18 May 2014

Andre Johnson To Skip Texans Minicamp

Amid reports that Andre Johnson and Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien have had good communication, Around The League is reporting that Johnson is likely to skip the teams mandatory minicamp that’s coming up.

The Pro Bowl wide receiver is on record saying that he doesn’t plan to take part in voluntary OTAs when they begin next week. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday’s edition of “NFL Total Access” that Johnson is also unlikely to attend the mandatory minicamp.

This news comes on the heels of Johnson publicly stating that he wasn’t sure if Houston was the right fit for him anymore. Johnson’s concerns reportedly have less to do with their quarterback situation, and more to do with simply not wanting to go through another rebuilding effort.

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Ray Lewis not named to 2014 College Football Hall of Fame class

Retired Ravens star inside linebacker Ray Lewis wasn't named to the 2014 College Hall of Fame class.

A former University of Miami consensus All-American and a runner-up for the Dick Butkus award -- given to the nation's top linebacker -- Lewis had been nominated for induction this year.

Lewis was a two-time All-Big East Conference selection and ranks sixth all-time in school history with 388 career tackles. Retired since after the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Lewis was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a 13-time Pro Bowl selection and the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXV when the Ravens defeated the New York Giants.

The Hall of Fame class includes former North Carolina cornerback Dre Bly, former USC offensive tackle Tony Boselli, former Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz, former Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan, former Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, former Maine linebacker John Huard, former Stanford halfback Darrin Nelson, former Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Willie Roaf, former UCLA quarterback John Sciarra, former South Carolina wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, former McNeese State cornerback Leonard Smith, the late Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas, former Texas Christian running back LaDainian Tomlinson, former Ole Miss tight end Wesley Walls, former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and former Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore.

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Kellen Winslow gets conditional discharge without a guilty finding in synthetic marijuana case

The case accusing former New York Jets tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. of possession of synthetic marijuana ended today when a municipal court judge granted him a conditional discharge, after refusing to dismiss the charge.

Under conditions set by East Hanover Municipal Court Judge Vincent Pirone, the charge against Winslow will be dismissed in a year without a guilty finding if he avoids arrest and meets regularly with probation officers.

Pirone rejected a motion by defense attorney Harvey Steinberg of Colorado, who argued the charge should be dismissed because the substance in question, Fubinaca, was not illegal under state or federal law when Winslow was arrested in November.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration did not list Fubinaca as an illegal substance until February, Steinberg argued.

Winslow bought the Fubinaca legally, Steinberg said, adding, "Sniffing glue has the same effect as smoking marijuana."

Pirone, presiding in the joint municipal court in Hanover, responded in his ruling that a state law barring any substance that “mimics the effect” of marijuana was in effect at the time of Winslow’s arrest.

Fubinaca, found in Winslow’s Cadillac Escalade SUV in 14 plastic baggies with labels including “Funky Monkey” and “Mr. Happy,” has “a high potential for abuse and no medicinal purposes,” East Hanover Municipal Prosecutor Michael Calabro argued.

He added that glue, unlike Fubinaca, was not "manufactured to mimic the effects of marijuana."

Winslow was arrested on Nov. 19 after a woman told police she saw him masturbating in his SUV in the parking lot outside the Target store on Route 10 in East Hanover.

Winslow was not charged with lewdness, but police did find the synthetic marijuana in the vehicle. Winslow’s publicist later said he was just changing his clothes.

Even though they didn’t obtain a dismissal, Winslow and his attorneys said they were pleased with the outcome of the case.

“It’s almost as good as a dismissal,” said Steinberg, pointing out that Winslow will have no criminal record if he stays out of trouble for a year.

“Yeah, I’m happy, man,” said Winslow, 30. He said the outcome of the case allows him “for sure” to negotiate with other NFL teams.

Winslow is an unrestricted free agent after the Jets did not re-sign him after one year with the team and 10 years in the NFL.

Winslow, who lived in Madison while playing for the Jets, is now living in Austin, Texas.

“I need to train where it’s hot,” said Winslow, who will be required to report to probation officials in Texas.

Calabro, the prosecutor, said he was satisfied with the outcome of the case, saying it was typical for a first-time offender.

“We treated him like any other person here,” Calabro said. “The lesson is learned here by him.”

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Drew Brees said he understands Jimmy Graham's absence from OTAs

In 2012, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was involved in a contract dispute that dragged out through the offseason and into the summer. 
So he knows exactly what teammate Jimmy Graham is going through. 

Graham is currently involved in a contract dispute over whether he should be paid as a tight end or a wide receiver. Graham's camp contends he's earned wide receiver money, while the Saints will contend he is a tight end.

But it's likely anything will be resolved until mid-June, when a grievance hearing will be held that could bring the two sides one step closer to deciding that. 
Until then, Graham isn't participating in offseason training with the team. And Brees said he's just fine with that.

Brees, speaking during Ben Grubbs' charity softball game on Wednesday, said he didn't like holding out of OTAs, but understands sometimes its a necessary evil during contract negotiations.

"I didn't like having to miss," Brees said. "As you're going through it, you're thinking 'it should be much easier than this.' But it's part of the process. It's a leverage game and it's back and forth. The team has a job to do and the player has a job to do in regards to their contract. You just understand that's the way it is, and you live with it."

Brees said he regularly texts with Graham and smiled when he was asked if he thought Graham would be in shape if and when he shows up to team activities. 

"When he's here, I know he'll be ready to play," he said. "He'll be staying in good shape and all those things. I'm not worried about Jimmy Graham."

Brees said one of the most difficult part of contract negotiations are trying to keep emotions out of something that ultimately can become deeply personal for a player.

"I've been checking on him to make sure he's doing already and he's not getting frustrated or disappointed or taking things personal," he said. "It's easy to do that, especially as a young player. ...

"You're looking at your contributions to the team and 'Here I am, I was drafted in the third round and pretty much played for the minimum for the last four years and now this is my opportunity to get compensated.' It's what every young player hopes that they have the chance to go through or the opportunity to get, is that second contract."

If it were up to him, Brees said, Graham will be playing in the Saints colors until they're both retired.

"I know he wants to be a Saint for the rest of his career," he said. "I know I want him to be a Saint for the rest of my career and hopefully we can play five, six, seven more years together and go out champions together."

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Ryan Braun (side) exits early

Ryan Braun left the Milwaukee Brewers' game against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning Thursday night with tightness in his right side.

The Brewers slugger grounded out in his first two at-bats. He was replaced in the fifth by pinch hitter Elian Herrera, who stayed in the game in right field.

The Brewers lost 5-4 after the Braves staged a late comeback starting in the bottom of the sixth.

Braun returned last week from a stint on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain. He is hitting .289 overall with seven homers and 19 RBIs.

The Brewers also were without center fielder Carlos Gomez on Thursday. He is day to day with ongoing lower-back issues.

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Peter O'Brien Tearing It Up

Any fan of the New York Yankees knows there is little to be excited about when it comes to the organization's farm system. Heading into the season, with the exception of catcher Gary Sanchez, the minors offered very little promise for the future.

Well, Peter O'Brien is changing that, and he is making quite a name for himself in the process.

