That's Coach Dorsey to You

LAKEWOOD RANCH — This time last year, Lakewood Ranch’s coaches were unsure about Reggie Lindsey.

Or to be more specific, they were unsure if he could handle the rigors of life as a varsity quarterback.

Now, there’s little doubt. The lanky Lindsey, a junior, will be under center Friday when the Mustangs head to Sarasota for a Kickoff Classic. And he’ll be there, too, for the remainder of the fall, fronting a passing game that Lakewood Ranch hopes will help resurrect the program following last year’s 1-9 mark.

“We knew that he had the physical tools to do it,” coach Shawn Trent said. “Starting a sophomore quarterback is not always what you want to be doing, playing the teams that we have to play. But he did a great job. Every week, he got better. We’re pretty confident in the fact that he’s going to do what we’re going to need him to do.”

Lindsey took over the reins midway through last season, throwing for 675 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions. He enters the fall with a lot more experience, as well as a boost from a member of Lakewood Ranch’s revamped coaching staff — Ken Dorsey.

Dorsey set myriad passing records at Miami and led the Hurricanes to the national title in 2001 — the same year he won the Maxwell Award and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Now, he’s coaching the Mustangs’ quarterbacks.

“I used to look up to him, and I used to want to be just like him when I was little,” Lindsey said. “We come out and work hard, but it’s still a privilege to be with him and him teaching us.”

Having a guy on board such as Dorsey, who spent time in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, hasn’t changed the Mustangs’ scheme too much, Trent said. That said, his words, as well as those of assistants Anthony Littlejohn (Mississippi State) and James Williams (FIU), who also played Division I football, carry weight with the players.

“How many kids in high school learn from NFL quarterbacks?” Stevens said, “(Dorsey) also has to realize there’s a lot of things they’re not capable of doing. The hardest thing of being in the NFL is the simple fact that you have to dumb some stuff down.”

Bookmark and Share

Raiders Camp Folds its Tent

William Joseph seems to be a lock to make the Raiders squad this season. He will probably will make it as the fourth defensive tackle on the team as he has had a solid camp.

Bookmark and Share

Antonio Dixon a Long Shot but...

Antonio Dixon has received some praise and could be a man to watch in the final 2 games of the preseason.     

Bookmark and Share

Hester expected to return punts for first time in preseason

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Bears coach Lovie Smith hinted Wednesday that Devin Hester would see his first action as a punt returner this preseason in Sunday night’s game against the Broncos in Denver.

“I think it’s important for us to see,” Smith said. “This week we’re playing the game like the regular season is here. You’ll see most of our guys in a role that they will play during the course of the season.”

Hester has watched as Earl Bennett, Derek Kinder, Johnny Knox, D.J. Moore, Eric Peterman and Nate Vasher have all returned punts in the Bears’ first two preseason games.

“I don’t think there’s a reason why we would let Devin do a lot of that before,” Smith told reporters, “but things change about this third game of the preseason.”

Hester set an NFL record with five punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns as a rookie in 2006, and then eclipsed the mark and raised the bar even higher with six in 2007.

But last season Hester failed to get into the end zone on special teams, and as his role as a wide receiver expanded, he was replaced on kickoff returns by Danieal Manning, who ended up leading the NFL in that category with a 29.7-yard average.

Hester would like to return punts Sunday night against the Broncos, but he won’t campaign to do it.

“I feel like I need to get back into the groove,” he said. “But at the same time it’s up to the coaches. It’s not up to me. All I can do is go by what the coaches say.”

Bookmark and Share

Harbaugh Likes What He Sees With McGahee

John Harbaugh last night when speaking with CNNSI’s Peter King said: “Competition from Ray Rice looks to be driving McGahee into best shape of career. What a 1-2 punch.”

Bookmark and Share

Tanard Davis Should Make the Titans Squad, For Now

I've added Tanard Davis as someone on the bubble, which he wasn't before Ryan Mouton's injury. If Mouton takes a while to recuperate, as it seems he will, Davis will be needed to backup Fuller. Of course, Davis will be gone as soon as Mouton is healthy again.

Bookmark and Share

Trading Parrish is a bad idea for Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills signed WR Terrell Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million deal way back on March 7.  When the signing became official late that afternoon, the Bills immediately had a surplus of talent at the position - and many speculated that four-year pro Roscoe Parrish, the most luxurious of the depth players, might soon be on the chopping block.

Despite surviving the Draft without a trade, Parrish trade rumors have yet to die.  The Buffalo News has kept the rumor alive over the past few weeks, indicating that a trade of Parrish is still possible, and speculating that Parrish started in place of the injured Owens last weekend in Green Bay in order to showcase him live in front of NFL scouts.  Even if the rumor isn't true, I still think trading Roscoe a borderline terrible idea.  Explanation is after the jump.

Special teams still a point of emphasis Bobby April still has a lot of say when it comes to the final shape of the roster each and every season.  Special teams is, obviously, highly emphasized each year, and no one can deny that Parrish is an asset to April's punt units.  Parrish is historically good when it comes to returning punts, averaging 14 yards per return for his career and scoring three touchdowns in that role (as opposed to the five he's hauled in as a receiver).  One could easily make the argument that Parrish is the NFL's most feared punt returner today.

Parrish rarely returns punts in the pre-season.  That's remained true this year, as the Bills have chosen to keep him out of harm's way by letting reserve running backs Dominic Rhodes and Bruce Hall handle punts.  Each has muffed a kick this year, leading to a fumble recovery for the opposition.  Those types of plays make one appreciate Parrish's return skills even more.  It's pretty clear that Rhodes won't be handling punts in-season (and Hall probably won't be on the team), but if Parrish is traded, Rhodes might get the nod.  So could Leodis McKelvin, though as the kick returner and a starting cornerback, McKelvin's plate is rather full.  If Parrish leaves, punt returns become a liability in Buffalo.

Is the potential compensation worth it? Potential compensation for a player of Parrish's stature isn't overwhelming.  If you're looking at draft picks, a fifth-round selection seems like a best case scenario.  Trading for another player is possible, but still rare (though there have been a couple of player-for-player swaps here in the last couple of weeks).  It's extremely likely that any player swapped in here for Parrish won't have the electric return value that Parrish brings to the table.  How likely is it that a new guy could assimilate to Bills schemes and contribute right away?  I'm going with not likely.
Any compensation the Bills received for Parrish almost assuredly would not be worth Parrish's value to the team right now.  Let's not forget that this coaching staff, and this franchise as a whole, is in full-fledged win-now mode.  How does a future pick or a reserve at another position help them win games? Parrish can change the landscape of a game by himself.

Parrish is what he is It should be obvious that I'm not advocating keeping Parrish based on the vain hope that he could still blossom as a receiver.  He hasn't caught more than 35 passes in a season, and he's only crossed the 30-catch plateau once.  If he still has untapped potential as a receiver, he's not going to reach it in Buffalo - we can't figure out how to use him.  His value clearly isn't offensive.

He's still worth keeping around - even as a "luxury," a description used quite often these days.  His return skills alone make him worth keeping around - unless, of course, a franchise gets desperate and overcompensates.  (That's not likely.)  Let's face it - Roscoe Parrish is one hell of a luxury item to have.

Bookmark and Share

Perez runs up streak of scoreless innings

BALTIMORE -- Chris Perez hasn't been perfect since the Indians acquired him this summer, but he's been awfully close.

Perez hasn't allowed a run in his last 16 appearances, the longest streak by an Indians relief pitcher in two years, and it's something that manager Eric Wedge hopes will continue during the team's four-game series with the Orioles that started on Thursday.

"We've slowly ramped him back to the back end of the bullpen," Wedge said. "We didn't get in a hurry with him. We just wanted to make sure we gave him opportunities to go out there and [find] success, and he's taken advantage of it. I couldn't be more pleased with what he's done over here."

Perez has struck out 20 and given up only six hits in his last 16 games -- over 16 1/3 innings. Even more impressive is that opposing hitters have an anemic .118 average against him, just 6-for-51.

That is the longest scoreless streak for an Indians reliever since Rafael Betancourt held opponents without a run for 19 innings in 2007.

Cleveland acquired Perez from the Cardinals for Mark DeRosa on June 27. Since the trade, Perez has a 2.89 ERA, mainly because of some early problems. Perez gave up six runs in his first three appearances, but then everything slowly turned around.

Since the trade, Perez has given the Indians 17 scoreless appearances in 19 chances.

"It's been a nice steady progression for him," Wedge said. "He's done a good job of getting better and getting himself more under control, with good stuff."

Overall this season, he has a 1-1 record with a 4.18 ERA. Perez has made life tough for opposing batters from both sides of the plate. Right-handers are hitting just .190 against him while left-handers have a .196 average.

The Indians have played much better in the second half of the season, winning 20 of their past 33 games. They had a record of 35-54 at the All-Star break but have turned things around since then, with the help of Perez and others.

Bookmark and Share

Gulliver To Dedicate Field to Sean Taylor

Gulliver High School will dedicate their new football field to Sean Taylor next Friday, Sept. 4 prior to their 4 p.m. home game. It would be great if a lot of U fans in Miami show up and wear Sean's # 26 !

Bookmark and Share

Linebacker, special-teams asset McClover back with Bears

With their special teams always in mind, the Bears signed veteran linebacker Darrell McClover to a one-year contract Tuesday.

McClover made 14 special-teams tackles in 10 games for the Bears last season before being put on injured reserve with a pulled hamstring. He was the sixth linebacker the team kept on the roster at the start of the season and was on the field for 201 special-teams snaps -- 11th on the team despite missing six games.

McClover made 36 special-teams tackles for the Bears from 2006 to '08 but didn't find any takers after his contract expired at the end of last season. He had two blocked punts in that span, one last season.

McClover did some extra sprints after practice and is expected to be involved in two phases of special teams Sunday night.

With Jamar Williams battling a foot injury, there could be an opening for McClover. Rookie Marcus Freeman has had a quiet summer, and Nick Roach and Hunter Hillenmeyer are working as backups.

The Bears also waived tight end Fontel Mines and guard Tyler Reed, both of whom underwent knee surgery. They will revert to the team's injured-reserve list when they clear waivers.

The Bears have 79 players on their roster, including cornerback Charles Tillman, who is on the physically-unable-to-perform list. They must cut to 75 players by Tuesday, and the final cut to 53 is Sept. 5. Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek is expected to miss the season, so he likely will clear one roster spot.

