29 April 2012

Photos: proCanes Lamar Miller, Jacory Harris and Olivier Vernon at Miami Dolphins Rookie Camp


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All Canes Radio With LaRon Byrd

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Every Thursday Night proCanes.com joins All Canes Radio to bring the latest news on not only current Hurricane football but also proCane news and exclusive interviews with current and former proCanes live from the All Canes Store in Coral Gables. Click here to listen to this week’s show and hear our exclusive interview with former Hurricane and new proCane LaRon Byrd. Byrd talks the stress of going through the NFL draft, signing a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals, his preparations for Rookie Camp, his days as a Miami Hurricane and much more!

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Lamar Miller in His New Dolphins Attire


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Judge Warren Sapp TV Show Pays Audience $50 To Show Up For Tapings


As mentioned in the Daily Dump, Warren Sapp has moved on from his gig at the NFL Network to the frontier of TV court judge. No, we’re not kidding. This is the real deal. He’s really going to be a judge on your television at some point very soon. Again, not kidding. The former NFLer joins the likes of Judge Joe Brown, Judge Judy, Judge Greg Mathis, etc. How serious is this situation? A production company paid people to sit in Sapp’s court this weekend. 

According to OnSet Productions, taping of Judge Sapp took place Saturday. Audience members, usually willing to waste time at a judge show just to be on TV, were actually compensated.

This is a PAID AUDIENCE of $50 Cash, paid same day to attend this show. Must be 18 and over to apply and available for 6 hours. Each shift is listed to the left.

Description- As a studio audience member, you will be watching and reacting to court cases as presiding Judge Warren Sapp decides who is right and wrong. You will be ON CAMERA.

Of course slackers were super pumped for the easy cash. No word on if and when Judge Sapp will make its TV debut.
Were you part of the Judge Sapp tapings? In the audience for the show? Do you have a photo of yourself with Judge Sapp? We want to hear all about it.

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Jacory Harris to join other former Hurricanes at Dolphins camp

Former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris will be reunited with several teammates when the Miami Dolphins open their rookie mini-camp on Friday.

Harris is one of at least two undrafted free agents from the University of Miami invited to rookie camp at the Dolphins training facility in Davie this weekend.

Offensive lineman Joel Figueroa also has been invited. The Dolphins have not released a complete list of camp invitees.

Harris and Figueroa will join draft picks Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller at camp.

Vernon, a defensive end, was selected in the third round of the draft. Running back Miller was picked in the fourth round.

Harris (6-4, 195), played in 47 games at UM, completing 60 percent of his passes and throwing 70 touchdowns. He career was marred by 48 interceptions, including 17 in 2009 and 15 in 2010.

Figueroa (6-6, 323) spent six years at UM. He played guard and right tackle for the Hurricanes.

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Jonathan Vilma requested meeting with NFL, backed out

NEW YORK -- New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whom the NFL suspended for the 2012 season for his role in the team's bounty program, requested a meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell during the league's investigation -- before discipline was administered Wednesday -- but he opted not to finalize an appointment under the advice of legal counsel, according to a league source.

The NFL had accepted Vilma's request.

No Saints player other than former defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove took part in the league's investigation. Hargrove, who was suspended for eight games, provided a written statement saying a bounty program existed in New Orleans and acknowledging his role in it, according to the NFL.

Vilma received the harshest discipline of the four players who were suspended, and he issued a statement vehemently denying his participation in the bounty program and his intent to fight the sanctions.

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Sam Shields Leaves Fiancée Homeless, Throws Her Out And Takes Back Car

Green Bay Packers’ cornerback Sam Shields may need a lesson in chivalry.

On Thursday, the 24-year-old football player unceremoniously threw his fiancée Melissa Lopez out of the home that they once shared, rendering her homeless, RadarOnline.com is exclusively reporting.

Sources close to the couple told Radar that Shields initially split from Lopez last year and did so in the cruelest of ways.

“He woke her up in the middle of the night, threw $300 at her and totally out of the blue ordered her to get out immediately,” the insider said. “He just told her he didn’t like her anymore.

“He told her that he had met someone else and she had to get out, right then and there. She gathered what she could and left and then lived out of her car for months and stayed on friends’ couches whenever she could."

Shields apparently then had a change of heart back in January and told Lopez she could move back in and stay in the apartment until the lease expired in July while he went out of state.

But last week Shields told Lopez that he had changed his mind yet again and she was going to have to move out, immediately!

“Today he just showed up at the apartment with a moving truck -- just out the blue -- and moved all of the furniture and everything out of the home,” the source revealed.

“He hardly even said a word to her. He just ignored her and helped the movers get everything out. When she asked him what she was supposed to do or where she was meant to go he was just cold and said, ‘I don’t know.’

“Melissa doesn’t have any family there. She just knows the other football wives and girlfriends so it’s complicated. He had totally given her the impression that they were going to get back together.”

The building manager has told the 25-year-old that she will have to vacate the property immediately because she doesn’t qualify to take over the lease on her own.

Shields signed a $1.2 million, thee-year deal with the Packers back in 2010.

“Melissa moved to Green Bay to be with him. She was with him before he signed his big contract. They were together for three years and she really stood by him.

“She was using a car that he was getting for free, all he had to do was give the rental company a signed ball and jersey. And he had the company come and take the car away from her too even though he wasn’t even paying for it.

“Melissa has had to deal with a lot from him. He had told her that he only had two children. But she later found out he actually has three and maybe another one on the way as there’s a girl in Green Bay who is pregnant and wants him to take a paternity test.”

Shields had "no comment" when reached by RadarOnline.com.

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Decision by proCanes underclassmen to enter NFL Draft may have cost them a lot of money

CORAL GABLES — Tommy Streeter appears to have made a $2 million mistake.

The University of Miami's leading receiver last year, Streeter - along with four other teammates - opted out of his final season of eligibility in December to enter the NFL Draft.

Some draft analysts graded the 6-foot-5, 219-pound Streeter as a second-round pick, not surprising since he impressed teams at the NFL Combine in February by running 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, the eighth-fastest clocking.

But by the time the NFL Draft arrived last Thursday, Streeter's stock was tumbling. Questions regarding his route-running and a "one-year wonder" label seemed to overshadow his rare combination of size and speed.

Instead of the second round, Streeter was left hanging until the Baltimore Ravens took him with the 198th overall pick late in the sixth round.
According to a long-time NFL agent with access to contract information, the average second-round draft choice in 2011 earned $2.2 million in guarantees. A sixth-rounder received an average of $101,000 guaranteed.

"Tommy Streeter should have come back to school," ESPN's Todd McShay said this week. "He knew the risks. I thought he could have used more time."

Streeter wasn't alone. His four other underclassmen teammates, with the possible exception of Dolphins' third-round pick Olivier Vernon, all were selected below where they were projected. In the case of defensive tackle Marcus Forston, he wasn't even drafted.

Lamar Miller may have been an even bigger loser than Streeter. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. included Miller in first-round mock drafts into February and most analysts listed the 5-11, 212-pound sprinter as one of the top four running backs in the draft.

But Miller, dogged by concerns about a surgically-repaired shoulder, lasted until the fourth round and 97th overall selection, where the Dolphins traded up for him.

How much money did Miller leave on the table? Judging by last year's rookie contracts, he may have lost millions.

Stanford's Sione Fua, the 97th overall selection in the 2011 draft, signed a four-year contract for $2.6 million. Offensive tackle Derrick Sherrod, the final pick of the first round in 2011, signed a four-year deal for $6.6 million. Sherrod also received a $3.3 million signing bonus compared to a $514,000 bonus for Fua.

So who's to blame?

You can start with the players themselves. Each of the UM quintet chose not to petition the NFL Draft Advisory Board, a committee of general managers and personnel directors who advise underclassmen on their draft status.

"In 15 years of coaching, I've never seen that," UM coach Al Golden said last month. "It's a function of what the young person is listening to."
Which brings us to Drew Rosenhaus, the agent for all five underclassmen.

Rosenhaus declined an interview request for this story. But during his weekly appearance on WQAM this week, Rosenhaus sidestepped a question regarding his clients' choice not to query the NFL Draft Advisory Board and didn't assign himself any responsibility for what, in retrospect, seems like poor decisions by the players to turn pro.

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Vince Wilfork's 'Top 100' fall looks arbitrary

It's difficult to take "The Top 100: Players of 2012" too seriously after the voters placed a mediocre fullback on the list, but I'm going to try anyway until they stop me. Thus, I'm appropriately outraged that New England Patriots star Vince Wilfork is ranked No. 81 based off his 2011 season, falling 46 spots from his spot on the 2010 list.

Wilfork's fall is a great sign that these rankings are largely arbitrary. Wilfork simply was a better player in 2011 than he was in 2010. His playoff run perhaps was the signature stretch of his career. While his numbers don't often show up in the stats, Wilfork took on more responsibility and showed greater versatility than he ever did before. (We're talking about his work at defensive end, not his awesome interceptions.)

There simply aren't many -- or any -- interior defenders who can do what Wilfork does. He's annually among the elite at his position. Seeing him tumble in the rankings after what probably was his best season since 2008 just shows the difficulties inherent in the "Top 100: Players of 2012."

I'll stop complaining now. Until next week.

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Jonathan Vilma: 'I intend to fight this injustice'

We didn’t hear a whole lot from Jonathan Vilma after the NFL released news that it had information the New Orleans Saints linebacker had ponied up in playoff games for anyone that could knock Kurt Warner or Brett Favre out.

Now that Vilma has been suspended for the entire 2012 season, he’s spoken up in a big way. Vilma got hit hardest and he has denied offering to pay $10,000 for anyone to knock the quarterbacks out as part of the team/s bounty program that was run by ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

“I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the NFL's decision to suspend me for the 2012 season,” Vilma said in his statement, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “Commissioner Roger Goodell has refused to share any of the supposed evidence he claims supports this unprecedented punishment. The reason is clear: I never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, to any player for knocking Kurt Warner, Brett Favre or any other player, out of the 2009 divisional playoff game, 2010 NFC Championship Game, or any other game. I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player. I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner.

“I intend to fight this injustice, to defend my reputation, to stand up for my team and my profession and to send a clear signal to the commissioner that the process has failed, to the detriment of me, my teammates, the New Orleans Saints and the game.”

Challenging the NFL in this insistence is going to be next to impossible for Vilma and anyone else. Goodell has power, through the collective bargaining agreement, to discipline players. It just so happens Vilma was socked with the stiffest penalty. Vilma says he is shocked but can he really be? He saw the penalties handed down for Williams, Saints coach Sean Payton and others. He had to know the other shoe was going to drop.

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Rams Interesed in Rocky McIntosh

The St. Louis Rams addressed several of the team's many needs in free agency and the draft. However, the 2014 team has a number of holes left to fill. One of the more glaring needs is at the outside linebacker position.

In addition to in-house options, which are few beyond Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a few names are still out there on the wire, waiting to land with an new team. Would any of those players make sense for the Rams?

The best of the available free agents is Washington Redskins weakside linebacker Rocky McIntosh. He plays adequately on the weakside in a 4-3, and was completely miscast in Washington's 3-4 defense. The Bears had some interest, but not enough to make an offer.

Broncos free agent Mario Haggan is another option as a strongside backer. He's 32. Bengals free agent strongside linebacker Brandon Johnson, 29, is another option, a very underwhelming one, but perhaps the third-best free agent out there right now.

In all likelihood, the Rams will not be making anymore additions in the near future, at least not until they have a better chance to assess their situation in minicamp and again, more thoroughly, in training camp.

The market is very thin on free agent options right now. A second wave of players will arrive as teams make further cuts in the offseason, as they assess needs and redundancies on their rosters.

Healthy corners who can help in run support will help the situation some, especially in today's NFL where the nickel and dime packages are just as, if not more, prevalent than a base formation. In fact, given that the Rams have to choose their priorities carefully as they rebuild, getting a deep and competent secondary is a better place to start.

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Jon Beason Faces Uphill Battle

In the wake of news that Ravens' LB Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles it's hard today not to think about the injury Jon Beason sustained just under a year ago. If you were paying attention to Beason's condition throughout training camp and preseason last year, it wasn't really a surprise. He'd been struggling with Achilles strains throughout camp, and when it finally tore he was at a position where he was going to need require surgery either way; like a true leader he played to the last.

