Leonard Hankerson (hip) practicing on Thursday

Leonard Hankerson (hip surgery) has been cleared for the start of training camp, as expected.

"(The hip) feels pretty good right now," Hankerson said after Thursday morning's walk through. "We're just going to take it step-by-step to see how it goes. Hopefully it holds up." Although Hankerson went "full speed" Thursday, he appears to have fallen behind Santana Moss and Josh Morgan in the race for the starting job opposite Pierre Garcon. He's a player to track throughout August.

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Raiders Camp Battle: DeMarcus Van Dyke vs. Spencer

DeMarcus Van Dyke vs. Shawntae Spencer
Tale of the tape:
Spencer: 9th season, 6-1, 190, Pittsburgh
Van Dyke: 2nd season, 6-1, 180, Miami

With seven years experience on Van Dyke, Spencer would seem to have the upper hand here...by a long shot. But no less an authority than general manager Reggie McKenzie said at the end of the Raiders' three-day mandatory minicamp in June that "nobody got it locked down." Spencer endured an injury-filled 2011 in San Francisco and lost his job after having a "burn rate" of 44.4 percent, giving up four receptions on nine targets. "It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done," Spencer said. "They want everyone to embrace the team concept and playing together and playing within each scheme." Van Dyke, meanwhile, is intriguing with his blazing speed -- he ran a 4.25-seconds 40-yard dash at the Combine -- and potential as a cover corner. He had a Raiders CB-best burn rate of 43.8 last season, giving up 14 receptions on 32 targets for 167 yards and a touchdown while being credited with four passes defensed. "It’s vision defense," he said. "You see a lot of stuff and we’re going to make a lot of plays next year." Indeed, we will see.

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Eagles, Jeremy Shockey still have 'mutual' interest

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, there remains "mutual" interest between the Eagles and free agent Jeremy Shockey.

"Nothing is close to happening now," however, cautions the Daily News. The Eagles still haven't brought Shockey in for a physical, perhaps because they want to give youngsters Brett Brackett and Chase Ford a chance to make a mark early in camp.

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Travis Benjamin has "clearly made significant strides since offseason workouts"

Rookie WR Travis Benjamin has "clearly made significant strides since offseason workouts," according to Vic Carucci of the Browns official website.

The fourth-rounder has been running more precise routes, showing more explosiveness and catching everything thrown his way. Benjamin is competing with Josh Gordon, Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper for snaps in multi-wide sets this season.

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Rashad Butler In A Big Position Battle

RT -- Rashad Butler vs. Derek Newton. Butler is entering his sixth year with the Texans and will try to replace Eric Winston, who the Texans parted ways with this offseason. Winston had started 87 consecutive games for the Texans since 2006 and replacing him will be no easy task. Butler has started just four games in his first six years, all coming at left tackle in 2010 when filling in for Duane Brown. However, like Caldwell, Butler has been in the system and does have game experience. Derek Newton was a seventh-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he appeared in 14 games during his rookie year. Don't be surprised if Newton gives Butler a run for that starting right tackle spot.

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Willis McGahee wants to run 'until the wheels fall off, baby'

When Willis McGahee broke into the league in 2003, he was coming off a horrific injury suffered in his last college game -- three torn ligaments in his left knee on a hit from Ohio State's Will Allen in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

Given that injury and the typically short career span of running backs, McGahee's goal upon being a first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills was simple: make it to 10 seasons. He did that by arriving in training camp Thursday. Now he hopes for more, his career being rejuvenated by his move to Denver and a Pro Bowl season last year.

"It makes you feel young again, because I was telling somebody, 'Man, all I want to do is get to 10 years,'" McGahee said thursday. "Now I'm at 10, I want to go more. So, keep on going until the wheels fall off, baby."

McGahee hopes that third-round pick Ronnie Hillman can spell him well enough to keep the nagging injuries that dogged him in 2011 from returning, thus extending his effectiveness. He's taken the San Diego State product under his wing -- but hasn't treated Hillman, the Broncos' youngest player at 21 years of age, like a rookie.

"I don't even call him 'Young Rook.' I call him Ronnie," McGahee said. "Ronnie is one of the guys, man. I'm not one of those guys that's going to bother the rookies, because I didn't get bothered when I was a rookie, so I try not to do anything like that.

"I just mess with him in meetings, like, 'You don't (sit) in meetings like this is college.' The meetings here are long. But he's coming around. He's adjusting pretty well."

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Devin Hester tried to help his cousin that is wanted on murder charges

Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester brought his cousin Antoinne Hester to the Chicago area to work at his football camp late last month just days before officials in Florida say he shot and killed a man.

Antoinne Robert Hester, 22, has been charged with murder and is being sought in Broward County, Fla., for the July 4 shooting death of a man in a car on Interstate 95. It’s a troubling family situation for Devin Hester, who told the Chicago Tribune he’s done what he can to help family members over the years, including having his cousins work at his football camp, that was held June 29-30.

“It affects family members," Devin Hester said. "I always have my cousins come to help me, to work in the camp. It helps me and at the same time kind of puts a little money in their pockets. So, three days later, after he left, that incident happened. It is very shocking to me.

“It does take a toll on the family, but at the same time some of my family down there, I hate to say this, but that is just the life they live. And, you know, you try to be a role model with the situation I am in, playing football. But sometimes people are stuck in an environment where they can't get out. It's just the worst situation that he is in and a bad decision that he made.”

Devin Hester does not know where his cousin, who remains a fugitive, is. Police have questioned Devin Hester about his cousin and he says he has cooperated with their efforts.

“Word on the street was he was still up here with me when that incident happened," Devin Hester said. "I told them my cousin, he was home, he left here Sunday (July 1). That was pretty much it. I love my family. I hate to see something like this."

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Ray Lewis attributes weight loss to changing game

As Jets jack-of-many-trades Tim Tebow gains weight to prepare for the additional punishment he’ll absorb this year, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has opted to go lean.

Gantt points out in the one-liners that Lewis is lighter than 240 pounds.  So how much lighter?

Lewis won’t say.  He could be at 230 or less, and he looks noticeably thinner in a video posted at the Baltimore Sun website.

Lewis attributes the adjustments in his body to the adjustments in the sport.  “[T]he game is changing,” Lewis said, via Matt Vensel of the Baltimore Sun.  “[A]in’t no more 250, 260-pound fullbacks and the offense running the ball 25, 30, 40-plus times.”

Lewis said that coaches have told him over the years that it’s important to get lighter as a player gets later in his career.

His goal is to be able to keep up with the Gronkowskis of the world, as passing offenses rely on versatile tight ends to attack the middle of the field that Lewis previously has patrolled in search of tailbacks.  If Lewis can’t run with the tight ends, he could be chased off the field.

While the reduced weight could make Lewis more mobile, it also could make him more susceptible to injury.  And it could cause 2012 opponents that have potent running games to run right at Ray.

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Fully Healthy Roscoe Parrish has Big Plans for 2012

Following a couple of injury plagued seasons, wide receiver Roscoe Parrishicon-article-link is ready for a fresh start with the San Diego Chargers.

In his prime, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound receiver was one of the most explosive returners in the game. Over his career, he has totaled 135 punt returns for 1,622 yards and three touchdowns as well as 29 kickoffs for 685 yards. Thus, it’s no surprise this is where he is planning on making an immediate impact.

“On special teams in particular is where I can really help this team,” he said following Tuesday’s practice with the rookies.  “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be out here and I’m ready to make the most of it.”

The speedy, fleet-footed Parrish has played in only 10 games since 2010 while dealing with a pair of season ending injuries.  In 2010, a wrist injury finished his campaign eight games in while in 2011 his year came to an abrupt end after just two weeks due to  an ankle injury. Now, fully healthy, Parrish is hopeful that he can bring his big play ability to the Chargers.

“I’m feeling good for the first time in a while,” he said happily.  “I feel great. I’ve been hurt the previous two years, so I appreciate having the chance to do my job and get back on top of my game.”

Parrish isn’t satisfied to simply make an impact on special teams; he plans on making a splash in the passing game as well. While he is certainly known for his return skills, he has shown he is equally adept on offense, amassing 134 receptions for 1,502 yards and seven scores over his career. Parrish also believes having a quarterback such as Philip Riversicon-article-link throwing him the ball will elevate his game to new heights.

“Just being around an elite quarterback like Philip Rivers and the passion he has for this game, it makes you want to match his intensity,” he said. “You’ve got to be disciplined to play with him and run disciplined routes. I mean, the ball is going to be there.  Even in the smallest of windows he will fit that ball in there so I’ve got to make the right adjustments and be ready to make the play.”

Listening to the passion in which he spoke about this upcoming season, Chargers fans could be in for a treat should Parrish show he is back to being his regular, explosive self.

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Bryant McKinnie absent from Baltimore Ravens camp

Last summer, Bryant McKinnie had his contract terminated by the Minnesota Vikings when he showed up for training camp at nearly 400 pounds. This summer, McKinnie's roster spot with the Baltimore Ravens may be in jeopardy because, well, he was absent due to an undisclosed issue, Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times reports.

"Well, he contacted us through a representative," Harbaugh said of McKinnie. "He's dealing with an issue right now. I don't really want to speak for him on that. He can speak for himself on that."

The Ravens held McKinnie out of the June minicamp to prevent injury, but also to allow him to focus on improving his conditioning and getting his weight down.
As was the case during the minicamp, the Ravens used 2009 first-round pick Michael Oher at left tackle.

"Until further notice, (Oher) is the left tackle", Harbaugh said on Thursday according to the Baltimore Sun. If the McKinnie situation lingers, or one of the younger tackles steps up on the right side, it would not be a surprise if the Ravens came to the decision that they can live with Oher protecting Joe Flacco's blindside and part ways with McKinnie and his $3.2 million base salary.

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Santana Moss Poised For Big Season

WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- As players were sprinting off following Thursday's very first 2012 training camp walk through, I was lucky enough to grab Santana Moss for two minutes.

The first thing I blatantly observed from the Redskins offense was a serious increase in the amount of shotgun and pistol plays. I asked Moss about this development, and though he tried to be as cryptic as possible, the change is apparent.

"That stuff you'll have to keep watching man (smiles). There's not much else I can tell you. You have to play according to who you have," said the 12-year veteran. "We have to take advantage of who we have at quarterback."

Moss has reported to camp with a significant weight loss, one that some are indicating could revitalize his career. Last season Moss played at 205 pounds and caught just four touchdown passes on 46 receptions. This season? He's listed at 189 lbs. Keep in mind it was just an early walk-through, but Moss looked sharp lined up in the slot receiver position.

"It was a change of diet, it was working out. It was just doing stuff I had done earlier in my career," the 33-year-old said. "I played three years heavy as hell. I wanted the weight off of me, so I did it."

Lastly, Moss raved about the few days he and some fellow receivers spent with Robert Griffin III in Waco, Texas -- from a football standpoint and in terms of team bonding.

"Basically we got all these new guys on the team and it was the perfect way to get to know everybody. It was giving [Griffin] a little [idea] about who he has on the outside. It was everything I imagined and a little more."

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Fox plans for life without D.J. Williams

ENGLEWOOD, Co. -- The Denver Broncos must get used to playing without starting weakside linebacker D.J. Williams for the first six games of the season, so they will likely get a jump on it immediately.

Thus, Williams shouldn’t expect to get a lot of work with the first-team defense this summer.

“Obviously, he’s going to miss a big portion of the season,” Denver coach John Fox said. “We already know, going in, that he won’t be with the [starters] for games 1-6, so I don’t know that he’ll get many [starter] reps in this camp.”

