'The U' sequel on UM rebirth

ESPN's documentary on the University of Miami football program was such a hit that the creators have begun working on a sequel.

Director Billy Corben said the new film, It's All About the U, will focus on Hurricanes football between 1992 and 2002. The first movie, called The U, primarily focused on the 1980s, through 1991.

Interviews with former Canes are being lined up for the first three weeks of April. ``Then we'll edit it the rest of the year'' while juggling nonsports projects, Corben said. He would love for the sequel to air on ESPN but hasn't discussed it with the network. Corben likely will have other options if ESPN passes.

The idea of doing a sequel ``started as a lark,'' Corben said. ``[Former UM cornerback] Mike Rumph twittered after the first movie, `What about the U-2?' A few weeks ago, we said, `Why don't we just do it?'''

Corben said the sequel ``will cover the Pell Grant scandal and the program's downfall and give Butch Davis his due for rebuilding the program. Butch did something extraordinary that deserves to be acknowledged.''

The film will spend considerable time on the 2001 team -- put together by Davis and coached by Larry Coker -- ``which is considered one of the best teams of all time,'' Corben said. ``It all comes down to what Alonzo Highsmith said at the end of the first movie about the program's success: If they had accomplished all of this at a major football university like Alabama, the school would have built monuments.

``This sequel will be the monument to the 2001 team even if the university is not as enthusiastic to memorialize their accomplishments.''
Corben also will reflect on the 2002 team that lost the Fiesta Bowl (and the national championship) to Ohio State after a highly questionable pass-interference call against UM.

``We have Larry Coker talking about that,'' Corben said. ``We didn't use any of Coker's interview in the first movie.''

Corben said UM declined to cooperate with the first film but ``I hope they will be more reasonable this time around.'' He said he wants to interview only two people currently employed by the university -- former athletic director Paul Dee (who teaches at UM) and strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey.

The U was ESPN's highest-rated documentary ever, with a 1.8 rating and 2.3 million viewers on its first airing. By comparison, other documentaries in ESPN's ``30 for 30'' series averaged below a 1.0 rating. ESPN said it will release a DVD of The U -- with about 30 minutes of deleted scenes -- on Amazon.com, but it isn't available yet.

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Despite Rumors, McGahee Working Hard

Rumors have flown among fans and media regarding his potential trade, but Willis McGahee is proceeding with his current team as usual.

McGahee was at the Ravens’ training facility this week to take part in the voluntary offseason conditioning program focusing on his own improvement.

“My goal is just to do better than I did last year,” McGahee simply said on Wednesday.

How can he accomplish that? Added yardage would be a place to start.

McGahee, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher who went to the Pro Bowl in 2007, gained a career-low 544 yards last year only 109 carries (5.0 average). But, he was deadly in the red zone, crossing the goal line 14 times (12 runs, two receptions) to set a personal mark and tie a Ravens’ record.

Last year, McGahee maintained his strength throughout the entire season, as evidenced by his 167-yard, three-touchdown performance in Week 17 against the Oakland Raiders. McGahee credited a revamped workout regimen, where he continued to add weight to his lifting sessions even throughout the regular season.

“I did something different during the season, and that’s what helped me out in the long run,” said McGahee, who also was rested from playing behind Ray Rice.”I did a lot more free weights that really kept my legs strong. Usually I’ll back off, but I kept going hard. I kept going up in weight, like putting more weight on the bar to keep building muscle.”

McGahee said he wants to be a regular at the Ravens’ program again, and according to head coach John Harbaugh, that is a good possibility.
“I think McGahee will be on our team next year,” coach Harbaugh said at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. “I’m just impressed with the guy. He’s a leader on our football team and one of the most fun guys to be around every day. I’ve told Willis, ‘If you want to start in the game, go be the best running back that week. Willis McGahee could gain 1,500 yards next year. That could easily happen, and I’m not ruling it out.”

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Add D.J. to offseason no-show list

What price, home?

For Broncos inside linebacker D.J. Williams, a few more months at his offseason home in Miami is worth $100,000.

Williams has decided to spend his offseason conditioning in Miami instead of participating with the Broncos' voluntary program at the team's headquarters. Had Williams attended 90 percent of the team's training sessions, he would have earned a $100,000 bonus.

"D.J. has been working out hard since the season ended," said Tony Fleming, Williams' agent. "He's been in touch with the Broncos about his plans. This isn't some kind of message or anything. He just has a good workout program going at home."

Williams can afford the comforts of home because he recently received a $3 million roster bonus that will boost his 2010 earnings to $6 million.

While in Miami, Williams can spot for Elvis Dumervil, the team's outside linebacker who also is spending his offseason there. Dumervil is a restricted free agent who has been advised to not show up for the Broncos' voluntary offseason program in part to protest his one-year, $3.168 million tender.

Dumervil has said he was going to stay in Miami and work out with his father, Frank, a former Marine.

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Meriweather sets sights on improvement

FOXBORO - Even though he made the Pro Bowl last year (snuck in as an alternate), Brandon Meriweather was a maddening player to watch. Some games he hit. Other games he watched. Some games he covered well. Other games he gambled and lost. His tackling? Not something you want to use to teach the kids.

But instead of getting fat and happy with the Pro Bowl honor, Meriweather is at least saying and doing the right things to get ready for 2010. He's breaking down film of the games gone bad, working with Ravens safety Ed Reed, concentrating on his weaknesses and augmenting his strengths. If there were an All-Pro team in March, he'd be getting my vote.

In a rangy conversation on the Gillette Stadium turf Thursday, Meriweather hit on a ton of topics including the insertion of Corwin Brown as secondary coach.

"I think it'll be extremely important," Meriweather said of the former NFL safety who most recently was defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. "I sat down and talked to him about five times and every time I talk to him I'm intrigued by how much he knows and how much he says he could help. I'm not one who believes talk but he can have his chance to show it and I'll have my chance to show I'm a good student. It's gonna be good to have someone I can actually communicate with who actually has played the position and knows what I'm looking at."

If that statement sounds like an indictment of coaches who haven't played at the NFL level, well, it kind of is. Although Meriweather tries to couch it as tenderly as possible, it's clear he prefers knowing there's someone on his side of the ball who's looked at the same things he's looking at.  

"It's easy to say something when you're just looking at it from an X and O's perspective but until you actually have done it, you get a lot more credit when you say something," he said. "Everybody knows Bill (Belichick) is a mastermind at what he do. He's a great coach. No disrespect to Bill or anybody else. But once you are actually in that spot and you know exacly what I'm looking at back there, you know exactly what I'm thinking.

"Bill is very great at it but for him not to have ever played in the NFL he knows 90 percent of what I'm looking at and what I'm thinking but I think with (Brown and Belichick) together and (former secondary coach Josh Boyer) and the rest of the defensive staff we'll be very, very good this year," Meriweather said.

Meriweather pinpointed aspects of his game he wants to improve - tackling, aggressiveness, communication in the secondary. The film work, he said, is ongoing.  

