24 February 2013

PHOTO: Vince Wilfork sporting some Louisville Cardinals gear


Vince Wilfork was in town for the Derby and after meeting up with his good buddy Clint Hurtt (Cardinals defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, who is a former teammate of Wilfork’s with the University of Miami, FL). Wilfork, a 3-time NFL Pro Bowler and super bowl champion was more than happy to sport the apparel of the next powerhouse in college football, your University of Louisville Cardinals.

Hurtt, who was recognized by ESPN.com as the National Recruiter of the Year in 2010 after contributing to a top 30 recruiting class according to both Scout and Rivals rankings, along with Charlie Strong certainly appear to have the connections and ambition to keep the Cards on the fast track to becoming something truly special for years to come.

After Auburn won the BCS National Championship this past season they lost an assistant coach who joined the Tennessee Titans NFL staff, they were looking to re-energize their recruiting and they interviewed Clint Hurtt for the position of Defensive Line Coach and Recruiting Coordinator (the same position he holds with Louisville). Although the talks were private and we don’t know exactly who turned who down, it appears that Hurtt believes so much in the great brand that is being built here in Louisville that after discussing the situation with his wife and praying he decided to stay with the Cardinals.

In a facebook posting, Hurtt said, “I appreciate everything that Coach Chizik showed my wife and I. I owed it to my family to at least look at the opportunity to coach in the SEC. I believe in Charlie Strong and the University of Louisville, and believe we are on our way to great things. Thank you for all the love from our Cardinal faithful. Go Cards!”

With Wilfork and countless other Miami Hurricanes currently in the NFL, you have to believe that Hurtt has plenty to discuss with any potential recruit he attempts to bring to Louisville.

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Giants Have Made “Modest” Offer to Safety Kenny Phillips

The New York Giants very rarely let their free agents walk away without at least making them an offer, and safety Kenny Phillips will be no exception. Although it's essentially a foregone conclusion that he plays for a different team in 2013, the New York Post is reporting that the Giants have made their former first-round draft pick a "modest offer."

A "modest offer" is essentially a way of saying "we appreciate all you've meant to the team, we'd like you to stay, but we're not paying you big money." It's the same tactic taken with wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Brandon Jacobs and a number of other free agents that have been lost in recent years. However, it doesn't always result in the player walking away. Two years ago, the Giants made a "modest offer" to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who went and tested the market. After drawing little interest, he returned to the Giants and accepted said "modest offer."

Unlike Bradshaw in 2011, Phillips is likely to receive a big offer here in 2013. Despite his injury concerns, he's an extremely talented and highly-rated safety when he's on the field, and someone out there will take an expensive flier on him. But, in the event that doesn't happen for whatever reason, the Giants will at least have an offer on the table waiting for him.

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Ray Lewis placed on reserve-retired list

The Ravens have officially placed inside linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk on the reserve-retired list.

With Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, retiring, the Ravens have realized a total savings of $6.4 million against the salary cap for the 2013 fiscal year.

Lewis' retirement gives the Ravens back $4.35 million in cap savings while Birk's retirement gives the Ravens back $2.05 million against the salary cap. Lewis had a scheduled $5.4 million base salary, and Birk was due $2.75 million.

With 49 contract commitments for 2013, including $1.8 million in dead money for former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff and cap figures of $13.02 million for outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and $11.05 million for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the Ravens' new salary-cap total is $105.919 million with Lewis and Birk going off the books.

With the NFL Players Association informing agents via a letter obtained by The Baltimore Sun that the salary-cap limit is set at approximately $123 million with over $200 million carried over from last yesar, then the Ravens currently have $18.2633 million in cap room to spend. That figure includes $1.182 million carried over from 2012, but it doesn't reflect any re-signings yet of the Ravens' unrestricted free agents or tenders assigned to restricted free agents.

Lewis and Birk retired following the Ravens' Super Bowl championship victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Lewis announced that he would retire prior to the start of the postseason. And Birk made his announcement last Friday during an appearance at Battle Grove Elementary in Baltimore.

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Jonathan Vilma offered reduced deal

The New Orleans Saints have offered a reduced contract offer to LB Jonathan Vilma, which would allow him to stay with the team. The two sides are discussing the deal.

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Eric Winston excited about arrival of Alex Smith

Last year, Chiefs tackle Eric Winston called out Chiefs fans who cheered an injury suffered by quarterback Matt Cassel.  Now, Winston is rolling out the red carpet for Cassel’s replacement.

“I know I’m going to do everything I can to help him,” Winston told USA Today on Wednesday after news broke of the Chiefs’ trade for Alex Smith.

“It’s about winning,” Winston said.  “Alex is a guy who’s been there and has what it takes.  Alex can beat you a lot of different ways.  He’s a lot more athletic than people give him credit for.  It’s an exciting time with all the new people coming in.  It was definitely a change of direction the organization felt we needed to go in.”

Winston was careful to point out that he’s not throwing his former quarterback under the proverbial bus.

“I have a friendship with Matt Cassel,” Winston said.  “Obviously, you had the sense they were probably going to go in a different direction just because of the totality of all that’s happened.  But at the same time, you realize it’s going to cost some of your friends their jobs.  Obviously, the organization wanted to bring in new blood. You know that going in.  You know everybody is up for review and that’s just how it is.  For me, it’s personally bittersweet because I believe in Matt.  I think Cassel can get it done.  Maybe it will be a great change for him and he can go somewhere else where he can get a fresh start as well.”

Of course, Winston could be in the same boat as Cassel, when the dust settles.  The former Texan has only one season in Kansas City, and the new regime could decide to go in a different direction at right tackle, too.

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Colin McCarthy Thanks Titans Ticket Holders

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Titans safety Michael Griffin and linebacker Colin McCarthy stopped by the ticket office on Thursday to call season ticket holders and thank them for renewing their seats for the 2013 season.

Griffin and McCarthy went through separate lists of Titans fans. They reached some on the phone, left voice messages for others and paused for some conversations and photos with fans who swung by LP Field to make their renewals.

“It was pretty cool,” Griffin said. “Some people were excited, some people didn’t believe it was me or Colin. It was a great experience to be able to thank the fans. They support us, and we support them and it’s great to be able to give back.”

There were a few fans who were surprised and maybe skeptic that they were being pranked, but they soon realized they were talking to the Titans defenders.
“It was fun to make some phone calls, leave some voice mails and talk with some people just to say thank you for their support and let them know that we’re excited for the season and glad that they’re going to be part of it,” McCarthy said. “They were a little surprised, a little shocked I guess, but once they got on the phone, they just started talking, asking some questions.

“Obviously they’re excited about the season, excited to see what changes we’re going to make to make a run for the playoffs,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s a big one here in Nashville, for us to get back into the playoffs, and as a team, I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Griffin’s list randomly included one of his neighbors. Griffin enjoyed catching up with her and learned she now has a grandson in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

Longtime season ticket holders Donnie and Julia Vaughn of East Nashville were excited to meet McCarthy, who they said is their favorite player. Donnie and McCarthy exchanged handshakes, while Julia opted for a big hug.

“That guy plays his rear off,” Donnie Vaughn said. “He has a high motor and doesn’t back down from anybody.”

Griffin and McCarthy said they enjoyed the excitement that fans expressed on the final day of February, eight weeks before the 2013 NFL Draft and more than seven weeks before the team’s first offseason workout is scheduled.

A couple of fans asked how McCarthy was doing in his recovery from the ankle injury and concussion that cost him nine games of his second season. He was pleased to relay good news.

“I’m getting better,” McCarthy said. “Last year was a rough year for me and it was hard on me, but that’s behind me. I’m getting better and feeling better so I’m ready for (organized team activities), ready for camp and excited for next season and what we’re going to do.”

McCarthy said he is looking forward to playing for new linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio.

“It’s going to be exciting. He’s played the position. He has a real passion for the game, he’s a real vocal, real energetic coach,” McCarthy said. “I had a chance to work with him a little last year on special teams, but now I’m going to be working with him every day in position meetings and on the field. It’s going to be exciting, and I think as a group, we’re excited for the change.”

Griffin has been alternating his time between Austin and Nashville. He’s putting himself through extensive workouts and has gained about 10 pounds, weighing in about 217, he said.

Griffin said he looks forward to meeting recent free agent signee George Wilson and welcoming the veteran strong safety to the position group. Griffin said he’s also excited about the addition of senior defensive assistant coach Gregg Williams.

