Devin Hester struggling to make offensive impact

Devin Hester has just seven receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown in his last 11 games.

It begs the question, "Why is he still starting?" His 29-yard catch in the season opener was his only offensive play over 20 yards in that 11-game stretch. The Bears have refused to accept Hester's offensive limitations for several years now, giving the team a competitive disadvantage. It's only a matter of time before Alshon Jeffery's role increases.

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Antrel Rolle suffers knee laceration in fourth quarter

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Part of the Giants' euphoria from their big 36-7 win over the Panthers was dampened by the sight of safety Antrel Rolle being helped off the field in the fourth quarter after a collision with a photographer.

Rolle was running full speed toward the end zone to cover Greg Olsen on a pass that was overthrown by Cam Newton. Olsen ran into the photographer and tumbled to the ground, but Rolle tried to hurdle her and his knee appeared to hit the lens of the camera. He was helped to his feet and ushered to the sideline by trainers for a brief examination, then quickly carted to the locker room.

The Giants announced that Rolle suffered a laceration to his knee, but he also was having the joint X-rayed. Tom Coughlin and Rolle both said he is not expected to miss any time.

"I was trying to jump over the camera," Rolle said. "I guess I wasn't as successful as I wanted to be."

The Giants are already thin in their secondary, but most of their injuries have been at cornerback. That included Thursday night when rookie Jayron Hosley left the game with a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter. Corey Webster missed a series in the first half having his hand X-rayed, but returned to the game with a cast protecting a broken bone. Webster said he expects to be able to play with the cast in future games.

In the spirit of the evening, Rolle's replacement, Stevie Brown, had an interception in the end zone shortly after taking the field for his first defensive snaps of the season.

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Lamar Miller to stay active in Week 3?

The Miami Herald suggests that Lamar Miller has a chance to stay active this week even though Daniel Thomas (concussion) has been cleared.
Miller was extremely impressive in NFL debut last week, shredding the Raiders for 65 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries. The problem is that Miller can't play on third downs because the coaches don't trust him in protection. We still suspect Thomas has the edge on backup duties here.

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Leonard Hankerson coming off 'best game yet'

Redskins OC Kyle Shanahan said WR Leonard Hankerson had his "best game yet" in Week 2.

In addition to his 68-yard touchdown, Hankerson was cited for several key blocks away from the ball. After Aldrick Robinson hogged the "X" receiver snaps when Pierre Garcon exited in Week 1, Hankerson earned a timeshare versus the Rams last week. It's noteworthy, as Hank had spent the summer practicing at the "Z" spot. Neither player is an attractive WR3 option in Week 3. If forced to choose between the two in deeper leagues, we would side with Hank Time.

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Kellen Winslow looking to make most of opportunity with Patriots

Kellen Winslow Jr.isn't Chad Johnson. So there were no wild proclamations about landing in heaven or being given his angel wings during Winslow's first meeting with the New England media, but it sounds like the tight end may have found his version of nirvana.

"I've never been in a situation like this. They do things and they practice and play the game like you're supposed to," said Winslow, who previously played for Cleveland and Tampa Bay. "Teams model themselves after the Patriots."

Those exact words, or some variation, have been uttered so often by incoming players that they border on becoming cliche, but something about Winslow's demeanor breathed substance into the typically hollowing offering.

Maybe it's because the recent turmoil he's faced could be felt in his voice or that he stopped to let his eyes grow wide before proclaiming that the Patriots "use tight ends the right way." Whatever the case, Winslow seems genuinely grateful for the his latest opportunity after being released by Seattle in late August.
And make no mistake, being dumped by the Seahawks still hurts.

"With what happened in Seattle ... I can't say much about what happened, man," said Winslow, who caught 75 passes for 763 yards last season for Tampa Bay. "It is what it is. I have to move on."

What led to his exile from Seattle is likely the same reason gates didn't open in Foxborough when he visited the Patriots two weeks ago. Teams are scared of his right knee, which has been operated on at least five times since a 2005 motorcycle accident.

Winslow didn't fail his physical with the Patriots, as was previously reported, but they were concerned enough with his health that the tight end believed the door shut behind him when he left town.

"It just didn't work out," he said.

The doubters have motivated Winslow. He knows that he wouldn't be in New England if Aaron Hernandez hadn't suffered a low-ankle sprain that is expected to keep him out for at least four games, and that he has to prove his knee can hold up through Halloween if his spot in nirvana is become more than a sublet.

But those concerns may not be fair. Winslow is quick to note that he hasn't missed a game since 2008 and that he he's been unfairly labeled as a permanent injury risk, though he does admit that he every time he takes the field he does so with a great deal of pain.

"I would say will, man. Overcome," Winslow said when asked how he fights through the pain. "It's my dream to play. Like I said, if I was missing games every year or something like that, it would be true."

Now Winslow has to overcome more than just his pain. He needs to conquer the Patriots' playbook -- "it's extensive," Winslow said -- in a short period of time if he hopes to make any type of impact filling in for Hernandez.

He's only been in the system for a day, but Winslow feels that he's making progress, though he wasn't willing to say if he would be ready in time for Sunday's game against Baltimore.

"We'll see. It's just my job to make plays when it comes to me and I just have to get the offense down," Winslow said. "I have a lot of work to do."

He does. But, for perhaps the first time in his career, the payoff could amount to more than individual accolades. Just having that chance, for many veteran players, is the very definition of nirvana.

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During his time in the NFL and with Colts, Edgerrin James did it his way

Before the first of his record 2,188 rushing attempts with the Indianapolis Colts, Edgerrin James was a rookie running back on a mission.
He wanted to make a difference.

“It was always important to me to leave a lasting impression on everybody,” James said in a recent phone interview with The Indianapolis Star.

“I wanted people to say, ‘He did it the right way. He didn’t compromise who he was. He didn’t compromise where he was from. He did things his way, but it also was the right way.'"

For seven of his 11 NFL seasons, James did it his way with the Colts. He was personable and quotable off the field, relentless and reliable on it. He joined the Colts as the fourth-overall draft pick in 1999 and left in 2006 as a free agent and the franchise’s career rushing leader.

On Sunday, James will become the ninth member of the team’s Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Current Colts receiver Reggie Wayne described the decision as a “no-brainer.” He was first exposed to James’ persona at the University of Miami. From 2001-05, he and James were Colts teammates.

“He’s the right guy to put up there,” Wayne said. “Whenever you get in any kind of Ring of Honor, it’s saying you were part of the foundation of something and you did something people saw as unbelievable. You made a difference. I don’t see it happening to anyone better.”

While James’ place in Colts’ history is undeniable, it begs another question: Is he worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

“Oh, there’s no doubt,” said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the Colts’ quarterbacks coach for James’ first two seasons. “First ballot. Has to be with all the things he did early in his career.

“As good as there’s ever been, in my opinion. He’s in the top five or six backs to ever play the game.”

James has the credentials. He ranks No. 11 in NFL history in rushing and No. 13 in yards from scrimmage. He’s one of only four players to rush for 1,500 yards at least four times. The others: Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson.

James won league rushing titles his first two seasons. He was on pace for a third straight title in 2001 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury at Kansas City in Week 6.

Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, now with Denver, benefited from James’ all-around skills — running, receiving, forceful blocking in pass protection. He doesn’t have a vote in the process, but is quick to lobby those who do.

“Edgerrin was the complete back,” Manning wrote in an email to The Star. “Run, block, catch; he could do it all. He was an extremely smart football player as well. I always knew I could count on him.

“He was also the best teammate I ever played with. Unselfish, accountable, tough as nails.I feel honored and privileged to say that I played ball with Edgerrin James. He was that good and that special.’’

Hall of Fame worthy?

“Absolutely,” Manning said, “100 percent he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

James doesn’t bother to disguise his own bias.

“When you look at everything I’ve done, there’s no doubt I should be somewhere in the discussion of getting in,” he said.

James last played with Seattle in 2009 and will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2015.

Whether there’s a place in Canton, Ohio, for a bust of James will be determined by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 44-member selection committee, which includes The Star.

A sampling of committee members makes it clear James deserves “to be in the room” when the 15 finalists are discussed, but hardly is a slam-dunk choice.

“His credentials are definitely worthy of being debated,” said Ron Borges of the Boston Herald, summing up the committee’s sentiments. “... certainly he should get the chance to have a fair airing at some point.”

James spends much of his time in what he describes as his “Florida triangle of Miami, Orlando and Naples. He stays on the move, but always has time for his six children —– Quisha, 15; Eyahna, 11; Emani, 9; Eden, 8; Edgerrin Jr., 7; and Euro, 5.

Having his legacy validated with inclusion in the Ring of Honor — perhaps even the Pro Football of Fame — carries immense meaning.

“Because of my kids,” James said. “My boys play ball and they hear about their dad, but they never really got a chance to see me play. Things like (the Ring of Honor) lets them know that dad was pretty good.

“I try to get them to work hard at whatever they’re doing. This right here shows them that if you work hard, it pays off. It shows them I kind of knew what I was doing.”

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Ray Lewis documentary paints an off-field picture of veteran LB

A different side of Ray Lewis was portrayed in the NFL Films documentary, "A Football Life: Ray Lewis" that premiered Wednesday night on the NFL network.

The hour-long presentation featured two relationships he's had off the field that showed a softer side to the linebacker fans have seen on the gridiron for 17 seasons.

Lewis welcomed Sgt. First Class Allen Wiseman for practice after Wiseman contacted the Ravens about his story in Afghanistan. Normally, Wiseman wore his Ray Lewis jersey underneath his combat gear when he was on a mission, but wasn't able to the day his helicopter was shot down.

He sustained a bullet wound and received a Purple Heart after surviving. As a gift, Wiseman gave his Purple Heart to Lewis as a thank you for what he's done to the Baltimore community and for how he's led the football team.

Another relationship prominently shown was one Lewis had with Dundalk, Md. resident and longtime Ravens fan Bill Warble, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. During the 2011 season, Lewis spent time with Warble's family and invited him out to a practice days before the AFC Championship game in New England.

Lewis introduced former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, to Warble, who was sitting in his motorized wheelchair hooked up to an oxygen tank.

“I ain't gonna die until we win the Super Bowl," Warble told Pagano.

The Patriots defeated the Ravens 23-20 that week. Sadly, Warble passed away in 2012.

“Papa Bill changed my perspective about what you complain about, what you don't complain about," Lewis said on the show.

The Ravens lost to the Patriots 23-20 that week.

Lewis was mic'd throughout the 2011 season, even when he was on the football field. When he injured his toe against Seattle, he told Ed Reed he broke it (it was later deemed a turf toe injury). Local media didn't see Lewis at the facility in the following weeks because he was at his south Florida home rehabbing, with the NFL Films camera crew alongside.

Lewis also spent a considerable amount of time with his children, attending his sons football games and working out with his daughter. In one scene, he's playing the board game Monopoly with them, to which his sons deemed him a cheater.

Linebacker Jameel McClain watched the hour-long special Wednesday night and offered one thought about what he saw.

"He wouldn't cheat me in Monopoly," McClain said.

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Kellen Winslow talks pain, playbook, and Aaron Hernandez

FOXBOROUGH -- Newly-signed tight end Kellen Winslow sees some similarities between himself and the player some might assume he was brought in to replace, Aaron Hernandez.

The Patriots announced on Wednesday that Winslow had been signed, and with Hernandez expected to be out indefinitely with an ankle injury, there should be an opportunity for the eight-year veteran to make a contribution.

Like Deion Branch, also signed this week, Winslow said he had chances to land elsewhere. Why the Patriots?

"It was a good fit. I've never been in this kind of situation," Winslow said before Thursday's practice. "But a situation arose where Aaron got hurt, and we're kind of similar, so I'm going to come in here and help out."


"You just have to watch tape, but yeah, there's some similarities there," Winslow said. "He's probably one of the most versatile tight ends in the game, if not the most. He goes all around the field. He can play any position. He's very versatile in what he does and he's smart. He's a very good player."

Winslow spent his first five seasons with Cleveland, and the past three in Tampa Bay. He was released by the Seahawks during the final cut-down day last month following a preseason where he caught three passes, including a touchdown.

One of the reasons floated for Winslow's release was because of lingering knee concerns. He chose not to disclose what the Seahawks told him when they let him go -- "It doesn't matter, I'm moving on" -- but admitted that his knees hurt when he plays. A lot.

"The thing I concentrate on is not missing games, because then there is nothing held against me," said Winslow, who has played in all 16 games five of the past six seasons.

