Coach Joe Philbin talks up Lamar Miller

Coach Joe Philbin says Lamar Miller has "really progressed" over the course of OTAs and minicamp.

"He is very smart," Philbin said. "I think he has really progressed from a mental standpoint as a professional in his second season. He has very good hands. We like a lot of the things he is doing in pass protection. Again, we have to temper our enthusiasm based on how he does in pads, but I think his understanding of how he fits in the protection scheme is very good. We use that term, ‘closing the distance.’ He has done an excellent job in that regard in the spring, so we’ll have to see how that carries over to the fall." Miller is the favorite for lead-back duties in the Miami backfield. We have him as a mid-to-low RB2.

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Jets appear on the verge of signing Winslow, Jr.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Indications were the New York Jets would sign Kellen Winslow II if he made it through minicamp healthy.

The veteran tight end did just that, so it's seemingly only a matter of time before he joins a team that could use a playmaker at that position after the loss of Dustin Keller to the Miami Dolphins via free agency.

If and when Winslow signs, he believes it will be a nice end to a recent run of bad news.

"It's been a rough go-round, I guess," said the former sixth-overall pick, who appeared in only one game for the New England Patriots last year after the Seattle Seahawks released him. "This last year, when you can't control it, you get cut, you get traded, you just can't control it.

"But I'll tell you I'm very hungry. I've always been hungry. Whenever I step out on the football field, I want to beat my opponent. I just want to help this team and make plays for them."

Jets general manager John Idzik said he appreciated the chance to see Winslow over a three-day period rather than taking a quick look at him during a standard workout.

"We'll talk about (signing Winslow)," he said. "What's nice about minicamp environments, you get three days, unlike when you bring street guys in for free-agent workouts, you may get them on the field for 45 minutes to an hour.

"In minicamps, we get three days with them to teach them some things and see how they apply it. We thought Kellen did a nice job given the fact he got off the plane, got into a meeting and a couple hours later, he got out on the field. All things considered, he did a pretty good job."

Some players and agents prefer to have a player work out individually rather than participate in a full minicamp. Winslow's agent Drew Rosenhaus also encouraged Donte' Stallworth to do the full minicamp with the Washington Redskins.

Stallworth signed and now Winslow, who took a blood test just before talking to reporters, seems to be next.

"I am a dynamic player. I'm more of a receiver type," Winslow, who has five seasons of 66 catches or more, said when asked if he sees a chance to get back to making plays. "We have bigger bodies (on the roster) and I'm more of a receiver type. Everybody's a playmaker on this team."

Well, that last part is an exaggeration. The Jets need all the help they can get. And should he indeed sign with the Jets, Winslow needs to prove he can stay healthy after a few knee surgeries in his career.

"You just get smarter, do smarter things for your body," Winslow said. "Live in the ice tub, take care of your legs and be OK."

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Olivier Vernon hopes versatility lands him starting spot

DAVIE— Olivier Vernon's first step is definitely explosive, but the ones that follow his take off are even more impressive.

But we're not talking about this Dolphins defensive lineman's pass rushing repertoire. Vernon's rush skills are still being polished.

What sets Vernon apart from his counterparts on Miami's defensive line is his unique ability to drop back into coverage and run downfield stride-for-stride with tailbacks, tight ends, and even receivers.

The former University of Miami standout did it occasionally during his college career, and in instances during his rookie season with the Dolphins.

But it appears defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will be turning up the volume, calling on this hybrid player to drop back more in 2013. Coyle continues to install some rather unique blitzes that the defense was experimenting with this offseason.

"I like what we see from him, no question," coach Joe Philbin said of Vernon, whom the Dolphins selected in the third round of last year's draft.

With Jared Odrick moving inside to defensive tackle, Vernon has spent every snap this summer as the Dolphins' starting right side defensive end. His tweener skills have encouraged the coaches to get a little creative.

"The good thing about him is he can put his hand on the ground and he can function. You can put him in a two-point stance and he can function. And then as he grows as a player you can maybe move him around to a couple different spots," Philbin said.

"That creates what we call targeting issues for the offense, and identification issues."

The Dolphins new-look defense is all about creating confusion about roles, assignments and coverages; therefore, versatile players such as Vernon will be the key.

But that's if Vernon manages to keep the starting spot. The Dolphins used a first-round pick to draft Oregon's Dion Jordan, a player with similar tweener skills, and comparable athleticism to Vernon.

Jordan, whom the Dolphins traded up to select third overall, played outside linebacker in Oregon's 3-4 defense, and routinely dropped back into coverage. When he finally joins the Dolphins during training camp, which opens in late-July, Jordan will be moved to defensive end, where he'll compete with Vernon for the starting spot opposite Cameron Wake.

Vernon doesn't seem too concerned about his competition's first-round draft status.

"Everybody will have an opportunity, especially during training camp." said Vernon, who contributed 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks and forced one fumble in his 445 snaps as a rookie. "Whoever is the best fit for the position will have the spot.

"If he can help the team he can help the team. That's what we need. We need guys who can come in and make plays."

But Vernon has no intentions of backing down, nor should he considering pound-for-pound he's one of the best athletes on the roster.

"Olivier did an outstanding job for us as a rookie. He had a tough learning curve but he did an excellent job," defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said of Vernon, who started just 16 games at UM before leaving after his suspension-shortened junior season.

"When [the coaches] went through the cut ups [of film] in the offseason we felt like we have to get this guy on the field to play more."

Rodgers said Vernon has made "great strides" during the offseason program. He's been working out weekly at the team facility since January, and hasn't taken a break from weight lifting.

As a result he's bulked up to 268 pounds, which he believes will help him set the edge better.

Wake said the biggest improvement Vernon has made is his "football awareness," understanding situations, schemes, formations better. That's an edge he'll have over Jordan, who has missed all of the Dolphins' offseason program because of NFL rules.

"Last year was a welcome to the NFL type situation," Wake said. "Now [Vernon] knows what's going on."

He also knows what to expect.

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Willis McGahee, veteran RB, released by Broncos

The Broncos put their running game largely in the hands of their own draft picks Thursday morning, releasing veteran Willis McGahee.

McGahee was informed of the decision Thursday morning as the team gathered for its final day of minicamp. McGahee had missed the bulk of the Broncos' offseason workouts for what he called "family reasons," but had participated in Tuesday's and Wednesday's mandatory minicamp practices.

In a statement, Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said, "It's never easy to part ways with a veteran player who made so many positive contributions to our team and our community. I appreciate all of the competitiveness, toughness and leadership Willis brought to the Broncos. He was an integral part of our turnaround during the past two seasons, and I wish him the best as he continues his NFL career."

The move puts Ronnie Hillman, a third-round pick by the Broncos in the 2012 draft and rookie Montee Ball, a second-round pick this past April, at the top of the team's depth chart.

McGahee was given very little work with the offensive regulars in this week's minicamp practices and seemed resigned to Thursday's decision by the Broncos when he said, "If it happens, it happens."

"I'd like to thank Willis for everything he did, he did a great job for us," said Broncos coach John Fox following Thursday's practice. "He was one of our first signees when we came here to get this thing turned around. It's the unfortunate part of this business, but he did a great job."

McGahee, who will turn 32 this season, has two years remaining on a four-year, $9.5 million deal he signed in 2011. He was scheduled to earn a $2.5 million base salary this season and a $2 million base salary in 2014.

The Broncos will take a $1 million dead money hit against their 2013 salary cap with McGahee's release.

He finished the 2012 season on injured reserve after he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament and compression fracture of his right knee early in the second quarter of the Broncos' 30-23 victory over San Diego. McGahee said Tuesday, however, he's been medically cleared to take part fully in the team's practices and that he's had "no problems" with the knee.

McGahee cited "family reasons" for working out in Miami in recent weeks and said he had no regrets about his decision, even if it had given Hillman and Ball a chance to snare some, or even all, of McGahee's potential playing time.

"In fairness to (McGahee) this gives him a better opportunity to hook on somewhere and gives us a better opportunity to give some of these young guys more reps," Fox said. "It's a conscious decision for us to get younger."

Fox added that McGahee's absence in recent weeks "didn't really have anything to do with it."

McGahee also said earlier this week he was convinced the Broncos would have given Hillman and Ball long looks with the offense even if he had attended all of the voluntary workouts at Dove Valley.

"I probably would have been behind the 8-ball anyway," McGahee said. "(It's) a younger group. Just being real, right? But at the end of the day I'm going to go out and be Willis McGahee, man. I can't worry about what those guys are doing. ... Those guys are talented, I like them, I like the way they run."

This year wasn't the first McGahee has done most of his offseason work in Miami in his time with the Broncos. He had hoped for a new contract following his 1,199-yard season in 2011 — he was an injury replacement in the Pro Bowl following that season — and spent much of last year's offseason program in Florida.

He attended the team's mandatory minicamp last June as well and when he reported for training camp he was still the Broncos starter.

"(Competition) is always going to rank high to me because the other guys are younger, I'm always on the bubble," McGahee said Tuesday. "So, not too much you can do, it's a business, if something happens it happens."

The Broncos, by league rules, could have fined McGahee for each missed day this week, because he was under contract.

