Jimmy Graham absent at OTAs on Thursday, Goes Sailing Instead

One of the most notable absences during New Orleans Saints practice on Thursday wasn't much of a surprise. Tight end Jimmy Graham is currently in the middle of a simmering contract battle expected to last into the summer.

So it was no surprise that Graham was absent during the Saints' third practice of organized team activities on Thursday. The session was the first the media were allowed to watch.

Graham, who is currently under the franchise tag, is not under contract. He has been training on his own and hasn't been at any of the Saints' voluntary workouts.

While the Saints were practicing, Graham tweeted a picture of himself on a sailboat.

"Suns out Guns out," Graham tweeted.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who went through a contract battle himself in 2012, smiled and laughed when asked about the tweet.

"There's no doubt in my mind that a deal will get done at some point," Brees said. "It's part of the process and we've had conversations about that. I know that he'll be ready when it is time to come in. I'm not worried about Jimmy at this point. I'm confident he'll be just fine."

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Ryan Braun making smooth transition to right

MILWAUKEE — Now leading off for the Brewers ... outfielder Ryan Braun?

It could have happened in spring training. But the Milwaukee slugger’s suggestion to manager Ron Roenicke went nowhere, giving Braun one less adjustment to make after returning from a 65-game drug suspension that ended his 2013 season early.

Two months into 2014 and things are going just fine for the Brewers and their star outfielder. Milwaukee leads the NL Central, while Braun is hitting .315 and making a smooth transition from left to right field. He’s even third in among NL outfielders in All-Star balloting as of Wednesday.

“Most of those things ... seem to be a result of team success but I think the better our team does, the higher likelihood we have of having multiple All-Stars. The fact that we’re off to a good start is encouraging in that regard,” Braun said. “But other than, I don’t pay much attention to it.”

Fans are still clearly paying attention to Braun. Just take a take a look around during a typical game at Miller Park at all the fans wearing No. 8 Braun shirts. They offered rousing applause after Braun’s hard bouncer down the right-field line for a double drove in two runs in the second inning of an 8-3 win Wednesday over the Baltimore Orioles.

On the road, Braun gets his share of boos. The 2011 NL MVP expected nothing less upon his return from his suspension from the Biogenesis doping scandal.
Braun had seven homers and 23 RBIs going into this weekend’s three-game homestand against the Chicago Cubs despite missing two weeks with a right oblique injury. The lineup has been clicking especially the five games since Braun was moved to the No. 2 hole as manager Ron Roenicke sought to spark the team’s slumbering bats. Braun is hitting .455 (10 for 22) with five runs during that period.

“I think it’s advantageous to get your best hitters as many plate appearances as possible, so if I’m hitting second I get 15 more at-bats or whatever it is over the course of the season than I would if I’m hitting third,” Braun said. “So I think it’s in our best interest as a team. We’ve certainly swung the bats well over the last 6-7 days, so it’s a good thing. So far, so good.”

The move to right has gone well, too. The switch was done in part to give left fielder Khris Davis regular playing time, and he has rewarded the Brewers of late by hitting homers in three straight games.

Braun has looked comfortable tracking down flies on the run and playing angles from his new vantage point in right. He looks right at home in Miller Park, and Braun said it’s a matter of getting used to the position as he goes from stop to stop on the road.

The move, along with the gloves flashed by infield newcomers Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay, has boosted a defense that also includes Gold Glove-winner Carlos Gomez in center and the speedy Jean Segura at short.

“Overall I think we’re playing really good defense,” Roenicke said. “We’ve had sloppy games — I think everybody does — but overall I think we’ve done a great job of picking up the pitching staff.”

Pitching, defense and the emergence of Gomez, Segura and catcher Jonathan Lucroy have helped the offense withstand the losses of third baseman Aramis Ramirez (hamstring) and Braun for spurts due to injuries. Braun in April was also bothered by the lingering effects of a right hand injury from last season.

In one respect, the Brewers are less reliant on Braun — though they’re clearly much better when he’s playing. Milwaukee is 22-14 when Braun is in the lineup, and 10-8 when he’s not.

It might make a fan wonder what would have happened if Roenicke heeded Braun’s suggestion back in spring training to lead off. Braun recalled leading off a couple times in Triple-A.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done it in the big leagues that I can remember,” Braun said. “I want to do it, though. I think I could be a really good leadoff hitter.”
He’ll have to settle for second for now.

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Yankees C prospect Peter O'Brien hits 19th home run

Yankees catching prospect went 1-for-4 with his minor-league leading 19th home run for Double-A Trenton on Wednesday.

