Devin Hester anticipating hot time for returns

Devin Hester said he expects more opportunities to return punts now that the postseason has arrived.

‘‘It’s playoff time — you can’t afford to give up good field position,’’ said Hester, who returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown in the Bears’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks in October. ‘‘I expect that out of coaches. In playoff situations, you give up good field position, you put yourself in a bad predicament. You don’t want to do that in playoff time.’’

Hester won’t be the only one creating worries. Seahawks kick returner Leon Washington has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this season.

Of Hester, Bears coach Lovie Smith said, ‘‘Eventually, you have to kick it to him. I just don’t see how you can go an entire game without it. I’m told that they plan on doing it. We don’t see any other way.’’

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Greg Olsen ecstatic to be making first playoff appearance

Drafted by the Bears in 2007 a few months after they had reached the Super Bowl, tight end Greg Olsen never thought that he'd have to wait until his fourth season to make his first trip to the playoffs.

“I was excited to come here,” said Olsen, a first-round pick. “You expect to be back right away. But as a lot of teams know, for the most part, that’s not the case. It’s not easy to get this far. There’s a lot that goes into it.

“Myself and other guys who haven’t been in the playoffs are really anxious and are really excited for this opportunity. It’s been four years since we’ve been in the playoffs. We’re happy for our fans. It’s been kind of a tough couple of years. So we’re excited and we hope to do good things and keep this thing rolling."

Olsen caught 41 passes for 404 yards and 5 touchdowns this season. Although his statistics were down—he had 54 and 60 receptions the previous two years—he was among the Bears’ most valuable players.

“Greg’s numbers in the passing game are not what they could and probably should be for his abilities,”  said offensive coordinator Mike Martz. “He lines up at the line of scrimmage at the point of attack, but he’s also lined up at fullback and has been a lead blocker. We line him up at receiver.

“He does so many things for us and just being able to do that flexibility puts a lot of pressure on the defense, though his numbers wouldn’t indicate that.”

"I didn't have as many catches but I had as many impact plays if not more key catches, third downs, touchdowns, whatever the case," Olsen said. "I contribute in the running game, pass protection in the backfield, blitz pickup, so it's not always about stats. This year kind of opened my eyes to that." Olsen wanted a trade over the offseason, but he's happy now, which isn't surprising since winning cures most things.

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Jarrett Payton Hangs It Up

Unless it starts anew with another generation, the era ofthe Payton family running backs is over.

Jarrett Payton, son of Bears icon Walter Payton, has retired.

He has decided to hang up his shoulder pads at age 30, although he might have been able to make it to 34, thereby matching the jersey number that he and his father wore.

Jarrett Payton’s career included stops in the NFL, NFL Europe, the CFL and most recently with the Steve McMichael-coached Slaughter of the Indoor Football League after he played college ball at Miami (Fla.). All that after being a soccer star at St. Viator.

‘‘It’s been a long time, a long road, a long journey,’’ he told Quick Hits. ‘‘I played for the fans. They were the reason why I went to the stadium every day. Without them, I was nothing.

‘‘I did a lot of things most people wish they could do. I would have thought soccer would have taken me all over the world. But football took me to Amsterdam, Tennessee, Miami and Canada.

‘‘It was a big decision, but life goes on. There are other things that I want to accomplish.’’

Among them is to become an accomplished broadcaster. He has a show on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with Ernie Scatton from 10 a.m. to noon on

Something says football isn’t entirely out of Jarrett’s system.

‘‘If I have a boy, and he wants to play football, I’ll coach him to the day that I die,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t want to go to games anymore. I don’t want to sit in the stands till I have a son or a daughter that wants to play sports.’’

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Pete Carroll: Seahawks have no choice but to kick to Devin Hester

Every week, every coach of every team getting ready to face the Bears faces the same question: Will you kick to Devin Hester?

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll got the question and said he doesn’t see what choice he has.

“We’ve got to kick the ball to him,” Carroll said on ESPN 1000. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We’d like to not [punt], though. That would help us.”

In other words, Carroll isn’t willing to just kick the ball out of bounds on every kickoff and hand the Bears the ball at the 40-yard line, so Hester is going to get the chance to return some kickoffs.

Not that Carroll is looking forward to seeing the ball in Hester’s hands.

“You have to be very disciplined about the way you play him,” Carroll said. “He’s just too good. And he’s so explosive. So we’re going to do a great job, I hope, of covering and placing the ball where we want to and doing all the things that you need to do so we can maximize our chance of slowing him down.”

"He's a great player that has done everything you can do," Carroll said of Hester. "We've got to respect that. We like our special-teams efforts. We know that our guys can play, and we're gonna do the best things we can do to deal with him [and] all of the impact he can bring to the game. So we're ready for it."

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Vince Wilfork is Pats' marked man in the middle

Though his aching body and the temperature outside are undoubtedly telling him it's the playoffs, it must feel like the beginning of training camp for New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork. When he scans the locker room, and sees the less-than-household likes of Landon Cohen, Eric Moore and Kyle Love, you'd forgive Wilfork for flashing back to the dog days of August.

While the serving of youth has worked out for the top-seeded Patriots, it has forced Wilfork into an unquestioned role as both leader and workhorse.

Wilfork, a quiet player who prefers to lead by example, was first forced in the direction of that role last year with the departure of Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. But the situation was a tricky one for both player and team because the former first-rounder was in the final year of his six-year rookie deal and in a contentious dispute with management over his desire to be paid like a top defensive lineman.

Some speculated that Wilfork would hold out. He instead chose to play the season, and would be rewarded with a five-year $40 million deal this past March, a contract that included an $18 million signing bonus.

With his future secure, Wilfork's role as a team leader has felt more natural to all parties involved. It has also been borne of necessity. The Pats have lost Ty Warren, Mike Wright and Ron Brace for the season, meaning Wilfork has filled the dual role of playmaker and teacher for the perennial AFC East champs.

Playing defensive line for the Pats requires a unique combination of size, unselfishness and discipline. During his seventh year in the league, Wilfork has worked to instill that discipline into the younger defensive linemen.

"It's very tough coming into a system like this and being successful right away," said Wilfork. "It's very tough. At times it's not perfect. At times I go out and do some things that I look at [on] film and think, 'What was I thinking?'

"It's very tough in a scheme like this. But these guys, they get it. Me being a pretty accountable guy, I want to make sure that these guys coming in that are going to help [us] know how we do things."

The situation has also spelled more snaps for Wilfork.

The only defensive player on the postseason roster to win a Super Bowl, Wilfork was forced to play a season-high 75 snaps in a 31-27 win over the Green Bay Packers back in December, and that included playing on third down, something the 325-pound nose tackle had rarely done.

Quantifying Wilfork's performance can be difficult, because his excellence won't show up on the stat sheet in tackles or sacks. The 325-pounder (according to the team) posted two sacks in the regular season finale against the Dolphins, his first QB takedowns since 2008.

What the Miami (FL) product does more consistently is to occupy two offensive linemen, freeing up the linebackers playing behind him. Perhaps the best reflection of Wilfork's play this year was LB Jerod Mayo leading the league with 175 tackles. The effort helped both players earn Pro Bowl citations, including Wilfork's third in the past four years.

Bill Belichick said no one appreciates a good nose tackle like a middle linebacker, calling a good nose tackle a linebacker's best friend and comparing the Wilfork-Mayo duo to Hall of Famers Joe Greene and Jack Lambert with the 1970s Steelers. If you single-blocked Greene he made the play, and if you double-teamed him it would be Lambert on the tackle. Belichick notes the dilemma for opposing offenses.

"It's always hard when you have a guy on the line of scrimmage that's tough to block," Belichick said. "It makes it really tough to get up and get the linebacker behind him. The quicker you leave that defensive linemen to get the linebacker, then the harder it is for whoever is blocking him to keep him out of the play so the runner can get up to that second level."

Wilfork figures to make life exceedingly difficult for the Jets on Sunday, as the team's line attempts to create holes for RBs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. Part of the challenge will be in simply locating the 29-year-old behemoth Wilfork, who has lined up everywhere from outside the shoulder of the offensive tackle to over the head of the center this season. It is that versatility that helped earn Wilfork his third Pro Bowl selection in 2010.

The Jets do have some positive history to point to against the Pats, however.

New York's 28-14 victory over New England way back in Week 2 saw New England gutted for 136 rushing yards on 32 carries. Tomlinson averaged 6.9 yards per carry (11 carries, 76 yards) that day, and when the Pats blew out the Jets 45-3 in the second matchup, Rex Ryan's team still gained 152 yards on the ground.

