17 May 2009

Morgan 100%

Coach Sean Payton says LB Dan Morgan is "100 percent" healthy and did "very well" in the Saints' minicamps.

Morgan, 30, has just 24 tackles since 2005, but could give Scott Shanle a run at weak-side linebacker. The Saints are looking for more playmaking at that position. Morgan would still be an awful bet to make it through 16 games.

"He's experienced and he's a guy who has been very productive and very successful in our league. The key with him is that he's in real good shape. He works extremely hard and he has trained well so I think the layoff in his case in regards to the physical aspect probably isn't as significant. The key is the mental work that he's doing along with the rest of these guys as they're picking up the system. As we move into training camp and put pads on, him staying healthy will be the big thing,” said Payton.

This was the first time we've ever seen linebacker Dan Morgan on the practice field and he looked pretty good to me, running around fluidly and showing some aggressiveness. He jarred a pass loose from tight end Dan Campbell at one point and batted down another while rushing to the line of scrimmage...


Defensive Tackle Rankings

3. Vince Wilfork, Patriots. Wilfork is a big, physical nose tackle who excels at holding his ground against multiple blockers. He also has the first-step quickness to collapse the pocket from the interior. That versatility makes him the key to New England's defense.

See the rest of the rankings here.


Dan Morgan eager to play for Saints, provided he can stay healthy

Three days of organized team activities hardly constitute a comeback for Saints' weakside linebacker Dan Morgan.
But it's a start.

"It's exciting getting back out there and mixing it up with the guys and playing football again," Morgan said Thursday. "I feel good. Every day I just feel better and better and more comfortable being out there.

"The Saints have been great through the whole process. I definitely appreciate that they want me back and are giving me this second chance. Hopefully I can help them out and we can go on and win a Super Bowl."

Morgan, 30, is trying to make a comeback in New Orleans after giving up his body and soul for seven seasons with the Carolina Panthers. This is his second attempt at a comeback with the Saints, who signed him as a free agent in March 2008, upon his release from Carolina. Two months later Morgan announced his retirement, citing health and family reasons.

In February, Morgan had a change of heart and rejoined the Saints after being reinstated by league officials.

Now the question is which Dan Morgan are the Saints getting? The 11th pick of the 2001 NFL draft who made 25 tackles for the Panthers against New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII, or the injury-riddled former Pro Bowl middle linebacker whose career has been marred by numerous concussions, a broken leg, pulled hamstring, a chronic bum shoulder and partially torn Achilles tendon?

Today will be Morgan's fourth practice at his new position of weakside linebacker under Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

"I played weakside linebacker my first three years at Miami and outside linebacker my first year at Carolina, so it's not like I haven't played the position, " said Morgan, 6 feet 2, 245 pounds. "I have the speed and the athletic ability to play on the outside, but it's definitely a different feeling out there than in the middle. It's actually kind of fun. I was real excited to get back out there."

Morgan last played in a game Sept. 23, 2007, when he suffered a season-ending injury to his Achilles tendon. A year earlier, he missed the final 15 games because of a concussion, his fifth reported concussion going back to his college days.

"Being out of football for a couple of years, it was a nervous and exciting feeling that first day of OTAs, " Morgan said. "I didn't feel like a rookie, more like a second-year guy getting back out there with the guys and getting my feet wet again.

"I feel real confident in where I'm at right now. It's the third day now, and I feel completely normal."

Though the depth chart is not etched in stone, it appears Morgan is working with the second unit.

"You welcome a guy like that back, and you respect the passion of him wanting to continue to play, " Saints strongside linebacker Scott Fujita said.

"He's an intense competitor, " said Saints guard Jamar Nesbit, who played in Carolina with Morgan during the 2001 and '02 seasons. "He's a great athlete, a hard worker and a smart person who's going to be in the right position almost 9.9 times out of 10. He cares about what he does and he cares about winning, so he'll definitely be an asset on defense."

Nesbit recalled the first day he shared a practice field with Morgan in Carolina.

"He was flying around full speed making tackles in shorts, " Nesbit said. "We all were kind of like, 'Oh my goodness, ' and he hasn't slowed down since.

"The only thing that we ever worried about was him staying healthy, just because he was kind of an undersized guy playing the middle. As long as he plays outside, I think he'll be great. He played his heart out trying to play middle linebacker, but it's just not his body type."

Saints Coach Sean Payton expressed the same appreciation and concern for Morgan.

"He's a guy who has been very productive and very successful in our league, " Payton said. "He's in real good shape, he works extremely hard and he has trained well. As we move into training camp and put pads on, staying healthy will be the big thing for him."

Morgan remains cautiously optimistic.

"I'm more excited than I am concerned," he said. "I've worked extremely hard and my body feels the best it has in a long time.

"So far, so good. I'm just taking it one day at a time."


Bubba Won't Be Back Till Training Camp

Spoke with Bubba Franks in the locker room and he told me he doesn't expect to do too much before training camp. In the meantime, he's getting treatment on his injured knee for about four hours per day.

"My main thing is getting healthy and staying healthy," Franks said. "I think that's really the only problem, is being healthy."


Shockey Not at OTA

“The guys that aren’t here right now – there are two rookies that are in school, Malcolm Jenkins and Shawn Flanagan, the offensive lineman. Then we had two veterans – Darren Sharper and Jeremy Shockey – and I’ve talked with both. To say they were excused today wouldn’t be the right word because it’s not mandatory, but I did talk with both of those players and we’ll get them back in the fold here ASAP.”

Were their absences family-related?

“Yes. Just stuff they have to take care of at home.”

Drew Brees was asked how much has your connection with Jeremy Shockey grown with an offseason to have with him?