O'Brien has continued to hit for power since his promotion from High-A Tampa, but his batting average has taken a dive. He is hitting .247/.267/.658 with nine home runs and a .188 BABIP in 18 games for Double-A Trenton. For the season, he has six walks and 45 strikeouts in 194 plate appearances, so he may need to work on his approach before a promotion is a possibility. Primarily, he has been a designated hitter for Trenton, occasionally spelling Gary Sanchez behind the plate and making a few appearances in right field.

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Texans remain silent as Andre Johnson misses second OTA

The Texans continue to say little about absent wide receiver Andre Johnson, who missed his second OTA Wednesday.

Asked if he had spoken to the team about Johnson, coach Bill O’Brien didn’t budge.

“I’ll never tell you what I talk to the team about, with all due respect,” O’Brien said at NRG Stadium. “Whatever I talk to the team about is between myself and the team and that’s the way it’ll always be.”

Deandre Hopkins, the Texans’ primary receiver without Johnson, was equally reluctant to discuss his missing teammate.

“I don’t want to speak on that. I’m sorry,” Hopkins said.

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Vince Wilfork Limited Participant in OTA's

Eight months after tearing his Achilles tendon on that fateful Sunday night in Atlanta, New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork laced up his cleats and returned for organized team activities (OTA's).

The 32-year-old, 325-pounder was a limited participant during practice, which may mean doing as little as stretching and walking through drills. However, given the questions surrounding the big fella's ability to recover from such a devastating injury, at his age and weight, having him out on the field is a positive sign.

Around the same time that New England signed cornerback Darrelle Revis, Wilfork's return to Foxborough was in serious doubt and it looked as if that week four win in Atlanta, where he was carted off the field in the first half, may have been his last game as a Patriot.

Fortunately, the two sides came to an agreement on a $23 million extension that has the potential to keep Wilfork in New England for three more seasons. The extension is heavily based on per-game bonuses and how many snaps he plays but that won't keep big Vince from celebrating.

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Chris Johnson: Let's get Andre Johnson

Running back Chris Johnson sent New York Jets fans into a Twitter frenzy Tuesday night, tweeting that the Jets should trade for disgruntled Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson.

A Johnson & Johnson attack for the Jets? Catchy. For obvious reasons, owner Woody Johnson probably likes the sound of it, but this is strictly fantasy football chatter at this point.

It's highly unlikely the Texans would trade Johnson, their best offensive weapon and arguably the most accomplished player in franchise history. As promised, he skipped a voluntary practice Tuesday, intensifying the speculation about his future in Houston. Johnson, reportedly unhappy with the direction of the team, recently wondered if he's still a fit.

The Jets spent big money to sign Eric Decker, but they could still use another quality wideout -- and they don't come much better than Johnson. Despite a terrible quarterback situation, he caught 109 passes for 1,407 yards last season. Johnson is a pro's pro and would help the Jets on many levels.

But keep dreaming, Jets fans.

The cold reality is that Johnson turns 33 in July and he's still owed $33.5 million over the next three seasons -- a huge number even for the Jets, who have about $23 million in cap room. For cap purposes, it makes no sense for the Texans to trade Johnson. Also remember that new coach Bill O'Brien is a Bill Belichick disciple, which means he probably won't be eager to accommodate the selfish desire of one player if it hurts the team. And a trade would hurt the Texans because there's no way they'd get fair-market value in return for the effective, but aging, receiver. If they did decide to move him, it would make sense to send him out of the AFC.

Wednesday's Jets practice is open to the media, which means Johnson can expect a lot of questions about his tweet. It also wouldn't be a surprise if he receives a message from John Idzik, who may tell Johnson to leave the GMing to him. After all, Johnson's job is to accumulate yards, not players.

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Eric Winston ready to make visits

Two of the last well-known veterans remaining on the free-agent market may soon have new NFL homes.

Right tackle Eric Winston and cornerback Drayton Florence are both expected to visit with interested teams next week, a source told FOX Sports 1. The suitors’ names are being kept confidential at their request, the source said.

Winston, 30, has started 119 consecutive games dating back to his 2006 rookie season with the Houston Texans. He was Arizona’s starting right tackle in 2013 and recently was elected NFL Players Association president.

Interest in quality NFL veterans such as Winston and Florence should pick up across the league once a June 1 deadline passes pertaining to compensatory draft selections.

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RSP Nutrition Presents NFL All Pros Jon Beason and Antrel Rolle

NEW YORK — Award winning sports nutrition company, RSP Nutrition, and Natural Body Inc. of Ozone Park, NY, are bringing All-Pro NFL stars Jon Beason and Antrel Rolle on location for a meet and greet with fans.

