04 September 2011

proCanes are the Most Out of Any School in the NFL

According to Hurricanesports and the ACC the University of Miami has the most active players in the NFL this year thus far.

NFL Players by School:
Miami 42
USC 41
Texas 40
Tennessee 36
Ohio State 35
Georgia 35
LSU 35

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NFL U Weekly Matchup Guide


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All Canes Radio With Duane Starks

Every week proCanes.com joins All Canes Radio to bring the latest news on not only current Hurricane football but also proCane news and exclusive interviews with current and former proCanes. Click here to listen to this week’s show and hear our exclusive interview with former proCane DB Duane Starks who had a 10-year NFL career and won a Super Bowl ring with Ray Lewis.

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Matt Bosher vs. Devin Hester A Key Matchup

Falcons punter Matt Bosher vs. Bears returner Devin Hester: Bosher, a rookie from Miami, had a spotty exhibition season and will be called on to kick to the game’s most dangerous returner in his first game in the NFL. He has a live leg, but is not nearly as crafty with his kicks as his predecessor Michael Koenen.

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Antonio Dixon: Shapiro's a Liar

Eagles defensive tackle Antonio Dixon wears his loyalty to the University of Miami on his sleeve.

Or under his sleeve. Dixon has the university logo tattooed on his right arm.

Dixon, a Miami native, was among the Hurricane athletes mentioned last month in Yahoo! Sports' expose of the Miami program. Dixon was alleged to have received improper benefits, including VIP access to nightclubs and drinks at least twice, and a dinner at a Miami Beach restaurant. Yahoo! said one source corroborated the allegation about the nightclub access and the drinks.

Dixon told the Daily News today that he did not accept anything improper from Shapiro, most definitely not the things he is alleged to have accepted.

"Nevin Shapiro is a liar," Dixon, 26, said after the afternoon practice. "He's bringing down our program."

Dixon said Shapiro has dramatically overstated how close he was to players during the time Dixon played for Miami.

"I only met him one time -- I went to a barbecue at his house," Dixon said. "He's a male groupie."

Shapiro, 42, is in jail for running a $930 million Ponzi scheme. He has alleged providing cash, cars and prostitutes, among other things, for Miami athletes.

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Fewell still waiting for Kenny Phillips' leap

At the start of training camp, Perry Fewell said he was looking forward to seeing safety Kenny Phillips “take a quantum leap” after making his way back from knee surgery a year ago.

But the defensive coordinator said he hasn’t seen that leap yet.

“Not the leaps that I wanted to see,” Fewell told reporters on Thursday. “I am hoping that he will grow and continue to grow for us but I looked for more than what we saw in the preseason.”

Fewell did say that he hasn’t completely put Phillips in positions to do all the things he would like to see so far.

“I didn’t always put him in those positions to see those things and maybe I was a little bit reluctant to say, ‘Well here, do this’ and he will just do that,” Fewell said. “Sometimes you just have to put the player there and get what you really want so that is probably a little bit on him and a little bit on me.”

Phillips is almost two years removed from the knee surgery he had in 2009 and the hope is he will begin to return to the form he displayed prior to the surgery this season.

“I’m looking for him to take a quantum leap,” Fewell had said on Aug. 1. “After coming off his injury and playing in the 2010 season, as a coach, I will admit that I protected him a little bit. I wanted Kenny to be on the field, I wanted him to play for us. Football is a violent game and I tried to minimize the collisions that he encountered last year. He is ready for that bigger role as we have talked. I am looking for big things.”

Click here to order Kenny Phillips’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Reggie Wayne will take over division's start streak

When Reggie Wayne lines up wide to Kerry Collins' left for the Colts' first offensive snap Sunday in Houston, he will take over as the AFC South’s active leader in consecutive games started.

It will be No. 130 in a row in the regular season, and it will come on the day when Peyton Manning's streak ends at 208.

Wayne will be just eighth among active streaks, with Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber in line to move to 184. (Alan Faneca, also on Mike Sando's list here, has retired.)

Tennessee right guard Jake Scott will increase his streak, built with the Colts and Titans, to 105.

I know the streak meant a lot to Manning because it’s a testament to his toughness, a quality he doesn't typically get enough credit for. As we've written earlier this week, his neck injury is not a toughness issue.

As the Colts go forward Sunday without him, the streak’s not the thing he’ll be thinking of or lamenting. It's OK for us to spend a second lamenting it, though.

Click here to order Reggie Wayne’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Frank Gore: 49ers offense will feature lots of weapons

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers still are in learning mode as they prepare for Sunday's season opener, and nobody really knows what to expect from the team's new offense.

But the catalyst of the attack, running back Frank Gore, says the Niners have a lot of weapons and that other teams are going to see "some real good stuff."

"We've always had talent on the offensive side of the ball, but not like we have it now," Gore said Thursday. "And now we really have somebody to show us how it's done. It should be real good for us all. (Other) teams better be ready."

New head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff didn't show much during an exhibition season when the 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in total offense and last in passing offense.

While Harbaugh insists his offense wasn't "vanilla" during the preseason, the 49ers could have an element of surprise in their favor when they host defending NFC West champion Seattle to begin the season.

A two-time Pro Bowler, Gore is surrounded by more Pro Bowl talent at the skill positions in tight end Vernon Davis and newcomer receiver Braylon Edwards. The 49ers also welcomed the return this week of receiver Michael Crabtree, who says he's ready to play against the Seahawks.

Crabtree missed training camp and all four exhibition games for the third consecutive year with a left foot injury that required surgery at the end of July. But he practiced without limitations for the second day in a row Thursday and hopes to have a role in the opener.

"I'm full speed," Crabtree said . "I'm all good. I've been here before. This is nothing new to me. I'm ready and focused. It feels like a game today."
Crabtree led all San Francisco wide receivers last year with 55 receptions for 741 yards, one catch fewer than Davis, who led the team with 914 yards and seven touchdowns receiving.

Crabtree returned from the physically unable to perform list last week to find himself in the middle of a heated competition at wide receiver that includes Edwards, Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Morgan, who had 44 receptions for 698 yards last season.

San Francisco added Edwards to that group in August, and like many players this summer he has been feeling his way around in Harbaugh's version of the West Coast offense while attempting to develop a rapport with quarterback Alex Smith.

The 49ers were far from impressive with Smith at the controls during a 2-2 preseason. But other players have shared Gore's excitement this week that the offense is ready for a breakout once the real games begin.

Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were known for their creative use of different formations and personnel groups last year at Stanford, when the Cardinal scored a school-record 524 points. But Harbaugh and Roman are downplaying the suggestion this week that the 49ers have been holding back for the regular season.

"We're a new group," Roman said. "I met most of these guys a month ago. We've had a shorter time frame to work with, and therefore we're probably not going to have the volume that you would normally have. I'm not sure we've been able to get anything together that is really going to surprise anybody. But you are what you are. We're going to do everything we can to win the game."

Click here to order Frank Gore’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Vince Wilfork Named A Captain

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots voted six players to be team captains for the upcoming season: QB Tom Brady, DL Vince Wilfork, LB Jerod Mayo, WR Matthew Slater, OL Logan Mankins and CB Devin McCourty.

The captains are two more than the Patriots had last season. Slater is the special teams captain as he enters his fourth season. McCourty is a captain in just his second season. Mankins is a captain as he enters his seventh season.

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

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Yonder Alonso appreciative of family's big sacrifice

CHICAGO -- The father of Reds rookie Yonder Alonso, Luis Alonso, took a front-row seat at an empty Wrigley Field on Monday afternoon as his son stretched with his club and took batting practice.

Luis Alonso speaks little English, but the pride on his face needed no translation.

"It's beautiful. He's in the big leagues," Luis Alonso said after searching for the English words. "It's Wrigley Field."

Luis Alonso, himself a former professional ballplayer and coach in Cuba for the renowned Industriales club, had seen his son play in the Majors before. He even saw Yonder crush a homer last month against the Marlins in their adopted hometown of Miami, but Luis had never been to Chicago.

"After the game [Monday], he was like, 'Wow, this is unbelievable.' It's pretty neat," Yonder Alonso said. "I took him out for dinner. Obviously, I had the check. I can pay for it. It's cool he gets to the see big league game and the big league life."

Only 24, Yonder Alonso continually wants to show appreciation for the life his parents provided he and his younger sister Yainee. When Alonso was 9 years old, Luis and his wife, Damarys, made the weighty decision to leave Cuba for a better life in the United States. They gave up everything, including Luis' career in baseball.

Privately and without divulging anything to friends or neighbors, the family managed to arrange for an airplane that would fly Alonso and his family out of Cuba. Alonso preferred not to share the details of exactly how they managed to leave the Communist-controlled nation, but he recalled the feeling he had on the flight.

"It's pretty vivid. I remember getting on it," Alonso said. "Everyone was crying, pretty much. It was kind of a sad day to leave everybody behind. You don't know if you'll ever see them again. It's not like you go to Spain and say, 'Mom, Dad, see you in six months.' This is leaving for good. I never got to see both of my grandmothers again, or my aunt."

Upon landing in Miami, it wasn't an American dream instantly realized, but one that took root in humble beginnings. The Alonsos would stay with friends for a couple of weeks before settling into their own place. No one in the family understood English or had any possessions beyond what they could carry on to the plane. One of their first outings was to a local K-Mart to buy clothes and necessities.

"My Dad got a job real quick," Alonso said. "We moved out to a small efficiency, it was a small office, and lived there for three or four years. It was not even the size of the training room in here. There was another small room the size of the kitchen. It pretty much stunk."

Both Yonder and Yainee, who is now attending the University of Miami, enrolled in school. Yonder further assimilated into American culture by playing baseball, which helped him learn English, and their parents were constantly on top of them about their schoolwork and getting good grades. They instinctively knew that would be the ticket to a better life.

Luis is a warehouse manager for the Sherwin-Williams paint company, but one of his first jobs in Miami was as an office cleaner. It became a family vocation, as Yonder and his sister were enlisted as assistants.

"I remember cleaning offices, me and my sister, for hours," Alonso said. "It'd be a whole day on Saturday and Sunday, cleaning early in the morning and then having a game at 4 or 5 p.m. Or after the games, we'd go clean."

And when there wasn't cleaning for a young Yonder Alonso, there was baseball, and lots of it. Who better to provide much of the coaching than the former pro ballplayer from his family?

"There were a lot of times during weekends we could either go to the beach or I had to go play games. Most of the time, we didn't go to the beach," Alonso said.

The efforts would equate to Alonso becoming a sensation at Coral Gables High School and a star first baseman for the University of Miami. In 2008, he signed a $4.55 million Major League contract upon being the seventh overall pick by the Reds.

That contract guaranteed that the days in small apartments and cleaning offices were over forever. Alonso, who bought his parents a home, debuted in the Majors last September. He returned this season on July 26, when the Reds traded Jonny Gomes to open a roster spot.

