Olsen brings athleticism to TE position

When he wasn't dominating opponents as a Parade magazine All-American tight end at Wayne Hills (N.J.) High School, where he was regarded as one of the nation's premier prep performers during his 2002 senior season, Greg Olsen didn't lack for athletic diversions.

The top tight end prospect in this year's NFL draft, Olsen averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds as a power forward on the basketball team. For the track squad, Olsen competed in the javelin and shot put. Even on the football team, coached by his father, he moonlighted, playing defensive end and handling the deep-snapping chores.

So, what to make of Olsen's sports smorgasbord?

Well, the diverse background helped mold the University of Miami star into the lone tight end likely to be selected in the first round of next week's draft. In some ways, though, the competitive carousel that Olsen rode to the top of the 2007 tight end class makes him similar to many players at a position that is now defined by the convergence of skill sets it demands at the NFL level.

Firecats duo keeps things professional - Receivers Benton, Sands prolific af2 pair

Magic Benton and Ethenic Sands had been teammates and rivals before starting their careers with the af2's Florida Firecats.

Benton and Sands played their prep football in the city of Miami. Benton starred at Northwestern High while Sands led Carol City High to two state championships in his tenure with the school.

Despite their history, Firecats coach Kevin Bouis says that there is no ribbing in practice about past rivalries between the two.

"They are professionals and they don't really talk about much of their history," Bouis said. "You would think they would at least joke about their younger years but they don't. They are just working hand in hand to accomplish a common goal."


April 20, 2007 -- Jets' brass met with reporters yesterday in their annual pre-draft session and - predictably - revealed little about the team's plans in next weekend's draft.

GM Mike Tannenbaum, however, did address several issues surrounding the team, including:

Rumors about a possible impending trade of LB Jonathan Vilma because he's not a perfect fit in the 4-3 defensive scheme.

"Jon is on the team. I'm glad he's here," Tannenbaum said. "I'm not going to comment on any specific rumor or anything, but I'm happy he's here. I know that those rumors have been out there. We expect him to be here. He's a good player."

Tannenbaum, however, declined to say Vilma, or any other player on the roster, is "untouchable."


Hester's Pearl

HESTER’S PEARL: In this year’s Super Bowl, Chicago Bears cornerback Devin Hester took the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. He set an NFL record with six touchdown returns during the regular season. But he may be receiving the ultimate honor when “Madden NFL 08” comes out: He’s the first player awarded a perfect 100 speed rating.

Hester’s 100 elevates him above such legendary speedsters as Deion Sanders and Randy Moss. “That’s just about the best thing you could have told me,” he told ESPN.com. “It’s an honor.”


He’s hard-Cora: Utility man does it all

TORONTO - Alex Cora [stats]’s adrenaline was pumping, and he put it to good use.

Just moments after being upended by a questionable Lyle Overbay slide on a momentum-changing double play to end the eighth inning, Cora laced a go-ahead RBI triple in the Red Sox [team stats]’ 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays yesterday.

“If he needs to make a play, he makes a play,” manager Terry Francona said. “The little things ended up being big things on a day like today.”

Cora’s first key contribution yesterday came in the field with one out and runners on the corners in the eighth inning of a 3-3 game. Aaron Hill laced a comebacker to Mike Timlin [stats], who turned and fired high and wide to second.

Huff is jeered in his return to Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. // Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff, who was in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization for about 8 1/2 years, arrived at Tropicana Field this afternoon for the first time as a visiting player, fully expecting the treatment that the sparse crowd gave him.

Huff was booed when his name was announced for the starting lineups and again before his first at-bat, when he popped out with two on in the first.

"I guess they booed me when I was playing here, so I'd imagine they'd boo me since I am on the other team," Huff said before the game.

Huff, who was traded by the Devil Rays to the Houston Astros last July before he signed with the Orioles as a free agent, had 34 home runs and 107 RBIs for the Devil Rays in 2003 and 29 home runs and 104 RBIs for them in 2004. But his numbers fell his last season and a half with the club and Huff has never minced words about the organization's losing ways. Despite that, he expressed gratitude to the organization and said he felt that the club's new ownership has Tampa Bay headed in the right direction.

Todd McShay 7-Round Mock Draft

Round 1:

14. Carolina (8-8)
Projected pick: Greg Olsen, TE, Miami
Needs: TE, S, ILB, DE, OT, WR, OLB, DE
The Panthers could use this pick to address needs at safety (Reggie Nelson and Michael Griffin) or linebacker (Lawrence Timmons and Paul Posluszny), but Olsen is the best fit if Willis is off the board. Olsen is the only first-round talent in this year's tight end class and has the speed to take pressure off WRs Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson.