The Pats run defense in the season's second half was similar to a punter on a team with a top offense -- it was rarely tested because of big leads. Overall, it allowed 4.2 yards per carry, a middle-of-the-pack 16th in the NFL. If the Jets have their way, Wilfork and his New England cohorts will have life much tougher than usual.

With struggling quarterback Mark Sanchez not proving much of a threat, the team will undoubtedly come out playing what Ryan refers to as Jets football -- get a lead, play great defense, run the ball and don't let the other team get it back.

Tomlinson, nearing the end of his career, would love nothing more than a playoff victory against the Pats after losing to them twice in consecutive playoff runs, including 2006 when the Chargers were 14-2 and the No. 1 seed.

Tomlinson had 23 carries for 123 yards in that game, but Patriots receiver Troy Brown stripped Chargers safety Marlon McCree in the closing minutes after McCree made an interception that would have probably sealed the game. San Diego lost 24-21 when Nate Kaeding missed a game-tying field goal in the final seconds.

Wilfork could be seen dancing and waving goodbye to Chargers fans after the win. The Pats hope for a repeat celebration Sunday from their largest leader on Sunday.

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For Greg Olsen, the end game is elsewhere

Greg Olsen could end up catching a dozen passes against Seattle on Sunday, score three touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game and be the Super Bowl hero.

But Olsen, the Bears and the rest of the league know the fourth-year tight end would still be better off on another team.

With one year left on his contract, Olsen had the fewest catches (41) and the least yardage (404) this regular season since his rookie year. He had 19 fewer receptions, 208 fewer yards and three fewer touchdowns (five) than last season, when he was Jay Cutler's favorite target.

He could triple that amount on any number of teams and better utilize what he does best.

Yes, Olsen out of necessity improved somewhat as a blocker this season. His block to spring Matt Forte to a 22-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Bears' victory over the Jets was perhaps his best. But it's still not what he does.

After Mike Martz's arrival last winter, Olsen told people he wanted to be traded. And who could blame him? Even Martz readily admitted that there wasn't much room in his system for a tight end with his hand down. Translation: Tight ends on Martz's teams were glorified offensive linemen and fullbacks, nothing more.

Olsen said Wednesday that he has changed his attitude.

"It's definitely different as far as the past," he said. "But I really think, and I wholeheartedly believe this, that it's been a good thing. It's opened my eyes that you can have an impact on the game other than catching the ball and scoring touchdowns.

"In the past, it was always, 'What can our tight ends do in the passing game?' We did stuff in the run game, don't get me wrong. But this year, we have a lot more responsibility on blitz protections on third downs. As opposed to maybe running the routes, we're back there, which is just as important, picking up blitzes, scanning guys, run blocking from the backfield, on the line of scrimmage. … The position has made some plays and been a factor in the passing game. But I feel like the position has helped in other ways that sometimes can go unnoticed. … I think we've all grown a lot this past year as all-around players.”

That would be with the notable exception of Desmond Clark, of course. Prior to last season, in which a season-opening back injury limited him to seven starts and 11 games, the 12-year veteran became the first Bears tight end since Mike Ditka to turn in three consecutive 40-reception seasons.

Why the multidimensional Clark was inactive in 11 games and had just one catch for 12 yards this season was as much a mystery as it was a waste, particularly after Martz flashed Clark and the other tight ends in training camp as if they were going to be the main cogs in the offense. He also started Clark at fullback during the preseason and talked about his ability to catch balls out of the backfield.

But it was all talk, as Martz shifted his guy, Brandon Manumaleuna, to fullback in the season opener and shafted Clark, who is all but gone after this season since his Bears contract expires. Manumaleuna, whom the Bears signed to a five-year deal in March, seemed to miss more blocks than he made this season and became such a nonfactor that he all but escaped the responsibility heaped upon the O-line.

As a group, the Bears' tight ends, along with Kellen Davis, caught just 48 passes this season, down from 88 last season, and had five fewer touchdowns with eight combined.

Considering that no tight end under Martz had caught more than 38 passes or scored more than six touchdowns in a season, Olsen's 41 and five were on par. But is that production worth an extension? Probably not to Olsen if the Bears realize there are plenty of other tight ends who can do the same thing in this system and offer to pay him accordingly.

Considering Martz's concessions this season in regards to the run game, not to mention the Bears' 11-5 record and Manumaleuna's contract, it's unrealistic to expect Martz to change his philosophy toward tight ends.

Cutler tried to make a case for Olsen's fit.

"Greg's still valuable to this offensive right now," he said. "He does so many different things. Him and kind of Earl [Bennett] and Rashied [Davis] and those guys are kind of our movable pieces. He's lined up at probably every position possible out there. I think even though Greg's numbers might be down, he's probably had more fun in this offense than he has in years. Just the challenge of preparing each week and the different things we're asking him to do."

Maybe. But do the Bears need a former first-round pick to do that?

Somehow it feels like watching Clark sit on the bench all season. A waste.

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Hester represents Bears on All-Pro team

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and return specialist Devin Hester on Wednesday were named to the Sporting News’ NFL All-Pro team. The squad was chosen by a panel of 50 NFL coaches and executives.

Hester led the NFL in punt returns with a career-high and Bears-record 17.1-yard average and three touchdowns. In a division-clinching win over the Vikings Dec. 20 in Minnesota, he set an all-time league record with his 14th career kick return TD when he brought back a punt 64 yards.

Hester also topped the NFL in kickoff returns with a 35.6-yard average, but his 12 returns were shy of the required 20 returns needed to officially qualify in the league rankings.

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Andre Johnson Undergoes Successful Ankle Surgery

Andre Johnson underwent what he called successful ankle surgery Wednesday, the same day he was named first-team Sporting News All-Pro.

Johnson, a wide receiver for the Houston Texans, missed the final two games of the regular season after playing through a high-ankle sprain throughout all but one game of the regular season.

Johnson said via Twitter he underwent surgery Wednesday.

"Thanks everyone for your support," Johnson tweeted Wednesday afternoon. "The procedure on my ankle went very well."

Johnson, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who pulled out of this year's game Monday, was one of two Texans players named Sporting News first-team All-Pro Monday.

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Panthers to interview Rob Chudzinski

The Panthers are scheduled to interview Chargers TEs coach Rob Chudzinski for their offensive coordinator opening on Thursday.

It's Panthers versus Dolphins in the race for Chud. Chudzinski is the first candidate to interview for Carolina's OC job, which was fully expected after he worked with new Panthers head coach Ron Rivera on the Chargers' staff.

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Grading Rocky McIntosh

LB Rocky McIntosh -- McIntosh quietly had a pretty strong year against the run, recording a career-high 110 tackles. He had two sacks and three pass deflections. McIntosh struggled in pass coverage at times. He was good at tracking his man but had trouble judging the ball when it was in the air and would get turned around the wrong way and the tight end or running back he was covering would make the catch. Whether or not McIntosh, who is a free agent this year, remains in the Redskins’ plans is debatable.

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Andre Johnson Named To Sporting News All-Pro Team

Need some more proof of the greatness (on one side of the ball) the Texans had last season? They are the only team in the NFL with two All-Pros on offense as the Sporting News’ team was unveiled today.

Running back Arian Foster led the NFL in rushing and was probably a sure bet to take home this honor. But Andre Johnson also turned the trick, this despite playing in only 13 games. The Texans as a whole can keep playing the ‘no respect’ card, but it’s clear that Johnson has plenty of it.

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Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu redefining the safety position

OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Baiting quarterbacks, bashing wide receivers and breaking records, Ed Reed(notes) and Troy Polamalu(notes) are regarded as a breed apart as the top safeties in the game.

They patrol the secondary with natural instincts, flowing smoothly around the field with an innate reaction that traditionally lands them in the path of the football.

It’s a position that demands intelligence and toughness.

In the case of Reed and Polamalu, both aren’t afraid to gamble and neither has ever been accused of being conventional.

“Very instinctive,” Baltimore Ravens veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason(notes) said. “Both of them study a lot of football. Obviously, football is all about feel and they feel the game. That’s why Ed is in places like, ‘Man, how did he get there?’”

With an unorthodox bent and a grit that sets them apart, Reed and Polamalu are central figures in Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game at Heinz Field between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For the Ravens, Reed led the NFL with eight interceptions despite missing the first six games of the regular season on the physically unable to perform list due to offseason hip surgery.

No one has as many interceptions as Reed with 54 since the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year entered the league eight years ago, and no one has gained as many as his 1,438 interception return yards.

And Polamalu led the Steelers with seven interceptions to rank second in the AFC, also registering 82 tackles.

The common bond between the long-haired Polamalu, a former USC star, and Reed, a Louisiana native, is the big plays they routinely make.