"I owe it to them," Alonso said. "They sacrificed themselves. Now hopefully I can give a little piece of what they sacrificed to me and try to help them as much as possible."

With Joey Votto firmly entrenched at his natural position, Alonso had to shift from his comfort zone at first base to left field. When that didn't initially go well, he spent considerable time on the bench as a pinch-hitter and made one start at third base. Now he's back playing in left field. His bat keeps finding ways to get him playing time, as he is batting .407 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 31 games.

While fans have demanded he get more playing time, Alonso has handled the delicate situation perfectly. He defers to the organization and the wisdom of its veteran players in the clubhouse and never complains.

When you've experienced what he has, Alonso can handle waiting his turn a little longer. Meanwhile, he's savoring every aspect of the Major League life, and he spent part of this week trying to share that joy to the man who helped make it possible, Luis Alonso.

"Nothing at all do I take for granted," Yonder Alonso said. "Even if I have 10 years in this league, I will not take one day for granted. I know not only how special this is for me, but for my family. It's something I definitely will never forget."

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Poor season is wearing on Aubrey Huff

Aubrey Huff was in the middle of an interview, talking about his disappointing, exasperating 2011 season, when a small gift bag arrived from a fan.

"Ohhh no," said Huff, rummaging through the tissue paper. "Pretty sure I know what this is."

He pulled out the lime-green thong underwear and flipped it into an empty, adjacent locker.

"Oh jeez," he said. "Another one."

It's been tough enough for Huff to deal with a summer-long litany of lunging strikeouts and weak pop-ups with runners on base. The dozens of skimpy gifts from well-intentioned fans only serve as another reminder:

This is not last year. He is not the same hitter. And it's not as simple as snapping on a new incarnation of the Rally Thong, which worked so magically last September and throughout the playoffs.

"It's tough, man," said Huff, whose .673 OPS ranks dead last among all 20 major league first basemen with at least 450 plate appearances. "I was counting on coming in and having a good year like last year. They were counting on me. And it just ... hasn't happened."

Huff hit 26 home runs last year, drew almost as many walks (83) as strikeouts (91) and finished seventh in the N.L. MVP balloting, all of which earned him a two-year, $22 million contract.

But after a monster spring, he has 12 home runs this season -- a quarter of which he hit in one muggy evening in St. Louis. His on-base percentage has plummeted from .385 to .301. And with rookie hopefuls Brandon Belt and Brett Pill on the roster, the fans who once cheered Huff like a rock star, the thong clenched between his teeth at the victory parade, now are voting him to the bench with their boos.

Huff, 34, does not make excuses, nor does he skirt blame for contributing to the worst offense in the major leagues, which is likely to doom the Giants' brilliant pitchers from defending their World Series title.

"If I have anything close to the season I had last year, we probably wouldn't be sitting in this spot," said Huff, before the Giants fell seven games behind first-place Arizona with a loss Wednesday in San Diego. "So I take a lot of blame for that. But at the same time, it's baseball, man. Guys have bad years. We've had injuries and bad breaks. Certainly I could've played better. I just didn't."

Failure and acceptance. They can come dangerously easy when you've played a decade for second-division teams, as Huff did before joining the Giants last year. He also has an acknowledged history of following a Silver Slugger season with a stinker.

The difference this time: He isn't stinking it up for a team that expected to lose 90 games.

"We've talked about it," said Giants outfielder Pat Burrell, Huff's close friend going back to college. "We talk about it all the time. Let's be honest. I'm not trying to say anything bad about those other teams, but it's different here. There's a lot more expected, and with that comes pressure. That's difficult to deal with where he's slumping."

Last season, Burrell and Huff would sock each other in the chest to celebrate late-inning heroics. This year, Burrell is pulling no punches while trying to motivate Huff.

"The truth is, we didn't sign back with the Giants because we're friends," said Burrell, who is likely at the end of his career because of a chronic foot injury. "We signed up to win. Just because we're friends doesn't mean I won't give him my opinion. That's not easy, but you know, neither is this game.

"I've told him, 'You can't change yesterday. What you can do is take a different attitude the rest of the way.' "

That's what Giants manager Bruce Bochy hopes to see. Although Huff is signed for next season, the Giants will be desperate to acquire a big bat -- and the two biggest free agents (Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols) play first base.

Even if the Giants don't add another first baseman, they might have a logjam at the position. For all Buster Posey's insistence that he will be the starting catcher on opening day, there is a strong undercurrent in the front office for moving him to first base -- or maybe even third base, with Pablo Sandoval grabbing a first baseman's mitt.

So N.L. West standings aside, these final three weeks loom large for Huff.

"Nobody's owed a job no matter how much money they make," Huff said. "I'll have to come to spring training to prove something, sure."

Said Bochy: "If anything, it'll be a strong message he could send by finishing up strong."

Huff pledged to do his best down the stretch, but he's in too deep to expect a turnaround at this late hour. He isn't wearing the Rally Thong this year. But he's never felt so bare.

"I'm so bad I've just gotta go into the offseason and try and figure something out mechanically," he said. "There's got to be something mechanically, I just can't figure it out.

"You get so down and out it just feels like you're fighting yourself, tweaking things. Hitting is a feel and a comfort thing, and it's just never been there."


E.Reed says he’s glad Ward wasn’t suspended

Ravens free safety Ed Reed and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward have made it clear that they’re not the best of friends. In many contests involving their respective teams, Ward has delivered some teeth-rattling hits to Reed, who has accused Ward of searching for cheap shots.

But about an hour prior to Wednesday’s practice and four days prior to Sunday’s season opener between the bitter AFC North opponents, Reed sympathized with Ward over his DUI arrest July 9 in his home state of Georgia and said he was glad that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did not suspend Ward for Sunday’s showdown.

“The DUI was something that happened, and I’m sure Hines took care of that with the courts and community service or whatever it may be,” Reed said. “It’s an unfortunate situation. You don’t want to see any player in that situation. As far as suspension goes, you never want to see a player out of the game either. It’s not even a decision of mine to comment on. Whatever happened, happened. I’m just glad he’s all right [and] that there wasn’t anything tragic that came out of that because we know about situations where that has [occurred]. They took care of that situation and that’s behind them. We’re going to play football, and he’s going to come at me, and I’m going to go at him the way we do.”

Click here to order Ed Reed’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Jon Beason Expected To Play

MLB Jon Beason has started 48 consecutive games for the Carolina Panthers and Rivera looks for him to continue that streak Sunday at Arizona.

“I expect him to play,” Rivera said of the three-time Pro Bowl selection. “We limited his reps but he did work with the first team… He made it through and looked good in doing so.”

Beason, who missed all of the preseason with a foot injury, said prior to practice he felt “pretty good.”

“It’s going to be a process and everything is geared toward Sunday,” Beason said. “We’ll see what happens. I’m going to try my best.”

Beason practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, along with RG Mackenzy Bernadeau. WR Kealoha Pilares (ankle) and CB Josh Thomas (hamstring) did not practice.

Click here to order Jon Beason’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Roscoe Parrish: (Hamstring) Ready to Go

Parrish (hamstring) is not listed on the Bills' initial injury report for Week 1 and considers himself a full-go for Sunday's game in Kansas City, BuffaloBills.com reports. "Yeah I’m ready to go," said Parrish. "I feel healthy. I was fighting a hamstring during the whole process of preseason but I stayed on top of my rehab and been out there moving around. I’m feeling good and am ready to go."

The Bills played it safe with their slot receiver, who now hopes to pick up where he left off in a promising 2010 season in Chan Gailey's offense before he suffered a broken wrist that required surgery. Parrish is also listed as the No. 1 punt return man on the Bills' initial depth chart.

Click here to order Roscoe Parrish’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Kelly Jennings Misses Wednesday's Practice

According to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals cornerback Kelly Jennings (acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks for defensive lineman Clinton McDonald) and safety Taylor Mays (acquired via trade for the 49ers 2013 seventh round pick), aren't practicing on Wednesday.

Click here to order Kelly Jennings’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Frank Gore believes 49ers' new offense could delay aging process

Frank Gore doesn't feel old, but he was reminded of his advancing years during the offseason.

The 49ers running back has worked out at the same training facility in Miami for years alongside recently retired running back Fred Taylor, 35, and other NFL players.

This past offseason, Taylor was gone, but Gore's group included Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, Detroit's Kevin Smith, Chicago's Matt Forte and even Kendall Hunter, who was training for the NFL combine.

At one point, Gore realized that, at 28, he was the oldest athlete around.

"Since Fred was gone the trainer wanted me to demonstrate everything," Gore said. "I said, 'Man, you're treating me like I'm Fred T.'"

Gore may be getting up there -- NFL backs age in dog years -- but as he noted in this article, he believes a creative offense will take defenses' focus off him and add years to his career.

Gore didn't directly slam any of his past coaches in the story (he did admit the brief Jim Hostler era was "tough"), but his praise of Jim Harbaugh also served as an indictment of past offensive regimes.

"We've got all the talent," Gore said. "And I think we have the right coaches now who can use all the talent ... Now I can see myself playing this last contract out just because of how they get the ball to everybody. People won't be able to just come in here and be like, 'They're running power.'"

It remains to be seen if Gore's high hopes for the new West Coast offense will be realized. But, let's face it, the bar is low.

Last year, the Niners' first offensive play in their opening five games was a run to Gore, generally up the middle. In a Week 5 loss to the Eagles, Gore ran on their first eight first-down plays.

Those days are over, Gore believes.

"We have great coaches," he said. "We have a great staff. They see what we have in the locker room and I think they're going to use it the best of their ability ... Everyone is just believing in the coaches and seeing the difference. Just seeing everyone sitting down and talking football with the coaches. They know what they're doing. Coach Harbaugh and his coaches are good."

More from Gore:
* Gore said there's only one running back he's excited about watching on film: LaDainian Tomlinson.

Gore brought up L.T. when asked about hearing whispers that, as a 28-year-old running back coming off a hairline hip fracture, he's on the downside of his career.

"Everybody has to go through that," Gore said. "One of the best backs in this league, who I think can still play, is LaDainian Tomlinson. That's just the position I play. I don't even think San Diego should have gotten rid of L.T. He's still got gas in the tank to me. I feel like if he was in New York as the only back, he would still be up there with the best NFL backs. That's how much I respect L.T."

During the course of a nearly 30-minute interview, Gore was perhaps at his most animated when he described a favorite Tomlinson run he was able to replicate.

"It was a game against the Rams," Gore said. "It was a power to the right and he got through the hole and stiff-armed a safety, No. 21, and scored a touchdown. A week later, I think, I kind of did the same thing and ran over 21, too."

* Before he signed his contract extension, Gore said there were moments where he imagined signing with a more successful franchise if he became a free agent after the 2011 season. But he was quick to say how happy he was to stay in San Francisco.