31. Chicago (13-3)
Projected pick: Jon Beason, OLB, Miami
Needs: DT, OLB, WR, TE, RB, OT, QB, S, G
The Bears need to address the outside linebacker position early, even if they fail to trade disgruntled starter Lance Briggs before draft weekend. Beason is a fringe first-rounder with the size, quickness and tackling skills to emerge as a quality starter in the NFL. Durability concerns and lack of ideal range in coverage keep him from competing with Willis, Timmons and Posluszny higher on the board.

Round 2:

45. Carolina: Brandon Meriweather, S, Miami

Round 4:

111. Buffalo: Kareem Brown, DE, Miami

125. New Orleans (from Philadelphia): Baraka Atkins, DE, Miami

Round 6:

198. Denver: Tyrone Moss, RB, Miami (Fla.)

Draft preview: Miami linebacker's height only slight

The NFL likes linebackers with size, speed and tackling ability, which means some teams in the NFL won't like Miami's Jon Beason.
Beason has speed and he's one of the surest tacklers among this year's draft-eligible linebackers. Plus, he played at a school that has produced a litany of NFL linebackers, most of them good ones.

But it's his size that's the problem. At 6-foot, 237 pounds, he's considered short for an outside linebacker –- and that's not me talking, it's NFL scouts combing through prospects for flaws.

With Beason, they didn't have to probe.

"It's going to take a perfect place with a perfect system to fit him," said one scout. "Someone like Tony (Dungy) or Lovie (Smith) would be ideal for him. They like smaller guys who are fast. (Bill) Belichick would find a place for him, too. But he may not fit some clubs, particularly those playing a 3-4."

Who Will Step Up Now That Al Wilson Is Gone?

D.J. Williams (76 tackles, 1 sack) Take money and health out of the equation and the main reason Al Wilson is no longer a Denver Bronco is to get Williams on the field more often. After an awesome rookie campaign, Williams digressed a bit the past two seasons and never seemed to fit in to Larry Coyer's defensive schemes. It became obvious right off the bat that it was going to be different for Williams under new Definsive Coordinator Jim Bates, who loves to coach aggressive, freak athletes like Williams. It appears to many that Williams will get the first crack at replacing Wilson inside, a better fit, in my opinion, than the outside. Williams was known for running himself out of position, but on the inside should be freed up to just go make plays, sideline to sideline, similar to Brian Urlacher in Chicago. Whether or not Williams can handle the mental aspect of being a middle linebacker remains to be seen, but there is little doubt Williams can physically do it all.
To say the situation at linebacker for the Broncos is thin would be a major understatement. There is plenty of time for more moves, with guys like Jonathon Vilma reportedly available (we can only dream), and of course the draft, expect the Broncos to add depth. There is some intriguing talent on the roster, though untested, and until guys like Hollowell, Louis Green and Caeron Vaughn get into real-game action the situation at linebacker will be one of concern.

Nate Webster (11 tackles) Webster was on his way as a linebacker, signing a lucrative contract with Cincinnati before the 2004 season only to see it all come crumbling down because of knee injuries. Webster missed 13 games in 2004, then all of 2005 before being signed by the Broncos prior to last season. Webster spent much of the season getting back into game shape, though he did start the season finale against San Francisco. I get the feeling the team saw enough of Webster to feel confident he could be a major contributor next season, even with the proposed move of D.J. Williams inside.

Babette vs. Bernie: battling over bucks

Courtroom blitz: Babette Kosar, estranged wife of former University of Miami and NFL star Bernie Kosar, filed more papers in their divorce case. She says he has ''refused to provide temporary support'' for her and their four kids, ages 6 to 15, while blowing big bucks. Babette also alleges Bernie was ''addicted'' to unspecified drugs ''for a six-year period,'' adding she fears she didn't get a fair shake from trial judge Lawrence Korda, based on Korda's recent pot smoking arrest.

Babette, who wed Bernie in 1990, petitioned to end the marriage in '05. Bernie says he gives her plenty of money and has no drug problem.
In the emergency motion for support, filed by attorney Terry Ellen Fixel, Babette, 42, says Bernie, 43, ''has expended many millions of dollars in the last year or so'' and has ''given away monies, corporate interests and other assets.'' Yet, she alleges, he travels by private jet, takes expensive vacations and bought a $4 million house near hers in Weston.

Bernie says he plays fair. ''Just this year alone, in the first three months, I've given her over $100,000 in cash and I've paid over $100,000 in bills.'' He adds: ``My friends think I'm an idiot because I'm so generous.''

