06 September 2009

Shockey Out in Miami

George St. Pierre, Wilmer Valderrama, & Jeremy Shockey at Rok Bar/Spencer Strayer/RED EYE PRODUCTIONS

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Moss Brothers Meet Again

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They talk all the time. They will chat tonight and probably visit in person on Saturday.

Then, on Sunday, they will wear the uniforms of rival teams.

Santana Moss is the Washington Redskins’ top receiver. Sinorice Moss of the New York Giants would love a similar role.

While Santana knows where he fits in the Redskins’ offense, his younger brother remains less sure. A fourth-year player who was a second-round draft pick in 2006, Sinorice has battled injuries that held him back and kept him buried on the Giants’ depth chart, among assorted other receivers.

“He’s been through a rough few years,” Santana says. “You always look forward to seeing him get his chance. I hope the Giants find a place for him.”

Sinorice can only echo that sentiment. The Giants turned over their receiver corps with the departures of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer but a young group that included Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Moss was just joined this year by No. 1 pick Hakeem Nicks and sixth-rounder Ramses Barden. So where does Moss fit in?

“Honestly, I’m still trying to figure that out,” he says during lunch at the Giants’ new Timex Performance Center. “I don’t know. I don’t know where they are trying to play me at but every chance I get to get on the field, I’m going to shine my light and do my best to help this team.”

Hixon and Smith are listed as the starters for Sunday’s season opener at Giants Stadium against the Redskins. Moss is listed as Smith’s backup. He also returned punts and kickoffs during a preseason in which he had only four catches, though two went for touchdowns.

A pulled quadriceps muscle slowed Moss as a rookie and he played in only six games. He injured a hamstring late in 2007. He has played in 29 games, made 38 catches and scored his first two touchdowns in ’08.

Santana, of course, performed ably for the New York Jets. They drafted him in the first round in 2001, 16th overall, out of the University of Miami (Fla.), where Sinorice also played. The Jets traded him to Washington in 2005 for another receiver, Laveranues Coles. Santana caught 79 passes, second on the Redskins last year, with six for touchdowns. Going into his ninth year, he has posted three 1,000-yard seasons, including 2008. He has 40 career touchdown receptions.

Santana will line up with Washington’s first-string offense. He knows what his team will need. Sinorice hopes those questions will soon be answered for him by the Giants.

He will talk to his big brother, but not about this. The conversations rarely revolve around football, he says.

“We talk about family, how the kids are doing, different things we saw on TV, but not too much about football,” Sinorice says. “I’ll see him when he comes in. I hope he has time to come out to the house.”

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Miami Leads the ACC in NFL Numbers

The ACC can claim 259 spots on NFL rosters this season, led by 41 from Miami.

Even if you subtract the 34 Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College players who never took a snap in the ACC, that's still a healthy number of professionals flowing from the conference.

Why that doesn't translate to national success for the ACC arguably can be attributed to the quality of coaching and the positions of the talent. There are 42 ACC linebackers in the NFL, and 25 tackles, but only eight quarterbacks (and three of those were pre-expansion).

Miami's total actually shrunk by five players this year, but the 'Canes expanded their lead over Florida State to a net of 11. The Seminoles, while still second in the conference, dropped from 39 to 30 players who are either on an active 53-man NFL roster, listed as injured reserve or under league suspension. The breakdown by school:

Among the interesting notes:

Five ACC quarterbacks start in the NFL. Even if you rightfully count Boston College's Matt Hasselbeck in the Big East's total, the ACC's four starters – N.C. State's Philip Rivers (San Diego), Virginia's Matt Schaub (Houston), Maryland's Shaun Hill (San Francisco) and Boston College's Matt Ryan (Atlanta) – compare favorably with those from the SEC (six, with those blasted Manning boys skewing the curve), Pac-10 (five, including three from Southern California) and the Big Ten (four).

Surprisingly, the Big 12, the so-called conference of quarterbacks which has produced three Heisman-winning quarterbacks this decade, does not have a single starter this year.

The pipeline from Florida State to the NFL has sprung a leak. The Seminoles had an ACC-best 45 alumni in the NFL in 2006, one more than Miami, but has subsequently dropped to 43 (in '07), then 39 last season and 30 today.
The 'Noles have seen stalwarts such as linebacker Derrick Brooks, running back Warrick Dunn, defensive tackle Corey Simon and quarterback Brad Johnson leave the NFL in the past three years, while adding only two players – DE Everette Brown and WR Michael Ray Garvin – to this rookie crop.

It's no coincidence that FSU's record has fallen with less NFL-caliber talent on campus.

The list of 259 NFL players from the ACC breaks down this way: 129 on defense, 118 on offense and 12 on special teams. Linebacker (42) is the most populated position, followed by receiver (28), tackle (25) and safety (24).

There are almost as many long-snappers (six) as quarterbacks.

On offense, 47 of the 118 players' primary role is to block, while 21 of the 71 skill-position players came through Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College before they joined the ACC, which again accentuates some of the ACC's competition problems. They've got the plumbers, but not the playmakers.

North Carolina wins the race of the Carolinas with 24 pros. Take away the Tar Heels' two long-snappers, and they still beat N.C. State (19), Wake Forest (14), Clemson (14) and Duke (3).

Incredibly, Mack Brown left UNC in 1997 but recruited nine of UNC's current NFLers.

This rookie class appears cursed. Five of them begin the season on injured reserve and three, N.C. State tailback Andre Brown (N.Y. Giants), Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn (New Orleans) and Wake Forest linebacker Stanley Arnoux (New Orleans) are out for the season.

Brown tore his Achilles' tendon early in August training camp, and Vaughn suffered a knee injury in training camp. They both had longer seasons than Arnoux, who tore his Achilles' tendon in May, on the first day of rookie mini-camp.

Being injured is not all bad. NFL teams aren't allowed to cut players on injured reserve, so as long as they're on IR, they're collecting an NFL paycheck (as opposed to the five-digit deals for the practice-squad players).

Three feel-good stories from the list of 259:

N.C State kicker Steven Hauschka (Baltimore): It's a long way from Middlebury College's neuroscience program to the NFL, but Hauschka made it. Hauschka finished his undergraduate career at Middlebury in Vermont, then followed Tom O'Brien from Boston College to N.C. State, where he kicked one season (2007) for the Wolfpack. After getting cut by Minnesota, he found a spot on Baltimore's practice squad and eventually on the main roster as the kickoff and long field-goal specialist. He beat out Florida State's Graham Gano in training camp for the full-time gig with the Ravens this season.

Virginia linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba (Oakland): The Nigerian enters his fifth NFL season as special-teams specialist, not bad for someone who skipped high school football and who was a walk-on at Virginia.

Miami tight end Buck Ortega (New Orleans): An accomplished high school quarterback, Ortega switched to tight end at Miami, only to be stuck behind Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen. He found a niche on special teams with the Saints, after three different practice-squad stops.

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Bruce Johnson might see plenty of playing time in NFL debut for Giants

With starting CB Aaron Ross and backup Kevin Dockery both sidelined with hamstring injuries, Giants rookie Bruce Johnson has gotten plenty of work as the team's third corner in practice this week. But that's nothing new for Johnson, who saw plenty of action in training camp and the preseason while Ross and Corey Webster were out with injuries.

"I got a little bit tired," Johnson admitted Thursday. "I don't want to say that gave me an advantage, but it helped me out a lot when the season came around. I was tired, but I had to keep pushing through. We didn't have anybody else. I'm in football shape now."

Johnson had better be in shape because he might be needed on Sunday. Coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful Dockery will be available to come off the bench, but it's uncertain how much he'll be able to play. That could mean the Giants will need Johnson, an undrafted free agent from Miami, to play a lot in his first real game as a pro.

Coughlin doesn't appear to be worried, as he told reporters the team's turning to a rookie free agent "has happened before," such as Dockery in 2005 and Curtis Deloatch the previous season.

In fact, Coughlin walked into the training room on Saturday and asked Johnson if he could trust him. That was Johnson's only indication he had made the team ahead of sixth-round pick DeAndre Wright.

"I had worked hard, but you never know," Johnson said. "So you just have to keep pressing on each day in practice until you get that final word - and I got that final word.

"And I'm not going to stop. I'm just going to keep pressing hard."

He's been doing so ever since his draft stock fell from high- to mid-round pick to a player who didn't get a call until after the draft was over.

"That was just a little bit more motivation for me that, when I didn't get drafted, I'd show them what I can really do," he said. "By me working hard in training camp and minicamp and rookie minicamp, I think I had a chance to show what I could so. That was my goal coming in. I felt pretty good about everything. I just knew I had to keep up with the system and everything."

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Santana Moss' Views On This Year's Hurricanes

Santana Moss, meanwhile, was much more enthused about a totally different kind of Hurricane.

Moss -- like Clinton Portis -- remains exceedingly proud of his Florida roots, and -- like Portis and Rocky McIntosh -- has also remained fiercely loyal to his college team, the University of Miami Hurricanes.

So Miami's 38-34 win over Florida State Monday night, in an instant classic that went down to the final play ... that made Moss very happy and very proud indeed.

"You know," he said in the locker room yesterday, "I worked out with those guys every day [this offseason]. So, bein' an ex-Cane, you kinda look at it and see, 'Do they have what it takes to be that?' And I've seen it in their eyes, because I remember how it was for us when we came in, and how hungry we was.

"This class they have in now, it's a class of winners. All of 'em pretty much came from dominant high schools -- and Northwestern High School, that's my rival school. My dad went to Northwestern, I had family at Northwestern, I ended up going to [rival] Carol City.

"So I knew what kind of players come out of there, and to see seven guys from that school be the stars, or come in and play early last year ... I mean, you can't even expect nothin' but good to come of that. They're gonna be something to watch., man."

And his enthusiasm for his college is matched only by his excitement for the start of another NFL season this Sunday.

"You get up for every game, but there's just something different to it," Moss said. "There's just so much going on that night, when it comes to the anticipation of that National Anthem and the choppers and the Blue Angels, or whatever they're flying over that stadium, you visualize that already. You think about all the great plays you're going to have, think about some opportunities that might get called up, and opening day will be the day that you really get to go out there and hope that dream comes true."

So the next time you're wondering if the players get as excited for opening day as the fans do ... well, there's your answer. And Smoot, for his part, can also rest easy: he's weakening over the Atlantic as I write this.

