Hester to stay on punts, Manning on kickoffs

Bears special teams coach Dave Toub confirmed that Devin Hester will stay on punt returns, but Danieal Manning will be the full-time kickoff returner.

While Hester made obvious progress as a receiver in 2008, his paltry 6.2 punt return average was a concern. A more cautious approach and divided responsibilities were blamed for Hester's fall-off, but he should be due for a bounce-back on punts in 2009.


Your chance to see Ray Lewis in a leotard, in 3-D

Let's be very clear about this: We are not making fun of Ray Lewis.  No sane person does.

But the fearsome Baltimore Ravens linebacker may hear some snickers next time he's in the locker room after filming a Super Bowl commercial in a leotard.

Patriots tackle Matt Light told the Boston Globe about the SoBe Life Water ad that is being touted as the first Super Bowl ad that's in high def and 3-D, and which also includes the Giants' Justin Tuck.  All three players wear white leotards while dancing with "lizards, aliens and monsters," Light said, and, "It’s a heck of a funny spot."

"You'll get to see yours truly, wearing a leotard, in 3-D -- if that doesn't get you excited, I don't know what will," said Light. To see the spot's promo photo, click here.


Bucs to play more bump and run

The Bucs are expected to use more bump-and-run coverage under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates.

This may make free agent Phillip Buchanon expendable. He was awful when asked to play man coverage in previous stints with Oakland and Houston. It's pretty clear the Bucs have decided to move away from the Tampa 2 zone.


Vilma will contest charges

Jonathan Vilma will contest the charges of reckless driving and resisting arrest that were filed against him Friday afternoon.

The confirmed incident occured at 3PM and Vilma's laywer was quick to point out that no drugs, alcohol, and firearms were involved in the incident. This comes at the worst time possible for the five-year veteran, who hits free agency next month. It could make it easier for the Saints to keep him.


Hall of Famer delves into reality TV

DALLAS -- The first time Michael Irvin watched "American Idol," he loved the concept of giving undiscovered singers the chance to become stars. Now Irvin is doing the same for NFL wannabes.

The Hall of Fame receiver is launching a reality TV show in which 12 "football neophytes" will compete for an impressive grand prize: a spot on the Dallas Cowboys' training camp roster.

"I don't know if you can walk upon any group of guys that wouldn't say they dreamed of playing in the NFL when they were playing in their front yard," Irvin told The Associated Press on Thursday. "So we're going to take a group of guys from their front yard, dwindle them to one and give that guy the opportunity of a lifetime."

The Cowboys confirmed that one of their 80 roster spots will go to the show's winner. The NFL did not immediately return a call.

The show, which doesn't yet have a title, will air this spring on Spike. It is being produced by the same company that's behind "The Biggest Loser" and many other reality TV hits.

Contestants are still being selected. They likely will need a football background -- just not too much. They also must be the right age, size and condition to handle an NFL training camp. The Cowboys open camp in late July in San Antonio.

"We want someone who will have a real opportunity to make the team," Irvin said. He also indicated the better the backstory, the better an applicant's chance of making the show.

"You could've played college ball and had to give up for some reason," he said. "You know how many stories are out there of players who for some reason or another had to walk away from the game. ... We want to find those guys."

Irvin will be the host and he expects to have guest appearances from friends like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Judges will include Jones and former players and coaches.

The show will pit six receivers and six defensive backs. As for how they will compete, all Irvin would say is: "Tune in and watch. It'll be groundbreaking in so many ways."

The winner's biggest payoff will be the fulfillment of playing for the Cowboys. While the rookie minimum is about $300,000, that's only if he makes the team. The salary in training camp is closer to $1,000 a week for an undrafted rookie.

Irvin said this is about far more than money. It's the chance to catch passes from Tony Romo or to line up opposite Terrell Owens.

"What young man do you know that's not going to read [about this show], then head straight to the gym and say, 'I'm going to get ready'? " Irvin said. "That's how this will inspire people."

Considering the Cowboys are coming off a disappointing season filled with all sorts of turmoil, adding a player more likely to be profiled in "People" than "Sports Illustrated" seems risky. It could be perceived as just another sideshow, like the cameras from HBO's "Hard Knocks" that tracked the team in training camp last year.

Yet Irvin, who hosts a local radio show that spends a lot of time analyzing the Cowboys, dismissed that notion.

