Bucs RB Mike James Not Forgotten

Even a guy walking around with a white cane can see the Bucs have a loaded backfield. Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey, Jeff Demps.

Oh, yeah. And Mike James. Maybe you remember him?

The same guy who ran for 158 yards against eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle last season?

For a while, it seemed easy to forget James was on the team, as he missed a good chunk of last season with a broken ankle, having played in but five games.
Bucs coach Lovie Smith, since the combine, rarely uttered his name (never a good thing). James has also been hard to find at practice, often relegated to working with the third team. Those are a bad combination for a player’s future.

Today, Bucs coach Lovie Smith broke his silence about James, a native of Haines City, mainly because Lovie was directly asked about James.

“I saw from last year, [he is a] good football player,” Lovie said. “Good size. Of course, that injury [last season] kind of set him back a little bit. But he’s one of our running backs. We’ve made it known that we’re going to play more than one. You need a lot. In order for us to be a good running football team, we need to have more than one good player, and we feel like we have at least about four that we feel like if we went into a game with them, we could have a good running game.”

So is James one of the chosen ones? At best, he would be the No. 3 running back behind Martin and Sims. But James could also find himself down the totem pole below Rainey and Demps.

Time will tell, of course. It would behoove James to shine in preseason games if he plans on staying on the Bucs roster.

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Reggie Wayne: ‘Nothing has set me back’

Despite yet another run to the playoffs last season, you could tell that the Indianapolis Colts missed having veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne in the fold on offense. Missing last season with a knee injury that required surgery was a tough break for one of the best veteran players in the NFL, but he’s back in 2014 to help lead the Colts on another playoff charge.

And in even better news, he’s feeling great out there on the field again.

“Like I’ve been saying, so far, so good,” Wayne said following Thursday morning’s walkthrough at Anderson University. “I haven’t had any problems, nothing out of the norm.

“I haven’t had any pain. Nothing has set me back.”

So far in camp, Wayne has been looking like his old self once again as he was pulling off amazing catches on balls from quarterback Andrew Luck. Even head coach Chuck Pagano seems pleased with the way his star has looked thus far.

“That’s the way it looked to me,” Pagano offered last week after watching Wayne go through his first full-squad work since having his knee repaired. “When you go back, you watch it live and then you go back and watch it on film. It’s really incredible.

“But again, it probably doesn’t shock anybody here. It certainly doesn’t shock me. We all know his mindset, his work ethic and his determination, and how bad he wanted to get back.”

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Cornerback Brandon McGee stepping up his game

As a rookie last season, cornerback Brandon McGee played in 15 games. In the Rams’ secondary, he ranks fourth in NFL seniority behind third-year players Rodney McLeod (32 games), Janoris Jenkins (31 games) and Trumaine Johnson (28 games).

There are 16 corners and safeties on the Rams’ 90-man training camp roster. Of those, nine have yet to take a snap in an NFL game.

“It’s definitely unique, being part of such a young group,” said McGee, a 23-year-old from the University of Miami. “It keeps it fresh, it keeps it alive, and it keeps it fun. We’re competing day in and day out, and I think that’s something that will make all of us better in the long run. No one here is afraid of competition or shies away from it. We embrace it.”

A fifth-round draft pick in 2013, McGee was in on just 78 plays from scrimmage — roughly the equivalent of one game — and contributed seven tackles and three assists last season. But he became a core player on special teams, tying for third on the squad with six tackles.

“I would’ve liked to contribute more defensively, but when I got a chance, I felt like I played decent,” he said. “And I felt like I did pretty well in my special teams role. Special teams is such a big part of the game, especially at this level because one hit or one block can change a game.

“We take a lot of pride in what we did last year, and every one of us is looking for even more success on special teams this year.”

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound McGee has been getting some work with the starters, and he feels the team overall is getting better with each practice.

“As a rookie, there’s just a different learning curve,” he said. “Most of the time, you feel like you’re learning on the fly. But now, with a that first season under my belt, I’m definitely more comfortable. I have a better understanding of the defense and of the offensive routes; I know how to take care of my body better and to prepare for the day-to-day grind here.”

And like his teammates, McGee is excited about playing for new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

“Coach Williams, he brings a lot of tenacity and feistiness with his play-calling,” McGee said. “He’s a guy who’s going to challenge you to get better and to compete on every play.”

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Tommy Streeter keeps his head, turns others at the same time

TAMPA | Following a full 2½-hour practice Wednesday, Tampa Bay Bucs receiver Tommy Streeter went over to sign autographs for the fans like most players do. Unlike most players, who generally leave after five or 10 minutes, Streeter stayed and continued to sign. When he finished with one section, he would move down to another. It was 30 minutes later and he was one of a handful of Buc players still signing autographs.

It wasn't that the former University of Miami standout felt compelled to stay. He was enjoying himself.

"I take pride in things like that, interacting with the fans," Streeter said. You always have to count your blessings. You could be on the other side when they don't want your autographs. I cherish moments like this. It means a lot to me."

What also means a lot to Streeter is having a chance to make this team.

The 2012 sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, Streeter has been trying to stand out in what is a very tough competition during this Buccaneers training camp.

Three players are a virtual lock to make the squad — Vincent Jackson and rookies Mike Evans and Robert Herron. That would leave two, maybe three spots for nine receivers.

Streeter, who is tall (6-foot-5), lean (215) and can fly, is trying to stay in the moment and look at the heavy odds weighing against him.

"My mindset is basically to focus on myself," Streeter said. "It's easy to look around and hear coach say we're going to keep X-amount of receivers in the room and start counting: wondering, 'where do I fit in?' Those things are distractions. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable; trusting in the process and understanding there's going to be ups and downs but always work on your craft day in and day out. Those tough times and tough moments are what define you."

The 24-year-old Streeter has had tough times in his professional life.

First, he was drafted much lower than he anticipated. Afterward, he suffered a foot injury during training camp and was placed on injured reserve, missing the entire season.

He didn't make the squad in 2013 and was working out until being signed to the Bucs' practice squad for the last two weeks of the season.

"It was tough, but I have this mindset that nothing in life happens to you but happens for you," he said. "I look at things different. I take the positive away from everything. Look at everything I learned when I was hurt. Us as people, we have all the expectations and all these things we want to accomplish within ourselves but we have to trust in God's plan."

It must be rubbing off as he has been making plays in practice. Will it be enough? Time will tell.

"For receivers, if you're any good, you get a chance," coach Lovie Smith said. "Odds are, you're going to get balls thrown your way. He has made a few plays. We have seen definite improvement in him."

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LaRon Byrd Impressing In Camp

Check out LaRon Byrd Showing Off On The JUGS Machine: http://www.dallascowboys.com/multimedia/videos/LaRon-Byrd-Shows-Off-On-The-JUGS-Machine/aea7d4b0-f245-4eae-8906-ce9b1aa51544?campaign=social_20140731_28851766

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Allen Hurns Having To Step Up

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's not as bad as it was in June for the Jacksonville Jaguars receivers, but it's getting close.

Two more went down on Thursday -- Tandon Doss (severely sprained right ankle) and Allen Robinson (right hamstring tightness) -- which leaves the team with only eight healthy receivers. Only three have caught a pass in a game, and one of those has only appeared in two games.

That's not exactly the best environment in which to groom your future franchise quarterback, but it is an opportunity for some younger players to make their case for the final roster spots.

That's what happened during the team's nine organized team activities (OTAs) and three-day minicamp. At one point the Jaguars were without seven receivers because of various injuries, which forced the few remaining healthy bodies to increase their workload. Allen Hurns, Chad Bumphis and Kerry Taylor were the three who benefited the most.

Hurns, an undrafted rookie from Miami, wasn't getting many reps until the injuries started to pile up. The more work he got, the more he impressed the coaching staff, and he eventually earned a spot on the training camp roster.

Bumphis spent time on practice squads in Miami and Denver before signing with the Jaguars on Dec. 9. Like Hurns, he wasn't expected to get much work but found himself running with the first team because of the injuries.

Taylor, whom the Jaguars signed off Arizona's practice squad on Nov. 4, caught 19 passes and started four games. By the end of minicamp he was the team's top receiver. He has had a good start to this camp and likely will get most of the first-team reps, along with Mike Brown, because of the injuries.

"I guess if there's any positives in any of [the injuries], I guess maybe that [extra reps for young receivers] is it," said Brown, who is the most experienced healthy receiver (32 catches in 13 games). "But there's kind of a lot of camp left, a lot of opportunities to learn for all of us. We'll get better each and every day. We'll go out there and compete and whichever way the cards fall is the way we'll have to play it."

The Jaguars will most likely lean the most on Marqise Lee, who like Robinson was a second-round draft pick. The former USC standout has earned praise from quarterback Chad Henne for playing with the poise of a veteran when it comes to understanding routes and coverages.

"We just had a lot of help," Lee said. "Mike, Cecil [Shorts], Ace [Sanders], they were on our backs from the get-go as far as just helping us and make sure we know what we have to do as far as play-wise. That's basically what they're doing right now and that's why we're looking a little bit more comfortable than we were in OTAs because we're finally getting it a little bit, thanks to them."

As long as he can stay healthy, that is.

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Lamar Miller making strong case during camp for starting running back job

DAVIE, Fla. –  Miami running back Lamar Miller plans to maximize his speed and quickness in the new offense the Dolphins are implementing.

With veteran free agent Knowshon Moreno unable to participate in camp due to a knee injury, the starting job right now is Miller's to lose. The Dolphins conducted their sixth practice of training camp Thursday and so far Miller has made a strong case in the eyes of new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and head coach Joe Philbin.

"We're still primarily a zone-blocking team," Philbin explained. "That's still the starting point and so in the zone game if you incorporate the read aspect to it sometimes you're hoping to create a little crease and slow a little bit of the pursuit down on the backside and utilize Lamar's speed to hit that hole and go."

Miller, entering his third year in the league, led the team in rushing last season with 709 yards and two touchdowns on 177 carries. He also caught 26 passes for 170 yards, which is something that the Dolphins could do more of with the former Miami Hurricane.

The Philadelphia Eagles, where Lazor came from, had the league's leader in total yards from scrimmage last season in running back LeSean McCoy. He rushed for 1,607 yards and added 539 receiving yards for a combined 2,146 yards and Miller spoke with McCoy during the offseason to get some tips on what Lazor was bringing to Miami.

"I think Lazor is doing a great job with the offense, just opening the offense for me and the running backs to get into the open field to make big plays for this offense," Miller said. "One of my main goals was just to get bigger and stronger and I feel like this past offseason helped me out a lot.

"I want to become more of a well-rounded running back and you've got to have that mindset of just coming out here and getting better and competing."

Even though Lazor didn't coach Miller last season and only was able to watch film of him, he sees a similar skill set as McCoy and the potential of having a player capable of making some big plays.

"Lamar, I think, has a chance to be a really good player in this league because I think he has a good mix of, number one, being a space player, having the ability to use his speed," Lazor said. "In our short-yardage situations, I thought he got downhill. If he'll put those things together, I think he's got chance to be a real productive player."

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Phillip Buchanon moves from interceptions to comics

When a veteran comic book editor learned she would be working with a former NFL player, she looked forward to getting her first impression.

Phillip Buchanon, a 1999 Lehigh Senior High graduate who finished his 11-year NFL career in 2011, gave her a favorable one. He called Shawna Gore not long after he finished his final season on injured reserve with the Washington Redskins.

Buchanon, 33 and living in Miami, began to research the comic book industry in early 2012, hoping to get information and contacts he could use to start a second career. The Fort Myers native contacted Gore, who began connecting him with various comic book writers and artists. Some of them have worked for Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics, the three largest comic companies in the country.

Buchanon’s interest in producing comic books reached a peak last weekend when he and some of his collaborators convened for the 45th annual San Diego Comic-Con International, the best-known national convention of comic book aficionados.

There, Buchanon displayed and promoted his first three comics: The Supernals Experiment, The Aquatic Bourne and New Money. New Money will also be a novel to be self-published by Buchanon.

The three comics have rare, print editions. Otherwise, two of them, New Money and The Supernals Experiment, are now available for download for 99 cents each from Comixology.com. The Aquatic Bourne will be available in September.

The Supernals Experiment is a five-part, monthly series that will run through the end of the year.

“I’m working on a lot of different things,” Buchanon said. . “Don’t be surprised if this is just the first of many different things I’ll be doing. It’s crazy how I got started.”

The genesis of the comic storylines began in Fort Myers.

“When I was young, I didn’t go to the Bell Tower,” Buchanon said. “I went to the dollar theater right next to the Edison Mall. I was really into the movies. As I got older, I started to realize how much I enjoyed going to the movies. Then I would start thinking, ‘What if they did this, or what if they did that?’ ”

Buchanon took his movie ideas and transformed them into comics.

The plotline for New Money revolves around a professional boxer, an NFL player, a soccer star and a singer who each sign lucrative contracts and come into money after growing up in low-income environments.

The NFL player in the comic, a cornerback named Broderick McFadden, is loosely based on Buchanon.

“When I first got into the NFL, I had a lot of dollars, but I didn’t have a lot of sense,” said Buchanon, who as the No. 17 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft received a five-year, $12 million contract from the Oakland Raiders, which later traded him to the Houston Texans. Buchanon also has played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions and Redskins. He finished his career with 388 tackles and 20 interceptions, five of which he returned for touchdowns.
“I didn’t know how to manage the money,” Buchanon said of the earlier part of his career. “That’s where this book came from.”

N. Steve Harris, a former Marvel artist who co-created the DC comic character Aztek, drew the cover and artwork for New Money.

“It was interesting subject matter for a comic book,” said Harris, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and met Buchanon for the first time in person at Comic-Con. “These kinds of comic books are expanding even outside of America. Now you have other comic people coming out with their own comics and their own vision. You see totally different ideas being expressed and put out there in the general market.”

Gore, who has collaborated with other celebrities such as rock stars Gene Simmons of Kiss and Rob Zombie, said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she learned she would be working with a former NFL player. Based in Portland, Ore., she is a freelance editor who used to work for Dark Horse Comics.