Jon Beason and Antrel Rolle will be meeting fans on May 31, 2014 starting at 1pm at Natural Body Inc., located at 107-06 Crossbay Blvd, Ozone Park, NY, 11417. RSP Nutrition representatives will also be in attendance providing samples, and information about their products. There will be event day specials on all RSP Nutrition Products. There is no charge to attend this event.

Another fellow Miami Hurricane football player and graduate, Francesco Zampogna, RSP Nutrition’s Director of Business Development and former University of Miami student athlete says, “We are excited to be partnering with Natural Body Inc. to bring some of our best athletes out to such a great event that inspires health and fitness in the community.”

RSP Nutrition is happy to partner with Natural Body Inc. in order to bring Beason and Rolle to meet their fans. Thanks to the quality of their products and increased brand awareness, RSP Nutrition has vaulted to the forefront of the sports nutrition world over the past year. It is because of this support, that RSP Nutrition is pleased to bring this event to Natural Body Inc.

For more information about the event, please visit the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/278152059031061/, or call Natural Body Inc. at 718-848-8144.

About RSP Nutrition
RSP Nutrition, based out of Miami Beach, FL, is one of the fastest growing companies in the sports nutrition industry. RSP Nutrition’s mission is to manufacture premium quality, safe and effective nutritional supplements designed for athletes, fitness enthusiasts and everyday people seeking to live healthier, more active lifestyles. It is their commitment to this mission that has established RSP Nutrition on the cutting edge of the sports nutrition field, and garnered acclaim from industry giants such as Bodybuilding.com. For more information on RSP Nutrition, visit www.rspnutrition.com, or call at 877-814-2544.

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Colts OC Believes Chudzinski Will Help

INDIANAPOLIS – There were some eyebrows raised when the Indianapolis Colts added former Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski to their staff in February.

Chudzinski has an extensive offensive background, but the Colts already have Pep Hamilton as their offensive coordinator.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano cleared the air on it during the NFL combine in late February.

"Pep's our offensive coordinator, period," Grigson said at the time. "You know those questions are going to come. We talked to Pep. Chuck talked to Pep. It comes from a comfort standpoint where Chuck has known Chud and what he's made of forever. Here's a guy that has head coaching on his résumé."

Hamilton said Chudzinski, who spent two seasons as offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, will only help them.

"We haven’t had much time to talk ball," Hamilton said. "He’s busy getting comfortable in his new role with Chuck. It’s one of those deals where we have a veteran offensive staff and we were able to accomplish a lot as a unit last year and we’re going to build on what we started before. I think when the time comes about we can pick his brain on some things that will help us."

Chudzinski was fired after one season in Cleveland after the Browns went 4-12 last season. You can expect the Colts coaching staff to spend a lot of time talking to Chudzinski about the AFC North since that's the division they face this season.

"He’s got that experience," Hamilton said. "He coached against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens and those teams last year."

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Shane Larkin Will Play In Summer League

Point guards Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel are two of the players who will represent the Dallas Mavericks in the Samsung NBA Summer League, which will be played from July 11-21 in Las Vegas.

The games will be played at the Thomas & Mack Center -- and at the COX Pavilion -- on the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

A total of 23 NBA franchises, plus a team of select players from the NBA Development League, will compete in a tournament-style format. Each squad is guaranteed to play at least five games.

Both Larkin and Mekel had their rookie seasons interrupted by injuries this past year. Larkin underwent right ankle surgery on July 16, while Mekel had right knee surgery on Jan. 17.

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Yasmani Grandal: (Hand) X-Rays Negative

Grandal's X-ray on his left hand came back negative, MLB.com's Corey Brock reports.

He won't play Wednesday and the team is off Thursday, so for now he's just considered day-to-day. The news about the X-rays is excellent, because it appeared he could have broken his hand, which would have left the Padres in a rough spot after just trading Nick Hundley.

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Ryan Braun third in NL outfield all-star voting

Brewers rightfielder Ryan Braun, who wasn't voted to the National League all-star team in 2013 while battling injuries as well as a PED investigation, is third among outfielders in fan balloting in the first results announced Tuesday.

Many wondered how Braun would fare in fan balloting this year after finally admitting to PED use last season and drawing a season-ending suspension on July 22.

In the early going, with 446,780 votes, he is third behind Colorado's Charlie Blackmon (549,394) and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen (467,378) in the outfield balloting. Carlos Gomez ranks sixth in the outfield voting.

