Photos From "The U" DVD Release Party at All Canes was able to attend “The U” DVD Release party thrown by All Cane, Titanic Brewery and rakontur. Lots of fans showed up and waited in line for Billy Corben to graciously sign their DVD copies. All Canes Radio broadcasted live from Titanic and a great time was had by all. We thank Bruce Palmer for taking the following photos.

Billy Corben and Tolbert Bain

Brian “The Beast” London, Lamar Thomas and Brett Perriman

Tolbert Bain

Billy Corben

Billy Corben and Fan

Bruce Palmer and Billy Corben

Earl Little

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Which Hurricane hurt Bobby Bowden the Most?

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Miami Dolphins’ beat writer Omar Kelly Former FSU coach Bobby Bowden said UM's Ken Dorsey was the Hurricane who hurt him the most. "He cut us to pieces every year," Bowden said.

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Leon Williams returns to Cowboys' practice

Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree and inside linebacker Leon Williams were cleared for full participation in a no-pads practice on Thursday afternoon. Both are expected to play in Saturday's exhibition at Houston.

Ogletree has been limited this week by a strained hamstring. Williams had ``cauliflower'' ear, which required draining.

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Sinorice Moss Suffers Setback

CB Terrell Thomas (calf) is currently scheduled to sit out Saturday's game, as is WR Sinorice Moss, who suffered a setback in his recovery from a groin/abdomen injury. Moss said he's unclear what the issue with his injury is "but we'll soon find out what it is." He'd better hurry. First cuts are next Tuesday, with final cuts four days later.

Moss’ setback is just one in a long, long list.  One would have to think that the emergence of Victor Cruz, coupled with this injury, will spell the end for Sinorice in Blue and Red.  Don’t worry though, he shouldn’t have a hard time finding a new team willing to roll the dice.

Click here to order Sinorice Moss’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Jimmy Graham battling high ankle sprain

The New Orleans Times-Picayune confirms that Saints rookie TE Jimmy Graham is battling a high ankle sprain.

He won't play this weekend. The severe injury explains Graham's absence since New Orleans' preseason opener. Graham is probably too good a talent to give up on as an I.R. "stash," but he won't make any early-season impact.

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Darryl Sharpton: Hidden Rookie Gem

Darryl Sharpton, LB (4th round), Texans

Can Al Sharpton's nephew keep playoff hope alive for the Texans. Yes, we're mixing Reverend references, but even Jesse Jackson would agree that there's a gaping hole in the Texans' defense left by 2009 Defensive Rookie Of The Year Brian Cushing's four-game suspension to start the year.

No one's crazy about starting a pair of rookies defensively for a team that fancies itself a playoff contender (first-round CB Kareem Jackson is the other), but the former Miami Hurricane has stepped in and impressed, making the most of an unlikely opportunity. Also, presumed backups Xavier Adibi and Danny Clark have been fighting injuries through camp.

Sharpton has responded by impressing during the offseason and making big plays in the Texans' first preseason game, before an uneven effort in the second. He's got the eye of coaches, though, no doubt.

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NFC South: Most indispensable players

Choosing Beason over Steve Smith is sort of like choosing Lofton over Turner. It wasn’t easy, but I’m doing it. My logic is that, even with no other proven receivers, the Panthers at least still could move the ball on offense with the running of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. If something happens to Beason, the defense is done. Beason’s moving from middle linebacker to the weak side because Thomas Davis is injured. Beason will make at least as many plays in his new spot. Bottom line on this one came when someone with another team asked, “Who do you have to worry about blocking on Carolina’s defense besides Beason?’’ The question was asked rhetorically.

This was the easiest call of all. With apologies to Jahri Evans (you can get by without arguably the best guard in football if you’ve got quality on the rest of your line and the Saints do), it took about two seconds to settle on Vilma and it’s not just because of his obvious physical skills. When I was at New Orleans’ camp, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams went off on a tangent about how cerebral a player Vilma is. He also said something like, “Jon Vilma is the Drew Brees of this defense’’. That’s good enough for me.

Click here to order Jon Beason’s or Jon Vilma’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Kellen Winslow might not see field in preseason

TAMPA — It's appearing more likely Bucs TE Kellen Winslow won't play this preseason.

Winslow didn't make the trip to Miami two weeks ago and didn't play Saturday against the Chiefs, though he was in uniform and warmed up.
Coach Raheem Morris shows no desire to play Winslow, last season's leading receiver, and allowed Tuesday that he might not play until the regular-season opener Sept. 12 against Cleveland.

"I had no interest in playing Kellen Winslow last week," Morris said. "We're getting Kellen ready for the season. We're getting Kellen ready for Cleveland. We're getting Kellen ready to make it through the 16-game season. That's what we're going to need Kellen for."

So he may not play this preseason?

"He may not," Morris said. "But we wanted to get him out there to test the waters a little bit. Last year in the preseason, he played a little bit for us. I'm sure this year in the preseason, we'll want to play him a little bit and we'll get him out of there when we want to."

"I'm not into evaluating Kellen. Kellen put a nice 16 games on display for us last year and right now, we've just got to get him ready to go out there and win games for us."

Click here to order Kellen Winslow’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Making his case to start, Willis McGahee accepts role

Willis McGahee came to Baltimore four seasons ago with a ton of talent and a questionable attitude. As much as McGahee had quieted most of the concerns about a career-threatening knee injury sustained in his final college game at the University of Miami, he had raised others about his coachability during his three seasons in Buffalo.

The talent remains, but the attitude is no longer in question as McGahee, entering his eighth NFL season and admittedly in the best physical shape of his career, has matured into a more than capable role player for a team with legitimate hopes of making the Super Bowl. Which role McGahee plays this year - and whether it will be in Baltimore - is the only issue up for debate.

"I think some people think I'm getting old or I can't do certain things anymore, but I can play any role they want me to play," McGahee, who will turn 29 in October, said last week. "I can be the two-minute back, the red zone back, the third-down back or the every down back. When my number's called I can still step up to the plate."

His evolution as a Raven has seen McGahee go from making the Pro Bowl his first season despite former coach Brian Billick not always using him in goal line situations to becoming a backup to both Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice as the team's red zone specialist under John Harbaugh to possibly sharing carries more equitably with Rice this season.

McGahee finished the 2009 season with career-lows for carries (109) and yards (554) but a career-best 5.1 yards a carry average and 12 rushing touchdowns, one shy of his career high. He showed flashes of the past toward the end of last season, when he rushed for a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns in Oakland.

As a result, Ravens running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery is hesitant to label McGahee as Rice's backup.

"We look at it as if we've got two good running backs, and Willis comes out here to practice every day as if he's the starting running back," Montgomery said. "It's not like there's a one and then there's a two... Willis is practicing every day as if he's the starter and not as a backup, and we as coaches see Willis as a starter and not as a backup."

McGahee is realistic enough to know that his increased role during training camp and the first preseason game as a pass catcher could simply be Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wanting to keep the 23-year-old Rice, who made the Pro Bowl in his second year in 2009, fresh and injury-free. It could also be the Ravens showcasing McGahee for a trade that could bring them a healthy cornerback.

McGahee has no delusions about his place on the depth chart.

"If Ray's got the hot hand, he's going to be the (featured) back," McGahee said.

McGahee understands that other teams might still envision him carrying the load, and admits that "I treat every game as an audition." While he might be giving a prospective employer something to ponder, he is not politicking his way out of Baltimore.

"I'm not the type of person who's going to complain," said McGahee, who started the first preseason game against Carolina while Rice sat out and, like Rice, was used for a couple of series in the second exhibition game against Washington. "There's no need to pout about it. I feel like I like the situation here. I like the guys; I like the coaches. But I don't know any back in this league who doesn't want to be the featured back."
McGahee said that his reduced role in recent years "has added more years to my resume. As far as me not taking all the abuse and all the carries, it's helped my body. Nobody expected me to be here coming into my eighth year with the knee injury I had."

McGahee said that he is used to playing well when others doubted him, even dating back before he tore all the ligaments in his left knee in the Bowl Championship Series championship game against Ohio State.

"I've had my back against the wall for a long time," said McGahee, who first lost his starting job to McClain in 2008. "When I went to Miami, they said I couldn't become a starter. When I had the knee injury, they said I wouldn't play in the NFL. I kind of like having my back against the wall."

If McGahee has that proverbial chip on his shoulder pad, it was hardly discernable during the long, hot two-a-days that concluded last Thursday at McDaniel College in Westminster.

"Willis is a mentor to the young guys in a lot of ways," Montgomery said. "He's going to try to get them to relax a little bit, and he's going to joke around and kid around, but he's also one of those guys who's going to tease around with Coach Harbaugh and Coach Cameron and all of the other coaches. He is the wise guy of the group."

But, Montgomery added, "Willis is still learning a lot about football."

One thing McGahee has learned is how to take care of his body. He missed only one practice during training camp.

"This is the healthiest I've been in a long time, maybe since I've been in the league," he said.

Whether the preseason is merely a showcase for a trade for a cornerback and he winds up in another uniform this season, McGahee said that he has appreciated his time in Baltimore. On the surface, at least, he seems to want it to continue.

"Good things happened when I came to the Ravens," he said. "I made the Pro Bowl my first year, got to the AFC Championship game, got to play on 'Monday Night Football' for the first time in my career."

One major accomplishment remains.

"The Super Bowl," McGahee said.

In Baltimore, or maybe somewhere else.

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

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Randy Phillips trying to stick with Lions

ALLEN PARK — Two things about Lions rookie safety Randy Phillips.

First, he has a chip on his shoulder. Actually, according to him, chips on both shoulders.

The 6-foot-2, 210 pound safety out of Miami went undrafted, so he has much to prove to 31 teams who passed on him in all seven rounds of the draft.

He's from a major football power, so it's not like he was overlooked.

His injuries obviously scared teams away.

He played most of the 2009 season with a torn labrum and had surgery on it following the Hurricanes' season.

In 2008, he missed most of the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and undergoing major knee surgery.

"It's been a roller-coaster, it's behind me now. I'm blessed. I'm in the same position as guys that went first round, maybe even better because I'm out there with the starters," Phillips said.

Second, he has worked hard to make the most of the opportunity given to him by the Lions.

Phillips bristles at the thought that he has gotten so far so quickly because Lions' defensive backs coach Tim Walton was his defensive coordinator at Miami.

"With the injury to Lou (Delmas) it was wide open, it was open competition. It had nothing to do with coach Walton. I just came in and did what I was supposed to do,'' Phillips said.