"I usually watch the games that we did terrible in," he said. "Today, I'm going to watch the Saints game. I'm going to see what the Saints did so good and what we did so bad that made Drew Brees throw for 400 yards. I'm going to see the things that we did and hopefully what I find I can go back and tell Jonathan (Wilhite), Darius (Butler) and Leigh (Bodden)."

Meriweather says he'll be dividing his time between Foxborough and Miami.

"I go down there because of Ed (Reed) and because it's home," he said. "I also think you need to get a different part of working out. I don't think it's necessary that we all have to be here to get that experience. For instance, when I go home, Ed always tells me my break is too flat. I would never have got that from watching film myself."

Given the adoration Belichick has for Reed's ability, Meriweather was wise to choose Reed as a mentor. He says he owes a significant amount to the future Hall of Famer.

"A lot of the things I do to make plays, I would’ve never did if he wouldn’t have told me to try it," said Meriweather. "Other than Ed, a lot of it goes to my college coaches, and actually Bill. Bill helped me, too."

Oh yeah, that guy.

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Miami Heat's James Jones perseveres during 'trying season'

Heat guard James Jones' homecoming hasn't gone according to plan.

A major wrist injury cut short his first season with the team.

Jones' second season has been a microcosm of the Heat's inconsistent performances, who starred at the University of Miami and American High School, earning limited playing time.

But Jones is hoping to turn in another late-season surge like the one that earned him a starting spot in the playoffs last year, and help the Heat get back in the postseason.

``It's been a trying season,'' said Jones, who is averaging 3.9 points and has played in only 33 games this year. ``I thought last year after being injured, I worked really hard to get into shape to be able to come in and help this team.''

During the past five games, Jones has played more minutes and entered games at key times. Against Philadelphia this past Sunday, Jones had a season-high 14 points and hit 3 of 6 shots from three-point range.

Jones, who has played with point guards Steve Nash, Jamaal Tinsley, and Steve Blake, showed good on-court chemistry with the Heat point guard Carlos Arroyo.

``What I respect the most about James is that he keeps himself ready no matter what,'' Arroyo said. ``He's been around long enough to know that anything can change around here. It's not easy because you want to be out there, and it can be frustrating. They pay us to be professional and he's done that.''

Jones was considered a front-runner to be the starting small forward at the start of the season. But Quentin Richardson was the surprise choice for the job. Jones started five games when Richardson hurt his back in November, but was benched upon Richardson's return.

Jones has since split time as a backup, mostly with Dorell Wright and Daequan Cook.

``James is playing well, and [Wright] was before he was suspended,'' Spoelstra said. ``It's not a coincidence that our veteran players are picking it up now. They sense this opportunity right now for this team. There's been progress the last two weeks.''

Jones' value to the team extends beyond his sharp shooting. A finance major at UM, Jones is considered one of the smartest players on the team and often gets into intellectual discussions with his teammates.

``Guys think I know everything, but I don't,'' Jones said. ``Most teams you have guys that just talk basketball. Here we talk about different aspects of life, and it makes it easier for us to communicate and cope with things on and off the court.''

Although times have been tough, Jones, 29, has kept his spirits up thanks to a new addition to his family. Jones' wife, Destiny, gave birth to their third child, Jodie Marissa, seven months ago.

``She's what's kept my mind off basketball and given me perspective through this year,'' Jones said. ``They keep my life in balance.''
Along with their son, J.D., and daughter Jadynn Alyssa, Jones and his wife were also able to have their house in Southwest Ranches renovated.

Jones' foundation (The James Jones Legacy Foundation), which he established this past summer to help families in the Opa-locka and Miami Gardens communities who have suffered from foreclosures and abandonment, is also thriving.

Now all that's left for Jones is to get his game on the same footing.

``I know I belong,'' Jones said. ``It's just whether or not the situation dictates if I can play. I just have to make sure I don't get too emotional about it because the slightest turn of events could have me go from wearing a suit, to playing significant minutes on a consistent basis.''

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Yonder Alonso sent to Triple-A among other reassignments

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds' roster continues to take shape as the club made several moves Thursday.

Prior to Thursday's 6-2 loss against the Indians, the Reds optioned infielder Yonder Alonso and left-handed pitcher Bill Bray to Triple-A Louisville and optioned right-handed pitcher Jordan Smith and left-handed pitcher Philippe Valiquette to Double-A Carolina.

Reds manager Dusty Baker said cutting players from big league camp is one of the hardest parts of his job.

"It's not a pleasant day. There is really no easy way to do it," he said. "Everybody busted their tails this whole spring. This has been a great camp. You have some fine young men of high character."

It has been more than four decades but Baker still remembers the first time he was cut from Atlanta's big league camp.

"It wasn't a surprise. That one wasn't so bad," he said. "The tough one is when you are in the last cut. I remember when they told me to ship my car north because I made the team at eight o'clock and at four o'clock, my car was gone and I was off the team. They changed their mind. That was tough."

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Alex Cora will be Mets' starting shortstop if Jose Reyes starts season on DL

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Jerry Manuel hasn't seen enough of infield prospect Ruben Tejada to know if he's ready for the majors. But the Mets manager knows this: If Tejada does make the Opening Day roster, he would start the season on the bench, not starting in place of Jose Reyes.

If, as expected, Reyes begins the season on the disabled list, Manuel said Thursday that Alex Cora would start at shortstop. There had been some speculation after the news of Reyes' thyroid condition last week that Tejada could start at shortstop, but Manuel said that will not be the case.

"Cora would be the guy at this time," Manuel said.

Manuel compared Tejada's situation to that of much-hyped pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia. If Mejia makes the team out of camp, Manuel said he would not be the Mets' setup man. Instead, he would start in more of a low-pressure bullpen role.

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Cardinals DE Calais Campbell: 'We know with success comes constant change'

As a second-round pick out of Miami in 2008, Calais Campbell showed promise as a pass rusher. The promise turned into production in his second year, as the budding star racked up seven sacks as the left end in Arizona's 3-4 defense. Campbell talked to Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer about the team's offseason losses on defense, the strength of the scheme and the correct pronunciation of his first name:

Q: How has your team reacted so far to losing some of its key players to free agency and trades? A: It's tough, but at the same time we know with success comes constant change. I was a good friend of another former Hurricane, Antrel Rolle, and we'll also miss him as a player. But you're happy for him, too, for being rewarded for what he's done. Hopefully, we will bring in some other guys to help us, and we've got some young players -- Cody Brown, Will Davis -- that will only get better.

Q: What did Karlos Dansby mean to the defense? A: He was the quarterback of the defense. You could count on him every game because he knew the system so well. He is a very versatile player, and you can't quite replace him. I think he's a good fit in Miami. I think he'll do well and like it there.

Q: So how will your role change as one of the Cardinals' remaining defensive standouts? A: We're fortunate to still have some great guys with experience here. The younger guys can still lean on Adrian Wilson, and on the other side of me, we've got Darnell Dockett. I felt more comfortable last season. There's more confidence that I can be a leader, too. We'll have a strong core in place.

