Sayers says Hester looks afraid

Devin Hester has been getting blistered for failing to deliver big runbacks on kicks this season, and now Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers is piling on.

"It looks like he's afraid to run back kickoffs," the Hall of Famer tells the Chicago Tribune's Fred Mitchell.

In terms of technique and strategy, Sayers says the problem is that all of Hester's returns have been made to the middle of the field, and that he hasn't tried to break outside.

"He's running straight up the field and everybody is tackling him," says Sayers, who was an outstanding kick returner in his seven-year career.  "He looks like he's afraid to go out on his own."

"Run to the left," Sayers says emphatically.  "You have the whole field!"

Hester returned 11 kicks for touchdowns his first two seasons, but has none this year. Sayers suggests the punishment Hester is taking while playing more at wide receiver also could be a factor.

"Does that have anything to do with him as a return player now because he takes the hard shots? Maybe he doesn't like getting hit . . . I don't know."


'Unhappy' James quiet at practice

The news of running back Edgerrin James' request didn't appear to produce any added anxiety at the Cardinals' training facility on Thursday, perhaps because team officials dealt with it more than two weeks ago.

That's when James made the request through his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. The rest of the world found out about it Wednesday when the news became public.

"That was something that was brought up a couple of weeks ago and it was the same answer we've said all along," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We're interested in doing what's best for this team and what puts us in the best position to win."

For the rest of this season, that means James serving as a backup. James declined comment on Thursday beyond saying "I'm just in here working and doing what I'm supposed to do."

That's what Whisenhunt expects.

"Edgerrin, I'm sure, is unhappy," he said. "I understand that. But that happens a lot in the NFL. That happens a lot in life. The mark of being a professional is continuing to work and we expect Edgerrin to be a professional. That's what he's been."


Beast released

Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason is having a monster season.

He leads the team with 102 tackles, was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month and ranks fifth in tackles in the league.

“I consider myself a beast,” Beason told, “so when I come out there, it’s like I’m ripping my shirt off, like the Hulk, turning into the beast.”

Every head coach wants to hear that from their middle linebacker, the leader of the defense and one of the toughest, grimiest and gritty positions in football.  

“I’m real proud of him,” says Panthers head coach John Fox. “He came in as a rookie last year, started for us a large majority of the season and I think he’s gotten better. He has tremendous football character. He has a lot of instinctive things that you can’t coach and that’s why I think he’s successful.”  

Selected by Carolina in the first round (25th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft, Beason started the first four games as a rookie at outside linebacker before moving to middle linebacker for an injured Dan Morgan for the final 12 games.

He became the first rookie in club history to lead the Panthers in tackles after producing a team record 160 in 2007, surpassing Micheal Barrow’s 158 in 1998. He also broke Lester Towns’ club rookie record of 103 in 2000.

Beason said he was shocked when he heard about the honor and did not know that the award existed. He attributes his teammates for earning the accolade.

“I got a lot of help from my teammates. Now I have something to strive for this month, so I’m just trying to keep up with Pep (Julius Peppers, who earned Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Raiders),” said Beason.

“I’m just leading by example. I try not to make any mistakes and play every down hard, that way you can earn the respect of your teammates.” Beason, who had 15 tackles against the Raiders two weeks ago, has 45 tackles in his last five games. He has earned the respect of his coaches and his teammates as a leader.

“He’s kind of an emotional leader. That’s what a (middle) linebacker is supposed to be. He fills the bill. He fills the bill well and does more than a good job at it. I think he has a bright future. He’s one of our defensive leaders that we can look to for that boost and for that play,” said weakside linebacker Na’il Diggs.

Beason feels the honor says more about the Panthers’ defense, which is ranked eighth, than about his own individual accomplishment.

“When you’re winning, everybody gets individual accolades. I’m just trying to keep it going,” said Beason.

Just like a beast would.


Should the Phillies re-sign left fielder Pat Burrell?

Longtime Phillie Pat Burrell is a free agent after helping the team to the World Series title this year. He likely will command a large contract.

Today's debaters are Morning Call sportswriter Mandy Housenick, who has helped with the Call's coverage of the Phillies the past five seasons, and her husband, Tom Housenick, a former sports editor and now a member of the Call's universal copy desk.

Mandy Housenick: Absolutely not. I was hoping the Phillies would have traded Burrell in previous years when there were rumors [about it]. He's never put up numbers worthy of the huge contract he was given. Can anyone really argue that he did enough to validate the more than $14 million he made this season? He's paid to hit home runs and drive in runs. Yet, since being called up in 2000, he's never hit 40 homers and surpassed the century mark for RBIs only twice, with the most recent time coming in 2005.

Tom Housenick: One thing we agree on is that Burrell didn't earn his previous salary. But I believe that a carefully structured, two-year deal worth a total of $14 million would be a wise move for the Phillies, who have dumped/should dump So Taguchi, Tom Gordon and Adam Eaton from the payroll. That's a savings of $14.4 million from those three players. Burrell would have to accept a significant pay cut, but if he really wants to stay in Philly ... I have not seen anything offensively from Geoff Jenkins or Greg Golston to believe they could pick up the slack and join the outfield of Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino. And Greg Dobbs is a great pinch hitter. But his stats in games he starts aren't nearly as good. Neither is his glove.

MH: You should know the greed of players by now. I can't imagine Burrell would ever take that big of a pay cut. But for the sake of argument, let's say he would agree to. The Phillies still shouldn't keep him. He had two downright lousy months this season and a couple other shaky ones. In May, he hit just .227 with only five homers. In August, his worst month by far, he hit .181 with 29 strikeouts, just 12 RBIs and four home runs. Throughout the postseason, his .227 average just didn't cut it and 13 strikeouts well that's just embarrassing.

TH: Lousy months? Do you remember the entire first half of the season for Ryan Howard? He wasn't hitting my weight, let alone his own. Pat Burrell is never going to be an MVP candidate. He's never going to be the superstar the Phillies thought he was when they drafted him. He's going to be a decent, everyday player with a good arm and the capability of carrying a team for a month or two, like he did early in 2008. Plus, he's well-liked in the clubhouse and by the coaching staff. There's a lot to be said for team chemistry. The Phillies have it. Burrell is an integral part of that.

MH: Howard came on like wildfire late in the season. He was fantastic in September and wound up leading the majors in RBIs and home runs for the entire year. When that happens, I can overlook a slow start. Burrell never rebounded with nearly that much success. On another note  why should the Phillies, now the world champions of baseball, have to settle for decent? They should be able to land a very good replacement. They blew a chance when they didn't jump on Matt Holliday.

TH: Holliday was out of the Phillies' price range and he's not a good clubhouse guy. Plus, they would have had to deal top prospects such as Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson or Golston. When something works, really works, why mess it up? The Phillies need a right-handed bat to offset the lefty bats of Dobbs and Jenkins. Maybe Burrell doesn't get 140 starts a year. Give him 120. Give Dobbs more chances to start. Give Jenkins a chance to get in a hitting rhythm. But Burrell is the best of the three options currently available. And, see the list of free-agent outfielders? Want Luis Gonzalez, Jim Edmonds or Ken Griffey Jr.? They'd be eligible for Social Security come 2010. Adam Dunn? Talk about a strikeout machine.


Cards' 'Edge' confirms public perception

For a guy that can't get on the field, Edgerrin James just dropped the ball. He interrupted the feel-good story of the NFL, distracting the Cardinals and their fans before the biggest game of the year.

It will be a costly fumble in a Hall of Fame career.

