25 April 2010

Photo of the Week - John Salmons

Milwaukee's John Salmons, left, and Atlanta's Josh Smith react to a call during the Bucks' 107-89 victory over the Hawks in Game 3 of their NBA playoff series Saturday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

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Former Canes Shawnbrey McNeal & Dajleon Farr Join Chargers

The Chargers have 20 undrafted rookies who will begin the uphill battle for roster spots at orientation this weekend. However, only a very few have a chance to make the 53-man roster in September. To beat the odds, a player has to have the perfect combination of talent and opportunity.

The undrafted rookie with the best chance to stick is SMU's Shawnbrey McNeal. He will try to take advantage of the fact San Diego traded up three times during the draft, leaving the team short on selections and unable to acquire a third running back.

The depth chart behind Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles consists of waiver-wire pickup Marcus Mason, 2009 undrafted free agent Curtis Brinkley and McNeal.

McNeal (5-foot-9, 194 pounds) transferred from Miami to SMU as a junior and posted 236 carries for 1,188 yards (5.0 ypc) and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 31 balls for 283 yards and two scores. He entered the draft as a junior due to his family's financial hardships; he was told by league officials he would likely be selected between rounds four and six.

McNeal's snub makes him one of San Diego's most motivated players. He will look to carve a niche on special teams and possibly contribute as a third-down back and change-of-pace runner.

The third offensive player to watch is tight end Dajleon Farr. Like McNeal, Farr is a Miami transfer. Farr relocated to Memphis for his senior season, where he started five games and caught 14 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Ironically, Farr will compete with another former Hurricane, seventh-round pick Dedrick Epps, for the tight end position made available by the offseason departure of Brandon Manumaleuna.

Farr (6-foot-5, 252 pounds) is far from a finished project, but he has athleticism and experience on special teams. If tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski can help to polish Farr's skill-set, he has a chance to stick as the No. 3 tight end.

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Meet Reggie Wayne on South Beach

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver and former Hurricane Reggie Wayne will be helping to promote Gatorade’s new G Series Pro products at GNC on Miami Beach on Saturday, which has been dubbed “G Series Pro Signing Day.”

Fans can meet Wayne and check out the new G Series Pro products from noon to 2 p.m. at GNC, 622 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach. For more information, visit Gatorade.com.

Click here to order Reggie Wayne's proCane Rookie Card.

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Jason Fox to be held out of rookie camp

Jason Fox, a tackle from Miami, was taken in the fourth round, and North Carolina State defensive end Willie Young and Weber State return specialist Tim Toone were seventh-round picks.

Fox might not see any action on the field this weekend because he's coming off minor knee surgery. He said after the draft he feels very close to 100 percent and wants to participate, but the Lions likely will err on the side of a caution and limit his activity.

"Jason Fox is exactly what we're looking for in an offensive tackle,'' Schwartz said. "He's a four-year starter, he's really big and really smart. On the offensive line, if you're big and smart and productive and played a long time, you'll be successful in the NFL.

"He had a knee surgery that should put him behind, but he should be fine once we get to training camp. All the guys we drafted, there was something about them we liked.

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Jeremy Shockey committed to working out with team

New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey said Wednesday at Heath Evans' charity softball game at Zephyr Field that he intends to be a frequent participant during the Saints' offseason program again this year after spending most of his offseason in New Orleans last year, too.

In past years with the New York Giants, Shockey preferred to stay in his college town of Miami for most of the offseason. But last year he said he wanted to make a commitment to spend more time working with quarterback Drew Brees and the rest of his teammates.

"You know, it's hard working out in New York when it's cold outside and you have to work indoors. It's great weather here, and I have no excuse not to be here, " Shockey said. "We work all the time. Today we worked on routes with Drew and everything. So I'm here a lot of the time. And if I'm not here it's for a good reason."

Click here to order Jeremy Shockey's proCane Rookie Card.

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Fifth Annual Ray Lewis' Summer Days

Save the date for Ray Lewis's Summer Days in May and June!

There will be three days of bowling, paintball and fitness education at the Fifth Annual Ray’s Summer Days being held from June 4th – 6th.

Ray Lewis’ Ray’s Summer Days has established itself as the premier summertime fundraising event in the Baltimore area providing healthy fitness related fun for children and exciting events for adults, while raising money for the Ray Lewis Foundation to help disadvantaged youth and families in distress. Over $100,000 was raised at last year’s event.

Event participants will be joined by Ray Lewis include: Baltimore Ravens players, Hall of Famers and other athletes and Hollywood celebrities involved in this year’s Ray’s Summer Days. Participants can once again look forward to the annual bowling tournament and evening cocktail party and auction, along with a youth fitness clinic and an exclusive celebrity paintball tournament.

Thursday, May 13th

Event 1: Bacardi VIP Kickoff Party Ruth Chris’ Havana Club: 600 Water Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 Time: 7:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. Cost $$$

Event 2: Havana Nights Kickoff After Party Ruth Chris’ Havana Club Time: 11:00pm-2:00am

Friday, May 14th Event 1: American Airlines Celebrity Bowling Tournament Brunswick Perry Hall Lanes: 4359 Ebenezen Rd, Baltimore, MD 21236 Registration: 6:30pm Cost: $$$$

Event 2: RSD After Party Hightopps Backstage Grille Time: 11:00pm-2:00am

Saturday, May 15th

Event 1: Sun Products Corporation Youth Fitness Clinic Patterson Park (Utz Field): 200 S. Linwood Ave, Baltimore, MD 21224 Time: 9:00am-12:00pm Cost: Free for children ; By invitation only

Event 2: Pev’s Celebrity Paintball Tournament & BBQ The Lewis Residence Time: 1:00pm-5:00pm Cost: $$$$

Tickets can be purchased by calling (786) 368-5494

For more information about the Ray Lewis Foundation please visit the website at www.raylewis52.com

About the Ray Lewis Foundation The Ray Lewis Foundation is a 501C3 non-profit tax-exempt corporation whose mission is to provide personal and economic assistance to disadvantaged youth and families in distress in Baltimore and the surrounding areas. For more information about Rays Summer Days please visit www.rayssummerdays.com or contact Jason Venger at 786-368-5494. For more information about the Ray Lewis Foundation please visit the website at www.raylewis52.com

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Portis: 'I Don't Have To Do This By Myself'

Washington is a tough town for Clintons, be they Bill, Hillary or Portis.

The latter in that group practiced no politics on Sunday as the Redskins concluded their three-day voluntary minicamp. He said he felt fine, looked forward to being part of a backfield augmented by two free-agent pickups and would once again show himself to be a top performer.
Clinton Portis missed the final eight games last season with a concussion and was the subject of much scrutiny over his practice habits and conditioning before that injury in the loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He didn’t much like the critiques.

“I’m tired of proving myself,” the Redskins’ second all-time leading rusher said as the club concluded its first voluntary minicamp. “You get wrote off so quick.”

Knocked out in the eighth game, Portis was still on roughly a 1,000-yard pace and averaged 4.0 yards a carry in a disappointing 2009 season. He finished with 494 yards, the fewest of his eight-year career, and scored only one rushing touchdown.

At 29, Portis will be part of a backfield that also includes veterans Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, who are accustomed to heavy workloads.
Can they all get enough carries to find a rhythm and thrive?

“We’ll find a way to make it work,” Portis said.

Nor does he see this as a scenario in which he is fighting for a job.

“I don’t,” he said. “All my career I’ve been in this situation. I think it will bring out the best in me.”

When the Denver Broncos (and Mike Shanahan) drafted him in 2002, the Broncos had other running backs – Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson – ahead of Portis on the depth chart. But he churned for 3,099 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons before the Broncos traded him to the Redskins.

While has never averaged close to the 5.5 yards per carry here that he did in Denver, Portis often carried the Redskins simply by dint of his Sunday workload.

In six years with the Redskins he rushed the ball more than 300 times in every one but the two in which injuries limited him to half the games. He has racked up 6,597 yards for the Redskins, behind only John Riggins (7,472).

Being reunited with Shanahan, Portis said, makes football “fun” again. He has missed only one of the off-season conditioning workouts, and that was for a medical appointment.

He knows he will earn what he gets. As Shanahan put it as he considered Portis, Johnson (twice a 1,750-yard rusher for the Kansas City Chiefs) and Parker (three 1,000-yard seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers), “Who gets it done? It doesn’t matter if it’s one guy or three.”

Can a workhorse (or three?) go part-time? Perhaps. Portis seems open to the idea that he need not put the team on his back for it to win.

“I don’t have to do this by myself,” he said. “I finally have the luxury of three-back system. We’ll always be fresh.”

Click here to order Clinton Portis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Ravens’ Ray Lewis deliver anti-steroids message

New Town football player James Williamson felt like Ray Lewis was speaking directly to him, like they were the only ones in the room.

The Ravens linebacker was actually delivering an anti- steroids message Thursday to 700 high school athletes at a hotel conference center, his voice thundering and his shifting weight causing the podium to sway.

