05 June 2011

NFL lockout hits Darnell Jenkins Hard

For a practice squad wideout, Darnell Jenkins did all right in 2010. He made $125,000 -- about $37,000 more than the $88,400 that most practice squad guys around the league are making.

But the 28-year-old Patriot, who has shuffled through four different practice squads since coming out of the University of Miami in 2008, is itching to get going.

With a wife and three young daughters (soon to be 10, 9 and 4), the uncertainty he faces is far different than the players who have spent even a season or two at the end of an active roster.

Mr. Jenkins and family are not exactly well-to-do.

"It's very difficult," admitted Jenkins. "It's a good thing I'm not a big spender or anything like that. I tell my family all the time, we have to be careful here. But we put some money away . . .

"But budgeting is very important. I make my money through the season. When the season is here, the money is here. With no season, there's no income."

Players that spent 34 weeks on an active roster in 2009 and 2010 are entitled to a $60,000 stipend from the lockout fund the NFLPA set aside. The stipend for practice squad players, however, was a fraction of that. But there are programs in place to help players like Jenkins pay their bills. After a few phone calls and conversations with teammates, Jenkins got himself pointed in the right direction and was able to get some assistance to tide his family over.

"I pay for my own training and the bills, and I saved up a good amount of money to make it," he explained. "We knew we would go through this problem so I did my best to save. And I'm a homeboy. Every now and then, you'll see me out getting something to eat if my wife doesn't cook, but other than that, I'm in the house playing Xbox."

Only Patriots fans who pay attention to the preseason will remember Jenkins. He actually led the Patriots in receiving yards during the 2010 practice games, catching 6 balls for 145 yards and a score. At 5-10, 198 pounds, he's solidly built and he has excellent speed. He's a good prospect and a good man, which explains why teams remain interested in having him on their practice squads, just an injury away from real relevance.

During this offseason, Jenkins has been working out in Foxboro at the training organized by Jerod Mayo. He dutifully runs routes for backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, working at all the receiver spots because he needs to be ready if any one of them opens up.

It was a different vibe last week when about 25 more Patriots came to town to work at Boston College in workouts organized by Tom Brady.

"Brady is more of a coach to us younger guys," said Jenkins. "Brady works at a very fast pace and likes to get the feel of Wes [Welker], Deion [Branch], Julian [Edelman] and Brandon [Tate] and working a lot with them. When we did our camp with Brady, we got a feeling of what it will be like when we come back [from the lockout], but we got a lot of work done with all three quarterbacks (Brady, Hoyer and Jonathan Crompton). Our bond on this team is strong. We have positive leaders and we got a lot of great chemistry.

"I'm just waiting on the opportunity," said Jenkins. "Me getting older, it makes me just work harder. I feel I'm ready to go and can do anything the team asks me to do. I understand I have to know all the positions because I'm fighting for a spot on the team. I know physically and mentally I'm ready to step in when my number is called."

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From the Hart: Meriweather elite?

Over on ESPNBoston.com, PFW friend and former writer Mike Reiss has a couple of interesting notes pertaining to the Patriots defense.

The first is from playmaking safety Darren Sharper’s recent appearance on NFL Network. Apparently the Saints star – who knows a little something about being an impact safety thanks to his 63 career interceptions and 11 touchdowns – listed his top safeties in the league.

Sharper led off with the usual candidates in Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Baltimore’s Ed Reed. Then he continued with Green Bay’s Nick Collins, New York’s Antrel Rolle and Arizona’s Adrian Wilson.

Coming it at No. 6 on his list, though, was oft-criticized Patriots two-time Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather. Meriweather is questioned inside Patriots Nation for his tackling, angles and consistency but seems to maintain a pretty high ranking nationally and, apparently, among other players.

That’s probably why CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco lists Meriweather as his most overrated Patriot in his annual rundown of the most overrated/underrated players on each NFL team. (Prisco, by the way, lists former Patriots Asante Samuel as the most overrated Eagle.)  The underrated nominee for New England? Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the former undrafted rookie coming off his first 1,000-yard season.

In writing about Meriweather, Prisco states: “He is a problem when it comes to coverage, yet he goes to Pro Bowls. How does that happen? He even came out on some downs.”

Meriweather also comes up in another blog posting as the Football Outsiders ranked New England as the surest-tackling defense in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders very unofficial numbers, James Sanders led the Patriots with seven missed tackles on the 2010 season while the much-maligned Meriweather was tied for third-most with just four for the year.

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

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Hester featured on cover of Chicago Parent Magazine

In April, Bears return specialist Devin Hester debuted a parenting column in Chicago Parent Magazine. The June issue, which hit shelves last week, features Hester on the cover with his son, Devin Jr.

Hester’s monthly column, called "Hangin’ with Devin," focuses on what he and his son are doing in the off-season in-and-around the Chicago area. So far, Hester and his son have focused on children’s museums, zoos, aquariums, and fun things to do in the Lakeshore area.

The goal of the column is to show the many different things that fathers can do with their children, and to focus on the importance of fatherhood. 

"It's a different kind of responsibility," Hester said. 

"When I'm on the field, I'm a football player and I've got guys who count on me to make the play. But when I leave the locker room, it's family time. I've got a kid counting on me to bring groceries home and spend time with him. He doesn't care about any of that other stuff. 

"I just like to have fun, and to me, there's nothing better than running around with my little man. He's getting big so fast and he's always on the move."

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

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Beverly Goebel Announces the Sahlen 6 Hours of Glen

Beverly Goebel got to announce the start of the race over the PA system! "Gentlemen, start your engines!" What an experience, I'm so peanut butter and jelz. I just had a complete blasty blast… every one did actually. Some really dug this.. we got to meet McDreamy! (Patrick Dempsey). The whole day was just awesome! My face actually hurt that night from smiling so hard and so long… but I'm a big nut for a thrill and have a need for speeeeed. So right up my alley.”

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Jemile Weeks scouting report

Jemile Weeks was the Athletics' first-round selection (12th overall) in the June 2008 free agent amateur draft out of the University of Miami. He has above-average bat speed and athleticism and plays with energy. He is a tick below-average defender, but he has improved his ability to turn the double play. His arm and arm accuracy are below average, but the latter is better than it was when he was at Miami. He’s always had the potential to be a top-of-the-order (probably No. 2 hitter) offensive player with some pop from both sides of the plate, but he has not lived up to his abilities because of multiple leg and hip injuries.

Weeks, 24, has above average quickness with the potential of stealing 20 bases. He will spray the ball to all fields with 10 homer potential from both sides of the plate, if he ever gets enough plate appearances. Unfortunately, he has still never gotten 350 at-bats in a single season at any level. He needs at-bats, reps and experience.

He doesn’t have the potential to be an impact, top-of-the-order player, but he does have a chance to become a complementary player on a championship caliber club.

BOTTOM LINE: Jemile Weeks should develop into a No. 2 hitter that hits .280 or .290 with 10 homer power while stealing 15-20 bases. He’ll be a below-average defender at second base with inconsistent defensive skills. He’ll play the game with enthusiasm, but he won't be able to live up to the expectations of a first-round pick.

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Concern About Chris Perez's Drop In Velocity?

Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians: It doesn't seem that many people have been concerned with Perez's diminished velocity this season, this columnist included, judging by his lofty ranking all season and generous projection a week ago. But after a loss Wednesday, and another strikeout-less outing, Perez's numbers warrant further discussion. Among pitchers with 20-plus innings this season, the Indians finisher has the 14th-worst strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.08), and among closers, only the Texas Rangers' Neftali Feliz (0.86), who has battled injuries, has a lower ratio.

The drop is stark: Perez, who averaged 9.68 strikeouts per nine innings and 94.4 mph with his fastball from 2009-10, has seen those numbers slip dramatically this season, to 5.01 and 92.9. Nevertheless, his manager, Manny Acta, told the team's official website a few weeks ago that it didn't concern him.

"How hard did [ex-Indians closer] Doug Jones throw when he saved the games over here?" said Acta. "[Perez] is healthy and he's doing a nice job for us. I've seen him throw 94 or 95 [mph] in different games. As long as he gets the saves and he's healthy, I'm fine with it.”