The eternal optimist in all of us wants to believe Beast will return in 2012 full strength, but talk to anyone who has sustained an Achilles injury, and tried to recover from one, and you'll hear about what a struggle it is to return to form, and how getting back to 100% can take far longer than typical eleven month recovery time. I have no doubt Beason will be back to full form in time, but it's naïve to believe he'll be in pre-injury condition immediately. NFL reporter Adam Caplan gave us some insight today over twitter on what an Achilles injury can mean.

"I talked to former NFL DE Greg Ellis at the Pro Bowl a while back. He said it took him 2 years for his Achilles to get back to normal. First year he wasn't comfortable at all. Struggled with it all season. Getting explosion off that surgically repaired Achilles is the biggest key in coming back. Very difficult in the first season."

Yes, he released a very promising video of him training in Miami, but it's not about how something looks on film, but rather how it feels. Recently Beason told Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer he felt he was at ‘80%', later acknowledging on WFNZ that this statement was as much mental as physical. Having confidence in one's body is the key to performance on Sundays, and if there's even just a small amount of doubt that can effect a player's ability.

Obviously no two players are the same, and just because a defensive end had one road to recovery doesn't mean Beason's will mirror it. That being said, in light of this prognosis it's understandable why we could potentially see rookie Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker out of the gate. In a 4-3 defense continuity is paramount in the middle, and as such Kuechly would be consistent, even if there is a drop off in year one. This would take some of the pressure off Beason to be the stalwart run stopper, and would allow him to be spelled with Thomas Davis as needed on the outside, in turn giving him time to rest.

Obviously we all hope Jon Beason will be back to his old self as soon as possible, and I have no doubt this team's leader will play as hard as he can every single down. However, that doesn't mean he should be put through too much in his first year back. If nothing else the Carolina Panthers are good at learning from their mistakes, and with Thomas Davis now attempting to make his third return from injury I doubt the Panthers will ask too much of Beason in 2012.

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Jon Jay Swinging A Hot Bat

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Chris Perez, Sox's Rios exchange words

CHICAGO -- As Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez started to celebrate his team’s 7-5 win on Thursday night, Chicago White Sox outfielder Alex Rios took exception.

Believing that the demonstrative closer was yelling at him, Rios wasn’t so quick to leave the field. Instead he stared down Perez and began to shout in his direction.

Even as the dust of Chicago’s loss settled, Rios was still somewhat flummoxed.

“I don’t know what was wrong with him,” Rios said. “He just started yelling … for no reason. … When I hit the ground ball and I was running to first, he was yelling (at me) the whole way.”

The brief exchange between the two players escalated no further than a few words, however.

“I couldn’t tell what he was saying, he was just staring and saying something,” Rios said after the game. “If he was celebrating, that is not the right way to do it.”

Perez had a different take on the final out of the game.

“He might of thought I was yelling at him,” Perez said. “I wasn’t. I was yelling at my teammates, happy about the win.

According to both players, there was no past incident or bad blood between them prior to Thursday’s game.

“The only history we have is I gave up a grand slam to him last year,” Perez said. “He is a competitor, I am a competitor. He is on a different team. I am not friends with him. If he is mad I don’t care.”

The two teams play a four-game series in Cleveland beginning on Monday.

“You can use that as motivation in some way,” Rios said. “But let’s just play ball.”

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Scott Maine sent to Iowa as Wood, Dempster activated

CINCINNATI -- The Chicago Cubs activated Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood from the disabled list Thursday and optioned Randy Wells and Scott Maine to Triple-A Iowa.

Dempster starts against the Reds on his birthday, facing another birthday boy in Homer Bailey. 

Manager Dale Sveum said he would use Wood "in less stressful situations, a sixth or seventh inning type of thing" for the time being.

Maine had a 1.59 earned-run average in five appearances, but was the victim of a numbers game. The Cubs must keep Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo, who hasn't pitched since April 20, and newly acquired Michael Bowden is out of options.

"Those are the unfortunate things in this game that happen, because he did a really good job while he was here," Sveum said of Maine. "It's very nice to have those two lefties in the bullpen."

Wells gave up nine hits and nine walks in two starts covering 8 2/3 innings. Asked if Wells had a future with the Cubs, Sveum replied: "He's got a future. We can't sit here and promise anything. Right now that's the role he (has) -- the swingman coming up when we need starts."

Sveum said there was nowhere in the bullpen to put Wells, and they aren't in need of a long man.

"There's just no options, no spots to do that," he said. "We're pretty fortunate to have everybody in the bullpen, besides Wood, be able to throw two innings."

Wells seemed to know his demotion was coming after a poor start in Philadelphia last weekend.

"I'm not happy," he said. "I didn't pitch well. There's no one really to blame but yourself. It still sucks. You obviously want to pitch well and put you in position, but the numbers just don't stack up. it is what it is."

Wells said he didn't know if he was going to start in Iowa, though Sveum said that's obviously what will happen. Asked if he felt like he fit in with the Cubs, Wells said: "I don't know. We'll see. I don't think it's that at all. I just think there's no room."

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Jemile Weeks might be back Friday

Oakland Athletics 2B Jemile Weeks (groin) might be able to return to the lineup Friday, May 4. He is dealing with tightness in his groin, and manager Bob Melvin felt it best to rest him with a scheduled open date Thursday, May 3.

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Chris Perez closes out White Sox for ninth save

Chris Perez picked up his ninth save of the season, working 2/3 of an inning against the White Sox on Thursday.

The Indians led 7-3 heading into the ninth inning, and it didn't look like Perez' services would be needed. However, after Dan Wheeler surrendered a two-run homer to Adam Dunn, Perez came on to record two easy outs and pick up his ninth save of the season.

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Willis McGahee Reacts to Jon Vilma's Suspension

Broncos running back Willis McGahee described the year-long suspension for Vilma as "tough."

McGahee was teammates with Vilma at the University of Miami from 2000-2002 and the two remained friends.

"That's it. It's tough," McGahee said. "I mean, it's not me so I can't really say anything. I'm pretty sure he'll be all right. He'll appeal it I'm pretty sure."
Vilma issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that he would "fight this injustice," "defend my reputation" and "stand up for my team and my profession." Vilma typed the statement in all capital letters.

Denver-based agent Peter Schaeffer called the suspensions "broad and unreasonable."

"I think it's another example of commissioner's overbearing power in the league to suspend players for actions of coaches," Schaeffer said. "If they were any of my players we would fight this to the bitter end."

The suspended players have three days to appeal the punishment. New Orleans head coach Sean Payton appealed his one-year suspension but was denied by Goodell.

"The union has to stand up for these players to make sure the union is an integral part in this type of discipline," Schaeffer said. "It seems to me these players are being scapegoats for a much bigger systemic problem."

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Sean Spence Talks To Current Northwestern Players


Photo taken by SFHS Sports @SFHSSports


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Santana Moss needs to improve conditioning

John Keim of the Washington Examiner suspects that Santana Moss' role and roster spot may depend on his conditioning entering camp.

"The key for Moss is to have a really good offseason," Keim said. "They weren't pleased with him last year. ... He wasn't in the best shape of his career, I'll say that." Moss is expected to be no more than the Redskins' No. 3/slot receiver, leaving him off the 2012 fantasy draft radar behind Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson. Moss could also be released in late August.

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Jonathan Vilma banned for year

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season by the NFL, one of four players punished on Wednesday for participating in the team's cash-for-hits bounty system.

Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, was suspended for the first half of the 16-game season; Saints defensive end Will Smith was barred for the opening four games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, will miss the first three games. Like Vilma, they were suspended without pay.

Vilma released a statement later Wednesday denying any role in the alleged bounty program and vowing to fight his suspension.

"I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the NFL's decision to suspend me for the 2012 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell has refused to share any of the supposed evidence he claims supports this unprecedented punishment. The reason is clear: I never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, to any player for knocking Kurt Warner, Brett Favre or any other player, out of the 2009 divisional playoff game, 2010 NFC Championship Game, or any other game.

"I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player. I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner. I intend to fight this injustice, to defend my reputation, to stand up for my team and my profession, and to send a clear signal to the commissioner that the process has failed, to the detriment of me, my teammates, the New Orleans Saints and the game."

All four player suspensions will be appealed, according to an NFL source, who told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, "Get ready for a massive multiple legal battle over this on several fronts."

In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL Players Association, said the union would fight the penalties. Fujita is a member of the NFLPA's executive committee.

The league's statement said Vilma, Hargrove, Smith and Fujita were suspended because of "conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their leadership roles" with the bounties.

Will Smith issued a statement Wednesday night saying he, too, will appeal and called the allegations against him "one-hundred percent false."

"I am disappointed the NFL has punished me with a four game suspension. I have never in my career, nor as a Captain asked others, to intentionally target and hurt specific opposing players. I was in no way involved in establishing or assisting Gregg Williams with implementing a bounty program. The accusations made against me are completely and one-hundred percent false, and I plan to appeal the decision along with the help of the NFL Players Association," he said via statement sent by his publicist.

"Through this entire process, the NFL never notified me of what I was being accused of, nor presented me with any evidence or reasoning for this decision," Smith's statement continued. "I am interested in discovering who is making these specific and false accusations, and as well as why a decision was made without speaking with me and giving me the opportunity to review the facts. I am going to work with my union to clear my name and returning to the game I love and respect. Thank you to our fans for the continued support."

Fujita did not immediately respond to an email or phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment. He is not taking part in the Browns' "voluntary" offseason conditioning program and remains in California with his family. His wife, Jaclyn, recently gave birth to the couple's third daughter.

An NFL investigation determined the Saints ran a bounty system from 2009 to '11 that offered thousands of dollars to players for big hits that knocked opponents out of games. In March, Goodell suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for all of next season without pay, and levied other penalties against the club.

But no players were punished until Wednesday. Originally, the league said that 22 to 27 defensive players were involved in the illegal scheme orchestrated by then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and started in the season New Orleans won its only Super Bowl championship.
Targeted opponents included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.

Warner was among several former and current NFL players to react on social media to the NFL's ruling.

"Just saw player suspensions from "bounty gate", WOW! #fb," Warner posted on Twitter.

Wednesday's penalties close the book on the league's discipline for bounties, leaving the Saints without their head coach and top defensive player (Vilma) for the full season -- and also affecting two other clubs.

"In assessing player discipline, I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation," Goodell said in a statement.

While the league said that its investigation showed "a significant number of players participated" in the bounties -- by ponying up cash or collecting it -- "the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level."

According to the league, Saints defensive captain Vilma offered $10,000 in cash to any player who knocked then-Cardinals QB Warner out of a playoff game at the end of the 2009 season, and the same amount for knocking then-Vikings QB Favre out of that season's NFC Championship Game. The Saints were flagged for roughing Favre twice in that game, and the league later said they should have received another penalty for a brutal high-low hit from Remi Ayodele and Bobby McCray that hurt Favre's ankle. He was able to finish the game, but the Saints won in overtime en route to the NFL title.

According to the NFL, Fujita "pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL Playoffs when he played for the Saints."

The league said Hargrove "actively obstructed the league's 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators." He also "actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints," the league said, adding that he eventually "submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it."

The NFL said that "multiple independent sources" said Smith "pledged significant sums to the program pool."

The league said no player agreed to be interviewed in person, and the players also declined to send someone to argue on their behalf, league sources told Schefter. As one NFL source said, "They took the Fifth Amendment."

The NFLPA did not share information from its own investigation, and league sources told Schefter that the union never recommended any discipline in the case.

A Saints source who testified during the league's investigation told ESPN's Ed Werder on Wednesday that he believed the league's findings are exaggerated. The source said that while the report said the program existed for three seasons, it was limited to playoff games in the Superdome against Arizona and Minnesota in 2009.

The source told Werder that the program began when Williams was concerned about creating a higher level of motivation for his defensive players as they prepared for the postseason. Before a team meeting, Williams told Vilma that he had a plan, and that the coach provided Vilma with the 10,000 dollars he offered to any teammate who knocked out Warner. The source said Vilma returned the money to Williams following the meeting.
According to the source, Williams believed the financial reward created the proper defensive mindset. So Williams and Vilma repeated the scenario the next week before playing the Vikings and Favre, who was the victim of several illegal hits, had to be helped from the field, but finished the game.

Vilma will miss out on $1.6 million in base salary in 2012, while Fujita stands to lose more than $640,000, Hargrove more than $385,000 and Smith more than $190,000. Some of those contracts were restructured this offseason, perhaps in anticipation of the punishments.