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Raiders bring back William Joseph

With the chances of Richard Seymour suiting up for Oakland this Monday night waning by the hour, the Raiders bought some insurance Thursday in the form of defensive tackle William Joseph.

Joseph was cut by the team only four days ago, but it's not a surprise he's back.  The Raiders told him to stay nearby, and Joseph kept his locker intact.

"I know the game plan and everything like that," Joseph said. "I was just chilling, watching [the University of Miami] play."

For now, Raiders coach Tom Cable is preparing for the season opener in the only sane way possible: by assuming that Seymour won't be wearing Silver and Black in time.

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Portis on Skins Offense: "Bombs Over Baghdad"

Wednesday was his first game-week media session of the season, and Clinton Portis has already provided at least four t shirt-ready slogans. He really should just start a clothing company.

He was asked how many miles he has left: "Hey, this built Ford Tough baby, I'll never break down," he said.
Built Ford Tough? That's hackneyed, but still a potential t-shirt.

He was asked what Albert Haynesworth has to prove with a $100 million contract; "I don't think anybody in this locker room would say that Albert wasn't worth 100 million dollars," Portis said. "I think everybody in our locker room appreciate that the owner went and paid him $100 million and kept us from having to play him....Having him on our team is always a plus. So it's up to them. Whatever their motivation is to go out and prove that they're deserving of the throne or the title is good for us."

Deserving of the Throne? That's a t-shirt.

He was asked about the NFC East; "Everybody over here is Mano y Mano," he said. "They are what they are, and you've just got to be able to go out and deal with it."

There's a t-shirt somewhere in there..

And Portis was asked about the Skins' newly potent offense: "It's always been the Redskins gonna come out and play smash mouth, and that's what it is," he said, "but now I think you're seeing all preseason, we're throwing the ball downfield. And whether you complete it or not, just the opportunity....If you don't get back there, it's gonna be Bombs over Baghdad."

Bombs Over Baghdad? That's definitely a t-shirt.

(The most interesting part of his media session came when he discussed Malcolm Kelly. "I mean, you can't cover Malcolm 1 on 1, and teams gonna realize that real quick in the season," Portis said. "As long as he's healthy, it's gonna be impossible to cover him on the deep route one on one. I think his hands unreal."


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Portis ready to go

Clinton Portis did his weekly briefing yesterday but I had to spike it from the notebook in favor of the Malcolm Kelly item about him winning the No. 2 receiver job.

So here's the Portis note ...

Even when Jason Campbell was throwing incomplete passes downfield during the preseason, Clinton Portis was becoming more and more encouraged that this year’s Washington Redskins offense will be greatly improved.

“We have the opportunity to do something special and the opportunity to score points,” Portis said before practice Wednesday at Redskin Park. “We’re going to throw the ball downfield and that’s something we haven’t done in previous seasons to open up the run game. It was always, ‘The Redskins are going to play smash-mouth.’

“We’re throwing the ball downfield and whether we complete it or not, it helps the run game. And [defenses] don’t get there on those throws, it’s going to be bombs over Baghdad.”

Portis is healthy after his preseason work consisted of two games and 11 carries and he hopes the development of Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas and arrival of seventh-round draft choice Marko Mitchell makes opponents respect the Redskins’ passing game, which would in turn take their attention away from the run game.

“You can’t cover Malcolm one on one and teams are going to learn that quickly,” Portis said. “Of course people want to double Santana [Moss] and if they bring that eighth guy into the box, that’s when we have the opportunity with [Chris] Cooley and Malcolm matched up one on one.”

Portis enters the season 1,369 yards short of John Riggins’ franchise record for rushing yards. He’s confident he can last 16 games.

“This is built ‘Ford Tough,’” he said. “I’ll never break down.”

A reason for his confidence is Portis’ third down work load, which is expected to decrease. Even though he’s arguably the best running back in the league at pass protection, he will be subbed for Ladell Betts.

“Our goal is to keep people fresh and get everybody involved,” Portis said. “If you look at our roles, it was always me on the field and Ladell went in when I was tired. Now we’re working to keep everybody fresh.”

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Recovery a 24-7 effort for Beason

CHARLOTTE -- Rehabilitating from a sprained knee in time to return to practice Wednesday was a 24-hour job for Jon Beason.

Even as he slept, he received treatment, hooking up an Accelerated Recovery Performance Trainer, more commonly known as the ARP. When he sat, when he relaxed, when he slept, the machine worked, supplementing his workouts at Bank of America Stadium and at home.

"It forces all the other muscles to work harder so that muscle has less strain on it," Beason said. "You sleep with it on and it brings blood flow to the area, which speeds up the healing process. It's on 10 hours a day."

And now it has a new potential spokesman, as Beason credited it and the work of Carolina's athletic training staff with returning him to the practice field.

"I got with our training staff, which did a great job here, and then I've got some stuff at home that I do," Beason said. "It's like anything, if you do more of it, it comes out better."

Beason's return came just two and a half weeks after he was injured in the first quarter of the Aug. 22 preseason loss at Miami. That night, he left the locker room with crutches in tow. Wednesday afternoon, he sprinted, jumped, hustled and made it through the full practice with nary a hitch.

"I feel better than fine," Beason said. "I feel pretty good. The only thing is wearing a brace; it's just annoying. But other than that, it feels good. No pain.

"I tried not to go out there and be ginger with it; I just wanted to go out there and play hard and see where it was, so I could gauge myself."

Throughout the last two weeks, Beason exuded quiet confidence that he would return by Week 1. The only hint of braggadocio came on a Twitter post last week -- and it was more of a rebuke to public doubters than anything else.

"I love that," he said. "I like to think of myself as kind of bionic, that I heal fast. It was an opportunity to prove everybody wrong.

"When it first happened, I knew I had 22 days and I felt it was enough time. So here I am."

BEASON'S IMPORTANCE to the Panthers was underscored by his selection as one of the team's captains for a second consecutive year -- a splendid feat for a player only in his third NFL season. The Panthers' other four captains -- Jake Delhomme, Jordan Gross, John Kasay and Julius Peppers -- average 11.25 years of experience.

"It's funny, because once you make it, the pressure is on to make it again the next year," Beason said. "I think being named it again means I'm doing my job the way I'm supposed to, and guys still respect me and I'm being accountable.

"That's the No. 1 thing as a captain, and it's an everyday thing."

It's everyday, but in its own way it's extraordinary -- just like his rapid recovery.

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Winslow wears full pads to no pads practice

It's OK with the Bucs if K2 wants to stand out.

Tight end Kellen Winslow continued his habit of wearing full pads to practice Thursday, even if the entire team was working out in t-shirts and shorts.

"Kellen is a full-pad guy and he wants to be as ready as he can for Sunday," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "And sometimes, you've got some players, they feel things. They've got a natural progression to things. He wants to get used to Florida and embrace the heat. He may be buying into what I'm saying a little too much.

"I thought the national anthem was about to go off.''

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Calais Should Fill In Nicely

DE Calais Campbell had a strong preseason and looks primed to take over at right end from Antonio Smith, who signed with the Texans. At 6-8, Campbell could be a real force if he refines his pass rush moves.

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Ray Rice to start over McGahee

Ray Rice announced Wednesday that he will be the Ravens' first-team tailback Sunday against Kansas City.

Willis McGahee confirmed it, saying he's accepted the backup role. McGahee may vulture some goal-line carries, but Rice is a terrific bet for 125-150 all-purpose yards against a Chiefs defense that is moving to a 3-4 system, lacks talent at nose tackle, and is unlikely to possess the football much.

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Boy left at airport is son of Nate Webster

TAMPA - A 31-year-old Brandon woman was released from jail today after she was accused of leaving her 10-year old boy - the son of a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer - alone with no money or cell phone at Tampa International
Airport for 90 minutes last week.

Martine Lifleur, of 2526 Cherrywood Hill Drive, Apt. 206, was charged with one count of child neglect, a third-degree felony. She was booked into the Orient Road Jail with bail set at $2,000, but on Wednesday, a judge released her without having to post bail.

The child's grandmother, his father's mother, said that her son is Nate Webster, former linebacker with the Buccaneers who last season played with the Denver Broncos.

He is a free agent now and lives in Cincinnati, said his mother, Linda Webster. Her grandson, Nathaniel Webster III, currently is staying with him and his wife, Jennifer.

"She made a mistake," Webster said this afternoon outside the jail, waiting for Lifleur to be released. "She realizes that. As a family we will work it out."

It was a miscommunication between her and Lifleur, she said. Lifleur was supposed to come by her house and Webster was to have driven her to the airport, dropped her off and then watched her grandson last week, she said. But Lifleur never showed up for the ride.

In the scramble to catch the flight, "It was a bad judgment call by the mother," Webster said. "Why would she leave him at the airport unattended?"

Airport police arrested Lifleur, who listed her occupation as a physician's assistant, on Tuesday morning when she got off a flight that originated in Fort Lauderdale.

The child was not overly traumatized by the experience, said Christine Osborn, a spokeswoman for the airport.
"Everyone who came in contact with him said he was a very sweet boy, well mannered, calm and collected," Osborn said. Being left alone got him a little upset, she said, "a little concerned."

Lifleur brought her son with her to the airport on the night of Sept. 1, Osborn said. She told police she had stopped by the child's grandparents' home to get them to drive her to the airport, but they were not home. So, she drove herself and parked in the short-term parking garage.

She brought the child to the terminal, gave him the keys to her car and told him to wait for his grandmother to pick him up.

"She last saw him around 9 p.m.," Osborn said.

The child waited at the airport as his mother boarded the shuttle taking her to the airside, Osborn said. Lifleur then caught a Spirit flight to Fort Lauderdale.

The boy waited about 90 minutes, and no one came to pick him up.

Finally, he walked to an information kiosk and asked whether someone could call his family. That's when airport police were called.

Officers called an aunt, who said she could come and get the boy. Officers also called the Florida Department of Children & Families, which gave police the authority to turn the child over to the aunt, because she is a blood relative.

While all this was happening, Lifleur landed in Fort Lauderdale, and that's when she finally reached the boy's grandparents about picking him up, Osborn said. By then, the aunt had already picked up the child.

