2009 Pro Bowl proCanes Representing

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Darnell Jenkins Fighting For a Spot

Second-year man Darnell Jenkins is showing himself to be a serious contender for the fifth spot and, if necessary, to handle the punt-return chores as well. Although Jones is the superior athlete and more imposing physically, he's lagging behind in other areas.

His propensity to lose both footballs and his focus, on the field as well as off, remain a concern for coach Gary Kubiak, who says: “We're asking Jacoby to grow up not only as a football player but as a person, too.”

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No running back has a name as self-descriptive and fitting as Frank Gore

He doesn't try to run the ball. He tries to "gore" through a hole or "gore" through a defender. With the plan to go back to a basic running attack, Gore should return to the numbers he posted in 2006 -- 312 rushes for 1,695 yards.

Gore has been the main weapon for the 49ers for the past three years, but the 49ers got away from his style of power football. He's averaged 49 receptions during that three-year span. More than anything else, Gore loves the game of football and loves being the workhorse. He prides himself in how he runs the ball and is constantly asking for advice and instruction of how to keep improving. He lifts weights tirelessly in the offseason to prepare his body for the challenge. The 49ers expect him to have his greatest season in 2009.

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Shockey at center of Saints-Texans brawl

HOUSTON - I'll update the EOSB later with a full recap, but know this:

Jeremy Shockey, Buck Ortega, Troy Evans and unspecified Saints started brawls today.

Here's what you need to know in the Shockey Bout: New Orleans' Shockey got in a brawl with Houston's DeMeco Ryans. Split decision after Shockey threw a punch but Ryans and teammate Xavier Adibi took the tight end to the ground.

Here's what happened:

Houston's DeMeco Ryans was guarding TE Jeremy Shockey on a passing route. His fists were full of jersey and Shockey wasn't very keen on the idea of being held.

So, with his right arm, he swung behind his back and hit Ryans in the head.

Well, Ryans didn't like this, you see, and walked up to Shockey and began barking in his face.
Then he pushed Shockey and the melee was on.

Shockey threw some rights, got pushed back, then hit back. Houston's Xavier Adibi pushed both Ryans and Shockey down to the ground and you know what happens after that. Lots of fun.

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Frank Gore is ready to show his blocking skills

The 49ers running game has been the main focus of the team's new offense. On Friday, the 49ers saw the emergence of rookies Glen Coffee, Kory Sheets and fullback Brit Miller.

On Tuesday in Napa, RB Frank Gore made sure that everybody knew that he was also going to be a huge impact for the 49ers.

In the team's annual practice with the Raiders, Frank Gore displayed his blocking skills to the rest of the Raiders.
From Matt Maiocco:

Running back Frank Gore provided the highlight of the morning practice for the 49ers. He was incredible in blitz pickup, as he pancaked both Ricky Brown and Kirk Morrison in the drill. Gore was so fired up, he acted as if he wanted more. RBs coach Tom Rathman took Gore out of the drill the next time he was lined up to go against David Nixon, a rookie linebacker from BYU. (At that moment, Nixon might have been the happiest person on the planet.)
Head coach Mike Singletary did give Gore a warning for getting too emotional with the Raiders defenders.

But from what has been reported, Gore's blocking may just be the key to the 49ers having success at running. Also, with the team's offensive line surrundering a league-high 55 sacks last year, a good blocker will make a huge difference.

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Bruce Johnson Performing Well

I mention most of Tyree’s drops so it only seems fair I mention a rare one from WR Derek Hagan. It’s possible CB Bruce Johnson got his hand on the ball first.

Johnson definitely got his hand on another Carr pass intended for Hagan during the two-minute drill. He did a great job sticking with the receiver as he ran across the middle. Then he did an even better job of lunging in front to break up the pass.

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Who's Not and Who's Hot for the Giants

Who’s Hot: S Kenny Phillips – It’d be kind of a surprise if he doesn’t end up in the Pro Bowl this season. Talk about putting it all together.

Who’s Not: WR Sinorice Moss – The super hot start to camp appears to have fizzled some. He’s in the fight of his life for a roster spot.

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Santana Moss Talks TV Shows

Santana Moss is one of those pop-culture guys, always singing the theme song to some eighties cartoon or repurposing the melody to a current radio hit to suit his own Santana-centric lyrics. It's just the way he is, and not something I ever really discussed with him. Until today, when he was sitting in one of the ice tubs, shouting lines from South Park.

"I'm not a huge fan," Moss said of the Comedy Central show, "but when I broke my jaw in college, they called me Kenny." This was followed by an amusing but pretty much un-transcribe-able imitation of the parka-muffled South Park character. For the sake of completeness, it was something roughly along the lines of : "Mmmmmmmmmmmmm! MMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!"

The conversation eventually wound its way to a fairly detailed discussion of reality TV -- and more on that in just a few minutes -- but before then, Moss offered recommendations of a few of his favorite shows, and at least one of them came as a substantial surprise to me.

"I enjoy everything, man. I watch a lot of TV," Moss told me. "My favorite show that comes on on the regular is Dirty Sexy Money. And Gossip Girl! I love Gossip Girl."

Me: "Gossip Girl?"

"Man, I like stuff that's got a real plot to it. If something's very entertaining, I like to watch it."

Me: "But ... but ... Gossip Girl?"

"That's something that I ain't ashamed about," Moss said. "I mean, at the end of the day, I've gotta be in the house at night, so if it's on, I'm tuning in."

Moss was sharing the ice tub with a couple other guys, so I asked if any of them were Gossip Girl fans, to general head-shaking and looks of confusion. "I don't even know what that is," Justin Tryon said.

Moss shook his head. "Man, if they watch it, they'll be glued just like I am. See, I started 'cause my wife was watching it. I'm in the house and we're in the room together, and I don't wanna change the channel to what I want to watch. So I started watching it a little bit, and one show just caught me, and I was waiting to see what happened. So the next week, I was like, 'Hey, did you watch that Gossip Girl last night? What happened?' and she was like, 'Yeah, I TiVOed it for you.' And from then I was always looking forward to it. I never really catch it when it first comes on, but she TiVOs it for me."

So if you want to be prepared to make small talk with Santana Moss, Gossip Girl is your show. New season apparently starts September 14. For my part, I'm unconvinced.

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Winston watches

Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston watched his teammates get into six fights with the Saints in the morning practice. He compared it to a movie but not Fight Club.

"It was very Gangs of New York-esque," he said. - JOHN McCLAIN

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Carey Gets Wrist Taped

Starting RT Vernon Carey sat out several plays during team drills to get his right wrist taped by head trainer Kevin O'Neill. Carey didn't appear to be too concerned as he discussed the tweak with good buddy Jake Long. Nate Garner stepped in for Carey and worked with the first team.

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NFL All-Indispensable Team

New England Patriots, Vince Wilfork
You could make a reasonable argument that Wilfork is the MVP -- Most Valuable Patriot -- not named Tom Brady.

Literally at the center of everything on the defensive side and still young at 27, the 6-2, 325-pound nose guard gives everyone around him opportunities to make plays. He can play two gaps, fill a running lane and still is nimble and athletic enough to make tackles. Wilfork finished with 66 tackles last season. For a nose guard in a 3-4 defense, that is an exceptional number of plays.

The ends on each side of him, Ty Warren and Richard Seymour, have benefited greatly from having Wilfork, as have the linebackers. And behind him in the secondary, there is virtually nothing in terms of proven talent.

Carolina Panthers, Jon Beason
When play-making defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu was lost for the season with an Achilles tendon injury on the first day of training camp, everything changed for Beason. For starters, as an undersized (6-foot, 237-pound) middle linebacker accustomed to having his defensive linemen take on most blockers, Beason's prospects for another Pro Bowl season suffered a hit.

Now, he's going to have to deal with much more traffic, and size coming at him. And how much of that pounding can Beason take? He's integral to the Panthers defense. He's strong, quick and always takes efficient lines to the ballcarrier. When he gets there, Beason is a sure tackler. Beason delivers a lot of sure hits. This year, he's going to take more, too.

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Kelly Jennings Performing OK

Kelly Jennings has been OK as the team’s nickel corner. However, Jennings still can’t come up with the big play down the field, so the team could always go back to using Jordan Babineaux in nickel situations.

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Calais Plays Solid Against Steelers

Calais Campbell: Moving from the little people to the giants, Campbell was a beast against the Steelers starting left tackle. He was stout against the run and got into Ben's face on more than one occasion. One solid preseason performance won't replace Antonio Smith but his first game action went a long way to easing some people's concerns.

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Tanard Davis To Get Chance To Start?

Another interesting note is that journeyman Tanard Davis will get a crack at the nickleback position since Vincent Fuller is still healing.

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Salmons primed for a breakout year

John Salmons, G/F, Bulls. Salmons has had a strange NBA career. He struggled with his shot for four years in Philadelphia before blossoming with the Kings. But, because he played in Sacramento, few noticed Salmons had grown into an offensive threat. He averaged 18.3 points after his trade to Chicago last February, though, and with Ben Gordon gone, Salmons should take over the role of go-to scorer in a brighter media market . "He was unbelievable for us last year," teammate Derrick Rose says. "I think, now that he has had time to play with us and after he goes through training camp, he is going to be even better."

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Burrell Back on Track

He has three straight multihit games for the first time this season and has homered in five of his past 11 games. Since July 7, Burrell has nine homers, 22 RBIs and a .533 slugging percentage. In 52 games before that, Burrell had just three homers, 20 RBIs and a .305 slugging percentage.

"They brought me here to help offensively. And the first half — basically, for a long time — I haven't really been doing much to help," he said. "It was frustrating. But I feel if I can continue to swing the bat well, we are in a situation where we can control our own destiny."

Maddon said part of Burrell's resurgence can be attributed to him staying behind the ball better. But he also said Burrell's "confidence is on the rise."

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Huff's Day

Aubrey Huff, acquired this week from the Baltimore Orioles, pinch-hit for catcher Gerald Laird in the sixth and delivered his first RBI as a Tiger on a groundout with the bases loaded.

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Cora Returns After Surgery

Versatile infielder Alex Cora had surgery on his right thumb and showed up at Citi Field wearing a cast. Cora plans to have surgery on his left thumb in about four weeks, but had the right hand operated on first so he could begin throwing.

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Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat

The Cleveland Indians' Chris Perez hasn't allowed a run in his last 13 1/3 innings while striking out 15. He has also walked just four in that time. It's not a priority, but he could have short-term value in deep mixed leagues.

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Aubrey Huff brings more than offense to Tigers

Aubrey Huff was acquired Monday from the Baltimore Orioles because he's a proven run producer.

"Offense is his forte," Jim Leyland said.

But when Huff eventually plays in the field for the Tigers, it could be at third base, a position where he's not played since last year. It also could be in the outfield, a position where he's not set foot since 2006.

Obviously Huff is not going to settle in at one spot. Just as obviously, because the position belongs to Miguel Cabrera, he won't be playing much first base -- where he mostly played for the Orioles this year.

Of the 106 games Huff started for the Orioles before the trade, 93 were at first, the other 13 at designated hitter, which is where Huff started Tuesday night. He went 1-for-4.

In other words, it's easy to see where his bat fits in, but not where he'll fit in defensively.

The first indication the Tigers might not be entirely sure, either, lay in the fact that for the first time since he returned to the lineup on July 24, Carlos Guillen started in left field Tuesday night.

That's after Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said during a conference call with the media Monday, when discussing outfield options, "I don't know how much Carlos is going to be able to play out there."
On Tuesday, the Tigers decided to find out.

"He told me he can play left, so I put him out there," Leyland said.

If Guillen can handle left field, without having it affect his offensive game, the Tigers won't have to lean on Huff to play as much in the outfield.

Not that he can't play the outfield.

Dombrowski said some in the Tigers organization who believe left field might be Huff's best position, but of the 239 games he's started as an outfielder, only seven have been in left.

Plus there's this to consider: Huff isn't fast, and Comerica Park is a huge ballpark for an outfielder.

"I'll make out the lineup each day," Leyland said, "and that's what it will be."

As for Huff's take on his defense, "I've played a lot of first this year and was the DH for most of last year," he said. "Those are the positions I'd say I'm the most comfortable at.

"Third base, I've played there and can handle it. It's been a while since I've played the outfield. I'm going to take some fly balls and see how it goes. But I don't think I've ever played in an outfield like this -- lot of ground to cover."

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O's will miss Huff, for now

We're going to miss Aubrey Huff, and not just because of his entertaining antics on satellite radio or his groundbreaking discovery that offseason conditioning is seriously overrated.

We're going to miss him because he is a proven run-producer who held down one of the corner infield positions on a team that doesn't have anybody ready to take his place at first base.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blasting the trade that sent Huff to the Detroit Tigers on Monday in exchange for Single-A relief pitcher Brett Jacobson. That's the kind of deal you make when you're trying to get younger. I'm just worried that the front office might be sending the wrong message to the fans at this critical juncture in the team's rebuilding program.

There's no way the Orioles can be competitive in 2010 without a legitimate power bat in the cleanup spot, so the decision to shed Huff for some payroll savings and a 2008 fourth-round draft choice can be interpreted one of two ways.

It's either proof that Andy MacPhail is willing to suffer through at least one more long season to develop his own corner infielders - something that isn't going to sit well with an already cynical public - or he intends to work some offseason magic to get a star-quality run-producer to station in the middle of the lineup.

