James Proves the Point: The Line Can Block the Back

The Arizona Cardinals had the worst running game in the N.F.L. last season and went into the off-season determined to fix it. They made what would seem to be a logical move, signing the free agent Edgerrin James, who was coming off two consecutive 1,500-yard seasons for the Indianapolis Colts, to a four-year, $30 million contract.

But after two games, it is clear that the Cardinals’ problems are anything but solved. James, who gained at least 88 yards in 13 consecutive games last season, had 73 yards against San Francisco and 64 against Seattle. His early average of 3.1 yards a carry is far below his career average of 4.2.

Bills' special teams keep flying high

There are NFL clubs with good special teams units, and then there are the Buffalo Bills.

According to the Dallas Morning News' comprehensive ratings, which include several key statistical categories, the Bills have owned the best special teams in the league over the last two years.

The Bills showed Sunday in Miami that they have no intention to relinquish that title.

These late-rounders making scouts look good (Frank Gore, Devin Hester)

RB Frank Gore, 49ers -- Round 3 in 2005: It's rare that a guy who had a disappointing college career becomes an impact player in the NFL. Gore beat out Willis McGahee as a freshman at Miami before blowing out his ACL. He got the starting job back after McGahee left for the NFL -- only to blow out the other knee. As a rookie last season, he led the 49ers in rushing while splitting time with Kevan Barlow. With Barlow's trade to the Jets, Gore has excelled as the featured back. He is currently fourth in the NFL with 217 rushing yards, including a career-high 127 in a 20-13 victory against the Rams last week. More important, he is tied for the league lead with three touchdowns. At 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, his durability always will be an issue, but, considering what he has overcome already, I wouldn't bet against him.

PR Devin Hester, Bears -- Round 2 in 2006: It didn't take long for Hester to make his mark on the NFL. In his pro debut, he returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown. Anyone who watched the Bears in the preseason knew it was only a matter of time until he broke one, and it won't be his last. Drafting a return man in Round 2 might have raised a few eyebrows around the league, but the Bears were plagued with fumbles by their punt returners last year. A cornerback by trade, his breakaway speed has the Bears coaching staff trying to figure out how to get him the ball on offense.

Kevin Everett Update

Kevin Everett easily beat Robert Royal and Craig Nall in a good-natured 30-yard foot race after Wednesday's practice. However, the result was disputed. Royal claimed he was so far ahead at the 10-yard mark that he pulled up.

"When we lined up, I shot out of the blocks and I was 6 yards in front of him," Royal said. "I shut it down. I had to."

Ex-UM Diaz guard to play in Europe

Former University of Miami guard Guillermo Diaz, who left school early to enter the NBA Draft, will begin his professional career playing in the Czech Republic.

Diaz, who was taken in the second round in June by the Los Angeles Clippers, will begin playing for Nymburk, the defending league champion, according to his high school coach and mentor, Art Alvarez.

Eric Winston Update

(on who will fill the spot on the line with T Spencer out):

“You know, we have to talk through that, but right now the best thing for the team is to get (T Eric) Winston going.  It’s a tough role to ask a young player like that to be a swing guy on game day and know two spots.  But for the future of the football tea, we need to do that with that young man.  So we’ll put him in a tough situation, but I’m sure he’ll respond to it.  Hell, he’s a good kid.  He’s been working hard.  But for the future of the team, and to get better, we need to bring him a long, so I think he’s the guy to do that.  We also have to look around and decide, do we bring in a young tackle here or do we go find another veteran guy.  We have to go make that decision, but we definitely have to go get another player here pretty quick.”

Bills' McGahee load of a problem for Vilma, Jets

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- In the past three meetings between the teams, Bills running back Willis McGahee has owned the Jets, and therefore has owned his former college teammate and good friend at Miami, linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

McGahee, who battled back from a career-threatening knee injury suffered against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of those games against the Jets, including a career-high 143-yard performance in the Bills' 27-17 victory in Buffalo last season.

Giants' Shockey bothered by injured ankle

NEW YORK - Two days before the Giants' season-opener against the Colts two weeks ago, Jeremy Shockey's name suddenly appeared on the injured list. At the time, the Giants only revealed that the star tight end had an ankle injury, and did not specify how, or when, it had happened.

On Thursday, Shockey put an end to the mystery, saying that he hurt his right ankle playing in the final preseason game against the Patriots, when defensive tackle Richard Seymour - a player who is listed at 310 pounds but probably weighs more - fell on it. Shockey also hinted that he was upset with coach Tom Coughlin for playing him in that meaningless Aug. 31 game.

