27 February 2011

Check out WQAM's interviews with proCanes This Week

Twan Ruseell, Gaby Sanchez and future proCanes Colin McCarthy, Damien Berry, Demarcus Van Dyke and Graig Cooper were guests on WQAM this past week. Click here to listen to the interviews.

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Panthers sign Jeremy Shockey to 1-year Deal

CHARLOTTE - The Panthers have signed Jeremy Shockey, one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL over the last decade, the team announced Thursday.

Shockey, who was released by the New Orleans Saints on Feb. 22, is a four-time Pro Bowl selection who ranks fourth among active tight ends in both receptions with 510 and receiving yards with 5,688. He also has caught at least one pass in 121 consecutive games played, the second-longest current streak among tight ends.

"We are very pleased to add Jeremy to our football team," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "He is a highly competitive player with a good skill set and a wealth of experience. He should make a solid contribution to our offense."

Rivera has emphasized the importance of having a pass-catching tight end. The Panthers' tight end trio of Dante Rosario, Jeff King and Gary Barnidge combined for 51 receptions for 385 yards and two touchdowns for the league's last-ranked pass offense in 2010.

Shockey had the quietest statistical season of his nine-year NFL career in 2010, but he still produced 41 receptions for 408 yards and three touchdowns as a part of a tight end trio in New Orleans that combined to catch 105 balls for the NFL's third-ranked pass offense.

The move reunites Shockey with Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who was offensive coordinator at the University of Miami in 2001 when Shockey was one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award, given annually to college football's top tight end.

The New York Giants picked Shockey in the first round of the 2002 draft, and he made his first Pro Bowl that year after recording the second-best numbers for a rookie tight end in NFL history with 74 catches for 894 yards.

Shockey earned Pro Bowl honors in four of his first five years with the Giants. After his sixth season in New York, during which time he caught at least 48 passes for 500-plus yards each season, the Saints traded for Shockey.

At the end of the 2009 season, Shockey helped the Saints to their first Super Bowl title, catching a touchdown pass that put New Orleans ahead of the Indianapolis Colts for good in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV. It was the second ring for Shockey, who won Super Bowl XLII in his final season with the Giants.

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

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Allen Bailey and Graig Cooper show their skills at NFL Scouting Combine

INDIANAPOLIS — Allen Bailey was the perfect size to play defensive end the past four years at the University of Miami. But after being measured at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds - up seven pounds from his weight at the Senior Bowl - some wonder if he's big enough to play the same position in the NFL.

"I'll play wherever they put me," Bailey said.

One thing about which there is no question is Bailey's strength and physical ability.

Honored as the Hurricanes' strongest player each of the last two years, he said he expected to do "at least 30" reps of the 225-pound bench press when he went through the NFL Scouting Combine tests.

He came up a little short of that goal with 27 repetitions.

"His strength is exceptional," said senior editor Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly, which has Bailey ranked seventh in an extremely deep class of defensive linemen in this year's draft.

A likely second-round pick, Bailey probably fits best as an end in a 4-3 scheme.

Another Hurricane at the Combine, running back Graig Cooper, has more to prove. He rushed for only 165 yards last season after tearing his right ACL in his final game of the 2009 season, when he was a junior.

There was talk that Cooper planned to leave school after his junior year, but he said he was still undecided going into the December 2009 Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin in Orlando.

"During that game I asked God to show me a sign of what he wanted me to do, if he wanted me to leave or stay," he said. "I wound up getting hurt so I guess that was a sign for me to stay."

Cooper got his degree in December 2010 but also got lost in a crowded UM backfield last season, carrying more than six times in a game only once and in four games not getting a single carry.

Expected to be a mid- to late-round pick, Cooper said he's already proven his determination by coming back from his ACL tear.
"They told me I couldn't possibly come back this year, but I made sure I was going to do it, and I did it."

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Rosenhaus questions Shannon, Miami for Combine star Demarcus Van Dyke being a sub

Agent Drew Rosenhaus joined me on the show Thursday and the subject of the Randy Shannon era at Coral Gables with the University of Miami came up:

Drew, one of of the great stories I like is that one of your clients who only started a couple of games for the University of Miami last year, DeMarcus Van Dyke. We had a draft expert on earlier who said that he might be able to sneak into round 2 of the draft. That's unbelievable if that's true, Drew: "I think it is, Joe. My sense is that this is rare speed. This the fastest player who has been timed from the University of Miami, which historically has been one of the fastest schools. He plays a pivotal position, where speed really is the No. 1 denominator, and the guy's got game-breaking speed. And he's a great kid. ... Here's my take on it. When you run a 4.28[-second 40-yard dash], there's not many guys in the entire NFL that can do that. You're talking about Chris Johnson-type speed. And, at that cornerback position, that means he can run with any receiver in the game. So, this is going to be great for him. His good friend, Sam Shields, also has indirectly helped. Sam, he didn't play a whole lot, either, and he came into the NFL and played at a very, very high level."

How do we read into that, Drew? "Well, I think it's probably one of the reasons that they have made an adjustment with the coaching staff. I guess they felt that, you know, the talent didn't translate with respect to the wins and losses. But it's very easy to hand pick a couple guys, and I'm not going to."

No, no. I'm not asking you trash Randy Shannon. I gotcha: "No one's perfect and you do make mistakes, but, at the end of the day, DeMarcus Van Dyke not starting for the University of Miami this year, playing behind another player who wasn't even invited to the combine, I don't understand that. I really don't."

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Some doubt about Reggie Wayne’s long-term future with Colts

It feels weird on this potentially depressing day in NFL history to write about anything but the labor mess.

But there’s only so many “They’ve arrived!” posts we can write, and Florio won’t hand out the daily food ration until I meet my post quota, so the show must go on.

There is some doubt in Indianapolis that the show won’t go on for Reggie Wayne past 2011.  (How’s that for a segue?)  In a mailbag for the Indianapolis Star, Mike Chappell said the following about Wayne’s contract situation.

“Reggie is entering the final year of his contract and turns 33 in November,” Chappell writes.   “I’m not certain if the Colts will be very interested in giving him a long-term contract after 2011, and I seriously doubt Reggie would be interested in some short-term deal. He’ll need to maximize what will be his final contract.”

Wayne will be a tricky player for the Colts to address.  Bill Polian isn’t a fan of overpaying for past production, and there’s no doubt Wayne lacks the deep speed that he used to have.  (Wayne’s yards-per-catch was a career low in 2010.)  Then again, Polian is a fan of keeping Peyton Manning happy.

In the end, we agree with Chappell: Wayne is unlikely to get the big long-term deal he wants with the Colts.

Click here to order Reggie Wayne’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Wilcots: Shockey can make impact, on limited basis

Jeremy Shockey is headed to Carolina. Now that the news is official, it’s worth looking into what type of player the Panthers are getting.

Shockey, who will be 31 at the start of next season, has never played a full season and missed 10 full games during three seasons with the Saints due to an assortment of injuries. The fact the Saints chose to let Shockey go, even though he has a long history with head coach Sean Payton dating back to his rookie season with the Giants, should be telling. But it wasn’t seen as a surprise given the variety of factors — age, injury history, cost and the development of Jimmy Graham.

NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots checked in for a quick scouting report:

“He’s not the player he once was, and he’s not a full-time player. But I think on a limited basis he can still be an impact player. He’s probably not an every down, every game starter. But he will be great to pair with a younger tight end, because he was great with Graham last season in New Orleans. I won’t take anything away from his overall abilities, I think he can still play his game on a limited basis. Shockey can still catch the ball in tight spaces and still knows how to work defenders on his routes.”

Even in a situational role, Shockey could still provide a suitable compliment (or at least the threat of one) in the passing game for Steve Smith. Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been vocal about the Panthers featuring one tight end instead of a rotation, and perhaps Shockey is still that player. That the Panthers were able to sell Shockey on Carolina and his role in the offense also leads to some between-the-lines thinking that he won’t have a rookie quarterback throwing passes his way next season (see Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, et. all).

Keep in mind Shockey will also be reunited with his position coach from the University of Miami, new Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

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

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Eric Winston offers two alternatives to 18 games

The longer the big issues sit out there, the better chance there are for good alternatives to emerge.

Houston Texans right tackle Eric Winston just did a thoughtful segment on “Rome is Burning” and has good ideas for where the league can find more revenue without bulking the regular season up to 18 games.

“You’re asking every team to play two more games, that’s two more games of risk for an estimated $500 million. In this grand scheme of $9 billion, $500 million doesn’t seem like it’s worth it. I’d rather see the NFL bid out Thursday Night Football on NFL Network. Let’s put that out for bid, let’s see what that’s going to generate on the most watched night of TV. I guarantee you that would bring in over $500 million, way more, probably close to $1 billion if Monday Night Football is worth $1.9 billion.

“I’d also like to see maybe two more teams make the playoffs instead of an 18-game season. So you’d have eight teams and eight teams and no byes. That’s four more playoff games that the NFL can sell to the TVs instead of having each team play two more regular-season games for $500 million. I think those two alternatives are a lot better than asking each team to play two more games.”

I like the Thursday night idea a lot, and believe players have a legitimate question there. If the NFL Network still isn’t available in some big markets on some big cable systems, isn’t a giant contract with a network a more lucrative alternative?

I don’t like the increased playoff field idea. Watered down playoffs are the worst. It’s the worst thing about the NBA and NHL. It’s not been good, in my opinion, for baseball.

Winston also offered the first hint I’ve seen of any movement on the owner’s demand for an additional $1 billion off the top before they begin dividing money with the players.

"I think it's come down a little bit," he said.

Click here to order Eric Winston’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Ryan Braun hits one out Thursday

Ryan Braun went 1-for-2 with a two-run home run in Thursday's 11-9 win over the A's.

It was one of five the Brewers hit over the boards. Braun has three hits in his first seven spring at-bats. He's looking to bounce back a bit from what was a relatively disappointing showing in the home run department last season, as he hit 25 bombs after slugging at least 32 each of his previous three seasons.

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Demarcus Van Dyke's Stock Rising

DeMarcus Van Dyke/CB/Miami: Van Dyke finished up a phenomenal two months with a terrific workout. After a terrific performance at the Shrine Game in January, then a solid showing two weeks later in the Senior Bowl, he gave scouts more to think about with his combine effort. Van Dyke never ran slower than 4.30 seconds in the 40 then displayed quickness, explosion and balance in the position drills. He's gone from backup with the Hurricanes last season to potential top-100 pick in the draft.

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Bosher Projected as a 7th Round PIck

Jupiter's Matt Bosher, now a University of Miami graduate kicker and punter, was invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis' Lucas Oil stadium and got to kick and punt for pro scouts. He'll get another chance to do it again when Miami holds its own at Pro Day on March 10.

Bosher is projected as a seventh-round draft pick — if there is one — by CBS.sports.com or the 274th overall pick.

CBS sports lists him as the fourth overall punter although he also kicked at the combine.