Their teams -- the Saints, Browns and Packers -- already have made personnel moves that could help fill the gaps. The Saints signed three linebackers in free agency; the Packers, who also will be without defensive end Mike Neal for four games because he violated the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, drafted two defensive linemen last week; and the Browns drafted two linebackers.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur said the team will abide by Goodell's ruling.

"We will respect the Commissioner's decision," Shurmur said in a statement. "Scott is a valued member of the Cleveland Browns, and we look forward to his participation in our offseason program and training camp."

A Packers spokesman said the team will not comment on Hargrove's suspension and the Saints did not immediately comment.

After the NFL announced the players' suspensions, DeMaurice Smith issued a statement saying the union "has still not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program. We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf."

All payouts for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, are against NFL rules. The NFL warns teams against such practices before each season, although in the aftermath of the revelations about the Saints, current and former players from various teams talked about that sort of thing happening frequently -- just not on the same scale as was found in New Orleans.

Goodell has made an effort to emphasize player safety in recent seasons. The NFL is facing dozens of lawsuits brought by more than 1,000 former players who say the league didn't do enough to warn them about -- or protect them from -- the dangers of concussions.

Player reaction was mixed around the league, with some supporting Goodell's decision, and others complaining about it.

"I think he's doing the right thing to make sure this doesn't happen ever again. There's no room for any kind of bounty system in the NFL. It's a physical sport and you've got to respect the game," New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning said. "He's been harsh to try to make a statement saying there is no place for this in the game of football."

But James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a linebacker who was suspended for a game last season after an illegal hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, tweeted that the penalties were "ridiculous" and suggested Goodell's crackdown is motivated by the concussion lawsuits and a desire to increase the regular season to 18 games.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham tweeted: "I want to see the evidence and hear an explanation."

Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel tweeted that Vilma found out about his suspension by watching ESPN's "SportsCenter" and not from the league itself.

Daniel's tweet: "I was standing right next 2 @jonvilma51 when he found out abt his suspension ON @SportsCenter. Really? He has to find out about it that way?"

Meanwhile, Saints running back Mark Ingram tweeted the suspensions will prove only to motivate New Orleans.

"Don't worry they just makin us hungrier and puttin a bigger chip on or shoulder!! #WHODATNATION will rise above it!! #believedat," he wrote.
In a memo sent Wednesday to the NFL's 32 teams, Goodell reminded them that "any program of non-contract bonuses, however it is characterized, is a violation of league rules" and said that every head coach must review those rules with assistants and players during minicamp or preseason training camp.

Also, all players will be told how they can confidentially report rules violations.

In March, Goodell made Payton the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason, for trying to cover up the system of extra cash payouts. Goodell also indefinitely banned Williams, who was hired in January to run the St. Louis Rams' defense.

In addition, Goodell suspended Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season and assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games. The Saints were fined $500,000 and lost two second-round draft picks.

Fujita, Hargrove, and Smith are allowed to participate in offseason activity, including preseason games, before their suspensions take effect. Vilma, though, is suspended immediately and will be reinstated after the coming season's Super Bowl -- which, coincidentally, will be played in New Orleans.

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Willis McGahee admits he's not a fan of zone-read option plays

Having a quarterback like Peyton Manning alters the leadership dynamic on the practice field from when Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow were around. "It's different, because we didn't really have that last year where the quarterback was demanding of us, telling us where he wanted us and just taking charge," RB Willis McGahee said.

Heading into his 10th NFL season, McGahee expects that his career will be lengthened simply because Peyton Manning is around. "I don't have to take all that pounding anymore, because with Peyton out there, just being him, he's going to take a lot of pressure off the run game," McGahee said.

All McGahee needed was rest in order to shake the nagging knee and hamstring problems that dogged him in the second half of the season last fall. "I had to fight through it," McGahee said. "It didn't get right until the season was over with when I actually got some rest because I didn't get the rest that I needed."

McGahee's biggest game in his renaissance season came at Oakland in Week 8, when he ran for 163 yards, of which 125 came on zone-read option plays. But he's not eager to return to those days. "It's like running on blind faith, you know what I mean?" he said. "Either you're going to get the big run or you're going to get hit. I'm not a fan of getting hit, but it was my job description and that's what I had to do."

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Vince Wilfork ranks 81st in NFL Top 100 Poll

On Wednesday night, NFL Network aired the second part of its series profiling the "Top 100 NFL Players of 2012" as voted on by their peers. Picks 90-81 were unveiled, and the first Patriots player to make the list was announced.

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork checked in at number 81, down 46 spots from his 2011 ranking of 35.

The feature noted that Wilfork's fall may be due to the Patriots’ lack of defensive success as a team, although Wilfork experienced arguably his finest season as a pro, playing a career-best 86.8 percent of defensive snaps (up from 69.8 percent in 2010), recording 52 tackles, 3.5 sacks (also a career-high), and the first two interceptions of his career.

A number of NFL players were interviewed for the piece, including Jets center Nick Mangold, Saints guard Ben Grubbs, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux.

Said Babineaux, "It takes four dudes to move Vince Wilfork. The guy can do it all. He can take on the double team, and then make the play."

Both Mangold and Pouncey, who are regarded as two of the best centers in the AFC, made it clear that facing Wilfork is no easy task. Mangold described some of the challenges in facing Wilfork, noting his exceptional athleticism and technique.

“Obviously you see the size and the strength and everything, but his quickness, his technique. He’s great with his hand placement, his leverage, and that little burst off the ball," he said. "He might lull you to sleep looking at him, but he gets around.”

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Saints' Jimmy Graham: Suspensions Are 'Beyond Ridiculous'

TE Jimmy Graham on the bounty penalties via Twitter: "This is beyond ridiculous! I want to see the evidence and hear an explanation. Its sad when u have to hear about it on tv. Ridiculous!"

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Leonard Hankerson expected to start

The Washington Examiner's John Keim projects Leonard Hankerson as the Redskins' Week 1 starting Z receiver.

Like 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen, Keim believes Hankerson will beat out Josh Morgan to start opposite Pierre Garcon. Keim suspects Santana Moss will be the third receiver, likely spending most of his time in the slot. Hankerson will be worth a deep-league fantasy flier while monitoring the camp battle.

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Calais Campbell & Jared Campbell With Jared Quay At Yahoo Music

Calais Campbell on WhoSay

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Bears Ready To Give Up On Devin Hester As An Every-Down Receivier

Mike Tice had the "Randy Ratio" while with the Minnesota Vikings . In Chicago, the team's new offensive coordinator will have the "Devin Package." Bears general manager Phil Emery did the naming honors after this weekend's draft while explaining how Devin Hester will fit into the new Bears attack .

"Devin's role has not changed," Emery said. "We see him as a guy that is going to help our receiving corps in a big way. I know that Coach Tice has done a lot of planning. We want to make sure that we have a special plan for Devin, we have the Devin Package, a package of plays as a receiver. You never know where he is going to line up."

Translation: Devin's role has changed.

The Bears have unsuccessfully tried to make Hester an every-down receiver. This was done in part to please Hester, to see how much he could handle, and to justify the huge contract the team gave him. That plan hasn't totally failed -- Hester is useful at times at receiver -- but he hasn't developed into a consistent threat.

Creating a special package of plays for Hester makes sense. It's the role he was meant to have all along -- No. 4 receiver. But there's no denying it's a change for a player who started 25 games at wideout from 2009-2010. (He started eight last season as the Bears started to reduce his snaps.)

The Bears added Alshon Jeffrey over the weekend and Brandon Marshall earlier in the offseason. Earl Bennett will continue to get a lot of snaps, which leaves Hester as a part-time player. Chicago can get more out of Hester this way.

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Frank Gore's fantasy stock takes a tumble after Niners offseason moves

Including Frank Gore and Patrick Willis (IDP leagues), are there any 49ers that you would label safe as fantasy picks? - @ThisCantBRight (via Twitter)

Michael Fabiano: I do like Vernon Davis at the tight end position, and I still think Willis is a terrific option in IDP formats. However, I do have some concerns about Gore. There have already been reports out of the Bay area that suggest the veteran back is "likely" to experience a decrease in playing time following the glut of offensive additions the Niners made this offseason. Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon are in the mix, the team signed Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James was selected in the second round of last month's draft. Does that mean Gore is in danger of losing his starting job? No, but that's a lot of mouths to feed and enough reason to knock Gore down a few notches on your 2012 running back rankings. Aside from Gore, I don't trust Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham or Randy Moss as more than fantasy reserves or occasional matchup-based starters.

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Jon Beason a candidate for weak-side move

The Charlotte Observer has Jon Beason (Achilles surgery) penciled in at weak-side linebacker, with first-rounder Luke Kuechly in the middle.
The Observer concedes the two could be "flip-flopped" and that the decision could hinge on Beason's agility after returning from a torn Achilles. The Panthers believe Kuechly, the NCAA record holder at 14.0 tackles per game, can play all three linebacker spots.

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Danny Valencia ailing

ANAHEIM -- Danny Valencia was held out of Twins' starting lineup on Wednesday because of a stiff back, giving Trevor Plouffe his first Major League appearance at third base.

Valencia started feeling the stiffness during Tuesday's 4-0 loss to the Angels and was held out of action for precautionary reasons. Valencia actually wanted to stay in the lineup, as he's 3-for-12 with two homers off Angels ace and Tuesday starter Jered Weaver in his career.

"Danny's definitely available for the game if I need him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We gave him some Weaveritis medicine and he should be fine. But he did make it known that he has two home runs off him. Nah, he's got a stiff back. He was hurting last night during the game."

Plouffe, meanwhile, has played 76 games at third base in the Minors, and said he's comfortable playing there despite not having any Major League experience.

"I've played more games there than I have than the outfield," Plouffe said. "You've got to catch the ball and throw it to first base. I worked there yesterday and I've been getting ready for it. I feel like I'm prepared. I know the bunt plays. It's my job to play anywhere so I'm ready."

Plouffe said his experience as a shortstop makes the transition easier, as the throw across the diamond is about the same.

"The left side of the infield is similar," Plouffe said. "When you move over to the other side, it's a little different. So third base is kind of the same throw. It's just different assignments like with bunts and cutoffs. But it's my job to feel like I can play anywhere."

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Ryan Braun exits game with a sore Achilles tendon

SAN DIEGO -- The Brewers, already reeling from losing first baseman Mat Gamel to a significant knee injury, now are monitoring reigning National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun's sore Achilles tendon.

Braun exited Wednesday's 5-0 loss to the Padres here in the sixth inning with a sore right Achilles. He said he suffered the injury sliding while stealing second base during Tuesday night's game.

"It's just a little sore," Braun said.

The Brewers are off on Thursday before opening a series in San Francisco on Friday night. Braun's status?

"We'll see how it feels tomorrow," he said.

A Los Angeles native, Braun planned to spend Thursday's off-day at home in Southern California before joining the Giants in San Francisco on Friday.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who now has watched his team fail to score a run for 18 consecutive innings, called Braun's injury a "tight" Achilles but does not view it as an overriding concern.

"I don't think so," Roenicke said.

Braun, whose MVP award became clouded in controversy last winter when he failed a performance-enhancing drug test and subsequently had Major League Baseball's attempt to suspend him overturned by an arbiter on a technicality, left following a sixth-inning at-bat in which he flied to left field.

He leads the Brewers with seven homers and 17 RBI and was just two days removed from a monster game to start this series, becoming the first player ever to belt three home runs in a game in Petco Park on Monday. He also added a triple that night.

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Aubrey Huff to Have Rehab Assignment Once Activated

Last Wednesday, the Giants placed outfielder Aubrey Huff on the 15-day disabled list with what the team described as 'anxiety'. It's now looking like there will be a rehab stint involved as well, once the 15-day period is up.

Giants GM Brian Sabean appeared on Chronicle Live Tuesday, and noted that he "anticipates there will be some rehab games involved to see how he handles the pressure of that," once Huff is activated.

Manager Bruce Botchy watched Huff take some swings in the cages on Tuesday and mentioned, "He looked pretty good. He looks like he's in a good frame of mind. He still has time on the DL but it's important he gets his works in so he's ready when he can return."

Huff released a statement last week, thanking the fans, media and the Giants for giving him a chance to get the help he needed. Hopefully the time off works wonders and he can get back onto the diamond.