A third baseman, catcher and outfielder, O'Brien was a second-round pick in the 2012 first-year player draft by the Yankees. A native of Miami Gardens, Florida, he attended Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach before transferring to the University of Miami. 

Now at age 23, O'Brien has begun his 2014 campaign with a bang. In 41 games spread across two levels, O'Brien has obliterated opposing pitching, belting 17 homers, 11 doubles and knocking in 35 runs while batting .316 with an OPS of 1.061. Simply put, the kid is on a tear.

O'Brien, a right-handed hitter, began the year playing High-A ball with the Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League. There, he started the year batting .321 with 10 homers and 19 RBI in the season's first 30 games before being promoted to Double-A Trenton. In his first 10 games with the Thunder, O'Brien has put the Eastern League on notice, crushing seven homers to go along with 16 RBI.

While the rise of O'Brien has certainly come from out of the blue, the power he has displayed has not. In just 211 career minor league games over parts of three seasons, O'Brien now has 49 home runs. He began making waves within the Yankees organization after an impressive 2013 season in which he hit .291 with 22 homers, 39 doubles and 96 RBI between the Single-A Charleston RiverDogs and Tampa. 

The biggest obstacle in O'Brien's way is finding a true position. He did nothing but catch in the 36 games he played between the Rookie and Low-A levels in 2012. He first started playing third base last year for Tampa, doing so in 38 games. That experiment failed, as he made 18 errors. This year he began playing the outfield, predominantly right field, and has caught as well.  

The problem with O'Brien being a catcher is Sanchez.

Sanchez is one of the best prospects in not only the Yankees' system but in all of baseball. That means he is going to be the one getting time behind the plate. As for the outfield, O'Brien is competing with a slew of other players, including Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott. Jason Cohen of SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley suggests a move to first base may be suitable for O'Brien, whose presence at Double-A has created quite a logjam in the lineup. 

One other problem with O'Brien is that he does not walk. At all.

In 898 career plate appearances, he has reached base on a free pass just 55 times. He has walked just four times this year, all with Tampa. Additionally, he struck out 39 times.      

Obviously, O'Brien is just a kid and is only days into being a minor leaguer at the Double-A level. He has a few things to work on. He needs to find a position in the field and stick with it. He also needs to improve his eye at the plate.

Still, a start such as this deserves some attention. It will be interesting to see if O'Brien can keep it up and how long it takes him to continue to climb his way up the minor league ladder and into the big leagues.

One thing is clear, however: Peter O'Brien can rake.  

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Antrel Rolle Ranked In The Top 100

Giants' safety Antrel Rolle made the NFL Top 100 Players list, checking in at No. 72. Rolle is the only proCane on the list thus far.

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Jimmy Graham could be on the next cover of Madden NFL video game

The next Madden NFL video game could feature a familiar face for Saints fans -- Jimmy Graham.

The Madden NFL cover vote is underway. Sixteen players are up for the chance to be on the cover of the next installment of the video game franchise.
In the second round of voting for the cover, Graham is up against Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Colin Kaepernick, LeSean McCoy, Andrew Luck, Jamaal Charles and Richard Sherman.

Graham wouldn't be the first Saints player to be featured on the cover if he is selected. Drew Brees was featured on the cover of Madden NFL 11, following the Saints Super Bowl XLIV win.

It's not all happy thoughts for players to be on the cover. Certain players who appeared on video game box art have experienced a decline in performance, including Michael Vick after appearing on the 2003 cover, Ray Lewis appeared on the 2005 cover and Donovan McNabb, to name a few.

While it would be a fun sight to see a beloved Saints player on the cover, here's hoping EA Sports, the publisher of the game, will include some slam dunk celebrations for touch downs by Graham. Bent goal posts could be bonus points.

Want to cast your vote for Graham? Click this link to go to EA Sports Madden Cover Vote site on ESPN -- http://espn.go.com/nfl/feature/maddenvote.

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Miles Austin gets Bernie Kosar’s blessing to wear 19

Miles Austin hasn’t been in Cleveland for long, but he knows how to ingratiate himself on the locals.

According to Mark Munch Bishop of ESPN Cleveland, the new Browns wide receiver asked former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar for permission to wear his old 19, which Kosar granted.

The number isn’t retired by the Browns, but former wideout Frisman Jackson wore it for one season (2004), and was given 88 the following year without explanation. No one else has worn it since Kosar hung it up following the 1993 season

Kosar said he was impressed by the graciousness of Austin’s request, writing on Twitter: “His Respect& Appreciation of The Game IS AWESOME!”
That will give Browns fans a chance to dust off those old 19 jerseys, which might be the second-most popular in the stadium next year.

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Falcons, Harland Gunn Falcons team up with 'Challenged Child and Friends'


Atlanta Falcons guard Harland Gunn signs a football for Grey Vetter, 8, of Gainesville during the Challanged Child & Friends bowling event at Dave & Busters at Sugarloaf Mills Mall in Lawrenceville on Wednesday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)

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Will the Houston Texans Trade a frustrated Andre Johnson?

The Houston Texans shouldn’t even consider trading Andre Johnson. And I highly doubt they will.

Johnson is obviously frustrated. Being the kind of guy he is, he won’t go much beyond his recent passive-aggressive flirtation with wanting to play elsewhere. But for anyone expecting him to come out full throttle and demand a trade, those who know him well don’t believe that’s how he is wired. Certainly he isn’t thrilled with the turn the organization has taken the past year or so, and having to learn a new offense now with so much uncertainty at the quarterback position is hardly ideal for a franchise receiver.

First of all, Johnson is the most decorated player in Texans history. He literally is the franchise (though obviously J.J. Watt is taking that lead now, too; not that Watt would be thrilled about having to actually play out a puny fifth-year option for the club in 2015). Johnson has been there more or less from the get-go, and he is still a very productive player on a team that isn’t exactly overloaded with premium weapons in the passing game. He’s the central cog, especially given the health woes of Arian Foster the past few years and the way the running game has regressed.

If indeed the Texans do end up giving immediate work to recent draft pick Tom Savage, that’s all the more reason Johnson’s presence would be of supreme import, especially considering this particular kid quarterback missed two years of precious developmental time in college due to transfers. They need Johnson to help bring the offense along, and let’s face it, even if veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is under center, you are looking at a fairly limited option at quarterback there, too, and one with a predilection for turnovers. Having a proven big-play receiver is a must.

New head coach Bill O’Brien is an offensive guru, but this was the NFL’s worst team a year ago and it lacks a proven quarterback, and O’Brien isn’t looking to start his tenure looking like an embarrassment on that side of the ball.

The overarching reality is that the Texans and general manager Rick Smith have been very good to Johnson throughout his career, twice tearing up his contract when they didn’t have to, treating him with the utmost respect and rewarding him for being the kind of person and player he has been through his distinguished tenure in Houston.

Johnson is anything but disrespected in the pay department. Yes, several other receivers have surpassed the contract since he signed his last extension in 2012, but this is a man who is averaging just under $10 million a season. He is set to make $7.5 million this season and then has two more years left beyond that, worth $23.5 million.

