Kayne Farquharson IFL Player of the Week

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kayne Farquharson (WR, Nebraska Danger)

In a battle of two 4-1 teams, the Nebraska Danger outmaneuvered the Cedar Rapids Titans, 52-42, in one of the IFL's great early season matchups. Danger WR Kayne Farquharson emerged as the team's number one offensive threat in the back-and-forth affair. The two-time All-IFL WR caught six passes for 112 yards and three touchdowns against the IFL's number one rated pass defense. Farquharson also became the first WR to have a 100-yard performance against the Titans in 12 games. Thus far in 2015, Farquharson has caught 21 passes for 252 yards. He also leads the IFL with 10 touchdown receptions. Farquharson and the Danger face off against the Iowa Barnstormers this weekend.

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Detroit Lions 2015 NFL draft prospect: Duke Johnson

Leading up to the 2015 NFL draft, MLive.com writers Justin Rogers and Kyle Meinke will preview prospects who could be a fit for the Detroit Lions.

Name: Duke Johnson
Position: Running back
School: Miami
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 207 pounds
Projected round: Second-third
40-yard dash time: 4.54 seconds
Bench press reps: 18 reps

Key stats: Despite Miami's rich history of talented tailbacks, Duke Johnson finished as the school's all-time leading rusher in just three seasons.

Johnson racked up 3,519 yards on the ground, averaging an impressive 6.7 yards per carry, while adding another 719 yards as a receiver out of the backfield. Oh yeah, he also can return kicks. He didn't handle kickoffs in 2014, but the previous two seasons, he averaged 31.8 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.
How he fits: Johnson is a well-rounded back who offers additional value as a potential special teams contributor. While on the short side at 5-foot-9, he has enough weight on his frame to absorb the physical toll of the professional game.

More quick than fast, Johnson is a player who is elusive in the open field and can change direction with ease. It makes him a weapon as both on the edge and as receiver out of the backfield.

Johnson is also able to maximize his skill set as a kick returner. He didn't handle punts for the Hurricanes, but was successful doing it in high school.

Quotable: "Johnson's greatest asset is his burst. He doesn't have an elite second gear, but he reaches his top-end speed quickly. He doesn't shake defenders with highlight-reel moves, but he has the agility to make the first defender miss and he's a run-after-catch threat in the passing game. He runs really hard, but doesn't have the power base to regularly push the pile (he's tougher to tackle in space, with an effective stiff arm). He rates very well in terms of intangibles, but his durability is a concern that NFL teams will have to monitor." -- Todd McShay, ESPN.com

"Impressive acceleration. Alternately displays burst, agility and light feet to high-step through tackles and an effective stiff-arm. Patient runner willing to stretch plays and then hit the hole hard. Shows the "greasy knees" to cut and accelerate in one fluid motion, eluding would-be tacklers. Despite small stature, fights hard for every yard and shows a highly competitive nature." -- Rob Rang, CBS Sports

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Dolphins sign LaRon Byrd

LaronByrd 2
The Dolphins have met veteran wide receivers Greg Jennings and Michael Crabtree recently, but they signed a less familiar name on Wednesday.

Miami announced that they’ve signed LaRon Byrd to their 90-man roster. Byrd will be returning to the city where he played his college ball with the University of Miami Hurricanes and where he spent time on the practice squad last year.

Byrd has bounced around the league for the last few years, getting his first taste of playing time with the Cardinals in 2012 after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent. He was waived last April and played one game for the Browns between a pair of stints on the Cowboys roster. Byrd’s only reception, an eight-yard catch, came with the Cardinals in 2012.

That’s not a ton of experience, but the Dolphins depth chart at receiver is pretty short on it once you get past Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Rishard Matthews. Barring several additions to the group via the draft or other means, Byrd should compete for one of the lower spots in the pecking order.

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Phillip Dorsett, Devin Smith would best complement Eagles receivers Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff

Make no mistake about it — it is matter of when, not if, the Eagles will draft a wide receiver later this month in the NFL Draft.

That outcome became etched in stone when Jeremy Maclin signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving the Eagles without their top wide receiver from last season.
The good news is that like last year's draft, the Eagles will have plenty of talented receivers to choose from, as the draft class is considered especially deep at the position once again.

Leaving the Eagles to decide not only what receiver they want to draft, and when, but what kind, and which receiver best compliments Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff.

Matthews and Huff, both entering their second season, were early draft picks by the Eagles last year. Matthews, despite head coach Chip Kelly wanting to take him earlier, went in the second round. Huff was taken one round later in the third.

The high-draft picks the Eagles invested in them means both will be playing a prominent role in the offense next season, and any receiver drafted will be brought in to compliment, not replace them.

One thing is clear — the Eagles, even after losing Maclin, plan to keep Matthews as their slot receiver. One reason is that Matthews didn't learn all of the outside receiver position's routes last season, and only knows the slot position. Another? He was arguably the best slot receiver in the NFL last season.

Matthews, who finished with 67 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, trailed only Green Bay's Randall Cobb in catches, yards and touchdowns from the slot position.

His production, combined with the mismatch Matthews gets every week over a smaller nickle cornerback, means Matthews will spend next season right where he did last season — on the inside.

Like Matthews, Huff will also be playing the same role he did last season, he will just be playing more of it.

Huff saw limited action last season, the result of a shoulder injury he suffered in the preseason. The third-round pick ran only 106 routes, catching only eight catches for 98 yards. Of those 106 routes Huff ran, only six of them came from the slot.

Using Huff predominantly on the outside makes sense. He does not have the size Matthews does, and is better in space, as opposed to over the middle. He is perhaps the team's best receiver after the catch, as he forced six missed tackles in 210 snaps. By comparison, Riley Cooper forced only three missed tackles in 980 snaps.

With Huff manning one outside receiver position, and Matthews cemented on the inside, the Eagles will more than likely be drafting a receiver that specializes on the outside, as opposed to one built like Matthews, who excels in the slot.

Using that criteria, two receivers that make sense for the Eagles are Ohio State's Devin Smith and Miami's Phillip Dorsett.

While Huff and Matthews bring plenty to the table, neither bring the kind of straight-line, down-the-field speed the Eagles missed last season. That is where both Smith and Dorsett could add another dimension to the Eagles' offense.

Smith caught 33 passes for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, averaging a whopping 28.2 yards per catch. His big-play ability was backed up at the NFL Combine, when he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds.

Dorsett is another big-time playmaker that might compliment Matthews and Huff, as he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, and had at least one catch of 35-yards or more in seven games last season.

Both Smith and Dorsett are expected to be available when the Eagles go on the clock with the 52nd overall pick.

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Yasmani Grandal Unconcerned About Numbers Behind the Plate

“He’s been unbelievable back there,” Dodgers’ pitcher Zack Greinke said of his teammate and freshman Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, “His catching is better than advertised.” When it comes to Grandal’s “advertising,” the jury is still out. He’s universally hailed as one of the best pitch-framers in the league. From 2007-2013, Grandal created 4.1 strikes above average. In 2014, Grandal had 1,668.4 predicted strikes, or pitches that should have been called strikes. In actuality, Grandal caught 1,768 called strikes. The difference is 99.6, meaning that Grandal framed, or brought the pitch back into the strike zone, nearly 100 strikes that may not actually have been strikes. This 9.6 framing difference put him at thirteenth-best among all catchers in baseball last year, and his statistical history supports that.

On the other hand, Grandal’s defensive reputation has haunted him throughout his career—even from as far back as high school. Grandal has been on the leaderboards multiple times for passed balls; last year he tied for first with 12. In fact, Grandal would’ve passed two Tuesday night if the first hadn’t automatically advanced runners with a walk. Grandal also draws criticism for his low caught-stealing percentage, a career average of 16.4%.

Grandal’s recovery from right knee surgery aggravated him last year to the point where he’s said it’s affected his performance: “The whole passed-ball thing last year—I had limitations.” Grandal also hesitated to call his numbers behind the plate as indicative of weakness. “I don’t look at it as a weakness,” Grandal told Sonya Egoian from The Sports Journal Tuesday night. “I just need to get better at everything. It’s a game—things are going to happen no matter what. You’re going to have passed balls, you’re going to have guys steal on you. I need to work enough on every aspect of my defense to minimize that.”

Grandal has also drawn attention for his value as a switch hitter, adding to a very short list of switch-hitting Dodger catchers. “He’s got pop from both sides,” manager Don Mattingly said about Grandal’s hitting. Grandal posted low numbers from the right in 2014—he batted .241 from the left versus .167 from the right—but in 2013 and 2012 his average was much more comparable from both sides of the plate. “It’s just a matter of getting in a groove and having at-bats. As soon as I went out to the Dominican and got a lot of righty at-bats, my swing came around. It’s not a matter of whether I’m hitting badly or not, it’s a matter of repetition,” Grandal told The Sports Journal.

The Dodgers acquired Grandal for Matt Kemp in a trade with the San Diego Padres, a move that had Los Angeles fans mourning the loss of their big-name star, but, at 26, Grandal is only now approaching his peak, his pitch-framing stats far exceed those of former starting catcher A.J. Ellis—not an insignificant skill when strikes lead to strikeouts that lead to outs—and between Grandal and youngster slugger Joc Pederson, the Dodgers will easily make up, if not surpass, Kemp’s production at the plate. From both a financial and developmental standpoint, the Grandal-Kemp trade was sound, and the Dodgers’ confidence in Grandal, despite knowing about his defensive reputation, is surely a representation of that.

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Dolphins plan to re-sign proCane WR LaRon Byrd

The Miami Dolphins plan to re-sign former Hurricanes receiver LaRon Byrd this week, according to a source.

yrd played four years for the University of Miami, where he caught 106 passes for 1,254 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Last year, Byrd spent five weeks impressing Dolphins coaches while on the team's practice squad before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in early December.

The Dolphins placed Byrd, who is 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and runs a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash, on injured reserve with a practice squad designation.

He was an unrestricted free agent Miami wanted to re-sign, but couldn't until he passed his physical, which happened earlier this week.

Now Byrd will join a young receiving corp that  features Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Rishard Matthews, Matt Hazel, the team's 2014 sixth-round pick, and two newcomers, Michael Preston and Tyler McDonald.

After leaving UM,  Byrd was originally signed by the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 201, and played in four games as a rookie before being placed on injured reserve due to concussion symptoms.

Last season he spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Brown, making one appearance with the Browns before being released on Oct. 3. He joined the Dolphins shortly afterward and will now battle to make the 53-man roster or earn a practice squad spot.

During his NFL career Byrd has played in five games, but has only caught one pass for 8 yards while a member of the Cardinals in 2012.

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Draft Scout: Duke Johnson is no foundational back

Miami RB Duke Johnson "is an entertaining back who can explode in any direction at any time, sometimes a bit out of control and in haste," wrote NFLDraftScout.com's Frank Cooney.

"He can be a game-breaker with his talent or a back-breaker with his fumbles," Cooney wrote. "He is certainly worth a shot, but is not the guy to carry an NFL team on his back." Johnson has been compared to Chris Johnson in the past, but he's not quite the elite sprinter on the stop watch. Asked about his skills, Johnson replied: "Being able to receive out of the backfield is the No. 1 thing. I'm a mismatch with linebackers. I can catch the ball really well."

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Latest proCane Draft Buzz

It’s likely that Ereck Flowers will be the first Hurricanes player chosen in the NFL draft, which begins April 30.

It’s clear the Carolina Panthers, who own the 25th pick, really, really like him.

