Brown Workout Stephen Morris

Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage, University of Miami QB Stephen Morris and North Dakota State QB Brock Jensen have worked out or have arranged visits with the Cleveland Browns, according to reports.

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Future NFL proCanes Autograph Session at All Canes!


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Jimmy Graham draws comparison to LeBron

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees joined ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd on "The Herd" Thursday to discuss his thoughts on the Saints’ schedule and their offseason roster moves, among other topics.

Brees laughed when Cowherd asked him the popular offseason question about whether Jimmy Graham is a tight end or wide receiver. “I hate this question,” Brees said.

But the two wound up having an intriguing conversation about Graham’s unique skill set, and Brees said he loved Cowherd's comparison to NBA star LeBron James.

“Honestly, he’s a hybrid,” Brees said of Graham. “He’s revolutionizing that position. So he's kind of his own class.”

Brees was promoting a unique raffle he’s doing with Xbox to benefit his Brees Dream Foundation. Brees will fly anywhere in the continental United States to have dinner with the winner and 11 friends.

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Andre Johnson And The Number 14

We are two weeks away from the start of the 2014 NFL draft, and at a point when the Clowney/Spurrier storyline has come full circle.

It started with Spurrier seeming to call out Clowney's work ethic, then Spurrier saying he really wasn't doing that and finally, today, he told Dan Patrick the Texans have to take Clowney first overall, that he's an athlete like none he's ever seen before.

And so we continue our countdown. Each day examining a number that coincides with the number of days until the draft.

We started yesterday with 15 days remaining until the draft, examining the Texans' 15 first-half turnovers last season.

At 14, we look at a more hopeful offensive number.

14. Record for catches in a game by a Texans' player and by an opponent

Andre Johnson, perhaps the best draft pick in Texans history, and definitely the best offensive draft pick in Texans history, holds nearly every team receiving record. The one he doesn't hold is longest reception. (And it says a lot about the Texans' offenses of yore that running back Arian Foster has two of the longest receptions in team history.)

But this one belongs to Johnson. His 14 catches in a Texans overtime win over the Jaguars in 2012 were the most catches in franchise history. He also set the record for yards in a game with 273 that day.

Johnson's average of 13.8 yards per catch in his career is the best in Texans history, which makes sense for the player who was drafted third overall in the Texans' second draft. He continued to have statistically strong seasons even after turning 30, but I'll be interested to see how he fits with the new Texans regime. Johnson, who renegotiated his contract before the 2013 season, is due to make a base salary of $10 million this season with a roster bonus of $1 million that comes with a cap number of about $15.6 million.

This offseason the Texans have trended toward younger players and smaller cap numbers. Johnson has been through a lot with this franchise, and showed his frustration at times last season. He'll turn 33 in July.

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Few doubts about Reggie Wayne in locker room

INDIANAPOLIS — Last week, Reggie Wayne said he's using "naysayers" in the media as motivation during his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The 35-year-old wide receiver has 1,006 receptions for 13,566 yards and 80 touchdowns over 13 professional seasons. He's a six-time Pro Bowl selection and one day might have a spot in the Hall of Fame.

If there are outside doubts about whether he can return to that form because of his age and the severity of his injury, few are shared inside the Indianapolis Colts' locker room.

"I think there are exceptions to every rule," third-year quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I think Reggie Wayne is an exception to a lot of rules. We know he's going to come back and produce at a very high level, and we're all very excited about it."

Former New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was signed to a one-year deal in part to provide insurance against another setback for Wayne. But his name can be added to the list of those predicting a full comeback for the veteran receiver.

"He's working while we're working," Nicks said. "He's always still one of the first ones here. So I think, from that aspect, he's not losing anything. It's just a matter of when he can get back on the field and pick up where he left off at."

Third-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton became a star in Wayne's absence last season. He caught 82 passes for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season, then set franchise records with 13 recepetions and 224 yards in the playoff victory against Kansas City.

A healthy return by Wayne and the addition of Nicks could cut into his production, but Hilton is excited about the possibilities.

"We're a team," he said. "So when one guy is having fun, then we all have fun. As long as we're winning and doing the right things, we should be good."

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Frank Gore, Antrel Rolle, Devin Hester, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Vince Wilfork named to CBS Sports' Under-25 vs. Over-30 teams

This year's prolonged stretch between the end of the 2013 season and the 2014 NFL Draft has left media outlets with a little more room to get creative with ideas in trying to fill the time until actual football happens again.

One of the main strategies in this endeavor is to put out a series of NFL All-Something teams. In an original wrinkle, CBS Sports took this a step further by having two of their football writers come up with an All-Under-25 team and an All-Over-30 team and then comparing them side-by-side with the goal of seeing who could come up with the better roster.

For the matchup, CBS Sports enlisted columnist Pete Prisco to come up with an Under-25 team to go up against columnist Pat Kirwan's Over-30 team.
As expected, both writers think their team is superior. Regardless, proCanes were represented on the Over-30 team with six. Zero proCanes made the under-25 team which speaks to the State of The Hurricanes teams the last few years.

Here's where they landed:
Over-30 Team, Pat Kirwan

Running back: The claim is never let a 30 year old in your backfield. Well, think again. My top choices are Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams, Fred Jackson and Darren Sproles. I'll start Frank Gore but have Sproles ready for third down.

Wide receiver: I found 10 receivers I would like on the ol' boys team; Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson, Anquan Boldin, Roddy White, Wes Welker and Steve Smith. I can't have them all but I'll take Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall with Welker in the slot.
Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (30) and Brandon Marshall, Bears (30)
Reserves: Wes Welker (32), Andre Johnson (32), Vincent Jackson (31)

Defensive tackles: Good luck running the ball against Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork with 700 lbs. of beef inside. When they need a rest or its time to rush the passer I have to decide between Kyle Williams, Justin Tuck and Darnell Dockett. Those three had 26 sacks between them last year.
Starters: Haloti Ngata, Ravens (30) and Vince Wilfork, Patriots (32)

Safeties: Guys who play safety for 10 years may lose a step but they can read a quarterbackand get him to do things a young safety hasn't even though of yet. My starters for the clash of the young and old will be Troy Polamalu and Antrel Rolle. If I want to go "big nickel" and bring an extra safety, Dashon Goldson and LaRon Landry are available.
Starters: Antrel Rolle, Giants (31) and Troy Polamalu, Steelers (32)

Special teams: Stephen Gostkowski just turned 30 and he was five for six on 50+ attempts but I could always call up Vinateri or any number of the kickers. Jon Ryan, punter for the Seahawks, only allowed 21 returns for a total of 82 yards the whole season and 28 punts inside the 20. Devin Hester can handle the returns with his 13 for touchdowns over his career.
Starters: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots (30), Jon Ryan, Seahawks (32), Devin Hester, Falcons (31)

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Sean Payton not surprised by TE Graham's absence

So far, star tight end Jimmy Graham has skipped offseason workouts at Saints headquarters while his agent, Jimmy Sexton, and the Saints continue protracted negotiations over a long-term extension.

"I think it's pretty normal," Payton said.

The Saints have virtually locked Graham in for 2014 by placing a franchise tag worth $7.04 million on the 6-foot-7 tight end. However, Graham is seeking a long-term extension with pay commensurate to that of a top-tier receiver.

Last season, Graham led New Orleans in yards receiving with 1,215 and in touchdown catches with 16.

In 2012, quarterback Drew Brees held out until reaching a five-year, $100 million deal in early July, just weeks before training camp. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said during LSU's pro day this month that it would not be unreasonable to expect negotiations with Graham to follow a similar timeline, and that there is no immediate deadline.

"All of us would rather have things done sooner than later, but it doesn't always happen that way," Loomis said then. "Obviously we want to have Jimmy Graham on our team when training camp begins."

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Bernie Kosar believes Browns, WKYC ousted him as preseason analyst because of his slurred speech

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar believes the team and WKYC ousted him Wednesday as the color commentator for their preseason game broadcasts because of his slurred speech that he attributes to concussions he suffered as a player.

Kosar made the assertion in a statement released this morning and expressed hope that WKYC would reconsider the decision to remove him from the broadcast booth.

Solomon Wilcots will replace Kosar as an analyst during preseason games, and Jim Donovan will remain the play-by-play man, the Browns and WKYC announced Wednesday. The Browns also said they’re discussing potential new roles with Kosar that could include appearances on their website, radio shows and the pregame telecasts for preseason games.

