01 August 2010

Jimmy Graham Makes a Highlight Catch


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Tervaris Johnson Catches a TD

Rookie running back Tervaris Johnson hauled in a pass while falling into the end zone during goal-line drills at training camp Tuesday in St. Joseph.

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Ken Dorsey's Wife Has A Baby Girl

Ken Dorsey, left suddenly for his Florida home on Tuesday night when his wife, Jordan, went into labour. She gave birth to a girl, which her husband missed by 20 minutes, on Wednesday morning. Dorsey will re-join the Argos on Friday afternoon in Edmonton, meaning Brannagan will stay on the practice roster.

“She originally was going to be induced on Saturday, as a good football wife would, and he was flying straight from Edmonton,” Argos head coach Jim Barker said, jokingly. “But the baby did not co-operate. They had a beautiful baby girl.” Dorsey's new baby girl, who joined 1-year-old sister Tyler in the family, had other ideas.

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Andre Johnson nearing new deal

The Texans are close to signing Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson to a new contract that could make him the highest-paid player in the NFL at his position.

Johnson has five years remaining on his current contract. He's scheduled to make a base salary of $5.8 million this season. He said at the start of training camp last week that he wanted to be the highest-paid receiver in the league.

Owner Bob McNair said he expected to have the deal wrapped up in two weeks, but it's not going to take that long, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said Wednesday night.

No specifics of the deal were given.

General manager Rick Smith and agent Kennard McGuire have been negotiating the deal, and neither returned calls Wednesday night.

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Lions Sign Randy Phillips

The Detroit Lions made a couple roster moves Wednesday, releasing veteran safety Marquand Manuel and defensive tackle Leger Douzable.

Douzable was cut to make room for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who signed a five-year contract worth a total of $68 million Wednesday. The Lions signed free-agent safety Randy Phillips to replace Manuel in the defense.

"Randy was a safety we liked after the draft,'' Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We brought him in for the rookie (camp) and he was still coming off a shoulder injury and couldn't practice then. We made it a point to follow him and see where his progress was. He's got catching up to do.''

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Frank Gore at 215lbs

Frank Gore says he's down to his playing weight - about 215 pounds - after his annual grueling working at Miami's Tropical Park.  The workout involves Gore tying a truck tire around his waist and running - forwards, backward, sideways - the park's hill. To make things tougher, Gore loads the tire with weights as he goes.

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Jeff Feagles In Camp To Teach

Retired punter Jeff Feagles was back in Albany at Giants Camp on Tuesday to work with his heir apparent, rookie Matt Dodge out of East Carolina. During the afternoon session they went to a far field and Dodge hit several punts under Feagles' tutelage.

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Ed Reed Is Progressing

Ravens safety Ed Reed has been pacing the sidelines in gym shorts and a practice jersey since the start of training camp last week, except for when he chatted up with players from the Manchester City soccer squad for more than 40 minutes Friday morning.

When will Reed strap on the pads and return to the practice field? We're still trying to figure that one out. Ravens coach John Harbaugh gave us a status update Wednesday, but not much has changed.

"[Reed’s] status is obviously the same, but I like what I’ve seen when I’ve seen him working," Harbaugh said. "You know, I think he’s excited.  He talked with the defense at length yesterday about some things, so he’s into it. He looks like he’s progressing."

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Lee Evans Wants WR Roscoe Parrish To Be More Involved

Bills WR Lee Evans on WR Roscoe Parrish: "You have to give him the ball. You have to find ways to give him the ball because he's very dynamic with the ball. The more we can keep him involved, keep him on the field, defenses have to honor him and they know that. We have to find ways to try to keep him on the field, get him in the space and let him do what he [does]."

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Jimmy Graham Shining in Shockey's Absence

Jimmy Graham looks more intriguing every day Jeremy Shockey does not practice. The veteran tight end bumped knees with a teammate in a workout, he said, and is still sidelined.

Meanwhile, here comes Graham, a rookie tight end who played basketball -- and some football -- at the University of Miami and can run and jump and look spectacular for a guy his size.

He has makeup, too. I was at the Miami-Virginia Tech game last season when Graham dropped a key pass that would have kick-started the Hurricanes in the big road game in Blacksburg. Graham never blamed the monsoon conditions. Said he should have made the grab. Graham sat against a wall in the interview room and answered every question about ruining a UM comeback.

That's makeup.

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Bruce Johnson off to a fast start at Giants camp

ALBANY, N.Y. -- I know it’s early (cough, cough, Vince Anderson last year, cough), but second-year corner Bruce Johnson has gotten off to a terrific start to training camp. He starred again this morning with an interception and a few plays on the ball, including a tenacious pass break-up of a ball intended for wide receiver Derek Hagan.

“He’s been good, he’s looked good,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “He’s been spry, he’s guessed well, jumped a couple of routes and looked really good. I was kidding him about his punt return in cover drill yesterday – it wasn’t much. But yeah, he’s done pretty well.”

Johnson seems to be adjusting to the new schemes of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who is asking his defensive backs to often play off the ball.

“Well, he’s reading the quarterback,” Coughlin said. “In zone situations, he’s read the quarterback well and really shown an ability to break.”

Johnson said he played a lot of man coverage in his first few seasons in college at Miami. It wasn’t until his last year with the Hurricanes he was asked to play off the ball. The 5-11, 182-pound Johnson, as a smaller, quicker cornerback who isn't built to jam receivers, could benefit greatly from the new scheme.

"I'm just going off instinct," Johnson said.

Johnson played all 16 games last season and made five starts. He had two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown in the Week 2 victory against the Cowboys. Johnson did have a few shaky moments where he struggled to locate the ball, but overall it was an impressive season for the undrafted free agent who was forced to take a ton of extra reps in camp because of injuries at cornerback.

This camp, Johnson is getting the proper amount of reps, so he's more rested. So far, it's showing.

"I feel very comfortable, I feel more relaxed. I'm not out there scrambling all over the place," Johnson said before adding with a grin: "I know how to kind of work it now."

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Kellen Winslow's missed practices were planned

Bucs coach Raheem Morris confirmed that Kellen Winslow's three straight missed practices were planned for rest purposes.

He resumed practicing Monday afternoon. The Bucs are smart to scale back Winslow's reps considering he's coming off his sixth knee surgery in the NFL, but the procedures are enough to put him on our "avoid" list in fantasy drafts. Winslow (knee) returned to practice on Wednesday morning after missing the previous four. He didn't go in the second session. Winslow's return is no surprise. He was cleared at the beginning of camp, but the Bucs opted to ease him back in.

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Randy Shannon’s Revealing Interview With Michael Irvin

I’ll be honest, I’m not normally a fan of the idea of one friend interviewing another. Too often you get a bunch of softball questions and a bunch of “You’re great … No, you’re great!” exchanges.

But sometimes the format can work well, particularly when being interviewed by a friendly face gets a normally reserved subject to let his guard down and open up more.

Such was the case with an interview sent to me last Friday by the folks down at WQAM-AM in Miami. Michael Irvin recently started co-hosting a daily show with Kevin Kiley on the station and last Thursday he had his former college roommate and good friend Randy Shannon on.

Shannon has a reputation in the media for being a tough nut to crack, but that clearly wasn’t the case here. The conversation - which you can listen to here – lasted 27 minutes, but it kept my attention throughout, thanks to the way Irvin clearly put Shannon at ease.
Among the more interesting exchanges:

Irvin and Shannon reminisced about the times when they were playing for the Hurricanes and Miami coach Jimmy Johnson had repeatedly urged his players to think of where they’d be in life 10 years in the future. Shannon revealed that he used the exact same technique on the current ‘Canes.

“When you’re 32 years old it doesn’t matter if you get a chance to go to that next level, you’re done,” Shannon said he told his players. “Is your Facebook or your Twitter account going to prevent from where you need to be? They look at me and I say ‘Fellas that’s happening. What you put your stamp on today, that’s what you’re going to get when you’re 32 or 37.’ ”

It was also interesting to hear how much – despite his stern demeanor and reputation as a disciplinarian - Shannon still connects to the days when he was a player and the Miami team personality was loose, even wild.

He referenced it when talking about the Hurricanes’ tough opening slate of games this season. Shannon’s hope is that this team will embrace the spotlight the way Miami teams of old have.

“Everybody was saying, ‘Hey this is an opportunity for me to be seen on TV,’ ” Shannon recalled. “This is an opportunity for me to make a statement.

“That’s the kind of opportunity we’re having now.”

Shannon certainly didn’t hold anything back when talking about junior quarterback Jacory Harris. The Miami coach actually made the argument that missing spring practice – because of an injured them – was “the greatest thing that happened” to Harris. Shannon then offered this anecdote to illustrate his point.

He was standing on the sidelines with Harris during spring practice , watching a drill, when a backup quarterback made the wrong read – throwing down the middle against 3-deep coverage instead of checking down to a receiver in the flat.

Harris exclaimed, “What is he doing?”

Shannon turned to his quarterback and said, “Jacory, you did the same thing last year.”

When Harris expressed his skepticism, Shannon and offensive coordinator showed him the proof on film after practice.