Delmas said Phillips doesn't need much assistance from him.

"I've been trying to help him, but he's been doing a great job of picking everything up on his own. As a rookie you're going to have mistakes here and there. He's been doing a good job. All I have to do is tap him on the butt to give him a pointer here and there," Delmas said.

The Lions obviously didn't draft Phillips, but they were on the phone with him immediately after the draft.

He said he decided on Detroit because when they called, they wanted to sign him.

A couple other teams expressed interest, but wanted to see a workout first.

Phillips' signing with the Lions was delayed until his shoulder was completely healed and he could pass the physical.

He did attend minicamp in late June, but still wasn't good to go.

Finally he passed his physical after missing the first four days of training camp.

Two days after his first practice, he was lining up with the starters.

At the time coach Jim Schwartz said not to make too much of it because they were short on safeties.

But Phillips is still with the starters when Delmas is not.

Delmas, who is seeing improvement coming back from his groin injury, said that Phillips is in a similar situation to the one he was in last year as a rookie.

The Lions' defense was the first NFL defense they had to learn.

"Randy Phillips is just like me. We came in and I guess you could say the first bird somebody put in our ear is what we run with. I think he's doing a great job and I think he's a smart kid," Delmas said.

After starting two preseason games, Schwartz continues to see what he first saw in Phillips.

He rarely makes mistakes and he's been consistent. Usually those are the problem areas for rookies, but not Phillips.

"The Lions gave me the opportunity, I'm blessed, and I just try to work hard every day to continue to not let my teammates down. While I'm out there they don't care if you're undrafted or you were hurt last year, they don't care about that," Phillips said. "When the play snaps, everything they care about is you doing your job and not letting each other down."

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Frank Gore can't wait to get in the game, even if it is a preseason one

Mike Singletary wants to see what the 49ers offense can do with Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore on the field.
So does Gore.

"I'm itching to get at it," Gore said early Tuesday evening after the 49ers returned to practice after an off day Monday. "I want to get out there and play with my team. I'm ready to hit."

The 49ers have held out their star halfback in preseason victories over Indianapolis and Minnesota. But Gore may finally get some action in Sunday's exhibition at Oakland, along with some of San Francisco's other top offensive performers who have yet to play in the preseason.
With rookie first-round draft picks Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis working as starters along the offensive line, the 49ers need to get some work for Gore behind them before the regular season begins Sept. 12.

"We know what Frank can do, so you want to be careful," said Singletary, the 49ers' coach. "At the same time, you don't want to limit him too much. With our offensive line not really having had the opportunity to feel the timing of Frank, to really feel his quickness and the way he makes cuts and things like that in a live situation. ... We'd like to give our line a chance to see it."

Even with Gore, Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis and starting receiver Michael Crabtree watching from the sidelines, Singletary said the highlight of Saturday's 15-10 victory over Minnesota was the play of San Francisco's first-team offense.

That unit sputtered during the team's preseason opener at Indianapolis, but it was crisp behind quarterback Alex Smith on a game-opening touchdown drive that paved the way to victory over the Vikings and a 2-0 start to the preseason.

"The execution of the offense in that first series, that's the No. 1 thing that jumps out from the game," Singletary said. "I think everything was clicking. The execution was at a premium."

Gore, coming off his team-record fourth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, said he has been excited working behind those two youngsters in practice and now wants to do it in a game.

"It takes a lot of practice to get everyone on the same page," Gore said. "It doesn't start in games, it starts in practice. But practice is not like the game. So I'm gonna play this week, and I want to go out there and do what we do. And that's move the ball and put points on the board."

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Gaby Sanchez knocks in two, increases rookie RBI lead

Sacrificing himself: First baseman Gaby Sanchez had a sacrifice fly in each of his first two plate appearances and extended his RBI streak to six consecutive games. He's knocked in 13 during his current run and leads all major league rookies with 68.

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Comments Ranks 15 proCanes in Their Top 200 Current NFL Players

2. Andre Johnson - Houston Texans
Comment: Johnson has provided an explosive threat on the perimeter and has put up elite numbers. He has a rare combination of size, speed, athleticism and receiving skills. He has the speed to stretch the secondary deep as well as the route-running skills and size to be a threat on underneath routes across the middle or to the sidelines. He is explosive off the line and can overpower or avoid cornerbacks trying to jam him at the line of scrimmage. Johnson can sink his hips to get in and out of his breaks with a burst to separate and shows a second gear to pull away from most defenders once he gains a step on them.

14. Ed Reed - Baltimore Ravens
Comment: Reed was banged up some in 2009 and missed four regular-season games. Reed has rare instincts that enable him to be around the ball often. He has elite range and is one of the few backend defenders whom quarterbacks truly fear. Reed is a game-changer from his deep center-field position and allows the Ravens to be very aggressive with their schemes. Not only is he a supreme ball hawk with rare anticipation and ball skills, he is an extremely dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands and is an immediate threat to score. He is also a superb kick- and punt-blocker when used in that capacity. Reed has been a mainstay in the Ravens’ secondary and there is a noticeable drop-off when he is not in the lineup.

32. Reggie Wayne - Indianapolis Colts
Comment: With the departure of Marvin Harrison before the 2009 season, Wayne became the Colts’ No. 1 receiver and responded with a big year. He has good size for the position with excellent deep speed, quickness, agility and body control. He can sink his hips to get in and out of breaks with a burst to separate from defenders and has the extra gear to maintain the separation. He does a good job of reading coverages and finding the soft spots in zone to provide a good target for the quarterback. He is effective after the catch and shows vision as well as elusiveness in the open field.

36. Vince Wilfork - New England Patriots
Comment: Wilfork is coming off his sixth year in the league where he had another solid season before sustaining a foot injury late in the season. He has the size, strength and natural leverage to be productive versus double-team blocks as well as penetrate gaps when in a stunting mode. He can locate the ball after contact quickly and feels pad pressure well to restrict running lanes. Wilfork is a very good athlete for his size showing lateral agility between the tackles. He can push the pocket with a bull rush technique from the inside, but his production as pass-rusher is average at best. Wilfork is a good football player who continues to be the centerpiece for the Patriots 3-4 defensive front.

42. Jon Beason - Carolina Panthers
Comment: Beason has started all 16 games for three consecutive seasons and led the team in tackles in 2009 with 141. He has arguably become the face of the Panthers’ defense and provides leadership both on the field as well as in the locker room. He is a tackling machine
who brings instincts, effort and competitiveness. He is not the biggest linebacker, but does bring a lot of pop and explosion to his tackles.
He is more effective when protected by a big defensive line, but flashes the ability to step up and shed blocks in time to make the play. He gets good depth in his drops and is quick to pull the trigger both against the run and when closing on the pass.

58. Frank Gore - San Francisco 49ers
Comment: Gore has been a quality back who has consistently produced over the five years he has been in the league. He has gained in excess of 1,000 yards in each of the past four years, including 1,120 yards in 2009 with an average of 4.9 yards per carry. He is a compact runner who does an excellent job of running behind his pads and has the kind of balance that consistently gains yards after contact. Gore fights for yards and does a good job of finishing runs off but lacks the premier top end speed that makes him a big home-run threat. He is a good receiver out of the backfield as well as on downfield routes and knows how to read coverages and adjust his routes. He is a patient runner who does a good job of letting his offensive line create run lanes.

72. DJ Williams - Denver Broncos
Comment: Williams rebounded in 2009 after missing five games during the 2008 season due to injuries. He is an extremely gifted athlete who possesses great lateral range and the kind of quickness, agility and body control to be a factor in coverage. He can come off the edge with an explosive burst of speed or can slip through small creases when blitzing the quarterback. Williams has enough upper-body strength to take on and shed blockers and shows the ability to unload with a good pop when making the tackle in the hole. He lacks the top bulk and power to squeeze blocks down and force the ball carrier to bounce it to the outside. He has improved on his route recognition and can close on the ball with a good burst once he pulls the trigger when in zone coverage. He is still improving and appears to be on the verge of becoming an elite linebacker.

91. Kellen Winslow - Tampa Bay Buccanneers
Comment: Winslow is a former first-round draft pick who can be a franchise tight end when healthy. He is a big matchup problem as he is generally too fast and too athletic for linebackers to cover and can overpower most safeties. He can stretch the secondary down the middle and will often line up wide to match up against smaller cornerbacks. He is a willing blocker who shows effort and tenacity, but lacks the size and power to be a dominating inline blocker.

111. Vernon Carey - Miami Dolphins
Comment: He is the most versatile offensive lineman on the Dolphins roster because he has played four positions at one point or another. Carey has settled in well at the right tackle spot. He possesses a nice combination of size and strength for the position. He is a good overall athlete. He has left tackle-quality feet and athleticism. He does a good job of protecting the edges in pass protection and adjusts well versus double moves. Carey will ride the defender wide and allow the QB to move up into the pocket. He plays with good leverage in the run game. He is a solid player on an underrated offensive line.

119. Ray Lewis - Baltimore Ravens
Comment: Lewis, entering his 15th year, is coming off another extremely productive season. He has diminishing skills, but his experience, toughness and instincts enable him to be a force in the middle of the Ravens’ defense. He is a powerfully built player with outstanding tackling power between the tackles. His ability to wrap up and tackle with jolting force is still evident. He has excellent instincts and vision to react quickly to the run and pass. He has outstanding football intelligence and is able to make all the checks and adjustments needed in the complex Ravens scheme. He uses his hands to work through trash and has natural power to run through blockers. Lewis is a crafty veteran who takes great angles in pursuit and maintains leverage on the ball carrier. He is a solid pass defender primarily because of excellent anticipation and route recognition. Lewis has been remarkably durable over his career, but he clearly is on the backside of his career.

140. Eric Winston - Houston Texans
Comment: Winston has been the Texans’ starting right tackle for the past four years and has done a good job of solidifying his side of the line. He has excellent dimensions for the position with good initial quickness, body control and balance. He has a good understanding of blocking schemes and angles and is quick to engage and work his blocks. He shows good recognition of games up front like twists and stunts, and he plays the game smart. Winston is a good knee-bender who can keep his pad level down to leverage blocks and does a good job of keeping his feet moving to sustain and finish blocks off. He will overextend and let his weight get too far forward when in space and struggles to react and adjust to counter moves by the pass-rusher. Overall, he is a solid right tackle who still has potential to grow in technique and strength.

