Warren Sapp rips ex-Giant Michael Strahan again

The Giants aren't even in the Super Bowl and Michael Strahan finished his playing career in 2007.

Yet on Media Day, he was the subject of another rip from Hall of Fame defensive lineman Warren Sapp in what has been an ongoing battle between the two players -- the two have exchanged words and watched as ex-Giant Tiki Barber stepped in last summer and called Sapp "an idiot."

Sapp went off Tuesday when asked about Strahan's Hall of Fame candidacy. Strahan is one of 15 finalists and one of five first-time finalists for the voting, which will be announced this week.

"When you talk about stacking it up, it just don’t stack that high. You all just give it to him. You all don’t take that same critical eye when you’re looking at someone else," he said on Tuesday. "'Ah, Michael, he’s our guy.’ He’s on TV with Kelly [Ripa] and he’s such a good guy.' I thought you got into the Hall because your resume stacked up with the greats of the game. But (Strahan’s) four straight Pro Bowls is good, but it ain’t great. And we’re talking about the Hall, right?"

Sapp listed other Hall of Fame nominees that were first-ballot HoFers in his mind: former Colts coach Tony Dungy, Seahawks OT Walter Jones, Colts receiver Marvin Harrison and Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks.

Sapp later clarified his comments to NJ.com: "I didn't say he didn't belong. I said when you looked at the class...his resume doesn't stack up to those guys. I’m asking you, does it? He’s not even in their class."

So is he a Hall of Famer or not?

"I don’t know," he replied. "I don’t know what defines a Hall of Famer. You tell me four straight Pro Bowls? Nah. You tell me a faulty sack title? Nah. But now you’re saying it does. You all pranced [Mark] Gastineau right on the field and took his sack record from him. That was a shame. And now it continues."

"Me and him always stabbed and jabbed," Sapp continued. "But now Warren has the upper hand, nobody wants to jab anymore. I understand. I was the little guy in Tampa and he was the guy in the big city. And now he has to get in. We’re in his city. We’re near the stadium. You all are going to give it to him."

Bookmark and Share

Rob Ford is wearing an Orlando Franklin Broncos jersey

Perhaps you have heard of Rob Ford, the man who is somehow mayor of a major North American city despite his drug use, constant drunkenness, occasional racism, very public sexual statements and just generally being a huge buffoon. None of this is libelous, because all of this is real stuff that has been documented as having happened. He was elected to public office, and did that stuff. (He's also fat and makes a lot of funny faces, which sometimes prevents people from getting elected to public office, but that's neither here nor there.)

Anyway: since he's technically the mayor of Toronto, he gave a press conference Tuesday to talk about the city's budget. Of course, he did that while wearing a Broncos jersey:

Specifically, he's wearing the jersey of Orlando Franklin, the Broncos' starting RT who grew up in Toronto after being born in Jamaica.


Bookmark and Share

Conversations continue between Packers, CB Sam Shields

Green Bay --- In our chat yesterday, many of you asked about the status of free agent cornerback Sam Shields. Didn't get into it too much then, so figured I'd share here.

One source indicated recently that the two sides have been in regular contact and that the Packers do want to re-sign the 26-year-old, but also considered his return "50/50."

So in other words, nothing new here yet. As free agency in March nears, talks will likely carry more substance.

The Packers have several unrestricted free agents this off-season, including Shields, B.J. Raji, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Jermichael Finley, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal and John Kuhn.

Shields has experienced his ups and downs since breaking onto the scene as an undrafted rookie in 2010, but may be one of the top young corners in the game. His tackling has steadily improved since a porous 2011 season and he often matched up on the opponent's top wideout last season.

Position coach Joe Whitt Jr. regards Shields a "top 10" cornerback in the NFL. In Shields and Tramon Williams could field two corners in their prime within a division that features Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings and Alshon Jeffery.

A year ago, the 5-foot-11, 184-pound Shields finished with 61 tackles (51 solo), 17 pass break-ups and four interceptions. Including the postseason, he has 17 picks in four seasons. Still, Shields has battled his share of injuries, missing eight games the last two seasons. He left Green Bay's 23-20 loss to San Francisco with a bone bruise.

Bookmark and Share

Jonathan Vilma Shares His Experience Of Defeating Manning In 2010

Jonathan Vilma, who was the Saints linebacker in Super Bowl XLIV, shares his thoughts and secrets of how to go about beating Peyton Manning, as his Saints did in 2010.

“In my opinion, you have to study him,” Vilma said from the 30 Rock set of Pro Football Talk at the Super Bowl. “Don’t just study the offense. You’ve gotta study him. His mannerism, his throws, who he likes to throw to.”

However, that was four years ago, and it must be believed that Manning has learned from previous mistakes.

The challenge for the Seahawks is to find whatever hints and clues reside in Manning’s game now.