Through his agent, James recently requested his release from the Cardinals, and on some level, his unhappiness is understandable. James effectively ranks fourth on the Cardinals' depth chart of running backs. His three carries over the past two games are fewer than wide receiver Anquan Boldin (four). In Sunday's win at Seattle, he watched as J.J. Arrington got the call and the ball in the fourth quarter of a close game. A proud man has been embarrassed by Ken Whisenhunt, who is using James to make a powerful statement.

The head coach will not tolerate players who gripe during the good times, who miss the only scheduled practice during a bye week, who strike some members of the organization as a guy not running that hard, particularly in that loss to the Panthers.

In his last 49 carries, James has gained 137 yards. Those numbers scream of a running back in decline, which James most certainly is not. They also don't reflect how much James has selflessly helped rookie Tim Hightower.

But it will be hard to defend James now, and here's the problem: By the end of the season, James will have collected $25 million of his $30 million contract with the Cardinals. And before the season is over, James will surely be needed by a team entering uncharted territory.

He should have kept his mouth shut, worked like Arrington to get back into good graces, and played out the season without any further complaints. In a worst-case scenario, he would've remained in the doghouse, released without any further attrition to his body, and able to resume his career next year with rested legs.

Instead, James just confirmed the public's worst perception of him - that he's driven only by money and statistics. It is in stark contrast to what James said earlier in the season when asked about his diminished role:

"Me? I want to win. I want to make my trip out here worthwhile. I want to do whatever it takes to help turn this program around."

Whatever it takes? Sometimes that means holding a clipboard, like Matt Leinart. Sometimes that means giving up carries because the team has two of the best wide receivers on the planet. It means being a team guy, and understanding the civic impact of the big picture. The worst franchise in sports history is 7-3 and could clinch its division title before Thanksgiving. The once-beleaguered Cardinals are in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye, and have a puncher's chance at the Super Bowl. This is no time to spike the Kool-Aid.

It's popular to bash the agent in stories like this, particularly a public nuisance like Drew Rosenhaus. When reached on Wednesday, Rosenhaus said James didn't want to be a distraction, which is almost laughable.

The story first appeared on a highly credible, football-specific website ( It appeared without any sources or attribution. That means the story was likely leaked by the agent, who was then conveniently forced to comment when his office was flooded with phone calls. But, hey, sorry for the distraction.

Bad move, guys. James was guaranteed his $5 million salary in 2008 when he made the opening day roster. It's one of many reasons why the Cardinals do not and will not release James, who might be needed if Hightower gets injured.

James is highly intelligent, and should have known as much. He should have known that such a tactic was not only futile and fruitless, but likely to land him in the fan's doghouse at the worst possible time.

After all, it's been a historic season for the Cardinals. Too bad not everyone is enjoying the view.


Devin Hester: "It's tough on me"

Devin Hester's inability to excel in the return game this season appears to have taken a toll on the Bear.

"It's tough on me. I don't even like going outside now," Hester said Wednesday. "I just want to find that edge and overcome it."

Hester was asked if he has lost his confidence. Danieal Manning replaced him on kickoffs during the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Packers.

"I haven't lost any confidence," Hester said. "I'm the type when I get my opportunity, I'm going to make the most of it."

Hester entered the season with 12 career returns for touchdowns, including a 108-yard return of a missed field goal and kickoff returns of 96 and 94 yards at St. Louis two seasons ago. His longest return this season is 51 yards.

"It just hasn't gone the way I thought it would," Hester said. "I could say it's my fault, but there are 11 guys on the field. [Still,] I know at the end of the day, I'll get blamed for the return game."


Browns insider: Winslow has sprained shoulder

Tight end Kellen Winslow's suffered a sprained right shoulder against the Bills and will probably be listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Texans.

He sat out Wednesday's practice, but declined to comment. Coach Romeo Crennel said an MRI exam showed the current injury isn't worse than last season's separated left shoulder that bothered Winslow much of the season.

"If he can get his arm above his head and catch the football, then he'll play," he said. "If he can't or doesn't have the strength, then we're fooling ourselves if we think he'll be effective. It all depends on his strength and range of motion."

Receiver Braylon Edwards says he's never worried about Winslow's availability.

"No matter what kind of injury it seems like he has or if he misses a practice, that guy is going to play on Sunday," he said.

If Winslow can't play, Steve Heiden will replace him. The Browns are 2-0 with Heiden starting in place of Winslow this season.

Winslow suffered the injury on a 16-yard catch on the drive that led to Phil Dawson's game-winning 56-yard field goal. Winslow was tackled by linebacker Paul Posluszny, came down hard on his shoulder and came up wincing. But he continued to play and downplayed the injury after the game.

Winslow caught three passes for 40 yards, but the clutch, 16-yard sideline grab on second down to the Bills' 39 was pivotal in the victory. Brady Quinn threw three straight incompletions thereafter and Winslow's catch was enough to set Dawson up for the spectacular game-winner.


Johnson gaining recognition for community work

HOUSTON—Growing up poor in a tough section of Miami, Andre Johnson decided early on that he wanted to play professional football. He watched the NFL and dreamed of meeting a player.

That never happened for Johnson as a child, so soon after he joined the Houston Texans in 2003 he created a foundation to help underprivileged children and give them the opportunity he never had.

That foundation has grown in the past five years and Johnson has sponsored programs and given time and money to children in both Houston and Miami.

"I really didn't have a professional player come to my neighborhood and do different stuff for the neighborhood," he said. "So I always said if I was to make it one day I just want to give back to the community."

Johnson's uncle Andre Melton, for whom he is named, has always encouraged his nephew to be involved in the community.

"That's how you can reach out and touch people," Melton said. "Sometimes athletes are distant from most people, but I want people to know he's a real person and make sure he understands that he's in a position to do some things and make some things happen. You can't save the world, but you can do your part."

Johnson, who leads the NFL with 955 yards receiving, said when he was first drafted he was struck by how much kids looked up to him.

"I think just me being able to meet kids period is special," he said. "People always say: 'You're a role model.' But we hate to look at ourselves as role models. But you would be surprised at how many kids really watch what you do on Sunday."

Johnson has been honored for his work as one of eight finalists for an award given by Home Depot called the NFL Neighborhood MVP. As a finalist his charity will receive $5,000 and the winner get $25,000 for his work. The winner, which is decided by online voting, will be announced during Super Bowl week.

Other finalists include Atlanta's Keith Brooking, Brian Dawkins of the Eagles, Detroit's Mike Furrey, Steve Smith of Carolina, Amani Toomer of the Giants, the Cardinals' Kurt Warner and Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten.

Johnson, who didn't know he was a finalist until informed by a reporter, was proud to be mentioned as one of the top players in the community.
"Not to just be mentioned as a football player but also for the things you do in the community," he said. "I've never been a person who felt like I really needed any recognition for what I do, but to have that happen though is a great honor."

Johnson isn't slowing down. He spent several hours on his day off earlier this week handing out turkeys and other fixings to needy families for Thanksgiving dinners. He joined teammates Dunta Robinson and DeMeco Ryans with help from a local grocery store chain to feed more than 700 families.

The food pantries in Galveston were depleted during Hurricane Ike so trucks from the island were sent to collect hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners to take back for distribution. Johnson, Ryans and Robinson didn't leave the hard work of loading the trucks to the scores of other volunteers at the event. The trio lugged dozens of bags loaded with two liter drinks and multi-pound turkeys to the truck and didn't sit down for a break until the last bag was done.