The problem, however, is that Perez's peripherals show that he's walking a proverbial tightrope, his 3.36 FIP (fielder independent pitching score, on an ERA scale) and 4.93 xFIP (expected FIP) hinting that his current 2.70 ERA is a fluke. His line-drive rate has also soared to 24.1 percent, and he's continuing to serve up fly balls at a high rate (46.3 percent). Perez continues to get the job done -- he's 15-of-16 in save chances and 25th among relief pitcher eligibles on our Player Rater -- but the low strikeout rate is bothersome in fantasy and if you wanted to say he's been somewhat of a magician so far, you'd have a point.

Perez offered an explanation for his diminished velocity in early May: "I'm not worried about it at all. It's not far off from where I was at this same time last year. People seem to forget about the beginning of last season."

While it's true that Perez's velocity was down early in 2010 -- he averaged 93.7 mph in April of last year -- the numbers don't entirely support his claim. Through June 8 of the 2010 season, he had averaged 94.3 mph with his fastball. And if you're curious if it's improving, consider that Perez has averaged 93.8 mph with the pitch the past 30 days, but 93.4 mph in June so far. It's not a devastating drop, but it's something that bears watching, especially accounting for his peripherals.

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Padres Option Blake Tekotte To San Antonio

San Antonio - The San Diego Padres have optioned outfielder Blake Tekotte back to San Antonio and he is expected to join the Missions today in Frisco.

Tekotte was called up to San Diego on May 23 and made his Major League debut on May 25 against the St. Louis Cardinals at PETCO Park appearing as a pinch-hitter. He collected his first Major League hit on May 28 at Washington, a second inning double to right field off Nationals starter Jordan Zimmerman. Tekotte went 2-3 in that game, adding an RBI triple in the fourth.

The 24-year old native of Columbia, MO appeared in 10 games for the Padres and hit .158 (3-for-19) with a double, a triple, one RBI and one run scored.

In 39 games with San Antonio before his call-up, Tekotte hit .291 (43-for-148) with nine doubles, one triple, six home runs, 24 RBI and 30 runs scored. He leads the Missions and is still fourth in the Texas League in stolen bases with 14 and fifth in on-base percentage (.410).

Tekotte was San Diego's third round selection in the 2008 First Year Player Draft out of the University of Miami (FL) and entered the 2011 season as the Padres' 14th rated prospect by Baseball America.

To make room for Tekotte on the roster, outfielder Danny Payne was sent to Class A Lake Elsinore in the California League.

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Santana Moss Heading To The Bears?

Whenever free agency begins, big-name receivers will be moving around all over the league: We’ve all heard a million pieces of speculation about where Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards and Sidney Rice and Randy Moss might end up.

But here’s a piece of speculation about a veteran wide receiver we hadn’t yet heard: Santana Moss heading to Chicago and signing with the Bears.

The Bears are expected to try to add a veteran receiver in free agency, and Moss might be a better fit in the Mike Martz offense than any of the other receivers available, while also being less expensive than many of those other free agent receivers.

Writing on the Bears’ web site, Larry Mayer says Moss would be a natural fit in Chicago. Mayer notes that Moss could be “too similar in size, stature and style to receivers such as Johnny Knox and Devin Hester who are already on their roster,” but Moss’s size, stature and style is pretty much the size, stature and style that Martz looks for.

Of course, Moss has said his preference is to stay with the Redskins.

“My first choice is to stay in Washington,” Moss told Mike Florio on a February installment of PFT Live. “My mind is nowhere outside of Washington. The fans are great. The organization has treated me well since day one. That’s where I want to be, when it’s all said and done.”

What’s not known, however, is whether Mike Shanahan likes Moss enough to keep treating him well, by which we mean paying him well. If not, the Bears might be the team to make a move for Moss.

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

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Edgerrin & Javarris James football camp set for July

Registration is now open for the third annual Edgerrin and Javarris James Youth Football Camp on Monday, July 25 at the Immokalee Sports Complex.

The inaugural camp in 2009 drew 400 youngsters. There were 500 last year. Registration is from 8 to 9:30 a.m. The free camp is in conjunction with Collier County Parks and Recreation, as well as the Edgerrin James Foundation. The camp is from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and for ages 6-18. Instructors include some of the best players from college and the NFL, as well as members of NFL coaching staffs.

Among those who have helped out over the past two years are sports agent Drew Rosenhaus, former NFL players Robert Bailey, Jammi German and current running back Clinton Portis.

Click here to order Edgerrin James’ proCane Rookie Card.

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2011 Sail for Gold - Zach Railey Day 3

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Jemile Weeks Collects First Two Major League Hits For Oakland Athletics

You better not have blinked while looking for a silver lining in the A's ninth straight loss of the season Wednesday night in Oakland's 3-2 loss in Baltimore. Otherwise, as the saying goes, you might have missed Jemile Weeks.

The 5-feet-9, 160 pound (soaking wet and with rocks in his pockets) Weeks was all over the field in his second career major league game. He had a single, a double and, if the official scorekeeper was in a more magnanimous mood, he would have had a triple, too.

The second baseman also scored two runs - the A's only two runs and turned a nifty double-play in which he deftly backhanded Adam Jones' grounder up the middle, touched the bag to force out Nick Markakis and gained his balance in time to throw across his body to get Jones at first.

This is what the A's, no doubt, envisioned, when they drafted him with the No. 12 overall pick in 2008 out of Miami. Not what he showed Tuesday in his first big league at-bat.

Called up from Triple-A Sacramento, where he was absolutely raking the ball at a .321 clip with a .417 on-base percentage, to help out with Mark Ellis going on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring, Weeks was put in the lead-off spot.

In his first-ever at-bat, Weeks watched not one. Not two. Not three or even four pitches go by without so much as lifting his bat off his shoulders. He looked at five - five! - pitches and, yes, struck out looking. Looking!

Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was part of his master plan. Either way, the A's wanted him for his aggressiveness, in every aspect of the game.
Dropped to No. 9 in the lineup Wednesday, he showed it in his first at-bat, jumping on a 90-mph fastball from Zach Britton and driving the 2-and-0 offering into the left-fielder corner for a one-out double in the third inning, Weeks' first career hit.

In the sixth, he led off the inning with a single to left, moved to third on Coco Crisp's single to center and scored on Daric Barton's 4-6-3 double-play, Week's first career run scored.

And in the eighth, his drive to left was lost in the Camden Yards lights by Nolan Reimold for what was ruled a three-base error. And despite jamming his neck in Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds', ahem, nether region on his late-breaking head-first slide, Weeks stayed in the game. He scored one batter later on Crisp's sac fly to center, Week's second career run scored.

Yes, Weeks is still looking for his first career victory. He already his his first career silver lining.

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Jon Jay Cools

HOUSTON -- It's not exactly a June swoon, but Jon Jay has experienced an offensive dropoff this month going into his start in right field tonight.
Jay, who replaced injured Allen Craig on Tuesday night, has five singles and no RBIs in 24 June at-bats. In May, he batted .397 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 78 at-bats.

Craig is unable to run today because of the deep bruise and gash on his right knee; he suffered the injury when he crashed into a metal fence in foul territory at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night.

Craig said today he is in "de-swelling mode" and more concerned about the bruise than the stitches he received. His leg is sore, but the team determined that X-rays would not be needed. Craig's status beyond today has not been determined.

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Yonder Alonso stating case for callup to Reds

CINCINNATI -- With the MLB First-Year Player Draft in the books after Day 3 on Wednesday, Reds fans with an eye toward the future can turn their focus back to the Minor Leagues. In the case of some Cincinnati prospects, you don't have to look too far forward to envision them at Great American Ball Park.

Yonder Alonso, the organization's No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com, is hitting .323 at Triple-A Louisville. Alonso was originally a first baseman, but with a certain National League MVP clogging that hole for the near future, Alonso has spent the last two years learning to play left field.

In 75 career games in the outfield, Alonso has committed one error against 14 assists. With left field being one of the weak spots in Cincinnati's lineup this season, it would not be surprising if the Reds call up Alonso later this season -- although, as manager Dusty Baker pointed out earlier this week, offense has not been an issue for Cincinnati, and adding Alonso to the mix may not be the missing piece.

