Potential cut victim Devin Hester has eyes on Hall of Fame

Devin Hester is pretty sure the Chicago Bears aren’t going to cut him before the start of the 2013 season and even more sure that a spot in Canton awaits him.

The 30-year-old return star talked to the Chicago Tribune about his Hall of Fame chances.

“I have one foot in right now. If I take three or four back this year, it should be considered 80 percent chance of making it. But I am not really worried about it right now. I am really focused on this season. After this season, when all the stats add up, hopefully it won’t be a question.”

Once again, Hester isn’t a lock to make the Bears final roster, though it’s assumed the team will retain him, since his contract ends after this season and his cap hit isn’t unwieldy. Even so, he talks about taking “three or four” back for a touchdown like it’s nothing. He’s completely nonchalant about it. Hester might as well have been asked how many pieces of pizza he was going to have at dinner.

Hester has the second-most return TDs in NFL history. With one more, he’ll tie Deion Sanders at the top. But even getting that isn’t assured. In the past five years, Hester has six total return TDs. In three of those years, including 2012, he’s been completely shut out. In other words, returning kicks for touchdowns ain’t easy.

That’s not to say Hester is out of line with his bravado. All the great return men have it. Think of Deion and Brian Mitchell. They were the best and weren’t afraid to tell you. It takes a certain kind of personality to be a great returner. Hester needs to go into this season thinking that getting three or four return TDs is nothing. If he doesn’t, he’s like a fighter pilot who lacks confidence or a rapper with self-esteem issues. It’s hard to succeed. These are traits that are inherently necessary to success in certain endeavors.

Hester has his swag. Will the touchdowns, and a spot in Canton, follow?

Bookmark and Share

Ed Reed to have final hip checkup

HOUSTON -- Texans safety Ed Reed will return to Vail, Colo., where he had arthroscopic hip surgery in April, for one final checkup with his surgeon before returning to Houston.

"That's going to be the last step, then he'll be back for good and he'll start working toward hopefully getting back on the field," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.

Kubiak said Sunday that Houston received good news about Reed's progress. Reed spent last week in Atlanta working with a rehabilitation specialist, with whom he has worked in the past.

Reed returned to Houston for Saturday's game then went back to Atlanta, where he has an offseason home.

He signed a three-year contract worth $15 million in March. Despite performing a lengthy physical during his visit, the Texans did not anticipate Reed would need surgery for a torn labrum in his hip when they signed him. But they did protect themselves to some extent.

Reed's contract has $1 million worth of being-active incentives this year, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. For each game he plays this season, Reed will collect $62,500, according to league sources. For each game Reed misses this season, he will lose out on a $62,500 bonus.

Bookmark and Share

Kenny Phillips in danger of missing final cut

PHILADELPHIA — Kenny Phillips’ return from a quad injury lasted for less than an hour Tuesday before he had to sit out practice again Wednesday.
That could be imperiling his chances to make the Eagles’ final roster.

Phillips, the safety signed as a free agent after five seasons with the Giants, has a long history of knee injuries. While his knee doesn’t seem to be an issue now, Phillips did miss the Eagles’ second preseason game with the quad, and there’s a good chance he’ll miss another Saturday if he can’t practice today.

“It does make it harder to evaluate when you get less looks at a guy,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “That goes without saying. But Kenny’s got a lot of tape out there. We’ll have a good feel for Kenny.

“Hopefully, he can play in the preseason game.”

Davis said if Phillips is healthy, he would be a candidate to start at safety. But that hasn’t happened much in training camp for the former first-round draft pick.
And it didn’t happen last season as Phillips played in just seven games because of his knee problems.

Phillips’ knee required him to take some rest days during the spring organized team activities. It appears the knee hasn’t been an issue so far in training camp.

“Nobody wants to be on the field more than Kenny right now,” Davis said.

“He’s an experienced vet, which helps, but not experienced in this system.”

Bookmark and Share

Kellen Winslow looking to cut down on pitch count

Now that Kellen Winslow’s getting in better football shape, the tight end expects the Jets to ease up on his pitch count.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” he told Newsday, following his fourth straight day of practice. “The pitch count for me, in my eyes, was mainly for training camp because training camp is such a grind. But I am starting to get more in football shape and more rest, so I don’t need as many pitch counts, per se. Just get any rest.”

Have there been days where the trainers have tried to keep him out of practice and Winslow refused?

“Yeah, that was today,” he said with a laugh, adding that he was scheduled to spend Thursday’s practice in the rehab area.

“You know what you need to get ready,” he said. “You just know what you need. So I had to go today and get what I needed.”

Bookmark and Share

Joe Flacco admits Ray Lewis’ speeches didn’t make sense

In an excellent profile of Joe Flacco from ESPN The Magazine’s NFL preview, the Super Bowl MVP admits to Kevin Van Valkenburg that those passionate pregame speeches by Ray Lewis were mostly unintelligible.

“I love Ray, and I love how he always spoke from the heart, but if you listened to those speeches, a lot of them didn’t even make sense. He meant everything he was saying, but I didn’t know what he was talking about 90 percent of the time.”

Bookmark and Share

Greg Olsen sees seven targets on Thursday

Greg Olsen caught three passes for 44 yards in the Panthers' third preseason game against the Ravens on Thursday night.
Olsen saw a team-high seven targets, but he struggled to catch the ball a bit just like the rest of the Carolina receiving corps not named Steve Smith. We're not concerned with Olsen; he's the No. 2 option in the Panthers passing attack. After three preseason games, Olsen has four catches for 64 yards. He checks in as our No. 6 tight end, but it's an interchangeable group.

Bookmark and Share

Jon Beason shows versatility in return to field

BALTIMORE Jon Beason needed just three practices before he was ready to hit the field again for the Panthers.

The three-time Pro Bowler started Thursday night at weakside linebacker, playing in his first live-action game since Week 4 of last season against Atlanta.
Beason went on injured reserve last year with shoulder and knee injuries, and he had microfracture surgery on his knee during October. Since then, he has rehabilitated the knee, and he didn’t participate in a padded practice until Sunday.

“He’s another guy that’s a leader, another guy that knows what he’s doing,” middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said this week at practice. “He’s strong, he’s communicating, he knows what he’s supposed to be and it’s just fun to have him out there.”

Coach Ron Rivera said this week the team would get “creative” with Beason, saying simply keeping him at weakside wouldn’t be a good use of all of his talents. Beason had been the franchise’s middle linebacker until Kuechly won that position last year and eventually became The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Beason didn’t make any standout plays through two quarters Thursday, but his versatility was welcomed by the Panthers. On the first drive, Beason played in a base 4-3 defense as well as in the 3-4.

His presence was especially needed when Chase Blackburn, who had been filling in for Beason, did not dress because of an unspecified injury. Blackburn caught a helmet to his back last week against Philadelphia and played just one series.

Bookmark and Share

Sam Shields has taken game to higher level

GREEN BAY—While rookie cornerback Micah Hydeicon-article-link has been grabbing most of the attention at training camp, Sam Shields has quietly taken his game to a higher level.

“I have 100 percent confidence in Sam’s ability,” Cornerbacks Coach Joe Whitt said. “He’s a complete corner. He tackles at a very high level. He’s had a clean camp. You don’t see many balls caught on him. The way he’s practiced, it would be hard for me to believe he wouldn’t be one of those two (starting cornerbacks).”

It’s one of the Packers’ deepest positions, which is largely a result of Hyde’s emergence and Shields’ development. Also feeding the depth chart at cornerback is Davon Houseicon-article-link’s recovery from shoulder surgery and Casey Haywardicon-article-link’s recent return to practice from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of camp.

“Nothing is too big for him,” Whitt said of Hyde, the fifth-round pick from Iowa who is sharing the rookie spotlight with David Bakhtiariicon-article-link and Eddie Lacyicon-article-link. “You don’t shake the guy. He gave up that big play (in St. Louis); he didn’t care. You’re going to get beat. How do you respond to it?”

Head Coach Mike McCarthy will be looking for a response from several players on Friday night, when the Packers host the Seattle Seahawks in game three of the preseason. It’ll be the most intensely evaluated game of the preseason, and it’ll go a long way toward deciding roster spots and starting jobs.

The Packers are looking for kick-returners as Randall Cobbicon-article-link recovers from a bicep injury. Hyde has emerged as a punt-return candidate and he’ll be used in that role against the Seahawks.

“He’s smooth. He’ll get some more opportunities. I thought on his punt return the other night he got off the spot pretty quickly. Things have a chance to change at all times. It’s just the evaluation of our football team,” Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum said of Hyde and the search for return men.

Rookie running back Johnathan Franklinicon-article-link will likely get a look at returning kickoffs.

“Johnathan’s in a growth period. That’s part of the process. He’s learning how to do it,” Slocum said.

The Packers might have all the information they need on wide receiver Jeremy Rossicon-article-link as a return man.

“We want to see some of these other guys in the most competitive situations, and that’s in the games. Randall’s still not out of the equation. He’s had some health issues. We’re in the middle of camp building our team. We’ve made no decisions at this point,” Slocum said.

The major drama on special teams, of course, is at kicker, where Mason Crosbyicon-article-link might’ve taken a step back on Wednesday by missing three field goal attempts in practice. His competition with Giorgio Tavecchioicon-article-link continues, but it goes deeper than that for both kickers.

“That can go on forever,” Slocum said. “Not only do they compete against each other, they compete with the rest of the league.”

Just as Shields has taken his game to a higher level in this training camp, so has tight end Jermichael Finley. He’s bigger, stronger and, as a result, has improved his blocking. He’s also become a sure-handed pass-catcher in this training camp, and that might be a product of the extra work he’s done with his coach, Jerry Fontenot.

“I think he’s always known he could catch the ball. My focus was on making it fun again,” Fontenot said of a drill in which Fontenot throws hard-to-catch passes at Finley from 5-7 yards away.

“He’s always calling me to go over there and do it. I try to challenge him as much as I can and try to throw him hot balls and not make it perfect every time,” Fontenot said. “Now we use it to work on some eye focus details and hand placement.”

Finley and the first-team offense are expected to get their longest playing time of the preseason on Friday. They moved the ball well in St. Louis but have yet to make it into the end zone this summer.

“It’s more of what you target for getting a semblance of the regular season,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said of game three of the preseason. “This is probably the last big test.”

Bookmark and Share

Bernie Kosar lends name to Rocksino steakhouse

NORTHFIELD: Former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula capitalized on his famous name by opening upscale steakhouses in south Florida and his hometown of Cleveland.

Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka did the same in the Windy City.

Following in those footsteps, Cleveland Browns legend Bernie Kosar is entering the premium steakhouse game.

Kosar announced Thursday that he’ll lend his name to Kosar’s Wood-Fired Grill at the new Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park, a racino slated to open in December.

The restaurant will include memorabilia on display from Kosar’s playing days.

Brock Milstein, chairman and chief executive officer of Northfield Park, said it made sense to marry the celebrity of Hard Rock and Kosar.

“As someone who was born and raised here and grew up watching the Browns, there is no bigger icon,” he said. “There is no one who’s more beloved and there’s no one who represents our pride, our sense of community and our perseverance as a region more than Bernie Kosar.”

Kosar, who played college football at the University of Miami, said he came to know the Seminole tribe, which owns the Orlando-based Hard Rock International, and the Milstein family through the years.