Johnson said helping out this year is even more important than in years past because of Ike and the current economic crisis.

"You wish there weren't any needy people," Johnson said. "You really don't like to see people in those situations, but that's life. And any way somebody can help, it's great. We are just very thankful for what we have and it's great just to bless someone else."


Report: Edge asked Cardinals to release him

Edgerrin James asked the Cardinals to release him after he was benched in favor of Tim Hightower in Week 9, according to
Arizona refused, opting to keep Edge as a third stringer for insurance behind Hightower and J.J. Arrington. James' $5M salary for 2008 is guaranteed, so there was no reason for Arizona to give him to another team. At the time Joseph Addai was struggling in Indianapolis and the Colts could have given their old friend a long look. Denver also could've put in a waiver claim.


LIVING SCARED - A year after Sean Taylor's murder, NFL players still live in fear

First comes the gate, a heavy metal barrier that halts visitors' cars about 100 feet from Clinton Portis' waterfront condo in Miami. It's manned by a security guard who reaches out from behind thick glass to check the ID of each driver and passenger, while high-tech cameras snap pictures of their faces and license plates, before allowing them to pass. The immaculately groomed grounds of cobblestone and palm trees are fortified with well-disguised cameras by the front door, the loading dock, the concierge desk and the private guest elevator. After navigating past those, plus a metal door secured with a dead bolt and a wall-mounted computerized alarm system, guests are finally allowed entry into Portis' sanctuary in the sky.

Enjoying a rare weekend off, the NFL's second-leading rusher is on his couch, yawning constantly while watching college football. He's wearing pajama pants, orange footies and a white T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of friend and departed Skins teammate Sean Taylor. Favoring a sore left knee, Portis shuffles across his marble floor to show off the views. To the east, windsurfers ride the glassy waters of the bay. To the west, Miami's skyline. And behind the blinds to the north: another shiny condo tower, where a woman stands on her balcony, peering directly at a startled Portis.

The moment perfectly captures how NFL players feel these days. On Nov. 26, 2007, Taylor was shot by intruders in the bedroom of his Miami home while his girlfriend and 18-month-old daughter hid under the covers. The botched robbery attempt was another horrific chapter of a crime wave against pro athletes, one that's shocked NFL players into a paradigm shift in self-awareness and security. Yet no matter how closely they protect themselves, many still can't shake the feeling that someone is out there, just beyond the blinds, lurking. "I don't think the NFL is gonna ever be the same," says Portis. "As a football player, Sean thrived on instilling fear in people on the field. Then you wake up in the middle of the night, and you hear something rattling around in your house, and in a split second—now the fear is in you."

You can see the impact of Taylor's death in the body language of 315-pound Chiefs rookie Branden Albert as he leaves a club, checking and rechecking his rearview mirror to make sure he isn't being followed. It's in the nervous laughter of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger when he recalls the time a weapon was waved in his face. It compels Jaguars running back Fred Taylor to use the car with the less showy factory rims when he goes out at night. It's in the candid conversations Titans center Kevin Mawae says happen in every locker room around the league. And it's in the near whisper of Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson as he talks, for the first time publicly, about his own home invasion.

When asked about their fears, players cite the same frightening flashpoints: New Year's Day 2007, when Broncos defensive back Darrent Williams was shot and killed outside a Denver nightclub while riding in his limo; November 2007, when Taylor was murdered; June 2008, when Oakland receiver Javon Walker was robbed and beaten unconscious near the Vegas strip; and September 2008, when Jaguars lineman Richard Collier was paralyzed and had to have his leg amputated above the knee after he was shot 14 times in what police say was a retaliatory shooting. "We are targets," says Buccaneers corner Ronde Barber. "We need to be aware of that everywhere we go."

Violence against athletes is not new, of course, and not isolated to the NFL. Just last summer in Chicago, NBA players Antoine Walker and Eddy Curry were robbed in their homes. But more than any other league's, the culture of the NFL—the wealth, fame, brutality and air of invincibility—makes its players vulnerable. Broncos security chief Dave Abrams, who was hired full-time shortly after Williams was shot, says the hardest part of his job is convincing players of their own mortality. To excel at such a violent sport, he explains, they must be fearless; they think of themselves as the kind of untouchable warrior who would never require the protection of a bodyguard, an alarm system or even a locked door. The night he was murdered, Sean Taylor had neglected to turn on his home security system, even though his house had been burglarized just nine days earlier.

The NFL is attempting to flip this it-can't-happen-to-me mindset. The league provides a security consultant to each team, and most teams also have their own head of security. At his State of the League address before Super Bowl XLII, commissioner Roger Goodell said that players becoming targets was "a big issue." "We have to do everything we can to educate our players of the simple things they can do to protect themselves" Goodell said.

Portis has gotten the message. Security measures that used to be an afterthought are now part of his daily routine. Alarms that used to go unused are now turned on each night. Doors are dead-bolted. Windows are locked. Others are taking even more drastic steps. Robinson recently became a gun owner. Roethlisberger uses bodyguards for public appearances. Mawae, the NFLPA president, runs background checks on potential babysitters.

Fred Taylor, meanwhile, has equipped his Jacksonville home with every conceivable security apparatus. "I still don't think I have enough," he says. "Who knows what's enough? I wouldn't say I'm safe.

"I don't know what safe is."



Under his game jersey, Redskins running back Clinton Portis, 27, always wears a T-shirt honoring his late teammate, safety Sean Taylor. Powered by his friend's memory, Portis is on pace for one of his best seasons ever—and resolute that fear won't control his life when he steps off the field.

Right now, who is better to target than an athlete? Bankers are losing jobs. Real estate gurus are losing jobs. Wall Street is losing jobs. Lots of people getting humble, but an athlete's money is constant.

I know a lot of players who think, Oh, man they ain't gonna get me. I watch where I'm going. No one's sneaking up on me. I say to them, Anybody can be touched. If somebody wants to get to you, there ain't no limits. Sean was home with his family, and they got to him.

But even with what happened, I can't walk around in fear. Out of fear your reaction is going to be totally different. If I don't know you and you walk up on me too fast, do I shoot first and ask questions later? Because I'm living in fear? You could be running to tell me my car lights are on. It's tricky, though. When you put on that uniform, you have to be fearless—and it's hard to turn off. A banker in Sean's position would've probably just called the police that night. But as an athlete, Sean's reaction was embedded in him.

I don't think the NFL is ever going to be the same. It's less fun now. Everything's a worry, on and off the field. People feel like you are obligated to them. I was at a charity event the other night and I had a man come up to me and grab me, hard, as if we were close friends. It was one of those hard grabs, around the neck, the way people who don't know you shouldn't touch you. So I turned around looking at him like, uh, do I know you? And his response was "I pay your salary, I'm a season ticket holder." Now, what do season tickets cost? Twenty thousand dollars? Pay my salary? Man, I don't make $20,000.

I worked hard for what I got. This life wasn't given to me. It wasn't eenie, meanie, miney, mo: I win. I've been fighting for what I got my whole life and it was hard work. I've seen everything. I've lost family members. I've held an AK-47, I've held assault rifles. I've seen crack sitting beside me. I've seen cocaine sitting beside me. But I stayed clean and found a way to steer myself away from all that. People are upset with me because I'm successful? You should try being successful too.

But remembering Sean gives me a power, a will to fight through. Earlier this season against the Steelers, we're down 23-6, and the game's kinda over with, and I'm just in there for blitz pickup to knock heads with a linebacker. But I'm still fighting, looking for someone to punish. It's that kinda toughness. That's what I get from thinking of Sean.