Bookmark and Share

After trying offseason, Edgerrin James returns to football as a Seahawk

The NFL's leading active rusher is kind of shy. Edgerrin James doesn't make eye contact during interviews. He wears a dark visor on his helmet. For an alleged old man, there's boyishness in his mannerisms and the soft way he speaks.

It's interesting because, on the field, he's had a flashy career. His numbers — 12,121 yards, 430 receptions, 91 touchdowns — scream Hall of Fame. Now 31 and rusting, James comes to the Seahawks not as a savior for a fractured run game, but as the potential glue that might make an imperfect situation workable.

The obvious question: After 10 seasons of physical punishment, how much of an Edge did the Seahawks acquire?
The better question: What does James have left to play for?

Ask James if he's the same player he was three years ago, and he says quietly, "We'll see." Ask him if he has anything to prove, and he says, "No, I really don't have to prove nothing." Ask him about his motivations for playing, however, and then you scratch at who James is.

You scratch at what he's been through the past four months. He's not completely forthcoming, but then, this is an introduction. Nevertheless, James alludes to how tragedy has forced him to reevaluate his priorities.

In April, he lost his girlfriend, the mother of his four children, to leukemia. Andia Denise Wilson was only 30. Since then, James has been more concerned with family than football.

The Arizona Cardinals released the running back in late April after drafting Chris "Beanie" Wells, but James didn't sit by the phone waiting for his agent to find him another team. His children needed him. He needed his children.
"Football wasn't something that I was concerned with," James said.

"I had other things going on, so I wasn't worried about that right there."

Asked if he seriously considered retiring, James said: "My thing was that with everything that happened I wanted to make sure that my family was straight and that situation was taken care of. That was the most important thing. With what went on this offseason, I just didn't want to blow it as a parent."

He didn't blow it. His mother is helping him with the children. Life appears to be getting easier, but for James, it'll never be the same. It'll never be right.

What does James have left to play for? It's a heavy question.

"I am not in a position that I have to play," James said. "I want to play. It's not that I am forced to play. I have done a lot in this league, and I am not somebody that's coming here to pick up a paycheck. I want to play, and that's the best part about it."

Maybe the game will give him some comfort. This season isn't about trying to return to 1,000-yard rushing form, or bearing the burden of a team that needs him to complement Julius Jones, or sticking it to his old team.
It's about living.

"My kids, they love football," James said, smiling. "They want me to play, so I came."

James' motto: "Football is second. It's always family first."

So, back to the obvious question: How much of an Edge did the Seahawks acquire?

Plenty, physically and mentally.

As a player, James should be capable of duplicating his production from last season, when he rushed for 514 yards in 13 games. Before the Seahawks signed James, coach Jim Mora watched videos of his final four games last season, trying to gauge James' durability. Mora came away impressed.

"That's what we based it on, that and his history of being a tough runner that's durable," the coach said. "He doesn't take losses. When we watched him on film, he still looked like that guy."

But equally important was that James grown into a mature, team-leader type. He proved in Arizona that he can handle sharing carries. He's willing to let Jones be the man. He understands that, despite his career statistics, football doesn't owe him anything.

"I am not going to sit up here and say I am going to do this or that," James said. "I am just going to come to work and put myself in a position to have success."

He had to endure an emotionally taxing offseason to get to this point. James doesn't take this opportunity for granted.

What does James have left to play for?


For that reason, he needs the Seahawks as much as they need him.

Bookmark and Share

Seahawks go for experience with the addition of Edgerrin James

Running back Edgerrin James wore No. 32 for his first practice as a Seahawk, the same jersey number he had first in Indianapolis and for the past three years in Arizona.

It's his role on the Seahawks that is new.

The NFL's active leader in career rushing yards is a component of Seattle's backfield, not the centerpiece. He's a side dish while starter Julius Jones is the entree.

"I'm not here to compete with Julius," James said after practice. "I'm here to complement him."

James is one part of the equation, and the latest backfield addition Seattle has culled from the free-agent ranks. At a position known for players with track speed, the Seahawks have opted to go with players who have a track record over the past few years.

James is the third veteran running back Seattle has signed over the past 18 months — while they've drafted just one tailback in the five drafts since Tim Ruskell became the team's president. That was Justin Forsett, a seventh-round pick in 2008 who is now the team's third-string tailback.

Is there a risk in relying so heavily upon free agents to restock the running game?

"It can be the same in the draft," coach Jim Mora said. "They're both, at times, it's speculation. You're predicting what someone's going to do."

The Seahawks have chosen three fullbacks in the last five drafts, but just one tailback, fewest in the league. Four teams are tied for second-fewest, each having picked two running backs from 2005 to 2009.

Seattle never decided to go young after its ground game got old following the decision to re-sign Shaun Alexander in 2006. Tough to blame anyone for that decision since Alexander was the reigning NFL MVP, and the Seahawks were coming off a Super Bowl appearance.

The contract was officially for seven years, but the reality was Seattle needed just three good seasons to make it worthwhile. It got one year in which Alexander was injured, and a second season in which he was tentative, slow and never gained more than 100 yards in the final three months of the season.

Seattle's ground game eroded from No. 3 in the league in 2005 to No. 14 in 2006 to No. 20 in 2007. Alexander was released last year after the Seahawks decided to improve the backfield in free agency by signing Jones and T.J. Duckett. Seattle paid Duckett more than $4 million for what amounted to one year's worth of heavy lifting as he was Seattle's short-yardage back.

Duckett was supposed to be Seattle's closer this year, the big man who would come in for short-yardage situations and to control the ball late in the fourth quarter, leaning on a defense with every ounce of his 254-pound frame. The Seahawks decided that Duckett had become more of a short-game specialist and they needed someone more versatile.

"In order to run the ball the way we want to run the ball, we needed someone that could complement Julius," Mora said.

Maurice Morris was gone, having signed with Detroit in the offseason, which left Seattle searching through the list of available veterans to find someone capable of handling every-down responsibilities should Jones go down.

James has a history that shows he can do that. Seattle signed him to a one-year contract with the hope that he has a future in this capacity, too, as the latest veteran the Seahawks have turned to in hopes of jump-starting the ground game.

Bookmark and Share

49ers offense is Gore's offense

Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was asked yesterday if the playbook would be tweaked for QB Shaun Hill:

“No. This deal is 21. This ball park is going to be run by No. 21 [RB Frank Gore]. The guy that’s running this ship at the quarterback position, and for both of them, that is why the competition was what it was. It was never going to be that the lead dog in this race was going to be the quarterback. The bell cow in this operation will be No. 21. The quarterback’s job is to make sure we get that done and play within himself and make the plays available to him. It wasn’t from the beginning to tailor it to so we would see the quarterback and do what his strengths were as our lead. That wasn’t the way it was.”

Frank Gore is the team's best offensive weapon. After three straight years of at least 1,000 yards rushing, the 49ers offense will be all about establishing Gore. As seen in the past two preseason games, the backfield will play an important role in the offense.

In the first game, it was all about getting the ball out to the FB Brit Miller in the flat. Last Saturday, the team ran down the Raiders' throats for 275 yards. Both catching and running are skills that Gore has improved since becoming the full-time starting running back.

And in this offense, it makes sense to make Gore the feature player. There is a lot less pressure on the quarterback position when a running game is solid. Also, Gore is in an offense where he can most definitely return back to his 2006 form.

QB Shaun Hill will still have his moments where he has to make a decision with the passing game. But it will be a lot easier when the running game has been established in the game.

This offense is based on getting Gore's engine going. If the 49ers can do that, then the rest of the offense will fall right into its proper place. We'll see a good dose of that this Saturday in Dallas.

Bookmark and Share

My Knee Injury - Jon Beason's Blog

I got my MRI results the other day and the doctors said it was an MCL sprain, no surgery required. Now I just have to deal with this and keep moving forward.

I’m going to attack it like I attack everything else in my life.

All my life I’ve healed fast and I don’t see why this time should be any different. I expect a speedy recovery. I think it starts in your mind; if you believe it in your mind, your body will follow. I think the guys who feel sorry for themselves take longer to come back from injury than the guys who are willing to do what it takes, listen to the medical staff and attack the rehab.

Click here to continue reading Beason’s blog entry.

Bookmark and Share

Ravens linebacker Gooden is learning fast

Gooden has been impressive.

Gooden dashed into the backfield untouched to corral Sanchez for his first NFL sack in the second quarter, wrapping him up as whistles blew for a 6-yard loss.

The former third-round draft pick from the University o f Miami also recorded five tackles.

Gooden flashed his 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash on the sack, rapidly gaining ground to overtake Sanchez before he could get the football out of his hands.

"I wanted to get a big hit on him, but he was running backwards," Gooden said. "I had to grab onto him. It felt great to make plays. It felt like college again. It’s all timing.

"Without the defensive line, the sack wouldn’t be possible. Those guys do a great job of opening up space for fast guys to penetrate. It felt good to make a big play out here and do it on Monday night and get my first NFL sack."

Between Gooden and McClain, the Ravens seem to be fortified inside in the wake of Bart Scott signing a $48 million contract this offseason with the Jets after spending seven seasons in Baltimore.

"I think what we’re finding out is we have a good, young linebacking group, no doubt about it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when asked about Gooden and McClain. "The guys you mentioned are both quality players, and there are some other guys that are playing well, too.

"You can go right down the line in our linebacking group and look at, I don’t know what the number is, 10 guys that could make our team, that could make anybody’s team. So, that’s a deep group.”

The Ravens haven’t officially declared that Gooden has won the job, but he has started both preseason games.

McClain is expected to get playing time behind Gooden, but it appears that Gooden will enter the season as the starter.

“It’s just two guys practicing hard and trying to make a contribution to this team," McClain said. “I don’t look at it as a battle or a competition. We’re just out there having fun. We let other people worry about that stuff."

Gooden is an athletic former Florida state prep champion in the discus who also excelled in the long jump and high jump growing up in Fort Lauderdale. Lean and muscular, he spent the majority of last season on injured reserve after undergoing hip flexor and sports hernia surgeries.

Healthy again and down to 238 pounds at the coaches’ request after bulking up to 247 pounds by May minicamps, Gooden is eager to prove himself.

Remaining injury-free is a paramount concern for Gooden.

