28 February 2010

Rolle Signs With The Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants have made Pro Bowler Antrel Rolle the richest safety in the NFL.

In the waning hours of the opening day of free agency, Rolle signed a five-year, $37 million contract that has $15 million in guaranteed money.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus tweeted the announcement late Friday, offering his personal congratulations to Rolle on becoming "the highest paid safety in NFL history!" The Giants formally announced the deal around 11:30 p.m.

"I'm ecstatic," the 27-year-old Rolle said. "Words can't really express how I feel now. I had five great years with the Cardinals organization. But I felt it was time for a change. The Giants are a first-class organization all the way. There are great opportunities for me, and I am excited to be working with the players I'll be working with. I think the sky's going to be the limit as to what we can do."

The signing fills a major need for the Giants, who lost Kenny Phillips to a serious knee injury early last season.

Phillips is expected back this season and having the two Miami products deep in the secondary should help a defense that struggled last year.

"Antrel is a young, ascending veteran player, and he is an outstanding person who will bring leadership, versatility and more big play ability to our secondary," general manager Jerry Reese said.

Rolle, who was recently released by the Cardinals, had four interceptions last season. The one that impressed the Giants the most came in late October when he stepped in front of Steve Smith to intercept an Eli Manning pass around the Cardinals 21-yard line with 68 seconds to play to nail down a 24-17 win.

New York had driven from its own 1-yard line in the final three minutes in an attempt to tie the game in which Rolle also had eight tackles.
Rolle has played in 68 regular season games with 59 starts. His career totals include 337 tackles (296 solo), 12 interceptions, 36 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks. He has returned four interceptions for touchdowns, including three in 2007.

This past season, Rolle started all 15 games in which he played and was credited with 72 tackles (61 solo).

Arizona, which also lost linebacker Karlos Dansby to Miami late Friday, released Rolle on Thursday because it wanted to avoid paying him the $4 million roster bonus and the $8 million salary he was due.

However, the battle for Rolle came down to the Giants and Cardinals, and Rolle chose New York after visiting with the team most of Friday.
"I'm extremely excited for the opportunity, and I feel truly blessed," Rolle said. "They have the confidence I can come in and be the player that they expect me to be, and I will live up to everything they expect and go beyond."

Rolle was Arizona's first-round pick, the eighth selection overall, out of Miami in 2005. He began his pro career as a cornerback but had most of his success after being switched to safety in 2008.

In four seasons at the University of Miami, Rolle had 183 tackles and five interceptions. As long as Kenny Phillips makes a full recovery, there will be three proCanes in the Giants defensive backfield; Rolle, Phillips and Bruce Johnson.

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

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Wilfork Signs An Extension

Vince Wilfork has signed a 5 year 40 million dollar deal with the Patriots that includes 25 million dollars in guarantees (18 million dollar signing bonus). Wilfork becomes the 2nd highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL.2d highest paid DT.

Vince and his wife had the following to say via their twitter accounts: "Thanks to everyone who supported us during our time here in New England it has ment a great deal to us with that being said we are pleased to say we will be here for MANY more years to come. MY wife and I thank you and are getting back to our vacation... c ya in foxboro soon"

Click here to order Vince WIlfork's proCane Rookie Card.

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The Sean Taylor Foundation: Inaugural Celebrity Softball Game

Don’t miss out! Get your tickets now!!

Join NFL’ers Jevon Kearse, Ed Reed, Sinorice Moss, and many more as they step up to the plate for our youth!

The Sean Taylor Foundation is hosting their inaugural event on March 6th at St. Thomas University. The festivities will kick off at 3pm with a Home Run Derby followed by the first annual Celebrity Softball game at 4pm! Don’t miss this great family event and performances by the Manatee’s as well as DJ LS One!

Event Details: Activities are planned throughout the day, including performances by the Manatee, give aways and raffles.

Location: St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens, FL

Event Time: Home Run Derby 3:00pm, Game Time: 4:00pm

Ticket Price: Children $6  Adults $12 parking is free

*Proceeds go toward local youth programs as well as the development of the Sean Taylor Foundation mentoring programs.
*Spectators are encouraged to bring blankets and/or beach chairs however coolers and alcohol will not be permitted on the premises.

Click here to order Sean Taylor's proCane Rookie Card.

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Giants, Rolle close to deal

It might not take long for the Giants to make their first signing in free agency.

Safety Antrel Rolle is in for a visit today and by all accounts and reports he is already close to a contract agreement. Rolle was seeking a deal worth $8 million per season and it appears the Giants will come close to making that a reality.

Rolle turned down a six-year, $38.6 million offer from the Cardinals, who would like to keep him but are unwilling to pay him more than their other starting safety, Adrian Wilson.

The Dolphins are believed to have made a five-year offer to Rolle, a 27-year old converted cornerback. He would instantly move in as a starter in the Giants secondary and provide insurance in case Kenny Phillips cannot make it back all the way from knee surgery. If Phillips returns, he and Rolle would form a dynamic safety duo.

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

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Buchanon's Production Tailed Off?

In a move that surprised NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert, the Detroit Lions released starting CB Phillip Buchanon on Thursday, making him a free agent, and increasing their need for help at the position quite a bit. Their other primary starter from 2009, Will James, is an unrestricted free agent. Some work needs to be done there, for sure.

But what about Buchanon? Football Scientist KC Joyner shared some insight with us as to why the Lions might've left him, and it's not a good sign for his value on the free agent market:

KC Joyner

Buchanon over the hill?

"Had Buchanon ended the season the way he began it, Detroit likely would have kept him. During Weeks 1 to 9, Buchanon posted an impressive 4.1 YPA but he more than doubled that mark in weeks 10 to 17 (9.8). This trend may mean that Buchanon finally hit the age wall or it could mean that he can hold his own for short periods but not for the long haul."

Click here to order Phillip Buchanon's proCane Rookie Card.

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Land rush for Antrel Rolle

Now that a $4 million roster bonus and an $8 million salary have gotten safety Antrel Rolle released by the Cardinals, multiple teams are hot on his trail.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports that Rolle's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, currently is negotiating with the Bears.

A league source has confirmed that the Bears are indeed chasing Rolle.  We're also told that the Giants and Dolphins are pursuing Rolle, and that the Cardinals still hope to get him back.

Rolle, a top-ten pick in the bust-filled first round of the 2005 draft, started 15 games in 2009.  For his career, he has appeared in 68 games, starting 61.

He entered the league as a cornerback, but he eventually was moved to safety.

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

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Panthers Shed More Payroll, Cut DT Damione Lewis

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- The Carolina Panthers have cut veteran defensive tackle Damione Lewis, further depleting their line in a move that shaves another $5 million off their rapidly shrinking payroll.

A week after the Panthers decided against paying defensive end Julius Peppers more than $20 million with the franchise tag, they parted ways with another starter on Thursday.

The 32-year-old Lewis had 41 tackles in 16 starts last season as he played with numerous other tackles in Carolina's banged-up line. Lewis had 48 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks in 2008, the first year he replaced Kris Jenkins as a starter.

The move leaves Carolina with no starters from the line that ended last season. Peppers, Tyler Brayton and Hollis Thomas are unrestricted free agents.

Click here to order Damione Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Giants ready to make run at Antrel Rolle

If the Giants are truly interested in fortifying their defensive backfield and aren't scared off by last year's high-spending, low-impact free agency results they owe it to the organization to make a run at Antrel Rolle.

And they are.

The Pro Bowl safety yesterday was released by the Cardinals -- no big surprise, because he was due a $4 million bonus and an $8.1 million salary and they were unwilling to pay him in excess of $12 million for this season. The demand and price will be high for a 27-year old former first-round pick (eighth overall in 2005) with 12 career interceptions and four touchdown returns.

Free agency began at 12:01 a.m. this morning, but because Rolle was cut the Giants could strike immediately, and they quickly contacted his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. According to reports, Rolle will meet today with the Giants, who will have stiff competition with the Dolphins -- who came up with a five-year offer for Rolle -- and perhaps the Bears and the Cardinals, who do want to get in the bidding to get Rolle back.

The word is Rolle is looking for $8 million per year. Giants general manager Jerry Reese is not going to open the vault this signing period, but he will not be gun-shy when it comes to spending for a player he believes will make a difference. The Giants could wrap this up today.

If Kenny Phillips returns to form following knee surgery, a safety tandem of Rolle and Phillips would be young and dynamic. Like Phillips, Rolle went to Miami and he's a converted cornerback with exceptional coverage skills. The Giants as presently constituted don't really have a safety on their roster they can count on until Phillips proves he's healthy. The other starter, Michael Johnson, is coming off a poor season. The NFL is evolving into a league where the importance of playmaking safeties is growing and Rolle would fit that description.

There's not expected to be much of a play for Karlos Dansby, who is not a true 4-3 middle linebacker and will command a king's ransom, most likely from the Dolphins. Gary Brackett, the only unrestricted true 4-3 middle linebacker of real value, is likely to re-sign with the Colts.

Other alternatives such as DeMeco Ryans (Texans), D'Qwell Jackson (Browns), Kirk Morrison (Raiders) and Barrett Ruud (Buccaneers) all lost out on their unrestricted status and as restricted free agents will find it difficult to change teams.

No team ever has enough cornerbacks and Dunta Robinson of the Texans would be a great addition, because he's 28, in the prime of his career and unrestricted. But he could command $9 million per year as the top corner on the market, which is too much for the Giants. Leigh Bodden of the Patriots is the next-best cornerback.

It is no secret the Giants need help on defense but not exclusively. Their running game, not long ago tops in the NFL, sagged last season and new blood is needed. The 1-2 punch of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw limped to the finish line -- Jacobs with a bum knee and Bradshaw with two bad ankles. Both players underwent offseason surgery.

There are some options on the unrestricted market, meaning no compensation is required for signings. Chester Taylor (Vikings) is versatile and has limited mileage on his legs. Willie Parker (Steelers) has straight-ahead speed. Mighty-mite Darren Sproles was tendered at the highest-level possible, with a first and third-round pick as compensation, ensuring he will remain in San Diego. The Jets today will release Thomas Jones, who is coming off a 1,402-yard, 14-touchdown season but refused to take a pay cut.

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

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Texans Tender Rashad Butler

The Houston Texans gave the high tender to linebacker DeMeco Ryans and tight end Owen Daniels and a first-round tender to strong safety Bernard Pollard.

The team also tendered, at various lower levels: defensive end Tim Bulman, offensive tackle Rashad Butler, running back Ryan Moats and offensive guard Chris White, the team announced today.

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Redskins to pursue Antrel Rolle?

In addition to the Bears, the Redskins are expected to pursue FS Antrel Rolle after he's released by the Cardinals.

Rolle has his sights set on a huge payday, and teams are lining up to get a shot at him. The Cardinals are considered the favorites, but the Redskins could overpay. One source calls their interest in Julius Peppers overstated, so they should have money to allocate elsewhere.

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

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Lions cut Buchanon

On the eve of when NFL free agents can sign contracts, cornerback Phillip Buchanon learned he would be a free agent.

The Detroit Lions released Buchanon on Thursday, less than 12 hours before free agency began first thing at midnight.

Buchanon, 29 and a 1999 Lehigh Senior High School graduate, started in 11 games for the Lions last season and played in 13. He compiled 38 solo tackles, five assists and his first career NFL sack but did not have any interceptions.

Buchanon, an eight-year veteran, joins former Lions teammate and fellow cornerback Anthony Henry in free agency.

Click here to order Phillip Buchanon's proCane Rookie Card.

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Cardinals release Antrel Rolle, who's already talking to Bears

The Cardinals have officially cut Pro Bowl FS Antrel Rolle loose after speculation they would do so.

The Chicago Bears have wasted little time trying to secure Rolle, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Rolle was due a $4 million roster bonus and an $8.1 million dollar salary this season. He is free to sign with any team right now -- as a released player, he does not have to wait for the beginning of the free-agency period March 5 -- but he could also re-sign with Arizona if he and the team can strike a new agreement.

The eighth overall pick of the 2005 draft out of Miami (Fla.), Rolle has excelled since switching from cornerback to safety in 2008. Rolle had four INTs and 72 tackles in 2009.

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

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Portis isn't likely to be cut from Redskins' roster

Judging from the comments on our recent post about probable cuts, some of you were confused/upset that we did not include running back Clinton Portis on the list.

Portis was not included because we believe he will be on the roster when the season starts. In fact, the Redskins plan to bring back Portis, Coach Mike Shanahan said during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

But Shanahan's comments aside, we don't believe Portis will be released today for one major reason: money. There are no cap ramifications to releasing a player in 2010 because the season will be uncapped.

That's not to say that Portis is a lock for next season's 53-man roster. Shanahan has scheduled a minicamp to take place before April's draft. If Shanahan doesn't like what he sees out of Portis's offseason commitment and attitude, the Redskins could try to do something at that time. (And it's in Portis's interest to show up at the voluntary workouts; his contract includes huge bonus money just for attending.)

The Redskins, however, would still owe Portis the remaining guaranteed portion of his contract - and that's the problem. Portis is one of only six Redskins believed to have guaranteed contracts for the 2010 season.

He last renegotiated his deal in March 2008, receiving a signing bonus of almost $9.4 million. Under the terms of that deal, in addition to the signing bonus, Portis was paid more than $2.35 million in salaries and bonuses by the end of the 2009 season.

Of Portis's $7.2 million base salary in 2010, $6.4 million is guaranteed. And he also is due roster and workout bonuses totaling about $507,000.

The Redskins do not want to pay Portis almost $7 million to sit at home. That's why he wasn't on our list of potential cuts.

Click here to order Clinton Portis' proCane Rookie Card.

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Salmons' calming intensity helps Bucks

Washington — John Salmons is a quiet guy.

That's one of the first things you notice about the unassuming pro the Milwaukee Bucks acquired at the trade deadline about two weeks ago.

But don't mistake Salmons' demeanor for being unconcerned. In the words of Bucks coach Scott Skiles, "unflappable" is the more appropriate term.

"He's a steady influence," Skiles said. "He's pretty much the same every day. You don't get the sense in a big game or a not-so-big game that he's going to ride the emotional roller coaster up and down.