Ravens LB Ray Lewis has been an invaluable resource for many NFL players — and he’s not slowing down at age 33

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. One of the greatest middle linebackers in football history.

Now, the Ravens’ Ray Lewis can add another title to his illustrious career: The Godfather of the NFL.

While Lewis is known for slamming players to the ground, he is the first to pick them up off the field, becoming a confidant to many around the league.

From Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman to Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu to Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Lewis has mentored the NFL’s young superstars on the game, training regimen and, most importantly, life.

Lewis estimated that he talks, sends text messages to and counsels 15 to 20 players on some days.

“It’s a rush for me. It’s a high for me,” Lewis said. “My greatest legacy will not be about how hard I hit on the field but how many people I was able to bless.”

Lewis first runs into players at the Pro Bowl and at different social events. The meetings usually end with Lewis giving out his cell phone number.

When players find themselves with a problem, that’s when Lewis usually hears from them again.

It was just last training camp when disgruntled Bengals WR Chad Ocho Cinco phoned Lewis for advice.

Lewis’ message: Stop complaining and start appreciating life in the NFL.

“He’s my spiritual father when I’m having problems,” Ocho Cinco said earlier this season. “Ray has been there for me through everything. Ray is really the only reason I’ve somewhat shut up and calmed down and came back and refocused my energy on helping my team get to the playoffs and all my energy being positive.

“So, Ray is really the reason I’m back here happy, smiling and ready to go again.”

Lewis routinely will call players and tell them a favorite scripture passage. He’ll remind them to drink the right amount of water. He’ll even chat for a half-hour about dissecting the screen pass, like he did recently with 49ers LB Patrick Willis.

Before the Ravens’ Monday-night game at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, Lewis received a text message from Willis, his newest pupil, which read: “Show me what you got because you know I’ll be watching.”

“It turns into a real brotherhood from our conversation,” Lewis said.

But Lewis knows the connection extends beyond a brotherhood.

He has become a father figure to many players, much like Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson were for him years ago.

“When I was a child, that’s the thing I never had,” said Lewis, 33, who was raised by his mother. “As a man, that’s what you’re looking for — some real good advice from somebody they can trust.”

While Lewis seems to be giving so much — advice, time and energy — he insists that he receives more in return.

“What I get out of it is watching these guys grow,” he said. “That’s the reward for any parent. When you instill something in a kid and you get it put into fruition, you’re like, ‘Wow. He really listened.’ ”

Lewis has not only grabbed the attention of the players around the NFL. After recent injury-marred seasons, Lewis is playing like an elite linebacker again.

Run up the middle of the Ravens’ defense at your own risk. Draws don’t work, and neither do screens.

“It’s getting to the point with Ray where it’s almost ridiculous,” Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. “He’s a phenom. His contact and tackling is as crisp and as good as I can remember. He is still flying around and is always in the right spots. If I had to describe one thing about Ray that stands out, I couldn’t, because he is the total package.”

The Ravens are in a transition season with a new coach in John Harbaugh and a new quarterback in Joe Flacco.

The one constant has been the Ravens’ top-notch defense, whose determination comes from Lewis.

That was proven in Week Three, when the Ravens trailed the Browns 10-7.

On the third play of the third quarter, Lewis crushed Kellen Winslow over the middle, dislodging the ball from the Browns’ physical tight end. CB Chris McAlister plucked the ball from the air and ran 12 yards to the Cleveland 12-yard line, setting up the go-ahead touchdown in the Ravens’ 28-10 victory.

“He just knew he had to make a play, and that’s what leaders do,” Ravens ROLB Terrell Suggs said of the Lewis hit. “I mean, were y’all shocked?”

The biggest surprise is how Lewis can maintain this level of play.

After years of chasing down running backs, all of the NFL’s great middle linebackers eventually found something they themselves couldn’t elude — time.

Bears star Mike Singletary decided to retire after 12 seasons, before his play declined. Pittsburgh’s Jack Lambert walked away after 11 years because of a severe toe injury. And the Bears’ Dick Butkus stopped after nine seasons because of multiple knee injuries.

So, how can Lewis continue to remain in Pro Bowl form after 13 seasons?

His play on the field is dictated by his work off it.

His workouts are legendary. He still runs steep hills with a log on his back. He is constantly in the sauna and always is stretching, which helps to cut down on injuries.

At home, he has hired a personal chef, who cooks fish and vegetables. He keeps himself hydrated by drinking two gallons of water daily.

Then, at night, Lewis watches hours of film. He’ll pick up how a lineman puts his hand down on certain plays. He’ll note how a running back stands before a screen play.

These details help him predict where the ball is going before it is snapped.

“My greatest reward is in my sacrifice — how much film I watch,” Lewis said. “Some of them might want to run a screen or try to run in my area. I’m like, ‘Are you serious? You don’t think I watched that all week?’

“I would never want to be in my 20s again. I know too much right now.”

Colts QB Peyton Manning has a firsthand knowledge of Lewis’ film work.

“There’s many a time when I’ve heard Ray calling out our plays, and he’s been pretty accurate at times,” Manning said.

Lewis’ psychological game even extends to running backs. With some vicious head-on hits, he is putting fear into opposing runners. He ended Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall’s season in Week Four. It was the same back in 2000 when he train-wrecked Jerome Bettis, Corey Dillon and Eddie George.

“I was pretty intimidated by him, and I was on his team,” Ravens LOLB Jarret Johnson said.

Still, how long will Lewis remain on the team?

Lewis is scheduled to make $6.5 million in the final season of a seven-year, $50 million contract. That included a $19 million signing bonus (an NFL record at the time).

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said earlier this year that the team would actively pursue Lewis if he reaches free agency.

“If he becomes a free agent, I think the Ravens would probably outbid other teams,” Bisciotti said at the NFL meetings in March. “We know Ray’s value more than the other teams. We know the leadership he brings to the team. We know the commitment and the effort he gives to winning.”

This is the first time the Ravens have allowed Lewis to reach the final year of his contract.

There is a possibility that the Ravens could use the franchise tag on Lewis to keep him for another season. Lewis hopes it won’t come to that.

“If the season ends and I’m a totally free agent, for the first time in my life I will be totally free,” he said. “You know what that feels like for a man? It’s one thing to deal with a contract. It’s one thing to deal with life without a contract. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel to make my own decision.”


Bubba Franks Update

Backup TE Bubba Franks, out the last four games with a hip injury, returned to the practice field for the first time. We'll get the participation report a bit later, but he seemed to be moving well. So perhaps there will be a Bubba sighting on Sunday. No sign of LB David Harris (groin surgery) and S Eric Smith (multiple concussions) at practice. WR Laveranues Coles was somewhat limited, so perhaps he's dealing with an injury issue.


Salmons leads Kings past Hornets

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — John Salmons scored 29 points and Bobby Jackson had all eight of his points in the final 5:10 to help the injury-depleted Sacramento Kings surprise the New Orleans Hornets 105-96 on Wednesday night.

Jackson hit a 3-pointer to give the Kings the lead for good at 90-88. He followed with a baseline jumper and a steal that led to Salmons' layup, then finished off the Hornets with another 3-pointer that made it 99-91 with 3:08 left.

Sacramento played without leading scorer Kevin Martin, who missed his sixth consecutive game because of a sprained ankle, and starting forward Mikki Moore. The Kings had been 1-5 away from home, losing four of those games by 15 points or more, and were playing their second game on the road in two nights.