The first option would require the Orioles to either gamble on one of the unproven infielders in the system (Michael Aubrey, Brandon Snyder or newly acquired Rhyne Hughes) or convert a member of the current roster into a capable first baseman. That process may have begun Monday night when Luke Scott moved out of the designated hitter role to replace Huff at first. The O's also could consider testing left fielder Nolan Reimold over there, now that fourth outfielder Felix Pie appears to be maturing at the plate, but club officials seem comfortable with Reimold where he is.

Even if someone like that filled the defensive requirements of the position, however, the departure of Huff - albeit in a year when he retreated from his strong 2008 numbers - still takes a significant bite out of the club's run-production potential going forward.

MacPhail's other option, of course, is to go in search of a marquee first baseman to anchor the lineup, and the name that you're probably going to hear a lot over the winter is Adrian Gonzalez.

Don't get too excited. Trade rumors involving Gonzalez have been circulating for the past couple of months, because the San Diego Padres are a long way from being competitive and Gonzalez would bring a mother lode of young talent in return. They don't have to trade him, because he's under control through 2011 at a very reasonable price, but they probably won't be able to afford him after that.

The Orioles are one of the teams with the kind of young talent that might get a deal like that done, but we're talking about a 27-year-old player who has averaged more than 30 homers in his first four full major league seasons. It would take a lot of Andy's "inventory" to pry the guy out of San Diego, and it would represent a tremendous organizational gamble for the O's.

This is a team that still is haunted by the ill-fated Glenn Davis deal, which cost the Orioles three players who would go on to be All-Stars - including 2004 World Series hero Curt Schilling. MacPhail would have to take a similar risk with a chunk of the Orioles' best young talent that would likely include at least one of the club's elite pitching prospects.

MacPhail is a fairly conservative guy, so it's almost hard to imagine him taking a leap like that, but it's going to take some bold action to put the Orioles on course to be truly competitive in the American League East.

There are other avenues, of course, though the free-agent pickings look pretty thin.

The Orioles also could pursue a trade for a lesser-impact player such as Colorado Rockies corner infielder Garrett Atkins, who has become available during a difficult 2009 season after averaging more than 100 RBIs the previous four years.

It really comes down to whether the plan is truly to be more competitive in 2010, or just to show enough progress to prevent an open revolt in the stands.

Dealing Huff could make sense either way, but it makes the most sense if the Orioles come up with somebody better by next spring. Until that happens, I think we're going to miss him

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Tracking proCanes - Sinorice Moss - Part II

In Part II of our interview with Sinorice Moss he talks about fellow ‘Canes on the Giants, being a NY Giant, Eli Manning and much more!  Click here to read Part I.

pC: Would you say this season is more important because it’s a contract year for you or that doesn’t really play?
SM: Honestly I’m not even worried about the whole contract thing. I’m worried about myself going out there and being the best that I can be for myself. I’m not doing this for the coaches, I’m not doing it for the newspaper articles, I’m not doing it for the magazine covers, I’m doing it for myself. I’m very, very hard on myself so I’m doing it for myself completely because I want the best for me. I want to go out there and I want to perform at my very best, because I know what I’m capable of doing and capable of bringing to this team. So I’m not doing it so people can say oh yeah, I’ve seen Sinorice Moss do this. I’m not doing it for the newspapers; I’m not doing it for the coaches; I’m doing it for myself.

pC: How is it having Eli Manning as your quarterback? I mean first of all his pedigree and him being the number 1 overall pick and just the pressure of him playing in New York. How is it having such a big name as your quarter back?
SM: Eli is a great man. Seeing what Eli has to go through to finally get recognized, I still feel like he’s still not really recognized like he should be. It adds fuel to my fire because Eli has a brother that’s in the NFL, I have a brother that’s in the NFL. Peyton Manning is very successful, Santana Moss is very successful, in the NFL and in their careers. And when Eli first came in the league, he had his struggles. He had his problems; everybody does. Everybody has problems. You don’t just come into the NFL and become this big, big star. You’re going have to work and fight through different things in order to become who you want to be. Eli fought through that adversity and all the negative opinions people had about him and he went out and performed every week. He stayed quiet and he performed. He never got too uptight. He never said anything outlandish in the papers. He stayed quiet. He worked on his craft. And he became the MVP of the Super Bowl and we won the Super Bowl. And now every body is hollering and raving about Eli Manning. Eli Manning is this. He’s that. He’s better than Peyton, but then you still have the people that are saying ‘Aw, Eli’s nothing. He’s this. He’s not that.’ But he stays calm, he wants to become better. He works hard. He talks to the players. He’s talking to me. Plenty of times, telling me about this or that route. Saying I’m going to put the ball here, I’m going to put the ball there. He’s not an arrogant guy. He’s not an arrogant guy at all. He wants to perform. He wants to do right. He wants to carry this team and lead this team back to the Super Bowl. So having him as my quarter back. I mean, I won’t have it any better.

pC: You can tell he’s pretty down to earth.
SM: Yeah he is. He plays pranks. He loves to joke. He plays pranks all the time but people never know that because all they say is Eli has no emotions. But trust me, he does. He laughs, he cracks jokes, he pranks everybody. It’s very, very great for myself to have him as my quarterback. I’m honored to have him as my quarterback and be on the same field as him.

pC: How is it having Kenny Phillips on your team with you guys?
SM: It’s awesome.

pC: How is Bruce Johnson doing?
SM: Bruce did very very good for himself this spring.

pC: So it’s three of you and Jeff Feagles?
SM: Yes I saw Jeff today. It’s love once you’re a part of the University of Miami family. We always talk and we always sit down and chat. Kenny still lives in my neighborhood. He lives right down the street from me. I can walk to Kenny’s house. Kenny walks to my house and borrows movies. It’s family. Me and Kenny grew up together in Miami. We went to the same high school. We went to the same college and now we’re playing on the same NFL team. It’s family.

pC: Shockey was there when you were there. And William Joseph also?
SM: Yeah and William Joseph. Thomas Carroll was here. He came in for a little while.

pC: And Jerome McDougle.
SM: Yeah Dougle was here last year.

pC: So any reason that you chose 83 in college? Was it because that was Sanatana’s number when he was with the Jets?
SM: I definitely didn’t choose that number. That’s a good catch. When I got to the University of Miami, the number that I wanted when I first got there was number 2. I wore number 2 in high school. I wore number 83 for like a year in high school because I was born in the year 83. And my brother also wore 83. So that was like a number for me. When I got to the University of Miami, and we were doing the whole thing I asked to see what number I would have, so I went upstairs and asked and they were like ‘Oh, you’ve got 83’ and I was like oh, that’s cool, that’s perfect. I didn’t even have to ask for it. And it’s stuck with me ever since and when I got to the NY Giants, when I first got here they gave me number 89. I was walking back after the first practice of rookie mini camp and the GM at the time, Ernie Acorsie, he said I’m putting you back in 83, you belong in 83. He called the equipment guy over and said, he belongs in 83, put him back in 83.

pC: And nobody had 83 at the time?
SM: I believe somebody did. We had a tight end at the time and he wore the number 83 and they put me back in 83.

pC: I’ve heard stories that you have to pay to be put back in a number but you didn’t have to do that?
SM: No, I didn’t have to do that because Acorsi said he wanted me back in 83. He felt like I was going to make the 83 known as a Giant.

pC: Going back to your UM days, tell me one crazy story or something that us fans may not have heard of or something that really stands out from your time at UM.
SM: Crazy stories, man. I remember one time, one late night, I think it was going into my Junior season, we had a late practice and I went home and went to study hall and everything and I think that day in practice there was something that I got upset about that I didn’t do right in practice. I went home after study hall and practice and all and it was real late. I’m laying down in my apartment or whatever and I got mad. I jumped up, I grabbed my cleats and I drove to the field and one gate was open and I ran through the gate and I’m on the Greentree Field and it was pitch black. I sat there with my shoes, I stretched. Then I started acting like I was in the huddle. I broke the huddle, lined up and I ran every route until I felt like I did it the right way. Every route! I ran every route until I felt like I did it the right way, on both sides of the field. I lined up like I was in the huddle, I called the play out. I lined up and then it was so funny because, Pritch, Pritch was the guy who locked all the gates and walked around the field and made sure everything was fine before he left. And it was late and I didn’t realize it was this late and he walked back there and he says: ‘Noris, are you alright?’ I said, “I’m fine, I’m just working on some things I need to work on.” He said, ‘Oh, because I was worried and I was in the back and I was watching you and I wasn’t sure who it was so I had to come out here and check on you.’ And I said: “Pritch it I’ll be alright.” And then by the time I finished, all the gates were locked, because Pritch locked them all and left. So I had to jump the fence to get to my car and this was like 11 or 12 o’clock and I didn’t even know. I had to be right back up at 6am to go and work out.

pC: Were there any special nick names that guys call you now or when you were a Cane?
SM: Everybody calls me “Nory”. Some people call me C-No. Some guys call me Moss man. Some guys, I mean they have so many nicknames for me out here with the Giants. They have so many crazy nicknames for me I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

pC: Do you have any game day superstitions or rituals you have to do?
SM: I’m a neat freak. I’m real big on making sure everything is nice and clean. So, before the games, I grab my socks, my shoes, I grab my eye patches I put under my eyes and I lay them down. I have them in order. And I keep them on the left side of my locker and I have them in order before every game and I put my IPod on shuffle and let it flow so whatever plays it’s going to play.

pC: Anybody ever mess with the order of your things?
SM: Oh yeah. Amani Toomer. He did it every time because he knew how neat I was. So Amani used to come sometimes and mess up my stuff and his locker was on the other side and he used to mess it up and walk away so when I came back to my locker I was like, man who touched my stuff, but I already know who did already and I’d just laugh and walk over to the side where he was and he’d just look at me and laugh like yeah, I did it. It’s funny because he knew how much, more than anything, I needed my things in order and he’d just mess it up.

pC: Who are you closest with on the Giants?
SM: Our whole team is just so close. We have so many nights where we go out. We have Applebee’s Fridays or we go to the city and we do so many different things as a team it’s just ridiculous. But a lot of guys that I’m really, really cool with, of course Kenny, Erin Ross, Corey Webster, Dominique Hixon, Steve Smith, all those guys, we’re real close. We have nights where we go out and just hang with each other. This team is such a close-knit team and a lot of people really don’t realize that and the NY Giants is a great organization and everybody on the team wants to do well. And everyone is rooting for the other person to do well.

pC: Is that strange for an NFL team. Or are a lot of teams like that?
SM: I’m not sure if a lot of NFL teams are like that. It’s kind of strange I would say for an NFL team because everybody has families now. People are married. Guys have kids and do so many different things and you see how close everyone is because they’re inviting you to their houses. You’re meeting their families, you’re meeting their kids. Their kids know who you are. They want to be around us. They bring their kids out to the field. We’re close-knit so you could be out at Wal-Mart and you see them and you say Hey, and the kids say ‘hi.’ It’s very very different because I know a lot of guys from other teams that say when practice is over, everybody leaves, or they do their own thing. And it’s not really like that. You have guys going back to meetings and watching things and it’s like six to eight guys watching film and that’s what it’s going to take for us to be great.

pC: It almost sounds like college?
SM: Yeah, it definitely does because we definitely did that at the University of Miami. We stayed and watched film together and did all those things to become better and that’s what we’re doing out here.

pC: I read in a recent online chat how much you loved playing at the Orange Bowl, so what do you think of the move to Dolphins Stadium?
SM: I really don’t like it at all. I heard about the move to the Dolphins Stadium whenever it was, and I was like I hope they don’t do that. And one time I flew home, so it had to be my second year in the league after the Super Bowl, I flew home and I drove by the OB. Every time I drove by the Orange Bowl, I crossed my chest and kissed and pointed to the OB. I did that all the time. Every time I passed by the OB, I crossed my chest. Made a cross and sent a kiss and pointed at the OB and I passed by and I was like “hold on they tore down the OB already?” I called my youngest brother and I asked him and he said ‘yeah.’ I actually got up and drove by. I was hurt. Not only the University of Miami played there, you had Super Bowls, some of the best Super Bowls that you could think of were played at that stadium, so to me that was a historic stadium, not only for us, not only for the University of Miami, but so many guys that played in the NFL that retired, that are in the Hall of fame. Maybe some of the guys had their best game on that field or at that stadium and they can’t ever bring back their kids or grandkids to look at it.

pC: Have you been to a game at Dolphin Stadium?
SM: I haven’t.

pC: Where would you say was the toughest away game for you at the U?
SM: Virginia Tech. Hands down. They made that noise in that stadium it was definitely a problem. They made that gobble noise, it was definitely like something was wrong. You better button up your helmet. Button up your chin strap and get ready to fight because they were definitely coming out with it. They were definitely going to make you feel it.

pC: Who would you say had the nastiest fans?
SM: West Virginia. My freshman year we played at West Virginia. It was horrible. Everything. They were throwing stuff, cussing, and this and that. West Virginia was pretty bad.

Word Associations, Give me the first thing that pops in your head when you read the following:
Randy Shannon: Motivator
Larry Coker: Inspirational
Orange Bowl: Historic
Fiesta Bowl: Depression
Ohio State: I hate ‘em
Sebastian the Ibis: [Laughter] Sebastian! Cool guy man

pC: You played with Kyle Wright and Brock and Kirby Freeman. Talk about Kyle. He was the big time recruit and he never panned out for whatever reason, talk about those guys as QB’s. What was the issue? Changing offensive coordinators every week?
SM: That could have been a problem. I’m not sure. I know I was real close with Kyle when he was thr QB. I was very close with Kirby. When Brock was there we would go and have lunch and eat and sing songs together. I had a good relationship with all three of those guys and it’s always good to have a good relationship with your QB. But outside of them just being my quarterback, we were really good friends because they was good people.