"He's not going to get rattled out there."

Bucks fans got an look at Salmons' calming influence in his first game with the team. After a turnover in the final minutes had put a Milwaukee victory in jeopardy, Salmons rose up over Detroit's Ben Wallace and stuck a three-pointer with the shot clock running down.

"He's unflappable, I guess is the word that comes to mind," Skiles said. "It doesn't mean he's going to have a great game every night. But if he doesn't, you're going to come back and see the same guy. There's maturity in that.

"Yet at the same time, you can see the passion for the game when he plays."

Bucks general manager John Hammond knew the team desperately needed help in the backcourt after the season-ending injury suffered by Michael Redd. But Hammond didn't want to take on a contract that would set back the progress he has made in gaining some control over the Bucks' payroll and roster in the past year.

Enter Salmons and the Chicago Bulls, who were seeking to clear salary space to go after an elite free agent this summer. The 6-foot-6 Salmons almost perfectly fit the Bucks' need for a reliable scorer at shooting guard and someone to complement rookie point guard Brandon Jennings.

And Salmons' $5.8 million player option for next season was something the Bucks could handle.

The 30-year-old Salmons is relishing another playoff drive after helping the Bulls reach the postseason a year ago, then playing a key role as Chicago nearly upset Boston in a first-round series.

"I think it takes focus every night," Salmons said of reaching the playoff goal. "You can't let games get away from you. Games you should win on paper, you've got to win those games.

"Since I've been here, you can definitely tell the coaches have the players' attention. I think the coaching staff sets the tone for our focus. I think it should be like that."

Salmons has done his part, leading the Bucks to a 7-1 record since joining the team. And he scored 32 points in the only loss during this stretch, a 106-102 overtime defeat at Atlanta on Sunday.

He is averaging 20.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists while playing 36 minutes per game for Milwaukee.

"We have a solid three options now to score the basketball," said Bucks center Andrew Bogut. "The ball obviously goes inside; and Brandon plays well off the pick-and-roll. We can isolate Salmons as one of our better options. It definitely helps us."

Salmons is not strictly a jump shooter but has a great ability to go to the basket and score or draw contact. He is a three-point threat.

"He's very crafty," Bogut said. "He can shoot the ball so well, but he doesn't always settle for the jumper, which is very important for us. Sometimes we struggle to get to the line, and he does a great job of that."

Salmons has connected on 41 of 47 free throw attempts (87.2%) with the Bucks and is averaging nearly six foul shots each game.

"He's been able to fit in without a lot of hassle," Skiles said. "He's scoring 20 points a game without having a great idea of everything we want."
Salmons went through only his second practice session with the Bucks on Thursday before the team traveled to Washington for a rematch. He had 22 points Wednesday as the Bucks prevailed, 100-87, over the Wizards.

"I didn't really know what to expect," Salmons said after coming to Milwaukee in a deal that sent Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander to the Bulls. "I was just trying to fit in and trying to help the team as best I possibly could.

"My teammates still, if I don't know the play, they hurry up and tell me where to go on the court. The coaching staff has been patient and helping me out."

Salmons has a knack for knowing when to take his shots and when to facilitate others.

"He's not out there taking a bunch of wild shots," Skiles said. "He's under control, which is a lot like his personality."

One bonus for Salmons is getting to play with veteran Jerry Stackhouse, a player Salmons once idolized while growing up in Philadelphia. Stackhouse began his NBA career with the 76ers but had moved on by the time Salmons started his pro career with Philadelphia during the 2002-'03 season.

"Stackhouse is one of those guys I looked up to," Salmons said. "When I first got here, it didn't hit me until the first game, sitting in the locker room. I was like, 'That's Jerry Stackhouse right there.'

"It's great to have a vet on your team like that and somebody who has been through everything, pretty much. He got drafted in Philly, so I saw him play a lot his first year. I went to his first game against Michael Jordan. I remember that like it was yesterday."

Salmons and Stackhouse have played well together and given the Bucks a wing presence. The two have added experience to help the 25-year-old Bogut, 20-year-old Jennings and young players such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova.

"It's definitely a good mix between veterans and young guys," Salmons said. "The young guys definitely are moving in the right direction."
Ask Salmons about his ability to handle late-game situations, and he has a short but honest assessment.

"I've just got to say it's God, and we'll leave it at that," Salmons said.

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Nine Innings: Aubrey Huff

1. If you could trade places for one day with anyone in baseball, who would it be?
Aubrey Huff: For one day. If I was single or married?

Touching Base: It’s your choice! You get to call the rules on this.
AH: If I was single it would be Derek Jeter, if I was married, I would be Albert Pujols.

2. What is your favorite piece of baseball equipment?
AH: My bat.

TB: What kind of bat do you use?
AH: Carolina Club, 243.

TB: How did you come to that one?
AH: I used it, got a couple of hits with it, homered. I’d been skipping around bats when I was a young player - bat to bat to bat. I had a good game with that one, good week with it, and I’ve swung it ever since. Never stopped.

3. Have you ever played as yourself in a video game?
AH: Oh, hell yeah. Who hasn’t?

TB: Some guys don’t.
AH: I haven’t played a video game in forever, but when they started coming out, the last time I played was when I was with Baltimore. I was the Orioles, and I remember putting it on easy mode just so I could hit jacks. Kind of simulated a season one year to see how I’d done, and it had me at like .390 with 59 homers and 160 RBI, and I was like, “OK, that’d be awesome.”

4. Who’s an athlete in another sport you’d like to see try his hand at baseball?
AH: For some reason, I could see Drew Brees being a good pitcher. I’d like to see him off a mound, I bet he’d have a good arm.

TB: The scouts would probably get on him about being too small. That’s what they said about him in football.
AH: Oh, really? Well, look at Lincecum. He’s small too.

TB: Not the disadvantage they might have you think.
AH: No, it’s stupid.

5. What’s your favorite baseball movie?
AH: Probably Major League. Just because it’s funny.

6. Do you have any expert travel advice?
AH: Mail your bags, so you don’t have to bring your bag on the plane.

7. Who was your favorite athlete growing up?
AH: Nolan Ryan.

TB: And you wound up a hitter.
AH: I know! How about that? Had to do something. That’s the way it happened.

8. What is one thing that you have not done in your career that you’d like to accomplish before it’s over, other than win a World Series?
AH: Well, yeah, that’s a pretty obvious one. Batting title would be cool.

9. Complete this sentence: I am the only player in Major League Baseball…
AH: …with Transformers tattoos? I guess.

TB: Which Transformers?
AH: I just got the insignia on my back. Good guy-bad guy.

TB: Autobots, Decepticons. The old school?
AH: Yeah, the old school.

TB: I couldn’t bring myself to see the movie. I felt like it would ruin the cartoon.
AH: No, it didn’t. It didn’t. It actually enhanced the experience.

TB: How about the sequel?
AH: Wasn’t as good as the first one, but still worth watching if you’re a fan.

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Tracking proCanes - Carlos Huerta - Part II

In Part II of our interview with Carlos Huerta he talks about the differences between Coach Johnson and Coach Erickson, how he got the number 27, where he thought the toughest place to play was, what he thinks of the current state of Hurricane football and much more! Click here to read Part I of our EXCLUSIVE interview with Carlos Huerta.

pC: So what would you say was the toughest part about playing at Miami?
CH: Once I made the team it wasn’t tough. It was earning the starting position. After that, I would say what kept me focused was you know, we had such great athletes on offense and defense, leading scoring team in the nation just about, number one defense almost every year. I always felt like alright, “I can’t lag behind those guys, I don’t want to be the weak link” so I kind of made it a point to really be on top of my game, but once you’re a starter you’re given every opportunity to succeed and coming from that position that I told you about where I was kind of treated like garbage, I never wanted to go back there. I kept clean, I went to class, I tried to keep my mouth shut usually and work hard so I’d perform well. But you know the coaching staff and this team definitely seemed to always put me in a position to succeed and I didn’t want to let them down, but making the team was the toughest.

pC: What would you say was your favorite memory? Does it come down to a specific kick you made or the National Championships?
CH: My favorite memories are winning those very high profile games. Beating Florida State when they were ranked number one, my first game ever.

pC: The was the game FSU made the rap video for. . .
CH: Correct. 1988 and it was prime time TV, I think it was a Monday night game. We were on ABC prime time. Winning at Michigan, beating Notre Dame here, beating the Nebraskas, LSU, Alabama and the Sugar Bowl, Texas and the Cotton Bowl. You know I used to watch those games as a fan and it was surreal to actually be on the team and win, I thought I was in fantasy land. So it wasn’t so much my individual performances. The way I looked at it is, if I made a game winning field goal or an important kick, I HAD to do that or I’d be letting my team down so you know you can’t win by yourself so it was the team aspect and winning those big games that is indescribable when you grow up being the fan of a hometown school and being in that position.

pC: Talk about being in the room when Jimmy Johnson popped in the FSU’s rap video for all of you to see.
CH: The one thing about our teams as intense as they were, great players, great athletes, and I’m sure it’s similar in a lot of other places, but I specifically remember those UM teams, we had a lot of very funny guys on the team so anytime anything outrageous occurred the reactions of our teammates was what I always looked for because they were hilarious. The shock factor was good in and of itself, but to see the reactions of the players; they just went off. When that video was shown to us and then to see the reaction of these players was funny but it almost made me think there’s no way we’re losing that game because these guys are going to go bonkers on Monday night. It almost, in my head, took the pressure off because I saw everybody was ready.

pC: You played with a bunch of greats to say the least, if you could name one who would you say was the top player you played with at UM?
CH: There are so many and it’s so difficult, but I’m kind of also the typical fan that’s impressed with the premier players, the wide receiver and the running back that make such exciting plays so I’m not going to give the Russell Marylands and the Cortex Kennedys and the Greg Marks, the line backers [Jesse} Armstead, [Michael]Barrow, [Darrin] Smith, what they deserve. There just are so many. I just have to say this; one thing that amazes me is the kick off coverage team. This is what amazes me, when we beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in 89-90, usually in college you could travel a lot of players and it’s the younger players who do the special teams. I think that there were eight eventual NFL Pro Bowl players covering kickoffs for our team at the time, so how can you pick? If you start going down the line they may not have made the Pro Bowl every year, but they at least made the Pro Bowl once. That same team set a record, I wasn’t the punter, but the total return yardage against our team that year all season, not average, was 4 yards TOTAL.

pC: On punt returns?
CH: Yeah, punt returns those are basically the same guys covering punts. So Darrin Smith was an absolute freak of nature because he was so fast. Darryl Williams, the safety, was amazing. There were some younger players that amazed me talent-wise that maybe aren’t as great in everybody’s mind but, Horace Copeland was such a freak of nature so fast, so strong. Chris T. Jones was amazing, Steve McGuiire before his knee injury was phenomenal. Gino was a great quarterback but in terms of prototype college quarterback for me, Walsh was incredible, he just always made the right decisions.

pC: He didn’t have the strongest arm but.
CH: Right and that’s probably why he didn’t start in the NFL for as long as he could have. We had some great running backs, I don’t feel I was a teammate of Melvin Bratton, I was a redshirt that year, and I was only with him for that season, but he was incredible to see play. One of my roommates that blew out his knee and later never started as much but in practice as a linebacker was one of the most amazing players I ever saw was Matt Britton. He was number 99, he ended up backing up Michael Barrow and playing a lot when they played the four linebackers. He just wasn’t the same after his knee injury but what he would do in practice, he would just terrorize the offense, and not just because he was my roommate. There were just so many players. To watch Brett Perriman and Randall Hill run they would look like they weren’t human, so I could just go on and on. There were just some really, really talented guys.

pC: Who were you closest with? Your best friends?
CH: I’d say Mario Cristobal, Matt Britton were probably my two closest friends, we were roommates and Eric Miller.

pC: Any coaches you still talk to?
CH: Rob Chudzinski, he’s a coach now, he was my teammate. I’m still real close with him. He’s out west. I speak with him. You know, I run into Jimmy Johnson here and there, it’s not like I call him up on the phone but its really good to see him during our functions, but there aren’t many of them that I really call up on the phone, but I actually was thinking about giving Dennis Erickson a call recently.

pC: You played under Jimmy and Dennis. Jimmy is the fiery type and kept everybody in line and Dennis is perceived as kind of loose and let the players run the show. Many people say Dennis was given the keys to the Porsche told not to wreck it. Talk about that difference and was it as a loose as it’s portrayed under Dennis?
CH: That’s a good question. When I think back on those two coaches, they are extremely different, no doubt. I kind of think of Jimmy Johnson as a more defensive and special teams kind of coach. He always preached to win all three phases and we were really good at winning all three phases when he was here and he really monitored those two aspects of the game. It seems like he really didn’t touch the offense at all that was Gary Stevens’ domain. It was a brilliant thing to do because Gary Stevens was a great offensive coordinator. Jimmy was brilliant for doing that and letting the right guy do that yet I think after that Penn State loss, which I was just a fan I wasn’t on the team, I don’t know how he was before that but Jimmy Johnson just would not let you breathe on special teams if you weren’t doing it right. I think we had the best special teams in the country. I think that Penn State game was lost not because of Vinny Testaverde. I think they got whipped on special teams. Granted Vinny did not have his usual game, but if they would have played well on special teams, they still would have won that game and Johnson was a fanatic about it and it showed on the field, we were phenomenal.