“I think just in their ability to read what’s happening to them so quickly,” tight end Todd Heap(notes) said. “When you see Polamalu out there, he’ll come out of coverage sometimes just to make a play, something that he feels, something that he sees. You think sometimes all of that is undisciplined, but most of the time he’s right.”

Polamalu also essentially won a 13-10 game in Baltimore for the Steelers last month with his sack and forced fumble when he blindsided Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco(notes) to set up Ben Roethlisberger’s(notes) game-winning touchdown.

Polamalu is a six-time Pro Bowl selection who has intercepted 26 career passes with 514 tackles and eight sacks.

When there’s a play needed to be made, invariably Reed and Polamalu are in the thick of the action.

“One thing I think about these two safeties is they have unbelievable hands,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “These are two guys that just have a great ability to catch the football, and that gives them a chance to make plays on the ball downfield.

“They make great catches, so they get turnovers. They’re both hitters, they both are very instinctive, they both know the game inside and out, all those things that everybody talks about. “

Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski(notes) grew up watching Reed and Polamalu, attempting to mirror their games as he developed into a prep standout in the Chicago area and into a third-round draft pick at Notre Dame.

Zbikowski said it’s no accident that they make so many plays.

“It’s the studying of film and a lot of it has to do with instincts,” Zbikowski said. “They understand situations, they understand when a defense need a play for momentum. They’re never standing around. They know how to disguise what they’re doing.

“They’re complete football players . You don’t make big plays over and over again and it’s just luck. You’re in the right place at the right time because they’ve done it plenty of times. They’re safeties that are made to play the position that they play.

Reed is playing this week after spending time with his grieving family after his younger brother dove into the Mississippi River to elude police. The search has been called off.

He declined an interview request in the locker room this week.

“He’s a man of character,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs(notes) said. “None of us have lost a relative that can understand what he’s going through, but all we got to do is try to be there for him, and keep his spirits up. He is hands down my defensive MVP.

“What did he play in, 10 games? And he led the NFL in interceptions? That’s unheard of. That’s bananas. He’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate.”

With Reed’s range and impactful style, he has built a reputation as one of the most dynamic defensive players in the NFL.

He has scored 13 career touchdowns, including the playoffs, and is the only player in league history to return touchdowns off a punt return, blocked punt, interception and a fumble recovery.

"Ed brings an element that very few players bring to the table," Harbaugh said. "He has really, really special hands and body control so he can make plays that most guys can't make. He covers more ground, too, but really, more than anything, he really understands the game, understands the defenses and understands the scheme he is up against."

Polamalu is 8-2 in the playoffs.

And he has 51 career tackles in the postseason with three interceptions, returning one Flacco pass 40 yards for a touchdown in the AFC championship game two years ago.

The stockier Polamalu plays strong safety and operates as more of an enforcer near the line of scrimmage.

And Reed, who has a slimmer build at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, tends to play more of a pure centerfielder role.

He’s not as inclined to attack or blitz anymore because of a nagging nerve impingement in his neck that has plagued him for the last few years.

“I don’t know if there’s that much of a difference,” Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) said. “They both prepare incredibly and they just love the game. And those are the two few safeties that actually turn the game into an offensive possession when they do have the ball in their hands.

“I think that’s what makes both of those guys who they are, Ed and Troy. It’s an honor watching both of them play. It’s a real honor to sit back and watch, probably, two of the best safeties to ever play this game go at it.”

It was Steelers wide receiver Hines who recently introduced a segment on Reed as one of the top 100 players.

It’s the kind of mutual respect that comes from the kind of performances that Reed has put on since arriving in the NFL as a first-round draft pick from the University of Miami

The seven-time Pro Bowl selection has 551 career tackles, five sacks, 11 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.

In eight playoff games, Reed has recorded 22 tackles, seven interceptionms and 11 pass deflections.

“We've had our battles over the years,” Ward told Pittsburgh reporters. “He's hit me and I've hit him a couple times. It's always been very physical between both of us. At the end of the day, and I'm a little biased towards Troy, but he is by far, No. 1 or No. 2, the best safety in the league.

"He's a game-changer, same thing with Troy," Ward said of Reed. "When you're playing good and you're a great player, great things just happen when you're around. Those guys just have a key knack for making plays when they need it the most, and he's right up there with Troy.”

Polamalu has never intercepted a pass in the regular season against Baltimore, but made them pay in the playoffs two years ago.

Reed has just one interception in eight games against Roethlisberger and that was during a 31-7 Baltimore victory on Dec. 24, 2006.

It’s probably not a coincidence since both opposing offenses are wise enough to avoid these two defensive blue-chippers.

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only Ronnie Lott and Paul Krause have more games with at least two interceptions than Reed.

“Those are two of the best safeties in the game right now, let alone probably to ever play the game,” Heap said. “They’re similar in some respects, and then they’re different in some respects.”

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Pete Carroll: Devin Hester impact player

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll landed tons of blue-chip recruits during his time at Southern California, but admits one slipped through the cracks.

The coach could receive yet a crude reminder of one of the recruits who got away Sunday in the NFC Divisional playoffs if Devin Hester does a repeat performance of his punt return for a TD in Week 6. Hester expressed his disappointment with Carroll for not recruiting him both verbally and later with the 89-yard punt return during Oct. 17 matchup between the teams.

"Yeah, matter of fact he mentioned that during pre-game, and I tried to cool him down because I didn't want him to take it out on us," Carroll said Wednesday. "Yeah, we missed him somehow, and I've asked around since then because I missed him. I couldn't remember what happened in the recruiting because he came all the way from Florida. But he reminded me that he played in the California-Florida All-Star game, and was player of the game, and I should have known that. We just missed him. That's how it goes sometimes."

Hester, who played collegiately at Miami, broke the NFL's record for combined punt and kick-return TDs (14) in Week 15 with a 64-yard burst against the Minnesota Vikings that also tied Eric Metcalf's record for punt-return TDs (10).

"The amount of excitement Devin Hester has generated over the years by proving he's the best ever -- that lights up the stadium, it lights up an audience, it lights up everybody just because you know it can happen," Carroll said. "So that factor's a great factor to have on your team. I can't imagine with all of the touchdowns he made, the impact he has had on so many games."

Hester also finished the regular season leading the NFL in punt-return average (17.1), which ranks as the best average in team history, and ninth in league history.

Carroll jokingly blamed current USC coach Lane Kiffin for the Trojans missing out on Hester.

"I did bring it up that it was Lane's [recruiting] area," Carroll said. "I don't have an idea if it was. I just threw Kiffin under the bus on that one."

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Ray Lewis broke out his Super Bowl ring for first time in a decade

In the decade that's passed since Ray Lewis(notes) was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, the Baltimore Ravens star linebacker said he had never worn the ring commemorating the title he and his teammates won on that January night in Tampa. Until Saturday.

Lewis took out the ring for the first time in 10 years in order to show it to his Ravens teammates before the team's wild-card game against the Kansas City Chiefs. It's now sitting by his bed, serving as a reminder of what he's accomplished in the past and as an inspiration to do it again now. 

The All-Pro linebacker has been talking to his team about playing in Dallas, the site of next month's Super Bowl, since the beginning of training camp. Now Baltimore, which will face division-rival Pittsburgh on Saturday night, is two games away. 

I bet Lewis' Ravens teammates were happy to see the linebacker pull out a new motivational trick out of his bag. As we've seen countless times in various mic'd up segments throughout the years, Ray-Ray recites a variation of the same inspirational speech before every game. (It's something like: "Tonight is about us. [pause] Tonight is about victory. [longer pause] They will know when we hit them! [repeat 3x] Together! [longest pause] Sixty minutes of football! Ravens on three.")

When you watch those clips you can always see someone in the huddle looking completely disinterested or wondering how much longer they're going to have to hold their hand in the middle of a group circle. At some point, I'm sure some guys tune him out. Lewis is the unquestioned leader of the team and I wouldn't want anyone else giving a pregame speech, but you can't treat a season opener in Cincinnati like you do a playoff game in Pittsburgh, you know?

There's no tuning out a Super Bowl ring, though. Lewis is the only link to the Ravens' last title team, so when he talks about watching that confetti drop, it merits attention. That's what you play for. Lewis finally brought the ring out. When he puts it back, he clearly wants another to go with it. 

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Playoffs offer comfort to Ravens' Ed Reed

When Ed Reed is with the Baltimore Ravens, he acts like everything is normal.

The Pro Bowl safety is still attending meetings. He's still going to practice. He's still hanging out in the locker room.