McGahee reported to the team's mandatory minicamp that began with a meeting Monday night, then got just enough reps on Tuesday and Wednesday for the Broncos to feel comfortable enough to release him.

The former Miami Hurricane has had two remarkable comebacks in his NFL career, first from a devastating knee injury suffered in his last college game and then in 2011 with the Broncos following three seasons as a backup with the Baltimore Ravens.

McGahee was on pace for another 1,000-yard season last year when a blow to the knee delivered by San Diego cornerback Quentin Jammer left the tailback with a torn ligament and compression fracture in his tibia.

Jammer is now with the Broncos as a safety. McGahee is not.

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Bryant McKinnie says he’s in his best shape in years

Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie hasn’t exactly been known for showing up to training camp in great shape. He’s generally been known for eating too much and working out too little.

But McKinnie says things are different now.

McKinnie, who was held out of the start of training camp last year because he wasn’t in good enough shape to practice, has been more involved in offseason work this year and told the team’s website that he’s in his best shape in years. (Not that that’s saying much.)

“I feel like I’m in pretty good shape and I’m doing a lot better,” McKinnie said. “I’m far ahead than I have been the past two years.”

McKinnie said he’s lighter now than he was last year and plans to lose a little more weight before training camp starts. With better conditioning, he believes he’s poised to have a Pro Bowl season.

“I still need to drop a little lower,” he said. “But it’s definitely better than it has the past two years. I’ll continue working on cardio and stretching, but I’m just focused on getting better.”

For McKinnie, getting slimmer is a good step toward getting better.

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Damien Berry arrested on failure to appear warrant stemming from traffic citations

Ravens reserve running back Damien Berry was arrested Tuesday night by Baltimore County police on a failure to appear warrant stemming from a charge of driving with a suspended license, according to court records.

Berry was released on his own recognizance Wednesday and has been assigned an Oct. 10 court date for several traffic citations, Baltimore County Police Department Cpl. Cathy Batton said.

The former University of Miami player was pulled over in his 2010 BMW by Howard County police on Jan. 24 at 1:06 a.m. for driving 63 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone.

The native of Belle Glade, Fla., was cited for speeding as well as driving with a suspended out-of-state license, driving on an expired license and failure to display license on demand.

Ravens team spokesman Chad Steele told The Baltimore Sun that the team is aware of the situation.

Berry hasn't been seen at the Ravens mandatory minicamp the past two days.

Berry spent last season on injured reserve after being on the Ravens' practice squad as a rookie two years ago.

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Colin McCarthy Primed For Healthy, Productive Season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have liked what they've seen in two seasons from Colin McCarthy.

The thing is, they just haven’t seen the middle linebacker enough for their liking.

Ditto that feeling for McCarthy, who exploded onto the scene to earn the starting slot two seasons ago as a rookie and unheralded fourth-round draft pick out of Miami (Fla.). By the time 2012 rolled around, his defensive teammates thought highly enough of McCarthy to vote him captain.

But 2012 didn't turn out exactly as McCarthy planned. He injured his left ankle in the season opener and struggled when he was made inactive for four of the first seven games. When he finally made it back, he suffered a concussion and didn’t play in the final four games.

"That’s my goal — to play all 16 games — and, obviously, be healthy and be available when my number is called," said McCarthy on Thursday, claiming to have no ill effects from either injury that plagued him last season.

That would be a huge benefit for a Titans defense that yielded a league-worst 471 points last season, setting a franchise record for defensive futility. While playing only 34 percent of the team's defensive snaps, the 6-foot-1, 238-pounder still had 45 tackles and a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown against Miami.

"I'm feeling good," McCarthy said. "It's good to get back out there on the field and get these injuries behind me and just focus on my game, making sure of technique and assignments and be on top of my game."

Titans head coach Mike Munchak has been pleased with McCarthy's progress during Organized Team Activities. The club will conclude spring drills next week with a three-day minicamp (Tuesday through Thursday) before taking off until training camp in late July.

"I think Colin is doing well," said Munchak, who had a disappointing 6-10 record with the Titans in 2012. "This is exactly what he needed, getting out here and feeling healthy again. That’s a relief for him, just out here playing football again and learning.

"I am just happy to have him out here. It’s all business. He has been out here every day and working hard.”

Still, there is the notion that McCarthy is injury prone. As a rookie, he injured a hamstring in the fifth game against Pittsburgh and missed the next three outings. But when he returned, McCarthy started seven of the last eight games and finished the season with 78 tackles, including a team-high eight tackles for loss, one interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

"I’m focusing on being healthy and doing everything to prevent injuries," said McCarthy, who had surgery on his right ankle following last season. He also had three shoulder surgeries early during his college playing days before playing 25 games the last two seasons at Miami.

"Football is a physical game,” he added. "Things are going to happen. I’m just trying to put those injuries behind me and move forward.”

While McCarthy is solidly entrenched as the starter at middle linebacker, the Titans also signed an insurance policy, Moise Fokou, the former Colts (2012) and Eagles (2009-11) backup middle linebacker.

Still, it is McCarthy who needs to stay healthy and play an entire season because of all the variables he brings to the defense, especially big-play capabilities.

"There is a natural thing Colin has for the big play," Titans linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio said. "There are times during the game when he makes the right decision to make the big play. He has great hands. He has good instincts. He has a knack for the big play."

McCarthy agreed with his position coach about the knack for making the big play.

"It's just instincts and watching film and reading my keys and believing my keys and reacting,” he said. “You put the work in and then just try to reap the advantages of it."

What Parlavecchio wants to see now, though, is a consistent effort from McCarthy not only during games, but an entire season.

"The part of his game that he has to improve on is the consistency – the play in and play out behavior,” Parlavecchio said. “In other words, he has to play the same on every play. When he develops the consistency in his game, there are no boundaries for how good can he be.”

The Titans are currently listing nine linebackers on their two-deep depth chart, so talent and depth at all three linebacker slots are considered team strengths. Third-year veteran Akeem Ayers, the team's leading tackler last season, is back on the strong side, while second-year player Zach Brown, who was third on the team in stops, returns to the weak side.

"They are a great group of guys," Parlavecchio said. "We use the analogy of the Boston Bruins. What makes the Boston Bruins so good and playing for the Stanley Cup?

"It's when they roll four lines at you, all four lines are exactly identical. You can't tell the first line from the fourth line. That’s the way we are going to be.”

But certainly it all starts at linebacker with having a healthy and productive McCarthy back in the middle.

"It is someone who makes plays and gets the attention of the rest of the defense and be a person the rest of the team can rally around," McCarthy said of what it takes to be a good linebacker in the NFL. "I don't think you need to be very vocal. Obviously, with making your calls, you need to be confident in making your calls.

"It's just going out there and playing football. At this level, guys want to see you produce. Guys want to see you make plays. And that’s how you gain the respect of your teammates and coaches."

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LaRon Byrd Needs To Be More Consistent

LaronByrd 2
Last offseason, one of the undrafted rookies that got some attention and caused a bit of a buzz among fans and the media was receiver LaRon Byrd. Head coach Bruce Arians was asked after Wednesday's practice whether Byrd has been making progress recently.

Arians did not mince words.

"No really, to be honest," he told reporters. "He made a couple of nice catches that were unbelievable throws (on Tuesday night). Linebackers had him covered, but he made a great catch on an unbelievable throw last night.

"It appeared to be a good play, but he's too inconsistent now right now in his assignments and in his overall play. He has talent, he has a good future, but he's got to get more consistent."

As of right now, he has found himself down low on the depth chart.

It should not be a surprise. He was a guy that Ken Whisenhunt had brought in, and this is the sort of thing that happens with a new regime -- they get replaced by other guys that he new leadership brings in.

Right now, it is Jaron Brown and Kerry Taylor who are the receivers just behind the three wideouts (Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd) that Arians and Carson Palmer will lean on in the passing game.

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Jon Beason back to 100 percent

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There’s been something that hasn’t been seen in quite some time during the past two years taking place at the Carolina Panthers’ minicamp the past couple of days.

Linebacker Jon Beason has been on the field and making lots of plays. Beason has been limited to five games over the past two seasons due to injuries. Beason missed 15 games with a torn Achilles tendon in 2011 and appeared in only four games last season before a knee and shoulder injury shut him down.

But coach Ron Rivera said Beason is 100 percent healthy.

“I think he is,’’ Rivera said. “They passed him on the physical, so I’m assuming he is 100 percent. He’s moving around like he is. He made some plays. You really see the energy coming back. You see the quickness.’’

With a healthy Beason, Carolina has a chance to have one of the NFL’s best linebacker corps. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was the Defensive Rookie of the Year last season and outside linebacker Thomas Davis has made a successful comeback from injury issues of his own.

Beason was one of the league’s better linebackers before his injury problems started and the Panthers think he can get back to that level.

“I think he’s really going to help us, just his presence and who he is as a football player,’’ Rivera said.

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Frank Gore inspired by critics

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Frank Gore doesn't see turning 30 as a bad thing, even if it's the age when most NFL running backs start to decline.

If anything, the San Francisco 49ers' career rushing leader has embraced the milestone and sees it as another means of motivation.

"I love it," Gore said Thursday outside of the 49ers' locker room. "I feel like every year it's something with me. I have to overcome everything, every year. Now that I'm 30 I just have to keep working and training hard."