“I spoke to him. He sounds like he’s got a lot of excitement with him. I’m looking forward to it,” Griffin said. “I talked to Keith Bulluck and some of those guys who could tell me how he was. They had nothing but great things to say about him, and I’m looking forward to having him out there with us and getting this thing turned around on defense.”

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Ravens don't expect new deal with Bryant McKinnie before free agency

The Ravens don't expect a new deal with left tackle Bryant McKinnie before the start of free agency, according to league sources.

McKinnie, who has had a rocky tenure with the team but who has also excelled at key times, is a free agent. Baltimore's offense soared, and quarterback Joe Flacco played the best football of his career after McKinnie was put back at left tackle late in the season, with Michael Oher moving to the right side.

McKinnie's weight and dedication have been issues for him, as well as his practice habits, and he was AWOL more or less for the start of last summer camp before agreeing to a scaled-back contract. He was a spare part until injuries forced him back in the lineup, and he became one of the vital players in Baltimore's Super Bowl run.

Left tackle is a big question for the Ravens, though the draft is deep there, and it remains to be seen what the market for McKinnie will look like. If it's soft a return to Baltimore at a modest rate could be possible.

Baltimore's efforts are focused on continued negotiations with Flacco, trying to get a deal done by the March 4 franchising deadline, and the team also expects to have renewed talks with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who is a priority, team sources said.

Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed has not talked to the team about a new contract and is another free agent. Those sides could speak soon, and Reed is in the process of discussing signing with an agent after representing himself for the past few years.

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Darryl Sharpton healthy, ready for 2013

This time last year, inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton was on the comeback trail. He had suffered a gruesome quadriceps injury in October of 2011 and was rehabbing and trying to regain his health. His 2012 season started in the Week 11 overtime win over Jacksonville but ended with a hip injury in the Week 17 loss at Indianapolis.

Now, Sharpton is healthy and has his sights set on the 2013 campaign.

“Everything’s good,” Sharpton said on Tuesday, before participating in a community event in Houston. “The injury’s 100 percent healed up. So right now I’ve just been focusing on training, staying in shape and getting ready to get back out on the field.”

Sharpton spent the first 10 weeks of the 2012 season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list before his return in November against the Jaguars. He started that game and each of the final six before exiting for good after the loss to the Colts. He’s excited to be able to focus on the offseason and 2013, and not on the day-to-day grind of coming back from injury.

“Right now, I feel really healthy, and it’s a good feeling to have right now,” Sharpton said. “I can just run, sprint, lift weights and just get in the best shape possible.”

That’s good news for a defense that never saw Sharpton paired up on the inside with captain Brian Cushing last season. A knee injury in the Week 5 road win at the New York Jets sent Cushing to injured reserve.

In a "Texans All Access" interview on Feb. 19, Cushing said his rehab from the torn anterior cruciate ligament was “going well." The prospect of being paired up with Cushing for the first time since October of 2011 is invigorating for Sharpton, a fourth-round draft pick out of Miami in 2010.

“I think it’ll be great,” Sharpton said. “I think me and Cush have great chemistry and we’ll be a forced to be reckoned with.”

A healthier inside linebacker corps, which also could get bolstered via the draft in late April, will greatly benefit the Texans’ defense.

Before offseason voluntary workouts get going in a month or so, Sharpton plans to return home to South Florida.

“I’m gonna go back home to Miami, visit with my parents, my family a little bit, train down there at the University of Miami and just get a little bit of home experience,” Sharpton said.

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From red carpet to greens, Ed Reed enjoying super offseason

PALM BEACH GARDENS — Ed Reed sure is having fun these days.

There was that Super Bowl victory earlier this month with the Baltimore Ravens during which Reed — a career-long terror of a safety – intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass in the victory against the San Francisco 49ers.

Then there was the work Reed did at the Academy Awards last weekend as a correspondent for the NFL Network where he met George Clooney, Jennifer Hudson, Naomi Watts and Jamie Foxx among others. He wore black with purple accents (Ravens’ colors).

And then he turned up Wednesday afternoon as a celebrity participant in the headline foursome of the Kenny G Gold Pro-Am on the Champion Course ahead of today’s start of the Honda Classic.

OK, so the golf would be the third of those three experiences on Reed’s bucket list, but he still called it “a dream come true” to play with the host saxophonist, television personality Ahmad Rashad and one-time PGA Tour great and Hall of Fame member Raymond Floyd.

It’s a long way from Reed’s introduction to the game as a Louisiana high school football star who didn’t know a bogey from the bogeyman.

“A (physical education) teacher handed out plastic clubs and plastic balls, drew some circles on the ground and told us to have a good time,” Reed recalled. “I wouldn’t say I was hooked right away, but I liked it. The challenge was to stay patient no matter what happened , and that was a good lesson for me to learn in golf and football. It still is.”

The golf proof came on the first hole of Wednesday’s outing when Reed uncorked a wild drive and then hit one of his playing partner’s bags with an errant second shot. There was also a bad chip into a bunker and a lousy putt.

“Who invited this guy?” Reed joked in mocking himself.

But he smoothed long tee shots on the next two holes in looking more like the “handy” 17-handicapper he says he is.

“I’m in the high-80s and low-90s when I get to play as often as I want to,” Reed said. “It’s the beginning of the season for me.”

He didn’t get serious about golf until he was in college, which, of course, was at the University of Miami where Reed was a member of the 2001 national championship team. Somewhere along the way, Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey and tight end Bubba Franks introduced Reed to the benefits of hitting balls at the driving range.

“I still enjoy going,” Reed said.

And he still enjoys football even with 11 violent NFL years on his résumé since the Ravens made him a first-round pick in the NFL draft. He again dismissed rumors that he’ll retire, and seemed to indicate he’s a free agent (his contract expired after last season) only in the technical sense.

“I want to be a Raven,” Reed said. “I am a Raven.”

He’s 34 years old, though, so the next contract won’t be as hefty as the six-year, $44 million one he just finished.

“I’m sure we’ll work something out,” Reed said.

In the meantime, he’ll concentrate on improving his golf game, which had deteriorated on the back nine. Reed, however, took pleasure in hearing New England fans complaining to him much of the round about how the Ravens had eliminated their Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

“They’ve been giving me a hard time,” Reed said, “but I enjoy it. Makes me feel good about what we did.”

He’d like nothing more than to get back to the Super Bowl, with or without New England as a hurdle. But until he gets back onto a football field, Reed said he’ll make it a point to improve his golf game.

“I was nervous on the first tee,” Reed said. “It was a different kind of nervous than football, but it was there. I’d like to get rid of that.”

His dream foursome?

“You gotta give me a fivesome,” he said. “Tiger (Woods), President Obama, Michael Jordan, my Dad and me.”

Sounds like a red-carpet group.

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Greg Olsen uses off-season to improve NC medical law

CHARLOTTE—It is the off-season for Carolina Panther Greg Olsen, but he is still right in the middle of an off the field challenge to change state law.

Last year, Olsen's son was born with a heart defect and Olsen used his son's story to promote more comprehensive heart testing in all North Carolina hospitals.

TJ was born last year with a congenital heart defect, a condition determined before he was born.

"As difficult as it was, we were able to explore different options and learn more about the condition," said Olsen.

But not every parent is so lucky to have that knowledge before birth, and not every newborn in North Carolina has their heart thoroughly tested.

"A couple days of life and their lungs now start mixing the oxygen with the blood is when the problem arises,” said Olsen.

That is why Olsen and his wife Kara are fighting to change NC law and have pulse oximetry screening, which checks a heart's function, be a mandatory test before newborns are released from the hospital.

"We're not talking drawing blood, we're not talking lab results, machines, we're talking a little box that you hit a button,” said Olsen.

Tuesday, Olsen met with the state's Health and Human Services Committee in Raleigh to lobby for the change. The proposal passed committee and is soon set for a House vote.

"I think it felt like a little minor victory, the first step to something that we feel is very important [something that we think will help so many kids in the North Carolina area]," said Olsen.

Olsen hopes the measure will ensure more babies like TJ have their first days of life filled with happy, healthy heartbeats. According to the March of Dimes, about one in every 125 infants are born with heart defects each year. The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services also recently recommended the Pulse Oximetry Screening be part of tests for all newborns.

