Mike Rumph on CBS 4 Miami - Sunday Sports Wrap

South Florida proCane fans, make sure to check out Mike Rumph on CBS 4's Sports Wrap on Sunday January 16th at 11:30pm giving his analysis on this weekend's NFL playoff games. Mike Rumph will be in the studio, so make sure to check him out! Also stay tuned to an exclusive "Tracking proCanes" interview with Rumph coming next week along with photos of Rumph working out with current Miami Hurricane DeMarcus Van Dyke (DVD).

Click here to order Mike Rumph’s proCane Rookie Card.

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There's a flip side to Reed's talents

Is it possible for Ed Reed to have the ball in his hands without lateraling it?

Recent evidence suggests that it isn't. Reed caused the hearts of the Ravens coaching staff to skip a beat Sunday against the New England Patriots when he intercepted Tom Brady's pass, then flipped the ball to Dawan Landry as he was being tackled in the first quarter. That lateral was beneficial to the Ravens, with Landry advancing it nearly 20 yards. But tonight's playoff opponents, the Indianapolis Colts, call to mind Reed's worst lateral of the season, when he fumbled on a punt return with 17 seconds left and the Ravens trailing 17-15.

Reed's penchant for trying to turn a good play into a great play puts the Ravens coaches in a bit of an awkward position. You have to take the Good Reed with the Bad Reed.

"We encourage our guys to make good decisions, and good decisions are usually judged by the result," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "When it turns out to be a good decision, you can easily see why after the fact. My first thought, I'm going to be honest with you, when he was running up the sideline, is not to do it. My first thought is secure the football. But he had a situation that we do practice where he had Dawan in great position. He had control of the ball - nobody was near the ball - and he had free access to get it to Dawan. So he made a good decision, and it worked out."

Reed wasn't thrilled when his unsuccessful lateral against the Colts came up again this week. He said he had no regrets.

"I would never change my game regardless of any play," Reed said. "If I feel like it's there, I'm going to go with it. It's not about being successful or unsuccessful. It's about winning, and at the end of the day, there was 17 seconds left on the clock. We had 59 minutes and something seconds to win the game with many other plays. So one play didn't make the game. Yeah, it probably would have gave us a chance, but what chance are you going to do on a great defense with 17 seconds left and no timeouts?"

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

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Photo of the Week - Ed Reed Consoles Vince Wilfork

Last Sunday the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New England Patriots in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs. 6 proCanes played in that game; Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Willis McGahee and Tavares Gooden all of the Ravens, and Brandon Meriweather and Vince Wilfork of the Patriots. Here is Ed Reed consoling former Hurricane teammae Vince Wilfork after the game.

Reed said after the game: ``I feel for Vince.' ``He's a Hurricane, so you know he came to play [Sunday]. Hurricanes don't quit. When we played there, we played a lot of big games and always expected to win. We always expected to go undefeated.''

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Saints' Vilma Urges Help For Haiti

NEW ORLEANS --New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has managed to contact family members in Haiti to confirm that they are alive and safe.

Vilma's parents were born in Haiti and immigrated to the U.S. over 30 years ago. He still has two aunts and uncles living there.

"Fortunately, my family's safe and everything is fine," he said. "It's tragic, what happened. The best thing I've seen or heard or read about is that everyone's really trying to come and help."

Vilma said he is trying to figure out how to best help the earthquake-stricken country.

Click here to order Jon Vilma’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Atkins signed to future contract

The Denver Broncos have announced they have signed free-agent DE Baraka Atkins (49ers) to a future contract. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

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Vilma Says There's No Place

Players know where to go when they want to talk directly to the fans. Jonathan Vilma, linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, decided to correspond with SB Nation’s Canal Street Chronicles by email. Vilma is one of the leaders of an opportunistic Saints defense and is ready for playoff action after having a bye last week. What could give the Saints the advantage this week, besides actual players, coaches, matchups – all that on-the-field-stuff? How about home-field advantage in the Superdome.

CSC: Which stadium is the most difficult to play in?

Vilma: It would have to be New Orleans. Our stadium is tough to play in. Once our crowd gets going it’s tough to play in there. I’m a Saints guy, and I’m on the defensive side and I’m hearing the hell that the Saints fans are giving the opposing offenses and it’s pretty tough. It’s a huge challenge to manage the defense with that noise, but I’d rather them be loud and pumped up and going than quiet, because if they’re quiet it means we’re getting beat.
Also, Vilma promises that once the season is over, everybody will get to know what they say in the Drew Brees pre-game chant.

Click here to order Jon Vilma’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Re-signing Vince Wilfork should be Patriots' priority

As an unsettling offseason gets under way, the Patriots face several major decisions, one involving nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who wants to stay but on his terms.

The “dynasty” ended five years ago. New England is in decline.

Given how the Jets are developing under rookie Mark Sanchez, the Patriots won’t even be the AFC East favorite next year.

As the Patriots head into this uncertain new era, their handling of Wilfork will say a lot about an organization whose methods, once the NFL model, are no longer working.

The Patriots’ coldly efficient approach was attractive and even admired when a core of players existed to bind the team from within.

Their personalities enticed others to want to play in New England, even as the organization took a pointedly impersonal approach.

That management style showed its flaws as early as 2006, when it caused Adam Vinatieri to walk away.

Today, there are problems on both sides of the ball. On defense, the Tedy Bruschis and Richard Seymours have been replaced by guys who either can’t execute the game plan, or don’t provide the intangibles that made this team special.

Wilfork offers both. He says he wants to be back, but only with a long-term deal.

The Patriots could tag him as a franchise player, and Wilfork would have to honor it, but he would consider that professional imprisonment.

Given his freedom, Wilfork could sign elsewhere. The logical business decision would be to apply the franchise tag and lock him in for a year.

That would settle it, as long as it doesn’t matter that one of your best players is miserable.

It’s how almost any other team would handle it. The Patriots must decide if they want to become just like any other team, which is how they looked this year.

I hope they negotiate with Wilfork. They should not be expected to cripple their salary cap, just strive for a fair deal.
That comes with risk, since it gives no guarantee they’ll sign him. But no system, even theirs, works without good players.

Wilfork, 28, could be part of a better, revamped defense for several years. That won’t happen if he’s franchised, all but assuring he’ll want out after 2010.

In cold business terms, Wilfork is just a piece of franchisable football property. Part of good business, though, is a workforce with some chemistry and some backbone.

The Patriots have moved away from that. With Wilfork, they have a chance to move back to it.

He’s a true Patriot, and not many of those are left.

Negotiating with him would not show fiscal weakness. It would be good business.

Their ruthlessly efficient approach held up for a while, but it’s not working anymore.

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

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Ray Lewis is older but wiser -- and still a mauler

It's difficult, at this point in Ray Lewis' career, to separate the man from the mystique.

Think about that this week when he squares off against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. And ask whether desire and preparation can beat back time.

Manning, the 2009 NFL most valuable player, is at the height of his powers. He's perhaps the best offensive player of this generation, and on every play he'll look across the line of scrimmage at Lewis, perhaps the best defensive player of this generation. They'll match wits for four quarters, with the winner living on to fight another week and the loser cleaning out his locker.

It might be the last time they spar when the stakes are so high. In the 2006 season, the only other time the Ravens and Colts met in the playoffs, Lewis and the Ravens' defense kept Manning out of the end zone, but the Colts still managed to escape with a 15-6 victory, and went on to win the Super Bowl.

"This journey has been up and down, but we are on a great journey right now," Lewis said. "We know that is probably the best quarterback of the last 10 or 20 years, bottom line."

"It's always a great challenge playing against No. 52," Manning said.

But Lewis, unlike Manning, is no longer at the height of his powers. Any objective observer -- layman or expert -- can see that age has slowed Lewis' considerable gifts. Although he led the AFC in tackles this season with 134, he is not the sideline-to-sideline tornado of focused fury that he was during the peak of his career.

But after watching the Ravens' 33-14 throttling of the New England Patriots on Sunday -- a game in which Lewis had 13 tackles, including a sack so vicious it looked as if Tom Brady had been trampled under the hooves of a thundering bull -- you realize it might not matter that he is not as swift or as quick as he once was.

"I've never been around a better defensive player," Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said. "But more than that, what a great leader, what a great guy, what a great mentor to our younger guys. I think he plays really hard and he never takes a play off. He's on the field every single play. He's not 26 anymore, but he has a bank of knowledge about the game. When a guy has that kind of a foundation football-wise, his study means that much more. He watches tape and he sees a lot more than that 26-year-old would see."

What's clear is that Lewis, 34, still believes he is the same player, the one who led the Ravens to a Super Bowl win in the 2000 season, and is convinced he can do it a decade later.

After all these years, he remains the public face of the Ravens' franchise, the one player remaining who connects the glories of the past with the expectations of the present. Every week, a different opposing fan base casts him as the villain.

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Saints need TE Shockey back for offense to roll

METAIRIE, La. – For the past month, Jeremy Shockey has waited on the sideline, wanting to make his mark in Saints games but unable to because of a toe injury.

And while he’s itching to get back on the field, which he’ll do Saturday in the Saints’ 3:30 p.m. NFC divisional round game against Arizona, maybe no one wants to see him out there more than Drew Brees and Sean Payton

Indeed, without the volatile and cantankerous tight end in the lineup, Brees and the offense have struggled.

So much, in fact, that the Saints have scored as many points in the past three games combined (44) that they did in four separate games (45, 48, 48, 46) games this season.

“The importance of a tight end with what we do – both in the run game and the pass game – is significant,” said Payton, the Saints' playcaller and head coach. “Whether it’s in the intermediate routes or down the field more, those are both things that factor in to what we do passing the ball.”