But Lewis' message — "Don't ever put anything in the body that changes who you are" — resonated deeply to Williamson, a 5-foot-11, 160-pound junior receiver and cornerback who, like many high school football players, sometimes fears he is too small to continue to excel in the sport. "I just feel like I'm undersized," he said.

Williamson is exactly the sort of athlete that Lewis and Ravens teammate Domonique Foxworth hoped to reach at an anti-steroids conference that has previously served as a public confessional for Orioles infielder Brian Roberts and New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez to talk about using performance-enhancing drugs.

"I don't think everyone wants to be bigger, but they want to be the best one way or another," Lewis, dressed in dark slacks and a button-down shirt, said in an interview after his talk. "And they're going to try to find any way to do it. So if you don't educate them on it, then they might find steroids."

Lewis and Foxworth, who attended Western Tech and the University of Maryland, indicated they have stayed away from steroids.

Williamson, too, said: "I just lift weights and eat healthy. On the weekend I'm always working out."

If he feels pressured, he said "it's not pressure from coaches, it's pressure from myself that I want to be bigger." He said Lewis "opened up my eyes. If you want to be great, you've really got to work hard."

Even with all the public steroids warnings of recent years, experts at the conference — sponsored by St. Joseph Medical Center's "Powered by ME" awareness program — said pressures on young athletes to bulk up have not subsided. Some fear youths are turning to supplements with potentially dangerous side effects.

"The number of kids who are using steroids, I believe, has decreased because of the awareness," said Powered by ME director Michael Gimbel. "However, we haven't gotten to the root issue, which is kids still want to get bigger and stronger and faster. So now instead of taking hard-core anabolic steroids, they're going in and spending thousands of dollars on supplements that are legal because they're not regulated by the government. We don't know what's in them."

Others say steroid use among youths is still prevalent. "In the last five years, I've discussed ‘juicing' with more teens and 20-something adults than ever before, and the collective opinion I get is that use of anabolic steroids is very common among males ages 16-25," said Matt Chaney, author of a book ("Spiral of Denial") about steroids. He did not attend the conference.

Among those addressing the students was Frank Marrero, the father of a California teenager who committed suicide after using steroids in 2004. Efrain Marrero shot himself after quitting steroids and suffering what his father said were serious psychological after-effects. Marrero testified about his son at the 2005 congressional hearing in which former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire repeatedly refused to discuss steroids. In January, McGwire admitted using the drugs.

Foxworth said coaches must be part of the first line of defense to prevent tragedies such as that of the Marrero family.

"You should be completely prepared and educated if you're going to lead kids in anything, especially in your field. I mean, the idea of a coach not knowing the ins and outs of steroids is like having an English teacher who doesn't know where to put a comma," Foxworth said.

Most states, including Maryland, don't test for steroids in high schools.

Doug DuVall, who coached the Wilde Lake football team for 36 years, said in a telephone interview that he was habitually on guard against steroids use but that it "was more widespread in the eighties and early nineties."

"It's like the concussion issue now — people are more aware of it. We were more concerned when they left us and went to the next level," DuVall said.

Trey Daniel, a junior football player at Woodlawn, said he has not encountered pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs. "Not yet," he said. "But I'm pretty sure when I go to college there would be that type of pressure."

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Sapp Will Help Buc's McCoy

TAMPA — Gerald McCoy knows he will never be another Warren Sapp.

But the Bucs' first-round draft pick from Oklahoma eventually will benefit from the knowledge the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle plans to share with him and fellow rookie defensive tackle Brian Price.

"There's no way (they) can be in Tampa and me not help both these kids out," Sapp said.

Sapp was in Los Angeles this week working for the NFL Network. He had just gotten off the phone with Price, the Bucs' second-round pick out of UCLA.

He likes McCoy and Price, both of whom will work out during the Bucs' three-day minicamp that starts today.

He interviewed both before the draft, and they have exchanged text messages.

"He's about to go to a whole another level and will be running into people he will never see on a college level," Sapp said of McCoy. "The best thing he has got going for him is another dude beside him. When you're by yourself and asked to climb Mount Everest with one tool bag, it's tough.

"(Price is) all giddy and gung ho. They're just two lovable kids right now, and we'll see if they get a job done."

At 6 feet 4, 297 pounds, McCoy is considered the perfect fit at the three-technique, the position Sapp and Vikings Hall of Famer John Randle mastered.

McCoy played in a similar one-gap scheme at Oklahoma, where he demonstrated an explosive burst off the snap and ability to penetrate and disrupt the play.

So what is the three-technique?

Basically, it's a name assigned to the position at which McCoy will line up on the defensive line.

"Ninety percent of the time, he's lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard on the tight end side of the formation," Bucs defensive line coach Todd Wash said. "In our package, when the ball is snapped and the team shows pass, he … can rush the B gap (between the guard and tackle) or the A gap (between the center and guard).

"To be able to do that, you have to have real good suddenness and be a very athletic player. When you watched Gerald play (at Oklahoma), you saw those traits."

Regardless of his accomplishments at Oklahoma, McCoy is in for a shock as an NFL rookie, Sapp said.

"The biggest transition will be the holding," Sapp said. "In college, I'd look at the referee and the flag would be dropped for holding. The first time I did that in the NFL, I turned to the referee and said, 'You didn't see that hold?' The ref looked at me and said, 'Grow up.' I said right then that it looks like I have to get this on my own. It's a learning curve that nobody, nobody can understand or appreciate. He's going to have some fun and some sleepless nights. It goes with that position.

"We're about to see how much does he really love it? You see his enthusiasm, but does that correlate to hours and hours in the office? When you want to go home to Oklahoma, maybe you should want to bring the family to Tampa. Everything he needs is here. Disney is right up the road."

Sapp had similar thoughts about Price:

"What does Price do coming back and forth to California? (McCoy) needs to be able to tell Price, 'When I come here, you come here.' They need to work together and fight as a team.' "

Price, 6-1, 303 pounds, is expected to play nose tackle or one-technique, lining up on the outside shoulder of the center on the side of the formation without a tight end.

"If you just have one defensive very good player, offenses are going to set protections. They're going to double, chip and really limit a lot of things he can do," Wash said. "Price is an athletic guy, and he has a good lower-body anchor, which is what you look for with the one-technique."

There was much debate before the draft about who was the better defensive tackle — McCoy or Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh.

Suh played in a two-gap system, meaning he was asked to hold the line of scrimmage and be responsible for making the tackle in one of two gaps. McCoy was asked to penetrate the line of scrimmage and maintain discipline in covering one gap.

The result was fewer tackles for McCoy. But Wash said McCoy had a higher draft grade than Suh in terms of the Bucs' system.

Sapp said he knows McCoy will have a target on his chest.

"If you're a good player in this league, they circle you," Sapp said. "Can you beat what they have planned? He has to be able to trust his eyes in what he's seeing because his hands and feet will follow him. If he goes into a game when he tried to play a power matchup game, he's in trouble."

Sapp won't be at the minicamp this weekend. But sometime during the summer, before the mandatory minicamp in June, he will take McCoy and Price aside and share his wisdom.

"You're the motor that makes it go," Sapp said of the three-technique. "You impact everything: how the linebackers are set, how the safeties are set. You've got to make the center slide to you. It's going to be fun. It all starts for them this weekend."

Click here to order Warren Sapp's proCane Rookie Card.

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Marlins' Gaby Sanchez quietly puts himself among the ranks of top NL rookies

MIAMI GARDENS — Atlanta right fielder Jason Heyward might be getting all the buzz, but Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez also ranks among the top rookies in the National League.

Nearly a month into his first full season, Sanchez is first with seven doubles and second in hits (18) and RBI (11). Among rookies with atleast 50 at-bats, he has the highest batting average, .286.

"Sanchy has been doing a terrific job," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's hitting almost .290 in the No. 8 hole, which is not easy to do. And he's driving in runs from that spot."

Sanchez won't bat eighth forever; there's a chance he could move near the top of the order if left fielder Chris Coghlan continues to struggle. But for now, Sanchez, hitting at the bottom of the order, is among the Marlins' most productive hitters.

"I've been really impressed with the consistency of his at-bats this year," said veteran infielder Wes Helms. "He's not defeated at all, even when he gets down 1-2 (in the count) to a good pitcher."

The Marlins will see another promising rookie when the Marlins open a three-game series Friday night against Washington at Sun Life Stadium. Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond is batting .246 but is third among NL rookies in RBI (10) and hits (16).

Sanchez has 13 strikeouts and 11 walks (second on Marlins) in 63 at-bats. He is 5-for-10 when putting the ball in play on the first pitch and 3-for-7(.429) in a full count.

"I'm not really an aggressive guy," he said. "There'll be times I swing at first pitches, but for most part I take pitches and work the count."
Another key for Sanchez, who is 6-foot-1, has been his weight: He said he's down to about 210 pounds. He weight 234 when he was first called up in 2008.

"He's in way better shape than he was the year before. He's slimmer and stronger," said hitting coach Jim Presley.

Last year, Sanchez had a chance in spring training to win the first base job but opened the year at Class AAA New Orleans.

