Check Out Jimmy Graham's Hurdle From TNF

Bookmark and Share

Physical play inspired Jimmy Graham vs. Panthers

Drew Brees was picked off on the New Orleans Saints' first drive of a 28-10 declawing of the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. As the ball took flight, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis walloped tight end Jimmy Graham right under the chin.

“That block came before the ball was even tipped, you know?" said Graham, who didn't miss a snap after the hit, per the Charlotte Observer. "That wasn't a block, that was a hit and it seemed like that was intentional."

The physical play from the Panthers fired up the behemoth, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury.

"Early in the game they were trying to come after me," Graham said. "Even in my routes, I was just getting hit -- literally getting hit. So, I've got to protect myself better. It definitely got me going and sparked a fire underneath me."

The play certainly provoked Graham, who on the next drive decided to hurdle over safety Roman Harper on 19-yard gain. The tight end finished with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. His return from injury has helped re-open a somewhat listless Saints offense.

“I just need to play more emotional," Graham said. "I think early I wasn't playing emotional enough -- at least for me. ... And when I do that, I think it adds something not only to my game, but it helps spur our offense."

After scoring his late first-half touchdown Graham decided to display that emotion with a Gus Frerotte-esque celebration.

"That's just me probably letting out a little frustration," Graham said, explaining why he head-butted the bench after the score. "We've been tested in so many ways this year and there have been a lot of people that have written us off. That was more of, just getting out some frustration that's been on me for quite awhile now."

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne gets day of rest on Thursday

Speaking after Thursday's practice, Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Reggie Wayne (elbow) could have suited up, but was given a day of rest.

It sounds like the Colts tentatively expect Wayne back for Monday's game against the Giants, but what he's able to do on Friday will be key. Wayne will slot in as a mid-range WR3 if he can return after missing Week 8. His status will be updated some time in the next 24 hours.

Bookmark and Share

Calais Campbell hopes Super payback is in the cards

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It never hurts to have some potential postseason karma in your back pocket in the NFL, and Calais Campbell is well aware there’s only one way he and Julius Thomas -- the Denver tight end who illegally chop blocked him, injuring his right knee and costing him two-plus games -- can meet again this season.  

That would be in Super Bowl 49, and this time, unlike in Week 5, the Broncos would be coming to the Cardinals’ house, University of Phoenix Stadium, where Arizona has started 4-0 this season, going 10-2 there since the start of 2013. Payback can be, well, you know. Even if revenge isn’t your driving motivation. 

“I really hope that I do get to see him again this year,’’ said Campbell on Monday, smiling broadly at the thought of a Super Bowl Sunday matchup of Denver and Arizona, the NFL’s last two remaining one-loss teams. “My mind wonders what that would be like, but that’s what keeps you motivated, the dream, the vision of where you want to go.  

“We’ve got a lot left to do to get there, and it’s so hard. But I think if we can make it to that game, and play the Super Bowl in our stadium, we’d have a huge homefield advantage. It’s just the luck of the draw and I know the other team would probably be a little bit disappointed and upset about it, but what can you do?  Everybody knew the game was going to be played here before the season started, and if we happen to get there, it just makes it a wonderful story.’’   

That story, of course, would have far more heft to it than a rematch between Campbell and Thomas, but for the Cardinals’ star defensive end and team captain, losing that game at Denver earlier this month still stings. And not just because the Broncos are still the only team to beat Arizona this season. Denver won 41-20 that day, but it was only up 24-20 entering the fourth quarter, and Campbell was having his best game of the season, with an interception of Peyton Manning, when he suffered a sprained MCL in the third quarter. On the play, Thomas dove at Campbell’s knee, hitting him low while Campbell was preparing for tackle Ryan Clady to engage him high in pass blocking. 

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians seethed after the game, calling it the “dirtiest play’’ he had seen in his 37 years of coaching, and suggested Thomas be suspended for however long Campbell was out of the Arizona lineup. The Broncos were penalized for a chop block on the play, but the NFL wound up slapping Thomas with the minimum $8,268 fine, and moving on. Eventually Campbell and Arians did the same, but only after Campbell returned to the lineup last Sunday in the Cardinals’ dramatic 24-20 victory over visiting Philadelphia, the game that eventually made Arizona the last 6-1 NFC team standing.   

“Now that he’s back, yeah, I’ve let it go,’’ Arians told me Monday afternoon at the Cardinals’ team complex. “But guys get fined twice as much in this league for wearing Beats headphones as [Thomas] did for that block. That part of it I don’t let go of. Calais is one of the top five ends in the league, and that’s why it hurt so much to lose him. The fact we had three team captains [Campbell, quarterback Carson Palmer and punter Dave Zastudil] in street clothes here for about three weeks was disheartening.’’  

That the block cost Campbell just two-plus games helped in the process of putting it behind him, he said. An apologetic Thomas later reached out to Campbell via text, and the two exchanged their views of the play. That page turned, it was then time to get back to the work of rehabbing and what might be a very special season unfolding in the desert.   

“It’s something that can’t benefit me going forward, so I’m going to let it go,’’ Campbell said. “No matter what I think about the block, or don’t think about it, it ain’t going to change. It’s over and done with. It definitely wasn’t easy to get over, it took me a little while. Because it sucked being off the field. Who knows how the Denver game would have been if I’d played the whole game? Not to say I’m the reason we’re winning games, but I think in that game I was just getting into the zone when I got hurt.’’   

Campbell said he got to speak his piece to Thomas, letting him know that he saw the block as needlessly dangerous and in violation of the unspoken personal code NFL players should live by, even as opponents.

“He texted me and said what he had to say, and I told him what I needed to tell him,’’ Campbell said. “I gave him my little spiel and how he could become a better player and that was it. Because the NFL’s a fraternity, and we all understand how hard we work to play this game, and get better at our craft. I was polite about it, but that’s who I am. It was cool, but I think people will definitely think twice before doing the chop block now.’’ 

Though painful, Campbell’s two-game absence was just another brick in the wall in Arizona this season, where the well-chronicled wave of defensive injuries and defections has been almost ceaseless. It started with this spring’s loss of linebackers Karlos Dansby in free agency and Daryl Washington via a year-long NFL suspension, and continued when valuable defensive end Darnell Dockett was lost for the year with a late-preseason ACL tear, and outside linebacker and 2013 team sack leader John Abraham (11.5) was placed on injured reserve after Week 1 with concussion issues.   

All those subtractions left Campbell, a seventh-year veteran drafted in 2008’s second round out of the University of Miami, as the senior-most member of the team’s defensive roster, at least with Dockett lost for the season. At 28, it was finally Campbell’s turn to become the face of Arizona’s defense, and his team leadership has never meant more to what Arians and Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles are constructing in Phoenix.    

“I’ve always been a leader on every team I’ve played on, from little league football until now, but I think I’ve been waiting for my moment here, and I feel like now is the time,’’ said Campbell, who recorded nine sacks last season and has one sack and one interception in four-plus games this year. “Who I am as a person is beneficial for the team and what it needs at this point. I’m not trying to do anything more than what I am, just being me. I’ve always spoken my mind, always encouraged my teammates, and always played as hard as I could so I could lead by example. But I think now just more people are listening to me.’’ 