But if this past offseason told us anything at all about players on the wrong side of 30 who make big money being offered up in trade, it’s that there isn’t any real value there at all. In a league where a younger DeSean Jackson ends up just being released because there are no trade options and no one will trade for Julius Peppers or DeMarcus Ware because teams will just wait for them to be cut, the marginal future draft pick the Texans might get for Johnson wouldn’t be worth it. Not for the huge gulf they would have in their offense this season.

Let’s just consider exactly how big of a loss Johnson, who will be 33 when the season starts, would be. Johnson caught 109 balls a year ago, despite having a revolving door at quarterback. That’s 57 more receptions than anyone else on the team, with rookie DeAndre Hopkins a distant second at 52. Johnson had 1,407 receiving yards, or 605 more than anyone else on the roster. (Don’t forget, this team already parted with longtime stalwart tight end Owen Daniels due to contract and cap issues, losing a key target in the process.) You can knock Johnson’s touchdown totals all you want (five in 2013) but there weren’t too many quarterbacks throwing too many touchdowns anywhere in a Texans uniform last fall.

Johnson has been good for 1,200 yards any season in which he has been healthy -- and he has been plenty durable -- and he is a guy who shows up big at big moments. But given his age and salary, getting a reciprocal value back in trade isn’t going to happen, and he will be worth more to a developmental quarterback these next few years in practices and the offseason and the average off-day Tuesday than he might be even on the field. You need this guy around as you change staffs. Period.

This receiving corps desperately needs Johnson, too. Besides Johnson and Hopkins -- who had a promising rookie campaign -- the Texans currently have Thomas, Alan Bonner, Andy Cruse, Alec Lemon, Keshawn Martin, Devier Posey and Uzoma Nwachukwu.

That’s one of the least experienced receiving groups you are going to find. Most of these guys haven’t played a meaningful snap in the NFL, ever. And while tight end Garrett Graham made some nice strides last season, he doesn’t have an established pedigree, either.

The quarterback is going to need someone to throw the ball to. He’s going to need Johnson.

Johnson has 61 career receiving touchdowns; the rest of Houston’s receivers have combined for 11 (and that’s including seven from Thomas, who might not make this team).

So let Johnson grouse and grumble if he likes. Show him, over time, how quickly your offense can evolve, and go into the season with your best receiver on your roster. Because he hasn’t slowed down yet, and that potential mid-round pick in 2015 won’t do anything for the Texans this year, if ever.

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Black tries Yonder Alonso in cleanup spot

SAN DIEGO -- Spinning the lineup like a combination lock, looking for something to key a group that has not produced much, Padres manager Bud Black slotted first baseman Yonder Alonso as the cleanup hitter Wednesday night.

It was only the sixth appearance in the four-hole this season for Alonso, who has one home run this season. That came last Thursday in the second game of a doubleheader at Cincinnati. Before that, Alonso had not homered since last May 19.

"You know, just looking at the middle of our order and trying to get the right combinations in there," manager Bud Black said. "He had a couple of good swings [Tuesday] night. "Until the two, three and four guys start doing their thing and you can make a case for where guys should be in the lineup, really, the only guy you can make a consistent case for has been Smitty [Seth Smith]."

Smith was in the two-hole Wednesday, just his seventh appearance there this season.

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Two More NFL proCanes Sign As Free Agents

David Gilbert and Luther Robinson – signed NFL contracts Monday.

Gilbert signed a contract with the Tennessee Titans where he will play outside linebacker, which is moving to a “hybrid” 3-4 defense. Gilbert had tried out for the Titans last week, as did AJ Highsmith who was not signed.

Luther Robinson signed a rookie deal with the Green Bay Packers, where he is listed as a defensive end.

Here is the full list of NFL proCane Rookies and where they have signed.

RG Brandon Linder: drafted 3rd round, 93rd overall by Jacksonville
P Pat O’Donnell: drafted 6th round, 191st overall by Chicago
OT Seantrel Henderson: drafted 7th round, 237th overall by Buffalo
QB Stephen Morris: signed with Jacksonville
WR Allen Hurns: signed with Jacksonville
Basketball player Erik Swoope: signed with Indianapolis to play TE
TE Asante Cleveland: signed with San Francisco
OG/C Jared Wheeler: signed with Carolina
FB Maurice Hagens: signed with Atlanta
DT Justin Renfrow: signed with Arizona
LB Jimmy Gaines: signed with Buffalo
S A.J. Highsmith: had Tennessee tryout, but was not signed, will workout with San Francisco
S Kacy Rodgers II: will try out with Kansas City this weekend
LB Tyrone Cornelius: will try out with Washington this weekend
DT Curtis Porter: signed with Oakland
DE Shayon Green: signed with Miami

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Erik Swoope Impressing Coach Pagano

Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano had the following to say about Rookie TE Erik Swoope:

"He looks natural," Pagano said. "He can get in a stance, he looks natural running routes, he's obviously got great ball skills and hands, he doesn't drop many balls, he's bright as all get out. Every time I walk by the tight end meeting room, he's in there watching tape, he's with (tight ends coach) Alfredo Roberts studying and learning. The guy has exceeded our expectations for having not played the game. He's doing a great job to this point. We've got some evidence out there of guys that have done the same thing, made the same transition, and ended up being pretty good football players," Pagano said, "so we're excited to see where he's going. He's got a high ceiling." (Ft  Wayne.com)

Swoope commented about Rooki Mini Camp by saying:
"I understand I'm a project and I plan on being patient and doing my best," Swoope said Friday on the first day of the Colts' rookie mini-camp. "It'll be tough. I'm willing to be patient with myself. In my history with basketball, I had to be patient for my opportunity and it came in the last 10 games of my senior year. You have to keep working." - Erik Swoope at Colts minicamp (Ft Wayne.com)

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Sean Spence: 'I cried myself to sleep'

After the Steelers drafted linebacker Vince Williamsicon-article-link in 2013, linebackers coach Keith Butler was asked about the future of Sean Spence. In the 2012 preseason Spence suffered a severe knee injury, one which left many questioning his future. Butler was among them.

“It will be miraculous if he does come back,” said Butler in response to whether Spence could return to the field in 2013. “It will be miraculous if he comes back next year. We are going to take a chance on him and see if he can come back. To me, he is worth every bit of that.”

Fast forward to the 2014 draft and in the moments after the team selected linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in the sixth round. Spence’s name came up again.

“From what I’ve seen on the field, I know I said about a year or so ago that it would be miraculous if he came back, and I hope he proves me wrong,” said Butler. “It is getting really close to being miraculous. He looks real good to me. We will see how the knee holds up when he starts hitting and things like that. Right now I’m real encouraged by the way he looks. He is such an exceptional young man and you hope that it works out for him, and I think it will.”

Spence, who missed the entire 2012 season and part of the 2013 with what was beyond a serious knee injury, was cleared to practice last October. While the knee felt good, he suffered a finger injury that required surgery and put him back on injured reserve.

“When the finger injury happened and I found out I had to have surgery on it, I went home and I cried,” said Spence. “I cried myself to sleep. I was so mad because I got back to where I wanted with the knee and to have a finger broken and need another surgery, it was so upsetting.

