Photo of the Week: Beason and Winston NFL U Family

This photo is of proCanes Jon Beason and Eric Winston after the Texans Panthers game in 2007.

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McClinton chosen by Spurs at No. 51 in the 2009 NBA Draft

First we heard the Knicks had traded with the Lakers to take him 29th overall. Then, we heard the Heat might scoop him up with one of their second round picks and keep him in town. Now, we know where Jack McClinton is going -- the San Antonio Spurs.

Tim Duncan's team and the four-time NBA Champions took McClinton with the 51st pick late Thursday night. It was much later than he hoped, but not a stretch from where most expected him to go -- somewhere between the late first round to the middle second.

McClinton, who was in Baltimore with his family, had this to say about becoming the 17th player in UM history taken in the NBA Draft: "I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to play for a great organization like San Antonio," McClinton said in a statement released by UM. "I've worked for this my whole life and appreciate all the support from my family, coaches and former teammates. I am very excited for this next chapter and look forward to playing for Coach Popovich and the Spurs."

Now, the hard part begins for Jack. Will he be able to cut it? Will he be even be able to make the Spurs' roster or any NBA team's for that matter? At 6-1, 185-pounds and with mediocre point guard skills at best, the odds are long for the two-time All-ACC First Team selection. But if anybody has the will and the inner toughness to keep battling and to find a spot, its McClinton.

It's just going to be really hard. Most of the time, it all depends on who you get drafted by. In 2006, Guillermo Diaz left UM with more athletic ability than McClinton and was taken 52nd overall by the Clippers. L.A. had too many guards and no room for him. Diaz still hasn't cracked an NBA roster and will try to make another run this summer on an NBA Summer League team.

Ultimately, that's what's going to make or break McClinton, who will have to compete with NBA vets like Jacque Vaughn, Roger Mason and George Hill on the Spurs roster to earn a spot.
Either way, McClinton deserves a hand for what he did at UM. He went from a player nobody in the country really wanted to being the seventh player from the ACC taken in the draft. Not bad Jack. Not bad.


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Jason Geathers Cut

The Saskatchewan RoughRiders released defensive linemen Nuvraj Bassi, David Patterson and Seante Williams; wide receivers Todd Blythe, Brandon Childress, Casey McGahee and Byron Ross; kicker Jeff Bolen; running back Jason Geathers; defensive backs Sasha Glavic and Jerron Wisham; quarterback Juan Joseph; linebackers Sam Olajabutu and Brandon Perkins; offensive lineman Brad Peters.

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Kellen Winslow named honorary official for July 4 race

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow has been named Honorary Race Official for the 51st annual Coke Zero 400 Sprint Cup race on July 4, Daytona International Speedway President Robin Braig announced.

Winslow, a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns and recently acquired by the Buccaneers, plans to attend the driver's meeting, participate in driver introductions and ride in one of the pace cars prior to the green flag waving on the Independence Day holiday classic.

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NFL's top 10 clutch players

#7. Reed has a unique nose for the ball, and especially the biggest moments when his Ravens defense needs him the most. Opposing quarterbacks try to stay away from him down the stretch, but whether it's a tackle, deflected pass or a back-breaking interception Reed almost always delivers.

Click here to see the rest of the rankings.

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The road back...

It's good to be back in a football mindset after the offseason. It felt really good to see all my teammates again. I'm still so proud of how we responded to everything to get to the Super Bowl. 

I think I handled the situation leading up to the Super Bowl pretty well. I tried not to let myself get overwhelmed by the situation and just focus on what was going to be the biggest game of my life. I kept my routines the same. Now that I've been there I know what to expect. 

I think we proved a lot to the doubters last year. Fluke teams don't make it to the Super Bowl, but if we need to prove ourselves again then we will. But I feel that we're here to prove to ourselves that we're a good football team. Having a good regular season and hopefully going into the playoffs with a winning record is our goal. 

After the season I took about a month off to rest and heal up a bit. In mid-March I started to get my running and weights in. After a few weeks I was pretty much back in football shape.

OTAs ended on June 11th and I was really impressed with the effort that the new guys were showing out there. I have never seen such high competition like that in OTAs before. Every player was going after it full speed every play. 

Rookie CB Greg Toler has impressed me a lot too. He has great potential. I think he had five interceptions in OTAs which is a lot for a rookie. We sit down and talk all the time. I have told him how to defend certain passes and things, but he has exceptional athleticism, explosive speed, good ball skills and he is eager to learn. 

We're looking forward to getting Anquan Boldin and Darnell Dockett back on the field in a Cardinals uniform because they're two of our top guys. We couldn't have made it to the Super Bowl without them, no doubt. We need them back. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with what they're doing. I just know they're doing what they think they need to do.  We report to training camp on July 29th. I dread going to training camp but only because it forces me to be away from friends and family. It wears on your body and mind after a while, but it's necessary.

We intend to prove that there is no such thing as a fluke Super Bowl team.

Antrel Rolle is a starting defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals. His blog for runs at Follow him on Twitter as antrelrolle.

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Olsen Primed for a Pro Bowl in '09

The Monsters of the Midway had a tremendous offseason and bettered themselves at several positions on both sides of the football, but they still have a hole to be filled at wide receiver.

Needless to say, trading Kyle Orton and a pair of first-round draft picks to Denver for Jay Cutler leaves them in much better shape at quarterback, as the former Bronco is fresh off his first appearance in the Pro Bowl. The protection up front should also be improved, especially if free-agent signee Orlando Pace still has some pep in his step at left tackle. Defensively, Pisa Tinoisamoa will vault into the starting lineup right away and gives the Bears arguably the best linebacking corps in the game.

While general manager Jerry Angelo did add three receivers in the draft this past April – Juaquin Iglesias in Round 3, Johnny Knox in Round 5, and Derek Kinder in Round 7 – he wasn’t able to pry Anquan Boldin out of Arizona. The organization has been linked to chatter surrounding both Plaxico Burress and Brandon Marshall, but their off-the-field issues would give any decision maker pause. Perhaps Devin Hester can develop into a No. 1 and Earl Bennett is primed for success catching passes from Cutler again, but there are just as many questions with regard to the wideouts as there were when the 2008 season came to a disappointing conclusion.

Not so at tight end, as Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen were terrific this past year and could be even better in 2009.

Still atop the depth chart at 32 years old, Clark has caught 45, 44, and 41 passes the last three seasons after losing a little weight and being rejuvenated in 2006. He very easily could have gotten sour after the Bears took Olsen at No. 31 overall in the draft two years ago, but he has been a professional every step of the way and mentored his eventual replacement both on and off the field. While his yards-per-catch average has dropped from 13.9 to 12.4 to 9.0 the last three campaigns, his hands are reliable, he’s a sound blocker, and he has only missed two games during his six-year stint in the Windy City.

But if this is the cast of characters Bears fans can expect to see on opening day at receiver – Hester and Bennett out wide, Rashied Davis in the slot – then it’s time for Olsen to become the next great tight end in this league.

Even though he was not as highly decorated in Coral Gables as fellow Miami Hurricane alumni Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow, Olsen was the premier player at his position in the 2007 draft and caught 39 passes from three different quarterbacks as a rookie. With Orton under center for 15 games last year and taking the passing game up a notch, Olsen recorded 54 receptions for 574 yards and five touchdowns – keep in mind he put up those numbers with Clark technically starting in front of him. He was especially strong down the stretch, catching 20 balls for 176 yards and three TDs in four December contests.

Many think Olsen could be on the verge of a breakout season with a quarterback as talented as Cutler now at the controls, including head coach Lovie Smith.

“I really liked what Greg Olsen has been able to do this spring,” Smith said Jun. 17, the final day of OTAs open to the media. “Of course we know his talent, but I’ve really seen him move more toward being a dominant player always.”

And while many Bears fans still want the front office to go after a legitimate primary target like Burress or Marshall, despite the baggage each player brings to the table, Cutler believes he has the talent around him to succeed right now.

“We’re good to go,” Cutler said, the same day Smith made his comments. “We’ve got everything we need out there. I’m 100 percent comfortable. I think we’ve got more than enough to compete.”

Can Hester be a 1,000-yard performer this year? Possible, but unlikely. Will Bennett be Cutler’s to-to guy again like he was at Vanderbilt? Maybe, maybe not. Davis is a fringe NFL player at best and Brandon Rideau is yet to catch a pass in the pros. The three rookies are going to be worked into the rotation slowly and can’t be asked to play major roles just yet. Yes, Matt Forte is one of the better receiving backs in the league, but Cutler isn’t going to revitalize the passing game with check-down throws.

Olsen is the key, and Cutler apparently knows that already since the two of them have been spending a lot of time together – whether it’s on the practice field, visiting kids at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, or tipping back a few adult beverages at Rockit.

Despite the fact that he lines up out wide almost as often as he does in tight and runs as well as most receivers, Olsen has only averaged 10.4 yards on his 93 career catches. While offensive coordinator Ron Turner deserves some of the blame, sending Olsen on too many short patterns to the sideline instead of utilizing his speed down the seam, Orton was never particularly accurate on deep passes. Denver tight ends Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham averaged 16.1 and 12.2 yards per catch, respectively, last season with the rocket-armed Cutler, and Olsen is a better athlete than both of them.

With Olsen wreaking havoc in the middle of the field, Hester will benefit from increased one-on-one looks on the outside, Bennett can come along slowly as more of a No. 3 option than a No. 2, and Forte won’t have to be a big battering ram against constant eight-man fronts. That’s the kind of offense that will move the chains consistently, giving an aging defense more time to rest between series – a luxury not often afforded last year. If Olsen reels in 70-75 passes in 2009, look for the Midway Monsters to claw their way back to the playoffs.

And Olsen himself to make a strong case for his first Pro Bowl.

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Montreal Alouettes cut nine players from camp

MONTREAL ­ The Alouettes announced the release of nine players late Wednesday: receivers Frantz Hardy and Kevin Marion; guard Robbie Powell; offensive-tackle Chris Rutledge; linebackers Jay Staggs and Jamaine Winborne; defensive-tackle Joshua Thompson; rush-end Rodney Hardeway and cornerback Blue Adams.

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Burrell’s blast helps Rays beat Phils

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Pat Burrell's performance and popularity rose and sank at various times during the last nine years, but one thing never changed: He was a Philadelphia Phillie. That was his baseball identity.