"For me, it’s all about durability," Gooden said. "They want to see me play and finish out this preseason strong."

Scott was an ultra-productive linebacker for the Ravens who was selected to one Pro Bowl after entering the league as an unheralded free agent from Southern Illinois.

There are extremely high expectations for Gooden to uphold the Ravens’ rich linebacker tradition.

"I’ve never competed against Bart Scott," Gooden said. "He’s Bart Scott. I’m Tavares Gooden. We’re two different linebackers, two different players. I was never contesting or trying to be better than him.

"If people say I’m better than him, then that’s up to them. Bart is a good friend of mine. I would never say I’m better than anybody else. All I want to do is live up to my potential and be the best I can be. If I can do that, then I’ll be happy."

Bookmark and Share

Hester learns not to underestimate Cutler's arm

While Jay Cutler took responsibility for putting him in a bad position, Devin Hester shouldered blame for the two missing on a first-quarter deep ball in Saturday night's 17-3 exhibition victory over the Giants.

Cutler launched a missile on the run that sailed over Hester's head. Hester, who admitted not being used to such arm strength, was asked what he learned from the play.

"Keep running just as fast as you can ... no matter what," he said. "If he gets out of the pocket, don't do any scrambling drill. Just keep going. I thought I was too far out. Even the defender guarding me slowed and started going back toward Jay. He threw it over all our heads. Now I know ... don't stop."

Happy returns? Hester has yet to return a punt during exhibitions. That could change Sunday night at Denver, probably the final dress rehearsal for the starters before the Sept. 13 opener at Green Bay.

"He's going to be ready to go," said Dave Toub, the special teams coordinator.

The Bears have auditioned six players at punt returns, including rookies D.J. Moore, Johnny Knox, Derek Kinder and Eric Peterman.

"I've been impressed with the way the young guys have been handling the ball," Toub said. "Now as soon as I say that, something will happen."

Bookmark and Share

Too early to call race as Brock Berlin, Keith Null battle

CINCINNATI — Brock Berlin has been at this now for five preseasons, striding that fine line every August between the life of an NFL quarterback and the unemployment line.

For all those two-a-days spent looking up on the depth chart and those cutdown days hoping the phone doesn't ring, he has only two regular-season games and 31 regular-season passes to show for it.

Berlin's one true moment on center stage came two years ago in Paul Brown Stadium, where the Rams play the Cincinnati Bengals tonight in their third preseason game of 2009. On Dec. 12, 2007, Berlin made his NFL debut and one and only NFL start for the Rams.

The results weren't overwhelming, but they weren't disastrous. Especially considering Berlin had been on the active roster less than two weeks before his start and had exactly one practice day with the first-team offense before kickoff.

With both Marc Bulger (concussion) and Gus Frerotte (shoulder) sidelined by injury, Berlin completed 17 of 28 passes for 153 yards and an interception that day in a 19-10 loss to the Bengals. The Rams' only touchdown came on an interception return by cornerback Fakhir Brown.

"It'll be neat to go back and play there," Berlin said. "Really, it's just another preseason game but obviously, it's the first place I've started. Maybe it'll be a little better weather this time."

That's a certainty, considering it was 38 degrees and rainy at kickoff in '07.

This August, nothing has changed about

Berlin's job status. Once again he's fighting for a roster spot. This time the competition for the No. 3 job comes from Keith Null, a sixth-round draft pick from West Texas A&M.

"You really don't have time to worry — I've always said that," Berlin said. "I've been in this position every year. You just go out and you play and you handle your business, and at the end of the day, you let things fall the way that they will."

Null might have an edge because he was brought in by the current regime. Berlin, whose only other regular-season passes (three) came off the bench last season against Chicago, is a holdover from the Scott Linehan era.

But Berlin, 28, isn't making it easy on Null. He completed five of eight passes for 71 yards and a 130.7 passer rating last Friday against Atlanta. He accounted for the Rams' only touchdown on a 20-yard pass to Derek Stanley in the third quarter.

A week earlier against the New York Jets, Berlin's night ended early when he was brought down on a questionable hit by Jets defensive end Zach Potter and left the game with a sore knee.

Null replaced Berlin and made the most of the opportunity, rifling a game-winning TD pass to Sean Walker midway through the final quarter. Berlin responded by strapping on a knee brace and getting right back to work last week.

Null had a chance for more fourth-quarter heroics in Game 2 against the Falcons, but a potential game-tying TD drive ended with an interception in the end zone in the final minute of play. Once again, the intended receiver was Walker.

"They brought some pressure, and I didn't have a lot of time," Null said. "I probably should've hit another read, but I just tried to take a shot at the end zone and get a score."

Sensing blitz, Null made a pre-snap read at the line of scrimmage, deciding to throw it to Walker before the ball was even snapped. Trouble was, Walker was bumped off his route by a defender. Another Rams receiver, Nate Jones, was open on an underneath route but Null never looked his way.

Nonetheless, Rams coaches have been impressed with Null's moxie. Despite the interception, at least Null drove the Rams into position to tie the game (or win on a 2-point conversion) in the 20-13 loss.

"Oh, gosh," Null said. "The last two weeks, I've been right in the action having to go down and score. It's great work as a rookie to go in. ... You've got to love to have the ball in your hands at the end of the game, to try and make something happen."

As coach Steve Spagnuolo sees it, the race for No. 3 remains too close to call.

"It's a continued battle," Spagnuolo said. "We've got some time here still, so we'll see."

Tonight against Cincinnati, Berlin and Null should have most or all of the second half to themselves once starter Kyle Boller is done for the evening.

Berlin feels he's a better quarterback than he was in December 2007. He seems more accurate and more comfortable in the pocket.

"The more reps you get, the more you're around, the more mature you become as a quarterback," Berlin said. "I've definitely learned a lot. I've been around a guy like Marc Bulger and learned from him."

But now, he's got the young gun in Null, 23, to contend with.

"It's nothing against the person," Null said. "We actually both get along real well. So we just come out, we both compete, and may the best man win. I'm sure he feels the exact same way."

Bookmark and Share

Jay Cutler-Greg Olsen could become great together

Jay Cutler might not be at the point where he can finish Greg Olsen's sentences. But he probably could finish his pass routes -- or even his route adjustments.

And that is communicating on the highest of level in the football world.

The Bears new quarterback and the team's third-year tight end hit it off as soon as they met April 3 at Cutler's introductory news conference. They quickly figured out they should be friends -- both off the field and on.

At first glance, they appear to be a bit of an odd couple. Olsen is a Jersey kid who went to the urban University of Miami, also known as The U. Cutler is more country, having his roots in Santa Claus, Ind., and having played his college ball in Nashville at academically prestigious Vanderbilt.

Cutler, we should point out, is no dummy. He recognizes a meal ticket when he sees one.

Asked to explain why they have clicked as a quarterback-receiver combination, Cutler said, "He's a good player. He gets open a lot. It's hard not to want to get him the ball and let him get the ball in space."

What that means is Olsen should make a lot of catches even when he is not the primary receiver on a play call. When plays break down and Cutler leaves the pocket, Olsen probably will be his target more often than not.

"Greg is really ready to take another step," offensive coordinator Ron Turner says. "Jay recognizes how much confidence he's playing with, and he looks to go to him. ... If he doesn't like what he sees somewhere else, he goes to him."

For Cutler to continue his reign as king of Chicago, he needs Olsen. And for Olsen to be something he never has been -- one of the best tight ends in football -- he needs Cutler.

It is that mutual dependence that is the foundation of their relationship. But it goes beyond that.

There is a chemistry between them that cannot be manufactured. You could see it on the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene during training camp, and you could see it at TJ Donlin's, the Bourbonnias nightspot where they shared a table in the middle of a sea of fans.

"Off the field, they hang out," tight end Desmond Clark said. "They always sit by each other. They always are talking, even if it isn't about football. So you can see they have a natural combination going."

They share a love of country music. Olsen's bride Kara, a Florida gal, converted him to country. Subsequently, Olsen and Cutler took in a number of concerts together in the off-season. Among them were Kenny Chesney at Soldier Field, George Strait at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre and Pat Green at Joe's Bar.

Olsen said spending time away from football with Cutler has helped them as teammates.

"It gives us more chances to talk things out," he said. "If this situation came up, what would you think? So when you see something for the first time on the field, it doesn't catch you off guard."

It can take years for quarterbacks and receivers to become completely comfortable with one another. It appears to be happening much faster with Cutler and Olsen, and a primary reason is they know one another.

"This year I feel we have a guy who really understands what he wants out of the guys catching the ball, whether it be backs, receivers or tight ends," Olsen said. "He has a good feel for where he wants guys and how he wants them to run the routes. He does a good job of letting us know what he expects."

Of course they also have worked together a lot on the field between OTAs, minicamp, training camp, a handful of workouts that were unsupervised, individual work after practices and an exhibition game.

They also have watched quite a bit of tape together, going back to the off-season when they studied the plays Cutler had success with when he threw to Tony Scheffler and the other Broncos tight ends.

Cutler always has shown an affinity for throwing to his tight end.

And he never has had a tight end like this one.

Bookmark and Share

Bears bring back Darrell McClover

The Bears made a few roster moves today, re-signing linebacker Darrell McClover and waiving tight end Fontel Mines and guard Tyler Reed, both of whom suffered season-ending knee injuries in the preseason.

McClover appeared in 28 career contest with the Bears from 2006-08 but became a free agent following the '08 season. He did not catch on with another team.

McClover, who played for the Miami Hurricanes, was originally a seventh-round draft pick of the New York Jets. Bringing back McClover makes sense considering his ability to contribute on special teams, but it also might mean that Jamar Williams' ankle injury is more serious.

Bookmark and Share

Bruce Johnson Involved in Two Fights During Practice

Oh, and two fights. Or near fights. The first involved cornerback Bruce Johnson and wide receiver Shaun Bodiford when they got tangled up, went to the ground and came up mauling each other WWE style.

The second also involved Bruce Johnson. I didn't see what started it, but I did see tight end Darcy Johnson take a couple of swings at him, which drew a lot of players before Brandon Jacobs stepped in to play peacemaker.

Bruce Johnson, who is fighting for a roster spot, was obviously testy today. After the two fights, he knocked a pass away from David Tyree and gave the 'throat-slash' sign, which immediately drew the ire of the offense -- and the coaching staff.