Bookmark and Share

What does the future hold for Frank Gore?

There was some speculation prior to the 2013 season about whether or not Frank Gore would still be able to maintain his status as an elite running back in the NFL. The reason for the deliberation was due to the fact that Gore would playing out the year at 30 years old, which is an age that generally starts a massive decline for ball carriers.

Luckily for the San Francisco 49ers, Gore bucked this trend and produced another solid season. He finished ninth in the NFL in rushing with 1128 yards and scored nine touchdowns on the ground (the second highest total of his career). However, even with a productive 2013 campaign, there are still some questions about what the future may hold for the 49ers’ all time leading rusher.

Despite his solid overall performance, there were some red flags that surfaced in 2013 that could raise concerns moving forward. The first is the amount of touches Gore has had over the last three years. From 2006 (which was the first full year Gore was the feature back) through 2010, Gore averaged 248.8 carries and 14 games per season. He only once played a full 16 game slate (2006) and the 49ers never made the playoffs during that time frame. Over the last three years, Gore has carried that ball a whopping 956 times and is averaging 318.6 a year over 18.6 games. That type of workload is tough for any running back to bounce back from, let alone one who will be 31 years old and has 2327 career totes.

Gore did lose some steam down the stretch in 2013 as his yards per carry dipped down to just over 3.6 per rush over the last 10 games (including the playoffs). For the year, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry which was the lowest of his career. He also had his worst showing in the post season as he only gained 164 yards over three games with a 3.4 yards per carry average. In 2011-12, he gained 482 yards over five games and had 5.2 per rush in the playoffs.
Gore will also find himself in a very crowded backfield come 2014. Barring a roster move, the 49ers will have Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore all competing for carries with him. Hunter and James appear to be better suited for a change of pace role, however, and neither seem to be a threat to take Gore’s starting job away. The wild card here is Lattimore. San Francisco drafted the talented runner in the 4th round of the 2013 draft with the expectations that he would sit out the season and rehab from his second major knee injury. Lattimore did just that and could be close to 100 percent come next year. If healthy, there is a very real possibility of at least a time share with Gore.

Finally, there is the issue of money. Gore is owed $6.5 million dollars in 2014, which is a number the 49ers may not be willing to pay. It’s highly unlikely that the team would cut Gore, but there is a good chance that they will approach him about taking a pay cut. How Gore responds to this request could be a big factor in what happens next.

Logic would seem that the two sides will come to some sort of an agreement on the contract and Gore will continue to be a big part of the team next year. The 49ers have depth in place should an injury or drop in performance occur, and can take a chance on having an older back play a key role because of it.

Bookmark and Share

Michael Irvin with an interesting comment on Russell Wilson

Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin had an interesting take on Russell Wilson and the idea of a new wave of dual-threat quarterbacks taking over the NFL.

“Russell is a little ahead of what we consider new school,” Irvin said. “New-school guys are considered talented shoulder down basically. They can win with their arm or their legs. Old-school guys are those Peyton Manning thinkers. Russell Wilson’s gift is that he’s new school shoulders down but old school shoulders up. That’s why he is in this game.

“When the rest of these quarterbacks — the Cam Newtons, the RGIIIs, the Colin Kaepernicks — when these guys who are gifted like Russell shoulders down start playing the game like he plays it shoulders up, this league will be a whole different monster,” Irvin continued. “I call him a managing playmaker. If you can be a managing playmaker, that means I have the ability to run the ball and break out of here and make plays with my legs, but I choose not to until I have to? That’s a dangerous player because he keeps the field open at all times until the last moment.”

Seahawks general manager John Schneider talked about the much-discussed end to Wilson’s season, when his numbers dropped off from levels that had him in consideration for the MVP at one point.

“You saw his numbers come down a little bit towards the end of the season,” he said. “We played a lot of very good defenses. That was a little bit more of a result of him really protecting the ball. A lot of throw-aways. He doesn’t care about his passer rating…He really has a lot of that cornerback mentality to him. If he makes a mistake, he can put it out of his mind right away and move on to the next play.”

Bookmark and Share

Ryan Braun Eager to 'Move Forward' in 2014

(MILWAUKEE) --  As the 2014 MLB season inches closer, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is excited and ready for a new chapter in his career.

Speaking at an offseason team event this weekend, Braun says he is constantly trying to make amends with fans and teammates following his 65-game suspension last year for violating Major League Baseball's anti-drug agreement.

"I wish I could go back and do things differently, but I can't. All I can do is move forward and make the best of the opportunities presented to me," Braun said.

The 2011 National League MVP made his first public appearance Sunday since admitting last year that he took performance-enhancing drugs; he accepted his suspension in late July.

In 61 games last season, Braun hit .298 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs.