Burrell is still trying to find himself as a Tampa Bay Ray, after missing significant time to a neck injury and hitting just one home run before tonight. His second homer of the season, a-two run shot to left in the second, gave his new team a lead, and his RBI in the eighth helped drive a five-run inning. The Phillies fell to the Rays, 7-1, at Tropicana Field in a game that helped their former teammate begin to feel more comfortable in Florida.

Though the game was essentially decided by Burrell's early home run, it was defined by two excellent pitching performances.

The talk around the Phillies since Brett Myers was likely lost for the season to a hip injury has been about starting pitching - how much they need it, and how hard it is to find. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has scoured the league for weeks, discouraged to find more potential buyers than sellers.

Tonight's pitching matchup underscored just how helpful an added starter can be, as both pitchers were acquired last year to bolster playoff runs. Matt Garza, snatched away from Minnesota before the 2008 season for outfielder Delmon Young, provided a crucial lift to the Rays staff during their worst-to-first campaign. Joe Blanton, picked up by the Phillies last July, also solidified a rotation in need, and strengthened it for the playoff run.

Both pitchers have experienced rough patches this season, but both were excellent tonight. Garza had failed to last six innings in his previous three starts. Blanton has been more consistent in recent weeks but did not see his earned run average drop below 7.00 until May 21.

Tonight's start mirrored the trajectory of his season, with an early hiccup giving way to a stronger performance midway through. The righthander struck out five of six batters in the fourth and fifth innings, and struck out the side in the fourth. He stranded two runners in the sixth when Burrell grounded out, and struck out the side in the seventh.

After Blanton spotted the Rays a second-inning lead, Garza dominated the Phillies early on. The 25-year-old righthander, who received a no-decision in a World Series loss to the Phillies and Jamie Moyer in Game 3, struck out five in the first two innings tonight. Before allowing a hit in the game, Garza walked Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to lead off the fourth.

Jayson Werth came to bat with the bases loaded with none out. Though Garza had walked three straight batters, Werth swung at the first pitch and bounced into a double play that erased Victorino at home. Matt Stairs then struck out, and Garza had pitched into, and out of, an unusual jam.

Dobbs led off the fifth with a single, ending the no-hit bid, but the inning ended when Carlos Ruiz grounded into a double play. The top of the Phillies' lineup went in order in the sixth, though Werth's solo homer in the seventh narrowed the Rays' lead to 2-1.

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Spencer Adkins And The Importance Of Projects

So by now you’ve heard that the Falcons signed Spencer Adkins, a sixth-round pick at linebacker in this year’s draft. Adkins offers something that arguably no one else in this draft class does though, and that’s a near-mythical project status.

When you think about it, the Falcons mostly drafted guys who are ready to help somewhere right away. CB William Middleton and DT Vance Walker can provide depth at their positions, while OT Garrett Reynolds could actually compete to start in the near future. Our higher round picks will have positions on the depth chart locked up and are safe bets to contribute in some form in their rookie seasons. Adkins isn’t like to see the field for the first several weeks of the season, and then it’s likely to only be on special teams.

Normally, a guy like that wouldn’t even make the team in the first place, but Adkins has a lot to recommend him. He’s got game-breaking speed for a linebacker, a solid tackling technique and….well, that’s really it. The coaching staff will have to do some molding to turn his physical tools into on-the-field success, but I believe in the talent. Clearly, Thomas Dimitroff does too.

Perhaps even more important than Adkins is what the linebacker represents. Teams which get in the habit of drafting the sure thing regularly sacrifice potentially superior talent for steadiness. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but a team of average to slightly above average players rarely goes further than the first round of the playoffs. Especially late in the draft when you’re practically spelunking for talent, swinging for the proverbial fences makes an awful lot of sense. Guys like Adkins represent the outside chance that you can turn lead into gold, and it’s a great way to fill out a roster.

How important do you think projects are for an NFL roster?

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Bears will see if Hester is a legit No. 1 receiver

During a hit on the "Waddle and Silvy" show on ESPN 1000 last week, Tom Waddle, Marc Silverman and myself set the over/under for Devin Hester's numbers at wide receiver for the upcoming season.

I projected the following: 65 catches, 900 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Some may think these statistics are a tad inflated, but Hester has progressed in the two seasons since making the full-time switch to receiver. To wit: 2007 -- 20 catches, 299 yards and 2 touchdowns; 2008 -- 51 catches, 665 yards and 3 touchdowns.

We also need to take into account: 1. Jay Cutler's ability to connect on deep passes down the field; 2. Hester's improved grasp of the offensive playbook. Hester took a lot of grief from Bears fans and media because he occasionally forgot where to line up on certain plays -- the most notable being 2007 at Philadelphia. But by all accounts, those issues are in the past, and Hester has emerged this off-season as a leader on the offense.

Lovie Smith has labeled Hester a "legitimate number one receiver" during mini-camp and organized team activities. With the Plaxico Burress situation getting increasingly complicated by the day, it's starting to look like we may find out if Smith's assessment of Hester is accurate.

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Falcons sign Spencer Adkins

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons have signed their sixth-round draft choice linebacker Spencer Adkins.

Adkins, 5-foot-11, 246 pounds, had 72 tackles including 10 for a loss, five sacks and one interception in 31 games at Miami. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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What better time for the Cleveland Browns to again use Bernie Kosar

When Bernie Kosar drafted the Browns in the mid-1980s, making an end run around the rules to play for his boyhood team, it seemed like just another way he had gotten the better of life.

Ernie Accorsi, the Browns' general manager, gave him No. 19, which the best quarterback he had ever seen, John Unitas, had worn. Johnny U. was another guy long on heart and football smarts, who got knocked around hard inside the lines and harder outside them.

Today, Kosar, who graduated from the University of Miami in 2 1/2 years as a business major and made millions, only to lose more in bad investments and worse loans, is bankrupt. The same thing happened to Unitas.

Bankruptcy is hard to believe with Kosar because he never had Unitas' arm and had to rely on his wits. No one ever presented a Bernie Kosar Golden Arm award, as with Unitas. But there was a disconnect in both between football genius and the ability to function away from the roars. In life, neither called the signals.

The Plain Dealer's front page in 1993 the day after the Browns released quarterback Bernie Kosar.

Bernie had to out-think, out-study and out-improvise better athletes. But it is not his playbook anymore. On the field, he bled for his fame. Off it, with a body broken by 273 sacks absorbed in 126 career games, he is still taking punishment.

One of the joys of his life is when he gets his say, albeit briefly, about football. It is a privilege to hear Kosar do television commentary for Browns exhibition games. Since the Browns are seldom in the playoff race, they get network broadcast teams during the season that make you want to hit the "mute" button. No one on TV is as good on them as Kosar.

That ability to de-mystify a complex position like quarterback is why I still think he could be a great addition to the Browns as a quarterback consultant.

It should have happened years ago, although there were reasons, both fair and unfair, why it didn't. He endorsed the ownership team of Al Lerner and Carmen Policy, then they put him on a wrecker's hook and took him to a junkyard. There was only going to be one star in the Browns' organization then, and it was the empty suit that was Policy.

At the same time, Kosar already had the slurred words that still characterize his speech. There were all kinds of rumors of all kinds of addictions. There was speculation about too many blows to the head, too. Yet the man could brilliantly explain X's and O's in layman's terms.

As a player, he was very egotistical. But he had to believe in himself because, given his physical deficits, no one else would. He fought with his coaches to use more audacious game plans. Famously, his final play with the Browns was one he drew up in the dirt. It went for a touchdown.

It was painful years ago when he pleaded for a job in my column, noting that he had been cheered, been booed, been a hero, been a goat, and that he could help Tim Couch as he went through the same things. No one was interested.

The current secretive, lock-down Browns probably do not have the self-confidence to employ such a strong-willed, independent thinker, especially since part of his bankruptcy plea was his failed payment of over $1 million to the team. My guess is that it is for the stadium loge he once used.

I'm just saying he let plenty of people use him first.

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Sanchez awaits calls to majors

Gaby Sanchez, 1B/3B, Marlins: If not for a right-knee injury suffered during a play at the plate in early May, Sanchez might have been in the big leagues already. Instead it was Chris Coghlan who was called up as Sanchez missed a month of action. Sanchez was the favorite to earn the first-base job in spring training, but bat struggles and a bone bruise in his left knee suffered in a collision late in camp caused him to open the season at Triple-A.

However, Emilio Bonifacio is continuing to do very little at the plate with a .289 on-base percentage and .290 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, Sanchez has started 11 of his past 12 games at third base in the minors. He could earn a big league call and a chance at regular playing time soon.

Sanchez was a fourth-round pick in the 2005 draft out of the University of Miami and was originally a catcher before moving to a corner-infield spot. He immediately established himself by winning a batting title in his short-season league, but his 2006 season was marred by both a broken hand and broken foot that limited him to playing 74 games. He fell off the radar screen a bit with a mildly disappointing campaign in 2007, during which he hit .279 with nine homers. Still, it was in a good pitcher's environment in the high Class A Florida State League, and he hit 40 doubles.

Sanchez rebounded last year with a .314 average, 60 extra-base hits and as many walks as strikeouts in the Double-A Southern League, winning the league MVP and earning a cup of coffee in the big leagues in September. In 38 games this season at Triple-A, he has hit .322 with seven homers and a .387 on-base percentage.

Sanchez's calling card is consistently squaring the ball up when he makes contact, and although he doesn't have the greatest bat speed, he compensates with good pitch recognition, strong plate discipline and knowledge of the strike zone. He takes the ball to all fields and projects to hit for average with doubles power in the majors. He has a lot of what scouts call "5 o'clock power," which means he can put on a show in batting practice with his raw pop. Yet that power doesn't always translate to balls' leaving the yard during games, partly because his best power is to dead center and partly because sometimes he pulls off the ball.

He will get into the occasional rut when he gets away from his approach and chases a bit too much, but those ruts are becoming less frequent, and one opposing pitcher told me, "You can't pitch him the same way twice."

Defensively, Sanchez's thick 6-foot-2 frame limits his side-to-side mobility a bit, but he does have soft hands and the arm to play third and can make the routine plays at the position.