The Reds have another big-name catching prospect in Yasmani Grandal, last year's first-round pick and the organization's No. 5 prospect. Grandal is considered a better defensive catcher than Mesoraco, but he does not have as high of a ceiling in the batter's box. He is hitting .279 at Class A Advanced Bakersfield this year.

Just who exactly could be throwing to Mesoraco or Grandal in the future remains a mystery. With the possible exception of Robert Stephenson, the team's first-round pick on Monday, Cincinnati lacks a head-turning starting pitching prospect.

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Blake Tekotte Optioned

According to North County Times reporter Dan Hayes, the Padres have activated catcher Nick Hundley from the Disabled List and optioned prospect Blake Tekotte to the minors.

Hundley was doing well before going on the DL, and when healthy ranks as one of the Padres' better hitters.

Yes, of course that's damning with faint praise but doesn't mean he's not a good player and a prince among Padres. In Hundley's absence, Rob Johnson got way too much playing time. Johnson, a veteran, probably won't lose his roster spot but the Padres would be better served -- hitting-wise, at least -- with a tandem consisting of Hundley and lefty-hitting Kyle Phillips. Don't hold your breath, though.

Tekotte, hardly a top prospect entering the season, skipped Class AAA on his way to the big club and went just 3-for-19 in his brief tryout. Presumably he'll get another shot later this summer, after he's done something in the Pacific Coast League.

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Ryan Hill: UM player behavior ‘has to change’

When we talk to former Canes football players, it’s clear how much they care. That’s why Bryant McKinnie waited awhile to talk to Art Kehoe this spring, simply to offer mentoring to the offensive linemen. That’s why Bennie Blades sought out Ray-Ray Armstrong to challenge him “to be the next Jim Thorpe.”

That’s why 150 ex-Canes — at Al Golden’s urging — came to the spring game; why Ed Reed speaks often with Vaughn Telemaque; why Vince Wilfork makes himself available to Marcus Forston, and on and on.

But caring also means identifying problems that need to change. Ryan Hill, who cares deeply, is willing to do that.

After playing in the Sun Bowl (his final game at UM), Hill raised eyebrows by saying, “We have a lot of guys … that act like little boys.” The cornerback, who went undrafted, elaborated recently. He said he has been back to campus since leaving and that Golden still has work to do to get things right.

“When I made that comment,” he said, “what I meant is some guys are really immature.”

How many? More than a dozen, Hill said.

“In my early years at UM, there were guys who were freshmen who acted like adults — Jon Beason, Teraz McCray, Greg Olsen,” Hill said. “When I was a senior last year, some sophomores and juniors acted like freshmen. Guys would do silly stuff like pulling their pants down, wearing crazy stuff.

“Guys would come late to meetings. They would schedule appointments and not show up or listen to iPods in class. I was always told by academic advisors to talk to [teammates]. Some kids got worse after they got here. People were purposely doing stuff to mock Randy Shannon or do their own thing.

“Coach Shannon tried to make sure guys went to class and presented themselves well. But as soon as he turned his back, they would do what they wanted. There are a lot of guys who didn’t produce, and how they act off the field has a lot to do with it. That has to change.”
The low point was the Sun Bowl.

“I don’t want to name names, but there were a couple of receivers having a snowball fight on the sideline when we’re down 21-0,” Hill said. “ Brandon Harris and I got upset. We were already upset because we’re losing, and now we’ve got to go over and break up a fight. These guys have to grow up. I hope Coach Golden is instilling that. Without growing up, you will never be successful.”

Hill said some players who weren’t atop the depth chart stopped working hard — something that must change. “There were always guys pouting, because they’re not playing as much as they want,” Hill said. “That’s Pop Warner stuff. You can’t have that.”

That brought us to another topic: marijuana. Several players reportedly will be suspended for a game for using marijuana, though Golden has not confirmed that. Hill isn’t surprised.

“Coach Shannon put fear in guys not to do pot during the season. But I know there were a couple guys that beat the system,” Hill said. “Nobody got caught. Now coach Golden has a problem on his hands, and he has to figure out how to handle it. I’m sure there are guys still using, though there’s no way to know for sure. You have to have a zero tolerance rule, make an example out of somebody. It’s a problem across the country.”

He said UM tests randomly for drugs once a week — “I might have gotten tested once every three weeks” — and the NCAA tests once a year.
Hill doesn’t want Golden to be burdened with the same immaturity issues that hurt Shannon’s team. “Coach Golden is doing everything he’s supposed to,” Hill said. “But football is where he will be judged.”

Golden doesn’t want to discuss marijuana. But speaking in general, he said, “When there’s transition, there are kids that rebel.”

• Guard Brandon Washington said this spring that one problem last season that must change is that “you’ve got guys walking around talking about what they did in high school, what they did in Optimist ball. It’s like: ‘OK, you did that in high school. Do that now. We need you now.’ ”

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It's a Boy for Greg Olsen

Congratulations to Greg Olsen and his wife on the birth of their son, Tate.

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

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson confirms role in “G.I. Joe”

Hollywoodnews.com: The “Fast and Furious” franchise added Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for its fifth installment, and the end result was solid reviews (78% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and stellar box office ($568 million and counting at the worldwide box office).

Wisely, other franchises are lining up in hopes of adding the charismatic action star to their potential sequels, and the immediate winner appears to be Paramount’s “G.I. Joe” series.

Rumors were swirling that Rock was interested in a part in John Chu’s in-production feature, so Johnson took to the Internet and directly confirmed his involvement.

“We’ve read your comments. We know what you want. “… and knowing is half the battle.” It’s on!” Johnson tweeted, using the famous G.I. Joe slogan.

He then added this video, which splices “Fast Five” footage of Rock and Vin Diesel duking it out and layers it to a driving Beastie Boys track. Great stuff!

I wrote in my “Fast Five” review that Rock’s addition to the film put it over the top, and I firmly believe that, if handled properly, he can elevate the “G.I. Joe” series above Stephen Sommers’ initial effort. We’ll see what happens.

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Chris Perez earns 15th save in win over Twins

Chris Perez recorded the final two outs to earn his 15th save in Cleveland's 1-0 win against the Twins on Tuesday.

He struck out one, stranding a runner on second. Perez has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities so far this season for Cleveland. The 25-year-old has a 2.42 ERA in 22 1/3 innings this year. His weak 13/12 K/BB ratio should improve as the season presses on.

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Jemile Weeks debuts for A's in loss to Orioles Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/06/07/SPE71JQSO3.DTL#ixzz1OgfGcYDC

Jemile Weeks made his big-league debut Tuesday night at Camden Yards, and even though his night was quiet, it was still a chance for fans to get a look at one of the A's top prospects.

Weeks, the 24-year-old brother of Milwaukee second baseman Rickie Weeks, was Oakland's first-round pick in 2008, 12th overall. He was called up when Mark Ellis was placed on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain. Weeks did not reach base in the A's 4-0 loss to Baltimore.
The A's have dropped eight in a row, extending their season high, and they have scored all of five runs over their past three games.

They are in last place, and they have turned into a somewhat dull team with few big personalities. Oakland's top attribute is its starting pitching, which has taken a dip for the past week-plus. And on Tuesday, the A's put one of their best starters, Brett Anderson, on the DL - the fifth A's starter out of action this year.

So the arrival of a prize prospect such as Weeks could provide at least a spark of interest. He's an energetic player, too, as is Adam Rosales, who came off the disabled list the day before, and an injection of energy might be just what the A's need.

Weeks said he'd spoken to his brother, who told him to "just go out there and get after it, get that first hit." Weeks' parents, Richard and Valeria, were on hand at Camden Yards on Tuesday, along with Weeks' sister, Kaisha.

Weeks, who was batting .321 at Triple-A Sacramento, was pulled out of Monday night's game at Colorado Springs after his first plate appearance. He said his teammates kept telling him he'd been called up, but not actually knowing until the end of the game was nerve-racking.
This is likely to be merely a fill-in situation for Weeks, though he is considered the A's second baseman of the future. Asked if Weeks would have any shot at sticking at second base if he excels now, A's manager Bob Geren said making any sort of statement would be unfair, but, he said, "Mark is a great player who is just injured right now."

