09 May 2010

Ray Lewis Way Unveiled On North Avenue

Four days before his 35th birthday, Ray Lewis was honored by the city of Baltimore with the naming a section of North Avenue "Ray Lewis Way #52."

"If Ray Lewis Way does nothing else, just look up, instead of looking down," Lewis said with teary eyes. "Looking up in life, and say, 'He did it differently.' ... Let that be the goal."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and city council president Bernard "Jack" Young were among those in attendance for the unveiling.

"All of these people with all this love and affection, that's the same love I look at y'all with, because I lean on you the same way you lean on me," Lewis told the crowd, which included numerous students from nearby Harford Heights Elementary School. "Anytime I strap on my cleats, every man knows I give everything I got. When I walk in these streets, I hurt at night. I don't turn on the TV for the news, because I pray so hard when brothers are taking brothers' lives."

Ray Lewis Way, at the corner of North and Broadway, is just steps from the DIAKON Center, where the 11-time Pro Bowler and his charitable Ray Lewis Foundation host an annual Thanksgiving distribution for Baltimore families in need.

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Roscoe Parrish a lock to make the team

Bills WR/PR Roscoe Parrish is considered a lock to make the team.

Parrish was often the subject of trade rumors under the Dick Jauron regime, but new GM Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey appear to be giving him a clean slate despite a miserable 2009 season. Parrish was awful on punt returns last year, averaging a career-low 5.5 yards per attempt and fumbling a career-high four punts. Returners have unpredictable shelf lives, and Parrish may be hitting his decline phase entering his sixth season.

Click here to order Roscoe Parrish's proCane Rookie Card.

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Jason Geathers: Helping His Team, In Everyway Possible

Q&A with wide receiver/linebacker Jason Geathers

Editors note: Earlier this week, we sat down with newly acquired WR/LB Jason Geathers in the tenth edition of In the Eye of the Storm. Geathers signed with the Storm on May 5, 2010 but was inactive for the Jacksonville Sharks matchup on May 7th (he only practiced one day with the team). The multi-faceted athlete was a member of the Miami Hurricanes’ 2001 BCS National Championship team and is a three-year AFL veteran. He was named to the AFL’s All-Ironman team for two consecutive years (2007-08).

EDITOR: At Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, FL, you played five different positions (tailback, quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and returner). As a senior, you accounted for 1,612 yards on offense, rushed 105 times for 846 yards and eight touchdowns. You also caught 15 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns and completed 20 passes for 438 yards and four scores. Whoa! What was this experience like? Did you ever get tired?
JASON GEATHERS: I never did get tired. I just went out there and did the best that I could do for my team. Wherever they needed me to play, that’s what I played. I never got tired because it was fun for me. That’s why I was able to do so well at all of those positions.

ED: How did the coach choose what position he wanted you to play? Was there a rotation?
JG: It was high school so during the course of the game, we were able to adjust on the run. If I needed to be at quarterback, receiver or running back you could do that throughout the course of the game. It wasn’t that bad of an adjustment so I just did my thing.

ED: Well, all of this seemed to translate to college because you played three different positions (running back, receiver and returner). How did the experience with five positions make that transition easier?
JG: Playing offense, it was easy. I was able to keep at an offensive mind. Once I got there, I just had to learn the game.

ED: What was it like to play with such a long list of stars such as Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Willis McGahee, Antrel Rolle, Sean Taylor, Frank Gore, Kellen Winslow, Roscoe Parrish, Andre Johnson, Jonathan Vilma, Ed Reed and Phillip Buchanon?
JG: It was really fun and an exciting time. To make a Championship run and winning was great; and we tried to repeat. Playing with those guys was pretty cool. They went on, some of us didn’t but it was an exciting time down there in Miami.

ED: Do you still keep in touch with any of those guys?
JG: All the time. We keep in touch throughout the summer. We go back down [to Miami] to workout. We help the younger guys who are making that transition from high school to college or college to the pros.

ED: You had some competition at both the running back/wide receiver position to the likes of McGahee, Johnson, Portis, Gore, Jarrett Payton and Parrish. What was that battle for reps like?
JG: We all competed but at the same time it was fun. Whoever’s number was called, it didn’t matter who it was. It was who is going to make a play, that’s how good we were down there. It really didn’t matter. Whoever was in there, we know would get the job done.

ED: You played with the New York Giants for two years and were finally elevated to their active roster on January 7, 2005. What was your NFL experience like?
JG: It was a great experience. I got a chance to see what being in the NFL and what being a professional was all about. It was nice up there and real professional. I had a great time up there.

ED: The following year you entered the AFL with the San Jose SaberCats. Why did you make the decision to join the AFL ranks?
JG: I wanted to stay in the state. I actually didn’t know anything about arena ball but one of my high school coaches asked me if I was still interested in playing. I said yea so he made a phone call for me and I was off to San Jose. Once they saw I could play, they signed me and the rest is history.

ED: You shinned at both WR and Jack Linebacker. What was it like to go back to playing both ways for the first time since high school?
JG: To be able to play on both sides of the ball was just having fun again. It was great to be able to contribute wherever I was needed. I was doing that my whole career so it wasn’t anything different.

ED: In 2007, you were selected to the AFL’s All-Ironman team and brought your team to the ArenaBowl. In the game you were listed as inactive but the team went on to win. What was it like to sit out that game?
JG: I had a high ankle sprain, which caused me to miss the Championship game. Being that I won before [with Miami], it didn’t bother me at all. We had to go with the guys that were ready and healthy. I felt like if I did play, I would probably hurt my team more.

ED: The league went in hiatus in 2009 so you signed to the Saskatchwan Roughriders (CFL) but were soon released. What were your thoughts about your future in football at that point?
JG: I wasn’t worried. I just knew  the situation I was in was different. I figured that if I got my name back out there, I would be fine. If the Arena League did come back, which it did, I would be fine too. I wasn’t really worried.