“But it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me more time to heal, more time to learn. The knee held up pretty good last year when the bullets started flying in practice and that was my first time having contact in a year. It felt good on my knee. It didn’t bother me much. This offseason I had more time to train and rehab and going through the offseason workouts I felt good.”

Spence has used his time wisely. He has been a constant at the team’s offseason program, working out in the weight room, running with his teammates, and doing everything his teammates are doing.  He can’t wait to take it to the next level, which includes OTAs, minicamp and then training camp.

“I am very anxious to be back practicing with the guys and not separate from them doing rehab,” said Spence. “I can’t wait to be coached again, to be part of the meetings, when coach is talking and you feel like he is talking to you. Just all of things I missed make me appreciate it even more now.”

Every Steelers player, the coaches, trainers, and team staff, are all pulling for Spence. They want to see that miraculous return more than anything for a guy who is not only considered to be a fantastic football player, but even more a special, fantastic person.

“It’s been a long journey. It’s definitely changed me,” said Spence. “It made me look at the game differently, appreciate it more and I am just excited to get back to playing again.

“People are going to doubt you no matter what. I don’t pay attention to the doubters. I am just going to do what I can and that’s keep working. I always kept faith. I knew if I continued to trust God and have faith I would get through it. There were a lot of bumps in the road but I am starting to see the light now.”

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Brees says Jimmy Graham is staying in football shape

As Saints tight end* Jimmy Graham remains away from offseason workouts due to the small matter of, you know, not being under contract, the man who throws passes to Graham isn’t worried.

Appearing on Tuesday’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, Drew Brees expresses optimism regarding Graham’s ongoing readiness for football season.
“I just know that Jimmy Graham is staying ready to play football,” Brees told Erik Kuselias. “I know that when the time comes and he comes into the locker room he’s going to be in shape and ready to roll, whenever that is. We’re going to have time enough to get on the same page, obviously I hope that is more time than less time but at the end of the day we’ve had a lot of time together and so there’s a great rapport there, there’s a lot of trust and we’ll get back on the same page very quick.”

While it’s likely at this point that Graham will miss the entire offseason program, he’ll likely be in the fold by the start of training camp, since the deadline for signing a franchise player to a long-term deal arrives on July 15. After that, there’s no longer any reason to stay away.

Before that, an arbitrator will resolve the question of whether Graham should get paid like a receiver under the franchise tag, a question that has $5.2 million hanging in the balance.

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Ray Lewis statue sneak peek

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Why At 31, Frank Gore Has More

Niners running back Frank Gore finished the 2013 regular season with the lowest yards per carry average (4.1) of his nine-year career.

He finished the postseason with an 11-carry, 14-yard performance in the NFC Championship Game.

He turned 31 on Wednesday.

You see where this is going?

Yes, you are reading yet another is-Gore-ready-for-a-rocking-chair story, a genre that debuted in 2010 when he broke his hip at 27.

Gore, of course, keeps stiff-arming Father Time. Last year, at 30, the age where NFL running backs supposedly plummet into a sinkhole, he ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,128), sixth in rushing TDs (9), tied for second in runs of 20-plus yards (9) and earned his fifth Pro Bowl berth.

Not bad for a guy who entered the NFL when Colin Kaepernick was a senior at Pitman High.

Still, given Gore’s age and career workload, it’s fair to ask the question, again: Is this the year he succumbs to the demands of his punishing position?

Gore ranks second among active running backs in career rushing attempts (2,187) and is tied for 29th all-time. The two running backs he’s tied with – Shaun Alexander and Earl Campbell – are reminders running backs rarely flourish at Gore’s age. Alexander and Campbell had 24 of their 18,860 combined rushing yards after age 30.

The 49ers are obviously preparing for life without Gore, who is entering the final year of his contract. After drafting Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round last year, they selected Carlos Hyde in the second round this month.

Lattimore is still surrounded by questions about his surgically reconstructed knee and has yet to play an NFL snap. But Hyde, who was viewed by many as the best running back in the draft, arrives ready to compete for carries after rushing for 1,527 yards and averaging 7.3 yards an attempt last year at Ohio State.
Said general manager Trent Baalke after Hyde was added to a group that also includes Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James: “It’s going to create great competition.”

It’s obviously possible Gore could be pushed into a secondary role in what could be his final season with the 49ers. But there is also evidence Gore, at 31, won’t relinquish his bell-cow status. NFL history is dotted with examples of running backs who were exceptions to the rule.

At age 31, Curtis Martin led the league in rushing; Walter Payton ranked second; Thomas Jones was third and James Brooks and Fred Taylor each rushed for more than 1,000 yards and averaged over 5.0 yards a carry.

In all, 16 running backs have been 31 or older before embarking on a 1,000-yard season, a feat Gore will attempt to accomplish this season. If Gore does so, the former third-rounder will become just the third running back who wasn’t a first- or second-round pick to join that group. The others: Mike Anderson (sixth round) and Curtis Martin (third round).

Here’s the list of running backs who were at least 31 before embarking on a 1,000-yard season (listed in chronological order):

Thomas Jones (born: Aug. 19, 1978) 2009 (age 31): 331 carries, 1,402 yards, 14 TD, 4.2 yards a carry Ranked third in the NFL in rushing and tied for third in TDs.

Ricky Williams (May 21, 1977) 2009 (32): 241-1,121-11-4.7

Fred Taylor (Jan. 27, 1976) 2007 (31): 233-1,202-5-5.4

Tiki Barber (April 7, 1975) 2006 (31): 327-1,662-5-5.1

Warrick Dunn (Jan. 5, 1975) 2006 (31): 286-1,140-4-4.0

Mike Anderson (Sept. 21, 1973) 2005 (31): 239-1,014-12.4.2

* Curtis Martin (May 1, 1973) 2004 (31): 371-1,697-12-4.6 Led the NFL in rushing yards and attempts.

* Emmitt Smith (May 15, 1969) 2000 (31): 294-1,203-9-4.1 2001 (32): 261-1,201-3-3.9

Ricky Watters (April 7, 1969) 2000 (31): 278-1,242-7-4.5

James Brooks (Dec. 28, 1958) 1990 (31): 195-1,004-5-5.1

Ottis Anderson (Jan. 19, 1957) 1989 (32): 325-1,023-14.3.1

* Walter Payton (July 21, 1953) 1984 (31): 381-1,684-11-4.4 1985 (32): 324-1,551-9-4.8 1986 (33): 321-1,333-8-4.2 Ranked among the top four in rushing yards from 1984-86.

* Tony Dorsett (April 7, 1954) 1985 (31): 305-1,307-7-4.3

* John Riggins (Aug. 4, 1949) 1983 (34): 375-1,347-24-3.8 1984 (35): 327-1,239-14-3.6 Rushed for a then-NFL record 24 TDs in 1983.