"He didn't get down on himself," Helms said. "He learned from it and got stronger from it and it's showing in his preparation, it's showing in his plate discipline and it's showing in his defense."

At 26, Sanchez is no youngster compared with other rookies. Among the top NL rookies, only Houston shortstop Tommy Manzella is older (by a few months).

"I'm probably one of the older ones," Sanchez said, "but it's nice to be here."

It's still early in the year, but Sanchez has avoided going into a rut. Heyward, who in the minors was considered the top prospect in baseball, got off to a hot start but had just three hits in his last 29 at-bats going into Thursday. He was hitting .224.

"Heyward's going to get more publicity," Helms said, "but for me, it's usually the guys you don't hear a lot about who keep doing their thing, then all of a sudden in August or September they're near the top.

"Gaby's definitely going to put himself on the map."

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Portis fine with competition

Clinton Portis doesn't think there will be an issue finding enough carries for himself, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker.

Perhaps Portis isn't worried because he knows one of the three will be gone before Week 1. It's hard to imagine him putting on a happy face while getting 8-10 carries a game. The competition will be one to watch come training camp.

Click here to order Clinton Portis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Giants punter Feagles to retire Friday

Given recent events, it comes as no great surprise that the Giants on Friday will announce the retirement of Jeff Feagles, who owns NFL punting and longevity records.

Feagles, 44, planned to come back but after putting his body though physical tests to determine his readiness determined he could not continue and punt in for a 23rd season.

Feagles after this past season worked out hard, was satisfied with the way his body responded, told the Giants he wanted to return and recently signed a $900,000 contract. Just last week, though, he alerted Tom Coughlin that he was experiencing physical issues. The Giants took punter Matt Dodge out of East Carolina in the seventh round of last weekend's NFL Draft, a precursor to Feagles' decision to step away from the game.

Dodge will compete with Jy Bond, a former Australian Rules football player, for the Giants punting job. Feagles entered the NFL in 1988 with the Patriots and came to the Giants in 2003. He never missed a game in his career, playing in an NFL-record 352 consecutive games. He holds the NFL record with 1,713 punts.

Click here to order Jeff Feagles' proCane Rookie Card.

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Frank Gore: No committee yet for Niners?

Beat writer Matt Barrows expects Frank Gore to be the "bell cow" for the 49ers once again.

The Niners have used draft picks on running backs (Anthony Dixon, Glen Coffee) in each of the last two years, but Barrows doesn't foresee any kind of committee. Gore will continue to be a safe bet for 20 touches per week and has missed just seven games in his five-year career.

Click here to order Frank Gore's proCane Rookie Card.

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Kevin Everett featured on sports medicine program

Kevin Everett is a former Buffalo Bills tight end who in September of 2007 suffered a catastrophic cervical spine injury that not only ended his playing career, but also left him temporarily paralyzed. Bills fans are very familiar with Everett's miraculous story; thanks to a cold saline treatment method, excellent surgical care and innumerable hours of hard work and physical therapy on Everett's part, the man once paralyzed in seconds has retained his ability to walk.

I won't soon forget the moment that injury happened. Nor will I forget the night that Everett spoke to a ramped-up Bills crowd on the big screen at Ralph Wilson Stadium, nor the first time he walked back onto that field pre-game (pictured top right). Everett's story is an inspiring one, and tonight, it will be re-told and updated via a new television program called Athlete 360, which focuses on famous athletes and sports medicine.
The show is hosted by Dr. Mark Adickes, a former NFL player and Super Bowl champion who, upon retirement, went back to Harvard Medical School and is now a successful orthopedic surgeon. He is currently a team physician for the NBA's Houston Rockets, as well as the US Ski Team. He visits with Everett to talk about his entire playing career, the injury he suffered, and what he's gone through in the months and years since the event. You can catch a teaser of the episode here.

I had a chance to screen the episode last night, and thoroughly enjoyed the half-hour feature. It's so easy to forget the true impact of an event like that, and this feature brings those moments - good and bad - back into sharp focus.

Kevin looks great, folks. He's moving towards being three full years removed from the events of September 9, 2007, and he tells Dr. Adickes that he still wakes up with pain coursing through his body every morning. Resigned to living the remainder of his life without being pain-free nor retaining full use of his fine motor skills, Everett is nonetheless happy, healthy, and motivated to make something of himself.

Adickes interviews Everett about past, present and future, and also goes into detail discussing the injury itself, the treatment methods, and his future prospects. It's a fascinating feature that, for me, shed new light on Everett's prognosis.

I strongly encourage you to check this episode out, folks, if you've got a half hour of spare time over the next few days. Athlete 360 will also be featuring former NBA center Dikembe Mutombo and former NFL guard Mark Schlereth this season, and I'm going to try to catch those shows as well. I understand that the Rumblings readership is geographically dispersed, so rather than tell you where and when the show will be on, I'll simply paste the remaining viewing schedule for the entire country below. Let us know what you think if you catch this feature! And a big shout-out to Kevin, too - it's great to see him doing so well.

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Will Saints' Jimmy Graham be the next Jeremy Shockey?

BATON ROUGE – If the New Orleans Saints tried to clone one of their players, Drew Brees would surely be the first selection.
Tight end Jeremy Shockey would likely not be. Though a proven, versatile force at tight end for the Saints and previously the New York Giants, the controversial Shockey has never been what you might refer to as a role model.

Last week in the third round of the NFL Draft, the Saints selected a tight end from Shockey’s old school – the University of Miami - named Jimmy Graham, who likes to model himself after Shockey – on the field that is.

“When I came to play for the University of Miami, it was his film that I was watching,” Graham said last week. “It was his Pro Day tape that I watched to prepare for my Pro Day. So I know his game, and I have kind of tried to pattern myself after him.”

Graham (6-foot-7, 260 pounds) only watched that film of Shockey (6-5, 251) last year as the 2009 season was his first in college football as a fifth-year senior. He went to Miami from Charis Preparatory Academy in North Carolina as a Street & Smith honorable mention All-American basketball player. As a senior in the 2008-09 season, Graham averaged 5.9 rebounds and 4.0 points a game. His strength was shot blocking as he registered 36 of those and finished his career with 104 blocks for eighth in school history.

In his one season of football for Miami, Graham caught 17 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns. Hence, Saints coach Sean Payton’s reluctance to agree with his scouts on the drafting of Graham.

“Honestly, in the process, I was probably the one who was skeptical in the beginning in regards to the idea,” Payton said. “I kept looking for reasons to not like the player and couldn’t find any. You’re waiting to hear that we have to develop his hands or that he’s going to struggle learning at first. But he has a unique skill set. He really does. He catches it very efficiently, so it’s exciting. I think that was one specific player that everyone felt pretty good about. He’s a guy that we got very attached to. He wants to learn. I like all the measurable that saw with him. What’s most important is you just have to like him, and you have to have a vision for the player.”
That vision involves Shockey.

An AFC coach recently called Graham’s selection “the best pick in the draft,” according to NFL guru Peter King of SI.com.

“Give him time, and in that offense, he’ll be better than Shockey by the start of next year,” the coach said. “We also love the pick with David Thomas (Saints’ veteran tight end) in a contract year. Graham is big and physical enough to develop into an adequate blocker. As a receiver, he’s got more upside than any tight end drafted over the weekend.”

Graham hopes to learn from Shockey. When the Saints were practicing for the Super Bowl last January at the University of Miami, Graham sought out his football idol.

“He was in the cold tub, and I walked up to him and introduced myself," Graham said. "He knew who I was, and he told me that he had been watching me all year and that he was very proud of me and what I had done. He just told me that if I keep working hard and stick with it that the sky is the ceiling. For me, that was incredible. He’s a guy that I look up to in football, and he has done a lot. For him to say that about me meant everything.”

Fast forward a few months later, and Shockey is Graham’s teammate.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Graham said. “Obviously, he’s a Miami guy. But to watch him and learn from him what he knows about the game and to have him teach me every day, I can’t express in words how excited I am.”

Payton likes the fact that Graham already has a personal coach in Shockey.

“Those guys are kind of a fraternity,” Payton said. “I think it’s beneficial for a younger player to watch and see what’s happening in front of them with someone that has the experience Jeremy has.”

Graham has the bold confidence that is classic Shockey. He does not feel his limited experience in football will curtail his career.

“I was an explosive basketball player – a shot blocker, an aggressive rebounder,” Graham said. “The ability to go up and get rebounds and timing blocked shots and to move my feet and have touch around the basket while working on my hands – that translates well to football. I have the ability to go get the ball, and my footwork is something that translates to football. I started playing football last year and was able to do a lot in the little bit of time that I had, and now I’m going to the next level. I’m just excited to take on the opportunities. I don’t think it’s going to take that long.”

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NY Times Ranks 3 proCanes in Top 10 Inside LInebackers

10. Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans Saints
Without him, the Saints’ run defense is well below average.

9. David Harris, Jets
A thumper who has good lateral range against the run.

8. Bart Scott, Jets
Versatility allows him to play in constant attack mode.

7. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
Struggled in his second season (thanks, in part, to injuries) but was arguably the league’s best ILB as a rookie.

6. DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans
Made more tackles near the line of scrimmage in 2009.

5. London Fletcher, Washington Redskins
Football IQ is off the charts. The more washed up he’s supposed to be, the better he seems to get.

4. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
Intelligence makes up for mild decline in athleticism.

3. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
Last year, Bears found out the hard way just how valuable he is.

2. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers
Young emotional leader who has fantastic sideline-to-sideline speed.

1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Improvements in coverage and awareness last season put him on another level.

Click here to order Jon Beason's or Ray Lewis' or Jon Vilma's proCane Rookie Card.

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Lions to give Anthony Reddick a shot at spot

VANCOUVER — The B.C. Lions seem committed to playing a Canadian at safety this season, but Anthony Reddick hopes to change that way of thinking.

Reddick, who decided to forgo his final year of eligibility at the University of Miami and enter the 2009 National Football League draft, was one of two defensive backs whose signings were announced today by the Canadian Football League team. The other rookie defensive back is Dominique Williams, who appeared in 48 games over four seasons at Arkansas State before attending the New Orleans Saints mini-camp last spring.

Reddick, 25, made an immediate impact as a starting freshman safety with the Hurricanes in 2004, one of two first-year players on defence voted rookie of the year.

However, in 2005, Reddick tore his anterior cruciate ligament 22 plays into his sophomore season and missed the rest of the year following knee surgery. He ripped up his knee again in the spring of 2007 in a pick-up basketball game and missed an entire season of football.

Besides getting lots of sheet time in Miami, Reddick was suspended for another four games for his role in an infamous 2006 bench-clearing brawl with Florida International University when he swung his helmet, Braveheart style, at some FIU players.

With his helmet placed where it's supposed to be, however, Reddick was an all-conference safety in his final year with Miami in 2008 when he finished the year ranked second on the Hurricanes with 67 tackles. But, needless to say, his college career didn't live up to its early promise. Reddick was widely considered to be one of the best prospects in the state of Florida coming out of high school when he was recruited by Georgia, Florida, Ohio State and other top NCAA football schools.

"I came in with a lot of expectations and I set high expectations for myself," he says.

Though the NCAA would have granted Reddick another season of college eligibility in 2009 based on his medical history, he chose to enter the NFL draft instead. He didn't get selected but did get an invite to the Chicago Bears rookie camp. Reddick was subsequently released.

"On a professional level, I thought I was ready," he says. "My body was ready, I was mentally ready — I was just ready for an opportunity. That's the main reason I decided not to even bother to get NCAA approval for a sixth year."

Reddick said he stayed in football shape throughout 2009 waiting for his next opportunity. It came in February of this year when the Lions worked him out at a free-agent camp in Hollywood, Fla.

"Football is still my passion," Reddick says. "It's what I do best and there's still a lot of football in me. I'm ready for the opportunity to show that."
At 6-0, 205, Reddick will have to make some very positive impressions in a hurry if he's to catch the eye of the Lions’ coaching staff at rookie camp. Scouting reports say he is fast up the field (4.55 seconds in the 40) and a solid tackler with an aggressive streak.

Following the retirement of Barron Miles, the Lions indicated they intend to give Canadians Tad Crawford, Jason Arakgi or Mike McEachern a chance to earn the starting job at safety. The team also worked out free-agent safety J.R. LaRose, an Edmonton native, at a tryout camp last week.

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McGahee will be grand marshal of Preakness parade

Ravens running back Willis McGahee will serve as grand marshal for the 37th annual Preakness Parade of Lights on May 14.

The parade is the highlight of the Preakness Celebration, a week-long series of events that ends with the 135th running of the Preakness Stakes on May 15.

Beginning at 8:30 p.m., the parade starts at the Inner Harbor's Market Place, heads up Pratt Street and ends at First Mariner Arena. It will feature floats, helium-balloon characters, equestrians, marching bands, military units and the Budweiser Clydesdales.

"Baltimore is my home and to be a part of something of this much tradition and grandeur that has been identified with Baltimore for 135 years, well, that is something pretty special," McGahee said in a statement. "I am so honored to be invited to do this.”

The Preakness Stakes is the second race of the Triple Crown.

"It’s terrific to see two such beloved Maryland traditions, the Preakness Stakes and the Baltimore Ravens, celebrating together at this special time,” Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said in a statement.

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

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Green Bay may have pulled a fast one in signing Shields

Green Bay — It's a fact. Cornerback Sam Shields is the fastest man on the Green Bay Packers.

This will take time, but it's also entirely possible that Shields could rival Derrick Martin as their most dynamic special-teams player.

For a $7,500 signing bonus and a minimum contract, the Packers got themselves a free agent from the University of Miami with the speed and the versatility to find a way onto the 53-man roster.

Seven teams wanted to sign Shields when the draft ended Saturday. Green Bay, one of the two clubs Shields visited, won out.

"I liked Green Bay, the Hall of Fame, everything," Shields said from Miami. "I talked to my head coach, Randy Shannon, and I also did my homework on the depth chart and how I could fit in as far as special teams. I thought it was the best fit for me."

You won't find many wide receivers-turned-cornerbacks talking about their chances to play special teams. Shields didn't mean returning kicks, although he'd like to try that. He meant covering kicks.

Shields, 5 feet, 10½ inches and 186 pounds, did that his last three seasons at "The U," both punts and kickoffs.

"Gunner - that's one of my specialties right there," said Shields. "I love it. I (forced) a lot of fair catches."

Wiry and tough, Shields wasn't often manhandled at the line. Give him half a step and it was see you later.

At pro day March 26 in Coral Gables, scouts clocked his two 40-yard dashes in 4.30 and 4.33 seconds. Some teams then subtract 0.02 because of the grass surface.

So put Shields down for 4.28, a number that would blow away everybody on the roster.

"He can flat fly," an AFC personnel man said. "And he plays it with pads on. In the Texas vs. the Nation Game, when he turned to run, it was special."

Recruited as a wide receiver out of Sarasota, Fla., Shields started 15 of 36 games from 2006-'08. Each year, his playing time and production decreased. Shields finished with 75 receptions for 971 yards (12.9) and seven touchdowns, but scouts say he dropped way too many passes.

Rather than relegate Shields to a special-teams only role as a senior, Shannon moved him to cornerback last spring. He started 10 games there for a 9-4 team, breaking up two passes and intercepting none, and was named the team's most improved player.

"He might be that (special) teams guy you make a spot for," the AFC scout said. "He can run all day with wideouts, but his problem is finishing at the ball. It's all new to him. But he might be your fifth corner, and he might end up being your fifth wideout."

Before the events of March 18, Shields figured he might be drafted in the third or fourth round. Several scouts pegged him in the later rounds.

An unmarried father of two daughters, Shields was en route to pick up one of them at her grandmother's house in Sarasota. Shortly after arrival, Shields was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana (less than 20 grams). He spent that night in the Sarasota County Jail.

The story made headlines across Florida and was noted everywhere else.

Now move ahead to April 14, when the charges were dropped after Shields paid some court costs.

"Basically, everybody thinks I got pulled over because I was smoking pot and all that," Shields said. ". . . I was never arrested before. I never tested positive on a drug test. I smoked in high school, but I didn't like it. That was about it."

According to Shields, Sarasota police raided the residence shortly after he arrived because they suspected drugs were being sold there. Shields said he was not using marijuana and was falsely arrested.

Shields conceded that he deserved to be suspended by Shannon for the '07 opener because "I was immature at the time and wasn't going to class."

Shields also didn't complain about Shannon benching him for another game in '07 because of poor practice habits.

"He knows how fast I run," Shields said. "I didn't think so, but Coach Shannon said I wasn't running fast enough. He's tough. That's what I like."
Having interviewed Shields at length, the AFC executive expressed no misgivings about his character.

"Talking to him, going over his history, how he talked about other people and coaches. . .  he never bad-mouthed anybody," the scout said. "You don't detect attitude in him. He's humble. Well-mannered. Unassuming. He'll do the best of his ability whatever they ask him to do."

Aside from apprenticing under Charles Woodson, Shields can't wait to resume his relationship with cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt.

"When we were looking at my film, he saw the raw talent and said he could coach me up," said Shields. "I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It will make me better in life."


Randy Phillips heads to Detroit chasing NFL dream

When Randy Phillips blew out his right labrum against Virginia Tech last September, the Hurricanes’ safety and Glades Central graduate faced a decision.

Phillips could undergo season-ending surgery with an eye toward his pro future, or he could play the rest of 2009 in constant discomfort while providing leadership for a young team making a run at the ACC championship.

Phillips chose the latter and while he missed three games because of the shoulder injury, he tied for the team lead in interceptions (2) and finished fourth in tackles (53) on a UM squad that didn’t win the ACC title, but did record its best victory total since 2005.

That was good for the Hurricanes, but not so great for Phillips’ aspirations of getting drafted. In early January, Phillips underwent the shoulder surgery he had put off. That forced him to reject an invitation from the East-West Shrine game and caused him to perform poorly at UM’s Pro Day in late February.

So when last week’s NFL Draft came and went without his name being called, Phillips was hardly surprised.

