ESPN SportsNation Votes Ray Lewis' Hit #1

ESPN SportsNation's poll for the best NFL hit in 2010 goes to the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis, for his crushing blow on the New York Jets' Dustin Keller in the Ravens 10-9 season opening victory in the New Meadowlands. The Jets were down 10-9 in the waning moments of the game when Jets QB Mark Sanchez tried to find Keller over the middle. The ball glanced off of Keller's hands, as he was probably already expecting to get nailed. However, Ray read Sanchez' eyes and zeroed in on Keller long before the ball got to him.

As soon as the ball hit his hands, Lewis put his shoulder into Keller's chest, stopping him in his tracks and laying him out flat to help preserve the victory. No penalty was called for what was obviously a legal hit, and shortly thereafter, Keller inexplicably stepped out of bounds on fourth down with a yard more to go. Perhaps he was still hurting from that crushing hit and wanted no more damage to his body, much less his ego.

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Source Confirms Allen Bailey Visits Patriots

A league source has confirmed a report that the Patriots had Miami defensive lineman Allen Bailey in for a visit on Thursday.

Bailey is a 6-foot-3, 285-pounder who played defensive end and defensive tackle with the Hurricanes, and recorded 19 sacks in his college career, including seven as a senior. He recorded 31 tackles for a loss in with Miami, including 11 in 2010.

His numbers are off the charts for a many of his size: he’s posted a 4.71 in the 40, as well as a 36 1/2 inch vertical leap and a 9-foot-9 broad jump. Projected as a possible late first-round or early second-round selection — NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said “there’s no way [he] gets out of the second round” — the Patriots worked out Bailey early last month, then got another good look at him at Miami’s Pro Day. Bailey reportedly also has visits lined up with the Falcons, Broncos and Buccaneers.

A converted linebacker, Bailey has some positional versatility. In an interview at the NFL scouting combine last month, Bailey — who stayed at Miami for all four years, playing 50 games, just two shy of Brandon Meriweather for most in school history — talked a little but about his ability to play both defensive tackle and defensive end, as well as how the transition went as a collegian.

“It was an adjustment. I’d played strictly outside the last three years, so it was an adjustment going inside,” Bailey said, “[But] I got the swing of everything and adjusted pretty well.”

Bailey is the second confirmed player to make a pre-draft visit to Foxboro — Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter was the other. Teams are allowed to host up to 30 prospects at their facility prior to the draft.

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Falcons worked out Colin McCarthy

University Miami inside linebacker Colin McCarthy worked out for the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday.

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.”

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Jon Beason, Greg Olsen and other proCanes Working Hard in the offseason

While most of the world slept this morning, a large contingent of NFL players was up working out to get ready for a season they aren’t exactly sure will come.

Perhaps the biggest contingent of players was at BPS in Miami — Bommarito Performance Systems.  Chad Ochocinco and Jon Beason are in the 6 a.m. ET workout group, but Ocho stuck around to lovingly take pictures with the 8 a.m. group once they were done.

Among those in attendance: Patriots receiver Wes Welker, free agent running back Fred Taylor, Bears running back Matt Forte, Titans linebacker Stephen Tulloch, Giants safety Kenny Phillips,  Ravens cornerback LarDarius Webb, Bears tight end Greg Olsen, Panthers defensive linemen Everett Brown and Charles Johnson, Ravens wideout Donte Stallworth, Browns receiver Mohommad Massaquoi, and probably many more we’re missing.

At a time when fan anger is pretty high, it’s worth remembering the majority of players are preparing for the season like they always would anyway.

Expect, well, they are doing it on their own.

Click here to order Jon Beason’s or Greg Olsen’s or Kenny Phillips’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Rationing Devin Hester's workload

I was among the reporters who sat with Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith earlier this month at the NFL owners meeting. During my drop-in, the conversation centered on the Bears' offensive line and receivers. More than anything, I walked away surprised that after four years, the Bears are still searching for how to maximize and ration Devin Hester's playing time.

As you know, Hester resurrected himself as the most feared return man in the game last season after two quiet years devoted mostly to playing receiver. On the flip side, his per-game average for receptions dropped from 4.3 in 2009 to 2.5. His yardage average dropped almost 30 yards per game, from 58 to 29.

That dip in production came even as Hester played on 66 percent of the Bears' snaps, the second-highest total among the team's receivers, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Unofficially, the Bears targeted Hester on only 68 of the 646 total plays he was on the field for.

That's the pivot point Smith said he hopes to address this offseason. He didn't put it in so many words, but if I had to read the tea leaves, it would go something like this: More targets, less plays.

"I would like to see us find a way to get him the ball more maybe in certain situations," Smith said. "That's probably what we're looking at more than just reps, more what we're doing with him on his reps out there. So to take away some of his reps and get him involved in the ones where he's out there, probably that more than anything."

Hopefully for Hester and the Bears, that shift will be the final stroke of the yo-yo that has defined his past few seasons. I, for one, would have no problem with Hester seeing fewer offensive snaps in 2011. Rare is the player who can maintain elite status in one aspect of the game while playing full-time in another. Prioritizing the return game makes all the sense in the world for him, especially if the Bears can follow through on Smith's hope to acquire a big receiver to complement the current group. Using Hester as a full-time returner and part-time receiver has always seemed the most prudent road to me.

At the beginning of this experiment, the Bears acknowledged no correlation between Hester's playing time on offense and his success as a returner. I asked Smith if he now believes there is one.

"You can always make an argument for that," he said. "I just don't know."

Ultimately, Smith said, "Devin really helped us a lot offensively" last season, even if it came through field position and/or touchdowns gained from his returns.

"Whether it's special teams, whether it's offense, that shouldn't be a major part of the discussion," Smith added.

I'm in total agreement. Let's hope we're not having the same discussion next season.

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

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Ray Lewis Says He Wants to Help Make Polk a Better Place

LAKELAND | Ray Lewis wants to bring back the times when there was unity in a community, a time when people cared about their neighbors.
An All-Pro linebacker for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens and Kathleen High School graduate, Lewis has returned to Polk County to help build his dream.

Speaking to about 350 people Thursday at CommUnity Celebration 2011, Lewis weaved through stories of how he used negative events in his life to become a better player — and a better person.

He said he didn't have the luxuries he has now when he was growing up in Lakeland. But through ­determination and effort, he was able to overcome his perceived shortcomings, he said.

"Many are called, but few are chosen," Lewis said. "What everybody is saying (is that ) we are in the greatest turmoil our country has ever seen. I call it a call of duty."

His foundation is an extension of that call.

Lewis is in town this week to kick off the inaugural activities of the Lakeland branch of the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation. He is having a charity bowling tournament today as well as a free youth fitness clinic Saturday at his alma mater. This is just the start of what he hopes to bring to the community.

"This has always been my dream," Lewis said. "This is the ultimate. We have all the beautiful people in our city come back for one common goal – not to make money or any of that stuff – but to affect lives.

"Sometimes life takes you in so many different ways," Lewis said. "When you finally get it, you know how to bring it back. What I built in Baltimore for so many years, I have that mode to bring it to this city. I know that this helps, this works, this changes lives."

Soon to be 36 years old, Lewis is arguably one of the best linebackers of all time. He was voted to the Pro Bowl 12 times, including this past season. But as he enters his 16th year, Lewis doesn't know when his final year will come.

Even when he is done, his work will continue.

In Baltimore, he is known for his charitable work, including food drives and back-to-school events. In May, Lewis was rewarded for that work when the city named a portion of North Street as Ray Lewis Way.

Now he is extending his foundation to Lakeland.

"Anything that I've built, it's about educating somebody," Lewis said. "If you surround yourself with more good than evil, then you will have a better chance to survive. ... My journey is to give somebody hope."

Lewis hasn't had many poor performances on the football field but admitted making poor choices off of it when he was younger. He said hanging with the wrong crowd led him to being charged with double murder in Atlanta in 2000. Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice, was fined $250,000 by the NFL and sentenced to one year of probation.

And while his reputation took a serious hit, Lewis said he gained something else out of the experience.

"It removed me from a bad crowd," he said. "What you have to be careful is entertaining what people want you to entertain.

"I don't want to be liked," he said. "I live to be respected. If you're going to be respected, I can assure you there will be trials and tribulations you go through. No matter what you go through, it's your mind-set when you go through it that determines the outcome. What I lost then, I gained back double-fold from a respect angle."

And now he's giving back.

"We have a chance to create a model," Lewis said. "I'm not here to compete with anybody. I'm here to make it a better place."

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Pat Burrell goes deep

Pat Burrell accounted for the Giants' only run Thursday, belting a solo home run in the 2-1 loss to the Dodgers.

He took closer Jonathan Broxton deep in the ninth, one of five hits the defending champs had on the night. Burrell will see the most at-bats in left field for the Giants for the time being, but he figures to sit out a couple days per week and his playing time could really be cut when Cody Ross returns.

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Al Golden turns to Michael Irvin for some of that old-time Hurricane discipline

Al Golden made it a personal mission when he became Miami's head coach in December to "uphold the legacy" by bringing former 'Canes back into the fold, and apparently now by embracing a few gems of classic "U" wisdom:

Golden says he's posted that nugget all over the building, further devoting himself to his favorite motivational noun. Of course, you may be thinking that, as far as "the legacy" goes, the golden-era teams in the '80s and '90s were never synonymous with "discipline," and Irvin has never been far from the action at "the U" or since. He's probably not the first guy you'd ask to write a textbook chapter on the subject.

