Lions cut Randy Phillips, re-sign Dante Wesley

The Detroit Lions released safety Randy Phillips and re-signed safety Dante Wesley today.

Phillips, an undrafted rookie out of Miami (Fla.), started every game in the preseason but had a limited role during the Lions' 0-3 start.

Wesley was one of the Lions' last cuts when they trimmed their roster to 53 earlier this month.

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Ray Lewis knows how to stop Ward from smiling

Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, who is considered Public Enemy No. 1 by the Ravens' fan base, plays the game with emotion, intensity and that smile.

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said that smile "[ticks] most people off."

So how do you knick the smile off Ward's face?

"Hit him. Easy," Lewis said with a chuckle. "That's a way to knock a smile off anybody's face on the football field."

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Clinton Portis Will Start Sunday

When Clinton Portis talked to the media earlier today, he seemed slightly unsure of his role with the current Redskins offense, but willing to do whatever head coach Mike Shanahan and the rest of the coaches asked of him. "It's up to them," Portis said. "If they put me on an assignment, I do that assignment. If they don't, there ain't nothing I can do."

When reporters pressed him on the question, he passed the question up the chain of command. "For these hot topics that you're bringing up, Coach Shanahan is right upstairs," he said.

The schedule of an NFL head coach doesn't generally allow for people to burst in and ask a series of questions unannounced, but it does include a post-practice media availability. So when the team returned from practicing offsite (to stay out of the incessant rain), Shanahan fielded a series of Portis-related questions.

The most important quote first, even though that puts it out of sequence (and it's spoiled in the headline of this post):

"Yes, he is starting Sunday," Shanahan said. That was the answer to a follow-up to a question about Portis's work ethic, which the coach also took the time to praise. "He will always give you great effort. I've never been around him where he hasn't given 110%. He's one of the most competitive individuals that I've ever been around."

Shanahan also addressed the questions about Portis's decision to go down at the end of his long run in the Rams game. Or, to be more precise, he addressed the fact that the had already privately addressed that issue. "I don't get into my conversations with players," Shanahan said. "Y'know, we've talked about that before. But I addressed it at the time, I addressed it with him and felt very comfortable with the explanation; now we go on."

Part of that going on includes improving the running game and the red zone offense, and Shanahan addressed that as well. "First of all, it's not time to panic," Shanahan said. "You asked me that two weeks ago, and all of sudden we averaged over six yards a carry the next game. We're trying to get better each week. Y'know, this is an ongoing process. It's a coordination of a lot of different people working together. I don't care if it's the offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers, quarterbacks, it just doesn't happen overnight. I thought we made some improvement, at least in the first half. Second half was a little bit different. We got behind a little bit, didn't make some of the plays and had to go a little bit different attack. But hopefully we can keep on getting better in the running game."

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Warren Sapp sued for overdue loan

ASHEVILLE, N.C. A North Carolina bank is suing to collect nearly $1 million former NFL star Warren Sapp borrowed for a lot in an exclusive mountain residential development near Asheville.

HomeTrust Bank of Asheville contends in its lawsuit filed earlier this month that Sapp owed a principle of $989,000, plus $70,000 in interest and late charges as of June. The bank says Sapp's last payment was in February.

Sapp borrowed $990,000 in 2007 to buy property in Horseshoe Forest Preserve, which was marketed as having just 12 home sites on 150 acres.

An attorney for Sapp, Christopher Lyons of Miami, would not talk about the lawsuit Thursday. The lawsuit was first reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Sapp was a seven-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders.

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Portis says he expects to start, but he's unsure of role

Redskins running back Clinton Portis will remain in the starting lineup Sunday at Philadelphia, but his exact role is still unclear.

Coaches kept Portis on the sidelines for much of the second half of last Sunday's loss at St. Louis. Though Portis will begin this weekend's game in the backfield, he'll likely have to share carries with Ryan Torain, who was recently activated from the practice squad.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Portis said coaches haven't told him his exact role against the Eagles. "You have to ask them that," Portis said. "I don't have the answers to everything. I come to work, I clock in like you do."

Later Thursday, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan confirmed that despite having only seven carries against the Rams, Portis is still the team's starting running back.

Much of the speculation on Portis's role with the team has surrounded one rush in last Sunday's game, Portis's biggest gain of the year. After rumbling for 27 yards on the first quarter run, Portis fell untouched as defenders approached him. He said he did so to protect the ball.

"If I had to have the chance to do it again, I would do the same thing with five people around me," Portis said. "Maybe I could've picked up four more yards. Four more yards I don't think are going to determine the outcome of that game."

Portis had just two more carries after that run, including only one in the final two quarters. Torain saw the bulk of the playing time in the second half.

Shanahan said an injury to Portis's wrist played a role in that decision, but Portis said Thursday that nothing had changed with the injury.

"I hurt my arm the first series of the Dallas Cowboys game," he said. "So you've seen me play the rest of the Dallas Cowboys game, you've seen me play against Houston and you've seen me start off the Rams game. So I really don't â¦" Portis's voice trailed off and he wouldn't clarify the nature of the injury or its impact on his ability to run the ball.

"For these hot topics that you're bringing up, Coach Shanahan is right upstairs," he said.

Asked if Portis's hand was related to his decreased playing time, Shanahan declined to discuss the matter Thursday. "I think I've addressed that enough," he said.

Shanahan said he talked with his running back about why he fell down, and it's apparently no longer an issue. "I addressed it with him and felt very comfortable with the explanation," Shanahan said, "and now we go on."

Portis said his workload this week in practice has been similar to last week's. Leading up to the Rams' game, Torain was still on the practice squad and began taking reps with the first-team offense. Torain had a team-high 46 yards on seven carries against the Rams in his first game since 2008 and only the third of his career.

"Me and Clinton are very similar," Torain said. "We both run hard. We both run downhill. Clinton's a very great pass-blocker, and I just want to complement him."

Because they're so similar, it's not clear how coaches might juggle the two. In the second half last week, Portis was used primarily on third downs and in passing situations. Coaches also are high on Keiland Williams, an undrafted rookie from LSU who has been used in third-down situations. He has six catches but no carries this season.

Portis says he hasn't had a conversation about his role in the offense.

"I think we on the same page. Until they come notify me of something different, I think we on the same page."

Shanahan has praised Portis's effort all year. "He will always give you great effort. . . He's one of the most competitive individuals I've ever been around," Shanahan said.

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Greg Olsen focused on making plays

Greg Olsen admits he worried about his role when Mike Martz was hired. After catching 10 passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns in the first three games, he's not worried anymore.

"There really wasn't much history really to rely on," Olsen said. "But I was confident that if I just continued to do what I do, that there would be a place for me and there has been a role and a pretty prominent one.

"Coach Martz has said all along that the guys who make plays and do what they're asked to do are going to play and that's the mentality, the approach we've all taken."

With the exception of the 9-yard touchdown pass he caught from Jay Cutler just before halftime, the biggest play Olsen made made against the Packers on Monday night came on the final drive when he made a leaping, twisting catch over safety Morgan Burnett for a 21-yard gain that help set up on the game-winning field goal.

"Everyone has that mentality, I know I do, that when the game's on the line, you want to say, 'I'm that guy you can lean on.' The past few games we've had some big plays in key positions that have worked out, but there's a lot that goes into that, from the calls to the protection to the looks that we get."

The Bears will play in their second new stadium this season when they visit the Giants in New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday. Olsen, who grew up in New Jersey, will have lots of friends and family on hand.

"They're a better team than people want to give them credit for and than their record indicates," he said of the Giants. "They have lot of good players, especially on defense. They have guys who can get after the quarterback and two good safeties in back. This is going to be a great challenge for us, very similar to what we've faced these first couple weeks with how good they are up front."

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Pat Burrell's homer carries Giants past Arizona 3-1

Wait a minute. Pat Burrell needs to take deep breaths and calm himself in a pennant race? He's the guy with the World Series ring. He's supposed to be soothing the young'uns.

Whatever Burrell does, be it breathing exercises, yoga or primal-scream therapy, every teammate should mimic it. On a night the Giants edged that much closer to a Champagne celebration, Cool Hand Pat hit a three-run homer against Ian Kennedy in the fourth inning for the team's only runs in Wednesday's 3-1 victory against Arizona.

An ill Tim Lincecum pitched seven excellent innings in what probably was his final regular-season start. He overcame a Stephen Drew homer to start the game and went seven innings, striking out 11 to raise his league-leading season total to 231. If Lincecum is done, he finished 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA in 212 1/3 innings.

More significant, the Giants' 90th win reduced to three their magic number for winning the National League West. If they win and San Diego loses today, the Giants will clinch a tie for the title before the Padres walk through the door Friday.

"That's a nice little comfortable lead to be out to," Lincecum said of the team's two-game advantage with four to play.

Moreover, the Giants essentially moved three games ahead of Cincinnati for potential playoff seeding. That is a big deal. By finishing ahead of the Reds, the Giants would assure home-field advantage for the Division Series and prevent a first-round date with the Phillies.

Burrell's homer on a low, inside fastball followed a leadoff single by Aubrey Huff and a four-pitch walk to Buster Posey by Kennedy, whose 0.75 September ERA was the lowest among big-league starters with at least 20 innings. Burrell reached 20 for the season, 18 of them for the Giants.

"Obviously he was looking for that pitch," Kennedy said. "I was pounding him in before that. At the time I felt it was the right pitch. Now that I look back at it, it probably wasn't."

Manager Bruce Bochy said Burrell and the other playoff-experienced Giants had a calming influence on the kids who have not been there, but the left fielder acknowledged it is tough for anyone in this boat to stay calm.

"It's a hard thing for me and most of the guys to find a way to calm yourself down," he said. "When big situations come up, it's only natural to feel the excitement of the stadium and the adrenaline. That's something that takes you off your game plan. It's a hard thing to calm down and play for the moment."

That could be true for rookie Madison Bumgarner, who pitches the series finale today. Bochy announced he will flop Matt Cain and Barry Zito for the Padres series. Cain will pitch Friday night, as of now the Giants' first chance to clinch the West, with Zito going Saturday. Jonathan Sanchez will pitch as scheduled Sunday.

"It's just letting Matt pitch on regular rest like we did with Timmy," Bochy said.

Bochy already fiddled with the rotation and advanced Lincecum's start one night. That was a cue for Burrell, whose two-run homer against Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin also accounted for the only Giants' runs in Lincecum's 2-1 win at Colorado on Friday.

"Burrell saved my butt last time too with a home run," Lincecum said. "It reminds me of the days when Bengie (Molina) used to save my butt with big home runs."

As usual, Brian Wilson saved the Giants' collective rear end. After Javier Lopez pitched a shutout eighth, Wilson overcame two baserunners in the ninth and shut down Arizona for his 47th save. One more and he will tie Rod Beck's franchise record of 48.

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Javarris James Practices With 53-man Roster RBs

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran running back Fred Taylor, who left Sunday's win over the Bills in the third quarter with a toe injury and did not return, was not spotted at the start of the team's practice today.

Taylor played 10 snaps against the Bills. He was on for two plays at the start of the third quarter before giving way to BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick touched on Taylor's status on Monday, saying the plan was for Taylor to get treatment on Monday and Tuesday and see if he'd be ready for practice Wednesday.

Without Taylor, the Patriots had Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris, Danny Woodhead and practice squader Javarris James at running back at the start of today's practice.

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Willis McGahee expects Rice to play Sunday

Ray Rice wasn’t talking during the Ravens’ open locker room session before Wednesday’s practice, but the man who figures to play a significant role in the team’s showdown with the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday said he anticipates that Rice will play.

“Ray’s a competitor, so I doubt he’s going to sit this game out,” Willis McGahee said. “That’s the kind of person that he is.”