Not that Gore has ever needed extra incentive.

Whether it was being bypassed in the 2005 draft when he was the sixth running back selected or the string of injuries he's endured and overcome since then, Gore has always felt the need to prove people wrong.

The 49ers clearly know Gore's value and have limited his participation in the offseason workouts, including this week's three-day minicamp.

San Francisco hopes the time off will help keep Gore fresher for the regular season. He's topped 1,000 yards in six of the last seven years but he's also had a tendency to wear down late in the season.

Since the end of the 2009 season, Gore has failed to record a 100-yard game in the months of November and December. He rebounded to top that mark twice in the playoffs last season, including in the 49ers' Super Bowl loss to Baltimore when Gore ran for 110 yards and a touchdown.

That wasn't enough to silence the critics. And when Gore turned 30 on May 14, the doubters seemed to increase.

Even his spot on a recently released list of the top 100 players in the NFL didn't sit well with the ninth-year veteran. Gore was No. 32.

"They said he's turning 30 and he might not have (any) more left," Gore said. "I like that type of stuff. Whenever (the 49ers) let me get on the field, I'm going to go hard and prove everybody wrong again."

Just when Gore will be on the field is the question.

While he's done some light individual work, the 49ers have not let him take part in any on-field practices. He was a spectator at practice Thursday and likely won't put on pads until San Francisco opens training camp in July.

That led to speculation that Gore might be nursing an injury. But when questioned about it on Thursday, Gore was as elusive as he has been on the field.

"I'm cool, I'm good," he said. "I'm just listening to (head trainer Jeff Ferguson). He told me he didn't want me doing anything right now, and I'm listening. I'm just getting my body back. I want to be fresh whenever I get back on the field."

Keeping Gore fresh is critical considering the health of some of San Francisco's other running backs.

Kendall Hunter, the top backup behind Gore, is still mending from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered last season. Rookie Marcus Lattimore, one of the team's two fourth-round draft picks, is also trying to come back after an injury-plagued college career that included a career-threatening right knee injury in 2012.

Gore and Lattimore have formed a kinship of sorts because of their similar histories. Gore suffered serious injuries to both knees while in college before rebounding to become a four-time Pro Bowl running back for the 49ers.

"He's a good kid," Gore said of Lattimore. "I went through the same thing, being one of the best backs at the school and getting drafted late in the rounds and you don't know if you could get back to (being) you. I'm pulling for him."

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Vince Wilfork knows what it takes

FOXBORO - It's been a decade now for Vince Wilfork, so it's a fair bet that he's seen just about anything a player can see in the NFL.

That includes a parade of players that have come to his New England Patriots looking to earn a ring. Some have stayed, others have left. They come and go, he said - but there's one thread that has to run through all of them.

"If you're not willing to put the work in to be successful, you're not going to make it here," Wilfork said Wednesday after what turned out to be the last practice of the Patriots' mandatory full-squad minicamp. "The guys that do make it here, they're willing to humble themselves and put the team first, and concentrate on winning. We will always put team first and winning first before anything."

The question was posed to Wilfork under the premise of the arrival of quarterback Tim Tebow at Gillette Stadium. The former Bronco and Jet signed a two-year contract and joined the Patriots on Tuesday.

"Just another teammate to help us win," said the veteran defensive tackle. "I'm glad to have him as a teammate and I'm pretty sure that he'll do some things that will help us win. That's up to the coaches to put him where he needs to be, but any decisions the coaches make to bring guys in or to release guys is for the better of this team."

There has never been any question about Tebow's humility at any of his stops, including the University of Florida. What's been a question throughout his career is whether he can play his position well enough to succeed as a pro - and if not, whether a strapping young lad with Tebow's athletic ability and drive can somehow be adapted to fit other, unique roles.

It didn't work with the Jets, and Wilfork admitted he didn't yet know what Bill Belichick has up his sleeve in his attempt to find value in Tebow.

"They feel he can help us in some kind of way that we don't know," Wilfork said, "but I'm happy to have him as a teammate."

Wilfork said he was happy about one thing - that he would not have to chase the mercurial Tebow around the field as an opponent any more. But in his new identity as a Patriot, Tebow is more than welcome to be on board as long as he knows what he has to do in order to stick.

"We're all about football and winning," Wilfork said. "If you're not about that, then this is not a place for you. We're going to treat him just like we always treat anybody. We always treat everybody fair, no matter who you are."

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Expectations High for Devin Hester

Special teams have long been a strong area for the Bears. That shouldn't change this season, with a new special teams coordinator and extra pressure on return man Devin Hester and punter Adam Podlesh.

Instead of splitting time between offense and special teams, Hester will focus solely on returns this season. He is already liking the change.

“I’m having fun,” Hester said. “I feel more energized, more in shape as far as my legs being fresh by limiting some of my reps. It reminds me of my first two years.”

During his first two years, Hester was tough to stop as a return man. He had 11 kickoff return touchdowns, including a memorable one in the Super Bowl. He also had a limited role as a wide receiver, making just 20 catches in two seasons.

Podlesh has competition, as the Bears signed Tress Way, a free agent punter. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said way has a chance to win the roster spot.

"I view him as a competitor," DeCamillis said of Way. "He has some positive things. He has a chance."

Podlesh struggled at times last season. He improved as the season went on, but the Bears are making sure that he stays consistent this season. They are scheduled to pay him more than $1 million this season, so Way is around to ensure Podlesh does his best through camp.

The biggest takeaway from this is the Bears are investing heavily in special teams. They brought in a coach with a proven track record. They are devoting a roster spot to a return man and making a punter highly paid. They are going to expect an immediate return on their investment, so the pressure is on for Hester, Podlesh and the rest of the special teams to perform.

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Ryan Braun: Thumb Failing To Improve

After sitting out his third straight game Wednesday, Braun said his injured thumb has felt the same way it did heading into the three-game series with the Marlins, reports.

Though Braun has not swung a bat since leaving Sunday's game in the third inning, manager Ron Roenicke indicated he wouldn't have had any qualms about using him in a big pinch-hitting situation if necessary, but that never materialized during the Marlins series. With a team day off Thursday, the Brewers hope Braun can be back in the fold Friday for the first game of the weekend series with the Reds, but if there's no sign of improvement in the next couple days, a trip to the DL would become increasingly likely.

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Bryant McKinnie Named Top Lineman Of BCS Era By Athlon

Athlon Sports recently released the Top 50 Offensive Linemen of the BCS Era.  Sitting atop the list is former University of Miami tackle Bryant McKinnie.

When comprising their list, Athlon took the following into consideration: statistical production, individual awards, team success, longevity, supporting cast, level of competition, raw talent and athletic ability.

During his tenure at the U, McKinnie was a force to be reckoned with.  As part of the infamous 2000-01 Miami Hurricanes team – arguably the best college football team ever to be assembled – McKinnie helped lead the Hurricanes to a 2001 BCS National Championship win and a 23-1 record.

The 6’9″, 335-pound behemoth arrived at UM from junior college (Lackawanna JC) and although he only played two years in Coral Gables, McKinnie made his name be known.

In his senior season (2001), McKinnie was considered by many as the most dominating player in college football.
2001 Accolades:

Outland Trophy Winner
Consensus First-Team All-American
Two-Time Unanimous First-Team All-Big East (Coaches)
National Player of the Year (
National Offensive Player of the Year Finalist (Football News)
8th in Heisman Trophy Voting (26 first-place votes)

McKinnie never allowed a sack during his career at UM, junior college or high school.  A consensus 4-star JUCO prospect, the big man chose Miami over Arkansas, Penn State, Iowa, South Carolina, West Virginia, Clemson and Syracuse.

Taken in the first-round of the 2002 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings selected McKinnie with the seventh overall pick.

Also making the list is former Hurricanes center Brett Romberg at No. 15.

From Athlon:

With Romberg at center, the Hurricanes went 35-2, won three Big East championships, played in two national championship games and won the 2001 BCS national title.  He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and was a consensus All-American in 2002.”

Romberg never really made his mark in the NFL and bounced around from team to team.  Last playing for the Atlanta Falcons in 2011, Romberg is currently listed as a free agent.

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Rex Ryan impressed by Kellen Winslow’s “skill and athleticism”

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Kellen Winslow has already made an impression on Jets coach Rex Ryan. From the very first play, Ryan noticed the tight end, who is on a three-day tryout with the Jets.

“The one thing that jumps out at you is his skill and athleticism,” Ryan said. That’s something that jumps out at you, that he still has that and from the very first play that he’s in there, you can still see that.”

Winslow didn’t play a full season last year. He was briefly with the Patriots, and before that played three seasons with Tampa Bay after being drafted in the first round by Cleveland in 2004. Ryan, as defensive coordinator for the Ravens, was often frustrated by Winslow’s ability.

“I think having that kind of weapon, he’s such an athlete,” Ryan said. “Kellen’s never been a hired killer as a blocker, he tries you know, but as an athlete and a receiver, whoo. Of the two or three grey hairs I have in my head, like two billion of them or whatever, he’s contributed to some of those I can tell you.”