Shockey didn’t see the field in any of the final three games of the season. New Orleans (13-3) lost all three.

Shockey played in the first 13 games of the year. The team won all of them.

Coincidence? Maybe.

But the point is, without Shockey in the lineup, the offense wasn’t as effective.

“You get certain coverages and a lot of things depend on what coverages you’re getting in regards to the progression of the quarterback,” Payton said. “He gives you a threat inside. I think any tight end that is able to get up the field and catch the ball like he can gives you that.”

With Shockey standing on the sideline during the Dallas and Tampa Bay losses – Carolina not included because very few starters played – the offense gained an average of 307.3 yards per game. The Cowboys and Bucs combined for five sacks.

In the previous 13 games, the offense averaged 426.1 yards per game and gave up only 15 sacks.

Without Shockey, in other words, the team lost 119.2 yards per game and gave up a fourth of the sacks the team allowed all season.

Simply put, he’s one of the biggest factors for the Saints offense running smoothly in the postseason.

“He’s a key part of our offense,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “Not having a guy like him in on protection and routes and the run game, it hurts. We have been counting on times when he wasn’t in on other people. He’s a vital part of this offense. We’re thankful to have him back.”

Shockey has caught 48 passes for 569 yards and three touchdowns this season, good for third-best on the team.

But it’s on the line where he potentially helps out the most.

In the 24-17 loss to Dallas on Dec. 19, the Cowboys’ defensive ends wreaked havoc in the Saints backfield. Shockey was inactive for that game and couldn’t help out Bushrod or right tackle Jon Stinchcomb.

DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer combined for four sacks that game and New Orleans rushed for only 65 yards on 13 carries.

“He understands the things offensive linemen go through down there in the trenches,” Bushrod said. “He’s a great blocker. He’s a strong physical guy. He understands (us) just as well as we understand his aspects of the game.”

The Saints can only hope that he stays healthy the rest of the way.

They know what happens when he’s not.

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

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In 2000s, Ravens' Ray Lewis set the gold standard for defenses

Imagine the Baltimore Ravens without Ray Lewis.

Pretty tough, huh?

That possibility dangled last winter when the Ravens' signature player became an unrestricted free agent and briefly tested the waters before striking a deal for a new three-year, $25 million contract in early March that seemingly assures that he will finish his career where it started.

"It was good that Ray got a chance to flirt," Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome reflects. "But Ray is a Baltimore Raven. We were always confident that through it all, no one would value Ray like we do."

That statement extends far beyond dollars. No player defines the tough image of the Ravens like Lewis, the 14th-year pro who is USA TODAY's choice for the top inside linebacker of the 2000s. And, as he demonstrated with his team-high 13 tackles in a Jan. 10 AFC wild-card victory at New England, Lewis still has plenty left.

In addition to a sparkling resume that includes NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2000 and 2003, a Super Bowl MVP award, 11 Pro Bowl selections and more than 2,300 tackles, Lewis' intangibles provide just as compelling case for his greatness.

He is, simply put, the heartbeat of the Ravens, a passionate leader and energy source than transcends the defense.

Newsome has undoubtedly realized this from the beginning. He chuckles now when considering the chain of events and train of thought in an organization that had just moved from Cleveland in 1996 and selected Lewis from the University of Miami (Fla.) with the 26th pick in the first round. The Ravens had two first-round picks that year, using the fourth pick overall to land now-retired, 11-time Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Interestingly, Patriots coach Bill Belichick gets an assist.

As coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1995, Belichick dealt a first-round pick (10th overall) to San Francisco in a draft-day trade, for a No. 1 pick the following year. The 49ers used the 1995 pick to draft wide receiver J.J. Stokes, who never became the next Jerry Rice.

Belichick was fired as the franchise moved to Baltimore, replaced by Ted Marchibroda. Newsome became VP of personnel after the move, and can still hear Marchibroda's directive as the new Ravens sought to build a linebacker corps and targeted their latter first-round pick as a spot to address the need.

Marchibroda's demand: "Find me someone with a football temperament.".

Lewis was the fourth linebacker selected that year. Jacksonville took Kevin Hardy with the No. 2 overall pick, Denver chose John Mobley at No. 15 and Detroit, in the 17th slot, took Reggie Brown, whose career was cut short by a neck injury.

It wasn't Lewis' temperament that left him on the board for so long. It was his size. Lewis came out of college at 6-1, 235 — very light for a middle linebacker. He has since bulked up to as much as 265 pounds, and is currently listed at 250.

In hindsight, Lewis has also bulked up the argument that he should have been the top pick in the entire draft, a distinction that belongs to Keyshawn Johnson. Besides Ogden and Johnson, other formidable first-rounders in 1996 were Eddie George (14th), Marvin Harrison (19th) and Jeff Hartings (23rd).

Newsome, of course, wouldn't change history one bit after getting a classic superstar.

"He's very, very instinctive," Newsome says. "You can't teach that. And he has unbelievable desire. He just makes everybody around him better. It's like they don't want to let him down."

A glance at the other inside linebackers voted in the top five of the 2000s by USA TODAY:

Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
• Why he's special: Freakish athleticism allowed Urlacher, 6-4, 258, to switch from college safety at New Mexico to the next great Bears middle linebacker when drafted ninth overall in 2000. It was hardly a gradual procession. Urlacher was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl selection in 2000, jump-starting a career that has produced six Pro Bowls and more than 1,400 tackles. Just as impressive as his work near the line of scrimmage, he is one of the league's best linebackers in pass coverage, often manning deep middle seams in the Bears' Cover 2 schemes. Heading into 2009 (when he missed a career-high 15 games with a broken forearm), just two NFL linebackers had more than Urlacher's 17 interceptions in his first nine seasons.
• Stat's the fact: Urlacher posted 214 tackles (159 solo) in 2002, most ever by a Bears defender since tackles were first tracked in 1971. He recorded double-digit tackles in all 16 games and led the team in tackles in all but two contests that season, when he also led all NFC defenders in Pro Bowl balloting.
• Did you know? When Urlacher was selected to the Pro Bowl for his 2003 campaign, he became just the fifth player in Bears history named to the all-star squad in each of his first four seasons — matching a feat achieved by Rick Casares, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.

Zach Thomas, Miami Dolphins/Dallas Cowboys
• Why he's special: A tough-as-nails type, Thomas entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick from Texas Tech and emerged as one of the NFL's best middle linebackers. He was the epitome of an overachiever, and the heart-and-soul of Miami's defense for 12 years. And of course, he tackled, often leading the NFL in the unofficial category — and hailed as one of just three players to post at least 100 tackles in each of his first 10 NFL seasons. Plenty durable, Thomas (5-11, 242) started all 168 games he played for Miami, fifth-most in franchise history. He also holds the club record with four career touchdowns off interception returns.
• Stat's the fact: Thomas, who played a final season with Dallas in 2008, is credited with 1,733 tackles for his 13-year career — more than any linebacker currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since tackles were first widely recorded in 1971, only Randy Gradishar, Jessie Tuggle and Junior Seau were given credit for more tackles.
• Did you know? Thomas earned seven Pro Bowl selections (six throughout the 2000 decade) during his Dolphins tenure. Only Dan Marino had more, nine, as a Dolphin.

James Farrior, New York Jets/Pittsburgh Steelers
• Why he's special: Smooth and versatile, Farrior is much more physical than he appears with his 6-2, 243-pound frame. After joining the Steelers as a free agent in 2002, he found a niche as a dependable run stuffer — evidenced by seven consecutive seasons as the team's leading tackler. But that's only the beginning. Farrior, a key on two Super Bowl title teams during the decade, covers well in space for an inside 'backer and is sneaky fluid with his pass-rush in Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz schemes. In other words, he's perfected his timing on the signature cross-blitzes up the middle.
• Stat's the fact: Farrior finished second to Ravens safety Ed Reed in voting for Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2004, when he helped anchor a No.1-ranked defense and earned his first Pro Bowl on a Pittsburgh team that went an NFL-best 15-1. That season, he tallied 119 total tackles, three sacks, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and three recoveries.
• Did you know? In just his third season with the Steelers in 2004, Farrior was voted by teammates as the club's MVP.

Al Wilson, Denver Broncos
• Why he's special: One of the NFL's fastest middle linebackers in his day, Wilson (6-0, 240) quickly made a mark as a leader and big-time producer for the Broncos defense. He recorded the first of five consecutive 100-plus tackle seasons in 2000, his second NFL campaign. He was also a quality pass coverer and had more impact as a blitzer (21½ career sacks) than most middle 'backers. His career was cut short after eight seasons due to neck and back injuries.
• Stat's the fact: A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Wilson tallied a career-high 199 tackles in 2002 — the first of three seasons in which he led the Broncos in tackles. His tackle total that season was the most by a Bronco since 1983 — the last of Randy Gradishar's six career 200-tackle seasons — and hasn't been matched since.
• Did you know? Wilson, drafted 31st in the first round by the Broncos, was captain on the 1998 University of Tennessee squad that won the national championship.

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.


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Kosar faces foreclosure on home

The financial woes continue for former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar Jr. as a Miami bank filed a $2 million foreclosure lawsuit targeting his home in Weston, Fla.

The Ocean Bank filed a lawsuit Jan. 7 in Broward County (Fla.) Circuit Court, seeking to seize the 9,901-square-foot house where Kosar resides.

After getting hit with several foreclosure lawsuits on real estate developments in 2008, Kosar filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in June. The bankruptcy was converted last week to a Chapter 7 liquidation of assets.

Among the $18.9 million in debt facing Kosar, Ocean Bank is listed as a secured creditor with a $2 million claim on his house. He listed assets of $9.2 million, including a minority ownership stake in the Florida Panthers professional hockey team.

