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Photo of the Week - Vince Wilfork's NyQuil Ad

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Sam Shields: "He's Not Normal"

When the Green Bay Packers lined up to return the second-half kickoff against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields broke a cardinal rule.

Shields lined up near the goal line and drifted 6 yards deep in the end zone. Normally, the returner should take a knee for a touchback in that situation.

“Not normally,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said on Thursday. “But he’s not normal.”

Shields, who was timed at 4.20 seconds in the 40-yard dash, is indeed not normal. Shields returned that kickoff 49 yards — “I saw the hole and I hit it” was his matter-of-fact explanation. Because of that one return, he will line up as the kickoff returner when the Packers play at Minnesota on Sunday.

Shields’ ability was evident against Dallas. But during the preseason, Shields had fumbled away chance after chance to return kickoffs and punts by routinely dropping the ball in practice and games.

Through plenty of extra work before and after practice, Shields has become so sure-handed that Slocum said he wouldn't hesitate to use Shields on punts, too. The Packers rank 21st in punt returns, with Tramon Williams averaging 8.0 yards per return.

“I didn’t tell him anything,” Slocum said about Shields' early problems. “Guys grow as players and focus changes, all those things. When he first got here, there were a lot of things that were new to him. He’s trying to learn the playbook on defense, trying to get acclimated there, all the different things we’re asking him to do on special teams. It’s a lot. He settled into his position and with that, I think it allows him to continue to grow in all the areas. He’s done a very good job. We go out, for example today, he probably caught 15 or 20 balls using the JUGS machine before we ever went to our kickoff return.”

During camp, Shields had to split his focus between fielding kicks and learning the defense and the skills taught by cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt. Shields won the the third corner job by the middle of the preseason, and since he’s settled into that role, he’s been given an opportunity to cure the Packers’ 28th-ranked kickoff return.

“I can be very dangerous,” he said. “Like you said, I just need to catch the ball. Once I get going and see a hole, I’ve got to burst and just use my speed.”

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Sam Shields: 'I'm Getting Better And Better'

GREEN BAY, Wis. – To fully appreciate just how far Sam Shields as come – and understand just how much it took for the Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback to get to this point – you have to listen to what Joe Whitt says about him now, and what he was muttering to himself about Shields about six months ago.

But first, understand this: Whitt, the Packers’ young and exuberant cornerbacks coach, is not afraid to make bold pronouncements. Before the season, he told anyone who’d listen that Tramon Williams – not Charles Woodson, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year; not Al Harris, a two-time Pro Bowler coming off a major knee injury – was the team’s best cover corner. After nine games, what sounded like blasphemy at the time has become abundantly clear, with Williams making a strong case for the NFC Pro Bowl team and a break-the-bank contract extension.

After the ultra-fast – but ultra-raw – Shields went undrafted this spring and the Packers signed him as a rookie free agent, Whitt knew what kind of potential Shields had. What Whitt did not know, given the fact that Shields had spent the first three years of his college career at Miami (Fla.) playing wide receiver and had just 10 games of cornerback experience as a senior for the Hurricanes, was how well he understood the position.

The answer?

“He had no clue. Trust me. No clue,” Whitt said bluntly. “There was one day, I almost lost my mind."

And now?

“Write this down,” Whitt said of Shields, the Packers’ No. 3 cornerback in their nickel defense. “Sam is going to be one of the top corners in this league in two years.”

That’s heady stuff for a guy with Shields’ thin cornerback resume, but the Packers’ actions – releasing Harris, whom they waived off the physically unable to perform list Nov. 8 – spoke even louder than Whitt’s words.

“I don’t think anybody can stand here and say Sam Shields was going to be (one of) your starting corner(s) in Week 10, especially the way he arrived here as a free agent,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday, as his team prepared for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome, “But you never questioned the ability. You could see that from Day 1. He’s a young man that’s been very thorough, very coachable, very detailed in everything he’s doing. He has a tremendous upside, and we’re excited about the progress he’s made.”

Much of the credit for that goes to Whitt, who was at his wits’ end when he found that Shields had no idea how to watch film, learn defenses or prepare for games at the cornerback position. So Whitt began at Square One.

“Basically, I got flashcards. I drew a formation on one side, I drew the check on the back side, just like you do in school,” explained Whitt, who had taken a similar approach as an assistant coach at the University of Louisville, where he turned two former offensive players – Arizona Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes and Philadelphia Eagles safety Antoine Harris – into NFL-caliber defensive players. “The next day, I come in, he has a stack of flashcards, two inches deep, and he has everything on it.

“And from that day on, it was a total transformation because he understood the defense from that day on because he understood how to study."

And he’s been a quick study at that. In the Packers’ 45-7 victory over Dallas before their bye week, Shields recorded his first NFL interception (an acrobatic one-handed catch) and, while also responsible for the Cowboys’ only touchdown, proved once again on a big stage that the job isn’t too big for him. In fact, his play solidified the Packers’ difficult decision to sever ties with Harris, a 13-year NFL veteran who’d started 106 career games in Green Bay and wound up with the Miami Dolphins.

“Back when we started training camp, not many people knew who Sam Shields was, and I didn't know much about Sam Shields. But we thought he had potential, and he's continued to make improvement,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We've played nine games with him out there now, and that's a tough position to stick a rookie out there because everybody in the National Football League knows."

Whitt isn’t the only one who’s worked extensively with Shields. On Tuesdays – the players’ day off – he comes in and watches film with Woodson, who is well known for his film work. (“You can tell he studies the little details, a lot of stuff people don’t pay attention to,” Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin said of Woodson Wednesday.)

In addition, Shields has gone from a shaky returner – another job he had next to no experience with when camp began – who couldn’t catch the ball consistently to the team’s primary kickoff returner, with a 49-yard take-back against the Cowboys.

It’s all part of Shields’ wise-beyond-his-years approach (“He's very mature; he's not like a lot of rookies,” Whitt said) and constant growth – which could one day lead to him proving Whitt prescient again, just like he’s been right about Williams.

“I’m still learning. But each day, I’m getting better and better. Each game, I’m getting better and better,” Shields said. “I’ve got to continue to keep doing that.

“If I keep working at staying focused, I can be that guy.”

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Jimmy Graham is expected to be a bigger part of the Saints Offense

Rookie TE Jimmy Graham is expected to be a bigger part of the Saints' offensive game plan this week.

Even after a bye week's rest, Jeremy Shockey (ribs) has yet to practice. Graham had his best game of the season in Week 9 before the bye, though he'd likely be splitting looks with David Thomas if Shockey is held out. While we love Graham in Dynasty formats, he's a high-risk option in redraft leagues this week.

Click here to order Jimmy Graham’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Willis McGahee a Good Week 11 Fantasy Pick

Willis McGahee, RB, Ravens (32, 41): When I was in grade school, I always loved postulates. Used in geometry, a postulate is, as defined by, "something taken as self-evident or assumed without proof as a basis for reasoning." The idea (if I remember correctly) is that you used them instead of having to go through this long explanation to prove something. So instead of showing all the math behind the fact that a circle is 360 degrees, you just say "postulate 2." I want postulates for fantasy. Maybe I'll do a whole column about what they should be. But one is definitely the fact that Ray Rice doesn't score. In his past 16 regular-season games, Rice has scored a touchdown in two of them. Two of 16. Meanwhile, McGahee has scored in nine of those 16. The Panthers have allowed nine scores to opposing running backs this year. So ... Carolina gives it up to opposing running backs, McGahee is the one who scores, therefore I believe McGahee will score in this game. Not much else, but he will get you six or so points. But in the future, wouldn't it be easier, instead of all that, to just write "Postulate 6?"

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

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Bears' Devin Hester re-emerges as special teams force

The Chicago Bears have found a new source of yardage from an old friend.

Devin Hester has again made their special teams special after what seemed like a two-year absence following scintillating showings in 2006 and 2007, when he reached the end zone 11 times as a returner. Hester and Dallas Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant currently lead the league with two punts returned for touchdowns -- Hester's first in three years -- and now Hester is again bringing back kickoffs after he'd largely ceded the job to Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox while focusing on his receiving skills.

Hester's punt returns (*league leader)
• 2006-07: 89 ret., 14.1 avg., 7 TD
• 2008-09: 56 ret., 6.9 avg., 0 TD
• 2010: 20 ret., 16.7 avg*., 2 TD*

Hester's kick returns
• 2006-07: 63 ret., 23.2 avg., 4 TD
• 2008-09: 38 ret., 22.0 avg., 0 TD
• 2010: 2 ret., 50.0 avg., 0 TD

In Sunday's win vs. the Minnesota Vikings, Hester returned his first kickoff of the season 32 yards. He brought his next one back 68 yards, setting up a field goal. He also scored on a 19-yard pass from Jay Cutler and returned a punt 42 yards.

"I feel like I can do great things with the great talent that God blessed me with," says Hester.

"Kickoff returns are just another opportunity for me to get my hands on the ball."

The last time the Miami Dolphins appeared in prime time -- they lost to the New England Patriots 41-14 -- Brandon Tate returned a kickoff 103 yards, a contributing factor into the subsequent dismissal of Miami special teams coach John Bonamego.

Thursday night the Fins must try to contain Hester, who's been an important supplement to a Chicago offense struggling to move the ball (297.3 yards per game, 29th league-wide) and score (19.4 points per game, 23rd). And the next time Hester heads to the house running back a kick, he'll run into the record book. He's currently tied with Brian Mitchell for the most combined kickoffs and punts returned for TDs (13).

