2017 Miami RB Commit Robert Burns Threw Up The “U” With ‘Canes Legend Edgerrin James

Nike’s The Opening regional camp series began today in Miami. One of the attendees was 2017 Miami (Fla.) Gulliver Prep running back Robert Burns, who is committed to the University of Miami. 

Burns generated some buzz earlier today when he guaranteed that “the U will be back.” Burns also took a picture of himself throwing up the “U” with one of Miami’s greatest running backs, Edgerrin James. 

There’s a while to go before Burns will be able to contribute for the ‘Canes on the field, but Miami fans have to love his presence on social media today. 

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Q&A with Miami Offensive Tackle Ereck Flowers

Q. Briefly describe your journey to this point. Where did you grow up and how did you first get into playing football?
EF: I’m originally from Kansas, but I moved down to Miami when I was six. I went to high school in Miami Norland, and I played ball with Duke (Johnson). We went to high school together and then we moved on and played together in college at Miami.

I actually started playing basketball first, but I didn’t see a future in that so I went on to play football my junior year.

Q. What led you to the University of Miami?
EF: I grew up watching Miami, and my dad was a fan. I had season tickets before I even played there, so when I got my opportunity to play there it was an easy decision to make.

Q. Was there any specific reason you ended up playing on the offensive line?
EF: I initially wanted to play defensive line, but my coach needed someone to play offensive line and I was the biggest person on the team so he put me there.

Q. How does your basketball background help you play the left tackle position?
EF: It helped me a lot with my feet and overall athleticism.

Q. With the college season over, what do these next few months look like for you as you prepare for the NFL Draft?
EF: I’ve been training with a few of my teammates at Bommarito. We’re there from 6:30 am to 4:00 pm every day, except Sundays. We’re there every day just preparing for each event–the Combine, the Pro Day, and the Draft.

Q. Is there a specific part of your game you’re working on improving?
EF: I’m really just trying to improve my overall game. I want to work on my hands a lot more. I want to work on my technique and really improve on it.

Q. Many draft analysts have you rated as one of the top offensive tackles in this year’s class. For people who may have not watched you at Miami, define your game for us.
EF: I’m a pretty well-rounded offensive lineman. I love to run block, as well as pass block. I have pretty decent athleticism, especially when it comes to hooking guys on the edge. I play with a lot of passion and heart when it comes to playing in this game.

Q. Watching you at Miami, one game that stands out to me is your performance against Florida State where you shutout Mario Edwards. Do you have a specific game or moment at Miami that stands out to you and maybe signified you could take your game to the next level?
EF: To be honest with you, I really don’t. For me, I believe each game I progressed since I played as a freshman. I never really had a game where I felt like I arrived.

Everything over my career has just been a progression. It wasn’t something where I just had one good game. I felt like everything was just a process and that I got better each week.

Q. Offensive linemen are often the unsung heroes of a team. What do you love about playing the position?
EF: I like everything about it. I like the nastiness of it and everything it takes to be good at it.

Duke and I are pretty good friends, so I like seeing him run for a lot of yards. I like being part of the reason he’s having success on the field.

Overall, I like everything about the trenches. I like being able to be physical and push defensive linemen around.

Q. What do you believe is the most underrated part of your game?
EF: I really don’t know what others say about my game. I talk to my coaches, so I know I could do a better job with my technique and hand placement. But I still haven’t found out what teams are looking for me to get better at.

Right now, I’m just working on my hands. They’ve gotten a lot better, but there is always something you could work on improving

Q. Who was the most challenging player you had to block in your time at Miami?
EF: I went against some pretty good players. I went against Randy Gregory of Nebraska. I also went against Dominique Easley and Bjoern Werner when I was a freshman.

It was kind of like facing a gauntlet of  pass rushers playing at Miami. I can’t just pick one.

Q. What did you do to prevent these players from beating you in the game?
EF: I just try to get in their head. A little talking won’t hurt.

Q. As I said earlier, many speak highly of you going into the draft. Do you have an expectation of where you’ll be drafted this spring?
EF: I really don’t. I just want to get myself ready to play at that level. When and where I get picked will figure itself out.

I really don’t care which round I’m taken. My focus right now is to just be prepared to play at a high level once I am on a team.

Q. As a player, is it difficult to not pay any attention to all of the draft coverage in the media or see where you’re project to go?
EF: I really don’t follow that stuff. I just play football. That’s my focus right now.

Q. Regardless of where you get drafted, what will that moment be like for you when you hear your name called and you’re officially in the NFL?
EF: That’s going to be great! That’s going to be exciting. Period.

Q. Is it kind of weird at this point, that you don’t know where you’re going to end up or what city you’re going to be living in?
EF: Yeah, man, I have no idea where I’m going to be living for the next few years. I’ll watch teams every Sunday wondering if I’m going to be there.
I guess you have to be ready for wherever you’re drafted. Wherever I go, I’ll just be ready to go to work.

Q. The Packers will look to the draft this spring to improve their offensive line and you’re a guy we believe will be on their radar. How would you feel about playing for a team like the Green Bay Packers?
EF: I’d love to play in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. They have a great running back too. They were almost in the Super Bowl, and they’re a great team.
Green Bay would be a great place to play. It’s one of the best organizations in the league, and they win games. I always like winning. I would love to land in Green Bay.

Q. The Packers already have some pretty good players on their offensive line in Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, and they also have Aaron Rodgers under center. What do you think you could learn by playing with established veterans like these guys?
EF: I would love to play on their line. I watch some of their guys and try to learn things from them. I’ve watched Bulaga and tried to pick things up from his game.

Q. If drafted by the Packers, what could you bring to their offense?
EF: Hard work. Passion. That will to win. I’m hungry to go get it each and every week and I’ll do whatever it takes to win.

Q. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. When you’re not playing football, what do you like to do in your free time?
EF: If I’m not playing football, I’m probably just working out with my dad preparing for gameday. We’re working on it nonstop.

Other than that, I just chill with friends. When you’re in school and playing football, you really don’t have time for anything else.

Q. Finally, is there anything else you’d like Packers fans to know about you before I let you go?
EF: I would love to play for Green Bay. That’s about it.

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Ladarius Gunter Will Use Pro Day To Improve 40 Time

They're just numbers. Everything gathered at the combine—the 40, the jumps, the change of direction drills. Just numbers. They can't and don't tell the entire story on any draft prospect.

However, if a prospect fails to meet expectations at the combine or flat-out bombs the workout, those numbers become something more. They become questions.
When a prospect runs a slow time or fails by some other grading tool, teams have to know why. And that means scouts need to do more homework. The question raised needs to be answered in the scouting report before a team can finalize its draft board.

"When you grade tape, you always have in your mind a 'play speed,'" former Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel explained. If on tape, a prospect looks like he's running the equivalent of a 4.45, that's his play speed. But if he then runs a 4.62 at the combine, Gabriel said, teams think, "Wait a minute, he's not the athlete I thought he was. I have to go back and watch more tape."

Along with TCU's Paul Dawson, I would also mention Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess (4.70), Miami cornerback Ladarius Gunter (4.69) and TCU safety Chris Hackett (4.81). I watched all these guys on tape. Those are all good football players, even if they didn't test well in Indy. They will play in the league.

I saw Gunter up close on the practice field at the Senior Bowl. He isn't afraid to compete, and he found the ball all week, against some of the best talent in the country. He passed the test in pads.

Scouts know it would be a mistake to go back and change a prospect's grade based on a poor 40 time after months of studying tape. They know the combine is a stressful environment and not every prospect is going to run his best time at the end of a long week in Indianapolis.

That's the message I've gotten from the scouts I've spoken to this week.

I've been there as a player. The gauntlet of testing at the combine is exhausting, and you are worn out by the time you complete the 60-yard shuttle run to wrap up the drills. This thing is brutal. That's the best way I can describe it.

Now, we would be lying if we said the times, the testing numbers didn't matter. They do, to an extent, and scouts want to see results that somewhat mesh with the tape. But a poor workout doesn't close the book on a kid. This is why Gabriel used to encourage every prospect to run in Indianapolis.

"If you go to the combine, and if you don't have a good workout for whatever reason, then you have a chance to redeem yourself at a pro day," Gabriel said. "But if you don't go to the combine, and if you wait till your pro day and you bomb, you're done."

Dawson, Funchess, Hackett, Gunter and any other prospect that didn't quite meet the bar at the combine can change the narrative, improve their times and put to bed the questions about speed, movement skills and flexibility when they run on campus.

The pro day is a great tool, and the comfort level of these prospects will rise when they run on campus. Just think about it: You dress in your own locker room, warm up with your college strength coach and test with your teammates. It's a beautiful thing compared to the stale environment of Indianapolis. You are much more relaxed, and the times usually reflect that.

Gabriel mentioned Devin Hester as an example of how times will improve back on campus. Hester ran in the 4.4 range (a very solid time) at the combine, but he wasn't "Devin Hester fast," according to Gabriel. Then when Hester ran at Miami on his pro day, he posted a 4.35 time—on grass.

NFL teams can average the two times together, and it's up to the top decision-maker on the time they will use for the scouting report, but the majority of scouts I talked to said they take the best time—regardless of where the prospect runs.

"I always took the best time. Some people average them out. But when you average them out, you're talking different surface, different time, different place," Gabriel said. "Look at it this way, does Usain Bolt run a 9.6 100 meters every time he runs?"

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Frank Gore: Two views on the 49ers re-signing their all-time leading rusher

Turns out the 49ers might need Frank Gore more than Gore needs the 49ers. That’s particularly true for a 49ers team that needs as much good pub as it can possibly get after the fiasco that ensued when Jim Harbaugh left.

Gore re-signs
After 10 seasons and over 11,000 rushing yards, Gore’s mug might be the most recognizable on the team. No one plays with more class than Gore, whose work ethic and dedication always soaks through the entire team. Gore’s deeds are immense and his words are sparing, so when he tells the media that so-and-so “is a football player” everyone instantly knows he has the Gore stamp of approval, and nothing goes further than that.

The 49ers know all of this, and that’s why the team may be eager to sign him. His 100-yard games at the end of last season are proof he still has plenty left. His space-age training regiment certainly helps, and he is Denise DeBartolo York’s favorite player, and SHE is the one who actually owns the team. It’s in her name.
Furthermore Gore could come at half his $6 million-a-year price from the last few years. And the 49ers are always looking to shave player cost.

Gore signs elsewhere
At the combine, Gore’s agent Drew Rosenhaus met with team officials according to reports. The two sides left and no deal was struck. That likely means Gore will shop the free-agent market, and wouldn’t he look good in the Colts’ blue-and-white?

He might think so. Gore could be the weight that tips the scales for Indy as a true Super Bowl contender, and for the first time, Gore would be playing with a richly-talented quarterback. It had to be frustrating for Gore to pass block like a demon, and then watch while Colin Kaepernick fled a perfectly-defined pocket.