ED: Your longtime teammate with the SaberCats, Cleannord Saintil played a role of getting you in with the Storm. How did this workout?
JG: He made a few calls. Once I was released from Alabama, he let [Head Coach Tim] Marcum know that I was available. They gave me a call and that’s how it happened.

ED: What are your goals for the rest of your football career?
JG: It all depends. I will probably play as long as I can play and I don’t know how long that will be. After this, I will probably end up coaching somewhere.

ED: What’s it like to be playing back in your home state of Florida?
JG: It’s great. I’m finally back and able to play in front of my fan base that I do have. It feels good to be back in Florida, a true football state.

ED: Thanks for joining us in the tenth edition of In the Eye of the Storm! Good luck the rest of the way!

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Olsen hosting second annual Shake the Lake fundraiser

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – For the second straight year, Bears tight end Greg Olsen will host a country music concert to help raise money for breast cancer research.

The second annual Shake the Lake Music Festival will take place on Thursday, May 27 at Joe’s Bar (940 West Weed Street) in Chicago. The concert will feature Grammy Award winner Darius Rucker and Matt Kennon.

“We feel good about the talent we’re bringing in this year,” Olsen said. “Darius is one of the top artists in music, period. We’re very excited to have him. And anyone who’s been to Joe’s Bar knows what kind of venue it is and what an experience it is. All the money goes to charity and it’s going to be awesome.”

In 2009, the Bears tight end created "Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation" in honor of his mother, a breast cancer survivor. The organization was established to help provide hospitals, doctors and researchers the necessary resources to save those affected with various types of cancer.

Olsen’s foundation partners with organizations that have similar goals. Proceeds from the Shake the Lake Music Festival will benefit the Lynn Sage Foundation and the Susan Komen Foundation. The inaugural event last year featuring music by David Nail and Keith Anderson raised over $50,000.

“It’s a very important cause to me,” Olsen said. “It’s very close to my family. That’s why it’s a family-run organization. We work hard at it and we take a lot of pride in putting together events for people to have a good time. We also take pride in the fact that we’ve raised a large amount of money just having been around for a year. We hope everyone comes out. The money’s going for a good cause.”

In creating the Shake the Lake Music Festival, Olsen was determined to organize a unique charity event.

“It’s something that I would like to go to,” he said. “It’s a good time. You’re with a bunch of people in a small environment. You see top-notch entertainment and you know all the money goes to charities that help people. 

'I think the [charity] golf outings and dinners and everything else are good, but this is something different and something enjoyable and easy for everyone to do.”

Tickets cost $150 and include admission, an open bar and appetizers. Doors open at 7 p.m. Log onto www.joesbar.com to purchase tickets or for more information.

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

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Braun out with bruised left elbow, says he's not sure when he'll return

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Brewers left-fielder Ryan Braun says his bruised left elbow will keep him out of the lineup on Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves.

Braun was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning of Milwaukee's 8-2 loss to the Braves on Monday night. He stayed in the game for two more innings before being replaced.

Braun says he did not undergo any tests on the elbow that was noticeably swollen and that he feels lucky that the 92 m.p.h. pitch from Tommy Hanson didn't hit him a little lower and fracture the bone.

Braun is hitting .359 with six homers and 28 RBIs, and says he'll begin wearing a protective brace on the area when he returns. He didn't want to speculate if he'd be available Wednesday.

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Ray Lewis Unveils His Own Workout App

Ray Lewis unveiled his own workout app for the apple iPhone yesterday via iTunes. It features 24 real workouts performed by Ray Lewis. All excercise videos feature Ray Lewis.

This one of a kind app contains a comprehensive step-by-step workout program featuring future Hall of Famer and 11-time NFL Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis and exclusive content in a unique interactive Ray Zone area. Unlock the training secrets of one of the most durable and dynamic athletes in NFL history.

All workouts include an intensity chart that indicates the reps, sets and rest time to use for that session. This gives the user an effective way to learn and perform Ray’s workouts at their own pace; with the mobile convenience of the app that allows the user to keep fit anytime, anywhere.

Every exercise includes a video clip and exercise image featuring Ray Lewis demonstrating proper form as well as step-by-step audio and text instructions.

You can buy the app via the app store for only $4.99.

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Experts Think Fox Can Develop Into a Starting LT

Down the line, some league people I talked to like the developmental potential of Miami tackle Jason Fox to be a long-term tackle.

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Ray Lewis in training

Lewis' illustrious career has been built on his intense offseason training, from kickboxing to wrestling to swimming.

For his 15th NFL season, he decided to change up his regimen. Lewis took up Kenpo, a name for multiple martial arts that developed in Hawaii.

"I'm not fitting to go into mixed martial arts," Lewis said with a laugh. "I don't like getting hit in the face and all that."

A friend serves as his sensei. The result of this training has been increased his flexibility and focus.

Lewis, who is currently at 252 pounds, said he is comfortable with this weight and wants to maintain that throughout the season.
"Every year I'm always trying to find a different way to take my body through confusion, and I did a great job with it," Lewis said.

Lewis is the second-oldest Raven, although some coaches wouldn't believe that. Before the team's first minicamp of the offseason, Lewis was laughing Harbaugh, saying how he was so excited for practice to begin.

"I hope that never changes," Harbaugh said. "That's probably why he's been in the league so long … that and a lot of talent."

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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NFL vs. CFL with former University of Miami Tailback Jarrett Payton and Pete McMurray

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Ray Lewis shows the 'Way'

With tears rolling down his cheek, Ray Lewis said he hopes his street will symbolize a "way" of life.

The Ravens' Pro Bowl middle linebacker then walked outside in the rain and unveiled a red sign at the corner of North Avenue and Broadway in Baltimore that reads, "Ray Lewis Way #52."

"If Ray Lewis Way does nothing else, just look up instead of looking down," Lewis said. "If the street does nothing else but make you look up in life and say he did it differently, let that be the goal."

Lewis ended his impassioned speech by saying, "Baltimore, I can say many things, but I love you with every inch of my soul."