Ellis wasn't altogether thrilled with going on the DL. The longest-tenured A's player said he believes his injury would heal in a matter of a few days.

"I don't think it's that big a deal at all," Ellis said. "But when you don't have enough bodies, sometimes someone has to go on the disabled list."

Ellis said that the injury is nowhere near as severe as the left hamstring strain that cost him more than a month last year. The A's initially left Ellis on the roster for more than a week when he was hurt last year, but that probably only lengthened the time it took him to return when he did go on the DL.

Though Weeks did not record a hit Tuesday, another of the new additions did. Scott Sizemore, recalled Monday, has singled in each of his two games with Oakland. Sizemore played third on Tuesday; Rosales is expected to be back there tonight.

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Ryan Braun is right at home in Brew City

It's fitting how Ryan Braun's game tends to percolate when playing within the friendly confines of Miller Park.

Take Braun from the land of beer and the Milwaukee Brewers star left fielder is as irrelevant as the Bucks come playoff time in recent seasons. That may be a bit crude for both Braun and the Bucks, but the numbers don't lie.

The Brew Crew just went 5-2 on a seven-game road trip in which Braun compiled a .231 batting average with a home run and five RBI. Those numbers are average at best for a perennial stud striving for his fourth straight starting nod on the National League's All-Star roster.

Known to many as the "Hebrew Hammer," Braun's numbers appear to take a sabbatical when the Brewers depart the Badger State. In 32 road games this season, Braun is hitting a respectable .269 with five homers and 14 runs batted in. He has more at-bats on the road (119) and his .454 slugging percentage in enemy stadiums is way off from his .693 SLG at Miller Park.

Braun did earn the hero moniker on Friday in south Florida, as his pinch-hit two-run homer in the ninth inning lifted the Brewers to victory and set the stage for a four-game sweep of the homestanding Marlins. It was also Braun's first career homer in a pinch role.

"I doubt I've ever hit a pinch-hit home run," Braun told the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel after he earned a day off because of a balky shoulder.
"There's no routine, no preparation. Just go up there and bat."

Braun seems to follow his own notion more closely when digging in at the batter's box in Miller Park. Braun, who has appeared in all 60 games this season, hit .400 (12-for-30) with four RBI and five doubles in Milwaukee's recent nine-game homestand in which the club went 8-1. Whether it's opposing pitchers getting intimidated by the home fans or just the natural comfort level, April's National League Player of the Month is right at home.

In 28 games in Milwaukee, Braun is batting .356 with eight blasts and 29 runs batted in. He began beefing up those numbers by reaching base over the season's initial 28 games -- the longest streak in team history to begin a campaign, eclipsing Hall of Famer Robin Yount's 23-gamer in 1983. If Braun's numbers both home and away stay at this pace, he could join Yount in Cooperstown, New York a decade or more from now.

Braun's already a fan favorite and has surged into the lead among NL players aiming for a starting nod in July's All-Star Game. Braun passed Cardinals favorite and NL Central-rival Albert Pujols for the lead and has received 1,588,342 votes. Teammates Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder are also trying to make the roster for the Mid-summer Classic. Fielder's presence alone in the Milwaukee lineup has enabled Braun to become a better hitter.

"For me, I just enjoy being able to see one of the best players in baseball compete every day," Braun said of Fielder. "Prince is an unbelievable competitor, and he's been instrumental in my development as a player. I feel fortunate to have him hitting behind me."

Thanks to the presence of Fielder, Braun is on the verge of a few career milestones in home runs, RBI and runs scored. He is nine homers away from 150, 37 shy of 500 RBI and 60 runs from 500. The recipient of a five-year contract extension through 2020 back in April, Braun will lead the Brewers Tuesday in the opener of a six-game homestand versus the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

There will most likely be several spectators attending their first Brewers game during that six-day stretch, hoping to catch a glimpse of what makes Braun so great with the home crowd in his corner.

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Five Future proCanes Taken on Second Day of MLB Draft

The first player taken Tuesday was junior first baseman Harold Martinez (Miami, Fla.). Martinez went to the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round with the 90th overall pick. He moved from third base to first base prior to the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) season against Virginia Tech. Martinez ended the year fourth on the team in batting average, collecting a .301 average on a team second-best tying 63 hits, slugging .392, and adding eight doubles, three home runs and his first career triple. He batted .327 in league play - using 4 hits, 12 runs and 20 RBI in 104 at-bats. Martinez finished the year claiming hits in nine of his last 10 games.

Sophomore Zeke DeVoss (Mims, Fla.) went moments after Martinez, being selected in the third round by the Chicago Cubs with the 98th pick. DeVoss, a member of the All-ACC and All-Gainesville [Fla.] Regional Teams in the postseason, was the only player on this year's team to play and start in all 61 games. He finished the year leading the team in batting average (.340) - hitting a team-best .560 in the postseason that includes the ACC Tournament and NCAA Gainesville [Fla.] Regional. DeVoss led the ACC all season in stolen bases, finishing with 32. DeVoss claimed hits in his last 10 games, while reaching base safely in his last 36 contests. He batted a team-leading .600 on 21 hits, adding 10 runs, five RBI, four steals and 10 walks in the last 10 games of the year. He led the team in walks (57), hit by pitch (11), hits (73), runs (59) and tied for the lead in triples (3).

Junior relief pitcher Daniel Miranda went as the third Hurricanes player taken on the day, chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth round with the 260th pick. Miranda saw action in 28 games out of the bullpen in the closer position for the Hurricanes. He ended the year with a 3-1 record on the hill, using an ERA of 2.67. He also finished the regular season tied for second in the ACC in saves, and closed with a team-leading and ACC second-best 15 saves - including post-season play. The left-hander picked up nine saves in ACC play - ending the regular season leading the league in that department.

Junior right-hander Travis Miller (Tequesta, Fla.) went to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 16th round with the 500th pick. He became the second UMiami player taken on the day by the Cards, and looks to join current big leaguer and former Hurricane Jon Jay with the organization. He made 17 appearances for the Hurricanes, all out of the bullpen, and ended the year with a 2.53 earned run average - including an ERA of 0.69 in nine Atlantic Coast Conference games. Completed his junior year 2-2 on the year with 21 1/3 innings worked. Miller fanned 28 batters and had an average against of .212, walking just five batters. He went 11 1/3 innings to begin the year without allowing an earned run.

The final selection from the Hurricanes program was junior center fielder Nathan Melendres (Miami, Fla.), going in the 17th round with the 513th pick to the Seattle Mariners. Melendres finished the year second on the team in batting average (.326) and played in 56 games with 54 starts. He was fourth-best on the team in hits (62) with a team second-best tying 14 doubles and finishing second on the team in steals (24). His 24 steals allowed him to finish in the Top 10 in the ACC during the regular season. Melendres slugged out two triples and two home runs, while leading the team with 11 sacrifice bunts.

The draft concludes Wednesday, June 8, in the late evening hours. For complete MLB Draft coverage, please visit MLB.com or click here.

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Ryan Braun one of few first-rounders living up to draft position

The track record of fantasy owners projecting the best players each year is poor. If you study the previous seven seasons of results from the first rounds of 15-team leagues on Mock Draft Central, you'll find only about 37% of players lived up to their average draft position (ADP).

That trend is holding up in 2011. There are five first-rounders who are in the top 15 for fantasy production.

In order (statistics through Sunday, with ADP and current rank respectively): the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun (10th, third); the Boston Red Sox's Adrian Gonzalez (eighth, sixth); the Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto (seventh, ninth); the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (third, 10th); and the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols (first, 13th).

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp leads all players with a $42 Rotisserie value. His 16 home runs, 14 steals and a .323 batting average put him on pace for a career year. BaseballHQ.com projects him to post roughly 100 runs and RBI, nearly 40 homers and more than 30 steals.

According to Mock Draft Central, Kemp entered the season as a second-round selection with an ADP of 23. His performance this year is not entirely surprising since he was a first-rounder in 2010.

Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista is ranked second, earning $41. A late third-rounder (ADP of 45), it would have been reasonable to expect some regression after his 54-homer outburst last season.

But Bautista hasn't regressed — he has improved. His league-leading 20-homer power is supported by a .348 batting average. Our projections have him finishing just shy of 50 home runs, but he might maintain an average above .300.