Drew Brees: We've made strides. Obviously the more time we have tougher on the field and in the classroom, film room and everything else, the better we're going to become together. I have a great relationship with so many guys on the team as to what we're able to do on the field together, them knowing where I'm going to be, where I'm expecting them to be. You just kind of understand it. You don't even have to speak it anymore, because it's almost muscle memory. I'm still getting to that point with Jeremy, but we'll be there by the time the season rolls around.


Aubrey Huff Autograph Signing at Baltimore ESPN Zone May 26, 2009

Baltimore Orioles slugger Aubrey Huff will be signing autographs at the Baltimore ESPN Zone on May 26.  This is one of a string of five upcoming autograph signings hosted by ESPN Zone.  Aubrey Huff had his second best year of his career in 2008 winning the 2008 Silver Slugger award after batting .304 with 34 HRs and 108 RBI.


Cora to wear splint

Bart Hubbuch, of the New York Post, reports New York Mets SS Alex Cora (thumb) has been advised to wear a splint on his hand for the next 10 days.


Leon Williams Update

Leon Williams has outperformed a rookie contract that expires after this season. Williams would potentially have the leverage to force a new deal if he became an unrestricted free agent after this year if he has another solid year. But he will only be a UFA if the league collective bargaining agreement is extended. If not, Jackson could be tied to the Browns for two more seasons as a restricted free agent -- which gives the Browns all the cards.


Transcript: Giants D-Line Coach Mike Waufle

Dwayne Hendricks is an inside player who is going to be a real good player as far as helping us inside.  He has a chance to be able to compete and to be able to do the things that we want to be able to get done.


Winslow's absence from Buc workouts a perception problem

TAMPA - I volunteered to write this.

It's time, for the time being, to not worry about Kellen Winslow Jr. not showing up for voluntary workouts over at One Buc Place.

Yes, it's the second straight week "soldier" has been missing. Apparently, he is in the process of moving to Tampa from California.

Man, he better turn up next week rubbing his back from lugging all those sofas or asking, "Hey, anybody need boxes?"

What is this, Two Men and a Winslow?

But before Bucs fans who worry about Winslow start worrying all over again, note that he is expected to be at workouts next week.

Also note that Bucs coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik seem perfectly fine with Winslow's absence, at least they were last week, when Dominik smiled and said, "We're OK, we're good."

Then again, what choice do they have?

But let's go back to a key word: voluntary.

These are voluntary workouts.

The Bucs are OK with Winslow, they're good.

Good enough for me.

I just hope Winslow doesn't move any motorcycles.

Guys miss workouts all the time. Barrett Ruud missed workouts last week. Earnest Graham has skipped them, too.
Granted, you would think that, in the name of first impressions, Winslow would volunteer to immediately show the pewter and jump right into working with his new quarterbacks, new coaches, new offense, what with all the money he got.

You'd also think that Winslow, who at his introductory news conference spoke of being misunderstood, would understand how his absence might also be misunderstood.

But this is not a federal case.

It's about perception more than anything else.

Me? I'm willing to wait and see.

I don't think Winslow missing these workouts is a sign of things to come. Things might still come, but it won't be because he missed these workouts. Remember a few years ago, when Michael Strahan hemmed and hawed about retirement, kicked back and missed Giants training camp? Tom Coughlin didn't blink very much. Then Strahan showed up.

Hey, didn't the Giants win the Super Bowl?

If Kellen Winslow Jr. shows up and works his tail off and goes out and catches 75 balls and makes touchdowns, none of this voluntary stuff is going to matter.

Come to think of it, it might not matter now.


49ers' Gore willing to give up a few carries

SANTA CLARA – It's a tricky issue for an NFL running back. Sharing carries with another rusher can cut down on wear and tear and elongate your career. But it also can give a younger teammate a foothold from which to take your job.

That's what happened to former 49ers running back Garrison Hearst, who split carries with a younger rusher, Kevan Barlow, for several seasons. Hearst was displaced by Barlow following the 2003 season.

After splitting time with Frank Gore in 2005, Barlow was traded to the New York Jets before the 2006 season.
Three years later, it's Gore, 26, who is suddenly surrounded by eager rookie runners.

The 49ers used a third-round draft pick – the same round in which Gore was drafted – to select Alabama running back Glen Coffee. The team also is excited about another rookie, Purdue's Kory Sheets, a non-drafted free agent.
Coach Mike Singletary made it clear on draft weekend that Gore was still the team's primary running back. But he also said Coffee's acquisition was in Gore's best interest.

"Frank is smart enough to know that taking every snap, getting injured in the last couple of years – a little nick here, a little nick there – it helps to have somebody in there who can give him a break, share some of that load," Singletary said.

Gore, however, said the ankle injuries that caused him to miss games in 2007 and '08 were not because his body broke down. And he insisted he is the type of running back who gets better the more he touches the football.

"I couldn't help that someone fell on my ankle, and the year before it was the same," Gore said. "Last year, I felt like I was getting stronger. And I did get hurt. I won't say it was because I was worn down. It was just unlucky injuries."
Singletary and the 49ers have not yet decided how many carries Coffee and the team's other backups will see in a game. Gore, however, almost certainly will get more rest than he did last year when DeShaun Foster was the No. 2 running back.

Before Gore injured his ankle in a Week 14 game against the Jets, Foster had 21 carries for 42 yards. Ten of those carries came in the second half of a Week 11 blowout win against the Rams.

Gore said Tuesday that Jimmy Raye's offense suited his style of running more than Mike Martz's system did last season. Martz had Gore run outside the tackles more than he had in previous seasons, something Gore referred to as "finesse running."