The hourlong ceremony culminated with Lewis unveiling the sign (which has a red background and white lettering) that is just a short pass from the Diakon Center, where Lewis and his charitable foundation host an annual Thanksgiving distribution for nearly 1,000 Baltimore families in need. The Ray Lewis Foundation is a non-profit tax-exempt corporation whose mission is to provide personal and economic assistance to disadvantaged youth.

A crowd of about 100 people attended the event and about 40 children from nearby Harford Heights Elementary School huddled around the podium. The Gospel Ravens performed, and Lewis sang along with them at times.

Others in attendance included: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, city council president Bernard "Jack" Young and councilman Carl Stokes.
"This is a tremendous day for Baltimore," Rawlings-Blake said. "In the future, this street will be known as a place where we celebrated someone who made a big difference in the lives of people in Baltimore."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh talked about how Lewis makes such an impact in the lives of players around the NFL, saying he has more phone numbers and texts than anyone else in the league.

Harbaugh also led the children in a "Ravens" cheer.

"In the 1996, the Ravens and Ray Lewis first came to town," Harbaugh told the children. "Think that's why they became the Ray-vens."
Lewis, who turns 35 on Saturday, also had his mother, Sunseria Smith, and teenage son, Ray Lewis III, beside him.

"This is a very humbling moment for my father," Lewis III said. "Even though people think he's a monster on the football field, he actually wants to help people. This [street] will be here forever. Now, people can come back and see Ray Lewis actually made a difference in people's lives outside the football field."

Lewis III added: "I would like to follow in his footsteps. One day I do have a dream of going in the NFL, but I also have a dream of making a difference in people's lives outside the football field."

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Sherko Haji-Rasouli battles gang violence

The BC Lions officially play football from June to November, but that doesn’t end their presence in the community. Providing more than 150 community appearances throughout the year, the off-season is prime time for dedicated players who want to make a positive impact on youth.

McNair Secondary School in Richmond, B.C., is the last stop on the Lions Pride program this spring. Front and centre are Lions’ slot back Geroy Simon, offensive tackle, Daren Heerspink, and guard, Sherko Haji-Rasouli who are all first year ambassadors for the Lions Pride, a program aimed at helping youth at risk, especially those who may be affected by increased gang violence throughout the lower mainland.

“We like to have programs that touch all the different grades and the youth at risk one is really important. In a way a lot of our players can identify, because many of them came from tough backgrounds,” said Jamie Taras, BC Lions Director of Community Relations. “ Many have been in difficult situations themselves and used football to get out of them, so they can relate to what these kids are going through. “

The Lions Pride program is comprehensive, delivering its message in various formats, either directly with teens in small, intimate settings or in assembly-style groups. Both approaches use interactive recreational activities that focus on teamwork and physical activity to drive home the message.

Simon, Heerspink and Haji-Rasouli individually tell their personal stories to a bleacher full of McNair teens waiting to hear what these professional players can do when they’re not wearing their pads.

Simon, the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2006 and a CFL all-star, stands up and speaks candidly about his personal experiences. The message hits home when he parallels his life to a couple of friends he grew up with. One is now dead and the other is in jail – simply because they made bad choices.

“We try and focus on the average teens, try and get them before they start getting in trouble, we try and lead them in the right direction,” says Simon. “I just love being interactive with the youth. Some of them do have good households and they are on the right track, but the ones that don’t have that strong support system. It gives us an opportunity to be a little bit of a buffer.”

Simon hopes that even if it’s a small message they take home with them, it’s all worth it. McNair Vice Principal, Lorne Bodin, agrees, saying the message has much more impact when it comes from a well-respected athlete or local celebrity. “I think the benefit for us is that the kids get to see these guys in real. No helmets and not on television,” says Bodin. “To be able to come on to the floor and play around with them is very cool and the stories personalized - who they are, what they do and how they got to where they are. “

Bodin looks around the crowded assembly and points to a teen who wouldn’t normally be at a school event or take part in volunteer activities – but he’s here today, proving that the program’s wide appeal is a large part of its success.

The creation of the Lions Pride required a fair share of teamwork behind the scenes with the BC Lions joining forces with the Ministry of Public Safety and the Solicitor General – Victim Services and Community Programs Division.

The Lions Pride program wraps up with a flag football tournament featuring teams from the various communities. What could be better than rubbing shoulders with their favorite players on the field? How about a chance to earn season tickets to the Lions up-coming season? Ultimately, the real victory will be the on-going connection these teens will share with the players for years to come.

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Sharpton Expected To Compete

Xavier Adibi and fourth-round pick Darryl Sharpton are expected to compete for the weak-side linebacker job while Brian Cushing is suspended.

Zac Diles is going to shift back to the strong side for the first month of the season and the Texans are expected to sign a veteran backup for the position. Adibi will almost certainly get the nod over the raw Sharpton on the weak side, but it's obviously a big downgrade for the Texans' defense.

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Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson rumored for a big action movie role

Former WWE star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is rumored to have interest in playing a starring role in the movie Fast & Furious 4, according to Deadline.com. "It appears Johnson's character will be on the right side of the law," reads the article, which you can read at Deadline.com.

Powell's POV: Johnson on the big screen with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker? If Rock's goal is to be the best actor in one of his flicks then mission accomplished. Then again, the dog from "Lost" would be the best actor in a movie with Diesel and Walker. Can I direct? "Hey, Vin and Paul, just stand there next to the cars and the girls and try not to look dumb." Actually, I don't think Martin Scorsese could pull that one off.

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Willis McGahee unconcerned about trade rumors

Baltimore Ravens RB Willis McGahee is unconcerned about his status with the team, according to Aaron Wilson, of the National Football Post. McGahee was the subject of trade rumors throughout this offseason because of the emergence of RB Ray Rice. Plus, McGahee is due a $3.45 million base salary in 2010. McGahee said he didn't let the rumors bother him. "I heard them, it is what it is," McGahee said. "I wasn't going to stress about it. If they trade me they trade me, if they don't they don't. I'm not worried."