“It’s hard to draft a guy that’s had two major surgeries the last two years of his college career,” said Phillips, referring to the anterior cruciate ligament tear he sustained early in the 2008 schedule that required surgery and caused him to miss most of that season.

But this story doesn’t have a sad ending. As soon as the seven-round draft was over on Saturday night, Phillips’ phone started ringing.

After receiving offers from five NFL teams, Phillips decided to sign as a free agent with the Detriot Lions where former UM defensive coordinator Tim Walton serves as the team’s defensive backs coach.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to get back with him because he’s the one that saw the most in me when he was here,” said Phillips, who heads to Detroit on Thursday for a rookie mini-camp. “We had a great relationship. I’m excited about getting up there and working with him.”

The situation in Detroit appears to be a good one for Phillips. Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz told reporters this week that the secondary remained his team’s biggest concern. Detroit did not take a safety in the draft and Phillips was the only safety among 12 rookie free agents signed by the Lions.

“They’re a young team looking to get better,” Phillips said. “They’re going to put the best guys on the field. I’m eager to walk into that situation and give it my all. I know I can be a starter in the NFL. I just got to stay healthy.”

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Darryl Sharpton meets the press

Darryl Sharpton spoke to reporters shortly after he was drafted this morning in the fourth round by the Houston Texans. Here is what he had to say:

(on how excited he is to be drafted) “I’m excited. With all the anticipation building up the last couple of days I could hardly sleep last night. I’ve been up since five o’clock this morning. I’m just so excited to be picked and I’m happy to go to Houston.”

(on how much injuries slowed him at Miami) “I’m a big believer in perseverance. When you play football it’s a physical game and you are always going to get nicked up. All you got to do is persevere and work hard. That’s what I’ve done all my years at the University of Miami and I’m ready to continue to do that in Houston.”

(on how consistent his game is) “I’m going to bring a lot. Every play I play it’ll be really hard and will be a hundred miles per hour every play. I’m going to work hard. I’m just looking forward to getting to Houston and getting to work immediately.”

(on if he’s looking forward to playing with the Texans’ current line backing unit) “I look forward to it a lot. I’m a linebacker myself so obviously I’m very familiar with those guys and how they play. I look forward to playing with such great linebackers. My qualities will complement them and I believe we will have a great line backing corps.”

(on the prospect of playing with Texan WR and fellow Miami Hurricane Andre Johnson) “When the Texans called me he was one of the first people that popped in my mind. He has been working out with me all the time at the University of Miami. I look forward to being his teammate.”
(on what is his biggest asset) “My biggest asset is my motor and my physicality.”

(on joining a team with a good linebacker corps already established) “It’s very cool. The linebackers are the quarterbacks of the defense. I think that these linebackers are going to be able to do some great things next year.”

(on joining RB Ben Tate in Houston) “I worked out with Ben Tate. Me and him are really good friends and I look forward to being a teammate with him as well. I’m excited about that.”

(on how far he thinks the Texans can go during his rookie season) “I’m optimistic. I think the sky is the limit all the way.”

(on working out with any of the former Miami Hurricane linebackers) “I’m really close with a lot of the Miami linebackers, in particular, guys like (Jonathan) Vilma, D.J. Williams, Nate Webster. Guys like that I’m very close with, we stay in contact and we shoot ideas off each other.”

(on if he anticipated being picked by the Texans) “I wasn’t sure. I was hearing from a lot of different people. I really didn’t hone in too much on any particular team. I came in with an open heart and I’m fully committed to being a Houston Texan.”

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Winslow Featured on Banner at Buccaneers Stadium

TAMPA - The changing faces of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now reflected on the outside walls of Raymond James Stadium.

The team recently began hanging large stadium banners of players along the corners of their home field, two players in each corner. Traditionally, the images of Tampa Bay's best players are captured in action poses.

Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman is among the images, along with cornerback Aqib Talib and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.

Also hanging are cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Barrett Ruud, running back Cadillac Williams and kick returner Clifton Smith.
One more player will be added soon.

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

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Jimmy Graham thrilled to be a Saint

Absolutely one of the best stories in college football last year was Jimmy Graham, and what he was able to do in such a short time at the Univeristy of Miami. I mean, geez, he only played one year of college football and he gets drafted by the Super Bowl champion Saints in the third round.

"For me to be picked at No. 95 by the New Orleans Saints means everything to me," Graham said on the show Monday morning. "For me it's a dream come true. I think it's a perfect situation. Being able to learn from a guy like Jeremy Shockey is perfect for me. I'm hungry to learn and I'm hungry to get better."

I couldn't help but ask him if he ever thought about how high he would have went in the draft if he played another year or two of college football. Although he grew up playing the sport, last season was his first since his freshman year of high school.

"That's something that kind of always went through my mind," he said. "Even when I was playing basketball, I wanted to play football. I treid to play football. I was always saying, 'What if?' What if you never went to that school and had to stop playing football? What if you had the chance to go out there and what would happen? But it's been a wonderful year and I'm on Cloud 9 right now. I wouldn't change anything."

Man, with Drew Brees throwing him the ball in that wide-open offense, he should really put up some solid numbers as scouts love his size (6 feet 6, 260 pounds) and athletic ability (38-inch vertical leap).

Graham could follow in the footsteps of Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Marcus Pollard, who all were college basketball players before becoming NFL standouts.

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Damione Lewis impressed with AFC East foes

FOXBORO -- Upon joining the Patriots, Damione Lewis finds himself in the middle of an ever-growing rivalry in the AFC East. And recently the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have made the type of offseason acquisitions that are sure to add even more fuel to the fire.

With wide receiver Brandon Marshall on his way to Miami, and the Jets acquiring running back LaDainian Tomlinson, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, Lewis was left to answer questions about what his new rivals were doing to get an upper hand.

It just so happens that one of his former teammates in Carolina, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, is entering his third season with the Jets.

"Kris told me, 'Well you signed with a mortal enemy, so I'll talk to you in the offseason,'" said Lewis. "You know, they're trying to get ready. New England has set a standard in this league for a long time. With that, comes responsibility and holding it up. You have everybody kicking at your heels, trying to pull you down, and trying to get up to your level.

"The Jets are making moves to do that. Miami's making moves to do that. Buffalo's trying to make moves. Everybody in this division's making moves to become a better team.

"And then you kind of look at some other [teams] in other divisions in the league, like the NFC East," he added. "They're doing the same thing. These are teams that are normally somewhere around the playoff hunt, and somewhere around the Super Bowl hunt. So those guys, from those teams, and this team as well, are trying to position themselves to be playing in the last game of the season."

Click here to order Damione Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Burrell crushes 3-run homer in win over A's

Pat Burrell hit a three-run homer as the Rays beat the A's 8-6 on Tuesday night.

With the score tied 4-4 and Oakland starter Ben Sheets scuffling on the mound, Burrell put Tampa Bay up for good in the bottom of the third with the three-run blast. It was his second homer of the season -- his first coming in dramatic fashion in the 12th inning of Tampa's suspended-game victory over the Red Sox -- but doesn't mitigate his 2010 struggles. The Bat is hitting only .231/.305/.423 after his 1-for-4 day.

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James Jones: From '09 playoff starter to '10 playoff spectator

A year ago, James Jones started at small forward in each of the Miami Heat's seven playoff games against the Atlanta Hawks. This year, he has been a postseason spectator, watching from the end of the bench against the Boston Celtics.

"In this business, things can completely change in a year," the former University of Miami standout said. "I've been in NBA life too long to know that there are too many factors that go into every situation. It's never cut and dried. There are many things you consider when you're opportunity comes or your opportunity doesn't."

Jones said he doesn't allow himself to dwell on how he has become an afterthought just two years after being signed as a prime free-agent addition.

"You can go through a myriad of reasons why," he said. "But, at the end of the day, you're still faced with the fact that it didn't go your way."

Although under contract for $4.65 million next season, Jones can be bought out of his 2010-11 contract for $1.86 million by June 30, in which case he would receive a similar sum in each of the ensuing two seasons on his contract, as well.

Because of the Heat's plan of maximizing its offseason salary-cap space, Jones is resigned to playing elsewhere next season.

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Tervaris Johnson Signs a FA Contract

Tervaris Johnson signed a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Below are the rest of the free agent signing by the newest bunch of proCanes.

Shields signed a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers.

Javarris James signed a free agent contract with the Indianpolis Colts.

AJ Trump signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Joe Joseph signed a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Randy Phillips signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions.

Eric Moncur signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

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Jimmy Graham was steal of the draft?

One AFC coach told SI.com's Peter King that the Saints' selection of Jimmy Graham late in the third round Friday was the "best pick in the draft."

"Give him time, and in that offense, he'll be better than (Jeremy) Shockey by the start of next year," the coach predicted. We also love the pick, with David Thomas in a contract year and Shockey's pass-catching value in decline. Graham is big and physical enough to develop into an adequate blocker. As a receiver, he's got more upside than any tight end drafted over the weekend.