Here is Kosar’s statement: “I was informed yesterday by the Cleveland Browns and WKYC that I have been replaced as a 2014 preseason game day color commentator.  I believe that this decision stems from my slurred speech impairment, which is a direct result of the many concussions I received while playing in the NFL. This is very unfortunate, as I believe my football acumen and ability to describe what is happening on the field, has been well received by Cleveland Browns fans. I love to put the personal touch, pride in the Browns, and pride in our Cleveland community into the broadcast. Being able to share these preseason games with my fellow Cleveland Browns fans is truly one of the remaining joys in my life. I would hope that WKYC would reconsider utilizing my in-game talents and overlook my concussion-induced impairment. I want everyone to know that I still bleed Brown and Orange.”

Kosar became enveloped in a controversy last year after he ripped former St. Louis Rams backup quarterback Kellen Clemens, the team's receivers and receivers coach Ray Sherman during a preseason game. Rams coach Jeff Fisher responded by saying he lost respect for Kosar. Former Browns CEO Joe Banner then released a statement explaining that the organization reprimanded Kosar for "the personal and unprofessional approach that Bernie took with some of his comments during the broadcast." Kosar defended his strong opinions during the next preseason telecast without publicly apologizing.

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Chris Perez at peace with his workload

In the eighth inning Wednesday with the Dodgers leading the Phillies 5-2, right-handers Kenley Jansen and Chris Perez were warming up in the bullpen.

The decision of who would pitch the ninth inning literally came down to the last minute. Had Adrian Gonzalez delivered an RBI in the final at-bat of the inning, Perez would have gotten the ninth. Instead, Gonzalez flied out to deep center field.

It was a save situation, so Jansen got the ball. He pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his eighth save. It was his 15th appearance of the season, which leads the major leagues.

Perez had at least two ways to react to the situation. He’s saved 132 games in his career. Why not try and make it 133, while Jansen hasn’t had back-to-back days off since April 10-11?

Alternatively, he could accept his role, which the 28-year-old did Thursday.

“Honestly, I didn’t have any expectations coming in (to the season),” he said. “I just wanted to come in and be able to get some outs. They could use me however they want.”

It’s because of his experience that Perez is at peace with manager Don Mattingly’s decision Wednesday.

“It’s usually feast or famine,” he said. “You go through a stretch where you get a bunch of save opportunities in a row, or you go through a stretch where we’re scoring a lot of runs and the other team’s not, and you’re just trying to get some work in.

“This year it’s been a little more consistent appearance-wise. I’ve been used in all types of games, whether we’re up or down. It keeps me sharp.”

The opposite has been true for Jansen, who was on pace to appear in 110 games going into Thursday’s game between the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.

Mattingly is aware of Jansen’s workload. Like Perez, he believes in the law of averages – that the need for a closer tends to balance out over the course of one season.

“There’s been some factors where our starters are 12th in innings pitched in our league,” Mattingly said. “We’ve had to get almost 80 innings out of our bullpen. Our starters have thrown (124). We’ve asked a lot of innings out there. So guys are getting more usage.

“It’s going to get better. We’re seeing it get better because guys are getting stronger.”

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Jon Beason, representin'

Jon Beason didn’t just sign a three-year, $19-million contract with the Giants this offseason. He negotiated it as well.

Beason represented himself in free agency, a rarity among players who often rely on agents to handle the dirty work of football business. The middle linebacker spoke about his DIY project on Tuesday.

“I think if you take the time to learn something, if you really put fourth that effort, you can do it,” he said. “I wasn’t naive enough to think that I could just do it on my own, I got help. Going through the process, getting ready for the process, it was more so a matter of just wanting to be directly involved as opposed to playing the little kid game on the telephone. You learned a lot but at the same time I actually enjoyed the experience.”

Beason said the Giants reached out to him a few minutes before he became a free agent on March 11. Because he was repping himself, he was unable to participate in the “legal tampering” period. Once he was a free agent, he said there were a few suitors.

“There were a lot of teams that expressed interest, which was good,” Beason said. “That’s what I thought going into the process. You’ve got to go through the yellow tape so to speak. You play the game, the negotiations start low and you work your way up. Once you become a free agent, everything changed. That part I think is the way to go about it. It’s a little nerve-wracking but you just rely on the fact that you know you’re a good player and you know you have value.”
Beason compared it to buying a car and negotiating around the sticker value. Only in this case, the car was negotiating over itself. That meant he was susceptible to some hard feelings when low-ball offers came in or teams called certain aspects of his game into question. Beason said things never got that personal.

When Karlos Dansby signed with the Browns for $24 million over four years, that set the market value for middle linebackers. Beason’s contract wound up being a little bit more per season ($6.3 million per season vs. $6 million) with a lot less guaranteed ($14 million for Dansby vs. $6 million for Beason) and one less year. But unlike Dansby, Beason gets to keep it all. Well, other than the taxes. And Beason gets the chance to cash in on another big contract if he’s still playing at a high level in three years.

Although he said he enjoyed the process, Beason said he’s not looking for a career after football.

“I don’t know if I want to be an agent,” he said. “I don’t know if I want to chase young guys around and tell them how great they are and say, ‘Sign with me.’ I think there may be an opportunity to say, ‘Hey guys, try learning for yourself. That way you have a better grasp of what your agent’s saying or maybe you can counter with this. Maybe your agent didn’t think about it or maybe he’s shocked that you knew about it.’ I think there’s a place for it.”

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Antrel Rolle: It's my defense now!

On Tuesday, Antrel Rolle downplayed the significance of being the only returning captain on the Giants' defense. With Justin Tuck gone and Jon Beason entering his first full season with the team, it is clear that Rolle will assume a much larger leadership role with the team this season. He just didn’t see it that way.

“I just go out there and play ball,” he said when he spoke with reporters on Tuesday. “I just know how to be Antrel. I don’t worry about wearing several different kind of hats. I just go out there and play ball. If I need to say something it’s going to be said, if I need to do something it’s going to be done. I just go out there and play ball. I think there should be 53 leaders in this locker room, not four or five or six. There’s going to be 53. Every man leads in their own way.”

Apparently, though, sleeping on the idea changed Rolle’s perspective. Because when he appeared on SiriusXM’s NFL Radio on Wednesday morning, he was (probably rightly) claiming the defense as his own and noting that he has a “huge sense of responsibility” for the unit.

“The way I look at the locker room, you know, these are my babies,” Rolle said in the radio interview. “These are my guys, these are my teammates, these are my brothers, these are the guys that I must protect at every given second that I’m there, that I’m with them on the field (and) off the field.”

“As far as it being my locker room or my defense,” he added, “yeah, I feel like I do hold a certain kind of title.”

One thing Rolle didn’t change his tune on from Tuesday to Wednesday was his appreciation of the changes that the Giants made this offseason. He reiterated in the radio interview his pleasure with the additions.

“I love what they’ve done,” he said on Tuesday. “They made some great moves, explosive moves, guys who can come in and contribute right away and help the team win.”

There is a chance that this will be Rolle’s final year with the Giants. It’s certainly the last year on his contract and while the 31-year-old safety said he thinks he can play several more years the Giants may have other ideas when it comes to negotiating. Rolle need only look to the last “owner” of the Giants defense, Justin Tuck, to see how quickly a player can go from king to the free agency market.

“If this happens to be my last year with the Giants, it will be my best season, so I’m gonna go out with a bang,” Rolle said on Wednesday. “But hopefully it’s not.”

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The Browns demote Bernie Kosar

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Demoting Bernie Kosar from television commentary on exhibition games is not a bad PR move by the Browns.

It's a horrible move.

Solomon Wilcots instead. A former Bengal and Steeler? Really?

What, a former Raven isn't available?

Whatever job Kosar gets on the Browns' website or radio or some other team forum, I know I'll miss his insight, humor and frankness when he had the broadcast audience.

It was some frank, quarterback-bashing remarks about St. Louis' Kellen Clemens that landed Kosar in hot water with the long-gone, little-missed Joe Banner. You remember the now deposed Banner, Hotspur Haslam's hand-picked top lieutenant?

Banner was the guy who always looked like somebody had been flatulent nearby, due to the perpetual scowl/sneer he had pasted on his face.
Kosar vs. Banner? Boy, that's a tough one.

There's Kosar -- a guy who drafted the Browns as much as the other way around, played with physical limitations behind an offensive line that was never a big priority, coped with a changing cast of coaches and coordinators, took the Browns to the brink of the Super Bowl three times on the strength of his video study and recognition of defensive tendencies, and bled for the team and the fans -- on the one hand.

And there's Banner -- the guy who plighted his troth, professionally anyway, with Mike Lombardi, king of front office intrigue, in cahoots with whom Banner deferred most of the 2013 draft to 2014 -- on the other hand.