Although some scouts think the 25-year-old may just be a solid platoon player in the big leagues, he could be a right-handed version of Lyle Overbay (the good version of 2004 to 2006 before a hand injury changed his offensive output). He should bring batting average and a homer potential in the teens to the plate, and given the relative scarcity at the corner-infield position this season compared to recent years, he could be worth a look if he earns extended playing time.

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All-decade defense

Defensive tackles Kris Jenkins and Warren Sapp: No players dominated at the position for the full period in question.

Jenkins, at his best, disrupted opposing offensive lines to a degree that might have exceeded the problems his peers created. I had a hard time leaving off Glover based on what offensive linemen told me, but Sapp enjoyed broad support and was also worthy.

Sapp is Sapp. We know he's good. He knows he's good. He's going to tell you he's good. "Sapp had one move and he was good at it," the lineman said. "He lined up so wide and it was so much different than all the other three-technique guys. “

Linebackers Derrick Brooks, Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher: Brooks has started 16 games in each of the last 13 seasons. He has 17 interceptions this decade. Brooks, released by Tampa Bay in the offseason, brought exceptional quickness to the position even late in his career.

Lewis and Chicago's Urlacher are sluggers by comparison.

At his best, the 260-pound Urlacher was athletic enough to play the deep middle in coverage, yet strong enough to punish receivers and running backs on underneath plays.

Ray Lewis, everybody fears.

Ray deserves this honor, without a doubt," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "There is no question that he plays at a Hall of Fame level year in and year out. He's as smart and as instinctive a defensive player as I've ever seen. He plays hard every play -- every single play."

Newsome was new to the Ravens in 1996 when he asked the team's then-coach, Ted Marchibroda, what he wanted from a player.

"Ted said, 'Give me a player with a 'football temperament,' meaning a player who loves every part of the game -- the preparation, the practices, the long offseason workouts, the physicality, the games," Newsome said. "Ray embodies that definition. There is no player who enjoys preparing, competing and playing as much as Ray. There is only one Ray Lewis, and the Ravens have the good fortune of having him for his entire career."

Safeties Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed: Lynch (seven) and Dawkins (six) have more Pro Bowls this decade, but the Steelers' Polamalu and Ravens' Reed stood apart in overall athletic ability and their flair for the spectacular play.
"I love watching [Polamalu] play," Cowboys Ring of Honor member Cliff Harris told Mosley. "They give him a lot of freedom and he's able to make a lot of plays. I think I'd love playing in that defense -- even though it's the Steelers. I'm biased, but I still think it's one of the most important positions on the field. And no one can match Reed and Polamalu right now."

Reed's production -- 43 interceptions in seven NFL seasons, compared to 34 picks in 13 seasons for Dawkins -- separates him from all challengers.


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Devin Hester comes to defense of Jay Cutler

Devin Hester says he has heard enough.

He is tired of hearing the criticism that new Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is not a mature, capable leader.

"If you haven't been around a person like Cutler, how could you say something like that?" Hester said before appearing in a photo shoot Monday evening at Soldier Field for an Under Armour commercial.

In recent weeks, Super Bowl-winning coaches Tony Dungy and Mike Ditka have been among those who have expressed reservations about Cutler's maturity level.

"Can't judge a book by its cover," Hester said. "If you haven't sat down and talked to him, how could you say something like that? He's calm in the huddle. He makes us laugh and he jokes around before the ball is snapped. That's the kind of quarterback who is relaxed and says, 'Let's play ball.' "

Cutler, 26, threw for more than 4,500 yards last season for Denver, but raised eyebrows when he basically forced a trade after he learned that new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels had considered trading him.

"Just from the OTAs we've had, our offense has changed a whole lot," Hester said. "I feel like we're stronger than we have ever been. I feel like we're going to take the ball up and down the field. That's the kind of quarterback Jay brings to this team."

Despite reading and hearing about the Bears' need for a marquee receiver, Hester believes Cutler can make last year's mediocre receiving corps into a premier one.

"If we sign a big-time receiver or a free agent receiver who can help our team, I'm glad," said Hester. "But the guys we have here now, we're pretty set. [The coaches] just want us to make plays. ... Jay is the type of quarterback who is going to find a way to get the job done."

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Where it all began: Testaverde reflects on Fork Union experience

The historic old gate that leads into Fork Union Military Academy served as a time machine for football great Vinny Testaverde last Friday evening when he returned for induction into the school’s sports hall of fame.

For Testaverde, it was 1981 all over again.

Years have passed since he passed through that gate with his father, Al, on their first trip to FUMA in search of a place that could get Vinny academically eligible for a college football scholarship.

Might as well as have been yesterday in Vinny’s mind — the event remains fresh in his memory.

“We were here for the first time, coming from a public school in New York, and we toured the campus, saw all the crew cuts, the barracks, noticed the curfews, the study time,” Vinny Testaverde recalled. “On the way out, my father asked me what I thought about the visit and I said, ‘It’s not for me, Dad, I’m not going to school here.’”

Al Testaverde immediately pulled the car over to the side of the road and Vinny clearly remembered what his father told him at that very moment.

“He said, ‘Yes, you’re going to school here,’” Vinny recalled.

Plain and simple, Al Testaverde, the construction worker who used to eat from his lunch pail outside New York’s Downtown Athletic Club and dream of someday being an invited guest to see his son accept the prestigious Heisman Trophy, had given Vinny his marching orders, so to speak.

Early into Vinny’s acceptance speech at FUMA, he surrendered briefly to his emotions upon retelling the story and having felt fortunate to have had a caring father with the foresight to drive his son eight hours from home to insure a better future. Vinny choked up as he thanked his late father for his wisdom.

Like his dad, Vinny had always dreamed big. He was a gifted athlete with a golden arm. He wasn’t a dummy — just unfocused when it came to academics, and that was why Al drove them from Long Island, N.Y., down to the heart of Virginia.

A New York Jets scout had watched Vinny play in high school and thought the kid had a future. He recommended Fork Union as a place where the youngster could cure his academic shortcomings and attract a major-college scholarship.

“It wasn’t that I hadn’t developed,” Testaverde said. “I just hadn’t taken my academics seriously in high school. I was being recruited as a junior in high school but didn’t have the grades to get a scholarship. It was just the grades and this was the place to take care of it.”

John Shuman, now FUMA’s post-graduate program head football coach, remembered the first time he saw Testaverde. Shuman was in his first year as an assistant back then, working under the great Red Pulliam.

“I will never forget that day,” Shuman said. “Coach Pulliam had this thing he’d do with quarterbacks at the beginning of every year. He would line them up on the goal line and tell them, ‘No step, just throw the ball and let’s see what you’ve got.’”

Testaverde’s ball bounced one hop and went through the other end zone.

“So, I think it bounced on about the 94-yard line,” Shuman said. “I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

When the coach went to pick up Testaverde and his family at the airport Friday, Shuman was amazed.

“He looks exactly the same. He’s been 6-foot-5 1/2, 240 pounds since the first day I laid eyes on him,” the FUMA coach said.

Despite Vinny’s first impressions of Fork Union, he became comfortable with the thought that the school would help him reach his goals. He wasn’t a troublemaker or a wild kid, and he realized he needed academic discipline.

“The thing I remember was getting so homesick the first couple of weeks,” Testaverde said after Friday night’s banquet. “None of the students were here, just the football players who were in training camp.

“On top of being homesick, I pulled a muscle between my ribs and I had a hard time breathing. I didn’t practice and because of that I didn’t think I would get to be the starting quarterback. So, it was a tough go the first couple of weeks. After I survived that I knew I could make it.”

Testaverde and the Blue Devils went on to have a great year. The team finished 10-2 and Vinny threw for what Shuman estimated to be 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns.

“We had three quarterbacks and had to rotate them,” Shuman said. “But Coach made sure that when the bullets were flying that Vinny was in there.”

The watchful eyes of Howard Schnellenberger were monitoring the results from afar. Schnellenberger had recruited Joe Namath out of Pennsylvania to lead Bear Bryant’s drop-back passing game at Alabama and then had gone on to coach in the NFL before taking over the Miami program.

“We knew we were about to run out of quarterbacks at Miami, so we decided we’d make a study of the 10 best quarterbacks east of the Mississippi River,” Schnellenberger said Tuesday from his office at Florida Atlantic University, where he is now the coach. “That list boiled down to Vinny and Bernie Kosar being in the top five as we evaluated them.”

Schnellenberger and assistant coach Tom Olivadotti accumulated tape to study all of those quarterbacks in their Miami offices and analyzed them all summer long before the recruiting season came around. They rated the top five.

“Fortunately, we got No. 1 and No. 3 on our list,” Schnellenberger chuckled. “I’ve never said who was 1 and who was 3 because that would be ‘Truth in coaching.’”

Somehow, both Kosar and Testaverde were convinced to sign with the Hurricanes.

“Neither Vinny or Bernie were recruited by the very best programs,” Schnellenberger pointed out. “But I had been running this offense since I was a junior in college at Kentucky when Blanton Collier came in and put in the Cleveland Browns offense when I was still a player.”

The coach’s memory was spot on. Shuman verified that Miami was the first school to jump on Testaverde. Temple came in late and Syracuse tried to get into the hunt, but Miami had won his heart.

Those two quarterbacks would battle it out to see who would replace Jim Kelly. Kosar won the battle, not because of talent according to Schnellenberger, because Testaverde had much more than talent.

“By all rights, Vinny should have been the starter, but I felt Bernie was a little bit more mature and more mentally tough than Vinny was, and for that reason we went with Bernie,” Schnellenberger explained.

Kosar went on to lead the Hurricanes to a national championship, and Testaverde was perhaps the most talented backup in the nation.

“Vinny makes me so proud and I love him that much more because of the fact that it took so much courage to stay lined up behind Bernie,” Schnelleberger said. “When I brought Vinny in and told him I was going to start Bernie, it really, really hurt him. But he handled it in such a classy way when he talked to the press.”

Testaverde said he thought about transferring and even called Pulliam back at FUMA to get his input on the thought. Pulliam and Miami quarterbacks coach Earl Morrall convinced Vinny to stay. He had plenty of confidence and believed he would get a chance to compete for the job, but Schnellenberger wouldn’t be around to see it.
Instead, the coach jumped for a job in the USFL and a big contract that never materialized. Meanwhile, Kosar graduated early from Miami and turned pro, leaving Testaverde the opportunity to play for two years.