Bookmark and Share

Senior Bowl scouts coin QB Stephen Morris 'Tin Cup'

Scouts referred to Miami QB Stephen Morris as "Tin Cup" at the Senior Bowl due to his ease at making difficult throws and his struggles with executing routine passes.
"Morris boasts a strong arm and throws the deep ball with touch, but like the other two quarterbacks on the North squad (Boyd and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas), he struggled with accuracy throughout the week," wrote CBS Sports' Rob Rang. Rotoworld's Josh Norris labeled Morris "undraftable" after Senior Bowl week. An up-and-down 2013 season did Morris' pro aspirations no favors, and he has further complicated his situation by struggling at the Senior Bowl exhibition and measuring in at a disappointing 6'1 and 3/4ths of an inch and 208 pounds.

Bookmark and Share

Sam Shields likely to reach free agency

Packer Report's Bill Huber believes it's "increasingly likely" free agent CB Sam Shields will hit the open market.

Shields will surely seek to max out his contractual worth, which may put him out of conservative GM Ted Thompson's price range. Cornerback is arguably the deepest position on Green Bay's roster, with Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Davon House, and Micah Hyde all under contract for 2014. Shields isn't quite valuable enough to be a candidate for the Packers' franchise tag.

Bookmark and Share

Decade after playing for John Fox, Dan Morgan wants to beat him

JERSEY CITY — Dan Morgan admits he felt nervous before Super Bowl XXXVIII, but he doesn't think that's why he spent the previous night vomiting.

Morgan still blames a bad burger he ate the night before the game, at a resort then-Carolina Panthers coach John Fox took his team to about an hour outside of Houston, but he said the sickness actually might have helped him.

"I felt really light on my feet," said Morgan, who received an IV before kickoff, started at middle linebacker and had a game-high 18 tackles (11 solo) in a 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots in February, 2004.

"I think maybe part of it was just because of all the throwing up I did. I did lose a good 8 pounds. I filled the whole bathtub up. It was pretty bad."

A decade later, Fox will be back on the sideline for Super Bowl XLVIII with the Denver Broncos. Morgan — a one-time Pro Bowl pick before injuries derailed his playing career — is also back, though in a less visible role.

Retired since 2009, Morgan is in his third season as a scout for the Seattle Seahawks, who brought him aboard as an intern, hired him full-time in 2011 and promoted him to assistant pro personnel director last summer.

"It's nice just being in the background, working your butt off and helping the team out as much as you can," Morgan said. "I have a ton of fun with it and it's a great group of guys in Seattle that we work with."

General manager John Schneider gave Morgan a chance on the recommendation of Trent Kirchner, now the Seahawks' pro personnel director, who was scouting for the Panthers during that Super Bowl year and often would discuss opposing players with Morgan on the sideline.

Now Morgan is helping mold a Seahawks roster that's a win away from the franchise's first NFL title — but must get past the Broncos, led by his old coach.
"I get to see him around a lot. I think he's the same guy," Morgan said of Fox, 58, who spent nine years with the Panthers (2002 to '10) before his contract wasn't renewed after a 2-14 finish in his final season, then made the move to Denver.

"He's a players' coach, and guys always liked him. He knows when to be tough on you, and he knows when to back down and take it easy. He was good. He was a lot of fun to play for."

Another coach who was on that 2003 Panthers staff, tight ends coach Dave Magazu, now coaches the Broncos' offensive line. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is among a handful of others who were on Fox's staffs in Carolina, but not during the Super Bowl year.

Setting aside his stomach issues the night before, Morgan said his most vivid memory of that game was the streaker who ran onto the field as players awaited the second-half kickoff and got decked by Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham.

"We're all serious and then it kind of broke the ice a little bit, because you've got a guy running around the field in a G-string," Morgan said. "It's definitely a different kind of nervousness. You know there's a whole lot on the line."

Being out of the spotlight makes Super Bowl week "definitely more relaxing," Morgan said. But there are sure to be some nerves Sunday for both him and Fox, who hasn't gotten any smack-talking texts from his former middle linebacker yet.

"No, I figured I'd stay away from them and let him enjoy himself a little bit," Morgan said. "I'm sure I'll see him. It's weird, definitely, playing against him. But hopefully, we come out on the winning end."

Bookmark and Share

Former sprinter Lauryn Williams working to master bobsled

Training Sunday, several days after the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation announced she had made the team for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Lauryn Williams was even harder at work.

“Worst push of the season, but no time to dwell,” Williams tweeted. “My focus is on being better because Jamie Greubel is counting on me.”

Greubel is the pilot and Williams the brakeman of a U.S. sled that has a shot at the podium in Sochi, when the games begin Feb. 6.

