Photo of the Week - McKinnie & Shockey Fishing During Days At The U

Here is a photo Bryant Mckinnie tweeted this past week showing himself and Jeremy Shockey fishing in Miami during their days at the U.

Click here to order Bryant McKinnie's or Jeremy Shockey's proCane Rookie Card.

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Rocky McIntosh willing to make inside move in 3-4

Washington did not pursue Karlos Dansby, and Larry Foote left without a contract after visiting the complex this week, so it would seem the team still has a big hole to fill at linebacker opposite London Fletcher.

The Redskins appear to need another starting middle linebacker because they are in the process of transitioning from a base 4-3 defense to a 3-4 alignment. But there is an in-house answer, Rocky McIntosh said.

"I can play inside," McIntosh said in a phone interview the other day. "I've played inside before. It's no big deal. I can play anywhere. I did it when Gregg [Williams] was here."

The four-year veteran primarily has played weak-side linebacker in the 4-3. But when Williams was the Redskins' defensive coordinator, McIntosh said, "we just weren't a 4-3. We did a little bit of everything. Sometimes we played like a 3-4, and I was inside.

"I also played outside and I played end. I played all over the place. I played every position. I can play inside with Fletch. If that's where they want me to play, I know I can do it because I've done it before. It's not really that different for me."

Former defensive coordinator Greg Blache simplified the Redskins' scheme when he replaced Williams before the 2008 season. Under Blache, the Redskins were less aggressive in terms of blitzing than they had been with Williams in charge, and McIntosh settled into the full-time weak-side role.

McIntosh is coming off a strong season in which he was credited with 64 unassisted tackles (94 overall) and had two interceptions. He was among the most consistent performers on a defense that finished 10th in the league in yards per game.

In a capped year, McIntosh would have been an unrestricted free agent. But McIntosh was restricted under the rules for the uncapped 2010 season.

He expressed frustration last week because the Redskins tendered him a contract. McIntosh had hoped the team would offer him a multiyear extension.

"But you just go out and play when it's time to play," McIntosh said. "If they need me to play there [inside], that's where I'll play."

Click here to order Rocky McIntosh's proCane Rookie Card.

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Shanahan's message -- to Portis and others -- comes through clearly

During the recent NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Coach Mike Shanahan stressed he expected all players to report for the voluntary conditioning program that will begin Monday at Redskins Park.

Apparently, Clinton Portis got the message.

"Oh, I guarantee you Clinton will be there," Shanahan said Thursday night during a media availability session at Morton's in Tyson's Corner. "I know Clinton too well. He'll be there and kick-off the offseason on the right note. I want my leaders to be there, and hopefully we'll have 100 percent participation. If not, I'll be disappointed."

Shanahan, General Manager Bruce Allen and owner Daniel Snyder each briefly addressed reporters before attending a dinner for the Redskins' charitable foundation. Usually among the most aggressive teams in the league at the outset of free agency, Washington has taken a more deliberate approach this offseason under the direction of Shanahan and Allen, which apparently is fine with Snyder.

"They've got a lot of work to do to figure it all out," Snyder said. "[They're] great guys; lucky to have 'em."

Running back Larry Johnson currently is on a two-day visit with the team, and Washington earlier Thursday signed blocking tight end Sean Ryan. The Redskins also have added versatile offensive lineman Artis Hicks and nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu, who is still rehabbing after having two surgeries to repair an Achilles' tendon injury he suffered in training camp, since the market opened. Much to the disappointment of some agents, Washington did not pursue the few top-tier unrestricted players.

"I'm very satisfied" with their plan, Shanahan said. "We have a gameplan and it takes time. We've got a plan, it's not going to happen overnight. We just have to watch the plan take place.

"But we're going to try to get better every day. It's a process. You're not going to do it overnight, but you have to try to do the little things the right way. Hopefully, we can get it done."

The Redskins still hope to bolster their offensive and defensive lines and improve at linebacker and in the secondary in free agency and the draft. As for finding a complement for Portis, who missed the second half of last season after suffering a concussion, Johnson once was a premier power runner.

"Obviously, I've watched him from afar for years," Shanahan said of Johnson. "I coached Larry in the Pro Bowl. I like Larry. I'm a big fan of his."

And Snyder seems to be a big fan of the men now charting the Redskins' course. "It's really not about the past now. It's about the future," Snyder said. "When you look at the pedigree of Bruce and Mike and everything they're doing and their experience, we're in good hands."

Click here to order Clinton Portis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Zach Railey At Opening of new Sperry Store

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 06: 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist Zach Railey (R) assists customers at the opening of the new Sperry store on March 6, 2010 in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Cora To Replace Reyes

There is no Carlos Beltran. And now there is no Jose Reyes, either.

The Mets said Thursday that Reyes, their former All-Star shortstop, has a case of hyperthyroidism. He must refrain from physical activity for the next two to eight weeks. Minaya told reporters that "it doesn't look good right now" for Reyes to be ready for Opening Day.

Reyes played only 36 games last year because of a serious hamstring injury. Now this.

It's to the point now where, regardless of allegiances, you feel badly for the Mets. They simply can't get their team on the field.

Beltran was on the disabled list last year. He will open this year on the DL, too.

Reyes was on the disabled list last year. He will probably open this year on the DL, too.

Instead of Reyes and Beltran, who is recovering from knee surgery, the Mets will probably have Alex Cora and Angel Pagan in their Opening Day lineup.

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Alex Cora & Other proCanes Nominated for CWS All-Legends Team

Hurricanes baseball head coach Jim Morris and former Hurricanes Pat Burrell, Danny Matienzo and Alex Cora have been nominated for potential selection to the College World Series Legends Team, as announced by the NCAA on Thursday.

To commemorate the final Series being played in Omaha’s Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium during the 2010 Men’s College World Series, the NCAA is asking baseball fans to help select the College World Series Legends Team.

The Legends Team will represent those student-athletes who had the best CWS performances throughout the 60 years the event has been played at Rosenblatt Stadium.

The team will consist of 27 members: two former student-athletes per fielding position, four pitchers, two designated hitters, three head coaches and two “utility players”. The utility players will be determined after fan voting has completed, and will represent those student-athletes deserving recognition who may not have been selected by fans, media and coaches at a particular position.

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Perez eyes supporting, closer roles

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chris Perez has his eyes on a role he feels he was born to play.

The closing role with the Indians? Well, sure, that's definitely a role the hard-throwing young reliever is interested in.

But for now, Perez's more modest hope is to land a cameo role on the HBO comedy show "Eastbound and Down." After all, he feels he bears a physical resemblance to the show's fictional main character, Kenny Powers, a former Major Leaguer adjusting to life outside of professional ball and trying to get back in.

Ever since the show debuted a year ago, people have been telling Perez he has a doppelganger in Danny McBride, the actor who plays Powers.

"I did a Google search of him," Perez said, "and my picture was like the third thing that came up."

The connection even runs from resemblance to representation, as the two belong to Creative Artists Agency.

"We actually reached out to his agent about getting me a cameo," said Perez, who has no previous acting experience. "Maybe I could be his competition. I could play the young guy who takes his job."

Alas, the second season of the show has already been shot, so Perez will have to wait at least another year.

In the meantime, he just might reach that other goal. If the Indians do follow the industry speculation and trade Kerry Wood at some point this season, Perez is Wood's heir apparent in the ninth-inning role.

"That's the way he's been groomed," manager Manny Acta said of Perez. "This is a guy who has the stuff to do it and the mentality to do it."

Perez's mentality was put to the test last season. The Indians acquired him from the Cardinals in the Mark DeRosa trade and placed him in their big league bullpen. They knew he had 60 Major League appearances under his belt in St. Louis, including seven saves at the tail end of the '08 season. They considered him a promising young arm who could help calm an erratic 'pen.

But not even the writers of "Eastbound and Down" could have scripted a more ridiculous Tribe debut than the one turned in by Perez.

Perez faced the White Sox on June 29 and nearly decapitated the first batter he faced, Alexei Ramirez. He also hit Jermaine Dye and walked Jim Thome. He didn't cover first on a would-be double-play ball. Then he served up an RBI double to Chris Getz and an RBI single to Gordon Beckham. All told, he was charged with four runs in two-thirds of an inning, marking the first time in his professional career that he had given up four runs in an outing.

A week later, Perez faced the White Sox again, and this time gave up a sixth-inning grand slam to Paul Konerko that coughed up a lead and sent the Indians on the path to defeat.

Perez, however, didn't let those memorable experiences break him. He went on to have a solid second half, holding the opposition scoreless over 20 2/3 consecutive innings pitched from July 8 to Sept. 5 -- the longest such stretch by a Tribe reliever since Paul Assenmacher worked 23 consecutive scoreless innings in 1997. Perez's ERA from July 8 on was 2.90, as he struck out 36 batters in 31 innings and held opponents to a .173 average.

Still, Perez remembers the nights that got away from him as much as the ones that went his way. He remembers letting 12 of 23 inherited runners score and the five homers he served up in 33 1/3 innings of work with the Tribe.

So when Perez came to camp, he arrived with a new, two-seam fastball that he hopes will help him in situations with runners on base.

"That's something I struggled with last year," he said. "I came in with guys on base, and it seemed like every time, they'd hit a home run. That's where the two-seamer will help me. I'll get those ground-ball double plays to get out of the inning."

Perez was back on the mound against the White Sox on Thursday in a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch, and he used the two-seamer for the first time. It didn't go so well. He only threw it to one hitter, Mark Kotsay, and the pitch was way out of the zone. So consider that a work in progress.

"I want to have it so that when I get behind in the count, 2-0 or something like that, instead of throwing a straight fastball, I can give them something with movement," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do now. I'm just trying to get my mechanics right."

Perez worked one inning against the heart of the White Sox lineup. He gave up a leadoff ground-ball single to Carlos Quentin, then retired the side, though Konerko and Kotsay both took him to the track.

If Perez, who is fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery, can add an effective sinker to his power arsenal, he'll be all the more dangerous in the late innings. Acta has already named Perez his primary right-handed setup man, and closing is a distinct possibility for him either this year or next.

Closing in the big leagues has been a goal for Perez throughout his professional career and going back to his days of holding that role at the University of Miami. He thought he had earned the chance to win that job with the Cardinals after his performance at the end of '08, but it wasn't there for him at the start of '09.

So when he hears Acta and the Indians express confidence in his capability to one day possess that job, Perez feels motivated.

"It's something I didn't get from St. Louis," he said. "It's great. You don't have to look over your shoulder. You know the manager has confidence in you, and it's up to me to get it done and prove to him that he should be confident in me. That starts with just being consistent and being able to get the ball to Kerry and keep the lead."

Should he be able to do so, Perez figures to have a longer and more productive career than Kenny Powers.

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The Hurricane Cereal Box

Rocky McIntosh dropped by my [] desk today wearing a green and orange 305 shirt, claiming to be on a cereal box. When I expressed my skepticism, he left and returned an hour later with an actual box of the Miami Hurricanes "Pipeline To The Pros" cereal.

It took a few minutes to find all the Redskins on the box -- a few minutes during which McIntosh noted that, with the signing of Antrel Rolle, the Giants now have more active Miami players than the Redskins -- but eventually they all turned up. (The most elusive was Clinton Portis, wearing a difficult-to-see #28 and with his face obscured by a visor. "Guess he didn't donate enough last year," McIntosh mused, moments before we finally noticed Portis disappearing into a bowl of cereal and berries.)

When I wrote about the Redskins Breakfast Blitz cereal last September, I noted that

Because it would probably be unwise to associate an NFL team with a cereal with zero nutritional content, this tastes much closer to Honey Nut Cheerios than anything else.