It was a bad show all the way around, the overreaction to Kosar's criticism.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated went on Twitter, speculating about Kosar's documented dependency struggles after football. It was not a good moment by a respected writer. I've had those moments, too. If you really swing the bat in a column, you risk the chance that you will swing and miss at times. You can overdo it and overswing other times.

I've taken some shots at people in my career I wish I had back. There was the Browns' Earnest Byner, to whom I apologized, and the Indians' Ernie Camacho, to whom I should have. But at least my criticism was only about their performances on the field.

I seriously don't recall anything approaching the Bernie-must-be-drinking rumors for being nasty and personal.

Maybe Kosar was off base on his comments about Clemens. Kosar apologized. Under duress, but he still apologized. Should have been the end of the story.
At the very least, muting Kosar, or giving him a smaller platform than TV, or however the Browns spin it, continues the bland-leading-the-bland type of broadcasting that is a Cleveland staple.

One of the best NBA analysts in the business, Matt Guokas, got sacked by the Cavs  because he didn't wave pom-poms on the air.

Wilcots might do a fine job. For the sake of people who have to watch exhibition games, and Browns exhibitions at that, I hope he does.

But he won't have Kosar's background here, or his emotional resonance with the fans as the best player on the last teams that were consistent contenders. I doubt if Wilcots will have Bernie's way of explaining a play, which is close to that of a professor explaining a difficult passage in a book.

In that regard, I don't think his skills have diminished. He should have been allowed to do whatever he wanted to. They owe him.

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How a joint venture with NFL great Ray Lewis failed

The UpTake: Joe Maluff thought he had a sure-fire hit on his hands when he teamed with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis to open a restaurant in Baltimore. But the Birmingham restaurateur soon found out that distance can be a killer when it comes to business.

Joe Maluff always wanted to make a living in the restaurant business.

His father, grandfather and uncles were all in the food service industry, and to this day, Maluff cannot think of a negative thing to say about running a restaurant.

He and his brother David have owned Full Moon BBQ for 17 years, purchasing the original location on 25th Street South in Birmingham from Pat James in 1997.

For more news from the Birmingham Business Journal, check out Bryan Davis' work.

The two brothers will open their 10th restaurant in Dothan, Alabama, this year. The business is growing at a preferred slow and steady pace.

We recently spoke with Maluff about the company's growth, its future and their previous business venture with former NFL star Ray Lewis, among other things.
The following is an excerpt. For the full article, go to the Birmingham Business Journal:

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in business?
We learned the hard way. We tried to open up a business out of state, and we didn’t have an owner-operator like we do now...When we tried to go off and do one, we tried to run everything from here and get on a plane at seven in the morning, head out, and come home that evening ...We did a really good business, and then all of the sudden we started having theft and lawsuits. We learned our lesson fast.

What made you want to open an out-of-state Full Moon?
We were with Ray Lewis, the linebacker in Baltimore. We used to go down there and do his birthday party every year. He decided, with some local investors, that he wanted to open up a Ray Lewis' Full Moon Bar-B-Que. It was state of the art. It had his Super Bowl trophies, his jerseys and all of his memorabilia...Our concept was to do something like this, and somehow it wound up being like a Taj Mahal. It had 275 seats, a TV at every station.

Would you do business with Ray Lewis again?
Absolutely. He's phenomenal and still is to this day. He is a fantastic human being.

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Padres looking to trade catcher Nick Hundley

Nick Hundley started two-thirds of the Padres’ games behind the plate last season, his sixth year in San Diego, but now the 30-year-old catcher finds himself playing sparingly behind starter Yasmani Grandal and Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune reports that “the Padres are in active discussions with teams regarding Hundley.”

Hundley is making $4 million in his final season before free agency, so the likely return in a trade won’t be much, but aside from a disastrous 2012 campaign he’s been more or less a league-average hitter and has thrown out 28 percent of stolen base attempts.

He’d be an upgrade for most teams in the backup role and an upgrade for quite a few teams in a starter or quasi-starter capacity, bringing to the table 15-homer power from the right side of the plate.

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Ed Reed to play in Lardarius Webb's charity softball game

Former Ravens free safety Ed Reed is scheduled to play in cornerback Lardarius Webb's annual charity softball game, Webb tweeted Tuesday morning.

Reed, 35, last played at M&T Bank Stadium last season when the Ravens defeated the New York Jets.

The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year last played for the Ravens during their Super Bowl championship season in 2012 when he intercepted four passes in the regular season and another during a Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Reed signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Houston Texans before last season but was released in November and then played the final seven games with the New Yokr Jets under former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

While playing for the Ravens, the 2002 first-round draft pick from the University of Miami had 61 interceptions and was selected to nine Pro Bowls.
Tickets for the June 1 softball game are available through Webb's charitable foundation website.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Steve Smith among the other players scheduled to attend.  

The game was shifted from Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen this year.

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Sam Shields, secondary key to improving defense

Joe Whitt doesn’t know the going rate for a top-flight cornerback, nor does he really care.

What concerns the Green Bay Packers cornerbacks coach is what a player can do on the field. Sam Shields is as talented as anyone he’s ever mentored, but how much that ability is worth is for others to decide.

For that reason, Whitt wasn’t sure if he’d get a chance to coach Shields again following the Packers’ 23-20 playoff loss to San Francisco, but he was confident the 26-year-old’s best days were ahead of him.

“I don’t get into any contracts, but I believe Sam is a top-10, top-7 type corner in this league,” Whitt said at the time. “One thing that sticks out with Sam to me is when he has the opportunity to make the interception, make a splash play, he makes it. (In) four years, I think I have him really dropping one ball that I thought that was an intercept-type ball.”

The Packers’ brass agreed, though his return wasn’t always a guarantee. Shields’ camp threatened to cease contract negotiations days before the start of free agency before the two sides finally agreed to a four-year deal worth $39 million that included a $12.5 million signing bonus.

This was the outcome Shields was hoping for, but he also wanted to get paid. He signed for a $7,500 bonus after going undrafted in 2010 and played three years at the league minimum.

Shields’ biggest payday came last June when he signed his one-year restricted tender worth $2 million before the start of mandatory mini-camp. Although he missed most of the offseason program, he continued to grow into the position once training camp started.

He still hasn’t made it through a full season without injury, but managed to reset or match career highs in tackles (61), pass deflections (16) and interceptions (four). A knee injury suffered on the first defensive play of the 49ers’ playoff game could have jeopardized things, but he avoided ligament damage and hit the market at the peak of his powers.

Many of his close friends in the cornerbacks room expected the Packers would bring back Shields. It was just a matter of time. His athleticism and speedicon1 are not things that can be coached, and he’d come a long way since converting from receiver during his senior year at the University of Miami.

“I thought it was pretty important,” ninth-year cornerback Jarrett Bush said. “Sam is young and athletic. He has experience in playoff gamesicon1 and the Super Bowl. I thought he was definitely a huge contributor to our team, so I would’ve been surprised if we didn’t sign him back.”

Shields’ return ensured cornerback would remain the Packers’ deepest defensive group with Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Davon House and Bush all under contract for at least one more season.

There’s also internal optimism for two other speedy undrafted projects, James Nixon and Jumal Rolle.

While the cornerback position still is a strength, there are some long-term questions. Williams and House have one year left on their contracts, Hyde could possibly move to safety this offseason and Hayward is returning from a recurring hamstring strain.

Shields’ $9.75 million average salary came in on the high side for freeicon1 agent cornerbacks this offseason, but it would have been difficult to replace him in the secondary, especially in the short term.

“Sam is one of my good friends on the team, so I’m very excited to have him back,” Hayward said. “He’s one of the young stars on this team and not just the team, but the NFL. Having him back, hopefully he’ll bring a little spark to the team and the defense.”

Shields’ contract could pay as much as $21 million over the first two years. He’ll carry a hefty $12.125 million cap number in 2016 and 2017, but the Packers have options.

Along with shedding Williams’ $8 million salary after this season, the Packers could opt out of Shields’ deal after the 2015 season and assume a large but not crippling $6.25 million cap penalty.

It’s been reported the NFL salary cap could rise as much as $10 million in each of the next two seasons, so that could also be standard compensation for a No. 1 cornerback by that time.

Right now, though, the most important thing for Packers’ cornerbacks is generating more turnovers. Last year’s defense managed only 11 to finish 26th in the category.

Through the good and the bad years during defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ five years in Green Bay, interceptions have been an area in which the Packers have been consistently atop the league.

They’ll need better play from their safeties, who failed to force a single turnover last season, but a healthy Shields, Hayward and Williams could be the play-makers Capers’ defense needs to thrive.

Some worry complacency could set for Shields after agreeing to such a large deal, but those who know Shields best believe he’ll be that much more motivated to carry the defense in the right direction.