Williams is facing the six-game suspension for using a banned substance. He could also face further NFL discipline if he is convicted in a drunk driving case next month. He has been arrested twice for drunk driving as an NFL player.

Expect veteran Wesley Woodyard to get the early first-team repetitions and he has the inside track to start. However, second-year player Nate Irving and sixth-round pick Danny Trevathan could take the job away from Woodyard with good preseason performances.

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Devin Hester: Time with Martz wasn't a waste

The entire Mike Martz Experience in Chicago can be debated on multiple levels, but one enigma left over from his two seasons as the Bears offensive coordinator is Devin Hester.

Martz raised eyebrows and expectations with glowing predictions for Hester’s role and matchup possibilities. Virtually none of that, along with things like lavish receiving totals for Roy Williams, came close to accomplishment.

But Hester, after seasons of 51 and 57 catches under Ron Turner, dropped to 40 in 2010 and 26 last year, the latter attributable in some measure to nagging injuries and increased use in the return game.

It is the truly wasted negative experience, however, that does not contain something positive, if you look at it from the right angle.

So while Hester was understandably disappointed by the false promises of Martz, he nevertheless does not view his Martz years as wasted by any means.

“I think I became a lot better with Martz,” Hester said Wednesday. “Coach Martz helped me out; not only him, but the players that he previously coached as far as Isaac (Bruce), those guys.

“I really trained with those guys and kind of understand what it takes to be a receiver in the NFL. That really helped out a lot. I would say coach Martz helped me out a lot.”

Hester moved from cornerback to wide receiver under Turner starting in 2007. That was a vastly different scheme than what came in with Martz.

Now he is a third system and one that initially has showed him some of the “plan” details, not just talked about them. The net is that Hester begins this training camp a “veteran” of different offenses and different quarterbacks (Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Brian Griese, Jay Cutler, Caleb Hanie,Todd Collins and Josh McCown).

“It’s like coach Tice says, “[it’s] adding another club in your bag.” Going through a lot of offenses, you pick and choose things you feel can help you out and make you a better receiver. I’ve been in about three or four offenses now.

“So I can understand what type of offense is run and what type of offense can work against different defenses.”

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Jonathan Vilma awaits decision

NEW ORLEANS -- A hearing in federal court for suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has wrapped up without an immediate decision about whether he can temporarily return to work.

Vilma is trying to persuade U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to impose a temporary restraining order while his lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell proceeds.

Berrigan did not say when she would rule but has expressed an interest in a quick resolution.

Vilma, former teammates and New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt testified Thursday that Vilma never put up cash for tackles that injured opponents.

Retired Saints Troy Evans and Randall Gay also testified on Vilma's behalf, along with current New Orleans defensive players Roman Harper, Sedrick Ellis, Jonathan Casillas and Scott Shanle.

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Author Sapp explains player Sapp's hit on Packers' Clifton in '02

In his autobiography to be published next month, Warren Sapp does admit there is a play he made in his 13-year National Football League career he wished he could change.

But it isn’t the one in which he put a notorious block on Chad Clifton of the Packers.

In "Sapp Attack," the former Tampa Bay and Oakland defensive tackle wishes he could change the outcome of the tackle he made on San Francisco wide receiver Jerry Rice in 1997 that sidelined Rice for three months with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"I found out later that season that Jerry Rice was upset that I hadn’t called him at the hospital to apologize," Sapp says in the book he wrote with David Fisher. "Apologize? You don’t apologize for a clean hit. I had absolutely nothing to apologize for, but I was very sorry he was hurt."

In the book, Sapp is neither apologetic nor contrite about his hit on Clifton, a point of view he has held in the days following that game in Tampa Bay on Nov. 24, 2002 and has maintained in the years since.

Sapp tells the story of how his trash-talking rivalry with Packers quarterback Brett Favre began and continued, but for the moment, let’s keep today’s camera trained on the Clifton hit, which gained national attention at the time.

Sapp writes he received death threats because of that hit on Clifton during a game the Buccaneers won, 21-7.

The league determined Sapp’s hit to be a legal play and took no disciplinary action, but three years later made it a penalty for hitting a defenseless player.
In his account, Sapp writes that no hit he had in his career was any "bigger or more controversial" than the one on Clifton, but that "it wasn’t the hardest, it definitely wasn’t the hardest, but it was in the open field and got caught on TV, and people never stopped talking about it."

The hit occurred after Favre threw an interception, which cornerback Brian Kelly of Tampa Bay began to return.

Sapp went in search of someone to block.

"On television it appeared like I came across the field and blindsided Clifton, who didn’t even look like he was in the play," Sapp writes. "And then I did a little dance to celebrate that hit. That’s what it looked like. . . . Basically, the impression was that I had mugged an innocent bystander."

But those television images are misleading, Sapp contends.

When a defense intercepts, "instinctively the first thing you do is look for someone to block," Sapp says. "When the team is looking at the game films the next morning, trust me, everybody is going to be watching to see who got the biggest hit on the interception. If you don’t hit someone after an interception you are going to be called out in that room. So you learn to hit anybody – hit a vendor if you have to. But hit somebody."

Sapp says the first player he looks to hit on an interception return is the quarterback because "the protection he is granted by the rules is gone" and "it’s like Superman meeting kryptonite."

Sapp says "Favre took one look at me and started running straight for the sideline" because "he knew that the safest place for him was out of bounds, where he wasn’t going to get hit, and would survive to pass again."

Sapp says since he couldn’t block Favre he went looking for "the left tackle and then the center, in that order." Clifton was the left tackle.

"When Favre took off for the hills I looked for Clifton, and I spotted him on the side of field, but he wasn’t running, he was loafing after the play," Sapp writes. "I was disappointed. I had nobody to hit."

It is common among offensive lineman in the NFL to have self-imposed fines "for not being in the frame," according to Sapp.

"What that means is that when coaches are watching the game film they pause it when the player returning the interception is tackled – and every offensive lineman has to be in that freeze-frame," Sapp writes.

He does not say if the Packers’ offensive lineman had such a fine.

"Right after the interception Clifton was not in the frame – he was loafing," Sapp says. "After Brian made a couple of moves I figured Clifton had to be chasing him. That’s when I looked toward the sideline and saw him la-di-da’ing. The man was on the field of play in a National Football League game. He was a potential tackler. There is a reason my position is called defensive tackle rather than defensive blocker or defensive talker – my job is to hit people. So I hit him. Hit him good, the way I had been taught; the way he would’ve hit me if he had the opportunity. I saved Chad Clifton $1,500 for not being in the frame.

"People complained that he was out of the play when I hit him," Sapp writes. "Except that’s not the way football works. On an interception return the only people out of the play are on the sidelines or in the stands. If he was on the field, he was in that play. I didn’t realize I was supposed to be kind to him. He was loafing across the field. After I hit him I celebrated. . . . I did not know he was hurt when I celebrated."

Packers coach Mike Sherman’s decision to confront Sapp (left, credit: AP) about the hit as the teams left the field added to the play’s notoriety.

What did Sherman say to Sapp?

"Cheap shot, mother------."

"That’s not what he told reporters he said, but trust me, that is what he said," Sapp says. "He was lucky I wasn’t 25 years old without kids and a conscience. That would have gotten ugly. Instead I said to him, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ Members of security tried to get between us, and I warned them to keep their hands off me. I told Sherman, ‘Say it again.’ I moved toward him and he cowered away. ‘You trying to get me to punch you in the damn mouth?’ Oh man, I was overheated. I probably threw some other language in there too.

"The cameramen had come over to us, and Sherman wasn’t saying another word," Sapp says. "On camera he was going to be the good guy. I was livid. I said, ‘You’re so tough, go put on a jersey. C’mon, get some.’ I said a few more words and then walked away."

Sapp reminds readers that two Packers players were penalized for personal fouls during the game.

"Sherman told reporters he was reacting to my celebration, which he ‘perceived as inappropriate,’ " Sapp writes. "My response was much more reasonable, especially when I referred to him as ‘a lying, -----eating hound.’ Later their offensive line coach promised that the next time we played they were going to cut block me and injure me. Yeah, right, I thought, bring ’em on."

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PHOTOS: T'erea Brown Gets Her Olympic Credentials & Arrives At The Olympic Villiage



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Yasmani Grandal not all to blame for opponents' steal rate

Yasmani Grandal isn't stressing about his results controlling the running game. Padres manager Bud Black isn't, either, even with all 17 runners successfully swiping bases against his rookie catcher.

It's simply not all Grandal's fault.

"Don't read too much into those stats," Black said, a day after two stolen bases led to the only runs the Astros managed off Ross Ohlendorf. "There's more to it than that. He's had some tough pitches to throw on, and he hasn't had a whole lot of cooperation from the pitchers as far as their release. There's a lot of factors that go into a caught stealing."

Those factors include how effectively a pitcher holds a runner on base, the type of pitch and its location, and cooperation with middle infielders. What Grandal can control — the mechanics affecting the strength of his throws, glove-to-glove times and accuracy — he's making progress with while learning on the job in the majors.

"His times are fine, his exchange is fine, and his hands are fine," Black said. "Long-term, he's going to be fine. You have to understand that this guy was in the 2010 draft. That's two years in pro ball. The pro game, especially at this level, is a lot different than where he was two years ago at the University of Miami.

"For him to climb this fast, you just don't see that."

And Black expects to see more progression as Grandal acclimates to the big leagues. To that end, Grandal was working on his mechanics before Monday's game, specifically keeping his left knee and foot and head in line on throws to second base as opposed to drifting toward third.

"It's working out so far," Grandal said. "I was pretty comfortable in the minor leagues because I knew I could do it. Then I get here and you kind of press a little bit, especially catching. You know, I'm not too worried about the running game. There's so many things that go into it.

"... As long as I'm making good throws, I'm happy with what I'm doing."

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Miami Dolphins sign 3rd-round pick Olivier Vernon

The Dolphins agreed to terms on a four-year contract with rookie defensive end Olivier Vernon, a league source confirmed Wednesday afternoon after it was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

Vernon, a third-round pick (72nd overall) out of University of Miami, signed a four-year contract worth $2,848,080 with a $638,080 signing bonus. He will likely play this year as the Dolphins’ pass-rushing specialist on obvious passing downs.

Vernon’s signing means the Dolphins are down to two unsigned draft picks out of nine total — first-round quarterback Ryan Tannehill and third-round tight end Michael Egnew. According to several reports, the Dolphins and Tannehill are squabbling over “offset language” that would not fully guarantee Tannehill’s four-year contract (the Vikings, Chiefs and Jaguars are also digging in over offset language with their first-round picks).

It is unclear what is holding up Egnew’s negotiation, but both he and Tannehill still have two days to hash out their contracts before the Dolphins hold their first practice of the season Friday at 8 a.m. Neither Tannehill or Egnew are expected to stage any sort of extended holdout over their contracts, and odds are that both will be at practice on Friday. Tannehill joined a group of Dolphins at workout Wednesday morning that included Matt Moore, Chad Johnson, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and others.

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Did Ray Lewis lose too much weight?

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Ray Lewis has made a Hall of Fame career out of stopping running backs. Entering his 17th NFL season, Lewis is looking more like a running back.

As the Ravens reported to training camp Wednesday, Lewis acknowledged that he is at his lightest weight since entering the league in 1996. A coach told him that the later you get in your career, the lighter you need to be in order to play.

Lewis took that to heart this offseason, saying he is "much lighter" than his listed playing weight of 240 pounds.

"The game is changing," Lewis said. "The game ain't no more 250, 260-pound fullback and you don't have offenses running the ball 25, 30, 40-plus times. That was my thought process was coming into this year. Playing lighter is much smarter for me."