But everything is far from normal in Reed's world. His brother has been missing since Jan. 7, two days before the Ravens' 30-7 wild-card victory at Kansas City.

What has helped Reed through the ordeal is relying on his family — the one in his home in Louisiana and the one here with the Ravens.

"This is, like I said, a child's game that we play," Reed said. "It's not tough to focus on this. Being around these guys helped me stay focused and going forward in life, knowing that God has got everything. I'm not worried, and I wasn't worried about football. That's the least of my worries."
Authorities near St. Rose, La., Reed's hometown, have yet to find Brian Reed, 29, who — according to his mother, Karen Reed — has had a troubled history with drugs and alcohol.

Police said Brian Reed leaped into the Mississippi River, and the water temperature was about 40 degrees, when he was trying to escape officers who thought they had stopped a stolen car. The family said Reed was driving one of his brother's cars. His mother said authorities had found her son's jacket and shoes. Police eventually called off the search for him but said they believed he swam about 15 feet before they saw his arms above water.

Some wondered whether Ed Reed would even make the trip with the team to Kansas City last weekend, but the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year said he never thought about missing the game.

"Not at all. It's my job," he said. "I know at the end of the day, it's all going to work out. It's in God's hands. There's a bigger picture — bigger than us."

In the locker room following the win at Kansas City, wide receiver Derrick Mason handed the game ball to Reed in memory of his brother.

Reed held up the game ball as teammates huddled around him. "My family would appreciate this and so would my brother," Reed said in an emotional message, as he held back tears. "My brother would want us to beat Pittsburgh."

So, that's what Reed intends to do — beat Pittsburgh in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game. Reed went to Louisiana to be with his family for one day before returning to Baltimore to begin preparations for the Steelers.

"He was in good spirits," coach John Harbaugh said. "He seemed like he was doing pretty well."

Reed has been the top playmaker for the Baltimore defense that is trying to beat Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first time since 2006.

Running back and close friend Willis McGahee, also a Miami (Fla.) product, said the players knew Reed would come back quickly to be with the team.

"Ed's not the type of guy who's just going to stay away from the game," McGahee said. "He loves the game, he loves the guys in this locker room. He has a lot going on right now, but as a team, we have his back, and as a friend, I've got his back. So I knew from the beginning, he was going to come back. He just had to go home and check on his family."

The past year has been a difficult one for Reed. He hinted at retirement last winter. He underwent hip surgery in the spring. He then campaigned for more money in the summer.

Reed began the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which sidelined him for the first six games. When he returned, Reed was back to disrupting offenses and worrying quarterbacks.

He led the NFL with eight interceptions even though he played 10 games. He was the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December with four interceptions in the final two regular-season games.

As well as he's been playing, Reed has acknowledged that he isn't at full strength. He injured his ribs after an interception in the regular-season finale.

"I'm trying not to let it stop me, but it's painful just dealing with it," Reed said.

That pain is nothing compared to the emotional hurt he's dealing with these days. But he's not sharing it alone.

"We circled around him," defensive end Cory Redding said. "We consoled him and let him know that we were going to do everything we could. We had his back, and we let him know, 'When you hurt, we hurt.'"

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said the Ravens wanted to give Reed "three hours of peace" in Sunday's wild-card game.

"Let's go out there and have fun with your football brothers, and we started doing that," Suggs said. "It definitely was an emotional win for him and the rest of us, too. We really wanted to play for him and have fun with him, just kind of give him peace, put his mind at ease for a little bit."
Several players said Reed will serve as motivation for this year's Super Bowl run.

"I told the guys (Saturday), 'Let's keep Ed on the field as long as possible because it gives him something to think about,'" Mason said. "When it's over, that's the hard part. Hopefully, he won't get off the field until February."

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

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Chris Perez and Cleveland Indians discussing contract

In a Tweet by Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer, he reports that closer Chris Perez and the Cleveland Indians are talking. Perez is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter and is under team control through the 2014 season.

Perez, 25, was 2-2 with 23 saves and a 1.71 ERA in 63 relief appearances for the Indians in 2010.

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Former Bears outfielder Brian Barton hoping to make impact with Cincinnati Reds

Brian Barton had his “cup of coffee” in the Major Leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2008 season, and like any player getting a taste of big league baseball, wanted seconds.

After going undrafted out of college, Barton was signed by the Cleveland Indians late in the 2004 season. He would start out with Cleveland’s single-A minor league team, and was gradually able to rise in the farm system until he reached the club’s Triple-A affiliate. Despite putting up very good numbers throughout his tenure with the Indians’ farm teams, Barton was unable to make it on to the 40-man roster and was picked up by the Cardinals during the annual Rule 5 draft.

Barton was able to realize his childhood dream as he made the St. Louis Cardinals’ opening-day roster during the 2008 campaign. Although not a full-time starter, Barton appeared in 82 games with the club and posted a respectable .268 batting average to go along with a .354 on-base percentage and 13 RBIs.

Even though he was a solid contributor on the Cardinals squad, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves the following season where he only appeared in one game. Barton would bounce around the minor leagues for a few seasons as he tried in vain to catch on with another major league team.

After being released by the Braves for a second time early in the 2010 season, Barton was able to find a home and starting job with the Newark Bears. Over the course of the 2010 season, Barton flashed all the physical tools that made him so desired by the Cleveland Indians all those years ago as he lead the Bears in almost every major offensive category.

For the season, Barton hit an astounding .375 to along with 19 homeruns, 65 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. His peers in the Atlantic League took notice of Barton’s truly remarkable season as he was named to the Atlantic League All-Star team, the only Bear to make the roster last season.
It turns out that Barton made so much noise during his time with the Bears that he was able to catch the attention of some Major League Baseball officials once again. The reigning National League Central Champion Cincinnati Reds caught wind of what Barton had accomplished in Newark last season and signed him to a minor league contract.

Although he has not officially made a major league roster yet, Brian Barton was able to make the most of his time with the Newark Bears and put on a display that reminded everyone how talented he truly is. Now Barton must prove himself again, as he must work his way up the deep Reds’ farm system.

Though the road will be tough and there will be bumps along the way, there is no doubt that Barton will build on his success last season with the Bears and make the city of Newark proud with his hard work and relentless desire.

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NEW, FREE Jon Beason Wallpaper

Check out our new wallpaper featuring Jon Beason. Click here to download our Jon Beason Wallpaper and many other ones or click above on proCanes Wallpapers. Enjoy and stay tuned to more wallpapers in the near future.

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Check out WQAM's interviews with proCanes This Week

Robert Bailey, James Jones and future proCane Brandon Harris were guests on WQAM this week. Click here to listen to the interviews.

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Andre Johnson out of the Pro Bowl

Tim Graham of the AFC East Blog and Buffalo chapter of the Jar Jar Binks Fan Club reports that Wes Welker is into the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Andre Johnson.

It’s hardly a surprise that Johnson won’t head to Hawaii. He played through an ankle injury for the majority of the season before missing the Texans’ final three games.

He still finished sixth in the NFL with 1,216 receiving yards.

Johnson’s continued presence, quite frankly, did a excellent bit of work in saving Gary Kubiak’s job. Bob McNair likes the offense so much, he couldn’t bear to take away the guy who constructed it and called its plays.

With Matt Schaub throwing to Johnson, and perhaps to an upgraded No. 2 receiver, and with Arian Foster carrying the ball and contributing to the passing game, the Texans should be a potent offense next year, particularly if they can figure out how not to start so slowly.

Click here to order Andre Johnson’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Steelers Sign Baraka Atkins to Future Contract

Steelers signed LB Baraka Atkins, LB Mortty Ivy, RB James Johnson, G Nevin McCaskill, TE Jamie McCoy and S Donovan Warren to reserve/future contracts.

These players will provide bodies for the offseason, but no one here is guaranteed a roster spot for next season.

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Rob Chudzinski favorite to run Panthers O

Chargers assistant head coach/TEs Rob Chudzinski is reportedly the leading candidate to take over as Panthers' offensive coordinator under new coach Ron Rivera.

Chud is also scheduled to interview for the same position with the Dolphins, though his friendship with Rivera may give the Panthers the edge. Chudzinki appeared to be a rising head-coaching candidate when he coordinated the Browns offense back in 2007, but the bloom came off the rose when Derek Anderson came back down to earth in 2008. Chudzinski has had two stints with the Browns, one as tight ends coach and one as offensive coordinator.

Chudzinski’s contract as the Chargers’ tight ends coach is expiring, and the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Chudzinski could follow Ron Rivera and become the new offensive coordinator in Carolina.

Going to Miami would be a homecoming for Chudzinski, as he spent four years as a player at the University of Miami and eight years as an assistant coach there.