"I don't see how you can make this a negative for the Dallas Cowboys," Irvin said. "We all talk of doing good things for the community, for people, giving people opportunities. Jerry has stepped up and said, 'OK, let's do it.' "


Cora and Mets finalize $2 million, 1-year deal

NEW YORK (AP) — Alex Cora and the New York Mets finalized a $2 million, one-year contract Thursday, giving the team a backup infielder who also could displace Luis Castillo at second base.

"You win championships with a 25-man roster," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "Alex Cora has been an integral part of teams that have been to the postseason in four of the last five years."

Cora hit .270 last season in 75 games and 152 at-bats for the Boston Red Sox. He had 38 starts at shortstop and three at second.

"I'm excited to join the Mets," Cora said in a statement released by the team. "We have a talented roster. I'm committed to do everything I can in any role to win."

Cora could earn an additional $1 million in performance bonuses: $250,000 for each of 110, 120, 130 and 140 games started.

With the start of spring training less than a month away, David Wright was at Citi Field on Thursday, working out in the batting cages across the hall from the clubhouse at the new ballpark.


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Ravens must keep Ray Lewis, Sapp says

On Showtime's Inside the NFL Wednesday night, Warren Sapp said this about Ray Lewis' contract situation (according to a network news release):

"I will tell you what, if this team lets Ray Lewis go, you are starting back from scratch. I don’t think that’s possible. Losing your defensive coordinator, then losing your emotional leader and the staple to your franchise all at one time, then you are going back to the Stone Age. There’s no way they can allow that to happen. They have to give him a two-year deal, something that sets up everybody in the right form, and finish this thing out the right way


Dan Morgan Returning to Saints?

The Saints may be making their first off-season acquisition...again. Remember Dan Morgan?  He's the linebacker the Saints signed from Carolina last off-season but before ever even putting on a Saints uniform he abrubtly retired. Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk says that Dan Morgan is planning a comeback. 

Per a league source, Morgan intends to return to the New Orleans Saints   

Of course this begs the question: Is Gregg Williams behind all of this? We know Gibbs sucks but is his defense so awful that Morgan retired just to avoid being a part of it and only now feels he can return with Williams at the wheel? I'm kidding...sorta. We already know Williams has a penchant for talented linebackers and has gushed about Vilma this week so perhaps he's behind all of this and is attempting to snag yet another Miami LB to be a part of his defensive turnaround.

Whatever the reason for his possible return it's fair to say Dan Morgan will have an uphill climb to make this squad next year. A talented player when in his prime, Morgan is no spring chicken anymore and has been very injury prone, playing minimally his last two seasons. I doubt Morgan will be much of a solution to the Saints defensive issues but everyone deserves a shot and it certainly couldn't hurt to give him a look. If Dan

Morgan does return I wish him good luck and welcome him back with open arms. 


On the Edge of a title

Ask anyone. Ask him. Edgerrin James is all about enjoyment.

So imagine how the longtime Indianapolis Colts fan favorite is keeping it real now that what had been his worst NFL season will culminate in his first Super Bowl appearance.

"I'm living the life, loving the life," the Arizona Cardinals running back said this week in a telephone interview. "Hey, if it's taken away from me today, they can say, 'Boy, he maxed out every day.' Every day."

Just last month, it seemed the NFL's 11th all-time leading rusher was getting run out of the desert. He fumed about being relegated to a backup role and vowed he would not return to the Cardinals for the final year of his contract.

Now, after reclaiming his starting spot, he's the league's leading postseason rusher with 203 yards and a key reason Arizona has advanced to its first Super Bowl, versus Pittsburgh on Feb. 1 in Tampa, Fla.

"Man, it would mean so much to win the ring," said James, 30. "Everybody knows how hard I worked, all the work I put into it.

"It's been 10 years and I've done everything a player can do individually, you know, but I haven't played in this game. Now I can say I played in the game. Going out there and having some success and win the game, that makes it even better.

"I've put everything in this life to football."

The fourth pick in the 1999 NFL draft, James made his fame with the Indianapolis Colts, rushing for a franchise-record 9,226 yards and leading the league his first two seasons. But after seven hard-running years that included knee and back injuries, the Colts didn't make an effort to re-sign him after his contract expired in 2006, and he left for Arizona.

There, as James was averaging a career-low 3.4 yards a carry in his first season with the downtrodden Cardinals, he watched his former team conclude a stirring playoff run with Indy's first Super Bowl title.

He joined the festivities in Miami, hosting a Super Bowl party and hanging with his old teammates. He even received a ring from Colts owner Jim Irsay.

