proCane Pro Day Notes

Jimmy Graham's first schedule workout is with the Lions next week. Graham said he'll be working out with the Dolphins in a week and a half during their local workout day. He has 8 to 10 NFL workouts set up for the next few weeks. "I expect to be gone for a long time," Graham said. Graham added that he was only doing position drills and I thought he tore it up.

Graham reportedly looked "tremendous" in pass catching drills at the Hurricanes' Friday Pro Day. Graham stood on his outstanding times from the Combine, but apparently put on a show in the receiving portion of Friday's workout. Offering legitimate Tony Gonzalez appeal, Graham could sneak into the second round of April's draft.

Jason Fox probably cost himself some money during Pro Day. The 6-foot-7 offensive tackle injured his left hamstring while running the 40-yard dash and was unable to continue. Friday was supposed to be a big day for Fox. Because of a knee injury that required surgery and kept him out of UM’s regular-season finale and bowl game, Fox was unable to run at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Rumor has it that UM pushed back Pro Day nearly a month so Fox would have time to heal. As it stood, Fox was probably no better than a fourth-round pick. He may have slipped from there.

Sam Shields ran the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds on Friday, according to teammates. Shields, busted last week in Sarasota for marijuana possession, didn’t speak to reporters.

Darryl Sharpton bettered his 40-time, running a 4.6 on Friday after a 4.7 clocking in Indianapolis. He went from 24 reps to 26 on the bench press (225 pounds.) and ran the shuttle in 4.2-seconds. He also broad jumped 10-1.

DB Chavez Grant ran in the 4.5 range.

CB Sam Shields, DE Eric Moncur and TE Tervaris Johnson seemed to be the players that helped their stock the most with their performance.

C A.J. Trump says he has workouts scheduled with the Lions, Titans and the Bucs.

Every NFL team was represented at UM’s Pro Day although no head coaches made the trip and the only high level front office-type was Rick Spielman, Minnesota’s vice president of player personnel.

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Santonio Thomas Update

Santonio Thomas, a UM standout, and he's trying to get back into the NFL. He has workouts scheduled for next week along with his wedding on Saturday.

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(omar Kelly twitter)

Jimmy Graham at Pro Day: ‘I am a physical player’

As a basketball player at UM, Graham was seen as too physical. During his four-year career, Graham’s personal fouls (286) easily exceeded his field goals made (202).

But as a football player, Graham is hearing that he’s not tough enough. NFL draft analysts like Todd McShay have virtually called the 6-foot-8, 260-pound tight end a softie.

“That’s just something I have to deal with,” Graham said on Friday after completing his audition at UM’s Pro Day at Greentree Practice Fields. “I remember coming in here last August and people saying, ‘Let’s see what this basketball player can do.’ I know I’m going to be tagged as a basketball player for another couple of months. But I think after camp and after a couple of games I’ll be able to show people I’m a football player.”

Graham certainly looked like a football player during his one season in helmet and shoulder pads. Despite not having played the game since he was a freshman in high school, Graham caught 17 passes for 213 yards and finished second on the Hurricanes with 5 touchdown catches.
But in the world of the NFL draft, every prospect has to have a blemish. The knock on Graham regards whether he will be physically willing enough to block in the NFL.

Asked where he picked up that rap, Graham said: “I’m not really sure. I know when teams look at what I’ve been through in my life, what I’ve been through in college and high school, that I’ve had to be tough and I’ve had to be on my own and [kept] pushing forward, when they see and know those things, they won’t have any question about it.”

Graham said that he addressed concerns about his desire to block at the Senior Bowl, where he showed “that I am a physical player and that I do have the ability to block and I want to block.”

There are surely no questions regarding Graham’s physical ability. His numbers were arguably the best among tight ends at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Graham decided not to run the 40-yard dash on Friday, choosing to rest on the 4.5 that he clocked in Indy.

“I already ran 4.5 at the combine under pretty stressful situations,” said Graham, who shares the same agent (Jimmy Sexton) with Florida’s Tim Tebow. “I think people know I’m fast…I didn’t need to run it again. I was told not to run it again.”

Graham is a good bet to be the first Hurricane taken in April’s draft. Analysts have Graham going anywhere from the second to fourth rounds.
“I hear a lot of different things,” Graham said. “I don’t know. I’m just going to hope for the best. For me, it’s not about where I go, it’s that I go. I know there’s a lot of work ahead of me. I’m just waiting to get into a camp and show people what I can do.”

Graham said it was former UM quarterback Bernie Kosar who pushed him into giving football a try. “I worked with him all last summer,” Graham said. “He drove down three days a week to throw to me. He’s still got a cannon. He was the one that kept pushing me and telling me, ‘Jimmy, I think one day you can be a playmaker in the NFL.’”

Graham said he prepared for Friday’s workout by watching film of former UM tight end Jeremy Shockey going through his Pro Day in 2002.

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Santana Moss predicts Clinton Portis will be motivated

Perhaps no one in the Redskins' locker room understands running back Clinton Portis better than receiver Santana Moss.

The two have had a chance to chat during the team's offseason conditioning program this month, and Moss predicts Redskins fans will see an especially motivated Portis next season.

"I feel like he's a guy who always plays with a chip on his shoulder because there's always something out there said about him that he reads into and he don't like. ... [Coaches are] going to get him going some kind of way, and he's going to come out and play good football," Moss said.

Portis missed half of last season with a season-ending concussion. He's healthy to again compete, but he'll be doing it in a new offense, with backup Larry Johnson fighting for carries and surrounded by mounting questions about his abilities.

"Every year is not going to be perfect," Moss said. "He had a bumpy year where he didn't perform to the caliber that he has. You can say because of injury, you know what I mean. When you have a year like that, you have it in the back of your head that, 'I want to come out and prove everybody wrong or show everybody what I'm made of.'

"He's one of the best in this game. He's done so much with less. He hasn't had the best O-line, we all know that. He hasn't had the best passing game around, we all know that.

And for him to go out there and put up the numbers he put up every year, you have to give him his credit, which. I don't think it's always given because of the kind of person he is and some of the things he do."

Click here to order Clinton Portis' or Santana Moss' proCane Rookie Card.

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Jason Fox out to impress pro scouts

Jason Fox earned a reputation as being one of the toughest players during his time at Miami.

He started 47 games in four years at left tackle, ranking third in school history. Despite the success, Fox still finds it difficult when thinking of how his career ended. He missed the final two games because of a knee injury, a setback he hopes doesn't affect his NFL future.

Fox and a few other former Hurricanes have one last shot to impress scouts at the annual UM Pro Day on Friday at Greentree Practice Fields.
"It was tough watching those last two games, especially the Wisconsin game," said Fox, a first-team All-Atlantic Coast player. "We were struggling. I was there and it was tough to watch."

Fox may have made a difference in the 20-14 loss in the Champs Sports Bowl, but UM coach Randy Shannon and the medical staff thought it was best for him to have season-ending knee surgery with two games remaining.

"I tried to play, I wanted to play," Fox said. "It's something I played with all year, but [the pain] became unbearable and after consulting with coach [Randy] Shannon and the medical staff we thought it was in my best interest to have surgery and look forward to the future."

Fox, who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, spent the past few months in rehab and training at Bommarito Performance in Aventura. He said the knee is "fine" and hopes to show the scouts.

"It was a challenge because most guys have been training since their last game," Fox said. "I'm coming off an injury and I had to do everything I could to not fall behind those guys. I had to eat right. I had to do all the upper-body lifting."

Because of the injury, Fox was unable to participate at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and only interviewed with teams. He thinks he has high-round potential, but ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay predicted a late-round pick.

"I don't think he finishes and has that mean streak that you look for," McShay said on a recent conference call. "You just wonder. He's a left tackle, but I don't know that he's a good enough player to become a starting left tackle in the NFL."

Fox said his experience at UM will help his cause. During interviews at the Combine, he impressed several teams with his football knowledge.
"When they ask you to draw plays, they could tell that I understood the game of football," Fox said. "At UM, the coaches just don't tell you to block the linebacker. They explain the play and that's exactly what [NFL teams] are looking for."

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Vince Wilfork is putting his money where his mouth is with Ron Brace

You've heard the leadership pronouncements made Vince Wilfork [stats]. If you haven't, check out what the Pro Bowl nose tackle said right after he signed a contract extension.

The main point of it was, that "this year’s going to be a huge test. Leadership — we got a bunch of leadership on this team," Wilfork said.
One thing I got out of my conversation with second-year defensive tackle Ron Brace yesterday was the fact that, well, Wilfork wasn't lying. He asked for leadership, and he's giving it.

“Whenever he has a chance, V will pull me aside,” said Brace, referring to Wilfork. “I just ask, ‘V, what do you look at while you watch film? Or ‘Come watch film with me.’ Those little things right there are going to make a big difference. You realize you got to really get in-depth.”

In a seven-minute interview, Brace talked about Wilfork nearly half the time. Probably a good sign if you want your second-round pick from Boston College to fulfill his potential.

"My locker’s next to one of the best D-tackles in the league right now," Brace told me yesterday, "so I can’t help but take advantage of his teachings, you know? I try to learn how to watch film like he does, I try to watch to see what I can do to improve my technique. Basically, everything this man is doing, I’m watching, because hopefully I’m going to try to play to the caliber that he is."

Brace had a slooooooow rookie season, contributing in just five games. Predictably, when Wilfork signed an extension keeping him here through 2014, Brace was as pumped as anyone.

"It gives me more time to learn from a player like him," Brace said. "Learning is vital to me now, especially in this league, because here, everybody has physical attributes. It’s just all up here (in his head) now, it’s a mind game now. He has it down, I’m trying to learn to figure it out like he does, ya know?"

As soon as Brace arrived, Wilfork took him under his wing. "Just as the way the man carries himself and his work ethic," Brace said. "Can’t help but admire a man like that. He’s not a fake leader. He’s doing it just like, we gotta get this team right."

And of course, as Brace learns to watch film in order to take the next step in his development, Wilfork is assisting.

"Just learn how to watch film," Brace, the Worcester native, said. "That was my big thing coming from college: I was just watching my guy a little bit, doing whatever coaches tell you. Now, you realize you gotta really get in-depth with your man, your team, your coordinator, their coach, their tendencies – that is the biggest shock to me. My head was spinning. Doing more mental work this offseason, as well as physical, will help me out."

Will it help?


Bears won't let Hester return kickoffs

Lovie Smith doesn't plan to grant Devin Hester's wish about returning kickoffs again.

The Bears coach said Wednesday that Hester would remain a full-time wide receiver and return punts, but not kickoffs, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.  The Bears are in good shape on kickoffs with Johnny Knox.

Click here to order Devin Hester's proCane Rookie Card.

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Vilma calls new overtime rule a slight to his team

The Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in sudden-death overtime of the NFC Championship game after winning the coin toss and nailing a 40-yard field goal on their first drive.

"If you read between the lines, we feel like they're saying well, if Minnesota would have had a possession who knows what would have happened," said Vilma, who lives in Miami and was playing in a friendly tennis match with world number two Caroline Wozniacki on Thursday at the Sony Ericsson Open.

"We don't appreciate that. I don't appreciate it at all."

Starting next season, the team with the first possession in overtime would have to score a touchdown to end the game. But if they only manage a field goal then the opposing team will get a chance to end the game by scoring a touchdown.

If both teams score field goals on their first possession, or fail to score, then classic sudden-death rules would come into effect, with the next team to score winning the game.

The rule was passed 28-4 by league owners Tuesday.

Vilma, a six-year NFL veteran who has played the last two seasons in New Orleans, said the Saints beat the Vikings fairly and that the NFL's rule changes were designed to avoid the situation from occurring again.

"Whoever scores wins," he said. "It's up to Minnesota to stop us. They didn't stop us on fourth downs and that's their problem. I just feel like they're slighting us, but it is what it is."

After beating the Packers, New Orleans went on to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 to win their first Super Bowl.

Click here to order Jon Vilam's proCane Rookie Card.

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Bernie Kosar drops back from his roles with Cleveland Browns, Gladiators

WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Bernie Kosar sat on a stool, watching the Cleveland Gladiators run drills Wednesday from behind netting that surrounds the Arena Football League team's indoor practice field in Warrensville Heights.

The symbolism was inescapable: One of the most beloved Cleveland sports figures was, for the moment, on the outside looking in.

The 46-year-old Kosar, who retired in 1996 -- well after becoming legend in this town for having led the Browns to the AFC Championship Game three times -- has a hand in two football teams, but no official titles and duties that are undefined.

After serving as president of the Gladiators in 2008, the former Browns quarterback is a special adviser to the team, which opens its season April 3 at The Q.

Last fall, Browns owner Randy Lerner brought Kosar in as a team consultant, although that role also has never been determined.

Kosar said he's met a few times with Browns President Mike Holmgren and coach Eric Mangini, but his involvement with the team is kind of on hold.

"Right now, I haven't been doing as much while they're trying to get things settled. I hope to talk with them," he said in an interview during the Gladiators practice. "You know, they're busy down there with the [NFL] owners meetings this week in Orlando, [Fla.], but the off-season programs are just about ready to get started now and they're starting to get ready for the draft, so I'd like to still stay involved."

Kosar, who played for the Browns from 1985 until being released in the middle of the season in 1993, had no preference about what his contribution might be.

"You know what, at this point, to be able to learn under [Holmgren] and with him and [General Manager] Tom Heckert and coach Mangini, I'd be happy to do whatever they want," he said.

With the Gladiators, Kosar, who plans to attend the games, said he's helped head coach Steve Thonn get adjusted to Cleveland.

Kosar said he also has helped owner and friend Jim Ferraro put the front office and organization together. But he's also stepped back from the arena team a bit.

"Because of some of the things I've personally been going through," he said, "[I'm] really trying to let them manage it and do their jobs."

Kosar, who said he's been spending a lot of time in Ohio and is busy raising his four children, went through a messy divorce and filed for bankruptcy protection last summer, estimating debts of $10 million to $50 million. The Florida court filing blamed the economy, the collapse of the real estate market and financial mismanagement by those he trusted.

As painful as it's been, Kosar says he's happy.

"Actually, I am," he said. "My kids are doing good. They love me, I love them. I'm doing some football stuff. [Life is] not as confusing as before. I've got my health.

"Was I always? Was it fun? Absolutely not, but you know what, it isn't easy and I'm kind of glad I've come out the other side. It gave me some experiences I bluntly wish I didn't have to experience, don't want to ever really experience them again, but I survived them. At the end of the day, I like to think of myself as a fighter and a survivor."

As the Gladiators practice ended, Kosar was asked to address the team. He encouraged the players to make the most of their opportunity, to have no regrets, that if they did their best today then tomorrow would take care of itself.

"I'd give anything to be able to play again," he told them. "You don't want to be my age and look back and wonder what might have been."