Williams, fresh from a gold medal in the 4x100-meter relay at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, is responsible for giving the sled a good shove at the top of the track and helping to get it through the twists and high-banked turns, at speeds that are regularly at least 90 miles per hour, straining against significant G-forces to keep the sled on the cleanest, quickest line.

“You never get used to being an Olympian; to be named to an Olympic team is always an honor because there is no guarantee that you will make it,” she said, Monday, as she traveled to Sochi. “I am very honored and excited to represent my family, friends and my country in the Olympics.”

Williams and Greubel scored gold Sept. 19 at the last World Cup event in Iglis, Austria, raising some expectations.

“I honestly haven’t thought much about it because this isn’t about me,” she said. “I am part of a 2-person team and in order for us to win, I have to be at my best and do my best; that’s all I’ve been thinking about since the team was named.

“I know that my performance affects someone else's performance and I don’t want to let my team down so that is my focus”

Although she lives outside of Pittsburgh, Williams spent some of her childhood in Metro Detroit.

A total of 13 athletes who list their hometowns in Michigan made the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, the United States Olympic Committee announced Monday. The announcements make official what some of the governing bodies of the sports, like the bobsled and skeleton group, already determined, rarely making changes.

And there are many other althletes and others with significant connections to the state, including Williams; Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who made the U.S. team; men’s figure skater Jeremy Abbott, who lives most of the year in Metro Detroit while training at the Detroit Skate Club, in Bloomfield Hills; U.S. luge coach Mark Grimmette, who was born in Muskegon and who lives in Ann Arbor; and Dan Bylsma, coach of the U.S. men’s hockey team and the Penguins of the NHL, who was born in Grand Haven.

That is not to mention 10 Red Wings, who will play for the Slovakia, Russia, Canada and Mike Babcock, Steve Yzerman and Ken Holland, a trio that coaches and manages the men’s hockey team for Canada.

Also, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the ice dancing duo that won the gold medal four years ago in Vancouver and train at the Arctic Edge in Canton, and Patrick Chan, the three time men’s world champion, who trains at the Detroit Skating Club.

For Williams, the selection capped a transition from track and field. She won the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

“It’s hard to say that I feel fully like a bobsledder since I’ve only being doing it for six months, compared to track and field which I did for more than 20 years,” she said.

“While I’m more comfortable in a sled with each passing day, it is still scary and I’m still learning things from my teammates every day. However, it’s hard not to say that I’m fully a bobsledder because of the way my teammates have embraced me and welcomed me into the wolfpack!”

Possessed of an easy sense of humor, Williams has done a lot of joking about her transition from track star to the bobsled track. Another U.S. track star, Lolo Jones, who made the transition earlier, helped get her involved.

“Basically, I asked her what it was like. She said it was a lot of fun, there was good team camaraderie and she thought I would be good at it,” Williams said.
“She said it involved a lot of eating and weight-lifting,” she said, laughing. “Those are two things I like to do, so I thought it would be a lot of fun.”

As for her thoughts on executing the precise timing of the drive from the starting gate and getting in the sled in good order, Williams said, “I just tell myself, `Don’t get left behind.’ I just push the sled.

“I tell myself I’m racing her (Greubel). But once the driver is in, you don’t want to let the sled go down without you.”

Bookmark and Share

Padres roster review: INF Ryan Jackson

Shortstop, Second base, Third base
Opening Day Age: 25
Bats: R
Throws: R
Contract Status: Controlled by the Padres
2013 Grade: C

2013 Statistics: Jackson was 0-for-7 at the plate in seven games with St. Louis. He spent most of the season with the Cardinals’ Triple-A Memphis affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .278 with three homers and 34 RBIs in 121 games.

2013 Review: For the second straight season, Jackson split time between St. Louis and Triple-A Memphis, spending the majority of the season in the minor leagues. He was waived by the Cardinals in November and claimed by the Houston Astros on Nov. 20. On Dec. 18, the Padres acquired Jackson from the Astros in exchange for outfielder-first baseman Jesus Guzman. In two seasons with Memphis, Jackson had a .275 average with 13 homers and 81 RBIs in 887 at-bats. He also had a .343 on-base percentage. But he is 2-for-24 as a major league hitter.

Looking Ahead: Jackson’s glove at shortstop makes him a leading candidate to become the Padres reserve middle infielder. With Logan Forsythe having been traded to Tampa Bay, the job apparently comes down to Jackson or Alexi Amarista. Defense at short and third could tip the scales in favor of Jackson, who was a fifth-round pick of the Cardinals in the 2009 draft. Jackson was a teammate of Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal at the University of Miami.

Plus/Minus: Jackson is an excellent defensive player, particularly at shortstop. He has yet to prove he can hit major league pitching.

Bookmark and Share

Ryan Braun discusses return to Milwaukee Brewers

Referring to his suspension for using performance enhancing drugs as an “extended off-season,” Ryan Braun told reporters recently at a Fan Fest event that he is excited to be back with the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2014 season.