He said his teammates are the main reason he wants to retire with the 49ers.

"I see that we've got talent here and it's a great group of guys in that locker room," he said. "I hear a lot of stuff going on in different locker rooms about different player that don't like each other, and it's not like that here. It's like a family. We're all grown men, but when we're together we're like kids. And football is supposed to be fun, and I think when all of us are together, we make it fun. I love my team. I love my teammates here. I'm happy to have the opportunity to be here for 10, 11 years."

* Gore, who has watched the NFL playoffs at home after the first six seasons of his career, said the Seahawks' wild-card win over the Saints last year was the most painful postseason game he's watched.

"I'm not going to lie. I hated watching Seattle win that game," he said. "Oh, man, I hated that. That was supposed to be us."


Despite turnover, veteran Santana Moss remains a steadying influence

Santana Moss was surrounded.

Music thumped in the locker room at Redskins Park. But the lyrics couldn’t drown Moss‘ words. So the television cameras and microphones swarmed, something that seems to happen each time the veteran wide receiver opens his mouth.

The phalanx of media almost buried the face of the Washington Redskins‘ offense.

Most of big names are gone — Donovan McNabb dispatched to the Minnesota Vikings, Clinton Portis looking for work — leaving Moss and fan-favorite tight end Chris Cooley as leaders of a largely anonymous group. With question marks at quarterback, an influx of young receivers and a reshuffled offensive line, Moss is the certainty in a unit buffeted by change.

“I’ve been here [six] years, and I never had the chance to grasp the offense,” Moss said. “There’s always been a change here or something there. It’s one of those moments where we have the advantage.”

Turnover has been Moss‘ companion since the Redskins acquired him from the New York Jets for Laveranues Coles in 2005.

Mike Shanahan is his third coach. Five men have called offensive plays. Six quarterbacks — remember Patrick Ramsey? - lobbed passes to him.

“I’ve played with so many quarterbacks, man,” Moss said. “Every year that goes by, it’s something new. But I never really think about it.”

The turnover hasn’t helped the Redskins‘ offense, ranked in the NFL’s bottom third in total offense over the past three seasons.

Last season’s total — 5,374 yards — ranked No. 18 in the league. It was the best in Moss‘ six seasons in Washington. Each time, he’s led the team in receiving.

But after Moss voided his contract in February, the onetime University of Miami walk-on re-signed with the Redskins in July. Other teams called. He didn’t talk to them.

The past shuffling on the roster, among the coaching staff and in the front office at Redskins Park couldn’t keep him away.

“If I’m going to still play, why go somewhere and start all over?” Moss said. “If we put the right people in the right places … we can really do some good things.”

That starts with feeling more at ease in his second year under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Last season, Moss caught a career-best 93 passes for 1,115 yards and six touchdowns. Kyle Shanahan used Moss more in the slot than he ever played there before while Anthony Armstrong ran deep patterns.

The relative familiarity of the offense, regardless of the quarterback, seems a luxury to Moss.

Mention Kyle Shanahan’s offense and Moss drops superlatives like a late-night infomercial: “dynamic,” “wide-open,” “opportunity to be great,” “able to prosper.” But some parts of the offense aren’t exactly as seen on television. A grab-bag of veterans such as Armstrong, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Terrence Austin and two rookies, Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul, are battling for playing time alongside Moss at receiver.

“We have a lot to work on still,” Stallworth said. “But we’re moving in the right direction. That’s the most important thing.”

Added Kyle Shanahan: “I think everyone is more comfortable with what we’re doing, and I think it’s showing.”

Trent Williams, the hulking offensive tackle, echoed the sentiment. In his second year in the league, Williams felt obligated to assume a leadership role on the offensive line after the turnover.

Moss is where he looks for an example. For stability. Even a mentor.

And as the music blasted in the locker room and the cameras cloaked Moss, Williams grinned and revealed perhaps the lone weakness of the offense’s face.

“There’s not much,” Williams said, “he can tell me about blocking somebody.”

Click here to order Santana Moss’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Brandon Meriweather gets audience with Smith four years later

Brandon Meriweather signed a one-year contract with the Bears on Monday, but it wasn’t the first time the hard-hitting safety from the University of Miami wanted to join the team.

Aware that he was entering the 2007 NFL Draft with character concerns, Meriweather called Lovie Smith and invited the Bears coach down to Miami to spend a day getting to know him.

While Smith politely declined the offer, he was thrilled to land Meriweather four years later.

“He’s just a good football player,” Smith said. “He can hit. He’s got excellent ball skills, can change directions; all the things we’re looking for in a defensive back.

“He’s got a good pedigree too. You look at where he’s from. Devin Hester, knowing him quite well, said a lot of good things about him. We did research and felt like he was a good fit.”

After spending his first four seasons with the Patriots, Meriweather was released by New England on Saturday. He played in all 64 games with 40 starts, recording 261 tackles and 12 interceptions, and was named to the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons.

Meriweather was offered more money elsewhere, but decided to sign with the Bears.

“It feels tremendous to come in,” he said. “All the guys showed me a lot of love when I got here. To be playing with an old [college] teammate like Devin Hester again, it just feels great. I just thought it would be a good fit. I love coach Lovie and the organization is a first-class organization.”
While he likely will challenge second-year pro Major Wright for the starting free safety position, Meriweather knows that he won’t be handed the job.

“I expect to come in and do whatever the coach asks me to do,” Meriweather said. “If he comes in and asks me to play all special teams, I expect to do that. I just want to come in and contribute any way I can.”

Meriweather was honest when asked how long it would take him to learn the Bears defense.

“I have never been traded or released and I never had to come into a new system besides my rookie year, so I don’t know,’ he said. “I can’t answer that.”

Asked whether he would be ready to contribute in Sunday’s season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, he said: “We’ll find out. I am going to try to do my best. I am going to do a lot of studying.”

While learning a new system isn’t easy, Smith expects Meriweather to make a smooth transition.

“We do things differently, we call things differently,” said the Bears coach. “But once you kind of get by some of the different terminology, most coverages are pretty much the same.

“Most defenses are pretty much gap control. When the ball’s in the air, you go get it. When a guy’s running with the ball, you go tackle him. There will be some challenges, but when you have a veteran like that they normally pick it up pretty quick.”

Meriweather has received a warm reception from his new teammates.

“He’s a certified playmaker,” said veteran safety Chris Harris. “The guy has made plays his entire career, so anytime you can get a guy of that caliber on your roster, I think it definitely makes your team better.

“Competition raises everybody’s level of play. Anytime you bring a guy in at your position, competition is great. It only makes your level of play better and therefore it’s going to make the team’s play better.”

Click here to order Brandon Meriweather’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Yonder Alonso Named Pert Plus MiLB Hitting Star

DANBURY, Conn. (Sep. 7, 2011) - Pert Plus, the 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner that gets men "in, out and done," announced today the winners of the 2011 PERT Plus MiLB Stars. Fans worldwide voted online for the Triple-A position player and pitcher whom they believe have the brightest futures. After nearly two months of voting on MiLB.com, fans have selected Yonder Alonso and Julio Teheran as this year's winners.

Yonder Alonso, left fielder for the Louisville Bats, was dubbed the winning hitter. Alonso was born in Havana, Cuba, and attended the University of Miami, where he played three seasons for the Hurricanes. The 24-year old left fielder hit .296 in 91 games for the Bats before the Cincinnati Reds brought him up to the Majors at the end of July.

"It is an honor for myself and my teammates," said Alonso. "They have made it possible for me to do well. I feel grateful for the fans noticing my contributions to the team day in and day out. I thank them for voting for me."

"Yonder is a professional hitter," said Rick Sweet, manager for the Louisville Bats. "He will hit in the major leagues just like he did at the minor league level. He hits for power, average and drives in runs. He is one of the best hitters that I've ever had."

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Jemile Weeks went 4-for-5 with a double Wednesday

Jemile Weeks went 4-for-5 with a double Wednesday against the Royals. Weeks has seven hits in his last two games, and his average is back over .300 for the first time since the end of July.

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Pat Burrell gets pinch-hitting opportunity

Pat Burrell returned to action as a pinch-hitter on Wednesday, finishing 0-for-1 in a 3-1 loss to the Padres.

With the Giants down 2-1 in the seventh inning, Burrell pinch-hit with two on and one out. He flied out in what turned out to be a rally-ending double play, as the tying run was tagged out digging for home. Dealing with a sore foot has prevented the veteran from trying to get back on track this season. He has only 18 at-bats since June 30, from which he's compiled only three singles. Burrell is literally limping to the finish line.

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Aubrey Huff gets a single in pinch-hitting duty

Aubrey Huff returned to action on Wednesday as a pinch-hitter, smacking a leadoff single in the eighth inning of a 3-1 loss.

But it was all for naught, as the pinch-runner for whom we was lifted was caught stealing moments later. Huff has been dealing with a sore back. With replacement Brett Pill off to a rocket start, it will be interesting to see whether manager Bruce Bochy stays with the hot bat.

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Will Jon Jay be the Cardinals' everyday CF next season?

QUESTION: Do you think the Cardinals will begin next season with Jon Jay as their everyday center fielder, or do you think it is more likely that there will be a time share at the position or that the team may even look outside for help?

There's is almost no question that Jon Jay will be the Cardinals' center fielder next season. Two reasons: He has played well defensively and hit .300 with some late-season power. And he doesn't make much money. If the Cardinals re-sign Albert Pujols and even Lance Berkman to go with Matt Holliday and several high-priced starting pitchers, they are going to need some regular  players making less than $1 million a year.
The club probably will look for a righthanded-hitting veteran outfielder who can play center field occasionally against lefthanded pitching.  They really don't have that now.

Jay had an all-around game Tuesday night, offering six putouts in the field and driving in two runs at the plate. He hit his 10th homer and had his fourth consecutive two-hit game. The second-year outfielder is being fitted for the everyday job in center in 2012 -- a new reality for a fielder who has started each of the past two seasons as a fourth outfielder and had to hit his way into playing time.

LARRY BOROWSKY (Founder of Viva El Birdos and editor of "Maple Street Press Cardinals Annual")
It depends on what happens with other players. If they retain all three of Berkman, Pujols, and Carpenter, they'll almost have to bring Jay back as the primary CF; there won't be room in the payroll for anyone costlier than league minimum, and they won't find a better league-minimum CF than Jay. That wouldn't be such a terrible outcome; Jay is an average player at the position, and he comes very cheap. If he needs a platoon partner, Allen Craig might be a candidate but CF is a stretch for him defensively.

Should one of the veterans leave, that would create payroll space to allocate to CF. Unfortunately the free-agent crop is uninspiring though, with only one candidate who's a clear upgrade over Jay -- that's Carlos Beltran, whose ability to play center at age 35 is questionable (he hasn't played an inning there this season). If they don't sign him, there's always the possibility a trade can be worked out. But the odds are good that Jay will end up as their best option. Perhaps they shouldn't have dealt away that other homegrown kid who could play CF  ... what was his name again?

