NFL U Week 3 Matchup Guide

NFL U Matchups 2013 Week 3

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NFL U Updated Rosters

NFL U Rosters 9.19.13

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Matt Bosher Leading The League

Atlanta's Matt Bosher leads league with average of 49.9 yards per punt.

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Bar high for Jimmy Graham

Geez. What does Jimmy Graham have to do to get noticed? The New Orleans Saints' star tight end had a career-best performance in Sunday’s 16-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with 10 catches, 179 yards and a touchdown. But it wasn’t enough to earn him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors (thanks to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 480-yard, four-touchdown performance).

Worse yet, Graham’s performance barely captured the attention of his own quarterback.

Drew Brees said Wednesday that he’s so used to such efforts from Graham at this point that he didn’t even realize the numbers his go-to guy was racking up Sunday.

“Walking away from it, had you asked me, ‘Hey, what do you think Jimmy’s numbers were today?’ I wouldn’t have thought it was that much. But I guess looking back on it, you start adding it up and you’re like, ‘OK,’” Brees said. “So I guess my point is, not that you have this expectation level, but you are just used to seeing a lot of those plays being made. It’s not like taking him for granted. But I think we all just expect that if we are not putting up 400-plus yards as an offense, score 30-plus points, running the ball well, throwing the ball well, hitting some big plays, doing these things … when those things don’t happen is when you notice.

“When they’re happening, it’s just like, ‘This is what we do.’”

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Santana Moss Approaching Redskins Milestone

WR Santana Moss needs one TD to tie ex-RB Stephen Davis for 10th in Redskins history with 48.

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Ed Reed likely to make Texans’ debut against former team

Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Ed Reed’s workout Thursday was “the most aggressive we’ve had him in situations in practice” and, barring a setback, it seems likely he’ll make his Texans debut in Baltimore, where he spent the first 11 seasons of his career.

Because the Texans practice in pads on Thursdays, it’s the best test for players like Reed who are returning from injuries. He had off-season hip surgery and missed all of training camp.

“It went good today,” Kubiak said. “Another big step forward. All indications are we’re heading in the right direction. We’re going to continue to watch him coming out of a tough practice. How does he feel tomorrow? Is he sore as we head into the weekend? But he’s really practicing well right now. That’s all I can tell you.”

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took it a step further and noted how Reed has made several of the kind of “ball-hawking plays” in practice this week that he came to be known for as a Raven. He’s the NFL’s active leader in interceptions with 61.

Shiloh Keo will start at free safety against the Ravens, but Reed could figure prominently in special cover packages. Best case, he’s likely still a few weeks away from playing an entire game.

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Andre Johnson looks likely to play Sunday

Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is reportedly in the final stage of the NFL league concussion protocol, according to the team's official website. That final stage involves practicing with pads. The receiver's quick progression means the team is optimistic he will be ready to play in Houston's game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

"If today's an indicator," head coach Gary Kubiak said Wednesday, "then we should be there tomorrow," saying that he is hopeful Johnson will be able to play.

Johnson was injured Sunday late in the fourth quarter, when Tennessee Titans safety Bernard Pollard hit him while making a catch near the end zone. Johnson left the game after holding on to the catch, and Pollard was fined $42,000 for the hit.

Fantasy impact: Johnson has caught 20 of his 29 targets so far this season for 222 yards, though he has yet to notch a touchdown. The 32-year-old is still easily the Texans' best passing option, though rookie DeAndre Hopkins has impressed so far as well.

When it looked like Johnson might miss Sunday, Hopkins' stock was rising. With this news that the star receiver could very likely play in Week 3, Hopkins' value probably levels off around that of a flex receiver. Johnson, meanwhile, is a must-start, assuming he does take the field.

Concussions are dicey propositions, of course, so owners need to keep a close eye on Johnson's situation. But for now, it looks good for him.

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Willis McGahee passes physical, joins Cleveland Browns

Injured second-year pro Brandon Weeden no longer is the oldest starter on the Cleveland Browns' offense.

Veteran running back Willis McGahee, 31, has passed his physical and agreed to terms with the Browns, sources told NFL Media's Jeff Darlington on Thursday. The Browns later announced McGahee's signing.

Although one report suggested the Denver Broncos released McGahee in June primarily due to concerns about the torn MCL and compression fracture that ended his 2012 season, he's now passed physicals from three different teams.

The Browns didn't sign McGahee to sit on the bench. He's reportedly in "great shape," which makes him the favorite to assume lead-back duties over Bobby Rainey and Chris Ogbonnaya.

Don't expect McGahee to pick up where he left off in Denver, though. He's another year closer to the end, is coming off a major injury, will need time to get back into football shape after missing training camp and no longer has the benefit of defenses backing out of the box to respect Peyton Manning's ability.

Fantasy leaguers shouldn't feel the need to run out and scoop up McGahee after watching Trent Richardson -- a more gifted player -- fail to top 60 rushing yards in either of the Browns' first two games. This isn't an offense that will present consistent scoring opportunities.

Remember what historian Jacques Barzun said: There's no shame in staring as the lemmings rush by.

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Redskins players supportive of Brandon Meriweather through injuries

Safety Brandon Meriweather has failed to start and finish a single game for the Washington Redskins after signing with the team as a free agent prior to last season.

Meriweather suffered a season-ending knee injury in the lone game he played last season. He made his 2013 season debut last Sunday at Green Bay but left the game with a concussion. His playing status for this weekend’s game against the Detroit Lions is not clear.

Yet fellow members of the team’s defense continue to express support for him.

“It’s tough, man,” cornerback Josh Wilson said Wednesday. “The guy is definitely a fighter. He’s gonna do whatever it takes. … This guy played a long time, made a lot of plays, played in Super Bowls and things like that. This right now has just been unfortunate.”

Said linebacker London Fletcher: “It’s just sometimes things happen, man. Brandon’s had a tough go at it from a health standpoint the last couple years. It’s not because he’s not working to get himself in shape to be able to play and be out there on the field. He’s running around trying to make a tackle and the guy gets a concussion. It’s happening around the National Football League and it’s unfortunate that you have a guy who’s trying to play and hasn’t been able to get a full game in for us yet.”

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Frank Gore says 49ers' opponents focusing on stopping the run

SANTA CLARA — Frank Gore maintains teams are loading up to stop the 49ers' running game early in the season. But in the same breath, he added it's no excuse for his poor production so far and that it's the team's top offensive priority to get fixed.

Gore has just 60 yards rushing on 30 carries in two games — a 2.0 yard-per-carry average — and his longest gain is just eight yards. The 49ers as a team are ranked 17th in the league in rushing, and wouldn't be nearly that good if not for the yards quarterback Colin Kaepernick has amassed.

"We have to get better in the running game," Gore said Wednesday. "We have to get it done. There are lot of teams playing us (tough) we still have to find a way to get it done."

So what are opponents doing differently?

"They know that in past years we have run the ball great," he said. "You watch the film and you see eight or nine men in the box. That's one of the biggest things, but we have to find a way."

Fullback Bruce Miller there's nothing too scientific about what the 49ers must do to establish the run.

"It's about execution, winning one-on-one battles, communicating better and playing together as a unit," Miller said. "We have seen some different things, some movement up front, and we just have to follow our rules and execute better."

Miller admitted Gore hasn't been in the best of moods after two lackluster performances by the backfield.

"It's tough on Frank, because that's our guy, that's our workhorse," he said. "He puts the team on his back and he carries us most of the time. To be struggling right now as a group ... it's not Frank, Frank's one of the best in the league. I think it's more us, and him being patient. I don't know if he's getting frustrated with what's gong on, but he has to continue to be patient and we'll get it going and execute better."

Miller admitted his drop early in the Seattle defeat may have been a game-changer and the holding penalty he received that resulted in a safety was also a contributing factor to San Francisco's lopsided defeat.

"I should have had that one," he said. "In that type of game on the road, you have to make those plays and it wasn't made. Kap put it there for me to make it and I just have to make them."

Of the holding penalty that resulted in the safety, Miller said, "I definitely have to do better with my hands. I thought initially I had him blocked, but when he started to spin I kind of panicked and wrapped him up. It felt different in the game than it looked on film. I just have to do better finishing the play."

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Ray Lewis: There’s “Something Really Wrong” If Ed Reed Doesn’t Play Vs. Ravens

Ed Reed is still Ed Reed. He may be in a different city, wearing a different uniform, playing for a different team, but he’s still the same guy.

“This team has aspirations to win the championship and that’s what we’re shooting for and it’s a long way from now,” Reed told NFL Network’s Rich Eisen about his hip injury. “For as long as I’ve been in the league, I know that it takes a lot and it puts a lot of strain on the body. You got to be smart about what you’re doing.”

Who knows if Reed will play on Sunday? I don’t even think Reed knows, but his former teammate Ray Lewis thinks he’ll suit up.

“I would be (surprised). I would be, because then that would tell me that his injury hasn’t totally healed yet,” Lewis said during a media interview according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. “Because if he can’t go the third week into the regular season – that’s what they got him there for – if he can’t go, then there’s still something really wrong.”

Reed downplayed Sunday’s game saying that his rehab won’t be changed for any opponent. “It’s about being there for the long haul, being there for the team when it really counts, and that’s playoffs, the Super Bowl, the AFC championship game.”

We talked with Kris Jones of Russell Street Report on our podcast this week, he thinks Reed will play against the Ravens and cited the Baltimore’s lack of interest in bringing him back as motivation for Reed’s 2013 debut. I completely agree.

Still there’s some comfort knowing that Ed is still Ed.

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Brandon Meriweather returns to practice field

Redskins strong safety Brandon Meriweather returned to the practice field on Wednesday after leaving Sunday’s game with a concussion and going through a series of tests Monday and Tuesday.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much of a workload Meriweather received. But he took part in the first 20 minutes of practice, which is dedicated to positional drills and open to reporters.

Meriweather did not speak to reporters during the Wednesday morning open locker room session.

Meriweather suffered his concussion 30 seconds into the second quarter while trying to tackle Green Bay running back James Starks along the sideline. Meriweather came in from the side, and his helmet struck Starks’ helmet. Meriweather went down in a heap and did not move. Trainers immediately rushed across the field to tend to him. After several minutes, Meriweather sat up and eventually walked off the field under his own power. He headed straight for the locker room flanked by a trainer and team doctor. He was diagnosed with a concussion shortly after.

Meriweather in the first quarter knocked running back Eddie Lacy out of the game with a helmet-to-helmet hit.

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This isn't the return Ed Reed envisioned

HOUSTON -- He knew it was coming, this day of public reflection about returning to a place where he spent the first 11 years of his career.

In the midst of telling an assembled crowd that how much he looked forward to being back in Baltimore, Ed Reed slipped in a revealing line.

"Never thought I’d be in these shoes," he said.

He's likely not alone.

On Sunday as the Texans head to Baltimore to try and get their first road win over the Ravens, the team will honor one of the best defensive players in franchise history. Another one of the best defensive players in their franchise history will be on the opposite sideline, though it's still unclear whether he'll play.

To Reed, the situation is just a demonstration of how the NFL works.

"I came into the NFL in 2003 and I was hearing not for long, not for long, NFL, not for long," Reed said. "My locker was by the free agents in that locker room. I watched guys come and go. I didn’t know how I was going to pan out. I saw Peyton Manning get (cut). I knew Joe Montana went to Kansas City. I know Jerry Rice went to Oakland. Played against him in Oakland. I was a huge 49er fan growing up. So I saw a lot of stuff, I knew about the business coming from the University of Miami. That’s the reason why I stayed five years. I didn’t know how it was going to happen.

"After my second contract, I thought I would have been there. But even then, you just don’t know. I kind of knew about free agent stuff when Ray [Lewis] went through it. It’s the business. I learned a lot being around Ozzie [Newsome], talking to Ozzie a lot. You just never know what’s going to happen."

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Frank Gore Remains Patient with Run Game

Both skill sets have been tested in the first two weeks of the 2013 regular season.

