Is Taking a 2-week Vacation Before The Season

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Cardinals Sign Eric Winston

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- The Arizona Cardinals concluded their first day of training camp with a flurry of personnel moves, led by the announcement that rookie wide receiver Ryan Swope is retiring because of concussion issues.

The team added two experienced players, agreeing to a one-year deal with offensive tackle Eric Winston and a two-year contract with outside linebacker John Abraham. The Cardinals also released outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield, a former starter, and signed linebacker Kenny Rowe.

Winston, a starter in all six of his NFL seasons, signed a one-year deal after failing to find a better offer. He says he knows he has to compete but expects to win the right tackle job. Abraham is a 14-year NFL veteran and the league's active sacks leader with 122.

Winston said he understands he will be competing for playing time but he expects to be a starter.

''I think it's kind of a perfect storm for me in the sense that I could come in and compete for a spot and maybe be the guy at right tackle,'' he said, ''and I feel I will be.''

Winston also talked about joining the Cardinals in a tweet to Arizona kicker Jay Feely. Winston started all 16 games for Kansas City last season but, when the team underwent a change at head coach and general manager, was released in March. He played just one season for the Chiefs after playing the first five years of his NFL career with Houston.

Winston, who has started every game of his NFL career, had to settle for a one-year deal after failing to land a better offer.

He said he hopes to show the Cardinals he deserves a longer-term contract down the road.

Before Winston's arrival, the Cardinals had gone with second-year pro Bobby Massie at right tackle and Levi Brown, coming back after missing all of last season with a torn triceps,, on the left side, although Massie worked some at left tackle late in offseason workouts. Nate Potter eventually became the starter at left tackle as a rookie last season and has practiced at both tackle spots in the offseason.

Because the acquisition of Winston had not been announced officially, new coach Bruce Arians wouldn't talk much about the big tackle when he met with reporters after the players reported to camp and went through a brief run at University of Phoenix Stadium. He wouldn't say that dissatisfaction with the tackles he had led to the team seeking another player.

''It's just a matter of if there's somebody out there to make our football team better, that's our job to go get them,'' Arians said. ''The more competition the better.''
The same could be said of Abraham, who although in the latter stages of his career, still could fill a role as a situational edge pass rusher, something Schofield had struggled with in his time on the job.

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Bryant McKinnie not practicing, reported over prescribed weight

Ravens starting offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie reported overweight to training camp and wasn't allowed to practice Thursday.

It's a familiar predicament for the former Pro Bowl blocker.

McKinnie has a long history of weight and conditioning issues, failing a mandatory conditioning test a year ago when he reported late to camp and ballooning up to nearly 400 pounds two years ago during the NFL lockout.

The veteran left tackle is listed at 6 feet 8, 354 pounds. He is roughly 10 pounds overweight and is expected to lose the weight quickly to get back on the field, according to sources.

McKinnie, 33, wasn't required to take the conditioning test because of his high level of participation in the offseason conditioning program

“Bryant is just too heavy right now,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He needs to lose weight. He's in good shape and he has good cardiovascular fitness, and I can tell he's worked hard, but I wasn't real comfortable putting him out there at that weight. We will figure it out in the next 24 hours, the next 48 hours, what we want to do and the best way to deal with it. He will be out there at some point.”

McKinnie drew praise from Harbaugh this spring for his work ethic after signing to a two-year contract with a maximum value of $7 million.

Annual reporting and workout bonuses worth $200,000 in the deal were designed to provide motivation for McKinnie, who boldly proclaimed in June that he was dedicated to becoming the best left tackle in the game.

“Yeah, we're both disappointed,” Harbaugh said. “I'm not sure who's more disappointed, Bryant or I, because he was pretty darn disappointed, but I was feeling pretty disappointed myself. We had a long talk about it. It's not that effort wasn't put in and there's an issue. But we're going to get it fixed together and we're going to get him out there.”

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Ed Reed on PUP

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans have placed running back Arian Foster and safety Ed Reed on the physically unable to perform list a day before their first practice of training camp.

Reed is recovering from surgery to repair a partly torn labrum on April 30. Foster strained his right calf early in organized team activities and didn't practice again, but the team said then that he should be ready for training camp.

Receiver DeVier Posey also was placed on the physically unable to perform list. He's recovering from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in Houston's playoff loss.

The Texans placed linebacker Darryl Sharpton on the non-football injury list and tight end Garrett Graham on the non-football illness list.

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Jon Beason restructures contract

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina coach Ron Rivera said linebacker Jon Beason has restructured his contract, helping the Panthers free up salary cap space this year.

"He did, and believe me it's greatly appreciated," Rivera said.

It's unclear how much salary cap space the move creates for the Panthers or if they'll use the money to sign another free agent. Rivera said the team has spoken with at least two free agents -- offensive lineman Travelle Wharton and safety Quintin Mikell -- but have not signed either player.

Beason was going to earn $5.25 million this year, $6.5 million in 2014, $7.5 million in 2015 and $8.75 million in 2016.

Beason went to three Pro Bowls in his first four seasons in the league with Carolina and didn't miss a game during that span. However, injuries have intervened forcing him to miss 26 of the past 32 games.

"You do what you can do to help out the team," Beason said of restructuring his deal.

Beason is the latest in a long line of high-profile Panthers to restructure his contract this offseason.

Among the others who've already reworked their deals or taken pay cuts include running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, tight end Greg Olsen, and offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil.

The Panthers started the offseason more than $16 million over the salary cap.

"Other guys have done it this offseason and it's something that was anticipated," Beason said.

Beason won't be on the field when the Panthers open training camp practice Friday night. He's still recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee.
"It's something I'll have to manage going through the season," Beason said. "I'm going to have good days and bad days. ... Gradually it gets to the point where it's not an issue anymore."

Beason said it's possible he could sit out training camp so he can be ready for the Sept. 8 regular season home opener against the Seattle Seahawks.

"I think that's quite possible," Beason said. "It's a big stepping stone what we do down here at camp. But for veteran guys like me it's about (being ready) in Week 1."

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Andre Johnson, Chris Myers all for HGH testing

The NFL and the NFL Players Association are doing a study they believe will lead to testing for human growth hormone. Players are required to give blood when they report. The league and union are trying to see how many test positive before they implement the testing program.

“I’m all for it,” wide receiver Andre Johnson said. “I’m for it. I’m not taking anything, so I really don’t care. Whatever they need to do to stay on top of guys and make sure the game is played the right way, I’m all for it.”

Center Chris Myers agreed.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I couldn’t care less,” Myers said. “I don’t take it. I don’t know who does take it. I have never met a guy who has admitted taking it.”

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Jon Beason may miss camp

Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason told the media it’s “quite possible’’ he’ll miss training camp as he continues to recover from microfracture knee surgery.

That’s not really surprising because Beason missed all but five games over the last two seasons. Beason said his goal is to be ready for the regular-season opener and the team’s medical staff has told him he’ll have to manage pain.

That’s less than ideal as Beason transitions from middle linebacker to the outside. But Beason is a savvy veteran and should be able to get mental reps. As long as he can get healthy for the regular season, the Panthers should have a strong linebacker corps with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis as the other starters.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Beason, Carolina was wise to sign veteran free agent Chase Blackburn in the offseason.

Also, Beason said he restructured his contract to help the team. Beason had been scheduled to count $9.5 million toward this year’s salary cap. We don’t know how much the extension lowers that number, but I’ll let you know as soon as I get details in a few days.

Don’t look for the Panthers to go on a sudden spending spree. First off, there’s not much available right now. More importantly, general manager Dave Gettleman is likely to want to carry over as much cap space as possible until next year.

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Changing plays at the line: Matt Schaub, Chris Myers talk audibles

One of the off-season discussions this year by both some fans and media is how Gary Kubiak should give more power to Matt Schaub to change out of plays at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of defenses.

It isn’t a criticism I’ve understood given the nature of the offense the Texans run. Schaub does have the power to switch plays at the line, it is just that it isn’t done with the obviousness and gyrations that some quarterbacks do.

Don’t believe me? Given that this was a common off-season topic, I asked both center Chris Myers and quarterback Matt Schaub about this on pre-camp media day so you could hear it straight from them.

I wish you could watch the video of the Q&A because neither one wanted to explain this in a way that might give opponents an advantage. In particular, Myers thought I was trying to get him to give up secrets, but really I just wanted an explanation for fans because I know this is a common topic. But this is what they felt comfortable saying:

Myers: “I’m not going to explain how we handle audibling at the line, but nice try there. That’s the way it works in the NFL. Some teams and some quarterbacks are given that opportunity because there teams offenses are based upon them going to the line and having six different plays possible then they just give the line and the rest of offense what they are going to do. In our scheme, Matt doesn’t necessarily have to do that all the time. You guys may not notice, but we audible a lot. You guys may not notice and talk about it all the time because you guys don’t notice it. It’s one of the things that come with the territory. It’s a smooth transition for us with the zone blocking scheme and with the rollouts that we have that Matt’s been able to run. We don’t have to audible as much because we have the potential for other things to happen. Our audibles aren’t the same as other teams, but we get it done just as much as they do. Everyone talking about how they need to put more pressure on Matt and how he needs to take on more of the offense. It’s there, you guys just don’t notice.”

Schaub: “If I explain what we do too much, then other teams are understanding it too. We’re glad that no one out there really knows what we’re doing. We do have a built-in system but it’s something that we do at the line of scrimmage that is not as dramatic as some teams do. We do it about 30 percent of the game. We have two or maybe three plays at the line of scrimmage and then we go from there. It’s all based on what the defense is doing. Sometimes it’s run to run, run to pass, it can be any one of those things, but it’s all predicated on the defense.”

So there you go. If they told you how it was done, they would have to kill you.

Yes, some teams’ schemes mean that they dramatically change plays. And they may change plays to a larger part of their playbook. With the Texans scheme in particular, since so much of it is from formations where run and pass are intended to look the same, they usually don’t want to be obvious in play changing. Non-obvious audibles isn’t an unusual thing in the NFL either, but appears to be a pet issue of some.

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Jon Vilma says he's in his best shape in years

METAIRIE, La. -- Although the bounty scandal is now behind Jonathan Vilma, so are nine punishing NFL seasons.

The Saints linebacker and longtime defensive captain appreciates that many will wonder if he's lost a step after 870 tackles since turning pro in 2004, not to mention several knee procedures in the past two years. Vilma responds confidently to the skepticism, saying his rehabilitation is complete, and that he is in his best physical shape in years.