It wasn't the same, but it wasn't bad.

"It wasn't tough because I actually felt like I was a part of them," James said. "I felt like I was with them every step of the way. Even though I was away, I was still part of that family."

He stays in touch with several Colts, including wide receiver Reggie Wayne and quarterback Peyton Manning.

"Me and 'P,' we text from time to time," he said. "Me and Reggie, it's all the time."

As for James' former teammates, everyone reached for this story said they were ecstatic the man they call Edge has finally reached the championship game.

"I'm so happy for him," said retired tight end Ken Dilger, who played with James in Indy from 1999-2001 and won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in '02. "Forget the records, forget how much you get paid. Everybody wants to get the ring. That's what sets you apart from everybody else."

Said retired offensive tackle Tarik Glenn: "He's such a good back and such a good teammate. He's the life of the locker room. In the time he wasn't there, the one thing we missed was his lively spirit. He made everything fun."

"I love it. I love it," former Colts coach Jim Mora said of James reaching the Super Bowl. "He's one of my favorite Colts. He was just so much fun to coach and have on the team."

It wasn't by accident. Having fun is a life credo James picked up from his grandmother Ann. He visited her in Florida this week, and, at 84 and largely incapacitated, she reminded him again.

"You're looking at somebody who's not capable of moving around. All she's got is those memories," James said. "I want to have so many memories, I want to have stuff that I forget then, all of a sudden think of, telling stories and people thinking I'm lying and making up stuff.

"But you know me, I'm always going to be 100 (percent real) with everybody. I'm going to kick it all the way 100, keep it real with you, tell you exactly how I feel and not beat around the bush."

And if the Cardinals win it all?

Just one more thrill to share on the porch with Grandma.

"I always want to have some new stuff, man," he said.


Ravens hope to keep Lewis in fold

The Ravens aren't planning to use the franchise tag on Ray Lewis to keep the 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker off the free-agent market, owner Steve Bisciotti said today.

Bisciotti said he wants to sign Lewis to a new contract, but brought up a scenario in which Lewis might take a lesser contract from the Ravens in order to finish his career here.

"Are we going to get a hometown discount? I hope so. I really do," Bisciotti said of the 13-year veteran who has played his entire career with the Ravens. "That means we can find one more Jimmy Leonhard on the free-agent market with the money we save."

Lewis was not available for comment today. He also was not made available to reporters after the Ravens' AFC championship game loss in Pittsburgh or the day after when players cleaned out their lockers.

Now, the Ravens have 36 days to sign Lewis before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 27.

There have been a few notable instances where star players have taken less to help the team, and Bisciotti pointed specifically at New England quarterback Tom Brady.

In May 2005, Brady signed a six-year, $60 million extension that paid him less guaranteed money and a lower total value than contracts signed at the time by Peyton Manning (seven years, $98 million) and Michael Vick (10 years, $130 million).

But the Ravens can't bank on Lewis to make the same sacrifice. Unlike Brady, Lewis, 33, is likely looking at his last contract.

"Ray is not going to settle for something that he thinks is way below [his market value]," Bisciotti said. "If he wants to go out there and maximize his money and somebody is desperate for that kind of leadership, then there may be a big gap. And I'm not going to say to Oz [general manager Ozzie Newsome]: Go do it under any circumstances."

Lewis had one of his better seasons in recent years, finishing with 117 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The Ravens had talked in the offseason about limiting his snaps in passing situations to save the wear and tear on his body. But Lewis remained an every-down linebacker and played a full 16 games for the first time since 2003 (when he won his second NFL Defensive Player of the Year award).

Ravens officials have said Lewis' value to the Ravens goes beyond tackles and sacks.

"There are very few people that I know in sports that transcends their statistics, and we had the luxury of watching Cal Ripken simultaneously do the same thing to the Orioles," Bisciotti said. "I think they bring a sense of continuity and leadership that we're all looking for. I think Ray has given Baltimore that. I certainly don't want to see him in another uniform."

Bisciotti said he has spoken with Lewis about the contract situation but only in general terms. The owner said his friendship with Lewis wouldn't influence negotiations, which he will leave to Newsome.

"I hope I am just having a dinner with Ray to celebrate a new contract," Bisciotti said. "There's a lot of guys out there on this team that I admire, and Ray is really at the top of that list. Nobody loves and respects Ray more than Ozzie. As we say, 'In Ozzie we trust.'"