Through two weeks, Gore is averaging a career-low 2.0 yards per carry. The 49ers all-time leader in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns has carried the ball 30 times for 60 yards and has one touchdown on the ground.

As a whole, San Francisco ranks tied for 17th in rushing the football, posting 190 rushing yards in two games. Colin Kaepernick, the dual-threat quarterback, leads the team with 109 of those yards.

For his part in the equation, Gore is keeping a team-first outlook on his production. Green Bay and Seattle, San Francisco’s first two opponents, have crowded the box to disrupt the 49ers powerful running game. The 49ers felt crowded running lanes at times last season, but ultimately finished 2012 with the league’s No. 4 overall rushing offense.

“It’s tough on Frank because that’s our guy, that’s our workhorse,” fullback Bruce Miller said on Wednesday. “He puts the team on his back and he carries us most of the time. To be struggling right now as a group, it’s not Frank; Frank is one of the best in the league. I think it’s more us, the guys up front.

“I know he’s getting frustrated with what’s going on, but he has to continue to be patient and we’ll get it better and execute better.”

Gore's likely going to be the second-most talked-about running back on the field at Candlestick Park. With the Indianpolis Colts trading a first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for running back Trent Richardson, all eyes will be on the second-year pro's Indianapolis debut.

Gore was on the practice field at the time of the Colts trade, but he'll simply continue to go about his business and not dwell on the opposition's running back. Gore's focus is another aspect of his game that makes him unique.

The same way Gore attacks the line of scrimmage with calculated steps looking to lower his shoulder and dart through the opposition, is the way the 49ers running back has to approach the regular season as a whole.

San Francisco’s Week 3 challenge features several familiar names to Gore. Most notably, the 49ers running back is well aware of the defensive coordinator he’ll face, Greg Manusky, San Francisco’s defensive play-caller from 2007-10.

Gore is also familiar with Colts starting defensive tackle, Ricky Jean Francois, a Miami native who trained with Gore in previous offseasons. Even so, Gore feels like those prior relationships won't matter in his production.

“I don’t care what they do,” said Gore with a stern look. “It’s about us. We have to get better.”

Gore has a rushing touchdown in five of his last six games against AFC opponents. So while he’s concentrating on continuing his success in non-conference games, Gore is really after picking up wins at this point of his career.

The nine-year pro said as much.

Coming off a 16-yard effort against Seattle on the road, Gore was more peeved about losing than his low rushing total.

“I’m frustrated by the loss, really. We have to get better in the running game,” Gore, 30, said. “We have to get it done. There are a lot of teams playing us (tough), we still have to find a way to get it done.”

Miller, too, is confident the 49ers can clean up mistakes in the running game by winning one-on-one battles in the trenches.

“We have to all work together and play as a group, one unit, and have to make the blocks,” the third-year pro said.

Gore expects teams to keep surrounding the box with eight and nine defenders as long as he’s on the field.

If that’s the case this week, Gore is prepared to showcase his determination and patience.

“We have to find a way,” he said. “We have to get it done.”

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Ray Lewis humbled by this weekend's induction in Ravens' Ring of Honor

Six of Ray Lewis’ former teammates already have been inducted in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor and he’s watched his contemporaries around the league get recognized in a similar fashion.

But the magnitude of what awaits Lewis on Sunday really didn’t sink in until last week when the former linebacker watched Tedy Bruschi get inducted into New England Patriots’ Hall of Fame.

“I’m just watching from afar [thinking], ‘Wow, I have to get ready to do something like that in front of my city that I’ve been with since I was 18 or 19 years old,’” Lewis said Monday during a national conference call. “It’s one of the most humbling feelings that you ever go through. You think, ‘Wow, I was able to stand on my own, finish my career, go out on top and now return back to my city.’”

More than seven months since he officially retired, Lewis will become the 16th member of the franchise’s Ring of Honor on Sunday. The ceremony will take place at halftime of the Ravens’ game against the Houston Texansicon1 at M&T Bank Stadium.

For Lewis, now an analyst for ESPN, the day will provide an opportunity to reminisce on his career, which started when he was the second of two first-round picks in the franchise’s first draft in 1996, and ended amid a sea of confetti in February when Lewis and the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ersicon1 to capture Super Bowl XLVII. That was Lewis’ second Super Bowl victory.

“The most exciting thing for me is that we were at the beginning of that and to build that brand the way it is now, the way it’s respected now, it’s like the ultimate,” Lewis said. “To come back and see what we did for that city, to see what I was able to helpicon1 do for that city, and to see the fans and know the connection — because I’m always going to be connected to Baltimore — just to come back and feel what that love feels like is just going to be amazing. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m really looking forward to seeing my kids’ eyes and just seeing my family and just being around them and just sharing that moment with them, because it’s huge. It’s huge when you sit back and pay attention to it.”

Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time NFLicon1 Defensive Player of the Year, said that he will talk later this week to Ravens coach John Harbaugh who joked Monday about having his former linebacker give the current team one of those pre-game talks that he delivered for much of the last two decades.
As of now though, Lewis doesn’t have plans to deliver any fiery speech or make any elaborate entrance. He’s just looking forward to the opportunity to say hello to many of his former teammates. That group could include Texans safetyicon1 Ed Reed, the former Raven who hasn’t played yet this season because of a hip injury but Lewis — and many others — expect to see him on the field Sunday.

“If he can’t go, then there’s still something really wrong,” said Lewis who acknowledged that he still talks and texts regularly with Ravens’ players and coaches.

The Ravens’ roster, specifically on defense, has been significantly overhauled since Lewis last manned the middle, but he said that he likes what he’s seen so far.

“I just think they’re adjusting to a lot of new pieces, to what this looks like and what that looks like. ‘How do we go down this path without this, without that?’ And I think they’re doing a pretty good job,” Lewis said. “Sometimes on Sundays, it doesn’t always show, but I think once the chemistry starts to actually click in, I think everything is going to be fine, just like I’ve been telling people on ESPN. I’m like listen: ‘[Stop] the panic, everything is good.’ There are just a lot of adjustments going on and then the injury bug hit us. There are a lot of things we’re going through right now, and they understand it’s all a part of the process. I like where we are, but I like the potential of where we can go as well.”

Saying that he has enjoyed his transition to an analyst role, the 38-year-old joked that on Sundays, he occupies the “loudest hotel room” because he still gets so “amped” for Ravens’ games. However, that doesn’t mean that he regrets walking away from the NFL after 17 seasons.

“I went at the game so hard. I enjoyed every moment of it, but … my family had to sacrifice so much,” Lewis said. “Honestly, since I’ve been done with the game, everything I’ve been doing — if it’s not with ESPN — it’s been with my kids. The time with them, just being there and them knowing that their dad is home, here to [relax] and doesn’t have to always be away — it’s the ultimate now. I appreciated the game, I love the game so much, but I can’t tell you that I have withdrawals [thinking], ‘I really miss the game.’ I talk to the [Ravens players] regularly; I text them regularly — just general conversation every day. So, it’s not like I’m disconnected to them. It’s been a great adjustment, to sum it up in all words.”

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Ed Reed Will Always Cherish Ravens

Ed Reed insists Sunday’s matchup between the Ravens and Texans is just another game.

Reed tried to downplay facing his former team, which could be his debut for the Texans, but the more he talked it was clear that Sunday could be an emotional return for the long-time Raven.

It will be Reed’s first time back at M&T Bank Stadium since the Ravens celebrated their Super Bowl XLVII title seven months ago, and his running mate Ray Lewis will also return to get inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime.

“It’s a special day,” Reed said. “It really is going to be a special day, with me coming back, Ray going into the Ring of Honor, the Texans playing the Ravens.”
Whether Reed actually plays in his return to Baltimore is still up in the air. He is recovering from offseason hip surgery and has missed the first two games of the regular season. Reed has practiced this week, but was still non-committal about his status for Sunday.

“I’m not confident about nothing but going day-to-day the way I’ve been,” Reed said. “There’s no confidence about it if I haven’t played. You can’t be confident if you haven’t been on the field.”

Reed maintained that it wouldn’t be any more difficult for him to sit out against the Ravens.

“Not at all,” Reed said. “Like I said, I’m preparing for the long haul.”

The 35-year-old safety signed with the Texans this offseason following 11 seasons in Baltimore where he built a Hall of Fame resume. Houston signed him to a three-year deal reportedly worth $15 million, and Reed said that once he hit free agency this summer he thought there was only about a 50-50 chance he would remain a Raven.

Reed took the better offer in Houston, and said he’s not bitter at all about the way his career in Baltimore ended.

“I have no regrets about being a Raven and things transpired how they do – it’s a business,” Reed said. 

Reed spoke glowingly about his time in Baltimore, and admitted that it could be tough going into the opposing team’s locker room for the first time this week.
“Baltimore is family,” he said. “I miss walking into ‘The Bank’ on Sunday.

“I have a lot of memories; I cherish that and always will. Being a Raven, that’s where I was raised in the NFL. I did a lot of growing; we did a lot of special things. That’s something that could never be taken away and never will. There’s a lot of love there.”

Reed used to talk about finishing his career in Baltimore, and after the Super Bowl he spoke openly about winning back-to-back titles for the Ravens.
Now he’s guaranteeing a Super Bowl for his new team.

“You remember me saying I wanted to repeat, and I still will repeat, just with a different team,” Reed said.

The Ravens have said they want Reed to have a place in the organization when he retires, and his former teammates and coaches had nothing but positive things to say about him during the week. Reed was a fan favorite and iconic leader in the Ravens’ locker room, and players are looking forward to re-connecting for a moment on Sunday.

 “It was a sad day when he left,” Webb said. “I know I wish he was still here. It’s going to be great just for me seeing him again. It’s just going to be great to see how the crowd reacts to him.”

The Ravens have cheered Reed on for years, even before he was their teammate.

“I think it’s strange just because everybody views him as a Raven,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “The fact of the matter is that I knew Ed Reed as a Baltimore Raven before I started playing on the Baltimore Ravens. So, it makes it a little bit different. It kind of makes him a little bit more than a teammate of mine. At one point, I was a fan of his.”

That said, his friends know that for this week they have to emphasize that he’s another player on the opposing sideline.

“I’ll be happy to be out there to see him, but he’s my opponent,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs added. “He’s no longer wearing our colors, and we will try to win the game.”

Much has changed in the few months that Reed left Baltimore. He and Lewis are gone, along with six other starters from the Super Bowl team. Flacco and Suggs have taken over as the team leaders.

Reed even said it was “weird” watching the Ravens on film and seeing all the changes.

Now Reed will get a chance to come back to the place where he grew up in the NFL, possibly for the final time as a player, and enjoy the atmosphere of a place where he created so many lasting memories.

“My time in Baltimore was awesome – every bit of it,” Reed said.  “I have no regrets, from when Ozzie [Newsome] called me on draft day to being in the old facility, practicing in the snow with [former head coach Brian] Billick, and everything we went through with coach ‘Harbs’ and growing, iron sharpening iron.

“I have a lot of great memories, a lot of great friends. And at the end of the day, I know it’s just football that we’re coaching against and playing against, so a lot of great memories.”

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Suspended slugger Ryan Braun pays visit to Brewers buddies

Ryan Braun dropped by Miller Park on Wednesday just to say hello to teammates he hadn't seen for nearly two months.

The Milwaukee Brewers slugger had not been at the ballpark since July 22, when he accepted a season-ending, 65-game suspension for evidence uncovered in a Major League Baseball investigation that he purchased performance-enhancing drugs from the notorious Biogenesis clinic.

"It was really nice to see him," said manager Ron Roenicke. "All the staff was happy to see him; the players were happy to see him. It was nice he came in."
Braun did not make himself available to the media, leaving before the Brewers held pregame batting practice. Though he's under suspension, Braun is allowed to be at the ballpark before games only. There was no indication he planned to answer questions from reporters before the final homestand ends Sunday night.

Unlike the day he was suspended, when Braun asked to address the team to give them the news, Roenicke said there was no formal clubhouse meeting.