Bookmark and Share

Is this the end for Sinorice Moss?

That’s still subject for debate, but I say no on both. Moss had a fantastic start to training camp, and though he’s slowed down of late his speed and potential is evident. If the Giants keep seven receivers, he’s a lock. Even if they only keep six, I think he has to stay. He may have lost the No. 3 job to Mario Manningham (maybe), but he’s not a bad player to have in reserve.

Bookmark and Share

Biggest Suprise - Bruce Johnson

Biggest surprise: I thought there were a few undrafted rookie free agents that had a chance to stick, but CB Bruce Johnson wasn’t on my list. He’s on it now, though. He definitely made his share of mistakes, but the kid has a nose for the ball and is definitely a playmaker. He was making more than he was missing at the end of camp. He’s spunky and fiery, too. I’m not sure if he’ll make the final 53, but if not and he clears waivers, he’s definitely a practice squad candidate.

Bookmark and Share

Kareem in Good Shape?

Kareem or Jack? — Jack Simmons and Kareem Brown seem to be the going concern at Tight End for this team behind Keller and both seemed to see time in the first half. I have to think that Kareem is more what they are looking for right now.

Bookmark and Share

Myers Improving

Chris Myers is improving every day and might play next game as well, which would be great to have the entire O-Line be able to play against the vaunted Vikings' run defense together. 

Bookmark and Share

Adkins Facing an Uphill Battle

Spencer Adkins has been unable to establish a great reason for the coaches to take a project on the roster. No correlation, but last year's 6th round draft pick Wilrey Fontenot was cut from the team.

Bookmark and Share

Rosenhaus Says It's Official

It's official! Congrats to Edgerrin James on signing a 1 year deal with the Seahawks!

Bookmark and Share

Shockey Missing Link?

Much-maligned tight end Jeremy Shockey might just be the missing ingredient for the New Orleans Saints, writes's John Lopez. Lopez reports that Shockey has looked "terrific" all camp, including a 3-catch, 61-yard outing in the team's first pre-season contest, and appears to be focused. Shockey also made a strong impression in joint workouts with the Houston Texans, Lopez says, and if he keeps it up could be a key cog in the Saints run in 2009. 

Bookmark and Share

Stock Watch: Will James fit in Seattle? reports free agent Edgerrin James has signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks. The Associated Press reported Seattle would not address the "speculation" until Tuesday.

That won't stop us from speculating on what James could do for an anemic Seattle ground game that ranked 19th in the league last season. The Seahawks are full of uninspring fantasy options at the position.

Julius Jones is one of the lowest-ranked "starters" in our RB rankings at No. 32. TD vulture T.J. Duckett (No. 53) isn't an every-down back, and reserves Justin Forsett and Devin Moore just won't cut it.

Enter James, who turned 31 on Aug. 1 and is coming off a season in which he rushed for a career-low 514 yards and three TDs. James is noticeably absent from our RB rankings at the moment, but if the deal goes through he has a shot to be the starter in Seattle.

Why? Well, reasons we already mentioned. That is Jones, Duckett, Forsett and Moore simply aren't that good.

James' legs aren't anywhere near what they used to be. He's not going to give you 1,000 yards or be anything close to the back he was with Indianapolis from 1999-2005. It doesn't take a Molecular Biology major to figure that out.

Edge, however, showed a little bit of burst in the Cardinals' playoff run last season, rushing for 236 yards and 2 TDs. Not that it's a relevant calculation, but put that over 16 games and you 944 yards and 8 TDs.

Again, James isn't going to do that. But he would be going up against the fifth easiest fantasy schedule in the league, and he'd probably be juiced up to face his former teammates in Arizona. There's a couple weeks of flex play in there for the taking, which makes him worthy of a bench spot. You've been drafting Jones, Duckett and in some cases, Forsett, right?

Of course, James has to sign first. And win the job. And prove that his 31-year-old legs aren't made of rubber. It's a lot to ask for.

Bookmark and Share

Gore's chore: Carry 49ers

SANTA CLARA — Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye brought a little perspective to the 49ers’ quarterback resolution.

In the grand scheme of things, it did not matter whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith won the starting job. The focal point of the team’s offense was not going to change, Raye said Tuesday.

“This deal is 21,” said Raye, referring to running back Frank Gore’s jersey number.

“This ballclub is going to be run by No.21. It was never going to be that the lead dog in this race was going to be the quarterback. The bell cow in this operation will be No.21.”

Gore became the first player in 49ers history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. He has also led the 49ers in receptions during that time. Coach Mike Singletary said he believes Gore is one of the top five running backs in the NFL.

Singletary announced Monday that Hill won the quarterback competition over Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Now that he’s the starter, Hill said he might be more apt to approach Raye with ideas about the offense that he feels might work better to his strengths.

“The thing that is a little bit different is if I feel like things need to be tweaked or changed to make me more comfortable, I can express those things now, whereas before, you can’t really do that because it changes for everybody, all the quarterbacks,” Hill said. “Now we will be able to adjust a few things here and there. If something makes me more comfortable, we will be able to do it.”

While Raye made it clear that he would listen to all of Hill’s ideas and suggestions, he said he would do nothing to compromise Gore’s ability to carry the team on his back.

“It’s like I tell them, it’s democratic, but it’s not 50-50,” Raye said. “I’m the last word. The quarterback’s job is to make sure (he) plays within himself and makes the plays available to him.”

Former 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz said he did not believe Raye had to make any alterations to his offense because of Hill’s strengths and weaknesses. In fact, Martz spoke highly of Hill’s ability to adapt to the system.

“Shaun surprised me when he played, with the things he can do,” said Martz, whom Singletary fired at the conclusion of last season.

“He sees things and can digest things as a quarterback at the snap much better than he appeared to do during practice. I don’t think you have to make any concessions with him. I was amazed and impressed with him coming down the stretch last year, and I was kind of tentative about him — wasn’t real sure. The more he played, the more a fan and believer he made of me.”

Martz took part in a conference call to promote “The NFL Head Coaches,” a weekly show on the NFL Network that debuts Sept. 14. Martz said he is less certain of Smith’s ability to achieve success with the 49ers.

“Ultimately, he’s going to need to go to another team,” Martz said. “He deserves another opportunity. I think he can play. I think it would help him to be in a whole new environment and get rid of that baggage that he has to think about and affects his confidence each day.

“He needs to jettison that out. He needs to go, find another team and start over again. And I do think he has a future in the league, and he’ll be fine. But I do think he needs to probably move on.”

Bookmark and Share

Vince Wilfork not buying it

FOXBORO - There has been no progress on a contract extension for Vince Wilfork [stats], and whatever the Patriots [team stats] have put on the table thus far hasn’t been nearly enticing enough for the nose tackle to even consider signing on the dotted line.

This gloomy portrayal came courtesy of Wilfork himself yesterday.

Now for the kicker:

Wilfork said he doesn’t buy recent remarks made by club owner Robert Kraft about being cautious when it comes to striking long-term deals because of the uncertainty in the league’s labor situation.

Does he believe the Pats really are married to that logic?

“Not at all,” Wilfork said. “Because there are 31 other teams out there and there’s a lot of them making moves. They’re in the same situation that we’re in. I understand what he’s saying, but at the same token, it’s not stopping the other teams from making their moves and (doing) what they have to do.

“Trust me, I understand where they are coming from. We have a lot of guys on this team that are going to (have contracts expire after the season) that are pretty good players. I know that is pretty tough for them (management). At the same time, the labor situation is all over the NFL.”

Wilfork cited the recent contract signings of the Giants’ Eli Manning (six years, $97 million, $35 million guaranteed) and the Chiefs’ Matt Cassel (six years, $63 million, $28 million guaranteed), along with the mega-deal Redskins nose tackle Albert Haynesworth signed in the offseason (seven years, $100 million, $41 million guaranteed), as cases where teams felt comfortable enough to sign players to long-term deals with labor uncertainty ahead.

“I see 31 other teams out there and I see deals done all the time,” Wilfork said. “So when you come to me and talk about the uncertainty of the future of the NFL, I understand what you are saying. But there are 31 other teams out there, guys getting locked up. You have guys out there getting contracts done. It’s not like nobody is getting contracts done.

“I see both sides. I can truly sit here and say, ‘I see where the organization is coming from,’ but at the same time, they see what I’m seeing: Other teams are getting deals done, also. But they might not have situations like we have, where we have a bunch of top-notch players that’s up. So, for that reason . . . they’re probably in a little awkward situation. But at the same time, the whole NFL is.”

As for the supposedly ongoing contract discussions, Wilfork, whose deal is up at season’s end, said he was unaware of any progress being made toward an extension.

“As far as I know, there hasn’t been (any progress),” Wilfork said. “You’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth, unless my agent isn’t telling me anything. But there’s nothing there.”

Even though he has vowed not to let the contract issue become a distraction and claimed his focus was on football, he admitted it’s been hard, especially after hearing or reading remarks like the ones Kraft made.

“My guys can trust me to play football. I’m going to do that regardless of what situation I’m in,” he said. “Everything else, I try to stay away from it. But at the same time, it’s pretty frustrating when stuff happens like that. I have to play the waiting game. I’m waiting just like everyone else is waiting. Time will tell. I’m going to stay positive. One thing I will do is stay positive.”

For the record, Kraft said it was tough to work out new long-term deals for players given the uncertainty of the labor situation, and it may be more prudent to wait.

“There are going to be new rules in place, and we don’t know what those rules are,” Kraft said Aug. 11. “We know that our agreement is going to have to change. It’s not sustainable the way it operates now. When you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t want to put yourself in a box.”

Since he’s elected not to hold out, Wilfork says he’s just going to see how it all plays out.

“I don’t want to be anywhere where I’m not happy and my family’s not happy . . . even through these tough times, we’re still happy here,” he said. “When that runs out, it’s time for me to pack my bags.”

Bookmark and Share

Burrell's bat is back

Most fantasy owners figured Pat Burrell's numbers would drop with the move to the American League.

It's been much worse than expected.

Burrell is hitting just .238 and is in danger of posting career-lows in homers and RBIs. So why in the whole-wide world would we tell you it's not a loser's move to pick him up?

"Pat the Bat" might have finally found the hat to keep his bat warm.