"When you've got the best returner in the world on your team, you want to put him back there at any time because he's going to make something happen," Knox says.

Click here to order Devin Hester’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Texans WR Andre Johnson: Future Hall of Famer?

It's been a frustrating season for Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson, a trend that may continue Sunday when he pairs up with New York Jets CB Darrelle Revis, who limited him to four catches for 35 yards last year.

"I look forward to playing against him," says Johnson. "He's the best cornerback in the game, and people say that I'm the best wide receiver, so people look forward to matchups like that. When you play sports, you want to play against the best. I just look forward to the challenge."

Johnson, a Pro Bowler in four of the last six years, is nursing an ankle injury that's cost him one game, and he'll need a strong finish to become the first man to post three consecutive 1,500-yard receiving seasons while driving the suddenly flagging Texans to their first playoff birth.

Still, the two-time first-team all-pro ranks No. 1 in NFL history with 79.4 receiving yards per game (Anquan Boldin is a somewhat surprising second at 78.0 ypg), has a strong claim as the game's top wideout and has quickly built an impressive case to be the first member of the Texans worthy of a ticket to Canton.

In seven-plus seasons, Johnson has 639 grabs for 8,729 yards, leaving him 10th among current players in both categories. He also has 46 TD receptions.

Click here to order Andre Johnson’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Ray Lewis, Ed Reed defend the Ravens defense

There has been a lot of talk about the state of the Ravens defense since last week's 26-21 loss to the Falcons -- especially on this blog. We discussed the possibility that the return of safety Ed Reed has actually had a negative impact on the pass defense. We chatted about college defenders who could be Ravens a year from now. And we had a bunch of thoughtful reader comments when I wondered out loud if the dominant days of the Ravens defense had just about come to a close.

I don't think anyone is saying that the Ravens defense is bad -- it's just not as good as what we're used to seeing. Hey, it's Ray Lewis and the gang's fault for setting the bar so high by finishing in the top six in total defense each season since 2003 (the Ravens are 10th right now and slipping).

When presented with the possibility Wednesday that the Ravens defense isn't as dominant as it once was, Reed, well, got a little defensive. “Yeah, some people don’t know anything about football," the safety said. "We were playing good ball, and we’re going to continue to play good ball.” 

But even if you ignore that the Ravens have blown fourth-quarter leads on a few occasions this season, stats show that the defense has played merely average ball over the past five games.

Some point to the fact that right now the Ravens are seventh in scoring defense (18.3 points allowed per game) and 10th in total defense (316.4 yards allowed per game). But the Ravens have slowly been sliding down the rankings after a strong first quarter of the season.

The Ravens allowed 13.8 points per game and 236 total yards per game in the first four weeks. They have allowed 22 points per game and 381 total yards per game since.

That's what people are referring to when they talk about the Ravens defense falling off.

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has been taking heat for not bringing the heat, but Lewis said Wednesday that the Ravens have been blitzing just as much as they did under Rex Ryan.

"It’s a copycat league. Everybody kind of does the same exact things," Lewis said. "I think we do it an equal amount as we did it when Rex was here. ... We have a great way of disguising a lot of different things to make it look like something it’s really not.”

Lewis is confident the Ravens will get everything figured out on defense. And when that happens, he expects the Ravens to climb back near the top of the defensive rankings -- just like in years past.

“We used to chase [stats], and we still do to a certain extent. But, I think that the biggest thing for our focus is [if] we keep stacking up W’s, all of that will come later," he said. "You [can’t] get caught up in those numbers, because some of the teams that are higher than us have way worse records than us.

"It can kind of be misconstrued at times, but we just have to keep playing football, and everything is going to roll out the way it’s going to roll. Like I said, we went through the roughest time of our schedule that we were going to go through. Now it’s time for us to start building on that, and stats will come with that if you’re looking for those.”

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

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Eric Moncur Named Defensive Player of the Week

Sacramento Mountain Lions defensive end ERIC MONCUR earned UFL Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Moncur recorded two sacks and three solo tackles in the Mountain Lions victory at a packed Hornet Stadium.  A backup defensive end who joined the team on October 11, Moncur tied the league record for sacks in a game.

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Former Miami players love to visit old haunts at 'The U'

Greg Olsen was stumped for a moment as he tried to remember his favorite hangout at the University of Miami.

"Coconut Grove was a cool place,'' the Bears tight end said. "But we never really went down to South Beach. Maybe you would go down on your birthday. That was a different scene and we didn't really have the money to do it.''

Surely Olsen and the other 40 former Hurricanes on NFL rosters have enough pocket change to frequent the posh South Beach atmosphere these days. Bears receiver/kicker returner Devin Hester, Olsen's college teammate, roamed South Beach during the Bears' off week with a group that included Miami alums Edgerrin James, Antrel Rolle and Willis McGahee.

"Everybody who played at Miami goes back and hangs out on the beach,'' said Hester, who grew up 80 miles north of the city. "Every club you go into, you're going to find someone who played for the 'Canes. We all bonded together. We go half on a table and chill all night.''

Thursday night's trip to Miami to face the Dolphins is sure to conjure up memories for Olsen and Hester, the two Bears representatives of a proud fraternity from "The U.'' The Texans have the most ex-Hurricanes with five, followed by the Redskins, Ravens and Giants with four apiece.

When the Hurricanes failed to boast a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft, it broke a 14-year streak. Giants safety Kenny Phillips was the last in '08.1

A total of 33 former Miami players have been on a Super Bowl winner and 67 have played in at least one.

"It's definitely a special place,'' Olsen said of his alma mater. "Every week here in the NFL, you play against guys from Miami.

"And when you're going to school there, all the old guys come back. It kind of instills that pride of going to Miami. I'm looking forward to playing and seeing a bunch of people from college. I'm sure a lot of my college coaches will be there.''

Unlike Olsen, Hester had no trouble recalling the place he frequented most in college.

"The weight room,'' Hester said. "I mean, our weight room was different. Everybody chilled there. And all the NFL players would come back and work out there — guys like Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson and Santana Moss — and you would just sit there and talk with him.''

Miami's weight room has achieved legendary status courtesy of the workouts directed by Andreu Swasey, the school's strength and conditioning coach. Guys such as Ravens star Ed Reed and Wayne of the Colts religiously returned to school during the offseason to keep themselves in top condition.

There is even a spot they refer to as "South Beach'' located outside Miami's weight room and in back of the football fields. It's a sand pit area where Swasey takes the players through a grueling workout. Watching one of those NFL players go through such a routine once inspired a young linebacker named Jon Beason to join the Hurricane family.

"I'm from Miami and I was undecided but I remember during my official visit, I ran into Reggie Wayne. He asked me, `Do I want to be good or do I want to be great?' And I told him I wanted to be great,'' said Beason, now a star with the Panthers and one of 11 former Hurricanes named to the 2010 Pro Bowl. "That conversation kind of stuck with me, and I chose Miami right then and there just because of the intuition, the gut-feeling I had.''

Olsen, who transferred to Miami after leaving Notre Dame, learned some of the nuances of playing tight end thanks, in part, to his weight-room encounters.

"I'm talking Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr.; just all those guys,'' Olsen said. "You're an 18-, 19-year-old kid and now you're working out with NFL players. You learn early what it takes to play at that level.''

The camaraderie wasn't just evident during workouts. When Sean Taylor and Bryan Pata both were shot to death in the past five years, Hurricanes young and old united to offer support.

And just recently, when Ravens star Ray Lewis announced the formation of a real estate business in Boca Raton, Fla., at least a dozen ex-Miami players attended the grand opening.

"We're tight. We're a family, man,'' 49ers running back Frank Gore said. "I talk with everybody still. We work out together. We hang out together.
"I try to see who all is doing something from 'The U.' It just makes me proud.''

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

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Devin Hester to Make History in Miami?

The Chicago Bears' return specialist, Devin Hester, is currently tied for the most combined kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns, along with Washington Redskins' great, Brian Mitchell, at 13.

Playing in his home town of Miami, FL Thursday night, against the Dolphins, Hester may have a chance to break his current tie with Mitchell.
But, if you're keeping score, Hester's on-pace numbers not only best Mitchell's, but they put Hester in-line to blow virtually every recordable return statistic out of the metaphorical water.

While Mitchell also has 13 career returns for TD, that number is through 223 total games played. It took Hester just 69 total games to achieve that same number. To put that into perspective: If Hester stayed at his current pace throughout his career, he'd finish with approximately 42 career return TDs, to Mitchell's 13.

Now, let's be realistic, Hester won't achieve that. His numbers will - likely - steadily decrease when he does start to enter the tail-end of his career. But, to be fair, 13 is not even close to 42. Hester will be labeled THE all-time great return-man for many years to come.

Grant it, Hester already holds a few other fairly impressive records: Most kick return for TD in a single season (6), Most kick returns fro TD in Chicago Bears history and first return for TD on the opening kick of any Super Bowl in SB XLI.

But, all of those records have attached contingencies. If Hester goes the distance on Thursday night, that will be the mother of all records: The most EVER, period. And with plenty of time to build on that record, Hester has to be chomping at the bit.

After all, that opening return for TD he scored in Super Bowl XLI, well, I hardly doubt you forgot that game was also played in Miami, FL? He's comfortable. And he's downright dangerous.