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Beason back at practice

Jokes were aplenty in the Panthers locker room Wednesday. Stewart, their No. 2 back, had returned from a left Achilles' tendon injury on the same day middle linebacker and defensive leader Jon Beason practiced for the first time since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Aug. 22.

"It was an opportunity to prove everybody wrong, even the docs," Beason said. "I felt good about it."

Suddenly a dreary, winless preseason had given way to optimism four days before Carolina opens against Philadelphia. Minus safety Chris Harris, who was limited with a leg injury, the Panthers had all their key players practicing together for the first time in a month.

"They both looked really good," coach John Fox said of Beason and Stewart. "They were good to finally have back. That was the plan, and I thought they had a good day's work."

Beason, who was injured in the second exhibition game against Miami, said he spent countless hours rehabbing. It included about 10 hours a day hooked up to a new-age stim machine, which helped increase blood flow to the knee and strengthen muscles around it.

"It finds what muscle along the lines of the injury is not firing," Beason said. "Then it forces all the other muscles to work harder so that that muscle has less strain on it."

Without Beason and fellow starting linebackers Thomas Davis and Na'il Diggs, who also missed time with injuries, the Panthers struggled to tackle and stop the run in the preseason.

"When you don't have your leader on the defense, which is your mike linebacker, then you have Diggsy banged up and Thomas Davis banged up, that's the second level of your defense," defensive tackle Damione Lewis said.

"Those guys are your do-alls, they cover you up when you mess up in the run gaps and they also help the secondary with underneath stuff. That's the meat and potatoes on your defense, the linebacking corps."

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Jarrett Payton Released

Jarrett Payton asked for and was granted his release from the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Payton initially tweeted: “Today is my last day with the toronto argos..I asked for my release yesterday..Now let's c what the future holds for me..Cheers!” He then said: “Just 2 let everyone know I'm not done playing football. I'm healthy and in shape and still have the love and heart 2 play"

Payton later officially commented, "This decision hasn't been easy, but most decisions in life aren't. It’s one that required careful thought and, in the end, I needed to take care of family first. I don't see this as an end as much as a new beginning for me and my family. I still have a true love for football - that will never go away. I needed to move on from here. The Argos are a great organization with a great group of players and coaches. They have all the pieces here to be successful but it will take time. If everyone is patient then I know good things will happen and I wish the team the very best of luck for the rest of the season."

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No charges were filed but police were called when Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najeh Davenport and the mother of his child got into some sort of dispute in Cleveland.

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Ray Lewis expects same defense with Mattison

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said there should be a seamless transition in the defense's first regular season game under new coordinator Greg Mattison, who replaces Rex Ryan. Under Ryan, the Ravens defense never finished lower than No. 6 in the NFL.

"Do you love Rex? Yeah," Lewis said. "But Rex has never made a play when you step on the field. No defensive coordinator has. Bottom line, the players make plays. We have a core group that is dedicated to each other. Any time you have that type of chemistry inside, it’s almost impossible not to come back and have the same defense."

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Portis: Opener Is 'Toughest Test You Could Get'

Like his teammates, Clinton Portis moved to regular-season media mode this week, addressing the media in a group interview session before practice at Redskins Park. As always, Portis was direct.

"There's no warmup games in the NFL no matter who you are," Portis said. "Just having a divisional rival, that has been dominating your division, it's the toughest test you could get. ... It's a big challenge for us."

Portis expects significant improvement from the Redskins' offense, which averaged only 16.6 points last season and ranked 28th among 32 teams.

"I know what our offense will look like," he said. "I think I know what we're shooting for, the outlook, or the overall things that we want to accomplish. I don't think you all [media members] have seen it. But knowing what our lineup is and knowing what we have on the field, I think the outlook of what our offense can be" can be good.

In Week 1, Portis does not envision many surprises on offense from either the Redskins or Giants, "I usually anticipate hard-nosed football. That's what the NFC East is. I can't think of any team in the NFC East that comes out with wrinkles."

Portis, beginning his eighth season, rushed for 1,487 yards (with a 4.3-yard average) in 2008. Slowed by injuries in the second half of the season, however, Portis rushed for at least 80 yards only twice in the final eight games. He had no rushes of at least 40 yards on the season.

The coaching staff rewarded backup Ladell Betts for his hard work in the offseason, making him the primary back on third down to open the season. Running back Marcus Mason also made the 53-man roster, supplanting Rock Cartwright as the No. 3 running back, and the Redskins are high on him.

For his part, Portis doesn't mind the extra help, he said.

"It really don't matter to me," Portis said. "I think our goal is just to try to keep people fresh and get everybody involved. I think if you look at our roles when it was just me on the field all the time, Ladell would come in when I'm tired. Now all of a sudden, we trying to work and keep everybody fresh. It don't matter."

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Johnson has a Super dream for Texans

Even through the worst of times, Andre Johnson never let go of a dream.

It's a dream that's pretty much the same every time.

There's a packed house at Reliant Stadium and a loud, rowdy crowd and a football game that's really more than a football game.

It's one of those magical times when a professional sports team captivates an entire city, when the Texans are playing a big, important game, a game that reminds us why we love this silly stuff so much.

“I envision it all the time,” Johnson said. “I envision us winning a Super Bowl. I think it's not going to happen if you don't vision it. I think about it. I think about how the city would be. I think this city has been waiting on a winner for a long time. Even when I go to a Rockets game, all the fans are, ‘If you guys can just get to the playoffs.'

“I listen to the fans. You can tell the die-hard Texans fans. You can hear it in their voice when they talk about us. It's definitely something I think about a lot.”

There's a follow-up question that's tougher to ask, a question about all the losses he has been part of, about all the franchise's mistakes, about all the stuff that has made the Texans mostly irrelevant in their first seven years.

Did Johnson ever wonder if he'd be one of those guys who had a great career playing for a franchise that never won a thing?

“You know what, I've thought about it before,” he said. “It's not something I think about all the time. But I have thought about it. It happens. I talked to Zach Wiegert. He played in the league 11 years and never made it to the playoffs. I just can't see that happening to me.”

Among best of the best
Now the Texans are beginning a season when optimism is high, when they're a popular pick to win the AFC South or at least make their first playoff appearance.

So as they prepare to open their eighth season against the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon at Reliant Stadium, we gather around the locker of the best player the franchise has had and look for some context.

From production on the field to citizenship off it, from work ethic to leadership to everything a professional athlete can be expected to deliver, Andre Johnson has established himself as the guy every future Texan will be measured against.

For years, we were so focused on all the things the Texans didn't have that we didn't appreciate Johnson's greatness. Thanks to Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub, the Texans now have an offense worthy of Johnson.

He's 29 years old and about to begin his seventh NFL season. He's easily one of the NFL's top two or three receivers, the best of the best, coming off a season in which he led the league in catches (115) and yards (1,575).
He's one of the cornerstones of an offense that could be as good as any in the NFL, an offense that's expected to lead.

‘Sky's the limit for us'
But is he as optimistic as we are?

“To be honest, I always feel like we have a chance to get into the playoffs,” Johnson said. “Do I feel more confident? Do I feel we really have the talent to get there now? Of course. I don't think we have any excuses. It's up to us to go out and do it.

“I think the sky's the limit for us. It's just up to us to go out and perform the way we know how to perform. If we go out and do that, we'll be fine. I don't look at anything negative. I don't feel negative about anything coming into this game. I'm excited about it, and it starts on Sunday.”

It might be impossible to overestimate the esteem in which he's held by his teammates and coaches. Yet he's a different kind of leader. He leads more by example than with words.

But because Johnson doesn't say much, his words have a weight. There was a moment late last season when he stood up after a game and told his teammates how proud he was to be associated with them.

“There were times I stood up in front of the team and said things,” he said. “If I feel something needs to be said, or if there's something on my heart, I'm going to tell them. I'm not a big rah-rah guy.”

A work ethic to admire
When his teammates talk about Johnson, they constantly return to a couple of things — his demeanor and his work ethic.

“He doesn't say much,” Kubiak said, “but when he talks people listen.”

What makes him special?

“His work ethic,” Kubiak said.

Is that right, Chester Pitts?

“His commitment to excellence is unmatched by anyone I've ever known,” Pitts said.

Johnson's body of work speaks for itself as he nears 500 receptions and 7,000 career yards. He has played in three Pro Bowls and has 25 career 100-yard games.

He was one of the NFL's best-kept secrets for a long time, but now he's widely seen as a special player. About all he doesn't have is a playoff appearance, or even one of those really important late-season games. He only has his dreams.

“It's something I want to happen here,” Johnson said. “I want this organization to win a Super Bowl, and I want to be part of that. It'll be real special for me, for the whole city.”

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Ex-Argo Payton takes on new challenge

As the struggling Argos practised at the bottom of a nearby hill in advance of their rematch with the Ticats, a lone SUV pulled out of the player parking lot for the very last time.

The car came to a halt. The door swung open and Jarrett Payton stepped out. He had time for one last interview with the media before heading home to Chicago to begin a new life. Clearly this was no dead-of-the-night dash to the border by a suddenly ex-Argo.

"I'm just trying to figure out what's going to be best for me and the decisions in my life," the son of Walter (Sweetness) Payton explained after leaving the CFL club. "No hard feelings.

"This team, this organization has been nothing but the best. This team has everything it needs to be successful. It's just going to take time to kind of gel together. People have to understand that it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take some time."

Payton, 28, had been signed by the Argos out of a Florida tryout camp. Following a successful season with the Alouettes in 2007, Jarrett sat out 2008 with an injury and was without a job when he decided to give the Canadian league another shot.

He and coach Bart Andrus had combined with the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe in 2005, so there was a certain familiarity and comfort level for Payton with the Argos.

It was a feel-good story all the way when the former Miami Hurricanes running back made the team this summer, but the results in nine league games have been spotty. The low point came on Labour Day when he was on the 46-man roster, not active.

"My expectations coming here were ... I knew they had a starting running back and I wasn't coming here to be a starter," Payton said. "I wasn't looking to be the guy that wanted 100 carries or 20 carries a game. I just wanted to help out any way possible."

So as his comeback season headed south, Payton decided to do the same. In fact, he felt the best way he could "help out any way possible" was with the Walter & Connie Payton Foundation established by his late father, rather than sitting at the end of the Argos bench collecting a paycheque he wasn't earning.