The first three vote-getters go to the All-Star Game on Tuesday, July 15 in Minneapolis.

Braun was the leading vote-getter in 2012 among all NL players before having a five-year streak of being elected end last year.

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Danny Valencia plans on returning for series in Toronto

KANSAS CITY -- Royals third baseman Danny Valencia, who has been sidelined since Saturday with a left hand sprain, is confident he'll be ready to play in the upcoming four-game series at Toronto.

"Absolutely," Valencia said. "No doubt about it."

Valencia will have an extensive workout Thursday at Rogers Centre and doesn't expect any complications.

"I feel a lot better than I did a couple of days ago," Valencia said. "There has definitely been progress. I don't have any of the pain I had before. I'm looking forward to getting back on the field."

Manager Ned Yost will monitor Valencia's workout before deciding how to fill out his lineup card in the four-game set.

"If his hand is fine, there's a big possibility that he'll play," Yost said. "I think -- and it's only what I think -- that he'll play in the Toronto series."

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No Apparent Mobility Issues For Steelers LB Sean Spence

While all of the talk Tuesday about the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers centered around rookie Ryan Shazier working with the starters during the first OTA practice of the 2014 season, it was an equally important day for another young inside linebacker.

Sean Spence, the Steelers third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, was back on the field with his teammates once again and according to Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times, the Miami product didn’t appear to have any mobility problems nor did he need to wear a knee brace.

Spence, who suffered nerve damage in his knee when he injured it in the 2012 preseason finale, seemed to be on track to play late last season before injuring a finger during his first practice back. That injury required surgery and he was placed on injured reserve as a result.

As for the Steelers adding Shazier this year during the draft, Spence looks forward to working with him as well as competing against him.

“It’s all a friendly competition,” said Spence. “He’s here to better himself, I’m here to better myself. If he needs help, I’ll help him.”

Moving forward, no news is probably good news when it comes to Spence. At this point, he’s just another player on the 90 man roster that’s competing for a spot.

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Cowboys might be intersted in Jonathan Vilma

The Dallas Cowboys are looking at another tough start to this upcoming season as they may be without star linebacker Sean Lee for even more time following his latest injury at Cowboys OTAs. Lee may be lost for the season and if not the season, a large portion of it with a knee injury and the Cowboys are bracing for the worst.

Adam Schefter doesn’t have an update on Lee’s status just yet but he does have some input on who they might target should Lee be lost as is expected. According to Schefter, former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is healthy and ready to play, which means he could be an option for the Cowboys in the immediate future.

Of course, this is all assuming that the Cowboys lose Lee which is an absolute worst case scenario for them. Vilma isn’t a bad pick up though and may have even been an alright veteran signing even if Lee hadn’t suffered this knee injury.

Vilma was a leader with the Saints and knows what a defense needs to get fired up. He may have lost a step with age, but he’ll likely be walking more steps on two legs than Sean Lee will this season which by default makes him a better option. It’s just a perk that he happens to be one of the better defensive veterans floating around in free agency still.

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Jury Selection Underway For Sean Taylor Murder Suspect

SeanTaylor copy
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Jury selection got underway Tuesday for Jason Mitchell, the man accused of taking part in a 2007 burglary which led to the murder of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor in his South Florida home.

Mitchell, along with suspects Charles Wardlow and Timothy Brown, are all charged with first-degree murder and face possible life in prison.

The three are accused of taking part in the burglary along with the convicted shooter, Eric Rivera Jr., and a fifth man who pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors said they tried to burglarize the Pro Bowl player’s house in an effort to make off with tens of thousands of dollars in cash they believed they would find there.

The group also mistakenly believed that no one would be home, because Taylor had a football game that Thanksgiving weekend. An injury, however, kept him away from the game.

Rivera was sentenced to 57 years in prison after he was convicted at trial of second-degree murder and armed burglary, although he denied shooting Taylor.
Taylor was an all-pro safety with the Redskins who also starred at the University of Miami.

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Sam Shields Workout

GREEN BAY—The Packers’ offseason workout program has been going full steam since April 22, with the team’s new weight room and conditioning area in the southeast corner of Lambeau Field becoming a busy place.

Packers.com recently trailed veteran cornerback Sam Shields through his strength and conditioning workout to provide this rundown, and an inside look at a piece of an NFL training regimen.

7:29 a.m. – Shields arrives at the CRIC (conditioning, rehab and instruction center) and begins to loosen his leg, hip and back muscles with a floor roller.