Dennis was an offensive genius. He really was great on offense and again he was also pretty smart in letting Sonny Lubick run the defense. He was a really good defensive coordinator and he kind of let him do that and we had an amazing defense. My senior year we were number one in the country and it wasn’t because of Dennis, I mean he oversaw it, but he let the right guy run it. So in terms of giving the keys to the Porsche, I’ve heard that statement too, I think that’s probably true. While I was here with Dennis, did we have some problems and issues? Yeah, we had some disciplinary issues, we did some things that were incorrect but on the field I thought that we were a disciplined football team. I think that a lot of the players at the time were Johnsons’ and we had been educated under that system and we were a well oiled machine but you’ve got to give Erickson credit for not coming and putting in a different oil and ruining the engine. I mean you’ve got to give him the credit. They were polar opposites in style and method though. I thought they both worked, I considered Johnson one of the most influential people I’ve ever been exposed to though. He is a genius in a lot of ways and an incredible talent. Dennis I think did an amazing job, but Johnson I think was just an incredibly talented guy.

pC: So were you one of the players actively asking for Gary Stevens after Jimmy Johnson left?
CH: Yes.

pC: Talk a little bit about that. Was it a group of players that went to then Athletic Director Sam Jankovich’s office?
CH: You know I didn’t do that, I think there was a group that did that, but I was definitely vocal in the local newspapers and in interviews. I was once referred to as the team spokesperson, which I don’t think I was, but I was really lobbying for Gary Stevens. Gary had proven himself as offensive coordinator and we wanted him he was our own guy.

pC: Why the number 27?
CH: Do you know that story?

pC: No
CH: Oh. That’s pretty funny. For me it is. Johnson’s management style was that he really kind of kept you guessing lots of times. Now it’s less, but we had like 95 scholarship players and we had like 18 substantial walk-ons. So we’re already over 110. So I was just this walk-on that nobody expected to ever do anything, so I didn’t have a number. Our largest offensive lineman was 6’9 and he moved to tightend for the Oklahoma game because he was going to be a special blocker as a dual tightend and so they gave me his jersey, 6 foot 9, 300 pound guy’s jersey. I wore that jersey at that Orange Bowl and it was beyond a long sleeve shirt. Well, I tucked it in, I think they ripped the name off the back so I wasn’t Schaffer, but I was number 78. So I never really had a number, I was a piece of garbage. So I told you that whole story about how I got a little bit of a shot during spring and Kim and I competed for the job and I didn’t even know I was going to be the starting kicker. I had my head down, showing up to work everyday doing the best I could, none of the coaches ever told me I was going to be the starting kicker.

pC: Until when?
CH: None of them ever did! So we had our orange and white game and I had a very good scrimmage and Edgar’s leg was done, he could barely kick and he didn’t. It was starting to get close to the time where the coaches would pin down all our starters so I’m optimistic and hoping I get the job. Jimmy Johnson’s office used to be where the academic offices are now and I was walking by his office and I never really wanted to hang out by his office, I needed to go by his office because I had to get to a meeting or something and he saw me flying by and he yelled at me and he said ‘hey Carlos!’ and I went and took a couple of steps back and said “yeah coach.” He says ‘you did really well last night’ and I said, “ok thanks I felt pretty good.” I missed the 55-yarder by a little bit and said “I wish I would have got the 55-yarder but thanks” and that was it. So I think there were five days before the Florida State game and I think the next morning or something Rich Davenport who I think is still with the Dallas Cowboys asks me to go do an interview. I was in his office and he says ‘here, by the way, here’s your jersey. You’re number 27.’ Not ‘hey you’re playing in the game’ but I didn’t want to ask the question because if you’re doing well you just want to act like you are the guy, so I kind of looked up at him and Rich was always great to me, he really looked out for me I thought, and he’s a great guy. I remember he was standing and I was sitting and I kind of looked up and go “I don’t even get a chance to choose a number?” and he says ‘nope, because the only other number left is number 55 and its just way too big for you, so you’re number 27.’ And that’s how I found out I was playing in the game. It was obviously a really, really huge moment for me, I wanted that job and worked really hard for it.

pC: And you kept the number. I’m sure maybe you could have changed it later on if you had a choice?
CH: Remember, I was very superstitious my first two years, I wasn’t about to change that number, it was working! [Laughter]

pC: Were you an All-American your senior and your junior years?
CH: As a freshman I was a freshman All-American and then sophomore and junior I was either honorable mention or third team or something. Then my senior year I think I was consensus All-American. I’m pretty sure, but yeah I was Walter Camp, and AP and Kodak which I think at the time were the All-American teams.

pC: Did you have a nickname?
CH: Just ‘The Ice Man.’ Still to this day, it stuck. I mean I don’t think they would all call me that but yeah, my high school coach gave me that name.

pC: What would you say was the toughest place to play?
CH: The toughest place to kick in terms of conditions that I ever played in was Missouri because I remember there were 40 something mile an hour winds coming off the plains and you just didn’t know what the ball was going to do. You could kick it perfectly and totally miss or kick it kind of bad and the wind would carry it in. In terms of stadiums, and irritating crowds, I’d say Florida State and Notre Dame are rough, really rough.

pC: Would they taunt you a lot?
CH: Oh everybody would. I mean they were just right on top of you. The screaming and the yelling right on top of you because once they get a little bit of distance from you it all kind of sounds the same but it was just a real tight stadium and they kind of get in your ear and you can hear what they’re saying.

pC: Who would you say was the most influential person in developing your kicking game specifically?
CH: I never had a coach in kicking. Nobody really worked with me technically. I was just a soccer player that knew how to kick.

pC: No formal training?
CH: Zero.

pC: I thought they got special outside coaches?
CH: They do, but on most staffs there are no knowledgeable kicking personnel. They’re just on their own. ‘Hey you’re good, you’re talented, you figure it out.’ But I never had a technical kicking conversation with my high school coach, or Jimmy Johnson, or my special teams coach. You know maybe the special teams coach at the time might have noticed my plant foot might have gone too far and pointed something out every once in a while but no one really ever coached me in that regard. I practiced a lot and I had a natural stroke. I could kick a ball at 6 years old further than most 13 year olds. It wasn’t that I was strong I just had technique, like I said I played soccer every season since I was seven years old and I’d always take the free kicks and just knew how to do it. My high school coach really taught me the mental aspect of kicking and whatever he did worked. He put me in game-like situations everyday and Jimmy Johnson did the same thing and that’s the key because if you don’t make it like a game-like situation, you get into a game and it’s very different. It’s like shooting darts or being out there in war and having to kill somebody is different, you know it’s not that extreme, but kind of. Anybody can leisurely go out and just kick the ball but everybody’s rushing at you and you’ve got to get it off real fast and you’re dealing with the movement of the ball from the holder, the intensity and then a real line jumping up to try and block your kick where you’ve got to get accustomed to getting it up quickly or if not, you’re going to get stuffed. So what they did in practice in making everybody work really hard and making sure that the line wasn’t taking reps off during field goal drills, that really made a big difference

pC: What would you say was the toughest transition for you going professional? I would imagine kicking is the same anywhere you do it.
CH: Yeah, you know a lot of people say that the ball is different and it doesn’t have stripes versus it having stripes.

pC: Isn’t it a little bigger?
CH: The ball is slightly different but it doesn’t affect the kick to me at all. It weighs the same, it feels the same. Again it was that transition of being in such a well run top program and all the pro franchises are not and dealing with the different management and how things are run. When it runs poorly that trickles down to every phase of the game, the players, their attitude and I felt like in the NFL or at least when I was there, a lot of these coaching staffs [were not very impressive] except Marv Leevy’s. Marv Leevy’s team was impressive. He had been there for so long, his coaching staff was excellent, he was excellent. I would have loved to have made that team because of him, but I felt like on the other teams I was on, everyone was either so paranoid to lose their job that they were so stressed out that it was unhealthy, it was an unhealthy mental environment and it was counterproductive to being a really top performer. So that was pretty tough because everybody around you is on edge, it’s almost like they assume the worst and that’s not a good environment.

pC: It just seems that it’s more of a business.
CH: Yeah, we felt it was a business in college but maybe it’s more, it’s just more pressure you know? I think the fact that there’s a mentality that the pros are being paid and its okay to rag on them and boo them, not that you don’t get ragged on as a college player, but I think there’s more empathy from the fans and the media when you’re just a college kid and not being paid. People don’t get on you as much; I think that does kind of add to the tension you know.

pC: Did you have any other Hurricane teammates when you were with the Bears?
CH: Pat Riley. I think that was it.

pC: Talk about the whole U family. It sounds like you stay well connected. Talk about that bond.
CH: Well we said back then that playing here and being a part of this program may be the most fortunate and best opportunity that we ever would have in our lives. To be a part of a number one program in anything, especially something that you care about and work at, you consider yourself really fortunate and I think that there was some tension at times and everything didn’t always go smoothly but once you get to a level where you’re performing that well and things go that well and you’re that successful, you form bonds that last forever and I think that’s the way it is. We all knew that pushing each other would lead to great success and we knew how to push each other’s buttons for the most part in the right way and it was just a unique situation that I don’t think many of us ever experienced again. You know I think Jimmy Johnson did it with the Dallas Cowboys and I was lucky enough to do it in the Canadian League but it was only for one year and then the team was broken up. We had you five years of continuous success. Those bonds you form, the people that you end up trusting those times usually its something that you don’t lose and that’s the way we are and even those older players that I didn’t play with when they see me they remember me and they know that I affected things positively. You just don’t let that go.

pC: Would you come back soon after you left? Would you help your successor Dane Pruitt?
CH: A lot. I worked with Dane quite a bit. I got cut and I was living here. I was still training because I was still getting tryouts and workouts quite frequently and then signing again so I was taking my workouts really seriously, I would work out in the gym too.

pC: At UM?
CH: Yeah they’d let me workout there, I’d use their fields. The equipment manager would let me use the balls still and I would work with Dane quite a bit, not necessarily during their practice because that was an NCAA violation. I couldn’t go out there and practice but on his off-time, or we’d even meet and go over concepts. Dane was smart and he did a pretty good job, it’s not like he needed me. There was one point where they changed the blocking line and the scheme and did some things differently and that kind of threw his momentum off, but he had a really good career all in all.

pC: He obviously had some pretty big shoes to fill in yours but he did pretty well.
CH: He did. I remember his junior year he missed one field goal all year and he was 3rd team All-American so he did really well.

pC: What do you think about the last couple of years of Hurricane football?
CH: I don’t know if it’s on the right track or going back up. I don’t know enough, but it definitely is much, much better. For the first season in a long time as a fan now and watching, it was exciting to watch them play and you had hope that when they needed to score, Jacory Harris could get it done. I mean they’re explosive, they’re a little young and maybe made a few mistakes that next year they won’t make, but it was exciting to watch them and you had hope. In prior years I don’t know what happened with the offense. It was just so stagnant. I think that the reason they may have dropped off a bit was I kind of felt they had such amazing success with Butch and Larry Coker and then that game against Ohio State, which I still think they got hosed on the call, but they were a great, great team. I think they just kind of rested on their laurels a little bit and stopped working, stopped looking to be that great team. I think they thought ‘hey we’re so good now, we just are on automatic pilot’ and I think that caught up with them.

Word Asssociations: give me the first thing that pops in your head when you read the following:
Jimmy Johnson: Flawless
Larry Coker: I didn’t know him that well. Classy
Orange Bowl: Mythical
Dennis Erickson: High Scoring
The Ibis: John Routh? John Routh was the best mascot I’ve ever seen. Yeah he was the best
Art Kehoe: Hilarious
The Fiesta Bowl: Motivating
Ohio State: Over achievers
The Sugar Bowl: Which one? We were national champs but people don’t think about that for some reason, everyone thinks of the George Teague one. But I don’t think of that one, I think of the one we won. I want to say trailblazing and the reason I say that, I mean Erickson came in his first year and we won a National Championship, who does that?
Dolphin Stadium, or Landshark Stadium:Jimmy Buffet

pC: Have you been to a game there yet?
CH: No, no I didn’t go all season.

pC: What do you think about that, what do you think about the move from the Orange Bowl?
CH: Financially I’m sure it’s the right decision, but it will never be the same. You can’t create what was at the Orange Bowl. So ultimately, I don’t think that we will have the same success because going to play at that Orange Bowl for opposing teams was awful. We just had such a huge, huge advantage I thought.

pC: Your Favorite NFL team?
CH: I don’t really have one. I mean I follow the NFL, I don’t root for anybody. I’m fascinated with the successful programs. I know the Steelers weren’t great this year but I like that [Chuck] Noll, [Bill] Cowher, [Mike] Tomlin, how the franchise stands behind them, supports them and each of them has won a Super Bowl. There’s something in those organizations and obviously the Patriots are up there every year, you’re not going to win every year, but I’m fascinated by that.

pC: The NBA? Any particular affinity toward that league?
CH: Although I think LeBron James is almost at or will be almost at a Michael Jordan level, the most exciting thing about the NBA to me is Dwayne Wade.

pC: Favorite food?
CH: Ice cream, that’s easy.

pC: What band or group or music would we be most likely to find on your Ipod?
CH: The Beatles

pC: What movie could you watch over and over?
CH: Stripes.

pC: TV show you can’t miss?
CH: It was Seinfeld.

pC: What do you do in your spare time?
CH: Work.

pC: Two websites you have to check daily?
CH: Daily? I don’t have that.

pC: I think we’ve covered everything. Thank you for this.
CH: My pleasure, I like reliving the old days.

We at proCanes.com would like to thank Carlos Huerta for being so gracious with his time to do this very insightful interview for our new feature "Tracking proCanes." Click here to check out our past interviews with Leon Searcy, Steve Walsh, Frank Costa, John Routh, Chad Wilson, Mike Rumph and more! Click here to read Part I of our EXCLUSIVE interview with Carlos Huerta.

We would like to thank JC Ridley of www.caneshooter.com and dailycaneshooter.blogspot.com for providing us with Carlos Huerta's Chicago Bears photos.

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Source: Bears aren't trying to deal Olsen

Contrary to an Internet report Tuesday, the Bears are not shopping Greg Olsen.

Citing friends of Olsen, nbcchicago.com reported that the Bears tight end was not happy about the hire of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz and that he ''quietly sent his agent Drew Rosenhaus into 'trade request' mode.''

That's not the case, a league source said.

The Bears are not actively trying to trade Olsen, although that could change if another club makes an overwhelming offer.

''For me to see us trading someone away at this point, I don't see that happening,'' Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said Friday during the NFL combine in Indianapolis. ''If somebody makes a phone call to you, that's different. You're always going to listen to what somebody has to offer. If you feel it's in your best interest, obviously, you'll do that.''

Martz is getting a handle on his offensive personnel and hasn't had time to figure out how to use his players.

Given the change and Martz's history, Olsen is believed to be concerned. But indications are that Martz is open-minded about Olsen, who -- aside from a disgruntled Vernon Davis in San Francisco -- is the most athletic tight end he has worked with.