It is remarkable what Arians and his NFC-best 6-1 Cardinals have accomplished in the face of this season’s talent drain, but Campbell might be the one player the blunt-talking, Kangol-wearing coach considers close to indispensable.  

“He’s one of the best and he can play any defense,’’ Arians said. “He can play 4-3 end or tackle, he can play 3-4, he can rush the passer, and he’s a disruptive guy. I think he’s gotten a little overlooked partly because of his personality; he’s not about himself. Not that Darnell [Dockett] is, but Darnell’s brash and he talks and he’s always had that rep. So Calais was just always behind Dock in that sense.’’   

The irony is, while Campbell’s contributions can’t be duplicated, this resilient and resourceful Cardinals team is in no way built around the talents of any one special player, the way Arizona clearly was in its Kurt Warner glory days of 2008-09, when coach Ken Whisenhunt’s club went to the playoffs two years in a row and came agonizingly close to this long-tortured franchise’s first Super Bowl title. That club’s window was open as long as Warner remained, and when he retired after that 2009 season, there went the Cardinals’ playoff chances -- at least until Arians arrived in 2013 and put a stunning 10-6 record on the board, just missing the playoffs in his debut season in the desert.  

What Arians and second-year Cardinals general manager Steve Keim have quickly built in their first season and a half together feels solid. It feels like a winning program, not just a good one- or two-year run and done. And Campbell, who played on Arizona’s Super Bowl team of 2008 as a rookie, can tell the drastic difference. When Palmer’s injured throwing shoulder kept him out for three games from Weeks 2-4, the Cardinals started the little-used Drew Stanton and went 2-1 with him under center, losing only at Denver.    

“I don’t think in 2008 if our quarterback got hurt for three games we’re still winning without him,’’ Campbell said. “This year, to see Carson go down and see Drew step up and us continue to play the same way, I think that’s really a testament to our team. It’s really built well, and we have every single piece of the puzzle to be successful.’’ 

Or as Arians put it: “When Drew got his opportunity and showed what he could do, winning those two games, it showed us what we have here. It’s a football team. We’re going to always have a defense first and foremost, and we’re going to play good special teams, and then on offense we’ll scratch out points.’’   

The Cardinals have scratched out enough of them that, spanning the past two regular seasons, they are 13-3 over the course of their past 16 games, tied with Denver for the best record in the league. Arizona is off to the franchise’s best start in 40 years, since the 1974 St. Louis Cardinals opened 7-0, and as midseason approaches, these Cardinals own a two-game lead (the league’s largest) over both Seattle and San Francisco (4-3) in the NFC West, considered the NFL’s toughest division. Arians’ team beat one of the NFC’s best last week with the win at home against Philadelphia (5-2), and now hits the road for Dallas (6-2) this week to take on another contender for the NFC No. 1 seed the Cardinals currently control.   

“I’ll tell you, this is definitely the best team I’ve been on, my whole life,’’ Campbell said. “I’ve never been on a team that’s won 13 out of 16 games. I could get used to that. Even being here my first couple years, we were up and down all the time. We got blown out in so many games, and then came back and went to the Super Bowl.   

“But this is the first time I’ve been on a team where it’s a complete team. And we still haven’t played our best football yet either. We can’t go crowning ourselves Super Bowl champions because we haven’t done enough yet, but we know the potential for that can be there as long as we keep putting the work in each day. This team, we know we can be good for a long time to come.’’   

Another three months or so would suffice for now. Super Bowl Sunday in Arizona -- no matter who the opponent may be -- is just 94 days away. If it’s Campbell and the Cardinals with their shot at payback against Denver and Thomas, all the better. Campbell has this much right: The rematch would make for a story to remember.

Bookmark and Share

John Salmons aiming to bounce back after struggling in opener

After Tuesday night’s opening win against Orlando, Pelicans small forward John Salmons stood off in the corner near his stall in the locker room at the Smoothie King Center and looked subdued instead of celebratory.

On the other side of the room, backup guard Jimmer Fredette had the same look. He showered and dressed quickly after the Pelicans’ impressive 101-84 victory.

Neither felt like celebrating, although power forward Anthony Davis and center Omer Asik combined for 40 points, 34 rebounds and 14 blocks in their first regular-season game paired together.

Salmons and Fredette, who were both signed this summer as free agents, didn’t make much of an impact to spark the bench, though.

In just more than nine minutes, Salmons went scoreless but had three fouls. Fredette missed all six shots attempts and scored two points.

Besides backup forward Ryan Anderson’s 22 points, the Pelicans’ entire bench was pretty much a no-show.

They combined on 3-of-13 shooting for 11 points. Yet, Salmons and Fredette are both aiming to be more reliable this Saturday when the Pelicans play the Dallas Mavericks, a team Coach Monty Williams said is one of the deepest in the league.

''It’s always tough when you don’t shoot the ball well,'' Fredette said. ''But when you play long enough, it’s going to happen at some point. You never like it as a shooter. But the good thing about it is that I got good shots. Some of them just wasn’t failing. But I tried to impact the game in other ways. It was all about getting the win and move on to the next one.''

In the preseason, Fredette showed ability to make shots. He shot a team-high 50 percent from 3-point range despite playing sparingly in the final two games. But he was unable to display much against the Magic, going 0-of-3 from 3-point range.

Anderson made 3-of-6 3-pointers, but rest of the Pelicans’ reserves combined to miss all five attempts. Guard Austin Rivers also struggled to make an impact off the bench offensively. He scored seven points but missed five of seven shots from the field, 0-of-2 from 3-point range.

''There are things in that first game that we looked at on film today that we’ve got to get better at,’’ Williams said. ''Like I always say, if the second unit can maintain or increase whether it be scoring or getting stops, it helps you a ton.''

It still appears Salmons is tentative and unsure on what he exactly needs to concentrate his efforts around to make a bigger impact.

At 34-year-old, Salmons was signed to a one-year, $2 million this summer to emerge as a veteran leader. He also came in as a 36.6 percent shooter from 3-point range. But he mostly struggled in the preseason, making only 21.4 percent of his shots from the field.

Salmons was a rookie during the 2002-03 season and a teammate of Williams when they played for the Philadelphia 76ers. But it has taken Salmons time to figure out Williams' system and he doesn't appear fully comfortable yet.

''We all continue to grow as a team and figure out how to play with each other,’’ Salmons said. ''We’re going to figure it out as we go. It was the first game of the season and we’re still jelling as a team. My role is to help the team win, that’s what I’m trying to do.''

Williams still believes Salmons will make an impact this season. He likes his versatility to play either small forward or shooting guard and leadership capabilities.

''He makes a lot of plays that may not show up on a stat sheet,''Williams said.''It sounds like a cliché, but he’s a bit of a head out there for us with that second group with Austin, Jimmer and Luke (Babbitt). John kind of calms them down a little bit.''