* Franco Harris, March 7, 1950 1983 (33): 279-1,007-5-3.6

* John Henry Johnson (Nov. 4, 1929) 1962 (32): 251-1,141-7-4.5 1964 (34): 235-1,048-7-4.5

* Hall of Famer Source: ProFootballReference.com

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Antrel Rolle played major role in DRC signing

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Four weeks ago, at the New York Giants' first player availability of the offseason, Walter Thurmond boasted that the team's secondary could be better than the Seahawks' Legion of Boom, and Antrel Rolle said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be the best cornerback in the NFL.

There were no such proclamations this Tuesday, during the team's second availability of the spring. But Rodgers-Cromartie did talk to reporters, and sounds bullish about the Giants' defense come this fall.

"It can be real good," he said. "Not even from just a secondary standpoint -- I look at going through these drills with the linebackers, they definitely understand the coverages and how to drop. So I think that'll be helpful, when your linebackers and secondary are of one accord."

Rodgers-Cromartie signed a five-year, $39 million contract ($15 million guaranteed) with the Giants back in March, after also meeting with the New York Jets, and said Tuesday that his decision was not an easy one.

"It was very difficult," he said. "You visit both teams, and both teams seem really, really interested in you. But at the end of the day, I felt comfortable coming over here just with the things that were being said and that were going to be done -- I just felt that would better help me as a football player."

It sounds like Rolle's influence was key. The two were teammates with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 and 2009.

"He just hit me up and said a couple things that hit home," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He was like, 'I think you can be this and that in our system, and the coaches and everybody else will help you get to it, just buy into it.'"

A former first-round pick back in 2008, with 19 interceptions in six seasons, Rodgers-Cromartie is now on his fourth NFL team -- and he's hoping to stay awhile this time around. He said he's been sitting next to Rolle in team meetings, to speed his learning of the new terminology.

He also admits hearing what Rolle said about him last month, and appreciates the compliment, but will let his play do the talking.

"Whenever you've got somebody that believes in you, you want to go out there and just go that much harder," Rodgers-Cromartie said, "kind of not be a letdown and hold up your end of the bargain."

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Stephen Morris will try to shed inconsistent "Tin Cup'' label

When quarterback Stephen Morris threw 21 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions in his junior  year at the University of Miami, his stock was rising.
A good senior season could have vaulted him in the draft.

Instead, he had an inconsistent senior year as he threw 21 touchdown passes again, but his interceptions increased to 12 even though Miami went 9-4.
And he didn’t shine at either the Senior Bowl or the combine.

His draft stock dropped and he was rated a seventh rounder or an undrafted free agent going it the draft.

It was no surprise that he wasn’t drafted. And the Jaguars were one of only three teams that even offered him a contract after the draft. Miami and the Jets were the other two.

He picked the Jaguars mainly because Jedd Fisch had been his offensive coordinator before he left after Morris’ junior year a year ago to join the Jaguars staff.

“I had a great relationship with coach Fisch and I understand this offense extremely well,’’ Morris said.

The question now is whether Morris is simply inconsistent or whether a strained Achilles he suffered early in his senior season didn’t allow him to get into a groove.

Fisch said, “I wasn’t there but the only thing I heard is he hurt his ankle and I don’t think he was ever totally comfortable planting (his right foot).’’

Morris said of the injury, “You’ve got to fight through it. It affected how you take drops and how you move around in the pocket.’’

Morris does have a lot of physical tools and now that he’s healthy, the Jaguars are hoping he can develop.

“I think we’re all fortunate and happy he’s with us right now,’’ Fisch said.

Chad Henne and Blake Bortles are locked into the top two quarterback spots with Morris competing with Ricky Stanzi, who has been in the league three years without taking a snap, for the No. 3 spot if the Jaguars keep three. Morris could spend a year developing on the practice squad.

He does have the physical skills. He was clocked as the second fastest quarterback in the 40 at the combine at 4.63 and got a $10,000 prize for being the fastest quarterback to run in Adidas cleats.

And there’s no question about his arm strength. Draftscout.com said he had a “golden arm.’’ But he has to overcome the inconsistency label. The report said he was a “very perplexing and polarizing player’’ and that the scouts called him “Tin Cup’’ at the Senior Bowl practices because he would make amazing throws and then miss routine ones.

He showed off his arm strength at the rookie minicamp when he threw a bomb to Allen Robinson. He had so much on the ball that he almost overthrew him and Robinson made a diving catch.

“That was all Robinson,’’ he said. “I just threw it up for him and he did a great job running it down.’’

Since Morris knows the offense from his days with Miami at Fisch, he has embraced the role of helping Bortles learn the nuances.

“Blake is a great quarterback. All I’m doing is helping Blake and trying to be the best I can be,’’ he said.

And Morris said he feels more confident playing in an offense he knows.

“That’s the whole thing,’’ he said. “My confidence level has definitely increased coming here.’’

Now it’s up to Morris to impress the coaches in the OTAs (organized team activities) and during training camp.

“What we need to work on with him is his completion percentage and his efficiency,’’ Fisch said.

But Morris is not looking ahead.

“I’m just trying to keep my head down and get better every day,’’ he said.

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Seantrel Henderson Has Been Told He Has One Shot

The Buffalo Bills decided to take a seventh-round flier on former Miami Hurricanes star offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, who has blue-chip talent but more red flags than any other prospect in this year’s rookie class. You know, a class that also includes running backs Jeremy Hill and Isaiah Crowell, Aaron Lynch, and Loucheiz Purifory, who went undrafted because of character concerns. Henderson’s issues deal with work ethic, as he’s a former five-star talent who clearly didn’t consistently play up to his potential in college. He was also suspended for marijuana usage on three different occasions, and that’s not even counting a failed drug test at the combine that undermined some unsurprisingly amazing workout numbers.

It was honestly a surprise to see somebody draft Henderson, but the Bills decided that his talent was worth at least taking a flier on. I mean, he wouldn’t have been a guarantee in undrafted free agency with other competitors, and the Bills could cut him without any risks. In fact, that’s exactly what the Bills intent to do if Henderson screws up; they made it clear that he won’t get a second chance given his history.

Bills GM Doug Whaley said, via ESPN NFL Nation’s Mike Rodak, “We’ve talked to Seantrel and he knows that he’s got one shot. We’re saying we’ll give you this one shot. It has nothing to do with us saying this guy is a talented football player; he’s been dealing with some demons. Hopefully those demons are out of his life and why not give somebody — this is America — give somebody a chance.”

Henderson knows this, and hopefully he’s able to get his head on straight now that the stakes are incredibly high. He can be a great tackle in this league due to his raw tools alone, but he can’t become the next Justin Blackmon or Josh Gordon and will have to work hard in order to fulfill his on-field potential. As Henderson stated, living in Buffalo should be a lot better for him than being around Miami, but location is not the blanket solution either.

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Frank Gore, Hunter likely to open year as 49ers 1-2

The Sacramento Bee expects the 49ers' running back pecking order to begin with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter to open the 2014 season.

Things could change in training camp or after preseason games, but for now this is the likeliest outcome. Perhaps Hunter or Marcus Lattimore, or rookie Carlos Hyde will earn more playing time as the season progresses. For now, we'd consider Gore a shaky, lower-end fantasy RB2 entering his age-31 season, albeit still the favorite to lead the 49ers in 2014 carries. Hunter seems locked in as the change-of-pace back, even if Hyde or Lattimore overtakes Gore.