McGahee said he will accept whatever role he has with the team for this upcoming season, reports Aaron Wilson, of the National Football Post. "The situation is what it is. I can't control destiny. If I play, I play. If I don't, I don't. Right now, I learned the way of life: Don't worry about it, just roll with the punches," McGahee said.

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Ray Lewis to get a street in Baltimore named after him

Taking a page out of Green Bay's book with its Lombardi Avenue, Reggie White Way and Brett Favre(notes) Pass, the city of Baltimore will be renaming a city street "Ray Lewis Way."

The ceremony will take place on Tuesday with Lewis, Ravens head coach Jim Harbaugh and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on hand. They'll be renaming part of Baltimore's North Avenue.

The choice of location is slightly odd -- something like this usually happens around the stadium, where sports fans will have more of a chance to appreciate it. But North Avenue is where Ray Lewis'(notes) charitable foundation hosts an annual Thanksgiving giveaway, so it's certainly appropriate, too.

Also on the plus side for the location, North Avenue is nowhere near the Baltimore County Courthouse, so even if Ray's new street has to undergo massive construction, Ray Lewis Way can never obstruct justice.

Okay, I'm sorry about that. Forgive me. But there is likely to be some debate about the decision (or at least a parade of jokes), given Ray Lewis's involvement -- whatever it may have been -- in a double murder back in 2000. Lewis ended up pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.
Since then, Lewis has made himself a Baltimore hero, on and off the field. You know of his greatness on the gridiron, and you probably know of his many charitable acts, too.

Does he deserve the considerable honor of a street named after him? Who's to say? Certainly not me. It's not my city, it's not my street and it's probably unlikely that I'll ever set foot on Ray Lewis Way. If the people of Baltimore are behind the idea, I say knock yourselves out. Congratulations, Ray.

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Jimmy Graham making a good early impression

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton singled third round draft pick Jimmy Graham out Saturday as a player making a solid early impression at the team's rookie camp.

"If you were just watching he's a been a guy who has stood out," Payton said in between practices at the Saints facility in Metairie. "He has things to learn but he's willing to do that and he's smart."

Indeed, at 6-feet-6, 260 pounds Graham does stand out immediately. A four-year basketball player at Miami who finished as captain of the team his senior year, Graham then played one year of football for the Hurricanes before winding up as the Saints third round draft pick. He is considered an unpolished gem by many draft analysts and general managers,

"I was told by a lot of veterans who come back to 'the U' what to expect and how to prepare for it," Graham said, explaining how rookie camp has matched his expectations. "But it's all a wonderful opportunity and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

Graham hopes one day to meet the hoops-player-turned-tight-end bar set by Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, but he's not fixated on that now.

"I'm trying to be Jimmy Graham today," he said.

Still, he said certain hardwood skills have served him well.

"The hand-to-eye coordination, the footwork, and going up and getting the ball, it's kind of like a rebound," he said.

Graham had played football as a 9th grader but then gave the game up for basketball. A part of the gridiron never left him, however - he finished his Miami career with more fouls than baskets.

Abandoned by his mother at a young age, Graham was raised by a guardian he met at church, Rebecca Vinson, and he comes to the Saints with a ringing endorsement from Miami University President Donna Shalala. She singled him out at graduation ceremonies, and is on record as saying Graham is precisely the kind of man one dreams about finding in a scholarship kid.

Today he has a relaxed demeanour and talks like a savvy public speaker. But he doesn't hide the fact he is loving life given what he has already accomplished.

"It meant a lot, especially coming from where I'm from," he said about Shalala's stamp of approval. "One of the things I'm trying to do is prove to her she made the right decision."

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Greg Olsen: Bears coach: Martz has never had fast TE

Four tight ends may not be too many for the 2010 Chicago Bears, according to new coach Mike DeBord, who discussed the possibility Thursday on “The Afternoon Saloon” on ESPN 1000.

While tight ends aren’t believed to be valued assets in the high-octane passing game of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system, there appears to be a place on the roster for Greg Olsen, Brandon Manumaleuna, Kellen Davis and Desmond Clark, according to DeBord.

“We’re going to be open,” said DeBord, who was hired in February. “We’ve talked about [potentially keeping four tight ends] with [general manager] Jerry Angelo and personnel, and as a coaching staff, we’ve talked about numbers. We’re gonna keep the guys who play the best and can fit into that role, whatever we need. So we’re going to be very open to that.”

The blend of talent on the roster likely plays a major role in dictating that open-mindedness. Olsen poses a dangerous threat in the passing game. Manumaleuna has a reputation as a potentially dominating run blocker. Although young, Kellen Davis flashes potential as a receiver and blocker.

Clark, meanwhile, fits the role of savvy veteran. Such varying skill sets among the tight ends seem to be the reason why expectations for production at the position haven’t been definitively stated.

“That’s gonna vary a little bit depending on the player,” DeBord said. “You can move tight ends around everywhere. So we’re gonna move some guys around in different spots. I don’t know what those numbers will be.

“But as Mike [Martz] stated, he’s not really had that fast guy like Des[mond] Clark or Greg Olsen, those kinds of guys. So he’s actually excited about being able to utilize them in the [passing game] and run game. That’s the thing we’re trying to find out right now is what they can do best. We’re teaching the entire offense and just trying to find out what guys can do best.”

So it’s safe to count on the seemingly unsettled nature of the tight end position to play out throughout training camp and the preseason.

DeBord made clear in the interview on the “Afternoon Saloon” that he expects Olsen -- who has been widely scrutinized for his struggles as a blocker – to improve in that department. The coach even went as far as to say “I guarantee you he’s gonna get better at it.”

DeBord also expressed optimism about Davis’ prospects for development, saying that “what I’ve seen on film from him [last season] is that he did catch the ball well, but he also blocked well.” Asked whether he envisioned a role for Clark this season, DeBord said, “I believe so. He’s a great leader on this team. This is all gonna play out. But I really believe there will be a role for Desmond.”