Click here to order Bernie Kosar's proCane Rookie Card.

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Meet the "real" Willis McGahee

When Willis McGahee arrived on the scene in Baltimore, many fans were excited about the versatility that he might bring to the offensive backfield, something that was missing during the days of Jamal Lewis.  

McGahee’s first season with the team in 2007 was a bitterly disappointing one that included a nine game losing streak, an embarrassing loss to what would eventually be a (1-15) Dolphins team and an equally embarrassing (5-11) final record.

McGahee was one of the few bright spots during a very forgettable swan song season for former head coach Brian Billick.

In 2008 the Ravens ushered in the John Harbaugh era and with it the promise of an energized squad less concerned with individual star power and more concerned about sacrificing for the good of the team.

New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron expressed his excitement over coaching McGahee and putting his talents to work in a way that might remind observers of how Cameron once used Ladainian Tomlinson in San Diego.

Unfortunately for McGahee and the Ravens, that never happened.

The talented former Miami Hurricane wasn’t an enthusiastic participant in the team’s offseason conditioning program in ’08 and his level of attendance during organized team activities could hardly be described as stellar. When he reported to training camp he was by his own admission not in the best of shape. Making matters worse, a knee injury prevented him from working his way back into shape.

The player that Cam Cameron wanted to feature was soon the featured attraction in Harbaugh’s doghouse.

Fans labeled him a malcontent and many demanded that he be traded or released.

I never really viewed McGahee as a malcontent in the mold of Chris McAlister. I saw him as misunderstood and I based that opinion on the things he said, the things he didn’t say, the manner in which he carried himself and what I believed to be somewhat of a shy demeanor – hardly your stereotypical persona from the “U.”

In 2009 my opinion of McGahee was validated. He reported to camp in great shape and became a champion of the concept of “team.” He absolutely played like a Raven and walked and talked the company line. He seemed fully rejuvenated and willingly mentored the young player who stole his job – Ray Rice.

Fans who clamored for his exodus only one year earlier now vehemently defend the club’s decision to keep McGahee around despite an uncapped season that would allow the team to sever ties with him without any real measurable financial consequence. His productivity in a supporting role coupled with what fans believed to be a new attitude influenced the 180 degree shift in the court of public opinion.

So what really inspired the turnaround for McGahee?

Did he really change or did the perception of McGahee change?

To find out whom the man behind the Darth Vader-like helmet really is I reached out to the Ravens talented back to satisfy my own curiosities about McGahee and those of fans here in Baltimore.

Tony Lombardi (“TL&rdquoWinking: You’ve been a featured back your entire life. Do you prepare any differently mentally and/or physically in a non-featured role?
Willis McGahee (“WM&rdquoWinking: Not at all…my goal is to always give a hundred percent no matter what…on the field and off.

TL: Specifically how might the additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth help the offense?
WM: Anytime you can add quality players like that, especially mixing them in with a guy like Derrick [Mason], it’s only going to help the team get better….the more we can mix it up and confuse defenses, the better.  With this running tandem and this receiving corps, opposing defenses will always need to be on their toes. 

TL: Some coaches will say that they need to find a way to get their best players on the field as often as possible. Could you envision a personnel grouping that includes you and Ray Rice on the field together? What is the plus side of that? The negative side?
WM: That’s definitely a question for the coaches! 

TL: Much was made about you being in John Harbaugh’s so-called doghouse. Did you ever feel like you where in that doghouse? If so what has changed since then and how is your relationship with him now?
WM: I don’t know what people are talking about when they say Harbaugh’s doghouse…I guess you’d have to ask him if he has one….and if I’m in it. 

TL: Talk about your relationship with Cam Cameron and RB coach Wilbert Montgomery?
WM: I have a lot of respect for those guys and I try to take as much experience from them as I possibly can.  Coach Montgomery was obviously a brilliant RB and I’m fortunate to be able to benefit from his experiences on the field.  

TL: The offseason is filled with trade rumors and your name has come up often because you are still viewed as a starting running back with gas left in the tank. What does Willis McGahee want for the 2010 season? 
WM: Well, I have no doubts I still have gas left in the tank.  I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been.  I know that inside I am still a starter-quality back without question.  I just want to play and help my team get to a Super Bowl in whatever capacity I can.  

TL: Ravens fans harbor a great hatred for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Do the players feel that too? Do they share the feeling? 
WM: The hate between Pittsburgh and Baltimore will always be there on the field where it’s all about winning….but off the field, we all actually get along. 

TL: If you were commissioner for a day, what would you change about the game?
WM: The touchback rule….if defensive team doesn’t recover a fumble in end zone they shouldn’t get possession of the ball.  

TL: How closely do you follow the NFL labor discussions and do you think a compromise will be reached between the union and the ownership prior to a 2011 lockout? 
WM: That’s really a question for someone like Dominique Foxworth or Matt Stover….I don’t know, I hope it works out.  I just want to play football.  

TL: Forgetting positions for a moment, who is the best pure football player in the NFL?
WM: Current Players?  Maybe Peyton Manning. 

TL: What current Ravens offensive player could be an excellent defender?
WM: Le’ron McClain at LB. 

TL: What current Ravens defensive player could be an excellent offensive player?
WM: Haloti at fullback or tight end. 

TL: Rank the fans of Baltimore compared to other cities.  
WM: There is no comparison.  Pretty sure we have the most loyal, passionate fans….not to mention the loudest for sure.

TL: Who is the meanest Raven on the field?
WM: The whole defense. 

TL: Which Raven is the biggest trash talker, Reed or Suggs?
WM: Trash talker?  I guess I would say Suggs….but there’s a difference between being an arrogant trash talker and just having a confident swagger….which both of these guys definitely have.  

TL: If a fight broke out, which Raven do you most want on your side? 
WM: Haloti or Sizzle, either one….as long as I’m not fighting against them, it’s all good!  

TL: Running backs hit the proverbial wall sooner than most other positions in the NFL and it seems to happen suddenly. What can an every down back do to extend his career and maintain a high level of performance on the field?  
WM: Just try and stay as strong as possible even throughout the offseason, nutrition is key…there’s actually a new website where I’ll have my own blog about fitness, health and nutrition…it will be out in a few weeks.  

TL: Intense workouts increase appetites, how do you avoid pigging out after a big workout? 
WM: Who says I avoid it?! Just kidding!  After a workout I try to drink a lot of water which rehydrates me and takes the hunger edge off.  After that I try to eat a good amount of protein and some whole grain pasta or brown rice to keep my energy levels high and fill me up so I can avoid making poor food choices.

TL: What type of cardio workout do you prefer?
WM: I like the elliptical if I’m inside or at the gym…if I’m at home in Florida I like to do things to keep it interesting and mix it up a bit…things that work my muscles in different ways, too….like running sprints in the sand pits.  

TL: What physical activities would you suggest parents have their children engage in?
WM: Football, of course!  Swimming is a great form of exercise and so are some of the “old fashioned” kinds of games I used to play as a kid…tag, a pick-up basketball or baseball game…anything that involves physical activity versus sitting in front of the TV.  The great thing about kids is that they don’t make their exercise “structured.”  They just have fun.  Adults could take a good lesson from that!  

TL: Speaking of which, let’s tap into the inner child in you. What are your thoughts on the new WiiSport video games?
WM: I like  WiiSport games… they can really make you break a sweat!  It’s probably not good to make those your core fitness routine 100% but would be a great way to mix it up and add in some variety.

TL: What word of advice would you give someone frustrated with their weight loss results?  
WM: One word: Persistence.  Don’t give up….losing weight slowly is better and a more effective way to keep it off but it can be frustrating at times.  Just remember that even if you can’t see the results immediately, you are still making a huge difference in your overall health.

TL: Besides a focus on healthier living and encouraging others to do the same, you are pretty busy in the community. Let’s talk about that for a bit and your efforts this past year.  What 2009 charity contribution are you most proud of? 
WM: Providing almost 500 families with a turkey and all the trimmings for Thanksgiving.  Sometimes a family has to choose between a “luxury” like having a nice traditional Thanksgiving dinner or paying their heating bill or making a much needed home repair.  I know I can’t save the world, but I’d like to think that I made those choices easier for a few families this Thanksgiving.  

TL: Is there one unforgettable moment that you experienced during any of your charity events? 
WM: I partnered with kids from a local middle school to collect canned food for my Annual Food Drive and told them the class that collected the most food would get a pizza party…one 7th grader said to me that he was going to collect as much as he could…not to win the pizza party but because he saw how I give back to the community and he wants to do the same thing….he gets it! And that makes all the hard work worthwhile.  My goal has always been to not only help families and disadvantaged/at-risk youth but to raise awareness and set a good example as well…mission being accomplished!  

TL: With respect to your charitable work, what is your true mission? 
WM: All the support I provide to families (food, toys, educations materials) is temporary but my real mission is to make a more permanent difference by raising awareness in the community about others’ needs and to help empower children and foster their self esteem by letting them know I was just like them when I was a child; that they should never give up on their dreams because if they stay in school and work hard, they have the ability to do anything they want in life. 

TL: It’s been said that it doesn’t matter what car you drive, how big your house is or your bank account. What matters most in life is if you’ve made a difference in the life of a child. Your thoughts on that…
WM: You know, it’s funny...with my foundation, it all happened kind of by accident.  It was something I always wanted to do but then a fan challenged me (on the air!) to do something for the community so that year I held my first toy giveaway for less fortunate kids.  To be honest, the morning of the event, I didn’t feel like getting up at the crack of dawn on my day off and driving there but after being there and seeing how those kids reacted…there is just no feeling like it in the world.  Since then, giving back has become an absolute passion for me.  I am so blessed to be in the position where I can do that.

TL: Great stuff Willis! Let’s get back to some lighter football and personal things. If you could play another position what would it be?
WM: The other position I would play is safety or DB just because I have the attitude and the ability to play. 

TL: What little known fact about Willis McGahee would surprise your fans?  
WM: That I’m really shy.  

TL: What do you consider your most outstanding athletic achievement? 
WM: Rehabbing from my knee injury in college and coming back the way I did and leading Miami to an undefeated year in 2002…that was a great year. 

TL: No one could ever doubt your determination and focus following that horrific injury! What is your most outstanding achievement in life? 
WM: My kids are my biggest achievement, then football. 

TL: After football, what would you like to do and how are you preparing for that?
WM: Definitely want to own my own business…maybe a hotel or nightclub…or both.  I’m staying smart with my finances, investing wisely and I try to network with investors and business executives. 

TL: If you could play another sport which would you choose? 
WM: Baseball…just because I've played and should’ve followed through with it in school and been an all around guy.

TL: Of all the Ravens players from the “U” which is the smartest?
WM: We are all too smart for our own good (laughing)

TL: The best athlete?
WM: Ray Lewis

TL: Worst golfer?
WM: Why do you keep asking me the worst?!  How about the BEST golfer?  That would be Ed.

TL: Ok, best bowler?
WM: ME!  (Ray Lewis would say that it’s him, but nope!)

TL: I would ask worst dancer so since you won’t answer that, who’s the best?
WM: Well, me and T-Good are probably tied for the BEST!

TL: Fastest?
WM: Ed

TL: Ok  I just have to ask, who’s the worst singer?
WM: The best singer is T-Good…don’t know who the worst would be.  He’s the best freestyle rapper too!

TL: Shifting gears again, who was your role model growing up?
WM: My mom.

TL: What three CDs would I find you listening to in your car?
WM: Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne are three, but I have a ton of all kinds of music on CD/iPod. You’ll never find me without my music.  

TL: Who or what motivates you?
WM: My family…my mom and my kids…everything I do, I do with them in mind.

TL: Any hidden talents you think the world should know about?
WM: I can sing and rap.

TL: Players get ready for games in any number of ways but one of the most popular is to see them listening to ipods. Any pre-game rituals for you?
WM: I listen to Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight" …last song I listen to before the game.

TL: When your days as a Baltimore Ravens are over, how would most want to be remembered by Ravens fans? 
WM: I’d like them to remember me as a quiet, lead by example, humble, hard working guy.

Based upon the following awards that McGahee has quietly received, he’s well on his way to being remembered as he hopes…
Recipient of the “Celebrating Successes for Children” award
Recipient of the Holland 2009 Humanitarian of the Year Award
Received Honorary Resolution from the Howard County Government
Certificate of Special Recognition from United States Senator John Sarbanes
Executive Proclamation from Howard County Executive Proclaiming October 8, 2009 Willis McGahee Day in Howard County
Letter of Recognition from United States Senator Barbara Mikulski
State of Maryland Proclamation from Governor Martin O’Malley
Certificate of Special Recognition on Occasion of 2nd Annual Food Drive from United States Senator Barbara Mikulski

Click here to order Willis McGahee's proCane Rookie Card.

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Will the Saints Draft a TE?

I have noticed that the Saints aren't as explosive with Jeremy Shockey out of the lineup. Do you think the Saints should get a tight end with one of their top two picks?
A: Yes and no, Chris. I think if the Saints do draft a top tight end prospect in the first or second round, he would excel in their offense and develop into a regular Pro Bowler. This offense is made for tight ends, only they've never really had one consistent tight end stay healthy in the years that Sean Payton and Drew Brees have been here. They've gone through Ernie Conwell, Mark Campbell, Billy Miller, Eric Johnson, Shockey and David Thomas, among others. And all of them have performed well when they're in the lineup. I think if the Saints had, for example, drafted Greg Olsen in Round 1 in 2007, he'd be an absolute star in this offense. ... And I think with Shockey's physical style and the fact that he's getting older, a young tight end would make a lot of sense in the draft. If the Saints go with an offensive player early, I think that would be the position to target.

But all of that being said, I don't think the Saints NEED a tight end in the draft. They've proven that all of those fill-in guys can work just fine, and David Thomas is still a young player with the potential to develop into a top tight end in this league. So it's a position where they can have success without making a real big investment.

Click here to order Jeremy Shockey's proCane Rookie Card.

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Lance Hurdle Statistical Roundup

Here are Lance Hurdle's Statistics through 35 games in the NBA D-League. Hurdle is averaging 7.6 points and 2.4 assist per game.

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Darius Rice Satistical Roundup

Here are Darius Rice’s Statistics through 22 games for his Hungarian team Szolnoki Olajbanyasz which has an overall record of 17-6. Rice is averaging 19.2 points a game.

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Jack McClinton Satistical Roundup

Here are Jack McClinton’s Statistics through 23 games for his Turkish team Aliaga Petkim which has an overall record of 9-15. McClinton is averaging 16.7 points a game.

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Brian Asbury Statistical Roundup

Here are Brian Asbury's Statistics through 23 games for his Israeli team Hapoel Kiryat Tivon which has an overall record of 15-8. Asbury is averaging 27.7 points a game.