“I wasn’t sure if he would be a macho guy or if he would respect a woman’s view of telling him what to do,” Gore said. “He’s a really intellectually curious person. I really liked him right off the bat. He didn’t want to just tell me what to do. He wanted to learn what I had to tell him about making comics. He’s very creative. If his ideas are too wild, he’s really willing to listen to what makes sense story-wise. He’s really a stand-up guy. He has treated me well. I think he has learned a lot, too. His story ideas and development have really gotten better.”

Buchanon said he wanted teenaged football players in Southwest Florida to know that if they can’t make it to the NFL that there are plenty of other opportunities for them to be successful in other walks of life.

“Sometimes, when you have an idea, and you’re first trying to do things, you try to find yourself some people who have already had some success,” Buchanon said. “Luckily, I had the resources, having played in the NFL.

“Even if you don’t have the resources, you can still stick to your guns and make something happen.”

Buchanon’s comic books

Here’s a look at the plotlines for two of former NFL player Phillip Buchanon’s three new comic books, available for 99 cents each on Comixology.com. Buchanon graduated from Lehigh Senior High School in 1999.

• The Supernals Experiment: For more than 20 years, a talented but renegade doctor has performed unprecedented medical experiments in an attempt to help the most vulnerable children imaginable. Now those children are growing up and discovering that Dr. Epstein did more than just heal their physical disabilities – he changed them, gave them powers, and made them targets for a ruthless organization bent on controlling their incredible abilities.

• New Money: When professional boxer Kameron Kash, NFL player Broderick McFadden, soccer star Mike Lion and singer/entertainer Marley White get signed to exclusive contracts...they start to make dollars, but not a whole lot of sense.

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Reggie Wayne Recaps Week One Of Colts Camp

Reggie Wayne on his first week of Training Camp:

“I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. I’ve run every route. There’s nothing that’s holding me back. Nothing that keeps me from doing whatever it is that they want me to do.”

Bowen’s Analysis: Wayne has looked very, very solid so far in camp. He’s taken his fair share of reps as the coaches keep him on a pitch count through the first week in Anderson. The red zone has been an area where Wayne has shown up on several occasions for Andrew Luckicon-article-link. One interesting thing to watch going forward will be if Wayne participates in the preseason games. Wayne says he would like to not have his first tackle be in a regular season game, but at the same time he looks at guys like Ballard and Thomas going down and quickly sees the big picture.

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Fantasy Football TE draft tiers: It’s Jimmy Graham and everyone else

As a tool for fantasy drafts, players can be grouped together in tiers of similar projected fantasy production.  Tiers can help a drafter decide how to choose between players at different positions; if a given player is the last one left in a higher tier, an owner may choose to select him over another player at a position with several players of comparable value left on the board.

To create our tiers, we are using Gene Wang’s top 30 TEs. Scoring figures are for standard settings and are courtesy of Fantasy Pros.

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

The only tight end who is a legitimate option in the first round of almost all fantasy drafts, Graham towered above all others at his position last season, and he is a very good bet to do the same this year.

Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Thomas went undrafted in most leagues last year, then slapped up a 12-touchdown season, then saw big-bodied Eric Decker depart in free agency. Davis snared 13 TDs, although he appears to have gained some competition for targets. All eyes will be on Gronkowski’s return from a torn ACL and MCL; if he looks like the dominating Gronk of old, he’ll shoot up draft boards.

Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens

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Olivier Vernon hoping for another productive year

DAVIE — Before signing with the Miami Dolphins, Branden Albert didn't know much about Olivier Vernon.

But it hasn't taken long for the third-year defensive end to earn the respect of Albert, a veteran Pro Bowl left tackle who joined the Dolphins in March and now lines up against Vernon in practice.

"I just knew when I came in that he had a lot of sacks, but I didn't know what type of player he was until the first couple of days of practice," Albert said of Vernon.

"I said 'I'm going to have my hands full during OTAs and training camp.' He's a hard worker, he's a hell of an athlete, a hell of a defensive end. I think he's going to be a special player. He's already a special player. I think he's going to make some noise."

It's hard to fault Albert, or anyone outside South Florida, for not knowing what Vernon can do.

Before registering 11.5 sacks last year in a surprising breakout season, Vernon was a young player trying to make the transition from the University of Miami to the NFL.


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Chris Myers on camp changes, 1st week "MVP"

Five days of training camp are complete, and Chris Myers can see a marked change in the Texans' atmosphere.

“It’s just overall accountability," the veteran center said. "Everyone being on top of their own game to make each other better, to practice hard every single day and being accountable for one another. Once you’re able to do that, success will come.”

Myers and company have Thursday off, but will hit the fields at the Houston Methodist Training Center on Friday morning. A starter for all 16 games a season since arriving in 2008, Myers' leadership has been a key so far in a time of change.

“We have obviously a very young team and a lot of new guys that are new to the area and the team, so being able to introduce them and take them under your wing and show them how Houston Texans football is," Myers said. "Obviously, that’s changing with Coach O’Brien, but for the better.”

A couple of young linemen have stood out through the first five days of camp.

"Alex Kupper actually jumped up there with the ones for the last few days, and he’s really making a name for himself," Myers said. "He’s playing pretty consistent and James Ferentz no. 78 playing center."

In fact, Myers described Ferentz as "an MVP for week 1".

"He’s out here grinding away," Myers said. "He’s doing his thing, he’s focusing on what he needs to do and he’s grinding away in the run game. So I’m impressed by his overall football game.”

Ferentz is a rookie free agent from Iowa, and earlier in the week, O'Brien said he's practiced well enough to give himself a "chance to make the team".

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Santana Moss going extra mile to survive in NFL in their mid-30s

RICHMOND — Most NFL rookies couldn’t survive three weeks of training camp without their PlayStation or Xbox.

Ryan Clark’s one essential is the blue cooler he brings to practice each morning and sets on the sideline, never far from view, so he can trot over at scheduled intervals for a sip from one of four bottles inside.

He drinks Amino matrix, rich in essential acids that boost energy and hasten recovery, throughout the two-hour workouts. Another bottle contains Red 54, packed with antioxidants from beets, carrots, cabbage, blueberries, pomegranate and other super-foods. There’s potassium-rich coconut water for the halftime break, and an extra bottle for any teammate who wants one. And he drinks a protein potion afterward.

The cooler, which Clark packs himself, is just one of the extra measures the Pro Bowl safety takes, at age 34, to keep his starting spot in the NFL.

“It’s just about training and being focused on the job,” said Clark, whom the Redskins re-signed this offseason after eight seasons with Pittsburgh. “At my age, I can’t do exactly what 21- and 22-year olds do for training because I have to last the whole season. So it’s an ever-evolving process, whether it be diet, weightlifting, running —whatever keeps me explosive, keeps me ready, keeps me able to play the game.”

For the most part, the Redskins’ roster has gotten younger under general manager Bruce Allen. But this season, the team will lean heavily on 30-somethings at key skill positions — Clark at free safety; strong safety Brandon Meriweather, 30; cornerback DeAngelo Hall, 30; and its fourth wide receiver, 35-year-old Santana Moss, the longest tenured Redskin.

Counting nose tackle Barry Cofield, 30, and recently acquired defensive end Jason Hatcher, 32, who’s on the mend from knee surgery, the defense has five projected starters who are 30 or older.

For all the focus on the third-year quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Redskins’ fortunes may well hinge on whether these NFL veterans can stay healthy and hold back the clock for one more season.

Clark and Moss, in particular, are leaving nothing to chance.

Clark spends most of his offseason working out in Scottsdale, Ariz., with trainer Ian Danney, who counts NFL linebackers Terrell Suggs and James Harrison among his clients.

Moss, entering his 14th year in the league, employs a staff to help keep him in game-shape virtually year-round. With help of a nutritionist and personal chef, he overhauled his diet three years ago, shedding nearly 20 pounds to get back to his optimum playing weight of 193. And he has kept the weight off by rigorously adhering to the principles he learned: abandoning his beloved junk food for lean meats, a heavy diet of vegetables and banning carbohydrates after 4 p.m.

Moss also has an Ashburn-based chiropractor, a masseuse and an Atlanta-based trainer on call to ensure his muscles and soft-tissue stay intact.

“You have to pay to play,” Moss said in an interview this week. “You have to spend the money on your body so you can always be tip-top.”

No one is kept on an NFL roster for sentimental reasons. The moment a player can’t perform, he’s replaced. Even when a player is having a Pro Bowl season, his team devotes the college draft and free-agent signing period to bringing in challengers for his job.

These days, that jockeying starts Day 1 of training camp.

That’s a change from a decade or so ago, when many NFL players stopped working out once the season ended, letting their weight balloon and fitness slide as a reward for months of hard hits.

Today, the Redskins’ strength and conditioning staff sends each player home at season’s end with a detailed workout plan. It’s voluntary, but ignored at their peril.

“When they come back, we’re expecting them to be ready to go,” said Ray Wright, the team’s strength and conditioning coach. “We don’t have time in April for them to lose a bunch of weight and un-do what they’ve done in three months.”

In Wright’s experience, players who report out of shape don’t last long.

“They won’t be your Ryan Clarks or your Santanas or your London Fletchers,” Wright said. “Ryan and Santana definitely are paying that price to continue to play as long as they can.”

A two-sport athlete much of his life, running track and playing football, the 5-foot-10 Moss was always diligent in the weight room. But after breaking his hand midway through the 2011 season and missing four games, his production lagged, dropping from 93 catches the previous year to 46. Though he looked fit outwardly, still hitting the weights hard, he felt winded on the field for the first time in his career.

“Ridiculous!” he says now.

So he phoned Wright and asked for help.

That led to Richard Ingraham, a Miami-based chef who cooked for the Heat’s Dwyane Wade. Moss hired him, as well, that offseason. He started cycling. And he shed 20 pounds by spring workouts.

“If it weren’t for the people who are taking care of me today, I wouldn’t be here, still doing what I’m doing,” Moss said. “I don’t take for granted anything that I do in life because I know that nothing is promised to us. That’s why I take my job very seriously.”

The Redskins’ front office has also gotten serious about players’ nutrition. In the early years of Daniel Snyder’s ownership, players were fed fast-food and boxed lunches provided by Bojangles’ and Chicken Out.

Under Allen, the team has hired a registered dietician and chef and built an elaborate kitchen and dining hall at Redskins Park that prepares three meals daily for players and coaches.

It’s a boon for Moss, a fan of the pizza with whole-wheat crust.

“The only reason I didn’t eat as healthy as I should was because I was working out and training and on the go,” Moss said. “What makes you go eat nasty is when you have to go eat something that’s not prepared.”

Coach Jay Gruden is also doing what he can to extend his veterans’ careers, giving occasional days off to the 13 Redskins on the roster who are 29 and older.

Because they’ve played in more NFL games than younger players and tend to watch more film, Moss and Clark see plays develop even before the ball is snapped. That anticipation helps compensate for anything age has taken away, Wright says.

And even though the Redskins are awash in speedy, talented wide receivers with DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts joining Pierre Garcon, Gruden has singled out Moss as a player who “can do everything.“He is a veteran guy who has been through a lot of big games, played a lot of big games, caught a ton of balls, touchdowns, been there, done that,” Gruden said this week. “So he is a very valuable asset to this football team not only from an experience standpoint [but] from a leadership standpoint.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett says much the same for Clark.

“Ryan is here for a number of different reasons: To help us win games, to help run the defense, to help grow the whole secondary,” Haslett said. “His presence has helped the whole offseason. And we’re going to expect that leadership from him.”

Clark, however, has been careful not to cast himself as anyone’s mentor.

“I look at all of us as brothers,” Clark said. “It’s not like I try to come in here and be anybody’s grandfather or father. What I try to do is be part of the group. And when you are part of a group, guys see the way you work. They see the way you pay attention to detail. They see how focused you are about each rep. As you do that, if they feel close to you, that’s when they ask questions.”

There are times Wright surveys the field and forgets how old Moss and Clark are. They seem to see the game so slowly, yet react so quickly that for a moment, the trainer who played football at Duke can’t recall for a split second whether they’re 23 or 33.

By Week 6, both will be 35, approaching an age that a generation ago was reserved for NFL punters, kickers and the most sturdy quarterbacks.”

And the younger Redskins are taking note, even as they try to take their jobs.

They sidle up after meetings and pick their brains over lunch. “How can I do what you do?” they want to know. “How can I play at such a high level for so many years?”

It’s enough to make Wright believe that in a few years, the sidelines at Redskins training camp will be lined with 40 or 50 blue coolers.

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Diamondbacks get prospect C Peter O'Brien in Prado deal

Diamondbacks C Peter O’Brien and either a player to be named later or cash from the Yankees for 3B Martin Prado.

O'Brien, recently named New York's No. 9 prospect by MLB.com, has blasted an impressive 33 home runs this season on the farm. So why isn't he ranked higher? Firstly, O'Brien's pitch recognition must improve -- he has a ridiculous .555 slugging percentage at Double-A, and a sickly .296 OPS. Will he be able to make consistent contact against the world's best pitchers? He's also is a poor defensive catcher who doesn't have the speed to project into the outfield, meaning first base is his only realistic option if the receiving doesn't improve ASAP.

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Brandon Linder getting work with Jaguars first team

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been trying to figure out what to do with their starting offensive line, primarily at the center and right guard position. The team picked Brandon Linder out of Miami (FL) in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft and he's been thrust into a competition for the starting right guard position.

"He got a lot of reps on the first team. Jacques [McClendon] did too, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley told reporters after Monday Night's practice at Bartram Trails High School.

"We got some other guys in there too. Marcel [Jensen] was in there with the ones. I told you that's our plan: try to get Chris Smith in there with the first group as an LEO end. So we're going to get those young guys in there and give them opportunities. Linder got quite a few."

As mentioned, the real battle on the Jaguars offensive line will be at the starting center and right guard spots, with the latter appearing to be a battle between Linder and McClendon. McClendon joined the Jaguars last season off waivers and was bounced on and off the active roster seemingly weekly.