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Devin Hester to return kickoffs as well as punts

Devin Hester is listed as the Bears' No. 1 kickoff and punt returner heading into Week 1.

He's also listed as the starting receiver opposite Roy Williams. The Bears must have forgotten the lesson they learned last season that fewer responsibilities means a more dangerous Hester. We fully expect his offensive snaps to be curtailed over the course of the season, and Johnny Knox will also see time on kickoffs. Earl Bennett is listed as No. 2 on punts.

Click here to order Devin Hester’s proCane Rookie Card.

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For Jimmy Graham it’s time to shine

Jimmy Graham’s childhood started off terribly, nothing but poverty, abandonment and neglect. Yet he survived it all and says, “I wouldn’t change anything.”  Through it all, he knows playing in the NFL is a privilege not to be taken lightly.

Since he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints 95th overall in the 2010 draft, he has done nothing but impress his teammates and coaches alike with his play on the field and his attitude off the field. 

Graham made a spectacular 19-yard catch to score his first NFL touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in week 9 of his rookie season during a 34-3 Saints rout, he hasn’t looked back since.

In his rookie year alone Jimmy Graham had 31 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns. He often made acrobatic catches that were just too difficult to defend.

This off-season head coach Sean Payton had enough confidence in Graham to release often injured veteran Jeremy Shockey, and name Graham as the starter.

Tight end David Thomas also was later re-signed to help solidify depth at the position. 

Graham has been an unbelievable surprise for the Saints considering he only had one year of college football experience behind him at the University of Miami before being drafted.

The Saints hope he turns out like another NFL tight end and former college basketball star, San Diego Chargers superstar Antonio Gates.
Right now Jimmy Graham has all the tools he needs to be successful in the league, and a quarterback in Drew Brees that can deliver the ball effectively in key situations.

This is going to be the year he makes tremendous strides in his young career to help make the Saints offense even stronger than it has ever been in seasons past.

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Leonard Hankerson unlikely to be active on game days

Redskins third-rounder Leonard Hankerson will enter the season behind fifth-rounder Niles Paul on the depth chart.

Hankerson will be a game-day inactive early on after a drop-filled training camp and exhibition season.

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Jon Vilma impresses Packers' QB Rodgers

METAIRIE, La. – Jonathan Vilma rarely gets mentioned when the best middle linebackers in the NFL are brought up.

His peers, however, don’t make that mistake and when asked about going up against Vilma, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t mince his words.

“For some reason, his name is often left out when you are talking about the best players at middle linebacker,” Rodgers said. “… For some reason, I feel like Jonathan’s name gets left out when you talk Pro Bowl balloting and stuff. When it comes to the payers that play in the game, there is no lack of respect for Jonathan Vilma.”

Vilma has led the Saints in tackles the past three seasons with 151, 130 and 131 stops.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams trusts Vilma enough to allow him to make the calls and audibles on defense and he’s constantly battling Saints quarterback Drew Brees during practices.

“I just mentioned in my press conference that any good defense starts with a talented, athletic, very intelligent middle linebacker and that is what the Saints have in Jonathan Vilma,” Rodgers said. “I think he has gotten better.”

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Tavares Gooden Signs With 49ers as a Special Teamer

San Francisco 49er Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said that newcomer Tavares Gooden was signed mainly for special teams. "He's a good athlete and can run very well," he said. "He's been a good special teams athlete throughout his career. And I think he just improves our overall speed."

In fact, Gooden said he's even faster now that he's started doing yoga. Gooden said he took up the exercise this summer on the suggestion of his agents as a way of avoiding injury. Gooden has missed 22 games in three seasons due to an array of injuries ranging from a torn labrum to a hernia.

In fact, if you're a yoga instructor in the Bay Area, you have an opportunity to land a high-profile client. "I'm looking for a place out here where I can find a stretch doctor or a yoga instructor to help me out," he said. "I think I'll continue that because it has helped me out."

Fangio said that Gooden would play inside linebacker like he did with the Ravens. The idea is to get Gooden up to speed at "Mike" linebacker to be Patrick Willis' backup and to do the same at "Ted" with Larry Grant, who is NaVorro Bowman's backup.

Gooden was asked about his primary job responsibilities on special teams. His answer -- basically, go bulldoze the guy with the ball -- suggests he might be ready to roll on Sunday.

"Just kick tail, just kick butt," Gooden said. "That's my primary deal. Just go out there and play like a monster, play like a mad man. I think that's what I did my first three years in the NFL and I have that reputation for playing hard and going out there and kicking butt."

As for going into the season with just three outside linebackers? "Not comfortable with three outside linebackers but we thought this was worth the gamble to upgrade our special teams over the insurance of having a fourth outside linebacker," Fangio said.

Click here to order Tavares Gooden’s proCane Rookie Card.

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It's full speed ahead for rejuvenated Frank Gore

After talking with Jim Harbaugh in the offseason, 49ers running back Frank Gore began to believe that, finally, all that other talk would disappear.

For starters, his family members would stop openly dreaming about him playing for the Colts or Patriots, teams with elite quarterbacks directing visionary offenses.

And the NFL defensive players with whom he trained in Miami would stop telling him about their Gore-centered game plans from that past season: "They would come up to me and say, 'Man, that's all we talked about - you, you, you,' " he said.

And, best of all, Gore never again would line up in the backfield and hear defenders yelling out the 49ers' play before the snap. Gore says that happened in last year's 31-10 loss to the Chiefs and during the ill-fated tenure of offensive coordinator Jim Hostler three years earlier.

"In '07, when we had Jim Hoss," Gore said, shaking his head wearily, "yeah, that was tough."

Gore is the only back in franchise history with four straight 1,000-yard seasons, and he needs 931 yards to become the Niners' all-time leading rusher. Those are particularly impressive feats considering he hasn't been surrounded by a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver or an offense that has ranked higher than 23rd in the league.

"Like I told (Harbaugh), it's been tough out there, man," Gore said. "It's been tough in my career here facing defenses that knew what we were going to do. That's what's made me really think - would another running back be able to do what I did? In the position I was in?"

Gore, 28, is confident he'll be in a far better position this season thanks to the arrival of Harbaugh, the first offensive-minded head coach he has had.

Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were known for their creative use of formations, motion and personnel groups at Stanford, where the Cardinal scored a school-record 524 points last year.

In contrast with former offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, who announced his intention to run on 60 percent of San Francisco's plays, Harbaugh and Roman have been tight-lipped about their West Coast offense and kept the preseason play-calling vanilla - but what Gore heard from Harbaugh in the offseason had him, in effect, salivating. Gore has said those conversations contributed to his decision to end his contract holdout after four days at the start of training camp.

"Even though football should be simple, you don't have to make it look simple," Gore said. "And the coaches here now don't make it look simple. That's what I like."

And after signing a three-year, $21 million contract extension last week, he can envision playing until he's 31. He believes the creative use of other personnel will add years to his career by taking the bull's-eye off his back.

"We've got all the talent," Gore said. "And I think we have the right coaches now who can use all the talent. ... Now I can see myself playing this last contract out just because of how they get the ball to everybody. People won't be able to just come in here and be like, 'They're running power.' "

For his part, Harbaugh appears to be just as taken with Gore, whom he calls one of the NFL's best running backs. Gore is fully recovered from a hairline hip fracture he sustained in November, but he has missed nine games over the past three seasons because of injuries as his 5-foot-9, 217-pound frame pays the price for 1,371 career carries. Still, Harbaugh has said he doesn't anticipate Gore, who excels as a pass-catcher and blocker, coming off the field often.

Beyond his respect for Gore's on-field ability, Harbaugh loves the life story of an athlete who grew up in extreme poverty in Coral Gables, Fla., and overcame a learning disability.

"Frank is a true 49er," Harbaugh said. "I've said that from when I first got here, that's how I thought I would feel about Frank Gore. Now I know how I feel about Frank Gore. The guy is awesome. Somebody should do a movie. Somebody should do 'The Frank Gore Story,' because it's an awesome story."

The respect for Gore runs throughout the organization. His teammates voted him the offensive captain last week.

Gore is acclaimed for his football smarts and eye for talent - former head coach Mike Nolan used to call him to get his evaluations of teammates and players around the NFL. And general manager Trent Baalke and Gore have talked, somewhat jokingly, Gore says, about him filling a similar role in his retirement.

When Gore was sidelined by his hip injury last year, Baalke brought him upstairs to watch video of two Pac-10 running backs. It was an experience that might have given Gore second thoughts about getting into the talent-evaluation business.

"At first, I thought you've just got to watch one game," Gore said. "But, man, I had to watch like five games with one person. I told Trent, 'Man, you should know once you've seen one game or two games of a guy, you should know what type of player he is.' But, no, he told me I had to watch like five games. That's the tough part right there."

Gore was laughing. And with good reason. As a running back with a target on his back, he has experienced the toughest part of football.
But his toughest days, he believes, are finally behind him.

Click here to order Frank Gore’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Vinny Testaverde refused to play following terrorist attacks on Sept. 11

As a New York guy, how did you feel about moving on and playing that week?
I had expressed to my coach, my GM, my teammates that I thought it'd be in our best interest to not play that week. I actually told them if they went out to California, I think we were playing the Raiders, that I wouldn't be making that trip. That I'd stay home and be with family and friends.

Did you lose anyone close to you, know anyone affected?
Mostly friends of friends, people from our church, turns out later that week I found out that a high school teammate of mine had passed away in the towers that collapsed. I actually saw his photo on a poster honoring those firefighters and police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. And having to learn that just a few hours before kickoff was hard to swallow. Being a New York guy growing up on Long Island, just having what I'd say was a closer connection than most of the other teammates that were there at the time with me, it just hit home a little bit more being from New York.

You went to the site by yourself. What was that like?
I went down to Ground Zero (soon) after to walk around and talk with rescue workers, and you could see the sadness in their eyes and their hearts and you know, I'm getting chills just talking about it. It was a sad time, a very sad, emotional thing that a lot of people had gone through.

What role did sports play in helping people get over what had happened?
I think for more than a moment, sports — as popular as it is in our country — was part of the healing process for Americans. Certainly the Yankees, the Jets and Giants, those teams had something to do with the healing process. Although I thought it was important not to play the following week, I thought it was important to continue to do the best we could as athletes to provide some kind of entertainment or distraction, if you will.


Roscoe Parrish Likely Punt Returner

Last year, C.J. Spiller was the Bills’ primary kick returner, and was pretty average in that capacity save for one touchdown jaunt. He'll be joined back deep by free agent acquisition Brad Smith, who returned 50 kicks at 28.6 yards per return - with two touchdowns - for the New York Jets last season. However, with the NFL's kickoff rules leading to a lot more touchbacks this season, who returns kicks may quickly become irrelevant.