Apparently, if you ask DeBord, seemingly every other tight end on the roster can expect the same.

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

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Wood back as Indians closer, but Chris Perez still has value

Kerry Wood returned to the Cleveland Indians' active roster over the weekend ... and after two middle-relief appearances, he's ready to reclaim his familiar role as closer. The move is great for fantasy owners who've waited over a month to get Wood into their lineups, but it's too soon to tell if he'll be able to close games effectively just yet.

The 32-year-old Wood missed the first month of the season with a strained muscle in his back. He gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings at Class AA Akron during his rehab assignment and surrendered two more earned runs in one inning's worth of work over the weekend. Even worse, he's walked more batters than he's struck out. That's not a recipe for a successful closer.

Chris Perez converted five of seven save opportunities while Wood was out and pitched to a 2.61 ERA. In 10 1/3 innings, opponents are hitting just .220 against him, so fantasy owners shouldn't be too quick to jettison Perez. If Wood struggles -- or if he pitches well enough to spur interest in a trade -- Perez could ease back into the closer's role.

For fantasy owners those in search of that extra edge, Benchcoach.com has a look at today's top batter vs. pitcher matchups. Use these stats to make your selections in our free 56 Hit Streak game. And for those in leagues with daily transactions, these posts might also help you decide who gets the start and who sits on your bench.

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Ryan Braun leaves game after being hit in left elbow by pitch

MILWAUKEE — Brewers left-fielder Ryan Braun is day to day after injuring his left elbow when he was hit by a fastball by Atlanta Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson.

Braun was hit by the 92 m.p.h. pitch in the fourth inning Monday night. He walked slowly to first, then spent several minutes crouched down on the first-base line with the trainer while attempting to get feeling back in his arm.

Braun stayed in the game while it remained close, but with Atlanta up 7-0 after six innings, he came out. The team announced he had a bruised left elbow and is day-to-day.

Braun is hitting .359 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 32 games this season. Jody Gerut replaced him in the field for the seventh.

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Jemile Weeks Heading To DL

Oakland A's 2008 first-round pick Jemile Weeks was off to a terrific start to his 2010 season. Unfortunately for him and the A's, Weeks' hot start will have to be put on pause for the time-being. Weeks injured his left hip on Thursday night when he was trying to beat out a groundball. He fell to the ground and stayed down for a few minutes before leaving the field. Weeks has been diagnosed with a strained left hip flexor, according to A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman. Weeks will be placed on the Midland Rockhounds' disabled list and will return to Arizona where he will treat and rehab his injury.

The injury is eerily similar to the one that cost Weeks the final six weeks of the 2008 season and the first six weeks of the 2009 campaign. Weeks tore his left hip flexor in July 2008 when he was with the Low-A Kane County Cougars while trying to beat out a groundball. This injury isn't believed to be as serious as the 2008 incident, but it is still a concern that it is becoming a recurring injury.

When Weeks does return, he will come back to a .304 average and an 859 OPS. He was batting .316 with two homers over his last 10 games before the injury.

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Ed Reed won't make it back for camp's start

Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that FS Ed Reed (hip surgery) will be held out of at least part of training camp.

Harbaugh said Friday that Reed's surgery was done last week in Vail (CO), to give him "the best chance to get back for most of training camp." The surgeon was Dr. Marc Philippon, who also operated on Alex Rodriguez's hip in 2008 and Kurt Warner in 2009. Reed is fully expected to be ready for Week 1.

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

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McGahee taking laid-back approach to backup role

Willis McGahee is taking a laid-back approach to his third season as a backup running back.

McGahee, 28, had been the primary ball-carrier for the first four seasons of his career, gaining over 1,100 yards rushing three times. But he was the No. 2 running back to Le’Ron McClain in 2008 and to Ray Rice in 2009.

“The situation is what it is,” McGahee said on Sunday, the final day of the Ravens’ mandatory minicamp. “I can’t control destiny. If I play, I play. If I don’t, I don’t. Right now, I learned the way of way: Don’t worry about it and just roll with the punches.”

McGahee said he heard the rumors of the Ravens possibly trading him during the offseason.

“I wasn’t going to stress about it,” he said. “I’m not worried.”

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Rocky McIntosh in camp

Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh, a restricted free agent who still prefers something much more significant than a one-year, $1.759 million contract, has opted to sign a letter of protection that would pay him $1.759 million in the event he suffers an injury during offseason workouts that knocks him out for the 2010 season.

The move allowed him to return to the team, and to return to the field.  He spoke about his decision on Saturday, and his comments were distributed by the team.

"I came to play ball," McIntosh said.  "It was time to come in."

Asked whether he would have handled things differently and reported for offseason workouts sooner, McIntosh said, "That was in the past.  Today is a new day.  I am looking forward to the next day."

On one of the "next days" between now and June 15, he'll inevitably be signing either a long-term deal or his one-year tender offer.  Otherwise, the Redskins will be able as of June 15 to chop about $1.2 million off the of amount currently on the table.

And while the Redskins are shifting from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 attack, McIntosh doesn't think he's behind the curve.

"I haven't had to catch up," he said.  "I knew it.  A little help with the guys, the coaches have been great, London's [Fletcher] been great, so it's coming along pretty easy."

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

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Jimmy Graham already turning heads

When the New Orleans Saints selected Miami tight end Jimmy Graham with the last pick of the third round last month, the general consensus was the Super Bowl champions had grabbed an unpolished gem.

But on Saturday, midway through the Saints' rookie camp, Coach Sean Payton said some of the glitter already is there.

"If you were just watching, he's been a guy who has stood out, " Payton said. "He has things to learn, but he's willing to do that and he's smart."
Graham, 6 feet 6, 260 pounds, has the relaxed demeanor of an experienced public speaker and stands out immediately. A four-year basketball player at Miami who finished as captain of the team his senior year, Graham played just one year of football in Coral Gables.

But he made quite an impression there, too.