Flowers, the 6-foot-6, 324-pound offensive tackle who left UM after his junior season, fills an immediate need for the Panthers on the right side and could eventually move to the left side. He interviewed with Carolina at the NFL combine, visited the team and worked out for top brass. The team also sent several representatives to watch him at the Hurricanes’ April 1 pro day. The Charlotte Observer even flew their beat writer to do a profile on him (though as usual, Flowers didn’t talk).

If he’s available when Carolina picks, he’ll probably join Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin. But several analysts think he might not be.

In the slew of mock drafts we found online, Flowers is slotted as high as No. 9 overall. FoxSports.com’s Peter Schrager has him going at that spot, to the New York Giants.

Click here to read what Schrager, who has no other Hurricanes in his two-round mock, wrote about Flowers as well as the rest of the proCane potential draft picks by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post!

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Clive Walford, Beloved by Analytics

Name: Clive Walford
Position: Tight End
School: Miami
Height, Weight: 6-4, 254
Positional Rank: 2
Projected Round: 2

Clive isn’t the fastest tight end in the draft. He’s not the strongest nor the springiest. His numbers for his senior season at Miamiicon1 (44 catches, 676 yards, 7 TD) are nice but not spectacular.

And although Clive isn’t expected to have his name called in the first round this May, he is still regarded as a consensus top-two tight end prospect by most media outlets and would appear to be a nice fiticon1 in Dolphins aqua, aiding Ryan Tannehill in the middle of the field. Walford’s 40 time (4.8) may not tickle the average fan’s curiosity but the advanced metrics support Clive’s cause, as we learned via College Football Focus.

Walford ranked first among all draft-eligible tight ends in Yards Per Route Run (3.26), Yards Per Route Run vs. Power 5 Teams (3.38) and Slot Performanceicon1. NFL.com considers him a “very reliable blocker” with “NFL run-after-catch ability.” Watching his game footage, the sticky hands and sensational body control stand out and his beard represents a poor man’s James Harden.

Will the Dolphins (who have a pick in the first and second round but not the third) keep Clive in South Florida?

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Houston Texans Interested In Denzel Perryman?

According to Matt Hammond of Sports Radio 610, the Texans may have interest in drafting former Miami Hurricane linebacker Denzel Perryman.

Perryman was speaking with Sports Radio 610’s Triple Threat hosts when he made the statement that the Texans were “really interested in me” this past Wednesday.

Could there possibly be a match between the two parties?


The Texans are in the market for linebacker help, especially on the inside considering Brian Cushing‘s injury history. And there is even added uncertainty in the long-term with the other inside linebackers on the roster.

Honestly, the team’s inside linebacker core needs to become younger and more physical.

But what could Perryman bring that to the Texans defense?

Perryman, coming in at 5’11” and 236 pounds, has developed a reputation of being a hard hitter, and will take on offensive lineman in the second level.

From an analysis from Derek Stephens and Rob Rang of cbssports.com:

Lacks desirable height but has the look of a prototypical inside ‘backer with a stout, thick frame. Instinctive and tough. Showed improved closing speed and explosiveness as a tackler in 2014. Strong, active hands, agile feet and good use of leverage free him from blocks.

Tough, instinctive, and strong?

Sounds like Perryman is the type of linebacker the Texans need to add to bolster their defense, especially in certain run defense packages. He could be someone who challenges any running back who may break through the line, which is a trait that the team needs more of.

The Texans defense was ranked 10th against the run last season, but there is always room for improvement, right?

2014 statistics: 13 games, 79 tackles, 31 assists, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception

And his statistics seem to indicate that he is very active when on the field, and is not afraid to make tackles. He could also be a disruptive force on the second level in the NFL.

Perryman would be a nice compliment to Cushing’s style of play, especially if the veteran Texan continues to return to his pre-injury form throughout the 2015 season.

But what are the former Hurricane’s shortcomings on the field?

Per a NFL.com report from Lance Zierlein of SportsTalk 790:

Lacks coverage traits and is a liability in man coverage. Short levers won’t allow him to leverage blockers as a pass rusher. Slow to get off his spot and burst laterally, which causes him to miss some tackle opportunities.

If the Texans draft Perryman then it’s clear he wouldn’t assist much in against the pass, especially in man coverage which is concerning. He would then be limited to a run defender in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s system.

To overcome these potential shortcomings he will also need to possess or further develop the football instincts necessary for the NFL.  He would need to know where to position himself on the field at all times to counter some of the previously mentioned concerns.

Regardless, the Texans do need to add quality depth at inside linebacker and it seems that they have interest in the former Miami Hurricane.

But he has been projected to be taken in the late first or early second round in the NFL draft. So general manager Rick Smith may need to trade up from the 51st pick to the early second or late first round to be in the position to draft the young linebacker.

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Ereck Flowers reveals pre-draft visit with Giants

The Ereck Flowers pre-draft hype is building, with the Giants as the possible landing spot. They own the ninth overall selection in the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft.

Following an NJ Advance Media report several weeks back that had the Giants high on the University of Miami offensive linemen (and he landed at No. 9 in my most recent mock draft, see below) more evidence has recently been brought to the table. The team's brass attended his Pro Day and now Flowers told WalterFootball.com that he has a pre-draft visit in New Jersey.

"[The Giants] came for the pro day; I had dinner with them, and I have a visit set up with them," Flowers said.

Fox Sports' Peter Schrager also heard glowing reviews recently from several NFL sources who revealed there are multiple teams with Flowers as their No. 1 offensive lineman in the draft. Schrager also put Flowers at No. 9 for the Giants in his most recent mock draft.

Here are the basics on Flowers, per NFL.com and analyst Lance Zierlein:

Height: 6-6
Weight: 329 pounds
Arm Length: 34½
Hands: 9 7/8
40-Yard Dash: 5.31
Bench Reps: 37 (most at the NFL Scouting Combine)

"BOTTOM LINE While they have different body types, Flowers will have some of the same strengths and flaws 2014 first-round pick Greg Robinson had coming in. Flowers has the size, feet and talent to be a very good left tackle but he will be a work in progress unless he can eliminate some of the balance issues that could plague him."

Flowers is believed to be a plug-and-play NFL right tackle who also has the flexibility to slide inside to guard. Some view him as a potential future left tackle.

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Clive Walford can beat you in variety of ways

Miami TE Clive Walford is a multidimensional NFL weapon, posits ESPN's Louis Riddick.

"Walford going to give NFL defenses problems in 1 on 1 coverage in the [middle of the field] and in the seams," Riddick wrote. "And... he will compete as a blocker." Walford hasn't been able to show his stuff for scouts much this offseason while recovering from a hamstring injury, but he shows plenty on tape. We agree with Riddick's take, and see a Day 2 pick in a weak TE class.

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Chuck Pagano Successfully Recruits Andre Johnson, Again

INDIANAPOLIS – Back in 1999, Chuck Pagano’s job was not to let him get away.

Him was Andre Johnsonicon-article-link, who played his high school football less than six miles away from the University of Miami campus, where Pagano coached.

Johnson, a Parade All-American at Miami Senior High School, made Pagano one happy coach when he committed to the ‘U.’

More than a decade and a half later, the now 33-year old Johnson was again listening to recruiting pitches from Pagano.

A chance to recruit Johnson one more time was a surprise to Pagano, but served as another reminder of how life can work in the NFL.

During Johnson’s free agency visit to Indianapolis, Pagano was able to catch up with the man he coached at Miami and the wide receiver’s uncle.

"It's extremely exciting," Pagano said of reuniting with Johnson.

"No. 1, we're getting a really good football player, obviously. Having the relationship that I have with him, going all the way back to high school, recruiting him out of Miami High, knowing his family, knowing the type of man he is, the type of character he has, all that stuff comes into play. It's really cool for us to be back together again.”

When the Colts decided not to re-sign Reggie Wayne prior to the start of free agency, the void at the receiver position could have included a pre-requisite for another veteran to join the fold.

It wasn’t a requirement, but there’s no question that adding someone with the resume of Johnson was a quality that was definitely admired.

Johnson’s play still showed Pagano a productive receiver who hasn’t seen a major regression in his numbers.

“You still see a guy who is more than capable of stretching the defense, certainly somebody who our opponent can’t just line up and say, ‘Don’t worry about Andre Johnson.’” Pagano said.

“If they choose to double (T.Y. Hiltonicon-article-link) and take him out of the game, you have another guy on the other side, along with the rest of the guys on the roster who can still stretch the defense. He’s a big, possession type guy. He makes contested catches in traffic. He’s got a big catch radius, a big body. Those guys are hard to defend.”

The decision to part ways with Wayne is part of the business that Pagano does not enjoy.

In losing Wayne, Pagano wanted to find someone with similar characteristics and in doing so, another Miami product was about to call Indy home.

"I don't know if you can ever replace 87, matter of fact I know you can't replace guys like that, so you try to find somebody that can become like that guy," Pagano said.

"That mentor, that leader in that room, that brings that veteran presence, veteran leadership into that room to help the young guys. TY (Hilton) naturally going into his fourth year is going to have to assume some of that stuff. He's got to grow into that role. Obviously having a guy like Andre that's played 12 years is going to be a huge help as far as that's concerned."

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Ray Lewis Named Top 50 NFL Draft Pick of All-Time

After watching Ed Reed nab the #50 spot in NFL.com’s top 50 draft picks of all-time, we knew it was only a matter of time before his legendary running mate – Ray Lewis – saw his name pop up on the list.  It took a while, but Lewis has come in at number 22 on what is shaping up to be a pretty incredible list of names.

The Baltimore Ravens selected Ray Lewis at number 26 in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft, and the move turned out to be worth every penny and more.  Lewis went on to collect 13 Pro Bowl nominations, two Super Bowl rings, and a Super Bowl MVP.  He will go down as one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the NFL, and was a major catalyst for one of the greatest NFL defenses in history.

Ray Lewis spent an incredible 17 years in Baltimore and may never be replaced as the face of the franchise.  He was famous not only for his stellar play on the field, but also his fiery nature and once in a lifetime leadership ability.

Over 228 career games, Lewis piled up 2,050 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, 31 interceptions, and 119 passes defensed.  He rightfully has a place in the upper half of NFL.com’s list, and he will likely remain at the top of Ravens’ fans lists for generations to come.

Coincidentally, the Ravens pick at number 26 again in 2015.  Can lightning strike twice, perhaps?

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Allen Bailey Hosts Football Camp at MCA

It's always nice to see local athletes not only make it to the professional level, but also come back home to give back....practically all of them do, but this morning it was Kansas City Chief and Macintosh County Academy grad Allen Bailey's turn to put on a show for area children. He did not disappoint.

The whistles blew, the kids ran and jumped, even some of the adults got in on the action. Good time had by all Saturday morning at the Second Annual Allen Bailey Football Camp at Macintosh County Academy. "I did it a couple of years ago." Bailey said. "But it was small. Little kids. Two players, me and another player. Now I got 12 of us. Good spread from everywhere around the league."

The goal here isn't so much to find and/or recruit college athletes, not at all.  It's to show area children a good time. Have them rub shoulders with some current NFL players and walk away maybe wanting to getting a little more involved in athletics as they grow older. "My teammate from college came down to Miami. He had about 100 plus kids.  I saw how it was with the staff.  So I talked to the lady. Get it organized, a couple of months to get it right.  Found sponsorship, we were good to go." Bailey said.

The support from the school and the community has been rock solid. The camp was sponsored in part by several local businesses The kids and the instructors all got t-shirts, and they all had a great time. "It's good for the community, period." Bailey said. "We've got people helping that aren't coaches that are volunteering.  One great community giving back. Especially with these kids. Give the kids hope, we've got NFL stars out here. One day you could be like them too." he added.