Q: Defensive end in a 3-4 is usually more of a run-stopping role. What allowed you to have such good success as a pass rusher last season? A: Our scheme is built to rush the passer. We're dedicated to stopping the pass. I was more comfortable with our blitz packages and had a better feel for different moves. It's important to be at a good weight because how me and Darnell Dockett get to the quarterback is with a good, strong technique. We're set up to be aggressive, getting upfield to make plays and get turnovers.

Q: How is the offense getting along after Kurt Warner decided to retire? A: Kurt Warner is obviously a big loss. He worked hard for us and just knew how to win. That said, we have confidence in Matt Leinart as a starter. I'm also sure the front office will bring in a veteran behind him (former Brown Derek Anderson was signed Wednesday). Our team is built on competition, to help get the best out of your players. The challenge will be good for Matt. He's a potential Pro Bowl guy. It's just about working hard.

Q: What was your reaction to the trade of Anquan Boldin? A: I think the Ravens are a good place for him. As for our team, we've got Steve Breaston ready to step in. He's made a lot of big plays for us. Everyone also saw what Early Doucet could do the playoffs. We still have a very strong corps of receivers. Anquan is definitely hard to replace, but Early is built like him physically.

Q: There has been a trend toward shorter, more compact pass rushers. How is it different getting after quarterbacks when you're 6-8? A: It's an advantage for me to separate and shed blocks because I've got the longer arms. At the same time, when you're taller, you have less leverage and most offensive lineman have a lower center of gravity. It's a problem only if you don't use good technique. For me, it's natural to use a swim move to get past a blocker. You just need to know your body type well and where you can best make your move athletically.

Q: So what's the origin of your first name and what is the correct pronunciation? A: I come from a large family, with five brothers and two sisters, so many of us have unique names. I have a younger brother, Severin, who's playing defensive end at Montana. My first name gets mispronounced often -- even though it's based on a city in France, the "S" isn't silent.

Q: Have you ever been to France? A: I plan on going sometime when I get a break from OTAs. I would love to take my picture under a sign in Calais. Also I would love to get one of those plates you get at a carnival with my name on it -- they just don't have those here.

Q: What's your goal for this season? A: Personally, I would like to make it to the Pro Bowl. As a team, just keeping winning our division. We've done it back to back, and we have some great players to return to the playoffs again.

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Vince Wilfork Named To Patriots All-Decade Team

FOXBORO - There are plenty of givens, a few surprises and a few spots for debate, which is usually how it goes, as the Patriots [team stats] Hall of Fame committee selected the franchise’s all-decade team.

The 27-member team of the 2000s features quarterback Tom Brady [stats] and wide receiver Randy Moss on offense from the current team, as well as linemen Ty Warren [stats] and Vince Wilfork [stats] from the present defensive unit. Four honorees - linebacker Willie McGinest, cornerback Ty Law, safety Lawyer Milloy and kicker Adam Vinatieri - are holdovers from the 1990s team.

The 2000s team, led by coach Bill Belichick:

Offense: linemen Nick Kaczur, Matt Light [stats], Joe Andruzzi, Logan Mankins [stats], Dan Koppen; tight end Daniel Graham [stats]; wide receivers Troy Brown [stats], Moss, Wes Welker; Brady; running back Corey Dillon [stats].

Defense: linemen Richard Seymour [stats], Warren, Wilfork; linebackers McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi [stats], Roman Phifer; defensive backs Law, Asante Samuel [stats], Rodney Harrison [stats], Lawyer Milloy.

Special teams: Vinatieri; punter Josh Miller; return man Kevin Faulk [stats]; special teamer Larry Izzo [stats].

In addition, three finallists were nominated for this year’s Patriots Hall of Fame class. The finalists will be announced next month. Fans will have the opportunity to vote at www.patriots.com.

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Jeff Feagles, Giants locked in contract standoff

In January, the question about Jeff Feagles’ future was his desire to return for a 23rd season.

Now, it’s a matter of money.

The 44-year-old punter and the Giants are currently locked in a contract standoff and are not close to a resolution, according to someone informed of the progress of negotiations. The person, who requested anonymity because neither side has commented on the status of talks, said Feagles and the Giants “are not seeing eye-to-eye on salary” right now.

Feagles’ agent, Steve Weinberg, wouldn’t confirm the stalled negotiations, though he did say he’s had talks with the team and that his client is preparing to continue a career that has now spanned four decades.

“Jeff fully intends to play this year and maybe beyond that,” Weinberg said. “He’s training hard, working hard and he plans to continue his career in the National Football League.”

Feagles, who represented himself when he signed a two-year contract in 2008, earned salaries of $1 million and $1.5 million the past two seasons, respectively. He’s currently an unrestricted free agent.

Feagles did not return a message left on his cell phone earlier this week. A Giants spokesman had no comment when asked about the progress of negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Giants are scheduled to work out former Australian rules football player Jy Bond Thursday, according to Bond’s agent, Kristen Kuliga. The 30-year-old Bond, whose stated goal on his website is “to make a career in the NFL as a consistent, solid performer and reliable team player,” was signed as a free agent by the Dolphins last April but released in June.

Bond’s workout doesn’t mean the Giants have decided the Feagles era is over, as the representatives for some of the top free agents available (such as Mitch Berger, Hunter Smith and Dirk Johnson) said they haven’t heard from the Giants about their clients. The agent for former Buccaneer Josh Bidwell could not be reached for comment.

Last season, Feagles had a few poorly struck kicks go off the side of his foot and his overall production slipped slightly. His average of 40.7 yards per punt was down more than 3 yards from his 2008 number and his 36 net-yards average was nearly 4 yards fewer than the year before, when he was named to his second Pro Bowl.

In Week 14, the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson became the first player since Minnesota’s Mewelde Moore in 2005 to return one of Feagles’ kicks for a touchdown, while opponents averaged 9.2 yards per return — the highest figure for Feagles since 2004.

Feagles, though, remains a valuable member of the kicking unit as a holder for extra points and field goals — even at an age when most players have long since retired. It remains to be seen if, and where, his career continues.

Click here to order Jeff Feagles' proCane Rookie Card.

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Jason Fox To The Packers?

Miami’s Jason Fox is good. Sort of slipped under the radar after needing his knee cleaned up and not being able to compete at the Combine. He's another really good pass protector. He gave up only one sack as a senior and was a four-year starter.

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Jimmy Graham To the Patriots?

Q: Hey Mike, with the recent talk of TE for the Pats, I like the idea of getting Greg Olsen with a second-round pick. But I would like to hear your thoughts on Jimmy Graham from Miami (Fla.). I think he has the potential to be the best TE out of the draft. He has bigger hands than Gronkowski, plus a 38.5 inch vertical and 6-foot-6 frame. He has a basketball background, similar to Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, who are dominant tight ends in the NFL. I think he is a raw talent that with some development can be a great player. And, I think he will be available sometime during Day 2. I just wanted to know what you think of Graham? -- Chris (Missoula, MT (Boston Transplant)

A: Chris, I like the thought of Graham very much. It sort of reminds me of what the Packers did with Jermichael Finley a few years ago -- taking a very raw player and grooming him while a veteran provides the more immediate return. I think a player like Graham is more of a two-to-three-year project. The problem I see in this scenario is that there is no veteran who really fits on the market right now.