Braun is the only player projected to finish in the top 15 who is currently among the top-five best players in the game. His No. 3 ranking is earning $36. After hitting .358 with nine home runs in April, he has cooled a bit but is still on pace for his first 30-30 season.

Although we rarely draft pitchers in the first round, it is inevitable a few end up finishing high. But Los Angeles Angels right-hander Jered Weaver would not have been the natural choice to lead all hurlers at the 10-week mark.

Currently ranked fourth overall and earning $35, Weaver boasts seven wins and 85 strikeouts, a 2.14 ERA and microscopic 0.95 WHIP. He came into the season ranked 55th, a fourth-round pick.

Weaver's peripherals, however, indicate a more sedate 3.69 expected ERA, so odds are he will regress. BaseballHQ.com has him projected to pitch at a 3.49 level the rest of the way and finish with 16 wins and a 2.95 ERA.

New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson is fifth, boosted by a 10-homer, .294 performance in May. Currently earning $35, he came into the season as a sixth-round pick (ADP of 77). We project him to finish with 39 home runs, 21 steals and a .274 average.

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Video: Ed Reed throws out the first pitch at Friday's O's game

Ravens safety Ed Reed threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Friday's game at Camden Yards. Stunningly, Reed didn't lateral it to the ball girl. Instead, he fired a strike (according to the mascot).

I can't help but wonder how Reed would fare if he joined the Orioles bullpen. At least he would throw a few strikes, unlike one of their relievers (I'm not going to name any names, but it rhymes with Schmichael Schmonzalez). Check out this video of Reed, who looked pretty good in that white No. 20 Orioles jersey.

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

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Jon Beason's accuser arrested with stolen watch

The man who accused Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason of assaulting him has been arrested.

Gregory Frye, who was ordered to pay Beason $1 last month for slander, was arrested at a martini bar Sunday and charged with being in possession of a stolen watch valued at $7,000.

According to the Charlotte Observer, Frye was arrested at 2:22 a.m. and charged with the misdemeanor. It’s just the latest in a long rap sheet against Frye, who brought Beason trouble for a short time. Frye had claimed he saw Beason doing cocaine, a charge no one corroborated.

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

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Jon Vilma: “We’re more committed than other teams”

There can be a reasonable debate regarding the value of the player-only workouts organized around the league this offseason.

There is no question that a little team camaraderie can be beneficial. We’d guess the most important benefit is that it helps keep players in top shape, although most of them would be doing that on their own anyway.

The Saints have inarguably had one of the best organized and attended regular workouts, led by Drew Brees. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma believes it will give the team a real edge.

“We’re more committed than other teams,” Vilma told Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com. “Anyone who watches what we do can see that. There’s a lot of trust in each other and the system. I’ve been in the defensive system for three years. Drew has been in the offensive system for five years.”

Vilma, who is helping to auction off a practice spot with the team to fans for charity says the Saints are actually in better shape now than the summer before they won the Super Bowl.  We can’t speak to that, but we do agree with him that the continuity the Saints enjoy provides a huge advantage.

Since the Saints system is stable, Brees and Vilma can work on their schemes during the lockout.  Players with new coaches and playbooks to learn can’t get the same kind of work in.

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

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Could Frank Gore be 49ers' greatest ever at RB?

With 931 yards rushing in 2011, Gore would pass Joe Perry atop the team’s career rushing list. He would have done it in just seven seasons, and since Gore just turned 28 in May, he would ostensibly have a few more seasons of quality production before his career goes into decline. Since’s Gore’s 4.7-yard average per carry entering this season ranks third in team history among the San Francisco greats, his career rushing numbers would be totally legitimate.

But numbers don’t tell everything, particularly when you are talking about great football players.

Joe “The Jet” Perry was great – one of the greatest running backs of his era. Roger Craig was great – also one of the best of his era, and certainly the greatest running back to define the 49ers during their championship dynasty of the 1980s and 1990s. Craig is the other running back besides Perry that currently stands between Gore and the top of San Francisco’s all-time rushing chart.

To be sure, other great running backs played for the 49ers. Two of them – Hugh “The King” McElhenny and O.J. Simpson – join Perry and Johnson in the Hall of Fame.

Gore stands today on a second tier of standout backs who defined the 49ers that includes Craig, Ken Willard, Garrison Hearst and J.D. Smith. The latter three names currently stand behind Gore as the Nos. 4-6 career rushers on San Francisco’s all-time list. The latter three all had great stretches with the 49ers, and there was a time while in San Francisco that each was a Pro Bowl running back considered among the very best playing the game

A few other backs had flashes of brilliance with the 49ers: Ricky Watters (a fantastic multi-threat talent despite his audacity and bravado), Delvin Williams (the NFC’s No. 2 rusher with a then-franchise record 1,203 yards rushing in 1976), Wendell Tyler (1,262 yards rushing for the 1984 Super Bowl champions) and Charlie Garner (back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 1999-2000).

But neither of those four running backs did enough with the 49ers, or was around long enough with the 49ers, to be considered in the all-time best conversation.

All the aforementioned others did and were, except for Johnson and Simpson, who were either on the way up or on the way down when they played for the 49ers. Each of those Hall of Famers spent their best days as a professional, and made their names as NFL greats, playing for other teams.

Which leaves Gore alone with Perry, McElhenny, Craig, Willard and Smith as the six greatest running backs to play for the 49ers.

Smith, who led the 49ers in rushing five consecutive seasons from 1959-1963 and was second in the NFL with 1,036 yards rushing in 1959, doesn’t quite make the final cut.

Willard led the 49ers in rushing seven consecutive seasons from 1965-1971 and went to four Pro Bowls over a five-year span. But he never broke the 1,000-yard barrier, had only one season of more than 855 yards rushing, and was more of a plodding runner than enduring threat who finished his 49ers career with a 3.7-yard average per carry.

McElhenny, whose famous misdirection runs and elusiveness provided some of the top highlight-reel material of his day – or any day – was more of a complementary threat in a loaded backfield that at one time or another also featured Perry, Johnson and Smith. McElhenny twice led the 49ers in rushing, but he needed only 478 yards to do so in 1957. He had only two seasons of more than 515 yards rushing – 684 in his rookie season of 1952 and a career-high, team-leading 916 in 1956.

Undoubtedly an all-time NFL great, McElhenny – who also had 264 career receptions and once recorded an 89-yard touchdown run, 77-yard reception and 94-yard punt return in the same season – would be a better finalist in discussion for best multi-threat player.

Which leaves Perry, Craig and Gore.

The credentials of the former two speak loud and clear.

Perry, who died in April at age 84, is San Francisco’s all-time leading rusher with 7,344 yards, averaging 4.9 a pop. He led the 49ers in rushing seven consecutive seasons from 1949-1955, then again in 1958. He was the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons (1,018 in 1953 and 1,049 in 1954, Perry’s two most productive seasons). Perry was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro who was inducted into the Hall of Fame six years after his career ended.

Craig also sits ahead of Gore with 7,064 yards rushing as a 49er. He led the 49ers in rushing five consecutive seasons (1985-1989) during his wonderful career, including a 1,502-yard season in 1988, when he was the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. Craig had three 1,000-yard seasons with the 49ers, and in 1985 – the first of his four Pro Bowl seasons – became the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.

Craig also ranks third in 49ers history in receptions with 508 for 4,442 yards. His 11,506 yards from scrimmage rank second in team history behind only Jerry Rice. Just as significantly, Craig is the only running back among the six finalists to win a Super Bowl. Craig won four of them, three in seasons he was San Francisco’s lead back and leading rusher. Craig was a Hall of Fame finalist in 2010 and probably won’t have to wait many more years before he’s inducted.

Here’s how Gore stacks up with his predecessors: He has led San Francisco in rushing each of the past six seasons, and is the only player in team history to rush for 1,000 yards or more in four seasons, each of them coming consecutively from 2006-2009.

Gore’s 1,695 yards rushing and 2,180 yards from scrimmage in 2006 both are team records. His 4.7 rushing average is second among all NFL running backs since Gore entered the league in 2005. Gore’s 24 100-yard rushing games is a team record, and his 8,697 yards from scrimmage already ranks fourth in team history. He ranks 14th in team history with 270 receptions and has been to two Pro Bowls.

