Browns hire Chudzinski to revamp struggling offense

BEREA, Ohio -- Rob Chudzinski was hired Saturday as the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator, returning to the team to take over a unit that ranked near the bottom in the NFL in nearly every category the past two seasons.

Chudzinski was Cleveland's tight ends coach in 2004 under Butch Davis. He coached San Diego's tight ends the past two seasons.

The team was impressed with Chudzinski's "well-thought-out" plan on how to address the Browns' scoring woes, coach Romeo Crennel said.

"It covered many facets of the offensive structure," Crennel said. "We talked about coaches, schedules and discipline. ... He knew how he would handle some things here and we were impressed with that."

Vinny’s game contribution is ’priceless’

The NFL’s oldest quarterback, Vinny Testaverde [stats], will see some action during tomorrow’s big game - about 30 seconds of action.

MasterCard plans to break a new television commercial featuring the backup quarterback fetching snacks for an unnamed coach during the AFC Championship faceoff between the New England Patriots [team stats] and the Indianapolis Colts.

In the humorous ad, Testaverde, in full uniform and carrying his helmet, is sent on a mission to get nachos, peanuts and soda from a concession stand inside a stadium. Turning to leave, he gets a call from his coach asking him to pick up ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. As he heads off, he gets another call to pick up a cheeseburger and a diet soda.

Hester has Saints' attention

LAKE FOREST -- Kick returner extraordinaire Devin Hester has got this all wrong. He's supposed to scare opponents, not his teammates. But in last week's 27-24 overtime escape from Seattle, the "Windy City Flyer" fumbled three punts that he returned for a measly 5 yards.

"I'll get in the routine of my arms pumping sometimes and I'll start to run before I get the ball," Hester said of his sloppy fielding. "That's why everything this week has been basically fundamentals and technique. We concentrated on the small things that got us here and that we need to keep doing to succeed.

"I know that once I get in that traffic, I have to have more ball security."

With his single-season record six return touchdowns, most agree the second-round draft pick from Miami is the game's most dangerous scoring threat -- despite a mini-slump.

Vinny having a Super time

FOXBOROUGH - Vinny Testaverde has been chasing the dream for nearly half his life, and now he's only one win away from reaching it - the Super Bowl.

"I watch it every year, and every year I think, 'It got away from me again,'" Testaverde said yesterday in front of his locker at Gillette Stadium. "Hopefully, this year will be a little different."

If the Patriots defeat the Colts Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, Testaverde, 43, will reach the Super Bowl for the first time in his 20-year career. He came close in 1998, falling to the Broncos in the AFC title game - a game the Jets led in the third quarter. The loss still haunts him.

Jarrett Payton viewing game in the Valley

AURORA -- More than two decades ago, 5-year-old Jarrett Payton watched his father and the 1985 Bears win a Super Bowl in New Orleans.

With a 15-1 record, Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton and his teammates steamrolled over the New England Patriots 46-10 on Jan. 26, 1986. And da 1985 Bears went down in history with their coach Mike Ditka.

Today, Jarrett can only remember the parties and celebrating of that landmark event in Chicago sports lore.

Testaverde suiting up for 1 more shot at first Super Bowl

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The clock ticks down to zero, confetti falls, the Super Bowl trophy is hoisted overhead by some other quarterback and Vinny Testaverde clicks off the television.

"Every year I watch it and I think, 'It got away from me again,''' the New England Patriots' third-string QB said Thursday as he prepped for the AFC championship game against Indianapolis. "I've always been on the outside, looking in. I've always wondered what the players went through. I think I'd enjoy that experience.''

Let others complain about the distractions and hype surrounding the Super Bowl. Testaverde would just like a chance to see what it's like after failing to make it to the NFL title game, so far, during an otherwise distinguished 20-year career.

Bears' Hester and Saints' Bush very special on special teams

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Devin Hester sped down the right sideline on his way to another game-breaking special teams touchdown. The Soldier Field crowd was frenzied, his teammates headed toward the end zone to join the celebration.