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Rocky McIntosh not pleased with RFA tender

The realities of the uncapped season is starting to hit home for players like Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh.

Jason Reid of the Washington Post reports that McIntosh was given the second-round tender as a restricted free agent.  That should be worth $1.759 million. As a former player rep and four-year veteran, McIntosh understands his bad timing. 

"Guys don't know how much longer they can play at this level," McIntosh said.  "They just want to be paid for what they're worth, and that's not going to happen this year, so it's just hard for a lot of guys."

McIntosh was hoping for a contract extension.

"I'm totally shocked that they didn't put forth a little bit of an effort," McIntosh said.  "But I'm just stuck in a bind with this free agency thing."

McIntosh is also suddenly stuck in a 3-4 defense that may not suit his skills.  That partly explains Washington's hesitance to give him a longer deal. 

"If you don't want me . . . you don't want to give me anything that's close to fair, just let me go," McIntosh told Reid.  "Let me start over somewhere else."

The Redskins may have done just that in a normal offseason. Under the current rules, they'd be crazy to just let a quality player walk away. 

McIntosh is hardly the only young player stuck in a bind.

McIntosh finished fourth on the team with 64 unassisted tackles. He also finished second on the team with two interceptions. Last season, McIntosh had a base salary of $535,000 and received a $100,000 workout bonus.

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Bears foolish if they dump Olsen

Explain how the Bears are better without Greg Olsen.

Or do something easier.

Explain how the human brain works. Or if you prefer, where the Taos Hum comes from.

Rumors have been rumbling for a week or so that Olsen has asked the Bears to trade him. It's no secret the tight end is concerned about the prospect of his role in the passing game being reduced significantly in Mike Martz's offense.

And many people think the Bears should trade Olsen because he doesn't fit the new coordinator's scheme as well as some (read blocking) tight ends do.

But the Bears aren't going to get better by trading one of their best players. No team is. Anyone who thinks a team can improve by getting rid of a rising star is thinking too much.

Is this overrating Olsen?

Well, Olsen is the most gifted tight end the Bears have had since Mike Ditka left town in 1966. And while Olsen has not been all that many hoped he would be, he is still a young player who has room to improve.

Of course, the Bears could get something in return for Olsen. Maybe a second-round draft pick. But would you rather have a second-round pick, knowing the hit rate on those is a little better than 50-50, or a player you already know can bring it?

Martz wants his tight ends to be blockers first. Olsen is a receiver first. But that doesn't mean he can't have value in a Martz offense.

It's true a tight end never has been a big producer under Martz. But Martz never has had a tight end like Olsen. When he coached Vernon Davis for the 49ers, Davis wasn't as far along as Olsen is. Davis just started finding his groove in 2009.

The best coaches are able to take talented players and find ways to get the most out of them regardless of the system. Martz is a very good coach, even a brilliant coach. I don't think he will dismiss Olsen's abilities as a receiver because of his shortcomings as a blocker. He needs to find a way to get Olsen's best.

And it shouldn't take Martz long to figure out the Bears offense will be most effective with Olsen taking a lot of snaps and catching a lot of balls.
Even if the Martz-Olsen marriage is destined to be a rocky one, it still doesn't make sense to trade Olsen now. There is a chance, some would say a good one, the Bears will have a completely new coaching staff next year.

And if they do, that new coaching staff — like most coaching staffs in the league — very well could be looking for a tight end who can do what Olsen can. The unfortunate reality of the NFL is schemes and coaches come and go. But core players like Olsen need to stay.

What Olsen really wants may not be more passes, but more love in another form. His contract is up after the 2011 season.

The Bears don't need to extend Olsen's deal just yet. They just need to keep him and throw him the ball.

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Antrel Rolle wants $8M annually

The Bears are in desperate need of a free safety. If there was any doubt about how Lovie Smith felt about the situation, the Bears coach erased it last week at the scouting combine when he said the team needs to "invest" more in the position.

That means the Bears need to get away from their standard approach, which has been to throw a late-round draft pick at the position and hope it sticks. They've selected a safety in five straight drafts and they couldn't tell you with confidence that any one of them is a solution for 2010 as a starter.

The Tribune reported that Danieal Manning will be tried at strong safety, at least to begin the offseason program. If you're keeping score, it will be Manning's fourth position. Al Afalava, a sixth-round pick, fell out of favor late in the season. Craig Steltz probably be the free safety if the season started today. Josh Bullocks would be in the mix along with Kevin Payne.

That is why it's easy to say Antrel Rolle would be a definite upgrade for a defense in need.

Rolle is athletic, can cover and has ball skills. Personnel men interviewed at the combine like his game and believe he'd help the Bears instantly, but cautioned about one thing: He's not going to be a Pro Bowl player. He's not a strong tackler and while he has better instincts than the Bears' safeties, they're not elite.

So the question becomes what will Jerry Angelo and the Bears be willing to pay for Rolle, who is expected to be cut loose by the Arizona Cardinals. He has a roster bonus that is due March 9, according to one league source. Free agency is the marketplace where many a player has been overpaid, and that is why Angelo is so reluctant to be a big spender in March. He knows teams often aren't getting what they pay for.

Rolle is expecting a contract that averages $8 million annually, one source with knowledge of the situation said. That's going to be a hard figure to reach. He already has turned down a contract offer from the Cardinals that averages more than $6 million annually, the source said.

Only three safeties average more than $7 million per year. They're all strong safeties: Adrian Wilson, Troy Polamalu and Bob Sanders. None averages $8 million, although Rolle's teammate in Arizona, Wilson, comes closest at $7.938 million.

Are the Bears prepared to pay Rolle like an elite safety? It's going to require a departure from their way of doing business. They let Tony Parrish walk and become a Pro Bowler in San Francisco after the 2001 season.

Here are some numbers to keep in mind:
Average annual salary for NFL's top 10 free safeties: $5.30 million.
Average annual salary for NFL's top 5 free safeties: $6.25 million.
Average annual salary for NFL's top 10 safeties: $6.51 million.
Average annual salary for NFL's top 5 safeties: $7.24 million.

That shows what a big price a team can pay for its last line of defense. The Bears have been skating by with rookie contracts at the position for a long time. Are they ready to make the jump? Will Rolle realize anything close to $8 million annually? We'll find out soon.

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Olsen To The Patriots?

If the Chicago Bears put tight end Greg Olsen on the trade market, what type of player would an interested team be getting?

With the Patriots in mind, that was the question posed to Jeff Dickerson, who covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com. Dickerson touched on trade rumors surrounding Olsen on his blog.

In a phone conversation today, he was asked more about Olsen and what he believes the Bears would be seeking in a trade:

“He takes a lot of criticism in Chicago for his less-than-stellar blocking ability, but he was never drafted to be a blocker. He’s 6-5, 255 and he can run, and he has pretty good hands. So he’s the perfect mismatch – faster than linebackers and bigger than defensive backs. I like him as a player.

“While I’d say he has to improve his blocking, I also don’t think that should be his major area of concentration. The Bears ran a power offense and tried to make him an H-back with heavy blocking, but that’s not his game. He is a great athlete.

“You could say there are times when he has to be tougher in bracket coverage, but I think he is an exceptional talent. I would be surprised if the Bears gave him up for anything less than a second-round pick. This is a deep draft and the Bears need picks. In the right system, I think he could be a very good player.”

ANALYSIS: Olsen, a first-round draft choice in 2007 (31st overall), would help make the tight end more of a factor in the Patriots’ passing game. If the Bears do make him available, I think it’s something the Patriots should consider, especially given the fact they have three second-round picks. In an uncapped environment, the Patriots would be assured of having Olsen for at least three seasons. Tight end is often a tough position to project a rookie into the NFL, but in Olsen, that projection isn't as much of a factor as he's entering the prime years of his career.

The Patriots are likely losing tight end Benjamin Watson to free agency. Watson was a first-round choice for the Pats back in 2004, and it seems like he's looking for a fresh start. Veteran Chris Baker is more proficient as a blocker, so New England would benefit from somebody who can make an impact in the passing game. The Patriots do primarily use a three-receiver set, but the addition of someone like Olsen could open up many more opportunities.

Bill Belichick always takes a scouting trip down South every season, so it would not surprise me if Belichick has already pulled out his notes on Olsen coming out of Miami in 2007. Plus, if the Bears are looking for a second-round pick as compensation for Olsen, the Patriots have three choices this year in round No. 2.

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Bears Shouldn't Hesitate To Trade Hester or Olsen

Most general managers, regardless of the sport, will tell you that a good trade is one that works out well for both teams.

But how many times does that happen?

The biggest fear for any GM is that a player he traded will reach new heights in another uniform, or show a dimension his team never quite got out of him. Chicago clubs are familiar with this phenomenon, and the Bears are especially vulnerable given their poor track record of developing players.

But looking forward to this offseason, they can't be afraid to pull the trigger. In addition to the Bears' free-agency wish list -- a priority for any front-office staff on a short leash -- they must improve over past performances in the draft room. And particularly in a year in which the team lacks a first- or second-round choice in a draft rich with talent, Jerry Angelo must look hard for opportunities to get some extra picks.

Clearly, this is not a team with a ton of trade value. Lance Briggs, Jay Cutler and possibly Brian Urlacher are pretty much it in terms of first-round potential return. With Friday looming as the first day of trading in the NFL, Bears tight end Greg Olsen, a former first-round pick, is obvious trade bait if Angelo can get a second-round pick in return. But why stop there? Sure, Olsen is a good candidate as an awkward fit in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system, and a player -- while highly skilled -- who has not yet wowed anyone in Chicago in his first three seasons. But how about Devin Hester? His name has been floated before and typically met with resistance by Bears fans as a player who has wowed us, and who still appears to have untapped potential as a receiver. Like Olsen, however, Hester is expendable.

I never thought I'd write that, and even while advocating the Bears see what they can get for Hester, there is every reason to believe that it's a move that could come back to haunt them.

That said, Angelo has to see what he can get in return for Hester, and anyone offering a second-round pick should be forwarded the paperwork before hanging up the phone. And given the fact that Angelo has never had a deep appreciation for wide receivers, believing from the time he didn't want to pay Bobby Engram that bodies can be pretty much plugged in at the position, this shouldn't be a problem.

As a receiver, Hester showed just enough growth this season to merit enough interest there. And as a returner, it is unlikely anyone has forgotten his Hall of Fame-caliber 11 combined career kick returns for touchdowns, fourth-best in NFL history, though none coming after December of 2007.

When Martz was first hired by the Bears, the generously listed 5-foot-11 Hester said he envisioned himself in the role of five-time Pro Bowler Torry Holt, while Martz seems to see him more in the nonstarting slot position of 5-foot-10 slot receiver Az-Zahir Hakim, who was also the team's punt returner.

During the 1999 Rams' Super Bowl season, Hakim caught 36 passes for 677 yards and eight touchdowns. Holt, a 33-year-old free agent who the Bears passed on last year, recently said he'd love to play under Martz again. Holt caught 53 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns in '99, but went on to have six consecutive seasons of 1,300 yards receiving.

But Martz liked the matchups and mismatches inside that Hakim commanded and could see Hester's speed taking advantage of those as well, while also advocating that Hester see more action on special teams. And on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 last month, Hester said if he had to cut back on his receiving and become more of a returner, that would be fine with him.

The problem is that when Hester signed his four-year, $30 million extension, it was as a starting wide receiver with bonuses tied to being a No. 1 pass-catcher. Financially, the Bears still need Hester to become a No. 1 receiver, and Hester would benefit as well.

But here's the thing. Though Hester had a solid 2009 season despite year-end injuries -- 57 catches for 757 yards and three touchdowns -- there are now three solid Bears receivers for Martz to plug into his system with Earl Bennett, Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox. And we still don't know enough about Juaquin Iglesias to make a definitive judgment.

In the return game, both Bennett (with a 10.2 punt return average and one touchdown) and Knox (29.0 kickoff return average, one touchdown, just off the NFL lead and a late addition to the Pro Bowl as a returner) had better results last season than Hester (7.8-yard punt return average and a 22.3-yard kickoff-return average). And they're more than capable going forward. Danieal Manning also had a respectable 26.6-yard average on kickoff returns.

The fact that Hester seems so willing all of a sudden to go back to the return game almost suggests a sense of uncertainty himself.

Hester would not be easy to part with. Selecting him in the second round of the 2006 draft, Angelo initially took some criticism for taking a player without a position. But while Angelo looked like a genius when Hester took the opening kick of Super Bowl XLI 92 yards for a touchdown, and the South Florida product has established himself among the all-time great Bears performers, if he can bring a top draft pick or even a midrounder and a solid offensive lineman, then it is worth saying goodbye.

It could actually work out well for all concerned.

Click here to order Greg Olsen's or Devin Hester's proCane Rookie Card.

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Salmons Scores 22 In Bucks Win

MILWAUKEE (AP) - John Salmons scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half and the Milwaukee continued its post-All-Star break surge.

Salmons is averaging 20.4 points and has scored in double figures in all eight games he's played in since a trade deadline deal with Chicago.

The Bucks are 7-1 in that span after having a six-game winning streak snapped on Sunday in Atlanta, but jumped all over the undermanned Wizards back home at the Bradley Center.

Andrew Bogut added 15 points and five blocks as Milwaukee (31-29) won its 13th in the last 17 to move into a tie for sixth place with the Eastern Conference with Chicago.

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Marlins show no mercy against Miami Hurricanes

MARLINS 19, MIAMI HURRICANES 3 at Jupiter, Fla. Wednesday, March 3

Worth noting: Former Hurricane Gaby Sanchez went 1-for-2 for the Marlins. Sanchez is competing for Florida's starting first-base job, along with Logan Morrison. In 2003 and '04, Sanchez played against the Marlins as a third baseman for UM.