“I’m just incredibly honored to be a part of this,” he said.

The partnership was announced during a news conference outside the racino that also included an update on the $265 million racino project, which is still under construction.

Milstein, Kosar, racino President Jon Lucas and others signed a white ceremonial beam that will be on display at the gambling facility.

Construction workers took a break from their jobs to watch the event, which politicians and other onlookers also attended.

Lucas also announced that the Rocksino will hold its first job fair Sept. 12. The facility is expected to employ about 700 workers.

Other details about the hiring process are expected to be released next week.

The Rocksino, located next to the Northfield Park harness track along state Route 8, will be filled with about 2,300 slots-like video lottery terminals, a comedy club, the steakhouse, a buffet, a Hard Rock Live music venue and a Hard Rock Cafe.

It will house more than $1 million worth of music memorabilia.

Officials have pushed the fact the Rocksino will be an entertainment attraction and more than gambling.

“Wow. Absolutely amazing,” Northfield Mayor Jesse Nehez said of the project. “You would not expect something of this size, this magnitude to come to Northfield village.”

Amy Hollar, the local representative for the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association, said the horsemen are looking forward to the opening.

The industry has argued for years that owners, drivers and trainers have been leaving Ohio for other states where race purses are bigger. That’s expected to change with revenue from the racino.

“It’s our turn to shine,” she said. “It’s our turn to prosper. It’s our turn to make change for the better.”

The Hard Rock Rocksino is expected to be the third of seven racinos opening in the state.

It also will be the third major gambling venue to open in Northeast Ohio, behind the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland and the ThistleDown Racino in North Randall. The Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course is under construction near Youngstown and is expected to open next year.

In other gambling news Thursday, ThistleDown announced it is opening a comedy club for a six-week trial run starting Sept. 26.

“Northeast Ohioans have embraced every facet of ThistleDown Racino, from live thoroughbred horse racing to video lottery terminals and live bands, proving that they want more entertainment options close to home,” racino General Manager Rick Skinner said in a prepared statement. “With the addition of The
Comedy Zone, we aim to offer residents throughout the region one more fun way to relax.”

The Comedy Zone will launch with Shaun Jones and Paul Strickland. It will offer five shows a week on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Bookmark and Share

Ryan Braun apologizes for PED use

A month after acknowledging only that he made "mistakes," Ryan Braun admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs during his NL MVP season of 2011.
The suspended Milwaukee slugger said he took a cream and a lozenge containing banned substances while rehabilitating an injury.

"It was a huge mistake for which I am deeply ashamed and I compounded the situation by not admitting my mistakes immediately," Braun said in a statement released by the Brewers.

Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone in October 2011, but his 50-game suspension was overturned when an arbitrator ruled that the urine sample was mishandled.

While Braun took full responsibility for his actions and apologized to the collector of the urine sample, teammates and Commissioner Bud Selig among others, the statement still leaves several key questions unanswered.

Among them: Who gave Braun the PEDs and where did they come from? What was the exact substance in the products? Did he know the cream and lozenge were tainted at the time he took them?

Last month Braun accepted a 65-game suspension resulting from Major League Baseball's investigation of the now-closed Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic, which was accused of providing banned substances to players..

"By coming forward when I did and waiving my right to appeal any sanctions that were going to be imposed, I knew I was making the correct decision and taking the first step in the right direction. It was important to me to begin my suspension immediately to minimize the burden on everyone I had so negatively affected -- my teammates, the entire Brewers organization, the fans and all of MLB."

Braun was the first of 14 players disciplined this year as a result of the Biogenesis probe. Twelve accepted 50-game penalties, including a trio of All-Stars: Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta and San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is appealing his 211-game penalty, assessed for violations of the drug program and labor contract.

In his initial meeting with MLB investigators to discuss Biogenesis, Braun declined to answer questions. But in the statement, he said he initiated a second session with MLB where he admitted his guilt and began discussing a penalty.

"After my interview with MLB in late June of this year, I came to the realization that it was time to come to grips with the truth," he said. "I was never presented with baseball's evidence against me, but I didn't need to be, because I knew what I had done."

Braun's urine tested positive for elevated testosterone from a sample collected on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, after Milwaukee's NL division series opener against Arizona. The drug collector, Dino Laurenzi Jr., stored the samples from Braun and two other players at home and dropped them off at a Federal Express office on Monday, rather than send them immediately, as specified in baseball's drug collection rules.

The players' association argued that the specimen was handled improperly, and arbitrator Shyam Das overturned the discipline on Feb. 23 last year.

During a news conference the following day on the field at Milwaukee's spring training stadium in Phoenix, Braun proclaimed he had been vindicated and afterward his lawyer criticized Laurenzi when he defended himself.

"I have no one to blame but myself. I know that over the last year and a half I made some serious mistakes, both in the information I failed to share during my arbitration hearing and the comments I made to the press afterwards," Braun said. "I have disappointed the people closest to me -- the ones who fought for me because they truly believed me all along. I kept the truth from everyone. For a long time, I was in denial and convinced myself that I had not done anything wrong."

After he accepted his suspension on July 22 -- 50 games for the drug infraction and 15 games for his conduct at the time of the grievance -- Braun was heavily criticized by players around the major leagues.

"I thought this whole thing has been despicable on his part," Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer said. "When he did get caught, he never came clean. He tried to question the ability of the collector when he was caught red-handed. So that's why the whole Braun situation, there is so much player outrage toward him."
But on Thursday, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said it's time to get past this.

"To me, it doesn't really matter what they say. Let's lay down the penalties and move on," he said. "I hope they continue to catch them."

Bookmark and Share

Raiders to start Richard Gordon or Mastrud at TE

Raiders OC Greg Olson says the team is trying to decide between Richard Gordon and Jeron Mastrud to be its starting tight end.
Giggle. With David Ausberry (shoulder) out indefinitely, the Raiders will resort to starting a player who likely wouldn't make 31 other rosters. "Richard Gordon and Jeron Mastrud, they’re in the battle for the No. 1 spot," said Olson. "We like the emergence of our young tight ends (Mychal Rivera, Nick Kasa), but we’ll really take a good hard look at Richard Gordon and Jeron Mastrud this week."

Bookmark and Share

Antrel Rolle says rehab is 'ahead of schedule'

Antrel Rolle was sprinting around the Giants practice field yesterday as if last Monday's fall and subsequent gloomy exit from the practice field on a training cart never happened.

Tom Coughlin never thought the injury would keep Rolle off the field for long. And it appears he was right.

Rolle says he should be back soon.

"I'm going to return to practice when I'm ready, whenever I can go out there and feel like I'm not favoring it," he said. "Right now, we're ahead of schedule and things are going good."

Rolle recently said that walking boots are "for wimps" but did not begrudge fellow teammate Victor Cruz for sporting one yesterday.  

Rolle hasn't needed one for quite some time, and needs nothing more than some supportive tape during his workouts.

"I want him to be in that boot, we gotta make sure we take care of Victor," Rolle said. "We all know what he means to this team. If he has to walk around in a boot for a month, so be it. Maybe I'll put one on too to show I'm with him."

Rolle admits he's not 100 percent at this point, but that he didn't expect to be running as soon as he was yesterday.

"To be honest, I didn't even expect myself to be out here running, doing drills, cutting, so forth and so on. I had a preview of that yesterday and it felt alright," he said. "I wouldn't say it felt 100 percent but it felt alright. I'm just going to keep grinding."

Rolle couldn't say whether or not he would play against the Jets on Saturday.

Bookmark and Share

Return of Steelers TE David Johnson could seal fate for ILB Sean Spence

Finally returning to practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers after beginning the year on the PUP list while recovering from an ACL injury, David Johnson may start defining the timetables for other injured players in his own positional group and inside linebacker Sean Spence.

Johnson returned to practice for the first time on Wednesday, and it has yet to be seen if he will be able to push the healthy tight ends on the roster. David Paulson has left much to be desired with his blocking ability, Jamie McCoy has been playing Johnson's old role of tight end and fullback, and Michael Palmer has looked like a veteran on the line and on special teams. Nathan Overbay and Peter Tuitupou have been fighting to remain relevant with little success.

If Johnson is able to exhibit the same skills which made him a regular part of the Steelers roster prior to his injury, his existence on the roster could dictate how the team handles the injury situations of Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.

Miller is expected to return to practice soon himself, but just how soon is yet to be determined; but he is expected to join the team in the first quarter of the season. Spaeth suffered a lisfranc injury which will most likely sideline him for at least half the season. With each team only receiving one designation for return for players on IR, the Steelers will need to decide which player to use it on - Spaeth or Spence.

Spence, once thought to have lost his career when he suffered a severe injury during the final preseason game of 2012, has been making remarkable strides in his recovery leaving many with hope for his return to the field in 2013. Unfortunately, many believed he would be the player designated for return. Now, he may be looking at another full season on IR because of Spaeth.

The team did not rush to place Spaeth on IR even though previous injuries of a similar nature stole seasons from Santonio Holmes and Maurice Jones-Drew, although Spaeth's 'lisfranc' injury was not viewed as severe. The team seems convinced Spaeth will be able to return mid-season. Considering the team's lack of quality in the tight end department, Spaeth will be viewed as more necessary than another ILB; especially with the depth provided by Stevenson Sylvester, Marshall McFadden, Vince Williams and the rest of the off-season linebacking corps.

If so, Spaeth will wind up as the player designated for return leaving no room for Spence's triumphant return in 2012. Perhaps the extra recovery time will play to the benefit of Spence considering the severity of the injury which eliminated him in the first place.

Bookmark and Share

Brandon Harris Fined 21K For Hit

Houston (CBS Houston) - Sports Radio 610 has learned that Brandon Harris has been fined $21,000 by the NFL for his hit on a defenseless receiver in Saturday’s game against the Dolphins.

It’s been a controversial week for the Texans, defensive end Antonio Smith was suspended for two pre-season games and one regular season game after an altercation with Miami’s Richie Incognito. Meanwhile safety D.J. Swearinger has drawn criticism for a low tackle that ended Dustin Keller’s season.

According to multiple reports Delano Johnson was also fined $7,785 by the NFL for a late hit.

Bookmark and Share

‘Hidden Gem’: Early reviews on Carolina Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey positive

When they were teammates in Cleveland, watching film in the quarterbacks meeting room, Derek Anderson always thought Ken Dorsey would wind up as a coach someday.

And while Dorsey took a bit of a non-traditional route to the profession, the early reviews on the Panthers’ new quarterbacks coach have been positive.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera called Dorsey a “hidden gem.” Offensive coordinator Mike Shula, whose promotion created the opening for Dorsey, said Dorsey’s hiring was “probably the best thing that has happened this year for this organization.”

And Cam Newton, the player who will work most closely with Dorsey, said he was rendered nearly speechless when he learned during the offseason that Dorsey had gotten the job.

“The day he was announced the quarterbacks coach, we had a long talk. We challenged each other. I wanted him to make me the best quarterback he could, and I was going to accept the challenge. I was going to take coaching,” Newton said.

“Coach Shula still has his say-so, so we’re not boxing him out by any means,” Newton added. “I think those two guys work extremely well together and push me to higher heights.”

Newton and Dorsey worked together previously. Dorsey assisted former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke at IMG Academies in 2011 when Newton trained at the Bradenton, Fla., facility after the draft and during the lockout.