"Physically, I'm very good, a lot better than last year," Vilma asserted. "I'd be stupid to say I feel as great as when I was a rookie. Of course not. I do feel able to run and do all the things that I was able to do back in 2010. ... I just needed a little time (to rehabilitate) that I didn't get last year because of everything that was going on."

Indeed, a year has made a big difference in many aspects of Vilma's life. Last summer, while fighting his bounty suspension in federal court, he testified that damage to his reputation hurt his ability to raise money for business and charity endeavors.

Now, not only does he believe his football career is back on track, he is also expanding his business interests. Already an investor in multiple restaurants and bars, Vilma spoke said he prepared for Thursday's launch of his new venture involving a smartphone application catering to bars and club patrons. The launch coincided with reporting day for Saints training camp.

"I've been fortunate to play football and make a living out of it, but business has always interested me," said Vilma, who majored in finance at Miami, and whose new venture is called BarEye.

This season, meanwhile, should provide a clearer picture of how long Vilma can expect to remain in the business of playing football.

Vilma, 31, missed five games in 2011 with a left knee injury, then had several surgeries and traveled to Germany to see a specialist in platelet rich plasma therapy, a relatively new blood-spinning technique also used by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.

Even as he went to such lengths, Vilma said his rehabilitation was hindered by the league's bounty investigation, which named him as the ringleader of a program that paid improper cash bonuses for hard and even injurious hits. Vilma initially received a full-season suspension, which banned him from Saints facilities during much of the offseason and training camp.

Vilma maintained he would never intentionally injure fellow players, and that the bonuses were similar to incentives NFL players league-wide had offered teammates for years.

During a lengthy appeal, he was reinstated in Week 1 of the regular season, but placed on the physically unable to perform list before finally playing on Oct. 21.

With Curtis Lofton in his old middle linebacker spot, Vilma played outside linebacker in 11 games, recording a career-low 37 tackles.

Now he must adapt to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme, which features a switch from a 4-3 alignment (four linemen, three linebackers) to a 3-4. When Vilma last played in a 3-4 for the New York Jets in 2007, it did not suit him. He was traded to New Orleans in 2008, where he thrived in a three-linebacker formation.

Vilma said this time will be different because Ryan's scheme is flexible enough to capitalize on players' strengths.

"What I like about Rob is he's saying, 'I don't want to limit you by putting you in a stagnant 3-4,'" said Vilma, who is expected to play weak side middle linebacker, with Lofton on the strong side. "It's about: Let's get after it, be aggressive. Let's be fast."

Vilma noted that in former coordinator Gregg Williams' defense from 2009-11, the Saints often pulled out of their basic 4-3 and blitzed out of a 3-4.
Ryan studied film of those seasons and brought back some of those schemes.

"He told us, 'I'm not going to mess with you guys. I know what you guys do well and what you don't do well, so I'm going to put you in a situation that makes you look good,'" Vilma said. "Hopefully it turns out that way."

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Going Deep: Will Lamar Miller be the next big thing?

Back in 1988, 12-year-old Josh Baskin wanted to make an impression on Cynthia Benson. Unfortunately he was told that he wasn't tall enough to get on a carnival ride, thus his chance to woo his dream girl was as out of reach as a toddler trying to get cookies from the top of the refrigerator.

Josh's answer was to drop a quarter in Zoltar's slot and wish to be big. He woke up the next morning as Tom Hanks, picked up a job at a toy company, started dating Elizabeth Perkins, got in a fist fight with John Heard and played the piano at FAO Schwarz with Robert Loggia. All in all, things worked out pretty well for Josh.

If Dolphins fans and fantasy owners are Cynthia Benson, Lamar Miller is Josh Baskin. The second-year running back dropped in on NFL Fantasy LIVE earlier this week and told Jason Smith that he was aiming for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. That certainly qualifies as thinking big.

So we got to thinking here at Going Deep about which running backs have accomplished that feat in recent seasons and what did they do for an encore?
Dating back to 2008, the list of rushers who have gone 1,500/15 is pretty short. In fact, that list has just three names -- Arian Foster (2010), Michael Turner (2008) and DeAngelo Williams (2008). That begs the question: which back will Miller more closely resemble in 2013 and beyond?

The first thing you'll notice is that all three players who've reached this plateau were able to stay on the field for a full 16 games. Seems pretty obvious, but it's certainly worth noting. On the one hand, it's easy to say that durability is an underrated quality in fantasy running backs. But on the other hand ... Darren McFadden.

While injury concerns followed Miller into the draft (he had shoulder surgery following his final collegiate season), he showed no ill effects during his rookie season. On three occasions last year, the young runner was a healthy scratch from the Dolphins lineup, so presumably he could have played a full 16-game season. he's healthy. But will he get the touches? Every name on this list saw 270-plus carries, with two of the three posting more than 300 attempts. For Williams to top 1,500 yards with just 273 rushes (5.5 yards per carry average) is pretty astounding. The other remarkable thing about Williams' 2008 campaign is that he shared quite a bit of his workload. Foster and Turner were the undisputed No. 1 options in their running games, taking 78 and 68 percent of their teams' carries, respectively. By contrast, Williams took just 54 percent of Carolina's rushes with Jonathan Stewart handling 36 percent of the workload.

What does that mean for Miller? Last season, Reggie Bush was Miami's go-to rusher but he had just 227 carries -- or just 53 percent of the team's rushing attempts. Neither one of those numbers works in Miller's favor. When you factor in that the Dolphins made a splash in free agency by adding WRs Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson and TE Dustin Keller, it's pretty likely that the Fins are going to feature the passing game a little more.

That's one more thing working against the young runner in an offense that threw the ball 55 percent of the time in 2012. Of the three rushers to hit the heights in their career, only Foster's 2010 Texans threw the ball more than they ran it. Yes...Foster was just that productive.

So we've highlighted all the reasons that it's going to be tough for Miller to reach his stated goals. But hey, we can't blame a guy for aiming high. Yet we still haven't figured out which player he'll more closely resemble.

Based on first-year production alone, Miller and Foster match up nicely -- although it took Foster far fewer games to log those numbers. But similar to Houston's lone star, Miller will have his chance to be a featured back in his second season. That's something it took Turner five seasons (and a new team) to achieve. It's also a luxury that Williams has really never enjoyed in his career -- in his first season as a full-time starter, he had to contend with Stewart as a backfield complement.

And even though it's assumed Miller will be the go-to guy on South Beach, there is still always the chance that Daniel Thomas could have a significant role in the running game this season. That would tend to align him a little closer to Williams.

Of course, in a brave new NFL world where featured backs are as rare as fat guy touchdowns, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Lamar Miller as a fantasy sleeper back -- though it's getting harder to stick that label on him as the hype continues to grow. Nonetheless, signs point to the second-year runner being a sought after commodity as the year continues.

But becoming the next dominant fantasy rusher? That seems a little more unlikely. Then again, after putting the question to our new Fantasy Genius, it appears that most of you aren't of the same mind. One thing is certain: plenty of us will be watching.

As for Josh Baskin, he certainly enjoyed his time being big, but eventually reverted. We'll see if Miller can stay big for awhile.

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Healthy Colin McCarthy ready for battle

Injured for most of last season and limited for much of the recent OTAs, Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy is ready to go for training camp.

Whether he will regain his starting role isn’t as clear.

“He’s healthy. He looks good,” coach Mike Munchak said of McCarthy, who started all seven of the games he played in last year. “There are no concerns there as far as us having to limit him in any way.”

McCarthy will be battling free-agent signee Moise Fokou for the bulk of playing time at middle linebacker. It was Fokou who spent virtually all of OTAs and minicamp with the first team — in part because McCarthy was still recovering from ankle surgery and a concussion, in part because Fokou made a good early impression.

“I’m sure we’ll start off the way we finished (minicamp), rolling guys,” Munchak said. “But now you’re at the next level, now we’re at training camp. So you’ll probably see decisions made a little quicker than you saw in OTAs. You want to start seeing certain guys work with other people.”

Munchak said not to get too caught up in first- and second-team designations early in camp:  “It means nothing. The best guys are going to play without a doubt. They all know that.”

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Andre Johnson says Ed Reed will play in season opener

Receiver Andre Johnson said today he has spoken to Ed Reed, and the injured free safety told him he will be ready to start in the opening game at San Diego.

Reed has been recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his hip. He suffered the injury in the AFC Championship Game victory at New England. He aggravated it during workouts with the Texans and had the surgery.

Johnson and Reed have been close friends since they were teammates at the University of Miami. Johnson helped the Texans recruit Reed in March.
Reed will be limited in camp as he continues to undergo rehabilitation. Coach Gary Kubiak will bring him along slowly and will make sure he’s 100 percent before he gets on the field.

While Reed recuperates, rookie D.J. Swearinger, the second-round pick, and veterans Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant will get a lot more repetitions.

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Antrel Rolle understands the need to lead

Every offseason, Antrel Rolle takes a step back and reflects on the past season and what he has to do for the coming year.

This time, one thing became increasingly clear to the safety -- Rolle knows he has to be more of a leader than ever before for the New York Giants, who report to training camp Friday in East Rutherford, N.J.

Already considered one of the most respected veterans, Rolle realizes the Giants will be looking to him to help replace the leadership lost in the locker room, with Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Boley, Chris Canty, Chase Blackburn and Kenny Phillips all gone.

"I understand pretty much what it takes to be a leader a whole lot more this year, for whatever reason," Rolle, entering his fourth season with the Giants, said at the end of minicamp in June. "I think there are natural-born leaders. Some people try to adapt to it. I know I'm a natural-born leader."

It hasn't always been a smooth ride for the emotional safety, who early on often didn't see eye-to-eye with coach Tom Coughlin's old-school, conservative management style.

Always one to speak his mind, Rolle has griped about a variety of issues, from Coughlin's mandate that the team show up early to the stadium for a night game, to having to cover slot receivers as the nickelback.

Rolle speaks from the heart whenever he believes his words will help the team in the long run. When the Giants were on the brink of missing the playoffs in the 2011 season, Rolle challenged his teammates to practice and play hurt and show complete commitment. That coincided with the Giants' run to the Super Bowl.
Rolle matured during that second season under Coughlin. And like Michael Strahan before him, he went from resisting Coughlin to rallying around and ultimately loving his head coach.

Former team leaders such as Strahan and Antonio Pierce have pointed to Rolle as the one player who had to be the vocal, swagger-filled leader the Giants needed, with captains such as Eli Manning and Justin Tuck leading more by example.

Rolle, 30, has never shied from saying something if he believes it needs to be said, even though it might be controversial. He has the pulse of the team as well as anyone. And entering the 2013 season, Rolle knows his words and actions will have a major impact on the field and in the locker room.