At punt returner, Roscoe Parrish remains one of the best in the game, and he'll continue to hold down that role. He'll be backed up by Spiller, as well.

Click here to order Roscoe Parrish’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Frank Gore Voted Captain

On the day that cuts were made to 53 players, the 49ers held a vote to select their two captains for the season.

The result of the vote was interesting. It spoke to what the players value from a teammate.

Leadership might be great, but the quality that swayed the 49ers players was production.

The defensive captain is Patrick Willis, an understated tackling machine who has been named to the Pro Bowl each of his first four NFL seasons. He is on pace for a Hall-of-Fame career. Willis is the 49ers' best defensive player.

The captain on offense is running back Frank Gore. His team-record streak of four consecutive 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons ended last year when he still gained 853 yards despite missing the final five games with a fractured hip. Gore is the 49ers' best offensive player.

Click here to order Frank Gore’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Jon Jay belts 10th homer

Jon Jay went 2-for-3 with a solo homer and RBI single in Tuesday's win over the Brewers.

It's his second straight game with a home run, and he now has an even 10 on the year. Jay also has tallied four straight multi-hit games and is batting a cool .474 in five games this month.

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Ryan Braun hitting his marks

St. Louis - The Milwaukee Brewers have never had a batting champion but they have their best chance in a long time with Ryan Braun.

The all-star leftfielder took over the lead for the National League batting title Sunday, moving up to .335 to pass New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes (.333). He stayed at .335 after a 2-for-5 game in the 4-1 victory over St. Louis.

Braun loves a challenge, so dangling a carrot that close could lead to big things.

"That kind of stuff motivates him," said Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum. "He's very goal-oriented. When he sees an achievement like that, don't put it past him. A couple of years ago he needed a whole bunch of hits the last week to get to 200 and he did it.

"He can go on a tear with the best of them."

Braun and first baseman Prince Fielder are having tremendous seasons, with Fielder entering play Monday as the NL leader with 107 RBI. A national debate already has started about which player is the leading candidate for league most valuable player.

"There's no wrong answer to that," said Brewers rightfielder Corey Hart. "They could definitely finish 1-2. I don't know which way you go but I could see them being the top two. Either way you go, nobody could argue.

"That's going to help us as a team because they'll keep pushing. They're very competitive. They fight for each other but they compete with each other, too.

" 'Braunie' has put himself in good position (for the batting title). And he's one of those guys who's never satisfied. The pressure never gets to him. He always seems to rise to the occasion.

"I don't think he came into the year thinking about winning the batting title but as soon as it's in front of him, that motivates him even more. I don't think he's going to let it get way from him."

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Strong hitting by Jon Jay comes at right time

The reasons Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay has fended off a second consecutive late-season swoon could vary from his familiarity with opposing pitchers to better stamina for September.

Or it could be as he repeated five times after playing a leading role in Tuesday's 4-2 victory — as simple as "everything evens out."

"Sometimes you don't even know how you got out of it," Jay said. "You try to stay consistent. You try to stay at that point. That's where I am right now."

Jay swatted his 10th home run of the season and finished Tuesday's win against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium with two hits, two RBIs and two runs scored. It was the outfielder's fourth consecutive game with two hits, and for the first time in his career he has more than two homers in the same home stand. Jay added a couple of catches in center at the warning track — and later one misplay that led to a run — to back starter Kyle Lohse.

In his past 19 games, the lefthanded-hitting outfielder has batted .371 with 13 runs scored and three homers.

It's a display that is a stark contrast to last September.

"It's a long season and you're going to have some months where you don't do well, and some stretches, too," Jay explained. "I'm a firm believer that everything evens out. Everything evens out, especially in this game."

Jay's two seasons in the majors have followed similar trends. He emerges early in the year as a capable and valuable fourth outfielder. He promptly hits his way into more playing time, and then the Cardinals make a deal at the deadline that clears the way for him to move into an everyday role. Last season, the Cardinals exchanged right fielder Ryan Ludwick in a three-team deal for Jake Westbrook, and the club advertised Jay as the beneficiary of the open playing time. This season, Jay started a time share in center with incumbent Colby Rasmus, and the Cardinals moved Rasmus at the non-waiver trade deadline to Toronto, in part, to land starter Edwin Jackson and lefty Marc Rzepczynski.

After the Ludwick trade, Jay faded. His average dropped from .378 on the day of the trade to .300 at the end of the season, and he batted .218 in the season's final month. Jay did not hit a homer after the deal. He attributed the fade to fatigue, brought on in part by an offseason spent playing winter ball immediately before the start of the 2010 season.

Flares went up, however, when a similar slump struck at the deadline this year.

In the month after the Rasmus trade, Jay hit .250 in 27 games and had a .304 on-base percentage.

"I think until he establishes a long track record, any time you have a little hiccup people start (thinking), 'Hey, what's real?'" manager Tony La Russa said. "The truth of it is that through the season everyone goes through those things."

How they get out of them defines the player.

Jay, the Cardinals' second-round pick in the 2006 draft, has found a way to adjust quicker and more completely this season. Aware of how specific teams and even individual pitchers are going to attack him, Jay has tightened up his swing and counteracted. He's also found a bit of a comfort zone in the No. 2 spot in the order, where he hit Tuesday. In the first inning, Jay bounced into a groundout and then scored on Lance Berkman's two-out single. In the third, Jay uncorked a homer to left field, his second homer from the No. 2 spot in the order in three days.
Billed as a high-average hitter since his days batting behind Milwaukee All-Star Ryan Braun at the University of Miami, Jay now has 10 home runs in 384 at-bats this season. Rasmus had 11 in 338 at-bats for the Cardinals this season; he has 14 in 426 overall.

After two years of moving into an everyday role only after a trade, Jay is likely to come to spring training in 2012 with a chance to win the everyday job outright, barring an offseason move for a center fielder.

La Russa noted that opponents have 'seen him now a bunch of times and he's still getting base hits." With his recovery in the past few weeks, Jay is on pace to finish his second season hitting well above .300 rather than clinging desperately to .300 like he was a year ago.

"It's just one of those things," Jay said. "The more time you spend here the more comfortable you get every day. I don't think you could ever be too comfortable here. It'll bite you."

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Leonard Hankerson Gets Speeding Ticket Driving To Miami Vs. Maryland Game

Leonard Hankerson is on his way to Byrd Stadium following Redskins practice, and he was so excited to get there that an officer had no choice but to pull him over. I know this because I've been reading his Twitter feed. The noteworthy tweets are below the jump.

What's Maryland stadium called so I can #gps it????
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone favorite Favorite retweet Retweet reply Reply
Leonard Hankerson

Who's tailgating????
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone favorite Favorite retweet Retweet reply Reply
Leonard Hankerson

Jus got pulled over, #Dang lol 78 n a 55.... Didn't kno
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone favorite Favorite retweet Retweet reply Reply
Leonard Hankerson

"@jefe327: @HankTime85 were waiting for u bro!"<<<< if I can find my way
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone favorite Favorite retweet Retweet reply Reply
Leonard Hankerson


49ers get Tavares Gooden after all

The San Francisco 49ers worked on swinging a trade for Tavares Gooden(notes) with the Baltimore Ravens before final cuts.

When a deal fell through, the 49ers were eventually able to negotiate with Gooden on their own, coming to terms with the inside linebacker on a one-year contract, according to Aaron Wilson of Scout.com.

Gooden, a third-round pick by the Ravens in 2008, appeared in 26 games over the last three seasons in Baltimore, mostly on special teams. He did made 12 starts in 2009.

Click here to order Tavares Gooden’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Brandon Meriweather quickly fitting in with Bears

Devin Hester was a teammate of Brandon Meriweather’s at “The U.” He is very clear about what kind of player the Bears just acquired in the person of his former University of Miami pal.

An intimidator. And Hester speaks from experience.

“Yes,” Hester said, more than once, then laughed. “Yes. I played against him in college and always told him, ‘Don’t hit me hard.’ I know the type of power that he brings up when he comes up and hits. Another hard-hitting safety.”

Not always the kind of hard-hitting that the NFL approves of, as evidenced by the $50,000 fine Meriweather was assessed for a helmet-to-helmet blow to the head of Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap.

And Meriweather was involved in the notorious brawl between players from The U and Florida International, a sprawling fight in which Meriweather reportedly stomped players on the ground.

The Bears arguably have not had a safety generally feared or considered an intimidator physically since Todd Bell or more recently Tony Parrish. Meriweather has tended to play outside the defensive scheme too often to suit Bill Belichick, who released him from the New England Patriots, but he is also what the Bears crave in their defensive backfields:

“Another athlete from Florida that’s going to make plays,” Hester said. “He has the natural ability to go up and get balls and is real talented when the ball’s in the air.

“A very smart player. One thing I noticed about him at Miami is he was one player who always knew where the other guys were [supposed to be] and if a guy was confused on the defensive side of the ball, he would be the guy that knew everything.”

Meriweather and safety Chris Harris walked together off the practice field Monday, Harris explaining in great detail the intricacies of the Bears’ scheme as it applies to safeties, including depth of positioning, partitioning of the deep areas of the field and such.

You just have to assume that Meriweather in fact knew to whom he was talking.

Name tags?
Getting along with teammates off the field isn’t remotely as important as connecting with them on it. Meriweather is off to more than a good start with the former.

More or less.

The latest No. 1 draft choice (of another team) signed by the Bears was swarmed at his locker stall Monday by microphones, recorders, pens and one sidekick.

Harris was in the pack of interrogators and, holding a microphone, led off with questions of the newest Bear.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is new safety Brandon Meriweather,” Harris intoned. “First, how does it feel to be a Chicago Bears right now?”

Meriweather went with the moment.  “It feels great,” he said with exaggerated enthusiasm and high-pitched voice. “I get to play with guys like Chris Henry and ...”

He couldn’t hold his straight face and laughed. So did everyone, Harris too, sort of, since Chris Henry was the Cincinnati wide receiver who died from a fall from a truck nearly two years ago.

The Bears can laugh at an obvious slip of the tongue. They won’t at slips in coverage, however.

To make room for Meriweather, the Bears released cornerback Joshua Moore, the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft. Moore played in just three games last season, was inactive for the other 13 and was credited with just 1 special-teams tackle.

Meriweather, while expected to move into the starting lineup sooner rather than later, won’t until coaches are convinced he will make fewer mistakes than Major Wright at free safety.

Meriweather was a two-time Pro Bowl player for the New England Patriots, who play a 3-4 defense under Belichick. He obviously didn’t play that scheme to Belichick’s satisfaction, and as far as how long it will likely take for him to fully grasp the intricacies of a Cover-2 safety vs. one in a 3-4, Meriweather admitted he wasn’t sure.

“I have never been traded or released,” Meriweather said. “I have never had to come into a new system besides my rookie year. I don’t know. I can’t answer that.”