"It's going back and forth. You'll see Jacques play guard and maybe some center," Bradley said, when asked if Linder had an edge with the first team. "You'll see him move around a little bit just to see the best match-ups or to see the best guys in there."

The starting position isn't likely to be cemented until sometime in the preseason, as I'm sure the Jaguars will give both players some time with the starting unit.

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Sean Spence's knee responds well to contact

The good news for Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence keeps on coming. Spence said his body responded well Tuesday, a day after his first contact drills in almost two years. The 2012 third-round pick is not limited today with the Steelers again practicing in pads. Spence hasn't played since tearing several ligaments in his left knee and also dislocating his knee cap in a 2012 preseason game. Spence has made remarkable progress and doesn't have many more obstacles to overcome as he tries to return from a career-threatening injury.

"The test is going to come here in the next two or three days when he's feeling sore," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "We've got some live stuff going on and it gives him an opportunity to get confidence in that knee and that's the only way you can do it. I think as time goes along the more confident he's going to get. He's going to be sore a little bit like everybody else is. We'll find out in two or three days how he's holding up."

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Andre Johnson sits out

Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) did not participate in practice Wednesday, July 30. Head coach Bill O'Brien has said the team is being cautious with Johnson.

Fantasy Tip: Johnson has plenty of time to let his hamstring heal, so owners should not be worried about him at this point. Johnson should be considered a low-end No. 2 wide receiver in all leagues.

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Vince Wilfork slowly returning to form

FOXBORO — The Patriots started last season in great shape at defensive tackle with the immensely hefty and talented tandem of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.

But Wilfork tore his right Achilles tendon in a win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, and Kelly blew out his right knee a week later in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Both players would ultimately land on season-ending injured reserve, leaving the Patriots to patch a gaping hole in the middle of the line.

While the likes of rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano and waiver-wire pickup Sealver Siliga — all of whom entered the NFL undrafted — did a commendable job clogging the middle and creating an interior pass rush, Wilfork and Kelly are projected to resume their stout standing this season.

However, it's evident after five practices at training camp that it's going to be a slow and sometimes testing return to full health for both big bodies.

Unfortunately for Kelly, he knows the routine. He suffered a torn ACL while playing for the Oakland Raiders in 2007 that caused him to sit out the final nine games of the season.

As for Wilfork, he's listed at 325 pounds but probably plays closer to 350 and currently appears to weigh about 375. He started camp on time, but is clearly quite a ways off from regaining his quickness and conditioning.

That's to be expected considering the combination of his bulk and the severity of the injury.

"Obviously, it's good to have Vince out there," Belichick said. "But he, like everybody else, has a long way to go; a lot of things to work on.

"He missed most of the season last year. He's working his way back in. I think there are a lot of positive signs. I don't think he or anybody else is where they need to be, coaches included."

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Eric Winston slips right into line for Seahawks

RENTON — Offensive tackle Eric Winston reported to the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday, put on his helmet and went to work.

More than most, Winston understands the importance of preseason preparation. And his methods seem to work, as he has started every game for the past seven seasons — an ongoing run of 112 consecutive NFL games.

“I’d like to think I put the work in, not just in the weight room, but the training room, staying flexible, staying healthy,” Winston said. “You’re inevitably going to get caught in a pile, and if you’re not flexible something’s going to pop. I’ve gotten into some precarious situations and (been) able to kind of shake it off and walk out of the pile in one piece. I do believe it’s not just luck.”

Winston also credited zone blocking systems, which tend to keep linemen moving in the same direction.

That’s the kind of blocking the Seahawks employ under offensive line coach Tom Cable. And that was one of several factors that led Winston to decide Seattle is the place to continue his career. But not the primary one.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I can win,” he said. “So when they called, I know they’re definitely capable of winning here, and winning big. It was exciting to think that maybe I’ll get to play in some games that I’ve never played in before.”

Winston joined the NFL in 2006 as a third-round pick of the Houston Texans. He moved to Kansas City in 2012 and then Arizona last season, where he got a couple of close looks at the Seahawks.

The Seahawks also did some looking and decided to bring him in to compete at right tackle, along with veteran Michael Bowie and rookie second-round draft pick Justin Britt.

“(We) like the fact that (Winston) has got background and experience,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re very young there in the backup guys. … We’d like to have another guy competing for the spot.”

Starting his ninth pro season, Winston, 30, said he’s ready to add mentoring to his job description.

“I think anytime that you become a vet in this league, you have an obligation to the young guys that come after you — to help them, to teach them and obviously to compete against them,” he said. “… If Britt wants me to do that, then I’ll do that, and if he doesn’t want to hear it, I won’t. But I’ll be here for him and always be here to help him, that’s for sure.”

That same attitude is one of Winston’s motivations as president of the NFL Players Association, a title he assumed in March and will continue despite his change of address.

“I’ve always been an advocate for the players and trying to help them out,” he said. “Make their lives a little bit better and make them understand what it means to be a pro.”

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Fitzpatrick on QB Friendly Andre Johnson

Andre Johnson had a lot of nice things to say about Ryan Fitzpatrick on Monday.

The quarterback returned the favor on Tuesday, explaining why Johnson is one of the greatest receivers in the NFL.

“He’s a very easy guy to throw to, not just because he’s a big target and he’s got great hands and all the athletic stuff, but he’s a very smart player," Fitzpatrick said.

Johnson didn't practice on Tuesday at training camp, after leaving Monday's practice early with an injury he described as "nothing serious". But through three days of work, it's clear to Fitzpatrick how Johnson at receiver is a luxury.

"He’s very quarterback friendly in terms of his body language, his knowledge of defense and running routes the way that we expect the receivers to run routes," Fitzpatrick said. "He’s got all that and that’s just not something you pick up overnight. It’s his whole body of work from his whole career.”

As a whole, Fitzpatrick is looking forward to the new offense the Texans will run with Johnson, running back Arian Foster and the rest of the receivers and tight ends.

“You got a lot of things to do and think about at the line but if you can get it down as a quarterback, the weapons that we have here with the mismatches we create and the exciting players that we have, it’s gonna be a lot of fun to be a quarterback in this offense," Fitzpatrick said.

He and the Texans will practice on Wednesday morning, with a walkthrough in the afternoon. On Thursday they'll get the first day off of training camp.

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Frank Gore and Father Time

SANTA CLARA -- The numbers say Frank Gore is done.

He's 31, old for a running back. He's coming off a season that saw a dip in production. He's being challenged by a few hungry youngsters, one of whom -- Marcus Lattimore -- openly said he has his eyes on Gore's job.

Gore's response to it all: "I'm going to do what I do."

That's Gore, his cup running over with confidence, reality be damned. It's what has made him special for nine seasons with the 49ers, what has him 33 rushing yards shy of 10,000, what enabled him to overcome serious injuries to both knees in college.

Many are expecting Gore to fade into the history books. The 49ers' all-time leading rusher is supposed to be on his swan song. Don't buy it.

As long as he stays healthy, Gore will be pivotal for the 49ers this season as they pursue the Super Bowl ring that has eluded them three straight years.

Gore isn't likely to recapture his dominance of yesteryear. But he isn't done.

He still cares too much not to put in the work. He still has elite vision and patience. He still has the kind of heart that makes Ronnie Lott smile.

And he hears the doubters.

"For him to have younger guys say they want his spot, for guys outside of this organization to count him out, say that he's over the hill ... that's real motivating to him," 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin said before Wednesday's practice.

An improved passing game, owing to upgrades in the receiving corps and the anticipated growth of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, should create more space for the running game. In the end, though, the 49ers run on toughness, on grind, on will. And that's Gore.

His defiance of the odds fuels the spirit of this team. The immovable chip on his shoulder gives the 49ers a rock in trying times. If he can be preserved so that he's fresh late in games, it borders on insanity to think Gore won't produce.

Eventually, time will catch up to Gore. Certainly, it is gaining on him. Last season, he posted a career-low 4.1 yards per carry, and his 70.5 yards per game was his lowest since his rookie year, when he started just once. According to Pro Football Focus, which grades how ball carriers perform in open space, Gore ranked 46th among NFL backs in elusiveness.

Running backs over 30 don't tend to get better. But Gore has gotten good at beating back age. He had 276 carries last season, third-most of his career, and still fumbled only three times, same as in 2012.

Anyway, he's past the point of being justified by numbers. Gore's worth isn't measured in total yards as much as it is in clutch yards.

"Frank gets football," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Frank keeps himself in tremendous shape. When you're with him hourly, daily over the course of three years ... you see the way he takes care of himself, the way he understands the game. This is a man who comes in at 6, 6:30 in the morning doing cardio and studying film."

The 49ers are smart enough to know they need a strong backup behind Gore, a guy with the potential to start. That's why the season-ending injury to Kendall Hunter hurts. It's why Niner Nation hopes Lattimore is as good as he thinks.

But if he, or anybody, is going to knock Gore off the top of the depth chart, he will have earned it. Because Gore says he isn't ready to pass the torch.

"He doesn't look any different to me," Boldin said. "He looks explosive. He's still one of those rare backs that can find the smallest hole and get through it. Out of all the guys that I've played with, he's that guy."


Frank Gore's productivity over nine seasons with the 49ers: Position: RB » Age: 31 » Ht: 5-9 » Wt: 217 » College: Miami

Year GP Car Yds TD Rec Yds TD
2005 14 127 608 3 15 131 0
2006 16 312 1,695 8 61 485 1
2007 15 260 1,102 5 53 436 1
2008 14 240 1,036 6 43 373 2
2009 14 229 1,120 10 52 406 3
2010 11 203 853 3 46 452 2
2011 16 282 1,211 8 17 114 0
2012 16 258 1,214 8 28 234 1
2013 16 276 1,128 9 16 141 0

Totals 132 2,187 9,967 60 331 2,772 10

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Michael Irvin to serve as Pro Bowl captains

Hall of Fame wide receivers Cris Carter and Michael Irvin will be the captains for the Pro Bowl next season, the NFL announced Wednesday.

Last year, the Pro Bowl switched to a new format that involved captains picking their teams, instead of the traditional AFC vs. NFC matchup. The captains for the 2014 game were Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. 

This season's Pro Bowl will be the first played in Arizona, with the league choosing to play at the site of Super Bowl XLIX instead of the traditional location in Hawaii. It will mark the third time the two events have been hosted in the same city: The 1967 games were held in Los Angeles, and the 2010 games were in Miami.

Carter played 15 NFL seasons, 12 with the Minnesota Vikings, and caught 1,101 passes for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns. Irvin played his entire 12-year career with the Dallas Cowboys, catching 750 passes for 11,904 yards and 65 TDs. 

The 2015 Pro Bowl will be played on Jan. 25 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

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Lauryn Williams Earns Sports Academy’s 2014 Jim Thorpe All-Around Award

Lauryn Williams, an American track and field and bobsled athlete, has been named the United States Sports Academy’s 2014 Jim Thorpe All-Around Award for her outstanding accomplishment of becoming the first American female to medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games.

The Jim Thorpe All-Around Award is presented annually to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in multiple sport and/or multiple events of the same sport.  This individual should exhibit the qualities of versatility, strength, speed, flexibility, conditioning and training that exemplify superior athletic prowess.

Williams won a gold medal as a member of the United States’ 4×100 meter relay team during the 2012 London Summer Games and also earned a silver medal in the 100-meter dash during the 2004 Athens Summer Games. Alongside Elana Meyers in the two-woman bobsleigh, Williams won a silver medal during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

She is one of only five athletes in the world to earn medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games and the first American woman to achieve the accomplishment.

In 2013, the Jim Thorpe All-Around Award was presented to the British track and field star Jessica Ennis for her performance at the 2012 London Olympic Games where she became a heptathlon gold medalist.

The United States Sports Academy’s Award of Sport program is a long-standing awards program within the Academy, dating back to 1985. The recipients of the awards will be recognized in an awards ceremony in November.

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, nonprofit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and the world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call 251-626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.

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Prospect Peter O'Brien has two-homer day for Trenton

Peter O'Brien, the Yankees' No. 9 prospect, homered twice Wednesday, but it wasn't enough to lead Double-A Trenton to victory. The Thunder lost, 3-2, to New Britain.

O'Brien went 3-for-4 with a double and two solo home runs. He ranks third in the Minor Leagues with 33 home runs this season, trailing only Rangers' No. 1 prospect Joey Gallo (37) and Cubs' No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant (34).

O'Brien caught in Wednesday's game, something he has done sparingly for Trenton since he was promoted from Class A Advanced Tampa in early May. He more typically has played first base or designated hitter, while Yankees' No. 2 prospect Gary Sanchez handles the catching duties. But with a day game Wednesday following a night game, O'Brien played his 19th game behind the plate for the Thunder while Sanchez served as the DH.

While O'Brien is still finding his home defensively, his bat has made plenty of noise this year and earned him a spot on the U.S. roster in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game. In 102 games between Tampa and Trenton, he is hitting .267/.312/.593. He has hit 23 of his 33 home runs in 72 games since being promoted.

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Michael Irvin Shows Up Wearing Satchel

“It’s not a purse, it’s a satchel.” Michael Irvin would probably be telling you that if you asked the NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver on if he was wearing a man purse.

Irvin showed up to the Chicago Bears training camp on Wednesday wearing just that … a satchel.

Take a look:

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Seahawks sign OT Eric Winston

NFL Players Association president Eric Winston has signed with the Seattle Seahawks.

Winston, a 30-year-old right tackle, signed a one-year contract, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, confirming multiple reports.

Winston tweeted out the news that he was joining the defending Super Bowl champions on Tuesday morning.

Winston played for the Arizona Cardinals last season. He was elected the NFLPA president earlier this year.

He said last week he didn't need to be promised a starting job but wanted the opportunity to compete for one. That's what Arizona offered last year, he said, and it worked out in his favor as Winston started all 16 games.

Winston, an eight-year veteran, has spent his offseason preparing for the right call by staying in shape. He worked out this summer with Texans receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster and former Texan Owen Daniels.