“We pulled off the same exact play,” Shannon said. “He said, ‘I understand now.’ ”

The affection that Shannon has for Harris was clear in that story and in the additional praise he heaped on his quarterback. Shannon went so far as to say Harris is the most unflappable quarterback he’s ever been around. Given that Shannon played with guys like Steve Walsh at Miami and Troy Aikman in Dallas, that’s a pretty bold statement.

“He does not get frustrated by anything,” Shannon said. “It’s unbelievable. If the game is on the line, put him at quarterback.”

Again, as he did throughout the interview, Shannon told an interesting story to illustrate his point. He recalled Miami’s comeback win against Wake Forest and one play in particular that Harris made to help pull out the victory.

On fourth down, the Demon Deacons threw a corner blitz that caught Miami off guard.

“We had no way of picking it up,” Shannon said. “He threw to the X receiver on a fade route on 4th down and 11. He checked off to him.”
As Shannon told the story you can hear the tone of reverence – almost awe – in his voice. It was, like many other exchanges in the interview, revealing.

And apparently there’s more to come. Just moments after talking about how nice it was that he didn’t have to do many public speaking engagements, Shannon committed over the air to come back on Irvin’s show three or four times during the season.

It may just be a favor for a friend, but if it’s still good radio, who cares?

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Patriots discussed trade for Greg Olsen with the Bears in March

Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times reports league sources say Bears GM Jerry Angelo was approached by his friend Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach, during the NFL owners meetings in March about what the team wanted in return for tight end Greg Olsen. The Patriots had three second-round picks, and Angelo asked for the first of them -- No.44 overall -- for Olsen, a former No. 1 pick.

There wasn't any haggling about the price, but the Bears figured that wouldn't happen until draft day. They were half-expecting a call from Belichick and ready to make a deal, while not outright shopping the player. Manumaleuna was already aboard and Clark had been given a $475,000 bonus to retain his services.

Belichick never called on draft day, instead trading up two slots to No. 42 overall where he took Arizona product Rob Gronkowski.

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Strikeouts key to Chris Perez's rise among closer ranks

The trading deadline caused a flurry of action among closers across the league. The Pirates and Nationals sent their closers packing, leaving two widely publicized voids. However, the Indians' trade of Kerry Wood should not go unnoticed, as the closer of the present/future, Chris Perez, now earns the title of closer. Period.

Before we put Perez among the elite closers in the game, there are a few red flags. He often struggles with his control, posting a BB/9 of 4.6 in '10. That has been a problem throughout his major league (4.5 BB/9 over 98 2/3 innings prior to '09) and minor league (6.0 BB/9 in 113 1/3 innings) careers.

He has also benefited from luck, though relief pitchers tend to be capable of maintaining above average marks. While there is a chance that his .250 BABIP and 86.1% strand rate regress, there's no real cause for concern.

There is, however, reason to be concerned about his strikeouts, which are down significantly. This season he has a K/9 rate of 7.9, compared to 10.0 prior to '10 and 12.0 in the minor leagues. He hasn't lost any speed on his fastball, averaging 94.4 mph, so it is a little curious. Could the rest of the league have solved him?

Control is his biggest issue, but it's not enough to avoid him. While the luck may turn, a return to his days of blowing batters away would help to offset that.

There's a theory among fantasy owners that having the closer on a bad team is beneficial. Every team is going to win at least 55 games, and how many games will bad teams win by a lot of runs?

That's just one of many positives for Perez, who is a solid No. 2 closer in all formats, both this season and beyond, with the potential to be even more if the strikeouts return.

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Ray Lewis content, but not satisifed with ranking among greatest players in history

Last week, Ray Lewis was recognized as the 18th greatest player in NFL history, according to the NFL Network. On Wednesday, the Ravens inside linebacker sounded grateful for the recognition, but he also said that ranking shouldn’t be final.

“It’s one of the greatest accomplishments you can ever be recognized for,” Lewis said. “I mean, you’re talking about the greatest of all time, and arguably, anybody can put anybody at No. 1, No. 10, No. 18, whatever. But for them to put me there and me still playing the game, I’ll always say this: I don’t know how you finish a list if I’m still going. That’s always been my thing. You’ve got me on that list, but I’m still rolling. I love doing what I’m doing. So congrats to a heck of a career that I’ve really, really, really sacrificed for and dedicated for. But I’m not done yet. So I still have time.”

At No. 18, Lewis sits ahead of a pair of future Hall of Famers in Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre (No. 20) and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (21), but he also resides behind guys like San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott (11), St. Louis Rams defensive end Deacon Jones (15) and Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders (17).

Lewis joked that he has not looked at the names ahead of him because he doesn’t want to get riled up.

“I still get mad,” he said. “See, then I would get back to feeling how I felt during the draft, like I felt during the draft when I dropped 26 picks, but I’m going to let that go, too. But no, you don’t feel bad. There’s a lot of great people, and I always go by eras because it’s so hard to compare today’s times with back-in-the-day’s. It’s just extremely hard, and so when you see the top 17 and whoever they may be, it’s congrats to them. But I always think it’s hard to compare eras. I think everybody was great in their time.”

Lewis didn’t deny that his objective is to sit atop the rankings (“That’s the only reason you play the game,” he said. “That’s why I’m still playing.&rdquoWinking, but he said that’s not his first priority.

“I’m not trying to move up,” Lewis said. “I really am not. Bottom line is, I’m trying to get my team another championship. That’s it. That’s the only reason I play this game. … Individually, they can leave me wherever I’m at. But if I win another ring, then I’ll make myself No. 1.”

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Check out WQAM's interviews with proCanes This Week

Warren Sapp was a guest on the Micheal Irvin Show today. The topic: The Greatest Canes of All-Time. http://tinyurl.com/27yp46t Click on the link to listen to this very insightful interview.

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Photo of the Week - Dedrick Epps Flashes "The U" at Chargers Camp

proCanes.com fan Jeff Muto attended last Friday’s San Diego Chargers’ Training Camp and was kind enough to send us this photo of Dedrick Epps. Epps was drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Chargers in the 7th Round. After practice, Dedrick stayed out an extra 15 minutes with a couple of other guys to get some extra work, so it was easier for Jeff to catch him on his way back to the locker room.  Jeff didn't get to speak with Dedrick but when he yelled out to him to stop and asked him to throw the U, he kindly obliged. 

We’d like to give a big thanks to Jeff for sending us the photo and if any other proCanes.com fans are at NFL Training Camps and snap any photos of proCanes at their respective practices, email us the photo and we’ll be sure to post it.

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Jon Vilma still stewing over 2002 BCS loss with Miami

METAIRIE - New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma has a national championship ring from the 2001 season at Miami when he was a sophomore and a Super Bowl championship ring from last season with the Saints.

But do not remind him of Miami's 31-24 loss to Ohio State in the BCS national championship game for the 2002 season.

"We won it my sophomore year. Then we got robbed my junior year," he said Friday after the first Saints' first practice of training camp. "We should've won. But, hey, it was a terrible ref."

The Hurricanes had stormed the field along with some fans, and Miami coach Larry Coker had just taken off his headphones to celebrate when a late flag landed in the end zone after a fourth-and-three pass from Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel was ruled incomplete. The Hurricanes apparently had a 24-17 win in overtime, but pass interference was called on Miami's Glen Sharpe. Ohio State then scored a touchdown to tie it and later won 31-24.

Saints defensive end Will Smith enjoys reminding Vilma of the Buckeye's national title, and Vilma was asked if he has ever tried to steal Smith's championship ring.

"No," he said. "But if I steal it, I'll burn it."

Vilma landed on the subject of Miami's national championship because he was asked how his team was able to follow the 2001 national title with such a good season in 2002. The Saints are trying to do the same this season after winning the Super Bowl.

"We were able to humble ourselves and get after it," he said. "That's what we have to do. We had to regroup and get guys to fill the roles of guys we lost. We have to do that here, too. As a player, you always try to improve yourself from the year before."

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"The U" Deleted Scene #7

Every Tuesday until The U DVD release on Tuesday, August 17th, we'll be posting exclusive bonus features and deleted scenes that won't be available anywhere else.

Allcanes is taking pre-orders and offering free shipping through August 15th.

The U deleted scene #7 - Redshirted
After Coach Schnellenberger decided to redshirt him, freshman RB Melvin Bratton was seriously considering transferring to the University of Pittsburgh. His mom set him straight, and the rest is history.

Click here to view all Deleted Scenes.

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Mckinnie Helped off the Practice Field Because of the Heat

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was taken from the field late in the second session after being overcome by the heat. The Vikings athletic training staff quickly tended to McKinnie as he knelt on the field, putting cool packs on his neck and back. They then took him into a trailer just off the practice field to cool down. McKinnie emerged after about 15 minutes and returned to the locker room.

The Vikings, who experienced the tragedy of offensive lineman Korey Stringer's death because of complications from heat stroke in August 2001, have been extremely proactive in making sure their players are hydrated properly and ready for the summer heat and humidity.

