Sam Shields: 'Just make the team'

IRVING, Texas — As an undrafted rookie free agent, Green Bay Packers nickel back Sam Shields has made a big splash this season, including a game-clinching interception against the Bears in the NFC championship game. Shields talked to Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer and other reporters at Wednesday's Super Bowl XLV media session:

Q: What was it like to make the transition from wide receiver to cornerback during your senior season at Miami (Fla).?
A: I was a little doubtful about it, but then I was like, it's just something to help the team out. The cornerback position, you know they make money, so I was doing whatever it takes. At first, I didn't have a lot of confidence. It was hard. At Miami, all we did is press. I wasn't really learning anything—I was just going in there and pressing every down.

Q: When you got signed by the Packers, what did you learn early from Tramon Williams, who like you was undrafted and had to make the team as a nickel back?
A: Talking with him, with him having a similar situation, to just take advantage of having a chip on your shoulder, going in, being focused and being determined—just make the team.

Q: How did Charles Woodson and some of the team's more seasoned defensive backs—and coaches—help you get so good so fast?
A: They were willing to help me any way they could. They helped me out in watching film and help me see things as a corner. The coaches helped with flash cards to learn strategy. I just continued to keep doing it each and every night.


Warren Sapp on Chad Clifton: 'I made him a household name'

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Chad Clifton is still a sore subject for Warren Sapp.

On Tuesday, more than eight years after Sapp's then-legal blindside hit on Clifton, the Green Bay Packers' left tackle, put the offensive lineman's career in jeopardy, it was still a topic of conversation at Super Bowl XLV Media Day.

Although the NFL's competition committee implemented a rule change in 2005 that deemed hits such as Sapp's unnecessary roughness, the now-retired NFL Network analyst doesn't understand why he's been vilified.

Asked about Clifton's performance the last five weeks on Tuesday, Sapp said, "Next question."

Told that Clifton said the two shook hands in 2003, Sapp said, "That's a very long time ago. I was the only person who tackled Jerry Rice and got him off the field for the first time in his career. It doesn't come with the same vile as Chad Clifton. I'm trying to figure out why."

Sapp continued his defense.

"I made him a household name and $42 million," Sapp said. "What's the problem here? I still don't understand. You wouldn't know who Chad Clifton is if it wasn't for me. But now I'm so vile that I put a block on the guy?

"Really? C'mon. Stop it."

Sapp offered his take.

"In the trenches, we play a different game," he said. "We play a game that none of you are familiar with. We do things to each other that only linemen are allowed to do to each other.

"He needed his head on a swivel. He understands that now."


Sam Shields has more than surpassed expectations

LAS COLINAS, Texas — The word value has several definitions, and the Packers' Sam Shields is doing his best to corner the market on as many of them as he can.

One definition: A fair return or equivalent for goods, services or money. As a rookie, Shields has gone from undrafted project to key component of a very good Packers defense. That's value.

Another meaning: To rate or scale in usefulness or importance. For the answer to how Shields factors into this defense, listen to the slackjawed words of Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss: "His development is just … it's sick what he has been able to do. He's played about 800 snaps this year as an undrafted free agent."

Shields played wide receiver his first three seasons at Miami (Fla.), catching 75 passes and seven TDs. He and some of his teammates were messing around in spring practice before his senior season, with defensive backs playing receiver and receivers playing DB. Apparently, Shields had some natural skill to it.

"The coaches were watching," he said. "(Miami DB coach Wesley) McGriff came to me and said, 'You're a cornerback.' But I had never played defense before. So Coach (Randy) Shannon came to me and asked me if I wanted to move, and I was like, 'I'll think about it.'

"He gave me time to think about it. I made the decision on my own. I was like, 'Yeah I'll go over there and help out.'"

Shields always had speed — his fastest 40-yard time was 4.26 seconds. But he had no idea about coverage or technique playing defensive back. The coaches kept it simple and limited him to press coverage. He started 10 games and attracted some attention, enough to the point where he was being viewed as a late draft pick in 2010.

But as went home to Sarasota to visit his 4-year-old daughter, Samyla, Shields got himself into a bad situation. He was in the house with some family members who were in possession of marijuana and was arrested. It came right before his Pro Day, which was expected to be his big stage prior to the draft. The timing was awful.

Although the charges later were dropped, some teams red-flagged Shields as a character concern. All seven rounds passed without Shields being taken. Several teams called right after the draft, including the Bears, Lions, Giants and Saints, but Shields signed with the Packers because his agent thought Al Harris might be released, which would open up a CB spot on their roster.

If it were up to Packers DB coach Joe Whitt Jr., though, the Packers would have taken Shields in the second or third round. He saw that much raw, untapped ability in the young corner.

"I graded 28 corners coming out in the draft. I had him ranked No. 6," Whitt said. "The only reason I had him sixth was because he had only played one year. The scouting department didn't have him as high. But when I looked at him, I would have taken him in the second or third round. Easy. He's the better talent of any of those guys who went in the first round. Just talent, I am talking."

Better than first-rounders Devin McCourty or Joe Haden, each of whom intercepted five passes?

"Yes, he's a better talent than any of those guys. He's not a better football player, but a better talent."

Talent was one thing. The Packers saw they might have something special — and yes, blazing fast — early on, but they knew they had to teach him Coverage 101. They started with the basics and built him up.

"I have had history with changing receivers to corners; I did it at Louisville," Whitt said. "We started Day One and learned just base defense: This is what quarters coverage is, this is what cover-2, this is what it means … and let's go from there.

"I told some of my friends, 'If Sam can't play, it's going to be my fault.' He hasn't really been taught anything but press. Not saying anything about their coaches there (in Miami); they just didn't ask him to do much. But we ask him to do a lot, so it was just my opportunity to make him play well or mess him up, one of the two."

Impressing the DB coach was one thing, but Shields needed to convince the big man he could play, too. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers — a man who knows a thing or two about defensive backs — runs a tricky, intricate, multilayered scheme, and the Packers had some players with far more experience than Shields ahead of him on the depth chart.

Capers, too, was intrigued early on.

"He was raw. You could see he had a long ways to go," Capers said. "But every day in practice during training camp he would make one play that would catch your eye and you would go in with a smile on your face. You thought, once it kicks in with this guy, he has what you can't give him as a coach.

"The thing I was impressed with was he was very serious in meetings. He would sit there and would not say a word. He would absorb everything and you could see him improve."

One trick to help Shields cram was with flash cards. Whitt would quiz him over and over until the coverages became rote. And when Whitt wasn't peppering him, veteran CBs Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson gave the rookie advice.

"They were willing to help any way they could. I went to them like a man and asked them — I needed help learning things.

"We stayed up late a lot, and I kept doing it and learning it every night. It paid off."

Slowly but surely, Shields was passing corners on the depth chart quicker than anyone expected. In a preseason game against the Colts, the Packers' coaches decided to throw him into the fire, asking him to cover Colts WR Pierre Garcon, another rags-to-riches story. Shields shut him down. He had a great preseason, and the Packers made a decision: Shields would be their nickel corner to start the season.

This is big news on any team, but the Packers have come to rely on their subpackages more than almost any NFL team. Whitt estimates that they are not in their base defense about 70-75 percent of the time. The Packers knew Shields would have to do some tough learning on the job and that opponents would take notice of him on the field.

"We knew people would go after an undrafted corner. He stood up to that test and really has played his best football the past five or six games. The experience is really starting to pay off for him," Capers said.

And the NFC title game might have been Shields' finest hour. He intercepted two passes — one on a deep ball in Bears territory when Shields was singled up on Johnny Knox and one with 37 seconds left as the Bears were driving for the game-tying score.

Whitt might not have been thrilled that Shields ran with the ball after the second interception, instead of just falling on it, but that was on the rookie at that point.

"They all understand if they made the decision to run with that ball, they better not fumble it," Whitt said.