Breno Giacomini, who started at right tackle for the Seahawks last season, signed a free-agent deal with the Jets this offseason. Before Winston's addition, second-year offensive lineman Michael Bowie and rookie Justin Britt had been competing this offseason to fill the right tackle spot.

Winston played his first six NFL seasons with the Texans, joined the Chiefs in 2012 and the Cardinals last season. Winston has started 119 consecutive games, the second-longest streak for an active player. He also has played in 124 straight regular-season games, also second-most among active players.

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Reggie Wayne “Looks Amazing” in Camp

The Indianapolis Colts lost star wide receiver Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL last season, and they were very nervous about how he would return this year. He has been a pleasant surprise in training camp, and according to reports “looks amazing” on the field. Wayne is going to be a vital piece for the Colts’ success this season, and it appears that he is 100% healthy and ready to be a difference maker once again.

Wayne played in just seven regular season games with the Colts last season before going down with injury, but did catch 38 passes for 503 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers alone show that he is more than capable of being a playmaker, and even at the age of 35 has some good football left in him. Hopefully he will be able to have complete confidence in his knee when he gets back out on the field against full speed competition, and will have the same impact that he has had on games throughout his entire career.

It will be very intriguing to see where the Colts end up using him this season, especially with how much competition there is at the wide receiver position this season. The Colts signed former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks this offseason, and he is expected to make a big impact now that he has been given a fresh start. Indianapolis also has another up-and-coming star in T.Y. Hilton, who is looking to make an even bigger mark on the game this season.

No matter how Chuck Pagano decides to use Wayne this season, he is going to be on the field making plays for Andrew Luck once again. The Colts need his veteran leadership and dependability, and he is ready to get back out there and give them just that. He may end up getting some rest with all of the talented pieces that the Colts have put together, and that actually would end up being a very good thing for him in the long run.

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In 10th season, 49ers' Gore still aims to prove doubters wrong

What began as a standard interview -- reporter asking the questions; player answering -- quickly flipped on its head when Frank Gore decided he had a few things to passive-aggressively get off his chest.

"How do you think I'm looking?" the San Francisco 49ers running back asked.

Told it's training camp, and that's practically an impossible question to answer for a 10th-year veteran, Gore nodded, paused and shot back, "So how do y'all judge players right now?"

It was clear where this was going. Gore has been reading and hearing plenty of talk in recent months about how his career is winding down. Recently, the injuries to backup running backs Kendall Hunter (torn ACL, out for the season) and LaMichael James (dislocated elbow, out about a month) had many saying the 49ers suddenly had major concerns in what used to be an incredibly deep backfield.

It makes sense. Gore is 31, Carlos Hyde is a rookie and Marcus Lattimore is still on the non-football injury list, as he recovers from the ghastly knee injury he suffered in college.

Except it doesn't make sense to Gore, who hasn't missed a game since 2010 and has posted remarkably consistent numbers over the last three seasons: 1,211, 1,214 and 1,128 yards and eight, eight and nine touchdowns, respectively. Last year, he became only the 20th NFL rusher to gain 1,100 yards in a season in which he was 30 or older.

Gore is set to make over $6 million this season, provided he stays healthy. If the Niners considered asking Gore to slash that figure at some point, they didn't go through with it. And now, since he's the last reliable body left in the backfield, he won't be taking a pay cut anytime soon.

"I've been consistent my whole career," Gore told FOX Sports Tuesday. "I still love the game, I still train hard during the offseason, I still want to be the man and I'm going to try my best to do whatever it takes to help my team be successful. That's all I can do."

He continued, "I've had so many doubters my whole career and I've been hearing every year, 'What does Frank Gore got?' and all this. And I always come to play every year."

This will likely be a transition year for Gore and this entire 49ers offense.

The additions of Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, the return to full health of Michael Crabtree, the motivation of tight end Vernon Davis, the consistency of Anquan Boldin, the drafting of Bruce Ellington and the expected growth of Colin Kaepernick in his second full season as a starter indicate the Niners will feature more of a passing attack. Their training-camp practices reveal as much as well, as they're lining up three and four wide receivers on a regular basis, with Kaepernick's decision-making seeming to be a bit quicker than it's been. Last year, Kaepernick ranked 20th in the NFL with 416 pass attempts. It wouldn't be a shock if he cracks the top 10 in that category this season and makes a run at 4,000 yards.

Which means the days of Gore carrying the load for a run-heavy attack could be over. He had 276 rushing attempts last season -- the third-highest total of his career -- and could see that number dwindle this season.

But Gore says it doesn't have to shrink. This offseason, he worked out with younger backs, such as the Cincinnati Bengals' Giovani Bernard, the Miami Dolphins' Lamar Miller and New England Patriots rookie James White. Gore claims he would know if those young guys were outpacing him. He says they weren't.

"We competed and I felt I was right there with them," he said. "Every day, if I didn't look better (than them), I was right there with them. That's a good thing. ... I feel good. I feel great. I feel the same. I still feel quick, I feel my explosiveness is still there. I'm smart."

That last part -- his smarts -- has helped his longevity. It's why he claims he still feels fresh at a time when most running backs have broken down.

"I know when to go get it and when not to," he said. "People think I take hits but I really don't. My running style is so low they don't get a great shot on me."

The critics have gotten their shots, and Gore has heard them. He's using it as motivation -- everything from the talk about how it's time for the 49ers to start winding him down and phasing him out, to the handwringing over the injuries to his backups.

Gore believes he will have the final say this year.

"It's been a blessing, man," he said. "I train hard. I train with great guys in the offseason, I have great coaches in the offseason. I train with a lot of those young guys to keep my honest with myself. I have to.

"As long as I want to be the man you've got to approach it that way. I still love the game and we're a great team. I want to be part of a Super Bowl (winner)."

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Jon Beason (foot) sprinting on treadmill

Giants MLB Jon Beason (foot) was seen sprinting on a treadmill off to the side of training camp practice Tuesday.

Beason is just six weeks into his 12-week timetable, but appears to be making substantial progress. He wants to play in preseason games. We doubt the Giants will push him out there for meaningless exhibition snaps, but Beason sounds like he's on track for the opener. He remains on the active/PUP list.

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Leonard Hankerson awaiting return from knee surgery

RICHMOND – With the sleeves of his white practice jersey rolled up to his shoulders, Leonard Hankerson paced the sidelines, watching as the Washington Redskins‘ offense continued on without him.

Now eight months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee, Hankerson still has no idea when he’ll be medically cleared to rejoin his teammates on the practice field.

The wide receiver was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list when training camp opened last Wednesday.

“I don’t know why they say seven to nine months, because seven is not the case at all,” Hankerson said, referring to his initial prognosis. “At seven months, I couldn’t even think about playing football. I could say right around nine to 11 months, because seven to nine months is not realistic at all.”

Hankerson, entering his fourth season, tore the ligaments in the Redskins‘ loss at Philadelphia on Nov. 17 and underwent surgery four days later. He finished the year with 30 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns, starting seven of 10 games and playing approximately 57 percent of all offensive snaps until his injury.

The Redskins signed wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts during the offseason, and over the first five days of training camp, they’ve joined Pierre Garçon as the team’s top three receivers.

With new coach Jay Gruden also praising veteran Santana Moss and rookie Ryan Grant, it’s plausible Hankerson could see his role minimized when he’s able to return – especially if the Redskins keep only six receivers on their initial 53-man roster.

“That’s why every day is pretty much an interview, and I can’t do anything until I get out there,” Hankerson said. “My main thing right now is just to get back to 100 percent, and whenever I get back to 100 percent, I can focus on getting back [on the field] and making plays.”

Restricted to running routes on a side field and sprinting before or after practice, Hankerson doesn’t feel the need to hurry back to play in a preseason game.

He also doesn’t want to measure himself against other players who have returned from similar injuries, such as quarterback Robert Griffin III – who returned to practice at the start of training camp a year ago just six and a half months after surgery – or cornerback Richard Crawford, who needed almost 11 months after getting hurt last preseason.

“Everybody heals different. Everybody reacts different,” Hankerson said. “It’s just about staying patient and grinding with the rehab.”

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Redskins' Gruden praises Moss but says veteran's role is uncertain

RICHMOND—During OTAs, some were wondering if Redskins receiver Santana Moss would end up on the wrong side of the roster bubble. He was about to turn 35, the team had signed two big-ticket free agent wide receivers in DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts and drafted Ryan Grant. And there was a new coaching regime in place and nobody would have been surprised if Jay Gruden wanted to go younger at the position.

But when he was asked about Moss in June Gruden had some high praise. “Santana, he’s had an excellent offseason program, man,” said Gruden. “He’s fun to be around, he’s fun to watch, he knows every position, he’s making big plays out there. He looks like a young kid, he’s got energy, he’s a great leader.”

Fast forward to training camp and Gruden’s praise for Moss continues. “Santana is a veteran guy and he can do everything also,” said Gruden. “He’s a guy a lot like Andre [Roberts] where he can play inside and outside. He is a veteran guy who has been through a lot of big games, played a lot of big games, caught a ton of balls, touchdowns, been there, done that. So he is a very valuable asset to this football team not only from an experience standpoint [but] from a leadership standpoint in that receiver room when you have young guys – Ryan Grant – guys looking up to some veteran leadership-type guys.”

But Gruden still doesn’t know exactly what role Moss will play. “How much he is going to be used? I don’t know,” said Gruden. “Right now, I like what he’s doing. I don’t think he’s lost a step. I think he’s still quick. I think he still knows how to run all the routes, which is good because he’s run them all. Like I said, from the personnel grouping standpoint, if you line up with two receivers who are those two going be? Three receivers, who are those three going to be?”

Now, things aren’t as up in the air as Gruden indicates. If there are two wide receivers they are going to be Pierre Garçon and Jackson. If a third trots onto the field it is likely to be Andre Roberts. After that, it remains to be seen.

Moss seems to be nearly a lock for a roster spot but an outstanding preseason by a couple of the younger receivers like Cody Hoffman could put him on the bubble. But even if he makes his, his exact role and how many snaps he might get per game are very much up in the air. 

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Padres activate 1B Yonder Alonso from 15-day DL

ATLANTA (AP) - The San Diego Padres have activated first baseman Yonder Alonso from the 15-day disabled list.

Alonso is in the starting lineup for Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Braves.

Alonso has been on the disabled list since June 17 with right wrist tendinitis. He is hitting .210 with five homers and 22 RBIs.

Tommy Medica, who had a career-high four hits while starting at first base on Friday night, is starting in left field on Saturday night.

Rookie Jake Goebbert was optioned to Triple-A El Paso. Goebbert was hitting .250 with one homer and three RBIs in 22 games. Goebbert started nine games at first base and two games in left field since his contract was purchased from El Paso on June 19.

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Blue Jays shore up infield depth, acquire Danny Valencia

BOSTON -- The Blue Jays provided some much-needed balance to their lineup Monday afternoon by acquiring infielder Danny Valencia from the Royals in a deal for catcher Erik Kratz and right-hander Liam Hendriks.

Toronto's batting order is predominantly left-handed and there's a void on the right side, especially while Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie are on the disabled list.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos attempted to help fix that, and while the trade is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, it does address an area of need.

"We felt like we could use some help from the right side. Danny's had a lot of success," Anthopoulos told reporters during a conference call Monday night. "We've actually inquired about him in the past, just haven't been able to get anything done.

"We've really been trying to find all year -- we've definitely given some guys some opportunities from the Minor Leagues looking for that right-handed bat. He's had success at the big league level doing that and doing it well; it's a good fit for us."

Valencia is a career .265 hitter with a .304 on-base percentage. He was a part-time player with the Royals this season and appeared in 36 games while posting a .282 average and .710 OPS.

The true value of Valencia's game can be found when he faces left-handed pitching. He has a .333 average and .809 OPS vs. lefties, compared to a .227 average and .620 OPS against right-handers.

Valencia likely will see a lot of playing time at third base, at least until Lawrie returns at some point in August from a fractured right index finger. Anthopoulos was non-committal about Valencia's role after Lawrie returns, but the GM did say the Blue Jays have been trying to acquire a player like Valencia since Mark DeRosa retired after last season.

"Ever since we lost Mark DeRosa, we really haven't had anybody necessarily fill in at that spot," Anthopoulos said. "Steve Tolleson has done a nice job. A guy like Danny brings maybe a little bit more power, but we definitely can use -- because of all the left-handed bats we have on the team -- someone else who can help us out."

Kratz likely will welcome the change of scenery after he was shuttled between Toronto and Triple-A Buffalo on multiple occasions this year. He's regarded as a Major League catcher, but found himself third on Toronto's depth chart in part because backup Josh Thole is R.A. Dickey's personal catcher.

The 34-year-old Kratz appeared in 34 games this season and notched three homers and 10 RBIs. He also had three doubles and a .572 OPS, but saw limited action. Kratz is expected to join the Royals as a backup to Salvador Perez.

Hendriks has been enjoying a strong year at Triple-A Buffalo, but struggled during brief appearances in the Major Leagues. Hendriks gives up a lot of deep fly balls, which isn't a recipe for success at Rogers Centre. In three starts this season, he allowed nine runs in 13 1/3 innings.

Anthopoulos' move is far from being the blockbuster trade a lot of fans are hoping for, but the Blue Jays aren't necessarily done adding pieces. While it seems unlikely that the club will be able to pull off a major acquisition, Toronto's GM said he wouldn't rule anything out.

"There's always a chance, but I'd say all 29 other GMs would say the same thing," Anthopoulos said. "It's been very active in terms of phone calls, emails, texts, everyone seems to be exchanging ideas. That's expected. It seems that it's the same it's been the last few years around this time -- things start to ramp up.

"I don't know that I can really handicap what the potential are chances are for another deal. Trades are hard to make and I wouldn't say we're close to anything, but this deal came together fast, so anything can come together fast and we're going to continue to talk to clubs."

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Brandon McGee Coming On For Rams

That player would be Brandon McGee, who played in 15 games as a rookie last season but as a backup and special teams player.