Asked again if he thought Rice would play despite a bruised right knee, McGahee replied, “As far as I know. I don’t know what’s going on with him, but as far as I know, he was in the meetings with us. So why wouldn’t he?”

If Rice is unavailable because of the knee injury, McGahee and fullback Le’Ron McClain figure to split time at tailback, but McGahee could get the lion’s share of reps. McGahee said he’s ready for the opportunity.

“I’m pretty sure I’m up for the challenge,” he said. “If my number is called, I’ll step up to the plate.”

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Andre Johnson misses Wednesday's practice, Gametime Decision Sunday

Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson missed Wednesday's practice due to a lingering ankle injury.

In three games this season, Johnson has caught 19 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown.

Head coach Gary Kubiak said Wednesday that WR Andre Johnson's playing status for Sunday's game at Oakland will be a "game-time decision," according to the club. Johnson did not practice Wednesday.

Johnson suffered a right ankle injury Week Two at Washington and re-injured the ankle on Sunday vs. Dallas. Johnson returned to both games. According to the team's Web site, the injury is a high ankle sprain.

Johnson, 29, has caught 19 passes for 255 yards and one TD this season.

The way we see it

The Raiders have largely held Johnson in check in the past three games he has played against them, though he did have a 62-yard reception in a win vs. the Raiders a season ago. Take out that 62-yard catch, and Johnsn has just four receptions for 32 yards in three games against Oakland since 2006.

However, there is no doubting the importance of Johnson's impact on the Texans' offense, even if he's playing on an injured ankle and he is facing a top competitor like Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha. Johnson is one of the game's best receivers, and he must be accounted for at all times.

In short, if he's out, the Texans' offense loses its most important receiver, and the attack, while still strong, becomes easier to defend.

Wide receiver Darryl Sharpton (ankle) and safety Eugene Wilson (hamstring) also missed practice.

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Clinton Portis steals the stage at Becky's Fund event

Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis made quite a statement Tuesday at the second annual Walk This Way Charity Fashion Show for Becky's Fund.

The footballer walked the runway, which was built above the rooftop pool at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, to help raise money for the nonprofit which works to combat domestic violence.

His fellow Redskins -- former wide receiver Gary Clark, offensive tackle Stephon Heyer and defensive end Chris Wilson -- also strutted their stuff to support the cause, along with D.C. United's Ben Olsen and a few other attractive athletes.

"Real Housewives of D.C." cast members Mary Amons and Paul Wharton even jumped on stage for an "impromptu" live auction. But it was the outspoken Portis who stole the spotlight when he thanked his mother (he took her as his date) for raising him so well and teaching him to care about important issues.

"A couple of people thought she was my girlfriend, but I don't mess with cougars," Portis said.

Ah, well ... he may not be the best spokesman, but he sure can play ball.

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Greg Olsen says Cutler friendship pays off on the field


We often tell you where Bears Jay Cutler and Greg Olsen are hanging out together for dinner or nightlife. Apparently their best-buddy relationship is also paying off on the field.

"I think it can't do anything but help," Olsen said Wednesday. "At times you can get to talk about things and get used to each other. You kind of can adjust on the fly a little bit and make some things (happen) that aren't exactly how they are scripted. … At certain times, that is definitely an advantage."

Olsen, who has caught 10 passes for 140 yards and two TDs in the first three games, grew up in Wayne, N.J., where he played for his father, Chris Olsen Sr.

"I'm looking forward to (Sunday's game in New Jersey), it's exciting," Olsen said. "I am going to have a lot of family and friends and people."

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Rolle gives his two 'senses' on solution

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Antrel Rolle says when the New York Giants finally come together and everything starts to click, it will be something everybody will see right away.

As Phil Collins says, you'll will feel it in the air.

"You will see it," Rolle said. "We will feel it as an organization, as a team. You all will see it in the stands, you all will see it as reporters. It is not something that will go across the skyline, 'Giants are united, they are together.' [But] you all will feel it just as well as we will feel it."

The Giants say it's only a matter of time before they will put it all together. But they can't wait much longer. Riding a two-game losing skid into Week 4, the Giants have to find a way to beat the undefeated Chicago Bears (3-0) on Sunday night at home before traveling to Houston.

The Giants (1-2) don't start their journey through the NFC East gauntlet until Week 7, when they visit the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football." Well before that, the Giants must figure out their identity, what kind of team they want to be -- and who will lead the way.

Rolle stepped up and sounded the alarm last week when he wondered about the lack of leadership in the locker room and the "controlled" atmosphere around the organization.

He has since talked to both head coach Tom Coughlin and defensive captain Justin Tuck about his comments and he says the team took positive steps last week toward erasing the concerns he has.

None of that showed on Sunday when the Giants suffered a mental collapse and were flagged for 11 penalties, including five personal fouls after the whistle was blown. There were two critical turnovers inside the 5-yard-line and the Giants looked disgraceful at times during a home loss to Tennessee.

Coughlin said he has gotten some good vibes from his team this week.

"It's a good group of people," Coughlin said. "I think that we have to come together a little bit more. We do have some new additions to our team. I think we continue to preach 'team.' We are determined. We have great resolve."

Rolle is one of the new guys. He was also one of the Giants whistled for a personal foul after he retaliated for being hit in the facemask by hitting a Titan in the helmet.

Rolle and the Giants were embarrassed by their loss of composure. Players say they are focused on turning things around after last Sunday's frustrating loss.

"Whatever it takes," Rolle said of what it will take to fix the Giants. "If something is going to get done, it is not going to be anything that the outside world is going to know about, it is something that is going to take place in this locker room. Something will get done and eventually it will take place."

And when it does finally take place, Rolle says everybody will see it -- and feel it.

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Ray Lewis says he and Roethlisberger stay in touch

Suspended Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been communicating with at least one NFL player -- Baltimore's legendary linebacker Ray Lewis.

In fact, Roethlisberger sent a text message to Lewis Tuesday night, five days before the Steelers play the Ravens at Heinz Field in what coach Mike Tomlin called the best rivalry in the NFL.

"He texted me last night and things like that,'' Lewis said on a conference call this morning with members of the Pittsburgh media who cover the Steelers. "It's a respect we have for each other, but more importantly it's a respect you got to have for yourself."

Lewis said he and Roethlisberger have been in contact throughout the Steelers quarterback's ordeal that began March 5 when he was accused by a 20-year-old female college student of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga. Roethlisberger was suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the first four games of the season as a result, under the league's personal conduct policy. Roethlisberger can return to the team Monday.

"He hit me last night,'' Lewis said, talking about the text message he received from Roethlisberger. "We always hit each other. There are many people I hit. Just simple stuff.

"He wishes he was out there, he wishes he was out there, man. It's a respect thing that we have playing against each other. It's a rivalry, but, once again, it goes back to a level of respect.

"This aint the first time he texted me. We texted each other whenever he was going through what he was going through, I was there for him. It's more of a brotherhood. The game always takes care of itself on the field, but off the field if we don't look out for each other nobody else will."

Lewis himself overcame a scandal after he was charged with murder following the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2000. The murder charge was dropped after Lewis agreed to testify against two other men and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.

He said he advised Roethlisberger to put his troubles behind him and move ahead.

"You're not trying to please the world; if you're trying to please the world you're going to confuse yourself,'' Lewis said today. "If you're going to worry what people say about you, you're going to confuse yourself.

"All you can do is move on, live on and whatever he puts behind him as a man, and he puts behind him whatever he's going through, leave it there. Don't let nobody pull you back into it, don't let nobody make you keep talking about it. Once it's done, it's done."

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Giants hope to Dodge Hester's return

Matt Dodge said he isn’t having nightmares about Devin Hester. In fact, he says, he welcomes the “challenge” of facing the Chicago Bears’ dangerous return man.

Sure he does. He’s not the one that will have to tackle him (he hopes).

Now his job is to make sure that no one else has to tackle him either.

“Yeah, the best strategy isn’t to gang-tackle him,” the rookie punter said. “It’s to just don’t give him a chance to be tackled.”

That’s pretty much what Tom Coughlin said earlier today when he told the press that his advice to Dodge was “Kick it out of bounds. Don’t let him have the ball.”

Not surprisingly, Dodge said he spent much of practice today working on kicking directly towards the sideline - - the first time, he said, that he “really” focused on that during a practice since joining the team. Given his early season struggles, and the fact that he’s no Jeff Feagles when it comes to directional punting, it’s a good bet that even if he aims for the stands there’ll be at least a punt or two that ends up in the field of play.

That means Hester - - who had a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Packers on Monday night - - will get a chance to embarrass the Giants the way he did in 2006 when he returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown. And that will be quite a challenge for the Giants’ beleaguered special teams.

“He’s one of those guys, man, he’s like water,” said linebacker Clint Sintim, who is part of the punt coverage team. “He’ll find the crease. You’ve just got to do your best to try to hold him back a little bit. You’ve got to be extra aware of where he’s at.

“He can’t harm you if he don’t have the ball. God forbid that he gets it, we’ve got to make some tackles. We’ve got to do our best to contain him and minimize his impact.”

The good news for the special teams is that their captain, Chase Blackburn, will be back this week after missing the last two games with a sprained knee. And he believes that a tough challenge like Hester could be exactly what the struggling unit needs.

“I 100-percent agree with that,” Blackburn said. “When you’re facing adversity and things aren’t going right, you really want a challenge. And sometimes it takes that for everyone to come together and really gel as a unit.”

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Greg Olsen playing an integral role in Bears passing game

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Knowing that tight ends haven’t traditionally been very involved as receivers in Mike Martz’s offense hasn’t deterred Greg Olsen from trying to buck the trend.

“There wasn’t much history to rely on,” Olsen said Wednesday. “But I was confident coming in that if I just continued to go out there and do what I do that there would be a place for me. And as we’ve seen, there has been a role and a pretty prominent one for the position.”

Olsen has helped the Bears sprint out of the gate with three straight wins by catching 10 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He has sparked comeback victories over Super Bowl contenders the past two weeks with TD receptions of 39 yards against the Cowboys and nine yards versus the Packers.

“You just have to continue to go out and do what they ask you to do and make the plays when they come your way,” Olsen said. “Coach Martz has said all along that the guys who make plays and do what they’re asked to do are going to play, and that’s kind of the mentality and the approach that we’ve all taken.”

Olsen may have been skeptical about his role initially, but that eventually changed.

“Greg is really coming into his own in this offense,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “I think he’s really bought into it at this point. Probably in OTAs and when Mike first got here, it probably wasn’t exactly the case. But [Olsen] is making some great plays for us. Mike is trying to put him in situations where he is going to have a good chance to get the ball and a good chance to make plays for us, so I’m excited for him.”

Olsen’s close friendship with Cutler has paid dividends on the field.

“It can’t do anything but help,” Olsen said. “You’re kind of used to each other and you can adjust on the fly a little bit and make some things happen that aren’t necessarily how they’re exactly scripted; kind of ad-lib. At certain times that’s definitely an advantage.”

It certainly worked in their favor Monday night when Cutler and Olsen connected for a TD pass over the middle, drawing the Bears to within 10-7 in an eventual 20-17 win over Green Bay.

“The safeties were really wide and the ‘backer walked out a little further than we had anticipated,” Olsen said. “We thought he’d be a little more in the box. Jay did a good job seeing me adjust. I saw an opening in the middle of the field and just took it and was able to beat the guy.

“Jay did a good job of seeing it and having a quick enough release to get the ball out before [the linebacker] had time to undercut [the route]. It was big for us before the half to at least get on the board and kind of settle in a little bit.”

Cutler went back to Olsen late in the game, and the tight end responded with a leaping 21-yard catch that helped set up Robbie Gould’s decisive 19-yard field goal with :04 remaining.