7:34 – A more involved warm-up begins by stepping over and ducking under a series of hurdles, going both directions. That’s followed by a series of stretches: leaning and balancing with one foot on an incline, working the shoulder only from a push-up stance, wrapping a band around the ankles and hopping into a squat, and squatting while raising a dumbbell with one hand, each side. The entire circuit is repeated.

7:42 – Heading into the weight room, a set of five power shrugs is done with a 135-pound barbell, followed by a series of neck exercises wearing a baseball batting helmet with a weight plate screwed to the top. This sequence is repeated twice, boosting the subsequent power shrugs to 225 pounds.

7:51 – The next sequence of exercises involves the dumbbell bench press, then balancing the body on an elevated board in a raised push-up position for 30 seconds, and finally rolling a small medicine ball around the pectoral muscles. The series is done three times total, beginning with 12 reps with 75-pound dumbbells, then 10 reps with 80-pounders and eight reps with 85-pounders.

8:01 – Next is a rowing lift, followed by rolling a big medicine ball underneath the back of the shoulders and then stretching the lats and hips by recoiling the body into an explosive pose while hanging onto a heavy strap suspended from an elevated bar. For the rowing part of the sequence, Shields does 12 reps at 230 pound on a high-row machine, then 10 reps at 150 pounds on a low-row machine.

8:12 – In a split stance with one leg elevated, a pair of dumbbells is curled and then pressed above the head, five reps. Then five more reps after switching legs. Finally, a standing row is done, a set with each arm. Weight room work concludes at 8:15 a.m. and a short break is taken before heading to the Don Hutson Center for the running portion of the workout.

8:28 – Warm-ups are done in 20-yard increments, followed by a width-of-the-field sprint.

8:32 – A sequence of exercises starts by running in an S pattern the width of the field, coming to balance on the other side. Leg swings are done along the wall, followed by a short get-up sprint (begun by lying stomach-down on the ground) and then a forward and backward crawl while wearing a resistance harness around the waist. The entire circuit is done four times and is finished at 8:46 a.m.

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Knowshon Moreno opens Miami Dolphins OTA’s as starting running back

The Miami Dolphins have a collection of running backs on their roster, so it was a little odd when they showed interest in veteran free agent Knowshon Moreno. Even more strange? They actually decided to sign the running back, adding to their amass of backfield talent.

Miami didn’t likely sign Moreno to sit on the bench or be a change of pace back, at least not out of the gates, but the team seemed to confirm his starting status on Tuesday afternoon when he was given first team reps during the Dolphins OTA’s.

With Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee on the roster, Moreno will certainly have to play at a high level to maintain his starting status though the Dolphins coaching staff has seemingly yet to fall in love with Lamar Miller who is likely the best runner out of the group. Thomas could potentially be a goal line vulture while Gillislee is probably the best pass catching back out of the group, leaving a mixed collection of talent behind Moreno.

New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who comes from the Philadelphia Eagles, is notoriously run-heavy so it’s possible that Moreno could be named the starter while mixing in a heavy dose of change of pace backs, giving the aforementioned players plenty of field time regardless of the depth chart.

For now though, the starting gig looks to be Moreno’s to lose. That could change if he struggles out of the gate however given the viable alternatives breathing down his neck.

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Andre Johnson misses first day of Texans’ OTAs

J.J. Watt shared the same defensive front with Jadeveon Clowney. Four quarterbacks alternated throws. Brian Cushing watched from the sideline.

Andre Johnson? Nowhere to be found.

The Texans star wide receiver was absent from the team’s first of 10 organized team activities Tuesday at an indoor practice facility near NRG Stadium. Johnson said two weeks ago he planned to miss OTAs and a June mandatory camp. But Tuesday’s no-show was final confirmation the longtime Texan and the only team he’s ever played for remain at odds.

“We’d love to him here right now but that’s up to him,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “Again, we’re moving forward with the players that are here. These guys that are here are working extremely hard.”

Players in uniform had little to say about Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowler who’s grown frustrated with the team’s losing ways. While the Texans focused on learning O’Brien’s new system and adjusting to up-tempo practices, the fact that the all-time franchise leader in receiving yards was missing drew little public notice.

“I’m just out here working hard and doing my job and trying to be a good teammate,” Watt said.

O’Brien has twice addressed Johnson’s absence. But the first-year coach took the same stance Tuesday as he did during the team’s rookie minicamp, praising Johnson as a player but declining to go into detail about a rift that could last for weeks or months.

Neither Johnson’s agent, Kennard McGuire, nor Texans general manager Rick Smith have commented since Johnson voiced his displeasure about the franchise.

“I’ll let Andre speak for himself,” O’Brien said. “I said last week that he and I have had positive conversations. I have a ton of respect for him.”