“Brandon McGee is coming on in his second year already,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said during OTAs, noting that all of the team’s second-year players had make significant strides.

McGee, a 5-foot-11, 193-pounder, has an advantage over the Rams newcomers in the secondary because he has experience. Obviously one year of action doesn’t make the University of Miami product a seasoned veteran, but it does make a difference.

“I feel confident, really, going into it confident,” McGee said of how his second training camp is different from his first. “I feel like I know the position better. I just know the game a little bit better and kind of know what to expect. We’ve got a great group of guys, too. We’re a young bunch but we help each other out a lot. We kind of have to. It’s good. I feel pretty confident going into this year.”

What else is different?

“Definitely knowing what’s expected and also just knowing where to be, kind of,” McGee said. “Cornerback in this league is just kind of one of them things you get better with over time, by experience, just feeling it out, going through the reps, just going against receivers. We’ve got a great group of receivers, too. Just the repetitions are really the tool to learning.”

There’s probably not another secondary in the NFL as young as this Rams group. Three of the team’s projected starters — cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson and safety Rodney McLeod — are entering their third seasons. The other, safety T.J. McDonald, his second.

McGee, 23, said the team’s young players rely on each other.

“It kind of keeps the room alive,” he said. “It kind of keeps the room fresh, because we’re all like learning from each other. Because we’re all learning basically the same thing at the same time. I guess our veterans in the room, three-year guys Rodney McLeod, Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, those guys are always willing to help.”

The 149th overall pick of the 2013 draft learned plenty last season while competing on special teams and at cornerback, with most of his snaps coming at the nickel cornerback spot.

McGee trained in Fort Lauderdale in his first NFL offseason, including working out with Rams’ undrafted rookie free agent cornerback Marcus Roberson.

The former Hurricanes defensive back said he worked on his coverage skills, but also studied the playbook because he wanted to know not only his assignments but to have a better understanding of what all 11 defenders were doing on the field.

Now, in his second training camp, McGee gets to put that work to use.

The Rams drafted Lamarcus Joyner in the second round to be a nickel cornerback, the spot that McGee is also competing for. St. Louis even traded its fifth-round draft pick to move up a few spots to make sure it was able to nab Joyner.

Fisher and general manager Les Snead wanted competition in the secondary and now they have it with McGee, Joyner and others are fighting for positions.

“We’re all just competing, really, and we can’t really do anything but make each other better,” McGee said. “That’s kind of the goal going into every practice, just competing and pushing each other and just learning from each other honestly.”

And that will, in turn, help the defense.

Defensive end Robert Quinn said earlier in camp that new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was challenging everyone on the defense, but in particular the Rams’ back seven. The play of the secondary could go a long way in determining how successful St. Louis is this season.

“We approach every practice with a chip on our shoulder and we’ve done a good job thus far and I also think we can do better of just continuously executing day in and day out,” McGee said. “We’ve got one of the best d-lines, one of the best front sevens, in the game. It’s our job, if we don’t allow balls to go over our heads and we compete at a high level, we could do something special.”

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Steelers' Sean Spence caps lengthy comeback

LATROBE, Pa. —The whistle blew and Sean Spence sprinted forward, each cathartic step distancing the linebacker from the horrific knee injury that threatened to end his NFL career before it even really began.

Spence almost gleefully smashed into fullback Bryce Davis during the Pittsburgh Steelers' first full contact drill of training camp on Monday. The two tussled for several seconds before Davis - his fists full of Spence's jersey - pulled them both to the ground.

Call it a victory for Spence, in more ways than one. He's a football player again, however unlikely that may have been in the agonizing weeks and months after he shredded his left knee in a 2012 preseason game against Carolina.

The former third-round pick used to watch replays of his knee bending in ways it's not supposed to bend - ripping up his peroneal nerve in the process - as he raced into the Carolina backfield. No longer.

"I don't even revisit it," Spence said.

For good reason. Spence spent too many nights crying himself to sleep wondering if he would ever make it all the way back. Sure there were times he doubted he would get this far. He responded by forcing himself to go in for treatment on the days he would have rather stayed home because watching the Steelers prepare for life without him was just too painful.

Slowly, his surgically repaired knee regained strength.

Amazingly, the nerve regenerated. The 24-year-old Spence looked as quick as ever during organized team activities during the spring, but he knew Monday would be the day of reckoning.

The Steelers begin the contact portion of training camp at Saint Vincent College with "backs on backers," which is just as basic - and as violent - as it sounds. A linebacker bolts toward the quarterback, with a running back or tight end the only thing in his way. It's a chance for rookies to make a name for themselves and veterans to show they've still got it.

For Spence, it was a homecoming.

"I was anxious," he said. "I was chomping at the bit."

It showed. He plowed into the breach again and again, winning some battles and losing others. Not that it mattered. He'll have plenty of time over the next month to prove he's worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. Monday was simply about returning to the game he worried was gone for good.

"I was never a person who would quit," Spence said. "I'm never going to be that person."

Coach Mike Tomlin certainly isn't concerned. Standing a few yards away while Spence competed in just his second padded practice in two years - his initial comeback last fall was cut short by a broken finger - it hardly registered to Tomlin that Spence's long road back had reached its destination.

"We've had a great deal of comfort on where he is for some time," Tomlin said.

It's a sense of comfort Spence doesn't take for granted.

Considering the odds Spence faced as he laid on the Heinz Field turf in agony two summers ago, he knows many teams would not have invested the money or the time on what could have been a fruitless enterprise.

"They could have given up on me a long time ago," Spence said. "I'm just so thankful."

And so eager to pay that patience back. The one blessing of his injury is that it forced him to watch more football than he ever has in his life. While it may take a bit for him to get fully comfortable throwing his body around, there is little doubt Spence knows where to go when he's on the field.

The speed that overwhelmed him as a rookie has slowed to a more reasonable pace. It may be the one advantage he has over rookie Ryan Shazier, taken with the 15th overall pick in May to fill the job the Steelers expected would have been Spence's at this point if fate had not intervened.

The starting job next to Lawrence Timmons for the season opener against Cleveland is Shazier's to lose. Spence understands what he's up against but isn't ceding anything. He stressed he's "just here competing." For now, that's enough.

"Soon as I got the first hit, I was good to go," he said, "like back to football."

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In 10th season, 49ers running back Frank Gore isn't ready to slow down yet

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Asked how he'll deal with a challenge from a phalanx of young and talented running backs this year, the 49ers' Frank Gore turned toward his questioner, smiled and said, "I'm from Miami, man."

He could have left it at that.

Gore, the 49ers' all-time leading rusher, sharpened his skills and hardened his resolve by fighting for carries as a younger man, especially at the talent-laden University of Miami, where he first competed with Clinton Portis for a role in the Hurricanes' backfield and later did the same with Willis McGahee. Portis, now retired, is 30th on the all-time NFL rushing list; McGahee, a free agent, is 37th. Gore is 29th.

After the 49ers drafted him in 2005, Gore quickly wrestled the starting job from incumbent Kevan Barlow, and he has been dispatching challengers since. Whether it's been Barlow, Brian Westbrook, Brandon Jacobs or LaMichael James, the common thread of playing running back for the 49ers over the past decade has been frustration and a lack of playing time. Gore hardly ever leaves the playing field.

"I've been out there competing ever since I left high school," Gore said. "I've been with top guys who have been in the league. ... One day, (the young running backs) are going to have to get this role. But while I'm here, I'm going to look at it as a challenge."

This year is shaping up as Gore's biggest battle since he played for the Hurricanes.

He's 31 � ancient in running back years � and is surrounded by younger players, including two of the most highly regarded runners in the last two drafts, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde. Lattimore's challenge of Gore may be delayed. When the 49ers' first practice of training camp began Thursday, he was on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he continues to come back from his 2012 knee injury.

The group also includes Kendall Hunter, Gore's top backup the past three seasons, James and Jewel Hampton.

If the 49ers are eying a running-back-by-committee approach this season, they're not letting on.

"I don't know," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We could be talking about the wide receiver position same as the running back position. A very talented group of running backs, there's no question about it."

It's clear Gore is not the same runner he was when he out-dueled Barlow as a rookie.

His breakaway speed, which helped him gain a career-high 1,695 yards in 2006, is gone, and plays that call for Gore to run to the outside have been avoided. Still, he's started every game for the last two seasons, and last year, including the playoffs, he had 324 carries, the most of his career.

"When my number's called to be out there, I'm out there," he said.

An added motivation for 2014: Gore is going into the final year of his contract, which also happens to be his 10th season with the 49ers. A decade with one team is a major milestone, especially for a running back. One of the walls inside 49ers headquarters is dedicated to the men who have played 10 or more years with them. It's a small group of mostly household names � Montana, Rice, Lott, Young, etc. � but only one running back, Joe Perry, has his portrait on that wall.

Perry is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the 49ers have retired his number. When the season ends, Gore will be the 49th player on the wall � a fitting number for a player who propped up the offense during its darkest years.

As far as sharing the backfield with his young teammates, Gore didn't dance around the question like Harbaugh. He's been protective of his status as the team's top back all of his career, and he's hungry for most of the carries this season, too.

Said Gore: "I'm here. I'm still here. So why not?"

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Sean Spence says he's optimistic, has 'total confidence' in future

Sean Spence, meet Rocky Bleier. Fifteen years from now, Spence could be earning a living by traveling the country and retelling his inspirational story.

He could take some inspiration of his own from the story that is Bleier's. Granted, Spence's tale does not contain the drama of Bleier's, whose foot was mangled by shrapnel in a Vietnamese jungle. Spence's knee was blown up on home ground at Heinz Field as the rookie linebacker chased down a quarterback.

Yet, their long, seemingly impossible comeback attempts in football parallel one another. Bleier's was a miracle. Spence's is still a possible miracle in the making.

Injured in August 1969, Bleier had trouble walking in training camp in 1970. Chuck Noll wanted to cut him. The Rooneys instead carried him on their injury list. He made the team in 1971, gained 1,000 yards in 1976 and retired after the 1980 season with four Super Bowl rings.

A book, a movie and thousands of inspirational speeches followed.

Today an important milestone in Spence's comeback takes place. This will be his first day in pads and contact at Saint Vincent College in two years. That contact promises to severely test his injured left knee that has been two years on the mend, particularly when he plants his foot and takes on a block from one of the big linemen.

"I'm looking forward to it," Spence said Sunday.

He has waited two years for this day, since that gruesome injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year against the Carolina Panthers. The anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments tore. The knee dislocated. More important, the peroneal nerve was damaged. That nerve had to regenerate and often it does not. Spence was one of the lucky ones.

There have been some low points over the past two seasons as Spence mounted the long rehabilitative process, but the moment of that injury was not the worst.

"Going back on [injured reserve] last year," Spence cited as No. 1.

Spence, placed on the physically unable to perform list to start last training camp, was allowed to practice with the team for a three-week period in the middle of last season, and it could determine if they would add him to their 53-man roster. Then came another setback when his right middle finger was broken after one day in pads. They wound up putting him on injured reserve again.

"After going through what I went through, then to finally getting back out there and had to break my finger and go back on IR, it was painful," Spence said. "But I think it was best."

Spence said he knows other organizations might not have had so much patience as he continues his comeback, much like the Steelers showed with Bleier.
"I was very blessed to be with this organization because I could have been cut loose a long time ago," he said. "But they didn't, they stayed and waited for me and I'm very thankful and grateful for that."

He remains an optimist, convinced that his left knee will do just fine today while digging in against bigger men from his inside linebacker position.

"The way I trained in the offseason, the way it feels, I have total confidence in it," Spence said. "I'm just looking forward to it."


"I'm a happy nervous, not nervous that I'm afraid, just the regular jitters you get when you put on the pads the first day."

Two summers ago, Spence was among the hits of training camp and in preseason games. A third-round pick, he was the original young inside linebacker expected to move Larry Foote aside and he looked the part.

That promise, the knee injury and his long ordeal since have helped make his story a popular one with Steelers fans.

He believes he can turn his story into a Bleier-like happy ending.

"I hope to play a 10-year career," Spence said. "People probably think it's unlikely, but they probably didn't think I'd be back in this setting and I am. I'm going to take one day, one year at a time and see how it goes.

"The story is still writing itself."

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Andre Johnson dealing with minor injury

It took just three days for injuries to limit the Texans’ offense.

Veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson tweaked his right hamstring Monday during practice, while star running back Arian Foster was held out of action.
Coach Bill O’Brien said both injuries were minor.

The team has not revealed what is affecting Foster, who has not spoken with the media since offseason workouts began and again denied an interview request Monday.

“Those guys have played a lot of football,” O’Brien said at NRG Stadium. “We’ll make sure we do a good job of managing them through the season.”

Foster exited practice early Sunday and didn’t take the field Monday, during a workout that saw the Texans wear pads and at times engage in full contact.

“He’s dealing with something,” O’Brien said. “He’ll be fine. He’ll be back. It’s a minor deal. You know, it’s a long season. He’ll be out there.”

Johnson was injured while making a catch down the middle of the field. He didn’t apply ice after the tweak and said he isn’t concerned. However, Johnson acknowledged he’ll have his hamstring examined as a precautionary measure.

“I don’t know (if I will be limited). We’ll see what happens,” Johnson said. “Like I said, it’s nothing that I’m seriously (worried about). Anytime you get a knick or anything, you know, you worry about it.”

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Brandon Meriweather, fan interrupt Clark's press conference for autograph turned tattoo

Ryan Clark started off his press conference on Sunday morning joking about how he's done too much media and wondered why people still wanted to hear him talk. So, Brandon Meriweather interrupted his press conference to agree.

"We need you to stop being such a media guy, and start being Ryan Clark the football player," Meriweather said.

To get his point across, Meriweather joked that a fan wanted to get his name tattooed after already having a few others, but would settle for an autograph. 
Clark made it clear that it wasn't special though if he already other players names tattooed on him.

"Imagine if I had like six tattoos of women's names on me, and then asked my wife once we got married if I could her name," Clark said going down an interesting path, "Is that going to be special to her? No." 