"He just came in to visit," said Roenicke. "He told me awhile ago when we talked that he wanted to come in. He didn't want it to be a distraction. I told him it wouldn't be. So, he came in and I'm really glad he did.

"He looked good. I think all the guys were really happy to see him. He was just in to say hi. He misses the game and he misses the guys, so he wanted to come in and say hi."

Asked if Braun's visit was a one-shot deal, Roenicke said, "Maybe. It just depends. We don't have many games left. So, maybe just that one time."

Asked if he thought Braun would take questions from the media at some point, Roenicke said, "I don't know. I don't know when he's planning to go back.
"For me, he doesn't need to. He's made a statement (that's) enough for me. We need to move on with this. If he decides to, great. That's his decision. But, for me, he doesn't need to. He's already said what happened and what he needs to. That's fine with me and I'm sure it's fine with most of the players."

Right-hander Marco Estrada was surprised to see Braun in the clubhouse.

"I didn't think I'd see him anymore this season," said Estrada. "We talked for a few minutes. I asked how he was doing and he asked me the same. He seemed in good spirits. I'm sure he's dealing with a lot. We didn't talk about that stuff."

Roenicke said he had talked "off and on" over the phone with Braun just to stay in touch.

"It's important for the team to move on with things and for him, also. I know it's been difficult sitting at home and not to be part of this. But he really did not want this to be a distraction to us. So I think it was really good. I think it was great. No way was this a distraction."

Braun wasn't the only visitor to pop in. Corey Hart, who has been out all season after undergoing two knee surgeries, also showed up to catch up with teammates and staff.

Asked if seeing Braun and Hart makes him realize what the Brewers have missed, Roenicke said, "Yes. I really like these guys, too. Not only are they really great players but I really like them. They bring a lot to our team. They bring that atmosphere that when you go out there you know you have these two big horses to help."

Word first got out that Braun was in town earlier in the day when the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin posted photos on its Facebook page of him addressing the staff. Braun was the honorary chairman of the AIDS Walk Wisconsin in Milwaukee last year and met with staffers at ARCW and bought them lunch from Zaffiro's Pizza.

When he was suspended, Braun put out a brief and vague apology, then one month later a longer explanation that left many holes to be filled regarding his saga. As part of his apology process he also made personal phone calls to season-ticket holders, sponsors and suite holders.

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Adewale Ojomo Signed to Seattle Seahawks’ Practice Squad

On Tuesday, the Seattle Seahawks announced that they had waived defensive tackle Sealver Siliga from their practice squad and signed former New York Giants defensive end, Adewale Ojomo, to fill his spot.

Ojomo, who went undrafted out of Miami in the 2012 NFL Draft, was originally signed to the Giants' practice squad and made an immediate preseason impact. He led the team with four tackles over four games in 2012, earning him a 17-week stay on the aforementioned practice squad. He returned in 2013 and, once again, had a solid preseason, earning himself a second straight practice squad designation.

However, due to injuries and uncertainty surrounding Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore, Ojomo was signed to the 53-roster in week one of the regular season, but was listed as one of the seven inactives. He was later waived in preparation for the signing of a running back (Brandon Jacobs), but not re-signed to their practice squad. Instead, the team opted to sign linebacker Emmanuel Acho.

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Willis McGahee to sign with Browns, pending physical

The stunning trade of Trent Richardson has left a massive void in the Cleveland Browns' backfield. They're not wasting any time attempting to fill it.

Shortly after the Richardson deal became official, the Browns announced that free-agent running back Willis McGahee will come in for a physical Thursday.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported the team plans to sign McGahee if his medical checks out, per a source informed of the move.

It's no certainty McGahee will pass the physical. A leg injury prematurely ended his 2012 season with the Denver Broncos, and he'll be 32 in October. He worked out for the New York Giants last week, but he was passed over for Brandon Jacobs. That alone says plenty.

Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey are the only running backs on Cleveland's roster at the moment. If McGahee signs, expect him to take on a prominent role for a team very much looking ahead to 2014 and beyond.

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Brandon Meriweather fined $42K for Week 2 blow to head

We've been waiting several days now to find out what sort of punishment awaits Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather after he knocked out Packers running back Eddie Lacy and then subsequently knocked himself out when he hit James Starks. Now we know: a league sources tells CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora Meriweather's been fined $42,000 by the NFL for a blow to the head.

Just a guess, but Dashon Goldson probably isn't too thrilled with this. Meriweather, like Goldson, is a repeat violator of the NFL's rules against leading with your helmet, delivering a blow to the head and striking a defenseless receiver. It was stunning Tuesday when we heard he might not be suspended.

Unlike Goldson, though, Meriweather didn't face a one-game suspension for his hit. Goldson had that suspension overturned but was ultimately fined $100,000 by the NFL for his hits in Weeks 1 and 2 (as well as previous issues).

Meriweather will also be eligible to play in Week 3 but his wallet is about half as light as Goldson's today.

Given that Meriweather managed to violate the NFL rules on leading with his helmet in back-to-back quarters, it's particularly surprising that he was fined the same amount of money as a pair of defensive backs in the Texans-Titans game Sunday.

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Andre Johnson 'should be ready to go' despite concussion

LaronByrd 2
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd comprise a solid top three. LaRon Byrd and Kerry Taylor are the only other receivers on the roster. First-year coach Bruce Arians has said receiver is one position he doesn't worry about. Floyd's continued development after an encouraging finish to the 2012 season will be important. The former coaching staff envisioned moving Roberts to the slot, with Fitzgerald and Floyd on the perimeter. That could still happen. Arians also plans to move Fitzgerald around the formation the way he moved Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis last season. Drafting a receiver for depth would make sense, but there's no need to chase one early. The Cardinals released veteran Early Doucet, who struggled with drops last season.

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Focus on returns paying off for Hester

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Those personal-best 249 return yards Devin Hester racked up for the Chicago Bears on Sunday appear to have been born from a conversation early in the summer.

New coach Marc Trestman revealed Monday that it was Hester who suggested that a reduction in responsibilities could help him to once again be the kind of return man who used to pile up weekly honors while heading off to Pro Bowls.

“The conversation, to my recollection, was, ‘It sounds to me like you just want to be a returner, and that’s OK with me. I would like you to be the returner and focus solely on that,’” Trestman said.

The revelation debunks a common belief that Hester was demoted to a return-only role after years of mostly choppy results as a wide receiver.

“I don’t ever remember me telling him that that was the way it’s going to be,” Trestman said. “I remember our conversation being more like, ‘I know that’s what you want to do, and I’m all-in.’ That’s sort of the way I remember it.

“Now, this was six and a half months ago. It was literally the second week I was here, I think. And it just stopped right there. [Special-teams coach] Joe [DeCamillis] started meeting with him, and we started developing a dialogue when we saw each other. It wasn’t complicated at all. It just seemed to happen that way.”

Fast-forward to Sunday at Soldier Field and Hester certainly looked like a hungry and fresh return man. After getting only one kick-return chance against Cincinnati in the season opener, Hester ran wild in his five chances against the Minnesota Vikings.

Also added to the mix was the motivation that came in the form of Cordarrelle Patterson's game-opening kick return for a touchdown that gave the Vikings an early lead.

“As an overall unit, we don’t like people to come in and start off like that on us,” said Hester, who would go on to earn his 13th career special-teams player of the week award. “The next opportunity was on special teams so that was the first option we had was coming back and getting a nice return.”

Without plays on offense to either clutter his mind or wear on his legs, Hester is feeling like a new man.

“It helps out a lot just throughout the week mentally preparing,” Hester said. “I spend more time with the special-teams unit, more time with the coaches, game-planning our opponent and just being around the special-teams players more often now.”

During practice, Hester can often be seen fielding punts and kicks instead of running pass patterns. Even with the reduced responsibilities, though, he’s going to be hard pressed to come anywhere near 249 return yards on a regular basis.

“I wish he could, that’s for sure,” DeCamillis said. “We’re going to try and going to strive to it and hopefully get that done, but you’re not going get those kind of days. Sometimes they will sail them out of the end zone, and I’m sure that was the plan coming in. It worked out well.”

Hester knows the punts out of bounds or the squib kickoffs are likely coming. He only hopes that opponents’ pride or self-confidence kicks in to give him give him more return chances.

“Who knows? This is the NFL; the best of the best,” Hester said when asked if he’s prepared to see fewer chances now. “I don’t think every team will avoid kicking to us. We will come across more teams that will be confident in their special teams and not willing to give up field position [with a] squib kick or bloop kick. We’re used to this situation where we have a great game on the return game and we go three or four games without a return. It’s nothing new.”

After spending the past four seasons as Dallas' special-teams coach, DeCamillis knows the type of concern Hester strikes in opponents.

“I know when we played him the second game of the year it sure looked like he was running hungry to me,” DeCamillis said. “All I can say is that I think he is competitive and we have a group of competitors on our team. I’m just glad to be with them and glad they bailed me out of a bad one right there, that’s for sure.”

That “bad one” is Patterson’s touchdown return, of course, something the Bears could forget with Hester’s day and ultimately the game-winning drive engineered by Jay Cutler.

“I came in here as a Devin Hester fan, and I’ve been watching him for years and always got excited to see what he could do on the field,” Trestman said. “And just to get to know him, it was easy early on to converse with him and to see his love for the game and love for the Bears. So when we put this into practice of just locking him into being a returner, we were excited to see some of that. And a little bit of it happened certainly on Sunday.”


Gary Kubiak says Ed Reed is as close to return as he has been

Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak can’t say definitively at this point that Ed Reed will play Sunday against his former team. However, he said in a conference call with Ravens’ reporters today that the safety is “as close to playing as [he has] been.”

“His progress has been really good,” Kubiak said. “It was a tough decision [last] Sunday because I think he was very, very close, but we decided to go in the other direction. We’ll see where we’re at. It’s a day-to-day deal. We’ll see. He’s ready to go practice today and take an even bigger load than he has been taking the first two weeks. I think we just continue to go day-to-day and hopefully we’ll get there this week.”

Reed, who signed with the Texans in March after he played 11 seasons with the Ravens, has yet to appear in a game with the Texans following arthroscopic hip surgery that he had in April to repair a torn labrum.

Kubiak said that Reed has brought presence and leadership to the Texans and “hopefully, [he’s] healthy enough to where that now transfers to the field with the guys.”

Reed, who turned 35 last week, is hardly the Texans’ only injury concern. Star wide receiver Andre Johnson sustained a concussion in Houston’s overtime victory last week over the Tennessee Titans when he was hit by former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard.

However, Kubiak is optimistic that Johnson will play against the Ravens.

“He’s done really good,” Kubiak said. “In his protocol process today, he’ll work with the trainers. He’s expected to practice with the team tomorrow in pads. That would be, I think, step four or step five, however that process works. But all indicators are if everything goes well throughout the course of the week, he should be ready to go. But we’ll see where we’re at each day.”

Kubiak also called standout left tackle Duane Brown “an end of the week decision.” Brown is dealing with a sprained toe.

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Devin Hester Named NFC Special Teams Player Of The Week

Devin Hester now has a baker’s dozen NFC special teams player of the week awards.

The NFL announced Hester is this week’s recipient of the honor, extending Hester’s lead in the number of weekly special teams awards he’s won over everyone else who has ever played the game of football.

Hester earned the award this week with kickoff returns of 76 and 80 yards in a 31-30 victory over the Vikings. He accumulated 249 yards on kickoffs for the day, a busy day of work after getting only one return opportunity in Week One against the Bengals. Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown to open the game, so there may have been something in the water in Chicago last weekend.

The Bears stripped Hester of any role as a wide receiver this season, making him strictly a special teamer in hopes that it would boost his production as a returner. The early results are pretty good on that front.

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Jon Beason, battling through pain, shoulders blame in loss to Bills

The Panthers’ last-second loss to Buffalo last weekend is one everybody affiliated with the organization would like to forget.

Veteran linebacker Jon Beason said that’s not going to happen.