In fact, so frustrating that Gore didn’t pass block very well last season. But if Gore knew that Andrew Luck would make a team pay dearly for blitzing a linebacker, Gore is likely to flat-back a ‘backer or two in pass pro.

Gore has waited too long, and dedicated too much to a team that now may be returning to mediocrity. If he could be a center piece for another team poised for a Super Bowl, Gore could bolt.

In the final analysis Gore wants to stay. He has mad respect for running backs coach Tom Rathman, and if Gore can still be the main guy carrying the mail, he could finish his career as a 49er. But now, it’s up to the 49ers to deliver on their end with both a contract and as a team that can win. If the 49ers can’t deliver, the mug of the franchise could be playing for someone else.


Reggie Wayne had surgery, mulling Colts future

Reggie Wayne will have plenty of time to ponder his NFL future over the next few months.

Two months after revealing that he would require surgery to repair a torn triceps, Wayne has undergone the procedure, reports NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, via a source informed of the situation.

Wayne is now rehabbing as he contemplates retirement, adds Rapoport.

Along with knee and elbow injuries, the torn triceps rendered Wayne a drop-prone blocking specialist unable to make plays over the final two months of the season.
Last we heard from the 36-year-old in early January, he was leaning toward returning for a 15th season -- provided the Colts leave the door open. Wayne has no interest in playing for another team.

Even if Wayne returns, the Colts realize they need a reliable No. 2 receiver opposite T.Y. Hilton. General manager Ryan Grigson is reportedly eyeing the open market for an upgrade on free agent Hakeem Nicks.

Whether or not Wayne plays in 2015, Chuck Pagano's squad has a better chance of winning if the venerable wide receiver's role is reduced.

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Buccaneers could trade up for tackle Ereck Flowers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be active in trades on draft day. Specifically, Charlie Campbell reported on the Pat and Aaron Show on 620 WDAE that they could trade back up into the first round to draft Miami tackle Ereck Flowers. Campbell used to cover the Bucs for Pewter Report, so he certainly has some connections in the area.

Flowers is an intriguing prospect, playing left tackle for Miami over the past three years. CBS Sports have him as their 21st overall prospect, while ESPN have him as their 16th overall prospect. At 6'6", 329 lbs. he has outstanding size and he moves very smoothly in pass protection, although he can get sloppy. His size probably precludes him from moving inside, and tall guys like him tend to have leverage issues in run blocking, but the consensus seems to be that he's very talented if a little raw in technique.

Campbell also noted that T.J. Clemmings wasn't a very hot prospect among teams.

Trading up for a quality tackle would make sense, because the Bucs simply need offensive linemen. They're likely to sign one or two in free agency, but they need to build up young talent at the position too. Logan Mankins is old, Demar Dotson won't be around forever, and Evan Dietrich-Smith is highly replaceable. They really don't have any long-term building blocks.

So yeah, trading up for Flowers or some other offensive lineman would make quite a bit of sense.

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Vinny Testaverde reflects on Bucs career

TAMPA — It has been 28 years since the Buccaneers last owned the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, when they targeted a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from a state powerhouse who was coming off a disappointing loss that ended chances for a national championship.

Except then, there was no debate about who was the best player the worst team in the NFL should select. Not a single argument.

Vinny Testaverde doesn't remember even talking to another team before the draft. All the scrutiny he faced — the cruel billboards and newspaper cartoons — came after he signed a six-year, $8.2 million contract with the Bucs.

"I don't remember meeting with anyone," Testaverde said. "I talked to Ray Perkins in the Japan Bowl at practice, but nobody really interviewed with me."

In his second pro season under the heavy thumb of Perkins, the Bucs' coach, GM and offensive coordinator, Testaverde threw 35 interceptions, still the second most in NFL history.

If that didn't destroy him, what he endured off the field should have. Everybody took shots, and negative opinions flew like Testaverde's wayward passes, rarely hitting the target. He was not bright enough to be an NFL quarterback, they said. He was color-blind, he admitted, and that was served up as an explanation as to why he threw to the wrong guys.

But the truth is that Testaverde was asked to carry on his back a young team that didn't have the same talent advantage over the competition as the one he left at the University of Miami.

"From my junior year through my senior year, I received all those accolades and was the first pick in the draft. It's a lot for a young man to take on," said Testaverde, now 51, a father of two daughters and a son with his wife of 24 years, Mitzi, and living on a lake in north Tampa. "Sometimes you're so caught up in your own little football world with teammates and all the coaches, you don't realize all the pressure that's involved until afterward. But coming to a team like Tampa Bay, coming to a team that did not win many games before I ever got there, that was stressful in itself.

"(I was) just feeling like, okay, I have to be the difference-maker. Because in college, you can say I was one of the better players, but I had the talent around me. I had Michael Irvin, Brett Perriman, Bennie Blades, Alonzo Highsmith and Jerome Brown. That's what got lost about me. When I came to the Bucs, the talent we had was young talent — Mark Carrier, Bruce Hill, Ron Hall — a lot of rookies learning together and making a lot of mistakes. … At the quarterback position, everything gets enhanced. Everybody looks at it differently, but it is a lot to handle for a young man."

Testaverde was drafted to be the Bucs' savior. Instead, he became one of the NFL's most celebrated survivors.

Vinny, vidi, vici. He came and conquered the quarterback position for seven teams over an astounding 21 seasons.

When Testaverde came off his couch in Long Island to lead the Panthers to a 25-10 win over the Cardinals on Oct. 14, 2007, he became the oldest quarterback to start and win a game at age 43.

In between were memorable seasons (two ended in the Pro Bowl) with the Browns, Ravens and (V-V-V-Vinny and the) Jets. The closest he got to a Super Bowl was when John Elway and the Broncos beat his Jets in the AFC title game in January 1999.

It turns out that his six hellish seasons with the Bucs fueled his tank for a longer journey. Testaverde had the misfortune of being drafted by the bumbling Bucs of owner Hugh Culverhouse. Long before he arrived, the franchise had lost its first 26 games, failed to re-sign quarterback Doug Williams and lost the 1986 No. 1 overall pick, Auburn running back Bo Jackson, to baseball.

The losing got to Testaverde, who in the Miami cradle of QBs had followed Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar.

"You work just as hard as every other player and every other team, and when you don't win games, it's not fun," Testaverde said. "At first, I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't know how to respond to questions about it. I was quite uncomfortable answering questions, or responding to people, even in public. I just kind of figured, take a breath and keep plugging away and the way to fix it was to keep working harder and get everybody believing we can do this."

But not everybody believed, and Testaverde didn't lose just ball games. His first marriage ended after 10 months. The divorce was amicable, but he blamed it on his failure to manage anger by yelling and beating on walls. His color-blindness was lampooned by a bright blue WFLZ billboard that read: VINNY THINKS THIS IS ORANGE. Even this newspaper ran a cartoon at Halloween with a man sailing candy way over the open bags of trick or treaters with the caption: Thanks, Mr. Testaverde.

Ah, but Vinny got the last laugh. His golden arm never betrayed him as he passed for 46,233 yards in his career, ninth all time.

Today Testaverde is a restaurant owner and investor, having recently sold an Outback Steakhouse in California while watching PDQ chicken restaurants in which he is a partner open in north Florida. He also tutors high school and college quarterbacks, including his son, Vincent Jr., who recently enrolled at Miami.

Testaverde loves Tampa and still follows the Bucs. On this day, he was asked the proverbial question: Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota?

"Coming out of college, you're the first overall pick and a Heisman Trophy winner," he said. "There's great expectations. The previous year (the Bucs) didn't have a great year, so they're expecting great things. Hopefully, (Winston's and Mariota's) career will start out better than mine, and hopefully it will last even longer than mine did."

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Jarrett Payton taking on bullying with celebrity bowl

Brandon Marshall may have claimed that his Twitter dust-up with a Detroit Lions fan was intended to launch an anti-bullying campaign but Jarrett Payton and his foundation are taking a more constructive approach.

The Jarrett Payton Foundation will host its first-ever “Strike Against Bullying Celebrity Bowling Event" on Thursday, Mar. 5 at Kings Bowl, 5505 Park Place in Rosemont. This event is intended to grow into an annual gathering where celebrities and the general public come together for a night of great bowling, delicious food and festivities to support a great cause. Proceeds from the event will help fund Foundation programs that include “Project: No Bull” and the Jarrett Payton Leadership Academy.

The Jarrett Payton Foundation’s mission is to positively impact the lives of children and adolescents by creating and providing programs that develop leadership skills and enrich their lives. In support of this mission, Jarrett travels to schools around Chicagoland to spread his anti-bullying message and the Foundation puts on numerous events a year to support this cause.

Jarrett will be joined by celebrity guests George McCaskey, Charles “Peanut” Tillman, Jerry Azumah, Rashied Davis, Peggy Kusinski, Ryan Baker, Dionne Miller, John Garcia, David Haugh, David Kaplan, Jim Cornelison, Israel Idonije, Chris Boden and this reporter, to name a few.

Ticket prices are $50 for General Admission and $100 for VIP. VIP tickets include VIP Reception with Meet and Greet and food. Both General Admission and VIP tickets include: two drink tickets, pizza, upper viewing deck to watch the bowling, and access to celebrity bowlers. Registration for the “Strike Against Bullying Celebrity Bowling Event” is open to the public and can be completed at http://jarrettpayton.org/event/strike-against-bullying/.

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Shane Larkin has 26 games to prove Phil Jackson wrong

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Shane Larkin is back from strep throat and ready to show in the final 26 games he belongs on the Knicks next season.

Larkin, who is expected to start at point guard Friday on the road against the Pistons after missing the past three games, said he wants to remain a Knick, but also knows a lot of other NBA teams are watching him closely now.

In late October, Knicks president Phil Jackson decided against exercising the option on Larkin’s rookie deal because of the price tag of about $2 million. The former University of Miami stud, who was selected with the 18th pick by Dallas in 2013, will be an unrestricted free agent.

“Who doesn’t want to be on the New York Knicks playing in New York?’’ Larkin said. “That’s just Phil and them must decide at end of the year. My job is to go out there last 25 games play hard and show I deserve to be on this team.

“The league is watching at all times,’’ Larkin added. “If I go out there and play well the last 25 games, the Knicks could want me or someone else could want me. It’s not that I’m set on one team. They didn’t pick up my option. I can go wherever, but of course I want to stay in New York.’’

It’s unusual for a mid-first-rounder such as Larkin, who began the season as the starter because of Jose Calderon’s calf strain, to be playing for a contract late in his second season. But sources have indicated Jackson is concerned about Larkin’s height, ability to finish around the rim and on-ball defense. On the other hand, he has great speed, great hands and a knack for coming up with steals.