148. Jonathan Vilma - New Orleans Saints
Comment: Vilma is a slightly undersized middle linebacker who can be a disruptive playmaker thanks to rare speed, agility and a very good nose for the ball. He is a student of the game who understands blocking angles, defensive schemes and how to leverage his way to the ball. He has excellent range laterally and shows a good burst to close on the ball. He pretty much needs to stay protected by the defensive front as he lacks the size and power to take on blockers and squeeze the play down. He gets very good depth in his drops and shows good route recognition as well as the ability to read the quarterback to get a jump on the ball.

162. Brandon Meriweather - New England Patriots
Comment: Meriweather had another productive season in 2009 and has settled in as the Patriots’ starting safety. Meriweather has adequate size with very good athletic skills for the position. He displays good instincts, speed and range. He shows good versatility as he is used in a variety of alignments. Meriweather still has some inconsistencies in coverage. He struggles to maintain leverage on wide receivers and has taken poor angles out of breaks. He’s aggressive and active in run support and has been one of the most consistent players on the New England roster.

196. Calais Campbell - Arizona Cardinals
Comment: After spending his rookie season as a situational backup with the Cardinals, Campbell earned a starting position and played in all 16 games, starting 15 and finishing with 48 tackles and seven sacks in 2009. He has rare size for the position, and he is quicker and shows better speed than you’d expect for someone with his length. He shows a good feel for the position as he recognizes blocking schemes and will fight through pressure with good hand use. He must work on keeping his pad level down to leverage blocks and could use more upper-body strength to control and disengage. He has a lot of potential and has become a quality starter.

200. Devin Hester - Chicago Bears
Comment: Hester has become a larger part of the Bears’ air attack and was utilized less as a pure return specialist in 2009. He is an excellent athlete with outstanding speed, burst and quickness. He has developed as a route-runner and has made marked improvement in this area. Hester can eat up a defender’s cushion quickly with deceptive push off the line of scrimmage and can stretch deep zones with a second gear downfield. Hester is an explosive player with the ball in his hands because he can distort angles in the open field. He has average size, struggles to break tackles downfield and can get rerouted at times versus press man coverage. Hester continues to be utilized as a punt and kick returner but has lost some of his edge in this area.

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Sam Shields Getting Shot In Nickel

Sam Shields is the fastest player on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. His progress at cornerback has been just as fast.

The undrafted rookie will be given a shot to earn what amounts to a starting position in the Packers’ frequently used nickel package. To win that role, he’ll have to shine against elite competition. While Shields almost picked off Cleveland’s Brett Ratliff in the first preseason game and clinched the Seattle game with an interception of Charlie Whitehurst, he will face the infinitely bigger challenge of squaring off against Peyton Manning and the high-flying Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night.

“He’s going to get a chance this week,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “He’s shown that he’s had the ability to make plays, get his hands on balls. He didn’t catch the ball in the Cleveland game, but if he catches that one, we win that game. He caught the one this past game. He’s shown the ability to cover. They haven’t completed balls on him, but at the same time, he’s not going against their (No.) 1 receivers, their (No. 1) quarterback. The ball’s coming out slower and the receivers’ routes are slower. So, I’m going to give him the opportunity to go against these fast guys, the best quarterback in the league, and see what he does with that.”

It’s been a metoric rise for Shields. At Miami, he was a part-time starter at receiver for his first three seasons before moving to cornerback as a senior. He started 10 games but didn’t have an interception, then was ignored in the draft despite running his 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds at Miami’s pro day. Shields, however, made an instant splash during the first week of training camp, capped by his brilliant interception and 98-yard return for a touchdown on Family Night.

With Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams being the starting corners throughout training camp, Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee had been rotating as the third cornerback. Whitt, however, hasn’t seen Underwood and Lee bring their strong performances at practice to the playing field consistently enough. So, with Manning coming to town, now’s the time to see if Shields is ready for prime time.

“Once we start playing these games in a couple weeks, your evaluation is going to be based on them going against the best,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “And sometimes you can get a little false sense of security if you don’t have an opportunity to do that. that’s part of the evaluation process. The more we can see those guys against the No. 1s that they’re going to be playing against, it gives us a truer evaluation of where we are.”

It’s already been a big week for Shields, who has earned promotions to the No. 1 kickoff team, punt team and punt return team. Now, he’s got a chance to be the third corner, a position that’s on the field more than the starting nose tackle.

“That’s a big opportunity,” Shields said. “When you get your opportunities, you have to make things happen, make a big play out there.”
That’s exactly what Lee and Underwood haven’t done.

“I mean, it’s not a question if they can play or not. They all can play,” Williams said. “They all have the ability. The question is, can you do that on game day? Because everyone is comfortable and calm at practice because there’s no pressure. But under the lights, when the lights are turned on, how can you turn that, the way you practice, the calmness that you practice with, all that into the game? And that’s what separates a lot of guys right there. I know that’s what separates Woodson. The guy, it’s just so easy to him, he practices just like he plays. It’s just that easy to him. That’s basically what you’re trying to get.”

Underwood started slowly against Cleveland but finished with an interception and two passes defensed in a mostly positive performance. At Seattle, however, he seemed a step slow against Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. In two games, Lee has not broken up a pass.
“It’s all about having confidence on the field,” Underwood said. “I get up and I line up against Greg (Jennings) and Drive (Donald Driver) and those guys every day, and I get up there and I press those guys, so it’s just a mind-set. When the lights come on, I can’t change my mentality that I take from the practice field to the game field. I have to carry that over, have the same mentality that I have on the game field that I do on the practice field. So, just to be able to have that mentality is going to be what’s going to be able to separate me and make that player that I want to be on that field.”

Underwood, Lee and Shields will get that opportunity against three-time MVP Manning and a deep and underrated receiving corps anchored by Reggie Wayne.

“We think both the young men have had good training camps,” Capers said of Underwod and Lee. “What you hope to see is it carry into game day, game night, what you see on the practice field. You’re going to see Sam Shields get some opportunities, too, this week. We just think we’ve got to give him a chance to show what he can do. So, I think all three of those young men are still battling. There has not been any decisions made as far as who we would put out there after Charles and Tramon.”

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Plaxico "stole my number," Jeff Feagles says

Whether it's tradition, superstition or just repetition, some players will go to absurd lengths to secure a jersey number. Others are willing to part with their digits like game-worn jockstraps. Some players are indifferent to it all.

Then there's Giants punter Jeff Feagles. The 44-year-old veteran, who has never missed a game in his 23 years in the NFL, has made a small business out of forfeiting his jersey numerals.

Feagles admits he's never been too attached to his number. He'd worn No. 10 for as long as he could remember, but didn't mind handing it over to a rookie when the Giants drafted Eli Manning in 2004.

As is customary in the NFL, Manning compensated Feagles for the numeral -- but not with a load of cash. Instead, the rookie sent the veteran and his family on a week-long, all-expenses-paid vacation to Florida.

After giving Manning his number, Feagles was headed into his 17th season in the league. Thus, he decided to switch to No. 17 as a tribute. But a year later another new teammate came knocking for his number. This time it was Plaxico Burress, who had signed with the Giants on March 17 and thought it would be fitting for him to wear No. 17 for his new team.

"I said, 'you know what, why don't we do the same deal that I did with Eli,'" Feagles said. "Except I'm kind of re-doing my outdoor kitchen, so I basically told him if he could pay for it we'd be good."

Goodbye Florida, hello Kenmore.

Instead of striking the deal himself with Feagles, Burress unleashed his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to negotiate the exchange.

With Burress wearing No. 17, Feagles was numberless once again. In search of his third number in three years, he went with No. 18, this time in honor of his 18th season in the league.

Three years later, Burress is no longer a Giant and Feagles ended up financing his own kitchen. Feagles told recently that Burress (who was released by the Giants in 2009) stiffed him.

"I never got paid for it," Feagles said. "I asked [Burress] for it. Every time I went to Drew he said, 'That's between you and Plax.' Bottom line, I never got paid. He basically stole my number."

Multiple phone calls and e-mails placed to Rosenhaus seeking comment were not returned.

The Giants organization asked Feagles this spring if he'd like his old number back. "I basically re-possessed it," Feagles joked. "I told the team, 'Listen, I've got to restore the image, its obviously been tarnished.' I told them it'd be fine."

Despite being burned by Burress, Feagles said he's still not overly sentimental about his number and is open for negotiations if one of his teammates covets number 17.

"The door is wide open," he said.

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Leon Williams has cauliflower ear

Linebacker Leon Williams sat out practice Wednesday because of cauliflower ear.

He is listed as day to day after undergoing a procedure to relieve swelling his ear. Coach Wade Phillips said Williams should be back at practice Thursday.

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Darryl Sharpton Injured

On Tuesday, Kubiak updated the status of rookie fourth-round pick linebacker Darryl Sharpton, calling him day-to-day with a swollen knee but saying he believes Sharpton will be ready to play against Dallas on Saturday in Houston.

Sharpton's injury further complicates a linebacker core where veteran Danny Clark (knee) and Xavier Adibi (groin) are already expected to miss the Dallas game. Either Clark or Adibi are expected to start the first four games of the season while Brian Cushing serves a four-game suspension.

Their injuries were supposed to create a window of opportunity in the Dallas game for Sharpton.

"He's a smart kid," Ryans said of Sharpton. "He caught on well with what we're doing, learning both the Will (weak side) and Sam (strong side) positions."

But then Sharpton showed up Tuesday with a swollen knee. All he could do was watch.

"I think he's going to be OK," Kubiak said. "My indications are he'll be ready to go for Dallas. I sure hope so."

"That's why we didn't practice yesterday (Monday)," Kubiak said of Sharpton's injury. "We've got some issues at the linebacker position. He's got a swollen knee. I think he'll be okay, but he'll be day to day. We're really down on numbers at that position."

Kubiak said there was little reason to sign a new linebacker for this week.

"We're at a point right now where it's tough to bring somebody off the street and throw them in a game, especially when you're about to play your starters for three quarters," Kubiak said. "We just got to work through the problem. It may be a thought when we go into next week, but the way we're approaching this game is basically with our starters. We just got to push through and make it work."

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Cowboys sign tight end DajLeon Farr, who has to be ready quick

DajLeon Farr was a little thrown off by the question of whether he could be able to play last Thursday against Oakland even if he had been a Cowboy for only a few hours.

"Yeah, I'm going to have to," Farr said. "That's what they brought me in for."

The Cowboys signed Farr on Tuesday and cut tight end Kevin Brock, who suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday. Scott Sicko didn't practice because of a concussion and will not play. Martellus Bennett is likely to miss his second straight game with an ankle sprain.

That leaves Jason Witten and Farr and the Cowboys aren't going to overwork Witten.