"I think he is ready for it," Tuck said. "I think he has kind of primed himself the last two years to get more and more [vocal]. What's happening is 'Trel now is understanding the Giants' way, the Giants' system.

"He wasn't accustomed to that when he came in ... But now he is a lot smarter with some of the things he says in the media and some of the things he says in the locker room. He's going to be a huge part of our leadership qualities and success."

Rolle used to be frustrated about his week-to-week responsibilities in the game plan. Now, he openly accepts whatever defensive coordinator Perry Fewell needs from him, whether it be playing closer to the line of scrimmage or covering slot receivers -- two responsibilities that take Rolle away from doing what he truly loves, which is roaming the back as a free safety.

His interception numbers aren't what they used to be -- he has five picks in the past three seasons combined after having four in 2009, when he played for the Arizona Cardinals. But he had a team-leading 96 tackles in each of the past two seasons.

And he plays hurt. Rolle has not missed a game with the Giants, despite suffering two torn rotator cuffs. He also labored through a painful knee injury last season after he banged it on a sideline television camera in Week 3 at Carolina.

"My knee was jacked up for about six, seven weeks strong," he said. "At times it was very unstable, felt wobbly. ... I kept needing to get my knee drained throughout the week. It swelled up on me each and every week."

Rolle later added: "Whether I have two torn rotator cuffs, I am still out there not missing a beat. I think that counts for something in this locker room. Even if nothing is said, I know they [Giants players] are watching. Is he a guy that is going to quit? I am not going to be a guy to quit, no matter what the circumstances are."

During the past couple of seasons, Rolle has watched the departure of his two best friends on the team, Deon Grant and Phillips. It's now on Rolle to lead the safeties' unit. And he already has begun by spending as much time as he can in the offseason with fellow starter Stevie Brown to develop the kind of chemistry he had with Grant and Phillips.

Rolle is fully aware that nothing is guaranteed for him beyond this season. He is due $7 million next season, the final year of his contract, and the second-highest 2014 salary on the team behind Manning. If the Giants fail to go far this season, there will be more changes, and Rolle knows he could be a salary-cap casualty, just as what happened with Bradshaw, Canty and Boley.

"I understand the business of the game," Rolle said of seeing them go in a two-day span in February.

"I can't worry about next year," he added. "I am just worried about going out there and being the best safety I can throughout training camp and through the season."

This year, that also entails being the best leader he can be for the Giants. And Rolle understands that more than ever.

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Is Lamar Miller ready for the spotlight?

DAVIE, Fla. -- The South Florida sun is beaming on the Miami Dolphins this week during training camp. They were among the first handful of teams to kick off the 2013 NFL season, and the July weather is unrelenting.

But no spotlight in Miami is hotter or brighter right now than it is on Lamar Miller. The Dolphins, who have playoff aspirations, are banking on their second-year tailback to carry the running game despite a small sample size in Miller's rookie season.

Miller is a proud Miami product through and through. He grew up in Miami, played high school football in the city and was a star running back in college for the Miami Hurricanes. Last year, Miller completed the Miami football trifecta when he was drafted by the Dolphins in the fourth round.

This year, Miller gets the rare opportunity to be the featured runner for his hometown NFL team. The Dolphins showed a lot of confidence in Miller this offseason by letting leading rusher Reggie Bush walk in free agency. It was Miller, not Bush, who led Miami with 4.9 yards per attempt last season, and the Dolphins expect more of the same in 2013.

Miller appears ready for the challenge. He certainly has a quiet confidence about him in Year 2 that he didn't have as a rookie.

“I feel very comfortable just getting used to running the ball, the offensive line scheme and just being [involved] more,” Miller said. “I just know what I’m doing. I’m not second-guessing too much, and I’m just doing what the coaches are telling me to do. Last year, I was thinking about it too much.”

Are the Dolphins making the right decision? It’s too early to tell whether Miller can handle the load after just 51 carries last season.

Miller ranked 10th among rookie rushers last season with 250 rushing yards. Other drafted running backs such as Alfred Morris (1,613 yards) of the Washington Redskins, Doug Martin (1,454 yards) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Trent Richardson (950 yards) of the Cleveland Browns had far more productive rookie campaigns and are safer bets as starters in 2013.

However, Miller has been praised by the Dolphins all offseason. Miami’s coaching staff and front office are seemingly as high on Miller as Washington is on Morris and Cleveland is on Richardson. It's a calculated risk, but Miller is doing all the right things at this point to make the Dolphins feel secure in their decision.

“[Miller] is very, very fundamentally sound,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “He is a guy where we talk to our team about ball security. ...There were a lot of good clips we showed the ball club yesterday of him in practice executing the fundamental of where we want to.

“I think his knowledge of the system has definitely increased. He appears to be a lot more comfortable in what he is doing. [There] doesn’t appear to be much indecision in his play. He’s doing a nice job.”

The hunger for more is what’s fueling Miller. He made a wise decision this offseason to train with four-time Pro Bowl tailback and fellow University of Miami alum Frank Gore. Miller looks up to Gore, 30, because they have a lot of similarities. Gore also is a Miami native who took a similar path to the NFL by starring at the University of Miami. Similar to Miller, who suffered a shoulder injury in college, Gore (knees) also entered the NFL with injury concerns but went on to have a stellar career.

Miller believes his time with Gore will make him a better NFL player in 2013.

“He gave me a lot of advice, going from his first year to now,” Miller explained. “He taught me how to pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield and take whatever the defense is giving me.”

Being a starting running back in Philbin’s offense isn’t easy. The player must have multiple talents, many of which do not include just running the ball.

Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman run a quarterback-heavy West Coast system that requires running backs to do a lot of pass protecting and catching the football in open space. The closest comparison would be Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ offense in Green Bay, where Philbin served as offensive coordinator from 2007-11. Philbin is trying to mold the Dolphins into a similar attacking-style offense.

The Bush safety net is no longer available for Miller. He is the focal point of Miami’s running game and must prove he can be a complete tailback. Miller averaged just 3.2 carries per game last season, and that number could get into the 20s on most weeks this year.

There is certainly a buzz in Miami that Miller is ready to produce his first 1,000-yard season. But Miller isn’t focusing on his own preseason hype.

“I hear people talking about it, but I really try not to get into it,” Miller said. “I’m just staying humble and just staying focused on what the team wants me to do.”

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Devin Hester hoping for a healthy return

BOURBONNAIS — Most Bears players have professed to being unfazed by general manager Phil Emery’s ‘‘no-contract-extension’’ edict. But none more so than Devin Hester.

With his NFL stock at an all-time low after a dreadful 2012 season, the kick returner can’t wait to play out the final year of his contract. He needs to.

‘‘I can’t speak for the others, but I’m more excited that this is my contract year,’’ Hester said as the Bears opened training camp Thursday in Bourbonnais. ‘‘I’d rather do my contract after the season is over, because the way I’m feeling now, I could boost my stock a whole lot from where it’s at now.’’

Hester is in the final year of a four-year, $40 million extension of his rookie contract he signed after a two-day training-camp holdout in 2008. He’ll be a dedicated kick returner for the first time in his career. Hester played cornerback as a rookie in 2006. He played wide receiver from 2007 to 2012. But after Hester struggled on offense (23 receptions, 242 yards, one touchdown) and kick returns last season, new coach Marc Trestman is hoping to revitalize Hester’s career by letting him do what he does best.

Hester, who will turn 31 in November, has a lot to prove. And he knows it.

‘‘I have to prove myself every year,’’ he said. ‘‘This is a league where only the best survive. I do feel like I am an elite player. I still have a lot left in the tank. For some of the guys that felt like I lost a step, it’s a burning fire that’s under my foot to prove [it] to not only you guys [reporters], but my family as well. I will show it this year.’’

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Andre Johnson eager to help rookie DeAndre Hopkins

Veteran receiver Andre Johnson reported for his 11th training camp with the Texans, and he’s excited about playing with rookie DeAndre Hopkins, the first-round pick from South Carolina.

Johnson had 112 catches for 1,598 yards but only four touchdowns last season. Hopkins is supposed to play well enough to force defenses to not concentrate coverage so much on Johnson.

“He has a lot of talent,” Johnson said. “I had a chance to work with him in the (offseason program). I’m going to help him as much as I can. I’ll help anybody they (coaches) want me to help.”

Hopkins is the first receiver the Texans have selected in the first round since Johnson in 2003. It’ll be interesting to see if Hopkins can come close to the 66 catches for 976 yards Johnson had as a rookie.

Asked what impresses him the most about Hopkins, and Johnson said, “his hands. He has great hands. I’ve never seen anybody one-hand the ball like he does.

“He’s really pumped about being a Texan.”

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Vince Wilfork: Hard to start training camp like this

FOXBOROUGH --- Following Bill Belichick’s lead, Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork echoed his head coach’s same sentiments when Wilfork said he is prepared to move forward after the arrest of former teammate Aaron Hernandez on a murder charge.

“First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for the victim’s family,’’ Wilfork said before a throng of reporters Thursday at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots reported for conditioning drills in preparation for the start of training camp Friday.

“You’re not dealing with just football right now,’’ Wilfork said. “You’re dealing with human beings, you’re dealing with life. So it’s just sad. You’re disappointed, but at the same time we get a chance to come do something that we love to do and that’s to play football. ‘’

In light of the peripheral distractions Hernandez’s arrest created, Wilfork said training camp would likely provide a sanctuary for the team.

“One thing we’ll try to do is keep everything separate,’’ Wilfork said. “We’ll try to control what we can control and that’s playing football and getting better each day. So that’s my main focus; to try and do that. It’s started and now it’s here.’’

It was difficult, however, to completely process the fact that Hernandez had been charged with the shooting death of a 27-year-old Dorchester man, Odin Lloyd, whose body was discovered in an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez’s North Attleborough home.

”It’s real life,’’ Wilfork said. “I think sometimes we get caught up doing what we do, which is your profession or playing football or whatever it may be. Like I said, this is a real-life situation. You’re dealing with something where someone lost a loved one, someone lost a friend, a son.

“And it’s tough,’’ Wilfork added. “It’s very disappointing and it’s sad to see anyone lose any type of [family] member to a death. It’s just a tough situation.’’

Asked if this situation had a galvanizing effect on the team, Wilfork replied, “You have to put everything in perspective. You have to enjoy every moment that you have in life. Football is an outlet for us. When we come here we expect to play football and get away from everything.

“It’s started, training camp is here,’’ Wilfork added. “But to come to training camp on a note like this, it’s tough. But at the same time we have to continue to do our job. We’re not going to disrespect anything that’s going on with the families, but we do have to play football and our job is to play football and we’ll do that the best way we can and we’ll try to keep the ball rolling.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to ignore the noise and stay focused on the task at hand.’’