Bosher was one of nine 'Canes invited to last weekend's combine. The college players participated in skills contests which included: 40, 20 and 10 yard runs; 225-pound bench press (how many times), vertical and broad jumps, 20-yard shuttle run and three coach drills.

Bosher's 40-yard time is officially 4.78.

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Bryant McKinnie clears air on report of $100K bar tab

By now I'm sure you've heard about TMZ's report of Bryant McKinnie dropping $100,000 on a bar tab during NBA All-Star Weekend.

Though a player can do whatever he wants with his money, I was inclined to ask McKinnie about it last week when I heard a radio station talking about the story days after the Feb. 20 publishing date. People seemed fascinated that a player would drop that kind of money in one night, no matter the salary (McKinnie is due $4.9 million next season).

Anyway, McKinnie was gracious enough to tell me the story from his perspective.

In short, the story was "exaggerated a lot," he said.

McKinnie was at a concert in Los Angeles for rapper and friend, Rick Ross, who gave McKinnie a shout-out from the stage. Seconds later, Ross made a reference to spending $100,000 on bottles in the club.

Apparently TMZ thought Ross was talking about McKinnie spending the money, he said.

"All of a sudden that became my tab somehow," McKinnie said. "Like seriously, at the time i was laughing thinking it was in good fun until people started talking about it and took it a little too far."

Added McKinnie: "I don't even see a possible way to consume that much alcohol by 2 a.m."

So, in case you were wondering, there's McKinnie's side of things. McKinnie's bar tab amount is uncertain, but he assures it wasn't close to $100K.

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

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Mike Martz Likes Devin Hester's Speed More Than Anything

The two favourite hobbies once listed by Joe McGrath on an old background form are eating and sleeping. One of the books he read in college was The Automatic Millionaire.

Former teammates used to call him "Peter Griffin," thanks to an apparent likeness to the mythical character on Family Guy.

He received a college scholarship to play on the offensive line at the University of Miami, which would be a big deal even for an American teenager, but seemed more improbable given McGrath grew up in Moose Jaw, Sask. At one point, he had it all.

McGrath worked hard and lived life harder, and was typical of many non-imports who play his position, convinced he would have a CFL job for as long as he wanted because he was big and could block. Ten days ago, all of it went away.

Not only was he out of work, released by the Edmonton Eskimos, but coach Richie Hall said he was too soft when he sent McGrath packing.
It was one thing to be released; something entirely different to have a reputation formed because of what a former employer thought of your performance, and the only job prospect was a practice roster offer.

It's not hard to be humble now.

There's a better than reasonable chance, given the deplorable state of the offensive line of the B.C. Lions, that a tentative first step of practice roster work will become more concrete and the 29-year-old guard/ tackle will eventually be worked into the rotation.

If it happens, it will complete McGrath's tour of all four Western Division teams and allow him to continue a seven-year CFL career.

What it will also do is enable McGrath to change the things not only Hall said needed to be fixed but reinforced by Lions coach/GM Wally Buono. And it will also enable McGrath to prove there's more to him than being a Canadian lineman who only has a job because of his passport. "I have a reputation and I think I have to repair it, but I also know my skills," McGrath said Saturday.

"Sometimes you need a kick in the butt because you take things for granted and Wally has given me a kick in the butt. Yes, I need to hustle more, but I want to live up to my full potential and not what others think of my potential."

It had been some time since McGrath had been forced to confront reality.

At Miami, McGrath was at a school which won an NCAA championship in 2001. It meant a party hearty lifestyle, an instant NFL opportunity for many of his teammates and almost a guaranteed CFL job.

"Whether you are a Division One football player and have a lot of opportunity or you're at high school, you think the world is easy," said Sherko Haji-Rasouli, a Miami linemate of McGrath and another player who understood his physical gifts and the role they would play in eventually landing him work with the Lions.

"The fact you're at Miami and have great business opportunities, you definitely had the feeling things are fine and dandy. It's just coincidence Joe is a goofy, play-hard type of guy. I love making fun of him."

McGrath was savvy enough to understand the leverage gained by being a Canadian lineman when he left the Eskimos prior to last season after five years and signed as a free agent with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

But he demanded a trade five days later, costing the Eskimos a first-round draft pick this year to get him back from the Riders. And any remaining equity expired with the Eskimos' 1-6 start.

A player who had his football career seemingly well in order was suddenly surrounded by his father, Joe Sr., who cut short a Las Vegas vacation and flew home to Edmonton to help his son try to figure out what to do next.

The Lions may not represent a last chance but they are the first team willing to give him a platform to present a different side of himself.
"People are going to put you down, and I know I got a bad rep. But 90 per cent of it is false and I know I've got a lot of years left," McGrath said. "I'm always going to have my confidence."

It may not be easy to take Miami out of a Moose Jaw boy but if humility is the goal it helps if you are down to perhaps your last chance.

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Texans tender Rashad Butler

Texans extended restricted free agent tenders to DE Mark Anderson, RG Mike Brisiel, WR Jacoby Jones, and OT Rashad Butler.
Anderson, Brisiel, and Jones were given "second-round" tags, while Butler received an original pick designation. The first four are four-year vets, and the latter has five accrued years. They're all likely to end up unrestricted. It's worth noting that beat writer John McClain says the Texans are "high" on Anderson, who would play outside linebacker in the new 3-4.

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Greg Olsen can do much more as a receiver

Coordinator Mike Martz insists that TE Greg Olsen "can do so much more" as a receiver and that his value can't be measured in statistics.
"He did so many things for us," Martz said. "Coaches around the league will look at what he did and say, 'Wow, this guy had a hell of a year.'" Martz has become a huge Olsen fan, but the next time he features a tight end in the passing game will be the first. Olsen will be underutilized again in 2011.

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

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Clinton Portis On Being Released “I think they gave me an opportunity to further my career and go somewhere I can help.”

The man of many aliases — including “Southeast Jerome,” “Coach Janky Spanky,” “Dolla Bill,” and “Sheriff Gonna Gethca,” — was officially released by the Redskins on Monday. It was almost certain that Clinton Portis would be packing his bags out of the nation’s capital because of the exorbitant sums of money he was owed ($8.3 million), and the lingering injuries that have riddled his seven-year stay with the organization in recent seasons. Portis had only played in 13 games over the last two seasons due a torn groin muscle last season and a concussion in 2009, hardly enough return on investment even for the free-spending ‘Skins.

This past weekend while at the combine, Mike Shanahan made it clear that he was going to be looking for running back help in this year’s draft, and that he wasn’t keeping Portis for the current money he was due to make.  That all but signaled the end of Portis’ up and down tenure in D.C. He currently stands just 77 yards shorts of 10,000 career rushing yards, and he leaves the Redskins just 648 yards shy of Hall of Famer John Riggins’ franchise record. He will be remembered in Washington for an astounding 2005 season where he set a franchise single-season record rushing of 1,516 yards and leading the squad to its first playoff berth in six years. I thought Clinton Portis had his swan song back in January when he appeared on 106.7 the Fan, but he finally had it this week after being dismissed from the Redskins.

Clinton Portis joined 106.7 The Fan in DC with The Mike Wise and Holden Kushner Show to discuss being ready to part ways with the Redskins, is the door closed on a return back with Washington, did he talk to Dan Snyder before he was let go, will it be important that the next team he goes to has less drama than the Redskins had and what was his favorite character that he dressed up during his Washington tenure.
Are you ready to part ways with this franchise after Mike Shanahan made it evident the Redskins are looking for a running back at the NFL combine?
“You know I mean that’s for the organization. You know I think my time in Washington was great. I had an opportunity to play for Coach Shanahan, Coach Gibbs, play for Mr.Snyder, it was a wonderful opportunity. You know I think that song just made me realize what was going on. I think it was a decision that was best for the both of us, for myself and the organization and moving on. You know having the luxury to have that relationship and have that respect from Coach Shanahan or Mr.Snyder that they could have sat and held on and play around or wanted to re-negotiate. I think they gave me an opportunity to further my career and go somewhere I can help.”

Is the door closed on you in DC? Is it over for a return to the Redskins? Or do you think there is a little bit of a chance that he could return on different terms:
“I mean I think there’s a chance. It’s for myself and the organization. I think it’s just…I’ve been in D.C. for seven years you know and it was a joyous seven years. I think as I mentioned earlier I think that the opportunity I had in D.C. I had to grow as a person, as a man, you know coming in as a twenty-two year old being wide-eyed playing for Coach Gibbs and not wanting to do no wrong and getting on the carry. Coach Gibbs came to me actually to run through the back of the stadium you know. I was going to line-up, button up my chin strap, and try to run through the back of stadium, so I think than a twenty-two year old coming into the stadium was a situation that a lot of people thought was money, money, money, money, quickly became a detour. It was more heart and love and passion for a game than it was money. I think came out and displayed that.”

Have you talked to Dan Snyder about the decision? How did the conversation go?
“I talk to Dan [Snyder] and Mike [Shanahan]. It was a tough conversation. The only other time I really heard or saw Mr.Snyder in an emotional situation you know was the time he knocked on the door and told me the late-and-great Sean T [Sean Taylor] you know had passed away. You know I think it was similar. The situation brought me back to that. You getting a phone call and having a conversation and than understanding what was really meant and what I really meant to their organization and to the Snyder family and being grateful for the opportunity that I had to be there.”

Will it be important that your next team you seek out will have less drama than you had here in Washington? Is that something you will actually seek out?
“It definitely will man you know I think that’s one of the bigger reasons of just my time being up in D.C. You know the drama, the issues, the back-and-fourth with teammates or anything. I would love to go to a team that’s already buttoned, that I could just come in and continue to help. You know I don’t need to come in and be the spotlight, the center of attention, and I can continue to come in and play football and do the things if they call on me you know I need to be able to respond. That’s one thing, the spotlight, people say I’m a prima donna or anything else you know I think that situation for me is go ahead do the work quiet and hopefully help a team win a ring. That’s what I’m really looking forward to you know I think going in on to someone else’s team and taking the backseat and not have to worry about ‘Oh Portis, Portis, Portis, Portis.’ You know I think coming in and being able to contribute however I can would be a wonderful thing.”

To some hard-hitting questions now: What was your favorite character you dressed up in as a Redskin?
“I think ‘Southeast Jerome,’ was a character that everybody in the world knows. I think ‘Coach Janky Spanky,’ to me was actually a character that I did at Super Bowl in Pittsburgh named ‘Ditzy Kim,’ that you know not a lot of people got to see. I think it was a morning show during the Super Bowl, but that was the funniest character ever. All of them was nice man. I don’t think you can go pick either if you really knew the mindset of me walking into the locker-room and doing that right before I came up with a name, coming up with a prank or what I was going to say. There was no script written, no set ways. It was like how is this going to go today you know. I always think it’ll be memorable.”

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

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Bernie Kosar talks about his 10 concussions

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Bernie Kosar played 12 years in the NFL and retired at the age of 33.

