Kayne Farquharson IFL Player of the Week

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kayne Farquharson (WR, Nebraska Danger)

In a battle of two 4-1 teams, the Nebraska Danger outmaneuvered the Cedar Rapids Titans, 52-42, in one of the IFL's great early season matchups. Danger WR Kayne Farquharson emerged as the team's number one offensive threat in the back-and-forth affair. The two-time All-IFL WR caught six passes for 112 yards and three touchdowns against the IFL's number one rated pass defense. Farquharson also became the first WR to have a 100-yard performance against the Titans in 12 games. Thus far in 2015, Farquharson has caught 21 passes for 252 yards. He also leads the IFL with 10 touchdown receptions. Farquharson and the Danger face off against the Iowa Barnstormers this weekend.

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Detroit Lions 2015 NFL draft prospect: Duke Johnson

Leading up to the 2015 NFL draft, MLive.com writers Justin Rogers and Kyle Meinke will preview prospects who could be a fit for the Detroit Lions.

Name: Duke Johnson
Position: Running back
School: Miami
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 207 pounds
Projected round: Second-third
40-yard dash time: 4.54 seconds
Bench press reps: 18 reps

Key stats: Despite Miami's rich history of talented tailbacks, Duke Johnson finished as the school's all-time leading rusher in just three seasons.

Johnson racked up 3,519 yards on the ground, averaging an impressive 6.7 yards per carry, while adding another 719 yards as a receiver out of the backfield. Oh yeah, he also can return kicks. He didn't handle kickoffs in 2014, but the previous two seasons, he averaged 31.8 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.
How he fits: Johnson is a well-rounded back who offers additional value as a potential special teams contributor. While on the short side at 5-foot-9, he has enough weight on his frame to absorb the physical toll of the professional game.

More quick than fast, Johnson is a player who is elusive in the open field and can change direction with ease. It makes him a weapon as both on the edge and as receiver out of the backfield.

Johnson is also able to maximize his skill set as a kick returner. He didn't handle punts for the Hurricanes, but was successful doing it in high school.

Quotable: "Johnson's greatest asset is his burst. He doesn't have an elite second gear, but he reaches his top-end speed quickly. He doesn't shake defenders with highlight-reel moves, but he has the agility to make the first defender miss and he's a run-after-catch threat in the passing game. He runs really hard, but doesn't have the power base to regularly push the pile (he's tougher to tackle in space, with an effective stiff arm). He rates very well in terms of intangibles, but his durability is a concern that NFL teams will have to monitor." -- Todd McShay, ESPN.com

"Impressive acceleration. Alternately displays burst, agility and light feet to high-step through tackles and an effective stiff-arm. Patient runner willing to stretch plays and then hit the hole hard. Shows the "greasy knees" to cut and accelerate in one fluid motion, eluding would-be tacklers. Despite small stature, fights hard for every yard and shows a highly competitive nature." -- Rob Rang, CBS Sports

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Dolphins sign LaRon Byrd

LaronByrd 2
The Dolphins have met veteran wide receivers Greg Jennings and Michael Crabtree recently, but they signed a less familiar name on Wednesday.

Miami announced that they’ve signed LaRon Byrd to their 90-man roster. Byrd will be returning to the city where he played his college ball with the University of Miami Hurricanes and where he spent time on the practice squad last year.

Byrd has bounced around the league for the last few years, getting his first taste of playing time with the Cardinals in 2012 after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent. He was waived last April and played one game for the Browns between a pair of stints on the Cowboys roster. Byrd’s only reception, an eight-yard catch, came with the Cardinals in 2012.

That’s not a ton of experience, but the Dolphins depth chart at receiver is pretty short on it once you get past Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Rishard Matthews. Barring several additions to the group via the draft or other means, Byrd should compete for one of the lower spots in the pecking order.

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Phillip Dorsett, Devin Smith would best complement Eagles receivers Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff

Make no mistake about it — it is matter of when, not if, the Eagles will draft a wide receiver later this month in the NFL Draft.

That outcome became etched in stone when Jeremy Maclin signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving the Eagles without their top wide receiver from last season.
The good news is that like last year's draft, the Eagles will have plenty of talented receivers to choose from, as the draft class is considered especially deep at the position once again.