And of course, like any other camp put on by a current NFL player, he usually invites some of his friends. Miami Dolphins starters Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon were on hand. As was one of the shining young stars for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Wide Receiver Allen Hurns. "I played with him (Bailey) at the University of Miami.  To just come out here and play with the kids. Give them a positive role model. I know as a child." Hurns said. "Older guys came back as far as Santana Moss and those guys like that. So I know how much of a positive impact it is on the people's life." he added.

Great turnout, great time, with hopes of doing it again next year.

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Marvin Lewis should know: Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed among NFL's best ever

Marvin Lewis has seen more of Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed than practically anybody. The Bengals coach faced both Polamalu's Steelers and Reed's Ravens twice a year for 10 seasons (then just Polamalu's for the next two years), plus a 2005 playoff loss to Pittsburgh he'd rather forget.

So, coach, which era-defining safety was better?

"Unfortunately, they’ve both had interception returns for touchdowns on us," he told Sporting News on Friday, laughing as he steered clear of answering. "Let's just say the AFC Pro Bowl team was loaded every year. They complemented each other; they really did. They were exceptional at everything. What one could do, the other could do, too."

But we love to debate the big picture. So how do the Steelers great  who retired Thursday night  and the Ravens star who's likely played his last game compare to the greatest safeties Lewis has ever seen?

"I think in my time, they have to be held up there with the Ronnie Lotts of the world," he said. "All the things they did, that's what Ronnie Lott did. He made plays everywhere on the field and impacted his team winning football games."

Also worthy of comparison is Rod Woodson, whom Lewis coached as defensive coordinator of the 2000 Super Bowl champion Ravens.

"The same competitive drive; the same effect on every aspect of the game,'' Lewis said. Woodson and Lott are both in the Hall of Fame.

Lewis took over the Bengals in 2003, when Polamalu was drafted and Reed was a year into his career. In the next dozen years, he faced them 40 times — 21 games against Polamalu, including the 31-17 playoff loss. Polamalu had an interception late in that game.

He saw plenty of both even before the NFL days, when each was trying to impress NFL scouts. Lewis noticed Polamalu at USC in 2003 when working out the first player he ever drafted in Cincinnati, quarterback Carson Palmer.

"Just the speed, the athleticism, the agility, the short-area change of direction, the burst, his play on the ball, it was all there," he said of Polamalu.

Lewis saw much of the same from Reed at Miami, recalling that both players started as cornerbacks and changed positions in college — a momentous decision considering the direction NFL defenses were taking in response to ever-expanding offenses.

"That’s what sets these guys apart. The NFL has evolved," Lewis said. "You need to have safeties who won’'t be out of place when they’re matched against a wide receiver. They could do it. And they had a tremendous sense of the game."

That sense was earned and learned, not just instinctive.

"The study — these guys were two cerebral players. They’re two guys who took the instruction they get from the coaches and put it into play on the field," Lewis explained. "They were guys who not only knew it, but could apply it."

Their most notable style difference was where they lined up more often: Polamalu near the line of scrimmage, where his launches into the backfield became famous; Reed in deep centerfield, chasing down passes when quarterbacks figured he'd be somewhere else.

"But they both excelled at the other," Lewis pointed out. Polamalu, the big hitter, had 32 career interceptions to go with 12 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. Reed, sixth on the all-time career interceptions list with 64, had six sacks and 11 forced fumbles.

"I can remember plays Ed made down low, and plays Troy made on the deep ball," Lewis said. "As (an opposing) coach, you try to put them in positions they’re uncomfortable in, but with them, you can’t do that. They’re going to attack every ball, everywhere."

On top of that, he added, "when they got their hands on the ball, they could run a long way with it." Reed had 14 career touchdowns; Polamalu had six.

The two combined for three Super Bowl wins (two for Polamalu), 17 Pro Bowls and nine All-Pro selections. They shared AFC Pro Bowl honors six times and first-team All-Pro twice.

Lewis, having coached against such talent for so long, won't miss Polamalu and Reed (when he too retires). But he will remember, and he does respect. 

"There aren't two better players you, as a coach, would want young safeties to look up to."

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Yonder Alonso continues promising start with first home run

Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso connected for a solo home run off Rubby De La Rosa in the second inning of Monday's 8-4 loss to Arizona. It was his first home run since since Aug. 11 of last season.

Alonso, who has 28 career home runs in 412 games, is batting .360 (9 for 25) with one double, one home run, two RBI, three runs, one stolen base, four walks and four strikeouts in seven games.

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Peter O'Brien will remain in outfield for now

SAN DIEGO -- Peter O'Brien is off to a strong offensive start while playing left field at Triple-A Reno, and the Diamondbacks plan to leave him there or at first base for the time being.

Catching remains a career option, but the D-backs want to get O'Brien a little further removed from the throwing issues that cropped up late in spring training before putting him back behind the plate.

The idea, as D-backs manager Chip Hale said, "is just to kind clear his head, let him get off to a good offensive start."

That O'Brien has done. "He has been killing it offensively," Hale said.

O'Brien homered in the first at-bat of his Triple-A career on the first day of the season April 9 and had his first career four-hit game Sunday. He had two doubles, a homer and four RBI in his first six games, and his nine hits were one short of the Pacific Coast League leaders.

O'Brien hit 39 homers in four stops last season, and the D-backs believe he made great strides behind the plate last fall and this spring. They but also are conscious of the weight the throwing issue may have carried, and do not want it to compromise his production.

"Even just the catching part of it ... now he gets to get out there and have his at-bats. Instead of sitting on the bench, he can play every day this way," Hale said. "He had come a long way catching and gaining the trust of the pitchers. I really feel at some point there could be a chance to get back there again and be a quick remake."

O'Brien will play some first base as well, Hale said, where he played about half the time in most recent Arizona Fall League season.

Whatever his position, his bat will play a role. "If he hits, he'll find a way here," Hale said.

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Phillip Dorsett only dropped one pass in 2014

Miami WR Phillip Dorsett only dropped one pass on 37 catchable targets, according to Pro Football Focus.

Dorsett was targeted 67 times, but only 37 were truly catchable. There is some subjectivity here and in these cases, charters tend to side with the receivers. Regardless, this is an outstanding number for the speedy receiver. It rivals Jarvis Landry's drop rate from last year. Dorsett could be selected in the second round.

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Analysts: Duke Johnson is draft fit for Patriots

Yes, the New England Patriots just won their fourth Super Bowl. But that doesn't mean the Patriots don't have some holes to fill in the draft.

Perhaps the biggest hole is at cornerback, where the Pats lost Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and NFL Media analyst Curtis Conway said Thursday on the NFL Network's "Path to the Draft" that LSU cornerback Jalen Collins makes sense for New England with the No. 32 overall pick.

Conway said he also likes Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson but thinks Johnson will be gone at No. 32.

"Jalen Collins is a guy ... I think will be there," said Conway, who describes Collins (6-foot-1 1/2, 203 pounds) as "very physical."

Fellow analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Collins as his No. 29 overall player and calls him "a big-time playmaker."

Collins has excellent measurables, ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and has a high ceiling. But he remains a bit raw, as he started just 10 games in his LSU career.

The analysts also noted that the Patriots lost running back Shane Vereen, who was a weapon as a runner and a receiver, this offseason. Potential running back replacements mentioned for Vereen were Miami's Duke Johnson, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon.

Conway seemed especially high on Johnson, saying "he's a mismatch out of the backfield" as a receiver and noting that he can be split outside and also be counted upon to run hard between the tackles.

Jeremiah called Johnson "a great fit" for the Patriots, and mentioned Abdullah as another back who is a solid dual threat. "If you want a little more size, maybe T.J. Yeldon," Jeremiah said.

Some potential mid-round picks that the analysts thought would help fill holes for the Pats were defensive linemen Tyeler Davison of Fresno State and Darius Philon of Arkansas, wide receiver Tony Lippett of Michigan State and offensive lineman Mitch Morse of Missouri. Morse played tackle for the Tigers, but Jeremiah said he could move to guard and would fit inside with the Patriots.

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Jimmy Graham soft? 'I still feel the same way,' says Seahawks teammate Michael Bennett

Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett derided tight end Jimmy Graham as being "soft" after beating the New Orleans Saints in a divisional playoff game in the 2013 playoffs.

Now that Graham has been traded to the Seahawks and is a new teammate, they're ready to patch things up, right?

Uh, maybe not.

In a radio interview on 710 ESPN in Seattle, Bennett didn't back down from his comments and said that Graham "would have to block" now that he's with the Seahawks.

"I still feel the same way," Bennett said, according to the Seattle Times. "Just because he's on my team I don't stop feeling that way. Obviously I'm going to be a better teammate to him because he's on my team. I can't do the things I was doing to him when we were playing him."

"But obviously when he comes to our team he's a part of our team so we have a different philosophy than they had with the Saints. So the things he was expected to do with the Saints are going to be different when he comes here.

"Obviously we are a running team, so he is going to have to block and do all those things. I don't feel as harsh as I did at the time because he's my teammate now but at the time he was on the opposite team and we battled with him a couple of times and I didn't really like that too much."

Bennett's original comments from more than a year ago are considerably more forceful.

"Nobody likes Jimmy Graham. I think he's one of the softest players in the NFL," Bennett said at the time. "I think he's overrated and I really don't like him as a person or as a player. ... When he's not in the game he's not in the game. He doesn't help on the blocking plays. I think he's just overrated."

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Duke Johnson on NFL draft, LeSean McCoy comparisons, more

Former Miami running back Duke Johnson is among the most talented rushers in a draft class that is deep at the position, and is one of several Hurricanes who should be chosen on either the first or second day of the 2015 NFL Draft, to be held April 30-May 2 in Chicago. Three weeks away from the day he has prepared for, Johnson took time for a Q&A with College Football 24/7:

CFB247: What is the biggest strength you will bring to an NFL team as a rookie, and in what area will you need to improve the most?
Johnson: I think my ability to make people miss in the open field, catch the ball out of the backfield, and do a lot of different things in an offense is my biggest strength. I feel like I'm a complete player who can do whatever is asked. As far something I need to improve, I am working to improve my technique in pass protection. I can pick up the blitz, but I can get better as far as doing it the way coaches want.

You've said before that you see similarities between your game and LeSean McCoy's. In what ways?
I just think the way he can see the hole and make his cuts, and make things happen in the open field, I feel like those are some of the things I bring, too. He can also catch the ball and make plays that way -- he can really do everything.

You grew up in Miami and attended Miami Norland High. What would it mean to you if you were drafted by the Miami Dolphins?
Growing up, I liked all Miami sports. The Marlins, the Heat, the Dolphins, it didn't matter. I've always been a Miami sports fan, so that would be great. I think it's a very slim possibility that the Dolphins will draft me, because they already have Lamar Miller, who is doing a great job there. But to get the chance to play in front of my hometown would be a special thing for me.

Do you have any former Miami teammates in the NFL now who have helped you with advice during your draft preparation?
(Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver) Allen Hurns is a guy I know pretty well who I can talk to. His main advice to me has just been not to worry too much about things like the combine and the pro day, because at the end of the day, we're getting judged mainly on our film. And as long as what you put on film is good, everything else will take care of itself.

If NFL scouts could see only one game film of you, which game would you want it to be?
That's a tough one. I would have to say the Virginia game of my freshman year. I was young, but that was a game where I really got to show everything i can do, from running the ball to catching it out of the backfield, returning kicks, blocking, all of it. I even got to throw a touchdown pass.

(Editor's note: In a 41-40 loss to the Cavaliers, Johnson rushed for 150 yards on only 16 carries, caught one pass, threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hurns on a halfback option, and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. His 368 all-purpose yards, which included 214 in returns, set a single-game school record.)

Who is the best linebacker you've ever faced in a game?
Arthur Brown, who played for Kansas State. He was just everywhere. We couldn't get away from him.

