Allen Hurns moves up lists, on record pace

Receiver Allen Hurns is turning out to be one of the better bargain finds in the NFL. He's certainly already established himself as one of the best undrafted players in Jaguars history.

Hurns' five touchdowns are tied with Matt Jones and Justin Blackmon for most by a rookie receiver in team history and he has seven games remaining to break the record. He also sits atop the team charts for most receiving yards in a single season by an undrafted player (466) and most touchdowns in a single season by an undrafted player.

Hurns has 29 catches for 466 yards and five touchdowns. Within the next several weeks he can take over top spots on several charts. He needs:

- Four receptions to move into first place on the list of most receptions by an undrafted player in a single season in team history
- Eleven receptions to move into first place on the list of most career receptions by an undrafted player in team history.
- Sixty-nine receiving yards to move into first place on the list of most receiving yards by an undrafted player in team history.

Hurns is second among all rookie receivers in the NFL in average per catch (16.1) and receptions of 20 or more yards (nine, tied with Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin and Buffalo's Sammy Watkins). Cleveland's Taylor Gabriel has the best per-catch average among rookies (19.2) and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans has the most catches of at least 20 yards (10).

Bookmark and Share

Sam Shields: '100 percent' back from bizarre knee injury

GREEN BAY – Sam Shields is back to 100 percent, but the Green Bay Packers cornerback still isn’t quite sure what happened inside his left knee that caused damage to his patellar tendon.

In fact, he may never know.

Shields injured his knee during the Packers’ Oct. 12 victory at Miami, a game in which Shields had a first-half interception. But something felt strange in his knee before the second half started, and suddenly, he was lying on the turf before the Dolphins’ second drive of the third quarter even began. The injury caused Shields to miss the Packers’ Oct. 19 win over Carolina and their Oct. 26 pre-bye loss at New Orleans.

“I was coming out of halftime, and I did my usual warmup. Went out there, felt a pinch in my knee. I was like, this doesn’t feel right,” Shields recalled in the Packers’ locker room Thursday afternoon, when he pronounced himself ready to go for Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. “I tried to take off again, and it was still there.”

Shields played through the awkward feeling on the opening series, but as he trotted out to his spot for Miami’s next possession and he felt the pinching in his knee again, he realized there might be something seriously wrong. After considering playing through it, he decided the smarter move was to go down before the Dolphins snapped the ball.

“I thought about that in that quick second. Like, ‘[Expletive] it.’ And then I said, ‘Nah,’” Shields said. “So I just went down.”

As odd as his knee felt that day, Shields says it now feels perfectly normal. The official diagnosis he received was of a strained patellar tendon, he said.

“I’m feeling goooood. No pain, no nothing,” he said. “It’s a good thing it wasn’t serious, like a surgery injury. It was good with the bye. That helped me a lot. Even before the bye, it was getting better.”

Shields worked out before the loss to the Saints, a game for which he was listed as doubtful. Had the Packers played last week, he might have been able to go.

“I was getting there. I just went out there pregame, got a little warmup, see where I was. And I actually felt good that day,” Shields said. “Going into the bye, they tested me and I ran good, and coming off getting that more rest, it definitely felt good. And now I feel really good.”

Bookmark and Share

Devin Hester still in offensive game plan

Quarterback Matt Ryan said the Falcons still plan to use wide receiver Devin Hester, who wasn’t targeted in the passing game against Detroit and didn’t catch a pass for the first time this season.

Harry Douglas’ return to the lineup against the Lions and reclaimed the No. 3 wide receiver position. Douglas caught three passes for 42 yards and picked up a key third down in the fourth quarter with a finger-tip grab.

“Devin is a part of our plan every week,” Ryan said. “Obviously he’s showcased this year what he’s capable of doing and how explosive of a player that he is.”

Hester has been targeted on 25 passes and has 18 catches for 263 yards, but his snaps were cut against Detroit because of the protection concerns which limited the use of the Falcons’ four-wide receiver formations.

“I think it’s important to try and get all of playmakers the ball in space and see what happens,” Ryan said.

Hester went catch-less for the first time this season.

“We’ve had opportunities on third down,” Hester said. “There are plays to be made and as a wide receiver group, we have to make them.”

Bookmark and Share

PHOTO: 6'7" Saints TE Jimmy Graham Towers over 5'2" Jockey Jimmy Graham

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham presents a huge mismatch on the football field at 6'7'' and 265 pounds, towering over most normal people.

Not surprisingly, Graham also towers over the jockey who goes by the same name. The jockey comes in at just 5'2'', and the height difference is noticeable in the picture the two took together at practice on Thursday.

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller Practices on Thursday and Looks Good

Dolphins tailback Lamar Miller's participation in this week's practices has been significantly limited, which raises concern about his availability for Sunday's road game against the Detroit Lions.

Miller injured his left shoulder in last Sunday's 37-0 win over the San Diego Chargers. The former University of Miami standout has started 24 games for the Dolphins, and 23 since 2013, when he replaced his former mentor, Reggie Bush, who is now the starter for the Lions.

"I thought he moved around well," said coach Joe Philbin, who has missed two practices this week attending his father's funeral. "He looked good, but we'll have to see, take it one day at a time."

Miller has gained 518 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns on 106 carries, and he's averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He's also caught 21 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown. Miller caught passes on Thursday during the portion of practice the media is allowed to watch.

If Miller doesn't play or can't play much, Daniel Thomas would likely receive a larger workload. And expect rookie tailback Damien Williams to get more involved too.

Thomas has gained 101 rushing yards on 27 carries and has caught nine passes for 97 yards in the five games he's played. Throughout his four- year NFL career with the Dolphins, Thomas, a former second-round pick, has rushed for 1,413 yards and 392 carries and he's scored 13 touchdowns.

Williams, a former Oklahoma standout the Dolphins signed as a rookie free agent, has gained 66 rushing yards on 24 carries, and he's brought down four receptions for 35 yards.

If Miller isn't cleared to play, the Dolphins might promote one of two tailbacks — Orleans Darkwa or LaMichael James — from the practice squad.

James, who the San Francisco 49ers picked in the second-round of the 2012 draft, was added to Miami's practice squad a month ago after he was released by the 49ers.

Darkwa, an undrafted rookie from Tulane, spent the first couple weeks on the Dolphins' 53-man roster. He gained 2 yards on four carries and caught three passes for 31 yards. Darkwa also provides some special teams value.

"He's just a tough instinctive football player," Philbin said of Darkwa. "That's why he made the team. Some of it was special teams, but he ran the ball hard in the preseason when he had opportunities. LaMichael brings some different skills, and he's picked up the offense well….I see progress."

Bookmark and Share

Devin Hester prompts changes in Bucs' plan

TAMPA — The last time the Bucs saw Falcons PR/WR Devin Hester, he was striking a "Prime Time" pose on his way to the end zone with an NFL-record 20th return for a touchdown. That one came on a 62-yard punt return in the Falcons' 56-14 rout Sept. 18 at the Georgia Dome. The return broke the record of 19 held by Hester's idol, Deion Sanders.

Hester, who played his first eight seasons with the Bears under now-Bucs coach Lovie Smith, also had a 20-yard end around for a touchdown in the game.

Smith had a ringside seat for most of Hester's feats in Chicago. But now he has to devise ways to stop him before Sunday's game against the Falcons.

"You have some options," Smith said. "One of them is to say, 'Hey, we're going to stop him. He puts on his cleats like everybody else does.' Another one, of course, is try to keep the ball out of his hands. Punt it higher to be able to get coverage down there.

"We have a few different options. We will at least change up the game plan a little bit from last time."

Bookmark and Share

Shane Larkin Could Be A Steal For Knicks

Eddie Scarito of Hoops Rumors believes Larin may have been a steal.

The potential steal of the trade with the Mavs was young point guard Shane Larkin, a first-rounder in the 2013 draft who didn’t see much playing time during his rookie season. Larkin has an extremely high upside, and he has been the team’s starter early in the season thanks to an injury to Calderon. But the Knicks may have made an error in declining to pick up his $1.675MM team option for next season since the CBA bars the team from re-signing him for more than he would have made on his option. If Larkin continues to impress on the court, he’ll likely command a higher salary than that option would have paid him. This could end up being another potentialJeremy Lin scenario, where the player has a breakout season and then another team swoops in and offers more than New York will be able to match.

Larkin did not have his third-year option which is a surprise to some. Although the Knicks want to maintain flexibility for free agency, if the 18th-overall pick of the first round of the 2013 Draft develops, it could be a mistake.

Larkin averaged 2.8 points and 1.5 assists in 10.2 minutes per game. He shot 38.0% from the field, 31.6% from beyond the arc and 64.0% from the charity stripe.

Bookmark and Share

Red Sox: Jemile Weeks worth a shot in 2015

As the Boston Red Sox roster shakes out, they will have plenty of options for their bench. Right now, Brock Holt appears to be the only lock to make the Red Sox bench as a utility man leaving three spots up for grabs. Acquired from Baltimore along with Ivan Dejesus Jr. in exchange for Kelly Johnson and Michael Almanzar, Jemile Weeks may be able to fill one of these bench spots.

At the time, the deal flew under the radar, but it could come back to help the Red Sox in the long run. Weeks played well late in the season collecting eight hits in 26 at-bats for the big league club while drawing four walks and swiping two bags in 14 games. This may not sound like much, but he is just a few years removed from a strong rookie campaign where he hit .303/.340/.421 while swiping 22 bags for the Oakland Athletics back in 2011.

A second baseman by trade may not sound too appealing to the Red Sox, but Weeks has added to his versatility. In addition to playing second, Weeks can also play shortstop and center field effectively.

For the Red Sox, Weeks would definitely be a nice compliment to Xander Bogaerts at shortstop as Weeks hits lefties and righties alike equally as well. It would be easy to insert Weeks into the lineup on any given day because he has a decent shot at getting on base against anyone.

Stealing 40 bases on 56 attempts in 240 MLB games, Weeks doubles as a pinch runner. When he is not in the lineup, he is a great guy to have on the bench since he is an upgrade running the bases over most guys on the Red Sox with the exception of Mookie Betts of course.