Meriweather’s aptitude with defenses that Hester described will get a test this week. The most difficult aspect of the Bears’ defense is “the mental part of the game,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We do things differently, we call things differently.

“But once you get by some of the different terminology, most coverages are pretty much the same, most defenses are pretty much gap-control, when the ball’s in the air, you go get it; guy’s running with the ball, you go tackle him. There’ll be some challenges but when you have a veteran like that, they usually pick it up pretty quick.”

And, the Bears hope, intimidate an offensive player here and there in the process.

Click here to order Brandon Meriweather’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Willis McGahee’s home for sale…listed by The Campins Company Baltimore

Hey!  Willis McGahee here! My Baltimore house is now up for sale…it’s super nice if I do say so myself! Know someone who might be interested? Have them contact my agent from The Campins Company Baltimore Deb@thecampinscompany.com for info and to check it out! WM
Here’s the scoop!

4BR/3+2BA Single Family House
Offered at $799,900
Year Built 2008
Sq Footage 4,892
Bedrooms 4
Bathrooms 3 full, 2 partial
Floors 3
Parking 2 Car garage
Lot Size 2,281 sqft
HOA/Maint $193 per month

Up and at ‘em! Make it a great day people!
Willis McGahee

Check out Photos of McGahee’s Apartment here

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

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16 proCanes Victims of NFL Cuts - A Few Big Surprises

The Philadelphia Eagles cut rookie running back Graig Cooper. The Eagles are deep at the running back position, so look for Cooper to sign as a free agent with another team, he looked quite good this pre-season. The Eagles also cut WR Sinorice Moss. Moss had another great training camp, but was a victim of a deep crop of WRs. Moss has the talent and has shown it when given the opportunity and when healthy. WRs go down due to injury quite often, look for a team to pick him up.

The Miami Dolphins cut TE Dedrick Epps. Epps was cut last year as well but eventually made the Dolphins practice squad. Look for him to latch onto the practice squad again considering how thin the Dolphins are at the TE position.

WR Darnell Jenkins was cut by the New England Patriots. Most scouts seem to think he will find a spot on someone’s roster.

S Jared Campbell, brother of Arizona Cardinal Calais Campbell was cut by the Cardinals. Campbell played well in limited action in the preseason. He may be able to make a practice squad.

The New England Patriots, in a surprise move, cut safety Brandon Meriweather. Meriweather who has been to two consecutive Pro Bowls reportedly freelanced too much in the Patriot backfield and was underperforming. It’s not clear as to whether it was also money issue, but Meriweather is definitely still an elite talent at safety in the NFL. Look for teams thin at that position like the Dolphins and Chiefs to go after Meriweather.

Baraka Atkins LB/DE who had been signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason was cut as well. Atkins was one of the final cuts of the Denver Broncos last year after spending the beginning of his career with the Seahawks.

10-year veteran DL Damione Lewis was cut by the Houston Texans. Lewis was a late addition to the Texans squad last year and played very well both last year and this preseason. What didn’t help Lewis this year was the fact that the Texans changed to a 3-4 defense and Lewis is much better suite as a DL in the 4-3.

Brett Romberg who was a surprise signing by the Atlanta Falcons only a couple of days ago, after not playing at all during the 2010 season, was cut by the Falcons as concerns over their starting center’s health subsided. Don’t be surprised to see Romberg get signed if the Falcons sustain an injury there.

Running back Damien Berry was cut by the Ravens. Berry was slowed by an ankle injury that he suffered in the first game of the pre season, and as a result didn’t play until the fourth game. Berry has NFL skills. BERRY WAS SIGNED TO THE RAVENS PRACTICE SQUAD.

LB Tavares Gooden. Gooden was drafted by the Ravens to eventually replace Ray Lewis at the MLB position, but injuries have really slowed his career. Gooden, if healthy, can start for most NFL teams, but this pre season was no different as he continued to deal with injuries. THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS SIGNED GOODEN TO A 1-YEAR DEAL.

Rookie defensive back Ryan Hill was waived by the Minnessota Vikings. Hill didn’t play a lot this pre season but when he did, like in the final pre season game for the Vikings, he performed well leading the team in tackles. The Vikings had Hill listed as a safety. He has the size and speed to play both corner and safety which gives him the type of versatility a lot of teams look for.

Javarris James, RB who led the Indianapolis Colts last year in rushing touchdowns after playing only about half the season was cut by the Colts.

Second-year defensive lineman Dwayne Hendricks who was on the NY Giants practice squad last year and was called up and played in a regular season game last year for the Giants was cut. Giants did have a very good pre-season. THE GIANTS SIGNED HENDRICKS TO THEIR PRACTICE SQUAD.

Rookie DB Corey Nelms was cut by the 49ers. Nelms was a surprise free agent signing and did get playing time in the preseason. THE 49ERS SIGNED NELMS TO THEIR PRACTICE SQUAD.

Rookie Fullback Patrick Hill was cut by the Tennessee Titans. Hill didn’t get any carries in the preseason for the Titans.

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Brandon Meriweather studies schemes

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Brandon Meriweather chose against re-living his surprise release from the New England Patriots, opting instead Tuesday to speak optimistically about his prospects with the Chicago Bears.

Signed to a one-year contract by the Bears on Monday, Meriweather -- a two-time Pro Bowl selection -- said he's unsure whether he'll play Sunday when the team hosts the Falcons at Soldier Field. Less than an hour after being fitted by the team's equipment staff for pads, Meriweather ran onto the field for practice. The field work finally came after Meriweather stayed up late Monday night studying the team's scheme with assistant defensive backs coach Gill Byrd.

"Do I want to be (ready to play on Sunday)? We'll find out," Meriweather said. "I'm gonna try my best. I'm gonna do a lot of studying."

Meriweather started 40 of 64 games over the past four years for the Patriots, who selected him with the 24th overall pick of the 2007 draft. But in somewhat of a stunning move, the Patriots released him on Saturday.

Meriweather declined to comment specifically about the conversation he had with Patriots coach Bill Belichick upon his release, saying "to be honest, that's between me and coach," adding that that "I'm sure you can call Bill and ask him. I'm sure he'll give you all the details."

Belichick didn't do that, but he definitely indicated on Monday that Meriweather's skills had diminished to the point at which the Patriots felt the need to move on.

"Brandon played a lot of good football for us. We kept the players this year that we felt would be the best makeup for the 2011 team," Belichick said. "It's not the 2009 team. It's the 2011 team. That's the players we selected. Each year is a new year. I just don't think you can pick teams, pick your players, based on what's happened in the past. You have to pick them based on what you think is going to happen this year. That's relative to the competition, the makeup of your team, and the player's performance. All those are obviously a part of it."

Meriweather expressed "respect for Bill, and the rest of the staff (in New England)," adding the situation is "behind me. Now I'm focused on being a Bear."

With Bears safeties Craig Steltz (hip), and Chris Conte (head) nursing injuries, there's a chance Meriweather could see action -- on special teams at the very least -- against the Falcons.

Steltz and Conte appeared to practice with the team Monday, but an official injury report won't be released until Wednesday.

Bears coach Lovie Smith, meanwhile, indicated the club plans to prepare Meriweather to play as soon as possible.

"We'll get him into the mix," Smith said. "You can't have too many good players at any position."

Right now, Meriweather continues to take a crash course in the Bears defensive system, but isn't sure he'll absorb enough to make meaningful contributions, considering the matchup with the Falcons is less than a week away.

"I have never been traded or released, and I never had to come into a new system besides my rookie year. So I don't know," he said. "I can't answer that. I haven't been able to wrap my mind around all of (this system) as I did with my last team. But I'm looking forward to it. I'm just trying to get better. They gave (the defense) to me fast. Luckily we've got people like Chris (Harris) who know the defense very well and he could help me out with the small questions. I've got Coach Byrd, and the rest of them to help me out with the bigger questions."

With Harris and second-year man Major Wright seemingly firmly entrenched as the starters, it's unlikely Meriweather will wrest away one of those jobs immediately. That's not to say it's impossible. After all, the Bears under Smith have opened the season with eight different combinations at safety over the past eight years.

Smith's penchant for switching out the safeties is well known at Halas Hall, and the addition of Meriweather indicates the team might not be entirely sold on Wright as a starter. But even if that's not the case, Meriweather might provide enough of an upgrade for the club to decide to go another direction at the position.

"He's just a good football player," Smith said. "He can hit. He's got excellent ball skills, change of direction, all of the things we're looking for in a defensive back. He's got a good pedigree, too. We did our research and felt like he's a fit here. We'll see how it goes this game week."

Meriweather's aggression has gotten him in trouble in the past, whether the result was a big gain for the opponent or a big hit to his checkbook.

He was initially fined $50,000 last season after a helmet-on-helmet hit to Baltimore's Todd Heap, a penalty that was later reduced to $40,000. Before that, he was known mostly for his role in an on-field fight during a 2006 game against Florida International while at Miami. A few months earlier, he fired a gun at an assailant who had shot Miami backup safety Willie Cooper outside the house Cooper shared with Meriweather and another teammate, police said. Meriweather wasn't charged and police said he used the gun legally.

And despite Meriweather's pedigree as a Pro Bowl performer, he seemed to be saying all the right things Tuesday, by hinting that his plans aren't necessarily to come in and start, but "to come in and do whatever the coach asks me to."

Wright, meanwhile, wasn't concerned about the addition or extra competition it might bring.

"(Meriweather is) just going out, working to get better and that's it," Wright said. "I'm very confident in what I'm doing. I know what I'm doing, and there's more room to improve."

Bears receiver Devin Hester played with Meriweather in college at Miami. Hester laughed at recalling college practices, in which the receiver "used to always tell (Meriweather), 'Don't hit me hard,'" Hester said. "I know what type of power he brings when he comes up and hits."

Meriweather also brings intelligence and playmaking ability to the Bears, Hester said. It's an observation the receiver quickly made while the duo played at Miami.

"He's real talented when the ball is in the air; a very smart player," Hester said. "One thing I noticed about him at Miami is he was one of those safeties that knew what the other guys had, and would always get guys in order. If any guy was confused on the defensive side of the ball, he was that guy that knew everything, knew every position."

What Meriweather doesn't know just yet is where he fits in the team's plans.

All he knows is he fits.

"It feels tremendous to come in. All the guys showed me a lot of love when I got here," Meriweather said. "To be playing with an old teammate like Devin Hester again, it just feels great. I think it will be a good fit. The style of defense they play. ... I love Coach Lovie and the organization."

Click here to order Brandon Meriweather’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Bill Belichick explains why the team let Brandon Meriweather go

FOXBOROUGH - The Brandon Meriweather release has been covered extensively here the last few days, but the media was finally afforded its first opportunity to speak to coach Bill Belichick since the move was made.

Looking at his comments, it's pretty clear that the organization felt that Meriweather was headed in the wrong direction.