Attorney Louis Nicholas II said the Ocean Bank got a stay from the bankruptcy case so it could foreclose on Kosar’s house. While it can take the property, it can’t hold the former University of Miami player personally liable for a deficiency judgment, which occurs if the bank can’t recover the full value of the mortgage when it disposes of the house. Nicholas said it’s possible the deficiency judgment could become an unsecured claim in the bankruptcy case.

Attorney Julianne Frank, who represents Kosar in the Chapter 7 case, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

After his stint with the Browns, Kosar played for the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.

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Salmons very quiet in win over Celtics

John Salmons hit just 2-of-9 shots and a 3-pointer for five points, five rebounds and nothing else in Thursday's win.

We still don't know what to tell you about Salmons. He's been struggling all year and may or may not get it going. We still think he's worth holding onto, but it's anyone's guess as to if or when he gets it turned around. If nothing else, make sure he's on your bench if you have viable options.

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Braun, Feldman named Jewish MVPs in baseball

NEWTON, MA – Ryan Braun and Scott Feldman have been named the Most Valuable Jewish Players of the Year by Jewish Major Leaguers, Inc. (JML), the not-for-profit baseball history organization that produces Jewish baseball cards and Hall of Fame programs honouring Jews in the game.

The 2009 position player of the year is Ryan Braun, the slugging left-fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers. Braun’s .319 batting average and 32 homers were tops among Jewish players and his 203 hits led the National League in that category- a ‘first’ in Jewish baseball history.  

JML’s choice as pitcher of the year is Texas Rangers right-hander Scott Feldman. In his fifth season, and second as a starter, Feldman went 17-8, with a 4.08 ERA. His 17 wins were the most for a Jewish starter since Steve Stone of Baltimore in 1980.

The JML awards tradition began last season, when the winners were Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis and Pirates reliever John Grabow.

Braun and Feldman will be featured on a special card in the 2010 edition of Jewish Major Leaguer cards, to be released in the spring.

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Huff ready to clean up in S.F.

Aubrey Huff is a heart-of-the-order hitter, a big man with a big swing. Six times, he topped 20 home runs. Twice, he topped 30. He has more career homers (203) than any Giant since Barry Bonds' departure.

Even his sense of humor is vast. Asked about hitting at China Basin, which has been tough on lefty swingers, Huff said, "If Barry Bonds can hit home runs there, I can, right?"

The Giants made the Huff signing official Wednesday (one year, $3 million) and said he'll play first base and bat fourth in a lineup they envision looking like this, 1 through 5: Aaron Rowand (.341 on-base percentage in 50 games leading off last year), Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Huff and Mark DeRosa, who's targeted for left field.

"I think we have a chance to have more of a set lineup," general manager Brian Sabean said. "With Rowand as the leadoff hitter and Sanchez the second hitter, all of a sudden you have five guys in a row you're comfortable with and have a track record. I think the offense has improved, but it still has to translate on the field, and the players have to respond."

Before Huff's arrival, Sandoval was penciled in at cleanup, but now the Panda returns to the No. 3 spot, where he spent most of 2009 (97 games). Huff hit fourth 94 times last year and has hit there 517 times in his career.

"I personally feel your all-around best hitter should be in the three hole," manager Bruce Bochy said.

The 6-7-8 hitters, in no particular order, would be shortstop Edgar Renteria, right fielder Nate Schierholtz (unless John Bowker or someone from the outside wins the job) and the catcher. Sabean seemed confident he could sign a catcher (Yorvit Torrealba and Rod Barajas are unsigned) to give Buster Posey more seasoning.

Huff, 33, is looking for a bounce-back year after hitting .241 with 15 homers and 85 RBIs with Baltimore and Detroit. In 2008, he hit .304 with 32 homers and 108 RBIs and won a Silver Slugger Award as the American League's top DH.

No first-base platoon is planned, but Huff could see time in the outfield on days Travis Ishikawa plays first. Though he's considered sub-par defensively, Huff said, "I've always been pretty good at first base. Once you get that label of not being able to play good defense, which is what happened at third base early on in my career, it's hard to shake it."

At the Giants' park, Huff is 4-for-12 with a 2002 home run off Livan Hernandez.

Sabean confirmed Sandoval gained a few pounds in Venezuela since graduating from "Camp Panda," his 10-day, Arizona-based workout in November. But Sabean said he expects Sandoval will return to his "target weight" to start the season.

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Ray Lewis & Andre Johnson Named 1st Team AP All-Pro's

proCanes Ray Lewis and Andre Johnson were named to the 2009 NFL AP All- Pro Team. This is the 7th time in his career Ray Lewis has been named to the AP All-Pro team and it is Andre Johnson's 2nd time. Congrats to both!

proCanes Jon Beason, Reggie Wayne, and Ed Reed were named to the 2009 NFL AP All- Pro 2nd Team.

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Wayne still feeling "snake-bitten" by Reed

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne just wrapped up his session with the media at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, and he re-told the story of how Ravens free safety Ed Reed killed Wayne's pet snake.

While Wayne was a rookie with the Colts in 2001, he left his nine-foot pet green Burmese python named "Law" with Reed, who was a senior at the University of Miami and Wayne's roommate. One day, according to Wayne, he got a text message from Reed, saying, "Law's dead."

"He killed my snake," Wayne recalled. "He neglected my snake."

Despite that transgression, Wayne and Reed remain tight. Wayne said he and Reed talk about three times a week, spending about 30 minutes on the phone each time talking about life, football and anything else. "It's probably too much time" on the phone with Reed, Wayne said.

Wayne said he and Reed have an arrangement where he will take Reed out to dinner this weekend. (If the Colts travel to Baltimore, dinner is on Reed.) Wayne said he will broach the topic of "Law" during dinner.

"He was supposed to reimburse me with a new one," said Wayne, who was prodded to rehash the story by Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz. "He hasn't done that yet. Thanks for bringing that up because I'll be sure to bring it up with him this week."

Click here to order Ed Reed’s or Reggie Wayne's proCane Rookie Card.

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Shockey Talks Playoffs

New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey on the playoffs

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

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Reed will get Manning's attention

Amidst all of the moving and shuffling the Ravens defense will likely do in an attempt to confuse Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback said the one player he will be tracking is free safety Ed Reed.

"Well, you have to know where he is on the field," said Manning as he prepares for the AFC Divisional playoff game between the Ravens and the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night. "He has a great knack for the football. He covers a lot of ground. They said he was possibly injured before the game. You sure didn’t see that on Sunday the way he was flying around. He can cover so much ground. You definitely have to factor in where he is on every single play."

Manning speaks from experience. Although Manning is 7-2 against the Ravens – including 7 straight wins after a 0-2 start – Reed has nabbed three of the seven interceptions Manning has thrown against the Ravens in their last four meetings.

Reed missed four games due to a strained groin, but pulled down an interception in the Ravens’ 33-14 rout of the New England Patriots last Sunday.

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

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Antrel Rolle clears up quote about Brees

It wouldn't be the NFL playoffs without a little drama and some bulletin-board material. Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle provided both this week and spent Wednesday trying to back-pedal his way out of it.

What set things off was this quote attributed to Rolle about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that reporter Michael Silver wrote on yahoo.com:

"Let me tell you something - that dude is scary. We have a great defense and we were up on him and ready to pounce, and he found ways to tear us apart.

"I don't ever want to face him again in my life. I am dead serious. I'll face Drew Brees any day of the way before I face him again."

The quote quickly made its way to New Orleans, where Rolle and the Cardinals are to meet Brees and the Saints on Saturday in an NFC divisional playoff game at the Louisiana Superdome.

Brees brushed off the remark on Tuesday telling reporters, "I think that's just part of the game. We've encountered that over the year. The fact is, that doesn't affect the way I prepare."

Rolle, however, said his quote was taken out of context, that Silver "twisted and turned" his words around.

"It's a complete and total lie," Rolle said. "First of all, I wasn't even talking to Michael Silver. Adrian (Wilson) and myself were having a private conversation and I was simply praising Aaron Rodgers.

"(Silver) decided to throw Drew Brees' name out there and I was like, 'I'm not even talking about Drew Brees. I'm talking about Aaron Rodgers. . . . I have all the respect in the world for Drew Brees. His game speaks for itself."
Rodgers passed for four touchdowns and a team playoff-record 422 yards in Green Bay's 51-45 loss to Arizona on Sunday.

"Michael Silver threw Drew Brees' name up as I was walking out of the locker room," Rolle continued. "After a game like that, who's going to be thinking about Drew Brees? The guy that just ripped us was Aaron Rodgers. That's who I was talking about. That's who I was giving praise to."

But if the Saints want to hang the quote up in the locker room, Rolle said they can have at it.

"If they want to go out there and use that as motivation, then let it be done," he said. "I don't back down from anyone."

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Adkins Making a Name For Himself

Spencer Adkins: A selection in the team’s 2009 Draft class, Adkins evolved from pass rusher in college to more of an all-around, special teams ace as a rookie in the NFL. He had three special teams tackles and his name appeared more in the stat sheet — and the message boards — as the season went along.

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Best safety of 2000s? Ed Reed always there to make the play

By its name, the football position of safety implies a last line of defense. But in the past decade, players such as Troy Polamalu, Brian Dawkins and Darren Sharper have brought an attacking, big-play style to the role.
Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens, voted by USA TODAY as the No. 1 player at the position in the 2000s, is the embodiment of all those aggressive qualities.

So, Ed, how about an acceptance speech for being selected the top man in an impressive field?

"It's a hell of an honor to be among so many elite players year in and year out," says Reed, who joined the Ravens as a first-round draft pick (24th overall) out of Miami in 2002. "There are so many players in this league that do so many great things. It's really hard to pick out something like that. It's just a great honor."