“I think everyone has that mentality—I know I do—that when the game’s on the line and you need a big play, everyone wants to say, ‘Hey, I’m that guy you can lean on,’” Olsen said. “When the ball comes your way, especially in those situations, you’ve got to find a way to come down with it.”

Given the way he’s performed to this point, Olsen figures to remain an integral part of the offense.

“Greg is a confident guy,” said coach Lovie Smith. “Most guys coming out of the University of Miami, you don’t have to give them that George Halas speech every day. They feel pretty good about what they’re doing, but Greg does for a reason. He’s a great athlete, a coach’s kid, he’s played at a high level. 

"He knows that he is one of the best tight ends in the league, but you still have to make plays out on the football field. We’re going to him more and more. He is a big part of what we’re going to do the rest of the year. He’s one of our guys. He’s a go-to guy. That play he made late in the fourth quarter was big. It enabled us to win the football game.”

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

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Jack McClinton Statistical Roundup

Here are Jack McClinton’s Statistics through two games for his Israeli team Altshuler Saham Galil Gilboa which has an overall record of 1-1. McClinton has played in both games for the defending Israeli Champions.

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Scott Maine PItches A Scoreless Inning

Scott Maine threw a scoreless eighth for the Cubs as the Padres beat the Chicago Cubs, 3-0, at Petco Park. The Cubs whose bullpen's 18 1/3 scoreless innings streak is its longest since a 21 1/3 inning run, August 27- September 2 of last season.

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Marlins support Gaby Sanchez as top rookie

ATLANTA -- Silent and steady, Gaby Sanchez has performed at a high level all season.

As the year winds down, the Marlins are speaking up in hopes of generating support for Sanchez for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

Sanchez has been a standout at first base all year. He leads all NL rookies in RBIs (83), hits (153) and doubles (36). He is third in homers with 19.

"It's been a tremendous season for Gaby," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said recently. "He keeps putting the numbers out there. He's been outstanding. Sometimes we forget he's a rookie. He's been very, very consistent."

In hopes of gaining some recognition for Sanchez, the Marlins have printed up Rookie of the Year T-shirts, promoting their first baseman.
During batting practice Thursday, the players are planning to wear the shirts, which read: "GS 14 4 ROY" (Gaby Sanchez, No. 14, for Rookie of the Year).

Similar shirts were worn by the players a year ago, drumming up support for Chris Coghlan, who ended up winning the award.

The Marlins have had three NL Rookie of the Year Award winners in their history -- Dontrelle Willis (2003), Hanley Ramirez ('06) and Coghlan ('09).

Sanchez is most proud of his steadiness.

"I'd say, it's probably just the consistency, doing all the things I needed to do on the field," he said. "Helping the ballclub any way that I could. I couldn't just pick out one number. I think as a whole, I feel like I've held my own pretty good."

There is stiff competition in the 2010 class. A few of the front-runners are Atlanta's Jason Heyward, San Francisco's Buster Posey and Chicago's Starlin Castro.

Among the pitchers worthy of consideration are St. Louis' Jaime Garcia and Milwaukee's John Axford. If not for season-ending Tommy John surgery, Washington's Stephen Strasburg would have been in the thick of the race.

"There has been other classes where there have been four or five guys," Sanchez said. "This year's class, there seems like there are a lot of them. It's not just four or five guys. There are a lot of guys contributing to their team. It's kind of nice to be able to see that now."

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Danny Valencia brushes up on his defense

KANSAS CITY -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was able to fulfill a two-pronged mission when he moved third baseman Danny Valencia into the designated hitter slot on Monday.

Gardenhire wanted to give Valencia a break in the field, but not before a thorough pregame defensive workout.

"We wanted him to work on staying down and not standing up on ground balls," Gardenhire said. "Overall, he has played great defense. But he got a little sloppy there, and whether it's because he's leg weary, I don't know. There has been a lot going on over the last week."

Valencia, who entered Monday's game hitting .324, has been one of the many heroes for the Twins in their runaway march to the American League Central title. Valencia said he's taking Gardenhire's words to heart.

"He played infield, so he can pick up on those things," Valencia said. "I take his advice seriously."

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NFL U Week 3 Photos

Check out photos from Week 3 of the 2010 NFL U season of all of our proCanes. Click here or above on the proCanes Gallery link.

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Willis McGahee's unusual pre-game routine

Willis McGahee, who could be the most popular interview subject this week if Ray Rice’s sprained knee prevents him from playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday, has a curious pre-game routine.

When the players take the field – home or on the road – and break up to participate in positional drills, McGahee is noticeably absent from the running backs group, which includes Rice, Jalen Parmele and fullback Le’Ron McClain.

So where is McGahee? He’s usually warming up with defensive linemen. Here’s McGahee’s response as to why he’s completing drills with those guys.

“That’s where I bang at most of the time,” he said. “I’m in there with the defensive linemen, I’m in there with the offensive linemen. Why not bang with them? I call it The Trenches. I’m in The Trenches.”

McGahee said the practice began this season, and he feels the work with the defensive linemen prepares him for the blows he can expect from opponents during games. So far, no one from the Ravens has told him he can't do it, so they must be OK with this plan.

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Devin Hester Returns

With each stride as Devin Hester sprinted down the sideline with a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in Monday night's 20-17 win over the Packers, the Bears took another step back to where they belong in the NFL.

Yes, Hester is back.

More significantly, it looks like the Bears are too.

"It felt good, a lot of relief and at the same time a humbling experience, so I'm not going to brag about it,'' Hester said in a joyous locker room. "(But) our special teams is getting our 'swag' back.''

Nobody displayed more resilience than Hester. From general manager Jerry Angelo to the Bears broadcast booth, the idea of taking Hester's punt-return duties away has been broached lately. Hester had looked lost, slow and tentative -- everything he wasn't when he caught Tim Masthay's punt at his own 38-yard line with the Bears trailing 10-7 in a game as good as advertised.

Then Hester accelerated with a gear we have seldom seen since his last return for a touchdown in the final game of the 2007 season finale and took advantage of a Nick Roach block to strut into the end zone.

"We haven't been pleased with what Devin had been doing, but you have to stay patient,'' Smith said. "If you talk to most opponents, they'll still tell you there's fear when Devin goes back there.''

Just like that, Hester's return ignited the stadium and a Bears team that refused to go away. It also As well as saved Smith from more embarrassment over a questionable call.

Smith will point to his decision to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1 as the impetus for creating a shorter field that set up Hester's touchdown. But even though the result ended in a way that favored the Bears, I still have a hard time with Smith passing up a sure chance at points in a close game.

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Portis says all right things on shared role, 'soft' charge

Two days after getting benched on first and second downs in favor of the unproven Ryan Torain in the second half of a surprising 30-16 loss at St. Louis, Clinton Portis didn't lash out at coach Mike Shanahan. Far from it.

In fact, the Redskins' No. 1 running back for the last seven seasons was positively at peace when asked during his weekly radio appearance if he expects to start in Sunday's NFC East mathcup at Philadelphia.

"I have no idea, and I don't think it matters," said Portis, who carried seven times for 44 early yards against the Rams but was given the ball just once during the final three quarters. "I'm going forward and preparing, and if my number's called, I'm going to go out on the field and do what I can to help the team. If not, I'm going to cheer on my teammates and congratulate whoever it is, and if we're winning, I'm going to smile like everyone else."

Not that Portis, who's nearing Hall of Famer John Riggins' franchise rushing record, thinks he's nearing the end at 29.

"I always think of myself as the No. 1 back and always prepare myself as the No. 1 back," said Portis, who fended off summer challenges from fellow former Pro Bowl backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, each of whom has been released. "When it comes to competition, I'm feel like I'm going to outplay anybody and on the opposing team. I think what I have done for my team the last nine years, you can tell the difference in the games when I'm in or out. What I do for my team, and the excitement level of what I give on the field is always better than the next guy."

A day after Shanahan said that Portis went down on a 27-yard run because his right hand was bothering him, the running back concurred that he was afraid of fumbling.

"I did fall on purpose," Portis admitted. "There are five Rams players behind me, and no Redskins. All week long, we were coached to sacrifice yardage for the ball. Them being some of the top strippers in the NFL, I really couldn't see around me and to continue to fight for a few extra yards and risk losing the ball when we were trying to get momentum; that's not thinking about the team."

Asked if the play showed that he was soft, as some have charged, Portis, known as one of the best blockers among running backs, didn't get angry.

"People are going to believe what they want to believe," he said. "If you ever see me back down from any man on the football field, then my time is up in this league. ... I'm going to look any man eye-to-eye and try to give it to him."

Click here to order Clinton Portis’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Greg Olsen catches big 21-yard pass, TD in win

Greg Olsen caught five passes for 64 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 against the Packers.

Olsen hauled in a beautiful 21-yard grab over the middle to set up the game winning field goal after adding a touchdown catch earlier in the game. Olsen was targeted six times and it looks like he's becoming a bigger part of the offense, but he remains a TE2.

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Santana Moss is not panicking

Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss was caught off guard when he was asked Monday whether Sunday's loss in St. Louis reminded him of the Jim Zorn Era. And cornerback DeAngelo Hall pretty much said the same thing. They insist that the loss didn't plant seeds of doubt into what coach Mike Shanahan is trying to accomplish.

"Here we go again? We're far from that," Moss told reporters when asked about the team's mindset. "You watch the football we played last year, it's nowhere near the football we're playing this year, offensively I'm talking about. Last year we were so plain to where people who were watching on TV knew what we were fitting to do before we did it. Right now, we got something better going. We just have to put some of the mistakes behind us and that will help us convert third downs and help us move the ball well. That will help us attack in the red zone."

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Brian Asbury Scores 32 Points

Few surprises in first round of State Cup
Hapoel Tel Aviv returned to State Cup action with a 93-72 road win against Elitzur Yavne last night. Before a crowd of 250 Hapoel supporters, Brian Asbury scored 32 points to lead the way for the Reds, who will play in the second-tier Liga Leumit this season. All Super League teams participating in the State Cup easily won their games last night in the first round of the tournament.

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Spirited first practice minus John Salmons

The Bucks officially got the 2010-'11 campaign under way Tuesday at the Cousins Center with a spirited practice led by center Andrew Bogut and point guard Brandon Jennings.

But the Bucks had to do without shooting guard John Salmons, who was sidelined with a slightly sprained right knee and could miss a few days of practice, according to Bucks coach Scott Skiles. Forward Corey Maggette, still recovering from off-season surgery on his left ankle, watched from the sideline and later took a turn on the stationary bike.

Jennings was yelling and chirping during the two-plus hour workout and clearly was excited to be back on the Cousins Center practice court. The Bucks held their full-contact drills in the morning and were scheduled for a non-contact session later in the day.

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Ryan Braun scratched due to stomach flu

Ryan Braun was a late-scratch from Tuesday's lineup against the Mets due to flu-like symptoms.

Joe Inglett will start in left field Tuesday and bat second against Mike Pelfrey.

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Devin Hester's 62-yard Punt Return vs the Packers

Devin Hester's 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of tonight's Bears-Packers game leaves him on the cusp of NFL history.
Hester, who hadn't taken a return to the house in nearly three years, broke one by bringing Packers P Tim Masthay's 57-yard boot all the way back and then some.

Hester, who's rarely handled kickoffs since becoming more prominently featured as a receiver in 2008, needs one more TD on a punt or kickoff to catch Brian Mitchell for the combined record of 13. Hester is currently tied for second place with Dante Hall and Eric Metcalf. Having taken eight punts all the way back in his five-year career, Hester needs two more to match Rick Upchurch's all-time mark in that category.

Hester brought back the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI vs. the Colts 92 yards for six. But since it occurred in postseason, it doesn't count toward his all-time total. He also returned a missed field goal 108 yards against the Giants in 2006.