Charlton Jimerson Update

Rookie Charlton Jimerson and former Astros manager Larry Dierker have birthdays today.

Jimerson will celebrate by having his wife
Reza and daughter with him in attendance tonight at Minute Maid Park for the first time this season.
Jimerson's father
Eugene, sister Lanette and younger brother Terrance also will watch him at Minute Maid Park for the first time today.


Darrell McClover

Reiss also reported that the Patriots had five more players in for workouts at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday. Two of them were veteran quarterbacks - Tommy Maddox and Todd Bouman. Defensive players visiting the stadium included defensive back Chidi Iwuoma and linebackers Mark Brown and Darrell McClover.

Portis goes through full practice

Clinton Portis is on track to start at running back for the Washington Redskins against the Houston Texans on Sunday. But cornerback Shawn Springs is questionable after he sustained a mild right groin strain in the opening 30 minutes of practice yesterday.

Portis, who missed the Dallas game with a rotator cuff injury, went through his first full practice since Aug. 11 -- two days before he dislocated his left shoulder at Cincinnati.

"Clinton looked good and felt good, so I think we're OK there," coach Joe Gibbs said. "If he continues like today, I would think he would [start]."

James welcomes reunited line for Rams game

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Still looking for his first 100-yard rushing game in an Arizona uniform, Edgerrin James at least finally has the Cardinals' offensive line in place as envisioned when training camp started.

Right tackle Oliver Ross, sidelined since the first week of training camp while recovering from knee surgery, will be back in the starting lineup Sunday when Arizona (1-1) is host to the St. Louis Rams (1-1). That allows Reggie Wells to move from right tackle back to his normal spot at left guard.

Tough luck aside, Eagles' McDougle has been a bust

PHILADELPHIA - There are kinder ways to couch this, craftier words to cushion it.

A more empathetic tone might be employed, given the abdominal gunshot wound that threatened his life last year.

A more sensitive tack might be taken, given the myriad of difficulties he's endured since becoming a first-round Philadelphia Eagles draft choice.

Eagles' McDougle relishes opportunity to play

PHILADELPHIA -- Jerome McDougle used to wonder "Why me?" whenever his professional career encountered a setback.

Why was his rookie season marred by knee, ankle and hip injuries?

Why was his heartbeat irregular in 2004?

Why was the Miami convenience store he drove by just before training camp last July in the midst of an armed robbery?

Ankle slows Shockey again

Tests done on tight end Jeremy Shockey's injured ankle revealed nothing but "the normal," according to Tom Coughlin. Now the Giants are just hoping he can make it to the bye week so he can be truly normal again.

Shockey missed practice yesterday. He hurt his ankle the week before the season opener and is listed as probable for Sunday's game in Seattle. He has played in both games this season, making just seven catches for 76 yards, but missed all of the overtime period last Sunday in Philadelphia.

McGahee has history on his side against the Jets

In his third NFL season, Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee hasn't exactly been the league's most consistent ball carrier. In fact, most of his performances over the last year-plus have left much to be desired for the Bills' fans, many of whom expected the former first-round pick out of Miami to be an elite pro back.

Despite McGahee's slightly above average but disappointing career, he's struck it rich all four times he's faced Buffalo's Week 3 opponent, the
New York Jets . For reasons unbeknownst to most, the 6-foot, 228-pound McGahee, for lack of a better term, has owned the Jets' defense, no matter who's on it.

Gore's call to coach can't wait

A few hours after last week’s game against St. Louis, 49ers running back Frank Gore called coach Mike Nolan to discuss the recently completed contest with him. "Like last week, he called me this week after the game to tell me how excited he was," Nolan said. Gore said he was eager to get some feedback on how he played and what he can do to get better and it could not wait until the next morning.

"I was thinking about my mistakes and asking him what he saw," Gore said. "And he told me he understands that I'm the type of runner always working for the extra yard. I got to be smarter and always remember there's another down."

Gore had another productive day for the 49ers in their 20-13 victory over the Rams, but he also fumbled for the second consecutive game. Gore fumbled

Browns banking that Frye-Winslow combo will pay dividends soon

BEREA, Ohio — In pro football, it's almost a sacred thing. From Unitas-to-Berry to Montana-to-Rice to Manning-to-Harrison, the communion between quarterback and receiver is a special bond: two men knowing each other's nuances, preferences, how they will react under pressure.