Reed has earned his status. This season, he was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl even though he was sidelined for four games by a groin injury. His list of career accomplishments is long:

•His 46 interceptions rank first in the NFL since his he entered the league in 2002. His 1,255 interceptions return yards are also No. 1 in that span.

•His 27.3-yard interception return average is tops in NFL history among players with at least 30 interceptions.

•He has scored 13 career touchdowns: seven on interceptions returns, two on fumble returns, three on blocked punt returns and one on a punt return.

Opponents sing his praise.

"He's a rare, rare player at that position, as good as any I've ever seen," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in October before his team played Baltimore. " … He's always around the ball, and that's usually bad for the offense when he is. He's a great football player."

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose team missed playing Reed in a Week 16 matchup, said the Ravens safety is a "game-changer."

"He's a defensive guy that's capable of ringing up the scoreboard or getting the ball in his hands," said Tomlin.

Tomlin praised Reed's abilities to hide his intentions, play a "cat and mouse" game with quarterbacks and see pass routes.

"He has the physical talent that enables him to cover a lot of grass, but you don't want to underestimate the mental capacity of a gentleman like that because that's required to cover the amount of grass that he covers as well," says Tomlin.

Ozzie Newsome, general manager of the Ravens, says his team saw all those qualities in Reed before drafting him. But he adds that it took some extra scrutiny because Reed played on Miami teams with so many stars.

"With Ed, you had to watch a lot of tape because he played on a team that probably had eight or nine guys that came on to play in the National Football League," Newsome says.

"But anytime a play needed to be made to make a difference in the ball game, Ed Reed made that play. … In a critical point, whether it was a third-down play or fourth-down play, some play that Miami needed to seal the ballgame, Ed Reed made that play."

A glance at the other safeties voted in the top five of the 2000s by USA TODAY:

•Brian Dawkins: Though he signed this season with the Denver Broncos, Dawkins made his mark in the past decade as a hard-hitting playmaker and emotional leader of the Philadelphia Eagles. Thirty-three of his 36 career interceptions came in a Philadelphia uniform. He was drafted by the Eagles in the second round out of Clemson in 1996 and became a starter his rookie year. With the Broncos this season, he was selected to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time. Seven of those selections came in the past decade.

•Troy Polamalu: Sidelined most of this season by knee injuries, his absence was a dramatic illustration of his value to the Steelers. Without him roaming the field with his long hair flowing, the Steelers have struggled. His ability to cover deep and stuff the run is a pivotal element in Pittsburgh's zone blitz, 3-4 defense (aka the "hair-four" in Polamalu's shampoo commercials). A first-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2003 out of Southern California, he's been a five-time Pro Bowler in the past decade. He has 20 career interceptions.

•Darren Sharper: Though he turned 34 in November, Sharper was a huge addition to the New Orleans Saints this season. He returned nine interceptions for 376 yards (an NFL record for interception return yards in a season) and three touchdowns, including a 99-yarder. Sharper's 376 interception return yards broke the previous mark of 358 by Baltimore's Ed Reed in 2004. Sharper joined the Saints as a free agent after four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and eight with the Green Bay Packers. Drafted by Green Bay in the second round out of William & Mary in 1997, he's been a five-time Pro Bowler in the past decade, including this season. He has returned 11 of his 62 career interceptions for TDs — one shy of Rod Woodson's NFL record.

•John Lynch: Since retiring before the 2008 season, Lynch has been in the Fox broadcast booth. He made his mark in the 2000s with seven of his nine career Pro Bowl appearances as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1993-2003) and the Denver Broncos (2004-2007). He was drafted by Tampa Bay in the third round in 1993 out of Stanford. He had 26 career interceptions, but as a 6-2, 220-pound strong safety his trademark was his strong tackling. He was ranked No. 10 in an NFL Films feature production of the Top 10 Most Feared Tacklers in NFL history.

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Ravens' Lewis playing against Manning, and time

It's difficult, at this point in Ray Lewis' career, to separate the man from the mystique.

Think about that this weekend when he squares off against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. And ask whether desire and preparation can beat back time.

Manning, the 2009 NFL Most Valuable Player, is at the height of his powers. He's perhaps the best offensive player of this generation, and on every play he'll look across the line of scrimmage at Lewis, perhaps the best defensive player of this generation. They'll match wits for four quarters, with the winner living on to fight another week and the loser cleaning out his locker.

It might be the last time they spar when the stakes are so high. In 2006, the only other time the Ravens and Colts met in the playoffs, Lewis and the Ravens' defense kept Manning out of the end zone, but the Colts still managed to escape with a 15-6 victory, and went on to win the Super Bowl.

"This journey has been up and down, but we are on a great journey right now," Lewis said. "We know that is probably the best quarterback of the last 10 or 20 years, bottom line."

Said Manning, "It's always a great challenge playing against No. 52."

But Lewis, unlike Manning, is no longer at the height of his powers. Any objective observer - layman or expert - can see that age has slowed Lewis' considerable gifts. Although he led the AFC in tackles this season with 134, he is not the sideline-to-sideline tornado of focused fury that he was during the peak of his career.

But after watching the Ravens' 33-14 throttling of the New England Patriots Sunday - a game in which Lewis had 13 tackles, including a sack so vicious it looked as if Tom Brady had been trampled under the hooves of a thundering bull - you realize it might not matter that he is not as swift or as quick as he once was.

"I've never been around a better defensive player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "But more than that, what a great leader, what a great guy, what a great mentor to our younger guys. I think he plays really hard and he never takes a play off. He's on the field every single play. He's not 26 anymore, but he has a bank of knowledge about the game. When a guy has that kind of a foundation football-wise, his study means that much more. He watches tape and he sees a lot more than that 26-year-old would see."

What's clear is that Lewis, 34, still believes he is the same player, the one who led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in the 2000 regular season, and is convinced he can do it again a decade later.

After all these years, he remains the public face of the Ravens' franchise, the one player remaining who connects the glories of the past with the expectations of the present. Every week, a different opposing fan base casts him as the villain - but it only seems to feed his desire.

And in football, a sport in which emotion plays a larger role than can be measured, especially in the postseason, that might be enough for Lewis to cheat Father Time a bit longer. That pre-game, in-your-face, chest-thumping sermon that Lewis delivers to his teammates can be viewed a bit differently these days. It's still his version of leadership, his call to arms. But it is also Lewis' weekly ritual in which he convinces himself, and cajoles himself, into believing he can still be great.

"He has a great way to kind of amp up his team and get them to play a whole other level," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "I think a lot of that has to do with that he just has an inner drive that's uncommon and a skill level that's unmatched."

Lewis' 14th season in a Ravens uniform has not been perfect. The Ravens defense has, at times, been as shaky as it's ever been during his tenure in Baltimore. And he has, on occasion, looked old, most recently when he had just five tackles in the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

But as turbulent as the season has been for the team, it has been essentially controversy-free for Lewis, a rarity when compared with recent years. No contract concerns, no feuding with former teammates, no criticism of the head coach on his radio show, no locker-room division.

"I'm just impressed with our whole defense, period, with having so many key starters out," Lewis said. Terrell "Suggs has been out, Ed [Reed] has been out and all these things, but you have all of these different guys who've really taken the time to say: 'Ray, come study with me. Show me how to do this, show me how to do that. Tell me what they're doing here, tell me what they're doing there.' And I think that's the thing that's most attractive, more than anything, is just how much these guys study. Because football doesn't change. Football will never change."

There is a mutual respect between Lewis and Manning, an understanding that even though they play on opposite sides of the ball, they approach their game preparation in a similar way. Asked Tuesday whether he had ever wondered what it would be like to watch film with Lewis, Manning conceded that he had not. But he loved the idea the more he thought about it.

"I think that would be a special opportunity," Manning said. "There are a certain amount of guys I would like to do that with, Ray probably being No. 1. It would be a unique opportunity I would cherish."

If there is a defining play for Lewis this season, an example where his desire, his intuition, and his film preparation took over to remind us he can still look like the Ray Lewis of yesterday, it's his fourth-down tackle of Darren Sproles behind the line of scrimmage that sealed the Ravens' win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 2.

That play wasn't about raw speed, strength or agility. It was about Lewis looking at the formation, sensing what was about to unfold and trusting that hunch.

There will likely be chances like that against the Colts. Chances to make plays and beat back Father Time. How many of them Lewis can make will go a long way in determining just how far the mystique can carry the man who created it.

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January 12, 2010 NFL U Roster Update

Check out the latest update to the 2009-2010 NFL U Rosters. There are a couple of new additions and a subtraction since our last update. You can also check out the MLB, and CFL rosters. Click here to see the proCane rosters.

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proCanes Wild Card Weekend Photos

Check out our Wild Card Weekend photos from around the the NFL of our proCanes. Click here or above on the proCanes Gallery link.

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Saints Sign Glenn Sharpe

Coach Sean Payton in his press conference today said: “First, a couple of practice squad transactions to announce; we signed offensive lineman Na’Shan Goddard – he’ll wear jersey 75. He was with the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad. And we signed cornerback Glenn Sharpe to our practice squad. He’ll wear jersey number 29. He was with Atlanta. We released from the practice squad cornerback Darrick Brown. Those are all practice squad transactions. Tomorrow we’ll discuss injuries; nothing today in regards to that. Most of the focal point in today’s practice was our base, first and second downs.”

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Cowboys Sign Leon Williams

The Cowboys made a roster move on Tuesday, signing linebacker Leon Williams to their reserve/future list.

Williams will officially join the team following the Cowboys' playoff run. Teams normally sign players to their reserve/future list when the season ends.

He was a fouth-round draft pick in 2006 by the Cleveland Browns and stayed there until he was cut in September.