Despite heading into the second game, Williams is not set on his bench rotation. Although he paired Fredette and Rivers together in the backcourt against the Magic, it could change from game to game based on matchups, Williams said after Thursday's practice.

Regardless, the Pelicans is going to need more than just their starters to knock off the Mavericks, who emerged last season as the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.  

The Mavericks have plenty of scoring capability with their backups. Against the Spurs, guard Devin Harris came off the bench and scored 17 points and had five assists.

''Austin has the capability of guarding both point guards and shooting guards, Jimmer probably not so much,’’ Williams said. ''I think matchups and how guys are playing will dictate that. Also, we can go with John and Luke with Austin. It gives you the ability to switch more.''

Bookmark and Share

Peter O'Brien sharpens catching skills in Fall League

PHOENIX -- When Peter O'Brien was 14 years old, he was 5-feet-4 and 125 pounds. It only seems that he swings a bat about that size these days.

O'Brien has been one of the most productive hitters in the game since a late-high-school growth spurt, and the Diamondbacks acquired him last summer with the belief it will continue.

O'Brien, who's position of choice is catcher, is catching up on at-bats with the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League after missing the final month of the summer season with a left shin injury. The injury came just four games after he was acquired from the New York Yankees for Martin Prado and one game after his first home run at Double-A Mobile, his 34th homer of the season. 

 "I see a good hitter who is going to make an impact, a good splash at the big league level," said Jacob Cruz, D-backs minor league coach who is on the Rafters' staff. "Personally, I see a 30-plus home run guy at the big league level.

 "There is something special about the way the ball comes off his bat."

 Reggie Jackson is on board. While with Trenton this summer, O'Brien hit a home run that not only cleared the 407-foot sign in center field but also went over the batter's eye and the flagpole. Had Arm & Hammer Park been oriented differently, the ball might have landed in the Delaware River. When O'Brien returned to the dugout, Jackson was there to greet him.

 "He shook my hand and said, 'That's the best ball I've ever seen hit in the minor leagues.' That was pretty cool," said O'Brien, who now checks in at 6-3 and 215.

 O'Brien had 10 homers in 30 games at Class A Tampa this season before being promoted to Trenton, where he hit 23 more homers in 72 games. He slashed .271/.316/.594 and finished with 23 doubles and 74 RBI. O'Brien averaged a home run every 11.7 at-bats this season, third in the minors behind slugging third base prospects Joey Gallo (42 homers, 10.4 ratio) and Kris Bryant (43 homers, 11.4).

He has three home runs and seven RBI in 16 games for Salt River and has been invited to play in Saturday's Rising Stars game. He also has drawn a league-high 14 walks, a point of emphasis as he attempts to become more selective at the plate. O'Brien has not walked more than 22 times in his two full minor league seasons. 

 With catchers Miguel Montero and Tuffy Gosewisch set to return for the Dbacks, it would be a stretch to see O'Brien open the 2015 season in the big leagues, even with his offensive resume.

 While production has been a constant, the other side of the ball remains a work in progress. O'Brien did not begin catching until his last year in high school at Miami Braddock High and played behind the plate regularly only in his three seasons at Bethune-Cookman University and a final year at Miami (Fla.). O'Brien played first base, third base and right field on his way up the Yankees' chain, in part because the Yankees' were brimming with catching prospects.

 The D-backs have told O'Brien that they consider him solely a catcher, although he has played some first base in the Fall League. O'Brien has spent extra time on his defense this fall, working on blocking, receiving and transferring the ball from glove to hand to facilitate his throwing to the bases. The lessons seem to be taking. O'Brien threw out three base runners attempting to steal Oct. 24, when Archie Bradley threw four scoreless innings in his best outing of the Fall League season.

 "I think I can receive and block with the best of them. The biggest thing has been throwing, and that's what I've been working on the hardest," O'Brien said. "I think it is more of a transfer thing. Trying to find out where it is more comfortable for me and make sure I get the ball out clean so I can let my arm work. I think the feet are there. Even though you work on everything, the most important thing is just finding that consistency of getting the ball into my hand."

 Scouts have not been kind in evaluating O'Brien's defense, and one said, "You like him for his bat."

O'Brien said he pays the criticism no mind.

 "I've never been one to take to heart or look too much into what other people say," he said. "I don't really follow up on that stuff. I know what I can do. I know what I can do well. I know what I have to do to get there. Along with the help of coaches and teammates, if I put in the work ethic, I know I'll be there."

 O'Brien has pushed forward before. Because he did not fill out until his junior year in high school, he was not highly recruited. He signed with Bethune-Cookman two weeks before the start of his freshman year, after its coaches saw him in a showcase late in the summer 2008. 

 "I worked out every single day in a gym, ate my parents out of house and home and got to about 6-2, 180 that year," O'Brien said of his growth spurt in high school.

 "That's probably when everything kind of clicked together. That's when I told myself this is really what I want to do for the rest of my life. I was going to bust my tail to get there. It was huge for me. A lot of motivation. Kind of seeing everything work together and start clicking was nice."

 O'Brien admitted the July 31 trade to the D-backs caught him off guard, but he embraces the opportunity.

 "I was a little bit shocked at first. There were rumors I was going to get traded, but you never believe it is going to happen until it happens," O'Brien said. 

 "After everything hit me and settled in, it was really exciting to have someone make a move like that for you and want you to be their guy. I am ready to work."

Bookmark and Share

Rams promote guard Brandon Washington to 53-man roster

The Rams promoted offensive guard Brandon Washington from the practice squad on Wednesday filling the final opening on their 53-man roster. Washington 6-2, 318, takes the roster spot created by placing wide receiver Brian Quick on the injured reserve list with a season-ending shoulder injury.

Washington, 26, entered the league as a sixth-round draft choice by Philadelphia in 2012 out of the University of Miami (Fla.). He spent the entire 2012 season on the Rams' practice squad. Last season, he spent 10 games on the Rams' 53-man roster in two stints sandwiched around a six-week stay on the practice squad.

Washington finally got to play his first NFL game in the 2013 season finale at Seattle, playing 17 snaps at guard.

The team also added TE Justice Cunningham, WR Emory Blake, and OG Travis Bond to their practice squad, and confirmed the signing of OT Steven Baker to the practice squad. They still have one spot open on the practice squad, and it's anticipated that that spot will go to QB Case Keenum if he clears waivers later this afternoon.

Cunningham and Bond were with the team in training camp but didn't survive the final cut. Cunningham was waived injured with a high ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason finale. Blake was released from the practice squad Oct. 20, after showing up late for a team meeting.

Bookmark and Share

Jaguars WR Coach Please With Allen Hurns

Jaguars receivers coach Jerry Sullivan has over 40 years of coaching experience. When he speaks, it’s worth the time.

Sullivan met with reporters Wednesday and offered the following nuggets.

