07 June 2009

Photo of the Week: Testaverde in His Rookie Season

Testaverde started four games as a rookie, winning exactly zero. He started every game but two for the Bucs over the next five seasons but never achieved a winning.

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Haji-Rasouli and Bibla on the Suspended List

Offensive guard Sherko Haji-Rasouli was placed on the B.C. Lions' suspended list while he attends to a personal matter. The Lions are expected to add LT Vaughn Lesuma on Sunday. OL Martin Bibla was placed on the suspended list. While he had a shot to make the team, he left following the first practice of rookie camp on Friday. He may have decided not to continue playing. He played at the University of Miami and was a recommendation of Sherko Haji-Rasouli.

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Ultimate Building Blocks of the NFC

Greg Olsen, TE, Chicago. He might be an average blocker, but Olsen is a gold mine for a smart offensive coordinator who knows how to create mismatches.

Jon Beason, LB, Carolina. I've ignored defense so far, so I guess Sean Payton is the logical coach for this team. But Beason's the most solid defensive player in the division.

Jonathan Vilma, LB, New Orleans. Can't ignore defense any longer and I'm going to load up on guys who've played the middle and just let them fly around.

To see the rest of the building blocks click here.

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Geathers Signs

REGINA -- Jason Geathers is among the Arena Football League’s internet stars on YouTube.

The three-year veteran of the AFL can be seen scoring touchdowns from just about spot on the field. He was also the first player in AFL history to score touchdowns in three different ways in one game. Geathers caught two passes, ran for another and scored on an interception for the San Jose Sabercats in 2008.

“I’ve seen a little of the videos,’’ Head coach Ken Miller said Thursday after Geathers officially joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders at training camp. “I’m a little more interested in seeing him in this video.’’

Miller was referring to watching Geathers, a running back and receiver, on the Riders’ film. It should make some impressive viewing considering Geathers’ past performances.

Geathers, 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, was recruited as a tailback at the University of Miami and shared in the 2001 NCAA championship. He also played receiver, which adds to his versatility.

Geathers, 27, had a tryout with the Cleveland Browns and spent time on the New York Giants’ practice roster before making his way to the AFL. He flourished in that environment and was twice named the AFL’s Ironman of the year.
“It was a nice experience because I got a chance to play football,’’ Geathers said Thursday. “It’s a little different game, just like this one. I will take that experience and try to use it to my advantage with this team.’’

The Riders are primarily looking at Geathers as a running back. His value may have increased because Miller is worried that veteran Wes Cates may miss more than the regular-season opener against the B.C. Lions on July 3 while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

“(Geathers) will give us tremendous support as a running back,’’ said Miller. “The way we use our back in the passing game, that will certainly will be a strong part of his game.’’

Geathers has already impressed Miller in other ways.

“He showed us that he some great movement and great hands,’’ said Miller. “It’s going to take him a little while in getting caught up in our terminology and knowing what to do in our system. Physically, I was very impressed with him.’’

Geathers doesn’t mind where the Riders will play him. He’s just ready to play.

“I had those videos (on youtube) after just two years,’’ said Geathers. “Once I learn the game over here, I should be just fine. I will make plays whereever they put me.’’

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10 young offensive players who could hit it big in 2009

7. Greg Olsen, TE, Chicago Bears: Since arriving in Chicago after being traded from Denver, quarterback Jay Cutler can't be spotted anywhere without Olsen by his side. They've developed a close friendship on and off the field, and that should translate into improved numbers for Olsen, who caught 54 passes for 574 yards last season. The Bears' receiving corps is undermanned, so Cutler has to make the best out of his close relationship. Olsen could end up being Chicago's No. 1 pass-catcher.

Cick here to see the rest of the rankings.

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Gore eager to try new approach

Frank Gore's goal - "to be the best player on the field" - might be more attainable under Jimmy Raye's offense than it was under Mike Martz's.

The 49ers' running back implied as much Wednesday after practice. "With Martz, we were more finesse, throw the ball deep, get outside," Gore said. "This is more running with my shoulders squared up, a lot of power, a lot of downhill plays."

He's delighted to be reunited with his old running mate, fullback Moran Norris, who spent two years with the 49ers before moving to the Lions last year. "I love it," Gore said. "As a team, we're trying to be physical, and that's what he is."

The two are close friends. "If he does something wrong, I give him a look," Gore said. "If I do something wrong, he gives me a look. I know his technique and how he blocks."

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Olsen's speed is a weapon

You forget about Greg Olsen's quickness until you see the tight end split the safeties. On one play during team drills, Olsen ran right between Craig Steltz and Kevin Payne to haul in a long touchdown pass. If that's open in the regular season, look out. I should point out that Payne blew the coverage, but Olsen is a difference-maker, and continues to be Jay Cutler's favorite target.

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Pirates looking for new starting center

The Peoria Pirates lost a key part of their offensive line Thursday when starting center Robbie Powell left the team.

Powell expects to sign Friday with Montreal of the Canadian Football League. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder from Purdue was an undersized but steady presence in the middle and anchored Peoria's line since training camp.

The 2-8 Pirates, who are on a bye this weekend, might move tight end Brad Kunz into center.

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Seahawks' Jennings not sure what's next

RENTON, Wash. (AP) -Not every Seahawks player is thrilled with the return of Ken Lucas.

The veteran cornerback who left Seattle following the 2004 to sign a big-bucks contract with Carolina returned in April with a one-year, $2.3 million contract from the Seahawks.

Lucas' return comes at Kelly Jennings' expense. Jennings, Seattle's inconsistent No. 1 draft choice from 2006, lost his job when Lucas got his back opposite star cornerback Marcus Trufant.

At 6-feet and 205 pounds, Lucas is better built to bang with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and other bigger, opposing receivers. They have often bulled through and past Jennings, who appears generously listed at 180 pounds.

So where does Jennings fit now?

"To be honest, I'm not sure,'' he said Thursday during the second day of Seattle's mandatory, three-day minicamp.
Jennings began last season entrenched as a starter. Then he gave up many of the big plays that have plagued the Seahawks' secondary for much of the last three seasons. Unfortunately for him, each Joe Fan watching could see his slump, because Jennings plays a position where success and failure is so visibly obvious - if they are catching them, he is failing.

Then Jennings tore the labrum cartilage in his left shoulder in two places during last season's finale against Arizona. He rolled onto his arm and dislocated his shoulder while tackling former Seahawks player Jerheme Urban.

Instead of going home to Florida, the former University of Miami star stayed around Seattle rehabilitating his shoulder following surgery.

The injury gave Seattle another reason to find another, bigger cornerback this offseason.

"It's getting there. I'm not 100 percent,'' Jennings said of his shoulder, after a second consecutive day on the field participating in position drills for the first time this offseason.

Jennings said he'll be ready for full participation when training camp begins Aug. 1. But to participate in what?
"I'm trying to get healthy. Then when I get healthy, I will have a better idea,'' he said.

"Beginning of last season, I definitely didn't play the way I had hoped to. Now that the change has been made, it's more competition. It's kind of helps me heighten my senses and know I've got to really bear down and show what I can do.''

When asked what he must improve most, Jennings said: "Consistency. Knowing your defense. Knowing where your help is at. Using your help to your advantage.''

Some of that help is coming from Lucas. The 30-year-old has been serving as a mentor for the 26-year-old Jennings, and for 5-foot-8 cornerback Josh Wilson, Seattle's top draft choice in 2007.

Lucas has been listening to his younger mates, too. They are all learning the new schemes and terminology of first-year defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

"What I wanted to do when I came here - not just with Kelly but everyone in the secondary especially - I wanted to let them know I wasn't one of those bullheaded veterans that thinks he knows everything,'' Lucas said. "I'm just like anybody else on this team. I want them to feel like they can trust me and come to talk to me about anything, and vice versa. That I'm a cool guy to just hang around with and not just a fellow employee on this team.''

Jennings could relate to the workplace analogy. He graduated early from Miami with a finance degree. Not satisfied, he then completed another bachelor's degree, in business management. All this came while he was a standout playing big-time college football, training 12 months a year. He even contemplated a master's in business administration before deciding against it.

"He's a good football player - and an even better human being,'' Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said when he drafted Jennings.

Eventually, Jennings wants to use his degrees in real estate or banking. Not yet, though.

"Kelly, you can't find a better standup guy, from what I know. Not just football-related, but in general,'' Lucas said. "I mean, he's just so mild-mannered. He's just been handling his business and not been griping about anything. That says a lot about him as a person. A lot of guys wouldn't be able to take it the way he's been taking it.

"I'm sure, as a competitor, he wants things a certain way. But sometimes in life it doesn't always go your way.''

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Sinorice Continues Strong Camp

Sinorice Moss made a nice catch on Eli Manning’s deep ball, leaving cornerback Rashad Barksdale diving in his dust. But a few plays later, drafted rookie Stoney Woodson came over from his safety spot and made a nice deflection near the sideline on a ball that would have been a touchdown.

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Cutler to Olsen down the middle --- just like real NFL offenses

I have seen the future, and it’s Greg Olsen down the seam, open behind the safeties, touchdown, Bears!