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Jemile Weeks out with slight groin tightness, Crisp back in

Jemile Weeks is out tonight with what manager Bob Melvin described as slight groin tightness, incurred on a stolen base on Tuesday night. Considering how cold it’s been here – in the 40s – and the fact the team has a day off tomorrow, Melvin figures that this is the wisest course of action. Weeks’ game relies on his legs, so no use taking any chances.

Coco Crisp, after sitting out last night with a sinus infection (also a Melvin decision based on the miserable weather), is back in and he’s batting leadoff with Weeks out.

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Did the Ravens get a late steal in Tommy Streeter?

Despite the uncertainty over who will be their third wide receiver this season, the Ravens waited until the final couple hours of the 2012 NFL draft weekend to address the wide receiver position. Late in the sixth round, the Ravens drafted Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter. He was the 27th receiver drafted this year, but based on pre-draft rankings from several draft publications and websites, the Ravens got good value with the selection.

Sports Illustrated and Athlon Sports both projected Streeter as a third-round pick. Pro Football Weekly, CBS Sports, Walter Football, NFL.com, and ESPN’s Scouts Inc. had him as a fourth-round or fifth-round prospect.

From his SI profile: “Streeter is coming off a tremendous season and has a lot of upside to his game. He plays fast and plays big and possesses all the skills to eventually develop into a No. 2 receiver for an NFL team.”

After catching just total six passes in 2009 and 2010, Streeter was Miami’s leading receiver with 46 receptions for 811 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. He averaged 18.6 yards per catch during his Hurricanes career. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds at the scouting combine. His size and straight-line speed are similar to Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, who was taken by the New York Jets in the middle of the second round.

“You get someone like that, our coaches are really, really happy to work with a guy [like him],” general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

So why was Streeter still there for the Ravens at pick No. 198?

“Tommy was the best player on our board. We were excited about him,” director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. “It’s unusual to get a receiver with that kind of size who can run like that. Ozzie alluded to another size/speed guy that we developed a long time ago -- Michael Jackson. These kinds of guys are rare at times, the measurable. If you have a chance to get a guy like that and you are in the right position in the draft, it’s probably a good thing, and he was the guy. We hadn’t addressed the position. There were some other guys that we liked at the receiver position that got taken, and he was clearly the best guy at the time for us to take.”

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William Joseph faces ID theft, tax fraud charges

FBI agents faked out a couple of ex-NFL football players and a former local high school star by setting up a check-cashing store “front” in North Miami, where the players are accused of cashing dozens of fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks and seeking a loan — all totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The undercover operation, designed to block an alleged identity-theft and tax-refund scheme, sacked a pair of National Football League veterans and a Miami Jackson High graduate:

•  William Joseph, a University of Miami defensive tackle who was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 2003 and last played with the Oakland Raiders in 2010.

•  Michael Bennett, a University of Wisconsin running back who also was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and finished his career with the Raiders in 2011.

• Louis Gachelin, a Miami Jackson High and Syracuse University defensive lineman who signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots in 2004. Gachelin never made the final roster.

Authorities say the latest tax-related fraud case, while unique because of the ex-NFL defendants, is yet another example of the escalating number of reported identity-theft crimes in South Florida and nationwide.

FBI agents arrested the three former players — Joseph, 32, of Miramar, Gachelin, 31, of Miramar, and Bennett, 33, of Tampa — on Monday. The defendants were granted bonds Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube.

Arraignments are set for May 15. Their lawyers declined to comment.

As part of the investigation, the FBI also arrested five other defendants Monday.

Joseph, Gachelin and those five defendants were charged with cashing a total of about $500,000 in fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks, forging signatures on the checks and unlawfully using identification documents such as a driver’s license. As part of the sting, the FBI charged 35 percent to 45 percent in fees to cash their checks with the bureau’s own funds.

Bennett, charged with wire fraud, tried to obtain a $200,000 loan on April 18 from the check-cashing store front, using a UBS financial statement falsely showing that he had $9 million in collateral for the loan, according to a criminal complaint. Ironically, it was Bennett’s former Raiders’ teammate, Joseph, who introduced him to the undercover store in North Miami.

Joseph himself was tripped up by another defendant, Lanny Fried, 34, of Miami Lakes, who got caught trying to cash checks at the store front and then began cooperating with agents to target the former NFL player.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said identity theft is “America’s fastest-growing crime,” claiming countless legitimate consumers and taxpayers as victims.

“Organized criminals are stealing $5 billion and more by fraudulently claiming tax refunds,” said John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami office.

Gillies took a slight jab at the Internal Revenue Service, which has been pressured by Congress to speed up electronic refunds but has not installed ample software protections against ID theft and fraud.

“Without proper safeguards, identity theft tax fraud has become a growing epidemic,” Gillies said.

Here’s the root of the problem: Scammers filing fabricated tax returns have exploited a hole in the IRS electronic filing system, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The federal watchdog agency found that the IRS does not actually match tax returns to the W-2 income forms that employers file until months after the filing season ends on April 15. Employers file them at the end of February or early March, but the agency does not match them up with employees’ incomes reported on 1040 forms until June.

That’s way too late to catch identity thieves who file false returns in others’ names early in the year.

The GAO reports that the number of identity theft-related fraud incidents on tax returns reached 248,000 in 2010, about five times more than in 2008.

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Ravens' Tommy Streeter: 'It's always a mismatch'

OWINGS MILLS -- Tommy Streeter bolted past a VirginiaTech cornerback toward the corner of the end zone, elevating high into the air to haul in a touchdown pass on a fade route.

Bigger, stronger and faster than defensive backs, the towering University of Miami wide receiver routinely accelerated away from the pack to gain separation during an encouraging junior season.

The athletic 6-foot-5, 220-pounder did enough to convince the Baltimore Ravens to draft him in the sixth round with the 198th overall selection.

"I feel like it's always a mismatch whenever I'm on the field," Streeter told the Times in a telephone interview. "It's rare to have a cornerback that's big and physical and fast. There might be a little guy that can run with you, but I feel like when it comes time to match up with me in either one of those departments, it's rare to have the size and the speed and be a physical enough player to cover me."

Streeter isn't exaggerating about his physical prowess. This isn't your typical sixth-round draft pick.

It's unique to find a wide receiver who has NBA shooting guard size who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds with a 10-5 broad jump that can bench press 225 pounds 17 times.

"Tommy was the best player on our board," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "We were excited about him. It’s unusual to get a receiver with that kind of size who can run like that. These kinds of guys are rare at times. If you have a chance to get a guy like that and you are in the right position in the draft, it’s probably a good thing and he was the guy."

The Ravens envision Streeter operating initially as an imposing red-zone target and deep threat to complement starting wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.

He'll compete for the third wide receiver job with Tandon Doss and others.

Streeter declared early for the draft in anticipating of going much higher in the draft.

He thrived last season in his lone year as a regular starter for the Hurricanes, catching a career-high 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns. He won a Most Improved Player award and was named second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference by one publication.

"I kind of thought I would get picked in the second round or third round," Streeter said. "After those rounds went by, it got to the point where like, 'I know I'm going to make it out of this round.' Things weren't falling that way. I stayed next to my phone and kept watching the draft. It was out of my hands at that point.

"I believe in God and I knew I would be picked. I'm definitely excited to go to a team with such great players and great coaches. I couldn't ask for a better situation. I'm ready to get in there and get to work."

The Ravens ended Streeter's anxiety, obtaining a downfield target with a ton of upside.

Streeter averaged 17.63 yards per reception last season after catching only six passes during his first two seasons..

Streeter acknowledged that his route-running can still use more polish and diversity.

"Yeah, I can agree with that," said Streeter, who worked out privately for the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins before the draft. "I wasn't asked to run all the double-moves and different routes due to the offense I was in. I did what was asked of me. Everybody has a job or skill set different than the other guys. The coaches took advantage of that.

"You bring me in as a deep threat to stretch the field vertically. There are areas I can work on, dropping my hips and working on my technique to explode out of my routes and create separation. It's a process. Going into the league, I'm excited for the challenge. I just want to get better."

Once former Temple coach Al Golden took over the Miami program, everything clicked for Streeter after barely being utilized by previous coach Randy Shannon.

"I was given an opportunity," Streeter said. "Coach Golden came in and, he had the mindset of not basing anything off the old coaches or how the other staff felt. He went off what he saw. I had the mentality to prove myself and got the opportunity.

"Those guys came in at the bowl game and watched practice. That was the time my opportunity had begun from that moment. The coaches did a great job of pushing me and trying to get the best out of me. Coach Golden does a great job of developing you on and off the field and getting you mentally tough by conditioning your mind to be a well-rounded young man."

That definitely fits Streeter's description

Streeter is deeply religious and his mother is the pastor of a Baptist church in Hollywood, Fla.

"My faith is something that's very important to me," Streeter said. "It kind of shapes and molds everything that I do. The way that I present myself in the community and the kind of person that I am is all because of my faith. My parents instilled positive things in me to make me a better man. I'm a humble servant of Christ."

Streeter feels fortunate to wind up in Baltimore.

The Ravens are the defending AFC North champions. They have an established veteran in Boldin to learn from. And they have a strong-armed quarterback in Joe Flacco who's capable of airing out long passes for Streeter to run under.

"It's a great situation for me to learn from those guys and be groomed by them and the coaching staff to have success by giving me tips to take my game to the next level," Streeter said. "It's always exciting to have a guy like Joe Flacco that has good arm strength and can get the ball out there and let you catch the ball in stride and make big plays."

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Bryant McKinnie Managing Weight

When the Baltimore Ravens signed free agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie late in the summer of 2012, they wondered if the Minnesota Vikings knew what they were doing by releasing a ten-year veteran and former Pro Bowler. McKinnie went on to start every game at left tackle and while he didn't quite return to Pro Bowl form, he certainly did enough to protect QB Joe Flacco's blind side and open holes for RB Ray Rice.

Once the off-season began, the team also began to worry that Bryant would return to his unhealthy ways and balloon up to the barely sub-400 pounds that led to his release. However, as reported by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times, McKinnie has not regressed to his buffet-attacking ways and has maintained his playing weight deep into the off-season.

According to the story, head coach John Harbaugh said:

"He had done a good job," Harbaugh said. "He's been working in the offseason. He's training. He's in the same shape he was in when he left. We want to improve that from now until the start of next season. I'm talking about weight-wise to finish his career the way he wants to finish it and go on with his quality of life, and he's capable of doing it."

If Bryant is able to keep the weight off and enter Training Camp at his playing weight, this will go a huge way to getting him in tip-top shape and ready to return to Pro Bowl form.

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Frank Gore: Harbaugh weighs in on Niners' RB situation

Coach Jim Harbaugh says the 49ers' selection of RB LaMichael James with the No. 61 pick is not a reflection on Frank Gore.

"My God, no," Harbaugh said. Harbaugh also claimed the 49ers could enter the season with six running backs; Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon and Rock Cartwright joining Gore and James. The reality is Dixon's roster spot is in grave danger, while Jacobs is no longer assured of cracking the final 53. Cartwright is expected to serve as a special-teams dynamo. James will cut into Hunter's snaps much more than Gore's.

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Aubrey Huff expected back when eligible

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he expects Aubrey Huff (anxiety) to return from the disabled list when first eligible.

Huff has already rejoined the team after dealing with an anxiety disorder, but he won't be eligible for activation until May 6. He's batting just .182/.300/.333 with one homer so far this season.

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Jemile Weeks rebounds after talk with Melvin, drives home two

Second baseman Jemile Weeks, off to a poor start at the plate, made two errors in Monday's game and went hitless for the third consecutive game - a first for him in his major-league career - so manager Bob Melvin had a chat with him Tuesday.

Afterward, Weeks played well in the field, and he had two hits (including a two-run single), scored twice and stole a base. Weeks' first-inning single snapped an 0-for-12 skid.

Yoenis Céspedes drove in Oakland's first run with a one-out single in the first inning, and Cliff Pennington and Weeks handled the rest in the fourth, with Pennington scoring Kurt Suzuki with a double to left and Weeks driving in Kila Ka'aihue and Pennington with a single to center. Weeks rolled home on a wild pitch by Felix Doubront.

Ka'aihue, likely to get increased playing time at first because of Daric Barton's subpar play, had a walk, a single, a double and his first major-league stolen base.

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Ryan Braun's big night fueled by midday snack?

SAN DIEGO -- Ryan Braun does not consider himself the superstitious type, but he made a few exceptions on Tuesday.