Chris Paul led New Orleans with 20 points and 15 assists. The Hornets, coming off three days of rest, fell to .500 (5-5) for the first time since the end of the 2006-07 season.


'Huge step' for Miami Heat's Jones

Heat forward James Jones is shooting for a return in about four weeks from surgery on his right wrist after his cast was removed Tuesday.

''I'm taking a huge step,'' Jones said Wednesday.

Jones participated in noncontact drills Wednesday and said he should be back in eight weeks.

''I'm pain-free,'' Jones said. ``This is the first time I've been pain-free shooting in like three months. For me it's a weight off my shoulders.''

Jones said he is shooting mostly from midrange and is wearing tape and a brace on his wrist as he works his way back.

Was he hitting shots?

''Of course!'' he said. ``That's what I do.''

Jones underwent surgery Oct. 18 to repair a ruptured tendon. The same wrist was injured in late July during a pickup game.


NFLU Week 11 Video Highlights

Check out the return of our NFL U Video Highlights. Like we did back in 2006, will provide our fans every week video highlights of all of our NFL U stars along with pictures from the current NFL Week. Click here to check out our Week 11 Video Highlights or click above on NFL U Video Highlights. Enjoy this week's highlights which feature an INT by Ray Lewis, an INT by Rocky McIntosh, 2 TDs by Frank Gore and more!

NFLU Week 11 Photos

Check out Week 11 photos from around the the NFL of our proCanes. Click here to see the photos.

Lights, cameras, Reggie Wayne

WESTFIELD, Ind. -- Reggie Wayne is so smooth, he appears to defy the laws of physics in a new TV commercial set to air Thanksgiving Day on the NFL Network.

The two-time Pro Bowl receiver for the Indianapolis Colts jogged over an in-ground pool on Tuesday in a promotion for the new Reebok Hex Ride running shoes. OK, so the surface was actually blue-painted wood built into the pool. Water will be added later as a special effect, but Wayne was pumped by the pitch premise.

"Not many people can say they walked on water. To be one of the selective few is always a great thing," he said. "But I don't think it's going to take much for me because I feel like I walk on water every day."

Not that this was any day at the beach. Temperatures for this back-yard production at a suburban residence were in the mid-30s. In between takes, Wayne wrapped himself in a Colts blanket.

Wayne's on-screen counterpart was New York actor Stephen Mailer, who plays a nerdy Reebok scientist, complete with the thick glasses, tape recorder and clipboard. The real-life New York Jets fan appears to test how Wayne does in the new running shoes.

Assistant Brian Banks stood in for Wayne on a rehearsal. Banks ran through some tires, then stepped through some spots on the pool. He was perfect.

"If you need a third down receiver, there he is," said director Ron Yassen.

"We need a first-down receiver," joked Wayne, the Colts' leading receiver this season with 56 catches for 790 yards.

When assistant director Rob Mackler hollered, "Action!" for the first real run, Wayne stumbled.

Mackler didn't need to yell "Cut!" because Wayne had already asked for a do-over. Members of New York's Roadside Entertainment crew exhaled in cold puffs of air, then focused again. And they weren't the only ones watching intently.

John and Jackie Lindgren's Westfield home had a deck filled with family and friends. Others watched from inside. Lindgren's pool was selected at random by Pools of Fun in Plainfield. The film crew basically set up in the home's basement activity room.

"The kids are so excited," John Lindgren said of their three children. "They've been telling all their buddies that Reggie was going to be in their back yard."

Mitch Lindgren, 12, couldn't get his buddies to believe it. He snapped pictures for proof.

"I told (school) I had a doctor's appointment," said Meghan, 14, a Carmel High School freshman. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

After three takes, Wayne was hitting his stride, but his baggy black shorts weren't cooperating.

"My trousers keep falling," he said, walking off the set to get a clothes pin alteration.

"Wardrobe malfunction," a witty crew member said.

After the fourth take, Wayne assured, "I'm getting better at it."

After seven takes, it was time for close-up shots. The shoot ran long, but Wayne stuck around.

"Reggie was stupendous," Yassen said. "He was a pleasure to work with. Some athletes, they can be tricky, but he did everything we asked. He's an All-Pro."

Wayne has filmed commercials before, but conceded he has a ways to go to catch up with the NFL leader in endorsements, the same guy responsible for getting the receiver the ball on game days.

"I ain't on Peyton Manning's status," Wayne said of his quarterback, who earned a reported $13 million in endorsements in 2007. "I guess you could say I'm building a foundation."


Vernon Carey honored as Dolphins' Man of the Year

DAVIE - When Dolphins right tackle Vernon Carey was asked to report to the auditorium at team headquarters on his day off today, he was nervous. No, he wasn't expecting to get cut, but he was hoping that the meeting would have something to do with extending his contract, which expires at the end of the season.

It wasn't until coach Tony Sparano grabbed a microphone and introduced Carey as the Dolphins nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award that the Miami native knew what was going on.

Carey has a tough act to follow as former Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor won the community-related award last year, and past Dolphins winners include Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Dwight Stephenson.

"It caught me off guard,'' Carey said. "I was kind of worried at first, but it's an overwhelming joy deep inside because growing up as a kid always being a Dolphins fans, loving the Dolphins, I remember watching Dan Marino play the game and guys like him being man of the year. Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, those caliber of players on and off the field, it's high standards set that you got to uphold, and I'm willing to do that.''
Every team selects a representative, a player who gives back to the community with his charitable endeavors, as well as displaying sportsmanship on the field. Eventually, the 32 selections are pared down and one player is chosen during Super Bowl week in February.

Carey and his wife, LaTavia, have started the Carey Mentorship Program at Brownsville Middle School in Miami. The couple mentors 10 students and takes them on trips around South Florida, such as Universal Studio, and often talk to them about goal-setting. They also host 20 students at every Dolphins' home game.

Carey hosts an annual Thanksgiving giveaway at his former high school, Miami Northwestern, and participates in several Dolphins-related charities.

"After my first two years, I'm like, 'You're from here and have to do more in the community.' I was obligated to myself because I've been where they're at and want to show them that there's more out there for them, and goals for them to reach.''

Carey, who starred at University of Miami and was drafted No. 19 n the first round in 2004 by his hometown team, is an integral part of the Dolphins' eighth-ranked offense, which has amassed more than 340 yards in each of the last eight games.

The children from Carey's mentorship program gave Carey a standing ovation when he was given the award. The softspoken, often shy Carey cracked a joke at the end of his acceptance speech when he said, "I hope I can still do things for the community of Miami and I hope I'm still here.''

"I was hoping it was a new contract,'' Carey said. "That's a big honor and you got to accept that and be very happy with that. It was a couple of words [contract talks] but that's what I know. They know better than I do.''

Sparano, a fellow offensive lineman and line coach, was extremely proud of one of his own.

"It's a tremendous accomplishment with what he does in the community,'' Sparano said. "I've been out on several occasions with Vernon at groups in the theatre and seen him do these things for the kids. That's something special. What these guys do off the field really does matter and I'm glad he's getting recognized.

"You could see the kid's faces in there when they see Vernon come in. That's something pretty special. You don't see that all the time. You're a parent and you see your kid like that, he lights up, she lights up. That happened when he walked in.''

Although Sparano wasn't expected to answer football-related questions, he was asked if he heard Carey's remark about wanting to remain a Dolphin.

"So do I,'' Sparano said while walking away.