OK, it was only during an offseason team activity Wednesday afternoon. And OK, there was no hitting. And OK, the safeties in question were Bears safeties, most of whom look like they model their game after electric football. But still.

It was the kind of play that has aggravated the Bears, if not outright killed them. That and the slant, which against the Bears is open like 7-Eleven.

But the seam pattern to Olsen is the kind of play that either goes for six or forces opponents to play honest, which opens up potential gamebreakers such as Devin Hester and whatever else the Bears can scrape up at the wide receiver position.

It is the kind of play that big-boy football teams use when they have a big-boy quarterback such as Jay Cutler.

“He throws the ball great,’’ Olsen said. “At the end of the day, you just adjust. At the beginning, the ball has a little extra zip on it, so you have to get your head around faster and get ready a little quicker. But after a while it becomes natural and you just adjust to it.’’

Bears fans can only hope the likes of safeties Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz learn to adjust as quickly as Olsen has. That, see, is another advantage to having Cutler in Lake Forest, even if it’s only June: The guys practicing against him will get better or get cut.

“I think the defense is excited to go against the offense,’’ Olsen said. “I think we’ve had a pretty good camp so far. I think they’re looking to get better against us.’’

Cutler has become the signal-calling defibrillator that has made the Bears and the team’s potential a hot topic, it seems.

“There’s definitely a pretty good buzz around the league about us right now,’’ Olsen said. “Around the city, too. I think there are a lot of high expectations for the team, especially the offense. I think guys are excited to go out there and play.’’

Opponents have been excited for two years now to go out and play against the Bears’ defense. Hope Cutler can make the defense better in practice and keep it off the field in games.

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Getting to Know ... Brian Barton

Brian Barton is the Gwinnett Braves' renaissance man, with a wide range of interests outside baseball. In fact, the speedy outfielder wasn't drafted despite being a College World Series all-tournament pick at the University of Miami because teams thought the aerospace engineering major was more interested in a career with NASA than he was in playing baseball.

Staff correspondent Guy Curtright sat down recently with Barton, 27, to talk about the Los Angeles native's life and his goals in and out of baseball in the latest "Getting to Know ..." installment.

GC: What was your dream growing up, to become an astronaut or a major leaguer?
BB: Both. Everyone should have more than one goal. I never believe in confining yourself.

GC: Was it because of your internship with Boeing and your academic work that teams thought you weren't interested in a baseball career?
BB: I can assume that. But if that was the case, teams hadn't done their due diligence and I think it sent the wrong message anyway. You're a scholar-athlete, so you should be serious about your academic pursuits.

GC: Baseball worked out anyway. The Cleveland Indians gave you a $100,000 bonus plus college funds to sign as a free agent. How did that play out?
BB: I played in the summer and convinced everyone how serious I was about baseball, that it wasn't secondary to me.

GC: Do you have your aerospace engineering degree?
BB: Not yet. I'm a semester short. The classes I need are only offered in the spring, when I'm not available because of baseball. But I always try to keep my mind active.

GC: How did you get interested in outer space?
BB: You wonder what's out there. It intrigued me when I was little and it still does.

GC: What other things intrigue you?
BB: Everything. I like to read. I like to write. I like to travel. I'm trying to learn a couple of languages. Knowledge is so important and I love to learn. Being well-rounded is very important to me.

GC: The Atlanta Braves are your third team. Were you surprised when St. Louis traded you in late April?
BB: Actually, it was a blessing because I had already planned to move to Atlanta in the offseason. I was excited about the trade. I think everything will work out for me great. Being with the Braves is a good opportunity for me.

GC: Why did you plan to move to Atlanta?
BB: I'm the kind of person that loves to explore. I enjoy discovering what it is like in different places. Everywhere is a little different and experiencing the differences enriches your life.

GC: Baseball has been concerned in recent years about the decline in the number of African-American players. Was there peer pressure on you to concentrate on other sports?
BB: I played football in high school and other sports as well, but baseball was always the priority with my family. But there is a need for more inner-city participation in baseball and Major League Baseball is trying to address that with RBI and other programs.

GC: You are often seen with a book, which isn't all that common around a baseball clubhouse. What do you read?
BB: Everything. If someone recommends something, I'll read it. I'm always asking for suggestions.

GC: It must be hard to have time to do a lot of heavy reading during the season?
BB: Not really. With St. Louis last season, I read more than a dozen books. I've finished "Roots" and that has more than 900 pages.

GC: I understand that you are actually doing some writing yourself?
BB: I'm working on a book. I'm trying to incorporate a little of my life, but it's more about the importance of having a strong mindset. I'm trying to draw awareness to that.

GC: You reached the majors with the Cardinals last season after three years in the minors with Cleveland. Was it a dream come true?
BB: Yes and no. It was great, of course. But it was just one step in life. Hopefully there will be a lot more positive experiences ahead, in baseball and beyond baseball.

GC: You've already had a brief promotion to Atlanta. How is it playing in Gwinnett, which is only about 35 miles from Turner Field?
BB: I've enjoyed it. But being so close to the big leagues, you have to concentrate on what you are doing and not look down the road too much.

GC: You mentioned how much you enjoy traveling. How many countries have you visited?
BB: I've been to 12, including Australia, South Africa and a lot of European countries. But I'm just getting started. I've still got more than 200 to go and I want to always keep exploring.

GC: What is after that?
BB: Space and the moon.

GC: So you really would like to be an astronaut?
BB: When I'm passionate about something, I don't give up until I do it.

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Burrell set to rejoin Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Pat Burrell is set to rejoin the team on Friday after missing 29 games with a neck strain.

Burrell was scheduled to be the designated hitter in a rehab game Thursday night with Single-A Charlotte.

"We talked and he said, 'I'm ready,'" Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said before Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Angels. "For me, getting him back is important."

Maddon said Burrell will be a pinch-hitter and won't play in the outfield during a stretch of six interleague road games next week at Colorado and the New York Mets.

Shortstop Jason Bartlett, out since May 25 with a sprained left ankle, ran the bases and is scheduled to play the first of three games with Charlotte on Friday. He is expected to return for the first game of the series with the Rockies on Tuesday.

"He looked very good," Maddon said. "He felt pretty good. He's very confident going into this weekend."

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Braun hits three-run homer

Ryan Braun went 3-for-5 and hit a three-run homer Thursday in the loss to the Rockies.

The homer was a three-run shot off a fatigued Huston Street in the bottom of the ninth. Unfortunately for the Brewers, the Rockies were up by four at the time. Braun has three homers in his last four games, and he's batting .325 with 10 RBI in 10 games during June.

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Gaby Sanchez could be third-base option

MIAMI GARDENS — If the Marlins make a move this season at third base, Gaby Sanchez could be given the next opportunity.

With Emilio Bonifacio's defense eroding and his bat fading, and the possibility that Dan Uggla could be dealt, which would open up second base and allow Bonifacio to return to his natural position, Sanchez's experience at third base in the minors could be valuable.

Sanchez, the Miami native, played third base on Monday and Tuesday for Class AAA New Orleans. He has played five games at third this season (21 at first) and 112 in his minor-league career (255 at first).

"We're just looking at him at two positions," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We do that with a lot of guys in the minors."

Sanchez, 25, was given the best chance in the spring to win the starting first base job before being sent down in late March.

Bonifacio leads all major league third basemen with 11 errors and is hitting .247.

Uggla, and his $5.35 million contract, could be traded as early as next month.

Sanchez is hitting .337 with five home runs and 19 RBI for New Orleans. He has a .409 on-base percentage. He returned to the lineup June 6 after missing a month with a right knee injury.

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Kareem Brown Has a Big Day

TE Kareem Brown had a terrific practice. In a one-on-one drill, he blew past S Jim Leonhard with a great fake. Afterward, Ryan said of his former defensive lineman-turned-tight end, "He really did have a big day."

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Vince Wilfork is playing fair; Patriots should, too

FOXBORO - On the football field, Vince Wilfork [stats] knows everything about leverage. The lower you get, the better your odds of driving your opponent into the ground.

The same can be said of contract negotiations. But that didn’t stop Wilfork from standing up yesterday and doing what he believed was right.

Wilfork’s decision to attend minicamp did little to increase his bargaining power. If anything, it weakened his position.

But it helped illustrate why, among many other reasons, the Patriots [team stats] should do everything in their power to reach an extension with the big nose tackle, who represents everything in the kind of performer and leader the team professes to seek.

Wilfork will undoubtedly take heat in some circles for acquiescing and losing leverage by showing up to workouts, particularly after he sent a message by skipping the voluntary organized team activities over the previous three weeks. But at the end of the day, he decided to honor his contract rather than start a holdout.

And how can anyone criticize that?

“I signed a six-year (rookie) deal,” Wilfork said. “I’m going to meet all my obligations. That’s being here for mandatory stuff. That’s why I was here.

“I’m a ballplayer. I signed up for a six-year deal and I’m going to play. Whatever goes on after that goes on. I’m looking forward to being a New England Patriot. The OTAs I missed, but it wasn’t the right time for me to be here.”

Just a few days ago, it seemed like a fait accompli that Wilfork would be following in the shoes of Richard Seymour [stats], Deion Branch and Asante Samuel [stats], Patriots stars who held out until they got what they wanted.
In the case of the latter pair, that meant the freedom to go elsewhere for more money. Seymour didn’t sign an extension on his rookie deal until midway through training camp of its fifth and final year.