The Cleveland Browns sports legend says he's suffered more than ten concussions in his career.

He has advice for parents and young athletes. Click on the video to hear his story in his own words.

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

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Danny Valencia off to scorching Spring Training start

BRADENTON, Fla. -- A pair of two-out RBI doubles by Danny Valencia highlighted the Twins' 4-2 victory over the Pirates at McKechnie Field on Wednesday afternoon in the first of four spring meetings between the two clubs.

Valencia, who is now 4-for-7 this spring, connected for his first extra-base hit off Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf in the first inning. Ben Revere scored easily after walking and advancing to second on a passed ball earlier in the frame.

Valencia doubled home Trevor Plouffe two innings later to extend Minnesota's lead.

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Indians RP Chris Perez brings the heat

Chris Perez runs his fingers through the thickening facial growth and tugs at one of baseball's best beards.

"It's just a look," he says, explaining his bushy cheeks that haven't crossed paths with a razor for more than a year. "It doesn't have to be a closer's look, but I do get to have a little more liberties. I guess it's my calling card. I have to have it."

The closer.

Not only does Perez look the part, he seems to have been born to play it.

Free-spirited and easily approachable, Perez isn't intimidating — except when he's perched atop the mound and staring down a hitter digging in at the plate. With a God-given, lively arm and a beat-me-if-you-can attitude, Perez emerged last season as one of the majors' top relievers.

He converted 23 saves and posted a 1.71 ERA, the league's second-lowest mark. At 25, Perez became the youngest pitcher in club history to notch 20 saves. The Indians may have had a rotten season, losing 93 games amid a lengthy roll call of key injuries. But Perez's 2010 couldn't have gone any better.

"It was a tremendous year for me personally," he said after making his spring exhibition debut. "Obviously, I was able to finally achieve what I always wanted to do in this game, which is to be a closer. I had a really good second half and that kind of validates all the hard work and years that it took to get to this point."

Perez has the ideal temperament to close. He's cocky, but cool. He's got a fearsome fastball that he'll throw anytime to anyone.

Perhaps his bio on Twitter sums him up best: "Chris Perez, relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, former UM Hurricane. Just a normal guy with an arm like a (blanking) cannon."

He's always had the physical gifts, well, at least one notable gift. His right arm.

From the time he started playing T-ball as a kid, Perez, whose dad got as far as the lower minor leagues as a catcher, played behind the plate. Through the bars of a catcher's mask he learned about pitch counts, location, cutoffs and defense.

"I loved it," Perez said, recalling those days wearing the gear. "I loved blocking balls, throwing guys out at second. You're a part of every play. It's fun."

Never once did he consider pitching. It didn't have any appeal and Perez certainly never thought about it as a possible career. That all changed during his junior year at Pendleton (Fla.) High School, when his team ran out of pitchers during a tournament.

His coach asked for volunteers to take the ball, and Perez offered his services. He had no concept of mechanics and only hoped to embarrass himself. He was as raw as it gets.

Then one pitch changed everything.

"I hit 93 (mph)," he said. "It was the first time I was ever clocked. I didn't know what I was doing. I was just throwing.

"From that time on, my dad's like, 'You are not catching anymore.'"

Perez initially resisted a move to the mound. He didn't see any future as a pitcher and couldn't understand why everyone was insisting he make the switch. Eventually, he caved, and after a brief stint as a starter in college at Miami, he's been a reliever ever since.

Drafted as a closer by St. Louis in 2006, Perez studied some of the game's top closers, hoping to pick up tips on how to get those precious, final three outs. He had seven saves for the Cardinals in '08 and one more in '09 before being dealt to the Indians for infielder Mark DeRosa.

He was tabbed to be Cleveland's set-up man before last season, but when Kerry Wood was injured during training camp, Perez temporarily inherited the closer's job. It became his permanent role when the Indians shipped Wood and his $10 million contract to the Yankees before the deadline.

Perez didn't just take the job. He ran with it.

In 32 games from June 28 until the end of the season, he posted a 0.53 ERA, a startling number that would fog up any stat geek's glasses.

Perez loves the pressure, he thrives on it. While others may buckle under the tense, stomach-churning final innings, Perez relishes the chance to lock up a 'W' for his team. Once he gets manager Manny Acta's call and exits the bullpen, Perez loves the spotlight at the center of the diamond.

It's what he lives for.

"It's you and everybody knows it's you," Perez said. "Nobody's coming in after you. That's probably what I enjoy the most about the job. But the best part is getting that last out, stranding that winning run on second or third. And preferably striking out their biggest hitter."

Perez doesn't want to be a one-hit wonder as a closer. One great season won't suffice. He wants many more.

"The history of baseball is that there are a whole bunch of guys that had one of two good years," he said. "I don't want to be that. I want to be here for the long haul and have a great career."

The beard's staying. In fact, facial hair — loads of it — seems to be baseball's newest trend.

It sure worked for San Francisco's Brian Wilson, last year's saves leader, who won a World Series title looking like a grizzly bear.
Perez won't take it that far.

"His is a little overplayed," Perez joked. "I'm not going to use any dye or anything like that. He's got Just For Men up there for sure. Nothing's that black."

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Danny Valencia only as good as his last at-bat

BRADENTON, FLA. - After Twins third baseman Danny Valencia had RBI doubles in his first two at-bats on Wednesday, manager Ron Gardenhire gave him the option of coming out of the game or getting one more at-bat.

"Yeah, yeah I feel really good. I got this guy," Valencia said to Gardenhire.

Valencia dug in against Pittsburgh Pirates righthander Mike Crotta in the fifth.

"It was a quick four pitches," Valencia said. "The only pitch I swung at nearly hit me in the stomach."

Valencia took strike three, ending the inning. The Twins went on to win 4-2, but Gardenhire won't let Valencia, who is not short on confidence, forget his last at-bat.

"Now he's in there [the clubhouse] eating chicken, thinking about his last at-bat," Gardenhire said.

Valencia was called up last season and finished with a .311 average, seven homers and 40 RBI in 85 games. The Twins might finally have their long-term answer at third --which means Gardenhire might get plenty of chances to ride Valencia in the coming years.

Valencia drove a ball over left fielder Jose Tabata in the first to drive in Ben Revere. He then blasted one in the gap in the third, scoring Trevor Plouffe.

And Valencia dived to his right to grab a grounder by budding star Andrew McCutchen in the bottom of the third and threw him out.
How was that play?

"Great," Gardenhire said. "[Valencia] still struck out in his last at-bat."

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Allen Bailey Projected As a Top Left DE

Left ends typically take on tight ends more frequently, so they tend to be thicker, stronger and more powerful in order to anchor against the run, though teams still like to get at least some pass rush from the left end.

Miami's Allen Bailey(6-3, 285) quietly had a very good showing. His 36½-inch vertical was third-best among defensive linemen, his 27 bench press reps are impressive given his long arms, and Bailey also showed some versatility by taking part in some outside linebacker drills.

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Brandon Harris Ups His Stock on Tuesday

Brandon Harris, CB, Miami - Harris was by far the smoothest player in all the drills. He kept his body low and quick, exhibited excellent hip-turn and kept wasted movement to a minimum. You generally want a better time than 4.52 from a guy standing 5-feet-10 and weighing 190 pounds, but Harris put those concerns to rest with the way he looked on the field.

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Demarcus Van Dyke, who met with Ravens, runs combine's best 40 time

Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke posted the third-fastest time at the NFL scouting combine since 2000.

Van Dyke, who met with the Ravens during the combine, ran the 40-yard dash Tuesday in 4.28 seconds. Over the past 12 combines, only East Carolina running back Chris Johnson (4.24 in 2008) and Houston cornerback Stanford Routt (4.27 in 2005) were faster.

"Everybody here is fast," Van Dyke said during the combine, "but you have to be faster to stand out in the DB group."

At 6 feet, 168 pounds, Van Dyke was rated the 23rd-best cornerback prospect by Pro Football Weekly. He is considered a hard worker with coverage skills. But he is expected to go in the middle rounds because he's an inconsistent tackler and has marginal strength.

Two higher-round cornerback prospects that could draw interest from the Ravens also ran well. Colorado's Jimmy Smith (who is considered a first-round talent) and Virginia's Ras-I Dowling (who is projected to go in the second round) tied for the seventh-fastest times (4.46) for defensive backs.

Van Dyke beat out Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott (4.34 seconds) as the fastest player at this year's combine.

Fastest at combine

1. DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB, Miami: 4.28
2t. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: 4.34
2t. Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland: 4.34
4t. Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian: 4.37
4t. Ricardo Lockette, WR, Fort Valley State:4.37
6. Mario Fannin, RB, Auburn: 4.38
7. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: 4.39

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Vinny Testaverde - Top five NFL quarterbacks who won the Heisman

No 5. Doug Flutie
Doug Flutie was an excellent Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Boston College and ranks fifth on my list. Flutie overcame his lack of height to play 13 NFL seasons starting 66 and playing in 92 games. Flutie was an on and off starter for his career and turned in some good performances. Doug Flutie threw 86 touchdown passes against 68 interceptions in his NFL career.

No 4. Carson Palmer
I rank Carson Palmer as the fourth best NFL quarterback who won the Heisman in college. Palmer followed up a stellar college career at USC with a pretty good NFL career. At the time of this writing Palmer is still active but threatening retirement if not traded by the Bengals. Carson Palmer battled injuries and being in a crappy organization to put up some nice career passing numbers with the Bengals.

No 3. Vinny Testaverde
Vinny Testaverde battled the bust label after winning the Heisman at Miami and being drafted by Tampa Bay. Then Vinny Testaverde matured into a very solid NFL quarterback, playing in all or parts of 21 seasons! Vinny Testaverde ended up with over 46,000 passing yards and 275 touchdown passes.

No 2. Jim Plunkett
Plunkett too was thought to be a bust when things didn't work out with the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers after he won the Heisman at Stanford. Then Jim Plunkett was in the right place at the right time when Dan Pastorini broke his leg with the Raiders. Plunkett stepped in and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl. Later Plunkett replaced injured Marc Wilson and helped the Raiders win a 2nd Super Bowl. Plunkett and Staubach are the only NFL quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl MVP and the HeismanTrophy.

No 1. Roger Staubach
Roger Staubach is the best NFL quarterback who won the Heisman in college. Following a great career at Navy Staubach honored his military commitment before joining the Dallas Cowboys. After finally beating out Craig Morton, Roger had a Hall of Fame NFL career with America's Team. Staubach was a very mobile quarterback known for his come from behind wins and for throwing the famous "Hail Mary" pass to Drew Pearson.

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What's next for Portis?

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

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In 2011, Kellen Winslow expects to double his 2010 numbers

Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow has high hopes for the 2011 season. Very high.

“I think we can double our numbers next year just [because] things were not clicking [early in the season],” Winslow said, referring to his receiving statistics, according to PewterReport.com. “I think we can double our numbers next year. I really do.”