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Yasmani Grandal Leaves With Hand Injury

Grandal was removed from Tuesday's game after taking the full force of Paul Goldschmidt's swing on his glove hand, Fox Sports Arizona's Jack Magruder reports.

He was replaced by Rene Rivera, and while it's not clear how serious Grandal's injury is, it could easily have been a break, as he was called for catcher's interference on the play, and it was the full force of a bat on his hand. Consider him day-to-day for now, but the Padres may have to call up Adam Moore from Triple-A if Grandal has to hit the DL.

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Starts in center swing Jon Jay's way

When Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay took the plunge last summer and agreed to overhaul his swing in the middle of a season, hitting coach John Mabry kept reassuring him that the season is long and full of opportunities to gather hits. His would be there, eventually.

That reminder still echoes into this season.

Only it’s playing time, not just hits, that may be there in the end.

“He kept telling me, ‘You’re going to do your part. Put in the work,’” Jay said Tuesday before his start against the Yankees at Busch Stadium. “I’ve always been confident in my abilities as a player. Even as I struggled, I knew that it was part of my growth in the big leagues. It was something I had to get over. I went through a tough stretch and I had to fight through it.”

Jay merited the start Tuesday after entering Monday’s game in the 10th inning and going two for two with a double in the Cardinals’ 6-4 loss. Jay drove in the Cardinals’ one extra-inning run. The late-game production came after his last-minute start Saturday and the three-hit outing he had that day, spelling ill starter Peter Bourjos. Jay has had similar surges already this season, and each has been marked by an increase in playing time.

Entering the year, manager Mike Matheny discussed how there would be times he’d base the starts in center on “the hot hand” and other times when he’d let Bourjos and Jay both start for a stretch. Bourjos has received increased starts recently as the Cardinals seek to see the kind of results he gives with regular playing time — and where prospects Randal Grichuk and Oscar Taveras could fit in as June approaches.

Jay has had to adjust from starter to time-share.

“What I try explaining to all of these guys is the idea is to take advantage of the opportunities,” Matheny said. “We’ve put Jon in some big spots — whether it’s a pinch-hit role or as a defensive replacement that ends up getting some at-bats. He ends up going about it very well, as expected. That’s all we can ask of him.”
This recent jag of production has raised Jay’s average to .294 from .267 in the span of seven games (three starts). While not in a strict platoon with the righthanded-hitting Bourjos, Jay has had limited exposure to lefties this season, but has hit .381 (eight for 21). He’s also posted a .348 on-base percentage against righties.

The reason behind the success in scattered starts goes back to the swing.

What Mabry and Jay set out to do last season was simplify the center fielder’s swing, reducing the churning motion of his hands — “helicopter hands,” Jay once called them — and making his timing better at the plate. The reward was a .311 average with a .379 on-base percentage in the second half. The residual effect has been a swing that he can keep going even if the at-bats are sporadic.“It’s easy to maintain your swing when you’re seeing pitches every day and doing things,” Jay said. “But I simplified it last year — that was the process — and by really learning my swing, what I want to do and why, that’s allowed me to know how you keep it going. Whenever my name is called, I’m trying to do the best I can.”

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VIDEO: Vince Wilfork hilariously dances while grilling

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Allen Hurns ready to make impression in Jacksonville

During his first three years at the University of Miami, Allen Hurns was a part-time starter and a full-time visitor to the training room.

Actually, it started in high school when Hurns tore the meniscus in his knee.

And with the Hurricanes, there was labrum surgery after the 2011 season and a concussion and broken thumb during the 2012 season.

But finally healthy last year, Hurns played all 13 games and had 62 catches for a UM single-season record 1,162 yards and six touchdowns.

“I felt early on it was going to be a good year because it was the first time I had an offseason. I was always delayed because of surgeries and injuries,” he said.

Hurns (6-2, 198) ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds at the scouting combine and wasn’t one of the 33 receivers drafted.

Hurns signed with the Jaguars even though they drafted Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round, hoping his familiarity with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch (Miami’s play-caller during Hurns’ sophomore and junior years) helps him make an impact during camp.

Hurns said he never went through a down period after any of his injuries.

“Pretty much, the injuries kept me positive because once you go through that, it humbles you in a lot of ways,” he said. “Each time, it gave me motivation to bounce back and work harder. I just kept thinking about how the game had been taken away from me.”

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Erik Swoope exceeds Indianapolis Colts' expectations

When the Indianapolis Colts signed undrafted tight end Erik Swoope earlier this month, the former hoopster seemed to be nothing more than a freakishly athletic novelty act.