Shields did not, and the Packers advanced to their first Super Bowl in 13 years. He likely will see a lot of Mike Wallace, who, like Knox, has true 4.3 speed. Shields comes on the field as the right corner, which moves Woodson into the slot and allows the Packers to be far more diverse defensively. Woodson now can blitz, drop into a zone, cover the tight end (although ILB Desmond Bishop does this more now) or man up against the slot receiver.

Shields has been in awe of the Super Bowl pageantry all week. He's shocked by all the attention and still can't help but think back to his decision to play a little cornerback after spring practice. He looks nearby to Williams, another former undrafted corner who has been at his side nearly all season, and has a ready-made role model to follow on a daily basis.

"Talking with him and him having a similar situation, not getting drafted, having a chip on his shoulder," Shields said, "it has all helped me see what I want to be."

Whitt said having Williams there is the perfect teaching tool.

"I tell him, 'Look at Tramon. That's going to be you," Whitt said. "You're going to do the things that Tramon has done. You're just going to do it a little bit faster.'"

Shields just shakes his head and smiles when asked if he can believe he's here, getting ready to play on football's biggest stage. Did he surprise even himself? "Oh yeah," he said.

That's humility. Just one more thing the Packers value very much about their prized rookie find.


Chad Ochocinco still upset about Ray Lewis hit in 2009

Something tells me Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to “fight” Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on Fox Sports’ The Dan Patrick Show Thursday.

Making a guest appearance alongside New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, Dan Patrick asked the two if they attended a Super Bowl party in Dallas hosted by Ray Lewis. The conversation from that point took a very interesting turn back to the infamous Ray Lewis hit that knocked off Ochocinco’s helmet back in October 2009.

“I’m looking for Ray. I got some choice words for him.” (Ochocinco)

“I don’t think so. What would you say to him?” (Patrick)

“I don’t know I just want to fight.” (Ochocinco)

“Why you want to right Ray, man?” (Revis)

“I don’t know, it’s just…” (Ochocinco)

“Do this stem back from the Pro Bowl last year?” (Revis)

“No, when he knocked my helmet off. He’s yet to apologize and I still get headaches from that hit.” (Ochocinco)

“Do you want to pop him?” (Patrick)

“Pop him. And if I was at his party I would have probably popped him right there.” (Ochocinco)

I’d still put my money on Ray Lewis to win that imaginary fight. See evidence below.

On a side note, I do think Chad Ochocinco was kidding when he said his pending marriage to VH1 Basketball Wives star Evelyn Lozada would last longer than 23 years — the amount of years Dan Patrick has been married.

The Chad Ochocinco Evelyn Lozada engagement feels like a publicity stunt, but I guess we shall soon see.


Dwayne Johnson: I won't wrestle again

Freedom High School grad Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, told fans he would never return to WWE in a wrestling match.

In a new Q and A on his Facebook page, Johnson said he will come back in some capacity for a show called "Rock Raw" that he plans to create with Vince McMahon, the head of WWE.

The pro wrestling star turned actor retired from the WWE to pursue his childhood dreams of going to Hollywood. He has since starred in movies including "The Mummy Returns," "The Scorpion King" and "The Tooth Fairy." He has been cast to play Sinbad in Chuck Russell's $70 million "Arabian Nights."

Johnson says the WWE will always be "in my blood."

He will return for "Rock Raw" "a lot sooner than you think." He promised the show will be "something electrifying and historic for the fans."

He said he retired from wrestling because he had "succeeded in accomplishing every goal" he set out to achieve. He said his goals included becoming the youngest WWE World Champion; setting WWE box office and attendance records; setting pay-per-view buy rate records and becoming the "most entertaining and electrifying performer the WWE had ever seen or will ever see again."

He says the WWE is a "business and company that is in my blood and that I will love forever," and he will "always be The Rock."

Up until recently, the new USA drama "Fairly Legal" which airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays, had a different title.

Originally scheduled to be called "Facing Kate," the title put the spotlight on Kate Reed, played by Sarah Shahi, as a top litigator frustrated with the bureaucracy and injustices of the system, who decided to become a mediator.

So why the name change? Apparently producers were concerned the name sounded a little too much like a certain local reality show star with a large family.

In an interview with the Toronto Sun, star Shahi said 80 percent of a test audience thought "Facing Kate" was a reality show about Berks County's Kate Gosselin. Hence the last-minute name change to "Fairly Legal."

"I was pretty bummed out when they changed the title," Shahi said in the interview. "I thought I got to be the title character of a show, and now I'm no longer in the title."


NFL Network lists Ed Reed's beard in top 10 all-time

One of the biggest sideshow attractions at Tuesday's Media Day circus was Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, who is sporting a beard that makes Zach Galifianakis' facial hair look like a little scruff. The beard has become so legendary, it actually got interviewed by FOX Sports' Alex Marvez.

"It's really not that itchy," Keisel told Marvez on Tuesday. "I shampoo and condition. It's actually pretty soft. People are pretty surprised when they touch it. I've gotten used to it."

Keisel's beard inspired NFL Network to rank the top 10 beards in NFL history, and the homeless man's beard of Ravens safety Ed Reed was seventh on the list. “Deion [Sanders] nicknamed him ‘The Soloist,’” host Rich Eisen said before making a reference to Bill Cosby movie from the 1970s.

You can’t embed videos from -- which might be a good thing because it spares you from Eisen’s snark overload -- so check the list out at this link to see visual evidence of said beards. Or if you're too lazy to click that link, I've got the full list after the jump. Discuss:

10. Ed “Too Tall” Jones
9. Jeff Saturday
8. Jake Plummer
7. Ed Reed
6. Shaun O’Hara
5. Randy Moss
4. Franco Harris
3. Lyle Alzado
2. Dan Fouts
1. Brett Keisel


LeRoy Butler: Sam Shields will be the difference in Packers win

The Green Bay defense features an all-time great at corner in Charles Woodson and the year’s breakout star in outside linebacker Clay Matthews. But a lesser-known rookie might be the key to the Packers chances in the Super Bowl, says former Packer great LeRoy Butler.

“Our defense revolves around Woodson and Matthews. That’s no secret,” says Butler, who sacked Drew Bledsoe in Green Bay’s last Super Bowl win, 35-21 over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. “But to make it go, Sam Shields has to be playing at a high level.”

Shields, an undrafted rookie cornerback, had two interceptions against the Bears in the NFC championship game. His presence in the secondary allows Woodson to play at the line of scrimmage, like a cross between a corner and outside linebacker.

“If (Shields) is covering well, that defense is impenetrable,” Butler says.

With a nod to the Steelers experience and ability to comeback late in games, Butler predicts the Packers will win. “I think they have a better overall team, and I think they have a better overall makeup,” he says.


Cortez Kennedy and the Hall of Fame

DALLAS -- All defensive tackles were not created alike. That goes for the great ones, too.

Some are mostly run-stuffers, coming off the field in passing situations. Others rush the passer with little or no regard for playing the run.

Very few could dominate across all situations. Cortez Kennedy could, and did, during an 11-year NFL career that landed him a spot among the final 10 candidates for the most recent Pro Football Hall of Fame class. Kennedy is among the final 15 modern-era finalists again this year, and I'll be presenting his case to the other selectors during our annual meeting Saturday.

Several themes have emerged during my research into Kennedy's career. I'll expand upon them here one by one, drawing upon coaches and players' first-hand knowledge.

Sheer physical dominance
Very good players sometimes enjoy great careers. Some lean heavily on savvy and preparation. Not all of them dominate physically. Kennedy generated superior power and sudden quickness from a massive lower body.

"Cortez was the most dominant interior lineman that we ever faced and certainly the very best against the run," said former Oakland Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski, an eight-time Pro Bowl choice between 1989 and 2001.

Seattle scrapped its 3-4 defense to rebuild around Kennedy at a time when Kennedy's college coach at Miami, Jimmy Johnson, was bringing his 4-3 scheme to the NFL.