“This one you’ll remember throughout the duration of a career. You don’t really have the words to express what went on,” Beason said Wednesday. “You go back and watch the tape and look at the opportunities you had to affect the game. At the end of the day, we didn’t get that done. We know we should have won the game, but we didn’t.”

The film review was particularly rough for Beason, who is trying to play through pain in his right knee following microfracture surgery last fall. Beason had a difficult day in pass coverage and missed a few tackles in the Bills’ 24-23 victory.

“I put the onus on me. Those are plays that I want back. But I lost out on them,” Beason said. “You play this game long enough, you’re going to get beat. You transition to the next play, and hopefully you make a big one and make up for it.”

With a spate of the injuries in the secondary, the Panthers were unable to use their nickel package for a portion of the third quarter. That left Beason matched up against Bills wideout Stevie Johnson.

Johnson beat Beason on an inside move and got free for a 45-yard reception to the Panthers’ 10, setting up a touchdown. Normally, Beason would have been on the sideline and the Panthers would have had a defensive back on Johnson.

Johnson’s catch was one of five that Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel completed – in five attempts – throwing to receivers covered by Beason, according to Pro Football Focus. The completions went for 112 yards, including 87 yards after the catch.

Johnson gained 35 yards after his catch against Beason.

“People can look into stats all they want to,” Beason said. “I know I’ve got to play better, and that’s what it boils down to.”

Beason blamed poor technique and biting on play fakes for some of his coverage issues. But he also conceded his knee is giving him problems.

Beason said in July that some players who undergo microfracture surgery are never pain-free again. The Panthers are trying to manage Beason’s pain as he builds the strength in his knee.

After missing all of training camp and half of the exhibition schedule, Beason has been given a day off each of the past two weeks following an installation practice.

“I think again you’ve got to continue to work to get in football shape,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re through his third real week of it. So I think he’s going to continue to get better and stronger, so I expect his play to get better and better.”

“You have your good days, you have your bad days,” Beason said. “When you pound on it, obviously you have that little setback. You take a day off, and you feel better. So everything’s kind of geared toward feeling better on Sundays.”

Early in his career, the Panthers had no better tackler than Beason, who became the first rookie in club history to lead the team in tackles. Beason’s first four seasons produced the top four single-season tackle totals in team history.

But injuries have taken a toll the past two years. A torn Achilles in the 2011 opener ended Beason’s season, and he made it through four games last year before going down with the knee injury.

With Beason out, Luke Kuechly led a defensive resurgence from Beason’s former middle linebacker spot.

Beason, 28, agreed to a $4.25 million pay cut this year in a restructured deal, but can recoup $1.75 million if he’s active for all 16 games. Beason’s new contract voids after this season, meaning this could be his final year in Carolina.

But Beason’s current focus is strengthening his knee and helping the Panthers win a game.

“It’s a process. I haven’t been able to feel great out there. But I’ve been good enough to be effective,” Beason said. “That’s the thought process going into it. The mental edge helps me out big-time, and I’m feeling a lot better today than I have this whole offseason.”

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said if Beason struggles, it won’t be from a lack of effort – a feeling echoed by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
“I know it’s frustrating for Beas. He wants to be out there every play,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s a warrior, man. He works harder than anybody I know.”
Beason hopes his offseason work and the precautions he’s taking during the week help him regain his old form.

“I don’t expect to show up on Sunday and just be great. I know that the way to be great is to prepare – the way you train, the way you practice, the preparation in the film room,” he said. “But every time I go out there, every rep I get, I know it’s building toward getting back to who I know I can be.”

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Jason Fox Doesn't Practice

The Lions hit the practice field for the first time Wednesday since Sunday’s loss in Arizona and did so without a few key starters on offense.

Running back Reggie Bush (knee), receiver Patrick Edwards (ankle) and right tackle Jason Fox (groin) did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media.

Fox was inactive last week after suffering a groin injury in the first quarter Week 1. Corey Hilliard started in his place and will continue to hold down that spot until Fox is ready to return.

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Ray Lewis: Ravens Connection Is 'Forever'

When speaking about the Ravens, retired Ray Lewis can’t help himself from using the terms “us” and “we.”

Lewis said he doesn’t have any withdrawal from playing in the NFL. If he’s not immersed in his family, he’s working as an analyst for ESPN.

But Lewis is still very much invested in his former team.

“That connection is forever,” Lewis said Tuesday during a national conference call before being inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor Sunday afternoon.
Lewis said he still sends text messages to a bunch of coaches and players, such as linebacker Terrell Suggsicon-article-link. They’re messages like, “I miss you,” or “How are you doing?” or “Just checking on you.” Lewis said there are general conversations every day.

“That’s one thing that I think is kind of different in the Ravens organization,” he said. “We’ve always had a brotherhood type of essence in there. When the game is done, you’re still like brothers.”

Lewis said he still goes “crazy” yelling in his hotel room when watching Ravens games.

The competiveness and intensity don’t fade easily, and many retired players talk about the itch of getting back on the field.

For example, center Matt Birk, who hung it up this offseason after 15 years, tweeted the night before the Ravens’ season opener that he wished he was in Denver. Then he posted a picture on Instagram of him watching the game while wearing his Super Bowl jersey and helmet with the message, “Just watching the game. Ready if needed.”

That’s not Lewis.

He said it’s been a “great adjustment” because he’s still able to text and talk to his former team, and is still around the game with ESPN, but he doesn’t have to live and breathe it every day.

Lewis still hasn’t even taken the time to go watch the TV copy of his famous “last ride.”

“I went at the game so hard. I enjoyed every moment of it, but there was a part of me … my family had to sacrifice so much,” Lewis said.

“Honestly, since I’ve been done with the game, everything I’ve been doing – if it’s not with ESPN – it’s been with my kids. The time with them, just being there and them knowing that their dad is home, here to [relax] and doesn’t have to always be away. It’s the ultimate now. I appreciated the game, I love the game so much, but I can’t tell you that I have withdrawals [thinking] ‘I really miss the game.’”

Lewis has kept up with the Ravens’ defensive changes and progress. It’s part of his job now too, and he’s been asked for his opinion on ESPN. He likes what he sees in the post-Lewis defensive era.

“They’re adjusting to a lot of new pieces,” Lewis said. “I think they’re doing a pretty good job. Sometimes on Sunday it doesn’t always show. But once the chemistry starts to kick in there, I think everything will be fine.”

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Ed Reed's homecoming brings mixed emotions

There's no question that safety Ed Reed has a permanent place in Baltimore Ravens history. He is the third-best player to ever wear purple in Baltimore, right behind Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden.

Whether Reed has a special place in all of the Ravens' hearts like Ogden and Lewis -- that's a different story. He gave the Ravens organization headaches over his 11 seasons in Baltimore, although he always gave opposing quarterbacks 10 times more.

Reed, who is coming back to Baltimore for the first time since signing with the Houston Texans in free agency, will be revered for his game-changing plays and how he forced offenses to totally change their game plans because of him. Players and coaches would sometimes look at Reed in awe because they knew they were watching the one of the greatest safeties in NFL history at work.

He was an influential leader for the Ravens. He was a trusted big brother. But Reed was also a loose cannon, which made him great as well as frustrating. No one knew where Reed would pop up on the field, and that included quarterbacks and teammates alike. Reed trusted his instincts over the defensive game plan at times, which made him dangerous and unpredictable.

Nobody in the Ravens organization will speak one disparaging word about Reed because they've given him the respect that sometimes wasn't returned.

A year and a half ago Reed called out Joe Flacco in the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game. Reed described Flacco as "kind of rattled" a day after the AFC divisional playoff win over Houston and said the quarterback didn't have "a hold on the offense."

In June 2012, Reed was the only player who didn't show up for mandatory minicamp. If that wasn't a big enough slap in the face, Reed never called coach John Harbaugh to explain why he skipped it. Reed tweeted a few weeks later that he was doing yardwork, writing "Tell the bosses I'm comfortable!"

Last October, Reed was among the dissenting voices when Harbaugh announced the team was going to have a full-contact practice during the bye week.

Reed isn't a bad guy. Not even close. He's a mercurial one. And no one can argue with his results. Reed is a nine-time Pro Bowl player. He was the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the first safety in 20 years to win the award. He led the league in interceptions for three seasons, and he holds the NFL record for most career interception return yards (1,541) and longest interception return (108 yards).

This legacy makes the reunion unlike any other. Sure, the Ravens have played former teammates like pass-rusher Paul Kruger on Sunday. This is different because of what Reed represents.

The Ravens never had to play Lewis or Ogden. The organization made sure they were Ravens for life. But, when Reed hit the open market, the Ravens didn't match the Texans' three-year, $15 million contract that included $6 million guaranteed.

"I think it's strange just because everybody views him as a Raven," Flacco said. "The fact of the matter is that I knew Ed Reed as a Baltimore Raven before I started playing on the Baltimore Ravens. So, it makes it a little bit different. It kind of makes him a little bit more than a teammate of mine. At one point, I was a fan of his. That's what makes it different for everybody around Baltimore and everybody around the country is that they know him as a Baltimore Raven."

Reed was as big of a leader as Lewis. He just did it behind the scenes. He invited the defensive backs to his home, where they broke down film and played video games.

His commitment to the community was just as strong. He adopted an inner-city middle school soon after arriving in Baltimore in 2002, and he would appear unannounced on Tuesday, his day off, to talk to the kids about respecting elders, eating right and staying out of trouble.

When Reed signed with the Texans, he took out a full-page ad in The Baltimore Sun. "My eleven seasons in Baltimore were more than I would have ever imagined, which is why I have such deep love for you all," Reed wrote.

"Reed is like a big brother to me," said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who still texts back and forth with Reed. "He's a guy that I respected long before I became a Raven, and I've grown closer to him since I've been in the league."

Smith added, "He's one of the best safeties ever, and he still plays at a very high level. There's definitely something special about Reed, and we know as receivers, we're going to have to be on our p's and q's because he guesses right a lot of time, and we can't just give him anything."

There is a question whether Reed will play against the Ravens. He's missed the first two games with a surgically repaired hip and was limited in practice Wednesday. Nearly every one of the Ravens players said Wednesday they believe Reed will suit up Sunday, although defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said he hopes Reed doesn't.

Does Reed know Flacco better than any safety in the league?

"I don't know," Flacco said. "I'm sure he'd tell you he probably does."

This isn't the type of reunion that many had envisioned with Reed. When the team's all-time greats return like Lewis and Ogden, it's to be inducted into the Ring of Honor, not standing on the other sideline. But, as the Ravens found out after a decade with Reed, you could never predict what's going to happen with him.

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Santana Moss says first two games were Griffin’s preseason

Wide receiver Santana Moss said Wednesday that as far as he’s concerned, the Washington Redskins’ first two regular season games served as the preseason for Robert Griffin III that the quarterback didn’t have this summer.

“I don’t know,” Moss said when asked about the team’s reduced use thus far this season of option-style running plays with Griffin. “He just got back to playing, man. I mean, this is only like his second preseason game. You’re gonna go out there and run him crazy? To me, that’s how I look at it. These first two regular season games are just being two preseason games for this kid. You’re not gonna go out there and make him do a bunch of stuff that, you know, you’re not sure of. Once he gets his feeling back and, I think, the coaches confident with him doing all that stuff, then I’m pretty sure they’ll let him do more.

“But right now I don’t think that’s what we need to do to win games. We have it in there. We have called it. But if they’re keying on him, then he’s not going to run the ball. And that’s what teams [are] doing. Teams are gonna come and key on him. So you’ll see him hand the ball off. And I’m glad he’s doing that because we don’t need that right now. We just need to do what we know how to do and that’s make plays, and we’ll be able to try to win these games.”

Griffin started the first two games of the season after being withheld from the entire preseason while working his way back from knee surgery in January.

Asked about the contention that Griffin is not as fast this season as he was last season, Moss said: “That’s not why we’re losing games. I don’t know. I don’t know about that. I’m not even going to comment on that because that ain’t got nothing to do with what we’re doing as far as a team. To me, honestly, that’s something that I won’t want to comment on because regardless if he’s fast or not, we still should be able to go out there and put up points and do what we’re supposed to do on offense. That’s something that I’ll let him have that.”