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Q&A: Bucks' Salmons the Right Fit for Another Playoff Push

In his first 17 games since being traded to Milwaukee, Bucks shooting guard John Salmons has averaged 20.5 points, shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from the 3-point line. He’s been a big part of the reason the Bucks have gone 15-2 in those games, and suddenly look like a very tough playoff foe in the East. Sporting News’ Sean Deveney caught up with Salmons and talked about the Bucks’ surge and his role with the team.

Sporting News: When you got here, did you have any idea that you guys were going to be able to get on a run like this?
John Salmons: Not at first. I had no idea what to expect. But after a while, when I got a feel for how we were playing, I kind of caught on to what was going on here. This is a talented team—you have Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings, Carlos (Delfino), Jerry Stackhouse. There are good players here.

SN: Where do you fit in? How have you been able to be such a big part of this?
JS: I am just trying to be aggressive on the offensive end. I know that is what I was brought here for, to give them a little boost on the offensive end. They lost Michael Redd, and that’s a pretty good scorer right there. That’s what I have been trying to do.

SN: Do you see any problems playing with Michael Redd when he returns next year?
JS: Not at all. Our games are different. He is more of a great, great shooter. I am more attacking the rim.

SN: Against the Hawks, you had an outstanding game where you went back and forth with Joe Johnson, and finally, won the game. You shot 12-for-19. What’s it like to be in that kind of zone?
JS: It’s just one of those things where every shot you shoot feels like it is going to go in regardless of the situation. You just feel like when it leaves your hand it is going in. Probably the best guy who can explain it is Brandon. He had 55 points earlier this year—he was obviously feeling that way then.

SN: You had a game like that in Chicago, around this time, where you did that, went back and forth with Paul Pierce. This was similar, right?
JS: Similar yeah. That was on St. Patrick’s Day—I remember, we were wearing the green uniforms. It was the same kind of situation, Paul would score and I would come down and score. But we won.

SN: Does Jennings deserve Rookie of the Year?
JS: I think he does. There are some good rookies, but he is leading a winning team, leading a team that is going to the playoffs. I think that should count.

SN: When you went to Chicago last year, you guys went 17-11 and had a good push into the playoffs. Now you are 15-2 after the trading deadline. Are the situations similar?
JS: It’s definitely similar. The one thing people don’t realize, the first two weeks in Chicago last year, it was a little bit of a transition period for the team. Here, they were already playing good basketball when I got here, so it just sort of has taken off, it meshed right away. It is similar to last year.

SN: You could be a free agent next year, if you opt out. Would you like to come back?
JS: That’s all stuff that I will work out in the future. When it is time to worry about it, I will sit back and make those decisions.

SN: You had a bit of a slump at the beginning of the year, but before you got traded, you had been shooting better.
JS: I don’t think it was a slump. I never really saw it as a slump.

SN: How did you see it? More of a coaching thing? Kirk Hinrich had replaced you as a starter.
JS: Circumstances, really. Different things that were going on with the lineup and the rotations and all of that. You know, I don’t dwell on it. That is all in the past now; that is how I see it.

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James Jones to Appear on FOX's Kitchen Nightmares

MIAMI, 3/25 – The Miami HEAT have announced that forward James Jones will appear on the popular FOX TV reality series Kitchen Nightmares, where renowned chef Gordon Ramsay spends a week at Anna Vincenzo’s Italian restaurant in Boca Raton to help revive its business. Kitchen Nightmares airs Friday, March 26 at 9:00 p.m. 

Taped on July 16, 2009, Jones competes against two other teams made up of members of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and the NHL’s Florida Panthers in a pizza-making contest during the grand reopening of the restaurant. Members of the four-time “Most Popular Dance Team in the NBA” HEAT Dancers and Burnie were also in attendance during the taping. 

The Miami HEAT is proud to welcome Assist-Card as the Presenting Sponsor for the 2009-10 season.

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Lauryn Williams ‘OFF TRACK QUIZ’

Lauryn Williams (born September 11, 1983 in Rochester, Pennsylvania) is a track and field sprint athlete, competing internationally for the United States.

Williams was born and raised in suburban Pittsburgh and Detroit, Michigan. She holds her high school records for the 100, 200m, long jump and 4×100m relay. She attended the University of Miami, where she competed on the track team and graduated in 2004. She was inducted into the Iron Arrow Honor Society, the university’s highest honor.

Williams is a silver medalist in the 100 meters at the 2004 Summer Olympics and a 4-time medalist at the World Championships in Athletics, where she won (together with Angela Daigle, Muna Lee and Me’Lisa Barber) a gold medal in the 4×100 m relay in 2005 and 2007, as well as gold and silver in the 100m in 2005 and 2007 editions of the meet. asked Lauryn 20 off the track questions…

TA: What is your other favorite sport? LW: American Football

TA: Which TV show do you like the most? LW: Law and Order

TA: What is your favorite kind of music? LW: R&B

TA: Which song do you sing the most and to who? LW: All songs by mary j blige

TA: What color can you be seen in the most? LW: Purple

TA: What is your favorite snack? LW: cashews

TA: City of choice for your promised vacation? LW: Baltimore MD

TA: Who is your sports role model? LW: Ed Reed

TA: What is your happiest sports moment so far? LW: Winning NCAA 2004

TA: When was the last time you cried? LW: I don’t know

TA: What are the words you want to hear the most? LW: Yeah you are right Lauryn

TA: Where is the favorite part of the house? LW: The woman cave ( the tv room)

TA: Who has the greatest influence on your life? LW: On one person

TA: Many sporting heroes have posed nude for magazine covers, would you for a million bucks? LW: YES

TA: What was your most frightening experience? LW: Nothing

TA: What do you remember most about your childhood? LW: Sleepovers

TA: If you were offered a night out with a world celebrity who would it be? LW: Oprah

TA: If you had one day as Prime Minister/President of your country what would be your first action? LW: Better Education for ALL kids

TA: What is your personal opinion as to why Jamaicans run so fast? LW: Genetics

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Some NFL scouts drooling over former Hurricanes hoopster Graham as a tight end candidate

ORLANDO, FLA. — The draft is a spectacular process, in part because of what happens to some of the people in it.

A year ago, for example, Jimmy Graham was a basketball player at the University of Miami who had used up his eligibility on the hardwood but still had a scholarship season to do something with since he had played for the Hurricanes' hoops team as a true freshman.

So, Graham, at 6-feet-6-1/4, 260 pounds, played one year at tight end for Miami's football team. He finished with 17 catches and five receiving touchdowns this past season.

Those numbers, with some guys, wouldn't really draw even a second look. But for teams who like their tight ends big — as the Broncos do — Graham is getting a lot of study because of all he brings. This is a player with enough athleticism to be one of just five players in Hurricanes history to finish his hoops career with at least 100 blocked shots.

Against North Carolina during the 2008-09 season, he had 15 rebounds and five blocked shots. That's not a guy who's shy in traffic, and he has the kind of hand-eye coordination and ball skills that could translate to an effective player in the scoring zone for a football team willing to help him learn on the job.

He's smart — he's already earned a degree in a double major (marketing and management) — and had a 38-1/2-inch vertical jump at the scouting combine and ran a 4.57 (hand-timed) 40-yard dash.

That's matchup potential, because there isn't a safety or linebacker in the league who would be all that excited about running down the hash against a 6-6 player who runs well.

And, more important, Graham wants to play football. He turned down what he described as a "six-figure" contract to play basketball in Europe to give football a chance this past season with the Hurricanes despite the fact the last time he had played the game was as a high school freshman.

Leading up to the scouting combine, he worked with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and some other high-profile draft prospects at a training facility in Nashville, Tenn., and earned some rave reviews.

And in a league that has seen Antonio Gates (who didn't play college football) and Tony Gonzalez (a two-sport star at Cal) catch so many passes for so many yards as NFL tight ends, Graham looks to have the best crossover potential in quite some time.

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Phillips won't be ready for start of Giants training camp

ORLANDO, Fla. — The outlook for Giants safety Kenny Phillips just keeps getting dimmer and dimmer.

Tom Coughlin revealed here today that the Giants don’t expect Phillips to be available for full participation at the start of training camp, and Coughlin wasn’t exactly upbeat about Phillips in general.

Asked during the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL’s annual meetings if Phillips can come back this season, Coughlin said: “I think so.”
Phillips, the promising free safety whose 2009 season ended abruptly after just two games due to arthritis in his left knee that resulted in microfracture surgery, has not yet been cleared to run.

Phillips, who isn’t expected to participate in any of the offseason workouts or Big Blue’s June minicamp, vowed publicly after the signing of Pro Bowl safety Antrel Rolle this month that he would be back for the start of camp.

Coughlin appeared to throw cold water on those hopes today.

“Kenny’s rehab is going very well, but he’s in stages,” Coughlin said. “He can’t even go out right now and just run. He’s still being very well-structured there. He’s started to [work out], but it’s not a do-anything-you-want-to-do type of a deal.”

At best, Phillips might be able to participate in one of the two daily practices early in camp, Coughlin added, but it is clear the Giants don’t plan to push the 2008 first-round pick.

“Like all people coming off that surgery, he’s got to be kind of brought along,” Coughlin said. “I don’t foresee [the medical staff] just saying, ‘Go ahead’ [at the start of camp]. The restrictions could be one-a-day. I hope not, but that’s the way it could be.”

The Giants’ concern about Phillips — and the possibility that the microfracture surgery could end his career — played a part in the signing of the ex-Cardinal Rolle to a $37 million deal on the first day of free agency.

The Giants had hoped to pair Phillips and Rolle for what would be one of the NFL’s strongest safety combinations. But Coughlin’s tone today made it sound like could be wishful thinking for the foreseeable future.

Adding to the Coughlin’s worry, the only other safeties on the roster are Michael Johnson and C.C. Brown — both of whom struggled mightily last season — and former undrafted free agent Sha’reff Rashad. Aaron Rouse was released earlier this month.

“[Pairing Phillips and Rolle] is what we would like to happen, but if it doesn’t, we’ve got to do a better job of answering that than we did last season,” Coughlin said of the safety play after Phillips went on injured reserve.

The Giants could target a safety high in the draft next month, but Rolle’s arrival already is easing some of Coughlin’s concerns about the position.

“Antrel Rolle is a guy who had an outstanding year,” Coughlin said. “He’s very athletic. He’s an excellent football player.”

Click here to order Kenny Phillips' proCane Rookie Card.

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Shanahan expects Portis to 'be in great shape' and at a lower weight

Some of Clinton Portis's teammates privately complained about his poor conditioning at the outset of training camp last season.

Once the season began, players expressed frustration about Portis's attempt to have fullback Mike Sellers demoted, his lackadaisical approach to practice and lack of burst during games. For now, though, let's focus on his conditioning.

It was clear to the coaching staff that Portis was not in top shape to start camp. At that point, however, former head coach Jim Zorn had already been beaten down repeatedly whenever he raised concerns about Portis with top management. Zorn picked his battles carefully regarding Portis before eventually giving up altogether.

Of course, Mike Shanahan is not Zorn. Shanahan is the Redskins' new undisputed leader, and Portis, having started his career under Shanahan in Denver, knows how the two-time Super Bowl winner rolls. Portis is participating in the Redskins' voluntary offseason conditioning program at Redskins Park.

"I didn't expect anything but that," Shanahan said of Portis's full commitment to the program. "I think everybody seems surprised outside but not me, because when Clinton was with me [in Denver] he never missed."

Of course, perfect attendance is not enough for Shanahan. He expects Portis to be in top shape for the season.

"He was 205 or 210 pounds and averaged [nearly] six yards a carry for two years [with the Broncos]. That's what I expect him to be - in great shape and doing the things he's always done with me. He knows he's got to be lighter, sure.

"I think we'll know as time goes on [what Portis's playing weight should be]. ... I haven't talked to him about it, but I would say that he'll probably be shooting at 210, 212, 214 range. I think Clinton knows what's best for him and his body, what type of offense we run with the zone blocking scheme that gives him the best chance to be successful."

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Ray: Not Time For Ed to Retire

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis hasn’t spoken with safety Ed Reed lately, but he does think his fellow Miami Hurricane will return to football in 2010. 

Reed hinted at retirement just as the 2009 season came to an end, and save for a few brief interviews during the Pro Bowl, he has been largely silent this offseason.    Lewis thinks that is for the best.

“We’ve texted back and forth a couple of times, but when people go through things like that, the only thing you need is time away,” Lewis told in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.  “Ed is a true competitor, somebody that loves this game of football.  When it’s time for him to be done, [he will be], but right now it’s not that time.”

Reed emotionally placed his chances on retirement at “50/50″ following a 20-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 16, largely due to concerns with a nagging nerve impingement in his neck.

Causing a stir across the NFL, it seems everyone associated with the Ravens has been asked about it, most recently owner Steve Bisciotti, who told the Baltimore Sun he would give Reed space to make up his own mind. 

The same went for Lewis, who also pointed out the toll injuries can take on a football player’s body.

“Your body is one thing that you use.  We don’t use nothing else,” noted Lewis.  “Not to dilute any other sport, but other sports use other things. We use our body, and we need it.” 

Lewis smiled when he thought about another year anchoring the Ravens’ defense with Reed, another former NFL Defensive Most Valuable Player. 

“My advice to my homie is to relax, get away from your game,” Lewis said.  “Then, when you’re ready to get that taste in your mouth, call me, and I’ll say something to get you right and we’ll go back at it.”

Click here to order Ray Lewis' or Ed Reed's proCane Rookie Card.

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Lovie: Hester's role on offense won't be reduced - Olsen = H-Back

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Bears coach Lovie Smith addressed a variety of issues during a breakfast session Wednesday at the NFL meetings, including the roles of Devin Hester and Greg Olsen in the offense and the possibility of bringing in a veteran backup quarterback. Here are the highlights:

The plan is not for Hester to have a reduced or specialized role in the offense. Regardless of what new offensive coordinator Mike Martz previously has said, Smith said he wants Hester to get as many touches as a receiver on offense as possible and envisioned his role as similar to what it was in the past.

"I don't know whose plan that was," Smith said. "Mike had been here a few days, you kind of hit him with questions. He likes the potential of Devin as a full-time receiver. I don't see him (getting fewer snaps). Not right now. To me, if you have a player as exciting as Hester, you want to get him as many touches as you possibly can. We're not going in saying he's going to get more plays or less plays. We'll keep all our options open.

"We definitely will still use him as a wide receiver. It will probably be the same role as last year -- punt returner and full-time receiver. Mike is very comfortable with him being one of our lead receivers and it is unlimited what he can do."

He will be used in an H-back role in addition to tight end.