There had been speculation that the Ravens would sign another Pro Bowl linebacker (Terrell Suggs) to a long-term deal because he is younger and use the tag on Lewis. Players designated with the franchise tag are forced to accept a one-year contract at a salary based on the average of the NFL's five-highest paid players at that position.

Lewis, though, probably would have been angered by the tag because he would perceive it as a lack of loyalty.

But now with Bisciotti declaring that he won't use the franchise tag on Lewis, the Ravens would have the option of placing that designation on Suggs for a second straight year.

In the meantime, Bisciotti said the Ravens are setting their sights on Lewis.

"I've been hopeful forever that we're going to work a deal," Bisciotti said. "Last year, I said I don't think that other people are going to value Ray Lewis higher than we do. He's showing at 33 that he's capable of playing like a 28-year-old. I've got my wife on budget already to try to save some money so we can sign him."


Clinton Portis Kindly Allows Others to Get Their Shine On; Pockets Remain Straight

This video comes to us via Steinz, who inexplicably buried this piece of gold below the fold today. It’s from a recent party in South Beach, and you’ll want to skip to the four-minute mark for Clinton Portis awesomeness, including this insightful exchange with a “reporter”:

Question: “Why you tried to front on me earlier?”

Portis: “I ain’t tried to front on you, I just ain’t want the publicity, you know what I’m sayin? There’s other people in here that need to get their shine on. I’m ‘bout my money.”


Rex Ryan could bring Ravens' Ray Lewis to Jets defense

Brett Favre or Ray Lewis?

If you're a first-year coach and could pick one of the future Hall of Famers, who would it be? Things would have to fall a certain way, but at some point over the next several weeks, Rex Ryan could be faced with that choice.

Favre's future with the Jets is uncertain, and Lewis, whom Ryan coached for 10 years with the Ravens, is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in March. The Jets are $10 million over the projected 2009 salary cap (that includes Favre's $13 million salary), so it's unlikely they would be able to afford both.

No doubt, Ryan will be pelted with Favre-related questions when he's introduced Wednesday morning at the Jets' headquarters in Florham Park, N.J. Will he lobby Favre to return? Does he even want the fading, 39-year-old quarterback? How long will he wait for the puff of smoke to emerge from Favre's ranch in Mississippi?

Favre, who has a torn biceps tendon in his legendary right arm, is believed to be leaning toward retirement. If he quits, his entire salary would come off the books. That, combined with a couple of relatively painless roster cuts, would create enough cap room to pursue Lewis.

"He's a once-in-a-lifetimer, he really is, not just as a player, but as a person and as a leader," Ryan said of Lewis after Sunday night's loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game - his final game as the Ravens' defensive coordinator. "He's just tremendous."

Lewis, 33, a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, is well-versed as an inside linebacker in Ryan's 3-4 system, and the Jets will have an opening because incumbent Eric Barton will be a free agent. Even though they want to re-sign Lewis, the Ravens may let him test the open market to determine his value.

They have to make some tough financial decisions. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs also is set to become a free agent, along with highly regarded inside linebacker Bart Scott.

It's hard to imagine Lewis playing for another team after 13 seasons in Baltimore, where he's as much a fixture as crab cakes, but did anyone picture Favre on a team other than the Packers? It's worth noting that when Ryan was the Ravens' defensive line coach, from 1999 to 2004, his players once made a pact, agreeing they'd play out their contracts and follow him if he ever went to another team.

Ryan isn't going to have a lot of cap flexibility - the Jets are paying for last year's spending spree - but he will try to acquire a Baltimore defensive player to help the holdovers make the transition to his system.

Forget about Suggs; the Jets already have too much money invested in outside linebackers. In fact, Ryan's pet project will be former No. 1 pick Vernon Gholston, who washed out as a rookie. Scott makes the most sense, although Lewis is exactly the kind of leader that would galvanize the talent on defense.

"I think I made Ray, to be honest with you," Ryan joked. "He was an average player until I got him."


Toub expects electrifying Hester to excel again next season

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – In the first of a two-part series, special teams coordinator Dave Toub answers email questions from fans exclusively on ChicagoBears.com:
How much do you think Devin Hester’s decline in production this season in the return game had to do with his role expanding as a wide receiver?
Pete B.

I think it was part of it, but it wasn’t the entire reason his production was down. In terms of his thought process, the amount of time he spent working as a wide receiver took away a little bit from him returning punts. When he goes out to return a punt, that’s the first time he’s thinking about it. He’s getting the ball on offense, so not all of his touches are coming on special teams. Returning punts isn’t the only way he’s going to score a touchdown, so it’s not the first thing on his mind.