I gave Burrell his very own special shout-out in today's edition of Pickup Lines. Here's an excerpt:

"Burrell has three homers in Tampa Bay's last 10 games and he's hitting .290 in August.

Part of the reason for Burrell's drop in production in the league switch, but he's also been battling neck injuries for most of the season. He's missed 35 games this year, and the problem resurfaced Aug. 15.

Burrell, however, has five multi-hit games in seven tries since coming back Aug. 18. He's 11-for-26 (.423) with a homer and four RBIs in that span. Burrell is a notorious for streaky hitting, and it should continue into the final month of the season.

With the recent hit streak, Burrell is proving he's a capable mixed-league play at home. The Rays' schedule in September features trips to hitters' ballparks in New York, Boston, Baltimore and Texas. That should help pad his lowly .221 average on the road.

Here's my unsolicited Burrell story: I drafted Burrell in a H2H league and tried to stay the course. I dropped Burrell on June 22; simply couldn't take it anymore. Burrell, however, was available when I was looking for an extra bat to throw in the lineup Monday. I put him in and was rewarded with a 2-for-5 performance.

He's earned himself a few more days, perhaps more. If you can, pick him up.

Bookmark and Share

Perez establishes himself with Tribe

KANSAS CITY -- The last time he was at Kauffman Stadium, Chris Perez was still a member of the Cardinals. And one thing he remembers from that weekend in June was watching on TV as the Indians' bullpen endured arguably its lowest of many low points.

Kerry Wood blew consecutive save opportunities, and an Indians team that had taken two of three from the Cards a week earlier suffered consecutive extra-innings losses against the Cubs.

"I said to one of my teammates, 'Why didn't they do that against us?'" Perez recalled with a laugh.

After watching those two games, Perez had an idea of how the '09 season was going for the Tribe bullpen. And when he became a member of that bullpen just days later in the Mark DeRosa trade, he viewed the move as an opportunity to establish himself in the big leagues.

Two months later, Perez appears to have done just that. In recent weeks, he has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in an improved Tribe 'pen.

Perez took a 15 1/3 scoreless-innings streak into the three-game series with the Royals that continues Tuesday night. It was the longest such streak by a Tribe reliever since Rafael Betancourt tossed 19 scoreless in the midst of his dominant 2007 season.

"[The streak] has definitely helped a lot," said Perez, who had given up five hits and four walks with 19 strikeouts during the stretch.

It's helped because, in Perez's words, he was "one foot out the door" after two disastrous outings against the White Sox shortly after joining his new club. His Tribe debut on June 29 saw him hit two batters, walk another and forget to cover first base en route to giving up four runs in just two-thirds of an inning of work. Eight days later, Perez blew a save opportunity against the Sox in Chicago when he served up a grand slam to Paul Konerko.

Looking back on those outings, Perez said he was overthrowing in an effort to make a good first impression on his new organization.

"At the time, you think you're doing everything right," he said. "Then you look at the video and see your elbow was dropping. I was trying to throw the ball 100 mph, and that's not me. I was trying to be something I wasn't."

Perez said his recent success is a product of getting his mechanics in line, getting first-pitch strikes with his fastball and slider, and, perhaps above all else, getting regular work -- something he didn't have in St. Louis.

"[Eric] Wedge is using me every three days, which is nice," Perez said. "In St. Louis, it was tough to keep a rhythm. Mechanically, everything gets out of whack when I don't throw regularly."

Perez had a chance to compete for the Cardinals' closing job during Spring Training, but he suffered shoulder tendinitis right in the thick of the battle and bowed out. During the season, he was used primarily in matchup situations.

"I just don't feel like [the Cardinals] felt I could do the job," Perez said. "In their defense, I wasn't pitching like this."

Bookmark and Share

Huff reaches first place


The Tigers' winning percentage with Aubrey Huff, acquired from the Orioles last week, in the lineup.

Although some would say it's a cruel assessment of the career .283/.341/.474 hitter, it's accurate to call Huff baseball's biggest loser. Since his debut season for Tampa Bay in 2000, no player in baseball has appeared in more losing games (758, tied with Colorado's Todd Helton, who has played in 143 more games). Huff has been buried in last place in the AL East for most of his big-league playing days with the Rays and Orioles, escaping only briefly in 2006 when he was traded to the Astros (in a late-season deal that netted the Rays Ben Zobrist) and now with Detroit, where he finds himself in first place for the first time after Easter. Huff's teams have finished an average of 28.2 games out of first place, and that includes a mere 1 1/2 with the '06 Astros. He has also finished at least 27 1/2 games out of first in seven of his nine seasons entering '09.

Bookmark and Share

Chris Perez providing some relief in a long season

For nearly two months - and for the rest of the season - the big-picture story for the Cleveland Indians has been the development of their young players, at both the major and minor league levels.

Relief pitcher Chris Perez brought a promising profile with him when he came to the Indians from the St. Louis Cardinals on June 27, in exchange for versatile veteran Mark DeRosa. After a couple shaky outings just after the deal, Perez has shown the potential to be a bullpen mainstay, and maybe eventually, a closer.

Anthony Castrovince writes about Perez for

Perez took a 15 1/3 scoreless-innings streak into the three-game series with the Royals that continues Tuesday night. It was the longest such streak by a Tribe reliever since Rafael Betancourt tossed 19 scoreless in the midst of his dominant 2007 season.

"[The streak] has definitely helped a lot," said Perez, who had given up five hits and four walks with 19 strikeouts during the stretch.

It's helped because, in Perez's words, he was "one foot out the door" after two disastrous outings against the White Sox shortly after joining his new club.

Bookmark and Share

James lands one-year deal from Seahawks

he Seattle Seahawks agreed to terms with veteran running back Edgerrin James on a one-year deal worth $2 million, a league source confirmed to NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi on Monday.

The Seahawks told reporters assembled at coach Jim Mora’s news conference Monday they would not have a comment on James until Tuesday.

James will provide depth and stability to a group of running backs that have been injury prone. Seattle plans to rely heavily on its run game in its version of the West Coast offense and James could have an opportunity to play a vital role. Julius Jones is the projected starter and T.J. Duckett is the backup, but the Seahawks have been exploring adding another running back over the past few weeks. They contacted Warrick Dunn, who had three of his best seasons playing for Mora in Atlanta — but they opted for James.

Bookmark and Share

Belichick Praises Rocky McIntosh

[Rocky] McIntosh [is an] outstanding player, leading tackler in the last decade or whatever. He’s just a tackling machine. [They’re] very, very good on defense.

Bookmark and Share

Ex-Hurricanes see eye to eye on playing field

New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey took refuge from the heat under a canopy on the sideline, sipping from a small bottle of Gatorade, and he never saw Andre Johnson coming.

In passing, Johnson tipped Shockey's drink, causing some to trickle down Shockey's chin. Laughing, Shockey playfully chased Johnson for a few yards, but Johnson, a speedy receiver, avoided the bulky tight end.
“I'll get you back later, ‘Dre,” Shockey jokingly shouted at Johnson.

That friendly incident happened early Thursday and had nothing to do with the morning practice that became Wrestlemania.

“Did you see all these Miami guys out here getting in the fights?” Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson said with a grin. “That's how we do it, I guess.”

Johnson was receivers coach at Miami from 1996-05 and coached Johnson and Shockey when the Hurricanes were the 2001 national champions.

Center Chris Myers and tackles Eric Winston and Rashad Butler were also on the team.

One of the best
The Saints also have former Hurricanes in linebacker Jonathan Vilma and tight end Buck Ortega, bringing the number to seven former Miami players on the Texans and Saints rosters from a team that is considered one of the best in college football history

“We already have a few guys on our team that played together at Miami,” Winston said. “But with the Saints here, there's even more guys that were on that team.

“It's always awesome to go up to those guys and reminisce about the good old days.”

Keeping Winston in line
Winston said that having several college teammates around him with the Texans keeps him grounded in his NFL career. He said Butler and Johnson were the same shy and soft-spoken players at Miami that they are with the Texans.

But when asked about reuniting with other Miami teammates, Johnson had plenty to say.

“Every time we get together, it seems like we talk more about what we did in college rather than what we're doing now on the football field,” Johnson said. “Those are the moments that you really cherish.

“We won a national championship together, and that's something you'll never ever forget, and it's a bond you'll always have. We really don't talk much about football at all.”

According to Shockey, Johnson doesn't talk much at all.

“Andre's a silent assassin, and there's not many juicy college stories about him,” Shockey said. “But he's obviously the same hard-working guy that likes to get better.”

Curtis Johnson, the receivers coach, agreed with Shockey about Johnson's work ethic and added that Andre's personality has gone largely unchanged.

“Shockey is a different story though,” Curtis Johnson said. “He never said two words at Miami and now look at him.
“But he's still a great player and an excellent playmaker, just like he was at Miami.”

Johnson said coaches were impressed with Andre at Miami Senior High School, but he was redshirted as a college freshman because he was behind two seniors in Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss.

Ortega, who was Johnson's high school teammate, was also redshirted as a freshman.

“You never think about playing with your teammates after Miami because everyone's just dreaming about playing in the NFL,” Ortega said. “We were just a bunch of kids that were given a great opportunity to make something of ourselves at Miami.”

Not everything is fair game
As far as funny tales and embarrassing moments from college, most players were unwilling to out their former teammates, even though they play on opposing teams that can't seem to get along.

“I have plenty of stories about Eric and several about Chris,” Shockey said. “But I'll have to keep those in house.”

Bookmark and Share

49ers camp report: Counting on Gore to end running joke

SANTA CLARA, Cal. -- The San Francisco 49ers finally named a starting quarterback, with Shaun Hill getting the call. But it doesn’t matter who quarterbacks the club this season -- Hill or Alex Smith -- he acts as a co-pilot, charged with getting the football into the hands of the team’s best offensive weapon.

That would be running back Frank Gore, and it is he -- not Hill or Smith -- who determines if the 49ers finally get off the mat.

"He is the bell cow," offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said of Gore. "And he's the guy we have to play off of."
Makes sense to me. You try to win with your playmakers, and Gore is the best one on the 49ers' offense. Some people might say he's the only one, which is why the club was so hot for wide receiver Michael Crabtree. All I know is there is no way you can overstate the importance of Gore to what the 49ers will do on offense.

He runs. He catches. And he can find the end zone without a compass.