"H-back is probably what Greg has been best suited for up to this point," Smith said. "Right now, that's been more Greg's role. We haven't talked a lot about him being an in-line tight end. That's the next step we have to take with Greg is getting him more comfortable to play in-line tight end."

"He's faster than most tight ends out there. He can block the way most other tight ends can, but in the passing game he is a step ahead. He can be successful in this offense -- not can, will. He will be successful in this offense. He's a competitor. He's going to find a way. His role has increased as far as us going to him every year. I don't see that changing."

Click here to order Devin Hester's or Greg Olsen's proCane Rookie Card.

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Ray Lewis wants another ring "bad"

It has been a decade since linebacker Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl.  It was the first and only championship of Lewis' career.

Lewis, who'll soon be 35 and starting his 15th NFL season, desperately wants another one.

"I only play for one thing," Lewis told Mike Duffy of  "I want another ring bad.  I want another championship."

The arrival of receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth and the return of Derrick Mason has encouraged Lewis.

"I really want a ring with the guys that I have in-house right now.  We have a close-knit group, and that's what builds championships," Lewis said.

The Ravens have gotten close the past two years, making it to the AFC title game and the division round in the first two seasons of coach John Harbaugh's tenure.  In a still-tough AFC, it's anyone's guess whether they can nail down another NFL title.

Click here to order Ray Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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NFL Network will review status with Sapp

In the wake of misdemeanor domestic battery charges being dropped against Warren Sapp, we wondered if Sapp would work again at NFL Network.

The league-owned channel provided us this statement:

"In light of charges not being filed against Warren, we will sit down with him and review his status."

Sapp was pulled from NFL Network's coverage of the Super Bowl after his arrest and he has not been on the air since.

Click here to order Warren Sapp's proCane Rookie Card.

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Smith: Hester's role unchanged

Despite talk of returning him to the specialist role that made him a star, Devin Hester will be used as much as possible on offense next season, according to Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith.

New offensive coordinator Mike Martz has said the Bears would be "judicious" in how they use Hester on offense. Hester also has said he would like to get back to what he says he does best -- returning punts and kickoffs.

But Smith, who discussed a variety of Bears topics with reporters Tuesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando, said despite Martz's comments, the plan for Hester hasn't changed.

"I don't know whose plan that was," Smith told Chicago reporters on Tuesday. "Mike had been here a few days, you kind of hit him with questions. He likes the potential of Devin as a full-time receiver. I don't see him [getting fewer snaps]. Not right now. To me, if you have a player as exciting as Hester, you want to get him as many touches as you possibly can. We're not going in saying he's going to get more plays or less plays. We'll keep all our options open.

"We definitely will still use him as a wide receiver. It will probably be the same role as last year -- punt returner and full-time receiver. Mike is very comfortable with him being one of our lead receivers, and it is unlimited what he can do."

In an interview with the team's Web site on Feb. 9, Martz was asked about Hester's role in the offense next season.

"I think he's still the best special teams return guy in the league, period," Martz said. "We have to be careful about how much we ask him to do on offense. That's really a reason the Bears have won some games, is because of Devin and what he does in the return game. So we'll be very judicious in what we ask him to do offensively. But he'll be very involved and we'll ask him to do some really dynamic things where we can get him isolated in [favorable] personnel matchups."

Hester scored 11 touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns spanning the 2006 and 2007 regular seasons, and returned a kick for a score in the Bears' Super Bowl loss to the Colts in 2007. In an effort to get his play-making ability on the field more, Bears coaches turned Hester into a receiver before the 2008 season, and the experiment has had mixed results.

Hester has averaged 54 catches for 711 yards in his two full seasons as a receiver, but his return game has suffered. He hasn't scored a touchdown on a return since Dec. 30, 2007 against the New Orleans Saints. After returning 31 kicks without a score in 2008, Hester returned just seven in 2009 as Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox got the bulk of the work.

"I know what I'm best at," Hester said last month on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "The return game is my bread and butter, so if I had to cut back on my receiving and go back to returning, that's something I would love to do."

Click here to order Devin Hester's proCane Rookie Card.

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Smith: Olsen will find a way

ORLANDO, Fla. -- I'm on record suggesting that trading and/or minimizing the role of tight end Greg Olsen would make absolutely no sense in Chicago. At the same time, you can't dispute the history of new coordinator Mike Martz's offense: No tight end has ever caught more than 38 passes over the course of a season.

That dichotomy has spawned all kinds of rumors about Olsen's future, but on Wednesday, coach Lovie Smith was unequivocal about it: "His role has increased as far as us going to him every year, and I don't see that changing."

How will that happen? Most importantly, Martz will have to make some adjustments to his approach. After all, no scheme should be so rigid that a Pro Bowl-caliber player can't play a major role. During the NFC coaches breakfast, Smith offered a few details about the Bears' plan to incorporate Olsen into Martz's offense.

First, Smith said he has maintained a regular dialogue with Olsen during the offseason, starting with the interview process that led to Martz's hiring and continuing through the decision to sign free agent Brandon Manumaleuna. "I let him know what we were doing," Smith said. "I said, 'We're improving our ball club.'" In other words, Olsen should be fully informed at this point.

Second, the Bears have identified the H-back role as what Olsen is "best suited for up to this point." Ultimately, though, Smith said Olsen will need to demonstrate proficiency as a traditional "in-line" tight end to maximize his productivity.

"We've always talked about the other things he can do," Smith said. "We can spread him out and all the things that we can do. But we've never talked about him being an in-line tight end. That's the next step with Greg, is getting him more comfortable playing that."

Reading between the lines, a cynic might suggest Smith wants Olsen to become a better blocker, the primary role Martz has traditionally assigned to his tight ends and the ostensible reason Manumaleuna was signed. But when I asked why he wouldn't focus on positioning Olsen in the slot or outside receiver to promote mismatches, Smith offered a different explanation.

"You would like to do that," Smith said. "But in order for that to work, guys have to really respect Greg as an in-line tight end. A lot of times last year, guys kept their nickel group out there with Greg. You don't want that. You would like to see him matched up on a safety or linebacker."

I guess there are different ways to interpret that sentiment, but look at it this way: If teams believe the Bears can run consistently behind Olsen or when he is lined up as a tight end, they are more likely to keep their base defense in the game. Theoretically, Olsen would have a more favorable matchup against a team's base defense than he would against a more skilled cover cornerback in the nickel.

"Greg is going to be a highly productive guy in any offense," Smith said. "[And] yeah, he can be successful in this offense. He will. Not can. He will. He is a competitor and he is going to find a way."

In a Bears uniform, it appears.

Click here to order Greg Olsen's proCane Rookie Card.

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Goodell Talks McKinnie

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked Wednesday about why Bryant McKinnie was “fined” for not participating in the Pro Bowl. McKinnie said he had an injury that he thought he could play through, but his injury concerns weren’t relayed to the NFC coaching staff in a timely manner and therefore the NFC squad didn’t have enough time to find a replacement for him. McKinnie had to pay back almost $5,000 in Pro Bowl expenses and forfeit his Pro Bowl check.

“I don’t know the specifics on it. Our staff was handling the specifics, so I can’t talk to the specifics of whether we fined him or didn’t fine him,” Goodell said. “Believe it or not, there are certain things that I don’t get involved with and that’s not one of them. But obviously when we have an NFL event, we want everyone to participate in it as they are obligated to do. It’s part of their contract. It’s part of their obligation.”

Click here to order Bryant McKinnie's proCane Rookie Card.

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Ravens staying in touch with FS Ed Reed

Ravens coach John Harbaugh revealed that he's stayed in touch with FS Ed Reed via text message since season's end.

Harbaugh is "assuming" that Reed will not retire, but the two haven't had "any deep conversations." "What I understand him saying is, the door is always open," Harbaugh added. "I think he's going to play this year. I think he's going to play next year and the year after that until he says he's not."

Steve Bisciotti won't call up safety Ed Reed and ask him if he has made a decision about retirement, though. According to his Q&A with The Baltimore Sun, Bisciotti said he didn't know if Reed would appreciate being asked about his status. Excuse me?

The last time I checked, Bisciotti was the owner of the team, and the guy who signs Reed's paycheck. There is nothing wrong with being professional, and saying, "Look Ed, we know it's a tough decision, and we thank you for many outstanding years. But for us to move on, we need to know your decision before the draft."

There is nothing wrong with that. By now, Reed should have consulted with a number of doctors, friends, family and current and former players to make a logical decision. Come on, Bisciotti, make the call. It's time to move on, and prepare for the future, if needed. If Reed says he will retire, and then comes back, fine. But if he waits until training camp, the Ravens might miss out on a good selection to replace Reed in the draft.

Click here to order Ed Reed's proCane Rookie Card.

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Battery charge dropped against ex-NFL star Warren Sapp

Stiletto high heels helped prosecutors decide Wednesday not to pursue a domestic violence charge against former NFL great Warren Sapp, who was arrested in February for allegedly battering his former girlfriend at a Miami Beach hotel.

The woman had claimed Sapp pushed her during an argument in a room at the Shore Club, and she fell awkwardly on her leg. She said she was in ``excruciating pain'' and had to limp through the hotel lobby with the help of an unknown man who had been walking through the hallway.

But witnesses and hotel video surveillance indicated the woman was ``walking in high heeled stilettos, and acting in a jovial manner'' as she left the Shore Club.

Because of glaring inconsistencies in her testimony -- one witness also said the woman kept partying at her house after the incident -- prosecutors felt they could not prove the misdemeanor battery count, according to a close-out memo filed by Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Heather Ravich.

Sapp, a former University of Miami star who played with the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was in town that week to host a party during Super Bowl festivities.

``From the beginning, Mr. Sapp was always confident in the system and that he would be cleared of any wrongdoing,'' said Sapp's attorney, Christopher Lyons.

Click here to order Warren Sapp's proCane Rookie Card.

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Salmons is worth it

Bob Wolfley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond faced one of the least stressful tasks he's had during his tenure in Milwaukee. He had to explain Tuesday to a national television audience on NBA TV why the Bucks are 15-2 in their last 17 games. He had to explain why Andrew Bogut(notes) is playing so well, why John Salmons(notes) is fitting in so well and why rookie Brandon Jennings(notes) is giving his team such a lift. Most NBA general managers don't get these kinds of pleasant opportunities. Hammond was asked if in trading for Salmons he was helping set up the Chicago Bulls to land a top free agent, hence making life tougher for the Bucks in the division. 'We talked about it over and over and over again before we made the decision what to do with Chicago,' Hammond said. 'That was a concern for us, but you know what? At the end of the day, we had to do what was going to be right for us. We needed a piece like John. He's fit in for us. It's been worthwhile for us. I'm not going to tell you it was not a concern. It's still a concern. If Chicago can sign one of these major free agents, it's going to be a concern for us and we will have to live with it.' "

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Skiles, Salmons at it again with Bucks

"What's that?" Scott Skiles said, his brow appropriately furrowed.

OK, I called him -- John Salmons -- the Severance Package, in regard to the Bulls still paying Skiles in year two of his post-Bulls career, and giving him a little something extra to boot.

After all, Salmons has been like free money for Skiles' fast-rising Milwaukee Bucks since coming over in the Bulls' cap space fire sale at the trade deadline.

The 39-30, playoff-bound Bucks are 15-2 with Salmons, and just like his coach, he's earning a reputation for quick fixes. Last year, he helped push the Bulls from mediocrity to one of the best first-round playoff series of all-time. Now, teams in the Eastern Conference are starting to "Fear the Deer."

"I didn't know he was that good," Bucks center Andrew Bogut said of Salmons. "He can really shoot the ball."

With all the talk leading up to the trade deadline about clearing cap space and making room for optimistic summer scenarios, one team in the Central Division is just trying to win now, not trying to get Dwyane Wade.

"They did what they did," Salmons said at the Bucks' practice facility on Tuesday. "I guess they felt like they made the right move as an organization."

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Rewind Wednesday..... Darius Rice

Welcome to Week 25 of Rewind Wednesday, where we catch up with a former high school standout athlete from Mississippi. This week, we catch up with former Lanier basketball player Darius Rice.

Rice was a first-team All State pick in 2000 and was named Mississippi’s Gatorade player of the Year. (Timmy Bowers was named Mr. Basketball). Rice averaged 24.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists and led Bulldogs to a 5A title as a junior and a 4A runner-up finish as a senior before going on to play with the University of Miami. As a member of the Dakota Wizards, he scored a record 52 points in a win in the 2007 NBDL Championship Game and has spent most of his time since playing professionally overseas. Rice is one of just 13 Mississippians to play in the prestigous McDonald's High School All American Game.

RW: Where are you these days?
DR: I’m  playing in Hungary. We have three more regular season games left and we’re currently in second place. (Rice is currently third in the league in scoring (19 points. And Is No. 1 in 3-pointers made. Former Mississippi State star Winsome Frazier, by the way, leads the league in scoring).  Rice scored 26 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and had 6 steals in lat week’s All-Star Game and fell one vote short of being named MVP).

RW: Where all have you played?
DR: China twice. The Phillipines Puerto Rico. Italy Poland. Uruguay.

RW: What’s it like playing oveseas?
DR: I have been to places where they treat you real well, and I’ve been to places where they treat you bad. But the money is good and the game is good. It’s more physical. The Americans are expected to do so much. We come over here and they beat on us, but when we touch them, it’s a foul. It’s a lot of adjustments. But it’s still fun and it’s still professional basketball.

RW: Do you think you’ll get another shot at the NBA? (Rice has had brief stints with the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers)
DR: I thought I had a real good chance last year. But I had wrist surgery in March. I had a workout with the grizzlies and the Magic this past year but I really wasn’t ready because of the surgery. But it’s healed now and my agent is lining up some stuff for me this summer so hopefully I can get in.

RW: What do you remember the most about your high school days at Lanier?
DR: Aw man I still go back. The last three or four years I have gone back to work with those guys. Those days were the best. Me. Justin Reed. Mo Williams. Jimmy Boykins at Murrah. Mario Myles at Callaway. There was a lot of competition, especially in the city. The city was the best place in Mississippi as far as getting you ready. We all knew each other and just loved to get together and just play ball. And especially Coach Billups. He’s a great coach, especially a defensive coach and he gives you the freedom to play. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to any other school in Jackson. There are so many schools in Jackson and it’s so competitive. You’ve got to come and play in Jackson sooner or later to measure your game. I think Jackson is overlooked a lot. People talk about New York and L.A, but I think I could put the talent in Jackson against any of the 50 states.

RW: How much did Billups help you?
DR: He was tough, a disciplinarian. But my father was too. Sometimes me and Coach Billups had it out, but I still go back to him now. He made me  a stronger person. A better person. Out of all the coaches, he instilled the most in me as far as toughness.