Farr, 6-5, 256 pounds, signed with San Diego as an undrafted free agent and was released on Aug. 3. A Houston native, he started his college career at Miami before transferring to Memphis. He finished with 24 catches for 210 yards.

Farr said his move to the Cowboys is helped by the fact that San Diego runs a similar offense with similar terminology, considering the Jason Garrett-Norv Turner connection.

"As far as the situation, it's far better," Farr said. "There my best thing was probably going to make the practice squad. With the injuries, I feel like I have a better chance of helping the team out in the games."

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Antrel Rolle in Tom Coughlin's doghouse for being late to Giants meeting

New Giants safety Antrel Rolle and running back Ahmad Bradshaw were both in Tom Coughlin's doghouse Saturday night.

The two spent the first series of the Giants' first preseason home game at their new stadium standing on the sideline as punishment for being late for team meetings, according to a team source. Both were back on the field for the start of the second series.

"I was in the hotel and I read my schedule wrong, so I was late for a special teams meeting," said Rolle, who signed a five-year, $37 million contract during the offseason. "I've been around long enough to understand there are consequences, so I took it like a man. There is no issue. We'll move on."

Bradshaw was not available for comment after the game to explain his situation.

Rolle was replaced in the starting lineup by second-year pro Sha'reff Rashad. Bradshaw, who would've gotten the start in place of the injured Brandon Jacobs, was replaced by D.J. Ware.

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Without familiar faces around him, Vince Wilfork carries on

For years, the trio of Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour — the Patriots’ defensive front three — was as much a New England fixture as the Freedom Trail or Dunkin’ Donuts.

From much of the stretch between 2004 and 2008 (Warren was drafted in 2003, but assumed the role of full-time starter at left defensive end the following year), the threesome made up one of the best defensive fronts in the game. In that stretch, the three first-round picks accumulated a combined six Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl title, all the while serving as the bedrock of the New England defense.
But before the start of the 2009 season, Seymour was traded to the Raiders for a first-round selection in the 2011 draft. And with the news last week that Warren will now be lost for the entire 2010 season after being placed on season-ending injured reserve with a hip injury, it leaves Wilfork as the lone holdover from a golden era for New England defensive linemen, at least this season.

“Changes happen all the time around sports, not just football. Around sports, every year is different,” Wilfork told reporters earlier Tuesday. “I don’t have Seymour. I don’t have Ty right now. It’s going to be different. Nothing is going to be easy.”

While Wilfork does have some positional versatility — he has played defensive end on occasion with New England — the Patriots will likely rely on a combination of veterans and newcomers to fill the void. It looks like Gerard Warren will take the bulk of the snaps in place of Ty Warren, while Damione Lewis and veteran Mike Wright have been on the other side of Wilfork.

“I’m happy with what we have,” Wilfork added. “I can’t ask for any better guys than what I have. They are hard workers. They want to learn. They want to learn this defense. They don’t make any excuses. And that’s one thing I love: no excuses. We’ve started from rock bottom. We’ve started this whole thing over. It’s been a work in progress. But at the same time, we’ve been going in the right direction. So as long as we keep going in this right direction, I think we’ll be OK.”

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Kenny Holmes tops Indian River candidates with $20 million net worth

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Former professional football defensive end Kenny Holmes has sacked the competition once more, tallying a net worth of $20 million — by far the greatest financial assets of anyone running for local political office on the Treasure Coast during this election year.

That’s according to financial disclosure forms filed with the Indian River County Elections Office and required by state law.

Chris Anderson, an attorney with the Florida Commission on Ethics, which designed the form, said voters need to know what business ties might play into the decisions an elected official makes.

“Say there’s a rezoning,” he said. “People might want to know if an official owns 100 acres next to what is being rezoned. … And the people an official owes money to could also push a button or two.”

Holmes, 36, said he felt some initial concerns about detailing his finances in public, but said he quickly realized it helps voters know what he would bring into office.

Holmes is seeking the County Commission District 4 seat without any party affiliation. He’ll be on the Nov. 2 ballot against Democrat Steven Deardeuff and the Republican nominee, either Tom Lowther or incumbent Peter O’Bryan.

“I want to put everything on the table, let everyone know what’s what and where everything comes from,” he said.

For instance, there’s no reference to the NFL as an income source. Holmes said that’s because he got his last NFL check in 2005, when he retired.

Instead, Holmes lists millions of dollars worth of local real estate investments, including his $1.1 million home on 12th Street and the MLK Chevron business at 45th Street and U.S. 1. It’s owned by Markin LLC, of which Holmes is president. He lists the Chevron business value at $1.3 million.

“Some really good people were my mentors and helped me learn how to manage such a large amount of money for such a young age,” he said.

Multimillionaires, though with fewer millions, are no strangers to the County Commission. Vice Chairman Bob Solari, who was elected in 2008 to the District 5 seat, cited a 2009 net worth of $3.4 million. He does not face re-election this year.

Kimberly Keithahn, one of five candidates seeking the School Board District 5 seat, meanwhile tallied the second-highest net worth among the current countywide races — $1.05 million.

Most of her assets are in the stock market, with almost $457,000 from Vanguard Group mutual funds. But she said that comes as part of a life of working, starting with childhood jobs, and a 20-year marriage marked by being frugal. Keithahn is married to financial consultant Tim Keithahn.

“We’ve both been very hard workers and fiscally conservative all our lives,” she said, but stressed candidates should be judged on their qualifications and not their net worth.

Keithahn faces Harry Hall, Jeff Pegler and Ardra Rigby in Tuesday’s nonpartisan race for the seat being vacated by Debbie MacKay. The winner will be on the Nov. 2 ballot against write-in candidate Althea McKenzie.

Incumbents are noted with an asterisk (*).

JOE FLESCHER, Republican *
Income: $56,400 (county salary), $32,300 (New York police pension)
Net worth 2009: $296,800
Homestead address: 279 Joy Haven Drive, Sebastian ($189,300)
Other assets: Automobiles, $13,000; Marriott stock, $7,000; Household goods, $337,000
Liabilities: Riverside Bank loan, $45,000; Chrysler Financial, $2,000

DALE I. SIMCHICK, Republican
Income: $40,057 (Sheriff’s Office salary), $6,300 (Sebastian City Council salary)
Net worth 2009: $454,758
Homestead address: 766 Easy St., Sebastian ($260,840)
Other assets: Lot in LaCrosse, Fla. $50,000; lot in Crossville, Tenn., $30,200; inheritance, $25,000; several mobile-home lots in Fort McCoy, Fla. $17,802; Household goods, $77,858; IRC Credit Union Roth IRA $2,347; IRC Credit Union savings $,1,705
Liabilities: PNC Bank, $10,993

Income: $81,840 (from business)
Net worth 2009: $97,344
Homestead address: None
Other assets: Condominium on Sixth Avenue, $124,000; Media Arts Group (private business), $20,000; Seacoast Bank, $1,520; Household goods, $45,000
Liabilities: Chase mortgage, $79,233; PNC Home Equity, $8,358; Chevron, $2,585

Income: $29,299 (CVS Pharmacy Distribution Center salary)
Net worth 2009: $12,724
Homestead address: None
Other assets: 1993 Lincoln Town Car (value unknown); Household goods, $2,500
Liabilities: Sallie-Mae student loan, $41,224

CAROLYN CORUM, Independent
Income: $13,269 (Thorpe Sotheby’s International Realty)
Net worth 2009: $133,000
Homestead address: 881 Dolores St., Sebastian ($76,000)
Other assets: Wachovia Bank retirement/savings $21,000; Automobile $13,000; Household goods, $12,000; Bank of America CD, $11,000
Liabilities: None

Income: $44,695 (Thomas S. Lowther Funeral Home)
Net worth 2009: $497,000
Homestead address: 696 20th Ave., Vero Beach ($250,000)
Other assets: Vero Beach Funeral Home Inc., $181,579; Lowther Cremation Service Inc., $245,632
Liabilities: PNC Bank mortgage, $181,000

PETER D. O'BRYAN, Republican *
Income: $83,640 (per joint federal tax return)
Net worth 2009: $430,461
Homestead address: 2255 11th Lane, Vero Beach ($160,270)
Other assets: Stocks $23,665; Roth IRA $21,557; IRA $36,677; 401K $9,630; Household goods $122,500
Liabilities: Capital Bank, $114,000

Income: $49,834 (School District salary); $42,652 (county salary); $1,655 (Arizona retirement)
Net worth 2009: $50,920
Homestead address: 1106 21st Court, Vero Beach ($190,000)
Other assets: Wachovia Bank, $2,000; Chase, $2,500; Household goods, $20,000
Liabilities; Wells Fargo mortgage, $163,580

KENNETH HOLMES, no party affiliation
Income: $14,600 (rental income)
Net worth 2009: $20 million
Homestead address: 4555 12th St., Vero Beach ($1.1 million)
Other assets: MLK Chevron station, $1.3 million; Gas Market, $1.1 million; Smith Plaza Grocery, $600,000; Fountain Net commercial area $300,000; Household goods, $12 million
Liabilities: RBC Bank home mortgage, $300,000; RBC commercial mortgages, $315,000

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Rangers call up Alex Cora, designate Arias

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers called up second baseman Alex Cora from Triple-A Oklahoma City and designated infielder Joaquin Arias for assignment on Tuesday.

Cora, who was released by the Mets on Aug. 11, joined the Rangers for Tuesday's game against the Twins. The Rangers have 10 days to trade Arias, release him or get him through outright waivers.

Arias was hitting .276 in 50 games for Texas this season while twice going on the disabled list. But the Rangers, with both Ian Kinsler and Cristian Guzman on the DL, had lost all confidence in him as a viable option in the infield. Andres Blanco has taken over as the Rangers' regular second baseman while Kinsler and Guzman are out.

"The general thought going down the stretch is there is some value of having another guy who is playoff-tested and has a little more experience," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said.

Cora has played in all or parts of 13 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers, Indians, Red Sox and Mets. He has played in 13 postseason games, including two for the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series against the Rockies. He was hitting .207 for the Mets when they released him.

The Rangers signed him to a Triple-A Oklahoma City contract last week, and he was 4-for-22 in six games before being recalled on Tuesday.
Arias was one of two players acquired from the Yankees in 2004 for shortstop Alex Rodriguez. He was once considered a premier defensive player, but he injured his shoulder three years ago in Spring Training and never fully regained his arm strength.