This is rationale thinking considering the NFL has turned into a passing league, and it's hard to second-guess perhaps the greatest linebacker to ever play the game. But you have to wonder if Lewis lost too much weight this offseason.

Lewis wouldn't reveal his weight -- "I keep that to myself," he said -- but let's estimate he's around 230 pounds. He still has to fight through blockers. He still has to take on big running backs in the AFC North like the Browns' Trent Richardson (228 pounds), the Bengals' BenJarvus Green-Ellis (220 pounds) and the Steelers' Isaac Redman (230 pounds).

Baltimore has never had to worry about teams consistently running against its defense with Lewis in the middle. The Ravens have never allowed more than 3.9 yards per carry in any season. But that's been with Lewis weighing between 250 and 260 pounds.

Still, you have to respect Lewis' longevity. When he goes against Richardson, he's facing a back who was 5 years old when Lewis played his first game in the NFL.

Lewis said he never thinks about retirement and doesn't reflect on the toll in making 2,586 tackles.

"It's really about making the play, whether it's a tackle, a big hit or a sack. It's about making a play," Lewis said. "Whether you think about how you feel or not after the play, I really don't. Somebody feels it."

But inflicting those hits could be more challenging at this lower weight.

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Santana Moss Officially Down 16 Pounds

ASHBURN – The Washington Redskins released an updated roster on Wednesday after players reported to the team’s facility for physicals in advance of Thursday’s start to training camp.

Receiver Santana Moss, who said he lost as many as 15 pounds since the end of last season, officially weighed in at 189 pounds on Wednesday – 16 fewer than the beginning of camp a year ago.

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All About The []_[] - Willis McGahee

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Will Leonard Hankerson Break Through?

WR Leonard Hankerson. He finally showed life with a 106-yard day vs. Miami on Nov. 13, only to tear the labrum in his hip. He needed surgery in the offseason when rest and rehab didn't take and he was unable to practice in the spring. Hankerson and Redskins coaches say he'll be ready when camp starts Thursday, but you can't assume he'll be a big factor in the passing game for a while. There's still a notion that he's too much of a long strider to run all the necessary routes in this system. So even if healthy Hankerson has much to prove. The Redskins also have Josh Morgan and Santana Moss, both of whom play the Z and slot positions like Hankerson.

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Ray Lewis working to shift spotlight from athletes in trouble

Athletes have been making news recently, and it hasn’t been entirely positive. From domestic violence to drunk driving to confrontations with media and fans, sports figures have been highlighted in the news.

Those stories have pushed aside those of athletes who are working to improve their hometowns and their communities. Ray Lewis said he has come to accept that athletes behaving badly will always grab more headlines than those working to make a difference.

“That’s just the way it is,” the Ravens inside linebacker said Monday evening during an appearance at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore where he announced a partnership between the United Athletes Foundation and accounting firm Baker Tilly. “People have made it their jobs now to report all the bad stuff. Is it fair or not? I don’t think it is because the people you’re actually covering are human beings who have emotions and have kids and stuff like that. So there’s a human side to everything that we’re trying to do. That’s why these benefits are so beneficial because when people meet you and realize that the football pads are off, you’re just a regular person that is trying to figure out ways to make the community better. That’s the way that I think we have to use social media to spin that ourselves and really put a light on the things that are opposite from the bad that’s being reported.”

Monday night’s event kicked off a cooperative effort between UAF and Baker Tilly to assist in providing affordable housing and community development in this country. Lewis’ presence signaled an opportunity to help the city of Baltimore, but Lewis pointed out that he is one of approximately 100 pro athletes associated with UAF.

“I think a lot more people do the things that I do. They’re just not mentioned as much as the other side of things,” he said. “I think that other side – trouble – draws more attention and that gets the ‘Breaking News’ label. Things like this just don’t because people do it from their hearts. I’m not going to announce this real loud. If people want to express it, they express it. But to be able to give back to the community the way that I want to give back to the community, you really don’t care about that other side of it. You try to educate people and say, ‘Come do this.’ At the same time, you realize that there are so many people with real problems, and that’s why you keep giving back to organizations like this one time and time again. You realize how huge the problem really is.”

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Jon Beason In A Key Position Battle

MLB – Jon Beason vs. Luke Kuechly. The Panthers will find a spot for both of them, but there's a question as to which one will man the middle, usually considered the quarterback of the defense. Carolina's first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kuechly was the best defensive player in college last season, setting a record with 15.9 tackles per game. The team committed to Beason, a Pro Bowl MLB, last season, signing him to a $50 million contract extension. But Beason missed most of the year with a torn Achilles. He's attending rookie camp to try to shake off the rust and get his reaction time back. Beason has been willing to change positions to help the team in past seasons, and if he's not all the way back, it might be easier to let Kuechly stay in his old college position.

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D.J. Williams won’t be with Broncos’ No. 1 defense during training camp

The biggest news to come out of the Broncos’ press gathering on the eve of training camp is the revelation that for the time in nine seasons, D.J. Williams will not occupy one of the linebacker positions with the No. 1 defense during the team’s first practice Thursday.

“I don’t know that he’ll get many (starter) reps in this camp,” said coach John Fox.

Wesley Woodyard will get the first chance to fill Williams’ spot at the weakside linebacker position. Nate Irving, a second-year player who was the Broncos’ third-round draft pick in 2010, will compete with Woodyard, as will sixth-round rookie Danny Trevathan.

Fox added Williams understands. The veteran linebacker will begin the season serving a six-game suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancement policy.

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Devin Hester looking to catch then run

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- By simply stating his main goal for the 2012 NFL season on Wednesday at training camp, Chicago Bears receiver Devin Hester might have revealed a little more about the team’s upcoming plans for him in the new offense under Mike Tice.

“My biggest thing is when I catch the ball, (I want to) accelerate and make guys miss,” Hester said. “That’s my biggest goal this year: when I get my hands on the ball I want to just explode out and I want to make two or three guys miss before I go down. If it’s only two out there, then I want to score.”

Although the remarks come off as somewhat standard football speak, from this vantage point, it seems a major component of the Hester package the staff continuously lauds will involve him catching the ball on short routes in space where he can use his blinding speed and athleticism to make defenders miss for large chunks of yardage.

That’s not to say the Bears don’t plan on throwing deep to Hester.

After all, Tice said in June “we can’t be afraid to throw the ball down the field against single coverage.”

So with the Bears expecting Brandon Marshall to draw double coverage from opponents, Hester could be left in more one-on-one matchups in which a missed tackle -- considering Hester’s speed -- could result in the receiver going the distance.

Working in conjunction with quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, Tice morphed the passing portion of the offense into a system very similar to the Denver Broncos’ passing offense of 2008. That means Hester will run defined routes on most plays instead of reading and reacting the way receivers did under former coordinator Mike Martz, who utilized a system heavy with hot routes and patterns that had to be broken off based on the look given by the defense.

Hester says the past two seasons in Martz’s system weren’t wasted. In fact, what he learned with Martz could pay dividends in 2012.

“I think I became a lot better with Martz,” Hester said. “I understand what it takes to be a receiver in the NFL. It’s like coach Tice says, (changing the offense is like) ‘adding another club in your bag.’

Going through a lot of offenses, you pick and choose things you feel can help you and make you a better receiver,” Hester said.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been in about three or four offenses now.”

But this one seems to fit more than others, said Hester, who admitted he’s “trying to copycat everything” done on the field by Marshall, who has extensive experience working with Cutler and Bates.

“We’ve got so many weapons now. We’ll be sitting here all day naming everybody. We’ve got deep threat guys, guys that can go up and get the ball,” Hester said. “We’ve got the quick game, and then we’ve got a running attack with three or four guys that can come in right away and do damage to the defense. This is an offense I think fits me. This offense fits everybody.”

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Jonathan Vilma counsel anticipates calling six to eight witnesses at Thursday hearing

In a Wednesday morning filing, federal judge Helen Berrigan said that counsel for Jonathan Vilma anticipates calling six to eight witnesses to speak at Vilma's temporary restraining order hearing on Thursday. His attorneys also plan to introduce approximately 10 exhibits, as they attempt to demonstrate to Berrigan that Vilma will suffer irreparable harm if his yearlong NFL-imposed suspension is not set aside.

The league's attorneys do not intend to call any witnesses or exhibits, according to Berrigan.

New Orleans Saints interim Coach Joe Vitt said on Monday that he would appear to speak on Vilma's behalf. Saints head trainer Scottie Patton and Vilma, both of whom have submitted sworn affidavits in support of Vilma's motion, are also likely candidates to take the stand.

Drew Brees, who submitted an affidavit on Friday, said Monday that he does not plan to make an appearance.

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Amy Deem, T'erea Brown, Lauryn Williams

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T'erea Brown Talks About Going To The Olympics

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Yasmani Grandal On Fire

C Yasmani Grandal is 6-for-16 in his last four games with three doubles a homer and three RBI. But he has also committed his first three passed balls in the last three games.

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Aubrey Huff close to returning to team after knee injury

SAN FRANCISCO -- Aubrey Huff has been working out with the Giants since he left his rehab assignment on July 19 with tendinitis in his sprained right knee, and manager Bruce Bochy said the veteran first baseman is close to returning to the team.

"We're probably going to make a call on him the next day or so," Bochy said. "Possibly Friday we'll know exactly what we want to do with him."

Bochy said the decision the team makes with Huff's status could potentially be affected by Pablo Sandoval's condition, who strained his left hamstring in Tuesday's game.

Huff sprained his knee while celebrating Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13, and has been batting .155 this season in 58 at-bats with one home run and five RBIs.

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Ryan Braun Leads NL in HRs

Ryan Braun hit safely in all six games of the Brewers' just completed trip (.440, 11 for 25). He also maintained his National League lead by hitting his 28th home run in the eighth inning Wednesday, tying the game at 5-5.

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Yonder Alonso Yasmani Grandal, Padres rout Astros

Yonder Alonso tallied two hits, including a two-run homer, to go with three RBI and two runs scored as the San Diego Padres downed the Houston Astros, 8-2, in the second installment of a four- game set.

Cameron Maybin registered three hits, two RBI and a run scored, while Yasmani Grandal added a pair of hits, an RBI and a run scored for San Diego, which has won three of its last four on the heels of a four-game skid.

Ross Ohlendorf (3-0) fanned six and surrendered two runs -- one earned -- on six hits and one walk in six innings.

Jordan Lyles (2-6) was charged with five runs on 11 hits and two walks in six innings for Houston, which has dropped 14 of its last 16 contests. Marwin Gonzalez recorded three hits and scored a run.

With the game tied 2-2 after four, the Padres plated six unanswered runs -- two in the fifth, one in the sixth and three in the seventh -- to seize control of the contest.

Logan Forsythe slapped a one-out single to right-center and scored when Chase Headley hammered a double to left in the sixth. Headley came home two batters later on Grandal's base hit up the middle to make it 4-2 in favor of San Diego.

Alexi Amarista smacked an RBI single to left in the sixth, while Alonso's RBI double to deep center and Maybin's two-run ground-rule double to left made it 8-2 in the seventh.

Earlier, Houston struck first in the second on Carlos Corporan's RBI groundout, but San Diego retaliated and took the lead in the bottom half on Alonso's two-run blast to left.

The Astros got the run back in the third on J.D. Martinez's run-scoring base hit to left.

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Jon Jay goes back to basics to recapture his swing

Caught in a timing warp at the plate, Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay swore off video last week, stopped looking at clips of that day's opposing pitcher and sought comfort in the only tool he could trust to reset his swing.

He grabbed a batting tee and started from scratch.