Colts receiver Wayne spends $4.1M in Southwest Ranches

Reggie Wayne and Peta Gay Weir bought a home at 16850 Stratford Court in Southwest Ranches from Landmark Custom Ranches, Inc. for $4.1 million on July 25, 2007.

The house stands on a sprawling 102,294 square foot lot in the Landmark Ranch Estates.

Wayne is a receiver for the Super Bowl XLI champion Indianapolis Colts of the NFL. In 2007, the two-time Pro Bowl selection led the Colts and the league in receiving yardage with 1,510 yards. He also set a career high for receptions (104).

After starting for four years at the University of Miami, the Colts made him the 30th pick of the 2001 NFL Draft. After a solid 2005 season, Indianapolis signed him to a six-year contract worth $39.5 million. He followed that up with a 2006 campaign in which he caught 86 passes for 1,310 yards and nine touchdowns.

Through 2007, Wayne has a career total of 494 receptions, 6,984 receiving yards and 47 touchdowns.

He attended John Ehret High School in Marrero, La.

Home sales in Southwest Ranches dropped 39 percent in 2007 versus sales in 2006. The median sales price though went up from $850,000 to $900,000.

BlockShopper Metrics began tracking home sales in South Florida in 2001.


Winslow to get MRI on injured shoulder

BEREA -- Browns tight end Kellen Winslow will undergo an MRI on his right shoulder after injuring it in Monday night's 29-27 victory over the Bills.

Winslow suffered the injury on a 16-yard catch on the game-winning drive. He came up wincing after getting tackled near the right sideline.

"We'll check him out and see if he'll be able to do much this week,'' Browns head coach Romeo Crennel said during his weekly briefing. Crennel said it wasn't the same shoulder that bothered Winslow for much of last season.

Crennel also said that defensive lineman Shaun Smith suffered a calf muscle injury, running back Jerome Harrison pulled a hamstring, and Sean Jones sprained his ankle. All are questionable for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.


Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie's trial date set for March 16 in Miami

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie has a trial date in Miami set for March 16.

He faces four charges stemming from his alleged involvement in a fight outside a nightclub in February. McKinnie's lawyer, Larry Kerr, appeared in Miami-Dade County court Tuesday. McKinnie was not required to attend.

Kerr says he is continuing to negotiate a pretrial diversion program for his client.

If he's successful, the charges could be dropped if McKinnie meets certain conditions. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Kerr will participate in a status conference on March 5. He said the judge will not let the process "go on forever."

McKinnie served a four-game suspension from the NFL in September for violating the league's personal conduct policy.


Portis Plays, but Struggles After Strong Start

For one drive last night, both Clinton Portis and his offensive teammates looked like they had rediscovered their early-season swagger. The first time the Washington Redskins touched the ball, they needed 10 plays to reach the end zone. Five of those plays were Portis's runs, which netted 29 yards and an average of nearly six yards per carry.

But this wasn't October -- when Portis ripped through NFL defenses to seize the league rushing lead -- and the franchise running back wasn't the same player who won NFC offensive player of the month honors. He didn't practice all week after spraining his medial collateral ligament against the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago, and he was a game-time decision last night. After that first drive, Portis gained just 39 more yards, and the Redskins didn't again find the end zone in their 14-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

In a brief interview with ESPN 980 before leaving the locker room, Portis said he made the decision to play right before the game, after testing his knee well before the rest of his teammates took the field.

"Once you get adrenaline and all that going, you block out the pain," he said. "I'll sit back and be like, 'Ow, man,' [on Monday], but I'll be all right."
Whether the running game will recover its early-season form remains to be seen. When the Redskins were cruising last month, Portis was their engine, rushing for at least 120 yards in five straight games, four of which were wins. He led all NFL players with 616 yards from scrimmage in the month of October, and after the Redskins' victory over Detroit to close the month, he had 260 more rushing yards than any other back.

Then came the loss to Pittsburgh, in which the offense stagnated as Portis was held to 51 yards on the ground. He said his left knee stiffened in the days after the game, and he couldn't straighten his leg early last week, missing the entire week of practice.

"Actually, I was surprised that he played," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "If you looked at him earlier in the week or looked at him Friday, you would have thought no way. It just goes to show the toughness of the guy, how much he really is willing to be out there with his teammates and fight through all the pain and everything he was going through. . . . I kept asking him sometime was he all right, he kept saying he was fine, he was ready to go. Even in the huddle, he was still just acting like the normal Clinton. You couldn't tell if the guy really was hurt."

But Portis's injury became an issue in the fourth quarter. Backup Ladell Betts, who had missed three games with his own knee sprain, returned last night, but aggravated his injury just before the end of the third quarter.

"I really don't know what happened, I don't know if it got twisted or hit funny or what, but it just aggravated," said Betts, who said his knee was "not even close" to being 100 percent even before it was re-injured.

"It felt good enough to where I felt like I could go out here with my teammates and try to push through it," Betts said, but he didn't return in the fourth quarter and was walking gingerly after the game.

With Betts out, Portis was slow to get up during Washington's final drive, but after missing one play, he came back in.

"I know [I'll be sore], but I'll worry about that when it get here," Portis said. "I think I had an opportunity to get [out] and help my teammates, so I needed to be out there."

And his teammates appreciated the effort. The pass game was hurt by sacks and the inability to find open receivers, but teammates said that Portis's effort and work rate had not changed despite the injury.

"He certainly looked good as he ran past me a few times," guard Pete Kendall said. "He was running the ball downhill, particularly on that first drive, and he didn't seem much worse for the wear. I'm sure he was, but he looked good."

"I knew he was gonna play," fullback Mike Sellers said. "I know C.P. I know how he is. He's a fighter, he's not just going to sit out. C.P. did what C.P. can do when he was given the opportunity. He's always gonna be a fighter, he's always gonna play hard."

Redskins Coach Jim Zorn said that Portis's conditioning was likely affected from missing a week of practice, and television cameras showed him with an oxygen mask after halftime. He has lost the NFL rushing lead, and his team has lost two straight games. If the offense is to right itself, Portis will likely be part of the solution.

"He's a tough-nosed guy, he really is," center Casey Rabach said. "Anytime Clinton can go, it adds another dimension to this team. It's very unlikely that he was 100 percent, but we'll take him any way we can get him. Definitely a morale booster. Anytime we can get Clinton out on the field is good for us."


A look back at five of Ray Lewis' most memorable games

This week’s NFList takes a look back at five of Ray Lewis’ most memorable games through the eyes of two of his former coaches (ex-Ravens LB coach Maxie Baughan and head coach Brian Billick), a former competitor-turned-colleague (former Giants head coach Jim Fassel, who later served as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator) as well as Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

Here are the games, listed in chronological order. All statistics provided by the team; NFL official statistics may vary:  

1) Sept. 1, 1996: Lewis’ professional debut
Lewis’ stat line: nine tackles and an interception in the Ravens’ 19-14 win over Oakland, a performance for which Lewis earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Background: The game marked the return of the NFL to Baltimore after a 12-year absence. Maxie Baughan, in his first season coaching the Ravens’ linebackers after coaching the Buccaneers’ linebackers for four seasons, remembers the young Lewis fondly:

"We knew he could do some of the unusual things a linebacker does, and he proved it that day. (Lewis) could run underneath a block, whereas most players can’t do that, because they would (end up) behind the ballcarrier. That was one of the things that stood out more than anything about him. Plus, we knew he could take coaching.