But he does have four rings, five Pro Bowls, a Hall-of-Fame jacket and a short-lived stint on "Dancing With the Stars," which I guess makes him disciplined enough.

Click here to order Michael Irvin’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Falcons, Broncos worked out Brandon Harris today

University of Miami cornerback Brandon Harris worked out for the Atlanta Falcons and the Denver Broncos today, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.

The NFL teams also worked out cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke.

Harris is regarded as a late first-round, early second-round draft target.

He struggled in the Hurricanes' bowl game against Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, but otherwise had a strong season.

As a sophomore, he ranked second in the nation and led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 15 pass deflections and was named first-team all-conference. He was a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist with 52 tackles, six tackles for losses and two interceptions.

As a freshman, Harris ran track as he competed in the 60 meters, 400 meters and 4x400-meter relay.

He finished with 132 career tackles, nine tackles for losses, four interceptions, five forced fumbles, two sacks and 28 pass deflections.

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DeMarcus Van Dyke worked out for Broncos, Falcons on Wednesday

University of Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke is working out for the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons today.

Van Dyke ran the 40-yard dash between 4.25 and 4.28 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

He's regarded as a late-round draft target.

In 50 games, he started 21 games and recorded 80 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass deflections.

He also ran track.

He started three games last season.

At the combine, he posted the third-fastest time in the past decade.

Van Dyke met with the Baltimore Ravens during the combine.

An angular 174 pounds, the 6-foot defensive back ran the fastest time since Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (4.24, 2008) and Oakland Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt (4.27, 2005).

Van Dyke's lack of size and strength are a concern, but his speed is rare.

He bench pressed 225 pounds five times at the combine.

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Q&A with Miami's Brandon Harris

Lots of the cornerback talk leading up to April's draft centers around LSU's Patrick Peterson, who some believe could have the best NFL career out of any player in the draft. Peterson played his high school ball in Miami and one of his counterparts, University of Miami's Brandon Harris, will be joining him in the first round.

Harris, like Peterson, declared for the draft following his junior year. PFW's third-ranked cornerback, Harris spoke to PFW about how his career in football began at quarterback, what teams always ask him about and how he would feel about leaving sunny Florida to play football in cold weather.

In PFW's 2011 Draft Preview book, draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki says Harris "possesses natural cover skills, a balanced skill set and a professional makeup that should enable him to become a solid, dependable starter."

PFW: What made you come out early?
Harris: It was a combination of where I stand academically as far as being close to my degree, I was one semester away, and feeling that I progressed so much over my college career. After sitting down and talking to my parents and talking about the opportunity, we all agreed. As a child growing up you always want to make it to the NFL. Being so close to achieving that, why wait another year? Why not just go out right now?

PFW: What was your pro-day experience like?
Harris: The experience was fun. It was a lot different than the (NFL Scouting) Combine because you can perform on your own field, the field you practiced on the last three years and get a chance to be in front of your friends and families. They can come out and support you. It was a lot of fun — a lot of motivation and a lot of emotions running high. I think I did well. I got a lot of great feedback from scouts at the pro day. They were very pleased about the way I worked out. A lot of them commented on how energetic I looked and how clean my drills were. That made me realize that my hard work has really started to pay off.

PFW: Who were some of your role models growing up?
Harris: Role models for me were guys that I was always around. I have an older brother who played football in front of me. We are four years apart and I watched him play high school, but he wasn't able to go on to the college level to play due to his size. I have another friend who played with me in high school and also played with me at Miami. His name is Chavez Grant, he is another role model for me that I look up to. He played the corner position and showed me the ropes at the position. That is a guy that I still lean on for support.

PFW: Which cornerbacks in the pros have you molded yourself after?
Harris: It's actually funny you asked that. Growing up, I played quarterback, starting at 6 years old up to my junior season in high school when I transformed into a defensive back. I didn't really start looking at defensive backs until I got to college. I look at the newer guys like Charles Woodson and Darrelle Revis. I'm very impressed with the way they play. Those are the guys I watch because I wasn't playing the position when I could watch guys like Deion Sanders.

PFW: What's one thing teams seemed concerned about and have asked you about often?
Harris: They want to know how comfortable I am in a backpedal. How can I cover receivers in the NFL from an off position playing man-to-man? In our scheme in Miami, we played a lot of press technique, right in guys' faces. In the NFL, you run press coverage, but not as often. A lot of it is backing up six yards and being able to backpedal and using your footwork. They want to know if I can do it. I didn't do it in college, not because I was weak at it, but because I was doing what my team wanted me to do.

PFW: What are your thoughts on two of the other top corners in this draft, LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara?
Harris: Those are two of the best you'll see. Patrick, I've watched for a while, we've been good friends for a while. He's from the South Florida area so we gained a relationship as two of the top cornerbacks in the country. We were real close to each other and were able to hang out a lot. Prince is another good guy and another bigger corner. They're big, physical guys, over six feet tall, 200-plus pounds. They're big guys, you don't get a lot of corners that big.

PFW: What do you want teams to know that will separate you from the other corners in this draft?
Harris: The main thing I stressed to all the teams is how versatile I am in the defensive secondary, how mentally strong I am and how football-smart I am. I want them to know that I know football, I know schemes and I know what's happening on the offensive side of the ball. I played nickel back in college and I also played outside corner — those are two positions I can contribute to right away. Scouts like the fact that I can do multiple things and that I actually know what's going on. My football IQ is very high and they were impressed by that.

PFW: You've played football in Miami throughout your career, how would you feel if you have to play for a cold-weather team?
Harris: I'm looking forward to it. I've always wanted to see what it's like to live outside Miami. I got a quick feel of that training for the Combine in Dallas. I loved it. It was new and different for me. Being away from home is something I want to embrace and it's something I'm looking forward to. I think it will be a lot of fun. It's something (where) you can come back home and share the experience with your family and friends.

PFW: Your teammate opposite you on the practice field, WR Leonard Hankerson, also will be drafted. How significant has it been to work with him in practice to get ready for the NFL?
Harris: For the past three years we've been going at each other's throats in practice every day. We've been pushing each other, making each other better and getting the best out of each other. I want him to come out as the top receiver and he wants me to come out as the best defensive back. We're just motivating each other and reminding each other of all the hard work we put in.

PFW: With everything going on with the lockout and the possibility of players boycotting the draft, what advice have you gotten as to where you should be on the night of the draft?
Harris: The only advice I've been seeking is from fellow Canes, guys who have been in that position, been there and done that. They said go with what you feel, go with your heart, don't worry about the press and all the media what's going on out there. They say just do what you've been doing; the draft will take care of itself wherever you decide to be at. Go to the place that's most comfortable for you where you can just relax and enjoy the moment.

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Bryant McKinnie Puts Downtime to Good Use in Africa

NFL superstars, including Adrian Peterson and Bryant McKinnie of the Minnesota Vikings, recently returned from Africa where they lent a little muscle and a lot of heart.

NFL stars Larry Fitzgerald, Vernon Davis, Vontae Davis, Santonio Holmes, Roy Williams, Gerald McCoy, Derrick Morgan and Tommie Harris were among the other players in Uganda as part of Pros For Africa.
The players dug water wells for schools, helped fit more than 3,000 people with hearing aides and passed out some mislabeled championship shirts, bearing the names and logos of Super Bowl and the conference championship losers.

"I will remember this experience for the rest of my life,” McKinnie told TMZ. "I will most definitely be back next year."

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

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Edgerrin James An All-Time Fantasy Rookie Performer

Edgerrin James, Indianapolis - Like Dickerson, James would come to the NFL and find himself in an ideal situation. The fourth player selected in 1999, James could both run and catch. In Indianapolis, he ran a league-high 369 times for 1,553 yards and 13 scores. He also caught 62 balls for 586 yards and four more touchdowns and finished the year No.1 overall in fantasy points.

Click here to order Edgerrin James’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Constantin Popa Named Head Coach

INDIANAPOLIS- Former assistant Constantin Popa was named the new UIndy Head Women's Basketball Coach Wednesday.  Popa spent the previous four years as the Greyhounds' top assistant, helping guide the team to 89 wins and three NCAA appearances.

“I'm very excited about this opportunity and would like to thank (Director of Athletics Dr. Sue Willey) and (University President Beverley Pitts) for making this possible,” says Popa of his new position.  “UIndy is where I want to be and I look forward to the challenge of taking the program to the next level.”

The seven-foot-three Popa spent the last four seasons as an assistant on the Greyhound bench.  Over that span, the Hounds tied a program record by garnering three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, including a “Sweet 16” appearance in 2009.

In 2009-10, Popa's third season at UIndy, the Greyhounds posted a 26-4 record and finished the regular season atop the GLVC East Division.  The Hounds also put together a school-best 24-game win streak that year, while receiving the highest ranking in program history by topping out at No. 2 in the USA TODAY/ESPN Division II Coaches Poll.

In his time at UIndy, Popa mentored 2010 Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year and All-American Samantha Meissel, as well as all-conference forward Katie Lyons.  The pair represents the only two UIndy women to shot better than 50 percent from the floor in each of their four years on campus.

Before joining the Greyhound staff in 2007, Popa spent two years as the varsity girls' head coach at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla.