"That time in football is when you really got the dominant defensive players inside," Johnson said. "The big, overpowering defensive linemen inside just disrupted everything. Cortez got teams looking for that dominant player."

There's that word again -- dominant.

"He was very dominant and could take over the game," said longtime NFL offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who coached for and against Seattle during Kennedy's career. "He just had great instincts about where the ball was and he was a pass-rusher so you would think, 'Gee, we could run screens on that guy.' But he smelled them out and he was always running into the screens."

Longtime NFL offensive line coach Alex Gibbs said offenses had to plan for Kennedy specifically or pay the consequences, or both. Gibbs coached the lines for three of Seattle's old AFC West rivals across 10 of Kennedy's 11 seasons. He was with Seattle briefly in 2010, and that is when he provided a testimonial.

"The Seahawks were a nightmare because I knew I was going to get them twice a year, and it was going to boil down to making a decision -- do I spend all my time with Cortez or do I know deal with those other guys?" Gibbs said.

Complete player
Kennedy joined John Randle, Bryant Young and Warren Sapp on the NFL's all-decade team for the 1990s. He was a different type of defensive tackle, opponents said. They lauded him for his versatility.

"I knew that when I was going to go play against Cortez Kennedy, it was going to be a full-meal deal, a battle," said retired Pro Bowl center Tim Grunhard, who started 164 games for Kansas City from 1990 to 2000. "I knew when I was going against Warren Sapp, when you got him, you could block him. ... At times, he lined up as wide as any tackle ever. Cortez Kennedy lined up head-on you and went man to man and dominated you."

Asked to rank Kennedy among contemporaries, Wisniewski wanted to know which tackles appeared on the all-decade team for the 1990s. I ran through the names and asked Wisniewski to put Kennedy's abilities in perspective.

"(Kennedy) had that ability to stop the run, to play with leverage and have the quickness to hit the edge of an offensive guard and split the seams to put pressure on the quarterback," Wisniewski said. "Hands down, he was a much better player against the run than a John Randle, much better than a Warren Sapp. I didn't have to play against Bryant Young as many times. He was a much lighter guy, kind of high effort, 50-50 (against run and pass alike)."

Randle is already in the Hall of Fame. Sapp and Young are not yet eligible for consideration. Each was outstanding in his own way, but Kennedy was different.

Made teammates better
Kennedy collected 14 sacks in 1992 and 58 for his career even though Seattle asked him to do so much more than rush the passer. Opponents funneled more resources toward Kennedy after that 14-sack season, creating opportunities for his teammates. Michael Sinclair, Sam Adams, Michael McCrary and others benefited.

"He was such a powerful guy who could play, in essence, two gaps," Gibbs said. "He forced you to get two people on him in order to get through the seams, which gave the linebackers who played here a tremendous advantage. You couldn’t get the combinations to block him. You always tried to get one of them off and his body frame was so wide and strong that we couldn’t get there, so the linebackers made all the plays. He had a unique ability to control one and force another to free up his teammates to make a lot of plays."

Former Seahawks linebacker Terry Wooden said the same thing recently when I happened to be sitting near him on an airplane. According to Wooden, Kennedy would never seek to make a play on his own if it meant weakening the defense overall or compromising a teammate.

Durability and accolades

Kennedy played 16 games nine times, 15 games once and eight games in his only injury-shortened season. He matched Reggie White and Bruce Smith as the only defensive linemen with eight Pro Bowls during the 1990s. He went to as many Pro Bowls during the 1990s as Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas.

Kennedy was also the Associated Press' defensive player of the year on that 2-14 team, which featured one of the worst offenses in NFL history (Seattle was the only NFL team to field a top-10 defense in 1990, 1991 and 1992). Only White and Lawrence Taylor won the award previously while playing for losing teams.

According to the Seahawks, Kennedy played more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps for at least his first six seasons, including 97.2 percent in 1994.

Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Kennedy and Hall of Famer Randy White are the only defensive tackles with at least 150 starts, 50 sacks and eight Pro Bowls. Again, though, the sack totals were never what defined Kennedy's contributions.

Grunhard put it this way: "When they are 330 pounds, at times their job is to tie you up. Their job is to clog up the middle. It is not fair when people say they are taking plays off. They are doing their jobs. There is a difference. Sometimes plays aren't designed for them to make the plays. Their job is to free up other people and he did a great job doing that. But when Cortez wanted to go and had the opportunity to go make a play, he was unstoppable. He was unblockable. That puts him in an elite level."


Ray Lewis rated top "Media Day Diva"

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was rated the top "Media Day Diva" in a recent article on AOL FanHouse. Lewis was the focal point of the Super Bowl media day in January 2001, which was about a year after he was connected to two murders in Atlanta.

Others included on that list were: Doug Williams, Terrell Owens, William Perry and Duane Thomas.

FanHouse's Chris Harry explained why Lewis topped his list: "It had been nearly a year since Lewis, the Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker, had been indicted on murder charges stemming from a fight that broke out in downtown Atlanta and led to the two stabbing deaths during Super Bowl XXXIV weekend the year before. Lewis eventually pled guilty to charges of obstruction of justice for giving police misleading statements. He was sentenced to one-year probation."

"Lewis went the entire 2000 season without speaking to reporters, but was required to climb the podium on Media Day for Baltimore's showdown against the New York Giants. Yes, the subject of the murders came up. 'Yeah I got money. Yeah I'm black. Yeah I'm blessed,' Lewis railed. 'But at the same time let's find out the real truth. The real truth is this was never about those two kids dead in the street, it's about Ray Lewis. And that's the same thing this is about and that's not right.' Asked if there was anything he'd like to say to the family of the victims, Lewis responded, 'Na.' Five days later, he was voted MVP of Baltimore's 34-7 victory. Not one of the game's finer moments."


Gore was 49ers' one-man RB committee

Since the 49ers decided to ship off Kevan Barlow during training camp in 2006, Frank Gore has been the central figure of the team's offense.
The 49ers were more reliant on Gore than ever in 2010. Rarely did another running back touch the ball before Gore sustained a season-ending hairline fracture of his right hip Nov. 29 against the Arizona Cardinals.

After Gore was no longer available, Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon shared the playing time. Looking to the future, it will be interesting to see what changers are made new set of eyes on offense.

New coach Jim Harbaugh loves a strong running game. It's doubtful Westbrook will be back. Dixon should continue to get better over time, and he should be capable of taking on more responsibility.

Fullback Moran Norris might be comforted to know that Harbaugh does not expect the fullback to be a huge threat with the ball in his hand. After all, Owen Marecic, considered the top fullback in the draft, carried just 23 times for 46 yards and caught just nine passes all season for the Cardinal.

Here's a player-by-player look at the 49ers' running backs who finished the season on the team:

20 Brian Westbrook: Before Frank Gore's season-ending injury, Westbrook played just 36 snaps of offense in 10 games. After Gore was no longer available, Westbrook was on the field more than 70-percent of the time. Westbrook tore the Arizona Cardinals to shreds in two games, gaining 215 yards on 36 rushing attempts. In his other 41 carries, Westbrook accounted for just 125 yards. Clearly at the back end of his career, Westbrook was not as effective as an every-down back, but the 49ers could have done more to get him involved earlier in the season and take some of the load off Gore.
21 Frank Gore: Gore was playing at a very high level -- other than the loss to the Eagles in which he lost his only two fumbles of the season. Gore rushed for 853 yards and caught 46 passes for 452 yards before his season came to an end with a broken right hip against the Arizona Cardinals. Gore never wanted to come off the field, and the 49ers apparently never wanted him to come off the field. Gore was the 49ers' best runner. And of the running backs, he was also the team's best receiver and best in pass protection. That is why the team had a difficult time finding any role for the others.
24 Anthony Dixon: Dixon is a big, powerful back who needs to learn how to run like a big, powerful back. He definitely showed flashes with some very nice runs. But he also frustrated the coaching staff with too much dancing, some missed assignments and difficulty with the simple things, such as making sure he was wearing the right kind of cleats to maintain traction on slippery fields. Dixon played just 16 offensive snaps in the first 10 games before Gore's injury. Dixon finished with 237 yards rushing on 70 rushing attempts. He should continue to prove that he is capable of taking on a larger role in the offense.
44 Moran Norris: He did a good enough job as a straight-ahead lead-blocker for Gore. But Norris is getting up there in age (he turns 33 in June), and Harbaugh might want someone more athletic and versatile. The club felt like it had more options with Delanie Walker as a second tight end, rather than with Norris as the second back.


