Jimmy Graham gets Saints' position players back in books

TE Jimmy Graham is the first Saints skill position player to score a TD in the Pro Bowl since WR Joe Horn hauled in a 12-yard TD pass from Brad Johnson on Feb. 2, 2003. Graham hauled in a second-quarter TD pass from teammate Drew Brees.

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Reggie Wayne on Colts offseason: 'It's like a soap opera'

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne has been on the outside looking in during what has started out to be a dramatic offseason in Indianapolis.

Wayne has put distance between himself and the Peyton Manning-Jim Irsay melodrama by spending much of his time at his offseason home in Miami. Just like any other casual observer, Wayne has been getting most of his information through the media, and said he doesn't know what else is in store for the Colts these next few months.

"I have no clue, man," Wayne told The Indianapolis Star this week. "I'm leaning on you guys (the media). You're all saying it's a new regime and that's what it is.

"This is one time all of the players are outside of the loop, even 18 (quarterback Peyton Manning). Nobody has a clue."

The Star reported that the Colts' flurry of moves this past month -- the ouster of team executives Bill and Chris Polian, the firing of head coach Jim Caldwell and the subsequent hiring of Chuck Pagano -- have forced Wayne to spend more time than normal on his couch.

"It's like a soap opera," Wayne said. "You're wondering, 'OK, what's next?'

"You hear something, then you see it on the ticker, that the Colts are doing this or that. At one point we were thinking Jim Tressel was going to be the coach. All of a sudden it's Chuck Pagano."

Wayne is one of 19 plays on the Colts' roster set to hit unrestricted free agency in March, but he told the Star that he still thinks there's room for a few veterans on a rebuilding squad.

"Even if you're rebuilding, you still are going to need some of the old heads around," Wayne said. "There are going to be guys from the old team on the new team. Do I think I can play on this team? I do."

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Vince Wilfork leads the way for revived Patriots defense

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is not an easy man to move. That’s especially true this season because you can’t get him off the field.

Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com notes that Wilfork played 51.8% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2009. That’s fairly typical for any run-stuffing nose tackle, especially one comically listed at 325 pounds. (He’s probably closer to 400 than 300 pounds.)

In 2010, Wilfork’s snap total went up to 69.8%. By this season, Wilfork was up to 86%. In the AFC title game, Wilfork played 67 of 70 snaps. That’s 95.7%.

You can measure leadership in a lot of ways. Wilfork leads by making his presence known almost every snap. He leads by playing more than younger counterparts like Haloti Ngata.

“He leads the way for us on defense,’’ coach Bill Belichick said after the win over Baltimore. “Vince is obviously our most experienced player and he’s been a great leader, great captain all year. His leadership has been tremendous.”

Wilfork was a valuable rookie on the last Patriots title team in 2004. That was a veteran-laden defense on the tail end of a dynasty. This time is different. This is Wilfork’s defense, Wilfork’s time. Now in his eighth season, the 30-year-old is in that career sweet spot where experience and talent meet up perfectly.

Wilfork’s performance against the Ravens was one for the ages: Six tackles, four hurries, three tackles for loss, and a sack. Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe says Wilfork was double or tripled teamed ten times.

“To be honest with you, Vince was ready last week to play this game,’’ linebacker Jerod Mayo said after defeating Baltimore. “He has a ring and no one else on this defense has a ring. And he just expressed the joy that you would get from winning this game and he’s not a liar.”

We are struck by Wilfork’s versatility. He has played defensive end instead of nose tackle quite a bit in the playoffs. He is rushing the passer in addition to being the team’s best run stopper. He’s even picked off two passes this year. (And he knows what to do with the ball.)

New England’s defensive line has put together its two best performances of the season in successive weeks. In a game where the Patriots struggle to match up with the Giants in many areas, don’t be surprised if New England’s defensive line creates all sorts of problems against a shaky New York offensive line.

Vince Wilfork will be leading the way. You can’t get him off the field, and you can’t block him either.

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Ray Lewis Inspires Ravens for 2012

The post-game speech Ray Lewis gave in the locker room after the loss to New England in the AFC title game already has received lots of attention. He didn’t talk long, just over a minute, but it was a very interesting way to start the transition into 2012. 

In the moments after a crushing loss like that, someone should step up and be a leader in a locker room—high school, college, professional or whatever. Lewis sets the tone for the defense and the team. He did it again with the emotional speech. 

Lewis told the defense and the rest of the Ravens they had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and to remember that only one team wins the championship. He implored Joe Flacco not to be down because he played a certain part of his body off. 

He also said this also would motivate them going forward.

“Every time you go through something like this, it has to drive you,” Lewis said when talking to the media after the game. “I truly believe that it is the only thing that makes people great. It’s not the ones that’s always winning that people remember. It’s the ones that go through tough times.”

And the Ravens have been through a few of those, even though they’re respected as one of the NFL’s top franchise. 

But now they’ve got something to drive them while working for next year. Lewis said he’ll certainly be motivated. 

“As a team, we have been through every up and down roller-coaster through this journey, but for us to be here now, I’m hungry again,” Lewis said. “I’m thirsty again. Life offers too much, it really does. 

Take a few seconds and look at Lewis’ post-game remark to the team. And listen to how quiet it is in that locker room. That’s where the value of a leader like Lewis can be measured. You can hear a pin drop while he's speaking.

The team paid attention to his message. The frustration of that loss will be around for awhile. But it will make them work that much harder, and the players would have been motivated anyway. Lewis just gave them a little extra push and quietly made them realize that 2011 was done, and it’s time for 2012. 

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Dean Pees expect Ed Reed to return in 2012

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees confirmed that the Ravens expect FS Ed Reed to return to the team next season.

''I expect everybody to be back, absolutely,'' Pees said. ''There’s not one guy in that room that I don’t want." It's starting to sound like all of the Ravens defensive leaders, including Jarrett Johnson, could return to the team next season. Johnson is likely to see an increase from the $3.5 million he earned in 2011.

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Rob Chudzinski, Panthers able to move forward together

The filling of the last remaining NFL head-coaching vacancy Thursday — the Buccaneers' hiring of Greg Schiano — was welcomed news for the Panthers. They had been closely monitoring the Bucs' exhaustive search, which included an interview with Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

Head coach Ron Rivera told PFW earlier this month that Carolina would "still have the same players and pretty much the same scheme" next season no matter what happened with Chudzinski, but Rivera admitted during his time in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl that the Panthers had been putting off some of their offseason work until they had clarity on Chudzinski's future.

It appears he will be staying put after also interviewing for the Rams' and Jaguars' jobs, although there will be plenty of speculation about his future again next season if the Panthers' offense continues to soar.

Chudzinski has become one of the league's high-profile assistants because of his work with Cam Newton and the dramatic improvement in Carolina's offense last season, but he has been a coordinator at the pro level for only three seasons and never has been a head coach at any level. The Bucs, Rams and Jaguars all hired someone with head-coaching experience.

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Earl Monroe, Clinton Portis on All-Monument Team

Park yourself right there and check out Page 2's All-Monument Team. We won't even charge admission, check your permits or trash your campsite.

Tommy Bridges: Thomas Jefferson Davis Bridges is a relatively unknown but impressive figure in baseball history, having earned his way into six All-Star Games in a 16-year career (1930-46). Likewise, Natural Bridges National Monument is a hidden gem. Located in Utah, it includes the second and third largest natural bridges in the world.

Anthony McHenry: Fort McHenry was the site of a British bombing raid in the War of 1812 that inspired another national institution, the "Star-Spangled Banner." Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer negotiating a POW swap with the Brits, was aboard one of Her Majesty's ships in September of 1814 when he saw an American flag emerge from the fort in Baltimore. He put pen to paper and gave generations of American sports fans a pregame ritual in the process. Our friend Anthony McHenry isn't quite as famous, but he did play about 18 minutes a game in helping the Georgia Tech basketball team make the NCAA championship game in 2004.

Earl Monroe: Fort Monroe is the newest national monument, having just been designated as such in November. It is one of the oldest places in the land, as Captain John Smith spent considerable time there in the early 1600s. And Earl "The Pearl," as any basketball historian knows, has been enshrined as an iconic figure in the game for decades.

John Newberry: Here's a guy who stamped his passport a fair amount. The center played pro hockey in six countries -- the Unted States, Canada, England, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland. He chased the dream enough to get into 22 NHL games and probably would have slept overnight in the Newberry Volcanic National Monument if he had needed to ply his trade in central Oregon. The monument is in the Deschutes National Forest.

Clinton Portis: The Broncos and Redskins running back turned the nearby Meadowlands into his own Castle Clinton, averaging 80 yards a game in nine contests at the Jets and Giants. As to the castle, it was built in 1811 to protect lower Manhattan from those nasty British, who weren't taking too well to this notion of the United States of America.

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Vince Wilfork looks to end strong season with NFL title

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Try to shove massive Vince Wilfork out of the middle. Tough to do, isn’t it?

The 325-pound Pro Bowl tackle keeps sticking around.

Wilfork is the only defensive starter left from the New England Patriots last Super Bowl team four years ago. This season, he’s rarely come off the field. And why should he?

He’s earned all that playing time by crunching runners, charging quarterbacks and clogging holes that offensive linemen struggle to open.

“He’s been huge,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Vince has had a great year for us. He’s had obviously a great career, had an outstanding year last year, but this year it’s even gone a step higher.”

Now he has a chance to reach the top in one climactic game.

Wilfork, as usual, will be in the center of the action at the Super Bowl against the New York Giants on Feb. 5.

“I don’t care how many Super Bowls you’ve been to or won. Every chance (you) get to play at this level is the biggest game of your career,” he said, but “it’s still a football game and they’re going to have to line up between the lines and play.

“I think the more we can focus on that end and just block everything else out the better we’ll be as a team. But it’s no question in my mind, these guys will do that.”

The leadership and inspiration Wilfork provides as a captain — with his hard-hitting play as much as his soft voice — pushes teammates to compete despite season-long criticism of their defense that allowed the second most yards in the regular season.

But runners who challenge the heart of that defense encounter Wilfork’s wide body.

“He is definitely hard to move,” Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said. “He is strong and he is quick for his size. You can’t (figure out) one way where he is going to this or he is going to that. He is not one-dimensional. He makes it really hard for people to figure out how they are going to block him.”

In the 23-20 win over Baltimore in the AFC championship game, Wilfork had one sack and six tackles, including a stop of Ray Rice for a 3-yard loss that might have pushed the Ravens out of field-goal range with about 3 minutes left.

Wilfork has been primarily a nose tackle since being drafted out of Miami with the 21st pick in 2004. But this season he also lined up at end and tackle in a 4-3 alignment. And he has developed into an every-down player.

“You rarely see a defensive lineman playing 90 percent of the snaps,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “He’s one of those guys, I don’t want to say his weight on camera, but he’s a big guy, you can all see that. That’s very impressive in its own right.”

So are his imitations of fleet, 180-pound cornerbacks.

Wilfork, athletic and fast despite his size, had the first two interceptions of his career in the first four games this season. He rambled 36 yards with the first to set up a field goal on the last play before halftime of a 35-21 win over San Diego. Two weeks later he grabbed another pass, returning it 19 yards in the fourth quarter of a 31-19 win over Oakland.

“Legendary,” Belichick called those picks.

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Santana Moss selling $5.2M house for $2.3M

Did you buy a house in 2006 at the top of the housing bubble? You still living in that house? You paying on a house that’s $3mm underwater? Would you blame Santana Moss if he quit paying on his house near Ft. Lauderdale? Not us. Dude has to be careful with his cash. Losing that house doesn’t mean much. But, it’s another thing that the IRS wants money Moss seems to owe them. That’s a double whammy for a dude who got a $5mm signing bonus last summer. As for the pad that he bought in 2006, he’s been trying to sell it since May 2011. Now, the South Florida Business Journal says the bank is coming to get paid. So it is surprising that Duetsche Bank, representing a mortgage-backed securities (MBS) trust, would allege that Moss has gone into default on a mortgage issued for $3.64 million in 2006. Further compounding his trouble, the IRS filed a $258,017 tax lien in November in Broward County Circuit Court against Moss. It concerned his taxes from 2006. ...

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Reggie Wayne makes a classroom call

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne visited IPS School 14 Thursday and read to a kindergarten class with an E-reader as part of Verizon’s $46K for 46 Play” Super Bowl XLVI grant program.

Colts players are always interacting in the community, but Wayne is one of my favorite go-to guys and I thought it worth a mention that he helped celebrate a rewarding venture — The IPS Education Foundation received the single-largest grant of $20,000. The release (thank you, Kyle Niederpruem!) advised that half of that money will go to the foundation and the other half will be invested in E-readers for children at Washington Irving School 14.

Verizon also donated 571 NFL-Verizon knit caps for every child in school Thursday. Wayne put one on to show they were cool.

Teacher Janet Joern’s class enjoyed a bit of intimate time with Wayne as he read to them from an E-reader.

Now, if the Colts will just re-sign Wayne, who is about to become a free agent in the offseason, we all can appreciate his company more in the future.

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Vince Wilfork playing for his parents

Vince Wilfork balances an abundance of excitement with equal measure of regret.

As the New England Patriots defensive mainstay prepares for Super Bowl XLVI, the four-time Pro Bowl lineman cannot help but mourn anew the loss of his parents, who died a little more than six months apart when he was a sophomore at the University of Miami in 2002.