“We are very happy to have Constantin take over as head coach,” says Dr. Willey.  “His experience and rapport with the team should make the transition seamless.  He has all the right attributes to be very successful in the position and we are confident the women's basketball program is in good hands.”

As a collegian, Popa excelled for the University of Miami Hurricanes from 1991-95.  The Bucharest, Romania native was a two-time All-Big East performer and finished his career with more than 1,100 points and 700 rebounds, while his 263 career blocks still rank as the program's benchmark.  After college, Popa was drafted in the second round of the 1995 NBA draft by the L.A. Clippers and later went on to star in both France and Israel as a professional.

Overseas, he helped three different European teams to a total of five national titles in two countries and was also a member of the Romanian National Team.

Adds recently-departed head coach LeAnn Freeland: "Coach Popa is more than ready to take over as head coach.  I'm confident the program will continue to grow under his leadership.  I wish the women's basketball program and the entire athletic department continued success."

Freeland was named the head women's basketball coach at Nova Southeastern earlier this week.

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Gaby Sanchez right at home with Marlins

JUPITER -- As a child growing up in Miami, Gaby Sanchez didn’t have time to attend Opening Day Marlins games.

With his seemingly relentless, year-round schedule of basketball, soccer, baseball, football – not to mention school and homework – there just weren’t enough hours in most weekdays.

But on the weekends, whenever there was a smidge of free time, Sanchez found a way to squeeze the Marlins into his schedule.
On Friday, he will attend the Marlins’ opening-game ceremonies at home.

He’ll be playing first base.

“You’ve got all the nerves and all the blood coursing through your body,” Sanchez said, describing his opening-day experience from 2010 when Florida kicked off its season visiting the New York Mets. “That first game you’re always going to have those butterflies going through.”

For Sanchez, the butterflies are understandable. He’ll be kicking off his second full season in the majors, and he’ll be doing it for the team he grew up watching.

Sanchez played catcher at the University of Miami, and before he was playing for the Hurricanes in Coral Gables, he was winning a state championship three miles down the road at Brito Miami Private School.

The Marlins came to town when he was 10 and still playing four different sports. When Sanchez’s father made him choose between the four at age 13, the choice was a simple one.

“Every single time I would play baseball, and then all of a sudden I would be in basketball season or football, I was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait until baseball season starts,’ ” Sanchez said.

He stuck with baseball and enjoyed the 1997 and 2003 World Series championship teams from afar.

Now he’s up close and personal with Marlins history, and he hopes to create some of his own history like the Bobby Bonillas and Mike Lowells of the past.

Last year, Sanchez didn’t let the pressure of playing in his home city faze him. He hit nearly 80 points better and had an on-base percentage 105 points higher at Sun Life Stadium than on the road.

And if there’s one thing batting coach John Mallee prizes in Sanchez, it’s his consistency.

Only three times during 2010 did Sanchez have three consecutive games without a hit.

“He has a plan and an approach in the box that he takes in every day,” Mallee said. “Even last year, the consistency of his approach has been great.”

Mallee also noted that Sanchez has picked up this spring right where he left off last year.

With five games left to go in spring training, Sanchez has been right at the top of the team in several categories.

Among Marlins with more than 30 at-bats, Sanchez’s on-base percentage topped the team, and his slugging percentage was second only to Greg Dobbs. His .360 batting average also placed him fourth on the team.

Sanchez says he has numbers that he wants to reach, but he’s not willing to disclose those personal goals.

On a broader team level, though, he pictures a scenario where the Marlins close out their time in Sun Life Stadium with a dogpile after Game 7 of the World Series.

“That’s the best situation possible, to end with a bang, go into the new stadium being the champs from last year,” he said. “We know that’s on everybody’s mind, and I feel like we have the team that can easily do it. We have everything, basically.”

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Leonard Hankerson to visit Chiefs, Buccaneers, Dolphins

University of Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is scheduled to visit the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Miami Dolphins, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.

The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder caught 72 passes for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, breaking Michael Irvin's single-season record for touchdown catches.

He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, bench pressing 225 pounds 14 times.

He registered a 36-inch vertical leap and a 9-9 broad jump.

He has been drawing late first-round to eary second-round draft grades.

Among the teams who attended Hankerson's Pro Day workout: the aforementioned Buccaneers, Chiefs and Dolphins as well as the Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, New York Jets, New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons.

As a junior, Hankerson caught 45 passes for 801 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 17.3 yards per catch.

Hankerson overcame some dropped passes early in his career after working with former Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mark Duper.
In high school, Hankerson's position coach was former NFL wide receiver Cris Carter.

The All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection ranks third all-time with 22 touchdowns behind Irvin and Lamar Thomas, finishing with 134 career receptions for 2,160 yards.

He was named the Hurricanes' Most Valuable Player last season.

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Eric Winston & Chris Myers played at elite level in 2011

Four the Texans' five starting offensive linemen finished in the top six at their respective positions in Pro Football Focus' player ratings for 2010.

Eric Winston was sixth at right tackle, Chris Myers was third at center, Wade Smith was second at left guard, and Mike Brisiel finished sixth at right guard. Thanks to improved run blocking, left tackle Duane Brown even finished with his first positive rating. The Texans' elite offensive line is another reason that Arian Foster will garner legit consideration as the No. 1 fantasy pick this year.

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

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Could Willis McGahee end up in New England?

The Boston Globe's Shalise Manza-Young advises Patriots fans to keep Willis McGahee in mind once free agency begins.

McGahee remains under contract, but there's little question the Ravens will release him once the labor unrest is settled. The Pats have met all of the second-round RB candidates, and ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss suggest Mark Ingram could even be a round-one option for New England. McGahee would be overkill if the Pats add an early-round rookie.

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

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Vernon Carey not likely to move

Miami Dolphins OT Vernon Carey is "probably not" going to move from right tackle to guard, according to head coach Tony Sparano, reports Ben Volin, of the Palm Beach Post.

Click here to order Vernon Carey’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Vince Wilfork Doing His Best To Adjust To Lockout LIfe

As for nose tackle Vince Wilfork, he’s been out doing some promotional work for the Big Y supermarket chain.

This is what Wilfork tweeted earlier today from one of his stops: ”Well, since I am unemployed, I’d like to thank @bigyfoods for giving me a job.”

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

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Jerry Angelo expects a "big jump" from Greg Olsen in 201

In January, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz lamented tight end Greg Olsen's statistics in the passing game "are not what they could, and probably should be."

Last week, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo suggested Olsen will have a "more prominent" role in Martz's offense next season.

"I thought he did a lot of good things, last year. But I think you'll see a lot more things, more consistently, because of the familiarity that our coaches have with him," Angelo said.

Angelo noted how many wondered about Olsen's role in Martz's offense, which previously hadn't highlighted a tight end. While his numbers dropped from 2009, Olsen came up with big plays and stretched opposing defenses.

"We felt good, because of the fact that we know the person, we know how important football is [to him], and he's got talent, and any good coach or system I've been around always finds a way to accentuate to the best players, and I felt we did that," Angelo said. "I expect him to make a big jump as well, next year. No reason to believe he won't."

Both he and Bears coach Lovie Smith said Olsen improved as a blocker in 2010. But Smith said there "only so many balls," with other talented skill players like running back Matt Forte and receivers Johnny Knox and Devin Hester.

But that's not all; Smith also mentioned backup tight end Kellen Davis.

"[Olsen] was just a great team player in his role, and just like I said with other guys, we're going to try to find ways to keep them all involved. I was pleased with what Kellen Davis was able to do," Smith said. "You could make a case for Kellen getting more plays, being more involved also.

He's everything you're looking for in a tight end. We just have to keep the progress going. The second year in the system, we know the guys a lot better."

It will be interesting to see what the Bears do with Olsen. He enters the final year of his rookie deal, which is set to pay him a base salary of $900,000, about $500,000 less than Brandon Manumaleuna, a blocking tight end signed last offseason.

Smith, though, shed some light on what a tight end will not do in the Bears offense.

"I guess you look at the numbers and they want the tight end to catch 100 balls," Smith said of the team's offense under Martz. "We have too many options on the offensive sides of the ball for our tight ends to have those kinds of numbers. But you can still be a big part of the offense, which Greg and Kellen are."

Carrying both Davis and Olsen in 2011 isn't an issue. But, the team will likely have to make some hard choices sooner than later. The Bears have invested heavily in quarterback Jay Cutler and Hester, and Olsen and Forte are entering the final year of their respective deals.

Without an extension, if he makes that "big jump" in 2011, than Olsen's price tag will be even higher next offseason. The Bears, of course, could franchise him, if they can't agree to a long-term deal; Marcedes Lewis of the Jacksonville Jaguars signed his franchise tender that was worth $7.3 million earlier this month.

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

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Ray Lewis Fund-Raisers To Benefit Foundation

LAKELAND | Ray Lewis has been in a lot of big events in his lifetime and the NFL star is embarking on one of his most important missions.

Lewis' foundation will make its Lakeland debut on Friday in the city that shaped him. The Ray Lewis Foundation will hold two fund-raising events on Friday and a youth clinic on Saturday.

An NFL All-Pro linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Lewis attended Kathleen High.
He started the Ray Lewis Foundation in Baltimore where he has helped thousands of children. Now, he's bringing his foundation to the place he calls home.

Lewis will be the keynote speaker for the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce CommUnity Celebration at The Lakeland Center on Thursday. He will offer a personal perspective on diversity in the Lakeland community.