Braun said he wore the same T-shirt to the ballpark and repeated his routine the day after his historic Monday night, when the Brewers outfielder became the first player ever to belt three home runs at cavernous Petco Park. It was his first career three-homer game, and he was the first player since Fred Lynn in 1975 to hit three homers and a triple in the same game. Braun set a Brewers record with 15 total bases.

"I try not to be superstitious," Braun said, "but it's hard not to."

According to some local news outlets, including 10News.com, his day-after routine included a stop at a snack shop in the Gaslamp Quarter. Crunchtime Popcorn received some nice publicity by spreading the word, complete with a photo, that Braun and his girlfriend had stopped in Monday afternoon for a strawberry-banana smoothie. They were waiting outside Tuesday morning before the store opened to place the same order.

Brewers teammates benefited from Braun's brand loyalty. Bags of popcorn were waiting for them in the clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon.

Braun said he didn't keep any souvenirs from his big night, though he might have, had his ninth-inning at-bat gone differently. He batted with a chance to become the 16th player in Major League history to hit four home runs in a game. Braun hit a line drive to right-center field -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke believes it would have been a homer at Miller Park -- and "settled" for a two-run triple.

Was Braun thinking "home run" going into that at-bat? You bet he was.

"I've never had an opportunity in my career to attempt a fourth homer, and there's no guarantee I'll ever have that opportunity again, so of course the thought crossed my mind," Braun said.

Did he consider blowing past third base and trying for an inside-the-park homer?


"If I would have just kept running, it's not an error, right, if they relay the ball to third and I just keep running home," he said. "I thought about it. There was just no chance. Maybe if [the outfielder] dove for it or something like that."

Braun reached a different milestone Tuesday night. With his stolen base in the sixth inning, Braun became the fourth player in Brewers history with 100 steals and 100 home runs. Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Rickie Weeks are the others.

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Chris Perez learns and bounces back from Opening Day failure

CLEVELAND: Chris Perez acted like a rookie.

Perez, the Indians’ closer, was way too excited and kind of feeling as if he were facing the biggest situation on the mound he’d ever encountered.
But Perez, a first time All-Star last season, has been around the major leagues long enough to know that although Opening Day is always a big deal, he’s certainly pitched in bigger situations.

So after he blew a three-run lead and the save that led to the Tribe’s 16-inning Opening Day loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, he promptly got over it and went back to being his normal, fun-loving self.

“I wasn’t worried after what happened on Opening Day because it helped knowing I’d been there before, having blown my first [save] opportunity in Double-A,” Perez said. “I know it’s just Double-A, but it’s still experience you can go back to. After I blew that save, I reeled off 34 in a row, so I’ve been there. I’ve blown it, had my back against the wall and recovered.”

In fact, Perez, 26, and the Tribe bullpen are a big reason the Indians are in first place going into a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox that starts tonight at U.S. Cellular Field.

Since the Opening Day disaster, Perez (0-0, 4.00 ERA) has been perfect. He’s saved each of his seven opportunities since, tying him for first among American League closers. Perez has held the opposition to one run in 8 innings and opponents are hitting .161 against him in his past nine games.

“It starts from the top, the closer, and trickles down,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “If your top guy is doing good, then the rest of the guys just seem to fall into line. For Chris, he was right back out there right away and it didn’t even take him two outings to recover.”

Last year, in his first full season as the Tribe’s closer, Perez converted 36-of-40 save opportunities to rank fourth in the American League in saves and save percentage (90 percent). He saved 16 consecutive games from May 1 through July 15 and already ranks fifth in club history with 67 saves.

In spring training, Perez talked about how good he felt, better than he had all the previous season while dealing with a nagging arm injury.

Then he suffered a strained left oblique that kept him from making his first spring outing until right at the end of camp on March 29.

So when he blew his first save opportunity of 2012 in front of a Progressive Field crowd of 43,190, there were whispers that perhaps he was still hurt.

Maybe Perez was rushed back too soon. Maybe he should have gone on a minor-league rehab outing first to make sure he wasn’t rusty. Maybe his mechanics were out of whack from sitting out so long.

The worst part for Perez wasn’t the blown save. He knows he’s not going to be perfect all season. The worst part was what happened afterward, the game dragging on through seven extra innings before Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia hit a three-run homer that helped to end the longest Opening Day game in big-league history.

“I don’t know what it was that day, I just wasn’t myself,” Perez said. “It was my first inning of the year and the first two guys hit rockets right back at me. You start thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to try to trick ’em today.’ Instead of just trusting your stuff and saying, ‘I have good stuff, I’ll just come back and get ’em.’ ”

The time before the Indians joined Perez in the locker room gave him plenty of time to stew over his mistakes. Plenty of time to dress, shower and leave before the media arrived in front of his locker, wanting to recount the details of how and why he’d blown it.

Instead, Perez was patiently waiting for everyone, wanting to be there for his teammates and stand up to the media to take responsibility for the mess he’d left.

“It was a three-run lead but I still let everything just kind of speed up on me,” Perez said. “I just never recovered in time. Suddenly, two guys are on and [Blue Jays slugger Jose] Bautista’s coming up. That’s not how you want to start your first outing.”

Although Perez handled himself with class afterward, he had the need to seek out Acta.

“He’s got such good makeup for that job, the very next day he was over it,” Acta said. “But he still apologized to me a couple days later. Not because he didn’t get the job done, but because he wasn’t able to slow things down. He felt like he acted like a rookie because he was so excited that night.”

Perez knows now that finding a way to harness his excitement is part of his job as a closer.

“The closer’s job is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? role,” he said. “Even Mariano Rivera, if he goes out there and blows four in a row, people are going to start calling for his job. I might have bought a couple blown saves with what I’ve done in the past, but at the end of the day, you can’t let the team tank because you can’t get three outs. I knew I had to figure out what I did wrong and fix it immediately.”

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The slot in Travis Benjamin's future?

ESPN Cleveland suggests No. 100 overall pick WR Travis Benjamin could challenge Jordan Norwood to be the Browns' slot receiver.

Benjamin played outside in college, but looks more like a slot receiver at 5'10/172. The former track athlete lacks size to win at flanker or split end in the pros. After running a 4.36 Combine 40, Benjamin will also get a look on returns.

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GM Ireland: RB Lamar Miller should 'come here and learn'

RB Lamar Miller, the team's fourth-round pick, will likely play KR or PR this year, according to GM Jeff Ireland. “My vision for Lamar is just to come in here and learn and develop.” Miller and QB Ryan Tannehill, the team's first-round pick, are both more about the future than the present.

Miller might have to fast-track his development with RB Reggie Bush being in the final year of his contract. There's a chance Bush stays in Miami. But by moving up to draft Thomas (last year) and Miller (this year), the Dolphins have their eye on the future.

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All rise … the honorable Judge Warren Sapp presiding

Are you having trouble deciding whether or not Janine, who failed out of beauty school, owes money to Stephen, who's never worn long pants before today, for not paying back money she borrowed from his Aunt Dotty for a really good deal on cigarettes?

Well, now you can ask seven-time Pro Bowler Warren Sapp.

Joining a list of immortals that includes Judge Judy, Judge Wapner and Judge Reinhold, Warren Sapp will now sit behind a big fake judge's desk and wear a big fake judge's robe in the middle of the weekday. That's according to Media Rantz, who uncovered several bits of evidence that "Judge Sapp" is already filming. Perhaps most telling was this call for audience members to sit and be paid to watch Judge Sapp dispense justice.

Sapp is an analyst on the NFL Network (though he wasn't seen working at the NFL draft and his contract is expiring in August) and he recently filed for bankruptcy protection in Florida. At the time, he also said he feared being sued by Jeremy Shockey, who Sapp said was responsible for blowing the whistle on the Saints bounty system.

But if it turns out that Sapp is really good at the TV judge thing, it could solve all of his financial problems. I'm sure he's a long way from this, but Judge Judy is currently pulling in $45 million a year for yelling at people.

I'm of the opinion that Sapp did good work on the NFL Network, but I don't know if he's the guy I'd seek out for a fair and reasonable ruling on a dispute. "Yes, the court has determined that since Mr. Clifton happened to be looking in the other direction, it was perfectly acceptable to destroy his pelvis."

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Sean Spence Video Highlights

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Travis Benjamin Video Highlights

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Tommy Streeter Video Highlights

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Lamar Miller Video Highlights

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Willis McGahee Joined By Hillman in Denver Backfield

Update: McGahee will have some added competition in training camp this year after the Broncos selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Recommendation: McGahee enters the season as the presumed starter in Denver and with Knowshon Moreno still battling back from a torn ACL, there is little reason to suspect that his job is in any kind of jeopardy. That being said, Hillman has been described as a Darren Sproles-type back, which could make him particularly important in PPR leagues, leaving McGahee with a little less value.

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Sinorice Moss could fill void for Roughriders

The Saskatchewan Roughriders' No. 83 jersey is still assigned to someone with a highly recognizable name.

But that number now belongs to Sinorice Moss - not Andy Fantuz.

When the entire football universe is taken into consideration, Moss is better known than Fantuz, even though the latter was a popular and productive member of the Roughriders from 2006 to 2011 before signing with the Hamilton TigerCats as a CFL free agent.

Fantuz's departure created a void - but also an opportunity - for the Roughriders. Although the team faces a formidable challenge in attempting to replace a slotback of Fantuz's calibre, there is always the possibility that the Green and White will strike it rich while infusing a faster player into the lineup.

Could that person be Moss?

That is a question worth posing following the Roughriders' mini-camp, which was held Wednesday on Taylor Field and Thursday at the Moose Jaw FieldHouse. Moss, who committed to Saskatchewan shortly before last week's sessions, quickly turned heads by displaying the kind of speed that prompted the New York Giants to select him in the second round (44th overall) of the 2006 NFL draft.

"Once he learns how to play this game, I think that he can be an excellent player up here,'' Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin said. "I think he can be a star in this league, just because of all the physical attributes that he has.''

Those attributes enabled the former University of Miami Hurricanes star to spend five seasons with the Giants. The younger brother of Washington Redskins star receiver Santana Moss caught 39 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns with the Giants while also serving as a kick returner.
Moss was released by the Giants in November of 2010, upon reaching an injury settlement with the team. He latched on with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, only to be among their final cuts. Now he is hoping to make an imprint north of the border.

"It was an opportunity that presented itself,'' said Moss, 28.

"Loving the game of football, you always want to continue playing ball. Being in the NFL for the past six years, I was weighing my options there. When this opportunity presented itself, I prayed about it and spoke to my family. I wanted to make the transition and see where my future lies in the CFL.

"The NFL was still an option as well, but I just wanted to move forward and do what I had to do that was best for me. Coming here and taking this opportunity was best.''

The 5-foot-8, 185-pounder established contact with the Roughriders via his cousin, Greg Moss, who is a former defensive back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Renegades. Saskatchewan general manager Brendan Taman was Winnipeg's GM when Greg Moss - who had an interception against the Roughriders in the 2007 Grey Cup - played for the Bombers. Chamblin was Winnipeg's defensive backs coach in 2007.

Greg Moss's inquiry intrigued Taman, who promptly approached Chamblin and said: "Remember Sinorice Moss? He wants to play football in Canada.'' Shortly thereafter, Saskatchewan assistant GM Jeremy O'Day contacted Sinorice Moss's agent. A deal was done.

Where does all this lead? Who knows?

Not even a year ago in this space, Terrence Nunn was being touted as a sure-fire replacement for Fantuz - who missed the first half of the 2011 CFL season while trying out for the Chicago Bears.

In Nunn's case, the hype that surrounded him during training camp and in the pre-season proved to be unjustified. He was a nonfactor, and eventually a non-Roughrider. It was that kind of year.

Like Nunn, Moss is a smaller receiver - albeit one with more impressive credentials and, as was evident during the mini-camp, eyebrow-raising speed and quickness. On one squareout route in particular, Moss exploded out of a cut, scorched a would-be defender, and hauled in a pass.
"There's some jets to that engine,'' Taman observed.

The Roughriders desperately need a player of that description, as Chamblin has acknowledged during the off-season. Team speed was one of the team's primary deficiencies during a 2011 season in which the Roughriders finished with a 5-13 record, missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, and were excruciating to watch on offence.

That nightmarish season has led to a full-scale facelift, which has produced reputable recruits such as Moss.