But, all of this speculation is dependant on one thing above all else: Will the Dolphins even kick to Devin? "We'll see when we get to the game," Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano said. "The game plan is probably to try to sneak three or four extra (players) out there on the field against (Hester) and see if we can have any success."

That's it, I'm calling your bluff Sparano! There is not way in hell, given all the circumstances involved, that you kick a football to Devin Hester. Unless, of course, you want to loose your job.

Dolphins beat reporter for the Sun-Sentinel, Omar Kelly, had this to say about Hester: "Crazy people kick to (Devin) Hester. Would you kick to him?"

After the Bears recent win over the Vikings on Sunday, Hester put this on his Twitter page: "Great win today. One more step to the Super Bowl."
Devin may not come right out and say it, but he's very aware of his current personal-record status, and for him, Thursday night is home field advantage.

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Jimmy Graham learning football ropes

As a relative newcomer to the game of football, one of the first lessons rookie Jimmy Graham got when he joined the Saints this spring came from veteran tight end David Thomas.

“David Thomas said, ‘Rookies need to be seen and not heard,’” a smiling Graham said recently, “so this is probably the last time I’ll ever have a camera in my face.”

The fact that Graham was talking to several reporters in front of his locker, however, was a clear sign that Thomas has had enough fun with their third-round draft pick.

Thomas officially gave the OK for Graham to talk after last Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Carolina Panthers, a game in which the 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end got his first NFL touchdown and had three catches for a career-high 49 yards.

Graham, a former University of Miami basketball player, got the equivalent of a thunderous slam dunk when he snared a 19-yard scoring pass from Drew Brees late in the second quarter against the Panthers.

Graham celebrated by running to the back of the end zone, faking a “Lambeau Leap” into the stands and letting the ball roll off his fingertips like he was making a layup in basketball.

While he made a basketball move there, Brees said there’s no doubt Graham’s future is in football -- like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, former college basketball players who became All-Pro tight ends.

“I’m excited about him, you see the potential and you see it starting to click,” said Brees. “It takes a little while, especially for a guy like him who’s used to being on the hoops court and putting the cleats on and coming on the field -- especially at this level.

“It’s a lot to take in with the adjustments, speed of the game and the physicality,” he said. “And there’s a new offense and defenses, and all those things. But he’s such a talented guy and he wants to be good … he wants to be great.”

Graham’s contributions have been limited so far, mainly because he played college football for only one season and then missed much of training camp after spraining his right ankle in the preseason opener.

“Definitely, I think things are slowing down for me,” said Graham, who uses his off day each Tuesday to watch tapes of Gonzalez and Gates. “That’s the biggest thing, being able to recognize what’s going on out there. Just being more confident and knowing what’s going on within our offense.

“People forget, or don’t realize, how complicated our offense can be -- especially for a rookie who’s only been playing (football) for a year. I’m continually learning and getting better at those things. That’s changed a lot for me recently, and it seems like things are coming together.”

Seven of Graham’s eight receptions have come in the last three games. He’s averaging 12.3 yards per catch and has one TD although he would have had another had he not pushed off against a Tampa Bay defender.

But he found a silver lining in that following Sunday’s game.

“I got to enjoy my first touchdown twice, and not many people get to do that,” he said with a smile. “But I’m glad that’s out of the way and I can hopefully have many more touchdowns.”

Brees and coach Sean Payton certainly see more in his future, mainly because of his size, speed and quickness. Graham, who is a tall target like teammate Jeremy Shockey, another former Miami player, has 4.55 speed in the 40 to go with soft hands.

Two of Graham’s three catches Sunday were made with cornerbacks covering him, a definite mismatch in the eyes of Brees and Payton.

“You’re excited to watch a guy like that and to have him be on your team,” Brees said. “I see the opportunities for him continuing to expand as we move forward, and hopefully, he just continues to grasp it at the pace that he has.”

Each of Graham’s three receptions at Carolina produced a first down and he now has seven first downs on nine touches -- including a 3-yard run on a reverse the first time he got his hands on the ball in an NFL game.

“I definitely want to be a playmaker,” he said, “and I definitely want to be a guy Brees can count on to get that first down for him.”

Graham is well on his way, according to Payton.

“He just keeps getting better,” he said. “He’s a tremendous worker, he’s very smart, he’s very athletic and he has soft hands. We just have to keep giving him opportunities.

“He plays with a lot of confidence. You don’t see a first-year player in his eyes on the sideline or in the huddle, and that’s encouraging.”

While he’s heard from several veterans that he’ll be called “rook” until training camp begins next summer, Graham doesn’t mind going along with it.

As such, he’s had to carry veterans’ shoulder pads and helmets into the locker room after training camp practices and had to bring donuts on Saturday morning -- another time-honored NFL tradition.

Then again, he said, it helps when Shockey treats him like his brother.

“The good thing is all the other veterans try to get me to do stuff and Shockey just squashes it because he tells them I’m his rook,” Graham said. “Fortunately, he looks out for me and doesn’t make me do anything crazy.”

Click here to order Jimmy Graham’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Andre Johnson, first wide receiver deserted on 'Revis Island' gets second shot at Darrelle Revis

His nickname, his brand and his new identity hadn't come to light yet. Darrelle Revis didn't grasp the magnitude of it all when he turned Texans star Andre Johnson into the first captive of Revis Island in last season's opener. The Jets cornerback held arguably the league's best wide receiver to four catches for 35 yards, turning him into an afterthought in Rex Ryan's first win.

Johnson soon had plenty of company as Revis routinely marginalized one star wideout after another in a season for the ages that helped him land a four-year, $46 million contract extension.

Despite that eye-opening performance, Revis maintains he never sensed the magical season he was about to have.

"You don't think about things like that," Revis told the Daily News. "You try to focus on your job and compete."

But his coaches knew.

"Sometimes in games like that, you don't realize it until it's over," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "In the locker room, you walk up to Revis and say, 'Did Andre Johnson even play today?'"

When Johnson gets another crack at Revis on Sunday, will he be facing the same dominating presence that shut him down a year ago?

After a nagging hamstring injury forced Revis to miss 2-1/2 games, the staple of Ryan's defense appears to be returning to his old self. According to, quarterbacks have thrown less into Revis' coverage this season. Excluding last Sunday's Browns game, opponents had thrown at Revis 4.9 times per game, which was down from 6.7 last season.

A Daily News game tape review of the OT win in Cleveland revealed that Colt McCoy threw into Revis' coverage just three times.

Although quarterbacks are roughly completing the same percentage of passes against Revis (37.8% in 2009 and 37.5% this year), the Jets cornerback has given up bigger plays than he did during his dominating 2009 campaign. His average yards per catch allowed has jumped from 10.5 to 18.8, according to ProFootballFocus. On a per-game basis, he's on pace to match his 27 pass breakups from a year ago. In a bottom line business, Revis has given up three touchdowns this season after surrendering just two in 2009.

Revis, of course, has looked much more like his dominating self since the Jets' bye week. The two-time Pro Bowler has allowed just four catches for 54 yards in the past three games, which included shutting down Calvin Johnson two weeks ago and handling Greg Jennings in the second half three weeks ago.

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Ed Reed hurt ankle on Ryan slide

Ravens safety Ed Reed said he hurt his ankle in Thursday night's loss to the Falcons when quarterback Matt Ryan slid into his foot. He suggested he may have suffered some ligament damage, and that he got up slow after plays as a result, but he continued to play.

Interestingly, it was the same play that TV replays showed Reed proceeded to dive at Ryan and dropped his elbow as Ryan ducked hsi head. It's not certain if there was contact, and Reed said he didn't remember exactly how the play unfolded.

"Once he hit my ankle, I have no clue what hit him," Reed said. "Once he hit my ankle, I knew he was down already. I was just like, 'Oh, my god, he slid right into my ankle.'"

What's more, Reed said reports of the demise of the Ravens' defense are premature.

"The day they beat us 59-28, then we have problems," Reed said.

When it was pointed out to Reed that 59-28 was the margin of the Eagles' Monday night victory over the Redskins, he backtracked. "I was just throwing numbers out," he said. "If we got beat 63-0, something like that, then we've got concerns on defense. Score was 21-26. They made a play at the end of the game. You can't put the call in the referee's hands, you got to make a play. You can say our defense ain't this, our defense ain't that, but look across the league. Every week it's something different. One minute, the defense is not doing 'this,' the next minute the offense is not doing 'this'.

"We're still a great defense and you’re going to continue to add guys in every year, and continue to take guys off. That's the nature of the [game]."
Reed also said he has not eliminated the lateral from his return game.

"No, I haven't ruled it out," he said. "If the situation presents itself and it’s a good opportunity, I would do it," he said. "If we needed it and it’s in good scoring position -- it’s not just a lateral just to mess with the game -- [but] it’s got to be a smart situation."

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Devin Hester's expanded role on returns gives Bears boost

Devin Hester had just finished reminiscing about returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI when a reporter asked him where that moment ranked among his career highlights.

"It's up there in the Top 3,'' Hester said.

"Just top 3?'' the reporter posed

"Top 2,'' Hester responded.

"It's in the Super Bowl,'' the reported stated.

"Maybe Top 1,'' Hester conceded.