Significantly, Gore’s body of work has been assembled in just six seasons. And even more significantly, here is the primary reason he seriously deserves consideration with Perry and Craig today as the 49ers’ best ever:

Simply put, Gore has done it on his own.

He has produced consistently despite being a marked man in an offense that, for the most part, has had virtually no other legitimate threats and not once has finished a season higher than 23rd in the NFL rankings since Gore arrived on the scene. He has played with eight different starting quarterbacks. He has never played on a winning team.

Gore has led the 49ers in receptions twice and not once has played with a wide receiver who recorded more than 61 receptions in a season. Since joining the 49ers, Gore has played with just one other offensive skill player to make the Pro Bowl, tight end Vernon Davis, and just one lineman to earn that status, guard Larry Allen.

Gore has carried the San Francisco offense every season since becoming a starter in 2006 and still consistently produced star numbers. Perry and Craig never had to do that.

Perry played in a powerhouse backfield, the legendary “Million Dollar Backfield” at that, which had three other players that would reach the Hall of Fame. Enough said.

Craig played for one of the greatest enduring offenses in NFL history, an attack that featured two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young, a Hall of Fame wide receiver, Jerry Rice, and a host of other Pro Bowl stars who were among the best at their positions at that time. During Craig’s eight seasons as a regular starter, the 49ers had an offensive player selected to the Pro Bowl 24 times. Enough said.

So if Gore passes Craig and Perry to become San Francisco’s all-time leading rusher this season, does he become the 49ers’ greatest ever?

The answer, of course, is no.

From this vantage point, Craig is the greatest running back in franchise history. He was a magnificent dual-threat halfback who also had the size and power to start at fullback early in his career. And, bottom line, he was a star on four Super Bowl champions. The 49ers might not have won all four of those Lombardi trophies without him.

But give Gore time. He figures to again be the central figure in San Francisco’s offense this season, working in a new system designed by coach Jim Harbaugh that should take full advantage of Gore’s diverse skills.

And despite the wear and tear Gore has absorbed during his career, including a fractured right hip that ended his season after 11 games last year, Gore’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, recently sent out this status report regarding his client via twitter: “(Gore)’s 100% healthy and fully recovered from his hip injury. He’s never looked better!”

To be sure, Gore has looked pretty good so far as a 49er. He will be a free agent after the 2011 season, and Gore’s return to the team in 2012 and beyond is essential for him to add to his credentials as a franchise great.

But if Gore does play further into this decade with the 49ers, and can finally get this floundering franchise into the playoffs and turn it into a winner again, he will earn status as the best ever, if he isn’t there already.

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

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2011 Skandia Sail For Gold. Zach Railey pre Interview

Zach Railey talks about his Skandia Sail for Gold, US Trials and his new Finn: “Very excited to be here at this moment. There are three events we’re concentrating on for this quadrennium looking forward toward 2012. This is the first of those three events, and we’re excited and nervous to be here all at the same time.”

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Gaby Sanchez getting no love in All-Star fan voting

Major League Baseball on Monday revealed the third of five National League All-Star balloting updates. Among infielders, no Marlins were in the top five. None of the Marlins’ outfielders were listed among the top 15 vote-getters either.

Fans do not determine the pitching staffs.

Arguably the Marlins’ most deserving All Star candidate to date is first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who entered the week ranked tied for sixth among NL hitters with a .321 average, tied for ninth in RBI (38), tied for fourth in multi-hit games (22), tied for sixth in hits (61), eighth in total bases (115), seventh in on-base percentage (.394) and 10th in slugging (.520).

Unfortunately for Sanchez, many more established first baseman are among the league leaders in the same categories. Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Ryan Howard all merit All-Star consideration as well. The top five vote-getters at first base: Pujols (1,479,320), Votto (1,310,755), Fielder (943,364), Howard (881,500) and Braves rookie Freddie Freeman (338,976).

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Athletics calling up Jemile Weeks

Mychael Urban of CSNBayArea.com reports that the Athletics are calling up prospect second baseman Jemile Weeks from Triple-A Sacramento.

It's time. Mark Ellis left Monday's game with a hamstring injury, so it's assumed that he will land on the disabled list. The A's still need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, but they can move Dallas Braden to the 60-day disabled list. Weeks, 24, entered Monday's action batting .321/.414/.446 with three homers, 22 RBI and nine stolen bases over his first 44 games with Triple-A Sacramento this season. He should be owned in AL-only leagues from the outset.

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Jon Beason accuser arrested in Cornelius

Greg Frye, the Huntersville man who sued Panthers linebacker Jon Beason for allegedly punching him in the face at a strip club, was arrested early this morning in Cornelius on a charge of possession of stolen property.

Frye, 31, was arrested at 2:22 a.m. on the misdemeanor charge, according to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office web site.

It is the latest arrest for Frye, whose lengthy rap sheet was brought up in the Beason civil trial last month.

Frye accused Beason of fracturing his nasal cavity at the Uptown Cabaret in November 2009 after Frye told Panthers tight end Dante Rosario he had seen Beason snorting cocaine at a party on Lake Norman a few months earlier.

Beason testified he has never used cocaine. He told the jury he wanted to hit Frye, but a friend grabbed his arm before he could.

The jury sided with Beason and determined Frye had slandered the Pro-Bowl linebacker. Beason was awarded $1, the amount he requested.

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

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Reggie Wayne & Santana Moss The Best Of The Older Wrs

A number of old wide receivers have generated headlines this offseason, and could continue to generate them in the coming months. With that in mind, here, with some help from some pro scouts, are my best wide receivers who will be 32 or older when the season is scheduled to begin.

1. Reggie Wayne. It’s hard to believe he is 32. Wayne caught a career high 111 passes in 2010. His big play production was down a bit, but that probably was due more to the fact that he was the only consistent receiving weapon the Colts had. He remains a premier performer and a rarity.

2. Steve Smith. He is destined to be a former Panther soon, but it’s not because Smith as lost a lot. He might not be quite as fast as he was, but he still has explosive play making ability, and he plays physically. Smith needs to be paired with a veteran quarterback because he is an undisciplined route runner who sometimes will freelance.

3. Chad Ochocinco. He remains a special athlete with top separation skills. His quickness off the line is exceptional. That’s why there may be a trade market for this guy. Ocho has lost a step in straight line speed, however, and doesn’t outrun cornerbacks anymore. He also doesn’t compete the way he used to. Old Ochocinco does his best to avoid the middle of the field. Don’t ask him to block anyone, either.

4. Terrell Owens. He isn’t the same kind of all-around receiver he once was. T.O. is now inconsistent in his route running. He doesn’t separate well versus man to man, and is best on vertical routes, underneath routes and crossing routes. But at 37, he has been less affected by age than most because he is more reliant on muscle and size than speed. T.O. still can get yards after the catch and make big plays. Some team will sign him as a bargain free agent.

5. Santana Moss. Last year, at the age of 31, Moss had a career high for catches but a career low for yards per catch. He still has some of his excellent short area quicks, but his long speed is not what it was. Because Moss is a smaller receiver at 5-10, the party could end pretty quickly for him.

6. Donald Driver. At 36 he isn’t what he was, but he’s still a player who most teams would love to have. Driver has too many drops these days and is best as a role player. He can work the slot as well as almost anyone, as he has the quick feet, technique and physicalness to separate and make plays in a crowd.

7. Derrick Mason. He never has been fast, so Mason hides his 37 years well. He knows how to get open with double moves, change of speed, toughness and all the tricks. His craftiness has served him well on the back end of his career. As an underneath route runner/possession player, Mason remains very effective.

8. Hines Ward. Ward may not be as flashy a receiver as he is a dancer these days, but he remains a solid starter going into his 14th season in Pittsburgh. He does not run as well as he used to, and he has a hard time separating. But he is physical and effective in traffic. He also has excellent chemistry with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He fits perfectly where he is, but might not look so good on a lot of other teams.