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Danny Valencia: One Of The Hottests Hitters Of The Month

What do people think of when talking about the past month of Baltimore Orioles baseball? The struggle of the lineup to make it count with runners in scoring position, Chris Davis breaking Brady Anderson‘s franchise record for single-season home runs, and the end of the season creeping up on us all with the Orioles battling for a wild card spot come to mind. What about Danny Valencia? The hottest hitter in the past month on the Orioles roster has made the most out of what he has been given this year and has delivered many crucial hits to keep Baltimore fighting for an extension on their 2013 campaign.

In the past 28 days, the 28-year old from the University of Miami has posted a batting line that is only seen in video games. Valencia is batting .447 with a slugging percentage of .809 and 38 total bases since August 22nd and even more impressive of these 28 games he has only 13 of them and is still putting up fantastic numbers. Most recently Valencia tripled in the top of the 9th on Monday night against the Red Sox, this hit was eventually driven in by a Matt Weiters sacrifice fly and gave the O’s a much needed win in Boston. Valencia has done it all, he has started and performed well (4 hits including one double in a loss to the Yankees on the 11th), but has also come in as a pinch batter and has delivered clutch hits.

Valencia has played with the Norfolk Tides for the majority of this year but has impressed Buck Showalter enough to pull him up on the expanded 40-man roster and that move has payed off for the Orioles. Valencia has cracked the starting lineup in 8 of the last 10 games and in that stretch has compiled a batting average of .393 and 8 RBI’s. He has given the Orioles a reliable bat this past month, in a span of games where the ability of the O’s to score with runners in scoring position has been tested and has cost the Orioles quite a few games. It is in Showalter’s best interest to keep penciling this kid into the batting rotation, he’s worked hard to get pulled up to the expanded roster and has put himself into a position to become a mainstay in the Orioles lineup for the rest of the 2013 regular season.

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Yonder Alonso had a setback, may not play again this year

Yonder Alonso hasn’t played since August 30 because of a hand injury and it sounds like the Padres first baseman is ready to give up the comeback attempt.

Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribune reports that Alonso felt pain in his hand while taking batting practice Monday and admitted afterward: “It might not work out this season.”

So his disappointing second season with the Padres may end after 95 games, during which he hit just .281 with  six homers and a .710 OPS. That’s a 30-point drop from his OPS last season despite the fences at Petco Park moving in, which isn’t how things were supposed to go.

Alonso will be 27 years old next season and has a .395 career slugging percentage in 1,121 plate appearances as a big leaguer. Some of that is due to calling a pitcher-friendly ballpark home, but either way 2014 could be a make-or-break season for him in San Diego.

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Ryan Braun makes surprise appearance in Milwaukee on Wednesday

Suspended slugger Ryan Braun visited the Milwaukee Brewers for the first time since telling his teammates in July that he accepted a 65-game ban as a result of baseball's investigation into a Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

''It was really nice to see him,'' Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday. ''He told me a while ago when we talked that he wanted to come in. He didn't want it to be a distraction. I told him it wouldn't be. So, he came in and I'm really glad he did.''

Roenicke said Braun just stopped by to say hello, there was no formal meeting.

''It's important for the team to move on with things and for him, also.'' Roenicke said. ''I know it's been difficult sitting at home and not to be part of this. But he really did not want this to be a distraction to us. So I think it was really good. I think it was great. No way was this a distraction.''

Braun did not talk to the media while he was at Miller Park.

Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone in October of his 2011 NL MVP season, but his 50-game suspension was overturned when an arbitrator ruled that the urine sample was mishandled.

He then agreed to the longer penalty July 22, becoming the first star to be suspended by Major League Baseball in the doping scandal involving the now-closed Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic.

Earlier Wednesday, the five-time All-Star visited the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. Photos of his appearance were posted on the group's Facebook page, tipping off media that Braun was in Milwaukee.

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Week 2 NFL proCane Photos

proCane Texans WR Andre Johnson (80)
Bears proCane KR Devin Hester (23)
proCane Falcons P Mat Bosher
proCane Colts WR Reggie Wayne (87)
proCane Browns WR Travis Benjamin (80)
proCane Cardinals DE Calais Campbell (93)

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Andre Johnson making progress

Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said WR Andre Johnson (concussion) is making progress in his recovery from a concussion. Kubiak said the team will determine his status at the end of the week because he has to go through the concussion protocol.

Fantasy Tip: Johnson will have to pass several tests before he receives clearance to play after his concussion. Owners will have to monitor the situation to see if he is cleared to play Week 3.

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Dolphins want to keep Miller, Thomas snaps even

Coach Joe Philbin reiterated that he wants to keep Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas in an even timeshare in the Dolphins' backfield.
Philbin plans to keep it that way for the foreseeable future unless "one guy is breaking tackles left and right and taking the ball a long way, and the other guy is not being productive." Through two weeks, Miller has rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (3.0 YPC) and caught three passes for 13 yards. Thomas has tallied 44 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (2.75 YPC) while reeling in two passes for 15 yards. Miller remains a borderline RB2. Thomas isn't start-able. We like Miller's chances of taking over by season's end.

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Brandon Meriweather to be fined

Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather will be fined, but not suspended, for his helmet-to-helmet hit Sunday that knocked Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy out of the game with a concussion, sources told ESPN.

Meriweather wasn't penalized during the game for the hit on Lacy.

Meriweather suffered a concussion himself later in the game when he led with his helmet to try to tackle Packers running back James Starks. A flag wasn't thrown on that play, either.

Meriweather has a history of fines for illegal hits. While a member of the New England Patriots, he was fined $50,000 in 2010 (later reduced to $40,000 on appeal) for hits against defenseless receivers. In 2011, when he was with the Chicago Bears, he was fined $20,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit and $25,000 for unnecessary roughness.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was asked Monday whether he thought the two plays involving Meriweather were legal hits.

"To be honest with you, on the first one it looked like the running back was kind of going downhill, and when Brandon went for the tackle it looked to me like it was perfect and then all of a sudden when [Lacy] ducked his head, I couldn't tell -- I didn't see the TV copy, I just saw the video -- and that's exactly where the contact was," Shanahan said.

"The second one on the sidelines, that's what you're supposed to do. That's a legal hit," he said.

Shanahan said Meriwether was undergoing tests for his concussion and that the Redskins would have a better idea of how he's doing on Wednesday.

Lacy's status for the Packers' Week 3 game against the Cincinnati Bengals was unclear. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday he wouldn't have an update on Lacy's condition until Wednesday.

McCarthy also was asked about Meriweather's hits during the game.

"The Washington safety definitely led with his helmet, so I know that's not what we're looking for," he said, adding later on Meriweather's hit to Starks: "Same thing, different result."

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Bears returner Devin Hester has mad skills

Bears rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene has yet to take a snap on defense in two games, but he already feels he has a special niche in the NFL.

‘‘I’m blocking for Devin Hester, one of the greatest ever,’’ he said.

Greene had seen Hester on television taking over games with kick returns. But like other newcomers on the Bears’ special-teams units, he gets a special kick out of being one of they guys helping make Hester happen.

‘‘It’s awesome,’’ said Greene, a fourth-round draft pick from Rutgers. ‘‘Those returns gave me so much energy. Just knowing that I’m blocking for one of the greatest returners in the history of the game, it’s just phenomenal.

‘‘Just seeing how electrifying he is on the field, it makes you appreciate being here and puts things in perspective. I’m honored that I’m playing with such a great guy and a such a great football player.’’

Hester had one of those days against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday that reminds you just how good he can be when his mind is right, his legs fresh and his competitive fire is stoked. After Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, a seething Hester motioned for the Vikings to ‘‘bring it on’’ and responded with kickoff returns of 76 and 80 yards. He added a 42-yard return in the fourth quarter — even his third-best kickoff return was the fourth longest in the NFL on Sunday — and averaged 49.8 yards on five kickoff returns, a franchise-record 249 total yards.

‘‘Whenever you get opportunities to make plays, you can showcase your talent,’’ said Hester, who per usual gave due credit to his teammates. ‘‘A lot of people said I lost it because I wasn’t getting the opportunities, so the stats weren’t there. Nowadays, that’s how you get judged as a player. If you don’t have the stats, you’ve lost it. [We got] more touches [against the Vikings], an opportunity to make plays, we were able to get some good returns.’’

It remains to be seen if Hester will be as universally dangerous this season as he has been. As much as he bristles at the notion that he lost it in 2012, the fact of the matter is that with 40 punt-return opportunities last year, he looked lost on many of them and averaged 8.3 yards, ranking 22nd in the NFL. The previous year, he led the NFL with 16.2 yards per return and two touchdowns. In 2010, he led the NFL with 17.1 yards per punt return and three touchdowns.

Even against the Vikings, Hester seemed to miss two punt-return opportunities when he let the ball fall in front of him and bound away. One was downed at the Bears’ 7-yard-line, the other at the 14. And you don’t have to remind him that he used to score on kick returns like the ones he had against the Vikings. He said he thought the Vikings were playing to contain him. Maybe they were. Maybe they weren’t. But he was so upset that he didn’t score on the 80-yarder he didn’t want to talk about it.

That’s good. He needs to stay motivated, fresh and apparently a little angry.

‘‘It’s a great win, but I wish I could have scored on one of the returns,’’ Hester said. ‘‘It’s a long season. We’ve got 14 more games left. Hopefully we’ll get in the end zone by the end of the year.’’

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Ed Reed focused on playoffs for Texans, not Ravens

The Houston Texans signed Ed Reed to be the missing piece in their secondary.

So far, the decorated safety has simply been missing. Reed, recovering from offseason hip surgery, sat out both Texans' wins to start the season, and remains a question mark with his old team, the Baltimore Ravens, up next on the schedule.

Reed was a call-in guest Tuesday on "The Rich Eisen Podcast," where he explained why missing a game against the team he won a Super Bowl with seven months ago wouldn't be the end of the world.

"It's nothing that urged me to play this week, you know I didn't circle this on the calendar," Reed explained. "I said it earlier in the offseason that with my rehab I'm not preparing to play against San Diego or Tennessee or even the Ravens.

"It's about being there for the long haul," Reed continued, "being there for the team when it really counts, and that's playoffs, the Super Bowl, AFC Championship Game."

Sunday will provide some extra nostalgia for Reed as the Ravens induct longtime teammate Ray Lewis into the team's Ring of Honor during halftime. Reed doesn't project any bitterness about his departure from Baltimore, where he starred for 11 seasons.

"Everything that transpired between me and the Ravens is business, you know I had a great career there," Reed said. "I never saw myself playing against the Ravens so nothing in my heart, my soul that's urging me to play."

"I know it's a special day because yeah, my boy is going in the Ring of Honor, more than deserved for him," Reed added. "I always pictured myself on the sidelines watching that happen at halftime or something."

Reed will be in the building for Lewis' big celebration. Whether he'll be on the sideline -- or in uniform -- remains to be seen.

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Leonard Hankerson catches three passes in start

Leonard Hankerson started the Redskins' Week 2 loss to the Packers, catching three passes for 35 yards.

It was just HankTime's seventh career start. He caught Robert Griffin III's first pass of the game, but had a quiet day thereafter as the Redskins got blown out in Green Bay. Although it's possible Hankerson may have finally overtaken Josh Morgan as a starter for good, he hasn't done enough to suggest he's a weekly WR3. He was also out-targeted 6-3 by Morgan, but notched one more catch. HankTime should remain limited to WR5 duties on your bench for the time being.

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Santana Moss has 3/41/1 day

Santana Moss caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in Washington's Week 2 loss to the Packers.

All three of Moss' catches came with the Redskins deep into their garbage-time push. He wasn't a factor before Washington fell behind 31-0. Moss is locked into a handful of weekly targets in the slot, but fantasy owners need to aim higher.

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Ray Lewis: Steelers are a different team

PITTSBURGH -- Ray Lewis was long one of the faces of the rivalry that has churned out one classic slugfest after another.