Oops. That bright yellow flag lying back where the rookie fielded Seattle's punt meant it was all for naught, and the Chicago Bears wound up needing overtime to beat the Seahawks.

"It was an awesome return on his behalf," Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is going to the Pro Bowl for his work on kick returns and coverage, said Thursday. "Too bad we had to take it back."

The play didn't count - in NFL statistics, it never existed - but the latest example of how Hester can break open a game won't fade from memory. Not for the Bears and certainly not for the New Orleans Saints, who come to Chicago for Sunday's NFC championship game.

Willis responds about article

Interviewed for January's issue of Penthouse Magazine, Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee was quoted as saying it would be a "good situation" if the NFL had a team in Toronto and rather than put a team in Toronto, the NFL should move the Bills there. "Case closed," he said.
McGahee's agent released this response from his client on the article:

"It has been brought to my attention that through an article I did with Penthouse magazine, fans and readers may have misinterpreted my response when asked about the possibility of the NFL one day coming to Toronto.

"I want to make it clear today as I have been committed to the Bills for the last four years that my heart is with the Bills and the city of Buffalo. If the league decided to expand my intent was that Toronto is a beautiful place to do so. I never would suggest the Buffalo Bills move to Toronto. My words were taken out of context and I suggested they get a team with a loyal fan base and organization such as the Buffalo Bills. My family and I have made our home here and enjoy the hospitality of the city. I am a proud member of the Buffalo Bills, we have the most loyal, supportive and dedicated fans in the world, and I cannot think of a better organization to be a part of."


Frank Gore: By the numbers

Sixteen-Hundred Ninety-Five: The number of rushing yards amassed this past season, enough to shatter the previous San Francisco 49ers team record of 1,570 set by Garrison Hearst in 1998.

Six: The number of fumbles Gore had in the regular season. He lost five of them. This is certainly an area of his game that leaves plenty of room for improvement. Maybe he should get together with Ahman Green and Tiki Barber in the offseason. Both also had fumbling issues early in their career, but were able to remedy the situations over time.

Sixty-one: That's how many passes Gore caught in 2006, making him arguably the most versatile back in all of football.

Nine: That's how many times the Miami native failed to reach the 20-carry plateau. Incidentally, the 49ers lost eight of those nine contests. Memo to Mike Nolan: Make sure to feed the ball to Gore early and often. As is the case with most elite running backs, the more he carries the football, the more likely his team will win the game.

Michaels sees right fit in left

Outfielder Jason Michaels will come to Cleveland on Monday to take a physical which should make his new two-year, $4.25 million contract official.

Michaels was one of four Indians who filed for salary arbitration last week. Right-hander Jason Davis is the only one who hasn't reached an agreement.

The Indians signed free agent David Dellucci to a three-year, $11.5 million contract in December. At worst he is going to platoon with Michaels in left field. If Dellucci shows he can hit lefties, he could play every day.

Gillick sounds optimistic about Burrell

Having failed to trade leftfielder Pat Burrell, with his chronically injured right foot and his $27 million price tag the next two seasons, the Phillies are painting the best face they can on his return.

"He really didn't have a bad year last year," general manager Pat Gillick said. "If you look at his home runs and RBI he had a pretty good year. I know he likes playing here in Philadelphia. I know he likes living here during the regular season. Consequently, I think he has a very positive outlook on this year and I think he's going to put up some pretty big numbers this year."

Burrell hit .258 with 29 homers and 95 RBI in 2006, the third season in the last four in which he hit below .260 with fewer than 30 homers and 100 RBI. Last season he was unable to play every day because of the foot issue, which has plagued him for the past three seasons. The injury also made routine the replacement of Burrell on the bases or in the outfield late in games.

Gillick stressed that Burrell could again be the player that he was in 2002 and 2004. Hitting coach Milt Thompson and manager Charlie Manuel plan to spend extra time with Burrell this spring working on his stiff stance in the batter's box and his flawed mental approach.
"I think he's going to put up some pretty big numbers this year," Gillick said. Hopefully.