Even though the Red Sox will likely be big spenders this offseason, they could definitely save some money by going with a cheap, versatile bench. Having young guys like Jemile Weeks earning the league minimum on the bench would be a smart move for the club so they can give the money to the guys who are out there every single day. Not to mention Weeks is not half-bad either.

Bookmark and Share

Matt Bosher working on consistency

Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said punter Matt Bosher is working on some technical fixes to improve his consistency.

“There are some things we talk about but obviously I can’t share (the details),” Armstrong said. “He’s well aware of what’s happening with his situation. We got some good work on that (Monday).”

Bosher kicked a punt out of bounds for 29 yards in the Week 8 loss against the Lions. The mishit gave Detroit a first down at Atlanta’s 44-yard line and the Lions scored on Golden Tate’s 59-yard touchdown three plays later to cut its deficit to 21-10.

Bosher said hes’ always getting feedback from a group that includes Armstrong, assistant coach Eric Sutulovich, kicker Matt Bryant and long snapper Josh Harris.

“Coming off the bye week, you get a chance to refocus, shore up a couple things and make sure the second half the season we have everything squared away so we can take opponents’ returners out of the game and take care of our business,” he said.

Bosher’s net punt average 39.8 yards ranks 13th in the league. Opponents are averaging 7.5 yards per return against the Falcons, who rank 11th-best in that category.

“Things people don’t pay attention to, (such as) punt coverage for no gain, that’s a positive,” Armstrong said. “Field position is a team stat. Say our offense goes and moves the ball for three first downs and then we punt the ball and tackle people inside the 20-yard line. That’s field position. The more we do the little things the right away, the big plays show up.”

Bookmark and Share

Frank Gore nursing hip injury

Running back Frank Gore (hip) was among the 49ers who were limited. Gore was observed getting his hip examined by doctors during Sunday’s game.

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller able to practice Wednesday

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller was able to practice Wednesday, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Miller is dealing with an injured shoulder, but was able to get out on the practice field Tuesday. Miller was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday's injury report. He's expected to play despite the injury.

Bookmark and Share

Bill Polian Explains Drafting Edgerrin James Over Ricky Williams

As one of the most successful general managers and team presidents in NFL history, few people understand how to create the blueprint for a winning football team like Bill Polian. After building the Buffalo Bills team that went to four consecutive Super Bowls and taking the expansion Carolina Panthers to the NFC championship game just two years after the team's creation, he was responsible for the Indianapolis Colts drafting Peyton Manning with the first overall pick in 1998 and oversaw the team's victory in Super Bowl XLI. Now, Polian shares his blueprint for building a successful football team in The Game Plan: The Art Of Building A Winning Football Team. In this excerpt, Polian analyzes his trade of Marshall Faulk to the Rams and opting for Edgerrin James rather than Ricky Williams in the draft.

... The next day, we used the fourth overall pick on the lesser known of the two top running backs in the draft: Edgerrin James of the University of Miami. Ricky Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner from Texas, was the household name that most people thought we would select. Instead, the New Orleans Saints chose him with the next pick, which they acquired by trading their entire draft (plus their first- and third-round picks in 2000) to the Redskins, because that was how badly they wanted Ricky Williams.

As we were just getting ready to wrap up for the day, Dom Anile, our personnel director, tossed his car keys to Tom Telesco, one of our scouts, who is now general manager of the Chargers.

"Here, Tommy, go start my car," Dom said. We all laughed at the implications of that statement.

Despite the public outcry, Dom and I had no hesitation about our pick whatsoever. The reason media analysts and fans knew a lot less about Edgerrin than they did about Ricky was because the NCAA had placed Miami on probation and, therefore, the Hurricanes' only nationally televised game the previous season was against UCLA. In our mind, there really was no comparison between the two.

For one thing, the way Ricky carried himself, the way that he lived his life, was entirely inconsistent with being a good football player. Second, we weren't convinced that he really cared about football. Third, when you broke it down, Ricky was good, but not great, and that was what he turned out to be as a pro -- good, but not great. I don't know whether or not his love of football held him back because he had great gifts, but he obviously didn't distinguish himself.

Edgerrin, on the other hand, had incredible gifts to go along with a clear love for the game and desire to excel. Although he was a scholarship player at Miami, Edgerrin had to earn his playing time. He told us that if it weren't for some bad luck for Frank Gore and Willis McGahee with injuries, he might not have ever gotten a chance to play. Edgerrin also described Frank as the most gifted running back he had ever seen, and Frank has subsequently demonstrated as much during his career with the 49ers.

Edgerrin’s interview with us was tremendous, while Ricky's was the complete opposite. We decided to meet with Ricky at our facility because we were told that he really didn’t like going out to restaurants. We catered a big dinner for him from St. Elmo’s, the famous Indianapolis steak house, in a conference room. Ricky walked in, sat down and was essentially non-communicative.

On top of that, Ricky had done very poorly in his pre-draft workout. He ran something like a 4.75-second 40-yard dash. He certainly didn't match up with Edgerrin in terms of the numbers and that told us that he wouldn't be a good fit in our offense. We used a zone-blocking scheme, which means the blockers are moving laterally and are essentially taking defenders where they want to go. The running back has to have patience, wait to see the hole open, and then tremendous vision and acceleration to get through the hole. He has to go from a geared-down state to a hundred miles an hour.

Ricky’s acceleration in the hole was average at best. He was much better suited to a power running system, where he would use all of that body mass that he had and the explosion he had to get to the hole and maybe run over people. Then, when he was out in the open, he could throw it into fourth gear.

Adding to the initial criticism we received for choosing Edgerrin over Ricky was the fact that before signing his contract, Edgerrin held out for a couple of weeks, which caused him to miss our rookie camp. We played him sparingly in the first preseason game, but he saw more extensive action in our second, at New Orleans.

I was seated in the Superdome press box with Dom and Chris. We were one booth away from the owner, so we could see Jim Irsay and Jim could see us. With the offense down in the red zone, we ran an outside stretch play to the right, and Edgerrin ripped off about a seven- or eight-yard gain. We ran the very same play again, and this time Edgerrin made two guys miss before running about 15 yards for a touchdown.

I looked over at Jim, he looked over at me and gave the thumbs up.

We wound up going 13–3 in our second season, a complete reversal of our first year and the biggest one-season turnaround in league history...

Bookmark and Share

Calais Campbell Will Be X-Factor For Cardinals In Week 10

Sitting atop the standings with the best record in the NFL, the 7-1 Arizona Cardinals will welcome the 3-5 St. Louis Rams to University of Phoenix Stadium for an NFC West showdown on Sunday. This may seem like a mismatch on paper, but the Rams will provide a larger hurdle than the Cardinals expect. If Calais Campbell and the Cardinals cannot improve their pass rush, the Rams could turn Glendale into Upset City.

The Rams’ success largely lies in the hands of quarterback Austin Davis, and he does well when he gets adequate protection from his offensive line. In their three wins this season, Davis has been sacked only three times while being brought down a whopping 20 times in their losses. This is great news for the Rams heading into this divisional matchup as the Cardinals have only mustered eight sacks on the year.

It’s understood that Arizona owns one of the most deadly secondaries in the NFL, leading the league with 12 interceptions on the season. However, that star-studded secondary can only take them so far when the quarterback is consistently dropping back with ample time to find a receiver. I don’t care who you are, it’s impossible to cover an NFL wide receiver forever.

After accumulating nine sacks in 2013, Campbell has only recorded one of the Cardinals’ defensive line’s three sacks this season. Generally, a secondary as strong as Arizona’s allows the front seven to be more aggressive in blitzing because they can cover receivers for extended periods of time, but this is somehow not the case for the Cardinals.

The defensive front needs to step up in a big way if the Cardinals want to turn this game into the laugher their fans will be looking for. After missing Weeks 6 and 7 due to injury, Campbell is slowly returning to full health and needs to start creating opportunities in the pass rush. Whether it’s getting to the quarterback himself or forcing double teams to create openings for other rushers, Campbell needs to make an impact in this game.

The Rams have proven to be a team that gains confidence as they are able to hang around late in games, and an effective pass rush can ruin St. Louis’ poise early.

If the Cardinals want to be considered Super Bowl contenders, it is paramount that they find ways to get to the quarterback. As they face playoff-caliber quarterbacks, their secondary will be picked apart if their defensive line can’t cause pressure. In Week 10, all eyes will be on the team holding the best record in football, and a quality performance from Campbell will be key in avoiding a massive letdown.

Bookmark and Share

Jimmy Graham Practices In Full Wednesday

Graham (shoulder) practiced fully Wednesday, the Saints' official site reports.

Graham may remain a mainstay on New Orleans' injury report for the rest of the season, but owners shouldn't fret about his presence considering his unhinged status Wednesday. His usage has ramped up each of the last three weeks, with 12 catches (on 13 targets) for 142 yards and two touchdowns spread across the past two. Consequently, he's assured of a starting spot in all lineups as long as he avoids further ailments.

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller staring at tough matchup

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller seems likely to play in Week 10 against the Lions despite a sprained shoulder, but health concerns aren't the only reason Fantasy owners should approach him with caution this weekend.

Miller has rushed the ball well as the team's featured back, but is set to run into arguably the league's toughest defense this week. The Lions are allowing just 3.2 yards per carry to opposing running backs, and have not allowed any of their last four opponents to average better than 3.0 yards per carry.

Miller has done a fine job for Miami this season, improving his yards per carry mark from 4.9 to 4.0 since last season. However, he should be viewed as more of a low-end starting option for Week 10, against this kind of matchup.

Bookmark and Share

Frank Gore: 'We're going to the playoffs'

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It was not quite Joe Namath lounging poolside in South Beach, but Frank Gore did take a page from Broadway Joe.

OK, maybe a liner note.

Gore, the San Francisco 49ers' workhorse running back who has become something of a forgotten man on offense of late, predicted the Niners' January plans.

"We're going to the playoffs," Gore said in the team's locker room on Wednesday.