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D.J. Williams misses second practice

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Edgerrin James was a big part of many terrific teams as running back for the Indianapolis Colts.

Yet he never made it to the Super Bowl until he was with an Arizona Cardinals franchise that has no history of winning, in a season that saw him benched for the first time in his career.

"Yeah, it's weird," he said, laughing. "This has been a weird year."

James is back in his accustomed role as lead back in a rejuvenated ground game that figures large in the Cardinals' plans against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He brings a lot to the table for us that has been seen in the improvement of our running game," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

James said after Arizona's practice Friday that at the end of his seven-game exile to the bench he drew up a few of his favorite running plays and showed them to offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

"I think you play better when you actually make a suggestion and the coach listens to you," James said. "We've been running some of those plays that I've been comfortable with and we've been getting results."

James came back in the final regular-season game to rush for 100 yards in a victory over Seattle, a performance that moved him into 11th on the NFL career rushing list.

In the three playoff games, he has 203 yards in 52 carries, an average of 3.9 yards per attempt. Arizona has outgained its playoff opponents on the ground 333 yards to 232. That's an average of 111 yards per game after a league-worst 73.6 yards per game in the regular season.

James said the Cardinals are just giving him and the running game more opportunities.

"You throw the ball 50 times and you run the ball nine or 10 times you are most likely not going to have a good rushing game," he said.

He felt he didn't fit in when Arizona went to an offense that relied so heavily on throwing the ball.

"I've always played the game a certain way," James said. "This is my style of play, mixing up the pass and the run versus lining it up to throw it every time. I'm no scatback. I never tried to be."

After he gained 17 yards in seven carries and had a critical fumble in a 27-23 loss at Carolina on Oct. 26, James lost his job to rookie Tim Hightower.

James had his agent ask the Cardinals to release him. They refused to even consider it, and James did not raise a fuss personally.

"You have to go out and take it like a man," he said. "You have to take the good with the bad. When things weren't that good, I continued to come out here and tried to help Hightower and the other running backs and do as much as I could."

He joked about having more leisure time.

"I ended up reading a ton of books," he said. "I didn't look at the playbook as much."

Kurt Warner knows how it feels to lose a starting job, so he empathized with James. Warner said James "is a huge part" of Arizona's hopes against the Steelers.

"The way he runs and his ability to make something out of nothing are huge keys," Warner said. "The difference between a 0-yard gain and a 2-yard gain is huge within the course of a drive. He does that as well as anybody. I've seen him when there's nothing there, but he puts his head down and moves the pile."

Any semblance of a run game against the fierce Steelers' defense would allow Arizona to go to play-action passes that create favorable matchups with the Cardinals' standout receivers.

James' teammates are happy to have him back in the huddle.

"Just his leadership ability is outstanding," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, "the way he practices, he finishes runs, picks up pass protection, never complains, always on time, durable, you can continue to go on about Edge and what he brings to this team."

James has a year left on his contract with Arizona, but he said several weeks ago that he believed he would not be back by mutual agreement with the organization. That means the Super Bowl could be his last game in a Cardinals uniform.

"I'm not even focused on anything past this game," he said Friday. "Anything beyond this game I'm not going to think about."

He said he sees the Cardinals operating now at a level he always felt they could reach since he signed as a free agent three seasons ago.

"We put it together," he said. "This team has a lot of talent. For some reason, it just wasn't coming together. Coach Whisenhunt and his staff and everybody came together and we got it rolling."


Eric Moncur Released

Contract-year CB Phillip Buchanon says he's more inclined to re-sign with the Bucs after they named Raheem Morris their defensive coordinator in 2009.


Antonio Dixon suffers head injury

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Antonio Dixon ran back to the sidelines, leaned over and told one of his coaches, "I feel dizzy."

Moments later, Dixon was lying motionless on the grass at the Lehigh University practice fields being attended to by several trainers.

Dixon, who emerged last year as the Eagles' No. 3 defensive tackle after being claimed off waivers from the Redskins, had suffered a head injury on a routine play 75 minutes into the two-hour afternoon practice at training camp Monday.

"He got hit in the head," head coach Andy Reid said. "He got dinged."

Reid had no further information on Dixon after practice, and the Eagles did not release an update on Dixon's condition Monday evening.
Dixon, 25, played in all 16 games last year, finishing with 17 tackles, one sack and a blocked field goal in Chicago that led to the game-winning drive.

Dixon was on the ground for 10 minutes before trainers called for a cart. Because Dixon was so groggy and weighs 320 pounds, the trainers had difficulty lifting him into the back of the cart. Dixon appeared barely conscious as the cart took him to the Cuddey Fieldhouse, where the team's medical and training facilities are located.

He was held in place by a trainer on either side of him as the cart slowly made its way across the fields.

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Sinorice Moss Having a Good Camp

WR Sinorice Moss spun CB Bruce Johnson on a deep in cut but Johnson came right back moments later to jump a short hook. He later broke on a comeback from Manning to WR Derek Hagan better than Hagan did. Through two days, it's clear Johnson isn't being shy about reading the quarterback the way the defensive coaches wanted. And that he's doing a very good job of it as well.

Moss had a solid morning, adding a great adjustment on a fade QB Jim Sorgi threw behind him.

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Brees, Payton wowed by Jimmy Graham

METAIRIE, La. ― You didn’t have to watch Jimmy Graham on every play of the Saints’ first training camp practice to know he did well.

All you really had to do was listen to Drew Brees, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and MVP.

“I think he could have a huge role on this team and make a big impact on our offense,” Brees said. “

Or query fullback Heath Evans, a gritty veteran who has seen some good tight ends in his career.

“Jimmy Graham did exactly what I expected him to do, really,” Evans said. “He went high for balls and got them at their high point.”

At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, Graham certainly has the size to help the Saints. But after playing only one year of college football, he has a lot of on-field education to gather.

That began Friday morning. He was equally impressive and intriguing.

He caught passes easy and hard and one particular play, he went high for a ball that should have sailed out of bounds. Instead, he grabbed it and came down inbounds for a gain of more than 10 yards.

But he also has a lot to learn. Like holding onto the football.

He grabbed a short pass on an out route and was hit immediately by Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who forced the ball from Graham’s clutches onto the ground.

“Grasping the offense, practicing down here in the heat, being worn down like he’s going to be throughout camp, the mental challenges as well as the physical challenges of playing the tight end position in the NFL – he has his work cut out for him,” Brees said. “But he has a lot of raw talent.”

More importantly, though, he has caught the eye of the most important man at the outset of his career.

Sean Payton.

“He had a good first semester with us when you look at his rookie camp and minicamp,” Payton said. “We’re excited about his skills and we just have to keep developing him.”

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Greg Olsen says there's a role for him

BOURBONNAIS – Bears tight end Greg Olsen is eager to silence critics who insist he will play a reduced role under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who typically neglects the position.

“As a player, I have a lot of confidence in what I can do and bring to this offense,” said Olsen, who reported to training camp Thursday. “That’s been a big topic of debate over the last couple months, but I feel good about where we’re at and I’m looking forward to getting started [today].”

Olsen, 25, led the Bears with 60 receptions and eight touchdowns in 2009. His first impressions of Martz’s play-calling gave him confidence that he could fill a key role in the offense.

“I think so,” Olsen said. “I think we were able to do a lot of good things, moving around [on the field] and doing a lot of different stuff in [organized team activities] and minicamp. I hope and expect the same thing to continue on through training camp. We’ll see [today].”

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Willis McGahee adds weight but stays fit

As Willis McGahee walked up to a small group of reporters after this morning's practice, he flashed a smile, one which prominently displayed a busted lip.

"Look at my lip!" McGahee said. "It split!"

McGahee took a big hit from safety Dawan Landry during yesterday's morning practice, one which caused him to miss the rest of the session as he received medical attention.

The running back opted not to discuss the extent of the damage, but according to a source, McGahee will need a dental implant.

McGahee returned to the fields yesterday for the afternoon practice, and was out there again this morning, participating in full-contact drills with the rest of the team.

"It is what it is," McGahee said. "I could have sat out yesterday, but I didn't. I sat out enough in [minicamps], so I wanted to get back out there."
Dental issues aside, McGahee pronounced himself fit and ready for the 2010 season.

The eight-year running back looks like he's in great shape, cutting and spinning away from would-be tacklers and showing an impressive burst.

While it appeared to me and a few other reporters that McGahee had slimmed down from last year, he said that he's actually gained a few pounds.

McGahee says he's now up to 240 pounds, which he hopes will help fend off the health issues that have been a problem in previous years.
"I like it," McGahee said. "I'm moving with it. It's not holding me down. I felt like when I came in lighter, that's when I was getting the injuries and all that. I'll just go with the flow now and keep it up.

"I'm where I want to be, but I'll just keep getting better."

As for his role in the Ravens' offense, McGahee says he doesn't have any real goals, other than to cut down on the "mistakes" he made last year.

He was willing to back up Ray Rice last year, and says he'll be fine with that job again this season.

"They're going to choose who they want to get the start," McGahee said, "but as long as I play, man, it's all good."