When the Panthers hired Dorsey as a pro scout in August 2011, they said the move was unrelated to Dorsey’s work with Newton – something Newton reiterated Tuesday.

“I’m not going to take any credit for him coming here – let’s get that thrown out there,” Newton said. “Ken is a very passionate person, especially looking back at his career (and) his resume, being so successful. For him, he’s done everything on his own. For our relationship to cross paths as early as it did was just an added dimension.”

Dorsey went 38-2 as the starting quarterback at Miami, leading the Hurricanes to the 2001 national championship. He twice was a Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing third in 2001 when Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch won it and fifth the following year when Southern Cal’s Carson Palmer was the winner.

Dorsey was drafted in the seventh round in 2003 by San Francisco, where he started 10 games in three seasons. He then went to Cleveland for three years, playing behind Anderson and working with then-Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

Chudzinski, now the Browns’ coach, was the Panthers’ offensive coordinator in 2011 when Dorsey joined Carolina’s scouting department. As an advance scout, Dorsey traveled to see the Panthers’ next opponent every week and reported back to the team on tendencies and personnel.

Every week was a road game for Dorsey – not that his hours now are any better.

“The big difference is I’m still here just as late, but now I have to be here earlier,” said Dorsey, who is married with two young daughters.

Dorsey said he has leaned on Shula for help in preparing for meetings and planning for practices. Shula said Dorsey has been a fast learner.

“Even though he hasn’t coached, he understands what we are doing and has a fast mind and just a really good way about himself,” Shula said.

Dorsey, 32, is only two years older than Anderson, his ex-teammate and the Panthers’ backup quarterback. But both said Dorsey’s new role hasn’t made things awkward.

“When he and I played together, he helped me. He and I would watch film together, we would do things together. So it’s not that different,” Anderson said. “(Dorsey is) kind of stepping away from being the laughy, joker, helper-guy to the coach, and making sure he commands our attention in meetings. And so far it’s been good. I think he’s going to be one heck of a coach.”

Because IMG’s clientele ranged from middle school to NFL players, Dorsey had to start with the basics when working with the younger quarterbacks. That’s been helpful in his development.

“Sometimes I think you fall into a lull in the NFL. You focus so much on the Xs-and-Os, you forget the mechanics of it sometimes,” Dorsey said. “In the fourth quarter, when guys are just dog-tired and you’re fighting to win a game, that’s what you’ve got to fall back on.”

As for Newton, Dorsey said he’s been working with him to keep his legs under him when he sets to pass.

“He’s got such great arm strength,” Dorsey said. “When he gets his legs and his base into the throw, it’s a huge difference.”

Dorsey praised Newton for taking a “blue-collar approach” this year.

“I always expect good things for Cam. The guy obviously is physically put together,” Dorsey said. “But also mentally, he’s made tremendous strides. I’ve been really excited about the way he’s worked this training camp and this whole preseason.”

Anderson expects good things for Dorsey, as well.

“He always kind of had that coach perspective,” he said. “When we were in Cleveland, he and Chud did a lot of game plan and stuff toward the end of his career. He kind of stepped into that role and he was working, scouting and all that. … He has it in his blood.”

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne's acrobatic catches make his offensive coordinator a fan

For a few seconds during a preseason gameicon1, Pep Hamilton forgot he was the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator.

He joined the Reggie Wayne fan club.

Hamilton’s brief role adjustment occurred during the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the New York Giantsicon1. From the left slot, Wayne moved into the flat, reached back for a pass from Andrew Luck that was slightly behind him snatched it with his right hand.

The result was a 3-yard gain. The degree of difficulty was off the charts.

“It’s funny,” Hamilton said Wednesday, recalling the play. “I try to not watch our play. I’m focusing on the defense and we’ve got to be ready as coaches to make adjustments on the fly.


“But I caught myself just a moment. I was somewhat in awe of the one-handed catch and I wasn’t really focused on the next play callicon1, and I had to just gather my thoughts quickly and move on to the next play.”

Three plays later, another Wayne highlight.

Giants cornerback Aaron Ross failed to secureicon1 an interception near the goal line and batted the ball behind him. Wayne was waiting. He tipped the ball with his right hand, turned, then made a diving catch near the right side of the end zone.

Asked to rate the two catches against the Giants, Wayne shrugged.

“Just so so,” he said.

Hamilton disagreed, especially on the touchdown.

“That was a great play,” Hamilton said. “I think Reggie Wayne is a living legend in a sense that you don’t have the career he’s had up to this point and consistently display the ability to make the great catches over the years without having a special intuitive gift.

“It’s like he can see the rotation of the ball. Everything’s slow to Reggie as far as how the game is played. He always finds a way to make the catch regardless of where the ball is.”

Luck insisted he has never taken for granted Wayne’s ability to make the tough catches.

“Those catches are special,” he said of Wayne’s work against the Giants. “Just because they happen — it seems over and over again now — it doesn’t make it lose its luster. I guess you do sort of come to expect it from those guys.

“I still get excited. I don’t know if it makes me look good or bad. It’s still a completion. That’s what matters.”

Bookmark and Share

Sam Shields key to coverage changes

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since Joe Whitt started coaching cornerbacks for the Green Bay Packers in 2009, he always assigned shutdown duties to one of his cornerbacks.

First it was Charles Woodson. Then it became Tramon Williams.

That plan is no more.

In what represents a significant change for the way the Packers will cover this season, Whitt and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have decided to leave their starting cornerbacks on their respective sides. Whitt said that decision was made well before Williams sustained his knee injury early in camp, and that plan will remain intact even after Williams returns, which the Packers hope is in time for the Sept. 8 opener at San Francisco.

It also means the plan was devised before the Packers saw how well fourth-year pro Sam Shields has played this preseason and how quickly rookie Micah Hyde emerged as a contender for playing time.

“We have guys with similar ability,” Whitt said on Wednesday. “There’s no reason to be putting that all on one guy when they have to have that same receiver down in and down out. If we have guys that are equal in ability, you split it.”

That said, Whitt was quick to acknowledge that if one of his defenders proves unable to handle a certain matchup, say against Chicago’s Brandon Marshall or Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, then he would go back to matching coverage.

But going into the season, he doesn’t expect that to happen. Not with guys like Williams, Shields, Hyde and Casey Hayward (who led all NFL rookies last season with six interceptions while playing mostly in the slot).

“I told the group that I didn’t want to match this year,” Whitt said. “I want to go left and right and make sure that you have the ability to handle the guy that comes to your side.”

Perhaps it’s the result of a drop-off in the play of Williams, who the past two seasons couldn’t match his form from 2010 when he was one of the top cover men in the league.

Whitt, however, says that is not the case.

“I think Tramon got criticized for his tough matches and some other guys got more credit because they didn’t have those matches,” Whitt said. “Well, we’re going to give everybody the opportunity to get that tough match and now everybody has to play, and then we’ll see where everything is.”

What is apparent is that Shields, who started eight games last season, appears ready for a larger role. In 25 snaps over the first two preseason games, Shields has allowed only one completion for 17 yards, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

After staying away from team workouts most of the offseason while hoping for a long-term contract -- one he never received, leaving him with no choice but to sign the restricted free-agent tender of $2.023 million -- Shields has come back better than ever.

Whitt wouldn’t name any starters on Wednesday, but it was clear it would take a major collapse by Shields over the final two preseason games to lose his spot.

“But the way he’s practiced and the way he’s done it has been so clean, it’d be hard for me to believe that he’s not going to be one of those two,” Whitt said, “if not the top one.”

Shields’ eyes lit up on Wednesday when asked about the chance to cover any receiver who lines up on his side.

“It’s an opportunity for me to guard these guys and just get a chance to get that confidence, just have that confidence knowing I can stick whoever comes to my side,” Shields said. “Just go out there and do what I’ve been doing.”

Bookmark and Share

Jason Fox performing well for Lions

Unlike the left outside linebacker job, the starting spot at right tackle has not already basically been decided. It's believed that Jason Fox has a slight edge on Corey Hilliard in the position battle, but the gap between them is not big enough for Jim Schwartz to come out and declare a leader or anything like that.

Through the first two preseason games, Fox and Hilliard have played a pretty equal number of offensive snaps. Fox has been on the field for 55 snaps on offense, while Hilliard has gotten 61. For Fox, he has been involved in pass blocking on at least 40 of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and he is performing at a pretty high level so far. From PFF:

Right Tackle Jason Fox is looking like he should be a starter in Detroit. Over 40 pass blocking snaps Fox has yet to give up a pressure. Fox has been getting most of the reps in practice with the first team. He started against the Jets and seems to have the edge in earning the starting role there. Corey Hilliard not out of the mix, but expect Fox to start and watch both closely.

It'd obviously be nice to see how many pressures Hilliard has given up so far, but that number wasn't included. Even so, it's probably safe to assume that if Hilliard was perfect in pass protection as well, it would have been mentioned.

In any case, this is another piece of evidence that suggests Fox will ultimately become the Detroit Lions' starting right tackle. What happens on Thursday in the Lions' "dress rehearsal" against the New England Patriots could help solidify that if Fox keeps playing like he has so far in the preseason.

Bookmark and Share

Chris Myers is 74th-ranked offensive player

The first Texan to appear on ESPN.com's player ranking list is center Chris Myers.

Myers ranks 74th, just ahead of Redskins running back Alfred Morris and behind Dolphins lineman Mike Pouncey. He was one of nine Texans Pro Bowlers last season and a strong point on Houston's offensive line.

The rankings were the result of votes from 63 experts from ESPN.com, ESPN TV, ESPN Radio, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider (including Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus), ESPN Fantasy, ESPN Boston, ESPN Chicago, ESPN Dallas, ESPN New York and ESPN Stats & Information.

So far we have the offensive and defensive rankings from 71 to 100, with 71 to 80 being revealed on both sides of the ball today.

Myers is ranked higher on the list than 11 offensive linemen who are also ranked in the top 100.

Bookmark and Share

Kenny Phillips misses practice for Eagles with quad injury

Speaking to reporters prior to Wednesday's practice, defensive coordinator Billy Davis said the upcoming session would be an important one for safety Kenny Phillips.

"Today is a big test for him," Davis said. "He's gonna see where he is."

Fifteen minutes later, Phillips took the field and was right where he has been most of training camp- on the sideline.

Phillips missed practice yet again on Wednesday with a quad injury, which flared up during Tuesday's practice. Davis said that Phillips did some work on Tuesday before going in once his quad started to bother him.

It's unclear if Phillips will play on Saturday in Jacksonville, but things certainly don't look promising- something that doesn't seem to be overly concerning to Davis.

"Nobody wants to get out on the field more than Kenny," said Davis. "Anybody that goes through the injury process, that doesn't get into the games or practices- it does make it harder to evaluate when you get less looks at the guy. But Kenny has got a lot of film on him and a lot of tape, so we'll have a good feel for him."

The Eagles knew the risk they were taking when they signed Phillips, who has missed nine games last season. His history of injuries is a big reason why his contract included zero guaranteed money. When healthy, however, Phillips is arguably the best safety on the roster.

"He's an experienced player, which helps- but not experienced in this system," Davis said.