On Hurns:

“I thought Allen Hurns had three really outstanding plays in the game. He made a 10-yard gain on a third down out of a 2-yard pass. He did a great job against a tough coverage. We had third-and-14 and he made a 17-yard gain. He did some good stuff. He was everybody’s favorite guy early in the year and he kind of faded away and went a little bit unnoticed, but I thought he did really well the other day.”
Hurns had three catches for 49 yards against the Dolphins.

Bookmark and Share

Mike James came through on fourth-and-1 call

It was only 1 yard, but Bucs running back Mike James hadn't had a carry in more than a month, and the result -- converting a fourth-and-1 to set up a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Vikings -- was exactly what James wanted.

"It felt good to come through for my team," said James, who had been limited to special teams work since the third game of the season. "I appreciated them calling my number and the best thing you can be is accountable. I got in and got what we needed."

The Bucs had fullback Jorvorskie Lane out, serving a two-game suspension, so there wasn't a traditional short-yardage option on fourth-and-1 at the Vikings' 8-yard line. He said his role in a short-yardage package hadn't been discussed in practice, but he liked the call.

"It was one of those things where Coach is like 'Go ahead and get in,' and I said 'All right,'" James said. "I enjoy those moments."

James' only carries this season have come when starter Doug Martin is out with injury -- when he missed two games last month, James had 10 carries for 11 yards. James stepped up last year when Martin was lost for the season, rushing for 158 yards and throwing a TD in the Bucs' game at Seattle, but he was lost for the season in the next game against the Dolphins when he suffered a fractured ankle.

His position as the No. 3 running back is in jeopardy as rookie Charles Sims is eligible to return this week after missing two months with an ankle injury, but Martin's current ankle injury could give James another shot to show what he can do.

The Bucs also used 6-foot-5, 283-pound tight end Luke Stocker on a few downs as fullback, and he said he relished his cameo at a position he had played here and there since high school.

"It was a good opportunity for me to go out and get some playing time, to show the coaches another skill set," said Stocker, who logged 18 offensive snaps after totaling 12 in the previous three games. "I felt very comfortable playing fullback. I've played it sparingly, but it's nothing I'm unfamiliar with. Just more opportunities now."

When the Bucs had a fourth-and-1 from their own 43 on the opening drive, they opted for an empty backfield, lining up with three receivers and two tight ends and getting 2 yards for the conversion when quarterback Mike Glennon kept it and follow center Evan Dietrich-Smith and right guard Patrick Omameh to keep the drive alive.

Bookmark and Share

Dirk Koetter explains Devin Hester's low snap count

Atlanta Falcons receiver/return specialist Devin Hester played a season-low 11 offensive snaps in this past Sunday's 22-21 loss to the Lions, and most would assume it had everything to do with Harry Douglas returning the lineup from a foot injury.

But Hester and Douglas were on the field together for the first three games of the season, and Hester averaged 20.6 snaps in those games. Hester played 52 percent of the snaps or better in the four games Douglas was sidelined.

When asked about his decreased playing time against the Lions, Hester was far from upset but couldn't provide an answer.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who used a four-receiver set with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Douglas and Hester during the first series against the Lions, explained Hester's playing time.

"We had a four-receiver package," Koetter said. "We made a decision, as the week went on based on Detroit's success they had with their front four -- I think they were top two or three in the league in sacks -- and with two new starters on the O-line, that we better batten down the edges a little bit. And going four wide receivers might not be in our best interest, even though having Harry back and Devin, getting those guys back at full speed, that's something we can definitely use. But that might not have been the best front to do against.

"Plus, although it was supposed to be a 'home' game, the crowd noise was an issue. There was a lot of noise in that stadium so, once again, that's another thing. When you're having to use a silent cadence in the shotgun, your tackles are looking in at the ball, not looking at the defensive end. So that's another reason you really don't want to shorten those edges down."

Koetter went with the four-wide look on the Falcons' first third down of the game. Jones ran a crossing route, Hester a go, Douglas a comeback and White a dig. The end result was Matt Ryan hitting White for a 24-yard gain on third-and-8 from the Falcons' 22-yard line. Three plays later, the Falcons again used their four-wide set, with Ryan finding White for a 12-yard gain on first-and-10. The drive ended with Ryan's 7-yard touchdown pass to rookie Devonta Freeman.

Maybe Hester and the four-receiver set will see more action in the next game at Tampa Bay. Hester's best all-around game this season was in Week 3 against the Buccaneers.

Bookmark and Share

Jon Beason vows to remain a leader in locker room

But it just wasn’t possible for the Giants’ starting middle linebacker, who must undergo season-ending toe surgery.

“That’s just the mentality of a football player, more so a linebacker. It’s a blue-collar position, and I did everything I could,” Beason said Tuesday on WFAN before having the surgery. “Obviously, I want to be out there. I want to be contributing. I want to make things right. Right now things aren’t going well. You’ve got to listen to the doctors. Ultimately, it comes down to a decision based on playing football again. So you have the surgery and you go through the rehab and you come back and you do it again next year.”

In the meantime, the eight-year veteran wants to remain a presence on the team in meetings and practices, echoing coach Tom Coughlin’s sentiments from Monday when the news broke. 

“I think that actually helps you heal faster. Still being around it, it keeps you motivated,” said Beason, who added that he loves the preparation for a game. “It keeps you engaged, and obviously I want to be with my teammates.’’

But before that comes the devastation of having a season cut short.

Unfortunately for Beason, it’s not the first time dealing with this process. He hasn’t made it through a full 16-game schedule since 2010 with the Carolina Panthers, playing just 24 games in four seasons since then.

“You take 24 hours, maybe 48 hours, to kind of sulk,” Beason said. “And you’re upset and you’re emotional about it because the end result is so far out. Now you’re talking September 2015. But as soon as you get past that, you know that there’s progress in getting it fixed, knowing that you’re going to be healthy again.

“Attack the rehab, and then you know that if you’re healthy, you’re one of the best, and that’s how I feel. I really feel like if I’m healthy, I feel like I’m the best in the league, and that’s the goal. And that’s what’s going to happen as we go through this rehab process. So it’s sad, but at the same time, you know that you’re moving forward.”

The Giants will have to move forward as well.

And the man they will turn to is Jameel McClain, the key offseason acquisition who has already played in the middle for Beason as his foot and toe troubles lingered since summer.

Beason said he felt good with McClain in there and doesn’t expect a drop-off.

“Well, when we picked him up, right away I was excited about him,” Beason said about the former Baltimore Raven. “He’s definitely a voice, a guy who’s played the MIKE linebacker position. So seeing him throughout the preseason, and obviously I wasn’t a part of the three-game win streak, which he was playing MIKE exclusively. And he’s played SAM. He’s played WILL. He’s a veteran guy. He’s a Philly dude. He’s tough. He’s going to help us.”

Bookmark and Share

Cary Williams says 'Andre Johnson is best wide receiver I've ever faced'

PHILADELPHIA — After allowing Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to account for 160 yards and a touchdown Sunday, things won't get any easier for the Eagles secondary this week against wide receiver Andre Johnson and the Houston Texans.

Eagles cornerback Cary Williams Wednesday called Johnson the best receiver he's faced in his six-year career.