Reggie Wayne Hasn't Missed A Game Since 2001

INDIANAPOLIS – He is proud to be in Honolulu, Hawaii this week.

Part of that is because Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne worked to get there, and part of it is because he waited – five years before he made his first Pro Bowl.

But Wayne, who has followed his five years waiting and working toward one of the NFL's most prestigious post-season honors with five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances – the longest streak among active NFL wide receivers – said he's more proud of something else.
Pro Bowl honors? One-hundred reception seasons?

The admiration of peers?

All of that's nice, Wayne said recently, and without question it matters, but he said what matters to him most isn't as much the honors as what it took to attain them.

Which is why when Wayne was asked recently what mattered most – five Pro Bowls or having played in 150 regular-season consecutive games – the answer came quickly.

He said it also came easily.

“Game streak – without a doubt,” Wayne said recently late in the 2010 NFL season, a season in which the Colts won a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons and a season on which will continue looking back in the coming weeks.

Wayne said the reason is simple.

The honors are the result, and the reward. But the game streak?

To Wayne, that not only defines what he is about, it is the foundation on which accolades, performance – a career – are built.

“My whole thing with me is consistency,” Wayne said. “Yes, there have been consistent Pro Bowls the last five years – and 1,000 yards the last whatever years. But that's all individual stuff. That can get done.

“What's hard to do is to be accountable every week. That is not easy to do.”

Easy or not, Wayne has done it – not only the last five years, but practically since joining the Colts a decade ago.

Wayne, a first-round selection by the Colts in the 2001 NFL Draft from the University of Miami, missed three games as a rookie with a high-ankle sprain, but hasn't missed a game since. He said late this past season he spent that season trying to adjust to the Colts, trying to figure just how to make it in the NFL.

He said he spent a lot of time that season, and in subsequent seasons, watching eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marvin Harrison, and what he said he learned was how to work – not just occasionally, and not just for extended stretches, but every day and every play.

“I looked at it and thought, 'This is a future Hall of Famer – for him to do what he's doing on a consistent basis, he has to be doing something right,'' Wayne said. “I had to put all that Miami stuff on the backburner, and I had to do it the way he did it. Not only in the way he carried himself, but also the way he practiced.”

Somewhere along the line, he not only practiced and carried himself like Harrison, he started producing like him, too.

Wayne, after catching 27 passes for 345 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie, improved statistically each of the next six seasons, catching 49 passes for 716 yards and four touchdowns in 2002 and 68 passes for 838 yards and seven touchdowns in 2003. He surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time the following season, catching 77 passes for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004, then caught 83 passes for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns in 2005.

The following season, he made the Pro Bowl for the first time after catching 86 passes for 1,310 yards and nine touchdowns, then led the AFC in receiving yards with his first 100-reception season in 2007, finishing with 104 receptions for 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He caught 82 passes for 1,145 yards and six touchdowns the following season, then followed a 100-reception, 1,264-yard, 10-touchdown season in 2009 by catching a career-high 111 passes for 1,355 yards and six touchdowns.

He became the seventh player in NFL history with three seasons of 100 or more receptions this past season, and the 11th player with 100 or more receptions in back-to-back seasons.

As he has done on several occasions throughout his career, Wayne produced this past season amid multiple injuries to players around him in the offense, a list that included three front-line skill players placed on injured reserve: tight end Dallas Clark and wide receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez.

“I go into it the same no matter what,” Wayne said. “(Colts Head) Coach (Jim) Caldwell does a great job of reminding us as a team, 'You don't have to do anything special. Just stay with your signature move, whatever that move is – and just do it a little better.' As soon as you start saying, 'Man, (tight end) Dallas (Clark) is out. Man, (wide receiver Austin) Collie is out. I have to do this or that,' that's when you lose focus on what your best move is.

“I just play with the same intensity, but the main thing is, 'Don't take it down a notch. If anything, take it up even more.' Nothing changes with me on that aspect. I keep it all the same. I just go out there and whenever my number's called, I do whatever I can do to keep the chains moving and keep the crowd cheering.”

And the way to do that, Wayne said, hasn't changed – even after 10 NFL seasons, and even after five Pro Bowl appearances.

“I feel like whenever Sunday came or whenever game day is, I'm answering the bell,” Wayne said. “Sometimes, freak things happen for guys – knees, shoulders, whatever the case. There's nothing you can do about it. But we're all going to have nicks and bruises. You have to learn how to play with those, play through them. I take pride in being there every week.

“And this is how I look at it: if you're there every week, you have a better chance to make the Pro Bowl, a better chance to get to 1,000 yards. I feel like everything joins being there every week. I look at being there, playing every week, as the nucleus.”


Ryan Braun backing Packers as Crew awaits own shot

MILWAUKEE -- For Super Bowl Sunday, Ryan Braun will turn his Malibu home into one of the nation's westernmost Green Bay Packers sports bars.

Braun is good buddies with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a fellow Californian who is the same age (27 -- Braun is only two weeks older) and a fellow first-round Draft pick. They met through mutual friends about a year and a half ago and found they share similar interests, among them chasing a championship.

Rodgers will get his first shot on Sunday, when he leads the Packers against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. Braun will be home and glued to his television.

"I'm a big fan of his as an athlete and a competitor," Braun said. "I really enjoy watching him play. We've become good friends."

What does Braun like about Rodgers' game?

"Everything," Braun said. "I love the way he competes. I love the way that he has fun. I love the way that he always looks like he's in the moment, truly enjoying the moment and embracing it. That's a special quality to have as an athlete."

Each star has visited the other's office. Rodgers took batting practice at Miller Park last season and toured the clubhouse. Braun visited Lambeau Field on Dec. 5 and watched Rodgers throw for 298 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of the 49ers.

On Saturday night, they sat together courtside at a Milwaukee Bucks game and watched two other first-round picks contribute to a win over the Nets. Andrew Bogut approached a triple-double with 17 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocked shots, and Brandon Jennings returned from a foot injury to play his first game in nearly six weeks.

During a timeout, Rodgers and Braun appeared on the Bradley Center's video board and the fans responded with a huge ovation. Braun stood and joined in.

Braun considered going to Dallas to see the Super Bowl in person, but decided against it. He didn't want to miss any of his offseason workouts -- he's been trying to keep up with former Brewer and noted fitness freak Gabe Kapler -- and figures that Rodgers will have plenty of supporters on hand.

"He's got a million things going on for the Super Bowl between taking care of friends and family and playing the game," Braun said. "So I'll probably watch it from home. When you're there, you get the energy and enthusiasm from the crowd, and that's amazing, but you don't get to see the game the same way you do if you sit at home."

Braun will cheer from a few thousand miles away instead. Two weeks later, he'll be headed to Arizona for the start of Spring Training and his fifth season in the Majors.

Braun and the Brewers have high hopes for 2011 thanks to a starting rotation bolstered by Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. With incumbent Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers will feature three of 2010's 30 Opening Day starters.

Win or lose on Sunday, the Packers' deep playoff run has many in Brewers blue even more excited for their own season to begin.