He's had success with the two teams he's played with so far, and the Patriots have built quite the tight end-centric offense. Winslow might eventually be a very good fit, but has spent the majority of his time so far learning the team's plays.

"At the end of the day, football is football. What they're doing here, the volume of the playbook is a lot. It's going to take some time to get used to," Winslow said. "It's verbage and getting used to the calls, getting used to Tom's cadence."

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Sam Shields Quietly Returning to Form

The cameras focused on Clay Matthews destroying Jay Cutler, the announcers raved about Tramon Williams shutting out Brandon Marshall, and fans cheered as the Packers took a 10-0 halftime lead on the Bears after a surprise field goal resulted in a touchdown.

Meanwhile, Sam Shields kept silently plugging away.

Shields spent most of his time tracking Alshon Jeffry, helping to limit the rookie to one catch for seven yards.  Shields never did anything flashy — the Packers had Matthews, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams to make the big plays. The third-year CB just did what the Packers needed him to do: Be fundamentally sound in pass coverage and get physical if needed.

The physical part started against San Francisco, as documented by Rob Demovsky here and highlighted in the video below.

In case you don’t believe what you just saw, that was Shields going hard after the ballcarrier (Frank Gore, nonetheless) and stopping him short of a first down. We didn’t see Shields stick his nose in there like that last season, and it’s a major reason why Shields had to fight to get his job back this season.

Shields played 60 of 63 snaps against the Bears and was only targeted once (on a pass to Devin Hester). After catching three passes for 80 yards in the season opener, Jeffry never sniffed the ball with Shields on him.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said that the Bears game was one of Shields’ best “since he got here.”

Maybe some competition was just what Shields needed. As an undrafted rookie fighting to make the team, Shields looked like the next great Ted Thompson find in 2010. With some job security and a Super Bowl ring on his resume, Shields tumbled in 2011.

Jarrett Bush got the start over Shields against the 49ers and guys like Casey Hayward and Davon House pushed Shields all throughout training camp. Once he gets healthy, House will likely continue to try and take as much playing time away from Shields as possible.

Competition is a good thing. Who knows? Maybe Shields will go back to his passive self. Every defender played well against the Bears. That’s not going to happen every week.

I’d still like to see how Shields reacts when the ball is in the air and he needs to go up to make a play. He’s looked more aggressive tackling, but he also needs to be aggressive and physical when he’s going up for a jump ball against a wide receiver.

We might not have noticed how well Shields played on Thursday, but if he keeps showing signs of being the promising player he once was, we’ll notice soon enough.

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Colts writers offer their favorite memories of Edgerrin James

Indianapolis Star sportswriters offer their personal remembrances of Edgerrin James.

Mike Chappell
It’s easy to summon a sampling Edge’s on-field highlights, the type that makes his addition to the Colts’ Ring of Honor a no-brainer.

But Edge transcended the playing field.

I laugh every time I think of him paying off a lost bet with linebacker Sam Sword and Rodregis Brooks on a 2001 Yankees-Diamondbacks World Series game. He ponied up by dragging two large buckets filled with pennies into the locker room and setting them in front of each winner’s cubicle: 50,000 pennies ($500) for Sword, 10,000 for Brooks.

I smile when I recall a conversation we once shared. I asked Edge what he planned on doing when he retired.

“I’ll be a tourist. Full time,” he said. “Just do whatever. You know tourists. They don’t know where they’re going, but they’re going to have a good time.”

And my appreciation for him grows when I remember visiting him in his hometown of Immokalee, Fla., to gauge his recovery from knee surgery that curtailed his 2001 season. He took me on a tour of his Fun House. He invested his time and money to transform two buildings that had been hangouts for druggies and thugs into a YMCA-like facility for the neighbor kids and a weight room for himself.

Phil Richards
How to choose when the memories are so many.

I’ll take Edge’s rookie year, 1999, a tight, tough game on a dreary October afternoon at Giants Stadium. He was playing with the effects of a separated shoulder suffered the week before against Miami, and when he picked himself up after a third-quarter collision, he had another issue.

His left ring finger jutted at a grotesque angle and he shrieked with red-hot pain. Edge wasn’t coming out. He grabbed the dislocated digit with his right hand, yanked, and snapped it back into place.

His were the hands in which the Colts entrusted the ball and the ball game when they needed to put away the New York Jets while killing the clock. He carried six times for 25 yards on the grinding 10-play, 35-yard drive that led to Mike Vanderjagt’s field goal with 14 seconds to play.

The 16-13 victory was the first of 11 straight for the Colts in a turn-the-corner 13-3 season during which Edge rushed for an NFL-best 1,553 yards.

He was, or is, tough, killer competitive and so many things the gold teeth and spray of unkempt hair belied: bright, honest, warm, engaging, fun, funny, unique.

Edge’s greatest gift is the one he gives so freely. You always walk away from him feeling good.

Phillip B. Wilson
It became a thrill-seeking imperative to try to hook up with Edge during the Colts’ trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLI in 2007. But catching up to the fun-loving dude was anything but easy.

He was going to be at the Hard Rock Café and Casino in Hollywood, Fla. One thing about Edge, when he goes “clubbing,” he’s a night owl. Text messages continued upon my arrival. He wasn’t on location yet.

Edge didn’t arrive until 1:55 a.m. Saturday, but had hopped to another club. When we thought we had him tracked down, I wasn’t allowed in because I was wearing shorts. My colleagues couldn’t gain access to where he was hanging out.

We gave up and were walking to the parking lot when Edge texted again. Our last chance was the Blue Plate Diner at 4:35 a.m. He stood up and hollered from 20 yards away, “What up, man!”

We talked for 30 minutes about his days in Indy and how he was confident the Colts would defeat the Chicago Bears.

“The Colts are still my team,” Edge said, although he was then with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Colts will always be his team. And Edge will always be one of my favorites.

Bob Kravitz
My favorite memories of Edge usually came off the field rather than on it.

In the locker room, he was one of the funniest and most engaging guys you’d ever want to meet. He was honest, he was without guile, he spoke from the heart.

I remember when we asked him about the Colts’ Japan trip, and he said, “The closest I’m getting to Japan is going to a Benihana.”

As a player, he was one of the last of the Mohicans, a true every-down back who could run, catch passes and block. I think the latter was one of his great, unappreciated attributes, his ability to pick up a blitz and keep Peyton Manning clean. I thought he lost a little of his burst after the knee problem in 2001, but he was still always good for four, five yards a pop. I would think he was stopped after a 2-yard gain, but somehow, with those legs churning and that amazing forward lean, he always seemed to squeeze extra yards out of that run.

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Whirlwind for Kellen Winslow

FOXBORO — The last two days, tight end Kellen Winslow has darted in and out of the Patriots [team stats]’ locker room, trying to assimilate himself as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, it’s been the simple stuff, briskly walking to the equipment room to pick up cleats and new team apparel. Other times, it’s been for a quick meeting to better understand the lay of the land.

And during those precious free moments, he has gotten a chance to take a seat at his locker and bury himself in the playbook. For someone like Winslow, a 29-year-old former Pro Bowler who is trying to find a permanent role on his third team in five months, there can’t be any wasted time.

“I’ve been in the playbook nonstop,” Winslow said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. I’m just trying to get the offense down and try to find my way in the offense.”
Winslow didn’t seem frantic or overwhelmed yesterday when he took a few minutes to chat. He simply came across as a guy who wanted to make the most of a big-time situation.

He said he had been in contact with a couple of other teams, but Winslow saw an opportunity to join the Patriots after Aaron Hernandez went down with an ankle injury. Since the two tight ends are similarly athletic and versatile in their ability to line up in different spots, Winslow believed he could carve out a role for himself in Hernandez’s absence.

“It’s how tight ends should be used, and they do a good job,” Winslow said of the way the Patriots have employed Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. “They do a real good job.”

The chances of it happening are a great unknown. Recent seasons have shown how difficult it can be for a player to walk in and immediately find success with Tom Brady [stats]. Then again, tight ends have an obviously significant role in the Patriots’ offense, so Winslow will get his chance if he has a good first week of practice.

When asked how to make himself stick out on an offense that is overstocked with tight ends, Winslow simply said, “Just make plays, and they’ll find a way.”

Another question has been Winslow’s surgically repaired knee, though he has heard about that one for years. And still, he hasn’t missed a game since 2008. Winslow smiled when asked about the amount of pain that he has played through in his career.

“The thing I concentrate on is not missing games because then there’s nothing to hold against me,” said Winslow, who noted he did not work out for the Pats during his first visit earlier this month.

And then, Winslow scurried away one more time. There was still work to do.

Safety plan

Patriots practice squad safety Cyhl Quarles is earning his money this week. The undrafted rookie was with the Ravens from May through training camp, so he has taken it upon himself to give Brady a good look on the scout team defense, emulating both Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard.

To be fair, Brady has gotten a decent grasp of the Ravens’ defense in the teams’ four meetings since 2009, and that will ultimately be more helpful than Quarles’ information. But still, Quarles has taken pride in his role this week.

“Showing different blitzes and coming out,” Quarles said of the looks he has presented at practice. “Say if I’ve got to blitz on one side and come out and show some cover-2. Or show like I’m coming down in a fire zone then back out to cover-2, or show I’ve got a cover-2 then go back to the middle third. Stuff like that, simple things.”

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Vince Wilfork: Patriots need 'perfect game' vs. Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens already have the New England Patriots' attention.

Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork is part of a Patriots team that snuck past the Ravens in January's AFC Championship Game. That playoff loss seemed to galvanize Baltimore, and Wilfork is expecting a battle on "Sunday Night Football."

"We're going to have to play almost a perfect game to walk away on the road Sunday night with a victory," Wilfork told The Boston Globe. "This is a good Baltimore football team, we've seen over the years, but I think this team now is stacked, probably one of the best teams that Baltimore's had."

The Globe pointed out that Wilfork is one of just four Patriots still on the roster from the last time New England traveled to Baltimore in 2007, a game the Patriots won 27-24.

It's annoying to hear pundits pounce on a Week 3 affair as potential "playoff preview" material. Let it breath. Besides, nobody will be caught off-guard if these two are playing in January.

This one is intriguing because -- along with the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the Ravens and Patriots are among the conference's most consistent teams. Sunday night is a glimpse at two unshakeable philosophies, with future Hall of Famers embedded on both sides and a building hatred for one another.

Sign us up.

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Tim George Jr Applebee's Visit Florence, Ky

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Yonder Alonso reflects on "long, tough" rookie season

PHOENIX — Yonder Alonso says nothing he learned in the minor leagues prepared him for the day-to-day grind of a major league baseball season.

“The biggest thing you don’t know about before you get here is the everyday pressure of the game,” the Padres' 25-year-old, rookie first baseman said recently.
“You can’t take days off mentally in the major leagues. You can’t hide. If you do, a 1-for-4 becomes a 1-for-27. You have to prepare yourself every day. And I don’t think that’s something you recognize right away.

“I was about half way through this season before I fully understood what I needed to do . . . how I needed to prepare myself mentally. And that’s what it’s all about, mental preparation.

“Nothing in the minors gets you ready for that part. In the minors, no one has a book on you. Here everyone has a book. Eventually, you create a book. About a month into the season, I realized I had to gear up, but I still didn’t realize what that totally meant.”

Although Alonso’s name hasn’t drawn much attention in regards to the National League Rookie of the Year award – Phoenix left-handed starting pitcher Wade Miley, Washington outfielder Bryce Harper, Colorado catcher Wilin Rosario and the Cincinnati infield duo of Todd Frazier and Zach Cozart – Alonso has had a solid season.

Two hits Thursday afternoon gave him a rookie-leading 140 on the season and raised his batting average to .278. He also leads all National League rookies in doubles (35) and walks (58), ranks third in RBI (56) and on-base percentage (.352) and is fifth in extra-base hits (43) and total bases (199).

“Talent only gets you so far,” Alonso said looking back on his first full season.

“This is the most games I’ve ever played. And it’s day after day. I’ve learned you have to separate things. Not dwell on the things that go wrong, stay balanced, even keel. You can’t panic when things aren’t going your way. Eventually good times will come.

“The whole year was tough as a learning experience. But that first month, it was really rough, handling that losing. You can hide things better when you are winning. Things were really going bad early.

“We overcame a lot of things. We’re going to be good. It’s just a matter of time. There’s a lot of good young talent.”