Leaving the Eagles to decide not only what receiver they want to draft, and when, but what kind, and which receiver best compliments Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff.

Matthews and Huff, both entering their second season, were early draft picks by the Eagles last year. Matthews, despite head coach Chip Kelly wanting to take him earlier, went in the second round. Huff was taken one round later in the third.

The high-draft picks the Eagles invested in them means both will be playing a prominent role in the offense next season, and any receiver drafted will be brought in to compliment, not replace them.

One thing is clear — the Eagles, even after losing Maclin, plan to keep Matthews as their slot receiver. One reason is that Matthews didn't learn all of the outside receiver position's routes last season, and only knows the slot position. Another? He was arguably the best slot receiver in the NFL last season.

Matthews, who finished with 67 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, trailed only Green Bay's Randall Cobb in catches, yards and touchdowns from the slot position.

His production, combined with the mismatch Matthews gets every week over a smaller nickle cornerback, means Matthews will spend next season right where he did last season — on the inside.

Like Matthews, Huff will also be playing the same role he did last season, he will just be playing more of it.

Huff saw limited action last season, the result of a shoulder injury he suffered in the preseason. The third-round pick ran only 106 routes, catching only eight catches for 98 yards. Of those 106 routes Huff ran, only six of them came from the slot.

Using Huff predominantly on the outside makes sense. He does not have the size Matthews does, and is better in space, as opposed to over the middle. He is perhaps the team's best receiver after the catch, as he forced six missed tackles in 210 snaps. By comparison, Riley Cooper forced only three missed tackles in 980 snaps.

With Huff manning one outside receiver position, and Matthews cemented on the inside, the Eagles will more than likely be drafting a receiver that specializes on the outside, as opposed to one built like Matthews, who excels in the slot.

Using that criteria, two receivers that make sense for the Eagles are Ohio State's Devin Smith and Miami's Phillip Dorsett.

While Huff and Matthews bring plenty to the table, neither bring the kind of straight-line, down-the-field speed the Eagles missed last season. That is where both Smith and Dorsett could add another dimension to the Eagles' offense.

Smith caught 33 passes for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, averaging a whopping 28.2 yards per catch. His big-play ability was backed up at the NFL Combine, when he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds.

Dorsett is another big-time playmaker that might compliment Matthews and Huff, as he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, and had at least one catch of 35-yards or more in seven games last season.

Both Smith and Dorsett are expected to be available when the Eagles go on the clock with the 52nd overall pick.

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Yasmani Grandal Unconcerned About Numbers Behind the Plate

“He’s been unbelievable back there,” Dodgers’ pitcher Zack Greinke said of his teammate and freshman Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, “His catching is better than advertised.” When it comes to Grandal’s “advertising,” the jury is still out. He’s universally hailed as one of the best pitch-framers in the league. From 2007-2013, Grandal created 4.1 strikes above average. In 2014, Grandal had 1,668.4 predicted strikes, or pitches that should have been called strikes. In actuality, Grandal caught 1,768 called strikes. The difference is 99.6, meaning that Grandal framed, or brought the pitch back into the strike zone, nearly 100 strikes that may not actually have been strikes. This 9.6 framing difference put him at thirteenth-best among all catchers in baseball last year, and his statistical history supports that.

On the other hand, Grandal’s defensive reputation has haunted him throughout his career—even from as far back as high school. Grandal has been on the leaderboards multiple times for passed balls; last year he tied for first with 12. In fact, Grandal would’ve passed two Tuesday night if the first hadn’t automatically advanced runners with a walk. Grandal also draws criticism for his low caught-stealing percentage, a career average of 16.4%.

Grandal’s recovery from right knee surgery aggravated him last year to the point where he’s said it’s affected his performance: “The whole passed-ball thing last year—I had limitations.” Grandal also hesitated to call his numbers behind the plate as indicative of weakness. “I don’t look at it as a weakness,” Grandal told Sonya Egoian from The Sports Journal Tuesday night. “I just need to get better at everything. It’s a game—things are going to happen no matter what. You’re going to have passed balls, you’re going to have guys steal on you. I need to work enough on every aspect of my defense to minimize that.”