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Jeremy Shockey stands out the only way he knows how

Hey Shockey Way:
Jeremy Shockey has always been a fan favorite wherever he is. It’s likely because he’s so volatile, prone to outbursts of frustration and excitement.

Saturday was no different. In fact, it was more shocking that it took late into the team’s third practice for such an occurrence to happen.

It all unraveled for the tight end during team drills. Shockey released down the middle and got behind the secondary. QB Drew Brees released a pass that honestly should have been intercepted, but it went right through the hands of FS Usama Young. Shockey, set up behind Young, had the ball come into his hands and then watched as it popped out. Instead of no less than a 40-yard gain, it was an incomplete pass that the fans groaned at.

Several plays later, Shockey took revenge on the blasted football that caused him so much pain. With QB Patrick Ramsey at the helm, Shockey went low for a catch and was able to corral the ball into his grasp. When the play was over, he wasn’t finished. Shockey punted the ball about 25 yards down the field.

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Jon Beason part of Panthers' shuffle at linebacker

Carolina's long-standing man in the middle is taking his ornery business to the outside edge in a risky move prompted by injury.

Linebacker Jon Beason has begun training camp at the weak side slot after manning the middle position during his first three years in the league, when all he did was post the top three tackle totals in franchise history.

He'll take over for Thomas Davis, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in early June during summer camp.

“It's something I've done before in college, so I kind of have a comfort level, but I'm still working through it,” Beason said. “Whatever's going to help the team win. Thomas is obviously a big part of our defense and if moving me is going to make us better that's what I want to do.”

Former Penn State star Dan Connor, a 2008 third-round selection, has taken over in the middle as he gets his first opportunity at extended playing time in a starting role. Connor missed 13 games with an injured knee as a rookie before appearing in all 16 games last season as a backup and on special teams, where he led the team with 14 tackles.

Connor was expected to be the top reserve at all three linebacker spots with fifth-year veteran James Anderson, who started a career-high seven games last season in making 72 tackles overall, starting on the strong side. Connor's chance to play the middle could be a huge career boost as he considers it his natural position.

“It's a big challenge and right now I'm just hoping Jon likes it out on the weak side and I can live up to expectations,” Connor said.

Davis recorded 71 tackles (53 solo) and two interceptions in only seven games last season before suffering a torn ACL in early November at New Orleans. The previous season he'd established a career high with 136 tackles after starting all 16 games for a second consecutive season. His second ACL tear this summer will keep him out this season.

Despite his own prodigious talent, Beason heaped an abundance of praise on Davis when asked to compare his skills with the guy he is now replacing.

“I think Thomas is a freak, I think he's special,” Beason said. “Thomas is faster than me, can jump higher than me, is a better cover guy than me and he hits really hard. He can do it all. He's like the prototype weakside linebacker you want in any scheme. It's just unfortunate because he was just sort of coming into his own.”

Connor weighs less than 240 pounds and proclaims himself ready for battle in the center of the action, where defenders get few free rides to the ball carrier. While many teams boast bigger bodies in that role, Beason was a massive success with size similar to Connor's and the Panthers' system is built around speed and ability more than brute strength.

“The middle is ‘more muddy' is how I describe it,” Connor said. “Guards and centers are coming off on you every play and you're not going to get a clean run. You've got to come off a block and make a tackle so it's good to have a little size there. Our scheme is more for smaller, athletic guys so I feel comfortable and strong at this weight so hopefully it will work out.”

Beason will continue to make the defensive calls in the huddle, although once both sides line up, he'll concede last-minute adjustments to Connor.

“It's weird because I have that comfort level already of making the calls and checks and stuff,” Beason said. “But coach wants to put more of the load on Dan. He's a quiet guy and he wants him to open up a bit and show his personality, and I think it's going to be good for him.”

Head coach John Fox acknowledged the new configuration isn't necessarily a done deal, as the injury to Davis forced his hand in rebuilding a linebacking corps that looked to be one of the defensive strong points while the team undergoes an overhaul up front.

With a young squad and many unproven faces vying for roster spots and contributing roles, Fox will keep close tabs on whether the team is losing too much by moving Beason out of a role where he dominated, and how Connor responds to increased responsibility.

“Dan is a good football player who's played a lot of roles for us,” Fox said. “This is his first chance that he's had to start and get considerable playing time. I liked what I saw this whole offseason.

“We've got some new faces there and we don't know what our best combination is going to be yet, that's why we're here in camp. That will be a day by day evaluation and we'll try to get our best three on the field. Hopefully we'll answer that question during camp.”

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Frank Gore: I should've checked my guest list

According to Frank Gore, it was simply a young man throwing a party to celebrate his 27th birthday. But when the NCAA found out that numerous college athletes attended the shindig at Gore's Miami home on May 15, it launched an investigation into whether sports agents and financial advisors had funded the evening.

This morning, Gore seemed taken aback at the ensuing controversy.

"It surprised me. It really surprised me," he said after reporting for 49ers training camp. "I thought nothing wasn't wrong with it. All my teammates (from the University of Miami) came down to support my birthday."

The lineup of guests, as it turned out, also included notable collegiate athletes such as North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, South Carolina end Weslye Saunders and Alabama defensive tackle Marcel Dareus. Suspicion quickly fell on Gore's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, but the running back adamantly denied Rosenhaus had organized or paid for the event.

"He didn't have nothing to do with that," Gore said. "That's my birthday, I paid my own money. He didn't have nothing to do with that."

Gore seemed genuinely confused by the uproar. But he has learned a lesson that may keep him out of the headlines in the future.

"I should've checked my guest list," he said. "Next time, if I do have a birthday party, I will do that."

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Kenny Phillips not ready to practice

When the Giants hit the field Sunday afternoon in Albany for the first practice of training camp safety Kenny Phillips will again be off on the side, working on his own.

There was hope that perhaps Phillips would be ready to resume work with the team but the serious micro-fracture surgery on his left knee has left him needing more time to get back to full football activities.

"He'll be with the trainers until the trainers are willing to let him begin to practice,'' Tom Coughlin said this morning. "I'm sure when that happens it will be one a day.''

The Giants will surely take one-a-day practice out of Phillips, who missed the final 14 games last season with an arthritic condition in his knee that prompted surgery. Phillips this spring expressed all sorts of optimism that he'd be ready to go for camp but he'll have to wait a bit longer.

"They're going to work with him on the side and determine exactly where he is,'' Coughlin said. "Part of this is watching after a workout how the player comes back, how long it takes for his recovery, is there any swelling, those are the things they got to determine. They’ve worked with him all spring and they've monitored him all summer. Because of the nature and the seriousness of the injury they certainly are not going to rush back out there until they're 100 percent sure he can go through a two-hour practice. That's all fine and dandy.''

Asked if he is confident Phillips will be able to practice during the 20-day camp in Albany, Coughlin said "Oh, definitely, I expect to get him as much as a week or two.''

The newest Giants player, linebacker Keith Bulluck, will be on the field this Sunday but will only work once a day coming off surgery only seven months ago to repair a torn ACL. Coughlin said he's undecided if he’ll ask Bulluck to take part in the conditioning run earlier in the day on Sunday but plans on him practicing for the first time with his new team later that afternoon.

"I'm sure he'll work that first day and then once a day is really all we can expect as we move him back to the highly-conditioned athlete he normally is,'' Coughlin said.

Bulluck, 33, spent the first 10 years of his NFL career with the Titans and started 127 consecutive games before tearing his left ACL in the 15th game of the season.

"I like the fact he's a no-nonsense guy, he's a veteran football player, he's 33-years old, he's only had the one serious injury, he's played consistently for a long time in a very aggressive defense, he is known as a physical player, he's a tough guy, he's a Syracuse guy, how can he be anything but that,'' Coughlin said. "He's a guy I think brings a lot to the table. For a lot of our young guys he is going to be the kind of focused, physical football player that can lead by example and makes a good fit for our team.''

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Clinton Portis having fun again

Southeast Jerome may soon return.

Clinton Portis is happy once more. The concussion that cost the Washington Redskins running back eight games last season no longer haunts him. Even more, the circus atmosphere of the former front office no longer pesters him.

Portis is free to be himself, and that wit and charm that once produced weekly outlandish characters seems close to returning.

"[I'm] having fun. Football is having fun," Portis said. "Coach [Mike] Shanahan says he's the one under pressure. Go out and play and do the things he asks you to do and have fun. Having everything at a professional level makes it easier. All the pressure's gone. We can just come in and go play."

Portis was known for his controversial statements over the past two years regarding coach Jim Zorn, the offensive line and quarterback Jason Campbell. Portis was just being frank, but it often turned into something more than intended. The circus of Redskins Park often gained an unintentional ring leader.

"Everything that happened before this, it was crazy around here," Portis said, "but it's a new year."

Indeed, Portis would rather forget last season when gaining a career-low 494 yards in eight games. The concussion proved severe and Portis wondered whether to return, though mostly because of the Redskins' constant drama.