Wilfork decided not to play those games while still under contract, which is why we should expect to see him at training camp, too. If it hurts his bargaining position, so be it.

“I could care less about that,” he said. “At the end of the day, they know me as a person and a player. (Bargaining position) doesn’t mean anything to me. That’s out of my mind. I don’t care about bargaining.”

Wilfork had the threat of what amounted to a $500,000 fine hanging over him had he failed to show, but he said that played a minimal role in his decision to report.

“I was aware of that for a while,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say that played a big part in my decision to come here. I told you, that’s in my contract, to be here, and I live up to my word. If it’s mandatory, I will be here, I don’t care what it is.”
Both Wilfork and the Patriots said the right things yesterday. He wants to be here. The Pats want him here. Now they have to work out a deal.

“I want to get locked up because I don’t want to go on the free agent market,” Wilfork said. “It’s a possibility if I reach that part that I won’t be here, and I don’t want that to happen. That’s why I’m doing everything in my willpower to stick around and get something done before the end of this season.”

Wilfork stood up yesterday and did what was right.

The Patriots [team stats] should follow suit.

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Jennings at Minicamp

On Wednesday, as the Seahawks kicked off a three-day minicamp, Branch, Redding and cornerback Kelly Jennings were all back on the field practicing for the first time this offseason, and all were thrilled to on the field -- and not on the hill.

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Rosenhaus says Edgerrin James may not sign until training camp

Edgerrin James' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, posted on the social networking Web site Twitter that the former Immokalee High School and University of Miami star running back may not sign with a new team until training camp late next month.

"Edgerrin James will be taking his time before signing with a new team,'' Rosenhaus said in his post. "We want to make sure his next team is the right team and that decision may not be made until after training camps start. Edge is excited about playing this season & getting back to the Super Bowl.''

James became the first Collier County high school product to play in a Super Bowl when the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23, in February in Tampa. James, who had asked for his release earlier in the season after losing his starting job, was released by the Cardinals after April's draft, and is a free agent.

James' name has come up with the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles since his release, but neither team has appeared to make a serious move to sign him.

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McGahee needed two offseason surgeries

Agent Drew Rosenhaus revealed on his Twitter page that Willis McGahee needed offseason surgeries on both his knee and ankle.

Rosenhaus is trying to pump up his client, but did the opposite here. McGahee, who has fallen to Baltimore's second-team tailback, looks like more of an injury risk than ever. No wonder he barely practiced this spring.

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Healthy again, Pat Burrell is trying to find swing

ST. PETERSBURG — DH Pat Burrell is healthy, the neck strain that sidelined him for more than a month finally healed.

Now it's a matter of feeling better at the plate, an uncertain process that makes his return to the active roster a day-by-day proposition. After going 1-for-9 with four strikeouts in two rehab games for Double-A Montgomery, he'll play for Class A Charlotte tonight then re-evaluate, with the options of being activated Friday or playing additional rehab games.

"I've got to get some baseball skills back," Burrell said. "That's the frustrating part. You've got to be realistic, too, being out for five weeks, there's a part of it you have to get back. I think some of the things that, with (my neck) bothering me, there's some bad habits that were developed and I have to get back to where I'm productive."
The Rays would welcome the production they expected when signing him to a two-year, $16 million contract, though the timing of his return isn't ideal, even less so if it's not until Saturday or Sunday.

After the weekend games against Washington, Burrell will be of limited use as a pinch-hitter as the Rays play six games without the DH in interleague series with the Rockies and Mets.

To make room for Burrell, they seem likely to send OF Matt Joyce back to Triple A or part with INF Joe Dillon, who is out of options and would be exposed to waivers. They will have to make another move next week (Dillon, or sending Reid Brignac to Triple A) if SS Jason Bartlett comes off the DL as expected.

Burrell attributed his lack of production through his first 30 games — a .250 average, one homer, 17 RBIs, five extra-base hits — to the neck problem. "It bothered me; I've dealt with this in the past, but it never got to the point where I didn't feel like I could perform," Burrell said. "It just got to the point where I wasn't helping, it was on my mind constantly, and I had to deal with the problem. I don't think there's anything I could have done differently.

"There's no excuses. I'm on the field, I'm playing. This is a game where you got to produce. Yesterday doesn't count."

He remains confident he is capable of his past production: "It's there. Just gotta find it. Maybe it will show up tonight on my door. But it's there."

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Ryan Braun turns down the Bachelor

MILWAUKEE -- During our weekly one-on-one interview with Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, I found out something very interesting -- at least for his lady fans out there.

I asked Braun if he would like to be either on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," or our network's other big hit "The Bachelor." And he told me that "The Bachelor" actually called him to be on the show. Braun the Bachelor. Has a nice ring to it, but unfortunately, he said thanks, but no thanks -- much to the dismay of female fans in Milwaukee and around the country.

Now, had Braun accepted the invite, he wouldn't have been the first professional athlete to be on the show. Former Giants quarterback, and current ESPN announcer, Jesse Palmer was "The Bachelor" a few seasons ago. Palmer picked a lady, but didn't propose to her and a few weeks later they broke up.

In fact, the show has a terrible track record of successful couples. To this day only one couple from all "The Bachelor" seasons is married. So maybe Braun made the right choice by not wanting to be on "The Bachelor." Plus, he's an attractive, rich, successful and talented 26-year-old guy who plays for the Brewers. So I don't think Braun needs a reality show to find love.

But then again, I'm in the TV business. And if Braun went on "The Bachelor," the ratings would be sky high -- especially in the Milwaukee area. So his decision to turn them down is bittersweet.

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Toughest Center Sapp Ever Faced?

Warren Sapp was asked in his NFL.com chat who the toughest center he ever went up against was. The answer may surprise you considering the player he named wasn’t ever an established NFL player and actually played in the NFL for only a few years as a backup. Despite that though, he is by many people’s account the best center to ever plat at the U.

Hey Warren, Who was the best OL/C you ever faced?

Center K.C. Jones, University of Miami. Mean bastard.

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Phillips Put on 16lbs of Muscle

Rotoworld reported that Kenny Phillips has gained since the end of last season, 16 lbs of solid muscle as well as being a more vocal piece in the Giants' secondary.  Does anyone else see slot receivers getting decapitated against us!?  I feel like Kenny aspires to be great, and has the potential to do so.  In training camp last year I believe it was a Newark Star beat writer who wrote "the guy can be the next Brian Dawkins" 

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Sean Taylor Murder Trial Delayed Until January

A new trial date has been set in the murder case of Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor.

Tuesday morning, a Miami-Dade County judge set the trial date to January 18th, 2010 after attorneys said they needed more time to prepare. The trial was originally supposed to start this month.

All four suspects were in court. Charles Wardlow, Jason Scott Mitchell, Eric Rivera Jr. and Timothy Brown have pleaded not guilty and are being held without bail.

Fifth suspect, Venjah Hunte, who pleaded guilty to second degree murder and armed robbery charges to avoid a possible life sentence, later changed his mind. He went to court earlier this year and requested a new lawyer in order to change his plea.

Prosecutors claim Hunte, along with the other four suspects, drove from Fort Myers to rob Taylor's Palmetto Bay home in November 2007. Prosecutors say it was during that botched robbery, that one of the suspects shot Taylor in the groin. Taylor died a day later at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His girlfriend and baby daughter, who were in the house at the time of the shooting, were not hurt.

Prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty if the men are convicted.

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McGahee Not Upset About Being Ray Rice's Backup

Even though he continues to run primarily with the second team, Ravens running back Willis McGahee said he doesn't mind being the backup to Ray Rice for now. McGahee had been limited for most of the offseason after having arthroscopic knee surgery. Because Rice has been going with the starters during his absence, McGahee said he didn't expect to supplant Rice immediately. "It wouldn't be right," McGahee said Tuesday during the final minicamp for veterans. "I don't mind. Work is work. That's either with the first, second or third."

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Parrish suffers lower leg injury

Roscoe Parrish was catching punts during a live drill early in practice, but will not be doing much else today. Parrish just emerged from the training room with an ice pack on his right calf. Dick Jauron is scheduled to address the media on Thursday.

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Sinorice and Kenny Giants Breakout Players

New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce projects Kenny Phillips, Sinorice Moss and Danny Ware as his breakout players for the Giants.

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America's Best Baseball Schools: MLB U?

Penn State produces linebackers. Georgetown is a factory for basketball big men. But if you're looking for a pitcher or a slugger in Major League Baseball's draft, which college should you turn to?

The short answer, based on a statistical analysis: Southern California for pitchers and Miami for hitters. But when Missouri State outperforms prestigious programs like Stanford, and when relatively unheralded Kentucky is the third-best school for pitchers since 1996, the long answer is that it's a bit more complicated.

As baseball holds its annual draft Tuesday, the importance of gauging collegiate talent is at an all-time high. Roughly half of the players in Major League Baseball went to college -- and clubs are becoming increasingly enamored with collegians because they're more developed and thus closer to helping the team. Last year, 20 of the first 27 players taken were from college; overall, just 32.2% of all players drafted were high-schoolers. This year, Stephen Strasburg, a fireballing pitcher from San Diego State, is expected to go first overall.