Here's what Winslow had to say about his first day with the Jets on Tuesday. After Wednesday's practice, Winslow said he felt optimistic about the possibility that the Jets would sign him.

The Jets also have wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker in as a tryout for the minicamp, and he didn’t leave the same impression.

“He never jumped out at me the way that Kellen did,” Ryan said. “So we’ll see how he does today.”

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The return of the returner: Bears’ Hester says he feels energized

The oft-stated offseason plan for Devin Hester was to focus on being the Bears’ kick returner. General manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman said it months ago and repeated it again this week.

But there was Hester in a backpedal, covering a receiver Wednesday during the second day of minicamp at Halas Hall. He took a turn during a drill that matched defensive backs against receivers.

“Yeah,” Hester said afterward. “I was just out there playing around.”

And that’s just it. Hester said he’s still having fun even though he has been relegated to watching from the sideline with other specialists for long stretches at practice.

Does he ever look at the receivers and wish he was still working with them like he did under former coach Lovie Smith?

“Nah, I’m past that,” Hester said. “It’s a new season. I’m looking forward to what Coach has in mind for me this year.”

Again, that’s returning to form as the NFL’s best return man. In that regard, Hester said he feels rejuvenated.

“I’m having fun,” Hester said. “I feel more energized, more in shape as far as my legs being fresh by limiting some of my reps. It reminds me of my first two years.”

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Jon Beason displays energy, quickness

Linebacker Jon Beason was flying around the practice field Wednesday on the second day of the Panthers’ minicamp.

He was at a new position, but he was back with the first-team defense – and that was enough for Panthers coach Ron Rivera to be encouraged.

Beason, coming off knee and shoulder surgeries, spent most of the three weeks of organized team activities on the sideline, and it was assumed he wouldn’t see much action until training camp in July.

But after the team’s medical staff cleared him, Beason returned to practice.

If he was at less than full speed, Rivera didn’t notice.

“They passed him on the physical, so I assume he’s 100 percent. He moved around like it. He made some plays,” Rivera said. “You really see that energy coming back. You see that quickness.”

Beason worked at strongside linebacker next to Luke Kuechly, who took Beason’s spot in the middle after Beason went down last season. Kuechly was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading the league in tackles.

Beason has played in just five games the past two seasons. He blew out his Achilles early in the 2011 season, and underwent three surgeries in a 17-month span.

But Rivera said he was not hesitant about putting Beason back on the field.

“Jon works so hard at everything. It really didn’t surprise me that he’d be ready to go,” Rivera said. “And I’m glad to see him out there. I think he’s going to help us, just his presence and who he is as a football player.”

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Willis McGahee says he feels, and expects, competition at RB

To hear Willis McGahee tell it, his decade in the NFL has been his response to those who have counted him out or pushed him aside. He suffered a devastating knee injury in his final game at the University of Miami. Now, more than 10 years later, he faces a substantial challenge to make the Broncos' roster, due to his age and contract.

"There's always going to be heat and competition, because every year they're going to bring in a running back," McGahee said. "All I can do is be Willis McGahee. I can't control what can happen. I can just go out there and do my job."

McGahee did what players have the option to do for the bulk of this offseason. Instead of working out at the Broncos' Dove Valley complex the majority of the time, McGahee worked out in Miami. Before this week's mandatory three-day minicamp, the Broncos' offseason sessions have been voluntary.

McGahee and left tackle Ryan Clady have been the only Broncos veterans who have not spent their offseasons at the Broncos' facility. Facing the threat of a fine for missing this week's mandatory work, McGahee reported with the other Broncos on Monday night and was on the practice field Tuesday.

His first full practice back wasn't all that eventful. McGahee received a smattering of snaps in team drills in Tuesday's main practice. Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball got the bulk of the work with the first two units.

McGahee was asked if he thought he would have received more playing time had he attended team workouts in recent weeks. He replied, "Probably, but hey, we've got seven other running backs."

McGahee, 31, has two years remaining on a four-year, $9.5 million contract he signed in 2011. He is scheduled to earn a $2.5 million base salary this season and a $2 million base salary in 2014.

He finished the 2012 season on injured reserve after he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament and a compression fracture of his right knee early in the second quarter of the Broncos' 30-23 victory over San Diego. McGahee said Tuesday he has been medically cleared to take part fully in the team's practices and that he has had no problems with the knee.

"Willis has had a very successful career, and with our young running corps, they can learn a lot from him," Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker said. "Whether it's in the film-study room or on the field, it's nice to have (McGahee) back."

McGahee cited family reasons for his decision to stay in Miami in recent weeks and said he had no regrets, even if it has given Hillman and Ball a chance to snare some snaps, or all of McGahee's potential playing time. He said the Broncos probably would have given the two youngsters a long look even if he had attended all of the team's workouts.

"I probably would have been behind the 8-ball anyway," McGahee said. "(It's) a younger group. Just being real, right? I can't worry about what those guys are doing. Those guys are talented. I like them. I like the way they run."

McGahee said coaches had prepared him for his potentially light workload in Tuesday's practice.

This isn't the first time McGahee has done most of his offseason work in Miami in his tenure with the Broncos. He had hoped for a new contract after his 1,199-yard rushing season in 2011 and spent much of last year's offseason program in Florida.

He returned to attend the team's mandatory minicamp last June, and when he reported for training camp last July he still was the Broncos' starter. He sees a different landscape on the depth chart after another birthday, another injury and the Broncos taking Ball in the second round of April's draft a year after selecting Hillman in the third round of the 2012 draft.

"(Competition) is always going to rank high to me, because the other guys are younger," McGahee said.

The Broncos could have fined McGahee if he missed camp this week, because he is under contract. Clady cannot be fined, because he has not signed his one-year tender offer as the Broncos' designated franchise player (for $9.828 million).

The Broncos' second practice Tuesday — largely a walk-through that McGahee said he expected to be more involved in —  was closed. They will have two practices Wednesday and one workout Thursday.

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Greg Olsen's infant son takes next step

CHARLOTTE - Initially, tight end Greg Olsenicon-article-link thought his infant son might be in the hospital recovering from open-heart surgery when the Panthers' mandatory veteran minicamp kicked off Tuesday.

But when a long day for the players came to a close, Olsen was able to go home rather than to the hospital to spend some time with TJ and his two other children.

"He's doing well," Olsen said. "It's one of the fastest recoveries that they've seen."

TJ returned home last Thursday, just four days after the second of three surgeries designed to treat hypoplastic left heart syndrome. TJ underwent the first procedure shortly after his birth in October and will undergo the final one around the age of 3.

"He went in to get a heart catheter (on May 30), which is a preemptive thing for the surgery, and then while he was in the hospital with the way things went they decided to just go ahead and do the surgery," Olsen explained. "They ended up moving it up a week. He had it last Saturday (June 1); he came home Wednesday."

While the third and final procedure will mark a milestone, the long-term future is still uncertain because children simply didn't survive the condition three decades ago.

"The unfortunate aspect of it is that the oldest living kids that have survived these surgeries are only now getting into their 30s, so the long, long-term prognosis is a little unclear," Olsen said. "But there are a lot of kids out there now in their 20s or 30s without a transplant, so that aspect of it is positive. And long, long term, hopefully by then more stuff will be developed."

With TJ well on his way to recovery, it was a little easier for Olsen to concentrate on the task at hand, namely finishing off the offseason training program as strong as the Panthers started it.

It's all in hopes of having a strong start to the season.

"The last couple of weeks of OTAs have been really good. I know every year people are going to say that – no one ever comes out here and says that we suck – but I really do believe we've taken a lot of strides," Olsen said. "We've made some minor adjustments with Coach (Mike) Shula now being the offensive coordinator. We've transitioned to doing things his way, and guys have really responded to that.

"We've added some pieces to the puzzle that are going to help us on both sides, but no one wins championships this time of year. You've got to put in the work now, but it only really matters when you start playing. We need to find out why we've started the last couple of years poorly and correct that because the Week 12 runs aren't cutting it."

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Tom Brady Reiterates ‘There Was Nothing Intentional’ About Slide That Ed Reed Claims Caused Hip Injury

FOXBORO, Mass. – Ed Reed put Tom Brady‘s name in the headlines on the day when Tim Tebow was plastered across all media platforms. The former Ravens safety claimed Brady’s slide in the AFC Championship game caused the hip injury that forced Reed to have surgery this offseason. Brady was asked about Reed’s claim during the quarterback’s media availability on Wednesday and said he had no reaction to the new Texan’s claim before being pushed.

“Yeah, there was nothing intentional about it,” Brady said. “It was unfortunate that it happened.”

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Wilfork: Coaches must feel Tebow 'can help us win'

FOXBORO -- Vince Wilfork approached the Tim Tebow topic with care on Wednesday. The 10-year Patriots veteran is almost always good to give his opinion, which can sometimes hold as much weight as the nose tackle's frame. 

"I'm glad I don't have to chase him around in games," Wilfork smiled. "We're going to treat him just like we treat everybody. We always treat people fair, no matter who you are. Guys come and go from here [and] it's a family here; he's part of our family. I'm happy to have him."

But of course. 