"He can do it all," Williams said. "He has great body control. In my opinion I thought he was the best guy I faced ever. Just because of his ability to catch the ball, run routes, the ability to separate after catching the ball.

"In the run front, whether it's a run or a pass play he gives the same effort. He's not a guy that tails off in the run game. He plays for four quarters. He does it quietly. He's not a guy that's going to talk trash. He'll just get his 100-yards at times and just be quiet as heck."

Johnson, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, has seen his production diminish this season. Through eight games the 12-year veteran has caught 46 passes for 551 yards and one touchdown.

Still, Williams says he doesn't expect this matchup against Johnson to be any different from the previous three meetings between the two while he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

"I think he still can [compete at an elite level]," Williams said. "I don't really know what's going on in Houston. The last couple years they seem to be going through some issues with the team or the organization, I'm not real sure. I still think [Johnson] is an elite talent. Just like I said Larry [Fitzgerald] was, and he went out and proved it with what he did last week."

In the three games that Johnson faced Williams, Johnson for the most part had the upper-hand hauling in 27 receptions for 237 yards and two touchdowns.

After a late coverage breakdown cost the Eagles Sunday in a 24-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Williams may need to come up big against Johnson to avoid a second consecutive loss.

Bookmark and Share

Greg Olsen deserves your trust in Fantasy

Panthers coach Ron Rivera mentioned Monday that the reason tight end Greg Olsen had only one catch for 16 yards in Week 8 is because the Seahawks rotated their coverage toward him, particularly in the red zone. You can understand why they'd do that after Olsen averaged 70.4 yards with four touchdowns in his first four games.

Unfortunately, since the Seahawks limited the Panthers to just nine points in that game, they've invited other teams to emulate them, and while the Saints, Olsen's Week 9 opponent, certainly aren't the Seahawks defensively, they've done good job of containing tight ends this season, giving up the second-fewest Fantasy points per game to them. And that's even though they rank 31st against the pass.

But just because you can make a reasonable case to sit one this year's most productive and reliable tight ends doesn't mean you should follow through with it. Week 8 was just the second time in eight games that Olsen's production didn't justify a starting spot -- a terrific ratio for any player, regardless of position -- and the Saints haven't really faced a team with a top-flight tight end until now.

If quarterback Cam Newton has big numbers in this game -- and the data suggest he should -- Olsen will, too. Keep him active.

Bookmark and Share

Shane Larkin wishes he could forget first career start

It wasn’t the best of circumstances to make his NBA starting debut, but Shane Larkin swears it wasn’t a big deal.

Barely two hours before the start of the Knicks-Bulls game, Larkin received a startling bit of news.

Larkin was announced as the starter around 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, after Jose Calderon experienced discomfort in his calf during a pregame workout, forcing coach Derek Fisher to shut him down for the season opener.

Calderon, the point guard entrusted with running the Knicks’ cherished triangle offense couldn’t go.

So the 5-11 Larkin started in his place, an extraordinary turn of events for a second-year guard making his first career start.

And in his first taste of the limelight, Larkin would be tasked with facing a revived Derrick Rose, hell-bent on showing the world he’s fully recovered from a pair of knee surgeries that robbed him of the past two seasons.

Afterward, Larkin described the experience as humbling and something he will never forget, but not in a good way.

He spoke of the lessons learned and the ways in which the Knicks malfunctioned on offense, allowing the Bulls to humiliate them in a 104-80 loss at the Garden.

Larkin had to deal with a livid crowd that rained down boos on the team with barely seven minutes left in the third quarter and the Knicks trailing, 65-49.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s a learning experience,” said Larkin, who finished with six points on 2-of-6 shooting, three assists and one steal with no turnovers while Rose had just 13 points and five assists. “And we’re going to take what we did tonight and if we see it tomorrow night we’re going to get better and better until we’re good.”

It won’t get easier on Thursday for the Knicks as they travel to Cleveland to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers. If Calderon’s calf doesn’t cooperate, Larkin could be pushed into the starting lineup again.

Larkin claims he wasn’t unsettled or caught off guard by the news of Calderon getting pulled.

“You prepare to be an everyday player in this league,” he said. “You prepare like you’re a starter, so it wasn’t anything I had to change in my mind. So I really didn’t do anything different. I mean, we thought Jose was going to start but something happened. He had a setback. I got put in there. It’s not a big deal.”

Larkin says the Knicks never faced a defense that pressured them like the Bulls did.

The swarming defense forced the Knicks players to start rushing the triangle offense, leading to bad shots and a lopsided score. It was another learning experience.

“I think they started pressuring up a little bit,” Larkin said. “We didn’t see a lot of pressure in the preseason, so it’s a learning experience for us. When teams get up and start pressuring us, we don’t have to speed up ourselves, and chase shots. Shots will come if we execute the offense. Tonight we didn’t execute well enough. We didn’t trust each other. We started going one-on-one.”

Bookmark and Share

proCanes NFL Rosters as of October 29, 2014

 photo NFLURosters102814_zps6cfb94c4.jpg

Bookmark and Share

Brandon Meriweather Sets Redskins Record

Gruden was asked about only the two cornerbacks, he threw in some appreciation for his strong safety as well.

“The guy who really didn’t get a lot of love was [Brandon] Meriweather,” he said. "He had probably his best game since I’ve been here. He had tackles. He had sacks. He had fumbles, fumble recoveries, forced fumble, he was all over the place so it was great to see him show up in a big way the way he did.”

Meriweather became the first Redskins defensive player to record two sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in one game. 

Meriweather finished with seven tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one quarterback hurry.

Bookmark and Share

Jimmy Graham insists he's ready for more work on short week

METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints' offensive roster will probably look much the same for Thursday night’s game at the Carolina Panthers as it did this past Sunday night.

Tight end Jimmy Graham continued to practice Tuesday on a limited basis with his shoulder injury, while running backs Pierre Thomas (shoulder/rib) and Khiry Robinson (forearm) remained sidelined.

Graham admitted that the short turnaround is “tough on an injury like” his. But he said he fully expects to keep playing through it after catching five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers two nights ago.

“You know, I’ve been playing. So I’ll do whatever I can to be as healthy as I can come Thursday,” Graham said. “I’m doing alright. I’ve been better. But nobody really cares about that. We’ll just keep going and do what I can to be as healthy as I can on Thursday.”

Graham acknowledged that “I guess I was more of a decoy than anything” in his first game back two weeks ago at Detroit, when he played 30 snaps but was only targeted twice, not catching a pass. Graham credited coach Sean Payton, though, for finding ways that he could continue to help the team as much as possible without missing any games since he first suffered the injury in Week 5.

“I told Drew [Brees] I want to be a part of something special. So Sunday, I felt like that was a special night for us, and I want to be a part of those things, I want to help us win,” Graham said. “So I know when I’m out there, even if I’m just running around with my head cut off, I know it helps Drew.”