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Jon Beason’s Carnival-Style Celebration

The man with the “million dollar smile” is Jon Beason. Beason is a middle linebacker for the Carolina Panthers. He recently started his foundation back in 2012, Jon Beason’s MLB (Making. Lives. Better) Foundation, to help benefit the lives of “at-risk” youth.

We’ve covered and assisted plenty of athletes and their foundations here at The Giving Athlete. They all have one common goal, and that is to help improve the lives of others. Yet, what’s most intriguing is that each foundation has a very unique approach, and the same can be said for Beason’s MLB Foundation. Their goal is to “have touched the lives of more than 35,000 children by 2016.”

Beason and his foundation will begin their push on Thursday, March 14th. Beason and his foundation will be hosting their first charity fundraiser of the year.
For more information on how you can help, please contact Rachel Krumpelbeck via email: Rachel.Krumpelbeck@prolanthropy.net.

For more information on Jon Beason you can check out the following links.



Also, social media users, check out Beason’s MLB Foundation on facebook and “like” the page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jon-Beasons-MLB-Foundation/502072436490964

Finally, special thanks to Rachel Krumpelbeck of Prolanthropy. You can also check out their website : http://prolanthropy.net/

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VIDEO: John Salmons dunks on Andrew Nicholson's head

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Lauryn Williams trains with St. Luke's Performance Medicine

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Olympic gold medalist Lauryn Williams will be signing autographs in the St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital (SLWH) Performance Medicine booth at The Woodlands Marathon Health & Fitness Expo on Friday, March 1.

Williams, a current St. Luke’s Performance Medicine athlete and anchor of the 4 x 100 meter relay team that won gold and set a new world record at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, will be signing autographs and greeting fans from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The Expo is being hosted in the Six Pines Parking Lot at 9696 Six Pines Drive in The Woodlands.

Lauryn recently moved to The Woodlands in October with her boyfriend who is a local doctor in a private practice in Conroe. For the past three months she has been doing preventative training with St. Luke's Performance Medicine and additional training in College Station, where she also works part-time.

"I want to do financial planning. I got a degree in Finance from the University of Miami," said Williams. Lauryn is currently working to become a Certified Financial Planner while enjoying her new home here in Texas.

Ranked since she was 19 years old, Lauryn is a humble and thankful individual, who cares about "...anything that will make you well-rounded." When she won Olympic Gold her first thought was of redemption, after the last two teams dropped the baton mid-race. This being her third and perhaps last Olympic competition she was just thankful she had three chances at a 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity.

As Lauryn cites what she calls "universal intangible things" as the binding that allows us all to communicate regardless of language and culture, she should have no problem adapting to our unique Texas atmosphere. She loves that our southern hospitality is authentic and is having no trouble branching out in our community daily.

Lauryn will even be attending her first Houston Rodeo this weekend when she sees Mary J. Blige in concert. She is very excited about the new experience and looks forward to getting out on the dance floor to learn some line dancing.

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Danny Valencia on playing first base

SARASOTA, Fla. - While still recovering from the news that Stone Temple Pilots has fired Scott Weiland. Again...

Danny Valencia is making another start at first base today in Tampa, his second one in four spring training games. He was supposed to play third base yesterday in Bradenton before the cancellation due to rain.

As I wrote a few days ago, Valencia has never played first base in the majors. He appeared in 18 games with rookie-league Elizabethton in 2006, two with Single-A Beloit in 2007 and two with Double-A New Britain in 2008.

"It's been a while," he said earlier this week. "The last time I fully played there was in college, but I've had some games in rookie ball there. I think I'll get used to it quickly."

What's the biggest adjustment on the other wide of the diamond?

"The cuts and relays," he replied. "For me, I think that's going to be the toughest because it's an instinct thing. At third, you know when to break. At first, you've also got to know when to break, but not having played there, you don't have those instincts right away."

I assumed that another adjustment would be knowing when to go for a ball in the hole and when to retreat to the bag.

"I think I've got that pretty good," he said. "Me and Bobby (Dickerson) worked on that a few days ago, so I think I've got that squared away. Right now, it's the cuts and relays for me, to be honest."

Manager Buck Showalter is trying to determine whether Valencia could back up at both positions, along with serving as a right-handed designated hitter.

Approached by Showalter about playing first base this spring, Valencia said, "I didn't think anything about it. Just do it. Obviously, you want to make the team and versatility is a good thing."

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Jemile Weeks Leads A’s Over Padres In Cactus League

PHOENIX (CBS / AP) — Dan Straily made his major league debut before making his Cactus League debut. In Oakland’s case, that’s not unusual.

Jemile Weeks hit a leadoff home run in the first inning, Seth Smith later homered and the Athletics beat a split squad of San Diego Padres 11-6 on Wednesday.
Weeks, Smith and Jed Lowrie each had two hits and drove in two runs. Smith homered in the second as Oakland took a 7-2 lead.

Straily, who had never pitched higher than Single-A until last year, allowed two runs on two hits in 1 1-3 innings. He walked one and struck out one in his first big league spring appearance.

“There are quite a few guys like that,” Straily said. “I talked to a few guys about that. There’s no timidness here. We’re part of the team and we came ready to work.”

Straily ended last season in the Athletics” starting rotation, helping them win the AL West along with fellow rookies A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker.

Straily did not pitch during the AL division series but both Griffin and Milone made starts. Neither of them started a big league spring gamelb_icon1 until now.
“I feel like I’ve been before although I haven’t,” Straily said. “I’m getting ready for a long season. I’m getting ready to pitch.”

Straily said he focused on his fastball, though he mixed in a handful of breaking pitches.

“I had to knock the rust off out,” he said. “It’s been a long two weeks waiting to get out there. I threw a lot of good pitches. I wasn’t trying to get ahead of myself.”
Cody Ransom homered and drove in two runs for San Diego. Travis Buck, who previously played for the A’s, had two hits and drove in two runs. Padres starter Eric Stults gave up four runs on four hits and two walks in one inning.

Padres manager Bud Black wasn’t overly concerned about Stults’ outing. The left-hander produced career numbers last year after being claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox in May.

“I’m not going to look at one inning in February,” Black said. “He’s still in a strengthicon1 building phase and throwing a lot of fastballs. His change did not come into play. His fastball had some life to it and he showed good arm and hand speed. He felt good and that’s the important thing.”

Weeks, coming off a down season, has hit safely in all three of his gameslb_icon1 and upped his spring average to .625.

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Brandon McGee A Top Performer Among DBs at NFL Combine

proCane Brandon McGee ran very well, posting a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash. He's been having a great draft process. Jamar Taylor, Dee Milliner, Tyrann Mathieu, Rod Sweeting, Eric Reid, Brandon McGee and Leon McFadden were the most impressive prospects.

McGee finished SIXTH among RBs in the 40-yard dash with a 4.40 time.

McGee finished tied for 12th in the bench press among CBs with 14 reps of 225 lbs.

McGee had an impressive 3-Cone drill time of 6.71 seconds putting him FOURTH overall, and a great 20-yard shuttle run placing him tied for 12th with a time 4.18 seconds.

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Jason Geathers Signs

ason Geathers signs with the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League. Geathers since graduating from The U in 2004 has been on the Cleveland Browns (2004) and New York Giants (2005) rosters before moving to the AFL San Jose Sabercats (2005-2008). Geathers then joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2009) of the CFL before returning to the AFL with the Alabama Vipers (2010), Arizona Rattlers (2011), Georgia Force (2012), San Jose Sabercats (2012), Arizona Rattlers (2012).

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PHOTO: Brandon McGee at the NFL Combine

Brandon McGee Combine

proCane defensive back Brandon McGee dives for the ball as he runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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Brad Kunz Named Head Coach

Plano High School’s assistant football coach, Bradley Kunz, has been named the school’s new varsity coach.

The School Board Monday approved the hiring of Kunz to succeed Jim Green.

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Ed Reed Reached Out To Tyrann Mathieu

Few players coming out of this year’s draft have as many off-the-field questions as former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist known as the “Honey Badger” missed all of last season after getting dismissed from LSU’s team for reportedly failing numerous drug tests, and he then went through rehab last summer.

His focus over the next few weeks is to convince teams that he’s trustworthy and worth the investment of a draft pick. Through the pre-draft process, Ravens veteran safety Ed Reed has reached out to his representatives to provide some guidance to the 20-year-old defender.