"Just another teammate who can help us win," he said simply. "I'm glad to have him as a teammate and I'm pretty sure he'll do some things that can help us win. It's up to the coaches to put him where he needs to be. Any decision the coaches make to bring guys in or release guys, is for the better for this team."

Every sentence sounded in accordance with the approved script. That is until Wilfork gave, as Tom Curran called an Aaron Hernandez line yesterday, an "accidentally apt" quote.  

"That's exactly what this is all about: They feel he can help us in some kind of way, we don't know, but I'm happy to have him as a teammate."

He seemed more certain of Tebow not being a distraction in Foxboro. Why? That's an easy one. 

"We're all about football. We're all about football and winning. If you're not about that, this is not a place for you. Whoever's been here, that came here and have been successful, and guys that haven't been successful and ended up leaving here -- it is what it is. It's a business. 

"That's one thing I can say about this organization: We do everything we can to win ballgames. How it is, we've got to get it done. Plus, there are 31 other teams out there that are making moves. So we have to make sure that we make the right moves and bring in the right guys with the right character and the right mindset of winning. That's what it's all about." 

New England has brought in its fair share of headline-inspiring personalities, even just recently with Randy Moss, Chad Johnson and Albert Haynesworth. None of those three lasted long with the Patriots. 

At least Tebow is more famous than infamous, unlike the aforementioned troubled trio. And one could argue how much of the feeding he's done, versus the media, to make his celebrity swell. 

Wilfork believes the important distinctions are made organically. All those extra cameras? Not part of the process. 

"Trust me, we don't even pay that no attention around here. If you're not willing to win, not willing to put the work in to be successful around here, you won't make it. The guys who make it around here are willing to humble themselves and come in here, put the team first, and concentrate on winning."

The aspect of talent must have been implied. 

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Julian Gamble Gets Workout With Grizzlies

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Grizzlies held their fourth pre-draft workout Wednesday, one that included Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway for the second time and national champion guard Peyton Siva.

The session also had French SG/SF Jordan Aboudou, Miami F/C Julian Gamble, Middle Tennesee State guard and Memphis native Jason Jones and Oklahoma forward Romero Osby.

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Ryan Braun's hand 'about the same'

Miami -- The good news about Ryan Braun's injured right hand is that it hasn't gotten any worse since leaving in the third inning of Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Park.

The bad news is it hasn't really gotten much better, either, despite Braun being held out of the starting lineup for all three of the Milwaukee Brewers' games against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park.

"It's about the same," he said this afternoon.

Braun and the Brewers have tried a different approach with the injury since heading out on this nine-game road trip, with the leftfielder doing essentially nothing that might aggravate his hand even worse -- specifically, swinging a bat.

"We've tried not to," Braun said. "We're trying not to do anything that irritates it, and every time I've swung that's seemed to irritate it. So I'm trying not to swing."
Manager Ron Roenicke said coming into the series that he'd have to weigh using Braun as a pinch hitter in a game based on the situation.

Runners on, late in the game, chance to win it and perhaps Roenicke asks Braun if he wants to give it a shot. But in doing so, there's the distinct possibility that Braun further aggravates the hand and making it even more of an issue down the line.

Braun hasn't been needed in the first two games, which the Brewers have split with the Marlins, and there's an off-day looming tomorrow heading into a three-game weekend series in Cincinnati.

So has any progress been made with all the steps that have been taken?

"Maybe very minimal," Braun said. "Very minimal."

Braun was asked if he's disappointed with the situation, and how long the injury has lingered. He's been battling it for about a month now, essentially changing his swing and losing the ability to drive the ball when he has played.

The Brewers, meanwhile, have scuffled considerably.

"I don't know, man. I try not to get disappointed," he said. "I just keep an open mind and just deal with what I can. Hopefully it starts to get better.

"I'm optimistic and hopeful that it will start to improve sometime soon."

No doubt, the Brewers would love to have him back in the lineup and swinging well with an NL Central Division rival in the Reds looming next. But that decision will have to wait until Friday at Great American Ball Park.

"It's always day to day," he said. "Obviously I hope that I can play sooner than later. I just don't know."

Assuming Braun is back in the lineup Friday, Roenicke is hoping to see some marked improvement in how his leftfielder's hand is feeling. If not, the disabled list might be broached as a possibility.

"If things Friday, Saturday don't go well, then we'll see what we need to do," Roenicke said.

"It's going to get better. It's whether four days is enough. I don't know."

If Braun doesn't get an at-bat tonight, it will mark the second complete series he'll have missed this season.

He sat out April 5-7 with neck spasms against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Miller Park, a series Arizona wound up sweeping.

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Ed Reed blames Brady kick for offseason surgery

Ed Reed has floored Tom Brady with some hard hits during the course of his career, but the superstar quarterback is the one who apparently caused the future Hall of Famer to undergo surgery.

Reed, the Texans' new safety, thinks that when Brady slid into him during last season's AFC Championship game, it was the reason that he had to repair a torn labrum in his hip in the offseason.

“Only play I can look at is when I got kicked by a certain quarterback, but even then I played in the Super Bowl and you saw what happened there,” Reed told the Houston Chronicle. “Even then I had two MCL sprains, a second degree one in the left in the Super Bowl in the first quarter and played through that. So if you’ve got any questions about my heart and how I play and how I work (that’s your answer).”

Reed, 34, had played his first 11 seasons with the Ravens before signing with Houston as a free agent in March, a deal for three years worth $15 million, with $5 million guaranteed.

He underwent surgery on his hip in April and his status for week 1 of the regular season is unknown. Reed missed the first six weeks of the 2010 season after undergoing hip surgery, but he said that surgery involved more significant reconstruction.

“I had surgery on April 30 and I was there for four weeks just like I had surgery last time I stayed about a month,” Reed said. “That’s the best thing to do as far as physical therapy. It’s going well right now. There’s really no timeline. I know what I want and I know what we want as an organization. We’re just going to keep on grinding and keep on working and shoot for September.”

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Willis McGahee expects to be Broncos' Week 1 starter

In lockstep with his normal routine, Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee was on hand for mandatory minicamp Tuesday after skipping voluntary organized team activities earlier this offseason.

There is one major difference between this year and last, however. On the heels of Peyton Manning's recent disclosure that the Broncos are counting on Montee Ball "in a big way," there is naturally speculation that McGahee's starting job -- and even roster spot -- could be in jeopardy.

McGahee, for one, is unmoved by the Ball threat. Now slimmed down and fully healthy, McGahee said Tuesday that he expects to be the Week 1 starting running back, according to USA Today's Lindsay Jones.

The Denver Post has suggested that the Broncos want Ball and Ronnie Hillman to emerge as their "one-two punch" as soon as this season. Although head coach John Fox has a demonstrated history of bringing his rookie backs along slowly, Manning has said that is not the plan with Ball.

The coaching staff gave McGahee an exceptionally long leash before last year's season-ending knee injury. Considering Fox's veteran fetish, we wouldn't write off McGahee just yet. He likely will enter training camp atop the depth chart, with Ball and Hillman nipping at his heels.

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Kellen Winslow a conspicuous presence at first day of Jets minicamp

Kellen Winslow Jr. said all the right things and made a number of positive plays on Tuesday during the first day of Jets minicamp, which also doubled as a tryout for the former first-round draft pick of the Browns. With the team's tight end situation in a state of flux, the oft-injured Winslow Jr. could provide a helpful spark for the Jets if he can show glimpses of the talent that once earned him the riches contract ever for a tight-end at $36 million over six years with Tampa Bay in 2009.

After a disastrous stint with the Patriots last year in which he suited up for just one game, the 29-year-old is trying to breathe new life into his once fabulous career. He was home Saturday, his future in doubt when he got a call from the Jets inviting him to the three-day camp.

“My job is to make plays and however it works out that’s how it works out,” he said following practice at the team’s Florham Park, N.J. facility. “I’m a playmaker and my job is just to make plays. So I’m just trying to make the team.”

Winslow was a conspicuous presence on 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills Tuesday as he caught passes from both Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith -- he made a particularly nice diving catch on a pass from Smith. Winslow dismissed the idea that not knowing the starting quarterback made it difficult for him to find his comfort zone.

“No, I’m just trying to learn the offense,” he said. “I got a lot to learn and my job is to learn the offense and try and make this team.”

Winslow was an All-American at the University of Miami and was selected sixth overall in the 2004 draft by the Browns, before a motorcycle accident nearly ended his career. But Winslow Jr. returned to the Browns, telling the Associated Press in 2006 that even at 90% he was “still better than every tight end out there.”

He backed up those words, finishing with 82 catches for 1,106 yards in 2007 and was named a first alternate to the Pro Bowl behind Antonio Gates before Gates backed out and Winslow took his place. He then embarked on a record-breaking season with the Buccaneers, setting a new franchise record for catches (77) and receiving yards (884) in 2009.

“Well, I have years left,” he said on Tuesday of the shelf-life of his career. “My last year was 2011 [when] I caught 75 balls and so I’ve been productive. It’s just the NFL. It’s how it goes sometimes. You get cut, you get traded, and you can’t do anything about it. It’s out of my control, you know?”

He described the process of waiting around for a team to show interest in him as painful because of the uncertainty involved. Winslow received comfort from his Hall of Fame father, Kellen Sr., but mostly from his wife, Janelle, he said.