Babette says she asked Korda in March '06 to order drug testing for Bernie. Korda ''dismissed the wife's concerns, stating that if [Kosar] looks impaired when he goes to pick up the kids, don't let him drive,'' attorney Jacqueline Valdespino says in a motion to disqualify Korda. Babette claims Korda was ``extremely insensitive.''

As for Babette's drug allegations, people ''create brush fires to deflect from their own issues,'' Bernie says.

Korda, 59, benched himself April 11 -- leave of absence from Broward circuit court. He could not be reached for comment. New judge is Larry Seidlin, ringmaster in the legal dispute over AnnaNicole Smith's body.


Notes: Eli calls out Shockey, Plaxico;

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has asked tight end Jeremy Shockey and receiver Plaxico Burress to come to Giants Stadium this spring for offseason workouts.

Shockey and Burress have worked out in Miami the past two seasons and skipped the voluntary workouts that Manning has attended.

Manning has telephoned Burress and Shockey and told them he would like them to be available when he starts throwing in mid April.

"I'll talk to them as it gets closer and see what their plans are," Manning said. "I don't want to put words in their mouth, but hopefully we can get them in and I can throw twice a week."

Manning said he would not go to Miami to throw to the receivers before minicamp.

"I am up here, this is where I have to be," Manning said. "The players are here, the receivers are here. It's my responsibility to be here with my teammates. This is where I work out and I get my film and everything. This is where the offseason program is."


In-Depth Interview with Meriweather

Miami (Fla.) safety Brandon Meriweather arrived in town yesterday for a two-day pre-draft visit with the Giants. He had dinner last night with secondary/safeties coach David Merritt and was scheduled to meet with GM Jerry Reese, coach Tom Coughlin, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and others this afternoon before leaving for a visit with the Titans.

Meriweather is in the middle of a busy interview/visit schedule that will include at least 10 teams before draft day. That's a lot, considering the average draft-eligible player makes about five visits or so. The reason for the extra stops is Meriweather has raised a few red flags for teams for two incidents: His firing a gun at an assailant who shot his roommate and his role in the Miami-Florida International brawl when he was caught stomping and kicking opponents. Both incidents have led a sure-fire first-round pick to slide in many mock drafts - all the way to the middle of the second round in a few. Teams obviously want to know who he is and what they'll be getting if they draft him.

I sat down with Meriweather last night for a 25-minute interview in which he spoke about the public's perception of him and what teams might be thinking. He said some fascinating things about being stereotyped as just another "Miami thug" - something he claims he isn't. In fact, he said he no longer owns a gun because it "only leads to trouble."

Mel Kiper's Latest Draft Board

1st Round:
14. Carolina Panthers Greg Olsen TE Miami

2nd Round:
38. Arizona Cardinals Jon Beason LB Miami

45. Carolina Panthers Brandon Meriweather S Miami

James Jones Experiment Working

The late-season twist of having James Jones start is working so far.

In the past three games as a starter, Jones has gone 5-for-11, 0-for-6 and 4-for-6 shooting. Though this doesn’t make for consistency, it adds up to 8.3 points on 39-percent shooting, plus 4.0 rebounds.

Most important, the Suns have won all three games.

“I love it,” Jones said of his latest role. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“It gives me a chance to get going early, after warm-ups.”

Not only that, but, “I’m playing with the heavy hitters. It gives me a chance to play freely.”

Jones doesn’t demand the ball, so that may help the Suns’ much-discussed recent chemistry problems.

“I think that’s the best way to go,” D’Antoni said of Jones starting. “That’s our intent right now.”


Safeties move from rear to forefront

In the late 1980s, Mark Stoops lettered three times as a strong safety at Iowa. He finished his career with more than 100 tackles.


“I don’t think I’d be recruiting myself to play here,” Stoops, the defensive coordinator at the University of Arizona, said with a laugh.

The concept of a safety has changed over the past decade. No longer are they big corners who can’t cover. No more are they a playing piece that teams look to add late in the draft, or through cheap, free agent signings.

Once a sideshow to the prime-time position in the defensive secondary, cornerback, the profile of safeties is rising. So is the perception of their value on a football team. Accordingly, the value the NFL places on the spot has changed.

Patriots Draft: Beason Talks About Visits

Between flights while on his way to San Diego on Thursday, Miami LB Jon Beason provided Scout.com's Ed Thompson with a summary of his first two NFL pre-draft visits to Cincinnati and New England. Listen in as he talks about his visits, the teams' levels of interest, his impressions and much more.