Bookmark and Share

Allen Hurns among 11 best undrafted rookies

There are 15 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who went undrafted, two more than the number of busts in Canton of former No. 1 overall draft picks.
I love that stat. It shows how inexact the draft process is and the high-quality players that, for whatever reason, have fallen through the cracks.

I don't know if Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, will ever find his way to Canton, but I do know there were plenty of really good undrafted players who have already made an impact in the first half of their rookie seasons.

Currently, there are 74 undrafted rookies on active 53-man NFL rosters. The Indianapolis Colts have the most with six, followed by the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys with five each. Here are my top 11, ranked in alphabetical order:

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Hurns (Miami)
If you did the 2014 NFL Draft today, Hurns would probably be taken in the third or fourth round. He has good size (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), long arms and big hands. He's not terribly fast, but runs well after the catch and adjusts well to the ball. He is second on the Jaguars with 45 receptions for 354 yards, and leads the team in TD receptions with three. He'll play a long time in the league at a starter's level.

See the rest of the top undrafted free agents here.

Bookmark and Share

Smoke, Fire and Rabbits: How Travis Benjamin became one of the fastest players in the NFL

How did Travis Benjamin become one of the fastest and most dangerous deep threat wide receivers in the National Football League?

For that answer, let’s travel back to Belle Glade, Fla., a small town of 17,000 roughly an hour north of Miami. The year was 2002. Benjamin was a lanky 12-year-old and had impressed the older neighborhood kids who occasionally watched him play street football in their col-de-sac . The boys invited Benjamin to join them around a large farm, which happened to be on fire.

To the world, Belle Glade is known is one of the scarier places on the East Coast. According to a 1985 article from AEGIS, the city had the highest rate of AIDS per capita. And a 2003 FBI report cited the city as having the second highest violent crime rate in the country at 298 per 10,000 residents. Poverty is prevalent.
Belle Glade though is also home to Glades Central High School, which was won six state titles and has produced 11 players who have been drafted the past 20 years including four in the first round with Fred Taylor and Santonio Holmes being the most notable. Only seven high schools have had more players selected.

“Football is everything to my area,” said Benjamin.

To Floridians and to Benjamin, Belle Glade is known as “Muck City.” The town is tucked in the Southeastern corner of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County. Regular torrential downpours have overflowed the lake for hundreds of years causing mucky conditions, in turn, which are ideal for the crop sugarcane to grow. 

Sugarcane fields look like the corn fields many are accustomed to seeing and they can grow up to seven feet tall, but most of the plant is just stalk and leaves – not the important sugar part. So from May to November, farmers light the sugarcane on fire. The process eases the manual labor, and the sugarcane falls right off the plant.

Why are we giving you a South Florida agriculture lesson? Because this is exactly where Benjamin’s world class speed was born.

Rabbits make their home inside these sugarcane fields. The smoke from the fires send hundreds of rabbits fleeing from their home.

Benjamin had always enviously watched the rabbits as a boy. Now he was getting his first chance to chase them down. The rabbits ran right, and left, north and south. With a large wooden stick in his hand, Benjamin attempted to slow down the rabbits. Some residents would eat the rabbits as cuisine, which tasted like pork chops. Others would sell them for $4 to neighboring towns.

On his very first time, Benjamin caught 15 rabbits in a mere two hours. Everyone watched the 12-year-old with their jaws dropped in astonishment. The people of Belle Glade had never seen anyone, let alone a child, chase down rabbits like this.

“I really do think chasing rabbits helped me develop agility,” said Benjamin, who guessed he chased rabbits 50 times in his life and caught hundreds of them. “Sometimes when I watch my punt returns on film, it reminds me of being a kid with the rabbits.”

Coach Mike Pettine and the Cleveland Browns fan base are thrilled with the fact that Benjamin has only gotten faster since his rabbit chasing days. The third season of an NFL career is often coined “the make or break year” for burgeoning professional players. All Benjamin is doing is leading the Browns with three touchdown receptions – two of which came in the fourth quarter in the NFL’s biggest road rally victory of all-time against the Tennessee Titans. Without Benjamin the Browns don’t overcome the 25-point deficit, which was so impressive, representatives from the Pro Football Hall of Fame mounted Benjamin and quarterback Brian Hoyer’s jersey in Canton.

Even though Benjamin’s neighborhood still gushed about his speed, it wasn’t until later in his high school career at Glades Central that he realized football might one day became his day job. As a freshman, Benjamin only weighed 130 pounds and decided to not even play football, fearing injury. While his friends played on the freshman team, Benjamin trained and put on weight.

His sophomore year Benjamin was placed on the junior varsity team for two games and immediately bumped up to varsity, once coaches realized no cornerback could cover him. As a junior, Benjamin caught 23 passes for 494 yards and seven touchdowns – two of those touchdowns came in a state championship win over and current Redskins running back Alfred Morris, and were reminiscent of the scoring plays against the Titans. 

The University of Miami coaching staff showed up to Benjamin’s high school spring game, heading into his senior year. They offered the wide receiver a scholarship on the spot and the four-star recruit accepted without hesitation. Benjamin grew up watching the Hurricanes every Saturday and fell in love with “The U” on the side of Miami’s helmets.

“My main focus is once I set a goal for myself, I’m going to stick to it,” said Benjamin, who was beginning to wonder if Miami was going to offer him a scholarship. “So I just stuck to it until I got an offer.”

The problem? The Hurricanes had offered seven other receivers, all with higher accolades than Benjamin. It didn’t matter to him, though, and not the coaches either. Benjamin beat out all the players to become the only true freshman to get regular playing time. By the time his college career ended, Miami fans knew Benjamin for more than his dreadlocks. Benjamin finished his tenure with the Hurricanes as one of only six players in program history with more than 2,000 receiving yards.

But Miami wasn’t the perennial powerhouse they were when Benjamin loved them as a kid. The Hurricanes went 29-22 in Benjamin’s four seasons, playing in bowl games with the names Emerald and Champ Sports, as opposed to Orange or Rose. 

So that’s why when the Cleveland Browns drafted Benjamin in the fourth round in 2012, he wrote down his goal: help restore the glory years to the city of Cleveland. 

“It was kind of disappointing that Miami wasn’t a championship caliber team, but it was also a learning experience knowing that we had the pieces to win, but you have ups and downs as a player and as a staff and team,” said Benjamin. “It was a blessing to be a fourth rounder and coming to Cleveland. I could say it was just like Miami was. Coming into a downfall of a team that, who needs to rebuild. And needs help from guys to rebuild it. And we’re about to get it right.”

Benjamin said because of the trades and uncertainty, his first two years were marred by guys not giving it their all. That’s the exact opposite with Pettine at the helm.

“The whole team has bought in,” said Benjamin. “From the receivers to the linemen to the defense. Everybody is willing to make that sacrifice. And that’s why you see us becoming a real team.”

When Benjamin’s career is all said and done, he wants people to remember him for mainly things, but one sticks out above the rest: that defensive players and coaches feared his presence.

If he keeps playing the way he has in 2014, Benjamin may need to set an even loftier goal.