“It was hard, very hard,” he said. “It’s a situation that I’ve never gone through, probably one of the hardest situations I’ve ever [had]. You don’t know what your future holds and this is my dream and when it’s taken away like that it’s hard, very hard.”

Asked if it was emotionally uncomfortable for a former Pro Bowler to be relegated to having to audition to make the team, he said, “Not really, not at all. I’ve had a real productive career, not awkward at all. This is how the NFL is. It’s a business and I’ve been very productive.”

Besides, it beats the alternative, which was to be “sitting on the couch. So I’m going to prove myself and try and impress the coaches.”

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Greg Olsen: ‘I wouldn’t trade myself for anybody’

While veteran tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. tries out this week at the New York Jets' minicamp, the Panthers have yet to sign anyone to replace No. 2 receiving tight end Gary Barnidge.

But starting tight end Greg Olsen, coming off a career year, says the Panthers are good at the position.

Olsen was better than that in 2012, establishing career highs with 69 catches for 843 yards. And though Barnidge followed former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to Cleveland, Olsen doesn't see a void when he looks around the tight end meeting room.

“I think we've had as good an offseason as a group of guys that I've been around,” Olsen said Tuesday after a walkthrough on the first day of the team's three-day minicamp.

Olsen proved last season he doesn't need a lot of help. After the Panthers chose not to re-sign Jeremy Shockey following the 2011 season, Olsen was excited about the chance to be a featured receiver.

He delivered.

Olsen, who came to Carolina in a trade with Chicago two years ago, broke Wesley Walls' marks for the most prolific season by a Panthers tight end, gaining 843 yards on 69 catches. Olsen's receiving yardage ranked fourth among NFL tight ends, trailing Dallas' Jason Witten, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez.

“It was nice to finally get a lot more opportunities, like a lot of the other guys throughout the league get,” Olsen said. “I think I showed that I can do as much, if not more, than anybody in the league, especially with the way our offense is here. We don't get substituted out on run plays. We don't get substituted out on pass-blocking. If there's 75 snaps, I played 75 snaps. Whatever that job entailed, I had to do it.”

Since entering the league in 2007 as the Bears' first-round draft choice, Olsen ranks among the top 10 players at his position in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Yet, Olsen has never been selected to a Pro Bowl and is seldom included in discussions about the league's premiere tight ends.

“I say it to guys a lot. You don't have to go out and seek attention. By the team winning, attention ends up finding you,” Olsen said. “And if you look around the league, the so-called marquee guys that everyone talks about, obviously their individual play is pretty good. But you look at their team, they're in the playoffs. They're competing for division titles. They're competing every year making a run at the playoffs.

“I don't get too worked up. I see all that stuff on the NFL Network about top (tight ends). And I take note of all that. But I wouldn't trade myself for anybody.”

Olsen, 28, is starting to gain recognition. Last season he made USA Today's All-Joe team, comprised of unsung players who have never been chosen to a Pro Bowl.

Olsen's teammates don't overlook him.

“I love the guy,” defensive end Greg Hardy said. “He's hard to cover. He's a good blocker. I've never seen him get the hand-off, but I'm sure he would take it to the house. I've never seen him have a bad play. He's always out here giving 100 percent in practice, even though he's like 90 years old. He's super fast. He's versatile.”

Olsen had his best season last year despite dealing with a health issue involving his newborn son, TJ, who was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect in utero. Two weeks ago, TJ underwent the second of three surgeries he faces to correct a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which is marked by an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta.

“He came home the end of last week and he's doing very well,” Olsen said. “So we're very fortunate. He's been great.”

As for the tight ends, Olsen said it's been cool watching Ben Hartsock, known primarily as a blocker, step outside his comfort zone. Hartsock, entering his 10th season, has 31 career catches – less than half of Olsen's 2012 total.

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Hartsock is a good complement to Olsen.

“You look at his catches, they're all on the underneath routes – the quick ins, the quick outs,” Rivera said. “People miss the value of that when you have one tight end that can stretch the field and the other one that can attack the middle.”

Another receiving threat among the tight ends could be Nelson Rosario, a former UCLA wide receiver who spent last season on the Panthers' practice squad.
“You've got a guy who's 6-5, 245 pounds who can run and jump and catch the ball,” Olsen said. “It's a good place to start.”

Having Olsen as the No. 1 tight end isn't a bad starting point, either.

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NBA Draft Capsule: Miami PG Shane Larkin

Shane Larkin, 5-foot-10 point guard, Miami: The son of baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin carved out his own name for himself as the leader of a Hurricanes' team that had the most successful season in school history. The diminutive floor general blends both well-rounded scoring ability and playmaking skills, using his extreme quickness to combat his lack of size. Following a banner season on the college level, Larkin intrigued NBA personnel people and after going back and forth on whether or not to return to school, his draft stock is rising.

Career highlights: After transferring from DePaul before even playing a game for the Blue Demons, Larkin had a solid freshman campaign at Miami, earned the starting point guard job and was named to the ACC's all-freshman team. He took it up another notch as a sophomore, garnering first-team all-conference honors and winning the ACC tournament MVP award, as well as helping the Hurricanes achieve the program's highest national ranking ever and sweep the ACC regular-season and tournament titles for the first time, Some of the top games for the third-team All-American and ACC Coaches' Player of the Year include an 18-point, 10-rebound, five-assist outing in a win over then-No. 1 Duke, the first time "The U" knocked off the nation's top-ranked team, a 25-point game that featured three-pointers in a duel with nation's leading scorer Erick Green of Virginia Tech and a career-high 28-point affair in a victory over North Carolina that was attended by Miami Heat superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Strengths: Not only does Larkin possess dangerous quickness, he knows how to use it, as evidenced by his mastery of ball screens, which bodes well for his future in the pick-and-roll heavy offenses of the NBA. Larkin is a willing passer, but has excellent shooting range, can knock down pull-up jumpers off the dribble, is a clever finisher in the lane and on occasion, displays eye-popping athleticism, which helps him be a better rebounder than his size suggests. Defensively, he utilizes his quickness to pester opposing ballhandlers and when he's off the ball, anticipate passes for easy steals.

Weaknesses: Larkin's main issue at the next level will be his size deficiency, which bigger and stronger point guards will attempt to use against him on both ends of the floor. He will be susceptible to the post-up game, offensive players will shoot over him and due to his slight frame, they will also get physical with him. With only two years of college experience under his belt, he's still a very young player, so there will be a learning curve before he's fully entrusted with running an offense, though he did show great poise at Miami.

Draft projection: Partly because of his off-the-charts athletic-testing results at the NBA Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago last month, Larkin is rising up the boards and could be drafted right after the lottery. Regarded by some observers as highly as the third-best true point guard in the draft after consensus lottery picks Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams, Larkin's proficiency in pick-and-roll scenarios and extended range also boost his stock. While there's nothing he can do about his small stature, the recent success of the likes of Denver's Ty Lawson, for example, only give credence to the notion that Larkin can develop into a long-term starter who can excel in either half-court or transition and at the least, a change-of-pace guard off the bench.

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Olivier Vernon taking 1st-team reps on D

Dolphins second-year DE Olivier Vernon has taken reps with the first-team defense at OTAs.

With Randy Starks (franchise tag) and Dion Jordan (late graduation) both away from the offseason sessions, Vernon has worked as the first-team right end and Jared Odrick has been the starting tackle next to Paul Soliai. Vernon won't be an every-down player in 2013, but he should have a role in sub-packages. The 2012 third-round pick registered 3.5 sacks off the bench as a rookie.

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Travis Benjamin aims to 'be better than last year'

Travis Benjamin is looking to improve upon a rookie season in which he caught 18 passes and returned one punt for a touchdown.

Travis Benjamin’s rookie highlight with the Cleveland Browns last season was a franchise-record, 93-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 30-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 9.

Now, the wide receiver/returner has his sights set on higher goals.

After 10 weeks of offseason workouts, Benjamin is focused on being “better than last year.”

“(I want) to be more productive, to be involved in the offense and special teams and to come out and have a great season,” Benjamin told “I worked on my route-running and continuing to run full speed.

“I want to be healthy coming into training camp, getting training camp over, start the season and look forward to a great season for the Cleveland Browns.”

Benjamin, who caught 18 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns (including a 69-yard score in a loss to the Washington Redskins Dec. 16), said he likes everything about the Browns’ offense under new coordinator Norv Turner and wide receivers coach Scott Turner.

“From the runs to the passes to the play-action to the gimmicks and gadgets they’ve got, everything is just well played out,” Benjamin said. “I really see myself doing big things in the offense.

“It’s a great tandem. Those guys are some great guys, and (Scott’s) father is so (much) like a legend, and he has his son. I’m pretty sure he grew up watching his father, so it kind of soaked into him like a sponge. They’re doing a great job.”

Like Benjamin for the Turners, quarterback Brandon Weeden had similar praise for the 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver.

“Travis had at least as many catches, if not more, than anybody in camp,” Weeden said. “His route-running is phenomenal, and probably because he’s so fast. Guys have to honor him running behind them, so he’s able to get in and out of breaks so well. In-breaking routes or out-breaking routes, he’s really found a knack of getting separated and gives me a chance to complete some balls. He’s had a lot of catches this camp, and he stuck out.”