Brandon Meriweather wouldn't settle for that."Don't be Ryan Clark, be a Redskin. Be a part of the team," Meriweather joked. 

Clark, being the great sport that he is, signed the fans arm right in the middle of his press conference before announcing that he would take over Brandon Meriweather's press conferences in the future.

Ah, training camp hijinks. 

UPDATE: The fan went and got the autograph turned into a tattoo.

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DeQuan Jones Headed Overseas

With the NBA offseason slowly hitting it’s dog days, and most free agents finding homes, we see some players trying to find their way onto an NBA roster shift their focus to going overseas.

DeQuan Jones: Cantu, Italy

The two names that jump off the page right away are DeQuan Jones and Romero Osby. Jones played for the Magic during his rookie season in 2012, appearing in 63 games, scoring 3.7 points and grabbing 1.7 rebounds per game in 12.7 minutes of action. Jones was also on the Magic’s Summer League roster in 2013, and was invited to camp that same year, but was one of four cut in favor of big man Solomon Jones. 

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Royals trade Danny Valencia to Toronto

By dealing for a pair of minor-leaguers in Toronto’s system, Royals general manager Dayton Moore attempted to balance his roster, opened the door for a promotion for former first-round pick Christian Colon and delivered a vote of confidence for rebounding third baseman Mike Moustakas.

The team traded backup third baseman Danny Valencia to the Blue Jays for Class AAA catcher Erik Kratz and right-handed reliever Liam Hendriks. Colon received a call-up from Class AAA Omaha, and will join the club as a backup to second baseman Omar Infante and shortstop Alcides Escobar for the series against Minnesota that starts tonight at Kauffman Stadium.

Kratz replaces Brett Hayes as the backup to Salvador Perez. The Royals designated Hayes for assignment. Hendriks will go to Omaha as a swingman. But as Moore discussed the maneuvers on Monday evening, he focused on both Moustakas and Colon.

“Moose has played very well,” Moore told The Star in a telephone conversation. “We just felt we needed to add some depth to the middle infield. August is a very grueling month, a lot of baseball to be played.

“As you know, it’s very hot in Kansas City. We just need to add some depth there to be able to spell Infante and Escobar from time to time. We felt it was a move that strengthened the depth of our roster.”

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Sean Spence: 'There is no hesitation at all'

Linebacker Sean Spence is one of the happiest guys to have training camp underway, after missing the last two seasons with a serious knee injury that left many, but not him, wondering if he would ever play football again.

I have been waiting all offseason for this opportunity and I am up for the challenge,” said Spence. “Having to watch all of training camp last year and be separate from the guys, it feels good to be with them and working with them.

“Last year was full of a lot of down moments, sad times. I was away from football for my second year in a row. This year I am full of joy, around the guys, taking advantage of every opportunity.”

Spence has no concerns either about how things are going to pick up when the players put on the pads on Monday and the hitting begins.

“There is no hesitation at all,” said Spence. “I am very excited.”

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Bills Coach Marrone says LT Henderson 'can be special'

Bills coach Doug Marrone told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport he believes seventh-round LT Seantrel Henderson "can be special."

A former top high school recruit, Henderson had an up-and-down career at the University of Miami and fell to the seventh round due to character issues. With Cordy Glenn's (illness, NFI) health status up in the air, Henderson is a candidate to be the Bills' Week 1 left tackle. It's conceivable Henderson could be Buffalo's blind-side answer of the future, with Glenn eventually moving to guard.

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Punter Pat O'Donnell emerges as fan favorite

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- NFL punters are hardly ever the center of attention; except when things go horribly wrong in a game, like a bad kick or botched snap.

But Bears' rookie punter Pat O'Donnell proved to be the exception to that rule on Sunday.

A large part of the estimated 9,500 fans in attendance on Sunday spent the entire portion of the special teams drills loudly cheering for O'Donnell and chanting "Mega-Punt” every time he punted the ball.

O'Donnell's highly-touted right leg did not disappoint. Aside from one or two mishits, the majority of the rookie's punts were high and deep. One kick registered an unofficial hang time of 5.1 seconds and appeared to travel well over 50 yards.

"I didn't know what the crowd was saying,” O'Donnell said after practice. "I was just trying to keep focused. It's definitely a good feeling because the punter usually doesn't get a lot of attention. But it's the nature of the business. I just need to do my thing and hopefully flip the field when I can.”

Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis added: "That's a first for me [hearing fans chant for a punter]. I was thinking you have to be kidding me over there. It was ridiculous. Let's keep the kid's feet on the ground.”

However, expectations are high for O'Donnell, after the Bears spent a sixth-round pick on the 6-foot-4, 220 pound punter from Miami following a record-setting year when he averaged a school single-season best 47.1 yards per punt and had 23 kicks sail 50-plus yards.

Generally speaking, when a team drafts a punter, it becomes his job to lose. But former undrafted free agent Tress Way stepped up his performance following the Bears selection of O'Donnell, and actually outkicked the rookie in the offseason program, paving the way for a genuine camp competition.

But Sunday clearly belonged to O'Donnell.

"I thought [O'Donnell] did some good things today,” DeCamillis said. "But we need to just keep working and hopefully he continues stacking good days on top of good days.”

Punter is not the only specialist position up for grabs. The retirement of decorated veteran Patrick Mannelly left a serious void at long snapper, one the Bears are currently trying to fill with either Chad Rempel or Brandon Hartson.

In the Mannelly era, the Bears experienced a bad snap maybe once every five or six years. This summer, there have been multiple long snapping miscues over the span of just three days since camp opened on Friday.

"I wouldn't say we are concerned," DeCamillis said. "We need to work through the process and find out who our guy is going to be. Hopefully he's on this team right now. He may not be. We'll have to see. But I wouldn't say we're concerned. I've been in this position before with young guys. You just need to work through the process."

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Tommy Streeter Came To Play

Aside from the crazy play made by running back Jeff Demps Saturday, the biggest play of the day came from wide receiver Tommy Streeter. The former Miami Hurricanes stud was drafted by the Baltimore Crows in 2012 and after struggling with a bum food, released not quite a year ago.

Streeter was signed by the Bucs in January and fits the part of the “Dunkaneers,” at 6-5 with wheels. He displayed those moves yesterday that, at least for a day, has put him in the running for a roster spot.

Streeter ran up the left sideline and was doubled-covered by both Rashaan Melvin and Mycal Swaim. As Streeter reached about the 12-yard line, he hauled in an absolute bomb from Cannon Glennon, damn near 50-yards long. After Streeter hauled in the pass, he appeared blocked from the goal line by Melvin and Swaim. Then he put a move on the two so good, that Melvin twisted his ankle and hit the grass and Swaim, too, was juked out of his jock, also falling to the turf.

Streeter just jogged into the end zone from there as if he was chilling at a shopping center.

After practice, Streeter downplayed the play.

“I have to use the speed that God gave me and go up and get the ball on that play,” Streeter told Joe. “We have a great corps of wide receivers. A lot of guys could make that play. I was just fortunate enough to be out there.”

Later, Josh McCown fired through triple coverage to thread the needle to Streeter along the right sideline, where he danced just enough to get both feet inbounds before falling out of bounds.

Streeter admits he learned a lot in his brief time with the Crows. One thing he is trying to learn is upper body control.

“The thing for me being a tall wide receiver is pad level,” Streeter said. “A lot of times, you can tip off your route being such a tall guy running high. Once you drop your weight, defenders know you are breaking. That is something I have to continuously work on. There is always something to work on whether it is in the classroom or out here on the practice field.”

Streeter admitted that at least on paper, he is a perfect fit for the “Dunkaneers.”

“There is talent level and skill sets of all kinds [on the roster],” Streeter said. “A lot of guys can do different things. We have small guys and big guys. We have some King Kongs out there. We have height. It is rare you find the combination of height and speed but we have big guys who are fast at the same time.”

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A healthy Travis Benjamin could be significant for Cleveland Browns

There is no other position group quite like the Cleveland Browns' wide receivers. This competition should be named the Grand Canyon – it’s that wide open.  
Earlier this week my colleague Vic Carucci penned this column, analyzing the impact Nate Burleson, Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins and Anthony Armstrong could have on the offense. This eclectic quartet of newcomers each carry a variety of traits to the field and locker room.

Burleson brings route running and an influential spirit; Austin is a professional and has size; Hawkins is slippery and a deep threat; Armstrong is a master of the playbook and lengthy.

In the shuffle of all the fresh faces, we all may have forgotten about a familiar one: Travis Benjamin. On Thursday, the University of Miami alum tweeted this:

For a range of reasons, a healthy Travis Benjamin is another thought-provoking piece to this puzzle.

Because of all the accolades and jaw dropping moments Josh Gordon produced during the 2013 season, some of the big plays from Benjamin have flown under the radar. He was only able to haul in five passes before his ACL injury, but those receptions went for 105 yards – good for 21 yards a catch. Benjamin can fly.

In terms of potential, Benjamin’s ceiling is higher than you think. He’s only 24 years old. And now he’ll be given the chance to provide evidence in practice that he's more than just a reliable return man. Kyle Shanahan will be looking for home run hitters in his offense to stretch the field.

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Micanor Regis Signed

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Fins target Shady McCoy role for Lamar Miller

According to the Miami Herald, "there's a hope in Dolphins camp" that Lamar Miller "can play the role of LeSean 'Shady' McCoy" in new OC Bill Lazor's offense.

Lazor spent 2013 on Chip Kelly's staff as Philly led the NFL in rushing and yards per carry (5.1). Miller lacks McCoy's lateral explosiveness, but he is a speed back who's dangerous in space. Earlier in July, Miller met with McCoy to discuss "how to thrive in the system Lazor has brought from Philly to South Florida," and also watched Shady's game tape. Per beat writer Adam Beasley, Miller "has been clearly ahead" of Knowshon Moreno "every step of the way." "He looks good, he looks stronger than he’s ever been," said coach Joe Philbin of Miller, who gained 6-8 pounds of offseason muscle. "I don’t think he’s sacrificed any speed whatsoever." Miller is shaping up as a potential steal at his seventh-round ADP.

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Bulked-up Allen Bailey ready for expanded role with Chiefs

Defensive end Allen Bailey has been a role player for the Chiefs throughout his first three NFL seasons, appearing primarily in nickel situations.

Entering his fourth year, Bailey — who has appeared in 41 games but made only four starts — has taken over the starting reps at left defensive end early in training camp. It’s a welcome promotion for the former third-round pick out of Miami (Fla.).

“My first couple of years, I was kind of a role player, a third-down guy,” said Bailey, who is filling the void left by Tyson Jackson’s departure. “I added on to it last year, playing a little more base end, but now I want to be a complete player, an every-down guy. This year, I’m looking for a more all-around role.”

Bailey, 25, packed on a few pounds in preparation for more extensive duty. His playing weight last season was 288 pounds, but he’s now up to 300 pounds.
“It’s really to help out with the run game,” Bailey said. “I needed to bulk up a little bit. Playing inside at 280 is a little rough.”

Bailey used a meal service to help him put on weight in the right way. Deliver Lean created a high-carb, high-protein diet that helped him add those pounds.
“I wasn’t eating Little Debbie cakes all day,” he joked. “But the key was, I put on the weight, then it was time to transform the weight, so your body could get used to it and you could get into football shape with the weight. That’s the next step now.”

The Chiefs won’t practice in pads until today, but the early returns are encouraging.

“I’ve been real impressed with him,” Chiefs defensive lineman Mike DeVito said of Bailey. “You can see he’s moving well and he’s using that power to his advantage. Just like (Mike) Catapano, Bailey’s been adding weight, but they keep their athleticism, keep their strength, keep their agility and all that stuff.”
Bailey also expects to benefit from having a year’s experience in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s defense.

“I’m more comfortable, because you know a lot more and feel like you can do a lot more in it,” Bailey said. “You know the ins and outs of the defense, so it’s a little advantage.”

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Chase Ford Place on PUP

The Minnesota Vikings have placed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, safety Andrew Sendejo and tight end Chase Ford on the physically unable to perform list to start training camp.

The other player held out of the first full practice on Friday was wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who watched wearing a bucket-shaped fishing hat because of a minor foot injury. The team announced his status as day to day.

Ford has been in a cast with a broken left foot and will be out indefinitely. Munnerlyn has a minor hamstring injury. Sendejo is dealing with nagging lower-back and ankle problems. Players on the PUP list during the preseason can be taken off at any time, and they count against the 90-man roster. They can’t practice until they’re medically cleared.

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Leonard Hankerson: 'I'm not rushing'

RICHMOND, Va. -- Here is what Washington Redskins receiver Leonard Hankerson knows: His knee felt good Friday, something it did not feel Monday or Tuesday.

Here is what he doesn’t know: When he will be at, or near, 100 percent healthy and ready to return.

Hankerson tore his left ACL and lateral collateral ligament last season. After surgery in late November, the Redskins said he faced a seven-to-nine month recovery. He’s in the eighth month of his recovery.

“I don’t know if it’s a week or two or three weeks or a month, two,” Hankerson said. “I don’t know. I have no clue. When I came out here Monday, Tuesday I was positive I can’t go, I can’t go. When I came out today, I felt like I can go out there and make plays. I know that’s not the case. I have to keep being patient and keep working.”

Hankerson runs sprints and routes on side fields during practices. But he’s not sure how fast he’s really able to run. He just knows it’s not 100 percent.

“It’s about having some confidence in it, feeling like its 95, 100 percent,” Hankerson said. “I know I don’t have that explosion yet. When I come out here and run routes, it’s not explosive. I know that. There is no need for me to go on the field because I’m not there. I’d probably embarrass myself.”

Hankerson said it’s not hard for him to be patient for one reason: It’s his career. He’s entering the last season of his rookie contract and if he returned before he felt ready, then further damage would have a huge negative impact.

“It’s bigger than just going out there and trying to get back and having fun with teammates,” Hankerson said. “That’s why the main thing is to keep being patient and get to 95, 100 percent to where I know I can go out there and be explosive and making plays and not worrying about getting bumped.”