Needless to say, he made the most of his chances, setting Miami records that stand today and finally fulfilling Al’s fantasy of getting that invite inside the Downtown Athletic Club to watch as his son was awarded the Heisman Trophy in 1986.

He went on to a great NFL career, playing 21 seasons for eight teams and holds the NFL record for having thrown a touchdown pass in 21 consecutive seasons, and for throwing TD passes to 70 different players.

On Friday night, he was greeted by familiar old faces, and he heard their stories — similar to his — about how Fork Union changed their lives.

“My time here was a life-changing experience,” he said of FUMA. “You won’t find many places like this anywhere in the country. This is a special place.

“Fork Union,” Testaverde said, “is a place where you can become a man.”

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Burrell still trying to hit his stride - with his bat

ST. PETERSBURG - The question had to be asked:

Pat Burrell, how would Phillies fans be treating you in late June if you had hit one home run for them?

"Ohhhh," Burrell said with a grin. "I'd be a ... no, I'll reserve comment."

Burrell formed a love-hate with Philly fans. It ended in love. Here? He might have caught a break, seeing as you actually have to show up to boo. Tuesday, only 19,608 tromped into the Trop for the big World Series rematch between the Rays and the Phillies.

Burrell has yet to show up himself, at least the Bat who averaged 31 homers and 99 RBIs over the past four
seasons. It's never good when you can't tell when a guy is on the DL and when he isn't. Burrell is a nice enough fellow making $7 million his first season with the Rays, but he hasn't hit much of anything, including his stride.

"I better," Burrell said. "I better."

The accountability is refreshing, but even the arrival of his old ballclub, with whom he won a World Series championship with last October, couldn't quite rouse this sleepy giant. True, 29 games missed because of a neck injury and the transition to designated hitter can't have helped any kind of breakout. The Bat's not buying it.
"There are no excuses. I need to do a better job," Burrell said.

He's hitting .234 with 18 RBIs and that lonely homer, hit two months ago in the home opener. Pat Burrell has as many homers as Nyjer Morgan, Emilio Bonifacio and Josh Beckett. He has one more homer than me, you, your pool guy and your four cats.

Pat the Bust?

"Have I been successful? Absolutely not," Burrell said. "The only way I can look at it is the past is behind us, now it's moving on. I'm healthy. I'd like to be a factor in this offense."

Burrell's hasn't seemed an overriding concern this season, seeing as the Rays lead the majors in runs and there was his aching neck. And in an embarrassment like Tuesday's 10-1 loss - David Price and shaky defense gave up 10 runs inside four innings - the subject of Burrell coming around didn't come up much.

But I'm not seeing this team making big moves at the trade deadline. The answers will have to come from within. Burrell was the offseason move to shore up the lineup. He'll have to do that.

"I didn't start swinging the bat well, at all, really, the first part of the season, six weeks, I think it was," he said. "I need to get some consistent at-bats. I feel healthy. I feel good."

Rays teammates say Burrell brings a lot to a clubhouse. But the homers and RBIs are the bottom line.

"It'll happen," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "Maybe not 30 homers, but Pat will be there."

The worst thing Burrell has going for him might become the best thing he has going for him. The guy is pathologically streaky. In Philly, he started slow in 2007, finished big. In 2008, he started big, finished slow. If you take the end of 2007 and the start of 2008, make it one season, his numbers stack up against most anyone. That's the way the Rays have to look at it.

"He can get hot, very hot," Manager Joe Maddon said. "His numbers his whole career say so."

You'd hate to think the Rays got the 32-year-old Burrell just as he fell off a cliff. Two years at $16 million seemed like a bargain at the time.

Look, this team is going next to nowhere with starting pitching like Tuesday's. But there was some good news. Scott Kazmir apparently has his act together, and Akinori Iwamura might be back this season and Chad Bradford might soon return to the bullpen. B.J. Upton was just named AL player of the week.

And if Pat Burrell's bat wakes up one morning and carries this team for a while - well, it has to be part of the second-half equation, or even Rays fans might buy a ticket to boo.

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Enter the Vince Wilfork BBQ Raffle!

Here's your chance to enjoy the ultimate Patriots fan experience, a BBQ with Vince Wilfork for you and 5 of your friends, and 2 tickets to each of the Patriots 2009 Preseason & Regular Season Home Games!

Drawing Date: Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Entry Deadline: 11:00 AM EDT, June 30, 2009

Enter the Vince Wilfork BBQ Raffle and join Vince Wilfork and the Vince Wilfork Foundation in their efforts to eradicate diabetes.

$2.00 / ticket (minimum purchase of 5 tickets)

• Winner and 5 friends will enjoy a BBQ, catered by Redbones, with Vince Wilfork and his family
• Winner will receive 2 tickets to each of the New England Patriots 2009 Preseason & Regular Sason
Home Games.
• Winner will receive a brand new Weber Gas Grill (Donated by Yale Appliance & Lighting)
• Winner will receive 6 VIP passes to the Vince Wilfork 2010 Draft Day Fundraiser
• Winner will also receive a cash prize in the amount of $1,058.75 to mitigate the Winner's tax liability that results from winning the raffle. This prize is withheld and paid, on behalf of the Winner, directly to the IRS ($875) and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ($183.75)


Help Vince Wilfork and the Vince Wilfork Foundation with their efforts to eradicate diabetes and, in return, you could be enjoying this ultimate Patriots fan experience. Tickets start at just $2.00 each and decrease for orders of more than 5 tickets. The Vince Wilfork Foundation is utilizing the CFC Foundation and NetRaffle's patented concepts and technologies to conduct this raffle and tickets are only available online at this web site. Enter online today and rest assured that CFC never stores your credit card information and utilizes secure routers and IBM Servers, professionally managed, to ensure that your information is secure and that your order is accurately processed with the utmost efficiency.

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Legget Epitomizing Hard Work

Lance Leggett epitomizes what hard work and a great attitude can do for a player. Not one to shy away from a challenge or opportunity to get on the field as a receiver or via special teams, Leggett continues to improve as a young player. Due to the experience gained by working with coaches at the NFL level, Leggett is developing solid receiving skills -- which includes better-than-average route running ability, receiving skills and dependability. Quicker than he is fast, Leggett positions himself between the ball and defender well on most occasions and will fight a defensive back for position.

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Next man up? Look for Gooden

I already have my choice for the Ravens' breakout player in 2010: inside linebacker Tavares Gooden. It's a shame he missed 11 games last season, his rookie year, with an ankle injury and had to go on injured reserve.

But you have to like his enthusiasm. He plays as hard in practice as he does in games, and that puts him in the same classification as Lewis and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg when it comes to work ethic.

Give him another year in the weight room, and he could become a beast.

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No need to experiment with Reed

I read recently that Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron thought about using Reed as a wide receiver last year because of injuries to receivers Demetrius Williams and Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap.

I'm glad that idea never got off the drawing board.

Cameron did an excellent job working with the material he had last season and was creative with the trick plays and the unbalanced line. But if he had used Reed as a receiver, and he had gotten hurt, that would have significantly damaged the defense. Reed was one of the best playmakers in the NFL last season despite struggling with neck and shoulder injuries. As a receiver, he would have been exposed to greater risk.

Sometimes, these offensive coordinators have a tendency to outsmart themselves when they are tinkering in the laboratory.

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Portis: No rift with Zorn

I caught up with Clinton Portis on the driving range at Bethesda Country Club this morning before he teed off in the 22nd annual Make-A-Wish Golf Classic. Portis, dressed in a jaunty brown golf cap, a brown and red "Play Out" T-shirt, brown shorts, red and gray argyle socks and red shoes, said that reports of a rift between him and coach Jim Zorn are wrong.

"How this story came about, I have no idea," Portis said. "There's nothing going on. There's no beef between me and Coach Zorn. We're on good terms at this present moment. There's no problem."

Portis, who attended many of the organized team activities that finished on June 11 at Redskin Park, had a well-publicized spat with Zorn after the coach benched the slumping running back at halftime of the Dec. 7 loss at Baltimore. But Portis said that flareup was "a long time ago" and that ProFootball Talk was needlessly trying to make trouble where none exists.

"I don't know why people have that in their mind," Portis said. "Me and Coach [Joe] Gibbs had a great relationship. We talked more than me and Coach Zorn do, but lately me and Coach Zorn been talking, trying to get on the same page. Things been going good. He understand me and I understand him."

Quarterback Jason Campbell, on hand to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Portis, agreed that he doesn't see any clash between coach and star.

"The first I heard of it was when I got a text message [about the report] this past week," Campbell said. "I didn't know there was a rift. Last season they had their communication issues, but as far as the offseason, things been going pretty good."

Portis, who now trails only Hall of Famer John Riggins on the Redskins' alltime rushing list, said he has plenty left despite racking up 2,285 touches (2,052 carries) during his first seven seasons. He led the NFL in rushing at midseason in 2008 en route to his first Pro Bowl selection since 2003, his second season with the Denver Broncos.
"I still think I'm at the top of my game," said Portis, who'll be 28 on Sept. 1.

"I'm 27. There's guys being drafted who are 25. Coach Zorn's concerned about me making it through the season. I told him as long as I'm walking, I'm going to be on the field. I never got hurt carrying the ball. I told him, 'If y'all really want me to stay healthy I can quit blocking and running down the field trying to spring somebody." 

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Winslow Doesn't Like Being Called 'Sarge'

We didn’t realize that Tampa Bay Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow is known in some circles as “Sgt. Winslow.”

(The moniker arises from the “I’m a f–king soldier” tirade of his college days at Miami.)

So when “Joe” of got access to Winslow at his recent youth football camp, Winslow made a pointed request of one of the web site that use the military nickname.

“You’re not going to say that no more, right?” Winslow reportedly “barked.”

Winslow repeated the request at least two other times. “No more of this sergeant stuff, OK?” he said.

And complied.

But, man, what a wasted Jim/Chris Everett-style opportunity.

Then again, notoriety and/or a lawsuit for assault and battery won’t unbreak bones.

Meanwhile, every defensive player who faces Winslow this year undoubtedly will be calling him “Sarge.”

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Sapp To Appear In Upcoming Film

Warren Sapp will appear as Forrest Whitaker's brother in a movie called "Family Wedding'' that begins shooting this week in Los Angeles.

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3 firms owned by former NFL player Kosar have filed for bankruptcy

Besides the personal bankruptcy petition Bernie Kosar filed Friday, three companies he owns or controls have filed for Chapter 11.