It’s nice that Winslow is feeling good, but I’m going to go ahead and say the chances of him doubling his numbers are approximately zero. Doubling his 2010 numbers of 66 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns would mean 132 catches for 1,460 yards and 10 touchdowns. That would be the best receiving season by a tight end in NFL history, and it would mean topping his career highs by 43 catches, 354 yards and five touchdowns. He’s not doing that.

But Winslow is right to be optimistic. The Bucs are a team with a bright future, a young team that just missed the playoffs in 2010 and have a good chance of getting there in 2011.

“We’re already hungry,” Winslow said. “We feel like we were just reaching our potential. It’s going to be real fun, so I definitely think [the fans] will [embrace the Bucs]. It’s definitely going to be a sight to see.”

Even if we won’t actually see a doubling of the 2010 numbers.

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Fare thee well, Clinton Portis

Love him or hate him, Clinton Portis’ departure from the Washington Redskins is the end of an era. Brought in with an enormous bang of hype and expectation, this quiet and tame departure seems sadly too fitting. In the end, Portis’ famous enthusiasm and spirit could not overcome all the losses and bodily injury he endured over the past seven seasons in burgundy and gold.

It’s the right move. Portis is hoping a new environment will provide that career revitalizing B-12 shot, and the Redskins are glad to be rid of the $8.3 million tag around Portis’ strained groin for 2011. The Redskins were willing to restructure but for a backup’s contract, and Portis believes he’s still a feature back. And he should. If Portis can stay healthy there’s no reason he can’t still be one of the top backs in the league. But that’s a pretty sizable gamble for a player who’s missed 19 of the last 32 games and who’s turning 30 in September.

Regardless of it being the right move it’s still difficult to take in. His productivity declined, his health declined, his attitude declined, and the team declined in Portis’ seven-year stint. But when Portis was good, the Redskins were good. When Portis was happy, the fans were happy. When Shanahan came to Washington, I couldn’t help but think “maybe, just maybe” Portis could return to his best form and carry the Redskins with him. But it wasn’t meant to be.

It’s a sad day for Redskins fans, even those cynical fans that have been urging for his release for the last couple years. But it’s not sad because he should still be here. It’s sad because it’s now another era of unfulfilled expectations. It’s sad because Clinton Portis couldn’t get us back to the Super Bowl. It’s sad because we couldn’t get Clinton Portis to the Super Bowl.

The best way to rebuild is to get rid of the most recognizable pieces. Clinton Portis was the most recognizable piece, the face of the franchise. The fact that the second-most profitable franchise in the NFL is faceless is unfamiliar territory. As of now, only Mike Shanahan can fill that void, but I suppose that’s the way it has to be right now.

Thank you Clinton. Thanks for all the ups and downs, for all the touchdowns and all the fumbles, for all the humorous antics and all the obnoxious statements, for every bruise and every smile, it all adds up to a good seven years and your being the second-best running back in Redskins history. Not a great seven years, unfortunately for you and for us, but right now good is good enough for me.

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Will the Ravens address life after Ray Lewis in NFL draft?

The Ravens will have more pressing needs to address during the upcoming NFL draft than finding a long-term replacement for legendary linebacker Ray Lewis. But that difficult task is something they must tackle sooner rather than later.

First, here's a disclaimer from Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

"There’s not going to be a Ray Lewis in the draft in the next year or two,” Harbaugh recently told NFL Network. “We won’t be able to replace Ray Lewis.”

Lewis is a once-in-a-generation player, and few have personified a football franchise like the 35-year-old linebacker has with the Ravens. He has been selected to 12 Pro Bowls, named to seven All-Pro first teams, handed two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. He was the Super Bowl MVP when the Ravens won their only Lombardi Trophy. He truly is an entertainer and an icon.

“In my opinion he’s the greatest middle linebacker in the history of the game," Harbaugh said. "He’s still playing as well as any middle linebacker in football today. That’s an incredible thing after 15 years in the National Football League. I love him. I want him to play as long as he wants to play, and I think he’ll know when it’s time, but as he has told me before, it’s not time.”

That all may be true, and we know the chances will be slim of a youngster taking over Lewis' leadership role and slimmer of that player filling the void in the hearts of Ravens fans when Lewis decides it's time. But the Ravens do need to find a do-it-all inside linebacker to take over for him on the team's depth chart. They can't throw Lewis' bronze bust from Canton out there in the middle of the defense and expect it to make tackles and intimidate Twitter-happy wide receivers.

Jameel McClain, an undrafted free agent who started alongside Lewis in his third season, was a revelation in 2010, finishing third on the team in tackles. But Tavares Ellerbe and Dannell Ellerbe are limited in their abilities and are better suited as situational players or bench warmers, depending on your perspective.

That's why I wasn't surprised to read that the Ravens had chatted with Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews, the brother of Packers sack master Clay Matthews III. And that's why I suspect they kept a close eye on the linebacker prospects at the recently-concluded NFL scouting combine. Matthews, Quan Sturdivant, Greg Jones, Martez Wilson and Nate Irving are among some of the top inside linebacker prospects, though none might get drafted in the first round. Will the Ravens see enough potential in one of them to spend a second-rounder or third-rounder in April? Only Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta know the answer to that question.

If they don't use an early pick on an inside linebacker this year -- the top end of the crop is considered weak -- they would be wise to do it soon. Lewis' strong play in 2010 suggests that he has two or three more productive years left in him, but let's not forget that Harbaugh "broached" the subject of limiting Lewis' snaps. Age catches up to everyone eventually, even if you're riding a rocket-powered raven into outer space.

Harbaugh is right; Lewis' eventual replacement probably won't end up being a future Hall of Famer or a franchise icon. But someone will have to start at inside linebacker when Lewis is gone.

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Chris Perez tries out new changeup

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians closer Chris Perez took his new toy out for a test drive during his Cactus League debut.

Perez has been fine-tuning a changeup that he plans on adding to his pitch arsenal this season. In his one-inning appearance against the Reds on Sunday, the right-hander threw mostly fastballs, but mixed in his new offspeed offering.

"I started working on it and playing catch with it last year," Perez said earlier this spring. "I threw it in a couple games towards the end, but it's something I'm working on. It gives hitters another look."

Perez, who posted a 1.71 ERA and chalked up 23 saves for Cleveland last year, also throws a slider, though he did not use any in his spring debut against Cincinnati. Perez said that he used a three-finger grip for his changeup, which breaks straight down when it is working properly.

"Some days it tails in," Perez said. "It changes day to day until I master it."

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Gaby Sanchez to hit fourth while Stanton is out

JUPITER, Fla. -- If you use his rookie season as an indicator, Gaby Sanchez typically is at his best batting with runners on base.

In 2010, the Florida first baseman batted .310 with runners on, and he hit an impressive .291 with runners in scoring position.

A disciplined hitter who has an approach to stay up the middle, Sanchez emerged as one of Florida's most reliable run producers a year ago. For the season, he hit .273 with 19 homers, 37 doubles and 85 RBIs.

Sanchez finished five RBIs away from Dan Uggla's team rookie record of 90 RBIs, set in 2006.

Because of his ability to drive in runs, Sanchez is the Marlins' leading choice to bat cleanup in Spring Training while Mike Stanton is recovering from a right quad strain.

Stanton likely will miss at least two weeks of games.

"Gaby showed and proved that [he can drive in runs] last year," manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "We moved him all over the lineup last year, and he still had close to [90] RBIs. I think he will be a run producer. He has discipline at the plate. He makes adjustments pretty easily."

In Florida's 6-3 win over the Cardinals on Monday, Sanchez went 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs from the cleanup spot.

A year ago, Sanchez certainly showed his versatility and ability to adapt. He hit in every spot in the lineup except leadoff. He initially started off hitting eighth, before moving up to second, where he had most of his at-bats.

When Hanley Ramirez missed the final few weeks of the season with a left elbow sprain, Sanchez slid into the third spot. He also has hit fourth in three big league games, so he has some experience in that spot.

Stanton clearly profiles as a cleanup batter in the big leagues. But if Sanchez handles the spot in Spring Training, he could be the choice to bat fourth at least early in the season.

The organization is mindful that Stanton is still 21-years-old, and he played in 100 big league games as a rookie.

Rodriguez and the team will ultimately decide if Stanton is ready to bat cleanup in the season opener, or if he should start off hitting fifth or sixth and eventually move up.

In the meantime, Sanchez feels he gained a better understanding of how pitchers work a lineup because he experienced moving around so much in 2010.

"You definitely saw a difference between second and third, and then third and fifth," Sanchez said. "There is always that [adjustment] to try and figure out what they're going to pitch to that spot in the lineup.

"You might have second-and-third and one out, and they are like, 'Do I pitch around him to get the bases loaded and try to get the double play?' I got a lot of variations of how pitchers pitch in certain situations."

If Sanchez is hitting fourth for a while, he plans on sticking to the same approach he normally has with runners in scoring position.

"I just try to stay up the middle," he said. "I just do what I was taught my entire life. The best way to do it is to stay up the middle and use the big part of the field -- especially with a guy on third and one out.

"I just try to keep the ball in the middle of the field. If I get under it, it's going to be a fly ball to center, and an RBI. If you get jammed a little bit, it's still going to be a ground ball to short, and the guy can still score."

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Jon Jay hits first homer in win

Jon Jay went 2-for-3 and hit a two-run homer Tuesday in the Cardinals' 7-1 win over the Marlins.
Jay will be the Cardinals' fourth outfielder when everyone is healthy, but with Lance Berkman likely to often take a seat late in games, odds are that he'll see plenty of time in right field over the course of the season.

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Yonder Alonso hits 2-run HR to lead Reds past A's

PHOENIX -- Jonny Gomes and Yonder Alonso both hit two-run homers in the fourth inning to lead a Cincinnati Reds split-squad to a 7-6 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday.

The Reds did not have a baserunner over the first three innings against Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson, before the Gomes and Alonso homers punctuated a six-hit inning against Anderson in the fourth.

Reds starter Mike Leake, vying for Cincinnati's No. 5 starter job, gave up one run in two innings in his first start of the spring.

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Leonard Hankerson Ran a 4.43 40-Yard Dash

Miami's Leonard Hankerson caught everyone's attention at the Senior Bowl with his route-running and hands, but teams wanted to see him run because he has a "possession receiver" label that follows him around. Hankerson ran an impressive 4.43, and while I don't think he always plays to that speed, I think he's a lock for the 2nd round now.

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NFL Souting Director on Colin McCarthy: "He's a Tough Kid"

INDIANAPOLIS -- University Miami inside linebacker Colin McCarthy draws high marks from the NFL for his toughness and productivity.

Ranked second at his position on the National Football Post draft board, McCarthy recorded 95 tackles as a junior and 105 tackles as a senior with nine tackles for losses. He finished his career with 308 tackles, 34 for losses and was twice named all-conference.