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

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proCanes Stats From Week 3 of the 2010 NFL U Season

Andre Johnson (Texans): 4 catches 64 yards, led all Texans receivers.

Darryl Sharpton (Texans): 1 tackle

Vince Wilfork (Patriots): Played but did not record any stats

Brandon Meriweather (Patriots): 6 tackles, 3 solo tackles, 1 pass deflection and 1 Interception

Jeremy Shockey (Saints): 8 catches 78 yards, 1 TD for his best output thus far of the season.

Jonathan Vilma (Saints): 11 tackles, 8 solo tackles, 1 tackle for a loss to lead the Saints defense.

Santana Moss (Redskins): 6 catches 124 yards 1 TD, led all Redskins receivers.

Clinton Portis (Redskins): 7 carries 44 yards, 1 catch 14 yards

Rocky McIntosh (Redskins): 7 tackles, 6 solo tackles

Calais Campbell (Cardinals): 5 tackles, 4 solo tackles

Antrel Rolle (Giants): 7 tackles, 6 solo tackles, 1 tackle for a loss

Kelly Jennings (Seahawks): 3 tackles, 2 solo tackles, 2 pass deflections

Frank Gore (49ers): 15 carries 43 yards, 9 catches 102 yards to lead all 49er receivers

Kellen Winslow (Buccanneers): 3 catches for 24 yards

Roscoe Parrish (Bills): 5 catches for 83 yards, led all Bills receivers also had 1 punt returns for 3 yards

Greg Olsen (Bears): 5 catches, 64 yards, 1TD

Devin Hester (Bears): 1 catch, 16 yards, 3 punt returns for 93 yards including a 62 yard TD, Hester’s first punt return for a TD in 2 years.

Willis McGahee (Ravens): 7 carries 29 yards

Ray Lewis (Ravens): 7 tackles, 3 solo tackles



DJ Williams (Broncos): 5 tackles, 3 solo tackles

Sinorice Moss (Giants): DID NOT PLAY on IR Will miss the entire 2010 Season

Bruce Johnson (Giants): 1 solo tackle

Kenny Phillips (Giants): 9 tackles, 6 solo tackles, led the Giants in tackles.

Reggie Wayne (Colts): 4 catches for 65 yards

Jon Beason (Panthers): 9 tackles, 4 solo tackles, 1 pass deflection

Phillip Buchanon (Redskins): 1 pass deflection

Antonio Dixon (Eagles): Played but did not record any stats

Sam Shields (Packers): 1 solo tackle

Randy Phillips (Lions): Played but did not record any stats

Jimmy Graham (Saints): 2 solo tackles

Leon Williams (Cowboys): 2 solo tackles

Spencer Adkins (Falcons): DID NOT PLAY, INACTIVE


Eric Winston: Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Rashad Butler: Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Bryant McKinnie: Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Eric Winston: Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Chris Myers: Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

Vernon Carey: Offensive Lineman, did not record any stats.

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Santana Moss Would Like More Touchdowns, Please

Talking during today's open locker room media session, Santana Moss expressed a few of the same basic ideas as LaRon Landry and London Fletcher, about working harder and finishing plays and so on and so forth. Here, for example, is how he suggests that the team recover from Sunday's dispiriting loss:

"Just keep working," he said. "You know, the season ain't made in three games. It feels like some of the things that we did on the field alone so far this year have shown us that we can be a good team. I feel like on offense, we just have to finish a couple'a plays here and there. One or two mistakes less, this drive, that drive, and just clean some of the little riff-raffs up."

But Moss went further than the other two in assigning primary responsibility for the two losses. And he didn't blame the defense, despite their league-low rank and consecutive games with thirty points given up. Instead Moss -- coming off a 6 catch, 124 yards, 1 touchdown game and sitting tied for fifth in the NFL (with Brandon Marshall) in receiving yards -- put the blame squarely on his offensive unit.

"We move the ball so well at times, I feel like we could score any time we have the ball in our hands," Moss said. "I feel like we just HAVE to score, though."

And settling for field goals, Moss made clear, is not acceptable. "Sometimes those three points, -- they help -- but that also's giving that defense, that's like them saying, 'Okay, they didn't get seven on us,' you know? So we have to just find a way to not put it on our defense to try to hold these teams and just go out there and score seven points. I feel like one or two touchdowns in that game could've stopped those guys from even trying, and we just let 'em stay around and didn't really put it on them the way we should have, and that's how they ended up winning the game."

Hard to argue with any of that. Moss also addressed the idea that the loss in St. Louis is an echo of the loss in Detroit, or that it portends a similarly down season.

"Every year's gonna be different," Moss said. "You can't dwell on what happened in the past, and you can't look back, and I feel like right now it's a whole different team and a different era, and we'll find our way out of it."

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Andre Johnson re-injures ankle

For the second game in a row, Texans receiver Andre Johnson was sidelined because of an ankle injury.

Last week at Washington, Johnson suffered a mild ankle sprain. He left Sunday's game but returned and finished with four receptions for 64 yards.

"I re-aggravated my ankle sprain," he said. "We're going to do the same thing we did last week as far as treating it."

Johnson isn't worried about making the injury worse.

"I'm not worried about that," he said. "I'm not worried about my ankle when I'm out there. I'm trying to help the team win a game. That's my focus.

"I felt pain when I got tackled today. That's the only reason I came off the field. Doctor checked it out and told me I hadn't done anything worse to it. I'm going to feel pain every time I get hit on it if I continue to play. I have to come out for a few plays until it goes away. That's what I'm going to continue to do until it gets better."

Johnson told 1500 The Game in Houston Monday that he is "confident" he'll play in Week 4 against the Raiders.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak isn't ruling out the possibility of giving Johnson a week off.

“I’ll evaluate it," said Kubiak. "Obviously, he’s not feeling good today, but we don’t think there was a big setback or anything. He will be day-to-day and we will be smart with Andre Johnson. We’ve got a long way to go." The Texans head to Oakland for Week 4. Look for A.J. to again be listed as questionable.

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Shanahan: Clinton Portis dropped unhit to prevent fumble

At the end of his longest rush of the season, late in the first quarter during the St. Louis Rams' 30-16 victory over the Redskins Sunday, Clinton Portis went down without being hit.

Portis, whose 2009 season was cut short after he suffered a concussion in Week 9, appeared to simply give up on the play after rushing for 27 yards. Television replays showed Portis looked to see where a Rams' defensive player was positioned before dropping to the turf.

The strange move surprised Coach Mike Shanahan, and Shanahan spoke with Portis about what occurred.

"His right hand was bothering him," Shanahan said during his Monday news conference at Redskins Park. "He felt like he didn't have the ball secured, he couldn't secure it very well, and he was afraid he was going to have contact on that side. "I asked him the same question and that's what he shared with me."

Heavily involved in the game plan in the first half, Portis rushed for 45 yards with a 7.5-yard average before halftime. He had only one carry in the second half.

The Redskins trailed for most of the final two quarters and abandoned the running game, which was effective for the first time in three games, in a failed attempt to rally. They gained one net yard rushing after halftime. "We didn't run the ball as much in the second half as we would have liked," Shanahan said. "I thought we were very effective in the first half."

After the game, Shanahan said the plan was for Portis to play on third downs and obvious passing downs and for Ryan Torain, who was activated from the practice squad Saturday, to often play on first and second downs. But was that the plan before Portis avoided contact on his long run?

For what it's worth, Portis after the game said he was fine.

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Bryant McKinnie Dominating When Healthy

I mentioned a lot of this in the kill-a-tree edition, but it's worth mentioning again. Hats off to LT Bryant McKinnie. Many of us have beat on him since last December when Julius Peppers turned him into a revolving door en route to Favre.

McKinnie had the toughest of all line assignments with Kyle Vanden Bosch. Vanden Bosch was having a great start to the season. Two weeks ago, he had 11 tackles against the Bears. It was such an impressive performance that Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was brought to tears while describing Vanden Bosch as the best football player he's coached in 30 years.

Well, against McKinnie, Vanden Bosch had one tackle. I haven't watched a replay and studied it yet, but I also don't remember Vanden Bosch giving Favre much pressure.

"I did my job," McKinnie said. "When I'm healthy, I do my job."

The latter comment was a reference to the Peppers game last December. McKinnie said after the season that he was playing with a foot injury, which is why he had trouble with Peppers and why he skipped out on the Pro Bowl practices.

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Rashad Butler holds own

Rashad Butler had a few hiccups in his first start for the Texans on Sunday, but overall, the left tackle said he feels like he can handle the job.

Butler, who is starting in place of suspended Duane Brown at left tackle, flinched in the red zone early in the second quarter, causing a false start and a loss of 5 yards. The Texans ended up settling for a field goal on that drive.

"I cost us six points right there," Butler said. "That is not OK, but it is something I will remember and work on. I can only learn from my mistakes."
He also had the task of managing Dallas All-Pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who had three sacks in the game. Despite that, quarterback Matt Schaub thought Butler played well in his first start.

"I felt like he hung in there and really battled the whole game," Schaub said. "He was very confident in what he could do, and I had a ton of confidence that he was going to play well. I feel like coming out of the game he did that."

Butler said that after Sunday's game, he feels more comfortable moving forward.

"It's good to get the first start out of the way," Butler said. "I think I was a little nervous in the locker room before the game, but it wore off fast, and I will be fine for next week at Oakland."

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McGahee Could Start Sunday

Ravens running back Ray Rice has a "significant" bruise on his knee, making him the most critical question mark heading into Sunday's AFC North showdown at the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.

It is believed that Rice suffered a bruise on the front of his right knee after leaving in the fourth quarter Sunday. According to an observer, Rice walked out of M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night with the help of a crutch, but he was basically forced to use it by the team's medical staff.

Losing Rice would be a significant blow because he is the only player to gain over 100 yards rushing against Pittsburgh in 38 games. A magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday confirmed that there was no cartilage or ligament damage.

Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that Rice still could start Sunday, when the Ravens (2-1) look to tie the Steelers(3-0) — who play without Ben Roethlisberger — atop the division.

"We'll just see how it goes," Harbaugh said. "You got to see how it heals throughout the course of the week."

If Rice is sidelined, the Ravens would replace him with Willis McGahee, their $3.6 million backup. The last time McGahee was the Ravens' feature back was the AFC championship game 21 months ago at Pittsburgh. He rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

McGahee brings a different style as a runner than Rice. While Rice uses change of direction to elude tacklers, McGahee delivers more of a punch. His stiff-arm at Oakland last season was perhaps the most memorable run of his Ravens career.

"Willis is 240 pounds and he brings it. He's a load," Harbaugh said. "I like the way Willis runs. I like his personality. I like the way he's practiced and the way he's prepared for the season. He'll be ready to go."

As the Ravens' red-zone running back last season, McGahee set career highs in yards per carry (5.0) and touchdowns (14). But there had been speculation that the Ravens were shopping around McGahee as recently as a week ago.

"Everybody on this team knows what Willis is capable of," tight end Todd Heap said. "We've seen him make play after play in this league for our team. It's good to have a guy of his caliber right behind Ray Rice. If Ray goes down, he's going to step up."

The results of Rice's test were viewed as positive by the organization. A bruise could sideline him for a week, but a sprain might have knocked him out for multiple weeks.

Rice injured his knee with about 10 minutes left in Sunday's 24-17 win over the Cleveland Browns. After catching a short pass over the middle, he tried to cut back and duck under nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin. But Rubin grabbed the back of Rice's jersey and forced him down to the ground. Rice's right knee bounced hard off of M&T Bank Stadium's FieldTurf.

He went to the huddle and initially lined up for the next play before Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco called a timeout. After the stoppage, Rice went to the bench, where the medical staff examined his knee.