"When you're going bad there are so many things going wrong that I said I'm going to go into the cage and back to basics," Jay said. "Hitting the ball to left field. That's been my bread and butter since I was a little kid. When I'm doing that, good things happen."

Good things such as a career-high four hits Sunday as Jay delivered the first two runs of the Cardinals' 7-0 victory against the Cubs.

Jay snapped a lingering funk with his four-for-four game at Busch Stadium, raising his batting average from .289 to .304 in a single afternoon. His two-run, two-out double in the first inning went to left field, his next two singles went to left field, and his fourth hit was a slow hopper that found a soft spot on, yep, the left side of the infield.

Jay, who had been hitting .213 since returning from a shoulder injury that had put him on the disabled list, said his struggles at the plate reached a point that the only solution was to start over. He stopped looking at his past at-bats for clues on what went wrong or what was right. He stopped scanning video of opposing pitchers so that he didn't cloud his head with a different approach every day. Instead, he retreated to the cage with hitting coaches Mark McGwire and John Mabry and went back to the drills he uses when first starting to hit in the offseason.

Timing was the trick.

When the Cardinals drafted Jay out the University of Miami in 2006, scouts described how he had an unorthodox approach at the plate, but when the pitch arrived, it worked to hit for a high average. Jay had a vigorous hand pump, and there was concern that it might lead to a loop in his swing. He called it his "helicopter hands" because of how they rotate before settling down. He tried to stop the pump entirely in the minors, but returned to a reduced version of it as he reached the majors.

"That swing has a lot of stuff going on it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said this weekend as he gave Jay a break from the lineup to find his timing. "It's not like he can have somebody tell him, 'Hey, you're doing this.' You can break it down film-wise, but it's a feeling that comes from the right timing. When you have a lot of moving parts in a swing, it's a lot of maintenance. When he gets it right, it's pretty dynamic."

Jay, who separated his shoulder crashing into the wall earlier this season, insisted there was nothing inhibiting his swing physically.

The time off to heal had thrown off his rhythm. He had become jumpy at the plate, less still as the pitcher delivered the pitch, and, he said Sunday, pulled off some of the pitches. By going back to the tee, he was able to work on calming his stance and drive the ball to left field.

Cubs' starter Travis Wood played into his approach.

Wood, a lefty, had held lefthanded batters such as Jay to a .118 average and a .221 slugging percentage this season. Matheny wanted to get some regulars a breather Sunday and that forced him to use Jay; it also highlighted a statistical curiosity in his struggles. Since June 22, the day he returned from the disabled list, Jay was 10 for 50 (.200) against righthanded pitchers with a only two doubles. Against lefties, he had seven hits in his previous 21 at-bats before Sunday, and he was 11 for 25 (.440) after Sunday's win.

Jay said he was able to take advantage of Wood pitching on the outer third of the plate and drive the ball to ... left field. Jay drove a 2-2 pitch from Wood down the left-field line for the two-run double that put the Cardinals ahead 2-0 in the first inning.

"Looks like his timing is getting there," Matheny said. "Big day for his confidence without question. Hopefully, he can ride that for awhile."

Jay said the sensation he had at the plate had been "building for a couple days," but he cautioned that just because his swing produced results doesn't mean his swing is fixed. That doesn't happen in one game. It happens, he explained, when he's able to make corrections a lot quicker than he has this time.

"Sometimes, you lose it and it's one of those things you can't put a finger on," Jay said. "Look at guys on this team like Carlos (Beltran) and Matt (Holliday), guys who have a lot of success and are real consistent. They find a way to not let those times happen for a long time. That's what I'm trying to do now. Adjust. Get back on track."

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Danny Valencia Could Be Called Up This Week

3B Danny Valencia could be recalled at the end of the week if the Twins need a third baseman to replace Trevor Plouffe, who is nursing a bruised right thumb. Valencia is hitting .249 in 66 games at Class AAA Rochester. "His numbers are not exactly going to indicate that, 'Oh, he's a lock to get back, he's pushed himself back up,'" GM Terry Ryan said. "If we've got a third baseman that goes down, obviously Danny would be the ideal choice to come back. Once we get to a situation where we have to start considering it, we'll call down there to see what those guys have to say."

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PHOTOS: Antrel Rolle's New Glow-in-the-Dark HairDo


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PHOTO: proCanes Javarris James & LaRon Byrd Head To Cardinals Training Camp


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Colts to add Edgerrin James to Ring of Honor on Sept. 23

The Indianapolis Colts will have their Edge back. For a day, then forever as part of their Ring of Honor.
Running back Edgerrin James, the team’s all-time rushing leader, will be inducted into the Ring of Honor on Sept.?23. That day, the Colts play Jacksonville at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Owner Jim Irsay said on Colts.com that James “embodies the talent and competitive nature we seek in every player.’’

Irsay’s appreciation for James was obvious. He awarded him a ring from the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI win over Chicago after the 2006 season even though James wasn’t re-signed prior to that season.

James told Colts.com that the recognition is important to him.

“It is a tremendous honor,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you set out to do and hope to have a career where you can leave a lasting imprint. For me, it’s super important because a lot of my young kids didn’t get a chance to see me play. Now, at least they’ll know their daddy could play a little bit.”

James, the fourth pick in the 1999 draft and a two-time league rushing champ, set career franchise rushing records with 9,226 yards and 2,188 attempts during his seven years with the team. He also holds club marks with 1,709 yards in a season and 219 yards in a game.

In the Ring of Honor, James, whose 12,246 career rushing yards rank No. 11 in NFL history, will join owner Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Chris Hinton, Jim Harbaugh, Ted Marchibroda, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and The 12th Man.

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Eagles work out Visanthe Shiancoe, hold off on Jeremy Shockey

The Philadelphia Eagles continue to shop for veteran tight end help but might delay a meeting with former Panthers tight end Jeremy Shockey that was initially scheduled for Wednesday.

Shockey turns 32 in August and for the first time in 10 NFL seasons, caught fewer than 40 passes last season in Carolina, where he split time with Greg Olsen. Shockey would be a second option behind Brent Celek, who caught 62 passes for 811 yards and five touchdowns in 2011. Celek is signed through 2016.

The Eagles hosted Visanthe Shiancoe, 32, Tuesday morning and he went through a complete workout for coaches and scouts. He has more experience in the West Coast offense but wasn't re-signed by the Vikings in free agency. Minnesota is set with younger options John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph on the roster.

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New Orleans Saints top 25 countdown, Jimmy Graham, No. 2

Borrowing the popular idea from the NFL Network, our New Orleans Saints coverage team came up with our ranking of the top 25 players on the Saints' roster heading into the 2012 season. The idea is to make these rankings as current as possible - essentially deciding who would be the best players on the field if they lined up for a game today. Therefore, past accomplishments and potential are both factored in.

Obviously, that led to some tough decisions, and obviously that will lead to plenty of second guessing. And we'd love to hear it. Feel free to add your comments below as we unveil the list daily leading up to the start of training camp.

Year 3, Age 25. Ht. 6-7, Wt. 265.

We're all so familiar with Graham's rise to stardom now that we risk taking it for granted. But it's worth re-stating the obvious: This guy just started playing football three years ago, and he's already developed into one of the most dynamic tight ends in NFL history.

Graham's first full year as the Saints' starter in 2011 was spectacular. He caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. He briefly broke the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end before New England's Rob Gronkowski passed him up minutes later.

Chances are, Graham will get another crack at the record before his career is up. After all, he's still new to the sport.

Defenses definitely will start devoting more attention and resources to Graham as he's clearly emerged as the Saints' top offensive weapon. But Graham saw a lot of that as last season went on, and he proved he could handle it just fine. As Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins says below, there's some skills that no defensive strategy can stop.

"He's just a pure athlete. There's a lot of stuff where he just has God-given talent that you can't stop. Most of the time, he's taller than everybody, longer than everybody, he can jump higher. And those are the things that, no matter how good your technique or your knowledge of the game is, those are things you just can't stop. Then when you pair him with a quarterback like Drew Brees or even Chase Daniel, it's hard to stop. Some plays that Jimmy makes, as a defense, you just have to live with it and know that as a defense you're just going to have to make them earn it. You've got to force him to make phenomenal plays all the time. He's a force of nature that you really can't stop."

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Ed Reed on time to Baltimore Ravens training camp

Like a safety creeping toward the line of scrimmage before dropping into coverage, Ed Reed will forego a holdout and report on time to Baltimore Ravens training camp.

The word comes straight from Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who said Reed will be with the team on Wednesday, according to the team's official Twitter account.

Harbaugh said he had a "great talk" with the veteran safety, who has spent the spring and summer dropping cryptic hints about his future plans. Reed, 33, wants a contract extension from the Ravens, who appear perfectly content to let the seven-time All-Pro play out the end of the six-year, $40 million contract that he signed in 2006.

It turns out longtime teammate Ray Lewis had a better read on the situation than anyone.

Said Lewis: "Ed is Ed, and when July 25 comes up, Ed will be here and we'll be getting ready to roll."

It now appears so. The next step will be seeing if Reed puts the contract unhappiness behind him. The Ravens don't need any distractions in a Super Bowl-or-bust season.

UPDATE: Ed Reed has reported to Baltimore Ravens training camp on Wednesday, according to NFL.com and NFL Networks Albert Breer.

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Ray Lewis says he's still fighting to be a starter

On the eve of his 17th training camp with the Ravens, inside linebacker Ray Lewis said camp never gets old or boring for him.

In fact, the 12-time Pro Bowler and certain Hall of Famer said he still feels like a rookie trying to carve out a niche for himself on the starting defense.

“It can’t get old because I’m fighting for a starting job,” Lewis said Monday evening during an appearance at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore where he announced a partnership between the United Athletes Foundation and accounting firm Baker Tilly. “I’ve been fighting my whole life. That’s what people don’t realize. I don’t think I’ve ever come in and said, ‘Oh, I’ve got a good day.’ I don’t. And that’s why every year is a new year for me. It’s a new opportunity.”

If Lewis, 37, is a pillar of the Ravens defense, free safety Ed Reed is just as significant. In recent weeks, Reed seemed to hint that he was reconsidering whether he would return to the Ravens this season before telling Comcast SportsNet, “I always planned on playing this year,” and working out at the team’s complex in Owings Mills last Thursday.

Reed’s actions appeared to prove Lewis’ belief during last month’s minicamp – one that Reed skipped without informing coach John Harbaugh – that Reed would return to the team.

Asked how he knew a month ago that Reed would come back, Lewis said with a laugh, “We talk. It ain’t hard. Not when you know my boy.”

Running back Ray Rice figures to be at camp after agreeing to a five-year, $40 million extension a week ago, and Lewis said he was happy for his teammate.
“Awesome,” Lewis said. “I think it was awesome for him to get that deal done.”

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Panthers 'haven't ruled out' signing Jeremy Shockey

The Charlotte Observer reports the Panthers "haven't ruled out" re-signing free agent Jeremy Shockey.

Per beat writer Joseph Person, the Panthers want to see how Gary Barnidge looks in camp before making a final decision on Shockey. Barnidge missed all of 2011 with a broken ankle. The AP's Steve Reed reported in March the Panthers were "really high" on Barnidge's potential as a downfield threat before his injury. It probably doesn't hurt that he's making just $615,000.

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A slimmer, trimmer Vince Wilfork set to hit Patriots training camp Thursday

Vince Wilfork said he took the past four weeks or so since June’s mini-camp ended and used the time to hang out with his family at his Florida ranch. That may be true, but it was a noticeably slimmer and trimmer Wilfork who showed up tonight  as a special guest at a charity auction at the newest DestinationXL location in Natick.