Honestly I really don’t understand what happened with Kyle or with Kirby. After I left school, there were a lot of different changes. A lot of coaches left. Larry Coker was gone. So being a young guy that’s coming into a school and you’re set in your ways you say okay, these are the coaches that are going to be here and all of the sudden they’re gone, it just throws you for a loop. So maybe Kirby and Kyle really couldn’t handle that as being young QB’s. Brock Berlin was a fighter. That’s why still to this day when anyone says something about him I get upset. Because I know how much he put in to be the best he could be for the University of Miami. He put in so much. He put his heart in each week into performing and doing his very best.

pC: Did people give him a lot of crap for being a transfer from Florida?
SM: They joked around. Everybody jokes around in the locker room. If they know anything about you they’ll crack on you but he knew it was all in good spirits. It was never a problem because Brock was a fighter and he busted his tail every week to be the best QB he could be for the UM. There was never anything I could say bad about Brock because I saw what he did. I saw how many hours he stayed. I saw the blood, sweat and tears from being knocked around and called different names and booed. They booed him one time at the stadium. You know how much that hurts. They booed him.

pC: Yeah they booed him at the beginning of the 2nd half against Florida.
SM: He fought through that. And won games for us. Big games. He’s a fighter.

pC: Do you still keep in touch with Brock?
SM: Last time I saw him was last year. He’s with the Rams. We played against the Rams and we ran across the field like we were in a movie. Like when you see someone you haven’t seen in a long time. We ran across the field. Hugged each other. We were just so excited to see each other because we were great friends. We’re real good friends.

pC: If you’re not pulling for the Giants, what NFL team are you pulling for or you can’t root for anybody else?
SM: I root for the guys that I went to school with and the guys that I know. I specifically want the guys that I know and the guys I went to school with to do their very best each week. I mean I go on the computer and look up everybody and make sure they had a good game, what did they do, how many balls did they catch, how many yards did they run. I check up on Frank [Gore], Roscoe [Parrish}, Reggie, my brother, everybody, Antrel, Kelly [Jennings], Kellen [Winslow]. I check up on everyone because I want them to do well and I know they’re working hard to do that.

pC: What do you think about Hester, do you think he can do pretty well as a number one receiver?
SM: That’s funny you ask because I just talked to him two days ago. He’s doing good. He’s got a lot to prove and a lot of naysayers and doubters but that’s just going to be fine. Hester shocked the world his first two years in the NFL and he’s going to continue to keep doing it.

pC: Do you follow the NBA? Do you have a favorite team?
SM: I don’t have a favorite team. I’m a big Lebron [James] fan, big Dwayne Wade fan. If those guys are on TV, I’m watching and if I get the opportunity to go to the game, I’m going go see it.

pC: How about baseball?
SM: A-Rod! I’ve root for A-Rod since I was in college. There were times when A-Rod was at the facilities during the summers working out and when I had the opportunity to run with him so, yeah A-Rod all-day.

pC: Favorite food?
SM: I like pastas man. I’m a spaghetti guy.

pC: What sauce do you prefer?
SM: I like Chicken Alfredo. I’m a big Alfredo guy. My mom’s homemade spaghetti takes me over the top.

pC: What favorite band/group is your favorite or I’d find most on your ipod?
SM: That’s tough. I listen to all types. Gospel, R&B, Hip Hop, Alternative, Country, everything. That’s a tough one. Can’t say a favorite.

pC: One that pumps you up before a game?
SM: The Phil Collins song [In the Air Tonight], gets me every time. I still play it in my IPod. Still get’s to me every time.

pC: What’s a movie you could watch over and over?
SM: I’m a big movie fan. A movie I could watch over and over? The Program.

pC: What about a TV show?
SM: Kings and Queens. They still show a little up here. I’m a big fan of that show. No lie. I love it a lot.

pC: What do you do in your spare time?
SM: I’m in my house watching movies or playing Nintendo Wii. I love the Wii! Snowboard, Mario Kart or Golf.

pC: No Madden?
SM: No Madden, I don’t play madden. I play all the fun games. All the Super Mario’s and stuff like that. I let everybody else play Madden and call me and tell me how they did.

pC: Two websites you check daily?
SM: NFL.com, I check that all the time. Always on twitter it seems. [Laughter]

pC: Have you found Twitter to be a good way to connect with your fans?
SM: Of course. It’s a very good way to connect with my fans. To see me as a person not as the football player. They can see my likes, dislikes, things that I’m a fan of. To see how I am as a person and what I do throughout my day. Stuff like that. I feel like that’s a great, great, source that they’ve built and it’s really taken off and a lot of people use it.

pC: Are you going to be doing it from the side lines?
SM: Definitely not. That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. On game day I’m not even worried about my phone till after the game.

We at proCanes.com would like to thank Sinorice Moss for being so gracious with his time to do this very insightful interview for our new feature "Tracking proCanes." Click here to check out our past interviews with Leon Searcy, Steve Walsh, Frank Costa, John Routh, Chad Wilson and more!

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Bills Sub Standouts

Roscoe Parrish: Instant excitement. There's no substitute for speed on the field, and Parrish zigged and zagged his way around training camp.

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Jets might have interest in Moss

The Jets might be interested in Giants receiver Sinorice Moss. The announcement was made by Rich Cimini

"The Giants are another team that bears watching. They have a glut of receivers, and the Jets are wondering if one, perhaps Sinorice Moss, will become available," wrote Cimini in the New York Daily News.

Who is Moss better than in the Jets top five wideouts right now? Probably nobody. If this happened, it would make little sense.

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Chris Myers Running

Chris Myers was running well on Field 3, wearing a small ankle brace.  That was encouraging to see.

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Thanks to a legion of NFL stars, Miami has developed the reputation as "NFL U" in most circles. It's a widely accepted fact that the school has produced the best collection of running backs, tight ends, linebackers and safeties in the last generation.

And the program didn't mind using that in its recruiting pitch, but in recent years that approach has backfired. A few weeks ago, I chatted with UM safety Randy Phillips, one of the leaders of the team, and he mentioned that so many players there -- too many players -- had an attitude that college was just about getting ready for The League.

"In the past we had a lot of guys who were just trying to be 'three-and-out,'" Phillips said. "We've had to get that [attitude] away from the program. I mean, you gotta get your degree. You gotta be coachable. You gotta be a man. We just wanna win. It was great when people were using [the NFL hook] for recruiting, but when you get here, you just can't have that mindframe."

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Healthier, happier McGahee expects to shine in '09

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Willis McGahee appears to have no lingering health issues this summer. His mind appears to be in a good place, too, which is a definite plus in his effort to rebound from a lackluster 2008 season with the Baltimore Ravens.

McGahee missed the opener last season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, then battled eye, ankle and knee injuries while falling behind Le'Ron McClain on the depth chart. After making the Pro Bowl in his first season with Baltimore in 2007, McGahee finished with career lows in carries (170) and yards rushing (671).

He didn't sulk quietly.

"My season is over with," McGahee said before Baltimore's first playoff game. "My season was over Week 5. I haven't done anything at all. I'm just playing my role."

McGahee will again alternate carries with Ray Rice and McClain this season. The difference is, he's been running hard and saying all the right things during training camp.

"I look at everything with a smile. You can't control it all; all you can do is control what you do," he said. "I just try to be positive."

His attitude stems from the beating his psyche took last season.

"No doubt about it, last year was disappointing," he said. "It was frustrating, but I think it made me stronger mentally."

Drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft by Buffalo, McGahee sat out his first pro season while recovering from a serious knee injury that occurred in his final game at the University of Miami. He rushed for 1,128 yards in 2004 and backed that up with another 1,000-yard season, but the Bills traded him to Baltimore after he missed two games with a rib injury and was limited to 990 yards rushing in 2006.

McGahee gained a career-high 1,483 yards from scrimmage in his first season with the Ravens, then fell out of favor with a new coaching staff by occasionally skipping minicamp sessions and offseason workouts.
This year, the coaches have no complaints.

"We've got a smarter Willis McGahee, more of a student of the game with a good work ethic," running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said. "He has totally committed himself to the Ravens' way that John Harbaugh preaches. He has really taken the fundamentals and the techniques to the fullest.

"He's really working hard. I'm very proud of Willis," Montgomery added. "I'm very happy with the way he's working and with his attitude. It's a great thing to see. He changed his ways."

The 28-year-old McGahee still wants to be the focal point of the Baltimore offense. It's just that he understands now that there's nothing wrong with sharing the load.

"This is 2009. It's not 1980 or 1991, when one running back did everything," he said. "It's different. You can't really take all the pounding because the hits are getting a lot harder. So you've got to be able to switch it up, give everybody a rest and let somebody else come in and do something before you get back in the game."

The Ravens' philosophy of alternating running backs isn't predicated solely on preserving the strength of the trio. It's designed to give opposing defenses a different look, sometimes during the same set of downs.

"It's three different running styles. Ray is a slasher, he can change the pace. Le'Ron is a bruiser, and I try to fit in both," the 6-foot, 235-pound McGahee said. "I know I'm not a big slasher, but I'm trying to be one. That's one thing I'm working on this year. I know I can get the tough yards when needed, but I'm trying to elevate my game."
In the preseason opener against the Washington Redskins, McGahee rushed for 26 yards on only four carries, including a team-high 16-yarder.

"Actually I'm happy with it because it was my first preseason game since I came here," he said, evidently forgetting that he started all four games in 2007.

If only McGahee could purge the memory of 2008. Even if that's not possible, he has at least taken strides toward making this season one to remember.

"I told Willis, 'I love the way you came to work,'" Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "And that's what, to me, is important. Very seldom have we been around guys who come to work consistently that don't eventually play well. We focus on the preparation, and I loved his work."

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Japanese Cherry Blossom body lotion plagues punt returners

Cruelly, NFL players have to sacrifice a lot for their craft. They're away from their families, their workout routines can be brutal and they're subject to a lot of harsh public criticism. Also, many punt returners have to give up slathering their forearms with Japanese Cherry Blossom body lotion.

What happens if they don't? Antrel Rolle(notes) learned the hard way last Thursday night in the Cardinals preseason opener against the Steelers. From the official site of Antrel Rolle:

I got a chance to return punts last night but I forgot about it until game time. I always put some real thick Japanese Cherry Blossom lotion on my arms because it keeps me warm and loose during games. I do it before every game but I forgot that I was returning punts on Thursday. I caught the punt perfectly, but as soon as I tucked it away I felt it start to slip. Then someone hit me from behind and it just slipped out.

Full disclosure: I once purchased and used the Japanese Cherry Blossom body wash. The scent is delightful, so in some ways, it's hard to blame Antrel Rolle for being unable to resist. I'm just glad he didn't use the body butter. Imagine the chaos that could be set off by that aromatic lubrication.

They either need to put a warning label on that stuff, or perhaps cover it with a special seminar at the league's rookie symposium. Japanese Cherry Blossom body lotion is too dangerous a substance to not be addressed.


Tanard Davis is Nickel Back

Cornerback Tanard Davis worked at nickelback for the Tennessee Titans with Vincent Fuller (groin) still slowed and Mouton out.

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Gooden has beef with Madden '10

The Ravens have some ridiculous speed in camp.

Lardarius Webb once ran a 4.3 40-yard dash. Yamon Figurs ran a 4.3 as well. Jayson Foster put together a 4.4 in the 40.

But none of those guys stands taller than a generously-listed 5-foot-11, and none weighs more than 185 pounds.
Tavares Gooden says he checks in at 6-foot-2 1/2 and 240 pounds.

Ask him where his speed ranks among those in the Purple and Black, and without a hint of sarcasm, the second-year linebacker will toss himself right in the mix with Webb, Figurs, Foster and any other speed demon currently in Westminster.

"You could say in the top-five," Gooden says with a swagger. "You could put me in the top-five."

If you watch Gooden play in person, that speed jumps out at you. He's spent the last three weeks racing from sideline to sideline at Ravens camp, making plays and showing coaches he's ready to take over the spot the Bart Scott vacated when he left for the Jets this offseason.

But if you watch Gooden on the newly-released Madden 2010 video game, he'll move just as quickly as a standard linebacker.

"I was kind of disappointed; I looked at Madden, they had me not the fastest guy," Gooden told me with a smile. "But it's cool, much love to Madden. Hopefully they just get my speed right.

"They got me with an 82 [out of 100], the same as Todd Heap. That ain't right."

Gooden's speed sets him apart from most linebackers, but he knows it gets him in trouble sometimes. The University of Miami product has shown a tendency to over-pursue plays every now and then, letting his motor get a little too fast for his own good.

After being buried on the depth chart in camp last year and then missing most of the 2008 season with a hip injury, Gooden is now getting a great chance to work intimately with the coaching staff. His goal from here is to learn to harness that speed and find ways to maximize the edge it can provide.

"I think for me, it's God-given ability," Gooden said. "And now I want to be coached to use that God-given ability, because if I'm coached the right way, it will be real tough for somebody to stop that. There's a lot of D-ends that can't run that [fast], and those D-ends are very successful. I feel that just accepting coaching is going to help me out tremendously."

As for that Madden rating, Gooden might want to see it bumped up a bit, but he's not chomping at the bit to take on Heap in a 40 to see how their speed compares in real life.