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VIDEO: Olivier Vernon knocks Coye Francis back to Cleveland

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Tomlin very pleased with DeMarcus Van Dyke

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said former Raiders cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke “has been an awesome surprise for us.”

“He has done a nice job for us, man,” Tomlin said. “He’s added some quality plays for us, just in two ballgames. He downed a punt in Denver on the 1-yard line. He prevented a ball from getting downed at the 1-yard line for us last week. He blew up a punt return and that created a turnover. He’s really just beginning the process of acclimating himself to the defense and hopefully he can be an asset there as well.”

Tomlin said “we don’t care what happened with (Van Dyke)” in Oakland. “He has done a nice job working, and is diligent and detailed.”

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Calais Campbell: Player of week, and beyond

NFC West teams used 2008 second-round draft choices for Donnie Avery (St. Louis), John Carlson (Seattle) and Chilo Rachal (San Francisco).

The division landed one other second-rounder that year: Calais Campbell, chosen 50th overall by Arizona.

Campbell is the only one of the four remaining with his original team. The defensive end is also the NFC's defensive player of the week after collecting two sacks, three quarterback hits and 10 tackles during the Cardinals' 20-18 victory at New England in Week 2.

As the Cardinals noted in their news release, Campbell becomes the first player in team history to receive such an honor in multiple categories. He was previously named the NFC's top special-teams player following a 2009 game against Jacksonville.

The 6-foot-8 Campbell blocked a field goal in Arizona's opening-week victory over Seattle. He blocked three last season and has blocked six for his career.

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Adewale Ojomo Out Again This Week

New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks will miss the team’s game tomorrow night at the Carolina Panthers because of a foot injury, ruled out along with running back Ahmad Bradshaw, wide receiver Domenik Hixon and offensive tackle David Diehl.

Defensive end Adewale Ojomo, with a hamstring injury, also will miss the game, the team said.

Both the Giants and Panthers, who beat the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, are 1-1 this season.

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Spencer Adkins Gets Workout

The Chicago Bears brought in five linebackers for workouts on Tuesday, fueling suspicion that the team is unsatisfied with its depth at that position. The five linebackers were Spencer Adkins, Rennie Curran, Jerry Franklin, Omar Gaither and Lawrence Wilson, most of whom were cut by their respective teams prior to this season. The team also worked out DBs Dante Hughes and Bryan McCann.

Though the Bears working out these players may seem like a signal that a move is imminent, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune says that it's in fact a pretty routine procedure.

First of all, a lot of teams do this and many more so than the Bears. They will bring players in - sometimes as many as two dozen - and get a look at them in a workout. The Patriots are notorious for bringing in large numbers of players for tryouts. It helps them update personnel information on players they have only seen in college or players they have only seen on tape with other teams.

It is, as Biggs elaborates, more about due diligence and being prepared for the future than anything.

The tryouts help the personnel department sharpen up emergency lists and allow it to evaluate young players that could be candidates for the practice squad.
Chicago expects to have one of the better defenses in the NFL, but injuries can strike teams at a moment's notice.

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Willis McGahee Continues To Prove He Still Has Heart, Skill

Player: Willis McGahee, #23
Height: 6′ 0″
Weight: 235 pounds
Age: 30
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
College: University of Miami
Experience: 9 years

Willis McGahee has lived a long, storied football life.

The 30-year old running back had a dream come true when he was able to play college football in his hometown of Miami, Fla. for the University of Miami (aka “The U&rdquoWinking, and he played very well.  In 2001, McGahee won a national championship with the Hurricanes.

In 2002 as a junior, he blew away Miami single-season records with 282 carries for 1,753 yards and 28 touchdowns. His 28 scores that year stand as the fifth-most in Division I history and he came in fourth in Heisman Trophy voting that season. In that year’s championship game, McGahee had his leg hit and he tore the ACL, MCL and PCL in his left knee, but he decided to declare for the NFL Draft that year anyway and was selected in No. 23 overall by the Buffalo Bills.
After taking a year off to rehab his ailing knee, he played 46 games for Buffalo from 2004-2006. In those three years, McGahee averaged 1,122 yards and eight touchdowns per season on the ground.

He was traded to the Baltimore Ravens and continued to enjoy success as one of the most difficult running backs to tackle due to his size, strength and determination to power through the line. His best year in Baltimore was his first, 2007, when he rushed for 1,207 yards and seven scores. The three subsequent seasons, he dropped off in production each year, all the way down to 380 yards and five scores in 2010.

It left many wondering if the game had passed the then-28-year-old by.  He was released by the Ravens in 2011 and his future as an NFL player was in question.

That’s when his career was reborn as a member of the Denver Broncos.

Knowshon Moreno was the Broncos’ starting running back in Week One of the 2011 season, but an early injury opened the door for McGahee, who took a stranglehold on the starting spot, never letting go since.

2011 was a special season for McGahee. The big, bruising back was used heavily, as a way to complement and take the pressure off youngster Tim Tebow, running the option with the run-first quarterback for much of the year. He ended the season with 1,199 yards and four touchdowns as an integral member of the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL that season. He eventually made the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Arian Foster, the first such honor of his career.
And this season has started as strongly as last year ended.

In Week One, he ran strong and steadily, 16 times for 64 yards. On Monday, he was spectacular, rushing 22 times for 113 yards—the 31st time in his career he went over 100 yards—and a 5.1 yard per carry average, including two crucial touchdowns. The Broncos didn’t win the game, but he kept Denver in the contest with those scores and he was a presence on the ground all night. He busted runs between the tackles, gaining the hard yards, pushing the pile and leading his team downfield.

Without a doubt, he’ll be incredibly important to the Broncos offense all year long once again, especially with Moreno struggling to back him up.

Broncomaniacs are in for a treat with McGahee carrying the rock.

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Ray Lewis: NFL lost a visionary in Steve Sabol

Owners, coaches and players who knew Steve Sabol, who died Tuesday at the age of 69 after an 18-month battle with brain cancer, raved about the NFL Films president’s ingenuity and integrity.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who is the subject of NFL Films’ “A Football Life: Ray Lewis” airing at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday on NFL Network, told “NFL AM” Wednesday morning that his trust in Sabol was what drove him to allow cameras to follow him for a year.

“You can have reservations if you have anything to hide or if you don’t trust the people you are working with,” Lewis said. “I had worked with those guys for so many years and I knew Steve and them had a great vision for what they really wanted to accomplish so when they asked me to do it I was overwhelmed and was humbled to go in ‘A Football Life’ right after Bill Belichick.”

Lewis said Sabol was one of the visionaries who helped make the NFL the league and business it has become.

“I think young kids in this business … really need to understand the impact that Steve Sabol had,” he said. “We lost a great pioneer a few days ago with Art Modell and now lose another one. These men had a vision to do something great. The beautiful thing about what they were doing is it wasn’t for them, they had a vision to expand our league to expand our game and to expand our brand.

“You will not be able to mention the NFL, NFL Films, without Steve Sabol’s name. He was one of those people that we have to learn from we have to research what spoke to him what pushed him to the edge,” Lewis said.

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Ed Reed: You can't do anything but have much respect for Bill Belichick

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick‘s glowing admiration of Ed Reed is universally acknowledged and accepted in the pro football world.

Turns out, the future Hall of Fame free safety feels just about the same way about the Patriots head coach.

“I mean he’s a winner for one,” Reed said. “I had an opportunity to talk to Coach Belichick a couple times and had him over there at the Pro Bowl. Just watching ‘A Football Life’ with Coach Belichick you can’t do anything but have much respect for Coach Belichick and the way he runs things. His background and the discipline and focus that he asks of guys and what he allows you to do as a football player; he honestly understands your athletic ability.

“If you look at Coach Belichick and the way he coaches his team and the guys that play for him and the positions that they play, he allows football players to be football players. Coach understands that this is a short-lived career and not everybody is going to have those five and 10 and 15-year careers. A bunch of guys are great athletes and they can come on and make a name on his team and find themselves somewhere else with a starting job. You see a lot of guys playing out of position when you’re watching the Patriots play.”

When you watch the Ravens play – especially on defense – the focal point is still inside linebacker Ray Lewis, the star of this week’s “A Football Life” series on the NFL Network.

“Ray’s great to me,” Reed said Wednesday. “I know a lot about him and how he approaches his family and his work ethic and how much he cares and loves his kids. It’s going to be eye-opening to everybody, especially what Ray has been through over the course of his life and through football. I think it’s going to be a great deal that can open a bunch of eyes. Ray has a lot of talent and not just in football, on the field. He’s a great dad. He’s a Hall of Fame dad. He does a lot of things off the field. There are a lot of the things off the field he aspires to do also.”

As for Sunday night, Reed and Lewis do not have to worry about Aaron Hernandez the way they did last year in the AFC championship game.

“That’s one less person to throw to but they will send somebody in and get somebody else some more catches,” Reed said. “Somebody has to step up. It’s a professional league. Hernandez is probably not playing after that high ankle sprain. And being that it’s so early in the season, you’d much rather have a guy like that going for it and not hurting himself worse. But we’ll prepare for it either way. Like I said, somebody else will get a bunch more balls, I’m sure. There won’t be all this talk about Wes [Wes Welker] and all these other guys who are not getting catches so somebody has to step up right now. Hernandez is a great tight end.

“I see Wes catching the ball probably not as much but probably because they are throwing the ball to other guys who are open. It’s a long season and you do things in a certain way preparing for the weeks to come. I wouldn’t read too much into it. Wes Welker’s still a great receiver and I’m sure New England, [Tom] Brady and everybody knows that. It’s just that people probably want to make news of something that’s probably not something big in the organization. If it is, then that’s something they have to deal with.”

Reed was asked if he still feels like the Ravens outplayed the Patriots and really won the AFC championship.

“No, we lost, man. We lost by three points,” Reed said of the 23-20 outcome that sent the Patriots to Indianapolis. “Yes, we had the chance to make some plays but I’m sure Brady, who he is, and the other guys over there feel like they left some plays out there. One play that sticks out in my head from that first drive is when Brady overthrew [Rob] Gronkowski. So I’m sure they have some plays that they left out there also. It was a great game and they came out on top.
Does it still bother him today that the game slipped away?

“No, not at all. That was last year like I said,” Reed said. “They only crowned one champ last year, if I’m not mistaken. It’s behind us, like I said. We’re a totally different team this year. We don’t even have some of the same guys on the team. It’s always a new year the next year. I know I’m not worried about what happened last year. It was over and done with after that game.”

What is it about these Patriots-Ravens games that makes them so intense?

“It’s just two great teams that love to play football; a lot of great competition,” Reed said. “We just go at each other. That’s what you want. You want to see the best going against the best – offense, defense and special teams. That’s what you get in these games.”

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Vince Wilfork’s still big, but in better condition than ever

Vince Wilfork is as big as ever. But this offseason, he took great pains to move the big around.

The Patriots nose tackle spent more time than ever remaking his body, from his conditioning to his diet, and the results are obvious every day when he gets dressed.

‘‘The biggest difference is that my shirts fit a lot better,’’ Wilfork said with a laugh, to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. ‘‘But on the field, I don’t think it’s changed much, but some people may disagree. Nobody knows my body better than me.

“I’ve always been in great shape my whole career [including] college, high school. I’ve always been in good shape to play football. But the weight shift, you can say from a look standpoint, it’s noticeable.”

Wilfork is still a large man, still plenty stout to hold up as a nose tackle. And he played 977 snaps last year, so clearly he has endurance. But with the Patriots bringing in young parts around him, he’s picked up his efforts to stay at a high level.

‘‘This year, I had a main focus of concentrating on my core,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘I’m not saying I have a six-pack or anything, but I’m pretty satisfied and pretty happy how it’s gone. And while my weight hasn’t changed, it’s shifted. I worked very hard on it. I don’t want to boast about or make a big deal out of it, but I worked hard on it through the offseason.’’

That included chopping trees and pulling logs, but lumberjack work alone wouldn’t change the way the mammoth lineman looked. That’s a credit to sports nutritionist Ted Harper, who was hired by the team this year.

His meals are carefully measured and portioned, and since it’s the Patriots, there’s even a mystery food which Wilfork wouldn’t reveal.

“I’m not going to give that out,’’ he said.

Wilfork has reasons for getting in better shape that have nothing to do with battling guards and centers as well. His father died at 48 from kidney failure after battling diabetes, and Wilfork wants to be prepared for life after football.

‘‘That runs deeply in African-Americans in general, and a lot more cultures,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘But my family history, that’s always a topic of discussion between my wife and I. Knock on wood, I’ve been healthy. . . . I haven’t been diagnosed. I’m a big, healthy man. That’s how I want to be.