The Knicks’ decision to give combo guard Langston Galloway a $200,000 guarantee for next season if he’s at training camp could mean the Knicks are thinking Larkin is a goner.

Larkin has started 14 of the 50 games he’s played in, averaging 5.4 points on 41.4 percent shooting (34.2 percent on 3-pointers). He’s also averaging 2.5 assists and 1.0 turnovers.

“My season has been a roller-coaster ride,’’ Larkin said. “I started some and played big minutes, came off the bench, played minutes. I didn’t play at all some games. It’s been a roller-coaster ride.’’

Larkin’s father, baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, has attended the occasional game.

“I only kind of seen him in passing in the stands,’’ coach Derek Fisher said of the elder Larkin. “I have a tremendous amount of respect who he is and what he accomplished. Shane is an excellent young man beyond the basketball part. His parents should be proud. We’re hopeful he continues to improve and utilize this final stretch of season [to show] he wants to be here and deserves to be here.

“He’s continuing to evolve and mature as a pro,’’ Fisher added. “And what that means is not just on the court in the games but approach and mindset in practice. Those are things he’s learning, and it’s going to take time for a young player like that. He’s tried to maximize his opportunities. No way he could’ve expected coming into the season what’s going to happen. He knows there’s a lot more he can do.”

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D-backs fans buzzing over Peter O'Brien's power

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mark Grace sounded part TV announcer, part stadium emcee and part assistant hitting coach. As he led eight Diamondbacks catchers split into two teams through a game simulation hitting session on Tuesday, Grace called the score and result of each at-bat -- a playful interaction with fans who had showed up at Salt River Fields to keep tabs on the competition.

Save for one instance, when the D-backs on hand gave the 35-year-old Gerald Laird grief after a surprising home run, Grace turned around every time a ball left the park.

"That's Peter O'Brien, folks," he said to the crowd.

Peter O'Brien, a 24-year-old catcher with a powerful bat, sent four home runs over the left-field fence and into the

parking lot.

D-backs manager Chip Hale approaches such results with cautious optimism until his hitters see live pitching. Yet, the fact that the rest of the catching crew weren't launching balls over the wall with such ease said something about where O'Brien stands. He's a power hitter playing catch-up at catcher.

A full season in the minors behind the plate last season has him confident he's up to snuff with the other seven catchers in camp, though his lack of experience catching major-league pitchers would seemingly put him at a disadvantage.

"I feel every time you have a tool that stands out, there's going to be something someone talks about negatively," O'Brien said of the scouting report on him. "I've always been an under

Acquired in the trade last season that sent Martin Prado to the New York Yankess, O'Brien hit a combined .271/.316/.594 with 34 home runs for Single-A Tampa and two Double-A teams. He hit a home run every 11.7 at-bats, and his home runs accounted for 31 percent of his total hits.

His 111 strikeouts (and only 21 bases on balls) are an indication of one area he'll need to improve upon as he progresses up the ladder to face the world's best pitchers, but the D-backs already saw some of that in the Arizona Fall League. O'Brien had five home runs in 86 Fall League at-bats and walked 17 times, along with 24 strikeouts.

The catching is the question mark, but the Diamondbacks sound as if they believe he has what it takes. Logically, it would seem some more full-time work behind the plate in the minor leagues would be beneficial, but the D-backs don't want to rush to judgment.

"He's been here since the first of the year, being dedicated to improving his catching skills," general manager Dave Stewart said. "We've got the rest of this month and all of March to really get the work in, but one thing he's done is he's not shied away from the work. He's received instruction very well."

The work ethic goes beyond the baseball field. 

Yin Yoga is a big part of O'Brien's offseason training regimen, and it helps hip flexibility and mobility. 

"We were out there pretty early in January doing bare-hand stuff and working on my exchange and my footwork and my receiving and a lot of flexibility stuff in the weight room. The flexibility is definitely the big thing because I'm a bigger guy," said O'Brien, who measures 6-feet-3 and 215 pounds.

Now it's putting those things to practical use on the field.

D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall said he senses that fans are eagerly watching the competition among the catching candidates -- and in particular O'Brien and Rule 5 draftee Oscar Hernandez, and manager Hale has picked up on that, too.

"One thing I learned early on when I was a player with the Minnesota Twins ... we're entertaininers," Hale said of O'Brien. "He can do that with the best of them."

And he added one warning to those fans driving to and from Salt River Fields while O'Brien is taking batting practice: "You got to be careful where you drive."

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Cardinals not expecting Jon Jay to play this week

While Cardinals center fiedler Jon Jay is making progress from wrist surgery, the team is not expecting him to play in any of the early games in spring training this week, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Jay had surgery on his wrist during the offseason and said his goal is to be ready for Opening Day.

"This is about April 5," Jay said. "That's the date that matters. I'm getting ready for April 5. I have five weeks now to be ready."

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Chris Perez not focusing on Brewers' roster, just results

PHOENIX -- While the signing of Francisco Rodriguez shifted roles around in the bullpen of the Milwaukee Brewers, those vying for the final spots in what is likely to be a seven-man relief corps watched as one of the few openings was suddenly gone.

Earlier in his career, Chris Perez might have let that bother him. But the 29-year-old knows there will be a job for him somewhere if he performs well in spring training.

"That didn't really change my goals coming in," Perez said before Saturday's workout at Maryvale Baseball Park. "I still have to pitch really well. They still have a spot open. I'm going to do everything I can to make the team. If not here, hopefully somewhere else."

The Brewers signed Perez to a minor-league deal in early February, adding the former All-Star closer to the bullpen mix. Milwaukee had at least two bullpen openings when he signed, but one was filled Thursday when the club agreed to terms with Rodriguez on a two-year deal.

If Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, Neal Cotts and Brandon Kintzler all make the Opening Day roster, just one bullpen spot remains. Things become more complicated if Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson get through spring training healthy and able to contribute.

"Everything always looks good on paper or on the board, but stuff happens in this game," Perez said. "Last year there were all kinds of injuries. Knock on wood, you never hope anyone goes down, but it is part of the game. That's definitely something that's part of the game.

"I know there are going to be other scouts watching. I have a couple outs in my contract. I just have to pitch well and everything else should take care of itself. If not here, hopefully somewhere else. If not somewhere else, hopefully I go to Triple-A and pitch well there to get called up early. That's all you can do."

The Brewers must add Perez to their active roster five days prior to Opening Day or pay him $100,000 to stay in the organization at the Triple-A level. Perez then has the potential to opt out of his contract on May 1 and June 1 if he isn't in the big leagues.

After accumulating 124 saves over his five years in Cleveland, Perez signed a $2.3 million deal with the Dodgers before last season to serve as the setup man to closer Kenley Jansen. He ended up struggling to a 4.27 ERA in 49 appearances and saw his role diminish as the season went on. The Dodgers prevented Perez from reaching a $500,000 bonus for appearing in 50 games by not pitching him over the final week of the season.

Milwaukee decided to take a chance on a former All-Star closer who still has good stuff. According to fangraphs.com, Perez's average fastball was 94.3 mph, his highest average velocity since 2010.

"Last year didn't go quite the way he's used to, but I think (Brewers general manager) Doug (Melvin's) idea of why he brought him in is because he has that experience and he's done well at it in the past," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It is always nice to have guys in there trying to make your team that have that kind of stuff and have been successful in the past."

This spring will be a much different experience than what Perez is used to, as he's competing for a roster spot for first time since he was first breaking into the big leagues with St. Louis in 2008.

In the seven years since, Perez is 16-24 with a 3.51 ERA and 133 saves in 393 big-league games with the Cardinals, Indians and Dodgers.

"I can't just go out there and say I'm working on stuff," Perez said. "I need to get results. I don't know if that's going to help me in the long run, but having to strap it on and bear down and get outs now. Hopefully that gets me locked in for the whole year instead of cruising through spring and trying to lock it in the last couple of outings.

"Every opportunity I throw I'm taking it as a serious situation. I'm trying to make pitches and try to get better every time out. I've thrown off the mound three times and I feel like every time has gotten better and better. Hopefully I just carry that into games."

The game of baseball can humble players in a variety of ways. Perez is just two years removed from when back-to-back All-Star Game appearances left him thought of as one of the best closers in the American League.

Now he's in a fight to continue his big league career at just 29 years old.

"Hopefully my career is not done and this is just another chapter," Perez said. "I feel like I'm a better pitcher for what I've gone through. Experience-wise and just learning different roles in the bullpen. It is different coming in during the fifth inning or the sixth inning. The hitters take different at-bats against you than at the end of the game. Learning that last year and mixing up my pitches, I feel like I'm a better equipped pitcher going forward.

"I feel like I still have a lot left. I have to take care of my stuff and everything else will take care of itself. I think having that experience of having been there, done that, it doesn't ease it, but it kind of takes that, 'I have to make it,' away. I just have to focus on being a good pitcher and getting outs."

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Dodgers C Yasmani Grandal impressing early at camp

Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal has impressed at Camp Boomer, presided over by Dodgers coach Steve "Boomer" Yeager, MLB.com reports.

"I like what I see and what I hear from him," Yeager said. "It takes time to gain the respect of the pitching staff and teammates whenever a catcher comes from somewhere else, but some of them already know him. In the old Dodger tradition, we've welcomed him with open arms. He has come in with a good attitude; you don't have to go looking for him. He's right there, ready to go to work."

Grandal was acquired this offseason as the centerpiece in the trade that sent outfielder Matt Kemp to San Diego.

"In a short time, I've already learned a lot," Grandal said. "Getting to know the guys, catching bullpens, I'm getting a feel for how they throw. Everything comes with time. Once the games start [on Wednesday], it'll definitely come a little faster. I need to get to know what guys are looking for in a catcher, what their mentality is. Some guys like you to give them a pat on the back. With others, it's a different approach."

Grandal is expected to share time behind the plate with incumbent starter A.J. Ellis this season.

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Ryan Braun stands by storyline; new report surfaces

Phoenix - A handful of hours after Ryan Braun stated he would have no extra comment on a report linking him to a clinic alleged to have sold overall performance-enhancing drugs to baseball players, a new report surfaced Friday with the Milwaukee Brewers star leftfielder's name on further documents.

The new list from the Biogenesis clinic, reported by ESPN's "Outside the Lines," had Braun's name with the figure "1500" next to it. There had been no overall performance-enhancing drugs affixed to his name, but ESPN cited a source that said players on the list received performance-enhancing drugs from Tony Bosch, who operated the now-shuttered clinic in Coral Gables, Fla.

ESPN displayed the list that it stated was hand-written by Bosch last April. The other names on the list had been Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera and Francisco Cervelli, all previously named on documents published by the Miami New Times and/or Yahoo Sports.