The list includes John Axford, who snapped a photo with Rodgers at that Bucks game and posted it on his Twitter account. Axford was born and raised in Canada but started watching football in his college days at Notre Dame, and has become a cheesehead by proxy. After the Packers beat the Bears in the NFC Championship Game, he managed to make "#UnbelievableIncredibleSuperPackerDomination" a Twitter trending topic in Milwaukee.

"I sound like a huge jerk now that I'm jumping on the bandwagon, but I've enjoyed watching them," Axford said. "They're a good team and there's always buzz around them. I like that. I like that Wisconsin fans are passionate about their teams."

The only one left to convince is brutally honest Brewers newcomer Greinke. He took part in a question-and-answer session during "Brewers On Deck" last weekend and was asked for his Super Bowl pick.

"I like the Steelers," Greinke said.

Marcum, a Kansas City native and Chiefs season seatholder, came to the rescue.

"I'm going to disagree with Zack and go with the Packers," he said, drawing a huge applause.

On Sunday, they'll see who was right.


Danny Valencia still coming on strong

The Twins have gotten him to settle down a little, but they haven't turned Danny Valencia into a machine. Whether you call it spirit or hubris, the team's young third baseman still exudes it.

"Not everybody is always going to like you," he said. "If you try to make everybody like you, it's not going to work."

Even before he was called up for his major league debut last June, Valencia's confidence was legendary; he was the talented infielder from the University of Miami, where student-athletes can major in audacity, who needed a lesson in humility.

He got more than his share last season, even as he hit .311 and took the third base job for his own.

He led the team in kangaroo court fines, imposed for breaches of clubhouse etiquette ("I financed the (team) party," he said). He had his clothes shredded during a road trip to Texas (and had to wear them home). And when the rookies wore costumes for an annual hazing road trip ritual, the veterans saved the most embarrassing one for him.

"Danny's a very proud guy, as he should be. He's a very good player and all that," clubhouse leader Michael Cuddyer said. "The majority of time, rookies figure things out on their own. They need to figure things out. Not just baseball, but the life of being a major league baseball player, and the quicker you can figure things out, the better off you are."

None of the hazing seemed to dim Valencia's fire. He has started this year by opening a Twitter account and taking aim at Cuddyer and Denard Span, the team leaders in Twitter followers, telling readers he was looking for 5,000 by the time TwinsFest ends this afternoon (he had 3,111 by Saturday evening).

"That's just how I am," he said. "I'm so competitive. It's just how I am."

Valencia said that's a key to his success on the field, but it also has at times run him afoul of teammates and others. It was enough of an issue that Twins senior adviser and former general manager Terry Ryan pulled him aside and gave the then-minor leaguer some pointed advice.
"He's always shot me straight, told me what I need to work on and what I need to clean up; what I'm doing wrong and what I'm doing right," Valencia said. "I really respect Terry Ryan for that."

And what was the message of the sermon?

"When I was young," Valencia said, "when I first came here in '06 and '07, I had a bit of an attitude, maybe a little chip on my shoulder. He told me I needed to get rid of that. I worked hard on that to try to be a better teammate, a better guy in the clubhouse, and I think I've done that.

"A lot of that was really getting that wakeup call from him, because when you hear from the GM, where there is smoke there is fire. When you hear it from him, you have to believe it."

It's hard to find fault in Valencia's game right now. He hit .311 with seven home runs and 40 runs batted in, batted .386 at Target Field and finished third in American League rookie of the year balloting.

The performance essentially earned him the third base job this season.

"We expect him to take the job and run with it," manager Ron Gardenhire said Friday. "He goes into camp as our third baseman, and I'm pretty sure he's going to leave as our third baseman. He should be fine. I'm looking forward to seeing him out on the field again.

"He was pretty impressive. He deserves that."

Valencia said he has worked hard this winter in Miami — with New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, and Kansas City's Melky Cabrera — and vows not to get complacent. As for his clubhouse manner, he swears he gets it, and that he always did.

"I looked up to a lot of those guys, and I told them right from the get-go, ' I look up to you guys,' " he said. "I may not show it the way I should at the beginning, but they knew that I genuinely cared and genuinely wanted to do what they wanted me to do."

General manager Bill Smith said Valencia's path to the majors is not uncommon, and that no one should read too much into his brushes with management.

"I don't want to get too much into Danny Valencia because he's not the only player," Smith said. "There are a ton of players that have been taken aside by managers, coaches, front-office people and given some counseling. Danny's one of them. He joins a long list, and a lot of them are in the big leagues now.

"You don't want to take away a player's personality. We don't want to turn them all into robots."

Clearly, that is not the case. And if Valencia continues to perform the way he started in 2010, that spirit — or hubris — might be easier for everyone to understand. Or at least deal with.

"The people who know me realize that's what I use to perform," Valencia said. "That's what kept me going, kept me competitive on the field. You know, you have to accept everybody for who they are."

Bookmark and Share

Leonard Hankerson's big finish

Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson concluded his All-ACC season with the most outstanding offensive player award in the Senior Bowl on Saturday. Not that Hankerson’s five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown were out of character; he caught 72 passes for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. But it underscores the mystery that was the Hurricanes under Randy Shannon. The talent didn’t produce the wins anyone thought it would.

Bookmark and Share

House Calls with Jarrett Payton

Click here to order Jarrett Payton’s proCane Rookie Card.

Bookmark and Share

For Sam Shields, Answers Weren’t in the Cards, but on the Cards

ARLINGTON, Tex. — Like anyone trying to learn a new vocabulary, Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields was lost. He could not make sense of his assignments, which was not a surprise considering he played only one year on defense in college and the Packers employ a kaleidoscope 3-4 scheme.

In desperation, Joe Whitt, Shields’s position coach with the Packers, resorted to a tried-and-true teaching tool. He made flash cards, drawing an offensive formation on the front and Shields’s assignment on the flip side.

“It really helped me out,” Shields said Tuesday. “I kept looking it over and over. You get it in your head mentally.”

Shields seared his image into the psyches of Chicago Bears fans in the N.F.C. championship game. He contributed four tackles, a sack and two interceptions, the second of which came with under a minute remaining, as the Packers claimed a 21-14 victory over the Bears and a berth in Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There are perhaps no stranger N.F.L. penthouse cohabitants than Shields, an undrafted free agent who is gracing his sport’s biggest game as a rookie, and the Packers’ defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, a former coach for the Panthers and the Texans who is breaking his Super Bowl maiden in his 25th season in the league.

“I can’t believe I’m here,” Shields said during media day at Cowboys Stadium.

He was wearing a wispy mustache and a wide smile. This is the first year he has participated in a title game, Shields said, since his Pop Warner flag football days in Florida.

“I’m feeling nervous,” he said, “but the nerves will go away and then it’s going to be time for football.”

His teammates awarded Shields, 23, a game ball in Chicago after he became the first rookie in N.F.L. history with two interceptions and a sack in a playoff contest. But before he could send the Bears into hibernation and Green Bay into delirium, he had to learn how to study film and absorb defensive game plans.

Shields was used to looking at football from the other side. His first three years at the University of Miami, he played receiver. He made 37 catches as a freshman — and 38 in the next two years, after which he was switched to defense to afford him more playing time while taking best advantage of his quickness.

“Switching late probably messed some things up,” Shields said, referring to his career arc, “but I can’t control that.”

His arrest less than two months before the 2010 draft for misdemeanor possession of marijuana did not help his status. The charge was dropped after Shields paid court costs, but the damage was done to his reputation.

“There was a lot of things going on,” Shields said, declining to elaborate.

He said he expected to be drafted “maybe in the last round.” When he was not, he added, “I came in with a chip on my shoulder.”

Shields signed with Green Bay for a $7,500 bonus and a minimum contract.

“My mind-set was making the team on special teams,” he said.

In his secondary education, Shields struggled with a demanding teacher. “I couldn’t get nothing,” Shields said. “I didn’t know nothing. It was kind of hard for me.” He added, “Joe was on me tough.”