Now, before you start Googling Jim Mora and playing clips on YouTube, put Gore in context.

He was not bragging or boasting. How could he with the 49ers riding a two-game losing streak and heading to New Orleans at just 4-4, three games behind the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals and a game back of the Seattle Seahawks?

Rather, this was the calculated talk of a player whose team has played in three straight NFC title games ... even if the 49ers' offense seems so discombobulated at the moment.

"We're going to do it. We have great coaches, we have great guys. The last three years we've been spoiled. That's where we want to go ... the postseason. Once everybody takes care of their [individual] jobs, we have a great shot."

Many, though, think Gore is being under-utilized. And if Gore is among them, he's not saying. At least, not publicly.

"It's a team," he said. "We have great players all around. Receivers, backs, I just think as a group we have to do better, more consistent. It's always one player here or there."

Meaning, one player missing his assignment has a domino effect on the rest of the offense.

"In this league, that can't happen. You're not going to win games when everybody on offense isn't clicking together."

And you can guarantee that sentiment.

Bookmark and Share

Tom Coughlin, NY Giants players split over Antrel Rolle's latest 'passion' rant

Antrel Rolle may be in reruns, but his teammates are still tuning in.

The latest from the always-chatty safety came Tuesday, when he criticized his 3-5 Giants for a lack of passion and fire during his weekly paid WFAN radio spot. And on Wednesday, several of his teammates couldn't help but agree.

"Antrel Rolle is a great guy, and I am with him, I am going to ride with him regardless, and I do feel like we can play with more intensity," said defensive lineman Robert Ayers, one of the few Giants who showed intensity in Monday's loss to the Colts. "This is a game of passion, this is a game of intensity, this is a game of want-to and will. We definitely have to display some of that, we have to play with a lot of that."

Added linebacker Jameel McClain: "Antrel is the general, and whatever the general says, it goes."

It's the third straight season that Rolle has felt the need to question his teammates' intensity, and it's the third straight year that the Giants seem set to miss the postseason. But coach Tom Coughlin insisted that fire is not Big Blue's main issue, and he added that he doesn't mind his team's lack of passionate presences.
"I know he (Rolle) is an emotional guy and he does wear his emotions on his sleeve," Coughlin said. "Not all people are the same.

"It wasn't a 'rah-rah-rah' situation most of the time on the sideline," he added of Monday's game, "but people were into the game and they were playing hard."
McClain said that the main issue with the Giants is that they don't consistently play with passion.

"People are what they are, and that's not taking anything away from it," he said. "We fly around at times. The goal is to keep it consistent. I don't know how you create it (passion)."

Ayers, however, seemed to have an idea for that, and it comes down to the team wanting to maintain its energy, something that's far more challenging amidst a season of struggles.

"It is easy to be intense when things are good . . . when you lose, it is tough, but we have to keep working at it," he said. "It starts with the players, it starts with the coaches, and we just have to keep fighting and keep wanting it."


From the challenge flag incident to the blowout loss, the Giants have few happy memories from Monday's loss to the Colts, and Coughlin was tired of taking questions about that game Wednesday. He grew snappy when asked about Eli Manning's performance in that game.

"I thought we were moving forward," he said before answering the question. "Are we done talking about the other night or not?"


Running back Rashad Jennings, who has missed three straight games with a sprained MCL in his left knee, did not participate in the Giants' short jog-through practice, dimming his hopes of a return this week in Seattle. But he is progressing, Coughlin said.

"I think he started to do some cutting, but I don't know if there is a full menu or diet of that coming," Coughlin said. "He is running though."

Bookmark and Share

Overlook Jon Jay? Cardinals won't let that happen again

ST. LOUIS -- On the day the Cardinals traded for center fielder Peter Bourjos last November, Mike Matheny called Jon Jay and assured him that he would not be overlooked.

While the gesture was appreciated, Jay said it was unnecessary.

"I'm here to compete, I'm here to help the team win any way I can," Jay said. "That kind of move shows how this organization is willing to do whatever it takes to win."

As the season played out, the call from his manager was unnecessary for another reason, too.

The way Jay played in 2014, no way could the Cardinals overlook him. When Bourjos struggled early, Jay was ready. He did not step in and take off as much as he just played his steady game. By the end of April, he was hitting .284 to .160 for Bourjos. Though Bourjos would get plenty of chances over the next several weeks, he never showed Matheny enough to beat out Jay.

By the second half, center field belonged to Jay. He finished the season playing in 140 games with 468 plate appearances; Bourjos finished at 119 with 294.
Jay led Cardinals regulars with a .303 batting average, finished second to third baseman Matt Carpenter with a .372 on-base percentage and led the majors by being hit by a pitch 20 times. Just as important as his offensive contributions was that Jay's defense returned to his pre-2013 level (though don't suggest that to Jay, who said he could not tell a difference between 2014 and 2013). He wasn't quite Bourjos in center field, but he was well above average.

Jay's overall performance was strong enough that general manager John Mozeliak said he won't be shopping for a potential upgrade in center field this offseason.

"How he played the second half was, frankly, altering how we look at him moving forward," the GM said.

Perhaps it's time everyone looked at Jay a bit differently. While he's not likely to win an MVP or even make the All-Star Game, he has proven to be quite a winning player. Consider this: In the Cardinals' four-year run of advancing to at least the NL Championship Series, Jay is their only player to appear in all 57 postseason games. For a guy who says he doesn't judge his season on his numbers, that stat matters.

"My goal in the beginning of every year is to be playing a lot in September leading into October," he said. "I know that to be in the lineup at that point, I must have done something during the year."

Jay has played in only five big-league seasons since being taken in the second round of the 2006 draft but he already is tied for fourth in franchise history for most playoff games. Though he shrugs off talk about his individual performance, he does not downplay the significance of reaching the NLCS four times.

"You want to be part of that Cardinals history," he said. "We see it when guys come into town for reunions of the World Series (winners). That's a cool thing you point out to a young guy: 'Hey, man, that should be us one day. Twenty years from now when we're old with our families, we'll be coming back to St. Louis to celebrate a world championship.' That's what it's about."

Jay doesn't turn 30 until March 15, but he no longer is one of the youngsters being mentored by the likes of Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter. These days, Jay is one of the old guys showing the youngsters the way as they arrive in St. Louis and are immediately expected to contribute.

"I got so much information and support and advice from guys before, from Albert, Carp, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran," Jay said. "I feel like it's my turn now to share that with the younger guys. It's a fun process. Every day I thank God for this opportunity I've been given."

Jay told me this the day before he started in center field in the National League Championship Series. Though spring didn't start the way he would have preferred, he was right where he wanted to be in October.

"It was different for him this year," Matheny said late in the season. "But to his credit, I can't think of one day all season when he didn't say, 'Hey, whatever you need me to do, I'll be ready.' And it was sincere. It was nice to see a guy like that take off and prove it to everybody."

Jay did so despite playing the final two months of the regular season and the playoffs with a sore left wrist that required arthroscopic cleanup after the season. The surgery is not expected to slow him in 2015.

That should not come as a surprise, though -- not after he proved last season there isn't much that can hold him back.

Bookmark and Share

Ryan Braun given immunity by feds in Biogenesis case

In a Miami Herald report detailing the confession of Alex Rodriguez to DEA agents investigating the Biogenesis clinic that he used PEDs obtained there comes the news that the Brewers' Ryan Braun was one of the players given immunity from prosecution.

The report says Braun and eight other players were given immunity by federal prosecutors for their testimony in the Biogenesis investigation in which charges were filed againt clinic operator Tony Bosch and an associate. The other players given immunity were Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera, Francisco Cervelli, Yasmani Grandal, Cesar Puello, Jordany Valdespin and Manny Rodriguez.

MLB suspended 14 players for their involvement in buying PEDs from the Biogenesis clinic. Rodriguez had an original 211-game suspension reduced to 162 games by an arbitrator. Braun received the second-longest suspension, sitting out the final 65 games of the 2013 season.

Braun tested positive for synthetic testosterone in October 2011 but avoided a 50-game suspension on appeal and denied using PEDs for a year and a half before being caught in the Biogenesis investigation and subsequently suspended by MLB.

The report says Miami criminal defense attorney Frank Quintero, who is representing an associate of Bosch accused of conspiring to distribute steroids to high school athletes, said the government's deal with Rodriguez was "a farce" and that none of the players should have been granted immunity.

“From the evidence that we’ve seen, there is no question that Rodriguez and some of the other major league ballplayers should never have received immunity and, in fact, should have been prosecuted because they committed crimes,” Quintero said.

“The immunity given to Rodriguez and these other ballplayers is an attempt by the Justice Department to cover up their alleged crimes,” he added. “MLB committed the same alleged crimes that these ballplayers did by bribing witnesses, interfering with the state and federal investigations and obstructing justice, all of which was recently reported in New Times.”

Bookmark and Share

Good chance Dolphins RB Lamar Miller will play Week 10

Although Dolphins running back Lamar Miller is considered day to day with an AC joint sprain, there is a good chance he will play Week 10 against the Lions, according to the Miami Herald.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor provided no insight Monday about Miller's availability for Sunday's game, but he didn't seem overly concerned about the team being without Miller. If Miller is sidelined, Daniel Thomas or Damien Williams will start at running back.

"If Lamar needs [rest] and he comes out, very infrequently do I start calling the game differently," Lazor said. "Sometimes if it is long-term, we would have to think about it and consider what they do best because I think that's what the smart thing is -- to do what guys do best. For the most part, we don't have a million different runs. For the most part, they all have been working out all the runs that we do well. I think we'll be able to trust all of them."

Miller has started every game this season for the Dolphins. He is the team's leading rusher with 518 yards. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has six touchdowns (five rushing) through eight games.

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne explains crying during national anthem

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne was moved to tears during Monday night’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at MetLife Stadium. The national anthem was performed by trumpet player Chris Botti, and he did a fantastic job.

After the game, Wayne spoke about his emotions getting the best of him.