Bookmark and Share

Jon Beason to have season-ending surgery

Last week, Giants linebacker Jon Beason met with doctors to determine whether his season was over as a result of the toe injury that’s troubled him since the offseason.

The answer isn’t a good one for the Giants defense. As reported by multiple Giants beat reporters on Monday, Beason will have surgery to repair the injury and miss the rest of the season as he begins recovering from it.

It’s a blow to the Giants defense as they prepare to face the Colts offense in Week Nine with little room for more losses if they want to compete for a playoff spot this season. While they’ve lost all four games that Beason has played this season, the rest of their linebacking corps isn’t particularly impressive and they’re going to need all the help they can get if they’re going to embark on a major turnaround in the second half of the season.

It’s a big blow to Beason as well. It will leave him with just 25 games played since the start of the 2011 season, with 15 of them coming in the 2013 season. That will likely lead the Giants to consider other options in the middle of their defense come the offseason because it’s not easy to count on a player with a history of being injured more than he’s healthy.

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne ahead of schedule, could practice this week

Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Monday wide receiver Reggie Wayne is ahead of schedule and the hope is he will return to the practice field this week. Wayne missed Sunday's loss against the Steelers due to an elbow injury. The Colts are set to play the Giants in Week 9.

Bookmark and Share

Orlando Franklin misses Broncos practice due to illness

NFL teams welcome breaks to heal, recover and decompress. But the body doesn't always cooperate. The Broncos returned to practice Monday after a three-day layoff missing two starters, left guard Orlando Franklin and defensive tackle Derek Wolfe.

Both sat out with illnesses.

Franklin moved from tackle to left guard this season. Like the rest of the offensive line, he has turned in solid performances during the four-game winning streak as the Broncos re-established their running game behind Ronnie Hillman.

Bookmark and Share

Darryl Sharpton expected to miss first game after bye

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Monday linebacker Darryl Sharpton is week to week after suffering a hamstring injury Sunday against the Patriots. Emery added Sharpton will likely miss Chicago's next game in Week 10 against the Packers. The team is on a bye Week 9.

Bookmark and Share

Panthers' Rivera: Seattle rotated coverage toward Greg Olsen

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen by far had his worst performance of the season during Sunday's 13-9 loss against the Seahawks, totaling one catch for 16 yards. Though, coach Ron Rivera gave a lot of credit to the Seattle defense for limiting Olsen. He said Seattle rotated its defensive coverage toward Olsen, particularly in the red zone.

Olsen entered play Sunday averaging about six catches and 70.4 receiving yards per game. He also had five touchdowns in his first seven games.

Bookmark and Share

Santana Moss’ History Against The Dallas Cowboys

Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss has made a career out of picking apart opposing defenses, whether it be fighting for every inch on short-yardage situations or speeding past defensive backs on long touchdown plays.

But, while he’s done it to just about every team in the NFL since joining the Redskins shortly before the 2005 season, his performances against the Dallas Cowboys over the years have left him with a nickname Redskins fans just love –The Cowboy Killer.

And, of course, during that 2005 season, he stole a victory right out of the Cowboys’ possession with less than five minutes remaining during a Monday Night Football matchup in Dallas.

In 16 games against the Cowboys as a member of the Redskins, Moss has recorded 83 receptions for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns.

Bookmark and Share

Chase Ford sets career highs Week 8

Vikings tight end Chase Ford set career highs with six catches for 61 yards in the overtime win at Tampa Bay. The second-year pro caught each of his targets and ranked second on the team in receiving behind Cordarrelle Patterson.

Ford, who entered Week 8 with eight catches this season, plays the Redskins in Week 9.

Bookmark and Share

Andre Johnson now 13th on all-time yds list

Andre Johnson continued his march through the NFL record books on Sunday, and is now in 13th place for all-time receiving yards.

A fourth quarter catch for 10 yards pushed Johnson past Andre Reed, who finished his Hall of Fame career with 13,198 yards. Johnson began the day 42 yards shy of Reed.

He passed Steve Largent on the list Monday verus the Steelers.

Johnson also eclipsed the 500-yard mark for the season, and caught a pass in his 126 consecutive game.

Bookmark and Share

Brandon McGee Gets Placed on Season-Ending Injured Reserve Saturday

McGee (foot) was placed on injured reserve Saturday, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

"Doesn't look good" were the ominous words from coach Jeff Fisher after McGee aggravated his foot injury in Week 8, and as it turns out, the second-year corner will indeed be forced to miss the rest of the season. McGee notched four tackles (three solo) in his two games this year, giving him 18 (14 solo) for his NFL career.

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller registers 99 yards of total offense

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller had his scoring streak come to an end at three games on a comfortable Week 8 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday.

Miller ripped a 30-yard run late in the third quarter and fell just 3 yards shy of the end zone. On the ensuing play, Ryan Tannehill found Rishard Matthews for a touchdown. He rushed for 78 yards on 14 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt. He caught all three of his targets for 21 yards in a 27-13 victory.

Miller has 469 yards on the ground through seven games. He'll look to keep rolling in Week 9 at home against the Chargers.

Bookmark and Share

Allen Hurns held to 49 yards Week 8

Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns wasn't much of a factor in the passing game as his team fell to Miami 27-13 in Week 8.

Hurns came down with a pair of 20-yard receptions -- once in the second quarter and again in the third quarter. He was targeted four times and finished with three catches for 49 yards on the day. He has 354 receiving yards and three touchdowns through eight games.

The Jaguars will face the Bengals in Cincinnatti in Week 9.

Bookmark and Share

Greg Olsen Has Tough Week 8

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen did nothing Week 8 against the Seahawks.

Olsen caught one pass for 16 yards. He was targeted just three times during the contest. Carolina was content to run throughout most of the game, so Olsen had a play a minimal role. No Panthers receiver turned in an exceptional game, so it was an off week for everyone.

Olsen will look for more Week 9 against the Saints.

Bookmark and Share

Leonard Hankerson looks good, but is a 'long shot' for Monday

Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is getting close to returning to the lineup, but he remains a “long shot” to play Monday night in Dallas, Coach Jay Gruden said.

“We have not made that decision yet,” Gruden said, referring to Hankerson’s timeline. “We’ve got a logjam at wide receiver.”

Hankerson started the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list while he continued to rehabbed from major knee surgery. The 25-year-old returned to practice on Oct. 15, opening a three week window for the Redskins to decide whether to activate him, place him on season-ending injured reserve or release him.

Based on Gruden’s comments, the Redskins intend to eventually activate Hankerson and cut another player to make room for him on the 53-man roster. The only question is when.

The Redskins currently have six wide receivers on the roster—Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, Ryan Grant, Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson. Gruden has typically had five receivers dress on game day, leaving either Moss or Robinson as the odd man out. When Hankerson returns, someone will have to go.

“Everybody knows with Santana and Aldrick, we’ve kind of been flip flopping them, who’s active, who’s not active,” Gruden said. “Both of them are very good wideouts, and then you throw Leonard into the mix.”

He added: “At this time, we haven’t made a decision as far as getting him [active] for this week. [But] it’ll be a long shot this week.”