"I was never worried about the concussion," he said. "It was more me worried about whether I had to worry about the b.s. that comes with it. Dealing with the b.s. that came along being around here. Once coach Shanahan came in and let us know he was going to do his best to care of all that, [it was] just go out and play football."

Portis isn't worried about newcomers Larry Johnson and Willie Parker taking some his snaps. He's still the starter. And Portis has a chip on his shoulder once again.

"It was like all of a sudden I disappeared off the face of the earth," Portis said of the concussion. "Everybody wrote me off. I was over and done. I'm back and I'm healthy."

And now Portis believes the Redskins have a leader in quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"A lot of people loved playing with Jason," Portis said, "but when you get the opportunity to get it done with McNabb -- the way he coordinates the huddle up and down the field -- you look forward to it."

Maybe Southeast Jerome will look forward to it soon, too.

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Santana Moss: 'You have to use those guys that can be game-changers'

There has been plenty of optimism surrounding the arrival of the new coaching regime in Washington and one person joining the chorus of praise around the new offense, directed by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, is veteran wide receiver Santana Moss.

After the team's walk-through on Saturday afternoon, Moss expressed his optimism regarding the new scheme and also in the way he will be used in the offense. Moss said he has been extremely impressed watching film of the Houston Texans, who have used the offense in recent seasons, and that he believes the Redskins have a chance to be very successful within the scheme.

His strongest words came when describing his excitement at being moved around the field as opposed to the one-position only structure he played as the 'X' receiver in the past few seasons.

When asked if he liked being shifted around, Moss replied, "Hell yeah." Asked then about his former role that was strictly as an 'X' receiver, he expanded on that idea.

"That's ridiculous," Moss said. "If you ever seen me with a ball in my hand there's no way in the world that one guy, anybody on the field that's a playmaker, that has been a punt returner half his life that can carry the ball well no matter what situation, [that] he should be used at one spot. You feel what I'm saying? It's almost like putting Reggie Bush in the backfield all day and saying, 'Just run the ball through the hole.' He's doing his thing by getting screen passes, lining up on the outside, running here, you know what I mean?

"You have to use those guys that can be game-changers and I feel like I consider myself one of them because that's what I've been doing. I'm not saying it because that's what I want to be. I've done it. You feel me? So when I have a chance to do that, then you're suiting me best. When I don't have a chance to do that then you're not in my best interest. I'm just out there being a regular person."

Moss said he was excited about the capability of the offense and its ability to mix things up to confuse defenses. Moss said the scheme prevents defenses from being able to predict what's coming based on formations or splits. "We have a solution for everything that they going to bring to us," he said.

Often double- and triple-teamed last year, Moss seemed optimistic that this offense would find ways to get him open.

"You know me, I like to let everything pan out and do what it do, but just seeing what it did last year I was impressed," Moss said. "I am good friends with Andre [Johnson] and to watch him be the No. 1 receiver for two years in a row and everyone knows he's the guy, to [still] get open, those guys will tell you I call those guys all the time. 'What are y'all doing that we not doing?' 'Oh 'Tana you just in one spot. 'Tana you just playing.' 'Y'all vanilla.' You know what I mean?

"And then 'Dre breaks it down about who's calling the plays and how he's calling the plays off of what he sees that would separate him from any other guys in this league because his coaches put him in the best situation not to be the guy who is bracketed all the time. Or if you gonna bracket him then I'm going to have somebody else wide open so we can expose that side of the field and maybe they'll even it out and play a little more disciplined defense or more disciplined football.

"When we was playing last year, it's nothing against what he was doing but it was just, you know, it was evident. Y'all could see it from the sideline. That's why I would say there's nothing I can do but what I can do. So if I'm the clear out guy on that play, I'm going to be that clear out guy because I know hopefully somebody else should be open. But I think this offense is going to give us all totally a chance to disguise some things and get in some sets to make them guess a little bit."

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Devin Hester ready for breakout season

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Devin Hester has never lacked confidence.

He starred at multiple positions for the Miami Hurricanes, and he earned Pro Bowl honors as a return specialist in his first two NFL seasons.
But Hester said his 16-plus individual workouts with four-time Pro Bowl receiver Isaac Bruce this offseason have emboldened him.

''It's on a whole different level now,'' Hester said. ''I've got a swag now. This is going to be my breakout year. I'm going to shock a lot of people.''

After signing a four-year, $40 million extension two years ago, Hester was expected to be the Bears' No. 1 receiver, especially after veteran Bernard Berrian's departure.

But Hester wasn't ready for that role, something the Bears surely recognized.

He was drafted in 2006 as a playmaker, scoring a combined 13 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Hester started the transition to receiver in 2007, but he didn't start his first game at the position till 2008. In 2009, he improved on his 2008 statistics, in terms of catches and receiving yards, but he missed three games because of assorted injuries.

Hester fell 243 yards short of 1,000 receiving yards, and his season was labeled a disappointment.

Yet his relative newness to the position seems overlooked.

It takes awhile
Hester started focusing on receiver while in the NFL.

Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Randy Moss earned Pro Bowl distinction in their first or second NFL seasons.
But they're the exceptions.

Consider instead the timetable of other 2010 Pro Bowl receivers.

Miles Austin, Roddy White, Vincent Jackson and Wes Welker needed at least four NFL seasons to reach that status. And although he has been named to four consecutive Pro Bowl teams, former Hurricanes standout Reggie Wayne made his first all-star roster in his sixth NFL season.

Hester said his God-given talents helped him quickly get a handle on the basics. But he added that he learned a lot about the nuances during his workouts with Bruce, who thrived in Mike Martz's offense in St. Louis.

For instance, Hester learned how to run routes at different speeds, pointing to NBA guards Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade as examples.
''Every route is not meant to be run full-speed,'' Hester said. ''Sometimes you got to change it up.''

Obviously, Hester needs to perform to back up his bold breakout prediction. But he has done all he can to put himself in the best possible position.

He was a fixture at Halas Hall during offseason workouts. He proactively reached out to Bruce, who also lives in south Florida. And Hester, after his long-planned marriage, postponed his honeymoon to avoid missing too many two-hour sessions with Bruce.

His teammates have noticed.
''He's a lot more focused, and you can see the passion and the fire he has for the game,'' Bears receiver Earl Bennett said. ''I mean, being around a guy like Devin makes you want to compete hard and work a lot better.''

In fact, Bennett said he immediately planned to pick Hester's brain on what he learned from Bruce.

Of course, Bruce helped Hester refine his pass-catching and route-running. But, more than anything, Bruce empowered Hester, reinforcing what he was doing on the practice field.

Before each drill, Bruce instructed Hester to say, ''I'm the best route runner in the NFL,'' or ''I'm the best receiver in the NFL.''

''Stuff like that to encourage yourself and build your confidence up,'' Hester said. ''Being a receiver, it's all about confidence.''

But Bruce also tempered Hester's expectations. The retired receiver, who had 91 career touchdowns, explained that it takes a long time to really understand Martz's complex offense.

''I asked him, 'How long did it take?''' Hester said. ''He said it's at least a 2½-year process, where you feel comfortable and it's second nature.''

Pumped up about 2010

Hester is usually even-keeled. But he got fired up as he talked about his hopes for the 2010 season.

He not only hears questions about whether he's a No. 1 receiver, Hester actually goes searching for the critics.

''I go online on Google and see what people are saying about me,'' he said. ''You're always going to get negative stuff.''

Asked if he's motivated to help coach Lovie Smith, Hester said, ''You got to go out and play with a free mind.

''I don't know what's going on with [Smith's] situation. But I'm going to go out and play football as hard as I can. You can't go out and have in the back of your mind, 'I'm going to play this game hard because if we don't win this game, somebody's going to get fired.' You can't play like that.''

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Ray Lewis Still Has the Fire, Energy * News Web site * Sports * Ravens Ray Lewis still has the fire, energy

Ray Lewis constantly shadowed Ray Rice, haunting the elusive running back wherever he ventured around the football field.

Bolting out of his linebacker stance, Lewis chased Rice to the sideline to cut off a sweep.

When the Baltimore Ravens' offense tried to execute a run up the middle, Lewis instinctively read the play and burst through the gap center-guard gap to get in the backfield for yet another tackle.

It was a trademark performance from the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The All-Pro middle linebacker did nothing to indicate that he's heading into his 15th year in the NFL, and he remains energized by a routine practice session where no stakes are on the line beyond locker room bragging rights.

If Lewis' enthusiasm for the game has dimmed at all, it's impossible to tell during the early stages of the Ravens' latest camp at McDaniel College.

Lewis doesn't tend to dwell on nostalgia like his 11 Pro Bowl selections or his Super Bowl XXV Most Valuable Player award.

He's focused on the now: the next play, the next running back to hit.

"Honestly I just truly believe that if you're thinking about that then you miss the love for the game," Lewis said when asked what role sentimentality plays in his motivation. "I love the game too much. Like Day One, that's how I feel in the 15th year. When Ray Rice made a cut, I was tapping him on his hip just to let him know: ‘I'm out here to work as hard as you're out here to work.'