On Friday, Lewis will have a celebrity bowling tournament at Orange Bowling Lanes. Limited tickets are still available. Call John Ruffin at 863-537-0570.

An after party (by invitation only) will be at Louis Mack's Steakhouse.

Funds from the two fund-raisers will help the foundation provide dental care and eye glasses for underprivileged youth and events for back to school and holidays.

The Youth Fitness Clinic at Kathleen High School on Saturday starts at 10 a.m. Children ages 8-16 can exercise with Lewis.

The event is free but parents must pre-register children from 8-10 a.m. at the school. The first 200 children who pre-registercan participate in the clinic. Children will be provided a light lunch and a shirt.

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

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Greg Olsen hopeful of long-term deal with Bears

During the NFL owners’ meetings, Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo implied that tight end Greg Olsen would be one of the young guys in line for a contract extension.

Angelo noted, however, that it depended on whether there’s enough money to go around once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

Olsen, whose contract is up after the 2011 season, has no desire to go elsewhere despite what people continue to say about his role in offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s scheme. This past season, Olsen finished fourth on the team in receptions with 41 and tied Johnny Knox for the team lead with five touchdown catches. And Martz envisions a bigger role for Olsen moving forward.

"I’ve said, since the day I got here, that I’m very happy here," Olsen said. "I’m very happy here. I feel like I’ve had a good four years and have really enjoyed my time.

"I know there’s a lot that goes into (an extension), with the situation with the labor agreement or what not. I would love to have that security and be here for a long time. There are a lot of things right now kind of out of all of our hands. We’ve got to let it play out. Once we get all this situated and get to free agency and all of that out of the way, we’ll see what happens."

Until then, Olsen plans to follow his normal offseason of working out at Bommarito Performance System in south Florida alongside teammate Matt Forte. But Olsen is willing to alter his schedule if the Bears are able to organize workouts, as Rashied Davis is attempting to do. Last season, the Bears began their voluntary workouts one year ago Tuesday.

"We’ll see what they put together," Olsen said of Davis’ plan. "Right now, I’m just kind of doing stuff on my own, like I do every year; pretty much the same program. But, yeah, if guys get together and do routes and stuff … you just have to be careful.  There’s a lot that goes into it vs. what there’s been in past years where you had some protection.

"But I think it’s important that the guys are around each other building that timing. Depending how long this goes and it gets all the way to training camp then you have a lot of catching up to do. It’s still early. We’ll see how the offseason plays out."

Olsen has touched base with Jay Cutler, who has been MIA since exiting the NFC Championship game with a second-degree knee sprain.

"Jay’s doing good," Olsen said. "Same offseason for him. I know he’s excited to get back to work."

Until Olsen is able to reconnect with Cutler, he’ll have to settle for having another NFC North signal-caller to toss him some passes.

"The one guy we have down in (Florida) is Drew Stanton," Olsen said, referring to the Lions’ third-stringer. "He’s our designated quarterback."

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

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Chris Perez has quite an adventure in 9th inning

GOODYEAR, ARIZ. -- It wasn't a meltdown or a choke job. It had nothing to do with an apparent argument between Indians closer Chris Perez and catcher Carlos Santana in the ninth inning of Monday's 4-3 Cactus League victory over the Cubs.

Perez said it was more about a hot day and an early lunch.

"I got light-headed," said Perez. "The last batter I faced [Darwin Barney], I almost passed out. I walked him and I couldn't stand up anymore."

Perez squatted on the back side of the mound and vomited before leaving the game.

"I threw up, but it was only water," he said. "I was light-headed and I was seeing stars. Just some low blood sugar. . . . My arm is OK."

He said it used to happen to him when he was growing up and playing baseball in the Florida heat.

"I just didn't have enough food in me," said Perez. "I ate lunch early. I didn't even eat a protein bar."

Perez entered the ninth with a 4-1 lead looking for an easy three-run save. He retired the first batter, but hit Tyler Colvin and walked Aramis Ramirez. When Carlos Pena doubled past first to make it 4-2, Perez did not appear happy with Santana as he gestured at him near the plate.

After Pena's double, Perez and Santana talked on the mound. Perez was screaming into his glove, Santana was talking and the crowd was screaming.

"We were just trying to get on the same page," said Perez. "He hasn't caught me all spring. It was our first time. With the game on the line, we were trying to get our pitches in the right sequences."

Perez struck out Alfonso Soriano, but threw a run-scoring wild pitch to make it 4-3 before walking Barney. Vinnie Pestano relieved and earned the save.

When asked if the discussion between Perez and Santana was about Perez not feeling well, manager Manny Acta said, "That's not what it was about." He would not elaborate, "No, gossip," he said.

Perez said he was trying to change the pitch sequence with Pena on second so he could not steal Santana's signs.

"It's hard to talk when everybody is yelling," said Perez. "It looks like we're screaming, but we're just trying to talk. . . . The language was a little different. It's fine. It shouldn't be a problem."

Perez said he talked to Santana after the game.

"It shouldn't be as problem the rest of the year," said Perez.

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Allen Bailey to Visit Chargers

Allen Bailey of the Miami Hurricanes has a scheduled visit with the San Diego Chargers. Bailey played defensive end and defensive tackle for Miami. Last season he recorded 7 sacks and 11 tackles for losses to earn second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference.

Bailey stands at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds at the NFL combine. He is projected to go in the second round and possibly could move up to the end of the first round.

If drafted by the Chargers, he would compete for the spot the Jacques Cesaire occupied last season. Cesaire is a free agent and the Charger feel that they can make an upgrade at the position. Bailey has the power and speed to play defensive end in our 3-4 defensive scheme.

Projected as a 2nd round pick, Bailey is viewed as a raw, extremely athletic power rusher who needs to improve on his edge rushing.  But his versatility and athletic ability would come with the expectations he could add a new element to the Chargers defensive line.

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Brandon Harris Discusses His Performance at Pro Day


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Does UM’s first-round drought end in 2011?

The Miami Hurricanes were once THE PREMIERE university NFL teams turned to for draft prospects.

There was nearly a two decade stretch where not only did PLENTY of first-round picks deliver, but most of the players drafted in the later rounds – or signed as free agents - turned into solid NFL contributors.

There’s been a drought in the first round since Kenny Phillips was selected as the 31st pick in 2008. However, I’m pleased to report that it’s highly likely that the first-round shutout concludes this season because UM has three prospects – receiver Leonard Hankerson, defensive end Allen Bailey, and cornerback Brandon Harris – who are all top rated athletes.

“There are players here,” Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland told me during his earlier visit to UM (the first Pro Day, which got cancelled due to rain). On that day the Dolphins had six members of their front office, coaching staff and scouting department in attendance.

New England’s Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin were both on campus, and I’m told each spent about a dozen hours at the Hecht, conducting individual two-hour sessions with many of UM’s draft prospects.

The Dolphins will get another look at the Hurricanes during the team’s local prospect showcase, which will be on April 8th.

Even though Randy Shannon’s team failed to deliver on all the team’s talent, Hankerson, Allen and Harris are each projected to be taken no later than the second round. And it’s highly likely that one – if not more – will sneak into the bottom half of the first round.

Right now the safest guess is Hankerson, the receiver who broke Michael Irvin’s school records, will end the drought. Hankerson’s one of the hottest names on the scouting circuit because he’s answered every question, and silenced all the doubt.

Hankerson’s Senior Bowl and Combine showing has helped him established himself as the third best best receiver in the 2011 class. Expect his name to get HOT once his private workouts and team visits begin.

His first trip will be to Kansas City, a team that possesses the No. 21 pick and CLEARLY has receiver at the top of their list of needs because no receiver outside of Dwayne Bowe caught more than 22 passes last season.

Hankerson would be an ideal fit as the guy who lines up opposite Bowe.

I’m told that Harris was the guy who impressed the most at UM’s Pro Day on Friday.

Harris is rated as one of the 2011 draft’s top five cornerbacks, and teams like the Steelers, Patriots and the Falcons have expressed plenty of interest in this three-year starter, who possesses quick feet and plays with above average game speed.

The concern about Harris, who is 5-foot-10, is whether he has the size to match up against the Brandon Marshalls of the NFL, or will he have to play the nickel to get on the field?

If you asked me to invest in one of these three players, putting my $10 million on the table, Bailey would be the player I’m gambling on.

Why? Because God only makes so many athletes like him, and what he has can’t be taught. However, a GOOD coaching staff could teach him how to become a dominant 3-4 end, 4-3 end, 4-3 tackle, or 3-4 outside linebacker.

Bailey, who played linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle, is probably one of the most versatile players in this draft.

Come back later and I’ll breakdown some of the other Hurricanes in this draft, including the one player who has made it to my man crush list, which last year featured Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who is now one of the NFL’s rising stars.

So, which of these first-round Hurricanes would you put YOUR money on?


Omar Kelly

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The Rock Says He Is Open To Wrestling

The seven year in-ring wrestling retirement of one of the greatest WWE stars of all time may be coming to an end. The Rock is singing a different song and is now telling the media that he is open for business. WWE fans may be treated to John Cena vs. The Rock as soon as SummerSlam 2011.

During his time away from pro wrestling, Dwayne Johnson has said many times in media interviews that he would not be wrestling again. As recently as January, The Rock answered this very question on his Facebook Fan Page and crushed the dreams of the millions and millions of Rock fans waiting to see him get back in the ring and lay the smack down on Jabroni Drive.