Grandal has also drawn attention for his value as a switch hitter, adding to a very short list of switch-hitting Dodger catchers. “He’s got pop from both sides,” manager Don Mattingly said about Grandal’s hitting. Grandal posted low numbers from the right in 2014—he batted .241 from the left versus .167 from the right—but in 2013 and 2012 his average was much more comparable from both sides of the plate. “It’s just a matter of getting in a groove and having at-bats. As soon as I went out to the Dominican and got a lot of righty at-bats, my swing came around. It’s not a matter of whether I’m hitting badly or not, it’s a matter of repetition,” Grandal told The Sports Journal.

The Dodgers acquired Grandal for Matt Kemp in a trade with the San Diego Padres, a move that had Los Angeles fans mourning the loss of their big-name star, but, at 26, Grandal is only now approaching his peak, his pitch-framing stats far exceed those of former starting catcher A.J. Ellis—not an insignificant skill when strikes lead to strikeouts that lead to outs—and between Grandal and youngster slugger Joc Pederson, the Dodgers will easily make up, if not surpass, Kemp’s production at the plate. From both a financial and developmental standpoint, the Grandal-Kemp trade was sound, and the Dodgers’ confidence in Grandal, despite knowing about his defensive reputation, is surely a representation of that.

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Dolphins plan to re-sign proCane WR LaRon Byrd

The Miami Dolphins plan to re-sign former Hurricanes receiver LaRon Byrd this week, according to a source.

yrd played four years for the University of Miami, where he caught 106 passes for 1,254 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Last year, Byrd spent five weeks impressing Dolphins coaches while on the team's practice squad before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in early December.

The Dolphins placed Byrd, who is 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and runs a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash, on injured reserve with a practice squad designation.

He was an unrestricted free agent Miami wanted to re-sign, but couldn't until he passed his physical, which happened earlier this week.

Now Byrd will join a young receiving corp that  features Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Rishard Matthews, Matt Hazel, the team's 2014 sixth-round pick, and two newcomers, Michael Preston and Tyler McDonald.

After leaving UM,  Byrd was originally signed by the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 201, and played in four games as a rookie before being placed on injured reserve due to concussion symptoms.

Last season he spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Brown, making one appearance with the Browns before being released on Oct. 3. He joined the Dolphins shortly afterward and will now battle to make the 53-man roster or earn a practice squad spot.

During his NFL career Byrd has played in five games, but has only caught one pass for 8 yards while a member of the Cardinals in 2012.

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Draft Scout: Duke Johnson is no foundational back

Miami RB Duke Johnson "is an entertaining back who can explode in any direction at any time, sometimes a bit out of control and in haste," wrote NFLDraftScout.com's Frank Cooney.

"He can be a game-breaker with his talent or a back-breaker with his fumbles," Cooney wrote. "He is certainly worth a shot, but is not the guy to carry an NFL team on his back." Johnson has been compared to Chris Johnson in the past, but he's not quite the elite sprinter on the stop watch. Asked about his skills, Johnson replied: "Being able to receive out of the backfield is the No. 1 thing. I'm a mismatch with linebackers. I can catch the ball really well."

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Latest proCane Draft Buzz

It’s likely that Ereck Flowers will be the first Hurricanes player chosen in the NFL draft, which begins April 30.

It’s clear the Carolina Panthers, who own the 25th pick, really, really like him.

Flowers, the 6-foot-6, 324-pound offensive tackle who left UM after his junior season, fills an immediate need for the Panthers on the right side and could eventually move to the left side. He interviewed with Carolina at the NFL combine, visited the team and worked out for top brass. The team also sent several representatives to watch him at the Hurricanes’ April 1 pro day. The Charlotte Observer even flew their beat writer to do a profile on him (though as usual, Flowers didn’t talk).

If he’s available when Carolina picks, he’ll probably join Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin. But several analysts think he might not be.

In the slew of mock drafts we found online, Flowers is slotted as high as No. 9 overall. FoxSports.com’s Peter Schrager has him going at that spot, to the New York Giants.

Click here to read what Schrager, who has no other Hurricanes in his two-round mock, wrote about Flowers as well as the rest of the proCane potential draft picks by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post!