Rice has had a slow start to this season after finishing second in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (an average of 127.6) last season. He ranks 21st in total yards (91.7) after three games this year.

"There are going to be injuries throughout the course of the season," Harbaugh said. "Hopefully, we've positioned ourselves with good football players to overcome them. I think we've done that, especially at running back and other positions."

Harbaugh added, "Ray Rice is a good player. We'd sure rather have him."

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Catholic school kids participate in Ravens Ray Lewis dance contest

At Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a small catholic school outside Baltimore, all 225 students swapped their school uniforms for their favorite NFL jerseys—most of them purple in honor of the hometown Ravens—and appeared in a video where they ran screaming off the school bus. The kids participated in a day’s worth of NFL-themed lesson plans in everything from spelling to geography, and participated in a contest to see which student could best mimic the famously barbaric and unrestrained dance that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis performs on the field before games.

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Family of 'fighters' stands behind outspoken Giants safety Antrel Rolle

Turquoise dominates nearly every room of Antrel Rolle’s 2,000-square-foot apartment on the North Bergen waterfront.

Turquoise rugs, turquoise pillows, turquoise artwork, napkins, sheets and goblets. Even the tray for the remote controls is turquoise.

“He told them he wanted turquoise,” his mother, Armelia, said as she entered her son’s refreshingly muted-toned office. “But not this much.”

Armelia Rolle has hired a new interior decorator who has laid out patterns for wallpaper and accessories — none of them turquoise.

“These pillows have to go,” Armelia says before tossing them aside so she can sit on the office couch. “He wants modern. These are old-fashioned.”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising this “bachelor pad,” as Antrel’s father, Al, has dubbed it, is getting an early makeover a half-year after it was first decorated. The Rolles are a decisive, sometimes feisty bunch. When they see something that could improve, they work to fix it.

Such was the case last week with Antrel, a Giants safety for not much longer than he’s owned his apartment. After an embarrassing loss to the Colts last Sunday night, Rolle perceived a lack of fight, leadership and energy from his coaches and teammates. Only two games into his Giants career, Rolle saw ominous signs of a situation opposite of the one for which he signed up.

He tried to fix it by airing his concerns during a radio interview.

Five controversy-filled days later, Rolle has decried his own methods but stuck by his message — in true family form.

“I’m just a fighter, my dad was a fighter, the Rolles are fighters,” said Al Rolle, who persevered through staunch opposition to become the first African-American police chief and captain in the history of Homestead, Fla. “Not in a negative way; we fight in a positive way.”

Antrel Rolle’s first fight was nearly his last.

It came when he was 2 years old. His grandfather, who maintained a grove near his house, filled a Sprite can with paraquat (an herbicide used to kill weeds) and gave it to his son to use around the house. Al planned to put the can out of reach of his children but was sidetracked when Armelia called.

Just home from day care, Antrel took a sip. His older brother, Antuan, noticed the black substance on his lips and knocked the can away. Still, the youngest of the Rolle’s four children passed out within minutes. Doctors pumped clay into Antrel’s body to absorb the poison while telling his parents they might want to talk to a priest.

Thanks to Antuan’s quick reaction and five days in intensive care, Antrel survived. The burns in his mouth hampered his ability to eat for quite some time, but otherwise he was unaffected and doesn’t remember the incident.

Within years, he was an active, rambunctious young boy who often got into trouble in school for acting up. His parents punished him by temporarily pulling him from football, track, karate and other activities.

“He’s always been a clown, he loves fun,” Armelia said. “That’s why he can’t stand what’s happening there (with the Giants). It’s no fun.”
On the day of Antrel’s free-agent visit with the Giants, Armelia was unable to reach him by phone. She was in contact with his agent Drew Rosenhaus and wanted to relay contract information to her son. Just last week, Antrel finally asked his mother what his base salary is for this season.

More than money, more than having fun, Rolle wants to win.

“I can understand his intensity in thinking someone’s not putting all out,” Don Drinkhahn, Rolle’s coach at South Dade High School, said by phone. “It’s difficult for him to see people that have the opportunity those people have, not putting forth a great effort.”

Or, for that matter, anyone who has the opportunity to play football.

Drinkhahn, who retired in 2007, recalls seeing Rolle, then in college or the NFL, encouraging his players. Rolle even delivered a few pregame and halftime speeches, once helping his alma mater overcome a halftime deficit to defeat a rival.

“We don’t bow down,” Rolle recalled telling the players. “When we’re down, we get up and fight hard.”

Drinkhahn said Rolle was always an intense player but often relied on his athleticism while in high school. It wasn’t until he arrived at the University of Miami that his competitive nature soared. Even his current teammates who aren’t former Hurricanes believe the spirited environment at “The U” was a big factor in Rolle’s development.

Armelia said her son told then-defensive coordinator Randy Shannon he should start early in his career. When Shannon declined, Antrel replied, “Well, then you’ll have 12 men on the field.”

Al told Antrel he needed to earn that starting job by playing “like a wild man.” Rolle did in the next practice and became a starter after returning an interception for a touchdown. Soon, he was passing on his father’s advice.

“In the locker room — the complaining and moaning of guys who wanted more playing time or the ball — he pretty much put a stop to it,” said former Miami coach Larry Coker, now the coach at Texas-San Antonio. “ ‘If you have issues, let’s go to coach and we’ll talk about them.’ ”
Rolle, 27, should have heeded his own advice last week, former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said.

“I never did that because it’s not going to get fixed that way,” Pierce said by phone. “All I was going to do was get a call from Coach Coughlin to go upstairs, and I knew that. ... You don’t go about it that way.”

Still, Pierce can sense from afar the lack of fire in the Giants’ defense that has been missing since he suffered a career-ending neck injury midway through last season. Pierce respects Justin Tuck and believes he can lead in his own way, but he knows Rolle can be a passionate presence.

“He has the swagger that defense needs,” said Pierce, who has twice spoken to Rolle about being a leader with the Giants since he signed in March. “He’s so worried about he’s the new guy there and he can’t really be vocal or step up to guys. That’s not the case. That’s a young defense and they can easily be persuaded by a guy of his caliber coming in.”

Veteran safety Deon Grant said Rolle has been vocal behind closed doors and will often stop a meeting of the entire defense if he hears them install a call or coverage he doesn’t like.

“He does it out of respect,” Grant said. “But he also does it to let the coach know he’s not about to put himself in a position to lose.”

Rolle heard about how his parents sometimes didn’t have enough money to put gas in the car, about the time they lost out on a house when they arrived at the closing without the $800 they didn’t realize they needed. He was 16 when he watched his father refuse to flinch as he was told Homestead wasn’t ready for a black police chief, only to finally get the job after the community rallied for him.

So after the game plan against Indy kept him from roaming the way he believed the Giants would let him, after his teammates seemed to accept losing, after he gave team leaders a chance to speak up, he bubbled over.

“By being in the house and hearing us say things, how we handle things, how we make adjustments,” Al said, “he probably thought, ‘If it was Mom and Dad, would they let it go on or would they stop me right now if I did something wrong in school?’”

Al and Armelia did not condone their son’s public venting last week, but they understand. And they’re quick to remind those who label their son a malcontent that he never complained about being demoted with the Cardinals, who moved him to safety.

“If he was a whiner, he would have whined about that,” Armelia said. “He’s a strong-willed person, and when he’s convinced and feels strongly about something, he’ll do something about it.

“And if he didn’t feel it was detrimental to the team, you never would have heard a word.”

Click here to order Antrel Rolle’s proCane Rookie Card.

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John Salmons happy to be back

St. Francis - Bucks guard John Salmons chose to become a free agent during the summer, so it wasn't a certainty he would return to Milwaukee this season.

But the Bucks definitely are glad he did.

Salmons returns at shooting guard to play alongside point guard Brandon Jennings and try to rekindle the magic they displayed down the stretch last season as the Bucks clinched an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

The 30-year-old Salmons averaged 19.9 points in 30 regular-season games and the Bucks went 22-8 in those contests.

"Other teams showed interest but there was a lot of waiting on LeBron, and that really wasn't something I wanted to wait for," Salmons said. So the veteran signed a five-year deal worth as much as $39 million with Milwaukee.

Salmons referred to the free-agent frenzy which resulted in the Miami Heat signing LeBron James, who left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a powerful triumvirate.

Salmons liked the moves made by Bucks general manager John Hammond, including trading with Golden State for forward Corey Maggette and signing free-agent power forward Drew Gooden.

"I feel like it was a lot of real basketball moves," Salmons said. "A lot of other teams made moves for a lot of reasons other than basketball, and I feel like all the moves they (the Bucks) made were basketball-related, trying to get better."

Salmons is glad to have the offensive firepower represented by Maggette, who averaged nearly 20 points a game with the Warriors last season.
"I think he'll help a lot," Salmons said. "He gets to the line so often and that will just help everybody. Having a guy who can create his own shot, that's just another guy the defense has to worry about.

"He's a guy who likes to take the ball to the basket. He can post up smaller players and create double-teams and throw the defense off balance a little bit. I feel like he's going to open up things for everybody."

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Tribe closer Chris Perez becomes proud father

CLEVELAND -- It's not often that Chris Perez is at a loss for words. But the Indians closer had to pause before verbalizing the emotions he felt regarding the birth of his son Friday.

"You're tired, excited, happy, worried -- everything," said Perez, who returned to the Tribe on Monday for its series opener against the Tigers. "It's life-changing, for sure. It puts a lot of stuff in perspective. I definitely have a different respect for my wife."

Melanie Perez delivered Maxwell Alexander, who weighed in at five pounds and 15 ounces.

"He's doing good," Perez said. "He's eating well and putting his food down. If he was any bigger, I don't know if he would have come out naturally."

In Perez's absence, Vinnie Pestano closed the Indians' 5-3 win over the Royals on Sunday for his first Major League save.

"It's a feather in his cap," Perez said. "It was nice for our team, too. That's a big win for us to get another game up on the Royals. Obviously, we don't want to finish last. Finishing in fourth [place in the American League Central] would be awesome."

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Gaby Sanchez deserves NL Rookie of the Year nod

Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez leads all Major League rookies in total bases, doubles and RBI. He is second in hits, third in homers and first in modesty.

The 27-year-old, who boasts an .808 OPS and a propensity for key hits, is one of the most selfless players in the Marlins clubhouse. His 36 doubles put him in the top 10 in the National League and his 252 total bases are good enough to crack the top 25.

Even with all of his success, you won't hear Sanchez say a word about his candidacy for this year’s NL Rookie of the Year award.

“I’m not thinking about it until the last game of the season is over,” Sanchez said. “Like I have been saying from the beginning of the season, that’s an individual award and this is a team game. Just because you win the award doesn’t mean anything. We just have to go out there and continue to play and try to finish off strong. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about.”

His team-first attitude is one of the many reasons why his teammates light up with complimentary things to say about the Marlins first baseman. Fellow rookie Logan Morrison battled Sanchez in spring training for the Marlins first base job.