NFL Divisional Playoffs Weekend Video Highlights

Check out the Divisional Playoffs Video Highlights featuring Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Devin Hester and more! Click at the top on NFL U Video Highlights or click here!

Willis has worn out his welcome

Marv Levy has gotten a lot of credit for changing the culture of the Bills since taking over as general manager a year ago. Much of it is justified. Levy has instilled a renewed sense of camaraderie, and he has been firm in his commitment to players of high character and intellect.

But Levy can't have it both ways. The talk about character begins to ring hollow when his top running back, Willis McGahee, is embarrassing the franchise and the community at every turn.

McGahee has worn out his welcome in this town. It's pretty evident that he doesn't want to be here. From what I can gather, his recent request for a contract extension is a thinly veiled attempt to poison the waters with management and force a trade out of Buffalo.

Devin Hester's kick returns can inspire cheers or cringing

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The snow-covered sign just outside the Chicago Bears' practice facility reads "Play Angry."

To send a message Monday to rookie returner Devin Hester, it should have been changed to "Play Smart."

Few players are capable of eliciting as many "oohs" as "ughs" as Hester, the former University of Miami and Suncoast High standout whose special teams prowess has helped Chicago reach Sunday's NFC Championship Game against visiting New Orleans.

Hester's six returns for touchdowns during the regular season set an NFL record and provided a boost to offensive and defensive units that performed erratically down the stretch. But his league-leading eight fumbles -- two of which were lost -- make every punt and kick Hester tries to field exciting for the wrong reason.

Bills have options with disappointing McGahee

When the Buffalo Bills took a gamble and selected running back Willis McGahee with their first-round pick in the 2003 draft, they were expecting to a land a player who would be elite for years to come. At the time, the ex-University of Miami star was arguably the draft's most talented player, but a severe knee injury kept teams away from selecting him.

McGahee spent his inaugural season with the Bills rehabbing his injury, then joined the fray in 2004. As the leader of a magical second-half run that saw Buffalo accumulate a 6-1 record and a near-playoff berth, McGahee was a yardage and touchdown machine, racking up 1,128 and 13, respectively.

Since his promising first season, however, things have quickly gone downhill for the 25-year-old. Although he accrued a solid 1,247 rushing yards in 2005, his 3.8 yards per carry average and meager five touchdowns didn't exactly elevate him to the top of the league. It got worse this past season for McGahee, who's often criticized for running indecisively. In 14 total games for the 7-9 Bills, the 6-foot, 228-pounder finished with a below-average 990 ground yards and six touchdowns.

Indians reach deal with Miller, preliminary deal with Michaels

CLEVELAND - Outfielder Jason Michaels and the Indians reached a preliminary agreement Monday on a $4.25 million, two-year contract and reliever Matt Miller and Cleveland agreed to a $560,000, one-year deal.

Michaels, who hit .267 with nine homers and 55 RBIs last year, gets a $100,000 signing bonus and salaries of $2 million this season and $2.15 million in 2007. Cleveland has a $2.6 million option for 2009.

In addition to his salary, he could earn $600,000 annually in performance bonuses: $50,000 each for 350 and 400 plate appearances, $100,000 each for 450 and 500 plate appearances and $150,000 each for 550 and 600 plate appearances.

NFL U Playoffs Update

Still in the Playoffs: Reggie Wayne, Vinny Testaverde, Vince Wilfork, Devin Hester, Darrel McClover.

Out of the Playoffs: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Kelly Jennings.

Congrats to Everyone!

Giants see signs Shockey's beginning to grow up

Lost in the swirl of dramatic events surrounding the Giants' playoff exit and subsequent hand-wringing over coach Tom Coughlin's immediate future was the behavior of tight end Jeremy Shockey.