The safety position is very much up in the air right now for the Eagles, with Nate Allen, Patrick Chung, Earl Wolff, Kurt Coleman and Phillips all battling for a starting spot. Despite his experience in the league, the reality is that the longer Phillips is out, the further behind he falls in that competition.

"Everybody is in the competition right now," Davis said. "As we go forward with these preseason games, as they play out and get out on the field, everyone has got a fair shot."

A shot that seems to be slipping away from Phillips the longer he remains on the sideline.

Bookmark and Share

Bryant McKinnie And Ray Rice's Odd Relationship

There are a lot of characters and unique relationships in the Ravens locker room. Perhaps my favorite is the one shared by running back Ray Riceicon-article-link and left tackle Bryant McKinnie.

Here’s why:

Nature has made them the odd couple. Rice is the team’s shortest player at 5-foot-8. McKinnie is the biggest at 6-foot-8. They seem much more than a foot apart in height, but luckily their maturity is on the same level.

The size jokes are never ending, and thoroughly entertain both.

Rice likens their friendship to “Rob & Big,” a hilarious reality TV show featuring skateboarder/actor/producer Rob Dyrdek and his best friend and bodyguard Christopher "Big Black" Boykin. Guess who’s who.

McKinnie says they’re more like characters in the movie “Twins.” Rice is Danny DeVito and McKinnie is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Rice has nicknamed McKinnie “Slim Slow.” McKinnie nicknamed Rice “Shorty Smalls.”

At practice, Rice often sprints directly at McKinnie, then swerves at the last second. It’s as if a Volkswagen Beetle is playing chicken with a Hummer. Rice does it just to see the big guy sweat and flail wildly in pursuit.

“I’m like that gnat at the barbeque that you just can’t catch,” Rice said. “I’m that gnat that keeps getting on his nerves.”

One of Rice’s favorite jokes is to mock the posture McKinnie has when he’s exhausted. “Big Mac” leans back, rests his wrists on his hips and lets his hands dangle. The other day at practice, McKinnie caught Rice and Jacoby Jones doing it behind his back. (McKinnie actually loves it, and made sure he had a picture of him and Rice doing the pose at the Super Bowl.)

“He’s that annoying kid brother,” McKinnie said with a laugh.

During Monday’s practice, Marshal Yanda pointed out to McKinnie that he was wearing two different cleats. “Whatever you do, don’t let Ray know,” McKinnie said. When the linemen joined the rest of the offense, the jokes immediately started.

Don’t worry, McKinnie gets in some shots too.

He pranked Rice on a Yahoo! web series called “Blindsided" a couple years ago. McKinnie and a fake marketing agent convinced Rice to dress up like an infant for commercials that would only air in Japan. Rice admitted he'd do it for half a million dollars. Check out the video.

“He got me good, man,” Rice said.

McKinnie makes plenty of size jokes at Rice’s expense too. He says Rice is the first child ever to be let into the NFL. McKinnie cuts off Rice’s chattering by saying, “enough of the small talk.”

A couple days ago, McKinnie posted a picture on Instagram making fun of Rice’s miniature pillow. McKinnie snapped a picture of Rice sleeping with it as proof.
While the two tease each other incessantly, it’s all out of love. Both McKinnie and Rice said the other is one of their best friends on the team.

They help each other out. McKinnie gets Rice’s shoulder pads from the top of his locker. Rice helps McKinnie stay on schedule and on weight. Rice suspects that the coaches put McKinnie’s locker near his so that he might pick up Rice’s eating habits.

“Hey, he’s been working hard. He’s Big Mac, not Fat Mac,” Rice said, sticking up for him.

At the end of the day, there’s really a lot of bro love.

“Mac is one of the funniest people in the world,” Rice said. “He’s just one of those guys that when you get close to him, you’re in. You know what you’re getting. We understand each other.

“He’s a great football player, but an even better person off the field. This is my man. I’m telling you, there’s not a day that I come in and don’t first look for Mac.”

Bookmark and Share

White Sox option Blake Tekotte to Class AAA Charlotte

KANSAS CITY - Following last night’s game at Kansas City, the Chicago White Sox optioned outfielder Blake Tekotte to Class AAA Charlotte.

Tekotte, 26, is hitting .226 (7-31) with one home run and two RBI in 20 games (nine starts) over three stints with the White Sox this season.

The Sox will make a corresponding roster move prior to today’s series finale against the Royals (7:10 p.m. CT).

Bookmark and Share

Price has been right for Orioles' Danny Valencia

Orioles infielder/designated hitter Danny Valencia said he knew he had hit pretty well in his career against Tampa Bay Rays ace David Priceicon1, but he wasn’t sure of the exact numbers.

When he stepped to the plate in the second inning Monday, he saw the stats on the video board: He was 7-for-10 lifetime with two RBIs against Price. And then Valencia hit a RBI double in his first at-bat and also singled and walked in three plate appearances against the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.

“Obviously, I saw it up on the scoreboard. I thought, ‘It can only go down from here,'” Valencia joked. “And then [later] I was like, ‘Wow, it went up.’”
Valencia said he can’t pinpoint why he is hitting a mind-boggling .750 against Price.

“I don’t think I necessarily see him better than other guys,” said Valencia, who is hitting .244 in 78 at-bats this season with the Orioles. “I just think he is a guy I’ve had success against because maybe I’ve gotten ahead in the count and he’s had to give me pitches I could hit. That’s not to say the next time I face him he doesn’t strike me out three times.”

Valencia was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Monday – and don’t think the timing was coincidental. Not only did the Orioles promote Valencia to face Price, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the club was aware of how Valencia hit Price when they acquired him for cashicon1 considerations from the Boston Red Sox in November.

“That’s one of the things you file in the back [of your mind] when you sign him in the offseason,” Showalter said. “We were looking at that. There’s not many of them floating around and we had a feeling we might face David Price this year. So, yeah, we look at those things.”

Showalter said 10 at-bats isn’t a huge sample size, but they were impressed with his types of hits and the quality of at-bats. Showalter said when he talked to Valencia on Monday he told the right-handed hitter that, at the very least, Valencia can have a career handling tough lefties.

“At 28, I don’t want him to think he is a specialist against left-handed pitching, but it is something that he is very good at and can carve a niche for him at the worst,” Showalter said. “Think about it as the worst-case scenario. You are gonna have people interested in you, including us, because the niche you have carved out for yourself. This was before he got two more hits. … It ain’t that easy. David Price is pretty good.”

Showalter was asked if he could put a finger on Valencia’s success against Price.

“I know exactly what it is and I’m going to broadcast it here now,” Showalter joked. “It’s one of those things, I’m afraid to ask him. ‘What is it on this guy? What do you do? Why are you different? So we can share your knowledge with everybody else.’ I kind of know what the answer is. See it, hit it.”

Bookmark and Share

Ari Fleischer says Ryan Braun needs to 'bare his soul,' be contrite and be heartfelt

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer advised Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals when the former slugger needed a strategy to admit publicly that he used steroids.

Fleischer, who heads Ari Fleischer Sports Communications, was hired for a time by Tiger Woods after Woods’ private life became international news. Fleischer was used by the Packers in 2008 when they were dealing with the messy departure of quarterback Brett Favre.

So when Fleischer (left) called on Wednesday to talk about Brewers slugger Ryan Braun and how Braun might draw a map that could lead him back to some level of respectability, I was more than a little curious about his suggestions.

On Tuesday, this blog offered a sampling of opinion about what Braun needs to do next, the path he needs to walk, in order to restore his good name, if that is even possible.

“I say this as somebody who does not know him, doesn’t know his personality and that’s a very important starting point, because anything somebody does they have to do with credibility,” Fleischer said. “In his case, that has become a much higher hurdle. It’s very hard in the pr world to come up to the plate when you have two strikes against you.”

Braun was suspended by Major League Baseball this season because of his connections to the Biogenesis clinic and performance-enhancing drugs.

“There are three parts to it,” Fleischer said about what Braun should do. “One is a full mea culpa now, like Mark McGwire did. He has to bare his soul, explain he messed up. But it has to be heartfelt and he has to mean it. It can’t be mouthed. It can’t be somebody else’s creation. It has to be genuine or fans and reporters are going to see right through it.

“If he were a client, I would really work him over to make that assessment,” Fleischer said. “If they just can’t pull it off, because they are too arrogant or because they don’t believe it, then I would say you don’t have a way back.”

Part two in his plan is a little easier.

“Go away,” Fleischer said. “Then lay low. Go away. Accept your punishment.”

And part three, “Come back and get hot,” Fleischer said. “You let your bat do the talking.”

After demonstrating he can play at a high level without PEDs, then Braun “can urge people not to make the same mistake” he did.

Fleischer said people are more willing to forgive the transgressions of sports figures than politicians.

“Fans are interested in sports stars because they want to watch their games on the field,” he said. “People still have not given up hope, although it’s become harder every day, to see elected officials in a higher and better light. We expect more from elected officials than we do from a 23-year-old jock. So if an athlete lets us down for a personal transgression, none of us likes it. But we are willing to forgive. America is a very forgiving place for those who earn it and deserve it and for those who are sincere.”

Bookmark and Share

Blake Tekotte enjoys homecoming to Kansas City

KANSAS CITY -- Outfielder Blake Tekotte had the current White Sox-Royals series circled on his calendar after his Aug. 9 callup from Triple-A Charlotte. Tekotte is from Columbia, Mo., just a two-hour drive down Interstate 70 from Kauffman Stadium. With the White Sox arriving on Monday's off-day, Tekotte had the opportunity to drive to Columbia and visit family and friends. "We flew in and I got a rental car and headed home," Tekotte said. "Got to sleep in my own bed." Tekotte could have stayed in his hometown and played baseball for the University of Missouri. But the outfielder chose to attend the University of Miami before beginning his pro career in the Padres' system back in 2008. Now, he's part of a revamped White Sox roster and looking to make an impression as the White Sox plot their course for the future. "The team and the staff here are awesome," said Tekotte, who hit his first Major League homer against Minnesota on Aug. 9. "They really make you feel comfortable. It's a great spot, a great opportunity for me. I'm just blessed to be up here and to have the opportunity to be around these guys and learn how they go about their business. When I get in there, I try to go about my business the same way."

Bookmark and Share

Clinton Portis Hired By ACC Network

The ACC Digital Network announced that former UM tailback Clinton Portis will be part of its broadcast team.

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller Losing Grip on No. 1 RB Spot

There's growing talk that Lamar Miller doesn't exactly have the primary running back job sewed up in Miami. Dolphins radio analyst Joe Rose, for one, says coaches told him, via Finsiders.com, that Daniel Thomas is "neck-and-neck" with Miller to be the starter.

Bookmark and Share

Antrel Rolle Could Return to Practice This Week

With a plethora of negative injury-related news dominating the headlines for the New York Giants, positive updates on safety Antrel Rolle (ankle) and defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder) have gone almost entirely overlooked. But during a media conference call on Monday, head coach Tom Coughlin suggested that both players are on the mend, with Rolle possibly returning to practice as early as this week.

“Yes, he is [getting closer],” Coughlin said during a Monday conference call. “The projection is yes [he can practice soon], maybe a little bit later in the week, but the projection is hopefully that we will have an opportunity to get Antrel on the practice field this week.”

Bookmark and Share

Argos have their eye on Dwayne Hendricks

A Super Bowl champion took to the field with the Toronto Argonauts’ practice squad on Tuesday.

Defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks, 27, has spent the last few seasons on the New York Giants’ practice roster, appearing in just one game with the Giants. Nonetheless, he received a Super Bowl ring when they won in 2011.

“It’s always difficult to release players that have been here and have really worked hard and have earned our respect and our admiration,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said last year. “Those are guys like Dwayne Hendricks, who I have great respect for.”

Hendricks was cut from the Giants because a player can only spend three seasons on a practice squad in the NFL.

He last played for the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League.

On Tuesday, Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said he hasn’t had a chance to check Hendricks out yet.

“We’re always evaluating,” he said. “If we feel like there may be a need down the line, we’ll try to get him in here.”

That time likely won’t be coming soon, as Hendricks will have to first learn the team’s playbook and then earn a spot.

The Argos have been relying upon newcomer Khalif Mitchell, acquired in a trade with the B.C. Lions in April. Mitchell had a career-high 33 tackles and six sacks in 2011 with the Lions. He’s well off that pace halfway through this season, with just two sacks thus far.

But Milanovich said he remains confident in Mitchell.

“I have no problems with him,” he said.

The Argos are third-worst in the CFL with just 15 sacks this season so far.

But the team is on a four-game win streak nonetheless because of the stellar play of quarterback Ricky Ray, named the offensive player of the week for the second time this season. Ray set an Argonauts’ franchise record for single-game consecutive completions with 17.

Bookmark and Share

So far, Benjamin has been money in the bank

BEREA — Travis Benjamin made the play of the game in the preseason opener vs. the St. Louis Rams. He sprinted across the field, turned the corner and was gone — untouched — on a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown.

On Thursday against the Lions, he had an 82-yard return for a touchdown called back by a holding penalty.

Benjamin’s bursts reminded everyone — even Joshua Cribbs’ biggest fans — of the impact he can have in the return game.

His work at receiver throughout the offseason and in training camp has alerted anyone who’s paid attention that he’s not a one-trick pony.

“He’s a guy who busts his (butt) and works hard and he wants to be more than a punt returner — and he is,” receivers coach Scott Turner said. “He’s a receiver and he’s a guy who’s going to contribute and play a large role in our offense.”

That’s music to Benjamin’s ears.

“I feel like with my speed and my talent, either in special teams or whenever I get on the field, I can make a difference,” he said.

Benjamin (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) is a leading candidate for most-improved player from 2012. He’s among the leaders in practice catches and hasn’t dropped many. A practice doesn’t go by without Benjamin doing something worthy of a tweet or jot in the notebook.

“He has gotten a lot better,” said coach Rob Chudzinski, who went to the University of Miami two decades before Benjamin. “He’s using his speed better in his routes. As opposed to last year, where he was just a guy that ran deep, this year up to this point he has shown ability to run the shorter routes as well and get in and out of breaks really well.”

With 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Benjamin will always have the ability to sprint by the cornerback and safety. His two receiving touchdowns as a rookie last year — he added a 93-yard punt return for a score — came on 22- and 69-yard catches from Brandon Weeden. He averaged 16.6 yards on 18 catches in 14 games, including three starts.

The growth in Benjamin’s game this season is most evident in the intermediate routes. The 15-yard out from Weeden has become almost unstoppable, and the 12-yard in has also been effective.

“There’s plenty of targets out there but him knowing my speed and my ability to get open quicker and faster, I think that’s why he comes to me,” Benjamin said.
He is always a threat to blow by the cornerback, which opens up the playbook. His improved route running makes the shorter patterns so productive.

“The deep, moderate type of routes are good,” Turner said. “But a guy like him, he can run them all, he can get in and out of things pretty well, so he’s encouraging.

“I was excited about him when I saw from him on film because of his ability to run. I felt like with some maturity there was some more there.”

Benjamin credits his offseason workouts in Boca Raton, Fla., with Anquan Boldin and other NFL receivers for helping his routes. Boldin, 32, has never been a blazer but has made a Pro Bowl career with the ability to get open.

His best advice?

“Stay focused. Be crafty with your technique,” Benjamin said. “Be crafty in your routes because only you know where you’re going on the field in the route running.”

Closer to home, he has advisers in Greg Little and veteran slot receiver Davone Bess.

“It’s just more crisp,” Little said of Benjamin’s route running this year. “Travis is so fast and sometimes when he cuts it’s rounded.

“Travis’ top speed is obviously here (putting his hand above his head), so you don’t have to go top speed. Go one or two notches under that and still you’re playing at a high level, and guys know you’re fast and obviously are going to be aware of that when you’re coming off the ball.”

Benjamin will need to come out of the gate quickly. Starter Josh Gordon is suspended for the first two games, so Benjamin will likely slide into his spot. When everyone’s available, Benjamin is the fourth receiver behind Gordon, Little and Bess.

“I’m going to go into Game 1 vs. the Dolphins looking to come out with a great game, just to fill in for Josh,” Benjamin said. “And through Game 2 and Game 3 just play the best I can.”

“We will use him as a receiver, whether Josh is there or not,” Chudzinski said. “He’s definitely somebody we want to take advantage of and find a role for. He will be more important in those first couple games.”

Through limited time in two preseason games, Benjamin has two catches for 21 yards. The spectacular has shown up on his returns, even eliciting a congratulatory text from Cribbs, Cleveland’s kick returner from 2005-12.

“Josh is a great person to me,” Benjamin said. “He was a great mentor while he was here in Cleveland. By watching him and learning the things he did, it’s coming along into my game. He always gave me great advice.”

Cribbs has 40 pounds of muscle on Benjamin and uses his strength to break tackles and into the clear. Benjamin uses his speed to run to daylight.

He’s not flashy and speaks softly, but his ego is obvious when discussing his speed. He ranks himself the fastest guy on the team and among the top five in the league, joining Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson and Titans running back Chris Johnson.

When he’s running free, nobody can catch him.

“I think if I get the edge on you, it’s me all the way,” Benjamin said.

Bookmark and Share

Ticats’ Joel Figueroa ‘absolutely loves the game’


HAMILTON — The defensive back is running towards the end zone. He's picked off a Henry Burris pass and, even though it's practice, he's steaming towards the goal line as his fellow DBs whoop and holler encouragement.

Offensive tackle Joel Figueroa does not like this. He's running full speed in pursuit, weaving through coaches, equipment guys, and teammates, 20 yards, 30 yards, now 40 yards. The defensive back starts to pull up. Figueroa does not.


Professional football players don't tackle in practice and they certain don't flatten their teammates. Figueroa knows it's wrong — this is not the first time he's done it — but he's like a kid who can't help but touch the hot stove, even though he knows better.

"I don't like turnovers and when it happens, I see red and I attack. The DB wasn't moving as fast as I thought he was and I kind of just ran into him," Figueroa explains, somewhat apologetically (but not really.) "If you intercept the ball or pick up a fumble and run, then it's live. If you stop, then I'll stop. I'm not going to let you score, even in practice."

It is entirely possible that Joel Figueroa is 12-year-old boy trapped in a giant body. He plays the game with an energy and enthusiasm that's infectious, almost playful. Ask his teammates about him — even his head coach — and they inevitably begin to chuckle.

"We love Figs. He absolutely loves the game and we love players that love football," said Kent Austin. "He'll block anywhere. He'll block in the stands if has an opportunity to, if the whistle hasn't been blown.

"I'm from the deep South — we like physical football players."

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, Figueroa played his college ball at the University of Miami and seemed on track for a pro career before a rash of injuries cut into his playing time. Back surgery before his senior season — he was given another year of eligibility due to its severity — scared off all of his potential NFL suitors.

He sat out a year after graduation, staying in shape and working out, hoping for an opportunity. But he also did something far more valuable with his time.
It was nearly two years ago that Figueroa's brother-in-law was killed in car accident, leaving behind a pregnant wife and young son. The entire Figueroa clan stepped into the breach — Joel is the youngest of three in a tight family — including "Uncle Joey."

"Every chance I get, I look after those kids like they're my own. There's a lot of motivation to make sure they grow up happy, finish school," Figueroa said. "We play around all the time, trying to tire them out. They end up wearing me out though.

"Their love and support keeps me focused."

After a steep learning curve — Figueroa admits he didn't know it was three downs, 12-men or a bigger field when he first got here – the six-foot-six, 320 pounder has now settled into in a starting role the last two weeks. He naked aggression has been integral in the Ticats finally establishing a much-needed running game and improving Burris' protection.

"At times we have to dial him down but it's easier to dial a guy down than to dial him up," Austin said.

The coach adds one more caveat.

"We don't want Figueroa tackling our guys. That six-six, 340 landing on our little DBs," Austin said. "We don't need that."

Bookmark and Share

Brandon Washington Leads Kicks to My Lou Shoe Drive

When Brandon Washington was growing up, his mom worked four jobs so she could provide items like name-brand athletic shoes for her son. Now as a professional football player, Washington wants to give local kids the same opportunity.

In a business class at Maryville University, Washington was explaining to the class his problem of always wanting to buy the latest shoes. It was suggested to him that he donate 10 brand-name pairs to kids that needed them in East St. Louis. Washington took that idea and expanded it to include his Rams teammates and a real challenge was born. 

Washington and the Rams set out to donate name-brand shoes for 100 local kids in the St. Louis area. Washington partnered with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis to find 100 kids ages 5-17 in need of shoes because they couldn’t afford brand-name, they didn’t have the right kind or theirs were too worn. With his own funds and with contributions from his teammates, Washington shopped for the shoes to distribute at the event held at the Clyde C Jordan Senior Citizens Center.   

“It’s an awesome feeling knowing where (I) come from and knowing the struggle,” said Washington. “I grew up in a single parent home, my mom had five kids, I had four brothers, and my mom wasn’t able to afford name-brand shoes for me and all four of my brothers. These kids might keep this pair of shoes for a long period of their lives, knowing they got it from a professional athlete with the St. Louis Rams.”

Along with receiving their new shoes, Washington posed for photos, shared snacks with the kids and hosted a PLAY 60 event. The NFL PLAY 60 Challenge is a program intended to educate and motivate middle school students to stay active for 60 minutes every day. The kids were broken up into four group activities: passing, catching, wheel-barrel racing and foot speed drills.

In addition to Washington’s efforts, the Rams organization held a shoe drive and collected an additional 100 pairs of shoes for the Urban League to distribute to area children.

“It feels great, it’s just great to give back,” said Washington. “These kids, when you look around and see these smiling faces, they welcomed me with a warm welcome as soon as I got out of my car.” 

Bookmark and Share

Early returns on Hester are positive

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The early returns on Devin Hester's transition to full-time special teamer have been encouraging.

Without the responsibility of having to take a single rep at wide receiver, Hester has looked fresh and re-energized when given the opportunity to return kickoffs during the preseason. The NFL record holder for combined kick-return touchdowns with 17, Hester almost broke the opening kickoff last week against the San Diego Chargers, but he was tripped up after a 45-yard return.

"He was pretty close," Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "The kicker made a nice play and then also the safety from the back side. It was just good to get him some action, some real action. It was good to see those guys blocking the way they did, too, because there was definitely some holes out there, which was nice to see."

Hester also was credited with a 23-yard kickoff return in the Bears' preseason opener in Carolina when he decided to run the ball out after fielding it in the back of the end zone. The Bears have given Hester the green light on kickoff returns in both exhibition games. That aggressive style doesn't just help Hester, it allows the rest of the return team members to practice setting up their blocks.