"I already ran that 40 [in the Combine]," he said with a laugh.

I think the coaching is paying off. Only use that speed when you need to.

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Cutler says he has no problem with Hester

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler insists the reaction to his postgame comments last week didn't bother him.

Still, he made a point to smooth things over with wide receiver Devin Hester.

Cutler got off to a rocky start with his new team in the preseason opener, completing only half his passes in a loss to Buffalo while throwing more interceptions (one) than touchdowns (zero). He also offended Hester after the game while trying to explain to reporters why he got picked off on an underthrown ball.

Many took it as a knock at Hester, who was bothered by the remarks at first. Cutler, however, pointed the finger at himself and added there is no problem between the two and that his comment was "taken out of context."

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Cesar Carillo earns first career win

SAN DIEGO -- After hitting a dramatic walk-off home run on Monday night, what could Kyle Blanks do for an encore performance on Tuesday?

An inside-the-park home run was his follow-up act, and one that helped the Padres to a 6-3 triumph over the Cubs at PETCO Park, a win that also gave Cesar Carrillo his first Major League victory.

Carrillo, who grew up in Chicago rooting for the Cubs, improved significantly on his last outing in his second Major League start, tossing six solid innings while yielding three runs on six hits. The 25-year-old right-hander struck out two and walked four batters, one intentionally.

"The first time it was kind of jitters," Carrillo said. "Going to Milwaukee, it was just one of those things. Facing the Cubs, I was kind of like, 'Wow' and kind of nervous as well. Going out there against my childhood team, growing up watching them, I knew I had to go out and make quality pitches and come out victorious today."

Nerves or not, Carrillo was able to soak in his first win in the big leagues after a long road since the Padres took him in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft and injuries led to Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2007.

"It feels great just to be out there competing," Carrillo said. "It's my first full year back and I'm finally healthy, and finally helping out the team."

Black saw improvement as well, but would like even more when Carrillo takes his next turn in the rotation.

"Tonight, the ball-strike ratio wasn't there, it really wasn't," Black said. "I thought a couple of key at-bats in the game he had to get an out and he did. His changeup today was much better than it was in Milwaukee. He got some outs with it."

Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams contributed a scoreless inning apiece before Heath Bell came on for his first save opportunity since blowing a lead on Sunday in St. Louis. Bell converted this one easily, retiring the side in order for his 30th save in 32 chances this season.

Adams bounced back from allowing his first earned run in 24 innings, a stretch that dated back to June 19 against Oakland. He returned to that form quickly with a 1-2-3 inning to help protect the lead.

The Padres offense fell victim to the strikeout often against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (6-7), who set a season high by striking out 10 batters. Everth Cabrera was one highlight in the lineup, contributing two hits -- including his seventh triple of the season -- and scoring two runs.

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Perez Performs Well

Chris Perez struck out two over 1 1-3 innings of perfect relief for Cleveland. The right-hander has fanned 15 and not allowed a run over his last 13 outings, covering 13 1-3 innings.

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Burell goes yard again

ST. PETERSBURG — Pat Burrell homered on consecutive days for the second time in his last 10 games when he drove a towering shot into the left-field seats during the fourth inning Wednesday for the first run of the Tampa Bay Rays’ 3-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

The homer game with two outs and was significant in that it came on the first pitch. Baltimore pitcher Chris Tillman got two quick outs. Normally, Burrell would take a pitch or two to give his pitcher more time in the dugout. But when walking to the plate, Rays catcher Gregg Zaun told Burrell to “go for it.”

Burrell has five home runs in his last 10 games. In the two games since missing a pair of games because of a stiff neck, Burrell has four hits, including two home runs.

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Tracking proCanes - Sinorice Moss - Part I

proCanes.com is continuing our “Tracking proCanes” feature with former University of Miami and current New York Giants wide-receiver Sinorice Moss. Moss played in 46 games with 12 starts for the Hurricanes and finished his career with 63 receptions for 1,046 yards (16.6 yard avg.) and 8 touchdowns. As a senior, played in 10 games with 8 starts at flanker and led the team with a career-high 32 receptions for 554 yards (17.3-yard avg.) and 5 touchdowns. He also thrived in Track. Moss was selected with the 44th overall pick in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Moss is the younger brother of Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss, who was also a standout wide receiver for the University of Miami prior to entering the NFL. He has one son, Sinorice Moss Jr.

Part I: Sinorice talks about growing up in Miami, his days as a Hurricane wide-receiver, his transition to the NFL, the U Family and much more!  

proCanes: How is the off season going? It had been reported that you pulled a hamstring?
Sinorice Moss: [Laughter] It’s fine now. It’s going real good.

pC: What are you doing differently this off season compared to last year or prior years?
SM: I’m doing the same thing. Working out hard and making sure I’m staying on top of things.

pC: Why did you stay up in New York this offseason? Why not come down to Miami and train?
SM: I’ve been doing it for the past couple of years but I just felt like I wanted to stay up here instead of going home this time. I wanted to be around the facility and show these coaches what else I can do.

pC: Is Jessie Armstead a coach?
SM: You can say that. He’s kind of like a coach. He works closely with the defense.

pC: Well you guys have that bond. Do you talk about the U often or not so much?
SM: All the time!

pC: If we can start from the beginning, when did you first start playing?
SM: I started playing at the age of about 7 or 8. I started playing at Miami Scott Lake Optimist Club in Miami, Florida.

pC: And what position were you playing?
SM: I was a running back one year, then I switched to offensive line [laughter] and then I stayed at running back throughout my little league. After I left Scott Lake Park I went to Miami Lakes Park, maybe when I was like in 6th or 7th grade and that’s when I first started playing wide receiver.

pC: Who was your favorite player growing up?
SM: Oh man, my favorite player growing up was definitely Barry Sanders. Yeah, I was mainly a running back so I was a big, big fan of Barry Sanders.

pC: Why did you end up switching to wide receiver? Did you want that or was it something that the coaches wanted?
SM: No I definitely wanted to do it. When I got up in age I started thinking, I probably am not big enough to play running back so I made the transition over to wide receiver and I always had pretty good hands. I can catch pretty well. So just learning to use my speed and learning how to run routes wasn’t too bad because I had an older brother who was doing it all the time.

pC: Did Santana help you a lot in terms of developing your game when you were younger?
SM: Of course. I mean we were always throwing the ball around or I would watch him run routes outside or go see him practice so it helped me out a lot growing up.

pC: Would you say you guys were competitive or more of the older brother helping out the younger brother?
SM: It was more of the older brother helping out the younger brother. Sometimes he got real competitive though. It was funny the times we used to be in the house playing throw up tackle. It was real nice.

pC: So were you always a Hurricane fan growing up?
SM: No. To be honest with you we were big Florida State and University of Florida fans growing up. Yeah, very very big on Florida State and very ery big on the University of Florida. Personally I liked the University of Florida because they threw the ball all the time. Me and Santana were in love because they threw the football all the time. We had female cousins that went to Florida State and were there when it was Warrick Dunn and Charlie Ward and she was good friends with them so we grew up watching those guys play and we also grew up watching the Hurricanes. I can’t say I was a big, big Hurricane fan growing up but now you can’t stop me from talking about the Hurricanes.

pC: So were you just not recruited by Florida or Florida State?
SM: I was recruited by Florida, LSU, Colorado, a lot of teams, but I just chose to stay home.

pC: What Coach recruited you from Miami?
SM: Curtis Johnson.

pC: And do you stay in touch with him?
SM: Yes. I recently talked to him a couple of weeks ago.

pC: Was it ever a close decision that you may not go to UM?
SM: At first I really wasn’t sure but when it came down to it, there was no other place I would rather be than at the University of Miami and be around my family and have my close friends be able to come to the games.

pC: So what was the toughest thing about playing at the “U?”
SM: I wouldn’t say it was tough at all. Not to me. Playing at the University of Miami was more of an honor and a privilege for myself to have the opportunity to be a part of a great organization.

pC: Was it hard at all following in your brother’s footsteps?
SM: Well, of course it was. You know you have people that doubt you. You have people that say so many different things about you. They want you to do this. They want you to do that. I could never be Santana and Santana could never be me. So growing up, I followed in my brother’s footsteps. I went to the same high school, went to the same college, there were a lot of expectations that okay you have to do this because Santana did it. I’m not Santana, I’m Sinorice. So when the opportunity was given. I stepped up and I made plays. So I can only be myself. I can’t be Santana. So that’s where the pressure was, people wanting me to do what Santana did and I’m not Santana.

pC: What would you say your favorite or best memories of the “U” were?
SM: Just being around the guys, working out, going to classes with my teammates. We were like brothers. So just being around those group of guys. Working hard. Sweating and just getting ready for the games. That’s what I really miss the most.

pC: Is there maybe one game that definitely stands out? One memory that I have of you is obviously that Florida State game and the screen that you took for a touchdown. What game would you say stands out in your mind?
SM: Oh that’s definitely the all-time favorite because it was against Florida State. Big game. Big rivalry. We were down and having the opportunity to catch a pass at such a clutch moment and do something with it and score a touchdown was very big for myself, very big for my career. And we were home. We were at the Orange Bowl. A place that I loved playing at. It’s no longer here anymore, and I’m very disappointed about that, but it’s a place that I will remember forever. I have so many memories in that stadium from myself and watching my brother Santana.

pC: What former teammate that you went up against would you say was the toughest guy in practice that you had to face on a daily basis at UM?
SM: I’d probably say Antrel Rolle. Antrel and I had a lot of battles when we were in school. We had so many guys that would dominate the field when I was in school. You can go back looking on the roster of my teammates, guys that I play with here in the NFL. Everyday was a battle. No matter who you face you were up against someone that you were going to have to work very, very hard against. Kelly Jennings, Marcus Maxey, and so many different guys I could name or go down the line of corner backs Sean Taylor, Mo Sikes, my cousin Glenn Sharpe, when he was there. There were so many guys that were there that you had to face every day.

pC: Who do you think was the overall best player on the team when you were there?
SM: Overall I don’t know. We were surrounded by greatness. There were so many people on that team. It wouldn’t be fair for me to say that somebody was the best player when we were surrounded by so many dominant players and we made each other better. You walked into practice and you saw so many guys making plays, running fast, doing so many different things. It made you want to become better. It made you want to work hard and take those extra steps and stay those extra days and watch film, and go on the field, and stay on the field later and do those extra things to become better and I think that’s why I love the University of Miami so much, because I was around guys. We made each other better and still to this day you go back home and you see those guys that you played with young that are now in the NFL and you see what they’re doing now and it makes you want to become better. Like my brother, Reggie, and all those guys have been in the league for like 9 years now. And for a young guy like myself being in the NFL, I want to have the opportunity to do those great things that they’ve done in the NFL.

pC: And when you were there were a lot of NFL receivers coming back and did they help you develop your game?
SM: I mean I had my brother, one of the best of the best. It’s not necessarily that I needed for someone to come back and talk to me because I had my brother there but Reggie Wayne was always around. Him and my brother are very close and he always came back and talked to us. So having those two guys there, it doesn’t get any better than that.

pC: Who would you say you were closest to on the team?
SM: I was either with Glenn Sharpe, that’s family, with Ryan More, Aikeem Jola, Brandon Meriweather. I still talk to those guys all the time. They’re family. Once you’re part of the University of Miami, you’re family.

pC: Talk about that. Talk about how UM has that sort of thing about family. Talk about what its like and the feeling you get and the bond you create even with players you’ve never played with.
SM: It’s so special. I really don’t know what it is. It’s a special feeling of guys that went to the University of Miami that worked hard and fought through adversity. They had some good seasons at UM, they had some bad seasons. But at the end of the day they came out on top and to be a part of something like that [is special]. We’re different guys. Even if we weren’t in school with those guys we knew what they went through to get to the NFL. So it’s like a brotherhood. We woke up every morning and went to weight training. And we woke up every morning and went on the field even when we didn’t want to sometimes and we fought and we practiced and practiced hard and we went out to the Orange Bowl and we competed and we won games. It’s such a tightness, still to this day, all of us at the NFL have so many crazy schedules and doing different things, we’re still close whether we went to school together or not. We’re still close because we’re part of that UM family. Guys have tattoos on them because it’s a brotherhood. We bleed orange and green. I get so upset sometimes when I hear guys in the NFL say stuff about the University of Miami. I get ticked off. I get pissed off because they really don’t know what we went through. Not to take anything from them and their school but it’s just the feeling that we had, when you were a part of the University of Miami family, you’re brothers and nothing is going to break that bond. I think it will be like that for years and years to come. Even the young guys that are down there now, when they make it to the NFL, it will be that they are a part of the University of Miami. We’re family. I support you, I’ve got your back no matter what.

pC: Have you been getting a lot of crap in the locker room since we’ve been down the last couple of years?
SM: Of course. Of course. You have guys that went to different schools that I faced when I was in college and now they’re beating the University of Miami. Miami’s this, they’re sorry. They’re this, they’re that. I get pissed off, I say some other things that I can’t say to you right now. I tell them just wait. It was a group of young guys last year. A team pretty much full of freshmen and sophomores. I talked to Coach Swasey. Coach Shannon down there is doing his best.

pC: So you go to UM to win a National Championship, unfortunately you didn’t, you played in one but lost, and then your last game some would say was the beginning of the downturn, against LSU? Talk about that. Did you get the sense after LSU that Miami would struggle in the following years?
SM: I really didn’t think that to be honest with you. We went out there and played in the game but didn’t play our best and we got defeated. The world had seen it, that LSU got the best of us. And that was my last game, my last ever Bowl Game in college. So I was pretty upset about that. But I just really didn’t look at it that way, like this is going to be the game and next year they’re not going to do this. It never crossed my mind at all.

