine," Phillips said Thursday at the Giants' offseason conditioning program. "I feel like I should be able to go by then. If not, just keep working until I get there."

Phillips had an outstanding training camp a year ago, but the third-year pro was sidelined after two games with an arthritic condition that required surgery.

Phillips has not been able to cut and perform the stop-and-go action that his position requires. And he has no timetable as of now.

"I'm not sure yet," Phillips said. "I've been here walking around, but it'll feel really good to get out there and run again.

Phillips said he feels fine. He felt that way a month after his surgery.

"Never had no pain," he said. "During the season I had no pain and didn't feel like I'd lost anything. I was just ready."

In Grant, the Giants have a ball hawk who hasn't missed a game since his rookie year with Carolina in 2001. That's 144 starts, the NFL's fifth-longest active starting streak.

The way things stand now, if Phillips comes back in time for the Sept. 12 opener, that streak would be jeopardized.

Grant isn't worried.

"You know what? I don't even know what the numbers are," Grant said. "I don't even know about it unless somebody says something. My mentality is to go out there and play ball. I've never been the type to sit on the sideline, so I just go out and play ball. Any nagging injuries, I make sure to treat it during the week and be out there on Sunday."

Injuries devastated the safety spot in 2009, forcing the Giants to use a run-oriented safety such as C.C. Brown in pass situations, and transplanting cornerback Aaron Ross there for four games and a start.

The thought of a healthy Phillips playing next to a healthy Antrel Rolle, backed up by a seemingly indestructible Grant, would seem like an ideal situation.

But Grant sees himself as a starter, if not during his one-year, $855,000 deal here, then somewhere else after next season.

"Definitely. If I'm healthy and Kenny isn't healthy, I still look at myself as a starter," Grant said. "Even if he's healthy, after this year, I still feel I'll be a starter somewhere. I didn't lose my spot because of my ability to play. My stats speak for themselves as far as being consistent. So I look at myself as a starter."

The coaches have told Grant that he'll see plenty of field time.

New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to use three safeties simultaneously in his modified Tampa-2 system. At worst, the man with 26 career interceptions, three last year, would help fellow free agent pickup Rolle cover the deep middle while Phillips, a guided missile when healthy, would walk up as a hybrid linebacker in run support.

"That's what coach was saying," Grant said. "That's one of the reasons I came. He said with his defense, he always wanted to play with three safeties. So there's no reason I can't be out there."

And Phillips saw little reason he shouldn't be ready to resume his starting duties, either. First, he has to get his knee ready.

Click here to order Kenny Phillips' proCane Rookie Card.

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Damione Lewis Relishes Opportunity to Play With Vince Wilfork

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Vince Wilfork decided to play for the University of Miami due to the Hurricanes' winning tradition and their ability to produce NFL-ready defensive linemen. So, he naturally couldn't contain his excitement when the Patriots recently reached an agreement with defensive lineman Damione Lewis, who was an outgoing senior before Wilfork got to campus in Coral Gables.

Wilfork's feeling was actually somewhat reciprocated, both in the past and present. As soon as Lewis laid eyes on Wilfork in 2001, the elder statesman wished he had an extra year of eligibility.

"Vince is an animal, has always been," said Lewis, who was the 12th overall pick in the 2001 draft. "I remember when [Wilfork] first got there in December [2000], we were actually getting ready to play Florida [in the Sugar Bowl], and I was just sitting back watching and was like, 'Golly, I wish I had another year to play with this kid.'"

Lewis (whose first name is pronounced like "DAY-mee-in") will have a versatile role in New England and should be able to play each position along the defensive line, and his signing helped the Patriots address a need for depth in the offseason. He is obviously excited to help out, but he is just as intrigued about the possibility to finally suit up on the same team as a guy he has always rooted for.