"I don't think about, ‘Oh, this is that.' That's not what the integrity of the game is built by. The integrity of the game is built by coming to help your team win a championship."

Between Lewis' still above-average speed, ability to diagnose an offense's intentions and rare intensity, he remains a viable impact defensive player even at the relatively advanced age of 35 years old.

The sculpted, 6-foot-1, 250-pound defensive legend first came to Westminster in 1996 when the Ravens drafted him in the first round of the University of Miami.

Since that inaugural camp after the Ravens moved to Maryland from Cleveland, Lewis' passion for the game has propelled him to inclusion on the NFL All-Decade team for the 2000s.

He has also recorded a franchise-record 2,346 career tackles and 15 fumble recoveries as well as posting 36 ½ sacks, 28 interceptions, 108 pass deflections and 15 forced fumbles.

No active NFL player has registered as many tackles as Lewis.

This offseason, a street sign was dedicated to Lewis on the corner of North Avenue and Broadway in Baltimore that reads, "Ray Lewis Way # 52."

"Everybody around the league knows what kind of respect he gets for what he's put into the game," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said.
What drives him?

That's easy.

Lewis still covets another Super Bowl ring, especially with the nucleus of a young team quarterbacked by Joe Flacco.

"I think the hunger of winning it with certain people does," Lewis said. "When I won it, Rod Woodson made that special to me. Shannon Sharpe made that special to me. When you win a championship with certain people, now you realize that that means for a lifetime.

"And now the chemistry I've built with a Ray Rice or Michael Oher and Joe, to win one with them, would be a very special thing. And then they'll be talking about the same thing: ‘When Ray was special, you know.' It always comes back around."

For Lewis, that has definitely been the case.

A decade removed from the Ravens' Super Bowl triumph, he's still launching himself at ball carriers.

Not as fast as he once was, Lewis makes up for that with his ability to diagnose the play. He wastes no motion in his path toward the football.
It's all aggressiveness, direct movement and the knowledge of how to avoid getting stuck to blockers.

"Ray is Ray," inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. "That never changes. I learn so much just from watching that guy. He's special. I can't say enough good things about him."

The Ravens took a calculated gamble last year by signing Lewis to a seven-year, $44.5 million contract that included slightly over $12 million in bonuses.

Roughly $22 million is due over the first three years of the deal.

Last season, Lewis remained a vital force for one of the NFL's top defenses.

He led the Ravens with 164 tackles, also contributing three sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

His signature play was when he stuffed elusive San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles on fourth down for a key fourth-quarter stop to preserve a victory.

Lewis is regarded as unlikely to complete all six remaining years left on the contract, but he hasn't made any definitive plans on how much longer he'll continue to play.

The acquisition of Boldin this offseason via a trade from the Arizona Cardinals has provided even more motivation for Lewis, who's accustomed to playing on defensive-oriented teams for the majority of his career.

"If me and Anquan walked into the street yard right now, we would play against anybody one-on-one," Lewis said. "It's the same thing when you step out here and play football on this field. It's just a one-on-one battle, man. And the love for me will never stop. Whenever that day stops, then that day will stop. But until then, I love it too much."

As long as he enjoys the game and is still maintaining a high standard of play, Lewis is likely to continue chasing and catching running backs.

Lewis has no plans to waver back and forth a la Brett Favre.

"I love Brett, but no Brett, no Brett," Lewis said when asked if he'll struggle with when is the right time to retire. "When I'm done, I'm done."

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Aubrey Huff: Giants' Huff hits 20th homer

Aubrey Huff went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBI as the Giants edged the Dodgers 6-5 on Friday.

The Dodgers scored three in the ninth with closer Brian Wilson unavailable, but the Giants held on while using four pitchers in the inning. Huff's homer was his 20th, and he also collected his 22nd double. With one day remaining, he's hitting .383 with eight homers and 23 RBI this month.

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Chris Perez recorded his 13th save of the season Monday as the Indians

Perez recorded his 13th save of the season Monday as the Indians defeated the Red Sox, 6-5. He pitched a scoreless ninth inning, allowing one hit.

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Yonder Alonso catching fire for Triple-A Louisville

Reds first base prospect Yonder Alonso hit .366/.423/.663 in the month of July for Triple-A Louisville and went 2-for-3 on Sunday.

And the Louisville Bats have won 10 straight games. Alonso, 23, is blocked at first base in the majors by MVP candidate Joey Votto, but he has worked on his outfield defense and could be a useful bench player for the Reds in the near future. For now he'll continue developing at the Triple-A level, where he holds a .286/.339/.455 overall batting line and nine homers.

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Shields looking to grab a roster spot

Sam Shields was one of the bright spots during the first day of training camp Saturday, playing excellent defense at cornerback and returning punts, but he's going to have to continue that success to earn a roster spot. Undrafted out of Miami, Shields has blazing speed but will need to hang on to the ball and show he's multi-dimensional (more than just a track star). Keep an eye on his progress as training camp moves along.

No one doubted Sam Shields’ speed in shorts.

The rookie cornerback ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash during his pro day at the University of Miami.

Sometimes the same kind of speed doesn’t show up when the pads go on. In Shields’ case, it did on Saturday in the first training camp practice of the season. As if he were shot out of cannon, the 5-foot-11, 184-pounder made the best defensive play of day one when he returned an interception for a touchdown during a team blitz period midway through practice.

Shields may be green as grass and have only played cornerback for one year at the University of Miami (Fla.), but the kid knows how to make an impression. Playing on the second- and third-string defenses, Shields made a jet-fast move to close in on receiver Chastin West, who was running a short inside route. Playing man coverage, Shields broke on the ball just as backup quarterback Matt Flynn fired, and timed his break perfectly to pick it off on the run. Seemingly before anyone even noticed or could react, he was on his way to the end zone.

That wasn’t Shields’ only eye-catching play. Earlier, during a one-on-one period, he made pass breakups on consecutive plays, both intended for Jordy Nelson, again using his speed to get into position.

He should get a lot of chances on defense during the preseason games because I don't expect CB Charles Woodson and CB Tramon Williams will play much.

The undrafted rookie is facing an uphill battle to make the roster, but he’s off to a strong start.

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Darnell Jenkins Looking To Make The Patriots Roster

With WR David Patten retiring, there was a roster spot open. So Darnell Jenkins, who had been on the Non-Football Injury list, was activated, taking part in his first workout. Didn’t look bad, either.

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Jeremy Shockey held back with sore knee

METAIRIE, La. ― Tight end Jeremy Shockey was dressed Sunday afternoon for practice but the Saints held him back with a sore knee.

“We rested Shockey with a sore knee,” Head Coach Sean Payton said. “Nothing serious. Got it look at today. We’ll get him some treatment and get him back as soon as possible.”

Payton didn’t elaborate on which knee was involved nor what happened.

Shockey missed the final three regular season games of 2009 with a bum right knee.

Click here to order Jeremy Shockey’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Andre Johnson practices, content with contract progress

HOUSTON (AP) -- Houston Texans owner Bob McNair says he hopes to sign Andre Johnson to a new contract within "a couple weeks" and keep the star receiver in Houston for his entire career.

Johnson participated in the team's first training camp workout on Friday, setting aside his still unresolved contract situation. He wants a new deal, even though he has five years left on his current $60 million contract, but he also said he didn't want to become a team distraction by holding out. Raheel Ramzanali, live from training camp, reports via Twitter that Andre Johnson says he wants to be the highest paid receiver in the NFL and is confident a deal will get done soon.

"Texans owner Bob McNair made it clear he's going to reward Andre Johnson w a huge contract soon. I'd say by preseason opener Aug. 14." 

Johnson briefly sat out of OTAs this summer, but quickly returned for work after hiring a new agent.  He also quietly showed up for training camp on time and didn't express serious concern about his contract.

Now we know why.

You can argue that the Texans are setting a bad business precedent for the the team, but we don't fully buy it.  There just aren't other players like Andre Johnson.

Still, other NFL owners won't love the concept behind this deal.  While other front offices hide behind "labor uncertainty," McNair appears ready to reward a player signed through 2014 out of the goodness in his heart.

Johnson led the NFL with 1,569 receiving yards in 2009 and topped 100 catches for the third time in four years. He says he's not worried about his contract, though he conceded he would like to become the league's highest-paid receiver.

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Willis McGahee off to good start in camp

Backup running back Willis McGahee looks strong so far in training camp, and appears to have spent a lot of time in the weight room.

McGahee doesn't appear to be carrying any extra weight, and shows good acceleration, and has been breaking a lot of tackles. He hasn't complained about a thing, and appears to be ready for the regular season. After breaking some long runs in the first two days, McGahee doesn't even appear to be breathing hard.

McGahee, though, needs to work on holding the ball tighter.

Two rookie running backs that have been impressive are fullback Mike McLaughlin, out of Boston College, and halfback Curtis Steele, from Memphis. McLaughlin has showed surprisingly soft hands for a fullback and Steele has displayed good cutback ability.

Click here to order Willis McGahee’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Jimmy Graham tries to ignore the spotlight

New Orleans Saints rookie tight end Jimmy Graham said he isn't getting caught up in the hype that's been growing around him this summer.