Unlike fellow former University of Miami forward Jimmy Graham, Swoope had never played a down of organized football in his life.

After Swoope's performance in last week's rookie minicamp, though, coach Chuck Pagano believes the Colts have unearthed a gem.

"To be able to just break a huddle, get in a stance, run the routes that he ran, catch the balls that he caught, I mean, off the charts, exceeded our expectations way beyond anything that you'd ever imagine for a guy that never played," Pagano said, via the team's official website. "If he continues to work -- he's a bright guy, he's smart, he picks things up, he looks like he's got great passion for this -- who knows?"

Swoope has routinely run the 40-yard dash in the low 4.6s. His 35-inch vertical leap would have placed second among tight ends at the 2014 Scouting Combine. He has bench-pressed more weight than Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga has seen out of any basketball player in 43 years of coaching.

Physical ability won't be a problem. The question is whether Swoope can put on 20 pounds and pick up the intricacies of the NFL game after such a late start.
"Every time I walk by the tight-end meeting room, he's in there watching tape, he's with (tight ends coach) Alfredo Roberts studying and learning," Pagano added. "He's doing a great job to this point."

The Colts are stacked at the position with Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener topping the tight-end depth chart. If Swoope impresses enough to earn a roster spot this summer, he will start his career as a special teams member.

It's the role Larranaga believes is best-suited for a basketball player who got by on physicality.

"In Erik's case, he's best when there's contact," Larranaga told Yahoo! Sports in April. "I don't think that's going to discourage him at all. I even told my coaches, I could see him being on special teams tracking guys down and throwing people away to get to the ball carrier."

Touting Swoope as a "natural," Pagano referenced athletes such as Antonio Gates and former Colts tight end Marcus Pollard who have successfully converted to football.

"We've got some evidence out there of guys that have done the same thing, made the same transition, and ended up being pretty good football players," Pagano said, "so we're excited to see where he's going. He's got a high ceiling."

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Allen Hurns reunites with Jedd Fisch

Miami (FL) UDFA WR Allen Hurns signed with the Jaguars due to his familiarity with OC Jedd Fisch, the Hurricanes' old offensive coordinator.
As did Miami (FL) QB Stephen Morris. Hurns (6-foot-1 1/4, 198) made 26 starts for the 'Canes, racking up 121 career catches for 1,891 yards (15.6 YPR) and 14 touchdowns. He was a second-team All-ACC selection as a senior. Hurns ran 4.55 at the Combine with an underwhelming 31-inch vertical and 10-foot broad jump. A lightweight college deep threat who lacks ideal long speed and physicality to his game, Hurns would do well to become a contributing NFL wideout. The odds are ultimately against it.

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Leonard Hankerson's health working against him

Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson may not be fully recovered from his LCL/ACL surgery until the start of training camp.

With a new coaching staff in D.C., Hankerson will be behind the eight ball when the Redskins open training camp. He's already below DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Andre Roberts on the depth chart, while Santana Moss remains a useful spot player, and Ryan Grant was added in the draft. By September, it's quite possible Hankerson will be on the outside looking in at a roster spot.

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Reggie Wayne to miss minicamp?

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne is recovering from a torn ACL. While there have been no indications that Wayne has had any setbacks that does not necessarily mean that he will participate in the teams minicamp next month.

Wayne is expected to be ready to go and in the lineup come Week 1 so there should not be a lot of time spent dissecting this decision.

ESPN Colts blogger Mike Wells believes that the team could wait until training camp to work Wayne into the offense.

Wayne’s 2013 season was caught short after seven games. He caught 38 passes for 503 yards and two touchdowns. Given his 1006 career catches for 13,566 yards and 80 touchdowns it should only be a few minutes before Wayne gets back into the habit of the Colts offense.

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New England Patriots still interested in Andre Johnson?

Just a few weeks ago, it looked like Houston Texans’ wide receiver Andre Johnson may be on his way out of town.

The former Miami Hurricanes’ star has had an excellent career for the Texans, but they are without a starting caliber quarterback and had the worst record in the NFL in 2013. That has led Johnson to express his frustration and has led many to believe he would be open to a trade.

One team that has a huge need for a receiver is the New England Patriots. Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick has always been a fan of Johnson and with an improved defense that added cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, defensive lineman Will Smith and return linebacker Jerod Mayo from injury, Johnson could be the missing piece.

That’s why the guys at Comcast Sports New England believe the Patriots should absolutely make a move for Johnson.

Steve Buckley and Danny Picard joined Sports Tonight to discuss the topic.