"We had [Wilfork] and Jerome McDougle, and those guys are humming off the ball, had a lot of energy and a lot of passion for the game," Lewis said. "It was like, 'Wow. These guys right here, this D-line would be unbelievable.' We went in and actually watched them play against Nebraska in the national championship [in January 2002], and watched them go out there and crush those guys. It was sweet, man, but you know, Vince has been a good player for a long time. He's always been a good player. Even in high school, I heard about him and tried to follow him as much as I could with the sports news down there in Miami, because I love high school football as well."

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Sam Shields’ focus back on football

CORAL GABLES _ At first, former UM cornerback Sam Shields thought he was headed for yet another setback.

Last month he was arrested for marijuana possession in Sarasota, his hometown. It happened at the worst possible time because Shields was preparing for a potential shot at the NFL. A character flaw could knock him from being a possible late-round pick to the free-agent ranks.
“I was a little worried, all the way up to the court date,” Shields said. “My hands were sweating, but everything came out great.”

The charges were recently dropped, and cleared from his record. It’s allowed Shields to once again focus on the task at hand, and that’s continuing to impress NFL scouts. He did just that last month at UM’s Pro Timing Day, according the’s Gil Brandt. He said Shields had an “incredible workout,” and worked his way into draft consideration. 

According to Brandt, Shields ran the 40 in 4.30 and 4.33, had a 39-inch vertical jump, an 11-1 broad jump, a 4.19 short shuttle, a 6.79 three-cone drill and did 15 bench press reps.

Surprisingly, Shields said the legal issues somewhat helped him focus during that week. He refused to speak with reporters afterward, knowing most of the questions would have been about his arrest.

“As far as what happened, that helped me because one of my biggest things was just being focused,” Shields said. “I was focused on what I was supposed to and not on other things.”

Shields said teams have shown interest in him playing cornerback, but most are likely to use him on special teams.

“I haven’t been asking teams (where they’ll draft him),” Shields said. “I know they would tell me if I asked, but I don’t even worry about it. When you worry about it, that’s when bad things start to happen.”

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Michael Irvin close to a deal with WQAM

WQAM 560 is moving Sid Rosenberg to mid-to-late afternoons and is close to a deal that will give former University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin an early afternoon show on the station.

Beginning Monday, Rosenberg will move to the 3 to 7 p.m. slot previously held by Jim Mandich, who left his 4 to 7 p.m. slot.

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Andre Johnson Not Worried About His Contract

Andre Johnson has four years left on the six-year, $60-million extension, including $15 million guaranteed, he signed in 2007.

Last week, Johnson took notice of the contract receiver Brandon Marshall got from Miami — four-years, $47.5 million, including $24.5 million guaranteed.

Marshall's contract was negotiated by Houston agent Kennard McGuire, who's been on a roll that began with New England's Vince Wilfork (five years, $40 million, $25 million guaranteed) and Green Bay's Ryan Pickett (four years, $28 million, $14 million guaranteed).

“Since Brandon signed that big contract, I've been getting a lot of text messages and phone calls,” Johnson said. “Everybody's like, ‘Hey, what are you going to do?'

“I can't worry about that. All I can do is to talk to people (general manager Rick Smith) upstairs. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn't, it doesn't. Anything's possible, though.

“I think it depends on the way you go about it. A lot of guys say harsh things in the media, and sometimes that takes them out of position. I think if you go about it in a respectable way, it can be done. It's important to me. It's not something out of the norm. It's just part of the business.”

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Kosar's car in bankruptcy sale

Bernie Kosar, one of the good guys, is having his car sold at a public auction Sunday as part of his bankruptcy filing. Kosar's 2007 Chevy Tahoe wil lbe sold at the West Palm Beach-based Audtion America Inc., according to a filing by Boca Raton Bankruptcy trustee Robert Furr. Internet bidding is available at

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Sinorice Moss signs his restricted free agent tender

When 99 percent of NFL restricted free agents sign their tenders, it's about as newsworthy and vital to their chances of making the final roster as a prepractice leg stretch in training camp. So I usually tack them on to the bottom of entries.

But I didn't have a recent entry to plug this one into, so congrats to Sinorice Moss for being the first Giant to secure a headline here for signing his tender, according to The Giants' fifth-year receiver wasn't going anywhere and had until Thursday to sign the contract that will pay him $1.176 million this season -- only if he makes the final roster.