Mike Mayock told Joe Rose at worst case Jimmy Graham doesn't get out of the third round. Stock is soaring after his combine performance.

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Winslow An Overvalued Fantasy TE?

Kellen Winslow, TB - Prior to the 2009 season, Tampa Bay traded two draft picks to Cleveland for Winslow, who played in 16 games (14 starts) reeling in 77 receptions for a franchise-record 884 yards and five touchdowns. He led the Bucs in all three categories and with wide receiver Antonio Bryant landing in Cincinnati, could turn the trick again in 2010. There's no debating the talent of Winslow when he's healthy, but therein lies the rub. In six NFL seasons, the soldier has only navigated the 16-game slate three times and has had numerous operations on his knee. The Buccaneers are also lacking quality weapons in the passing game, which could roll coverage towards Winslow. Between the health concerns and no NFL quality wide receivers on the roster, be careful about reaching for Winslow next season.

Winslow was ranked as the second overvalued TE behind Vernon Davis and ahead of Heath Miller.

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Dick Vermeil predicts Larry Johnson will push Clinton Portis 'right out of a job'

While popular opinion might suggest that running back Larry Johnson was brought to town to back up the Washington Redskins' perennial starter Clinton Portis, one of Johnson's former coaches has a bold prediction.

"He will take over the running back position," said Dick Vermeil, who coached Johnson in Kansas City from 2003 to '05. "That's what I think. He'll push that guy right out of a job. Larry Johnson will work all week -- he'll work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday -- and he'll make you start him on Sundays."

Though Johnson was often a chief source of headaches, two of his former Kansas City coaches sang his praises this week, both dismissing the notion that at 30, Johnson is no longer an effective NFL running back. In fact, both see favorable circumstances in Washington that could help Johnson return to Pro Bowl form.

"His back is against the wall, and for him, that's when he's at his best," said Herm Edwards, who coached in Kansas City from 2006 to '08. "Most people think he's done, he's finished, he's too old. That actually helps him. He wants to prove people wrong. This is his third team in two years, he knows this could be it. You don't need more incentive than that."

The Redskins signed Johnson last week to a three-year contract. Portis, who missed the final eight games last season after suffering a season-ending concussion, returns for his ninth NFL season. He's been the Redskins' starter since joining the team in 2004. While Johnson has spoken about the pair operating like a tandem, Vermeil sees much more potential.

"I think they got a great steal in this guy," Vermeil said. "If they have any sort of offensive line, I really believe he'll be the starting running back there, and he'll do very well. If anyone thinks it's some union job and a guy gets to start just because he's the incumbent, nuh-uh. Larry will make him work. [Portis] will have to fight to even hope to keep his job."

There are several factors that would seem to make Johnson an unlikely starter -- or even a consistent impact player -- in the league again.
For starters, Johnson has made as many headlines for his off-the-field transgressions as anything he's done on the field in recent years. He's complained about playing time, threatened a training camp holdout and has been arrested four times for domestic violence-related incidents. He was released by the Chiefs midway through last season for comments he made about coaches on Twitter and for using an epithet around members of the media.

Despite all of this, Edwards and Vermeil warn against misjudging Johnson's character, even though each was left holding the mop, pulling clean-up duty after Johnson's public messes.

"This was a very productive guy who didn't handle himself right with all of his actions off the field," said Edwards, now an analyst for ESPN. "He's not a bad guy, not a bad locker room guy. He's good around the other players but often put himself in the wrong place at the right time, if that makes sense."

Vermeil was the Chiefs' coach when the team drafted Johnson, the son of McDonough High School's former state-title winning coach Larry Johnson Sr., in the first round out of Penn State in 2003. Though Vermeil made clear that he preferred drafting a defensive player, he also knew that he had something special in Johnson. It's a shame, he says, that Johnson's amassed only two 1,000-yard seasons in his seven-year career.

"He's sometimes his own worst enemy," Vermeil said. "He's a good person. He can, when he wants, have a tremendous work ethic."

Another strike against Johnson would seem to be his age, but Edwards and Vermeil are quick to point out that Johnson's legs don't have the mileage on them that you typically find with a veteran running back.

Though he's two years older than Portis, Johnson has 755 fewer carries. While the two might begin training camp sharing the workload, Vermeil expects Johnson to open eyes at practice. He says Johnson helped push Priest Holmes, the Chiefs' incumbent running back in Kansas City seven years ago, and Vermeil says he'll push Portis now -- until he surpasses him.

"I've never seen a kid compete so hard to prove that he's as good as the starter," he said. "And if that starter isn't the Priest Holmes-type who will match the effort every single day, Larry Johnson will take his job. I don't know that much about Clinton Portis, but I know what Larry was like. He ran mean. In practices, he ran like he just plain didn't like his teammates."

There will also be questions about how exactly Johnson will fit into Coach Mike Shanahan's new offense. Hampered by injuries and an inconsistent offense, the Redskins fielded the league's fifth-worst running attack last season. With Shanahan's history of relying on strong backs and stronger blockers, many think the ground game will be one of the first things the new coaching staff looks to change.

But when he was coaching in Denver, Shanahan's zone blocking scheme favored cut runners who could move laterally and then shoot through a hole. In Kansas City, Johnson was considered a downhill runner whose strength was powering his way between the tackles. Edwards called Johnson a "pure insider runner," and said Johnson suffered when teams stacked the box against him.

But Vermeil sees more versatility. He said Johnson became a downhill runner because that's what the Kansas City offense called for. When Johnson was drafted, Holmes ran the show in Kansas City and when Johnson took over in the backfield, he was plugged into an offense that was still built around Holmes.

"The truth is, he can run anything you give him to run," Vermeil said. "When he first came to us, he wasn't sure what type of runner he was. But within our running game, once he got going, he could really run anything."

The real question, the coaches say, could be about Johnson's motivation and his level of commitment. Johnson has already earned the bulk of the money that he'll make in his career. Though the Washington contract is modest and incentive-laden, Edwards thinks Johnson has joined the Redskins for another reason altogether.

"This is his last shot, and I think he has to know that," Edwards said. "This is different for him than the past several years. He's not the guy and that might be good for him. Now he has to go compete again to be successful. When he's the guy, he kept getting in his own way. He wasn't always doing the right things."

Click here to order Clinton Portis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Wilfork received good deal of power

Too often, coaches are held to one standard and players to a higher one, when the burden should be reversed. And so it is that today, finally, Vince Wilfork can be a leader for the Patriots.

Ask yourself this: Why didn’t Cowboys owner Jerry Jones simply pick up Wade Phillips’s option for 2010, rather than extend him through the ’11 season? For that matter, why didn’t Chargers owner Dean Spanos let Norv Turner’s current contract go into its final season, 2010, instead of extending Turner through ’12?