The ESPN report stated the list was not "definitive proof" that Braun received or used PEDs. But it said a source indicated players on the list received PEDs and that there was "no other purpose to be on that paper."

Earlier in the day, Braun reported to the Brewers camp and met briefly with reporters. He stood by his earlier statement that his name was in the clinic's logs since his attorneys applied Bosch as a consultant in preparing their appeal of Braun's constructive drug test from October 2011 for elevated testosterone levels. That test outcome was overturned on appeal, allowing Braun to stay away from a 50-game suspension, with the announcement coming just just after spring education opened final year.

Arbitrator Shyam Das, who ruled in favor of Braun primarily due to irregularities in shipping his urine sample, later was fired by Major League Baseball in protest of his selection.

Braun said he would have no further comment on the Yahoo report and once again maintained he had nothing at all to hide and would completely cooperate with MLB's investigation into the clinic. Braun did not work out Friday, and the Brewers' session ended just before the ESPN report surfaced.

Braun's representatives did not respond to a request by the Journal Sentinel for a comment. MLB spokesman Pat Courtney stated there would be no statement from the commissioner's workplace until the investigation was comprehensive. As for the Brewers, club spokesman Tyler Barnes mentioned, "Nothing has changed with our position. We nonetheless refer any requests for information and facts or comment to Important League Baseball."

The document displayed by ESPN with Braun and the 3 other players had plus indicators next to their names. There have been circles around the plus indicators subsequent to the names of Rodriguez and Cervelli, reportedly to show the amounts had been paid. The quantity "4500" was next to Rodriguez's name and "2500" was subsequent to Cervelli, but no number was affixed to Cabrera, who was suspended final season by MLB for testing good for elevated testosterone.

The "1500" number subsequent to Braun's name was significantly lower than the "20,000 K to 30,000 K" notation subsequent to his name in the document published by Yahoo Sports. Braun attributed that figure to "moneys owed" to Bosch to serve as a consultant and a subsequent dispute more than the charge.

ESPN reported that Braun's name seems on another list of players like dollar amounts and dates but is merely talked about at the bottom of the web page below a line with "Expenses" written on it.

Lawyer Martin Singer responded to ESPN with this statement: "My client confirmed last week that there was an alleged claim for revenue owed to Mr. Bosch because he had been applied as a consultant by my client's attorneys in his productive appeal with MLB final year. Various witnesses can corroborate how Mr. Bosch requested over thousands of dollars for his consulting with my client's attorneys final year. My client has no partnership with Tony Bosch, and the only connection Mr. Bosch had was with my client's attorneys as a consultant. It is clear that this is all false."

In the course of his session with reporters earlier in the day, Braun declined to take questions about the Yahoo report, saying, "I'm excited to be back out right here for spring instruction surely looking forward to the World Baseball Classic.

"I have an understanding of why a lot of you guys are likely here, but I made a statement last week (about working with Bosch as a consultant). I stand behind that statement. I'm not going to address that challenge any additional. As I stated, I am happy to cooperate completely with any investigation into this matter.

"I respect the reality that all of you guys have a job to do. Component of that job incorporates asking me queries. I'm happy to answer any and all queries about baseball, spring instruction, the Planet Baseball Classic or something else."

Braun was asked about the support of manager Ron Roenicke, who told reporters two days ago that he did not think the Yahoo report ought to have targeted Braun without having evidence as to why his name was in the clinic's logs.

"Absolutely, I appreciate everybody's assistance," said Braun. "In life, when you deal with challenges, you see who supports you and who has your back. He certainly has been exceptionally supportive and for that I am really thankful."

Braun was asked about following his tumultuous winter of 2011-'12 with a different big season despite becoming below scrutiny and presumably with increased drug testing. He batted .319 with 41 household runs, 112 runs batted in, 108 runs scored, 356 total bases, 30 steals and a .987 OPS.

"In baseball, you deal with adversity in life you deal with adversity," he said. "I've constantly said via adversity you identify someone's character. It is definitely easy to do effectively when things are going properly. When you deal with adversity, that's when you see what you happen to be created of. You see what your character is.
"Certainly, final year I dealt with some added challenges and adversity. So, it was rewarding for positive."

Braun did answer 1 stick to-up question about PEDs. He was asked about MLB expanding its testing for human growth hormone to contain the frequent season immediately after previously undertaking so only once for the duration of spring education.

"I've often been supportive of the method," said Braun. "I've normally been supportive of additional drug testing or what ever testing they have that's obtainable."
Prior to the ESPN report came out, Roenicke stated he didn't anticipate the latest PED controversy to affect Braun in the slightest.

"As a great deal as he went via it last year, he's most likely applied to it," stated Roenicke.

As for Braun getting beneath investigation by MLB for possessing his name linked with the Biogenesis clinic, Roenicke mentioned, "I don't genuinely know what to feel about it. All of the information I get is from what I read from you guys. That is all I seriously know."

Roenicke noted that Braun has a particular knack for eliminating attainable distractions.

"I knew how negative final year was for him as far as his off-season. I am certain it was on his mind each and every day," said Roenicke. "I know what happened right after the choice when we went to distinct ball parks. I think the issue that was impressive was the way he played last year. He had the similar year, was second in MVP. Could have been MVP.

"I think it says a lot about his character, for 1. I assume he can overcome some factors that mentally some other guys are not in a position to do. Everybody's character is a small different. I feel everybody handles factors a tiny distinct.

"The guys with the makeup that can put things aside are a specific breed. They are going to perform greater for the reason that they can do that."
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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Washington Redskins Do Not Plan to Re-Sign Brandon Meriweather

The search for players to play safety for the Washington Redskins continues into 2015. Dianna Russini of NBC Washington is reporting that Redskins sources have informed her that they do not plan on bringing strong safety Brandon Meriweather back next season.  This follows the news from a week ago that free safety Ryan Clark was retiring from the NFL, and moving on to a job with ESPN.  Meriweather has been with the Redskins since 2012, but has been injured and suspended often.  He started last year suspended for two games for a hit in the preseason, and ended the year on IR for a toe injury.  His best game of the year came against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8 when he had 7 tackles, 2 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.  But he has been inconsistent throughout his career and takes too many penalties.

This leaves the Redskins without both of their starting safeties from last year, and they have very little playing/starting experience on the roster with Phillip Thomas, Trenton Robinson, and Akeem Davis.  Safety continues to be a problem for the Redskins, and they seemed to be devalued in Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett's defense.  Haslett wanted safeties who could be interchangeable, and wanted a strong pass rush to cover the deficiencies in the secondary.  That pass rush wasn't strong enough last season, and the secondary was routinely abused, allowing the most TDs in the NFL, and allowing opposing QBs to have one of the highest QBRs in league history.

Jim Haslett is gone, and Defensive Backs coach Raheem Morris has moved on to Atlanta.  The Redskins hired former Chargers LB coach Joe Barry as the new DC, and hired former New York Giants DC Perry Fewell as the new secondary coach.  The Redskins will need to use free agency and/or the draft to restock the safety position.  Will Fewell lobby to get his former safety Antrell Rolle in free agency.  Rolle is close to Fewell and recently said he would follow him after he was fired, but also said he wants to remain a Giant.  Will the Redskins trade back and take Landon Collins in the first round, or address the position later in the draft like GM Scot McCloughan has done in the past.

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Eagles free-agent targets: Safety Antrel Rolle

Antrel Rolle, S
Age: 32
Height: 6-0
Weight: 202
Last team: New York Giants

Scouting report
The 32-year-old veteran just wrapped up his 10th season, fifth with the Giants. In New York, he won two Super Bowls and started every game. In his career, the three-time Pro Bowl safety has started 139 of his 148 games and has played all 16 games seven times. His 565 interception return yards are fourth-most among active NFL players. Rolle made a base salary of $7 million last season.

Geoff’s take
My first thought: Hey, he’d be an upgrade over Nate Allen. And he probably would, but probably not that much. If the Giants are willing to let him go then his gas talk is probably empty. The Giants are usually good about letting veterans walk at the right time -- Justin Tuck, Kenny Phillips, Steve Smith, Kevin Boss. The Eagles found that out the hard way, signing Smith and Phillips on separate occasions after each was released. They shouldn’t make that mistake again.

Roob’s take
This isn’t the Antrel Rolle we remember. A multiple Pro Bowl two-time Super Bowl winner. This is a 32-year-old Rolle, a declining player who while still functional is not the kind of guy you build around. The Eagles need to be young, fast and athletic in the secondary, and a guy going into his 10th season who turns 33 before the season is over isn’t the direction the Eagles need to take.

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Danny Valencia to see some action in LF

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Thursday that Danny Valencia will see some time in left field this spring.

Toronto is scrambling all of its internal options to replace Michael Saunders, who was expected to open the 2015 season as the Blue Jays' starting left fielder but suffered a torn meniscus Wednesday when he stepped on an underground sprinkler. Saunders is expected to miss the entire first half. Valencia has never played the outfield at the major league level and is not a good bet to win the job outright, but he could see a bit of action there against left-handed starters if the Jays don't add anybody.

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James Jones sets important example for Cleveland Cavs

Every championship team needs a player like James Jones.

An 11-year NBA veteran and two-time champion with the Miami Heat, Jones is averaging a career low 9.9 minutes per game, and has played in only 33 of the Cleveland Cavaliers' contests this year, but when coach David Blatt has turned to his third-most tenured player, he has liked the results.

Jones came off the bench for the Cavaliers (36-22), scored six points and handed out four assists in a 102-93 come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Pistons (23-34) at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Tuesday night.

"He's a seasoned pro," Blatt said following the win in Detroit. "He's always ready. He's always there. He can play a game. He cannot play three games. He can sit a week or two, but he's going to be ready when you put him out there.

"The last three games, James has really, really given us a great deal coming off the bench. He's a leader in the locker room. He's one of our leaders in the locker room. He's a leader in how we want to approach the game, and when his number is called, he's ready to give you what he can and what he knows he needs to."

After averaging only 2.9 points per game in January, Jones has scored 30 points over the last four games, three of which have been Cavaliers' victories. And to his teammates, Jones' playing style sets an important example that reserve point guard Matthew Dellavedova has followed closely.

"Champ is great," power forward Kevin Love said of Jones. "Delly's the same way. They had a lot of big plays. Champ really stepped up, was hitting threes, rebounding the basketball, playing tough defense, and that's just what he does.

"What comes to mind about him is he's a consummate pro. Delly's the same way. He's being scrappy, getting the loose balls, 50-50 balls, and boxing out (Andre) Drummond in there. That's just the type of guy that he is, and he's very well liked and admired on this team for all the hard work that he does, and all that stuff doesn't show up in the stat sheet, but it's contagious throughout our entire lineup. Guys are doing that now because Champ and Delly do that on a nightly basis."