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Clive Walford, Beloved by Analytics

Name: Clive Walford
Position: Tight End
School: Miami
Height, Weight: 6-4, 254
Positional Rank: 2
Projected Round: 2

Clive isn’t the fastest tight end in the draft. He’s not the strongest nor the springiest. His numbers for his senior season at Miamiicon1 (44 catches, 676 yards, 7 TD) are nice but not spectacular.

And although Clive isn’t expected to have his name called in the first round this May, he is still regarded as a consensus top-two tight end prospect by most media outlets and would appear to be a nice fiticon1 in Dolphins aqua, aiding Ryan Tannehill in the middle of the field. Walford’s 40 time (4.8) may not tickle the average fan’s curiosity but the advanced metrics support Clive’s cause, as we learned via College Football Focus.

Walford ranked first among all draft-eligible tight ends in Yards Per Route Run (3.26), Yards Per Route Run vs. Power 5 Teams (3.38) and Slot Performanceicon1. NFL.com considers him a “very reliable blocker” with “NFL run-after-catch ability.” Watching his game footage, the sticky hands and sensational body control stand out and his beard represents a poor man’s James Harden.

Will the Dolphins (who have a pick in the first and second round but not the third) keep Clive in South Florida?

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Houston Texans Interested In Denzel Perryman?

According to Matt Hammond of Sports Radio 610, the Texans may have interest in drafting former Miami Hurricane linebacker Denzel Perryman.

Perryman was speaking with Sports Radio 610’s Triple Threat hosts when he made the statement that the Texans were “really interested in me” this past Wednesday.

Could there possibly be a match between the two parties?


The Texans are in the market for linebacker help, especially on the inside considering Brian Cushing‘s injury history. And there is even added uncertainty in the long-term with the other inside linebackers on the roster.

Honestly, the team’s inside linebacker core needs to become younger and more physical.

But what could Perryman bring that to the Texans defense?

Perryman, coming in at 5’11” and 236 pounds, has developed a reputation of being a hard hitter, and will take on offensive lineman in the second level.

From an analysis from Derek Stephens and Rob Rang of cbssports.com:

Lacks desirable height but has the look of a prototypical inside ‘backer with a stout, thick frame. Instinctive and tough. Showed improved closing speed and explosiveness as a tackler in 2014. Strong, active hands, agile feet and good use of leverage free him from blocks.

Tough, instinctive, and strong?

Sounds like Perryman is the type of linebacker the Texans need to add to bolster their defense, especially in certain run defense packages. He could be someone who challenges any running back who may break through the line, which is a trait that the team needs more of.

The Texans defense was ranked 10th against the run last season, but there is always room for improvement, right?

2014 statistics: 13 games, 79 tackles, 31 assists, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception

And his statistics seem to indicate that he is very active when on the field, and is not afraid to make tackles. He could also be a disruptive force on the second level in the NFL.

Perryman would be a nice compliment to Cushing’s style of play, especially if the veteran Texan continues to return to his pre-injury form throughout the 2015 season.

But what are the former Hurricane’s shortcomings on the field?

Per a NFL.com report from Lance Zierlein of SportsTalk 790:

Lacks coverage traits and is a liability in man coverage. Short levers won’t allow him to leverage blockers as a pass rusher. Slow to get off his spot and burst laterally, which causes him to miss some tackle opportunities.

If the Texans draft Perryman then it’s clear he wouldn’t assist much in against the pass, especially in man coverage which is concerning. He would then be limited to a run defender in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s system.

To overcome these potential shortcomings he will also need to possess or further develop the football instincts necessary for the NFL.  He would need to know where to position himself on the field at all times to counter some of the previously mentioned concerns.

Regardless, the Texans do need to add quality depth at inside linebacker and it seems that they have interest in the former Miami Hurricane.

But he has been projected to be taken in the late first or early second round in the NFL draft. So general manager Rick Smith may need to trade up from the 51st pick to the early second or late first round to be in the position to draft the young linebacker.

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Ereck Flowers reveals pre-draft visit with Giants

The Ereck Flowers pre-draft hype is building, with the Giants as the possible landing spot. They own the ninth overall selection in the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft.

Following an NJ Advance Media report several weeks back that had the Giants high on the University of Miami offensive linemen (and he landed at No. 9 in my most recent mock draft, see below) more evidence has recently been brought to the table. The team's brass attended his Pro Day and now Flowers told WalterFootball.com that he has a pre-draft visit in New Jersey.