Devin Hester seemed more tentative on punt returns in 2008 than he was during his two Pro Bowl seasons, making more fair catches and running laterally and even backwards instead of attacking a seam. Do you agree with that, and in what other ways did he appear different to you in terms of how he returned kicks this past season compared to the two previous years?
Martin R. Chicago

I agree that he appeared that way. He was a lot more cautious this past season. He was a little bit more of a risk-taker in his first two years because he wanted to make the most of his opportunities to touch the ball. It goes along with what I just said. He’s getting more touches on offense, so he has more opportunities to make big plays there. He was a little more cautious, but on the other hand he was a lot more careful with the ball. He made smarter decisions. There’s a fine line. You want your punt returner to make good decisions but at the same time you want him to be a risk-taker so he can make those big plays.

What steps do you plan on taking to help Devin Hester revert to his All-Pro form, and do you think he’s capable of once again becoming the same return man he was in 2006-07?
David K. Indianapolis, Indiana

We’re going to emphasize with him to get a first down; get the ball up the field north and south, get 10 yards and then make a big play from there. We’ve already made cut-ups of all his returns this year and we’ll go back and watch them together and see what we could have done differently and how the new thought process would fit with getting up the field, getting that first down and then making your moves.

We also have to give credit to the other teams, too. They punted away from us a lot of times; there were a lot of punts out of bounds. They made Devin run to the ball. They had high hang-times and we had to call a lot of fair catches. It wasn’t because he wasn’t a risk-taker; it was because the punts were better. Everyone is game-planning and preparing and doing a better job.

In terms of his ability, he’s still Devin Hester. He still has all that ability. You see his ability to make people miss when he catches the ball on offense. He had some big returns during the season that were called back because of penalties. His numbers would have been a lot better if those returns hadn’t been wiped out. On his first return of the year against the Colts, he looked like the old Devin. I think if he would have gotten a touchdown early in the year, the pressure would have been off. Later in the year, the pressure started to build. The questions from the media snowballed a bit on him. He pressed a little bit late. That was part of it also. I’m looking for him to bounce back and be the Devin of old.

Did the rib injury to Devin Hester early in the season affect his play more than we were led to believe? He seemed to be more hesitant about attacking the holes after he was hurt.
Stan M. Honolulu, Hawaii

I don’t think that had anything to do with it. He missed only one game. He’s a tough guy. He takes a lot of shots and he’s very durable. He’s been durable since he’s been here. He didn’t even get hit when he got hurt. It was a twist. It wasn’t like he took a blindside shot and then was shell-shocked. That’s not an issue. There was no one hit that happened, and he’s not losing confidence in our blocking or anything like that. We got better as the year went on, too. We have a lot of young players. They got better and better and they’re only going to keep improving.


Cowboys reportedly covet Ray Lewis

The Dallas Cowboys are very interested in acquiring Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The newspaper reports the Cowboys could be willing to give Lewis a three-year deal worth between $27 million and $30 million, with $25 million guaranteed.

In addition to his on-field skills, Lewis's personality makes him attractive to the Cowboys. Jerry Jones is said to believe Lewis could help solve the team's problems inside the locker room, the Sun reports.

The Ravens are expected to begin contract negotiations with Lewis, who is in the last year of his contract, shortly after the Super Bowl.


Saints DC wants to build defense around Vilma

New Saints DC Gregg Williams would like to build his defense around impending free agent LB Jonathan Vilma.

"I know Jonathan Vilma as well as anyone," Williams said. "He is perfect for what we do defensively. He would be outstanding in our system ... He's an integral part of the puzzle." Williams' defense relies on pre-snap checks and audibles with the middle linebacker playing a vital role. Vilma's recent arrest has obviously not affected his standing in Williams' eyes.


Santana Moss at the Portis Inaugural Bash

I got to the Clinton Portis-Antawn Jamison All Pros and All Stars Inaugural Celebration sometime around 11:30 on Sunday night. My credential was good enough to get me in to the $125 common folks room, but I didn't make much effort to cruise into the VIP, so I was just kind of standing around.

Then I met K.D. Wright, owner of a custom-tailored men's clothing company from Charlotte, who figured we could strike some kind of deal. She'd become part of Sports Bog, Inc., for the night, in exchange for talking my way into the better parts of the party.