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Baraka Atkins Having A Good Pre Season

Denver Broncos Coach Josh McDaniels said he likes the way outside linebacker Baraka Atkins has played in the preseason and he wants to get a longer look at newly signed linebacker Jason Hunter, a fifth-year pro who had five sacks for Detroit last year as a 4-3 defensive end and two for Green Bay the year before.

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Sam Shields Moving Up the Depth Chart

Cornerback Sam Shields, the rookie free agent from Miami, was promoted on three of the four core special teams Monday night. Basically, he moved past cornerback Jarrett Bush.

"Sam's earned it," McCarthy said. "We do want to get closer to what we feel are going to be the guys who we're going to be playing with."
Tight end Tom Crabtree also played a more prominent role on special teams.

Shields was one of the two gunners on the punt team and one of the hold-up players on the punt team. He also was a member of the No. 1 kickoff team.

Shields said it was a positive development for his chances to make the team.

"Yes, sir," he said. "Most definitely. Special teams is the way for me."

Shields made a name for himself early in his career with the Hurricanes by running down on punts. On Saturday night in Seattle, he was the first man down on the two punts.

On the first, he was pushed into the middle of the field. However, once he drew even with the blocker, he sprinted past him toward the returner.

"It's really being quick and getting off the ball to get downfield," said Shields.

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Harbaugh: Ed Reed happy with progress

With Lardarius Webb back on the field, the only defensive back on the physically-unable-to-perform list is Ed Reed.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh spoke to the Pro Bowl safety at the second preseason game at Washington. Reed, who had offseason surgery on his hip, has been seeing a rehab doctor in Atlanta.

"He said he feels good about his progress," Harbaugh said. "We don’t have details. It’s hard to say how it’s going to continue to improve. Based on the conversation I had with him, he’s happy with his progress."

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Jason Fox Misses Practice

The Lions claimed offensive tackle Cliff Louis (6-foot-8, 315 pounds) off waivers from the Giants on Tuesday. Louis, 26, went undrafted out of Morgan State in 2007 and has made several stops with the Browns, Cardinals and Giants over his first four seasons. Louis was in his fourth stint with the Giants, this one lasting just 13 days.

The Louis signing conspicuously coincides with rookie fourth-round pick Jason Fox missing Tuesday's morning practice. Fox, also a tackle, has continued to be bothered by a left knee that required offseason surgery.

It's unclear at this point if the Louis signing is related to Fox in any way.

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Kenny Phillips might see a big increase in action against the Ravens

Kenny Phillips might have found a way to extend his time on the field. He just needs to figure out a way to exploit it.

Phillips was supposed to play only six snaps against the Steelers on Saturday and coach Tom Coughlin said Phillips was taken out “right on the sixth play.” But apparently, the question is: what constitutes a play? That’s because Phillips was in the game for seven snaps – one of which was a holding penalty that negated a “play.”

So if Phillips, who has been limited in his recovery from knee surgery, wants to stay on the field as much as possible this Saturday against the Ravens, why not just keep grabbing guys to draw holding penalties?

“Then I’ll definitely come out of the game,” Phillips said.

Good point. Then again, it sounds like Phillips won’t have to artificially inflate his snap count.

Second-year safety Sha’reff Rashad is sidelined with a concussion and likely won’t play in Baltimore. Meanwhile, rookie free agent Michael Greco was waived/injured after suffering a knee injury. The Giants signed rookie Matt O’Hanlon, formerly of the Buccaneers, but he might not have enough knowledge of the system to play extensively.

So that means Phillips, who was to see a bit more action against the Ravens, could be asked to play much more.

“I’m hoping not to,” Coughlin said. “He should advance. He’s proven in the last couple of days of practice that, in addition to coming back and feeling fine, he can take some more reps so maybe that will allow us to give him a few more this weekend.”

Phillips didn’t see much action in his six, er, seven snaps against Pittsburgh. The closest ball to him was a completion to his left for 17 yards – a play on which Aaron Ross slipped.

Phillips believes he could have made a play on that ball and would have done so if he hadn’t lost sight of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“I saw him open up (his shoulder) that way, so I was sort of cheating,” Phillips said. “And then, I couldn’t see him. One of his linemen hid him and he actually threw it that way.

“I felt good about just knowing he was going to throw that way. Maybe next time I’ll go get it. … I really felt I would have made that play if I would have seen him. I didn’t want to just take a chance and give up a big play.”

Phillips is hoping for more of a chance to make his own big play on Saturday. He plans to lobby Coughlin for more playing time.

“You know I am,” Phillips said. “I’m going to beg for a little bit more, no matter what he tells me.”

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Cutler watch: QB, Hester connect

Jay Cutler looked to Greg Olsen when the Bears got in the red zone for some seven-on-seven drills, but he was locked on to Devin Hester pretty much everywhere else during practice Wednesday.

Twelve of the 27 passes Cutler threw in seven-on-seven and full-squad drills were intended for Hester, and 11 were completed. The only one that fell incomplete was in the corner of the end zone, where cornerback Zack Bowman made a nice play to bat the ball away.

Rookie Dan LeFevour made one bad pass over the middle that Nick Roach intercepted, and defensive end Corey Wootton nearly made him eat a ball on a screen pass. But other than that, LeFevour made better decisions.

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Sherko Haji-Rasouli hurt again in first practice after injury

The unofficial start to the second-half of the season following a bye week for the B.C. Lions also appears to mark another injury setback to the player who seems to typify the struggles of the CFL team this year, Sherko Haji-Rasouli.

In his first practice with fellow starters since suffering a pre-season MCL strain that has kept him out all year, the offensive lineman suffered a twisted right knee that prevented him from work Saturday.

It means there's a reasonable chance the Lions' plan to have the veteran back at right tackle Friday against the Calgary Stampeders may be placed on hold and the club is again forced to go with three imports on the offensive line.

"Very frustrating," Haji-Rasouli said.

Justin Sorensen took all of Haji-Rasouli's reps Saturday as the Lions are committed to returning Jon Hameister-Reis to left guard. However, coach Wally Buono said the Lions also may examine using import Dane Randolph at right tackle and nullify any potential ratio advantage gained by the signing last week of non-import lineman Joe McGrath. Dean Valli was also back at centre Saturday, which would mean the end of Angus Reid as a starter after four games. If the Lions go through with the changes, it will mean the club will have its fifth line combination in eight games when they face Calgary.

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Sinorice Moss claims he's not feeling the pressure of Victor Cruz's breakout

ALBANY, N.Y. – Sinorice Moss knows the deal by now. Just last year, he was getting asked the same questions.

“And the year before,” the Giants’ wide receiver said with a laugh Wednesday. “And the year before. And the year before.”

Five years into his NFL career, the former second-round pick has yet to reach the potential the team believed he had – and the ceiling he still sees for himself. And once again it’s a numbers game. Now that rookie undrafted free agent Victor Cruz has emerged with his three-touchdown performance on Monday night, Moss is seemingly back on the verge of having his Giants career cut short.

Last year, it was extended when the team kept seven wide receivers. But that was a special occasion for a corps that needed as many bodies as possible. This year, there might roster spots needed elsewhere (such as quarterback and safety). Plus, Moss’ base salary has more than doubled from last season to $1.176 million, which makes him a slightly more expensive option to keep.

“It’s pretty much the same thing and I just take the same approach to it,” Moss said. “I don’t look at it as numbers. I just go out there, perform and take care of the things I need to take care of.”

Moss was back on the field performing in practice Wednesday after sitting out for more than a week with a groin issue. He was asked if Cruz’s game against the Jets and his impressive practices beforehand spurred him to suit up again and he replied, “Not at all.”

Moss said he’s been supportive of Cruz and doesn’t think about whether the rookie might have already stolen his job.

“If I think about that, I won’t be able to do what I need to do on the field every day. So why think about numbers?” Moss said. “It’s not about numbers to me. It’s about me going out there every day and participating and making plays and showing this team what I’m capable of doing.”

Again, the same questions. And the same answers. A different result this time? That remains to be seen.

But at least the approach is consistent right now.

“I definitely do have the experience and I’ve been asked these questions many times throughout the years,” Moss said. “I take the same approach – a positive attitude and a smile. I know what I bring and I know what I’m capable of doing. That’s why I have the smile on my face all the time.”

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Gore welcomes Westbrook into 49ers backfield

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Before San Francisco added free agent Brian Westbrook to its backfield this week, the 49ers made it a point to consult with Frank Gore first.

The two-time Pro Bowl running back, who has led the team in rushing each of the past five seasons, quickly gave his blessing.

"I thought if he could help my team get better and help us go to another level, I'm fine with it," Gore said Tuesday after San Francisco's single practice. "He's been a great back in this league for a long time. I already started asking him questions, but I feel he can help me get better."

Westbrook signed a one-year deal with the 49ers on Monday and was greeted by a loud applause from 49ers fans attending the team's open practice Tuesday as he trotted onto the field for the first workout with his new team.

The former Philadelphia Eagles star took part in individual drills and did some light running but spent much of the two-hour workout as a spectator while Gore and rookie Anthony Dixon handled the reps on offense.

"The hardest thing to do is sit on the sidelines and watch but that's probably the best way to learn," Westbrook said. "Hopefully it's quick, and I'm gonna do everything I can to make it as painless and as quick as possible."

San Francisco needed help in its backfield after the surprisingly abrupt retirement of Glen Coffee after one year.

Even when Westbrook is up to speed with the power-based running game the 49ers employ, he'll remain an understudy to Gore. Coach Mike Singletary made that point clear when San Francisco announced the Westbrook signing.

Gore, a third-round draft pick in 2005, likes leading the 49ers' ground game but welcomes the addition of a back with the experience of Westbrook.

Westbrook led the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage in 2007 but his production dropped dramatically last season when he missed eight games with a pair of concussions and an ankle injury.

"I know that we needed another back and he was the best one out there, and we feel that he can help our team," Gore said. "I watched him a whole lot, especially when he was in Philly because he was a guy I had to compete against for yards and receiving yards. He watched me in practice (today) and I asked him to help me with the things he sees that I can carry over on the field."

Singletary didn't rule out the possibility of using both Gore and Westbrook in the same backfield. In addition to 5,995 career rushing yards, Westbrook also has 426 receptions for 3,790 yards in eight seasons.

Gore, who already ranks fourth on the 49ers' career rushing list with 5,561 yards, is averaging more than 52 catches over the past four seasons. The potential explosiveness that he and Westbrook present should pose a significant challenge for defenses.

"A lot of weapons," Gore said. "We do have personnel like that, with two halfbacks in the game. Both running backs out of the backfield can catch the ball well and I think that's going to be great."