After losing out to Sanchez, some would expect Morrison to have some resentment towards the player that kept him from breaking camp in the big leagues, but the rookie outfielder is actually one of Sanchez’s biggest supporters in his Rookie of the Year campaign.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

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proCanes Extend TD Streak to 125 Regular Season Weeks

Did you know that a former Miami Hurricane/current proCane has scored at least one touchdown in 125 consecutive regular season NFL weeks? Dating back to Week 15 of the 2002 season where Clinton Portis scored 4 TDs, at least one proCane has scored a TD in each regular season week since then. We have chronicled every touchdown since 2002. See below:

Week 3 2010:
Jeremy Shockey - 1 TD - New Orleans Saints
Santana Moss - 1 TD - Washington Redskins
Greg Olsen - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Devin Hester - 1 TD - Chicago Bears

Week 2 2010:
Greg Olsen - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Devin Hester - 1 TD - Chicago Bears
Clinton Portis - 2 TDs - Washingon Redskins
Andre Johnson - 1 TD - Houston Texans
Reggie Wayne - 1 TD - Indianapolis Colts
Frank Gore - 1 TD - San Francisco 49ers

Week 1 2010:
Reggie Wayne - 1 TD - Indianapolis Colts
Roscoe Parrish - 1 TD - Buffalo Bills
Willis McGahee - 1 TD - Baltimore Ravens

Click below to see the rest of the list:

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Bryant McKinnie Bottles Up Vanden Bosch

Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch led his team in tackles through two games, but left tackle Bryant McKinnie did a solid job containing him Sunday.

Vanden Bosch was credited with only one tackle and one pass breakup.

"That was something that was told to me all week long: high energy guy, very fast off the ball," McKinnie said. "I just had to come out here and match his intensity."

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

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Rashad Butler in line for big payday

Texans LT Rashad Butler will be in line for a big payday if he excels in replacing suspended starting LT Duane Brown.

Butler signed a one-year $1.176 million tender this offseason, and would become an unrestricted free agent this offseason under the new collective-bargaining agreement. Butler joins fellow Miami alumni RT Eric Winston and C Chris Myers on the Texans' offensive line in a tough matchup against DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys' defense in an important Week 3 game.

Butler, who made his first NFL start in place of suspended Duane Brown, was obviously overmatched against the perennial All-Pro. But Butler wasn’t to blame for any of Ware’s three sacks. He was only beat on one of them, and quarterback Matt Schaub held the ball too long on that play. Houston inexplicably left a tight end alone on Ware on another of his sacks.

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Santana Moss racks up 124 yards, TD in Week 3 loss

Santana Moss caught six passes for 124 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the Redskins' Week 3 loss to the Rams.

About the only positive for the Redskins this week. Moss fumbled while trying to gain extra yardage on a grab over the middle in the first quarter but made up for it quickly with a 21-yard score one quarter later. He's cruising toward his most productive fantasy season in ages.

Click here to order Santana Moss’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Turns out, all those pleas for the Ravens to trade Willis McGahee for draft picks were a bit premature.

Willis McGahee ran for 29 yards on seven carries in the Ravens' Week 3 win over Cleveland.

Ray Rice injured his knee on the Ravens' third-to-last possession, so McGahee took over as the lead back on the final two drives. Rice's injury is not expected to be long term, but he could miss the Ravens' Week 4 game at Pittsburgh. If so, McGahee would become the starting running back.

Maybe Ray Rice will be fine, and maybe he'll be zipping around Heinz Field next week like a remote control car, dodging and weaving his way through the Steelers defense. But if he isn't -- and even if he is, how can he be 100 percent? -- at least the Ravens don't have to panic. As frustrating as it is for those who play fantasy football, the reality of the NFL is that you need to have two tailbacks. You do your best to keep them both happy, and it doesn't always work, but if you rely on one too much and he gets hurt, suddenly you have to throw a guy into the lineup who hasn't played all season and isn't ready and might not understand your protections, your audibles or be in shape to carry the load.

People like to say having McGahee is a luxury, but really, it's a necessity in the modern NFL. That's why Ozzie Newsome didn't shop him too hard.

"Everybody on this team knows what Willis is capable of," Heap said. "We've seen him make play after play in this league for our team. It's good to have a guy of his caliber right behind Ray Rice. If Ray goes down, he's going to step up."

The one issue I think the Ravens may have is that Rice is so quick through the hole, the offensive line just has to give him a glimmer of daylight and he'll get through it. McGahee isn't quite as quick, but he still has enough burst to pick up five and six yards a carry.

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

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Frank Gore racks up yards in 49ers loss

RB Frank Gore rushed 15 times for just 43 yards, but tacked on nine catches for 102 yards in the 49ers Week 3 loss to the Chiefs.

Kansas City defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel deserves a game ball for the game plan that contained the explosive Gore until the game's outcome was decided. The former Hurricane tallied 12 targets from myopic QB Alex Smith, and was by far the 49ers most explosive playmaker. The stud RB1 heads to Atlanta Week 4 to face a stout Falcon rush defense that just allowed 43 rush yards to the Saints.

Click here to order Frank Gore’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Clinton Portis has busy first half, quiet second half

ST. LOUIS - The Washington Redskins entered Sunday's game with a game plan that called for running back Clinton Portis to spend much of the second half on the sideline. As for their plan beyond Week 3, Portis admits, "I have no idea.

"If they call on me, they call on me," Portis said following Sunday's 30-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams. "If not, I got to cheer my teammates on, be the supporter that they need me to be."

A running game that has been searching for answers churned out more questions in Sunday's loss. From the backfield rotation to the on-field execution, it has been the least predictable part of the Redskins' offense through their first three games. The team's commitment to the ground game is unclear, and they'll enter next week's game at Philadelphia averaging a league-low 19 carries per game.

And if Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan knows how he'll use Portis from this point forward, he's not offering many hints.

"We'll talk about that next week. There's a lot of possibilities," Shanahan said. "You have to evaluate the film. Can't say right now. And I would never say right now."

Against the Rams, the rushing attack posted its best half of the season in the game's first 30 minutes, which was then followed by its worst. The team entered the game ranked last in the league with 107 net rushing yards through two games. Playing behind an offensive line that featured two new starters in Stephon Heyer and Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington ran for 115 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first half.

But in the second half, the ground game disappeared. The Redskins had only one yard on five carries in the final two quarters against a Rams blitz that seemed to plug every hole.

"I think everyone was bad in the second half," tight end Chris Cooley said.

Further confusing matters, Portis took a backseat to Ryan Torain, who was activated from the practice squad Friday and hadn't appeared in a game since 2008. Portis was relegated mostly to third-down situations. Torain started drives and had three second-half carries; Portis had only one.

"That was our plan," Shanahan said. "I thought both of them did an excellent job running the first half. I'm not sure what their yardage was. But both of them had a lot of yards. We're going to keep Clinton in there on passing situations on third down and Ryan on first- and second-down situations. They both got some carries. I thought they both did a good job."

Torain led the team with 46 yards on seven carries. Portis had 44 yards on seven carries. The game marked only the third time in his career he had fewer than 10 carries in game in which he was healthy. It was the fewest touches a healthy Portis has had since October 2005.

Talking to reporters following the loss, Portis did not express any frustration with the team's second-half rotation, even offering up praise for Torain.

"I'm not really surprised by much," Portis said. "I think Ryan went out and had some big runs. He went and provided the big-play ability that they was looking for. I guess he was hot."

Though he was listed as questionable on the injury report, Portis said he's healthy.

"I'm fine. I feel like when they call my name, I go," he said. "I think this is a team that is jelling, playing team ball and we got a lot of playmakers. So if they call somebody else's number . . ."

Torain entered the game with just 69 career yards on 15 carries. He had appeared in just two previous games, both in November 2008. On his first play from scrimmage Sunday, Torain took a handoff in the second quarter and charged around the left end for a 36-yard gain.

"I was just waiting for coaches to call my number," he said. "When they called, I was ready."

The past week saw plenty of backfield shuffling. The team released running back Larry Johnson on Tuesday and added Chad Simpson. Keiland Williams, an undrafted rookie, moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart. Then on Friday, Torain was told he would be activated for the game.

Simpson made the trip to St. Louis but was on the inactive list.

Portis appeared to be the only running back whose role was unchanged - until the second half. Now even he doesn't know what the future holds.

Click here to order Clinton Portis’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Ray Lewis III leads Lake Mary Prep comeback over Community School

NAPLES — Last week, Community won its first game ever. On Friday night at home against Lake Mary Prep, the Seahawks celebrated their first homecoming.

They also suffered their first heartbreaking loss 40-27, due mostly to the dominant play of Griffins sophomore Ray Lewis III, son of the Baltimore Ravens linebacker.

Lewis compiled 378 total yards, including two long punt returns and 133 yards rushing. Lewis also scored five touchdowns, four of which came in the fourth quarter.

Community School (1-3) led 13-7 at halftime. Lewis put his team ahead with an 80-yard punt return with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter. From there, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Lewis took charge of the game, thwarting valiant comeback attempts by the Seahawks.

“So close,” said CSN coach Damon Jones. “So close. The key was bottling up Lewis. We did that for two-and-a-half quarters. We knew we had our work cut out for us. He’s a special kid.

“We did some really good thing out there tonight. Our guys are just getting better and better. But we just made some mistakes at the end.”
Lewis opened up the fourth with an 85-yard punt return, breaking tackles, to put the Griffins up 20-13.

The Seahawks responded immediately. On their first play from scrimmage after Lewis second return, Seahawks running back Mike Schoeller ( 122 yards) burst up the middle for a 65-yard touchdown to knot the score 20-20.

Two plays later, Lewis, who received a text from his father before the game telling him to “Stay low,” broke off a screen pass for a 65-yard score.

After the play, Lewis, who was on the field for all but two plays the entire game, on both offense and defense, began to suffer leg cramps.

“I was cramping the rest of the game,” he said. “The whole time I was telling myself to suck it up, I’m a football player.”

CSN responded four minutes later when quarterback Andrew Tomaini hit receiver Danny Straub for a 6-yard score to tie the game once again.
However, the Seahawks could not contain Lewis, who scored for the third time in the quarter on a 40-yard run up the middle. The Griffins would not relinquish the lead.

In a Week 2 victory over Windermere Prep, Lewis compiled 504 total yards. On Friday, he would score his fifth and final touchdown on a 3-yard run with just under two minutes left.

“Because (Lewis) plays so much,” said Grinnins coach Buck Gurley, “we wanted to spread the ball around. But we got to a point on offense where we had to give him the ball. And he responded. He’s an athlete.”

After a quiet first quarter, the Seahawks struck on the first play of the second to get on the board first.

Facing a second and five on the Griffins’ 47 yard line, CSN quarterback Andrew Tomaini dropped back and flung the ball 25 yards down the middle. Seahawks receiver Neal Defossez hauled in the pass with two Lake Mary defenders on his back.

Defossez, a junior who leads the team in receiving, broke free from the defenders’ grasp and sprinted into the end zone.

The Griffins (3-1) responded on their next series. Starting at its own 38 yard line, Lake Mary handed the ball off to Lewis five straight times. On those plays, Lewis was able to eventually bull his way to the Seahawks 14 yard line.

Giving Lewis a rest, the Griffins’ sixth play of the series resulted in a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.

The Seahawks are at home once again next week when they take on St. John Neumann’s JV squad.

Click here to order Ray Lewis’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Kellen Winslow's will allows him to find a way

TAMPA - Kellen Winslow has enough money to say goodbye to the National Football League and lead a life of leisure, and no one could blame him if he did.

Some of those closest to him say you wouldn't believe what he goes through each week just to get on the field, where his right knee will be subjected once again to the special punishment someone playing tight end receives.

"His want-to and drive to be great amazes me. Most young men would spend money and time doing other things to enjoy life, but he enjoys football," Buccaneers tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts said.

"He cares about his legacy. He'll spend more time trying to get his body right. We kid him that he walks around with a body pack just to get going. The things he does to get ready on Sunday, the people who know football would applaud him."

It is a demanding ritual for sure, but that's what you have to do to keep playing after at least six operations on that knee. Any doctor would likely say "enough" but if they did Winslow would still keep coming.

"I don't even think everybody in the locker room knows what he goes through. He does so much work to get ready on Sunday," center Jeff Faine said. "It takes all week, down to the last day, for him to be prepared to play."