Many times it comes from hours of practice in the cold and the mud. And sometimes it originates in the silliest of places. If
Charlie Frye-to- Kellen Winslow II becomes the NFL's next big hookup, it will have begun at Dave & Buster's.

"In February," Frye laughs, "there ain't much to do in Cleveland."


Buchanon to return

Cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who missed the Indianapolis game because of an ankle injury, is healthy and will play against Washington. "He's fine this week, and he's going to play," coach Gary Kubiak said of Buchanon, who also is one of the league's better punt returners. "We need as many corners as we can get, and we need them to play well against Washington, just as we do all of our players."


Sinorice Moss hurt again

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - New York Giants second-round draft pick Sinorice Moss has re-injured the quadriceps muscle that sidelined him for most of training camp.

The receiver from Miami, who had one catch in his first game last week, aggravated the injury during Wednesday's practice. He has been listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Seahawks in Seattle.

Tight end Jeremy Shockey (ankle), receiver Tim Carter (ankle), safety James Butler (knee) and running back Derrick Ward (broken foot) did not practice.

Injury bug gets Eagles' McDougle playing time

PHILADELPHIA -- How's this for a quirky twist in the injury-prone career of Jerome McDougle: This time, it's the Eagles defensive end who benefits from another player's injury.

In a career marred by bad breaks and near tragedy, McDougle now gets another opportunity to prove he's not a first-round bust. Three years after Philadelphia traded up 15 spots in the draft to pick him, McDougle has shown few signs of ever becoming the feared pass rusher the Eagles hoped for.

Instead, McDougle is trying to prove he can stay healthy and become dependable enough to use as a reserve lineman now that
Jevon Kearse is out with a season-ending knee injury.

Portis practices, set to return for 'Skins

ASHBURN, Va. (Sept. 20, 2006) -- Clinton Portis made it through the entire practice Sept. 20 for the first time since his shoulder injury, while cornerback Shawn Springs had a setback in his attempt to return from abdominal surgery.

Portis appears set to return at running back for the Week 3 game against the Houston Texans. He is listed as probable on the injury report.

"Clinton looked good. He took the whole practice, felt good," coach Joe Gibbs said. "I think we're OK there."

He’s got a point: Give Winslow the darn ball already

I can guess that the Browns’ coaches were not pleased with tight end Kellen Winslow, who expressed the opinion that they’re pretty stupid because they’re not trying to get the ball in his hands, especially on third down.

Among the populace, no one rushed to defend the coaches. In fact, Winslow is likely to receive a standing ovation Sunday at the Stadium. This nonsense has been going on too long. Thank God somebody in that locker room finally said what they really feel.

The Browns have waited two years for Winslow to produce. He lost his rookie year when he broke his leg in the second game. Last year was lost due to the infamous motorcycle accident.

Anyone Want to Trade Ray Lewis Now?

Linebacker Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens' defense dominated for the second straight game on Sunday.

If six sacks and six turnovers weren't enough to make fans feel good about the 2006 edition of the Ravens' defense did not allow a first down in either first quarter.

Throughout the off-season there was plenty of talk by fans and the media about trading Lewis because he was unhappy and had lashed out at the organization after a disappointing 6-10 season. Everyone was questioning Lewis. Was he anywhere near the player he had been in previous seasons? Perhaps his unhappiness showed it was time for him to move on.

Najeh Davenport Update

The Steelers also have a couple of solid players worth considering for your bench. Running back Najeh Davenport, a free-agent signee, has emerged as Pittsburgh's best option in short-yardage and goal line situations. (Duce Staley blew his chance at that job with a poor preseason.)

Burrell the burden

CHICAGO CUBS pitcher Wade Miller had the scouting report for Pat Burrell down perfect.

With two out, the bases loaded and a 3-2 count on Burrell, there's only one pitch you have to throw to get out of the jam - a strike, preferably one right down the middle of the pipe.

That's the pitch Burrell can't see, the one he's guaranteed to watch blow by him with his bat resting on his shoulder.

If there is a less clutch athlete in Philadelphia than Burrell right now, I'm at a loss to come up with him.

'FREAK' OUT - Knee injury ends the season for Eagles star defensive end

It's taken more than three seasons, but defensive end Jerome McDougle is finally going to earn his place as a regular member of the Eagles' regular rotation.

The former No. 1 draft pick from Miami likely will move up the depth chart after the Eagles announced on Monday that Jevon Kearse will be lost for the season with a knee injury.

According to a statement released by the Eagles, Kearse's injury included sprains of multiple ligaments, including the medial collateral ligament, the lateral collateral ligament, and the posterior cruciate ligament.