Early in his college career he wanted to return to his first love, football, but the basketball program didn't want to lose one its top bruisers -- so he stayed off the gridiron. But with his basketball eligibility exhausted, his football chances got a huge boost when former Hurricanes quarterback Bernie Kosar took him under his wing and threw passes to him three days a week.

Kosar wasn't the only high-end Miami figure drawn to Graham. When he graduated, Miami President Donna Shalala singled him out for special praise.

Graham caught just 17 passes that one year with the Hurricanes, although five of those went for touchdowns. Now he's translating his athletic skills to the NFL, trying to match the hoops-player-turned-tight-end bar set by Tony Gonazalez and Antonio Gates.

"Those guys are Hall of Famers, " Graham said. "I'm just trying to be Jimmy Graham today."

He agreed with Payton that there is a learning curve all rookies have to master, although some of what he learned on the hardwood -- where he finished his career with more fouls than field goals -- serve him well.

"The hand-to-eye coordination, the footwork, and going up and getting the ball, it's kind of like a rebound, " he said.

Then again, he has Miami to draw on.

"I was told by a lot of veterans who come back to the U what to expect and how to prepare for it, " Graham said, explaining how camp has thus far matched his expectations. "But it's all a wonderful opportunity, and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis predicted fans would marvel at Graham's athletic ability when they get a chance to see him. That won't come until minicamp is held, and the Saints full roster takes the field, but it's obvious the work Graham has done in helmets and shorts has matched Loomis' prediction.

Graham's not afraid of effort -- a lot of what Kosar first told him has come true, he said, "but not without a lot of hard work."

That circles back to what Payton praised in Graham.

One of the things coaches look for in players early, Payton said, is an ability to grasp the system, to be coached. While that might not be the clearest definition, it's clear Graham has it -- and he has no intention of letting it get away, either.

Not many NFL rookies come to camp with a ringing endorsement from their college president, but Graham said it still echoes in his ears.

"That's one of the things I think about, to prove to her that she made the right decision, " he said. . . . . . . . James Varney can be reached at jvarney@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3386.

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Undrafted free agent Sam Shields has emerged as a darkhorse

Undrafted free agent Sam Shields has emerged as a darkhorse candidate for return duties with the Packers.

"That's someone that jumped out at everybody," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He has exceptional speed, and he looked very natural as far as catching the ball." Shields also has experience as a gunner on kickoffs and punts. He ran a 4.28 at Miami's pro day, but he was suspended twice to go along with a marijuana incident as a Hurricane.

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Santana Moss sidelined following knee scope

The Washington Redskins have imported a host of wide receivers, including veterans Joey Galloway and Bobby Wade, with the hope that someone, anyone will step up as a consistent target opposite Santana Moss.

Now, Moss will be sidelined for a short while though. He has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and will be out until some point next month, according to Rick Maese of the Washington Post.

Ideally, the Redskins will begin to get some production out of former second-round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Moss, who turns 31 next month, had 70 receptions for 902 yards but just three touchdowns last season. The Redskins are conducting a voluntary minicamp this weekend.

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Big roles possible for Epps and McNeal

Dedrick Epps, the seventh-round draft pick, appeared to be the definite front-runner for the third tight end spot. Undrafted Shawnbrey McNeal can move and catch, and will certainly challenge to be the third running back.

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Olsen optimistic about role in offense

Greg Olsen knows his pass-catching prowess could make him more of a liability than an asset in the scheme of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

But what can he do other than what he's always known, which is to just simply play ball?

"In the past, [Martz's offenses haven't favored pass-catching tight ends]. There's really no debating that," Olsen said Friday on the "Waddle & Silvy" show on ESPN-1000. "That's just the way it is.

"But my approach to it is I feel like I bring a special set of qualities to the position, and I'm just gonna go out and worry about what's in my control, and continue to get better as I've done each year, and continue to progress both in the pass and run. However that shakes out, that's not really in my hands."

What Olsen can control, however, is his preparation for absorbing the intricacies of Martz's complicated pass-happy attack. Regardless of speculation as to where Olsen fits, the truth is nobody really knows what role he'll play.

Tight ends coach Mike DeBord indicated as much Thursday on the "Afternoon Saloon" show on ESPN 1000, saying the club is currently working to figure out what each player at the position does best before making any concrete decisions. Olsen reiterated those sentiments on Friday, in addition to admitting to harboring some trepidation about his future in Chicago once Martz came aboard.

Olsen and Martz have since gotten off to a good start toward building a relationship of trust, the tight end said. Step 1 in that process came from conversations between Olsen and the coaching staff, which also involved general manager Jerry Angelo.

"I never thought I would be the odd man out [once Martz took over]," Olsen said. "At the same time, I'm not naïve [enough] to [not] know that guys like me in the past weren't really a big part of [Martz's offenses].

"But from my conversations with the coaches, Mike and Jerry, I feel good that what I bring to the table will be able to be incorporated into what we do. Everything that's been told to me is that [a potential trade] was never once thrown out there. The Bears said they never called anyone to try to trade me; that I'm a guy they want here going forward [and] had been a big part of what we've done in the past. They anticipate me being a big part going forward. That's how it's kind of been relayed to me from the powers that be."

Martz's history indicates a reduced role in the offense for a pass-catching tight end such as Olsen. But Olsen's rare skill set, which enables him to become a matchup problem for defenses, paired with solid chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler, could change how Martz implements the scheme.

Such a dilemma, albeit positive, contributes to a fluid situation at the tight end position, which isn't likely to shake out until sometime in the preseason.

"[Martz has] not really had that fast guy like Desmond Clark or Greg Olsen, those kinds of guys," DeBord said. "So he's actually excited about being able to utilize them in the [passing] game and the run game."

How Olsen might perform this season as a blocker seems to be one of the main question marks concerning the tight end. He's struggled as a blocker in the past, and Martz's "emphasis on protection," as Olsen termed it, could result in a reduced role if marked improvement isn't made in that department.

Olsen said he's made strides as a blocker since entering the league in 2007, and understands the widespread criticism of his blocking.