Well, The U doesn't play by those rules: this is straight-up generic Frosted Flakes, twelve grams of sugar and all. For all that, though, McIntosh seems pretty enthused by it, although he was quick to shoot down my suggestion that this was the highest honor of his career.

"That would be actually getting to the pros," he said. Then he promised to conduct a taste test tomorrow between Pipeline To The Pros, Breakfast Blitz, and "some General Mills thing". Which is something to look forward to, I guess, if there's still no free agency news.

( The cereal is sold at your local Publix Supermarket. We've got our own unopened box. It's a great collectible.

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The Patriots' emerging leader: Vince Wilfork

At one point during a conference call with reporters Wednesday, New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork talked about identifying "bad seeds" in the locker room and weeding them out. He said he wouldn't have a problem going to head coach Bill Belichick and pointing it out.

This is part of the benefit the Patriots could gain after signing Wilfork to a five-year, $40 million contract with an $18 million signing bonus.
They didn't just re-up their best defensive player from 2009. After a season in which team chemistry wasn't at championship levels, they also empowered a new locker-room policeman.

Wilfork has traditionally been a leader by example. Now, he's positioned to possibly expand his leadership role inside the locker room given the long-term commitment that the team has made to him.

"As players, everybody has to be accountable. If you are on the field, you have to give me 100 percent," Wilfork said Wednesday morning, taking perhaps the first steps toward a larger leadership role.

"You have to weed out the bad seeds, point blank. If you can't give me what I'm giving you on the field, I don't need you on the field with me. That's point blank. That's how you win. You have to build trust. Show me that I can count on you.

"If a guy is not giving me that, I have no problem telling that guy that I don't need him on the field, and I have no problem going to tell Bill that I don't want him on the field. That's point blank. That's how it's going to have to work."

Given that Wilfork was unsure of his future with the Patriots last season -- contract negotiations were up and down over the course of the year -- it sounded like he might not have been completely comfortable with that role. Now, he's charging ahead.

He touched on the dynamics of building a championship team.

"We need to build that bond. And with that bond, you have to have some accountability. We need to trust one another when we're on the field. There is no question that we have that, but we have to pull it out of the guys," he said. "I think this year is going to be a huge change.

"We have a bunch of leadership on this team. A lot of guys aren't used to seeing young leaders, because all the leaders we had were older guys -- Rodney [Harrison], [Richard] Seymour, [Tedy] Bruschi, [Mike] Vrabel. You name it, they were older guys. They're not here anymore and now you're starting to see younger guys becoming leaders earlier."

Wilfork then listed a handful of younger leaders, while noting that "we have guys in this locker room who know what it takes to win. You just have to trust it. I think we as the leaders of the team, we have to ask more out of ourselves and ask more out of our players."

He said it starts in the offseason program.

Other snippets from the near 30-minute conference call:

• On having a weight clause in his contract each year (he earns money by being a specified weight): "It's not a big deal. I've been having a weight clause, it wasn't in the contract, but it's a certain weight I have to meet anyways -- at 325 every year. I've never had a problem being at my weight. Every big guy in the league that is a nose tackle/defensive lineman that is a bigger guy all have this in their contracts. There is nothing in this contract that is unfair to me."

• On the team's other signings: "It's very encouraging. Leigh [Bodden] was around last year, so he got a little taste. Tully [Banta-Cain] has been around, so he knows what a championship team is all about. Those two guys are definitely people who can help us."

• On conversations he had with team owner Robert Kraft during negotiations: "There were times when I wanted to talk to him. Sometimes it was about contract, sometimes it was just general conversations. He had no problem talking with me. He always returned my phone calls if I didn't reach him. Our personal relationship is great. It's always been great, from day one until now. It's always been a good relationship between us and the Krafts. There were times when I thought maybe I needed to talk to him directly and I did."

• On the role of his wife Bianca during negotiations: "That's my agent/wife. She's tough. She wants nothing but the best for us. I wouldn't change it for the world, to have a wife that is my partner, my friend like she is, business-minded. Ever since she came into my life, she's been a huge supporter of me -- football or no football."

• On his late parents and how much he'd like to share this experience with them: "There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about my parents. I lost my father when I was 20 and I lost my mother after my 21st birthday. My parents never got a chance to see my daughter or baby son. Every day that goes by, I reflect on that. I told my father when I was 4 what I wanted to be in life, a professional football player."

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

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Testaverde to assist at Jesuit

As if the splash he made by luring ex-Armwood offensive coordinator Chris Taylor to his Jesuit staff weren't enough, James Harrell now has performed a figurative cannonball. The Tigers' new coach said today Vinny Testaverde likely will join his staff as well.

"Vinny's going to help out in some capacity with our quarterbacks," Harrell said.

The 1986 Heisman Trophy winner who set longevity records in a 21-season NFL career, Testaverde will be joined by his son, Vincent Jr., a promising receiver who has been accepted to the school, Harrell said.

The first overall pick -- by the Bucs -- of the 1987 NFL Draft, Testaverde appeared in two Pro Bowls and two AFC Championship games, and threw for more than 46,000 yards in his pro career.

"I definitely will be bouncing stuff off him in regard to quarterbacks," Harrell said. "I don't think there's anyone in town who has more experience on the playing field for sure, and his background speaks for itself. ... I know he has a commitment to excellence."

Click here to order Vinny Testaverde's proCane Rookie Card.

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Vince's retirement plan set in motion

OK, I hope I didn't freak anyone out with that headline. Vince Wilfork, for the record, is not anywhere near retirement.

But with the numbers on his new contract as big as they are, it was natural that the first question posed to Vince during today's conference call was this ... What exactly are you going to do with all that cash?

"I think I've got everything that I want already," Wilfork said. "Only thing we're gonna do is, closer to the time of retirement, build a home. I'm not a big flashy guy. I got my truck. I'm just a normal dude. I don't need to go out and buy a Bentley or a Ferrari. And even though I love to fish, it doesn't make sense to buy a boat now, because I can't enjoy it. I'm fine."

And where will that house be? "Florida, of course," Wilfork said. "Already have some land down there that I'm in love with, been having it for five years now. I can't wait to build it out there. Everything is set, but it doesn't make sense to build a house now if you can't enjoy it."

So when Vince retires, he plans to build on that land in Lake Wells, Fla. He also mentioned the last toy he bought himself was this truck, what he called a "Baby 18-wheeler". Those, for one reason or another, seem to be hot among NFL linemen these days ... I know Cowboys linemen Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo (a Bridgewater-Raynham guy, for you locals) have pretty similar wheels.

But overall, it's pretty clear that Wilfork isn't so enthralled with material things. And his experiences in life provide pretty logical reasons why, and those experiences also explain why, for a time on the conference call today, Big Vince was awfully reflective.

Wilfork lost both his parents, David and Barbara, while he was in school at Miami. The story's a heart-wrenching one, and that's why each professional step that Wilfork takes, he marks with the impact his mom and dad had.

"My parents never got a chance to see my daughter or my baby son," Wilfork said. "Every day that goes by, I reflect on that. I told my father, when I was 4, what I wanted to be in life, and that was a professional football player. ... When I signed my deal, as a rookie, it was a special moment because, physically they weren't here to see me do it, but my father always believed in me and my mother believed in me, and when I signed as a rookie, it was, 'Man, I made it, dad. I made, momma.'

"Once I signed this one, it's a whole different league now. Everything I've work for in life, this is what I worked for. Sometimes people take it for granted. I don't care how mad you are with your parents, your siblings, don't take life for granted. ... When I wake up and see my wife and kids, that's something I cherish, because I know how it's here and how quick it can go.

"And for my parents not to be here physically to enjoy this moment with me, yeah, that bothers me. That definitely bothers me. My daddy was a big inspiration to my life. I have one other brother and we always talk about our parents. My father made me who I am, from the athlete to the man to the friend to the loving person, it was all taken from my father. I always look at him and I wanted to be like my father.

"And I just wish he was here physically to enjoy this time with me. I know we'd probably be somewhere fishing, because my dad was a big-time fisherman. He was a bigger Pittsburgh Steeler fan, but by now he would've traded in his Pittsburgh Steeler jacket for a Patriot jacket, I'm pretty sure of that. He was everything to me, and he's the one who got me to this point."

Another important one is Bianca, his wife, who's sort of carried the torch for Wilfork the last few years and worked to handle so many things in his life so he could focus on football. You guys may have gotten to know her over the last few weeks as @Mrs75.

"That's my agent-slash-wife," Wilfork said. "She's tough, and doesn't want anything but the best for us. And you know what? I wouldn't change it for the world. To have a partner like that, to have a wife that's a partner and friend like she is, so business-minded, it's probably tough on business people, because they're getting it from both ends, from the agent and her.

"She's always been supportive. Ever since she came into my life, she's been a huge supporter of me, football or no football. Sometimes she wishes I never played football, so we could live a normal life, but I thank her. What she does for me, she looks out for the best in my interests, for our life. She's just always supportive, and when I'm wrong, she tells me I'm wrong. ... I respect that. But she means a lot to me, as a wife and a business partner. She's a very smart young lady. And I'm happy to have such a special person in my life like her."

The money was important to Vince, as it would be to anyone in that situation. But it seems like there's a little more meaning to it, in his case, than a truckload of cash.

Hopefully, some of those comments from No. 75 show you why.

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

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Kenny Phillips not worried about Giants signing safety Antrel Rolle

Kenny Phillips knew what people were thinking when the Giants signed Antrel Rolle for $37 million on the first day of free agency. He knew some took it as a sign the Giants were worried he'd never make it all the way back.

But Phillips insists those fears are completely unfounded. In fact, he told the Daily News earlier Wednesday that his recovery from left knee surgery is on track to have him on the field for the start of training camp in July.

And once he's there, he plans to help Rolle make good on his vow that they'll form "the best safety tandem in the NFL."

"The coaches have reassured me they didn't bring him in to replace me - they made that very clear," Phillips said. "After the performance we had last year in the secondary, they had to bring someone in. It would be foolish not to. It'll be a privilege playing next to him."

That will happen, the third-year pro insisted, even though several orthopedic surgeons have said that the condition in his knee - patellofemoral arthritis - - can be career-threatening. Phillips and the Giants have denied that possibility from the moment his season ended after their Week 2 game last September. In fact, Phillips recently wrote in his blog that "I feel like I could play tomorrow."

Earlier today, Phillips added that team doctors have continually "assured me I can return and be 100 percent when I do."

"I feel real good," Phillips said. "I'm making a lot of progress. The rehab is coming along real well. I should be running soon - - probably by the end of this month. As far as they tell me, it's looking good. The knee is getting stronger."

The rehab, which Phillips has done mostly from his home in Miami, has been a very long process since he underwent surgery in September, mostly involving weights and strengthening exercises. He said he's consulted with some athletes who suffered from the same condition (though he declined to name them) and "They reassured me that it's something I can bounce back from as long as put in the work."

"Now I have no doubt at all," he said. "When it first occurred, I didn't really know what it was myself. But after talking to trainers and doctors, I felt great about it. I already feel myself get stronger and getting back to the form that I had. I feel that I didn't lose anything, to be honest with you."

Phillips will likely sit out the organized team activity (OTA) sessions in May and  June and the mini-camp in mid-June, but he "definitely expects to be ready for the start of full-speed practices in late July. He's so sure, in fact, that he occasionally pauses and pictures himself back on the field for the first time since mid-September.