He was so overwhelmed by the loss he wanted to quit the game.

Now Wilfork, 30, described by safety James Ihedigbo as the “heart and soul” of New England’s resurgent defense, prepares to lead the Patriots in a rematch of their 17-14 Super Bowl XLII loss to the New York Giants that prevented a perfect season.

“This is one of those games where I would love for them to be there with their 75 jerseys on. I would love for them to see their son play in the biggest game in history,” he said. “It doesn’t get any bigger than the Super Bowl.”

The stage in Indianapolis will reopen those wounds.

David Sr. died of kidney failure at 48 on June 2, 2002, after suffering from diabetes for many years. Barbara, 46, died Dec. 16, of complications following a stroke.

Wilfork, who is 6-2 and 325 pounds, has understood since then how important it is to make the most of every day, every opportunity. He plays every play as if it is his last. A tattoo on one arm reads: “One life.” On the other: “To live.” On one forearm: “RIP Mom.” On the other: “RIP Dad.”

He always was big for his age. He told his father when he was 4 that he would play in the NFL, a conviction that always was encouraged. As he grew up and began to excel on the field, he became more and more certain he would see that day.

And less certain his father would be there to celebrate.

His childhood was hardly carefree. His father was diagnosed with diabetes when Wilfork and his older brother, David, now 32, were in grammar school. The disease became increasingly debilitating.

While Barbara worked as part of an unending struggle to pay bills, the boys devoted time after school to make sure their father had his insulin. They made certain he was washed when he was too weak to help himself.

As sick as he was, their father always commanded respect. When Wilfork had academic deficiencies before he started his collegiate career, David Sr. saw to it that they were corrected. When the Hurricanes won the national championship in the youngster’s freshman season, the ring meant as much to the father as it did the son.

When David was gravely ill at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in their hometown of Boynton Beach, Fla., Wilfork rushed to his side to place that ring on one of his fingers. It would be the final expression of his love.

‘Everything stopped’

Although his father had been ill for so long, Wilfork struggled to cope with his death.

“My everything not breathing,” he said. “It hit me and it hurt me.

“I wasn’t ready for him to go yet, because I had plans. I was going to go to the NFL. I was going to get you in a nice house.”

It helped somewhat that, the night his father was buried, his girlfriend, Bianca, now wife of eight years, learned she was pregnant. They have three children: D’Aundre, 14; Destiny Barbara, 8; and David Dream Angel, 2.

Wilfork drew much closer to his mother in the next few months, only to receive two phone calls he will never forget. First, she suffered a stroke. Five weeks later, after she appeared to be recovering, she died from a blood clot to her heart.

“It was very unexpected,” Bianca said. “I think that’s what hit Vince the hardest. … To this day, we just say she died of a broken heart.”
Wilfork again found himself at Bethesda Memorial Hospital.

“It was like I saw my father all over again. They put my mother in the same exact room,” he said. “My mind was blown. Are you serious right now?

“It was like everything stopped. Nothing mattered in my life because the two best things going for me, not including my girlfriend, are gone.”

Without either parent in the stands, he wanted no part of football. Bianca spoke to him. His Miami teammates appealed to him as their national championship game against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl neared. There was no reaching him.

Finally, defensive line coach Greg Mark broke through. According to Wilfork, players had disrespected Mark for a good part of the season. He did not always watch film with them and appeared to be in a hurry to end his day.

Mark confided in Wilfork that his wife was battling cancer. He spoke of the need for both of them to persevere. He urged the grief-stricken sophomore to dedicate his play to his parents from that point.

Perhaps that is why Wilfork, drafted 21st overall in 2004 and a factor when New England completed a run of three Super Bowls in four seasons that year, tosses other 300-pound men like rag dolls. Perhaps that is why he consistently commands, and often defeats, double teams that create opportunities for teammates to make stops.

Keeping them close

The eight-year veteran keeps a gold medallion, a gift from Bianca, which contains a photo of his parents that was taken at their high school prom. It constantly reminds him that all of his sweat is for them.

For the length of the game, that motivation turns a gentle, soft-spoken man into a rampaging lineman who refuses to allow anyone or anything to get in the way of a revenge-minded team that takes a 15-3 record into the Super Bowl.

“He is definitely two different people,” Bianca said. “For as aggressive, monsterish, what a beast, whatever you want to call him on the field, it’s the polar opposite at home. He cooks, he cleans, he changes diapers.”

Wilfork has never forgotten those hometown fans who dismissed him when he told them he would compete in the NFL.

“A lot of people doubted me. I love making people eat their words,” he said, his voice rising. “You do not tell me what I can or cannot do. If I put my mind to it, I can do whatever I want.”

He has enough fire to spur a defense that surrendered yards in chunks during the regular season (it ranked next to last in total defense with 411.1 yards and passing yards with 293.9) but has stepped up in the playoffs. First, a 45-10 rout of quarterback Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in the divisional round; then critical stops in a 23-20 thriller vs. the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

“That’s our leader,” said Ihedigbo (ee-HEAD-dee-bow). “Him and (linebacker Jerod Mayo) are the leaders of the defense. We fall in and follow them from the first snap.”

As they followed him this season, Wilfork earned a third consecutive Pro Bowl berth. He finished the regular season with 74 tackles, a career-high 3½ sacks, eight quarterback hits, his first two career interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, including one in the end zone for a score in a 34-27 win at the Washington Redskins on Dec. 11.

With New York known for its ultraphysical play, New England will look to Wilfork, with his massive girth, to set a tone that will allow the Patriots to at least match the Giants’ muscle. One of the keys will be whether New England can handle New York’s solid offensive line well enough to exert pressure on Eli Manning, who joined the ranks of elite quarterbacks by passing for a franchise-record 4,933 yards.

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, thrown into the mix in a depleted secondary, is confident Wilfork will be so disruptive that he will create pass-rushing lanes.

“He goes out there and leads by his actions,” Edelman said. “And that’s what you want in a leader: a guy who goes out there and makes plays. And that’s what Big V does.”

A prized Patriot

How much longer Big V does it for the Patriots is not in question.

New England is known for allowing high-profile players to leave rather than awarding them large contracts.

Wilfork? Coach Bill Belichick viewed him as a keeper, and ownership responded before the 2010 season by giving Wilfork a contract worth $40 million over five years with $25 million guaranteed.

Belichick, who emphasizes versatility, notes he can use Wilfork at any of the defensive line positions.

“I think the most important thing is just the way he goes about it,” the coach said. “He doesn’t talk as much as just demonstrate how to prepare, how to practice, how to do your job, how to communicate the different line calls.”

The Patriots monitor Wilfork for any sign of diabetes or other issues. He avoids fried food but acknowledges his weight tends to balloon to as much as 350 when he is less active during the offseason. He thinks his ability to shed pounds whenever he ends his career will be critical to his long-term health.

“I want to see what my parents didn’t see — grandkids,” he said.

This has been a particularly challenging season. Through it all, Wilfork called on younger teammates to have his type of mental toughness and keep the faith that it would improve.

“A lot of times he doesn’t get the attention he deserves because of that offense,” said former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, a teammate from 2004 to 2008 and now an NBC analyst. “But they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in right now without him.”

That gold medallion is sure to be with Wilfork when he arrives at Lucas Oil Stadium. He feels his parents will be there in spirit.

“They will have the best seat in the house,” he said.

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Zach Railey takes Finn Gold

The 2008 Olympic Silver medalist Zach Railey (USA) has started 2012 in the best possible way by dominating and winning the Rolex Miami OCR, the second event in the 2012 ISAF Sailing World Cup series.

Though numbers were down following the recent Perth 2011 ISAF World Sailing Championships, the front of the fleet was still very competitive with an Olympic medalist and a double world champion slugging it out for most of the week. At 26 boats it was also the same size fleet that will be at the Olympics this coming August, so it was good small fleet practice for many.

With a week of near perfect sailing conditions, Railey opened his series with three race wins. Afer that he never slipped below third in any of the next seven races and went into the medal race with a commanding 12 point lead. He won that as well to take the tally to seven and become the clear winner with a 18 point margin over the runner up.

Double world champion Jonas Hogh-Christensen (DEN) only managed to win one race all week, but a long string of second and third place finishes ensured he took home the silver medal, while third placed Greg Douglas (CAN) started the week badly with a black flag but was soon moving up the rankings with some good results, including a win in race eight.

Fourth placed Brendan Casey (AUS) – who had filled third place for most of the week – also won two races, but five races outside the top three, as well as a poor medal race cost him dearly. He only lost the bronze on countback to Douglas.

Douglas said, 'I am very happy with my event, having started with a black flag to end up third overall. It is only my second medal race - my first was at Delta Lloyd last year. The medal race is very tough because people are always changing positions in the race which effects their overall score.'

'The main thing I took away from this event is that every place counts. No matter what happens you have to push hard in every race to gain places because the points at the end will be close.'

Railey summed up his week. 'The regatta was great for training and racing with good wind and long courses. We sailed mostly in 8 to 16 knots so it was very hard work physically with free pumping and up to 1.5 mile legs. The top boats were always close so it was great racing and very hard physically pushing against each other.'

And going forward, 'We will just keep working on our goals and taking steps forward toward Weymouth. This event was a good measure for us in a number of areas we wanted to focus on and it gives me a lot of confidence we are moving in the correct direction.'

The Finn class has a very busy early part of the season. The European season will start early with the Semaine Internationale de Cannes from the 14-17 February, followed by the Athens Eurolymp from 4-8 March and then the increasingly popular Split Olympic Week from 7-11 March. The fleet then moves to Scarlino in Italy for the Senior and Junior European Championships from 19-24 March. Then it is off to Palma and Hyeres, before the Finn Gold Cup in Falmouth, UK, the second and final country qualification regatta for Olympics.

Results (medal race in brackets)
1 USA 4 Zach Railey 15 (1)
2 DEN 2 Jonas Hogh Christensen 33 (4)
3 CAN 5 Greg Douglas 45 (3)
4 AUS 1 Brendan Casey 45 (8)
5 USA 11 Caleb Paine 48 (5)
6 CAN 902 Brendan Wilton 58 (2)
7 CAN 110 Martin Robitaille 71 (9)
8 EST 11 Lauri Vainsalu 92 (DNF)
9 NOR 1 Anders Pedersen 100 (7)
10 USA 21 Gordon Lamphere 101 (6)

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Danny Valencia vows he will be better all around

After committing 18 errors last year -- the most for a Twins third baseman since Gary Gaetti made 18 errors in 1990 -- Danny Valencia started his offseason with some homework.

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Jon Jay and friends roll strikes for charity

MIAMI -- Baseball players are known for knocking in runs, but a bunch of them were focused on knocking down pins for charity on Saturday night.

Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay hosted the Jon Jay Celebrity Bowling Challenge at Lucky Strike Lanes in Miami Beach to help raise money for Chapman Partnership, the private sector partner of Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, commissioned to site, build, and operate two homeless centers in downtown Miami and Homestead.

"My family has always talked about doing something like this," Jay said. "We've always been involved with charity and helping out -- and in St. Louis, I am involved with stuff. But I've never done my own event. So many things have happened that I have been fortunate for in my life, so I felt like now was the perfect time to get everyone together and get this going."

With so many potential causes to choose from, Jay could have had a hard time choosing one to support. But his family's involvement with Chapman Partnership made the choice easy.

"Jon's family has served meals at our center in the evenings for a long time," said Dan Vincent, executive director of Chapman Partnership. "When Jon talked about wanting to give back to the community, we were very privileged to have him choose Chapman to do it. He's been over to tour and he's been hanging out with our kids, even today. We're just privileged to be the benefiting charity of his first event."

Over 200 people came out to help Jay's Celebrity Bowling Challenge raise an estimated $25,000. All proceeds from the event will help Chapman Partnership provide housing, food, health care, dental care, psychiatric care, job training, case management and child care to 756 men, women and children daily in the greater Miami area.

"We feel that Jon has been really blessed," said Jay's father, Justo. "He always put in his work, and now things have worked out in his life that he should be giving back to others. The Chapman Partnership in downtown needs the help and support. There are people who are living in the streets, and we are helping them get off the streets, find jobs and [have] beds to sleep in. It's not just adults, too, because there are children involved in it. I really feel very proud of Jon for this kind of achievement. It's not enough to be a great baseball player and not have a heart for other people and forget about where he could be. We're very proud of Jon for doing this."

The Celebrity Bowling Challenge was Jay's first charity event, and he called on some of his best friends in baseball to help him raise money for the worthy cause.

Joining Jay on the lanes were over 20 big leaguers -- including Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso, Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, Nationals pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Drew Storen and first baseman Chris Marrero, Cardinals infielder Tyler Greene, outfielder Allen Craig and pitcher Lance Lynn, Phillies outfielder John Mayberry and Orioles prospect Manny Machado. Former Marlins infielder Mike Lowell and Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh were also in attendance on Saturday night.

Gonzalez bowled a 176 to help lead his team to the championship, but the newest Nationals pitcher was just happy to support Jay's event.

"Without hesitation, I told Jon I would be here," Gonzalez said. "The first thing I asked was if I could start a team. When he said 'Yes,' I told him I would donate as much as he wanted. It's always a pleasure to give back to those in your hometown. I always like doing stuff like this. I told Jon that I'll be at the next event, too."

Several players in attendance have known Jay since their days on the youth fields in Miami. Arencibia is one of those players who has a lifelong friendship with Jay, and he knew the support for anything Jay put together would be overwhelming.