Discussing what it has been like to speak with fans again in anticipation of his return, Braun said the following:

I made a mistake; I made a big mistake. I don’t expect everybody to be supportive or everybody to be understanding or everybody to understand where I was coming from. I certainly didn’t anticipate the amount of support I received.”

In a bizarre twist, Braun said that he is looking forward to the pressure of getting heckled by opposing fans.

Bookmark and Share

Stephen Morris throws 2 INTs in Senior Bowl

Miami QB Stephen Morris was 10 of 18 for a game-high 89 yards but was also intercepted twice in Saturday's Senior Bowl.
Rotoworld's Josh Norris called Morris "undraftable" in his post-game column, writing that the former Hurricanes QB was "solely a vertical passer." NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, another former admirer, was likewise underwhelmed by Morris' performance. "I was disappointed with his lack of accuracy and ball placement. He repeatedly missed open receivers at intermediate range, and tossed a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter," Brooks wrote. We must note that on one of the interceptions the receiver had fallen down.

Bookmark and Share

Seantel Henderson has Senior Bowl to forget

Miami T Seantrel Henderson struggled during the Senior Bowl.
A forgettable week of practice culminated in a game in which Henderson repeatedly allowed North edge rushers to pressure his quarterbacks. "This film is going to be scrutinized more than any tape they put out there," North coach Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons said. That's not a comforting thought for the massive tackle. Rotoworld's Josh Norris noted the drop of Henderson's stock in his Senior Bowl Review column. "Henderson seemed to plateau and failed to use his combination of athleticism and strength effectively," Norris wrote. "I still think Henderson can be successful if he lands with the right team."

Bookmark and Share

Jimmy Graham 'not too keen' on being franchise tagged

Jimmy Graham is the Saints' best weapon on offense. He's also heading towards free agency.

New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis said the team would use a franchise tag on the explosive tight end if the two sides don't agree to a long-term deal.

For his part, Graham doesn't seem enthused about the idea.

"I'm not too keen on the franchise tag," Graham said at Pro Bowl practice in Hawaii. "That would be really unfortunate, but that's really all I have to say about that. That's real unfortunate. If that happens, it doesn't really matter what I prefer.”

Graham played just one-third of his snaps at the tight end position, so his side will argue he should be tagged as a wide receiver. Loomis and the Saints will maintain he should be tagged at the position for which he was drafted. The salary last year for receivers who were franchise tagged was $4 million more than tight ends.

Since being drafted out of Miami in 2010, Graham has 3,863 yards receiving and 41 touchdowns.

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne Eager to Re-Join Young Receivers

INDIANAPOLIS— As the Colts ran out of the southwest tunnel at Lucas Oil Stadium during the second half of the 2013 season, something was missing.

The chants of “Reggie, Reggie Reggie,” were faint from the north end zone.

Wayne wasn’t running to his customary end zone to acknowledge the fans reciting his name.

Instead, Wayne would head straight for the Colts sideline before positioning himself next to head coach Chuck Pagano for the National Anthem.

Following the anthem, a street-clothed Wayne would offer a final “good luck” to Pagano before watching a young Colts receivers group try and replace No. 87’s elite numbers.

Now as Wayne looks back on the 2013 campaign, he could not be prouder of what he witnessed from his position group.

“You saw that whole (wide receivers) room grow,” Wayne said on his radio show last week.

“It was good for them to see that they could go out there and play at this level, at a high level. Those guys really did a great job. I’m proud of them. They had some nicks and bruises that they played through all year.”

Wayne watched T.Y. Hilton re-write the record books for Colts receivers after two seasons.

Hilton caught 82 passes for 1,083 yards in 2013. His 10 career 100-yard receiving games are the second most after a player’s first two NFL seasons since 1970.

“T.Y. Hilton is a young player but he’s a young player that understands what it means to be a pro,” Wayne said.

“I was actually sitting down with him (last week) and we looked at the season and I told him, ‘I’m proud of you, man. You put us on your shoulders and you did your best.’ At the end of the day, that’s all that you can ask for, ask for your teammates to lay it on the line and give you everything they can give you.”

Wayne was also impressed by what he saw from LaVon Brazill, who has his locker right next to No. 87 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

Brazill had six catches for 127 yards in the playoffs, including the Colts two touchdowns in the Divisional Round loss to the Patriots.

“Being in a big game of that magnitude and being able to score two touchdowns against a good New England…I think if Brazill can just bottle that all up and just continue to save it and work on it, and work on it, then I think next year will be a breakout year for him,” Wayne said

Come training camp, Wayne is hoping to be back out there with the likes of Hilton and Brazill leading the receivers through positional drills at Anderson University.

Chuck Pagano says “you can’t put a price” on what Wayne meant to the Colts young receivers this past year.