“An old wise guy told me you shouldn’t hold back your tears,” he said, via Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports. “If you’ve got tears coming, let them out. He also told me, ‘Let your farts go free and be like me,’ and he passed, so…”

At age 35 and in his 14th season, Wayne has no time for holding back tears. He may not have been streaming crocodile tears like this NFL running back, but that sure was raw emotion.

Bookmark and Share

Sean Spence: 'My faith and courage was tested'

Steelers LB Sean Spence received the Ed Block Courage Award on Tuesday.

Courage. It’s defined as “strength in the face of pain or grief,” but also in the actions of those who possess it. Courage is never quitting. It’s never giving up, never losing hope, even when others around you might have doubts.

Courage is working out on your own, day after day, to achieve a dream that seems so out of reach.

Courage is believing, when others don’t. It’s having faith, when nobody else does.

Courage is what makes Sean Spence’s heart beat. It’s what makes him tick. It’s what makes him a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And it’s what makes him the team’s 2014 Ed Block Courage Award recipient, presented annually to a Steelers player who has fought back from an injury or tough circumstances to return to the field.

Spence was presented with the award by Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday at the 22nd Annual Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. Courage House Luncheon at Heinz Field, benefiting Holy Family Institute. Maryana Stern, a Holy Family Alumni, was also honored at the luncheon.

It was emotional for Spence, who was unable to hold back the tears as he thanked the Steelers athletic trainers and strength and conditioning staff who were there with him every step of the way.

“It feels great to win it. It’s a blessing,” said Spence. “I think my faith and courage was tested over these past two years with what I was going through and being away from football for two seasons. It showed patience and continuing to work no matter what others thought the outlook was like. It’s been a long road, but I enjoyed the journey.”

Spence suffered what many thought was a career-ending knee injury on August 30, 2012. He could have easily thrown in the towel, given up on any type of comeback with the severity of the injury. But to know Spence is to know that he is not a quitter. That word doesn’t even exist in his vocabulary.

“This was a catastrophic injury, probably one of the most gruesome injuries that I have seen in person, and I have been around football all of my adult life,” said Tomlin. “He was presented with a unique challenge. It goes beyond the fact that he worked hard and was able to return and play for us. It’s the spirit in which he did it that left an indelible mark on me and his teammates.

“Sean didn’t have a bad day. Rehab can be lonely, it can be painful, challenging mentally and physically and it can create a distance for guys going through it. They separate themselves from the pack, can be scarce. This guy didn’t do that. He was there every day, he was there early, late and always had a smile on his face. It’s just amazing. His spirit is something we all feed off of. I have a great deal of respect for this young man.’

Spence missed the entire 2012 season and part of the 2013 season with the injury.  He spent almost every waking moment at the team’s practice facility working to get back on the field and after what seemed like an eternity, was cleared to practice again in October, 2013. While the knee felt good, he suffered a finger injury after returning to practice that required surgery and was out for the rest of the season.

Spence, the Steelers’ third-round draft pick in 2012 out of Miami, faced bumps in the road, there were discouraging moments, and there were tears. But Spence fought through it all and a little over two years after suffering the injury, he saw his dream come true when he started at linebacker against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field.

“I think Sean Spence is the most deserving guy of this award since I have been here,” said tight end Heath Miller, who won the award last year. “Everyone on the team was as happy as he was to see him back on the field this season. We all know what he went through, we all saw the ups and downs.

“It’s a compliment to him, his character, perseverance and hard work. Everything good you can say about someone he encompasses it. Whenever I see him on the field I am smiling from ear to ear because I know how much it means to him and how much work he put into it.”

Bookmark and Share

Allen Hurns proves diamond in rough for Jags

WATFORD, ENGLAND ­— Allen Hurns isn’t going away.

That’s excellent news for the Jaguars.

The undrafted rookie receiver continues to become one of the biggest gems in franchise history. Hurns caught seven passes (on nine targets) for 112 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 33-23 loss at Cincinnati.

However, those stats don’t tell the full story of Hurns’ impact. On three of his catches, including both scores, Hurns had to make an impressive adjustment on the ball to out-fight Bengals defenders for the reception.

Every player took notice, even on the defense.

“He’s been making plays all year, but to see him fight like that gives the defense energy,” defensive tackle Roy Miller said. “To see a young guy play like that is exciting. He’s a fighter. He’s going to be a great player in this league. He already has some of that grit a receiver needs to be a great player.”

Miller wasn’t the only lineman impressed. Right tackle Austin Pasztor praised Hurns’ physical play as well. He had a unique vantage point on the deep throws.
“It’s always weird,” Pasztor said. “You’re blocking and then your man lets up because he sees the ball thrown. We’re all just watching the ball for the last few seconds. You see the ball in the air and you’re like ‘Oh, is he going to catch that one?’ Then, Hurns makes incredible plays. Both touchdown catches he had were awesome.”

Hurns enters Sunday’s game against Dallas (6-3) at Wembley Stadium with 29 catches for 466 yards and five touchdowns this season. As a team, the Jaguars (1-8) have 16 touchdowns.

Hurns spent part of Tuesday participating with other teammates in an NFL Play 60 event with roughly 100 children at a local field. The former Miami standout was all smiles, but certainly didn’t leave any Cincinnati defenders grinning.

“The main thing the receivers were told all last week was fight for the ball,” Hurns said. “If the ball is in the air, we’ve got to come down with it. We can’t let defenders pick the ball off. So, we wanted to be really aggressive on those plays.”

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Hurns is now making an aggressive push to eclipse all of Justin Blackmon’s team records for a rookie receiver.

If Hurns catches 36 passes for 400 yards and one touchdown over the final seven games, he’ll have bested Blackmon in every category.

Blackmon also owns the franchise’s rookie record for yards per catch at 13.5 with a minimum of 20 receptions. Hurns is currently averaging 16.1. Not only does that far out-distance Blackmon’s mark, but the total is 4.8 yards more than any Jaguars player this season with at least 10 catches.

Hurns already has nine catches that have gained at least 20 yards, four more than any other player. The Jaguars have 26 completions of 20-plus yards this season.

“His will to want to get the ball is really strong,” Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts said. “The coaches want us to go up and get the ball and he did a good job of that on Sunday.”

Hurns snapped a five-game scoring drought against Cincinnati. His receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan, showed his approval.

“He said it was a long-time coming since I was in the end zone,” Hurns said. “He was very pleased that I got back in the end zone and back in my groove.”
Now, we’ll see whether a trip to London or the Cowboys can disrupt Hurns.

“I was able to sleep most of the time I was on the plane,” Hurns said. “The time change hasn’t settled in yet, but I’m getting acclimated well. It’s a great feeling to be over here and it’s something I’ve never experienced.”

Dallas ranks 15th in pass defense and has given up a middle-of-the-pack 14 touchdown passes this season. Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles will likely try to find Hurns deep again against Dallas after seeing him win three 50-50 balls against the Bengals.

“I have a lot of chemistry with Blake,” Hurns said. “He has that trust in me that I’m going to make those plays and I trust that he’s going to get me the ball. So when the ball was in the air, I knew I had to make those plays for him.”

Bookmark and Share

Leonard Hankerson activated from PUP list

The jury is out on the quarterbacks in Washington and they’ll have another wide receiver available to help them make their case once they return from their bye week.

The Redskins announced Tuesday that they have activated Leonard Hankerson from the Physically Unable to Perform list. Hankerson tore his ACL last November and wasn’t able to get onto the practice field before the end of training camp, which led to his placement on the PUP list.

Hankerson, a 2011 third-round pick, caught 30 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns before being injured last season. Hankerson started seven of the 10 games he played in 2013, but the additions of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts mean he’ll be coming back to a very different depth chart than the one he was on last year. Ryan Grant has seen the fourth-most snaps among receivers this season, but that hasn’t amounted to much playing time.

The Redskins waived cornerback Chase Minnifield to make room for Hankerson on the roster.

Bookmark and Share

Darryl Sharpton Injury Update

Bookmark and Share

Vinny Testaverde's son expected to make first Texas Tech start

Another Testaverde is back on a big football stage, but this time, 21-year NFL veteran Vinny Testaverde can just watch from the stands. His son, Vincent Testaverde, just seven years after his father's pro football career ended, could be starting for Texas Tech when the Red Raiders take on Oklahoma on Nov. 15.

The Red Raiders walk-on from Tampa was pressed into action due to injuries against Texas Saturday, and completed 15 of 26 passes for 116 yards against the Longhorns.

"I was proud of the way he handled himself," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said, according to the Dallas Morning News. "That's not easy to come into that situation."

He's not nearly as big (6-foot-1, 187 pounds) as his father was, and played just two years of high school football.

Kingsbury said his brief relationship with Vinny Testaverde as teammates with the New York Jets in 2005 helped lead to the Red Raiders' recruitment of the younger Testaverde out of Tampa Jesuit High School. Kingsbury credited former Texas Tech assistant Dave Raih, now of the Green Bay Packers, with the discovery.

Bookmark and Share

Ravens suffering from Ed Reed aftereffect

When Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Markus Wheaton for a 47-yard touchdown Sunday in Pittsburgh's 43-23 win, it was yet another example of how teams continue to test the Baltimore Ravens with the deep pass.

This isn't just a recent occurrence. Quarterbacks have been looking for the big play against the Ravens ever since Ed Reed stopped patrolling their secondary. Call it the Reed aftereffect.

For all of the risk-taking and freelancing that Reed did, he struck fear in quarterbacks because of his ability to pick off passes and return them for touchdowns. But there has been no second-guessing for passers these days when throwing deep against the likes of Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks or whoever else the Ravens line up in the back end.

For comparison:
• In Reed's 11 seasons, the Ravens allowed 19 completions (tied for the eighth-fewest) and eight touchdowns on passes that traveled at least 40 yards in the air.
• In 25 games without him, the Ravens have given up 12 such throws (most in the NFL in that span) and six touchdowns (tied for the most).

This isn't to suggest the Ravens should bring back Reed. He showed last season with Houston and the New York Jets that he's not close to being the same playmaker. There's little chance that Reed is going to make a James Harrison-type comeback.