"Jon Jay is one of the best, most first-class guys you'll ever meet," Arencibia said. "He's one of my best friends in baseball. He's one of the most humble guys, and one of the hardest workers. Any time that he is going to ask for something, you know it's something good. To be able to get together like this, it shows how much respect people have for Jon Jay, and the respect we all have for each other as baseball players. We all want to help each other give back, and it's great that we're all here for this great cause."

Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez was Jay's teammate at the University of Miami, and he did not hesitate to help his friend raise money for those in need.

"Everybody here is happy to support Jay," Sanchez said. "He's a great guy, and he wants to give back to the community. I'd do anything for him. When you come out of UM, you have those lifelong friends. And when they call you, you always go do it. We've always spoken about doing things together, and he's taken the initiative to start this event and pave the way for all of us to come out and help the great cause."

While there was a large collection of big league talent showcasing their bowling skills, Jay said there were several others who were disappointed to learn they would have to miss the event, due to scheduling conflicts.

"There are a lot of other guys who couldn't make it because they had to be somewhere," Jay said. "They were upset that they couldn't make it. But hopefully, this will continue to grow. This is my first one -- and hopefully we can do this for a long time down here.

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All Canes Radio With Earl Little

Every Thursday Night proCanes.com joins All Canes Radio to bring the latest news on not only current Hurricane football but also proCane news and exclusive interviews with current and former proCanes live from the Titanic Brewery in Coral Gables. Click here to listen to this week’s show and hear our exclusive interview with former Hurricane great proCane DB Earl Little. Little talks about his relationship with Ray Lewis, his days with the Cleveland Browns, new Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano, who he played under both at UM and in Cleveland and much more!

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Jon Jay's Celebrity Bowling Challenge

proCane EVENT of the WEEK:

Head over to the Jon Jay's Celebrity Bowling Challenge where you will be able to bowl not only with Jon Jay but many former Hurricane Greats, current proCanes and MLB stars! Tickets are only $100 and can be purchased here.

Jon Jay's Celebrity Bowling Challenge
Saturday, January 28, 2012 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM (ET)
Miami Beach, FL


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Kellen Winslow wanted Chudzinski to coach the Bucs

Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow isn't necessarily complaining about the team's decision to hire former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.  After all, Schiano spent a couple of years as the defensive coordinator at the place where Winslow was once a f–king soldier.

But Winslow would have preferred another coach with connections to the "U" — Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

In a Thursday interview with Adam Schein and Rich Gannon of Sirius NFL Radio, Winslow mentioned at least three times that he wanted Chudzinski.  "I was really hoping for Coach Chudzinski who I was with at Miami and Cleveland," Winslow said.  "But, you know, we got another guy in Greg Schiano who I know and heard he's one of the best coaches people have been around.  And he's got a lot of enthusiasm and [is] real energetic so I'm excited, man."

But Winslow wanted someone who could give the Tampa offense an enema.  "Just a guy that could come in and take over and get this offense going," Winslow said.  "And, you know, I mean, he's been top of the league past seasons, Chud I'm talking about.  You got Cam Newton going over there and their offense rolling over there and they're a much better team for it.  Just past connections and I know what offense he runs and love his offense obviously."

So what does Winslow think about Schiano?

"I'm happy with Greg Schiano," Winslow said.  "You know, I was just kinda hoping that it would be Chud.  But Greg Schiano is fine with me, man."

It sounds like one of Schiano's first challenges will be to find an offensive coordinator who makes Winslow forget about Chudzinski.

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Colin McCarthy Will Anchor LBs for the Titans

LB Colin McCarthy may anchor the LB corps for years. In just his third career start, McCarthy earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after a win over Buffalo. The former University of Miami LB registered 11 tackles, two fumble recoveries and forced a fumble. McCarthy impressed his teammates with his passion for the game.

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Vince Wilfork will give Giants' offensive line a challenge in Super Bowl

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Vince Wilfork’s teammates know what Vince Wilfork’s opponents see, and they don’t envy the guys lining up across from him.

“They’ve got a load,” New England Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson said about the Giants’ offensive line. “Quick. His size, he looks like he might be slow if you don’t know him, but once he gets on the field ....”

The Baltimore Ravens could finish that thought, after the Patriots’ (generously listed) 325-pound defensive lineman took over the AFC Championship Game last week. The game was vindication for a 31st-ranked Patriots defense that had been doubted and criticized all season, deemed unfit to make the Super Bowl, even with Tom Brady on the other side of the ball.

And leading the charge was Wilfork, the “elder statesman” as coach Bill Belichick called him, with a sack, three tackles for a loss and two key plays that suffocated a critical fourth-quarter drive by the Ravens.

He lined up not just inside but also at end. He ate up double and triple teams. And he is now the problem of the Giants’ offensive line.
“I play hard every week,” Wilfork said. “Sometimes I make plays that are noticeable, and sometimes I don’t. Last week was one of those things where the plays I made were pretty good plays. But we have to turn the chapter.”

Except Belichick thought Sunday’s performance was something extra special for Wilfork, “one of his best games” in eight seasons as a Patriot — making sure to note he’s had a lot of good ones.

Belichick cited the infamous wild-card playoff loss to the Ravens in the 2009 season, when Wilfork excelled despite the outcome. Sunday, Belichick said, was reminiscent. With the Ravens in Patriots territory late in the fourth quarter, Wilfork tackled running back Ray Rice for a loss on third down, then plowed back the center to pressure Joe Flacco into an incompletion on fourth down.

It was a critical and possibly game-saving stop by the man who has been the center of New England’s defense — not just physically. Wilfork often leads by example, and he notes that he does not have a flashy sack dance (nor interception dance, though he did have two picks early this season).

But he knows how to resonate with his teammates. Anderson, in his first season with the team, said Wilfork coaches him on the field. Safety Patrick Chung recalls instances when he has given up a deep play, and Wilfork was the first to approach him.

“He has straight trust for everybody,” Chung said. “He would just say, ‘Hey, I’m trusting you,’ and that was it. He has that effect on guys where he is like, I trust you to make plays.”

It is evident in Wilfork’s reluctance to talk about his performance Sunday but yet in turn gush about what this defense has achieved. He calls the Patriots a “special bunch — and at the end of the day, it’s going to be a special team,” he said.

“Even when things weren’t going well, you could easily sit back and say, ‘You know what, screw it, they’re right. We’re just going to continue to (stink) and pack it in,’ ” Wilfork said of the defense’s ups and downs. “But these guys fought. They fought.”

Wilfork got used to winning early in his football career. At the University of Miami, his team reached the national championship game both his freshman and sophomore seasons, winning one title. Then, he won a Super Bowl as an NFL rookie. It now has been been seven years without a title.

“For me, it was like, ‘I could get used to this. I do this all the time. I’m used to winning,’ ” Wilfork said. “But a couple years went by, and I saw how hard it was to get to this level. And in ’07 of course, going and losing, that’s a tough, tough feeling. But every chance you get, a chance to be in this situation, is special. It’s very special. Win or lose.”

Much more so if you win, of course. And to do so, the Patriots need Wilfork to have a game as big as his imposing frame. Left tackle Matt Light is just thankful he doesn’t have to block him.

“Look, we hope the big man has the game of his life,” Light said. “And I’m sure he will.”

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Bryant McKinnie sees himself as long-time Raven

Ravens LT Bryant McKinnie envisions himself in Baltimore for a long time as long as he can "stay fresh."

The 32-year-old is signed through the 2012 season. Cut from the Vikings for arriving to camp near 400 pounds, McKinnie solidified Joe Flacco's blindside even if he graded out well below average in run blocking, per Pro Football Focus. He wants to stay with the Ravens because his teammates are "professionals" and "act as a team."

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Texans 'won't break the bank' for Chris Myer

The Texans "won't break the bank" to keep free agents C Chris Myers, RG Mike Brisiel, TE Joel Dreessen, and K Neil Rackers, according to the Houston Chronicle.

That doesn't mean the Texans won't make every effort to retain the foursome, but they're already up against the salary cap with Mario Williams and Arian Foster as the top priorities. Myers was arguably the top center in the NFL in 2011, though he's a purely a fit for zone-blocking teams.

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Patriots' use of Vince Wilfork remains unpredictable

Patriots DT Vince Wilfork can line up at DE in a 3-4. “You’re just sliding him out and he’ll be on (RT) Kareem (McKenzie),” RG Chris Snee said. “That’s if they run that 3-4-style defense. That could have been something they did for that Baltimore team and just did it so we’d prepare for it. You never know what’s going on.”

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Antrel Rolle sounds humbler this time

Before playing the New England Patriots back in Week 9, Antrel Rolle was the one who said the Giants’ opponents on their schedule should fear them. He was the one who called pesky slot receiver Wes Welker human, and the one who labeled the Patriots’ inflated offense “nothing spectacular.”

“I’m confident every week,” Rolle said back then. “That’s who I am.”

Today, the same man stood before reporters with the same opponent looming. But in a way, it didn’t sound like the same brash Giants safety from a few weeks ago.

“I get extremely nervous, I get extremely nervous before playing games, sometimes to the point where I feel like I can’t even stand up,” Rolle said in the middle of a bustling Giants locker room today. “It can be going against whoever, and I’ll still feel the same way.”

With the Patriots circling back for another crack at the Giants, it seems Rolle has taken a different approach, from decidedly confident to tacitly humble. Despite beating New England, 24-20, Rolle said there’s no confidence to be gained from that. After heading home to Florida for a brief recess following the NFC Championship Game victory, he said he touched down at the airport and immediately sharpened his focus.

Nothing about the Giants’ improbable five-game winning streak makes him feel invincible, he swears, adding that “you never feel like you can’t lose. You can only feel like you prepared yourself enough.

“That means absolutely nothing at this point,” Rolle said of beating the Patriots back in early November. “That was a game back then. You hear people talking about (Tom) Brady, saying he’s not on his game, he’s not this; that means absolutely nothing. We all know what Brady can do; we all know what he’s capable of.

“They’ve won 10 straight — that’s something that’s going to be our focus point.”

Perhaps it’s because Rolle has lost in a Super Bowl before (with the Arizona Cardinals, in Super Bowl XLIII). He’s gone through this process and come home empty-handed. He was careful not to downplay any member of the Patriots today, including the matchup nightmares of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

When asked about Brady, Rolle said: “I don’t think you can actually take his strengths away from him. We just have to be exceptionally good at what we’re doing.”

After his session was up, Rolle jogged quickly out of the locker room, taking a brief moment to show off his own brand of T-shirts — one of which he was wearing. He plugged the website where one could purchase such things and said he’ll try to sell some in Indianapolis next week.
But he left behind no traces of his trademark confidence.

“We understand what’s ahead of us,” Rolle said. “But at the same time, we can’t get away from what we’ve been doing and what’s been successful.”

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Tony Dungy, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham and Hines Ward Share Personal Stories of Facing Hate and Discrimination in the USA Network Special "Characters Unite" Documentary, "NFL Characters Unite"


One-Hour Film From The Hochberg Ebersol Company Will Follow NFL Stars as They Help Young People Tackle Racism, Bullying and Other Forms of Discrimination

Premieres in February for USA's Characters Unite Month

NEW YORK - January 26, 2012 - USA Network will present the world television premiere of NFL CHARACTERS UNITE in February 2012. Part of USA's award-winning public service campaign to combat prejudice and discrimination, the film features Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, New Orleans Saints star tight end Jimmy Graham, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward, and NBC's Football Night in America analyst and Super Bowl-winning Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy. All four, who have experienced enormous success on the field, have also overcome extreme hate and bigotry in their lives.

In the documentary, the NFL stars share their own personal journeys - from the racism Coach Dungy confronted and the bullying Gonzalez faced, to the foster care abuse Graham endured and the bigotry Ward surmounted - and each helps to transform the life of a teen currently dealing with a similar situation. The players impart strength and advice to assist the teens in getting past the hate, violence and devastating cycle of low expectations, and achieving their full potential. Through candid interviews and unique one-on-one activities, these on- and off-the-field heroes help bring diverse people together, change attitudes and instill courage and compassion.

"The documentary will give viewers a unique perspective on the challenges some of their favorite football heroes have faced, and demonstrate to audiences that they, too, can help put an end to the hate and bigotry that remains too prevalent in our country," said Toby Graff, USA's senior vice president, public affairs. "We are proud to have teamed up with the NFL to be able to share this powerful documentary as part of Characters Unite Month."

"As a nation, we've experienced great hardship in recent years, and it's heartwarming to see such empathetic emotion and acts of selflessness from superstar athletes," said Charlie Ebersol, executive producer and co-founder, The Hochberg Ebersol Company. "This film is a powerful and eye-opening journey into the most guarded corners of four football heroes' lives as they are brought back to their most difficult childhood memories by four incredible boys and girls who are currently living through those same challenges."

"It's a beautiful thing when a few brave voices can be delivered to millions of brilliant people ready to change the world," added Justin Hochberg, executive producer and co-founder, The Hochberg Ebersol Company. "These four NFL stars in particular have helped a group of at-risk teens in a way that will last forever - USA and Characters Unite are the perfect vehicles to bring this incredibly inspiring project to the world."

"We are pleased to work with USA on their inspirational Characters Unite Month," said Tracy Perlman, NFL vice president of entertainment marketing and promotions. "We are proud that Coach Tony Dungy, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, and Hines Ward are standing up to fight discrimination and prejudice."