Hilton has spoken highly of Wayne’s guidance and the pupil earns his own praise from No. 87.

“He’s going to be very good and the only thing that you can tell (Hilton) is to keep it up, get better, never stay the same and he’s one of those guys that I know will work hard each offseason, and go out there and want to be better the next year.”

Bookmark and Share

Bernie Kosar calls Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater a "fantastic quarterback and young man"

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Now that the Cleveland Browns have a new head coach, the conversation will shift to the NFL draft as Mike Pettine's success will be tied to his players.

The Browns are one of two teams – the St. Louis Rams the other – with two picks in the first round. General manager Michael Lombardi and his staff have racked up the frequent flyer miles, travelling all around the country in search of a player to use the fourth-overall pick on.

Quarterback seems to be a likely target in the draft, especially given the emphasis this regime has placed on the position.

On the wall of the Browns' war room, there is a blueprint for how the front office plans to turn around a downtrodden franchise that has grown accustomed to double-digit losses. The message begins with "We will be BOLD. We will have a CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL QB."

But do any of the quarterbacks in this year's draft fit that description? Does Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel meet the criteria? How about Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater?

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar has been watching Bridgewater, who comes from the Miami area, since he was in junior high school, and likes what he sees.

Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes for 3970 yards with 31 touchdowns against 4 interceptions in his final season with the Cardinals.

Bookmark and Share

Orlando Franklin's journey to Super Bowl XLVIII

Many times during Super Bowl XLVIII, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will stare down the NFL’s top-ranked defence, with five of his linemen the only things separating the future Hall of Famer and his surgically fused neck from a high-speed collision.

Six-foot-seven, 320-pound Canadian Orlando Franklin is one of those large men who will protect Manning from the onslaught of Seattle Seahawks pass rushers. At his size, Franklin can often shove aside defenders without trouble.

But the 26-year-old right tackle’s journey to the NFL has not been so easy.

Franklin was raised in the Scarborough area of Toronto, spending part of his time there living in a community housing complex. With his single mom, Sylvia, working to pay the bills, Orlando spent much of his time with the other kids in the neighbourhood. 

When he was nine, Franklin spotted some kids carrying football equipment. One of them was an older boy named Shawn Williams, who brought Franklin to the local Scarborough Thunder football team, where he would become a mainstay until leaving for the United States in his mid-teens. 

Williams remembers Franklin as tall for his age, clumsy, awkward and cursed with thick-lensed glasses he was often teased about.

One time, the pair had to search extensively for the expensive eyewear after Franklin lost a lens at a local pool . 

"His glasses would get banged around [playing football], so his lens would pop out at any given time,” Williams chuckles.

"They drained [the pool] and they still couldn’t find it, and they drained it again and they finally found it. It took almost two days for us to get this lens.

"He couldn’t see for days… He was walking around with one lens in the glasses and the other one out.”

'Good kids'
The two became friends and would sometimes get into trouble together.

“We really had no money,” says Williams. “You would want to get food, talk to girls, so we would get in trouble. …stealing cars, trying to be cool, stuff like that.”
Charles Wiltshire, 54, who saw himself as a father figure to Franklin and often looked after him and Williams, says local kids often fall victim to the conditions of poverty.

"You realize they’re good kids, they’re not troubled kids. They don’t want to steal, they don’t want to rob, they don’t want to sell drugs, but they’re left with no choice to survive.”

In his early teens, Franklin was arrested for robbery and Wiltshire says that he bailed him out, like he had for many other kids in the neighbourhood.

“[My wife and I] were the type that if it involved drugs we would bail them out, if it involved weed we would be upset, if it involved guns we would have nothing to do with that,” he says.

'The first one to make it'
“I was in a real dark place,” Franklin told the Toronto Sun before last week's AFC championship game. “I mean, the NFL? Hey, I didn’t even know if I’d ever graduate high school, let alone think I’d ever make it to the NFL.

“At the end of the day, I could not see where my future was or where I was at."

But the trip to jail seemed to be the sobering lesson that motivated Franklin.

His head coach with the Scarborough Thunder, Roberto Allen, says Franklin agreed to sign a contract with his mother saying that he would stay out of trouble.
Allen soon saw a change in Franklin's performance.

“That last year when he played with us he was very focused,” says Allen. “He grew, he wanted this. He kept saying to me, I’m going to be the first one to make it.”

“For a big boy like that, he’s pretty athletic. He can run downfield with running backs. Usually offensive linemen are blocking at the first level and second level, but he goes up to the third level — he’s running downfield blocking defensive backs.”

With Franklin starting to turn things around at home, his mother went looking for work in Florida in hopes that she could move there with him to increase his chances to advance in his football career.

"I owe so much to my mom," Franklin told the Toronto Sun.