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Tracking proCanes - Carlos Huerta - Part I

proCanes.com is continuing our “Tracking proCanes” feature with former University of Miami, Chicago Bear, Las Vegas Posse and AFL kicker Carlos Huerta. Huerta, the starting kicker on Miami's 1991 National Championship team, emerged as a walk-on and became a consensus All-American and First-Team All-BIG EAST selection. Huerta, who later played with the San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears, established an NCAA record with his 157 consecutive point after attempts (PATs) during his career as a four-year starter (1988-91). He ranks second on the NCAAs all-time scoring list with 397 career points, including 73 field goals. Additionally, Huerta still holds Miami records for career PATs, career field goals, career points, the top three records for consecutive PATs in a season, the top four records for field goals in a season, the top three records for points scored kicking in a season and field goals in a game. During his four years as a starter Huerta led the team in scoring each season. His foot was a significant reason in historic victories, such as hitting a field goal with 43 seconds remaining to give UM the 31-30 edge over the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 1988. Huerta also hit game-winning field goals over Arkansas in 1988 and Michigan State in 1989.

After playing his college football at the University of Miami, Huerta joined the Las Vegas Posse, a Canadian Football League expansion franchise. He was one of the lone bright lights, kicking 38 of 46 field goal attempts and scoring 154 points, and winning the Jackie Parker Trophy, which was good for runner up for the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie Award. After Las Vegas folded he moved to the Baltimore Stallions, where he hit 57 of 72 field goals and scored 228 points, and was part of their 1995 Grey Cup championship season.

The National Football League followed in 1996 and 1997. Huerta played 3 games with the Chicago Bears in 96, hitting 4 of 7 field goals, and one game with the St. Louis Rams in 1997, scoring 2 converts.

From 1998 to 2001 he played in the Arena Football League, with the Florida Bobcats in 1998 and the remainder with the San Jose SaberCats. He would connect on 37 of 85 field goals in the AFL. Also in 1998, Huerta appeared in a playoff game with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.

proCanes.com: Let’s first give an idea to proCanes.com fans as to what you are doing in Las Vegas.
Carlos Huerta: I have a real estate and development investment company. I’m also a licensed real estate broker, but I don’t really broker real estate for commissions more so for trading them and buying them for portfolio or investment for future sale or income. Most of my investors are from Israel and I do have investors in the US as well. I’ve been living in Vegas since 1994 and have had my real estate company for a little over 14 years.

pC: How did you get into real estate?
CH: I always wanted to get into real estate since I was in college or before and when I was in the MBA program at the University of Miami, I was still playing football, but I was kind of looking at a future career and I knew that the west was where the growth was and knew that they needed finance people. I have a finance background so I kind of went out there with a mission to get into that.

pC: So you grew up in Coral Gables?
CH: No, I wish. Coral Gables is one of my favorite places in the world. I love it here. I was born in South Miami hospital, but before I turned one [years old] my father started a business in central Florida so we moved to Orlando and lived there for 11 years and then we moved back after he got a job offer here. I went to junior high, high school and college here so I mean I partly grew up here, obviously throughout my five years at UM and one year we lived in Coral Gables before I went to UM. I went to Christopher Columbus high school and Belen before that. So 7th, 8th and 9th grades, I went to Belen and then Columbus after that.

pC: So were you always a Miami Hurricane fan growing up?
CH: I became a huge Hurricane fan when we moved back and that was the Jim Kelly era. I started getting into that and then when Kosar came in, I was an off the chart Hurricanes fan and would go to the Orange Bowl for games. I liked to sit in the student section and do that whole thing. I would sneak down there when I was in high school, it was just off the charts. Prior to that when we lived in central Florida, believe it or not, I was kind of a Seminole fan because we had the Bobby Bowden show and they were pretty good and I didn’t really know about the Hurricanes actually. I was a Dolphin fan always and then an FSU fan but when we moved here for junior high I started becoming a huge Hurricane fan. So, when I was in high school I played some football as a kicker, I really didn’t play any other position. I was playing soccer and I actually thought I was going to go and be a soccer player in college and I had some scholarship offers but none in football and my soccer coach, who I respected a lot and kind of looked out for me, suggested I try to go play football in college. He was kind of saying; ‘hey you’re not good enough in soccer.’ [Laughter] Actually I got hurt a lot, I just kept getting my ankles hurt, so I kind of took his advice and I considered a bunch of different schools. I was kind of a recruited walk-on from a bunch of different schools; Oklahoma State, Tulane, Colgate. I just said, if I’m going to play and I’m going to make the sacrifice and have to pay for school and be a walk-on, I might as well go for the gusto. If I play, I only want to play for UM which ended being the best decision I ever made. But it was a naive and dumb decision. Dumb. Dumb. I was naïve and young because I really was very, very fortunate that I even ever had a shot to play here.

pC: How did that happen?
CH: I was a walk-on. I was on the scout team. I used to have to run plays and call plays and I felt like a slave my first year. I would get beat up on by the lineman in drills and they outweighed me by over 100 lbs. It was crazy and I never dealt with that before so that first year I was a redshirt. Our kicker in Miami was a second team All-American. Greg Cox. He had a phenomenal season and no one was going to beat him out and it was not even a consideration. So, it was kind of like pay your dues, hang out, and maybe next year you’ll get a shot. I did that kind of reluctantly, I wanted to quit like three times. I think one time I was so pissed I didn’t come to practice.

pC: Were you the scout team quarterback?
CH: No they just used bodies for drills. They make you run plays against their…

pC: First team defense [Laughter]
CH: Yeah and I used to have to hold up chains for the first down marker. When Gary Stevens was doing his offensive play calling and scrimmaging during the practices they would want someone to speak into the microphone and record what the play was on microphone before the play so that when they’re watching video someone would be saying this is whatever play. I used to have to do that every drill and Gary Stevens was a hard ass, so he wanted you to do it into the mic and he wanted all the players who were not in the play to know what the play was so they could track it. So, he’d want you to go up and tell them what the play was, but they’re standing the width of the field, 63 yards, and you’re having to go tell them all but then if you said it too loud he’d yell at you because he didn’t want the defense to hear what it was so that they could stump the play. So, sometimes you’d kind of be in a hurry and you’d have to go say it and you’d say it too loud and he’d curse at you ‘don’t say it so loud!’ There would be times when I was just so mad from being told what to do. I had a huge chip on my shoulder and I just wanted to go out there and kick but I couldn’t, so I had to deal with that. The only times I could actually practice kicking was when everybody went inside then they’d give me the balls so I could kick and practice.

pC: So you didn’t practice the whole season?
CH: The whole season, never. Ever, I mean a little bit during two-a-days because they would give everybody a try but no one is really paying attention unless you’re the starting kicker.

pC: So that was the first year?
CH: That was my redshirt season which was 1987 and they were National Champs and undefeated. So it was a phenomenal team and season. After that season there were three kickers on scholarship. One of them which came from Ft. Lauderdale Eli high school, Sum Kim was his name, and he was the scholarship guy and the heir apparent to Greg Cox. He was very talented and had a strong leg and everything and really wanted to play football and was really into it. He had received a scholarship by Miami after he had hurt his knee playing soccer and had a reconstructive knee surgery. He was still really good in high school went to the surgery and passed all the tests and they said his knee had fully recovered. The first season during our redshirt season he was fine and kicking well but something happened toward the end of that year where his knee started to get really aggravated again so come spring ball, I don’t even think he was able to kick or he was half of what he was, so now they were kind of looking. There was still another scholarship kicker they had brought in and they had a returning kicker who was earning a scholarship who was the kickoff specialist who was a really good kicker as well. So, when Kim kind of started hurting, they kind of started giving me a shot to compete with the other guy and it ended up that I ended up battling it out with the kick off specialist and it was probably the hardest thing I ever did in my life.

pC: Who was that?
CH: Edgar Benes. He had an extremely strong leg. He could kick the ball a lot further than I could especially on kickoffs, but I worked real hard, I was very intense and I kind of convinced Coach Johnson one day to give me a chance because I felt they would kind of look at me, but not really give me a chance. You know I was undersized, Cuban, not on scholarship, they don’t want to give up a scholarship kid for a walk-on, it doesn’t make business sense and then they didn’t want to have to give me a scholarship on top of that. I kind of convinced him to give me a shot. I got in his face one day and nobody really did that, and I think he was kind of impressed by that and so he nodded kind of with this nervous chuckling nod and said ‘okay I’ll put you in’ because I think he kind of thought he would call me on my bluff. He put me in during a scrimmage and I did really well in the scrimmage and everybody kind of got excited and from that day forward I wasn’t the favorite or anything in spring ball, but now they started giving me looks. Come two-a-day practices before the season they needed to find a kicker, our opening game was against number one ranked Florida State. We started competing for the job and it became very clear then that Kim could not even kick. I don’t even think he could even make it out to the field; his knee was pretty much done, so I ended competing against Edgar. I ended up getting in really, really, really good shape that off-season and the competition was so intense that it was almost a war of attrition. Whoever’s leg gave out on him first lost and I got with the training staff to help me a lot and I just was able to last longer than he was.

Everybody kind of laughs at kickers and I know all the jokes, but you really can compare it to a professional pitcher or a college pitcher that can only pitch a certain amount of pitches. Well they don’t have that concept for kickers even though it’s the same thing because your hip joint takes all the abuse and it’s only got a certain amount of tendons and ligaments that can handle it. Edgar was really competitive so his leg just tired out on him and mine was kind of like rubber at that point, and I could just keep going. I really credit Jimmy Johnson, though. I think I owe him my career. He taught me how to really focus, which was crucial for what I did later on as the field goal kicker because I was a four-year starter. He was so determined to have the best guy out on the field where he was willing to even give the walk-on the job, reluctantly, but he was willing to do it. Other coaches wouldn’t even look at you, so I really respect him for that and I kind of owe him my career

pC: So, you did kickoffs and field goals or did they keep Edgar on as the kick off specialist that first year?
CH: As a redshirt freshman I only did field goals and extra points and Edgar still did the kickoffs. He did very well. He went on to law school and then the next year I did everything.

pC: Is that a lot more difficult? In those days we were scoring a lot more points so it adds a lot and tires your leg out more doesn’t it?
CH: Yes it taxed me. I’m not that big and strong to begin with so I had to really use all the power or strength I could muster to kind of be adequate, so it’s tough and then it’s a bit different because field goals you’re really kicking for accuracy. I know it’s still kicking but it really is kind of a different motion unless you’re so strong. You know, NFL kickers today are 6 feet 6’2 [tall], one guy is 6’5. They’re extremely powerful but unless you can go to the ball like those guys can, where they just go into it easy and can make a 50 yard field goal without blinking, it s not that easy to do . It’s harder than it looks.

pC: You look at a guy like Matt Bosher, currently UM’s kicker, who does everything. That’s got to be really hard especially because punting is totally different, right?
CH: Oh, way different. And one negatively affects the other. Punting actually hurts your kicking. The motion is so different and it’s kind of muscle memory and its still similar enough where I think there are times when you actually go to kick and your muscle takes over and you do a punt and you could absolutely blow your kick. It takes a whole lot of dedication, concentration, focus and talent to be able to go out there and effectively do all three of those things. He’s a very strong kid, he’s very talented and yeah it requires a unique guy to be able to do all that and at the same time you’ve got to avoid injury because one little pull of a muscle, you lose everything. I mean if it’s the wrong muscle you can’t do anything.

pC: So the kicker situation had to be pretty bad for them since it’s so difficult for a kicker to do all three.
CH: Either that or he’s that good. I mean the guy was the MVP of the team last year.

pC: You think he could make it in the pros?
CH: Yes, I think he’s prototype. One of the things that the pro scouts used to say about me is that I was too small. You wouldn’t think that’s an issue but it is for them. He definitely has the size and the strength and now the resume. You know he’s not an NFL kicker yet but he’s got the right resume to get those kinds of looks. I actually am banking on him being a pro.

pC: Have you talked to him?
CH: Minimally. If I see him I do. Every once in a while I’ll email him. I haven’t this season actually, but he doesn’t need much help, I don’t think. Yeah I might mess him up, so I stay away from him.

pC: Are you superstitious or were you superstitious because a lot of times they say how superstitious kickers are? Did you have a certain ritual a cross?
CH: No, not a cross guy. No, I’m Cuban and a catholic, but no. Well first of all I learned later on after my UM career, that rituals are actually a very good thing and they’re recommended by the top sports psychologists. So, ritual is one thing, it’s different from superstition. As a freshman and sophomore I would say I was ritualistic and superstitious as much as anybody. Like I didn’t want to step on white lines or I had all kinds of crazy things. I also felt balancing was important, so if I did something with my left hand, I had to do it with my right hand or my energy would be thrown and then I started to realize or somebody pointed out how I was and I thought this is really ridiculous, I’ve got to get over this stuff! My last couple of years, I was obviously having success on the field, so I had a little bit more confidence and I started to make a point that I was going to rid myself [of the superstitions]. I made a point to try and get rid of every single superstition I had and it was kind of tough, but in a way I kind of enjoyed it and took it up as a personal challenge. I said I’m going to stay in good shape, I’m going to kick well and I’m not going to be superstitious anymore. So I rid myself of those and it was kind of fun actually.

pC: And you started rituals instead?
CH: No, not really but I mean I think athletes and especially lets say a kicker or quarterback that has to do the same motion again and again they actually recommend that you get in the same habits so it becomes the same to you and you take every situation [the same] and keep it as close to the same as they can. Obviously if it’s very windy or if it’s very cold outside you’re going to have to make an adjustment or if the field is slippery you might have to wear different shoes to get traction, so you can’t be in a bubble, but you want to keep it the same as much as possible. You want to warm up in the same way as you usually do so your body is used to it, so it’s all familiar. Familiarity is good, having been there before in your mind increases your confidence which normally increases your peak performance so all those things are considered very prudent things. So, I started getting into those things and then I got into sports psychology, not for a career, but learning about it and I read some books and one specific book made a huge impact on my performance. I didn’t read it till after I left college but it took me to a whole other level kicking wise when I was playing in the pros and it was amazing.

pC: In what way? How did it take you to another level? Not physically right?
CH: Even physically. Both. The book was written by a PhD but he was also a pro tennis player before that. The book’s concept is for an athlete to reach peak performance. It was recommended to me by a friend of mine. I didn’t even know about it and then I’ve since recommended it to other people. It breaks away the accepted schools of thought on a lot of things you take for granted growing up; that all coaches are correct, a lot of them are really crazy and it validated a lot of the right things to do and what to focus on.