“Andre Johnson wants to be a part of a team that has that quarterback to win them the big game.” said Picard, “If I were the Patriots, I would absolutely be interested. If I’m Andre Johnson, I only come out and make these comments because I’m interested in playing with a guy like Tom Brady.”

Steve Buckley compared this situation with another former Patriot wideout.

“You can apply everything you just said, just scratch out that name and put in Randy Moss.” said Buckley, “It was different, he was trying to resurrect his career, but he was also looking to play with a good quarterback.”

Although Johnson is 32 years old, he made 109 catches for 1,407 yards and five touchdowns last season.

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Yonder Alonso has 2 XB hits, including HR, in win

Yonder Alonso went 2-for-4 with a double and a solo home run in Monday's loss to the Diamondbacks.

In 11 games since May 15, Alonso has three homers and four multi-hit games. Owners in NL-only formats will want to start monitoring the first baseman's progress, though it's going to take more than moderate success over two weeks to win back our hearts. Despite the step forward, Alonso is still slashing just .206/.249/.329 with three total round-trippers and 14 RBI over 170 at-bats.

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Danny Valencia will miss ‘a few days’ with sprained hand

AHEIM, Calif. — Danny Valencia and the Royals received a dose of good news late on Saturday night, when X-rays on his sore left hand were negative. Valencia feared he fractured the hamate bone, but instead suffered a sprain.

“It’s pretty sore today,” Valencia said Sunday. “Just hopefully it dies down quickly.”

Valencia expects to miss “a few days,” he said. In his absence, Jimmy Paredes will start at third base. He hit .326 with an .843 on-base plus slugging percentage with Class AAA Omaha. He is a switch hitter.

Paredes went one for three Sunday and started the team’s third-inning scoring surge in a 4-3 loss. Both he and Valencia are filling in for regular third baseman Mike Moustakas, who was demoted to the minors on Thursday after a pitiful start to the year.

Valencia injured himself during his last at-bat in the 13th inning on Saturday night. He stayed in the game and doubled to spark the winning rally. He endured plenty of ribbing for his plight the next morning, as an electronic stimulation machine provided treatment for his hand.

“I very highly don’t think it’s a D.L. thing,” manager Ned Yost said.

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Gaby Sanchez helps Pirates rally for win over Mets

NEW YORK — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had good reason to call upon Gaby Sanchez to bat for Ike Davis.

Sanchez tagged the Mets again, delivering a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning and a tiebreaking single in the ninth that rallied Pittsburgh over New York 5-3 on Monday.

Sanchez has a .324 average with nine homers and 34 RBIs vs. New York, matching or topping his bests against any NL team. He lost playing time after Davis was acquired in a trade with the Mets in mid-April.

"Ike's a good player and he's been swinging the bat really well. He's been one of the hottest bats on the team. So, he's going to play and I understand that," Sanchez said about Davis, who was making his return to Citi Field. "My role is to keep that going whenever I get my chance, keep that going and help the team win."

The Mets announced after their ninth loss in 12 games that they had fired hitting coach Dave Hudgens. New York also cut reliever Jose Valverde soon after he gave up Sanchez's go-ahead hit.

Valverde (1-1) was booed off the field after allowing pinch-hitter Jose Tabata's tying single in the eighth. Valverde returned for the ninth and was even worse, yielding four runs overall.

"Don't think for one second that there's not a guy in there that realizes that this is part of it. We just released one of the best professionals I ever been around in Jose Valverde," a fired-up Collins said. "You deal with it, and if you can't you don't belong in the game."

Mets minor league hitting coordinator Lamar Johnson will take Hudgens' place. Right-hander Vic Black is being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas to fill Valverde's spot.

With one out in the ninth, Valverde gave up a single to Neil Walker and walked Andrew McCutchen.

Sanchez fouled off a fastball, losing hold of the bat, which spun toward the Pirates dugout and hit a batboy in the legs. The batboy smiled and on-deck hitter Russell Martin checked to see if he was OK.

Sanchez then singled to left, scoring Walker. Juan Centeno couldn't handle Curtis Granderson's throw that bounced to the right of the plate and skittered past Valverde, who was backing up but way too close to the catcher. McCutchen scored on Granderson's error for a two-run lead.

Martin added an RBI double for Pittsburgh, which rebounded from a loss to Washington on Sunday after a season-high four straight wins.

"This mentality in the dugout is, 'This is the inning.' Even if we get pushed down, the next inning we'll make something," Hurdle said. "You've got to be relentless. You can't get sad."

Tony Watson (5-0) pitched an inning for the win.

Mark Melancon got his 10th save.

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