Hester, arguably the league's most dynamic return man, hopes his return trip Thursday night to Dolphin Stadium is a historic one. Hester's 13 combined kick returns for touchdowns have him tied with Brian Mitchell for the NFL record.

"Oh yeah I thought about it, a few years ago,'' Hester said of breaking the record. "I'm still working on it. I have a couple more years left under my belt. Hopefully by the time I retire, it will be broken by then.''

If Hester does break one for a score Thursday night, it would be the ideal setting. Hester is from Riviera Beach, Fla., about 80 miles north of Miami. He has 40 family members and friends coming to watch the Bears- Dolphins game.

Hester was asked if he plays better in front of such a familiar audience.

"I think so,'' he said. "I think I don't get as fatigued as I do when (in Chicago) playing. It's going to be very exciting. And I'm hoping to put on a show for them.''

Hester had quite the performance last week as the Bears wisely put him back on kickoff duties. He was named the NFC' special teams player of the week after he compiled 147 total return yards against the Vikings, including a 68-yard kickoff return.

"He's just as confident as ever,'' special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "Devin has always been Devin. He had the two down years where he didn't score a touchdown, but still he was very, very effective in everything that he did on punt returns and kick returns every time we used him.''

Of more importance for the Bears, Hester showed he could be effective as a returner while remaining a crucial part of the offense. He also had a 19-yard touchdown reception in Sunday's victory over the Vikings.

"You can see why we moved him back into the (kickoff) return game,'' offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "All we're concerned about is that we keep him as fresh as we can. What he does for us on offense is remarkable, but we don't want to wear him down. When he wears down, then he's not as effective in both roles.

"There is a delicate balance that we have to be careful with. He knows that. He's thrilled to do both. As long as he is rested and ready to go, he'll be out there on offense.''

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Bucs defense hopes to reverse trend against 49ers' RB Frank Gore

TAMPA - Tampa Bay's reeling rush defense faces another major test Sunday when the Buccaneers travel to San Francisco to meet the surging 49ers and running back Frank Gore.

Since 2006, Gore tops all NFL players with 7,846 yards from scrimmage and leads the 49ers in rushing and receptions. Gore is the league's No. 5 rusher with 778 yards and ranks third among backs with 41 catches.

"He's a really good running back and they're a power team that loves to run the ball,'' said Bucs defensive end Stylez G. White. "They've got a great runner in Gore and Vernon Davis is a Pro Bowl tight end. They've got a lot of weapons and it's our job to contain them.''

Opposing backs are averaging 4.8 yards per carry against the Bucs, who have seen six different runners gain at least 100 yards against them in the past seven games.

"That's getting pretty old, but we're getting the wins,'' said White.

Gore's versatility is a problem for any defense facing the 49ers, who have won three of their past four after an 0-5 start.

"Their offense is based on the run and then they throw the play-action passes to Davis, who runs a 4.5,'' said defensive end Kyle Moore. "We have to be ready for that.''

Gore averages 21 carries per game and his 10.1 yards per reception is outstanding for a running back.

Troy Smith, who has beaten out Alex Smith at quarterback, comes off an impressive effort against St. Louis, throwing for 356 yards in a 23-20 overtime victory. The 2006 Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State presents a challenge with his ability to scramble and buy time.

"Troy Smith played well last week,'' White said. "He's making plays and his mobility can be a problem, if we let it be. We've got a lot of athletes on our side of the ball. We'll probably try to put the game in his (Smith) hands and keep it out of Frank Gore's.''

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Dwayne Hendricks grad signs with NFL practice squad

After working as a volunteer coach for the Millville High School football team for the last three months, Dwayne Hendricks was gearing up for the big Thanksgiving matchup with Vineland.

One phone call changed his Turkey Day plans.

Hendricks, a 2004 Millville graduate, was signed to the New York Giants' practice squad Tuesday after working out for the team in the morning. It's the second time in as many years Hendricks has been signed as one of the eight members of the team's practice squad.

"It almost felt like the first time when I signed last year," Hendricks said by phone Tuesday. "But now I know what it's like and I know what to expect and what I have to improve on from what I did last time."

Hendricks, 24, is a 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle was a three-year starter at the University of Miami after his time as a Thunderbolt. He was signed by the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in April 2009. He was released that June, but was signed to the practice squad four months later.

This summer, he was invited to training camp and was part of the team's final cuts, being released on Sept. 4.

Hendricks received an invitation to work out for the team on Monday and was signed shortly after completing his workout on Tuesday. He will practice with the team today.

"It was one of the teams I was familiar with, so I thought my chances were very good," Hendricks said about the Giants. "I was excited but nervous because I didn't want to get let down."

Being a member of a practice squad can be a thankless NFL job. Members work out with the team all week, but watch the games from home on Sundays.

"We do everything the regular team does (in practice)," Hendricks said. "You're just an extra body in there, helping out. I basically act as the other team."

With the Giants playing Philadelphia on Sunday night, Hendricks will mimic the team he grew up rooting for as a kid.

Since September, Hendricks has worked with the Thunderbolts' defensive line. He was also a substitute teacher at Millville High School.
"It was fun going back and helping out and sharing stuff that you know with people who are trying to get to where you're at, or at least go to college," Hendricks said.

The volunteer coach was able to witness the Thunderbolts qualify for the Group IV South playoffs for the first time since 1998.

"It was a big step forward for Millville," Hendricks said about the season. "Millville is supposed to be a football town. Now it gives the city something to talk about. I think it'll start bringing back some of the old fans that had lost faith. I think the future of the program is going to be amazing under coach (Jason Durham) and his staff."

Durham said he was excited for Hendricks' new opportunity.

"It's great for him, he's going back up," Millville coach Jason Durham said. "He's a level-headed young man and positive person."

And while he won't have a headset on during the Thanksgiving game against Vineland, he was able to make a prediction.

"I'll say Millville, 28-14."

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Clinton Portis says he's '50-50' to play against Tennessee Titans

After sitting out the Redskins' embarrassing 59-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, running back Clinton Portis now hopes to return to the lineup for the upcoming game against the Tennessee Titans, he said in a radio interview Tuesday.

During his weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan's The Mike Wise Show with Holden Kushner, Portis, who has been sidelined since suffering a severe groin tear Oct. 3, said he wants to play in Week 11 at LP Field.

"I mean, you know, that's what I'm aiming toward," Portis said. "But it's gonna be the same, you know, going through the week and showing, you know, an improvement from the beginning of the week to the end. And that'll be able to go get back on the field. I just got to be safe."

The odds of Portis returning to the lineup against the Titans are "50-50," he said. It all depends on whether Portis can "get through the week with no setbacks."

Portis experienced swelling and soreness in his groin area while practicing last week. As the week progressed, it appeared increasingly doubtful that he would return to face the Eagles.

After Portis suffered the injury in the 17-12 victory against the Eagles in Week 4 at Lincoln Financial Field, Coach Mike Shanahan said the team expected Portis to be sidelined for as long as six weeks. As of Sunday, Portis has missed six weeks.

With Ryan Torain's lingering hamstring problem, the Redskins definitely could have used Portis against the Eagles. Torain practiced at full speed several days last week, Shanahan said, providing encouraging signs about his ability to contribute in the big-stage game.

After sitting out the second half of the 37-25 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 8, Torain was among the Redskins' active players against the Eagles. But Torain aggravated his hamstring injury during pregame warmups, Shanahan said, and could not play.

Running back Chad Simpson was among the team's inactive players and James Davis, a promising practice squad back, was not added to the 53-man active roster for the game. Rookie running back Keiland Williams, a former undrafted free agent, was the Redskins' only active back.

Williams had a big game, rushing for 89 yards (with a 5.6-yard average) and two touchdowns and catching four passes for 50 yards and another touchdown. Although Williams is better than Torain at picking up blitzes, he is not as good as Portis, and quarterback Donovan McNabb needed as much help as he could get.

Portis is among the players still on the roster who played in the New England Patriots' 52-7 rout of the Redskins in 2007. He gained 27 yards on 11 rushes as the Redskins were dominated from the outset in that game as well.

After the Eagles' dominant performance Monday night, many Redskins players acknowledged they were embarrassed by their performance. Portis was stunned.

"I think it was kinda shocking," Ports said. "You would never expect that, being down twenty-eight to thirty-five to nothing that quick. I think that was shocking.

"As far as the mood [of the team], everybody was embarrassed. After a fifty-nine to twenty-eight defeat, there's not much the coach has to say. I don't think you put that on the coach."

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was outstanding, Portis said.

"I mean, they were on point last night," Portis said of the Eagles. "Michael Vick played like a creative player on a video game. They just had it going for them."

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Check out WQAM's interviews with proCanes This Week

Jimmy Graham, Lamar Thomas, Bernie Kosar, and Randy Shannon were guests on WQAM this week. Additionally Randy Shannon was also a guest on WQAM this week. Click here to listen to the interviews.