San Francisco hasn't experienced a winning season since 2002, and that's so long ago that only three players are left from the club. But there is optimism galore this year partly because Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary is the head coach, partly because the club plays in one of the NFL's weakest divisions and mostly because Gore is in the best shape of his career.

I know, you hear that about someone at every camp, but you have to trust me on this one: Frank Gore looks faster, sharper and quicker than he has in the past. According to Gore, that is the product of a rigorous offseason conditioning program at his alma mater, the University of Miami, with Gore determined to make himself into the player he was in 2006 when he ran for a career-best 1,695 yards.

He trained with former Hurricanes Andre Johnson, D.J. Williams, Jonathan Vilma, Santana Moss and Roscoe Parrish, and he gained the results he wanted.

"I just felt I needed it," he said of the work. "If I could go against people who were faster and quicker than me and keep up or beat them, I felt I was doing a pretty good job."

Now it's the 49ers who stand to benefit. For all the talk about the quarterbacks -- Hill, last year's starter, appears to be the front-runner -- it is Gore who should make San Francisco's offense go. Raye, the club's fifth offensive coordinator the past five years, stresses physical, mistake-free play, with an effective rushing attack -- OK, Frank Gore -- the lynchpin of the program.

Judging from what I heard and observed, I would expect Gore to touch the ball an average of 20-25 times a game, accumulate close to 2,000 yards in offense and try to hoist the 49ers on his shoulders. That won't be easy, given the recent history of the club, but he will have help. Tight end Vernon Davis, who was virtually ignored last year, is the first candidate that comes to mind.

In the end, though, everything comes back to Gore. He touches the ball more at practice than anyone on offense other than Hill and Smith, and why not? He has the keys to the ignition, and the 49ers don't go anywhere without looking to him first.

"He's going to be the guy," said Smith, back at quarterback after missing last season. "He's going to be the focal point of [the offense] because when we're running the ball well so much is going to come off of it."

Let's start with the running itself. A year ago the 49ers ranked 27th in rushing under coordinator Mike Martz, and threw or tried to throw 167 times more than they ran. That will change. Singletary and Raye are old school in their offensive approaches, with Singletary determined to win by beating down opponents, not out-finessing them.

"When we have a big back like Frank Gore and a big offensive line," Singletary said, "you want to be able to run the football; you want to be able to have a physical presence. The message we want to send is that we're going to be a physical football team, and we're coming. We're coming downhill."

That's pretty straightforward, and defensive tackles on the 49ers' schedule are advised to pack the Advil. When Singletary said his team is "coming downhill," he means he plans to point Gore at the middle of the defensive line and hammer away until he finds a hole.

The strategy is a sound one ... provided, of course, it works. First of all, it would force opponents to stack the box and open holes in the secondary. Second, it would allow the 49ers to throw off play-action. Third, it would bring Davis -- a potential weapon -- back into play. Fourth, it would protect quarterbacks who were sacked a league-high 55 times a year ago. Last, it might, just might, minimize the turnovers that crippled the team in 2008 when the 49ers had a league-high 35 giveaways.

"We have to be able to execute," said Singletary, who coached the Niners to victory in four of the final five games of 2008. "But I don't want to come across as, 'We're going to be three yards and a cloud of dust,' either. There has to be a balance as we go forward.

"When I say I want our football [team] to be physical, I think right away everyone thinks, 'Man, he wants to run the football.' But I mean physical when we're passing the football, as well. If you don't have the football I want to see you go and hit somebody. I think that's important for us to understand. The physicality is both on running and passing the football."

Seeing is believing, and Singletary hammers the message into his players daily with practices that feature pads and bone-rattling collisions. At one point this summer, he ran three straight days of nutcracker drills, and tell me the last time you heard of something like that happening with the San Francisco 49ers.

Gore explained that "it's all a mind thing," meaning that Singletary wants his players to be as tough mentally as they are physically. And maybe he's right. All I know is the 49ers are vastly different all the way around this season, starting with their approach to offense. Remember when the quarterback was the focal point of this team? Not anymore. Fantasy Football fanatics, you better move Frank Gore up on your boards.

"If people watch game film, watch behind [the line of scrimmage] and see the blocking and running and catching I do, they will be amazed," said Gore. "I want it to get back to when [people] talk about football and talk about a running back, my name will be the first guy.

"The thing I want to do more than anything is win, man, and the better I do the better the offense does. And the better the offense does the team does. The better Shaun does and the better Alex does, the better the receivers do. Once all of us get on one page it's going to be really hard to stop us."

Bookmark and Share

Agent: Beason could be ready for regular season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—The Carolina Panthers entered training camp with a new defensive coordinator, a more aggressive scheme and plenty of motivation in the locker room to erase memories of their late-season slide in 2008.

Halfway through the preseason, injuries are derailing their plans.

Jon Beason, Carolina’s middle linebacker, leading tackler and defensive leader, is the latest concern. He left Saturday’s exhibition loss to Miami with a left knee injury.

Beason’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said the injury was a strained medial collateral ligament, and he was optimistic his client could return for the start of the regular season. Rosenhaus made his comments late Sunday on his weekly appearance on WSVN-TV in Miami.

A team spokesman declined to reveal the results of a scheduled MRI exam. Rosenhaus and Panthers general manager Marty Hurney didn’t return messages. Beason also didn’t update his Twitter page or Web site.

Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu’s(notes) season was ended by a torn Achilles’ tendon earlier in training camp.
The lack of depth behind Beason, Carolina’s leading tackler the past two seasons, is glaring. Dan Connor(notes), who played three NFL games as a rookie before tearing his ACL last season, is his backup.

Beason said he stayed in the game for a couple of plays after he was injured.

“I was getting off a block and I’m not sure if someone came at me intentionally or if they fell on it,” Beason said. “I’m assuming someone fell on it.”

The Panthers used the 25th pick in the 2007 draft on Beason, who starred at Miami. He set a team record with 160 tackles his rookie year and was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season, when he had 159 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

Beason’s absence would provide another obstacle for coordinator Ron Meeks, who ran Indianapolis’ defense the past seven years. He took over a team that gave up 30 or more points in five of the final seven games last season, and was already facing a severe depth shortage on the defensive line.

Bookmark and Share

Colts WR Wayne will line up all over the field

There's no denying that Reggie Wayne will be in the spotlight once the Indianapolis Colts open the regular season.
Pinpointing the veteran receiver's location might be a bit more difficult.

"I hope I play a little bit of everything," Wayne said recently.

He is listed as the left-side starter, but on any given play Wayne might be split wide right, in the left slot or in the right slot. He also might be grouped in a "bunch" with Anthony Gonzalez and either Pierre Garcon or rookie Austin Collie.

It's getting as tough to pigeonhole Wayne as it has been to cover him.

"I love it. I do," Wayne said of being quarterback Peyton Manning's moving target. "Two years ago, the best year of my career."

That would be 2007. A knee injury forced right-side starter Marvin Harrison to miss 11 games and left Wayne as the only proven receiver. Limiting him to wide left would have made him an easy target for opposing defenses.

So the Colts moved Wayne here, there and everywhere. The result: 104 receptions, 1,510 yards -- both career highs -- and 10 touchdowns. He earned the second of three consecutive Pro Bowl berths.

"Nobody really understood where I was going to be," said Wayne, the team's first-round draft pick in 2001. "Nobody could have a bead on me. Ended up with 1,500 yards. Gotta love that."

Although Harrison worked primarily as the right-side starter from 1996 until he was released in February and Wayne generally has been the left-side starter, the team requires its receivers to learn the various positions. Versatility keeps defenses guessing and is important when injuries force lineup changes.

The general approach during preseason has had Wayne on the left and Gonzalez replacing Harrison on the right. The No. 3 position has been filled by Garcon, who has worked more split out wide, or Collie, who has taken more repetitions in the slot.

Once the regular season opens, everyone's positioning likely will depend upon whether Wayne is left or right, inside or outside.

Not every receiver is capable of remaining effective when he's required to move from side to side, or from outside to the slot.

"There's certain guys you get a feel for early on whether they can play inside or outside," Manning said.

Assistant head coach/receivers coach Clyde Christensen exposes every Colts receiver to every position.

"It doesn't take long to figure out, 'Hey, this guy just doesn't fit in the slot,' " Manning said. "Reggie is a guy that played some slot as a rookie, going way back, and due to some injuries and due to some situations."

One of the main reasons Wayne works out of the slot is to make it more difficult for defenses to double-team him.

In the slot, Manning said, "he's got more areas of the field he can get to. We're always trying to move him around and get him in the situations he can be the most effective."

Manning described Wayne as fearless when it comes to running routes across the middle of the field or blocking a linebacker.

"You've got to have big guts," Manning said. "He has that. And he's a physical blocker."

Wayne's eyes lit up when he was informed of Manning's assessment of his ability to be as effective inside as he has been outside.

"Hopefully," he said, "we'll be a little creative and razzle-dazzle a little bit."

Charting Wayne
A look at Reggie Wayne's eight-year career with the Colts:

Bookmark and Share

Wilfork trying to remain patient with cautious Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Standout nose tackle Vince Wilfork admitted to a small group of reporters Sunday that there has been no progress in his bid for a new contract with the New England Patriots.

He noted that the Patriots have cited the NFL's labor uncertainty (the potential of lockout in 2011 and no salary cap in 2010) as a major reason for the holdup in negotiations.

Wilfork, who has been good natured and has avoided criticizing the Patriots over his contract, admitted that he was skeptical about such assertions.

"It has been frustrating. But you are hearing it from the horse's mouth, I have not heard anything from my agent which to me means there has been no progress," Wilfork said. "There are 31 other teams in this league and you see a lot of deals getting done. Matt Cassel, Eli Manning and Albert Haynesworth all got new contracts. The labor situation affects everybody, not just the Patriots.

"On the other hand, the Patriots have a lot of guys up at the end of the year, so they are in a tough position. I see both sides of the issue."

Wilfork's comments seem to confirm earlier sentiments from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who said that the rules of the game had changed and the Patriots did not want to be at a competitive disadvantage in the future. He also warned that teams needed to be careful about additional expenditures because no one knows how things might turn out in the future. These comments were in response to questions about how the labor uncertainty affected long-term contracts.