"His total package, being Defensive Player of the Week (in his debut) and the interception, eight or nine solo tackles, that tells you have a darn good football player. His play was not a surprise to me, and his play since then wasn’t a surprise. I felt when I went down and worked him (at Miami, Fla.) that he could be what he was today.

"Only two teams were there (at the workout at Miami) — the Cardinals and the Ravens. In fact, he missed his plane. He was up in Lakeland, I guess, where he lived. We had to wait like three hours. … My wife was still in Tampa, and she went down there with me. It was a special workout. In fact, my wife said, 'I hope he’s worth this three-hour wait.' And I said, ‘He is.' ”

2) Sept. 14, 1997: Ravens tip Giants 24-23 as Lewis has career day
Stat line: 25 tackles, two passes defensed; earned PFW Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Background: By 1997, the Ravens had assembled the makings of an excellent front seven led by Lewis, who was improving by leaps and bounds in his second NFL season. Giants head coach Jim Fassel, then in his first season on the job, had this to say of Lewis:

"He’s got the rare combination. He’s got the tremendous athletic talent, but also the tremendous competitiveness. … It’s a rare, rare cat.

"They covered him up, and when they cover up your middle linebacker, he’s got to make plays. And he made them.”  
3) Jan. 7, 2001: Ravens beat Titans 24-10 in AFC divisional playoffs
Stat line: 12 tackles, one interception (Lewis’ legendary steal of the ball from Titans RB Eddie George, which he returned 50 yards for a touchdown, giving Baltimore a 17-10 fourth-quarter lead).

Background: The Ravens and Titans split a pair of games in regular-season play before meeting a third time in the postseason in one of the more memorable matchups in divisional-round history.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, then the club’s vice president of player personnel, drafted Lewis with the No. 27 pick in the 1996 draft. Here’s his recollection of one of Lewis’ greatest games: 

"I think you picked the game that has the one play in my mind. 

"We had played Tennessee a lot. The ability to control Eddie George was going to be the key to the game, as well as (Steve) McNair breaking out of the picket. Ray inserted himself into a position where every time Eddie got the ball, he was part of the tackle. And when Steve would break out of the pocket, he was there.

"They had converted some first downs in years past by dropping the ball off to Eddie George. … Ray willed himself to that interception. He was not going to be denied. It was a play that we needed to be made to win the game, and he willed himself to make the play.

4) Jan. 28, 2001: Ravens rout Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV
Lewis’ stat line: 11 tackles, four passes defended, game MVP honors.

Background: Less than a year after he was arrested and charged with murder in an incident that occurred hours after Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, Lewis led the Ravens to victory in Tampa. The murder charges were dropped, and Lewis eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, but the controversy followed the Ravens into their biggest game in franchise history.

Former Ravens head coach Brian Billick, in a memorable press conference on Super Bowl Media Day, staunchly defended Lewis and criticized the media for continuing to bring up the controversy. “As much as some of you want to, we are not going to retry that,” Billick said famously. “It's inappropriate, and you're not qualified.”

Billick, now an analyst for Fox, said the repeated recounting of the Lewis incident served to create an “us-against-the-world mentality.” He also noted that Lewis, known for his legendary intensity, took it to another level before the Super Bowl. “Ray was as driven and as focused as any player I’ve ever been around,” Billick said.

Fassel recalled the difficulty of preparing for Lewis and the Ravens’ defense — and how Lewis was one step ahead that entire game:

"I had talked to a couple of coaches, and the one thing they told me is, ‘They are faster than they look on tape.’ And I said, ‘Wait a second, they are fast on tape!’  

"He’d drop into zone coverage, and we couldn’t get anyone to run away from him. We’d throw the ball, and he’d be hitting them as the ball got there."

Billick remembered a defense for the ages playing with incredible confidence:

"They knew what New York was going to do before New York did. You knew they weren’t going to be able to run. It was recognition and anticipation. Here they were in a Super Bowl, and they wanted the shutout, and they would have got if it wasn’t for the kickoff return (by the Giants' Ron Dixon)."

5) Jan. 3, 2004: Titans tip Ravens 20-17 on last-minute field goal in AFC wild-card round
Stat line: 18 tackles (then a team postseason record — one he later broke) in the final game of a season in which he earned league Defensive MVP honors for a second time.

Background: Less than two years after the Ravens turned over much of the roster because of salary-cap concerns, they were back in the playoffs. Rex Ryan, then the club’s DL coach, recalled the club’s defensive strategy vs. Tennessee:

"We played a lot of straight, odd defense — just 3-4 defense — and it was more quarters coverage. Basically he was having to two-gap guards that game, but he did it, and he was still an awesome player. He was making plays everywhere. He tried to will us to victory, but they got us in the last (minute)."


Tanard Davis Released, Ortega Put on Active Roster

New Orleans Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis announced Sunday that the team has placed defensive tackle Brian Young on the reserve/injured list. Taking his place on the roster will be tight end Buck Ortega, who was signed from the Saints’ practice squad.

The Saints also released cornerback Tanard Davis from the practice squad and re-signed defensive tackle Remi Ayodele to take his spot.


McGahee could have returned to action

According to a team official, Willis McGahee (ankle) could have returned to Sunday's action if necessary.
The Ravens pulled McGahee in the third quarter after he rushed nine times for just 18 yards and caught two passes for seven. At that point, the Ravens were getting blown out, and apparently decided to play it safe with their running back. It sounds like he'll be fine for Week 12.


Andre Johnson Contained Again

The Houston Chronicle reports Texans WR Andre Johnson, who had nine catches for 131 yards the first time he played the Colts this season, was held to four catches for 55 yards yesterday against Indianapolis. He hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game since Oct. 26 against Cincinnati. Johnson said the coverage wasn't drastically different from the first time around against the Colts. "They had the safety over the top a little bit more than they did (last time)," Johnson said. "But other than that, it wasn't really a big deal."


Hester yanked off kick returns

Bears special teams coach Dave Toub pulled Devin Hester off kick returns in favor of Danieal Manning in the second half of Sunday's loss to Green Bay.
Toub wanted "a spark," which is what Hester used to add. Manning, who led the league in preseason return yards, has averaged 26.5 yards a return this year to Hester's 21.8. Opponents now kick right at Hester, which may be the most telling sign that his special teams production is at an all-time low.


Feagles and Carney still kicking in NFL at 40-plus

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Finding Jeff Feagles and John Carney in the New York Giants' locker room isn't hard.

The first hint might be the contents of their lockers. Look for the ones with the bottles of Geritol, the packages of Depend undergarments and the occasional AARP memberships offers, all courtesy of their young teammates.

If that isn't enough, ask linebacker and long snapper Zak DeOssie where to find them.

"You mean 'Pops' and 'Grandpa?'" DeOssie said.

And if that doesn't lead to Carney and Feagles, just look for the two bald guys who look more like assistant coaches than football players.
President Bush mistook Feagles for a coach when the Giants were honored for their Super Bowl championship at the White House in April.

If it sounds like Feagles and Carney are a little out of place, in a sense they are. They are defying Mother Nature as the oldest active players in the NFL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Carney, 44, is the place-kicker. The 42-year-old Feagles is the punter and the holder on extra points and field goals

Don't feel sorry for the old guys. They are special special teams guys.

Carney, signed before the start of the season when Lawrence Tynes injured a knee, is leading the NFL with 90 points. He has hit all 27 of his extra points and 21 of 22 field goal attempts. The only one he missed was blocked.

Feagles is seventh in the league in punting with a net average of 39.8 yards.

"I am more afraid to fail than anything and that is what has kept me working hard and taking each game one by one and concentrating on the offseason to see what I can do to get better," Feagles said. "That's what has kept me around so long."