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X factor: Willis McGahee, Ravens RB

A look at a player who could be a difference-maker this weekend.

Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl tailback Ray Rice is on a roll, rushing for 229 yards on 36 carries the past two weeks.
But so is Willis McGahee.

While Rice is getting national praise for his production, McGahee has quietly put up identical numbers in a reserve role his last two games. McGahee also has 229 rushing yards on 36 carries in that span, in addition to four touchdowns.

Look for McGahee, the second link in Baltimore's three-headed monster, to be a key factor in Saturday's playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts (14-2). In a matchup of contrasting styles, the Ravens’ running game will be significant in controlling the pace and keeping the Colts' high-powered offense off the field.

Last week Rice, McGahee and fullback Le'Ron McClain pounded the New England Patriots into submission during Baltimore's 33-14 wild-card victory. The Ravens (10-7) ran the football a season-high 52 times for 234 yards and four combined rushing touchdowns, forcing the Patriots to play from behind the entire game.

McGahee had 20 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown against New England. His 167-yard, three-touchdown performance in Week 17 against the Oakland Raiders clinched a wild-card berth for the Ravens.

Rice is Baltimore's big-play threat. But McGahee's responsibility to get the tough yards also is important. He led the Ravens with 12 rushing touchdowns during the regular season, and they will need his nose for the end zone again Saturday against Indianapolis.

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Shockey to give Saints offense a boost?

Coach Sean Payton said Jeremy Shockey (toe) was rested as a precaution down the stretch, and he's expected to be fine for this week.

Payton is counting on Shockey's return to give the Saints a boost in the passing game as well as run blocking. Though Shockey hasn't topped 50 yards in a game since Week 8, his numbers could benefit from H-back David Thomas' calf injury.

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Vikings' McKinnie vs. Cowboys' Ware is key matchup

The last time Minnesota left tackle Bryant McKinnie faced an elite pass rusher, things didn't end well for Brett Favre and the Vikings.

Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers so thoroughly dominated McKinnie on Dec. 20 that he was benched for the second half of the loss.

McKinnie still ended up making his first Pro Bowl this season. And if the Vikings are to advance to the NFC championship game, they will need McKinnie to play like it against Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

Ware has 11 sacks this season and is one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. When the Cowboys come to the Metrodome on Sunday for their NFC divisional playoff game against the Vikings, he'll have his sights set on Favre and running back Adrian Peterson.

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Groundbreaking Held For 'Wayne's World' Complex

NEW ORLEANS -- Crews broke ground Tuesday on a massive family entertainment complex in Marrero to be called "Wayne's World."

The project is being built at the site of the old Belle Promenade Mall. It will be 58,000 square feet of entertainment, including bowling lanes, laser tag, game rooms, a restaurant, snack bar and more.

Wayne's World, near the intersection of Barataria and Lapalco boulevards, is expected to bring in 140 jobs and cost $160 million.

It's a longtime dream of Reggie Wayne, an Indianapolis Colts player who grew up in Marrero.

The project is expected to be complete by the end of 2010.

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Testaverde Sells Oyster Bay Cove Mansion

The former Jets quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, has sold his Oyster Bay Cove home for $3.1 million, according to the Long Island Real Estate Report.

Vinny Testaverde has first listed his property for sale in October 2007 for $6.995 million. He has put down the price for several times, the most recent was put down to $3.995 million.

The 13,000-square-foot gated center hall Colonial mansion has six bedrooms, a gym, a sauna and a steam room. The mansion also features a movie theater, a basketball court and a heated gunite pool with a 20-foot waterpool.

Testaverde and wife, Mitzi, now live in Florida in a mansion they paid $4.5 million for in 2007.

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I bet some of you had no idea of the BIG grind Ray Lewis is doing off the field to make positive things happen. Reggie Howard and Ray Lewis both are partnered together as the strong forces behind AAG Foundation.  The AAG Foundation’s mission: Empowering athletes to impact communities through education and social development.  With hard works of  philanthropy  and the creation of several successful programs AAG’s mission is within a attainable distance.  To get more information about AAG visit the site here. 

Ray Lewis represents what athletes should be doing for their respective communities!  I look forward to having the opportunity of working with him in the near future.

Please visit AllStarGrind.com “Events” page to stay posted on the events AAG Foundation will be having in Miami, Florida next month.

A Big Thanks to proCane fan Ryan Justis for bring our attention to this article.

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Wilfork can’t turn up nose to new uniform

FOXBORO - As the final seconds ticked down yesterday, Vince Wilfork [stats] wondered if he was playing his last game in a Patriots [team stats] uniform. The nose tackle has played out his six-year rookie deal, and while his preference is to remain with the Pats, Wilfork isn’t opposed to wearing another uniform.

“As the time ticked off that clock, it kind of dawned on me,” Wilfork said following the 33-14 season-ending wild card playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. “I told my teammates, the guys I play with on that defense, ‘I don’t know if this is the last game I play with you or not, but if it is, man, I love you and I’m gonna miss you.’ We’ll go from here and see what happens.”

Wilfork, who put on a fur coat before leaving, told a Miami-based reporter he could envision playing there, or anywhere else.

“Yes, I can. I surely can,” said Wilfork, who grew up in Florida and attended the University of Miami, when asked if he can see himself putting on a different uniform next season. “This whole process, I’ve done what’s best for my family first, and it’s going to be first, now . . . it’s a business. Stuff happens all the time. People come, people leave all the time. Whatever happens, happens. It’s not up to me to stay here.”

The Pats do have some leverage. They can apply their lone franchise tag, which would lock up Wilfork for only a year. Wilfork’s preference all along has been to get a long-term deal done, and remain with the Patriots. He made it very clear he would not be happy receiving the franchise tag.

“Of course, I would,” he said when asked if he’d be upset. “I want a long-term deal. That’s something that, me and my wife, we want, and we’re gonna try and get a long-term deal done. So that’s first and foremost. So we’ll hit that. I’ll talk to my agent and we’ll see what’s going on in that area, and we’ll go from there.”

Wilfork led the team with 13 tackles in the season-ending loss. He played the nose and moved over to end on some plays.

“I hate to lose. It was very disappointing to me,” Wilfork said. “We played this game like it wasn’t a playoff game. . . . We talked all week how we needed to step our game up and we didn’t, and it showed.”

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No time for Ravens’ Lewis to rejoice

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Ray Lewis(notes) was in full postgame sartorial splendor: a three-piece, multi-color, multi-pattern, multi-fabric suit with a fedora that matched the jacket, of course. Mere mortals can’t pull off such an outfit. Lewis somehow made it look professorial, a man in full.

He’d just delivered four solo tackles, nine assists and a sack in the Baltimore Ravens’ 33-14 humbling of the New England Patriots here. He was again and forever the centerpiece of the Ravens’ demolition defense, a seeming rite of January in the NFL. Playoffs come, playoffs go and Ray Lewis hits someone. He would waste little time afterward reflecting, let alone rejoicing, in his eighth postseason triumph though.

His mind was on what was next, a Saturday night showdown in Indianapolis; one star quarterback (Tom Brady(notes)) vanquished, another star quarterback (Peyton Manning(notes)) waiting.

“I will [study] film on the plane going home,” he promised. “I give my team the 24-hour rule, but for myself, it’s back to work.”

My team. As sure as Manning can make the same claim with the Colts, Lewis can with the Ravens. He sets the rules and in some way has for 14 seasons now, since he arrived from the University of Miami to give a fledgling franchise an identity in its new city. As always, the Ravens are about defense, trying to duplicate the 2000 season when a club shy on offense won a Super Bowl anyway.

Lewis is 34 now and clinging to his abilities. While he’s still very good, he’s not what he was a decade ago, when he played middle linebacker at a level few have ever achieved. He’s slower and not as strong, yet often he’s just as productive. To compensate, the future Hall of Famer works harder than the rest.

You can see why time is of the essence, why film study would begin before the wheels were up on the team charter plane. There are only so many chances left for Lewis and his Ravens, only so many playoff runs possible. The team missed the postseason four of six years in the middle of the last decade. He knows chances can be fleeting, that Super Bowl runs can come out of nowhere.

So the fact that few people are picking Baltimore to go into Indy and defeat a team they haven’t beaten since 2001 isn’t a big deal to him. Few thought they’d come to New England and crush the Patriots.

This is the era of offense, the playoffs of the quarterback – Manning, Brett Favre(notes), Kurt Warner(notes), Drew Brees(notes), Philip Rivers(notes), Tony Romo(notes) (heck, even rookie Mark Sanchez(notes) with the New York Jets) are the focus. It was the same way with Brady, Donovan McNabb(notes), Carson Palmer(notes) and Aaron Rogers until they were eliminated.

In Baltimore though, it’s old school. It would be that way even if Joe Flacco(notes) wasn’t nursing a contusion to one of his quadriceps that has severely limited him (he was just 4-of-10 for 34 yards against New England).

This team’s focus is on its ability to stop the ball and that unit’s focus is Lewis. He isn’t the best player anymore; Ed Reed(notes) and others are in their prime. He is the leader though – from giving one of his patented speeches in the huddle before a critical third down, to fanatical midweek preparation, to setting the tone on the postgame flight.

“We know what is going to be coming up next week playing in Indy,” Lewis said. “We know that [Manning] is probably best quarterback in the last 10 to 20 years. So here we go again.”

Indeed, here he goes again.

Around the Ravens, they marvel at Lewis’ consistency, his determination, his ability to remain motivated week in and week out, for years on end. They try to remind themselves not to take him for granted. For nearly a decade and a half the franchise hasn’t had to worry about the middle of its defense.

“I’d like to know if there has ever been a linebacker that has done it like this for this long and played this many snaps,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He never comes off the field. I just think he works hard at it. He’s in tremendous condition, and he knows the game probably better than any linebacker that has ever played – all parts of it – run game, pass game, the whole deal.”