"I kind of picture it all the time," Phillips said. "From the way my rehab is going I feel I'm definitely not going to lose anything. I can only get better. So I sometimes picture myself making interceptions, making tackles, just making the plays I used to. I just can't wait."

It'll be more exciting, he said, now that he'll be on that field with Rolle, whom he's known since he was as senior in high school and Rolle - then a senior at Miami - presented him with an award. He said he helped the Giants recruit Rolle and constantly talked with him as the ex-Cardinal was pondering the Giants' big offer.

Rolle, in fact, was scheduled to arrive in Miami earlier today to workout with Phillips - something the newest Giant said he planned to do a lot in the next few months.

"I'm looking forward to it," Phillips said. "You could say he'll be like that older brother for me. He's been in the league longer and he's someone I wouldn't mind taking advice from. He's very intelligent. He has experience. You can't do nothing but learn.

"It's going to be a great addition to an already pretty good secondary," Phillips added. "He's going to bring so much more to our secondary because of things he can do. He's basically a play-maker. You can sum him up in that one word. That's kind of what we were missing this last year."

They were missing that, at least in part, because Phillips was missing. So if he returns, the Giants won't have one play-maker at safety. They'll have two.

"I'm definitely excited," Phillips said. "(Rolle) has that Miami swagger. There's nothing wrong with it. He's very confident. And tell you the truth, we just have two guys that can go out and get it. Most teams usually have just one dog. For us, we have two of us that can go out make some plays.

"And like he said, if we go out there and work at it, we definitely can go for that title of best safety tandem in NFL."

Click here to order Kenny Phillips' proCane Rookie Card.

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Wilfork: 'They kept their word to me'

It's hard to figure where to start on the conference call Vince Wilfork just held with the local media.

So how about here ... This team that struggled so mightily in 2009 to replace the nearly-decade-long leadership provided by Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi seems to have found a new, powerful voice for a locker room that was starting to show cracks.

And he comes from within. See, where Wilfork's future was so uncertain before all this played itself out, and even though he has been a leader in his own way in the past, he now knows he'll be here for a long time to come and that clears him to become the guiding light this team so sorely needs. He's willing, able, and ready, it appears, to assume that role.

"As players, we’re going to have to start in the offseason training, and basically, everybody is going to have to be accountable,” Wilfork said. “If you’re on the field, you have to give me 100 percent. Always. We have to weed out the bad seeds, point blank. If you can’t give me what I’m giving you on the field, I don’t need you on the field with me. Point blank. That’s how you win. You got to build trust. Show me that I can trust you. ...

"I led by example (before), but now all of us, we rise our level. ... If you don't want to win, you don't have to be here."

Quite honestly, and I put this up on Twitter, I couldn't help but think of Wilfork as a Miami Hurricane at that moment. Vince has always had a rep as a "program guy", whether it was in Coral Gables, or in Foxborough, and it was easy to wonder if that hurt him from a business standpoint in the past few months, particularly when he decided to attend mandatory minicamp last June after missing most of the offseason program. I certainly had that thought.

And that's not to denigrate Vince. It's who he is, and that figures to be a powerful asset for the Patriots for years to come.

He did his job, adhered to the program and, without having to stage a high-profile holdout, got the big-time, long-term deal that all players want coming off his rookie deal. That he might be the first Patriot in this regime to have things play out that way should work to keep other younger guys on board if contract tumult comes in their own situations.

Here's the message, directly from Vince, that represents the team's peripheral benefit in this situation:

"This team goes through a lot every year to win. They make decisions based on what's best for the team. I can only speak on my whole experience. Yes, there were ups and downs, and it was frustrating, and there were times when I thought it was close and things fell part. There were all types of mixed emotions to the whole thing. But at the end of the day, they kept their word to me. ... They kept it real with me."

We'll have more from Wilfork, and his personal side of this whole thing, in a little while.

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

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So far, James Bryant a knockout as a boxer

James Bryant had been working at his new craft for nearly six months before finally making the call home.

While it might be true that no man intimidates the 6-3, 250-pound Reading High grad, apparently Bryant still fears his mother.

"The only thing that was his saving grace," Juanita Robins said, "was that I couldn't get my hands on him."

Robins was dead set against her son boxing when Bryant first asked her about it last summer. However, unbeknownst to Robins, Bryant joined the Heavyweight Factory in Hollywood, Fla., in August.

Two weeks before his Feb. 16 pro boxing debut, Bryant called Reading to let the cat out of the bag. Despite Robins' objections, Bryant went on to stop Roy Boykins in the first round at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood.

"When you can instill fear into another man's heart, it's always a great feeling," said Bryant, already sounding like a fighter. "My main goal was to go in there and threaten his well-being with my power, and that's what I went out there and did."

While Robins is uneasy with her son's new sport for now, she can take comfort in his assurances that it's only a temporary fling.

Bryant said he turned to boxing to help him prepare for another shot at the NFL. Playing on Sundays has been his lifelong pursuit, and Bryant refuses to toss in the towel on his dream.

He participated in a pro day March 3 at Florida International and said he'll work out in front of the scouts again March 23 at Louisville. Bryant's goal is to land an NFL free agent deal before his next scheduled fight, April 13.

"I'm solid," he said. "There's no reason I shouldn't be on somebody's NFL roster."

Bryant, 24, was a high school All-American and a blue-chip recruit out of Reading High, where he graduated in 2004. He chose Miami, where he played three seasons at linebacker and fullback before transferring to Louisville.

Unable to land a spot in an NFL camp last year, Bryant came home to join older brother Sam on the Reading Express indoor roster. He had an unsuccessful tryout in June with the upstart United Football League.

Bryant is optimistic about his chances this time around, however. He was happy about his showing at the March 3 pro day. He said he's also received offers from two Canadian Football League teams.

"There are so many options open for me right now in the football world," said Bryant, whose hip flexibility has improved through boxing training. "(Boxing) has made me a better football player and a better person. I've become a better football player by being in the ring."

Justin Montgomery began contacting Bryant about boxing last June through Facebook, the social networking site. Montgomery, a former collegiate football player, is a recruiter for the Heavyweight Factory.

Tired of watching Eastern Europeans dominate the sport's glamour division, South Florida businessman Kris Lawrence launched the Heavyweight Factory in 2006. He hopes to find the next Mike Tyson among a group of talented former football players.

Lawrence has sank some serious dough into his endeavor, one of a handful of similar programs that have sprung up in recent years. The subject of an ESPN The Magazine cover story in December, the Heavyweight Factory is easily the best known of the bunch.

The program is run out of the Lucky Street Boxing Gym, a state-of-the-art facility with three rings. The training staff is led by former heavyweight champ Michael Moorer.

Recruits who make the cut into the program are given paid housing and other expenses so they can focus solely on training. Bryant, for example, hasn't needed to work a full-time job to support himself.

Fueled by objections from his mother and other family members, Bryant initially shrugged off Montgomery's overtures. He changed his mind in mid-August, however, and has been a fixture at Lucky Street ever since.

"He's a freak," Moorer said. "For real. He works his (tail) off. He's 250 pounds, all muscle."

Bryant is the youngest mainstay in the program, which includes former Miami running back Quadtrine Hill (27) and former Arkansas, Alabama State and Memphis linebacker Carlton Baker (28). Bryant also feels he's the strongest and rates himself alongside Baker as the gym's top fighter.

Bryant gets to Lucky Street each day at 9:30 a.m. and works into the afternoon. He then goes to the beach in the afternoon for speed training before returning to the gym at night.

Bryant spends much of his time at Lucky Street studying the sport and working to perfect his technique. He often helps the veteran trainers prep younger fighters.

"I feel that I'm a very good technical boxer," said Bryant, a self-described boxer-puncher. "Without my technique, my power is nothing. But I'm going to try to go out and knock your face off your head."

"James is more of a puncher," Moorer said, disagreeing a bit. "James is very, very strong. Coming with the football background, James comes with a lot of power. With that power, hopefully we can develop it into finesse and boxing skills."

Moorer knows his time with Bryant is likely limited, though.

Bryant has been up front with the Heavyweight Factory about his NFL aspirations. Even if he can't get his football career off the canvas, Bryant said he won't turn from chasing quarterbacks to chasing title belts.

"It's not something you want to spend your life doing," said Bryant, who graduated from Miami in 2007 with degrees in sociology and justice administration and has also done some acting on the side.

"There's no reason for me to be in the ring getting my face beat in or for my body to absorb the punishment from the training," he said. "There's no need for it. I'm more than capable enough to make money without having to get my face beat in."

Though Bryant is approaching boxing with the seriousness of a seasoned pro, it is simply a means to an end, a crash course for his ultimate title shot.

His mother understands, but jokes that James better watch his back next time he comes home.

"He has to do what he has to do," Robins said. "Football was always his first passion. He'll do it until he's too old.

"I won't get in his way (with boxing). But I don't like it."

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Tracking proCanes - Ashley Woods is continuing our “Tracking proCanes” feature with former University of Miami and current volleyball player with Club Voleibol in Benidorm, Spain Ashley Woods. Woods was a four-year letterwinner under head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch from 2005-08, and finished her career at UM seeing action in 367 sets through 117 matches. In 2008, she helped UM to its second-best season in Division I history - leading the Hurricanes to a 26-6 overall record and a 14-6 mark in the ACC. She also served as a captain for the Hurricanes on the year.

The 6-2 Round Rock, Texas-native left her mark on the UM record books throughout her career, finishing ranking among the top 10 all-time in seven categories for the Hurricanes. Woods ties for third in career matches played (117), while ranking eighth in block assists (209), eighth in total blocks (38), ninth in attack percentage (.256), ninth in points (825.5) and 10th in sets played (367).

In addition, she was selected as co-winner of the 100% Award in 2006 - a distinction given annually by the UM coaching staff recognizing a student-athlete who exemplifies a dedication of 100 percent day-in and day-out. Ashley Woods received her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami, while immediately going on to earn her Master's Degree from UM in spring 2009. So you have signed a professional Volleyball contract with a team in Spain, talk about how you ended up in Spain.
Ashley Woods: I went to visit my friend who plays on a professional team in the Canary Islands. It was supposed to be a vacation but I asked her coach if I could work out with her team while I was there. I knew in the back of my head that I wanted to play but I was thinking more in terms of next season. Her coach called around because he knew some teams that needed a player with my skill set and voila! I ended up in Benidorm. I had been training and was in shape because of my job at Athletic Republic. My lease had just ended in Miami and it was all kind of perfect timing. I didn’t really go the typical route of an exposure tour, agent etc., but I’m here now!

pC: Did you know they were going to draft you? How does the international volleyball draft work?
AW: There isn’t really a draft. Usually you sign up with an agency who either places you on an exposure tour or if you’re really good (All-American, National team player etc.) [the agency] contacts and negotiates with a team directly.

pC: Are there any other Americans on your team?
AW: There is one other American on my team, she is from Wisconsin. There are two other ACC players in my league. One of which I grew up with in Round Rock. Crazy huh?

pC: When does the season start? How long does the season last?
AW: The season starts in August and runs until April for my league, playoffs begin in the last week of February. It varies depending on the country and level that you play at. The top two teams from my league (Superliga B) move into Superliga A and the bottom two from Superliga A move to B. We play preseason matches in other countries but the ones that matter are all Spanish Teams within the league, much like a college format.

pC: Is there a tough language barrier?
AW: The language barrier isn’t as tough as I thought. The Spanish here is different than the Spanish spoken in Miami and Texas, but it is fun to learn and practice. I have a roommate from Argentina and another from Brazil and we all do our best to communicate. Spanish is the common thread for us so there is a lot of “Spanglish” spoken in my house.