KHOC LLC, BJK LLC and Mantua Land Co., which list their addresses as Kosar's Weston home, are seeking to reorganize their debts under bankruptcy-court protection in Fort Lauderdale.

Julianne R. Frank, Kosar's lawyer, has asked the court to consolidate the four cases. Frank, in an interview Monday, said she's hopeful Kosar's equity in the companies ``will put us in a position to consummate a successful restructuring.''

KHOC holds Kosar's interest in the Florida Panthers, which reportedly is close to being sold for $240 million. Kosar is a minority owner in the hockey team.

BJK owns interests in various properties in St. Lucie County, while Mantua Land owns property in Ohio, Frank said.
Kosar, who was born in Ohio, starred at quarterback for the University of Miami and in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. He also played for the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins before retiring in 1996. He has had various business interests since leaving football.

In a statement released Friday, Frank's law firm said the recession and the collapse of the real estate market were to blame for forcing Kosar to file for bankruptcy so he could attempt to restructure his personal and business financial affairs.

Kosar's personal bankruptcy case listed unsecured creditors with about $19.5 million in claims.

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Pat Burrell is excited to face his former teammates

For a guy who left, Pat Burrell has seen plenty of his former Phillies teammates — spring training, two April exhibitions in Philadelphia and a trip back for their World Series championship ring ceremony.

Tuesday starts the final chapter, his first regular-season meeting against his old mates.

In a way, he sees it as old news. "What's done is done," he said. "We obviously turned the page."

But when he started thinking about standing in the batter's box facing old buddy Jamie Moyer, he acknowledged it will be something special.

"That makes it exciting," he said. "Truthfully, I'll be looking forward to it. It should be an exciting series."

Burrell hasn't done too well since joining the Rays, hitting .240 with just five extra-base hits and missing five weeks with a neck strain.

The Phillies have gotten a lot out of his replacement, Raul Ibanez (though he's hurt now), and are in first place in the NL East, but haven't played all that well either, and come to the Trop on a six-game losing streak.

The reunion, Burrell said, will be more than social.

"Big picture now, it's not a big deal," he said. "We need to start winning some games, that's the important thing. ... I haven't really followed what's going on, but I don't think they're playing very well so hopefully we can get a few games."

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Braun Still 2nd in NL Voting

Ryan Braun continues to sit 2nd in the All-Star voting for National League outfielders.  The Brewers right fielder is currently about 300,000 votes behind the Phillies Raul Ibanez through five weeks of voting.  The top three vote getting outfielders will start for the National League in next month's All-Star Game in St. Louis.  Braun is currently 4th in overall NL voting behind Ibanez, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, and Phillies 2nd baseman Chase Utley.

Prince Fielder at 1st base, JJ Hardy at shortstop, and Rickie Weeks at 2nd base are all in third place in voting at their respective positions.  Jason Kendall is 4th among NL catchers, while Bill Hall is 5th in voting for 3rd base. Outfielders Mike Cameron and Corey Hart and 7th and 10th in the voting respectively. 

The National League and American League All Star Teams will be unveiled on July 5th.

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New NFLU FAMILY Wallpapers

Check out our new NFL U Family Wallpaper featuring Clinton Portis and Santana Moss. Click here to download our NFLU Family Wallpaper and many other ones or click above on proCanes Wallpapers. Enjoy and stay tuned to more wallpapers in the near future.

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The NFL's irreplaceable players

8. Ed Reed, S, Ravens
We often define a player's value by how much a team suffers when the player is missing; Reed represents the opposite. During a season when the other three projected starters in the Ravens' secondary combined for only 18 appearances because of injury, Reed played like a man possessed. Despite suffering through injuries of his own, the Ravens had the second-best pass defense DVOA (-23.3 percent) in the league thanks to Reed's raising the play of journeymen like Fabian Washington, Frank Walker and Jim Leonhard.

7. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
We could just list the wide receivers whom Johnson has spent his career playing across from, but that doesn't quantify just how important Johnson's presence is to making the Texans' offense work. Instead, we'll look back to 2007, when Johnson was on the shelf for seven games. Their passing DVOA was 11th in the league with Johnson in the lineup and 19th without, but he had an even bigger impact on the running game; the Texans actually had the fifth-best rushing DVOA in football when Johnson was around, falling to 28th when he was injured. Think he keeps a safety or two occupied?

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Darnell Jenkins Showing Progress

Kubiak disagreed that the only difficult decision on offense will be finding a backup running back behind Steve Slaton.

“Running back, of course,” he said. “But I think receiver’s going to be competitive for that fifth spot. (Darnell) Jenkins has made a great deal of progress. How far will (third-round pick Antoine) Caldwell (center/guard) come? How much does he push guys up front?

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Starting Job Staring At Campbell

A year ago, Calais Campbell was maneuvering through the offseason trying to figure out the NFL life as a rookie, facing fellow backups on the offensive line when there were offense-versus-defense drills.

Now, he’s a starter, facing fellow starters.

It wasn’t anything Campbell necessarily did on the field – he probably made a greater impact on special teams last season than his limited time playing defense – but the business of the NFL that put him in the position. Antonio Smith, starting defensive end, left for a lucrative free-agent contract in Houston. That meant Campbell moved up the depth chart.

“It is one thing to say ‘I’m a one,’ but when you are on the field around the other guys in the huddle and you look around and they are counting on you, it definitely feels a little more important,” Campbell said. “I have big shoes to fill, but it feels good to be in that huddle as a starter.”

The Cardinals have no other spot in the lineup that will be more scrutinized than Campbell, who had 25 tackles and zero sacks as a rookie. Virtually all the other starting spots are either all but determined or manned by veterans who have had a certain level of success.

The same can’t yet be said for Campbell, a second-round draft pick in 2008.

No defensive linemen were taken by the Cards in the draft. Only Rodney Leisle, who was out of football last season after being cut in training camp, was added as a free agent. Not only did Campbell rise up the depth chart when Smith left, it would seem he has limited competition to lose the spot.

Yet the first words from defensive coordinator Bill Davis on the subject are blunt: “It’s not going to be given to Calais.”

“If he wants it, Calais has to go take it and everyone else is fighting for it too,” Davis said, emphasizing the true battle can’t happen until training camp. “The OTAs and minicamp are a learning scenario for D-linemen and linebackers but you cannot evaluate them until they have pads on.”

Leisle could play the end in the 3-4 alignment, Davis said, or Campbell’s draft class mate Kenny Iwebema, or even veteran Bryan Robinson. Of course, Robinson remains the starter at nose tackle for now with Gabe Watson returning from knee surgery (and the Cards, right now, unable to count on Alan Branch until he proves he can be productive). Iwebema is recovering from surgery to remove a benign tumor from his chest.

Davis said the Cards will play a defensive scheme that will fit the players that have earned time and who are healthy. If it’s one of the bigger guys, the Cards will use more “thick techniques.” If it’s Iwebema or Campbell, the Cards will use their ends more on the edge.

And, of course, the Cards are hoping Campbell takes a step forward and renders any contingency plans moot.

“People are paying more attention to me than last year, definitely,” Campbell said. “But that’s OK, I like attention. I have always said, ‘When the lights come on, it’s time to shine and perform.’ I like pressure situations. I like all eyes on me, because I have no choice but to put on a show and play better.”

Smith, a one-time fifth-round pick, needed a few seasons to become a difference-maker. Davis said Campbell doesn’t necessarily need the same kind of patience.

“Calais is ready for his opportunity,” Davis said. “He just has to meet the challenge, but he is ready for it.”

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Star safeties Reed, Polamalu entering the danger zone

NFL seasons are a marathon, not a sprint.

NFL careers are a sprint, not a marathon.

It sounded strange recently when Tony Dungy said of one of his former safeties, “Mike Doss had a good career.”

Doss played six NFL seasons. He is 28 years old. It is not strange in the NFL, where the average career lasts less than four years.

The “great young safeties” of the AFC North are moving swiftly toward the “grand old men” phase.

Baltimore’s Ed Reed enters his eighth NFL season and will turn 31 on Sept. 11. Troy Polamalu, 28, moves into his seventh season with Pittsburgh.

They’re halfway home, maybe more, unless they last as long as Rodney Harrison, who admitted recently his body was barking — it told him 15 seasons of high-speed bumper cars was plenty.

Hall of Fame careers are like a steak which you are fed piece by piece while wearing a blindfold. You have no idea how much is left. Maybe it was just a 6-ounce filet.

Both Reed and Polamalu were exquisite in 2008. They were big reasons their teams faced each other in the AFC title game. They started in the Pro Bowl.

Cleveland seemed to be developing a third elite AFC North safety when Sean Jones broke out in 2006, but Jones didn’t build on the momentum and now is fighting for a starting job with the Eagles.

The Browns still have high hopes for fifth-year pro Brodney Pool, who was seen as a Round 1 talent when he was picked in Round 2 as a 20-year-old out of Oklahoma.

“You see (Pool) in the film room late at night,” said Browns running back Jamal Lewis.

Pool still has a long way to go before he is compared with Reed and Polamalu in broad daylight.

Reed puts Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome in mind of Rod Woodson, in one sense.

“The comparison is, if there is a play to be made in the fourth quarter to win a game or stop momentum, Rod Woodson was gonna make that play, and Ed Reed is gonna make that play,” Newsome said.

Woodson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the day before this year’s Super Bowl.

Polamalu basically put the Steelers in that Super Bowl.

In the AFC title game on Jan. 18, Reed and Co. kept the Steelers fairly well in check. Baltimore trailed just 16-14 and had the ball with five minutes left.

That’s when the Ravens found out — not that they didn’t already know — Polamalu will make “that play,” too. The Pittsburgh safety returned an interception 40 yards for a clinching touchdown with 4:39 left.

Lewis has seen plenty of these great safeties. He was Reed’s teammate for five years. Now, he faces Reed and Polamalu twice a year.

Would he take Reed over Polamalu?

“It’s not a big difference,” he said. “You see both of ’em running up, running back, running all over the place. Both of ’em can go up under and run under the deep ball downfield.

“What really makes both of ’em special is both can catch the interception and take it back to the house.”

The NFL is nobody’s long-term home. Seventeen years, the length of Woodson’s career as cornerback then a safety, is a pro football eternity.