In basketball and football, colleges like North Carolina and Michigan have developed reliable reputations for churning out scorers and offensive linemen and other top talents. But in baseball, even top college players face a second layer of apprenticeship: the minor leagues. Here, a small, often unpredictable crop of players keeps developing while the rest stall. St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman Albert Pujols played at Maple Woods (Mo.) Community College and was drafted 402nd overall in 1999, yet has developed into the game's most-feared hitter. Meanwhile, roughly half the players taken that year in the first round haven't reached the majors.

"Baseball is the hardest sport to prognosticate," says former Louisiana State coach Skip Bertman, who led LSU's baseball team to five College World Series titles. "In football, I watch the scouts come in and run seven or eight tests for each kid -- vertical jump, bench press, 40-yard dash -- and when you put all those scores together, you know their athleticism. In baseball, you don't have to have a 40-inch vertical; you don't even have to run real fast. But you do have to be real smart and know how to deal with failure."

To ascertain which schools have done the best in recent years at producing players who make an impact in the majors, The Wall Street Journal analyzed each draft from 1996 through 2008. Each school that has produced at least four major-league players from those drafts was ranked by adding its total "runs above replacement" for hitters and pitchers. This statistic measures how much better (or worse) a player is compared to a theoretical, average replacement.

The findings: Southern California, which owns 12 College World Series championships but has struggled in recent years, ranks No. 1 overall, although some of its best players -- including pitcher Mark Prior and hitters Jacque Jones and Morgan Ensberg -- have contributed little in recent years. Miami has generated little pitching in recent years but produced several sluggers, including Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff and Ryan Braun.

Other top college programs have had several players make the major leagues, but haven't seen them become stars. Texas, the alma mater of 354-game-winner Roger Clemens, doesn't crack the top 10, nor does Long Beach State, despite the recent exploits of Jered Weaver and Evan Longoria. Stanford has had more than 70 players reach the majors all-time, but all of the Cardinal's current players combined have been outproduced by former Rice standout Lance Berkman, a five-time All-Star first baseman with the Houston Astros.

California schools make up four of the top five -- USC, No. 2 Cal State Fullerton, No. 4 UCLA and No. 5 Pepperdine, with Miami in between. But more than anything, the analysis shows how difficult it is for even top colleges to produce top-flight major-league players. Mr. Pujols has single-handedly been more valuable statistically than the offensive alumni of every college during the past dozen years, save Miami and UCLA.

Kentucky isn't known as a baseball school, but it has developed an impressive track record for producing pitchers, especially for a school that is not in the Sun Belt. Keith Madison, Kentucky's winningest coach all-time, concentrated on pitching, having been a pitcher himself. "What happened on occasion -- more often than my assistants would like -- was when I'd go to a high-school tournament, my focus was on pitching," says Mr. Madison, who retired in 2003. "My best gift as a coach, I felt, was my ability to identify good arms."

Mr. Madison unearthed Brandon Webb and Joe Blanton, two right-handers overlooked by professional scouts as high schoolers. Mr. Webb, who is currently on the disabled list with the Arizona Diamondbacks, won the Cy Young Award as the National League's best pitcher in 2006; Mr. Blanton, a Philadelphia Phillies starter, was 2-0 in the playoffs in the Phillies' championship run last season. Mr. Madison also coached Scott Downs, a reliever who has become the Toronto Blue Jays' closer this season. This year, Kentucky lefthander James Paxton is projected to go in the draft's first round.

Missouri State, the alma mater of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, the NL's most valuable player in 2006, has also had surprising success. Its former players include pitcher Shaun Marcum, who had a 3.39 ERA for the Blue Jays last season but is currently injured, and reliever Brad Ziegler, who set a major-league record last season by starting his career with 39-straight scoreless innings. "I don't know if it's anything we do," says Bears coach Keith Guttin -- although that doesn't stop him from crowing to recruits about Missouri State's pipeline to the pros. "It tends to come up in conversation."

College-baseball coaches freely admit, though, that there's little they can do to keep their alums from languishing eternally in the minor leagues. "Most college coaches would agree that we can't take credit for the guys who make it to the big leagues," says Mr. Bertman of LSU. "The reason they make it is they were endowed with special gifts, and like all prodigies, they work hard at it."

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Antonio Dixon From Homeless Shelter to Redskins Camp

ASHBURN - The little child sat in the homeless shelter, trying to figure a way out of this life. At that time, his answer was to pray. So he did it all the time. Little Antonio Dixon was hit by a grand slam of obstacles: he stuttered; had a learning disability; had a father in prison and was in and out of shelters.

That beat him up on occasion. It didn't beat him down.

And Dixon would make a constant vow to his mom.

"He always used to tell me he would take care of me when he was older," his mom said. "And when he said he wanted to do something, he did it."

He's on his way. Dixon is an undrafted rookie free agent practicing with the Washington Redskins, trying to make the roster at a stacked position (defensive tackle).

He's also one of six people in the country who will receive the Wilma Rudolph Student Athlete Achievement Award this Saturday, for overcoming tremendous obstacles to graduate. Dixon graduated with a degree in liberal arts from the University of Miami last month, the first in his family to graduate.

"I know I deserve [the award]," Dixon said. "When everyone else was partying and having fun, I'm doing my work."
He did it with a background few could match.

"Stuff would get good and then it would just turn bad," Dixon said. "And when it turned bad, it was real bad."
Dixon once estimated he attended 15 elementary schools. He was in and out of shelters in Miami and Atlanta six times, at least. Dyslexia prevented him from learning to read until the sixth grade. His stuttering has improved. Still, he often taps his knee or arm or even his chest when he struggles with words.

His mom was a single parent raising five kids. Dixon's dad, Frazier Hawkins, was released from prison two months ago after serving 17 years for drug trafficking charges. And the burden eventually got to Corenthia Dixon.

"I started using drugs and I was using for two years," Corenthia said. "I was really stressed out."

Because of that, for a year Antonio Dixon, then around 10, and his siblings lived in foster care. When they were reunited with their mom -- who would visit them every Sunday -- they again would occasionally live in shelters.
"We were in the shelter and he would try to hide from his friends," said his mom, who now works as a server in the kitchen at the Miami shelter they once lived in. "He would say, 'Why do we always have to come back here?' He would be sad some days É I used to see him in his room praying all the time."

By the time Antonio Dixon was in eighth grade, his mother had turned her life around. A couple years later they moved into an apartment. And Dixon attended only one high school (Booker T. Washington in Miami).

Football became a salvation for Dixon, who started playing in the ninth grade. He wasn't a star at Miami. But at 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, he has the size and ability to play inside, provided he controls weight issues.

He's a longshot to earn a roster spot. He also was a longshot to earn a college degree.

"He's the kind of guy you want to hug," said Redskins defensive line coach John Palermo, who coached him for one season at Miami. "He's such a good person and a hard worker."

Corenthia Dixon said, "I told him if he doesn't make the team [he's] still my son and I'm really proud for what [he] did already. He was like, 'I'm making the team.'"

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Wilfork seeks ’comfortable’ contract

BOLTON — New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork [stats] said Monday it made "the most sense" for him to stay away from the Patriots [team stats]’ organized team activities while he hopes to get a contract extension.

"It’s nothing personal towards the organization. It’s nothing personal towards my coaches or anything like that," Wilfork said on WEEI radio.

The two-time Pro Bowl player spoke with the station, but not with reporters, at the team’s annual charitable foundation golf tournament. The Patriots hold the last of their 12 days of voluntary OTAs on Tuesday. Their mandatory three-day minicamp starts Wednesday.

"OTAs wasn’t mandatory. It was voluntary, so I chose to sit out," he said, "because of the situation I’m in."
Wilfork, taken with the 21st pick in the 2004 draft, is entering the final year of his six-year contract worth an average of $1.5 million a season.

"I’m not looking to sign this big-time, going-down-in-history, the best contract there is. I want to be comfortable," he said. "I don’t want to leave. So I’m pretty sure we’re going to do everything in our willpower to make it work."
He knows, though, that he could start the season without an extension.

"Hopefully, everything is resolved, and if not, I’m going to go forward, be 100 percent, and give everything that I have," he said.

Players have stayed away from Patriots minicamps and training camps in the past, hoping to get a contract extension.

"Unfortunately, the business part of this game, this is something that goes on every year with most teams," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "We’re lucky to have Vince. I hope he’s here for the long term and these things usually have a way of working themselves out."

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Portis on Orakpo, Playing the Lotto and Shark Diving

Clinton Portis's presence at today's Redskins lottery press conference meant about five minutes worth of post-lottery chatting with the media, with the sort of vaguely understood ground rules that we'd ask at least a few ridiculous lottery questions. I gladly obliged on that account. Here is one of the more unusual sports press conference Q&A's you're likely to read today.

Why do you want to win the lottery?
So I can give everything up. When I say everything, I mean giving up my race. I'm turning into something else. I'm moving out of the country....I'm not taking no installments. You take your half, and give me my half, and I'm out.