“A lot of people have opinions on what I need to do. Trust me, I have goals every year of what I want to accomplish. I’m pretty healthy to be a big guy.’’

He’s also pretty effective, and the changes he’s made should enable him to be for more years to come.

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Colin McCarthy improving, but still not practicing

Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy (ankle) is no longer wearing a walking boot, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to get back on the field. He has not practiced since getting hurt against the Patriots on Sept. 9.

McCarthy wouldn’t say if he has a high-ankle sprain: “It’s just the ankle,” he said. “I don’t know what it is.”

Indications are he still needs more time to recover, however, which makes him unlikely to play Sunday against the Lions. McCarthy said he’s not in a great deal of pain, and has been rehabbing in a pool.

“I am getting better,” McCarthy said. “I am just trying to get on the field as soon as I can and am improving day to day. I am just staying positive.”

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Orlando Magic To Sign DeQuan Jones

Orlando Magic expected to sign former #UM G/F #DeQuan Jones to 19-man training camp roster. Jones undrafted, but impressed.

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Brian Asbury Highlights

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Danny Valencia To Be Called Up On Friday

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Red Sox won't be receiving reinforcements from Pawtucket until they return home from their road trip on Friday.

The Pawtucket Times has reported that Danny Valencia and Pedro Beato will be called up to Boston. Che-Hsuan Lin and Zach Stewart are other options from the 40-man roster to be promoted.

Valencia went 1-for-8 in four games with the Red Sox in August. Beato has made one appearance with Boston, picking up a win on August 26.

With 12 men already in the bullpen, the Red Sox will not recall either Alex Wilson or Josh Fields -- neither of whom is on the 40-man roster.

Assistant general manager Mike Hazen said that doesn't mean the organization isn't happy with how the two have performed, especially of late.

"It's unfortunate, but it is what it is. We talked to those guys last night and they understood," Hazen said. "It's a little circumstantial that they don't get called up. But they had great years."

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Scott Maine Takes The Loss

LHP Scott Maine pitched two-thirds of an inning and took the loss Tuesday as the Indians fell 6-5 to Minnesota. Maine was the club-record 10th pitcher used by Cleveland in the game. That's one shy of the major league record for an extra-inning game.

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proCane NFL U Roster Update

NFL U Rosters 9.18.12

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Brandon Merriweather to Try to Play on Sunday

Safety Brandon Meriweather hopes to make his regular season debut in the Redskins’ home opener Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. He missed the first two games with a sprained PCL and MCL in his left knee.

“I’m going to try,” Meriweather said Monday morning. “Every day getting better. I’m working hard to get back and help my team.

Meriweather exercised on the field with teammates before Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams. He hasn’t played since injuring his left knee on Aug. 18 during the preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Meriweather was approaching full health before the regular season began, but he sprained two ligaments during practice on Sept. 3.

“I can say I’m better than I was last week,” Meriweather. “Every day we try something different. Right now we’re more focused on straight ahead and the lateral stuff.”

DeJon Gomes started the first two games in Meriweather’s place. He had nine solo tackles and an interception.

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NFL Films' 'A Football Life' is a Ray Lewis lovefest

One thing quickly became clear while watching “Ray Lewis: A Football Life,” which will air Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on NFL Network -- Baltimore and the football world outside of this city have a lot of love for Ray Lewis.

The crew of NFL Films followed Lewis throughout the 2011 season, and in Wednesday’s hour-long look at the life of the Ravens linebacker, Ravens coach John Harbaugh; a giddy, purple-clad mom from Baltimore; an older fan who eventually lost his battle with cancer this year; and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady each tells Lewis that he or she loves him. “I mean that,” Brady said after the AFC championship game. And Lewis, at least while the cameras are still rolling, shares his love and his gospel with all those who seek it out.

And boy, is there a lot of preaching and praying -- not that there is anything wrong with that. Lewis talks to God on the sideline and in the bowels of the stadium. He leads an impassioned prayer in the house of Bill Warble before he dies. He shares with a group of law students at Harvard that God spoke to him when he was prison in Atlanta after being accused of double murder (that segment was one of the most interesting moments).

Lewis was the first NFL player to ever wear a microphone for every game in a season, and with good off-the-field access to the future Hall of Famer, too, NFL Films is able to show him in a few different environments. My favorite moment is when Lewis spends time with his six kids during the team’s bye week last season, and he screams like a girl at a Justin Bieber concert as his oldest son, Ray III, runs for a long touchdown in a high school football game.

But this series is called “A Football Life” for a reason.

It is cool to eavesdrop on his on-field conversations, like his postgame hug with Brady or Harbaugh telling Lewis in the Week 1 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers that he is “carrying us on your back because you’re a great leader.” And it is revealing when they show Lewis reacting to the toe injury he aggravated in the loss to the Seattle Seahawks, as right away he barks to one of his Ravens teammates, “No. No. I’m not alright.” He finishes the game, though.

Along the way, the documentary show also does a good job of chronicling the 2011 season for the Ravens, from the highs of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers twice and winning the division to the low of Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff and the missed opportunities in the 23-20 loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game. Lewis, whose face is noticably heavier on the show before his offseason weight loss, refuses to point the finger at any one player.

The walk-off shot is Lewis running out of the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium and disappearing through a cloud of smoke, with him saying in a voiceover that he owes one more Lombardi Trophy to Baltimore and to his teammates before he can finally walk away.

No wonder there is so much love for Ray around here.

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Frank Gore Keeps Rolling Along

A year ago, after San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore got off to a slow start in the 2011 season, a Bay Area blogger posted a story listing the reasons why Gore “is done as a running back.”

The reasons: At 28, he was said to be old and beyond his peak. Plus, he was injury prone and due for a letdown after signing a contract extension.

Of course, Gore went on to have one of his best seasons, rushing for 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns as the 49ers went 13-3 and won the NFC West.

Now, after two games, Gore is again a force, ranking No. 4 in the NFL with 201 yards rushing and the 49ers running game again looks formidable, ranking No. 3 in the league with 167.0 rushing yards per game.

Against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Gore churned for 89 yards on 17 carries and looked anything but old, showing both power and speed.

Right guard Alex Boone told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group that he loves blocking for Gore and seeing what Gore can do with the holes.

“He did a great job of finding the crease and hitting the holes,” said Boone. “He’s an elusive player and I love it.”

Now, paired with second-year pro Kendall Hunter, Gore is part of a 1-2 running back punch that could be even better when Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James are ready to play.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh says Hunter and Gore make each other better.

“Both are tremendous backs, and Kendall has raised his game,” Harbaugh told reporters  after the season-opening victory over the Packers, when Gore rushed for 112 yards and Hunter added 41. “Frank is one of the best there is and he’s made Kendall better. Kendall brings to the table that kind of spirit, youth and desire to get better all the time. I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying that Frank has benefited from that as well.”

This year, the 49ers have beefed up their running game at the point of attack, adding extra offensive and defensive linemen to block for Gore and Hunter on certain running downs. Harbaugh’s commitment to make the running game work has turned the 49ers into one of the best running teams in the NFL.

“We’re pretty far ahead of where we were last year, and he helps me a lot,” Gore said of Hunter. “He has a different style, a change of pace, and it’s been great for us. We’re always ready to go out there.”

And, at 29, Gore seems to be having too much fun to slow down.

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Antonio Dixon Gets Another Workout

The Patriots have released wide receiver Greg Salas, linebacker Mike Rivera and fullback Lex Hilliard, according to a league source.

Salas, who was inactive during Week 2, was acquired via trade from the Rams on Sept. 1. In exchange, the Patriots shipped St. Louis a seventh-round pick in 2015.

Rivera, 26, was signed to the Patriots' practice squad in November 2011 and found a spot on the 53-man roster this season. He has played a special teams role in each of the team's two regular-season contests.

The team added Hilliard leading up the regular-season opener and served in a situational fullback role. Hilliard played four of the team's 82 offensive snaps in Week 2.

In addition to the roster moves, the Patriots hosted seven players for a work out on Tuesday: defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, offensive tackle Tommie Draheim, defensive tackle Terrell McClain, offensive tackle Nick Mondek, wide receiver Kashif Moore, wide receiver Brian Robiskie and linebacker Nathan Stupar.

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Belichick won’t comment on Kellen Winslow but does talk a little history

While talking with the media during today’s conference call, Bill Belichick wouldn’t get into specifics in regards to tight end Kellen Winslow, who the team has reportedly signed. With Aaron Hernandez (ankle) going down in the Patriots’ 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the addition of Winslow would allow the Pats to continue to run their two tight end set.

When asked what Winslow brings to the table, Belichick said, “I’m not going to talk about any players that aren’t on our current active roster.”

This isn’t the first time that Belichick or the the Patriots have signed someone in season with the hopes that they can play come Sunday. Though the situation, to have Winslow play this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens, isn’t ideal, Belchick says it’s something he’s done before - with success.

“It definitely depends on the player,” said Belichick. “When we were in Cleveland, we signed Mike Tomczak and he started at quarterback that week, after our other two quarterbacks got injured.

“Mike did a good job. He worked hard. He actually played pretty competitively and thought he had a pretty decent year for us. Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation but we did it last year, brought guys in too. Played them in the nickel or started them, played the for 30 or 40 plays a game. Signed guys and not played them at all. (It) depends on circumstances, all the circumstances that surround the player in the game situation. I don’t think there’s any real book on that.”

The offense looked stagnant on Sunday in their three wide receiver set. Hopefully the addition of Winslow, who caught 75 passes for 763 yards last year, will allow them to use multiple tight ends, like they did in Week 1.

In regards to Hernandez, Belichick said the team will have an update tomorrow after practice.

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D.J. Williams files appeal of his suspension with U.S. Supreme Court

Lawyer Peter Ginsberg has been a busy man.

One day after he accompanied temporarily unsuspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Ginsberg filed on behalf of suspended Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of the failed lawsuit challenging the suspension.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Williams is challenging the decision of a federal appeals court that his six-game suspension resulted from a fair and appropriate application of the league’s internal arbitration procedures.

Victory won’t keep Williams from being suspended; he’s already served two of six games for producing a non-human urine sample for steroids testing.  But if Williams wins, he’ll get his six game checks (i.e., $1.76 million), along with a measure of public vindication.

It won’t be easy.  The U.S. Supreme Court accepts only a small fraction of the appeals it receives.  Typically, the Supreme Court gets involved only if there’s a discrepancy among the various federal appeals courts, or when the violation of law is particularly egregious.

Maybe, eventually, the conflict among the federal appeals court will come from Vilma’s attack in Louisiana on the same internal arbitration procedures that D.J. Williams is challenging.

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VIDEO: Sideline Report Interview with Clinton Portis

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Safety Kenny Phillips hoping to avoid fines this season

The hit was violent to say the least.

With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers leading 27-16 in the third quarter of Sunday's game, Giants S Kenny Phillips popped Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson with his shoulder pad just as QB Josh Freeman's pass was arriving. The ball was dislodged, Jackson slammed into the turf and Phillips popped right back up.
Did Phillips launch himself or not?

“I peaked around," Phillips said. "Whenever you see a big hit, the flag usually comes out no matter if it was a legal hit or an illegal hit. The flag is going to come."
The flag never came, and CB Corey Webster intercepted the next pass, which helped the Giants to a 41-34 comeback win.

That doesn't mean Phillips is out of the woods because nonpenalized offenses can still draw a fine. The University of Miami product doesn't remember how many times he was fined last season. All he remembers is that it was more than three.

“I got a lot more than that,” he said. “I was almost playing for free last year. I'm trying to avoid that again this year, but we'll see.”

Wednesday is usually the day when fines are handed out, and since the Giants will be traveling for Thursday's game in Carolina on Wednesday, there's a chance Phillips could get some bad news before the flight. Even if he tries to avoid the mail for a few days, Phillips knows that can't stop the NFL from fining him.

“A few times they tricked me,” he said. “Nothing would be here on Wednesday, but Thursday I'll have one. I got so used to it.”

Phillips believes the hit on Jackson was legal (“I didn't touch his head&rdquoWinking, but while he thinks he dragged a foot, there's still the chance it can be ruled that he launched himself.

“Whatever it is, I'll appeal it,” Phillips said. “Wrong or right, I'm going to appeal it.”