"I like it so far," Gore said of Raye's offense. "We run the ball a lot. We're doing a lot of downhill runs, and that's my type of running style."

He also said he's gotten a good first impression from Coffee – "He's working very hard. He's learning the offense. I like him" – and wouldn't mind if the rookie got a few carries here and there.

That is, as long as Gore continues to get his fill.

Said Gore: "As long as I'm in most of the time and getting my rhythm and doing the best I can to help the team win, I'm fine with it."


49ers would like to keep Gore fresh; he just wants the football

After selecting a running back in the third round, the 49ers indicated they would like to ease up on Frank Gore's workload.

Gore, however, is in no hurry to share.

"I feel like the more I'm in the game, the more I touch the ball, the better player I am," he said Tuesday.

Gore spoke shortly after the 49ers' second day of organized team activities. He said any talk of a two-back system with rookie Glen Coffee was news to him.

"I don't think we'll be rotating," he said.

Gore was standing in the precise spot outside the locker room where, about 24 hours earlier, Coach Mike Singletary talked about his desire to keep his running back fresh. Gore has had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons but has seen his past two years curtailed by ankle injuries.
On Monday, Singletary was asked if he has talked with Gore about a reduced number of carries.

"Frank is smart enough to know that taking every snap, getting injured in the last couple years — a little nick here, a little nick there — it helps to have somebody in there who can give him a break, share some of that load," Singletary said. "So he's smart enough to know that that's going to help him as well."

In the copycat NFL, teams no doubt noticed the success of two-back systems last season. Five teams had two runners with at least 160 carries — and all five of those teams made the playoffs: Tennessee, the New York Giants, Baltimore, Carolina and Miami.

"That's just where people are moving," Titans Coach Jeff Fisher said near the end of last season. "Our whole plan going in was to keep them fresh for the final stretch of the regular season and hopefully the playoffs."

The Titans nicknamed their duo Smash and Dash. The Panthers had Double Trouble. The Giants went with Earth (Brandon Jacobs), Wind (Derrick Ward) and Fire (Ahmad Bradshaw).

So after the 49ers drafted Coffee, the most popular game in the pressroom was thinking of a new nickname for the hard-charging, power backfield. Smash and Gore? Coffee and Express-o? Frank and Beans?

But to hear Gore talk Tuesday, the T-shirt makers shouldn't get started quite yet. He turned 26 last week and said his body is in excellent condition.

The coaches have told Gore to be in "tip-top shape," which he says is a sign they are expecting him to be on the field as much as ever.

Plus, Gore said, he gets better as the game goes on. If the coaches want to give him an occasional breather, that's fine, but he wants as many carries as possible.

"As long as I'm in most of the snaps and getting in my rhythm, doing the best I can do to help my team win, I'm fine with it," Gore said.

What about avoiding injuries? Gore pointed out that his ankle problems the past two seasons stemmed from bad luck, not wear and tear. In both cases, another player rolled over his ankle, which cannot reasonably be blamed on too many carries.

"I felt like I was starting to get stronger in the game I got hurt," Gore said, referring to a Week 14 game against the New York Jets.

Gore's desire to stay on the field is in part because of the potential he sees in Jimmy Raye's offense. He said there are a lot of straight-ahead power counter plays, just as there were in Norv Turner's offense in 2006 when Gore rushed for 1,695 yards.

"I like to have my shoulders square," Gore said. "A lot of runs and a lot of running plays are going straight downhill. Let me just pick a hole and go."


Braun makes greatest list

Leftfielder Ryan Braun is the only member of the Milwaukee Brewers to be named to Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball.

Braun ranks No. 32 on the list, which includes both position players and pitchers.

What gives weight to this list is the panel of 100 baseball people Sporting News polled to arrive at its choices.
Many of the panelists are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame and winners of major baseball awards.

Among the voters with Brewers connections are former players Gorman Thomas and Rollie Fingers and former managers Tom Trebelhorn and Phil Garner.

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was chosen as the greatest current player in baseball, followed by Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, Johan Santana of the New York Mets, Manny Ramirez of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins.

Two of the top four players, Rodriguez and Ramirez, have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

Rounding out the top 10 are Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays, Derek Jeter of the Yankees, Mariano Rivera of the Yankees and Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves.

The Mets led with six players in the top 50, followed by the Yankees with five.


Saints consider signing free-agent RB James

The New Orleans Saints are open to the idea of giving their running game an "Edge."

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told FOXSports.com that the team is still considering making a contract offer to free-agent running back Edgerrin James.

"We've spent some time evaluating Edgerrin," Loomis said Tuesday morning. "We think he can still play. We're going to continue to evaluate that and see where it ends up. We haven't made a decision on Edgerrin yet."

In an expected move, James was released last month after the Cardinals drafted Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells (first round) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (seventh). James is the NFL's active rushing leader with 12,121 yards, which also ranks 11th on the league's all-time list. James, though, turns 31 in August and isn't believed to have drawn strong interest in free agency.

James could be a nice fit in New Orleans, which didn't draft or sign a replacement for the released Deuce McAllister. Loomis, though, expressed confidence that Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush could carry the Saints' rushing load. A five-game starter last season, Thomas scored nine times and gained 625 yards on only 129 carries. Bush generated 844 yards from scrimmage in an injury-plagued 2008 campaign.

"Every time Pierre has had the opportunity to play, he's performed really well," Loomis said. "I think he was one of the leaders in the league in not getting tackled for a loss among running backs (in 2008). He's not the big prototype back that Deuce was but we're confident that Pierre can do some good things for us.

"Obviously, Reggie is an explosive back and he's had a real strong offseason so far. I know he's looking forward to the challenge of carrying the ball a little more."