What makes Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman a special player?
He can't be blocked. He refuses to stay blocked. Some people say he's small or whatever, but he makes up for it. He is an aggressive, tough, rugged linebacker, and he always knows where the ball is going to be. He is by far (the defense's hardest hitter)."

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Sean Taylor’s father says new book will help people understand his son

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The first time Steven Rosenberg met Pedro “Pete” Taylor — on the field before a 2011 Redskins-Dolphins game — he asked whether Taylor knew how much Redskins fans still thought about his son. When Taylor hesitated, Rosenberg brought over a friend.

“He starts going bananas,” Rosenberg recalled. “He’s wearing an RIP Sean bracelet, saying you’re the father of my hero, throwing ’21s’ to the heavens, screaming and carrying on.”

Next, Rosenberg approached a stranger in a Taylor jersey, and brought that man, too, over to the player’s dad.

“The guy is going nuts, absolutely going crazy,” Rosenberg said.

He did this a third time, and then rested his case: that Redskins fans still care about the former safety more than just about any D.C. athlete.

That first conversation eventually led to a collaboration between Rosenberg and Taylor. Their self-published book, “Going Full Speed, the Sean Taylor Stories,” was officially announced on Thursday, a few hours before Taylor was to be inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame. The book is scheduled to be released next week, and will be supplemented with signings and appearances around the District and Virginia this spring and summer.

Why write this book, more than seven years after Sean Taylor’s tragic death?

“Sometimes you hear one side of a story, and sometimes it’s good to hear the other side,” Pete Taylor said this week. “This is a way to hear both sides. Read the book, and you’ll understand who he was.”

This project, of course, is not the first with that mission. Just last year, NFL Network aired a Taylor film; the producers told me their goal was to provide “a full picture of Sean’s life.”

And while Pete Taylor was quoted in that film, he’s the co-author of this project with Rosenberg, a former advertising and PR man with homes in both Northern Virginia and Florida. The book was crafted over nearly two years of meetings held in South Florida coffee shops and restaurants. There were also interviews with about 40 Taylor friends and associates, including Redskins owner Dan Snyder, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, former Washington teammates Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, Renaldo Wynn and Lorenzo Alexander, University of Miami figures like Larry Coker and Jonathan Vilma, and a host of family members.

The book includes both memories of Taylor as a child and stories from his playing days; it recounts his murder and the days following that tragedy, when Pete Taylor addressed the Redskins in Ashburn.

“Pete Taylor is the best producer I’ve worked with in my life,” Rosenberg said. “He’s got a Rolodex from here to the moon, and every single person we talked to said the same thing, almost identically: anything for Sean. Every one of them said the same thing. They all wanted to be part of it, they all wanted their stories told, nobody said no.”

The book, which runs more than 300 pages, also has also training tips and life lessons from Taylor, who told me he wanted to encourage readers “to reach out and try to do the best you can to be a part of a child’s life.”

Will Redskins fans be interested in this project? Almost assuredly. When Rosenberg and Taylor announced they were launching this project at an Alexandria restaurant in 2012, more than 100 fans came to the event. And when they offered 100 signed copies of their still-unfinished book for $55 during an online fundraiser, it took less than a week to sell out. Fans have been chattering about this on social media sites for months, and the fact that it’s self-published isn’t likely to discourage the diehards.

“The way I see it, Sean represented the Redskins of his era. And when he died so suddenly, he became much more than a player: he became a cult hero,” Rosenberg said. “We’re just talking about a really, really loyal fanbase, and they’re still in shock. They say they miss him every day.”

Pete Taylor said he doesn’t quite know why so many fans feel that way, and he said he has no idea how the book will be received. But he clearly knows that his son remains relevant in this market.

“I’m so appreciative of [Washington fans], of all the thoughts and all the prayers,” he said. “I always say that I’ll always be a Redskins supporter. They’ve got some of the biggest and most loyal fans out there. It’s like going to a college with so many great alumni, to find out the Redskins nation supports the Redskins the way they do.”

It’s a phenomenon that Rosenberg knows well. A few days before his first chance meeting with Taylor at that Dolphins game, Rosenberg took his then-high school-aged son to a Miami sporting goods store. After looking around, his son found something he couldn’t leave without: a University of Miami Sean Taylor jersey.

“Going Full Speed” is scheduled to be available on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and AuthorHouse.com on April 16. Updates on book signings and appearances will be posted on this Facebook page.

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Phillip Buchanon's story about money and his mom is sad but important

There are plenty of stories of NFL players blowing their money, with the tales often involving family members having their hands out, but few are as stark, specific and revealing as the story Phillip Buchanon tells in his new book.

Fox Sports published an excerpt from Buchanon's book, "New Money: Staying Rich." In the excerpt, the former NFL cornerback talks about family members, particularly his mother, coming to him for money after he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2002. Buchanon says his mother told him he owed her $1 million for raising him.

"Well, that was news to me," wrote Buchanon, who played 10 NFL seasons for five teams. "If my mother taught me anything, it's that this is the most desperate demand that a parent can make on a child. The covenant of having a child is simply that you give your child everything possible, and they owe you nothing beyond a normal amount of love and respect. There is no financial arrangement."

Buchanon wrote that he bought his mother a house instead, and told her to sell his childhood house. But he says she kept both houses, renting one to an aunt, and he ended up making the payments on both. He wrote that it was a mistake to buy such a big house for his mother, and proposed a solution.

"I offered to buy her a comfortable house in my name for her to live in. This way she wouldn't have to take out any loans or put my little sister and brothers in a situation where the roof over their heads could be taken away. She'd move out of the house that was too big for her and into this new one. Instead, she opted for $15,000 cash.

"I told her that if I gave her the $15,000, not to come calling when she got into trouble. Needless to say, she ended up calling. And, what's worse, she lost the house." 

Buchanon told Fox Sports that he wants future generations of athletes to avoid the mistakes he made. In his book description from his website, he warned that "'fun friends' and family will view you as an endless ATM." He also wrote about family members asking for money to get something fixed, but the things would never get fixed after Buchanon wrote them a check. When Buchanon later offered to pay for the repairs directly to the company doing the work, all of a sudden family members weren't so interested anymore.

The stories of athletes spending their money have been told before, and ESPN Films did a good job compiling many in the documentary "Broke." And, of course, not all NFL players spend all the money they made in football. But the ones who do, after being given millions of dollars at a very young age, have regrets. Buchanon hopes others avoid the mistakes he made, even if he had to share some uncomfortable stories about his family to get his point across.

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Sean Spence Turned “Why Me” Into “Why Not Me”

Professionally speaking, there is no denying that Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence has gone through a lot of turmoil in his young career. A former third-round draft pick, he suffered a devastating knee injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year.

The torn ligaments were worrying enough, but we learned later on that he also suffered nerve damage behind his knee cap as a result of the freak injury.

And when he finally returned in his second season, even to practice, he suffered a finger injury that prevented him from taking full advantage of the opportunity to experience football activities. After his three-week practice window closed, he was placed back on injured reserve, still not knowing if he would ever play again.
In the interim, the Steelers used two draft picks in successive years on inside linebackers. Vince Williams was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft and started several games as a rookie. Ryan Shazier was a first-round selection last season and was installed as the starter immediately.

It seemed that the opportunity there to be seized had passed him by, all the while being unsure if he would ever even play football again. But as faith would have it, he not only returned to the game that he has played since he was six years old, he even played a starting role in the defense.

Entering his fourth season now, Spence has the opportunity to compete for that starting job, and to do so in a manner in which he has never had the chance to before. Because in reality, this is the first time in his career that the young man will have a normal offseason like the rest of his teammates.

And he may never have gotten there were it not for the mental resolve that carried him out of the dark moments of the previous two years leading up to the 2014 season, when he questioned in anger why it was he who suffered that freak injury.

But as time went on, the question that occupied his thoughts evolved from “why me?” to “why not me?”, as in—as he told Teresa Varley—“why couldn’t I be the guy that comes back from this type of injury and beat all odds?”

Indeed, it is most difficult to find many parallels to Spence experience, much less examples that have the subject emerge victorious at the end of the line. What the former Miami Hurricane has come back from, personally and professionally, is already remarkable, but that is in the past now.

What Spence is focusing on now is the future, and what he can still accomplish in the sport that he grew up playing and fell in love with. With a full offseason at his exposure to get stronger, to master the nuances of scheme and position, and to generally improve himself, there is no doubt that he is entering the most critical moment of his career, now that he knows there is a career there to be had.

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Vince Wilfork to receive honorary degrees at NEIT commencement

Vince Wilfork, former New England Patriots defensive captain and lineman and former Governor Philip W. Noel will receive honorary degrees at the Sunday, May 3 New England Institute of Technology commencement ceremonies at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

Wilfork who won bookend Super Bowls in his first and last year with the Patriots, will deliver the commencement address and help to mark the college’s 75th anniversary. Commencement ceremonies begin at 11 a.m.

Wilfork was drafted by the Patriots in 2004 and became a leader on the team and one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles. He registered 516 combined tackles and 16 sacks during his 11 years with the Pats and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl five times. After becoming a free agent at the end of the season, Wilfork recently signed to play with the Houston Texans for a contract worth a reported $9 million.

“This has been an interesting process for me and my family, one we have taken very seriously and given a lot of thought,” Wilfork said. “We will forever be Patriots in our hearts.”

At 6-foot-2 and 325-pounds, Wilfork is an imposing player on the field. Off the field he has tackled issues close to his heart. He has raised $1.5 million to help fund diabetes research, education and care in memory of his father, who died from complications of diabetes. He and his wife Bianca sponsored a wing at the Mattapan Community Health Center and they raise money for the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and the Diabetes Research Institute in Florida. They have also worked to help disadvantaged children and families in Massachusetts and in Florida where both Wilfork and his wife grew up. In recognition of his work to improve the lives of others, Vince Wilfork will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters during commencement.

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Sam Shields hoops tournament tips off today

SARASOTA — Sam Shields wants to stay close to the NFL receivers he covers. But as a youth growing up in Sarasota, he was even closer to the Robert L. Taylor Community Center.

The former Booker High star and current Green Bay Packers cornerback is lending his name to the Sam “Sticky” Shields Basketball Tournament, set for today and Saturday at the center, at 1845 34th St.

Shields spent much of his youth at Robert Taylor, and now that he’s established himself in the league, finds time to give back.

“He’s always here, doing positive for the young kids, working with our kids,” said Arthur Larkins, a supervisor at the Center. “Helping them with things they don’t even know it’s him helping — getting them shoes, clothes for school. Filling the gap where some of the parents aren’t in the gap.”

The tournament will attract teams comprised of players age 18 and up from Tampa, Palmetto, Bradenton and Sarasota, all competing for a first-place prize of $2,000. Larkins said Shields will be in attendance Saturday to hand out the money.

All the teams are guaranteed at least two games. Play starts with two games tonight at 6 and 7. The losers of those contests will play on Saturday morning, with the title game set for Saturday night.

Among the players scheduled to participate are former Riverview High and Central Florida star Tony Davis.

Larkins hopes the tournamentstarts a yearly tradition “where it will grow.” All proceeds will benefit the youth programs at the Robert L. Taylor Community Center.

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Anthony Chickillo tries out LB for scouts, struggles

Miami DE Anthony Chickillo worked out exclusively as an OLB during his pro day and struggled, according to TFY Draft Insider's Tony Pauline.

"He was stiff and looked poor trying to backpedal in coverage drills," Pauline wrote. Unfortunate news for a prospect some had seen as a sleeper. The star-crossed Chickillo was miscast as a 3-4 defensive end in college but appears to have miscast himself as an outside linebacker for scouts. The 6-foot-3 1/8, 261-pounder, a former five-star prospect, is a 4-3 DE at the next level.