We all know about Shockey's early-season antics, telling reporters after a Week 3 loss to the Seahawks that the Giants were "outcoached," just as we all know about the outspoken tight end's litany of immature behavior both on and off the field. He once called Bill Parcells a "homo" and said on Howard Stern's radio show that he wouldn't stand for having a gay teammate.

But Giants officials are cautiously optimistic that Shockey quietly has developed a more mature attitude and that his leadership role moving forward could prove to be a major factor in bringing the team closer together next season.

That last sentence might seem implausible, given Shockey's history of boorish behavior. But plenty of people in the organization, from team president John Mara on down, have noticed a more mature presence in the locker room.

Bears' fortunes may rest with Hester

Had a nice chat Friday with Ken Mrock, the head groundskeeper for the Bears. He was holding a shovel full of stuff -- sand, seed, growth hormone, whatever -- and he was flinging it over the still-green grass of the main practice field at Halas Hall with great zest.

(Just kidding about the growth hormone, OK?)

At any rate, Mrock told me that global warming might or might not be a factor in this unseasonably warm weather (trust me, it is), but that the grass at Soldier Field is just as green and summerlike as this practice stuff.

''It's all heated underneath,'' he said.

Bears' Hester has made kick returns must-see TV

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- If Lovie Smith is really this good a soothsayer, perhaps everyone needs to start paying better attention.

Chicago's third-year coach held firm in the face of countless media and fan harrumphs last April after the Bears spent a precious second-round pick (57th overall) on kick returner Devin Hester. That's the equivalent of burning an NBA lottery pick on a 5-foot free-throw specialist, no?

One regular season later, Smith and Hester have played the naysayers for suckers. The Bears have turned the relative afterthought of special teams, a place often used by players to attract attention and butt their way onto the offensive or defensive units, into a secret weapon of season-altering proportions.


January 15, 2007 -- SAN DIEGO - Vinny Testaverde is 60 minutes away.

For the second time in his 19-year career, and first time since the 1998 AFC Championship game, Testaverde is 60 minutes from a shot at that elusive Super Bowl victory.

"I'm just excited; my whole deal coming back was an opportunity to hopefully win a ring, and we're one step closer," Testaverde said after Patriots 24, Chargers 21. "It's just a chance to enjoy an experience that I never had to enjoy."

Testaverde will be on the sidelines in the RCA Dome Sunday hoping Tom Brady can outduel Peyton Manning and can get him to Miami.

"You dream about it as a kid, and you have an opportunity to play in the NFL and that's your goal," Testaverde said. "Haven't had a lot of opportunities . . . the ones I have had have come up short, and right now this is the best chance I have."

Reed's skill bolsters Lewis' leadership

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In the beginning, it was a "U" thing. Ray Lewis welcomed fellow University of Miami star Ed Reed into the NFL fraternity in 2002 and took the safety under his wing.

The Baltimore Ravens' duo worked out together and had lockers next to each other. Reed wore the same clothes as the linebacker, from T-shirts and shorts to a dress suit at the ESPY Awards.

"Everything, film watching to dressing," Reed said Thursday. "It was a great thing, still is."
Like Lewis, Reed had an immediate impact. He was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, just as Lewis was in 2000 and 2003.

Picking On Peyton

Ed Reed's performance in the divisional playoff game against the Colts was impressive, but it was his post-game speech that really provided the Ravens with the boost they needed.

Reed stood up in front of a devastated locker room and praised the team for their efforts, reinforcing the fact that they were all a part of a very special season. He also urged them to keep their heads up, because he's confident that they will be right back in the hunt next year.

Todd Heap recalled Reed's comments during the post-game press conference: "One thing that Ed Reed did get up and say after coach spoke to the team is, 'You know what? We have a lot of good guys that did a lot of good things this year [and] we did a lot of good things this year as a team.' Our main focus is to build off of that."

Rolle sees Wayne stepping up game

INDIANAPOLIS // As they walked off the field at M&T Bank Stadium in last year's season opener, Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne greeted each other with the respect that carried over from their college days at rival schools.