A veteran of multiple runs deep into the postseason, including to an NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, new Cavaliers center Kendrick Perkins, who signed with the club prior to Tuesday's game in Detroit, believes a player like Jones can make the difference between winning and losing a title.

"Across the board, you've got guys that play their roles, veteran guys that are on the bench," Perkins said. "James Jones, he was huge for us tonight. Champ came in and gave us some great minutes defensively. (Iman) Shumpert did some great things. Kyrie (Irving) got into the ball in the second half, did a much better job, so we've got the upside to be pretty good."

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Knicks hoping Shane Larkin can return Friday

Knicks coach Derek Fisher said Thursday he is hopeful guard Shane Larkin will be available to play in Friday's game at Detroit, reports the team's official website.

Larkin is suffering from an illness, which has caused him to miss the last three games. Larkin has been trying to regain his conditioning. In 50 games, Larkin is averaging 5.4 points and 2.5 assists.

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Pat Burrell headed to Phillies Wall of Fame

Fresh off the slip 'n slide circuit, former Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell will join the Phillies Wall of Fame this July.

Burrell emerged as the early favorite from a field of 12 deserving candidates, including Jim Fregosi and Rick Wise. He is best remembered for his double in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. The hit, which was a gust of wind away from a home run and his first hit of the series, started the tie-breaking rally that eventually won Philadelphia its first championship in 25 years.

The Phillies plucked Burrell from the University of Miami with the first overall pick of the 1998 MLB Draft. A first baseman, he was converted to play left field and joined the Phillies at the major league level in 2000 at the age of 23. Over a nine-year Phillies career, he played in over 1,300 games, receving MVP votes twice in 2002 and 2005 and hitting .257/.367/.485, with 251 home runs and 827 RBI. His eight straight season of at least 20 home runs helped put him fourth on the Phillies' all-time home run list behind Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard, and Del Ennis.

Leaving the Phillies after the 2008 season, Burrell would go on to win a second World Series in 2010 with the Giants, for whom he now serves as a scout after 12 years in professional baseball. His Phillies immortality will begin July 31, during a 7:05 game against the Braves.

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PHOTO: Vince Wilfork helps take Tom Brady's workout to the next level

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Greg Olsen in a cryogenic cold tub

What is Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen up to these days? Glad you asked.

Well, now. In case you're wondering, -135 degrees Celsius works out to -211 degrees Farenheit. That seems... cold. And dangerous, right? Definitely seems like it would make someone freeze. Oh well, I'm not going to question it.

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Orlando Franklin Refutes Reports That He's Leaving

Amid reports that said he would likely be leaving the Denver Broncos this offseason, offensive lineman Orlando Franklin took to Twitter on Tuesday night to speak out on his impending free agency and where he currently stands.

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Ravens met with speedy wide receiver Phillip Dorsett at scouting combine

The Ravens met with two of the faster wide receivers at the NFL scouting combine, Ohio State's Devin Smith and Phillip Dorsett of Miami (Fla.).

A projected second-round draft pick, Dorsett ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. The time earned him $100,000 from Adidas as one of the fastest players at the combine.

Projected as a late first-round pick or second-round draft target, Smith ran a 4.42. Smith also talked with the Ravens at the Senior Bowl.

Smith averaged 28.2 yards per reception as a senior and helped the Buckeyes win the national championship with his ability to strike deep. He caught 33 passes as a senior for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Smith finished his career with 121 receptions for 2,503 yards and 30 touchdowns. He averaged 37.9 yards per score, and Ohio State went 22-0 in games where he caught a touchdown pass.

Dorsett caught 31 passes for 826 yards and nine touchdowns last season for the Hurricanes. He finished his career with 116 receptions for 2,090 yards and 16 touchdowns.

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Darryl Sharpton 10th Best Bears Free Agent

Free agency kicks off in a little more than two weeks, so let’s count down the top 10 Chicago Bears players set to hit the open market March 10:

We’ll go in reverse order.

Here’s No. 10:

Darryl Sharpton, linebacker

2014 pay: $730,000

By the numbers: Played in just 9.9 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season, making his debut in Chicago’s starting lineup in an Oct. 12 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Sharpton posted 15 tackles and broke up one pass.

The case for keeping him: The Bears need inside and outside linebackers in the switch to a 3-4 front, and while Sharpton likely wouldn’t challenge for a starting job, he’s proved more than capable as a backup and special-teams contributor. Sharpton opened eyes in the team’s win over Atlanta, with some pondering whether he deserved a more significant role on defense. Sharpton filled in for Brian Cushing in Houston’s 3-4 scheme back in 2013, racking up 87 tackles in 15 games. Sharpton certainly won’t break the bank in a new deal, so it’s worth it to bring him back because he’s a quality backup with experience working in a 3-4 front.

The case for letting him walk: Although Sharpton has proved to be a solid performer, he’s been injury prone throughout his NFL career. Prior to coming to Chicago, Sharpton started the 2012 season on the physically unable to perform list and finished it on the injured reserve. Sharpton played in just eight games in 2011, a year removed from playing 12 games in 2010 and starting in six of them. The Bears placed Sharpton on the injured reserve in December due to a hamstring injury. Prior to the club ending Sharpton’s season, he hadn’t played for the Bears since Week 8.

Prediction: Although injuries remain a concern regarding Sharpton, it’s worth it for the Bears to bring him back on a one-year veteran minimum type of deal if he doesn’t sign with another team because of his experience in 3-4 schemes. A deal for Sharpton likely won’t come until the back end of free agency.

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Andre Johnson Contract: Latest Rumors and News on Negotiations with Texans

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Johnson may be on his way out of Houston if he doesn't take a reduced salary, via Around The NFL:

Per Spotrac, Johnson is owed $10.5 million in salary and would be a $16.14 million cap hit in 2015, as he's entering the sixth season of a seven-year, $67.8 million contract.

CBSSports.com's Joel Corry brought up a pertinent point prior to Wednesday's report surfacing:

Before detractors give Johnson too hard of a time about how he has already made plenty of money, etc., let's remember the quarterbacks the Texans have had in place for him.

The best option Johnson's ever had under center was Matt Schaub, who's been succeeded by the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum. Houston hasn't fielded a roster good enough to get to the playoffs more than twice since Johnson was chosen No. 3 overall in the 2003 NFL draft.

Johnson has been a consummate professional and stuck by the Texans through their consistent losing. It'd be hard to blame him for refusing to take a pay cut.
If Houston does opt to release the veteran Pro Bowler, who will turn 34 in July, one can bet that plenty of suitors will pop up eager to land Johnson in free agency.
The chance to play for a contender elsewhere and the lack of incentive to budge on his salary leaves Johnson in a win-win situation.

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Ryan Braun healthy, ready to go

PHOENIX -- Ryan Braun can't pinpoint the exact date, but he can remember with some clarity when his right thumb began bothering him.

"It was a changeup against Joe Kelly in St. Louis," Braun said Wednesday as he reported to spring training with the rest of Milwaukee's position players. "I think it was an extra-inning game at some point in 2013."

"It's been a while since I've felt as good as I do now," he said.

A little research can pinpoint the moment exactly: It was May 18, 2013. Braun led off the 10th inning with a single against Kelly in what would ultimately be a 6-4 victory for the Brewers.

The numbers back up Braun's memory.

That single improved his career batting average to .314. In 920 games to that point, he'd hit 210 home runs with 671 RBIs.

Since then, though, Braun has batted just .264 with 20 home runs and 91 RBIs in 159 games -- he missed the last 65 of that 2013 season because of a suspension for his role in the Biogenesis drug investigation.

The 2011 NL MVP last year posted a career-low .266 batting average with 19 home runs and 81 RBIs. In September, he hit .210 with a home run and five RBIs over the final 23 games.

In the days after the season ended, Braun underwent a procedure to freeze the balky nerve that was causing problems.

Since then, Braun says he's felt good. Really good. And with the 2015 season a few weeks away, he's hoping to finally turn the page on the most difficult stretch of his eight-year career.

"It's an important year for him," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "That's why it's nice to see him coming healthy and hopefully, we can keep him that way. When he's healthy, we know what he is capable of doing."

So far, Braun says there are no signs of trouble. He began swinging a bat a little earlier than usual during the offseason but reported to camp feeling fine and fully expecting a normal workload.

"I've been able to do everything I would typically do over the course of an offseason, which is encouraging," he said. "Hopefully I'll be healthy. But aside from that, I don't think I'll be limited or anything. I'll have to be conscious about how many extra swings I take and stuff like that, but aside from that I should be able to do everything."

More than anyone else, Braun's health will go a long way in determining the Brewers' fortunes. It's no coincidence that his September swoon coincided with a late-season collapse that left Milwaukee home for the playoffs despite leading the NL Central for 150 days.

"I think we've addressed that enough," he said. "Obviously, it was difficult, but it was last year."

"When you show up this year, you know you can't do anything about last year. None of us can change what happened. We wish things would have ended differently than they did but they didn't," he said. "Hopefully, the focus is on this year and doing everything we can to prepare the best that we can every day to be successful and to get off to a good start in April."

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Peter O'Brien making noise in D'Backs camp

According to MLB.com's Steve Gilbert, Peter O'Brien's batting practice sessions have become must-see events for players and executives in Diamondbacks camp.

O'Brien slugged 34 home runs in 106 games last season between High-A and Double-A. There are major questions about his defense behind the plate, but his offensive potential could guide him quickly up the Diamondbacks' shaky catching depth chart. O'Brien was acquired from the Yankees last July in the Martin Prado trade. He appears poised to make his MLB debut at some point in 2015.

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Yasmani Grandal and the art of stealing strikes

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Before every nuance of baseball came to be dissected, isolated and quantified, hitters used to assume that the best, most experienced catchers got the most calls from umpires.

“When you had Carlton Fisk or Bob Boone back there, you knew those guys were good at getting pitches,” Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

Now that the Information Age has pulled baseball into its orbit, a catcher’s ability to frame pitches so that they appear to be strikes has become one of the hottest areas of study. New Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has long been a proponent of the skill, which is why he lived with sub-par hitting from guys like Jose Molina in Tampa Bay.

And it’s also one of the reasons Matt Kemp is getting ready for the season five miles from here, with the San Diego Padres, instead of alongside longtime teammates Clayton Kershaw and Andre Ethier in Dodgers camp.

The Dodgers traded Kemp, a former MVP runner-up who led the majors in slugging after the All-Star break last year, for Yasmani Grandal, a catcher with a lifetime .245 batting average who is just a year-and-a-half removed from major knee surgery. On paper, it doesn’t jump out as one-sided in the Dodgers’ favor.

But there were motives for the trade beyond the players’ production in the batter’s box. The Dodgers were able to shed $75 million of Kemp’s $107 remaining salary and they got a catcher who, if things work out, could make the Dodgers' pitching even better.