pC: What's been the toughest transition personally, going abroad?
AW: If I had to pick, I’d say the toughest transition is the reduction in luxuries that I have in the states. However it is completely enjoyable to live a simpler life. I don’t have a dryer so everything is line dried and there is only a stove and no oven in my apartment. My teammates down the hall have an oven so it’s not too bad. But this is very common here. I can walk everywhere and the weather is very pleasant so not having a car isn’t an issue and if it were the team would provide me with one. But on the other hand the food is much fresher/healthier here and I love to cook so it is a complete dream to go to the market for me. It’s a give and take I guess.

pC: What's one thing that has surprised you about Spain?
AW: I haven’t been surprised too much yet. OH! They don’t refrigerate their eggs here!!! And somehow their milk until you open it! That surprised me and took some getting used to.

pC: Is your team mascot a frog?
AW: Our mascot is a frog, he’s cute and I need to find out if he has a name…my friend’s team is some sort of scabby looking thing with one eye. Very creepy.

pC: Will you be on the Olympic team?
AW: I won’t be on the Olympic team. There’s a pipeline you have to follow for that and it starts at a very young age. I went to a couple of high performance camps but nothing really took off. I started too late.

pC: At what age did you start playing volleyball, and did you play any other sports?
AW: I have been active since I was 7 and I started playing volleyball and basketball at the age of 12 year ‘round until I graduated and moved to Miami.

pC: Did you follow sports growing up?
AW: I actually didn’t follow any sports teams. I always wanted to play and it was torture for me to sit and watch. I watched a lot of college basketball but I didn’t really have a specific team. I’d say overall I like college sports better than pro sports in general and it’s where I want to work eventually.

pC: You're from Texas, why the University of Miami?
AW: UM was my last official visit I wanted to make sure that I made the right decision. I had a really good visit when I went there and I felt like I would fit with the team. I’m kind of obsessed with The Rock, well back then I was, so I’d say he had a 20% factor in my decision too [Laughter], the other 80% was the fact that I loved the team and they had a great program for what I wanted to study. I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Sport Administration from the School of Education at UM. I also knew that I wanted to travel and get out of my town and learn some life lessons/ My family always thought I’d stay close to home because I’m such a home-body and very family oriented but we all were wrong! Now I’m halfway across the world. I think being at Miami made this chapter in my life a little easier to handle. I’m pretty independent but this is a major move for anyone.

pC: Who recruited you out of High School?
AW: I was recruited by Erik Olson who is no longer there, and I gained a lot of what I know now from Matt Botsford. He is a wonderful coach who is now working at Notre Dame, his dream job. I owe a lot of my skills as a hitter to him.

pC: You were a pretty highly regarded HS player, why did you choose such a young program like Miami?
AW: Miami was and is still a young program, but my coach is very technically sound and knows a tremendous amount about volleyball. I felt that I would gain a wealth of knowledge from her and the staff there. I was right.

pC: You're a Cane but you almost went to....
AW: I almost ended up going to University of Georgia. What made me not go there was the fact that they liked me, but didn’t really have a spot for me to be in and it was hard for their coach to let me slip away but it just wasn’t the right timing for me to come there. I love Athens and hope to live in Atlanta some day. It’s my absolute favorite city in the world. I used to get so geeked up for our match at Georgia Tech because I love being in that city so much.

pC: Why the number 77?
AW: I chose 77 because my best friend, Jill Robinson was 57. I wanted 7 but it was already taken. It was promised to me the next year but I just stuck with my number because it was unique and two 7’s is definitely better than 1. I am 14 here because of the rules within the league regarding numbers, but guess what 7 plus 7 is? [Laughter]

pC: What was the toughest thing about playing at the U?
AW: The toughest thing about playing here was that I had to challenge for my spot everyday, but that’s how it should be and it made me mentally tough. I wouldn’t change what I went through for anything .It has helped me both on and off the court.

pC: What's your favorite memory of your time at Miami?
AW: My favorite memory is a block that I had vs. Duke. The ball hit the ground before the hitter, who shall remain nameless, landed from her attack. Best feeling ever.

pC: Do you keep in contact with any of your former UM teammates? Which ones? Any coaches you still talk to?
AW: I keep in contact with all of my former teammates thanks to skype and facebook. A couple of them lived with me for a bit while they figured out their lives like the rest of us. I love them all so much. I talk to Lisa and Matt, and the current coaches of course.

pC: What did your teammates call you? Did you have a nickname?
AW: Everyone calls me Woods, EVERYONE. [Laughter] I have Ashley on the back of my jersey now though. My team likes my name and wanted me to put that instead of Woods on the back. You can put anything you want back there. I’m thinking Woodsie F. Baby next year but we’ll see.

pC: What was the toughest place to play on the road?
AW: The toughest place to play is Clemson for sure…we even got harassed by some of their fans…but it is intense and I am an intense player so I enjoy it.

pC: The University of Miami gets a lot of publicity about their football team and how it's family-like, and how former players come back and tutor the younger ones, talk about the atmosphere on your volleyball team at the U.
AW: The volleyball team is like a family too. We all come back and get to know the freshman and keep in touch with them. I still practice with the team and try and help the newbies out during water breaks and in between plays…The atmosphere was perfect we never had any drama or cliques, which is rare in girls’ team sports. It’s one of the reasons I chose to play here and it remains that way today. We are known for our chemistry around Hecht.

pC: Do you go back often? When was the last time you went? You go to any games?
AW: I live in Miami when I’m not here so I go back all the time to practice. I work at a really cool gym so I condition and weight train there…but I do come to campus…I host/emcee a Sport Ethics debate that the grad students of the Sport Admin program participate in every year so I have to be there to plan that as well. I went to as many games as I could this year. I won’t be in the states next season because I’ll be playing in my own!

pC: You graduated in 2009, what were you doing from the time you graduated till you got drafted?
AW: When I graduated, I started working as a volleyball consultant at Athletic Republic. I trained a middle school and high school group of girls 3 times a week. I also helped with strength and conditioning work with football tennis and lacrosse players. I was the coordinator of the volleyball program and  that included skill work and strength and conditioning work. Athletic republic is really cool and is science-based, sport-specific training. We have these crazy treadmills that you sprint on that go up to 28mph and can raise to a 40 degree incline. There’s this cool plyometric deck that we can tether you down to and also measure how much force you are taking off with and where you are landing when you jump. We have a program that measures you from all angles and we can look and see your biomechanical efficiency for a bat swing, a soccer kick, a volleyball attack. If you want to train to get better it’s the place to be right now. There’s so much stuff in that place it’s ridiculous. I had to become certified to work there and everything. I intend to train and work there when I get back. It’s a pretty sweet gig.

pC: What one person was the most influential in the development of your game?
AW: I’d say the most influential people in the development of my game (skills wise) were Roberto Frontera and Michael Swem. Both of them were club coaches during the really important years. Roberto helped me see that I had potential and Mike helped me push past what I thought was the peak of my game. They pushed me really hard and made me want to be great all the time…My strength coach at Miami, Mac Calloway turned me into an athlete. I was never this super strong or fast person but he helped me and I was running with the thoroughbreds (that’s what we called the fastest people on the team) before I knew what was going on. I never could squat much, but I can pretty much hang-clean a tow truck thanks to him! He helped me push past my limits and I can never thank him enough for what he did for me mentally.

pC: Did you have any gameday superstitions or rituals that you did?
AW: On gamedays I’m usually in the locker-room an hour before we have to be there…I ALWAYS shower…I’m known for that and all my teammates call me crazy both here and at Miami. But on gameday I am usually so fired up by the time I eat breakfast that I have to just chill out and relax by the time the match is about to start, so I shower and the great thing about here is that there’s coffee everywhere so my teammates and I get together and have a cup of coffee and then begin to prepare for the match. I LOVE coffee so it’s the perfect routine for me.

pC: What is the biggest adjustment you've had to make as a professional volleyball player?
AW: The biggest adjustment is probably how I warm up and cool down. I am a lot older now so I have to take things a little slower and pay attention to my body. It doesn’t recover as fast or as easy as it used to…my body is my moneymaker so I have to make sure I keep it in top condition. The coaches know that too so the intensity during practices is not as high as in college, we don’t do drills that make you dive everywhere or run till we pass out. We work more on skill and precision and getting reps in. I like that adjustment though and the way that I used to train helps me to work hard when things seem a little easier. My coach is always saying “tranquila” to me, which basically means to relax, because I still act like a college player sometimes, go hard or go home is all I know!

pC: What do you think of the current state of the UM volleyball program?
AW: I think the girls are doing great right now. They didn’t have as much success as we did my senior year…BUT they made it to the tournament and that is HUGE! I just hope it inspires them to work hard in the off-season and over the summer so that they can come in and beat up on the ACC.

pC: What is a misconception people have about the University of Miami?
AW: The misconception is that we party all the time and we don’t work hard because of the city that we live in and the costs associated with going to our school. I actually got into an argument with another girl about that…I had to set her straight! I told her that our success didn’t just magically appear on its own and that I worked every day for what I have now…people think the life of a college athlete is glamorous and very easy, what they don’t realize is that it’s very hard to be a college student and practice 3 hours a day plus weights and running and be great. That’s’ why we are proud to be Hurricanes, all of us, because we earned it.

pC: Did you go to any football, basketball or baseball games when you were a student?
AW: I went to a lot of the basketball and football games. A few soccer games and some tennis matches my senior year. I worked as an operations intern for the women’s basketball team so I was there for all the home matches as well. I love college sports so anytime I could go and it didn’t interfere with anything I went. I’m a volleyball player so any excuse to yell and be crazy is completely valid in my eyes, except for Tennis. [Laughter]

pC: Tell us the craziest story from your UM volleyball days that you can remember either with another player or coach on or off the field
AW: Well, I won’t give up all my secrets, BUT, we usually have an inner squad beach tournament every spring and that year we were odd so my coach was my partner…she happened to be like 7 months pregnant at the time. We ended up winning the tournament! We always laugh about that, some of my teammates should just stick to indoor. [Laughter]

pC: Word Asssociations: give me the first thing that pops in your head when you read the following:
Sebastian the Ibis: that crazy move he does where he takes his beak and pulls the top and bottom parts in opposite sideways directions…It pretty much gets me fired up anytime…
Coral Gables: US1 and how to avoid it
Coach Welch: Lefties rule the world J
Knight Sports Complex: Counting the balls after practice
Spain: I can’t believe I’m here
Texas: Chuy’s Tex-Mex
Sarah Palin: Bill Maher. He ripped her so much on his show. [Laughter]

pC: Favorite Food?
AW: My favorite foods are anything from Sonic and peanut butter straight from the jar…although it is quickly turning to Paella (it originated in my area) and Nutella. I LOVE chocolate. [Laughter]

pC: What Band/Group I would find most of on your iPod?
AW: I listen to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers and anything from Benny Benassi. I listen to so much but those and Ingrid Michaelson are usually a few clicks away on my ipod.

pC: One movie you could watch over and over?
AW: I could watch Atonement everyday. I love that movie and others from that genre/time period

pC: One TV show you cannot miss?
AW: If I missed an episode of True Blood or LOST I’d probably go crazy…the final season of LOST starts this week!

pC: What do you do in your spare time?
AW: I am usually at the beach in my spare time, I played the cello for 12 years so I intend to buy one and pick it back up. I gave it up for volleyball but now I have the time to play again and play so we’ll see how that goes.

pC: Two websites you have to check daily?
AW: I check Facebook and The Huffington post daily, I love them both.

pC: I spend way too much on...
AW: I spend way too much on bath and body products for sure. At least I smell nice though!

pC: I need to sell my _____ on eBay
AW: I need to sell my car and get a new one! Can you do that on Ebay? [Laughter]

pC: This Halloween I'd like to dress as....
AW: This Halloween I am dressing as a Flamenco dancer!!!

pC: Best show I saw on TV last week
AW: Best show I saw last week was a re-run of family guy where Stewie kills Lois. I was captivated all over again.