Defensive tackle Barry Cofield, linebacker Gerris Wilkinson and wide receivers Domenik Hixon and Derek Hagan will all sign their tenders soon. And if they do it soon enough, I'll gladly add them to the bottom of this entry.

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Jimmy Graham powers forward with gamble

The little church in Goldsboro, N.C., is where believers gather, and it is where Jimmy Graham found people who believed in him.

The couple of miles between Graham’s home and the Abundant Life Church seemed like a short walk for the then-high school freshman to get a free hot meal. But there was more than food waiting for Graham, now a University of Miami tight end.

A teenager basically raising himself, Graham gained a foundation through his weekly visits to the church. He discovered fellowship, a pastor who would become his high school basketball coach, a guardian who gave him stability in an unstable life, and a congregation joyful with encouragement.

“It was like everybody there believed in me,’’ Graham said. “My whole life, I always felt different and out of place, and I finally felt like people cared about me and people wanted me to succeed.

“They told me I was too smart and too talented. It was like that entire church believed in me. They used to tell me every day, ‘You’re going to do great things in this community and in this world,’ and that support meant everything.’’

After that year, Graham gravitated toward people who believed in him. From a college basketball coach in Miami to a college football coach who persuaded him to give football one more chance in lieu of a six-figure contract, Graham is living on a foundation of support. On Thursday, Graham will see whether a team believes enough to draft a tight end with power forward moves into the NFL after only one year of college football.

The leap of faith is something Graham has learned to accept throughout his life. He grew up in a small town in North Carolina under the most troubling of circumstances. Graham’s mother exhibited erratic behavior that often meant Graham was on his own. His older sister was placed in a group home until she was 18. Graham also ended up in a group home for a short while.

When he returned home, Graham took care of himself. When he wanted to play football in middle school, he ran 5 miles to practice and walked home. It wasn’t until a coach saw him making the hike that he began to get rides to and from practice.

When Graham entered his freshman year of high school, he struggled to focus in class. He played basketball and football. And in the evenings, he would walk to the church near his home for the free meals for teens. The more he went, the more he became involved.

Guardian at his gate
Carlos Peralta was a pastor at the church and a private school basketball coach. In Peralta’s first interactions with Graham, he said it was like a neon sign hovered above his head asking for help.

“We were just trying to help him,’’ Peralta said. “He was abandoned and a very angry young man, as you can imagine.’’

Becky Vinson, a member of the church, addressed Graham’s need. At about 30 years old and raising a young child of her own, Vinson volunteered to become Graham’s legal guardian before his sophomore year of high school. She was a Gulf War veteran and a nursing student.

Graham’s mother signed the paperwork, and he moved into Vinson’s trailer, where she supported him and her daughter on about $3,000 and student loans.

They didn’t have much because Vinson was getting by on an unpaid nursing internship. For entertainment, the trio focused on doing things that were free, she said, such as playing ping-pong at the church and playing tennis at the local park.

They didn’t have heat for two years and had to be creative to stay warm.

“I remember we used to all sit in the living room wearing everything we could find, long sleeves, and a jacket,’’ Graham said. “I slept in shoes and pants and we would turn on the oven and sleep in the kitchen.’’

Yet even with the financial struggles, Vinson provided support that made him feel like he was living a life of riches.

“Financially, it wasn’t great, but as far as the support, it was at a maximum,’’ Graham said. “I always tell people money isn’t everything; when you’re surrounded by people who love you for who you are, that makes up for it.’’

“As crazy as it sounds, at the time, it was the right thing to do,’’ Vinson said. “In my mind, I didn’t understand how someone couldn’t help a kid.’’

Graham transferred to Charis Prep his sophomore year and turned his focus to basketball because the school did not have a football team. Peralta was his coach at the start-up school. In Graham’s early days, he possessed a shot that Peralta joked was nothing but ugly.