So a few minutes later, she was leading me through the upper reaches of the VIP section, around a corner and to a little roiund table where Santana Moss was sitting by himself, drinking a pineapple and Grey Goose, in front of a window peaking out at the gleaming Capitol Building. I told K.D. she might as well continue her roll and ask the questions, so she started asking Santana about the inauguration.

"To be honest with you, when he first decided he was running for president, I felt like this time and age, what we're going through, we needed that," Moss said. "We needed for everybody out there to have hope, to have HOPE. It started with hope, and it started with belief, and now we believe we can have what we have today, a Black President."

"For me," Santana continued, "I look past just the black and white thing, I look at what the guy's gonna do for his people."

K.D. asked who Obama's "people" were.

"His people is US," Moss said. "Everybody that walks the earth. I look at it like this, and this is just my perspective: when you look at what has happened for us this year, Barack Obama, a black man, no matter what you all him, that's a celebration for all minorities. That's a celebration for anyone who's seen what he's gone through.

"My family isn't living the life I'm living. This thing is a celebration, showing that maybe one day you CAN get to where we've got to. [Black] kids growing up, you were told you could be anything, but never the president."

The party was being emceed by "Lifestyle Specialist" Kenny Burns. Clinton Portis walked around, surrounded by gawkers, wearing a mohawk, lavender shirt, purple tie and some shades, as my colleague David Malitz reported.

An assortment of football players came through: Shawn Springs, Lorenzo Alexander, Leigh Torrence. So, too, did media personalities: spotted dancing were Comcast SportsyNet's Chris Miller, Kelli Johnson and Lisa Hillary. The music mixed 21st century hip hip with the Bar Mitzvah and wedding rap classics of the early '90s. I never saw Jamison or any other Wizards, but Raheem DeVaugn and Delroy Lindo were around. The week's buzzwords flashed on the walls--Change and Hope, for example--and one of Clinton Portis's guys walked around with the word "Change" shaved into the back of his head.

Moss wore a Nats baseball hat over his customary bandana thing; he told me about his son's prodigious Little League baseball career, and how much he loves being in D.C., and how I should probably drink a pineapple and Grey Goose since it would help my writing. I asked what he thought about a party at Union Station; "I almost asked what was Union Station at first," he said. "I don't ride the train that much."

Before I left, I asked him about the week's mixture of parties and politics.

"This is what it really boils down to, D.C. is gonna party regardless, whether it's an inauguration or a Black President or whatever," Moss said. "They just tagged it something different. Everybody has a place to go linking them to the celebration that already exists. So it's gonna be done regardless. A good time is a good time."


NFLU Conference Championship Wkd Video Highlights and Photos

Check out the return of our NFL U Video Highlights. Like we did back in 2006, proCanes.com will provide our fans every week video highlights of all of our NFL U stars along with pictures from the current NFL Week. Click here to check out our Conference Championship Weekend Video Highlights or click above on NFL U Video Highlights. Enjoy this week's highlights which feature Ray Lewis, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, and more!

Check out Conference Championship Weekend photos from around the the NFL of our proCanes. Click here to see the photos.

Full Recovery Is Expected for McGahee

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Ravens running back Willis McGahee joined his teammates Monday at Baltimore’s training complex after doctors told him he would make a full recovery from a fierce helmet-to-helmet hit in the American Football Conference championship game. He was carted off the field Sunday night.

“I’m all right,” he told reporters as the Ravens cleared out their lockers. “Everything is O.K. The M.R.I. and the CAT scan checked out good. I was scared, but I didn’t know how serious it was. It was pretty intense.”

McGahee said that he had a concussion and that his neck was sore.

The play occurred in the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh’s 23-14 victory. McGahee had caught a pass and taken two steps before being met by safety Ryan Clark, who drove his helmet into McGahee’s face mask. McGahee’s head snapped back, and he lost the ball as he dropped to the ground.

“I didn’t even see him coming,” McGahee said, adding: “I blacked out. I woke up when they were taking my face mask off.”


McGahee wants to be a Raven?

As Willis McGahee cleaned out his locker Monday, he told reporters he'd like to remain a Raven in 2009 but realizes it's a business decision.

"Some of us will be here, some of us won't. I can't control that," he said. McGahee didn't like how the Ravens told him to condition prior to the season and blamed his series of nagging injuries on the coaching staff. He's probably 50-50 to return. McGahee is scheduled to earn $1.7 million in 2009.