The documentary, created by The Hochberg Ebersol Company and executive produced by company co-founders Charlie Ebersol and Justin W. Hochberg, was directed by Greg Frith (ESPN Classic SportsCentury, ESPN 25, NFL Films' America's Game, NFL Films Presents, Hey, Rookie Welcome to the NFL.) It will premiere in February as part of Characters Unite Month, a time the network will shine an even brighter spotlight on the importance of promoting greater respect and acceptance through on-air programming, digital content and community events. For more information on the documentary as well as CHARACTERS UNITE, visit www.charactersunite.com or www.usanetwork.com.

The Hochberg Ebersol Company (THE Company) was founded by entertainment industry veteran Justin Hochberg and television/film producer Charlie Ebersol. THE Company creates, packages and produces groundbreaking programming in the unscripted, multi-camera comedy, docu-series, and competition formats, for a range of leading broadcast and cable networks. In addition to developing, producing and distributing dynamic television programming, THE Company operates a full-service branded entertainment agency alongside the traditional production company. Its clients have included "Shaq Vs.," Dick Clark Productions and "Hell's Kitchen" for Fox, as well as over a hundred advertising companies. THE Company also operates its own in-house post facilities, which includes CGI capabilities. THE Company is represented by MIchael Kagan at ICM and Bill Abrams of Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, LLP.

USA Network is the #1 network in all of basic cable and is seen in over 102 million U.S. homes. A division of NBCUniversal, USA is the cable television leader in original series and is home to the biggest hits in blockbuster films, acquired television and entertainment events. Viewers come to USA to find television's best in critically-acclaimed and award-winning original programming, such as BURN NOTICE, ROYAL PAINS, WHITE COLLAR, COVERT AFFAIRS, FAIRLY LEGAL, PSYCH, IN PLAIN SIGHT, SUITS, NECESSARY ROUGHNESS and WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW, as well as the highest-rated acquired originals, including HOUSE, NCIS, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT and CSI. The award-winning USA website is located at www.usanetwork.com, which is home to the popular new casual gaming site, www.characterarcade.com. Characters Welcome.

USA Network is a program service of NBCUniversal Cable a division of NBCUniversal, one of the world's leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news, and information to a global audience.

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Zach Railey Continues Dominance

US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR 2012, the second stop on the International Sailing Federation’s Sailing World Cup circuit, fourth day of racing kicked off today on the waters of Biscayne Bay.

The fourth day of racing saw consolidation in all of the classes, and for US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics athletes it was a day of solid performance in SKUD-18, Finn, Laser Radial, 49er, and Women’s RS:X. In Women’s Match Racing, Sally Barkow’s Team 7 Match Race of Alana O’Reilly (Charleston, S.C.) and Elizabeth Kratzig (Miami, Fla.) defeated Tamara Echegoyen (ESP) in three straight matches to advance to the Semi-Final Round on Friday.

Zach Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) Zach Railey continued his dominance in the Finn, winning a race and finishing third in the other. He now has a comfortable lead on the fleet with second-place Jonas Hogh Christensen (DEN) a full 10 points back in second.

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Alex Cora intends to play in MLB in '12

Updating a previous item, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that Alex Cora intends to play in MLB this season.

Reports from Puerto Rico indicated that Cora was ready to call it a career, but it turns out that he was merely announcing his retirement from winter ball play. The 36-year-old batted infielder just .224/.287/.276 over 172 plate appearances with the Nationals last season, so we wouldn't be surprised if a lack of interest ultimately pushes him into the coaching profession.

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Yonder isn't as important as hits to Alonso

Yonder, as in “off we go into the wild blue . . .,” would seemingly be the perfect name for a slugger.

But when new Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso speaks of hitting, he doesn’t talk in terms of home runs.

“I am not thinking 40 or 50 home runs when I’m thinking about hitting,” Alonso said earlier this week at Petco Park.

“A lot of left-handed hitters and first basemen are thinking home runs,” Alonso continued. “That’s not the type of left-handed hitter I am.

“When I look at Petco Park, I don’t see how far away the fences are. I see a lot of grass. I feel like this ballpark likes the kind of hitter I am.”
A line-drive hitter. A foul line-to-foul line, line-drive hitter.

“First thing with me is put the ball in play,” Alonso continued. “Hit it hard. Level it. I want good at-bats.”

Thinking like that is much of the reason why the Padres preferred Alonso over Anthony Rizzo when deciding their first baseman of the future.

The 22-year-old Rizzo probably has more power in his swing than Alonso as displayed by Rizzo’s 26 homers in 93 games with Triple-A Tucson last season. But Rizzo also struck out 89 times in 356 at-bats with Tucson and 46 times in 128 at-bats with the Padres while hitting .141.
That’s one strikeout every 2 ¾ at-bats as a Padre and once every four at-bats in Triple-A.

Alonzo has struck out only once every 6.3 at-bats during 192 games over the past two years at Triple-A and once every 4.1 at-bats in 127 at-bats over the past two seasons with the Reds. As a major leaguer, Alonso has hit .299 with five homers and 18 RBI and hit .330 with five homers in 88 at-bats last season with a .398 on-base percentage.

The final grade is still out. On MLB.com’s list of 100 top prospects, Rizzo was judged to be No. 37 while the 6-foor-2, 240-pound Alonso, who turns 25 on April 8, is rated No. 39.

But the Padres like Alonso.

“I really like the approach,” manager Bud Black said of Alonso during the Padres three-day, voluntary introduction program for recently acquired players and top prospects.

“He looks good, just as advertised,” continued Black. “Everything I’ve seen validates the reports that he’s a line-to-line hitter. The ball comes off his bat.”

Alonso believes he will be a better hitter at Petco Park than he was at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

“The fences are closer in Cincinnati,” reasoned Alonso. “The outfielders are packed into a smaller space. A lot of balls in the gaps get caught. There isn’t nearly as much grass in Cincinnati as there is here.

“I believe my style will play well here. You can get just as many RBI with a high average with runners in scoring position. And I love hitting in RBI situations.

“I’d rather be at a field where I can get my hits than get a homer. Coming here doesn’t change my game.”

Like Rizzo with the Padres, Alonso was considered the No. 1 prospect in the Reds organization in 2010. But Alonso had a problem that Rizzo wasn’t facing.

Alonso was backed up behind 2010 National League Most Valuable Player Joey Votto in Cincinnati. Because of that, the Reds were talking about playing Alonso in left this season just to get his bat in the lineup, although his defensive debut in left last season was less than impressive.

Still, Alonso was a bit surprised when he came to the Padres along with right-handed starter Edinson Volquez, catching prospect Yasmani Grandal and bullpen candidate Brad Boxberger in a trade for Padres ace Mat Latos.

“I knew about Rizzo,” said Alonso. “We’re both out of Florida. But let’s put this in perspective. I had an MVP in front of me in Cincinnati.”

Although the Padres said Alonso was the front-runner at first as soon as he was acquired, Yonder was ready to compete with Rizzo for the first base job when the Padres completely cleared Alonso’s path to the starting lineup by trading Rizzo to the Cubs for right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner.

“I guess that put me at ease,” said Alonso. “Obviously it’s good to know you are being counted upon.”

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Ed Reed withdraws from Pro Bowl

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed withdrew from the Pro Bowl due to his multiple injuries and was replaced by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark.

Reed, 33, is dealing with several ailments, including: a nerve impingement in his neck, a shoulder problem and a sprained left ankle.

The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year isn't the only Raven not playing in the Pro Bowl, joining outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and running back Ray Rice.

Still slated to play in the annual NFL all-star game: fullback Vonta Leach, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and offensive guards Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs.

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Official Jimmy Graham 2011-2012 Season Highlights

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Ray Lewis inspirational speech after the lost to the Patriots

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Cardinals will use franchise tag on Calais Campbell

Arizona will use the franchise tag on DE Calais Campbell before he becomes a free agent March 13. “The only thing that kind of sucks is that you don’t have security for the future," Campbell told azcardinals.com. "But if it comes to the franchise tag... I’m still able to play football. I’m still living the dream.”

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Why Dixon and not Gore late in game? Read more: 49ers mailbag: Why Dixon and not Gore late in game? Tune to SportsNet Central at 6, 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area for more on this story

Q: Why was Anthony Dixon running the ball on 3rd & 1 and not Frank Gore in the fourth quarter? (Anthony Barton)

A: This is a question that I pondered at the time, and I still can't make sense of it.

As the No. 3 running back, Anthony Dixon carried the ball 29 times all season and averaged 3.0 yards a carry. At the start of the fourth quarter, the 49ers were driving. Gore picked up 11 yards. Then, he had a 6-yard gain.

On second-and-four from the Giants' 49, the 49ers got a little too cute. Dixon came into the game for his first offensive snap of the game. Defensive linemen Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga joined him.

Dixon picked up 3 yards to set up a third-and-1. Dixon, Smith and Sopoaga remained on the field for that crucial play.

Left guard Mike Iupati moved to right guard, as the 49ers overloaded that side of their formation. Dixon appeared to have an opening between Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis, but Dixon chose the next gap and was stopped for no gain.

The 49ers punted it away on fourth down and squandered an opportunity to build on their 14-10 lead.

In two playoff games, Gore carried 29 times for 163 yards (5.6 average). He had not been limited in a practice in more than a month due to any injury. Gore played 105 of the 49ers' 125 offensive snaps in the postseason. He was healthy, as his production in the playoffs seemed to prove.

But the 49ers got away from running on first down. When Kendall Hunter gained 18 yards on a run play with 7:39 remaining in regulation, that was the last time in the game the 49ers attempted a run on first down.

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Antrel Rolle’s Super Bowl XLII Memories (From Brazil)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Antrel Rolle is not one of the 15 players on the Giants’ roster who played in the Super Bowl XLII victory over New England four years ago, but that does not mean Rolle – the Giants’ loquacious safety – does not have a good story from the game.

Asked Tuesday about his memories of that Super Bowl, Rolle launched into a tale about how he was traveling in South America at the time.

“I watched it in Brazil,” he said. “There was only one place where I was that was showing the game. I was standing on top of like two bar stools, and probably a midget was under me, who knows. I don’t know. It was extremely crowded. Everyone was stacked on top of each other. It was a small place in Brazil no bigger than a rest room, and there were a million people in there. It was the only place showing it and I had to watch the game.”

Rolle’s only firsthand experience with the Super Bowl came when he was with the Arizona Cardinals, who lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. That game featured Santonio Holmes making a game-winning touchdown catch for the Steelers though Rolle said that if Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had thrown to his side of the field on that play he believes he would have intercepted the pass.

“That play is a crazy play,” Rolle said. “I was actually on the opposite side, and the guy that Ben Roethlisberger was targeting first was actually the guy I was covering. I kind of bumped him, and he fell down. Ben Roethlisberger went to cut back, and he was going there and I was like, ‘This is a pick, and I’m taking this to the house,’ because there was no one in front of me. He just turns the other way and chucks the ball. You can’t be mad at that play. You have to take that one. You have to live with that one.”

Rolle spoke for about 15 minutes Tuesday and was his typically entertaining self, furthering the notion that he will be a highlight of the Giants’ session at next Tuesday’s media day in Indianapolis. Among other notable quips, Rolle said, “I don’t know man – I’m not looking at his body!” when asked about Eli Manning having any bruises from the San Francisco victory, and he smiled when asked about Ann Mara, wife of the former Giants’ owner Wellington Mara, who had scolded the Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw last Sunday for picking against the Giants in the N.F.C. championship game.

“When I say ‘all hands on deck,’ I don’t just mean the men in the locker room,” Rolle said. “We’re all one here, we’re all one in this organization.”

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Vince Wilfork Shows He's Most Valuable Member of Patriots' Defense, Must Remain Dominant in Super Bowl

Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork proved this week he is the most valuable member of the Patriots' defense, and he can raise the level of the whole unit by continuing to establish his dominance.

Wilfork thrashed the Ravens' offensive line in the AFC Championship, and he'll give the Patriots a legitimate chance to contain the Giants' hot offense with a similar performance in the Super Bowl.

Wilfork's performance was impressive in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's victory, and he looked even more imposing after running through the film. The hulking lineman, who split his reps between nose tackle and left defensive end, positively affected 15 plays in the Patriots' favor, either with his one sack, three tackles for loss or a drive through his block that collapsed the pocket or forced quarterback Joe Flacco to scramble.

Wilfork was double-teamed 24 times, and he beat five of them. He also beat nine single teams and one triple team (the only one he faced). And even though he didn't beat 19 double teams -- not that there's much wrong with that -- the fact that the Ravens had to use an additional blocker on him freed up space for others such as defensive end Brandon Deaderick, linebacker Mark Anderson and defensive tackle Kyle Love.

Aside from the double teams, the Ravens showed Wilfork respect by only running at him five times on 27 designed rushes.

Wilfork got off to a hot start, blowing up four of the Ravens' first nine plays, and was the best player on the field right through to the finish. On the final two plays of the Ravens' second-to-last series, he dropped running back Ray Rice for a three-yard loss to force Baltimore to go for it on fourth down, when Wilfork's pressure caused Flacco to throw it away.

After the game, Wilfork's teammates said they were inspired by his performance, both during the game and the week's preparation. Numerous defensive players said they saw his drive and leadership throughout their string of practices, and they wanted to raise their games because of it.