“His heels would come together, he would lean pronouncedly to the left, and after his shot, his arms would cross over his head,’’ Peralta said. “It was the ugliest thing in the world.’’

That shot would change, as did his skill. College coaches began to take notice. Tim Fuller, who was coaching at nearby Elon University, eagerly recruited Graham. But when Frank Haith was hired to coach at Miami, he hired Fuller to join the program. Fuller passed along the details about Graham to Haith and a scholarship offer eventually made its way to Graham.

In four years of playing basketball at Miami, Graham recorded 104 blocked shots, ranking him eighth in the program’s history. Teams from overseas were interested in bringing Graham on board, while NBA teams wanted him to stick around for tryouts. All the while, Graham had an itch to play football.

Draft intrigue
After a couple of conversations with Miami football coach Randy Shannon, Graham was presented with a one-year scholarship for the 2009 season.

“A lot of people told me to stick with the money,’’ Graham said. “I’m a kid from a trailer, so whenever there is money thrown at you, that’s not something people turn down a lot. To turn down six figures, I didn’t want to do something I was just good at. I wanted to follow my dream.’’

In his only season with the Hurricanes football team, Graham caught 17 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games. His frame of 6 feet 6 inches, 260 pounds attracted NFL teams. Graham was invited to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. He worked out with former Miami and NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar and reached out to former Hurricane tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey for tips.

If an NFL team had a question about his commitment, Graham was ready with an answer.

“I think when they look back and see that I turned down all of my pro basketball tryouts, and I turned down all my overseas money, they see I am sold out for football,’’ he said. “I turned down a lot to come back to college and play this game. That proves in itself how much I love this game.’’

If a team is curious about Graham’s potential, it is likely to be in the middle rounds, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.

“It’s not easy, but obviously you take a chance and roll the dice on a player maybe in the third round that has the athletic ability that he has,’’ Kiper said. “Sure he was a little bit unnatural catching this year. Sure he didn’t look like a guy who could play in the NFL, but who would have expected that [after one year]?’’

When teams have asked Graham about his football toughness, he just recites stories from his life. About three years ago, Graham said his mother called to apologize for how she treated him. He didn’t want to give her name for this story, but he said he believes emotionally she is in a better place.

“I forgave her for a lot of things she did to me as a kid,’’ Graham said. “It’s certainly not stuff you forget.

“She’s a different person now. She’s grown up a lot. At the time, she wasn’t ready to be a mother. I can’t fault her for that.’’

Now, all Graham is looking for is one more person to believe in him.

“I’m a kid that just works hard, and if a team’s willing to take a chance on me, I’m not going to let them down,’’ Graham said. “I have high expectations of myself.’’

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Jarrett Payton Urges Fans To Vote For Father In NFL Draft Poll

HOFFMAN ESTATES - Chicago Slaughter Running Back Jarrett Payton is encouraging Chicago fans to vote for his dad, 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl Great Walter Payton, for the NFL's list of 75 Most Valuable Draft Picks of all time. Payton is widely viewed the greatest Chicago Bears player of all time and one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL. "Sweetness" has always been revered by sports fans for the way he played the game and carried himself on and off the field. In celebration of the 75th NFL Draft, football enthusiasts have an opportunity to help decide the greatest draft choices of all time. Fans can vote by visiting the NFL.Com Draft MVP website; voting runs through April 18th.

According to the information posted on the website, editors narrowed down the first 74 drafts to a list of the top 320 players, consisting of 10 players from each team. Fans begin the process of determining the Most Valuable Draft Pick by choosing between pairs of players randomly generated from the list of 320 greats (example -Walter Payton Vs. Jackie Smith). After selecting winners of 30 random matchups, fans begin to build their own Top 10 list and may continue to vote in order to make changes to their personal list as well as the All-Time Top 10 announced at the Draft. Players are listed by the team that drafted them. The top 10 greatest draft picks will be revealed during the 2010 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday, April 22 at 7:30 PM ET. The 10 Most Valuable Draft Picks will be announced during Round 1; the order of the Top 10 will be revealed following the conclusion of the Second Round of the Draft on Friday night.