Lewis’ reputation hinges on his intensity, yet he’s spent this postseason encouraging perspective. Maybe he’s getting nostalgic. Maybe he thinks playing loose is the only way for Baltimore. Whatever it is, he’s replaced those do-or-die pregame speeches with constant reminders to “have fun.”

“Grab those moments,” he’s told teammates. “Have fun with these moments.”

No one knows how many more moments there will be for Lewis. He doesn’t care right now. There is another, Saturday in Indy where a fresh challenge awaits, this time trying to force Manning into the same mistakes as Brady.

“Peyton will be their key,” Lewis said.

He didn’t look worried when he said that. He looked excited. It’s January, it’s the playoffs and Lewis is still prowling behind the line of scrimmage. He’s made many (although certainly not all) forget about off-field issues with on-field endurance. He comes to compete. He comes to play. He comes to win. Always.

“A great journey,” he called it, this season, this career. Now it’s onto Indianapolis – one more chance, one more playoff game for the old middle linebacker. One more here we go again for Ray Lewis.

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NEW, FREE Willis McGahee Wallpaper

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

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Mitchell: 'Clinton could've worked harder'

Not many - if any - of Jim Zorn's assistants are expected to be around next season. We know now for sure that running backs coach Stump Mitchell won't be.

Mitchell, who has taken the head-coaching job at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., had a lot to say today about Clinton Portis - and it's clear that this will be one of the toughest, most important and most pressing questions Mike Shanahan and his staff will face.

Mitchell gave Shanahan his final report on the 2009 running backs, and while he didn't reveal the report's details, he didn't mince words in a telephone conversation Monday afternoon.

Asked whether Portis would benefit from improved practice habits and better conditioning, Mitchell said, "that's a slam dunk. Clinton could've worked harder."

"He's got to do that, and Dan" -- owner Daniel Snyder -- "has to understand that that's what has to be done. In order for the Redskins to be successful, that's what Clinton has to do. He has to change the way he's done things in the past, in order for them to be successful as a team."

Mitchell thinks Portis is still capable of being a Pro Bowl-caliber running back in the league, but only if he prepares like one.

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Rolle Never Wants To Face Rodgers Again

Yahoo! Sports - The Cardinals may have advanced, but Arizona defensive back Antrel Rolle never wants to face Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers again.

"Let me tell you something – that dude is scary," Rolle said of Rodgers. "We have a great defense, and we were up on him and ready to pounce, and he found ways to tear us apart.

"I don't ever want to face him again in my life. I am dead serious. I'll face Drew Brees any day of the week before I face him again."

Rodgers completed 28-for-42 passes, throwing for 422 yards and four touchdowns in Green Bay's 51-45 overtime loss to Arizona.

"Hey, nobody ever said the guy was a bad player. But to have him actually do what he did to us in the second half was unbelievable. He was on fire. The whole half. The guy was just amazing," added safety Adrian Wilson.

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McKinnie looking to correct wrongs

Bryant McKinnie wasn’t surprised by the line of questioning. The last time he faced a motivated, Pro Bowl edge rusher, things didn’t go too well.

On Dec. 20 against the Carolina Panthers, Vikings coaches pulled McKinnie in the second half after the left tackle struggled against defensive end Julius Peppers. McKinnie, who ended up making the Pro Bowl for the first time in his eight-year career, surrendered a sack, had a holding call and a false-start penalty before being replaced by Artis Hicks.

“Wow, I had one game and I didn’t do good,” McKinnie said. “Really if you look at the film, he got a sack on me. Other than that, I got a holding call that … not really sure if that was holding. Then I had an offsides and that was basically because our center didn’t hear the cadence and me and (right tackle Phil Loadholt) took off, so it made it look like I was all panicky about (Peppers), but I wasn’t.”

McKinnie and the Vikings returned to the Winter Park practice facility Sunday to begin preparations for the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs. For McKinnie, that means he will be seeing Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks in the regular season, a good amount.

McKinnie said he will likely be responsible for right defensive end Igor Olshansky, but Ware is often brought on blitzes. Linebacker Anthony Spencer can also move over to McKinnie’s side of the field. During Saturday’s wild card game against the Eagles, Ware had two sacks, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble, and Spencer had a sack and two tackles for a loss.

“The thing to realize is that he (Ware) has the capability to rush from both sides, and he does,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said. “I know he’s listed as the guy that stands on the left side of the offense, right side of the defense, but he shows up a good bit over on the other side, and then he and Spencer will show up together from time to time. So where you have an opportunity to help, you’re going to help, and if he’s not there, you may or may not help.”

Helping McKinnie was an issue in the Carolina game, and coaches took some responsibility for not doing that often enough.

Despite his struggles against Peppers, McKinnie said if he had to play general manager of a team and choose between the Peppers and Ware, he’d choose the latter since he is younger.

But the timing of McKinnie going against Peppers also had something to do with his performance. The game before Carolina, the Vikings faced the Cincinnati Bengals. During the Westwood One radio broadcast of the Bengals game, former Pro Bowl tackle Tony Boselli said that Bengals defenders picked up on a “tell” in McKinnie’s stance that helped them diagnose a run or a pass before the snap of the ball. Clearly, the dissemination of that information affected McKinnie.

Days after that game, McKinnie said he knew he had a “tell,” but he wasn’t aware other teams had picked up on it. He was determined to change his stance, but after his struggles with Peppers he has decided to go back to a more comfortable stance.

“I was trying to do something and it didn’t work,” McKinnie said. “I know not to do it no more, just adjusting my feet and all that stuff. So what if they know if it’s a run or pass? Instead of putting myself in an uncomfortable stance, just let them play.”

And there is another advantage McKinnie sees this Sunday. He is playing in front of the home crowd and doesn’t have to worry about crowd noise as much when the Vikings are on offense.

“There’s a difference, too, when you’re home and away. That makes a big difference,” he said. “It’ll be a different feel because I’ll actually be able to hear and then all that other stuff that I was doing before …”

Well, he can block it out and focus on playing up to his newfound Pro Bowl standing.

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

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John Salmons finding his 3-point range

John Salmons' routine never varies: He arrives early and stays late to work on his shot.

That's why his pronounced slump to start this season stung so much.

And while his 40 percent shooting overall still trails his career percentage of 44.3, he has recovered from a brutal start to make 19 of his last 32 3-pointers after shooting 4-of-6 Monday night.

"I just felt I was shooting too many," Salmons said. "I never lost confidence in making them. But I'm not a spot-up 3-point shooter and I fell into the habit of shooting a lot from that distance. Now I'm taking more in the context of the offense."

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Tim James helping the fight in Iraq

Tim James received a Christmas package a few days after the holiday, yet he was still as eager as a child to open the present.

The gift came from his alma mater, the University of Miami, as a gesture of appreciation. James ripped open the box, full of Hurricanes clothing and posters, and immediately began posting them on the wall and handing out T-shirts.

For a moment, he was able to act like a proud fan and not a soldier.

It's been exactly 16 months since James, a former Miami Heat first-round pick, enlisted in the Army. He's spent the last six months serving in Iraq at Camp Speicher in Tikrit, a base 85 miles north of Baghdad. He now has the title of Corporal, no longer a power forward.

"I work with a loyal Georgia Tech fan so I had to fight these battles about 'The U' and Tech," James said by phone. "I'm glad we beat them in football this year. [Sports] are actually a great outlet. It gives us something to talk about it. It makes us feel like we're home."

James, who turned 33 on Christmas, is a long way from his Liberty City roots, and the days of traveling first-class in the NBA. He describes his living conditions as comparable to a college dormitory, about 500 square feet. When he first arrived, fellow soldiers told him stories of having to shower outside, but indoor facilities have since been installed.

The 6-foot-7 James, known for his leaping ability as a player, spends most days refueling and preparing aircraft.

"[James] is staying pretty busy with the mission and upkeep of the fuel vehicles," Capt. Curtis Byron said via email. "A lot rests on his shoulders during his 12-hour shift."

Click here to read the rest of the story.

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NFL U Playoff Update

Who's in and Who's Out?
After the first round of NFL U playoffs some proCanes were eliminated and other made it to the next round.

Who's in?
Jeremy Shockey: Did Not Play, The Saints Had a First Round Bye, Play the Cardinals Next
Jonathan Vilma: Did Not Play, The Saints Had a First Round Bye. Play the Cardinals Next
Calais Campbell: Cardinals defeated the Packers, Play the Saints Next
Antrel Rolle: Cardinals defeated the Packers, Play the Saints Next
Willis McGahee: Ravens Defeated the Patriots, Play the Colts Next
Ray Lewis: Ravens Defeated the Patriots, Play the Colts Next
Ed Reed: Ravens Defeated the Patriots, Play the Colts Next
Tavares Gooden: Ravens Defeated the Patriots, Play the Colts Next
Reggie Wayne: Did Not Play, The Colts Had a First Round Bye, Play the Raves Next
Bryant McKinnie: Did Not Play, The Vikings Had a First Round Bye, Play the Cowboys Next

Who's Out?
Antonio Dixon: The Eagles were Eliminated by the Cowboys
Orien Harris: The Bengals were Eliminated by the Jets
Vince Wilfork: The Patriots were Eliminated by the Ravens
Brandon Meriweather: The Patriots were Eliminated by the Ravens

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proCanes Stats From the 1st Round of the Playoffs

Vince Wilfork: 13 tackles, 9 solo tackles, 1 tackle for loss

Brandon Meriweather: 4 tackles, 3 solo tackles

Jeremy Shockey: Did Not Play, The Saints Had a First Round Bye

Jonathan Vilma: Did Not Play, The Saints Had a First Round Bye

Calais Campbell: 2 solo tackles

Antrel Rolle: 13 tackles, 9 solo tackles

Willis McGahee: 20 carries, 62 yards, 1 TD, 1 catch 13 yards

Ray Lewis: 13 tackles, 4 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss

Ed Reed: 4 tackles, 2 solo tackles, 2 pass deflections, 1 Interception returned 25 yards

Tavares Gooden: 1 solo tackle

Reggie Wayne: Did Not Play, The Colts Had a First Round Bye

Antonio Dixon: 1 solo tackle, 1 tackle for loss

Orien Harris: Was Inactive

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Fateful day for ex-Miami Hurricanes

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Baltimore Ravens wear purple, but several of the stars on this team said they still bleed green and orange -- the colors of the University of Miami.