"[The Giants] came for the pro day; I had dinner with them, and I have a visit set up with them," Flowers said.

Fox Sports' Peter Schrager also heard glowing reviews recently from several NFL sources who revealed there are multiple teams with Flowers as their No. 1 offensive lineman in the draft. Schrager also put Flowers at No. 9 for the Giants in his most recent mock draft.

Here are the basics on Flowers, per NFL.com and analyst Lance Zierlein:

Height: 6-6
Weight: 329 pounds
Arm Length: 34½
Hands: 9 7/8
40-Yard Dash: 5.31
Bench Reps: 37 (most at the NFL Scouting Combine)

"BOTTOM LINE While they have different body types, Flowers will have some of the same strengths and flaws 2014 first-round pick Greg Robinson had coming in. Flowers has the size, feet and talent to be a very good left tackle but he will be a work in progress unless he can eliminate some of the balance issues that could plague him."

Flowers is believed to be a plug-and-play NFL right tackle who also has the flexibility to slide inside to guard. Some view him as a potential future left tackle.

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Clive Walford can beat you in variety of ways

Miami TE Clive Walford is a multidimensional NFL weapon, posits ESPN's Louis Riddick.

"Walford going to give NFL defenses problems in 1 on 1 coverage in the [middle of the field] and in the seams," Riddick wrote. "And... he will compete as a blocker." Walford hasn't been able to show his stuff for scouts much this offseason while recovering from a hamstring injury, but he shows plenty on tape. We agree with Riddick's take, and see a Day 2 pick in a weak TE class.

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Chuck Pagano Successfully Recruits Andre Johnson, Again

INDIANAPOLIS – Back in 1999, Chuck Pagano’s job was not to let him get away.

Him was Andre Johnsonicon-article-link, who played his high school football less than six miles away from the University of Miami campus, where Pagano coached.

Johnson, a Parade All-American at Miami Senior High School, made Pagano one happy coach when he committed to the ‘U.’

More than a decade and a half later, the now 33-year old Johnson was again listening to recruiting pitches from Pagano.

A chance to recruit Johnson one more time was a surprise to Pagano, but served as another reminder of how life can work in the NFL.

During Johnson’s free agency visit to Indianapolis, Pagano was able to catch up with the man he coached at Miami and the wide receiver’s uncle.

"It's extremely exciting," Pagano said of reuniting with Johnson.

"No. 1, we're getting a really good football player, obviously. Having the relationship that I have with him, going all the way back to high school, recruiting him out of Miami High, knowing his family, knowing the type of man he is, the type of character he has, all that stuff comes into play. It's really cool for us to be back together again.”

When the Colts decided not to re-sign Reggie Wayne prior to the start of free agency, the void at the receiver position could have included a pre-requisite for another veteran to join the fold.

It wasn’t a requirement, but there’s no question that adding someone with the resume of Johnson was a quality that was definitely admired.

Johnson’s play still showed Pagano a productive receiver who hasn’t seen a major regression in his numbers.

“You still see a guy who is more than capable of stretching the defense, certainly somebody who our opponent can’t just line up and say, ‘Don’t worry about Andre Johnson.’” Pagano said.

“If they choose to double (T.Y. Hiltonicon-article-link) and take him out of the game, you have another guy on the other side, along with the rest of the guys on the roster who can still stretch the defense. He’s a big, possession type guy. He makes contested catches in traffic. He’s got a big catch radius, a big body. Those guys are hard to defend.”

The decision to part ways with Wayne is part of the business that Pagano does not enjoy.

In losing Wayne, Pagano wanted to find someone with similar characteristics and in doing so, another Miami product was about to call Indy home.

"I don't know if you can ever replace 87, matter of fact I know you can't replace guys like that, so you try to find somebody that can become like that guy," Pagano said.

"That mentor, that leader in that room, that brings that veteran presence, veteran leadership into that room to help the young guys. TY (Hilton) naturally going into his fourth year is going to have to assume some of that stuff. He's got to grow into that role. Obviously having a guy like Andre that's played 12 years is going to be a huge help as far as that's concerned."