“Sam is what makes us go,” Hyde said. “There are a lot of games where he made some huge plays. It’s a competition in there, we all understand that. With Casey coming back, we all know what Casey can do with his rookie year, having a really good season.

“Hopefully we can all get on the field at once, that’s going to be dangerous.”

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Jon Jay to see more time

St. Louis Cardinals OF Jon Jay has taken over the platoon situation in center field over OF Peter Bourjos, and manager Mike Matheny plans on riding Jay's hot stick. "We're getting the guys in there who are taking good at-bats. Jon Jay has been taking some good at-bats," Matheny said. "Allen Craig has turned the corner and right now looks good in that second hole. Peter Bourjos is going to get good opportunities against a left-hander tomorrow. But right now Jon is taking the kind of at-bats we've got to capitalize on. We've got to get something going. Any guy in that lineup has potential to get us going." Jay is batting sixth Tuesday, April 22.

Fantasy Tip: If you own Bourjos in a mixed league, now is the time to start looking elsewhere, as long as Jay remains hot and in the good graces of the skipper.

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Yankees C prospect Peter O'Brien with hot start

Yankees prospect catcher Peter O'Brien is hitting .333/.369/.717 through his first 16 games for High-A Tampa.

The Yankees put O'Brien at third base last year for 38 games, but he made 18 errors on 91 chances and has yet to appear at the hot corner in 2014. He has appeared in three games in right field, but those appear to be a way to give him a night off from his catching duties. O'Brien has big time power, as is shown by his 22 home runs in 2013 and six in 16 games in 2014, but he is not a great defensive catcher and the Yankees appear to be looking for a way to get him from behind the dish.

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Asante Cleveland Impresses Dolphins

UM didn't use tight end Asante Cleveland much in the passing game last season (three receptions), but he impressed the Dolphins with his receiving skills, as well as his intelligence in the film room, during a visit last Friday. In the coming months, Miami likely will add at least two tight ends who can challenge Michael Egnew for a roster spot.

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Orlando Franklin says he'll move to left guard for Denver Broncos

In a move that puts the Broncos' five best offensive linemen on the field, right tackle Orlando Franklin might be moving to left guard.

Franklin announced the proposed move on his Twitter account Monday after the Broncos' first day of offseason conditioning:

"Left guard, excited to learn and improve this offseason. I will give it my all." Franklin wrote.

If that move works out, the Broncos are planning to move Chris Clark from left tackle to right tackle while Manny Ramirez is expected to stay at center, where he will receive competition from newly acquired veteran Will Montgomery.

Franklin, a Broncos' second-round draft pick in 2011, played left guard and left tackle at the University of Miami. He was a three-year starter at right tackle for the Broncos.

Clark played left tackle last season after Ryan Clady went down with a ruptured Lisfranc injury in his left foot. Clady is back at left tackle with Franklin at left guard, Ramirez at center, All Pro Louis Vasquez at right guard and Clark at right tackle, where he will compete with Winston Justice and Vinston Painter, among others.

The Broncos are not running plays during Phase I of their offseason program, but they are having meetings.

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Calais Campbell spends Monday at White House

TEMPE, Ariz. -- While the rest of his teammates were learning what life would be like under first-year strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris as offseason workouts began, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell spent Monday on the South Lawn of the White House.

He was one of a handful of NFL players who joined President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for the White House's Easter Egg Roll as part of the First Lady's Let's Move initiative. Washington's Robert Griffith III was also in attendance as was Indianapolis' Dwayne Allen, among other players.

Campbell's experience at the White House, which included a run-in with Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner, was captured via Twitter and Instagram.

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Both proCane Redskins' thirtysomethings must produce

They’re hardly a new Over the Hill Gang, but they do have a lot of thirtysomethings on their roster. Which can be viewed in multiple ways: A) They didn’t get younger after a season in which they went 3-13 and needed to rebuild, at least defensively; B) A lot of teams ahead of them in this ranking are quite successful; with age comes experience and savvy.

September will be when we’ll start to see which way the Redskins go. But, for now, we’ll just take a look at their players who are at least 30 years old. Washington is tied for eighth in the NFL with nine such players, according to ESPN's Field Yates. Oakland leads the way with 13, and you never want to be in Oakland’s company, but among the other teams ahead of Washington: San Francisco (12), New Orleans (11) and San Diego (10). All made the postseason. Arizona (10) went 10-6; Chicago (12) and Pittsburgh (10) both went 8-8.

But at the other end: Super Bowl champion Seattle has three such players while AFC champion Denver has six.

So what does it mean? Your players over 30 had better produce. Seven of their nine thirtysomethings play defense; four play along the line. Is it good that a defense coming off a tough season has that many older players? The Redskins appear to have taken a win-now approach with the hope of finding young guys in the draft to groom. That’s fine, but it had better work, otherwise they’ll just be old and slow.

Another note: The Redskins have four players who are 29 (three on offense, all linemen). Their offensive nucleus is young and can help now and in the future. But elsewhere the roster will be in transition for a couple years.

Anyway, here’s the Redskins' thirtysomethings:

WR Santana Moss (34): He’s not a lock to make the roster and if he does it’ll be as a backup, barring injuries. If Leonard Hankerson is healthy Moss would have to be sixth on the list at receiver (also behind Aldrick Robinson). At this point Moss is insurance.

S Brandon Meriweather (30): Signed back on a one-year deal. With Clark here, he’ll be able to play more in the box, where he’s best suited. But he needs to improve his consistency with tackling and positioning. Maybe a year further removed from knee surgery will help, too. But his troubles didn't all stem from being slow or late. Had Phillip Thomas not been hurt last summer, Meriweather might not have returned. But he was hurt, so the alternative was to re-sign Meriweather or find another player in free agency. They did not view the non-expensive options as better. As for Thomas, Lisfranc injuries can be tricky, so it’s tough to know how he'll look this summer.

See the rest of the 30 somethings here.

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Warren Sapp questions Jadeveon Clowney's work ethic

Jadeveon Clowney continues to be a lightning rod as the 2014 NFL Draft approaches.

On Monday's edition of "NFL Total Access," NFL Media's Heath Evans and Warren Sapp expressed their disapproval of Clowney's decision to decline on-field workouts in the run-up to the draft. Clowney opted out of the workouts after Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas suffered a torn ACL during a team workout.

"There's just so many little things about this kid that deter you from getting on his side," Evans said. "This kid turns down private workouts? He says, 'Well, I don't want to get hurt.' You should be training harder on the day that you're not at a private workout than how hard they would work you on the private workout."

"That's the real issue with me," said Sapp, who believes the Texans should select Teddy Bridgewater No. 1 overall, not Clowney. "What else is he doing, not waking up? The next job you have is rushing the quarterback, young man, getting ready for the NFL. If you wake up every morning and you're not prepared to go out and do the things you have to be either be an outside linebacker or pass rushing specialist, what else is there?

"You can blow your knee out walking your doggy," Sapp continued. "So why would you not work out for a team that has twenty million-plus dollars for you?"
The question is whether the Texans have the same concerns as Evans and Sapp. If they do, you can safely assume they'll go elsewhere with the No. 1 overall pick.

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James Jones is unexpected weapon off the bench

Freak is the word LeBron James uses to describe James Jones.

As in, Jones has put in so much time and work behind the scenes without even the slightest hint that he might actually play, that the Heat’s sharpshooter can only be described as freaky or freakish or, in the words of the four-time NBA MVP, “a freak.”

The freak was super on Sunday in the Heat’s first game of the 2014 playoffs.

Called into service in the second quarter, Jones delivered a necessary spark in the first half of the Heat’s 99-88 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats in Game 1 of Miami’s best-of-7, first-round playoff series. With the defending back-to-back champions once again needing a surge off the bench in the second half, Jones entered the game midway through the third quarter and provided a pair of three-pointers to break open a close game.

All those long days in the gym paid off for Jones on the biggest stage.

“I have the luxury of playing with some of the best playmakers, and guys get me good shots in open spots, and that’s my responsibility — to make them,” said Jones, a graduate of Miami American Senior High and a newly inducted member of the University of Miami sports hall of fame.

The hometown product finished with 12 points in 14 minutes in delivering his first double-figure scoring effort in a playoff game since 2011. In the Heat’s first postseason game of 2014, Jones’ contributions were the biggest difference between the team that won the NBA’s two previous championships and the current, slightly different version that’s beginning its quest for three in a row.

On Sunday, James said he expects Jones to play a crucial role this postseason as the team searches for ways to replace the clutch three-point shooting of Mike Miller. In a move to avoid a big hit in luxury-tax fees, the Heat used its one-time “amnesty clause” last summer to remove Miller’s contract from the league’s ledger. Miller is now playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.