The Patriots seem to have little doubt about Wilfork's ability. Earlier in training camp, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called him one of the best at his position in the league. Wilfork is the final year of a six-year contract and is scheduled to earn $2.2 million this season. Multiple agents, who did not want their names used because they did not want to seen as commenting on another player's negotiations, might have advised Wilfork to hold out if they were his agent. Drafted No. 21 overall in 2004, Wilfork signed a six-year deal, which is now prohibited under the 2006 collective bargaining agreement. Rookies drafted in the bottom half of the first round (17 to 32) cannot sign contracts longer than five years.

"It was probably a big mistake for him to sign that six-year deal," said one prominent NFL agent who is familiar with the situation. "You always want to sign a five-year deal because that will allow you to get to the second contract quicker, which is what agents and players live for."

The Patriots gave Wilfork a $2.5 million bonus for agreeing to the extra year. Agents, however, who have studied the issue argue that the added bonus fails to make up for the money that a player could have earned on the open market. This issue over a five- versus six-year deal was also true with tight end Ben Watson, the Patriots other 2004 first round pick who was represented by Tom Condon, one of the most successful agents in the NFL. Condon refused to let Watson sign a six-year contract and the Patriots refused to budge. Watson eventually found an agent who agreed to the six-year deal.

The Patriots have many important players who will be free agents at the end of this season including defensive lineman Richard Seymour, defensive lineman Jarvis Green, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and guard Logan Mankins.

Wilfork, who turns 28 in November, says he wants to focus on football and avoid disappointing the teammates who depend on him.

"I try to stay away from the contract stuff, because if I think about it, it becomes very frustrating," Wilfork said. "What I am concerned about most is my family and they are still happy even with all that is going on. When they are no longer happy that is when I pack up my bags and leave."

Bookmark and Share

Antrel Rolle on Brett Favre: 'I'm going at him'

Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle is licking his lips when he looks at the schedule and sees Brett Favre's Vikings due in Arizona on Dec. 6.

The memory of the 56-35 shellacking the Cardinals endured at the hands of Favre when he was with the Jets last year is fresh in his mind.

"I think Brett Favre is a good quarterback," Rolle told Arizona's Xtra 910 (listen here). "But this year when they come play us he's going to have his hands full because we definitely have to get him back for what he did to us last year.

"I'm going at him."

Favre had a career-high six touchdown passes against the Cardinals when they went to the Meadowlands on Sept. 28 last season.

Bookmark and Share

Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat

Who says ego has to be a bad thing? Chris Perez had a Freudian discussion with himself after his disastrous July 7 outing and is now in the midst of a 15 1/3-inning scoreless streak. The Cleveland Indians reliever has fanned 19 and walked only four in that time. He has appeared in three ninth-inning situations (no save chances) since joining Cleveland. It looks as if he's next in line to Kerry Wood. Perez's four-seamer has been effective when running inside against righties and away from left-handed bats. Maybe he could give sessions to depressed fantasy owners who have drafted him in the last two seasons.

Bookmark and Share

Perez overcomes bad start

KANSAS CITY, MO.: It's probably not a stretch to say that Chris Perez made one of the more memorable debuts in major-league history.

Two days after being acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals on June 27, Perez made his first appearance for the Indians. With a small gathering of 15,000-plus watching closely at Progressive Field, Perez trotted onto the field in the ninth inning with his team trailing the Chicago White Sox 2-0.

Perez quickly got the crowd's attention by hitting Alexei Ramirez with a pitch. Then he homed in on Jermaine Dye and nailed him, too. Before you knew it, the bases were loaded with nobody out, as Perez walked Jim Thome.
When the inning was over the Tribe trailed 6-0, and Perez was the talk of the talk shows.

Thinking back on his nightmarish beginning, Perez said: ''My first couple of outings, I was trying to do too much. I wanted to show everybody I could help out in the bullpen.

''I didn't realize it at first, but I was trying to throw 100 miles an hour, which I can't do. But I can throw 95. After that outing in Chicago I was thinking, 'This isn't working.' ''

That was two months ago. The way Perez has pitched since then, it seems longer. Erase that first outing from the data bank, and Perez has compiled a 1.08 ERA in 17 games, giving up two runs, nine hits and striking out 21 in 162/3 innings.

In his past 15 appearances going into Monday night's game against the Kansas City Royals, Perez has refused to allow a run, yielding only five hits in 151/3 innings.

''After that Chicago outing, I figured I had one foot out the door,'' Perez said. ''I don't care who you are traded for, if you don't get guys out, you're out the door. So that streak has helped me a lot.''

Perez's new bosses, including manager Eric Wedge, aren't surprised by his success. He has a live arm and likes to get the ball. The hurdle he had to overcome was avoiding walks.

''Something just clicked in the last month or two,'' Perez said. ''I've been zoning in on the target and hitting it. My mechanics feel good. I'm repeating my delivery. That's one of the things I struggled with last year.''

Perez became St. Louis' closer last August because of injuries and non performance of a couple of his bullpen brethren. When the season was over, he was told he would compete for the same job in spring training. But when Perez missed a couple of weeks in camp with a shoulder injury, his rivals passed him by.

''I just feel like they thought I couldn't do the job,'' he said. ''In their defense, I wasn't pitching like this.''

Perez has not abandoned his ambition to be a closer.

''That's the goal sometime in my career,'' he said. ''It's probably not going to be this year or next, because we have Kerry Wood. But that's what I'm shooting for.''

Bookmark and Share

Brewers' Braun starts six-run inning with homer

WASHINGTON — Ryan Braun hit a two-run home run to jumpstart a six-run sixth inning, and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Washington Nationals 7-1 Monday.

The Brewers sent 11 batters to the plate in an inning that helped them take three of four from the Nationals after being swept by Pittsburgh to start the road trip.

Jody Gerut also homered and had three RBIs for Milwaukee. Gerut had gone 90 at-bats without a home run before his solo shot in the eighth.

Yovani Gallardo (12-10) gave up one run on four hits and four walks in five innings. He struck out eight.

Nationals starter Collin Balester (1-4) lasted just 1 1-3 innings in his last start Tuesday against the Rockies, the shortest stint of his career. He started off strong against the Brewers and had a career-high six strikeouts, but the end result was his third loss in as many starts.

The right-hander held the Brewers hitless until Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee hit back-to-back singles with one out in the fourth.

He took the mound for the sixth inning holding a 1-0 lead, but things turned around in a hurry.

Frank Catalanatto led off with a double then Braun crushed a first-pitch fastball deep into the left-field seats.
Balester gave way to Jason Bergmann after giving up another single to Fielder and walking McGehee. Bergmann walked Mike Cameron and gave up an RBI single to Jason Kendall before being pulled in favor of Ron Villone, who promptly allowed a two-run single to Gerut.

Milwaukee sent nine batters to the plate before Washington got an out, and even then Felipe Lopez earned an RBI when he hit into a fielder's choice.

The Nationals eked out their only run in the second. Willie Harris led off with a double. Alberto Gonzalez followed with a strikeout, but a wild pitch allowed him to reach first and Harris went to third. Harris then scored on a fielder's choice by Wil Nieves.

Bookmark and Share

NEW Moss Brothers Wallpaper

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

Bookmark and Share

Source: Beason won’t need surgery, hopes to be ready for Philadelphia

Jon Beason’s knee injury is not serious and he won’t need surgery, according to two sources close to the All-Pro middle linebacker. Beason is hoping to be ready for the regular season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, although that remains up in the air.

One source said Beason’s injury ”isn’t serious” and another added that “he won’t need surgery” and that he’s ”shooting for the season opener.”

While the source wouldn’t say exactly what the injury is, is reporting Beason has a sprained MCL in his left knee. That’s the same injury that has sidelined WLB Thomas Davis for most of training camp. Depending on the severity of the injury that can be anywhere from two to six weeks which still could put Beason’s availability for the season opener at risk.

Beason said after the game he didn’t think he tore his ACL, an injury that almost certainly would have ended his season.

Panthers PR director Charlie Dayton said the team won’t be releasing any information on the injury until Monday at the earliest. (At which time, I predict, Panthers coach John Fox will stand before the media and declare, “It’s a knee.
He’s day-to-day.” I know, I’m really going out on a limb here.)

Obviously Beason won’t play in the final two preseason games. 

Bookmark and Share

William Joseph Performs Well

William Joseph had a solid performance in the Raiders’ 21 - 20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Joseph had some nice plays, batting a ball down on 4th down to end a 49er drive and shutting down an end around for -6 yards. Cable cited the play of depth chart-challenged defensive tackle William Joseph as impressive

Bookmark and Share

Baraka Atkins Plays Well in Win Over Broncos

Baraka Atkins: Consistently disruptive. Played the straight man to Reed's half sack. You see the team rotating Atkins in with the first unit, and I think part of that was to try and get more speed on the field.

Bookmark and Share

DJ Williams Blitzing More

D.J. Williams, who was not often set free in the pass rush previously in his career, showed what kind of potential he may have in that role for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Williams, coming untouched, sacked Matt Hasselbeck on a third-and-8 late in the first quarter.

Bookmark and Share

Calais Looking Sharp

Still concerned about the loss of defensive end Antonio Smith to free agency? Don’t be. Second-year pro Calais Campbell looks like he’ll be more than an able replacement. Campbell, who had seven tackles against Pittsburgh, sacked Rivers in the first quarter and played well again.

Bookmark and Share

The other side of Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis has built a reputation as a perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker because of his ability as a run stuffer. The Ravens have credited him with more than 100 tackles in 11 of his 13 NFL seasons. He's been over 200 tackles three times.

The only two seasons Lewis failed to amass 100 tackles ended abruptly with October injuries. He collected 85 tackles in five games in 2002 before a shoulder injury ended that season. Then he collected 77 tackles in six games in 2005 before a torn hamstring ended that season.

So Lewis has been a dominant player on first and second downs – the traditional running downs – with an average of 12.2 tackles per game in his career. But few linebackers in history have played third downs as well as Lewis, either.

His 28 career interceptions rank eighth all time among linebackers. He has returned those interceptions 464 yards and scored two touchdowns. He has two more interceptions in the postseason for 54 yards and a score.

"My career has always been around the football, one way or another," Lewis said. "That's my philosophy. When the ball's snapped, find it. Whether it's running to the ball or catching it. Good things always happen to linebackers who get to the football."