Treatment options will be announced later.

"We're going to miss Jevon," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "He was having a good year. It's just a shame. He was really playing at a good level."

NFL U Season Gallery Week 2 Update

More pictures were added to the NFL U Season Gallery for Week 2. Check them out!

Pilot episode is prime-time - Possibilities endless as Hester uses incredible instincts to get big results

Of all the instinctive, unpredictable moves Devin Hester has become known for making, Tamara James knows her favorite. Hester made it June 6, 2005, in Miami, and the impact caused James to buckle at the knees like someone covering one of Hester's punt returns. Together they had gone to Game 7 of the Miami Heat-Detroit Pistons NBA playoff series at Miami Arena, a hot ticket but the place to be for the University of Miami's hottest couple.

Hester, the Bears' electric rookie punt returner, was entering his final season as a Hurricane football player, and James, a member of the WNBA's Washington Mystics, eventually would leave Coral Gables as the school's career scoring leader.

Cards' James still seeks 100-yard game

Edgerrin James has never entered Week 3 of an NFL season still searching for his first 100-yard performance.

In seven years with the Indianapolis Colts, James averaged 114 yards through two games. This season, his first with the Arizona Cardinals, he is averaging 68.5.

Coach Dennis Green explained James' lack of production during Monday's weekly news conference. In short, he said it's not the running back's fault. Too many sacks and penalties pushed the Cardinals into long-yardage situations in Sunday's 21-10 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle. Too many fumbled snaps also disrupted rhythm that led to, in the coach's opinion, one of Kurt Warner's worst games as a Cardinals quarterback.

Vernon Carey Update

Nick Saban while speaking at his press conference about the offensive line stated: "Vernon Carey has been our most consistent offensive lineman all year long and played outstanding in this game."

Amid highlights, fumbles still bother Gore

Running back Frank Gore was so concerned about his fumbling in the first two games that he phoned 49ers Coach Mike Nolan after each contest.

Gore rushed for a career-best 127 yards in 29 carries Sunday. Then he called Nolan to talk about his goal-line fumble in the second quarter.

``I wanted to know what he saw,'' Gore said. ``He told me he understands that the type of runner I am, I'm always trying for the extra yard. But he told me I've just got to be smarter and always remember that there is another down.''

Piazza Reflects on Time in LA

LOS ANGELES - It's been nearly a decade since Mike Piazza was the star catcher for the Dodgers, drawing comparisons to Johnny Bench and leading LA to the playoffs.

Ownership has since changed in LA and Piazza didn't miss a beat after being traded unceremoniously to Florida and eventually the New York Mets, where he earned six All-Star selections and set home run records.

Now 38 and wearing a Padres uniform, Piazza can be reflective of his time as a Dodger, especially when he's about to face his former team in a crucial series.

"The more I get older, I look back and I have positive feelings playing here ... It is funny how things work out. It's been an amazing ride," said Piazza before Friday's matchup with the Dodgers.

Portis Says He Will Play Against Texans

In his most confident declaration yet, Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis said he would play Sunday at Houston. After playing in the opener against Minnesota, Portis was inactive against Dallas and said in an interview during the game that he had injured his rotator cuff against the Vikings.
"It wasn't that I did something to my rotator cuff. It just wasn't firing the way it was supposed to," Portis said. "Like the doctors said, it was natural after coming back from the injury I came from, playing in the game after not getting hit for four weeks, and that I was going to have soreness."

Winslow airs it out with criticism of coaches

BEREA, Ohio - Romeo Crennel would love to have Kellen Winslow declared more off limits to the media than Area 51, the top-secret U.S Air Force base in the Nevada desert.

The Browns coach knows his talented and impetuous tight end has a lot of good ideas. He just doesn't think Winslow's penchant for going nuclear on certain targets is fit for public consumption.

Crennel is no doubt displeased with Winslow's decision Monday to air grievances over his playing time and the coaching staff's lack of imagination.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

Beyond the accuracy of Winslow's candid critique - "some of the coaches might just be holding us back a little bit" - there is a larger issue being addressed here.

Week 2 NFL U Video Highlights!

Check out Week 2 NFL U Video highlights by clicking on NFL U Video Highlights above or click here!

Roscoe Parrish Update

There may be hope for Roscoe Parrish. The smurf-sized wide receiver/punt returner was a non-factor last season as a rookie. He still doesn't look like he'll ever be good enough to start, but he's starting to show some elusiveness on punt returns, and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild appears intent on trying to get him the ball in the short zones where he can use those moves to make someone miss and then pile up run-after-catch yards.