Within the offense is not the only place Benjamin is looking to stand out in 2013.

Following the departure of record-setting kick and punt returner Joshua Cribbs in free agency, Benjamin could see an increased role on special teams. He returned three kicks for 76 yards and three punts for 149 yards, including the 93-yard touchdown, last fall.

“When guys leave, certain guys have to stand up,” Benjamin said. “I’m the starting punt returner right now, so I’ve just got to get that punt return and everybody else on the same page.

“It’s a great position. It puts me in a position where I can show my skills because, on punt return, it’s all about speed and quickness. You see a hole, you see where you’ve got to go, you just hit it and it will be a big thing. Usually, if you make three or four guys miss, you usually get a touchdown.”

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VIDEO: Crashing Baltimore Raven Bryant McKinnie's Florida Pad

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Jeremy Shockey settles with former teammate over bogus investment deal

NEW ORLEANS - Former New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey has reached a settlement with a former teammate he sued over a bogus investment deal.

A court filing Monday says Shockey and former Saints defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs both resolved their claims against former Saints long snapper Kevin Houser. Terms were confidential.

Several teammates and coaches sued Houser for allegedly advising them to invest roughly $1.9 million to buy nonexistent tax credits from a defunct movie studio.

Saints head coach Sean Payton reached a separate settlement with Houser last month. Former Saints defensive end Charles Grant still has claims pending against Houser that are scheduled to be tried later this month.

Wayne Read, who once ran Louisiana Film Studios LLC, is the only person to face criminal charges over the investment deal.

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Vinny Testaverde: NE the perfect place for Tebow

Vinny Testaverde said he had "goose bumps" Monday when he found out Tim Tebow was signing with the Patriots.

Testaverde, a part-time quarterback instructor at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., held clandestine workouts with Tebow in April in the Tampa area. At the time, Testaverde talked enthusiastically about improvements Tebow had made with his mechanics. Naturally, he was thrilled when he learned his fellow former Heisman winner -- and fellow ex-Jets quarterback -- would get a chance to re-start his career in New England.

"If I had to pick one team for him, it would be New England," he told late Monday. "It's for all the obvious reasons. [Bill] Belichick is a great coach. Being around Tom Brady and learning how to be a professional quarterback, a drop-back quarterback in a proven system, it'll be great for him. Josh McDaniels drafted him in Denver. Being around people that believe in him, that'll be huge."

Testaverde said he didn't want to sound anti-Jets; he just believes Tebow is in the perfect place.

"I'm not saying he's going to light the world on fire, but he'll have a chance to show the improvements and strides he's made," Testaverde said. "This is great news. I'm glad he's getting another shot to show people he has improved. I would've been disappointed if he didn't get a chance. Despite what a lot of people say, I think he can be a top quarterback in the league."

Testaverde spent a week with Tebow, fine-tuning some of his oft-criticized mechanics. Mostly, they cleaned up his footwork. That, Testaverde believes, was the root of his accuracy issues. They also worked on anticipation, ball placement and how to throw certain routes. His hope is that Tebow can get some playing time in the preseason to "work on his craft."

Testaverde has a unique perspective because he played in the New York and Boston (briefly) markets, and he also played for Belichick, whom he believes won't allow Tebow Mania to take over the team.

"I've been in that locker room; they leave distractions outside," he said. "I mean, there will always be a lot of media coverage because of Belichick and Brady, but I don't think Tebow's presence will add to it. I don't think it'll be a circus, if you will."

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Draft prospect profile: Shane Larkin

We're continuing our Celtics NBA Draft preview with a profile of Miami point guard Shane Larkin. We'll preview the best fits for the Celtics up until the 2013 NBA Draft on June 27. Boston owns the No. 16 pick in this year's draft.

Shane Larkin Position: Point guard Age: 20 Height/weight: 5-10, 171 pounds Last played: University of Miami 2012-13 stats: 14.5 points, 4.6 assists, and 2.3 turnovers in 36 minutes projection: No. 14 pick

Strengths: Pick-and-roll, agility, speed, scoring. Larkin's 44-inch vertical leap was the second-highest ever recorded at the combine.
Weaknesses: Size, defense

Skinny: Undersized guards are something of a trend following Nate Robinson's standout performance for the Bulls in this year's playoffs. Robinson aside, the Celtics could use someone to run their offense when Rajon Rondo goes to the bench (or in case Rondo isn't ready for the start of the season). On Monday we profiled German point guard Dennis Schroeder. Larkin is more ready to contribute now.

If you watched college basketball this season you're familiar with the explosiveness which Larkin possesses. The Celtics are familiar, too. Larkin was high school rivals with Doc Rivers's son Austin in Orlando. He played at Miami for Jim Larranaga, father of Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga. The Celtics have already brought him in for a workout.

“For me, I think he showed the things I’ve watched over the last two years in playing for my father,” said the younger Larranaga, who ran the workouts. “Shane, I thought he did what he normally does. He’s a very athletic, unselfish, tough player.”

Larkin's father, Barry, is a Hall of Fame shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds.

The scouting report below is from the diligent work of DraftExpress.

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Ryan Braun drops in balloting

Braun fell from third to fourth in all-star balloting for National League outfielders in the totals announced Monday.

Braun was passed up by St. Louis' Carlos Beltran, who has 1,550,884 votes to Braun's 1,283,103. Atlanta's Justin Upton leads all NL outfielders with 1,666,026 votes, and Washington's BryceHarper is second with 1,616,784.

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Chris Perez pleads not guilty to marijuana possession charges

Injured Indians closer Chris Perez and his wife pleaded not guilty Monday to misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. The pleas were faxed into Rocky River Municipal Court by their attorneys and included a request to drop the requirement that the Perezes appear in person for their June 19 arraignment, according to the Associated Press.

The charges stem from an investigation last week that revealed two packages containing about 1/3 of a pound of marijuana were delivered to the Perez household in the name of their dog. Seriously. Here's the excerpt from the AP:

Authorities say Melanie Perez, whose maiden name is Baum, told the undercover officer delivering the packages that they were intended for her dog, named Brody. The package was addressed to Brody Baum.

Chris Perez was reportedly cooperative with the authorities, as he "volunteered to direct the officers to the location" of the drugs when asked.

Reports indicate charges of this nature are tantamount to a traffic ticket, meaning Perez faces little more than a fine, at worst. Also, under the MLB drug agreement, players face treatment programs instead of suspensions for this type of offense.

Perez, 27, has successfully closed six of his eight save chances this season and sports a 4.32 ERA. The two-time All-Star had a 0.64 ERA before his last three outings, however, during which time he may have been dealing with pain. He's currently on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis.

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Ryan Braun decides to rest his ailing right hand

Miami — While there's been no definitive decision, there's a chance Ryan Braun will be held out of all three of the Milwaukee Brewers' games against the Miami Marlins to open the team's nine-game, 11-day road trip.

"It's possible," Braun said Monday. "I don't think anything's set in stone. But it's possible."

Braun left Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Park in the third inning after aggravating his injured right hand, with Logan Schafer replacing him both in that game and in Monday's 6-1 victory at Marlins Park.

There is precedent for Braun being held out of a chunk of games. He did so in the second series of the season when he was dealing with neck spasms. The Brewers went on to lose all three of those games.

If he took off all three games in Miami, the Brewers then have Thursday off before opening a weekend series in Cincinnati.

"We've talked about it," manager Ron Roenicke said about Braun possibly being held out for the series. "We'll kind of see how it goes. There's a chance that to get him right, we may have to do that."

Braun was available to pinch hit but ultimately was held out Monday. To use him, Roenicke will have to weigh risk vs. reward to try and keep the hand from flaring up.

"It becomes a decision whether I think the one at-bat has a chance to set him back and how important the at-bat is," Roenicke said.

Braun said pinch hitting in previous games has aggravated his hand.

"There have been a couple times where I've taken a day," he said. "But the first time I had a day off, I pinch hit. The next time I took a single day. I'm not going to take BP today. I'm going to try to not do anything that irritates it, and we'll see where we're at tomorrow and over the next couple days.

"But it's definitely at the point to where we need to get it back to close to being healthy, and I need to get to the point to where I can take a regular swing."

Has the disabled list been discussed as a possibility?

"We'll wait and see what happens," Roenicke said. "We haven't talked about doing that yet. Hopefully it won't come to that."

Braun was asked when exactly he injured his hand.

"It happened about a month ago," he said. "I don't remember the game, but it was a specific instance on a swing. When it originally happened, my thumb was numb for like a week, week and a half. I eventually got the feeling back.

"It's not just my thumb. It's my hand. There's a nerve and a ligament in my hand. The majority of it has been between my index finger and the thumb."

Braun said to this point, nothing he or the team's athletic training staff has tried has helped greatly aside from taking time off.

"We've discussed the last month, off an on, trying to figure out the best way to deal with thing," he said. "We've tried all kinds of different treatments, then we tried different stuff in the batting glove and on the bat to try and relieve some of the pain.

"But it's at the point where I'm going to take a little time to try and get it right."

Braun's swing has become markedly different while he has dealt with the injury.