But the Ravens do have to find some solution to stop the deep throws. This season against the Ravens, quarterbacks are 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) on passes of 40 yards or longer for a perfect passer rating (158.3).

And these big plays have come at critical times for the Ravens. There was the 77-yard winning touchdown catch by Bengals receiver A.J. Green in the season opener, and a 53-yard reception by Mohamed Sanu that set up the winning touchdown Oct. 26 in Cincinnati.

The Ravens have tried to find the right combination. Seven players have lined up at safety this season, and five have been on the field for at least 90 defensive snaps.

"The best players play, to me, and the best players are the players who are playing the best," coach John Harbaugh said. "When some player expresses himself as being the best player by how he plays, he’ll be out there permanently. Until that happens, nobody is given anything."

Elam and Stewart are strong safeties who play better when closer to the line of scrimmage. Brooks, a rookie third-round pick, is better in coverage but was inactive Sunday against the Steelers, a week after giving up that pass to Sanu. And Will Hill, who made his first start Sunday, hasn't made the immediate impact that some anticipated.

Harbaugh said his defensive backs aren't being as disciplined with their technique as they need to be. Their eyes aren't in the right spot. They've misplayed balls. They've missed tackles.

"We’re looking for the right combination, but I think that’s a little overrated," Harbaugh said. "I think it’s the best players. You want to play in that secondary? Step up and practice and play well and step up in the game and make plays and be in the right spot. And that’s what we’re looking for guys to do.”

Bookmark and Share

Antrel Rolle hits hard: NY Giants look dead

There's one characteristic that is noticeably lacking on the Giants in the eyes of safety Antrel Rolle: passion.

It’s a word he used repeatedly throughout an interview on WFAN Tuesday, roughly 12 hours after the Giants fell at home to the Colts for their third straight loss. He’s not seeing enough passion throughout the entire roster.

“I’m gonna play with passion. I’m gonna play with all-out fire,” Rolle said in his weekly paid radio spot. “Whether you make the play or not, whether you get beat or not, that doesn’t control your emotions. That shouldn’t control your approach to the game. It shouldn’t control your attitude and passion throughout the game. And I just think that’s something we’re missing a lot. On our sideline it’s very dead. Throughout the course of a game it’s dead. We need a pulse.”

He added that players need to treat the game as if it’s their career and not their job.

“You’ve got to get down, you’ve got to get dirty,” he said. “There’s no room for nice guys in this league.”

Bookmark and Share

Brewers are optimistic about Ryan Braun’s thumb

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the Brewers are optimistic about Ryan Braun‘s progress following his thumb procedure

“He has taken some batting practice off a pitcher,” said general manager Doug Melvin. “It’s not like he’s playing every day. You’re not going to get a good feel and judgment on it until then, when you’re playing every day, seven days a week, taking BP and all that. That’s the true test.

“But, right now, it sounds like everything is great. He’s just going to let it go through the normal healing process.”

It was a rough season for Braun, who battled through and inflamed nerve at the base of his right thumb, which impacted his ability to swing a bat. He finished with a career-low .777 OPS, doing worse than that in the second half.

Bookmark and Share

Yasmani Grandal progressing in Dominican Winter League

.273 AVG, 33 AB, 3 R, 9 H, 5 2B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 10 BB, 10 SO, 947 OPS
Grandal has started in 10 games this October. He has gone hitless in only three, but in two of those games has drawn 3 and 2 walks respectively. His first home run of the season, a one-out solo shot into left field, came off of Rafael Perez (former Cleveland Indian, current Indianapolis Indian), in the top of the 8th against the Gigantes del Cibao. Yaz is seeing the most playing time along with Liriano, and is leading the Padres' representatives in hitting. He's in the middle of the pack in overall batting leaders of the Dominican League.

Bookmark and Share

PHOTO: Reggie Wayne was emotional during that beautiful rendition of the National Anthem

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne now eighth on all-time receiving list

With his 11-yard catch in the first quarter Monday, Colts wideout Reggie Wayne passed James Lofton for eighth place on the league's all-time receiving yards list. Wayne has 14,070 receiving yards in his 14-year career.

Wayne made his 82nd career touchdown catch in the third quarter, turning upfield for a 40-yard score. Wayne caught four of 10 targets for 70 yards after missing Week 8 with an elbow injury.

He's on a bye Week 10.

Bookmark and Share

Redskins will activate Leonard Hankerson before PUP deadline

The Redskins are expected to active wide receiver Leonard Hankerson from the physically unable to perform list and add him to the 53-man active roster prior to this week's deadline, coach Jay Gruden told the media on Monday, per Comcast SportsNet Washington.

Hankerson suffered a torn ACL and LCL in November 2013. He had had 30 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns through 10 games and was on pace for a career season before getting hurt.

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller Day-To-Day

The MRI results are back for Lamar Miller.

They reveal he has an AC joint sprain. He is day to day.

An AC joint sprain is also more commonly known as a shoulder separation.

An AC joint sprain is a relatively common sporting injury affecting the shoulder and is characterized by tearing of the connective tissue and ligaments of the Acromio-Clavicular joint.

The AC joint is responsible for connecting the shoulder blade with the clavicle and allows for some shoulder movement. During certain activities, stretching forces are placed on the AC joint. When these forces are excessive and beyond what the AC joint can withstand, tearing of the ligaments and connective tissue of the AC joint may occur. This condition is known as an AC joint sprain.

Miller suffered the injury to his left shoulder in the third quarter of Sunday victory over San Diego. It seems unlikely he will be practicing Tuesday when Miami players return to work.

Bookmark and Share

Andrew Luck on Reggie Wayne TD: “Old man’s still got some legs”

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw four touchdown passes in Monday night’s win over the Giants, and the longest of those was a 40-yarder to Reggie Wayne. After the game, Luck said that was the one that he really enjoyed.

“To see Reggie run down the sidelines, the old man’s still got some legs left in him,” the 25-year-old Luck said of the 35-year-old Wayne.

Although Luck’s numbers (25-for-46, 354 yards, no turnovers) look great, Luck said he actually didn’t think he played very well.

“There were some plays I messed up, missed some throws, but a great job by our wideouts and tight ends making some catches,” he said.

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne goes 4-70-1 in Week 9 return

Reggie Wayne caught four passes for 70 yards and one touchdown in the Colts' Week 9 win over the Giants.

Wayne drew 10 targets in his return from his elbow injury. Sporting a bulky brace, Wayne looked refreshed after the week off to rest his elbow and tired legs. He now gets to go on the bye before taking on the Patriots in Week 11. On Wayne's 40-yard touchdown, he walked right up the left sideline untouched into the end zone. He's a solid weekly WR3/4.

Bookmark and Share

Vince Wilfork equals two players in one

Vince Wilfork, as noted by Tedy Bruschi, was a wrecking ball inside against the run. On the Broncos’ second play of the game, a 3-yard run by Ronnie Hillman, he plowed left guard Orlando Franklin into the backfield and flat onto his backside. That was what the Patriots missed in last season’s AFC championship game. Wilfork, again plowing into the line, knocked center Manny Ramirez back and disrupted Hillman on his 2-yard run to open the Broncos’ second drive (10:19). With the Patriots only having six in the box for all but two snaps in the game, it required defensive linemen like Wilfork to do a bit more against the run. Wilfork essentially was like having two players in one on the Broncos’ two initial drives.

Bookmark and Share

Antrel Rolle rips his teammates

If you were starting to wonder if the Giants actually believe they can make something out of this season, which is quickly slipping away after a third straight loss, you're not alone. Antrel Rolle is right there with you.

The outspoken Giants safety did not mince words for his team after its lackluster performance on Monday Night Football dropped them to 3-5 on the season. He was asked if he believed they could recover and save the season, and this was his answer:

“I always hope for the best for this team,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in this team and the talent that we have. But you can keep saying something as much as you want. At the end of the day, it's about results, and the results are not good.

“Whether I believe or not – if we go 0-16, I'm always going to believe until the day I leave this game. But we've got to believe in ourselves as an entire unit, and right now, I don't know if that's happening.”

Rolle wasn't through, either. He criticized the Giants' up-and-down play this season, although given the way Colts quarterback Andrew Luck carved up his defense en route to a 30-point lead, it's hard to remember many of the ups.

Right now, this is a bad football team heading nowhere. And Rolle, a veteran, basically admitted as much in his candid postgame interview. His comments could be taken as an indictment of the coaching staff, too &mdash on a night when head coach Tom Coughlin fumbled a challenge flag toss, then didn't call a timeout, when either would've prevented an easy touchdown by the Colts.

It was obvious Coughlin didn't have his team ready to play Monday night.

“There are times when we can go out and play as good as any team in this league,” Rolle said. “And there are times when we can go out there and play as bad as any team in this league. You just don't know. We've got to figure out, 'Who are we as a team?'

“We're so inconsistent. We're so up and down. You don't know what you're going to get on Sunday – the good Giants, the bad Giants, the flat Giants, the Giants that play with energy. You never know what you're going to get."

That sort of sounds like a line from Forrest Gump, doesn't it? Rolle wasn't through, though.

“We've got to find a way to understand that this is the NFL," he said. "This is the league. This is where we've always wanted to be, and you've got to be passionate about the game we play. You've got to go out there and fight, scratch and claw, do whatever you can to get a win. Right now, it's not happening.”

Bookmark and Share

John Salmons away to attend the birth of his child

Pelicans forward John Salmons was away from the team and unavailable to play Monday night against Memphis in order attend the birth of his child, according to the team's official website. Salmons has yet to score a point through his first two appearances this season.

Bookmark and Share

Brewers optimistic Ryan Braun is making progress after thumb procedure

The Milwaukee Brewers won't know for sure until Ryan Braun starts playing on at least a semiregular basis in spring training, but all parties are optimistic about the procedure he underwent after the 2014 season to treat a nagging thumb injury.

"He has taken some batting practice off a pitcher," said general manager Doug Melvin. "It's not like he's playing every day. You're not going to get a good feel and judgment on it until then, when you're playing every day, seven days a week, taking BP and all that. That's the true test.