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Sean Spence: 'This could be the best offseason'

For the first time since he was drafted by the Steelers, linebacker Sean Spenceicon-article-link has the luxury of a full offseason. No trying to learn the defense in a rush like he had to prior to his rookie year. No rehab, no recovery, like he had to deal with after his first two seasons.

Instead he is attacking the offseason like the rest of his teammates, getting stronger and soon taking part in all activities like the rest of his teammates will be doing.

“I have a full offseason to do that now,” said Spence. “This could be the best offseason. I imagine it’s going to feel good this year. Last offseason I was trying to catch up and make sure my knee was going to be better for OTAs and training camp. Now I am riding along with the pack. I am trying to separate myself with my work ethic and work hard.”

It’s been a long journey for Spence, who suffered what many feared could be a career-ending knee injury on August 30, 2012 in the preseason.  He could have easily thrown in the towel, given up on any type of comeback with the severity of the injury. But to know Sean Spence is to know that he is not a quitter. That word doesn’t even exist in his vocabulary.

There were bumps in the road, there were discouraging moments, and there were tears. But Spence fought through it all and a little over two years after suffering the injury, he saw his dream come true when he started at linebacker against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field last season and played the entire year, his first full season after being in the league for three years.

“It felt great,” said Spence of the 2014 season. “I really missed the game being away from it for two years, having to watch guys I got drafted with play and I didn’t. Then see guys the next year come in and get drafted and playing and I am not. Through every trial there is a lesson and I learned a lot.

“I learned to be patient, good things come to those who wait, everything happens for a reason. When I was injured I was mad at the world. I was saying to myself of all people, why me to have this freak and tragic injury. As time went on I told myself why not me. Why couldn’t I be the guy that comes back from this type of injury and beat all odds?”

It was Spence’s mental strength, his ability to take a negative and turn it into a positive that kept him fighting through the tough times.

“Every time I went to visit the doctor they would tell me something good, but then there was a ‘what if’ scenario,” said Spence. “Every time I got a bad report I never quit. I never went home and said I am not going to go in today because there is no hope. I got up every day even when I didn’t want to, came in and worked out so I could get that edge.”

And it all paid off when he got back to being what he wanted more than anything last season, a football player.

“It was amazing,” said Spence. “The first preseason game felt good. I ran out of the tunnel, looked around and bust out into tears telling myself, I am here. I am not supposed to be here. I am in a helmet and it means something. It was the first time it hit me I was going to be playing, that I was going to be a pro football player.

“It was great. I was in deep sorrow for so long, for two years, after playing so many years since I was 6 years old. To get to my dream and almost in the blink of an eye have everything almost gone. It was scary. When I had the opportunity to get back on the field, even for the preseason, I couldn’t hold back my emotions.”

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Final suspect guilty in murder of Redskins' Sean Taylor

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MIAMI -- The final suspect has pleaded guilty in the 2007 killing of Washington Redskins star safety Sean Taylor during a botched burglary.

Timmy Lee Brown will serve 18 years in prison under his plea agreement Wednesday. The 23-year-old Brown was one of five men from the Fort Myers area who drove to Taylor's home intending to burglarize it. Taylor confronted the group with a machete and was fatally shot.

All five suspects were convicted and sent to prison. Triggerman Eric Rivera Jr. got the longest sentence at 60 years.

Taylor's father, Florida City Police Chief Pete Taylor, told The Miami Herald that Brown's conviction brings the family closure.

Taylor was a star at the University of Miami and was a first-round pick of the Redskins in the 2004 NFL draft.

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Ereck Flowers Will Visit the Redskins Next Week

The Scot McCloughan era Washington Redskins have not had many pre-draft visits leaked or reported so far this year. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota reportedly had a visit lined up at some point, and the Redskins reportedly worked out  Houston DL Joey Mbu.  That's it, that's the news that is out there for now. Miami OT Ereck Flowers reportedly told NFL.com's Gil Brandt that he has several pre-draft visits lined up for next week, including one to Ashburn to meet with the Redskins.

Flowers(6'6", 329 lbs) is projected to go in the 1st round of this year's draft, with CBS Sports ranking him as the 4th best OT and the #21 overall prospect. Flowers was ranked the #2 OT in Mike Mayock's latest Position Rankings. Flowers would be considered a reach by most people at #5, but the Redskins will listen to any offer involving a trade down, and depending on how far they drop, Flowers becomes a very real option at a position of need.

From CBS Sports:

STRENGTHS: Shows quickness and balance getting to the second level when run blocking. Broad shoulders and a wide base to cover a large area in pass protection and drive defenders off the ball in the run game.

WEAKNESSES: Can struggle against the speed of undersized pass rushers, allowing defensive ends to cross him inside and trip up running backs in pursuit. Tendency to be a beat late off the snap in load road environments.

COMPARES TO: Andrew Whitworth, Bengals -- Massive frames make these big men vulnerable to speed rushers. But massive frame, length and combative style made Whitworth an underrated foundation stones in Cincinnati. Flowers has the same potential.

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Durkin’s Prospect Watch: WR Phillip Dorsett

(CBS) Last season, the Bears’ primary targets in the passing game were all had similar profiles — long, physical athletes who won with leverage rather than speed. Without the threat to win over the top, defenses played split-safety looks knowing the Bears couldn’t beat them over the top. Chicago has a major need for speed at the wide receiver position.

Today we take a look at one of the fastest receiver prospects in the 2015 draft: Miami’s Phillip Dorsett.

WR Phillip Dorsett (5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Miami)
40-yard dash: 4.25 (unofficial from Pro Day), 4.33 (Combine)
Three-cone: 6.7
Vertical: 38”
Bench: 13
Arm: 30 1/4”

Bio: Dorsett arrived in Coral Gables as a three-star wide receiver and kick returner prospect. He caught 12 touchdowns passes as a senior on St. Thomas Aquinas’ 5A state champion team.

As a true freshman in 2011, Dorsett played in all 12 games as a receiver and kick returner, making one start. He finished with 147 receiving yards and one touchdown. As a sophomore, he appeared in all 12 games as a receiver and kick/punt returner, making 10 starts, and led the team with 842 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Dorsett missed five games in 2013 with a partially torn MCL. He appeared in eight games and averaged 21 yards per reception. His senior season in 2014 was his most productive. He started 13 games and averaged an exceptional 24 yards per reception and caught 10 touchdowns.

In total, Dorsett appeared in 45 games, making 30 starts, finishing with 2,132 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns and a 17.2 yards-per-reception average. Heaveraged 19 yards per kick return.

Pro outlook: Dorsett was used out of the slot as well as on the perimeter in Miami’s pro-style offense. He ran the full route tree, which should ease his transition into an NFL offense.

Dorsett has game-changing speed that allows him to stack on top of cornerbacks and separate over the top. In addition to his elite long speed, he has rare change-of-direction and lateral quickness, which makes him a yard-after-the-catch threat on short and intermediate routes. His suddenness of the snap also made it difficult for cornerbacks to get a jam on him when lined up in press coverage.

Dorsett has fluid feet and loses very little speed heading into and coming out of his breaks by staying balanced. His speed allows him to quickly erase a defensive back’s cushion and gain separation whether continuing vertically or breaking off his route.

Dorsett’s still developing as a route runner. He has a tendency to rely purely on his speed to win matchups. In the run game, he’s not very physical with his downfield blocks. He was willing to come down to the slot and crack a safety, but he isn’t physically imposing on impact.

Draft projection: Dorsett is still developing as a receiver, but he has skills that simply can’t be taught. He should be selected in the top half of the second round and contribute immediately as a receiver and returner.

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Zack Greinke on Yasmani Grandal: 'I couldn't draw up a better catcher'

It’s one thing to replace a popular player, and something else when he’s still on the team, highly respected by teammates, still sharing your catching position and has a close personal and professional relationship with the best pitcher on the team, if not the planet.

Yasmani Grandal was not the most popular catcher on the Padres last season. He did not catch on days Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy started. He threw out only six of 56 basestealers last year, worst for any catcher who appeared in at least 60 games.

He came to the Dodgers in the off-season trade for Matt Kemp, seemingly determined to reinvent his relationships with the pitching staff. Catcher A.J. Ellis is renowned for his work ethic and close partnerships with the staff – Clayton Kershaw in particular -- and Grandal appears to have been taking notes.

And it’s apparently working. After Zack Greinke, who was also thought to prefer pitching to Ellis, threw six strong innings Tuesday with Grandal behind the plate, he could hardly stop praising the catcher.

“He’s been unbelievable back there,” Greinke said. “His catching is better than advertised, and working with me individually, he’s been as good as you could expect. I don’t think, from what I’ve seen so far, you could ever have expected anything more.

“He’s done everything. His hands are great. He’s blocked everything I’ve thrown. People stole on him last year, but he’s had some really good throws in games I’ve thrown in spring training. And then his game calling’s been good.

“I couldn’t draw up a better catcher at the moment.”

That’s high praise, particularly from someone who doesn’t normally enjoy being effusive in his praise.

But when most of the regulars left camp a day early to head back to Los Angeles, Grandal remained back in Arizona specifically to catcher Greinke in a minor-league game.

Maybe that’s something he doesn’t do a year ago with the Padres. Right now, though, he is getting it right.

Almost like it was drawn up.

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Ryan Braun (rib cage) singles as pinch-hitter

Ryan Braun was used as a pinch-hitter Wednesday against the Rockies and had an infield single.

Braun certainly didn't seem to be protecting his oblique while taking his first couple of cuts. The hit, though, came on a dribbler down the third-base line. He stayed in the game to run afterwards, but since he was hitting in the pitcher's spot, he didn't remain in for the 10th. We're confidently guessing Braun will be in Friday's lineup after Thursday's off day.

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Denzel Perryman worked out for New England Patriots

Miami's Denzel Perryman, who might be the hardest-hitting linebacker in the draft, had a private workout with the New England Patriots.

NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport reported the news.

At 5-foot-11, 239 pounds, Perryman lacks height and might only be a two-down linebacker in the NFL because he has struggled in pass coverage. But he is a thumper who is excellent against the run and has a physical and aggressive playing style.

The Patriots wouldn't seem to need an inside linebacker, but Perryman could appeal to Pats coaches because of his physicality and approach to the game. Perryman seems a reach at No. 32, which is where the Pats pick in the first round, but he would be an excellent value were he still available when the Patriots pick in the second round at 64th overall.

Like former NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Perryman is an alum of Coral Gables High and Miami. Vilma also heard whispers about his height. At Miami's pro day last week, Vilma was in attendance and said he is a Perryman fan: "He is a tremendous tackler. And there's a violence when he plays."

At the pro day, Perryman said he had visits scheduled with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Miami Dolphins.

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Vince Wilfork to push everyone to raise performance

After spending 11 seasons with the Patriots, Texans defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is ready to put pressure on his new teammates and coaches to raise their performance levels, according to the team's official website.

"You have to put pressure on each individual, and that's what I'm going to do," Wilfork said. "I'm going to put pressure on everybody. Not just myself. Not just the older guys. Not just J.J. (Watt). The quarterback. The coaches. No. It's everybody."

"I'm not a rah-rah guy," Wilfork said. "And that's one of the things that they'll get to know quick. I love to have fun. I have the passion. I love the game. But if I need to say something, I will say something."

Entering his 12th season, the five-time All-Pro selection has recorded 516 total tackles, 16 sacks, 25 passes defensed, three interceptions and four forced fumbles.