“..will I ever come back to the WWE? of course I will..not a match though, but in a capacity that would allow me to do so much more.. I LOVE that company and the fans…without the two I would not be standing where I am today… Vince and myself stay very closely connected and when the opportunity is right – which will be alot sooner than you think – we will do something electrifying and historic for the fans.”

Whether it was the rush he got from appearing in front of his first live WWE audience in seven years or just the fun he has been having cutting promos, Dwayne Johnson has pulled a Brett Favre and done an about face in regards to stepping back in the ring. The Rock recently did two interviews where he gave a much different answer than the one he offered in January.

In the WWE magazine when asked about wrestling The Rock said, “Making movies is something that I love to do, and I know that it brings a lot of people joy, which in turn brings me and my soul great gratification. Being in the ring and entertaining the audience and kicking ass physically brings me and my soul great gratification as well. I can guarantee that I can always do both.”

A vague answer but unlike previous interviews, he didn’t say “no” or “never.” The Rock warmed up even more about returning to the ring in an interview with

“I’ve never said never. I’m open to it.”

Wow! That is the first time I can recall ever reading The Rock outright say that he was open to returning to the ring. That changes things quite a bit when it comes to the WrestleMania 27 hype and the John Cena vs. The Miz vs. The Rock feud. Just the proposition for a match alone has to be exciting for anyone that watched The Rock do his thing a decade ago.

The Rock is committed to three more WWE live appearances beginning this Monday night in Chicago on RAW. The opening for a John Cena vs. The Rock match gives fans the possibility of seeing a much more compelling angle at WrestleMania 27 than the predictable Rock endorsing Cena bit. With The Rock vs. John Cena on the table, fans have the opportunity to see the next chapter in a story whose best chapter may be further ahead in the book.

There is a ton of buzz on the Internet right now about the Cena vs. Rock match taking place at SummerSlam 2011. In my opinion, I would love to see them draw this thing out until WrestleMania 28. Of course the risk there is that The Rock changes his mind or gets a big movie part he can’t refuse that takes him out of WrestleMania. Locking The Rock in now for SummerSlam virtually guarantees the match and gives the WWE over three months to promote the biggest match the company has had in the last several years.

Fans should be warned that at the end of the day, this could just be a tease to further promote WrestleMania 27 and the Cena vs. Rock rivalry. On the other hand, this could be the start of one of the most exciting WWE summers in recent memory.

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Brian Barton Hits a HR

All nine Reds’ runs scored on home runs in their 9-1 victory over the White Sox. Gomes hit his fourth home run of the spring. Drew Stubbs hit a three-run shot, his second homer of the spring. Brian Barton closed it out with three-run homer. Barton is in camp on minor league deal. But he hit .268 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 153 at-bats for the Cardinals in 2008. Mike Costanzo hit a two-run shot in the ninth.

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Gaby Sanchez collects 10th double

Gaby Sanchez went 3-for-4 and collected his 10th double of the spring Monday against the Cardinals.

The Marlins' plan was to bat Sanchez sixth behind Logan Morrison, but those two have been flip-flopped now, in part because Sanchez did such nice work in the cleanup spot while Mike Stanton was out. Sanchez is hitting .389 for the spring, and though he doesn't have a homer, he's slugging .574 in 54 at-bats.

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Ryan Braun homers twice for Brewers

PHOENIX — Ryan Braun hit a pair of home runs and Rickie Weeks also connected as a Milwaukee Brewers split-squad beat the San Diego Padres 5-4 Monday.

Right-hander Shaun Marcum, making his first start in nearly two weeks since experiencing shoulder tightness in a start against the Chicago White Sox, gave up three runs and four hits while throwing 68 pitches in four innings.

Two of those hits were home runs, one by Will Venable, the first batter of the game, and the other a two-run shot by Brad Hawpe in the fourth.

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Alex Cora sells Florida home

Former Los Angeles Dodger Alex Cora has sold his Pinecrest, Fla., home for $1,815,000.

The house features marble and bamboo floors, three en-suite bedrooms and a master suite with a balcony overlooking the backyard swimming pool and spa. The 5,770-square-foot house, built in 2006, has six bedrooms and 61/2 bathrooms including the maid's quarters.

Cora, 35, made his major league debut in 1998 for the Dodgers, and he played second base and shortstop during his seven years with the team. He has since played for the Cleveland Indians, the Boston Red Sox, the New York Mets and the Texas Rangers.

Cora, currently on the Washington Nationals, bought the property in early 2008 for $1.9 million.

Corey Schwartz of Re/Max Advance Realty was the listing agent.

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Chris Perez Has a Plan

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Chris Perez is a passionate guy. You can tell by the emotion in his voice, by the animated way he carries himself and by the way he explains the positives and negatives of keeping a beard.

"I started growing it last year in spring training and got off to a good start, so I kept it," said the Indians' closer. "Now, it's kind of my image. My wife doesn't mind it, if I keep it trimmed. But it's a little out of control right now.

"I'll never cut my (long) hair, but at the end of last year I kind of got tired of the beard. It really gets in the way when I eat or drink something. But the hair - it stays unless I get traded to the Yankees."

Shoulder-length hair and a scruffy beard. They are part of Perez's persona. He might look like he's about to spin out of control, but he never does. Quite the opposite. Perez has a plan, a method developed over the years, sometimes by trial and error. Like his beard.

"When I was with St. Louis, I had a goatee and was going to trim it and accidentally shredded half of it," he said. "I really screwed it up. That's originally how I got facial hair. I was 20 or 21 in an older organization and didn't want to look like a young guy."

Perez still is a young guy. At 25, he is one of the younger closers in the big leagues. He became the Tribe's full-time closer after Kerry Wood was traded midway through last season. Perez went on to save 23 games in 27 opportunities, compiling a 1.71 earned-run average.

"It's just pitching," Perez said of saving games. "That's what I do. Pitching is pitching, but obviously I realize that if you give it up in the ninth, the game is over."

Over the past 30 years, general managers, managers and the media have overhyped the job of closer into being almost too stressful and fraught with pressure for normal mortals. All of this has become a self-fulfilling prophesy to squadrons of otherwise competent pitchers, who when asked to keep a lead in the last inning were unable to retire three batters.

Successful closers know the task can be demanding, but no more so than trying to hold a lead in the seventh with runners on second and third and one out.

"For me personally, I think that's harder," Perez said. "When I come in for the eighth or ninth and the game is close, I think the pressure is on the hitters. If it's the seventh, they still have two or three innings left, and there's not so much pressure on them."

Failing to hold the lead in the ninth can be demoralizing, both for the closer and his team. That's why a pitcher who blows a save must have a short memory.

"Everyone is different," Perez said. "If a team just beats me, it rolls off my back pretty quick. If I walk guys or make bad decisions, then it takes a little longer."

But the ramifications of failing can be more complex than that for a closer.

"When I was with the Cardinals, I was shagging in the outfield when (manager Tony) La Russa came out to talk to me," Perez said. "He told me that Dennis Eckersley didn't let blown saves go that easy. Those were what drove him, because he never wanted to feel that way again.

"So as much as you want to turn the page, you also want to come into the clubhouse and be able to look at the starter who threw five or six good innings and look at the guy who got three hits and the guy who turned a double play. Those are the things that keep you going."

Like most closers, Perez has developed a routine on game day.

"I'm not one of those guys who stays in the clubhouse for five or six innings," he said. "I'm out there right away. I have to get my scouting report with my own eyes. I talk with the other guys all the way to the seventh.

"Then I start getting focused. I try to visualize who I might face. I visualize having guys on base and making pitches. I'm a guy who believes you can trick your mind into doing things."

Perez has known nothing but closing since he was drafted by the Cardinals as the 42nd overall pick in 2006. And that's the way he likes it.

"I'd rather be a closer than any other job on the staff," he said. "Starting might be fun, but I don't like sitting around for four days. If you have a bad start, you think about it for four days. I think all of last year, there were only two days that I knew I wasn't going to pitch."

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Aubrey Huff: The thong is gone, but the man remains

It’s difficult to tell if Aubrey Huff is serious or serial. He comes across as two-thirds sarcasm, one-third smart-aleck, exactly the sort of ballplayer needed in any clubhouse and by any journalist.

You want comfort, stay on the other side of the clubhouse. With Huff nearby, complacency doesn’t have a chance. Neither does any form of self-satisfaction. He’s as abrasive as he has to be and as embraceable as he chooses to be.

Huff was the first baseman the Giants probably didn’t want — signing him in January 2010 because they couldn’t get anyone else  — but he became the first baseman the Giants wanted more than anyone else. Things like that happen when you win. Things like that are the reasons you win.

“This is the only place I’ve been happy playing baseball my whole career,” Huff said.

A World Series victory. A contract offer he couldn’t refuse. And fame as the man with the rally thong, which he displayed considerably during the parade in which San Francisco honored the Giants, and in a way, itself.

“That’s funny,” Huff said of his connection to a private undergarment that became very public.

He brought it to get himself and the team out of a slump.

“The whole thing was supposed to stay in-house and it never did,” Huff said. “It leaked out. I’ve had some great years in baseball in my life, and no one ever cared. Now I wear a thong, and that’s how I get my pub.”