We at would like to thank Ashley Woods for being so gracious with her time to do this very insightful interview for our new feature "Tracking proCanes." Click here to check out our past interviews with Leon Searcy, Steve Walsh, Frank Costa, John Routh, Chad Wilson, Mike Rumph, Carlos Huerta and more!

All photos were taken by JC Ridley and were purchased at JC's blog can be found at:

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Vikings Thinking Buchanon

The Vikings’ interest in Phillip Buchanon is far from a done deal, but a lot of times when rumors like that get started, they do so for a good reason and Buchanon might be the insurance the Vikings need in the event Cedric Griffin isn’t ready by the start of the 2010 season.

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

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Reggie Wayne, Drew Brees battle for Madden cover

With six days left to vote for the cover of the Madden 2011 video game, it appears the race is down to Indianapolis Colts’ receiver Reggie Wayne and New Orleans’ Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

This is the first year the game’s maker has allowed fans to vote for the cover. The vote is done via a promotion with Doritos, which has been promoting the contest heavily since early February in grocery stores nationwide. The vote concludes March 15. Fans can still vote at

Minnesota Vikings’ defender Jared Allen is the third finalist, but sources familiar with the voting said Brees and Wayne have pulled ahead.

“Some people are going to look at the list and think Drew Brees is going to win, but Reggie Wayne had an amazing statistical season, and I think he’s the best wide receiver in the NFL,” said Chris Erb, senior director of partnership marketing for EA Sports.

Brees still remains a slight favorite to win the cover. That might be OK with Colts fans given the “curse” associated with being on the Madden video game cover.

Shaun Alexander, just one of a number of stars who became injured after appearing on the Madden cover, thinks talk of the “curse” is overblown. Alexander still benefits financially from the deal, continuing to do promotions for EA Sports, the game’s producer.

“Football is a physical game, and people get hurt,” Alexander told USA Today last month after doing a promotion for the 2011 version in conjunction with Doritos.

Alexander pointed out that LaDainian Tomlinson and Tom Brady both begged off being on the cover. “And they still both got hurt,” Alexander said.

Curse or not, the Madden cover gig can be a lucrative deal for the NFL player chosen. Sports marketers estimate its value at low- to mid-seven-figures for the athlete, with some players continuing to do EA promotions long after the year they appear on the cover.

The Madden video game is one of the best selling video games worldwide, typically grossing more than $100 million in the week of sales after its initial release.

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

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Wilfork: I never wanted to leave

The New England Patriots on Tuesday confirmed the signing of nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who told the team's Web site he "never wanted to leave" New England and was relieved the process was over and that it was "all about football again."

The deal is worth $40 million over five years, according to a source, which includes an $18 million signing bonus and $25 million in guaranteed money. The team placed the franchise tag on the 28-year-old Wilfork late in the negotiations, something that Wilfork said earlier he would equate to a slap in the face.

"Did I get frustrated at times? Of course," Wilfork said in an interview posted to the team's Web site. "That's business, that's negotiation. I have never been through a negotiation. Certain things were pissing us off, and we had to go back-and-forth, and I'm not the type of person that likes to go back-and-forth, so I was like, 'When's it going to be over?' ... We play so much football we forget there's a business part to it, but I never wanted to leave.

"My family, my kids, are happier than I am. Not because of the long-term deal, just because we don't have to move anywhere. I'm excited. We're all excited. We definitely got done what we wanted to get done out of the deal, both sides. We both agreed on the deal. From the Wilfork camp, we're happy. The organization is happy. Now, it's all about football once again."

Wilfork said he thought his future in New England might be in jeopardy when the team put the franchise tag on him last month, but he was quickly assured that the purpose of the tag was to buy more time to work out the long-term contract (which made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL) that eventually came to fruition.

"From Day 1, my main goal was to start and finish my career here," Wilfork said. "I've met good people in my time here, some great fans. You have a great chance of winning every year. Who wouldn't want to play in front of a sold-out crowd every Sunday at home? Who wouldn't want to be up under a Bill Belichick? Who wouldn't want to be up under the teammates I have, the friends I've made here? It's a lot easier."

Wilfork has been one of the team's most durable players since being drafted by the Patriots in the first round (21st overall) of the 2004 draft.
"We don't think there's a better player on the marketplace for this team" than Wilfork, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said on WEEI-AM. "We've been able to sign a number of our guys this year that we felt were No. 1 or 2 in the marketplace."

The Patriots also confirmed the signing of offensive lineman Stephen Neal to a two-year deal. Last week, the team re-upped pass rusher Tully Banta-Cain, part of the team's offseason philosophy to bring back its own players rather than make splashy and expensive new acquisitions.

"We're in the business of quality depth management," Kraft said. "If you lose someone you have to have depth. And if you don't have depth, you're in trouble."

The 6-foot-2, 305 pound Neal was drafted by the Patriots in 2001 out of Cal State-Bakersfield, where he was a championship wrestler and didn't play football.

The Patriots waived him, then re-signed him in December 2001. By 2004, he was starting at right guard.

In 2008, Neal started the final nine games on a Patriots team that set rushing records in yards, touchdowns and yards per carry.

Last season, he was part of a line that allowed 18 sacks, the team's fewest since the league switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

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

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Rolle Expects to Make Major Impact

Q: Have you talked to Kenny Phillips in this process?
Rolle: “I’ve been talking to Kenny Phillips for the last month or so. Getting a feel for things, just having a conversation – not even about football all the time. Just about life in general. Making sure he’s staying on top of himself. I didn’t know what the future held for me. Kenny is a great guy on and off the field. We’re going to have a brotherhood relationship, no doubt about it.”

Q: His rehab is going well?
Rolle: “Absolutely. He’s rehabbing down in Miami, rehabbing here. He’s never going to leave my side now, because I’m desperately going to need him. And we’re going to need each other. I’m going to make sure he’s doing whatever it takes to get back on the field and be my partner, side by side.”

Q: What number do you want to switch to?
Rolle: “I don’t have an idea yet. We have a couple of ideas in mind, trying to see if we can make that happen. You will know as soon as I know.”

Q: What was the award you presented to Kenny?
Rolle: “I was already in college and I was receiving an award myself. I’m not sure what the award was, but I remember they had me present him an award when he was a senior at Carol City High School.”

Q: At any point during your visit did anyone mention the game you had against the Giants last season?
Rolle: Yeah. I think that played a big part in the reason why I’m here. When you’re in the NFL at this level, you’re not just playing for yourself and your pride and your fans. It’s a job interview. You’re putting film out there. You’re building a resume. You never know what effect you’re going to have on certain teams. This was a team that we knew coming in was an outstanding team. I came in head first. I wasn’t going to be denied. I came in with a chip on my shoulder and I was just going to do whatever it took to make sure that the Arizona Cardinals came back with a win and we did that.

Q: Did Coach Coughlin or anyone else bring that up during your visit?
Rolle: Yeah. I think pretty much all the coaches brought it up. It’s obviously something that stood out in their minds. Something that I’m pretty sure they watched over and over again before making such a huge decision to bring me in as a New York Giant. So it was definitely brought up. We discussed things, went through and watched some of the film and we went over coverages and pretty much broke down some of the scenarios that took place during that game.

Q: Can you take us through that last play, the interception and is that typical play for you that you can make?
Rolle: I think I can make every kind of play, to be honest with you. Not to sound cocky and arrogant but that’s just the way I am. I never go into a game denying myself of any opportunities. If it presents itself, I think I can definitely make the play. That last play of the game, I was hurt, I had torn my plantar fascia at that point and I was very limited as to what I could do. It was pretty much just suppose to be a typical cover two coverage but I pretty much tweaked it on my own. I just got my corner and my nickel together and myself and explained to them what was going to take place on that play and I explained to them exactly how I wanted it to be played. We definitely tweaked the cover two, we didn’t play it the way it was initially supposed to be played and I think it worked out for the best. Sometimes you have to take a gamble, you have to take a chance. That comes from a lot of film study and watching film and understanding the concepts of your opponents and it was something that I was pretty sure was going to take place and I guessed right.

Q: In your game last year against the Giants, you threw a pass out of the wildcat, is that something you will try to convince the coaches to let you do here?
Rolle: Absolutely, like I said, I think that’s going to come from showing them exactly what I can do. Once I’m here with this organization, they will get a pretty good feel of what kind of athlete I am. I can throw the ball a millions miles, I think everyone knows that at this point. Whether they are going to use me for that, I don’t know yet. I hope so because I think it brings another dimension to football. It creates a mismatch. It’s also something that can excite the fans and it can be a momentum changer.

Q: In that game against the Giants, you also put a pretty heavy hit on Kevin Boss and it was pretty costly for you too, do you think its going to strange running into him now that you guys are on the same team?
Rolle: No. It’s not going to be strange at all. We’re all men amongst this league and at any given time, it could be your brother out there but you have to come out there and you have to compete. You never try to hurt anyone under any means. It definitely wasn’t intentional but I was coming to make a statement. I was definitely coming to make contact. When I’m on the field, I hold no pity for the next man but at the same time, I never try to go out and hurt any opponent because his career is just as valued as mine. I never go out there with any intentions like that, I’m not that kind of player at all. But when I’m coming, I’m definitely a headhunter and I want to make sure my presence is felt. That is pretty much all that took place on that play. I was definitely trying to make a play. I was trying to put my team in a better situation than their team and that all it boils down to.

Q: This Giants defense kind of lacked leadership and swagger, do you think you can bring that to this team?
Rolle: No question about that. I think that just comes natural. I think that’s just a part of who I am. I don’t want anyone to name me a leader. I don’t want anyone to pinpoint what I’m going to bring to a team. I think it’s just something that has to come naturally. If it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t then it doesn’t but knowing myself and knowing what kind of competitor I am and what kind of player I am. I think I will definitely be a great fit for this organization and with this team. I’m going to make sure that regardless of what I am within the team and not trying to be beyond the team. I’m a team guy, 120%. I’ll go out there and put everything on the line for my team. I want to make sure they know and I’m going to make sure that I show that when they get Antrel Rolle they are getting 150% each and every down, never take a play off.

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

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Olsen still a concern for Bears

Freeport, Ill. — The Chicago Bears plugged some big holes last week by signing defensive end Julius Peppers, tailback Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

They were much needed additions to a desperate team looking for players to still make head coach Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 defense and new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s Coryell offense work in Chicago.

Fans shouldn’t be too impressed with the Bears simply outbidding other teams, but at least they identified some of their problems and signed guys that should have an immediate impact.

But fans should be worried about this whole Greg Olsen thing.

No, I don’t think trading Olsen is a bad. If he doesn’t fit in the Martz system, there’s obviously no point of keeping him on the team when you can get draft picks for needed players such as all five offensive line positions and safety.

But no one should accept not trading Olsen and not utilizing him while on the Bears’ roster.

There’s been rumors, according to the Boers and Bernstein radio show, that the Bears can’t get anything better than a sixth-round pick for Olsen.

If that’s the case, clearly, it makes no sense for Chicago to trade him.

So ... the Bears should just let him rot?

This isn’t fantasy football — or my fantasy football column — so the idea of not using Olsen is ridiculous and speaks to the management of this team from the Bears organization.