And the former Ravens linebacker turned ESPN NFL analyst doesn’t recognize the team he loved to hate but also grew to respect because of its physicality.

Lewis said on ESPN’s "Mike & Mike" show Friday morning that the Steelers have gotten away from what has traditionally defined them: hard-nosed football.

“They are a totally different team,” Lewis said.

The offensive side of the ball, Lewis said, is where there has been pronounced change. Lewis said the Steelers have gotten away from drafting a certain type of player, and that they have targeted “smaller, quicker” wide receivers in recent years.

That is another way of saying the Steelers don’t have a tone-setter like Hines Ward, who played wide receiver with the mentality of a linebacker.

The Steelers’ inability to run the ball --- they have rushed for less than 100 yards in seven consecutive games -- is one reason the offense has been criticized from all sides.

Lewis said such struggles reflect a bigger problem in that the Steelers have gotten away from who they are -- and that things could get worse in Pittsburgh before they get better.

Steelers fans won’t like such an appraisal coming from the greatest player in Ravens history. But will they have an issue with the messenger or the message?

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Jon Vilma prepares for business life

With the season underway, NFL players are now solidly focused on football again. But many of them spent their offseason developing business ventures off the field.

To help avoid the cautionary tales of players who have gone bankrupt despite making millions during their career, the NFL and NFL Players Association have put increasing resources into transitional and second-career programs.

One such program, the Professional Athlete Franchise Initiative and its parent company, the International Franchise Association, hosted the NFL Franchising Boot Camp with the NFL and the University of Michigan in April. Michael Stone, a former NFL player and founder of PAFI, says approximately 25 players and 10 of their spouses attended this year's inaugural event.

Stone founded PAFI after retiring from the New York Giants in 2008. At that time, he felt there was a gap in the transitional experience of a player. He met former NBA player Junior Bridgeman, who owns hundreds of restaurant franchises, and learned about the benefits of being a franchisee.

"I thought franchising could be a good fit for an athlete because it has the support," said Stone. "It's almost like a business with a coach, with a game plan. I didn't have to create the game plan myself. I didn't have to design the plays or market my team -- everything was packaged for me, and all I had to do was execute the plays. I saw the parallels between that and the athlete experience."

Stone says in addition to that natural fit, the franchising industry is heavily regulated, making it a safer bet than some of the other business ventures athletes are approached with.

"A franchisor cannot lie to you about how many stores they've opened and closed or how many bankruptcies they've had," said Stone. "You can reach out to every franchisee and see how happy they are with the brand, how many stores they've closed, and their average revenue."

PAFI prides itself on not making decisions for athletes, but instead providing them with the necessary knowledge to complete their own due diligence and find the franchise opportunity that's right for them.

Everette Brown, who recently became a free agent after being cut from the Philadelphia Eagles, didn't go through PAFI, but he did find a franchise opportunity that fit him: a Tropical Smoothie Café he's opening in Charlotte, N.C., in October.

Brown says he focused on speaking with successful franchisees and used his alumni connections at his alma mater to learn more about the industry.

"I have a lot of connections through [Florida State], so I was able to go back and talk to boosters and go to different events and just network and ask questions and obtain as much information as I possibly could," said Brown.

For Brown, it was important to pick a franchise with a product he could stand behind.

"I had to look at what franchise fits what I'm about," said Brown. "That's where Tropical Smoothie Café stood out to me. I was first introduced to the brand when I went to FSU. The product is healthy and it tastes good. It didn't feel like something I had to force."

Brown says he knew it was important to look into business ventures off the field early on.

"The NFL stands for 'Not For Long.' That's the mindset you have to have."

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma says he has always understood the importance of developing a career off the field.

"[Developing business ventures] was always a priority for me when I was able to have enough cash saved up first," said Vilma, who's currently recovering from knee surgery. "If I made it three years in [the NFL] I had a certain plan, then if I made it five years I had a certain plan."

Now entering his 10th year in the NFL, Vilma has met those goals for saving money and has started venturing into other businesses in recent years. He owns South Beach bar Foxhole, a Brother Jimmy's BBQ franchise, and now he's a co-owner and franchisor of an app called BarEye.

Vilma is also having to navigate the perils of the business world; his Brother Jimmys BBQ franchise and the Marlins are currently suing one another over a failed concessions stand in Marlins Park.

But his BarEye app has been gaining traction.

BarEye allows users buy drinks for others at participating bars. Drinks can be purchased by those who aren't even present, with the recipient showing their phone to the bartender or scanning it at an iPad that BarEye provides to participating bars.

"Someone can log on to BarEye and say I'm at 'Bar X.' Let's say it's her birthday and she comes in with maybe five of her friends," explained Vilma. "Some of her friends can't make it, but they can still buy her a drink [using the app]."

BarEye came around at the perfect time for Vilma. Last year, he was forced to confront the reality of life outside of football head-on when he was suspended for the season for his role in the Saints' bounty program.

"I don't want to say it was a blessing," Vilma said. "But I was able to put more focus on BarEye and my restaurants at the time."

While Vilma appealed the suspension, which was lifted just before the 2012 season opener, he says he worked out for a couple of hours each morning to prepare for whenever he might play again, then he'd spend the rest of his day focusing on his business ventures.

"It gave me a lot of perspective," Vilma said. "Now I can prepare for life outside of football."

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Reggie Wayne Nears Milestone

Reggie Wayne’s second season was the first one in Indianapolis for Tony Dungy. 

The coach with a defensive pedigree was joining a Colts team blossoming with offensive talent.  A knock on his door by a young player is something that sticks with Dungy to this day.

“I remember in 2002 when I joined the Colts, Reggie came to me and said he felt he could contribute more than he did as a rookie,” said Dungy.  “He wanted to be part of a receiver group that would help us win.  He worked with that in mind and never stopped working.”

Wayne came armed that day with 27 NFL receptions and no touchdowns to his name.  With Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison already taking their place among the game’s greatest duos, Wayne was not going to be a young talent left behind.

He embarked on six consecutive seasons with increased reception totals, becoming only the third NFL player ever to do so.

As he lines up Sunday, Wayne (980 receptions, 13,205 yards, 79 TDs) needs one scoring reception to become the 11th NFL player to reach both 13,000 career yards and 80 touchdown snares.  Three on that list – Jerry Rice, Cris Carter and Steve Largent – have busts at the Hall of Fame.
 Players with 13,000 yards and not 80 TDs:  James Lofton* (14,004), Henry Ellard (13,777), Torry Holt (13,382)

Players with 80 TDs and not 13,000 yards:  Don Hutson* (99), Don Maynard* (88), Lance Alworth* (85), Hines Ward (85), Paul Warfield* (85), Andre Rison (84), Tommy McDonald* (84), Irving Fryar (84), Mark Clayton (84), Antonio Gates (83), Art Powell (81).
*Pro Football Hall of Fame

“He’s what an NFL Hall of Famer is, in my opinion,” said Antoine Betheaicon-article-link.  “He’s what every guy coming into this league wants to be.  He’s going to be one of 11 to reach that milestone.”

Tom Moore was around Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann (click here for acrobatic moment) and John Stallworth (click here for Super Bowl TD reception) in Pittsburgh, and a man who provides praise only when it is earned has effusive regard for Wayne.

“He is just a great athlete,” said Moore.  “The biggest thing about Reggie is the amount of time, effort and work he has put in to get better and to develop his skills.  He is a very special person.  He is unbelievable, the hardest working football player you will ever meet.”

Practice observers are treated to Wayne snaring one-handed catch-after-catch from the ‘jugs’ machine that spits footballs out at a rapid clip.  Practice viewers see things daily that fans only see on Sundays when Wayne (click here for great catch) makes such catches.

“You watch the game and it’s, ‘Man, that’s a spectacular catch.’  Then you watch him in practice, he does that every day,” said Bethea.  “The work ethic he puts in is special.  You don’t see that every day.  Every organization really doesn’t have the honor of saying it has that type of leader.”

Wayne’s reception chronology from 2001-07 went:  27-49-68-77-83-86-104.  Since, he has topped 100 receptions three more times (100, 2009; 111, 2010; 106, 2012), one shy of the NFL record of Wes Welker.

His 1,355 yards in 2012 represented his sixth career 1,200-yard season, tying him for third-most ever.  Wayne’s eight receptions last week against Oakland extended his NFL record to 64 straight games with three or more receptions.

Wayne’s (click here for highlight) workman-like approach outshines any fanfare, though he is a fan favorite.  The Colts are 29-12 in his 100-yard games, 56-13 when he scores a touchdown, and his seven seasons leading the team in receptions rank behind a Hall-of-Famer (Raymond Berry) and a future one (Marvin Harrison) for third in franchise history.

“If you talked to him, you’d never know it.  He’s not a cocky person,” said Bethea.  “He’s not big-headed.  He just comes to work and does what he needs to do. 

“You can see how he plays on Sunday and works every day, it’s easy for him.  The way he plays on Sunday is a result of hard work and natural ability.”

Count Cory Redding as a former adversary who now regards Wayne as a comrade.

“That’s a huge deal, an accomplishment that he will reach.  He deserves it,” said Redding.  “He works his butt off every single day.  I’ve seen it, and I admired it from afar. 

“Watching him every day at training camp on the jugs machine, going through his routes and how he prepares, it’s no shock to me what he does.  There’s no better person who deserves it more than him.”

The sentiments Redding expresses are matched by one of the game’s winningest coaches and an even more sincere individual.

“It will be an awesome accomplishment when Reggie Wayne joins that group.  It’s certainly elite company, but he deserves to be there,” said Dungy.  “He’s gotten there by not only talent, but hard work.  He was a leader in showing younger receivers what they needed to do to succeed in the NFL. 

“He’s still playing at that high bar he set in 2002 and 2003.  I appreciated his toughness and work ethic, and for not wanting to miss game or practice time.  He was so dependable.  He was a joy to coach.  It couldn’t be more deserved.  I could not be more proud of any person.”

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Jon Vilma vows to move forward with NFL defamation suit

One day after his suspension in the NFL's bounty probe was overturned, Jonathan Vilma moved forward with his defamation claims against Commissioner Roger Goodell, while Drew Brees and other teammates went on the offensive against Goodell and the league office.

"What I would like to see is a level of accountability on the part of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell in regards to mishandling of this entire situation," Brees said after practice Wednesday. "We as players hold ourselves and are held to a very strict code of conduct both on and off the field. We have to be accountable to that, as it should be, and I feel like they should be held to the same standards.

"If someone would just come out in the league office and admit, `You know what? We could have handled this situation better,' it would go such a long way with both players and fans. People would really come around to realize what this thing was all about because right now the league office and Commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players."

Speaking later at a special league meeting in Dallas, Goodell, when apprised of Brees' comments, said he wouldn't apologize.

"To have a bounty program where you're targeting players for injury is completely unacceptable in the NFL, and it is clear that occurred for three years despite all of the denials," Goodell said.

Vilma was initially suspended an entire season while three other players — Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, received various suspensions of shorter lengths.

Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner appointed by Goodell to handle the final round of appeals, threw out the suspensions and ruled there would be no fines, either, for any of the players. However, he absolved only Fujita. Tagliabue still found that Vilma and Smith took part in a Saints program that rewarded injurious hits and that Hargrove was not entirely truthful when NFL investigators asked him about the pool, but he said the suspensions levied by Goodell were disproportionate to how players had historically been punished for similar behavior, and because there was no clear link to "tough talk" about taking opponents out of game and the actual play on the field.

In motions filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Vilma and the NFL Players Association filed motions dropping their claims against the league over the player-discipline phase of the bounty probe.

However, Vilma notified U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan he would continue to pursue defamation claims he filed against the commissioner back in May, and asked the judge to open the discovery process which includes the collection of evidence and deposing of witnesses.