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proCanes Stats From Week 10 of the 2010 NFL U Season

Andre Johnson (Texans): 9 catches 146 yards 1 TD

Darryl Sharpton (Texans): 1 solo tackle

Vince Wilfork (Patriots): 2 tackles, 1 solo tackle

Brandon Meriweather (Patriots): 4 solo tackles

Jeremy Shockey (Saints): BYE WEEK

Jonathan Vilma (Saints): BYE WEEK

Santana Moss (Redskins): 3 catches 28 yards

Clinton Portis (Redskins): DID NOT PLAY due to injury

Rocky McIntosh (Redskins): 4 tackles, 3 solo tackles

Calais Campbell (Cardinals): 6 tackles, 3 solo tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss

Antrel Rolle (Giants): 5 solo tackles

Kelly Jennings (Seahawks): 1 interception (first interception of the season) and 3 pass deflections

Frank Gore (49ers): 22 carries, 87 yards, 1 TD and 3 catches, 67 yards

Kellen Winslow (Buccanneers): 6 catches for 65 yards, 1 TD (first TD of the 2010 season)

Roscoe Parrish (Bills): DID NOT PLAY on IR Will miss the entire 2010 Season

Greg Olsen (Bears): 3 catches 31 yards, 1 TD

Devin Hester (Bears): 4 catches, 38 yards, 1 TD, 2 kickoff returns for 100 yards and 2 punt return for 47 yards

Willis McGahee (Ravens): 3 carries, 8 yards and 1 catch, -4 yards

Ray Lewis (Ravens): 5 tackles, 4 solo tackles

Ed Reed (Ravens): 6 tackles, 5 solo tackles

Tavares Gooden (Ravens): 2 tackles, 1 solo tackle

DJ Williams (Broncos): 2 solo tackles, 1 pass defection

Sinorice Moss (Giants): DID NOT PLAY on IR Will miss the entire 2010 Season

Bruce Johnson (Giants): Underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, placed on IR

Kenny Phillips (Giants): 5 solo tackles

Reggie Wayne (Colts): 11 catches, 83 yards

Jon Beason (Panthers): 6 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss

Phillip Buchanon (Redskins): 2 solo tackles, 1 pass deflection

Antonio Dixon (Eagles): 1 solo tackle

Sam Shields (Packers): BYE WEEK

Jimmy Graham (Saints): BYE WEEK

Leon Williams (Cowboys): Played but did not record any stats.

Spencer Adkins (Falcons): 1 solo tackle

Javarris James (Colts): 10 carries for 26 yards, 1 TD

Damione Lewis (Texans): Played but did not record any stats.


Eric Winston (Texans): Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Rashad Butler (Texans): Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Bryant McKinnie (Vikings): Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Chris Myers (Texans): Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Vernon Carey (Dolphins): Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

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Giants Sign DT Dwayne Hendricks To The Practice Squad

The Giants signed defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks to their practice squad. Hendricks was on the Giants' practice squad for the final 10 weeks of the 2009 season. He played in all four preseason games this summer before being waived on Sept. 4. Hendricks replaces Nate Collins, who was signed to the Jacksonville Jaguars' active roster last week.

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Ex-girlfriend of Sean Taylor marries

N.E.R.D. member Shay Haley has married Jackie Garcia, the former girlfriend of murdered NFL star Sean Taylor, TMZ reported Monday.

Garcia — the niece of Ocean’s Eleven star Andy Garcia — married Haley in a private ceremony in Miami Saturday night.

Lead singer of the rock and hip-hop band, Pharrell Williams, was the best man and danced with the bride.

The wedding comes three years after Taylor’s death. Garcia was with Taylor when intruders entered their Florida home and shot the former Washington Redskins player while their 18-month-old daughter was in the room.

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SI player poll: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed among NFL's smartest

In a player poll conducted by Sports Illustrated at the beginning of the season, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed were recognized by their peers as two of the NFL's smartest players.

But in an all-too-familiar finish, they were dominated by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who finished first in the poll after collecting 62 percent of the vote. Crazy.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished second with eight percent. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, Lewis and Reed each garnered four percent of the vote.

Sports Illustrated didn't say who finished last in the voting, but my money is on Channing Crowder.

The poll appears in this week's issue of the magazine, which hits newsstands Wednesday.

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Devin Hester wins NFC special teams player of the week award

In case you missed it, the old Devin Hester is back on returns for the Bears.

He returned two kickoffs against the Vikings for 100 yards.  He had a 42-yard punt return.  He even threw in four catches and a 19-yard touchdown.  Hester’s work on returns earned him the NFC special teams player of the week.

“Devin has it going right now,” said coach Lovie Smith. “Guys are doing a great job blocking for him and he’s feeling it as far as thinking he can go the distance each time.”

Hester returns home to Miami Thursday, where he’ll try to set the all-time record for most career return touchdowns.

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Teammates stand by DJ Williams

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels gathered his six remaining team captains Saturday for a private meeting, asking for input on how the Broncos should punish linebacker D.J. Williams.

Williams, who had his team captaincy stripped on Saturday, was arrested early Friday morning on drunken driving charges, and missed Friday's practice and meetings while at a detox facility.

McDaniels and the players, a mix of offensive and defensive captains, agreed that no one wanted Williams suspended for the entire game. Players said Williams apologized to the team.

"We are looked at as the leaders on this team, and whenever there is a big decision like that, he came to us and expressed how he felt about it, and we expressed how we feel about it, and that was that. It was more of a collaboration on things," linebacker and special-teams captain Wesley Woodyard said. "We were 100 percent behind him sitting him out a series and then letting him come back in and play."

The punishment lasted only six plays, as the Broncos' defense forced the Chiefs to punt on their opening series. The Broncos played with Woodyard and Joe Mays lined up at inside linebacker as Williams watched from the sideline.

By the time Williams entered the game at the start of the Broncos' second defensive series, Denver had a 14-0 lead with about 11 minutes ticked off the game clock.

"We already had the fire started with Wesley in there, and D.J. came in and poured some more gasoline on it," linebacker Mario Haggan said.
On his first play in the game, Williams chased down Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles and made the tackle after a 3-yard gain.

But otherwise, Sunday marked Williams' quietest game of the season. The team's leading tackler didn't record another tackle until late in the fourth quarter, and finished with only two tackles.

He declined to talk to reporters after the game.

"I'm not talking," Williams said after he finished dressing. He left the locker room a few minutes later.

He took to his personal Twitter account a short time later to thank the fans who "had my back." But he stopped short of apologizing in this brief message.

"Even though the true facts aren't out, I should of never put myself in that situation," Williams wrote.

But the private apology Williams made to his teammates Saturday was enough for many of them, especially his fellow linebackers, who were charged with stopping the Chiefs and their No. 1-ranked rushing game without him.

"We just want to make sure we're here to show support," Mays said. "We needed the whole team to step up and be behind him. I think that's what happened. I think overall everything is good, we're just waiting to see what else is going to happen."

Williams still faces up to a four-game suspension by the NFL because Friday's arrest was his second for DUI, making Williams a repeat offender of the league's substance-abuse program. Any NFL suspension likely won't happen until next season.

If Williams is convicted, or even pleads guilty to an alcohol-related charge, he faces a mandatory 10-day jail sentence and at least two years' probation.

"I'm sure that's in the back of his head, he feels like he let us down, but he is still one of the guys we look to as a leader," Woodyard said. "But everybody, we have to be smart. We're put in a situation like we are, and we have to take care of things the right way."

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Kellen Winslow gets better of a matchup versus Jon Beason

TAMPA - There is something about Carolina linebacker Jon Beason that brings out the best in Kellen Winslow's pass-catching abilities.

Maybe it is the friendly banter between the two when they square off against one other.

Winslow was chirping Sunday, and that can only mean good things for the Tampa Bay tight end.

"He does," Tampa Bay tight end John Gilmore said. "He likes talking a little trash on Beason. He got him a little frustrated today."

Winslow also got himself his first touchdown of the season.

Running a seam route down the middle of the field, Winslow used a move 12 yards down field to get behind the Carolina linebacker and settled in front of strong safety Charles Godfrey.

Despite Godfrey being flagged for a pass interference penalty on the play, Winslow still managed to haul in a 20-yard pass from Josh Freeman in the end zone of the Buccaneers' 31-16 victory over Carolina at Raymond James Stadium.

"That was a heck of a play," said Gilmore, who had a good view watching from the sideline.

Winslow expected the match-up and asked Freeman to give him a chance to make a play.

"I said if Beason is running with me, just throw it up," Winslow said. "As soon as you get him running, it's hard for the linebackers to turn back around and look for the ball."

Freeman obliged and was rewarded.

"If you're going to play man-to-man, you're going to have a linebacker matched up on Winslow," Freeman said. "And I'd take Kellen Winslow in that match-up."

It was Winslow's first scoring catch in 17 games, dating back to Nov. 8, when he hauled in a 7-yard pass touchdown in a 38-28 victory over Green Bay at RJS.

And Winslow knew how long it had been since he reached paydirt.

"I definitely know," Winslow said. "I train to compete with the top tight ends in the league. I'm behind right now. But it's kind of like a NASCAR race. It's a long race to the finish. It's a competitive thing."

The 27-year-old Winslow caught 77 passes and tied his career high with five touchdowns a year ago.

With Cleveland in 2006, he had 89 receptions. The following year he had 82 catches, five for scores for the Browns.

"It has been rough just trying to be patient," Winslow said. "If you don't have some catches in a game, it can be frustrating. You just gotta keep pressing and working hard. It came this game. You just have to be a professional. It's my job."

In his seventh NFL season, Winslow's season-high in catches this season is seven in a 31-6 loss to New Orleans.

For a player who has had six games of 100 or more receiving yards during his career, his highest total this season is 83 on Week 2 at Carolina in a 20-7 victory.