"He comes from a family of speed,'' Chamblin said. "He's a guy who can run. I'm more impressed not with his speed, because a lot of guys have speed, but with the fact that there's not a lot of balls on the ground around him. I'm impressed with how he's matching his hands with his speed. I'm excited to see how it turns out with him.''

Moss sounds comparably enthused. Remember that he was the one who reached out to the Roughriders, with his cousin serving as the intermediary, in the hope of continuing his pro football career.

"The NFL was a lot of ups and a lot of downs and a lot of in-betweens,'' Moss said. "I've definitely enjoyed myself playing professional football and I plan on enjoying myself here as well.''

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Ryan Braun has 1st career 3-homer game in Brewers' win

SAN DIEGO — Petco Park caved in to Ryan Braun.

Braun had his first three-homer game and added a two-run triple to tie his career high with six RBIs, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to an 8-3 victory over the San Diego Padres on Monday night.

"It's definitely special," Braun said. "It's an extremely challenging game we play. You're going to deal with a lot of failure, a lot of adversity, and when you have a special night like that you try to enjoy it and it's that much more fun and enjoyable when your team wins the game. It was definitely a pretty cool night."

The reigning NL MVP became the first player to hit three home runs in a game at spacious Petco Park since it opened in 2004. It came several days after the Padres said they are studying bringing in the fences at the downtown ballpark to make it more fair.

"It was just one night," Braun said. "There's no doubt this is one of the more challenging if not the most challenging place to hit home runs in the league. I think for fans, you want to see offense. Offense is exciting when teams are scoring runs. It's a lot of fun for the fans to watch. So I think if they did do that, it would make it more of a neutral ballpark. As of right now it certainly favors pitchers pretty substantially."

Petco Park's deep outfield, particularly in right and right-center, swallows fly balls that would be homers in other yards, particularly on cool nights like Monday.

Not on this one, though.

Braun hit a solo homer deep into the sandy play area beyond the right-center fence - one of the deepest parts of the park - with one out in the fourth. That homer was in the area where the Padres are considering bringing in the fences.

He drove a two-run shot onto the balcony on the fourth level of the Western Metal Supply Co. brick warehouse in the left-field corner with one out in the fifth. Both were off rookie Joe Wieland (0-4). Rickie Weeks was aboard on a walk before Braun's second homer.

"He put some good swings on pitches. He's strong. You're talking about the MVP of the league," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He's got big power and he showed it. After the first, he really locked in after that."

Braun's third shot, to left, came on the first pitch he saw from Ernesto Frieri with two outs in the seventh.

Braun came up again with two on and two outs in the ninth and nearly equaled the major league record of four home runs in a game when he hit a triple that short-hopped the right-center fence. The slugger has seven homers and 17 RBIs.

Shortly after he won the MVP award last year, ESPN reported that Braun failed a drug test in October with a high testosterone level. But he won his appeal and avoided a 50-game suspension. Then he made his case to fans upon his arrival in spring training, saying that chain of custody issues with his urine sample cast doubt on the validity of the test.

That didn't end the controversy; baseball officials were unhappy with the arbitrator's decision, and a urine sample collector issued a statement saying he followed proper protocols and that there was no evidence of tampering. Braun also has hinted that there's more to the story than he's letting on, refusing to share those details.

Braun began the night batting .263.

"You know these nights are few and far between," he said. "It's a moment you try to embrace, you try to enjoy. It's been a challenge for me and for us this year, and I think we got a couple breaks, a few things really went our way and you hope something like this turns our luck around, turns our momentum around."

Randy Wolf (2-2) got the win after allowing three runs and nine hits in five innings.

Wieland became the third Padres pitcher to start a season 0-4 in his first four starts. He allowed five runs - three earned - and five hits in five innings, struck out eight and walked two.

San Diego took a 1-0 lead on Yonder Alonso's RBI single with two outs in the second and was poised to add on when it got runners to second and third with no outs in the third. Wieland singled for his first big league hit and advanced on Chris Denorfia's double to center. But Wolf struck out Jesus Guzman and retired Chase Headley and Nick Hundley to end the threat.

After Braun's solo shot in the fourth, Aramis Ramirez reached on second baseman Orlando Hudson's error, Mat Gamel singled with two outs and Alex Gonzalez doubled them both in for a 3-1 lead.

Braun's second homer made it 5-2. San Diego added a run on Jason Bartlett's double-play ball in the sixth before Braun homered again.

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proCane Draft Round Up

Olivier Vernon (Junior) was the first proCane drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft going to the Miami Dolphins with the 9th pick of the 3rd Round 72nd pick overall.

Sean Spence (Senior) followed Olivier Vernon by getting picked with the 23rd pick of the 3rd Round and 86th pick overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Lamar Miller (Redshirt Sophomore) was then picked in the 4th Round by the Miami Dolphins with the 2nd pick in the 4th round, 97th pick overall.

Travis Benjamin (Senior) was selected by the Cleveland Browns three spots later with the 5 pick in the 4th round, 100 overall.

We then had to wait till the 6th round for Tommy Streeter (Junior) to be selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the 198th pick overall, 28th pick in the 6th Round.

Brandon Washington (Junior) followed Streeter by getting picked by the Philadelphia Eagles 2 picks later with the 30th pick in the 6th round, 200th pick overall.

Below are the free agent signing which will be constantly updated:

Chase Ford TE (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - Philadelphia Eagles
Marcus Forston DL (Junior) - Undrafted Free Agent - New England Patriots
Micanor Regis DL (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - Atlanta Falcons
LaRon Byrd WR (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - Arizona Cardinals
Adewale Ojomo DE (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - New York Giants
Jacory Harris QB (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - Miami Dolphins (TRYOUT) & Arizona Cardinals (TRYOUT)
Tyler Horn C (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - Atlanta Falcons
Aldarius Johnson WR (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent -
JoJo Nicolas DB/S (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - New York Giants
Joel Figueroa OL (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - Miami Dolphins (TRYOUT)
Lee Chambers DB (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent -
Chris Ivory LS (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent -
Harland Gunn OL (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - Dallas Cowboys
Mike Williams DB (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent -
Andrew Smith DE (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent -
Jordan Futch LB (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Marcus Robinson DE/LB (Senior) - Undrafted Free Agent -

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Lamar Miller to return kicks, develop at RB

The Dolphins view fourth-round pick Lamar Miller as a kick returner and developmental running back.

Once considered a borderline round-one prospect, Miller plummeted down draft boards due to durability and pass-blocking concerns. He does have 4.4 speed despite a 5'11/212 build, however, so the Dolphins will spend the next year or so developing him behind Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, and possibly Steve Slaton. In the short term, he'll be in the mix as a kick returner.

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Steelers to use Sean Spence at inside 'backer

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert confirmed that third-round pick Sean Spence will be an inside linebacker in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

Spencer is 5-foot-11, 231, but the Steelers don't worry much about size at inside 'backer. "We are going to teach him the inside linebacker position, both positions, and see where that leads us," said Colbert. "You watch his tape, the guy's read-and-react is exceptional. That helps him compensate for some of the deficiencies he has in size and length. He is aggressive and he’s tough."

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Dolphins used 2 draft picks on Hurricanes, the first proCanes drafted by Miami since 2004

DAVIE— A rich blend of ingredients in South Florida has made this region known nationwide for cultivating some of the world's most promising football talent.

Universities burn through stacks of cash so they can flood the area, and mine the high school fields for future stars.

The NFL's no different when it comes to sifting through annual player evaluations to prepare for the draft.

This year, the Miami Dolphins again traveled the country to determine the dimes from the duds.

Turns out two Dolphins draft picks were found relatively close, just 30 miles south at the University of Miami.

For eight years, the Dolphins had plucked their prospects elsewhere.

In the past few days, Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller became the first Hurricanes drafted by the Dolphins since 2004 when they took Vernon Carey with the 19th overall pick.

Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland indicated there is a strengthening bond between the two programs, which could mean more opportunities for some Hurricanes in the future.

"We want to try to create a relationship with the Hurricanes and Al Golden," Ireland said. "He's been very good to me. I respect him very much as a head football coach and I know the way he coaches. I like the way he coaches his players. I believe in his program. I believe in him."

That sparkling endorsement of Golden should be a boost for the man who guided the Hurricanes through a tumultuous 6-6 season in 2011 that followed an NCAA investigation.

Last August, the NCAA suspended eight Hurricanes for taking extra benefits from former Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro. Vernon was one, suspended six games and forced to repay $1,200 in benefits. He said Friday that the suspension kept him from fulfilling his collegiate goals, but that "everything happens for a reason."

Golden was not the head coach when the infractions occurred. Instead, he represents hope for 'Canes fans, who believe he can return the program to prominence.

Golden acknowledged Sunday in an email that working on relationships with NFL teams is not new. When he was Temple University's head coach, Golden worked to repair relations with the Philadelphia Eagles that had soured before his arrival in 2005. He hopes those efforts in turn created a bond of trust between the teams he believes helped at least three Owls earn opportunities with the Eagles.

"Without question we want the same relationship with the Dolphins," Golden wrote. "We try to accommodate their scouts as much as possible and make sure we always keep our players in front of them, especially the less-heralded candidates in the later rounds or in (undrafted free agents). There is great value in this part of the draft annually and our aim is to provide the Dolphins with a distinct home field advantage."

Ireland attended the Hurricanes' pro day in March, then hosted a local prospect workout before the draft. That provided the Dolphins more time to inspect the Hurricanes, which ultimately led to the two picks and possibly more opportunities for UFAs.

Miller (5-10, 212 pounds) is a speedy running back, who was considered a bargain by some as a fourth-round pick. He decided to leave UM early after rushing for 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore.

"We look at Lamar Miller as a back that has an opportunity to create explosive plays," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "...If you looked at our board ... it was hard to ignore the guy."

Vernon (6-2, 261) is a defensive end/outside linebacker, and was a third-round pick by the Dolphins. He should address the Dolphins' pass-rushing needs as they move toward a new 3-4 scheme.

"We had good long talks about each of these players we drafted," Ireland said. "From Al's prospective and my prospective, I think we're just scratching the surface of the ability of the two players from the University of Miami. Obviously, Olivier and Lamar, I think they're two tremendous prospects. The ceiling is endless."

Former 'Canes quarterback Jacory Harris and offensive lineman Joel Figueroa were invited to the rookie minicamp. A strong performance could earn them contract offers.

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Lamar Miller talks about going to the Dolphins

CORAL GABLES — Former Miami Hurricanes running back Lamar Miller spoke on a conference call shortly after his hometown Miami Dolphins drafted him with the second pick of the fourth round (97th overall) on Saturday. Here’s what Miller had to say:

(On being drafted to the Miami Dolphins) – “It’s a great achievement. To be in Miami and to play for the Miami Dolphins…I really can’t express how I feel right now.”

(On being taken in the fourth round) – “There’s no regret. I just thank God. It’s a blessing to get the opportunity to play in the NFL. To be in my hometown, to get a chance to play for a Super Bowl, that’s always a great thing. I don’t regret anything. I’m just ready to put the team on the map.”

(On playing in Sun Life Stadium) – “I’m very comfortable at the stadium. I’ve been there throughout my University of Miami career. It’s a tough home environment and it’s always a great feeling just being in the locker room…I’m happy with my new teammates and I just want to do what I can to help them to victory.”

(On if he was a Dolphins fan growing up) – “I was a Dolphins fan since it’s my hometown, Miami, Florida. I was always watching the guys on television. Lamar Thomas, players like that, it’s a great feeling just to be able to be in the same shoes as they’ve been, playing for my hometown.”

(On competing with Reggie Bush for playing time) – “I love competing. I’m just ready to go in and just compete and be a leader among my teammates, the other running backs so we can have the best running back combination. I’m just going to compete and play football.”

(On entering the draft early) – “I thought I put myself into a good situation, just putting myself to the next level. I feel I’ve gotten myself into a good situation in getting drafted.”

(On if he’s disappointed at being the 97th overall pick) – “I was upset at first, but now I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m going to make the best of it, play to the best of my ability and concentrate on that.”

(On being the third Hurricane to be drafted) – “I haven’t talked with Olivier [Vernon, DE, third round draft pick]. I’m pretty sure that we’re going to go in and compete and represent the University of Miami by competing to win a role. You just have to have fun, be a little passionate, and get a chance to win it.”

(On if he feels better knowing that the Dolphins traded up to get him) – “I think it was something special. I thought they’d forgotten me. I’m just happy.”