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Martin Bibla Looks To Start for the UFL Mountain Lions

Possible starters on the offensive line include tackles Martin Bibla and Sam Lightbody and guard Tavita Thompson, according to Green. Returnees include tackles Matt Lentz and Tyler Luellen and center Mike Mabry.

"We have three offensive linemen back from last year's team, so they'll have to come back together quickly," Green said. "The offensive line will be the biggest challenge."

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Jeff Feagles Eases Into Retirement, but Still Helps Giants

Jeff Feagles arrived at Giants training camp in Albany this week, as he had for the past seven years. The familiar fields and teammates are smoothing his career transition. Feagles is with the Giants as a punting consultant this summer, the first nfl jerseys summer since his retirement after a remarkable 22-year career.

Feagles is having no Brett Favre-like thoughts about returning — Feagles, 44, said he knows he can no longer withstand the physical rigors of a season — so instead he is working with the rookie punter Matt Dodge. Feagles’s assignment is to be with Dodge from the time he wakes up until he goes to bed, filling in the blanks on the routines and schedules, the stretches and drills Dodge needs to be a successful pro.

“I’m trying to get him to understand that every day he’s on the field he’s being evaluated,” Feagles said. “So he doesn’t just grab a bag of balls and start punting.”

Feagles is working on Dodge’s drop and footwork, and eventually Feagles will start teaching Dodge the art of the directional kick, which Feagles said took him seven years to master. Feagles might have been the last great directional kicker, but Dodge, Feagles said, is far stronger than he ever was.

“His mis-hits can still be effective because he’s so strong,” Feagles said. “He’s a little robotic nfl throwback jerseys. I’m trying to make him fluid and loose.”

And when does Feagles plan to tell Dodge about the infamous Meadowlands wind, which Feagles suspects might be even worse in the new stadium because of the open concourses?

“About two days before he goes there to kick,” Feagles said. No reason to alarm him earlier.

Dodge is not Feagles’s first pupil. Feagles’s son C. J. is a redshirt freshman at the University of North Carolina.

C J. Feagles did not start punting until his junior year at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey, when former Giants quarterback Phil Simms advised Feagles to get his son into some football camps so college coaches could see him.

Feagles had remained close to Butch Davis, North Carolina’s head coach, who had hosted Feagles on his recruiting visit to the University of Miami in the early 1980s. C. J. punted so well during a visit to Chapel Hill that Davis pulled them out of an academic meeting to offer C. J. a full scholarship on the spot, stunning Feagles.

“To be in Butch’s office with my son talking about punting was surreal,” Feagles said. “Push a button on a time machine. There aren’t too many N.F.L. nfl jersey players with college-age kids.”

Because college punters and kickers are often left on their own with little guidance, Feagles drew up a practice routine for C .J., much as he did for Dodge. For now, coaching remains a casual job for Feagles, a way to stay connected to football, leaving him plenty of time to go to C. J.’s games.

“I don’t think football will get out of my blood,” Feagles said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over the comfort of teammates.”

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Alex Cora's solo homer in ninth inning the difference

Alex Cora's home run in the top of the ninth inning helped the Oklahoma City RedHawks edge the Round Rock Express 5-4 on Monday night in Pacific Coast League baseball at Dell Diamond. Pedro Strop notched his 12th save in the bottom of the ninth inning. Strop allowed a single, but he struck out two.

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Pat Burrell helped Aubrey Huff escape his shell

Aubrey Huff is part comedian, part prankster and part roast master, lacking the tuxedo but sparing his teammates nothing else. When it comes to the self-styled Huff Daddy, there is no such thing as "too much information."

Here is the most unbelievable thing Huff has uttered as a Giant, though:

"I was a painfully shy kid," he said, stopping as he sensed disbelief. "No, really, I was."

Huff grew up in a trailer park outside of Fort Worth, Texas. He lost his father at a young age and immersed himself in video games and cartoons. He described himself as a gangly, pizza-faced kid in high school who hit just one home run as a junior and senior combined, even though the outfield fence was just 350 feet to dead center. Even as he put on weight in junior college and started hitting deep drives, he portrayed a total lack of confidence.

So who brought him out of his shell?

"That guy," Huff said, pointing across the Giants clubhouse to Pat Burrell, his one-time teammate at the University of Miami.

"When I transferred, the first guy I met was that son of a "..." Huff said. "I hadn't met such an arrogant (jerk) in my life. I couldn't stand him. All he did was rag on me."

You knew Huff's next story about Burrell would be good. He prefaced it by saying, "Awww, I'm sure Pat won't care if I tell this."

"After two weeks at Miami, I wanted to go home," Huff said. "So my mom flies out, trying to convince me to stay. I was living with two seniors, and they ragged me, too. I just didn't understand all this baseball ragging nonsense. She's in my room one night and I'm sitting on my bed and she's telling me to give it another two weeks.

"Anyway, there's a knock on the door, and before I can even get off the bed, Pat comes barging in with a six-pack in his hand, dripping wet, buck naked.

"So I jumped up and shut the door. Coming from Texas, these things didn't happen. I said, 'See what I'm dealing with here, Mom?'

"She just started laughing and said, 'Actually, Aubrey, that's pretty darn funny.'

"I thought, 'My God, if my mom can laugh at this, why can't I?' "

Huff went to practice the next day determined to take Burrell's ribbing and throw it right back at him. He recalled his initial comeback attempts as awkward, but he got better at it.

It was almost as vital a skill as hitting a curveball.

"I really believe that's when I learned to be a ballplayer, man," Huff said. "If I didn't go to Miami, if Pat didn't wear me out, I wouldn't have made it to the big leagues. This is a humbling, challenging game. You have to be mentally tough."

The Giants will need plenty of mental toughness if they hope to overcome their considerable flaws and make the playoffs for the first time since 2003, and the two former Hurricanes have brought a cocky edge to the clubhouse. It doesn't matter that Huff was a panic signing whom nobody else wanted last winter or that Burrell was picked out of the recycling bin after the Tampa Bay Rays released him in May.

Huff is savoring every moment of his first winning season. He flexes his muscles as he saunters out to batting practice, yelling to nobody in particular, "Time for the laser show, boys!"

Back in spring training, he couldn't stop staring at teammate Nate Schierholtz's washboard abs. Finally, he snapped a cell phone picture and sent it to his wife with the message, "Look honey, I've been working out!"

And Burrell, who grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains, has been re-energized by his homecoming. He will receive another today when the Giants begin a series at Philadelphia, where he won a World Series ring in 2008.

"Pat's the guy who tells you what you need to hear, even when you don't want to hear it," Huff said. "He's mentally strong. He went through all the boos in Philly, and when he went back to get his ring, they gave him a standing ovation. It made him tear up after going through all that."

Burrell's pennant-race experience isn't just rubbing off on the Giants' young players. He also is a compass for veterans such as Huff and Freddy Sanchez, who have played for losing teams their whole career.

After a game at Dodger Stadium last month, Burrell and Huff stayed in the clubhouse and talked for almost two hours.

"He was briefing me on it, how it's going to be," Huff said. "He said, 'It's a different animal, bro. You may think you're ready, but you might be shocked. It's the same game, the same teams. You just have to slow it down.' "

But not the banter during batting practice. That's always a rapid-fire session, and pity the target who takes himself too seriously -- Burrell included.

As the details of Huff's story were recited back to him recently, Burrell just closed his eyes and nodded.

"Yeah, that's pretty much how it happened," he said. "I was looking for the shampoo. There wasn't any in the shower. Obviously, I didn't know his mom was in there."

Long pause.

"I don't know how the six-pack got in my hands."

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Danny Valencia makes his case for starting

Injuries helped create an opening for Danny Valencia in the Twins' everyday starting lineup. The rookie's performance has kept him there.

Valencia started his 23rd consecutive game at third base Wednesday, though Manager Ron Gardenhire wasn't ready to call it Valencia's job for life.

"He's playing tonight, and we'll see where we go from there," Gardenhire said.

Still, the Twins have played very well since Valencia's starting streak began, and maybe it's no coincidence.

On July 23, their record fell to 51-46 with a loss at Baltimore. The next day, Gardenhire started Valencia for the first time in five days, and the righthanded hitter went 3-for-5.

Valencia, 25, has started every game since, batting .348 (32-for-92) over the 23 games, as the Twins have 19-4

Of course, there are numerous reasons for the team's recent success. Joe Mauer has recaptured his 2009 MVP form, the starting pitching has stabilized -- the past two games notwithstanding -- Jesse Crain has given the bullpen a huge boost, and several others have picked up the slack with Justin Morneau recovering from a concussion.

Valencia had a 14-for-19 stretch at the plate before cooling for a while in early August, yet Gardenhire kept sending him back to third base.
Some of that was circumstance. Michael Cuddyer saw time at third base before entrenching himself at first when Morneau went down on July 7. Three weeks later, Nick Punto, who has 38 starts at third base this year, went on the disabled list because of a strained hamstring.
Punto returned from the DL on Tuesday, but Gardenhire has stuck with Valencia at third against the White Sox.

"I definitely feel relaxed, but at the same time I feel like [Gardenhire's] got a lot of confidence in me," Valencia said. "It's nice to be playing for a team that's in a pennant race."

The Twins have seen this happen before. Punto took over third base for the Twins during their 2006 division title run. Last year, Matt Tolbert, who entered September batting .178, started 18 of the team's final 20 games at third base as they reeled off a 16-4 run to catch the Tigers.

"I think Valencia's settled in real nice over there, and he's worked real hard," Gardenhire said. "There were a lot of questions about his defense, even in spring training, but he's caught the ball over there for us."

Valencia has made just one error in 386 innings at third base with the Twins. He's shown a strong arm, soft hands, and he's scored very well with defensive metrics. According to, Valencia's UZR 150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games) entering Wednesday was 24.7, meaning if he played 150 games at third, he would save the Twins 24.7 runs on defense.

That put Valencia atop the list of all major leaguers with at least 300 innings at third base. Ryan Zimmerman was second on that UZR 150 list at 23.3, and Punto was fourth at 20.1.

Third base is supposed to be an offensive position, and while Valencia has yet to show the power the Twins hope to see eventually, he is batting .331 (54-for-163) with one homer, 13 doubles, 18 RBI and a .375 on-base percentage.

No doubt, Valencia's first 48 games in the big leagues are a small sample size, but he's making a good case that he is indeed this team's third baseman of the future.

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Ravens Trading Willis McGahee?