Along with getting his hits and RBIs, leading the Giants in almost every offensive category, including batting average (.290) and home runs (26).

“It’s just stupid,” he said. “Whatever works, I guess. People think it’s lucky, then it’s lucky. It served its purpose, and now it’s hung up.”

Huff, 34, lives in Tampa, Fla. He played for the Rays when they were awful, then the Baltimore Orioles — and they’re still awful.

“People down there didn’t care the Giants won the World Series,” he said about Florida. “They’ve got their own baseball team. No, I wasn’t recognized by anybody. In general, the fans in Tampa don’t recognize anybody, which is what I like. We celebrated with some friends.”

Huff and his wife had planned to remain in San Francisco to absorb the post-Series excitement of a town that had waited more than a half-century for a baseball title, but they made a quick exit.

“We were going to stay for a week,” Huff said, “and just enjoy it. We found ourselves leaving in three days. It was that crazy. We couldn’t enjoy it, so we just took off.”

The Huff story was told more than once last season.

How when Aubrey was a boy in Texas his father was shot and killed trying to wrest a gun from an assailant. How Huff’s mother, working at a supermarket while attending Carlton State University, saved enough to buy her son a batting cage.

“While other guys were partying,” he has said, “I was taking swings.”

But not the verbal kind.

Painfully shy, Huff was brought out of his shell by the good-natured insults of University of Miami teammate Pat Burrell, who, as the fates would have it, was picked up by the Giants in the middle of last season and re-signed for 2011.

“The pieces are in place,” Huff said about the coming season. “We got a young, dominant pitching staff, if they stay healthy. I think the offense, all the guys we picked up last year contributed heavily. They’re here the whole year.

“I think the goal is just to get to the playoffs. Then the goals change to winning the World Series. But we’re not going to sneak up on anybody this year.”

Nor will Huff be sneaking out on a golf course this year or any year.

“I play a frustrating sport already,” Huff said about his refusal to join so many other ballplayers at golf. “I’m not going to add another one. And I hate watching golf. A guy’s in the middle of his backswing, somebody yells and everyone goes crazy.

“Concentration? We’re facing a ball coming in 96 [mph] with 50,000 people screaming at you. Come on, that’s real concentration, isn’t it?”

Anyone prepared to disagree?

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Chiefs To Work Out WR Leonard Hankerson

Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel is reporting via Twitter that the Kansas City Chiefs will hold a private workout with former Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson.

Via Kelly via Twitter: UM WR Leonard Hankerson, who is moving up the draft fast, said his 1st of many scheduled workouts will be with the Chiefs.

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Brian Billick Says: "Brandon Harris is Great in Man Coverage"

Miami defensive back Brandon Harris will be clumped in with Aaron Williams and Jimmy smith for the “next best” corners in the draft.  Brandon Harris is the smallest of the three and ran the slowest 40-yard dash time at 4.53.  That is interesting considering he also ran track at Miami, although it was the 400m.

On the field, he shows elite athleticism and loose hips making for a wide receiver difficult to shake him in man coverage.  He shows the ability to anticipate routes based on down and distance and body language, which allows for him to cut off routes and make plays on the ball.  Because of that ability, he was tied for second in the nation with 1.31 passes defensed per game in 2009 and had a total of 28 over the past 2 seasons.  Similar to Aaron Williams, I would like to see him convert some of break ups into interceptions as he only accounted for four over the course of his career.

For as good as Harris is in man coverage, he needs to work on his zone drops and ability to cover in space.  He appears to get flat footed while sitting in his zone and look a little uncomfortable passing off receivers as they leave his specified zone.  Like other true cover corners, Harris uses a duck and swipe tacking technique that may be exposed in the NFL in yards after catch or edge rushes.

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Ryan Hill talks about his NFL pro day


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Graig Cooper regaining his old form

University of Miami running back Graig Cooper had an eye-opening Pro Day workout for NFL scouts, displaying he has made a sound recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.

NFL teams have given Cooper a clean bill of health medically.

Per a source, Cooper had a great workout with crisp change of direction and ran the 40-yard dash between the high 4.4 range and 4.58 seconds. Cooper ran a disappointing 4.62 at the NFL scouting combine where he struggled with his form and didn't run in a straight line.

Cooper conducted running back drills for Arizona Cardinals running backs coach Tommie Robinson, who spent the past three years working at Miami.

Cooper has a couple of upcoming visits and private workouts.

Showing lateral movement at the NFL scouting combine, Cooper led all running backs with a three-cone drill clocking of 6.66 seconds and a short shuttle of 4.03 seconds.

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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Colin McCarthy shows his fire, skill at Miami pro day

Linebacker is the position where the fire of so many great defenses burn. Mike Singletary in Chicago. Ray Lewis in Baltimore. Ray Nitschke in Green Bay. Colin McCarthy has a long way to go before he earns comparisons to any of those players, but he certainly has the DNA for the position.

The Miami linebacker was one of 15 players who worked out at the Hurricanes’ rescheduled pro day on Friday, putting his competitive nature on display for an audience heavy on NFL personnel.

The pro day was completed after rain and lightning halted the original date on March 10. There were 31 teams at Friday’s proceedings, including Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert. The event was held outdoors on grass.

McCarthy (6-1 3/8, 237) had a very strong workout, showing quick feet and instincts in his positional drills. He was obviously engaged, jumping back to the line, looking to repeat drills, and generally showing a high level of intensity. Like many of his teammates, he stood on all of the results from his combine workout in Indianapolis.

McCarthy helped himself, and figures to go somewhere near the end of the second or top of the third round of the NFL Draft in April.

Another Hurricanes player who increased his standing was defensive back DeMarcus Van Dyke. He also kept his combine numbers, and gave a strong showing in positional workouts. Van Dyke’s combine 40 times of 4.25 and 4.28 proved he has the speed to transition to the next level, and his Miami workout provided a great stage for his quickness.

Size may be the defensive back’s biggest issue. Standing 6-0 3/4 and 176 pounds, Van Dyke has a thin build that could use some filling out.
Some other notable attendees in South Florida:

Allen Bailey, DL/DE – Bailey (6-3, 285) gave a strong positional workout and stood on his combine in every category but weight. The scale read 275 in Miami.

Damien Berry, RB – Berry (5-10 1/4, 207) posted 40 times of 4.63 and 4.64. He kept his combine numbers otherwise. He also had a positional workout.

Matt Bosher, PK – Bosher (6-1, 208) went through a positional workout and kept all his combine figures.

Craig Cooper, RB – Cooper (5-10 1/8, 196) ran a 4.75 in his first 40 run, then requested two more, posting back-to-back times of 4.66. He posted a 32 1/2 vertical and a 4.71 short shuttle during the abbreviated March 10 workout.

Orlando Franklin, OL – Franklin (6-5 1/2, 319) had a 30-inch vertical jump on March 10. On Friday, he posted a 8-9 broad jump, 8.37 three-cone drill, and went through a positional workout.

Leonard Hankerson, WR – Hankerson (6-2, 209) stood on all of his combine numbers, but performed well in positional workouts.

Brandon Harris, CB – Harris (5-9 1/2, 194) posted a 34 1/2 vertical and stood on his combine numbers otherwise. He was strong in positional workouts, and is in line to be drafted near the bottom of the first or top of the second round.

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Leonard Hankerson 'up and down' at Pro Day

Miami WR Leonard Hankerson was reportedly "up and down" at the Hurricanes' recent Pro Day, struggling with drops and route running.

The drops are a concern because Hankerson also failed to consistently secure the football in Senior Bowl practices. (He did blow up for 99 yards and a TD in the game.) According to one scout on hand at the Miami Pro Day, Hankerson looked "a bit stiff as a route-runner and isn't as fast as he timed at Indy." Hankerson still projects as a high second-round pick.

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Future proCanes get another chance to impress NFL scouts


CORAL GABLES— The Hurricanes' initial Pro Timing Day March 10 prematurely ended and had to be rescheduled because of a storm.

Friday, 15 UM's NFL hopefuls were back on the field hoping to impress scouts from about 20 teams.

"We are about one month away from the NFL Draft now and it is getting closer every day," cornerback Brandon Harris said. "This is another chance to get out in front of scouts and show what we can do and it is probably our last time working on these practice fields, so it is bittersweet."

Harris said his focus Friday was to show his ball skills in drills because there have been "a lot of questions about my hands and if I can catch it."

The junior, who declared early for the draft in January, said he has done many private workouts for teams in Miami and has some visits scheduled for the next month. He was one of the players who didn't run the 40-yard dash Friday because they were happy with their time at the NFL Combine last month.

That included cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, who beat everyone there with a run of 4.28 seconds. Van Dyke said that run "helped me out a lot," and has heard he might be drafted in the third round. He was pleased with his performance in drills Friday.

"One scout told me I improved my stock from the Combine," he said. "I looked more fluid than I did. I just wanted to improve my drills — at the Combine I felt kind of sluggish."

Running back Graig Cooper ran the 40 in 4.66 seconds Friday, but performed well in the individual drills. He has a meeting set up with the Dolphins on April 8.

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Bears hesitant to increase Devin Hester's snaps

It comes off as stating the obvious, but perhaps Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith is on to something when stressing the need to get the ball more to receiver Devin Hester.

Arguably the most dangerous threat in pro football with the ball in his hands, Hester is scheduled to receive a $10 million roster bonus in 2012 after earning $1.58 million in base salary for the 2011 season. So while it might be premature to ponder the financial implications, perhaps -- frankly put -- it’s time for Hester to earn the money.