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Jonathan Vilma’s lawyer subpoenas Gregg Williams

A lawyer representing Jonathan Vilma of the New Orleans Saints has subpoenaed Vilma’s former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, in an effort to find out more about the affadavit signed by Williams, ESPN reports.

In the affadavit, Williams alleges that Vilma had offered a $10,000 bounty to knock quarterback Brett Favre, then with the Minnesota Vikings, out of the 2009 NFL Championship game. Vilma, whose year-long suspension for his alleged role in the Saints’ bountygate scandal was recently thrown out, has denied any involvement in the scheme.

“What Gregg Williams said in his most recent affidavit is the same falsity he has previously provided,” Peter Ginsberg, Vilma’s lawyer, said. “I don't know what Gregg Williams' motives are, but I do know that any suggestion by Williams that Jonathan put up $10,000 as an incentive for his teammates to injure another player is absolutely false.”

When Vilma, seeking to have his suspension thrown out, met Monday with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he was presented with a copy of Williams’s affadavit. Williams, who most recently was the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator, has been suspended indefinitely by Goodell.

“You obviously want me to be guilty if you can't see that Gregg was bullied to sign the affidavit. He signed three days ago! #weakattempt,” Vilma tweeted after the meeting.

Vilma added that he can produce nine affadavits saying he was not part of a bounty program and his lawyer issued a subpoena for Mike Cerullo, a former assistant defensive coordinator. “Ask the nfl to "leak" cerullo's declaration too. Every1 will have a field day reporting how their stories don't match,” Vilma tweeted.

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Vince Wilfork changes shape

Defensive linemen are supposed to be large, hulking figures. Size, bulk and girth are desired traits. If you walk into a big-and-tall store and need something less than triple-XL, don’t bother being a nose tackle.

Vince Wilfork never has had a problem in that regard. He’s always made the grade. He’s always been a beast in the trenches.

At 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds, he has an ideal body type to play the nose. That frame also works well at tackle or end. And after his two athletic interceptions last year, some have even joked the imposing lineman could play cornerback.

Wilfork moves incredibly well for a big man. He’s nimble, but he also works to keep himself in great shape. Two games into his ninth NFL season, Wilfork feels as good as he ever has, and he’s playing as well as ever as the anchor of the Patriots [team stats] defense. He also looks trimmer, especially around the midsection, thanks to some dedication in the offseason.

‘‘This year, I had a main focus of concentrating on my core,’’ Wilfork said Monday. ‘‘I’m not saying I have a six-pack or anything, but I’m pretty satisfied and pretty happy how it’s gone. And while my weight hasn’t changed, it’s shifted. I worked very hard on it. I don’t want to boast about or make a big deal out of it, but I worked hard on it through the offseason.’’

Wilfork started to change his body shape with some old-fashioned training in the offseason. He didn’t just lift weights, instead choosing to work the muscles deep within the abs and back in a variety of ways.

‘‘Sometimes I’d chop trees. Sometimes I’d pull logs. I do all types of yard stuff,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘But in the grand scheme of things, I’m actually building muscles.’’
He also changed his diet. For the first time, he’s working with a sports nutritionist, Ted Harper, who was hired by the Patriots this year.

All of Wilfork’s meals are scaled and portioned. He cooks them himself, getting just the right amount of protein and nutrients. He even includes a mystery food that is part of his daily regimen but cannot be divulged.

“I’m not going to give that out,’’ he said.

Wilfork has learned a great deal from Harper, who has helped the lineman identify the proper foods to eat and in what combination.

‘‘Ted’s very smart when it comes to that stuff,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘’With the mixture of both of us putting our heads together, just being able to learn how different things affect your body, what you can eat, when you can eat it, how you eat it, what it does to your body. It’s just being educated. He’s done a good job with me through training camp.’’

Wilfork said he hasn’t noticed a difference in his endurance or quickness, but others might disagree. On Sunday, he looked like he was shot out of a cannon in the fourth quarter, pouncing on a Cardinals fumble forced by Brandon Spikes which gave the Pats another chance to pull out a victory.

Still, the soon-to-be 31-year-old refuses to say he’s trying to stay ahead of all the young talent on the Patriots defense.

‘‘The biggest difference is that my shirts fit a lot better,’’ Wilfork said with a laugh. ‘‘But on the field, I don’t think it’s changed much, but some people may disagree. Nobody knows my body better than me. I’ve always been in great shape my whole career (including) college, high school. I’ve always been in good shape to play football. But the weight shift, you can say from a look standpoint, it’s noticeable.’’

For a lineman, it’s really a delicate balance. You don’t want to be too heavy, leaving yourself unable to move, and you don’t want to be so light that you get pushed around or run over. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, whom the Pats will see Sunday night, dropped about 20 pounds so he could better keep up with tight ends in coverage.

Wilfork doesn’t have to worry about coverage, but in his case, weight and a healthy diet do have an even greater meaning. His father, David, died of kidney failure at 48 after suffering from diabetes.

‘‘That runs deeply in African-Americans in general, and a lot more cultures,’’ said Wilfork, whose foundation raises money for diabetes research. ‘‘But my family history, that’s always a topic of discussion between my wife and I. Knock on wood, I’ve been healthy. . . . I haven’t been diagnosed. I’m a big, healthy man. That’s how I want to be. A lot of people have opinions on what I need to do. Trust me, I have goals every year of what I want to accomplish. I’m pretty healthy to be a big guy.’’

Wilfork avoids fried food and will continue to try to maintain a healthy weight. He has even more goals in mind for the upcoming year.

‘‘I think one of the good things for him, he doesn’t eat bad. Some of the things that make people big — snacks, cookies, cakes, chocolate, pies, fried chicken — he doesn’t eat any of it. That really plays a part in his overall health,’’ said Wilfork’s wife, Bianca. ‘‘He’s pretty healthy. Most of the time when you see people who are big, they’re slow and unhealthy and have a lot of underlying problems, and he doesn’t. If there’s one thing he could change about himself, it’s his core, and he’s working on that. I think he’s off to a really good start.’’

Last year, when the Pats switched to a 4-3 scheme, Wilfork played the most downs of anyone on defense. He was in the trenches for 977 snaps, a huge number for a lineman.

Whether it’s endurance, looks or staying healthy, Wilfork has hit his goal.

‘‘I know people say the older you are, the harder it gets. But to me, every year I go into, I go in with a plan of things I want to accomplish. This offseason was the same,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘I’m not saying you don’t have to be lighter when you get older, because some people might have to. But how I look at it, each year if I accomplish what I want to accomplish in the offseason, I have a good foundation for going into a season and doing what I want to do.

“I believe if you set goals, and you accomplish those goals, you put yourself in a good situation.’’

The results speak for themselves.

Vince’s three steps to a new body
Vince Wilfork doesn’t like to give away all of his trade secrets. The four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman doesn’t like to let everyone in on how he’s able to keep himself in the kind of shape that allows him to play practically every snap on defense.

But, Wilfork was willing to share three key elements that have allowed him to reshape his body this season and have him both looking better, and feeling better. In his own words, he explained each element to his transformation in detail.

1. Improving his core:
‘‘My weight is the same as it’s always been. I just tried to move it around, shift it around. I did a lot of core work this offseason when I was home in my ranch in Florida. In the offseason, I don’t lift weights. My main goal is to be in condition for camp. So I do a lot of running. And I do a lot of old-fashioned stuff. Sometimes I chop trees. Sometimes I pull logs. I do all types of yard stuff. But in the grand scheme of things, I’m actually building muscles.’’

2. Portion size:
‘‘That’s the key. I’ve been eating good stuff, but I just didn’t put it together the right way, I didn’t put the right components together to make a good meal. Now that I have the education behind me on how to put a meal together, it’s been very beneficial. There’s no calorie counting. It’s more what foods you need, and how your plate needs to look. I’m not a big fried guy. I’m not saying every now and then I won’t fry some pork chops or fried chicken. I’d be lying if I said I don’t do that. But I rarely eat fried foods. I’m not a big steak guy. I’m more of a chicken guy. My food is baked. And, as I said, it all comes together with the right balance of proteins, carbs, or whatever in a portioned meal.’’

3. Swimming:
‘‘Instead of pounding on my joints and being sore (with weight lifting), I’m in the water, and I’m swimming. I think that’s a big, big part of my success. I do it every day. I do underwater laps. I go down and back for a lap. Six seconds after that, I’m back up under. So I’m strengthening up my lungs. It’s tough, but at the same time, I feel a difference in doing it. Randy Moss put me on it, 2-3 years ago. I have to credit Randy for that.’’

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Ryan Braun swipes three bases in win over Pirates

Ryan Braun tallied three of the Brewers' seven stolen bases in Tuesday's critical 6-0 victory over the Pirates.

He finished the night 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. The Brewers clearly had no respect for Pirates catcher Rod Barajas, as they were successful in all six of their stolen base attempts against him, then added another off Michael McKenry. Braun is hitting .314/.389/.601 with 40 homers, 104 RBI and 27 steals this season.

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Yonder Alonso plates lone run in loss to D’Backs

Yonder Alonso had a nice night at the plate in a losing effort against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday, going 2-for-3 and driving home the Padres’ lone run.

His sacrifice fly off Ian Kennedy in the first inning gave the Padres the early lead, but that would be the extent of their offense in the game. Alonso has really picked it up as of late, hitting .444 (11-for-25) with a homer and 10 RBI in his last seven games.

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Ryan Braun vs. Miguel Cabrera: Prince Fielder weighs in

As Miguel Cabrera or Ryan Braun vie for MVP honors in their respective leagues, it’s a good time to ask the question: Who’s the better hitter?

Cabrera leads the majors with a .992 OPS, three percentage points ahead of Braun, who is second at the moment. Cabrera has an edge in average, at .330 to .312. Braun holds the lead in power, with 40 homers to 38. Cabrera has scored 96 runs, Braun 95.

So based on their numbers, it’s a tough call.

Based on observing the two hitters from the on-deck circle, it’s not much easier. Ask Prince Fielder. He hit behind Braun with the Brewers before signing with the Tigers, where he now hits behind Cabrera.

“Both are different but they get similar results,” Fielder said recently. “I don’t look at them as power hitters but as great hitters with power. Both hit for average, drive in runs and hit for power.”

Yes, but who’s better? Fielder didn’t directly answer the question, but you can judge for yourself based on two insights. One has to do with approach, the other with ballparks.

— “Miguel has more of a contact hitter’s swing, which is unbelievable because of how much power he has,” Fielder said. “That makes him much more dangerous than a lot of people in baseball. It’s almost like he can manipulate a single as well as a home run or a ball hit to the bap. Whatever he feels like doing, he can do.” Indeed, Cabrera has struck out 30 fewer times than Braun, 118-88.

— “To do what Miguel has done in Comerica Park isn’t easy,” Fielder said. “That’s a big credit to be able to do the kind of things he does in a park that wasn’t made for hitting as far as power goes.”

Comerica has yielded 143 homers this season, 14th most in the majors. Miller Park has given up 208 homers, which was tied with U.S. Cellular Field for most in the majors going into the week.

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VIDEO: Robert Griffin III 68 Yard Touchdown Pass to Leonard Hankerson HD

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VIDEO: proCane Kenny Phillips Unloads on Vincent Jackson

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Olivier Vernon is staying patient

The Dolphins spent a third-round draft pick on Olivier Vernon this spring because they thought the University of Miami product could give them a young pass rusher to eventually replace the retired Jason Taylor.

That part of it hasn't materialized yet, but the hit Vernon delivered Sunday on Raiders kick returner Coye Francies early in the fourth quarter certainly was memorable. Vernon even got a helmet-butt from Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter after that one. 

"That was a first in my whole football career," Vernon said of that particular gesture from a kicker. "Have to set the tempo, man. We want to show everyone that’s in the league that we’re dogs and we’re trying to finish people."

Vernon only played 18 of 70 defensive snaps in Week 1 at Houston and probably about that many on Sunday, but he isn't about to let himself grow frustrated as he learns behind a Pro Bowl-laden group of starters.

"I always say to myself, just like the fortune cookie says, 'Patience is a virtue,' "Vernon said. "I’m a very patient person. I’m optimistic. I know when my time comes, I’m going to shine, I’m going to do what I can do."

And he'll most likely be doing it at 253 pounds, down about 15-17 pounds from the weight he played at last season for the Hurricanes. Part of that was due to the new Dolphins coaching staff demanding players be leaner and quicker in the 4-3 defense.

But part of it was simply due to Vernon being a Core Four player on special teams.

"I dropped weight because of all the specials teams I’m on," Vernon said with a smile. "I couldn’t help it. That just happened naturally."