“I think J.J. is going to play a big part of our success — of how far we go,” James said. “It was huge for him to come off the bench tonight and make the plays that he made. He even had two layup attempts, which is unlike J.J. — a career high — so that was huge.”

James and other luminaries in the NBA have long admired Jones for his unflappable professionalism and dogged work ethic. That James calls Jones a freak is the highest of compliments coming from a player who values hard work above all. Jones has been resigned to the end of the Heat’s bench for much of the past two seasons, but he practices his three-point shooting just as habitually as the most obsessive players in the league.

Ray Allen is legendary for getting to the gym hours before games to get up shots. NBA fans might know Allen’s nickname as Jesus Shuttlesworth — a nod to the character he played in Spike Lee’s He Got Game — but insiders around the league call Allen “Every Day” Ray.

Every day, Jones is right there alongside Allen before games and before practices and matching the league’s all-time leader in three-pointers shot for shot.
And now, without being a part of the Heat’s rotation for most of the season, it appears Jones could be a significant role player in the postseason. In addition to moving ahead of Shane Battier in the pecking order of Heat shooters, Jones also played more minutes on Sunday than Heat reserve Rashard Lewis, who was expected to feature prominently off the bench for the Heat.

Battier didn’t play on Sunday, and Lewis logged less than nine minutes. In another twist, reserve point guard Norris Cole played more minutes than Allen, the Heat’s traditional sixth man. Allen went scoreless in Game 1 against the Bobcats while Cole had seven points and was a defensive pest against the Bobcats’ quick backcourt.

Cole isn’t expected to play more minutes than Allen as the playoffs progress. The unexpected substitution patterns were obvious signs that the Heat is still figuring itself out after a regular season in which the top priority was to get everyone to playoffs healthy. And with the unfortunate foot injury to Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra basically has an entire round to tinker.

Spoelstra went to Jones after it became apparent that Jefferson’s foot injury wasn’t going away. In going small with Jones, Spoelstra created a mismatch that opened the game for the Heat. Jones said after the game that he didn’t know he was part of the game plan until Spoelstra called for him with less than six minutes remaining in the second quarter.

“Coach called my number and asked me to go in there and bring some energy and make some shots, and that’s what I did,” Jones said. “My team won, that’s the best thing about it. My individual efforts don’t really give me much excitement.

“It’s all about winning. If I can help the team win by performing well, I relish that opportunity.”

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Yasmani Grandal: Still Unable To Catch Everyday

Grandal, who isn't in the Padres' lineup Monday at Milwaukee, will be considered the No. 1 catcher once he's displays the ability to catch every day, Bill Center of the team's official site reports.

The starts in San Diego's backstop break down as follows in 2014: eight for Grandal, eight for Rene Rivera, and the remaining four for Nick Hundley. Grandal will take on the majority of nods once he can handle the rigors of catching on a daily basis. However, he remains unable to do so on the right ACL that was repaired last August, leaving a committee approach to rule the day for the time being.

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All six of Ryan Braun's home runs this season have come in Pennsylvania

Now that we know the truth, that all six of Ryan Braun's home runs this season have come at either PNC Park or Citizens Bank Park, will Major League Baseball put the state of Pennsylvania on the banned substance list? It must be something in the air, or the water, or the pirogi, or the Tastykakes, because once Braun steps into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, he becomes the majors' deadliest hitter.

Perhaps lost among the bat flipping and and yelling and brawling between the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday was Braun taking Bucs closer Jason Grilli deep for the second time in two games, giving him three homers against the Pirates this season, all at PNC. Combine them with the three homers Braun had at Philadelphia on April 8 and you've got his entire home run output for the season, six. Add two more 6's, and you have the Devil's area code.

Away from the comforts of the Keystone State, Braun is 8 for 40 with nine strikeouts. One extra-base hit. No RBIs. Braun must be taking advantage of a loophole in the drug testing rules because, for him, the great state of Pennsylvania is one giant PED. And it tastes just like Quaker Oats.

jeffpearlman: “It is illogical to believe Ryan Braun is clean. You put up huge #s, get caught, suspended, return—and you're just as good sans PED? Um, no.”
10:50 PM - 20 Apr 2014

Or maybe someone who's interested should look into what the connection actually is between performance-enhancing drugs and a player's performance. Now that would make for some good journalism. In the meantime, we need to ban Pennsylvania just to be sure. PNC Park? More like PED Park. Citizens Bank Park? More like... Citizens Biogenesis Park.

The bigger reality is, the Brewers are 14-5 overall, including 9-1 away from Miller Park, (and 6-1 in Pennsylvania). They're also 6-1 against the Pirates, rivals in the NL Central. And right now, Ryan Braun can't miss if there's an Andy Warhol Museum, or a Liberty Bell nearby. Somebody must stop him before the Brewers go back there and have either Primanti Bros. or cheese steaks.

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Dolphins impressed with Stephen Morris

When you hear people discussing the quarterback class of 2014, former Miami Hurricanes signal-caller Stephen Morris is not a name that gets a lot of love. However, all it takes to be drafted is to have one team intrigued by your talents, and it appears that Morris has been able to do that throughout the draft process.

According to the Miami Herald, Morris has ”impressed” several people within the Dolphins organization.

In the recent years, Miami hasn’t been shy of taking former Hurricanes — including running back Lamar Miller and pass rusher Olivier Vernon — so it is very possible that they would be willing to take a chance on bringing Morris onto the roster.

Throughout his collegiate career, Morris showed some impressive physical talents, but he was also wildly inconsistent and that has hurt his draft stock in the eyes of NFL talent evaluators.

Whether or not the Dolphins draft Morris in three weeks time remains to be seen, but if they are impressed then they could view him as a developmental back up for Ryan Tannehill and end up pulling the trigger.

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Seantrel Henderson has pre-draft visit with 49ers

The 49ers hosted Miami T Seantrel Henderson for a pre-draft visit last week.

Henderson (6-foot-7, 331 pounds) is a former elite recruit who has all the necessary tools to be a stud OT in the NFL. However, he didn't come anywhere close to living up to his ability at Miami, and he has high wash-out odds. This is a true boom-or-bust prospect, but if the cost is a Day 3 pick and the team is well coached, why not roll the dice?

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Dolphins Express Interest In Another Future NFL proCane

According to a UM source, the Dolphins have expressed interest in highly-athletic 6-5 UM basketball player Erik Swoope --- who has never played Pop Warner, high school or college football --– in the wake of the Denver Broncos working him out last week.

The Broncos called UM coach Jim Larranaga to express interest, and “I was completely shocked,” Swoope told “That was the last thing I expected Coach L to tell me.” Besides Miami and Denver, the Kansas City Chiefs also have inquired.

The Broncos believe he can make the transition from a basketball forward to a football tight end, like former UM and New Orleans Saints standoutJimmy Graham has.

It will be interesting to see how many teams offer Swoope a free agent contract after the draft, presuming he goes undrafted. Swoope has not hired an agent but has declared himself for the NFL Draft, opting to do that instead of playing football for a season at UM while attending graduate school.

Swoope, who has talked about the transition with Graham, avaraged 5.0 points and 2.7 rebounds last season, and Larranaga has conceded that he wishes he had played him more early in the season. He showed a knack for dazzling dunks and for leaping over taller players for rebounds.

The Dolphins had some interest in Graham in the 2010 draft, but Tony Sparano loved John Jerry and Bill Parcells --- after consulting with Sparano and his scouts --- decided Jerry would be a better choice than Graham at No. 73. The Saints took Graham 95th, and Miami has regretted that decision ever since.
Of course, Swoope isn't the prospect Graham was. But it's certainly worth exploring the possibilities.

Meanwhile, UM basketball player Raphael Akpejiori, 6-9, is attending football meetings, will attend camp in August and hopes to earn playing time at tight end. One UM person said he struggled catching passes on the side on the day he observed Akpejiori.

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Cowboys Target LaRon Byrd as Third Wideout

The Dallas Cowboys are still searching for another wide receiver in the free agency market, leading them to take a closer look at former Arizona Cardinals wideout LaRon Byrd, according to a source close to situation on Thursday.

Byrd, an undrafted wideout out of Miami, spent his first two seasons with the Cardinals organization, but never had a chance to play a single NFL-sanctioned game. The Cards eventually released Byrd on April 4, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.

Needing to get some insurance for starting wide receiver Dez Bryant and Terrence Williams, the Cowboys have been trying to nab a third wideout capable of providing depth in the position and delivering the goods when given opportunity to play.