One really interesting concept to me is the ability to be graceful under pressure or to be clutch as people call it. Well, my high school coach started calling me the ‘Ice Man’ because I did well under pressure but then that kind of became something that I kind of believed myself and other people started to know and started taking that for granted saying ‘the guy is good under pressure’ and so I said “okay I’m good under pressure” and started thinking that and normally I was. Well, the thing that a lot of people will say is you’re born with that and I also believe that. So, I was experiencing success and I accepted this school of thought, but I started learning in this book that that’s the furthest thing from the truth. You actually learn how to be good under pressure. And it turns out that I had experiences in my athletic career that taught me how to deal with it and how to channel it properly, it wasn’t that I was born with it. So, that was I guess one of my talents that I did perform well in really important situations not that I was such a talented athlete or an amazingly strong leg kicker but that was one of my attributes. I always had a strong leg, relatively speaking, so I took free kicks all the time in soccer when the game was on the line and I started learning how to do that and my high school coach was also really good and would train me in practice and put a lot of pressure on me so by the time you got to the game the game was easy compared to having some maniac yelling in your ear telling you he was going to cut you or kill you if you don’t make it.

Then I got here and Jimmy Johnson would do the same thing, the training was so intense he was screaming and yelling you need to make this kick or we’re going to lose the national championship. Every practice was intense but when I got out in the game and he was far away on the sideline; it was easy, he’s not screaming in my ear. It was something that was learned but actually learning about the fact that that’s actually something learned and then being able to take steps to practice it and be okay with it. So that took me to a whole other level performance wise but then the book also focused on that you can be the most cool cat in the world but if your fundamentals stink you’re going to stink, so I really started focusing more on my fundamentals and on my physical well being. I started learning that when my body fat was down and I was doing well in the weight room and I was doing my sprints [I would perform better]. My body was really toned and the ball really flew of my leg. I got to the CFL, well I first was cut a couple of times in the NFL and then I got to the CFL and especially on away games where we would go to opposing teams’ stadiums to practice, usually we’d practice after their walk through and the other team started stopping in shock to watch me kick in warm ups because I’d be kicking 60 and 65 yard field goals down the middle and here I am this 5’8 skinny guy, well I was a little muscular but overall I’m not a very big guy, and it was kind of a freak thing to watch. So I just really learned a lot and that book kind of did it applying the concepts and focusing on things that were only going to make me better at what I did. So I’m all into that.

pC: You were a clutch kicker, as they call it, so when you got into those situations, coaches would call a time out try and ice you, does that actually work?
CH: Let me ask you a question. If you’re in a physics class and your very advanced physics professor says look I need you to really analyze the theory of relativity and prove Einstein is wrong, would you rather have a day to do that or would you rather have 40 days?

pC: I’d take 40.
CH: If you’re going to make a game winning field goal against Notre Dame and it’s from a pretty good distance, would you rather have time to properly center yourself, take the right steps, make sure you’re aligned properly, make sure that your center is comfortable, and not off balance so he can center the ball back appropriately, that you’re holder is ready to take the ball? You always want more time.

That icing the kicker thing is the dumbest thing ever. But there aren’t any kickers who are head coaches and most of the coaches believe this false fallacy and they continue to do it and I just roll my eyes. If you’re a kicker that’s worth anything you want to be out there and be able to set up, make sure you’re understanding the wind, check you’re plant foot and make sure the grass isn’t going to give out from under you and other things. It’s just asinine.

pC: At least someone puts that to rest.
CH: Nobody will listen.

pC: I guess if you’re a current kicker you’d never admit to it because you want the opposing team to keep using timeouts.
CH: I hated to be rushed because then, it isn’t like you’re practice. You want to do it like the practice.

pC: What was the longest field goal you’ve ever made?
CH: In Canada I made a 59 yarder, in college a 54 yarder. In the NFL I think was like a 46 yarder or something. I didn’t play long in the NFL though.

pC: You were with the Bears and your stay with them ended in controversy. Talk about that.
CH: First of all Dave Wanstedt didn’t really know what he was doing when it came to special teams and he kind of screwed a lot of things up, but that’s a long story. The other controversy, I mean I was a good kicker I should have lasted longer than I did, but the other controversy was that the Bears in 1985 they won their Super Bowl. They are still legendary in that town and I took the place of Kevin Butler who was the last remaining Chicago Bear from the ‘85 Super Bowl and everybody loved ‘butthead.’ I took his job and they hated me because of it, even my teammates.

pC: So that must have made it pretty miserable for you.
CH: Yeah I hated going to work everyday.

pC: Obviously your performance isn’t going to be very good on game day either, or as good as it could be let’s say.
CH: At that point it was Adam Vinatieri’s first year. We all know what he became. I used to train with Vinatieri. He has a much stronger leg than I do, but at that time there was no comparison on who was more accurate. When we went on the field he might have the stronger leg but I would blow him away kick after kick. He was I think 2 for 7 and had missed 3 extra points and they didn’t cut him. I think I had missed 3 field goals no extra points, two of the field goals I’d made I shouldn’t have even kicked because the snap was so bad I had to stop mid stride on a 44-yard field goal I remember. Wanstedt had won the first game against the Cowboys and I kicked two field goals in the 4th quarter to kind of ice the game. It was Monday night football and they were Super Bowl champs. But then we lose two games and Wanstedt was the type of guy that when he was feeling the heat, he always found a scapegoat and I was the scapegoat for the week. Sometimes it was his quarterback and that’s what he was. But whatever, you don’t have much of a chance to make it, that was my chance. I then I played for the Rams and then never played again.

pC: Did you want to keep playing? Was it tough to stop?
CH: I wanted to keep playing. I went to the World League after that and went to the training camp with the Buffalo Bills and had a great training camp. But Steve Cristie was like an all-pro kicker, I didn’t make it. In my career I went up against John Carney, who still was kicking until this season till he was 45 years old, made it to the Pro Bowl a lot of times. I went up against Al Del Greco who when I was up against him, was probably kicking better than he ever has. Butler and then Steve Cristie and in the NFL there’s no back up kicker, you’re either a starter or you’re gone. So all these guys were really, really, great kickers and I just wasn’t in the right place at the right time and I’m not so talented where I can just show up and make the coaches say ‘wow I want this guy.’ I was just a guy that performed really steadily all the time. I think to this day I’m still the most accurate kicker in the history of the Canadian Football League. I did get hurt too.

pC: What did you injure?
CH: I injured my kicking leg and I didn’t quite come back until it was kind of too late. I wanted to keep playing but I got into a situation where I felt that I was in the best possible situation in college that anybody could actually dream of being in. It was my hometown, my favorite team, we were champs every other year and I was kind of a star player towards the end. I knew what success was. To go to some of these pro franchises and win three, four, five games and be under coaches who were not a Jimmy Johnson, not a Dennis Erickson and then the Canadian League, where we were Grey Cup Champions. They were so amazing to work under and I’d go to guys that weren’t that and think I don’t want to be here. I was spoiled. I’m not going to get to really perform like I should under theses guys, so I was kind of starting to try and look for the right situation where I could be under a coach that I felt was worth playing for but I wasn’t good enough to necessarily always get that opportunity. But it’s tough to take a step back like that.

We would like to thank JC Ridley of www.caneshooter.com and dailycaneshooter.blogspot.com for providing us with Carlos Huerta's Chicago Bears photos.

Click here to read Part II of our exclusive interview with Carlos Huerta to read what Huerta has to say about Coach Johnson and Coach Erickson, how he got the number 27, where he thought the toughest place to play was, what he thinks of the current state of Hurricane football and much more!

Click here to order Carlos Huerta's proCane Rookie Card.

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Calais Campbell Gets Cast Removed

Calais Campbell posted on his twitter page today: "Finally got my cast all the way off. My arm is super hairy but I am the happiest man alive. Rehab in effect baby."

Campbell fractured his thumb in the Cardinals' final regular season game. Despite the fracture and surgery, Campbell still played in the Cardinals' Wild Card playoff win against the Packers and Divisional Playoff loss against the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.

Click here to order Calais Campbell's proCane Rookie Card.

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Combine Winner: Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham, TE, Miami (Fla.) . He is tall and well built and has been receiving a lot of hype in postseason because of his background and limited football experience. He struggled at the Senior Bowl, showing a lack of athleticism. He quelled some of those fears Saturday, looking like a good athlete without pads. If able to repeat his Combine performance at Miami's on-campus workout March 26, he could move into the third round or even late second.

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Bears dangling Olsen at combine

Bears tight end Greg Olsen being on the trade block was apparently the most talked-about rumor at the combine this week, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Greg Bedard. The Bears recently hired Mike Martz to be their new offensive coordinator, and Martz has never asked his tight ends to run many passing routes, nullifying Olsen’s talent in Chicago. Plenty of team’s will be interested in Olsen, so it will come down to just how much the Bears want for him in return.

Additionally, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has word from multiple league sources that the Bears might sign Brandon Manumaleuna, a stout blocking-oriented TE. He's the type of player at TE that new OC Mike Martz loves, and his signing could indicate that the Bears are ready
to move Greg Olsen. As we're well aware by now, the Bears don't have any draft picks in the first or second rounds this April, and they
might be able to secure a pick or two by moving a player who is not a fit for the Martzian scheme.

In an interview with ChicagoBears.com, GM Jerry Angelo addressed Olsen indirectly. "A name was brought up to me [recently] about a potential player that might not be a real good fit -- his name's been bantered around ... But we're in the business to keep our good players. We're in the business to make sure that our schemes facilitate our better players. That to me is what good coaching is about. So for me to see
us trading somebody away at this point, I really don't see that happening." Angelo did say that if another team came in with a solid offer, the Bears would consider it.

The Tribune's Dan Pompei provided another good reason why they shouldn't trade Olsen: Martz (as well as Lovie Smith and Angelo) might not be around in 2011, and the new regime might be more TE-friendly.

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

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Sanchez now on other side of UM-Marlins exhibition

There goes Michael Neu's claim to fame.

When Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez takes the field Wednesday afternoon against the University of Miami, Neu no longer will be the only player whio has suited up for both teams in the annual exhibition.

The Marlins kick off their spring schedule at Roger Dean Stadium with their annual friendly against the Hurricanes. Sanchez will get the start at first, across the diamond from where he played in 2003 as a member of the Hurricanes. The following year Sanchez again was on the field, only this time against the defending World Series champions.

"We looked at them and the way they would prepare and the way they would practice knowing one day we would like to be in the same position as them, being able to play in a major league game," Sanchez said. "It was more of a learning experience as well as an honor to go out there and be on the same field as a major league baseball team."

Sanchez remembered facing then prospect Dontrelle Willis in 2003 and feeling pretty good about himself for ripping a pitch to center. Juan Pierre, though, showed Sanchez how tough it is to get a ball in the gap past a speedy major league center-fielder.

"[Willis] was throwing hard and it was nasty," Sanchez said. "I was almost positive when I hit it that it was a double. Juan Pierre catches it in front of him."

Sanchez, who will get two at-bats along with the rest of the starting position players, hopes to perform a little better than Neu. A right-handed reliever and the closer on the Hurricanes' 1999 College World Series-winning squad, Neu in 2004 allowed a run on three hits, walked two and struck out three in two innings of the 7-6 Marlins win.

The Marlins are 7-1-1 all-time against the Hurricanes, the collegians' lone win coming in 2005. That summer, the Marlins selected Sanchez in the fourth round of the draft.

Ricky Nolasco will start for the Marlins, who will field a lineup of their 2009 regulars: Chris Coghlan, Cameron Maybin, Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu, Dan Uggla, John Baker, Cody Ross and Sanchez.

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Reds' Alonso no match for Votto

Ah, spring. When every talented prospect with a few weeks of Double-A experience is knocking on the door of the majors. And I'm afraid I'm assigned the unfortunate duty of knocking these tyros down a notch or two, until the Almighty (read: me) decides they're actually ready to play at the game's absolute highest level (or maybe the National League). Case in point:

Reds first-base prospect Yonder Alonso's supersized hitting ability should pave his express trip to the Major Leagues. It might have by now if there wasn't one very sturdy obstacle blocking the 22-year-old's path.

It's only the best hitter on the team and a fellow first baseman in Joey Votto.

This was a dilemma seen coming from the very moment Alonso was selected seventh overall in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and signed to a five-year, $4.55 million Major League contract. At the time, Votto was still a rookie but a successful one, but Cincinnati has a Draft policy of taking the best available player and not selecting according to need.

Alonso reached Triple-A last season and his Major League promotion is only a matter of time -- if he can find a place to play. To that end, the Reds have worked him out this spring at third base and both corner-outfield spots. It's dispelled the common speculation that when Alonso was eventually called up, it would be Votto whom would be moved to left field.

"It will take some time to figure it out," Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty said. "That's why we want to see [Alonso] at different positions. He's got a great bat and Joey is going to be at first base for a long time. I don't see moving Joey."

Drafting the best player is a perfectly reasonable policy. As near as I can figure, the only flaw is that if you wind up having to trade the kid -- say, because his only position is played by someone better -- you might get slightly less than full value because your prospective trading partners know you have to trade him. That's a small (and perhaps nonexistent) thing, though.

For the moment, let's dispense with the notion that Alonso is ready for the majors. He's played only 29 games above Class A, and wasn't outstanding in those 29 games. As John Sickels points out in his new book (which you should buy), as a professional Alonso's got a .211/.326/.296 line against left-handed pitchers ... and was little better while starring for Miami.

There's also little reason to think he would last long in left field, or at third base. Almost 23, Alonso is a big fellow and will only get bigger and slower. He's just not someone the Reds can play right now, and probably won't be at any point this year.

Alonso's future? Well, that's up to the front office. If the Reds are willing to entertain the notion of trading Votto a year or so from now, they should groom Alonso as their First Baseman of the Future (which would include getting him a ton of at-bats against Triple-A pitchers, along with extra BP against left-handers with good breaking balls). If they're not willing to trade Votto, then Alonso should be placed wherever he's most likely to succeed, with the aim of driving his trade value as high as possible.