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Homeless Kids Go Horseback Riding at Heat Player James Jones' Training Camp

The Davie Ranch is less than an hour's drive from the homeless shelter in Miami, but it feels like a different planet for the kids enrolled in the James Jones Crew22 Training Camp.

Many of these boys and girls have never seen a horse up close, let alone ride one. Horseback riding just isn't on the radar of things to do for homeless kids who are more concerned with getting three meals a day and having clothes to wear, so a field trip to the ranch was an incredible experience for them.

"It's like you're being picked up on something that's high, and like you're flying, but it's actually like a dream come true, kind of, if you never rode a horse before," said 7th-grader Precius Palmer, trying to describe the experience.

Jones is a Miami native who went on to play basketball for the University of Miami and now, for the Miami Heat. The sharpshooting guard won the NBA's Three-Point Contest in 2011, and has now won consecutive championships with the team. Jones is a winner, but his greatest triumph may be off the court, with the work he's doing with homeless children.

"We wanted to take them out of their element, kind of wrap our arms around them, and show them that the world is bigger than they've ever dreamed," said Jones.

Some players run their own basketball camps, and make token appearances. Jones is at his two-week camp every day, and it's far from a traditional sports camp. The emphasis in the Crew22 Training Camp is on teaching life skills, on preparing these middle-school-age kids for the coming school year, on motivating them to succeed in general.

Horseback riding fits into that philosophy because, Jones says, it widens their horizons and allows them to consider possibilities they may not have ever pondered before.

"Their facial expressions, it speaks volumes to just how excited they are and how much they cherish these opportunities," Jones said at the ranch Thursday, watching his campers enjoy the experience.

Horseback riding is also therapeutic. It instills confidence in kids. In some cases, climbing onto the back of such a large animal allows them to conquer a fear. One volunteer counselor tells a story of one girl who did just that.

"She said I'm not getting on horses, I have a phobia of horses, I'm not getting on, then she was the first to get on, she loved it!" said counselor Taryn Armstrong-Jackson. "My kids, you would not know that they're homeless, they have great attitudes, they're positive, they're friendly."

Jones hopes the campers see him as an example of someone who worked hard and succeeded, someone they literally look up to. Reality also is never far away. Camp is an escape from their lives in the homeless shelter. Are they jealous of kids who live in traditional homes, with parents who can afford to buy them whatever they need?

"No," answered camper Eddie Aponte, who's going into 9th grade, "because I used to have my normal house, I don't get mad about other kids, I'm actually happy about the other kids that they're not in my situation."

The goal of the Crew22 Training Camp is to, in effect, feed the campers enough motivation during the camp session to last them for life.

It gives "horsepower" a whole new meaning.

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Aaron Rodgers bets Denver man that Ryan Braun didn't do drugs: Will Super Bowl MVP pay up?

DENVER - So the question is will Green Bay packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers pony up after losing a $4.5 million bet he made with a Denver man?

That man, 37-year-old Todd Sutton, tweeted to Rodgers in February 2012 after Rodgers defended his friend and Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, who at the time was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. 

Braun had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone at the end of the 2011 season but successfully appealed the suspension, challenging the chain of custody of the sample rather than the test results.

When the suspension was lifted on Feb. 23, 2012, Rodgers tweeted, "When its guilty until proven innocent, all u need are the facts. #howsthecrowmlb #exonerated"

Rodgers continued,"I'll let my buddy take it from here. All u idiots talking about technicality open up for some crow too. See if Espn gets pressured not to..."
Sutton tweeted to Rodgers, "You really believe he didn't (do) PED's???? #delusional."

Rodgers tweeted back to Sutton,"ya I'd put my salary next year on it. #ponyup #exonerated."

Well on Monday, when Braun was suspended the rest of the season for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy, Braun admitted to using performance enhancing drugs although he was not specific.

"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," Braun said in a statement. "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions."

So now that Braun has admitted his drug use, will Rodgers give up a year's salary?

Sutton told 7NEWS he has joked about just taking a single game check, but didn't realize it was $281,250.

"That's a lot of money! I'd take a lot less," Sutton laughed. "But it's not about the money for me. I'm not pestering him trying to get money from him, I just think this is funny."

Sutton said he doesn't expect to hear from Rodgers. The flight nurse for AirLife Denver was stunned last year when Rodgers tweeted him.

"I was kind of surprised. Aaron Rodgers ... responded to me. And now this (bet) has taken a life of its own," Sutton said.

Sutton said he was never questioning Rodgers' loyalty to his friend, just his judgment. He had said on Twitter that Rodgers was a great quarterback but either ignorant or naive.

"They are friends. He's sticking up for his buddy. He's not being objective," Sutton tweeted last year.

Besides both being sports stars in Wisconsin, Braun and the Packers quarterback both own a restaurant together, 8- Twelve MVP Bar and Grill in Brookfield, Wisc., named after their jersey numbers.

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Yonder Alonso benefiting from not using break to rest

MILWAUKEE -- Yonder Alonso missed 34 games with a broken bone in his right hand, returning to play three games before the All-Star break.

At that point, the Padres first baseman was faced with a choice: Fly back to his hometown of Miami to see friends and family, or stay in San Diego with hopes of finding the swing that served him well before the injury.

In the end, Alonso remained in San Diego, working out daily during the All-Star break while many of his teammates were getting a little rest and relaxation before the second half.

"For me, it was about getting a lot of repetitions with my swing, which is why I didn't go home," Alonso said. "It was hard to miss a month and a week. But I worked every day on my swing.

"The way I looked at it, I owe that much to my teammates."

Alonso said working on his swing during the break allowed him to come out swinging a hot bat in the second half. He reached base four times on Tuesday and -- in a small sample size -- had a .381 average and a .458 on-base percentage in the first six games of the second half.

"I'm making progress right now, and I feel we're heading in the right direction," Alonso said of his swing.

Alonso was hitting .284 with six home runs and 29 RBIs in 190 at-bats before he suffered a break on top of his hand when he was hit by a pitch by Aaron Loup of the Blue Jays on May 31.

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Eric Winston, Cards close to deal

Former Kansas City Chiefs tackle Eric Winston is close to signing a one-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The deal could be completed within the next 24 hours.

Winston, 29, started all 16 games at right tackle for the Chiefs last season, his only campaign in Kansas City. Expected to earn a base salary of just under $5 million in 2013, he was released in early March.

Winston made headlines in early December last season when he spoke out against home fans who cheered when quarterback Matt Cassel suffered a concussion in a game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Winston spent his first five seasons with the Houston Texans before signing with the Chiefs.

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Devin Hester's 'prove-it' camp

A report that Chicago Bears kick returner Devin Hester has joined the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson in racing a cheetah -- ! -- merits a review of Hester's unique situation entering training camp.

Hester threatened retirement in the wake of the firing of coach Lovie Smith but later re-committed to the team under new coach Marc Trestman. But Trestman has removed him from the receiver group and made him a full-time returner, a relatively unusual luxury in today's NFL. Trestman and general manager Phil Emery have been careful to say that Hester must win a spot on the roster, which is technically the case for every player but not usually something verbalized about someone who has been one of the best in football history at his position.

Hester is due to earn $2.1 million and count nearly $3 million against the Bears' salary cap. If he proves to be the dynamic returner of old, those figures might not be a problem. But if he's not? That's what training camp is for, I guess.

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Make Or Break Season For Leonard Hankerson

Since being drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2011, many Redskins fans feel wide receiver Leonard Hankerson hasn’t lived up to the reputation he had held at the University of Miami where he broke school records once held by Michael Irvin.

While fans might believe Hankerson has struggled or even been a waste of a draft pick, the truth is much different, in fact, Hankerson has been one of the Redskins more reliable receivers.

During his first season in 2011, Hankerson had the unfortunate task of being an NFL rookie during a lockout which left him unable to prepare as he normally would. In an interview during 2011, Hankerson admitted to that, “it is a lot harder because you have to just come in and learn so much in such a short time and be expected to go out and produce.”

To top it off, Hankerson suffered a torn labrum and subluxation of his right hip, ending his season during his first career start against the Miami Dolphins. While Hankerson only appeared in three games during 2011, he still managed to haul in 163 yards off of 13 receptions.

His sophomore year wouldn’t be any easier as he would have to learn an entirely new offense with the emergence of the option read; a system in which the wide receivers have multiple roles. When speaking to receiver Joshua Morgan, he [Morgan] insisted this offense takes time to master for the receivers (noting that they have up to 6 responsibilities per play depending on Roberts cadence at the line).

That however didn’t seem to set Hankerson back. For the first season in which he was healthy, Hankerson recorded 543 yards and three touchdowns, numbers better than those of current elite level wide receiver Brandon Marshall (309 yards, two touchdowns) and Roddy White (446 yards, three touchdowns) during their first full seasons in the NFL.

What might be even more impressive for the second year pro is during a season in which players usually have a decrease in production, he had the least amount of dropped passes on the football team with three, according to Pro Football Focus (Garcon led the team with 9). Additionally he was third best in catch percentage at 69.1% (PFF), only behind Joshua Morgan (69.6%) and Pierre Garcon (69.8%).

Heading into 2013 there are a lot of expectations on the plate for Leonard Hankerson. This will be his third season in the NFL, a season which usually is considered to be the time for a player to “breakout” which fans are expecting.

If Hankerson truly wants to have a breakout season, he’s going to need to work on two very important flaws in his game.

One of those happens to be his fear of going across the middle and making bigger catches. Thankfully because of the read option Hankerson was able to have more room allowing the footsteps to not bother him so much, but heading into year two, teams should somewhat be able to hold their ground across the middle, meaning his fear could come back.

Another is his ability to catch the ball smoothly. Though Hankerson finished the season with the least amount of drops on the team, he still has shown he cannot smoothly catch balls as one would think, especially with the size of his hands. In St. Louis, Hankerson had his defender beat by roughly five or so yards, but because he bobbled the ball, the defender managed to catch up and nearly tackle him short of the end zone.

The positive for Hankerson is that he is coming back to an offense that will stay the same minus some tweaks, a first for the first time in his NFL career. Ideally this should make a “break out” more capable for him in 2013, but if his fear of going across the middle, and his bobbles continue, that could not only slow down his pace, but also limit his time on the field.

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Titans consider McCarthy 100 percent healthy

The Titans consider MLB Colin McCarthy 100 percent recovered from last year's ankle injuries and concussion entering camp.

"He’s healthy. He looks good," coach Mike Munchak said. "No concerns there as far as us having to limit him in any way." McCarthy is tentatively expected to hold off journeyman Moise Fokou for the starting middle linebacker spot.