If Reed and Polamalu left the game today, they could say they accomplished a lot. The Cleveland kid, Pool, is only 25 years old.

But then, NFL careers are a sprint, remember? Better hurry, kid.

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Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow lives up to early hype

TAMPA — The moment the question is delivered, Luke McCown's eyes light up as though he couldn't wait to address the subject.

The Buccaneers quarterback was asked if he ever finds himself admiring the ability of newly acquired tight end Kellen Winslow. McCown responds with a story told with the giddiness of a youth leaguer fresh off his first touchdown.

"Absolutely! He made a catch two weeks ago where I threw a back-shoulder throw on a fade (route). I threw it short because it was good coverage, and (Winslow) reaches back with one hand and makes the grab. It was unbelievable."

But for another version of the story, ask the man who had the best vantage point: safety Sabby Piscitelli, the defender on the play.

"I was like, 'He caught that?' " Piscitelli recalled. "I went back to the film room and, as competitive as I am, I was mad for six hours after that. But I went back to the film, and there was really nothing else I could have done. … A catch like that, you just have to go back and say, 'That was a heck of a catch.' "

So, you want to know how Winslow is fitting in with his new team? The men he will play alongside will tell you he seems right at home after his trade in late February.

About the only disagreement is whether he's more receiver than tight end or vice versa. Really, the answer is whatever the Bucs want it to be.

But on this there is total agreement: Winslow, 25, will be used extensively. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said he believes in widespread use of his tight ends, and, being a former tight ends coach with the Packers and Falcons, he is intimately familiar with the position.

"I've been very, very fortunate with the guys that I've had," Jagodzinski said. "I had Bubba Franks as a rookie (in Green Bay). I had Alge Crumpler (in Atlanta), who was as good a tight end as I've been around. Now Jerramy (Stevens) and Kellen.

"I use those guys a lot. Quite a bit."

For his part, Winslow isn't ready to make proclamations. Ask him about his potential to loom large in the offense and you'll likely get vanilla answers.

"We (tight ends) just have to make plays," he said. "We're just a piece to the puzzle."
Albeit a big piece.

Winslow's cautious approach isn't surprising given the tumults of his career. Injuries have taken a toll. Just two of his five seasons have been uninterrupted, but he averaged 86 receptions in those two campaigns with the Browns. The Bucs are banking on Winslow's ability to stay healthy given their decision to sign him to the league's biggest tight end contract, a $36 million deal that includes incentives that give him the potential to earn $42 million.
The Bucs are reluctant to admit it publicly, but there's no hiding the fact their receiving corps is thin and inexperienced. Enter Winslow, who the Bucs believe can help fill that gap by essentially functioning as a third receiver.

"We have Kellen playing everything," receiver Michael Clayton said. "He's playing tight end, he's out wide. … His routes are amazing, man. He's basically a receiver. He knows everything about coverages. He's an intelligent guy and knows a lot about the game.

"You can see why he's so special."

Clayton is one of just three receivers on the roster to start more than 10 games in his career. The others are franchise player Antonio Bryant and Kelly Campbell. Campbell's last NFL action came in 2004.

The need for a player with Winslow's receiving abilities is clear, but he is interested in being more than just one-dimensional. Alfredo Roberts, Winslow's position coach in Cleveland, said the 6-4, 250-pound Winslow has aspirations of being more well-rounded as a tight end. He should get the chance playing for a team intent on running the ball.

"He's fought really hard to kind of fight that image of not being a (physical) guy," Roberts said. "He's actually been getting on me because he wants more opportunities to be a guy who can be an in-line guy. … We have no fear in letting him mix it up inside. If he's standing next to me, then I'm doing the other team a favor. And he'll let me know that."

But make no mistake, Winslow's greatest asset will be his ability to move the chains.

"He's a big receiver. Don't let him fool you," Piscitelli said. "But it's a good (test) for me. When he splits out wide like that, if I see that in a game, it's not going to be harder than that. I'll tell you that right now."

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An answer to Dixon's prayers

Many times Antonio Dixon wondered how so much could go so wrong for one kid.

"I would always question God: 'Why are you doing this?' " Dixon says. "Stuff would get good and then it would turn bad, and when it turned bad, it would turn real bad."

As bad as losing his father to a federal prison. As bad as seeing his mother develop a drug problem. As bad as calling homeless shelters home. As bad as not learning to read until the 10th grade.

Foster homes, dyslexia, a severe stuttering problem, more schools in a few years than most people attend in a lifetime. The trials never seemed to end.

Yet Dixon overcame it all and in doing so gave himself a chance to realize a dream playing in the NFL.

Now the 23-year-old defensive tackle faces one more daunting challenge to make that happen: Earn a spot on the Washington Redskins' roster at the team's deepest position.

Dixon didn't know his father, Frazier Hawkins, for much of his childhood.

When Dixon was 3, Hawkins, then a high school wrestling coach in Miami, was charged with drug trafficking and sentenced to 25 years in a federal prison in Jesup, Ga.

With her husband behind bars and without a high school diploma, Dixon's mother, Corenthia, couldn't secure steady employment that would have allowed her and her five children to afford to rent an apartment.

So they shuttled for years between homeless shelters and relatives in Miami and Atlanta.

The pressure of being her family's sole provider got to be too much for Corenthia.

By the time Antonio was 11, his mother was so deep into drugs that a social worker took the children from her and placed them in foster homes for nine months.

The constant moving around took a toll on Antonio's education. He estimates he passed through some 15 elementary schools, all without learning to read. His dyslexia wasn't discovered until he was in the sixth grade, and he started receiving some special help.

He developed a severe stutter, an impediment that made him the frequent target of other children's abuse and a handicap that he still struggles to control.

"It was hard," Dixon says as he slaps his wrists, a device he employs when he just can't get the words to come. "All my brothers could read, but I just couldn't pick it up. Kids would tease me a lot. I have a short temper, and when I was younger I couldn't control it. I used to get in a whole bunch of fights."

Despite his troubled circumstances, Dixon didn't succumb to the obvious temptations.

"A lot of kids were selling drugs and smoking marijuana, but he was always a good kid," Corenthia says. "Antonio would always come straight home. He would pray every night."

And as Dixon reached high school, his prayers began to be answered.

Dixon saw his father for the first time in prison when he was 15, a first step in re-establishing a relationship that eventually included regular phone calls and visits whenever possible.

His mother, now drug-free, found work in the kitchen at the same shelter in Miami's rundown Overtown neighborhood where she and her children had lived at six different times during the worst years.

Dixon's size - he's now 6-foot-3 and 322 pounds - made him a major asset to Tim Harris, the football coach at Miami's Booker T. Washington High, the only school Dixon attended for a prolonged period. The stability of staying in one spot allowed him, among other things, finally to learn to read.

Not only did the teasing about his stutter stop, but college coaches, particularly Miami recruiting coordinator Randy Shannon, started paying attention to the rising prospect.

"We thought Antonio could make it at Miami with our support system," says Shannon, now the Hurricanes' coach. "Tim Harris told me that Antonio wasn't a bad kid. He just hadn't had nobody to help him. We sent him to prep school so he could catch up."

Dixon attended Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., riding a bus back and forth to Florida because he couldn't afford to fly.

Then he enrolled at Miami, striving to make up for lost time.

"We are very proud of Antonio," Shannon says. "He worked very hard for what he has accomplished. [A school assignment] that might take you or me 15, 20 minutes to read might take him an hour, but he would get it done."
Dixon spent long hours in Miami's academic support center when his fellow students and teammates were enjoying South Florida's warm weather and hot parties.

"I used to put in 20 hours a week in study hall when everybody else was out partying and having fun," Dixon says. "I had this tremendous opportunity. Why waste [it]?"

Dixon and tutor Kelly Pierce, later his academic adviser, virtually made the study center room and its Kurzweil text-to-speech synthesizer their own.

Dixon earned a liberal arts degree from Miami in four years, becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college.

And on June 13, Dixon was saluted in Miami as one of just six student-athletes nationwide to win the Wilma Rudolph award for persistence in overcoming hurdles to achieve on and off the field.

"It's beyond amazing what Antonio has achieved," Pierce says. "He was committed to being a role model for his brothers. He is someone you would idolize."

At Redskin Park, no one idolizes Dixon. As a rookie, he was assigned to lug veteran defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin's helmet off the practice field every day. The challenge he faces in making the Redskins is much tougher.
Griffin and five others are ahead of Dixon on the depth chart. Only four or five defensive tackles will be on the 53-man roster.

Still, Griffin has been impressed with Dixon, who started 10 games at Miami and recorded 62 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

"We [haven't had] pads on, but I can tell the run technique is there," Griffin says. "Antonio's big and strong. He wants to learn. He asks a lot of questions. His graduating after all he's been through speaks volumes about his character. The guy's a man."

However, often times Dixon is too much of a man. Physically, that is.

"Antonio hurt his back lifting here, and as soon as he did, he went up six pounds," says John Palermo, the Redskins' defensive line coach who also served as Dixon's position coach during his sophomore season. "His worst enemy is his weight. When it's 95, 98 degrees out here and we have two-a-days, that will be a real test for Antonio's conditioning. I see a great attitude, a good work ethic. He's got really good quickness for a big guy. He has good feet and hands. He's got a big upside to him.

"It's a tough road to hoe at defensive tackle, but it would be great if he could be on the practice squad and learn."
Dixon received a minimal signing bonus and will draw the $310,000 rookie minimum salary if he earns a roster spot.

If he doesn't, the practice squad would make a fine consolation prize for Dixon and his family.

"I am really proud of Antonio," Corenthia says. " If he puts his mind to something, he's going to do it. I know he's going to make it in the NFL because that's what he wants to do."

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Jarrett Payton on his dad, Walter: 'He would be so proud'

Being the son of Walter Payton can be a blessing and a curse.

Expectations always have been over the top for Jarrett Payton, who signed a contract June 6 with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.

Before heading into a team meeting recently, Jarrett reflected on what his father's reaction might have been if he were alive this Father's Day.

"I think he would be so proud of me," Payton, 28, said. "He always taught me that you never give up and you go until you can't go anymore. I had this opportunity and I just said: 'You know what, I am going to try this one more time. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't. But I am going to give my all and leave everything out on the field.' "

Walter Payton died 10 years ago at the age of 45. At the time he was the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

"In some ways [the name Payton] helps, but as far as being a football player, it has hindered Jarrett," said his mother, Connie Payton-Trotter. "He has not been allowed to be just 'Jarrett Payton the football player,' instead of 'Jarrett Payton, Walter Payton's son.'