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Roger Craig urges Frank Gore to share workload

Roger Craig, who made the playoffs in all eight of his seasons with the 49ers, has some advice for Frank Gore, who has yet to taste the postseason:

It’s OK to share the load.

With the NFL draft looming next week, Craig embraces the idea of the 49ers moving to a multi-running back approach. He noted the wave of successful backfield committees around the NFL, including the three-headed approach the New York Giants used to win Super Bowl XLII
Gore has been reluctant to share carries, arguing that the more he runs the better he gets.

For a counterargument, Craig pointed to his three Super Bowl rings.

“I think (Gore) needs to take a step back and realize it’s about the team,’’ Craig said. “I could have run for 1,000 yards a lot of years, but we were not going to win that way.  There’s no point in running for 1,000 yards if you’re not going to be in the playoffs.

“You do what it takes to win. There were times when the most important thing I could do was selling a play-action fake so that Jerry Rice or John Taylor could get open and make a catch.”

If the 49ers agree with the idea of a backfield committee, they’re not tipping their hand. Director of Player Personnel Trent Baalke, who will call the draft-day shots in replace of departed general manager Scot McCloughan, offered no hints during a half-hour session with reporters Thursday.

But during a previous session last month, Baalke pointed to the Dallas Cowboys’ successful trio of Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice. “They all different sets of skills but they’re all high-level guys and it’s very difficult to defense,’’ Baalke said. “I think the more you have complementary styles, the harder it is (for a defense) to prepare.”

Some mock drafts have the 49ers taking Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, a small, speedy back with return-game ability, with one of their two first-round picks.

Gore, a hard-pounding downhill runner, has four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, a franchise record. As he often says, he’s not aiming for individual accomplishments. Gore’s argument is that he wants the ball because the offense tends to operate best when he’s in the flow of the game.

The 49ers are 11-4 in Gore’s career when he rushes for 100 yards.

But Craig said Gore ought to be willing to take a breather, too, because it could mean staying stronger and healthier over the course of the season. He pointed to the wave of tailback duos in the NFL, noting that even a superstar like Adrian Peterson had Chester Taylor pitching in.
Craig knows that Gore is wants to say active but he encouraged him to “look at the big picture.”

“That means embracing the guys that they bring in, like the kid from Alabama. (Glen Coffee),’’ Craig said. “That’s what (Tom) Rathman and I did. That’s the kind of mentality we had.

 “It might take some readjusting, but if Gore wants to really establish himself, it’s about getting to the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl. That’s how you want to be remembered.”

Craig, a recent Hall of Fame finalist, played for the 49ers from 1983-90 before finishing up with the Raiders (1991) and Vikings (’92-93.) He is best known for his contributions as a dual threat, once racking up 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.

These days, he is still on the move. Craig has eight marathons under his belt and is an instrumental force behind the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon in San Jose.

Still, Craig will find time to sit down for a few hours and watch the draft. And as much as he endorses the idea a running back by committee, he would still use his top pick on something else.

Craig wants a lineman.

Offense? Defense? It doesn’t matter.

 “Just get me a beast up front,’’ he said with a laugh.

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Burrell's homer boosts confidence in DH

BOSTON -- Pat Burrell's two-run homer in the 12th inning Saturday that won the suspended game brought the Rays' designated hitter his first RBIs since he drove in a run against the Orioles on Oct. 1. He went on to add three more RBIs in Saturday's regularly scheduled game.

Lance Cormier got the win in the suspended game and spoke highly of Burrell's game-winning homer.

"Biggest hit of the year so far," said Cormier, who noted that David Price called the shot to his teammates. "Everyone was giving [Price] fives like he hit it."

Burrell has been struggling all season, but manager Joe Maddon has stood by him, touting his work ethic and the fact that he has done some good things with his swing.

"To touch one off like that under these circumstances has got to help his confidence, I would have to believe," Maddon said.

Burrell's winning homer was his seventh career extra-innings homer and his first homer at Fenway Park since he hit one off Curt Schilling on June 27, 2004.