Nor is he worried about the preseason. Hankerson isn’t battling for a starting job, but the Redskins do have a new offense. Even if it’s similar to their previous one, there is still an adjustment period.

Again, Hankerson does not want to rush back for a preseason game.

“No, man. I’m not worried about the preseason,” he said. “I’m not rushing back. It’s about being healthy. I mean, my health is more important than the preseason. What do you gain from the preseason? Nothing. Yeah it helps guys get better, but I would rather be 100 percent before I step on the field.”

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Andre Johnson: O'Brien plans to 'move me around a lot'

Earlier this offseason, Texans running back Arian Foster said Andre Johnson "is Houston."

Fans turned the statement into sound Saturday when they loudly rejoiced after a simple screen pass went to the veteran receiver at the Texans' first training camp practice.

After skipping previous offseason work, Johnson is catching up on Bill O'Brien's offense.

"I think it's just gonna be fun for me, me picking up the things I need to pick up, him telling me that he's gonna move me around a lot and stuff like that," Johnson told NFL Media's Desmond Purnell. "So it's going to be interesting to see because I really wasn't moved a whole lot before, so I just got to, day-by-day, just progressively get better and make sure that I'm on top of everything ... "

Johnson also added that the Texans needed someone like the loud, blunt O'Brien to shake up the team.

Moving Johnson around to create mismatches in the offense should aid the receiver's production and that of second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Even with a shaky quarterback situation last season, Johnson was still one of the most productive pass catchers in the NFL (109 receptions, 1,407 yards).
There is no reason to think he can't produce similar results under O'Brien with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his quarterback.

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Reggie Wayne Healthy

The only sign of receiver Reggie Wayne having any kind of knee issue was the ice bag wrapped around his right knee as he caught passes from the Jugs machine after practice Sunday. Turns out the ice wrapped around Wayne’s knee was just a precaution. Besides that, as he hauled in passes during a red-zone drill in practice, Wayne looked like the player who terrorized defenses for many years prior to tearing his ACL last October. He caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Luck between two defenders and another one from Luck that was tipped by the defender. There’s still more than a month before the Sept. 7 opener against Denver, but Wayne is continuing to make steady progress toward regaining his form from the torn ACL.

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Eric Winston waits for call as camps start

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A year ago to the day, Eric Winston was signed by the Arizona Cardinals as his future teammates prepared for their conditioning test.

This year, Winston is still waiting for that call. Well, more like the call.

He's been contacted and recruited by several teams since free agency began in March, Winston said Friday from Houston, but none have offered an attractive enough opportunity to convince Winston to sign.

"It's more of the right situation not presenting itself," Winston said.

"Last year, I thought Arizona was a good spot for me and I think going forward I'm looking for that same kind of opportunity."

Winston doesn't need to be promised a starting job, he said, but wants the opportunity to compete for one. That's what Arizona offered last year, he said, and it worked out in his favor as Winston started all 16 games. The eight-year veteran isn't concerning himself with why he hasn't found a job yet as training camps continue to begin across the NFL. He's just trying to stay positive.

Last offseason taught him to be patient but it's easier said than done.

"It's tough," Winston said. "It's tough on me. It's tough on the family. There's so many balls in the air right now. It's just a stressful time. But, unfortunately, sometimes when you get late in your career it's the nature of the business, as well."

Winston was able to acclimate himself with the rest of Arizona's offensive line quickly last season but he'd rather not wait until the end of training camp to join a team. There's still a playbook to learn and a bond to build, but there's only so much he can control.

The Cardinals are one team with questions at right tackle but Winston doesn't seem to be the answer for them. He made about $2 million last season and improved as the season went on. Even though Winston allowed just one of his seven sacks in the final nine games, he was still rated as one of the worst tackles in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.

Winston has spent his offseason preparing for the right call by staying in shape. He's worked out this summer with Houston Texans Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, and former Texan Owen Daniel. After a Friday morning workout, Winston said he's moving as well as he has in a while.

At 30, he's been putting in the extra work so he can make a seamless transition to anyone's training camp.

"I feel like I'm way more ready this year than last year," Winston said. "Not to say I wasn't ready last year. I just really feel like I'm in as good of shape than I've been in for a long time."

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Jimmy Graham says "I am a hungry player"

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham went through what just about every high profile NFL player goes through at some point in their career - a tough negotiation session with the organization.

This offseason Graham didn't reach an agreement on a long term deal with the Saints until around 2 am on July 15th, just hours before the deadline. He didn’t have the benefit of training under the watchful eye of the Saints strength and condition coaches, but he did train with former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma in Miami, and turned in the fast conditioning test time on the team yesterday.  “I feel fresh, I was just on extended vacation. I’m back hungry and ready to go!” Graham said. 

Graham admitted it was tough to see reports and speculation about an eventual deal with the Saints, not to mention the arbitration hearing process, but the All-Pro tight end says that’s all in the past. “I think it was a great deal for both sides. I just wanted a deal,” Graham said.  “What was unfortunate was in the offseason, all the false information that was out there and not being able to say anything about it, especially when you know whats going on. I’m an All-Pro tight end, and I’m going to stay that way.” Graham said he spent his days in the offseason working out, and it showed on the field: “There is no doubt he’s in shape, and he’s ready to roll. I had multiple conversations with him and he’s just glad to be back. I can see it in his eyes, he’s got a little pep in his step, he’s ready to roll,” explained quarterback Drew Brees. 

There is no reason to think Jimmy Graham won’t continue his dominance this season and beyond as he said “I’m a hungry player, I always play with a chip on my shoulder” after he was asked if the contract affects the way he would prepare for an NFL season. If rookie wide reciever Brandin Cooks progresses as well as the team hopes, this offense could be extremely scary in 2014, with the best tight end in football as one of their main weapons. 

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Jay Gruden warns Brandon Meriweather not to hit high in practice

Washington safety Brandon Meriweather was suspended for a game last year for helmet-to-helmet hits. Washington coach Jay Gruden is warning Meriweather that the same offense will get him suspended from practice as well.

“Brandon, he plays a very physical style of football,” Gruden said. “That’s all he knows. But there is a rule now obviously and he’s had to pay the price for it. And he understands the next one is going to be a longer suspension. We talked about that today, actually. I told him he is going to get a two-practice suspension if he doesn’t lower his target.”

Gruden expects Meriweather to be a big part of Washington’s defense, but only if he can remember to avoid helmet-to-helmet hits.

“He’s a good football player,” Gruden said. “He’s tough, he’s physical, he wants to do the right thing but sometimes at that position though and the ball is in the air, he’s trying to knock the ball out and sometimes they unfortunately make contact head-to-head and it’s not intentional. I don’t think he has the intent to injure people. I think he has the intent to get the player down and get the ball out. Sometimes those instances look worse than they are but he does have to really watch his area of target and hopefully we will keep him on the field for 16 weeks because he is much needed in the secondary.”

The NFL doesn’t take kindly to repeat offenders, and if Meriweather hits another opponent high in a game, he’s likely looking at a multiple-game suspension. Gruden is hoping to break Meriweather of the habit permanently.

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Jon Beason confident he will be ready for start of NY Giants preseason

Jon Beason started his press conference on Friday with a little levity.

“You guys are a little late,” the Giants’ middle linebacker said to the surrounding reporters. “You know, camp started on Tuesday, actually Monday.”

It was a good-natured attempt at humor for a player who was dealing with a frustrating injury. But if anyone’s late to camp it’s Beason, who tore a ligament and fractured the sesamoid bone in his right foot during team activities last month and missed his fourth straight practice on Friday. Beason was in good spirits, however, pronouncing his ability to heal “a little superhuman,” and suggesting he might be able to participate in at least some of the Giants’ five preseason games, which start on Aug. 3 and end Aug. 28.

“I would hope so,” Beason said of receiving preseason snaps. “Based on how I feel, the way things are going, you want to keep making baby steps. If you go too fast and have a setback, all of a sudden you're pushing that timetable of Sept. 8 (the season opener against Detroit). We want to be smart about it. Obviously I'm going to do what they tell me. But I would love to get into the preseason to get some reps.”

Asked if he will be ready for the start of the season, Beason said: “There is no reason now to think I won’t be there, based on how I feel and how I’m progressing.”

Beason suffered the injury on June 12 and was carted off the field during 11-on-11 drills. The news wasn’t all negative because the injury didn’t require surgery, but he is now relegated to running on an underwater treadmill and trying to beat the timetable doctors gave him for returning for the season opener. In his absence, Jameel McClain has assumed the middle linebacker spot, with rookie Devon Kennard taking over at strongside linebacker.

Beason has been injury-prone the past few seasons and was viewed as a bit of a health risk when the Giants inked him to a three-year deal in March.

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Saints say no awkwardness with Jimmy Graham

All offseason, the concern for the Saints was whether they could make the numbers work with *tight end Jimmy Graham.

But when he showed up for work, he posted another number that reminded them of his value.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Graham had the “low time” in the team’s pre-camp conditioning test.

“That was significant. I told him to stay in Miami every offseason,” Payton said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. “I mean, it was outstanding.”

Both Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis said the difficult negotiation (which led to discussions of how far he lined up from the tackle) was simply part of the process, and the $10 million a year deal now has everyone happy.

“Look, it was a tough negotiation, obviously, but it ended well,” Loomis said. “Obviously going to an appeal hearing over the position argument was unique. But otherwise it was a negotiation. You know, all of these negotiations are tough. Obviously when it’s a high-profile guy, there’s more written about it. And those are personal issues for the players, in particular, and we understand that. But that’s behind us. We’re glad to have it done. I’m sure Jimmy’s glad to have it done.

“It’s just a process that we had to go through. And, look, I think both sides are pretty pleased with the outcome.”

Given that both Payton and Loomis testified in an arbitration hearing against Graham’s assertion that he should be a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes, there was the potential for awkwardness.

But now that business has been taken care of, they can get back to the business of football, and Graham is apparently ready.

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Andre Johnson picking up install well

All is forgiven between fans and Andre Johnson, if there ever was any animosity there for Johnson's offseason holdout.

The ones at training camp embraced Johnson's return as he sauntered onto the field this morning. It was Johnson's first time catching passes from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, his first time operating within the Texans' new offense under Bill O'Brien. The very first pass in 11-on-11 drills was a bullet from Fitzpatrick to Johnson, and again a roar arose from the crowd.

"So far, the first day install I picked up pretty well," Johnson said. "I went out there and wasn’t really thinking a lot. I got with Fitz after everything last night and me and him went over some stuff. Everybody has been very helpful with me picking up everything. It’s just fun to be back out here and be with my teammates and getting back to football."

That rapport between Johnson and Fitzpatrick will be especially important this season. They first met at J.J. Watt's charity softball game on May 2 and Johnson said he liked Fitzpatrick a lot personally.

"We have to be on the same page, especially in this offense," Johnson said. "There is a lot of communication and a lot of stuff that goes on."

Johnson is a weapon that will only benefit Fitzpatrick, who was named the Texans' starter during their mandatory minicamp.

"He’s a true pro," Fitzpatrick said of Johnson. "I think everybody here knows that and I’ve always admired him from afar. I’ve heard a lot about his work ethic and the way that he attacks everything. It was nice to sit back and throw to him a little bit today."

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Frank Gore rooting for Marshawn Lynch in holdout

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore understands why Seattle Seahawks holdout Marshawn Lynch is trying to cash in while he can.

"Yeah, you've got to," Gore told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday. "You never know at the (running back) position. When you've got leverage, you've got to go get it."

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told USA TODAY Sports on Friday "it's a contract for a reason," providing a strong indication the 49ers' NFC West rivals aren't inclined to appease Lynch with more money.

Lynch is due $5.5 million this season and $7.5 million next. Fellow running back Jamaal Charles also had two years left on his deal before the Kansas City Chiefs gave him a two-year contract extension and a $4.4 million raise in 2014.

"Jamaal Charles – he got it. I hope Marshawn get it, too," Gore said. "I respect Marshawn's game a whole lot. I think he's the one that makes that offense go over there. I respect their team. I respect their quarterback (Russell Wilson). But Marshawn is just a beast, man. A beast."

Gore, 31, is due $6.45 million in the last year of his own contract and he comes off his seventh 1,000-yard season in eight years. Is his own upcoming contract negotiation on his mind?

"I just play ball," Gore said. "Hopefully, I just go out there and try do whatever it takes to get me the trophy, man, and see how I go from there. I'm enjoying it. I'm blessed to be 10 years and still be able to be in the NFL. I'm just taking it one day at a time, one year at a time.

"If I have a great year this year, then hopefully, they're going to re-sign me or somebody will. I still love it. I want to walk away when I want to walk away. "

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UM Legend Bernie Kosar: Tony Bosch "Had an Amazing Impact on My Life"

Biogenesis proprietor Tony Bosch didn't spend all his time cooking up elaborate doping procedures for MLB stars like Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. As reported in Blood Sport, the new book on the Miami scandal, Bosch also had a huge network of regular clientele, from UM students to high schoolers to ex-athletes. Among that latter group, Blood Sport recounts, was none other than UM legend Bernie Kosar.

Yesterday, Kosar talked about his ties to Bosch for the first time. The former NFL first-round draft pick says the unlicensed anti-aging doctor "had an amazing impact on my life."

Kosar, who discussed his relationship with Bosch on his Cleveland-area radio talk show, said that the Biogenesis founder was well-known around the Coral Gables campus where Kosar won a national title back in 1983. (Bosch's deep ties to UM were covered in a Blood Sport excerpt in New Times earlier this month.)

"Going to the UM, he's been around us and (our) friends for like 30 years," Kosar said. "And he has been talking about this for 20 years."

But Kosar says Bosch's sins as a PED-supplier in baseball cloud the fact that he's truly helped regular clientele like the ex-quarterback. Kosar struggled for years with symptoms related to his playing career.

"I had bleeding in my head for probably 20 some plus years from all those concussions that my body couldn't naturally clot and stop," Kosar said.

About ten years ago, Kosar said Bosch convinced him to try "natural hormones" as a way to "build up your immune system."