How [are OTAs] going?
It's going pretty good. I so would rather not be here, but I mean, it's over Thursday, so I think it was fine. I think a lot of guys got the opportunity to come out and just get a feel. You know, looking at our young guys, I think Orakpo's gonna come in and help this team tremendously. There's some other guys who I think gonna be great in this organization, so it's a start.

You want to give up your race?
Oh yeah, when I win the lottery, I'll have to. Everybody gonna start calling me. So I'll be like a little French dude with a little curly beard or something.

Do you ever play the lottery?
I actually don't. I was just telling them, growing up, my mom used to play Cash 3 and Cash 4 and everything in the lotto, and I used to have to sit outside the car while she was filling it out, and I used to get aggravated. I really did, I used to get mad because I had to sit in the car while she was inside playing the lotto, and that used to be a waste of my time, and I never really got into the lotto.

You're gonna play this one then, right?
Oh yeah. I'm about to get started, let me tell you. I'm looking to win the Powerball, though, that's the easiest. Well, it's not the easiest, but that's where the money is.

You mentioned guys getting out of here on Thursday, what's your routine from the time these end to the time you have to be back?
Uh, I mean, it's a month. It's not like there's lots you can do. You know, everybody would like to [say], 'Oh, I'm going on a month hiatus, I'm going to South Africa, I'm going to find myself,' but you've got a month. Well, really, like three or four weeks. And of course you go spend time with family. Unfortunately for me, all my family birthdays in July. My mom, I already got plans for that. You know, go back and relax and come back in July ready to play football.

What are you gonna do for your mom's birthday?
Every year we go to Essence Festival. Her birthday is July the 5th, and Essence Festival is always that weekend, so we'll do New Orleans.

I was talking to Colt earlier, and he said you guys went shark diving, how was that?
It was great. I've got the video. I've got to bring it. So maybe I'll leak it to you guys. It was great. I hung out with Colt down in Hawaii, you know, he's the man out there. Everybody was like, 'Who is this little guy you're hanging with?' Colt was like, 'Awwww, this is my buddy!' The shark diving was a great experience, though.

He get treated like a rock star out there?
Man, he the man out there. Me and Cooley was talking about that. I mean, he's the man, assuredly. I think the things he did for Hawaii, putting Hawaii on the map, was great.

That's what it's like for you in Miami?
Noooo, people don't notice me in Miami, man, I'm competing with too many people to be famous in Miami. And up here I'm competing with Obama.

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Dan Morgan Retires For Good

Dan Morgan has informed the Saints that he has decided to retire due continued injuries. Dan would like to thank the Saints for the chance to come back this year, but injuries would not let him continue his career. His decision is final and he will be moving on to focus on his restaraunt business in Charlotte. Dan also wants to be able to spend more time with his wife and children.

He currently had a calf strain.

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(rosenhaussports twitter)

Ray Lewis & friends reach out in a genuine way

As Baltimore Ravens’ fans, we like to beat our chests about how well this organization operates. We use lots of evidence to back that up. Sometimes, we really reach in trying to prove that point, but that’s why we’re fans. We go overboard with emotion, and we have that right.

I use that as an opening, just in case my latest entry is perceived as a fan going overboard and not a professional given in depth analysis. I will admit I’m capable of doing both.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of participating in Ray Lewis Summer Days events. The events began on Thursday and concluded on Saturday night. All of the events were first-class.

I’m not going to big-time you by telling you about each event, I want to give credit to the athletes who were a part of the events.

I’ve been to many of events such as Ray’s. Some have been associated with the Ravens’ players, and many have been the work of athletes from other teams. The difference is not whether you have to pay for the event, or if the food and drinks are free or anything like that. The difference is how the athletes conduct themselves during the events.

No, I’ve never been to a function like this and had to rush out for my life. That’s not what I’m saying here. But I have been to events like this and wondered why fans put up with anti-social professional athletes.

Ray Lewis Summer Days was the polar opposite of everything I’ve come to expect in the attitudes of athletes. There were several athletes from the Ravens and Washington Redskins, and they treated the fans like they were important. There wasn’t a VIP section or anything of the sorts. The athletes were mingling, signing autographs, and talking to fans. In fact, on Thursday, I spent the entire evening watching the NBA Finals game one with Derrick Mason. The only football we talked about was his shoulder which he assured me was fine. The rest of the time we spent talking about our mutual admiration for the Los Angeles Lakers. I knew I liked Derrick Mason.

Baltimore’s Rudy Gay was there, and he was every bit of the social butterfly that the football players were. Sam Cassell graced us with his presence, literally.

This was all the brain child of Ray Lewis. If Ray were stuck up and wanted to segregate the athletes, it would have happened. The atmosphere was not conducive to athletes who didn’t want to embrace an adoring fan base. They all signed tons of autographs and no money exchanged hands. Not one dime.

It was refreshing to see in a time where professional athletes are perceived to be spoiled people who cannot connect with the average fan.

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McGahee on mend, in doghouse

It’s evident that McGahee still needs to prove himself to a coaching staff that grew frustrated with him last season after he admittedly reported to training camp out of shape.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh issued a terse reply when asked about McGahee’s progress.

"I don’t know," Harbaugh said. "I have no idea where he’s at. It’s the first day he’s been here in a week and a half. I can’t gauge it."

This marked the first time McGahee has been out of a red jersey during offseason practices following arthroscopic knee surgery, signifying that the former Pro Bowl runner has improved medically.

McGahee wasn’t in the locker room after practice to conduct an interview.

McGahee, who rushed for a career-low 671 yards last season, seemed a bit hesitant and rusty during drills. It looked like he was able to to run and cut without pain.

"Yeah, well, Willis showed up to see if he can do something for the team," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We all expect him to be here and expect him to do a good job when he’s here."

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Will O's talk contract with Huff?

It could be an interesting two months for O's first baseman Aubrey Huff. His name is sure to come up in trade rumors leading up to the trade deadline. He can become a free agent at the end of this season.

O's president Andy MacPhail is certainly open to keeping Huff an Oriole beyond this season, but said the sides have not had any contract talks this season.

"Not yet, not to say that there won't be but at the present time, let's just play baseball," MacPhail said.

He said "sure" the O's are open to talking contract with Huff's representatives and it's possible the sides could begin a discussion on the contract topic later in the year.

"We'll see. I'm not big on deadlines or policies. Sure (we are open to talking). We've got plenty of time."
Huff is batting .263-8-39.

In 2008 he was named Most Valuable Oriole when he led the AL in extra-base hits. He hit .304-32-108 with 48 doubles. He was 3rd in the league in doubles, 5th in slugging, 6th in RBI and 9th in homers.

"Aubrey has really been terrific," MacPhail said. "I think he's been helpful with the young players as well, helping them make the transition to the Major Leagues."

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Minor Moves: Burrell

Tampa Bay Rays DH/OF Pat Burrell will join the Biscuits on a Major League rehabilitation assignment beginning on Monday in Birmingham. Burrell, 32, is expected to appear in both Monday's and Tuesday's games as the Biscuits complete their five-game series with the Barons.

Burrell, signed by the Rays in the off-season, has been sidelined with a strained neck since May 10th and on the disabled list since May 11th. The first overall pick in the draft in 1998, Burrell has appeared in 30 games with the Rays thus far this season, batting .250 with one home run and 17 RBIs.

He helped the Philadelphia Phillies defeat the Rays in the World Series last season, before departing for Tampa via free agency. He set a career-high with 37 home runs in 2002, while also being named Phillies Player of the Year that season.

Burrell becomes the fourth Ray to rehab with the Biscuits this season, joining a group consisting of RHP Jason Isringhausen, C Shawn Riggans and RHP Chad Bradford. Bradford remains with the club on their current trip to Birmingham.

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Sinorice Moss Performing Well During OTAs

The sight of rookie Ramses Barden, Domenik Hixon and Sinorice Moss all getting deep to haul in passes during today's Organized Team Activity practice is not a sight that was often seen in previous years.

That's because the Giants have moved out of their too-small 55-yard practice bubble and into their spacious 100-yard indoor fieldhouse, which is cavernous and has plently of room for Eli Manning to let loose.

That was not the case in the past. Manning admitted he was hesitant to throw the ball on certain routes, fearing he'd run one of his receivers right into the side wall. Defensive backs knew they could cheat just a bit, knowing there was precious little room to get beat deep.

"If I was playing defensive back I think I take the underneath stuff away and count on the wall behind me in the bubble to run guys into,'' Tom Coughlin said. "A quarterback's not going to run a guy into the wall. It's definitely going to help us.''

Hixon and Moss both made nice catches over the middle, Hixon stretching high and Moss diving low.

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Catching up w/ Kareem Brown (who's now catching passes)

At first, it wasn't clear who it was.

Saturday, at David Clowney's football camp, someone was wearing a Brown jersey with the number 84 on the back.

Turns out that it was former Miami Norland and University of Miami defensive lineman Kareem Brown, who is trying to keep a roster spot with the Jets.

Turns out that Ernest Wilford isn't the only guy in the AFC East learning how to play tight end.

"Thank God Bubba (Franks) is up there to help me out, and he's helped me out a lot," Brown said. "Bubba has so much knowledge of the game, it's not even funny. Bubba can honestly call things out before they happen, and I'm like, 'How do you see that stuff?' But he's been around, and he's seen it, and he's done it. His experience helps him out tremendously, and in turn it helps me out."