RW: How much pressure was it growing up with that last name and being the nephew of one of the greatest athletes (Jerry Rice) to ever come out of Mississippi?
DR: It was a blessing and  curse. It was good thing because I got to go to all these football games and meet people. But it was a bad thing because a lot of people because when I got to college a lot of people said I never had to work for anything. I was this. I was that. That was the worse accusation anyone could have had because Jerry didn’t aise me. He was my uncle. My father raised me. So nothing was really handed to me. I had to work for everything. So that was tough. I heard from NBA scouts that I never had to work. He isn’t as strong. But people around me knew that I worked just as hard as he worked, Every offseason even now and that’s why I’m still playing today.

RW: What kind of advice would you give a kid today?
DR: If you have a goal, set it high. You can only play this game so many years. Work hard and do the right thing in class. Without school, you can’t do anything. Fortunately I was the valedictorian and I can go back and fall on my degree. And I always tell the kids back home to keep working. Every single day. Because if you don’t , someone else is going to be out there outworking you.

RW: What do you remember about that 2000 McDonald’s All-American?
DR: It was a great experience and I remember the whole week. I had a rough week at first because I had never played in that atmosphere. All those guys were ranked ahead of me. Nobody really looked at me. Darius Miles, Zach Randolph. Eddie Griffin. Gerald Wallace. All those guys were ranked ahead of me. I think I left that game ranke ahead of them. I wish I had come out (and entered the NBA draft). If I could do it all over again, I would have come out after that game. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes I made. (laugh)
I came off the bench and scored 20 points in the first half. They interviewed my father at the game. You can’t ask for anything better?

RW: What made you go to Miami?
DR: My five visits were Kentucky, Arkansas, Georgia tech, Mississippi State and Miami.  I officially committed to Kentucky twice. But Leonard Hamilton was a great recruiter and he had a great class coming in and I knew I could come in and play immediately.  He promised me he wouldn’t go anywhere and unfortunately he left two weeks after I signed and went to coach the Wizards. They wouldn’t let me out of my letter of intent so I could go and play at Kentucky, so I had to ride it out.
RW: Give me your top five guys to play at 833 Maple Street (Lanier).
DR: I’d have to put Jerry Nicholas one. He’s one of the best players to ever play in Mississippi that I have ever watched. Tang Hamilton. Corey Mangum. Me. I’ll have to go with James Thomas. That was my road dog. I can put him on the court right now and he’s the same guy, lightning fast  and can shoot the ball form anywhere. That would be my five.

RW: You know you‘ve had some good players to come through your school when you leave Monta Ellis off.
DR:  Ohhhh, I forgot. Let me go back.. Ok, let’s make Corey the sixth man. (LAUGH). I’ve got to have Monta and James together.

RW: Give me your five to come through Mississippi?
DR: I would say Monta and Jerry at the 1 and 2. I’d go with a 3-guard lineup with Chris Jackson . There are so many. Al Jefferson. Ronnie Henderson. Jessie Pate. It’s really too many. I’d have to do an A-team and a B-team. Justin Reed. Man I can’t do just five.

RW: Where do you see yourself 5-10 years form now?
DR: Five years form now I’ll be about 31, so hopefully I’m still playing. Ten years, I’d like to be coaching and designing video games, working for EA sports. I have a passion for it. I can program a computer from scratch. I’d like to do something liket that where I can work my own hours and coach at the same time.

RW: What level would you want to coach?
DR: I’d want to do it on the high school level. I’d like to work with kids. Once you get to college, you think you know everything. I want to teach the young guys. I go back now and work with coach Billups and those young guys. I’ve worked with (Wingfield’s) Trency (Jackson) and (Callaway’s) Deville (Smith) and I talk to them all the time. I want to help show them the path and get them to where I am and where they want to be and beyond.

RW: You keep up with guys in the city. We announce the Metro Player of the Year on Friday. Who would your vote go to?
DR: Based on this season I would give it to Deville. Him and Andre Stringer (Forest Hill) had good years, but you have to look at what Deville did for that team. He got everybody involved, he could score and just the toughness that he had.

RW: What do you want folks to remember about Darius Rice?
DR: He was the best shooter to ever come through Mississippi. Period. (Laugh) And I will say that to any shooter that has ever come through. I will outshoot them any time, anywhere.

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It's bat or bust time for Rays' Burrell

CLEARWATER - Pat Burrell was at an old haunt Tuesday, patrolling, if you can call it that, left field in a spring game with Phillies fans at his back.

Some blew boos, but others blew love, remembering The Bat at the head of the parade as the Phillies celebrated their World Series win against the storybook Rays.

Then Burrell switched stories and got lost in translation. He was a designated disaster in Tampa Bay.

It was a season that never got started, an aching neck that shelved him for a month, countless miserable at-bats, and in the end nothing but .221, 14 homers, 64 RBIs. Burrell became the signature punch line and punching bag for Rays fans, who don't pack a wallop like the Phillies faithful, but boos are boos.

"Well, I deserved it," Burrell said. "If you're getting paid all this money to do your job, if you can't do it at the level you're supposed to be doing it, people have the right to their opinion. Nobody gets a hall pass. I never have."

He came to camp slimmed down and ready.

"I've got to do a better job," Burrell said.

"I do know he's very motivated," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Burrell went 0-for-2 Tuesday in Clearwater. He is batting .188 this spring with one home run. There is no way around the fact that Pat must be The Bat again or he will live in Rays infamy. Oh, and the 33-year-old Burrell might not be able to find another job. Ask unemployed Jermaine Dye about that.

The Rays tried to unload The Bat and his $9 million salary in the offseason, even for head case Milton Bradley, but the deal didn't go through.
So Burrell has to come through.

He has to hit. That's the only reason he's here - not for presence, not for his fading glove, not for his morgue-like speed. He hits or he's nothing to the Rays.

His employer would happily settle for one season of the numbers Burrell averaged over the four seasons before he joined the Rays - 31 homers, 99 RBIs. They'd settle for 25/75 at this point.

What can't happen is what happened last season, when Burrell, B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro's bats routinely represented three outs.
Some of Burrell's numbers defied description, if not laughter. His average was the lowest among American-Leaguers with at least 450 plate appearances. He had career lows in homers, RBIs and doubles. This righty didn't hit one home run against lefties, batting .202 against them. He went 1-for-16 with the bases loaded.

"I didn't even know some of that," Burrell said. "Those are for you guys. But when you hit .215 or whatever it was, it's hard to find something good about it."

Fans didn't. Media didn't.

Maddon, ever the optimist, sees light at the end of Burrell's tunnel.

"He's got quickness with the bat. He's just cutting underneath the ball a little bit. So we're going to work to get that to stop happening."

Burrell says he has tinkered with his stance, trying to get in a better position to hit. He thinks he's way ahead of last season, timing wise.

"I think I just started out with bad habits last year, and some injury related stuff," he said. "And it just carried on. During the season, it's real hard to make changes."

He was at the head of a parade in 2008.

Now he's all but at the back of the line.

Burrell thought of shelved bats, like Jermaine Dye.

"I have no idea what's going on out there," he said. "All I know is you want to play well and have a job or the opportunity to have another job. I need to play up to my capabilities for me, for everyone."

Feels like last licks.

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Jimmy Graham to be a second-round pick

NFL Network's Mike Mayock predicts that Miami (FL) TE Jimmy Graham will be drafted in the second round.

Graham's measurables are off the charts as a former shot-blocking power forward for the 'Canes, but Mayock thinks he'll be "over-drafted" based on upside. Mayock adds that he doesn't think Graham will be ready to play for two years. At 6'6/260, Graham ran in the low- to mid-4.5s at the Combine.

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Kenny Phillips close to running again

Giants GM Jerry Reese indicated that SS Kenny Phillips (microfracture surgery) is "close" to getting back on a football field.

"He feels like he can start running right now," Reese said. "But we're taking him slow. We don’t want him to have any setbacks. But he looks good." Reviews on Phillips' recovery have been mixed. Even if he's ready for training camp, it remains to be seen how much was left on the operating table.

Click here to order Kenny Phillips' proCane Rookie Card.

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Phillip Buchanon To Make a Visit Monday

News on Phillip Buchanon has been scarce since he entered free agency after being cut by the Detroit Lions. With several teams needing help at the defensive back position like the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots and Washington Redskins, we finally got news that Buchanon will be visiting the Redskins on Monday. Good luck to him, and hopefully he locks up a contract soon.

Click here to order Phillip Buchanon's proCane Rookie Card.

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Peter King On Sean Taylor Redux

I have no idea if writer Peter King saw my piece yesterday criticizing his comments about the late Sean Taylor, but it doesn't really matter -- MMQB reader "Tim of Washington" made King's mailbag today with pretty much the same complaints, and King responded.

ANGRY ABOUT MY CHARACTERIZATION OF SEAN TAYLOR. From Tim of Washington: "You really need to check yourself and your comments about Sean Taylor. Calling someone dead as a disappointing draft pick despite all the stats that show otherwise is at the very least irresponsible journalism, at the worst completely insensitive. You could have made your point without even mentioning Sean. Or if you did talk about him, say the truth. Something like 'While overall drafting that position may be a risk, Sean Taylor was the exception to the rule based on the short time he was able to play' would have been more appropriate. Getting shot down is not a result of playing safety in the NFL.''

I got quite a lot of negative feedback on this, and I'd ask you to look at the full message of what I wrote. What I said about taking a safety high in the first round: Nowhere in the item I wrote about Tennessee safety Eric Berry did I say Taylor was a disappointing draft pick. I simply said the position wasn't often one that had players picked that high because it was risky to predict how long a physical safety could stay healthy. Taylor appeared to be on the way to being a franchise safety when he was killed, and his was a tragic, senseless death. But I don't know if Taylor, who was out with a knee injury at the time of his death, would have been the kind of franchise safety Ed Reed is, because to do so, you've got to stand the test of time. The point of the item is that even the great safeties, the highly regarded ones, are such physical forces on the field that they often don't have long and impactful careers.

I'm still not convinced that anything about the Sean Taylor story helps make the point that great safeties often have short careers, unless you're arguing that Taylor was somehow more susceptible to being murdered because of the position he played.

Also, the part of King's item about longevity and injury didn't include Taylor -- it only mentioned Ed Reed, Bob Sanders, and Troy Polamalu. Taylor's name was raised in a list arguing that "of the five top-10 safeties this decade, none has had franchise-player impact." So, you know, I'm not really sold on King's explanation here, but I'm not sure what continuing to harp on it would do.

Glad to hear that he got "quite a lot of negative feedback on this," though. Good job to everyone (like Tim of Washington) who sent in well-articulated, non-aggressive complaints to King.

Click here to order Sean Taylor's proCane Rookie Card.

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Venus Williams Wants to Climb Mount McKinnie

Venus Williams has tackled some pretty large challenges in her day. Racism, sexism and bad fashion sense to name a few.

But none compare to the 6'8, 350-pound mountain of a man known as Bryant McKinnie. Actually, in this case, it is McKinnie who might be shaking in his boots.

The two South Florida athletes are expected to go mano y hermano on the tennis court in a Battle of the Sexes that will probably be pretty one-sided. It's Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs, kind of.

And Williams says she has been practicing for the challenge, too - left-handed.

"It's called the Williams Invitational," Venus said. "I'm playing left-handed so it evens the field. My forehand is pretty mean. My serve is nonexistent, and my backhand is horrible."

Williams plans on taking on at least one of her sisters, her mom and McKinnie in a round robin tourney for...absolutely nothing.

You know, Venus, there is this tournament called the Sony Ericsson Open that starts this week. Maybe you want to try focusing on that. Or not.
Williams' first match on Key Biscayne is on Thursday. She's won the tournament three times and one of her biggest rivals, her sister Serena, has already pulled out of the tourney.

Around this time last year, Venus played Andy Roddick on top of some SUVs on Ocean Drive.

McKinnie, who was a standout at the University of Miami before being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, is a freakish athlete for his size and a serviceable tennis player. The two have been dating for about a year now.

While it would be a shock if he could score a point on Venus, the left-handed slap to his manhood might be enough to get McKinnie to sneak a ball or two past the tennis star.

No time or date has been set for the match, but we are hoping McKinnie doesn't go missing like he did when the Pro Bowl came down here this year.

Running from a girl is not allowable no matter the sport.

Click here to order Bryant McKinnie's proCane Rookie Card.

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Feagles Has Made Money Off His Jersey Numbers

After signing a six-year, $91.5 million deal with the Chicago Bears, Julius Peppers is a very rich man.

Now it's time to find out how much of that Jarron Gilbert gets.

Gilbert had the distinction of wearing No. 90 with the Bears last season, but he decided to give it up to Peppers, who wore that number for his entire eight-year NFL career with the Panthers. As is the custom in professional sports, Peppers is now trying to decide how to show his appreciation to the youngster.

"[Gilbert] told me not to even worry about it, but I'm going to hook him up anyway," Peppers said. "What am I going to get him? I don't know yet. I'm still trying to decide, think about what's going to be good. I didn't even meet him yet. I'm going to meet him and see what he likes and then try to hook him up with something.''

If history has taught us anything about jersey transactions, Gilbert could be one very lucky man.
• Clinton Portis paid Ifeanyi Ohalete $38,000 for No. 26 upon joining the Redskins.
• Rickey Henderson gave Turner Ward $25,000 for No. 24 when he joined the Blue Jays.
• Lee Evans of the Buffalo Bills paid Mark Campbell $20,000 for No. 83.
• Eli Manning paid for a family vacation for Jeff Feagles in exchange for No. 10 when he joined the Giants.
• Feagles was again on the receiving end when he traded his new number, 17, to Plaxico Burress for a new kitchen.
• Roger Clemens gave Carlos Delgado a Rolex valued at roughly $15,000 in exchange for the No. 21 when he joined the Blue Jays.

With Peppers guaranteed $42 million, let's hope that Gilbert gets a little more out of this deal than John Kruk, who traded his number to Mitch Williams for just two cases of Budweiser.

Click here to order Jeff Feagles' proCane Rookie Card.

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Burrell being backed up by Maddon

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pat Burrell was a disappointment in 2009, to say the least, and this spring hasn't exactly been an affirmation that "Pat the Bat" will make a successful comeback in '10.

One thing is certain: Rays manager Joe Maddon has not lost faith in the veteran slugger.

After Burrell signed a two-year, $16 million deal to become Tampa Bay's DH, Rays management and fans alike believed they had solved the team's problems against left-handers by bringing aboard the right-handed power threat. Then he went out and hit .221 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs, including, oddly enough, just a .202 average with no home runs and 12 RBIs against left-handers.

Burrell showed up to camp in superb condition, which suggested he might turn things around. But he just hasn't hit, which prompted the question to Maddon about whether he is getting concerned about the team's DH. Maddon answered by citing the many positives he has seen from Burrell this spring.