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No. 97 for Damione Lewis ... for now

New Patriots defensive lineman Damione Lewis has been issued jersey No. 97 at this time, although there is a possibility that it is not permanent. Lewis wore No. 92 in Carolina, but that belongs to second-year player Ron Brace here in New England.

No. 97 was previously donned by Jarvis Green from 2002-2009.

Click here to order Damione Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Martz: System wrong if TE Greg Olsen can't fit in

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- New Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said there is something wrong with his offense if a tight end such as Greg Olsen can't find a place.

"If there's a player that can't fit a system, then something is wrong -- if he's a good player -- with the system. Don't you think?" Martz said Tuesday at Halas Hall. "Our deal is, we will give everybody an opportunity to find who they are and how they will contribute. Everybody will get that opportunity, and Greg will, too. He's learned things very quickly, very pleased with just the few things we've done on the field. Not disappointed in any respect."

When the Bears brought in tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who is known as a strong blocker, Olsen's future with the Bears seemed murky. There were reports that Olsen was unhappy with his situation on the Bears, but he tried to dispel the rumors via Twitter.

"So far I have a great feeling about my role this year," Olsen tweeted April 9. "I have no desire to play anywhere but in Chicago. That was purely media speculation."

Olsen led the Bears with 60 receptions last season. No tight end has ever caught more than 38 passes in a Martz offense, which puts a premium on blocking for the position, which has never been Olsen's strength.

"He needs to get grounded in blocking, and he knows that, we've told him that," Martz said. "It's hard to run the ball if you don't have a tight end that's going to handle the edge over there. We've got a number of tight ends because we anticipate running the ball very well when we want to run it."

Of course, Martz also anticipates throwing the ball quite a bit with quarterback Jay Cutler, who impressed the offensive coordinator during their initial meeting right before Martz got the job. With the Bears in their fourth week of voluntary workouts, Martz's opinion of his quarterback improved.

"It's better than I thought," Martz said about his working relationship with Cutler. "I got to smile because he's just been remarkable, he really has. He's so intelligent, he can intimidate you, he really can. He's extremely bright, one of the smartest people I've been around. Loves this game. Has a great passion for what he does.

"We started with him on how he holds his hand under the center, to his stance underneath the center just like he's a high school quarterback. We go back and retrain all the basic fundamentals how we see it with him, and he's bought into everything that we do. He's been a dream for me. I couldn't ask for a better situation."

Click here to order Greg Olsen's proCane Rookie Card.

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Alonso OK after wall collision

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Reds 1B prospect Yonder Alonso hurt his shoulder crashing into the outfield wall while chasing a ball Saturday for Double-A Carolina. He was OK though, and returned to the starting lineup on Monday afternoon.

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Is Burrell ready to break out?

Pat Burrell actually seems to be snapping out of the funk that he has been in ever since he joined the Rays. Do you think he can become a big part of the offense and finally contribute?
If hard work has anything to do with it, he will. Manager Joe Maddon said the Rays' designated hitter has tirelessly worked to find his stroke, including offseason conditioning that saw him report to camp in better shape. Maddon believes the work that Burrell has been putting in with hitting coach Derek Shelton is already paying off and that Burrell will be a big part of the Rays' attack. I'll pitch in that the homer he hit in Boston was probably the team's biggest hit of the season.

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Cardinals call up Jon Jay

It may have taken a few weeks longer than he had hoped, but outfielder Jon Jay has made it to St. Louis.

Jay was recalled from Triple A Memphis Monday afternoon when the Cardinals decided that the seldom-used Allen Craig would benefit more from playing every day at Memphis.

With the Cardinals in search of a left-handed bat to come off their bench, a strong spring training by Jay could have landed him a spot on the Opening Day roster. But Jay struggled, hitting just .231 with eight strikeouts in 39 at-bats, and was optioned to Memphis to start the year.

Jay had a 16-game hitting streak to start the year at Memphis, failing to get a hit for the first game this season in his last game on Sunday before getting the promotion to St. Louis. Jay is hitting .347 (25-for-72) with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 17 games. He has eight walks, seven stolen bases and six multi-hit games.

Jay will give the Cardinals a needed left-handed option off the bench with switch-hitter Felipe Lopez going on the disabled list while the move allows Craig a chance to get more regular at-bats.

“It wasn’t like Jay wasn’t impressive (in spring training),” said manager Tony La Russa. “He did some good things, and then he went down to Triple A and has played well. He earned the promotion.

“He’s been playing well so it’s a good switch for us. It gives us a little left-hand balance that we didn’t have there before and it gets Craig playing so it’s a win-win.”

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Sam Shields, Javarris James & Others Sign Free Agent Contracts

Sam Shields and Javarris James were not drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft but did sign Free Agent Contracts.

Shields signed a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers.

Javarris James signed a free agent contract with the Indianpolis Colts.

AJ Trump signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Joe Joseph signed a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Randy Phillips signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions.

Eric Moncur signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

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Dedrick Epps Drafted in the 7th Round

Dedrick Epps was drafted in the 7th round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Epps was drafted in the 7th round with the 235th pick by the San Diego Chargers.

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Darryl Sharpton & Jason Fox Drafted In The 4th

Darryl Sharpton and Jason Fox were drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Sharpton was drafted in the 4th round with the 102nd pick by the Houston Texans.

Jason Fox was drafted in the 4th round with the 128th pick by the Detroit Lions.

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Saints draft UM’s Jimmy Graham at No. 95

After waiting and waiting, Miami Hurricanes tight end Jimmy Graham finally received a phone call with just a few selections left Friday night.

The Saints drafted Graham in the third round (95th), making him the first, and so far only, Hurricane drafted this year.

Linebacker Darryl Sharpton, tackle Jason Fox and cornerback Sam Shields hope to get picked in the final four rounds Saturday.

The Saints are hopeful that the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Graham will develop into the next Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez, both of whom also played college basketball.

Before last season, Graham hadn't played football since ninth grade. But after four seasons of hoops, he decided to join Randy Shannon's team and prepared during the summer by catching passes from former Hurricanes quarterback Bernie Kosar.

Graham played in all 13 games last season and had 17 catches, 213 yards and five touchdowns, including one on his first catch. He grew more comfortable as the season progressed, putting behind him early drops.

Graham then had an impressive week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and garnered more interest at the combine with his performance – 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and a 38.5 inch vertical leap.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen said Friday that Graham could be the heir apparent to Jeremy Shockey and said he has upside.

Scouts still regard Graham as a raw talent who needs to work on blocking and running routes.

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Redskins GM: McIntosh wasn't shopped

Redskins GM Bruce Allen indicated that restricted free agent Rocky McIntosh's name was not brought up in trade talks during the draft.

McIntosh remains unsigned, but the team is hoping he signs his tender and reports to the next minicamp. The Redskins have likely missed their window for a trade, so McIntosh will have to stay in D.C. as an inside linebacker.

Click here to order Rocky McIntosh's proCane Rookie Card.

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Coach Harbaugh says Ed Reed will be back

Ravens coach John Harbaugh spoke with Ed Reed recently and is confident his Pro Bowl safety is going to play this season.

Reed, who is dealing with a chronic neck issue, is training hard in Atlanta and preparing for the season, according to Harbaugh. Doctors haven't indicated that Reed will be putting himself in any danger by playing, so we fully expect him to be a full go for training camp.

Click here to order Ed Reed's proCane Rookie Card.

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Redskins' Moss may be fielding more punts

Could Redskins WR Santana Moss return more punts? There is talk of bringing in another veteran receiver (Terrell Owens has been mentioned), and Moss is likely to spend more time in the slot anyway if Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly continue to develop. But could Moss be asked to return more punts? The team has no defined candidate for the spot, and he has shown he can be dangerous there, even if it isn't his preference.

Click here to order Santana Moss' proCane Rookie Card.

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Jimmy Graham: ‘This is a dream come true’

Jimmy Graham met with New Orleans media in the past hour after being drafted in the third round by the Saints. Here’s what Graham had to say:

What are your thoughts on being drafted by the Super Bowl champion Saints?
“It’s an honor to be drafted by the New Orleans Saints. It’s a team that I’ve watched for the last 10 years. They’re my favorite team and I see that as the best situation possible.”

How much contact did you have with the Saints throughout this process or was this pick a surprise?
“I came on a visit, which was incredible. I got the opportunity to meet all the coaches and sit in the locker room and see the facilities. It definitely wasn’t a surprise for me and I’m very excited.”

How did you become a Saints fan?
“I actually know a lot of people from New Orleans and a Saints game was the first pro football game that I ever watched.”

Where do you feel like you fit in with this offense and the tight ends like Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas?
“I definitely think that I can help immediately. Of course learning from those two guys is a great opportunity for me, but I definitely think that I have the ability to stretch the field with my speed and size and have the opportunity to get past the safeties. I’m very good in one-on-one coverage and I think that’s where I’ll be able to help early and also on special teams.”

Do you think only having one year of college football experience will inhibit you at all?
“I don’t think so. This is something that I’ve been working on every day tremendously and it’s something that I’ve been focused on and that I want. I started playing football last year and was able to do a lot in the little bit of time that I had and now going to the next level, I’m just excited to take on the opportunities. I don’t think it’s going to take that long.”