The Baltimore roster is replete with former Canes, and we're not just talking the guys at the bottom of the roster.
Ed Reed is the starting free safety. He had an interception and a 25-yard return Sunday that helped set up a touchdown.

Ray Lewis is the starting middle linebacker. He led the Ravens with 13 tackles, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss.

Willis McGahee is the team's change-of-pace running back. He carried the ball 20 times for 62 yards and one touchdown.

The Ravens, it should be noted, rushed 52 times for 234 yards against and four touchdowns against the Patriots.

``We had a good running game coming in,'' McGahee said, ``but busting the first run just opened everything up. We had three different styles of runners coming in, and we just switched it up and they didn't know how we were going to run the ball. It was a great feeling.''

Not all former Hurricanes went home happy Sunday.

Brandon Meriweather and Vince Wilfork play for the Patriots.

``I feel for Vince,'' Reed said. ``He's a Hurricane, so you know he came to play [Sunday]. Hurricanes don't quit. When we played there, we played a lot of big games and always expected to win. We always expected to go undefeated.''

The Ravens will play Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who beat Baltimore 17-15 this season.

``I will be [studying] film on the plane going home,'' Lewis said. ``I give my team the 24-hour rule, but for myself, it's back to work. This journey has been up and down. We are on a great journey right now. We know what is going to be coming up next playing in Indy. We know that [Peyton Manning] is probably the best quarterback in the last 10 to 20 years. So here we go again.''

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Lewis, Reed have Belichick's respect

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - In the wake of any game, and particularly in a loss, glad-handing isn't something that seems to interest Bill Belichick all that much. Just ask Eric Mangini, or any of the other coaches with whom he's shared an awkward handshake.

But after yesterday's AFC wild-card game

with the Baltimore Ravens - a 33-14 loss for his Patriots - the New England coach lingered a while. Amid the collection of players, cameramen and assorted personnel that had gathered on the field, he made a point to seek out two players in particular for a post-game hug. The first was Ed Reed. The second was Ray Lewis.

And each proved again yesterday why Belichick holds in such high regard.

Lewis had a sack among 13 tackles and two quarterback hurries, while Reed had a key interception and got his hands on another pass, as the two enduring icons of Baltimore's long-dominant defense each made his presence felt with yet another big-time postseason performance.

"We really came out and had fun," Lewis said. "That was my message all week: Have fun, grab those moments and have fun with these moments."

The bigger the moment the better Lewis and Reed seem to play, and yesterday was no different. Both were major difference makers in the first-quarter blitz that netted Baltimore a 24-0 lead, as Lewis burned through the middle of the Patriots line, bowled over Laurence Maroney and buried Tom Brady seven yards behind the line to stunt New England's second drive, then Reed came up with a tipped pass to pick the quarterback and set up a field goal.

"Being in this league for so many years, I have watched the greatest of the New England Patriots, so you have to tip your hat to them," Lewis said. "They are one of the top-notch programs in professional football - three championships in the last 10 years. You have to erase all that and just come play football. We played a heck of a football game today."

Both Lewis and Reed said Baltimore did exactly what it set out to do. It wanted to jump out on the Patriots, then give Brady a variety of looks. They wanted to make him think they were blitzing when they weren't; and they didn't want him to identify the blitz when they were.

"Bottom line is," Lewis said, "if you can get to Brady and rattle him early you have a great chance."

And, as evidenced by his level of respect, Belichick knows full well that any team with Lewis and Reed always has a great chance, too.

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Lewis -- amazingly, surprisingly -- gets first sack of playoff career

Ray Lewis' 7-yard takedown of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is -- astonishingly -- the first of 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker's career. That's somewhat mind-boggling considering that Lewis has been such a defensive presence in this, his 12th, postseason contest.

Lewis' sack -- when paired with Terrell Suggs' takedown earlier in the game -- gives the Ravens two already. Brady had been sacked just once in his last five games. (Tip of the hat to Ravens website content writer and coordinator Mike Duffy for that piece of info.)

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Reed Getting Healthy

Free safety Ed Reed played without incident in his second game since returning from a groin tear. He intercepted one pass.

Reed admitted that he wasn’t sure if he was going to be healthy enough to play this well this soon.

“I wasn’t sure, honestly,” he said. “I just tried to do everything with the trainers and my doctors, as much as I could to be back for this moment. I am still not 100 percent, but I feel good and still have some treatment to get done.”

Reed intercepted a pass deflected by Foxworth in the first quarter to set up a field goal.

“I saw Domonique made a great read and tipped the ball up,” Reed said. “It’s all about finishing in this game, and that’s what it was, just finishing on the play and hoping it would stay up there a little longer.

“Honestly, I was hoping we would tip it because that is the only way I would pick Brady off and he knew it. I am sure he is shooting himself in the foot.”

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

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McGahee gets 21 touches in win

Willis McGahee ran for 62 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and caught a 13-yard pass in the Ravens' Wild Card round win.

McGahee's 21 touches were more than he had all regular season, and made possible by Baltimore's monster early lead. He is playing well, but Ray Rice and LeRon McClain got goal-line work in the first quarter. McGahee scored from three yards out in the fourth, though it was essentially "garbage time."

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

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Those from Miami are truly letter men

OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Matt Birk had just wrapped up his question-and-answer session with the media Wednesday at the Baltimore Ravens’ indoor practice facility. Glancing behind him, Birk saw that teammate Ray Lewis was next in line to take the microphone.

“Heeeere’s Ray Lewis,’’ Birk said, giving the Pro Bowl linebacker a showman’s introduction.

Then, raising his hands and connecting them at the thumbs so that they formed a large letter “U,’’ Birk reminded everyone where Lewis played college football.

“He’s from ‘The U,’ ’’ said Birk, the veteran center.

Leave it to a Harvard man to spell it out.

“I’m still trying to get an ‘H,’ but I can’t figure out how you do that with your hands,’’ Birk joked.

The ubiquitous “U’’ hand signal has become a calling card of sorts for those NFL players who hail from the University of Miami. But it represents more than just a show of school spirit. It is a legacy of pride and passion upheld by those who have toiled - and still toil - in the South Florida heat and humidity, playing for the Hurricanes.

“Oh yeah, it’s just a history, man,’’ Lewis said. “It’s just a legacy of great players. These guys have been around a long time. Hurricanes come and they go.’’

Said Birk, “They’re a tight-knit group, all those guys, you know? They’re proud of where they went, and rightfully so.’’

Today, when the Patriots host the Ravens in a wild-card playoff matchup at Gillette Stadium, there will be six members of “The U’’ on hand, with nose tackle Vince Wilfork and safety Brandon Meriweather dressing for New England and linebackers Tavares Gooden and Lewis, safety Ed Reed, and running back Willis McGahee for Baltimore. They are among 14 Miami players listed on NFL playoff rosters this year, 10 of whom are starters, seven headed to the Pro Bowl.

“You’ll see a young Vince Wilfork over there and you’ll see a Meriweather over there,’’ said Lewis. “Anytime I’m on the field, I’m ‘Pops.’ But these are babies that you watched pretty much your whole career.’’

No matter what side of an NFL field they find themselves on, Hurricanes share a bond, a respect for one another, and pride in where they’re from.

“When we play against those players, we’re not out to hurt those guys,’’ McGahee said. “We’re out to beat ’em, but we’re not out to hurt ’em. Now, if we’re playing against somebody from Florida State? Aw, man, we don’t care anything about you.

“But I remember playing against Ray when I was in Buffalo and he tackled me and he was like, ‘C’mon young ’Cane, get up young ’Cane!’ ’’ McGahee recalled. “When I play against [Jonathan] Vilma [of the Saints], me and Vilma played together in school but we had this rivalry. It’s not like we hated each other, but it was like, ‘I’m gonna outdo you today,’ or he was trying to get a big hit on me.

“But at the end of the day, we always come back and it’s, ‘Good job, I’ll getcha next time.’ ’’

When the Patriots beat the Ravens, 27-21, Oct. 4 at Gillette Stadium, Meriweather was the best safety from “The U’’ on the field that day, better even than his mentor, Reed.

“He’s like my big brother, man,’’ Meriweather said. “Whenever I need advice or whenever I’m playing bad and I need someone to talk to, he’s always the one I call. He’s always been there with good advice.

“It’s like family playing against family - whenever you get a chance to play against family, you always want to win, so when you go home you have something to talk about.’’

In the mid-to-late ’80s, the Hurricanes were a force. Back then, it seemed, winning national championships was strictly “A ’Cane Thing,’’ with Miami capturing three of its five titles in 1987, 1989, and 1991. That dominance reflected Miami’s impressive assemblage of talent, which at first was culled largely from the stocked talent pools in South Florida.

“It’s a football program that’s had a lot of success and turned out a lot of good players,’’ Birk noted. “A lot of good pros.’’

Four went on to be immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, beginning with Jim Otto in 1980. He was followed by Ted Hendricks in 1990, Jim Kelly in 2002, and Michael Irvin in 2007.