"We work with the Department of Children and Family Services in Illinois," mini-Sweetness explained. "We provide Christmas and also back to school drives for kids. Last year we helped over 50,000 kids. It would be nice to go back and help out."

The back to school supply drive is in full swing, while the Christmas toy drive is up next.

"My dream of playing football is not done," said Payton, who was given his official release later in the day. "This is not the end. We have to just figure out what's the next move. The hardest thing was the relationships that I've gotten with all the guys on this team. This is a special group of guys. I've been in a lot of places, but this place is very special. That's the hardest thing about leaving."

Coach Andrus was surprised when Payton walked into his office and explained what he had to do. Running back Jamal Robertson was also rattled by the news.

"He was a good player and a good teammate," Robertson said. "On a personal note, I was upset. We feed off one another during games. We keep each other going. As a man, though, he had to do what he had to do."
Payton said his marriage to Trisha on March 4 changed him as a man and as a professional football player, contributing to his decision.

"I don't want people to think I just walked out ... that wasn't the issue," Payton said. "(Marriage) really matured me. Once you put that ring around your finger and say those vows, it's totally different. It changes you. It's a different kind of commitment, one that lasts forever.

"It kind of changed the way I thought about football. It was always about me, me, me and now I understand it's not just about me any more."

Meanwhile, thanks to the Payton foundation, a bunch of underprivileged children in Chicago will likely have a better Christmas than they would have.

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Ravens safety Ed Reed: An Appreciation

A few weeks ago, Ravens safety Ed Reed was talking to the media after practice when someone asked him about the white wrist band he was wearing just above his left hand. There was clearly writing on it. We were curious: What did it say? What did it mean?

"It says 'Once I Get The Ball You're At My Mercy,' " Reed with a bit of a shrug. "That's (Michael) Jordan. You know how Jordan was."

Reed is right, of course. I do know how Jordan was.

I know a lot about Michael Jordan, in fact. Even though I was never a big fan. I think Michael Leahy's "When Nothing Else Matters" is one of the best sports books written in the last 20 years, because it really captures Jordan's gifts as well as his flaws. I've seen his ESPN SportsCentury profile countless times. I've read about his kids, his divorce, his business ups and downs, and his bottomless appetite for competition.

But what I don't really know is how Ed Reed is.

Or who he is.

Of course, I know Ed Reed the football player. I know he's probably the most exciting defensive player of my lifetime. I know he has the hands of a wide receiver, the feet of a ballet dancer, and the football brain of Nobel Prize winner. I know he possesses the rarest and least talked about skill in sports: the innate sixth sense of anticipation.
He sees things unfolding before they ever happen. And when he gets the ball in his hands, the other team truly is at his mercy. No defensive player has ever been a greater threat to score than Ed Reed with the ball in his hands.
But as a person, he's a bit of a mystery. I can count on one hand the number of lengthy magazine profiles that have been written about him. I can't imagine anyone ever attempting to write a book about him. And though I don't know for certain, I suspect Reed likes it that way. 

It's probably a little unfair that I think of him this way. Some my feelings, I suspect, are most likely clouded by the fact that he's played his entire professional career with Ray Lewis, a personality so large, and so outspoken, practically anyone would fade into the background by comparison. I feel like I know Ray Lewis because he's always felt a little bigger than life. He dances and preaches and channels that emotion into his profession on a daily basis.

Ed Reed doesn't just play a different position, he's a completely different personality type.

But it's impossible not to compare the two, even if it's just in your head. If Lewis is a little overrated these days, then Reed is still, somehow, underrated, despite the fact that he was the only unanimous all-Pro selection last year.
Recently I was listening to one of the local sports talk shows and I turned up the volume as the host, who I'll refrain from naming, and a slew of callers debated the subject of locker room leadership.

"Did we get it wrong all these years?" a caller wondered. "Is Ed Reed the real leader of that locker room and Ray Lewis is just the guy who dances around before games?" 

I remember feeling annoyed at how quickly this theory was dismissed by the yammering host, who insisted that Reed was too quiet, too docile, too passive to be a leader, and while it was certainly true that the other players respected him, it was Lewis who inspired them. It was Lewis who they would follow into a burning building. It was Lewis who they looked to in awe.

I always felt like that was a rather simplistic take on the complicated realities of an NFL locker room. Some players respond to grand gestures and raw emotion. Others prefer a steady drumbeat of daily professionalism. A few are loners and self-motivators. No one player has the ear of 52 others.

Whenever people repeat cliches like "Ray Lewis is the undisputed leader of the Ravens locker room," I wonder if it isn't a little bit like declaring John Lennon the most important member of the Beatles. Some guy named Paul McCartney was just as important, but for different reasons.

One of the most amazing things about Ed Reed's career is how little drama has accompanied it throughout his eight years in the league. No arrests, no scandals, no trade demands or threats about holding out. No griping about the coach, or the offense, on his radio show. No boasting about disrespect or perceived slights by enemies unnamed.
Just consistent, soft-spoken brilliance, backed up by 25 hours of film study per week, season after season.

Even last year, when Reed confessed that he'd mulled the idea of retirement because of lingering nerve damage in his neck, it caused little more than a ripple. It didn't become a soap opera because Reed simply kept most of it to himself. It was typical Ed Reed. He approached it the same way he approaches most of the charity work he does, which includes raising money for cancer research, raising money for Hurricane Katrina victims, and speaking often to high school and middle school kids about the importance of education. (He graduated from the University of Miami with a liberal arts degree, so when he speaks, it comes from a place of credibility.)

Even after writing this excellent profile of Reed and his Louisiana childhood, my Sun colleague Ken Murray agreed that there are tons of different aspects to Reed's life that we, the media, have never really explored.
"Every time I write about him, I feel like I learn something new," Murray said. 

Reed doesn't do many lengthy media interviews, though, and when he does, he doesn't freely offer up anecdotes that give you insight into who he is. His locker is tucked back in the corner or the Ravens locker room, close to the showers and away from the noise. Scribes tasked with trying to get a peak inside his head almost always leave frustrated. At the end of camp this year, when he took questions at the podium for nearly 10 minutes, it was the longest anyone could remember him sitting still for an interview.

"This is not just football and a job, it’s fun also," Reed said. "We have a lot of fun outside of this. That’s what keeps us going. That’s what’s going to keep you going at the end of the day, even as a little kid. When you were a kid, and kids today, they enjoyed this. That’s the pure times of their life, to enjoy football, and a lot of us still have that little kid inside."

Reed has said that, when he football career is over, he wants to work with kids inner city neighborhoods and make a difference in their lives the way teachers and coaches made a difference in his. Another Raven told me recently Reed is looking into possibly going to graduate school for business this spring. Thinking about his son, and the longevity of life, has forced him to play differently the past couple seasons.

When he was done taking questions, Reed took an empty plastic Gatorade bottle he'd been fiddling with and launched it in the direction of a garbage can like he was shooting a basketball. The garbage can must have been 20 yards away, minimum, but Reed's bottle had the perfect amount of arch and touch. He buried the shot, to the astonishment of everyone watching.

Most NFL players would have roared in celebration or pounded their chest.

Reed chuckled like it was nothing, and kept on going.

Silly moments like that, almost more so than 104-yard interception returns, remind me that as we enter the ninth season of his career in a Ravens uniform, a career that will certainly end one day in Canton, even if it ended today, it doesn't matter if I don't really know what's going on inside his head.

It doesn't matter because I still get to sit back and watch, and appreciate, a man with remarkable gifts as he goes about his business, unburdened by drama or ego, yet driven to be the best for however long it lasts.

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One streak done, reliever Chris Perez eager for the next one

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Chris Perez knew it couldn't last, but it was a great ride.

Until the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader, Perez had the longest active scoreless inning streak of any pitcher in the big leagues at 22 2/3 innings. Marlon Byrd deactivated it with a three-run homer in the seventh inning as Texas broke a 5-5 tie on the way to an 11-9 victory.

"It's too bad the streak ended in a loss," said Perez. "I was happy to have it as long as I did, but I didn't think it would last forever. Unfortunately, it came at a big part of the game and set the tone for the series."

Texas completed a three-game sweep Wednesday with a 10-0 victory.

"I want to close out the season on a strong note," said Perez. "I'm glad it ended early instead of later in the month so I don't have to think about it all off-season."

Perez has a 3.04 ERA and one save in 24 appearances since being acquired from St. Louis for Mark DeRosa. He has 29 strikeouts, seven walks and the opposition is hitting .193 against him in 23 2/3 innings.

"I'll probably have five or six more appearances left," said Perez. "I'm looking forward to a new streak."

He's already got a start with two-thirds of scoreless inning after Byrd's homer.

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What did Former Canes Think About The Win Over FSU?

Many former Canes tweeted their thoughts after the huge 38 - 34 win by the University of Miami over Florida State on Labor Day night. You can see each players twitter screen name if you want to follow them as well as their comments. Read below to see their thoughts:

QBKILLA (Warren Sapp): Jacory Harris For President!!!

TheLAMARkable36 (Lamar Thomas): I told yall!!!!!!!! The canes are back!!!!!!

Humble83 (Sinorice Moss): Let's go canes!!!!!! My Brother Santana Moss said it long time ago! "Big Time Players Make BIg Time Plays In Big Games" Enough said.

D_Hest23 (Devin Hester): Da U is back baby

ericwinston (Eric Winston): That is why there will and always be one U!!! That 4th quarter is what it is all about!!

JackMcClinton (Jack McClinton): somebody have fun for me in the grove tonight in miami! go canes

JackMcClinton (Jack McClinton): jacorry is a pro, im saying it now , save this twit, im not saying right now as in this year, but he is a pro

gregolsen82 (Greg Olsen): THE U IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!...Great win..keep it rolling

QBKILLA (Warren Sapp): This Why U Don't Do FSU!!!

DaRealEDGE (Edgerrin James): The "U" battled 2 the end, brought to you by 'The Andia Wilson-James Keep Fighting Foundation'.... Canes4Life!!!

Humble83 (Sinorice Moss): WE'RE BACK!!!! THA "U"

bigmacvikings (Bryant McKinnie): Yes! I was nervous but The U pulled it out.

Romarley (Rohan Marley): I bleed orange and green....#12 got ice in his viens...coolest player I've ever seen...

jessiearmstead (Jessie Armstead): How about the Canes

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Portis back at practice, ready to go

Clinton Portis was back at Redskins' practice Monday and is ready to go for Week 1.