Wilfork didn’t want to divulge any secrets just yet, but let’s just say he’s looking good heading into camp.

”You’re always excited for something you love,” Wilfork told me with regard to getting back to work for the start of training camp. ”I’m always excited to get back started. I’m pretty sure that’ll go away in a couple days once you start practicing. But it’s here. If you don’t like it, you should get out of the game. I’m always excited to start it up, get it going, see my teammates, and try and start off on the right foot. And I think that’s the goal. Start off, take it day by day, and see where we can go. Get out of camp healthy, hopefully we’ll be healthy coming out of camp, and start the season off right.” 

 We’ll have more on the charity event, which benefitted the Vince Wilfork Foundation, in another  blog post tomorrow.  Hooking up with an “XL” store seemed like a natural fit for the Patriots mammoth nose tackle, even with Wilfork’s trimmed down look.

”I’m a big boy,” Wilfork said of the Destination XL store which features larger sized clothing for men. ”All my shopping comes from here.”   

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Jon Beason's instincts coming back

Talked to linebacker Jon Beason after practice. Says he feels good. Also says that what was instinctive before he finds himself thinking about now. He tore his left Achilles in the opener against Arizona last season.

• On the first play of rookie camp Monday two players tripped over each other directly in front of Thomas Davis. Davis, who has ripped up the same knee three times, was wary. But as practice went on, says coach Ron Rivera, Davis became comfortable. Rivera says Davis looks great.

•  Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly knows what he needs to about training camp. Somebody asked him what he knew about Spartanburg.
He said it was hot.

Teammates told him to pack light but to bring a comforter because the dorms in which the players stay will be cold.

“I killed Target,” Kuechly says.

Along with the comforter, he bought a mattress pad.

Somebody suggested a rug for the dorm floor.

“By the time I get back to the room I don’t care what the floor looks like,” Kuechly says.

He understands his role.

“It’s my turn to come in and learn,” he says.

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Devin Hester, still playing receiver, and that's a good thing

Yesterday there was a comment on my Facebook page about the poor route running from Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester. It got me to thinking about the player, and how he's improved since being converted to wide out in 2007. Changing positions was the best thing to happen for Hester, as he clearly wasn't going to thrive at corner back. Some would argue that he hasn't thrived as a receiver either, and I'd say to them, so what. Just because the Bears paid him handsomely and changed him to receiver, and talked his skills up, that doesn't make him a number #1 WR. He's still able to impact a game from the receiver position.

Offensively Hester is a gimmick player. He may be the greatest return man of all time, so give the guy the ball a few times a game to see what happens. Hit him on a screen pass or two, run him on an end around, send him deep. He's electric with the ball in his hands, so why not try and hit him on a quick pass so he can go to work.

His hands are average at best. He's not very good at going up and getting the ball. His route running, while not exactly good, has seen improvement since '07. He's gotten better at using his body when the ball is thrown. We used to hear NFL analysts constantly talk about his poor technique, but not any more. Those early years of bashing his game has soured many Bears fans on him as a wide receiver, but he isn't the same player he was then. He's worked hard to improve, and he has improved. He'll never be a big time receiver, but if he can just continue being a threat when he's on the field that's enough for the offense.

The last two years Hester was 13th in the NFL in yards after catch. The YAC stat is an important one for a player like Hester, because his strength is supposed to be running in space. His YAC has improved every year since 2008, and that could mean he's gaining comfort with the position, then again it could just be a coincidence. I lean towards the former.

In the long history of the Chicago Bears, there haven't been many wide outs that stand out. But Hester's numbers do have him in the ballpark of some noteworthy Bears players. Did you know he averages more receptions per game than the 1985 Bears starting wide outs. His 2.6 RPG bests Willie Gault (2.4) and Dennis McKinnon (2.1). His 2.6 RPG is equal to Benrard Berrian and Wendel Davis. Sure handed Tom Waddle only averaged .3 more receptions per game than Hester, as did the all time receiving yardage leader for the Bears, Johnny Morris.

Hester's 194 receptions places him 19th all time in the franchise's history, and a mere 27 more catches will get him up to 13th all time. His 2,565 receiving yards is 21st all time and he's within shouting distance of 14th placed McKinnon's 2,840.

If Devin Hester keeps up his current part time receiver pace, he'll end his career in the top ten in both yards and receptions for the Bears. Even with his offensive plays cut into with the revamped receiving corps for 2012, he'll still have a few opportunities per game to work his magic.

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Ed Reed has to prove his worth this year

Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed has come across this offseason as disgruntled, selfish and irrational. Not exactly the resume you want for a player heading into a contract year.

Reed wants more money even though he is making more than most safeties this season. He wants to negotiate a new deal despite not having an agent. He now wants to play four or five more seasons with free agency on the horizon after contemplating retirement every offseason since the end of the 2008 season.

I'm just as confused as the quarterbacks who try to predict what Reed will do on game days. Everyone will learn the extent of Reed's discontent on Wednesday, when he either reports to training camp or holds out (recent history says Reed will be there because his bark has always been worse than his bite).

"I'm sure the Ravens are confident I'll be there for camp, because they know how much I love the game," Reed told CBS Sports last week. "But I'll say this, they're not going to get me for cheap, not a chance.”

The best advice for Reed is to stop talking and start proving you deserve elite safety money. Reed didn't play like Reed last season. Reputation can get you to the Pro Bowl. It won't get you a big-time contract.

Reed has made it repeatedly known that he is unhappy with his current deal, which will pay him $7.2 million this year. That just happens to be more than Troy Polamalu ($6.25 million), Eric Weddle ($5 million) and Eric Berry ($4.8 million) will earn this season. Reed really won't be happy if his next deal fails to average $7 million per season, which could happen based on many factors. Reed will turn 35 in the first year of his new deal. He is coming off a season in which he had three interceptions, his fewest in a 16-game season. Injuries have limited him to one full season over the past three years, and a nerve impingement in his neck has hurt his tackling ability.

Some suggest Reed can affect games by his mere presence because quarterbacks avoid throwing deep. But the numbers in 2011 don't support this. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Ravens gave up 11.4 yards per attempt on passes of at least 15 yards in the air (an increase from 9.9 YPA in 2010) and allowed one 30-yard completion every 7.3 pass attempts (up from one every 10.3 attempts in 2010). Reed may still have the respect of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but he didn't strike the same fear into quarterbacks last season.

Reed will probably consider this as someone attempting to tear him down. This is just the reality of the situation. Reed will long be remembered as one of the best safeties to ever play this game. His 54 interceptions are the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2002. His 1,438 return yards off interceptions ranks second all-time in the NFL behind Rod Woodson. Reed simply wasn't the best safety in the league last season -- and far from it. And this will factor into talks with Baltimore.

Reed's stance is that he won't come cheap. The Ravens' position is they won't overpay players. Baltimore has a history of giving money to players on what they will do in the future and not paying them for their accomplishments in the past. This has led to the Ravens parting ways with their all-time leading rusher (Jamal Lewis), their all-time leading receiver (Derrick Mason), their all-time sacks leader (Peter Boulware) and all-time leading scorer (Matt Stover) over the years. In the Ravens' contract pecking order, Reed ranked behind cornerback Lardarius Webb and running back Ray Rice, both of whom agreed to new deals this offseason, and still sits behind quarterback Joe Flacco.

“The one constant is that we have to make sure that we’re paying for ascending players,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said at the NFL owners meetings three months ago.

Reed is a well-liked teammate. Players, like Webb, look up to him. But Reed hasn't been a team player recently. Unlike Polamalu, who attended offseason practices after the Steelers lost some leaders this offseason, Reed was absent for every workout this spring. He even skipped last month's mandatory minicamp without a phone call to coach John Harbaugh. The other Pro Bowl players on defense, linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, were there. Even linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is out for an extended period after having surgery to repair his Achilles tendon, showed up at the facility.

Being there for three days in a six-month offseason isn't too much to ask of a player who will get $423,529 each week during the regular season. If that wasn't a slap in the face to the team, Reed showed up this month at his youth football camp, which was held three miles from Ravens headquarters (Reed later worked out on his own at the facility later that week). Dean Pees, the Ravens' first-year defensive coordinator, attended Reed's camp as a good gesture.

The Ravens have treated their eight-time Pro Bowl safety fairly over the years. Baltimore made Reed the highest-paid safety in 2006, rewarding him with a six-year, $44.4 million contract when he had a year left on his rookie deal. That occurred when Reed was in the prime of his career.

Reed wants more from the Ravens, and it's up to him to convince the Ravens and the rest of the NFL that he's worth it. His track record says he'll play like an elite safety this year. After a hip injury sidelined him for the first six games of 2010, Reed led the NFL with eight interceptions in 10 games. Last season, when critics talked about Reed slipping as a playmaker, he made a key interception in the playoff win over the Houston Texans and broke up three other passes.

A motivated Reed is a dangerous one. And, for Reed personally, this season is the most pivotal one of his career. He needs to show up for training camp and show up during the season.

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Ryan Braun has three hits, HR in loss to Phillies

Ryan Braun's impressive season continued on Tuesday as he went 3-for-4 with a homer in a loss to the Phillies.

Braun also scored three times in the game. While his chances of repeating as the National League MVP are slim with the Brewers unlikely to make a playoff push, there's no denying that Braun is having another tremendous campaign. He's now hitting .313 with 27 bombs, 67 RBI and 17 stolen bases.

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Jemile Weeks dropped to nine-hole

Jemile Weeks batting ninth is an interesting development. On this lineup analysis page I've often mentioned that Seth Smith or Jonny Gomes might be better suited batting second, it has yet to happen with Coco Crisp and Jemile Weeks both in the lineup.

The rest of the lineup is pretty standard considering the Blue Jays have a left-handed starting pitcher on the mound.

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Aubrey Huff has patellar tendinitis

An MRI showed patellar tendinitis for Aubrey Huff. He will rest this weekend and be reevaluated.

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Eagles Interested in Jeremy Shockey

Citing a league source, Tim McManus of the newly-formed Birds 24/7 Philadelphia Eagles blog reports that the team is “showing interest” in free agent tight end Jeremy Shockey.

The Eagles seem intent on adding a veteran tight end, seeing as they’re in pursuit of Visanthe Shiancoe, as well.

Like Shiancoe, Shockey is 32 years old and most likely nearing the end of the line in the NFL. He can still catch and block, however, and makes sense as a No. 2 tight end, backing up Brent Celek.

Working opposite Greg Olsen in Carolina last year, Shockey caught 37 passes for 455 yards and four touchdowns.

The Eagles plan on giving free agent TE Jeremy Shockey a physical "at some point."

As of now, Shockey isn't scheduled to work out for the Eagles. Shockey hasn't made so much as a visit since the beginning of free agency, but that could be due more to his monetary demands than a perceived erosion of skill, even though he is clearly not the player he once was.

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PHOTOS: DJ Williams Working Out At Greentree


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Randy Shannon headed to TCU

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Former Miami coach Randy Shannon is headed back to the sideline.
A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press Monday night that Shannon has agreed to terms and will become TCU's linebackers coach. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the hiring has not yet been announced by the school.

A call to a TCU spokesman was not immediately returned.

Shannon was fired by Miami at the end of the 2010 regular season. He went 28-22 in four seasons with the Hurricanes, and before his stint as head coach was one of the nation's top defensive coordinators. In his six seasons as a coordinator, the Hurricanes finished ranked among the nation's top 10 defenses five times - a span that also included the 2001 national championship.

Shannon was a linebacker for Miami in the mid-1980s, and started for the Hurricanes team that won the 1987 national championship. Shannon - a Miami native - was a graduate assistant when the Hurricanes won another title in 1991, and also spent a short time as a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys before entering the coaching world.