Whitt was on Shields like black on a bruise, to the point that the veteran cornerback Charles Woodson interceded. Shields recalled Woodson asking Whitt to ease up on him a little.

That was when Whitt broke out the flash cards, and with tutoring from Woodson, Shields proved a fast study. He has earned regular playing time in the nickel package and is No. 2 on the depth chart behind Woodson, the 2009 defensive player of the year and a seven-time All-Pro selection.

To defend a receiver, it helps to have been one. “Just knowing the route combinations,” he said, adding, “Little things like that.”

The Steelers have one of the fastest receivers in Mike Wallace, and at the mention of his name, Shields’s smile grew luminous.

“I’m a fast guy and he’s a fast guy,” Shields said. “It’s going to be a big challenge, and I can’t wait.”

There is no secret to his success, he said.

“It was dealing with the veteran guys and the coaches who have helped me,” he said. “It’s also studying and staying late so I can try and get it down so I’m ready to play.”

Bookmark and Share

Clinton Portis's home hits the market

Clinton Portis's house is for sale. Now, before you all go jumping to conclusions, bear in mind that Portis owns multiple properties in the D.C. market, and that there's no requirement that members of the Redskins actually own a home in this area. Maybe he wants to rent in Reston or something.

But anyhow, here's the description of his home, a five-bedroom, six-bathroom McLean mansion which is listed at a cool $2.5 million.

Beautiful McLean Private Estate tucked away down a private drive. Owner, has spared no expense, 3 finished floors complete with a luxurious mast suite with cavernous closets and balcony, gourmet kit with granite and SS appliances, open and airy solarium, elegant stone and wood work throughout, built-ins throughout, in-ground pool and spa, walkout lower level w/ theater room, and tons more.

Click here to order Clinton Portis’s proCane Rookie Card.

Bookmark and Share

Polamalu beats out Ed Reed for Defensive Player of Year

Two Ravens -- safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- lost out to Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu for the Associated Press' Defensive Player of the Year award.

Polamalu received 17 votes Monday from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who cover the league, edging Green Bay linebacker Matthews by two votes. Reed and Ngata each received one vote.

Polamalu had seven interceptions this season along with 63 tackles, but made his mark with big plays. In a late-season victory against the Ravens, he forced Joe Flacco to fumble, which set up the winning touchdown.

Reed led the NFL with eight interceptions despite missing the first six games of the regular season and finished with 37 tackles. Ngata had 63 tackles and five sacks despite being continually double-teamed.

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

Bookmark and Share

Justin Tuck delivered message to Antrel Rolle

New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck hasn't been thrilled with the way safety Antrel Rolle has handled himself since joining the team via free agency last March. He doesn't have any issue with Rolle's on-field product, but the fact he went on a Miami radio station earlier this month and talked about how Giants coach Tom Coughlin needed to be more like Jets coach Rex Ryan didn't sit well with Tuck.

"Everything we do with the Giants needs to be a team effort, no matter what we’re talking about," said Tuck. "So it’s very important he realizes he’s a tremendous, important part of the success of this football team. And not only on the football field but off it, too. It can be as important in what you say as in what you do."

As Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger pointed out, it sounds like Tuck is telling Rolle to keep his mouth shut when it comes to criticizing the head coach. Rolle called out the coach early in the season for arriving at road games too early and being too demanding. Then he and fellow safety Kenny Phillips did a Miami radio interview earlier this month in which they seemed to be longing for a more player-friendly coach such as Ryan. Tuck is the unquestioned leader of the Giants' defense, and I think he probably made it clear to Rolle that it's OK to bite your tongue every now and then.

"Me and Justin, we are on the same page," said Rolle. "We’re both competitors and we’re both going after the same goal which is to win,” Rolle said.

Of course, that's easy to say when you're hanging out together in Hawaii. We'll see if Rolle can remain on the same page with Tuck and Coughlin next season.

Click here to order Antrel Rolle’s proCane Rookie Card.

Bookmark and Share

James Jones is quietly heading towards a career year

During his first two years with the Heat, injuries limited James Jones to playing a total of 76 games.  In those games he averaged just under 15 minutes a game and made a total of 70 three-pointers, hitting them 37% of the time.  This was coming from a guy who hadn't made less then 90 triples in a season over the three previous years, when he made 91, 90 and 110.

When Jones came to Miami those were the kind of numbers that he was expected to put up.  He passed up offers from other teams so that he could come home to South Florida and play for his hometown Heat, and the timing seemed perfect.  He was coming off a season in which he shot a career best 44% from downtown while Miami was fresh off of a 15-win season in which they hit just 36% of their 3-pointers as a team. 

After two years though, it looks like the Heat are finally getting the guy they had hoped for when signing Jones to a 5-year deal.  Not only has he played in all 48 games this season, but this could very well end up being the best year of his career.  His overall consistency has solidified him in Erik Spoelstra's rotation and there is no reason to believe that his minutes are going to be in question.

Jones is on pace to shatter his previous career high in 3-pointers made and possibly shoot better then ever as well.  Back in 2005-06 he made a career-high 110 triples for the Phoenix Suns, then two years later he hit 91 shots from downtown, shooting 44.4% from beyond the arc and 43.7% from the field for Portland.  Those both stand for the best shooting percentages he's had in the NBA. 

This season he has already made 88 triples and is shooting 42.7% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc.  While playing in every single game for the Heat this year there has only been 7 in which he didn't have a trey, and each of those games he played well below his average of 22 minutes. 

It's already difficult to stand out when your on a team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, so its no surprise that we haven't heard a ton about Jones' success.  It isn't like he's going out there and having monster games either.  Only four times this year has he hit 5 or more shots from downtown, but the key is that he has consistently been making triples on a gamely basis for the Heat. 

Beyond his shot making, Jones provides solid defense is very good at taking care of the rock.  He has turned the ball over just 12 times this season which is another thing on pace for a career high, or in this case a career low.  He also has a chance to beat his best numbers in assists and steals.  It's amazing that he can be having such a great season and still quietly fly under the radar.

If his start to 2011 is any indication of the way he is going to finish out the season then he is absolutely having the best year season of his career.  In the 14 games since the calendar flipped over, Jones has shot 43.8% from the field and 46.3% from downtown, drilling 25 triples.  Whether he gets attention from anyone outside of the Heat organization or not, I'm sure that Coach Spo and his staff are well aware of what J.J. is doing this season and should continue to plug him into the lineup on a gamely basis. 

Bookmark and Share

Ryan Braun with Aaron Rodgers: "Incredible"

I just spoke with Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun about his experience Saturday night sitting courtside at the Bucks game with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Braun said he has come to be good friends with Rodgers over the past few years and stays in contact with him regularly. He said Rodgers invited him to sit courtside at the Bradley Center and he wasn't about to turn it down.

"It was an incredible experience, a special moment," said Braun. "The crowd response was unbelievable. The energy was incredible."

I asked Braun if Rodgers seemed anxious in any way about the upcoming Super Bowl and he said he didn't sense anything like that.

"He seemed really calm and really confident," said Braun. "He is so grounded, and he's a great person. He and I talk a lot. We've become mutual friends."

I asked Braun if Rodgers set him up with any Super Bowl tickets and he didn't say yes, but he did say he had the opportunity to go there. Sounds like he'll pass, though.

"I'd love to go," he said. "But it's close to spring training and I hate missing workouts. I doubt I'll end up going. To get the full experience, you have to go for a few days and I don't want to do that so close to spring training."

Bookmark and Share

Danny Valencia taps into veterans during workouts

BLAINE, Minn. -- Twins third baseman Danny Valencia has spent the past couple of weeks working out in Miami and getting in some swings alongside some well known Major Leaguers -- including the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and Melky Cabrera of the Royals.

For Valencia, it's been an opportunity to learn from some of the veterans in the game while he prepares for his second season in the big leagues.