"Even when Devin was having those big years, Devin had some big holes to go through," DeCamillis said. "We just got to do a better job of getting some holes for him at the start, and then, you know, he's gotta go and play better also. So it's a combination of all of those. I've got to help him schematically with what we're doing. Guys gotta block better, and he's gotta return better. That's what we've been working on all camp, and hopefully it starts to show up."

DeCamillis also has taken notice of undrafted rookie Michael Ford, who is fighting to earn a roster spot at running back. With Armando Allen sidelined last week due to a hamstring injury, Ford helped his cause with a 100-yard kickoff return against the Chargers. He finished the game with three returns for 160 yards.

"It would be tough not to like what you saw in a Michael Ford," DeCamillis said. "He did a great job. On his long one, that wasn't one of the better blocked returns that we had all night. He made a guy miss right in the hole. So that was a great run by him, and he did a better job on coverage, too. So he's making it tough. He's doing a good job of what we need to see from him, that's for sure."

Bookmark and Share

Kellen Winslow. Jr. says NFL should examine low hits to defenseless WRs with same vigor as helmet-to-helmet hits

Kellen Winslow, Jr., isn’t buying Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger’s rationale for his low hit that resulted in a devastating season-ending knee injury to Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller over the weekend.

Keller, who played five seasons with the Jets, tore his ACL, MCL and PCL and dislocated his knee on the play. Winslow thinks low hits aimed at defenseless players should be outlawed.

“It’s just the way he was hit… he’s defenseless,” Winslow told the Daily News. “I’ve been thinking about that (type of) hit for years. The guy’s defenseless... and the (defender) is knifing in at his knees. That’s not cool. That hit should be illegal…. You shouldn’t be knifing in at a guy’s knees when they’re not able to protect themselves.”

“You’re supposed to tackle him like a real tackle,” Winslow added. “My hit vs. Detroit (to prevent an interception by jarring the ball the loose from a defensive player) last week: That’s a real tackle. That’s an old-school tackle. You wrap up. You hit with your shoulder, not your head anyway. That’s how you tackle… not when you’re not able to protect yourself.

Swearinger defended himself by saying that “with the rules in this era, you’ve got to hit low.”

Winslow said that the league should examine low hits to defenseless players with the same vigor as helmet-to-helmet hits. After an impassioned few tweets over the weekend, Winslow clarified that he didn’t think that knee injuries were worse than head injuries. However, he believes the league needs to do more to prevent plays the like the one that knocked out Keller.

“On Twitter, it came out wrong,” Winslow said. “They should (penalize) for those hits the way they’re going after helmet-to-helmet. You’re a defenseless receiver who can’t protect yourself.  You can’t see what’s coming… They shouldn’t be able to knife in at your knees when you’re not able to protect yourself.”

“I just think the helmet-to-helmet rule is so up in the air,” Winslow added. “They don’t even know what they’re calling…. To protect the concussions, they should mandate mouthpieces. That’s what should really happen.”

Bookmark and Share

GIFs: Leonard Hankerson Made a Great One-Hand Grab for a Touchdown

Leonard Hankerson, third year wide receiver for Washington, made a great one-hand grab climbing the ladder on a high pass to the back of the end zone from Rex Grossman. Grossman had to come in to the game in the first half after Kirk Cousins left with what appeared to be a foot or ankle injury after getting tackled near the sideline.


Bookmark and Share

Eagles still waiting for Kenny Phillips to show he deserves a job

It was regarded as a coup of sorts when the Eagles lured safety Kenny Phillips away from the Giants via free agency.  But Phillips may be back with the Giants soon — or one of the other 30 teams.

As recently explained by Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, Phillips faces the possibility of being cut, due in large part to a quad strain that has kept Phillips out of action since August 11.  Though he plans to be back on the field Tuesday, Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff have taken over the starting job earmarked for the 2008 first-round pick.

“I’m just hoping to get out there as soon as possible,” Phillips said.

Mosher writes that there’s no guarantee Phillips will even make the final 53-man roster.  And Phillips seems to realize that.

“You have to compete day-to-day, but this is a new team, new coaches.  They want to see what you can do,” Phillips said.  “Being on the sideline doesn’t help the cause.”

Phillips says his quad injury is unrelated to knee problems that have plagued his career.  Regardless of the specific problem, an inability to practice and play could get Phillips cut.  But if he can get and stay healthy, Phillips could be in the starting lineup.

It’s a wide range of outcomes for a guy who, when 100 percent, can cover a wide range of ground in the secondary.

Bookmark and Share

Sam Shields working as starter

Green Bay Packers CBs Micah Hyde and Sam Shields are working as starters in practice, with CB Davon House working on the second-team defense, and working on the No. 1 nickel unit.

Bookmark and Share

Rivera looking for new ways to use Jon Beason

CHARLOTTE — Now that Jon Beason is back on the practice field with the Carolina Panthers, Coach Ron Rivera and his Carolina staff are exploring creative ways to use him.

Beason, a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, practiced Monday for the second straight day. Beason, a six-year NFL veteran, is coming off microfracture surgery on his right knee and has been limited to only five games the past two seasons.

The Panthers had concerns over how Beason's knee would respond after his first padded practice on Sunday, but Beason said after Monday's practice he "feels good" and didn't experience any swelling in his knee.

If Beason can stay healthy, he'll start at a new position this year — weakside linebacker. However, when the Panthers go to a nickel defense, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will remain on the field and Beason will come off the field.

But Rivera said he'll look for other ways to use Beason's skill set in certain packages.

"As Jon gets stronger and better and better, we'll have to find a role … other than just being our starting Will (weakside linebacker) — because he's such a dynamic player," Rivera said. "We have to find ways to rotate those three guys (Beason, Kuechly and Davis) and keep those three guys on the field as much as possible."

Rivera suggested the Panthers might use some sets that include three down linemen and three linebackers.

"We've got to really explore the possibilities, especially if he's going to be as productive as he has been in the past," Rivera said of Beason, who led the Panthers in tackles in each of his first four seasons in the league.

Beason said he doesn't particularly care what role he fills. He said his goal is to "contribute, lead and win some football games."

As for the knee, Beason said it felt fine after two days of practice. He said other players who have had microfracture knee surgery have told him there's a good chance he'll have good days and bad days and could miss practice time during the season.

"I'm just happy to be back out there," a winded Beason said after running sprints following practice. "I don't care about what shape I'm in, what I do right, what I do wrong. I just miss the grind of me and my teammates hanging in the huddle. It's long overdue."

Beason tore his Achilles in the 2012 season opener against Arizona and was put on injured reserve. He battled back last season, but struggled with knee and shoulder problems and the Panthers shut him down for the year only four games into the season. At that point the team moved Kuechly to middle linebacker, where he flourished.

Beason underwent surgery to repair knee problems and a torn labrum in his shoulder. Beason said the shoulder hasn't been a problem, but he's endured some setbacks along the way with the knee.

"The good thing is our staff is really smart about it," Beason said. "I'm trying to get as much work as I can right now and get back into football shape and get my reads down and get used to playing football again."

Rivera is thrilled at the prospect of having veterans Davis and Beason lining up on opposite sides of Kuechly, the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and league's leading tackler in 2013.

"That's pretty exciting," Rivera said.

Rivera said he'll wait a few days before making a decision on whether Beason will play Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

Bookmark and Share

Kubiak says Ed Reed is ahead of schedule

Coach Gary Kubiak says Ed Reed (hip surgery) is ahead of schedule in his rehab.
Reed was sent back to Atlanta to visit his rehab specialist for the second time in a week Monday. Kubiak says it's a "positive step" for Reed, and "all indications are things are going really, really good." Nobody knows when Reed plans to play in a game, but there's plenty of doubt that he'll be ready Week 1

Bookmark and Share

Jon Beason practices in full pads for first time this summer

The Panthers have taken things slowly with linebacker Jon Beason this summer as he recovered from microfracture surgery on his right knee by stopping him from practicing fully until they felt he had recovered enough to resume a full workload.

That moment has arrived. Beason was in full pads for the first time this summer at Sunday’s practice, marking a major step forward in his comeback after two years that were essentially wiped out by injuries.

Beason has played in just five games for the Panthers over the last two seasons, stalling a productive career and leaving the Panthers shorthanded on defense. Beason said recently that he hopes that taking it slow in his recovery from the microfracture surgery will lead to a sustained comeback rather than a brief stay on the field before another setback.

“I want to get out there as soon as possible, but might as well take advantage of the time,” Beason said, via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “Trying to make it a permanent comeback from a temporary setback. Know what I mean?”

Having a healthy Beason for an entire season would do the Panthers defense a world of good, so they surely hope that the cautious approach proves to be a winning one.

Bookmark and Share

Mike James Performing Very Well

TAMPA — Everyone at One Buc Place knows Doug Martin is the man when it comes to running the football.

But through two preseason games, the men behind Martin are busy making defenders miss and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches take notice.

Rookie Mike James and veterans Peyton Hillis and Brian Leonard are some of the most impressive players on the roster heading into Saturday night’s third exhibition matchup at Miami, where Martin and many Tampa Bay starters figure to see extended playing time.

Leonard, who played for Bucs coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers, showed his versatility in the preseason opener against Baltimore, gaining 23 yards on six carries, including a 3-yard touchdown. He also showcased his blocking skills by deftly picking up blitzers and giving quarterback Josh Freeman more time in the pocket.

On Friday night against New England, with Leonard sitting out at Gillette Stadium, James and Hillis gouged the Patriots run defense repeatedly in a 25-21 setback.

“It was a solid game,” said James, a sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Miami who has been compared to dependable former Bucs running back Earnest Graham. “I was where I needed to be at times, but there are still some things to grow from. It was good to be out there and get an opportunity to show what I can do.”

The Bucs traded up to make James their final 2013 draft selection and he ran for 81 yards on 15 carries at Foxborough. He also caught three passes for 23 yards and scored on a 2-point conversion run, displaying a knack for making the first defender miss.

Hillis, signed only a month ago to a one-year deal as a free agent, is only three years removed from a 1,177-yard rushing season in Cleveland, where he added 61 receptions.

He ran over and through the Patriots on Friday for 73 yards in 18 carries, showing the Bucs braintrust the punishing style that marked LeGarrette Blount’s stellar rookie season in Tampa in 2010.

Blount, traded to New England in April, carried three times for 10 yards against Tampa Bay.

“I thought Hillis and James both had productive games running the football,” Schiano said, “which coincides with some good blocking in the run game.’’

Martin, who finished third in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage as a rookie, played sparingly again Friday. He carried once for a 4-yard gain before taking a knee to the helmet late in the opening quarter and leaving the game.

Schiano said Martin showed no concussion-like effects on the flight home from Foxborough, which didn’t land in Tampa until 4:30 a.m.

With fullback Erik Lorig also in the mix, the Bucs have some tough decisions to make regarding their offensive backfield.

“It’s a man’s league,” said James, “and there are a lot of great players out there. The offensive line was doing a great job of opening up holes. I have to work every day, do what I have to do, do all that I can on special teams and run as best I can. Then, I’ll just let the coaches decide the rest.”

With Martin expected to play more on third down this fall, his backups don’t figure to receive many touches while the games are close.