Devin Hester won't put extra pressure on himself Sunday

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Devin Hester always seems to raise his level of play in big games. But the Bears' Pro Bowl return specialist won’t try to force anything in Sunday’s divisional playoff contest against the Seahawks.

“I’m not going to put pressure on myself like that,” Hester said Monday. “I’m just going to go out and be myself and whenever I get my opportunities, try to make the best of it.”

Six of Hester’s kick return touchdowns have come in prime-time games. That includes two that don’t count toward his NFL-record total of 14 scores: a 108-yard return of a missed field goal in a Sunday night win over the Giants on Nov. 12, 2006 and a 92-yard return of the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI.

Hester, who returned a punt 89 yards for a TD late in the Bears’ 23-20 loss to the Seahawks on Oct. 17, led the NFL in punt returns this season with a career-high 17.1-yard average and three TDs.

Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, who got obliterated by Earl Bennett on Hester's 89-yard punt return, ranked 28th in the NFL in gross average (41.7) and 19th in net average (37.3) this season. He placed 27 of 78 punts inside-the-20 with only one touchback.

A constant threat to go the distance, Hester has helped the Bears rank No. 1 in the league in both punt return average and opponent’s net punt average.

“It’s always a positive,” he said. “It’s a positive for the offense, as well as the team. [A short punt] not only gives the offense half of the field to go, if you get two first downs you’re in field-goal range.”

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

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Bryant McKinnie eyes Pro Bowl spot as a third alternate

After the fallout of being kicked off last year's Pro Bowl team for unexcused absences from practice, Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie wanted an undisputed Pro Bowl on his résumé.

That opportunity is still alive, though slightly.

McKinnie confirmed in a text that he's a third alternate for the 2011 Pro Bowl in Hawaii, joining teammates Antoine Winfield, Chad Greenway and Jared Allen as alternates.

Making the final roster would require multiple injuries or withdrawals by NFC offensive linemen, but McKinnie said he improved from a season ago.

When McKinnie checked the Pro Bowl voting in December, he was fourth among left tackles. That made him proud.

"I needed to come out this year and play at a high level so there couldn't be any talk about, 'Well, he shouldn't have played anyway,' " McKinnie said in an interview with the Pioneer Press last month. "I wanted to come out and show that I can play at a Pro Bowl level consistently regardless of if I go or not. I still feel I'm one of the elite left tackles in the game."

After being released from the Pro Bowl team in January 2010, McKinnie issued a statement disclosing knee and ankle injuries that prevented him from fulfilling his Pro Bowl duties.

Speculation persisted as to why he missed the practices, but McKinnie still holds true to his story today.

"There were things that took place that people never really knew what really took place," McKinnie said. "I just said leave it alone, so I left it alone."

McKinnie didn't dominate this season for the Vikings, but he was serviceable on a makeshift offensive line.

He said he was a more consistent player in 2010, but he fell victim to his team's 6-10 record when it came to Pro Bowl voting.

"I take pride in the fact people are actually acknowledging I am having actually a better season this year than last year," McKinnie said.


Ed Reed returns to Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens received a welcomed sight Tuesday as Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed returned to the team after spending time with his family in Louisiana to deal with the disappearance of his younger brother.

"Ed got back and he practiced," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters Tuesday. "He went through the meetings today. He got back for the meetings. He was in good spirits. He seemed like he was doing pretty well."

Brian Reed, 29, was reported missing last week following a police chase where he jumped into the Mississippi River to avoid authorities. A search later found clothing items of Brian Reed, who remains missing.

Ed Reed, 32, played last weekend with a heavy heart and recorded four tackles in Baltimore's 30-7 wild-card win over the Kansas City Chiefs. He received a game ball by the Ravens for his efforts. His return to practice Tuesday is a strong sign that he's also expected to play in Saturday's divisional playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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

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Devin Hester finally a two-tiered touchdown threat

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It took a couple of years, but Devin Hester and the Chicago Bears realized his increased role in the team's offense was a proposition of diminishing returns.

Taking fewer snaps as a wide receiver, Hester is back to his form as a game-changing return man, perhaps the best in NFL history. And with kickoff returner Danieal Manning, he helps give the Bears arguably the best return game in the league as they prepare to meet the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's divisional playoff game at Soldier Field.

After going two seasons without a return for a touchdown, Hester has scored on three punt returns this year to break the NFL career record for most kicks returned for a TD with 14.

Not surprisingly, the Bears are No. 1 in the league in punt return average and No. 2 in kickoff return average. Hester leads the NFL with a 17.1-yard average on punts. Manning is 11th in kickoffs (among those with 30 or more returns) at 24.7 yards, including four of 40 or more yards.

"When we get a kickoff return or punt return, the whole bench gets up and watches. It's fun," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said.

The return game has been a critical part of the NFC North champions' success, consistently giving outstanding field position to an offense that struggled at times. The Bears are 30th in total yards gained, but 21st in scoring.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, they are second in the league in field position after kickoffs, with an average drive starting at the 31.5-yard line, and fourth after punts, at 30.1. Toub's statistics combining the two ranks them first overall.

Hester returned 13 kicks for a touchdown in his first two years in the league (2006-07). In addition to the seven punts and four kickoffs brought back, he returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI 92 yards for a TD, and in 2006 he returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a score.

With a need on offense, the Bears envisioned turning him into a prime receiving target in 2008, and he played extensively at the position over the next two years, catching 50-plus passes each season. But he had no kick returns for touchdowns. Last year, opponents even stopped kicking away from him.

Coming into this year, both Hester and the coaching staff decided less can be more.

"It's hard to focus on both and do great at both," Toub said. "I think history has proven that for a lot of guys.

"What we learned with Devin, and I think Devin learned, is you have to be focused on special teams. It can't be back-burner, 'I'll be good at it.' … He came to me (during training camp) and said, 'I'm going to get back.' And he did."

Hester acknowledges it took him a while to accept the difficulty in excelling at both roles.

"It's just never been done before, where a full-time receiver does kickoffs and punts," he said. "I thought I could be the first guy. Unfortunately, I'm not."

Hester's snaps with the offense have dropped as this season progressed.

According to, Hester has taken two-thirds of the snaps in the Bears' offense this year, about 8% fewer than last season. He appeared in about 90% of the plays the first four games this year, according to PFF. Since then, he has averaged about 60% of the snaps.

"At the end of the day, I think it's just having fresh legs back there (on returns)," said Hester, who has caught 40 passes for 475 yards and four TDs. "I won't be so fatigued."

About midseason, Hester volunteered to return kickoffs again as well, and he's handled a total of 12 kicks the final seven games for a 35.6 average.

"Just the passion that I miss, doing it all my life," he said. "It's another way to get my hands on the ball and try to make good plays."

Seattle had some success in its 23-20 victory in Chicago on Oct. 17. The Seahawks punted 10 times: Three went out of bounds, two were downed, and Hester was forced to make a fair catch on three and returned one for 4 yards. But on the final punt, with 1:54 to go in the game, Hester went 89 yards for a touchdown.

Manning also returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty against the Bears.

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

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Duane Starks, DJ Irie and Black Dada Confirmed at the Press Conference, January 12th

STARFEST WORLDWIDE, INC., Holds Press Conference on Wednesday, January 12th at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach to Announce Upcoming Concert in Miami with a special tribute to Haiti and debut of the documentary trailer. Miami Beach, Florida — Jan 11, 2011 / ( — STARFEST MULTICULTURAL WORLDWIDE is launching the second tour in the USA with its first stop in Miami, FL. Originally, the concert was planned to take place on the one year anniversary day of the earthquake — January 12th 2011, but due to Haiti’s Presidential election, there is violence and a great deal political upheaval. Not to mention, STARFEST was also faced with the outbreak of cholera. “Now is not the safest time to go and produce this large scale event with our Artists. So we decided to stay in Miami, but we will be back in Haiti soon,” say the concert producers of STARFEST. The Haitian government advised the organization to hold off with the plans until much of the violence subsides.

Last year STARFEST produced the largest concert in Haiti’s history, amassing over 500,000 people from all over the country. In an effort to rebuild the community and install new educational programs, STARFEST’s mission is through music. It is the universal movement that has brought hundreds of thousands of people together with the first concert starting back in December 2009.

The organization’s mission is to produce the second installment of the “STARFEST MUSICAL FESTIVAL” in an effort to rebuild schools, hospitals and improve health conditions for the betterment of the community. Their efforts are focused on the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals which are to eradicate poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote equality and youth empowerment, and to create a healthy, sustainable living environment to name a few.
STARFEST is one of the few organizations that strive to focus on the fundamental needs of the people in one of the poorest living conditions in the Western Hemisphere.