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Orlando Franklin adjusting to life at left guard

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Orlando Franklin is still smarting over his poor performance in the Super Bowl. Not so his switch from right tackle to left guard.

“I always understood it was a possibility. I knew when I was coming out that 50 percent of teams saw me at right tackle and 50 percent of the teams saw me moving back to guard because I played so many snaps there at Miami,” said the Denver Broncos’ fourth-year lineman.

“But when I first heard about it, you get disappointed because you’re moving positions. But at the end of the day, as long as I’m on the field and as long as I’m one of the best five, I’m happy with that.”

All 57 of Franklin’s starts for the Broncos, including five in the playoffs, have been at right tackle, where the 6-foot-7, 320-pound Jamaican made quite the name for himself.

He became the first rookie right tackle in team history to start every game in 2011, when he helped the Broncos lead the league in rushing. He led all NFL players at his position by allowing just 3½ sacks in 2012 and was part of a line that gave up just 20 sacks last season.

That group then kept Peyton Manning’s jersey clean in the playoffs until the night the Seattle Seahawks’ front four manhandled Denver’s O-line in the Super Bowl.

When the Broncos returned from the 43-8 loss that spoiled their record-breaking season, general manager John Elway had two fixes in mind: add the kind of grit to his defense that Seattle displayed and beef up his offensive line.

Elway had begun moving away from the smaller zone-blockers last year with the addition of 6-5, 335-pound right guard Louis Vasquez, the only free agent to earn All-Pro honors last season.

Now, it was time for a reshuffling.

The Broncos signed veteran center Will Montgomery to compete with Manny Ramirez, let Zane Beadles leave via free agency and moved Franklin inside. With star left tackle Ryan Clady set to return from a foot injury that sidelined him most of last season, Chris Clark was moved to right tackle, and Elway drafted Michael Schofield of Michigan to compete for that job, too.

Franklin’s adjustment is key.

“We feel great about that move, and I think he feels really good about it,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “I really like his size inside. I really think that’s going to help firm up when we’re going a lot of our quick game. We want him to get his hands on people. Instead of having to worry about a speed rusher outside, he’s dealing with some of the bigger guys in the league. I feel very confident about him moving inside.”

So does Franklin, who’s looking forward to being more physical in the run game at guard.

One downside could be financial: Franklin’s going into a contract year and tackles make more money than guards. But he shrugged off any concerns, saying, “I think that if I’m one of the best five players and I’m on the field, I think that benefits me either way.”

What does bother him — still — is the Broncos’ performance in the Super Bowl that followed a record-breaking regular season in which they became the first NFL team to score 600 points.

“You’re going to think about it until you play your next football game,” Franklin said.

Of course, he’ll use it as motivation.

“I think each player will. I know I am, because I definitely didn’t have my best game,” Franklin said. “So, I definitely look at it as a learning tool. I look back at it as a learning situation and I’ve got to get better.”

He hasn’t bothered watching the game, however.

“You don’t really need to watch it,” he said. “I know there are about five plays in that game where I’ll never forget those plays, so I can see them in my head every day.”

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Swoope ready for hoops to NFL challenge

INDIANAPOLIS -- The thought of playing football had always crossed Erik Swoope's mind. He wanted to be out there tackling and catching passes with the rest of his friends while growing up in Southern California.

But there was a problem with Swoope’s desire to play. He only wanted to play if he could do it with his friends. That wasn’t possible because Swoope stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 200 pounds at the age of 12. And while he was already dunking a basketball by then, his friends were 50 and 60 pounds lighter than him, eliminating any chance of being teammates with them since Swoope didn’t meet the weight requirement.

"I was taller and bigger than all my friends and it wouldn’t have been possible for me to play with them," Swooped said during the first day of the Indianapolis Colts' rookie minicamp.

Swoope continued to think about playing football during his four-year basketball career at the University of Miami, but the opportunity to do both was too much to ask because of the overlap of the seasons, and he went to the school to play basketball.

The chance to play football finally came about when the Colts signed him as an undrafted free agent earlier this week despite Swoope not knowing what it feels like to get hit on the football field. Playing football for Swoope is like a kid learning how to ride a bike for the first time.

"The main thing to me between football and basketball is that I just love being an athlete," Swoope said. "In the weight room, trying to get as strong as you can, as fast as you can, as quick as you can. And in basketball, it’s kind of a game of tempo. That’s what I’m learning also in football, but it’s more of an opportunity to be an athlete and for me, I’m enjoying it."

This isn’t the first time the Colts have signed a player who did not play college football. Marcus Pollard played basketball at Bradley University before the Colts signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1995.

Patience is key for Swoope because of his lack of football experience. He’s confident because he feels he’s capable of picking up the game. He’s also curious how quick he can learn it.

One of the good things going for Swoope is that there haven't been any expectations put on him. The Colts are set at tight end with Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and serviceable backups Weslye Saunders and Jack Doyle. Swoope is able to learn slowly.

The first thing Swoope did right was get together with former University of Miami football players Jimmy Graham and Jonathan Vilma a few weeks ago. Graham, who played basketball for the Hurricanes and spent his fifth year as a tight end on the football team, worked with Swoope on route running. Vilma would tell him what he was looking for from the linebacker position.

Elsewhere in the NFL, Green Bay’s Julius Peppers played basketball at the University of North Carolina and played defensive end on the Tar Heel football team.

So why tight end for Swoope?

Tight end translates well from the basketball court to the football field, he said.

"I played power forward and I played on the wing, so I got use to playing a variety of parts on offense and defense," Swoope said. "That's one of the key carryovers, the size, the weight, the athleticism. It’s a quicker carry over because you’re use to studying a variety of things all at once."

Swoope doesn’t know what to expect when it comes to getting hit for the first time. All he knows is that he needs to run with his 6-foot-5 frame low.

"My brother played football and he told me I’m going to get hit and I’m going to quickly learn to get down and get the pads down," Swoope said. "I’m looking forward to this experience."

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Bills begin sizing up OT Seantrel Henderson

Seantrel Henderson can only remember one time walking into a room and not being the biggest person in it.

“Bryant McKinnie. You can see the actual inch he got on me. Other than that, I’ve never seen nobody really bigger than me,” said the 6-foot-7, 331-pound Henderson, the final member of the Buffalo Bills’ 2014 draft class.

The job for coach Doug Marrone and Co. will be to take that enormous piece of clay and mold it into an NFL offensive tackle.

If you were to draft a football team based solely on physical appearance, there’s no question Henderson would be off the board early.

“I’m a humongous guy,” he said Sunday, after the Bills’ second rookie minicamp practice. “I’ve got very long arms, long legs. That most definitely gives me the upside as far as my position. It’s hard for a guy to get around me. I get my hands on the guy, I feel like I can pretty much beat him. That’s my advantage.”

Of course, there’s a reason Henderson fell to the seventh round of the draft, and it has nothing to do with his size. He was suspended multiple times while at the University of Miami for marijuana use, and flunked a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

“In college I had a lot of maturing to do,” said Henderson, who finishes most of his answers by addressing the reporter who asked him the question as “sir.’’
“I was coming from Minnesota, going down to Miami, whole different state, you know, I’m by myself.”