Both men got their teams to the divisional round of the playoffs, but with monstrous expectations staring them down, you could easily argue that Turner and Phillips should have been pushed to the plank after losing.

Jones and Spanos knew better than to do that.

The reason isn’t hard to figure. It would be near-impossible for coaches to control their teams through adversity with every player knowing the guy in charge could well be getting whacked.

Ask Jim Zorn about that predicament. Or, for that matter, Vince Wilfork.

The Patriots made the big nose tackle a captain in 2009, but without a new contract, that “C’’ didn’t carry all the juice it should have. Wilfork didn’t know what the future held for him and neither did his teammates. So he led the way he always had, by example, and couldn’t carry a torch that was first fumbled (following the departures of Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel), then started a brushfire that left the season in ashes.

Things have since changed. That’s what a five-year, $40 million deal will do for your stature within an organization.

Wilfork didn’t just get rich when the deal was struck. He got power, too. And if there was one thing abundantly clear in yesterday’s 28-minute conference call with the media, it’s that he plans to use it.

“Some people are vocal leaders,’’ Wilfork said. “I led by example. I’ve said things when I had to say it, but now all of us have to rise. We have to raise our level of play. If something is wrong, we have to address it. We can’t let it go on. We have to address it and get it better and people have to realize that we’re trying to get somewhere.

“It’s nothing personal. If you don’t want to win, you don’t have to be here, point blank. So if you want to win, this is how we’re going to have to do it.

“You’ve got to be the believer and you’ve got to go forward, and you might have to do a little something extra. That’s fine. By me doing something extra or by us doing something extra, [if that] gets us to the point we need to be, I’ll do it 100 out of 100 times, point blank.’’

That “something extra’’ is what so many Patriots of the past would do “100 out of 100 times,’’ as well.

But those Lombardi Trophies are getting smaller in the rearview mirror every day. Only Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk, Stephen Neal, Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Ty Warren, and Wilfork are still hanging on from the roster of that last championship team, while David Patten and Tully Banta-Cain left and came back. That’s nine guys, total.

There were almost that many rookies — six — dressed among the 45 players active for the season finale in Houston. And Wilfork is the only one of the aforementioned nine who won’t be in his 30s by the time the next Super Bowl kicks off.

That’s to say the big nose tackle is a powerful link to the team’s illustrious past and an important part of its future. That’s cemented, finally, and the club can reap benefits it couldn’t possibility have collected on with a contract-year player last year.

“We won around here for a long time and a lot of teams sat back and watched us beat up on people,’’ Wilfork said. “For the last year or two, teams wanted to play us because they thought we weren’t the same. We’ve got to do something to change that. I think it’s going to have to start with the players.

“I think the leaders in this locker room, we’re going to have to approach each other and approach the team and let it know this is how we’ve got to do the things if we want to be successful and go from there.

“But there’s no question in my mind that we have the guys to do that. We’ve got the guys to compete, but we’ve just got to get that out of them.’’
Part of what Wilfork says is very debatable.

George Washington’s leadership wouldn’t fix things to the point where these Patriots can compete for a championship if the talent level remains the problem it so clearly was in 2009.

But if Wilfork backs up his big talk, it’ll go a long way to addressing visceral problems within the team. Which is one big step to returning to the level to which the Patriots had become accustomed.

Was 10-6 a huge failure? No, not really. But around here, it was regarded as one, so plenty must be done to supplement an aging core.

Wilfork’s leadership won’t change the fact that the Patriots need to hit big-time on the four draft picks they have among the top 53 in April. Nor will it change the notion that some younger members of the coaching staff will need to mature and improve to get Bill Belichick back to operating at the ridiculously high level he’s capable of.

The attitude issues, however, can be taken care with No. 75’s expanded presence. He said the Patriots have to “weed out the bad seeds’’ and “build trust.’’ If they do, some — some — of the issues of 2009 will be eradicated.

“If you don’t want to win,’’ Wilfork said, “you don’t have to be here.’’

Wilfork can’t change everything. But by showing him the money, the Patriots have empowered him to do a lot.

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

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Has James Jones Passed Dorell Wright?

Do you think James Jones will pass Dorell Wright in the rotation when Wright comes back? — Tim.

A: I do not. James lacks the ballhandling and defense to slide into that role full-time. But I think what this exposure has done is move James ahead of Daequan Cook when it comes to the need for a shooting specialist off the bench.

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CNNSI Ranks Ryan Braun the #1 Fantasy Outfielder

Fantasy owners holding the No. 4 or 5 slot in deeper mixed-league drafts cannot afford to pass on Braun. It's not like he's a notch above first basemen Miggy Cabrera, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder or Mark Teixeira, per se. But given the relative dearth of superstar outfielders this season -- with leagues that start five of 'em -- Braun is a must-have for owners who believe a top-notch outfield is the key to a fantasy championship.

34 HRs, 113 RBIs, 109 runs, 23 steals, .325 average.

Click here to see the rest of the rankings.

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For Mets, Ruben Tejada's range more important than Alex Cora's smarts

I've been adamant about starting the season with Jenrry Mejia in Binghamton and Ike Davis in Buffalo, and I'm sticking to it.

You can throw Fernando Martinez into that category too.

Even if they continue to be the three most exciting players in camp.

But when it comes to promoting Ruben Tejada to fill in for Jose Reyes while he recovers from his thyroid condition, I'm willing to look the other way for a month.

The situation at shortstop is different.

Look, it would be cruel and inhumane to subject sinker-ball pitcher Mike Pelfrey (not to mention the rest of the staff) to the utterly rangeless double-play combo of Alex Cora and Luis Castillo.

There's got to be some type of correlation between angst over a grounder up the middle and the fact that Big Pelf started feverishly licking himself on the mound after Jose Reyes went down last year.

Tejada is 20... he hit .289 despite being a pup in Double-A last season. It's impressive. Still, offensively, he's going to be in over his head at the big-league level. That's OK.

His real game -- his defense and his speed on the base paths -- are big-league ready right now now and won't be damaged by a month or so at the Show.

So give me the kid for six weeks until Reyes gets back.

Then he goes back to the farm so we can find out if he's the second baseman of the future, the utility infielder of the future, something more or something less.

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Wilfork, Meriweather & Others in Attendance For Patriots' First Offseason Workout

At least 40 players were in attendance on Monday at Gillette Stadium for the Patriots’ first day of voluntary offseason workouts, which is a “great attendance” figure, according to a source.

Vince Wilfork, who just signed a five-year contract extension, was among the team’s stars who attended the workout. Linebacker Jerod Mayo, safety Brandon Meriweather and running back Laurence Maroney were a few others who attended the workout. Quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver Randy Moss and linebacker Adalius Thomas were among those not in attendance. Wide receiver Wes Welker, who is recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries, was also missing.