James was unhappy last season with his role as a part-time back in Arizona splitting carries with rookie Tim Hightower. James repeatedly asked for his release before it was finally granted.

James enjoyed a strong finish to the 2008 season. He averaged 67.2 rushing yards in Arizona's final five games and started all four postseason contests, including a Super Bowl XLIII loss to Pittsburgh.

James played the past three years in Arizona, producing 2,895 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. James reached four Pro Bowls during his first seven NFL seasons with Indianapolis.


Najeh's car stolen, wrecked

Police have arrested a man who they said stole a 1970 Chevrolet Impala from former Pittsburgh Steelers' running back Najeh Davenport when he left it running outside his Carrick house this afternoon.

Mr. Davenport told police that just before 1 p.m., he left his car running in the 200 block of East Meyers Street while he went inside to get something and when he returned it was gone.

Witnesses saw a man, later identified by police as Rodney Terrell Green, 22, drive off in the Impala and watched as Mr. Davenport chased after him in another vehicle.

Mr. Green sped from East Meyers toward Amanda Street in Mr. Davenport's car, hitting four parked cars, police said. With noticeable facial injuries, Mr. Green then got out of the Impala and ran down Amanda toward the Foodland on Brownsville Road, at which point Mr. Davenport called 911.

He and other witnesses were able to chase and stop him in the Foodland parking lot, where they held him until police arrived.

Mr. Green was taken to South Side Hospital before he was lodged in the Allegheny County Jail. Police said Mr. Green, who lives in the 200 block of East Meyers, is charged with four counts of accidents involving damage to unattended vehicles, theft and receiving stolen property.


Caldwell: Absence of WR Reggie Wayne at OTAs not a problem

Of 88 players on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster, only wide receiver Reggie Wayne did not attend the first day of organized team activities Tuesday.

Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell didn’t see it as an issue.

Wayne, the Colts’ three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver who is entering his ninth NFL season, typically works out in the offseason at the University of Miami, and Caldwell — entering his first season as the team’s head coach — said Tuesday “that has not been unusual the last few years.”

“Those guys from the University of Miami love working out with one another, and he’s been doing that for quite some time,” Caldwell said shortly after the Colts’ first practice of the 2009 OTA session. “He comes back in great shape and certainly he has been around here long enough he knows the system.”


Gore still wants to carry the load for 49ers

After selecting a running back in the third round, the 49ers indicated they would like to ease up on Frank Gore’s workload.

Gore, however, is no hurry to share.

“I feel like the more I’m in the game, the more I touch the ball, the better player I am,’’ he said Tuesday.

Gore spoke shortly after the 49ers’ second day of OTAs. He said any talk of a two-back system with rookie Glen Coffee was news to him.

“I don’t think we’ll be rotating,’’ he said.

Gore was standing in the precise spot outside the locker room where, about 24 hours earlier, Coach Mike Singletary talked about his desire to keep his running back fresh. Gore has had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons but has also seen his past two years curtailed by ankle injuries.

On Monday, Singletary was asked if he has talked to Gore about a reduced number of carries.

“Frank is smart enough to know that taking every snap, getting injured in the last couple years – a little nick here, a little nick there – it helps to have somebody in there who can give him a break, share some of that load,’’ Singletary said. “So he’s smart enough to know that that’s going to help him as well.”

In the copycat NFL, teams no doubt noticed the success of two-back systems a year ago. Five teams in the league had two runners with at least 160 carries – and all five of those teams made the playoffs: Tennessee, New York, Baltimore, Carolina and Miami.

The Titans had Smash and Dash. The Panthers had Double Trouble. The New York Giants went with Earth (Brandon Jacobs), Wind (Derrick Ward) and Fire (Ahmad Bradshaw).

So after the 49ers drafted Coffee, the most popular game in the pressroom was thinking of a new nickname for the hard-charging, power backfield. Smash and Gore? Coffee and Express-o? Frank and Beans?

But to hear Gore talk on Tuesday, the T-shirt and slogan makers should give it a rest. The coaches have told him to be in “tip-top shape,’’ which he says is a sign they are expecting him to be on the field plenty.

Plus, Gore said, he gets better as the game goes on. If the coaches want to give him an occasional breather, that’s fine, but he wants as many carries as possible.

“As long as I’m in most of the snaps and getting in my rhythm, doing the best I can do to help my team win, I’m fine with it,” Gore said.

It helps that Gore seems promise in Jimmy Raye’s offense. He said there are a lot of power counters, just as there were in Norv Turner’s offense in 2006 when Gore rushed for 1,695 yards.

“I like to have my shoulders square,’’ Gore said. “Let me just pick a hole and go.”


Schaub, Johnson energized

Quarterback Matt Schaub jogged on the field free of the knee brace he wore the final month of last season.
The shoulder surgery he underwent last offseason was a distant memory as he participated in the first day of Texans organized team activities Monday.

For the past three months, Schaub, 27, has avoided the training room and enjoyed a “normal” offseason.

“It was wonderful, since I didn’t have to worry about coming in the training room every morning,” Schaub said. “I got to spend a lot more time with my wife and travel, and I got to play golf early in this offseason. So that was fun.”
It’s back to business for the third-year starter, though. He returns rested, healthy and confident, and it only helps that his 10 fellow starters from 2008 also return to help build on a season in which the Texans finished third in the NFL in total offense.

“He’s very comfortable,” All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson said. “I think everyone is comfortable. (I see) a lot of confidence. We feel very good about what we have here. We’re just excited about the season, especially about what we did last season.