Portis sat out the preseason finale just as a precaution for his bruised ribs. He's a full go for Sunday, although he has a tough matchup in the Meadowlands against the Giants. It will be the first time Portis isn't the 'Skins official third-down back.

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Andre Johnson brings complete package to Texans

HOUSTON — Darnell Jenkins — friend, protégé and Houston Texans teammate of Andre Johnson — remembered seeing Johnson play quarterback in high school.

Jenkins said Johnson could really throw the ball. Johnson, modest as ever, disagreed.

"I didn't throw the ball that well," said Johnson, who will officially begin his seventh season with the Texans when Houston opens Sunday at home against the New York Jets. "I would drop back and take off running. I never felt comfortable at quarterback. I always wanted to be a receiver."

Johnson played the game well from the beginning and kept getting better and better. Last year, he led the NFL with 115 receptions and 1,575 receiving yards, finishing more than 100 yards ahead of second-place Larry Fitzgerald.

What separates Johnson from many of the game's best known receivers is the way he approaches the game, like a secret agent. There is no flash with his dash, no dances with his touchdowns, no theatrics that earn penalties from officials or air time on ESPN. He never pulled a Sharpie or a cell phone out of his sock.

"That's just his personality," said kicker Kris Brown, one of the original Texans. "That's one of the things we love about him, and respect about him. He's not going to do something that isn't who he is.

"In this business, players feel like they have to do some of those things to get noticed. Obviously, with Andre, his play is enough to get people's attention pretty quick."

The unusual aspect about Johnson is that he actually enjoys the antics of others, the first thing he watches for when he returns home from a Sunday game at Reliant Stadium. "It's good for football," he said. "It's entertainment."

Former NFL receiver turned analyst Keyshawn Johnson wrote a book titled "Give Me the Damn Ball." That's not Andre Johnson's style. But he does get the message to the top when needed.

"I can tell when he walks by me on the sidelines," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's his way of saying of 'give me the ball.' He's a competitor. He deserves the ball by the way he works."

Ask almost any Texan about Johnson and the conversation will inevitably turn to one topic: work ethic. Nobody does it better.

"He just shows up every day, does things the right way," said tight end Joel Dressen. "He's consistent and obviously he's such a gifted athlete. He's phenomenal in everything he does, catching the ball, running with the ball, making guys miss."

When you think of Andre Johnson, think Jerry Rice. Not Terrell Owens.

Where did his work ethic come from?

Johnson can't give credit to any one coach or specific person. He said the older guys on his high school team worked hard, worked out in the offseason. He ran into similar types at the University of Miami.

The Hurricanes earned a reputation for their brashness as much as their national championships. In truth, most of the players were good people.

Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston, who grew up in Midland, overlapped with Johnson for one year at Miami.

"They're some of the best guys in the world, and they come from a meek existence," said Winston, including Johnson in his analysis.

Johnson was the meekest of all, despite catching seven passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns to help the 'Canes blow out Nebraska in the national championship game during his final season at Miami.

"He never said a word," Winston said of Johnson's demeanor in college.

He is more talkative now, a patient and willing interview but soft-spoken by pro athletes' standards. His teammates insist more of his personality surfaces when he's with the other Texans.

The better he knows people, the more comfortable he becomes, explained Johnson. He doesn't mind the media, he just doesn't know them well enough to reveal all his personality.

Jenkins looked up to Johnson for years, Andre helping to prepare him for college, telling him what to expect on the field and in the classroom.

When Jenkins worked at a playground in the summer in Miami, Johnson used to pick him up to go work out. Just knowing Johnson gave Jenkins instant credibility with the kids.

"He was a big help to me," Jenkins said. "That's when the kids started listening to me."

He has continued to help his teammates, the receivers in particular, as his stature grew in pro football.

"Kubiak likes to use him as a demonstration for a typical pro athlete that will be around for as long as he wants," said teammate David Anderson, another wide receiver. "He's not only got the athleticism, he's got the smarts and the work ethic.

"Normally guys like that, who are consistent Pro Bowlers, want to cause problems. He just puts his head down and goes to work every day, which makes him even more exceptional in my opinion."

Anderson, beginning his fourth season with Houston, said he has seen Johnson improve every year.

"That's a lot to say about a guy who had already made the Pro Bowl," Anderson said. "His hands have gotten better, his routes, his patience."

Of course, Anderson and the other receivers appreciate the fact that the attention that Johnson draws opens holes in the secondary for them to catch passes.

Johnson will be the first to praise other receivers.

"When we catch a pass, it makes him excited," Anderson said. "We get the ball because he takes so much attention."

The Pro Bowls were nice, but not where Johnson wants to go. He has yet to make the playoffs, after knowing nothing but success before Houston.

When the Texans took him with the third pick in the 2003 draft, Johnson understood joining a year-old franchise would not be a freeway to the Super Bowl. But at times, Houston went in the wrong direction, bottoming out with a 2-14 record in 2005.

"Everywhere I played, even in Little League, we were always in the playoffs, winning 9-10 games a year," he said. "It was different (losing). It was hard."

The defeats never soured his enthusiasm. After back-to-back 8-8 records, the Texans open the 2009 season with renewed hope.

Johnson was built to be a pro receiver, combining size (6-3, 228) and speed with great hands. "That's what God built him for," said guard Chester Pitts. "He is the mold."

Johnson brings even more to the field that makes him one of the best in the game.

"His best attribute is his explosiveness," said Kyle Shanahan, the Texans' offensive coordinator. "I think DBs are shocked how much ground he can eat up. If they're off 10 yards, he can eat up that cushion way before they're expecting it. Either they're surprised and he runs by them, or they get out of there and we can throw underneath all day."

His best skill may be the fact he doesn't have to be open to catch the ball. Shanahan compared Johnson with a basketball player who gets good position with his body and can go up and get the ball, covered or not.
What else could a receiver need, other than blocking?

Johnson does that, too.

"He's very good," Shanahan said of Johnson's blocking. "A lot of receivers don't do it, especially the ones who feel they've earned it. With our offense, if we had a guy like that, it would really hurt us. We expect our receivers to block in the running game."

There really is only one bottom line for No. 80: Winning.

"That's the only reason I play," he said.

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Yonder Moving Up to Triple-A

Infielder Yonder Alonso, who was the Reds' first round pick in the '08 draft, was just promoted with the double-A season ending, and will be making his triple-A debut when he sees the field for the first time with Louisville. Alonso started the season in A ball down in Sarasota, and has hit .289 with 52 RBIs between the two levels.

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Florida Marlins call up Gaby Sanchez

Marlins recalled first baseman Gaby Sanchez from Triple-A New Orleans.

Sanchez batted .289/.374/.475 with 16 home runs and 56 RBI with Triple-A New Orleans this season. He entered the spring with a tremendous amount of hype as a fantasy sleeper, but Sanchez is 0-for-9 in seven games with the Marlins this season. He isn't likely to garner any regular at-bats this time around, either.

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Who Got Cut & Who Did Not?


Baraka Atkins: DL, Seattle Seahawks

Tanard Davis: DB, Tennessee Titans

William Joseph: DL, Oakland Raiders: Joseph was initially given a roster spot but was cut the following day with the Raiders trading for the Patriots Richard Seymour.

Darrell McClover: LB, Chicago Bears

Santonio Thomas: DL, Cleveland Browns


Brock Berlin
: QB, cut by the St. Louis Rams, signed to the Detroit Lions Practice Squad.

Kareem Brown: TE, cut by the NY Jets, signed to the NY Giants Practice Squad.

Darnell Jenkins: WR, cut by the Houston Texans, signed to the Houston Texans Practice Squad.

Lance Leggett: WR, cut by the Cleveland Browns, signed to the Cleveland Browns Practice Squad.

Glenn Sharpe: DB, cut by the Atlanta Falcons, signed to the Atlanta Falcons Practice Squad.


Spencer Adkins: LB, Atlanta Falcons: Adkins got the call over NFL vet Jamie Winborn who had performed pretty well in the preseason. Adkins probably made it over Winborn for special teams reasons.

Antonio Dixon: DL. Antonio was cut by the Washington Redskins, but was immediately signed by the Philadelphia Eagles roster taking the spot vacated by Quarterback AJ Feeley. .

Orien Harris
: DL, Detroit Lions: Orien hadn’t made much noise since the Lions acquired him in trade with the St. Louis Rams for WR Ronald Curry, however on Thursday, he led all lineman with four tackles and a sack.
Not a world-beating performance, but the Lions don’t see a lot of sacks out of their interior linemen.

Bruce Johnson: DB, NY Giants: The Giants waived their seventh round draft pick, CB Stoney Woodson, who reportedly suffered a high ankle sprain.  He was later joined on the waiver wire by fellow corner and draft pick DeAndre Wright, the Giants' sixth rounder this year, who was beaten out by rookie free agent CB Bruce Johnson for a roster spot.

Buck Ortega: TE, New Orleans Saints: The injury to Billy Miller made it a lot easier for Ortega to make the team though he was a member last year and played valuable minutes toward the end of the season.

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Willis McGahee Recruiting Experience

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Phillips expected to return to practice

According to the team's official website, Giants safety Kenny Phillips is expected to return to the practice field this week. Phillips is recovering from a knee injury that has cost him time this preseason.

Phillips had an excellent rookie campaign last season, compiling 67 tackles and an interception, and many thought 2009 would be a breakout year for him. It still could be, but he needs to get back on the field if he is going to be that guy for the Giants. Expect him to have a very good year as long as his health allows him to do so.

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Beason say he will be ready for opener

Linebacker Jon Beason says he'll "absolutely" be ready to go for the opener.  We won't really know if he will be ready for sure until the team puts in its two cents, but for now you can consider Beason, and his 278 tackles from the past two seasons, ready.

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Bears know how to defend Hester

The criticism started two seasons ago in Philadelphia, after Devin Hester wandered over to then-teammate Muhsin Muhammad pre-snap for clarity on a play.

Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake would tell you Hester's action signified a young receiver coming of age by turning to the right person for help. But skeptics viewed it as a talented player incapable of picking up the offense.

"Devin was doing the right thing because we were in a no-huddle situation," Drake recalled. "He was the widest guy, so he has to come in and get the play. I don't want him running all the way inside, then having to run all the way back.