The Ravens have received some phone calls from teams interested in possibly trading for Ravens backup running back Willis McGahee.
Before the Ravens make the move, they might consider who will be their running back on goal line and short yardage situations, and do they have a backup to Ray Rice who can also be a homerun hitter and score from anywhere on the field?

McGahee has played extremely well in training camp, and reported in excellent shape. His attitude has been outstanding. If McGahee gets traded, the Ravens will probably use Le'Ron McClain as Rice's backup. The problem with McClain is ball security. He handles the ball like a loaf of bread sometimes.

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Colts Sign Glenn Sharpe

The Indianapolis Colts have signed running back Allen Patrick and defensive back Glenn Sharpe.

They also placed quarterback Tim Hiller on waivers.

A former University of Miami player, Sharpe has previous stints with the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.

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Tavares Gooden dealing with neck injury

A day after running with the first defense at inside linebacker, Tavares Gooden sat out Wednesday morning's practice with an injured neck.
Gooden declined to discuss the injury, but coach John Harbaugh said the injury stemmed from the team's preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers last Thursday night.

"It just keeps tightening back up on him, so we just need to sit him down and settle him down," he said. "He’s tried to go the last two days. Every time he’s tried to go, it spasms back up, so we just need to settle him down for a couple days and try to get him out there on Saturday.”

If Gooden can't practice Thursday, that might jeopardize his shot at starting against the Washington Redskins Saturday night. Jameel McClain earned the start against the Panthers, and Dannell Ellerbe might start against the New York Giants on Aug. 28.

Asked if he wants to rotate those three linebackers to give each an opportunity to play with the first defense, Harbaugh said, “Yeah, that’d probably be part of it. We also want to get Jameel some work at SAM [strongside linebacker] because he’s a multiple guy, and in order to play the position, you’ve got to get some work there. So we’ll move those guys around for the next two weeks and we’ll know where we’re at.”

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Darryl Sharpton may factor into replacing Cushing

When Brian Cushing's suspension came to light, Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said pretty strongly that Zac Diles has settled in so nicely on the weak side that flipping him to the strong side while Cushing misses four games wasn’t an alternative.

Things have changed according to what the coach said to Houston media Tuesday about rookie fourth-rounder Darryl Sharpton out of Miami.

From a transcript provided by the team:

On if he’s considering Darryl Sharpton as a starter: “Well there’s consideration for him being one of our top three. He’s in the mix right now. Would we flip him to Sam? Probably we would move Zac before we move him. He’s in consideration right now and we’re going to play our three best however we go to play him.”

On if Sharpton is in the running to become a starter this season: “There’s no doubt. He’s made statements since he’s been out here in camp. Obviously, the other night he did it again.”

So while Cushing’s out, instead of seeing Xavier Adibi, Kevin Bentley or Danny Clark in his place, we could see Diles flipped and Sharpton starting -- provided Sharpton keeps playing like he’s been playing.

Maybe from there we could even see him push Diles?

I’ll have an eye on Sharpton Wednesday and Thursday when I watch the Texans practice against the Saints in Louisiana.

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Antonio Dixon Back At Eagles' Practice

DT Antonio Dixon, who just returned to practice after suffering a concussion, has made his mark on the Eagles. He has gone from the sidelines back to the swing of things without missing a beat. He has been lining up with the second team defense alongside DT Trevor Laws on the inside. The two have been stuffing the run and getting some good pressure on a consistent basis. The Eagles defensive line could be one of the deepest in the league with Dixon and Laws stepping up.

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Rocky McIntosh Performing Well

Rocky McIntosh earned praise from defensive coaches for patiently waiting for an opening through which to track down RB Keiland Williams. McIntosh stopped him for no gain. On a pass play near the end of practice, McIntosh came free after a stunt and blew up RB Willie Parker, who was the last line of defense. It would have been a sack. McIntosh has had a quiet camp, but that’s his way, it seems. McIntosh has done a very good job being in the right gaps. He showed excellent patience on some runs, reading the play and then filling the hole. He stuffed a Keiland Williams run and later stopped another.

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Eagles Re-Sign Eric Moncur

The Philadelphia Eagles announced Monday they have re-signed DE Eric Moncur.

He was originally signed by the Eagles as a rookie free agent following the 2010 draft before being released on August 2.
Moncur (6-1, 237) registered 110 tackles and eleven sacks in his career at Miami, FL, posting a career-high and ranking second on the team with six sacks in 2007.

He attended Carol City High School in Miami, FL, where he racked up 34 sacks in his final two seasons and earned SuperPrep All-America honors.

Moncur will wear jersey # 61.

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Epps Should Make Chargers Practice Squad

The Chargers have two rookie tight ends on the roster: UDFA Richie Brockel and seventh-round pick Dedrick Epps.

Epps was considered the favorite to be the No. 3 tight end until the Chargers signed McMichael after the draft; he is a frontrunner for a spot on the practice squad. Brockel, barring injury, is merely auditioning for other teams.

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Jon Gruden motivates Jon Beason

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Jon Beason knew that switching positions would be tough, but he didn’t realize it would this tough.

“I didn’t think there would be that much of a (learning) curve,” said Beason after Tuesday’s practice, referring to the move from middle to weak side linebacker. “It’s with anything new. Well, not so much as it’s new, but just trying to get that comfort level where I can play free and not think as much, more instinctive.”

Beason said he didn’t have any mental errors in last Thursday night’s exhibition game against Baltimore, although he did slip once, which drew some rare criticism from ESPN color analyst and former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden.

“It was a little slippery out there, and I slipped on one play where Gruden referred to me as a fish out of water,” Beason said. “I appreciate it. It’s just a little added motivation, more fuel to the fire. When I see coach Gruden I’ll let him know how I feel about it…You’re not going to look perfect on every play.”

The Panthers still believe moving Beason, a two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker, to the weak side to fill in for the injured Thomas Davis gives them the best chance to win.

And Beason downplayed the move by saying he won’t be on the weak side every down.

In fact, he said in four out of five defensive packages the Panthers will have installed he’ll actually be playing middle linebacker.

He estimates that out of the roughly 75 snaps per game he’ll only be on the weak side for about 25 plays.

For instance, when the Panthers go to a nickel package, Dan Connor will come out and Captain Munnerlyn comes in, allowing Beason to move to his more comfortable position inside.

Coach John Fox said Beason will play a variety of spots on defense.

“I feel comfortable with him at any linebacker spot, whether it’s third down at Mike or Will or whether it’s first or second down at Mike, Will or Sam (strong side),” said coach John Fox. “He's a guy we know the most about; he’s got the most history with us. He’s got the ability to play at any of those spots. Right now, we’re sorting out who the best three are to get ready for the Giants opener.”

“It all depends on what kind of game it is. If we jump up seven to 10 points, they’re probably going to go three- or four-wide receiver sets where I’m probably going to be the Mike the whole game,” Beason said.

As for those 25 plays or so at the Will position, Beason said he has some things to improve upon before the regular-season opener.

He’s used to running from one side of the field to the other — and he’s quite good at it — but said there are times when he simply isn’t allowed to do that.

“I have to be a little more disciplined when I’m playing the weak side,” Beason said. “When you’re the Mike, you have to have the ability to go both ways based on the play. At the Will sometimes they run away from you (so you) have to sit back because and contain. So some plays I can’t be as aggressive.”

The team has repeatedly applauded Beason’s unselfish move to the Will spot, even though it could cost him a shot at a third Pro Bowl.

Beason said it’s no big deal.

“I think it’s football, man,” he said. “Somebody goes down and the No. 2 guy steps up and performs when it’s his turn.”

Beason said he’s been impressed with the play of Connor, his replacement at the Mike spot in the base defense.

“He’s looked great,” Beason said. “Everything we’ve anticipated he would do. He played well in the scrimmage. He played well in the game against the Ravens for the time that he was in there. I think there’s still room for improvement. He hasn’t maxed out, so he still has the ability to get a lot better.”

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Devin Hester is smarter than the average Bear

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Bears' offensive coordinator, once nicknamed ''Mad Mike,'' has been ''Muted Mike'' 7½ months into his job.
Mike Martz, who had soap-opera endings in his last three NFL jobs, has answered questions with the optimism and diplomacy of a U.N. delegate. But he grew impassioned when asked how receiver Devin Hester was grasping his complex offense.

To avoid any concern about context, here's the full text of Martz's response to my question.

''I just got to tell you this and get this off my chest: I've heard so much about Devin not being a receiver and he doesn't learn well, and none of that is true,'' Martz emphatically said. ''None of that is true.

''He's a natural at it. Everything comes natural to him -- the recognition and the change of direction. He's got a great way about him. He's a natural.

''Of all the receivers, he's made the fewest mistakes. So what does that say?

''For some reason, someone has put a tag on him like that, and it couldn't be the furthest thing from the truth, and that bothers me because he's the sweetest, kindest kid in the world and to have that on him, someone saying he can't learn?

''It's just not true.''

From afar, as the Minnesota Vikings beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, I remember Hester's immediate impact in the NFL. His remarkable return skills so flummoxed the Vikings that they often intentionally kicked the ball out of bounds, field position be damned, just so Hester didn't take one to the proverbial house. But when they switched him to receiver, rumors ran rampant that Hester wasn't smart enough to play the position.

So I -- one of the newest regulars on the Bears beat -- did the obvious: I asked key people that question. It prompted as strong a reaction as I've received on a story in quite some time. That shouldn't come as a surprise because questioning someone's intelligence is inevitably a hot-button topic.

''I don't even want to get into it. I get mad when I hear it,'' receivers coach Darryl Drake said. ''I don't even want to comment on that because it's so unfair. It's so unfair, and it's so untrue.

''That is a sore subject with me.''

Coach Lovie Smith wondered aloud how that perception even emerged.

''Who has said that? I don't know who 'they' is.

''We're not saying that. You talked to the position coach? Coordinator? Quarterback say it? Head coach say it? No one has said it. That's a non-issue. Devin has been outstanding picking things up.''

Smith noted that Hester has been a cornerback, a kickoff and punt returner and a receiver in his four previous NFL seasons.

''How many guys can [play] at corner and receiver?'' Smith said. ''He's picked up everything we've asked him to do.''

The emotions run deep for obvious reasons.

Part of it is because Hester is an athlete, saddled by the prevailing ''dumb jock'' image. It's also na1/8¯ve to not at least wonder if race is a factor. But when I broached the topic with Hester, he never mentioned race. He did say he was thrilled to hear his offensive coordinator come to his defense.

''I'm just happy to hear it from somebody I've been around,'' Hester said. ''For somebody who has really spent time with me, to say something like that ... the truth needs to be spoken.''