“The biggest thing we know we have to do now is become more consistent as a football team. Just eliminate the turnovers. And those are the things we have to work on. I’m sure guys will put a lot of pressure on themselves. We’re just out here working to become great.”

Schaub plans to rely often on Johnson, who had a career-best 1,575 receiving yards last season and eight touchdowns. Last offseason, Johnson had injury problems of his own. He had to have an arthroscopic procedure on his knee midway through the offseason and missed the preseason.

This year, Johnson, 27, and Schaub hope to stay healthy together so they can get off to a faster start than they did a year ago when the team opened with four losses.

“Those two guys have been pretty darn good when they’ve both been on the field and at the top of their games,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “A good offseason for them is important. At our meeting this morning, the theme was kind of about the players who are here and taking their games to another level and then the new guys making all of us better. Those two guys need to take their games to the next level, and if we’re able to keep them out here for 14 days, they’ll do that.”

Schaub posted career numbers last season, passing for 3,043 yards. He threw 15 touchdown passes and rushed for two but threw 10 interceptions.

Schaub and Johnson welcome the challenge of building on what they began last year. And they are focused on taking the franchise to the next level — together.

“Andre starts everything off,” Schaub said. “Everything is going to go through him. Then we’re going to work Kevin (Walter) and Owen (Daniels) and Steve (Slaton) in there. If we can just keep moving forward, we’re going to be good.”


Redbirds centerfielder Jon Jay finding stroke

It's been a long week for Memphis Redbirds hitters. Fortunately, Jon Jay says, it's an even longer season.
"You can't worry about one, two weeks. You keep doing your work, and keep a positive outlook," said Jay, the hottest bat in the Redbirds' lineup -- and at the moment the club's leadoff man. "There's a long way to go."

The Birds' team average is up about eight points from the start of this month, but still firmly rooted in the Pacific Coast League cellar at .230. The last eight games they've gone 2-6, averaging just two runs a game. The league's best pitching staff (3.43 ERA) and solid defense (30 errors in 35 games) keeps Memphis above .500 -- 19-16 before Monday night's game with Reno at AutoZone Park.

But there are glimmers at the plate -- starting with the Redbirds' centerfielder of the moment.

Jay, a lefthander who moved to center when Shane Robinson was promoted to St. Louis, extended his hitting streak to six in Monday's game with the Reno Aces. He's 11-for-24 in that stretch, raising his average from .213 to .255 during May. He also drew two intentional walks Monday night.

Like many Redbirds hitters, he's well off the pace of his career minor league average (.308), but he's headed in the right direction.

"I've been happy with my approach at the plate. It's stayed consistent this season," said Jay, a 24-year-old former Miami Hurricane who was a second-round pick in 2006 and was a Texas League All-Star in Double-A Springfield last year before hitting .345 in 16 late-season games in Memphis. "I just didn't get a lot of hits to fall."

"I don't worry about Jon Jay. He's is a .300 hitter everywhere he's gone, and he is still technically in his first trip around this league," said St. Louis Cardinals' minor league hitting coordinator Dan Radison, who was finishing up a weekend with the Redbirds on Monday.

"He's also getting back to the things he does best, going to the gaps, hitting line drives. He's a Wade Boggs-type hitter."

That he gives the team flawless defense is a given. Jay has not made an error this year -- and has no errors in 237 minor league appearances.

The Redbirds' leading hitters Robinson (.345) and Tyler Greene (.296) and top RBI producer Nick Stavinoha (25) are filling injury holes at the moment in St. Louis. Veteran second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir (.244) is just back from 10 days on the DL with a hamstring. Two of last year's power sources, third baseman David Freese (ankle) and outfielder Joe Mather (hand) are on the DL after struggling -- Mather struggling mightily (.129).

That leaves the Redbirds with several first-year Triple-A starters, and leftside infielders Brett Wallace and Donavan Solano just up from Double-A, learning on the fly. Wallace had three hits Monday, Solano had two and Wallace made a nice grab of a sharp liner to third in his third Triple-A start.

"You get holes at the top, you have holes everywhere in the organization, and everyone feels the effects for a couple of weeks," said Riordan of the Cardinals, who like the Redbirds went 2-6 in the last week and are 5-9 in May without star outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel.


Huff's a hit

The Orioles' team plane bounced, dipped and rattled while passing through a thunderstorm on its way to Kansas City, Mo., early Thursday morning.

Later that evening, Orioles manager Dave Trembley asked first baseman Aubrey Huff about the experience.

Prepared for a rough flight, Huff said that when he got on board he downed a couple drinks, sufficiently chilled out and then went to sleep.

"Couldn't have told you it was storming," he said with a sly smile.

Welcome to Huff's world, where outside tumult - even occasional self-created chaos - doesn't seem to affect his easygoing attitude.

Criticize him. Call him abrasive, crass or lazy. Boo him at his home park on Opening Day. Do whatever you want.

Huff doesn't care. He's not changing. And, when you least expect it, you'll end up appreciating him.

"He is who he is, no matter who he is around, and I think there is something to be said for that," said Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, one of Huff's best friends on the team. "He doesn't try to fake it around people or be somebody he is not. He likes to have a good time. He can be very sarcastic. He just enjoys life."

Huff is the Orioles' Everyman, the kid in the back of class who launches clandestine spitballs; the smart-aleck colleague in the neighboring cubicle. Except that he hits baseballs 400-plus feet with regularity.

"He is a real guy, that's what I love about him," said Chris "Chico" Fernandez, the Tampa Bay Rays' video coordinator and Huff's friend for a decade. "You either love him or hate him. I don't think there is an in-between with his antics. I loved him."

For a six-month period, Baltimore hated Huff.