“I don’t know who the Godfather of The U was, because you had a lot of them,’’ McGahee said. “You had Jerome Brown, you got Cortez Kennedy, you got Warren Sapp, you got Ray Lewis, and Michael Irvin, people like that. There’s a lot of great players. Bernie Kosar . . . Jim Kelly . . . Vinny Testaverde.

“You just can’t single any one person out at The U. That’s why we say it’s The U.

“When we hold up that ‘U,’ everybody knows what time it is: ‘Oh, he went to the University of Miami. You can’t say that anywhere else. It’s all about The U.

“At one point in life, everybody wanted to go to the University of Miami. I don’t care if it was even for a day or two. It was because of the colors we were, or the visors I wore - everybody wanted to be a part of it at one point.’’

For those who were, and still are, a part of that football fraternity, there remains a strong need to uphold their school’s reputation.

“It’s an honor,’’ Lewis said. “That’s why when the game is over - win, lose, or draw on each side - you got to go over and congratulate the other one, because that’s the way we’re built.

“It’s just like back when we were on the schoolyard in college, when we competed against each other. We’d do whatever we had to do to win, but after the day is over, then it’s over, and we’re back to being brothers.’’

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Wilfork: Long-term deal is goal

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Nose tackle Vince Wilfork reiterated his desire to remain with the New England Patriots, but he emphasized he would be upset if the team assigns him the franchise tag.

Wilfork has played out his initial six-year contract and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. His ability to fully experience the free-agent process, however, could be restricted if the Patriots put the franchise tag on him.

"I want a long-term deal," Wilfork said when asked about his situation following the team's 33-14 loss to the Ravens in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs. "That's something me and my wife [Bianca], we want. We're going to try to get a long-term deal done, that's first and foremost."

Wilfork, who is the team's top free agent, said he could imagine himself playing for another team.

"This whole process I think was best for my family -- family first," Wilfork said of a year in which he didn't show up for voluntary minicamps in the spring as a statement of displeasure with his contract, but later showed for all mandatory activities.

Wilfork, who was recently named to his second Pro Bowl, missed the last three games of the season with an ankle injury before playing in Sunday's game against the Ravens. He also addressed his contract situation in a press conference in late December after the Pro Bowl announcement.

"I truly believe that if you do the right thing, it will work itself out," he said at the time. "I'm sticking by that. It will work itself out, sooner or later. It will come to a time where it has to work itself out. Whatever happens, happens. That's how I am going to take it. I've been taking it like that and I'm going to continue to take it the same way -- address it at the end of the year, after football, and go forward from there."

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

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Bears should lock tight end Olsen into a long term deal

Sketchy selections in recent drafts have provided one fewer complication for the Bears this offseason.

They won't have to hand out any record-breaking contracts to players who have completed their rookie pacts.

The best player from the Bears' 2006 draft class -- receiver Devin Hester -- already has been locked up with a long-term deal, and the remaining players from that class -- safety Danieal Manning, defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, linebacker Jamar Williams and defensive end Mark Anderson -- won't become unrestricted free agents, as scheduled, unless the NFL and the NFL Players Association agree on a new collective bargaining agreement by March 5.

Given the pessimism about a new CBA, the Bears will be able to limit the mobility of those players and match any offer from another club.

But a close analysis of the Bears' contracts highlights one player the team should try to lock up for the long term: tight end Greg Olsen.

Selected 31st in the first round of the 2007 draft, Olsen has increased his catches, receiving yards and touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. He finished tied for fourth among tight ends with eight receiving touchdowns this season, and he was 10th with 60 catches.

Olsen's numbers have been stunted by the presence of veteran Desmond Clark, who continues to be a consistent producer, but he has flashed enough potential that the Bears might be best served trying to sign him to a long-term deal now.

Olsen, at least, would want to listen. He is scheduled to make a base salary of $550,000 next season, a modest amount for a player with his credentials. In addition, for 2011 -- the final season of his rookie deal -- Olsen has triggered an escalator that will boost his $650,000 base salary to between $1 million and $2 million.

From his perspective, Olsen has to weigh the risk of waiting two more years before he gets a chance to land a new, lucrative contract.

One person who certainly doesn't want him to be anxious is his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. In April, Rosenhaus negotiated a six-year, $36 million contract for Kellen Winslow Jr. after he was traded from the Cleveland Browns to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The deal, which includes $20 million in guarantees, is the richest in NFL history for a tight end.

Olsen surely knows all of this and expects to get his own monster deal. That's where Rosenhaus might have some trouble.

The leverage is presently in the Bears' court because they've got Olsen under contract for two more seasons. Meanwhile, they're looking at the six-year contract Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek signed in early December. That deal is worth about $30 million and includes about $10.5 million in guarantees.

Olsen certainly could justify expecting a richer contract than Celek; he has more catches, yards and touchdowns over the last three seasons. In addition, he hasn't enjoyed the quarterback stability Celek has with Donovan McNabb.

But the greater challenge for Rosenhaus is Winslow's deal. Winslow is a one-time Pro Bowl selection (in 2007), but he hasn't fulfilled expectations since being selected sixth overall in the 2004 draft. He has had a host of off-the-field issues and has scored only one more touchdown than Olsen, despite playing in 14 more games.

This might be a tricky negotiation for the Bears and Rosenhaus. But the Bears would be wise to strike a deal to reward one of their few draft picks who clearly has a future in Chicago.

As for Rosenhaus, he has done plenty of business with the Bears. But the ball in these negotiations isn't in his court.

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

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Salmons Heating Up

John Salmons appears to have found comfort coming off the bench, hitting double digits in six of his last seven games, averaging 13.6 points and shooting 50 percent over that span. That includes a three-point hiccup against Oklahoma City that drags the averages down.

"Just been knocking them down lately," Salmons said with a shrug. "Shooting comes and goes. Got to ride it while it's hot."

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Giants agree to terms on one-year deal with Huff

The San Francisco Giants and first baseman Aubrey Huff agreed to a one-year contract pending a physical, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Sunday night.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hasn't made a formal announcement, which might not come until later in the week once all the details are finalized. Huff and the Giants reached their preliminary agreement sometime during the weekend.

Acquiring a reliable left-handed bat with power was one of Giants general manager Brian Sabean's top priorities this offseason leading into the start of spring training next month in Scottsdale, Ariz. — and one of the final things still on his winter to-do list.

While San Francisco's pitching has been stellar — led by two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum — upgrading the offense was considered an key step for this club in order to get back to the playoffs after a six-year drought.

The 33-year-old Huff was traded from Baltimore to Detroit in August. He batted .241 with 15 homers and 85 RBIs in 150 games between the two teams.

San Francisco will be eager to have his offensive punch. The Giants ranked 29th out of the 30 major league teams for home runs in 2009 with 122, ahead only of the New York Mets (95). They also were 26th in runs with 657.

With the addition of Huff, manager Bruce Bochy will have options writing his lineup. While Huff is likely to play first and free-swinging slugger Pablo Sandoval probably will stay put at third, there's been talk of moving Sandoval to first — doable considering Huff also can play third. San Francisco last week re-signed utility infielder Juan Uribe to a $3.25 million, one-year contract, and Sabean said he is expected to play more regularly than his 122 games last season.

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Q&A with Tribe reliever Chris Perez

Kerry Wood remains in tow, but the Indians' closer-in-waiting very well may be Chris Perez.

Perez, acquired from the Cardinals in last year's Mark DeRosa trade, put together an impressive second half with the Tribe in '09. From July 8 through the end of the season, he put up a 2.90 ERA, striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings and not allowing a run over 20 consecutive appearances from July 8 through Sept. 5.

The expectation is that Perez will assume a prominent setup role in the Tribe bullpen in 2010. And if Wood is traded at any point, Perez could be the one to step into the ninth-inning duties.

In the meantime, MLB.com asked Perez a few questions to get to know his personality off the field.

If you weren't a professional ballplayer, what career path would you have followed?
I wanted to be an FBI agent, like a profiler or something. That's what I went to college for. I majored in criminology and minored in sociology. If baseball didn't work out, I'd try to do that, somehow.

How did you get into that field?
I just like figuring out clues and puzzles, and I like to travel. It just seemed kind of cool. And watching "CSI" got me thinking about doing that kind of stuff. There's also a show out now called "Criminal Minds" that's pretty good. I'd love to do something like that.

Did you have a job growing up?
Nothing serious. My dad owned a construction company, so I'd work with him in the summers. Digging ditches and hauling trash, stuff like that. But nothing serious.

What are your hobbies off the field?
I like to play video games, listen to music, fish. I'm going to try to learn how to play the guitar. I'm going to take lessons to see if I can do it.

What's your inspiration there?
I like classic rock, and I figured it would be something fun to do. Hopefully I can do it.

You're a fan of classic rock, so let's hear your top five bands.
Led Zeppelin is No. 1, the Beatles are No. 2, the Rolling Stones, ACDC and... I'll go with... The Who.

So what would your entrance music be if you were a closer?
In college and the Minors, it was "Firestarter" by Prodigy. So that's a little more modern.

Let's say you're stranded on a desert island and can bring one CD and one DVD with you. What would they be?
The CD would be Led Zeppelin IV. The DVD would have to be "Braveheart." It's long, so it would kill some time.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Australia. I've heard good things about it. Everyone I've talked to who has been there likes it. You've got the coast and the beach and the outback. And it's totally different than anywhere over here.

What's your most prized possession?
I've got an autographed picture of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron. I bought that. So that's probably up there.

What do you remember about your first car?
It was a 2001 Nissan Frontier. I was lucky. It was brand new. My dad bought it for me. I had it for about six years and beat it up pretty good. It was a trooper.

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