"He had a big game against these guys the first time around, too," Gilmore said. "So for him to do what he did didn't surprise me one bit. He said all week it was a mismatch. He went out and made his plays, like we knew he would."

Freeman targeted Winslow six times, and he came up with six receptions for 65 yards.

"He's a tough match-up for anybody and has been and was for us today," Carolina coach John Fox said.

"I could do a lot better," Winslow said. "It's my job to create mismatches and make plays."

Most came against Beason, a product of the Miami Hurricanes, just like himself.

"Beason is an all-pro linebacker," Winslow said. "We knew when he was at Miami he was going to be an all-pro in this league. It's always great to compete against him."

As long as Winslow is going out in pass routes and not lining up against Beason.

"It's tough on those guys," Winslow said. "If I was asked to block Beason all day, he'd probably kick my butt. It's just match-ups."

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The Ed Reed effect -- Part II

Last week I wrote about the Ed Reed effect -- that since the safety's return from the PUP list, the Ravens had started creating turnovers on defense. But during his weekly press conference Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh fielded questions about another effect Reed has had on the Baltimore defense.

In three games with Reed in the starting lineup, the Ravens given up an average of 23.3 points. They had allowed 15.8 points per game prior to Reed's return. The Ravens have also surrendered 385 total yards per game with Reed after allowing 282 per game in their first six games. Of course, coughing up 34 points and 505 total yards against the Bills inflated these numbers.

Harbaugh said there is no correlation between Reed's return and the secondary's struggles.

“Well, unless you’ve got a connection there, I mean… We all learned this in science. It’s a spurious correlation," Harbaugh said. "It might just be a spurious correlation, to throw one out there. What do you think? You guys impressed?"

A reporter responded, "I don't even know what that means." (And that makes two of us -- at least.)

"That’s not the reason," Harbaugh clarified. "If we’re not playing as good of pass defense -- which I’m not sure that’s true -- but if that’s the case, then it’s not because of Ed Reed or that he’s back there or that we’ve got to find some formula with Ed. It’s specific things to specific plays.”

Simply put: I'm with Harbaugh on this one.

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Vince Wilfork waxes poetic on WEEI

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork, buoyed by his team's 39-26 victory Sunday night at Pittsburgh, appeared on WEEI this afternoon and addressed several topics, including the youthfulness of New England's defense, the play of defensive lineman Mike Wright, the upcoming game against the Colts, and Tom Brady's competitive fire.

In one lighthearted moment, Wilfork, no slouch himself as a competitor, reminded everyone of the offseason challenge he made to race Brady in 40-yard foot race.

"I told Brady in the offseason that we're going to get it done," Wilfork said. "You know what we're going to do? We're going to run for charity, that's what we're going to do. I'm going to talk to Mr. Kraft and we're going to go into Foxborough, go into the stadium, get your popcorn, ice cream, or whatever and we're going to race.

"We'll have everybody there," Wilfork said, "WEEI's going to be there, ESPN's going to be there, everybody is going to be there to witness this."
Told it would be problematic deciding the length of the race, Wilfork replied, "The race is going to be 40 [yards]. Anything shorter, he definitely won't win. Anything under 40, he will not win. I guarantee that. The longer it goes, the advantage goes to him.

"Look here, anything after 40 yards, I don't need to be running that. I'll tell you that right now. But anything under 40 yards, he's in trouble."
Sounds like the pay-per-view draw could be even bigger than a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.

Wilfork also addressed other topics during his WEEI appearance:

On the defensive turnaround against the Steelers after the loss to the Browns: "Like we said last week, it started with practice. Practice was terrible. There were little things we were doing wrong and it carried over into the game. Going into this past week, we were like, 'Let's get a good start.' Once we saw the film of Cleveland, we made the corrections and we put it behind us. I think everybody got off to a great start in practice. We had a great week of practice and it showed [Sunday night]. Everybody did their job and played the game we needed to play and we needed to be aggressive against this Steelers football team because that's their style of play. They don't know how to play any other way but physical and aggressive, so we knew we needed to match that intensity if we were going to have a chance and I thought we did that."

On whether he agreed it was the most physical the Patriots' defense had been this season: "I totally 110 percent agree, because the calls we had in allowed us to be aggressive. From the coaches to the players, we never second-guessed out there when we made a call. When a call got sent in, everybody was so tuned in and knew exactly what they needed to do and it allowed us to play aggressive and hard. And you know what? When we play like that, and when we play consistent football, we're playing great. It's the times when we don't play consistent, it hurts. It was a great example of us all being on the same page, jelling together, and going out and being physical, especially up front. Both our offensive and defensive lines handled their front pretty well."

On the play of the underrated Mike Wright: "Mike's been doing it for a couple of years now. When his number has been called, he's been ready to play. I don't think there's any guy in the league that can come in on third down and pass rush with the best of them. Just look at his stats. He's a situational player. One week he's playing defensive end, one week he's nose tackle, one week he's in the nickel and dime package, but whatever it is, he seems to come through at every moment. We used to have a guy here, Jarvis Green, who used to be the same way. But I think Mike Wright has taken his game to a whole other level. He understands the situation, because he never knows what situation he's going to be in, but I'll tell you what, he works his tail off in practice and it shows on Sunday. He's definitely underrated, but we know what type of player he is.''

On the youthfulness of the Patriots' defense, whose average age is 25.5: "If Bill [Belichick] didn't have faith in who he has out there on the field, we wouldn't be out there, point blank. I don't care who it is -- a 10-year vet or a rookie -- if he doesn't have the faith and confidence in you to go out and execute, you wouldn't be out there."

On the special nature of the upcoming home game against the Colts: "You know Peyton [Manning] is going to be Peyton. You know he's going to hit the open receiver. He's going to hand the ball off. It seems like we've been playing them forever. We kind of know them and they kind of know us. It's going to come down to who's executing the game plan better. Who's not going to make the mistakes? That's what it's going to boil down to."

On Brady's outward display of emotion in a fiery second quarter sideline chat with the offense:``If Tom is chewing 'em out, there's a reason he's chewing 'em out. He's not chewing 'em out just to chew 'em out. Tom plays with a lot of emotion. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's so competitive he wants everybody to be as competitive as he his. I don't think it's anything other than that. Mistakes that we make, he's going to let you know _ I don't care if its an offensive player or defensive player _ he's going to let you know, hey, we can't afford that. If he throws an incomplete ball, he's [ticked] off with himself. He's so competitive and it comes out and sometimes people might see like you saw [Sunday] night when he's yellin' and doin' all that. It's just another part of him. He wants to win and he wants to do everything perfect. Trust me, he wears his emotions on his sleeve, especially going into this game because the last time we faced [the Steelers], they beat us up pretty bad, so I think a lot of guys wanted to walk away with a 'W'. I think we had an extra little spark in us.''

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Gaby Sanchez unhappy with fourth-place finish in NL rookie voting

Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez said he is happy that San Francisco catcher Buster Posey was named National League Rookie of the Year on Monday.

But Sanchez couldn't hide his disappointment over finishing no higher than fourth.

"I was definitely was a little upset," said Sanchez, who led NL rookies with 85 RBI and 154 hits and was third with 18 home runs. He hit .273 while playing more games (151) than any of the top finishers.

Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward finished second with 107 points, 22 behind Posey.

St. Louis pitcher Jaime Garcia finished third with 24 points followed by Sanchez with 18 in voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Texas Rangers closer Neftali Perez was named the American League's top rookie.

Posey was called up May 29 and played a key role in the Giants' run to the championship. He led NL rookies with a .305 average while hitting 18 homers in 108 games.

Heyward spent the entire year with Atlanta, which won the wild card race, but played in just 142 games because of an injury. He led rookies with a .373 on-base percentage and had 18 homers with 72 RBI while batting .277.

Garcia was fourth among all NL pitchers with a 2.70 ERA and was 13-8.

Sanchez said he thought that writers around the country made up their minds by July or August that Posey or Heyward - the glamour names in the 2010 rookie class - would win the award.

"Look at Jaime Garcia's numbers. He had an unbelievable year, and it didn't matter what he did - he wasn't going to get better than third,' said Sanchez, who received two first-place votes, one second-place vote and five votes for third place. "I feel like it's a little unfair."

Two other Marlins rookies had excellent seasons. Right fielder Mike Stanton led all rookies with 22 home runs after being called up June 8, and left fielder Logan Morrison hit .283 after a July 27 call-up. Neither received any votes.

The Marlins' Chris Coghlan, who started the season in left field but was injured, won the award in 2009.

The Rangers' Feliz was 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA and 40 saves in 43 opportunities.

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Danny Valencia finishes third in AL ROY balloting

The Twins have been searching for an everyday third baseman since Corey Koskie left after the 2004 season. But thanks to Danny Valencia's stellar rookie campaign in 2010, the club may have found its solution at the position for years to come.

Valencia's impressive first season in the Majors earned him a spot in the field of contenders for the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year Award, and though he was a long shot to win the trophy, he definitely earned consideration for the honor.

Valencia finished third in the balloting for this year's honors, won by Texas closer Neftali Feliz, who garnered 20 of 28 first-place votes. Detroit outfielder Austin Jackson, who received the other eight first-place votes, finished second. Valencia received one second-place vote and nine third-place votes.