Because the Patriots don't blitz very often, the pressure they generate up front sets the tone for the rest of the play. Wilfork is the most dominant defensive lineman they've got, and when he's at the top of his game, he can create plays for himself and others. Plus, his push up front opens gaps for linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to penetrate.

Wilfork's value goes beyond himself, and he has shown that over the course of another tremendous season. With an effort like he had Sunday, the Patriots' defense will remain on the upswing.

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Future proCane Deon Bush Interview


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Future proCane Danny Isidora Interview


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Jimmy Graham Has Best Performance of 2nd Year Players in NFC South

Best Performance by a Second-Year Player: Weatherspoon was a candidate for this, but the nod goes to New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. He had one of the best seasons ever by a tight end. I know the Saints have a lot of pressing contract issues and Graham is under contract for three more seasons. But at some point this offseason, they should give Graham an extension and a huge pay raise. Graham’s only making minimum wage. If ever a player has outperformed his contract, it’s Graham.

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Future proCane Adewale Ojomo focused on making NFL

One month after Adewale Ojomo's request for a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA was surprisingly denied, abruptly ending his Miami Hurricanes career, the defensive end has fully shifted his focus to the NFL.

"Well, I can't do nothing about it right now, at this point," Ojomo said after a practice earlier this week in preparation for Saturday's Battle of Florida All-Star Game 8 p.m. at FAU Stadium.

"I'm not going to sit back and weep on it. I'm in the real world now, so I've got to conduct myself as an adult and just move forward, do what I have to do in order to get to the next level."

Like seven other former 'Canes, Ojomo has used this week to try to impress NFL scouts.

He's been training at former sprinter Michael Johnson's Performance Center outside Dallas — on the advice of former UM cornerback Brandon Harris — in hopes of losing the 10 pounds he gained in moving to defensive tackle, where the team needed him this past season.

Ojomo, who finished his UM career with 79 tackles, 16 for a loss, 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, said that experience shows NFL teams he can move inside on third down and be productive. "You need to be versatile when you're trying to make a 53-man roster," he noted.

While he had been confident he'd receive a sixth year from the NCAA, Ojomo said he had been mentally preparing himself for the possibility he wouldn't.

"I knew my career wouldn't be forever," he said. "I was prepared, so it wasn't too much of a shock mentally."

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Rob Chudzinski to get a second interview with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

According to the Charlotte Observer the 'buzz' around the Senior Bowl is that Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski will get a second interview with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So far the Bucs have only brought back former Packers head coach Mike Sherman for a second interview, which will occur today according to Adam Schefter. The Bucs are expected to choose a head coach after this second round of interviews, but they could always pull a surprise move as they tried to do with Chip Kelly a few days ago.

Of those who have interviewed with the Bucs, Chudzinski is by far my favorite coach. He's a young, innovative offensive mind who has had massive success everywhere he's coached. What he did with Cam Newton last season was very impressive, but it wasn't his only successful year as he managed to get Derek Anderson to the Pro Bowl in Cleveland. The question is whether he can parlay that into a successful career as a head coach, and whether he's ready to take on that role at this point.

Keep in mind that this isn't definitive. The report is based on 'buzz' around the Senior Bowl. According to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune the interview has not been arranged, but it could be shortly. It would shock me if Mike Sherman was the only coach to be asked back for a second interview, however.

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Vince Wilfork bedeviled Ravens offensive line

Quarterback Joe Flacco tossed the first 300-yard game of his postseason career and wide receiver Anquan Boldin surpassed the 100-yard mark, but for all of the offense’s positive gains in the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC championship game, the unit had its share of struggles with Vince Wilfork.

The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Wilfork made six tackles (three for losses) and sacked Flacco once. The four-time Pro Bowler frequently penetrated the line of scrimmage and changed running back Ray Rice’s initial moves in the running game.

“Although he makes the Pro Bowl and stuff, he’s probably underrated,” center Matt Birk said. “We knew what we were in for, and inside, they’re physical guys, and they just tried to push us back. They were trying to dent us, and we were trying to dent them. You win some, you lose some. But yeah, he’s a great player – no question.”

Wilfork – who was drafted by the Patriots in the first round in 2004 as part of the deal for the Ravens to select quarterback Kyle Boller in the first round in 2003 – was especially critical on the Ravens’ penultimate drive of the contest.

With the offense facing third down-and-3 from New England’s 30-yard line, Rice tried to shoot through the middle of the line, but was stopped for a three-yard loss by Wilfork. On the next play, Wilfork pressured Flacco enough to force him to throw the ball away and end the drive on fourth down.
Wilfork said he was able to influence Flacco because of his reputation for staying in the pocket.

“I knew going into this game, Flacco was a pocket passer,” Wilfork said. “He’ll stand in there, he’ll take hits and will deliver a good football. I knew he really wasn’t going anywhere and just like I said, everything around me worked well and it was just a great defensive play from all eleven – not just myself.”

“I think to be honest with you, on the run, I think they just cut me loose,” Wilfork said. “I don’t know. I’m always taught when someone [doesn’t] block you, it’s a set up and all. I don’t know if they just missed a block or it was a setup block and I just beat it. I don’t know. I’m going to have to watch the film and see it. Critical plays like that, you just have to take advantage. At that split second, the only thing I saw was: did he have the ball? If it was a setup block, they got me. They didn’t get me.”

The Patriots had success moving Wilfork around. A defensive tackle, Wilfork lined up against every Ravens offensive lineman during the game.

Left guard Ben Grubbs perhaps summed it up best when asked his opinion of Wilfork “I think everybody would have him at the top of their list,” Grubbs said. “He’s a good player.”

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Reggie Wayne, Addai will coach flag football squads for Tazón Latino VI

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and running back Joseph Addai have been added to the list of NFL players participating in Tazón Latino VI, the nationally-televised flag football game featuring current and former NFL players and Hispanic celebrities.

The athlete and celebrity-filled flag football competition will take place on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. at the Clinic Field at the NFL Experience located at the Indiana Convention Center. The game will air nationally on Univision on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 4 p.m.

Wayne and Addai will serve as honorary coaches during Tazón Latino VI. Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker and Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks have been added to the list of participants.

Previously announced NFL legends and current players taking part in the event include former Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates and Super Bowl XXXVII champions Mike Alstott and Martin Gramatica, Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, Green Bay Packers all-time leading rusher Ahman Green and legendary Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.

Latino celebrities will include Iraq war veteran and 2011 “Dancing with the Stars” Champion J.R. Martinez and award-winning chef, restaurateur and television star Aaron Sanchez. Additional personalities include, Daniel Carles, host of TeleFutua’s late night talk show “Noches de Perros,” Felix Fernandez, host of Univision’s sports entertainment program “República Deportiva,” Ana Patricia Gonzalez, winner of Univision’s “Nuestra Belleza Latina 2010,” and Claudia Molina, first season winner of Univision’s “¡Mira Quién Baila!”

Tickets to be part of the live Tazón Latino event are only available to NFL Insiders through 1Iota.

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Zach Railey Still In 1st Place

It was another strong day of performance for US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics at US Sailing’s 2012 Rolex Miami OCR.

Sailed in Miami on Biscayne Bay, USA sailors hold top-10 spots in 11 of the 12 fleet racing classes spread across Olympic and Paralympic events. This event serves as the selection event for the US Paralympic Team as well as the US Sailing Development Team.

In the 26-boat Finn Zach Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) continues to lead, picking up 2-1-2 today. With six races scored the fleet now has a throwout race and Railey discards a second leaving him with 6 points overall, a full 5 points ahead of the second-place Jonas Hogh Christensen (DEN). Another 6 points back is Brendan Casey (AUS) in third with USSTAG’s Caleb Paine (San Diego, Calif.) in fourth.

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Alex Cora announces retirement

Former Nationals utility infielder Alex Cora played winter ball and was the Captain of the Caguas Criollos of Puerto Rico. After the Criollos final game of the season tonight, he announced his retirement from baseball.

Alex Cora, 36, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third round of the 1996 draft. Cora has played all over the infield for seven MLB teams: Dodgers, Blue Jays, Indians, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers and Nationals Maybe he’ll follow in his big brother Joey’s footsteps and coach.

From the Criollos de Caguas Facebook Page:

MENSAJE DE NUESTRO CAPITAN ALEX CORA ANUNCIANDO SU RETIRO: Gracias a todos ustedes por el apoyo que me dieron por 16 temporadas. Gozamos y sufrimos, ganamos y perdimos pero de corazón les digo que ser Criollo es lo mejor que hay. Hoy cierro un capítulo de mi carrera y del fondo de mi corazón les digo que lo hago con la frente en alto porque soy y siempre seré Criollo de pura cepa! Gracias a todos.
(Translated by Bing):

MESSAGE from our captain ALEX CORA announcing his retirement: thank you all for the support they gave me for 16 seasons. We enjoy and we suffer, we won and we lost but heart I can tell you that being Creole is the best there is. Now close a chapter in my career and in the bottom of my heart I say that I do with the high front because I am and always will be pure strain Creole! Thank you all.

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Ryan Braun won't attend fan event

Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio announced Wednesday that outfielder Ryan Braun, who is facing a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test, will not take part in the team's fan event this weekend.

"In working through the logistics of this weekend's Brewers On Deck event in Milwaukee with Ryan Braun -- and knowing how much he enjoys interacting candidly with Brewers fans -- we came to the conclusion that this is too sensitive of a time in the confidential process for him to attend this year," Attanasio said in a statement.

"I speak for everyone at the Brewers, including Ryan, in thanking our fans for their understanding and patience."

Braun accepted his NL MVP award in New York last Saturday and said "everything I have done in my career has been done with respect and appreciation for the game of baseball."

Although he never directly addressed the allegations against him -- that his MVP season was accomplished with the help of a banned substance -- it was clear Braun's remarks were pointed at the legal battle he is currently involved in.

"You know, sometimes in life, we all deal with challenges we never expected to endure," Braun said, while accepting his award at the annual dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. "We have an opportunity to look at those challenges and view them either as obstacles or as opportunities, and I've chosen to view every challenge I've ever faced as an opportunity and this will be no different. I have always believed that a person's character is revealed through the way they deal with those moments of adversity."

Braun tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone in a urine test taken in October, a story first reported by ESPN's "Outside the Lines." There are conflicting reports about what caused the positive result, and the New York Times quoted a source as saying a later test showed Braun to have normal testosterone levels.

Braun began his appeal of his positive test before baseball arbitrator Shyam Das last Thursday, the New York Daily News and the Associated Press reported.

As Braun tries to avoid a 50-game suspension, the burden is a heavy one to overcome. A baseball arbitrator has never ordered a suspension overturned following a grievance hearing.

The AP's source did not know whether the hearing had concluded or whether it would extend into at least one more session. Typically in grievances, after the hearing the sides may submit written final arguments before the arbitrator rules.

MLB has not confirmed the positive test. Baseball's drug agreement says first positive tests are not made public until after the appeals process has been completed.

Technically, the arbitration is before a three-person panel that also includes a representative of management and the union. The independent member, Das, is the decisive vote in nearly all cases.

The 28-year-old, who was the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, hit .312 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs last season and led Milwaukee to the NL Championship Series, where the Brewers lost to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

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Mel Kiper Jr. sees Lamar Miller going to Bengals

CORAL GABLES – While the decisions of Olivier Vernon, Marcus Forston and perhaps even Brandon Washington to leave Miami early for the NFL are considered questionable, Lamar Miller's decision to do so appears to be a sound one.

In his first mock draft for 2012, ESPN's draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. projected Miller will go to Cincinnati Bengals at No. 21 and rated him the second-best back in the draft behind Alabama's Trent Richardson. Kiper Jr. said on a conference call with reporters last week that he sees Miller as a second-rounder "at worst."

"People are going to be looking at him very favorably as we move through the draft process," Kiper Jr. said.

Of receiver Tommy Streeter, another UM early entry, he noted, "If he tests out well from a speed standpoint, he could be a second-round pick."

"Has some size [6-5], made some big plays this year, did some good things," Kiper Jr. added. "Not as seasoned as some other wideouts."

Washington's versatility will help him, Kiper Jr. said. Like Orlando Franklin a year ago, Washington moved from guard to tackle this past season because of need. "He can end up going a little higher than he's graded," Kiper Jr. said.

Forston, the defensive tackle who considered leaving early after the 2010 season, is "another guy that's going to drop significantly farther down the board than you would have thought two years ago" and Vernon is "way down the line" among defensive ends.

Kiper Jr. said Jacory Harris is the 22nd-rated quarterback on his board and he doesn't "see a scenario where he is selected."

Read more here

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Ed Reed will return for an 11th season

Teammate Lardarius Webb is confident that Ed Reed will return for an 11th season in 2012.

"He's coming back," Webb said. Asked if Reed had told him that specifically, Webb responded, "No, I just know he's coming back." The Ravens trio of defensive leaders (Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs) appears to have resolved to make another run at the Super Bowl next season.

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Frank Gore won’t play in Pro Bowl

Frank Gore's injury withdrawal from the Pro Bowl clears the way for Marshawn Lynch to participate as an alternate. It also amplifies questions about Gore's health late in the season.

Gore carried the ball 311 times in 18 games this season, counting playoffs. That was within one carry of his career high previously. But his 17 receptions were well less than half his previous single-season low since becoming a full-time starter in 2006.

Gore put together a string of five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances ending in Week 9. He finished with zero yards the next week after a hard tackle from the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul left Gore with an apparent right knee injury. He suffered an ankle injury earlier in the season.