As a player, assistant coach and head coach, Shannon spent 21 years with the Hurricanes. Since his ouster at Miami, Shannon has visited several NFL and college programs around the country to study how other programs are run, and TCU was one of the places he followed closely.

TCU is preparing for its first season in the Big 12 Conference. The Horned Frogs were 11-2 last season while playing in the Mountain West.


Darryl Sharpton is still rehabbing

Texans ILB Darryl Sharpton is still rehabbing his torn right quadriceps injury.

"I've kind of transitioned from the training room to the weight room," said Sharpton. "I'm definitely gotten over that hump, I'm feeling good and I'm pretty much there." Likely to be eased into training camp, Sharpton won't have a fair shot to beat out Bradie James for the starting job next to Brian Cushing.

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Jonathan Vilma and NFL hearing ends with no resolution

The settlement conference involving Jonathan Vilma, the NFL and the NFL Players Association broke after three hours of talks on Monday with no agreement reached.

The legal proceedings will continue Thursday when federal judge Helen Berrigan hears Vilma's motion for a temporary restraining order against his yearlong league-imposed suspension.

Vilma's attorney Peter Ginsberg confirmed a report from earlier Monday that the New Orleans Saints had placed Vilma on the reserve/suspended list. He indicated it was just a formality, following up on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's suspension and that it would have no impact on Vilma's ability to participate in training camp if Berrigan issued a restraining order.

A source with knowledge of the proceedings said small progress was made in Monday's conference, but the parties are still far apart. 

Saints defensive end Will Smith, who is facing a four-game suspension, and Vilma, who is suspended for the entire season, attended the conference.

No one involved with the NFL investigation was present. Three attorneys, including NFL principal outside counsel Gregg Levy, represented the league.

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Chiefs Apparently 'Came Close' To Signing Reggie Wayne

The Chiefs’ Romeo Crennel, like most head coaches, prefers veteran players over younger ones, everything else being equal. The Chiefs attempted to sign more veteran players during the offseason. They came close to adding wide receiver Reggie Wayne before he decided to remain with the Colts.

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Javarris James once again follows cousin Edgerrin's path

Javarris James has the connections with the Arizona Cardinals. Now the running back must make good use of them.

With the NFL preseason in full swing today and James one of seven running backs invited to the Cardinals’ 90-man training camp roster in Flagstaff, Ariz., James will have donned a football uniform for every one of his older cousin Edgerrin James’ programs.

From Immokalee High School to the University of Miami to the Indianapolis Colts and now the Cardinals, Javarris James, 24, has followed his older cousin’s path.

In the near future, he just hopes to avoid following Edgerrin James, who turns 34 on Aug. 1, out of professional football.

“I’ve been used to that since high school,” Javarris James said of following Edgerrin James’ path. “It’s completely coincidence. Honestly.”

Javarris James said he blamed nobody but himself when the Indianapolis Colts cut him last summer, less than two months after his June arrest for marijuana possession in Fort Myers.

The Colts signed Javarris James as a free agent two years ago and inserted him into the lineup as a goal-line back. He responded by leading all rookies in 2010 with six rushing touchdowns.

“I really learned a lot through everything that was going on,” James said of being out of football last season. “I had some things off the field that messed things up. I learned how to appreciate everything and to enjoy the moment. Some things you take for granted. When you lose them, it makes everything different.

“I have a completely different approach now. Completely different.”

Retired Immokalee coach John Weber called this a “golden opportunity.”

James helped Weber and the Immokalee Indians win the 2004 Class 2A state championship.

“I’m glad he got another chance,” Weber said. “A lot of kids don’t get that chance. I hope he takes advantage of it. He was such a solid high school player. He didn’t have the great speed, but he has as good of instincts on the goal line of anybody I’ve ever seen.

“With Baby J’s work ethic, I’ve just got to believe he’s going into training camp in great shape. He was never a kid who ever slacked off with the work.”

Arizona running backs coach Tommie Robinson coached James while on Randy Shannon’s staff at the University of Miami. Arizona wide receivers coach Frank Reich knew James while on the Colts staff as the receivers coach two years ago.

“I didn’t just bring him in because I had him at the University of Miami,” Robinson said. “It doesn’t work that way. I brought him in because he has the opportunity to make this team.

“We feel like he can come in and give us some goal-line work, and we feel like he can come in and be a special teams guy. We brought him in. It’s going to be totally up to him whether or not he comes in here and makes this team.”

Although NFL teams have yet to release depth charts, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are the de facto No. 1 and No. 2 backs.

That leaves James competing against rookie Jared Crank (Purdue), second-year pro William Powell (Kansas State), fourth-year pro LaRod Stephens-Howling (Pittsburgh) and second-year pro Alfonso Smith (Kentucky) for running back roster spots. Most NFL teams keep four to five running backs.

“I’m not thinking about anybody else’s situation,” James said. “My focus is on me. Being in the NFL is a grind. I’m ready for the grind.”

Robinson, asked about James’ goal-line instincts, shrugged them off. None of those instincts matter now, Robinson said. The only thing that matters will be how James performs during training camp and preseason games.

“They all know where to run,” Robinson said of his team’s seven running backs. “They all understand how to play. It’s just a matter of how much tenacity you have in that situation. You know it’s going to be a tight window. Do you have the tenacity to put your head down and go get it?”

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Jon Beason gets head start at rookie camp

CHARLOTTE - Linebacker Jon Beasonicon-article-link didn't think he'd be a participant at the Panthers three-day camp.

"When you first hear about a rookie camp being a six-year vet," Beason said, "you say, ‘why me?'"

But after suiting up for the first practice session Monday, Beason is excited about the benefits that will follow.

"You think about the process -- being able to get out here early and get your feet wet, get the calls and work the kinks out," Beason said. "There are some cobwebs, believe it or not."

The three-day camp allows Beason to shake off some rust after recovering from a torn left Achilles that ended his season in Week 1 last year.

Plus, Beason is able to get a head start, as the full roster won't take the field for training camp until July 28 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.

"The first couple days of training camp are always the hardest, and this (camp) helps you get acclimated to playing football again," Beason said. "I've got a faster start than the other guys."

Two other linebackers joined Beason Monday – Thomas Davisicon-article-link and rookie Luke Kuechlyicon-article-link – and the group is taking advantage of this chance to iron out some details before training camp gets underway. 

"We're getting on the same page, getting the terminology down," Beason said, "and we understand that's important."

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Drew Brees backing Jonathan Vilma in affidavit

NEW ORLEANS— New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees defended teammate Jonathan Vilma in a court document filed Saturday to support Vilma's fight against the NFL over his season-long suspension.

The affidavit was entered in New Orleans federal court as evidence for Vilma's motion to dismiss the 2012 suspension imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, for the linebacker's alleged involvement in a program offering bonuses to players who injure opponents. Vilma has sued Goodell, claiming defamation.

Brees, who signed a five-year, $100 million contract last week to stay with the Saints, also swears that he wasn't aware of any bounty program.

"I have no knowledge of a pay to injure program existing, and yet to personally see any evidence that would substantiate these allegations," Brees says in the affidavit. "In my four years as a teammate with Jonathan, I have found that he is a man of integrity who passionately plays the game of football within the frameworks of the rules and has respect for his opponents."

He also praises Vilma's leadership role on the team and his importance to the community. Brees says Vilma has been dedicated to helping the city recover from Hurricane Katrina and has started a foundation to build schools in Haiti.

"As a professional football player, our platform to reach our communities is directly driven by the manner in which we compete on the field," Brees said. "Therefore, Jonathan's absence on the field will adversely affect his ability to impact the community in a positive way as a leader and a role model."

Vilma and Saints coach Sean Payton have been suspended for the 2012 season for their roles in the bounty program the NFL says went on for three seasons.
Vilma was scheduled to have a hearing on his motion Thursday. The league wants the case dismissed because the collective bargaining agreement reached last August to end the lockout gives the commissioner the authority to punish players for "conduct detrimental" to the NFL.

The NFL Players Association has sued the league, claiming Goodell violated the league's labor agreement by showing he had pre-determined the guilt of players punished in the bounty probe before serving as the arbitrator for their June 18 appeal hearing.

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Is James Jones' roster spot in jeopardy?

Q: If Mike Miller is healthy come training camp, I'd rather give James Jones' spot to a prospect (Drew Viney or Terrel Harris) or a more "two-way" player like Raja Bell or Keyon Dooling. -- Jose, Miami Lakes.
A: But that's a huge "if", considering Mike not only hasn't shown an ability to stay healthy in his two seasons with the Heat but even make it through a training camp. But I agree that with so many 3-point shooting swingmen, it is possible James gets squeezed out either in a move toward greater roster versatility or youth.

Read more of Ira Winderman’s Q&A here

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Lauryn Williams plays the Games again

In 2004, Williams earned a silver medal in the women’s 100-meter dash at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but a missed handoff between her and Marion Jones cost the American women a medal in the 4x100 relay. At the 2008 Game in Bejing, another bad handoff, this time with Torri Edwards, disqualified the Americans.

But Williams is back for what could be a third try; she was selected for the relay pool after a sixth-place finish in the 100 at the U.S. Trials last month. The Times’ Chuck Curti caught up with Williams via email from London last week:

Q: Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you would try to make a third Olympic team, or was it a decision you wrestled with a bit?
A: Well I took 2010 off to decide if I would continue to run and chose to continue through 2013.

Q: At the risk of bringing up an unpleasant subject, how much did the “baton incident” from 2008 weigh into your decision if at all?
A: It did not. I find it a little more than ironic that having been a direct part of the botched handoffs of the previous two Games, I find myself on a third (Olympic) team for solely the relay. Talk about a chance at redemption.

Q: Let’s face it, you’re almost 29, and, by track standards, that’s getting up there in years. How realistic did you think it was for you to qualify in the 100 and/or 200?
A: Carmelita Jeter will be 33 this year and is the second-fastest person to exist and currently the favorite to win the women’s 100 meters. I could name four or five others on the Olympic team 30 and over, so I don’t feel limited by my age.

Q: What was your reaction to being picked for the relay pool and describe exactly what your role will be as a member of the pool.
A: I am hoping to be as helpful as those who helped me. ... Even for those who have been in the game for a while but don’t have Olympic experience I want to be a resource to them. The goal is simple: be the best supporting cast member I can be, delight in where I am now and not rush this time away.

Q: What kind of knowledge can you pass on to some of the sprinters who are at the Games for the first time?
A: The main thing is not to get overwhelmed with the pressure and excitement of it all. Do the same things you did to reach this point and you will do just fine. Don’t try to do something extraordinary. Go with what you know works.

Q: After the Games, where does your career go?
A: I have no idea. Just taking life one day at a time. I will finish out the rest of my track season running races until Sept. 9 then I will take some vacation time and decide what’s next.

Q: What do you think of Christa Harmotto, another Beaver County girl, making the Games in volleyball?
A: I don’t know her, but it is great that there is another from our area!

Q: Where do you keep your silver from the Athens Games?
A: My mom has my silver from the 2004 games in London on a mantel.

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The Giants are interested in Chris Perez

The Giants lost their outspoken, eccentric closer with imaginative facial hair before the season began, so they apparently need a new outspoken, eccentric closer with imaginative facial hair. The Indians’ Chris Perez:

The San Francisco Giants, seeking late-inning help, are interested in Perez, according to major-league sources. The Indians could entertain moving Perez for two reasons – they are deep in relievers, and Perez likely will earn about $7 million next season in his second year of arbitration.