"He's not his dad and there never will be another Walter Payton with those kind of gifts and abilities. ... Jarrett has that same type of determination and heart. He is a team player who will give his all to the sport because it is something he really wants to do."

Jarrett, who ran for a touchdown and caught a pass in Toronto's 37-24 loss to Montreal in Wednesday night's season opener, is reunited with Argonauts coach Bart Andrus, for whom he played in 2005 with the NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals. Jarrett is a former University of Miami running back who was named MVP of the Orange Bowl his senior season. He played briefly with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent before playing for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes in 2007. He led that team in rushing yards and touchdowns.

"It's a little bigger field in the CFL and the game is fast. To be a running back, you have to be a complete player in this league, not just a straight-ahead runner," the 6-foot-1-inch, 225-pound Payton said. "You have to be able to pass-block and catch passes. ... My dad would have been awesome in this league."

Jarrett Payton has learned to be patient during his football career.

He saved his best for last in college -- a 131-yard rushing effort in the Orange Bowl, as a redshirt senior.

"I tried to make the most of my opportunity. It was just one of those things where I had to wait," he said. "You never know what is going to happen, so you have to be ready when your opportunity is in front of you."

Immediately following his playing career at Miami, Payton had no career plans if football did not work out.

"As a mom, I don't want to hear that," his mother said when he left Miami.

Jarrett had excelled in soccer (his freshman and sophomore years) and then football at St. Viator High School, where he played quarterback, tailback and receiver. He passed for 1,088 yards and rushed for another 1,345 yards as a senior. He was listed as the 58th most-highly touted prep football prospect by the Sporting News. He had not played organized football until his junior year at St. Viator.

At the age of 12, Jarrett presented his father for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The two of them even appeared in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial together.

Jarrett always has had a huge support system. Many of Walter's former teammates such as Matt Suhey, Thomas Sanders and Otis Wilson, as well as his uncle, Eddie Payton, have kept tabs on him.

Off the field, Walter Payton was known for his love of music. He once appeared on "Soul Train" as a teenager.

Jarrett continues that tradition -- he now has ambitions as a rap artist and has performed around the Chicago area.

"I am a rapper, an athlete, an entrepreneur," Payton said. "Throughout my career as a football player, and after acquiring a shoe deal with Kangaroo, I spend most of my free time recording music. It's my true passion and it is also my first love. My music is a way for people to really get to know me. I give my heart in every song I make."

Jarrett and his sister, Brittney, also have been very active in the Walter & Connie Payton Foundation for the last 10 years, making speeches about the importance of education, as well as the benefits of organ donations.

On March 4 of this year, Jarrett and Trisha George were married. Virginia McCaskey, daughter of Bears founder George Halas, attended the wedding reception and pointed out the couple intentionally picked the third month of the year and the fourth day to coincide with Walter Payton's famous No. 34 uniform number with the Bears.

"Walter would be very, very proud of the man Jarrett is," Connie said. "Clearly, it hasn't been easy, and he has had a lot of reasons to give up [football]. Jarrett carries his Dad around with him all of the time and Walter is always close to Jarrett in everything that he does. ... He goes to schools to talk to students and motivate them. He is making a difference in young kids' lives."

"This has been the best year of my life," Jarrett Payton said. "Life is good. I'm happy. Dad would be proud."

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Bernie Kosar continues to fight through the pain

The IRS and the creditors and an angry ex-wife and an avalanche of attorneys are circling the chaos that used to be Bernie Kosar's glamorous life, but that's not the source of his anxiety at the moment. He is doing a labored lap inside his Weston mansion, the one on the lake near the equestrian playpen for horses, because he wants to be sure there are no teenage boys hiding, attempting to get too close to his three daughters. He shattered a Kid Rock-autographed guitar the other day while chasing one teenager out of his house because he doesn't mind all of the other boys within the area code thinking the Kosar girls have an unhinged Dad.

''There are a million doors in this place,'' he says. ``Too many ways to get in.''

So up and down the spiral staircases he goes, a rumpled mess wearing a wrinkled golf shirt, disheveled graying hair, and the scars and weariness from a lifetime's worth of beatings. He has no shoes on, just white socks with the NFL logo stitched on because he's never really been able to let go of who he used to be. He is coughing up phlegm from a sickness he is certain arrived with all the recent stress of divorce and debt, and now he doesn't walk so much as wobble his way into one of the closets upstairs, where he happens upon some painful, wonderful memories he keeps sealed in a plastic cup.

His teeth are in there. So is the surgical screw that finally broke through the skin in his ankle because of how crooked he walked for years. He broke that ankle in the first quarter of a game against the Dolphins in 1992; he threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter anyway. Don Shula called him the following day to salute him on being so tough, but Kosar is paying for it with every step he takes today on uneven footing. The old quarterback shakes the rattling cup, then grins. There are about as many real teeth in the cup as there are in what remains of his smile.

''I never wore a mouthpiece,'' he says. ``I had to live and die with my audibles. We played on pavement/AstroTurf back then. Getting hit by Lawrence Taylor was only the beginning of the problem.''

So much pain in his life. He heads back downstairs gingerly.

''I need hip replacement,'' he says.

He pulls his jeans down a bit to reveal the scar from the surgery to repair his broken back.

''Disks fused together,'' he says.


''A lot,'' he says. ``I don't know how many.''

He holds out all 10 gnarled fingers. ''All of these have been broken at least once,'' he says. ``Most of them twice.''

Broke both wrists, too.

The game was fast and muscled. He was neither. He was always the giraffe trying to survive among lions. Still is, really. He has merely traded one cutthroat arena in which people compete for big dollars for another, and today's is a hell of a lot less fun than the one that made him famous. More painful, too, oddly enough.

Kosar holds up his left arm and points to the scar on his elbow.

''Have a cadaver's ligament in there,'' he says.

And that's the good arm. He bends over and lets both arms hang in front of him. His throwing arm is as crooked as a boomerang.

''I can't straighten it,'' he says. ``I started breaking at 30 years old. Once you start breaking, you keep breaking.''

The doorbell rings. It's his assistant with the papers he needs to autograph. She puts all the legalese from four folders in front of him on a coffee table that is low to the ground. A groaning Kosar, 45, gets down very slowly onto the rug until he is symbolically on his hands and knees at the center of what used to be his glamorous life. And then he signs the documents that begin the process of filing for bankruptcy.

''Let me tell you something, bro,'' he says. ``It was all worth it.''

Brett Favre has made a spectacular public mess of his career punctuation because of how very hard it is for even the strongest among us to leave behind the applause for good. It is difficult for any man to retire when so much of his identity and self-worth and validation is tied up in his job, what he does invariably becoming a lopsided amount of who he is. But it is especially hard on quarterbacks because of how much of America's most popular game they literally hold in their hands. That kind of control -- over other strong men, over huddles, over winning, over entire swaying stadiums and their surrounding cities -- is just about impossible to let go . . . as is the attendant attention, ego, importance, popularity, fun and life. Running backs retire early sometimes because of the beatings, but quarterbacks never do. Joe Namath finished wearing a Rams helmet, Joe Montana ended with the Chiefs after 40, and Dan Marino got pushed out after losing 62-7 -- and now Favre wanders the earth so lost and searching that he's about to put on the uniform of his greatest enemy. Kings don't quit kingdoms voluntarily.

But there's no preparing you for the silence that comes after all you've heard is cheering. A quarterback will never feel more alive anywhere than he does at the conquering center of everything in sports. His is by consensus the most difficult job in athletics, and it requires an obsessive-compulsive attention to detail. The most diligent and consumed become Peyton Manning and Tom Brady; the talented and lazy become Ryan Leaf. And sometimes they sculpt their singular and all-consuming skill to the detriment of the balance needed for the rest of life's tacklers. Bills? Errands? Adulthood? Those things get handed off sometimes because, whether it is the offensive line or family and friends huddled around their income source, the quarterback must always be protected or everyone loses.

Kosar was one of the smart ones. He graduated from the University of Miami in 2 ½ years. He was smart enough to go a record 308 pass attempts without an interception. Smart enough to help build several businesses after football, with a 6 percent interest in a customer-service outsourcing company that sold for more than $500 million. Smart enough to have a wing of the business school at the University of Miami named after him. But now that the maids and wife are gone, you know how he feels walking into a grocery store by himself for the first time?

''Overwhelmed,'' he says.

He is like an embryo in the real world. The huddle gave him strength and purpose and enough fame and money that he never had to do much of anything for himself. Never had to grow, really, as anything but a quarterback. He says his kids (ages 17, 16, 12 and 9) grew up in a world where ''their idea of work was telling the maid to clean their room.'' And even the live-in maids had assistants. So now they're all trying to figure it out together, four kids led by a 45-year-old one.

Do you know how to wash clothes, Bernie?

''No,'' he says.

Iron a shirt?

''No,'' he says.

Start the dishwasher?

''No,'' he says.

He just learned the other day, after much trying and failing, how to make his own coffee. This is a man who owned his own jet and helped found companies, plural. But when his new girlfriend came over recently and found him trying to cook with his daughters, she couldn't believe what was on the kitchen island to cut the French bread. A saw.

''I was 25 and everyone was telling me that I was the smartest; now I'm 45 and realize I'm an idiot,'' he says. ``I'm 45 and immature. I don't like being 45.''

He still finds himself doodling plays on napkins in the kitchen. Running companies doesn't feel as rewarding as working with a high school or college tight end on routes. The only post-quarterback jobs that have given him any sort of joy are the ones near football: broadcasting Cleveland Browns games; running a company that created football websites and magazines; buying an Arena Football League team. But it isn't the same. Not nearly. As he tries to reorganize his life in a dark period that leaves his mind racing and sleepless, the people he quotes aren't philosophers and poets. They are coaches.

Like when he was at the University of Miami, for example. He was the weakest kid on the team. He was mortified when his statuesque competition, Vinny Testaverde, walked onto campus and bench-pressed 325 pounds a bunch of times. Kosar got 185 up just once, with arms shaking. So he went to Coach Howard Schnellenberger and, sweating and trying not to tremble, told him he was going to transfer. And now he quotes the old pipe-smoking coach and applies those lessons from nearly three decades ago to today: ``Son, I'm not going to lie. It doesn't look good for you. But wherever you go in life, there's competition. The guys who run home to mommy tend to be quitters their whole life.''