Rolle, who played at Florida State, had seen Wayne, who played at Miami, come into his own while still in the shadow of Colts star Marvin Harrison.

"The crazy part is he has gotten much better. Last year when we played them, I told him that after the game," Rolle said earlier this week. "He's turned into a great all-around receiver. Every year he just gets better and better."

Vince Wilfork Update

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork was awarded the wrestling championship belt by his fellow linemen for his performance against the Jets. Wilfork actually had two belts hanging in his locker yesterday, as the linemen continue to honor the player who plays the best each game.


Some of Wayne's fans may surprise you

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There is a lot of love for Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne in the Baltimore Ravens' locker room.

Safety Ed Reed, like Wayne, is from Louisiana and played at the University of Miami. Cornerback Samari Rolle, who is from Miami Beach and played at Florida State, persuaded his secondary to cast Pro Bowl votes for Wayne the past two years. Wayne, in his sixth NFL season, was selected to the all-star event for the first time last month.

Reed, who considers Wayne "a brother way past football" and works out with him in the offseason, took a shot at Colts record-setting receiver Marvin Harrison in assessing why it has taken his buddy this long to get a Pro Bowl nod.

"Reggie, on any other team in the league, would be that guy," Reed said. "And he's really the guy over there, it's just that under the circumstances, with records and stats mattering to certain people, he don't get the looks."

By unofficial count, Peyton Manning threw 150 passes to Harrison and 137 to Wayne in the regular season. Harrison led the Colts with 95 catches for 1,366 yards and 12 scores. Wayne caught 86 passes for 1,310 yards and nine scores. Wayne's catch total has increased in each of his NFL seasons.
Rolle, who will cover Wayne on Saturday, saw him twice a season while with Indianapolis' AFC South rival Tennessee from 2001 to 2004 and again in a Ravens home loss to begin the 2005 season.

"He has been overshadowed for too long," Rolle said. "Last year, we voted for him and were surprised he didn't get in. I'm just happy for him that he's getting his credit. We voted for him again this year."


Pondering Portis

Those of us who spent a first-round fantasy pick or enough auction money to stuff Charlie Weiss’ sweatshirt on Clinton Portis paid the consequences this past season. The Redskins’ stud running back suffered a preseason shoulder injury, plus in-season ankle and hand injuries that limited him to his lowest career output—523 yards and seven touchdowns in parts of eight games.

The result of his lost season, an offseason rehab program that will require him to miss Organized Team Activities this spring, and the emergence of Ladell Betts has led many fantasy owners to believe that Portis is no longer a top-10 fantasy running back.

Could it be that Portis, who opened his career with four straight seasons of more than 1,300 rushing yards, including three with more than 1,500, has already reached his fantasy peak? Could it be that the gradual increase in carries each year has worn him down?

Leon Williams Update

Leon Williams saw playing time throughout the year, and got more and more as the season went on. Eventually he got to start due to injuries. Williams showed a lot for a fourth-round pick. He spied Michael Vick in the Atlanta game and did very well. Once he got into the lineup consistently in the last few games, Williams showed what he could do. He disrupted plays, made tackles, and even called defensive signals. In a lackluster Tampa Bay game, he was one of the few Browns players who had a good game.


JAY SKURSKI: McGahee’s mouth may run him out of town

Chances are, Buffalo Bills general manager Marv Levy isn’t a regular reader of Penthouse Magazine.
He might want to pick up a copy of the latest issue, though.

In it appears an exclusive interview with Bills running back Willis McGahee, who had plenty of interesting things to say about the future of his team in Western New York.

Asked about his thoughts on Toronto ever getting an NFL team, McGahee took it a step further, suggesting to the ... ahem, adult publication, that the Bills should just move their operations up the Queen Elizabeth Way.

I doubt McGahee is an expert on the relocation of NFL franchises, so Levy and Bills fans don’t need to lose any sleep over that. But the 81-year-old GM has to wonder what his star running back is doing granting an interview to Penthouse in the first place.