9. Randy Moss. The 34-year old free agent still can blow by soft coverage, but it takes him longer to reach full speed than it used to. He is mostly a vertical player at this stage of his career who isn’t very effective on short and medium routes. He no longer gives you much after the catch. He is easily taken out of his game by press coverage.

10. T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The fact that he will be on his third team in as many years tells you something. He has lost a little speed, but never was a speed dependent player. Houshmandzadeh can find open windows in zones and use his strength to make plays. He can be effective as a third receiver who plays the slot. The fact that he has a reputation for being difficult to manage makes him less attractive to potential suitors.

Others include Deion Branch, Brandon Stokley, Brian Finneran and Joey Galloway. Plaxico Burress was not included because he did not play in the NFL last year.

Click here to order Santana Moss’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Debate: Steven Jackson vs. Frank Gore

Kyle from Rockford, Ill., doesn't see why ESPN.com voters would favor Steven Jackson over Frank Gore in the recent Power Rankings. Gore has a higher average per carry and more touchdowns. Also, the difference in games missed over the past three seasons -- nine for Gore, five for Jackson -- was not all that significant.

Mike Sando: I suspect how the players finished last season influenced perceptions of them. Gore's totals last season were down because he missed the final five games to injury. This is a good discussion to have, however, because both backs are outstanding. How they run and for whom they run will influence preferences. One is a Mustang, the other a Camaro. Both are classics. Both rank among the more productive backs in the NFL over the past few seasons.

We should appreciate both players while we can. The position they play exacts high physical costs. It'll be an upset if both are still producing at high levels even two seasons from now. It could be an upset if both are with their current teams beyond the 2011 season. Gore is entering the final year of his contract with the 49ers. He recently turned 28. The final two years of Jackson's contract can void after the 2011 season. He turns 28 in July. Running backs rarely produce past their late 20s.

Which back is better? This is a discussion I'd like to open for debate. Jackson has clear size advantages over just about every back in the NFL. He is physically superior. Gore's ability to produce on a similar level despite being much smaller stands as part of his appeal. There's no way Gore should be so powerful and punishing, but he is.

Both players are exceedingly tough. They play with admirable heart. Gore's 2010 season ended with a broken hip, but there's no video of him getting carted off or laying on the field. He actually came back into the game after suffering the injury. The 49ers had to hide his helmet to make sure he remained on the sideline. Jackson gives up nothing to Gore in this category. He has played through a back injury that required surgery even though his team was struggling toward a 1-15 record. He has played through numerous other injuries, including groin and finger problems last season.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. recently downgraded Jackson as a player who had "lost a step" and could no longer make big plays in the open field. Was this simply a reflection of a groin injury limiting Jackson's stride? Or is he markedly less explosive?

The stats show Jackson breaking seven runs of at least 20 yards last season. He had 10 in 2009 and six in 2008. Gore had six last season, 11 the year before and eight in 2008. Fourteen players had at least eight last season, including Tim Hightower (eight). Darren McFadden led the NFL with 14 such runs. Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the more explosive players in the league, had eight such plays. Adrian Peterson had nine. Marshawn Lynch had five.

I've put together a chart showing cumulative rushing yardage totals for both players over the past three seasons. Jackson has played in four additional games during that span. Some of the statistical comparisons are imperfect, but the overall body of work does favor Jackson, in my view. The fact that he has missed fewer games during that span skews some of the comparisons, but Jackson was also more valuable for his ability to play in additional games.

2008-2010 Rushing Yardage Totals
Rushing Category
Frank Gore
Steven Jackson
Games Played
Total Yards
First quarter
Second quarter
Third quarter
Fourth quarter
Games 1-8
Games 9-16
Left sideline
Left side
Right side
Right sideline
Own 1- to 20-yard line
Own 21- to 50-yard line
Opponent 49- to 20-yard line
Opponent 19- to 1-yard line
Inside opponent's 10-yard line
First down
Second down
Third down
Fourth Down
vs. NFC West
vs. Arizona
vs. Seattle

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

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Guys like Jon Vilma keep Saints ahead of game during lockout

If there was any question which team was best taking advantage of this nasty lockout, there shouldn't be any longer. It continues to be New Orleans. Land. Slide. Listen to Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and you'll know why.

"Players around the league look at the lockout differently," Vilma told me. "Some see the lockout as a time to relax. Some see it as a time to heal from serious injury. Some see it as a time to party. We're definitely not in that last category.

"I feel pretty comfortable saying that almost every player on the Saints is in terrific shape. We could take the practice field tomorrow in full pads and be fine. This group of guys is in better shape than we were at this time when the Saints won the Super Bowl."

How is that possible, he's asked? No OTAs, no minicamps, and in better shape?

"Because we know this is a time when a player can slip through the cracks," he said. "You can get soft. You can say, 'I'm taking this week off. I'm partying tonight.' And pretty soon you're out of shape. No one on this team is doing that because of guys like Drew [Brees] and the leaders we have on this team. Everyone is working twice as hard because they don't want to relax a minute and get soft."

Leaders like Vilma, too. If Brees has been the fulcrum for the Saints' lockout offense, Pro Bowl linebacker Vilma has been the defensive centrifuge. In the past, before the lockout, it wasn't unusual for the two men to put a $100 bet on which unit performed better in practice. The lockout workouts have been just as competitive.

Staying in shape during the lockout won't win a Super Bowl, but this can't be stressed enough, and it's why lockout workouts remain one of the most important stories in the league right now: The teams that stay the most unified and don't gain the beer bellies and fat asses will have a major lead on teams whose waists expand and endurance shrinks.

It's that simple. Get fat, lose later. A sprint a day keeps the pulled hamstrings away.

No, Super Bowls cannot be won now. But they can be lost. Vilma is one of the key Saints making sure his team doesn't lose a title before the season starts.

"We're more committed than other teams," said Vilma, who is taking part in a promotion that allows fans to work out with Saints players, the proceeds going to charity.

"Anyone who watches what we do can see that. There's a lot of trust in each other and the system. I've been in the defensive system for three years. Drew has been in the offensive system for five years."

The irony of Vilma becoming one of the Saints' most important players of the lockout isn't lost on him. When uber-idiot Eric Mangini, then coach of the Jets, traded Vilma, he went to the Saints wanting to prove to the rest of the league he could be a major factor. Vilma became a huge component of the Saints and won a ring. Mangini is still an uber-idiot.

As for the lockout, Vilma is one of the few players who don't seem angry over it, or even mildly agitated. "It's true that players want to get back to doing what they best, which is play football," Vilma explained. "But I'm not stir crazy. You can only control what you can control."

What the Saints are controlling is their lockout destiny.

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

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Kellen Winslow Suggests The Bucs Go With a No-Huddle Offense More Often

While appearing on NFL Network's Total Access show yesterday, Kellen Winslow praised Josh Freeman to high heavens.  "The sky's the limit for [Josh Freeman]. He can be top 5, up there with the Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, he can be. And he wants to be." said the veteran tight end. "He has all the tools."

When asked what the next step would be for Josh Freeman, he suggested the no-huddle offense. "I think the no-huddle system is next for him. Calling plays at the line, not huddling up so much, just getting into more of a rhythm, pass attempts". Winslow mostly praised the restrictions placed on the defense by the no-huddle offense, as the defense will have to stick to more vanilla coverages. 

And really, that would make a lot of sense for the Bucs. The Bucs ran something resembling a no-huddle offense in two-minute situations last season, but any time the clock stopped on incompletions, runners out of bounds or timeouts, the Bucs would take their time and huddle up. But when one of the elite quarterbacks runs that offense, you see them keep the tempo up without a huddle, forcing the defense to stay on the field. 

For Freeman to take the next step, he has to take full control of his offense, and running a no-huddle offense while calling his own plays will be very beneficial. 

Click here to order Kellen Winslow’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Big league life is all Blake Tekotte had hoped for

When Blake Tekotte was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the third round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft, the five-tool outfielder immediately started charting a course for the big leagues.

“Whenever I was drafted, one of my goals was to make it to the big leagues before my 24th birthday,” Tekotte said.

Two days before his 24th birthday last month, time was about to run out on his goal as the 2005 Hickman graduate was packing for a road trip to Springfield as a member of the Padres’ Double-A affiliate in San Antonio.

Then he looked at his phone and noticed a text from his minor league manager, Doug Dascenzo.