Grandal, who is not otherwise known as a premium defensive catcher, is by all accounts one of the best pitch framers in baseball. The Dodgers’ incumbent starting catcher, A.J. Ellis, doesn’t rate highly and has vowed to work on the skill this spring.

“With Andrew and [GM] Farhan [Zaidi], you do hear a lot of it,” Mattingly said. “Now that’s part of the analytics, how he’s catching the ball and getting pitches. We do know Yasmani scores high on all of that.”

According to Baseball Prospectus, Grandal got 120 “extra” strikes called last season, an extraordinary number considering he caught just 76 games. Among other things, Grandal’s pitch framing in San Diego helped revive the career of former Dodgers left-hander Eric Stults, a finesse pitcher who makes a living at the fringes of the strike zone.

Pitch framing might be a valuable skill, but it’s not necessarily one that people like talking about at length. After all, it commodifies the fallibility of umpires. In a perfect world, how a catcher receives the baseball shouldn’t impact balls and strikes, but it has become an area where the most analytical minds in the game seek to exploit its most human element.

Grandal said he used to play a game with himself when he was behind the plate, counting how many pitches he considered balls he could get called strikes. He would be happy if he could get a half-dozen a game to go his pitchers’ way. On some days, getting that many borderline calls could be the difference between a win and a loss.

Then, a couple of years ago, people finally started noticing.

“Once somebody brought to my attention that it was a stat, it was kind of funny, because I was like, ‘I’ve kind of been playing this game for a while,’ “ Grandal said.

Grandal paused for a moment and added, “I never liked the idea of stealing strikes, because that’s making the umpire look bad. That’s the one thing I don’t want to do is make them look bad.”

Grandal said he learned his receiving skills from University of Miami assistant coach Joe Mercadante and then refined them over the years in pro ball working with veterans such as Ramon Hernandez, Pat Kelly, Brad Ausmus and A.J. Hinch. He doesn’t view pitch framing as fooling the umpire, but as making it easier for him to see the ball.

“I’m trying to make the umpire’s job easier. The better lane I give them to see the ball, the better relationship I’m going to have with them, the more they’re going to trust me,” Grandal said. “I’m always talking to them, trying to see, ‘Hey, do you have a good lane to see? Am I cutting you off? Are you seeing this pitch?’ The relationship between the catcher and pitcher is pretty important, but you also have to have a relationship with the umpire.”

The Dodgers should have a better catching situation in 2015 than last season, in part because Grandal and Ellis have skill sets that complement each another. Grandal’s best hitting typically comes from the left side. Ellis is a right-handed hitter. Grandal excels at pitch framing. Ellis is a master of game planning and calling pitches. If they put in the work and share information this spring, there’s no telling what kind of impact they could have on a Dodgers staff that finished fourth in the National League in ERA.

They also could have acquired Grandal, 26, at the right time in his career. A torn knee ligament cost him half of the 2013 season and limited him much of last year, he said.

“It kind of affected everything,” Grandal said. “Now, it’s good.”

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Phillip Dorsett: Jets, Packers are the favorites

Speed continues to change the game in the NFL. Over the past decade, spread offenses have been extremely popular and given the nature of speed in this draft class, there may not be one prospect faster than Phillip Dorsett out of the University of Miami. Whether it’s inside or outside, Dorsett has an extremely unique skillset and many NFL teams will be licking their chops to add the speed demon to their offense. However, the two teams that most interested in the Miami product are the New York Jets and the Green Bay Packers.

According to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, the Jets and the Packers have shown the most interest in Dorsett. To be perfectly clear, Dorsett is a guy that could come in immediately and help out an NFL offense. Whether it’s a deep pass or an option when the play breaks down, Dorsett is just so athletic that he finds a way to break free from his opponents and make plays in the open field.

It’s clear that the Jets need more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Percy Harvin flashed at times and Eric Decker looks capable of putting up numbers when he gets competent play from the quarterback position. The fact remains, however, that there isn’t a lot of talent on this team that scares opposing defenses.

On the other hand, the Packers have one of the best offenses in the league. Led by Aaron Rodgers in the passing game and Eddie Lacy in the running game, the Packers beat defenses in a variety of ways. However, stud receiver Randall Cobb is an impending free agent and if he goes elsewhere in free agency, the Packers seem to have their contingency plan in Dorsett.

While both teams are looking into the prospects of drafting Dorsett for different reasons, it truly is a testament to how Dorsett can make an impact in a variety of ways for an NFL offense. Running a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash just further solidified how dynamic Dorsett can be. The Jets and the Packers would have a real nice player in their hands if they drafted him.

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Clive Walford “Disappointed” in 40 Time, Will Run Again on Pro Day

Former Miami Hurricanes tight end Clive Walford reflected on the NFL Combine with Joe Rose on WQAM this morning, expressing disappointment over his 40-yard dash time.

“Honestly I was disappointed,” Walford said of running a 4.79. “I was expecting something fastericon1 than that.”

Walford says he’s going to run the 40 again at Miami’s Pro Day.

His time, however, still ranked fourth among all tight ends. He was also a top performer at his position in both the vertical jump and broad jump, with 35 inches (4th) and 120 inches (2nd), respectively.

Asked whether he’d alter his comments declaring himself the besticon1 tight end in the draft and the six-foot-five talent declined to back down.

“I feel like I’m the best tight end in the draft and I’m out to prove that.”

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Bob Sturm’s 2015 NFL Draft profile: What I see in Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (Fla) – 5’9, 207 – Junior

As we continue to roll through the high number of impressive running back prospects that make the 2015 unique in that regard, we arrive at the first of three (also, Ameer Abdullah and Mike Davis) who are under 5’10 and therefore are looked with the awkward eye that questions durability and the ability to be more than a change-up back.  All 3 are built well, with weight over 205, but when looking at the size and build of each of these players, durability and disposition are going to go heavily into how we see them fit in today’s NFL molds.  Never mind that Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith were both under 5’10 and above 200, the league now asks these questions as most of the fulltime backs are at or around 6’0.  To examine the accomplished Miami Hurricane RB who is the all-time leading rusher of that famous school, we looked at his games against Nebraska, Virginia Tech, and Florida State.

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What I liked:  For me, having watched Johnson quite a bit this year, the first thing I like is his competitiveness and his reckless abandon when he hits the hole up inside.  He seems pretty fearless and not bothered at all about being the smallest guy in most scenarios, because he seems to do a lot of his best work between the hash marks and most of his runs between the tackles.  He is a really solid runner in the zone stretches where he must plant his foot and head upfield with decisiveness and explosion.  He has both.  He is a smaller player who runs even smaller in terms of staying low and making yourself a tough target to hit.  He also is delivering the hits and stiff-arms and fighting to not go to the ground.  As a receiver, he just might be the best in the group as not only is a good screen/safety valve RB, but he is actually dangerous with arrow and wheel routes as a primary receiver.  They throw a lot at him and he catches very well and then hits the nitro.  On the 2nd level, there is so much to like as he gets in space and is hard to track down.

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What I did not like:  He is not much of a pass protector, but even in that scenario, he doesn’t get rushed much because his defender is backed off and concerned about losing Johnson in the flat.  He isn’t the best in two important categories for a RB – short yardage and the 4-minute drill situations where the defense is sitting on the run, it seems like he might not quite be to the level of the other backs we have examined.  I would call him average in both of those.  Also, when you get him to turn his shoulders and go wide, he does lose some of his steam and punishment.  I need him with his shoulders square going north and south where he is at his best.  He has a few nagging injuries that have some wondering about long-term durability as well as a concussion/migraine headache issue or two on his sheet that will get a thorough examination from a prospective employer.

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Summary:  There is a lot to like here with Duke Johnson, but it is understandable that he might be on that tier below the top with regards to some of the items listed above.  That said, as a zone runner with fantastic receiving skills and an attitude that you just have to love, he might be the type of guy who people wonder in 4 years why we were picking him apart when we should have been merely focusing on what makes him special.  If you were to focus on his strengths, you could really fall in love with what he brings to the table in so many regards.  But, if you want him to be your #1 RB, you might want to make sure your stable behind him is ready to pick up some of the workload just in case.

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Phillip Dorsett earns $100,000 from Adidas

CORAL GABLES Former Hurricanes wide receiver Phillip Dorsett showed up to watch practice Tuesday – with 100,000 reasons to smile.

Dorsett picked up a check for $100,000 from Adidas for running one of the fastest 40-yard dashes last Saturday at the NFL combine.

Adidas, who this summer will supplant Nike as the official outfitter of UM athletics, offered the sum to three players who signed endorsement deals and ran the fastest 40s. Dorsett, who led UM in receiving yards (871) and touchdowns (10) last year, ran his in 4.33 seconds. The other money men: Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (4.31) and West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White (4.35).

“Phillip owes us some lunches, I’ll promise you that,” UM coach Al Golden joked. “And now he can’t tell me he doesn’t have the money to do it. I saw everybody’s Twitter [time]line last night.”

Dorsett reportedly met with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns at the NFL draft.

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Peter O'Brien turning heads at D-backs camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It can get a little slow during the first week of Spring Training when it is just pitchers and catchers in camp, but this year at Salt River Fields, D-backs catcher Peter O'Brien has made batting practice a must-see event.

O'Brien, acquired from the Yankees last July 31 in exchange for Martin Prado, is likely to start the season in the Minors, but the team loves his bat and believes he is improving enough defensively where he can stay behind the plate.

A number of front office executives came out to the field to watch O'Brien hit Tuesday and after he blasted one off the batter's eye in center, former D-backs outfielder Luis Gonzalez joked with coaches behind the cage saying, "Hang in there. The power will come soon."

O'Brien heard that comment loud and clear.

"It's pretty funny when guys joke like that, so I like it," O'Brien said.

Fellow catcher Tuffy Gosewisch said O'Brien's power is no laughing matter.

"I think he's on a different level," Gosewisch said. "Sometimes there's guys in BP where you see them hit a few home runs and you might yourself try to hit some home runs to match them, but he's on another level and it's fun to watch. You can hear [it], [the ball] just sounds different coming off his bat. There's a few guys in the game that have that sound, and he's one of them. He's got some kind of power."

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Yonder Alonso hoping he is past issues with right wrist

Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso has been having issues with his right wrist/hand since getting hit by a pitch late in May 2013. However, he is hopeful the issues are behind him coming off surgery in August, per U-T San Diego.

“It's a monkey off your back type of thing where you kind of just deal with it for a little while and finally put it behind you and go on to do the things I can do when I'm healthy,” Alonso said, adding that he was reporting with zero restrictions.

“(Injuries) are part of the game. You're going to have your bruises here and there. That's over with. Hopefully it's the last time I answer questions about my wrist. Knock on wood.”