These camps are typically attended by younger players, and veteran absences aren’t out of the ordinary. Yet, after Wilfork said last week he wanted to help the team improve its leadership, it comes across as a positive sign that he was among the large group of players who showed up to Gillette. Players often rave about how these offseason workouts go a long way toward the team-building process.

Monday’s workouts focused on cardio and weightlifting, and the players were in and out of the facility within a few hours. The workouts will steadily progress throughout the offseason and leading up into minicamp. If players want to be compensated for the workouts, they must show up for four workouts in a given week.

Click here to order Vince Wilfork's or Brandon Meriweather's proCane Rookie Card.

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Portis Present For Voluntary Workouts

Clinton Portis, Albert Haynesworth, Laron Landry among others (according to Matt Terl –Skin's Blogger) were present at the facilities in Ashburn today. Mike Shanhan spoke pubically last Thursday, and declared his expectations for the workouts.  Today is not able lifting weights, or running laps, but it is a definite and positive change that Redskins fans will hopefully be seeing.  It is the coach telling the team, that this is his team

Expectations are huge this offseason for the veterans on this squad. Everyone is thinking "rebuilding mode", but even Stevie Wonder can see that Shanahan would like to win while establishing a firm foundation for this team.  The overhaul that took place two Thursdays ago, was huge, but it wasn't one that signaled "we intend to suck for a while to get better".  In a salary cap-less year, the Redskins have remained fiscally conservative.  The offensive line still appears to be missing tackles, and those positions look like areas that still need to be addressed.  Yet, everything around appears to still be in place.  On defense, the base formation switch has not yet prompted a dramatic overhaul to the personnel, and additions still need to be made.  By my estimations, I feel as if the management feels like they can make a run with what they have if they use them correctly. I also feel as if they are looking to gear up and open their wallet when the right talent and potential manifest itself to the team.

Click here to order Clinton Portis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Payton Scores One TD

The Chicago Slaughter traveled to take on the Richmond Revolution on Saturday. The Revolution improved to 2-0 as they outlasted the Slaughter (0-2) in a defensive battle 30-25. In front of a sell-out crowd, the Revolution allowed only 104 yards of offensive to the Slaughter, including holding Chicago to 12 yards in first quarter of play. Former Virginia Tech and current Revolution QB Bryan Randall threw for 4 TD's while RB Jarrett Payton, son of NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton, added 29 yards and a touchdown for the Slaughter. Both teams will be in action next week as the Revolution host the Maryland Maniacs on March 20th and the Slaughter host the Bloomington Extreme on March 21st.

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Testaverde happy to call Tampa Bay home again

Palm Harbor, Florida - Innisbrook's Celebrity Pro-Am was the perfect place for Vinny Testaverde on a breezy Monday afternoon. However, when addressing golf skills, he gladly deferred to the pros like Lee Janzen in his foursome.

"I'm out of my element here. I'm much more comfortable throwing a football than hitting a golf ball."

But don't let Testaverde fool you. Carrying a 4 handicap, he more than enjoys working on his new game.

"I love it. I have a great passion for it now. I try and play as much as I can. Which is quite often these days."

He'll get a little busier in the fall where, after a Heismann trophy and two decades in the NFL, Testaverde will share some of his expertise as an assistant at Jesuit High School.

"I'm just going to help out part-time, maybe once a week, but I'm looking forward to working with some of the kids. Just seeing their progression throughout the year. It's always an enjoyment for me to see guys blossom and I hope I can be a part of that."

In the meantime, he continues to enjoy what he calls a special return to the area after moving back two years ago.

"I first played here for the Bucs in '87. It was a special place then, as it is now. Getting to raise my family here and my three kids, there's no better place that you can do that... Kind of back here again for the second time and enjoying it again. So, we're looking forward to some great times."

Click here to order Vinny Testeverde's proCane Rookie Card.

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Pepsi Caserta releases Robert Hite

Two months after signing him, Italian team Pepsi Caserta has released American guard Robert Hite, who arrived after being waived by Sutor Montegranaro. Hite played three games with Caserta, averaging 12.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, but his last game was almost a month ago, against Armani Jeans Milano.

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Willis McGahee host Kingdom Thursday

Type: Party - Club Party
Start Time: Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 11:00pm
End Time: Friday, March 19, 2010 at 5:00am
Location: MI-VI at Gulfstream Park
Street: 901 S. Federal Hwy (by Biscayne Blvd and 213th street)
City/Town: Hallandale Beach, FL

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

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Raiders Could re-sign Joseph

Jerry McDonald, of ANG Newspapers, reports the Oakland Raiders could re-sign unrestricted free-agent DT William Joseph at a moderate price this offseason.

Click here to order William Joseph's proCane Rookie Card.

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DJ Williams Gets a $3 Million Bonus

It pays to be the Champ.

As Champ Bailey's once-record, seven-year contract with the Broncos enters its final months, the left cornerback on Tuesday collected one more $3 million roster bonus.

Running back Knowshon Moreno ($3.775 million), linebacker D.J. Williams ($3 million) and receiver Brandon Stokley ($500,000) were other Broncos players whose bonuses were exercised this week. DJ Williams is also scheduled to make $6 million in 2010.

Click here to order DJ WIlliams' proCane Rookie Card.

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Cornerback Bruce Johnson leads Giants in performance-based pay

For the first time in three years, the Giants player who received the most in performance-based pay was not Michael Johnson.

But it was a Johnson. Bruce Johnson, to be exact.

The rookie cornerback, an undrafted free agent who made the final roster and saw plenty of duty this past season because of injuries to Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery, received $270,766 in PBP, according to NFL Players Assoociation records. Not a bad payday, considering his salary for his rookie season was only slightly more at $310,000.

The league hands out PBP checks to players whose playing time exceeded expectations (i.e. those players who were bargains because of low salaries and high amounts of playing time). The top of the list is usually dominated by low-round picks and undrafted free agents who found their way into starting or supporting roles. I'm hearing Vikings C John Sullivan, a former sixth-round pick who started every game this past season, had the highest payout in the league, though I'm not sure how much he received.

The National Football Post reports Sullivan indeed led the league with $397,555.

Michael Johnson, who is now likely out of a starting job after the Giants signed Antrel Rolle to start alongside Kenny Phillips (if healthy), received the second-largest PBP check on the team with $235,445.

Coming in third was TE Kevin Boss ($221,100), followed by CB Terrell Thomas ($207,125) and recently released S Aaron Rouse ($193,598).

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Irvin: What Roethlisberger Did Wrong

(CBS)  Michael Irvin is a member of the National Football League Hall of Fame who was falsely accused of sexually assaulting a woman three years ago, according to prosecutors who recently decided not to file charges.

The former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver sat down with "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith on Friday to offer some insight into the dangers of being a high-profile sports star.

Smith remarked that while Irvin wasn't a "choir boy" in his playing days, he didn't always have to look for trouble for trouble to find him.

Irvin said, "There's some truth to it that, and I don't know how many occupations where they actually print all of the salaries in the paper and in this tough economy, you're looking at these athletes, they're out having drinks and everything and you know they're making a lot of money, so it's a mixture for some trouble if you're not very careful."