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Ray Lewis Named Top 50 NFL Draft Pick of All-Time

After watching Ed Reed nab the #50 spot in NFL.com’s top 50 draft picks of all-time, we knew it was only a matter of time before his legendary running mate – Ray Lewis – saw his name pop up on the list.  It took a while, but Lewis has come in at number 22 on what is shaping up to be a pretty incredible list of names.

The Baltimore Ravens selected Ray Lewis at number 26 in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft, and the move turned out to be worth every penny and more.  Lewis went on to collect 13 Pro Bowl nominations, two Super Bowl rings, and a Super Bowl MVP.  He will go down as one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the NFL, and was a major catalyst for one of the greatest NFL defenses in history.

Ray Lewis spent an incredible 17 years in Baltimore and may never be replaced as the face of the franchise.  He was famous not only for his stellar play on the field, but also his fiery nature and once in a lifetime leadership ability.

Over 228 career games, Lewis piled up 2,050 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, 31 interceptions, and 119 passes defensed.  He rightfully has a place in the upper half of NFL.com’s list, and he will likely remain at the top of Ravens’ fans lists for generations to come.

Coincidentally, the Ravens pick at number 26 again in 2015.  Can lightning strike twice, perhaps?

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Allen Bailey Hosts Football Camp at MCA

It's always nice to see local athletes not only make it to the professional level, but also come back home to give back....practically all of them do, but this morning it was Kansas City Chief and Macintosh County Academy grad Allen Bailey's turn to put on a show for area children. He did not disappoint.

The whistles blew, the kids ran and jumped, even some of the adults got in on the action. Good time had by all Saturday morning at the Second Annual Allen Bailey Football Camp at Macintosh County Academy. "I did it a couple of years ago." Bailey said. "But it was small. Little kids. Two players, me and another player. Now I got 12 of us. Good spread from everywhere around the league."

The goal here isn't so much to find and/or recruit college athletes, not at all.  It's to show area children a good time. Have them rub shoulders with some current NFL players and walk away maybe wanting to getting a little more involved in athletics as they grow older. "My teammate from college came down to Miami. He had about 100 plus kids.  I saw how it was with the staff.  So I talked to the lady. Get it organized, a couple of months to get it right.  Found sponsorship, we were good to go." Bailey said.

The support from the school and the community has been rock solid. The camp was sponsored in part by several local businesses The kids and the instructors all got t-shirts, and they all had a great time. "It's good for the community, period." Bailey said. "We've got people helping that aren't coaches that are volunteering.  One great community giving back. Especially with these kids. Give the kids hope, we've got NFL stars out here. One day you could be like them too." he added.

And of course, like any other camp put on by a current NFL player, he usually invites some of his friends. Miami Dolphins starters Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon were on hand. As was one of the shining young stars for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Wide Receiver Allen Hurns. "I played with him (Bailey) at the University of Miami.  To just come out here and play with the kids. Give them a positive role model. I know as a child." Hurns said. "Older guys came back as far as Santana Moss and those guys like that. So I know how much of a positive impact it is on the people's life." he added.

Great turnout, great time, with hopes of doing it again next year.

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Marvin Lewis should know: Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed among NFL's best ever

Marvin Lewis has seen more of Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed than practically anybody. The Bengals coach faced both Polamalu's Steelers and Reed's Ravens twice a year for 10 seasons (then just Polamalu's for the next two years), plus a 2005 playoff loss to Pittsburgh he'd rather forget.

So, coach, which era-defining safety was better?

"Unfortunately, they’ve both had interception returns for touchdowns on us," he told Sporting News on Friday, laughing as he steered clear of answering. "Let's just say the AFC Pro Bowl team was loaded every year. They complemented each other; they really did. They were exceptional at everything. What one could do, the other could do, too."

But we love to debate the big picture. So how do the Steelers great  who retired Thursday night  and the Ravens star who's likely played his last game compare to the greatest safeties Lewis has ever seen?

"I think in my time, they have to be held up there with the Ronnie Lotts of the world," he said. "All the things they did, that's what Ronnie Lott did. He made plays everywhere on the field and impacted his team winning football games."

Also worthy of comparison is Rod Woodson, whom Lewis coached as defensive coordinator of the 2000 Super Bowl champion Ravens.