Read more from Steve Gorten’s Blog Here

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Travis Benjamin excited about being drafted by Browns

CORAL GABLES — Former Miami Hurricanes WR Travis Benjamin was elated to hear Saturday from the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him 100th overall in the fourth round.

“I’m looking forward to coming,” Benjamin said on a conference call with media. “They were talking to me a lot during the draft process, but I didn’t think it would be this early. I didn’t really think I was a first-round talent. Talking to the teams, day-in and day-out, they said it was going to be the fourth, fifth or sixth round. I never thought Cleveland would pick me.”

Benjamin feels his speed will make up for his height (5-11).

“I know my speed and agility can help me to get open on a defender,” Benjamin said. “Because I’m so quick and elusive, I know that I can just run past any defender on the field. The banging has nothing to do with it. Playing at a top university like Miami, week-in and week-out, we play good competition from the ACC and SEC all around, so I’m used to getting hit.”

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Kayne Farquharson & Ryan Moore Rank In The Top 15 in Receiving Yards

As you can see below, proCane WRs Kayne Farquharson (Nebraska Danger) and Ryan Moore (Allen Wranglers) rank in the Top 15 in receiving yards in the Indoor Football League.


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Tommy Streeter's size and speed 'rare'

Director of player personnel Eric DeCosta compared sixth-round pick WR Tommy Streeter's size and speed (6-5, 4.4 second in 40-yard dash) to former Ravens WR Michael Jackson. "These kind of guys are rare sometimes," DeCosta said. "If you have the chance to get a guy like that ... it's probably a good thing."

Streeter's route running isn't polished, but at 6-5 with a 4.4 40, he could be a work in progress. Streeter finally gives Baltimore a WR with some height.

Caught 46 passes for 811 yards as a junior in 2011, when he started 7 of 12 games. ... Eight catches went for touchdowns, which tied him for eighth place on Miami's single-season list. ... Received Nick Chickillo Most Improved Player of the Year Award ... Had only six catches and one touchdown as a redshirt freshman and sophomore. ... Ranked the No. 88 prospect by Rivals.com coming out of high school, No. 153 by Scout.com.

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Suspension hurt Oliver Vernon's Draft Stock

DE Olivier Vernon (Univ. of Miami), the Dolphins' third-round pick, served a six-game suspension for his role in the scandal led by rogue booster Nevin Shapiro, the convicted Ponzi schemer. Vernon (18 tackles, 1.5 sacks) had a second-round grade, according to some, but he had a small body of work as a senior.

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Bears GM after drafting receivers: 'Devin's role has not changed'

The Chicago Bears have had a busy offseason to this point, adding 15 players in free agency and then drafting six over the weekend.

Four of those newcomers are wide receivers making it clear general manager Phil Emery is intent on overhauling a position that has long underachieved for the Bears. The Bears traded for Brandon Marshall, picked up Eric Weeks and Devin Thomas in free agency and then traded up in the second round to select South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery on Friday night.

Not to be forgotten is Devin Hester, a man Emery says the Bears are crafting quite a plan for under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

“Devin’s role has not changed,” Emery said. “We see him as a guy that is going to help our receiving corps in a big way. I know that Coach Tice has done a lot of planning. We want to make sure that we have a special plan for Devin, we have the Devin Package, a package of plays as a receiver. You never know where he is going to line up and I don’t want to get too far ahead of that in terms of telling other people what we’re going to do with him.

“But we will have a package of plays that we feel can bring his dynamic ability to the forefront and not only as carrying or catching the ball but sometimes that is a decoy. Devin’s speed vertically is something that has to be accounted for so if that pulls people from coverage to handle that vertical ball we’ve got some awfully big targets.”

Don’t look for Hester to go the Muhsin Muhammad route and have a jersey with the name D-Coy on the back any time soon. The Bears want to maximize Hester and they want to do so in the open field.

What is also interesting is several newcomers, including Weeks and Thomas, has experience as return men. So does Greg McCoy, the cornerback, a seventh-round pick from TCU.

“Yeah, we like those guys with returning skills because you never know how injury situations are going to occur,” Emery said. “Guys get on hot streaks and sometimes they get on cold streaks and it’s good to have other options out there.”

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Lamar Miller doesn't go far

NEW YORK -- Well, it looks like Florida still has a few football players left.

Lamar Miller got lucky Saturday, as the former Miami Hurricane found out he won't have to move in his new professional home.

"To be in my hometown, to get a chance to play for a Super Bowl, that's always a great thing," Miller told the Associated Press. "I'm just ready to put the team on the map."

The Miami Dolphins traded up to select Miller with the 97th overall pick Saturday, adding some needed explosive ability to their offense. Miller was taken off a lot of draft boards because of his knee, but he is a dynamic player in the open.

"I was upset at first," he said after waiting more than 36 hours to hear his name announced. "But now I'm happy with where I'm at."

Miller could struggle in pass protection and looks more like a situational player, which reminds us of a bigger Reggie Bush. Perhaps Miller will replace Bush in a season or two.

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Kayne Farquharson Has Another 2 TDs

Balance was a good thing for the Nebraska Danger on Friday night.

The Grand Island Indoor Football League (IFL) franchise had 143 yards rushing and 141 passing as Nebraska achieved its season high for points in a game during a 68-59 victory over the Everett (Wash.) Raptors at the Heartland Events Center.

The Danger (3-5) set a franchise record for first-half points, taking a 45-31 lead into the intermission. Nebraska led 65-52 after three quarters and appeared to be within striking distance of its single-team record for points, set last year in an 84-63 win over Wenatchee Valley (Wash.),

“When I woke up this morning, I just had a feeling it was going to be a great day for the offense and I guess everyone else on the offense felt the same way, too,” said Danger wide receiver Kayne Farquharson, who had seven receptions for 83 yards and two TDs. “We just went out and executed. When we can run the ball like we did tonight, it’s going to be pretty hard to stop us on a 50-yard field.”

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Willis McGahee No. 98 in NFL Network's Top 100

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Devin Hester likes pick; ready to be 'playmaker'

LOMBARD, Ill. -- Just after Devin Hester stepped off a stage in the Dick’s Sporting Goods parking lot, he was given the news: The Chicago Bears drafted a receiver, Alshon Jeffery, in the second round of the NFL draft.

Like the rabid Bears fans who came out to see him, Hester said he knew that move was coming, and just like the fans, he's happy the Bears got a big target. It's been a long time coming.

“We need at least five or six solid receivers with this type of offense that we got,” he said at an event to promote Nike’s new football jersey. “We knew that we were going to go into this draft and get another receiver. We know, as players, that we need another guy. In this league, guys get hurt, left and right, and the more you preserve your players, alternate in and out, the longer they last.”

The days of forcing Hester into a No. 1 receiver role are gone. Now the Bears have a legitimate proven top guy in Brandon Marshall and the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jeffery gives Jay Cutler another big target.

Earl Bennett, who got a new deal last season, is the glue guy, the classic third-down slot receiver, and Johnny Knox is out for the time being as he recovers from back surgery. The other receivers are fill-in guys. But what’s Hester’s role on offense now?

“This year, I’m going to be a playmaker, put it that way,” Hester said. “I’m going to make big plays. That’s what I’m here for, to make plays. and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Hester’s playmaking skills are beyond reproach. He’s the NFL career leader in combined return touchdowns and punt returns. But as a receiver, he’s never quite made the jump. Last season was a step back, though it wasn’t all his fault, given the ugly breakdown of the offense in the last six games.

Hester caught just 26 passes for 369 yards and one touchdown last season when he also battled chest and ankle injuries but didn't miss a game. After Cutler got injured against San Diego, he caught four passes in the team’s 1-5 finish, three coming in one game. It was his worst receiving year since 2007, when he first moved to the position.

While all the players often raved about Mike Martz’s schemes in public, Hester wasn’t shy about expressing his preference for the new offensive coordinator, the more relatable Mike Tice.

“i love Mike Tice,” he said. “He brings a lot of energy and excitement to the offense, not only as a player, but as a person. When you get a coach like that, that’s more sociable to the players, it makes you want to give more effort to a coach like that, that’s as energized as you are.”

While Jeffery has the size and skills to make an immediate impact, he is just a rookie. Marshall is the X-factor. He comes with big expectations and Hester expects commensurate results for the entire offense.

“It’s going to be a big help. Tremendous,” he said. “Brandon is a guy who teams are going to have to key in on, and it’s just going to open up a lot for other guys. And when guys start making plays and double coverage rolls on them, that’s when Brandon comes back and gets in that beast mode. With the offense we’re putting together, it’s going to be hard to just double-team and play cover two, because we got two great running backs that’s going to run it down their throats.”

Hester said he’s spent some time with Marshall. Hester, an avowed family man now, spoke of uniting the receivers spiritually, and he's already done that with Marshall.

“He’s been over my house, I’d say three or four times since he’s been here,” Hester said. “Just me and him. We go down to the basement and shoot pool. He’s more into (being) spiritual now. We talk about Jesus, the Bible and stuff. He’s changing his life a lot. I can honestly say that he’s a changed man from the past. Everyone makes mistakes, you know, but giving him a second chance, the things he’s doing right now, he’s really changing his life around.”

Bears fans will settle for just changing the offense. Marshall and Jeffery are a good start, but with Knox out, the Bears still need Hester to be a playmaker.

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Ray Lewis team up on plans to rehab at least 500 vacant homes in Baltimore

A nonprofit affordable-housing builder says it will rehab at least 500 vacant Baltimore homes -- in a partnership that includes the Ravens' Ray Lewis -- and intends to start soon.

The North Carolina-based Builders of Hope is announcing the "Bring It Home" initiative today. It says it has secured about $100 million from an investor who wants to remain anonymous and plans to use up to $30 million of that rehabilitating vacant homes in Baltimore and Atlanta.

Lewis and the United Athletes Foundation are involved in the effort, along with debt-counseling group Consumer Education Services Inc.

In Baltimore, Builders of Hope is working with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s Vacants to Value program. The plan is to find a neighborhood close to the Johns Hopkins Hospital with "a good density of vacant, blighted housing all within a certain block radius so we can really have an impact on the community there," said Nancy Welsh, Builders of Hope's founder and chief executive.

Neighborhoods near the East Baltimore hospital have hundreds and hundreds of homes tagged by the city as vacant and unsafe or uninhabitable.

Stay tuned -- colleague Lorraine Mirabella will have more later.

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Vince Wilfork Brings Star Power to PiNZ

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork is known for making a big impact on the football field each season, but he made an even bigger one Thursday night off of it.

Wilfork held his annual “Draft Day” event last night to raise money for diabetes research and prevention, and according to the veteran raised $200,000 thanks to a sold out standing-room crowd that joined him last night at PiNZ in Milford Massachusetts.

That money will go to the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

According to Patch.com Wilfork was ‘overwhelmed’ by the show of support, and told the crowd, ”Every one of you makes this thing special for me.”
Meanwhile the veteran was pleased with seeing two guys being added to New England’s defense. After the Patriots selected Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones and Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower, Wilfork seemed especially excited about having a player like Hightower joining him and the rest of the defense.

“I love that pick,” Wilfork told the Boston Herald. “That’s probably one of the best picks in a long time,’’ Wilfork gushed. “That’s a football player. You got yourself a football player right there. I love it.’’

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Vinny Testaverde Endorses WR Stephen Hill

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- To prepare for the NFL draft, the New York Jets' newest wide receiver caught passes from an old Jets quarterback -- Vinny Testaverde throwing to Stephen Hill.

Hill trained at the IMG Madden Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Testaverde works part-time as an instructor. They spent three weeks together, working out three or four days a week -- two generations connected by soaring spirals.

At 48, Testaverde still can sling it, and he enjoyed throwing to Hill, whom he described as a potential star.

"I'm glad the Jets got him," Testaverde said Saturday in a phone interview with ESPNNewYork.com. "New York will love him. I think he has a chance to be a really good, if not great wide receiver."

The Jets think so, too. On Friday night, they traded up four spots in the second round, picking Hill with the 43rd overall choice.

The expectations are getting bigger and bigger for Hill. Joey Clinkscales, the Jets' vice president of college scouting, said Hill compares athletically to Calvin Johnson. Testaverde added two other big names -- Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson.

Not too much pressure on the kid, is there?

"He's built like Terrell Owens," Testaverde said of the 6-4, 215-pound Hill. "He's got that muscular physique. You can just call him a stud. He's fast, quick and has really good hands."