STARFEST is partnering with several organizations whose goals align with many of the same initiatives such as The Hip Hop Summit Youth Council, Prime Entertainment
Worldwide, Inc., and Upper Management Group. One of the immediate goals of STARFEST is to ascertain media attention and to not let the focus of the people slip away. With the support of the star-studded lineup of performers, the concert will help put Haiti back on the map and resound efforts to continue building, donating and contributing to the cause in any way possible.

For more information, visit and to view the documentary trailer log onto:
A Press Conference will be held on January 12th 2011 at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach at 3:30pm EST. STARFEST will announce upcoming plans for the concert including a debut of the documentary trailer.

Click here to order Duane Starks’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Robert Hite Voted into Dunk Contest: Watch Highlights and Interview

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Dolphins to interview Rob Chudzinski

The Dolphins have reportedly received permission to interview Chargers TEs coach Rob Chudzinski for their offensive coordinator vacancy.

Chudzinski, whose contract is up in San Diego, has also been linked to Carolina with Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera headed there. "Chud" flamed out as an offensive coordinator in Cleveland a few years back, but is still considered a quality, young coach with a bright future. He called the plays during Derek Anderson's 29-touchdown season in 2007.

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Sinorice Moss signs with Eagles

Former Giants wide receiver Sinorice Moss signed a reserve/future contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, according to the team.

Moss, the Giants' 2006 second-round pick, was waived off the Giants' injured reserve list earlier in the season. He was placed on IR at the end of August due to a sports hernia.

Moss was never able to live up to his draft status with the Giants due to injuries and a crowded receivers picture in New York. Now he joins an Eagles team that already has DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant at receiver.

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

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Jimmy Graham's ankle will heal on its own

Saints coach Sean Payton confirmed Monday that Jimmy Graham's ankle injury will heal without surgery.

It sounds like Graham might've played had the Saints advanced to the Divisional Round. Despite going catch-less in the first five weeks of his rookie year, Graham finished with 31 grabs for 356 yards and five touchdowns and is clearly the team's tight end of the future. He'll offer top-five fantasy tight end upside in 2011 drafts, regardless of whether Jeremy Shockey returns.

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Bryant McKinnie hoped for Pro Bowl season to offset 2009 fiasco

As you might remember, the constant changing of venues, coaching changes and scheduling changes kept the last month of the season quite eventful.

There was less time for player features because of the constant news churning. Well, the blog is the perfect place to spill some lost notes from the locker room, right?

I revisited a chat I had with left tackle Bryant McKinnie in December that I found interesting. Well, I found it interesting a month ago, but I never got around to writing it.

Here goes an abbreviated version of what I had planned to write.

After the fallout of being kicked off last year's Pro Bowl team for unexcused absences from practice, Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie wanted undisputed Pro Bowl on his resume.

For the most part, McKinnie felt he did just that by having a more productive season than in 2009 despite not making the 2010 Pro Bowl roster. When McKinnie checked the voting back in December, he was fourth among left tackles. That made him proud.

"I needed to come out this year and play at a high level so there couldn't be any talk about, 'Well, he shouldn't have played anyway,'" said McKinnie of 2009. "I wanted to come out and show that I can play at a Pro Bowl level consistently regardless of if I go or not. I still feel I'm one of the elite left tackles in the game."

Once released from the Pro Bowl team, McKinnie issued a statement disclosing knee and ankle injuries that prevented him from fulfilling his Pro Bowl duties. He still holds true to that story today.

"There were things that took place that people never really knew what really took place," McKinnie said. "I just said leave it alone, so I left it alone."

McKinnie didn't dominate all season for the Vikings, but he was serviceable most of the time on a makeshift Vikings O-line. McKinnie said he played better in 2010 than the year before, but he fell victim to his team's poor record in the Pro Bowl voting.

Left tackles on better teams get more credit.

"I take pride in the fact people are actually acknowledging I am having actually better season this year than last year," McKinnie said.

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

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Saints may look to renegotiate Jeremy Shockey's contract

The New Orleans Saints may look to renegotiate TE Jeremy Shockey's contract this offseason because he has one year left on his contract for significant money, reports James Varney, of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Click here to order Jeremy Shockey’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Ed Reed travels to Louisiana to be with family after brother's disappearance

Ravens free safety Ed Reed is in Louisiana with his family, dealing with the disappearance of his younger brother on Friday.

Coach John Harbaugh said Monday that there is no timetable for Reed's return as the team prepares for Saturday's AFC Divisional playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

"We've left that up to Ed," Harbaugh said. "I know that Ed knows this team inside and out. We haven't talked to him yet today. So I think it's going to kind of depend on the circumstances down there, what he feels he needs to do with his family. But we'll give him a lot of leeway."

Reed, who was recently invited to his seventh Pro Bowl, made four tackles in the Ravens' 30-7 defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday's AFC wild-card round despite news that 29-year-old Brian Reed had jumped into the Mississippi River Friday morning to elude police.

Authorities near St. Rose, La. — Reed's hometown — had yet to find Brian Reed, who, according to his mother Karen Reed, has had a troubled history with drugs and alcohol.

Police said Reed was trying to escape officers who thought they had stopped a stolen car, but the family said Reed was driving one of his brother's cars. His mother said authorities had found her son's jacket and shoes.

Reed, who was awarded a game ball by the team and dedicated that same game ball to his family, said he played Sunday in memory of his brother and invigorated by the support of his family in Louisiana and his family in the Ravens.

"Just keeping God first and having faith and hope," Reed said after the win against the Chiefs. "Knowing that there's a bigger picture to life than what we've got going on here. This is a child's game that we play, and like I said, these guys helped keep me focused and keep my head in the right place. Talking to my mom and dad, knowing that they're being strong right now."

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

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Devin Hester: Bears lacked 'A' game in loss to Seahawks

Devin Hester had success against Seattle the first time the Bears played the Seahawks on Oct. 17, returning a punt 89 yards for a touchdown.

Hester considers it a win-win situation if Seahawks punter Jon Ryan kicks it either to him or short and out of bounds Sunday in their NFC playoff game at Soldier Field.

"It's always a positive," Hester said Monday at Halas Hall. "It's a positive for the offense, as well as the team. (A short punt) not only gives the offense half of the field to go ... and if you get two first downs, you're in field-goal range. It really helps out a lot and (we) continue to put points on the board."

Hester, who already owns the NFL record for most kick returns for touchdowns (14), often performs at his best on a big stage such as the playoffs. As a rookie, he returned the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl for a touchdown against the Colts.

"I'm not going to put pressure on myself like that," Hester said Monday. "I'm just going to go out and be myself and whenever I get my opportunities, try to make the best of it."

Asked if he was surprised to see the 8-9 Seahawks knock off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints on Saturday, Hester hesitated, then replied: "It's just the way the playoffs go. Teams fix all of their problems later on in the season. (Seattle) didn't start out really good, but now they're starting to come along and playing well. Just look at last weekend and all the points (41) they put up. Their quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) is doing a great job over there. He is really the key asset to that game. We just have to make sure we do our part to handle our business."

Seattle upset the Bears 23-20 in Week 6 of the regular season.

"It got our attention from the first time we played them this year," Hester said. "Unfortunately, we were unable to come up with the victory, so we know that they are a great team. That game (against the Saints) doesn't surprise me at all. We know that we can't have that same mistake that we had earlier in the season.

"Every team grows as the season goes on. Teams are not on their 'A' game the first couple of weeks of the season. I can only say that we weren't up to our 'A' game. We gradually got better and still have got growing to go."

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

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James Jones gets his break, takes advantage

LOS ANGELES — Three-on-one fastbreak. LeBron James with the ball. Dwyane Wade on the right wing. James Jones on the left. Down two. Less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter.

And the ball goes to?

The one man in the building who wasn't surprised to see it going in his direction.

"I was expecting it," Jones said of the play with 49.9 seconds left in regulation of what turned into a 107-100 Miami Heat overtime victory Sunday at the Rose Garden against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Fouled on the play, Jones converted both free throws to tie it 91-91.

To coach Erik Spoelstra, it was a huge step forward in the team's trust quotient.

"That's a great trust play to dish it to J.J.," Spoelstra said, as his team turned its attention to the third stop on this five-game trip, Wednesday's game at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers. "It's the right play and he stepped up and made both free throws."

"I think everybody in the building thought that that was going to be a forced highlight to Dwyane. And it was a great read to make the right play to J.J."

Jones said that playing with James he knew he had to be ready.