For the answer why he goes through all this, pay close attention the next time the Bucs have the ball on third down. Through two games this season, Winslow has eight catches — all on third down. He leads the NFL in that category, which is interesting enough. The numbers go even deeper, though.

"I think I'm so scared of failure; that's what drives me, I want to be great. It's my job," Winslow said quietly. "We show up for work and we play football. It's completely my job, something you have to work at and prepare for. It's my responsibility and my duty to prepare myself and be ready."

He had four catches in the 20-7 win against Carolina last week and each one kept drives alive that ended in points; two touchdowns and a field goal. He and quarterback Josh Freeman clearly have something special going, and people have noticed.

"Here's the central issue with him: He's generally too big and too strong for the secondary men to cover. He can create separation and break points and really bang on the big guys," said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, whose Steelers will try to stop him today when they play the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium.

"And he's an athletic problem for linebacker or linebacker-body types to cover because he's such a fluid athlete. Therein lies the problem in defending him. It will be a tall task for us."

It goes both ways. Games like this get Winslow going even more. He'll be matched frequently against Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and it should be something to see.

"He's the best. He's the best in-the-box player I've ever seen. He's so explosive; I just respect the hell out of him. He's my favorite player to go against, him and (Ravens safety) Ed Reed," Winslow said.

A lot of people raised eyebrows a year ago when General Manager Mark Dominik sent a pair of draft picks to Cleveland for Winslow, and then gave him the largest contract in the league for a tight end.

Not everyone was sold on the deal at first but any suggestion the Bucs overpaid has long since been forgotten. He has been everything they had hoped.

"Everybody plays but not everybody wants it. There is Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan … those guys want to take the last shot, make the last putt. He wants the ball," Roberts said.

"If you throw it to him, he'll make a play. He walks around with a football all day. He thinks about putting himself in those positions to make a play. He wants that pressure — throw it to him, that's what he says."

But it's reasonable to ask why, in his seventh season, he continues to put himself through the daily ritual of exercises, massages and strengthening it takes to stay on the field.

Winslow answers in one word: "Will."

"You've got to overcome it because nobody really cares about your situation," he said. "When the game is on the line and you need a play, are you going to make that play? That's all that matters."

He keeps making the plays. Winslow caught 77 passes for 884 yards last year, both team records for tight ends, and he has been such a key to the early success this season.

While his play has spoken loudly on the field, he has talked softly off of it — if at all. He is polite but can be elusive to the media, and that's the way he wants it. He made headlines for things he said in Cleveland, but not now.

"I just don't talk much anymore. I don't feel the need to," he said. "I'd rather play football and go home to my family and let the critics think what they think. I took a back seat, let the critics talk, and just do my job."

That's why he'll be out there this afternoon, summoning the will to push through the pain and once again stare down failure. After you strip away the money, hype and everything else that goes with the NFL, it's really simple.

Winslow plays because he loves the game. Everything else can wait.

Click here to order Kellen Winslow’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Sam Shields faces real test against Chicago Bears

Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did it just once.

Buffalo’s Curtis Modkins couldn’t do it at all.

The “genius” Mike Martz should be more successful, right?

The Green Bay Packers are off to a 2-0 start with an undrafted rookie starting in its most used defensive subpackage — the nickel. Forget that he wasn’t drafted, Sam Shields played cornerback only one year at the University of Miami.

Shouldn’t any NFL offensive coordinator worth his paycheck at least want to test Shields a few times?

“I keep getting asked, he hasn’t been tested, people didn’t throw at him,” Packers cornerback coach Joe Whitt said. “Well, (Bills receiver Lee Evans) wasn’t open, either. That’s one of the reasons people don’t throw, when the guy’s not open.”

Shields’ career is off to a better start than anyone imagined when he signed with the Packers over the summer. He was brought to Green Bay because of his speed and potential as a kick/punt returner. That experiment ended quickly because he had trouble fielding the ball, but Shields slowly moved up the cornerback depth chart during the preseason. He picked off two passes in preseason games and would have won the nickel job even if favorite Brandon Underwood hadn’t hurt his shoulder, Whitt said.

Shields started and played the entire game in the 27-20 win in Philadelphia. He gave up a 17-yard touchdown from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin in the fourth quarter when he got turned around on a double move.

Shields was better in the 34-7 win against Buffalo.

The Packers didn’t play much Cover-2 with a pair of safeties over the top. Because of the Bills’ trio of running backs — Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller — the Packers brought more help to the box and played a lot of single safety and press-man coverage. Shields lines up on the outside in the nickel, which left him matched up on Evans much of the game.

Evans didn’t catch a single ball.

“He didn’t have help with him most of the game, he was by himself,” Whitt said. “We didn’t do anything to protect him. The thing I was really pleased with, he went after the guy. He attacked him. He just physically really beat him and covered him well. Clay (Matthews) got great pressure on them, but a lot of the pressure came because the routes were not open up the field. And when they were open, they weren’t on Sam’s guy.

“Now is he going to do that every week? Maybe not. Are there going to be growing pains? Sure there are. But the kid is mature enough to do what we ask him to do right now.”

Many observers are waiting for those growing pains and fear this could be the week.

Martz has the Bears ranked No. 3 in the NFL in passing offense with an average of 316.0 yards through two games. Chicago finished 2009 ranked No. 17 with 217.1 yards a game.

Quarterback Jay Cutler leads the league with a 121.2 quarterback rating after throwing an NFL-high 26 interceptions last year — five picks shy of Sid Luckman’s single-season Bears record.

“There’s a lot more passing going on (this week), so we’ll see Monday night,” Shields said. “(The receivers) are all good route runners. Fast, quick. I’ve just got to play on top. That’s my responsibility.

“Don’t let any deep balls, because they throw a lot of deep balls.”

Coaches were impressed with the strides Shields made from Week 1 to Week 2. He played more aggressive, crushed a receiver on a crossing pattern and forced a fumble later in the game.

“I think he played more confidently,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “I saw him, as the game went on, being aggressive on blockers. Where he was attacking their blocker instead of waiting and trying to play off.”

Whitt said Shields has done everything the coaching staff has asked. Shields has spent hours watching film with reigning defensive player of the year Charles Woodson and most importantly has learned his assignments. He’s earned the trust that he will at least be in the right position.

Then it’s just a matter of making the most of opportunities — which Shields has done enough of to keep the nickel job despite Underwood returning from injury with a full week of practice.

“I know I’m a rookie out there and they’ll probably go after me, but they haven’t,” Shields said. “There’s still more games to come.

“This is the game, me being a rookie, I really have to show my coaches and teammates I can be accountable. Being out there in big games, especially on Monday night. That’s my mindset right now.”

Whitt echoed those sentiments.

“All I care about is who’s going to compete, who’s going to play at a high level and who’s going to do it on game day,” Whitt said. “Sam has shown … he can do it on game day. If he continues to do that, he will keep getting his shot.”

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Bears, Devin Hester express confidence in his returning punts

This is not about Devin Hester. This is about a 2-0 team trying to defeat the hated rival Packers to show it's no fluke.

Hester understands the big picture, which is why the Bears receiver refuses to get entangled in the debate over whether he should stop returning punts.

"I don't say what I want to do, what I don't want to do,'' Hester said. "I just do what the coaches ask me to do.

"I'm not going to volunteer, but if a coach approaches me about it, I can't outweigh what a coach thinks.''

Relieving Hester of punt returns doesn't appear to be in the Bears' immediate plans. True, Hester has not returned a punt or kick for a touchdown in almost three years — his last was a 64-yard punt return for a score against the Saints on Dec. 30, 2007 — but he still strikes fear in opponents based on his past. Hester has a franchise-record 11 career returns for touchdowns, not counting the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI and the 108-yard field goal return against the Giants in '06.

"Devin is our returner,'' coach Lovie Smith said. "He hasn't scored as many touchdowns, but when you're special like that and do some of the things that he did, you are expecting him to score every time. Sometimes you have to take a step back. … I expect he'll be the old Devin in the punt-return game this week.''

Hester, who was pulled off kick returns last season, has gained 12 yards on six punt returns through the first two games. He has gone 30 consecutive games without a special teams touchdown, a span that includes 62 punt returns. Hester had seven touchdowns on the first 89 punt returns of his career.

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has no plans to replace Hester, although he has options with Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, and D.J. Moore.

"He's still one of the very best punt returners in the entire league,'' Toub said. "That hasn't changed.''

But the blockers around Hester have, which no doubt has contributed to the drop-off.

"I'm not going to make excuses,'' Hester said. "If they put another guy in there and returns are popping up, then I'm happy.''

Despite Hester's drought, an improved Packers coverage team is certain to be on full alert. Hester's first-career return for a touchdown was 84 yards off a punt at Lambeau Field.

One has to wonder if the Packers will even kick his way.

"Every week, teams kick it out of bounds and (opposing) players are running off the field saying, `We're not kicking it to you,' so I know (the fear) is still there'' Hester said.

"Teams are worried that I'm still capable of taking it the distance.''

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Greg Olsen to critics: All that matters is results on field

Tight end Greg Olsen says it's fine with him if skeptics haven't given the Bears the credit they deserve for a 2-0 start.

"It's fine," he said. "If we just continue to go out and play well and win games, everything will take care of itself, and that's been our philosophy from the beginning of the year. Articles written and things said don't really have any (bearing on the) outcome. Wins and losses at the end of the year determine who makes the playoffs. The field is where it really counts, and all that other stuff doesn't really have any impact on the game."

The Bears have started 2-0 in just two of the previous 18 seasons. Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the Bears have started 3-0 nine times and made the playoffs in seven of those seasons.

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Conversation With Kenny Phillips

The other day, Kenny Phillips appeared at Woodbury Commons for a Reebok event that featured their new ZigTech footwear line. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the event, but I was able to get an interview with KP after the event was over, I’m sure it was a long day for the Giants star safety and I greatly appreciate his time. What he had to tell me was quite intriguing.

First and foremost, his knee issues coming off of surgery.  KP confirmed that rehabilitation is an ongoing process for his specific condition, but it’s not something that he thinks about on game day.  He says his knee is 100% and is glad to be back on the field and making plays for the Giants.  Now, many people know that I’m a big proponent of alternative treatments for conditions such as KP’s and I’m glad I had the opportunity to ask him myself point blank — has he looked into treatments like Yoga for his condition? He laughed and said “Yeah, but I mean I can’t say that I do Yoga.” KP made it clear that injury treatments are openly shared amongst the players in the locker room, and when I mentioned Aaron Ross’ success with going off of the Giants proscribed treatment plan to include Yoga and massage therapy, Phillips was well aware of the situation but was unwilling to go further to explore the options fully with his situation.  Honestly, I think it’s a shame that Yoga has such a negative stereotype among professional athletes. Personally I think if there was one thing I could recommend to any athlete that would help extend their career and prevent injury, let alone help rehabilitate them, it would be Yoga.  Other Giants like Amani Toomer have done it with much success. But I digress.  The point is that KP is completely on top of his knee injury, feels great right now — and it doesn’t enter his mind in the slightest on game day. Great to hear.

Secondly, my questions about Antrel Rolle’s comments to WFAN earlier in the week didn’t go unanswered.  In fact, Phillips echoed Rolle’s statements about the reasons the Giants “came out flat”.  But KP was quick to suggest that the main reason the Giants appeared unprepared to face the Colts and their running game that amassed 160 yards on the ground was simply this:  “We thought they were going to throw the ball.”  And if you take another look at the tape, this simple answer explains everything about why the Giants approached last weeks game the way they did, from soup to nuts.  The Giants were completely unprepared, like they didn’t spend 5 minutes all week with the notion that the Colts would dare run the ball against the Giants. So when I pressed KP for the reasons why the team had trouble adjusting to the Colts game plan that involved over 35 carries for Joseph Addai and Donald Brown, he plainly stated “That I can’t answer.”  Clearly the message here is that Perry Fewell was certain Peyton Manning and the Colts were going to revert to their typical look on offense, he never dreamed he’d have to adjust his scheme. But it never happened… and the Giants were caught with their pants down and 6 defensive backs on the field for over 24 minutes of play in the first half that they couldn’t substitute out. And even when they could, they didn’t.