He can already feel the difference.

"I still feel good," Vernon said. "I feel strong. I feel quick. I haven’t lost a step. I still have my strength. Just making up for it with speed. Coach [Philbin] wants us playing  fast. Play fast, play hard. You get stamina once you’re lighter. You don’t have all that heavy weight."

The Dolphins are still hoping Vernon, in time, will become a heavyweight pass rusher for them.

Until then, it's all about heeding that fortune-cookie wisdom.

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Kellen Winslow a good addition for Patriots

The New England Patriots were not going to stop using dual-tight end sets. They love the formation too much. In fact, the Patriots looked lost without it Sunday in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

That is why it was good move for the reigning AFC champs to sign the best tight end on the market: Kellen Winslow Jr. A source tells the AFC East blog Tuesday morning that New England has agreed to a one-year contract with the former Pro Bowler.

Winslow brings many of the same skills the Patriots lost with injured tight end Aaron Hernandez, who will be out a few weeks with an ankle injury. Winslow is athletic with very good hands. He's averaged 73 receptions and 792.3 yards the past three seasons.

The Patriots did not want to shelve a large portion of their offensive playbook until Hernandez returned. Winslow can fill that void and allow quarterback Tom Brady to run the successful two-tight end sets that led New England to the Super Bowl last season. The Patriots' offense struggled without the formation on Sunday and didn't score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.

New England has enough issues on its plate. The pass protection is inconsistent. Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker is mysteriously losing playing time and the team is .500 with a tough upcoming stretch against the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos.

The addition of Winslow plugs a hole on offense and gives New England one less thing to worry.

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Willis McGahee rushes for 113 yards to provide spark

ATLANTA — When everything else seemed amiss with the Broncos' offense, at least it had Willis McGahee.

The veteran running back proved to be the calming presence — and also a spark — the Broncos needed as he churned out 113 yards on 22 carries, along with two fourth-quarter touchdown runs.

If there was a perception that this offense would be all Peyton Manning all the time, McGahee showed Monday against the Falcons he's willing to handle plenty of the burden.

McGahee apologized to teammates last week for an early fumble against Pittsburgh, a turnover that helped the Steelers keep pace with the Broncos early in the opener.

Here in the Georgia Dome, McGahee was the steady, sure-handed one.

And to think, his night started on his backside.

As part of the Broncos' disastrous opening possession, McGahee bounced off a defender and went backward for a 2-yard loss.

The good sign for McGahee, who will turn 31 next month, is he appeared to get stronger and faster as the game wore on.

He had rushes of 15 and 31 yards late in the first quarter, and eclipsed his week 1 total (of 64 yards) by rushing for 77 yards (on 11 carries) by halftime.
"It just showed we could move the ball on those guys, we just had to settle down," McGahee said.

It was no coincidence that McGahee was a factor on each of the Broncos' touchdown drives, especially in the second half.

On Denver's first fourth-quarter touchdown, McGahee had four carries for 23 yards, including a 2-yard score, his first of the season. Those carries put McGahee over the 100-yard mark for the 31st time in his career.

"It's not bad for someone who's supposed to be 30," McGahee said. "It's not bad for someone who's supposed to be done."
On the drive that brought the Broncos to within six points, at 27-21 late in the fourth, Manning trusted McGahee to take the ball, right up the middle, on fourth down.

McGahee saluted the Atlanta crowd in the far end zone after that score.

"It's great to be able to have someone like that to hand the ball of to when things aren't going as well as you'd like early on," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "You get the chains moving, you get into a flow. Willis was able to do that for us.

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Colin McCarthy still 'several weeks away'

Titans MLB Colin McCarthy may still be "several weeks away" from returning from his ankle injury.

It's been reported that McCarthy has a high ankle sprain. Will Witherspoon got the start at middle linebacker against the Chargers, with rookie Zach Brown on the weak side. Witherspoon racked up 11 tackles (six solo), one sack, and a forced fumble, and could continue to be a big-time IDP as McCarthy remains out.

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Jonathan Vilma, Roger Goodell Meet

NEW YORK -- New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma spent Monday afternoon having a "very frank, very truthful" meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his suspension that was temporarily lifted.

Vilma was one of four players suspended by Goodell in the bounty scandal. But an appeals panel earlier this month said Goodell must clarify his rulings to ensure no part of his decisions was based on salary cap violations. That would be the jurisdiction of special master Stephen Burbank.

Vilma, suspended for the entire season, requested a separate meeting.

"Today everyone was afforded an opportunity to start over," Vilma said outside the NFL's Park Avenue offices more than three hours after he went in. "It was in our best interest to meet today. We spoke truthfully, honestly, bluntly."

Vilma and attorney Peter Ginsberg did not want to share details of the meeting.

"We appreciate Jonathan Vilma taking the time to meet today and look forward to seeing the other players tomorrow," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Goodell must show that the basis for the discipline was inappropriate conduct - such as intent to injure - rather than any secret monetary compensation. In that case, he has full authority to impose the suspensions.

"I'm going to make sure the Commissioner realizes our position is consistent with the truth," Ginsberg said, reiterating that Jonathan never intended to hurt any players.

Players and coaches implicated in the bounty pool have testified under oath in a related federal court case they never intended to injure opposing players.
New Orleans defensive end Will Smith (four games), Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three) and free agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove (eight) are expected to have their meeting Tuesday.

"We had a very frank, very truthful, very frank hearing," Vilma said. "We definitely had some communication today and that's, I guess, in everyone's best interest."

Smith played in each of the Saints' first two games and Vilma is on the physically unable to perform list. Fujita made his season debut in Cleveland's loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Hargrove was cut by Green Bay during the preseason.

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Sam Shields earns his way back to starting CB for Packers

GREEN BAY — In the middle of a crowded locker room after the Green Bay Packers’ win over the Chicago Bears on Thursday, cornerback Sam Shields saw a couple of reporters approaching and made a faux tackling move. Apparently, he’s taking this emphasis on tackling seriously.

“It was what we wanted, what the coaches were looking for,” Shields said. “We came together. Our main focus was getting off the field on third down.”

Sometimes all it takes is one play to restore a player’s confidence, and no one needed that more than Shields, the third-year pro. After a poor 2011 season, especially as a tackler, Shields’ playing time depended in large part on his ability to get physical.

Given a limited role on defense to start the season, it took only one week for Shields’ playing time to increase.

One play in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers might have done the trick. It came on a third-and-2 swing pass to 49ers running back Frank Gore, who caught the ball in the left flat and headed up the field toward the first-down marker. Shields came up from his right cornerback position and tackled Gore short of the first down line, which a replay challenge confirmed.

At the time, it seemed like a potential momentum-turning play because it gave the Packers the ball back with nine minutes left and a chance to tie the game, but it went for naught because Aaron Rodgers threw an interception on the next play and Gore scored on a 23-yard touchdown run on the play after that.

Still, it was a confidence booster for Shields, who said he needed that “just for myself because I knew that’s what I needed to work on.”

More importantly, it gave defensive coordinator Dom Capers the confidence to expand Shields’ role for the Bears game. Shields went from playing only in the sub packages against the 49ers to the starting right cornerback against the Bears. It was perhaps all Capers needed to see to make the switch from Jarrett Bush to Shields. Bush didn’t play a single snap on defense against the Bears, while Shields played 60 of 63 snaps.

“(That tackle was) a confidence boost for me, yes, seeing him get that guy down because that guy’s hard to get down,” Capers said. “He’s one of the better runners in the league. But I think (Shields) is playing a more physical brand of football than what he has. I think he has put an emphasis on it, and he knows we’ve emphasized it, and I think he’s done a nice job.”

With fellow starting cornerback Tramon Williams assigned to cover Brandon Marshall — and at times Capers rolled a safety toward Marshall — Shields was left mostly on his own to cover rookie receiver Alshon Jeffrey, who had three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown in the Bears’ Week 1 win over Indianapolis. Shields didn’t allow a single completion and his coverage was so solid that quarterback Jay Cutler threw at him only once, on a pass to Devin Hester. According to, Shields only has been targeted twice in the first two games, allowing just one completion for 6 yards.

“We felt good about some of the things that Sam did in the 49er game and after looking at game (Thursday) night, I thought Sam had one of his best games since he’s been here,” Capers said. “Obviously, we matched up and had Tramon going with Marshall, and most of the time he had some help whether it be inside, outside or over the top. So Sam was on his own a lot of times on Jeffrey, and I thought he really did a nice job.”

Halfway through training camp, it looked like playing time might be scarce for Shields, who served as the third cornerback in the nickel package for most of 2010 and 2011. He missed two weeks this preseason because of an elbow injury and had slipped down the depth chart.

Still, Shields may have to fight for playing time. Davon House, who was on his way to winning the right cornerback spot until he injured his shoulder in the preseason opener, could be available for Monday’s game at Seattle. Also, rookie Casey Hayward, who moved into the dime package in the Bears’ game, played well in his first extended action.

“Who knows what will happen,” Shields said. “Like I’ve said, I just have to keep grinding and do what I’ve got to do.”

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Ryan Braun, through it all, is playing like an innocent man

Ryan Braun has his home run swing back. How many more bombs will it take for him to get his good name back?

Instead of Ryan Braun the Cheater, it’s time to restore him as Ryan Braun the Phenomenon. I still halfway cringe at the thought, but Braun is not leaving us much choice.

Milwaukee’s left fielder hit two more home runs on Sunday, giving him 40 for the season and 201 for his career. That’s pretty compelling proof he’s innocent as he proclaimed of taking performance-enhancing drugs last season.

Either that, or Braun is the most defiant cheater in baseball history. Not only did he juice his way to an MVP award last year. He’s still taking PEDs despite the suffocating scrutiny brought on by last year’s failed drug test.

If you think that, nothing Braun does or say is going to change your mind. But I just can’t believe he is that audacious or stupid. And I wanted him to turn into Ryan Seacrest this season.

I wanted him to hit four home runs and get thrown out every time he tried to steal a base. That would enough circumstantial evidence to convict him of what most of us suspected.

You remember the O.J.-like tale. Braun was the first post-Steroid Era super slugger. Then he failed a drug test with what a source said was an “insanely high” level of testosterone.

Braun said the procedure was flawed. The collector didn’t send the urine sample to the lab within 24 hours because the FedEx outlets were closed for the weekend.

When they made it to the lab, the samples were still sealed. There was no indication of tampering. An objective juror would still consider such evidence.
Braun lawyered up and became the first player to have a testing conviction overturned. But the whole thing felt like O.J. or Casey Anthony.

He wasn’t innocent. He just beat the rap.

“I am innocent,” Braun insisted after being cleared.

Yeah, right.

Braun was baseball’s version of Ray Donovan. He was the Labor Secretary in the Reagan Administration who was indicted on larceny and fraud charges.
He resigned in 1985 and spent the next two years in legal battles. Donovan was eventually acquitted of all charges, but the damage was done. He stood outside a Bronx courtroom and famously said, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?”

In February, an arbitration panel voted 2-1 to clear Braun. Laughter and derision could be heard all over spring training. Major League Baseball was so incensed it fired longtime arbitrator Shyan Das.

“It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation,” Braun said.

He knew what the next step had to be. He had to go to his old office and conduct business as usual. In 2011, that meant 33 home runs, 113 RBI and a .332 batting average.

A drop-off would be more incriminating than a drug test. It would fail the smell test, the same one that had us holding our noses over guys like Brady Anderson, Bret Boone, Pudge Rodriguez, Jose Guillen and Jason Giambi.

They weren’t all suspended or even directly linked to PEDs. But their statistics were just too fishy. Clean players simply aren’t supposed to turn into Hank Aaron overnight, and then revert to Tommie Aaron after the PED police pay a visit.

Clean players are consistent, and Braun has remained Hank. He’s actually slugging better than 2011 despite not having Prince Fielder batting behind him.
His stats after Sunday: 40 homers, 103 RBI, a .312 batting average and a couple million skeptics.

There’s still suspicion, so much that last year’s MVP might not even finish in the top five this season. But at this point, what more can Braun do?
He was cleared by the system. The whole thing was supposed to be confidential to begin with, but Braun’s name was leaked.

That was the first step in a good name going bad. The only way to get it back was to play like the Braun of old.

Players may lie, but numbers don’t. Braun not only sounds like an innocent man, he’s hitting like one.

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Solid debut for rookie Lamar Miller

MIAMI GARDENS --— It was perhaps the lone mistake for the rookie making his debut.