"I was looking at LeBron and with me ahead and Dwyane to the right and the guy shading to Dwyane before he even got the ball, I was expecting it," Jones said. "At that point, with LeBron such a great player, you have to expect it to come, because at the last second he can throw it to D-Wade, at the last second he could take a shot."

There was one disappointment for Jones with the play.

"I was hoping I could have gotten a shot off and made it a three-point play," he said.

Just being able to run a break with James and Wade was ample satisfaction.

"It's something you cherish," he said, "because every player doesn't get an opportunity to be in that situation."

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Indians closer Chris Perez answers your questions Wednesday at noo

The Indians certainly have some questions heading in to the 2011 season, but one thing they know for sure is they've found their closer in right-hander Chris Perez.

Acquired from St. Louis in the summer of 2009, Perez went 2-2 last season with a 1.71 ERA and 23 saves in 27 opportunities. That includes a post All-Star break record of 2-0 with 16 saves in 17 opportunities to go with a 0.63 ERA. Opponents hit just .158 off Perez following the All-Star break last season.

Now's your chance to ask Chris Perez about what it's like to be a closer in Major League Baseball. He'll take your questions on beginning Wednesday at noon. Simply type your questions in the player below. Chris will get to as many as he can.

Please note: This is a moderated chat. All questions must be approved and not all questions will be answered.

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6 proCanes Make Early Exit Out of NFL Playoffs

6 proCanes made early exits out of the NFL playoffs after he wildcard round this weekend.

Reggie Wayne (Colts), Javarris James (Colts), Jon Vilma (Saints), Jimmy Graham (Saints), Jeremy Shockey (Saints), Antonio Dixon (Eagles) all lost their respective games and will start their offseason.

Below are the remaining proCanes in the NFL playoffs.

AFC: Ed Reed (Ravens), Ray Lewis (Ravens), Tavares Gooden (Ravens), Willis McGahee (Ravens), Brandon Meriweather (Patriots), Vince Wilfork (Patriots).

NFC: Kelly Jennings (Seahawks), Spencer Adkins (Falcons), Devin Hester (Bears), Greg Olsen (Bears), Sam Shields (Packers).

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Reggie Wayne Very Frustrated

Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne was fuming after the Colts' playoff loss to the Jets on Saturday night. One of the league’s most prolific receivers matched up with Darrelle Revis and caught one, 1-yard pass. That was the lone time Peyton Manning targeted Wayne.

"It's bull. It's bull, man," said Wayne, per Mike Chappell. "I give everything I've got no matter what. Every day, I give it everything. And . . . one ball, that's all..."

"I shouldn't have even suited up. I should have watched the game like everybody else. I was irrelevant."

You’d want to be upset over his role and the result. You’d like for Manning to have looked to him more. You’d like for offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen to have designed more things to get him looks. And, of course, Wayne is free to do better work against Revis, which prompts Manning to throw to him.

Said Colts coach Jim Caldwell on Sunday: “Reggie was expressing some disappointment obviously in not getting it more. But just in terms of how we do what we normally do, week-in and week-out, plays are called that we think are going to give us an opportunity to convert and gain yardage, and all our quarterback does is read through his progressions and does his normal thing. It’s just one of those games.”

Last year we went into the Colts' offseason wondering about Wayne’s role in Tracy Porter’s crucial pick-6 that sealed the Saints’ Super Bowl win. Manning shouldn’t have made that throw, but Wayne didn’t seem to run a crisp route or put up much resistance as Porter jumped it.

This year we go into the Colts’ offseason wondering if Wayne, who made a play for a contract extension last season but is signed through 2012, will carry a bad feeling about the end of the season, and if it will play a role in another contract protest.

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

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Willis McGahee well-versed in art of long snapping

After rookie Morgan Cox tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the Ravens’ 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 26, many members of the media covering the team learned that running back Willis McGahee was the backup long snapper.

That may have come as a surprise to reporters and fans alike, but McGahee said he has experience snapping the football.

“I’ve been doing it since college,” said McGahee, who left the University of Miami to enter the NFL draft after the 2002 season. “That’s something I had to learn when I was in college. The running backs coach [Don Soldinger] was the special teams coordinator, so we all had to do something.”

McGahee, who has never snapped in a game, said special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Jerry Rosburg rushed over to McGahee after Cox sustained his injury.

“He actually came and got me ready, but Morgan went out there,” McGahee said. “Being the trooper that he is, he still went out there and snapped.”

McGahee said he doesn’t mind snapping in practice because he’s keeping an eye on his future.

“It’s going to benefit me when my career is over as a running back,” he said. “That’s when I’m going to go do it.”

So how good is McGahee?

“I’m better than most second-string long snappers,” he said. “But I am the last resort when your long snapper goes down.”

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

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Emotional Ed Reed: Football is 'the least of my worries'

Baltimore Ravens S Ed Reed, playing despite the disappearance of his brother two days earlier, broke into tears on Sunday after receiving a game ball in the locker room following a 30-7 playoff win at Kansas City.

"My, brother he loved football," Reed said, via CBS TV, to his huddled teammates, "But he'd want to beat Pittsburgh."

The Ravens' wild-card win clinched a berth for them in the divisional playoffs against the Steelers next weekend. But the much of the focus after the game was on Reed and his family, with his brother, Brian Reed, still considered missing.

Police in Louisiana were pursuing Brian Reed, 29, on Friday when they saw him jump into the Mississippi River. He has not been located since.
Reed credited his teammates -- whom he called his "second family" -- with helping him stay focused, but he added it wasn't hard to be prepared to play on Sunday.

Reed played with a heavy heart Sunday after the search for his missing brother was called off by police Saturday.

Reed’s mother confirmed that police found Brian Reed’s jacket and shoes after he jumped in the Mississippi River.  Brian Reed was being chased by authorities after they stopped him in what was believed to be a stolen car.

Ed Reed told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols he broke down crying while in a team meeting Saturday. 

"There's a bigger picture to life than what we have going on," Reed said. "This is just a child's game we play ... it's not tough to focus on this."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he made it a priority to help Reed deal with his family this week. "We rally around each other," Harbaugh said. "We care about each other."

Reed, who said he was focused on the Ravens' trip to play in Pittsburgh on Saturday, said he was heartened to know that his mother and father are being strong.

"Football," he said, "that's the least of my worries."

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

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Eagles work out former Giants WR Sinorice Moss

The Philadelphia Eagles don’t seem to be in need of depth at wide receiver, but that hasn’t stopped them from reevaluating the position.

A source confirmed the team worked out veteran WR Sinorice Moss this week, who also worked out recently for the Washington Redskins.

Moss, who was selected in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the New York Giants, is known in scouting circles for his speed.

It’s also possible the Eagles were looking at him as a kick returner. Moss returned 24 kicks for the Giants during his time with them.

The Eagles have now worked out 35 players this season.

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

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Vince Wilfork fined $10K for QB hit

New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was fined $10,000 by the NFL for his third-quarter hit on Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne in the season finale last Sunday.

Wilfork sacked Henne on the play, but was ruled to have made helmet-to-helmet contact, for which the Patriots were penalized 15 yards. Wilfork's fine was for driving Henne into the ground.

Meanwhile, Dolphins defensive lineman Paul Soliai was also fined $10,000 for roughing the passer. His third-quarter hit on Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer -- on the play in which Hoyer connected with receiver Brandon Tate for a 42-yard touchdown -- drew the fine.

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

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Antrel Rolle Proud Of His First Season With The Giants

“I’m proud of myself. I took on a lot of responsibilities,” Giants safety Antrel Rolle said the other day as he cleaned out his locker and headed toward the offseason. “But my grade sheet a lot of times would come back with five negative plays, six negative plays just because my mind was just wandering. “But through it all, I was always hustling, just trying to get around the ball somehow. And when you hustle to the ball, great things happen sometimes.” In his first season as a Giant, the fifth-year veteran was credited with 87 tackles, the second-highest total of his career. He also had four passes defensed, a game-clinching interception against the Lions, a half-sack, a forced fumble and a bunch of pressures on quarterbacks, notably the Eagles’ Michael Vick.

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

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Vince Wilfork's Leadership Holding Patriots' Patchwork Defensive Line Together

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Vince Wilfork continued to take his game to new levels during his 2010 Pro Bowl season, and one of the most remarkable aspects of this campaign has been his ability to get it done amid a revolving door of defensive linemen.

In the last week alone, the Patriots placed defensive linemen Ron Brace and Mike Wright on injured reserve, while also temporarily suspending rookie defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick. They also signed Atiyyah Ellison Wednesday and then released him Saturday.