Gore never exceeded 89 yards in a game from that point forward. His yards per attempt exceeded 3.7 just once over the final eight regular-season games after five consecutive games between 4.3 and 9.4.

The chart, from Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information, shows Gore's playing time over the course of the season.

I noticed Gore asking out of games following contact a few times, including early in a game at Arizona. Running backs come out on occasion; I have no way to know whether Gore did this more than usual in 2011. The 49ers like to mix up their personnel groups, anyway. Kendall Hunter is a big part of their ground game.

Someone suggested to me via Twitter -- I couldn't immediately find that tweet, unfortunately -- that Gore did not seem to be carrying the ball on back-to-back plays as frequently. I had the same feeling.

Clawson investigated. The results weren't conclusive. Gore had a season-high 11 back-to-back rushes in Week 8. He had seven in Weeks 1 and 11, six in Week 16, five in Week 5 and four in three games (two of them in Week 13 or later).

Gore still managed to rush for 1,211 yards, his highest regular-season total since 2006. His per-carry average spiked during the playoffs. Lots of players withdraw from the Pro Bowl. There should be no panic. But as Gore approaches his 29th birthday in May, about the age when running backs tend to slow, durability questions aren't likely to go away.

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Cory Nelms Signs Contract with 49ers

The 49ers have signed seven players to reserve/future contracts, a group that includes six players who spent time on their practice squad this past season.

Players signed to contracts are center Chase Beeler, tackle Derek Hall, cornerback Cory Nelms, tight end Konrad Reuland and linebacker Michael Wilhoite, who ended the season on the practice squad. The team also signed safety Mark LeGree, who spent two weeks on San Francisco’s practice squad in November.

By signing a reserve/future deal, the seven players, who are street free agents, will be under contract with the Niners when the league year begins on March 13.

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Vernon Carey not expected to return to Dolphins

Incumbent starter Vernon Carey, the former University of Miami standout who has started at both guard and tackle for the past seven seasons, will likely end up playing for another team following a solid season, where it turns out Carey was an alternate for the 2012 Pro Bowl.

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Ray Lewis on Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal

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Antrel plays new Rolle: comedian

Get your popcorn ready.

Because if Tuesday’s press conference was any indication, Giants safety Antrel Rolle is going to put on a show next week at Super Bowl Media Day.

Here were some of the highlights of Rolle’s 17-minute, 29-second LOL-fest:

Rolle when asked if he watched the 2007 Super Bowl.
“I watched it in Brazil. There was only one place where I was that was showing the game. I was standing on top of like two bar stools, and probably a midget was under me, who knows. I don’t know. It was extremely crowded. Everyone was stacked on top of each other. It was a small place in Brazil no bigger than a rest room ... and there was a million people in there, and I had to watch the game.”

Rolle when asked if the Giants’ Super Bowl run was one of the reasons he signed there.
“...I didn’t even know Arizona before I got drafted there, the Cardinals? I’m like, Jerry Maguire?”

Rolle when asked if he noticed if Eli Manning had any bruises after getting hit so much by the 49ers.
“I don’t know, man, I’m not looking at his body!”

Rolle when asked if he saw 82-year-old Ann Mara chiding Terry Bradshaw after the NFC Championship game.
“When I say ‘all hands on deck,’ I don’t just mean the men in the locker room.”

Rolle when asked if he’d ever cross Mrs. Mara.
“I don’t cross any Maras.”

Rolle when asked if he through it was fitting that the Giants were wearing their road-white jerseys.
“It doesn’t matter what we got on, we could go out there bare-skinned...”

Rolle when asked about Tom Brady.
“During the course of the game I’m covering my guys -- we’re in zone coverage -- I see him scanning the field, and I’m like, I’ve played against a lot of great quarterbacks in my career, and the way he scanned the field, I was like ‘Dang!’ During the play, I was like ‘Wow!’ It kind of stung me for a second.”

“He’s exceptional, and gets all the credit he deserves and then some.”

Rolle was asked about Mannning.
“I think he’s proven himself before this year. But we all have to go through ups and downs and criticisms and speculation and what people may think and what they might think, but when it’s all said and done -- I didn’t say at the end of the day.”

Rolle first approached the podium and muttered the word “s---” under his breath.
“I’m tired. ... It’s all good.”

In 2007, Michael Strahan emerged as the star of Super Bowl Media Day. But at the end of the day, Rolle may overshadow Strahan's epic performance next week.

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Still unclear whether Rob Chudzinski is a finalist for the Bucs

MOBILE, Ala. -- The Bucs are in the process of narrowing their list of head-coach candidates to an unknown number of finalists, but Mike Sherman continues to be the only prospective hire known to be invited for a second interview.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who is awaiting an outcome in Tampa Bay’s search because the team is considering his offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, still wasn’t clear earlier today whether his trusted assistant is among the finalists.

“I haven’t heard that,” Rivera said when asked whether Chudzinski was asked back for a second interview with Tampa Bay.

But Rivera is hoping for a resolution – a quick one.

“Believe me, I’d love to know just so we can go forward,” said Rivera, here in Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl. “We’ve got a lot of things we have to do and we’ve kind of put (them) off during this whole period.”

Rivera noted that his team’s offense would likely change without Chudzinski, a main reason he’d like some closure on the matter.

Asked about the interest in Chudzinski, Rivera said, “I think a lot of it is just curiosity. . . I think a lot of people don’t know about him. I think what’s happening right now is people are trying to find out about him.

“I think when you look at the body of work, we just had some success.”

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Santana Moss facing foreclosure on at least one home

What is up with Santana Moss? The wide receiver has a three-year, $15 million contract with the Redskins — so why is his Florida mansion facing possible foreclosure? The South Florida Business Journal reported that his lender alleges Moss has defaulted on his $5.2 million waterfront place near Ft. Lauderdale. Our own public record search indicates he got a similar notice last fall for a much smaller home in Ocala, Fl. — one of several properties he owns in the state. Plus, the feds filed a quarter-million-dollar lien against him in connection with his taxes. Neither Moss nor his agent returned our messages.

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Zach Railey Still in 1st Place

The RMOCR is the second stage of the ISAF Sailing World Cup.

Zach Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) said 'It was way better than yesterday, and the Finns got the best of it because the wind was building all day,' adding that his class started racing an hour earlier (12:30) than scheduled to add three races to yesterday’s single race.

The leader going into today, Railey could do nothing wrong as he methodically picked off his competition—most notably Caleb Paine (San Diego, Calif., USA) and Jonas Hogh Christensen (DEN)--to quadruple the victories in his score line today.

'In the first race, I was in a great battle with Caleb,' said Railey. 'We were two boat lengths apart from each other and on the last leg back and forth the whole time. In the second race, it was a battle up the second windward leg with Jonas, but he got separated by two boats that were on his heels--he had to concentrate on them.'

Railey said that even if he keeps doing well over five days of fleet racing, it will come down to the ten-boat medal race on Saturday to determine who takes home gold here, since only the top ten boats on the scoreboard at the end of Friday move on to that race, which counts double in the scoring. 'Even going in with the lowest points, you could gain 18 points on that day,' he said, adding that it replicates the format of the Olympics, to which he will go this summer as the USA’s Finn representative. 'Everything will be very much like here, even the 26- boat fleet.'

For Railey, a bonus will be trying to win his second Olympic medal (his first was a silver in the Finn class in 2008) alongside his sister, Paige Railey, who qualified to compete for the USA in Laser Radial class.

'It has been a dream of ours to go together since I started sailing at age eight and she started shortly after me. We fell in love with the idea of walking into Opening Ceremonies together; I don’t know if it really will sink in until we look over at each other and say, ‘we did it!’'

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Ryan Braun may be innocent

We’ll obviously have official word sometime soon, but yesterday Dan Patrick had something interesting to say on his radio show about the reigning NL MVP’s drug test and appeal: Braun may get off scott free.

There was nothing definitive in his comments — a lot of it was Patrick’s gut feeling based on a conversation he had with someone — but Patrick said “Ryan Braun a victim of the testing by Major League Baseball,” and that “the feeling I got from somebody involved in the process in this, it’s not as cut and dried as people would think. And Ryan Braun may be an innocent man.”

"There were whispers that this was a personal medical issue, that he was taking something for that, that may have spiked his test. I since found out (Sunday) that that is not the case.

"Ryan Braun may be exonerated here. He may be found innocent. And judging from all of the information I was told, there's a good chance that he should be."

Interesting. Braun testing positive to begin with has caused no shortage of controversy here. Just imagine how much controversy would ensue if the whole affair led to serious questions about the entire testing process itself coming into question.

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Sean Spence Projected To Go in the 1st Round

23. Detroit Lions: Sean Spence, OLB, Miami. Outside linebacker Justin Durant is a free agent this offseason, and the Lions are not going to pay him a lot of money. They grab Spence, who is the best linebacker to come out of Miami since Ray Lewis

To see Sportingnews’ entire first round mock, click here

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Damien Berry Signs Contract with Ravens

Ravens signed RB Damien Berry, WR Patrick Williams, WR Phillip Livas, WR Rodney Bradley, TE Davon Drew, DT Bryan Hall, and C Cecil Newton to reserve/futures contracts.

Basically, to answer any questions before they come in, reserve/future deals can be reached with players who have two or fewer years of accrued service.

All seven guys listed above either ended the season on the Ravens' practice squad or were on it at some point this season before going on injured reserve.

Practice squad contracts expire at the end of the season, and so the Ravens struck reserve/future deals with these guys to retain their rights. The contracts don't necessarily mean that these players will be with the team in training camp, but they are currently under team control and will be able to work out at the Ravens' facilities during the offseason.

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Lamar Miller Ranked as the 3rd Best RB By Mike Mayock

Virginia Tech's David Wilson is NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock's No. 2 running back in his preliminary rankings for the 2012 draft.

Wilson is known for his 4.3 speed, but drew raves for his toughness during a breakout junior season. Mayock's 2012 running back rankings go like this: 1) Alabama's Trent Richardson 2) Wilson 3) Lamar Miller from Miami 4) Boise State's Doug Martin and 5) Oregon's LaMichael James. Chris Polk from Washington, who is at the Senior Bowl, was a bit of a surprise snub by Mayock.

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BEHIND THE SCENES: Michael Irvin gets dunked on GameDay Morning

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Corey Nelms Wins Award As A 49er

Cory Nelms, a cornerback on the practice squad, won the Thomas Herrion Award given to an up-and-coming young player.

That is great news considering no one expected Nelms to even make a team.

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Calais Campbell touts his special teams skills

Right before the Giants PK Lawrence Tynes kicked the game-winning field goal in Sunday's NFC Championship, Cards DE Calais Campbell tweeted: "I would block this kick." Campbell blocked three kicks this season.

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Billy Cundiff feels bad for letting Ray Lewis down

After missing a 32-yard field goal that could have sent the AFC Championship Game into overtime on Sunday, Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff said he accepts the blame for the loss to the Patriots.

“It’s a kick I’ve kicked a thousand times in my career, there’s really no excuse for it,” Cundiff said. “You know that Ray Lewis has poured his heart out, and you don’t know how many years he has left. To let him down is pretty tough.”

It’s still not clear what happened on that field goal attempt, as Cundiff appeared to be rushing into position and didn’t look ready, even though he could have simply called timeout if he needed more time. The Ravens had plenty of time, but the whole field goal unit looked like it was in a hurry.

The Ravens had another missed opportunity earlier in the fourth quarter, when they chose to go for it on fourth-and-6, rather than have Cundiff try a 50-yard field goal. Joe Flacco threw an incomplete pass to Dennis Pitta on that play, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended the decision after the game.

“We just felt like from a percentage standpoint,” Harbaugh said, “we probably had a better chance of getting the first down.”

Harbaugh might have been right on that call: Cundiff was just 1-for-6 from 50 yards and beyond during the regular season, and he’s made just 26.3 percent of his 50-plus field goals in his career.

And that raises a question: If Cundiff can’t be counted on to make long field goals in big situations, and he can’t even be counted on to make short field goals in big situations, can the Ravens keep him as their kicker in 2012?

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Calais Campbell’s potential game of tag

Defensive end Calais Campbell has not gotten a new contract yet. I’m guessing everyone realizes that, since it’d be big homepage news if he had and it clearly has not been news yet. The waiting game continues.

He is scheduled to become a free agent March 13, but no one believes that will happen. Either he will have a new contract by then, or the Cardinals are expected to use their franchise tag to buy time to get that new contract done. Campbell was in today, coming in to get in some work with the trainers, and he said he has thought “a little bit” about ending up with the tag.

“I mean, if that’s the worst-case scenario, it’s not too bad,” Campbell said. “The only thing that kind of sucks about it is that you don’t have security for the future. But I am one of those guys who kind of takes it as it comes. Whatever happens, happens. A long-term deal would be nice, if we can see eye-to-eye. But if it comes to the franchise tag, I really feel like it’s good. I’m still able to play football, I’m still living the dream.”

The franchise tag would be worth about $10.6 million in salary for Campbell in 2012 (down from the $13M defensive ends got last season if tagged, and $12.4M in 2010.) It’s a healthy jump from $600,000 in salary Campbell made this season, but a far cry from what would be the guaranteed money on a new deal, which would figure to be in the same $25M-$30M range of teammate Darnell Dockett got in 2010.

Still, the seven weeks between now and March 13 is an eternity in NFL terms. Much can still be accomplished before the tag comes into play. We wait to see if “eye-to-eye” can be reached.