James, Hillis and Leonard know they have to contribute on special teams to maximize their value and earn a spot Aug. 31, when 53-man rosters are finalized.
While James is just trying to get noticed, Leonard and Hillis are attempting to resurrect their NFL careers.

A second-round pick by the Rams in 2007, Leonard has rushed for only 646 yards in his stints with St. Louis and Cincinnati.

Hillis is coming off a forgettable season in Kansas City.

“I’m here trying to do the best that I can,” Hillis said. “I’ve been humbled over the past couple of years. I’m just happy to be in a place they want me and a place where I can try to produce again.”

Bookmark and Share

Jon Jay surging at the plate in August

MILWAUKEE -- Jon Jay entered Monday hitting .377 in August and leading the National League with 26 hits in the month, many of them important ones for the Cardinals.

His 27th hit on Monday was a big one, too.

Jay launched a tiebreaking two-run home run -- his seventh of the year -- to left-center field in the sixth inning to help the Cardinals to a 4-2 lead in their eventual 8-5 win over the Brewers at Miller Park.

"That's two big ones for us, opposite field like that," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, referring to Jay's three-run homer on Sunday in the Cardinal's 6-1 win over the Cubs. "He's got something really good going. Just like to see it continue for a couple months."

Jay has a .273 batting average, 20 points above the .253 mark he entered August with. He said recent mechanical changes with hitting coach John Mabry have contributed to his success.

"Just playing one day at a time," Jay said. "Just figure out a way to put the barrel on the ball more consistently. Working hard every day and trying to win some guys."

Jay entered August with 14 doubles and 39 RBIs in 409 plate appearances, but he has eight doubles and 17 RBIs in 73 at-bats this month. His on-base percentage was up from .331 to .346 and his slugging percentage rose from .346 to .382.

But Matheny said you would never be able to tell how well its going for the 28-year-old center fielder just by looking at him.

"You go up and you talk to Jon Jay every day and you can't tell if he's eight for his last eight or oh-for his last 12," Matheny said. "That's a great quality as a younger guy in our premium position like he is in center field. He brings that every single day."

Matheny said Jay has been pivotal to the Cardinals push this month, and has resembled the hitter who hit .305 for the team in 2012.

"We need everybody pulling their weight and everybody doing their part in order for us to be as good as we can be, and Jon's doing his part," Matheny said. "With that, we know there's going to be ups and downs offensively, but … he is that hitter we saw last year. Hitting over .300 and putting together tough at-bats for us. And we know what kind of defender he is, so he's continuing to build himself into the kind of player that he should be, and right now he's just on a good run."

Bookmark and Share

Lawsuit against Ryan Braun details efforts to fight drug test

MILWAUKEE - A former college classmate sued Ryan Braun, saying the Brewers slugger sought his help in fighting a failed drug test, balked on paying him and then disparaged him when asked why their friendship soured.

Ralph Sasson, a Milwaukee law student, said Braun's agent hired him in November 2011 to do legal research aimed at clearing Braun after the left fielder tested positive for steroid use. The agent later asked him to investigate the man who collected Braun's urine, Dino Laurenzi Jr., and Braun personally asked him to prank call two journalists working on a story about the failed test, according to the lawsuit filed last month in Milwaukee County court.

Braun was the first baseball player to successfully challenge a drug-related penalty in a grievance. He accepted a longer, 65-game suspension last month amid reports of ties to a Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs to major leaguers but did not publicly admit using banned drugs.
Sasson said the initial deal called for him to be paid $2,000 for his research and $5,000 if Braun was exonerated. But Braun and his agent, Onesimo Balelo, balked at paying him the full amount after a baseball arbitrator overturned the left fielder's 50-game suspension in February 2012. Sasson eventually got paid, but he said his relationship with Braun soured and the baseball player lied when asked why.

"Braun has engaged in advancing the proposition that the reason for his falling out with Sasson was because Sasson had been rude to staff at Miller Park; Braun had received word that complaints had been filed due to Sasson's abhorrent behavior; that Sasson had "acted like an ass"; and that Sasson is crazy," the lawsuit says.

It seeks more than $10,000 for defamation and emotional distress.

"This lawsuit is an unfortunate attempt to capitalize on Ryan's recent press attention for taking responsibility for his actions," Braun's attorney, Howard Weitzman, said in an email to The Associated Press during the weekend. "The factual allegations are untrue and the legal claims have absolutely no merit. We believe the lawsuit will be dismissed."

Weitzman had no further comment Monday.

According to his lawsuit, Sasson and Braun had been friends since junior high school and attended the University of Miami together. Sasson said Balelo did not mention Braun's name when he initially hired Sasson, but Sasson believed the player he was working to clear was his friend because there was no reason otherwise for an agent of Balelo's stature to call "a law student with very little practical experience."

Sasson said Braun later confirmed he was the player who failed the drug test.

The law student said he wrote a legal brief on the matter and then, at Balelo's request, ran a background check on Laurenzi. Braun's initial suspension was overturned after the outfielder's supporters showed Laurenzi collected the sample on a Saturday but did not send it to the lab until Monday.

Baseball's drug agreement states that "absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the laboratory on the same day they are collected."

Bookmark and Share

Danny Valencia Called Up

BALTIMORE ORIOLES — Sent 3B Wilson Betemit to Frederick (Carolina) for a rehab assignment. Recalled DH Danny Valencia from Norfolk (IL).

Bookmark and Share

Wis. Gov. Scott Walker: Ryan Braun's lying is 'like a shot to the gut'

Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun let down his fans and teammates by using performance-enhancing drugs and then lying about it. But he also let down Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, an avid sports fan.

“I was defending Ryan Braun literally the Sunday night before the story broke. I feel a little bit like Lance Armstrong’s supporters … it was like a shot to the gut,” Mr. Walker, a Republican, said Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

Last month, Mr. Braun was suspended for 65 games — the remainder of the season — and became the first of more than a dozen players caught up in baseball’s latest drug scandal. Mr. Braun adamantly had denied using performance-enhancing substances, and he apparently had convinced many highly influential figures in Wisconsin.

Mr. Walker and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers were among those who came to his defense.

“That’s the problem for a lot of us with Ryan Braun. … He kept telling us it didn’t happen. He kept putting out a plausible defense,” Mr. Walker said. “We were defending him up until the very end. It’s very frustrating.”

Bookmark and Share

GIFs: Reggie Wayne's Ridiculous Pre Season Catches

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne made a sick one-handed catch on a screen pass during the first quarter of the Colts-Giants preseason game Sunday night. 

He followed it up just a few minutes later with a juggling touchdown catch on a pass that should have been picked off by defensive back Aaron Ross.


Bookmark and Share

Titans will start Fokou over McCarthy at MLB

Coach Mike Munchak confirmed Sunday that Moise Fokou has won the Titans' starting middle linebacker job over Colin McCarthy.

On McCarthy's only practice of training camp, he pulled his hamstring. He has not returned, while Fokou has handled starting reps since OTAs. "I don't know what's gonna go on with Colin," Munchak said. "Right now, (Fokou) would be our starter. I don't know if Colin will be practicing this week, and next week. ... (Fokou) is the best linebacker that's lined up and practiced everyday."

Bookmark and Share

Mike James Pushing For No. 2 RB Spot

RB Mike James, who proved he can be a valuable every-down back for the Bucs, is pushing Brian Leonard and Peyton Hillis for the No. 2 job. James recorded 81 yards on 13 carries, the third-most preseason single-game rushing yardage recorded in team history since 2000, and the most for a rookie during that period.

RB Brian Leonard, a free agent from the Rams, played for Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Being reunited in Tampa Bay has rejuvenated his career. Leonard has been so impressive that the Bucs held him out of the second preseason game in New England to give longer looks to rookie Mike James and Peyton Hillis. What makes Leonard so valuable is his versatility. He can play fullback in a two-back set and is a good pass protector and route runner to play on third down as well. Leonard may be the perfect complement to Doug Martin, especially since he can be effective in short yardage situations where the Bucs struggled a year ago.

Bookmark and Share

Brandon McGee candidate for Rams' nickel job

ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner considers fifth-round pick Brandon McGee a candidate for the Rams' nickel corner job.

McGee got an extended look with the first-team defense Friday and will continue to push Trumaine Johnson in camp. Cortland Finnegan moves into the slot in sub-packages, so McGee is competing to book end Janoris Jenkins.

Bookmark and Share

Ed Reed post-Super Bowl text to Andre Johnson: 'Get me to Houston'

After the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII in February over the 49ers, safety Ed Reed wasn't thinking about going to Disney World or Bourbon Street, he was thinking about going somewhere else: Houston.

How do we know that? Because Reed admitted it on Tuesday.

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson sent Reed a congratulatory text after the Ravens 34-31 win over San Francisco and well, let's let Reed tell the rest of the story.

"Andre just said congratulations," Reed said, via CSNHouston.com. "He said congratulations and it was more my comment to him."

What exactly was Reed's comment to Johnson?

"Get me to Houston," Reed said he responded.

For someone playing on a team that just won a Super Bowl, that's an interesting response.

Reed's comments would seem to insinuate he didn't want to be in Baltimore anymore, which is interesting because the feeling seemed to be mutual. Less than two weeks after Ed Reed signed with the Texans in March, a report surfaced claiming that Baltimore coach John Harbaugh didn't want Reed back. However, the Ravens would later deny that Harbaugh felt that way.

The bottom line here seems to be: Reed wanted to be in Houston and now he is. So does he think his new team can win the Super Bowl?

"The pieces are here but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “The Super Bowl is a long way from now and we still have a lot of work in training camp. This is only the first week. We still have a long way to go, still have a lot to learn."

Reed may have wanted out of Baltimore, but he'll still be going back soon. The Texans go on the road to play the Ravens in Week 3 of the regular season.

Bookmark and Share

Sam Shields adds savvy to go with his speed

The Green Bay Packers player quietly having as good a camp as anyone is cornerback Sam Shields.

With cornerbacks Tramon Williams (knee) and Casey Hayward (hamstring) out because of injuries, Shields is playing a key role with the starting defense in the preseason. You don’t hear his name much, and the only time you do is when he’s making a tackle. If you’re a defensive back and only getting your name called when you’re making a tackle, that’s pretty darn good.

Shields in his fourth season doesn’t get beat as much as he used to when receivers break off routes, and when he does, he still has the speed to close quickly. You compare that Micah Hyde, the fifth-round draft pick who’s having a strong training campicon1. Hyde doesn’t have that extra gear to close fast when a receiver breaks.

Earlier in his careericon1, Shields got beat a lot on double moves and peaking into the backfield. He often got back in the play because of his speed and jumping ability, but now with some seasoning he’s not making those mistakes. He’s using his hands better, getting nice leverage. He’s having a really nice camp.

When Hayward and Williams come back, Shields will complement them well. Going into camp, Hayward was in the running to start on the outside, maybe even the favorite. But now I could see Shields starting there, and Hayward coming in as the slot cornerback in the nickel.

Shields also is showing up as tackler. The Packers list him at 184 pounds, but I’d guess he’s 175 soaking wet. He doesn’t take on guys high tackling. He’s a smart guy, goes low. His most impressive tackle Saturday night at St. Louis came on the Rams’icon1 first possession. It was first and 10 at the Packers’ 43, and Rams halfback Isaiah Pead ran right. Shields filled and tackled him for a two-yard gain. Shields was 10 yards away on the handoff and made the play.