For one, he said he's trying to stay grounded, work hard and get better every day.

He's also trying to save a few bucks.

"DT told me every time my name comes up (in the media), I have to buy him a meal," Graham said, referring to veteran tight end David Thomas. "That's why I try to keep away (from the spotlight)."

Graham's going to have trouble staying anonymous if he continues to make eye-popping plays on the practice field - like his dazzling one-handed catch on a deep ball from Drew Brees on Friday afternoon.

Graham admitted that one was pretty special. He said he watched it back about five times on film and that teammates were joking with him about the size of his hands.

"I guess I got lucky. Hopefully I can do that in a big game," said Graham, who is trying to remain both humble and confident. "I definitely think I can (make plays like that). I think that's why they brought me here."

There have been some lowlights, too, for the converted basketball player who played just one year of college football as a fifth-year senior. He dropped two balls in Saturday morning's practice.

But Graham said he doesn't get too down on himself, either, after those moments.

"I know I have an end goal, and that's what I work toward every day," Graham said. "I try to work on something to get better every day."

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Cutler: Greg Olsen will have key role in Martz's offense

BOURBONNAIS -- Jay Cutler isn't worried about Greg Olsen finding a role in the new Bears' offense.

Fans will get their first glimpse of Mike Martz's new show Friday afternoon when the Bears practice in shells at Olivet Nazarene University, and one of the interesting things will be how Olsen and the tight ends are deployed in the system.

What may have been some initial hesitation on the part of Olsen -- he knows Ernie Conwell's 38 receptions in 2001 is the most for a tight end in a Martz offense -- has changed, according to Cutler.

"I think Greg was a little bit frustrated early on because we were doing a lot of receiver sets and stuff," Cutler told "The Mully & Hanley Show" on WSCR-AM 670. "You've got to buy into the offense and I think that once he did buy into it and once he started doing everything he was asked to do, a lot more balls started going his way.

"Just talking with Mike, tight ends are going to be huge targets for us. We're going to use them down in the red zone, third down. Greg is so versatile we can put two receivers in and put him in and he can block for us, he can go out for us, he can do a lot of different things. So, I think if you talk to Greg recently, I think he is really happy with the offense and the direction it is going."

Cutler also has talked to Martz about the moving pocket and roll-outs. Cutler throws well on the run and is known for being a mobile quarterback. Previous offensive coordinator Ron Turner got to some of the bootleg and roll-out material in the playbook too late last season after Cutler publicly campaigned for it. Martz's quarterbacks typically have been dropback passers, but the Bears are looking to utilize Cutler's athleticism.

"Mike is definitely open to ideas and different things," Cutler said. "He's a football coach and he is going to do anything it takes to win games and if it means rolling out of the pocket that is what he is going to do. He's bent a little bit, we've put in some roll-outs. He's asked me some questions about things I have done in the past.

"It is definitely going to be a part of our offense. How big? We don't know that yet. It's going to depend on game plans and who we're playing against. We definitely have some stuff like that in there."

Click here to order Greg Olsen’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Kenny Phillips Watches Training Camp From the Sidelines

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Kenny Phillips stood out on the opening day of the New York Giants' training camp.

On a day when players and coaches invariably talk about the excitement, anticipation and hope for an upcoming season, Phillips could not hide his disappointment.

For almost a year, the 23-year-old safety who was starting to show Pro Bowl potential has battled back from major surgery on his left knee. His target day for getting back on the field has been the first day of camp.

When the Giants ran their conditioning drills at the University at Albany on Sunday morning, all Phillips could do was watch.

The Giants have placed him on the physically unable to perform list, and no one is saying when he will be ready to go.

"I haven't played football in a long time and I was looking forward to the start of training camp," Phillips said Sunday during a lunch break. "I am still looking forward to getting out there."

When? He just doesn't know.

Phillips ran and did some football drills for the Giants' medical staff about two weeks ago. He felt he did everything asked.

When asked why he was on the PUP list, Phillips meekly said that maybe the staff didn't want to rush him. He insisted that since he had microfracture surgery, he has progressed to the point where he has run, cut and done football drills.

"So I am not worried about that, being in any pain once I do start," he said. "I just have to get used to playing football again."

Phillips got off to a great start last season, making 16 tackles and intercepting two passes in the Giants' first two games.

However, doctors found patella femoral arthritis in his left knee after the second game and performed the microfracture surgery. Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks had the same surgery and has returned at a high level.

New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and most of the veterans on the team have told Phillips to be patient.

"We understand the nature of his injury," Fewell said. "We are all disappointed, but we understand that we must take it slow so we don't hurt Kenny and Kenny doesn't hurt himself. As soon as he can join us, that's great. We've got to look after Kenny and he has to look after himself."

While remaining patient can be tough, Phillips insists he won't push it. He noted that the Giants are in good hands at safety with veteran free agents Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant on the roster. And he also believes once he returns he is confident he will win his job back.

Phillips was bold when asked if he had any doubts about playing this season.

"No doubt. No doubt at all," he said. "I feel good. I worked hard to get where I am at now. Just watching myself on film in drills, I feel good and I am not worried about it."

Rolle has been checking up on Phillips and he said that the former Miami star has been following the advice of the medical staff.

"The last thing you want is a recurring injury or pushing it too fast and prolonging the process," Rolle said. "I told him to make sure he was 150 percent when he came back and take however long you need."

Click here to order Kenny Phillips’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Reggie Wayne reports for Colts camp

Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis reported on time to Colts training camp Sunday.

Both players skipped voluntary offseason work due to dissatisfaction with their contracts, but aren't going to pull a Darrelle Revis. Wayne, entering his age-32 season, is scheduled for a $5.47 million base salary. Under control through 2011 with a host of promising youngsters behind him on the depth chart, Wayne may be hard pressed for an extension from the Colts at all.

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Vince Wilfork Understands Bill Belichick's Motives But Wishes Super Bowl Photos Remained in Gillette Stadium

Thursday marked the first day of practice for the New England Patriots, and though the team has a forward-looking attitude, Vince Wilfork doesn't like the fact that photos of recent Super Bowl wins have been removed from the walls.

"That's new, but I understand where he's coming from," Wilfork said of head coach Bill Belichick. "That's fine, we have to stop living in the past and I think the guys understand that."

Wilfork respects Belichick's emphasis on focus in the locker room, but he still wishes the photos were up because it represents a team accomplishment, and could possibly serve as a motivating factor for the new players on the team.

"I'm upset because of the pictures and everything, but at the same time what he's trying to accomplish, I understand that too." Wilfork added.
To see all of Wilfork's interview after the Patriots' practice Thursday, watch the video below.

Click here to order Vince WIlfork’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Newest proCane Ciara Michel Signs Pro Volleyball Contract

Coral Gables, Fla. - Former University of Miami volleyball student-athlete Ciara Michel (Miami, Fla.) officially signed a contract to play professional volleyball on Fri., July 16, taking her talents to Alemannia Aachen, a member of Germany's 14-team national first league, Bundesliga.

Aachen is a city located in westernmost Germany, nestled along the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Michel, a four-year standout for the Hurricanes at the middle blocker position from 2004-07, is the second former Hurricanes student-athlete under Nicole Lantagne Welch to ink a pro contract this year. Ashley Woods, a right side hitter for UM from 2005-08, signed to play with Club Voleibol in Benidorm, Spain this past January.

"I really owe this opportunity to my coaches at the University of Miami, for seeing potential in me as a tall, skinny but extremely uncoordinated `project player' in the past," said Michel. "I feel extremely lucky, and really excited to make the move to Germany. Not only will my volleyball improve, but I will learn a third language in the process."

Michel will fill in nicely for the "Ladies in Black" after Alemannia Aachen lost two players from the front row this past season, and should be a natural fit for them at middle blocker. She is the second signing of the summer season for Aachen, joining Karolina Bednáøová who is moving over from the Dutch club, VC Weert.

"We had the lead in the commitment of Ciara Michel," said Alemannia Aachen head coach Stefan Falter. "This is a great addition to our team."

While at UM, Michel established herself sixth all-time in kills (962), seventh in total attempts (1,993) and 10th in kills per set (2.24). In 2007, she was selected to the Preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference Team while also serving as a team captain for the Hurricanes.

Currently, Michel is eighth all-time at UM for attack percentage (.256), while sitting atop the record books in solo blocks (122) and total blocks (573). Her blocks total is more than 200 blocks better than second place performer Karla Johnson who accumulated 358 from 2002-05. Michel serves as the leader for the Hurricanes' record books in blocks per set, holding an average of 1.33 per set. In points, Michel sits fourth all-time, having picked up 1,316.5 throughout her stellar career.

In 2006, she was selected to the All-ACC Second Team, and earned All-ACC Academic Team honors, while being named to the Athletic Director's Honor Roll three consecutive years from 2005-07. She was voted the team's Most Improved Player as a redshirt freshman in 2004, and was named to the 2004-05 ACC Academic Honor Roll.