Of the Patriots' current crop of seven defensive linemen, two of them -- Eric Moore (Dec. 3) and Landon Cohen (Dec. 22) -- have been added in the last five weeks. Three others -- veteran Gerard Warren, rookie Kyle Love and Deaderick -- were added in the offseason, while Wilfork and second-year lineman Myron Pryor are the only two who were with the Patriots last season. Pryor, though, missed seven consecutive games with a back injury.

The never-ending series of changes started almost immediately when the Patriots had issues with Derrick Burgess in training camp and placed Ty Warren on injured reserve Aug. 13. They've also placed rookie Kade Weston and Darryl Richard on IR.

Even with all of that, Wilfork has turned in his best season, despite the fact that he's almost always getting to know a new linemate.

"It’s very tough coming into a system like this and being successful right away," Wilfork said. "It’s very tough. At times, it’s not perfect. At times, I go out and do some things that I look at [on] film and think, ‘What was I thinking?’ It’s very tough in a scheme like this. But these guys, they get it. Me being a pretty accountable guy, I want to make sure that these guys coming in that are going to help [us] know how we do things. If that’s watching more film or staying after and working with some guys, that’s what it is. Whatever they need for us to be successful, that’s what we’re willing to give.

"I think all year we’ve been working very, very hard all around, every position. Some things [that] we don’t do a lot of, we spend a little bit more time on. At this point in time, there are some things that you can do a lot better, some things that we haven’t done all year but we did in camp, some of those things might come up now. We have to approach it and we have to know what we have to do when those things come up. But, these guys, like I said, you’re professional. When you’re at this level, you’re professional. It’s very hard to come and be successful at this level, at this time especially, on a team like [ours with] the schemes that we run. It’s pretty tough, but we manage to do it. It’s hard work. That’s all it is, hard work paying off."

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

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Honored at Franklin Square fundraiser, Ed Reed's Impact Spreads Far Beyond the Gridiron

Ravens safety Ed Reed appears as dominant as ever.

This season, he earned his seventh Pro Bowl selection, led the NFL with eight interceptions and helped anchor a defense that allowed just 16.9 points per game - third fewest in the NFL - in 2010.

Not bad for someone who recently contemplated retirement due to injuries.

Reed has battled a nerve impingement in his neck the past three seasons and missed the first six games of this year following offseason hip surgery.  He also is battling a rib injury he suffered following the second of his two interceptions in the Ravens 20-10 win last Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.

The 32-year-old Reed is in constant pain and is often unable to even practice during the week. Still, Reed appears ready to help lead the Ravens (12-4) deep into the playoffs, beginning with Sunday’s wildcard showdown at AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs (10-6). Reed said playing through pain and injuries has been tough, but he remains focused on staying on the field.

“After having surgery, that was something I had never been through,” Reed said. “That was a whole different pain. It’s been tough, but trainers have been doing a great job, my doctors have been doing a great job, and me personally, [I’m] just trying to stay up on it. There’s a lot of things I had to cut out and I couldn’t do and just didn’t do because I would much rather get the rest and get off my feet.”

Making a Difference
The injuries may have limited Reed’s presence on the field, but it has not slowed his impact of making a difference off of it. Reed grew up in St. Rose, La. and played college football at the University of Miami, but he has immersed himself in the Baltimore community ever since the Ravens selected him with the 24th pick overall in the 2002 NFL Draft.

His charitable organization, The Eye of the Hurricane Foundation, supports community outreach in Baltimore and in Louisiana. In addition to hosting football camps at Destrehan (La.) and Randallstown High Schools, Reed adopted Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore.
His L.O.R.D.S. program (Leadership, Order, Respect, Discipline, Success) provides incentives for students who reach certain goals based on homework completion, attendance and behavior at the school.

Reed also visits Booker T. Washington Middle School regularly, provides the youth with necessary tools to succeed (school supplies, etc.) and donates tickets to students for Ravens home games. In addition, Reed annually provides Thanksgiving dinner baskets to families of Booker T. Washington students.

Reed was also recognized for his outstanding community service when he received the Whitney M. Young Award by the Greater Baltimore Urban League in 2007 and was also named the Ravens’ recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2009.

That combination of on-the-field dominance and off-the-field charitable work led Ravens tight end Todd Heap to select Reed as this year’s honoree at his “Heap of Hope” event on Monday.

The event, held at the Hilton Baltimore, was a fundraiser for Franklin Square Hospital Center. Heap pledged to raise $1 million for the hospital, which named its new pediatric center in Heap's honor.

“Ed Reed is one of the most complex players on our team,” Heap said. “He’s spectacular on the field and has done amazing work off of it.  The theme of this event every year is to find the player that has made the biggest difference in the community and Ed has definitely done that.”
Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said Reed is an inspiration for all of the players on the team and his impact is immeasurable.

“Ed is a first and foremost a great friend to everyone on the team and is the greatest safety of all time in my mind,” Carr said. “He just so humble and treats everyone the same whether you are a first-round pick or an undrafted free agent.

“Whenever you have a guy like that who is so comfortable with everyone, it gives the team more confidence on the field. Plus, to see all of the work he’s done off the field, makes Ed an even more spectacular person.”

Unfinished Business
While Reed plans on continuing his charitable work in the future, his immediate focus is on the Chiefs and trying to lead the Ravens back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the franchise won its lone Vince Lombardi Trophy a decade ago.

Winning a Super Bowl is one of the few accolades that has eluded Reed in his Hall of Fame Career. His 54 career interceptions ranks first among all NFL players since he entered the league in 2002, as do his 1,438 interceptions return yards. Additionally, his 26.6-yard return average ranks first in NFL history among players with at least 30 interceptions.

However, while Reed wants to win the NFL’s ultimate prize, he’s not going to let that chase consume him.

“You just want to be successful throughout the season and have a chance to play right now in January, and try to get to The Dance,” Reed said. “I’m not basing my career off of one game, or getting to one game, even though that is the ultimate goal of all of us once we come here. But, we all know how that goes. At the end of it, we’ll see how it goes, assess it. But right now, we’re focused on this week and will go from there.”

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said Reed’s return from injury provided the team with the spark they needed heading into the postseason. The Ravens enter Sunday’s game having won four straight and are 8-2 since Reed’s return.

“Ed’s huge for our team,” Flacco said. “He’s been around Baltimore awhile and made a huge impact on the field and in the community for the work he has done.  He’s a big impact  on the field and every team we play is aware of that.”

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

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Lauryn Williams: Making an impact on strengthening faith

I can confidently say I have turned a corner in my faith in the last year or so. On my quest to become stronger in my faith, I've done a lot more seeking than I have in the past  and I'm learning what a personal relationship with God looks like. At this point in the journey, two experiences stand out, Athlete In Aciton's Ultimate Training Camp and The Impact movement's Impact 2010 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

This summer I participated in AIA's Ultimate Training Camp, which I would recommend for every athlete. This camp was a great place for me to begin to understand that God has gifted athletes with talent's and abilities. I was able to apply biblical principles to the way I live and compete as a response for the gifts God has given me.

In December, I went to Impact 2010, a conference put on by The Impactmovement. Traditionally the conference has been held every other year for the African American college student and young professional, but now has a high school track. You can check out archived sessions of the conference at

For me Impact is a new school approach to GOD.  The Hip-Hop, Neo Soul R&B vibe happens without selling out or misrepresenting or changing God's truths. The speakers spend time addressing the things that interest this age group such as dating, sexuality, finances, and why you shouldn't be afraid to share your faith. They also have seminars to help further one's spiritual growth in other aspects regardless of where one is their walk with GOD. I was unaware that there are so many resources such as books, music and apparel available.

I tried to attend as Lauryn Willliams a young adult seeking GOD but I was recognized as Lauryn Williams the Olympian quite a few times. One person came to me and a just wanted to tell me how encouraging it was to see an professional athlete with such a HUGE platform being open and seeking the LORD. I never thought of myself as having a huge platform or paid attention to the importance my walk has on others.

The final day of the Impact Conference was a day of outreach where we were to go out and tell others about GOD. I was sick to my stomach at the thought of it. I don't ever want to become the people who turned me off from GOD at a young age because they were forcing it on me. If your willing to listen I can tell you what my faith in the Lord has done for me but I don't want to tell people who are doing something different that they are going to hell!!!

Well my experience that day wasn't like that at all. My group of 3 was given the names and address of four homes where we visited and shared box of food with each. My stomach was not so sick when I saw that sharing my faith is like sharing a box of food. When you genuinely care about others you will give and share your life in ways that express your love for God and love for people. Then it's not as bad as it seems.

I am looking forward to the opportunities of helping others experience Ultimate Training Camp and the Impact Conference, so they to can turn the corner in pursuit of a meaningful relationship with God.

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