"Those who criticized him then? That's just people who don't know football. They don't know what's happening in the context of the situation."

Detractors still question Hester's football intellect, wondering why he was unable to connect with gunslinger Jay Cutler several times in exhibition play. Hester humbly accepted blame even though there was enough fault to spread around.

Drake and other members of the team saw no reason for Hester to be apologetic in the past, and they see no reason for him to explain his every move in the future.

"I guess sometimes I get a little too overprotective about it, but I do that when I know people are wrong about him," Drake said. "Devin is one of the most instinctive football players I've ever been around. He can play any spot out there. There's just so much more there than people want to give him credit for."

When Hester first was converted to wide receiver from cornerback after the 2006 season, Drake was the first to say it would be a three-year process. Based on Hester's success as a return man -- and his 81-yard touchdown reception against the Vikings in his first year at receiver -- most expected him to blossom immediately and put up 1,000-yard seasons with as much ease as his 11 kick returns for touchdowns.

Hester's evolution, now in Year 3, should be clearly evident Sunday night in Green Bay as the Bears kick off the season against the rival Packers. Many wonder if he has what it takes to be a No. 1 threat, but no one in the organization is burdening him with being the next Randy Moss or Larry Fitzgerald.

The Bears have enough offensive weapons, including Matt Forte and Greg Olsen, to allow Cutler to spread the ball around. In the end, the label of No. 1 receiver might be meaningless.

But Hester, third on the team in receiving last season with 51 catches to go with a team-high 665 yards, no doubt wants to elevate his game to that elite level so he doesn't struggle against pressing defensive backs, as he did against the Packers last season at Lambeau Field.

"He got over that block last season, so there's not a block going into this game," Drake said. "The second time we played Green Bay last year, none of those problems existed for him. But understand this: They didn't just own him in that first game. They owned all of us. We got better, and Devin got better."

Olsen, who played with Hester at the University of Miami, notices his teammate's growth on a daily basis.

"Sometimes he feels things, does things like on the playground ... he just has a good sense of getting open and finding the soft spots in the zones," Olsen said.

"The perfect example is when we played the Giants in the preseason. It was third-and-1 and we ran a sprint out. The initial throw was to the flat. Devin was a secondary read, but he sensed that he was open. He turned and gave Jay somewhere to go with the ball and caught it for a key first down. Just little things like that, I don't think people realize it."

Olsen's fellow tight end Desmond Clark also believes people have unfairly scrutinized Hester's ability to catch on as a receiver.

"It does irk you when people say he's not picking things up," Clark said. "The fact is, from 2007 to 2009, he's 200 times better as a receiver. Yeah, in the past, you see sometimes that people had to help him get lined up. Now you see him out there talking to guys, saying, 'Get off the ball' or 'Let's make this adjustment.'

"Who said he's not picking up the offense? Nobody around here is saying that."

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James is a tattered life ring for a sinking Seahawks offense

RENTON -- Welcome once again to running back roulette.

Not as high profile as hiring Brett Favre or Michael Vick, or having a player shoot a hole in his thigh. But it's the best the Seahawks can do in the preseason to stir interest in their little outpost.

At least there is local some tradition to running back roulette. Last year's mystery was why the ordinary Maurice Morris was promoted midseason over the more celebrated newcomer, Julius Jones.

Before that, fans couldn't wait to get rid of the most productive runner in club history, Shaun Alexander.

Back when Alexander was shiny and new, everyone wanted him to start in favor of Rickey Watters.

But the best comparison in club history to the events of this week goes back 25 years.

While it's true that anyone who saw Edgerrin James, who signed Tuesday night, slash for 100 yards in 14 carries in a Dec. 30 game has no business comparing James to Franco Harris, it's also true that James's feat came against the Seahawks defense.

Point, counterpoint.

Where the situations do beg for comparison is the injury desperation that gripped both Seahawks teams.

In 1984, star running back Curt Warner was lost in the first game. This time, most of the offensive line is out before the first game, and the nominal starter at running back, Julius Jones, was hurt temporarily last week.

Franco, the Hall of Famer from the Pittsburgh Steelers, was hired at the end of his otherwise stellar career and delivered a cellar performance -- eight games, six starts at fullback and 170 yards rushing in 68 carries. The joke was that Harris still showed a burst only when hustling to the sidelines to avoid contact.

Now, James, 11th in NFL history in rushing yards -- he has one more career yard than No. 12 Franco -- has been asked to postpone his athletic dotage to bail out a Seahawks offense suddenly looking as vulnerable as health care reform.

James, whose photo on NFL.com bore a Seahawks jersey while negotiations dragged on into the early evening, presumably will be available for duty Saturday in the Seahawks' third exhibition game in Kansas City.

Which is more than can be said for tackle Walter Jones, guard Mike Wahle and center Chris Spencer. Injuries have taken out three-fifths of a line that last season wasn't all that good even healthy, leaving inexperience scattered nearly everywhere.

After watching quarterback Matt Hasselbeck get sacked three times in the half-game he played Saturday, pass protection loomed as least as sweaty a subject as the lack of forward progress on the ground.

At this juncture, the Seahawks are highly unlikely to add a starter to the line. But in James, they at least have a veteran running back who gained 236 yards (3.9 average) in the four postseason games of the Arizona Cardinals' stupefying run to the Super Bowl in February -- after he posted 100 against the Seahawks.

So recent history suggests that, even if James's longest gain last season was 16 yards, the four-time Pro Bowler in his heyday as an Indianapolis Colt appears capable of the between-the-tackles labor that will be more adequate than the running back he supplanted, T.J. Duckett.

Besides his newcomer status and absent a training camp, the biggest issue is that James turned 31 Aug. 1. Those who recall the near-limitless discussion of NFL actuarial tables surrounding Alexander's final days in Seattle will remember that expiration date of the most heavily used running backs is a consistent 30 years of age.

After his Super Bowl season of 2005 when he gained 1,880 yards at age 28, Alexander played only 27 more games, including four in 2008 with the Washington Redskins after his Seahawks career ended. Well before that, he was done, thanks to the pounding.

A more flattering Seahawks comparison for James would be Watters, who in his 31st year in 2000 gained 1,242 yards, a 4.5 average, and had seven touchdowns. By next season, he was done -- four games, 318 yards.

When it goes, it goes fast for running backs.

Even James can't know how his body will respond. As far as his attitude, that isn't what kept him out of the Arizona lineup for several games last season.

A rookie running back, Tim Hightower, drew the favor of coach Ken Whisenhunt. When James said his predictable piece about absence of touches, he was benched. In light of James' subsequent postseason production, a case can be made that coaching vindictiveness was a larger impediment to James than a decline in productivity.

The Cardinals let him go into free agency. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, bet that some team in preseason would come up lame. The Seahawks' travails of the last week put them in his crosshairs, and Rosenhaus spent all day at Seahawks headquarters convincing Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell that the team had little choice but to accept the risk.
In case you were wondering, that 1984 Seahawks team wasn't hurt by the failed risk in signing Harris.

Despite the fact that their leading rusher ended up being an obscure fullback named David Hughes, who registered 327 yards and one touchdown, the Seahawks went 12-4 thanks to a ferocious defense led by Kenny Easley, and a quarterback named Dave Krieg, who made the Pro Bowl throwing to Steve Largent.

Such luxuries appear unavailable to the 2009 Seahawks. No part of this team appears capable of carrying other parts.

If a desperate offense gets tossed a life ring that's a little tattered and discolored, but still floats, fashion would seem to take a backseat.

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Antonio Dixon Gets To See A Charity Event From The Other Side

All of the Redskins players who attended Lorenzo Alexander's Big Play Back To School Giveaway today had good reasons for being there. Most of them, though, were fairly general: a desire to help kids, for example, or to give back to the community.

For some of the guys, it was a little more specific. Chris Wilson, for example, still remembers what it was like to be a kid and encounter an NFL player.

"I remember going to Lions camp at Saginaw Valley State University as a kid and watching them practice," he told me. "I remember personally running into Barry Sanders at the mall, not at an event or anything. He was out with his kids and I just happened to be in the same store. I was just kinda following him and peeking around the corner; I think he knew I was following him, but I thought I was bein' slick."

(I asked at this point if Sanders had eluded him by running backwards ten yards and breaking into an elaborate spin move, but Wilson was trying to make a reasonably serious point and wisely ignored me.)

"If you can see somebody and touch 'em and really size them up," he continued, "I think it gives you a better sense of reality. Cause when you see someone on TV all the time, you kinda hold 'em so high. And even though it does take a lot of work to accomplish being in the NFL, once you see them in person, you realize, 'I could do that,' because he's a human being."

And that's a lesson that holds particularly true for undrafted rookie defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, because around fifteen years ago -- during a part of his difficult childhood that he was spending in Georgia -- Dixon was on the other side of one of these "athletes take underprivileged kids shopping" events.

"Growin' up," he told me, "me not really havin' much, I did the same thing as these kids. It's good for these kids to see players that play in the NFL -- it's real big. I went to one with the Falcons when I was in Atlanta. They just chose some of the kids from the school who really didn't have that much. They picked us out and everybody went to the T.J. Maxx -- I still remember that T.J. Maxx -- and we got toys and stuff. I think each kid was given a hundred dollars."

Dixon doesn't remember which Falcons players were in attendance, but it doesn't seem to bother him much. "I forgot -- it was a long time ago, but I remember going to the store," he said. "I just remember being real excited to meet some of the Falcons players. It was for Christmas gifts -- it was real nice."

As a result, Dixon knows exactly how important these events are. "They do [make a difference]," he said, " A big difference. As a kid, I liked football a lot, so I was really happy to meet some of the football players, see what they were like."

He laughed, looked around like he was realizing just where he was and why he was there. "It's real cool to see me, like, I'm doing these now. In college we would go to a homeless shelter and play some ball with them, but this is the first time I'm doing something like this. It's crazy how time flies."

Dixon is considered a longshot to make the team, but he didn't do anything last night to hurt his chances. "I feel like I did good," he said. "I played two quarters, and I had no mental mistakes, so that was good."

Plus he earned a half-sack with (coincidentally enough) Chris Wilson, albeit in a play that was negated by penalty. "[Wilson] hit him, then I finished him off," Dixon said of the play. "He said that I tried to take his sack, but I think he was just playin'."