"But, right now, it sounds like everything is great. He's just going to let it go through the normal healing process."

Braun had trouble gripping a bat dating to early 2013 because of an inflamed nerve at the base of his right thumb. The week after the 2014 regular season, he underwent a cryotherapy at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles during which subzero temperatures were introduced into the damaged nerve.

A few days later, Braun swung a bat with encouraging results. He has taken limited batting practice since without feeling the discomfort that led to a significant drop in offensive production.

Braun, who turns 31 in two weeks, dealt with the problem in the first half of the season and batted .298 with 11 home runs and 52 runs batted in over 73 games. The issue grew worse in the second half and he slipped to .226 with eight homers and 29 RBI in 62 games after the all-star break.

When the free-falling Brewers needed him most in September, Braun hit .210 with one homer, five RBI and a .603 OPS. Overall, he batted .266 with a .324 on-base average and 19 home runs, all significantly below his career averages for a full season. His 81 RBI led the club.

Braun was a far cry from the offensive superstar who averaged 34 home runs and 107 RBI while batting .313 over a six-year period from 2007-'12.

Because Braun was unable to control his bat path as in the past, he lost plate discipline and confidence, walking only 41 times with 113 strikeouts.

In an interview a few days before the season ended, Braun explained how the thumb issue affected his swing.

"When you can't use your top hand as a baseball player, it drastically alters everything that you do," Braun said. "I've tried to adjust; I've tried to find a way to deal with it the best I could.

"At times I've been OK. But for the most part it's been really difficult, really challenging and very frustrating."

The Brewers have a huge financial stake in Braun being able to return to his previous form as a hitter. After next season, during which he has a $12 million salary, a five-year, $105 million extension kicks in that carries through 2020, with a mutual option for 2021 worth at least $15 million more.

That financial commitment is huge for the club even if Braun is productive. If he is not, it becomes an albatross that would make it more difficult for the Brewers to compete.

The Brewers and Braun considered other possible fixes for the thumb before settling on cryotherapy, a procedure with no real track record for helping with that type of injury. Now, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that it will prove to be effective over the long term.

"It seems to be better," said Melvin. "He'll wait until January to start swinging the bat more often."

Bookmark and Share

Watch BOTH of proCane Allen Hurns Week 9 TDs


Bookmark and Share

GIF Lamar Miller's 2-yard TD vs Chargers

Bookmark and Share

GIF: Chase Ford Scores His First Career NFL TD


Bookmark and Share

Chase Ford becoming 'household name'

Chase Ford is among the most inconspicuous Vikings in a locker room full of high-pitched chirpers and alpha male receivers.

The unheralded tight end from rural Texas peppers interviews with "Yes sir/no sirs" in a drawl so distinctive one can practically smell the mesquite.

Ford has emerged from the shadows to become a reliable playmaker for the Vikings, who were in the dark after former Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph was lost Week 3 to a sports hernia that required surgery.

He caught his first NFL touchdown pass late in the first half Sunday to ignite the Vikings' stagnant offense in their 29-26 victory over Washington at TCF Bank Stadium.

Ford caught five passes for 66 yards, giving him 11 receptions for 127 yards in Minnesota's two straight wins.

"It means a lot to me," he said. "All I really want to do is win, and me being a contributor to that is even better."

Captain Munnerlyn's interception with 59 seconds remaining in the second quarter set up the Vikings at midfield, trailing 10-0.

Four plays later, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater locked in on Ford, who had several steps on safety Ryan Clark and hauled in the 20-yard strike in the back of the end zone.

"It felt really awesome," he said. "I didn't really think it was going to be that easy, but I'll take it."

His biggest catch came on Minnesota's final scoring drive midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing 26-21, Bridgewater spotted a sliver of turf between Ford and safety Brandon Meriwether down the left sideline and fired a 21-yard bullet.

Ford pulled up to catch the pass in his midsection and deftly kept both feet in bounds to move the Vikings to the Washington 15. Matt Asiata eventually punched in the winning touchdown.

"I was so happy for him to finally see him get in the end zone and score a touchdown," said Rudolph. "The play up the sideline, the big third-down catch (earlier), numerous plays for us to go out and win the football game."

A week ago at Tampa Bay, Ford made a critical 19-yard catch in the final minute to set up Blair Walsh's 38-yard field goal that forced overtime.

"Chase is going to be a household name around here," Bridgewater said. "Chase is a guy who has been making plays for us ever since OTAs. He's a very explosive player."

He debuted with the Vikings in Week 9 last year, memorably carrying Adrian Peterson across the goal line for a touchdown at Dallas.

The undrafted prospect out of Miami and former junior college transfer had bounced around practice squads for the Eagles and Cowboys. He did enough down the stretch last year for Minnesota to retain him for 2014.

However, Ford suffered a broken foot before training camp, an injury that set him back so far he spent the first three weeks on the practice squad before Rudolph's injury created an opportunity.

"I never gave up faith," he said. "I knew God had a plan for me and I just went in there, even when I was in the weight room, just tried to go as hard as I can and when I got the opportunity tried to make the most of it."

Ford, who stands 6 feet 6 and weighs 255 pounds, grew up in tiny Corrigan, Texas, 100 miles northeast of Houston. He once described the town of 1,500 to a Miami Herald reporter as "real country, no big buildings. We've got a Sonic and a couple local Mexican restaurants."

Easy come, easy go.

"The way I come in every game, I want to win every route against the DB that I can, and if Teddy wants to throw to me he can," Ford said. "If not, oh well, as long as we win."

Bookmark and Share

Frank Gore held to 49 rushing yards in Week 9 loss

49ers running back Frank Gore managed just 49 yards on 14 carries in his team's 13-10 loss to the Rams in Week 9, adding one reception for nine yards while failing to reach the end zone.

Gore has been bottled up on the ground in recent weeks, failing to top 2.5 yards per carry in either of his previous two games before posting a 3.5 yards-per-carry mark in Week 9. Sunday's reception was also his first during the three-game stretch, with two of those games coming against the Rams. He'll attempt to deliver his first big performance in more than a month when he faces the Saints in New Orleans in Week 10.

Bookmark and Share

Eagles’ CB Williams says Texans’ Andre Johnson ‘not the same guy

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams noticed a different Andre Johnson on Sunday, according to SportsRadio 610.

“He’s not the same guy,” Williams said. “Not the same guy.”

Johnson caught just two passes for 12 yards during a 31-21 defeat to the Eagles. He became visibly upset early during the contest, pulling his helmet off, then speaking with coaches after the play and pointing toward the field.

Johnson had no comment postgame when asked if he was surprised he wasn’t getting the ball more often.

The veteran wide receiver held out this offseason before rejoining the Texans for training camp.

“I don’t know if he’s happy,” Williams said. “I’m not sure. I know he had some disputes before the season in a couple years now. But I know Andre Johnson. I know what he’s done over his career. Just the attitude. It just wasn’t the same. He’s a great player. I’m not sure if he was happy or anything like that. But I know that was a different Andre than I know.”

Bookmark and Share

Lamar Miller getting MRI on injured shoulder

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller got back in the end zone, but was forced out of Sunday's game against the Chargers in Week 9 with a shoulder injury.

Miller barreled into the end zone from 2 yards out in the second quarter. He sustained the injury in the second half and was ruled questionable to return to the game. With the lead well in hand for Miami, it seems unlikely that Miller will play again on Sunday, which means Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams will likely close out the game. According to the Miami Herald, Miller was unable to lift his left arm above his head when he was being checked out by team trainers.

Miller rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and caught 1 of 2 targets for 8 yards before departing. He'll look to return to action Week 10 at Detroit.

Although Dolphins running back Lamar Miller told reporters he just has a stinger and will be fine, the Miami Herald reports Miller will get an MRI on his injured left shoulder. His status for Week 10 at Detroit is uncertain.

Bookmark and Share

Allen Hurns goes over 100 yards with two TDs for second time

Jaguars rookie wideout Allen Hurns paced the team with seven catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns Week 9, the second time this season he's gone over 100 yards with two scores. He also did it in the opener.

Hurns made terrific adjustments to underthrown passes on his 40- and 18-yard touchdowns, both coming in the second half. In each case the ball could have been intercepted.

Hurns drew a team-high nine targets and is up to five scores this season. He'll play the Cowboys in London in Week 10.

Bookmark and Share

Travis Benjamin goes 2-52 against Tampa Bay

Browns WR Travis Benjamin caught 2-of-4 targets for 52 yards in Sunday's Week 9 win over Tampa Bay.

A rotational receiver in Cleveland's offense a la Taylor Gabriel, Benjamin has big-play ability but plays limited snaps and sees limited targets. He will not be a fantasy option when the Browns take on the Bengals in Week 10.

Bookmark and Share

Reggie Wayne Will Play Monday Night

INDIANAPOLIS – It was a chilly, but clear morning in Indianapolis as the Colts headed outside for the last practice of the week.

The Colts continued to get more good news on the injury front regarding Reggie Wayne and Vontae Davis.

Here’s a rundown of what Chuck Pagano and Dwayne Allen had to say to the media on Saturday:

Chuck Pagano on what he saw from Reggie Wayne at practice

“Looked good, he looked good. Ran great routes, caught the ball extremely well, blocking. He looks good.”

Bowen’s Analysis: Chuck Pagano said that Wayne is a go for Monday night. Wayne returned to practice on Friday and Saturday and was a full participant each day.

The elbow clearly hindered Wayne as the Bengals game moved along back on October 19 so these two days of practice were key to see how that has improved. The blocking aspect of things is another area to watch for Wayne trying to extend his arm/elbow to engage blockers.

Reggie Wayne on trying to move into the bye week at 6-3:

“This Monday night couldn’t get here fast enough.

“I think I can speak for the team on that. After the game last week, we would have played when the plane landed.”

Bowen’s Analysis: For the third time in the Chuck Pagano era, the Colts will be on the spotlight of Monday Night Football. They will face a Giants team that is in dire need of a victory to maintain striking distance within the NFC East.