While he's hitting .304, his ability to drive the ball has been almost non-existent.

Braun has nine home runs, tying him for second on the Brewers with Jean Segura, but has just one extra-base hit in June and only two in his last 13 games.
"I've tried to change the way I've held the bat, tried to change my bat path, tried to do a lot of different things to compensate for the pain and get it to the point to where it doesn't hurt when I swing," said Braun.

"But I haven't been overly successful doing it. So it's at the point to where I need to take the time to get it back to close to being healthy so I can take a regular swing and hold the bat the way I regularly hold the bat."

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Kellen Winslow will get a shot at Jets’ minicamp

It’s been a quiet offseason for free agent tight end Kellen Winslow, who claimed in March that multiple teams were interested in him but hasn’t seen that alleged interest turn into a contract offer. But Winslow has finally found a team that’s at least interested enough to take a look.

Winslow will get a tryout at the Jets’ minicamp next week.

On Twitter, Winslow showed his excitement by tweeting the “J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!!!” cheer.

A bad knee has plagued Winslow since the infamous motorcycle accident that ended his 2005 season before it began, and the 29-year-old Winslow played in just one regular-season game last season, catching one pass with the Patriots. But the Jets think he has enough left that he’s at least worth a look. We’ll see at the end of minicamp on Thursday whether they also think he’s worth signing to a contract.

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Darryl Sharpton determined to move past injuries

By the end of the conversation, Darryl Sharpton was a little bit cautious.

On one hand, he was confident that he’ll stay healthy this season and play 16 games for the first time in his NFL career.

On the other hand, he didn’t want to jinx himself.

Sharpton spoke with me about his journey, the doubt that sometimes crept into his mind and ultimately the confidence he found in his own body, finally healthy this offseason. You can read about some of the proactive steps Sharpton took to help his body stay healthy there.

I asked Sharpton what he’s most looking forward to about being healthy.

“Honestly, the true answer from my heart is I’m just looking forward to hitting somebody,” Sharpton said. “That’s my favorite part of the game, that element of it. that’s pretty much the main thing I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to a huge season and our No. 1 goal this year is obviously to win the Super Bowl. That’s like the big picture thing. More immediate goal, I’m just looking forward to getting back on the field and playing football. Offseason’s long, just getting that itch.”

Sharpton’s health will be a big key for the Texans’ defense. They’ve played Brooks Reed at inside linebacker instead of outside linebacker quite a bit this offseason, but that appears to be a safety net to give the Texans a little bit more depth inside with both starting inside linebackers coming off injuries.
Reed talked last month about the progress of the Texans’ rookie outside linebackers impacting whether or not he’d move inside. Right now, they’re still learning, and the Texans’ strongest linebacker lineup is Brian Cushing  and Sharpton inside with Reed and Whitney Mercilus outside. If Cushing doesn’t have any setbacks in his ACL recovery, and Sharpton does indeed stay healthy, they’d likely not need Reed to move inside.

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Jimmy Graham feels healthy

New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham (wrist) feels like he is back to 100 percent after enduring a wrist injury in 2012 which lingered for most of the season. He was wearing a small brace on his wrist during offseason practices to make sure nothing happened.

Fantasy Tip: Graham still had a productive season in 2012 despite his injury. He is viewed as the slam-dunk No. 1 fantasy TE heading into 2013, especially since he is in a contract year and New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is such a question mark after multiple surgeries.

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LaRon Byrd SportsManRadio Interview

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Frank Gore Joins NFL Top 100

The San Francisco 49ers have a league-high nine players on the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2013 list.

Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore was the latest member of the team to be named. The hard-nosed runner, picked at spot No. 32 by his NFL peers, joins Anquan Boldin (93), Colin Kaepernick (81), Joe Staley (78), Vernon Davis (38) and NaVorro Bowman (37) on the list.

“Frank’s one of the best players I’ve ever been around,” Staley, the 49ers left tackle said. “His heart, his drive, the way he plays the game with so much passion, he really gets this offense going.”

Gore stands as the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing attempts (1,911), rushing yards (8,839) and rushing touchdowns (51). Gore earned his fourth Pro Bowl nod in 2012 and logged his sixth, 1,000-yard rushing season.

He has the most 100-yard and 150-yard rushing games in San Francisco history, too.

The 49ers rushing king continues to earn recognition from his peers for being one of the most impressive runners in the NFL. Gore stands out as one of the most complete running backs in the NFL. Gore’s ability to be a third-down back has been his calling card through nine seasons in the league.

Plus, Gore’s leg drive, low center of gravity and pass-catching ability make him one of the most feared play-makers out of the backfield.

Gore also doesn’t hurry. He wisely chooses how to attack.

“He’s probably the most patient running back in the game,” Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. “He’ll sit behind the line and let those holes open up.”

Gore’s running style is also a hit in the 49ers film room.

“There are times where everybody in the film room is in awe of what he just did,” teammate Kyle Williams said.

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Jon Beason's recovery ahead of schedule

Panthers SLB Jon Beason (knee, shoulder) is ahead of schedule in his recovery, and he plans to participate in this week's minicamp.

"Training camp was the goal, but (I'm) feeling so good we're going to work in a little bit in the minicamp," Beason said. The 28-year-old participated in individual drills at OTAs the last couple weeks, but he'll look to get in on some team reps this week. Beason should be ready to roll once training camp gets here.

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Shane Larkin unimpressive in Bucks' workout?

Miami PG Shane Larkin's recent workout with the Bucks was "decent but hardly special," according to two Bucks sources.

Larkin stands just 5'11" tall but he also made waves during the NBA scouting combine in May when he recorded a 44-inch vertical leap, second-highest in the combine's history. In spite of his reportedly lackluster workout in Milwaukee, Larkin remains a prime candidate to be drafted by the Jazz (No. 14), Bucks (No. 15) or Celtics (No. 16).

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Yonder Alonso diagnosed with fractured hand

Yonder Alonso was placed on the disabled list yesterday in a last-minute change of plans when the Padres realized his wrist injury wasn’t getting any better and general manager Josh Byrnes just said in a radio interview with 1090-AM that the first baseman has a fractured hand.

There’s no official timetable yet for his return, but Byrnes indicated that Alonso could miss a month.

Before being hit by a pitch last week Alonso batted .284 with six homers and a .751 OPS in 54 games, improving on last year’s OPS by just 10 points despite lots of preseason optimism about his production rising thanks to the Petco Park fences coming in.

Kyle Blanks, who was headed to Triple-A before the Padres reversed course and put Alonso on the DL instead, should see plenty of action for however long he’s out.

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Chris Perez charged with possession

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Indians two-time All-Star closer Chris Perez, who is charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, told drug agents he had pot in his home for personal use and pointed out two jars, according to investigative reports.

Asked about any drugs or weapons by officers who went to the Perez home on Tuesday with a search warrant, "Perez responded that he had 'personal use' marijuana in the basement and volunteered to direct the officers to the location of it," an investigative report said.

"He pointed out a number of items of paraphernalia along with two separate 'mason' jars containing a green vegetable matter suspected of being marijuana," it said.

Police, tipped off to suspicious packages by postal inspectors, arranged a delivery Tuesday under surveillance, and Perez's wife, Melanie, accepted two packages, the reports said.

A later house search under warrant began while Perez and his wife were out for lunch and a movie, the reports said. A babysitter was caring for two children.

Police say Perez returned home and mentioned personal marijuana use to the search team of officers.

Perez, 27, and his 29-year-old wife were charged in a complaint filed Friday with misdemeanor drug possession in the shipment of just over one-third of a pound of marijuana mailed to their home. They haven't commented, but their attorney said they would plead not guilty.

"We ask that people not rush to judgment. We are confident of a favorable outcome," attorney Terry Gilbert said in a statement on their behalf.

Perez and his wife were released on personal bond.

"Clearly we take these matters seriously and are disappointed whenever there is any negative attention brought to the Indians organization or one of our players," general manager Chris Antonetti said in a statement. "We understand and respect that there is an ongoing legal process that we will allow to evolve."

Under the drug agreement between Major League Baseball and its players' association, marijuana offenses generally result with the player undergoing a treatment program rather than discipline.

Melanie Perez, whose maiden name is Baum, told the undercover officer delivering the packages that they were intended for her dog, named Brody. The package was addressed to Brody Baum, according to postal inspectors.

Questioned later when investigators returned to the house, Melanie Perez told them that she doesn't smoke marijuana but that her husband "had drug paraphernalia" in the house.

Asked whether the marijuana shipment was intended for her husband, Melanie Perez responded, "What did Chris say?" according to the investigative report.

The packages smelled of marijuana and had a Los Angeles return address with a name that that wasn't associated with that location, postal inspectors said.

Dan Chaplin, a Cleveland defense attorney not connected with the case, compared the charge to a traffic ticket and said a conviction likely would be punished with a fine.

Perez has six saves this season but is on the disabled list with an injured right shoulder. The right-hander started throwing again this week.

Perez, an often-polarizing figure, and Cleveland fans have gotten on each other's nerves over the past couple of years. He recently deactivated his Twitter account after criticism from fans following a couple of bad outings.

In previous seasons, Perez has lashed out at fans for not coming to games, and at owners for not spending money on free agents.

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