McGahee 'neurologically intact' after scary hit

PITTSBURGH -- Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee suffered a devastating hit from Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark in the final minutes of the Ravens' AFC title game loss. He's "neurologically intact," according to Ravens team officials.

Although McGahee remained down on the ground for several minutes with "significant neck pain" while players from both sides prayed for him in a highly emotional moment, the Ravens said he has movement in his arms and legs. He was carted off the field with his upper body immobilized.

Team spokesman Kevin Byrne said that McGahee was transported to a local hospital in Pittsburgh and was scheduled to remain overnight to undergo a battery of tests with Ravens team Dr. Leigh Ann Curl staying with him to observe his condition. There's concern that McGahee may have bruised his spine.

"This is football," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We're just praying he's all right. He's talking and moving, so that's good. We just hope he'll be all right."

McGahee caught a pass and took a pair of steps before Clark unloaded on him with a helmet-to-helmet hit. McGahee's neck snapped backwards. He immediately fell to the ground and didn't seem to be moving initially.

While McGahee was being lifted onto a stretcher and carted off the field, he was able to move his hands and talk, joining hands with free safety Ed Reed before being taken to the locker room. McGahee scored both of the Ravens' touchdowns and finished with a game-high 60 rushing yards.

"It was a heckuva hit," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Willis made a really nice play leading up to that. Your first thought obviously is concern for Willis, for any player.

"As we heard the doctor talk and saw him moving around, we thought he's going to be okay. Both sides obviously had concerns, but we were happy it was not immediately serious at that point.

Added running back Ray Rice:  "It was just a freak hit. I've learned a lot from Willis this year. I just wish the best for him; he's been like a brother to me. It was a hard hit, head-on collision. It was good to see him moving. It was good to see him talking. I think he's going to be fine. My prayers are with him."

The hit also left Clark noticeably groggy. He struggled to make his way off the field with the assistance of Steelers trainers and appeared dazed. The Steelers were also worried about McGahee.

"We hope that Willis is okay," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We're keeping him in our prayers. I know how scary that is. I started getting a little emotional when I saw him down there and the cart was coming out. That's the nature of this rivalry."


Edge gets 17 touches in NFC Championship

Edgerrin James ran for 73 yards on 16 carries and caught a 16-yard pass as the Cardinals were crowned NFC champs on Sunday.
James started again, but Tim Hightower stole the show late with Arizona in clock-killing mode. Edge seems unlikely to see more than 15 carries in the Super Bowl, no matter who the Cards play. They will likely lean heavily on the pass so as to avoid either Pittsburgh or Baltimore's stout run defense.


Former UM football star Jonathan Vilma arrested in Miami

New Orleans Saints linebacker and former University of Miami standout Jonathan Vilma was arrested Friday in Miami and charged with reckless driving and resisting arrest.

Vilma, 26, was arrested about 3:30 p.m. after a Miami police officer watched him weave in and out of traffic in a dark gray Range Rover and nearly hit two pedestrians, according to an arrest report.

Here's what happened, according to the report:

Vilma was spotted darting in and out of traffic while heading north on Northwest 27th Avenue near Ninth Street. After tailgating a Honda, he cut off the driver of a Chevrolet truck, nearly causing an accident.

Vilma then sped up and ran a red light while making a right turn at the intersection of 14th Street, where he almost struck two pedestrians crossing on the west side of 27th Avenue.

At that point, the officer watching Vilma hit his emergency lights and pulled over the Range Rover at Northwest 29th Avenue and 14th Street.
The officer couldn't see Vilma because of the Range Rover's tinted windows, so he ordered Vilma out of the car. Vilma allegedly replied, ``You have to give me a reason. I ain't going anywhere until I know what's going on.''

Vilma then refused to place his hands on the car and the report says he ``became belligerent and took a step toward [the officer] who had his firearm drawn.''

The officer grabbed Vilma's right arm and tried to cuff him as he thrashed about and struggled.

He was arrested and booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail.

Vilma, who graduated from Coral Gables Senior High and lives in Miami's Brickell neighborhood, did not answer a call to his cell phone and did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment.

A New Orleans Saints representative could not be immediately reached for comment.


Bucs target Linehan, Gailey, Chudzinski for O.C.

Former Rams coach Scott Linehan appears to be the strongest candidate for the Bucs' offensive coordinator position.

Linehan turned down a similar position with the 49ers Sunday saying he had other opportunities. One report out of New York says new coach Rex Ryan will retain offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a position Linehan was in the mix for.