"There's a lot of things I'm liking that he's doing," Maddon said. "I don't know if you've noticed, but a lot of what's been happening is he's just underneath the ball -- foul ball, straight back. He's on time. He's getting his foot down on time. He's got quickness with the bat. He's just cutting underneath the ball a little bit. So we're going to work to get that to stop happening.

"You could have made an argument that he wasn't as on time last year as he is on time [this spring], so I take that as a positive. So without looking at results, I'm liking actually what he's doing."

Still, Burrell is hitting just .200 with one home run and three RBIs this spring. Seeing some positive results from Burrell would go a long way toward creating the belief that 2009 was just an off year. Maddon did not seem that concerned about Spring Training results.

"Honestly, of course it's always nice to see someone hit a homer or a double," Maddon said. "And I like to see it for his sake, because I know it would do a lot for his confidence. What I'm seeing is a more consistent or better approach than last year, and I'm encouraged by that. Part of that is probably his neck and shoulder area is feeling a lot better, too. We just have to get the bat head to the top of the ball a little more consistently."

Maddon believes Burrell is properly motivated to reverse his fortunes in 2010.

"I think he's very motivated," Maddon said. "He came into camp in really good shape. He's working really hard. We've been playing him in the outfield. Just part of that is to get him going also. All that stuff has been really good. Without speaking for him, I think he's very motivated and he wants to be here. And I'm seeing improvement, regardless of what you're seeing in the box score."

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Sanchez needs offense to survive at first base

Gaby Sanchez may not feel like he needs power to play first base, but he will need a good deal of offense. Via

A proven .300 hitter in the Minor Leagues, Sanchez doesn’t provide the power of a prototypical big league first baseman. He’s not going to approach the home run numbers of the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, for example. But what he lacks in terms of brute strength, he is capable of making up for with his overall hitting ability.

“I feel I have power, and I know that it’s there,” Sanchez said. “Early on, I’m not trying to work on it. I’m getting my swing into the game. I’m just trying to work on hitting it to the opposite field and up the middle. And once that gets better and better, later on, I’ll try to let the pitcher supply the power.”

Sanchez is right in that nowhere on the job resume of first base does it say “Must hit 20+ HR a season.” But the concern with Sanchez is not (or at least it should not) be that he doesn’t hit enough home runs, but rather that he doesn’t hit enough at all. It all hinges on positional scarcity.

Why first base is the “power position”

No one ever said first basemen have to be home run hitters necessarily, but that is how it is always viewed. When you see guys like Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and Albert Pujols at the position, you can’t help but think to yourself “Hey, our first baseman should be a power hitter like those guys!” But you’d be wrong, sort of.

Part of the reason why first base is so populated by these guys may indeed be a bias of major league managers that power hitters play first base. In this regard, it can be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: managers intentionally move the heaviest, power-filled players to first base because that’s how it has always been. But part of it is that, as most fans in and out of sabermetrics can recognize, first base is the easiest position on the field to play. This information is not surprising. Anyone who has played in little league knows that there are two positions you get moved to if the coach knows you are a bad player: first base and right field (conveniently enough, I logged the most innings at those two spots). At first base, your primary concern is catching throws; less balls are hit to you than to any other part of the field, and you don’t have to worry about covering a whole lot of space.

What does this have to do with hitting? Nothing, really. With the possible exception of catcher (we just don’t know yet), no defensive position inherently affects hitting so that certain positions require better hitters. But defensive impact does affect the supply of players who can play the position. That is, because first base is easier to play than other positions, there are more players who can play first base. As a result, the supply of first baseman is high enough that it makes them less worthwhile to have than other players on the field.

That is where the positional adjustment used in WAR calculations comes into play. WAR docks first basemen 12.5 runs per 162 games in order to even out the pool of players available to play different positions. So the pool of players who can play +12.5-run defense at first base is the same (based on the research and a little tweaking) as the pool of players who can play -7.5 shortstop or -2.5 second base.

What about Sanchez?

This doesn’t mean that to be good, Sanchez needs to play that kind of defense at first. In fact, very rarely would you see players who could do that kind stuff at first base, due to the lack of opportunities at the position and the likelihood that that player would just move to another position like outfield or third base. But what it means is that to provide value to the Marlins, Sanchez has to overcome the fact that he is at the most replaceable of positions. That 12.5-run deficit that he starts with needs to be made up somehow, and usually first basemen do that on offense.
Assuming 162 games is approximately 700 PA. That 12.5-run difference is the difference between an average wOBA of .330 and a wOBA of .351. Here are some players in 2009 who achieved a similar wOBA.

Dan Uggla: .243/.354/.459/.354 Alberto Callaspo: .300/.356/.457/.352 Hunter Pence: .282/.346/.472/.351 Nate McLouth: .256/.352/.436/.350 Nick Markakis: .293/.347/.453/.349 Juan Rivera: .287/.332/.478/.348

All of those players run the gamut of skills, ranging from high average hitters with medium-range power like Callaspo and Markakis, to players in between like Pence, to power-patience types like Uggla and McLouth. Among those players, a few hit home runs in the 20’s-30’s, others fell short by various amounts. The key to recognize is that while home runs are not a requirement, offense is one.

What are Sanchez’ best chances? He could be more of Markakis-type hitter; Markakis’ career adjusted ISO is .169, which seems like it could be in line with what Sanchez could provide. Over Sanchez’ minor league career, he has shown good contact capability and decent walk rates, meaning he could rack up a decent OBP and bring value there. A .280/.360/.430 slash line isn’t completely out of the question, and the projection systems are guessing around .270/.350/.420 already for 2010. This is a good sign for the Marlins, and it may indeed mean that Sanchez has enough hitting prowess to stay at first base for the time being, even without the pop of a Howard- or Fielder-type hitter. With the Marlins awaiting the arrival of Logan Morrison, I think the team could live with production of that level from Sanchez.

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Wilfork Important For Chemistry of Patriots

Kraft said re-signing Vince Wilfork, was geared toward, re-establishing that missing chemistry.

“I think Vince, personally, was a big part of that. The kind of guy he is, the commitment he has, he’s about football all the time. He’s looked up to in the locker room. He’s got a wife who’s very supportive of his efforts. He’s into winning. I think he represents the future kind of leadership we want on the team.”

Does his contract make a statement?

“Yeah, that’s always worked best for us when we’ve done that,” Kraft said. “When you look at teams who perennially do well. It’s teams who draft well, and are able to keep their own players in the system.”

He pointed to a lack of chemistry as one of the main reasons the 2009 season ended in such a disappointing fashion.

“I just speak for myself. I think the chemistry of the team, the locker room, a lot of games are won and lost before you hit the field. To come out and start a game the way we played a playoff game in our stadium, that should never happen. It was really one of the most frustrating moments I’ve had since owning the franchise.”

Click here to order Vince Wilfork's proCane Rookie Card.

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William Joseph returns to the Raiders

As the free-agent market continues to cool off, a veteran player who entered the league as a first-round pick continues to find work, even if only as a reserve.

Defensive tackle William Joseph, a first-round pick in the 2003 draft, has agreed to terms with the Raiders on a one-year deal, per a league source.

Picked by the Giants, Joseph spent five years in New York and the last two in Oakland.  He appeared in six games with no starts in 2009, and eight games with no starts in 2008.

According to the source, Joseph's one-year contract is for the minimum salary of $755,000.

Click here to order WIlliam Joseph's proCane Rookie Card.

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Wilf: Team is not trading McKinnie

ORLANDO - Vikings owner Zygi Wilf admits he was "really disappointed" in January when Bryant McKinnie was removed from the NFC Pro Bowl roster after missing practices and meetings.

But Wilf gave an emphatic "no" on Monday when asked if the Vikings might try to trade the left tackle because of this latest incident. "Everyone is shooting from the hip," Wilf said at the NFL owners meetings.

McKinnie has said he did not attend meetings and practices because he realized injuries to his feet and ankle would not enable him to play in the game. However, he did not officially give up his spot on the team soon enough and ended up causing the Vikings some embarrassment.
"We'll move on and we'll find a way to work it through," Wilf said. "That's not a problem."

Click here to order Bryant McKinnie's proCane Rookie Card.

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Peter King Is Skeptical Of The Sean Taylor Draft Pick

There was a while on this blog where it seemed like I was really poking a lot of fun at's Peter King, and -- honestly -- I kind of felt bad about it. He's an easy target, and he was a genuinely nice and accommodating guy the times I've met him, so I tried to dial it back a bit and, I don't know, write about Fred Smoot being goofy instead.

Still, this was a bit much. For everything that's gone wrong for the Redskins in the last decade, you would think that the on-field performance of Sean Taylor would be the one thing that's pretty much beyond reproach. In his tragically shortened three-and-a-half year career, Taylor made two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. (The second Pro Bowl was announced posthumously, but Taylor was tied for the NFC interception lead when he was injured and also had 42 tackles.)

Among NFL safeties for his entire career -- so for the 2004 through 2007 seasons -- Taylor finished twelfth in tackles, tied for fifth in forced fumbles, third in passes defensed, and tied for fifth in interceptions.

For Peter King, though, none of that is really enough to justify Taylor's selection at fifth overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. Or, at least, that's what I'm inferring from what he's written the last two weeks.

In his Monday Morning Quarterback column two weeks ago, King was arguing that perhaps we're all overvaluing draft picks in this year's supposedly strong NFL Draft. "The last time I heard so many raves about a draft beforehand was the 2004 crop," he wrote, "with the three good quarterbacks (Rivers, Manning, Roethlisberger) and rock-solid depth at several other positions."

Then he lists out the fifth through tenth picks in the draft, starting with Taylor. The idea, of course, is that these guys -- Kellen Winslow, wide receiver Roy Williams, our own DeAngelo Hall, Reggie Williams, and Dunta Robinson -- haven't quite lived up to their pre-draft billing. And this is the conclusion King reaches: "Six years later, six of the top 10 picks in a thought-to-be excellent draft are gone, with just traces of the impact they were supposed to have left on their teams."

Which is accurate enough, I guess, although I would argue that destroying your body by running your motorcycle off a curb (like Winslow) or simply not performing up to expectations (like both wide receivers named Williams) is a little different than being murdered in a botched burglary attempt.

But, whatever, you can see the point he's trying to make, however clumsy and insensitive it may be. I'm the last person to criticize someone for accidentally being emotionally awkward, and besides: it was only a one-time thing.

Then, this week, he returned to the same theme from a completely different angle. Now he's warning teams off selecting highly-regarded Tennessee safety Eric Berry too high in the draft, and guess who's part of the object lesson of why not to use a high draft pick on a safety.

"Berry looks like a top-10 pick," King writes, "but the team that takes him is going to be picking against history. Of the four top-10 safeties this decade, none has had franchise-player impact: Sean Taylor (Washington, fifth overall, 2004), Michael Huff (Oakland, seventh, 2006), Donte Whitner (Buffalo, eighth, 2006), LaRon Landry (Washington, sixth, 2007). Taylor might have had franchise-player impact if he had not been gunned down three-and-a-half years into his career. But overall, the position justifies the caution lots of teams are taking with it."
Lest you think I'm taking King's words out of context, let me re-write and re-emphasize his follow up sentences, the one that' are clearly supposed to mitigate the awkwardness of his sentiment:

"Taylor might have had franchise-player impact if he had not been gunned down three-and-a-half years into his career. But overall, the position justifies the caution lots of teams are taking with it."

This is a frankly ridiculous notion. First of all, I would argue that Taylor was already well on his way to being a franchise player. Between his statistics (which I've already enumerated), the anecdotal impact he had on his teammates, and his undeniable popularity with the fans, he already was at the time of his death just about everything you want in a franchise player.

Second of all, again, how does his murder in anyway contribute to an argument that "overall, the [safety] position justifies the caution lots of teams are taking with it"? If his on-field performance had just continued at the level he was at, he would've more than been worth the number five overall pick; the fact that he died doesn't change that in any way.

So, again, let me not be sensationalistic about this. This is not "OMG PETER KING HATES SEAN TAYLOR LOL". Both his contentions are worthy of consideration. In fact, if you leave Taylor out of both arguments, I'd say that King makes some good points.

But he didn't leave Taylor out. So all I'm saying is that twice now, on consecutive weeks, King has either severely underestimated Taylor's contributions to the Redskins, or severely overestimated how much "possibility of being murdered" should factor into draft preparation.

Click here to order Sean Taylor's proCane Rookie Card.

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Pro Day critical for Miami Hurricanes’ Jason Fox

UM will hold its Pro Day a week from today at Greentree Practice Field and no Hurricane will be under more pressure to perform than offensive tackle Jason Fox.

The workout will be crucial to Fox because of a knee injury that not only caused the 6-foot-7, 303-pound Texan to miss UM’s last regular-season game and bowl game, but also cost him a chance to perform at the NFL Combine last month in Indianapolis.

About all Fox got to do at the combine was the bench press. He lifted 225 pounds a total of 23 times, but was unable to do any of the running drills because of the knee injury, which required surgery.

Even if Fox has a great Pro Day next Friday, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay thinks the UM lineman is no better than a late-round pick.
“I do think he’s showed some quickness, he’s a pretty decent athlete in terms of his balance and being able to get in position,” McShay said. “He can recover against a double move and do those sort of things. But [he’s] not overly dominant. He could stand to put on a little more bulk, certainly get stronger and become a more physical player.

“I don’t think he finishes and has that mean streak that you look for. You just wonder. He’s a left tackle, but I don’t know that he’s a good enough player to become a starting left tackle in the NFL. I think he’s going to have to settle in as as reserve tackle and maybe, depending on the team that drafts him, move inside to guard. But I think he’ll wind up getting drafted late.”

Fox, an All-ACC first team selection last season, started every game (47) he played in as a Hurricane. He was athletic enough to be used as a tight end on occasion (he scored a touchdown on a 5-yard run against Florida State as a junior).

Fox said he realizes how important next Friday’s workout will be.

“I expect to go full go,” Fox told CBS4 recently. “I have to put on a show. I’ve been told all 32 teams will be there, so it’s going to be a great opportunity.”

Tight end Jimmy Graham could also boost his draft stock at Pro Day, although it’s questionable how much more he can improve over a solid performance at the NFL combine.

Graham ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash (4.56 seconds) among the assembled tight ends in Indianapolis and was also second in the three-cone drill (6.90) and the broad jump (10-feet even). Finally, he was third in the vertical jump at 38-feet, 5 inches.

As he has stated before, McShay continues to question Graham’s toughness and attitude. With Graham, who played football for only one year at UM after playing four seasons as a power forward on the Hurricanes’ basketball team, there is “always an excuse and there’s always a reason that something is wrong,” according to McShay.