Ben Roethlisberger, who was recently accused of sexual misconduct with a woman in an Atlanta-area nightclub, Irvin said he should have learned something from his previous encounter with a woman in Lake Tahoe. That case never went to trial, but a civil trial is pending, Smith said.

Irvin said he should have started to tighten his inner circle of guards.

"You start saying, 'Wow, I have to tighten my circle, make sure I put good people around me and people to watch over everything that goes on,'" he said, adding, "Ben did that in this situation. He brought the guards with him. But he made a mistake and allowed himself to be alone at any time with anybody without those security guards in the room."

Roethlisberger, Irvin said, should concentrate on the situation he's currently in, and not let anyone come near him.

"And be afraid," he said. "It's okay to be afraid because the reality is, we would like to think that you're innocent until proven guilty, but that's not necessarily the case when things do hit the paper like they're hitting the paper for Ben right now."

Irvin said the changes in the flow of information have really changed things for people in the spotlight.

"Before when people wanted to find stuff out, they had to go to the library and search it up and look for everything to find out whatever you had done in your past." He said, "Now today, they punch in your name, and they hit a button, enter, and everything comes up. You don't think about the mistakes at 20 (years old), how much you will regret them at 40. And at 40, you do regret those bad decisions."

Irvin said a player's confidence, which is essential on the football field, can backfire in life.

"Maybe sometimes when you get out, having a good time with your guys, you know, that testosterone starts running through our blood and you're having drinks, and then that confidence overflows off the football field," he said. "Now, it's great on the field -- but maybe not so great off the field."

Click here to order Michael Irvin's proCane Rookie Card.

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Beason Has No Problem With Youth Movement

In his latest blog, Panthers linebacker Jon Beason provides personal insight into the Panthers recent roster moves, including the release of veteran teammates he greatly respected.

He noted that while 30-year-old Steve Smith is now the team's oldest position player, "going young is not necessarily a bad thing."

"I'm sure it's all part of a master plan, and I have  faith in Coach Fox and everything else in the organization who is involved in the decision-making process."

Beason wrote extensively about his respect for former quarterback Jake Delhomme, who's visiting with the New Orleans Saints this weekend as he moves on to the next phase of his career.

"Jake is a warrior, a competitor," wrote Beason. "One thing I always appreciated about Jake was that he was honest and genuinely wanted to win. Every snap, every day in practice, whether he was rehabbing an injury or preparing to win on Sundays, he always had the same philosophy. Jake always gave it everything he had, he played with guts and played with his heart on his sleeve."


Salmons stays hot

John Salmons had 24 points, five rebounds, two treys and two steals in Friday's win over the Jazz.

The mid-season trade has been a godsend for Salmons' owners and the Bucks. He's averaging 19.3 points and 1.5 treys in 12 games with Milwaukee and the Bucks are 11-1 since he came aboard. These versatile stat lines are for real.

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Barton puts another stamp on passport

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan -- You can learn a lot about ballplayers from the stats on a baseball card. You can learn more about Brian Barton from the stamps on his passport.

No player on the Dodgers' travel roster for the goodwill series in Taiwan has been around like Barton, whose wanderlust has taken him to 15 foreign countries. He's as likely to show up on the Travel Channel as MLB Network.

Granted, there's more to the inquisitive Barton that breaks the ballplayer stereotype. He majored in aerospace engineering at the University of Miami, interned at Boeing's satellite systems department while a freshman at Loyola Marymount, and even before that wondered what it would be like to venture into space as an astronaut.

"As a kid, there were always places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do," said Barton, a 27-year-old outfielder trying to make the club on a Minor League contract after previous big league stints in St. Louis and Atlanta.

"I didn't have a lot of money and didn't get to go places and I told myself, when I get old enough, I'd start doing those things."

Barton said that transferring from Loyola to Miami was the "stepping-stone" he needed to begin a life of exploration.

"Getting away from home, that was a big leap for me," he said. "Now, I needed to get out of the country."

Barton signed up for a trip to Egypt offered by the School of Architecture, "even though I wasn't into architecture. Egypt sounded cool. Then, 9/11 happened and the school didn't think going to Egypt was a good idea anymore."

Undeterred, Barton took the refund and redirected his desire to visit Africa with a trip to Ethiopia, the homeland of his girlfriend.

"It was surreal. I loved it, couldn't believe it," said Barton.

In 2007, Barton spent two weeks in Europe, visiting Ireland, England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy. Next on the itinerary was Puerto Rico, followed by Australia, then South Africa, Jamaica and Peru. And now, Taiwan.

"The people here are great, so nice, and there's an energy to life here," he said. "Not just the fans, but when you walk around the city, there's a jubilance. It's my first trip to Asia and it's exciting. My next trip is Japan this winter. Now, the only continent left is Antarctica."

Barton's statistical goals can be measured in hundreds, but it's not about home runs or RBIs.

"I want to visit a couple hundred countries eventually. That's a lifetime goal," he said.

Barton wants to take his family on one of these trips, so they can learn about life in other parts of the world as he has.

"I guess this passion is really from, when I was growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut," he said. "I always wanted to go into space, wondering what's out there, seeing the stars and the moon and thinking about life on other planets.

"Traveling, there's just so much out there. And it's my desire to see as much of it as I can. There's a value in it. Now that I'm older, I appreciate the knowledge you get by going places. It brings so much back to your life. You see how other people go through life and you get a new perspective."

Barton said other players are curious -- and sometimes inspired -- by his tales of life on the road.

"I don't think anything I do is really special, but I was talking to Chris Young of the D-backs and he said, 'I want to do that,'" Barton said. "Ryan Braun said he's going with me on the next trip. I'm a rookie, but I'm inspiring others. I get enjoyment from that. People want to see my passport and the stamps on it. They see places they've never been and maybe it inspires somebody else to do it."

Barton called his trip to Ethiopia the "eye-opener."

"Even though I didn't have much, I still took things for granted," he said. "Then you go to a poor country, see what they endure to survive, and I'm complaining?"

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Cora, Tejada competing as Reyes' fill-in

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Although fewer games remain on the Mets' Spring Training schedule than when Jose Reyes was preparing to make his return to active duty, the camp, without Reyes, now features more competition. Manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya like to see competition for assignments, even when it doesn't exist. But Reyes' absence and the possibility that he will not play for weeks has created a legitimate competition between veteran Alex Cora and non-roster Ruben Tejada.

One of them will be primarily in charge of keeping the shortstop position warm for Reyes, though it's likely each will play a part.

The competition starts at that top. Shortly after the announcement Thursday that Reyes' thyroid problem will render him inactive from two to eight weeks, Minaya said Cora would probably would be the primary understudy. And without saying the words, Manuel gave every indication the 20-year-old rookie with no Triple-A experience is likely to play most of the shortstop innings until Reyes' return. Hence the sense of competition.