While Valencia didn't win the award, it won't take away from what was a strong first season in the Majors. Valencia, who turned 26 on Sept. 19, batted .311 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .448 slugging percentage while providing a solid glove at third base. He hit seven home runs, including two grand slams, and 18 doubles in 85 games for the Twins while driving in 40 runs.

Considered one of the Twins' top prospects heading into the 2010 season, Valencia got his first opportunity in the Majors at the start of June when Michael Cuddyer was placed on the bereavement list. At the time, Valencia's stay was expected to be just a few days, but injuries to other players prolonged it and the rookie eventually earned a regular spot in the lineup.

Prior to arriving in Minnesota, Valencia hadn't gotten off to a strong start at Triple-A Rochester. He batted .292 with 15 doubles but no home runs in 49 games for the Red Wings. There were questions as to where his power had gone. But the slow start turned into what was an incredible season for Valencia, and he wound up finishing the year as a candidate to join the Twins who've won Rookie of the Year honors: Tony Oliva (1964), Rod Carew (1967), John Castino (1979), Chuck Knoblauch (1991) and Marty Cordova (1995).

"He's learned the game and how to handle himself," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Valencia toward the end of the 2010 season. "He's listened to other hitters, he's watched film of pitchers. The physical ability is there. When we got him up here he was willing to listen and he worked. He is a nice looking player."

One thing that hampered Valencia's candidacy for Rookie of the Year was the fact that he didn't spend a full season in the Majors. And while Valencia never headed back to the Minors after his callup, it took a little bit of time for him to gain an everyday spot in the lineup. Once he did, though, Valencia wound up playing a key part in the Twins' success.

In 65 games after the All-Star break, Valencia ranked first among American League rookies in batting (.311), RBIs (37) and doubles (16). He was also second in hits (75) and third in home runs (seven) over that span.

"He's made a difference in a lot of games, and single-handedly won a handful," starter Kevin Slowey said during the final month of the season. "It's been great for us. He was a guy that everybody knew he had the talent and it would just be a matter of time of getting up here and getting some repetitions."

And though the Twins might not have added another Rookie of the Year winner to the organization, thanks to Valencia they'll head into this winter for the first time in a number of years without a question mark at third base.

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Brewers will not trade OF Ryan Braun

An MLB executive told Ken Rosenthal of Sunday that Ryan Braun is not going to be traded this offseason.

Braun is under team control in Milwaukee until 2015 on a bargain eight-year, $45 million pact. “With that contract,” said the one executive, “you’d have to get six players for him.” Braun posted a stellar .304/.365/.501 batting line, 25 homers and 103 RBI over 619 at-bats this past season.

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proCanes Extend TD Streak to 132 Regular Season Weeks

Did you know that a former Miami Hurricane/current proCane has scored at least one touchdown in 132 consecutive regular season NFL weeks? Dating back to Week 15 of the 2002 season where Clinton Portis scored 4 TDs, at least one proCane has scored a TD in each regular season week since then. We have chronicled every touchdown since 2002. See below:

Week 10 2010:
Javarris James - 1 TD - Indianapolis Colts
Greg Olsen - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Devin Hester - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Andre Johnson - 1 TD - Houston Texans
Frank Gore - 1 TD - San Francisco 49ers
Kellen Winslow - 1 TD - Tampa Bay Buccanneers (first TD of the season)

Week 9 2010:
Willis McGahee - 1 TD - Baltimore Ravens
Jeremy Shockey - 1 TD - New Orleans Saints
Javarris James - 2 TDs - Indianapolis Colts (first career TD)
Jimmy Graham - 1 TD - New Orleans Saints (first career TD)
Greg Olsen - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Roscoe Parrish - 1 TD - Buffalo Bills

Week 8 2010:
Frank Gore - 1 TD - San Francisco 49ers
Andre Johnson - 1 TD - Houston Texans
Reggie Wayne - 1 TD - Indianapolis Colts

Week 7 2010:
Willis McGahee - 1 TD - Baltimore Ravens
Santana Moss - 1 TD - Washington Redskins

Week 6 2010:
Devin Hester - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Andre Johnson - 1 TD - Houston Texans

Week 5 2010:
Willis McGahee - 1 TD - Baltimore Ravens
Jeremy Shockey - 1 TD - New Orleans Saints
Frank Gore - 1 TD - San Francisco 49ers

Week 4 2010:
Willis McGahee - 1 TD - Baltimore Ravens

Week 3 2010:
Jeremy Shockey - 1 TD - New Orleans Saints
Santana Moss - 1 TD - Washington Redskins
Greg Olsen - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Devin Hester - 1 TD - Chicago Bears

Week 2 2010:
Greg Olsen - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Devin Hester - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Clinton Portis - 2 TDs - Washingon Redskins
Andre Johnson - 1 TD - Houston Texans
Reggie Wayne - 1 TD - Indianapolis Colts
Frank Gore - 1 TD - San Francisco 49ers

Week 1 2010:
Reggie Wayne - 1 TD - Indianapolis Colts
Roscoe Parrish - 1 TD - Buffalo Bills
Willis McGahee - 1 TD - Baltimore Ravens

Click below to see the rest of the list:

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Javarris James vultures another score

Javarris James was held to 26 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against the Bengals in Week 10.

James showed nice leg drive to power in from three yards out early in the second quarter. The Colts goal-line back of the moment now has three scores in the last two games. His role for Week 11 may hinge on the health of Jospeh Adddai and Mike Hart.

Click here to order Javarris James’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Greg Olsen gets a touchdown in win

Greg Olsen caught three passes for 31 yards with a touchdown in Sunday's win over the Vikings.

Olsen had a touchdown on a screen pass called back due to a holding flag, but froze the linebackers with a stop-n-go for a score on the very next play. He had six targets today after eight a week ago and now has a touchdown in two straight weeks. He's still not used enough to be a TE1, but owners decimated by injuries could do worse.

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

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Kellen Winslow has 65 yards, touchdown

Kellen Winslow caught six passes for 65 yards and a touchdown in the Bucs' Week 10 win over the Panthers.

Winslow ranked second on the Bucs with six targets, catching all of them for his best yardage total since Week 5 and his first score of the season. The Bucs came into Week 11 pledging to increase Winslow's role, but it's tough to say whether it will keep up. He's struggled to get open this season.

Click here to order Kellen Winslow’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Devin Hester's surprise move pays off for Bears

The Bears entered Sunday's game with two solid options at kick returner with Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox. Option No. 3, Devin Hester, turned out to be the best way to go.

"Why would I be mad if they let the best returner in the world go back there and do his thing? Devin showed today that he's the best,'' Knox said. ``And I'm more than happy to let him do it whenever he wants to."

Hester hadn't returned a kick since the last game of the 2009 season but showed little signs of rust. He returned two kicks for 100 yards, including a 68-yarder to set up a field goal.

Manning, who entered the game with a team-high 18 kickoff returns for a 24.9 yards average, only lined up for one Sunday. And that kick skipped short to Rashied Davis, who tied a career-high with a 32-yard return.

``We knew in practice we were going to rotate me and Devin,'' Manning said. ``I'm quite sure it surprised them. Some of those returns, those guys weren't expecting that Devin was going to be there.

Click here to order Devin Hester’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Given the chance, Devin Hester does it all for Bears

It seems like football coaches have been trying to figure out exactly what to do with Devin Hester since the days when the throwback uniforms the Bears wore Sunday were their regular outfits.

Should he play offense? Defense? Both? Kick return? Punt return? Both? Wildcat quarterback? Wide receiver or running back? What should be his football major? How many minors can he have?

These are eternal questions. They may never be answered in this life.

But if the Bears could duplicate how they used Hester in Sunday's 27-13 victory over the Vikings, that would be a fine place to start.

As a wide receiver, Hester caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. As a returner, he brought back two punts, including a 42-yarder, and two kickoffs, including a 68-yarder. He had 185 all-purpose yards.

Hester gave the Bears a shorter field, which is to say he slanted it. Thanks mostly to Hester, the average Bears' drive began on their own 44. That gave the Bears' offense a head start of 14 yards on the Vikings' offense on average.

"The guy is awesome, the best ever," Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said.

The surprise was that Hester was returning kicks. He had not brought back a kick since last January when Danieal Manning was injured, and he had not been asked to return kicks in 22 of the Bears' last 24 games. The last time he had a kick return as long as his 68-yarder Sunday was more than three years ago when he scored on an 88-yard return against Jay Cutler's Broncos.

He was jacked about returning kicks — and his teammates were juiced about it too.

"At one point I really tried to focus on receiver," Hester said. "I felt like I had the return game mastered down and I wanted to really focus on receiver. Now I'm feeling a little more comfortable at receiver, I can start back focusing on returns as well, maybe give me a chance to study them both."

Since Hester scored on two punt returns over four games, opponents have been punting away from him. And opponents also have tried to deny him the ball on offense by rolling a safety his way.

But it's difficult to deny him the ball on kickoffs.

"We're trying to get Devin the ball on the offensive side, but putting him back there as a single returner, you'll know he'll get an opportunity to make some plays on that," coach Lovie Smith said.

And so in the third quarter, Hester fielded a kick in the end zone from Ryan Longwell. He credited special teams coach Dave Toub for sending 10 blockers one way, which cleared the way for Hester to run 68-yards the other way.

The next time Hester touched the ball was on a perfect punt on the sidelines by Chris Kluwe. Hester fielded it at the 21, and appeared pinned in. He ran straight up the sideline for 42 yards on what was a very unlikely return.