“He’s a tough case,” McShay said. “The concerns are out there. Is he football tough? Does he have the mental toughness in addition to the physical toughness to develop and become a solid blocker and just be a consistent football player? Those are the biggest questions you have with him.”

Having said that, McShay adds that Graham’s physical tools will be too good to pass up. McShay said that Graham won’t get past the fourth round, although some projections have the 6-foot-6, 260-pound red head getting drafted as early as the second round.

“It’s hard to find human beings that are 6-foot-6 and 255-260 [pounds] that run like him and have his athleticism,” McShay said. “That’s why ultimately, even though you know what you’re getting and he may never be a full-time starter, I don’t think he’s going to get out of the fourth round just simply because he has good physical tools from a size, speed, athleticism standpoint.”

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Will Martz use Greg Olsen as a weapon?

Before the Bears made headlines on the first weekend of free agency with some big moves — headlined by Julius Peppers — there was talk about the possibility of trading TE Greg Olsen.

I had a hard time believing it since Martz is the type of coach who will adapt to his personnel to run his offense. The Bears do have depth at the wide receiver position right now, but is any of it proven — to the point that they can command safety help on every snap?

Not really, and that’s why the idea of moving Olsen never seemed to make sense from a football or offensive standpoint in Chicago. The Bears need his production, and it will be entertaining to watch Martz use him in a way Chicago fans haven’t seen before.

Sunday, in a story by Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald, Martz talked about using Olsen, saying, “When you can get a defense with normal personnel, and then move (Olsen) like you would a receiver in the slot and get him matched up on linebackers and safeties, it's going to be a mismatch. Then, with his ability to stand in there and slug it out, he's a complete player at that position, which is multi-dimensional.”

When Martz talks about normal personnel, he’s discussing how defenses will have to attack the Bears when they have their Pro (2 WR, 1 TE, 2 RB) or Ace personnel (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB) on the field. In response, defenses keep their base package on the field. But this is how Martz is different, and why his system should yield production in 2010.

Olsen becomes a WR in these packages in the route tree because Martz will align him away from the formation, matched up most likely on a strong safety with a two-way go and open field to work with. In reality, the Bears become a team that uses 3 WR personnel in their base packages because Olsen has the ability to run routes and create separation when he draws a matchup like this.

Call it creativity or using your productive players in a way to exploit and take advantage of defensive personnel. Aligned in the slot as Martz said, or as an “X” receiver on the backside of the formation, the No. 3 receiver in a bunch look, or as the No.2 in stack sets. The key, however, is that this is all done in offensive personnel groupings that keep defensive sub packages (nickel, dime) off the field.

A luxury, really, as a play caller in this league.

The Bears can utilize Olsen is a way where he’s in position to succeed on the field in both the running game and when Martz gets to move him in the passing game. And that’s why you don’t trade a player like Olsen — he’s too valuable to the success and game plan of the offense in Chicago.

I think we’ll all be surprised to see what Martz can come up with to get Olsen the football.

Click here to order Greg Olsen's proCane Rookie Card.

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Jon Vilma To Play at Sony Ericsson Open

From player autograph and question-and-answer sessions to live music and fashion shows, the Sony Ericsson Open offers fans more than just world class tennis:

Entertainment Stage: next to the Bombay Sapphire Lounge offers daily live music, Q&A sessions with players and fashion shows. Talk with top Fila tennis stars at Fila Friday Night, 6 p.m.

Fila Family Zone: family tennis activities, open daily, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Fashion show: Fila shows off spring 2010 tennis, golf, lifestyle and performance wear with a peek at fall collection, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Beach Tennis: a combination of volleyball and tennis—exhibitions and open play on the Grandstand Court, more information:

Star visits: New Orleans Saints and former UM linebacker Jonathan Vilma is scheduled to play a set of tennis with Caroline Wozniacki, Thursday, noon, Court B. Heat guard Dwyane Wade is scheduled to take on Andy Roddick in a game of H-O-R-S-E and tennis, Saturday, 2 p.m., Court B.

Shopping: Fila, Tournament Sports Shop,, Bolle eyewear, Head & Penn representatives, IMG Academies, U.S. Tennis Association membership booth.

Food: Collectors Club's new offerings include kobe beef sliders and lamb chops; Veuve Cliquot Wine & Sushi Bar; Ben & Jerry's; Bombay Sapphire Lounge serves tournament's signature drink "Bombay Sapphire Ace"; Crepe Express; Heineken Red Star Café; Starbucks.

Click here to order Jon Vilma's proCane Rookie Card.

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Salmons scores 32 points in big win

John Salmons continues to win over Bucks fans -- on Monday he scored 32 points in yet another big win, knocking off the visiting Hawks 98-95.

Salmons made 12-of-19 FGs, 3-of-6 threes, and 5-of-5 FTs, with three rebounds and one steal in nearly 42 minutes. Milwaukee has surged into sixth place in the East, which is where they will likely stay -- they're 3.0 games up on Miami, and 5.5 games behind Atlanta.

Salmons has been simply brilliant since being traded to the Bucks, averaging 19.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.4 3-pointers while shooting 86.7 percent from the line in 16 contests. Given the way he's playing (not to mention the Bucks), I wouldn't be surprised if he kept this up the rest of the way.

The Bulls surged in the second half last season after trading for John Salmons. The Bucks are 14-2 since trading for Salmons last month. Can't wait to see what kind of offers Milwaukee gets for the guy next February.

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Salmons supercharges Bucks' playoffs run

Denver — John Salmons had to be a tired man after playing 92 minutes on back-to-back nights during the weekend.

But all Salmons' work and perspiration was worth it as he helped the Milwaukee Bucks to a pair of satisfying victories, a double-overtime thriller at Sacramento on Friday night and a gritty decision in Denver on Saturday night.

Salmons' impact on the Bucks' fortunes is nothing short of amazing. Since his arrival at the trade deadline in February, Milwaukee has rolled to a 14-2 record and vaulted into the fifth playoff position in the Eastern Conference with a 38-30 overall mark.

The 6-foot-6 veteran provided more evidence of the "Salmons effect" with his play in the crucial stages against the Kings and Nuggets.

In the final minute of regulation in Sacramento, he sank 2 three-point shots, one coming off a double screen that the Bucks executed perfectly following a timeout. Then he grabbed two offensive rebounds and converted baskets in the first overtime period, and he finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists while playing a game-high 53 minutes in the Bucks' 114-108 victory.

What to do for an encore?

Well, how about taking a defensive turn on Denver all-star Carmelo Anthony and getting to the free throw line in the fourth quarter to help the Bucks seal a 102-97 victory, snapping the Nuggets' seven-game home winning streak.

Salmons ended with 26 points, four assists and three rebounds, and he was 9 of 9 at the foul line, including 6 of 6 in the fourth quarter.

"We knew we were under a lot of adversity, but we tried to forget about that and come out and play hard," Salmons said after the Bucks persevered in the second game of a difficult back-to-back set.

Denver point guard Chauncey Billups repeatedly drove into the Bucks defense and was 17 of 17 at the free throw line, and Salmons decided to work the same strategy as Milwaukee protected a narrow lead late in the game.

"Billups, he got to the line all night," Salmons said. "I was just trying to be aggressive, trying to mix it up with jump shots and taking it to the rim. It was just working for me."

Salmons didn't have an easy task when he drove the ball against the Nuggets' athletic front line, including shot-blocker supreme Chris Andersen (a.k.a. The Birdman).

"He was all over me," Salmons said. "Every time I went to the hole he was right there. He makes it tough on everybody; he's a good defensive player."

The only losses the Bucks have suffered with Salmons in the lineup were an overtime defeat in Atlanta on Feb. 28 and a loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles to start last week's road swing.

It's a stretch that began with a narrow victory in Detroit on Feb. 19. Without even having a practice with the team, Salmons scored a decisive three-point basket that night when he calmly fired a shot over the charging Ben Wallace.

And the success has continued for the past four weeks as Salmons has fit perfectly into the Bucks lineup and meshed with his teammates.
Now the Bucks will try to keep their run going as they return to start a five-game home stand, beginning Monday night against Atlanta.

It seemed unlikely Salmons could make the kind of impact he did in Chicago last season after he arrived at the February deadline in a deal with Sacramento. The Bulls were five games under .500 when he and Brad Miller came in the trade, but they helped lift Chicago to a 41-41 mark and a playoff berth.

Salmons averaged 18.3 points in 26 games with the Bulls at the end of the season, including 21 starts. So far with the Bucks, he has started 14 of 16 games and is averaging 19.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

The Bulls wanted to clear salary space to make a bid for an elite free agent in the summer, and they may land one. But they have plummeted since the trade with their division rival and fallen out of the top eight in the East.

The Bucks also received two future second-round picks from Chicago in the trade and the right to switch first-round picks with the Bulls this year if Chicago's pick is not in the top 10 of the draft. If the Bulls do not reach the playoffs but finish anywhere in the 11th through 14th spots, the Bucks will get a 2010 lottery pick out of the trade.

Salmons, 30, is playing so well now that he is putting himself in good position for the off-season. He has a $5.8 million player option for next season but may choose to test the free-agent market, and the Bucks clearly would like to have him back.

"When we were talking about making a move, we looked at him, and still do, as just a good, all-around pro guard," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "He can post up a little bit. He shoots the ball well enough. He can put it on the floor and get to the rim. He can dish it if necessary. He's a solid defender.

"He's a professional and has a real calm demeanor out there, and that has helped our guys."

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Salmons has some decisions to make

The reason the Bucks are the team nobody wants to face in the first round of the playoffs is John Salmons.

Well, Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings are a couple other reasons, but Salmons completes them -- Milwaukee needed another guy who could create his own shot on the perimeter, who could get to the rim on offense and play good defense. Most importantly they needed a veteran, calming influence on the court. That has been John Salmons.

It leaves him with a serious question about next year, according to the Journal-Sentinel.

Salmons, 30, is playing so well now that he is putting himself in good position for the off-season. He has a $5.8 million player option for next season but may choose to test the free-agent market, and the Bucks clearly would like to have him back.

Would the Bucks, or another team, spend more than $5.8 million on Salmons next year? It depends on what Salmons you get.

Not if it was not Salmons the first half of this season with Chicago, who was a pedestrian player. The Milwaukee Salmons is shooting better, getting more assists per game and playing better defense. To sum it up in one tidy little number, the Chicago Salmons had a PER of 12.8, the Milwaukee one has a PER of 17.2 (the league average is 15).

Salmons was good in the 08-09 season, but below average the two years before that.

For Salmons the $5.8 million may not be the key, length of contract could be big. If he is a free agent this summer he can get multiple years under the current CBA, if he waits until 2011 who knows what the market and structure of the deal will be. But he risks making less money -- owners are not throwing around money for mid-level guys right now. Does risk less for longer-term security? Or is he playing well enough to get both?

Salmons has no easy decision to make.

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Burrell gets more time in outfield Monday

The Rays are bringing many of their regulars to Fort Myers for a game against Boston at City of Palms Park.

DH Pat Burrell again was in the outfield, starting in right field. DH Hank Blalock will get more swings.

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Marlins confident Gaby Sanchez can develop into productive first baseman

JUPITER — Gaby Sanchez might not hit home runs right away like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard, but the Marlins are confident he can develop into a productive first baseman.

"Gaby, given a lot of at-bats, he may be a 15- to 20-home run guy. For a first year in the major leagues, I'll take that," manager Fredi Gonzalez said Sunday.

Sanchez hasn't won the first base job yet. But after Florida cut infielder Jorge Jimenez on Sunday, Sanchez is the front-runner to be in the Marlins' starting lineup two weeks from today at CitiField in New York.

Jimenez, a Rule 5 draft pick who was offered back to the Boston Red Sox, arrived in Jupiter as an option to start at third base. But his departure means the Marlins are confident they have a first baseman and won't need to move Jorge Cantu from third to first.

Of the two candidates, Sanchez has an edge over Logan Morrison, who's hitting .200 (8 for 40) in 11 games. Sanchez, 26, is batting .387 (12-for-31) over his first nine games and homered for the first time on Saturday in Viera.

"So far, there's not much I feel like I can do more," the former University of Miami standout said. "I feel like I been hitting the ball well and seeing a lot of pitches."

Sanchez had a chance last spring to win the job but opened the season in Class AAA New Orleans, where he hit 16 home runs in 318 at-bats. He hit two more home runs in 21 at-bats in September for the Marlins. This spring he said he's more relaxed. He said he's confident he can blossom into an offensive threat, even if he doesn't hit home runs like other first basemen in the league.

"It's different when you haven't played in the big leagues an entire year and not knowing where you're at power-wise, but I know that its there and I know I will hit some," he said.

And if Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu and Cody Ross hit their share of home runs, Sanchez won't feel pressure to hit for power. If he makes the team, he projects to hit eighth in the batting order.

"It's probably not a big intricate part of my game," he said. "I can definitely hit some but I feel like I'm more of a gap-to-gap kind of guy with doubles."

Jimenez's departure also brings the bench competition into focus. Infielder Wes Helms, catcher Ronny Paulino and utility man Emilio Bonifacio are locks, leaving two spots open. Gonzalez has said he prefers a true left-handed bat off the bench, which fits Mike Lamb.

Lamb can also play the outfield and corner infield positions, and can serve as an emergency catcher. He had a pinch-hit three-run double with two outs in the sixth inning Sunday.

The Marlins also like Brian Barden, who's primarily and infielder. Barden started in left field Sunday. If Lamb and Barden win the final spots, outfielder Brett Carroll would be the odd man out. Carroll, considered the top defensive outfielder, has been taking infield drills at third base, something he did on his own.

Gonzalez insists he is keeping an open mind about the roster makeup.

"It all depends on the makeup of the team," he said. "I've got two or three different rosters in there counting bullpen arms and starters and how you want to handle the bench. If the roster we start off with in April is not what we think, we'll make adjustments."

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Huff proving to be two-dimensional

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- On Saturday at Scottsdale Stadium against the Reds, Aubrey Huff dove toward the first-base line to snare Juan Francisco's sharp grounder and turned it into a double play with a nifty throw to second base.

"You sound surprised," Huff said with a wry grin on Monday morning, hours before he started again at first base for the Giants in their home Cactus League game against the Rangers.

The surprise might have been in the execution, not the elocution. Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it the best defensive play he'd seen all spring.

"Oh, no doubt, it sure was," Huff said, again in dead-pan fashion. "I can't remember seeing one better."

Huff said he's growing tired of reporters focusing on his defense this spring. But the focus is not going to be on his offense.

"If it wasn't for hitting, I wouldn't play baseball," he said. "I take pride in proving people wrong about playing defense, but hitting is my bread and butter."

No doubt. Including an RBI single in the first inning on Monday, he's hitting .394 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 12 games.