Despite Hester’s already record-breaking contributions, receivers averaging 42 catches for 549 yards over four years don’t receive such lucrative bonuses. Nor do return specialists, regardless how electric.

“He didn’t get into the mix as [a receiver] as much as he would have liked [during the 2010 season],” Smith said. “I liked what he was able to do in the return game. I just think it’s hard sometimes balancing the both of them. I know he’s a dangerous guy with his hands on the ball. It’s up to us to try to find more ways to give him the football.”

Increased snaps on offense aren’t necessarily the way to go, Smith said, before mentioning the team already has several weapons in running back Matt Forte, tight end Greg Olsen, and receivers Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett. Hester finished the season ranked No. 1 in the NFL in punt return average (17.1 yards, which was also ninth-best in NFL history) and caught 40 passes for 475 yards. He ranks fourth in league history in punt return average (12.4 yards).

In becoming just the 10th player in league history to gain 2,000 combined career yards receiving and on punt and kickoff returns, Hester finished 2010 with 564 yards on punt returns and 427 on kickoffs.

So increasing his snap count on offense could cause more harm than good to Hester’s bid to make meaningful contributions in the return game. Smith wasn’t sure whether there was a correlation between Hester’s snaps on offense and how he performed on special teams.

But that appears to be the case.

Interestingly, Hester’s three most impactful performances in the return game of 2010 (Sept. 27 against Green Bay, Oct. 17 against Seattle and Dec. 20 at Minnesota) netted 332 yards on seven returns for three touchdowns, but he caught a combined five passes for 55 yards. On the flip side, Hester hauled in 10 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns in his three best receiving games in terms of yardage (Sept. 19 against Dallas, Nov. 28 against Philadelphia and Dec. 26 against the New York Giants), while contributing just 160 yards on seven punt and kickoff returns for no TDs.

“You can always make an argument for that. I just don’t know,” Smith said. “I just know Devin really helped us a lot offensively. Offensively, I’m talking about the offensive part of special teams, too. I know there was a major change in his production to just help us put points on the board last year. I was pleased with that. How [that happens], whether it’s [on] special teams, offense, that shouldn’t be a major part of the discussion.”

What seems germane, however, is how the team can apply Hester’s talents in the most impactful way to essentially, receive the most bang for its buck.

It’s something the Bears will study throughout the offseason and continue to experiment with once the NFL lockout comes to a close.

“You know, the snaps part, I would like to see us find a way to get him the ball more maybe in certain situations. That’s what we’re probably looking at more so than probably just reps. [It’s] more of what we’re doing with him on his reps out there,” Smith said. “So to take away some of his reps and be able to get him involved more on the ones he’s out there, [we’d like to do that] probably more than anything.”

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

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Canes get second shot at Pro Day

CORAL GABLES – The Hurricanes’ initial Pro Timing Day March 10 prematurely ended and had to be rescheduled because of a storm.
Friday, 15 UM NFL hopefuls were back on the field hoping to impress scouts from about 20 teams.

“We are about one month away from the NFL Draft now and it is getting closer every day,” CB Brandon Harris said. “This is another chance to get out in front of scouts and show what we can do and it is probably our last time working on these practice fields, so it is bittersweet.”

Here is a look at some of UM’s draft hopefuls:

Cooper said he felt Friday went well for him, adding “I really just wanted to show I’m a good athlete and they wouldn’t make a mistake by picking me.”

One thing Cooper wasn’t happy about: his time in the 40-yard dash (4.66 seconds).

“I haven’t run a 4.6 since 10th grade in high school — it is tough coming off a knee injury,” said Cooper, who underwent major surgery after the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl. “I guess I’m just going to have to keep working, But I’m not really worried about the 40, though, because I know when I get out on that field it’s different.”

The RB’s surgically repaired knee continues to be something NFL teams wonder about. Cooper says while he doesn’t have the same speed as before his injury, he’s still quick and feels he showed that in drills Friday.

Cooper said he has meetings set up with the Eagles on April 4 and Dolphins on April 8. He said he has tried not to pay attention to draft projections for him, nor does he think about his draft prospects had he not injured his knee or had he not decided last spring to return for his senior season.

“I’m just concentrating about right now,” he said. “I’ve just got to try to work on the future. That’s all I can control.”

Harris, the lone UM junior to declare early for the draft, said he felt more relaxed Friday than at the Combine.

“I felt I had a good showing at the Combine. A lot of coaches called me and complimented me on my drill work and how sound my technique was,” he said. “But [Friday], I felt cleaner [in my performance].”

Harris, who said he has done several private workouts for teams here in Miami and has some visits scheduled during the next month, said he wanted to show his ball skills in drills Friday.

“A lot of people had questions about my hands and if I can catch it. I just wanted to go out and show I can make plays on the ball.”
What does Harris want to accomplish between now and the draft in his workouts for teams?

Harris said he wants to show his versatility.

“And I want to show people mentally and physically I’m prepared to be on the next level,” he said. “Sometimes guys come out [of college] early and teams have a lot of questions. Is he ready? Is he big enough? Is he smart enough to handle the adjustments? I just want to show people I can do it all – I’m a well-rounded player.”

Harris has been projected to go either in the first or second round. He said “it wouldn’t be a big disappointment” if he isn’t drafted in the first round.

“Everybody has their own opinion and I respect everybody’s opinion,” he said. “I think I’m worthy of being a top pick. I know I can get the job done, but that’s something I can’t control. The only thing I can do is show my strengths and show teams I’m ready to be an NFL player.

Once draft day hits, wherever I land I’ll be happy and I’ll be blessed to be in the NFL period, whether it’s the first round or the fourth round.”
Harris added of his decision to leave UM early, “I’ll never second-guess myself. I feel fully confident in myself.”

Berry was pleased with his showing Friday.

“I did pretty well. It was faster than I thought it was going to be,” said Berry, who ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds. “I think I showed I have good hands and my footwork is phenomenal. I think I showed I’m tough.”

While some don’t like the draft process, which involves complete dissection of your abilities, Berry said the experience been positive.

“You just take it how it is and you’ve just got to prove them wrong once you get out on the field,” Berry said. “You get on a team and you make the other teams pay.”

Van Dyke was one of the Hurricanes who didn’t run the 40 on Friday. After he ran the fastest time of any player at the Combine – 4.28 seconds – it really wasn’t necessary. Still, Van Dyke said he told his agent he was thinking about running again at UM’s Pro Day.

“He said, ‘Oh no, you’re not,’” Van Dyke recounted, laughing. “So I just went out and supported my teammates.”

Van Dyke said he has heard he’ll be drafted in the third round, and he attributes that largely to his 40 time at the Combine.

“”It helped me out a lot. A lot of guys had me at 4.42, 4.5 at the highest,” Van Dyke said. “When I busted 4.28 – it was like, `Wow, I didn’t know you were that fast.’ I had a bunch of scouts [jokingly] ask me if I wanted to race [them].”

Van Dyke said he feels he helped himself more Friday.

“One scout told me I improved my stock from the Combine,” he said. “I looked more fluid. I just wanted to improve on my drills – at the Combine I felt I was kind of sluggish.”
Franklin’s stock has been on the rise, with some mock drafts projecting him as a first-rounder.

“That would be a dream come true,” Franklin said. “I’d be able to pay my mom back for all the sacrifices she made for me.”

Regardless of where he’s drafted, he said, “I’m just happy I’m getting the opportunity to be drafted. Growing up in Toronto, Canada, I never thought I’d be in the position I am today.”

There’s been some debate about where Franklin will play in the NFL. Franklin said some teams see him as a guard, others a tackle. While he’s more comfortable at the former, where he played his first three seasons at Miami, Franklin said he has no preference.

Franklin, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in January, said he was pleased with how he ran at the Combine and it doesn’t appear to be a concern for teams. He said he will visit with several teams during the next month.

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Predictably, Hester not a big fan of NFL's new kickoff rule

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – In what should come as a surprise to no one, Bears Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester doesn’t like the NFL’s new rule moving kickoffs up from the 30-yard line to the 35.

“It could hinder us a little bit because we dwell on good field position,” Hester told “Waddle and Silvy” on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. “That’s one of our key assets to our offense, the return game giving the offense good field position. And not only giving good field position, but we’re trying to put points on the board when it comes to the return game. I think it’s going to hurt us.”

The new rule, which was passed by NFL owners at league meetings Tuesday in New Orleans, figures to be a major disadvantage for the Bears. Last season they led the NFL with 10 kickoff returns of at least 40 yards and tied for first with an average starting position following kickoffs at their own 31.5-yard line.

Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips, general manager Jerry Angelo, coach Lovie Smith and special teams coordinator Dave Toub all voiced their opposition to moving kickoffs up five yards to the 35. The rule later passed by a 26-6 vote with the Bears among the teams voting against it.
“I can’t believe we’re even talking about that,” Smith told reporters Tuesday morning before the vote was taken. “It’s the most exciting play in the game. We’re totally against the rule.”

Five of the Bears’ eight longest kickoff returns in 2010 may have resulted in touchbacks had the ball been kicked from the 35 instead of the 30. Hester had returns of 68 and 46 yards that he caught two yards deep in the end zone and at the goal line; Danieal Manning had returns of 62 and 44 yards that originated at the goal line and one yard deep in the end zone; and Johnny Knox had a 42-yarder that he hauled in five yards deep in the end zone.