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Host of NFL teams interested in OT Ereck Flowers

Miami T Ereck Flowers will intrigue the Rams, Browns, Saints, Texans, Lions and Panthers, notes ESPN's Todd McShay.

"He's a massive right tackle prospect at 6-6, 329 pounds, with long arms (34.5 inches) and excellent strength -- his 37 bench press reps were the most in his class, which is pretty remarkable given how long his arms are," McShay wrote. "His times weren't great, with a 5.31 40, but not bad when you consider his size. He didn't do the jumps or shuttles, so he'll need to do those at his pro day." The 6-foot-6, 329-pound Flowers decided not to hire an agent and will represent himself. He's a possible Round 1 pick.

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Anthony Chickillo will be a 3rd or 4th round 'gem'

NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock said Miami DE Anthony Chickillo has "got a better get-off than people understand."

Chickillo didn't provide much production in college, but he was miscast as a 3-4 defensive end. The 6-foot-3 1/8, 261-pounder is a former five-star prospect who ran an impressive 4.77 40-yard dash on Sunday with an impressive 10-yard split of 1.59 seconds. "Someone is going to get a gem in the third or fourth round," NFL Media's Charles Davis said.

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Scout: Ereck Flowers is headed for RT in the NFL

An NFL scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he projects Miami T Ereck Flowers to right tackle.

"Big frame, good technician, good with his hands, good bulk and anchor," the scout said. "Has ability to hold up against power rushes but also can handle speed. Physically and athletically, probably more of a right tackle in the NFL." Flowers, who has started the past two-and-a-half seasons at LT for the Hurricanes, posted 37 reps on the bench press at the combine, the most of any offensive lineman. The 6-foot-6, 329-pound Flowers is also highly athletic (5.29 forty, 10-yard split of 1.78).


Mayock likes Denzel Perryman despite so-so 40 time

NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock said after Miami ILB Denzel Perryman's forty run: "I thought he was faster."

Perryman (5-foot-10 3/4, 236 pounds) ran a 4.78 40-yard dash. Mayock added he "still like[d] Perryman" despite the disappointing time. Mayock compares Perryman to Jon Beason. The Hurricane linebacker is an old school, squatty, hit-you-in-the mouth inside 'backer who lacks size and speed. An AFC director of scouting told NFL.com recently that Perryman is a "thumper" and a "badass."

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Ereck Flowers says he likes to work in the weight room.

Not every offensive lineman struggled on the weight bench. Former Miami Hurricanes stud Ereck Flowers should have said "Hulk smash" after he finished producing the numbers O'Hara reported:

From the jump, Flowers looks ready to be a force in any team's run game. As a prospective left tackle, he will also need to prove he can be effective as a pass-blocker. That's where there are concerns about his ability.

There are times when speed-rushers can beat him to the edge, but that's an area where he can improve.

There's something about Flowers' intangibles that make me believe he is the real deal and that his best is yet to come. When you look up information and accounts on the 6'6", 324-pound monster, the consensus seems to be that Flowers loves to compete. Whether it's his NFL.com draft profile from Zierlein or quotes from his college head coach Al Golden (via Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com), competitiveness is the constant trait used to describe him.

With the strength and athletic gifts he possesses, that should be a formula for success.

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Denzel Perryman Didn't Quiet His Critics

Two other players who looked much more athletic on tape than they appeared during drills Sunday included Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman, arguably the best traditional Mike 'backer in the draft.

Unlike Phillips (who struggled with inconsistency throughout his Sooners career), Perryman was the picture of reliability for the Hurricanes, leaving the program as a four-year starter with 351 career tackles to his credit. While instinctive, physical and tough, however, Perryman didn't exactly quiet critics of his speed and overall athleticism with a 4.78-second showing in the 40-yard dash. In fact, it may give voice to those who suggest that the 5-11, 236-pounder is just a two-down run-stuffer in the NFL.

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Mayock: Clive Walford is clearly draft's No. 2 TE

NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock said Miami TE Clive Walford is the clear No. 2 tight end.

Behind Minnesota's Maxx Williams, of course. Mayock added that there is no clear-cut No. 3 guy at the position. "After [Williams and Walford], what's your flavor?" Mayock said. The analyst likes Walford's combination of size, speed and strength. Measuring 6-foot-4, 251 pounds, Walford's 4.79 forty was a little disappointing, but his 35 inch vertical jump and 120 inch broad jump were both good.

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Denzel Perryman Standing Tall Among Linebackers

INDIANAPOLIS - Denzel Perryman from the University of Miami is considered one of the top inside linebacker prospects in the 2015 draft, and it seems one of the only knocks on his game is his lack of ideal size.

Perryman officially was measured 5 feet 11 at the combine and, as expected, he was asked about his height during his combine press conference. It was the same at the Senior Bowl.

“I find them funny,” Perryman said. “I hear the same questions over and over again, so it doesn’t matter me at all.

“I’ve been pretty much getting knocked for my height since I got to high school, getting recruited,” Perryman said. “My play makes up for my height. I don’t play like I’m 5-11.

Asked to described his style, Perryman delivered a quick, to-the-point answer.

Said Perryman: “I’m smart, I’m physical, I’m a downhill, hard-nosed dog.”

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Orlando Franklin is unlikely to re-sign with Denver

Mike Klis of the Denver Post doesn't expect the Broncos to re-sign free agent LG Orlando Franklin.

The salary Franklin will command in free agency should be out of Denver's price range. Klis suggested Mike Iupati as a possible replacement though he might make more than Franklin this offseason. Either way, it sounds like Denver is going to have a hole to fill at left guard.

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Big questions ahead for Colts and Reggie Wayne

Whether we've seen the last of Reggie Wayne isn't yet known.

But if the Indianapolis Colts great decides to return for a 15th season, it will set in motion a series of difficult decisions for the franchise.

Among them: Can it find a place for an aging receiver coming off one of his worst seasons? And what's a fair price for a player who clearly would have a greatly reduced role but who also is one of the franchise's greatest players?

Those are complicated matters that must be dealt with in a manner that doesn't disrespect an Indianapolis icon.

Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine that neither has had any recent discussions with Wayne, whose contract expires next month.

The team already has acquired CFL standout Duron Carter, son of Hall-of-Fame receiver Cris Carter. He's expected to be an important part of the rotation, though that's still a projection because of his lack of NFL experience.

Whether we've seen the last of Reggie Wayne isn't yet known.

But if the Indianapolis Colts great decides to return for a 15th season, it will set in motion a series of difficult decisions for the franchise.

Among them: Can it find a place for an aging receiver coming off one of his worst seasons? And what's a fair price for a player who clearly would have a greatly reduced role but who also is one of the franchise's greatest players?

Those are complicated matters that must be dealt with in a manner that doesn't disrespect an Indianapolis icon.

Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine that neither has had any recent discussions with Wayne, whose contract expires next month.

The team already has acquired CFL standout Duron Carter, son of Hall-of-Fame receiver Cris Carter. He's expected to be an important part of the rotation, though that's still a projection because of his lack of NFL experience.

He finished with a respectable 64 catches for 779 yards but was significantly less impactful late in the season than early on. Wayne's partially-torn triceps was certainly a factor, but his legs seemed to also lose a gear as the season wore on.

Wayne's triceps required surgery, meaning much of his offseason will entail rehab. But if he can regain his form from early in 2014, Wayne would have some definite appeal to the Colts. For example, flash back to September, when Wayne had nine catches for 98 yards against the Denver Broncos and seven catches for 119 yards against the Tennessee Titans.

Wayne's situation remains fluid for the Colts. At some point, there will be some difficult conversations. That time is coming.

"He's got my number," Pagano said, "and I've got his."

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Dolphins meet with Clive Walford, Duke Johnson

The Miami Dolphins, who could be looking for a running back and a tight end in the first two rounds of the draft, met with former Univeristy of Miami stars Duke Johnson and Clive Walford at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Johnson, UM's all-time leading rusher, is expected to be drafted in the second round. Walford, generally regarded as the second-best tight end in the draft behind Minnesota's Maxx Williams, also is slated to be taken in the second round.

The Dolphins have the 14th pick in the first round.

The Dolphins could be looking for a running back to share the load with Lamar Miller, who rushed for 1,099 yards last season. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry on his 216 attempts, and scored nine touchdowns. But he was limited to 16 touches per game, which hints Miami needs another back to compliment him.

It is unlikely that Knowshon Moreno, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last season, will be re-signed.

This is the deepest crop of running back talent since the 2008 NFL Draft, led by first-round hopefuls Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Georgia's Todd Gurley.

The Dolphins are dealing with some uncertainty at the tight end position because starter Charles Clay is a free agent.

Walford would be a solid addition after dominating Senior Bowl practices, especially in red-zone drills.

“I have a great ability to jump,” Walford said. “In the red zone, I use my body and my jumping ability to go up over the top of defenders and grab the ball. I am the best tight end in this draft because I can block, I can catch, I can run after the catch, do everything that a tight end is expected to do.”

Walford, who caught 121 career passes and scored 14 touchdowns, also had combine meetings with the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions.

There are some questions about Walford's hands, though, as he's had his share of dropped passes.

Walford showed he was healthy at the Senior Bowl after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his right meniscus.

"It was very important because I was told that people thought I tore my medial collateral ligament, which I didn't," Walford said. "I just had a scope on my right meniscus. I just wanted to go out and show everybody that I was healthy."

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Ereck Flowers' best Combine 10 yd: 1.78

Miami T Ereck Flowers' best "unofficial" forty at the NFL Combine was 5.29 seconds with a 10 yard split of 1.78.

Flowers is a big man at 6'6" and 329 lbs with 34 1/2" arms. He shows a lot of strength moving forward, but we think he still has issues with functional strength when pass protecting, likely stemming from too much movement equaling a poor base. Still, Flowers is being linked to first-round picks.

Flowers posted 37 reps on the bench press at the combine, the most of any offensive lineman.

We've noticed Flowers' lack of strength while pass protecting, but think that is due to technique issues stemming from a poor base. In the run game, Flowers has no such issues. The 6-foot-6, 329-pound Flowers has great athleticism (5.29 forty, 10-yard split of 1.78) and has the look of a first-round prospect. He certainly helped himself Friday.

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GIF: Air Wilfork

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‘Restrictions’ could make Antrel Rolle an ex-Giant

INDIANAPOLIS — Money sounds like the only thing that could prevent the Giants from re-signing safety Antrel Rolle.

Rolle is scheduled to become a free agent on March 10. Giants coach Tom Coughlin gushed about Rolle on Thursday and said the Giants definitely want him back in 2015 … if the price is right.

“We’d like him to come back,” Coughlin said at the NFL Scouting Combine, “obviously, we do have financial restrictions involved.”