In November 2007, after hitting just 15 homers in the first season of a three-year, $20 million deal, Huff appeared on Bubba the Love Sponge, a risque nationally syndicated radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio and, among other things, called Baltimore a "horses - - town."

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail publicly rebuked Huff and fined him a "significant" amount for the incident. The fans were apoplectic, booing him unmercifully for the first part of 2008 despite Huff's apologies, which included wearing an "I Heart Baltimore" T-shirt at the annual Orioles Fanfest celebration at Camden Yards.

"They gave it to me pretty good," Huff said. "It was really meant to be taken as a Howard Stern-kind of knockoff show. It was just a thing to do, and I was trying to have some fun with it. By no means did I mean anything by it."

The boos dissipated as Huff kept hitting throughout 2008. He finished the season with a .304 batting average with 32 homers and 108 RBIs, earning Most Valuable Oriole accolades and a Silver Slugger Award.

"I wasn't wild about the comments at the time," MacPhail said. "But I was impressed with how he took responsibility and how he responded on the field and off.'

MacPhail said he has not talked about a contract extension for Huff, 32, but both sides said they would be open to a new deal once the current one ends this winter.

Huff's popularity in Baltimore soared nine days ago when he hit a three-run homer against the New York Yankees' Joba Chamberlain at Camden Yards. Huff made an emphatic fist pump rounding first base and again at home plate - a direct mocking of Chamberlain's strikeout celebrations.

In Chamberlain's third big league appearance, and first at Yankee Stadium in August 2007, he released an exaggerated fist pump after striking out Huff in the eighth inning of a one-run game. Huff vowed at the time that he would return the theatrics if he homered against the Yankees' right-hander.

"It was pre-ordained," Huff deadpanned. "I was just hoping one day I'd get him."

Orioles fans loved it, praising "Huff Daddy" on Internet message boards. He received text messages from players throughout baseball joking about the gesture. And his teammates couldn't stop chuckling.

"It was one of the greatest things I have ever seen in sports," Orioles closer George Sherrill said. "Nobody likes antics, especially when they are tired, so I thought it was one of the funniest things I have seen on the field."

Huff will face Chamberlain again Thursday in new Yankee Stadium, and he doesn't expect any fallout from his fist pump, with the exception of some Bronx cheers from Yankees fans.

"That fist pump was just like my radio show; it wasn't meant to [tick] anybody off," Huff said. "It was just meant to be funny. That's my personality."

His shtick is to mess with anyone and everyone, often in sophomoric fashion. One of Huff's favorite games is knocking the notebook out of an unsuspecting reporter's hands. He's a 12-year-old boy stuck in a millionaire athlete's existence.

"When you get on an elevator with him and he gets off at his floor first, he'll quick hit all of the buttons, laugh and leave," said Scott Cursi, Tampa Bay's bullpen catcher and Huff's longtime friend.

Then there's Huff's legendary penchant for nudity.

In one of his first days as an Oriole, he sat in the middle of the Fort Lauderdale Stadium clubhouse reading a newspaper in the buff.

Not blessed with a sculpted body, Huff said he uses nudity to his advantage.

"I like shock value. I like messing with people," he said. "If I don't feel like doing an interview that day, I'll just get buck naked and most [reporters] won't come up to me."

This spring, he made a point of loudly comparing his body to minor league pitcher Jake Arrieta's muscled frame, playfully reminding Arrieta who was in the majors. No one is exempt from Huff's teasing, including himself. When he received his Silver Slugger in April, Huff, not known for his defensive prowess, held the trophy above his head and said, "Next up, Gold Glove."

For all his joking, though, he takes his job seriously.

"He is amusing. He keeps things in perspective," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "But I don't think I have had any guy any more competitive than he is when he is standing in that batter's box. He is all business when he is in that box."

When the game is over, however, so is that intensity. He's back to being the goofy, small-town Texas kid who travels imperviously through the storms around him.

"As soon as I leave this field every day," he said, "it's back to life as normal for me."


Kenny Phillips Update

The Giants' Kenny Phillips has gained 10 pounds of muscle and weighs 217. He has the size and speed to excel at free or strong safety.


Two teams should do a reality check and move quickly to add running back Edgerrin James to their roster.

Although I really applaud the Bengals' pickup of former Rutgers running back Brian Leonard for depth at the running back position, it's hard to believe that they would rely on the highly unreliable Cedric Benson at the top of their depth chart. And Seattle hasn't put forth a convincing argument that they have a solid situation at running back with former-Cowboy Julius Jones backed up by T.J. Duckett.

In ten starts last season, Benson only averaged 3.5 yards per carry and ran for just two touchdowns. In Seattle, Jones averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 10 starts and 15 game appearances, but he scored just two rushing touchdowns and was highly erratic from week to week. Meanwhile, Duckett averaged just 2.8 yards per carry last year.

There's little doubt that James would be an immediate upgrade for both clubs with his experience and skill set. During his first two seasons in Arizona, he rushed for no less than 1,100 yards per season. Despite his role being reduced in 2008, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry during the postseason against some top-notch defenses to help the Cardinals earn a Super Bowl appearance.

But time is slipping by, and James should get his nose in a playbook soon if he wants to make an impact with a new team in 2009.


Wayne's World

Point 1: Long before the Colts released wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis was already Wayne's World.

Although Harrison was often and deservedly mentioned in the same breath with receivers of the caliber of Jerry Rice and Cris Carter during his career, Reggie Wayne has been Peyton Manning's favorite target over the past two seasons. And quite honestly, the Colts won't miss a beat without the 13-year veteran.