Either you trade him or use him.

That’s it.

There’s no excuse for Martz to waste Olsen’s talents like he did a much better tight end, Vernon Davis, in San Francisco.

Yes, Olsen is not a star tight end because I can’t name one thing that he does better than any other TE in the NFL. But the man did catch eight TDs and shouldn’t just vanish from the offense without supplanting this team with talent in another position.

If Martz is such a genius, shouldn’t he find a way to use Olsen if he can’t be traded?

Because if he can’t, then the Bears once again become the laughing stock of the league.

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

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Photos From the Sean Taylor Foundation Inaugural Softball Game had the opportunity to attent the Sean Taylor Foundation Inaugural Celebrtiy Softball Game last Saturday at St. Thomas University. The event featured a DJ, food, a HR Derby and ultimately the softball game. proCanes Ed Reed and Sinorice Moss were in attendance and played in the Softball game while proCane Bryant McKinnie watched from the stands. The Florida Mermaids and Manatees also made appearances. Check out the photos below and click here to see the full gallery. We want to congratulate the Sean Taylor Foundation on a wonderful event and we can't wait for next year.

Click here to order Sean Taylor's, Ed Reed's, Bryant McKinnie's or Sinorice Moss' proCane Rookie Card.

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Antrel Rolle: Dolphins' offer was too low

The Miami Dolphins had a deal on the table for Arizona's Antrel Rolle, but Rolle signed a five-year, $37 million deal -- that has $15 million in guaranteed money -- with the New York Giants that made him the highest-paid safety in NFL history. Rolle reportedly turned down $32 million over five years from the Dolphins.

Here's a transcript of my interview with the former UM star, who was on the show this morning:

Q: How thrilled are you to land that big of a contract?
A: "It worked out for the best. I'm in a great situation with a great system and a great organization. The best thing about the whole thing was I felt like I was at home when I went there. That's the main thing when you make a free-agent [visit]."

Q: Were the Dolphins in the mix to sign you?
A: "They contacted my agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and they expressed interest. But, I think, the budget that they were willing to spend on a saftey was a little bit lower than what I was looking for. Miami would have been nice just for the fact that it's home. But I don't think anyone would sell themselves short just to stay in their hometown, especially when you have someone like the Giants making such a great offer and giving me such a great opportunity. . . . It pretty much boiled down to whether I wanted to stay an Arizona Cardinal or become a Giant. I think, hands down, I made the right decision."

Q: What can you tell Dolphins fans about Karlos Dansby, a guy you played for a long time?
A: The thing I said about the Dolphins was if they didn't get me, they better get Karlos Dansby. They got one hell of a football player. I think he's one of the most underrated linebackers in the league. I never think he gets the credit that he deserves. He's an all-around linebacker. There's times that we dropped him back at safety and I even went to linebacker and we didn't miss a beat. That alone tells a lot about a guy. Most of all, he's an upstanding guy. He's going to bring to the table exactly what the Dolphins are looking for -- and more."

Q: Are your surprised by how much the Giants offered you?
A: "I just know that when the Giants made their first offer I knew they wanted me to be their guy. They're asking a lot of me, which is fine, because it's something I'm going to bring to the table regardless. I'm definitely going there going head first."

Q: How eager are you to play with Kenny Phillips with the Giants, another former University of Miami standout?
A: "Kenny Phillips is going to be my best friend. I'm going to make sure he's on top of everything he needs to get done because I definitely want him back there with me. I think we can be a dynamic duo once he gets healthy and once we get on the same page. Kenny is an outstanding guy and he's going to look at himself more than anyone else."

Q: How important is it to get a fresh start?
A: "I'm definitely looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm just looking forward to the change. I'm looking forward to the change of weather. There's a lot of things that came into mind when I made this decision. I've been born and raised in Miami. So I went from hot to hotter, playing in Arizona. I just felt it was time for a change all the way around. I can't wait."

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

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Vernon Carey Takes His Mentoring Group to a Miami Heat Game

On Saturday, February 6, 2010 Vernon Carey took the ten kids in his mentoring group from Norland Middle School to the Miami HEAT vs. Atlanta Hawks basketball game. The group was able to watch the pre-game shoot-around. The kids ate pizza and enjoyed the game from lower-level seats.

The Vernon Carey Foundation sponsors his mentoring group. The kids were given tickets to each Dolphins home game during the 2009 season. Vernon has also taken the group bowling.  There will be many more group outings throughout the rest of the school year.

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

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The Antrel Rolle Signing is Like Chinese Food

The Giants did their best to make everyone think they were going to approach the free agency spending spree the way Jerry Seinfeld's parents approached a dinner after the Early Bird Special was over, yet there they were Friday night making Antrel Rolle one of the highest-paid safeties in NFL history. An impressive smoke screen put up by Jerry Reese and the rest of the Giants and one that got them a good player.

A good player, not the great player the salary would indicate. We won't quibble too much about dollars and cents. It's an uncapped year, no one in the Mara family is crying poverty and desperate times call for desperate measures. In the Giants secondary, these are desperate times. With Kenny Phillips's future uncertain because of knee problems, the Giants couldn't let finances get in the way of upgrading their safeties.

Rolle does that. He's not the best tackler nor the best coverage guy in the business, but he's more than competent in both areas. That's a lot more than you can say about C.C. Brown and Michael Johnson. If Phillips is healthy enough to play at 100 percent, the Giants will have a pair of rangy, athletic safeties to protect the back of their defense next season.

That's a big if, though, and if things go the other way then you've still got one good safety and one mediocre one playing behind a defense that looks just as bad as the one that got humiliated down the stretch last season. Perry Fewell's new schemes may mitigate some of their struggles, but the linebackers are still an underwhelming group and the defensive line is still one that couldn't generate any meaningful pressure on quarterbacks who didn't play for crap teams.

If that happens again, it doesn't much matter who you have playing safety. Defenses that can't pressure the quarterback give up big passing plays and Rolle's not going to change that equation. What's more, if Phillips is healthy -- and the Giants keep claiming that he'll be fine -- then the Giants have just doubled down at one of the few positions of strength in a defense with plenty of holes. They tried that last year, and it didn't work out too well for them.

In short, the Rolle signing is good but it's hard to see how much better the defense is because of it. It's reminiscent of a Chinese meal that's awfully tasty while you're enjoying it but does nothing to stop you from feeling hungry in an hour. Perhaps it is unfair to expect any one move to leave fans satisfied, but if the Giants are being honest then this is the only move we're getting. At least Chinese food comes with a fortune cookie.

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

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Jeremy Shockey sues Kevin Houser over film tax credits

Recently released New Orleans Saints defensive end Charles Grant and current Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against their former teammate, Kevin Houser, alleging Houser duped them and other current and former Saints players and coaches into investing more than a million dollars in a film tax credit scam.

Houser is the former special teams long-snapper who was the longest tenured Saints player when he was cut by the team before the 2009 season as news of the tax credit fiasco emerged. Grant and Shockey say Houser, who was a licensed securities broker, convinced them they were buying state tax credits for Louisiana Film Studios, but later it turned out LFS had never applied for the state tax credits.

In all, nearly two dozen former or current Saints players and coaches, including quarterback Drew Brees, Coach Sean Payton and Saints legend Archie Manning, invested $1.7 million to buy what they thought were tax credits for the film studio project in Elmwood. Grant and Shockey's lawsuit is labeled a class action on behalf of the rest of the investors.

Houser's attorney, Jimmy Castex, said Monday his client and his wife were themselves victims of a scam by the film studio's former CEO, Wayne Read. Several local news outlets reported in January that Read had received a target letter from federal investigators and had asked a magistrate judge to appoint a criminal lawyer to defend him. Read's bankruptcy attorney, Robert Marrero, said he had heard that and believed it to be true, but couldn't confirm it for sure.

A federal bankruptcy judge ordered the film studio's assets liquidated last month.

Grant and Shockey's civil action alleges Houser engaged in unfair trade practices and, alternatively, unjust enrichment. The unjust enrichment claim is based on accusations about Houser's involvement in the film studio project. Grant and Shockey allege that Houser actually kept a portion of their money as a commission or finder's fee. Also, they say that Houser kept secret the fact that the film studio owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to 47 Construction LLC, a company co-owned by Houser and his wife.

Houser's jersey number with the Saints was 47. He played for the team from 2000 to 2008, exclusively snapping the ball on punts and placekicks.

Houser had brokered previous tax credit deals with his teammates, so Grant and Shockey expected Houser to put their money in escrow accounts until the state issued their tax credits, the lawsuit says. That did not happen, however, and the film studio project failed.

Grant and Shockey are asking the court to deem those who invested in the purported tax credits a class. The two suing players estimate that more than 100 people may have invested money with Houser or the investment firm he represented, Securities America Inc., on the deal.

In September, Castex told The Times-Picayune that his client was cooperating with federal criminal investigators who were looking into the case. A lawyer for George Ackel, the owner of the building that housed Louisiana Film Studios, also said he had been contacted by investigators.

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Vikes, Bengals could pursue Phillip Buchanon

Though the typical procedure entails other NFL teams cutting a guy and then the Lions becoming interested in signing them, there's a guy the Lions cut who is drawing interest from two of the other NFL teams.

Specifically, the Vikings and the Bengals are interested in former Lions cornerback Phillip Buchanon.

Buchanon, a first-round pick of the Raiders in 2002, joined the Lions last year after a successful stint with the Buccaneers.

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Reds' Alonso is good, but will have to find another position

Hal McCoy says it’s getting hot in Arizona. I’m sure everyone in Ohio feels sorry for him. Too bad there are no beaches in Phoenix!

Q Much has been written about Yonder Alonso switching positions, so do you think he will switch to make this team? — Mark, Bloomington, Ind.
A He did not play Triple-A last year until the postseason playoffs, so he is most likely ticketed for Louisville. And, yes, he will play other positions because he is a first baseman and there is a guy named Joey Votto playing there now. I think he’s good.

Q How much money a year do the players make from the Major League Baseball Players Association? I have a relative from Springboro, Mark Johnson, who pitched briefly in the majors and he told me it was in the $600,000 range. — Charles, Springboro
A Just another case of the rich getting richer. That extra money comes from the licensing of MLB merchandise and all players share in it. It varies, but it gets bigger every year. I’d take that money alone and retire — again.

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Pat Burrell misses Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The announcement was made yesterday as Pat Burrell stood in the visiting clubhouse at Bright House Field after checking out of the Tampa Bay Rays' exhibition game against the Phillies.

With a crowd of 10,474 in attendance on a bright, sunny afternoon, the Phillies had set a team record for a Grapefruit League game.

It was further evidence that the Phillies have become one of those special teams that can draw a crowd any time, any place. Burrell, of course, already knows about the Phillies' transformation from afterthought to toast of the town. He got to raise a giant champagne glass during the 2008 parade down Broad Street before leaving for the Rays as a free agent.

After one disappointing season with Tampa Bay, Burrell admitted that he missed the passion that can only be found in a handful of major-league cities.

"I don't know if there is any way of saying this without getting myself in trouble," Burrell said. "But there is definitely a different excitement level [in Philadelphia]. I think more than anything, there is a stronger tradition for baseball there. That goes without saying."

The Rays, even after an American League championship season and World Series loss to the Phillies in 2008, drew just 23,148 fans per game to their drab dome in St. Petersburg in 2009. During two games last September against Baltimore, the Rays drew fewer than the 10,474 that showed up for yesterday's game that did not count.