“He never talked to me personally but he's reached out to my adoptive parents,” Mathieu said Sunday at the NFL Combine. “He's reached out to my agent and [former LSU defensive back and current Arizona Cardinals cornerback] Patrick Peterson."

Reed works with and advises a number of young players around the NFL. Just last year he reached out to South Carolina State safety Christian Thompsonicon-article-link, who the Ravens ended up drafting in the fourth round.

Mathieu, who is projected as a mid-to-late round draft pick, told reporters that he hasn’t used marijuana since being arrested for misdemeanor possession Oct. 25.

"I've been to rehabs, I've been to counseling, I have a sponsor,” Mathieu said. “I'm surrounded by people who do what I want to do and that's be a professional football player. I think the last few months have been going pretty good for me."

Mathieu burst on the national stage during his sophomore season at LSU, as he showed off his skills as a dynamic playmaker on defense and in the return game.  He drew comparisons to Reed based on his nose for the football, and ability to find the end zone once he got the ball in his hands.

Mathieu went on to finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting that season, and he admits that he got caught up in his own success.

“I think half of it is you actually start believing the hype,” he said. “You actually start believing the newspaper clippings and the other half is, ‘Hey, I'm young and I want to have some fun.’ But at the end of the day I have to be a different kind of person.”

As fast as Mathieu rose to prominence, his mistakes ended up costing him a season of college football and millions of dollars in the process.

“At the end of the day I'm not focused on money right now,” he said. “I just want to start playing football again because for my whole life I played it for free. To play now for a couple hundred thousand dollars, it's still football to me."

His ability to show NFL head coaches and general managers that he’s trustworthy over the next few weeks will be pivotal in determining where he ends up getting drafted, and his hope now is that he convinces somebody he deserves a second chance.

"I'm not totally asking them to trust me right now," he said. "What I have asked is for them to give me an opportunity to play the game. I've had a lot of time to reflect on it, especially without football. It's really given me a different outlook on life and it's just about being the right kind of person."

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Jimmy Graham Calls New Secondary Coach Wesley McGriff a Good Fit for Saints

TE Jimmy Grahamicon-article-link was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft with just one year of college football experience.

In that one year of collegiate action at Miami, Graham faced a Hurricane secondary led by Wesley McGriff in practice.

On Monday, the Saints hired McGriff as their secondary coach.

McGriff spent last season as the co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach at the University of Mississippi. McGriff helped the Rebels improve from a 2-10 campaign in 2011 to a 7-6 record in 2012.

Before joining the Rebels, McGriff spent one year at Vanderbilt where he served as defensive backs coach/recruiting coordinator after spending four years as Miami’s defensive backs coach.

Graham said he is excited about McGriff joining the Saints and says the 22-year coaching veteran is a great fit for the black and gold.

“Coach McGriff will be a great addition to our team,” said Graham. “His experience and work ethic along with being an excellent teacher will make him an asset to our team.”

Graham said the thing that impressed him the most about McGriff was his ability to develop young defensive backs.

In 2011, McGriff tutored senior Casey Hayward to All-America status at Vanderbilt. The Packers drafted Hayward in the second round of the NFL Draft last season and he finished third in the Associated Press voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading all NFL rookies with six interceptions.

Other notable NFL defensive backs that McGriff has coached on the collegiate level include New York Giants S Kenny Phillips, Green Bay Packers DB Sam Shields, Houston Texans CB Brandon Harris and New York Jets DB Yeremiah Bell.

As excited as Graham is for McGriff’s arrival in the Crescent City, the Saints tight end offered some friendly banter to the newest Saints coach.
“I'm looking forward to seeing frustration on his face the first chance we scrimmage in the redzone,” joked Graham.

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VIDEO: proCane Allen Bailey goes back home to Sapelo Island

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Matt Birk: Warren Sapp and I wanted to kill each other

Matt Birk went out on top, announcing his retirement last week after 15 seasons in the NFL and winning the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.

The Harvard alumnus spoke with SI.com's Peter King on Sunday, offering several gems while reflecting on life and football.

The best of them might have been a revelation that he wanted to "kill" Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp during one game in Minnesota.

"And he wanted to kill me," Birk added. "That's the great thing about football. You go out there and try to kill each other for three hours, then after the game, it's, 'Stay healthy, have a great season, love you.' You hug, and you're best friends. I see Warren today, we laugh, we're great."

Birk echoed the sentiments of Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones, who offered high praise for Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco on NFL Network's "NFL AM" last week.

"I will miss playing with Joe. Special guy," Birk said. "I really admire him, how he goes about his business. He doesn't get full of himself, doesn't buy into the hype, doesn't make the game too big. I wish I was that level-headed."

Birk acknowledges he'll have a hard time matching the fulfillment that playing in the NFL gave him.

"Like, what can we do so we can celebrate like that again?" Birk asked. "Can we cure cancer or something? We have to find a way to feel that way again, and there just aren't many things you can do to have that kind of joy. But you want to find it again."

Will the Ravens have a ceremony to celebrate the six-time Pro Bowl center's career?

"That's not me," Birk said. "You do that for Ray Lewis, you don't do that for me."

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Ed Reed gets taste of Hollywood on Oscars red carpet

While some of my Around The League colleagues spent the last few days in Indianapolis watching large men labor in Spanx, The Powers That Be sent yours truly to Hollywood to cover the Oscars.

This was not a bad deal. My job was to observe Ed Reed, the Baltimore Ravens safety who was flown in to serve as the red-carpet correspondent for the "The Rich Eisen Podcast." Rob Gronkowski originally was booked, but he pulled out late in the week. You'll have to wait for his 2023 autobiography, "Gronk Reading Book" (Simon & Schuster), for more details.

It was disappointing to lose Gronk. After all, dropping that dude into the mad pop-culture vortex that is Oscar night had the potential to collapse the universe into itself. Reed was a solid replacement, though, and his breezy temperament served as a nice yin to the chaotic yang that raged around us on Hollywood Boulevard.

I decided to document the afternoon in running diary form. All times are Pacific and only vaguely accurate. Everything else happened exactly as I say.

2 p.m.: We are in very tight quarters on the red carpet. Ed, his buddy Glenn, Eisen producer Chris Brockman, myself, a cameraman and a sound guy all traffic in the surface area of a phone booth. We're basically recreating the cover art from "Hello Nasty." Half of Gronk's right shoulder would've fit in this space. As my mom says, "Everything happens for a reason."

2:03: To our right are two 20-something women broadcasting live to China. To our left, several Spanish-language broadcasters with sharp elbows continuously scramble. It's a safe bet neither side is aware a Hall of Fame safety is in their immediate vicinity.

2:10: The red carpet is broken down into three distinct lanes. The far lane borders bleachers that house fans who roast in the sun and scream loudly when prompted by Chris Connelly. The center is an express lane. Look at it like an E-ZPass for A-listers. We're on the other side of that.

2:20: A man and woman stroll the carpet showing off an Oscar statue. This is the totality of their job. Ed (we're now on a first-name basis) now has held the Lombardi and an Oscar in the same month. That's a solid February.

2:37: We have an alarming number of older men wearing toupees here. We're talking some seriously lush rugs. It's like an Uncle Lewis from "Christmas Vacation" convention.

3:00: The bigger celebs are arriving. Ed chats up the star of "Life of Pi" (No, not the tiger. It's a kid named Suraj Sharma). Sharma easily earns the award for the Celebrity Who Has Most Obviously Never Heard Of Ed Reed Before.

3:08: Did you know Chris Pine and Chris Evans are two different people? I'm serious. One Chris walked by, then the other one followed about 30 seconds later.

3:15: Ed briefly chats with "Avatar" star Zoe Saldana. He ends their conversation by telling Saldana to say hi to Nia Long for him. It's not clear why. This is why Ed Reed is the best.

4:13: "Bridesmaids" star Melissa McCarthy just iced us. Made eye contact and kept walking. This will not be forgotten.

4:23: Charlize Theron takes a narrow lead over Jessica Chastain and Olivia Munn as the actress whose on-screen hotness best translates in-person. Surely this is her greatest achievement.

4:24: Speaking of Charlize, Reed can't figure out how he knows her until his buddy Glenn mentions "The Legend Of Bagger Vance." Later, a visit by Don Johnson prompts a "Tin Cup" reference. Who knew Ed Reed was such a cinephile in matters of the fairway?