Later in the day, Berrigan ruled against opening discovery at this time, likely because she has yet to rule on the NFL's motion to dismiss Vilma's claims.
Vilma made it clear that he still believes his reputation has been harmed by the way Goodell spoke publicly about allegations that Vilma was the ring-leader of a bounty program which rewarded hits that injured targeted opponents, and that he put up $10,000 bounties on Kurt Warner and Brett Favre in the 2009-10 playoffs.

'No do-overs'
"Well the most important part of me being able to play now and not having to worry about a lingering suspension, that part is over," Vilma said. "I'm excited about that. The next part is really, that's outside of football. That's talking about attacking a man's character, attacking a man's integrity.

Vilma said he could not be sure what kind of settlement he might be willing to accept, but sounded like he was more interested in seeing through a court case with evidence made public than taking a financial settlement and keeping quiet.

"This is my career. There are no do-overs in football. I don't get to stop, wait five years and start over and come back with a new attitude, or a new face, or anything like that," Vilma said. "This is my legacy. This is what I leave behind. If I were to stop now, the only thing people are going to remember is the bounty. They're not going to remember anything before that. They're not going to remember all the accolades. That's why it's very important."

Goodell said Tagliabue's report "made it quite clear that he holds the management and the coaches responsible. My personal view is I hold everyone responsible. We have to have a personal responsibility here. Player health and safety is an important issue in this league."

Saints head coach Sean Payton is serving a full-season suspension, while general manager Mickey Loomis served eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six.

Smith, the Saints' defensive end, also was critical of Tagliabue's opinion, saying that while he was pleased his suspension was overturned, he did not understand why he was completely exonerated. He said he thought the testimony of two key NFL witnesses in the probe, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, cleared him, though the NFL disagreed.

According to transcripts of closed hearings obtained by The Associated Press from a person with the role in the case, Williams and Cerullo both testified that Smith contributed money to a pay-for-performance pool that among other things rewarded hard legal hits, including those that knocked players out of games. However, when asked directly if Smith every put a bounty on anyone or even suggested that the Saints should try to injure any opposing player, both former coaches answered, "No."

"People actually think that we actually went out and did this, and we didn't do this," Smith said of the bounty program, adding that he had not decided whether to pursue any defamation claims of his own. "The only thing that was going on was a pay-for-performance that pretty much every other team in the league has and have had for years. That was it, I never participate in a bounty or put money down to injure another player or encourage other guys to injure other players."

Vilma said he was not bothered by the wording of Tagliabue's ruling, saying he fully expected the former commissioner, who works with a firm that represents the NFL, to be careful not to expose his client to liability.

Brees had a dimmer view.

"I hate to say this because it sounds so conspiracy theorist, but it seems like the last, at least, month or so, especially once Tagliabue stepped in, it's very staged, as in, `OK, how do we get ourselves out of this mess, let the players off," Brees said. "Thank God we have a union that can represent the players and fight the process and represent our guys. Unfortunately, the coaches don't have that. The coaches are told the way it's going to be, and they have no way to fight back unfortunately, because I'd say certainly Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt and Sean Payton didn't deserve what they got.

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Trey-McKinney Jones Gets Invite to NBA Camp

Former UM guard Trey-McKinney Jones will attend training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks.

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Jon Jay 'finds ways to get things done'

DENVER • Cardinals center field Jon Jay has at least one plate appearance this season at every spot in the order except for cleanup, and with teammate Allen Craig out with a foot injury the former leadoff hitter has been recast as the No. 2 hitter.

With it, the Cardinals’ lineup has a different look.

Jay, who spent much of 2012 as the team’s leadoff hitter, has hit .267 with a .343 on-base percentage this season in the No. 2 spot. Monday was his 31st start there.

Carlos Beltran has been the regular in the No. 2 spot ahead of Holliday, but with Craig not available the switch-hitting Beltran is batting fourth.

“Jay finds ways to get things done,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I think (Beltran) was confused a little bit about what his role was — am I supposed to be a table-setter? The way I pictured it when you’re in the lineup, when you’re in that second batting position, I look at it as we have two three-hole hitters. That’s the way I want (Beltran) going about his at-bats there.

"With Jon Jay it’s a little different. He realizes he’s going to go in and do the little things right. He’s very good about getting runners over. He’s got a good idea when to put the bunt down and try to get something going.”

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Danny Valencia could earn more at-bats against right-handers

Designated hitter Danny Valencia was already batting a major league-leading .548 (23-for-42) since Aug. 4 before his three-run home run in the eighth inning Thursday night.

But while the right-handed Valencia has mostly been used against left-handers, his game-tying homer came against Yankees righty David Robertson.

Robertson is an unusual case, though. He actually has a lower opponents’ average against left-handed batters (.162) than against right-handed batters (.248), which is part of the reason why Orioles manager Buck Showalter stuck with Valencia.

Showalter did say Valencia could be lined up for other chances against right-handers if he continues his hot streak.

"Danny's in a good place right now, and I'll continue to match him up, but the way he's handling himself, that's how you get dictated more opportunities," Showalter said. "He's been a real contributor for us."

For the season, Valencia is batting .194 against right-handers and .385 against lefties.

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Lawsuit describes Ryan Braun's efforts to fight drug test

A former college classmate sued Ryan Braun, saying the Brewers slugger sought his help in fighting a failed drug test, balked on paying him and then disparaged him when asked why their friendship soured.

Ralph Sasson, a Milwaukee law student, said Braun's agent hired him in November 2011 to do legal research aimed at clearing Braun after the left fielder tested positive for steroid use. The agent later asked him to investigate the man who collected Braun's urine, Dino Laurenzi Jr., and Braun personally asked him to prank call two journalists working on a story about the failed test, according to the lawsuit filed last month in Milwaukee County court.

Braun was the first baseball player to successfully challenge a drug-related penalty in a grievance. He accepted a longer, 65-game suspension last month amid reports of ties to a Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs to major leaguers but did not publicly admit using banned drugs.
Sasson said the initial deal called for him to be paid $2,000 for his research and $5,000 if Braun was exonerated. But Braun and his agent, Onesimo Balelo, balked at paying him the full amount after a baseball arbitrator overturned the left fielder's 50-game suspension in February 2012. Sasson eventually got paid, but he said his relationship with Braun soured and the baseball player lied when asked why.

"Braun has engaged in advancing the proposition that the reason for his falling out with Sasson was because Sasson had been rude to staff at Miller Park; Braun had received word that complaints had been filed due to Sasson's abhorrent behaviour; that Sasson had "acted like an ass"; and that Sasson is crazy," the lawsuit says.

It seeks more than $10,000 for defamation and emotional distress.

"This lawsuit is an unfortunate attempt to capitalize on Ryan's recent press attention for taking responsibility for his actions," Braun's attorney, Howard Weitzman, said in an email to The Associated Press during the weekend. "The factual allegations are untrue and the legal claims have absolutely no merit. We believe the lawsuit will be dismissed."

Weitzman had no further comment Monday.

According to his lawsuit, Sasson and Braun had been friends since junior high school and attended the University of Miami together. Sasson said Balelo did not mention Braun's name when he initially hired Sasson, but Sasson believed the player he was working to clear was his friend because there was no reason otherwise for an agent of Balelo's stature to call "a law student with very little practical experience."

Sasson said Braun later confirmed he was the player who failed the drug test.

The law student said he wrote a legal brief on the matter and then, at Balelo's request, ran a background check on Laurenzi. Braun's initial suspension was overturned after the outfielder's supporters showed Laurenzi collected the sample on a Saturday but did not send it to the lab until Monday.

Baseball's drug agreement states that "absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the laboratory on the same day they are collected."

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NFLU TD Streak Extended to 13 Weeks

Current Streak (Week 7 2012 – Present) Totals: 13 Weeks & 41 Total TDs

Week 2, 2013
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (1 TD vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 56-yard TD reception)
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (1 TD vs. Buffalo Bills; 13-yard TD reception)
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins 49ers (1 TD vs. Indianapolis Colts; 10-yard TD run)
Santana Moss, Washington Redskins (1 TDs vs. Green Bay Packers; 9-yard TD reception)

Week 1, 2013
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts (1TD vs. Oakland Raiders; 12-yard TD reception)
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (1 TD vs. Atlanta Falcons; 7-yard TD reception)
Kellen Winslow Jr., New York Jets (1 TD vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 7-yard TD reception)
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (1 TD vs. Green Bay Packers; 1-yard TD run)
Leonard Hankerson, Washington Redskins (2 TDs vs. Philadelphia Eagles; 10-yard TD reception; 24-yard TD reception)

Week 17, 2012
Jon Vilma, New Orleans Saints (1 TD vs. Carolina Panthers; 18-yard INT return for TD) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (1 TD vs. Carolina Panthers; 19-yard TD reception)

Week 16, 2012
Santana Moss, Washington Redskins (1 TD vs. Philadelphia Eagles; 22-yard TD reception) Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts (1 TD vs. Kansas City Chiefs; 7-yard TD reception)

Week 15, 2012
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (1 TD vs. Indianapolis Colts; 3-yard TD reception) Leonard Hankerson, Washington Redskins (2 TDs vs. Cleveland Browns; 54-yard TD reception; 2-yard TD reception) Travis Benjamin, Cleveland Browns (1 TD vs. Washington Redskins; 69-yard TD reception)

Week 14, 2012
Travis Benjamin, Cleveland Browns (1 TD vs. Kansas City Chiefs; 93-yard punt return for TD) Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (1 TD vs. Atlanta Falcons; 25-yard TD reception) Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts (1 TD vs. Tennessee Titans; 4-yard TD reception) Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (1 TD vs. Miami Dolphins; 1-yard TD run)

Week 13, 2012
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (1 TD vs. Kansas City Chiefs; 47-yard TD reception) Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (1 TD vs. St. Louis Rams; 1-yard TD run)

Week 12, 2012
Santana Moss, Washington Redskins (1 TD vs. Dallas Cowboys; 6-yard TD reception) Thanksgiving Day Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (1 TD vs. New Orleans Saints; 6-yard TD reception)

Week 11, 2012
Santana Moss, Washington Redskins (1 TD vs. Philadelphia Eagles; 61-yard TD reception) Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (1 TD vs. Jacksonville Jaguars; 48-yard TD reception) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (1 TD vs. Oakland Raiders; 1-yard TD reception)

Week 10, 2012
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (2 TDs vs. Atlanta Falcons; 29-yard TD reception; 14-yard TD reception) Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (2 TDs vs. Denver Broncos; 4-yard TD reception; 5-yard TD reception) Colin McCarthy, Tennessee Titans (1 TD vs. Miami Dolphins; 49-yard interception return for TD) Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (1 TD vs. St. Louis Rams; 20-yard TD run)

Week 9, 2012
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts (1 TD vs. Miami Dolphins; 9-yard TD reception)

Week 8, 2012
Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins (1 TD vs. New York Jets; Punt block recovery in end zone) Santana Moss, Washington Redskins (1 TD vs. Pittsburgh Steelers; 2-yard TD reception) Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos (1 TD vs. New Orleans Saints; 1-yard TD run) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (1 TD vs. Denver Broncos; 18-yard TD reception)

Week 7, 2012
Santana Moss, Washington Redskins (1 TD vs. New York Giants; 26-yard TD reception)

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Devin Hester takes anger out on Vikings

Devin Hester was personally offended Sunday when the Vikings returned the opening kickoff 105 yards to upstage him in front of his adoring home fans.

"It pissed me off to have someone take one out (of the end zone) and take one to the house. Oh, it pissed me off," Hester said after the Bears edged the Vikings 31-30.

After Cordarrelle Patterson tied a Vikings record with a 105-yard kickoff return, Hester returned Blair Walsh's ensuing kickoff 76 yards.

"Before the kickoff, I just said, 'I don't care how deep this guy kicks it, I am bringing it out,'" Hester said. "And that's the mentality I told my (special teams teammates) about. If you get punched in the mouth like that, we're not going to just fold down and back down. If you kick it 9 (yards) deep, we're coming out. So don't expect me to take a knee."

Hester broke his own franchise record for single-game kickoff return yards with 249. His previous mark was 225, set Dec. 11, 2006, at St. Louis.