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Work continues on Braun’s restaurant in Lake Geneva

LAKE GENEVA — A new eatery bearing the name of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun could be open by Memorial Day, about two months later than planned, a spokesman for the group of restaurant investors said.

The Ryan Braun Tavern and Grill had been slated to open earlier this month in the former Cactus Club building at 430 Broad St.

During spring training in late February, Braun told that progress on his Lake Geneva restaurant was slow, but another eatery was in the works in Milwaukee.

Patrick Sweeney, a Madison-based lawyer leading the group of investors, told the Gazette this week that the Milwaukee opportunity needed to be seized immediately, and that delayed the Lake Geneva venture.

“We either had to jump on it and go or not,” he said. “We can only open one at a time. We put a lot into it, and it took a lot out of us.”

Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill opened in the historic Third Ward of Milwaukee on April 5, opening day of baseball at Miller Park.

Sweeney told the Gazette that the group of investors has redoubled efforts to get the Lake Geneva restaurant open soon.

“(It’s) coming,” he said. “We’re back on the fast track.”

Sweeney said in November, when work on the restaurant started, that the Ryan Braun Tavern and Grill will be an American bar and grill with good food, reasonable prices and a comfortable atmosphere.

Braun’s Los Angeles-based agent, Nez Balelo, told the Gazette that Braun will be involved in running the restaurant but would leave day-to-day operations to his other partners. Sweeney previously said Braun would visit the restaurant several times throughout the year and will sponsor a charity golf outing at a local course.

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Jon Jay Running Wild

Memphis Redbirds outfielder Jon Jay stole his fifth base of the year in Thursday’s game, in his club’s eighth contest of the season. Jay has swiped three bags in his last two games and is tied for second in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with five steals behind Round Rock’s Jason Bourgeois, who has nine steals. Jay has yet to be caught in 2010.

In 2009, the 25-year-old was 20-for-28 in stolen base attempts, also with Memphis. Jay is 53-for-76 (70%) over his four year-plus professional career which began after he was selected in the second round of the 2006 draft from the University of Miami.

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Huff puffs way to inside-the-park homer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Aubrey Huff finally hit his first home run as a member of the Giants, but he had to work for it.

Huff hit his first career inside-the-park home run Wednesday, circling the bases to lead off the second inning against Pittsburgh right-hander Charlie Morton. Huff's feat opened the scoring in San Francisco's 6-0 victory.

"When I hit it, I thought it was gone anyway," Huff said. "In most parks it is. I saw it bounce off the wall and as soon as I rounded first I saw it took an amazing hop and I thought, 'Oh boy, here we go.' "

Huff hit a first-pitch drive that struck the inner portion of the middle archway among the three in the right-center-field wall. The ball caromed away from Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones and skipped into right field.

"Most of the balls are going to go off to the left because of the way it is slanted," Jones said of the wall. "It hit kind of that indentation in the corner and kicked hard to the right. There's nothing you can really do about that. It's just one of those freak plays."

By then, Huff was rounding second base at full speed. He slid home without drawing a throw, indicating that he didn't need to slide.

But at that point, Huff didn't know any better. All he knew was that Mark DeRosa, the on-deck batter, was practically spread-eagled on the grass, signaling Huff to slide.

"I was already gassed," said Huff, who has hit 203 traditional home runs. "So I didn't need that. ... I didn't even know where I was at that point. If he told me to slide, I'm sliding."

Pablo Sandoval playfully fanned Huff with a towel shortly after he returned to the dugout.

"I don't remember," Huff dryly said of Sandoval's service. "I blacked out."

Many a clout that would be a home run elsewhere has ended up as an extra-base hit or even an out in right-center at AT&T Park, where the 421-foot marker mocks batters. Huff hit one such ball on Monday when he tripled against Pittsburgh.

"Everybody in Spring Training told me, 'You'll see, you'll see,' " Huff said. "I said, 'Come on, if you get it, it's gonna go.'"