pC: How was it playing for Coker?
SM: I honestly really did enjoy playing for Larry Coker. He was a great coach to me and someone that wanted the team to do well. He stayed on top of guys. He spoke to us. He was always available if we needed him. Always a coach that I could go knock on his door if I needed him and he would sit down and talk to me about anything: if I had a problem with school, if I had a problem with something that was going on in practice, he was always there. He was a team Coach. He was one of those coaches that was always there. He had his times that if we weren’t doing things right he was going get up on us. I mean he wasn’t going to just let us slack off. Coach Coker was going to get on you. If you were doing bad he was going to get on you. It’s sad because a lot of people have their different opinions about so many different things and there’s no way in hell that they could ever be a Head Coach of a college football team or even play football, but everybody has their opinion. So there were times when I heard things about Coach Coker when I left school and you can’t blame it all on the coach! The coach is not out there on the field. It’s up to the players. All the coaches can do is coach us throughout the week. Teach us technique. Teach us the knowledge of the game. Teach us the things we need to know and call the plays and us as players we owe that to the coaches and to the fans to go out there and execute the plays and win football games. So a lot of times it was truly unfair for the team to say the things that they said about Coach Coker because it wasn’t all his fault. You know when things go wrong they start at the top.

pC: What do you think are the factors that led to things sliding?
SM: I really don’t know. I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t lack of talent at all. If you go back to the years that I haven’t been there, you see the talent, you see the guys flying around, you see the guys making those spectacular catches, you see the guys doing all those things that you’ve normally seen at the University of Miami. So it was never a lack of talent and it will never be a lack of talent at the University of Miami because you have so many guys that are coming there from Miami and coming from Texas and all over that are very, very talented. So you can’t blame it on talent at all, or lack of talent at all. Whatever it was and whatever it is, hopefully it’s done now and hopefully they understand now. The group that’s entering, they understand, what it takes and what it means to be a part of the University of Miami. It’s not a joke. It’s not something you just come and you’ll be able to just float through. You’ll have to work hard for it. To have that love, to have that fight to go out there every Saturday and win some football games.

pC: Talk about your transition to the NFL. What was the most difficult part in terms of going from college to the NFL?
SM: For myself, I can’t say the speed of the game. The speed of the game is pretty much the same as when I was in school. It is faster because you have line backers that are running at the same speed as receivers and running backs but I can’t say it was the speed of the game for myself.

It was just me being able to realize that it’s a business now. That the NFL is a business and they are bringing you in here to do something. You need to come in here and do it and not BS around and not have excuses but come out here and show these coaches you want to be here and that it means a lot to you. So coming to the NFL, my maturity level went up so much because I had so many older veterans around me when I first got into the New York Giants. I had the Tiki Barbers, the Michael Strahans, Amani Toomer, Plaxico Buress, I had Lavaar Arrington, Carlos Edmonds, so I could just name guys that were savvy vets that played in the league for years and made plays that were very, very known. So I had the opportunity of speaking to those guys and also seeing what my brother went through so it kind of made me mature and say okay, this is a business. I need to get on my job, I need to work out, I need to do this, I need to do that. I need to make sure I have everything down pact. I need to make sure I know my schedule. It’s a business. If you miss a meeting, they’ll fine you. If you miss two meetings they’ll let you go. It’s what it is. If you’re not producing they’ll let you go. So they just wake up one day and feel like they don’t need you, they’ll let you go. It’s a business. It’s not college where you have four years to be here. No, if they feel like they don’t need you, they’ll let you go. And I realized that quickly. There were days that I can become friends with one guy and the next day he was gone and I’d be like where’s such and such. They were like oh they let him go and I really didn’t understand that because I really didn’t know how it worked. I learned that my rookie year in the league real fast.

pC: So what do you think, what has been the biggest adjustment or what’s one thing you’ve worked on this past season or this off-season in terms of your game. Is it the deep ball? Is it getting off the line of scrimmage?
SM: Just staying consistent. Just going out there day in and day out. Running my routes, running precise routes. Catching the ball. Running past guys using my technique. Doing all the right things to stay consistent and doing it on a consistent basis. That’s something that I’ve been doing since I’ve been here. Just every day going out there and proving something. Everyday. Just proving something to the coaches. Never being complacent. Never being satisfied with just being on an NFL team or just being on the NFL Roster. I’m not satisfied with it. I would never be satisfied with just being in the NFL. That’s what a lot of guys need to understand. Okay, I made it to the NFL, okay so now I want to keep working, to work on things I need to work on to better myself so I can become a great player. Not just be happy with the fact that I’m on a team, or I’m on a roster. That doesn’t satisfy me and would never satisfy me so I just try to stay consistent. Each day I step on the field I try to make a play, I try to do things, so coaches can say okay this guy is working and we can do this with him and we can do that with him.

pC: What position have you been practicing most in the off-season and going into mini camp? The slot? The outside?
SM: It’s still up in the air who’s still going to be starting for our receiving crew. So this past spring in the OTA and mini camp, they had me in the slot sometimes, they had me outside, so just being able to work either inside or outside will be good for me. It’s being on the field period and having an opportunity to catch some balls and help this team is a big plus for me so it really doesn’t matter where they put me at, I just want to be out there and help the team the best way I can.

pC: Are you going to be playing at all any special teams?
SM: Yes. I’ve been doing punt returns and kick-off returns since I’ve been here so I’m just waiting for the green light. That’s all I’ve been doing, basically, waiting for the green light.

pC: Last year you had some limited playing time and that one game where you had two touchdowns. You’ve made the most of your opportunity. Do you feel because the receiving crew is now kind of young with losing Plaxico and Amani Toomer, now’s your opportunity, now’s when you can really make a difference?
SM: I feel like now I have a bigger opportunity to show people the player that I can become. The past 3 years when I was in the league, when they called my number and put me in the game, I made the play. When they threw the ball my way, I made the play. And even though it was very, very limited, there’s nothing I can do about that. I can sit here and complain and fuss but I’m not going do that. I’m going to keep working and keep showing the coaches why they need to put me in the game and when my number is called, be ready. So when I get the opportunity, I’ll be ready.

Click here to read Part II of our interview with Sinorice Moss and see what he has to say about Coach Coker, being a Giant, Eli Manning and much more!  

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Dixon Out of Shape?

DT Antonio Dixon. Had back spasms so couldn't work, but that's a bad sign for him. His lack of conditioning hurt him during the preseason opener and now he missed a practice because of the back. He needs to be in better shape.

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Bruce Johnson Plays 42 Snaps

Did any of those players jump out at you while you were watching the film that you thought performed particularly well?

Tom Coughlin: If you look defensively, I think we did have a number of guys who consistently performed pretty well throughout the entire game. I thought (Clint) Sintim had a good ball game, a good physical game, a game in which he rushed the passer. I think you have to understand too, those two young corners, DeAndre Wright and (Stoney) Woodson played almost the whole second half and beyond. Bruce Johnson played a tremendous amount in the game. I was pleased to see that the numbers did not, they weren’t overly excessive even though we did have to play some people perhaps more than we would have wanted. Bruce Johnson had 42 of the 57 defensive snaps, for example, Woodson and Wright had 32, which is not bad, it’s not that far out of the realm of it.

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Moss catching up

Receiver Santana Moss is slowly working his way back up to speed after missing a week with a hamstring injury. He has been involved in all of practice since Saturday and is expected to play against Pittsburgh.

"He's fresh, but he still isn't all the way there," receivers coach Stan Hixon said. "Santana is more of a little-by-little guy. You don't give him everything, so we're holding off on the deep balls. We take his word for it, and when the trainer gives him to me, I try to monitor his reps and go from there."

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Portis to debut Saturday for Redskins

Noted preseason enthusiast Clinton Portis will be in the Washington Redskins' lineup Saturday against Pittsburgh after sitting out last week's loss to Baltimore.

Although he may play less than a quarter, Portis usually loathes any August carries.

"Why would I not be [excited]? Don't I look ecstatic?" he said after practice Monday. "I'm good. I'll be in there this weekend."

In his first five years with the Redskins, Portis has 47 preseason carries, including one in 2006 (injured against Cincinnati) and zero in 2007 (knee tendinitis). He had 15 attempts last year.

Coach Jim Zorn would not speculate on how many carries Portis will get. Marcus Mason and Dominique Dorsey are expected to get the bulk of the work.

Portis has stayed healthy during training camp and taken part in 20 of the 21 full-squad practices.

"When he's participated, he's been awesome," Zorn said. "He's worked hard, he's run hard and he's learning as well. This is the part of camp [when] he gets himself game ready. As we get closer, he'll pick up his pace and we'll get him more and more reps. For the stuff we've asked Clinton to do and the stuff Clinton has done, I'm pleased."
Portis said the offense can take a step forward if it eliminates self-inflicted errors.

"Our No. 1 thing is just to focus," he said. "After watching the Baltimore film, we had a lot of mental mistakes and we have to cut that out. Of course we need to score more points and we want to come out of these games with wins, but at the same time you need to see progress."

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Just another practice? Not to Frank Gore

The biggest hit of training camp was delivered today. But it didn't come in a team situation between the Raiders and 49ers and it wasn't given by defensive player. Instead, the blow came courtesy of Frank Gore during a pass-blocking drill when he absolutely leveled Ricky Brown, an outside linebacker and one of the better pass rushers on the Raiders. Gore, who's about 5-9, 215 pounds, put the 6-2, 235-pound Brown on his back.

To say that Gore was excited for today's morning practice would be like saying the Grand Canyon is kinda deep. Remember, he was held out of Friday's game against the Broncos, so today's scrimmage was in effect his preseason opener. After decking Brown, Gore did the same to linebacker Kirk Morrison, who is not exactly a scrub. His third opponent was going to be David Nixon, a slightly built rookie out of BYU. When running backs coach Tom Rathman saw that matchup, however, he pulled Gore out and put in someone who wasn't as lathered up. Nixon ought to send Rathman a thank-you note.

Afterward Mike Singletary joked that he told Gore he'd have to make him watch the rest of the practice from the team bus. "He did a nice job," Singletary said. "Frank is a guy - he gets excited about what he's doing, and to me, his heart and his emotion and his enthusiasm is what this game is all about." Gore, for his part, said he was merely trying to satisfy position coach Rathman, who is constantly harping on pass-blocking technique. Gore said he thought the drill actually favors the linebackers, who are both bigger and can get running starts. "I think it's a linebacker's drill," he said. "Because in a game you can (undercut) them. You can mess with their heads."

Gore's back-up, Glen Coffee, did well in the drill, though not as well as Gore. Rookies Kory Sheets, Brit Miller and Bill Rentmeester, however, struggled.

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No early answers in Giants WR battle

Sinorice Moss: The four-year veteran, who replaced an injured Smith in the starting lineup, did not capitalize as he might have on his rare start. His only contribution came on a 9-yard completion, a play in which he made the reception despite taking a big hit on a crossing pattern.

Still, he said he's not putting extra pressure on himself, even though he knows the opportunities are few and the stakes high for him this preseason.

"It is never good to feel any pressure being in this situation," he said. "There is enough stress added as it is, with everyone talking about there being a lot of competition."

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Gore goes all out against Raiders

NAPA, Calif. — Frank Gore nearly got himself sent to the bus early by Mike Singletary for going so hard.

The coach was only kidding — yet the last thing Singletary can afford is to have San Francisco's star running back get unnecessarily banged up by bashing himself into the Oakland Raiders during an August practice.

Singletary asked Gore to tone down his intensity just a touch.

"Frank was outstanding. He was exceptional," Singletary said. "If you got emotion, do it. What I was saying was I love the emotion, I love the enthusiasm. That's the game. That's passion. If I told him to stop doing that, he couldn't. ... That's just who Frank is. He's a competitor. Everything he does, he does it with his heart. That really is the thing that sets him apart."

Oakland and the 49ers kicked off two days of joint practices Tuesday — four sessions total — at the Raiders' wine country training site. They then meet for an exhibition game Saturday night at Candlestick Park.

The teams liked doing this so much when they practiced together once last year they decided to do it again, a nice break for both clubs from the monotony of training camp. Not to mention a chance to see and hit another team.

Gore was in his element to say the least. And he certainly had some energy to release considering he was held out of the team's first exhibition game, a 17-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Friday night, to keep him fresh.
Singletary hasn't decided whether Gore will play Saturday against the Raiders.

Under close watch by running backs coach Tom Rathman, a fired up Gore clobbered Oakland linebacker Ricky Brown and stood over him to make a point.

"Back, back, back!" Rathman hollered when Gore was slow to let the play end.

On his next turn, Gore and Thomas Howard went after it.

"Break," barked Rathman. "When I say break, break!"

Later, Gore tried to jump in against undrafted rookie David Nixon. Rathman wouldn't let that happen, knowing full well Gore might hurt the guy.

"Give me another back in here!" the coach yelled, pushing Gore away.

Gore, determined to replicate his career-best 2006 season this year, credits Rathman for helping him prepare for each play and treat training camp practices as if they were actual games.

"He wants us to be very aggressive," Gore said. "He really helped me a lot when he came in by doing the small things, taking the angles. I try to do my best to do whatever he tells me to do because I see that he's helping my game a whole lot. ... I feel that in this league anybody can run the ball. To be a complete back you have to catch and block. One of the toughest things is blocking. A lot of backs don't like doing it, and it's tough."