"That's fine, I'm used to that," Olsen said. "For the people who have watched, my blocking has continued to get better each year.

"Last year, if I wasn't substituting in or out depending on the scheme, I played every down. If it was a pass protection, running a route, whatever it was, I was in. I feel confident in that. Obviously my pass catching has developed further than my run-blocking stuff, but that's pretty common. Every year in the offseason [I] continue to work on that, and it's gonna be no different this year. A lot of this is gonna play out as we get to minicamp and through OTAs. Right now, we're just installing the entire offense, getting guys used to the terminology and where to line up. A lot of it is gonna play out from here forward."

But will things shake out in Olsen's favor? He doesn't know. Nobody does at this point. With the season opener against Detroit approximately four months away, several internal position battles need to be fought before the club can focus solely on opponents.

One of the few things Olsen appears to be certain about is the fact he's grown tired of becoming a spectator once the regular season ends.

"I've never made the playoffs since I've been in the league," Olsen said. "I know that a lot of the guys aren't happy with that. You take a lot of pride in what you do and the product you put out there. What we've done the last couple of years hasn't been good enough."

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

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Jason Fox has love for the outdoors

Allen Park -- Lions rookie offensive tackle Jason Fox grew up in North Texas loving country music and hunting deer, turkey and hogs in his spare time.

So how does an outdoorsy guy like that end up in South Beach playing college football for the University of Miami?

"I just fell in love with Miami," he said. "When it came down to choosing a college I just wanted to win. I wanted to win championships and I thought Miami would give me the best chance to do that. We obviously didn't get it done, but I still enjoyed my time there and it opened all other doors in my life and probably being here is one of them. I don't regret it at all."

Fox said he turned down a number of offers from Big 12 teams to sign with Miami.

Drafted by the Lions in the fourth round, the 6-foot-7, 315-pound offensive tackle is already getting the feeling he'll be right at home in Michigan.

He said he's already done some homework on the many hunting and fishing opportunities in Michigan and is even hoping some of his new Lions teammates, who hunt and know the Michigan outdoors scene, will let him tag along when the time comes.

"This is my first time in Michigan. I don't think I'll have a lot of free time, but when I do get some free time, I'll definitely check it out," Fox said about Michigan reputation as a recreational state. "I'm going to try to get with (Jeff Backus) and some of those guys and see if they'll take me."

Mr. Reliable
If you could use only one word to describe Fox's four-year career at Miami, it'd be reliable.

That's why choosing to have surgery instead of playing through a painful patellar tendon injury for the last two games of his senior year, including Miami's bowl game, was a tough decision for Fox.

"It was a collective decision with our medical staff and our coaches. They said that, 'you've played with the injury all season and we appreciate that and it's now time that you need to look out for your future; you'll get an extra month of rehab and recovery if you get the surgery right now.' I went with their decision," Fox said of missing his last two games.

Fox started 47 games for the Hurricanes.

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Ray Lewis brings Baltimore Ravens draft pick back to earth

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Sergio Kindle now realizes that making the jump from college football to the NFL is no easy task.

On the day he was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Ravens, Kindle boasted, "I'm getting Rookie of the Year."

After taking a glance at the Baltimore playbook and taking a good-natured pop to the helmet from Ray Lewis during the team's minicamp this weekend, the former University of Texas linebacker backed away from his draft-day assertion.

"When I said that, it was just an exciting moment for me, getting drafted. My head was in the clouds," Kindle said. "First of all, you've got to learn the playbook, get on the field and then perform well to get Rookie of the Year.

"It will be a good goal for me to set for myself to try to strive to, but I've got to take it one step at a time. So if you can copy, paste and delete that, that would be nice."

Drafted 43rd overall, Kindle certainly has the potential for greatness. He had 168 tackles and 16 1/2 sacks in four seasons with the Longhorns and helped Texas advance to the BCS title game against Alabama in January.

He was projected by many to be a first-round pick, but questions about a knee injury contributed to his drop. Without being asked, Kindle insisted at his first NFL minicamp that the knee is not an issue.

"My body felt good. No knee issues," he said.

The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder did, however, acknowledge that the pace of coach John Harbaugh's practices were enough to make his head ache.

"The tempo out here was about 10 times faster than college, especially when they were throwing plays at you like bullets," Kindle said. "First of all, you've got to slow down your head spinning. Then you have to make your legs run as fast as your head is going, and you're just crashing."

Kindle did well enough to get a congratulatory bump from Lewis, who plays the position as well as anyone in the league.

"When he was coming out to the field and he slapped me on my head, he almost gave me a concussion," Kindle said. "That's when I knew he was intense 100 percent of the time when he's on this green grass. That's what I love about him."

The rookie has already made a favorable impression on Lewis, who was in New York to announce Kindle as Baltimore's first pick in the 2010 draft.

"I just think he's a great kid. I told him that when I got ready to call his name at the draft," Lewis said. "I watched him in college. I like his fire, the way he plays the game. Just to see the way he runs around now."

If Kindle needs a mentor, he need look no farther than the middle of the Baltimore huddle.

"The bottom line is, whatever you need off the field, then let's figure it out," Lewis said. "Let's stay after late if we've got to stay after (practice). Come over to my house. Whatever we've got to do, we'll figure it out."

They might want to start with the playbook, which Kindle said he studied until nearly midnight before the first minicamp practice Friday.
"I wanted to study more," he said, "but I needed at least five hours of sleep coming into the day."

Kindle hopes to improve a pass rush that was anything but spectacular last year.

"He can get off the ball. Very active; obviously an athletic kid," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He should be able to help us out."

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Brian Asbury will play for Maccabi Haifa next season

After a great season playing for the Israeli National League with Hapoel Kiryat Tivon, Brian Asbury will play in the higher league next season. Maccabi Haifa have inked Asbury for the 2010-11 season. The American forward, who arrived last summer to Israel from the University of Miami, is averaging 28.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

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Bucks have started negotiations with Salmons and his agent

St. Francis — It's clear the Milwaukee Bucks want guard John Salmons in their lineup again next season.