When I asked Phillips how the team is transitioning to Fewell’s leadership, he could only speak for himself but he said “You know we’re still getting to know each other.” I felt the tone of his voice indicated no sense of concern, but it was clear that the Giants defense has been under a major transitioning period from the departure of Steve Spagnuolo to the hiring and firing of Bill Sheridan, to Fewell’s hiring.  Sharing the spotlight with two other veteran safeties is something I’m sure Phillips never thought he’d see come to pass. “We’re just trying to get our best players on the field at once.”  No animosity, no drama. No further explanation needed after last season’s defensive collapse, either.

But after that miserable performance against the Colts I had to ask Phillips if the Giants could get back on track with stopping the run, particularly for the players in the secondary such as himself to be committed to stepping up in the box when they host the Titans and Chris Johnson this weekend.  “Absolutely.  Stopping the run is going to continue to be a priority and I’m confident even after last week that we can stop the run with our defensive backs. I’m confident we can step up and make some big run stops out of the secondary.”


Show of hands - Andre Johnson pulls off remarkable plays because of preparation, talent

Lying on his back after being driven to the turf, Matt Schaub never saw the completion of his game-tying 34-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson during the Texans' 30-27 overtime victory Sunday in Washington.

But from the right side of FedEx Field, Jacoby Jones did. And the fourth-year wide receiver said Wednesday it didn't take long to reach a conclusion on how it would unfold.

"Schaub was scrambling a little bit, and I saw him chuck that thing," he said. "I looked up, saw the ball, and I saw Dre. And when I saw Dre box (the safety) out, I put my hands up."

"I knew it was a catch. I knew it was six (points)."

That sentiment was echoed Wednesday, when Johnson was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. No one was stunned the catch was made, and perhaps the only one surprised by the accolades was Johnson, who thought Schaub was more deserving.

As for how dynamic the catch was, the quarterback and the star receiver have differing opinions. Johnson said the grab against the Redskins was probably the best of his career because it came on fourth down; Schaub, who finally saw the play, disagreed.

"I don't want to downplay it at all, but to be honest with you, that was pretty routine for him," he said. "I've seen him make that catch with three guys around him."

The target was hardly a shock, and neither was the result.

With the game at stake, the Texans turned to Johnson, 29, whose abundant physical gifts humble his teammates.

"He's 6-3, 225 pounds, moves like a cat, almost as fast as me and he's got those stickies- he's a freak of nature," Jones said.
Practice advocate

Texans receiver David Anderson sees it every day. He admired the catch, too, but he also appreciated what it illustrated.

"You have to put those little drills you do every day to work," he said. "Catch the ball at the high point, catch it with your hands, tuck it away when you catch it — if you watch the catch, he jumps up, catches it with his hands, and puts it away from the defender.

"It's stuff you practice so much it becomes second nature, and I think it's something he did at that time."

That's the message Dorin Dickerson absorbed Sunday. A rookie wide receiver making the transition from H-back to tight end at Pitt, Dickerson admits he was wide-eyed around the All-Pro at first.

Good relationship
Neither said much to the other in the beginning, but then the eight-year veteran offered a few words of encouragement to his backup - "He told me to get my motor going because sometimes as a rookie I'll have lulls," Dickerson said - in addition to providing the standard for excellence.

Although he has not recorded a reception, the arrangement has been a success - enough so that Dickerson can dare to dream of being as great as Johnson one day. Until then, though, the learning continues.

"Our receivers coach (Larry Kirksey) warms up with Andre before every game," said Dickerson, whose locker is next to Johnson's. "He said, 'Andre, you're going to have to go get the ball today.'

"They were working on that - him going up and snatching the ball out of the air, and then he did that in the game, at a crucial point."

Just reward
Such plays are indicative of why Texans owner Bob McNair broke precedent in the preseason and renegotiated his receiver's contract, resulting in Johnson being the highest-paid player at his position.

"That's Andre for you," Anderson said. "That's why he's here, that's why we pay him to stay here and why we want him here."
Anderson respects Johnson.

He'd like to think he would have made the same play in the same situation, but he realizes he'll never know.

Not like what everyone knows about Johnson, or should know.

"It's hard making it look easy," Jones said. "It hurts to make it look easy."


Scott Maine ... the Chevrolet Player of the Game

Following every Cubs game, Pat Hughes asks Ron Santo to name the Chevrolet Player of the Game. On Friday, the Cubs' legend picked Scott Maine ... and that spoke volumes as to the way the Cubs have played over the last two days.

After a string of holding their opponents to three runs or less in 11 straight games, the Cubs pitching staff has given up 20 runs in the last 18 innings ... while the offense has managed only one run, a solo homer by Aramis Ramirez in the second inning on Friday afternoon.

Tom Gorzelanny made his first start since September 1 and could not complete four innings of work. Gorzelanny was hammered to the tune of seven runs on seven hits with five walks and four strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings. Gorzelanny could not find his command after the long layoff and two of his free passes, both to Albert Pujols, came around to score.

Gorzelanny threw 82 pitches, only 44 for strikes, and gave up a two-out, three-run homer to Allen Craig in the first inning that put his team in too big a hole against Adam Wainwright. Craig made the most of being a last minute substitution by hitting his third longball of the year.

Outside of Justin Berg, the Cubs bullpen did a good job and kept the Cardinals from tacking on.

Scott Maine was very impressive in his 1 2/3 innings of work and Marcos Mateo retired all five batters he faced. James Russell surrendered a hit in the ninth, the Cardinals only base knock over the last three innings ... and that was erased on a 4-3-6 double play.

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Danny Valencia entering rookie of year discussion, as Twins look to avoid sweep

DETROIT -- I wrote about Danny Valencia's Rookie of the Year chances for early editions last night. By night's end, Valencia was kicking himself for his late-inning at-bats and two errors, just as Carl Pavano was taking the blame for not protecting a five-run first-inning lead.

It might be too late for Valencia to win the rookie award. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz and Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson have been making big impacts on their teams for a full season.

But there’s no disputing the difference Valencia has made for the Twins in 77 games, especially over the past three months.

Valencia had his first career multi-homer game Saturday with a first-inning grand slam and a bases-empty shot in the fifth. Unfortunately, he also had his first multi-error game.

"It came down to defense," Valencia said, noting that he should have gotten at least one out on the ground ball hit to him in the 13th inning.

Jackson continued stating his case, going 4-for-6 with two RBI, to raise his average to .299. An exceptional defensive center fielder, Jackson has batted leadoff for the Tigers all year, stealing 26 bases and scoring 101 runs.

Meanwhile, Feliz improved to 38-for-41 in save opportunities and lowered his ERA to 2.85 as the Rangers defeated Oakland 4-3, clinching the American League West title.

If there weren’t other qualified candidates, Valencia might have a chance to join the list of Twins who've won rookie of the year honors: Tony Oliva (1964), Rod Carew (1967), John Castino (1979), Chuck Knoblauch (1991) and Marty Cordova (1995). (***Note, Castino was co-rookie of the year with Alfredo Griffin. Butch Wynegar was named rookie of the year in 1976 by The Sporting News.)

Most position players who’ve won the award have logged at least 100 games, though there are exceptions. Ryan Howard played 88 games for the Phillies when he won in 2005, batting .288 with 22 homers and 63 RBI.

Bob Horner played 89 games for the Braves when he won in 1978, batting .266 with 23 homers and 63 RBI. He edged Ozzie Smith, who played 159 games for the Padres, batting .258.

Valencia still has eight regular season games to pad his numbers. He’s now batting .327 with seven home runs and 40 RBI. The Twins have been desperate for third base help since Corey Koskie left as a free agent after the 2004 season. In Valencia, 26, they could have a solution for years to come.

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Closer Chris Perez leaves team to be with expectant wife

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Indians closer Chris Perez was unavailable for Friday night's game against the Royals because he flew home to Tampa, Fla., to be with his expectant wife.

Perez left the club early Friday when his wife, Melanie, went into labor with the couple's first child. It is not known when Perez will return.

Perez owns a 0.57 ERA since June 28, having allowed two earned runs in 31 innings. The ERA in that span entering Friday was lowest among all major-league relievers (minimum 18 innings).

Perez has 21 saves this season. The remaining pitchers on the active roster have combined for two -- one each for Frank Herrmann and Tony Sipp.

After Perez, the Tribe pitcher with the most success as a major-league closer is Jensen Lewis, who has 14 career saves.

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Gaby Sanchez gives Marlins a chance for back-to-back Rookies of the Year

There's no disputing the solid season Gaby Sanchez is having. He easily won the Marlins' first base job over Logan Morrison in spring training - a coup for Sanchez since he failed to even make the team out of spring training the previous year.

With 10 games left in the season, he leads all National League rookies in hits (151), doubles (36) and RBI (81) and is third in home runs (19).
He has done it over a full season, playing in more games (141) than any NL rookie except for Washington shortstop Ian Desmond.

"Sometimes we forget he's a rookie,' Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "He's been very, very consistent. One of the most consistent players we have on the field.'

With his overall resume, Sanchez supporters can make a strong argument that he should follow Chris Coghlan as the second consecutive Marlin to be named NL rookie of the year.

But he's no lock.

At 27, he is the oldest of the serious contenders and the Marlins are struggling to finish with a winning record.

More importantly, Sanchez is excelling in a year stocked with talented rookies.

"There are six or seven guys who could win it,' said Nationals coach Pat Listach, the AL rookie of the year in 1992 as a shortstop with Milwaukee.

A look at the top candidates aside from Sanchez:

C Buster Posey, San Francisco
He started the season in the minors but his call-up May 29 sparked the Giants' resurgence; they are playing .580 ball since his arrival.
Posey, the fifth overall draft pick out of Florida State in 2008, is batting cleanup and leading NL rookies with a .323 average (with 16 homers and 64 RBI). And he is doing it at a demanding position while working with a talented Giants staff.

RF Jason Heyward, Atlanta
Heyward, who turned 21 last month, was the 14th overall draft pick in 2007. He entered this year as the favorite to win the award and has gotten better throughout the season, helping the Braves stay in playoff contention.

Among rookies, he is first in runs (81) and on-base percentage (.400). And he is batting .285, helped by a .322 average in the second half.
On opening day, he caught the ceremonial first pitch from Hank Aaron, then hit a three-run home run in his first major-league at-bat. He might well be destined to be rookie of the year.

LHP Jaime Garcia, St. Louis
Although he wasn't a high draft pick (22nd round 2005), he clearly is the best rookie pitcher this season, going 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA.
But in a field crowded with talented hitters, that might not be enough for Garcia to become the first pitcher to win the award since Florida's Dontrelle Willis in 2003. Plus, the Cardinals' second-half fade might make Garcia an easy name to ignore at the top of the ballot.

The others
You have to wonder what kind of numbers 20-year-old Mike Stanton (20 home runs in his first 79 games) would have if he had opened the season with the Marlins instead of joining the team June 8.

The same goes for Logan Morrison, who hit in all but nine of his first 52 games since being called up July 27. Entering Friday's game, he had reached base in 42 straight games.

Left fielder Tyler Colvin (20 homers) and shortstop Starlin Castro have had solid seasons for Chicago, although Colvin's ended prematurely when he was struck in the chest by a shattered bat last Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

Washington right-hander Stephen Strasburg (5-3, 2.91) was an obvious ROY candidate before an elbow injury sidelined him.

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