“They’ve gone too far. They’re taking the whole fun out of the game,” Hester said. “The fans come out, especially in Chicago, to see returns. That’s one of our key assets to our team. Fans love our big returns. Not only do they kick it out of bounds when it’s time to punt the ball. But now they get this advantage on kickoffs where we felt we were guaranteed a kickoff return. Now you’re taking that away from our return game. The return game is out of the picture.”

Hester owns the all-time NFL record with 14 combined kick return touchdowns. Last season his 35.6-yard average on kickoff returns was tops in the league, although his 12 returns weren’t enough to officially qualify for the honor.

Since 2008, Manning leads the NFL with 17 kickoff returns of at least 40 yards and also ranks fourth over that span with a 27.1-yard average. Knox ranks second with a 27.7-yard average. Hester and Knox both have been voted to the Pro Bowl as return specialists, while Manning led the NFL in kickoff returns in 2008 with a 29.7-yard average.

Opponents have attempted high and short “pooch” kickoffs with varying degrees of success against the Bears. But Hester feels those could be a thing of the past because all NFL kickers are capable of reaching the end zone from the 35.

“What they’ve been doing is blooping them up in the air and giving their defenders enough time to get down the field to make a tackle,” Hester said. “Now that they’ve got the five-yard rule, it’s even easier for them to kick it into the end zone.”

The Bears may counteract that tactic by bringing kickoffs out from deep in the end zone, something they already do seemingly as much as any other team.

“From Day 1 if they kick a line drive and there’s not a certain amount of hang time on the ball, we’re [not prohibited from] taking it out,” Hester said. “The coaches give us the green light to do it. But at the same time that’s going to be real tough for returners.”

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

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Ed Reed to speak at EquuSearch event

Texas EquuSearch, founded by Tim Miller, will host its Sports Extravaganza Banquet and Charity Auction, featuring seven-time Pro-Bowler of the Baltimore Ravens Ed Reed, on April 9. A live and silent auction, as well as live music by the Tony Hill Band, is also on the agenda.

Reed has a special connection to Texas EquuSearch after his brother, Brian Reed, went missing on January 7, 2011. After seven grueling days of searching, Brian Reed’s body was found by Tim Miller and Texas EquuSearch, according to the press release.   

The event is scheduled for Saturday, April 9, at Campbell Hall in Pasadena. For more information, contact Sherry McKinney at Texas EquuSearch, 281-309-9500, or Debbie Drury at 281-333-2726.

Miller founded the nonprofit organization Texas EquuSearch in 1984, after his daughter, Laura, was found murdered in North Galveston County.

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

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Pat Burrell looks like SF Giants left fielder

Manager Bruce Bochy confirmed what he was not prepared to say when spring training began, that Pat Burrell is in line to be the Opening Day left fielder.

"Yeah, I'd say that's the way it looks," Bochy said before Burrell started in left against the Royals at Surprise Stadium on Friday night.

The Giants will have a bargain in left field. Burrell re-signed for $1 million, less than even a backup with his experience would earn, because he wanted to stay in the Bay Area, close to his roots. Now, in his 12th big-league season at age 34, Burrell will have the honor of playing on Opening Day for the team he cheered as a lad.

"It will be great," Burrell said. Looking ahead to the home opener April 8, he added, "My family will be there. All of them will be excited about Opening Day and the ring ceremony. It will just be a great experience for all of us. Everybody is just so excited about us getting back into town. The Giants craze is still pretty big."

As spring training began, Bochy considered left field a competitive spot. Burrell really won the job by default, and by virtue of his stature. The most likely alternatives were Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff. But DeRosa has gotten most of his time on the infield, and Huff would have played left only if Brandon Belt was the first baseman, or if DeRosa played third base and Pablo Sandoval moved to first.

Sandoval is staying at third, and Huff either will stay at first base or play right field for the injured Cody Ross.

Burrell by far has played more innings in left than anyone else this spring while struggling at the plate, batting .222 with three extra-base hits. He has adjusted his stance to stand more upright and said he continues to "tweak it."

"I'm just trying to feel comfortable," he said. "My batting practices are better. I want to transfer it into the game. Hopefully in the next couple of days I'll have better results. You want to get hot right before the season starts. Obviously I'd like to get hits along the way, but in the last five days I just want to have good at-bats and hit the ball hard."

He did so Friday, driving a double off the right-field wall against Vin Mazzaro.

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Indians hope Chris Perez is a keeper as a closer

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Have the Indians found their long-term closer in Chris Perez?

This is not to question Perez's ability -- his 95 mph fastball and slicing slider are exactly what a team wants in the guy pitching the ninth inning. Perez had some games last season where he didn't just close the door on the other team, he slammed it shut with sizzling stuff.

Consider that five different pitchers have led the Tribe in saves in each of the last five seasons. That may also be why the bullpen has often been a nightmare for fans in Wahoo red, white and blue.

Even when Bob Wickman saved games in the mid-2000s -- and he converted 88 percent -- those final three outs came with fans gobbling down packs of Tums while closing their eyes and mumbling incoherently. Wickman's last year with the Tribe was 2006 when he had 15 saves before being traded midseason.

In 2007, Joe Borowski saved 45 games with a 5.07 ERA, doing it like a man walking a tightrope while juggling meat cleavers. He had fans longing for Wickman, who seemed to walk only two guys before somehow saving the game.

Borowski's arm went bad in 2008, and that led to a horrible bullpen where the saves leader was Jensen Lewis with 13.

In 2009, the Indians signed Kerry Wood to a two-year, $20 million deal.

It seemed Wood never understood that Progressive Field was not Wrigley Field, as he sort of moped about not being in Chicago while dealing with some minor physical problems. He had 20 saves.

In 2010, Wood was traded in July, Perez took over and saved 23 of 27 save opportunities.

So there you are: Wickman, Borowski, Lewis, Wood and Perez.

Five seasons, five closers.

Perez dominated
Now, for some good news. Perez is 25. He won't be a free agent until 2015. Of all the recent Tribe closers, none had a better year than Perez in 2010.

His 1.71 ERA was the second best of any American League reliever with at least 60 innings. He was 10-of-11 in one-run saves, the most demanding challenge for a closer. He also had five saves where he pitched more than one inning. He was a rarity in this age of specialization where a closer is typically asked to record just three outs.

The more Perez pitched, the better the result. He finished the season converting 18-of-19 saves.

"I always knew I could do this," Perez said. "I've been a closer most of my life."

He is 6-4, 230 pounds with long, wild black hair and fiery eyes. He doesn't just stare down a hitter, he glares at him as if the batter wants to kill his best friend.

"I'm a little wired out there," Perez said. "Sometimes, I want to throw 100. That's not good, because I'll start walking guys. I can get them out at 95."

Perez said in his early days at the University of Miami (Fla.), he started a few games.

"But I'm so keyed up, by the fifth inning, I was exhausted," he said.

Perez can light up the radar gun at 98 mph in nearly every outing. His average fastball is about 95. His slider is more of a 90-mph sizzler.

He became the big, intimidating power reliever the Tribe hoped to have when throwing cash at Wood before the 2009 season. Perez arrived quietly that same summer. The Indians were on their way to 96 losses. Veterans such as Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez were being traded. They also sent Mark DeRosa to St. Louis for Jess Todd and Perez.

In 70 games with the Cardinals (2008-09), Perez had a 4-4 record with a 3.72 ERA and was 7-of-11 in save situations. The Cardinals believed Perez had the physical ability to close, but wondered if he had the temperament to handle the pressure of the job.

So, that deal looks more like a steal for the Tribe, a good move to counter some of the other trades where Tribe fans are still awaiting the payoff for having their stars traded for prospects.

Dealing with failure
Early last season, Perez blew a save and hinted that the catcher should have blocked one of his pitches in the dirt that set up the winning run. It's not what a closer does. He is like a quarterback. No matter what goes wrong -- it's your fault. Just stand up and take the blame.

Perez figured that out, making sure his emotions were under control when speaking to the media on those few occasions when he didn't save a game.

"The job gives you more chances to fail," he said. "You can lose a game in the seventh inning, but when you blow a lead in the ninth -- everyone knows you did it. You feel you let the team down."

Perez has had a tremendous spring (1.23 ERA) and manager Manny Acta has praised his conditioning and determination.

"I think he's in better physical shape than last year," Acta said. "Just as important, his confidence has grown. He has done the [closer's] job. Now, I want him to take another step forward and be one of the leaders in the bullpen in terms of helping the other guys out there."

"I want to do that," Perez said. "I'll do what they ask. Like there were times when they had me pitch more than one inning. I can do that. In some ways, closers have gone soft. They don't always have to just pitch the ninth."

It was Tony La Russa -- when he managed Oakland -- who decided the best way to handle a closer was to have him open the ninth inning with only one job in mind -- get the last three outs and preserve the lead. Bring him in with no runners on base, and ask him to pitch only one inning.
It was supposed to increase the odds of success for a reliever, and it turned Dennis Eckersley into a superstar. Soon, other managers followed that formula.

The Indians have a rule that no one appears in more than three games in three days. They want to limit the multi-inning work for Perez, but Acta said he still will ask Perez to do it on occasion.

"I'm open to it," said Perez. "Really, I just want to pitch. It's so much fun."

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