4:35: Remember how perturbed Tommy Lee Jones looked at the Golden Globes? Well, the Surly Meter is cranking again on the carpet. It's like he's method acting for that long-awaited "Cobb" sequel.

4:38: Halle Berry floats past us. She looks radiant and appears not to be a day over 30 (she's 46). She's basically the Hollywood equivalent of Tony Gonzalez. Having seen Berry in the flesh, Ed feels complete. "Yo, we good. We good to go. Let's go."

4:58: "Django Unchained" star Jamie Foxx takes the express lane. Ed is upset. Ed counted on having some QT with Foxx. Says Ed: "Django 1 needs to meet Django 2!"

5:00: "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart just chugged through the express lane on crutches. It was weird.

5:03: Ben Affleck books -- seriously, he's almost running -- right past us. He's clocked (unofficially) at 4.24 seconds. Chris Johnson is nervous.

5:09: Now things really are heating up. Steven Spielberg just took the express lane. I briefly made eye contact. I think he now owns me.

5:12: Grizzled red-carpet veteran Robert DeNiro takes the express lane. Jennifer Aniston, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones all will do the same.

5:15: Former Ravens cheerleader Stacy Keibler spots Ed and gives him a big hug. This is especially fortuitous for us since Keibler's boyfriend happens to be that George Clooney guy. Clooney approaches Ed, groans and says, "You hurt me bad. I'm a Bengals fan."

5:20: The red-carpet portion of the Oscars is over. Ed and his buddy find a security guard with a Ravens allegiance who gets them inside for the ceremony. I walk to a gas station, where I catch a ride back to the office. The difference between Ed Reed and myself never has felt so stark.

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Mike James a Top Performer Among RBs at NFL Combine

proCane Mike James ran well, posting a 4.53. He's been having a great draft process. Like Florida’s RB Gillislee, he's been in limited use and shared duties with freshman sensation Duke Johnson in 2012.

James finished in the top 10 among RBs in the 40-yard dash tying for 8th place with North Carolina’s RB Giovani Bernard.

James finished THIRD in the bench press among RBs with 28 reps of 225 lbs.

James finished tied for seventh in the vertical jump with 35 inches.

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Ed Reed Covers Oscars For NFL Network


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Sean Spence damaged peroneal nerve

Steelers ILB Sean Spence's catastrophic 2012 knee injury included a damaged peroneal nerve behind his left knee.

Spence tore his ACL and LCL, dislocated the knee, and also damaged the nerve. Players are capable of returning from major knee injuries, but Spence's recovery is wholly dependent on the nerve recovery. The Steelers have no idea when the nerve will heal. It's why GM Kevin Colbert called this an "unknown injury."

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'Understood' Lamar Miller will get chance to start

Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel says it's "universally understood" that Lamar Miller will be given "every opportunity" to start in 2013.
It's becoming clearer that Reggie Bush will not be re-signed no matter how much he wants to return. The money just won't be right for both sides. Miller has been the offseason's running back darling, and has been mentioned several times by GM Jeff Ireland as a guy he expects to take a major leap. Miller's fantasy stock is steadily rising.

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PHOTO: George Clooney, Ed Reed talk Ravens-Bengals


It may have been the unlikeliest scene on the red carpet before the Oscars show Sunday night when George Clooney, an admitted Cincinnati Bengals fan, was confronted by a certain safety for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

Ed Reed, working the scene as an interviewer for “The Rich Eisen Podcast,” greeted Clooney, whose girlfriend, Stacy Keibler, is a former Ravens cheerleader.

“Clooney said to me, ‘Hey, Reed, you hurt me bad — I’m a Bengals fan,’” Reed told SI.com’s Richard Deitsch on Sunday night. “I told him, ‘Hey, man, they hurt themselves!’ But it’s awesome he’s a Bengals fan. I really enjoyed talking with him.”

New England’s notorious tight end Rob Gronkowski had been the early choice to stand outside the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles and ask questions, but that fell through and Reed stepped up. Reed’s performance can be seen on “The Rich Eisen Combine Special” will be shown at 9:30 p.m. EST Wednesday on The NFL Network, with audio on NFL.com/iTunes on Wednesday afternoon.

“Usually I’m the guy not doing interviews,” said Reed, when asked by Deitsch to analyze his work. “I’m focusing on my job. So to do something different was fun. I think I did all right.”

He certainly looked fine in a stripey tux, purple bowtie and purple and black shoes. After his interviewing duties were over, he ended up backstage with the help of a security guard who is a Ravens fan and yapped with the stars. “I also shook hands with Halle Berry,” Reed said. “I wanted to take a picture with her, but she walked out so quick. Beautiful woman, man.”

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Ray Lewis adds star power to Daytona 500

The stars of music, TV and the NFL helped get Sunday’s Daytona 500 started.

The A-list included former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who was the honorary starter for the race and waved the green flag.

“I’m going to be a little nervous,” Lewis said during a pre-race news conference. “They told me they have one rule — don’t drop the flag.”

Lewis was on the winning Super Bowl team in his final NFL game three weeks ago. He not only has become a race fan but has become friends with defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

“We came into contact a few months ago, and we sent each other a lot of motivational texts,” Lewis said. “He came to a couple of games, and he followed my last ride. I respect what these guys do, and I wanted to be a part of this.”

Lewis didn’t reflect much on the Ravens winning the Super Bowl. He was more excited about the fact that his son, Ray Lewis III, signed to play football with his alma mater, the University of Miami. Ray III is a three-star running back from Lake Mary Prep.

“Seeing my son in college will be the most amazing thing I’ve ever done,” Lewis said.

Also participating in the pre-race festivities were actor James Franco of the Spider-Man movies, who gave the command for the racers to start their engines, and the Zac Brown Band. They performed a concert before the race, and Clay Cook, a member of the band, performed the national anthem.

A First Coast presence came from the Mayport Naval Station Color Guard, which presented the colors.

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Broncos will consider moving Orlando Franklin from OT to OG

Q: There is been a lot of talk about moving Orlando Franklin from offensive tackle to guard. What are the chances that the Broncos draft a right tackle and move Franklin to guard? Are there many right tackle prospects in this draft or free agency? Franklin seems to struggle at pass protection at times.

A: Bill, the Broncos have mulled the idea about moving Franklin to guard since last offseason. Franklin is a physical drive blocker who has performed far better in the run game than he has from time to time in pass protection.

At his best, he has had some struggles on the perimeter, especially when the Broncos were not in a two-tight end set. And even before his recent surgery to repair his right big toe — his outside foot in pass protection — the Broncos had considered the idea he may be better at an interior position in the line.

When Franklin came into the 2011 draft, there were some teams who believed he would best suited at guard even at that point in his career. Franklin started three games at left guard in his freshman season at the University of Miami, started 11 games at left guard in his sophomore season and 11 games at left guard in his junior season.

He played far more at guard, overall, for the Hurricanes than he did at tackle. His senior season, when he started 12 of the team's 13 games at left tackle, was the only year when he played more at tackle than guard.

And the Broncos considered the move plenty before this past season, even giving Franklin a smattering of snaps at guard in training camp and the offseason program.

The Broncos would have likely already made the move, especially given the injuries to Chris Kuper this past season, but they haven't shown they have a better option at right tackle. And while quarterback Peyton Manning, with his anticipation, knowledge of a variety of rush schemes and his ability to get the ball out on time, helps any offensive line, the Broncos do need to have their best options at the two tackle spots.

Franklin struggled at times with opposing speed rushers — defensive coordinators did attack him in the rush — as he finished with five sacks allowed in man-on-man situations and also was the second-most-penalized offensive lineman.

His penalty total included five false starts.

Franklin remains one of the team's best power players, and the Broncos certainly would like to be more physical overall in the run game, especially in situations when they need to close out games and in short-yardage situations.

Opportunity may be knocking to make some moves. Franklin is recovering from toe surgery, so he is not expected to participate fully in the team's offseason program.

The Broncos will have the opportunity to try out some combinations that include linemen they already have on the roster as well as those they will add in the draft and free agency in the coming weeks.

The draft is deepest in the offensive and defensive lines this season, so the Broncos could address the offensive line with more than one pick and they will have a lot of prospects to choose from.