When Dolphins running back Lamar Miller missed a blocking assignment in the first half, tackle Jake Long was there to let him know. It led to quarterback Ryan Tannehill taking a shot in the back from Oakland Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy.

The play was the only mishap for Miller, who rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in his first action.

"Jake just told me to get it the next time," Miller said. "He was just letting me know."

Miller, who played at the University of Miami, was a solid complement to Reggie Bush. Miller was playing in place of the injured Daniel Thomas, who is out with a concussion. The Dolphins learned they can count on their fourth-round draft pick.

"He did a great job out there today in his first real game," Bush said. "I thought he looked good. He did a great job running the ball toward the end of the half and wearing them down, getting first downs."

Miller scored his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter, a 15-yard run that put the Dolphins ahead 35-13. He said the end zone had a familiar feel, with his college team also playing at Sun Life Stadium.

"I was just happy to get my first NFL touchdown," Miller said. "It didn't matter where I got it."

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Leonard Hankerson gets deep for a 68-yard score

Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson caught two balls for 68 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's loss to the Rams.

All of his yards came on an impressive deep strike from QB Robert Griffin III where Hankerson got behind the Rams' coverage and very nearly dropped the pass. He saw only three targets on the day, however, and was not a big part of what the Redskins' game plan.

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PHOTO: DeMarcus Van Dyke Forces Fumble


DeMarcus Van Dyke (30) pressures Jets punt returner Jeremy Kerley into a fumble in the third quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.

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This Date in Hurricanes History...September 17,1988

This Date in Hurricanes History...September 17,1988
Brought to you by the UM Sports Hall of Fame !

In arguably the greatest comeback in school history, the top ranked Hurricanes scored 17 points in the final 5 minutes and 23 seconds to stun the Michigan Wolverines, 31-30 , in front of 105,834 fans and a national television audience ! 

Led by UMSHoF member Steve Walsh's 335 yards and 3 touchdowns on 24 of 45 passing, the Canes recovered 2 onsides kicks and took the lead with 43 seconds left on UMSHoF member Carlos Huerta's 29 yard field goal, dashing the 15th ranked Wolverines hopes of the upset, and sending over 100,000 stunned and silent fans home !

Cleveland Gary had 9 receptions for 162 yards, and 2 touchdowns, including a 49 yard scamper on a 4th and 1 to make the score 30-28.  He added 44 yards on 11 carries and one more touchdown.  Rob Chudzinski caught 6 passes for 76 yards and 1 touchdown

ALSO, On This In Hurricanes History...September 17, 1955

In the first Miami Hurricanes football game ever televised, and the first ever color telecast by NBC, the 9th ranked Canes fell to 10th ranked Georgia Tech 14-6 before 39,500 fans at Grant Field in Atlanta and the national network audience, back in the days when there was only one game televised each week and all the country was watching !  

Miami entered the game ranked in the pre season polls for the first time, coming off an 8-1 1954 campaign, that finished rank #9, with the only blemish, a 1 point loss to Auburn on the road.

 The Canes were led by 1956 All American fullback and UMSHoF member Don Bosseler, who scored Miami's lone points on a 13 yard run in the third quarter.  Other UMSHoF members to play in the game were quarterback Sam Scarnecchia, and halfbacks Whitey Rouviere and Jack Losch.

The 1956 Canes finished with a 6-3 record and ranked #14 in the polls.  They finished 4th in the country in attendance, averaging 46,000 fans, behind only Michigan, Ohio State and Southern California.  The Canes had home games against Notre Dame, Texas Christian, Boston College, Alabama, Florida State and Florida that drew big crowds...including a then-school record crowd of 75,685 against the Irish.

The University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame is a non-profit, 501c3 corporation whose sole purpose is to recognize those student-athletes, coaches and administrators who have excelled at their sports and brought acclaim to the university through their accomplishments and championships.  All tax-deductible donations help showcase their achievements for Hurricanes fans to enjoy for generations to come !
UM Sports Hall of Fame
5821 San Amaro Drive
Coral Gables, Florida

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Frank Gore off and running for 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Frank Gore figured the Detroit Lions counted on him getting the ball on a second-and-three situation Sunday night, with the 49ers looking to kill the final few minutes of their home opener.

Instead, quarterback Alex Smith faked a handoff to Gore and found Vernon Davis for a 23-yard touchdown completion, sealing an eventual 27-19 win at Candlestick Park.

"I knew they were going to bite on the run," Gore said while praising offensive coordinator Greg Roman's play call.

Gore has started his eighth season in strong enough fashion to make defenses take notice. Sunday's 17-carry, 89-yard output included a 1-yard touchdown run that opened the second quarter. It gave the 49ers a 14-6 lead against Detroit's touted defensive line.

"They've got a great front seven, but my offensive line came out ready to play," said Gore, who ran for 112 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers' season-opening win at Green Bay.

Right guard Alex Boone added: "He did a great job finding the crease and hitting the holes. He's an elusive player and I love it."

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PHOTO: Anthony Reddick Makes A Crushing Tackle


B.C. Lions' Anthony Reddick, right, tackles Toronto Argonauts' Maurice Mann, centre as Lions' Cauchy Muamba, left, looks on during the second half of a CFL football action in Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012.

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Three catches for 14 yards for Santana Moss

Redskins WR Santana Moss caught three passes for just 14 yards in Sundays loss to the Rams.
With Pierre Garcon out, some expected a larger role for Moss, but that was not the case. He was targeted only three times, and his longest reception went for nine yards. There's little to no fantasy value to be had with the aging wide receiver.

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Calais Campbell: Cardinals' pressure led to Patriots' missed kick

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, who also mans the interior of the field-goal block unit, said his  team generated significant pressure on Stephen Gostkowski's first four field-goal attempts, all of which the New England Patriots kicker made.

But, Campbell believes, knowing similar pressure was coming -- and the nerves of the situation -- were factors in Gostkowski missing the potential game-winning field-goal try wide left Sunday in the Cardinals' 20-18 upset.

"I love being inside because I'm 6-foot-8 and we'd gotten good push all game," Campbell said in a telephone interview before he flew back to Arizona. "We got good push again. We went after it as hard as we could. I think that had something to do with him pushing it to the left."

As important as the missed kick was to the Cardinals improving to a surprising 2-0, so was forcing repeated field-goal attempts, Campbell said. The Patriots scored five times, but four of those were field goals.

"That was so huge for us because you know how great Tom Brady is, and to keep him out of the end zone as much as we did was so huge," said Campbell, who has blocked six field goals in his NFL career, according to the Cardinals. "To hold them to three (points) was so important."

As for Gostkowski's wayward kick, it capped a sequence of bizarre events that started unfavorably for Arizona, when running back Ryan Williams fumbled at the Cardinals' 30-yard line with 1:01 remaining. That was followed by Patriots running back Danny Woodhead scoring an apparent 30-yard touchdown that was negated by a holding penalty.

"That hurt me when Woodhead got into the end zone because it was crazy we got them the ball back," Campbell said. "When I saw the flag came out, I knew we had a chance. That was the critical call of the game."

The Patriots moved to the Cardinals' 24 before the missed field-goal try.

"That's why you never want the game coming down to kickers," Campbell said.

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Reggie Wayne watched jersey price plummet

As Reggie Wayne agreed to a deal to stay in Indianapolis as free agency was kicking off, a lot of his old teammates were on their way out.

It was a weird time, symbolically, at the front door of the team facility.

Wayne spoke about it recently on WNDE Radio.

Take us through the situation where so many veterans of the team are let go and shortly thereafter you re-sign:

“It caught me by surprise, also. From the whole free-agent situation, it started at 4 p.m. My phone was just going nuts from about 4 p.m. until about 10 p.m. To be honest with you, I didn’t hear from the Colts until probably 9:50. It was weird. By that time, I basically counted the Colts out. I didn’t think anything was going to happen, but I got that phone call and that’s all I wanted to hear. … Everybody [else] got crossed off. I will say I took a lot less money. I will say that, but this is where my heart was, this is where I wanted to be.”

On watching his jersey up for sale online during free agency:

“Right when free agency started, at that 4 p.m., I was just online messing around, and my jersey went from 50 bucks to on sale for $12.95. I didn’t know what that meant, either. I was like, ‘I guess this is a sign.’”

Wayne was fantastic on opening day in Chicago. Andrew Luck is sure to continue to find him, even when Austin Collie and/or T.Y. Hilton are added to the receiving corps after missing the first game.

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Ray Lewis says it’s time for refs to return

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco wasn’t the only member of the team to sound off on the absence of the locked-out officials after Sunday’s loss to the Eagles.  Linebacker Ray Lewis did the same.

“[T]he game is played the way the game is played, but there’s some serious calls the refs missed,” Lewis said in the locker room, via  “And that’s just the way it is, man, all around the league.  And that, for our league to be what it is, we have to correct that.  Because these games are critical.  And guys are giving everything they got all across the league, but there are calls that the regular refs, if they were here, we know the way calls would be made.  For the conversations to be had the way they had on the sidelines saying ‘If the real refs were here, that could would have been made.’  That shouldn’t happen.  That shouldn’t be the case around the league.  But it is.  And we have to deal with it.”

Lewis then complained specifically about a decision to reverse a call on the field that Eagles quarterback Mike Vick had fumbled the ball when trying to throw it.  And that’s where Lewis undermined his broader point, because it’s clear that Vick was trying to throw the ball.  Indeed, he was able to flick his wrist and put a partial spiral on the supposed fumble.

But Ray’s message seems to reflect a growing sentiment among players that the regular officials should return.  “The time is now,” Lewis said.  “How much longer are we gonna keep going through this whole process?  I don’t have the answer, I just know across the league teams and the league are being affected by it.  It’s not just this game, it’s all across the league.  And so if they want the league to have the same reputation it’s always had, they’ll address the problem.  Get the regular referees in here and let the games play themselves out.  We already have controversy enough with the regular refs calling the plays.”

As more high-profile players speak out, the question becomes whether more will do the same — and whether a tipping point will eventually be reached.  Until then, look for the league to continue to hunker down, circle the wagon, and wait for the locked-out officials to cry uncle.

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DJ Williams hanging out with Donte’ Stallworth

DJ Williams is still a Denver Bronco. But he’s not in Denver.

The Broncos’ troubled linebacker, who is suspended at least the first six games of 2012 after failing a drug test last year and could face additional discipline for pleading guilty over the summer to a 2010 DUI, tweeted a three-part picture of himself on Sunday afternoon showing him with long-time NFL wide receiver and fellow Sacramento, Ca. native (and current NFL free agent wide receiver) Donte’ Stallworth watching Sunday’s football games together.

Ok, nothing too crazy there. But, it appears Williams isn’t hanging out anywhere near the Broncos’ facilities, or anywhere near the team, period.

Unless Denver recently developed a scenic coastline complete with palm trees, then Williams is also not currently in the Centennial State. In the picture, Williams shows himself in a luxurious beachfront home, enjoying the pigskin on a big screen TV with Stallworth comfortably relaxing on a couch nearby.

Chances are that Williams is in Miami, where he went to college and currently owns a restaurant, though that is purely speculation. Also possibly adding to the speculation is the fact that Stallworth recently worked out for the Dolphins.

Williams can’t practice with the team while his suspension is lifted. But he doesn’t appear to be showing much of an ambition to be hanging near his current team’s locale in the meantime.

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Jonathan Vilma goes from victim to aggressor in bounty scandal

That Hurricane flag has gone so limp over the years.

The University of Miami holds the record for most players drafted in a single NFL first round (six), most over two years (11), most over three years (15) and most over four (19), but hasn’t had a single player taken in the first round in four years. That streak of a Hurricane scoring an NFL touchdown every week from 2002 to 2011, 149 consecutive football weeks, died quietly last year. Ray Lewis is getting old, man, so you need not have noticed the 50,000 or so unoccupied seats at the UM game Saturday to feel every bit that empty.

At least Jonathan Vilma is still proudly carrying that Hurricane flag, though. Last week, he planted it with attitude right in the center of his overzealous commissioner’s office.

Many years ago, back when he was just a college kid trying to find his voice, Vilma revealed a little bit about the strong man he would one day become. The conversation was about swagger. The Hurricane way, loud and obnoxious and overwhelming for so many years, is part of what attracted Vilma to the peacock-preening program. He was lured, as kids can be, to that rebellious hip-hop style of promising you a beat-down, delivering said beat-down, then reminding you loudly afterward that you had been beaten down.