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Braun to open restaurant in Milwaukee's 3rd Ward

A Milwaukee restaurant with Ryan Braun’s name on it could be open as soon as April 5, the Brewer’s opening day, according to MLB.com

The story cites Patrick Sweeney, a Madison-based lawyer investing with Braun on the project. Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill will take over the space occupied by Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant, 102 N. Water St. in Milwaukee’s 3rd Ward, Sweeney said. Sweeney said that he finalized a lease on Monday.

The menu will feature fresh seafood in addition to steaks and chops, chicken, pastas, individual pizzas, sandwiches, hamburgers and kids’ fare, according to the story. Braun expects to visit the restaurant often.

Braun also has invested in the Ryan Braun Tavern and Grill, a fine dining restaurant planned to replace the Cactus Club in Lake Geneva. That restaurant is not expected to open in time for the start of the baseball season.

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Antrel Rolle to re-sign with Cardinals?

As expected, the Arizona Cardinals are poised to deal with the back end of a bad rookie contract by dumping safety Antrel Rolle, a top-ten draft pick in 2005.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, the release is expected to come this week.  But Schefter also reports that the Cardinals will attempt to re-sign Rolle.

Rolle is due to earn a $4 million roster bonus soon, along with an $8 million base salary during the 2010 regular season.

And that's way too much for any safety to make.'

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

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McKinnie battling plantar fasciitis

Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie created a stir at the Pro Bowl last month when he was kicked off the NFC roster after missing several practices. McKinnie later took to Twitter to defend himself and explain that he was injured and couldn't have played.

On Monday, McKinnie tweeted that he recently learned he has plantar fasciitis in both of his feet. Plantar fasciitis isn't a new term among Minnesota sports fans. Former Twin Shannon Stewart battled the problem, as did former Timberwolves Micheal Williams and Wally Szczerbiak. All missed substantial time because of the injury. The difference here, of course, is that the Vikings won't report to training camp until late July.

McKinnie tweeted that he has to get his feet taped for three days, do calf stretches and take medicine for a week. "Hopefully, it will [then] be gone," McKinnie said on Twitter. In a text message to Chip, McKinnie said he will go back to his doctor next week. Here is a tweet photo for you.

Vikings coach Brad Childress declined to go into much detail about any injuries at the NFL Scouting Combine last Friday. Childress said linebacker E.J. Henderson (leg) and cornerback Cedric Griffin (knee) were coming along and doing rehab work at Winter Park.

Childress also said nose tackle Pat Williams is doing rehab work. Williams missed a game late in the season because of an elbow injury. Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson (shoulder) was due to have surgery shortly after the season but Childress declined to give an update on his progress.

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

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Jimmy Graham Rocks The Combine

He turned a lot of heads at Senior Bowl practices last month, but didn't get many game-time opportunities to strut his stuff. But this past weekend, fresh off his one collegiate football season, Miami tight end Jimmy Graham pretty much crushed the NFL scouting combine.

Graham, who exhausted his eligibility at Miami on the basketball team before returning to a sport he hadn't played since 9th grade, wasn't the fastest or strongest in any category. But he tested near enough the top marks to answer the questions of scouts who might have thought him just a really cool story.

"Jimmy Graham helped himself the most of any player today," wrote Daniel Jeremiah, a former team scout who now evaluates players at movethesticks.com. "Explosive and smooth...big upside, creating a lot of buzz."

We'll say. In drills with the other invited tight ends, Graham ran a 4.56 forty-yard dash, good enough for second place and over a second faster than third place; had the third-highest vertical leap at 38.5 inches; tied for second in the broad jump at 10'; and placed second in the 3-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle. 

What that tells the NFL is that Graham can explode from a static start, has a lot of power in his lower body, can change directions at high speed, and has considerable lateral quickness. That's good for Graham, because it means however raw his technique is now -- and his blocking is raw like sushi -- he's got the physical capability to pull off an NFL tight end's work if he responds well to teaching and can handle the game mentally. 

So how much did Graham help himself? Chad Reuter of NFLDraftScout.com says his 40 time vaulted him into the second round, and some went as far as to suggest if the Dolphins want Graham they need to take him with their 43rd pick.

As much as we'd love to see Graham end up with the home team -- and Tony Sparano seemed to cotton to Graham at the Senior Bowl -- the Dolphins and their nosediving tight end production might not be able to wait the year or two it'll take for Graham to absorb enough to handle NFL defenses. Of course, on the other hand, there's Joey Haynos.

At any rate, whether he ends up in aqua and orange or not, Graham's going to go somewhere, and he will likely be the highest Hurricane drafted. Not bad for a guy who hadn't played football in seven years, an accomplishment for which Graham and 'Canes TE coach Joe Pannunzio should feel really, really proud.

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What's Next For Wilfork?

Whether Vince Wilfork likes it or not -- and he said a number of times earlier this offseason that he'd be upset if it happened -- New England named the nose tackle its franchise player Feb. 22. The designation comes with a $7.003 million, one-year tender for 2010.

In a team release announcing the decision, a quote indicated that the move may be more about protecting the Patriots' interests through negotiations than looking to retain the two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle on simply the one-year deal.

"A long-term agreement with Vince Wilfork has been the team's top contractual priority for some time. Unfortunately, despite numerous conversations and proposals, the goal has not yet been realized. Vince is a tremendous player for our team and remains a significant part of our future plans. It is because of Vince's importance to this organization that we have assigned the franchise designation as we continue to work toward a long-term agreement. We are hopeful that Vince will remain a Patriot for many years to come."

The Wilfork camp responded in hand with comments put out through the Twitter account of Wilfork's wife, Bianca.

"The franchise tag has been applied. After six years of dedicated service i do understand this is a business ...

"With that being said it is my hope that the tag is applied for its true purpose ...

"For the purpose of allotting more time for us to continue our talks and be able to reach a long term agreement. ..."

"Only time will tell what the final result will be."

Those comments are a bit softer than Wilfork's tone in January when he said the franchise tag would imply that he was "an OK player."

"It's basically a slap in my face and an insult to me to tell me I'm an OK player," Wilfork told WEEI radio in Boston of the franchise tag. "If it happens, there's nothing I can do. We'll handle it the best way we know how to handle it and we'll try to move forward with it in a positive way."

Whether it's a slap in the face or not, Wilfork has indeed been slapped with New England's franchise tag as the two sides seemingly keep lines of communication open in negotiations on a potential long-term deal.

After playing out the final year of his six-year deal that's clearly foremost in the former first-round pick's mind.

Based on the statement released by the team announcing the franchise tag, a long-term deal remains important to the team as well.

"Vince was a priority, and we've worked very hard, and I think both sides have worked hard, and I think we're close, and I hope we're close something," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said.

Now it's just a matter of the two sides reaching mutual ground on an agreement. If that doesn't happen, then Wilfork's stance on the tag could very well revert to the "slap in the face" stance that he expressed prior to the move becoming official.

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

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Olsen To Be Used As Trade Bait?

Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo did not rule out trading a roster player this year although he sounded Friday like he probably wouldn’t be picking up the phone to make a call on someone.

But he also seemed to be sending a message that he’ll be listening if anybody wants to talk deal. He mentioned that if something were to come to pass it likely would involve someone on offense. The inescapable sense was that tight end Greg Olsen could well be in play and is believed to already have brought that up himself to Angelo.

“Players look at themselves and how they fit, and that’s normal,” Angelo said. “But we’re in the business to keep our good players. We’re in the business that our schemes facilitate our better players. That to me is what good coaching is about.

“I really don’t see that happening…. [But] if someone makes a call to you, that’s different. You’re always going to listen to what somebody has to offer and if it’s in your best interest, then obviously you’ll do that.”

Olsen simply does not fit the mold of tight ends in Mike Martz’s offense any more than Ted Washington or Keith Traylor fit with a Lovie Smith defense. Olsen is a receiver first and that is not what Martz wants first from his tight ends.

Frankly, recently signed Richard Angulo seemingly is a better fit for Martz, and offensive line coach Mike Tice had a hand in the Bears’ pursuit and return to Chicago of Angulo. And Brad Biggs mentions anticipated Bears interest in another widebody hammer at the tight-end position via free agency.

If the Bears invest free agent dollars in Brandon Manumaleuna, who played for Martz, and already brought in Angulo, who played for Tice, the Olsen window in Chicago seems very, very close to closing. And if that brings a No. 2 draft choice, for instance, which seems about right for a 60-catch tight end, maybe that’s a win all around.

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

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Michael Irvin vs. Terrell Owens

In doing background work on Terrell Owens' time with the Cowboys, came across this item.

In Dallas Cowboys history, only two wide receivers have been targeted for 140-plus passes in a season: Owens and Michael Irvin. In terms of going after the football, Owens fell short of Irvin.

The Cowboys, mainly Troy Aikman, threw 140-plus passes to Irvin in the 1991, '93, '95 and '97 seasons. In those seasons, Irvin caught 367 of 613 throws for a 60 percent reception rate. In the first three of those seasons, Irvin had a 64 percent reception rate. He went after contested throws in tough places and made the catches.

Owens was targeted for 140-plus passes in each of his three seasons with the Cowboys. Hie had a 54.3 percent reception rate. That speaks of a receiver who did not win many contests for the 50-50 throws.

Plus, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the Irvin era, two after seasons in which he was targeted for 140-plus throws. They did not win a playoff game with Owens.

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

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Giants' Feagles meets his fans in Parsippany

PARSIPPANY -- Before he could get to his seat where he would sign autographs at Sunday's Kidstock at the Sheraton Parsippany Hotel, New York Giants Punter Jeff Feagles had to maneuver through a crowd that mostly came up to his waist, and with a lot less protection than 10 blockers trying to keep an opposing defensive line from trying to block his punts.

Feagles did not seem to mind. Just the opposite, the father of four boys understood.

"I'm not used to about a thousand kids coming at me, but I have four kids at home so I am used to a lot of activity and noise so this is not anything different," said Feagles. "This does remind me of when they were younger, because I used to take them to events like this. You look for events like this because it makes their day. After what we have been dealing with around here with all the snow, it is good to get them out of the house as opposed to sitting home all day."

The old saying of "If you enjoy what you do, you will never work a day in your life." certainly applies to Feagles. Feagles, who will turn 44 on March 7, will be going into his 22nd year as a NFL. punter this coming season. While he has no thoughts of retiring yet, he does realize that his career is in the homestretch, and how fortunate he has been.

"Growing up, I never imagined, any of this, and even in college, I never imagined myself playing pro football, and then after I came into the NFL, I would never have saw myself playing this long," Feagles said. "My life has been an unbelievable journey. I never would have thought that 22 years later, I would still be talking about playing football."

Feagles grew up in Phoenix Arizona. In high school it was baseball that was his favorite sport, as he pitched and played third base for Gerard High School in Phoenix. He did not play football until his senior year of high school. But once he started, he excelled as a punter, earning a scholarship to the University of Miami where he won a national championship in 1987.

"I have had an awsome football career, I doubt I would be playing professional baseball for 22 years, let alone make the major leagues," Feagles said.

His NFL career began as a free agent with the New England Patriots in 1988 where he was for the first two years of his career. From there he went to the Philadelphia Eagles (1990-1993), the Arizona Cardinals (1994-1997) the Seattle Seahawks (1998-2002), and from there to the Giants, signing as a free agent in 2003.

The longevity of his career has enabled him to set a number of NFL records. He holds the record for most consecutive games played at 352, breaking the old record of 283 held by Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jim Marshall in 2005. He has been kicking in the NFL, since Ronald Reagan was president, and his career has encompassed or outlasted that of five presidential administrations (Reagan, George Bush (41), Clinton, George Bush (43), and Obama.

In addition to the record formost consecutive games played, through the end of the 2009 NFL. season, Feagles holds the records for most punts in a career at 1,713, most punts inside the 20 at 497, and most punting yards at 71,211. He has twice been named to the Pro Bowl (1995 with Seattle and 2008 with the Giants)

With numbers like those, If football was like baseball where putting up numbers is a ticket to the Hall of Fame, Feagles would have his ticket already punched. However, no punter has ever been enshrined in Canton, and considering some of the legenday punters the NFL has had like Ray Guy and Sean Landetta, it is something that Feagles feels is long overdue.

"Punters clearly belong in the Hall of Fame," Feagles said. "I do not care who gets in, but someone needs to get in because it is a position that has become an integral part of the game position wise. But it is going to be tough because there are still people out there who see punters as only part time players."

While Guy was the punter everyone remembers for his legendary career with the Raiders, the punter that Feagles grew up admiring was Danny White, the former quarterback and punter of the Dallas Cowboys.

"White played at the University of Arizona which was the college I liked growing up in Arizona, so I looked up to him," Feagles said. "I've seen Ray Guy on tape, and met him a couple of times and talked about punting. If any punter should be in the Hall of fame, it is him."

While off season training and working out is the norm in the NFL and punting has remained a constant for Feagles, his training regimin has changed as he has gotten older.

"You always have to stay in shape and keep training, but as I have gotten older the training changes," Feagles said. "I'm not running as much as I used to. I'm doing more swimming and stretching now because it is not as hard on knees and joints."

The longevity of Feagles career has given him the opportunity to do something that most N.F.L. players do not get: The opportunity to have his children see him play and experience his time in the N.F.L.

"It is truely a blessing to have my kids see what their dad does," Feagles said. "Most NFL players have their kids at the end of their careers because they are either single or young in the beginning," Feagles said "If they do have kids while playing, they (the kids) probably do not remember it. My kids have been able to experience the Superbowl in Phoenix, and to know that is really important to me."

Two of Feagles sons have taken up the family business. His oldest Christopher (nicknamed C.J.) redshirted his freshman year at the University of North Carolina and is getting ready for spring practice where he will compete for the starting punter job. His second son Blake, 16 is a punter on his high school team. Feagels has two other sons Trevor, 13, and Zachary 10)

"I've tried to teach them the fundamentals of punting," Feagles said. "You have to work on the drop, consistency and technique. C.J. took to it naturally. Like me, he did not start punting until his junior year in high school, so he is fairly new at it, but he has progressed very quickly. I went down to North Carolina two weeks ago to work with him, and to get him ready.

Feagles calls being a part of the Giants Super Bowl 42 (XLII) team the biggest thrill of his career. While the 2009 season did not go as his teammates and he expected, he is not looking for his time with the Giants, or his career to end anytime soon.