There are some players on the Saints team, such as Drew Brees and Robert Meachem, who fancy themselves as good basketball players. Do you have any messages for them?
“I’d love to have the opportunity to meet Drew Brees on the court and show him a little bit.”

Why do you think there is a correlation to basketball and tight end? Do they have a skill set that translates pretty well?
“I’m not really sure about that. For me, I think my skill set was something that translated very well. I was an explosive basketball player; a shot-blocker, an aggressive rebounder. The ability to go up and get rebounds and timing block shots and to move my feet and have touch around the basket while working on my hands; the ability to go get the ball and my footwork is something that translates to football.”

How did you come to have friends from New Orleans?
“My college roommate’s girlfriend is from New Orleans and we used to go up there a lot and now he lives there so I get up there every couple of months. I’m real excited. I was at this year’s Super Bowl cheering for the Saints and wearing a Saints hat. For me, this is a dream come true and I’m excited for this opportunity. I’m hungry to get started.”

What were Jeremy Shockey’s words of encouragement to you when you talked to him after one of the Saints’ Super Bowl practices in Miami?
“I saw him after the practice and he was in the cold tub and I walked up to him and introduced myself. He knew who I was and he told me that he had been watching me all year and that he was very proud of me and what I had done. He just told me that if I keep working hard and I stick with it that the sky is the ceiling. For me, that was incredible. He’s a guy that I look up to in football and he has done a lot. For him to say that about me meant everything.”

What will it mean to you to be in his position group every day in practice?
“I can’t tell you how excited I am. Obviously he’s a Miami guy and when I came in to play for the University of Miami, it was his film that I was watching, it was his Pro Day that I watched to prepare for my Pro Day. So I know his game and I have kind of tried to pattern myself after him. But to watch him and learn from him what he knows about the game and to have him teach me every day, I can’t express in words how excited I am.”

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Lions' Jason Fox will get work at both tackles

ALLEN PARK - The Detroit Lions needed an outside linebacker and more depth in the secondary, but Miami tackle Jason Fox was too good to pass up with their fourth-round pick.

Going 128th overall, Fox is a big framed 6-7 kid who needs to add more weight and muscle. He benched just 23 reps at the scouting combine and that's alarming because most linemen are weight-room rats. (In fairness, the longer-armed athletes sometimes don't throw up as many reps). On the plus side, he's a three-year starter at left tackle and showed some real skill at that position. He has versatility to play both tackles and might also be able to play guard, despite his height. Offensive line coach George Yarno believes he's athletic enough to play guard.

Fox missed Miami's bowl game because he had his ailing knee cleaned out - it was an injury that he played with during the season. Fox said the coaches backed his decision and told him it was time for him to do what was best for him. Fox said he expects to be ready to hit the field at next weekend's rookie minicamp. The Lions, though, will likely keep him out until they have a clear understanding of where he is in his rehabilitation.

Look for the Lions to put this kid on a serious weight-lifting regimen and then to try him out at right tackle during training camp. Gosder Cherilus hasn't been consistent and the Lions would like to put some pressure on him. The Lions will alternate him at both tackles in practice, but he's not anywhere close to replacing left tackle Jeff Backus.

The Lions don't have a fifth- or sixth-round pick, but they have three choices in the seventh round.

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Kenny Holmes files for Indian River Commission District 4 seat

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Former National Football League player Kenny Holmes, who was a defensive end in his seven seasons, is now going on the offensive for a new goal — the County Commission’s District 4 seat.

“In order to truly have a leg to stand on, in order to complain about things that happen here, you’ve got to get up and get active,” Holmes, 36, said Friday.

Holmes, a native of Gifford, filed campaign papers without any party affiliation. This means, so far, he would face Democrat Steven Deardeuff and the Republican nominee, either incumbent Peter O’Bryan or party challenger Tom Lowther, in the Nov. 2 general election. Other candidates have until June 18 to file and qualify for the race.

Holmes, who graduated in 2001 from the University of Miami, played for the Tennessee Titans, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers before retiring in 2006. He said he never left his roots. He said he is running to return government to the people after years of decisions by political insiders.

“Too much of what government does isn’t right,” he said. “We’ve strayed too far from the people in the ability to make decisions.”

For instance, he pointed to the $10.3 million North Beach sand-replenishment project. It’s the county’s third such project to counter erosion since 2004, but the first to use inland sand from mines instead of offshore sand from underwater borrow pits.

And either method, he said, replaces sand only in the short term.

“Another hurricane, and that stuff will be gone again,” he said. “There has to be some solution for the long term. If we’re spending (millions) on sand and have to do it again, what are we doing? We might as well pile the money up and burn it.”

He said he was also interested in exploring the use of solar energy in county buildings and more aggressive marketing of the county’s industrial park on State Road 60 west of Interstate 95.

Meanwhile, Holmes has become the newest county candidate to have to move to be eligible. He lives in District 3 on a 16-acre, 12th Street parcel he bought in 2000. State rules say he’ll have to live in District 4, in the Oslo area, by the date of the general election. No problem, he said.

“I’m going to move,” he said. “I’m going to downsize. I’m not making those big NFL checks anymore.”

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Feagles expected to retire this week

Now we know why the Giants drafted a punter in the seventh round.

Jeff Feagles, the team’s incumbent, 44-year-old punter spoke to Tom Coughlin last week and told the Giants coach that he’s reconsidering his decision to play one more season. Feagles is apparently suffering some “physical issues” Coughlin said and isn’t sure he can keep playing.
In fact, Coughlin said “yes” he would be surprised if Feagles ultimately decides to play another year.

“Jeff is really not sure that physically he’s going to be able to do it,” said Giants general manager Jerry Reese. “He’s been working out really hard in the offseason trying to get himself ready to go. I think in his mind he really wanted to do it, but I don’t think he’s sure that his body wants to do it.”

Reese and Coughlin both said the expect a final answer from Feagles sometime next week, but it seemed pretty clear that they expect the punter to retire. Coughlin said he was “surprised” when Feagles - - who re-signed with the team for one more year earlier this month - - called him and then came in to meet with him in person. But clearly he understood.

“He’s 44 years old,” Coughlin said. “He worked very hard for approximately a month right after the season just to try to tell himself again that he could do it and wanted to be able to do it. He’s having some physical issues and he decided to deal with them.

“Jeff was trying to do the right thing by letting us know with the draft in front of us,” Coughlin added. “He did the honorable thing, having the best interest of our team at heart. Whether we were going to do anything about it or not, that was up to us.

“Obviously we felt it was important enough to act.”

The Giants already have Jy Bond, the converted Australian Rules Football player, on their roster as a punter, but they still decided to draft East Carolina punter Matt Dodge in the seventh round. Reese said Dodge has a “big leg, powerful … This guy can hit some moon shots.” Coughlin said he was one of only two punters the Giants considered to be draftable this year.

One thing Dodge can’t do, though, is hold on field goals - - something Feagles has become an expert at during his 22-year NFL career (seven seasons with the Giants). The only current player on the roster with experience as a holder is new backup quarterback Jim Sorgi.

Feagles, as you know, has the NFL record for consecutive games played - - 352 straight in the regular season. Dodge was just 14 months old when Feagles made his NFL debut on Sept. 4, 1988.

Click here to order Jeff Feagles' proCane Rookie Card.

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Vince Wilfork nose charity work is all in good fun

MILFORD - Around here, Vince Wilfork [stats]’s draft day fund-raiser has turned into a spring ritual. It’s an opening-round rite of passage for many Patriots [team stats] fans, an event that’s synonymous with the kickoff of the NFL draft.

It’s also a guaranteed good time - no matter what the Pats do with their first-round pick.

Every year, Wilfork throws a draft party, this time at Pinz Entertainment.

And two things are pretty much a given when all is said and done.

First, a ton of money is raised. Second, the mammoth nose tackle typically predicts the wrong guy as the Patriots’ pick.

While the latter has become a running joke, there’s a greater sense of pride with respect to the former, as Wilfork has managed to donate a ton of cash for diabetes research. In each of the last two years alone, he’s raised more than $350,000, with those important dollars headed to the Joslin Diabetes Center and the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami.

Wilfork’s father, David, died from complications of the disease in June 2002. Since then, he’s vowed to do whatever he can to help find a cure.
“Every year is getting bigger and bigger. Every year is getting greater and greater. We’re raising more and more money,” Wilfork said last night as he hosted his seventh annual party.

“More fans are starting to come out. That’s what I’m concerned about, fans coming out and having a good time, families coming out and having a good time, and raising some awareness to diabetes, which is close to me. As long as we do that, I’m happy.”

Wilfork, who along with his wife, Bianca, matched all funds raised up to $50,000, wasn’t sure how the new wrinkle of having a Thursday, prime-time party was going to play out. Typically, it’s been a weekend deal, and much easier to attract people on a nonwork night.

Judging by the scene at Pinz last night, the time change was not a negative influence. The place was packed between the bowling alley, and the adjoining Blue Dog Sports Bar and Grill, where Vince and Bianca signed autographs for a huge line of people before the draft got under way.