Drafted in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft, Wayne was targeted to be paired up with Harrison, Indy's undisputed No. 1 receiver. A fast, sure-handed physical receiver who tacks on extra yards after the catch, Wayne complemented Harrison's style that featured plenty of quick slants and smooth-striding deep routes.

After Wayne posted more receiving yards and nearly the number of catches that Harrison logged in 2004, he proved that he deserved "1b" status instead of being referenced as the team's No. 2 receiver. But the fact of the matter is that over the past five seasons, Wayne has been the Colts' most productive receiver, catching 432 passes for 6,230 yards and 42 scores versus Harrison's 343 catches for 4,508 yards and 45 touchdowns. During that stretch, Wayne didn't miss a single start while Harrison sat out 13 games.

Wayne is now the veteran who will lead a receiver corps that includes third-year receiver Anthony Gonzales as the No. 2 receiver. Second-year speedster Pierre Garcon, rookie Austin Collie—a focused and determined pass-catcher out of BYU—and third-year veteran Roy Hall should battle it out for the No. 3 spot during training camp. And the Colts will undoubtedly slide tight end Dallas Clark out into the slot frequently to take advantage of his ability to exploit the middle of the field.

The offense will benefit from the return of starting left guard Ryan Lilja, who missed the entire 2008 season due to injury. They'll also get a boost from the return of former Michigan running back Mike Hart and the addition of rookie running back Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher in college football last year. So expect to see significant improvement from an Indianapolis rushing attack that finished 31st in the league last year, averaging just 79.6 rushing yards per game. 

With a more balanced offensive attack, Wayne could post another 100-yard-plus catches and 1,500 receiving yards like he did in 2007.


Jon Beason Out in Charlotte


Winslow explains his early absence

Bucs fans, Kellen Winslow hears you.

The team's highest-profile offseason acquisition knows many have wondered what to make of his absence during the first week of voluntary offseason workouts. In an interview Monday, Winslow vowed to begin practicing with his new teammates next week at One Buc Place and was adamant that he is "working his butt off" to prepare for the upcoming season.

Winslow, acquired in a trade with the Browns in February, said his still-incomplete move to Tampa has been the primary reason for his absence last week and this week. He vowed to attend beginning May 26, when the Bucs begin a third week of OTAs (offseason team activities).

Winslow said he consulted with coach Raheem Morris beforehand and said ownership was made aware he would not attend the first five sessions of the offseason. Morris has expressed no concern nor has he addressed Winslow's absence specifically. He has said only that the absentees had all been in contact with the club.

Although Winslow isn't yet participating in team drills, he stressed that he is continuing his punishing personal workouts, something he does each offseason. He vowed to arrive in shape, ready to perform.

"Fans are going to have opinions, but if you know me, you now I'm working my butt off," Winslow said. "I live in San Diego. I want to be there, and I will be there."

The Bucs are implementing a new offense, one in which coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski has said Winslow will play a major role.

Winslow isn't oblivious to his public image. He knows there remain many who are skeptical about whether he has matured after youthful mistakes, especially in light of the Bucs' decision to sign him to a lucrative long-term contract that includes $20 million in guarantees.

"Fans have a right to feel the way they want," he said. But Winslow is quietly hoping a fresh start in Tampa will help him change attitudes. He's already trying to become part of the community with his June football camp, for which he says he will sponsor 150 kids from a local Boys and Girls Club (visit kellenwinslow80.com for information on the camp).

And Winslow addressed the subject of NFL Network commentator and former Tampa Bay defensive lineman Warren Sapp, who called out Winslow for his absence on the first day of OTAs a week ago.

Attending practice May 12, Sapp told reporters, "When your team fires up OTAs and you're not here, I guess you're being misunderstood again, right? Your past doesn't equal your future, but it will damn sure give me some reflection of what you might do. I'll leave it at that."

Winslow said he called Sapp later that day and explained the situation. According to Winslow, Sapp apologized and said he understood Winslow's position.

"We talked it out," Winslow said.

Asked to address projections that call for the Bucs to be losers in 2009, Winslow begged to differ.

"I can tell you Coach Morris is going to have everybody ready," he said. "I guarantee you that we'll be competitive on Sundays."


Michael Irvin doesn't want `Canes to accept losing

Former UM receiver Michael Irvin can easily point to his lowest moment as a Hurricane.

It had nothing to do with his playing days, but when he returned for the infamous final game at the Orange Bowl in 2007. Remember: Virginia 48, UM 0?

"Toughest thing in the world was watching the final game at the Orange Bowl," said Irvin, who had a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. "I was on the sideline with some of those guys and just watching."

Irvin, whose reality series "4th and Long" debuts tonight on Spike TV, said he was disappointed with the attitudes of the players that night. He felt there was a lack of emotion, almost as if the once mighty UM program had began accepting losing.

"Forget the records," Irvin said. "Sometimes, you just line them up and they're better than you. But I want to see some fire. I don't want to see you getting your butt kicked and you're just accepting it. I don't want them to do nothing about it. Don't just come over and sit on the sideline. Come over and fight your own guy, fight somebody. Do something. I just had issues with that."

Irvin said UM coach Randy Shannon "has things going in the right direction," but knows this year is vital. He said the Hurricanes need to make that leap back to the national stage because he feels two years is enough for a coach to place his stamp on a program.

Irvin has never shied from bluntness, which is what you can expect from his reality series. The show gives 12 hopefuls a shot at earning an NFL contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

"I won't take it easy on them," Irvin said. "That don't work on the football field. There's going to be some serious language. I'm just letting you guys know."


Winslow To Host Youth Football Camp In June

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. will host a youth football camp at One Buccaneer Place from June 19-21.