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Stop telling Ryan Braun to give back the 2011 MVP Award

For whatever reason, every time a baseball player is determined or even suspected to be using performance-enhancing drugs, a huge group of fans and media enter a bizarre game of one-upsmanship to try to prove they are the most outraged. Many call for punishments far beyond the ones actually facing the players, lifetime bans and voided contracts and the like.

Right now, in the wake of Ryan Braun’s suspension, much of the baseball world seems locked on a target: Braun should be forced to hand over his 2011 NL MVP Award to Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp. Kemp himself suggested Braun should relinquish the prize.

OK, I hear you, but why? Not just “because Ryan Braun took steroids.” Why do you feel that stripping Ryan Braun of his 2011 NL MVP is an appropriate punishment for Braun in addition to the punishment set by Major League Baseball that he is currently serving?

Is it that you don’t want Braun to hold on to the physical award itself? That’s not unreasonable; it probably makes for a really nice decoration. But if Braun and everyone who follows baseball realizes that he received that honor for the season in which he first tested positive for PEDs — it was in the playoffs, where performances don’t count for the MVP Award, but whatever — then what difference does it make if Braun holds the actual trophy?

You can argue that Kemp deserves the award, and that’s fair: Kemp deserved the award in the first place, hitting about as well as Braun while playing the more difficult outfield position. But to say that Kemp should get the award now that we know Braun may have played with the added benefit of PEDs assumes that Kemp did not.

This is not to besmirch Kemp’s character in any way: Every bit of evidence we have suggests Kemp is an excellent dude. And his comments strongly suggest he did not chemically enhance his performance that season. But then, so did Braun’s. If — as plenty have said — Braun’s denial and subsequent suspension means we can’t take ballplayers on their words, how could anyone besides Kemp himself know his actions that season?

For that matter, if we’re now going back and taking away MVP Awards from players we suspect took steroids, what do we do about the last 20 years’ worth of MVP Awards? The winners’ ranks include Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Ken Caminiti. Do we now give out Bonds’ 2001-2004 prizes to the second-place guys every year? In many cases, that guy’s another suspected juicer! And then what of the MVP Awards Bonds won in 1990, 1992 and 1993? There’s no clear (pardon the pun) milestone at which to draw that line.

Moreover, the MVP Award is by definition given to the player deemed most valuable to his team in a given season. How does Braun’s 2013 suspension mitigate his production for the 2011 Brewers? You can claim Monday’s revelation taints the memory of Braun’s great season or destroys its legacy. But you can’t reasonably say that Braun was not an extraordinarily valuable player to the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers, since every one of his 187 hits and 33 home runs still counts.

Baseball’s records are chock full suspected and confirmed cheaters, dating back to way, way before the so-called steroids era. It’s human nature, and it’s history. It doesn’t make cheating right and it doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t do everything in its power to stop it from happening. But it happens, and it happened, and it will happen again.

Ryan Braun, unlike many in the game’s past, is actually paying for his indiscretion. Any anger over those that never did should hardly be directed toward Braun, and there’s no sense fretting now over prizes for past performances.

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Valencia sent to Triple-A with Urrutia in mind

KANSAS CITY -- Danny Valencia was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk prior to Wednesday's game against the Royals to clear a roster spot for new Orioles reliever Francisco Rodriguez, giving manager Buck Showalter an eight-man bullpen and a chance to take an extended look at designated hitter Henry Urrutia.

Urrutia, in the starting lineup for the third time since being promoted on Friday, figures to get some at-bats the next few days with the Orioles slated to face four consecutive right-handed starters.

"We'll see what each day brings and what the needs of our players are every night, including Henry," Showalter said. "Initially, that's the idea, but we'll see what each day presents.

Showalter has been impressed with Urrutia's at-bats in a small sample size, with the rookie going 4-for-12 with two RBIs entering Wednesday. While reliever Jair Asencio, a likely candidate to be optioned, would have had to go on waivers, the right-handed hitting Valencia has options and will go back to being an everyday player at Norfolk.

"There's a lot of reasons," Showalter said. "I want Danny to get some consistent at-bats [at Norfolk] again. He went down there last time and swung the bat real well. I want to err on the side of pitching anytime we can, but things could change."

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After escaping Cuba as a boy, Eddy Rodriguez living his dream

Eddy Rodriguez does not forget details. He remembers the color of the sea (black) and the size of the swells (20 feet) when he almost perished 19 years and 10 months ago at age 7. He remembers his mother cracking open her head on a storm-tossed fishing boat, his father cleaning up the blood, the family gathering to pray in front of a porcelain saint, La Virgen de la Caridad, The Virgin of Charity.

On the second evening of a journey from Cuba to the U.S. on the Florida Straits, Eddy remembers these words from his father, Edilio: "If we're going to die, we're going to die together."

Eddy's memory might be his greatest gift as a catcher. Without the aid of detailed scouting reports available to major leaguers, Eddy's ability to capture and store hundreds of distinct visuals makes him a minor league jewel. Before his call-up to the San Diego Padres' Triple-A team in Tucson in early July, he distinguished himself in Double-A San Antonio for his ability to recall the pitch each opposing batter struggled to hit against each of his pitchers. He remembered, for example, how each batter made an out the last time he faced a Missions pitcher: ground ball to third, fly ball to center, strike out on a 3-2 breaking ball, away.

"Eddy has all that information stored in his head," says San Antonio Missions manager Rich Dauer, a former infielder with the Baltimore Orioles. "He makes it so pitchers don't have to rely on themselves to get hitters out. He is a student of the game."

Earlier this season, an Arkansas Traveler approached the plate. Runners on second and third. Two outs. Top of the fourth. Keyvius Sampson, a top right-handed prospect, on the mound. Eddy remembered the left-handed batter, Anthony Bemboom, could not hit Sampson's best pitch. So Eddy called for a changeup. Bemboom grounded out to first, Sampson escaped the jam and came away with the victory.

Everyday in the minors is a reminder of the eight days Rodriguez spent last season with the San Diego Padres. A reminder of his first big league at-bat against the team that drafted him: a 2-1 slider from Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, the ball exploding off his bat, a 416-foot shot over the left-center wall in Great American Ball Park. Two days earlier, Rodriguez was hitting .223 in Class A Lake Elsinore.

What are the odds? It took injuries to two catchers to create an opening in San Diego. It took management to look beyond Rodriguez's advanced age (26) and weak bat (a career .239 average in minor and independent leagues). It took Rodriguez's play-calling and defense to get the promotion over more highly rated prospects.

If he can return to the bigs at age 27, and Dauer believes he will, Rodriguez will underscore the rarity of his journey. Among the 52 Cubans who have defected and played in the Majors (per, Eddy may be the only one who cried and begged to go back home.

Edilio and Ylya Rodriguez raised a son and daughter on a farm in rural Cuba. The family lived comfortably off their land and animals: chickens, pigs, lambs. They drank milk from their own cows. They had electricity, running water, a blue Chevy, circa 1956. The farm in Villa Clara stretched as far as young Eddy could see. "I probably didn't set foot on all the land we had," he says.

Edilio often went spearfishing and freediving off the Cuban coast. About once a month, he took the family to a favorite spot, ostensibly, to fish and cook and enjoy the beach. Unknown to Eddy: On each trip to the key, Edilio brought a tank of fuel and buried it in the sand. His plan was to collect enough fuel for a three-day journey to Florida on his 21-foot fishing boat.

On the day of departure, Eddy thought he was going, at last, to a coveted fishing hole. "Every time my dad would go to this one place, he would come back with all these fish," Eddy says. "I would beg him, 'I want to go! I want to go!' But he would always tell me I was too young, it was too dangerous."

The boat left the island at dusk. On board were Edilio and Ylya, Eddy, his sister Yanisbet and a cousin, Carlos. Eddy remembers the sky growing dark. He remembers the excitement giving way to an ominous feeling the next day. The boat had gone out too far. Fatigue settled in. Eddy wanted to go home.
"We're not going back," Edilio said. "We're going to the United States."

Fear and panic gripped the boy. "I want to go back," he cried. "I want to see my abuelita!"

Edilio sailed on through tearful pleas for Eddy's grandmother. Evening descended. A gathering storm approached. Thunder. Wind. Rain. Ylya fell on the rocking boat and struck her forehead on a bench. Edilio ripped a piece of his clothing and applied pressure to the bleeding wound. Then he gathered the family. The Virgin of Charity and other saints were placed on a wooden box in front of the Rodriguezes. "We were praying to God, praying to the Saints, 'Just get us out,'" Eddy says.

The sea turned black. Twenty-foot waves hammered the boat. It nearly capsized. Edilio and Ylya grabbed buckets and threw water back out. The boat, meanwhile, rose high in the swells, only to get thrown back down. "We weren't gaining any ground and we were burning fuel," Eddy says. "So my dad turned the engine off and we just started drifting."

Ylya and Carlos leaned over the vessel and retched. Eddy remembers the color: green. Neither Eddy nor Yanisbet grew seasick because, earlier, Ylva had given them pills, evidently the last two. Nausea did not overwhelm brother and sister. Terror did. And then, to the astonishment of everyone, the storm seemed to divide. Eddy recalls heavy rain and fierce winds on either side of the boat. Virtually no storm down the middle.

"I've had people say that's probably b.s.," Eddy says. "But I don't really care how many people doubt it. I went through it."

Yanisbet, Eddy's older sister by three years: "It was a miracle."

Key West sits 90 miles from Cuba's coastline. The waters are treacherous. A large but unknown number of Cubans have drowned attempting to cross over. Some have succumbed to sharks. Others have been captured by Cuban authorities on the sea and imprisoned, or in some cases, slain.

The death of a 15-year-old Cuban rafter at sea inspired volunteer pilots from the U.S. and other countries to assist rafters. In 1991, Brothers to the Rescue was born. Early on, they spotted hundreds of boaters and alerted the U.S. Coast Guard for rescue efforts.

The Brothers did not spot Eddy's family. Edilio believes the storm kept them grounded. After surviving a monster storm, the Rodriguezes faced another grim reality: No food. Little fuel. A broken compass. Edilio used the stars and sun to navigate.

On the third day, Aug. 31, 1993, Edilio raised a white flag, hoping to attract the attention of a plane or a vessel, though he saw nothing but endless water and sky. As the sun rose, a freighter appeared in the distance. Another prayer answered. "I can still see that boat," Eddy says.

Before notifying the Coast Guard, the rescuers provided the family a feast: scrambled eggs, bread, apples, bananas, cafe' con leche and water. It was then, Yanisbet recalls, that Eddy had a change of heart. "All of a sudden, after three days at sea, he says, 'I don't wanna go back. I wanna stay!' And we all started laughing."