SB Nation Cowboys beat writer Dave Halprin reported Byrd worked out with Dallas front office members last Thursday. The former Hurricane standout also had a meeting with the New York Giants last week.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys are also interested in getting former Tampa Bay Buccaneers veteran guard Davin Joseph, who was released this offseason by the Bucs in order for them to avoid a $6 million hit against the salary cap.

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Reggie Wayne to naysayers: 'You guys motivate me'

On the same day Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck called Reggie Wayne a "freak in terms of health and what he can do at his age," the veteran receiver promised his surgically rebuilt knee wouldn't hold him back in 2014.

"You can believe I'm that dog that keeps jumping over the fence," Wayne told reporters Friday at a charity event, per The Indianapolis Star.

"You guys say that I can't do it. I'm 35. I'm over the hill. No way I can come back the same," said the 13-year veteran. "I wasn't a big newspaper reader, but I've become one. Next time I read it, maybe you'll be saying I've found the fountain of youth."

Wayne spoke repeatedly of his "naysayers," telling the group: "It's you guys. You guys motivate me."

Wayne also has his believers, including Luck, who knows firsthand what losing the Pro Bowl wideout in October meant for Indy's passing game. With Wayne back in the mix alongside T.Y. Hilton and the newly signed Hakeem Nicks, the Colts are well-equipped to assault teams through the air.

It's not just the starting wave. Wayne's absence also led to increased snaps for LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and the intriguing Da'Rick Rogers. The Colts are deep at the position, not to mention Indy's pair of pass-catching tight ends in Coby Fleener and the returning Dwayne Allen.

Add it all up, and this passing game has the chance to make some serious noise in the AFC.

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Ravens not interested in Eric Winston

Coach John Harbaugh confirmed the Ravens have not had any contract talks with free agent RT Eric Winston.

The Ravens have just Ricky Wagner as an in-house replacement for Michael Oher, but 30-year-old Winston wouldn't be much of an upgrade despite his ties to OC Gary Kubiak. ESPN's Jamison Hensley expects Baltimore to target a right tackle early in the draft.

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Reggie Wayne Back In Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS – Sunday marks the sixth-month “anniversary” of Reggie Wayneicon-article-link limping off the Lucas Oil Stadium turf with a torn ACL.

It’s not an anniversary any NFL player hopes to have but Wayne’s approach to a strenuous offseason is what you would expect from a six-time Pro Bowler entering his 14th NFL season.

On Friday night, Wayne hosted a charity event to benefit the American Cancer Society and he shared his thoughts on his rehab and the 2014 season with OTAs beginning on Monday.

On if the rehab process is “easier” after going through it during his sophomore year at Miami:
“I don’t think it ever gets easy. I really believe that going through it before, it gives you perspective on what’s next. People that really never had that particular surgery don’t know what to look forward to or what’s next. I kind of already had my foot in the door. But it never gets easy. It’s always tough. Everybody knows the first three weeks is tough then you are going to plateau a little bit. Then you are going to go down and you’ve got to find a way to get yourself back up. It’s been challenging but at the same time I’ve taken it in stride.”

On what motivates him to return to the playing field:
“They say whatever you’re doing you need to find something that motivates you. I could easily say my kids, my family, my boys. When I told them I was done for the year, I could see their shoulders just sink. I could easily say that’s my motivation but that’s understood. You look outside the box. You guys (the media) are the ones that say I can’t do it. ‘You’re 35. You’re over the hill. No way I can comeback the same.’ I wasn’t a big newspaper reader but I’ve become one. Hopefully I can get you guys to kind of sing another tune and next time I read it, you can say I finally found my youth.”

On the key to having a successful rehab process:
“I think being disciplined is the main thing. You are going to have them days when you really don’t want to get out of bed and rehab but you have to be disciplined to go out there and do it. I really look at is as life. My definition of life is what happens when you expect something else. You’ve got to deal with it. I just get back and if I want to continue to play football then I’ve got to go out and grind. If I want to prove some naysayers wrong, I’ve got to get out and grind. I do understand that’s part of it. I’m excited. I feel great and hopefully they let me loose a little bit. I know they are going to hold me down a little bit, which is probably the right thing to do. But they can believe I’m that dog that keeps jumping over the fence. Hopefully they can contain me.”

On his thoughts on the 2014 Colts:
“I feel great. I’m excited. I’m excited about the team we are building. I feel like we are going in the right direction so hopefully the new additions we’ve added, get them on the same program, get everybody just going upward. We know that we are close but we still have a long way to go. Hopefully we can use this offseason to get better and better and go from there.”

On what OTAs mean to him:
“I really believe that this is the time where teams take that next step. If you take this time here and take it for granted, you take a down step. I really feel the early part of the offseason is where you get better and hopefully everybody has that same mindset and can take advantage of it.”

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Vinny Testaverde's Son Heading to Lubbock

Testaverde, the son of former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde, is apparently heading to Lubbock to join the Texas Tech football program, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.

Testaverde, who previously quarterbacked a regional semifinal team at Tampa (FL) Jesuit, never played organized football until his junior year in high school. Nevertheless, he has apparently elected to join the Texas Tech football program, and none too soon - Holiday Bowl offensive MVP Davis Webb remains the Red Raiders' lone quarterback, this after Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer transferred after last season and walk-ons Tanner Tausch and Mike Richardson recently elected to leave the program.

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Edgerrin James and the falling value of running backs

It was a rainy Saturday in March 2006 when Edgerrin James visited the Cardinals for the first time. Kurt Warner was gamely trying to hold his annual flag football tournament on the practice fields, and the Cards were in the process of locking up a star running back. The price, in the end, was four years and $30 million. James didn’t collect all of it, but he still got plenty. The Colts felt James was on the downside, not worth the cash, and in the end, they were proven right that they didn’t need him — winning the Super Bowl in 2006 with young Joseph Addai and the serviceable yet forgettable Dominic Rhodes at running back.

The overall trend to run through running backs when they were cheaper and then move on hadn’t enveloped the NFL completely. But that’s about when the Cards’ thought process turned. From there, Tim Hightower was a fifth-round pick who essentially replaced Edge in 2008. Beanie Wells was added in the first round for 2009. Ryan Williams was drafted in 2011. Then came Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor last season. The Cardinals have not spent anything close to significant money on a free agent running back since Edge. They have yet to have a running back drafted play past his rookie contract. The reality of the NFL is that the position has not only be devalued, the bottom dropped out of the market faster than Arizona home sales circa 2009.

Only Williams is scheduled to make at least $1 million this season, and whether he remains on the 53-man roster for 2014 is very much up in the air. Ellington (who only will make $495,000) is the starter, and whether Taylor ($495,000) or Jonathan Dwyer ($795,000) is the other back, there is little (relative) investment. You see the same across the league, with the money being paid to free agent running backs, with the way running backs are sliding down the draft every year. The way things have gone, that No. 3 overall pick spent on Trent Richardson might be the last time a top 10 pick is spent on a back ever.

Of course, “ever” is a long time. Sometimes, a back is special and deserves the big money. Adrian Peterson comes to mind (and no, we won’t go into how he ties into the Cardinals and the Edge signing right now.) But these days, it doesn’t look like many Petersons will emerge. Not the way colleges are using running backs themselves, and not the way the NFL is handling them once they get to the pros.

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49ers met with proCane offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson

In 2007, the 49ers met before the draft with a player who was regarded as a character risk.

Coach Mike Nolan and personnel chief Scot McCloughan, the 49ers' top-ranking football people at the time, came away from their meeting with Tarell Brown feeling good enough about him that the club selected Brown in the fifth round of the draft.

Brown spent seven seasons with the 49ers and there was never any hint of character issues during his time with the team.

Each NFL team is allowed 30 pre-draft visits with prospects. Sometimes those visits are with players with whom they have genuine interest for early-round selections. Sometimes a team, such as the 49ers, will want to create the false impression there is interest.

But other times it’s because the team simply wants to gain more information about a player with either character or health concerns.

The 49ers had one such visit this week, according to a source. Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson traveled to Santa Clara to meet with the 49ers.

Henderson (6 foot 7, 331 pounds) is a talented tackle prospect who has good feet and agility for a player of his size. However, he was suspended three times during his career for violating team rules. The Sun-Sentinel reported in January that Henderson admitted to NFL teams at the Senior Bowl that marijuana use led to the suspensions.

Pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State, who was also suspended three times in his college career, is scheduled to meet with the 49ers next week, the Sacramento Bee previously reported.

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Top Bears Draft Picks: #22 Devin Hester

As the NFL Draft approaches, Grizzly Detail is counting down the Top 30 draft picks in Chicago Bears history. In order to qualify for this list, a player must have worn a Bears uniform for at least five seasons (sorry Rosevelt Colvin and Wilber Marshall), and players who were selected in lower rounds of the draft will have an advantage in this countdown.