Coming out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Henderson was destined for stardom. He was the top-ranked offensive lineman in the country by both ESPN and Rivals. But his career at Miami was a letdown because of his off-the-field issues and injuries (back surgery and a concussion). He ended up starting 26 of 43 career games with the Hurricanes.

After his failed drug test at the combine, there was a very real possibility Henderson could have fallen out of the draft entirely. But the Bills prevented that with the 237th overall selection.

“It means the world to me, man. … I’ve never been more nervous than that day. Every time my phone rang or I got a text, my heart kind of dropped a little bit,” he said. “I was a little disappointed, but more disappointed at myself. Once the Bills did call me, it was just like a big relief, you know what I’m saying? Like everything’s going to be OK. I most definitely appreciate the whole coaching staff, the owner, the GM, everybody that believed in me. That actually still wanted me to come here and be a part of their team.”

Henderson said Buffalo is a good place for him because “there’s not much to do here but work, so no excuse.” That Willis McGahee-endorsed line of thinking may not be entirely accurate, but there’s no debating Buffalo is a far cry from South Beach.

“I had to teach myself a lot,” Henderson said of his time in college. “It was just a big learning experience. It actually took me a couple years, but at the same time, I don’t really have no regrets. I’m happy where I’m at. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m happy to be here in Buffalo.”

How long he stays will be decided both by his performance on the field and his ability to stay out of trouble off of it.

“We’ve talked to Seantrel and he knows that he’s got one shot,” Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said when Henderson was drafted. “He’s been dealing with some demons. Hopefully those demons are out of his life and why not give somebody — this is America — give somebody a chance?”

Henderson said he feels like he’s “come a long way” in his maturity. Of course, that will only be proved by his future actions.

“Come in, be on time. Accountable, reliable, dependable at all times,” is how he described his approach to the NFL. “I couldn’t have told you two years ago that I would even be here right now. A lot of things happened while I was in college as far as personal things. … But like I said, I’m happy to have this opportunity to be a Buffalo Bill.”

Marrone said “a lot of things” go into the team’s evaluation of a player like Henderson, who comes with substantial off-the-field concerns.

“Obviously it was something that we did a lot of research on,” the coach said. “We want to make sure that we know exactly what the situation is, exactly what we’re dealing with and seeing if we’re able to be the proper influence to make that change. And does the player want to make that change?”

That’s a question only Henderson can answer, but “if that happens we’re going to get ourselves one heck of a football player. If he doesn’t, he’ll go find another line of work,” Marrone said.

That’s not to say the coach doesn’t accept his share of responsibility in the reclamation project.

“I’d like to think I can influence people to be better in the community, better fathers, better husbands,” he said. “I’d like to have that type of influence on people, whether they’re coaches, whether they’re players … whatever they may be.

“When one of our players has a problem … the first thing I say is, ‘What could I have done better to help this person?’ That’s the first thing, and then ‘what could we have done better as an organization to make sure that we’ve educated our players to make the right decisions and do the right thing?’ I think that’s what this organization has been about long before I came here and I think it’s something that we want to continue and get better at.”

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Bryant McKinnie Settles For 4000 Unpaid Lap Dances

According to new court documents, McKinnie recently struck a settlement agreement with Trick Daddy‘s father Charles “Pops” Young after Young sued McKinnie for $375,000 in 2012.

Young claimed McKinnie ran up the bill over a 20-month period at two of his strip clubs, including the Miami staple King of Diamonds. According to Young, McKinnie promised to pay the bill back in 2010, but never did.

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Al Golden on punter Pat O'Donnell

Al Golden has been the head coach at the University of Miami since December 2010. But Golden also serves as the Hurricanes’ special teams coordinator, which makes him a valuable resource for information on new Bears punter Pat O’Donnell.

The Bears selected O’Donnell in the sixth round of the NFL draft last weekend, immediately making him the frontrunner to win a competition for the punting job over both Drew Butler and Tress Way.

In an interview with the Tribune this week, Golden offered up his assessment of O’Donnell’s NFL potential and the areas of his game that need improvement.

Q: Obviously Pat was very productive for you guys last season in the one season you had with him after he transferred in from Cincinnati. What stood out to you about what he brought to the table and in what ways did he grow as a punter while he was there?
AG: I think clearly his leg strength when he arrived was exceptional. His explosiveness. You could feel the ball leave his leg and really explode. I think the thing that was most impressive was his commitment to a process and the fact that he improved as a senior. Which is really hard to do when you’ve had the body of work that he had. Pat is very meticulous. Almost like a golfer who’d go to the range, he’s that kind of a grinder with his process and his technique. And as I said, the biggest thing that separates him is his ability and drive to improve and adhere to that process. Because his operation time improved. He didn’t lose any distance. He was near the top of the NCAA in distance. But what most people don’t know is that he made dramatic improvements in his operation time and then also in his plus-territory kicking, his pooch punts.

Q: When did you first become aware that he was looking to transfer for personal reasons? (O’Donnell said his father, who lives in south Florida, was diagnosed with cancer.)
AG: It was in the spring, after his spring semester (in 2013). We were in the market and we were alerted to the fact that Pat was looking. It was a perfect match right away. He wanted to come to graduate school here at the University of Miami. He’s from south Florida. And we were in the market for a punter.

Q: His athleticism is notable. He goes to the combine and bench presses 225 pounds 23 times. He’s a bigger guy. What stood out?
AG: He looks like a SAM linebacker. Honestly. And I think he garnered the respect of everybody in our organization with his ability to compete with everybody, not only in the weight room but in the conditioning. Which was phenomenal. For him to come from a different program and yet be able to do it from a conditioning standpoint was extraordinary.

Q: When you see that effort and the strength at the combine, it jumps off the page at everybody. What struck you about that from a punter?
AG: He’s an athlete, an overall athlete. He’s got length, he has strength, he’s explosive. And more than anything, I think it shows his unselfishness and his desire to be part of the team as a whole and not just stand alone. That’s unique.

Q: He comes to the NFL level and to a team in the Bears that prioritizes directional kicking. How much of that was he asked to do with you guys and what does he offer there.
AG: We did it a lot. And he’s very prepared for that. Again, I think his operation time and his plus-territory pooch punts were two areas where he really, really improved coming down the stretch of his senior year. He was always good at directional punting. And we did some of that. So I think he should have the whole toolbox and a really good foundation to grow from. And I’m glad he’ll have a chance to work with Robbie Gould as well. That, to me, is awesome.

Q: At this level, obviously, even as a specialist there will be some challenges and some eye-opening experiences. What are the biggest things Pat will need to polish up to strengthen his weaknesses.
AG: In terms of his overall operation, he’ll have to get sharper. And there are a lot more directional kicks at that level than there are here. So I think those two areas will be the ones he’ll need to improve most on.