Here's what he had to say:

"Yeah, no doubt about it. Again, I think each year is a new year and I just don’t think you can pick teams, or pick your players based on what’s happened in the past," Belichick said. "You have to pick them based on what you think is going to happen this year, and that’s relative to the competition, to the make of your team, and player’s performance. All of those are obviously a part of it. Brandon played a lot of good football for us. We kept the players this year that we felt would be the best make up for the 2011 team. It’s not the 2009 team; it’s the 2011 team, so those are the players that we’ve selected."

Click here to order Brandon Meriweather’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Frank Gore's New Contract Is A Pretty Sweet Deal ... For The 49ers

Frank Gore's agents announced yesterday that they had snagged the San Francisco running back a three-year contract extension worth about $21 million.

But as we've seen with many NFL contract lately, the truth is slightly less rosy that the headlines would want you to believe.

To begin, only $13.5 million of it is guaranteed money. Not bad for a 28-year-old running back, as most of the stories about the deal mentioned.
But NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora dug a little deeper and reminds us that "guaranteed money" isn't always so "guaranteed".

The guarantee for 2013-14 is an "injury" guarantee, not a "talent" guarantee. That means it only applies if Gore suffers a catastrophic injury and is unable to play. If his performance suffer and the Niners cut him, they're off the hook.

Also, the guarantee doesn't apply to the final year of the contract if he gets hurt before it begins.

Oh, and there's one other thing: $4.9 million of that $13.5 million total was money from Gore's existing 2011 contract, which they would have had to pay him anyway, with or without the extension. The contract adds nothing to his 2011 salary and provides no extra up-front money or signing bonuses.

So all Drew and Jason Rosenhaus really got him was $8.6 million spread over three years, and most of it guaranteed only if he's physically unable to play. If Gore simply wears down or becomes ineffective, the 49ers can cut him at almost any time and owe absolutely nothing. Even if they do end up paying the injury guarantees, the salary cap hit will be minimal.

Yes, if Gore is healthy and productive, he can earn all $21 million ($13.5 million in salary, plus another $7.5 million in performance and roster bonuses), which is great for him and the 49ers. Gore has stated that he hopes to finish his career with the team that drafted him in 2005 and technically this gives him the opportunity to do so.

But the commitment (and $21 million paycheck) is entirely dependent upon Gore and his ability to be an effective NFL runner for another four years. If he's not, it's no skin off the Niners' back. The risk for San Francisco with this deal is almost non-existent.

As we've seen with the Michael Vick deal and plenty of other big money contracts, the numbers are never what they seem. (Unlike Gore, Vick can't even reach his advertised selling price of $100M.)

But trying telling that to the agent who wants to brag about the big money they earn for their clients.

Click here to order Frank Gore’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Orlando Franklin finding a home on the O-line

Try to picture this for a moment.

Instead of Broncos orange and blue, what if Orlando Franklin were wearing the Avalanche's burgundy and blue? Instead of a massive pair of cleats, Franklin moved his 6-foot-7, 330-pound body on a pair of skates?

Franklin, the Broncos' massive rookie offensive right tackle, at least briefly tried to make it as a hockey player, a natural thought for a kid growing up in Toronto.

He played only one season of organized hockey, at age 14. He could skate and had the size, strength and mean streak necessary to be a defensive enforcer, but that one year on skates was enough for Franklin to realize that his true athletic calling was on grass, not ice.

By the time Franklin, who had been playing football in youth leagues in Toronto since he was 7, was 15, he was already growing into the type of body that makes college coaches go gaga, but he knew that to get a scholarship, he'd have to leave Canada.

"My mom up and moved just so I could play," Franklin said. "She always made sacrifices for me and my brother."

It wasn't the family's first move. Sylvia Allen left her native Jamaica when Franklin was just a toddler in order to get her two boys out of a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Kingston. She began working as an in-home health care aide in Canada and was able to find similar work in Boca Raton, Fla., when the family relocated in time for Franklin's junior year of high school.

He arrived at Atlantic High in Delray Beach much the same way he arrived in Denver after the Broncos selected him at No. 46 overall in the NFL draft: physically impressive but with raw football skills. The difference in talent and speed at the high school level between Canada and South Florida was staggering.

"It was hard at first. But as with anything, it can only get better with time," Franklin said. "I put a lot of work into it and got better."

Franklin quickly emerged as a blue- chip recruit and signed with the University of Miami in 2006. After sitting out a year for academic reasons, Franklin went on to play both guard and tackle in his four-year college career.

The Broncos are hoping — and needing — Franklin to make a quick adjustment to the NFL. He has been the starter at right tackle since the first day of training camp, and has received lots of extra instruction on blocking technique from offensive line coach Dave Magazu, while his teammates constantly remind him of his in-game responsibilities.

After the offense breaks the huddle, right guard Chris Kuper, who at 28 is the line's most veteran player, is the first guy to remind Franklin of what his job is. Through the preseason, Franklin has been stuck to Kuper's side, and it is Kuper's voice that is constantly in Franklin's ear.
"(Kuper) is one of our smarter linemen and can make the calls real early for him," quarterback Kyle Orton said.

Orton also has taken extra interest in Franklin and puts in extra work to make sure Franklin is on track.

"They try to keep me on the page where I know exactly what I'm supposed to do. Kyle knows there are things I sometimes struggle with, so he'll point out — 'Big O, you got him,' or he'll actually say it in his cadence," Franklin said. "He takes pretty good care of me."

It's in Orton's best interest, of course, to make sure his rookie right tackle is up to speed.

The predraft scouting report on Franklin was that he was a superior run blocker, a physical player capable of handling double teams and driving defensive linemen backward. His pass-blocking skills needed refining.

"There are so many calls up front and so much communication going on, and there is so much going on while I'm snapping the football — because I like to play fast, you know — so he doesn't have a lot of time to process that information," Orton said. "He's always been a guy that when he knows who to block and how to do it, he'll get it done."

Franklin has good role models in helping adjust to life as a rookie starter. Left tackle

Ryan Clady, center J.D. Walton and left guard Zane Beadles all were starters as rookies.

"It was tough at first, but it tends to get easier as the days go by," Franklin said. "I'm nowhere near where I want to be. I just have to continue to work at it."

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Damien Berry confident he has a future in NFL

It may not be a stretch to assert that the odds of rookie running back Damien Berry making the Ravens’ 53-man roster are long.

But if there’s no room with the Ravens, Berry, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami, said he thinks he can play in the NFL.

“I’ve thought about it because this is a great team, and I would love to be here,” he said after Friday’s practice at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills. “At the end of the day, it’s a job. It’s something you’ve got to do, and if you can’t do it here, you can always go somewhere else to do it. The journey doesn’t just stop here.”

Berry registered his best performance of the preseason on Thursday night, carrying the ball eight times for 31 yards and one touchdown in the Ravens’ 21-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. That showing boosted Berry’s morale.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” he said. “After I played in the first game, I hurt my ankle a little bit, and I couldn’t play until the fourth game. I think that boosted a little bit of my status with the coaches and showed them that I am explosive and can do the goal-line stuff. It gives me a lot of confidence.”

Berry said his preference would be to remain with the Ravens. But he said he does not have any inside information on his standing with the coaching staff.

“I really don’t have any kind of inkling,” he said. “There’s just really no thought. It is what it is. I would love to be here. If it’s in God’s will for me to be here, I will be here. If not, I’m pretty sure that with 31 other teams, I’ll be somewhere.”


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Ray Lewis And Teammates Helping Students

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and representatives from the Ray Lewis Family Foundation will distribute 200 book bags to youth on Tuesday Sept. 6 at Chuck E. Cheese’s in Baltimore. Alongside Ravens rookie WR Torrey Smith and additional teammates, Lewis will supply children with all the necessary supplies to enhance school readiness.

Children to receive the book bags have been pre-selected and are from multiple organizations, including Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools, Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center, the Woodlawn community and Ray Lewis’ Kids of Character Program.

The Ray Lewis Family Foundation is a non-profit tax-exempt corporation whose mission is to provide personal and economic assistance to disadvantaged youth and families in distress. Since his arrival in Baltimore, Lewis has been a leader both on and off the field. With a focus on building togetherness in the community, his foundation has developed annual programs focused on educational development, self esteem, health awareness and family unity. For more information on annual events and programs, please visit www.raylewisfamilyfoundation.org.

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Antrel Rolle is a safety net for the Giants

It really doesn't matter today whether the Giants or the Jets are the best team in New York. Their preseason game on Monday night, a 17-3 Jets win, has little significance in the big picture. However, which team reigns supreme when they meet again on Christmas Eve will be vastly important.

By then it will be Game 15 for the Giants, and they will be deep into-at least as it stands right now on paper-one of the most treacherous stretches seen by any team in football. The seeming difficulty of the Giants' schedule in the second half of the season increases the urgency for them to get off to a strong start.

Logic says the Giants must be at least 5-3 to conclude the first half if they are going to make the playoffs. A critical component to that necessity is safety Antrel Rolle. His value to the team's success has increased exponentially over the past several weeks, resulting from myriad serious injuries to the Giants' defensive backfield.

The most prominent, all incurred by cornerbacks, are a season-ending torn ACL sustained by Terrell Thomas, a broken foot that will sideline No. 1 draft pick Prince Amukamara for several more weeks and a ruptured Achilles by Bruce Johnson that has ended his season.

"It's extremely important," Rolle said of his increased responsibility to be a high impact player. "We have a lot going on, a lot of guys playing several positions, trying to learn things on the run...It is a midstream adjustment. As a veteran, I have to take it upon myself to help our defense."

The 28-year-old Rolle is beginning his seventh season in the NFL and second season with the Giants. They signed him to a five-year, $37 million free agent contract in March 2010, at the time making Rolle the highest paid safety in history. Rolle's versatility-he began his career as a cornerback-enables the Giants to utilize him at multiple spots in the secondary to compensate for the losses.

With only one more preseason game remaining before the Sept. 11 regular season opener, Rolle maintains the Giants' revamped secondary has much room for improvement. "We have a long ways to go," he said after the loss to the Jets. "We're making strides, and that's the most important thing.

"We understand where we have to be and where we're trying to get to."

Click here to order Antrel Rolle’s proCane Rookie Card.

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NFL Network set to give Michael Irvin new contract

Any day now NFL Network will formally announce it is handing Michael Irvin a new contract. Irvin joined NFLN at the start of the 2009 season after a stint with ESPN.

“He’s a cornerstone broadcaster for us,” said Eric Weinberger, NFL Network’s executive producer. “His contributions across the board are as good as it gets.”

As a three-time Super Bowl champion and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Irvin enjoys unparalleled access to players and coaches around the league.

“He is now an elder statesman,” Weinberger said. “He’s flawless at it. He has the ability in any situation to make the person sitting across the table from him feel like a teammate.”