The Bucs plan to talk to at least a few other candidates, including fired Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and fired Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

Gailey, was the Dallas Cowboys head coach and led them to the playoffs in 1998 and '99. As an offensive coordinator with the Steelers and Dolphins, he's always been committed to running the football.

Chudzinski was the Miami Hurricanes offensive coordinator for three seasons before following Butch Davis to Cleveland, where he coached tight ends. He coached the Chargers' tight ends in 2006-07 before returning to the Browns as offensive coordinator.

Injuries to quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn cost the Browns last season. Cleveland was 31st in total offense.


Award Watch: Most Improved

John Salmons - Sacramento Kings: Salmon's continues to score the ball very well at a clip about seven points higher than last season.  However, all of his other numbers remain relatively stagnant and unimpressive. 



The parade of caravans continued through Central Illinois. Thursday it was the Cubs. Sunday it was the Cardinals.

In fact, they're already playing doubleheaders, with caravan stops at both
Redbird Arena in Normal and the Embassy Suites Hotel in East Peoria.

Reliever Chris Perez was part of the group. He'd like to be the guy Tony LaRussa hands the ball to at the end of the game.

"He's real big on competition," said Perez, who registered 7 saves for St. Louis last year after his promotion from Triple-A Memphis. "Going into spring training 2 or 3 of us are competing for the job and that's what you want competition. Competition brings out the best in competitors, which baseball players are. I'm just happy to be on the team. I just want to help the team win. I told everybody last year when I got called up, I don't have to pitch the 9th. I can pitch the 7th, the 8th, the 9th, you know, whatever. I just want to help the team win."

There are other candidates for the job, like set up man Josh Kinney. Kinney returned from Tommy John surgery in September and didn't allow a run in 7 appearances.

"Somebody will pitch the 9th," said Kinney. "II don't know who it will be. We have some young candidates and I'm sure I'm in the mix of it. But right now it doesn't really matter. I know it will be a competitive spot. Its nice to know that the team is going to handle the closer situation in house. That's kind of neat. Its gives us all something to shoot for. We'll see. Time will tell."


Cards' Barton emphasizes brains over baseball

St. Louis — They've heard it from parents and teachers, counselors and preachers.

On Friday afternoon, out of consensus that they simply can't hear it enough, the honor roll students at the Construction Career Center again heard the message about perseverance being its own reward.

This time, the gospel on the virtue of believing in one's self was delivered by Brian Barton, who — reflecting the ambitions of his audience — emerged from an urban environment to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering, a path he still sort of hopes will one day launch a career in the astronaut corps.

Barton told the students he has no illusions about why he, as opposed to any other 25-year-old success story off the streets of South-Central Los Angeles, should spend a portion of his day offering motivational advice.

"You know me as an outfielder for the Cardinals," he deadpanned, drawing a laugh from his audience at the charter school, governed by the Association of General Contractors of St. Louis and the St. Louis Public Schools.

Be that as it may, for a full half hour, baseball was reduced to subtext as Barton — one semester short of earning a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Miami — thrust education and the power of self-esteem into the center of the conversation.

"I had the same life coming up as you guys," said Barton, who entered Miami on an academic scholarship and proceeded to struggle through personal and athletic tribulations after arriving on campus. "I came up the same way, I'm no different than you are."

Tenth-grader Felix Cooley walked into the charter school's all-purpose room thinking that a Major League baseball player was, in fact, a lot different than him and his classmates.

Afterward, Cooley felt differently.

"He had to struggle just like we do, but he didn't let the bad stuff keep him down," said Cooley, planning on the college education that will lead him into a career in science engineering. "There's such a slim chance that any of us will be able to do everything we want. But when you hear someone who did it, it gives you hope."

To Gina Washington, the school's principal, Barton's message helped dispel the notion that beating overwhelming odds by becoming a professional athlete or entertainer is the truest path to success.

It's true, Barton said following an autograph session. "There's more than one road to get you to a goal," he said. "It's OK to get there by entertainment or by sports. But there are whole other avenues you can take and, no matter what you do, you have to use your brain, so you don't limit yourself to one thing."

Like most of his classmates, Cooley came to school Friday wearing a Cardinals shirt. He's a big baseball fan.

Still, he acknowledged, there was nothing in Barton's discourse that inspired a trip to the nearest indoor batting cage.

To the contrary, Cooley said, "It made me want to go to college."