In 11-on-11 work featuring the No. 1 offense and defense for both teams, Gore caught a pass from Alex Smith and was pushed out of bounds by Jon Alston. Alston — part of that earlier drill with Gore — patted Gore on the helmet good-naturedly.

Gore wasn't the only one getting into it, either.

Raiders defensive tackle Gerard Warren made his presence known all morning.

"They need 8 for a field goal — 8 for a field goal!" he called out.

When Joe Nedney missed a 51-yard field goal off the left post moments later, Warren screamed, "No good, no good!"

Nedney then missed wide right on a 49-yarder.

"We win!" Warren proclaimed, signaling that the field goal didn't make it.

Both sides were tame and kept things clean this time after tussling on several occasions during their 2008 joint practice.

"There's no fighting," Niners center Eric Heitmann said with a chuckle. "We came up here to work and really get a job done against another opponent. It's always great to get a basis for how you're progressing as a team when you go against someone else you haven't seen every day in practice."

Al Davis watched the morning workout while sitting in a golf cart — a rare appearance by the 80-year-old owner for a morning session. 49ers owner John York showed up, too, socializing and doing his meet-and-greet.

"I think the players at this time really like it," York said. "They're tired of doing it amongst themselves."

Time will tell whether they'll do it again next year, when the teams play in the regular season for the first time since 2006. Cable is open to the idea, saying he would consider taking his team to the Niners' headquarters in Santa Clara.

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Campbell's Quest To Fill Smith Void

FLAGSTAFF – Calais Campbell isn’t Antonio Smith.

Campbell knows that, of course. He knows he has some work to do to reach the level of Smith, whom Campbell replaced as starting defensive end. But in case he doesn’t, fellow defensive lineman Darnell Dockett – who happens to be Smith’s best friend – reminds Campbell as often as possible.

“He hears it every day,” Dockett said. “Me and B-Rob (nose tackle Bryan Robinson) have a special handshake. We told Calais he couldn’t get in on the special handshake until he makes some plays. And he is (ticked) about it too.”
Campbell has turned into the Cardinals’ case study in dealing with natural NFL turnover. With the salary cap, a team can’t keep every single one of its rising players. Decisions have to be made, and it would be naïve to think the Cards weren’t thinking about Smith’s impending free agency after the 2008 season when Campbell was selected in the second round of last year’s draft.

Smith got his big payday – the Texans signed him to a five-year, $35 million contract – and Campbell gets his chance.

On the field, it’s been relatively smooth. Veteran linemen like Dockett and nose tackle Gabe Watson have seen Campbell progressing. In his first start, against the Steelers in the preseason opener last week, Campbell was solid in his stint, making some plays against the run and creating some pass-rush pressure.

“His challenge will to make that consistent week in and week out,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He has passed the first test -- he has taken it from the practice field to the game field.”

Campbell has long insisted he wasn’t taking the natural ascension to starter (he never really had to beat anyone out; he moved up without competition when Smith departed) for granted.

There is another challenge for Campbell, though, and it’s replacing Smith within the fabric of the defensive linemen’s society.

“He was a big part of the team personality-wise, leadership-wise, not including what he meant on the field,” Campbell said. “I know I have big shoes to fill, but I am just trying to be myself and do what I can to help the team and not try and do what he did. We do have similar personalities. Maybe I can get a leadership role at some point, but I am a little bit younger so I’m not sure guys listen to me.”

Finding chemistry with Dockett would help both Campbell and the Cardinals. One of the first by-products of Smith’s migration to Houston was the question of how it would affect Dockett. Dockett made it clear after the first practice of camp just what Smith meant to him.

“It’s hard, man,” Dockett said then. “I came out today and it was like half of my heart was gone. I had to look around for somebody to bond with. But there ain’t nobody will take my boy’s (place).”

Campbell can’t automatically take that place, but he’s trying to fill in the gaps. The Cards have talked with Dockett a couple of times, stressing the team’s need to have Dockett grow his leadership skills. Dockett seems to have taken this request for professionalism to heart, and that includes getting past the loss of his best friend.

Perhaps Campbell, at some point, will make people forget about the steady Smith. Maybe he earns the knowledge of the special handshake. Campbell is patient. He knows Dockett has faith in his abilities.

“If you saw Antonio, you saw Dockett with him,” Campbell said. “That’s tough. I know how it is, when I was at Miami (in college) I had a couple of great friends and then you have to part ways. You miss them, but Dockett is a good dude and a professional. He’ll go hard and be a big-time contributor. He is on me real hard to make sure I do what I can to keep him from being double-teamed all the time.”

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Irvin "nervous" about being on Dancing With the Stars show

SAN ANTONIO -- For the first time in a long time, Michael Irvin is venturing out of his comfort zone.

He’s equal parts nervous and excited about being included in the 2009 lineup of ABC’s Dancing With Stars.
There is no turning back now for the suddenly busier-than-ever Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver.

He’s negotiating a new contract with ESPN Radio 103.3 FM in Dallas while also working on a deal to join the NFL Network as an analyst this fall. This all comes on the heels of the successful 4th and Long reality show on Spike TV that sent receiver Jesse Holley to the Cowboys training camp.

But those deals are part of the norm for Irvin.

The Dancing with the Stars gig is something new.

"I’m excited and I’m scared," Irvin said. "This is something new. But I needed something new. Everything I have done has been around football. Doing something new is scary and exciting. Hopefully, this is a way for me to working out my midlife crisis."

Irvin will join former Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay among 15 celebrities on the new season of Dancing With the Stars" in what is the show’s largest cast ever. Also on the show are singers Mya, Macy Gray and Aaron Carter; actors Ashley Hamilton, Melissa Joan Hart and Debi Mazar; and models Joanna Krupa and Kathy Ireland; reality stars Mark Dacascos and Kelly Osbourne; entertainer Donny Osmond; mixed martial artist Chuck Liddell ; professional snowboarder Louie Vito and Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin.

The ninth season of the hit show premieres Sept. 21.

Irvin is following in the sweet cleats of former Cowboys teammate Emmitt Smith, the 2003 season winner, and other NFL stars such as Warren Sapp and Jerry Rice. Rice was a finalist in 2006 and Sapp was a finalist last season.
"I didn’t talk to them initially," Irvin said. "I didn’t want them to talk me out of it. I talked to Emmitt after it was announced and got his advice. They did well."

Irvin said he’s worried and nervous because he is not a dancer and doesn’t want to be embarrassed. And never mind his end zone celebrations during his football career, Irvin said nobody ever judged him on his dancing because they were so excited about the touchdowns.

"I can’t dance," Irvin said. "I was always the cool guy in the corner. But these are steps more than dancing. I think I can do this, but I’m worried. I’m going to give it my best."

How Irvin will juggle a daily radio show and possibly the NFL Network gig while doing Dancing With the Stars still needs to be worked out. But he said he’s not looking to do less work.

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Sanchez gets callup with Johnson ailing

HOUSTON -- For the second time this season, the Marlins have promoted infielder Gaby Sanchez from Triple-A New Orleans.

Adding Sanchez gives the club some depth now that first baseman Nick Johnson is nursing a strained right hamstring.

The Marlins recalled Sanchez on Tuesday and sent down right-hander Rick VandenHurk, which means the team once again has 13 position players and 12 pitchers. In recent weeks, the club had been going with 13 pitchers, making for a short bench.

The team hopes to avoid placing Johnson on the disabled list, and Sanchez gives an option to play first base or third.

"You really couldn't play any shorter than we have been," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "So we made the decision with VandenHurk. He isn't going to go [pitch] for five or six days. Bring Gaby up. He can play some first base and third base. And we stay away from Nicky."

Florida opened a three-game series with the Astros on Tuesday night.

While Sanchez is now with the big league team, how long he stays remains to be seen. The wear and tear of the season has led to uncertainty regarding the roster.

Gaby Sanchez, meanwhile, is ready to do whatever the Marlins need.

With the team in the playoff hunt, he is excited to be back.

"I was keeping up with them when I was down there," said Sanchez, who spent July 22-31 with the Marlins. "They're definitely doing some great things. They're playing really good baseball right now, and hopefully it continues."

Sanchez joined the team on Tuesday morning. But he had a hint in Monday's game with New Orleans that he could be headed back to the big leagues. He was removed in the bottom of the second inning and was informed that being promoted was a possibility.

The Zephyrs had an early afternoon game on Monday, and Sanchez actually received the call that he was headed to Houston while he was watching the New Orleans Saints football practice. A few players from the Zephyrs invited guests to watch.

"I got a call when I was there saying, you are being called up tomorrow," Sanchez said. "I'm trying to do anything I can to help them continue the way they're playing, and continue the winning. Whatever I can do to help the team, I'm all for."

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Tigers give Huff rare shot at playoffs

DETROIT -- Aubrey Huff walked into the Tigers' dugout on Tuesday afternoon and might as well have walked into a whole different league than the one he had been playing in.

With one move from Baltimore to Detroit, he went from worst to first in his teams' respective division standing. Instead of playing out the schedule with nothing at stake, he's playing for October at this point in the summer for the first time in his career. He could feel the difference prior to batting practice.

"Normally at this time of year, you're just grinding it out," Huff said. "You've got your [offseason] vacation plans. You've got [a trip to] Hawaii all booked up. This is exciting. This is like a second Opening Day."

The Tigers are hoping it's the opening of a new-look offensive attack now that they have a proven run producer in the middle of their order.

"He can hit and knock in runs," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's got a track record. He's a guy that's been in there a long time."

For Tuesday, he was slotted in the fifth spot, right behind slugger Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers' order. Carlos Guillen, who had been batting fifth to give Cabrera protection, moved up to third spot, where he hit just twice this year prior to Tuesday.

The impact was to alternate left- and right-handed hitters almost throughout the order, except for fifth and sixth, where Huff and Clete Thomas give the Tigers back-to-back lefty swingers. They have an abundance of left-handed bats available in their lineup for the first time in several years, balancing out an issue that troubled them as far back as 2006.

The other impact was the huge smile on Miguel Cabrera's face as he talked about the trade at his locker in the Tigers' clubhouse.

"It's a really good deal," said Cabrera, who now has another RBI source behind him.

That, more than the order or the balance, seems to be key. Whether the lineup sticks in this particular order is hard to tell right now, since Leyland said it might not. But somewhere around the middle of the order, Huff is going to be a threat, certainly against right-handed pitchers.

For that reason, Huff didn't need long to realize how valued he was in this city. He found that out as soon as he checked into his hotel.

"The bellman actually greeted me," Huff said. "He was real excited."

Much as the Tigers were in need of offense, and as much interest as they had shown in Huff over the past few years, Huff said the deal caught him by surprise. He had prepared himself for a potential trade anywhere leading up to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but he figure it probably wasn't going to happen once the calendar changed to August.

"It was a shock," Huff said, "but a positive shock."

Like the lineup, Leyland said he plans to play Huff's positioning by ear. Both Tigers general manager David Dombrowski and Huff's former boss, Orioles president of baseball operations Larry MacPhail, emphasized that the 32-year-old can play left field and third base as well as first base and DH, where he had played this year in Baltimore. He hasn't started in the outfield since 2006 or at third since last year, but they're options for him in Detroit.
Just how much remains to be seen. Leyland used Huff's first game to start him at designated hitter and play Guillen in left field for the first time since Guillen went on the disabled list in early May with right shoulder inflammation.
Leyland said that Huff will most likely play third on days when Inge gets a rest. But wherever Huff plays, he won't be in there for his defense.

"Offense is his forte," Leyland said.

Playoff chases are not, but mainly because he has never had the chance to really be in the thick of one. His teams in Tampa Bay struggled simply to get to 70 wins in a season before he was traded midway through 2006 to Houston, where the Astros were on the fringe of a playoff race but never quite challenged the Cardinals.

The Orioles got an offensive boost out of him but never got much of a rise in the standings out of it. Their youth movement likely would've had him looking elsewhere as a free agent this offseason anyway. Now, he gets a shot at a contender beforehand.

"It's why you play the game, man," Huff said. "If there's baseball karma, hopefully it's my time."

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Bruce Johnson Impressing

Bruce Johnson: The rookie free agent is really pressing DeAndre Wright. Johnson was everywhere, batting down passes, and stopping the run. Really impressive.

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Magic Benton addresses child & teen obesity

Tuesday, Sept. 1

Youth Strength & Conditioning Class - Noonan Academy Gymnasium, 6401 Techster Blvd, Fort Myers; classes Tuesday & Thursday, 6:30 p.m.; fee $30 per month; Magic Benton addresses child & teen obesity as well as muscular strneth, endurance, flexibility. Info: Brian Dodd (239) 277-0700.

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Olsen back at practice

After missing the team's preseason opener against the Bills last weekend with a hip ailment, tight end Greg Olsen was back at practice on Monday, according to the Brad Biggs.

Our View: The injury was never considered serious, and should not dissuade you from making him one of the first tight ends taken off your board.

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Baraka Has A Good Game

Baraka Atkins had a good game rushing the passer in the Seahawks 20 to 14 victory over the Chargers. He had the strip that Derek Walker recovered, but Atkins also was in there a couple other times. Atkins finished two tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass deflection. Michael Bennett, Cory Redding and Reed also had sacks on the day.