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A workout by Vince Wilfork

FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork [stats] walked across the Gillette Stadium locker room yesterday, the slowest man in the building. With plodding steps, the mountainous Wilfork made his way to the door, barely, then inched through it.

It was as if he had been through a war, and in reality, the perennial Pro Bowler had fought through football’s equivalent. Playing roughly 70 plays in Sunday’s 23-20 win against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, Wilfork had a right to be tired.

Wilfork has a right to want to use the next two weeks to recharge before playing the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. He does so having turned in one of the most memorable performances for a defensive tackle in recent memory.

“It was great technique and being fundamentally sound,” said defensive tackle Gerard Warren, who called Wilfork’s performance the best he’s ever watched by a player at their position. “It was that extra oomph (Wilfork) was born with. He was blessed with something special.”

There was a lot of oomph. Six tackles, three for a loss, one sack and one big paw grabbing Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s jersey to force a late fourth-down incompletion.

Blowing up the interior offensive line on third down to stop running back Ray Rice for a 3-yard loss with 3:36 left to play, and then ruining Flacco’s pass attempt on fourth down were the highlights. But they were not the only times the 6-foot-2, 325(ish)-pounder was disruptive.

Wilfork embarrassed Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda before crushing running back Ricky Williams for a 5-yard loss in the first quarter. He tossed aside veteran center Matt Birk for a sack two plays later.

While the much-maligned defense was limiting Rice to just 3.2 yards per carry and sacking Flacco three times, Wilfork was asserting his dominance.

“He leads the way for us on defense — he and (linebacker) Jerod (Mayo),” coach Bill Belichick said. “Vince is obviously our most experienced player and he’s been a great leader, great captain all year. They’ve set the pace and the rest of the guys have fallen in step. It’s been awesome — certainly a lot better than some other years I can think of.”

Wilfork has had better statistical days. Twice this season, he eclipsed six tackles. Yet on the big stage, playing an unheard of number of plays, Wilfork was at his best.

“All his plays were crucial plays,” defensive end Brandon Deaderick said.

And the Patriots [team stats] used Wilfork in a variety of ways, too. With the defense in a 3-4 look for most of the game, he spent 41 snaps as a defensive end. ProFootballFocus.com gave Wilfork a 7.0 grade, its third-highest mark for a 3-4 defensive end this season. He was at nose tackle just 18 times.

Facing Birk while on the nose, Wilfork often pushed the pocket, which meant dumping the center into Flacco’s lap. That’s what he did at least twice on the Ravens’ last drive. Wilfork did face multiple blockers often, at least 20 times. Fourteen times, he would be considered to have beaten his blocks.

Wilfork’s sack came when he was double-teamed.

The Patriots did give Wilfork help. On the penultimate drive that ended with his stop of Rice and Flacco’s incompletion, Wilfork lined up at the nose, with the defensive ends covering up the guards. The alignment prevented anyone from assisting on Wilfork.

On the Rice stop, Wilfork theorized that the Ravens missed an assignment, and “critical plays like that, you have to take advantage,” he said. His play on Flacco’s incompletion on fourth down was more simple, as he overpowered Birk.

“I knew (Flacco) really wasn’t going anywhere and everything around me worked well,” Wilfork said. “Just was just a great defensive play from all 11 — not just myself.”

Deaderick, Warren and defensive tackle Kyle Love were Robin to Wilfork’s Batman, working and working play after play. It all came together.
Wilfork isn’t a pass rusher by trade.

“He is a pass rusher, don’t be fooled,” Warren said. “He just does what is asked of him. But when given an opportunity to rush the passer, he’ll get after the passer.”

When his team needed it most, Wilfork did everything. It was all needed.

“You’re going to the Super Bowl,” Wilfork said. “This is what we play for.”

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Zach Railey Finishes First

U.S. sailors took the top spots in four classes in Monday’s opener of the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta on Biscayne Bay.

Americans took the top two spots in the 27-boat Finn class, which held one race Monday. Olympic medalist Zach Railey of Clearwater finished first, followed by Caleb Paine of San Diego.

Fleet racing continues Tuesday through Friday, with medal races among the top 10 finishers in the Olympic classes on Saturday. Regatta headquarters is the U.S. Sailing Center in Coconut Grove.

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Brian Asbury Scores 18 In Loss

Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Barak Netanya 85-70 on the road to improve to 12-1 in the BSL on Monday night, but more importantly it came through its final game before Thursday’s Euroleague showdown against Barcelona unscathed.

Brian Asbury had 18 points and seven rebounds for Netanya, which has lost two consecutive games after winning four straight.

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John Salmons scores no points in return to action

John Salmons (food poisoning) returned to action and started at shooting guard for injured Marcus Thornton (quad), scoring no points with four missed shot attempts, one rebound, one steal, and one block in 18 minutes.

Salmons didn't look right on the floor tonight and sadly we don't know if it was the illness or just his normal struggles.

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Ryan Braun 'upbeat' while awaiting decision

MILWAUKEE -- A Brewers spokesman who was with Ryan Braun over the weekend described the outfielder as "upbeat" in the face of a possible suspension.

Braun spoke Saturday night in New York while accepting his National League Most Valuable Player Award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, two days after beginning an appeal for a reported violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Braun spoke of adversity and "viewing every challenge I've ever faced as an opportunity."

"It's a tough position for him to be in because this is a confidential process," Brewers vice president of communications Tyler Barnes said on Monday. "He really can't say anything. I thought he did a terrific job. It was really a neat experience for everyone who was there, to see Ryan up there being recognized for his accomplishments in 2011."

Braun batted .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs and 33 stolen bases, and the Brewers won the NL Central. They commemorated that crown on Monday morning by hanging a permanent championship banner inside Miller Park.

Because of the confidential nature of Braun's appeal, the Brewers have been given no indication from the Commissioner's Office that their star player, who signed a contract extension last April through at least 2020, faces any suspension. It's unclear when the three-member special panel that heard Braun's appeal will render its decision.

On his Monday morning radio show, commentator Dan Patrick said he'd learned from "somebody involved in this" that Braun may avoid suspension. Patrick was also told that Braun's test, reportedly for a very high level of testosterone, had nothing to do with a personal medical issue.
"Ryan Braun may be exonerated here," Patrick told his audience. "He may be found innocent. And judging from all of the information I was told, there's a good chance that he should be."

No known Major League player has ever taken his case to an appeal and won under the current testing program.

Barnes said Braun intends to be a full participant at "Brewers On Deck" in downtown Milwaukee on Sunday.

"He's excited about it," Barnes said. "We had a great opportunity to spend a little time with him at a reception before the dinner on Saturday. The guy is very upbeat and looking forward to the season."

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CORRECTION: 4 proCanes Advance to Super Bowl


Technically, four proCanes are headed to Super Bowl XLVI, though only three will see action. Vince WIlfork played an integral part in the Patriots’ victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, with several defensive plays, while Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips were solid in their defensive effort versus the 49ers and fellow proCane Frank Gore. Additionally for the Giants, current practice squad member of the Giants Dwayne Hendricks would also get a Super Bowl ring if the Giants were to win.

CORRECTION: Because Bruce Johnson was injured before the beginning of the season, he was not put on IR, but instead waived, so he is not on the Giants’ roster.

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Ray Lewis insists he'll return for 17th NFL season

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The devastating AFC championship loss won't be Ray Lewis' last game.

Lewis shot down any notion that he will retire, saying he is returning to the Baltimore Ravens next season, his 17th in the NFL. The 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker is so sure that he's coming back to the Ravens that he cleared up the issue himself.

"Is this my last time as a Raven? Absolutely not," Lewis said. "Let me answer that question before somebody asks me. Absolutely not. It's just too much. Life offers too much. Everytime you step on this field, it's a true blessing."

Lewis, who will turn 37 by the time training camp begins, endured one of the roughest seasons of his career. He injured his toe late in the season that caused him to miss four games and didn't play at the same high level when he returned.

Still, he led the Ravens with 95 tackles and recorded two sacks, one interception and seven forced fumbles. The Ravens might have to consider reducing Lewis' snaps next season to save the wear and tear on his body. He's been an every-down player since he entered the league in 1996.

But Lewis isn't thinking about leaving the game, setting new standard for longevity among NFL middle linebackers. Mike Singletary retired after 12 seasons before his play declined. Jack Lambert walked away after 11 years because of a severe toe injury. And Dick Butkus stopped after nine seasons because of multiple knee injuries.

"For us to be here now, I'm hungry again and I'm thirsty again," Lewis said. "Every time you go through something like this, it has to drive you. I truly believe that's the only thing that makes people great. It's not the ones who always winning that people remember. It's the ones who go through tough times."

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Vince Wilfork a rock for Patriots defense

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was holding the shiny, silver Lamar Hunt Trophy in his left arm, still reveling in the excitement of his team's 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, when he was asked a question about defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.

It naturally brought a smile to Kraft's face because it was days like these, and magical seasons like this one, that led Kraft to once point to Wilfork as the type of player the franchise needed to build around.

This goes back to the days and months following a disappointing 2009 campaign. You remember the year, the one that ended with an embarrassing home playoff loss to the Ravens. All the talk was about a fractured locker room, too many players pulling in different directions. Building better chemistry was a top priority, and Kraft said it was going to start with players like Wilfork, so the team signed him to a lucrative long-term contract extension.

It helped, of course, that Wilfork was a top-tier player at a hard-to-fill position. But it was more than that. Wilfork would not only be positioned to serve as one of the team's leaders, helping to transition from the glory years of Bruschi, Vrabel, Harrison and Co., but he'd also be the centerpiece the defense could rely on in critical moments to deliver the big play.

Wilfork has done that over the last two years, and had been a solid contributor since the team selected him in the first round of the 2004 draft, but his finest moment came in Sunday's thrilling triumph.

The conservatively-listed 325-pound bowling ball of force was immense, his performance highlighting a defensive uprising that helped bail out a Patriots offense that wasn't as explosive as we're come to expect.

"Vince Wilfork is a man," Kraft said after Wilfork's six-tackle performance that included a sack and three tackles for losses. "The kind of leader he is, we're so lucky to have him on this team."

The defining Wilfork moment came with just more than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Patriots leading 23-20, and the Ravens with the ball on the New England 30.

At that point, he took over the game, blowing up both the third- and fourth-down plays, first dropping running back Ray Rice for a 3-yard loss (Wilfork said he was surprised to not be blocked), then powering through center Matt Birk before reaching out to grab Flacco's jersey to force a fourth-down incompletion (he credited a sideline adjustment in which the Patriots altered their alignment up front).

There were days when Wilfork was mostly a first- and second-down run-stopper, but those two plays highlighted how that time is decisively over. Wilfork is a rock in the middle. He also can be an explosive pass-rusher, his playing time spiking from around 60 percent in 2010 to nearly 90 percent this year because he's staying on the field in passing situations.

"Awesome. Just awesome. It's almost hard to not find yourself watching," fellow veteran defensive lineman Gerard Warren marveled. "That's why I believe he's the most impressive D-lineman in the game."

During a season in which the Patriots' defense has been much maligned, Wilfork represents its heartbeat. He never budged, never wavered. All along, he insisted this unit had what it takes to play championship football, even as opponents were sometimes carving them up with ease.

Teammates consistently took a cue from Wilfork's resolve, such as in Sunday's AFC Championship when he played through a left arm injury that had him retreating to the sideline in the second quarter. It kept him out just one play, a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta.

"I knew he was going to come out and have the game he had," said second-year linebacker Brandon Spikes, who contributed a fourth-quarter interception. "Throughout the week, he made sure we were together as a unit, with all the smaller things, taking care of business. We follow him. He's a great leader, sort of like a coach to me, helping me with smaller details that I never, ever pay attention to. He was big."

He was, and so was the Patriots' defense as a whole. If not for cornerback Sterling Moore reaching his hand in to bat away a would-be Lee Evans touchdown reception with 22 seconds left, we might be telling a different story.

Instead, the defense was lauded by quarterback Tom Brady. Interviewed by CBS' Jim Nantz after the game, Brady said, "I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us."

Based on what we saw over the course of the regular season, who would have ever predicted that turn of events?

On Sunday, the D held dangerous running back Ray Rice to 67 yards on 21 carries. When the Ravens passed, the plan was to move quarterback Joe Flacco out of the pocket as much as possible, and the results were mixed. Flacco was solid (22-of-36 for 306 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), but the Patriots' defense had the last laugh.

It's a defense with a rising confidence, one that looks similar to the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, a team that received a major boost with the return of injured safety Bob Sanders for the playoffs that season. They might not be at the same level of Sanders, but Spikes and safety Patrick Chung, who both missed seven of the final eight regular-season games, have had a Sanders-type impact.

"I'm very proud," said linebacker Jerod Mayo, the unit's other captain. "Just getting guys back healthy has been a major contribution -- getting Spikes, getting Chung back -- [and] just the consistency up front."

Both Spikes and Chung bring a noticeable edge to the D, which was also reflected in how Spikes responded to criticism the unit received over the course of the season.

"Talk is cheap. You can say whatever. You have to play the game at the end of the day and defense wins championships," he said. "Look at the outcome [Sunday]. That's all I have to say about that."

It spoke volumes.

"Watching the defense has been great, how it's evolved," Kraft said. "I go back to '96 when we went to our first Super Bowl, really the defense played a big role in helping us. We know our defense has really improved a great deal. I think having Brandon and Patrick back made a great difference."