“It said, ‘911. You need to call me now,’ ” Tekotte said. “I was kind of worried.”

When Tekotte reached Dascenzo, the manager instructed him to pack his bags — something Tekotte assured his manager he was already doing for the team’s impending trip to Springfield.

“He was like, ‘No, you have a flight tomorrow morning. You’re going to San Diego,’ ” Tekotte said.

On May 23, one day before his 24th birthday, Tekotte arrived in San Diego for the start of a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
His draft-day goal magically realized.

“That was pretty cool how all that went down,” Tekotte said. “I made it the day before, which is pretty crazy.”

Two weeks later, Tekotte is still living out his life-long dream as a major league baseball player.

Entering last night’s late-starting West Coast game against Houston, Tekotte had appeared in nine games for the Padres with five starts. The left-handed-swinging outfielder was batting only .167 (3 for 18), but his big league arrival has coincided with a recent surge by the last-place NL West Padres — who had won five of their last seven games entering last night.

“These past two weeks have been awesome,” Tekotte said. “It’s been everything I dreamed it would be and then some.”

Tekotte watched his first two games from the dugout before Padres Manager Bud Black called on him to make his big league debut on May 25 as a pinch hitter with one out in the eighth inning of a tie game against the Cardinals.

The experience was surreal as Tekotte stepped into the batter’s box to face Chris Carpenter, who won the National League Cy Young award with the Cardinals the same year Tekotte graduate high school.

“I walked up to the box and saw” Cardinals catcher Yadier “Molina right there and looked up and saw Carp — that was pretty cool,” Tekotte said. “I’ve watched them on TV the last couple years, and you realize that I finally got my opportunity to come up here and show what I can do.”

On the second pitch he saw, Tekotte ripped a line-drive to right field that Jon Jay — a college teammate of Tekotte’s at Miami, Fla. — snagged for the second out.

Tekotte would have to wait three more days before getting his first big league hit, but he made it worth his wait.

With nine family members traveling to Washington, D.C. for a series with the Nationals, Tekotte went 2 for 3 with an RBI triple and a run scored in a 2-1 Padres’ win on May 28.

Tekotte’s day of firsts was made even more special because his family was celebrating the first birthday of his nephew Alec. The family had planned a birthday celebration in Springfield while Tekotte was to be in town with his minor league team, but the party was moved to D.C. when he got called up to the Padres.

“I kind of had to ruin the plans, but I guess in a good way,” Tekotte said.

His first major league road trip also provided some lasting memories off the field. Among Tekotte’s rookie responsibilities, he had to carry the suit of second baseman Orlando Hudson, haul drinks onto the team bus after games and even offer musical entertainment to his teammates by singing a tune.

Tekotte belted out “All My Life” by K-Ci & JoJo to what he said were favorable reviews.

“I did a good job,” Tekotte said, “so I don’t have to go back up there and do it again.”

With his playing and singing debuts out of the way, Tekotte is trying to settle into what he hopes will be a long major league career.

Tekotte is now under a major league contract that will pay him the league minimum while he’s with the Padres and a modified — but still substantial — amount if he were to return to the minors.

Of course, Tekotte hopes he won’t be returning to the minors any time soon. He and fellow rookie infielder Logan Forsythe were actually apartment shopping this week during the Padres’ recent home stand.

Although he realizes his position with the big club isn’t guaranteed, Tekotte explained that the apartment search is just another rookie rite.
“The team puts you up” in a hotel “for seven nights before you have to go find your own place to live,” Tekotte said.

San Diego, with its surf and sun, certainly wouldn’t be a bad place to call home. Tekotte said he’s doing everything he can to make a good impression with his coaches and teammates to keep his roster spot.

A recent conversation with his new manager indicated to Tekotte that he’s going about things the right way.

“Buddy was walking with me the other day, and he told me he really liked my work ethic and to keep working hard,” Tekotte said. “That was comforting to hear.

“I’ve been hearing a lot that it’s easier to get up here than to stay up here, so I just have to work even harder than I did before.”

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Scott Maine Will Be Sent Back to Iowa

Chicago Cubs reliever Scott Maine will be sent to Iowa on Monday to make room for Matt Garza, who returns from the disabled list to start the series opener in Cincinnati.

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10 questions with outfielder Blake Tekotte

Called up to the majors for the first time on May 23, the 24-year-old from Columbia, Mo., covers super heroes, Mickey Mantle and punting.

Q: You’ve played 346 games in the minors. What’s the longest bus ride you’ve taken?
A: Oh, man. I’ll have to go from Springfield, Mo., to San Antonio. That’s a loooong bus trip. About 12 hours.

Q: How do you pass the time?
A:Sleep. Maybe take some Nyquil. Watch a couple movies. Surfing my phone, surfing the Internet, just finding anything to do.

Q: Best minor league promotion?
A:Super Hero night in Lake Elsinore. On the scoreboard they had The Hulk, but with Kyle Blanks’ face all green. That was pretty funny.

Q: As part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade the Padres acquired center fielder Reymond Fuentes. They drafted Rico Noel in the fifth round last year. Your thoughts on the team stockpiling talent at your position?
A: It’s great. You don’t want to be given something on a silver platter.

Q: Toughest part about going straight from Double-A to the bigs?
A:Just the pitching’s a lot better. They hit their spots. They’ve got more movement on it. They’re able to throw every pitch (for strikes) on any count.

Q: Enough baseball questions. It’s your last meal. What are you eating?
A:I’ll have a nice big filet, a little baked potato and definitely a warm brownie with some ice cream for dessert. I’d go out in style, absolutely.

Q: You can invite any four people to dinner. Who are you breaking bread with?
A: Mickey Mantle. I just like the way he played. There was this quote I always liked him saying. One of his teammates asked why he played every day, even when he could barely get out of a cab. He said it might be one kid’s first ballgame and the only game he’ll ever be able to attend. And he didn’t want to disappoint any kids. Ken Griffey Jr. He’s the man. Tom Brady. He’s got tremendous swagger. And Jessica Alba. She just seems like she’s got a really great personality.

Q: All-time favorite movie?
A: “Varsity Blues” is a good one. It just kind of brings you back to your old high school days.

Q: Give us a little-known fact about Blake Tekotte.
A: I was a quarterback and left-footed punter in high school (in Missouri). Averaged about 40 yards.

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Blake Tekotte taking in the big league atmosphere

SAN DIEGO -- When Blake Tekotte was called up in late May, he received some advice from former Major Leaguer and two-time All-Star Scott Cooper.

Cooper played for St. Louis in 1995, about an hour and a half from where Tekotte grew up, and the two hit together this offseason.

"He was just really happy for me whenever I got called up, and he just said, 'Enjoy every minute of it, because it goes fast,' " Tekotte said. "So I've been trying to not take anything for granted ... and I'm just trying to take it all in."

That includes the big moments, such as his first Major League hit, against Washington on May 28, when he went 2-for-3 with a run, an RBI and a walk. He was the first Padre to collect multiple hits in his first career start since Luis Durango did so on Sept. 16, 2009, against the D-backs.
But he's also taking in the smaller moments, such as explaining the pronunciation of his last name.

"Especially when I first got here, everybody was like, 'How do you say it?' But yeah, 'TEE-koah-te," he said, pronouncing each syllable. "I've heard everything in the book, so I'm kind of used to it."

Tekotte has played in nine games with the Padres, and though he's done his best to soak up veteran wisdom and not draw unwanted attention, he has tried to savor the big league atmosphere.

"It's awesome," he said. "It's definitely something you can get used to, compared to Minor League living. These guys have been helping me out quite a bit. You'd rather be seen than heard around here, especially if you're younger."

Tekotte's big league stint started well. After his first five games, he was batting .300, but he has gone 0-for-10 at the plate in his last four outings, dropping his average to .167.

Of course, with such a small sample size, batting average isn't a great tell. Tekotte said that he's just gotten a little away from the approach that got him to the Majors.

"I've been a little anxious, swinging at some bad pitches, trying to do too much, I think," he said. "Right now I'm slowing the game down, trying to see [the ball] and hit it instead of thinking that something is wrong with my swing.

"I just have to stay within myself."

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