"You talk to a lot of players and certain players don't like to play in Philly," Burrell said. "Certain guys love it and I was one of the guys that really enjoyed it. I probably saw the full parameter of the good and the bad. But at all times you knew that people cared. They want you to win and they come out and support you. I'm not sure enough players appreciate that because there aren't many places like it. You have Chicago, New York, and places like that, but I think it's the minority."

New surroundings and less ballpark buzz weren't the only adjustments Burrell had to make in his first season away from Philadelphia. He also had to learn how to become a full-time designated hitter and, by his own admission, he didn't do it very well.

He finished the year hitting .221 with a career-low 14 home runs and 64 RBIs. It was his worst season since 2003, when he hit just .209 with the Phillies after signing a six-year contract extension.

Burrell, 33, played just two games in the field last season for the Rays and would like a chance to do it more in 2010, but that's not likely to happen. After being announced as the starting rightfielder before yesterday's game, Burrell actually played in left field. He said the plan was to get him reacquainted with left field - his position with the Phillies - before giving him a shot in right.

After the game, Rays manager Joe Maddon made it clear that DH would continue to be Burrell's primary role in 2010.

"In the big picture, I'm here as a player and what they call upon me to do, I do," Burrell said. "I want to create as many options for them as I can if playing the outfield is an option. If it's not, it's not. It comes down to committing to the role and I know what to expect.

"When you realize how much time there can be between at-bats sometimes, you have to find a way to fill that time and still stay up to speed with the game. It doesn't sound that difficult, but it can be at times."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he'd be surprised if Burrell wasn't better in his second season with the Rays.

"You have to find a way to stay busy and stay loose as the DH," Manuel said. "That was all new to him and I think that played a part in Pat's year. I still think Pat is a very productive hitter. He's a better hitter than the year he had last year. I totally believe that. Pat Burrell is a .275 hitter who can hit you 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs."

Manuel's batting average estimate is generous, but in his last eight seasons with the Phillies, Burrell averaged 29.1 home runs and 93.5 RBIs per season. Now he has to prove he can do it in a role where no glove is needed.

"He has to always be swinging," Manuel said. "He has to always be prepared to hit. That will relieve some of the difficulty of remembering the last at-bat. You just have to look forward to hitting all day."

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Major concern over Phillips' knee

According to the National Football Post's Michael Lombardi, there's "major concern" inside the Giants organization that SS Kenny Phillips' surgically repaired knee won't fully heal.

"He has bone on bone right now," says Lombardi. This report is interesting because the Giants have been staunchly optimistic in public statements about Phillips. Coach Tom Coughlin denied Saturday that the Antrel Rolle signing was in any way related to Phillips, though speculation exists to the contrary. Phillips is targeting OTAs for a return to the field.

Click here to order Kenny Phillips' proCane Rookie Card.

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Antrel Rolle believes he & Kenny Phillips can be the best safety tandem in the NFL

Antrel Rolle has been a Giant for a little more than a half-day. And already, he believes he's part of something great.

The $37-million man was asked Saturday during his introductory conference call how good of a pair of safeties he and Kenny Phillips can be.

"The best in the league," Rolle replied. "Hands down."

Rolle and Phillips missed each other at the University of Miami by one year, but they've been friends for a while. Rolle said he actually knew Phillips before the younger Hurricane safety's time at the school began. Rolle presented Phillips with an award while he was a promising high-school player.

"From that point on, I knew he was a stand-up guy, a first-class guy all the way, a dynamic athlete and just a great overall person, a person you want to have on your team," Rolle said. "But most of all, just a great individual in himself."

"He's never going to leave my side now because I'm desperately going to need him," Rolle said. "And we're going to need each other. I'm going to make sure he's doing whatever it takes to get back on the field, be my partner, side by side."

Rolle was in contact with Phillips the past couple of weeks, as he knew his time with the Cardinals might be over. Arizona wanted to avoid paying Rolle a $4 million roster bonus, so the team was set to cut Rolle loose - with the hope of re-signing him.

Though the Cardinals made a push for Rolle the past two days, the opportunity to play alongside Phillips and other factors led him to start anew in East Rutherford.

"I was extremely excited when this opportunity presented itself, to be back there with your own guy and a guy that I know his potential will be maximized and my potential will be maximized with him," Rolle said. "And I think we’re going to push each other. It’s going to be a dynamic duo."

What makes him think that will be the case?

"I know what we’re capable of," he said. "And also, I know as a unit, what abilities we have to get things done. It’s just going to be up to us to establish that relationship and that chemistry to make sure we’re on the same page and to make sure that we’re all one within this secondary backfield. The sky’s the limit for us. We’re definitely going to go out there and make things happen."

Plus, they'll be able to do so as similar, interchangeable players.

The days of strong and free safeties for many NFL teams are pretty much long gone. Teams now use their safeties to roll their coverage to either side, meaning on any given play one safety will have a different responsibility than he had the play before.

Rolle said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell suggested that will be the case with him and Phillips.

"I think that’s the way they’re going to look at us because, without a doubt, we’re both interchangeable safeties," Rolle said. "We’re both are very versatile, we can handle multiple positions and multiple tasks at hand. That will best benefit our secondary back there."

One more question: who gets to wear the No. 21?

"That’s his jersey. He’s been a Giant before I got here, he’s earned that jersey," said Rolle, who is unsure what his new number will be. "That’s a very valuable number to me, but I’m going to be in a new system. It’s time for me to start over and make a new number for myself, and I will do that."

UPDATE Rolle will wear No. 26, the Giants have announced.

Click here to order Antrel Rolle's or Kenny Phillips' proCane Rookie Card.

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Vince Wilfork ‘pleased’ by 5-year, $40M deal

Vince Wilfork took a break from the family vacation, whipped out his cell phone and typed the words he’d been aching to write for more than a year. As soon as he hit the send button on his Twitter account, the public could share in his elation:

“We are pleased to say we will be here for MANY more years to come.”

The Patriots [team stats] locked up their defensive linchpin with a massive contract extension, making Wilfork the NFL’s highest-paid 3-4 nose tackle. It ended a year-long drama with Wilfork finally receiving the money and security he believes he deserves.

The two-time Pro Bowler agreed to a five-year deal worth $40 million with $25 million guaranteed. His signing bonus is $18 million, a source said, a front-loaded deal in an uncapped year.

The team that Randy Moss said “don’t pay,” did. The team with the rap for allowing its best players to walk, didn’t.

Wilfork said after the Pro Bowl that he would go on vacation and, “Whatever happens, happens.”

It all happened on the first day of free agency. The player owner Robert Kraft had called the team’s “first priority” was shown to be exactly that.
Wilfork celebrated by delivering his message to thousands of followers of the @Wilfork75 Twitter account. His wife, Bianca, sent an identical message on her account.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported us during our time here in New England it has meant a great deal to us,” Wilfork said. “With that being said we are pleased to say we will be here for MANY more years to come. My wife and I thank you and are getting back to our vacation now C ya in Foxboro soon.”

Wilfork dominated the news.

As he waited for a contract, the former first-round pick from Miami never held out or stopped playing. Despite injuries, he recorded 43 tackles in 2009 after accounting for 66 tackles and two sacks in 2008. Numbers may not explain his importance against the run.

Twice, a deal nearly was struck. In August, an agreement barely slipped away. And in early February, a deal almost was struck before it fell apart.

Wilfork had said assigning him the franchise tag would be a “slap in the face.”

Yet when he was extended the franchise tag two weeks ago, there were no barbs tossed, only bouquets.

In Indianapolis for the NFL combine, Kraft had indicated a deal was imminent.

“We’re very close,” Kraft said. “I hope we can conclude it soon. We love Vince. He and Bianca have been a special part of our franchise. We love having him here. I hope here’s here for a long time to come.”

Wilfork will be.

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

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LT McKinnie's feet "starting to feel better"

Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie wrote on Twitter on Friday that his plantar fasciitis is "starting 2 feel better."

Well, this should make the Vikings happy. McKinnie informed his "followers" that he had to have his feet taped for several days, do calf stretches, and take medicine for a week. It's still unclear if he will need surgery.

Click here to order Bryant McKinnie's proCane Rookie Card.

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Olsen not on the trade block

Citing friends of Greg Olsen, NBC Chicago reported that the Bears tight end was not happy about the hire of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz and that he "quietly sent his agent Drew Rosenhaus into trade request mode."

That's not the case, according to a source close to the situation.

The Bears are not actively shopping Olsen, although that could change if another club makes an overwhelming offer.

The source tells me that Martz is still trying to get a handle on the Bears offensive players, and he hasn't had time to get his arms around how he will utilize them.

Olsen obviously has heard all the talk about how tight ends have been used in Martz's offense. But, Martz also has never had a tight end with Olsen's athleticism -- at least one who wasn't distracted and disinterested (think Vernon Davis in San Francisco).

Like any young player, Olsen will have to continue to develop, especially as a blocker, and he'll have to win the trust of Martz.

But Martz also must show Olsen that he's open-minded about expanding the role of the tight end in his offense.

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

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Panthers release DT Lewis

CHARLOTTE — In a somewhat surprising move the Carolina Panthers released veteran Damione Lewis, their most reliable defensive tackle last season, on the eve of the start of free agency Thursday.

When asked if he was surprised, Lewis said, “Not really. My cap number was a little high -- about $5 million -- so anything can happen in that situation. I know the business. With all of this stuff going on with the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) I tried to be realistic. But I thought it was possible.”

Lewis said he was informed by Coach John Fox on Thursday night.

"He told me it was more of an economic deal and not a reflection on the way I played," Lewis saida.

Lewis' contract was to run through 2014 but it was going to revert to his original terms after the Panthers declined a $3.3 million bonus that was set up to help them with last year's salary cap. At that point, he would have been due $5 millionf or the season -- $4 in base salary and $1 million a roster bonus due in April.

With younger depth at the postition, the Pantehrs decided not to stay with Lewis.

"I kind of figured I might be a victim in all of this," Lewis said.

Lewis said he felt like one of the reasons is due to his sack numbers dipping last season. Lewis had 11.5 sacks from 2006 to 2008, but managed just a half-sack last year, although his 21 quarterback pressure were second on the team behind Julius Peppers.

Click here to order Damione Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Is Antrel Rolle The Highest Paid Safety?

When Antrel Rolle signed his new five-year, $37 million contract with the Giants, word quickly spread that he's now the highest-paid safety in NFL history.

We said it.

Adam Schefter said it.

Jason La Canfora said it.

But then we started getting questions from readers who thought that Colts safety Bob Sanders had gotten a better deal.  Last night, we laid out the differences between the two contracts, pointing out that Sanders had signed six-year, $38.5 million deal, and that Rolle had signed a five-year deal from scratch.

That hasn't put the matter to bed, and for good reason.  As a source with knowledge of the Sanders contract pointed out today, the Sanders extension was done late in the 2007 season, so it really wasn't a six-year deal.

The new money for Sanders' deal was $37.5 million over five years.  Rolle's deal was $37 million over five years.  (The deal possibly was done at the tail end of the 2007 season to take advantage of any remaining cap space.)

Factoring in the reality that Sanders' deal was negotiated late in the 2007 season, the numbers are very close, with Sanders holding the total edge as to total dollars.

This doesn't change the fact, however, that Rolle has $15 million that is guaranteed for skill and injury; Sanders' guarantee for skill and injury is only $8 million.  It means that, for example, if Sanders passes a physical before the start of the 2010 season and the Colts decide based on their success in 2009 without him that they don't want to pay him the balance of the deal, any remaining guaranteed money not guaranteed for both skill and injury would be lost.