Brown wore No. 98 as a defensive player for the Jets.

The new number?

"It feels funny on my back," Brown said. "I've just glad they thought of me in that light, though, good enough to make that transition. Because it's not easy, and not everybody can do it."

Brown plans to swing by the Miami campus soon.

"It's going the right direction," Brown said of the Hurricanes. "Coach Shannon is doing a good job. It's just that he doesn't have a lot of leeway with the program. You know, two losses is a bad season. We can't use that excuse that we're young anymore. So hopefully, this year, we pull it together, man. Because all of those freshmen, they have a year under their belt."

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Patriots in no hurry to extend Vince Wilfork's contract

The way we hear it, contract negotiations between the Patriots and NT Vince Wilfork are barely progressing because the club is waiting to see what type of player they have in rookie Ron Brace. One of the game’s premier lane cloggers is in search of a lucrative extension for his deal, which is scheduled to expire after the season, but it’s looking as if it won’t happen until some point during the season, if at all.

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Wayne ready to be a leader as primary threat in Colts' passing game

With Marvin Harrison gone, you'd expect Reggie Wayne to be front and center in the plans of the Indianapolis Colts' braintrust.

That's true, figuratively and literally.

New Colts coach Jim Caldwell has rearranged the seating chart in the team meeting room, and now Wayne is right in the middle of the front row, not out at the end of one of the middle rows.

"I've been sitting in the same seat for about 71/2 years,'' the three-time Pro Bowl receiver said with a smile. "Now I'm sitting up there in the front row,'' Wayne said. "I go from the middle on the end to the front and in the middle.''

Front and center.

That's Reggie Wayne.
No longer is he half of one of the NFL's most prolific receiving tandems. When the Colts terminated Harrison's contract in February -- he was deemed too expensive with a 2009 base salary of $9 million and clearly was on the downside of a Hall of Fame career -- the baton officially was passed to Wayne. He already had escaped Harrison's immense shadow and emerged as quarterback Peyton Manning's most reliable and productive receiver.

"If you asked any cornerback,'' Manning said, "Reggie had truly established himself as a No. 1 receiver. As a quarterback, boy, what a great luxury to have two No. 1 receivers.''

But with Harrison's exodus, Wayne became the only No. 1.

Or, in Wayne's words, "I am the Marv.''
Over the past five seasons, the 2001 first-round draft pick has established himself as one of the league's elite receivers. His 6,230 yards rank first among receivers while his 432 receptions rank fourth. He and Green Bay's Donald Driver are the only players heading into 2009 with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

Nothing Wayne has achieved has surprised team president Bill Polian. He points to Wayne's work ethic; Wayne spends much of his offseason laboring with other NFL players at the University of Miami. He also points to Wayne's consummate skills.

"He can do everything you want a wide receiver to do -- run, catch, block, run after the catch, get open, get deep,'' Polian said. "He's got incredible hands.''

nd he's durable. Including the playoffs, Wayne has started 110 consecutive games.

"You can count on him to be there on Sunday in the fourth quarter on the critical third-and-5 that you have to convert,'' Manning said. "It's just nice having a guy that can be accountable like that. Hopefully, these young receivers will follow that lead.''

Being the unquestioned focal point of the receiving corps brings additional challenges for Wayne, who's entering his ninth season with the Colts. Defensive coordinators undoubtedly will game plan more ardently to limit Wayne's effectiveness, forcing Manning to look elsewhere. And as one of the team's elder statesmen, the 30-year-old Wayne must assume more of a leadership role for a young group that includes Anthony Gonzalez, Pierre Garcon, Roy Hall and Austin Collie.

Other than having to get accustomed to Harrison's vacant cubicles next to his in the locker room, Wayne said "nothing is going to change on my end.''

He insisted he's in the best shape he's been in since college, ready for what's ahead.

"I feel like, body-wise, that I'm in my early 20s,'' Wayne said. "Mind-wise, I know I'm 30, but it's all about how you feel. I feel like I have a lot more that I can do.

"It's not just about the numbers. It's about being a complete player, helping the younger guys, being a better blocker, whatever it takes. I want to Jerry Rice this thing. I just want to do it. I want to play for as long as I possibly can.''

Wayne's world

A look at how the Colts Reggie Wayne compares with the NFL's other wide receivers over the past five regular seasons:

Top 10

Torry Holt
Derrick Mason
Reggie Wayne
Larry Fitzgerald
Chad Ochocinco
Andre Johnson
Donald Driver
Anquan Boldin
L. Coles

Other notables

Hines Ward
Terrell Owens
Steve Smith
Marvin Harrison
Randy Moss

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Payton hopes to revive career with Argos

MISSISSAUGA -- The father is gone, but there are reminders of him whenever the son looks at a mirror.

"My dad is everywhere on me," said Jarrett Payton, who has five tattoos paying tribute to a man who gave his life to football and family. Pulling up his jersey, he reveals his favourite: a detailed sketch of his father, Walter, holding Jarrett as a little boy.

"He's staring at me and he's so proud of me," Payton said of the tattoo on his right hip.

Walter Payton died of a rare liver disease when he was just 45 years old. He never got to see his son play college at Miami, win the most valuable player award at the 2003 Orange Bowl or celebrate his first National Football League touchdown with the Tennessee Titans. But, aside from Jarrett's accomplishments, the thing that would likely please Walter the most is his son's resilience.

The Hall of Fame running back's posthumously published autobiography was titled Never Die Easy. And Jarrett, who lost his job in the NFL and was cut by the Montreal Alouettes following an ankle injury last summer, has taken a chapter out of the book.

After sitting out for 11 months, where he contemplated retirement, the 28-year-old is back on the field in a last-ditch effort to revive his career.

"My father would just be happy," Payton, also a running back, said of signing a contract Saturday to try out with the Toronto Argonauts. "He would say, ‘You never know how the chips will fall, but you just play hard and see what happens between these white lines.'

"If this doesn't work out here, this might be my last go-round. I'm giving my all on this field at this camp. I'm leaving everything on this field. And if it doesn't happen, I know I can walk away saying I did everything I could for myself and to help this team out."

While Payton appears to have the pedigree and passion to become a potential 1,000-yard rusher, he still has to prove that he can outrun the competition.

The six-foot-one, 225-pounder led the Alouettes in rushing with 163 carries for 852 yards and eight touchdowns in 2007, but he missed all of last year. And with a crowded Argos backfield that includes Tyler Ebell, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, newcomers Jay Lucas and Da'shawn Thomas, and returnees Jeff Johnson and Jamal Robertson, roster spots will be hard to come by.

"I think there's a great deal of competition at that position," Argos head coach Bart Andrus said. "I think there is some very good talent there and I think knowing Jarret's personality, he'll get in and compete. Whether or not he ends up making the team is yet to be seen. I think that's more in his control than anybody's."
Working in Payton's favour is familiarity.

In 2005, he played for Andrus in the NFL Europe, where the two won a World Bowl together in Amsterdam. Payton tied for the league lead with seven touchdowns and, according to Andrus, "was a big part" of the team's success.

"Really, the familiarity that I have with some of these players, it's important to me," said Andrus. "However, we let one of the guys go (linebacker Cory Peoples) that has played for me before. So there's other things involved."

Those other things include coming to camp in shape, putting the team ahead of individual concerns and playing with energy until the whistle stops on each and every play. It does not include using the CFL as a springboard back to the NFL, or whining to the coach that you did not get the jersey number that you have worn throughout your career.

"I'm a team guy. I really am," said Payton, adding that all the money in the world could not convince him to return to playing football in the United States. "I'd rather sacrifice all the other stuff to win a championship."

When asked what he thought about wearing No. 40 rather than the No. 33 he is more used to, Payton grinned.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to change that pretty soon," he said. "But right now, I'm just here to play."

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Panthers' quicker pressure defense sitting well with Lewis

CHARLOTTE -- Damione Lewis just grinned when asked about the Panthers' new pass rush. And the prospect of what they could do once fully staffed brought a broad smile to his face.

Perhaps no aspect of the team is changing — or needed changing — as much as the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. From the new stripped-down scheme brought in by coordinator Ron Meeks to trading next year's first-round pick so they could take defensive end Everette Brown, there's a sense of a fresh start.

“I think we're doing a pretty good job,” Lewis said. “Guys are getting upfield and pushing the pocket pretty good. We don't have pads on, so guys aren't all-out with it, but I think we've got a good solid group. We're working hard and we've got a good ways to go to get ready for that opener.

“We've got the world in front of us right now, and we're really trying to push it the best we can.”

Lewis, the team's best interior rusher, said last week he was encouraged by the extensive work on the nickel rush package. The Panthers had Charles Johnson at right end (the spot normally occupied by absent franchise player Julius Peppers), with Lewis and Tyler Brayton at the tackles. Brown was rushing from the left end, where he has taken the majority of his work since arriving.

That puts him up against bigger right tackles, but also creates the possibility of a “meet you at the quarterback” tandem with Peppers that has potential if Peppers shows up.