We continue the countdown with the greatest kick returner in NFL history, as Devin Hester checks into our list in the #22 slot.

The Details:
Drafted in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Hester immediately burst onto the scene with the Bears and set about smashing records throughout the NFL. In his first season alone, Hester picked up five touchdown returns (three punts, two kick-offs), and transformed the Bears’ special teams unit from an asset into an explosive phase of the game.

Overall in his career with the Bears, Hester returned 13 punts for touchdowns and added five more kick-off returns for scores, including a career long 98-yarder during the 2011 season. He has since moved on to greener pastures with the Atlanta Falcons, but his legacy will remain strong for what he did during his tenure with the team that drafted him.

Career Highlights:
If there is any one moment in Hester’s career that will define him, it will be the kick-off return that opened Super Bowl XLI that will be remembered forever. His cut up the field to start the game against the Indianapolis Colts electrified the soaking wet crowd in Miami, and even though the joy was short-lived as the Bears went on to be trounced in the game, it was still a stirring reminder of the magic he was capable of.

Hester naturally had his share of bad moments in addition to those moments of glory. He never really stood out when he was playing defensive back for the Bears, the position at which he was drafted, and even when he transitioned to wide receiver later in his career, he didn’t fare much better. He did snare 14 touchdown grabs in 123 games, but his effectiveness was limited by poor route running and an inability to adjust to coverages that teams would throw at him.
It was ultimately that inability to stand out as a wide-out that led Marc Trestman to put Hester in strictly for return duties during the 2013 season, and likely was the reason why the team did not re-sign him when his contract expired. The move ruffled some feathers, including those of linebacker Lance Briggs, but the team simply couldn’t afford to keep a luxury item like Hester at the price that other teams were willing to pay for his services.

Our Reasoning:
As the only special teamer on this list, Hester certainly is worthy of the slot at which he ended up. He redefined the expectations for what a kick returner can do during his time with the team, and despite his failure to adjust effectively to the wide receiver position, he still managed to make a huge impact with the squad.

That being said, Hester would have ranked higher both if he had managed to play another position besides that of a return man AND if he had continued the stellar production that he put up in his first few years in the league. He was slowed considerably by the adjustments teams made when they were kicking (or more often, not kicking) to him, but the fact is that he lost a step after those first few seasons, and didn’t keep the closing speed that made him such a lethal weapon in the first place.

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Allen Hurns had private workout with Cincinnati Bengals

Though it's certainly low on the positions of need, the Bengals may still be in the market for a receiver late in this year's NFL Draft. While A.J. Green. Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are likely opening the 2014 season as the starting three.

After that, Brandon Tate, Cobi Hamilton Ryan Whalen and Dane Sanzenbacher will battle for 3-4 more roster spots. Tate, Whalen and Sanzenbacher all have just one year left on their deals, do adding a late-round or undrafted WR would be ideal.

Could Miami's Allen Hurns be on the Bengals' radar?

According to Sun Sentinel writer Christy Chirinos, Hurns had a private workout with the Bengals, in which he felt he "dominated" the workout. He'll need to dominate all of his workouts, as most projected him as a late-round or undrafted prospect.

In 2013, Hurns played in all 13 games at receiver, making 11 starts and leading the team in receptions (62) and receiving yards (1,162) and second on team with six TD receptions. He set single-season school record with 1,162 receiving yards, breaking mark previously held by Leonard Hankerson, and his 62 receptions are the third-most in single-season at UM.

But there are a lot of holes in Hurns' game. He's not a great route-runner, and he has far too many drops. Watching his tape, it's clear he's too inconsistent to warrant anything more than a late 6th-round pick. It didn't help that he played with the enigmatic Stephen Morris.

Speaking of which, Morris is working with QB guru Tom House, the same person tutoring Andy Dalton this offseason. It may be a chance for Morris to talk to Dalton about Hurns and what he can bring to the Bengals, or it may be nothing more than a coincidence.

That said, the Bengals are very quiet and particular when it comes to who they host for private workouts. Hurns will be a name to watch in the 6th and 7th rounds and afterwards if he goes undrafted.

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Clinton Portis speaks at East Rowan

GRANITE QUARRY ­­— Clinton Portis retired from the NFL in 2012 but he’s got plenty of good years left.

He’s 32 now, but not that far removed from the 17- and 18-year olds he was talking to at East Rowan High School on Wednesday afternoon. Sports can keep you young, but it can age your body in a hurry, especially if you’re a running back. If there’s a lesson to be taught from retiring at 29, it’s that opportunities don’t come around often and don’t last forever. Portis maximized his talents and tried to relay that to the students in an assembly.

Granite Quarry is probably as far away as you can get from Miami culturally, but Portis entered East in a nondescript gray hooded sweatshirt looking like another Rowan County resident and not a record-breaking football star.

“I wouldn’t say it was cut short,” Portis said of his playing days. “I played long enough. I think nine years in the NFL was great. My time was up. Injuries are a part of the game. It’s a violent game and I played it to the best of my abilities.”

His time in college was awesome too. Portis was part of the 2001 Miami team that won the national championship and had an unreal legacy with NFL players like Jeremy Shockey, Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee and Vince Wilfork. The Hurricanes rolled Nebraska 37-14 in the national title game, giving the ‘Canes their fifth championship in 18 years.

“It was unbelievable,” said Portis, who was inducted into the Miami Hall of Fame last week. “Who’d ever thought looking back 10 years later that there’d be so many successful guys from that team.”

Portis headlined a three-school tour Wednesday that was part of a “Game Plan For Life” program that was sponsored by the Rowan-Kannapolis ABC Board and Joe Gibbs Racing. Former NFL players Steve Israel, Renaldo Wynn and NASCAR driver Darrell Wallace also spoke at length about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

Israel, now a wealth management advisor at Fifth Third Bank, told the crowd that when you invest in something, you see a bigger return. Setting goals was emphasized and Israel revealed his goals as a youth of playing football for Pittsburgh, obtaining an economics degree and dating the prettiest girl on campus.

Portis likened his life to always being fourth or fifth on the depth chart and overcoming challenges to become No. 1. As a small-town kid from Mississippi, Portis avoided drugs and alcohol and stayed out of trouble despite his brother, Gary Hampton, falling in with the wrong crowd and later serving time in prison.
After leaving the game at 29, he’s seeking fulfillment in contributing to the community.

The former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins ball carrier works with ACC Network as a college football analyst.

Portis gave away autographed footballs to Sam Wyrick and Darin Basso and Amani Ajayi received a signed jersey.

“The opportunity to speak to today’s youth is an easy opportunity to be involved in,” Portis said. “I think kids think that they go through. I tell them it’s a recycled period. They go through the same thing I went through.”

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James Jones comes out of ‘bullpen’ to give Miami Heat a boost

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra compared James Jones to a relief pitcher in baseball.

When called in from the bullpen Sunday afternoon, Jones came in throwing strikes.

Jones had perhaps the biggest impact of Miami’s bench players in Sunday’s 99-88 win over visiting Charlotte in the Heat’s 2014 postseason opener.

“We didn’t know we would need to get that deep into the rotation,” Spoelstra said moments after Jones finished with 12 points in 14 minutes 11 seconds.

“I love the guys on our bench because they keep themselves ready. You never know when that kind of opportunity is going to happen.

“You have to be able to produce, and it’s not easy.”

Jones didn’t log much playing time in last year’s run to the championship.

When he checked in with 4:19 left in the second quarter, it marked his first playoff game since Game 5 of the 2013 Finals in San Antonio.

Last season, Jones scored three points in three of the nine postseason games he appeared in.

For Jones, finding himself at the end of the bench before suddenly being asked to help out is something he’s used to. It’s not something he necessarily likes, but he has been dealing with it for some time.

“I’ve been in this role for a couple of years here, and I think the difficult times in dealing with it have passed,” said Jones, a former Miami American High standout who was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame earlier this month.

“I’m a competitor, and I play this game to play and to win. [On Sunday], I got a chance to do both.”

Jones replaced Chris Andersen late in the second quarter with the Heat leading by one.

Jones got two rebounds and an assist in his first minute of play before scoring his first points on a layup after Mario Chalmers stole the ball at midcourt and fed him after drawing a pair of defenders.

With 50 seconds left, Jones drew a foul on a three-point shot from the corner and hit two of three free throws to give Miami an 11-point lead.

“I was a little surprised, we have had a very solid rotation all year,” Jones said. “I was expecting us, with the need for energy, for one of our reserves to come in. Coach called my number and asked me to bring some energy, make some shots. That’s what I did.”