The Giants are a difficult bunch to read. With nearly half of NFL games being decided by one possession or less, the Giants are a true outlier. None of their seven games (3-4) have been within 10 points. The Giants begin a stretch of three straight Indianapolis opponents who will be coming off of bye weeks before taking on the Colts.

Dwayne Allen on what he saw from Reggie Wayne at practice:

“It’s great to have him back.

“He’s one of our leaders, one of our offensive leaders. He’s always able to lend some veteran insight on things.”

Bowen’s Analysis: Chuck Pagano said on Saturday that besides the obvious on-the-field implications of having Wayne back, the 14-year vet brings something that players continually feed off of.

Bookmark and Share

Vinny Testaverde’s son now seeing action at QB for Texas Tech

Texas Tech was notoriously thin at quarterback entering this season following the transfers of Michael Brewer (to Virginia Tech) and Baker Mayfield (to Oklahoma), but the Red Raiders became Kate Moss-thin after Davis Webb was lost to an ankle injury during last week’s 82-27 blowout at TCU.

The Red Raiders gave true freshman Patrick Mahomes the first start of his career tonight versus Texas, but he left the game in the second quarter after taking a nasty (but clean) shot from Longhorns cornerback Quandre Diggs. With all their scholarship quarterbacks gone, Kliff Kingsbury turned to a freshman walk-on with a famous name: Vincent Testaverde.

The true freshman from Tampa, Fla., entered with the Red Raiders trailing 10-6 (Mahomes had fumbled after getting hit by Diggs, and the ‘Horns turned it into a 25-yard touchdown drive), and cooly hit 3-of-4 passes for 49 yards – the first four passes of his career. DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and Kenny Williams combined to rush five times for 26 yards, as Texas Tech turned Testaverde’s debut drive into a nine-play, 75-yard scoring march to grab a 13-10 lead.

It’ll be Testaverde’s show for the rest of the night, as Mahomes will not return to action. He hit 13-of-21 passes for 109 yards before his exit.

Bookmark and Share

Frank Gore on 49ers offense: ‘We’ve just got to make our minds up, do what we feel we’re good at’

An hour after the 49ers’ 13-10 upset loss to the Rams, Frank Gore still had not moved from the seat in front of his locker. He stood up briefly to address the media, clearly despondent but certainly willing to express his thoughts on the offense’s jumbled state.

“We’ve just got to make our minds up, do what we feel we’re good at and go do it,” Gore said.

Without further prompting, Gore spoke in defense of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who’s play calls were the subject of scrutiny after the 49ers failed to score from the doorstep of the Rams’ end zone.

“I still think we have a good coordinator (in Greg Roman). I still believe in our coordinator,” Gore said. “He’s been successful since he’s been here.

“We’ve just, as players, have got to look ourselves in the mirror. When he makes a call, we’ve got to do it. I wouldn’t put it on him. It’s also us. I feel he put us in good situations.

“We’re just too up and down.”

Gore was so down in the dumps that defensive line coach Jim Tomsula sat down next to him after the interview and offered his counsel.

Gore finished with 14 carries for 49 yards. Carlos Hyde had only two carries, for 17 yards.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had five carries for 14 yards, including the fateful final one in which officials ruled he lost a fumble as he tried sneaking over center Marcus Martin and across the goal line with two seconds remaining.

Bookmark and Share

Jimmy Graham working his way back to full form

While most of his teammates were hurriedly dressing and headed to the team busy, Jimmy Graham was taking his time at his locker, as he often does after games.

Graham reached up with his left hand and massaged his right shoulder. It was one of a few times he seemed willing to acknowledge he was hurting, the other being a brief moment on the field when he reached for the shoulder then quickly caught himself because he didn't want the Carolina Panthers players to know he was aching.

This time, with the New Orleans Saints' 28-10 victory well over and with no Panthers players around, Graham finally gave the injury some attention and pressed hard on the joint, hoping to somehow ease the pain he was feeling.

Seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, plus a leap over a defender early in the game, sure helped him feel better. In fact, when he'd finished with the mini-massage, Graham stood up and told a Saints staffer with a smile he was starting to feel like his "old self" and that just a little more flexibility in the joint is "all I need."

One of the most devastating offensive weapons in the NFL is working his way back to full form. And with a commitment to the running game and a powerful runner in Mark Ingram serving as a ground threat, the Saints' having Graham on the mend is a dangerous thing for opposing defenses.

"I just need to play more emotional," Graham told reporters.

He absolutely did that on Thursday night. After his touchdown catch, he went back to the sideline and rammed his head into the bench in, uh, celebration?
"That's just me probably letting out a little frustration," he said. "We've been tested in so many ways this year and there have been a lot of people that have written us off. That was more of just getting out some frustration that's been on me for quite awhile now."

Frustration he hasn't been in top form because of the injury that threatened to sideline him for one or two games. He didn't miss any, though he'd been limited the past couple of weeks. Graham played a near-full role both on Sunday night and again on Thursday night - 62 and 68 percent of the team's snaps in those games respectively, to be exact.

Early on, the Panthers tested his will by playing physical defense against him. Linebacker Thomas Davis flattened Graham on a block after an interception. Graham remained motionless on the ground for several seconds before finally getting up, acting as if it didn't hurt and not retaliating.

Graham was peeved by the play. He noted the hit came before the pass was even deflected, and he's right. Davis wasn't even watching the play develop behind him. He lined up Graham and whacked him, even though he wasn't the intended receiver.

"That wasn't a block. That was a hit and it seemed like that was intentional," Graham said. "Early in the game they were trying to come after me. Even in my routes, I was just getting hit -- literally getting hit, so I've got to protect myself better. It definitely got me going and sparked a fire underneath me."

Ingram, who is also dealing with a shoulder issue and left Bank of America Stadium with an ice pack on the joint, called Graham a "warrior" for playing through his injury. Drew Brees said Graham's injury is "day by day," meaning it can have Graham feeling as if it's almost healed and then get worse out of nowhere.

Graham found the antidote for the injury on Thursday night, and it was emotion. The Panthers can blame themselves for bringing it out of him. Graham, meanwhile, is probably just glad he didn't hurt his upper body any further via his unconventional celebration. He laughed when told cameras caught what he believed was a private act and that a clip of the act was spreading on Twitter and elsewhere.

Graham should know by the way defenses pay attention to him there's little he does that goes unnoticed -- even to the point of reporters watching him bend down while struggling to put on deodorant because his right arm can't quite reach up to his left armpit just yet.

"I think early I wasn't playing emotional enough -- at least for me. I think I need to bring it that way on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and in practice," he said. "When I do that, I think it adds something not only to my game, but it helps spur our offense."

Bookmark and Share

Expect Greg Olsen to re-emerge soon

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers offense has endured a barrage of injuries impacting its offensive line and running back corps.

That has hurt the consistency of their quarterback, who is just getting over a series of injury issues himself.

The team's wide receivers have exceeded expectations at times but have been subject to the up-and-down reality of a rookie leading the way.

There's been a lot of adversity facing the offense over the first half of the season, but there's always been tight end Greg Olsenicon-article-link.

Or there had always been Olsen – until the other challenges curtailing the offense made it more difficult to keep Olsen involved.

"It's been hard on him," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Greg is a playmaker for us. We've got to get the ball in his hands."

In the Panthers' first seven games, Olsen averaged almost six catches and was targeted more than eight times per game. In the last two games, home losses in which the offense has scored just one touchdown, Olsen has caught four passes and been targeted a total of seven times.

It isn't that Olsen's level of play has slipped. It's that with everything else going on, he's had to slip into other roles as well.

"He's had to help more with the protection," Rivera said. "With the different things that we do, he's not in the route immediately, so that takes away from his visibility to the quarterback.

"Instead of being downfield where he normally is, now he's working off of a chip, and sometimes you can get caught up in that and are late coming out."

Olsen, known for being a well-rounded tight end, always does whatever is asked of him, and out of necessity he's been asked to do more that doesn't involve just catching the ball. The team captain is the definition of a team player, but it can wear on even the best teammate when things are not going well for the team.

"I don't really know what to say," said Olsen, whose three catches Thursday against New Orleans actually paced the Panthers in their 28-10 loss. "I try to run my routes and get open. There is a lot that goes into who gets the ball and when you get the ball. There are a lot of moving parts that go into it.

"This is a group thing. This is not on one guy. We need to do a better job protecting him (quarterback Cam Newton), we need to do a better job getting open, we need to do a better job catching the ball. Every single aspect of basic football needs to improve.

"We need to play better. It's not a secret. This is not rocket science."

It's also not difficult to surmise that with several starters likely to return from injury when the Panthers play again in nine days, the offense will have a shot at playing better football. It's still a good ways out, but Rivera sounded confident that starting tackle Byron Bell and guard Amini Silatolu would be back for Carolina's visit to Philadelphia for Monday Night Football. Also expected back – fittingly given the destination – is wide receiver Philly Brown.

And, with the running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart coming off their first game together since Week 1, they should play a bigger role going forward.

"Now that they're healthy, we have to find ways to put it in their hands. It's very obvious," Rivera said. "We saw when we got the ball in Jonathan's hands, running the ball inside. We saw it when DeAngelo was out on the edge a couple of times and again on the screen pass. As coaches we see it, and we've talked about it already this morning. These are things we need to take a serious look at.

"We have guys that have the ability to make plays. Greg is one of them."

Olsen can do everything a coach can ask from a tight end, but when he's asked to do everything all at the same time because of injuries and inconsistencies elsewhere, it can put a strain on his game.

But as the Panthers heal up and the coaches coach them up, Olsen should be able to get back to doing more of what he does best.

Bookmark and Share

Vinny Testaverde not ready to label Geno Smith a lost cause

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A look at what's happening around and inside the New York Jets:

1. Testaverde knows: Vinny Testaverde can relate to Geno Smith. Testaverde was an interception machine early in his career and was booed out of Tampa Bay, but he found his way to the Jets and thrived, one of the few quarterbacks in the post-Namath era who actually finished with a better reputation than when he arrived. Testaverde always kept a sign in his locker that said: "Mentally tough, physically strong."