"It's always nice to pick guys' brains, especially Posada," Valencia said. "You get the catcher's standpoint, which I think is helpful. I can do that with [Joe] Mauer. To hear an opposing catcher's point of view, it helps you out a lot."

Valencia said he's also taken the opportunity to work on his defense with Rodriguez at third base, and that the Yankees third baseman has been very receptive to helping him out. But in addition to talking to players he's been working out with, Valencia said he's also been in constant communication this winter with Twins starter Carl Pavano.

"He really gives me his perspective on my hitting, what he thinks I should do and how I should think at the plate," Valencia said. "Here's a guy with lots of years in the big leagues. He knows a lot. When I first came up, I sat next to him on the bench a lot and listened to him analyze hitters, and talk about his game plan for the next day, when he's facing these guys.

"I've been in contact with him and we've discussed my hitting a bunch. Toward the end of the year, I was hitting more home runs but I was striking out more -- and he said he thought maybe I was getting a little too pull happy. He said, 'When you're going good, you're hitting the ball the other way, and that gets you going.' And I was able to go out there and do that a couple times."

Bookmark and Share

Photo of the Week - NFL U Pro Bowl

Here is a photo of three of the 10 proCane Pro Bowlers in Honolulu this past weekend. Vince WIlfork, Ray Lewis and Brandon Meriweather ar throwing up “The U” in Honolulu.

Bookmark and Share

It had to be ‘U’

The University of Miami may have been supplanted by Southern Cal and Florida as the leading supplier of talent to the NFL over the past 10 years, but if this season’s Pro Bowl rosters are any indication, the ‘U’ is still producing the most top-notch talent in the league.

Miami is one of just four colleges to have produced three of more Pro Bowlers from the 2010 season, and its total of 10 is nearly twice as many as runner-up Tennessee. The Patriots [team stats], incidentally, sent two ex-Hurricanes — defensive lineman Vince Wilfork [stats] and safety Brandon Meriweather -— to Honolulu.

Here is a breakdown of schools with at least three players named to the Pro Bowl squads:

MIAMI (10)
Pos Player NFL team
LB Jon Beason Panthers
KR Devin Hester Bears
WR Andre Johnson Texans
LB Ray Lewis Ravens
S Brandon Meriweather PATRIOTS
S Ed Reed Ravens
S Antrel Rolle Giants
LB Jonathan Vilma Saints
WR Reggie Wayne Colts
DL Vince Wilfork PATRIOTS

RB Arian Foster Texans
TE Jason Witten Cowboys
S Eric Berry Chiefs
QB Peyton Manning Colts
T Chad Clifton Packers

QB Matt Cassel Chiefs
S Troy Polamalu Steelers
C Ryan Kalil Panthers
LB Clay Matthews Packers

QB Tom Brady [stats] PATRIOTS
OT Jake Long Dolphins
CB Charles Woodson Packers

Bookmark and Share

Leonard Hankerson has big day at Senior Bowl

University of Miami WR Leonard Hankerson stood out in Saturday afternoon's Senior Bowl, reeling in five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.

Christian Ponder hit him for a 48-yard completion on the first play from scrimmage before finding Hankerson on an 18-yard score later in the first quarter. Hankerson has NFL size and speed, but isn't considered a great route-runner. Unless he wows at the Combine, he'll remain a second-day talent.

The Patriots' personnel and scouting staffs didn't make themselves as visible as some other teams at the Senior Bowl, but they were spotted talking to University of Miami WR Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson could satisfy the Patriots' need for a wideout who can create separation and make big plays, as he was considered one of the top receivers in Mobile. He should be available with one of the Patriots' second- or third-round picks.

ESPN's Todd McShay believes University of Miami WR Leonard Hankerson improved his draft stock at this week's Senior Bowl.
More specifically, McShay says Hankerson "made bank." He's not considered to be in the same class as Georgia's A.J. Green or Alabama's Julio Jones, but is beginning to look like a definite day-two talent. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Hankerson certainly has NFL size.

Bookmark and Share

Bears' Devin Hester: 'I want to add about ... 15 more (TD) returns'

Chicago Bears kick returner Devin Hester -- who set the NFL record for career kick and punt returns for touchdowns this season with 14 -- said in a radio interview that he hopes to add many more return TDs to his resume.

In an interview with ESPN Chicago (courtesty of SportsRadioInterviews), Hester said that though he only thinks he'll play another five or six years in the league, he wants to add "at least 15 more returns (for touchdowns)" to his NFL-record total.

"You know when all my days are up I'm hoping to add 5 or 6 more," Hester said.

The host interrupted, saying "That's it? I have that penciled in for next season."

Hester continued: "You know the game is pretty brutal. I'm starting to have kids and I want to be able to kind of play around with them when they get old enough. I don't think I can take a lot of hits. I'm looking forward to about 5-6 more years on my contract to play this game and you know like you say, 'This year…coming into this season we have 5 down and then'… I want to add about when it's all said and done at least 15 more returns."

If there's someone who can do it, Hester is probably the man. Hester's 14 return touchdowns (10 punt, 4 kickoff) have come in just 73 career games, while the man's record he broke -- Brian Mitchell -- took 223 games to amass his 13 return touchdowns.

Hester was also asked about the criticism that Bears QB Jay Cutler faced after he was taken out of the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Hester said if you want to blame someone, blame the team doctors who held him out, not Cutler.

"It's tough, you know, nobody really doesn't know how painful that situation was for him (Cutler). With the knee injury you have minor sprain or you can have a real bad sprain, so you can't, you know, predict how painful it was. It's tough. Only the person can tell. That is the person it happened to, so like I say I think he wanted to go, but the doctors forced him out so … anybody that they [the media] need to point the finger to should be the doctor in question. He (Cutler) shouldn't get all the criticism."

Click here to order Devin Hester’s proCane Rookie Card.

Bookmark and Share

Jason Fox made noticeable gains in his rookie year

For Jason Fox, this past season was the redshirt year he never had.

A fourth-round pick out of Miami (Fla.), Fox started from the moment he stepped on campus as a Hurricane, 47 straight games in all.

As a rookie offensive lineman with the Lions, he played sparingly and spent most of his time in the weight room, still recovering from college knee surgery.

"Early in the year my knees were kind of bothering me still, so that kind of really limited me early and I just had to wait for my shot," said Fox, who suffered a torn patella tendon in his right knee as a senior at Miami. "I got some of it (in the season finale), and just for the situation I was dealt, I think I handled it well. But like I said, I'm not done, that was just the beginning."

Fox played the second half of the Lions' Jan. 2 win over the Vikings at right tackle after Corey Hilliard left with a knee injury. Aside from a goal-line series against the Packers, they were the only offensive snaps Fox, who was inactive for the season's first 12 games, played all year.

"I shook the cobwebs off the first series," Fox said. "But after that I felt like I held my own, and it's something to build on going into 2011."

Fox worked at both tackle spots and practiced some guard during the season. More important, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Fox made noticeable gains in size and strength that should help him compete for a job next year.

"He looks really good," Linehan said. "I think he's getting (his knee troubles) behind him now and looks like somebody that's now had a year out of a knee surgery as opposed to whatever it was, six months. That's a big difference. ... It's really, I think, going to bode well for his off-season being healthy."

Bookmark and Share

Jon Beason leaves mark on Pro Bowl

Carolina linebacker Jon Beason picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown, and left tackle Jordan Gross laid out an AFC player returning a fumble to help the NFC roll to a 55-41 victory at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In the closing minutes of the game, Beason broke on a pass from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel to Oakland Raiders tight end Zach Miller and stepped in front of it, catching it in stride and then steaming down the sideline 49 yards for a touchdown.