Even without Peppers, the group is emboldened at the moment by the scheme change, which gives them a chance to rush aggressively. Johnson began showing signs last year of emerging as a factor, with six sacks, but the ends not named Peppers have just 17.5 career sacks, so adding Brown was a necessity, not a luxury.

There's a vague sense that part of Peppers' frustration in Charlotte stemmed from a lack of pass-rush help (he never complained when Mike Rucker was playing), so adding Brown might be part of what brings him back into the fold. There's been no word from Peppers' camp, but the Panthers keep saying they anticipate him back for training camp.

Lewis said he hasn't spoken to Peppers in a few months, but said from what he's seen on the field this summer, he knows his erstwhile teammate will like what he sees upon his return.

“I think Julius would be unbelievable in this scheme,” Lewis said. “I think when he gets back, he's going to be really excited about some things we're doing with the ends. I think he's going to have a lot of fun with it.”

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Kenny Phillips adding bulk, volume

One of the guys who stood out in Friday’s OTA was second-year safety Kenny Phillips. He broke up a couple of passes and had some really good coverage on Kevin Boss along the far sideline, busting up that pass attempt. I had a chance to grab him for a few questions in the locker room after the workout and he was as confident as ever.
“I feel way more comfortable,” he said of his second year in the system. “I feel at home.”

One thing that always jumped out about Phillips is his size. But when I was standing next to him without a shirt (him, not me!) I was amazed at how much bigger he’d gotten. So, too, was he.

“Sixteen pounds since the season ended,” he said with a smile (you do the math, he was listed at 210 last year and a few weeks ago safeties coach Dave Merritt said he was weighing in at 218). “I don’t know where it came from,” Phillips added, “but I’m proud if it.”

Apparently not everyone is bashful about how much weight they've lost or gained this offseason.

Phillips may be bigger but he’s also bolder. In the secondary he’s no longer hesitant to shout out shifts in coverage or other information. Last year, as a rookie, he wasn’t very vocal on the field.

“I guess that goes with me being comfortable,” he said. “I know the guys a whole lot better. I’m just feeling more and more comfortable with myself and the guys I’m playing with.”

Phillips said he’s not a “rah-rah” yeller on the field, but he’ll occasionally do some hollering to make sure everyone is where they need to be. For the most part that role will fall to Michael Johnson this year, but Phillips said he can do it if called upon as well.

“Last year that wasn’t my role,” he said of barking commands. “I came in mostly on third downs. Butler was the guy who got everybody lined up. But I’m a starting guy now. I have to step up.”

It’s been noticed.

“Kenny Phillips has definitely surprised me this offseason as we have gone out and gone through walk throughs,” Merritt said a few weeks ago, prior to the start of OTAs. “This young man is out there yelling out the calls loudly, which he never did last year. And I don’t know if it was the just the fact of being a rookie, or whatever it may be, but he already is starting to make calls more vocally and so I’m very impressed with that and hopefully that is going to continue.”

Phillips and Johnson are starting at safety for the Giants in the offseason, but they aren’t guaranteed spots. Veteran C.C. Brown was brought in to push them for playing time. Still, Phillips considers himself a starter, a role he didn’t fill last year, even though many people expected he would as the first-round draft pick who had an impressive preseason.

“Last year I got to start a few games because Butler was hurt, but once he got back I knew it was his job,” Phillips said. “Now I feel like it’s permanent. Even though it’s in pencil right now, I’m trying to make sure it don’t get erased.”

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Q and A with Jeremy Shockey at Saints Mini-Camp

Q: Can you talk about your first day at the minicamp?
A: Its good to be back and get some work in. We have a long ways to go. Its our first mandatory minicamp. Its good to be here.

Q: Can you discuss what happened in Las Vegas?
A: Not much. Im sure all of you read about it. If youre halfway intelligent you can read it.

Q: Was it overblown?
A: Yes, I think so. They say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Thats the past, were talking about the future.

Q: How comfortable are you with the offense now after having spent a year with Sean Payton in New York and last season here?
A: I havent been here a year, so I think I can tune up my game. The most important thing is working with Drew (Brees) and what were trying to accomplish in each game. Thats the objective. Its real early this time of the year, but Im excited. (Last year at this time) I had a cast on my foot and I couldnt run. Im just working on the technique in the middle part of the game right now.

Q: This offense was ranked first without you getting into the end zone last year. How good can this offense be with you being healthier?
A: I think as good as it was last year. Thats our goal. I think our goal as a team is to be number one.

Q: Do you think your coaches and your teammates questioned your commitment with the Las Vegas report?
A: I doubt it. Thats their opinion, but its not the first game, I think my desire and heart is in this. People can question it all they want. I think its always great practicing leading up to the season, but I think that its during the game, when it counts. Its when you're going against another team.

Q: Do you think what happens on gameday is most important?
A: Of course. I think everybody believes that. I think its always good to practice hard and have a good practice, but again, it doesnt really translate into a good game. Ive always been a guy who has to practice to do well and I always try to train and convert that into a good game. What you said is undoubtedly the truth for guys who play in any sport. Its very important to do well in the games.

Q: Were you scared with what happened in Las Vegas?
A: I think Ive commented as much as I wanted. Im here talking about football, not about Vegas and about what he heard, she heard, he said, she said. Lets talk about whats going on now and thats it.

Q: Are you going to be here for the rest of the offseason activities?
A: Yes.

Q: Do you have a philosophy against offseason workouts?
A: I havent really done OTAs that much in my career, but obviously Im going to do as much as I can. Im going to be here for the rest of the time and getting better, knowing everything Drew (Brees) thinks before he thinks. Thats my philosophy this year. Its still a new offense for me. Im going to treat it like a rookie or anybody else in this room that got here.

Q: Are you eager to let the fans see the guy you can be?
A: I am, but like I said, theres a lot of time before our first game. Its September and its early June. The only thing I can say to the fans is its going to be a great year, the ticket situation speaks for itself. Its a long time away, but were working hard. Were working against our defense and then our first opponent. Hopefully we can give our defense a good look and vice versa. Theres a lot of time left before we play our first game. We have a whole training camp left and the preseason games. Its obviously excited to get ready to start with the mandatory minicamp right now, but theres a lot of time left.

Q: How hard was it coming in hurt last season?
A: It was hard. It seems like right when I got healthy I got hurt again. It was very hard. Thats the thing about this game. Its more of a mental chess of the brain. It was hard for me last year. Ive only been hurt with a sprained ankle before. I never had a broken bone as I did a year and a half ago. Im excited to come into training camp and prove to my teammates. It was hard getting hurt, but its what this game is about. I took the adversity. Im healthy this year. I can only control as much as I can.

Q: Wanting to prove yourself, did you maybe play when you shouldnt have last year?
A: Yes, thats probably the way to explain it. That was one of my decisions and I went with it.

Q: As a high profile guy, is the scrutiny unfair in your opinion?
A: When you get into things like that you cant control. Coming from a big market like New York, you really cant control what they write about you. All you can do is control how you play on Sundays. If you still get critiqued, thats fine. All you can really do is prove to your teammates and your coaches, because thats the guys you go out with and put it on the line for. The fans fall along with that. You get scrutinized. Everybody getting things written about them when youre doing good and when things go bad they write bad things. Ive kind of learned to not even listen to it.

Q: Does it affect the way you live your life off the field?
A: I kind of keep to the same philosophy of trying to do the right thing at all times, but as the situation you get put in as an NFL player, a guy playing in a big market in New York, youre going to get things written about you. I was 21 years old when I got drafted into a huge city. I remember going here and there and getting dragged. Its definitely different being 28 now and to my benefit. I can shield those things off and Im happy to be in New Orleans.

Q: How did your teammates react to the latest incident?
A: I think I just commented on the situation.

Q: Would you consider attending OTAs in the future?
A: Yes. Im going to be here as long as everyone else.

Q: Do you think you have the respect of the guys in the locker room?
A: Thats something you have to earn obviously and like you said, I had no touchdowns last year. I think Im here trying to help this team win. Im not here to sell jerseys or anything like that. I think you can ask people about how hard I work here. I cant change anyones opinion. All the things I do, when Im not here, I work hard. I work with a good group of people in Miami in hot weather. These OTA sessions these next couple weeks Ill be here.

Q: How would you compare this place to New York?
A: There are a lot less people here. Thats a good thing. I had a great time in New York, but I think in New Orleans this year, Ill have the time to show people Im healthy and it will be a lot different from last year.

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Wayne glad to see Manning smiling

It didn't take long for Reggie Wayne to detect a change in quarterback Peyton Manning's disposition regarding the uncertainty of the Colts' offensive coaching staff.

Frustrated last week over what Manning described as "poor communication" following the retirements of coordinator Tom Moore and line coach Howard Mudd, the three-time NFL Most Valuable Player appeared more upbeat to Wayne as the team continued its offseason work Friday.

"He's been smiling," Wayne said, "so something's going right right now."

Manning indicated recent meetings with team president Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell helped. Polian said Friday the Colts plan to bring Moore and Mudd back as consultants once the dynamics of the pension restrictions are resolved.