When I asked Wilson about the play, he laughed. "Yeah, guys do that all the time, man. You get a sack and guys jump on top of the pile. I'm guilty of it too at times. It doesn't matter, 'cause it's the preseason and really doesn't count anyhow, but a regular season game we would've probably argued over that one."

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Hester hopes for many happy returns

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — When Devin Hester’s phenomenal rookie season as a return man turned into an assault on the NFL record books in his second year, the man with more return touchdowns in NFL history than anyone else took notice.

And Brian Mitchell started rooting for Hester to knock down his record of 13 scores, a figure that took him 14 seasons with three organizations to reach.

“You tell Devin when you see him I said, ‘Good luck,’ ’’ Mitchell said at the time. “I’m watching him.”

Mitchell was mesmerized like the rest of the football world at Hester’s explosion on the scene in Chicago, his ability to bob and weave until he finds a lane and then jet upfield. Before you know it, he’s behind 21 other players with speed no one can match. He returned a punt for a touchdown in the first game of his rookie season, ran back two kickoffs for scores later that season at St. Louis and had six return touchdowns in the final 11 weeks of 2007 with another two-score game against Denver.

Then came his transition to starting wide receiver in 2008, a move made of necessity following the departures of Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. That duty was combined with kickoff returns and punt returns and it simply didn’t work. The Bears relieved Hester of kickoff return duties in mid-November, and he never found his groove on punts, although it should be noted the Bears had significant turnover on special teams and lost Pro Bowl performer Brendon Ayanbadejo in free agency. Hester looked lost, getting dropped for significant losses on a couple punt returns. He went from averaging 15.5 yards per return in 2007 to 6.2. His long was 25, and he didn’t so much as sniff the goal line.

“You can get into a funk as a return man, but I think his problem last year is he was more focused on being a receiver, and that takes away from it,” Mitchell said. “People, when they start playing another position, they try to preserve their energy, and by preserving energy, it takes away from the instinctive, aggressive nature you have as a return man.

“The Redskins have dealt with the same thing with Antwaan Randle El. I just say when guys become full-time receivers and running backs and all that, it takes a little bit away from it. I don’t understand why a return man doesn’t get as much credit if the credit is deserved because that is a full-time job in itself. You can’t approach being a return man, trying to play full speed, and be full time at another position because you need all the energy you can have and it’s one of those high-risk, high-reward propositions.”

Interestingly, Hester never would have become a Bear had the Redskins not blown Randle El away with a contract in free agency in 2006. He signed a $31-million, seven-year contract, far more than he Bears offered. They were pursuing Randle El, a native of the Chicago suburbs, who wanted to come home. Instead, the Bears drafted Hester in the second round, and the rest is history – or for the history books. Even without a return touchdown last season, Hester has 11, two back of Mitchell and one behind Dante Hall and Eric Metcalf.

Chicago waited until the third preseason game Sunday at Denver to line Hester up deep as the punt returner. He’s off kickoffs permanently with Danieal Manning now in that role. Hester misplayed the first two punts by Brett Kern, letting one bounce in front of him and roll for 59 yards, then calling for a fair catch at his own 5-yard line. When he finally got a punt he could return, he darted right and raced upfield, streaking 54 yards to the Broncos’ 4-yard line.

“It was good to see him have some success,” special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “He made some bad decisions, but you take the good with the bad. If that one doesn’t go out of bounds, it looked like that one might have gone. That whole sidelined looked open. I’m glad we got him in there.”

Mitchell played under Toub in Philadelphia when Baltimore coach John Harbaugh oversaw special teams and Toub was an assistant.

“I think Dave has had a ton of involvement in Devin’s success,” Mitchell said. “The return game, if you look at the scores he had those years, it wasn’t like he just ran around everybody. He had a lot of big holes. He had guys that were getting one block, sometimes two and three blocks, the same guy, and Dave Toub is very good at getting people to understand if you do your job, if you make your block, that can be the block that springs it.

“Dave is very good. He learned a lot of from John. They are very positive and they have a lot of constructive things they say to people. Some special teams coaches are constantly yelling all the time and don’t even think to praise guys when they do things right. They’re not that way.”

The best-case scenario for the Bears is that Hester achieves some early success this season in the return game and that sparks some confidence for his game overall. Toub is preaching to the linemen to hold their blocks a little longer at the line of scrimmage so Hester will have room to pick up the first five yards or so before having to make someone miss. The rest is on him.

“Don’t knock last year,” Hester said. “After the first two years, you expected more out of me last year and I didn’t put up the numbers I had. I am just getting back into the groove. I am just getting back in a rhythm with it.”
Mitchell is still rooting for him, figuring Hester will only draw more attention to the work people like himself already accomplished.

“It was unbelievable for me just to watch him and see the love he was getting,” Mitchell said. “Somebody had the record when I broke it and there’s an old saying, records are made to be broken.”

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Ravens' Reed: 'You can do it'

The Ed Reed most often seen patrolling the deep middle of the Ravens' defense is renown for improvisation, the ability to get inside an opposing quarterback's head and dedication to film study.

But the Ed Reed who acquired a measure of celebrity as a high school athlete some 15 years ago in tiny St. Rose, La., had little confidence in the classroom, studied just enough to be eligible for sports and skipped school altogether when the mood struck.

"He was a typical young boy," said Jeanne Hall, an academic adviser at Destrehan High School in nearby New Sarpy. "He was very talented, very intelligent. But he didn't apply himself; he was having fun. He was well liked by all the people at the school. He was a big star."

In time, Reed became the first from his area to transfer that stardom onto the big stage, inspiring a whole generation of Louisiana high school athletes, among them Ravens teammate Dawan Landry.

"Coming from my area, seeing the things he did, it gives younger guys hope," Landry said. "It gave me hope. I wanted to be just like him."

If it weren't for the handful of people in that quiet hamlet along the Mississippi River who saw something special in Reed, he might never have made it to Baltimore He might have stayed there, joining dozens of other athletes who didn't have the academic credentials or support to escape to a better life.

Reed made it because a number of people took interest in him. Jeanne Hall was one of them. She and her husband, Walter, took Reed into their home when he was a junior at Destrehan, and he stayed there periodically through his senior year, even though his own home and family was just five minutes away.

Hall saw in Reed what she saw in so many other kids: a young child who needed direction and discipline. But in Reed, she also saw someone who had the tools to succeed.

"He was like a sponge," she said. "He wanted to learn. And he was such a charmer."

So much so that when asked about her family, Hall said: "I have four children beside Edward.

He's my baby. He's like a brother to my kids."

Hall's home was a hangout for the Destrehan football team. She hosted pregame parties every Thursday night, and then tutored many of the players on the team. Following the crowd, Reed came to see what he was missing and what he needed.

"I think he actually felt if he was going to make it, he had to take control," Hall said. "I rode him hard about that. I got him onto the college idea. I don't think he bought into it until the end of his junior year."

Reed wrote papers, did his homework -- learned to learn -- at his "second home." He stopped missing class. He even agreed to go to summer school, when he would rather have been in the neighborhood playing sports. "They knew how much I hated summer school," he says now.

Hall eventually saw the light go on.

"He told me one time, 'I never thought I could learn,' " she said. "He never applied himself. He was learning, and the more he tried, the more he enjoyed it. At Miami, he told me how much he enjoyed it. His world blossomed out."

Reed not only flourished at the University of Miami as a football player, he graduated with a degree in liberal arts in May, 2001. He reveled in the moment, crossing the stage to get his degree. In 2002, he became the Ravens' first-round draft choice.

Since then, Reed has steadily evolved into the quintessential safety of his era. In seven seasons with the Ravens, he has been named to the Pro Bowl five times, selected to the All-Pro team three times. In 2004, he was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.

He has a franchise-record 43 interceptions, the most of any active player who came into the league since 2002. He also had scored 12 touchdowns in a variety of ways, including interception returns of 107 and 106 yards, the two longest in NFL history.

Reed was at his best down the stretch last December, too, when he intercepted six passes in four games to finish with a league-leading nine, despite playing with a nerve problem in his neck and shoulder. He intercepted two more passes in a wild-card playoff win at Miami. He had an astounding five games with two picks.

"When it started clicking for him midway in the season, he was going at a different pace than everybody else," said Mark Carrier, who coaches defensive backs for the Ravens. "[Secondary coach Chuck Pagano] and I just kind of sat back and marveled when he got on that roll, one like I've never seen. It was like the ball was 10 times bigger and everybody else was moving twice as slow as he was."

It is more than the interceptions that make Reed the NFL's best defensive playmaker. He is also known for his uncanny ability to scrutinize game tape to the point where he can anticipate what a quarterback will do on a play before it unfolds.

"He's a very instinctive player, but he also does his homework," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He sees stuff because of the film he watches. He's able to process plays real fast, which is pretty incredible. He's always pointing stuff out in the film room."

Reserve safety Tom Zbikowski says Reed has a "football sense" that he has found in no other football player, and in only a few boxers he knows.

"A seasoned fighter who knows the sport can come in and fight for 20 seconds and have you figured out like the back of his hand," Zbikowski said. "That's how Ed is with offense or quarterbacks or receivers. He just knows what a quarterback is thinking."

Hall is not surprised. She knew from the beginning Reed had the intelligence and the passion to do something special. Even though she often travels to Baltimore to see Reed play, she cherishes his work with children at Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore and his football camp in Louisiana more than his football accomplishments.

"I came up for Ed Reed Day [at Booker T.] and I cried through the whole thing," Hall said. "He is what I always imagined he could be, but even more in that he does share. He doesn't have to give the time he gives. He's generous with money, but it's his 'self' that he gives. That's the part of him I'm so proud of."

Reed, who turns 31 on Friday, says he got a lot of help growing up, including from his parents. He idolized his older brother, Wendell Sanchez, as a youngster. Ben Parquet, the student advocate for the St. Charles Parish school system where Reed went, helped steer him on the right path with his athletic ability.

Then there was Hall, who introduced him to the idea he had the ability to go to college.

"I would say she's an angel sent from above," Reed said of Hall. "I always told her, she's an angel not only to me, but a lot of other kids who didn't have the information or guidance to take them to that next level, that you can go to college. That's the same thing I'm preaching now to kids, that you can do it."