Edilio wept when his feet touched U.S. soil. Eddy did not understand the tears. But he quickly learned the pain that comes with freedom. At school in Miami, some kids called him "rafter." The first time he played organized baseball, a popup hit him in the face. When Eddy said he wanted to play catcher, the coach obliged with a punishing drill.

Eight-year-old Eddy stood against a chain link fence, his catcher gear on. The coach stood 50 feet away with an aluminum bat. Eddy was supposed to block balls smashed at him. The kid took a beating. "I was getting hit and bruised so bad tears were coming down," Eddy says. "My mom was crying, saying, 'Hey, what are you doing to my kid?' But I have to thank that guy for breaking me in the way he did. Because after that, I never had an issue with being scared of the ball."

Through the pain, the kid dared to dream. On one visit to Mark Light Stadium in Coral Gables, home of the University of Miami baseball team, Eddy and his mother climbed to a balcony. "Mom," little Eddy promised, gazing across the field, "I'm going to play here one day."

Seven years later, a piece of mail addressed to Eddy arrived. Enclosed was a questionnaire and a note from a University of Miami coach. "We view you as a potential recruit. ..." it began. Eddy broke down. "How crazy is it," he says, "that something I said as a little 8-year-old would become a reality?"

The Cincinnati Reds drafted Rodriguez out of Miami in the 20th round of the 2006 draft. He hit .201 for Class A Sarasota in 2008. The Reds released him the following spring. Eddy landed in the independent leagues and drifted among rejects, longshots, has-beens. After two years, he pondered retirement. And then, out of nowhere, search and rescue appeared.

The Padres offered Rodriguez a second chance. He played for three minor league clubs in 2011, hitting .246, and started 2012 at Class A California League affiliate Lake Elsinore. He struggled at the plate, but impressed behind it, a 6-foot, 205-pound defensive rock. Still, at 26, he remained an impossible distance from the bigs. But then came the impossible call.

Eddy, you're going to the majors.

He could not speak. He could not comprehend the leap. But the timing and context were providentially perfect. In the third year after his release from the Reds, like his third day on the water, a lifeboat arrived. Fittingly, Rodriguez left a team called, "The Storm," for a big league club with two Cubans: first baseman Yonder Alonso, Eddy's best friend since high school, and Yasmani Grandal, the starting catcher whose pulled oblique muscle made the jump to San Diego possible.

No one could have scripted the next twist: Rodriguez first big league at-bat against the team that drafted and released him. On the mound stood a former teammate in the Reds system, rising star Johnny Cueto. At the plate, stood a rookie with a notoriously weak bat. The 2-1 pitch. The swing. Gone. Rodriguez says he blacked out before the ball touched down.

Alonso greeted him with a bear hug in the dugout, two Cubans with a bond and history no one could make up. They grew up 10 minutes apart in South Florida. They played together in Miami youth leagues, together at Coral Gables High and at the University of Miami. Drafted two years apart by the Reds, they reunited in Cincinnati and celebrated as San Diego teammates.

"After he hit the homer, I didn't know if it was a dream or not," Alonso says. "We were all in shock. He worked so hard to get there. It was like a movie script."

Alonso came to the U.S. on a plane with his father. He was 10. Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez fled Cuba on a speedboat with his mother and sister at 15. Tampa Bay shortstop Yunel Escobar arrived on a raft with 35 defectors. He was 21. Every Cuban ballplayer has a story but none quite like Eddy Rodriguez. He didn't want to come. He homered in his first big league at-bat. He remembers faces but not names. He remembers visuals but not always words. "When I see something," he says. "I don't forget it."

Pat Murphy understands. Murphy has coached Rodriguez for less than a month in Triple-A Tucson and recognizes the obvious. The photographic memory is a tool that keeps Rodriguez in the game. "Eddy is a survivor," Murphy says. "He's not blessed with all the physical talent. So he realizes he needs to survive.
And part of surviving is storing up all that information in your mind. His thinking is, 'I've got to have this part of the game down. I've got to understand hitters, how to get them out. That's gotta be my forte.'"

It's been almost one year since that trot around the bases. Eight days with the Padres left Rodriguez with a meager offensive stat line: One hit in five at-bats, a .200 average. He hit. 240 in San Antonio, hit two RBI singles in his first two games in Tucson, plays strong defense and refuses to give up on a return to San Diego. "I'm 1,000 percent confident I'll make it back," he says.

Dauer believes Rodriguez's glove and arm will create another opening. "He can play at the big league level on his catching ability alone," Dauer says.

Edilio does not fish anymore. He does not go near the water. Eddy cannot stay away from it. The ocean breeze. The salt in the air. The tranquility of angling. The sea is a powerful intoxicant, pulling Eddy out, into the deep, where water and sky stretch far and wide into something sacred: a sanctuary of freedom.
His two greatest loves are fishing and baseball. On a perfect day, he does both. Hours before San Diego called, Rodriguez was fishing on a lake in California. Good things happen to him on the water. Good things happen behind the plate. Rodriguez caught a shutout in his second start in San Diego. He got the game ball. He remembers every detail.

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Lamar Miller of Miami Dolphins: I want 1,500 rush yards

There are NFL players with decent fantasy football buzz this season, and then there is Lamar Miller. The presumptive Miami Dolphins starting running back is The Guy among fans looking for a breakout player. Miller knows it.

"I hear a lot of fans talking about their fantasy teams," Miller told the crew on NFL Network's "NFL Fantasy Live" on Tuesday. "I'm really not trying to pay too much attention to it. I'm just trying to do whatever's best to help this team win, put points on the scoreboard."

This is the healthy approach. (The non-Jaguars approach.)

Being the fantasy "it" guy for an offseason can be precarious. For every trendy fantasy breakout that happens -- remember Matt Forte in 2008? -- there are guys like Ryan Mathews or Kevan Barlow, broken down on the side of the fantasy football sleeper highway. Miller knows exactly what to say to get the folks overexcited.

"My goal is 1,500 (yards)," Miller said. "We have great offensive linemen, so hopefully we can get the job done. I'm aiming for 1,500."

That sounds like a stretch, but those aren't the words of a guy worried about competition on his own team. (Like, say, Daniel Thomas.) Our guy Chris Wesseling has been driving the Miller bandwagon all offseason, and it's not too late to jump aboard.

The draft guide indicates Miller still isn't going in the top-50 fantasy picks, which means he's still getting taken too late.

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Healthy again, Tommy Streeter eager to prove himself

Tommy Streeter took off on a fly pattern this spring, accelerating past the secondary to catch a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.

It was a display of potential for the Ravens wide receiver who spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve because of sprained ligaments in his left foot and ankle.

Big and fast at 6-feet-5, 220-pounds, Streeter is still working to refine his pass patterns and become a more complete receiver. There were definite signs of progress this spring, but Streeter still has more work ahead of him.

As the Ravens start training camp this week, few players are as eager as Streeter to prove themselves. 

The 2012 sixth-round draft pick from Miami is healthy now after diligently rehabilitating his lower body in the training room and weight room for an injury that didn't require surgery.

"Being out a year, it's like I missed everything," Streeter said. "To have the opportunity to come back and take advantage of each day, it's like a new-found love to be back out there. I feel like every day is important to continue to develop and get better."

The primary challenge for Streeter to climb the depth chart is to continue to work on lowering his pad level after struggling with his route running and hands during his first NFL training camp a year ago.

Streeter tended to make it too obvious what he was doing on the field as a rookie, which tipped off defensive backs.

"One thing I work on continuously is my pad level," Streeter said. "Being tall, it's hard. It's something that will never go away, but it's something I have to focus on is keeping my pads down and bursting off the line of scrimmage. At this level, any indication you give and these guys are breaking on routes. You need to make all of your routes look the same coming off the line."

During the preseason last year, Streeter caught four passes for 52 yards and one touchdown.

The jump ball was a particular highlight for Streeter with his height and leaping ability.

"There's always things you can perfect to make it that much easier," Streeter said. "I want to be an all-around receiver. I need to get off the line, get into that quick separation. I need to maximize my potential."

Streeter used his rookie season to concentrate on improving his weaknesses, observing veterans like Anquan Boldin before he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers.

"I learned a lot, taking mental notes and about how the guys carry themselves as professionals and as men in general," Streeter said. "It was a starting point for me. I'm working on the basics and trying to establish myself and get better and have fun out there."

Streeter caught 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns at Miami as a junior before declaring early for the NFL draft.

The Ravens have seen improvement from Streeter as he strives to contribute in his second NFL season.

“He’s grown," wide receivers coach Jim Hostler said last month. "He’s grown both on and off the field. Maturity-wise, he’s getting a little a bit more mature and he understands what a pro is.

"On the field, he’s getting better fundamentally and technique-wise. Young players, they’ve got to grow. They’ve got to develop. It just doesn’t happen, and he’s no different than that.”

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Chris Johnson, Devin Hester race a cheetah on cable

And now a story about the time Chris Johnson and Devin Hester raced a cheetah on basic cable.

The Tennessee Titans running back and Chicago Bears return specialist raced the great cat during a "Nat Geo Wild" special that will air in November during Big Cat Week, which in no way is attempting to co-opt the success of Discovery Channel's Shark Week.

"This is the most incredible challenge I've ever faced," Johnson told "I wanted to go up against the fastest in the world and test myself, and this was it!"

Johnson still holds the combine record in the 40-yard dash, running a 4.24 in 2008. He previously has stated he could beat record-setting Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt in a race.

We have serious doubts Johnson could beat Bolt in the 40, but we know he's not toasting a cheetah. According to people who knows these things, the cheetah can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in three seconds.

We haven't seen speed like that on a football field since Bo Jackson in "Tecmo Bowl."

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Ray Lewis' No. 52 jersey still raking cash for retailers, NFL

Retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is about to start an NFL season in the broadcast studio for the first time, but his No. 52 jersey is still a big-time player in retail.

Lewis ranks No. 8 on the NFL's list of players with the hottest-selling jerseys, according to CNBC. His jersey is still outselling gear worn by current stars such as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Lewis, who in September will be inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor, has slipped a bit since announcing his retirement. His jersey ranked third in the NFL for sales during the 2012 season.

Lewis is focused on his new role as a studio analyst for ESPN. Although he's only months removed from being a player, Lewis told Sports Illustrated he plans to establish himself as a top broadcaster.

"A lot of people have only been introduced to my football mentality — and it is hard to get people to understand the football mentality unless you've lived it," Lewis told the magazine. "I think I am totally different when I'm not thinking about the battle, and I'm going to try to be the best at this. When people learn my personality and actually get into my head, they are going to be surprised by the way I think on an everyday and every-second basis."