McCarthy is regarded as an old-school linebacker who plays with sound instincts, but is relatively undersized.

The 6-foot-1, 235-pounder is currently projected to go in the third to fourth round.

An NFL scouting director had solid praise for McCarthy.

"Yeah, he’s a tough kid," the executive told National Football Post. "He runs around. He’s active. He’s instinctive, always working to the football. Gives up a little in terms of size, he's not 250, 260 pounds, but he plays pretty solid for an undersized guy.

"Very competitive player, great intangibles, comes with high remarks from the staff at Miami. So, he’s definitely a quality player and a quality kid.”

McCarthy finished a huge day ranked in the top 10 of every category.

His best mark is at vertical, where he is tied for 4th best mark with 36.5 inches (pictured above).  Here are his official results and standings among the linebacker group:

40-Yard Dash: 4.65 Seconds / 6th Best
Bench Press: 23 reps at 225 lbs. / 9th Best
Vertical: 36.5 inches / 4th Best
Broad Jump: 9 feet, 11 inches / 9th Best
3-Cone Drill: 6.93 seconds / 5th Best
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.2 seconds / 5th Best
60-Yard Shuttle: 11.38 seconds / 5th Best

McCarthy said he has talked to teams about playing outside linebacker as well as inside linebacker and is open to play either position. McCarthy played inside linebacker this season but worked at outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl.

You can all but guarantee that McCarthy will be among the fastest rising prospects leaving Ford Field and Indianapolis after the Combine.

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Allen Bailey Notches top Workout Marks At Combine

Proud Hurricane Allen Bailey is putting on a show at the NFL Combine. He has notched top 10 marks in three of the four workouts completed.

His highest mark came in the vertical jump (pictured above), where he leaped 36.5 inches for the third best mark at his position group.  He also ranked ninth in the 40-yard dash at 4.77 seconds and seventh in the broad jump at 9 feet, 9 inches.

The only completed workout that he did not register as a top performer is in the bench press.

Local writer Omar Kelly tweeted that Bailey is working as a ,”stand up 3-4 outside linebacker,” during drills. 

It’s interesting to note that Bailey is on the UM record wall for having run the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds during his time in Coral Gables. 

Finally, here are Bailey’s measurables:
Weight:285 lbs.
Arm Length:34 in.
Hand Size:10 1/4 in 

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Graig Cooper on the comeback trail

INDIANAPOLIS -- University of Miami running back Graig Cooper is on the comeback trail as he has made a strong recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Displaying the return of his lateral movement, Cooper led all running backs with a three-cone drill clocking of 6.66 seconds and a short shuttle of 4.03 seconds.

According to league sources, teams are encouraged by his progress as he works his way back from a serious knee injury.

The 205-pounder wasn't thrilled with his 40-yard dash, running a 4.62. However, it looked like his form was off.

Cooper had a second-round grade prior to his knee injury suffered in December of 2009.

Cooper had a solid week at the East-West Shrine game.

Cooper finished third in Miami history in career all-purpose yards with 3,864 yards, ranking behind Santana Moss (4,394 yards) and Ottis Anderson (4,265 yards).

He ranks fifth in Hurricanes history with 2,387 yards.

Cooper led Miami in rushing three times with 682 in 2007, 841 in 2008 and 695 in 2009, scoring 17 career touchdowns.

He had 1,079 return yards overall, setting the school record for kickoff return yards with 582 in 2009 to break Tremain Mack's single-season record.

Last season, he was limited to 165 yards and a touchdown as he only started one game while coming back from the knee injury.

At Milford Prep for a postgraduate year before enrolling at Miami, Cooper rushed for 1,327 yards and 15 touchdowns as he played ahead of future Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.

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Orlando Franklin Looks Solid at Combine

Former Miami offensive lineman Orlando Franklin was No. 5 in top 10-yard splits (1.72) and was timed at 5.20 (official) in the 40. ESPN's Scouts Inc. said Franklin was "clearly playing out of position at left tackle" at Miami:

At 6-5 and 316 pounds, he showed just average quickness during drills but did display good short-area lateral agility. He also looked balanced throughout and did a nice job staying low out of his stance during pulling drills. Franklin was clearly playing out of position at left tackle during the college season, but he has the strength and short-area capabilities to be a reliable starter on the inside at the next level.

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Demarcus VanDyke Talks To Texans

Demarcus Van Dyke, a Miami cornerback, said that he met with the Texans on Saturday. Van Dyke is an interesting later-round prospect. Tall and lean at 6-1, 175, he ran track at Miami for three years. Van Dyke competed in the 60-, 100-, 200- and 4x100-meter dashes and said Sunday that he his personal bests are 6.81 seconds in the 60 and 10.43 in the 100.

Van Dyke is close friends with Darryl Sharpton, whom the Texans drafted last year in the fourth round.

“Me and him are boys, man,” Van Dyke said. “I talked to Darryl two weeks ago about the whole Combine the whole draft process. He told me to take it in, soak it in and that it’s a blessing. He’s a good guy.”

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Brandon Harris measures in at 5'9" Says Would Love To Play for Texans

Miami CB Brandon Harris measured in at just 5-foot-9 at the Scouting Combine weigh-in Sunday.

Harris has been mentioned as a potential first-rounder, but 5'9" corners don't typically go on day one. He's also coming off the worst game of his career, a torching at the hands of Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd in the Sun Bowl. Harris is considered to have some of the quickest feet among draft-eligible corners, but his stock has been dropping since early January.

Harris said that it’d “mean a lot” to play for the Texans with fellow Hurricanes like Andre Johnson and Darryl Sharpton.

“I would love to play for any team, but when it comes to playing with University of Miami guys, it’s just a different kind of chemistry and a different kind of atmosphere,” Harris said. “Those guys, they mean so much to us and they’re like older brothers to us. We’ve been watching (some of) them since we were eight and nine years old.”

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Harbaugh has fingers crossed for McGahee

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Baltimore Ravens won't make a final resolution on cutting or keeping former Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee until the collective bargaining agreement and salary cap situation are resolved.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal on whether the team will retain him.

McGahee is due a $6 million base salary next season. Unless he comes back at a much lower price, he won't be back.

"I don’t think we know anything along those lines because we don’t have to yet," Harbaugh said. "The way it’s all set up there’s no reason to make any decision before you have to. What the salary cap is going to be, how those numbers factor in, are important."

McGahee rushed for a career-low 380 yards and five touchdowns on 100 carries last season. He averaged only 3.8 yards per carry.

"Willis McGahee can play," Harbaugh said. "He’s a good person, a hard worker, a leader on our team. I’m a big fan of Willis McGahee. He’s a leader on our team. I’m a big fan of Willis McGahee. I have my fingers crossed for a lot of guys, and he’d be one of them.”

McGahee, 29, set career lows last season in carries (100) and rushing yards (380). He tied career lows in yards per carry (3.8) and rushing touchdowns (five)."

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Can TE Jimmy Graham Adequately Replace Jeremy Shockey?

With every passing day, the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl victory becomes more and more of a distant memory. As a lifelong resident of New Orleans, it is difficult to convey how special the Saints championship was for me and everyone else in New Orleans. And the players who helped lead us to the Promised Land will forever be Saints in our hearts. Unfortunately, the NFL is a business and one by one, our Super Bowl Saints are feeling the march of Father Time and the economic realities of the league. The latest casualty was TE Jeremy Shockey who was released.

Jeremy Shockey's legacy in New Orleans

When Jeremy Shockey joined the New Orleans Saints in 2008, I was "shocked." On the surface, Shockey did not seem like the kind of player that Sean Payton wanted in the Saints locker room. When Payton arrived in New Orleans, he cleaned house and cut or traded those who were not team players and were not 100% committed to winning. And Jeremy Shockey's reputation with the New York Giants was that of a loose cannon with an attitude problem.

But then I realized that Payton had coached Shockey when they were together in New York. I hoped that Payton knew something about Jeremy Shockey that I did not. Quickly, I realized that what others saw as a loose cannon was really a player who gave maximum effort with a thirst for winning. And the only attitude that I saw was his sheer joy at helping his team win. Most importantly, New Orleans Saints fans will never forget his pivotal TD catch in Super Bowl XLIV. We will never forget you, Jeremy and we will always thank you.

For Jimmy Graham(notes), the future is now

I don't know if a third round draft pick qualifies as a steal. But to hear experts and NFL insiders talk about Jimmy Graham, you would think that he's got more potential than the energy stored in a uranium atom. Despite everything that Jeremy Shockey brought to each and every game in which he played, he did seem to be injured quite often. And if he was destined to be the second option at TE, the Saints could not be expected to pay him $4.2 million in 2011.

But if Saints offensive guru Sean Payton trusts the skills of football novice Jimmy Graham, I should have faith in him as well. As the 2010 NFL season wore on, I could see Drew Brees(notes) go to Graham more and more often. To truly be effective though, Graham will have to continue to improve as a run blocker. In three years, NFL fans may be talking about Jimmy Graham in the same breath as the likes of Tony Gonzalez(notes). But for now, I would prefer to reminisce about the great times I had watching Jeremy Shockey help lead the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl victory.

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Clinton Portis Released

The Redskins have announced that they have released Clinton Portis.

"Clinton provided excitement from the very first time he touched the ball as a Redskin and we were lucky to witness every ounce of energy, effort and passion he has given ever since," Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder said in a statement released by the team. "We have been through a lot both on and off of the field and we would like to wish him and his family the very best. He will always be a Redskin and go down as one of the franchise's all-time greats."

Asked about his future with the Redskins, Clinton Portis said, "I should be released today," in an interview with Mike Wise and Holden Kushner on 106.7 The Fan.

An introspective Portis opened up on his time in DC and, in a 33-minute interview, said that he had given "everything I had to the city of Washington" and added that here, there's "nothing left me to prove."

Portis was asked about the drama that accompanied his time in D.C. "One of the biggest reasons for why my time is up in D.C.: the drama and the issues, the back and forth with teammates."

For Portis now, "it's not about the money for me at this stage of my career, it's about winning." As for John Riggins' team rushing record: "If the record meant that much, I think I could have stayed in D.C. to get it."

Portis spoke of Joe Gibbs' leadership and his own growth and maturation. Asked what he has left -- a house? -- in D.C., Portis said, "Memories." Many of those are of his close friend Sean Taylor, and he admitted that he lost some of his passion when Taylor died.

"Maybe I left something in that stadium [FedEx Field] that will carry on with people for some time."

Portis was philosophical about the transitory nature of NFL jobs. "No one is irreplaceable...Enjoy as much as you can and when it's time for you to move on, be ready." Whether it's Keiland Williams or Ryan Torain, "another back is gonna come along and steal the hearts of fans."

On a lighter note, Portis admits that the sale of his house, which is on the market, has been slowed by the presence of his well-documented stripper pole. (Perhaps his real estate agent should say it's a fireman's pole.) "The husbands love it. Then the wives go through."

And Janky Panky is his personal favorite of all his characters.