By the time he replaced Udonis Haslem in the third, Charlotte had closed to a tie. Jones gave the Heat yet another spark, and his three-pointer with 45.1 seconds left in the period put Miami up six.

“We were a little lethargic,” Jones said, “but we bounced back. We have 15 real NBA-talented guys and in the playoffs, all bets are off.
“You have to do whatever it takes to win.”

Jones is in his sixth season with the Heat and quickly dismissed thoughts of retirement after Miami’s first title in 2012.

Although he hasn’t seen much playing time this year — Sunday’s game was just the eighth time he has received 14-plus minutes this season — Jones knows where he stands with the Heat.

“He’s a unique guy, and we learned that early on during the pre-Big 3 team,” Spoelstra said. “You can bring him out of the bullpen, and not many guys have that kind of mentality. He understands the big-picture stuff and is willing to sacrifice. He doesn’t have an ego in that regard, but he has an incredible amount of confidence when he gets out there. That’s a tough balance.”

Now what about Wednesday?

Spoelstra said Jones could go back to riding the bench for much of the night in Game 2 against the Bobcats. Or maybe he won’t.

“I don’t know,” Spoelstra said.

“You can say we rode the hot hand.”

Indeed, one LeBron James thinks will come up big for Miami as he compared Jones to the departed Mike Miller as a potential Heat playoff hero.

“He’s a key ingredient to our success in this postseason,” James said. “We’re a different team than last year. Obviously, without Mike Miller on this team, J.J. is going to be able to fill that void.”

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Yonder Alonso appears at third base

Yonder Alonso played an inning at third base after coming off the bench Thursday against the Rockies.

It was Alonso's third career appearance at third; he played a full game there for the Reds in 2011 and also part of an inning there for the Padres last year. This gives him some extra eligibility and value in some fantasy leagues.

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Jon Jay called. He wants his job back.

It's funny the difference a little bit of time can back. In 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder Jon Jay was on top of the world.

Riding the wave of the organization's 11th world championship, Jay had a career season. Over the course of the year, he became one of the league's best leadoff men.

Hitting .305 with 19 stolen bases in 2013, Jay was on top of the world. There were even talks of him being in the running for a Gold Glove award.
While his glove was solid, Jay's arm left something to be desired.

How quickly things can change.

In 2013, Jay's defense took a serious hit. Both his arm and range seemed to decrease substantially, with little patience from the Cardinals fan base.

Offensively, he declined somewhat as well, but not as much as the hype would have one to believe.

A career .293 hitter, Jay batted .276 in 2013. Despite the lower average, he had 67 RBI (an increase of 27 over the previous season) and nearly doubled his home run total to seven.

Regardless of his offense, to go from being considered a possible Gold Glove-caliber outfielder to being a fourth outfielder at best is quite the slide.

With the Cardinals trading for Peter Bourjos, Jay was given some legitimate competition for 2014. So far, he's making a case that he should be back in the lineup.

And he started making that case early this year.

Since April 12, Jay is batting .346 with a home run and five RBI. He's not crushing the ball, but he is getting on base consistently.

Defensively, he's still struggling—but that's taking a back seat at the moment because Bourjos' offense has been slow to get going.

Batting only .190 through 42 at bats, Bourjos is still getting acclimated to his new team and home field. The season is still young and the front office still seems committed to giving him time to get warmed up, no position is guaranteed in this organization.

He who earns the job, will hold the position.

For now, Bourjos has the slot, but if he doesn't heat up soon that could change quickly.

At least, it will if Jon Jay has anything to say about it.

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Surgery not recommended for Ryan Jackson

Padres infielder Ryan Jackson may not need surgery after all, as reports he has been diagnosed with a just a strain in his right wrist. It was previously reported that he would need surgery on the wrist, though further examination was needed, which he received via the team's doctors in San Diego.

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Jon Jay seeing more starts in center field

Jon Jay has started three of the last four games in center field for the Cardinals.

Manager Mike Matheny is simply playing the hot hand, as Jay has four hits -- including a three-run homer -- in 12 at-bats over that stretch. "Jon has done a nice job, and I think that is something that all these guys need to know from us," Matheny said. "It is, ‘What do I need to get an opportunity to play?’ Jon had four quality at-bats (Wednesday). It’s a good day for him to keep that swing going." With the Nationals starting lefty Gio Gonzalez Friday, Peter Bourjos should be back manning center field.

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Ryan Braun's ninth-inning homer carries Brewers

Pittsburgh — With boos cascading down from every angle of PNC Park, Ryan Braun let his bat do the talking Saturday night.

The embattled rightfielder went 3 for 5, scored four runs and homered twice, with his second — a two-run shot off all-star closer Jason Grilli with one out in the ninth inning — lifting the Milwaukee Brewers to a dramatic 8-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"I embrace the challenge of an atmosphere and an environment like this," Braun said, referring to the crowd of 32,490 that let him know in no uncertain terms each time his name was announced how he's viewed in Pittsburgh.

"As a competitor, I think it makes it enjoyable. It makes it challenging. One way or the other, they're either going to be really happy or I'm going to enjoy it. Facing Jason Grilli, you know you've got your hands full.

"He's one of the best relievers in baseball and has been over the last few years. I was fortunate I was able to get the barrel to (the ball)."

The Brewers led, 4-1, before a five-run fourth inning made possible by several miscues — defensive and otherwise — allowed the Pirates to rally against starter Matt Garza, who remains without a victory after his first four turns in a Milwaukee uniform.

Pittsburgh scored again in the sixth to make it 7-5 before Braun scalded a ball to left-center off left-hander Tony Watson with one out in the seventh. It went over the fence on a line, narrowing the deficit to 7-6.

"I was surprised it carried out," Braun said, his troublesome right thumb still encased in ice. "I knew I had backspun it, but I thought it would maybe one-hop the wall or if I got lucky, get it off the wall. So I was surprised that ball got out."

Mark Melancon and Jim Henderson (2-0) each threw scoreless eighth innings to set the stage for Braun's big blow in the ninth.

After Grilli fanned Carlos Gomez for the first out, Jean Segura fell behind 0-2 before slapping a slider into left. With the boos raining down on him yet again, Braun strode to the plate and wasted little time angering the fans even more.

Grilli threw a 94-mph fastball that Braun hammered to straightaway center, just feet to the right of his first blast in the Milwaukee bullpen. Suddenly the Brewers were back in front, 8-7, and very quickly closer Francisco Rodriguez started warming up.

"Seggy got a base hit and I took my jacket off and I hadn't even stretched," Rodriguez said. "I turn around and the ball is coming flying into us, so I had to start getting ready quick."

Grilli got out of the frame with no further damage, but Rodriguez got a little extra time when Aramis Ramirez was plunked the at-bat after Braun's homer.

As it turned out, Braun's homer represented the first two runs scored by the Brewers off Grilli since 2007, when he was with the Detroit Tigers — a span of 17 scoreless innings.

"That's the type of statistic we don't want to be aware of," said Braun, who has 20 multi-homer games. His previous, a three-homer game, came April 8 across the state in Philadelphia.

"I don't think many teams have a lot of success against a guy like that — or their whole bullpen, for that matter. Their whole bullpen throws 95-plus; they all have great stuff.

"There's a reason they've been so successful. So it's not a good formula to have to come back against a team like this, but tonight we were able to do it."

Rodriguez entered and got the dangerous Andrew McCutchen to ground out to third before plunking Pedro Alvarez to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Jose Tabata.

With two hits and two runs already, Tabata jumped on Rodriguez's second offering and hit a tailor-made ground ball to Scooter Gennett, who started a game-clinching, 4-6-3 double play capped by a terrific stretch at first by Mark Reynolds.

It was the sixth save of the season for "K-Rod" and 310th of his career, tying him with Hall of Famer Goose Gossage for 20th on the all-time list.

"It means a lot," he said. "When you're right there with a Hall of Famer, I take a lot of pride in that. But at the same time, I'm not pitching for records at all. I pitch because I like this game, not for records or anything. But it's a privilege for me to be on that list."

And so it goes for the Brewers, who still hold the best record in the major leagues at 13-5 and sport an impressive 8-1 road record after stealing victories each of the last two nights from the Pirates.

On Friday, Milwaukee overcame four errors in the field and a couple of more on the base paths to win, 5-3. There were even more miscues in this one, but the Brewers were able to prevail again on the strength of Braun's big performance.

"We won another game that we probably shouldn't have won," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.

Rodriguez put it another way.

"We feel like we just took one out of their pocket," he said. "The crazy game yesterday, the way it ended up today, we'll take it. You're catching breaks, you have to capitalize and take it."

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