"The same competitive drive; the same effect on every aspect of the game,'' Lewis said. Woodson and Lott are both in the Hall of Fame.

Lewis took over the Bengals in 2003, when Polamalu was drafted and Reed was a year into his career. In the next dozen years, he faced them 40 times — 21 games against Polamalu, including the 31-17 playoff loss. Polamalu had an interception late in that game.

He saw plenty of both even before the NFL days, when each was trying to impress NFL scouts. Lewis noticed Polamalu at USC in 2003 when working out the first player he ever drafted in Cincinnati, quarterback Carson Palmer.

"Just the speed, the athleticism, the agility, the short-area change of direction, the burst, his play on the ball, it was all there," he said of Polamalu.

Lewis saw much of the same from Reed at Miami, recalling that both players started as cornerbacks and changed positions in college — a momentous decision considering the direction NFL defenses were taking in response to ever-expanding offenses.

"That’s what sets these guys apart. The NFL has evolved," Lewis said. "You need to have safeties who won’'t be out of place when they’re matched against a wide receiver. They could do it. And they had a tremendous sense of the game."

That sense was earned and learned, not just instinctive.

"The study — these guys were two cerebral players. They’re two guys who took the instruction they get from the coaches and put it into play on the field," Lewis explained. "They were guys who not only knew it, but could apply it."

Their most notable style difference was where they lined up more often: Polamalu near the line of scrimmage, where his launches into the backfield became famous; Reed in deep centerfield, chasing down passes when quarterbacks figured he'd be somewhere else.

"But they both excelled at the other," Lewis pointed out. Polamalu, the big hitter, had 32 career interceptions to go with 12 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. Reed, sixth on the all-time career interceptions list with 64, had six sacks and 11 forced fumbles.

"I can remember plays Ed made down low, and plays Troy made on the deep ball," Lewis said. "As (an opposing) coach, you try to put them in positions they’re uncomfortable in, but with them, you can’t do that. They’re going to attack every ball, everywhere."

On top of that, he added, "when they got their hands on the ball, they could run a long way with it." Reed had 14 career touchdowns; Polamalu had six.

The two combined for three Super Bowl wins (two for Polamalu), 17 Pro Bowls and nine All-Pro selections. They shared AFC Pro Bowl honors six times and first-team All-Pro twice.

Lewis, having coached against such talent for so long, won't miss Polamalu and Reed (when he too retires). But he will remember, and he does respect. 

"There aren't two better players you, as a coach, would want young safeties to look up to."

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Yonder Alonso continues promising start with first home run

Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso connected for a solo home run off Rubby De La Rosa in the second inning of Monday's 8-4 loss to Arizona. It was his first home run since since Aug. 11 of last season.

Alonso, who has 28 career home runs in 412 games, is batting .360 (9 for 25) with one double, one home run, two RBI, three runs, one stolen base, four walks and four strikeouts in seven games.

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Peter O'Brien will remain in outfield for now

SAN DIEGO -- Peter O'Brien is off to a strong offensive start while playing left field at Triple-A Reno, and the Diamondbacks plan to leave him there or at first base for the time being.

Catching remains a career option, but the D-backs want to get O'Brien a little further removed from the throwing issues that cropped up late in spring training before putting him back behind the plate.

The idea, as D-backs manager Chip Hale said, "is just to kind clear his head, let him get off to a good offensive start."

That O'Brien has done. "He has been killing it offensively," Hale said.

O'Brien homered in the first at-bat of his Triple-A career on the first day of the season April 9 and had his first career four-hit game Sunday. He had two doubles, a homer and four RBI in his first six games, and his nine hits were one short of the Pacific Coast League leaders.

O'Brien hit 39 homers in four stops last season, and the D-backs believe he made great strides behind the plate last fall and this spring. They but also are conscious of the weight the throwing issue may have carried, and do not want it to compromise his production.

"Even just the catching part of it ... now he gets to get out there and have his at-bats. Instead of sitting on the bench, he can play every day this way," Hale said. "He had come a long way catching and gaining the trust of the pitchers. I really feel at some point there could be a chance to get back there again and be a quick remake."

O'Brien will play some first base as well, Hale said, where he played about half the time in most recent Arizona Fall League season.

Whatever his position, his bat will play a role. "If he hits, he'll find a way here," Hale said.

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