"I have to give all the credit to my team," Hester said of the play. "When you get a ball punted like that pinned to the sideline, it's really rare you can come out like that. They put out great blocks and let me squeeze in some holes."

It's nice that Hester wants to credit his blockers, and they deserve credit. But it's not like J'Marcus Webb could have brought it back 42 yards behind that blocking. The Vikings had not allowed a punt return longer than 9 yards all season.

Hester is arguably the greatest return man in history. With one more return touchdown, he will have more than anyone.

All of which points to the very logical conclusion that he should be returning anything he can as often as he can. Even if it means contributing less to the offense. The only issues are if he can handle the extra mental responsibilities and physical demands.

Hester doesn't seem to mind playing fewer and fewer snaps at receiver. He talked about the value of keeping all the receivers fresh. And he also acknowledged he was lobbying to return kicks.

"I just like being out there with the ball in my hands," he said. "I feel I can do great things with the talent God blessed me with, anyway I can. Kickoff returns are another opportunity."

If Hester keeps playing the way he did Sunday, he can do whatever he wants — return kicks, rush the passer in sub packages, be in charge of coaches' challenges, or even set the draft board.

He might even be able to succeed the guy with the big office at City Hall.

Ridiculous, you say? Absolutely.

Click here to order Devin Hester’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Denver takes tough stance with DJ Williams

The Denver Broncos have stripped star linebacker D.J. Williams of his captaincy for the season and won't start him Sunday against Kansas City following his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving.

The Broncos also fined their leading tackler an undisclosed amount for missing practice and a meeting Friday when he was in a detox facility. The team issued a statement saying it was "extremely disappointed in D.J. Williams' careless and irresponsible actions Friday morning."

While some fans were wondering why Williams didn't get suspended like wide receiver Brandon Marshall (late for treatment) and Tony Scheffler (insubordination) were for the season finale last year, the Broncos did all they could to punish Williams, who leads the team in tackles and sacks.

It's up to the NFL to fine or suspend a player for alcohol-related offenses. And Williams faces a multiple-game suspension from the league because it was his second such arrest in his seven seasons in Denver. He also had a DUI arrest in 2005, when he pleaded guilty to impaired driving.

Other teams have similarly punished players for infractions and distractions. The New York Jets benched receiver Braylon Edwards for one quarter after a DUI arrest and the Tennessee Titans didn't let receiver Kenny Britt start after he got into a brawl at a bar.

San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson is serving a three-game suspension for multiple DUI arrests, which was reduced from an original four-game penalty.

If convicted, Williams also faces a mandatory 10-day jail sentence, although the judge could order he serve his sentence at home, and at least two years of probation. Williams has been ordered to appear in court Dec. 13.

Williams was arrested a little before 3 a.m. Friday when police spotted him driving his car without headlights. He was cited with DUI, a misdemeanor, as well as driving without headlights, and taken to a detox facility.

He showed up at team headquarters shortly after practice started Friday but left after a few minutes.

Click here to order DJ Williams’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Clinton Portis says he hopes to play Monday

Although he has experienced "minor" setbacks in rehab, veteran running back Clinton Portis still hopes to return to the lineup Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field, Portis said Thursday.

Meeting with reporters before practice at Redskins Park, Portis, who has been sidelined the past four games because of a severe groin tear, reiterated he is "looking forward to the opportunity to go out and try. One day at a time."

After suffering the injury during Washington's 17-12 victory against Philadelphia in Week 4, Portis has participated in practice this week in an attempt to contribute in the second meeting with the Eagles.

"I think I'm making progress," Portis said. "But I can't just sit here and tell you it's a definite. I've got to go out and continue to get through the rest of this week. And hopefully on Monday, and I can go out there."

Portis has experienced the setbacks after attempting to go full speed in practice. Before Portis returned to practice, members of Washington's medical/training staff informed him he should expect to experience soreness and swelling in his groin area, and "it's real sore," he said. "I think these are signs that they expected. Pretty much just staying on top of it. Every I chance I get, just getting treatment."

Click here to order Clinton Portis’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Pointed Words From Antrel Rolle Help to Sharpen Focus

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They were 12 minutes 58 seconds that pivoted the Giants’ season, but safety Antrel Rolle has said all along that he was just speaking his mind.

If a sound bite can turn around a season, Rolle provided it when he criticized the Giants for what he saw as a lack of leadership after a Sept. 19 loss to the Colts. He sent a message — transmitted over radio waves to his coaches, his teammates and thousands of listeners — that reverberated loudly at the Giants’ practice facility in the short time it took to conduct an interview.

“I don’t care what changed the season,” Rolle said last week after practice. “As long as it changed. And as long as we’re heading in the direction we’re heading now, the sky is the limit for us.”

The Giants (6-2), who host the Dallas Cowboys (1-7) on Sunday, have won five of six games since Rolle criticized them on the sports-talk radio station WFAN, their performance improving each time on the field.

The mood of the team has changed decidedly from the dismal end of last season and the frustrating start to this one. The Giants are buoyant and confident. Players joke with one another on the sidelines. The defense has hit its stride under the first-year defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who gets into the middle of the defense before games and fires up the players like a preacher. The members of the secondary have a dance competition before kickoff.

“I definitely think it was for the better of the team,” Rolle said of his critical comments. “I only did it for the better of the team. Not taking credit for anything, but I think it woke a lot of people up.”

It may have taken an outsider’s perspective to help change the mood surrounding the Giants. After playing five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, Rolle signed a five-year contract with the Giants in March.

On the field, Rolle has been a valuable component of the secondary, one of the three safeties the Giants deploy simultaneously to confuse opposing offenses. In the locker room, Rolle has also been a noticeable presence.

“He could stand up and speak and people would listen,” Rick Courtright, the Cardinals’ assistant defensive backs coach, said in a telephone interview during training camp. “It’s my belief guys earn the right to do that with their performance on the field. I think his performance and his track record has earned that.”

Last season, the Giants lost 8 of their final 11 games, a tailspin that left some players disgruntled, a defensive coordinator jobless and an owner fuming. Their poor play seemed to carry over into this season. They were not impressive in a Week 1 win over the overmatched Carolina Panthers, but it was a sluggish 38-14 loss to Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 19 that led to Rolle’s comments.

Two days after that loss, Rolle made his weekly appearance on “Joe and Evan,” hosted by Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts. Rolle started the interview by saying the Giants looked flat in Indianapolis. Then Benigno asked if the Giants would be ready for their next game.

“I’m assuming your team will be ready this game, though,” he said. “They won’t be too relaxed before the game. Is that fair to say?”

Rolle replied: “That shouldn’t be the case. I saw some things that I wasn’t too fond of in that locker room. I felt like there was no one that stepped up to the plate when the opportunity presented itself.”

Suddenly, the Giants found themselves in the headlines, and for the wrong reasons.

Rolle did not realize that he had caused a disturbance by sharing his sentiment on the radio until he arrived at the Giants’ practice facility the next day and saw a swarm of reporters around his locker.

“Rolle was from a culture in Arizona that had to learn how to win, and they did it well,” Carl Banks, an All-Pro linebacker who played with the Giants from 1984 to 1992, said in a recent interview. “When he came in and he started to notice some things, he spoke up. And I have no problem with that. And I think none of his teammates had a problem with it. They probably welcomed it.”

Not everyone welcomed it. Coach Tom Coughlin called a meeting with Rolle to address the matter; he asked Rolle what he saw and how things could be improved. Rolle also discussed his statements with Justin Tuck, the soft-spoken defensive end who was elected a captain in September and has been encouraged to take a greater leadership role. The issue for Coughlin and Tuck was not the content of the message, but the manner in which it was delivered.

Still, the Giants’ next game seemed to underscore Rolle’s comments. They beat themselves with sloppy and undisciplined play in a 29-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, when they had 3 turnovers and were called for 11 penalties. Many players, though, said that game indicated that they had talent, but they needed the focus to match.

“I think that made a huge difference,” cornerback Terrell Thomas said of the week of the Titans game. “I think we just had enough of it.”

The Giants have not lost since. Perhaps the moment most indicative of the change in the team came in their first game against the Cowboys, on Oct. 25. Down by 20-7 in the second quarter, the Giants did not slouch. Tuck paced the sidelines encouraging his teammates, making his presence felt and heard, but without overreacting. The Giants scored 31 unanswered points and won, 41-35.

For his candid contribution to the turnaround, Rolle earned a towel bearing a profane saying that referred to his unvarnished assessment of the team.

After the Giants’ win over the Cowboys three weeks ago, Rolle had another bold statement to make in his subsequent weekly radio appearance.

“We are the best team in the N.F.L.,” Rolle said. “And that’s hands down.”

Click here to order Antrel Rolle’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Ryan Braun earns Silver Slugger award

Two Milwaukee Brewers were honored Thursday as 2010 Silver Slugger Award winners.

Left fielder Ryan Braun earned the honor for the third time in as many seasons, while pitcher Yovani Gallardo picked up his first award.

Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals was honored for the sixth time, while Vladimir Guerrero of the Texas Rangers snagged his eighth award, his first as designated hitter.

The Silver Slugger award winners were determined by a vote of coaches and managers who named the players they felt were the best offensive producers at each position in both leagues. Selections were based on offensive statistics, including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, as well as the general impressions of a player's overall offensive value.

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