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Packers Annual Checkup: Sam Shields

Sam Shields, cornerback

FOX Sports Wisconsin's Paul Imig gives an in-depth statistical analysis and film study of every Packers player in his annual offseason checkup. You can find every report here.

Season stats (playoffs included): 16 games, 16 starts (945 snaps; 76.2 percent of total defensive snaps), 44 tackles, 12 missed tackles, zero sacks, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed, zero forced fumbles, one penalty committed, eight stops (solo tackles that resulted in offensive failure); targeted 86 times in coverage, allowing 44 receptions for 701 yards and five touchdowns

ProFootballFocus.com season rating: Minus-3.3 (ranked No. 15 out of 24 Packers defensive players; ranked No. 67 out of 110 among NFL cornerbacks)
Best game: Week 6 win over Miami (played 35 of 60 snaps); zero interceptions, two passes defensed, zero tackles, zero missed tackles; targeted three times in coverage, allowing one reception for one yard; 3.1 PFF rating

Worst game: Week 14 win against Atlanta (played 46 of 68 snaps); zero interceptions, zero passes defensed, two tackles, zero missed tackles; targeted eight times in coverage, allowing four receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown; minus-3.2 PFF rating

Expectations at the start of the season: Medium

Expectations were ...  Met

Looking live: Sam Shields cashed in as an unrestricted free agent in March 2014. As his asking price got higher and higher, the Packers stayed involved in the bidding and retained their starting cornerback on a four-year, $39 million ($12.5 million guaranteed) contract. It was a rare instance of Ted Thompson seemingly extending beyond his financial comfort zone in order to avoid losing a player he valued. A year later, the ramifications of giving Shields so much money was Green Bay not re-signing either Tramon Williams or Davon House. With an investment of that size in Shields, the Packers opted not to leave their financial comfort zone to keep Williams or House from leaving.

It comes with the territory that Mike McCarthy now classified Shields as a "core player," which brought about new responsibilities for the then-26-year-old player. "There's certain things the coaches want you to do now," Shields said in June 2014. "You've got to be that guy to help out the defense."

There was a lot of confidence within the organization that Shields would live up to his new contract.

"He needs to be a top-level corner in every aspect of the game, and he has that ability," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said during the 2014 offseason. "Sam's best football is still in front of him. I honestly believe he has two more years of ascending and then he's going to play at that level for another four years. That's six years of just really good football ahead of him. And by then he's 32, he might have more. I see two more years of getting better and four more of holding that type of high quality play."

Shields was No. 12 on FOXSportsWisconsin.com's "Most Important Packers of 2014" series. I wrote at the time that Shields was ranked at that spot "because he can't take a step back now that he's a very wealthy man. The Packers need him to at least be as good as he's been in recent years, though the team would clearly love it if he continued improving. Green Bay has good depth at cornerback, but the importance of Shields locking down one of the outside corner spots will go a long way in how far the team gets this season."

Upon further review: McCarthy believed that now that Shields is a core player that the well-paid cornerback will "step up and play accordingly." While Shields had a fine 2014 season, he didn't play like one of the 10 best cornerbacks in the NFL. His new salary made among the 10 highest-paid cornerbacks in the league. That's the downfall of averaging $9.75 million per season. Expectations are raised to a level that some players will struggle to reach.

Shields had his second interception of the season Week 6 in Miami, a game in which he was clearly excited to be back playing in his college town. Though Shields exited that game early with a knee injury, it was still him performing to his maximum ability when he was out there.

Shields' value to Green Bay's defense was perhaps best displayed when he missed the Week 8 game at New Orleans. With Shields and Morgan Burnett out against Drew Brees and the Saints, the Packers' secondary got lit up. New Orleans had touchdown passes of 50, 45 and 22 yards. Would that still have happened if Shields was on the field? We'll never know, but the argument could easily be made that Shields' absence was clearly a big difference in the game.

Shields went through a stretch from Weeks 13-15 where he didn't play well. That was most apparent Week 14 against Atlanta when Julio Jones went for 259 yards and led to Shields spending the final 10:38 of the game on the bench. Davon House came in for Shields and used his more physical approach to slow down Jones.
Shields ended the season on a high note, performing very well Week 17 against Detroit and in both playoff games. Facing Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Russell Wilson, Shields was credited by ProFootballFocus as allowing a total of only five receptions for 72 yards and no touchdowns.

Overall 2014 grade: B-minus

Status for 2015: One-hundred percent chance of being on the Packers' active roster to begin the 2015 regular season. Shields has three years remaining on his contract and a $9 million cap hit in 2015. But unlike last season, Shields will no longer have Williams or House to support him. Casey Hayward will be asked to step up into a much bigger role, which makes it even more critical for Shields to consistently perform at a high level. It's Shields' show now. He might be asked to cover opposing offense's No. 1 wide receivers on a regular basis, especially while Hayward gets comfortable on the outside. There will only be a few players on Green Bay's roster who will be more important to the Packers' success in 2015 than Shields.

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Yasmani Grandal gets first start Tuesday

Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal drew his first start of the season Tuesday against the Padres after A.J. Ellis started in Monday's season opener. Grandal did not get into Monday's game.

Grandal hit .203 (12 for 59) with one home run, three doubles, five RBI, five walks and 15 strikeouts in 20 spring games.

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Phillip Dorsett keeps impressing, might be Rd. 1 pick

Miami WR Phillip Dorsett has "been impressive throughout the draft process" and "he really stood out in the passing drills" at the school's pro day, wrote ESPN's Todd McShay.

"Not only did he catch everything thrown at him and flash his usual suddenness and explosiveness as a route runner but he once again showed that he is the rare burner who can also play under control," wrote McShay. "He has a rare second gear when tracking down vertical throws, but he also doesn't need to gear down to get in and out of breaks and is able to accelerate off of his cuts. Both as a route runner and with the ball in his hands, his explosiveness really stands out." The analyst went on to discuss his thoughts on the WR class, which he says is led by a first tier of Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker and Breshad Perriman. McShay believes the second tier of Jaelen Strong, Dorial Green-Beckham, Devin Funchess, Devin Smith, Nelson Agholor and Dorsett could all go in late Round 1 to mid-Round 2.

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Denzel Perryman doesn't test well, but is Rd. 2 pick

Miami ILB Denzel Perryman is "worth a second-round pick for his excellent tackling ability, instincts and recognition skills, and leadership ability," believes ESPN's Todd McShay.

"I get that Perryman isn't an elite athlete, but I've really liked what I've seen from Perryman on tape, and he is the second-highest-ranked inside linebacker on our board right now (UCLA's Eric Kendricks is No. 1)," McShay wrote. "He helped himself by improving upon his 40 time from the combine, running a 4.66-second 40 after posting a 4.78 at the combine, because speed is definitely a concern with him, but he tweaked his hamstring and wasn't able to complete his workout." The 5-foot-10, 236-pound Perryman finished his collegiate career with two straight seasons with 108 or more tackles. NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein likens Perryman to D'Qwell Jackson.

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Scout thinks Duke Johnson will be sidelined often

An NFL scout speaking to ESPN's Todd McShay raised concerns about Miami RB Duke Johnson's ability to stay on the field.

The scout questioned Johnson's toughness and frame. "If teams are worried he could miss multiple games each year, that will certainly hurt his stock," McShay wrote. "When he's on the field, he provides a lot in terms of his third-down capabilities and big-play ability." The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Johnson had 1,652 rushing yards on a 6.8 YPC average and 10 touchdowns in 2014, adding 38 receptions for 421 yards and three scores. "Among the running back prospects in this year's class, Johnson offers some of the best skills as a pass-catcher, and that was on display Wednesday [at his pro day]," wrote McShay. "He looked really good running routes and was very comfortable catching the ball."

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Ereck Flowers a fit for NO, DEN and Indy

The National Football Post's Greg Gabriel cites New Orleans, Denver, and Indianapolis as teams with late first-round picks who could be fits for Miami T Ereck Flowers.

"Despite his notable athletic gifts, Flowers is still graded only as a late-first or second round prospect, mostly due to his technique," Gabriel wrote. "After minimal contributions at right tackle his freshman year, he spent the remainder of his career on the left side, and although he mostly found success, he had issues with holding penalties (six in two seasons) and terrible performances (contributing to Virginia’s four QB sacks this season). As overwhelming as his physical presence is, it is sometimes neutralized by his poor footwork and slow start off of the snap, which can lead to poor balance." Flowers has been racking up the frequent flyer miles over the past month. He has or will visit the Panthers, Bucs, Jets, Browns, Rams and Colts, that we know of.

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Clive Walford looking like a mid-Day 2 pick

Miami TE Clive Walford "could wind up landing in the late second round or early third," according to ESPN's Todd McShay.

Walford, suffering from a hamstring injury, was forced out of the athletic tests and ran a limited route tree at Miami's pro day. It wasn't all bad news, though. "He did a really nice job of catching the ball, displaying strong hands and the ability to pluck the ball on the run and away from his frame," McShay wrote. "That stood out."

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Steelers Sign Shayon Green

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced earlier today that they added linebacker Shayon Green to their offseason roster. Green was a defensive end as well as a linebacker in college for Miami.

The former Hurricane originally went undrafted last year. He had a verbal agreement to sign as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins, but never actually signed. The Dolphins later worked him out in November as well. Green worked out at Miami’s Pro Day yesterday before signing with the Steelers, who were represented at the event.

Collegiately, Green had to overcome multiple ACL tears during his playing career. In his final season for the Hurricanes in 2013, he started all 13 games, recording 68 tackles, including 10.5 for loss, to go along with three sacks. He also earned multiple awards for leadership.

Presumably brought in to play outside linebacker, Green joins a cast of minor characters hoping to vie for a spot on the 53-man roster, behind the three roster locks in Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, and James Harrison.

Last year’s undrafted free agent, Howard Jones, spent all of the past season with the Steelers on the practice squad. The team also signed CFL standout Shawn Lemon earlier this offseason. Between the three of them, they may all be competing for one job on the practice squad when all is said and done.

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Why Ereck Flowers to Giants at No. 9

If you've followed the mock drafts this year, Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff is a familiar name. He's often the player associated with the Giants and the No. 9 pick pretty much since the start, and he's considered by many as the top lineman in the draft.

Miami's Ereck Flowers is more of an unknown. Most mock drafts have him pegged for the middle of the first round, but behind team doors and on draft boards, opinions vary, especially with this year's offensive line class. Some NFL talent evaluators view Flowers in the same class as last year's top linemen.

Here are the basics, per NFL.com's Lance Zierlein:

Ereck Flowers
Height: 6-6
Weight: 329 pounds
Arm Length: 34½
Hands: 9 7/8
40-Yard Dash: 5.31
Bench Reps: 37 (most at the NFL Scouting Combine)

"BOTTOM LINE While they have different body types, Flowers will have some of the same strengths and flaws 2014 first-round pick Greg Robinson had coming in. Flowers has the size, feet and talent to be a very good left tackle but he will be a work in progress unless he can eliminate some of the balance issues that could plague him."

Robinson was last year's No. 2 overall pick to the Rams. He had an up-and-down rookie season, as injuries forced him to play left tackle instead of guard, where St. Louis anticipated him playing last year. But there are still high hopes for Robinson's future, just as there are for Flowers'.

Why Flowers at No. 9: He showed during dominant performances against Florida State and Nebraska (more in-depth breakdown of his play will come closer to the draft) that he's a potential NFL star. He can play against the top competition and thrive.

The thinking is that Flowers is a future NFL left tackle, but can be a "Day 1 starter at right tackle," according to former scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah. He's a dominant run blocker and quality pass blocker.

With Flowers' size and skills, there is little doubt that he's an NFL tackle. There is significantly more uncertainty when it comes to Scherff and LSU's La'el Collins. Some teams have them pegged as guards, although the Giants seem to think Scherff is a tackle.