"We were the first European club to become aware of Michel, and we are extremely happy that she has decided to bring her talents to Aachen," states Falter. "With a size of 1.96 meters, she has the perfect size for a middle blocker for our team."

Upon graduation from UM, Michel ventured to Australia, spending two-and-a-half years there while also spending a semester studying abroad at Monash University in Clayton, Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne. Most recently in Melbourne, she was working towards a Master's Degree from the University of Melbourne, and worked for a not for profit organization, Foundation for Young Australians, which provides scholarships and education opportunities to underprivileged youth. In the meantime, she found time to play professionally for the Melbourne University Team.

Michel was noticed while playing for the University of Melbourne. In order for Michel to prepare for the Olympic Games, she decided to now make the move to Europe and the country of Germany with the "Ladies in Black."

For more information on the Alemannia Aachen volleyball team, please visit http://www.alemannia-aachen.de/volleyball/aktuell/nachrichten/.

For more information on the University of Miami volleyball team, please log on to www.hurricanesports.com. Once there, you will find up-to-date news, stats and information regarding the Hurricanes volleyball program.

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Aubrey Huff's fine season produces milestone

SAN FRANCISCO -- Aubrey Huff knew that he was close to career hit No. 1,500, but he didn't know that his first-inning single on Wednesday was the one until he looked at the video board in center field at AT&T Park.

"It's a nice accomplishment," Huff said after the game, before adding, "I like to count the thousands, not the five hundreds."

Huff finished the game going 2-for-3 with a walk and is hitting .310 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs this season.

When asked if he thinks he can get to 2,000 hits, Huff -- in the midst of his 11th season -- said, "Oh, sure. I hope so. If I play that long."

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Jason Michaels’ slam leads to sweep

Despite a strong performance by Wesley Wright, the Astros trailed heading into the seventh, when the middle of the order started a rally. Pence lined an infield single off the left wrist of Milwaukee starter Randy Wolf, prompting Wolf’s exit.Milwaukee reliever Kameron Loe promptly issued walks to Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson before giving way to lefthander Zach Braddock. Astros manager Brad Mills pinch-hit Jason Michaels for rookie Brett Wallace, and it paid off as Michaels hit a grand slam into the Crawford Boxes for a 4-2 lead.

“It was 2-0 there, and I didn’t think (Braddock) wanted to throw another ball,” Michaels said. “I was fortunate enough to get some wood on it.”

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Pat Burrell's HR off Broxton boosts Giants past Dodgers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Thanks to additions like Pat Burrell to San Francisco's suddenly productive offense, the Giants brass focused its efforts on bolstering the bullpen at the trading deadline.

Two new relievers are coming to town for the playoff push.

Burrell lined a go-ahead two-run homer into the left-field seats with two outs in the eighth inning, and the Giants rallied past the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-1 on Saturday.

The Giants won for the eighth time in 10 games.

Chad Billingsley extended his scoreless innings streak to 212/3 spanning three starts, but the bullpen couldn't hold a one-run lead for short-handed Los Angeles. Casey Blake had put the Dodgers ahead with a solo homer in the seventh.

Buster Posey was plunked on the upper left arm by Hong-Chih Kuo with two outs in the eighth and both benches were warned by plate umpire Rob Drake. Jonathan Broxton (3-3) relieved and blew his fourth save when he gave up Burrell's sixth homer of the year.

"It's hard to get a bigger hit than that," manager Bruce Bochy said.

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Danny Valencia is fitting in fine with the Minnesota Twins

Soon, minutes from now, Danny Valencia will jog around the bases, floating almost, on the exhilaration of his first big-league homer, one that came with the bases loaded and 2009 American League Cy Young winner Zack Greinke on the mound. For now, though, here he is at Kauffman Stadium, under the bright big-league lights, slinking sheepishly back to the on-deck circle.

His eagerness once again the victor, Valencia had just watched Jason Kubel's at-bat. He saw Kubel bend over and begin removing his shin guard, saw the bat boy march toward the plate to collect it, and, taking that as his cue, he strode toward the batter's box.

But then he turned and retreated.

Kubel might have made the first false start in the sequence, thinking his called strike was ball four, but it was Valencia, unable to play it cool with so many eyes watching, who looked the rookie, his return to warming up met by headshaking from his manager and snickers from his teammates.

When Valencia finally got his turn at the plate, he did his best to make up for the harmless gaffe, putting the Twins up 6-0 with his first homer at any level this season. But his snafu did not go unnoticed. With the clubhouse version of kangaroo court in full session these days, the Twins have a watchful eye on their rookies, and Valencia pays — literally — for even the most miniscule of miscues.

Asked after the game whether Valencia would be fined for his premature stroll to the plate, Michael Cuddyer, the court's bailiff of sorts, said: "Probably. He gets fined for everything. You guys bring me something; I'll fine him."

Drafted out of the University of Miami in the 19th round in 2006, Valencia quickly gained a reputation for brimming with so much confidence that it often spilled over into arrogance. He would tout his talents aloud, and that's where his early problems with this organization began.
Other Twins players and executives thought the young third baseman — the kid from Miami with a South Beach swagger and wide, bright smile — appreciated his own ability to an un-Twins-like degree. His actions often drew eye rolls, and only after two straight four-hit games, that grand slam and a batting average swollen to .387 with seven doubles, one triple and 12 runs batted in did manager Ron Gardenhire seem comfortable giving Valencia his due.

Just days before the 25-year-old's Kansas City breakout, Gardenhire's compliments were not so free-flowing. For weeks after Valencia's arrival in the big leagues June 3, questions to the manager about how Valencia was doing in his first stint in the majors drew the uninspired half-hearted response: "Danny's doing fine."

Asked last week at Baltimore if he likes more and more what he's seeing from Valencia, Gardenhire said: "Yeah, he's swinging fine. We'll spot-play him and all those things. I want his movement to keep improving at third base."

Perhaps Gardenhire's measured approach to Valencia is understandable. After all, the third baseman still has just 93 at-bats in his budding big-league career. And just as the manager is measured when talking about the rookie, Valencia is measured in the clubhouse.

He tries to sit quietly, something that just might go against every instinct he has, and he does his best not to offend. He is still prone to rookie mistakes, caused no doubt by ignorance and eagerness, and each time he does something remotely suspect, his teammates let him know. Aside from that, the Twins have few complaints.

"He's been fine here," Cuddyer said. "I think in this clubhouse you can't afford to be too cocky. Not that anything bad is going to happen to you. It's just that you kind of fall into what everybody else is about. It's about team; it's not about yourself. That's the thing. All you've heard about him is that he's cocky, tells people how good he is, things like that. Well, now he's playing well, and you still don't hear from him, so that's a good thing."

Still, the Twins work diligently to teach Valencia the team-first message.

Right about the time he was called up from the minors, the team established its 2010 kangaroo court, and ever since, Valencia has been a heavy contributor. It is his job to carry the court's fine box — an oversized black shoebox with its name scrawled in marker — on the road.

He forgot the box Monday, a mental lapse that qualified for another team-imposed fine in a ritual that is mostly comical and quite benign. The money in the box (all players, not just rookies, are fined for mistakes) helps fund a team get-together at the end of the season.

"He's definitely funded," Cuddyer said. "We're going to have a good party."

There is a certain arrogance about Valencia, yet he seems mostly harmless, his airs delivered with a wide grin. He believes in his ability, and occasionally — though much less now that he's working to heed the advice former general manager Terry Ryan gave him during Twinsfest to be seen and not heard — he can't stop himself from expressing that confidence.

Asked Wednesday if his success in the big leagues has surprised him, Valencia said yes — while shaking his head side to side.

"I felt like my confidence came from going to the University of Miami," he said. "They really embed in you to be real confident. Obviously, you heard the word swagger, and we invented that there. So I feel it's something that every player that goes through that program, every athlete — whether it be football, basketball or baseball — they've always been people that are real confident with some swagger. Obviously, you can't do that in pro ball, which is what I've learned."

Perhaps it's that trait that helped Valencia climb from the 19th round to the majors, laugh his way past a locker stuffed full of baby food and diapers in spring training (a message meant to remind him of his rookie status) and smile and shrug when he arrived in a big-league locker room for the first time back at Safeco Field in early June to find a jersey with the number 79 stitched on the back rather than the 19 he was supposed to wear. The number 79 was Valencia's during his first spring training, a year when all nonrostered players wear numbers in the high double digits.

"I like it. I love it. It's part of the game," Valencia said of his initiation. "If they're doing that to you, I've always taken it that they like you. Whether they do or they don't, that's how I take it."

Cuddyer said that since Valencia has joined the big-league team, "you don't notice him, and that's a good thing," and Valencia said that his toned-down confidence has made him an all-around better person. He was surprised at how long it took him to overcome the label of being the overconfident prospect, but now, he said, he feels a part of the team.

He should, of course, because he's funding their postseason party.

"Our guys do a really good job of not letting anybody get too high on the horse," Gardenhire said. "He's getting put in his place, but he's handling it very well. He's not fighting against it. He enjoys it, and I think he's having a good time."

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