Afterward, Kushner tweeted, "We had to dump Portis when he said, "There's no part of me that still doesn't think I'm the baddest [um, expletive] on the field."

Portis in a statement said: "I would like to thank the organization," Portis said in the release. "Dan [Snyder] and Mike [Shanahan] were honest, straight-up people with me. I always appreciated the opportunity from Dan to play here. Being a Redskin was a special part of my life. Coming and being in that organization, I turned from a kid having fun to a man carrying responsibilities. I tried to put the world on my shoulders for Coach Gibbs and the Redskins fans."    

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

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Eric Winston wonders if NFL is maxing out revenue on Thursday nights

Texans tackle Eric Winston doesn’t think that adding two games to the regular season is the best way for the NFL to grow revenue.

He understands how important television contracts are for the league, and wonders if adding playoff games or changing the league’s Thursday night package would be a better way to go.

“If you are the NFL and we are looking for new revenue, why don’t we bid out the Thursday night game?” Winston asked.  “Thursday is supposed to be the most popular night for everyone to watch TV.  They have a game that has become more and more popular.

“Maybe some of these other networks would like to get into NFL football.  I guarantee that game would bring in more than $500 million alone just from playing half a season.”

It’s a terrific point by Winston and one we haven’t heard before.   (It’s also one that will make the league feel uncomfortable.)

We understand the business strategy of putting Thursday Night Football on NFL Network.  But five years after the package was awarded, it’s still not shown in New York City or on other cable packages.

Think about that for a second: The most popular television property in the country — the NFL — is aired on the most popular television night of the week, and parts of the country still can’t see it?

Television, like football, is a results business.  Every year that the NFL passes up money to keep a television package that isn’t shown nationwide is a failure.   The man in charge of that failure is the league’s highest paid employee.

I love the quality of NFL Network in general — it’s a great product.  But they have run out of time to reasonably blame Time Warner or anyone else for not being able to get better distribution.

It’s like a coach blaming a bad call or injuries for a costly loss.  It’s an excuse.

It has been widely assumed that, once a lockout commences, players will organize informal workouts in order to stay ready for football.

But here’s the problem, as pointed out today by Eric Winston of the Houston Texans.  If a player suffers a serious injury while working out on his own, he can be placed on the non-football injury list once the lockout ends — and not paid a dime for the 2011 season.

Coupled with the fact that plenty of players won’t want to do anything to help the NFL field a watchable product absent a full slate of offseason workouts and minicamps and training camp, it looks like player-conducted practices could be the exception, not the rule.

That said, some teams could try to make it known to players on a wink-nod basis that any injuries suffered while working out on their own will be covered, and that players won’t be frozen out of their salary.  Such an approach would provide players with a blank check for attempting to get paid after getting hurt by doing something other than working out.

Click here to order Eric Winston’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Jon Jay Gets Ready For His Breakout Year

Cool, calm and collected. That's the best way to describe St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay, who earlier this spring training found himself in a competition for his starting job with fan favorite Jim Edmonds. Until Edmonds made the decision to retire, Jay was willing to give up his number (#15) in favor of Edmonds, and let the competition determine the opening day roster. While he no longer needs to worry, that still doesn't stop Jay from competing against the only person who matters: himself. I caught up with Jay at the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up and discovered some pretty interesting and hilarious facts about the outfielder (hint: follow him on Twitter to see his 'hobby' in full-force)!

After the off-season, how does it feel seeing the fans again and participating in the Winter Warm-Up?
It's crazy. There's so many people. It's kind of weird when you're out of tune from this for three months and then you come back. You forget how crazy it is here and how great it is with the support we get, so it's nice.

After a great game, what's the first thing you do? Call your friends or watch yourself on Sports Center?
I have a short drive home, so I usually talk to a couple of friends, and then just relax and hang out. I usually try not to watch the games, because I'll watch it the next day in the film room. I just try to tune out from baseball as much as I can when I get home.

Is there a ballpark that you haven't gotten to play in yet, that you're just dying to play a game in?
Yes, San Francisco. I didn't get to make that trip last year, so hopefully I can make it this year.

Outside of baseball, what are your hobbies?
I have a big shoe collection. Jordans. I got a big retro Jordan collection going. I have a lot, it's one of my hobbies. I enjoy fishing and boating as much as I can, but we miss most of those summer months. I try to go down to the [Florida] Keys as much as I can during the off-season. I like the outdoors and going to the beach.

Did you have a sports idol growing up?
Oh definitely. Michael Jordan, he was guy. I used to love watching him . . . just the way he competed.

So I guess it's safe to say if you couldn't be a baseball player, you'd want to be a basketball player?
Or a football player. Definitely a football player.

What position?
Oh, it switches everyday. From linebacker to running back to quarterback. I still think I could play, but it's probably not going to happen.

If you were stranded on the side of the road and couldn't call AAA, which teammate would you call?
Definitely Nick Stavinoha.

How come Nick?
I don't know. Somehow he just knows it all. [laughs]

Jon's St. Louis Favorites:
Steakhouse: Prime1000
1000 Washington St.; 314-241-1000

Restaurant: Mosaic
1001 Washington Ave.; 314-621-6001

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Chris Perez isn't planning on letting up on the heat in second season as Cleveland Indians closer

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- If not for the small matter of the title being copyrighted, and perhaps for the larger issue of clean-cut Robert Redford playing the leading man, "The Natural" might be the appropriate name for the making of Chris Perez as a major-league closer.

He always had the arm and a love for the high wire. Now he has an inaugural season of success behind him and a looks-the-part beard to go with long locks and the attitude best captured in his Twitter bio:

"Chris Perez, relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, former UM Hurricane. Just a normal guy with an arm like a ******* cannon."

A year ago in spring training, when Perez was the closer in waiting behind Kerry Wood, pitching coach Tim Belcher shared a scouting report about a young aggressive Reds' player Perez would face the next inning. Belcher said the kid was a dead fastball hitter. Came word from Perez, "He ain't seen mine yet."

Perez, 25, backed up the bravado in 2010. His 1.71 ERA was the second-lowest among AL relievers. Opponents hit .182 of him, the fifth-lowest. With runners in scoring position, hitters batted .133. His 23 saves in 27 chances made him the youngest reliever in Indians history to record 20 saves.

"It was a tremendous year for me personally," Perez said. "Obviously I was able to finally achieve what I always wanted to do in this game, which is to be a closer. I had a really good second half and that kind of validates all the hard work and years that it took to get to this point."

Wood's injury last spring cleared the path. But whatever angst the Indians felt about Perez moving into the closer role was mitigated somewhat by the second half of 2009 -- which was particularly impressive considering how his Indians career began after the June 27 trade from St. Louis for Mark DeRosa.

Perez lasted two-thirds of an inning in his debut against the White Sox, allowing two hits and four runs. He hit two batters, walked one, threw a wild pitch, allowed a stolen base and failed to cover first. A week later, Chicago's Paul Konerko hit a grand slam off him.

Not the best way to make friends and influence a new fan base. Soon after, though, Perez put together a consecutive scoreless streak of 20.2 innings. Perez and the Indians gained confidence. Both knew coming into 2010 that if the Indians fell flat, Wood would likely be traded to a contender.

"It was a perfect season all the way around," Perez said of his development. "Even -- you don't want anybody getting hurt -- but even Woody going down in spring training made it so much easier knowing that I was the guy out of spring training."

Indians' manager Manny Acta called Perez becoming the closer "a matter of time." Perez's success means one less concern for Acta coming into 2011. For Perez, the concern is doing it all over again.

"The history of baseball is that there are a whole bunch of guys that had one of two good years," Perez said. "I don't want to be that. I want to be here for the long haul and have a great career."

Some big-league closers come to the job out of failure. They flop as a starting pitcher first. Or injuries dictate it. Perez never got attached to that idea of starting pitcher celebrity. Not in high school -- where he dedicated himself to catching and found the mound almost by accident.

His junior year at Pendleton (Fla.) high school, his team played seven tournament games in three days and exhausted its supply of pitchers. Perez volunteered. He had no idea about mechanics or direction but was clocked at 93.

"From that time on, my dad's like, 'You are not catching anymore,'" Perez said.

Except for a brief experiment as a starter at Miami, he moved directly to the bullpen and told to forget his change-up. Getting on the reliever track early and staying there speeded his development when St. Louis drafted him.

"He definitely had the stuff," said pitcher Anthony Reyes, who was with the Cardinals at the same time. "He's refined his pitches. That's allowed him to take the next step."

Perez thrives on the action. In college, he fell in love with the idea of pitching with the game on the line. He also watched relievers like Houston Street get drafted and make a quick impact. Now he's done the same.

In 2011, the idea is to make it a lasting one.

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This spring, Danny Valencia seems less flashy and particularly driven

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If the Minnesota Twins were house paint, they'd be beige.

If they were a food, they'd be wild rice soup.

Last year, Danny Valencia strutted into the Twins' understated clubhouse and stood out like a disco ball in a DMV.

"What's the opposite of a chameleon?" outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. "Whatever the opposite is, that's what Danny was. So if the background was green, he'd be blue."

Valencia's personality cost him plenty of green last year. Cuddyer and the other veterans fined him constantly for violations of unwritten Twins rules.

In baseball, this justice system is called the Kangaroo Court. You do not have the right to legal representation. You do not get one phone call.

Valencia, who made himself the Twins' third baseman of the present and future last summer, not only had to pay fines, he had to carry the box in which the fine money was kept.

"He got fined for everything," Cuddyer said. "From wearing sunglasses at midnight during an interview - inside! - to leaving the Kangaroo Court box pretty much everywhere we went. We'd go on the road, and he'd forget it. There were numerous other things along the way."

Valencia played at the University of Miami. He still wears a T-shirt that brags, "The U Invented Swagger."

Did he deserve his reputation as a cocky guy? "Oh, yes," Cuddyer said.

Last year a funny thing happened while Valencia was trying to put the "fun" in the Twins' fundamentals and his teammates were trying to deflate his ego from the size of a blimp to that of a balloon animal: He proved true the Dizzy Dean theorem that "It ain't braggin' if you can do it."

Called up on June 3 as part of the Twins' annual midseason infield restructuring, Valencia hit .311 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .448 slugging percentage, and acquitted himself well in the field. He finished third in the American League rookie of the year voting despite spending the first two months of the season in the minors.

His ability to fill and field a position of need during a pennant race helped the Twins offset the loss of Justin Morneau and became one key to their latest division title.

This spring, Valencia seems less flashy and particularly driven. A mutual friend introduced him to Alex Rodriguez, and he spent the winter working out with Rodriguez in Miami.

"It was great," Valencia said. "I was really blown away by the way he works. He works hard. He's one of the best players who ever played the game, and his work ethic is unbelievable.

"Seeing a guy who's an established All-Star at the position I play, to see what he does to prepare to play at the top level, that was great for me."
Not many Twins make a habit out of working out with Yankees. Valencia often found himself takings swings alongside Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, and sometimes with former Yankee Melky Cabrera.