Bosch's treatments helped, Kosar said, and helped point him toward other holistic doctors who have aided his recovery. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have been able to get on my kinda personal journey to health and wellness," Kosar said.

Kosar did note that his connection with Bosch came well before New Times exposed his ties to MLB ballplayers.

"The last couple years, it has become clear what probably transpired," Kosar said of Bosch's side job selling PEDs. "Go back 10 to 15 years, and I was more focused on myself and how I could get myself going. Not being a baseball player and in this post-football era trying to stay healthy to keep up with Joe, my 14-year-old son. It wasn't something I really paid attention to."

In Blood Sport, an old Canes teammate named Julio Cortes takes credit for connecting Bosch and Kosar. Like Kosar, he says the fake doctor helped heal his post-football pains. "A month before I saw him, I was sitting on the ground and I couldn't get up," Cortes said. "He put me on this program, and a month later I'm playing racquetball and feeling good."

As Blood Sport notes, it's tough to find too much fault in Bosch helping out two battered and aging football stars. From the book:

If he gave Cortes and Kosar testosterone, Bosch broke the law. But it's hard to see immediate harm in two ailing middle-aged men snagging testosterone if it helped heal their aches. After all, they had legitimate health problems and were certainly old enough to know what they were getting into.

Kosar puts himself into that category: "I'm really proud of how much he helped me. He really helped," Kosar said.

In the book, some ex-football gurus go even further. Mike Ditka says he'd like to see HGH legalized for football players. "We gotta stay hurt forever?" Ditka says. "If it helps you recover from injuries, I have no idea why it would be a bad thing. You're paying players all this money, wouldn't it help to get them back on the field where they can earn money? If I owned a football team, I'd want my guys to play every week."

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PG Shane Larkin Was the Most Improved in Knicks Summer League

The New York Knicks competed their Summer League run with a record of 4-1. We will review the 2014 summer league roster starting with point guard Shane Larkin.

From Game 1 until Game 5, Larkin was the most improved player on the Knicks roster. He started off slow and off the mark, as he got more comfortable in the offense, Larkin really improved. The turnaround for the Miami product began in the fourth quarter of the second game, which culminated in Larkin’s game-winning baseline jumper. Larkin started 4 of 16 (25 percent) and finished 20 of 40 (50 percent).

Considering he isn’t an elite athlete that shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Larkin isn’t going to overwhelm opponents with elite size or speed, so he needs to play within an offensive scheme. As he learned, Larkin got better and better.

It seemed, as he understood what he was supposed to do, the 2013 first round pick played with more confidence. In the final three games he did a much better job of finishing around the rim, after looking very shaky early on in Las Vegas. He’s an excellent cutter and flashed the ability to move without the ball, which should endear him to president Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher. Most of his baskets around the rim were the result of backdoor cuts.

At times Larkin flashed a sweet stroke, something Jackson spoke about when he visited the MSG telecast. The president identified Larkin as a “good shooter” and listed the point guard among those he wants shooting the ball from the perimeter. However, Larkin needs to be more consistent with his outside game from downtown. In Las Vegas, he shot just 42.9 percent overall and a very poor 30 percent from three-point range.

He’s not a pure playmaker (3.4 assists per game) and lacks the ability to consistently breakdown defenses off the dribble, but that’s OK, because the triangle offense is built on ball and player movement, while spreading out the distribution responsibilities. Having said that, Larkin is a good passer with excellent court vision. He also has a strong handle and except for a few sloppy moments he did a good job of protecting the basketball.

At times he had trouble staying with opponents who were both bigger and quicker than him, but for the most part Larkin had a strong defensive run in Vegas. He is heady and pesky. Larkin has the quick hands to strip the basketball away from opponents and is even better at playing the passing lanes with his deft anticipation skills. He had 15 steals in five games and more than held his own on the boards, averaging 4.2 rebounds per game.

If he can improve his three-point shooting Larkin has all the tools to be an effective player in the triangle offense.

While reports have the Knicks talking internally about trading Larkin, as the club looks to shed some of their glut at the guard position, I’d like to see Larkin stay. He may not have the highest ceiling, but he’s young enough were there is still a lot of room to grow in his game. He’s a smart and skilled player who plays with passion defensively, all attributes the Knicks can use.

In Las Vegas, Larkin showed he could be a contributing player this upcoming season as a backup to Jose Calderon, providing 15-22 minutes coming off the bench in his second NBA season. Expect Larkin to continue to get better as he learns the nuances of the triangle offense

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Shane Larkin is enjoying 'fresh start' with the New York Knicks

That sequence was emblematic of Larkin’s performance throughout the NBA Summer League. Just a few weeks after the Dallas Mavericks sent him to the Knicks in a multi-player trade, Larkin impressed new Knicks president Phil Jackson and new Knicks coach Derek Fisher.

“I feel like I have a great opportunity here,” Larkin told the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s a new team, a new system, a fresh start, a new coach. Phil just took over the team, so it’s a completely new chemistry and new brand of Knicks basketball that they’re trying to build. I’m glad I can be a part of that.”

In five exhibitions, Larkin — who attended Orlando’s Dr. Phillips High and the University of Miami —  averaged 12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.0 steals per game. He turned over the ball just 1.4 times per game.

Larkin compiled those statistics even as he was adjusting to the triangle offense, the system that the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers employed as Jackson coached them to 11 NBA titles.

“Shane was fantastic,” Fisher told the Knicks’ website.

“In a lot of ways, he was our most stable and consistent performer in terms of being solid with the basketball, making the right plays, making the right reads. I thought defensively he caused a lot of problems for every team that we played, and that’s where he can change the game every time he’s on the floor.”

Though only 21 years old, Larkin already has endured a tumultuous start to his NBA career.

On draft night last year, the Atlanta Hawks selected him 18th overall, then sent his draft rights to the Mavericks.

A few weeks later, as he was practicing with the Mavericks’ summer-league team, he fractured his right ankle just a few hours before the Mavericks were scheduled to leave for Las Vegas.

Larkin underwent surgery to insert two screws into his ankle, and the recovery forced him to miss training camp and the entire preseason. He made his NBA debut in mid-November, but he played sparingly for Dallas, appearing in just 48 games.

Then, on June 25, one day before this year’s draft, the Mavericks included him in a multi-player trade with the Knicks. Dallas sent Larkin, point guard Jose Calderon, center Samuel Dalembert, swingman Wayne Ellington and a pair of second-round picks to New York for center Tyson Chandler and point guard Raymond Felton.

Larkin likely will find himself behind Calderon and Pablo Prigioni on the Knicks’ depth chart at point guard. But Calderon is 32, and Prigioni is 37. If the Knicks want to play up-tempo and want to improve their defense at the point of attack, they’ll turn to Larkin.

He should be able to learn from Fisher, a first-year head coach who played in the triangle under Jackson with the Lakers.

“There’s really no better coach out there for me to learn from in this system,” Larkin said. “Dallas was a great situation, but this is also a great situation with a head coach that can help me probably more than he can help any of the other players, because he actually played my spot in this system.

“It’ll be a new learning experience. New York is the mecca for basketball. So if you can play in New York and be a good player in New York, it’s going to be a great thing for you.”

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Jemile Weeks Placed On Minor League DL

Weeks was placed on the 7-day DL Friday with a groin strain, CSN Mid-Atlantic's Rich Dubroff reports.

He hasn't really fit into the Orioles' plans this year at the major league level, but he's getting on base at a .394 clip with Triple-A Norfolk. However, he's hitting for basically no power, with just one home run in 55 games.

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Brewers Fans Forgive as Braun’s Bat Heats Up

MILWAUKEE — As the slider Ryan Braun had just crushed landed several rows up in the left-field bleachers, a horde of fans scurried to find the ball. The rest of the crowd roared, and fireworks boomed overhead.

Braun put his head down and kept jogging. His face was expressionless; he looked focused, determined.

For the rest of his career, Braun may be a polarizing figure everywhere but Milwaukee, remembered for how he adamantly denied using performance-enhancing drugs, how he accused a test collector of mishandling his sample and how, ultimately, he was linked to the Biogenesis scandal and was suspended for 65 games.

Like other disgraced stars, Braun offered apologies. He expressed remorse through the news media but did not discuss specifics. He wrote a letter to Bud Selig. He had dinner with the test collector. He called Brewers season-ticket holders.

Here, in Miller Park, Braun is safe from judgment, safe from the vitriol that followed him. Brewers fans seem to have forgiven him, at least so long as he keeps producing. This season, his first since the suspension, this is his sanctuary.

“Here, it’s always good,” Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke said. “It’s been great. But on the road, it’s continued to be tough. It used to be, the Cubs fans would boo him; some fans around our division would boo him. Now, it’s everywhere.”

Braun, 30, declined to comment for this article, citing his busy pregame routine. Roenicke seemed mostly pleased with Braun’s season, perhaps because he has not needed Braun to carry the load by himself. Three Brewers players started in the All-Star Game, including catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a potential candidate for the Most Valuable Player award. Fittingly, the Brewers led the National League with 58 wins entering Friday.

And just now, finally, Braun is coming around, Roenicke said.

To this point, he has had an up-and-down season. Over his first 22 games, Braun crushed the ball, with 18 runs batted in. Then an oblique injury cost him about two weeks, and afterward, Roenicke said, it took Braun a while to regain his form.

His power numbers dipped noticeably. Over the first six seasons of his career, through 2012, he averaged about 34 home runs, 76 extra-base hits and 107 R.B.I. a season. Entering Friday, he had a .302 batting average but was on pace for only about 24 homers, 64 extra-base hits and 93 R.B.I. this season.
That home run to left field, though, a two-run shot in Thursday night’s victory over the Mets, extended Braun’s hitting streak to 12 games.

During the streak, Braun was batting .383, with three homers and 11 R.B.I., playing as well as he had all season.

“He looks like himself lately,” Roenicke said, adding: “If you look up there, his numbers are getting where they should be again. He’s slowly picking back up there.

“Really the last week, I’m seeing the guy that we were used to seeing.”

Left fielder Khris Davis, who has pushed Braun to right field, was leading the Brewers with 17 home runs. Four players other than Braun had at least 46 R.B.I. But his standing on the team, after all the drama, appeared unchanged.

“He’s producing, and that’s what we need from him,” third baseman Aramis Ramirez said, adding: “We treat him just like we did last year and the year before. He’s one of our teammates, who just went through a rough time.”

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Peter O'Brien hits 21st homer, but Thunder drop slugfest

TRENTON — The Thunder allowed four runs in the top of the seventh inning to erase a one-run advantage and went on to lose to the Binghamton Mets, 10-7, Saturday night at Arm & Hammer Park.

In the game-defining top of the seventh, Thunder (50-58) pitchers Phil Wetherwell and James Pazos surrendered three hits, a walk and hit a batter. Second baseman Jose Toussen also made an error on a tailor-made double play ball that would have ended the inning and kept the game tied at seven.

“If we eliminated a couple mistakes, we might have (won),” manager Tony Franklin said. “That’s what probably did us in tonight. We didn’t make the plays.”

Mets (63-43) manager Pedro Lopez and centerfielder Darrell Ceciliani were both ejected from the game during the seventh inning. Ceciliani was arguing with the home plate umpire after he believed he was hit by a pitch. Lopez came from the dugout, argued and was ejected. On the next pitch, Ceciliani was hit and was tossed after he turned and said something to the umpire.

The top of the Thunder lineup was crucial to keeping the team in the game. Jake Cave had four hits, including two triples and a double, from the leadoff spot. Ben Gamel and Gary Sanchez combined for five hits, three RBIs and three runs scored.

Peter O’Brien hit his 21st home run of the season. His solo blast went to the opposite field and sliced through the wind.

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For Chris Perez, it's back to the drawing board to fix delivery issues

SAN FRANCISCO – In recording a perfect inning in the eighth of a blowout victory Friday night at AT&T Park, Dodgers right-hander Chris Perez threw 16 pitches.

He estimated 13 of them included the type of delivery he is striving to replicate every time he throws. Three nights before in Pittsburgh, though, Perez threw 25 pitches and only felt right a couple times.

Not coincidentally, he totally imploded and issued four straight walks in the Pittsburgh game. But Perez remains confident in the mechanical adjustments he and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt have made in recent weeks.

“If you take away that one outing in Pittsburgh, the last two weeks have been pretty good,” Perez said Saturday. “We figured out what caused that one outing. If it happens again, hopefully I can make the adjustment pitch to pitch, not five hitters later.”

Perez said he has made around a dozen mechanical adjustments to his delivery at various points this season, a trying one for the 29-year-old right-hander who signed an incentive-laden deal with the Dodgers in December.

“One leads to another,” he said.

The latest one, made the afternoon after the hellish outing, involves Perez staying “six or so inches” more upright.

“That lets my foot turn more towards the plate,” he said. “If I bend over, my foot lands and I’m pointed more towards the batter’s box.”

Perez has a 5.06 ERA in 371/3 innings this season, a run and a half worse than his career mark. But he struggled in his final year in Cleveland in 2013, posting a 4.33 ERA in 54 innings and losing his closer’s role.

He felt off mechanically then, too, but spent little time tinkering.

“For whatever reason our pitching coaches couldn’t identify it, or didn’t want to, or nothing,” Perez said. “They just kind of let me figure it out. This has been about a good year and a half of creating bad habits.”

The Dodgers approached him in spring training about making some changes. Perez said he requested they give him time to work his old way, and they did, and he kept recording scoreless performances until early May.

“I was going good, so they didn’t say a word,” he said.

But he started going bad fast, and by May 22 in New York, he had a 5.68 ERA. That’s when the changes came.

The struggles of Perez and other veteran relievers have led to the expectation that the Dodgers will seek out additional relief help before Thursday’s trading deadline. But Manager Don Mattingly insisted Saturday that he believes his bullpen, as structured, is capable of performing at an elite level.

“We haven’t pitched to our best yet,” Perez said. “But I think we definitely have the experience. Me, Paul (Maholm) and Jamey (Wright) just need to get a little more consistent.”

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