But Huff's defense became an issue when two plays cost Tim Lincecum a barrel of unearned runs in the right-hander's first two starts of the spring. On March 3 against the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz., a grounder kicked off Huff's glove in the first inning, and Lincecum never recovered.

On March 11 at home, again against Seattle, in the third inning, Eric Byrnes beat out a single to deep short when Huff couldn't pick a throw in the dirt from Edgar Renteria. Jose Lopez motored home and stopped dead midway down the third-base line. But when Huff's throw skipped away from catcher Bengie Molina, Lopez scored and Byrnes went to second. Ryan Langerhans singled home Byrnes.

Lincecum clearly appeared peeved after the error by Huff, who is settling in at first base after playing just 168 of his 436 games during the past three years in the American League at that position. Huff was a designated hitter 220 times for the Orioles and Tigers.

"You can see frustration in my face once in a while out there, but I had to go with it, that's part of the game," Lincecum said that day. "You have to roll with the punches and prepare for the next batter. That's how you deal with any game. You have to put stuff in the past."

Todd Wellemeyer, who is vying for the fifth spot in the Giants' rotation, clearly wasn't frustrated on Saturday when Huff turned in his stellar play. Huff corralled the grounder, touched his glove on first base and threw a strike to Renteria, who applied the tag. The Giants won, 6-0, as Wellemeyer tossed five shutout innings.

"That's just a reaction play, you can't practice that," the 33-year-old Huff said. "You reach for it and hopefully it hits the glove. You hop up and try to make a good throw. It all worked out."

Huff said that he's having no difficulties adjusting to regular play at first base. He's started 295 of his 925 big league games for Tampa Bay, Houston, Baltimore and Detroit at that sack during his nine-year career, including 98 in 2008 for the Orioles. Only one year, 2006 with the Astros, did he play solely in the National League without the benefit of the DH.

"I got that label as a bad defensive player when I was at third base," said Huff, who's started 344 games at third in his career. "I moved to first base, and I was just fine. That's just something that's stays with me my whole career. Guys who never have played the game before are writing about it and they don't know any better. People believe what they read. That's all there is to it, man."

The Giants signed Huff to a one-year, $3 million contract as a free agent this past offseason because they wanted his bat in the lineup. He's a .283 lifetime hitter with 203 homers and 752 RBIs. Two years ago he had one of his best seasons with the O's, amassing 32 homers and 108 RBIs.

The Giants are happy with Huff batting cleanup, and they're trying to fit him in at first. Just to punctuate Huff's point, he has a .993 fielding percentage at first base and a .947 field percentage at third.

"I've always played first base just fine," Huff said. "This is not an issue, you guys are making it an issue. The only issue is that I have to answer these questions every day. It's getting kind of old."

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Ryan Braun enters his fourth season on the brink of greatness

PHOENIX — There might not be "a breakout" season for Ryan Braun.

That's because since his call-up to the majors in early 2007, Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers' left fielder, has put up seasonal numbers worthy of any career year.

His work ethic, preparation and execution highlight the potential of an explosive career. Still just 26, Braun maintains the capability to reach a level with other giants and hold company with pantheons of the game.

Already, Braun's numbers have drawn comparisons to those of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. With just two full seasons in the major leagues, this connection could be reaching, and Braun acknowledges he has a long way to go to place among such icons.

"It's flattering, and slightly embarrassing," he said after a recent workout.

"Really, I'm not deserving and I think this is something generated over the course of a career. At this point, let's look at a 10- to 15-year time frame. It's certainly nice to be compared with the greats of all time, but I have not earned anything to this point."

With two full years and part of a third on his major league résumé, Braun brings a .308 career average into the 2010 season. His 103 home runs in his first three seasons rank sixth-highest in the history of the game and just behind Albert Pujols (114), Ralph Kiner (114), Eddie Mathews (112), DiMaggio (107), and Mark Teixeira (107).

What could make Braun potentially more dangerous is Prince Fielder, the Brewers' first baseman.

With Braun's 32 home runs, 114 RBIs and .320 batting average a year ago, Fielder added 46 homers, a league-leading 141 RBIs and a .299 batting average. That gave the Brewers perhaps the best 1-2 offensive production in the game. Clearly, the presence of Braun hitting third and Fielder fourth remains an important consequence.

"We motivate each other, and I think he's motivated and influenced me more than I have him," Braun said.

"What's important here is that teams have to think beyond using just one closer. He hits left, I hit right and that causes problems. We showed we both can do some damage and teams have to worry about facing two high-production guys instead of just one."

For now, Braun is part of an offense that clearly carries the Brewers.

With a team batting average of .263, and the No. 3 totals in the National League in home runs and RBIs a year ago, the offense appears as lethal as ever. Braun and Fielder are complemented by Casey McGehee (16 HRs, 66 RBIs) and right fielder Corey Hart (.260, 12 HRs, 48 RBIs). Add the speed of Carlos Gomez, the new everyday center fielder, the potential of shortstop of Alcides Escobar and the leadoff capability from Rickie Weeks, and that could add up to more runs.

Augmenting physical talents, Braun has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse, and he prides himself on a high level of preparation. Braun also recognizes these are the formative years of his career, and points to this factor as a springboard for potentially greater success.

"I'm still young and learning all the time," he said. "I think players get better with more experience, learning the game and acquiring a better understanding of each one's potential. My goal is to steadily improve, and be in a position to better help my team."

If numbers remains a principal barometer to success, Braun has already made an impression.

"Ryan brings a good work ethic and confidence level," Hart said. "He believes he's one of the best in the game, and so, far, he has the production to prove it."

Given the high-octane Brewers offense, a possible improved pitching staff, more team speed and potentially better defense, all of this is secondary to the ultimate destination.

"The goal is play meaningful games in September and October," Braun said. "All we can ask is to put ourselves in a position to compete when it really counts."

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Jimmy Graham Not Tough Enough?

On the local front,  McShay says UM TE Jimmy Graham, a player who I’ve loved since he was a freshman basketball player, needs to address some toughness issues. But he points out Graham won’t get out of the 4th round because of his VERY RARE athletic ability.

For those like me who knew Graham was an enforcer and energy guy in college and are alarmed about these toughness questions, let me explains. There are MENTAL TOUGHNESS issues that need to be addressed going back to his basketball days, and Graham has to prove he’s a willing run blocker. UM didn’t have him do that much, purposely, and I’m told his work at the Senior Bowl in the blocking department was lacking….

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(omar kelly -

Bears Could Still Trade TE Greg Olsen?

Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo insists he isn't shopping tight end Greg Olsen. He will listen to offers, however, and he shouldn't be surprised if New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick shows interest. The Patriots don't have a reliable tight end, but they do have three second-round picks, which Angelo surely has noticed.

Click here to order Greg Olsen's proCane Rookie Card.

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Giants sign punter

With Jeff Feagles currently in a contract standoff with the Giants, the team has taken an interesting approach to their punting situation.

The Giants signed former Australian rules football player Jy Bond Thursday after Bond worked out for the team. The 30-year-old Bond has been attempting to kick start his NFL career for a few years and was with the Dolphins from April to June last year. He's never kicked in an NFL game.

Click here to order Jeff Feagles' proCane Rookie Card.

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Oakland Athletics Top Prospects

Jemile Weeks, 2B – Weeks looks like he could have an interesting power/speed combo, but he still has a lot of work to do. First off, he was bit by the injury bug which affected his development. Next, he needs to work on his righty/lefty splits; lefties killed him last year. He won’t make it as a platoon player. Finally, he’s got the ability to stay at second, but he’s been considered careless in the field. He’ll need to focus to succeed with Oakland.

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Burrell gets start in right field vs. Yankees

DH Pat Burrell got another start in the outfield, opening in right field Friday night, when the Rays played host to a New York Yankee split-squad at Charlotte Sports Park.

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Gaby Sanchez emerging as Florida Marlins first baseman after Jorge Jimenez cut from camp?

IF Jorge Jimenez, a rule 5 draft who came to Florida to complete the Matt Lindstrom trade, has been cut and offered back to the Boston Red Sox. That means the Marlins got no major-league experience for Lindstrom, whose trade from Houston also gave Florida two A-level prospects.

Jimenez’s departure brings into a focus the battle for first base and the battle for two bench spots, competitions that manager Fredi Gonzalez expects to go down to the final days of camp.

Jimenez was a candidate to start at third base, if Gaby Sanchez or Logan Morrison struggled in their bids for the first base job. (Jorge Cantu would have moved from third to first). But Jimenez’s departure suggests the Marlins are confident one of their two prospects can win the first base job.

And Sanchez appears to have the edge: He’s batting .387 with one homer and 4 RBI in nine games Morrison is batting .194 with 2 homers and 2 RBI in 10 games.

As for the bench spots, IF Wes Helms, C Ronny Paulino and OF/IF Emilio Bonifacio are locks, which means two spots are up for grabs from a group that includes Brett Carroll, Brian Barden, Mike Lamb, Hector Luna and Donnie Murphy.

Barden is primarily an infielder but he’s in left field today, as the Marlins want to see his versatility.

That doesn’t bode well for Brett Carroll, who could see himself as the odd man out if the Marlins opt to go with Barden and Lamb, two players who show they can play both infield and outfield.

Carroll is an above-average defensive outfielder and he might have the best arm on the team. On his own initiative — without any direction from the coaching staff — he took grounders at third base at least once last week, as a way to make himself more versatile.

Gonzalez said he’s keeping an open mind with his options.

“I’ve got two or three different rosters in there, counting bullpen arms and starters and how you want to handle the bench,” he said.
“If the roster we start off with in April is not what we think, we’ll make adjustments April 15th or the next day.” …

RHP Clay Hensley and LHP Andrew Miller will start against each other in an intrasquad game Monday morning on a back field. Each will go five innings…

Catcher John Baker and infielder Joe Espada both stayed out of camp today because they weren’t feeling well. “It’s not the flu, it’s a stomach virus,’’ Gonzalez said. “Hopefully it’s just a couple of days.’’

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Chris Perez eager to tackle closing role for Cleveland Indians

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Kerry Wood's body has given Chris Perez the chance he's always wanted. He's going to be the full-time closer on a big-league club.

The Indians announced Saturday that Wood will miss six to eight weeks with a strained muscle below his right shoulder. Perez was going to be Wood's set-up man. Now he's going to be slamming the door.

Wood injured his right latissiums dorsi muscle earlier in spring training. An MRI revealed a tear in the muscle Thursday. Wood, who removed himself from a scheduled appearance against Texas on March 13, hasn't pitched in a game since March 10.

"I'm excited, but at the same time it stinks that it had to come with Kerry getting hurt," said Perez. "I think, hopefully, they're being cautious right now and that he comes back a lot quicker than the doctors said."

Perez, 24, has been a closer throughout his minor-league career. He recorded 60 saves working his way through St. Louis' farm system. He has eight in the big leagues, including seven with the Cardinals in 2008.

"It's a good audition," said Perez, acquired from the Cardinals last year along with Jess Todd for Mark DeRosa. "It's a good way for the new coaching staff to get a look at me. I hope I take the ball and run with it and get off to a good start and help this team get off to a good start. I think that's one of the easiest ways to ruin a season right off the bat is to have the bullpen blow games."

Perez was going to open the season as Wood's eighth inning set-up man. Manager Manny doesn't have a specific pitcher to take Perez's spot.

"It's unfortunate," said Acta, after the 12-4 victory over Oakland on Saturday. "No team is better without Kerry Wood. We have a lot of confidence in Chris Perez. This is what he's done all his life.

"The rest of the guys are going to have to move up. For us it's going to be more mixing and matching trying to get the ball to Perez. That's the challenge."

Wood, Perez, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp and Joe Smith were all but guaranteed jobs in the pen since the start of spring training. That left two jobs to fill. Now there are three vacancies.

The candidates include Jamey Wright, Saul Rivera, Mike Gosling, Jensen Lewis, Todd, Frank Herrmann, Josh Judy, Jeremy Sowers, Mitch Talbot and Aaron Laffey. Wright, Rivera and Gosling are in camp on non-guaranteed minor-league deals. Lewis and Todd were in the Tribe pen last year. Herrmann and Judy are prospects in their first big-league camp. Sowers, Talbot and Laffey are starters.

Sowers is coming off a strained left shoulder and will probably open the season on the disabled list. Laffey, Talbot and David Huff are competing for the last two spots in the rotation. Laffey had success in the pen last year and has options remaining. Talbot is out of options, but has little, if any, experience in the pen.

"One door closes and another one opens," said Acta. "It's an opportunity for somebody else to make the club that probably wouldn't have made it."

It did not sound as if the Indians were in a rush to make a trade for a set-up man.

"There aren't that many guys out there that you can just go knock on their doors and they can come in and set up for you," said Acta. "We're going to have to deal with this."

Initially, Wood and the Indians didn't think the injury was serious. Trainer Lonnie Soloff said they grew concerned when the pain lingered. That's when Wood underwent the MRI.

Wood, the third-highest paid player on the team with a $10.5 million salary, has been on the disabled list 12 times in his career. This will make No.13. The two-year, $20.5 million deal between Wood and the Indians has a vesting $11 million option for 2011 should he finish 55 games this year. This injury could make that bonus hard to reach.

Wood converted 20 of 26 save situations last year for a bullpen that registered the fewest saves in the AL.

Perez said he's learned a lot from the three big-league closers he's been around -- Wood, Ryan Franklin and Jason Isringhausen.

"I picked up stuff from all of them," said Perez. "The biggest thing they say is that it's about your mentality. You've got the stuff, you've got the tools. It's just believing in yourself and doing it."

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James Jones thinks Jordan could aid labor talks in new role as Bobcats' owner

With Michael Jordan making the conversion from superstar player to owner, Heat forward James Jones expects one more sympathetic ear among the NBA's brass in labor negotiations.

Jones, secretary treasurer of the NBA players association, was encouraged on many levels when the NBA's board of governors last week approved Jordan's bid to purchase a controlling interest in the Charlotte Bobcats.

Jordan's purchase comes at a time when owners and the players association are preparing to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires after the 2010-11 season.

``Mike has a unique perspective,'' Jones said Saturday of Jordan, who attended the Heat-Bobcats game that night at AmericanAirlines Arena. ``When you can mesh a person like Mike -- who played and is now an owner -- he has a perspective I don't think anyone in that [negotiating] room is going to have.''

Jordan's voice was instrumental for the players in the NBA lockout that cut the 1998-99 season to 50 games.

Talks already have been testy this time around, with the players and owners trading barbs during All-Star Weekend.

Jordan now joins those negotiations as the NBA's first player to become a majority owner. Being ``like Mike'' has a new meaning.

``It's not just playing the game, but taking ownership as well,'' Jones said. ``We look at it as the greatest player showing the world that, `I love this game so much, I'm putting all I have on the line to own a part of it.' ''

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