Winston Update

The Texans will also figure out how best to use rookie Eric Winston, who was chosen one pick behind Spencer in the draft. He'll likely be the backup to both tackle positions.

"The best thing for the team right now is to get Winston going," Kubiak said. "It's a tough role to ask a young player like that to be a swing guy on game day and know two spots. But for the future of this football team we need to do that. We'll put him in a tough situation, but I'm sure he'll respond to it."

Kubiak said he will add another tackle to the team in the next couple of days to fill Spencer's roster spot when he is placed on the injured reserve.


Gore gets back up for big day

Frank Gore rushed for 127 yards Sunday, scored a pivotal touchdown and churned out the tough fourth-quarter yards that ensured the 49ers' victory.

But first he screwed up royally.

Gore fumbled near the goal line on the first play of the second quarter, earning a one-way conversation on the sideline with running-backs coach Bishop Harris.

``He kind of got in my face,'' Gore said after a 20-13 home victory over the St. Louis Rams.

NFL U Season Gallery Updated

Check out Week 2 NFL U pictures by clicking at the top on NFL U Season Gallery or click here! More have been added!

Kelly Jennings Update

Seahawks President Tim Ruskell struck gold with his first two draft choices in the 2006 NFL Draft, as CB Kelly Jennings and DE Darryl Tapp both had great games. Jennings, a first round pick from Miami, managed to get his hand inside on a pass attempt to Fitzgerald and tipped it to Seahawks FS Ken Hamlin, who almost brought it in for an interception.

Eric Winston Update

Rookie Eric Winston, who was the second pick in the third round behind Spencer, will replace Salaam as the swing tackle who backs up both positions.

Shockey's ankle may be a problem

It's no surprise Jeremy Shockey is banged up. Not with the way he plays the game.

Yet, it is a bit stunning he's nicked so early in the season.

In yesterday's win over the Eagles, the Giants' Pro Bowl tight end aggravated a right ankle injury that has bothered him in the first two weeks of the season. Shockey, who was listed as probable entering the game, missed all of overtime and a few plays in regulation.

Shockey declined to speak to reporters and left the locker room while limping noticeably.

STANDING TOUGH - Gore, Bryant find roles

Antonio Bryant held court, and held service, for a good 35 minutes after the 49ers' win over St. Louis on Sunday. Which is fine for Mike Nolan, as long as his number is bigger than the other guy's number at the end of the game.

Ultimately, though, seeking out the diva's role in the wake of Terrell Owens here is pretty much gargling damp dynamite. At some point, probably sooner rather than later, Bryant will shoot his mouth clean off, and given the relative sizes of his and Alex Smith's paychecks, you may guess for yourselves how the tale will end.

On the other hand, there is Frank Gore, whose equally hefty role in the victory was typically under sung, both by him and those paid to do the singing. Twenty-nine carries, 127 yards, a touchdown, and a whole lot of time consumption counts for something as well. Not as much as "T.O.: The Musical," we suspect, but if Gore isn't going to be more temperamentally effervescent, he may still turn out to be more substantial.

Redskins notebook: Reputation may hurt Taylor with refs, but Skins like his style

IRVING, Texas - Is Sean Taylor's hard-nosed reputation working against him and the Washington Redskins?

The Redskins sent one of two personal fouls called against Taylor in the fourth quarter of Monday night's loss to Minnesota to the league office for review. The 15-yarder was called as a helmet-to-helmet hit on Marcus Robertson, and it kept the Vikings from having to punt from the shadow of their own end zone.

The league has announced that it will not fine Taylor for the hit, which replays showed seemed to have been made more with his shoulder than the helmet.

Browns go without Winslow on third

CINCINNATI - Former Browns coach Butch Davis once referred to one of the many injuries his Browns incurred as the ``injury du jour of the week.''

When a team loses it is second-guessed, and the second-guess du jour of this week was the way Kellen Winslow was used in the 34-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

On several third downs, Winslow was on the sidelines while Joshua Cribbs lined up as the team's third receiver.

``Generally in two backs and three wides you take the tight end out,'' coach Romeo Crennel said. ``It's not an extensive package that we have in that. There's a couple plays that we like to run, so if that comes up in a game that's who we put in.''

On at least three occasions Sunday, Winslow was off the field on the key down on offense.

``I do what the coaches say,'' Winslow said. ``That's all I can do. I want to be there on third down. I just... go with the game plan.