Smith hasn't provided many reasons lately to make us believe he has the mental toughness to survive in New York, but he's not a lost cause, according to Testaverde, who told "He's having some growing pains, but it's not all on him. I see, not just as a fan of the Jets, but as a former player who has some knowledge about the game and the position, I see a lot of growth, a lot of improvement in Geno Smith this year. I'm encouraged by him.

"I know everybody is looking at the interceptions. Nobody knows any better than I do about going through the lows, but I see things from him that make me believe he's going to be a really good quarterback. Hopefully, it will be for the Jets."

I asked Testaverde about Smith's missed meeting and the cursing incident. He said he once missed a meeting before a preseason game in Tokyo because he was wiped out by the jet lag and the time change. Did he ever curse a heckling fan? "Never out loud," he said, laughing. "Inside, yeah." He added: "I hate to say this -- and I hope you don't write it as a negative toward Geno -- it just shows a sign of weakness, not being mentally tough. It doesn't matter what town you play in, you have to be mentally tough."

That incident notwithstanding, Testaverde doesn't think Smith is ready for the dumpster. He's in the minority.

Bookmark and Share

Knicks decline Shane Larkin's option

All the information is in. Larkin’s 2015-16 salary would be $1,675,320. He’s started both games for New York this season, averaging 7.5 points, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals.

Phil Jackson can’t waiver any longer. It’s decision day.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“Nothing's changed with #Knicks view on Shane Larkin's contract option with deadline today. They'll pass. Larkin had 9 pts, 5 assists but -5.”

I think this is a mistake, though a minor one.

The Knicks are obviously banking on free agency next summer to upgrade their roster, and declining Larkin’s option ensures an extra $1,150,227 in cap room. (A minimum-salary cap hold would replace him if New York renounces him.)

But it seems likely Larkin, who spent his rookie year struggling in Dallas, will progress to the point the Knicks can dump him without a sweetener if necessary. He might even turn out to be worth keeping.

Instead, Larkin will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and New York will have a little extra cap room to entice free agents.

Bookmark and Share

Shane Larkin holding his own as he steps in for the injured Jose Calderon

Not only has Shane Larkin been thrust into starting duty for the Knicks, but he has been holding his own amid quite the four-game trial by fire against some of the best point guards in the NBA.

Larkin, filling in for injured starter Jose Calderon, has fared well in the Knicks’ split of his first two career starts against Derrick Rose and the Bulls and Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers. His next two matchups will be with Charlotte’s Kemba Walker on Sunday and Washington’s John Wall on Tuesday, both at the Garden.

“Yeah, those are all All-Star caliber guys so as a second year guy coming off an up and down rookie season with an injury being able to be thrown into that type of fire and just go out there and play, it’s a great experience for me,” Larkin said after practice Saturday in Greenburgh. “Going against some of the top players in the league, it’s just going to make me better.”

Larkin, 22, added that his dad — baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin — was unable to attend either of the Knicks’ first two games due to his TV commitments during the World Series. But he’s doing just fine on his own.

Obtained from Dallas over the summer following an injury-plagued rookie season, Larkin said that he didn’t feel slighted that the Knicks declined to pick up his $1.68 million third-year option by Friday’s deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent next summer.

“I mean, that’s a business deal,” said Larkin, who is averaging 7.5 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and 1.5 turnovers through two games. “Obviously they want to build a championship team here and they need as much money as they can next summer to be able to bring in the big free agents that they’re looking at.

“It’s not like they told me, like, ‘we don’t see you as part of our future, we don’t want you, da-da-da-da…If that was the case I’d be sitting on the bench. So obviously, they want to see what I have.”

With Calderon expected to miss at least 2-to-3 weeks with a calf injury he aggravated during warmups before the season opener Wednesday against the Bulls, Larkin’s opportunity to help run the Knicks’ triangle offense will continue.

“Shane has been really good for us,” first-year coach Derek Fisher said of the former Miami Hurricanes star. “To think about a young guy that didn’t have a preseason or a training camp last year (due to a leg injury), misses a lot of games, gets traded over the summer, new team, new coach, new way of playing basketball, 10 minutes before opening night, almost in some ways, finds out that he’s the starting point guard for the New York Knicks, that’s a lot.

“And he has handled himself extremely well. He has been good for our team, not just controlling the basketball and making solid decisions but defensively being scrappy and aggressive out there.”

Bookmark and Share

Could the Padres Move Yasmani Grandal?

Yesterday I was listening to the MLBTR Podcast, and the host Jeff Todd and Charlie Wilmoth of MLBTR and Bucs Dugout were talking about the Pirates options at catcher. One of the options they mentioned was a trade for Yasmani Grandal.

It got me thinking should the Padres entertain the idea of moving Grandal? He was a top prospect in Cincinnati who since joining the Padres has had seasons shortened by injuries and suspensions, and has yet to play a fully healthy year. To me that looks like someone whose  value has fallen off a cliff, but he does have one good thing going for him, his age. Next week Grandal will turn 26-years-old and he’s already got 216 major league games under his belt. While some guys are just breaking into the big leagues at that age, Grandal has already gotten his fair share of experience as he gets ready to enter his prime.

Even at his young age Grandal’s value is still down from when the Padres acquired him, so why would the Padres want get 10 cents on the dollar? A philosophy some people have is that it’s better to trade someone a year early rather than a year late. If he hits anywhere close to the .225/.327/.401 he hit last year without the excuse the injury he might be devoid of value all together. With Austin Hedges, arguably the top catching prospect in baseball, getting close to being ready for the majors, the Padres would probably like to be able get some value for the guy blocking the way. 

Also the Padres could try tocapitalize on a bad situation Pittsburgh. With the limited payroll they have retaining Russell Martin will be a challenge, and if he does leave it will be a huge blow to their team. With the Cardinals, Brewers and possibly the Cubs all looking to contend for the NL Central the Pirates can’t afford a loss like that. So why would Grandal be an adequate replacement? Well let’s look at the Steamer projections for the two for 2015.

Martin: .240/.341/.392, 12 HRs, 45, RBI, 109 wRC+, 3.2 WAR
Grandal: .237/.335/.389 11 HRs, 42 RBI, 110 wRC+, 2.2 WAR

While he pales in comparison to Martin in defense and intangibles, offensively they project to be roughly the same player. With the Pirates top in house option being Chris Stewart and a free agent class led by Geovany Soto and just about nobody else a 26 year old Grandal seems like something worth going after.

If the Pirates are able to put together a strong offer for Grandal, the Padres should at least listen. This could be a make or break year for Grandal and if he doesn’t break out like the Padres are hoping he does, he might just become baggage they’re forced to carry around. All that being said I, myself, am not quite ready to give up Grandal, but if a team like the Pirates is willing to overpay for his services it might be hard not to say no.

Bookmark and Share

Yonder Alonso’s viability at 1B

The owners of baseball’s worst offense in 2014, the Padres are sure to be on the hunt for a bat or two as the offseason officially arrives, and they’d have good reason to look for some thump to stick at first base.

San Diego’s inhabitants at that premium power position drove in just 69 runs in 2014, the fourth-lowest total in the National League and the bulk of them from hitters other than their opening day starter: Yonder Alonso.

For the second year in a row, the 27-year-old Alonso endured right hand/wrist issues that, at its worst, all but sapped his ability to drive the ball. This time around, Alonso’s batting average slipped to a career low .240, he drove in just 27 runs in 84 games and his slugging percentage failed to crest .400 for a third straight season before he elected to undergo season-ending surgery.

The procedure – which addressed a ruptured tendon stemming from a pitch that broke a bone in his right hand in 2013 – and ensuing rehab should have Alonso at 100 percent come spring training. The question is whether or not a healthy Alonso can hit enough to be part of the solution in San Diego.

Isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) measures a hitter’s raw power and there are two observations to take away from Alonso’s contributions in that department in 2014.

While Alonso’s .157 isolated power nearly doubled his production in that category in 2013, his first injury-shortened season, it ranked 30th among first basemen with at least 250 plate appearances, according to

Not that power ever ranked among Alonso’s best assets, especially upon moving into Petco Park as part of the trade that sent Mat Latos to the Reds. Yet although he never hit more than 15 homers in a season in the minors, the 39 doubles that Alonso collected as a rookie in 2012 (.120 ISO) suggested that he possessed some untapped power potential.

And maybe there is.

After managing nine homers in 2012, Alonso was on a near-20-homer pace last year when a broken hand derailed his season. He was never the same last year and was rarely right in 2014, when he .167 the first month of the season and endured two trips to the disabled list with nagging right hand/wrist discomfort.
The first trip appeared to have righted his ship.

Alonso’s batting line swelled to .421/.477/.737 and his isolated power jumped to .316 over a three-week period – his healthiest all year – until one last pop in his right wrist ended his season. As small as that sample size was (44 plate appearances), Alonso believes that's much closer to the hitter he is.

“That’s something I feel I can do on a regular basis,” Alonso said in September following his surgery. “If I’m healthy, if I don’t have anything going on with my hands, I can become the player I was for those three weeks – but on a 27-week period.”

Yet Alonso may not get that chance with the Padres.

The general manager that traded for Alonso is out of the picture, catcher Yasmani Grandal saw more and more innings at first base as Rene Rivera hit his way out of the backup role and the Padres have a half-dozen players they have to shift from the 60-day disabled list to the 40-man roster by Monday.

On top of that, considering Alonso’s track record, first base is an optimum position to upgrade should new general manager A.J. Preller dangle any of his starting pitchers on the trade market.

All of that makes Alonso a non-tender candidate as the offseason gets underway.

That said, he’s still just 27, a former first-round pick and shouldn’t get that much of a pay increase on last year’s $980,000 salary even in his first year arbitration eligibility.

Even if the Padres find an alternative option at first base, Alonso’s history across the diamond – he played third base until the likes of Ryan Braun forced him to move to first at the University of Miami – could afford him one more chance to leave his mark on the Padres’ offense.

Bookmark and Share