But something interesting happened on the way to the throne. Vilma, as the brightest college kids are wont to do, grew up. Surrounded by the humble excellence of Andre Johnson and Ed Reed, Vilma realized, upon entering that champion huddle he helped shape, that he preferred a different style. He didn’t want to be a copycat rebel, loud and unoriginal, so this Hurricane decided he would be a quieter kind of storm.

Vilma was unusually mature for his age, book smart and street smart, and he said he wasn’t interested in winning the abrasive way those old Hurricanes did. He was intent on wrapping his violent fury in dignity and class. He valued his good name, and he has spent a decade in the pros preserving it, and damn if he’s going to let someone take it from him now in his waning football years without a very public fight … even if the guy trying to stain it is among the most powerful men in sports.

This is a long way of saying that football overlord Roger Goodell, in his zeal to make a very public point, trampled the wrong grown man.

The Saints bounty story has been one of the most overblown scandals in sports history — so loud only because Goodell chose to reveal it and then punish it with iron-fisted overindulgence, gift-wrapping the media an easy and noisy story in America’s most popular sport. Goodell, faced with the oxymoronic task of making a violent game safe, decided to scapegoat the Saints for something that was about as old as football. This, as the Ravens, in his unsafe league, play four games in 17 days to start this season, and Goodell himself works to expand the regular season to 18 games of profit. Goodell punished the Saints excessively as a symbolic statement because his concussed league now has a liability issue he is trying to eradicate as former players limp to the courtroom en masse.

If not for the heavy-handed punishments, and the media swirl it generated, almost every player in the league would shrug his shoulder pads at the spirit of what the Saints are alleged to have done. Former Dolphin Jason Taylor said last week that, if you change the wording from “bounty” to “big-hit pool” or “incentive pool,” you’d be able to prosecute just about every team in the league for what has stained the Saints. Goodell, so omnipotent for so long, making up the punishment rules on a whim, his employees complaining about his power but doing nothing to reduce it even while collectively bargaining during a lockout, thought he’d just be able to make a big, easy show of strength with Vilma, flexing his muscle about how he was cracking down on safety.

But, again, he picked on the wrong guy, suspending Vilma for a year for allegedly orchestrating the bounties without any proof anyone has seen. The Saints’ alleged leaders, the coaches, fled the league in disgrace without a fight. Vilma did no such thing, and won’t, and now he brings the fight to the commissioner, with the backing of an appeals board that reversed Goodell’s suspension. Vilma declined meetings with Goodell until last week, saying he wouldn’t get a fair hearing, but he went last week because Goodell has been forced to soften by the public shame brought by the appeals board.

Goodell very much wanted this bounty story in the news at the time he revealed it. That is no longer so. He’d like it to go away now, but Vilma refuses to make it easy. Vilma has forced fairness upon the commissioner and continues to apply pressure because he hasn’t accepted any of the league’s offers to reduce his penalty. Vilma declined to discuss this Saturday, saying he had to abide by judge’s orders, but one of his representatives said, “Jonathan could have accepted a reduction to eight games. It was offered. But he won’t accept guilt. He’ll pay any amount to clear his name. He says you can’t put a cost on fighting for your name and reputation.”

Those old Hurricane teams that lured Vilma to UM once upon a time loved to punch the bully in the mouth.

That flag isn’t what it was, not nearly, but it is good to see a few of those old strong guys still waving it.

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Tavares Gooden: Showstopper

Tavares Gooden is the ideal special teams contributor. In fact, he’s really a standout player when he gets on the field for special teams plays.

Since joining the San Francisco 49ers one season ago, the backup linebacker has excelled as a core member of Brad Seely’s special teams units, working on both coverage and return units.

Gooden brings a certain pride and appreciation to his profession. It also allows him to make show-stopping plays all over the field.

“There are only so many people that can play in the NFL,” Gooden said as the 49ers prepare to play the Detroit Lions Sunday night. “There are less than 2,000 guys in this league, and only 11 of those guys can play on the field at one time for each team. Knowing that I have a spot on this team as a key person brings on responsibility... I really take pride in that, everybody takes pride in it, and I think that’s what develops us into a good team.”

In 2011, Gooden was part of a group that finished first in the NFL with a kickoff return average of 27.4 yards and also led the league with the highest 20-plus yard kickoff return average in 2011. More than 84 percent of the team’s returns went back past the 20-yard line.

Gooden doesn’t just bring stellar play to the 49ers special teams, he’s also an emotional leader.

The fiery linebacker is known within the team’s locker room for playing with a youthful exuberance often exhibited by his big hits and the energetic celebrations, which often follow.

“Any time I make a play I’m going to get up and celebrate,” Gooden said. “That’s how I have always played. At every level of the game my coaches have told me to let my personality shine. Football is a boy’s game that I have been playing since I was 10-years old.

“I only know one way to play, and that’s to be excited about the game.”

Gooden’s enthusiasm will be on full display when San Francisco’s 2012 home schedule kicks off against the Lions.

The 6-foot-1, 242-pounder’s game-changing ability was evident last season when the two teams met in Detroit.

Gooden delivered a bone-crushing block on a Lions coverage player near the San Francisco 40-yard line during a punt return late in the fourth quarter. That hit helped spring Ted Ginn Jr. for a 40-yard return, which set up the 49ers on Detroit’s 35-yard line with just under six minutes remaining.

The 49ers offense capitalized on the great field position during the ensuing possession as Alex Smith engineered the game-winning drive capped by a Delanie Walker touchdown catch.

Plays that often go unsung on special teams, like his vital block in the 2011 Detroit game, have become Gooden’s bread-and-butter as an NFL veteran.

“I’m starting to learn it’s not all about who makes the tackle in special teams,” said Gooden of how he’s grown under the tutelage of Seely, the team's assistant head coach/special teams coordinator. “When you look at how good a special teams player is it shouldn’t just be based on tackles. It’s is this guy letting people get to the ball, letting people make tackles or is he playing like a monster? What determines a great core special teams player is how he does on all four phases, not just one phase.”

Gooden has developed into a great specialist largely because the path to a starting linebacker spot has been pretty much blocked at his two NFL stops.

Drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens out of Miami in 2008, Gooden has spent almost his entire career playing behind All-Pro linebackers like Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and before those two, Ray Lewis in Baltimore.

Instead of dwelling on a lack of playing time at linebacker, Gooden has embraced his role on coverage and return teams becoming a leader of the core special teamers in the process.

“I don’t get on the field for many plays on defense,” said Gooden about his approach to playing almost exclusively on special teams. “When I get to make a play it’s very special to me. I don’t get too many of them, but when the opportunity to make one comes it means that much more because I don’t know when the next one’s going to come. I don’t take it for granted.”

Fellow specialists like Anthony Dixon, C.J. Spillman and Larry Grant all look to Gooden as a source of inspiration when they take the field.

“Tavares is like an older mentor to me,” Dixon said. “We all see the extra work he puts into the classroom. He’s always taking notes and asking questions.

“Tavares’ experience is one of the best things you get from him, but you also get a whole lot of energy. He is one of the guys that keeps the energy going, and at the same time keeps the chemistry. He’s a guy everybody gets along with, a great teammate. He’s all out every day.”

Gooden has developed a special relationship with the rest of the team’s special teams regulars. He believes the core group’s friendships will translate to the team developing into an even more effective unit on the field.

Gooden’s on-field swagger has become somewhat renowned around the 49ers locker room. Fullback Bruce Miller feels Gooden’s on-field celebrations are "the best anybody on the team can offer.”

That exuberance has rubbed off on his teammates in a positive way as the 49ers special teams were among the NFL-leaders in multiple statistical categories last season.

The team’s kickoff coverage unit -- nicknamed “the Tony Montana Squad” for their pre-kick dances set to Future’s song about the character from Scarface, which plays over the Candlestick Park sound system before each kickoff -- ranked third in the NFL with an opponents’ average starting field position at their own 20.6-yard line.

The Tony Montana squad sums up what Gooden and the rest of the special teams are about. They don’t just make plays, they do it as a team and with style.

“When Tony Montana plays or somebody makes a big play on special teams, it’s a crowd momentum builder,” Gooden said while looking forward to the home opener. “Still, at the end of the day if we don’t go out there and execute it means nothing.

“We are going to be pumped up, but at the end of the day you have to do your responsibility. There is no one marquee guy. If everybody does their responsibility, what they’re supposed to do, everybody is going to eat.”

Heading into Week 2, Gooden is looking for the San Francisco special teams to get better at taking care of their responsibilities.

A fourth-quarter 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by Green Bay’s Randall Cobb was one of the only blemishes in an otherwise-impressive season-opening win last Sunday.

Gooden was critical of the team’s coverage on Cobb’s touchdown run, but he’s eager to show the team has made the necessary corrections against Detroit.

“The biggest thing right now is continuing to have phenomenal effort,” Gooden said. “It’s how much you improve from Week 1 to Week 2, which determines how your team’s going to be.”

Gooden himself has steadily improved throughout his career to the point where he is a consistent playmaker on special teams, playing a vital role for a 1-0 team that has its eyes set on a Super Bowl run.

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Jets signed TE Dedrick Epps from the Bears practice squad

Jets signed TE Dedrick Epps from the Bears practice squad. A seventh-round pick in the 2010 draft, Epps recently landed in Chicago after being cut by the Jets

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Chris Perez thrilled with Tribe's dramatic rally

CLEVELAND -- Closer Chris Perez loved seeing Cleveland's offense break through for three runs in the ninth inning against Texas on Thursday night. He was especially happy that the dramatic rally came with no outs.

"I had time to get ready," Perez said with a laugh on Friday morning.

Save opportunities -- especially those like the one that rapidly presented itself in Thursday's 5-4 victory -- have been few and far between over the past two months. That's the nature of the beast for a closer employed by a ballclub mired in a long losing streak.

Needless to say, Perez enjoyed slamming the door on Thursday.

"It felt like a fun game," he said. "That's what we did last year a lot, those kind of wins. It's been a while since we felt like that."

Over the past 45 games, during which Cleveland has a 10-35 record, Perez has logged 13 1/3 innings over 15 appearances that included only nine save chances. Compare that with the team's first 99 games, when the two-time All-Star worked in 40 games (38 1/3 innings) and had 31 save opportunities.

To put it another way, Perez went from having a save opportunity roughly once every three games over the season's first three months to averaging one every five over the past two months.

"The closing role, it comes fast and furious, and then it's barren, and then fast and furious, and then barren again," he said. "It's an ebb and flow. This year it's been a little easier. I don't know why. I really haven't lost anything with the days off."

Perez knows that the volume of save opportunities he receives is out of his control. And with three weeks left in the season, he said that he and his teammates need to focus on the things that are under their control.

"Everybody knows what they're playing for, hopefully," he said. "There's probably only a handful of guys who should feel comfortable in this room with where they stand going into next year. Unfortunately, when teams underperform or you don't meet expectations, they tend to want to change stuff. Teams that win or make the playoffs, they don't get overhauled, because obviously, they were successful.

"So these next three weeks are big for guys to show what they can do here. They might just say, 'It's only three weeks,' but it's a big three weeks. What else do they have to go by? This is big league competition. You can only get by so much with what you did in the Minors. Eventually, you have to step up here."

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Jon Jay's RBI double leads Cards past Dodgers 5-2 in extra innings

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jon Jay hit a go-ahead RBI double during a three-run 12th inning and the St. Louis Cardinals split of a four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, beating them 5-2 on Sunday and regaining undisputed possession of the second NL wild card spot.

John Ely (0-2) issued a leadoff walk to Matt Carpenter and Jay drove him on from second base with a line drive into the right field corner on an 0-2 pitch. Jay scored on an infield hit up the middle by Allen Craig and Yadier Molina walked with the bases loaded.

Rookie Shelby Miller (1-0) pitched one inning for his first major league victory.

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Yonder Alonso singles home winning run in 9th inning

His fourth hit of Sunday's game scored Everth Cabrera from second, giving San Diego a 12-11 walk-off win. San Diego had led Colorado 5-2 and 11-5 before giving up those leads. Alonso reached base a total of five times, adding a walk to his double and three singles.

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Ryan Braun hits 2 milestone homers

Ryan Braun, Brewers: Braun hit two homers on Sunday, giving him 201 for his career and a career-high 40 this season. Only four active players have reached 200 homers in fewer games than Braun's 867 -- Ryan Howard (658), Albert Pujols (788), Adam Dunn (822) and Alex Rodriguez (826).

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