ESPN The Magazine Article on Edgerrin James


Chris Havel column: Franks apology sincere, but veterans need to step it up

Once again, Bubba Franks displayed the outstanding leadership skills that make the seventh-year pro an integral member of the Green Bay Packers.

Unfortunately, Franks did so after the Packers’ 34-27 loss to New Orleans, rather than during it. Following a second straight loss at Lambeau Field, Franks addressed his teammates in the locker room to apologize for dropping passes and committing a costly unsportsmanlike penalty.

The gesture was classy and sincere, and it may make a lasting impression on the rookies and first-year players.

Franks wasn’t the only veteran who earned the right to apologize for substandard play.

Teammate says Morgan will return

CHARLOTTE -- When Carolina's Dan Morgan suffered another concussion in last Sunday's loss to Atlanta, questions were raised about his future.

But Adam Seward, who may replace him at middle linebacker in this Sunday's game, believes Morgan will be back.

"He's going to be fine. This isn't something that's career-ending. He's a great player and he's been in this situation before," Seward said.

Morgan has suffered at least five concussions since 2003. Medical studies have shown players who suffer multiple concussions are more susceptible to future head injuries.

Moss no mystery to Dallas

ASHBURN--When the Redskins visited the Dallas Cowboys last September, wide receiver Santana Moss was essentially known as the quick guy who had been acquired in a trade for the disgruntled Laveranues Coles.

For the first 31/2 quarters of that game, Moss did little to change that notion.

But then with just under four minutes left, quarterback Mark Brunell found Moss for a 39-yard touchdown.

One minute later, Brunell hit Moss for a 70-yard score, sending the Redskins to an improbable 14-13 victory, which was just Washington's second against Dallas in their 16 most recent meetings.

Bears rookie Hester hoping for return on his investmen

CHICAGO - Of all the instinctive, unpredictable moves Devin Hester has become known for making, Tamara James knows her favorite. Hester made it June 6, 2005, in Miami, and the impact caused James to buckle at the knees like someone covering one of Hester's punt returns.

Together they had gone to Game 7 of the Miami Heat-Detroit Pistons NBA playoff series at Miami Arena, a hot ticket but the place to be for the University of Miami's hottest couple.

Hester, the Bears' electric rookie punt returner, was entering his final season as a Hurricane football player, and James, a member of the WNBA's Washington Mystics, eventually would leave Coral Gables as the school's career scoring leader.

Lewis' return rejuvenates Ravens

Coaches find great comfort in knowing a player is going to be at the same spot in the lineup game after game. Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick grew accustomed to having Ray Lewis at middle linebacker just about every game in 1999-2004.

Lewis' constant presence helped provide the leadership, stability and playmaking that made the Ravens' defense one of the best each season. Players fed off Lewis' boundless energy and penchant for delivering game-altering plays.

Lewis' value to the Ravens crystallized when injuries caused him to miss 10 of his team's 16 games last season. He now is healthy again and at the heart of a Ravens defense that bears a familiar look from past years, though many faces have changed.

RAIDERS NOTEBOOK - Starks hopes to play against former team

Raiders cornerback Duane Starks is going back to where he started. Excuse him if the jumps for joy are still on hold.

"I've got to be on the field for it to be something special," Starks said, while wondering if he'd play today when his new team, the Raiders, visits the Ravens, with whom his nine-year career began.

In the 2000 season, Starks led the Ravens with six interceptions in 15 starts as they went on to win Super Bowl XXXV.

This season, he's a backup cornerback who was cut after training camp, re-signed three days later, then put on the inactive list for the season opener at San Diego.

Arizona just begins to let James loose

Trying to preserve a seven-point lead against San Francisco last week, Arizona coach Dennis Green made a late-game decision that would have been unthinkable last season.

He decided to use the running game for a time-consuming drive.

The Cardinals, who unsuccessfully relied on J.J. Arrington and Marcel Shipp to run the ball in 2005, dug deep into their financial pockets in the offseason to sign running back Edgerrin James.

RB Gore finds way to elevate his game

SANTA CLARA -- Miami residents call it the "big hill" because in pancake-flat Florida, even a slight rise in elevation is considered a hill, and anything over two stories tall is considered big.

In the summer of 2000, the big hill in that city's Tropical Park was where you could find local boy Frank Gore. The young running back not only would brave the murderous South Florida sun, he would run up and down the hill 25 times each weekend.

And if that sounds punishing, get a load of this: Gore would make the sweltering ascents while tethered to a truck tire that was gradually filled with weights as the session went on.