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If Vince Wilfork is a gambler, he needs to use leverage now

The successful nose tackle must be an expert in leverage. It is why two of the greatest, Curly Culp and Fred Smerlas, were both great collegiate wrestlers, a sport in which command of leverage is paramount.

Another such expert is Vince Wilfork [stats], the unhappy Patriots [team stats]’ nose tackle who Sunday repeatedly talked of the trading of his friend as a reminder that football is “a business.” If Wilfork really believes that, now is his time to prove he understands the football business and the business of leverage.

With the departure of Seymour, the Patriots have taken $3.685 million off their cap and removed one of the potential big-ticket items facing them at the end of the season. This has led many to assume Wilfork will now be taken care of before his contract runs out at the end of the season, but there are no assurances of that.

In life and in the NFL there are no assurances except for one - it will end badly for nearly everyone. Wilfork understands this more and more as Seymour sits at home today trying to sort out if he will uproot his family from their sparkling new mini-mansion in North Attleborough and show up in Oakland. It is a decision in which he has little leverage because if he refuses his contract could be tolled and he would A) not be paid for the season and B) not become a free agent at the end of this year.

Wilfork is at the other end of the leverage spectrum. If he takes a leap of faith (in himself) and tells his representatives that if they don’t have a contract extension by Wednesday he is going to stay home he will have made clear that he really does understand the business of pro football at least as well as Deion Branch did.

Six years ago, the Patriots had all the leverage when they drafted him on the first round and they used it. Wilfork had no option but to sign what was put in front of him, a six-year deal that made him give up two years of potential free agency for what would soon become short money. He has clearly outplayed that contract yet the Patriots have refused to rewrite it, making him one of only two first-round picks that year still playing on their rookie deals.

The other is Ben Watson [stats].

His employer is the New England Patriots [team stats].

Do we understand leverage now?

Those six-year deals were eventually ruled so one-sided they have been made illegal. Now rookies can sign for no more than four years, leaving them with a reasonable chance to maximize their career earnings in a league where the average career remains less than four years.

Wilfork knows that just as he knows the way Seymour got his was by going home and refusing to play until he got paid. He should now do the same, telling his bosses he cannot in good conscience risk a major injury Monday night with no protection for his future.

Imagine what Wilfork might look like if he suffered the kind of knee injury Tom Brady [stats] did in last year’s season opener. Unable to exercise for six months his weight, a struggle in the best of times, would very likely balloon. Then what?

This is not Wilfork’s way of doing business. It’s the Patriots’. Despite his clear unhappiness he has not missed a single mandatory workout. He has spoken of “the fellas,” referring to his teammates and his loyalty to them. These are admirable traits but the fact is, if it had been him who was shipped out, “the fellas” would have said, “it’s a business,” and been done with it.

If he were to suffer a career-ending injury, few of them would be running bake sales to help him. The Patriots? They would move on. After all, it’s just business.

Business deals are about leverage, who has it and who has the stomach to use it. The team will never be without it. The player will only occasionally have it. Today is one of those days for Wilfork.

Vince Wilfork is right when he says it’s just business. If he thinks otherwise, he should go ask Seymour if anyone asked how a trade might affect his wife and kids, who are days away from starting a new school year. Ask him if anyone from his “team” asked how it might affect that new home, which just became a giant white elephant.

It’s a business all right and business is about leverage. Guys like Vince Wilfork [stats] seldom have it. Today he does and the Patriots [team stats] are betting he won’t have the gumption to use it.

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Gulliver Prep honors Taylor

Sean Taylor helped make Gulliver Prep a consistent football contender in Miami-Dade County.

And Friday, the Raiders linked the former University of Miami and NFL star's name to the team's future.

Gulliver honored the memory of its former superstar by naming its home field the Sean Taylor Memorial Field.

The dedication ceremony was attended by several members of Taylor's family, including his mother, Donna Junor, his father, Pedro Taylor, his fianceé, Jackie Garcia, and his daughter, Jackie.

``We're all very thankful and honored that Sean's home school would make the effort to do something like this,'' Pedro Taylor said. ``Sean loved it here, and I think he's smiling from heaven.''

The ceremony was scheduled to precede the Raiders' opening game against Naples Lely. The game, however, was postponed because of inclement weather. The game was rescheduled for Saturday at noon at Gulliver.

Several of Taylor's former teammates from the 2000 team also attended the ceremony.

Taylor led Gulliver to its only state football championship in 2000, which at the time was the first for a private school in Miami-Dade County. During that season, Taylor set a state record for all-purpose touchdowns in a single-season with 44.

An audio montage of highlights from radio broadcasts of Taylor's overall career was played, and the school presented a plaque to Junor.

An addition to the school's scoreboard showing three helmets, each bearing Taylor's jersey numbers at Gulliver (1), the University of Miami (26) and the Washington Redskins (21), was unveiled at the conclusion of the dedication.

``Sean was the greatest athlete we've ever had here,'' Gulliver athletic director Mark Schusterman said. ``I remember he came back here a few years ago and spent two hours signing autographs for middle schoolers. He was an incredible athlete and a great person.''

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Trade raises options for Wilfork

FOXBORO - Adalius Thomas was caught completely off guard. He didn’t know Richard Seymour [stats] had been traded to Oakland when he walked into the Patriots [team stats] locker room yesterday, and had no answers for the rationale behind the move.

“I’m dumbfounded,” the stunned linebacker said. “I don’t know what to say.”

When asked how much Seymour meant to the defense, Thomas turned to sarcasm.

“Obviously nothing. He’s gone,” Thomas grumbled. “That’s the business. That’s how it goes. I really don’t know what to say without saying too much. I have no idea (what they’re thinking).”

So, what are they thinking?

Let’s just say Bill Belichick is not one to make a stunning move like this without having a clear plan not only for this season, but for several beyond. In the team’s press release announcing the trade, the Patriots coach indicated securing a first-round draft pick in 2011 for the defensive lineman brought “sufficient value and is in the long-term interest of the club.”

Does that long-term interest mean now having the cash to pay Vince Wilfork [stats], who is entering the final year of his contract? Does that mean the former Pro Bowl nose tackle will get his wish of a long-term contract extension to remain a Patriot for the foreseeable future?

On a lot of levels, it sure makes sense.

In terms of bookkeeping, Seymour was due to make $3.685 million this season. That money now comes off the Patriots salary cap.

While re-signing the five-time Pro Bowl end wasn’t likely and getting a value pick in return was a smart business move, perhaps in the big picture, keeping Wilfork and not allowing him to reach free agency is the greater prize. Along with having an extra first-round bargaining chip to use in 2011, or perhaps using it if a rookie cap is in place at that point, that’s where the “long-term interest” is better served.

The loss of Seymour actually enhances Wilfork’s value and worth. It can be argued Wilfork becomes more vital to the defense and its success. Even though Seymour wasn’t the dominant force he was in earlier years, he still took up two blockers and opened lanes for others, especially on the pass rush.

With him gone, Wilfork now is the only one left who merits that kind of attention. He’s the most important player in a 3-4 defense, and in a 4-3, he’s even more pivotal without Seymour taking up space at one end.

As of yesterday, however, there was nothing new on talks for a contract extension for Wilfork. That doesn’t mean the Pats won’t drop a dime on Kennard McGuire, who represents Wilfork, in the coming weeks. We’ll have to see if that’s the desired goal, and if not, where Belichick believes the extra cash may be better allocated.

For his part, a glum Wilfork yesterday voiced more concern about the break-up of one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, and having the ability to move on.

“We’re all professionals. Change happens all the time. Every year, you have change, you have roster change, you have everything change,” Wilfork said. “This is another change and we’re going to have to deal with it. I don’t care how you feel about it. You got to deal with it and move on.”

Moving on means a front line that won’t be nearly as good in the immediate future. The Seymour-Wilfork-Ty Warren [stats] trio stood as the strength of the defense. While the Pats do have excellent depth on the line, with Wilfork, Warren, Jarvis Green, Mike Wright and rookies Ron Brace and Myron Pryor, they won’t scare anyone, especially against the run in a 4-3 alignment.

Presumably, in the 4-3 they will have Derrick Burgess, Warren, Wilfork and Green up front. The two bookends aren’t exactly known as the greatest edge-setters against the run. Even substituting Tully Banta-Cain [stats] at one end, the same is true.


Cora is on the DL But Still Coming Up Big

Alex Cora is fulfilling a familiar role as a member of the New York Mets.

Back when he was part of the 2007 World Champion Red Sox, the veteran shortstop served as a mentor for Dustin Pedroia. The rookie second baseman was struggling monumentally in the early going  -- and his .172 batting average through May 1 proved it -- but he turned it around, due in large part to Cora's sage advice.

Cora has been on the disabled list since Aug. 18 with torn thumb ligaments, but that doesn't mean his purpose is diminished. It's just different, and Mike Pelfrey is a prime benefactor.

Cora spent Friday night's game talking things out in the dugout with the struggling starter, much to the joy of the Mets. According to the team's Web site, Pelfrey tends to need encouragement from teammates to stay focused.
"Sometimes, when Mike gets in trouble, he forgets who he is and how good he is," Cora told Mets.com. "I read the guy's qutoes. When a guy says, 'I stink, and, 'I feel sorry for my teammates,' I figure he's not being as positive as he needs to be."

Pelfrey -- who is currently 9-10 with a 5.03 ERA -- will take the hill against Chicago on Sunday, hoping to turn things around after giving up six hits and seven runs in four innings on Tuesday.

"He has so much going for him," Cora told the Web site. "I told him he's got five more starts, and he's good enough to win all five. That puts him at 14 wins. A lot of guys in this league want to win 14 games. 'Ninety-five [mph] with movement. Just throw pitches and get outs. You don't need to worry about strikeouts; get outs. Pitch to contact. Keep your pitches down and get to seven innings. This quality start thing [six innings and three or fewer runs allowed] isn't what you want. Go seven. Beat somebody.' I think he was listening."

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Braun (shoulder) out of Brewers lineup Monday

Ryan Braun is out of Monday's lineup after complaining of "aches and pains" in his shoulder.

"It's just a day off," Brewers manager Ken Macha insisted before the game. He continued: "The trainer thought that it would be best to give him today off. We had a day game yesterday and a night game tomorrow, so it will be almost like he has two days off in a row." Braun should return Tuesday, according to Macha.

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