The reality is that there are enough facts to allow manipulation based on perspective.  Rolle's camp has every incentive to characterize those facts as making the former Cardinal the highest-paid player in the league.  And Sanders' camp or Troy Polamalu's camp or other agents who are competing with Rolle's agents have every reason, as they undoubtedly did, to funnel contrary information to folks in the media, like our friend Mike Garafolo of the Newark Star-Ledger, who in our view adopted a tone that was a little too preachy and not sufficiently pragmatic given that his article was influenced by the other side of the same coin that got us, Schefter, and LaCanfora to declare that Rolle is now the highest paid safety in the league.  (In this regard, we also think that Polamalu's four-year extension signed before the 2007 season even started must be viewed as a five-year deal, which would presumably make his contract inferior to both Sanders' and Rolle's.)

It's also possible that the Giants are pushing this information in order to deflect criticism that they made a guy who arguably isn't the best safety in the league the richest one.  But teams rarely put out accurate contractual information, since they want the player to be happy with his deal -- and thus not asking for more money while the ink is still moist.

From our perspective, we care only about making sure the audience has access to accurate information.  Even if it means clarifying the numbers at best, and scraping canine fecal matter off our shoes at worst.

In this case, both sides can make a plausible claim to having the biggest contract for any safety in league history.  And, obviously, both sides are.

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

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Brian Fuery Wins His Last Fight - Fight WIll Be Free Online March 20

GoFightLive confirmed they will webstream March 5th’s Action Fight League “Rumble at the Rock 2” show for free starting March 20th.  This event took place at the same time as Ring of Fire which was webstreamed live as a pay-per-view. 

The advance hype was based around the sanctioned debut of Dhafir “Da Da 5000”, a takeoff of EliteXC’s Kimbo Slice.  Also on the card Bodog vet Jessica Aguilar defeated Bellator vet Valerie Coolbaugh. 

Results: Dan Cramer def. Ever Nunez by unanimous decision Mike Bernhard def. Ariel Gandulla R1 by disqualification (eye gouge) James Wynn def. Mike Ortiz by unanimous decision Reynaldo Fuentes def. Kevin Osario R1 by TKO Joe Ray def. Yoandi Inchaustegui R2 by submission Ailton Barbosa def. Keith Johnson R1 by triangle choke Brian Fuery def. Oscar Encizo R1 by submission Vagner Rocha def. Patrick Mikesz R1 by armbar Jessica Aguilar def. Valerie Coolbaugh R2 by rear naked choke Dhafir “Da Da 5000” Harris def. Cedric James R1 by TKO

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Marlins' Sanchez is just having fun

PORT ST. LUCIE — With two stints on the Major League roster — including late last season — Florida Marlins first base prospect Gaby Sanchez has a good idea of what it takes to stick in the big leagues.

Though players of all caliber discuss the difficulty in pinch hitting and limited time, Sanchez said he has used his down time to grow as a full-time player.

“It definitely has made me a better hitter,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez, 26, will battle Logan Morrison, 22, for the first base opening. Morrison has yet to play above Double-A, but has shown power and patience in his brief professional career. Established veteran Jorge Cantu — who is scheduled to start at third — and utility man Wes Helms also could see time at first.

Sanchez hit .238 with two home runs in 21 at-bats with Florida in 2009, after batting .289 with 16 home runs at Triple-A New Orleans. A selective hitter who earns a lot of walks, Sanchez said his time on the Marlins bench has allowed him to learn more about how major league pitchers operate.

“You’ve got to be into the game at all times sitting on the bench,” Sanchez said. “It definitely made me a smarter player seeing what the pitchers were doing. Seeing what they were trying to do and knowing when I went up there ... what kind of pitches were their out pitches, what they liked to do.”

With spring training games underway, Sanchez said he enjoys the transition of playing full time again — as opposed to his season-ending role as a pinch hitter.

“It’s definitely easier when you’re going back and getting those four at-bats a game,” Sanchez said. “Basically you’re in the rhythm of the ballgame every single pitch, every single inning.”

The Marlins have high hopes for both Sanchez and Morrison, who are both among the system’s top prospects. Morrison had eight homers and a .277 batting average at Double-A Jacksonville last season.

Sanchez said the experience he has gained over the past several years have helped him to focus more on his own performance and less on the competition he now finds himself in.

“You’re always going to try to do too much, especially when you’re trying to compete for a job,” he said. “That’s why this year, I’m changing it up.

“Instead of trying to do too much, just go out and just play, try to have a good time. Whatever happens, happens.”

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Cleveland Indians' Chris Perez: A closer in waiting

Goodyear, Ariz. -- Chris Perez has the look of a major league closer. This is not to be confused with his Indians' debut last June when he had the look of a "Major League" closer.

That night did seem scripted for comic relief -- if, of course, you weren't Chris Perez, any of his teammates, any of the customers at Progressive Field, or, really, anyone other than the White Sox.

It was the first glimpse of what the Indians received from St. Louis in return for Mark DeRosa. One minute, a 6-4, 230-pound reliever with a promising fastball. The next, a mushroom cloud.

"It was the perfect storm of everything a reliever can do that's bad," Perez said Sunday before rain canceled the Indians spring training game with Texas.

Perez hit shortstop Alexei Ramirez, the first batter he faced, in the head. Pinch runner Jayson Nix stole second. Perez also hit Jermaine Dye. Then he walked Jim Thome.

The night turned even more uncomfortable when he failed to cover first base in time on an infield grounder. A double followed. A wild pitch. Then a single.

Perez lasted two-thirds of an inning. He allowed two hits and four runs. He hit two batters. A walk. A wild pitch. A stolen base. The only thing the White Sox didn't make off with in the undressing of Perez was his U. of Miami tattoo.

A week later, while still making his clubhouse introductions, he gave up a grand slam to Paul Konerko. It's a wonder teammates didn't greet him wearing Hazmat suits.

"I didn't know anybody on the team," Perez said. "The only one I could talk to was my agent.

"I said, 'I need to talk to you as a friend.' " He told me I still had half a season left, that they just traded for me. So I wasn't going anywhere. He said, 'You better figure something out or it could get worse.' "

Somehow, he did. The Konerko grand slam was July 7. From July 8 through Sept. 5, he made 20 consecutive appearances without allowing a run. It was a career best for Perez and a season best for the Indians.

There wasn't exactly much competition for high achievement out of the pen in 2009. The Indians' bullpen had the league's third-highest ERA. It tied for most home runs and fewest saves.

The basketball equivalent of that combination would be a team whose motto is, "We may be short but we sure are slow."

Last year the Indians couldn't get to Kerry Wood, who will make $10.5 million this season in the final year of his contract. Wood will almost certainly be dealt if the Indians don't contend. Perez, who closed in the minors and saved seven games for the Cardinals in 2008, is in line to replace Wood sooner or later.

"That's the way he's been groomed," said manager Manny Acta. "This is a guy who has the stuff to do it and the mentality to do it. He had a pretty good last month of the season."

Acta had pitching coach Tim Belcher call down to the bullpen Friday to relay a message to Perez, who was warming up to pitch in the spring training opener.

Acta had info on the first Reds batter Perez would face. He knew the kid was a dead fastball hitter. Belcher called and said to tell Perez the hitter would be sitting on a fastball, so be careful.

Perez got the news in mid-windup, completed his delivery and said, "He ain't seen mine yet."

"That's what you want in a guy like that," said Belcher.

Perez was a catcher at Pendleton (Fla.) high school. His junior year, his team played in a tournament that required something like seven games in three days. They ran out of pitchers. He volunteered.

"I had no idea where the ball was going," he said.

The next year, at a showcase game for scouts, was the first time anyone pointed a radar gun at him. He topped off at 93 mph. After a brief turn at starting at the University of Miami, he went to the bullpen full time.

All that's left in order to feel really at home is settling into the closer role some day. Anybody who could pick himself up from the rubble of last summer has shown at least the hint of the resilience necessary for the nightly walk on the ninth-inning high wire.

"That's the goal, but it's not a need," Perez said. "It's not something I should be given. I know Kerry's contract situation. Hopefully, we'll have him all season because it'll mean we're in contention."

Perez looks the part. Big. Strong. A wild head of hair. Hard-throwing.

He has the requisite sense of adventure, too.

"I like being out there and it's up to me, and nobody is warming up over my shoulder," he said. "I like having guys on base and the other team thinks it's going to win.

"One of the best feelings is slamming the door, game over, and they don't know how. . . . I realize runners on base might not be so good for fans."

Probably not. But after what fans saw of the Indians' pen a year ago, there is room for compromise.

Just not three runners at a time.

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Rays to mainly use Burrell in DH role

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The fact that Pat Burrell was in left field instead of right really wasn't what mattered. Just him being in the outfield registered as noteworthy Sunday afternoon in Clearwater.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon and Burrell had told reporters on Saturday that Burrell would be in right field Sunday when the Rays met his former team, the Phillies. The audible came when both parties looked at which players were making the trip to Clearwater, and they came to the conclusion that since Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay's everyday left-fielder, was not making the trip and a host of right fielders were, that Burrell would be better off in left Sunday.

Burrell's one opportunity in the game was a routine fly ball that he caught.

"It felt fine," said Burrell, the Rays' designated hitter who played just two games in the field in 2009. "Once I got out there and started moving around, I felt pretty comfortable."

Burrell struggled at the plate in 2009, his first with the Rays, and he spent the offseason getting in shape for '10 while also thinking about ways to help him get back his mojo. While he has not complained about being a designated hitter, nor has he used his being a DH as an excuse, it appears to have been an adjustment for the veteran slugger.

"I think it's hard to find a way to simulate the game if you're not in it," Burrell said. "And I didn't have a problem finding ways to stay active during the game at all last year. I just have to find a way to swing better, find a way to be a bigger factor on this team. I think with a year under my belt in this role, [I understand] the league a little bit better. Some more experience is only going to help."

While he would like to play in the field more, Burrell said that's up to the Rays and he'll do whatever the club calls upon him to do.

"I'd like to create as many options for them if I can, if playing in the outfield is an option," Burrell said. "But if it's not, it's not. It goes down to just committing to the role. I knew what to expect. I think this year will be a much better year in terms of that. ... Spring Training's one thing, but once the season starts, you realize how much time there is some days between at-bats.

"You have to find a way to fill that time and still stay up to speed with the game. That doesn't sound that difficult, but it can be at times. With a year of experience, kind of knowing what to expect, I think it will help."

Burrell sounded realistic when assessing his outfield abilities.

"I wasn't one of the outfielders who covered a whole bunch of ground to begin with," Burrell said. "I just tried to make sure I made the plays I could and hit the cutoff man and try not to make any mistakes, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to cover as much ground as some of the other guys. All you have to do is watch Carl Crawford play and B.J. [Upton]. These guys are as gifted athletically as you're going to find. They're the reason why I wasn't playing last year.

"It's all about just making the plays. If that's going to happen, I need to get in some games and play. And I'm more than happy to do that."
If Burrell does not play any games in the field during the regular season, he said he will be committed to the DH role, and feels the 2010 season will be more productive for him.

"Last year, I just didn't have a very easy time [being the DH]," Burrell said. "But like I've said, I'm confident about this year. I feel like I'm in a much better place physically and mentally as far as knowing what to expect from the role. The routines of it and stuff like that, the different ballparks."

Maddon is pleased that Burrell is eager to get out in the field and said he will likely use him in left during a split-squad game March 11. But the manager's intentions for Burrell are clear.

"We'll get him out there," Maddon said. "But the overall plan [is not to use him in the outfield]. I don't want to confuse anything. The plan is for him to be the DH."

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