Huff actually flirted with two more homers on Wednesday. He flied out to the center-field warning track in the third inning and doubled high off the right-center-field wall in the sixth inning.

"I've never had a three-home run game," Huff said. "I'm going to go ahead and chalk up today as a three-home run game in my mind."

Though Huff's double nearly duplicated the path of his inside-the-parker, he didn't try to extend his trip past second base.

"I don't think he could have made it around again," Giants manager Bruce Bochy jokingly said.

Huff's round-tripper was the fourth regular-season inside-the-park homer at AT&T Park since it opened in 2000 and fifth overall, including the one hit by Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki in the 2007 All-Star Game.

"It makes it even more amazing what Barry Bonds did here," Huff said. "Hitting 73 homers here [Bonds' record single-season total in 2001] is just mind-boggling."

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Chris Perez says struggles are mental, says he has to improve

CLEVELAND — Chris Perez has been walking batters, blowing leads in the ninth inning and throwing teammates under the bus.
That’s no way to act as the Indians’ new closer.

Perez inherited the ninth-inning job when KerryWood was injured shortly into spring training, but after converting his first two save opportunities, the right-hander has failed miserably in his last two outings.

His latest debacle came in the home opener Monday, when he allowed the last three Texas hitters in the order to reach base without recording an out, wasn’t in a save situation. But it did serve to further scare the Indians, who, if Perez can’t do the job, are without a legitimate closer for at least another two weeks while Wood (strained back muscle) mends on the disabled list.

For now, Cleveland manager Manny Acta is standing behind the affable Perez, who is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA and has allowed four hits and five walks in four appearances covering three innings.

“This kid, he saved two very good games in Chicago and we were celebrating and being happy,” Acta said of Perez’s consecutive conversions that came without incident against the White Sox. “He’s had two bad outings in a row. We’re not going to run him out of town because of that.”

It is just two outings seven games into the season, but there were signs Perez could encounter rough waters after struggling with his location this spring. Slated to serve as the team’s primary setup man before Wood went down, Perez, who was being groomed for the closer job next year, has shown that the transition may have come too soon.

“Based on spring training and what’s happened lately, I really don’t deserve that (closer) role,” Perez said. “Based on my last couple outings, it’s probably not going to be my role that much longer.

“I have to go back to the drawing board and figure some stuff out. Obviously I haven’t fixed what was wrong in spring training. I just have to keep my head held high and try to brush it off. Right now, it’s all mental. I have to start trusting my stuff again.”

What’s at least as alarming as Perez’s recent ineffectiveness is his reaction to failure.

After blowing a save in Detroit on Sunday by allowing three runs in the ninth inning, Perez not only questioned a call by home plate umpire Brian Gorman on a pivotal pitch, he also called out one of his teammates, catcher Lou Marson.

Perez felt Marson should have handled a pitch in the dirt that was ruled a wild pitch and allowed the gamewinning run to score. He said as much after the game, then confirmed his feelings the following day.

Perez didn’t have Marson to blame in the 4-2, 10-inning loss to Texas on Monday.

Throwing to backup catcher Mike Redmond, Perez fell behind the first hitter, Joaquim Arias, who doubled to right field. The following batter, Taylor Teagarden, dropped a sacrifice bunt, and with the Indians orchestrating the wheel play, Perez threw off the mark to third base. He walked No. 9 hitter Elvis Andrus to load the bases and was removed, with relievers Tony Sipp and Jamey Wright pitching out of the jam to preserve the 2-all tie for one more inning. This time around, Perez pointed the finger at himself.

“It feels like every pitch I throw, they’re right on it,” he said. “I can’t use my slider because I’m behind every hitter. It is what it is. I’m trying my best. It just hasn’t been good.”

The Indians need Perez to turn things around and provide some semblance of relief until Wood returns.

“I’m still confident,” Perez said. “It might just be one of those ruts. We can’t all be Mariano Rivera.”