In arguably one of the best inside looks at how an official pre-draft player visit goes in New England, University of Miami linebacker Jon Beason tells Scout.com's Ed Thompson about his recent trip to Foxborough. New England Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Peese, linebacker's coach Mike Patricia and some of the other player personnel behind the scenes at Gillette Stadium spent time with this top NFL Draft prospect. The Patriots staff wanted to take a more comprehensive look at a player who may be on the roster for years to come.

Beason, ranked as one of the top prospects in the NFL Draft, would fill a major area of need for the Patriots. With Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel on the back end of their distinguished careers, an influx of talent provided by a player like Beason would provide security at the position this year. He will have an opportunity to learn from some of the best players at the position hastening his development into the type of impact player many envision him becoming.

Beason talked about his grueling pre-draft visit schedule, the difference from New England visit to the one he had in Cincinnati, and some of the testing the Patriots put him through.


Huff: Most of time with Rays was good

MINNEAPOLIS - Aubrey Huff returns for the first time to Tropicana Field tonight glad to have played there and happy to have left.

"Looking back at it, it was a great place for me to start out," Huff said from Baltimore. "You'd be an idiot to say anything bad. As a young player you get to go up, play, learn the league and put up numbers. But in the end, it started getting old for me as far as the losing. It was time for a change of scenery for me. The steps ownership was taking, it wore on me."

Huff, 30, was traded to the Astros in July, then signed a three-year, $20-million free-agent deal with Baltimore, and has been quoted several times about how refreshing it is to have a chance to win and play in front of bigger crowds - though with the Orioles both could be relative.

Cardinals notebook: Edge feels good after surgery

Edgerrin James laughed when asked about his recent minor right knee surgery, no surprise after he had just completed the Cards’ first practice of the offseason without any problems.

“It was a scratch,” James said of the surgery. “I was in and out. The same night I was hanging out at the clubs. Everything is normal.”

The surgery took away some swelling that had bothered James last season, but he emphasized — with a smile — it was no big deal by pointing out that if he hadn’t been able to practice, he probably wouldn’t have shown up to the voluntary minicamp.

“I had an opportunity to get out of practice, and I should have used my pass,” James said, before adding, “Nah, I like to practice. I don’t want to stand around.”

After carrying the ball 337 times last season, James said he wants 350 carries this year. Contrary to needing more help toting the load, James said, “I am in the good years right now. That’s why I have been taking good care of myself.”

Williams expected to fill void

Five Pro Bowls. Three 100-tackle seasons. One booming voice of leadership. It's all been removed from the Broncos locker room.

Now the team will have to go about the business of replacing middle linebacker Al Wilson, who has been told by the Broncos his time with team is over.

Wilson will be formally released in the coming days when the paperwork arrives at the league offices.

"It was just one of those situations, it was time for a change basically," Wilson said. "Not that we couldn't get a deal done or anything like that, it was just a situation I think the team wants to go in another direction."

That other direction, at least initially, almost certainly will be linebacker D.J. Williams. Williams, one of the most athletically gifted players on the roster, already has started at least one season at each of the outside linebacker spots and will now move into the middle, at least to see how performs at the position as the Broncos go through their offseason minicamps.

Piazza roles with it - He's a DH instead of a catcher now, but he still can sting the bal

OAKLAND, Calif. - Mike Piazza has changed leagues and adjusted to being a contributing player rather than a superstar. At 38, Piazza is not the face of the franchise he was with the Mets from 1998 to 2005, when he was a perennial All-Star.

Yet the laid-back atmosphere Piazza signed on for when he inked a one-year, $8.5-million contract with the Athletics in December is an ideal fit for his mellow personality.

"Doors close, doors open," Piazza said, "and I think one thing that I've concentrated on in later years of my career is not focusing on what I've done in the past, feeling any sense of entitlement."

Piazza has accepted the fact that he is not a cornerstone player anymore. That would be a tough realization for many, but he seems OK with it, saying: "I think humility in doses is a good thing for anybody."

If Howard walks, Burrell has his back

The Astros took the bat out of Ryan Howard's hands Saturday. The Phillies scored eight runs, anyway.

Howard drew four walks Saturday, extending his league lead to 16 walks. Houston manager Phil Garner ordered Howard walked intentionally three times.

Pat Burrell batted three times after a walk to Howard Saturday and went 1-for-3 with an RBI single with two outs in the sixth inning that scored Chase Utley and put the Phillies up 7-5.

"If that's what they want to do, that's fine," Howard said. "I have faith in Pat. He's going to shock a lot of people this year."