“When I said I wanted to move to Florida, she quit her job and moved down there a week later. You have a lot of parents who want to see their kids succeed, but you don’t have a lot of people who pick up and relocate just to accommodate a 15- or 16-year-old kid.”

Franklin ended up securing a spot at Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, Fla., and as a senior he attracted interest from the University of Miami football team. 

'I can't take it'
Things didn't go smoothly at first in Miami. Wiltshire recalls how Franklin would call him when he was struggling to keep up with the Hurricanes.

“I remember he called me from Miami and said ‘Charlie I’m quitting this thing, I can’t take it no more, I’m puking my guts out, they’re working me like a horse, and we have to keep up certain marks in order to go and play.'" Wiltshire says.

But Franklin preserved and, after four years at Miami, where he was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference second team honouree in his senior year, he graduated with a degree in psychology.

In 2011, Franklin was selected by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the NFL draft (46th overall).   

Wiltshire was with Franklin in Scarborough during the draft and remembers how Franklin jumped in excitement when he received the call from former Broncos quarterback (and now vice president) John Elway, one of his childhood idols, telling Franklin he'd been drafted.

Franklin still returns to the community, and has even showed up at a Scarborough Thunder practice to speak to the players and sign memorabilia for auction. 

No matter the result of the Super Bowl in New Jersey on Feb. 2, those who helped Franklin along the way will still be proud of the kid with the thick glasses.

“My definition of a champion is not the one who won the race, but the one who tried his best to win the race," says Wiltshire. “And no matter what, he’s still my champion because I know he’s given his all.”

Bookmark and Share

Ryan Braun apologetic, upbeat at 'On Deck'

In the midst of his first large-scale public appearance in Milwaukee since his 65-game suspension last season, Ryan Braun remained upbeat and apologetic in addressing the media prior to 'Brewers On Deck' at the Wisconsin Center on Sunday morning.

"I’m excited to be back," said Braun, dressed in a navy Brewers jersey and jeans.

"It’s always nice to be back. I think since my extended off-season began I’ve been back a few times, and everybody’s been extremely supportive. It’s great to be back. The weather’s a little bit colder than what I’m typically used to this time of the year, but aside from that it’s good to be back.

"Nice to see everybody and it’ll be nice to interact with the fans."

Like all Brewers players, Braun's obligations at the annual 'On Deck' event run the gamut from media availability to radio spots to autograph signings and everything in between. Braun had yet to hit the event floor at the Wisconsin Center when he met with the media late Sunday morning, but said to that point his experiences with Brewers fans had been overwhelmingly positive.

"I’ve actually had a lot of interaction with the fans and everybody’s been great," he said. "Everybody’s been incredibly supportive. I know last time I was here with you guys in November you asked about what I expected or anticipated. I don’t really expect or anticipate anything, so we’ll see how it goes."

When asked what kind of reception he expects away from Miller Park moving forward, Braun hinted that the boos and catcalls will serve as a source of motivation for him.

"I really don’t think about stuff like that very much," he said. "I try not to focus on the things that are out of my control. With that being said I’ve already experienced this already in the past a couple times. Dealt with it in 2012, dealt with it for the majority of 2013, so I think I have an idea of what I’m getting myself into.

"As a competitor, in a really odd way I enjoy it. I think it’s fun. I think the more hostile an environment is the more enjoyable it is. I just enjoy that pressure. In a really unique way, I actually enjoy and look forward to it."

Among the mea culpas Braun has attempted since the Biogenesis scandal and his subsequent suspension was his idea to call Brewers ticket holders. He provided a few more details about those calls when asked about them today, saying he called all Miller Park suiteholders as well as "quite a few" season ticket holders.

"It was great. I think it was a really unique experience," he said. "There were a lot of people who really didn’t believe it was me initially. Actually I think everybody was really supportive, which was cool. It was something I had no idea what to expect or anticipate, but I enjoyed it. It was fun."

Braun acknowledged he had a "challenging conversation" with one fan.

"It wasn't surprising in any way," he said. "I made a mistake, I made a big mistake. I don't expect everybody to be supportive or everybody to be understanding or everybody to understand where I was coming from. Certainly I didn't anticipate the amount of support I received."

Braun is also aware it will be a process for him as far as fans accepting him following his suspension.

“I don’t ever know if I could apologize enough for what’s occurred, you know? I just continue to move forward and obviously I’ll be apologetic. I wish I could go back and do things differently, but I can’t. All I can do is move forward and make the best of the opportunities presented to me.”

Braun, who married longtime girlfriend Larisa Fraser not long ago, said the off-season was a positive one for him overall.

"Yeah, it's been unique. Overall, it's been extremely enjoyable," he said. "I don't think I've ever been happier, I don't think I've ever enjoyed life more, I don't think I've ever been in a better place. From that perspective it's been beautiful. The wedding was amazing.