It remains to be seen what football viewers will think once they get into Lewis' head. But a lot of them are still getting into his jersey.

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Jon Beason: I look forward to HGH testing

JonBeason's Albert Breer reported Monday that the NFL and NFL Players Association have made steady progress toward implementing testing for human growth hormone.

Testing might be in place as soon as this season, and Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason would be fine with that.

"For me, I'm happy," Beason told "NFL AM" Tuesday. "I don't take that stuff, so I'm more than happy to (take a test) because the guys who are taking it, if they get caught, now it's an even playing field. It's already hard enough to make it to the league, to stay in the league and to stay healthy in the league."

Said Beason: "If we can keep it clean -- and thus far, I think we've had the cleanest sport out of all the major sports in this country -- I think it's a good thing. So I'm looking forward to it and more than willing to comply with whatever it is the NFLPA and the league comes up with."

A source told Breer that the league and the players union are "much further along" on outlining testing details than at any time since the collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2011. In a sport long overdue for HGH screening, Beason's enthusiasm will be shared by many when this becomes a reality.

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Ray Lewis says he will choose words carefully if ever asked about Hernandez case

Ray Lewis said he will choose his words carefully if he is ever asked to comment as an ESPN analyst on Aaron Hernandez's murder case.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, Lewis was asked if he should be "a part of any studio conversation" about Hernandez and said: "It would only be to give a brief explanation on what you know. Because if you are talking about getting into the case—what happened, how it happened—that's the judge's job, that's the police's job. Having gone through the things I have been through, what I learned from that is everybody has something they want to say, and 80 percent of them are illiterate. You have to be careful with it. You can't speak about something you do not know. Give your opinion, and keep it moving from there."

Read the entire story on here.

Lewis and two acquaintances were charged in a double murder in 2000 in Atlanta. The murder charge against Lewis was dropped and he pleaded to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge after he agreed to testify against his two co-defendants, who eventually were acquitted.

Lewis told Deitsch when it comes to any controversy, he will be cautious.

"What you are comfortable with is what you know," Lewis said. "If you don't know something, don't speak about it. Bad rumors and bad messages get out when people identify with something they have no clue about. You can only speak from true experience. If a kid is not doing the right freaking things off the field, that is very simple: He needs to figure it out. He needs to get around the right crowd. He needs to have more balance. Those things are very simple, I think, to be comfortable talking about."

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Jon Jay lauds suspension of friend, former Miami teammate Ryan Braun

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay is a friend and former teammate of Ryan Braun's at the University of Miami.

The Milwaukee Brewers' Braun was suspended for 65 games Monday for violation of baseball's substance-abuse policy.

"I was just as shocked as everyone else," said Jay, the Cardinals' player representative. "I'm glad that he was finally able to come out and put this behind him and move forward. It just shows that Major League Baseball's doing the best job (it) can to clean the game up, and I'm proud to say that. I'm happy about that.

"I believe in doing what's right, and the right thing is if you've cheated or done something that you're not supposed to do, you should be punished for it. I'm all for that; I believe that. I'm glad everything got resolved. ... Everyone knows the truth now and we've got to move on."

Jay still considers Braun a friend.

"My thoughts aren't going to change on him," Jay said. "He's been there for me and (has) been a good friend. I've learned a lot from him over the years. I'll stand by that. But I'm happy the system is working. He admitted to cheating and I'm glad he's getting punished for it."

The Cardinals' Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and David Freese refused comment about Braun's suspension.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who played with Mark McGwire in St. Louis and Barry Bonds in San Francisco, disdains PEDs.

"It's cheating the game," Matheny said. "It's no good for our kids that are watching, the next generation of fans. But the guys who are directly impacted are the other players who are clean. ... Their salaries are being measured against the guys who are cheating."

Matheny said playing in the PED era of the late 1990s and early 2000s was "a weird time."

"Many of us had suspicions because you heard the rumors," Matheny said. "But guys didn't go around talking about it. I always took the perspective that I had to take care of myself. I'm very proud to be able to have my career and know I did things the right way in my mind.

"But in the same breath, I don't know where other people are coming from, what made them make the decisions they made. It wasn't my job to judge them. I do know, for the good of the game, there needed to be a system in place to help be accountable."

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Olivier Vernon trying to prove he can play every down

When the Dolphins took Dion Jordan with the third overall pick in the draft, everyone looked to him as the player who would line up opposite Cameron Wake and help maximize the pass rush on defense this season.

Jordan may wind up filling that role, although he’ll have some catching up to do once he gets off the non-football injury list. Until he does, Olivier Vernon is playing with the first team at defensive end and the 2012 third-round pick isn’t planning on giving up the job without a struggle.

“Last year was that learning year. I had to soak everything in and play my role,” Vernon said, via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “This year I’m just trying to get a feel for everything that will be thrown at me. I’m trying to be an every down type of player. I’m trying to prove something out here.”

Vernon’s role last season was almost totally that of a situational pass rusher. He had 3.5 sacks in 445 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, a number that shows some promise as a complement for Wake if he succeeds in proving that he can play the run as well. Should the Dolphins get that to go with Jordan, their pass rush would take a big step forward from last season.

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VIDEO: 2012 New Orleans Saints Yearbook: Jimmy Graham

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Eric Winston Receiving Serious Interest

Free agent offensive tackle Eric Winston, who has 103 career starts and hasn’t missed a game in six years, is getting some solid sniffs as teams prepare to go to camp. It’s been surprising that Winston, who was linked to a few teams in the offseason, remains unsigned. Money obviously is a factor, but there are several clubs with right tackle needs.

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Lamar Miller not guaranteed starting job

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

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

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Philbin praises Lamar Miller's fundamentals

Coach Joe Philbin praised Lamar Miller for being "very fundamentally sound" as the Dolphins began training camp.
One trait we noticed on Miller's rookie-year game tape was composed play, consistently running within the design of the offense. The same couldn't be said for David Wilson and Bryce Brown. "I think his knowledge of the system has definitely increased," Philbin said of Miller. "He appears to be a lot more comfortable with what he’s doing. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of indecision in his play." Miller is a prime 2013 fantasy football breakout candidate.

Miller said he’s not listening to the pundits who are considering him a possible breakout player this year. But he admitted that “everybody wants that star position.”

“I’m just getting more hungrier so that position be mine,” Miller said.

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Greg Olsen stops to help after crash

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen assisted at the scene of a traffic accident in south Charlotte on Monday, getting out of his vehicle to wait with an elderly man involved in the wreck until authorities arrived.

Olsen, entering his third season with the Panthers, downplayed his role in the accident at the intersection of Colony and Sharon roads.

“Just was making sure he was OK 'til (the) cops got there,” Olsen said in a text message to the Observer. “Not a big deal.”

Medical personnel responded, but it's unclear whether there were any injuries, according to WCNC-TV.

The incident came a month after Olsen and his wife donated $289,000 through his foundation to Levine Children's Hospital to help families of pediatric heart patients pay for in-home care, physical therapy and speech therapy after they leave the hospital.

The Olsens' son, TJ, was born in October with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition that affects normal blood flow through the heart. He has undergone two of three scheduled surgeries he will require before his third birthday.

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Orlando Franklin aims to be NFL's best right tackle

How sure were the Denver Broncos they had victory in the bag last January in their AFC divisional playoff game against Baltimore?

“I was taking the tape off my hands. I thought the game was over,” Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin said in an interview earlier this month in Toronto, where he was raised and where he resides in the off-season.

The Broncos led the Ravens 35-28 with 41 seconds left when Baltiimore’s Joe Flacco launched his famous 70-yard touchdown bomb to Jacoby Jones. That sent the game to overtime, and where the Ravens eventually won, 38-35.

“We lost to the team that eventually won the Super Bowl,” said Franklin, whose Broncos hit the field on Thursday as training camps across the NFL all open by next Friday. “That loss definitely humbled us, but definitely motivated us too.

“We had won some ridiculous amount of games in a row (11). There’s a reason they say the game’s never over until the last second ticks off. We had numerous opportunities to put that game away. As a team we didn’t take care of business. We were that close, but also that far. I think it motivated a lot of us this past off-season.”

For his third year in the league, the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Franklin is setting an individual goal as high as the Broncos’ team goal. Put simply, it’s to be the best.

One of two Toronto-raised offensive linemen on the Broncos -- second-year backup centre Philip Blake is the other -- the 26-year-old Franklin discussed these subjects and others during one of his many off-season charitable efforts in Toronto, a day of bowling for more than 100 disadvantaged local youths:
What’s the mood of the Broncos coming out of spring practices?

“We’re all eager and excited to get back out there. We know what we have. In my rookie year I don’t think we had an offensive identity. Last year we weren’t quite certain yet of our identity either, because Peyton (Manning) was coming off that season when he didn’t play, right? But now I think going into this season, we definitely have an identity and we definitely know what we’re capable of doing, as long as we take care of business.”

How has new wide receiver Wes Welker fit into the locker room and into the offence with Manning and the other wideouts?

“I feel like they have a good amount of chemistry together already. I mean, he plays around a lot too. He hangs out. He came in Day 1 and it wasn’t like he was hesitant to talk to us, or anything like that. He stepped right in like he’s been on the team the last five years.”

Can you give me an example of Manning’s competitiveness?:
“If a normal player gets beat in practice, it’s like, ‘OK, dang, I got beat in practice.’ But with Peyton, you can see that he really gets down on himself if he messes up a play. He holds himself to a higher level in every aspect. He’s big on routine, too. It’s not like he’s going to show up one week at 5:30 a.m. to go watch film just because we’re playing New England that week. No, he’s going to do that every week, for the whole season. He’s going to do that every week during the off-season too.”

Does that in turn motivate you?
“Yeah, definitely. If a guy like that who has accomplished so much in his life can continue to work like that, then why not? Who am I? I’m just a third-year player -- a second-round draft pick. Who am I not to wake up early in the morning too? Who am I not to watch extra film, if a guy like Peyton Manning is doing that stuff?”

How can the team reach the Super Bowl this year?
“Just for each individual to be accountable to each other. There are 11 guys out there at once on the field. If I can be accountable to all 10 other guys out there, and vice versa, I think we’ll be a great team, and it’ll be no contest as to who’s the best team in this league.”

What’s your individual goal for 2013?
“Last year I gave up three sacks. This year I want to give up zero sacks. I want to be in the best condition of my life and be the best right tackle in the league. I think arguably, between me and (San Francisco’s) Anthony Davis, we’re the best two right tackles in the NFL right now. But everybody can think highly of themselves. I still have to go out there this year and do it.”