"If you get to know Alex, he's a really cool guy," Valencia said. "A great guy. He's funny. The past few years he's gone through some tough stuff, but he's handled it well. He's really a good role model."

A Twin with A-Rod as a role model? A Twin driven to gather as many Twitter followers as possible?

Some players shun fame; some crave it.

"I want to be famous for the right reasons," Valencia said. "I would like to be famous for my performance on the field and for doing good work in the community.

"Do I want to be famous for doing the wrong things? Obviously not. I think when you're great at your job you're going to get notoriety whether you want it or not.

"Hopefully, I'll handle it the right way."

If he doesn't, he'll pay. Cuddyer and the Kangaroo Court will see to that.

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proCane NFL Combine Risers & Fallers

Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami Hurricanes: Demonstrating good speed was something he had to do on Sunday. He did just that, running a 4.43 40, which turned out to tie for the 10th best time in Indy and the fourth best among receivers. He shows good hands on the field after questions arose earlier in his career, but some weren't sure of his speed because he wasn't that deep burner at Miami. Questions, answered.

Matt Bosher, P, Miami (Fla.): Bosher showed a strong leg and the ability to turn the ball over and drive it with no trouble. One issue was that he showed only adequate quickness catching the ball and getting off the punt.

Miami guard Orlando Franklin quietly had a solid day, turning in an adequate 5.20 (official) in the 40 and showing good short-area quickness with a 1.72 (official) 10-yard split. At 6-5 and 316 pounds, he showed just average quickness during drills but did display good short-area lateral agility. He also looked balanced throughout and did a nice job staying low out of his stance during pulling drills. Franklin was clearly playing out of position at left tackle during the college season, but he has the strength and short-area capabilities to be a reliable starter on the inside at the next level.

Damien Berry posted top marks in the broad jump - 10”0’ - and the bench press,  where he repped 225 pounds 23 times.  

Graig Cooper, RB, Miami Hurricanes: Cooper's career took a serious turn when he tore an ACL on an awful, muddy field at the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. He never really got all the way back since the injury and shared time in a busy backfield rotation, but a nice showing at the Combine could have helped his stock. He ran a 4.63 40 on Sunday, which could hurt his stock as a change of pace back who can contribute as a homerun threat or a returner.

Cooper though did lead all running backs at the NFL Combine with a time of 6.66 seconds in the 3-cone drill. Cooper also ranked second among all running backs in the 20-yard shuttle with a time of 4.03.

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Leonard Hankerson looking to carry tradition of the 'U'

Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson has heard all of the names: Michael Irvin, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss. So, he understands the track record of Miami receivers in the NFL.

"It's great to be mentioned in that company," Hankerson said. "You want to carry on that tradition."

The Ravens were one of 10 teams who spoke with Hankerson at the combine, according to the 6-foot-1, 205-pound receiver.

Hankerson is projected to go in the third or fourth round. He had 72 catches for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Asked about his favorite memory at Miami, he said, "Catching the game-winning touchdown at Maryland last season."

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Atlanta Falcons interested in Allen Bailey

INDIANAPOLIS — Miami defensive end Allen Bailey, who is the player I had the Falcons selecting the Mockiavelli 1.o, has interviewed with the team.

“I talked to the Browns, the Chargers, Tampa Bay, the Falcons and the Chiefs,” said Bailey on Saturday.

He felt that his interview went well.

“I talked to the Falcons at the Senior Bowl also,” Bailey said.

He considers stopping the run to be the strength of his game.

“I’m willing to work on the things I need to correct,” said Bailey, who was measured at 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, had a wingspan of 82 ½ inches and a size 10 ½ hands.

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Matt Bosher showing off his multiple skills at NFL Scouting Combin

INDIANAPOLIS — After punting, placekicking and handling kickoffs for the University of Miami the past three seasons, Jupiter's Matt Bosher won't mind becoming a specialist.

"I'm looking forward to honing it down to one, but I've been training to do all three here," Bosher said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I feel like that gives me the best chance to make a team. I don't want to cut my chances by getting rid of one."

Bosher demonstrated his skills at Lucas Oil Stadium in front of NFL personnel from every team. Before the demonstration, he said he wasn't nervous, even though he had never kicked in a dome.

"It's just another day. You practice for this day for years and years. I've gone through high school, through five years at Miami, all the off-season work I've done, and it comes to this. So it's just a matter of practicing and keeping your head down and working through everything."

Bosher (6 feet, 205 pounds) converted 45 of 53 field-goal attempts for the Hurricanes, an 85 percent success rate. Last season he was at his best in big games, hitting a 51-yarder against Ohio State and a 47-yarder in the Sun Bowl loss to Notre Dame.

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Orlando Franklin set to be 'a beast at guard' in NFL


INDIANAPOLIS — University of Miami offensive lineman Orlando Franklin played his entire senior season with a torn meniscus, and out of position. But at the NFL combine, he is working to prove to NFL scouts that he’s not only healthy, but will become “a beast at guard” for the team that selects him in April's draft.

Here is a Q&A I had with the former Delray Beach Atlantic High School star:

How much interaction have you had with NFL coaches?
“They are just excited to see what I’m going to do. Everyone knows I had surgery six weeks ago [to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee] and they are excited to see that I got back as fast as possible and that I’m going to be doing everything at the combine.”

Do you feel like you’re 100 percent physically?
“I feel like if I’m not 100, I’m 98.”

Do you know when you tore the meniscus in your left knee?
“I suffered it my junior year. I was asking to get an MRI at the end of the season but they thought it was tendinitis so we elected not to get the MRI. But I finally got the MRI three weeks before camp started, in the middle of July and it turned out my meniscus was torn. At the University of Miami I thought we had something special going on this year and I was playing a different position so I didn’t want to have surgery. I wanted to be there for my teammates and not miss any days of camp.”

When coaches ask you what position you see yourself playing what do you say?
“I’ll play any position they’ll have me at. I’ll play guard for three years at the collegiate level and tackle for one year. If you look at the situation I’m more comfortable at guard because I’ve been playing it for three years, but if they need me to go in and get it done at tackle I can definitely get it done.”

Outside of the experience factor what makes you more comfortable at guard?
“Just going against different players, I’ve played it for two years and the reason I’m more comfortable at the position is because I’ve played so much at it. I feel as if I’ve got all the answers at guard. I feel as if I’m a beast at guard.”

Do you feel like playing left tackle your senior year hurt you?
“It didn’t hurt me. But it doesn’t matter what it did for me, as long as I helped my teammates out, did what I needed to do for the University of Miami it’s all good. They were there for me and I was happy to be there for them. I was happy to play any position. If they wanted me to play center, even though I’ve never taken a snap at that position I would have definitely go there and help them out.”

What type of player do you think you can develop into?
“With a little technique work I think I can be a great tackle in the NFL. I think I’ll be a great guard being that I’ve played it for three years already. Whatever team drafts me and gives me an opportunity I’m going to work at whatever position they have me playing and I’m going to get better each and every day.”

What do you feel like you have the most to prove during this evaluation process in the draft?
“I’m trying to show my will to get it done. I’ve never had to come back from an injury this quick. I’ve never really had to get up every day and train hard to get back. I had surgery six weeks ago and I’ve been running full speed for two weeks. I wasn’t supposed to do that. With hard work and dedication I was able to.”

Did you develop a different mindset having to come back from that injury?
“I always had a tough mentality, but I had to get a little tougher to get back and do what I was able to do (prepare for the combine). I had to toughen up even more and let the doctors do exactly what they wanted me to do and not question them….I knew they had my best interest in mind and I was going to be able to come back as quickly as possible.”

Was the NFL always a goal?
“I grew up in Toronto, Canada so I never thought I’d be here. I’m definitely excited to be here and to meet new people. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend to show NFL teams what I can do. The hard part is gone. The games are over, the training is done. I’m excited to show them what I can do. I got to do what I always do. Run fast, jump high and lift a lot of weight. My biggest asset is I’m a very explosive guy and I’m fast. I’m ready to showcase that.

What was the medical process for you like at the combine?
“It was cool because my knee doesn’t hurt at all. I was pretty happy. I thought they’d force it to start hurting but my knee doesn’t hurt at all. It was a great feeling to get through that without a twinge or anything. We were there for about five hours.”

Do you think this is the year the Hurricanes get back in the first round?
“There’s eight of us here. I’m excited to see us this weekend. I know we’re ready to perform.”

What do you think is the biggest thing that got you here, to this point?
“I got a great mom [in Sylvia Allen]. She left me in Jamaica when I was 2 years old. She moved to Canada, got her papers and got legally situated. A year later I was flying up to Canada after she filed for us [to immigrate]. When I was about 15 years old I told my mom I wanted to play football and I thought Florida would be the best place for me, and the best opportunity for me to do that. She ups and quits her job, moves down here and a year later I’m down in Florida. I got a great mom that will do anything to see her children succeed. She’s definitely been there for me for 100 percent and I wouldn’t be anywhere without her.”

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Clinton Portis knows “it’s time to move on”

Redskins running back Clinton Portis has made peace with the fact that he’s not going to be a Redskins running back much longer.

“If it’s time to move on, I’ll do that,” Portis told 106.7 The Fan. “I’m appreciative of everything they’ve done for me. I had a good time and enjoyed myself.”

Portis’s comments came shortly after Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he anticipated releasing Portis as soon as “two days from now, three days from now.”

The question now is where Portis might “move on” to. In the last two seasons, Portis has played a grand total of 13 games, carrying 178 times for 721 yards and three touchdowns. He’s not the player he used to be, and he’ll turn 30 before the 2011 season starts.

But move on he will, and Portis sounds OK with that.

“I don’t think the Washington Redskins owe me anything,” Portis said. “I enjoyed my time in DC and I think I made the most of my time here. If it’s the end of the road, I’m thankful for my time in Washington.”

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

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Cowboys won't tender Leon Williams

The Cowboys have decided against tendering ILB Leon Williams, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Williams appeared in 11 games last season, making six special teams tackles but rarely playing on defense. The 27-year-old could be re-signed at a lesser salary than he would've received from a low restricted free agent tender.

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Jeremy Shockey anticipates signing a new deal by March 3

The NFL and the players’ union may not ink a new contract by March 3, but free-agent tight end Jeremy Shockey has every intention of doing so.
Per a league source, Shockey plans to sign with a new team before the expiration of the current league year, and in turn the possible commencement of a lockout.

At this point, however, no deal is imminent with the two teams that have shown interest in Shockey:  the Dolphins and the Panthers.  Even though Shockey has said he’d like to play for the Dolphins, we’re told that Shockey prefers the Panthers because of the presence of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who worked at the University of Miami while Shockey played there.

Shockey was recently cut by the Saints.  Before spending three seasons in New Orleans, he spent six with the Giants.