"I'm excited and looking forward to the next year while trying to learn from everything I went through this year."

If Braun is unsure whether he'll be able to put up numbers without the 'extra edge' he had previously, as one questioner put it, he certainly isn't letting on.
"I think I’ll be better than I’ve ever been," he said. "Very confident in that.”

Braun would not address any further questions regarding details about his PED usage, continuing the approach he used in his last public appearance just prior to Thanksgiving at a Brewers charity event.

"Again, I appreciate there is still interest in this stuff, but I addressed everything in November when I was here for the charity event, and I think I addressed it pretty specifically in the statement that we gave (in August," he said.

"I think that addressed it pretty specifically as far as exactly what it was and when it occurred.”

Braun also wouldn't discuss the Alex Rodriguez situation, saying he hadn't been paying close attention to it.

As far as baseball, Braun said his balky right thumb is healed and he looked forward to his upcoming move to right field.

"They just asked if I would be open to it, and I said absolutely," Braun said. "I told them I'd play anywhere other than third base because third base and I didn't go very well together. I don't expect it to be easy. In left field you get used to the ball coming off the bat a certain way and a certain direction.

"In Arizona I'll have plenty of time to get my work in. It's something I look forward to, but I expect it to be challenging."

Braun was also in favor of the addition of free-agent starter Matt Garza, whose deal with the Brewers is still apparently in the works.

"I think the Garza thing is extremely exciting," he said. "I’m excited about it. Hopefully it’s something that ends up working out for us [because] I think he could be a difference-maker. Facing him over the last few years, I think he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. One of the toughest at-bats. Great stuff. Very competitive -- a fiery competitor, which is something I think could benefit the whole pitching staff and our whole team.

"Nori getting traded, I think year and year out there’s so much change, so much turnover in the roster. Khris Davis, I think, is going to be a really good player. The organization really believes in him and hopefully it will be a seamless transition there.

"Mark Reynolds is a guy I’ve known for a long time. We played together in the Fall League, and I’ve known him, actually, since college. So I’m excited to have him on the team and I think he’s going to be big for us, especially in our ballpark."

Bookmark and Share

Kenny Kadji Signed

NBA proCane F Kenny Kadji was signed on Saturday by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League. Kadji was in the Cleveland Cavaliers training camp before being cut.

Bookmark and Share

Jon Jay returns to roots in Florida to help Boys & Girls Club

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay would walk down the block from his childhood home to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade location on 32nd Avenue and U.S. Highway 1.

As an 8-year-old, a few of his teammates included Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso, Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez and former Orioles infielder Robert Andino.

"It's really where I started off," Jay said. "People see me now in the Major Leagues, and I was fortunate. That's where the long journey started. That's where I fell in love with the game of baseball."

Jay, who will enter his fifth big league season in 2014, hosted the Jon Jay FMSbonds Celebrity Bowling Challenge Friday night at Lucky Strike Miami Beach.
The event raised more than $50,000 during its first two years, and Jay hoped he could eclipse that total with the help of some famous friends.

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, Cardinals right-hander Jason Motte, Dodgers left-hander Paco Rodriguez, Phillies outfielder John Mayberry Jr. and Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez were some of those in attendance.

Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, whose group won the bowling challenge in 2012 and finished second in 2013, could not make it in order to take part in Saturday's NatsFest.

Alonso, one of Jay's former childhood and University of Miami teammates, has come every year.

"It's a nice touch by Jon Jay and the family obviously getting everything together," Alonso said. "It's something that's becoming a routine for us. It's fun and enjoyable, and it's obviously for a good cause."

All 14 bowling lanes sold out. This year, they even sold tickets to people who just wanted to hang out by the billiards tables or watch the bowling action. Others danced to top-40 music played by a disc jockey. There was also an auction of memorabilia. 

Proceeds will benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade to support its programs, which range from after-school education to sports programs for 10,000 area youth.

"He never forgot about where he came from," said Alex Rodriguez-Roig, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade. "He's so well-liked that everybody wants to go out and support him and be part of this great event."

It's already made an impact on 14-year-old Santino Lizarazo. He and 15 other kids from the South Beach club took up a lane, trading spares and strikes.

"That's pretty cool because you're at the same level as him when he was younger, so you could be like him," said Lizarazo, who has been with the club for four years. "For him to give back to the community -- we watch his games -- is really cool." 

Jay, who came up with the bowling idea, thought it would be a nice change from the usual charity golf tournaments. 

Bowling encourages everyone, particularly families, to be social. And while helping a good cause. 

"It's the goal for everyone to see we're role models," Jay said. "We want to keep it growing and moving and something that's a long term. It's not just for when I'm playing. It's something I want to do for the rest of my life."

Bookmark and Share