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Gooden being pushed for No. 1 role

Tavares Gooden is being pushed for the starting role at inside linebacker alongside Ray Lewis, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Our View: Gooden was expected to have the job locked up before camp, but is now in a battle with Jameel McClain and rookie Dannell Ellerbe. The winner of the job will be worth targeting as a flier for IDP leagues, with Gooden the most likely to make a solid impact.

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Zorn: Portis having 'awesome' camp

Coach Jim Zorn says Clinton Portis is having "an awesome camp," and plans to start him in the Redskins' second preseason game.

"He's worked hard, run hard, and he's learning as well," Zorn said. Portis won't play much Saturday, but it'll be interesting to see how he looks. He's averaged just 2.9 YPC in his last five games and will be facing Pittsburgh.

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Brock Berlin has a sprained MCL

Backup quarterback Brock Berlin suffered a sprained MCL in the Rams' preseason win over the Jets Friday.
The Rams say he's day to day, but it probably doesn't matter. The Rams will be on the prowl for an upgrade at third QB at roster cuts. Rookie Keith Null is likely headed to the practice squad. St. Louis will keep close tabs on Philadelphia. The Eagles have four quarterbacks on their current roster.

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Shockey posts 61 yards, TD in opener

Jeremy Shockey caught three passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in the Saints preseason opener against the Bengals.

Shockey displayed nice early chemistry with Drew Brees, catching a 33-yard pass, a six-yard pass and a 22-yard touchdown on the same second-quarter drive. A healthy Shockey is looking like a bargain at his current 11th round ADP.

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Ray Lewis on ESPN's 'Sunday Conversation'

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis is this week's "Sunday Conversation" on ESPN. Although the interview didn't break any new ground -- at one time or another since he re-signed with the Ravens in the offseason he said most of what was on the show today -- Lewis is still captivating.

Some of the highlights:

*He "silently cries" every day since good friend Steve McNair was killed by a girlfriend. He also pledged to be a father, friend, whatever McNair's kids need.

*When asked if he ever came close to leaving the Ravens as a free agent: "Heck no." He said that Baltimore is his town and the people here embrace him with "open arms" on and off the field.

*On whether he'll play for another team: "I'm around a great core of guys I want to end my career with." Not sure if he meant core or corps there.

Sal Paolantonio conducted the interview, which ESPN ran in two parts this morning, with Lewis last week at Ravens training camp. Paolantonio was at camp on Monday.

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Michael Irvin in next Dancing with the Stars cast

Former Dallas Cowboy and current ESPN 103.3 FM broadcaster/reality TV host/man-about-town Michael Irvin is adding yet another line to his resume as he's joining the cast of the next edition of Dancing with the Stars. Irvin will join such other "stars" as former Texas congressman Tom DeLay, Donny Osmond, and Melissa Joan Hart. You can catch Irvin's dancing skills starting on September 21. Of course, Irvin is now the second of the Cowboys' "Triplets" to be on the show, as Emmitt Smith won the competition back in 2006. Troy Aikman, you're on notice. (pegasusnews.com)


METAIRIE, La. (AP) -Jonathan Vilma needed one season in New Orleans to resurrect his career.

Coming back from major knee surgery, he played every defensive snap at middle linebacker in 2008, leading the team with 151 tackles to go with two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a game-sealing interception.

Vilma understands he'll be challenged to top those numbers in his second season with the Saints, but said he's trying not to worry about his own statistics.

His play-making ability is no longer in question at this point. What the Saints need him to do now is become the ``quarterback'' of a defensive unit that struggled last season, even while Vilma thrived individually.

``The personal goals, I try not to really worry about,'' Vilma said after a recent practice. ``It's really about the team goals and trying to be a better leader, trying to be a better communicator, trying to make sure that the defense is in the top tier and people start mentioning the Saints defense - and doing things bigger than just myself.''

ranked 23rd in yards allowed last season and 26th in points allowed. So head coach Sean Payton went in search of a new defensive coordinator and decided on Gregg Williams, who said the opportunity to work with Vilma was a major part of what drew him to the Saints.

``I wanted to draft him when I was at Buffalo, almost traded for him when we were in Washington and then the next year he was traded here,'' recalled Williams, who was the Bills' head coach from 2001-03 and the defensive coordinator for the Redskins from 2004-2007.

``We need players that are going to rise up and help the other people rise up,'' Williams continued. ``Jonathan is good enough that he'll play at a high level, but the way he can help everyone else out with the cues, the little fast-thinking things, the tips, he can raise the people around him.''

Though it's early, Vilma appears to be thriving in Williams' new scheme. During the Saints' preseason opener against Cincinnati last Friday, Vilma recovered a fumble and returned it 47 yards. A couple series later, he nearly ran an interception of Carson Palmer back for a touchdown, though he regretted getting caught from behind and fumbling inside the Cincinnati 5-yard line at the end of the play.

Still, his 112 combined return yards were a good sign.

``We have a good defensive coordinator right now that's trying to build this. ... The more I know about the other players and what they're doing, which I'll eventually get to, the better I'll be as a linebacker, so that's really more of my focus - to understand what everyone is doing around me.''

Vilma said he feels a deep sense of loyalty to the Saints, and not only because they signed him last winter to a five-year, $34 million contract.

A serious knee injury in 2007 had put the former Pro Bowl linebacker's career in doubt, but the Saints wanted him anyway. The New York Jets were willing to unload Vilma in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.

Vilma's attachment to the franchise grew when he had trouble off the field last winter, and found the organization ready to stick by him.

Vilma briefly ended up in jail in Miami last January, allegedly for resisting arrest during a traffic stop. Police said they'd pulled the NFL linebacker over for reckless driving. Vilma said he was on his way the airport and did nothing wrong.

Ultimately, the charges were dropped, but another strange situation arose in March, when a double slaying occurred in a Long Island apartment Vilma owns.

``I was just as confused as anyone else. I didn't know anything that was going on,'' Vilma said. ``It was a little disturbing, of course, to hear that and then it was a little frustrating because I didn't have all the facts. People were asking me what's going on and I didn't even know.''

Vilma said he still doesn't know any details about the investigation because detectives stopped talking to him once they ruled him out as a suspect.

What Vilma does know is that the Saints backed him ``the whole way, and I'm very grateful for that.''

``When I have the family of my football team and my real family, there's nothing more I need in situations like that.''

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Parrish may be luxury receiver Bills can't afford to keep

The very first day of his very first mini-camp Roscoe Parrish dazzled. He flashed catch-me- later speed, now-you-see-me, now-you're-toast quickness. It didn't take keen football smarts to recognize from the outset that Parrish qualified as unique, the kind of player who could turn nothing into an electrifying, circuitous romp to the end zone.

Bobby April, the Buffalo Bills special teams coach, reacted like a teenager who'd just been gifted a Ferrari. He couldn't wait to utilize this new addition in the return game, let him roam, free and wild. And Parrish didn't disappoint, averaging double figures in punt returns each of his first four seasons, leading the league in average each of the last two.

Yet as the Buffalo Bills played their second preseason game of 2009 Saturday night, beating the Chicago Bears, 27-20, at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the prospect loomed large that Parrish will be wearing another jersey by season's start, or perhaps soon thereafter. The Bills are short on room in their receiving corps. They have other, albeit more risky, options in the return game. And, significantly, the elimination of Parrish's three-year, $10 million deal that runs through '11 would free up dollars and cap room as they tend to other expiring contracts, such as cornerback Terrence McGee's.

Trouble is, the one-year contract that made Terrell Owens a Bill distorts the long-range perspective. With Owens in uniform, Parrish seems somewhat of a luxury, much more a return specialist than a receiver. The other starting spots belong to Lee Evans and Josh Reed. Justin Jenkins' value is magnified by his role on special teams. Two of last year's draft choices, James Hardy and Steve Johnson, aren't going anywhere. Unless the start of Hardy's season is delayed by his recovery from knee surgery, the Bills would have to carry seven wide receivers to retain Parrish. It's unlikely.

Given that he's been utilized primarily as a return man, Parrish isn't sure he wants to stick around, although he wasn't quite that specific after Friday's walkthrough at St. John Fisher. He carefully walked the line, saying only that he covets an opportunity to prove his worth at receiver. But it's known that he feels undervalued in his current role, and that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is pushing for the Bills to move him and give him a chance to flourish elsewhere in a more complete capacity.

If the Bills deal Parrish — and they made an effort to do so before last April's draft — it would be a mistake. Their two starting cornerbacks, Leodis McKelvin on punts and Terrence McGee on kicks, would become primary return men, a burden that increases the risk of injury at a position where depth is a concern. There's no guarantee that, on punts, McKelvin would be as consistent a returner as Parrish, and, let's face it, until the no-huddle proves legit this offense can use all the help it can get. What's more, the Bills would be letting go of a player who they've never fully strived to employ in ways that exploit his speed and quickness.

Parrish is frustrated by the way it has worked out, doubly frustrated after seeing Devin Hester, his close friend and former University of Miami teammate, take a huge leap forward at receiver last year with the Bears. Hester didn't catch a pass in 2006. In 2007 he caught 20. Last year his numbers soared to 51 catches for 665 yards and three touchdowns while Parrish backtracked from 35 receptions to 24. Hester had six passes thrown his way in the first quarter alone Saturday night, making two receptions. Parrish ended up with three catches out of the slot, but the Bills remain resistant to lining him up wide and letting him fly.

No, Parrish isn't envious that Hester has evolved from the league's top return specialist to a regular at wide receiver. Instead, Parrish is hopeful that coaches throughout the league will take note and cease regarding return men as one-dimensional niche players.

"I'm glad it happened like that because it opened up a lot of coaches' eyes for guys that with the ball in their hands they're just not always gadget players," Parrish said.

"I can speak for me and probably him too. That's a thing that stresses a lot of guys out, that they're just a gadget player or a punt returner, a kick returner, or they can come in at wide receiver and do a screen reverse pass. And they just overlook our talent, thinking that we can't run routes."

It's just all about opportunities and taking advantage of them, and I guess he just took advantage of his time in Chicago and now he's a receiver. And I'm pretty sure that he's happier than he's ever been because he's at wide receiver right now."

He's right about that.

"We do get labeled as just return men," Hester said. "But I'm getting an opportunity to go out and be the one [or] two receiver. That's a big opportunity for me and I'm just trying to make the best of it. ..."

You get the feeling Parrish would like to use the preseason to showcase himself for other teams if the Bills remain unwilling to expand his duties.

"I'm just trying to do whatever I can do when I get the ball in my hands, just trying to make the coaching staff believe that I am a primary receiver and not just a punt returner," Parrish said.

He's made little headway.

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Cutler criticizes Hester after interception

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- One game into the preseason and already Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has had to smooth things out with one of his wide receivers.

Cutler commented to reporters about wide receiver Devin Hester's failure to break up an interception on a pass that fell short Saturday night following the team's 27-20 preseason loss to Buffalo. His remark seemed to rub some people the wrong way.

"Devin is more of a go-get-it guy; he is not really a back shoulder or jump-up-and-get-it [guy]," Cutler said Saturday. "You learn from it.

"We made some mistakes. It's the first preseason game. Luckily enough, we have some time to correct them and keep going."

The Bills' Leodis McKelvin intercepted the pass.

Hester admitted Monday that Cutler's comment upset him at first.

"But then he [Cutler] said he didn't say it," Hester said.

Hester said they're just getting to know each other.

"It wasn't criticism or anything like that," Hester said. "He was saying, you are not a 6-8 receiver. You can't go up and get everything. But we know you are the type of receiver if we throw it out there, you will go get it."

Cutler was not available for comment. He is only made available to the media in Bears camp on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said Cutler should have checked down to a shorter receiver route when he had to slide up in the pocket on the play rather than put the ball up for grabs.

Nevertheless, Turner likes Cutler's competitive attitude.

"I look at that as a good thing," Turner said. "He's got an edge about him that you better have if you're going to be an elite quarterback in this league."

Turner said occasionally he might need to talk to Cutler about being critical of teammates, but not every time.
"We don't want to temper that too much," Turner said. "Jay is an emotional guy and he's a fiery guy and he's a fiery competitor. That's why he's an elite quarterback."

Cutler's candid remarks got him into trouble when he played for Denver last year. Cutler went 5-for-10 Saturday for 64 yards with the one interception.

Coach Lovie Smith sought to call the entire matter forgotten.

"There are a lot of things said when we're not playing the type of football we know we are capable of," Smith said.

"We went back to the practice field today. We have no issues except our team trying to get better."

The Bears host the New York Giants in their home preseason opener Saturday night.

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Campbell relishes opportunity to fill important vacancy for Cardinals

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Calais Campbell has a big new role with the Arizona Cardinals, and he certainly has the size for the job.

The 6-foot-8, 290-pound second-year pro out of Miami replaces the departed Antonio Smith at defensive end, and he relishes the challenge.

"I understand I'm kind of like the new guy and everybody has questions about the new guy," Campbell said before the team practiced on Monday, "but I feel if I can go out there and just do what I know how to, the questions will be answered very soon."

Arizona drafted Campbell in the second round, the 50th pick overall, last season. He played in all 20 games as a backup and, mostly, on special teams. But when Smith signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Texans in the offseason, Campbell knew his chance had come.

"I knew that was big opportunity for me," Campbell said, "and I've always been that person that when an opportunity comes, you've got to capitalize."

He said his competitiveness comes from growing up with five brothers in Aurora, Colo., where he established a state high school record with 58 sacks in four seasons, 38 as a junior and senior. He also was a standout basketball player and threw the shot and discus in track and field.