The three-day camp is for football players ages 8-18 and includes coaching from Winslow Jr. and some of his Bucs teammates and Tampa Bay area high school coaches.

The cost of signing up for the Kellen Winslow Jr. Youth Football Camp is $175. Each participant will receive hours of coaching, lunch with a snack, a Kellen Winslow Jr. T-Shirt and an autographed picture.

To pre-register for the Kellen Winslow Jr. Youth Football Camp visit KellenWinslow.com. The deadline to register is June 10.


McDougle Ready for 2009

Jerome McDougle battled through some injuries in 08 with the Giants. But he is now healthy & looking to have a big year in 09.



Raymond Anthony “Ray” Lewis has come a long way since starring on the gridiron at Kathleen High School nearly two decades ago.

Since leaving Kathleen in 1993, Lewis has attended the University of Miami and was a first-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens.

Getting into the NFL in 1996, Lewis has appeared in eight NFL Pro Bowls. He was named an NFL All-Pro seven times. He is a two-time NFL Defensive

Player of the Year. And he is a Super Bowl MVP.

Despite all of that, coming back to his high school alma mater on Tuesday, nearly made the 6-foot-1, 250-pound man emotional.

Lewis was one of two people inducted Tuesday into the Kathleen High School Hall of Fame. Lewis was inducted along with former long-time teacher Beth Johnson.

It was the school’s fifth hall of fame ceremony and Lewis and Johnson were the 13th and 14th people inducted.
“Going on the football field is so different than this,” Lewis said. “These are the things that humble you as a man.
“You can’t relate to the importance of this,” he said. “I’ve lived here. I’ve trained here. All the things I’ve ever done in life is here. That is the one thing that is overwhelming to me.”

When Lewis arrived at the auditorium Tuesday, he hugged Kathleen athletic director Gary Lineberger, an assistant football coach during Lewis’ days at Kathleen.

He later saw former head coach, now Tenoroc principal Earnest Joe, and hugged him as well.

“Coach Lineberger, coach Joe. They pushed you to be great,” Lewis said. “They pushed you to be different. They pushed you to never settle for less.

“The magnitude of this will last a lifetime,” he said. “To be honored and inducted into THIS hall of fame is overwhelming.”

Joe introduced Lewis, telling of his former players’ benevolent side while weaving in a couple of stories from when Lewis was at Kathleen.

“I’m proud of the young man,” Joe told the audience. “He’s always doing more. He’s always doing what’s good.”
Through his foundation, the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation, Lewis’ mission is to be able to help disadvantaged youth not only in the United States but abroad.

“What will your legacy be when your eyes close,” he asked the audience?

No matter what, Lewis’ legacy will always be tied to Kathleen High School, which is OK with him.


Chris Wilson, Rocky McIntosh Doodle For Charity

A charitable organization called Neurofibromatosis, Inc. is running their third annual National Doodle Day auction, which raises funds to help them provide support to individuals and families affected by neurofibromatosis. (Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on the nerves. If you, like me, are a bit of a hypochondriac, it sounds absolutely terrifying.)


Anyhow, for this auction, various celebrities have dashed off quick doodles which are being auctioned off on eBay. It sounds unremarkable when described like that, but the roster of artists actually has some big names on it, including a few DC and Baltimore-area celebrities, sports and otherwise: Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau, Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken, Jr., Chef Duff from Ace of Cakes, Adam Dunn of the Washington Nationals ... and Rocky McIntosh and Chris Wilson of your Washington Redskins.

"I was at the draft day party, and they said it was for charity," Wilson told me. "That's my Running Man character. Back in high school, that was kind of my logo. I used to draw it on my shoes when I played basketball. Jordan had his Jumpman, I had my Running Man."

Bids are still fairly low on Wilson and McIntosh, so it's a good way to acquire an interesting piece of Redskins memorabilia while helping a worthy cause. (Chef Duff, meanwhile, is a much bigger draw than even I would have expected, and I'm a fan of his show who used to live a few blocks away from his bakery. Go figure.)

Wilson and McIntosh and all the rest join an impressive roster of past doodlers, including Cindy Crawford, a pre-Presidential Barack Obama, Scarlett Johansson, and the girl who played Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years. None of their doodles, though, can hold a candle to the one created by Food Network personality and general threat to public health Paula Deen.

Even Deen's doodles love pie and butter, y'all! Chris Wilson's Running Man would have to do some serious mountaineering to burn off the pounds that Deen's doodle is pushing.


Webster Not Signed?

It is shocking that Nate Webster isn't signed yet. Nate was very solid last year for the Broncos & can play any LB position. He is healthy.


Thumb injury lands Mets' Cora on DL

LOS ANGELES -- On a day the Mets learned they would be without Carlos Delgado for an extended period of time, they suffered yet another loss.

The club placed infielder Alex Cora on the 15-day disabled list with a torn ligament in his right thumb, recalling Ramon Martinez to take his roster spot and start at shortstop for Monday's series opener against the Dodgers. Regular shortstop Jose Reyes remains unavailable with tendinitis in his right calf.

Cora, who thought he had merely sprained his thumb sliding into second base in the first inning of Sunday's game, attempted to take batting and fielding practice Monday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. But he was unable to throw, and tests revealed that he had suffered a torn ligament in the thumb.

Martinez, 36, played in seven games last season for the Mets, producing four hits in 16 at-bats.


Rays OF Burrell goes on disabled list

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays placed designated hitter Pat Burrell on the 15-day disabled list with a neck strain Sunday.

The move is retroactive to May 11, and Rays manager Joe Maddon said he doesn't expect it to be an "extended DL" stay.

Burrell hasn't ruled out returning next week.