Florida State's Menelik Watson, at 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, is a tackle who sits on many team's boards from the late first round into the early third. Watson figures to be a riser by the time the draft weekend arrives.

The Broncos also met formally with Virginia's Oday Aboushi at the combine, and they will look hard at adding offensive linemen to their draft class. It's where the strength of the board will be whenever their picks come up.

So, there will be some new faces there and when Franklin returns to the field after his rehab, and while Kuper is in his own rehab from another ankle surgery, how successful those new faces have been at filling will determine whether Franklin.

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Jason Fox as part of Lions' O-line solution?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Watching offensive linemen work out Saturday brought to mind the Detroit Lions' efforts in that regard.

The Lions have spent a few drafts building to a moment when they would turn over their own line, and that time has arrived. All that's left to know is whether it will take place in one season or be a two-year transition.

Already, the Lions have released right guard Stephen Peterman. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is a pending free agent and left tackle Jeff Backus could retire. Center Dominic Raiola appears to have bought himself another season by restructuring a contract that will expire at this time next year.

So who will take over? We know that 2012 first-round draft pick Riley Reiff will start somewhere, be it at guard or tackle. Here at the NFL scouting combine, I was a little surprised to hear general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz repeatedly mention Jason Fox -- a little-used fourth-round draft pick in 2010 -- as a leading candidate to start as well.

Fox was limited by injuries in college as well as in his first two seasons with the Lions. He has played in five NFL games, only one over the past two seasons, and that was a six-snap outing on special teams in Week 12 last season. But he is 6-foot-6, 314 pounds and won't turn 25 until May.

"Jason Fox obviously had the injuries in his first couple seasons," Mayhew said. "He was able to stay healthy all last year, but we also stayed healthy at the tackle position. He didn’t play very much for us. We think he has starter-type talent level. He has the size. He's a strong enough guy. He's a good technician. He's a hard worker. We think he has the ability to start for us."

It would be rare, but not unheard of, for an injury-plagued player to emerge from three years of inactivity to become a starter. But if the Lions need or want to replace most of their starters in one offseason, that's the kind of elevation they'll need to make.

There are some other little-used players remaining from the Lions' 2012 roster who could compete for starting jobs as well, including: guard-center Billy Nagy to guard Rodney Austin to tackle Corey Hilliard, a pending free agent himself.

In either case, by 2014, four of the five positions will assuredly have new starters. Left guard Rob Sims is the only player who figures to still be in his current role. The Lions are about to get young in a hurry on their offensive line.

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Are Devin Hester's days at WR over?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Devin Hester's days of lining up at wide receiver in Chicago might be over.

Bears general manager Phil Emery made no mention of Hester contributing on offense on Thursday when he responded to a question about the three-time Pro Bowler's current role on the team. Rather, Emery told reporters that Hester will "compete" for the club's return job in the offseason, if he remains on the roster. Hester, who has one-year left on his contract, has said publicly that he is open to the idea of being traded.

"Right now, he is back," Emery said. "He'll go out there and compete to be our returner. What he does from beyond there will be determined how he does in that first role as a returner."

Arguably the greatest returner in the history of the game, Hester struggled on punt return last year where he averaged just 8.3 yards per return, but still accounted for a respectable 25.9 yards on kickoff return.

The real issue for Hester has been his inability to develop chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler in the passing game. Hester caught only 23 passes last season for 242 yards and one touchdown. While Cutler is far from blameless when it comes to Hester's decline as a wide receiver, Hester did fail to capitalize on several key opportunities in 2012 which hurt himself and the team. It's difficult to imagine Hester and Cutler ever getting on the same page, which is why the idea of the Bears moving on from Hester seems plausible.

Hester still has plenty of supporters around the league who believe he can succeed on offense in the right system and with the right quarterback, but the odds of that occurring in Chicago seem slim to none.

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Nanticoke health fair lands Portis' signature of approval

LAUREL – For nine years, Clinton Portiswas a backfield workhorse for the Denver Broncos and then the Washington Redskins.

He retired last August just 77 yards shy of the career 10,000-yard plateau as one of all-time great running backs in Redskins’ history.

In “retirement,” the 31-year-old Mississippi native spends time huddling with family and exploring new option plays in the game of life.

“I really feel like I worked hard enough, so everything that comes from me being a spotlight athlete; retirement, kind of being off the scene, and enjoying the kids, relaxing with the family and becoming a business man,” said Mr. Portis.

Saturday, the Redskin Nation legend spent the better part of two hours at Laurel High School putting his name and jersey No. 26 on napkins and helmets and many things in between as a marquee drawing card at Nanticoke Health Services’ community health fair.

A long line of people – many sporting Redskin burgundy and gold – showed up to get Mr. Portis’ autograph, which translated into a very successful health fair that featured free screenings, awareness and other health-related information from Nanticoke and other community-minded groups and organizations.

“We really had a good turnout. The parking lots were full,” said Sharon Harrington, NHS’s Director of Marketing & Business Development. “It is the first time we’ve reached out to the Laurel community and done something like this. The community has been really supportive, from the Chamber (Laurel Chamber of Commerce) to the school, and the businesses in the area.”

Dr. Joseph Kim, a family practitioner with Nanticoke, said the presence of someone of the stature of Clinton Portis “generates a lot of excitement. And that brings people in. Historically we do have health fairs but having him there as kind of a symbol of health – he is a professional athlete; he keeps himself in phenomenal shape – it brings people into the rest of the health fair. It was just a great day.”

Mr. Portis echoed Nanticoke’s pitch for healthy living.

“I’ve done it for HIV testing, and arts fairs, with kids preaching about obesity. Any time you can be part of a movement you want to do it. You look at obesity. You look at health,” Mr. Portis said. “Back in the day when you think of your grandparents, they never went through any of this – and they lived to be 90 or 100 years old. And all of a sudden in today’s society … lives are becoming shorter. So you’ve got to follow up and pay attention.”

Some fans shared a Kodak moment and even a handshake with Mr. Portis.

“I love the Redskins. I love RG3 (quarterback Robert Griffin III),” said Georgetown resident Teresa Joynes, clad in her Redskin attire. “He (Portis) was my favorite. That is why I had to come here.”

“I actually thought I was at Ashburn (Va., home of Redskins Park) with all of this burgundy and gold. It was good to see how many people really follow Redskins Nation,” said Mr. Portis. “Who would ever think coming to Laurel, Delaware, you’d have this many Redskins fans. It is wonderful support when you have small towns that come out and support you. Those are the people that don’t get the opportunity to come to the games … and don’t get the opportunity to yell (at Fedex Field). But they pack the bars and family households all of the time. So it is always appreciative.”

Seaford resident Mike Kraft, a lifelong Redskins fan whose identical twin brother is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, thanked Mr. Portis for being a beacon through some lean Redskins years.

“I’m not a huge autograph fan. I don’t really collect stuff. But I wanted to come and thank him for what he did. His professionalism and his character brought a lot to the locker-room and a lot to the field, and made other guys be better,” said Mr. Kraft, a Seaford School District school board member. “And it is great to see some Redskins fans come out and support this, and support Nanticoke Health Services.

And not so much even just the autographs but the event they are putting on and the services they provide. If it takes getting a star like him here, I’m all for that. Hail to the Redskins! It certainly is a win-win for everybody.”

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Ed Reed is the model for top safeties in 2013 NFL draft class

INDIANAPOLIS —— Veteran fee safety Ed Reed has been a constant presence in the NFL for nearly a dozen years, instinctively patrolling the Ravens' secondary and baiting quarterbacks into miscues.

Although he's not here at the NFL scouting combine, Reed's name was frequently mentioned by younger safeties that admire him and attempt to emulate his passionate brand of football.

"No doubt, I try to mold my game after him," said Texas standout Kenny Vaccaro, who's regarded as the top prospect in a deep safety class. "He's a Hall of Famer, and he's a ball-hawk. All young safeties watch Ed Reed."

Florida junior safety Matt Elam has always envisioned himself playing like Reed.

He'd love to pattern his game after how Reed pounces on errant throws and delivers punishing tackles.

"He'll hit you, he'll pick the ball off, ball hawk," Elam said of Reed. "He can do it all, so I feel like I can do it, too."

Elam is the younger brother of Arizona Cardinals safety Abram Elam. When asked if his brother might get upset that he's trying to mirror Reed instead of him, Elam replied: "I don't think he'll mind. He understands."