Wilfork would have been grateful if only a handful of fans showed up. And, given what his situation was like with the team a few months ago, he was thankful to be having the party at all.

Had he not agreed to a five-year, $40 million contract extension with the Patriots, and settled the franchise tag situation, who knows what the party would have become.

“Whether I was here, or wasn’t here, the draft party was going to continue,” Wilfork said. “You know, that was something my wife and I actually sat down and talked about, whether I was under contract, or not under contract. This party would have still happened. Would it have been something different? I don’t know. We can only sit back and imagine. But with it getting done, and me staying put, it just eased up a bunch of stuff.”

Click here to order Vince WIlfork's proCane Rookie Card.

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Brian Asbury selected Israeli National League Player of the Year

Traditionally Israeli National League (Division II) teams sign only forwards and centers as import players, relying mostly on domestic players to fill guards positions.

The best reflection of such situation are individual league awards. Similarly 1st and 2nd team are fully filled by imports on center and forward positions, while local players are best as guards.

Eurobasket.com All-Israeli National League Awards 2009-10

Player of the Year: Brian Asbury (201-F, college: Miami (FL)) of Hapoel Kiryat Tivon
Guard of the Year: Ilan Berkovich (187-G-75) of Hapoel Haifa
Forward of the Year: Brian Asbury (201-F) of Hapoel Kiryat Tivon
Center of the Year: Adrian Uter (201-F/C-84) of Maccabi Habikaa
Defensive Player of the Year: Ofir Farhi (187-G-86) of Maccabi Ashdod
Domestic Player of the Year: Ilan Berkovich (187-G-75) of Hapoel Haifa
Import of the Year: Brian Asbury (201-F) of Hapoel Kiryat Tivon

1st Team
G: Ilan Berkovich (187-G-75) of Hapoel Haifa
G: Ilan Nanikashvili (187-G-79) of Hapoel Yokneam/Megido
F: Brian Asbury (201-F) of Hapoel Kiryat Tivon
F: Robert Brown (195-F-80) of Hapoel Haifa
C: Adrian Uter (201-F/C-84) of Maccabi Habikaa

All-Imports Team
F: Brian Asbury (201-F) of Hapoel Kiryat Tivon
F: Robert Brown (195-F-80) of Hapoel Haifa
F: Ramon Clemente (198-F-85) of Maccabi Ashdod
F: Bryant Markson (198-F-83) of Elitzur Yavne
C: Adrian Uter (201-F/C-84) of Maccabi Habikaa   

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Sanchez contributing with glove as well as bat

Gaby Sanchez's team-leading seven doubles entering Saturday's doubleheader stand out. Less obvious, but perhaps no less important, are the five picks and bad throw saves he's made at first base.

The Marlins have played woeful defense so far, opening play Saturday tied with the Dodgers for most errors (17) in the majors. That figure might be even higher if not for Sanchez.

According to Baseball Info Solutions, Sanchez as of Thursday trailed only the Royals' Billy Butler (seven) in picks and bad throw saves.

"I've always felt comfortable being over there picking balls," Sanchez said. "That's one of the most fun things for me to do even when we're just practicing. I've done fairly well doing it in the minor leagues …You get first basemen that can't do it, all of a sudden games get longer, baserunners get on, fielding percentages are lower. I can help out a lot just by picking those balls."

Two seasons ago Double-A Southern League managers voted Sanchez the best defensive first baseman in the circuit. This year, Sanchez has ranked poorly in range factor (putouts plus assists divided by 9), but his zone rating — the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive zone as measured by STATS, Inc. — is tied for third among qualifying National League first basemen.

Sanchez got off to a spotty start defensively, committing his lone error in the opener when he dropped a routine Hanley Ramirez throw.

"You saw him the first couple of days, he was maybe a little bit cautious, making sure he didn't make mistakes," said Marlins third base/infield coach Joe Espada, formerly the club's minor league infield coordinator. "Now he's free. He's playing like the Gaby I've seen in the past. Confidence for me is what's driving Gaby right now."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez late in games with a lead regularly removes Sanchez and slides Jorge Cantu to first. As Gonzalez has explained, the move is designed to improve the left side of the infield with Brian Barden or Wes Helms at third. He considers Cantu and Sanchez equally competent at first.

"We have good guys coming off the bench who are great third basemen," Sanchez said. "If that's the situation, we need to do it and I'm totally fine with it. You can't take Cantu's bat out of the lineup.

"I want to be the best first baseman out there. Hitting is going to be there, but I feel like if you're great defensively that's going to keep you there longer. Teams will give up a little bit of offense if they can shut it down defensively."

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Yonder Alonso Hurt

In last night’s 6-0 loss at Jacksonville, LF Yonder Alonso left the game with a right shoulder contusion after crashing into the outfield wall while attempting to make a play on a flyball…he’s not expected to start in this afternoon’s game and was scheduled to be evaluated this morning.

Alonso is going to be in Cincinnati in 2011 but will they give him a shot this year?  If he keeps this up it will be tough for them not to give him some time - it would be a good idea for him to learn another position or three while he is raking in the minors since the OF is quite crowded and Joey Votto is pretty darn good in his own right at 1st base.  Scott Rolen and Votto have had some injury issues in the past so if he can adapt just a little to play both corners, he will be quite valuable with his big bat.

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Salmons cooly accepts role as Bucks' missing piece

When the NBA's trade deadline comes around again, John Salmons would be wise to keep his eyes and ears open and his cell phone on. The Milwaukee Bucks' swingman has become a go-to-guy for teams searching for just the right piece to help with a playoff push.

The Bulls acquired him at the trade deadline last year in a deal with Sacramento, using his veteran savvy and underrated scoring punch to make their playoff push. That run ended with an epic first-round playoff series with Boston, where Salmons and Derrick Rose-led Bulls pushed the Celtics to Game 7 before falling.

The Bucks, in need of a similar boost two months ago, turned to Salmons and got similar results. The Bulls needed to clear salary cap space in the hopes of luring an elite free agent this summer and dealt Salmons within the division, a move that nearly cost them a playoff spot when their fortunes dipped after the trade and the Bucks took off.

Salmons has no complaints about the move -- not that he'd voice them if he did. Laid back doesn't fully capture Salmons' old school swagger, complete with the shaggy goatee hanging three inches below his chin.

He's been one of the few bright spots for the Bucks, down 2-0 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round playoff series to the Hawks.

"No one had to define a role for me," Salmons said. "I knew this was a team that was on the cusp of making the playoffs, so I knew they had some talent. From playing against them I knew how hard they played. And from talking to some guys around the league, I heard that [Bucks coach Scott Skiles] was one of the best coaches around, so I was just trying to come and fit in."

The fit couldn't have been better. With rookie point guard Brandon Jennings settled in and center Andrew Bogut anchoring the post, the only thing missing was a perimeter threat with the size and ability to take on some of the scoring load and some of the leadership responsibilities for a team that had all the other pieces in place.

In addition, Salmons is a rugged defender with good size (6-foot-6 and 210 pounds) and a flinch-free competitor, traits that Skiles said were crucial when evaluating the move.

"When we were talking about making a move, we looked at him, and still do, as just a good, all-around pro guard," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "He can post up a little bit. He shoots the ball well enough. He can put it on the floor and get to the rim. He can dish it if necessary. He's a solid defender. He's a professional and has a real calm demeanor out there, and that has helped our guys."

Salmons made a seamless transition, doing all the same things for Bucks that he did for the Bulls, only better. He averaged 18.3 points in 26 games with the Bulls in their playoff push last year. He averaged 19.3 in the Bucks' 30-game playoff surge after the trade deadline.

"I felt like we found our other piece that we needed to help us win and also a guy that could take over a game and create his own shot for himself," Jennings said. "When Michael Redd went down we knew we needed somebody like that and John stepped in and did the job. I find myself telling people all the time that they better not sleep on John Salmons because once he gets it going, he can go off like any of the great [shooting guards] in the league."

Hawks coach Mike Woodson came into this series worried about exactly that. Salmons averaged 31 points against the Hawks in the three games during the season in a Bucks uniform. He worked them for 21 in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series, teaming with veteran swingman Jerry Stackhouse to keep the undermanned Bucks in the game until the final minutes.

"When we went back and studied the games we had against them we realized that he basically matched [Hawks All-star] Joe [Johnson] step-for-step on defense and shot-for-shot," Woodson said. "He really had his way with us coming into the playoffs. So we came in focused on him in this series and knowing that if we let him get off he could make things difficult for us. We've had some guys really step up and take the challenge of trying to defend him and I think we've done a solid job, as a team, so far. But we have to keep that up in order to get out of this series."

Naturally, Salmons and the Bucks have other ideas as the series shifts to their home floor for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday.

"We have to continue to go inside and continue to be aggressive," Salmons said. "We can't shy away from that against this team. We're not discouraged at all. We came out with the right energy and just came up short. But we feel like this thing is far from over. We're headed home now and we have a chance to do the same thing they did and take care of business on our home court."

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