Beason's score accounted for the NFC's final points and allowed the squad to tie the record for most points in the Pro Bowl by one team, matching the 55 by the NFC in 2004.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Gross made what the FOX broadcast crew labeled as the best hit of the game. After New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Meriweather picked up what he believed to be a fumble by Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and returned it past midfield, Gross tracked him down near the sideline and delivered a big blow to stop his progress.

The play officially was wiped out when officials ruled that Witten was down by contact, but Gross still made the highlight reel.

Beason was playing in his third consecutive Pro Bowl, Kalil in his second consecutive and Gross in his second in three years.

Click here to order Jon Beason’s proCane Rookie Card.

Bookmark and Share

Michael Irvin settles woman's Fla. sex assault lawsuit

MIAMI -- Former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin has settled a Florida lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her at a hotel in 2007.

The confidential settlement was announced Friday at a hearing before a Miami federal judge. The woman's attorney declined comment afterwards. Irvin is listed as representing himself but did not attend the hearing.

The settlement still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke.

The woman had claimed Irvin assaulted her at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood in July 2007. Prosecutors declined to file charges after reviewing the case.

The lawsuit was filed on the eve of last year's Super Bowl in Miami, which Irvin worked as an NFL Network analyst.

Click here to order Michael Irvin’s proCane Rookie Card.

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne realizes Manning isn't 'immortal'

A year ago Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Reggie Wayne were preparing for the Super Bowl, but this year they have to settle for the Pro Bowl. And Wayne said the Colts’ struggles in 2010 helped him understand that Manning (who had a career-high 4,700 passing yards but also his most interceptions and lowest passer rating since 2002) isn’t perfect.

Asked today by Jay Glazer on NFL Network how he responded to Manning faced while throwing 11 interceptions during a three-game losing streak, Wayne said that was a stunning part of the season for him.

“It was a shock,” Wayne said. “The main thing we realized, he’s not immortal. He’s real. He’s not a machine. It goes to show you this game is so competitive, even the guys on top can hit a wall somewhere. As a team we just stuck behind him, kept pushing, told him, ‘Keep throwing,’ and hope he throw it to us. And it was good, everybody stuck together and we found a way out of that rut.”

At least, the Colts found a way out of that rut until they met the Jets in the playoffs, and the Colts lost while Wayne caught one pass for one yard.

“My number wasn’t called the way I wanted, but that’s the way it goes,” Wayne said of that loss to the Jets. “I was a little upset, basically, because we took an L — we lost — and you feel like you didn’t get your number called enough to help the team move on. It’s playoff time. You want to win, you don’t want to go home. It was tough for me — that was the first time I had been in that situation. But it is what it is. I’ve just got to keep playing ball, I guess.”

Wayne stressed that he’s excited about continuing to play ball, and that at age 32, he hopes to have many more years of playing with Manning. Even if the 2010 season didn’t go quite the way he wanted.

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

Bookmark and Share

Vernon Carey Moving to Guard?

Joe Rose: Is there any talk about Vernon Carey moving inside to guard? Is that something you guys have talked about at all?

Jeff Ireland: No. Not necessarily. He's been a staple for us at that right tackle position since we've been here and when he's been healthy, he's a pretty good player out there, probably one of the better right tackles in the division.

Click here to order Vernon Carey’s proCane Rookie Card.

Bookmark and Share

B.C. Lions release offensive lineman Haji-Rasoul

VANCOUVER - The B.C. Lions released veteran offensive lineman Sherko Haji-Rasouli on Friday.

Haji-Rasouli, 30, a native of Iran who grew up in Toronto, is an eight-year CFL veteran and spent six seasons with the Lions after signing as a free agent with the club in 2005. The six-foot-six, 326-pound former University of Miami star appeared in 92 regular-season games with B.C. and earned a Grey Cup ring with the squad in 2007.

The Montreal Alouettes drafted Haji-Rasouli in the second round, 12th overall, in the 2002 CFL Canadian college draft.

The Lions also released defensive lineman Steve Williams, who appeared in 14 games over two seasons with the club.

“Sherko was a leader for our club on the field and in the dressing room and we wish him as well as Steve the best in any future endeavours,” Lions GM and head coach Wally Buono said in a statement.

Bookmark and Share

Vince Wilfork: 18-game season would be ‘stupid’

HONOLULU — Vince Wilfork [stats] doesn’t know what the future holds in terms of a lockout. But one issue really gets his juices flowing.

The Patriots [team stats] nose tackle isn’t afraid to say how much he hates the idea of the proposed 18-game schedule, and if the league and players’ union ultimately agree to incorporate that into a new collective bargaining agreement, which may be the case, that would be incredibly “stupid’’ in his eyes.

Wilfork, speaking after the AFC’s 55-41 Pro Bowl loss to the NFC at Aloha Stadium, was answering the Herald’s question about whether or not he was worried about a lockout, when he launched into a diatribe about a potential 18-game season.

“It’s going to do whatever the NFL wants to do, anyways. It’s one of those things where you just have to sit and see what happens,” Wilfork first said with respect to a lockout. “But I can tell you one thing. Eighteen games don’t make no sense. Eighteen games turns into 20 games because the two preseason games you have to play your veterans and your starters. So that’s 20 games. If you look at it from that standpoint, it’s a stupid thing.

It’s just too stupid to be adding games.”

Wilfork went on at length about the penalty playoff teams would have to pay, and how their offseasons would be cut short and impacted by adding two regular-season games to the schedule, albeit shortening the preseason. He also got into the added health implications and risks for players having to go through the grind of an extended season.

“Playing 20 games, then going into the postseason, I think that will hurt the better teams,” he said. “You wind up playing two seasons because of all of those games. So you never get a chance to get your team back, or their bodies back. So again, I think 18 games would be real stupid.”
The union might have to make that concession, Wilfork is reminded.

“I hope not,” he said. “You talk about concussions now with a 16-game season, you just think about what would happen with 18 games, and with other injuries? It would be real crazy if you have some of your key players missing games because they can’t make it through. If you get to Games 17 or 18, and your key guys are missing, what happens then? I don’t know, it’s all crazy. I just think it’ll be real stupid if they do that. That’s all I’m saying.”

Click here to order Vince Wilfork’s proCane Rookie Card.

Bookmark and Share

Reds not looking to trade Yonder Alonso

Tis the season for prospect lists, and one player on most of the lists is Reds first baseman Yonder Alonso. And one thing that shows up on all the lists is that he's blocked at the big-league level by National League MVP Joey Votto.

Alonso played some outfield last season, but he's simply not fast enough to play out there, he's really just a first baseman. Alonso was ranked the No. 49 prospect in baseball by and No. 65 by's Keith Law. He's ranked the Reds' fourth-best prospect by Baseball America .

Alonso signed a major-league deal when he was drafted in 2008. Because of that, he'll be out of options after this season and seems to be certain to be traded. However, Bill Bavasi, the team's vice president of scouting, player development and international operations, said Wednesday at a fundraiser that the team wasn't interested in trading Alonso.

“We won’t trade him,” Bavasi said, according to the Dayton Daily News ' Hal McCoy . “We’ve tried him in the outfield and he gets to ball he should get to, but he doesn’t have the speed to make the great plays. But we can’t move him. He is exactly the kind of player Walt [Jocketty] loves -- he hits the ball hard, puts the ball in play, doesn’t strike out. I’m not so sure it would do him any good to sit on the bench this year so he’ll probably go back [to Class AAA Louisville] and play and work. He won’t be kept just to pinch-hit because it is tough for a kid to learn to do that.”

The Reds signed Votto to a three-year deal this month, buying out his arbitration years, but he will still be a free agent after the 2013 season. That seems too long to have Alonso sitting on the bench as a pinch-hitter, so the team almost has to trade him for a useful piece. He can be the perfect bit of trade bait if the Reds are looking for something at the trade deadline to put them over the hump, if they're still in the improved National League Central -- of course, other teams know they have to trade him, too, so Bavasi is likely just sandbagging.

Bookmark and Share