The 32-year-old made the Pro Bowl in 2013, but his play slipped last season. Still, he is a reliable veteran presence in the Giants’ secondary.
Coughlin praised his off-the-field contributions.

“He’s an outstanding young man, and really I’ve never come across a player that was more interested in his team and trying to help his team be better in any way they could,” Coughlin said. “I think countless Tuesdays Antrel was in my office with, ‘How can we get better? What can we do to get better?’ Just thoughts going back and forth between coach/player, in terms of how our team could improve. I don’t think I was ever involved with a player that was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve. And I admire that very much in him as a young man and a leader.”

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Did Clive Walford Hurt His Draft Stock At The Combine?

Clive Walford, TE, Miami: After being hailed as one of the most explosive tight ends in the draft, Walford didn't wow scouts with his workout performance on Friday. The 6-4, 251-pound pass catcher clocked a rather pedestrian 4.79 40 time and failed to look dynamic or sudden in drills. Although Walford's numbers in the vertical jump (35 inches) and broad jump (10 feet even) suggest that he is a capable athlete, I didn't see a prospect with the kind of quick-twitch traits to create matchup problems on the perimeter.

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Giants decline to say if Jon Beason will be back

Giants GM Jerry Reese declined to say whether MLB Jon Beason will be back in 2015.

"Jon is under contract. We will see where that goes," were Reese's comments. Beason has a $6.7 million cap hit, with $900K of his $3.6M salary guaranteed. He's a candidate for a pay cut after appearing in four games last year due to injuries. The Giants would save $4.3 million by releasing Beason, but leave $2.4M in dead money.

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Phillip Dorsett is plenty fast, but not as fast as Chris Johnson

Miami wide receiver Phillip Dorsett showed off such great speed in college that there was talk he might break Chris Johnson’s Scouting Combine record 4.24-second 40-yard dash. That didn’t happen.

But Dorsett did run the fastest time so far at this year’s Combine, finishing his 40 in 4.33 seconds.

More important than the speed Dorsett showed today in shorts is the speed he showed on the field as a Hurricane, when he averaged a whopping 24.2 yards a catch last season. Dorsett started all 13 games for Miami and finished 2014 with 36 catches for 871 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Despite his speed, Dorsett isn’t necessarily viewed as a great prospect by NFL teams. His size (5-foot-10 and 183 pounds) is less than ideal, and some question whether he’ll be as effective in the NFL when he can’t just rely on his speed to blow past every defensive back. But he sure is fast.

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Ereck Flowers Draft Stock is Rock Solid

Ereck Flowers had a tough day of kick-slide drills at the NFL Scouting Combine, but a few on-field workouts shouldn’t decide his 2015 NFL Draft stock. After watching a bit more tape, I came back to my original take: Flowers is a legitimate prospect that is going to make an NFL team very happy.

Many times on tape, Flowers shows a natural ability to simply be a wall. He squares up very well and does a good job matching up head-to-head against elite defenders. When he gets things right with his first step, his strength is unquestioned.

It’s easy to get scared when you see some of the drills yesterday — I know I did — but you must rely on the tape to give yourself an accurate evaluation. While there are a few instances where he fails to meet the edge rusher, the poor outing at the Combine doesn’t really translate to what you see when you turn on the film.

The former Miami Hurricane is very talented, and it can be argued that his only real flaw is the fact that he occasionally has technical lapses in his game. Too many times does Flowers struggle with doing what he needs to do technically. With NFL coaching, he should improve mightily the moment he hits the practice field.

As far as draft stock goes, Flowers has a legitimate chance to be taken in the first round. Although his talent projects around the second round, there are too many teams in the NFL that have a need at the tackle position.

I’ve mocked Flowers to the Carolina Panthers a few times, a fit that seems natural.

Below, you’ll see my top-seven at the tackle position:

1. Brandon Scherff, Iowa
2. T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh
3. La’el Collins, LSU
4. Jake Fisher, Oregon
5. Ereck Flowers, Miami
6. Andrus Peat, Stanford
7. Cam Erving, Florida State

Projecting where Flowers will land becomes significantly tougher when we bring a guy like Jake Fisher. The Oregon standout could emerge as a first-round pick, and Flowers could be pushed back into the second round because of it.

On the other hand, you could argue that teams will see how raw Flowers is and look at that as a major plus. He has so much room to improve, something that could make him seem a bit more valuable in the scouting process.

Any team that has some wiggle room on the outside could value the kid that put up 37 reps on the bench press this week.

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Phillip Dorsett vs Georgia Tech (2014)

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Santana Moss Is Attending Classes At The U

Just leaving class, waiting on the cane shuttle like...bhiiiiii it's cold!!!

A photo posted by Santana Moss (@eighttodanine) on

Santana Moss has returned to the school where he made a name for himself on the field.

The 14-year NFL veteran attended Miami during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, smashing the school’s all-time receiving yards record (2,546) while also earning All-Big East Conference honors his senior season.

While at Miami, Moss was also hard at work in the classroom, majoring in Liberal Arts.

Now, 14 years after receiving his Bachelor’s of Liberal Arts, Moss is back in the classroom, this time as part of the school’s new Executive MBA program designed for professional athletes.

As PRNewswire.com explains, “it is an 18-month program that consists of six two-week residency modules at the School’s main campus in Coral Gables. The program, which will be taught by the same world-class faculty who teach in the School’s other programs, has the same curriculum as the School’s existing Global Executive MBA program, which meets on a similar schedule.”

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Ereck Flowers, a possible first-round pick, won't hire an agent

INDIANAPOLIS -- Left tackle Ereck Flowers, the standout from the University of Miami who is projected as a mid first-round or early second-round pick in the NFL Draft, said Friday he doesn’t plan on hiring an agent this year.

Flowers said he originally got the idea from former UM players.

“I talked to players before about this,” Flowers said. “The University of Miami, one thing we take pride in is players coming back to teach other people the way. I’ve done research with my father. We didn’t see any reason to have one.”Flowers said he’d probably hire a lawyer to “look through” his rookie contract.

“Other than that, I’m not signing with an agent,” he said.

With NFL salaries slotted, there’s little reason for a player to hire an agent initially, so Flowers will handle the job with his father.

“We’ve just done research on it,” Flowers said. “My father is a pretty intelligent guy so we’ve talked to people and I’ve talked to my coaches a little about it, so it’s one thing we decided we would do.”

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Frank Gore May Stay With 49ers

Late last season, it seemed almost certain that Frank Gore was on his last legs as a 49er.

The veteran running back -- who will turn 32 this May -- was having a subpar season in the last year of his contract.

His age and salary didn’t line up with the 49ers' plans.

But now, after Gore’s late-season brilliance showed he’s still effective, the team appears intent on bringing Gore back for another season. Gore rushed for more than 300 yards combined over his final two games to finish with more than 1,100.

Niners general manager Trent Baalke, speaking to reporters at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis this week, said, “We’re going to do what we can to get him back as a 49er.”

New head coach Jim Tomsula, also in Indianapolis, echoed Baalke. Tomsula, in fact, said the team was in negotiations with both Gore and wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

“Those talks are happening this week,” Tomsula said at a news conference, reported Marc Sessler of NFL.com. “I don’t have the checkbook, so I’m not in those particular conversations, but I do know that leaving San Francisco, heading to the airport the other day, that everything was lined up to talk to all of our people.”

Generally, running backs decline rapidly after age 30. But Gore has remained in top condition, forged by challenging offseason workouts, and has brought much more to the team than his talents as a ballcarrier. Players and coaches have cited his leadership, work ethic and hard-nosed approach as a plus for the entire team. He remains one of the NFL’s best-blocking running backs, particularly in pass protection.

Said Tomsula: “I’m a big Frank Gore guy.”

If he does return, however, it likely will be for less money than the $6.5 million he earned in each of his past two seasons. Baalke told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that the team and Gore are trying to work things out.

“We’re still working on it,” Baalke told Barrows. “It’s not something that’s going to get done yesterday. It’ll take some time to resolve. It’s our intention to have Frank back.”

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Suns Waive John Salmons

PHOENIX - The Phoenix Suns signed centre Earl Barron to a 10-day contract Saturday.

The 7-foot Barron has appeared in six games this season for the Suns, averaging 3.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 13.7 minutes. He had 10 points and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes at Houston on Oct. 13.

In 27 games for Bakersfield in the NBA Development League, Barron is averaging 20.3 points and 10.9 rebounds. In 124 career NBA games with Miami, New York, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Portland, Golden State and Washington, he has averaged 4.9 points and 3.7 rebounds.

The Suns waived guard Kendall Marshall and forward John Salmons.

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No extra limitations on OF Ryan Braun's thumb in camp

Aside from limiting him to extra hitting early on, there are no extra limitations on Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun's thumb heading into camp, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Braun, 31, underwent a thumb procedure last October, and said in January that his thumb feels "significantly better" than at this time last year. He slashed .266/.324/.453 with 19 homers and 81 RBI in 135 games in 2014 while dealing with the injury.

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Yasmani Grandal expects A.J. Ellis to catch Dodgers' ace

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have made a lot of noise so far this spring about wanting to break up Clayton Kershaw's reliance on A.J. Ellis so it doesn’t become a personal-catcher scenario, but most people view that as mostly lip service -- even the man who stands to lose playing time because of it.

“I’m expecting [Ellis] to catch him. Yeah, I am,” Yasmani Grandal said. “But at the same time, I need to be ready.”

After all, Grandal reasoned, “When you’ve seen a guy have success for a while, you don’t want to change that.”

Grandal caught Kershaw’s second bullpen session of the spring on Sunday. He didn’t need to squat 60 feet away to realize how special Kershaw’s ability is. He had seen that plenty of times with a bat in his hands.

“I think a guy like that, you appreciate even if you’re not catching,” Grandal said.

Plenty of catchers have made a pretty good living as a personal catcher and Kershaw’s preference might be Ellis’ clearest path to playing time, considering the Dodgers like Grandal’s bat and pitch-framing ability enough that they traded slugger Matt Kemp for him. Brian McCann and Mike Scioscia, among others, broke into the major leagues as personal catchers -- McCann for John Smoltz and Scioscia for Fernando Valenzuela.

Even if Grandal doesn’t catch Kershaw much, he said he hopes to help him succeed by watching video during games and making suggestions about game planning. Grandal said the Padres had a “real good game plan,” against Kershaw though that’s not necessarily reflected in Kershaw’s 2.25 ERA vs. San Diego. Grandal is 5-for-14 with a double and five strikeouts against Kershaw.

So, what is San Diego’s game plan against the Dodgers’ ace?

“If I tell you that, then the whole league would know, right?” Grandal said. “I won’t give you the exact thing, but our game plan was basically, ‘Stay on the heater.’ “

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