On fellow Torontonian Philip Blake:
“I had no idea who Philip Blake was, to be honest with you. He wore my number (74) when he was at Baylor. But I made sure when the Broncos drafted him, I was like, ‘Buddy, don’t think you’re going to come in here and get 74.’ I made sure I tweeted him that. Philip, though, he’s a great guy, man. Last year he made my charity event. This year he couldn’t make it because he and his wife are expecting a little baby girl.”

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Ryan Braun suspended for rest of season

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun has been suspended without pay for the rest of the season, a 65-game ban announced Monday by Major League Baseball in what appears to be the first salvo in the league's fight against players allegedly tied to the Biogenesis lab.

The announcement from commissioner Bud Selig said the suspension was for violations of the basic agreement and its joint drug prevention and treatment program and is effective immediately.

"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," Braun said in a statement released by MLB that did not specifically mention Biogenesis. "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions."

Braun is the first player suspended in the wake of baseball's Biogenesis investigation, though the MLB release did not mention that probe. The commissioner's office tried to suspend Braun in 2012 for a urine sample with elevated levels of testosterone, but an arbitrator ruled that a Braun's urine sample was mishandled and Braun succesfully appealed the suspension.

Braun is making $9.61 million this season; the suspension will cost him $3.85 million in salary. Braun is under contract through 2020 in Milwaukee after signing a five-year, $105 million extension in April 2011.

It appears Braun and MLB negotiated the terms of his suspension; he is one of about 20 players who figure to face discipline in the Biogenesis, a list that includes former All-Stars like Alex Rodriguez, Bartolo Colon, Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera.

More than 80 players' names appear in the Biogenesis documents that eventually ended up in MLB's hands after it struck a deal with Tony Bosch, who founded the now-shuttered Miami clinic.

"I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step," said Mike Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. "It vindicates the rights of all players under the Joint Drug Program. It is good for the game that Ryan will return soon to continue his great work both on and off the field."

Weiner said at baseball's All-Star break that appeals in the matter could drag into the winter.

Braun is the face of the Brewers franchise. He was most valuable player in the National league in 2011, the season of his disputed urine sample. He has led the NL in slugging percentage three times.

Braun's statement continued: "This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country.

"Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed – all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love."

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Ed Reed’s status remains uncertain

Most of the big-name 2013 free agents are getting ready to suit up for their new teams.  Texans safety Ed Reed, who made the jump from the Ravens after winning his first career Super Bowl, may not be suiting up any time soon.

As John McClain of the Houston Chronicle puts it, “Nobody has a clue when Reed (hip) is going to be healthy and ready to play.”

Although the Texans have chosen silence and the perception of being duped over confirming that they were duped, the widespread suspicion in league circles is that they were duped.  Specifically, that Reed knew he’d need hip surgery but didn’t say anything a condition that apparently isn’t normally detected during a physical.

So the Texans will have to wait and hope that Reed will be able to eventually make a contribution, while simultaneously biting their tongues regarding any possible internal belief that Reed failed to be as candid as he could have been about his hip before signing a contract.

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Olivier Vernon opens camp as starter

Dolphins 2012 third-round pick Olivier Vernon opened training camp as the team's starting right defensive end.

The Fins loved what they saw from Vernon at spring workouts, and he flashed with 3.5 sacks on limited snaps as a rookie. This position may eventually go to Dion Jordan or perhaps incumbent RE Jared Odrick, but the Dolphins want Vernon geared up for an increased role. He has explosive pass-rushing traits.

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Jimmy Graham to recapture 2011 production?

The New Orleans Times-Picayune believes there's "every reason to expect" Jimmy Graham to re-reach his 2011 production after a somewhat disappointing 2012 season.

The fact that Graham's 2012 can be described as "somewhat disappointing" and he still outscored every other fantasy tight end reflects his dominant fantasy football value. Graham is in a contract year, has the NFL's premier playcaller back in Sean Payton, and is 100 percent healthy after battling wrist and ankle problems for much of last season. In 2011, Graham caught 99 passes for 1,310 and 11 touchdowns. During that '11 campaign, only four wide receivers -- emphasis on wide receivers -- scored more fantasy points than Graham.

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Frank Gore finally accepts lesser role

San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore has his snaps regulated last season, as he finally accepted he is more valuable to the team in the long term if he gives up a few carries to his backups. He is still expected to be capable of at least 1,200 rushing yards, but RBs LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter are expected to playing larger roles in the offense.

Gore remains a low-end RB1 for fantasy purposes, but his days as an early first-round draft pick are well over.

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Vernon Carey Decides Against Comeback

Former Dolphins and UM offensive lineman Vernon Carey, who retired abruptly last summer, received inquiries via text message from Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and others in the past year and lost 40 pounds at Fast Twitch Performance Training in Miami, with the thought of possibly making a comeback. Carey announced his comeback on AllCanes Radio, but has since decided against it.

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Jason Fox has 'slight edge' to start

The Lions' website gives Jason Fox the "slight edge" to win the starting right tackle job.

A fourth-round pick in 2010, Fox has appeared in just five career games and dealt with injuries in each of his first three seasons. Now that he's finally healthy, he'll compete for playing time with Corey Hilliard in training camp. Despite his limited experience, Fox is considered the favorite to start.

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ESPN New York considers Kellen Winslow a "long shot"

ESPN New York considers Kellen Winslow a "long shot" for an "amazing" comeback.

Winslow only has to beat out plodding Jeff Cumberland for the starting tight end job, but it would be a major surprise if his balky knees cooperate. Winslow appeared in just one game last year and will have his reps monitored during training camp. If he can contribute a little on passing downs come the regular season, the Jets should consider it a success.

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Bryant McKinnie in significantly better shape

Ravens LT Bryant McKinnie showed up to offseason workouts in "significantly" better shape than he was "at any point" in last year's training camp.

The Ravens' internal hope is McKinnie will perform for 16 games as he did during Baltimore's four-game playoff run, when McKinnie allowed just two sacks and three quarterback hits in 286 snaps. From left to right, the Ravens' Week 1 O-Line is expected to read LT McKinnie, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Gino Gradkowski, RG Marshal Yanda, and RT Michael Oher. It's a very talented group.

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Reggie Wayne hosts charity basketball game

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Colt star wideout Reggie Wayne has made Indianapolis his home, and not only at Lucas Oil Stadium, but his annual 'Saving our Youth" charity basketball game at the Summer Celebration is a good example of giving back.

His celebrity turnout certainly backs it up. Wayne was joined by a handful of his Colts’ teammates like T.Y. Hilton, Antoine Bethea and Vick Ballard. 

Pacers’ Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson as well as NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins were also on hand to help out as coaches. 

"For me, it's about going out there, run up and down the court, get a little sweat going. This is always my introduction to camp,” said Wayne. “I just like to go out there and watch everybody else live their hoop dreams.”

In the end, Wayne’s team won by over 20, but he says the real winners are the youth. 

“Seeing everybody smile, have fun, laugh, that's what it's about,” said Wayne. “Seeing those young kids look at us, people they idolize on TV every day, just seeing them smile when they ask for autographs."

"It's a great weekend, especially an event to raise money for our youth,” said Bethea. “That's the most important thing is doing things for our future.”

Reggie Wayne hosts charity basketball game

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Texans hope Ed Reed ready to lead

How much can the Houston Texans count on Ed Reed?

The nine-time Pro Bowl safety is supposed to be the missing piece to help lift the Texans over the proverbial hump. But Reed was literally a missing piece during offseason minicamp while he came off surgery to repair a slight tear of his hip labrum.

The Texans, who had identified a safety and a complementary receiver to Andre Johnson as their biggest offseason priorities, can only hope Reed is 100% recovered for the start of the 2013 season.

"We'll get him healthy, and he'll be fine," coach Gary Kubiak said.

Reed said that once training camp arrives, "I'll have a better bead on it, as far as my progress."

No one really knows if Reed, who will turn 35 on Sept. 11, will stay healthy.

There is a reason the Baltimore Ravens were willing to let him move on, after all.

Reed signed a three-year, $15million deal to replace free agent departure Glover Quin. Second-round draft pick D.J. Swearinger will get the bulk of offseason reps until Reed returns.

"We're right there as a team," Kubiak said.

Can Reed help get the Texans over the championship hurdle? Houston lost twice to the New England Patriots within a five-week span last season, including a divisional playoff elimination. The question is, do the Texans really stack up among the NFL's elite?

Sure, they finished 12-4 and won the AFC South for the second consecutive season. But they got no further than in 2011, when they won their first playoff game in franchise history only to be bounced by the Ravens.

Everything appears in place after another seemingly strong draft. So the 2013 Texans could go as far as Reed and quarterback Matt Schaub can take them. The return to health of defensive captain Brian Cushing and the addition of rookie No. 2 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins also could help get them where they hope to go.

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VIDEO: Murielle Ahoure starts 22.24 NR Defeats Shelly Ann Fraser

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Murielle Ahoure sets national records

World Champion Amantle Montsho of Botswana and  Côte d’Ivoire’s Murielle Ahoure stormed to national records while Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare soared over seven metres twice at the Herculis Meeting – Diamond League in Monaco.

Montsho, won the 400m in a national record of 49.33 secs, the fastest time in the world this year, a national record and a Diamond League record,  in front of the near-capacity crowd at the Stade Louis II stadium.

Stephanie McPherson of Jamaica clocked 49.92 secs  for second, with American Francena McCorory third in 49.96 secs, both lifetime bests.

Afterwards Montsho said: ” I did not expect to run this quick, honestly.”

“For some reason I always seem to run fast here and I love the crowd’s support. Now I really need to take a rest and focus on Moscow. I really want to be on that podium.”

Okagbare had flighted around 6.85 – 6.98 all season and showed she meant business early on with a 6.86m first-round lead in the women’s long jump.

The Nigerian then produced a wind-assisted 7.04m (2.1m/s) in round two and then a lifetime best legal jump of 7.00m (0.0m/s) in the third-round.

Russian Darya Klishina finished second with a 2nd round jump of 6.98m (+2.4m/s) with Britain’s Shara Proctor managed 6.74m (+0.6m/s) in the final round to take third place.

“I would say nine out of ten. It’s a PB for me,” said Okagbare.

“My fourth and fifth jumps were better but I fouled them. My seven metres jump was far from perfect, and we’re working on a lot of different things.”

Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure won women’s 200m in a national record of 22.24 secs while Tiffany Townsend of the United States was second in a personal best of 22.26 secs and Jamaican Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce  was third in 22.28 secs.

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VIDEO: Yankees' Peter O'Brien on languages07/15/1301:21

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