Q: When you mention Robbie and being excited that Pat will be around him, as a coach what strikes you about that opportunity?
AG: Robbie’s a blue-collar, self-made professional. He’s a guy who took an arduous road to his success and he’s never forgotten that. He’s never forgotten where he’s from and he’s never forgotten his work ethic and the adversity he’s had to overcome to be where he is. I think that will give Pat great perspective. And I know Robbie can offer tremendous insight.

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Sorry, but ex-Colt Edgerrin James pullin' for Heat

One of the most popular players in the Colts' Indy era anticipates another return to his home away from home in the next week or so.

He isn't expecting to be met with open arms.

"Man, you know I'm a Heat fan,'' Edgerrin James said, laughing lightly.

If he can secure a ticket – and that's likely considering his local connections – James plans to be on hand for Sunday's Game 1 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, or one of the subsequent games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

As he mentioned, he's a huge Heat fan. He was on hand for one of their road wins against the Brooklyn Nets in the conference semifinals.

"I love Indiana,'' said James, who became the Colts' career rushing leader during his seven-year career (1999-2005). "Indiana is so important to me.

"But like I said, I want the Heat to keep on playing. If the Heat lose, I don't have nothing to do. My schedule revolves around having fun. Heat games are fun, you know?''

James resides in South Florida, but has made an occasional return to Indianapolis. That includes during the 2012 season when he was added to the team's Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium and last October when he and Marvin Harrison were on hand for Peyton Manning's return with the Denver Broncos.

"You know what that place means to me,'' he said.

But James' loyalty to the Heat isn't likely to waver. He conceded he won't draw attention to himself by wearing a Heat jersey.

"Nah, I'll just go with my regular white T-shirt,'' he said.

The Pacers followed a rocky path to their long-anticipated showdown with the LeBron James-led Heat, and James won't mind if they continue to follow that schizophrenic blueprint.

"Man, you don't know which guys are going to show up,'' he said of the Pacers. "When it comes to the Heat, I hope it's the Pacers that don't play to the best of their ability.

"They're pretty good when they're on their game.''

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Ravens May Wait On Signing Eric Winston

I thought the chances were higher before hearing general manager Ozzie Newsome after the draft ended. He talked about the importance of letting young players fail on the field. What he means is the Ravens need to find out whether their draft picks can play before replacing them with an experienced player. Based on this, it sounds like the Ravens are giving Rick Wagner, a fifth-round pick from a year ago, a chance to win the right tackle job. The risk, of course, is losing out on a veteran free agent like Eric Winston, who played under Kubiak for six seasons and is a fit for zone-blocking schemes. Another team could sign him if the Ravens choose to wait. But the Ravens likely won't sign another significant free agent until after June 1, so it won't count them a compensatory pick.

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Texans coach had ‘very positive’ talks with Andre Johnson

Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is frustrated.

After expressing those frustrations publicly earlier this week, coach Bill O’Brien said he has been in contact with Johnson and that the talks have been positive.

“I think I’ll let Andre speak for himself,” O’Brien said, according to ESPN.com. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Andre and his career here in Houston. The conversations that Andre and I have had have been very positive about what we’re doing here as a team and, obviously offensively, what we’re doing here. As far as what Andre said, I’ll let him speak for himself. I can only tell you from my end we’ve had good, positive communication.”

This comes as good news for the franchise, which might have been concerned after hearing about the wide receiver’s words from earlier this week.

“Nobody’s been here as long as I have. You just kind of look at things; I’ve been thinking about things this offseason,” Johnson said Tuesday at a charity event. “And I just kind of wonder sometimes, ‘Is this still the place for me?’ ”

Johnson registered 109 receptions, 1,407 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, despite struggles at quarterback. Houston traded Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and T.J. Yates on the depth chart for next season.

The Texans also selected former Pittsburgh Panther Tom Savage  in the NFL draft last week.

Although expressing frustrations at a charity event isn’t the most productive way to do it, Johnson does have a point; Houston’s current situation isn’t the most stable, especially at quarterback. With a new coaching regime and a roster filled with talent on defense, however, there is room for growth with the Texans.

The big question is whether Johnson has the patience to stick around to see it through. Johnson is under contract for three more years with the Texans.

“We’re going to continue to communicate and we’ve had good discussions, we’ve had good talks,” O’Brien said. “We’ve spoken quite a bit and will continue to do that.”

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Brewers take cautious approach on Ryan Braun

Caution continues to be the buzzword with regard to Ryan Braun.

The Milwaukee Brewers' rightfielder was out of the lineup Friday as the team opened a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Brewers were also without centerfielder Carlos Gomez, who was serving the last day of his three-game suspension.

As it turned out, Braun's absence was precautionary only and had nothing to do with the 38-degree temperature or slick grass caused by the morning-long rain that soaked the area.

Braun was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday in advance of the Brewers' three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park. Braun had been out since April 27 after straining his right oblique.

"I was hoping he could play the three games at home," said manager Ron Roenicke. "The last two were important because of the left-handed pitchers. So that's why we took him out early that first game, to make sure he could play those next two.

"Then I didn't know — do I give him today, do I give him tomorrow? We just thought that coming off the three that today would be a good day to do it."

Braun went 3 for 10 with three singles and a walk against the Pirates, and most important had no further issues with his side.

"I thought his swings yesterday went well. Squared up a couple balls," Roenicke said. "I think he's feeling pretty good."

Elian Herrera started in right field against the Cubs and doubled twice and scored a run in a 4-3 victory.

Gomez, meanwhile, said he was doing better after a recent bout of back spasms sidelined him and ultimately led to him dropping his appeal of his three-game suspension.

"It's stiff today because there's no good bed at the hotel," Gomez said while riding a stationary bike in the tiny visiting clubhouse. "Today I feel better. But now that I'm warm it's good. I think I'm going to be playing tomorrow."

Gomez said he routinely sleeps on the floor in his hotel rooms on the road if the mattress is too soft for him. At home, in addition to being able to sleep on a firmer mattress, he uses a full-sized hyperbaric chamber he bought last year in order to help rejuvenate himself.

"It helps everything," he said. "You have a rough night and you're not sleeping good, you go in there and you sleep three, four hours and you feel like you're recovered completely. When I'm awake and feeling, like, slow, I go into the chamber and when I get out I'm (ready to go)."

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Ryan Braun makes list of 'most hated in sports'

Is Ryan Braun the most hated figure in American sports?

Braun appeared on an unranked list of "Most Disliked People in Sports," published Friday on the magazine's website.

Braun's entry in the list states:

After winning the National League MVP in 2011 and establishing himself as one of baseball's best, Braun was tied to the Biogenesis scandal and faced a suspension. He appealed and won -- and lied. After further investigation, Braun was hit with a 65-game suspension, mitigated by earlier public criticism of MLB's drug testing program.

Also making the list were Lakers owner Donald Sterling, suspended Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, Richie Incognito, Michael Vick, Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

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Ryan Braun not playing at 100 percent

Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said OF Ryan Braun (oblique) is playing at less than 100 percent because of a strained right oblique but he likes having a limited Braun in the lineup with 3B Aramis Ramirez (hamstring) is on the disabled list. "With Aramis now out of there, it would be really tough (playing without Braun)," Roenicke said. "And Ryan, he's good even when he's not 100 percent."

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