Gruden has said in the past that he wants to give Hankerson time to get comfortable in the offense. And, indeed, after sitting out the preseason and the first seven games, Hankerson needs some practice reps.

But he already has something no other receiver on the roster possesses: height. At 6-2, he’s two-inches taller than any other player at his position.

Bookmark and Share

Andre Johnson has seven catches in Week 8 win

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson tied a season-high with seven catches during a 30-16 win Week 8 at Tennessee. He finished with 55 receiving yards, was targeted a team-high 12 times and his longest catch went 13 yards.

Johnson still doesn't have a 100-yard game this season and has just one touchdown in eight games. The Texans are back in action Week 9 vs. Philadelphia.

Bookmark and Share

Darryl Sharpton Injured

Bears linebacker Darryl Sharpton has been ruled out Week 8 against the Patriots.

Sharpton is dealing with a hamstring injury. He had four tackles before leaving the contest. The Bears were already thin at linebacker prior to the injury.

Bookmark and Share

Schedule about to get tougher for Lamar Miller

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller continues to produce, as he put together yet another solid effort in Week 8 against the Jaguars.

Miller rushed the ball 14 times for 78 yards en route to a 9-Fantasy-point game, his sixth game with at least that many in seven tries. He has emerged as a solid option as the team's top back, and Fantasy owners who bought low on him as a post-hype sleeper are certainly reaping the rewards.

Unfortunately, things might get ugly for Miller in the second half of the season, with a slew of tough matchups on the way. Among Miami's final nine opponents, just two rank in the bottom half of the league in Fantasy points allowed to running backs, and they don't come up until Weeks 15 and 16.

Miller has proven he can be a solid option, so there is no reason to panic. However, the upcoming schedule is pretty unforgiving, so you may want to recalibrate expectations moving forward.

Bookmark and Share

Knicks May Not Pick Up Shane Larkin's Option

Just days after reports surfaced suggesting the New York Knicks were all but set to exercise their team option on guard Shane Larkin, it appears there may have been a change of heart.

A first-round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Larkin didn’t exactly wow during his rookie campaign which lead many to question why the Knicks would pick up his option.

However, due just $1.6 million dollars for the upcoming season perhaps the New York Knicks were thinking his relatively small salary wouldn’t play a major role in their effort to clear salary at season end. Now however that idea may have changed as Yahoo Sports is reporting the Knicks may prefer cap space to keeping the former Miami talent.

While Shane Larkin’s relatively small salary wouldn’t normally be a major impact, if the New York Knicks are to be buyers come free agency they’ll need to clear as much money off the books as possible. Add in that Larkin hasn’t exactly played all that well and it seems understandable as to why the Knicks may opt to let him walk.

It’s completely possible the team could attempt to re-sign Shane Larkin after the season though simply don’t want to have his $1.6 million dollar salary be the reason as to why they can’t bring in a key free agent (or more than one).

For now it appears Larkin’s future in the Big Apple is up in the air.

Bookmark and Share

Why It May Be Time for Pittsburgh Pirates to Cut Ties with Gaby Sanchez

There was a time when Gaby Sanchez was emerging as a reliable, everyday player at the major league level.  

In 2010, Sanchez broke onto the scene with a .273 batting average and 19 home runs in 151 games for the Miami Marlins, finishing fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year race.  

The following season, Sanchez played in all but three games, batting .266 with 19 homers and 78 RBI for his Marlins team.  

Then, suddenly, Sanchez was unable to get things going in 2012, and the Marlins traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates after he batted just .202 through 55 games played.

Still, both members and fans of Pittsburgh's organization were excited and eager to see if he could return to being the player he was over the two seasons prior.

For Sanchez and the Pirates, however, that wish never came to be true.  

In 50 games with the Pirates that season, Sanchez batted .241 with just four homers. Overall that season, he saw his home run total drop off by 12 compared to the season prior.  

Furthermore, Sanchez had just 299 at-bats in 2012, a major drop-off from his 572 at-bats in both 2010 and 2011.  

The major flaw in Sanchez's game is his inability to hit right-handed pitchers. Sanchez, who bats from the right side, has owned a career .238 batting average against right-handers.

Compare that to his .291 average against southpaws, and you can understand why he has not been given a full season's worth of at-bats.

To be fair to Sanchez, he has greater than twice as many at-bats in his career against right-handed pitchers. Still, his 609 at-bats against lefties is enough to show that he is a much better hitter against lefties.

After finishing this season with just 262 at-bats, it marked the third straight season that Sanchez has been unable to amass at least 300 in a single season.  
So, now that he will be arbitration-eligible this offseason and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, why don't the Pirates look to take some offers on the 31-year-old?

Other than providing as a backup first baseman who can come on to hit lefties, Sanchez really doesn't have much value to the production of the Pirates offense.  

With Josh Harrison emerging as a star in Pittsburgh after his incredible 2014 campaign in which he hit .315 in 520 at-bats and eventually became the starting third baseman, the Pirates could look to give Pedro Alvarez a lot more playing time at first base rather than third.  

lthough he was hurt for a large portion of the 2014 season, Alvarez is still one of the most important contributing factors in the Pirates lineup.

However, his fielding at third base has been below average, which is why the Pirates may elect to keep Harrison at third on a more consistent basis while giving Alvarez more starts at first base.  

Then there is Ike Davis, who is strictly a first baseman. The Pirates are hoping that Davis will return to his 2012 form when he hit 32 home runs for the New York Mets.  

The only reason that platooning Davis and Sanchez at first base worked out for the Pirates in 2014 was because of the fact that while Sanchez is better at hitting left-handers, Davis (who bats from the left side) is much better at hitting right-handers.  

Still, if the Pirates are serious about getting Davis back into form, he will need to play in the majority of games in the regular season, as he has been known to get off to a slow start in April.  

The fourth first baseman listed on the Pirates depth chart is the young Andrew Lambo, who has shown glimpses of fulfilling his great potential.  

Lambo was listed as the best power-hitting prospect in Pittsburgh's farm system by Baseball America entering the 2014 regular season.  

In just 39 at-bats for the Pirates in 2014, Lambo batted .256 with four doubles and one RBI. In 61 games with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians this season, though, he batted .328 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI. 

Lambo can play the corner outfield positions as well, but he is primarily a first baseman, and if he is going to become a difference-maker in Pittsburgh next season, he, too, will need many more at-bats.  

Heading into next season, it would make the most sense to start Harrison at third base while putting Alvarez at first. When Alvarez needs a day to rest, the Pirates could use either Davis or Lambo.  

So, where does that put a guy like Gaby Sanchez?  For a guy whose numbers have remained down for the past three seasons now, the designated hitter role would likely suit Sanchez best. 

With that being said, could the Pirates attempt to make a deal with an American League team that could use some extra pop in its lineup in exchange for some pitching, which the Pirates could always use?

That's a possibility, and it's certainly something the Pirates should consider before letting Sanchez walk in 2016 without getting anything in return.  

Bookmark and Share