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

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Cleveland Browns Potential target file: Miami CB Brandon Harris

If the Browns want to draft a cornerback after the first round in this year's draft, they might want to listen to the case University of Miami cornerback Brandon Harris made for himself Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"I'm very versatile," Harris said. "I love the game of football. It's not just something I do just to do. I was born into this game. I think my love for the game and passion separates me from a lot of people. I'm able to do a lot of things on the football field. At Miami, they played me in the slot a lot and I also played outside. I was able to move around and make a lot of plays. Being able to blitz from the outside and cover guys man-to-man in the slot, I was able to do a lot things that they wanted me to do."

LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara are projected as top-10 picks by most draft gurus. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said, "After Amukamara and Patrick Peterson, there is a drop off."

But the 5-foot-9, 193-pound Harris, who's projected as a first- or second-round pick by Pro Football Weekly, said there are more than two good cornerbacks in this year's draft class. Of course, Harris believes he's one of them.

"I've watched Prince, and I've watched Patrick Peterson for a while," Harris said. "They're two great cornerbacks. Make no mistake about it. They're great guys. … I just think we all just have to come out here and show what we can do at the combine and show everybody that this is not just a two-person DB class, but we all have skills and we all can play."

The Browns might be looking to draft a cornerback. They have Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown. But Eric Wright is not under contract for next season, and Browns General Manager Tom Heckert recently acknowledged how important it is to have three reliable corners.

Harris is not a candidate to be selected early in the first round, when the Browns have the sixth overall pick. But if he's available early in the second round and the Browns don't spend their first choice on a corner, they could consider taking him 37th overall.

Then again, Harris might not be available by then, either. He started every game for the Hurricanes during the past two seasons. He compiled 58 tackles, 15 pass breakups and two interceptions in 2009 and 44 tackles, 10 pass breakups and one interception in 2010.

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Jeremy Shockey set to visit Panthers

While most of the football world remains holed up in Naptown, Jeremy Shockey will be meeting with the Carolina Panthers.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Shockey will visit the Panthers on Sunday.  The timing of the move indicates that Shockey will take a physical for the team, but we can’t imagine they’d be prepared to offer a contract yet.  Most of the team’s key decision makers will still be at the Scouting Combine.

Shockey also met with the Dolphins and reportedly is interested in playing for the Titans.  So far, it has been difficult for recently released veterans like O.J. Atogwe, Shaun Rogers, and Shockey to get acceptable contract offers.

They probably will have to wait until a new collective bargaining agreement before they get paid.

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

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Clinton Portis 'thankful' for time in D.C., will move on if he must

Clinton Portis responded to Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan's admission that he might let the veteran running back "test the market," telling 106.7 The Fan D.C. Sportsradio that if he has to go elsewhere, he'll do so.

"If it's time to move on, I'll do that," Portis told the Fairfax, Va.-based station Saturday. "I'm appreciative of everything they've done for me. I had a good time and enjoyed myself."

Portis, 29, was limited by injuries to only five games last season, with career lows in carries (54) and yards (227), and has played in just 13 of Washington’s last 32 games. He's also slated to make $8.3 million next year, which is more than Shanahan sounded like he wanted to pay when he spoke to media Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"Now here's a guy with a high salary-cap (number), and I've always dealt with it a little bit differently," Shanahan said. "If we're not going to sign Clinton to that high salary, I'll let him test the market out. Not to say that we don't want him, but if we want him at a lower price, I'd always give him that option to obviously go out and find the best deal."

Shanahan said no decision has been made on Portis, but one will be made soon. "I don’t want to say right now," he said. "Could be two days from now, could be three days from now. Could be later today."

Portis has spent seven of his nine NFL seasons in Washington and is the No. 2 rusher in Redskins history -- his 6,284 yards are 684 behind John Riggins' record. He said he hadn't heard from the team about his situation since the season ended.

"I don't think the Washington Redskins owe me anything," he said. "I enjoyed my time in D.C., and I think I made the most of my time here. If it's the end of the road, I'm thankful for my time in Washington."

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

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Twins' Danny Valencia is fine and dandy

FORT MYERS, FLA. — If the Twins were house paint, they'd be beige.

If they were a food, they'd be wild rice soup.

Last year, Danny Valencia strutted into the Twins' understated clubhouse and stood out like a disco ball in a DMV.

"What's the opposite of a chameleon?'' outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. "Whatever the opposite is, that's what Danny was. So if the background was green, he'd be blue.''

Valencia's personality cost him plenty of green last year. Cuddyer and the other veterans fined him constantly for violations of unwritten Twins rules.

In baseball, this justice system is called the Kangaroo Court. You do not have the right to legal representation. You do not get one phone call.
Valencia, who made himself the Twins' third baseman of the present and future last summer, not only had to pay fines, he had to carry the box in which the fine money was kept.

"He got fined for everything,'' Cuddyer said. "From wearing sunglasses at midnight during an interview -- inside! -- to leaving the Kangaroo Court box pretty much everywhere we went. We'd go on the road, and he'd forget it. There were numerous other things along the way.''

Valencia played at the University of Miami. He still wears a T-shirt that brags, "The U Invented Swagger.''

Did he deserve his reputation as a cocky guy? "Oh, yes,'' Cuddyer said.

Last year a funny thing happened while Valencia was trying to put the "fun'' in the Twins' fundamentals and his teammates were trying to deflate his ego from the size of a blimp to that of a balloon animal: He proved true the Dizzy Dean theorem that "It ain't braggin' if you can do it.''

Called up on June 3 as part of the Twins' annual midseason infield restructuring, Valencia hit .311 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .448 slugging percentage, and acquitted himself well in the field. He finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting despite spending the first two months of the season in the minors.

His ability to fill and field a position of need during a pennant race helped the Twins offset the loss of Justin Morneau and became one key to their latest division title.

This spring, Valencia seems less flashy and particularly driven. A mutual friend introduced him to Alex Rodriguez, and he spent the winter working out with Rodriguez in Miami.

"It was great,'' Valencia said. "I was really blown away by the way he works. He works hard. He's one of the best players who ever played the game, and his work ethic is unbelievable.

"Seeing a guy who's an established All-Star at the position I play, to see what he does to prepare to play at the top level, that was great for me.''
Not many Twins make a habit out of working out with Yankees. Valencia often found himself takings swings alongside Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, and sometimes with former Yankee Melky Cabrera.

"If you get to know Alex, he's a really cool guy,'' Valencia said. "A great guy. He's funny. The past few years he's gone through some tough stuff, but he's handled it well. He's really a good role model.''

A Twin with A-Rod as a role model? A Twin driven to gather as many Twitter followers as possible?

Some players shun fame; some crave it.

"I want to be famous for the right reasons,'' Valencia said. "I would like to be famous for my performance on the field and for doing good work in the community.

"Do I want to be famous for doing the wrong things? Obviously not. I think when you're great at your job you're going to get notoriety whether you want it or not.

"Hopefully, I'll handle it the right way.''

If he doesn't, he'll pay. Cuddyer and the Kangaroo Court will see to that.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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Gaby Sanchez keeping head, and feet, grounded

JUPITER, Fla. -- Here's the thing about Gaby Sanchez, the Cracker Jack Floridafirst baseman who pulled off the strange-but-true feat last summer of leading all NL rookies in hits, RBI and doubles, yet finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting:

He's petrified of heights.

True story, even though he got some pretty good air while hitting .273 with a .341 on-base percentage, 19 homers and 85 RBI last summer.

The numbers themselves still weren't enough to divert much attention away from San Francisco's Buster Posey, who won the NL Rookie award. Or Atlanta's Jason Heyward, who was voted into the All-Star Game as a starter before having to take a pass with a thumb injury. Or even, for crying out loud, St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia, who finished third in the voting.

Hey, playing in Florida can be like playing in another country. Goes with the territory, like swamps and alligators.

"I don't think there's anything bad about being steady Eddie and producing," Sanchez says.

But in an indication that, just maybe, Sanchez isn't quite as under the radar as he once was as 2011 roars toward us, his Wikipedia page informs that, "in his free time, he enjoys skydiving."

"No," he says. "I'm really afraid of heights."

Somebody's messing with him.

"No way do I skydive," he says, shaking his head and chuckling. "The only way I'd do that is if somebody got me up in the air, blindfolded and in a harness, and then told me to step out the door because we're going bike riding. They couldn't pay me enough to do that."

And clearly, they mess with him because they care.

"My first professional roommate," says left fielder Logan Morrison, another marquee young talent in a clubhouse stocked with it. "Great roommate. He showed me the ropes. We went to movies, went to the mall. I didn't have a car then, I was only 18."

"He's a really good player," says Hanley Ramirez, closest thing to a superstar in this Marlins clubhouse. "He keeps learning every day. And he keeps working to get better. It's what you look for."

At 27 -- old for a rookie, old for a Marlin, but still young enough to keep raising that career-arc to even greater heights -- Sanchez is in the perfect place at the perfect time. He's got a firm foothold in the major leagues, and he's on the ground in South Florida. He was born here. Raised here. Attended high school here before moving on the play college ball at the University of Miami.

Drafted as a third baseman and experimented with in the outfield, Sanchez finally settled in at first base and, in his first full big league season, played in 151 games and came to the plate a whopping 643 times.

Especially impressive were the on-base percentage, doubles (37) and grind-it-out at-bats.

"Definitely," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez says. "His mental toughness. Even if he knows something is not working on a particular day, he'll adjust his swing. He handles tough times very well."

"He's not scared to strike out," Ramirez says of his trademark tough at-bats. "That's what happens when you're not scared to strike out."

Also eye-opening was the way he intercepted Washington's Nyjer Morgan last September when Morgan charged the mound after Chris Volstad threw a pitch behind Morgan. Showing sprinter's speed and exquisite reflexes, Sanchez reached the mound a split-second after Morgan and floored him with a forearm shiver.

That alone won him friends for life in the Florida clubhouse, and though the Marlins have since moved on to other topics, Sanchez remains a cult hero among fans.

"Every single time somebody sees me, that's all they mention," he says. "It's crazy. It doesn't matter what kind of year you have, they mention that one thing."

But everybody knows, if Sanchez wasn't bringing it in other areas, he wouldn't be around very long for fans to ask him about it.

Among other things, he's working hard on his defense this spring with infield coach Perry Hill, one of the best in the business. Positioning, footwork, everything.

Offensively, Sanchez is hopeful of even bigger things now that he's been around the track once and has a working knowledge of NL pitchers. To that degree, he also worked hard on his strength over the winter after fatigue slowed him late and he hit only .212 with a .292 on-base percentage in September.

"It was a quick season," he says. "It felt like it happened in a blur.

"It was exciting to get to play every day, and then all of a sudden there are only two months left and you're like, 'Wow, this is flying.'"
Just don't expect him to look down. There will be no skydiving, whatever heights he reaches.

"I like to fish, and go to movies," he says. "Hang out with my wife. That's about it.

"Nothing crazy."

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