Still, all of this factors into the equation. It's why I picked Flowers at No. 9 in my mock draft. Most importantly though, it's because the Giants think very highly of him.

The caveats: The Giants are not married to drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. They could have other quality options considering they own the coveted ninth pick.

If pass rushers Vic Beasley or Dante Fowler make it to No. 9, they'll pounce. If wide receiver Amari Cooper is available, don't expect them to pass either. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton and cornerback Trae Wayens are also highly regarded inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. They could be options.

But if the draft plays out as I expect, Flowers is the pick. He's the Giants' top lineman.

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Sean Spence Familiar With Long Odds In Bid For Starting Job

Earlier this offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin basically said that the starting jobs across about half of the defense can be deemed as legitimately up for grabs in training camp and the preseason this year. This is, of course, not exactly the norm for a team who won double-digit games, along with a division title, in the year prior.

But that is indeed where the Steelers find themselves, with, arguably, three positions in the secondary, and another three at the linebacker level, open for competition. The defensive line is the only unit on defense that has some manner of stability within the starting lineup.

I believe the most interesting competition to watch will take place at inside linebacker next the Lawrence Timmons, where there are three players with starting experience, each of whom logged at least 250 snaps a year ago.

While it may be true that Ryan Shazier has the simplest path to the starting spot opposite Timmons, it would be false to say that the job is his, by any means. He may have the most pure talent of all three contestants, but he also has the least amount of playing time and experience.

The Steelers may have erred when they handed Shazier the starting job a season ago. No doubt they may have rubbed Vince Williams the wrong way, who technically was playing the position for most of the previous season, even if he was frequently subbed out. But he was the only one of the roster who’d done so.

Sean Spence was probably more understanding, due to the fact that he wasn’t even sure himself if he would be able to play. But as the practices progressed, and he started a game in the preseason and tested his knee, perhaps he, too, felt he deserved to be the starter.

After all, nobody knew the defense better than Spence, who had already been learning the system for two years as he recovered from injury. And he had always been an instinctive player to begin with.

It was Spence who ended up as the primary player and starter at the mack linebacker spot anyway after Shazier started to pile up injuries in the regular season. He started nine games, making 53 tackles in the regular season, and notching a sack in each of his last two games played.

There’s no question that Spence acclimated himself well enough last year to be in the conversation to start at inside linebacker in 2015. It’s also reasonable to predict a jump in performance, given that he was out of football for basically two seasons and, from a physical standpoint, was a rookie last year.

The truth is that Shazier hasn’t shown yet that he needs to be in the starting lineup right away. That could change, quite easily, but that is not the state of affairs as we see it now. Shazier may have all the speed in the world, but Spence is one of the more naturally instinctual players on the team. If he could show an improvement in getting off or avoiding blocks, it would be unfair to exclude him from the conversation.

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Vince Wilfork, DE J.J. Watt excited to work together

After being signed by the Texans this offseason, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is excited to be a part of a defensive line that includes J.J. Watt, reports ESPN. Watt told Wilfork that he is excited, as well.

"Yeah, we talked since I signed," Wilfork said in an interview. "He's probably more excited than I am. But little does he know, I'm very excited to come down here."
Although the Texans will rely on Wilfork to be one of the leaders on the defense, he isn't going to try to change anything about Watt.

"My goal is to let J.J. be J.J.," Wilfork said. "I'm pretty sure the coaching staff is going to feel the same way, when you have a guy that dynamic. You can't ask him to change anything. He's been a beast, and hopefully he'll continue to be that beast and I'm looking forward to it."

Over his 11-year career, the 33-year-old has compiled 516 total tackles, 16 sacks, 25 passes defensed, three interceptions and four forced fumbles.

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Reggie Wayne wants to play next season

Speaking to reporters for the first time since his employer for 14 seasons, the Indianapolis Colts, elected not to bring him back for another year, Reggie Wayne said Thursday night he intends to play a 15th NFL season next fall.

For which team -- the New England Patriots? Denver Broncos? -- remains to be seen.

Wayne, at Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse to judge Thursday's State Farm College Slam Dunk contest, said his plan is to find a team to contribute to next season.

"I still feel like I got some juice left," Wayne said. "I'm just going to play the cards the way they're dealt and go from there."

Wayne said repeatedly last season he could never imagine himself slipping on a different uniform than his trusty blue and white No. 87, the jersey he's worn since the Colts drafted him in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

Now, it appears, he's come to grips with his new reality: If his NFL career is to continue, it will come in a different city, playing for a different team.

Wayne is the Colts' all-time leader in games played, and ranks second in franchise history in receptions (1,070), receiving yards (14,345), touchdowns (80), 100-yard games (43) and consecutive games with a catch (134). He sits seventh in NFL history in career receptions and eighth in receiving yards.

But it was evident throughout 2014 Wayne was far from his best. On Thursday night, he admitted to being injured throughout the season.

"I wasn't healthy," he said. "I was nowhere near healthy. I played the whole year hurt. Finally, playing hurt got to me."

Wayne missed the final nine games of the 2013 season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Recovered in time for the 2014 campaign, Wayne tore his left triceps muscle midway through the year but fought through the injury for most of the season. He settled for 64 catches and just two touchdowns, and had only one catch in the team's three postseason games.
All of which played into the decision by owner Jim Irsay and general manager Ryan Grigson to not bring back Wayne, who became a free agent last month.

"That's the way it goes," Wayne said. "I've seen a lot of people come and go. What makes me different?"
Wayne said he holds no ill will towards the Colts.

"Ever since I was a young pup, they brought me in here and gave me an opportunity," he said.

He also professed his appreciation for a fan base he's been a favorite of for more than a decade.

"Love all the fans," he said. "Without the fans, there would be no me. I appreciate everything from day one. I'm extremely humbled. I wish I could give them all a personal hug."

Of making the decision to release Wayne, Irsay said last week at the NFL owner meetings: "Him and I had a very long talk, face-to-face, man-to-man. It was really hard.

"I told Reggie I just thought that we felt that it was time."

For Wayne now, he enters unfamiliar territory, same as longtime teammate Peyton Manning did after the Colts released him in March of 2012: He's looking for a new team for the first time in his career.

"I'm just living the dream," Wayne said. "Trying to keep it moving."

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Drew Brees reveals his true feelings about Jimmy Graham's trade away

New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks shocked the NFL at the start of last month when star tight end Jimmy Graham was traded from the Saints to the Seahawks.

The Saints were heavily criticized at the time for trading away their best offensive player, but in the last month the noise surrounding the deal has dissipated.

The main reason for this is because Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles have managed to engineer even more crazy deals, but this does not mean that key players at the Saints have accepted the decision to trade away Graham yet.

One of Graham’s best friends on and off the field in New Orleans was star quarterback Drew Brees, and for Brees, the shock of losing Graham still does not settle well with him.

"Jimmy was like a brother to me," Brees explained, according to ESPN. "He was close to so many guys on the team. That part of it is something that people lose track of.

"Not having a guy like that on the field with you is a difference-maker. Just the relationships that you build in the locker room, that's really the part that's the hardest, just because you're used to being around each other and the way your families do things together.

“You build a relationship and you become very close. But then, things happen and all of the sudden you're on a different team. It doesn't change the way we feel about each other. We're just not going to see each other all that often."

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Vince Wilfork to give commencement speech at New England Institute of Technology

Former Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork isn’t completely done in New England.

The 11-year staple along the Patriots’ defensive line is scheduled to deliver the commencement speech at the New England Institute of Technology May 3, the school said Monday.

Wilfork, who wore No. 75, will help celebrate the college’s 75th anniversary and will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters during the ceremony.

The 6-foot 2-inch NFL veteran signed a two-year deal with the Texans last month after the Patriots declined to pick up his $4 million roster bonus, which made him a free agent.

NEIT will also honor former Rhode Island governor Philip Noel at the ceremony.

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Lamar Miller hopes for more catches and broken tackles

After spending time in the film room, Lamar Miller came to the conclusion that he didn't catch enough passes, and that he needed to break more tackles. This offseason he has put on seven pounds of muscle, and now weighs 225 pounds. Miller has been training with the Jugs machine, and has sought to improve his technique by working with fellow Cane, Andre Johnson. He has also been working with his own QB, Ryan Tannehill, and the Miami receivers. (Miami Herald)

Fantasy Impact: It's a bonus for Miller owners if he can improve his route running and rapport with Tannehill. On the other hand, when a running back bulks up, they'll often experience a drop in their burst or speed. Obviously if Miller doesn't lose the speed he's known for, but gains a bit more power improving his yards after contact, both he and fantasy owners will be pleased. We'll see soon enough how this works out.

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Shane Larkin posts 15/11/7 in rare Knicks win

Shane Larkin piled up 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and one steal in Sunday's win over the visiting Sixers, making 4-of-8 field goals and 7-of-8 free throws with zero turnovers in 41 minutes.

Larkin's sky-high playing time is his greatest asset, and tonight's beefy line is reason enough to pick him up where available. His value is even more secure with Alexey Shved (ribs) and Jose Calderon (Achilles) almost certainly done for the season.

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Ryan Braun exits season opener with strained ribcage

Ryan Braun didn’t have an issue with his right thumb during spring training, but now he has a new injury to deal with.

Adam McCalvy of MLB.com reports that Braun exited Monday’s season opener against the Rockies with a ribcage strain. He went 0-for-2 with a strikeout before leaving the game. He’s scheduled to be reevaluated tomorrow, but this is something that could put him down for a little while. Gerardo Parra should get most of the playing time in right field for now.

Braun, 31, struggled though a thumb injury last season while hitting .266/.324/.453 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI over 135 games.

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Key Player: Yasmani Grandal

Yasmani Grandal (pictured). Can he help make the Matt Kemp trade look wise?

Objective: He has flip-flopped on which side he hits better from over his career. He had a very strong walk rate and good power from the left side last year. By now, everyone knows he has soft hands and is good at framing pitches.

Subjective: Establishing trust with the Dodgers' excellent pitching staff will have to take place quickly. A lot of factors come into play and affect him with defense and offense. It could be a pivotal year for him. Let’s see how he blends with the team and what kind of rapport he develops with the pitchers.

Consensus: The jury is out.

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proCane Pro Day Recap

In front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, the unquestioned star was receiver Phillip Dorsett. He blazed his way to an unofficial 4.25-second 40-yard dash after running an already-excellent 4.33 at the NFL combine in February. He could have settled on that time and simply performed pass-catching drills for NFL scouts, but Dorsett wanted to put on a show.

“It was just me and my competitive spirit just coming out here and doing everything,” Dorsett said. “Because I know everybody wants to see it. Everybody likes to see a guy go out and compete and do everything.”

Dorsett, who measured in at 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, said he improved his vertical to 38 inches (he leaped 37 at the combine) and bench-pressed 225 pounds 13 times (he did not lift at the combine).

For me, the star of the day was Phillip Dorsett,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “A kid who didn’t have to do anything because he performed so well at the combine. What did he do today? Comes out runs a 4.25, 4.26, jumps 38 inches, 10-9 broad [jump], and then looked fantastic catching the football and getting in and out of breaks. I thought Phillip Dorsett had an outstanding day.”

Dorsett will work out for the Dolphins, Panthers and Falcons. What if the hometown chose him?

“Being a Hurricane and I always was a fan of the Dolphins, too,” said Dorsett, from Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas. “It would be great. It would be a dream come true,” he said.

* Linebacker Denzel Perryman suffered a pulled right hamstring and scratched on his second attempt at running the 40-yard dash. UM did not release official testing results to the media, but according to a group of scouts that got together and compared times, Perryman’s first heat in the 40 was a 4.67 — better than the 4.78 he ran in Indianapolis.