There are at least six Giants coaches that are younger than Feagles and Carney, including special teams coach Tom Quinn, their boss.
Jay Alford, who snaps on the field goal and extra point attempts, laughs about both players being old enough to be his father.

"Both of them make my job so easy," Alford said. "They may be old, but they work out hard. John is 44 and when we are practicing there are times you'll see him running the escalators in the stadium. It's weird. He doesn't have to do that, but he does."

Feagles is the same way, and remarkably he might be in the best shape of his career, thanks to his son, C.J., who recently agreed to attend North Carolina as a punter. He will play for Butch Davis, one of Feagles coaches when he attended Miami in the 1980s.

"By working with his technique for the last year and a half it has forced me to do things I have to do," Feagles said. "It's a refresher course. Usually I put the balls away at the end of the season and doesn't touch them until May. This year I was in unbelievable shape."

Feagles and Carney are both are in their 21st NFL season, tying them for fourth overall for longest tenure in the league with three others. They admit special teams have changed over the past two decades.

Where either a tight end or lineman was the snapper when they started in 1988, now every team has at least one snapper, along with kick returners and coverage people.

"If you look at the best special teams units, those coaches will have a handful of playmakers that the coach and management allow him to keep," Carney said. "They may never get in the mix to be a starter, but they are special teams aces who make special plays throughout the year."

One thing that hasn't changed is that the kickers work on their own. They get about 10 minutes with the team and then do their own thing, watching videotapes, lifting, stretching and kicking.

"If somebody said we had to do as much as the other guys we probably would not know what to do with ourselves," Feagles said. "... Out of sight, out of mind is our motto."

These old guys do fit in, though.

Rookie safety Kenny Phillips, the youngest player on the team at 21, said the old-timers "carry themselves like they are young men. They have a good time, but it is definitely weird seeing them on the team." "I just try to act more immature so I can fit in," Carney quipped. "The guys are great. You expect the razzing and the hazing because some of them are young enough to almost be your son, but it's fun. I have had an opportunity to play with a couple of different generations and it's been exciting to see young guys come in, enter the league and watch them mature into veterans."

Neither Carney nor Feagles seems concerned about the future.

"Once you get to a certain age, you take it year by year," Feagles said. "If you have an organization like the Giants that believes I can do things at my age, that makes it a lot easier."

Added Carney: "I just feel fortunate and blessed and I thank God for the ability, perseverance and the opportunities. It has been a great ride and as long as I feel physically capable, I will try to push the limits."


Brewers' Braun mines first Silver Slugger Award

Had Ryan Braun not had to endure a ribcage injury during the final six weeks of the 2008 season, there's no telling what his final offensive numbers would have been.

As it was, the Milwaukee Brewers' leftfielder was productive enough to win his first Silver Slugger Award. Those awards, given annually to the top offensive performers at each position in both leagues, were announced Thursday.

Braun, who will be 25 on Monday, was named to the National League outfield with St. Louis' Ryan Ludwick and Colorado's Matt Holliday, who was traded to Oakland earlier in the week.

"It's certainly an honor to be included with those two guys because they had phenomenal years," said Braun, reached in Puerto Rico while on a sponsor trip with other major-leaguers.

"Whenever you get an award at the end of the year, it means you were consistent during the season and helped your team win. It means a lot to me."

The awards, sponsored by Louisville Slugger, were determined by a vote of major-league coaches and managers who selected players they thought were the best offensive producers at each position. Selections were based on a combination of statistics including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, as well as general impressions of a player's overall offensive value.

In 151 games, Braun batted .285 with 37 home runs and 106 RBI, with 39 doubles, seven triples and a .553 slugging percentage. He ranked first in the NL with 83 extra-base hits, second with 338 total bases, tied for fourth in homers, was fifth in slugging percentage and tied for ninth in RBI.
Braun did all of that while playing since late August with an intercostal strain near his ribcage, which affected his swing and limited him to a .208 batting average in September with only three homers and 11 RBI.

Still, it was Braun's two-run, eighth-inning homer on the final day of the season that propelled the Brewers to a 3-1 victory over Chicago and the NL wild-card playoff berth.

"Injuries are a part of the game but it was definitely frustrating," said Braun, only the third Brewer to win a Silver Slugger Award since 1990. Outfielder Carlos Lee won in 2005 and first baseman Prince Fielder won in 2007.

"If I was 100%, my numbers probably would have been a little better. There's nothing I can do about that."

Braun said the intercostal strain has completely healed but he has pushed back his off-season program a month to early December to provide more rest and be stronger entering spring training.

"I talked to some other players on this trip, like Ken Griffey Jr., and they said they do their baseball stuff a little later," Braun said. "They said it helps you stay stronger through the end of (the next season)."


Huff wins Silver Slugger Award

The Orioles' Aubrey Huff was awarded the Silver Slugger award Thursday as the top designated hitter in the American League. The award, voted on by coaches and managers, is given to the best offensive producer at each position in both leagues.

It's the first Silver Slugger award for Huff, who became the eighth different Oriole to garner the honor and the first since shortstop Miguel Tejada did it in 2005.

"It's a tremendous honor for me and something I've always wanted to win," said Huff, who led the A.L. with 82 extra-base hits to go along with 32 home runs and 108 RBIs. "Some guys try to win a Gold Glove, but as a DH, this is the ultimate honor for an offensive player."

Braun third in NL MVP balloting

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun did not win the National League's Most Valuable Player Award on Monday, but if he stays on the same career path, he will someday.

Coming off his first full season in the big leagues, Braun placed third with 139 points in the Baseball Writers' Association of America's balloting system and was one of three Brewers to place. Left-hander CC Sabathia was sixth with 121 votes despite playing only half of the season in the NL, and first baseman Prince Fielder, last year's third-place finisher, was 20th with 11 votes.

The winner was Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, who won his second career NL MVP award and beat second-place finisher Ryan Howard of the Phillies by 61 votes. Pujols had 18 first-place votes and 369 total votes to Howard's 12 and 308.

Thirty-two BBWAA members cast ballots ranking players from first to 10th for the award, and Braun appeared on 25 ballots. He received two second-place votes and ranked as low as 10th on one ballot and received one more point than Dodgers' midseason acquisition Manny Ramirez, who totaled 138 points.

The balloting system rewards 14 points for first place, nine for second, eight for third and on down to one point for 10th place.

The Brewers had not placed multiple top-10 vote-getters since 1982, when Robin Yount won the American League MVP Award, Cecil Cooper placed fifth and Gorman Thomas was eighth. The AL champion Brewers actually had six top-20 finishers that year, with Paul Molitor running 12th, Rollie Fingers 16th and Pete Vukovich 18th.

Braun, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, batted .285 with 37 home runs and 106 RBIs this past season. He led the league with 83 extra-base hits despite playing much of the final two months of the regular season with a lower back injury that limited his range of motion and affected his swing. He also won a Silver Slugger Award last week.

Sabathia might have won MVP honors with more time in the NL. Acquired from the Cleveland Indians on July 7, Sabathia was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in his 17 Brewers starts, including a league-best seven complete games. He actually received more second- or third-place votes (nine) than Braun (five) but appeared on only 20 ballots

Fielder hit .276 with 34 homers and 102 RBIs and was Milwaukee's hottest hitter in September, when he batted 316 with six home runs and 21 RBIs to help the Brewers clinch the NL Wild Card. Fielder appeared on four ballots, as high as sixth.