"Sounds like it's still somewhat to be determined what their potential role may be," Manning said. "But I know they'll handle it and we'll be in good shape. "I do know that Jim Caldwell has a plan, as he told me, kind of for the either/or scenario. That plan sounds good to me, and I'll be there to support him in whatever direction we go."

Moore and Mudd retired last month because of concerns with the league's pension plan. When they are allowed to return, and in what capacity, remains uncertain.

"This is a unique issue that's unique to pension law and the fact they're above 65 (years old)," Polian said. "We've been wrestling with it since February.''

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Shockey plans to partake in rest of Saints workouts

METAIRIE, La. (AP) -- New Orleans tight end Jeremy Shockey said he plans to participate in the Saints final eight voluntary workouts and wants to turn the focus on him back to football.

Shockey, talking to reporters between practices at New Orlean's mandatory minicamp, has made more headlines off the field than on it since joining the Saints nearly a year ago.

He missed much of last season because of a hernia injury and failed to score a touchdown in the NFL's top-rated offense.

He did not attend the first four of the team's voluntary offseason practices and was back in the news two weeks ago when he was treated at a hospital for dehydration after being found unconscious at a pool party at a Las Vegas resort.

He offered few specifics about the Vegas incident, but seemed to confirm that excessive consumption of alcohol mixed with the desert heat led to the dehydration.

"If you're halfway intelligent you can read what everybody wrote," Shockey said. "You know what they say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That's in the past. I'm looking forward to the future."

Shockey said he has not participated in voluntary practices in his previous seven NFL seasons, but plans to do so this year to get better acquainted with quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton's offense.

"I still haven't been here a year so I can mature a long way and tune up my game," he said. "The most important thing is to know Drew and know what we're trying to get accomplished and knowing each other's game. It's still a new offense for me. I'm going to treat it as a rookie like anyone else in this locker room that just got here."

The Saints traded for Shockey last summer and he suffered a hernia injury during training camp. He said that he made a mistake playing through the injury and eventually needed in-season surgery. Though he was third on the team with 50 receptions, Shockey didn't have the kind of impact New Orleans envisioned even as Brees passed for the second-most yards ever in an NFL season.

Shockey said he doesn't care if people question his commitment as long as his coaches and teammates don't.

"I know my heart and my desire are in this, so people can question it all they want," he said. "It's always good practicing, leading up to the season. But the No.1 thing to keep in mind is it's during the game when it counts, not when it's out here with pillows on your shoulders. It's when you have the pads on and you're going against a real opponent.

"I think everyone knows I'm here to try to help this team win," Shockey added. "I'm not here to sell jerseys or anything like that. I'll have the time this year to show people I'm healthy and different from last year."

Shockey committed a false start early in team drills, but moments later made a sliding catch and was the first receiver in line to catch extra passes from a JUGS machine after practice.

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Heat Looking At McClinton?

Miami Heat President Pat Riley, Vice President of Player Personnel Chet Kammerer and team executives Andy Elisburg, Nick Arison and Adam Simon spent two days last week at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Ill.
Among those who Heat officials took a look at was Jack McClinton of Miami, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I think he's Eddie House to Robert Hite, somewhere in the middle there," Kammerer said, referring to two former Heat point guards. "The positive is Jack shot the ball well. He certainly didn't hurt himself. He was pretty productive."

The Heat could plausibly select McClinton, who is expected to be available in the second round. The comparisons to House are well-deserved, as McClinton can surely shoot the basketball. In addition to his lethal three-point shooting -- which he shot at a 45.3 percent clip last season with the Hurricanes -- McClinton has the ability to come of screens and shoot the pull-up jumer.

But if Riley is looking for someone who can shoot at the point guard spot, then why not just re-sign Luther Head? Head only played nine full games in a Heat uniform before breaking his hand in a game against the Orlando Magic, thus leaving him out for the rest of the season. This means that there will not be a lot of competition for Head, and he is also probably willing to sign for the minimum. In addition to his shooting, Head has something McClinton does not have: height. Head is 6-foot-3 while McClinton measures up at 6-foot-1.

Nevertheless, if McClinton does put a Heat hat on his head on Draft day, it will say more about Mario Chalmers than anyone else. With Chalmers and Chris Quinn already under contract for next season, the drafting of McClinton would seal the point guard rotation. This would also mean that Riley has a great deal of confidence in Chalmers as a starting point guard.

The problem is that Chalmers has not shown enough during his rookie season to merit a starting spot on a competitive team. Quite frankly, Chalmers has a lot to work on before he can be compared to Rajon Rondo. The 6-foot-1 point guard out of Kansas must work on his defense. Chalmers is frequently out of position on defense due to his excessive gambling for steals. A chronic problem for the rookie guard was his persistent foul trouble. Offensively, Chalmers must learn how to finish at the rim and continue to develop his jump shot.

The Heat's 2008 second-round selection would not start on most NBA teams, and he should not start in Miami. Chalmers appears to be a streaky shooter who can come off the bench and give the Heat a spark -- and nothing more. That is why I have advocated for a trade that books Raymond Felton a flight to South Beach. Felton, someone who can create his own shot and dish out assists, would relieve a multitude of pressure off of Dwyane Wade.

McClinton is a nice prospect, but the Heat should not draft him. In the second round, it should always be safety first. If Riley picks Danny Green for depth at the shooting guard position behind Wade and Daequan Cook, that would make sense. Also, don't expect Riley to trade up into the first round. The Heat's President would probably not make such a move because it would entail guaranteed money for the 2010-11 season.

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McClinton continues to impress NBA scouts

CORAL GABLES _ On Thursday, former UM guard Jack McClinton was in a familiar place.

He was heading to shoot jumpers on campus. This scene has been a constant the last four years. The reward is expected to come when McClinton hears his name called during the NBA Draft June 25. After having some doubters, McClinton has been impressive while working out for several NBA teams.

"Things are going really well," McClinton said. "You only get one chance to go in there and show these people what you got. You have to make the best of it."

So far, McClinton has visited Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago. He lists Houston as his only sub-par workout, but likely made up for that with a strong showing at last month's Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago. McClinton performed well enough to earn workouts with two more teams, Cleveland and Phoenix.

McClinton said it doesn't matter where he lands as long as he hears his name called while watching the Draft with family.

"I'm hearing a lot of late-first (round) or early-second," McClinton said. "And early-second to mid-second. Basically, it's anywhere from No. 22 to 60. If I'm not taken in the first round, I wouldn't say it would be disappointing. I've worked so hard. Even if you're in the second round, you can still work and get a spot. I love to work. I'll do what I got to do to get there."

The biggest question is what position McClinton will play. At 6-2, he played mostly shooting guard for the Hurricanes. He will likely shift to the point in the NBA. Ball-handling and play-making ability are both concerns, but McClinton refuses to worry.

"I get this question a lot," McClinton said. "I look at myself as a guard. If you think about the NBA, there's only about six or seven great point guards. You got Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups. But all the rest are guys who just don't get rattled bringing the ball up the court. They get the team in the offense and they cut through and knock down the open shot if possible. There's not too many guys who are out there creating."

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Huff's frustration boils over

OAKLAND, Calif. - Aubrey Huff endured five of his balls getting caught either on the warning track or right at the wall in Seattle. In the same series at Safeco Field, he hit a shot that was initially ruled a homer and correctly overruled into a foul ball.

In Friday's series opener at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, Huff watched another potential homer die on the right-field warning track. Frustration ensued after each near miss, but the Orioles' first baseman didn't officially reach his breaking point until the eighth inning on Saturday night when he had a bloop hit with two men on taken away on a diving play by Oakland Athletics left fielder Matt Holliday.

The normally-reserved veteran whipped his helmet and the continued his tirade in the bathroom in the corner of the home dugout.

"For me, this whole road trip, I felt like I've swung the bat really well," said Huff, who is just 3 for his last 22 and has one homer in his past 80 at-bats. "In Seattle, which is not a good hitter's park, I hit five balls that were probably homers in Baltimore and most parks. If I hit two there, that's one thing. But five? That really [ticked] me off.
"Then finally yesterday, I broke a bat and jammed one off and Matt Holliday, of all people, made a diving catch in shallow left field. We're all human there. I don't care how much I try not to snap, that one got me. That was it."

Huff was held out of the starting lineup in Sunday's 3-0 loss for just the second time this season as Oscar Salazar, whose contract was purchased earlier in the day to replace the injured Cesar Izturis, got the start at first base and went 0-for-4. Huff said he had no problem with getting the day off and looked forward to the mental break with Monday being an off day as well.

Huff was joined on the bench by slumping second baseman Brian Roberts, who sat for the first time this season with Ty Wigginton getting his first start at second base. Roberts pinch-hit in the eighth inning on Sunday and struck out, extending his skid to 2-26 after going 0-for-18 at one point early last month.

"They are probably trying to carry the team themselves and they don't need to do that," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said of Huff and Roberts. "I think it's commendable that they both have that approach, but I just think that everybody goes through it."

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Ryan Braun: Goes Deep Twice

Braun went 2-for-4 with two home runs and four RBI in Sunday's loss to the Braves.

Braun helped welcome Tommy Hanson to the big leagues by smacking two homers off the prospect in Hanson's first career start. After a stretch of 21 games in which Braun hit just one long ball, he now has three in his last five games.

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