He did not perform in the shuttle, 3-cone and positional drills. He said not being able to finish was “real disappointing, but I think a lot of teams just wanted to see what I could run. I feel I accomplished that today. I answered a lot of questions.”

He said he measured in at 5-11 and 239 pounds and put up 30 reps of 225 pounds. He increased his vertical from 32 (combine) to 33 inches.

Perryman watched film with the Lions hours before pro day began and has three NFL team visits lined up: he will meet with the Dolphins next Thursday, the Falcons on April 12 and the Panthers on April 16. Along with Clive Walford and Dorsett, he ate dinner with Saints brass Tuesday night at Fleming’s Steakhouse in Coral Gables. Perryman said he ate shrimp and scallops (Rob Ryan had a steak, if you were wondering).

* Running back Duke Johnson ran a 4.47 twice, which was a much better result than his combine time (4.54). He also “caught the ball naturally,” according to Mayock.

Why run the 40 again? “I wanted to do it for myself, because I know I can do better, and I know I train too hard to run what I ran at the combine,” he said, adding that his “game speed speaks for itself. … If you run 4.2, 4.3 but you don’t play it, it really doesn’t make a difference.”

Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey agreed.

“When we watch guys play with helmets and shoulder pads, those are the important things,” he said. “Those guys that play fast and also run fast, that’s great. The importance is the speed they play at.” The 40 time is “a measurement — you always judge it against how they play.”

Johnson, who measured in at 5-9 and 203 pounds, said he did 18 reps of 225. He did not lift at the NFL combine.

Tight end Clive Walford did not run because he suffered a hamstring pull last week. Walford (6-4, 250) said he would meet with the Steelers after pro day and the Falcons and Packers in the coming days. He said he has talked to a laundry list of teams, including the Dolphins, Saints, Falcons, Packers, Broncos, Chargers, 49ers, Ravens, Chiefs and Buccaneers.

Walford, a Glades Central grad and South Bay native, on the hometown team: “I talked to them. I wouldn’t say a lot, but I saw that move that they made this offseason. Shout-out to the Dolphins.” He’s talking, of course, about the Fins adding Ndamukong Suh.

Is UM’s tight end tradition helping his draft stock? “We produce great tight ends,” he said. “Look at the history. We’ve got great ones to come. I feel I kept up that legacy. Hopefully the young ones do as well.

* Offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, a projected first-rounder, did not perform lifting drills – he was the top overall bench-presser at the NFL combine, with 37 reps of 225 – but did everything else. Flowers did not speak to the media (he rarely does).

Mayock was very high on Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott‘s performances.

“I counted eight to 10 offensive line coaches, obviously here to see mostly Ereck Flowers, who I think is going to be a first-round draft pick,” he said. “But Feliciano could get drafted. Shane McDermott could get drafted. I thought it was a great day for that whole group of players.”

* Defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who looked even lighter than he did at the combine (when he measured 6-3, 267), looked like a much more explosive player than he was as a 280-pound strong-side defensive end at UM. “Very twitchy” was Walford’s assessment. “Quick. Fast.”

* Quarterbacks Ryan Williams and Jake Heaps threw a variety of routes for scouts. Williams said he checked in at 6-4 and change and 215 pounds, and ran a 4.84 in the 40. Before tearing his ACL last April 4 – 362 days ago – he said he ran in the 5-second range. He definitely looked a lot faster than before. He has several meetings scheduled, but has not worked out with an NFL team.

“I’m always positive,” Williams said. “Regardless if I get drafted or not I’m still going to get a chance somewhere so I’m not really worried about the draft.”

* Cornerback Ladarius Gunter ran a solid 4.56 time in the 40 and looked very rangy in coverage drills.  He’s projected as a mid-round pick.

* Linebacker Thurston Armbrister showed good speed and agility, though he struggled to catch interceptions in drills. Would bet he gets a shot somewhere.

* Defensive tackle Olsen Pierre ran a 5.15 in the 40.

* If you saw my Twitter feed, you’ll get a roll of NFL personnel I spotted, but among the notables were a large contingent of Dolphins personnel (GM Dennis Hickey, VP Mike Tannenbaum, head coach Joe Philbin, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, running backs coach Jeff Nixon, special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi), Jets head coach Todd Bowles, Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. NFL Network said seven GMs attended, including Hickey. The others: Mickey Loomis (Saints), Mike Maccagnan (Jets), Kevin Colbert (Steelers), Doug Whaley (Bills), Steve Keim (Arizona), Ruston Webster (Tennessee) and Floyd Reese (Giants). Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, now a college scout with New Orleans, was also there.

* Former Hurricanes who attended included Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, Demarcus Van Dyke, Jacory Harris, Lamar Miller and Tommy Streeter. A slew of players from the 2012 and 2013 teams were there. Jonathan Vilma was also in attendance, working for NBC Sports along with former Dolphins great Jason Taylor. NFL Network had a five-person crew and analyst Mike Mayock interviewed several UM players and coach Al Golden, who did not speak to other media.

* Former Hurricanes running back Damien Berry, a Glades Central grad who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2012, was the oldest of several pre-2014 Hurricanes who worked out (linebacker Tyrone Cornelius and defensive end Shayon Green, both from the 2013 team, also performed).  “I’m still young, 26 years old. I think it’s time to give it another shot,” said Berry, who last played for UM in 2010 and now lives in Boca Raton. Berry, 5-11 and 230 pounds, he said he ran a 4.7 in the 40.

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Mayock: Miami's Ereck Flowers can be Pro Bowl right tackle

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Offensive tackle Ereck Flowers was perhaps the centerpiece player at Miami's pro day on Wednesday, and his position drills drew a big crowd.

NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock joined, among others, Oakland Raiders line coach Tom Cable, Indianapolis Colts line coach Joe Gilbert and San Diego Chargers line coach Joe D'Alessandris as interested observers.

Mayock called Flowers (6-foot-6 1/4, 329 pounds) "a really gifted player" but also "incredibly raw."

Flowers was a part-time starter at right tackle as a true freshman in 2012 before moving to the left side in 2013 and becoming a full-time starter. Some analysts see him as a better fit on the right side; that group includes Mayock, who sees Flowers as a potential "Pro Bowl right tackle."

"He's going to go in the first round," Mayock said.

Flowers looks to be the only UM "lock" in the first round. Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, linebacker Denzel Perryman and running back Duke Johnson are potential second-rounders, and tight end Clive Walford could go in the second or third round.

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Denzel Perryman Has Several Visits Planned

Speaking of Perryman, he tweaked his hamstring during his first 40-yard dash and sat out the rest of the day. He said he has upcoming visits with the Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. Perryman measured 5-11 and 239 pounds Wednesday, and he is fond of saying that while he might be short, he is not small.

Perryman spent part of the day Wednesday talking with former NFL star linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Like Perryman, Vilma is an alum of Coral Gables High and UM, and also was criticized by some for his lack of size. Vilma was listed at 6-1 during his playing days and said his weight usually was in the mid-230s. He said he is a Perryman fan: "He is a tremendous tackler. And there's a violence when he plays." As for Perryman's perceived lack of height, Vilma shrugged it off and praised his instincts. Vilma said football instincts are "undervalued because it's not a measurable." Vilma also said he shrugged off his own supposed lack of height, saying his mantra when he played was, "I may be small but I play big."

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Phillip Dorsett runs the 40 in 4.25 seconds

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami wide receiver Phillip Dorsett is one of the fastest players in the draft, and he showed that again Wednesday at the Hurricanes' pro day, with unofficial clockings of 4.25 and 4.27 seconds in the 40.

Dorsett, who measured in at 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, ran the 40 in an impressive 4.33 seconds at the combine, and he said Wednesday that even though he felt he had a good combine, "I knew then I would do all the drills on pro day."

Dorsett said a good start led to the great 40 time. His 4.33 time at the combine was the third-fastest, and 4.25 would have been the fastest at the combine.

NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock said he thinks Dorsett is a "borderline" first-round guy and also said Dorsett is his favorite UM prospect in this draft.

Dorsett said he has scheduled meetings with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins and that he had dinner Tuesday night with the New Orleans Saints. Dorsett said he has talked with former UM star wide receivers Andre Johnson and Santana Moss for advice, and he said the one thing he wants to show in his team visits is that "I am willing to learn, willing to work."

Dorsett's speed obviously means he can be a dangerous deep threat, but he said he has some things ne needs to work on. An example? "I didn't get pressed a lot," he said, noting that he needs to work on beating press coverage.

Dorsett and Florida State's Rashad Greene were the starting wide receivers at powerhouse Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas High, and it's likely that both will be off the board by the end of the second round.

In addition to preparing for the draft, Dorsett is taking three classes this semester and is scheduled to graduate in May with a sociology degree.

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Clive Walford to meet with Dolphins

ESPN NFL Nation's James Walker reports that Miami TE Clive Walford plans to meet with the Steelers' brass on Wednesday "and will meet with the Dolphins and other teams before the draft."

The Miami prospect flashes decent athletic traits with the ability to be effective in both, the running game and the passing game. As as pass catcher, Walford has recorded 121 receptions and 14 touchdowns in his time with the Hurricanes. The 6-foot-4, 258-pounder will be targeted by teams looking for a versatile pass catching TE who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty blocking. Walford has the kind of skill set that should cause mismatches in the red-zone, and should be off the board in the second round of the draft.

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Sean Taylor Murder: Charles Wardlow Pleads Guilty

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The fourth man involved in the slaying of former University of Miami football star Sean Taylor will serve 30 years in prison.

Charles Wardlow pleaded guilty Wednesday, eight years after he and four other young men from Fort Myers broke into Taylor’s Palmetto Bay home, fatally shooting the pro safety during a botched burglary that stunned the sports world.

Wednesday’s plea deal means only one defendant, Timmy Brown, who is Wardlow’s cousin, still awaits trial.

“Four down, one to go,” said Taylor’s father, Pedro Taylor, the Florida City Police Chief.

His son would have celebrated his 32rd birthday on Wednesday.

Considered a homegrown sports hero, Taylor starred at the University of Miami and played for the Washington Redskins at the time of his death. Taylor’s unexpected killing shook the team and the National Football League – over 3,000 attended people attended his memorial.

Prosecutors say Wardlow was one of the five young men who believed that Taylor kept a sizable stash of money inside his home. The group believed Taylor was with the team – but he was actually home rehabbing an injured knee.

Using a crowbar, Wardlow broke into a door and the group eventually made its way to the master bedroom. They kicked in the door only to met by Taylor wielding a machete. His girlfriend and their young daughter were inside the room too.

Prosecutors said Eric Rivera, then 17, shot and mortally wounded Taylor with a single bullet to the leg.

Rivera went to trial, lost and last year was sentenced to nearly 60 years behind bars.

The burglary mastermind, Jason Mitchell, also opted for trial and lost. Last year, Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy sentenced him to life in prison. Several years ago, Venjah Hunte pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others. Prosecutors, however, never called him to testify. He will serve 29 years in prison.

Wardlow confessed to police. On Tuesday, he gave a formal statement to prosecutors outlining what happened. One day later, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Under Florida law, anyone who participates in certain felonies – in this case, armed burglary – that results in a death can be charged with murder. Had he gone to trial and lost, the 25-year-old faced a mandatory term of life in prison.

“This case highlights the Draconian penalties associated with Florida’s felony murder statute,” said his attorney, Phil Reizenstein. “An 18-year-old young man man was facing life in prison even though everyone knew he never had a gun or fired the gun. My criticism of the law should not diminish the tragedy of Sean Taylor’s death and the pain his family feels.”

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