Lewis has intercepted Troy Aikman, Kurt Warner, Steve McNair, Mark Brunell, Jeff Garcia and Eli Manning. He intercepted Oakland's Jeff Hostetler in his first NFL game in 1996 and has three two-interception games in his career. He finished among the league leaders with six picks in 2003.

Lewis says no interception stands out.

"They all do," Lewis said. "I can remember all of them because the linebacker always has to be in the right place to intercept a pass."

Bookmark and Share

Brock Shines

Berlin rebounded from an injury with a terrific performance in the Rams 20 - 13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.  He went 5/8 for 71 yards and a TD. Berlin is fighting for the third-string QB spot.

Bookmark and Share

Reed: "It's still sore"

Speaking for the first time this camp with a group of local reporters, Ed Reed said he still hasn't fully recovered from a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder, which bothered him throughout last season.

"It's still sore," Reed said. "It still is what it is at this point."

The Pro Bowl safety has looked healthier and more confident in his tackling ability than last year. After not playing in any preseason game last year, he has already played two series in the preseason opener this year.

Asked about the adjustment of playing with that soreness, Reed said: "Just got to be smarter. Thinking about my son and the longevity of life, that keeps you playing differently."

Bookmark and Share

Working at nickel

Tanard Davis played nickel back against the Cowboys because of injuries to starter Vincent Fuller and rookie Ryan Mouton, and had his share of struggles.

“We kept things basic,” said Fisher, adding that the defense was competing against a Cowboys offense, which game-planned. “I think anybody who was in the nickel back may have had some difficulties because of the types of things we were doing.”

Cowboys backup quarterbacks Jon Kitna (9-for-12, 111 yards) and Stephen McGee (5-for-6, 52) each threw a touchdown pass in the second half.

Fisher said he was glad Cowboys Coach Wade Phillips maintained a balanced offense in the second half because it tested the reserve defensive backs.

“When they got up, they could have just handed it off,” Fisher said. “Instead, they kept throwing it which gave us an opportunity to evaluate them.”

Bookmark and Share

To be successful, Bears don't need Devin Hester to be a No. 1 receiver

We have approached this whole Devin Hester thing all wrong.

We measure everything Hester does against the high standard the Bears have set for him, the one reinforced on the first day of training camp when coach Lovie Smith reiterated, "Devin can be a No. 1 receiver in this league."

Physically, maybe that's true. But announcing such lofty expectations obscured the fact that Hester doesn't have to be a No. 1 receiver for him to still play a major, valuable role in the Bears' offense. Expecting Hester to do for the Bears what Steve Smith does for the Panthers, to use just one example often mentioned at Halas Hall, just isn't realistic or fair to Hester.

Furthermore, the Bears no longer need Hester to be a so-called No. 1 receiver the way they might have when this experiment began at the beginning of the 2008 season. So much has dramatically changed about the Bears' offense, yet the rhetoric about Hester hasn't. But it should, immediately, for Hester's own good.

He is a deep threat, an exceptional one at that, and the Bears continuing to force this No. 1 receiver notion only will make Hester's contributions suffer in comparison. He caught two passes for 14 yards in Saturday's 17-3 exhibition win over the Giants and the Bears' passing offense never has looked more potentially dangerous.

So far the focus after every preseason game, in regards to Hester, has been on what he hasn't done. Against Buffalo, he didn't go after an interception aggressively enough. Against the Giants, he cut inside when Jay Cutler threw outside and then couldn't catch up to a deep pass Cutler overthrew that would have been a 91-yard TD.

"We'll get that eventually," Hester said with a smile. "We're making progress."

Scrutinizing every step of that progress is understandable because of what the Bears have told us about Hester and the implied promise about that optimism. He even has a complex contract structured to reward his accomplishments as a receiver more than as the elite return man he is.

One day, Hester may develop into that 85-catch, 1,200-yard receiver that accompanies the No. 1-receiver tag. But, objectively, that day does not look close. Nor does it have to be this season now that Cutler is their quarterback.

The Bears just don't need Hester to be the focal point of their passing game, and the more they try to push that issue the sorrier they will be. They don't need Hester to catch more than 60 passes in 2009. They don't really need a No. 1 wide receiver at all if Hester and Earl Bennett put up numbers usually associated with complementary receivers -- numbers Hester is more than capable of producing.

Yes, he and Cutler have a ways to go to establish a better rapport. But even if Hester continues to zig while Cutler zags, the threat of Hester's speed stretches the field in a way that helps every running play or underneath pass route.

Tight end Greg Olsen, based on observations during training camp, will be Cutler's primary target in the Bears' passing game. Running back Matt Forte looks ready for an even bigger season because defenses no longer can stack the box. Cutler, if you haven't noticed, will make Hester and every other receiver better due to mobility that makes it easier for them to get open.

Those new realities make designations unnecessary for Bears wide receivers. The Bears don't have a Terrell Owens- or Randy Moss-type, so the committee approach makes more sense for a quarterback as gifted as Cutler in finding the open man.

"Every single [receiver] is raising their game," Cutler said.

Indeed, no Bears player has improved more than Bennett. Brandon Rideau and Devin Aromashodu have earned Cutler's confidence. The group that needed to show up Saturday finally did.

"We receivers put a lot of pressure on ourselves in the first preseason game to make plays that we didn't make and are capable of making," Hester said.

No receiver has been under more of that pressure than Hester. Once people stop worrying about how close Hester is to being a No. 1 receiver, the sooner he will start being appreciated more for what he is instead of isn't.

Bookmark and Share

No progress with Vince Wilfork contract talks

FOXBOROUGH – Nose tackle Vince Wilfork and the Patriots have not made progress on a contract extension, Wilfork said today in the team’s locker room.

Wilfork was asked if any of the contract offers the team has made were enticing enough to have him consider it a realistic possibility.

"No," he responded.

Wilfork was also asked about remarks made by owner Robert Kraft regarding the Patriots’ approach when it comes to contract extensions with the uncertain labor forecast ahead.

On Aug. 11, Kraft said that while the Patriots don’t have a “hard and fast” rule about striking contract extensions, the team is treading carefully because “we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we can be penalized for making poor decisions now, when we don’t know what the rules are.’’

Wilfork, who called his contract situation “pretty frustrating,'' said he does not buy that stance.

“Not at all,” he said. “There are 31 other teams out there and a lot of them are making moves. They’re in the same situation that we’re in. I understand what he’s saying, but at the same token, it’s not stopping the other teams from making the moves and what they have to do.

“Trust me, I understand where they are coming from. We have a lot of guys on this team that are going to [have contracts expire after the season] that are pretty good players. I know that is pretty tough for [the team]. At the same time, the labor situation is all over the NFL.

“I see 31 other teams out there, and I see deals done all the time. So when you come and talk to me about the uncertainty of the future of the NFL, I understand what you are saying. But there are 31 other teams out there, guys getting locked up. You have guys out there getting contracts done. It’s not like nobody is getting contracts done.

“I see both sides. I can truly sit here and say ‘I see where the organization is coming from’ but at the same time, they see what I'm seeing, other teams are getting deals done also.”

Bookmark and Share

McGahee primed for big season

I have a feeling that the much-maligned Willis McGahee is primed for his best season yet in a Baltimore uniform.

McGahee knows his big salary will be on the chopping block in the offseason with the Ravens looking to create much-needed cap space and with a lot of depth at the running back position on the roster.

I know that McGahee's laziness and carelessness has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but I really think changes are in store for the 2009 season.

He is healthy for possibly the first time in his career as a Raven and might be in the best shape of his life. He seems dedicated and focused on reclaiming the starting job, helping the team win and proving that he is one of the NFL's premiere running backs.

I'm not sure that McGahee will end up with a huge statistical season because of the presence of Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain, but I think he will make the most of his opportunities.

McGahee, along with the stable of running backs and a promising offensive line, should give the Ravens one of the top running attacks in the NFL.

Such a strong effort from McGahee this year would make things very interesting for the Ravens in the offseason when it comes to what they should do with their veteran running back.

Bookmark and Share

Cutler-Olsen era ready to take off

Saturday night’s preseason game against the Giants will provide a much more accurate glimpse of what Jay Cutler can mean to the Bears’ offense.


Because Cutler is expected to have TE Greg Olsen in the lineup after he missed the preseason opener last week with a minor hip injury. By failing to bring in a veteran wide receiver, the Bears have practically guaranteed that Olsen will be a focal point of the passing game, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

As long as he stays healthy, Olsen should catch 70-80 passes and could threaten the 1,000-yard mark, which is rare for a tight end. Olsen is talented enough to put up big numbers in any offense, but he might wind up being the Bears’ go-to guy by default.

Hester has improved as a route runner, but he has not shown the ability to defeat double coverage, and Cutler doesn’t have the faith in him that he does in Olsen, who is not only a big target but has soft hands and the ability to stretch a defense, especially if he winds up matched against a linebacker.

Cutler and Olsen have already become fast friends off the field, and tonight should be the beginning of a beautiful friendship on the field.

Bookmark and Share

Testaverde Lowers the Price of his Home

Football player Vinny Testaverde has dropped the price on his home in Oyster Bay Cove. It was first listed at $6.995 million and is now listed at $3.995 million.

Bookmark and Share

Burrell provides punch as Rays outlast Orioles

ST. PETERSBURG - If the Rays are to make the run they need in the season's final weeks, they'll have to get a lot more out of Pat Burrell and B.J. Upton than they have most of this season.

In that regard, Tuesday's 5-4 victory against the Orioles was a positive sign for two of their most maligned players.
Upton pounded out three hits, finishing a double short of the cycle as he cracked his first home run since June 30, and Burrell had a pair of hits including a homer after being serenaded by boos from the home crowd when he struck out in his first at-bat.

Between them, Upton and Burrell either scored or drove in all but one of the Rays' runs as Tampa Bay kept inching toward real forward momentum by taking the series opener against the last-place Orioles.

Having both of them contributing at levels unseen this year undoubtedly would provide the biggest boost, but Tuesday seemed a bigger step for Upton. As Manager Joe Maddon noted, Burrell had been chugging along lately, his average inching up and the home runs coming here and there even though he has never really caught fire.

Pat's been steadily looking like that; B.J. has not," Maddon said. "That's a nice little moment for him tonight, and it's all about confidence. If he just gets his confidence going right now and gets that feeling and he goes up there and he knows he can drive a ball, it's going to make all the difference in the world."

Bookmark and Share