A two-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection at Miami, Campbell made himself available for the draft after his junior season.

In his debut as a starter last Thursday against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Campbell played three series and got a good review from coach Ken Whisenhunt.

"I'd grade him out as a very good game," Whisenhunt said. "I was impressed with Calais, not only the things that showed up on tape or showed up in the game with him getting pressure on the quarterback, but also some of the things he did in the run game and the way he played that position in the line."

Campbell thought he played "fairly well."

"My goal going into the game was to be consistent and show the coaches and players that I'm ready to be a starter. I feel like I did that," he said. "There's a couple of plays there I could have made but didn't. I'm my biggest critic. I'm hard on myself, and I didn't play as well as I could have."

Campbell said his height "can be my worst enemy or my best friend."

"If I continue with my technique, I stay low and use my ability for good, I'll be fine," he said. "If I can just stay low and extend my arms, there's no offensive lineman that should be able to block me."

He's best, he said, at getting to the passer, a talent Arizona's defense sorely needs.

"I feel like I'm a natural pass rusher. That's probably what I do best on the field," Campbell said. "I definitely have to be able to stop the run first and make them pass. But with our offense scoring a lot of points and stopping the run like we can, there's going to be a lot of times when we've got to get after that passer.

"It could be the difference between going 9-7 and 14-2."

He credits veterans Bryan Robinson and Bertrand Berry for making him pay attention to the small details that make a big difference in a game.

Campbell and cornerback Bryant McFadden are the only newcomers in Arizona's starting defense. The ex-Steeler McFadden "is a lot more proven," Campbell acknowledged.

At this point in his young career, Campbell knows the magnitude of the opportunity he has to start for the reigning NFC champions.

"This is huge," he said. "I'll be 23 at the start of the season, and this is amazing. This is everything I dreamed of when I was a kid. Just being able to be a starter on this team, I feel like we have a great team and we can be great for a lot of years to come."

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Johnson a man of big numbers, few words

HOUSTON – When you’re climbing a mountain, there’s no time for wasted breath. Expending even the smallest amount of precious air on idle talk is going to just slow down the process.

Perhaps that’s why Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson(notes) parcels out words the way bankers loan money these days. For Johnson and the Texans, it’s about making the climb – not telling people all about it along the way.

In the look-at-me era of NFL receivers – where Terrell Owens(notes) has a reality show and Chad Ochocinco(notes) rambles endlessly on “Hard Knocks” – Johnson is unconcerned about his lack of notoriety. Though Johnson led the NFL in catches (115) and receiving yards (1,575) last season and is considered by many coaches and executives to be among the top handful of receivers in the game, getting him to talk about this is like trying to run through a cinder-block wall.

“All the stories I have about ‘Dre aren’t really about him,” said David Anderson(notes), another Texans wideout and resident entertainer, given his impressions of boxer Ricky Hatton or quarterback-turned-analyst Ron Jaworski.

“They’re about the things we do to him to make him talk. You really have to grind on him to get something out of him. He’s fun and he’ll joke around, but it takes a lot to bring him out.”

Or as Texans wide receiver Darnell Jenkins(notes) said: “If ‘Dre don’t know you, he’s not going to say anything to you. He’s not being mean about it; he just won’t talk. That’s just him.”

Always has been. Back in Carol City, Fla., where Johnson grew up with his brother and mother, “there wasn’t much talking going on,” said Johnson, a first-team All-Pro last season. “If I don’t know you, I’m not really going to talk to you. It has nothing to do with trust. I may say a few words to you, but not like I’m going to just start talking to people out of nowhere.”

So it should be no surprise that Johnson agreed in his first contract not to do any national endorsements or ads for at least one year.

“I actually just did my first national commercial this offseason, and this is my seventh season,” said Johnson, agreeing to the request without a second thought, assuring the organization that his focus was on football. “That stuff doesn’t make me. What I need to do is whatever it takes to get this team to its first playoff appearance. That’s all that matters.”

Johnson isn’t dismissive or rude, and it’s not that he can’t be bothered talking. Over the course of two days this week, he did eight interviews with various media outlets and he’s extremely accessible to reporters who cover the team regularly – win or lose.

Ultimately, while he may not have much to say, Johnson wants to make people feel at ease. It’s part of his approach to making Houston great. As the Texans embark on their eighth season since joining the NFL as an expansion team, Johnson understands his role as a foundational piece.

He was Houston’s second first-round pick, coming in as the third overall selection of the 2003 NFL draft. Considering that 2002 No. 1 pick David Carr(notes) is already gone, Johnson is basically a founding father. Just as he helped the University of Miami return to greatness in the late 1990s after the school was on probation, he senses the same mission in Houston.

“I feel the same way, like I’m going through a process,” said Johnson, who rarely looks anyone straight in the eye as he initially starts to speak, portraying an almost shy quality. “At Miami, my redshirt year there, I think we lost four games and went to the Gator Bowl. Then, my first year playing, we went 11-1 and it felt like you were part of something special, bringing the program back. The next year, we won a national championship and then we played for another one the next year.

“Here, it’s kind of like the same thing. You come to a new organization, it’s a process. It’s not going to happen overnight. I definitely feel like we’re climbing the mountain.”

Johnson seems to plot a course with that in mind. While teammates and coaches unanimously call him that rare combination of best player and hardest worker on the team, Johnson doesn’t preen in his workouts. At 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, he is built more like a linebacker, but he doesn’t show it off.

“We were lifting one time and ‘Dre has about 30 pounds of muscle on me,” said Anderson, who is all of 5-10, 194 pounds and often goes unrecognized as a football player. “His body is ridiculous. But we’re doing the incline press and we’re both doing the same weight, like about 185 pounds. I’m kind of looking at him like I can’t believe I’m lifting the same amount as him.

“He starts joking about how his muscles are just ‘air’ muscles, just pumped up with a lot of air … so I laugh and go on to the next thing. I turn around and he’s thrown another 90 pounds on the press after I left. It was like he didn’t want to embarrass me.”

That’s exactly the case.

“I’m never going to make my teammates feel bad,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t do anything like that. Sometimes guys feel like you’re on a different level than they’re on, but I don’t look at it like that. I make it so they feel comfortable working out with me. I want them to feel the same way I feel.

I’m never going to say, ‘Oh, you’re lifting that light weight?’ or anything like that.”

At the same time, there is no question that Johnson is the player the Texans have built their passing game around. Last year, as the team struggled to an 0-4 start after the devastation of Hurricane Ike, Johnson came up with a season-turning play.

Facing a fourth-and-10 late in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins, quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) rolled right and threw back to his left to Johnson, who had been running a crossing pattern from left to right before cutting back to the left sideline. The juggling catch allowed the Texans to keep the game-winning drive alive.

“That’s the play of the year for us,” said wide receiver Kevin Walter(notes). “We don’t get that, who knows where our season goes.”

Said head coach Gary Kubiak: “That play and that drive completely switched the gears for us. We’re 0-4 at the time, pick up that game, go 8-4 the rest of the way and finish 8-8. As a coach, that’s what you talk about with guys – that one play can make a difference in a whole season – and that proved it.”

When asked about the play, Johnson almost shrugs it off.

“As I was running that play, I didn’t feel no extra pressure, like I had to be the one to make the catch or anything like that,” Johnson said. “I knew the situation, but it wasn’t like it had to be me. … I’ve never been a person who felt like they needed a lot of attention. I’ve never been that way.”

Given his lack of chatter relative to the other marquee performers at his position, it shows.

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Portis: Redskins Made Too Many Mistakes

For all the criticism the offense has taken since putting up zero points last week against the Ravens, it's probably worth noting that the Redskins' most reliable offensive weapon wasn't in pads. Clinton Portis was a healthy scratch for the preseason opener, which means he watched the game from the sidelines. Like fans, he noted with frustration all the things that went wrong. His verdict: the offense has room for improvement.

"Only thing we can do is improve after scoring no points," the eighth-year running back said.

After watching film of the game, Portis said it wasn't the Ravens who held the Redskins scoreless as much as it was the Redskins committing too many mistakes.

"They didn't do anything spectacular," he said. "We missed a lot of open reads, we missed a lot of blocks, just being in place. If we get to our assignment and do things we're supposed to do, I think that game's totally different."

Portis and his teammates were in pads Sunday morning for the first time since Thursday's game. They began practice with a rotation of punt returns, a group that briefly included Portis.

"I could still do it, so I'm trying out for it right now," said a smiling Portis, who fielded the final punt of the morning and sprinted through the coverage.

Portis mostly watched as the more likely candidates took turns returning punts - Antwaan Randle El, Dominique Dorsey and Santana Moss.

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Romberg likes Linehan's style

Atlanta Falcons centre Brett Romberg wasn't surprised to see the Detroit Lions rally for a 27-26 victory in Saturday's pre-season opener at Ford Field.

The Belle River high school product and former Windsor AKO Fratmen knows Detroit offensive co-ordinator Scott Linehan has a few tricks up his sleeve.

"He's a schemer," the six-foot-two, 293-pound Romberg said of Linehan.

Romberg played centre for parts of three seasons in St. Louis for Linehan, who was fired by the Rams as head coach early last season and then made the move to Detroit.

"He'll bring a good offence every game," the 29-year-old Romberg said.

He especially thinks it will be good for Detroit rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was the first pick in this year's NFL Draft.

"(Linehan) doesn't have to conform to what's here," Romberg said. "It's a young quarterback he can build his system around."

Stafford was impressive Saturday in relief of starter Daunte Culpepper. The rookie threw for 114 yards in just a quarter of work while Culpepper threw for just 41 yards while going a quarter and a half.

Stafford showed a nice touch in hitting rookie third-round pick Derrick Williams with a 25-yard scoring strike in the third quarter, but also threw a pick that was returned for a score.

Running back Aaron Brown, who was a sixth-round pick, scored a pair of touchdowns as the Lions rallied from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter for the win. Jason Hanson hit a 47-yard-field goal as time expired.

Romberg, who left St. Louis as an unrestricted free agent to sign with the Falcons in March, played the second and third quarters at centre behind starter Todd McClure.

"So far, so good," Romberg said of the move that puts him closer to his Miami home. "I'm settling in."

Now in his eighth NFL season, Saturday's match marked the first time Romberg has gotten a chance to play in Detroit.

"I was a big Barry Sanders fan growing up," Romberg said. "My fifth grade teacher gave me an autographed picture of Eddie Murray. I idolized that and kept it on my wall.

"It's nice to finally get up here and my crew and family are here. The only thing that would have made it better is if it was the regular season."

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Tigers get Aubrey Huff from Orioles

The Tigers, who tried but failed to address their offensive woes before the July 31 deadline, have acquired Aubrey Huff from the Orioles in exchange for minor-league pitcher Brett Jacobson.

Huff was hitting .253 with 13 home runs and 72 RBIs for the Orioles. Huff has slumped in the second half, but his RBI total is still more than any Tiger player has this year.

The Tigers were one of several teams that talked to the Orioles about Huff before the non-waiver deadline. The Giants also showed interest.

Huff has been strictly a first baseman this year with Baltimore, but the Tigers are set with Miguel Cabrera at first. Huff has also played third base (33 games last year) and outfield (last in 2006).

The Tigers are 11th in the American League in runs, ahead of only the A's, Royals and Mariners.

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Alex Cora out for season

Alex Cora will undergo season-ending surgery to repair torn ligaments in his both of his thumbs.

Cora had forgone surgery on his right thumb in May and opted to serve in a limited role instead, but now he decided he couldn't play through it anymore. Cora will have surgery performed on his right thumb by club doctor Andrew Weiland, wait five weeks, and then get surgery on his damaged left thumb. He'll likely be put on the DL soon.


Bradford waiting after Burrell's neck flare-up

ST. PETERSBURG - Chad Bradford is ready to come off the disabled list, but a hint of uncertainty about Pat Burrell's status prompted the Rays to put the reliever in a holding pattern.

Initially expected to return to active duty Saturday after the Rays optioned reliever Jeff Bennett to Durham the night before, Bradford instead saw his roster spot snapped up by Reid Brignac, who was recalled from Triple-A and arrived about an hour before the game.

It sounds as if Brignac's stay - and Bradford's wait - will be brief. The initial diagnosis on Burrell was that the neck stiffness that forced him out of Friday's game isn't nearly as severe as the bout that landed him on the disabled list in early May.

Manager Joe Maddon said Burrell likely would be available for pinch-hitting duty today and should be back in the starting lineup by Tuesday.

"It's not an awful thing like last time, when he had all kinds of things locked up and felt it through his arm and down into his hand," Maddon said. "He's not getting the same sensations."

Burrell said he was focused on getting treatment immediately so as not to exacerbate the issue. He tried to play through it for a while earlier this year and ended up missing 29 games.

"Having been through this the first time, I don't want it to get to the point where I have to miss any length of time," Burrell said. "The best thing to do is just rest it for a day or so and then move forward. I could probably have played; I just didn't want to make it worse. I think with a little bit of rest, it'll get better."

Should Burrell be deemed ready to return Tuesday, Brignac likely would head back to the minors then, with Bradford taking his roster spot.

"Chad has got to hang for a bit," Maddon said. "We had to get Reid up here in order to bolster the bench a bit. With Willy (Aybar) playing and the bench being so limited, we needed somebody else that could play the infield, too, possibly, so that's what we did."

Bradford, who made three appearances on his rehab assignment and experienced no problems with his lower back, threw a bullpen session before Saturday's game to stay loose.

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