Testaverde, who played for seven teams during a career that spanned two decades, never played with Owens. Asked to compare Hill to a former teammate, he mentioned Johnson.

Johnson and Testaverde played together with the Jets and Dallas Cowboys, forming an explosive tandem in 1998 -- the year the Jets lost a heartbreaker to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.

"He reminds me of Keyshawn," Testaverde said. "Except faster."

Hill is fast, all right. At the scouting combine, he blazed the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds, soaring up draft boards across the league.

The Jets wanted to add that dimension to their offense, which had zero explosiveness last season.

The Jets also wanted to add size to their receiving corps, replacing Plaxico Burress (6-5). Testaverde believes Hill has the potential to be a force inside the 20.

"He's going to be great in the red zone," he said. "Any time there's a jump ball, he's going to win. He can outjump every corner in the league. He can be a dominant athlete."

The Jets told Hill he will have an opportunity to win the starting job opposite Santonio Holmes, but Hill has a lot of work to do because he came from an offense that completed only 64 passes last season. Georgia Tech employs the triple option, which means Hill did a lot of blocking and not a whole lot of catching.

Hill said it was "a little frustrating," but he vowed to make a successful transition to a pro passing attack.

"They're expecting a lot of things out of me," he said Saturday in a news conference at the Jets' facility. "I'm going to come out here day one and just play and gradually get myself to be a great player."

Hill caught only 28 passes last season (for a 29.3-yard average), but he never thought the lack of productivity would hurt his ability to make the NFL. One of his predecessors at Georgia Tech, Demaryius Thomas, was a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2010. In fact, the Jets studied Thomas' career arc while trying to project Hill's potential.

They gave Hill a first-round grade, wasting little time to trade up for him once the second round began.

"For a team to trade up and get you, it's a great feeling," said Hill, who was projected as a late first-rounder in many mock drafts. "It put a big smile on my face. I'm still smiling on the inside right now."

So is quarterback Mark Sanchez, presumably. He called Hill on Friday night to welcome him to the team, and they already started talking about some of the basics of the playbook.

"He's ready to go, he's excited," Hill said. "I'm excited, too. I'll make sure I get with Tim Tebow, too, because I know they'll be a little bit of change going on there" -- a reference to Tebow in the Wildcat.

In his pre-draft workouts, Hill trained with quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins, all of whom were drafted. But he said Testaverde made an impression on him.

The graying gunslinger told Hill to "be a rookie, be a pro, stay in your place." Hill, who knew Testaverde mostly from video games, said it was an "amazing" experience.

"He gave me a lot of tips, how to get in and out of breaks, stuff like that," he said.

Testaverde, who retired after the 2007 season, has gravitated toward the coaching side of football. In fact, he'll be coaching the quarterbacks this fall at his son's high school in the Tampa area.

He said he enjoyed Hill because he was a "good kid and a hard worker. I respect and appreciate that, someone who works at their trade."
No, Testaverde said, the Jets didn't call to pick his brain on Hill. He said not too many people even knew he was working with draft-eligible players at IMG.

Testaverde said Hill's biggest challenge will be learning the intricacies of a pro-style offense. The raw talent is there. Asked if Hill had too much speed on deep balls for his 48-year-old arm, Testaverde laughed.

"I never underthrew him," he said. "After 20 years in this game, I learned that you take a three-step drop instead of a five-step, and get it up early -- especially when you're throwing to a guy that fast."

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James Jones now dealing with two courts

MIAMI —    James Jones had planned to eventually put his finance degree from the University of Miami to use.

He just didn't expect the timing to coincide with a potential championship run.

Of course, if anyone can multitask, it's the Miami Heat's 3-point specialist. Last season's run to the NBA Finals provided ample practice, if not necessarily on par to the current challenge.

A year ago, amid the Heat's two-month postseason journey, Jones was kept abreast of NBA labor negotiations, in his role as secretary-treasurer of the National Basketball Players Association. This time, he has been charged with arranging a union audit amid the current acrimony between union executive director Billy Hunter and union president Derek Fisher, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard, acrimony that has led to an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan.

Jones said as treasurer it's his obligation to assist the union's executive board, no matter the timing. But he said like last season, he would not allow union business stand in the way of the greater goal.“

I’ll be involved," he said of the increasingly ugly fracture within the union, "but it's not like CBA negotiations, where you have to fly to New York and you have to be in a meeting room for nine or 10 days. It's more of just communicating via telephone via email and putting the right people in place."

The situation has grown so divisive that his fellow players selected Jones because of their respect for his organizational skills.

"The timing was an issue, in general, and unfortunately Derek didn't seem to give us that consideration when he brought all these allegations against the union," said Washington Wizards guard Maurice Evans, a union vice-president. "Therefore, we had to address the matter urgently and we had to form a subcommittee and James is the treasurer of the executive committee."

Jones heads a subcommittee that also includes San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, the University of Florida product, and journeyman center Etan Thomas.

This, of course, is heady stuff for a player who also has to keep his head in the game at the most important time of the season.

That has the union's executive committee appreciative of the delicate balance for players such as Jones and Bonner, whose teams are in the playoffs.

"We're not overextending James in any way," Evans said following Thursday's season finale at the Verizon Center. "We're very cognizant of the fact that they're contending for a championship and we would rather them focus on the playoffs. They earned that right. We don't in any way want to hinder their ability to try to contend for a championship."

Amid word of the extent of Hunter's payments to family members and their firms, Jones finds himself in the middle of something seemingly tawdry.

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Yonder Alonso having double fun at Petco Park

SAN FRANCISCO -- First baseman Yonder Alonso went into Friday's game coming off a stretch where he had two doubles in each of his last two games, Wednesday and Thursday against the Nationals.

It marked the 13th time a Padres player has hit two or more doubles in consecutive games and the fourth time a Padre has done so in successive home games.

The last player to do so was Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn in 1998. Not only that, Alonso, who is in his first season with the Padres, became the first player to accomplish the feat at Petco Park, which opened in 2004.

Is Alonso's line-to-line approach to hitting the perfect fit for Petco Park?

"I don't think about the field. But I think it's a field where I can hit a lot of doubles," he said. "But if you look at it, at a smaller ballpark, I might be able to hit more home runs. But if it's going to be a doubles-type field ... then bring it on."

Alonso, who leads the team with seven doubles, hit 24 doubles in 358 at-bats in Triple-A last season in the Reds' farm system. He hit five more in 98 at-bats with the Reds. The previous season, Alonso hit a combined 38 doubles in 536 at-bats.

Alonso had 17 home runs last season, two more than he did in 2010. He doesn't have a home run yet in 2012, though he's come close a few times.
"I hit more home runs, which was a good sign that I was getting stronger," Alonso said. "I think it's going to be a process where I get stronger and maybe some of those doubles turn into home runs. But now ... doubles are the thing for me."

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Padrs Call Up Blake Tekotte

After the Padres 5-3 win in San Francisco Friday night, Padres beat reporter Corey Brock reported that Jeremy Hermida is headed to the disabled list with a “strained hip flexor,” and that the Padres have recalled outfielder Blake Tekotte from AAA Tucson.

Hermida has gotten into 13 games for the Padres this year, hitting .250 with a pair of RBI’s. He made the team out of Spring Training despite being a non-roster invitee. For his career, Hermida has posted a triple slash line of .257/.334/.415, and hit a career-high 18 homers with the Marlins in 2007.

Tekotte, who is 24, was playing with the Tucson Padres at the time of his call-up. For the year, Tekotte has put up a triple slash line of .278/.305/.494, with 11 extra-base hits in 83 plate appearances. Tekotte had a cup of coffee with the 2011 Padres, hitting just .176 with one RBI in 19 games. Tekotte was the Padres 3rd round pick in 2008.

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Jon Jay passes crucial test

While his teammates enjoyed an off day Thursday, Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay reported to Busch Stadium for a test that determined what he would be on this weekend — the lineup card or the disabled list.

After three hits in his start Friday, clearly he passed.

Jay took about 100 swings in the team's cages during a workout Thursday that he described as intense. The goal was to gauge if his shoulder, sprained a week earlier, was ready for him to play or if the Cardinals would have to consider a roster move to give him more rest.

"We had waited enough," Jay said. "It was time to decide. It had gotten to the time when I really needed to test it out."

Under the watch of hitting coach Mark McGwire and members of the training staff, Jay did well enough in the cage Thursday to prove he could start Friday. Returned to the No. 2 spot in the order, Jay laced three singles and tied a career high with three RBIs in the Cardinals' 13-1 rout of the Milwaukee Brewers. In the decisive eight-run third inning, Jay had two singles, one to help spark the rally and another to drive in two runs that continued it.

Jay raised his average to .375, and he left the ballpark Friday night with the highest on-base percentage of any regular starter, at .412.

"That was a big test for me," Jay said after facing Milwaukee's opening day starter, Yovani Gallardo. "I didn't know how it was going to be in the game. You're never going to feel 100 percent ... but it can get better."

What got worse after Jay left the lineup with his shoulder sprain was the offense. Other than a brief appearance as a pinch runner, Jay missed the entirety of the six-game road trip during which the team struggled to score. Most of the credit went to the opponent's starting pitchers, especially Cubs righties Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, who handcuffed the Cardinals in consecutive games at Wrigley Field this past week. But a contributing factor was absences.

The Cardinals went the whole road trip without Jay and Lance Berkman in the lineup. Berkman has the bigger reputation. Jay has had the better production this month.

Jay left the lineup to tend to his injured shoulder with a .391 on-base percentage. In the six games before he slammed into the center field wall and mildly separated his right shoulder, Jay hit .400 (eight for 20) and slugged .600. With Carlos Beltran pressed into service as the cleanup hitter, Jay had thrived in the No. 2 spot in the order. After going three for five there Friday, Jay is now batting .450 at No. 2 with seven RBIs and 10 times on base in 21 plate appearances.

"I don't see any reason to mess with it right now," manager Mike Matheny said about hitting Jay second when he's healthy. "Things went very well. I think he fits in that spot. But he has the flexibility to bounce around to a couple of other spots in the lineup as well."

The question Thursday morning wasn't where he would be in the lineup, but if he could be in the lineup. Jay went to the park unsure.

Comforted on Monday by a scan of the shoulder that showed no structural damage and confirmed the sprain, Jay received an anti-inflammatory shot to help speed the healing. That forced him to take a couple days off to let the shot's medication take effect. When it had cleared, he went to the cage. The trouble he had extending his swing — the resistance he felt when trying to swing at full strength — had cleared. Hitting coach Mark McGwire said Jay looked "1,000 times better than what he was in Pittsburgh."

"We talked about it and this is a great time for him not to even think about his swing," McGwire said. "Just trust his eyes and let it happen. He looked good. He was there early again (Friday). He looked good through it all."

Had Jay not felt good doing it, the Cardinals would have reconsidered their plan to go with a shortened bench. Having proved his ability to hit, Jay said he has to maintain the shoulder's health and improve it.

"I feel I can contribute the way I am," Jay said. "Every day we'll just continue to work on ways to get it better."

Like, for example, staying away from the wall.

"That's the big one," he nodded.

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Aubrey Huff Breaks His Silence

Less than a week after the San Francisco Giants put Aubrey Huff on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder, the first baseman released a statement to his fans.

Huff has been away from the team since last Monday's double-header in New York. On Monday and Tuesday, manager Bruce Bochy said that Huff was away on a "personal matter."

Bochy said Huff was getting treatment and would meet with the team Friday when they got back to San Francisco.

But before Wednesday's game it was revealed that Huff was suffering from anxiety. And just before the Giants' took to the field Friday, Huff released a three paragraph statement through the team:

"Thank you to the fans, media and Giants organization for the outpouring of support during this very difficult week," Huff's statement began. "I'm especially grateful for the texts and calls from my teammates, who are like my brothers and have let me know they're here for me.

"My goal is to get back on the field as soon as possible. To do that, I have to focus completely on getting well. I know I'm in a public job, and I've been one of the more open guys. But sometimes you have to pull back and work on things in private. This is one of those times.

"I appreciate your understanding and patience."

Bochy did not indicate whether the cause of the anxiety was personal or baseball related.  Huff has been in a hitting slump and was reportedly mortified that he was asked to play  second base against the Mets.

Huff, 35, was batting .182 with one home run and four RBIs in 12 games with the Giants.

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