Unmentioned in the conversation was Anderson Hernandez, out of options -- and seemingly out of a job with the Mets when the season begins. And importing another candidate to compete seems unlikely. But Minaya said the club needed no extra outfielder when Carlos Beltran underwent surgery on his knee in January. Shortly thereafter, he traded Brian Stokes for Gary Matthews Jr.

"It's early enough that Omar and Jerry can make some decisions who we're going to go with in the lineup," Cora said Thursday. "It's early enough that we can play for [the assignment]. "I'm not Jose Reyes. But if it's the worst-case scenario, whatever it is, it's early enough that we can plan for it."

Cora, 34 and coming off a season undermined by injuries to both thumbs, is quite confident. And Tejada, in simple terms, is prepared for the challenge.

"It's baseball," Tejada said. "I am ready."

"There's a lot of talk -- 'He's 34, getting old, with no tools,'" Cora said. "I think I was playing good baseball before I got hurt. And then everybody knew about one hand, but I knew about both hands."

Cora batted .251 with 18 RBIs and one home run in 82 games (271 at-bats) last season, his first with the Mets. His contributions went well beyond on-field performance, though. He filled a vacuum at shortstop, but also in the clubhouse. He evolved into a team conscience and spokesman. The club thought enough of Cora to re-sign him for $2 million.

Manuel expressed confidence that Cora could handle the regular assignment.

"I would say [early in the season], that's very feasible that [Cora] could play," Manuel said, also noting the summer months would be an issue, but there is no indication Reyes' absence would extend into the summer.

The manager praised the younger candidate, as managers are wont to do.

"He has tremendous instincts. I like him a lot. I think it's an option," Manuel said.

"The good thing is Tejada is playing pretty well," Minaya said. "Jerry's playing him."

But how long will that last? For now, Manuel needs to see more of Tejada, who batted .289 with 46 RBIs and five home runs in 488 at-bats with the Mets' Double-A Binghamton affiliate last season. The manager already knows Cora. Manuel acknowledged Thursday he had have to see how Cora's and Tejada's skills would fit in the batting order. But with Reyes' and Beltran's offense missing, the Mets won't be well-equipped to carry the rookie's bat.

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Giants' Aubrey Huff aims to prove he's a capable fielder

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Aubrey Huff has a thing for "Transformers." Last year, when the Detroit Tigers' wives assembled charitable gift baskets filled with their husbands' favorites, Huff's goodies included a Megatron action figure and a DVD of the movie.

His fan worship for the old cartoon show is no passing fancy — otherwise he wouldn't have tattooed giant Autobot and Decepticon logos on either side of his upper back.

And now that the former American League designated hitter is wearing a Giants uniform and a first baseman's mitt, he's determined to prove that he's more than meets the eye, too.

"When you're a DH, you get labeled by people who've never played the game," said the 33-year-old, who won a Silver Slugger award in 2008. "It's hard to shake. People believe what they read, unfortunately, but I'll play every day and prove that I'm not bad over there."

Although it's vital that the Giants support their talented pitching staff, they do not anticipate having an above-average defensive infield. Their one highly skilled glove man from last year, Travis Ishikawa, didn't hit enough on the road to retain a starting job.

According to the UZR/150, a formula that determines the number of runs a fielder saves or costs his team, Ishikawa was the best everyday defensive first baseman in the majors last season. Huff graded slightly below average.

But Huff has his believers. Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Dave Johnson watched Huff play 93 games at first base last season and said he wasn't a liability.

"You don't really notice him," said Johnson, in Scotts- dale to watch his son, Steven, whom the Giants took in the Rule 5 draft. "He made the plays he was supposed to make. He did fine over there."

Huff's defense received another vote of confidence from an even more trusted source.

"He looks pretty good to me," said Giants special assistant and former Gold Glove winner J.T. Snow. "We were doing a drill to pick balls out of the dirt, and he might have missed one. He's played it before, so he knows how to handle it."

That's no small matter to Snow. In previous years, the front office asked him to convert outfielders Daniel Ortmeier and John Bowker to first base. Those results weren't so pretty.

"Bunt plays, pickoffs "... the game moves pretty fast when you're on the infield for the first time," Snow said. "None of that is new to Aubrey. And I think he's a pretty honest guy. He said he'll do the best job he can. He's not expecting to win a Gold Glove."

Huff's presence doesn't necessarily spell doom for Ishikawa, who received good news Saturday when an MRI exam showed partially torn ligaments in his foot are healing well and won't require surgery.

Ishikawa hopes to be out of his walking boot in a week and back to unrestricted duty soon after that.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Ishikawa remains "very much in the mix" for a roster spot. "Ishi has shown he can do some things to help you win a ballgame, whether it's defense or hitting a ball out of the ballpark."

It would seem Bochy plans to use Ishikawa often as a late-inning defensive replacement. The manager also said he plans to get Huff some work in the outfield, where he hasn't played a big league inning since 2006 with the Houston Astros.

"Just to make sure we have that option," Bochy said.

Huff is willing to transform himself as needed.

"I won't lie to you, I'm not the rangiest guy," he said. "I mean, it's not like I won't dive for a ball. I'll make the routine play and occasionally make the really good play. That's all you can ask for."

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Neither Gaby Sanchez nor Logan Morrison is ahead in race for first-base job

SARASOTA — A little more than a week into spring competition, manager Fredi Gonzalez said there's no clear front-runner for the first base job, despite the disparity in statistics.

Gaby Sanchez is batting .400 (6-for-15 with two walks) and Logan Morrison is batting .056 (1-for-18 with two walks), but Gonzalez said it's way too early to make any assumptions about who's likely to start the season at first base.

"I'm not even looking at the numbers right now. Just let them go out and play. A lot can happen," Gonzalez said Friday.

"The only thing that separates them for me is one bats left-handed (Morrison) and the other is right-handed (Sanchez). They're that close, for me. If you want to start breaking them down, we're going to be splitting hairs."

Gonzalez said he doesn't want Morrison to feel any extra pressure because he's not hitting well after one week.

"I've always said I want both of them to hit .390," Gonzalez said, "but obviously if one is hitting .390 and the other is hitting .057 (later in camp): Competition is competition."

Gonzalez has been impressed with infielder Jorge Jimenez, who's 2-for-9 (.222) in six games. Jimenez could start at third base, moving Jorge Cantu to first.

Jimenez is a rule 5 draft pick, so he'll get offered back to Boston if he doesn't make the Marlins' roster.

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Cesar Carillo Update

Cesar Carillo was scheduled to pitch two innings in relief of Richard for the San Diego Padres, but didn't come out for his second because of tightness in his right hamstring.

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Chris Perez the closer in waiting?

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – This is expected to be Kerry Wood’s final year with the Indians. When Wood is gone, the closer job is Chris Perez’s for the taking.

“We see that in the future,” said Cleveland manager Manny Acta of Perez, 24, a hard throwing right-hander, who was dominant at times for the Indians last year after being acquired in a trade with the Cardinals for Mark DeRosa. “I think that’s how he’s been groomed since college at the University of Miami. This is a guy that has the stuff to do it and the mentality to do it.”

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