Closers are never more valuable, or are at least never perceived as more valuable, than this time of year. Unless the Indians really plan on paying Perez $7 million or more next year, they should seriously think about moving him.

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Jon Jay Hits at Number 2 Spot

Manager Mike Matheny restored the Cardinals' batting order to a more customary look — at the top, at least — for tonight's series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium.

Rafael Furcal returns to the leadoff spot after a day off Sunday, and Jon Jay jumps back into the No. 2 hole after his four-hit game Sunday in a 7-0 victory over the Cubs.

Third baseman David Freese (.305, 14 homers, 55 RBIs) and first baseman-outfielder Allen Craig (.304, 14, 47) are not in tonight's lineup. Looking at that another way: the Cardinals enter the game with a hot-hitting bench duo. Freese is batting .414 (12 for 29) in his last 10 games and Craig is hitting .333 (13 for 39).

Another reason it might be wise to have Freese sit:  He's 0 for 6 — all strikeouts — in his career vs. Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley.

"It's not a real good matchup for him," said Matheny. "Sometimes you just struggle with certain guys, so when we see those coming, we stay away from them."

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Once a MLB starter, Danny Valencia stuck in minors

Two years ago, Danny Valencia went from mid-season call-up to the Minnesota Twins' everyday third baseman. Now, Valencia is stuck in the minor leagues, trying to find his way back to the majors.

Valencia began the 2012 season on the Twins' 25-man roster after a disappointing 2011 season in which he regressed both offensively and defensively. In 85 games during his rookie year in 2010, Valencia batted .311 with seven homers and 40 RBI and committed just six errors. While his power numbers stayed the course in 154 games last season (15 homers and 72 RBI) he batted nearly 70 points lower. His on-base percentage dropped from .351 in 2010 to .246 the following season, and he committed 18 errors.

Then, through 27 games in 2012, Valencia's offensive numbers took yet another step in the wrong direction. He had just one homer and 11 RBI while batting only .190. His on-base percentage dropped to .204 as he drew just two walks in 103 plate appearances.

In seven games in May, Valencia was 0-for-25 with one walk, which led to his demotion to Triple-A Rochester. His last game with the Twins was May 9, and he's been in the minors ever since.

"He's been a big leaguer the last two-plus years. It's not about working on something," said Mike Radcliff, the Twins' vice president of player personnel. "It's gaining consistency and doing the things you're supposed to do to get back to where he was."

Consistency is a word Radcliff uses often when describing Valencia and what it will take for the 27-year-old third baseman to work his way back to the majors. Through Rochester's double-header on Sunday, Valencia is now batting .248 in 64 games with the Red Wings. With an RBI in the second game of Sunday's double-header, Valencia has driven in 35 runs. He's added seven homers and 15 doubles.

His on-base percentage, though, is just .287. The Twins have said they'd like to see Valencia draw more walks in the minors. At this point in the minor league season, he's drawn just 14 walks while striking out 39 times.

"His on-base percentage has never been great. I'm not sure he's that type of player that he's going to have a great on-base percentage," Radcliff said. "He's drawn a few walks over the course of a short sample size. It doesn't really accomplish anything. He's got to get his swing right and his mental approach right and things will take care of themselves."

Part of the issue for Valencia as he looks to crack Minnesota's 25-man roster is that the Twins seem to have found an answer at third base. Back in 2010, they thought that answer was Valencia as it appeared the rookie could solidify a position that hadn't seen much stability in Minnesota in recent years.

Now, Trevor Plouffe appears to be the answer (at least for now) at third base for the Twins. Although he missed two games this weekend with a thumb injury, Plouffe has now played 52 games at third base after spending time at shortstop last season. He's currently second on the Twins with 19 home runs and he recently had a career-high 17-game hitting streak.

As long as Plouffe continues to play well at third base, there might not be room on the roster for Valencia until the rosters expand at the beginning of September. It's a good problem for the Twins to have, but not a good problem for Valencia.

"As a young player in the major leagues, Danny took advantage of an opportunity to become a starting third baseman two years ago," Radcliff said. "In order to stay, you've got to have the consistency and the mental approach to play your game and do what you do and do it well."

Radcliff and the Twins are by no means giving up on Valencia as a part of their long-term plans. He's shown he can hit for power, as his 15 homers were second-most on the team last season. His slugging percentage of .383 was third on Minnesota behind veterans Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

Valencia has hit at every level in his minor league career as well, beginning in 2006 after the Twins drafted him out of the University of Miami in the 19th round of that year's draft.

He's proven he can hit in the majors. Now, as Radcliff said, it's time for Valencia to regain his confidence.

"That's really what it's all about here, I think," Radcliff said. "There's nothing wrong with his swing or his arm or his body or his glove. It's just maintaining the intensity and the dedication and the focus level required to get consistency and get out there and do your thing every day.

"That's really the foundation for every player in the major leagues, from our 25th guy to the best players on your team — (Joe) Mauer and (Justin) Morneau and (Josh) Willingham and the rest. You have to be consistent. You have to be able to bring your game every day."

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Portis recalls Sean Taylor's aggressive playing style

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Ryan Hill Reacts To Latest Yahoo! Article

According to Hill's facebook page:

"I don't know all the details exactly but what I do know is that yahoo sports is usually always dead on it. If it it's true what they are reporting about Al golden, the university of miami should fire him where he stands. To think that this was a guy who hurricanes could put trust in to restore our program to what it once was, after he just dismissed a great player an leader in Ray Ray Armstrong now it seems he is just as guilty as that young man. I can only hope that there is some false accusations against him, but like I said if this is to be found true, the university has a big decision to make. " HOW CAN WE AS A UNIVERSITY, ALUMNI AND COMMUNITY EXPECT OUR YOUNG MEN TO DEVELOP INTO MATURE, HONEST YOUNG STUDENT ATHLETES WHO ARE HELD AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF ACCOUNTABILITY IF THE HEAD OF OUR ORGANIZATION IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE??? "

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Allen Bailey likely to have bigger role

The Kansas City Chiefs have high hopes for DL Allen Bailey moving forward. Bailey averaged close to 20 snaps per game last season as a sub-package reserve. Bailey is poised to take on an even bigger role this season based on his late-season production in 2011.

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Rashad Butler Taking a Twitter Break

The Houston Texans and the rest of the NFL are closing in that time of the year, training camp. The rookies are reporting today and the veterans will not be too far behind, and penciled in starting right tackle Rashad Butler is getting his mind right for the 2012 season. He seems to be ready and this should get Texans fans everywhere excited about the dedication Butler is showing.

Well twitter... I'm checking out for about 6 months. Going to devote my time to becoming the best player I can be to my teammates and to the Houston Texans organization!

If u have any comments for me during my time away from twitter feel free to leave them in my MENTIONS OR DMs. God Bless!

I'm going to leave u with this twitter. "There is no magical formula for success. It's about having a dream and working towards it no matter what negative circumstances occur along the way" -Eric Thomas-

See u all in Feburary! Rb2cool checking out .

Also, in another twitter post, Butler said he has his eyes on the “ring” (Championship.) It is good to see at least one Texans’ player making this season a priority, especially for Butler who has bigger role on this team that last year.

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Antonio Dixon to get first shot at DT gig?

The Philadelphia Inquirer expects Antonio Dixon to get the first crack at Mike Patterson's (brain surgery) starting defensive tackle job.

Patterson has been ruled out for training camp and it would not be a surprise if he misses more time than that. Even if Dixon wins the starting job, it will only be a nominal designation. First-round pick Fletcher Cox, versatile Cullen Jenkins and run-stuffer Derek Landri will all rotate heavily. The Eagles' defense won't miss Patterson too sorely.

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Darryl Sharpton Says He Will Be Ready For Texans Training Camp

Houston Texans linebacker Darryl Sharpton was injured at the mid way point of the 2011 season when he tor his right quadricep. The injury cost Sharpton the second half of his season, and after months of rehabbing Sharpton says he will be ready to go once the Texans begin training camp on Saturday July 28:

...linebacker Darryl Sharpton says he's still recovering from a torn right quadriceps that forced him to miss the entire second half of last season.

"I've kind of transitioned from the training room to the weight room," said Sharpton, who made 12 tackles in eight games. "I'm definitely gotten over that hump, I'm feeling good and I'm pretty much there, ready to go."

A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Sharpton is expected to see more playing time this season after the Texans traded DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia. Sharpton, speaking during a break at the Texans' annual youth football camp, says he expects to be ready when Houston opens training camp on July 27.

"I've been running around, cutting, and doing pretty much everything full-speed," Sharpton said. "There's nothing like actually going out there and running into the `A' gap and blowing up a fullback. There's no kind of preparation you can do for that, so I've just got to go out there and test it."

The Texans defense was very good last year, but they did lose Mario Williams to free agency to the Buffalo Bills as well as DeMeco Ryans heading to the Eagles. So, Sharpton will need to show he is deserving of the extra playing time he will be get this season.

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Travis Benjamin brings blazing speed to the Browns

Cleveland’s passing game needs a good swift kick in the pants.

With Travis Benjamin, at least, the Browns can line up for a race and not get laughed out of the starter’s blocks.

Whether or not the 4.26 40 associated with Benjamin is legit is almost beside the point. No one doubts his wheels.

“He runs,” his 2011 Miami Hurricanes teammate Lamar Miller said, “at warp speed.”

We may be talking fastest-in-the-NFL jets here. Or close.

The most rapid official time ever recorded at the NFL Combine was running back Chris Johnson’s 4.24. Johnson is going on 27 now, perhaps slowing down from NFL beatings.

Mike Wallace, the receiver infamously left on the 2009 draft board by Eric Mangini, did a 4.28.

Neither Benjamin nor Browns head coach Pat Shurmur minds alluding to Benjamin’s supposed best, that 4.26, although Shurmur said the Browns’ pre-draft scouting books pegged him “down there around 4.3.”

Whatever the listing, Shurmur said, “He can go. He can really go.”

He flies despite wind drag from locks flowing out of his helmet — he says he hasn’t had a haircut since seventh grade.

But can he catch?

Can he survive in the world of fast vs. vicious?

In addition to being very swift, Benjamin is very small. He was a twig of 152 pounds coming out of Glade Central High School in Florida. At the recent NFL Combine, his size was recorded at 5-foot-9 7/8, 172 pounds. His wisp of a body is a big reason he fell to the No. 100 overall spot in the NFL draft.

“My weight is 175,” he said recently. “That has nothing to do with it, because I have been playing at the University of Miami, and week in and week out, we played top competition in the ACC, SEC and all around.

“I am used to getting hit.”

Benjamin’s speed, body type and draft position compare to Jacoby Ford, a No. 107 overall pick by Oakland in 2010.

Pegged as the second-fastest man in the NFL by a 2011 Yahoo Sports article, Ford was starting to break through as a second-year Raider. He raced 101 yards against the Browns on a kickoff return in mid-October. A few weeks later, he had a five-catch, 105-yard game against Denver. A week later at San Diego, he got hurt at the end of a 41-yard catch and missed the rest of the season.

Any receiver Browns general manager Tom Heckert was going to get in waiting until the 100th pick was going to have one flaw or another. Heckert decided to go with the one arguably with more speed than any other player in this draft.

The Browns are insisting that Benjamin is not a track man in shoulder pads.

“He impressed us with his toughness,” Shurmur said.

The much-bigger Justin Blackmon bench pressed 225 pounds 14 times at the Combine. Benjamin matched that number.

Blackmon destroyed Benjamin in terms of production, though. In 2010 and 2011, Blackmon caught 232 passes for 3,304 yards; Benjamin caught 84 balls for 1,352 yards.