Kosar won. Won huge. Won the job and the national championship in a flabbergasting upset of Nebraska to begin Miami's unprecedented football run through the next two decades.

That seems like so long ago. As creditors close in and his divorce has gotten messy in public, Kosar has had some suicidal thoughts, but he says, 'I couldn't quit on my kids. I'm not a quitter. I'm not going to quit on them or me. I got here with hard work. I'll get out of this with hard work. No wallowing. No `woe is me.' I'm great at making money. And, as we've found out, I'm great at spending it. What I'm not great at is managing it.''

It is hard to believe he filed a bankruptcy petition on Friday, but a bad economy, bad advice, a bad divorce and a bad habit of not being able to say ''no'' have ravaged him. He says financial advisors he loved and trusted mismanaged his funds, doing things like losing $15 million in one quick burst. There's a $4.2 million judgment against him from one bank. A failed real-estate project in Tampa involving multi-family properties. A steakhouse collapsing with a lawsuit. Tax trouble.

His finances have never been something he controlled. He graduated on July 14, 1985, was at two-a-day NFL workouts six days later, and immediately got on the learning treadmill at full speed, always feeling like he was catching up because his team wasn't very good; and his receivers were worse than the ones he had at UM, and everyone on the other side of the ball was very fast, and he was very slow, and the only advantage he would have was being smarter. Dad would handle the bills; the son had to handle the Bills.

And he was always rewarded for being consumed that way. That's how the weakest and least physically gifted guy on the field once threw for 489 yards in an NFL playoff game. But that huddle eventually breaks, and the men who formed it break, too. Depression. Drugs. Drinking. Divorce. You'll find it all as retired football players cope with the kinds of losses teammates can't help you with -- a loss of identity, self-worth, youth, relevance.

A recent Sports Illustrated article estimated that, within two years of leaving football, an astounding 78 percent of players are either bankrupt or in financial distress over joblessness and divorce. And over the years, a lot of those old teammates have asked Kosar to borrow a hundred grand here, a hundred-fifty grand there. He knew then that he wouldn't be getting it back. But, as the quarterback -- always the quarterback -- you help your teammates up.
How much has he lent teammates over the years without being repaid?

''Eight figures,'' he says.

Friends and family?

''Eight figures,'' he says.

Charities, while putting nearly 100 kids through school on scholarships? ``Well over eight figures.''

When it became public earlier this month that the Panthers hockey team would be sold and that Kosar would be getting a minority-owner percentage of the $240 million price, his phone rang all weekend with people asking for help. Calls after midnight on Friday. Calls before 7 a.m. on Sunday.

''Everyone with a sob story came flooding back,'' he says. Then there's the divorce. It has been a public disaster, with him being accused of several addictions, of erratic behavior and of giving away the couple's money. Bernie says he has no interest in fighting with his estranged wife publicly or privately because ''I can't live vengefully in front of my kids. Why subject them to that? I don't want to fight anybody. I don't want hate or anger in their life. I may hurt me, but I wouldn't hurt anybody else.'' He speaks with a slur and admits there has been drinking and pain medication in his past, but says the only thing he's addicted to is football.

Drugs? Alcohol? ''Would my kids be living with me if that were really the case?'' he asks. ``If I did 10 percent of things I'm accused of, I'd be dead.''

He says the divorce has cost him between $4 and $5 million already.

''That's just fees,'' he says. ``And they keep coming. Attorneys charge $600 an hour just to screw things up more.''

And here's the worst part: ''I don't want to get divorced,'' he says. ``I'm Catholic, and I'm loyal, and I still love her.''

He has poured himself into being Dad, but it isn't easy. Kids listen more from 2 to 10 years old. But now there are the perpetual parental concerns of cars, driving, drinking, drugs, sex.

''I'm outnumbered now,'' he says.

And he has no clue how to help girls become women, although he gets moved to the brink of tears when his girls tell him they appreciate how hard he's trying. He wept like a child when his daughter painted him a picture of herself smiling and signed it with love. He has found therapy in learning how to clean the house with the kids and dealing with life's smaller headaches. Just the other day, while in a 10-hour bankruptcy meeting with 10 attorneys that left him ''humbled and in pain and feeling betrayed'' as he took a detailed inventory of his life, he excused himself with a smile because one of his daughters -- the oldest of his children lives with him full time, the others part time -- was calling with some sort of popularity crisis.

''The worst feeling in the world is being Dad on Friday night at home at midnight and they haven't gotten home yet,'' he says.

His daughter rolled her car the other day, getting ejected as it sank into a lake.

''Memorial Day, I should have been doing the funeral for her,'' he says. ``This other chaos is just stuff. Money. I'll make more. It feels bad. It sucks the life and energy out of you and is a relentless drain. But I'm going to come out of this fine. I always get up.''

There are photos all over his mansion. Many of them are not up. They are on the floor, leaning against the walls. He'll learn how to hang them soon enough. He goes over and grabs the one by the fireplace. In it, he is in the pocket with the Browns, and everything is collapsing all around him. You can see Kosar's offensive linemen either beaten or back-pedaling. His left tackle is on the ground, staring as his missed assignment blurs toward the quarterback's blind side. But the ball is already in the air, frozen in flight, headed perfectly to the only teammate who has a step in a sea of Steelers. It is a work of art, that photo. You can see clearly that the play is going to work. And you can see just as clearly that Kosar is going to get crushed.

Kosar runs his fingers along the frame. This is what his life once was and what it is now -- a swirl of chaos and pain and danger surrounding a man who has to remain in control for the people around him as everything feels like it is falling apart.

''I just wanted to play football,'' the old quarterback says.

A laugh and a pause.

``Actually, I still do.''

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Jonathan Vilma Reflects On His Time As A Jet

Former Jets linebacker and 2004 Defensive Rookie Of The Year Jon Vilma caught up with Randy Lange of and spoke about the Saints and reflected on his time with the Jets. The interview came up because this season is the first time Vilma plays against the Jets.

Reflecting back and talking about his new team: “I can’t complain,” said Vilma, who signed a new long-term deal this off-season to remain in the middle of the Saints defense. “New Orleans has treated me very well. The environment’s definitely different from New York, a slower pace. It was an adjustment. But here, as I usually do, I just tune a lot of the outside world out. No casino, no Bourbon Street. It’s all football.”

When talking about his new contract with the Saints: “I was very fortunate,” he said. “At one point [in 2007] with the knee injury and all kinds of questions about whether I’d be able to play, you forget the long-term. But the next season, I was able to bounce back from that to perform and perform well. I didn’t miss a snap during the season. It was just like I used to go, back in the day. The contract was rewarding. I wasn’t nervous about it, just more anxious. I knew I did as much as I possibly could do on and off the field to fit into New Orleans and be a good leader.”

Reflecting on his time with the Jets: “I enjoyed my years up in New York. I still keep in touch with Kerry Rhodes, with Eric Barton even though he left. I keep in touch with a lot of guys. I had fun, good times,” he said. But it’s still a business. That’s why I never got too high with the highs or too low with the lows. Any minute can change things in just the blink of an eye. That’s what happened when I got injured and the Jets felt I wasn’t a fit for the 3-4 and they wanted to make changes. That was fine with me. I was going to go somewhere and play well. It never really bothered me.”

Talking about Rex Ryan: “I’ve heard nothing but good things about Rex,” he said. “Ed Reed told me I would’ve loved to play under him, and Ray Lewis said the same thing. Kerry told me he’s a real good guy and so did Shaun Ellis. Timing was everything.”

Discussing the game against the Jets next season: “Drew Brees asked me if I’m going to be extra excited for that game. I said I really don’t know,” he replied. “We’ve got you guys pretty early in the season. It’s not like the hype Drew got when we went to London to play his former team [late last October vs. San Diego] and there was added emotion for him. By the time the season gets here, there probably will be some extra emotion. Now, well, I left with good thoughts. The fans were good to me. I really can’t complain.”

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Winslow Camp Takes Over One Buc

New Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow held his first Tampa area football camp this weekend at One Buc Place. Judging by the turnout it was a big success for Winslow and the participants. Winslow had a large staff of high school football coaches helping him to run the camp, and also had some special guests. Over 200 Tampa Bay area youth attended the camp with the Bucs starting tight end.

"Just fundamental football, little things they don't know about, and just how to play the game," said Winslow is what the campers were learning. "And how to act off the field."

Despite getting daily coaching from a father in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Winslow still attended football camps growing up. Due to his experience at those camps Winslow wanted to run them as a pro. Last season Winslow had a camp in the Cleveland area when he was part of the Cleveland Browns.

"I did go to camps. I went to Tennessee football camp and Georgia camp," said Winslow. "Martin Davis football camp I used always go to. I liked to compete and have fun with the guys. I always remember that, so I want to give that back and make that happen for the kids around here."

Winslow's agent Drew Rosenhaus came to the camp on Friday to be the special guest speaker. Rosenhaus outlined his rise to being one of the most successful agents in the NFL, and highlighted the adversity that Winslow has gone through with injuries and fighting back to resume his football career. In a question and answer session with the campers, Rosenhaus and Winslow emphasized the necessity to doing well in school. They pointed out that getting good grades helps high school football players get scholarships over similar players who do not get as good a grades.

Winslow had two choice teammates come out to help coach and tutor the campers. Quarterbacks Luke McCown came to a few of the camp practices, and rookie quarterback Josh Freeman also lent a helping hand. Winslow indicated he and his teammates get as much out of the camp as the participants do.

"A lot of these kids have some unfortunate situations so I just want them to have fun," said Winslow. "Act accordingly, and they are running around and having fun and that is all I want them to do, and hopefully they'll always remember this."

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Braun does all he can in losing effort

Ryan Braun finished 4-for-5 with a home run and two RBI in a losing effort against the Tigers on Saturday afternoon.

Craig Counsell, Mat Gamel and Jody Gerut each drove in a run apiece, but Brewers starter Dave Bush did not do enough on the mound to slow Detroit's offensive attack. Along with the the homer and three singles, Braun also swiped his sixth base of the season. He's batting .325 this year with 15 home runs and 50 RBI in 249 at-bats.

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