Bookmark and Share

Lions sign Rocky McIntosh

After a preseason performance that had coach Jim Schwartz seething, the Lions are calling in reinforcements.

The Lions have signed linebacker Rocky McIntosh to a one-year deal, a league source told PFT.

McIntosh worked out with the Lions last month but didn’t sign at the time. Perhaps the preseason performance against the Browns made Detroit decide it was time to bring in someone who could bolster the defense.

The 30-year-old McIntosh played in all 16 games for the Rams last year, starting nine. Prior to last year he spent six seasons in Washington.

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller not guaranteed starting job

Miami Dolphins RB Lamar Miller has not earned the starting running back job yet because the team believes RB Daniel Thomas can have a big season if he is able to stay healthy. Miller has received most of the reps with the first-team offense, but Thomas has received some reps with the starters.

Fantasy Tip: Miller appears to have the edge for the starting job, but Thomas could receive the chance to win the job. Miller should be seen as a low-end No. 2 fantasy running back if he wins the job while Thomas should be considered a high-end No. 3 running back if he starts.

Bookmark and Share

Brandon McGee works with first team

St. Louis Rams CB Brandon McGee saw time with the first-team defense, working in nickel packages, in practice Thursday, Aug. 15. McGee is believed to be pushing CB Trumaine Johnson for the role, as Johnson has been a bit inconsistent throughout camp.

Bookmark and Share

Jon Beason back at practice

For the first time this summer, the Panthers had their starting linebacker corps intact.

Outside linebacker Jon Beason practiced for the first time this preseason Sunday, participating in both individual and team drills during the two-hour, full-pads session at the Panthers' practice fields.

Beason underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee in October, and said recently he might have to manage the pain in the knee throughout the season.
Beason did not speak to reporters after practice. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the three-time Pro Bowler moved around well.

The key will be how Beason's knee responds to his most intense activity since minicamp. Rivera was noncommittal when asked whether Beason would play Thursday at Baltimore.

“We'll see how the week goes,” Rivera said. “We've got to see how he responds (Monday) morning. That's always the big question. Hopefully, it'll be a good response and we can just keep rolling from here.”

Bookmark and Share

DeMarcus Van Dyke Has A Short Amount Of Time To Show Big-Time Upside

I was really looking forward to seeing Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke play this preseason, but a hamstring injury has prevented that from happening thus far. Although he wasn’t officially ruled Saturday morning by head coach Mike Tomlin for the Monday night game against the Washington Redskins, it’s not looking like Miami product will be in uniform for the second preseason game.

It’s been 19 days since Van Dyke suffered his injury during practice, and it makes you wonder why he is still on the roster at this point. It would be one thing if the Steelers had a healthy group of cornerbacks during that span of time, but they didn’t. When they added a few cornerbacks to roster to fill the injury void at the position, they chose to waive players from other positions instead of cutting loose Van Dyke.

Prior to last season getting underway, the Steelers claimed Van Dyke off of waivers from the Oakland Raiders and Tomlin talked about the reason for the move.
“We were interested in this young man when he came out in the draft in 2011,” said Tomlin. ” Obviously, we ended up with Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, but he was within that group and in that range from a grading standpoint. I was at his pro day. He’s got big-time upside, he’s an extremely fast guy. It was an opportunity for us to put a young cornerback in the mix and continue to work with him and develop his skill and see if maybe he can help us at some point.”

So does Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers coaching still believe that “some point” is still possible with Van Dyke? Is there a possibility that he is kept as either the fifth or even a sixth cornerback this year? Remember, Van Dyke is no longer eligible for the practice squad due to the amount of games he played for the Raiders as a rookie.

Van Dyke has two qualities that are coveted in NFL cornerbacks and that’s size and speed. However, neither of those qualities help the Steelers if he can’t get on the field to use them.

Last season Van Dyke made Tomlin look smart in the first two regular season games as the Raiders former third-round draft pick contributed on special teams as a gunner. Unfortunately, Van Dyke wasn’t smart himself over the course of the next four games, and he found himself on the game-day inactive list for several weeks after registering five special teams penalties during that span of four games.

Should Van Dyke be able to get back on the practice field early next week he will have a good shot at playing in the final two preseason games. However, should he wind up missing the third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs; he will only have a short amount of time left to display that big-time upside that Tomlin talked about nearly a full year ago.

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller has quiet night, but finds EZ

Lamar Miller rushed five times for 10 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's preseason game against the Texans, adding two catches for three yards.
It wasn't an impressive night for a player trying to bury Daniel Thomas, but it's worth noting Miller had an eight-yard run negated by penalty. Miller was the lead dog for Miami's first two series before alternating with Thomas the rest of the first half. Thomas finished with four rushes for 25 yards, but received zero goal-line carries to Miller's one, which he executed. Miller is by no means running away with every-down duties, but we're still not buying talk Miami is lining up a committee backfield. Miller would do well to put on a show in next week's regular season dress rehearsal. He's certainly talented enough to.

Bookmark and Share

Frank Gore Is (Still) Ready To Rumble

Now in his ninth year in the league, San Francisco running back Frank Gore is showing no signs of slowing down.

The veteran took a handoff on the 49ers' first offensive play, suckered the entire Chiefs defense into flowing to its left, and then made a nifty cutback. Gore started to pick up speed as he rolled around the opposite side, and then hit full stride in the open field.

If not for a nice play by Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers to slow him up, Gore may have taken it the distance. As it was, the four-time Pro Bowler had to settle for a 52-yard gain.

"That was Frank being Frank," Kaepernick said. "He's a great running back. Our offensive line did a great job. They were downfield getting blocks and the receivers were getting blocks. "

Bookmark and Share

Ed Reed making progress

The Texans received “good news” Saturday about safety Ed Reed and the veteran could be back on schedule to play against the Chargers.

“He’s ahead and has responded very well. … We’re just exhausting everything we can possibly do to get him ready to go and push toward the beginning of the season,” Kubiak said.

Bookmark and Share

Devin Hester Getting Competition

Chicago Bears RB Michael Ford could provide some competition for WR Devin Hester as the team's return man after breaking three tackle on a 100-yard kickoff return. Ford could also make the team as the third running back with RB Armando Allen (hamstring) dealing with a hamstring issue.

Bookmark and Share

Jon Jay collects BB, 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 2 runs in win

Jon Jay finished 2-for-3 with a walk, double, home run, four RBI and two runs scored in Sunday's win against the Cubs.

Jay's second four-RBI game of the season featured his first homer since July 3. The three-run blast off James Russell in the seventh expanded St. Louis' lead to 6-1, the game's final score. Jay is batting .273 with six homers and 54 RBI through 121 games.

Bookmark and Share

Alex Rodriguez's associates leaked Ryan Braun

Members of New York Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez's inner circle were behind the leak of documents that named Ryan Braun and other players as steroid users, one of whom was his own teammate, CBS News says.

In an exclusive 60 Minutes report, sources say that people affiliated with Rodriguez, who was suspended Aug. 5 by Major League Baseball for 211 games for his use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs, gave unredacted documents to Yahoo! Sports implicating several players involved in the Biogenesis scandal.

Rodriguez is in the process of appealing his suspension, while more than a dozen MLB players, including Braun, accepted suspensions from the league.

Included in the list of players Rodriguez's associates implicated was Francisco Cervelli, a teammate of Alex's in New York.

Both Braun and Cervelli had their names blacked out in original documents provided to the Miami New Times, who broke the story in January.

Bookmark and Share

Yonder Alonso says he's not off base

Yonder Alonso can’t remember having a season like this one.

Through his first 83 games, there had been five calls sure to infuriate any first baseman.

Five times an umpire had ruled Alonso had come off the bag while fielding a throw. Five times an opposing player had eked his way onto first.

The latest head-scratcher arrived Thursday in the fourth inning of the Padres’ 4-1 loss to the Mets. With two outs and Daniel Murphy at second, New York’s Josh Satin hit a routine grounder to short.

Less than routine was the ensuing call. First-base umpire Brian Knight determined that Alonso pulled his foot off the bag while receiving the throw, giving Satin an infield single and allowing Murphy to score from second for a 1-0 lead. Video replays suggested Alonso had successfully kept his foot on the bag.

“It’s kinda weird because I don’t know what they see,” Alonso said Friday. “It’s never happened to me, so it’s just kinda weird.”

Padres manager Bud Black offered an explanation for Alonso’s missteps around first base this season, real or imagined.

“At times it looks he stretches too early, then has an off-balance look on his stretch, when in effect he’s not off balance,” Black said. “But it looks funky. It can look like he comes off the bag to the umpires.”

Black added that Alonso’s fielding technique in this regard might warrant a look from the Padres.

It should be noted that, in terms of overall defense, the first baseman has been among the league’s most reliable this season. Entering Friday, Alonso had committed just two errors. He had a .997 fielding percentage in 665 2/3 innings.

And, of course, those five head-scratchers.

“Next year it won’t happen. Instant replay,” Alonso said wryly, referring to Major League Baseball’s announcement Thursday of its plans for expanded instant replay in 2014.

Bookmark and Share

Ryan Braun sued by longtime friend

A longtime friend of Ryan Braun's filed a lawsuit against the suspended slugger last month, charging that Braun defamed him after the friend provided help in his successful appeal of Braun's positive steroid test in 2011.

Ralph Sasson, 29, makes a number of personal accusations against Braun, saying in the lawsuit that Braun doped through his years at the University of Miami, committed academic fraud and accepted money while a student.

Reached this week, Sasson declined to comment and said the lawsuit speaks for itself.

Braun's attorney, Howard Weitzman, rejected the claims.

"This lawsuit is an unfortunate attempt to capitalize on Ryan's recent press attention for taking responsibility for his actions. The factual allegations and the legal claims have absolutely no merit. We believe the lawsuit will be dismissed," he said in a statement.

Sasson, who describes himself as a law student, says he was contacted by Braun's agent, Nez Balelo, in November 2011 after Braun was notified that he had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Part of his assignment, the lawsuit says, was to conduct background research on the man who collected Braun's urine sample, Dino Laurenzi Jr.

The lawsuit says Sasson was forced to threaten Braun and Balelo with a lawsuit in order to recover $5,000 that he says was promised, and that he was paid last year when he agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement. But Sasson charges that Braun violated that agreement when he made what Sasson calls defamatory statements about him to undisclosed parties. Sasson asks for unspecified damages in the complaint.

The lawsuit also says that Braun asked Sasson to "prank call" ESPN "Outside the Lines" reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada, who was working with reporter T.J. Quinn on a story in December 2011 that Braun had failed a PED test. According to the lawsuit, Braun wanted Sasson to say, "The original information Quinn and Fainaru-Wada had obtained regarding Braun was part of an elaborate conspiracy to assassinate the character of multiple baseball players and agents including, but not limited to, Ryan Braun."

Sasson says in the lawsuit that he refused.

Meanwhile, USA Today reported Friday that Braun is close to admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs during parts of the 2011 season. The newspaper, citing friends of Braun who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the suspended slugger plans to apologize to commissioner Bud Selig, urine collector Dino Laurenzi Jr., his teammates and his peers.

Bookmark and Share