While the Browns understand Benjamin is not Blackmon, they are breathing a sigh of relief that they did not take on the baggage that follows Blackmon into the season in the wake of a recent DUI arrest.

Team scouts see untapped potential from a wideout whose college quarterback, Jacory Harris (eligible for the 2012 draft but not picked), was inconsistent.
“We factored that in when we evaluated him as a receiver,” Shurmur said. “He did some things that were very impressive to us.

“He can really run, and when he gets down the field, he can really track the ball.”

On the other hand, there were times when Benjamin’s shortcomings hindered Harris. Ohio State fans got a dazzling glimpse of Benjamin’s speed in a 2010 game in which Benjamin brought back a punt 79 yards for a touchdown.

By the end of the game, though, then-Miami coach Randy Shannon said a key factor in a 45-27 loss was two interceptions caused by throws Benjamin could have broken up.

Shannon was replaced after the 2010 season by Al Golden, who brought in a new receivers coach, George McDonald. McDonald was Eric Mangini’s receivers coach in Cleveland in 2009 and 2010.

The Hurricanes struggled to a 6-6 record in 2011, never building on the promise of an early 24-6 rout of Ohio State. Benjamin’s stats were on the light side, 41 catches for 609 yards and three touchdowns.

“He hasn’t really been exposed to the kind of coaching he’s going to get in this league,” Shurmur said. “We felt like this was a tremendous kid. We got to know him, and he is a hard guy not to like.

“When you put speed on the field, it changes things, just like when you put in a running back that can really go.

“We felt like he was going to add that element to our receiving corps.”

No arguments from Benjamin on that score.

“I can run past any defender on the field,” he said.

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Javarris James To Get a Long Look In Cardinals Camp

With Arizona Cardinals RBs Beanie Wells (knee) and Ryan Williams (knee) likely to see limited touches during the preseason, RBs Javarris James, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Alfonso Smith are likely to see an extended look during training camp and the preseason. James is considered a long shot to make the team, while Stephens-Howling and Smith will both have a role with the team.

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John Harbaugh on Ed Reed: “He’s going to play this year and be here. It looks like that is the case.”

Baltimore Ravens fans may have been worried this spring and summer about the future of Ed Reed, but that trouble seems to be going away. No.20 ended all the drama earlier this week when he claimed he will be back in the Ravens secondary this season.

John Harbaugh is standing by his safety and is happy to know that the future Hall of Famer will be patrolling his secondary for at least one more season. The Ravens head coach knows he will now have Reed and Ray Rice in training camp next week, and that takes some of the worry away from him at the start of the 2012 campaign.

John Harbaugh joined 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore with The Norris & Davis Show to discuss Ed Reed’s status with Baltimore Ravens this season, signing Ray Rice to a long term contract this past week, his roster concerns heading into training camp next week and his take on the New Orleans Saints bountygate scandal.

Your thoughts on the controversy with Ed Reed this offseason? He’s been throwing everyone for a loop:

“Well I read that as he is just being…he was quote unquote you know ‘retired’ from thinking about football for however many months it has been since we have been playing football. He just said before that he was always planning on playing this year and I think he’s trying to make a nuance for you. I am going to defend Ed because I am going to stand by him. He’s one of my players. I personally like him. I respect him. I think he is a good person with a good heart and that’s what you do as a coach. You stand by your guys and you may not always agree with what they say or how they say it or what they do. Most of the time I do agree with what Ed says, but not all the time and he knows that and he’s a good person. He’s trying to make a nuance point there. It’s a tough point to make a little bit and it’s hard to understand sometimes, but I’ve said all along I believe he’s going to play this year and be here and it looks like that is the case.”

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NFL files motions against Jonathan Vilma, NFLPA in federal court

The NFL followed through with two expected legal filings on Friday, asking that federal judge Helen Berrigan dismiss the NFL Players Association's and Jonathan Vilma's claims against league suspensions and stating its opposition to Vilma's request for a temporary restraining order against his yearlong penalty.

In the filings, totaling more than 700 pages including exhibits, the NFL argued that the suspended current and former New Orleans Saints players, by refusing to fully participate in the league's appeals process, have not exhausted their opportunities for resolution.

"First, the players and the NFLPA failed to participate in any meaningful way in the appeals of the suspensions to the Commissioner. Their counsel could not have been more clear on this point. ... That alone constitutes a failure to exhaust barring the plaintiffs' claims."

The NFL further said that even if federal court had jurisdiction over the matter, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's suspensions should not be set aside. The league argued that the decision properly "drew its essence" from its collective bargaining agreement, finalized in August 2011.

"The CBA, the incorporated Constitution and Bylaws, and the contract of each suspended player each expressly provides that the Commissioner has the authority to impose suspensions for conduct detrimental. ... And there can be no dispute that the conduct for which the players were suspended -- helping to establish a pool that rewarded players for hits resulting in 'knockouts' or 'cart-offs,' pledging significant sums to that pool, and, in the case of (Anthony Hargrove of the Green Bay Packers), for lying to NFL Security -- was reasonably within the scope of 'conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of football."

The NFL also attacked the NFLPA and Vilma's assertion that they were not allowed to cross-examine key witnesses involved in the league's investigation.
"Their premise is wrong: Mr. Vilma and the NFLPA chose not to cross-examine the two principal NFL investigators who were present at (the league's June 18 appeals hearing for the suspensions) at their request."

Countering the NFLPA and Vilma's argument that Goodell displayed bias throughout the league's appeals proceedings, the NFL said in the suit that Goodell had an obligation to make public statements about the players' suspensions to preserve "'public confidence' in the game of professional football."

The league made a similar argument in its motion to dismiss, filed against Vilma's request for an immediate restraining order of Goodell's suspension. It said that Vilma had "failed to exhaust his remedies under the CBA" and that there was no chance he would receiving a favorable ruling.

The three parties will convene on Monday in New Orleans in Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles' chambers for a settlement conference, though they will likely reach no compromise at that time.

Vilma's hearing for his restraining order will be held in front of Berrigan on Thursday. Vilma sought a quick decision so that he would have a chance to participate in Saints training camp, which opens on Tuesday, and see team doctors for his injured left knee at team facilities.

The NFL and the NFLPA also filed a joint motion to expedite the court proceedings on Thursday. They asked that Berrigan hear the NFLPA's motion to vacate the suspensions on Aug. 10, 13 or 14.

Both the players -- Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns -- and the NFLPA expressed a desire in the motion to receive a decision on the proceedings before the first game of the 2012 regular season for those three players on Sept. 9.

The motion said that on Aug. 1 the NFLPA will file an opposition to the NFL's motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgement. On Aug. 7, the NFL will file a reply in further support of its motion.

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Darryl Sharpton Highly Regarded By Texans

Darryl Sharpton, ILB - Sharpton is aggressive and started to show signs of improvement last year until an injury sidelined him.  With DeMeco Ryans gone, the thought was that Sharpton would get his chance, but with the signing of Bradie James and with Sharpton slow to recover from his quad injury, Sharpton’s playing time may be more limited to special teams if he can’t beat out James in camp.

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Aubrey Huff aggravates right knee injury, foiling return

PHILADELPHIA -- First baseman Aubrey Huff has aggravated his sprained right knee and will return to San Francisco for an MRI to determine the extent of the setback, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Friday.

Huff's MRI revealed patellar tendinitis in his troublesome right knee, the Giants announced Saturday.

Bochy confirmed that the Giants were seriously considering activating Huff from the disabled list on Monday, as general manager Brian Sabean said during a television interview on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Obviously, Huff's latest injury foils that plan.

Giants management has grown increasingly impatient with first baseman Brandon Belt, who entered Friday hitting .244 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 79 games and was batting .164 (9-for-55) in his previous 20 games. Huff hit .155 in 32 games earlier this season for the Giants, but Bochy indicated that the 12-year veteran would have provided an alternative to Belt.

"We wanted that option to help out Brandon," Bochy said.

Bochy said that Huff, batting .154 (2-for-13) in four games with Triple-A Fresno, would have spent this weekend playing first base for Class A San Jose to prepare him for rejoining the Giants.

"He hadn't had that many at-bats or time at first base," Bochy said of Huff, who also had hit .250 (4-for-16) with a homer in five games for San Jose.

Huff reinjured himself early in Fresno's 10-9 loss Thursday at Las Vegas. He originally hurt himself as he tried to vault the dugout railing to join the on-field celebration following Matt Cain's perfect game against Houston on June 13. Huff last appeared in a game for the Giants on June 10.

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Ryan Braun gets to 1,000 hits faster than Rose

Cincinnati - Ryan Braun didn't realize he got to 1,000 hits quicker than all-time hits leader Pete Rose until informed by Brewers media relations director Mike Vassallo.

"That's pretty cool," said the all-star leftfielder. "I had never really thought of it in that context because I had no idea how fast it had taken anybody else to get there."

Braun reached the 1,000-hit plateau Friday night by collecting singles in his first two at-bats against Cincinnati's Homer Bailey, who allowed only six hits in eight innings of the Reds' 3-1 victory. He got there in his 815th game, the earliest of any player in franchise history. Rose recorded his 1,000th hit in his 831st game.

Braun had the ball retrieved for his trophy room back in Malibu, Calif.

"When you play this game every day, you rarely have time to reflect on what you're doing," said Braun. "It certainly has gone by really fast.

"I'm sure at some point after the season I'll be able to look back and appreciate it. Special moments like that you have to embrace because you deal with so much adversity, so much failure, so much negativity in playing this game. When something positive happens, you should enjoy it. I just think during the season there's no opportunity to be content or feel good about something you've accomplished."

Braun said it wasn't easy to get good swings against Bailey, who entered the game with a 0-5 record and 6.50 ERA in 10 career starts against the Brewers but continued a recent surge in which his command has been excellent.

"He threw great against us," said Braun. "We've seen him quite a few times but that's the best he has looked. More than anything, he had great fastball command. He stayed down in the (strike) zone with everything."

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Yasmani Grandal homers, doubles in win

Yasmani Grandal homered, doubled and knocked in three runs in the Padres' 9-5 defeat of the Rockies on Friday.
Grandal hit four homers in his first six games as a major leaguer, but he had gone 10 games without one before taking Drew Pomeranz deep tonight. With the Padres still starting him regularly, he should be kept active in all formats.

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Jon Jay comes alive with career-high four-hit day

ST. LOUIS -- Jon Jay had dug himself into a hole while batting .190 over the first 14 games of July, prompting Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to give him the day off on Friday. After spending some extra time in the cages on his off-day and going back to the basics, Jay seems to be back on track.

The Cardinals' center fielder collected a career-high four hits on Sunday in a 7-0 win over Chicago, including a two-run double in the first inning. Jay also knocked in two against the Cubs on Saturday and had back-to-back multi-RBI games for the first time this year.

"I always want the approach of, 'I'd rather get through it in the games,'" said Jay, who brought his average up to .304 on the year. "But sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back. That's what I did [Friday]."

Each of Jay's four hits Sunday went to left field and came against left-handers. He said he knows he is doing things right when he can drive the ball to the opposite field. Jay has been hitting lefties well this season, batting .327 in 49 at-bats.

Jay had missed more than a month starting in mid-May with a sore right shoulder, and is batting .253 since returning from the disabled list on June 22.
While Matheny believes Jay was struggling to find his timing on his swing, Jay said he couldn't figure out what was going on but did feel more confident at the plate the last two days.

"You know how baseball is," Jay said. "Some days you get pitches to hit, some days you don't. Sometimes the balls fall for you. You just have to take the good with the bad and that's what I've been doing. I understand that I got four hits today, but tomorrow's a new day and there's a lot games left, and I have to be ready for them all."

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