Hester somewhat can understand the impatience with his transition from cornerback to receiver, but he can't comprehend why anyone would question his intelligence.

''It bothers me a lot,'' he said. ''I guess people expect me to come in right away and be a receiver, even though I've never played it before.''
That Hester made the honor roll in high school and at the University of Miami doesn't validate his intellectual capacity. He doesn't have a degree from Miami having left school early, but he insisted that he plans to graduate someday.

For now, the premium is on his football smarts, and Martz said he has seen plenty of that. Hester, as Martz previously pointed out, has made the fewest mistakes of any receiver. And four-time Pro Bowl receiver Isaac Bruce said Hester was smart to reach out to him.

Bruce has been impressed with how Hester has handled the offense, including the adjustments.

''He's where he's supposed to be,'' Bruce said, ''with all the other receivers.''

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Leadership just part of the game for Lions rookie Randy Phillips

Allen Park -- What were they really going to find out about Randy Phillips at the East-West Shrine Game? That he's a big, tough safety with just enough athleticism to maybe pique some team's interest?

Heck, the guy played nine games his senior season at the University of Miami last year with a torn labrum and a torn rotator cuff in the same shoulder and made 46 tackles (31 solo) with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

What else was he going to show them in a college all-star game?

And what were they going to find out about him at the scouting combine? What were all those 40-yard dash times, vertical leap scores and bench press statistics going to say about him?

There isn't a single test or drill at that combine that could fully and accurately measure all that's roiling around inside this wise-beyond-his-years 24-year-old Lions rookie from Belle Grade, Fla.

And Phillips knew that, which is why he did what he did with a clear conscience and not a shred of doubt.

The shoulder was torn up early in the season last fall and he was told he had two options -- have surgery right then and miss his senior season, or play through the pain and have the surgery after the season.

He was also told, though, that delaying the surgery until January could be a fatal blow to his draft chances since he likely wouldn't be completely healthy for the East-West game or the combine.

"I knew that if I had the surgery early I'd get drafted," said Phillips, who has been one of the pleasant surprises thus far in the Lions camp. "But I wasn't going to let my teammates down. I was going to be there for the team every step of the way because we were trying to win something big, the ACC championship, and we were in it all the way.

"I had missed the previous year (with a knee injury) and I wasn't about to miss another. I didn't care about the combine or the East-West game or any of that. I just wanted to finish the season with my teammates and try to win as many games as I could for the university. As a leader, they counted on me."

Raising 19 siblings
Was that strength of character going to show up on some psychological evaluation at the combine? Could they have gotten any true sense of his fierce determination and what's fueling it?

Would they have found out that he has 19 siblings and that he and his father raised them alone, without a mother?

Can you measure the maturity that comes with having that kind of responsibility foisted on you at such an early age?

"I've been a leader all my life," he said. "With football, with my family, I mean 19 siblings and it was pretty much just me and my dad -- just growing up the rough way, all the boys and all the girls just looking out for each other and I just tried to be the best, most positive role model I could be."

So use that as a foundation for what's driving Randy Phillips and then, when you see how far he's come and how fast he's come since he showed up four days after training camp started, you won't be surprised.

He wasn't drafted. He wasn't at the Lions rookie mini-camp over the summer. He was called in to participate in the team's three-day mini-camp, but he still wasn't healthy. He still couldn't show fully what he was capable of on the football field.

But four days into camp, with starting free safety Louis Delmas out with a groin injury and veteran Marquand Manuel playing himself off the roster, Phillips got what he was praying for -- a callback, an opportunity.

He was in camp just one day when he was inserted in Delmas' spot with the first-team defense. And he stayed there, and has played well, until now when Delmas is almost healthy enough to reclaim his spot.

"It's just my knowledge, the way I study and work hard and I have athletic ability to make plays," Phillips said. "I just made plays. Other guys had their chance and evidently didn't do their job good enough and the coaches just kept it rolling. With me being athletic and making plays, and him trusting me and knowing what I can do, I was just blessed. It's a great opportunity."

'He's a survivor'
The "him" Phillips speaks of is Lions secondary coach Tim Walton, who recruited him to and coached him at Miami. It was Walton who saw first-hand what the combine could never reveal.

"He's a survivor, man," Walton said. "He learned how to be a survivor and he learned to appreciate the few opportunities that came his way. He's a great character person, a kid that had to grow up early.

"He's serious about what he does, he serious about the game and he's serious about life, and he takes nothing for granted."

Walton and Phillips both made it clear that while Walton may have played a role in Phillips getting the callback, Walton has nothing to do with whether Phillips makes the team or not. That burden is on Phillips.

"He's been a quick study and he's doing a good job," Walton said. "He makes rookie mistakes but he tries to fix them and tries to keep making progress. And that's all we can ask of any of our guys is that they get better every day and not create the same problems over and over."

Here's an example of how Phillips handles a bad practice. On Sunday night he flew to Florida to be with his fiancee as she gave birth to their baby daughter. He was excused from practice and he flew back to Detroit late Monday night. As you might expect, Tuesday morning's practice was a disaster. He got dehydrated, was sick on the field and wound up being taken back to the locker room.

But he was back in the afternoon, picking off two passes in team drills.

"No excuses," he said. "I have to make plays every day."

No ordinary rookie
Phillips is all business around training camp. He arrives early to study film or the playbook and stays late to go over the things, good or bad, that happen at practice. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham knew the first day Phillips arrived that this wasn't an ordinary scared rookie.

"It's funny, I asked him a couple of questions (about the defensive system) while he was stretching (before his first practice) and I almost fell over," Cunningham said. "He knew the answers to every question and they weren't easy questions. You knew right then that he was a smart kid and he'd been coached really well."

Said Phillips, "Whenever you get a chance to have a conversation with a coach and you let them inside your brain instead of them always teaching you, they figure out what type of player you are."

As well as Phillips has played thus far, Walton said nothing is etched in stone. Delmas, if healthy, is the starter; that's not even up for debate. If Phillips is going to make the team, he not only has to stay ahead of the other safeties on the roster, but he has to play well enough so the coaches don't feel compelled to bring in a veteran who may get cut off another team.

"Everybody is fighting to make it and right now everybody has a shot," Walton said. "He just has to keep working and let the chips fall where they may."

Knowing what you know about Randy Phillips, would you bet against him?

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South Broward alum Tamara James returns for alumni game

No matter where in the world Tamara James is playing basketball, the South Broward High grad always checks in with co-head coaches Richard Walker and Sharlene Ferguson to see how her beloved Bulldogs are faring.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, James -- the No. 8 overall pick by the Washington Mystics in the 2006 WNBA Draft -- will see first-hand how this year's team stacks up when she leads a star-studded roster of former Bulldogs standouts in an alumni game at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center gym in Hollywood.

Admission is free.

James, the first Broward girls' player to win three consecutive FHSAA state championships when she led the Bulldogs to titles from 2000-2002, will be joined by, among others: Krystal Saunders, Alicia Harvin, Porsha Holmes, Laquetta Ferguson, Tocarra Williams, Julia Noga, Lashonda Slade, Tynesha Gregory, Telisha Warner, Charlene Wilson, Tonya Holmes, NaTavia Osgood, Tedra Burrows and Shameaka McSwain.

Saunders, the 2010 Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Basketball after leading last year's team to the Class 6A state semifinal, will play for the University of Miami and try to duplicate James' All-American Hurricanes career.

The young guns are led by Danielle Robinson, an All-Broward second-team selection last season, sharp-shooting Kiara Shoats, Elisha Neely, Christelle Willis and Jasmine Walker.

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Yasmani Grandal Signs With Reds

The Reds reached agreement with top draft pick Yasmani Grandal before the Monday midnight deadline.

Grandal, a catcher from the University of Miami and the 12th overall pick, was given a four-year major league contract through the 2013 season. Reports had the deal worth $3 million. Pitcher Mike Leake, the eighth pick overall in 2009, signed for $2.9 million.

The Reds would rather not have put Grandal on the 40-man roster, but he forced their hand, general manager Walt Jocketty said. The Reds will clear a spot on the roster for Grandal later today.

“You’d rather not do that," Jocketty said.

The Reds have given three drafted players big league contracts: Yonder Alonso, David Espinosa and Dane Sardinha. Espinosa and Sardinha were busts.

Grandal has the same agent as Alonso. Alonso got a big-league deal worth $4.55 million two years ago. The difference between now and then is space on the 40-man roster is much tighter.

Could the Reds have gotten the deal done without offering a big league deal?

“I don’t know,” Jocketty said. “It was a tough situation. We decided to do it.”

Grandal will report to Goodyear in the next couple of days.

“He’ll spend a short time at Goodyear, then move onto Billings, then to the Instructional League. We think he’ll move fast,” Jocketty said.

Grandal was in Cincinnati last weekend and passed his physical.

He led the Atlantic Coast Conference in hitting (.412), on-base percentage (.537) and slugging percentage (.730) as a junior. He was named the ACC player of the year. He ranked first on the team with 87 hits and 22 doubles while finishing second in home runs (14) and RBI (56).

The Reds also signed sixth-round pick Drew Cisco, a high school right-hander, to a deal worth $975,000. Cisco is the grandson of former major leaguer Galen Cisco.

Left-handed pitcher Joel Bender, a 27th-round pick from Oak Hills High School, and 28th-round selection Chad Rogers, a right-handed pitcher, were also signed by the Reds organization.

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Rangers sign veteran infielder Alex Cora to provide depth

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Veteran Alex Cora and the Rangers agreed Tuesday to a minor league contract as the American League West leaders made yet another move to help their infield depth.

The move came a day after Joaquin Arias committed two fielding blunders in the eighth inning that fueled a four-run rally for Tampa Bay en route to a 6-4 victory.

Cora, who was released by the New York Mets and became a free agent last week, is expected to join Triple-A Oklahoma City today. With Ian Kinsler and Cristian Guzman on the disabled list and faith dwindling in Arias, Cora could join the Rangers within a week.

"Our guys have liked Cora for some time," general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's sure-handed, has been there in the past and has an impeccable reputation as a teammate."

Cora is a 13-year veteran who was hitting .207 in 169 at-bats when the Mets cut him loose. He has made the postseason four times and won a World Series ring in 2007 with Boston.

The Rangers could add him to the 40-man and 25-man rosters by simply parting ways with Arias, who misplayed a popup in the eighth inning and tried to turn a double play on a slow ground ball with speedy runners.

Outs on those two plays would have resulted in a scoreless inning and a potential victory for left-hander Cliff Lee.\

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