That's how much Reed's cerebral, free-wheeling style resonates with the safeties that grew up watching him.

Reed, 34, is approaching a career crossroads now that his six-year, $44.5 million contract has expired and he's set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time.

Reed has declared that he intends to continue playing, and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has expressed optimism that the nine-time Pro Bowl selection will ultimately remain with the team. However, the Ravens' tight salary cap could prevent the Louisiana native from finishing his career in Baltimore.

Reed could also be in demand from coaches who respect and know him, such as the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick and the Indianapolis Colts' Chuck Pagano.

"It's hard to imagine a Ravens defense without Ed Reed," said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, a former Ravens director of player personnel who was working for Baltimore when the Ravens drafted Reed in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft. "He's a fixture with the Ravens, just like Ray Lewis. It would definitely be strange to see him playing in a different uniform, but nothing lasts forever in the NFL.

"Ideally when you're replacing a player at any position, you have a year or so where you bring in a young player and they learn from the veteran. Maybe that's what could happen with the Ravens and Ed this year, but it's definitely a good group of safeties for them to look at."

If Reed's final game with the Ravens does wind up being their dramatic Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, executives, coaches and scouts are plotting contingency plans in case he doesn't return.

The Ravens have met or are scheduled to meet with most of the best safeties that have assembled here to audition for the NFL. That includes Vaccaro, Elam, South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson and many others.

Elam doesn't rank far behind Vaccaro on most NFL teams' draft boards, according to analysts.

In three seasons for the Gators, the stocky 5-foot-10, 202-pound player finished with 176 tackles, six interceptions, three forced fumbles and 19 pass deflections.

Although Elam is regarded as a big-time hitter who might start out at strong safety as he transitions to the NFL, the All-Southeastern Conference selection believes he has the cover skills to play either spot. In the NFL now, many schemes call for the safeties to be interchangeable.

"I play very hard, and I like to strike people," Elam said. "I feel that's what helps me stand out the most, but I'm very versatile. I can cover slot receivers. I can go down and cover. I can go in the box and tackle."

Other safeties getting high marks from NFL teams: LSU's Eric Reid, Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien, Fresno State's Phillip Thomas and Georgia's Baccari Rambo.

Thomas intercepted eight passes last season. Cyprien was a Senior Bowl standout who has cornerback skills in a safety's body.

"There's a strong safety class," Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "In our minds, there are five or six starters in this class at safety and that's rare to me."

As far as Elam is concerned, though, he's the best. NFL teams might disagree, though, and so would Vaccaro.

"I'm very confident in myself," he said. "I feel that I can do a lot of things for teams: special teams, covering, tackling."

Swearinger has played every position in the secondary for the Gamecocks, lining up everywhere from cornerback, free safety, strong safety and nickel back. The 5-10, 208-pound player runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.

"I have great ball skills," Swearinger said. "I'm not only just a safety. I'm an athlete. I want to be a ball-hawk. I just want to make plays. A lot of teams said they like my aggressiveness."

Swearinger has been linked to the Ravens in a few mock drafts and has already had one informal meeting with them and a formal interview scheduled for Monday.

Swearinger grew up watching Lewis and Reed confound offenses, and would ideally like to join the Super Bowl champions.

"I see myself fitting right in with the Ravens," Swearinger said. "Losing a leader like Ray Lewis, I consider myself a leader first and foremost. So, I think I would go right in to being a defensive leader."

Regardless of what part of the country they hail from, studying Reed is something these safeties all have in common.

Especially how he intercepted 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl.

"Ed Reed is definitely one guy that I do watch a lot," Jefferson said. "It's his instincts. You watch the Super Bowl. A critical play of the game is when he's in man-to-man and he comes off and gets Kaepernick to throw the ball."

Just like his competitors, Jefferson is aware of the potential job vacancy in the deep middle portion of the Ravens' secondary.

"That'd be a beautiful place to be," Jefferson said. "Super Bowl champs, you know what I mean?"

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John Salmons sinks career-high six 3-pointers

John Salmons drained a career-high six 3-pointers on his way to 18 points in Sunday's loss in New Orleans.

He added three rebounds, three assists and a block in 37 minutes of action, his highest playing time in over a month. The Kings have now lost five straight games, during which they're allowing an unholy 113.4 points per game, and Keith Smart said after Friday's game that Sacramento would have won "if we even gave half of a defensive effort." DeMarcus Cousins also chimed in, turning conventional basketball wisdom on its head by saying, "I do believe our offense carries our defense." No matter how you parse it, the Kings have the fifth-worst record in the league.

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John Salmons says youth can no longer be an excuse

ATLANTA - The Kings have pointed to their youth for some of the mistakes they repeatedly make in games.

But that excuse is old.

The Kings latest loss, 122-108, to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena, was filled with many of the usual mishaps that have led to a 19-37 record.

The Kings know selfish play on offense and bad defense will lead to losses. But the Kings continue to repeat these mistakes.

At least one veteran says it's time to start using youth to excuse bad basketball.

"The whole league is young at this point," said forward John Salmons. "We had the youngest MVP ever (Derrick Rose) a couple years ago. We've got Kevin Durant, (Russell) Westbrook, James Harden in the championship (last season). So the young stuff, the young thing is not really an excuse anymore. It's time to grow up and be a team.

Exactly how young are the Kings? There are no rookies on the roster after Thomas Robinson was traded. Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette are in their second seasons.

Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton are both in their fourth seasons. DeMarcus Cousins is in his third season.

But the Kings have not matured in their approach to the game.

Offense is what makes them happy. And only when the offense is going well do the Kings seem to take an interest in playing defense.

"With this team we're too focused on offense, too much on one-on-one play," Salmons said. "We don't move the ball on a consistent basis and then on the defensive end we let teams get run outs, transition points. It's hard for us to get stops in halfcourt sets because we focus on the offense so much."

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Tim George Jr. Overcomes Adversity In Daytona

Daytona Beach, FL (February 24, 2013) – Tim George Jr. piloting the No. 5 Grand Touring Vodka Ford powered by Applebee’s posted a 16th-place finish for Wauters Motorsports after overcoming an early incident in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

George Jr. placed the GT Vodka truck in 24th-place position on the starting grid for the running of the NEXTERA Energy 250 in his first start for the team owned by former crew chief Richie Wauters.

George and his teammates knew they had a strong race truck from the start as George worked the low groove of the draft pack on the 2.5-mile superspeedway for the first half of the 100-lap event. Then, on lap 54, the anticipated ‘big one’ unfolded just ahead of the GT Vodka Ford.  George Jr. thought he had escaped the 14-truck pileup until he was hit from behind, sending him sideways and giving him a flat front tire.  He was able to make it back to pit road where his Wauters Motorsports pit crew went to work on getting the truck back on the track.

Despite heavy nose and splitter damage on the GT Vodka Ford powered by Applebee’s, George Jr. returned to the race and was able to run some of the fastest laps of the race on the legendary high-banked Daytona International Speedway, posting very impressive NASCAR “loop” statistics. Although he was driving a heavily damaged race truck, NASCAR statisticians listed George Jr. as the fastest driver early in a run, a ranking that is made during the initial 25 percent of laps run following a pit stop.

“This was challenging to say the least,” said George Jr. after the race. “We thought we missed the accident in front of us only to get clipped from behind. I was sent into the infield which blew a tire causing heavy front end damage.

“My team did great job fixing up the GT Vodka Ford. They were able to keep me on the lead lap. But driving a truck at 180 mph with Bear Bond flapping and the wind hitting your legs was difficult. I have to hand it to my spotter Tyler Green. He kept me focused and urged me on and we were able to post a 16th place finish in my first truck race at Daytona.

“This evening would not have been possible without the support of Greg Sacks, Grand Touring Vodka and Applebee’s. Thank you for all of your support.”

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series resumes with race number two of a 22-race schedule at Martinsville Speedway, April 6, 2013.

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Ryan Braun homers in first at-bat, calls it 'cool'

PHOENIX (AP) — Ryan Braun quickly got into the swing of spring.

The Milwaukee slugger homered in his first at-bat of the exhibition season and the Brewers beat the Oakland Athletics 2-1 Saturday.

"There was nothing I didn't like about it," Braun said. "It was a home run. Homers are cool. I love home runs. I think I'm definitely ahead of where I usually am this time of year."