It has, but don't forget the old standby. When it comes to the Patriots' defense, it starts with Wilfork.

"Just to see all the excitement from all the guys -- the fans, the players, the coaches, guys that have never been in this situation -- it brings back memories," Wilfork said.

"You're going to the Super Bowl; everybody plays this game for this moment," Wilfork said. "It's been tough. We had to deal with certain situations, but you know, this team handled it pretty well. They never gave up. They're very, very passionate about what they do, they love this game, and I can take the field with anybody like that."

They'll do it one more time, in Super Bowl XLVI.

Wilfork, of course, will be leading the way.

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Chase Ford Raises His Draft Stock

TE Chase Ford, Miami (Fla.): With only 16 career catches at Miami the past two years, Ford was a bit of an unknown entering this week. But he quickly showed off his skills as a natural pass catcher with fluid body control and terrific hand/eye coordination. At 6-feet-6 and 258 pounds, Ford has the size and frame for the position with reliable hands, especially in traffic. He is a bit one-dimensional as a pass-catcher and needs a lot of work as a blocker, but certainly put his name on the draftable radar after his work this week.

Ford had a leaping 64-yard catch-and-run for the East in the East-West Shrine Game in a 24-17 loss. Ford finished with the most receiving yards for the East squad. Ford was tough to guard all week and he flashed his potential when he made a big 64 yard grab and run despite taking a big shot on the play. Like many other athletic tight ends, Ford needs major work on his blocking, but he certainly has upside and is worth a look at.

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Laron Byrd Impresses

LaRon Byrd received rave reviews all week in the East-West Shrine Game practices and continued his solid performance in the actual game. Byrd caught two passes, including a 3-yard touchdown from Southern Mississippi quarterback Austin Davis with 20 seconds left in the first half.

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Frank Gore gets 22 touches in playoff loss

Frank Gore rushed for 74 yards on 16 carries and caught six balls for 45 yards in the 49ers' playoff loss to the Giants.

Gore finished strong with 163 yards on 29 postseason carries (5.62 YPC), but his regular season stretch-run struggles are a concern entering his age-29 campaign. (Gore turns in late May.) 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh's run-first scheme led to Gore registering his lowest reception total (17) since his rookie year, and Gore's rushing production dropped significantly in the season's second half. With Kendall Hunter deserving a larger role, Gore will be a risky early-round pick in 2012 fantasy drafts.

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Vince Wilfork’s helmet removal wouldn’t have given Cundiff another try

Several Ravens fans have pointed out that, after Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff made like Gary Anderson late in the AFC title game, Pats defensive lineman Vince Wilfork removed his helmet in the field of play.  And several Ravens fans wonder whether the maneuver should have resulted in a penalty that would have given the Ravens another shot at the failed field goal attempt.

The first name that first comes to mind in such situations?  Dwayne Rudd.

In Week One of the 2002 season, the former Browns linebacker believed he’d tackled former Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, ending the game.  Rudd celebrated by removing his helmet and throwing it.  But Green had managed to lateral the ball to tackle John Tait, who carried it 28 yards to the Cleveland 25.  The officials then moved the ball half the distance to the end zone, awarded the Chiefs an untimed down, and a 30-yard field goal from Morten Andersen (whose foot eventually won for Atlanta the game Gary Anderson blew for Minnesota) delivered the victory, 40-39.
Today, Wilfork’s helmet removal should have resulted in a penalty.  But it wouldn’t have altered the outcome of the game.

“A post-possession foul, i.e. after the play is over, the penalty spot is enforced from the succeeding spot,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora told PFT by email.  “So it would be half the distance to the goal, and Patriots football.”

In other words, the officials’ failure to penalize Wilfork for removing his helmet in the field of play had no impact on the outcome of the game.  The field goal had been missed, the Pats had secured possession, and the infraction would have simply moved the Patriots from their own 22 to their own 11 for the final snap of the game.

That won’t make Ravens’ fans feel any better.  But at least they shouldn’t feel any worse.

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Did Sam Shields Regress?

Sam Shields: Shields regressed in his second season as the nickel back. Time after time he'd lose contact with the receiver because he'd peek into the backfield looking for the interception. If anything, his ability to leverage receivers and use proper technique slipped. Shields was able to outrun some of his mistakes because of that blinding speed. Still, he gave up nine passes of 20 yards or more and 4½ TD passes. Shields also didn't seem the least bit embarrassed about turning down tackles and keeping an arm's length away from piles. Remember, he was a wide receiver at Miami through the 2008 season. Shields is 24. Either he'll become more of a pro or his career will fizzle out. Grade: C-minus.

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Vince Wilfork seizes the moment

The Patriots have been highly successful in Vince Wilfork’s eight years with the team. But the defensive tackle is only wearing one Super Bowl ring, which he won in his rookie season in 2004.

Wilfork fully grasps the opportunity he has to earn his second ring in two weeks after the Patriots defeated the Ravens, 23-20, yesterday in the AFC Championship game.

“It’s a special feeling,” Wilfork said. “To be in this situation was a great feeling but you have to cherish this moment. This is America’s game, this is America’s sport. Everyone is going to be watching. Everybody was watching tonight. Even whoever we face in the Super Bowl, guess what, they had a chance to see us, this game a little bit. You have so many people just watching this football game. All the eyes are on you. Every move, every interview, every play: you have to make the best of it. Hopefully you can prepare well and walk away with a ‘W.’ Like I said, I’ve been on both teams – a win and a loss. I hate losing, especially in this game. I’m going to have to do everything I can to help my teammates and I’m pretty sure that it won’t be hard to get that same attitude from these guys.”

Early in his career, Wilfork expected that trips to the Super Bowl would be an annual occurrence. After a string of disappointing postseason performances, Wilfork has come to appreciate how difficult it is to reach this point.

“Everybody plays this game for this moment,” Wilfork said. “This is what we play for. At the beginning of the year, you have 32 teams at the bottom and everybody is climbing the ladder to get to this moment right here. Luckily, we got to this moment. It’s been tough. Nothing’s been easy. We had to deal with certain situations, but you know, this team handled it pretty well. They never gave up. They’re very, very passionate about what they do. They love this game and I can take the field with anybody like that.”

Wilfork was a monster today, leading the way for the much-maligned defense’s best effort of the season. He had six tackles (three for a loss) and a sack. The Ravens running game never got going, partly due to Wilfork’s constant presence in Baltimore’s backfield.

“It’s just a good football game,” Wilfork said. “You saw a great football game tonight. You’ve seen a classic of two football teams that didn’t want to budge. (It was a) physical football game and plays being made, but not many. Every yard was tough. That’s what you saw tonight. You saw just a great, great effort and it came down to the last couple of seconds. But, two guys don’t want to have to lose. I’m happy to be on the winning side.”

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Kenny Phillips fined $7,500

Three NFL players have been given $7,500 fines for actions during the divisional round of the playoffs: Broncos linebacker Von Miller, Patriots safety Patrick Chung and Giants safety Kenny Phillips.

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Brandon Harris couldn't play on special teams

Texans CB Brandon Harris reportedly struggled to get on the field as a rookie due to a "lack of speed."

Harris had no role in Houston's secondary, and coaches felt he didn't run downfield fast enough to contribute on kick and punt coverage. Undersized with a 4.53 forty time, Harris probably won't be viewed as future starter by the Texans. He may get a chance to play behind Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and nickel back Brice McCain in 2012, replacing free agent Jason Allen.

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Vince Wilfork delivers in AFC Championship victory

FOXBOROUGH -- Vince Wilfork spent his Sunday night controlling the line of scrimmage, earning six tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack during New England's 23-20 AFC Championship victory against the Baltimore Ravens. But it was the timing of Wilfork's plays, more than the quantity of them, which set his performance apart.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Ravens faced third and three on the Patriots 30-yard line. Almost as soon as Ray Rice received the hand off, Wilfork snuffed the run three yards behind the line of scrimmage. That forced a Baltimore fourth down, and the lost yardage also might have encouraged Baltimore to go for a first down rather than attempting a field goal.

Wilfork struck again on the fourth down, grabbing Flacco's shirt and forcing an errant pass that gave New England possession.

"I thought Vince had a lot of big plays today," said Bill Belichick. The Patriots coach later added, "He leads the way for us on defense – he and Jerod (Mayo). Vince is obviously our most experienced player and he's been a great leader, great captain all year."

"I knew it was going to happen," said linebacker Brandon Spikes of Wilfork's dominant night. "All through the week he was taking steps – getting us together as a whole unit, doing all the smaller things, all the extra stuff that made sure we were ready for this game. His performance just says it all. If you put in the work, that's the outcome you get."

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Glenn Cook enjoying job as scout for Indianapolis Colts

CORAL GABLES – While at a Battle of Florida All-Star Game practice on Wednesday, I ran into former Hurricanes linebacker and graduate assistant Glenn Cook, now a scout for the Indianapolis Colts.

He joined the organization in June.

Cook, who looked the part wearing a white Colts polo shirt and blue visor pulled down low, said he’s really enjoying scouting and that it suits him better than coaching.

“It’s always been my passion evaluating players,” said Cook, who played in 47 games (17 starts) from 2004-08 and recorded 186 career tackles, including a team-high 76 as a senior.

“I always tell the story that when I played video games, I used to do the manager mode and try to put together teams and see how fast you get to the Super Bowl. It was always in me to do it. It’s kind of second-hand, natural.”

Defensive end Adewale Ojomo, one of eight Hurricanes playing in the Battle of Florida on Saturday, said it’s a little weird seeing his former teammate evaluating NFL hopefuls this week.

“I spent a couple of years with him at UM and he’s a good friend of mine, a very good guy,” Ojomo said. “I always knew he’d make that transition because he was always good with the X’s and O’s and is a very social person.”

At this time last year, Cook joined Hurricanes coach Al Golden’s staff as a graduate assistant. Now he’s helping influence draft decisions after attending both college and pro games during the season.

“It’s a little pressure because you’re putting your name on something, saying this guy can play in the NFL or not, but it’s fun. It’s football at the end of the day,” Cook said.

“I’ve never been through the draft process, so it’ll be fun to see how it all pans out from when I first started at the beginning of the season.”

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Santana Moss flagged in foreclosure

Duetsche Bank has flagged Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss for not paying the mortgage on his Lighthouse Point home.

The former University of Miami    Hurricane great was signed to a three-year, $15 million contract with the Redskins in July that also included a $5 million signing bonus. So it is surprising that Duetsche Bank, representing a mortgage-backed securities (MBS) trust, would allege that Moss has gone into default on a mortgage issued for $3.64 million in 2006.

Further compounding his trouble, the IRS filed a $258,017 tax lien in November in Broward County Circuit Court against Moss. It concerned his taxes from 2006.

A call to Drew Rosenhaus, Moss’ Miami-based agent, wasn’t immediately returned.

It has been a rough year on the field for the former Pro Bowl player. Not only did his Redskins miss the playoffs, but Moss missed four games with a broken hand. However, he was coming off a 2010 campaign where he caught a career-high 93 passes for 1,115 yards and six touchdowns.

With the proceeds of his successful career, Moss bought the 9,304-square-foot home for $5.2 million in 2006. County records show that he maintains his homestead on the property, indicating that it is his primary residence.

Now the speedy Moss will be challenged with the task of slipping by his lender and maintaining possession of his house.

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John Salmons Questionable For Monday

John Salmons, who missed Saturday's game due to a stomach virus, has been released from the hospital and is questionable for Monday night's game against the Trail Blazers.

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Ryan Braun indirectly addresses positive test during MVP speech

Ryan Braun never specifically mentioned his positive drug test and possible 50-game suspension when he accepted his National League MVP award at a black-tie dinner Saturday night.

But no doubt everyone in the crowd of around 800 knew exactly what the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder was talking about when he thanked the Major League Baseball Players Assn. “especially for supporting me through everything I've went through over the last couple of months.”

Braun had more to say on the matter ... indirectly, of course.

“You know, sometimes in life, we all deal with challenges we never expected to endure,” he told the crowd Saturday in a New York hotel ballroom.

“We have an opportunity to look at those challenges and view them either as obstacles or as opportunities, and I've chosen to view every challenge I've ever faced as an opportunity and this will be no different. I have always believed that a person's character is revealed through the way they deal with those moments of adversity.”

"I've always loved and had so much respect for the game of baseball. Everything I've done in my career has been done with that respect and appreciation in mind. And that is why I'm so grateful and humbled to accept this award tonight."

Braun, who hit .312 with 33 home runs and 111 RBIs in 2011, was found to have an abnormally high level of testosterone during a drug test in October. His grievance appeal to avoid a suspension began Thursday.

He did not take questions from reporters Saturday night.

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Yasmani Grandal Ranked As a Top 10 Catcher Prospect

Yasmani Grandal, Padres: The possible competition for a big league job between Grandal and Mesoraco was averted when Cincinnati sent Grandal to San Diego in the Mat Latos deal. The 2010 first-rounder is now the Padres' top catching prospect, and after finishing 2011 in Triple-A, he should be knocking on the door soon. Grandal showed an ability to hit from both sides of the plate, with some power and an advanced approach at the plate. He should be a capable catcher defensively, though he could use some move development time, and his strong arm enabled him to throw out basestealers during his climb. Only Nick Hundley really stands in his way, and when Grandal is ready, he should be given an opportunity.

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