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Saucony Signs Endorsement Deal With Lauryn Williams

LEXINGTON, MA (April 15, 2010) – Continuing to further elevate its game as a global leader in performance running , Saucony, Inc. today announced the signing of World Champion sprinter and two-time U.S. Olympian Lauryn Williams to a multi-year endorsement contract. One of the fastest women in the world, Williams is a three-time IAAF World Championship gold medalist, winning both the individual 100-meter sprint and the 4x100-meter relay in Helsinki in 2005 and the 4x100-meter relay in Osaka in 2007. In 2009, Williams qualified for her third consecutive World Championships in the 100-meter dash. A week before those championships began, she was part of a U.S. 4x100-meter relay team that ran the fastest women's sprint relay in twelve years.

In her first season as a professional, Williams captured silver at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in the 100-meter sprint and later represented the U.S. again at the 2008 Beijing Olympics over the same distance.  

“I’m very excited to be joining such a passionate and focused brand,” said Williams. “I feel a great connection with the Saucony team: We both share the determination, hard work and competitive spirit that it takes to be a winner. The brand’s attention to performance and innovation, which I’ve experienced in their spikes, will surely help me to achieve my goals on the track. Additionally, their commitment to kids’ fitness, through the Saucony Run For Goodsm Foundation , will allow me to expand my philanthropic goals, helping kids in the fight against childhood obesity. I look forward to representing the brand and the Saucony team with the utmost pride and integrity.”

Williams is also well-known for her passion for giving: For her charitable work outside of competition, Williams was honored with the 2009 Jefferson Award for Public Service and the 2006 USA Track and Field Humanitarian of the Year Award.

“We're very honored to partner with an athlete of Lauryn’s caliber and global reputation,” said Richie Woodworth, president of Saucony. “Lauryn’s an exciting runner with unlimited potential and an unparalleled list of athletic and philanthropic accomplishments. Her personable nature and passion for track make her one of the most popular athletes in the sport today. As a role model, Lauryn shines, showing a tremendous strength of character both on and off the track. That strength will continue to inspire the whole Saucony team in our build-up to the 2012 London Olympics and beyond,” added Woodworth.

As part of the endorsement relationship, the brand also announced that a Saucony Run For Good grant in Williams’ name will be designated to support community-based track and field programs specifically for girls. The grant will be awarded biannually over the length of the contract. “A lot of kids, especially those at-risk, don’t participate in sports because of the expense and lack of opportunities,” said Williams. “Playing sports as a girl gave me self-esteem and pride in myself while teaching me the value of hard work. This grant will allow many other girls to realize the benefits that I was so fortunate to experience.”

Williams, 26, competed for the University of Miami Hurricanes from 2002-04 and was a nine-time All-American, winning the NCAA Championship in the 100-meter dash in 2004.  She currently lives and trains in Miami, Florida.

Saucony’s newest athlete endorsement follows on the heels of the brand’s recent signing of Wallace Spearmon, Jr., the winner of three consecutive World Outdoor Championship 200-meter medals (2005, 2007, 2009).

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Perez corrects mistake, returns to form

CLEVELAND -- Indians interim closer Chris Perez knew something had to change after his rough outings against the Tigers and Rangers. Ruben Niebla helped him change it.

Niebla, the Indians' assistant to the Major League coaching staff and former pitching coach at Double-A Akron and Class A Lake County, watched video of Perez in those two outings and compared it to video of Perez from the end of last season. He noticed that Perez was going into his delivery with his left shoulder turned too far away from the plate, and that was impacting Perez's ability to hit the outside corner against right-handed hitters and the inside corner against lefties.

"I was fighting my body," Perez said. "Everything was leaking back over."

Perez tweaked his delivery in a bullpen session with pitching coaches Tim Belcher and Scott Radinsky and took that into Saturday's save situation against the White Sox. For one night, at least, it worked out, as Perez retired the side in order to get his third save of the season, all of which have come against Chicago.

Perez is filling in as the Tribe's closer until Kerry Wood (strained back muscle) comes off the disabled list. Wood is scheduled to throw a simulated session against hitters in Minneapolis this week, so his return could be soon.