Irvin’s duties are being expanded. In addition to his all-day Sunday studio duties, he will be in the studio when NFLN begins its Thursday night game broadcasts the second half of the season.

And the network is installing a camera in his Plano home should it need him “at a moment’s notice” to comment on a breaking news story.

Click here to order Michael Irvin’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Vernon Carey could be starting last season with Miami Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS — Dolphins offensive lineman Vernon Carey didn't merely take a pay cut during training camp. He signed off on a deal that might bring his Miami career to an end after the 2011 season.

Carey, the Dolphins' first-round draft pick in 2004 out of the University of Miami, will be a free agent after the season, according to NFLPA records.

Carey and the Dolphins not only decided to lower his 2011 salary from $4.15 million to $2.5 million, they moved him from right tackle to right guard and voided the final three years of his contract, which was supposed to run through the 2014 season. Carey accepted the pay cut instead of being cut outright by the team.

Carey, who has started 92 of 106 career games at left and right tackle, originally signed a six-year, $42 million contract extension with a $12 million signing bonus before the 2009 season. But after the restructuring of his contract, Carey will collect a little more than $16 million for three seasons.

Carey, 30, had started 87 consecutive games before a knee injury ended his 2010 season after 12 games.

Carey, however, wasn't the only Dolphin asked to take a pay cut. Backup safety Tyrone Culver, one of the team's top special teams players the past three seasons, took a pay cut from $1.25 million to $700,000 to help his cause to make the team.

Click here to order Vernon Carey’s proCane Rookie Card.

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NFL confirms four-game suspension for 'Skins CB Buchanon

ASHBURN, Va. -- The NFL revealed Friday that Washington Redskins cornerback Phillip Buchanon's four-game suspension to start the season is for a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

While the NFL officially announced the suspension Friday, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said a month ago that Buchanon would be suspended for the first four games of the regular season, but he didn't reveal why.

Buchanon re-signed with the Redskins on Aug. 1 after playing in all 16 games during his first season in Washington, starting five. He saw limited action during the preseason because the coaches wanted to focus on players who would be available during the first month of the season.

The NFL said the suspension officially begins Sept. 3, and Buchanon will be eligible to return to the active roster Oct. 3, following the team's Week 4 game at St. Louis entering their bye week.

Click here to order Phillip Buchanon’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Bears Sign Brandon Meriweather

The Bears ended the preseason with not enough plays, too little experience, and insufficient depth from their safeties. That changed Sunday when they picked up Brandon Meriweather, agreeing to terms with him on a one-year deal.

The Patriots cut the safety Saturday and the Bears pounced on the 2007 first-round draft pick who had made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons. It is believed the Patriots tried to trade Meriweather without success.

Meriweather is the third former first-round pick the Bears have added to the roster since the end of last year, not counting Vernon Gholston, who has been cut. The others are receiver Roy Williams and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye.

Meriweather's coverage has been in question this year, even though he has a history of making plays on the ball. He has been known to freelance a bit.

He has had 12 interceptions over the last three seasons, fourth most by an NFL safety during that time. He also has had 24 passes defended over the past three seasons.

Click here to order Brandon Meriweather’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Aubrey Huff leaves with sore back

Giants 1B/OF Aubrey Huff left Monday's series opener against the Padres due to a sore back. He was replaced on the bases by Darren Ford after taking a walk in the fifth inning and went 0 for 2 in the contest. Huff has gone 5 for 23 (.217) over his last seven games with one RBI and five strikeouts.

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Ryan Braun knows where he stands

Don't include Ryan Braun among players who say they ignore their individual statistics.

"Nowadays, between the media, your statistics being on the scoreboard every time you hit and people asking you asking questions, it's impossible not to know where you stand," Braun said Monday before the Brewers met the Cardinals.

The Brewers left fielder likes where he stands these days.

On the strength of an 18-for-42 showing over his past 11 games, Braun has passed Jose Reyes for the lead in the N.L. batting race. He entered Monday's game against the Cardinals hitting .335, two points ahead of the ailing Reyes.

And yes, Braun is very aware.

"It's not something you give a lot of thought to until you get to this point in the season and it becomes real," he said. "The goal is always to be consistent. When you hit for a high average over the course of a season, it means you've been consistent. It's definitely something I'm proud of but the goal is to be where I am in three and a half week, not today."

Braun also leads the N.L. with 95 runs and a .994 OPS, which make him a leading contender for MVP honors. His closest competition looks to be Dodgers CF Matt Kemp, who ranks top three in average (.320), homers (32) and RBIs (105), and Brewers teammate Prince Fielder. Hitting cleanup behind Braun, Fielder leads the N.L. with 107 RBIs and is second with a .407 OBP, just ahead of Braun at .404.

"They're both having great years," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

While Braun knows all about new-wave numbers, he remains old school in his thinking.

"The two most important statistics that get lost because they're coming up with a new statistic every day are runs scored and runs driven in," Braun said. "Those statistics are dependent upon teammates but they still are the two most important statistics in the game, without a doubt."
He should know, considering all the numbers he doesn't ignore.

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Jon Jay homers in loss

Jon Jay went 2-for-4 with a solo home run in St. Louis' 10-inning loss to the Reds on Sunday.

He tagged Bronson Arroyo in the first inning. Jay's ninth home run of the season was just his second since the All-Star break. He'll take a .301/.349/.435 batting line in to play on Monday.

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Brad Mills Explains Jason Michaels Playing Time

The hot button issue for Houston Astros fans this past month has been the amount of playing time Brian Bogusevic, converted pitcher and light-hitting outfielder turned King Beastmode, has been receiving. With Jordan Schafer and J.D. Martinez getting most of the starts in CF and LF respectively, Bogusevic has been limited to right field. 

While Bogusevic is getting the lion's share of time against RHP, Brad Mills is automatically sitting Bogusevic against LHP and playing Michaels, even though the former has only seven at bats in the majors against lefties. Considering Michaels should be gone at the end of the season, Bogusevic should be getting all the time Mills needs to see what he could do for the Astros in 2012.

In Zachary Levine's notes, he quotes Mills as saying this:

"With the expanded rosters and we want to see what (Jason) Bourgeois continues to do and Jason Michaels on the ballclub - these guys are on the ballclub because they're major league players - we want to give them the opportunity to swing the bat and play as well. If we don't utilize those other guys on the bench, when we do need them to pinch-hit or whatever, they're not going to be ready at all."

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Jemile Weeks gets advice on base stealing, sliding

Jemile Weeks can steal bases, no question. It's staying there that's the problem.

The rookie has sailed right past the bag three times this season, twice head first and once, Friday night, feet first. So on Saturday, manager Bob Melvin, special adviser Phil Garner and first-base coach Tye Waller had Weeks out early, working on technique.

"They're trying to get me to slide a little bit earlier, make sure I'm in front of the bag or hitting on top of the bag and stopping my momentum," Weeks said. "It's just getting back to fundamentals."

Melvin said that they showed Weeks video of some successful base stealers who also start their slides on the late side, including Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury, who pops up when he reaches the bag, a tactic that might help Weeks.

Weeks has 21 steals, making him the seventh rookie in Oakland history to reach the 20-steal mark. He has seven steals in the past 10 games after 14 in his first 66.

Weeks extended his career-high hitting streak to 11 games with a single in the third.

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Scott Maine returns, saves 2-1 victory

Iowa Cubs relief pitcher Scott Maine had an active streak of eight straight strikeouts when he sprained his left ankle and went on the disabled list Aug. 22.

Activated on Friday, the lefty saw his first action Sunday against Omaha. The curveball master entered the game in the ninth with his team leading 2-1.

A single and a walk later, Maine was in a jam. But he pitched out of it for his 12th save of the season before an announced crowd of 12,369 at Principal Park.

“The first couple of guys, I was just missing,” Maine said. “With my ankle and everything, I couldn’t get full extension.”

But Maine struck out Manny Pina and Kurt Mertins, then got Jarrod Dyson to ground into a force play to end the game.

Maine’s left ankle is his pushoff point, so he was a little tentative. “I’ve been throwing off the mound, but nothing simulates the game,” Maine said. “I didn’t have my velocity. But we made it work.”

Iowa also drove a Mercedes to victory. Catcher Mario Mercedes, called up to Iowa Aug. 30, tripled home Marquez Smith with the winning run in the sixth. Mercedes had struck out in his previous plate appearance.

“I don’t know what happened,” Mercedes said. “I couldn’t hit the ball. The next at-bat, I made a better adjustment and made a better swing.”

After Mercedes gave Iowa the lead, he returned behind the plate to catch Andrew Cashner in the seventh. Likely completing his rehab journey with one inning of work Sunday, Cashner retired the Storm Chasers in order in 12 pitches. He mowed down all six batters he faced in two one-inning appearances in an Iowa uniform, needing just 22 pitches.

Chris Carpenter, who also came off the disabled list this week, then came in and retired Omaha in order with a 10-pitch eighth inning, setting the table for Maine’s save.

Cashner is expected to return to Chicago as soon as Monday for the start of a series with Cincinnati at Wrigley Field. Carpenter and Maine have been with Chicago for part of this season, and could also get called up to the parent club after Iowa ends the season with a 1:05 p.m. game against Omaha Monday.

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Chris Perez notches 31st Save

Chris Perez nailed down his 31st save Friday, pitching a clean ninth inning in a win over the Royals.

Perez went through a rough straight after the All-Star break, but he's now gone 13 straight appearances without allowing an earned run. The All-Star closer has successfully saved 31 of 35 chances on the year and holds a nice 2.68 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.

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Yonder Alonso returns to scene of tough weekend

CHICAGO -- One of the toughest weekends of the nascent big league career of Reds rookie Yonder Alonso came at Wrigley Field one month ago. Alonso struggled when he played left field in a series that included one Tony Campana drive down the line that got past him for an inside-the-park home run. Reds manager Dusty Baker didn't start Alonso there again for over a week, and even tried moving the natural first baseman over to third base.

Yet on Monday in the series opener vs. the Cubs, Baker had Alonso starting in left field.

"It's hard to pick the spot. I thought it would be easier here if there was no wind, because there is less territory," Baker said. "You don't have the sun field. Here, it's a sun field in center early and right field late. We'll probably have to make a decision once we get to the huge Coors Field. That's a lot of ground to cover."

Alonso's bat has been a plus to the lineup, as he came in batting .380 with four home runs and 11 RBIs. His two-out single in the 10th inning led to the go-ahead run to beat the Cardinals on Sunday. His seventh-inning, two-run homer on Friday also contributed to a win.

In recent starts in left field, Alonso has performed competently.

"He hasn't had a whole bunch of tough plays, yet," Baker noted. "We try to position him the best we can to give him less ground to cover. Part of playing the outfield is positioning, too. It helps when your pitchers are throwing the ball in the location where they're supposed to throw it, so you can position your defense accordingly."

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