Bucks general manager John Hammond confirmed Thursday that he has discussed a contract extension with Salmons and his agent, Joel Bell.

Hammond would not discuss specifics of the offer, but it is believed the Bucks have offered a maximum extension that would include Salmons' opt-in year and three additional years for a total of nearly $27 million.

The 30-year-old Salmons has a player option for $5.8 million for the 2010-'11 season, but he could choose to opt out of the deal and become a free agent. If he does that, the Bucks and other NBA teams would not be able to negotiate with him until July 1 when the free agency period begins.

"He did a great job for us," Hammond said at a season-ending news conference held at the Bucks' Cousins Center headquarters.

"He was integral in where we ended up, the fact we won 46 games, made it to the playoffs and went to seven games (against Atlanta in the opening round). Give him a lot of credit for what he did for our organization."

Salmons was acquired in a February trade deadline deal with Chicago and made an instant impact. He averaged 19.9 points in 30 games for the Bucks and led the team in scoring 16 times. The Bucks went 22-8 after his arrival and secured the sixth-seeded spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

He also averaged 17.0 points against the third-seeded Hawks in a tightly contested postseason series that concluded Sunday with Atlanta's Game 7 victory.

Salmons hinted after the season that he may opt out of the contract but said he wanted to pray about the decision.

"He has some decisions he has to make," Hammond said. "The first decision is does he opt out. You may expect him to do that. If that happens, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and we can't have official conversations with him or his representative until July 1.
"Of course we'd like to have him back and we appreciate what he did for us."

Hammond also said the team would bring back starting small forward Carlos Delfino, who is under contract for $3.5 million next season. But a clause in the deal guaranteed only $500,000 if the Bucks had chosen to release him for any reason.

"We appreciate the great season Carlos had for us and our intentions are he will be part of our organization for the next two years and maybe beyond," Hammond said.

The Bucks hold a team option on Delfino for the 2011-'12 season at $3.5 million.

The 27-year-old Argentine player made 66 starts and appeared in 75 games while averaging career bests in points (11.0), rebounds (5.3) and assists (2.7).

"I'm pretty happy about how the season went," Delfino said earlier this week. "I think we had a great year as a group.

"It was a good year personally, and I look forward to improve and develop."

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Huff has the stuff at first base

It might be time for all the haters - fans, press and scouts alike - to admit all the hullabaloo over Aubrey Huff's defense at first base was wasted breath.

Huff is doing fine at the position, maybe better than fine. He is picking balls out of the dirt, snaring tough grounders, throwing well and making tough catches. He had one Saturday, overcoming a swirling wind to catch a difficult pop foul by Jason Bay to end the ninth.

An inning earlier, Huff smartly raced to cover second base as both middle infielders chased Henry Blanco's Texas League single to center, preventing Blanco from taking the extra base. That might have saved a run, because Fernando Tatis then doubled.

Huff has committed one error in 29 games. His only deficiency appears to be his range.

In so many words Sunday, Huff said, "I told you so."

"This is nothing new for me. I have to do this everywhere I go," he said. "I have to answer questions in spring training that I can't play defense. I have to prove myself again, and here you are a month later (praising me). It's like this all the time. When I played for Baltimore every day at first base (last season), I made four errors the whole year."

Huff laughed when a reporter asked about all the defensive work he did during the spring.

"Every spring training I have all the coaches put me in the extra group working on defense because they believe what they read," he said. "All you guys write me off as a bad defensive guy and they read it and say, 'OK, we've got to get him out there and work him hard.' "

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Perez relinquishes role as Indians' closer

Now that Kerry Wood has returned from the disabled list, Chris Perez will be a set-up man rather than the Indians' closer.

Perez is still considered to be the Indians' closer of the future, but it appears that Wood is still their closer of today. Perez struggled in his time at the back of the Indians' pen, but if Wood can't do much better or gets traded--both very possible outcomes--Perez could easily go back to closing.

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Burrell Named To CWS Legends Team

Back in the day, Pat Burrell played third base for the University of Miami and led the 'Canes to three College World Series berths (1996-98) . Thursday, he was among 28 players named to the CWS Legends Team. "That was a fun time. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a way to win," Burrell said. "Obviously, it's a pretty cool honor to be mentioned. It doesn't seem that long ago."

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Jon Jay making impact with Cards

This spring, Jon Jay had a chance to really complicate matters in the outfield because he was left-handed (complimenting the right-handed Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick) and he's a high-average contact hitter.

Well, things did not work out nearly as he planned.  Jay struggled the majority of the time...did not do all that well defensively...and had to watch as guys like Allen Craig and Nick Stavinoha tore the cover off the ball game after game after game.

The end result was Jay getting sent back to AAA several days before camp ended.  It wasn't the way things were supposed to go.

But he responded the old fashioned way.  He did exactly what he was SUPPOSED to do in spring...in Memphis.  Jay hit in just about every single game played for the Redbirds and stole 7 bases to boot.

Combine that with the slow start that Allen Craig got off to in St. Louis and the switch was quite obvious.

Craig demoted to AAA.  Jay promoted to St. Louis.

And, what do ya know, Jay has continued what he did in the minors here in the big leagues.

Through Friday's game one against the Pirates, Jay has 5 hits in 13 at-bats (already 4 more hits than Craig had in 3 weeks of games).  He's hit the ball hard.  He's gone the other way.  But, most importantly, he's shown the ability to hit while coming off the bench.

That's something that Craig could not do.  He is someone who needs to play everyday and get consistent at-bats.  Jay is able to not start a game, yet pinch hit late and still put together a productive AB.

Throw in the fact that he's a true outfielder (as opposed to Craig) and him being left-handed (the only non righty bat off the bench at the moment, with Felipe Lopez on the DL) and the need for Jay in St. Louis right now is pretty big.

As Tony says, whoever plays the best plays the most.  Jay is playing among the best of the guys off the bench.  And that's why he'll continue to play the most.

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