Braun hit only two home runs during spring training last year. He played just in home games for the first week to ease his exposure after he became the only major leaguer to have a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs reversed.

Braun's name surfaced again in late January in connection with a Miami anti-aging clinic that reportedly provided PEDs to professional athletes. Braun has denied using PEDs.

"He's really good upstairs," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He's able to handle a lot of different situations really well."

The 2011 NL MVP hit .319 with a league-leading 41 home runs, 112 RBIs and 30 stolen bases last year.

Braun will soon be leaving the club to prepare for the World Baseball Classic with Team USA. He hit a solo shot over the center-field fence with two outs in the first inning off Jesse Chavez.

"That's pretty amazing, that with two strikes you could do that," Roenicke said. "He's an amazing player and I just don't think he needs as much work as everybody else to get ready. He's gifted."

Braun has accelerated his spring regimen to prepare for the WBC, where he's set to start in left field. With only four outfielders on the roster, he's already been told by the team's coaching staff to expect to play nine full innings in each of the team's first three games.

"I'll be ready," Braun said. "Those games are fun. You put on a USA jersey, the intensity ramps up and it's a lot of fun."

Milwaukee starter Mike Fiers allowed a hit and two walks in two scoreless innings and struck out two.

Oakland shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima made his debut after signing a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

"The environment and the ambiance were fabulous," the 30-year-old Nakajima said through an interpreter. "It pumped me up. I was very excited."

Nakajima walked and popped out. He also was the pivot on a double play started when second baseman Jemile Weeks made a backhanded stab of a short hop as he fell to his knees.

"I knew Weeks was going to get to the ball," Nakajima said. "The rest was how he was going to flip the ball to me."

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Yonder Alonso makes changes to stance

San Diego Padres 1B Yonder Alonso made changes to his stance this offseason with the help of hitting coach Phil Plantier, balancing his body and putting more of his legs and torso into his swing, which he hopes will add more power. "To me, the changes are dramatic," Alonso said. "When Plantier and I started working, I opened myself up to any ideas. I want to add some power to my swing. What he did was make me more balanced at the plate so I could move quicker to the ball. We changed my swing a lot and worked on my lower body." Knee surgery affected Alonso's lower half before the start of last season.

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Danny Valencia moves across the diamond

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Danny Valencia is making a rare start at first base for the Orioles' exhibition game today against the Toronto Blue Jays.

How rare?

Valencia has never played the position in the majors. He appeared in 18 games with rookie-league Elizabethton in 2006, two with Single-A Beloit in 2007 and two with Double-A New Britain in 2008.

Valencia has played 469 minor league games at third base and 272 in the majors.

"We're going to keep moving guys around," said manager Buck Showalter. "We've got plenty of games. It's not making decisions on Feb. 24. One of the benefits of the WBC is play some more games, get some more looks.

"We're going to move some guys around today as the game progresses. We've got it all (mapped out), this guy's going to go here in such-and-such inning, like all teams do. We're going to get a lot of good looks at guys at first base."

Relievers Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day threw bullpen sessions in Sarasota this morning. Showalter stayed back to watch before making the drive to Dunedin.

Showalter mentioned that a few players have been bothered by flu-like symptoms. Two of them were sent back to their hotel this morning.

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Distractions don’t affect Ryan Braun’s game

Phoenix - Off the field, Ryan Braun has been a magnet for controversy the past year and a half. On the field, he has never performed better.

How does he do it? How does the Milwaukee Brewers' all-star leftfielder block out the increasing array of distractions created by links to the world of performance-enhancing drugs?

"The guys with the makeup that can put things aside are a special breed," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who has marveled at Braun's ability to insulate himself from the outside world when he steps between the white lines.

"I think he can overcome some things that mentally some other guys are not able to do. They are going to perform better because they can do that."

For his first five seasons in the major leagues, Braun carefully polished a squeaky clean image as one of the game's rising stars. He was one of the most popular players in the game, earning a starting spot on the National League all-star team four consecutive years in balloting by fans.

Then came the stunning news in December 2011 that Braun had tested positive for an extremely high level of testosterone just days after putting the wraps on an MVP season in which he batted .332 with 33 home runs, 111 runs batted in, 109 runs scored and 30 stolen bases.

The Major League Baseball drug program is designed to be confidential, but the test result was leaked to the media and Braun's saga played out publicly, including his appeal of a pending 50-game suspension. Even when Braun's defense team had the test result overturned, he received little benefit of the doubt because MLB officials made it clear they believed he escaped merely through a chain-of-custody technicality, going as far as firing arbitrator Shyam Das for his ruling.

Under intense scrutiny to see if he could continue his high level of performance in 2012, Braun quieted critics with another big season. He batted .319 with a league-high 41 home runs, 112 RBI, 108 runs scored and 30 stolen bases, finishing second to San Francisco's Buster Posey in the MVP balloting.

"I've always said through adversity you determine somebody's character," said Braun, 29. "It's really easy to do well when things are going well. When you face adversity, that's when you see what you're made of.

"Ultimately, my job is to be the best baseball player I can be and try to help my team win games. That's what I did last year and that's what I'll continue to do. I've always been positive and optimistic and I never allow outside distractions or negativity to affect that.

"Certainly, it was challenging. But the goal every year is to be productive. The challenge in this game is consistency and longevity. Certainly, last year I dealt with some challenges and adversity. It was rewarding for sure."

But the adversity was not over. Shortly before the start of spring training, Yahoo Sports reported that Braun's name was in the log books of the Biogenesis clinic outside of Miami, a facility linked to selling performance-enhancing drugs to baseball players. Braun reported to the Brewers' camp with that cloud over his head, again claiming his innocence but declining to answer questions on the subject from reporters.

Next came an ESPN report with Braun's name appearing in more logs of clinic operator Tony Bosch, supposedly linking him to PEDs but proving nothing. As MLB continues its investigation of that clinic and its ties to baseball players, Braun has continued his daily routine in camp as if nothing is amiss.

One of the game's elite offensive players, Braun nevertheless has absorbed significant damage to his image, especially outside of Milwaukee. Skeptics note he says he has nothing to hide but won't answer questions. Braun has not provided evidence of his claim that his attorneys used Bosch merely as a consultant.

And so it goes. To this point, Braun has been proven guilty of nothing. And he well could survive this latest round of circumstantial evidence and innuendoes. If it goes the other way, he will have some explaining to do and the Brewers will have to grit their teeth and continue forward with their star player signed through 2020 at more than $100 million.

Meanwhile, Roenicke has every reason to expect another big year from Braun, no matter how many barbs and arrows are flung his way.

"I know what happened after the (appeal) decision when we went to different ballparks," said Roenicke, referring to the constant booing Braun heard from fans.

"The thing that was impressive was the way he played last year he had the same year, was second in MVP. Could have been MVP."

Entering what should be the prime years of his career, Braun figures to build upon an amazing offensive legacy. A finalist for a Gold Glove the last two seasons, he also has evolved into a solid leftfielder after struggling through an error-filled, rookie-of-the-year season at third base in 2007.

"I actually wanted to go back to shortstop. I still want to go back to shortstop," said Braun, who played that position until being moved to third base at the University of Miami. "I was good at short. Third base was never for me.

"I knew (the position change) was going to be challenging; I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I feel like I've made strides; I continue to get better. I was confident that I would become an above-average defender. I think I'm well on my way to getting there.

"Certainly, there's room for improvement. I work at it every day. The goal is to have my defense catch up to my offense."

Anything seems possible when Braun steps between those white lines. Instead of remaining in a protective cocoon in Brewers camp while the Biogenesis controversy swirls around him, he remains committed to playing in the international spotlight of the World Baseball Classic for Team USA.

"He's got a really strong mind," said Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez. "Once the game starts, he really focuses just on the game. That's his own world right there.

"You've got to approach it that way - just go out and play the game and don't worry about anything else. He can't control what the fans think of him or if they boo or cheer. The only thing he can control is his game. He's one of the best at that."

5 Consecutive seasons in which Ryan Braun has driven in more than 100 runs.
1,089 Hits for Braun in 883 games in the major leagues.
12 Errors for Braun in five seasons since moving from third base to left field.
3 Home runs in a game for Braun last April 30 in San Diego (first player to do so there).
202 Career homers for Braun, already fifth on Brewers' all-time list.

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