"All I can say is that Hester is amazing," said Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, whose 16-yard touchdown catch decided the game with 10 seconds remaining. "Anytime he touches the ball, I say, 'OK, what's going to happen?' He put us in great field position the whole day. They did a great job blocking. Sometimes when he gets the ball, I am a spectator. I am cheering, I'm jumping. It's just fun to watch him back there.

"We always joke with him that, 'You've got to make your money this week. You're just returning kicks.' He earned his check today."

Hester said he is pleased he has relinquished his duties as a wide receiver this season to concentrate solely on returning kicks and punts.

"My legs are a lot fresher," he said. "Even during the week, I'm saving my legs. Not a lot of running in practice. That is a key factor."

Hester's 76-yard kickoff return set up the Bears offense to quickly retaliate with a five-play, 32-yard scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard pass from Jay Cutler to Bennett.

"That was huge," Cutler said of Hester's long return. "He was there all day long. He was averaging 50 yards a kickoff return. It's hard to win the game with four turnovers. ... You can't do it without great special teams play and great defense."

Patterson's day wasn't too shabby, either. The rookie from Tennessee averaged 49.7 yards on three returns. His 105-yarder tied the club mark set by Percy Harvin last year.

"I was coming into the game and thinking about (Hester)," Patterson said. "Every time he touched the ball, it motivated me."

Hester also had an 80-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. He averaged 49.8 yards on five returns.

"(Hester) was a big factor in the game, not only when he had his hands on the ball, but he was also a factor in the game when they didn't want to kick to him (on punts) because we had field position. I thought that was awesome," coach Marc Trestman said.

"We knew we were due to have a good game on the returns," Hester said. "On special teams we felt like we came out and played — besides the first play. ... (Trestman) said before we ever broke the locker room that we might get punched the first play of the game, but it's how good we can bounce back. That's what we did."

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Lamar Miller totals 75 yds, scores touchdown

Lamar Miller rushed 14 times for 69 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for six yards in Miami's Week 2 win at Indianapolis.
Miller got downhill with explosion, exploiting lanes particularly on outside zone runs and ripping off the game-clincher for eight yards deep in the fourth quarter. Despite a slow opener, Miller is an every-week flex starter in fantasy leagues with a high-end RB2 ceiling if he can continue to distance himself from RBBC partner Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins host the Falcons in Week 3.

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Greg Olsen leads Carolina in receiving, scores TD

Greg Olsen had seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's Week 2 loss to Buffalo.

Olsen led the Panthers in receiving and was targeted eight times. He got the majority of his yardage on check downs and in the short passing game, including a 13-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. Olsen is locked in as a TE1 option and will have another plus matchup in Week 3 against the Giants.

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Jimmy Graham has career day for Saints

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was absolutely too much to handle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Graham caught 10 passes for 19 yards and a touchdown in the Week 2 matchup on Sunday. The yardage mark was a career high (he actually set the career high mark in the first half alone), to go along with a stellar 17.9 average yards per reception.

Graham was the consistent weapon that leaded to the Saints edging out their NFC South rivals. Drew Brees threw for 322 yards and the touchdown, but he also had two interceptions, a rarity for one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Graham provided the only touchdown on the day and without him, the Saints wouldn't have been in a position to kick a game-winning field goal.

Fantasy Impact: Graham was the highest-drafted tight end on average in fantasy football, and this is exactly why. Safeties struggle to keep up with him and linebackers flat-out cant handle him. He's extremely good, and should have more games in this vein (though 179 yards, again, is a career high) and will continue to be a productive fantasy option. He's always a must-start and Sunday was solid confirmation of this.

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Andre Johnson faces detailed process under NFL concussion protocol

When Texans receiver Andre Johnson disappeared from the playing field Sunday at Reliant Stadium, he entered the mysterious world of the NFL’s “concussion protocol,” which includes several layers of tests and exams that players must pass before they can return to play — and even then, only after they are cleared to do so by an independent neurological professional.

There are some new elements this year, and they begin with the system used to monitor players during games and the manner in which they are assessed for possible concussions, said Dr. Kenneth Podell, a neuropsychologist who is co-director of the Methodist Concussion Center.

Watching from above
At each game, Dr. Podell said, there is now an “eye in the sky” observer who scans the field looking for players who may require assessment for a concussion.
“Did somebody stumble when they got up, or is there something about their behavior on the sideline?” he said. “The observer can send an FYI down to the team, or they can send a video clip to the sideline in real time to be checked out.”

In cases such as the hit Sunday by Titans safety Bernard Pollard on Johnson, teams don’t require an observer to tell them a player needs assessment. Beginning this year, players in those cases are assessed by an independent neurological observer. There is one on each sideline, assigned by the league but not affiliated with the team.

“The NFL has a formal document called the Standardized Concussions Assessment Tool, which has been modified to focus on orientation, memory, concentration, balance and symptoms,” Dr. Podell said. “They will do a neurological exam, and if a concussion is determined, the player will be removed from competition.”

The SCAT, a copy of which is available at, informs professionals that a “conservative, safety-first approach should be adopted” in such exams. Exams, which require 10 to 15 minutes, can be administered on the field or in a quieter location, and results are compared with each player’s preseason baseline test.

Any of six physical criteria, including loss of consciousness, amnesia and confusion, can result in a player’s being barred from further play. Five additional questions are designed to help determine if a player has suffered more serious brain trauma.

Players also are administered a 65-point exam that includes the month, date and year, the venue, who scored the most recent touchdown, the team’s previous opponent and the outcome of that game. One test requires a player to recall a list of words, and another requires him to repeat a list of numbers. He also must answer a list of symptoms, including “don’t feel right” and feeling “in a fog.”

Any player diagnosed with a concussion must be escorted to the locker room or training room for observation and cannot return to the field under any circumstances under league rules. After the game, it is determined whether he can return home and under what circumstances.

Long path to field
The return-to-play path can begin one to two days after the game. Players are evaluated using elements of the SCAT and monitored to determine when they are back to normal without return of symptoms, followed by another round of cognitive tests.

According to guidelines from the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee, “Once symptoms have subsided, players submit once again to the standard baseline testing, plus the 30-45 minutes required to complete more advanced versions. Sometimes there is additional testing with the neuropsychologist. Even then, there are no pass-fail grades, only additional data for doctors to interpret.”

Physical tests as well
If a player shows progress on his tests, he can be cleared for return to physical activity.

“It’s a gradual increase in exercise intensity,” Dr. Podell said. “We start with cardio, advance to intense cardio with weight lifting and position-specific drills. If athletes continue to be symptom-free, they advance to the next stage.”

NFL regulations, he said, allow a player to complete up to two stages each day. A player might be allowed light cardio activity in the morning, for example, and moderate activity that afternoon.

Further stages include a return to non-contact drills, contact drills and, eventually, a return to the playing field. But even after a player is cleared by the team doctor, he must be evaluated by an independent concussion expert approved by the NFL and NFL Players Association.

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Trial Date Set for Man Charged in Sean Taylor Murder

SeanTaylor copy
A judge has set a trial date for one of the men charged in the 2007 murder of NFL star Sean Taylor in Miami.

Eric Rivera, 23, is charged with first-degree murder and burglary with assault or battery in the death of Taylor, who was killed during what prosecutors say was a botched robbery at his Miami-area home.

On Monday, a judge scheduled his trial date for Oct. 15. It had been scheduled to begin Monday and has been delayed several times.

Taylor, a two-time Pro Bowl safety for the Washington Redskins, had starred at the University of Miami, helping the Hurricanes to the national championship in 2001.

Rivera and three others, all from the Fort Myers area, have pleaded not guilty and are being tried separately. Each faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

A fifth man previously pleaded guilty to murder and burglary charges and is likely to testify against the others.

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Harbaugh believes Ed Reed will play

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn't have any insider knowledge on Ed Reed's health status. But Harbaugh does know Reed, having coached the Pro Bowl safety for five seasons.

That's why Harbaugh believes Reed will be suited up to play his former team Sunday, when the Ravens meet the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium. Reed tested out his surgically repaired hip before the Texans' game Sunday in pregame warmups before ultimately deciding to sit out his second straight game.

"We'll have to assume that he's going to play," Harbaugh said. "We'd be surprised if he didn't play in this game."

Reed, 35, went to nine Pro Bowls during his 11 seasons with the Ravens and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. He holds the NFL record for the two longest interception returns (106 yards in 2004 and 108 yards in 2008). He also is the all-time league leader for interception return yards (1,506) and postseason interceptions (nine).

Reed left the Ravens to sign with the Texans in free agency six months ago, agreeing to a three-year, $15 million contract that included $6 million guaranteed.

For years, Harbaugh saw how teams would have to game plan for Reed and how he changed games. Now, the Ravens have to figure out a way to attack Reed if he's on the field Sunday.

"It's a little tougher because we haven't seen him on tape, so we really don't know how he fits into their defense," Harbaugh said. "We'll have to fit him into their scheme, which in a lot of ways is similar to what we've done here. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out where he's going to be. We'll just kind of envision him out there playing the way he's played for us all of those years."

The return of Reed coincides with the Ravens inducting linebacker Ray Lewis into the team's Ring of Honor. Lewis and Reed were the longtime faces of the Ravens' dominant defenses. Lewis retired after last season, which culminated in a Super Bowl title.

"It'll be great to see Ray for us," Harbaugh said. "I don't know how emotional we'll be about that. We'll be emotional about the game and we'll feel great about Ray being here for that. It's a great honor. It's something we'll all take pride in. Maybe Ray will be ready to give us a little fire-up talk."

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Antoine Bethea: 'Reggie Wayne has special work ethic'

Antoine Bethea has praised Indianapolis Colts teammate Reggie Wayne's work ethic.

The wide receiver could become the 11th person in NFL history to score 80 touchdowns and record over 13,000 receiving yards in their career when the Colts face the Miami Dolphins today.

The safety told the team's official website: "You watch the game and it's, 'man, that's a spectacular catch'. Then you watch him in practice, he does that every day.

"The work ethic he puts in is special. You don't see that every day. Every organisation really doesn't have the honor of saying it has that type of leader.

"He's what an NFL Hall of Famer is, in my opinion. He's what every guy coming into this league wants to be. He's going to be one of 11 to reach that milestone."

Wayne, who was drafted by the Colts in 2001, has 13,159 receiving yards and 79 touchdowns in his 13-season career.

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Shane Larkin: (Ankle) Will be Ready for Training Camp

Larkin (ankle) is expected to be ready for the beginning of the Mavericks' training camp, the Associated Press reports.

Larkin suffered a broken right ankle in July and was expected to miss 2-3 months, putting his recovery right on schedule. The Mavs have Jose Calderon at point guard as well as Devin Harris, who is expected to be out until late December with a toe injury. With a strong showing in training camp and the preseason, Larkin could take the backup point guard job heading into the regular season.

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Kings sign DeQuan Jones for training camp

The Kings have signed forward DeQuan Jones to a contract for training camp.

Training camp begins Oct. 1 in Santa Barbara.

Jones (6-8, 221) spent his rookie season with the Orlando Magic, appearing in 63 games last season. He averaged 3.7 points in 12.7 minutes per game after playing at the University of Miami.

The Kings already have 14 guaranteed contracts for the 2013-14 season. Ideally the 15th spot would remain unfilled to provide flexibility for possible transactions during the season.

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Danny Valencia Stays Hot

The Baltimore Orioles inched a game closer in the Wildcard standings yesterday with a great collective pitching performance and a two run double from Danny Valencia as the Birds took two of three from the Blue Jays with a 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon.

Valencia came through with the big hit of the day, again, for the Orioles. Trailing 1-0 in the top of the third inning, Baltimore had runners on first and second with two outs, and Valencia scorched a ball down the left field line to score two and give the O's a lead that they would not relinquish.

Baltimore's other run came in the fourth inning when Chris Davis worked a bases loaded walk after being down 0-2 in the count.

Valencia led the way with two RBI, while Nick Markakis had the lone multi hit game going 2-4 with a run scored.

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