"It took me 20 years to get to the Super Bowl and to win it was the biggest thrill of my career," Feagles said. "We had a lot of expectations in 2009, and the season admittedly did not go as we expected. The one nice thing about the offseason is youl get the time to put the last season behind you. There is going to be a lot of guys coming back into the locker room and the weight room rejuvenated with the goal of redeeming ourselves. We still have a really good football team, and with some minor changes, we can get back to competing for a playoff spot again."

And while he may be a year older, he is no less competitive now than when he entered the league back in 1988. His 2009 numbers prove that. In 2009 he punted 64 times for an average of 40.7 yards a kick, just below his career averageof 41.6. His percentage of kicks within the 20 yard line of 35.9% was better than his career average of 29%. Those are numbers that most N.F.L. teams, and certainly most punters would be happy to have.

For Feagles, it is just a small part of a long career, that he has no desire to end at this time.

"I'm just taking it one year at a time, come training camp, I'll be ready," said Feagles

Click here to order Jeff Feagle's proCane Rookie Card.

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John Salmons mini-interview

Milwaukee Bucks guard John Salmons has fit in quite nicely on his new team since being traded by the Chicago Bulls a few weeks ago. The 6-6, 205-pound veteran was averaging 12.7 points and 3.4 rebounds on Chicago this season, but in his seven Bucks games he's put up 20.1 points on a higher shooting percentage in just a few extra minutes per game.

Insidehoops.com editor Jeff Lenchiner recently met with Salmons for a very quick, exclusive interview:

InsideHoops.com: How'd you find out you were getting traded? And, were you expecting it?
John Salmons: I thought it was a great possibility that I was going to get traded. But I didn't know where. My agent told me, when everything was going down.

InsideHoops.com: What are your best memories from your time on the Bulls?
Salmons: Just making that playoff run. And that playoff series against Boston. That's something I'll never forget, just being a part of that. That was definitely my biggest moment in my career.

InsideHoops.com: No one wanted that series to end. On Twitter, weeks after it ended I kept joking that the thing was still going and you guys were in your 3,000th overtime.
Salmons: It was a great series to be a part of.

InsideHoops.com: Are you on Twitter at all?
Salmons: No.

InsideHoops.com: As for becoming a part of the Bucks, do you think switching teams was better for you and your career?
Salmons: For whatever reason, my time was up in Chicago. It was time to move on. This is where God placed me at.

InsideHoops.com: What have you seen from Brandon Jennings so far? Great rookie, smart player for a young point guard.
Salmons: A young player that's growing every day, getting better every day. I think he's going to be a really good player in the league.

InsideHoops.com: What one thing in particular is he already really good at?
Salmons: Just his ability to get anywhere he wants on the court, whenever he wants.

InsideHoops.com: The quickness.
Salmons: Yeah. That's a great attribute for a point guard.

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John Salmons Proving To Be Perfect Fit For Bucks

John Salmons has played seven games with the Milwaukee Bucks since coming over in a deadline deal that sent Hakim Warrick to the Chicago Bulls.

Since the trade, Milwaukee has gone 6-1, winning its first six games since acquiring the 6′ 6″ 30-year old from Chicago.

When Michael Redd went out earlier in the season with a torn ACL, his second such injury in as many years, the Bucks needed someone who could score on a consistent basis.

Charlie Bell just wasn’t going to cut it as a viable scoring option for the Bucks.

Over the past two seasons, Redd has become a liability for Milwaukee, playing in just 51 games over that span and seeing his shooting percentages decrease as well.

After his first injury, Redd showed fans this season that he wasn’t fully recovered, shooting just 35 percent from the field, including 30 percent from behind the arc and just 71 percent from the free-throw line.

What Salmons has done in just a short period of time is just what the Bucks needed, helping them into the seventh playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Salmons only has a 9.2 ppg scoring average for his career, but averaged 18 ppg with the Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls last season.
So far this season, Salmons is averaging about 13 ppg with the Bulls and Bucks, including 20.1 ppg with Milwaukee in his seven games.

Salmons also holds the responsibility of guarding the opponent’s best scorer, something that Redd couldn’t be trusted with; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute handled those duties before the trade.

Milwaukee’s six-game winning streak may have come to an end recently, but it still holds a coveted playoff spot in the East.

The Bucks probably had ideas of trading Redd away prior to the deadline, but that point became mute when he went down with his second torn ACL.

Redd still won’t be 100 percent if he returns, making Salmons the obvious choice of the future.

Plus, Salmons is on pace to earn just over $6 million next year, while Redd will earn over $17 million. It’s time to save some money, especially since the loss of Redd isn’t affecting the number of victories being put up by the Bucks.

With the addition of Salmons, and his good performances, it makes Redd’s days in Milwaukee numbered.

Because, as they say, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of them.”

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Progress slow on Ryan Braun's Lake Geneva Restaurant

LAKE GENEVA — Brewer left fielder Ryan Braun arrived at training camp last week with more on his plate than baseball.

"I'm really in the moment right now," Braun told Mlb.com after taking some swings on Thursday afternoon. "I have a lot going on between the baseball stuff and my off-field ventures, and I've learned to live in the moment. The quote I've heard is, 'Be where you are when you're there.' "

Braun revealed that progress on is Lake Geneva restaurant has been slow, and that he and his investors are close to announcing a new venture closer to Milwaukee.

The Ryan Braun Tavern and Grill was originally slated for a grand opening in April in the former Cactus Club building at 430 Broad St., said Patrick Sweeney, a Madison-based lawyer who is leading the group of investors.

Braun is working with business executives from Lake Geneva, Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago, Sweeney said.

The group developed a concept for an American bar and grill with good food, reasonable prices and a comfortable atmosphere, Sweeney said. The group wants to open other locations, too, and is looking at Milwaukee, Madison and the Green Bay-Appleton-Oshkosh area, he said.

They recruited Braun as a way to help get people in the door, Sweeney said.

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Alonso trying third base, outfield

Many have wondered what would happen to Joey Votto when Yonder Alonso reaches the big leagues since both are good young hitters and of course, both play first base.

In an effort to see if can be versatile, the Reds have had Alonso working out lately at third base, left field and right field.

"It doesn't matter where I play as long as I play," Alonso said. "As long as I get a shot and prove to the guys I can play there. In my head, I know I can play. I just want to get my shot.

"I'm doing everything, and they're trying everything, so I can go up there."

Right now, it's just a trial run for Alonso. He's still primarily working out at first base.

"We just wanted to expose him to some different positions and see if he feels comfortable," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "We'll see how it goes. If it goes well enough, we'll put him in some games at different positions. It would just make him more valuable to us if he can play other places."

Lots of speculation has involved Votto being moved to left field when Alonso is ready for his promotion. Jocketty dispelled that notion.

"It will take some time to figure it out," he said. "That's why we want to see him at different positions. He's got a great bat and Joey is going to be at first base for a long time. I don't see moving Joey."

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Source: Rolle will test free-agent market

Arizona's eventful offseason will continue this week when the Cardinals release former first-round pick Antrel Rolle, an NFL source said Sunday.

Rolle's release will follow Kurt Warner's retirement and the Cardinals decision not to use their franchise tag on linebacker Karlos Dansby.

Rolle will become the premier safety in this year's free-agent class, but it is still possible the safety will return to the Cardinals.

Arizona would like to have Rolle back, and the two sides continue to talk about a potential return.

With less than a week until the start of the March 5 free-agent signing period, Rolle wants to see what he's worth at a time when the Cardinals are reluctant to pay him more than the $12 million that would be owed to him this season.

Rolle had four interception and was a Pro Bowl alternate this season. A starter on the Cardinals' Super Bowl team, Rolle moved to free safety in 2008 after playing cornerback for his first three seasons. He has 12 interceptions and four touchdowns in his career.

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

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Reed could return, still

Harbaugh also reiterated his belief that Ravens safety Ed Reed will be back for the 2010 season, even though the nine-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowl selection has said he may retire because of lingering injuries to his neck and hip.

"Ed Reed is playing, as far as I know," Harbaugh said. "I think Ed is one of the greatest competitors in football. You talk about guys who play like a Raven, right, who love football, love everything about football, that's Ed Reed. I've said I think Ed's going to play because I think Ed's going to do everything he can to play. If he's physically able to play, he will play."

Reed had 50 tackles and three interceptions this past season, but he missed four games late in the year with groin and hip injuries. He recently told the NFL Network that the nerve impingement in his neck has gotten worse. Harbaugh said the team will have a contingency plan if Reed decides not to return. "Right now, my assumption is he's going to be able to [play]," Harbaugh said. "If that changes or Ed changes his mind, that's obviously his prerogative. He hasn't told us that he's not going to play and medically we don't have any reason to think that he won't right now."

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

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Lewis solid in the middle of the DL

CHARLOTTE -- The Panthers might not know who's going to be on the end of their defensive line this season, but they know who's going to be in the middle for some time.

As part of their salary cap shuffling measures Wednesday, the Panthers extended the contract of defensive tackle Damione Lewis.

On paper, he's under contract through the 2014 season, though Lewis said that was a bit of a technicality. His pending $2.5 million roster bonus was turned into a signing bonus, and his base salaries were reduced from $3.17 million this year and $4.05 million in 2010 to $2.0 million and $755,000.

The move will clear at least $2 million worth of room on the proration of his bonus over five years, and could be worth more.

"In a lot of ways, it's still the same contract," Lewis said. "I still get what was coming to me, we were just able to spread things out to help with the numbers."

It also provides a measure of security for Lewis, who'll turn 31 on Sunday. He's rehabbing from a recent shoulder surgery, saying one of the muscles in his rotator cuff was torn. He said he expected to begin lifting weights in June, and hoped to be ready to go by the start of training camp. Lewis injured the shoulder in the Dec. 21 game at New York, when the Panthers were playing without nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu. He slid over that night, and blew the shoulder while taking on a double team the much larger Kemoeatu would normally have faced.

He sat out the regular season finale at New Orleans, but came back to play two weeks later in the playoff loss to Arizona.

"Right now everything's going good," Lewis said. "From what they're saying, I should be good to go when camp starts. All I know is, as bad as it sounds, it could have been a lot worse."

Click here to order Damione Lewis' proCane Rookie Card.

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McGahee likely to remain a Raven in 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - Ravens coach John Harbaugh more or less put an end to speculation about Willis McGahee's future in Baltimore next season, saying the running back will be a Raven in the 2010 season, even though he'll make $3.6 million and is coming off a year where he rushed for only 544 yards and averaged only 6.8 carries a game. "I think McGahee will be on our team next year," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh even went so far as to say McGahee could become the Ravens' primary ball carrier again because he doesn't necessarily see Ray Rice the backup and McGahee as the starter.

“I think McGahee will be on our team next year,” Harbaugh said. “I’m just impressed with the guy. He’s a leader on our football team and one of the most fun guys to be around every day. I've never said that Ray Rice is the starter," Harbaugh said. "I know other people have said that. Maybe even my coaches have said that. But to me, the starting running back is the guy who is going to start next week, and it's the guy who is playing the best. I've told Willis, 'You want to start the game? You be the best running back that week.' And Ray knows that. Willis McGahee could run for 1,500 yards next year, easy. That could easily happen, and I’m not ruling it out."

Rice rushed for 1,339 yards and ran for seven touchdowns in 2009, and he also caught 78 passes for 702 yards, establishing himself as one of the most versatile running backs in football. But McGahee did score 14 touchdowns, and in the Ravens final game of the season, he ran for 167 yards and three scores to secure his team a spot in the playoffs.

"From last year to this year, as far as the way he's trained through that whole knee situation, to play the way he did at the end of the year and to be in the kind of shape he's in, I'm just impressed with the guy," Harbaugh said. "And he's a leader on our football team. He's one of the most fun guys to be around every single day."

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

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Sinorice Moss Tendered

The Giants made sure their deep receiving corps will be just as deep next season by tendering both Domenik Hixon and Sinorice Moss.

The Giants now have the right to match any offers either player receives. And since Moss was originally a second-round pick in 2006, the Giants would be due a second-round pick as compensation for any team that signs him.

The 26-year-old Moss, it’s not clear where he fits in the Giants plans since he appears to be way behind Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Hixon and probably even Derek Hagan (an RFA who likely was tendered) and Ramses Barden on the depth chart. But there’s no risk in signing him to a tender since the offer is not guaranteed. The Giants have attempted to shop Moss in a trade in the past, and according to an NFL source it’s possible they’ll try again, possibly with an eye on adding draft picks or using him as a piece to acquire some defensive help.

Click here to order Sinorice Moss' proCane Rookie Card.

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Feagles Undecided Whether He Will Return

With all the focus placed on the underwhelming performance of the Giants' defense in 2009, one area that has somehow flown under the radar has been the play of their special teams.

Veteran punter Jeff Feagles, who completed his 22nd NFL season, did not have one of his better years coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2008. He finished with a 40.7-yard average (34th in the league), a 36.0 net (32nd in the league), and two touchbacks.

Feagles, who will be an unrestricted free agent, likely has an open invitation to return to the team for at least one more season, but had not yet decided whether to return.

"Physically I'm fine," he said when asked if there was any reason why he couldn't come back for at least another year. "I came out of the season feeling really good, (with) no injuries, and my knee held up this year. So I just have to sit back and reflect on what the future looks like, talk to my family, talk to the team, and go from there."

One thing that could influence his return is a desire to go out on a positive note. For the first time in four years, the 2009 Giants missed the postseason, and that's not something that sat well with a lot of the players, especially Feagles. "You have a bad taste in your mouth going away not making the playoffs."

Click here to order Jeff Feagle's proCane Rookie Card.

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Olsen helped Miami tight end prepare for Combine

University of Miami tight ends stick together. Just ask Jimmy Graham, who credits former Hurricanes star and current Bears tight end Greg Olsen with helping him prepare for the Combine.

“I’ve been working out with Greg Olsen a little bit,” Graham said at the Combine. “[He’s been] telling me how it was going to be and kind of prepping me on what I’m going through here. It’s been pretty accurate so far. He told me a lot of things and pretty much everything has been spot on.”

Graham hopes to follow Olsen and fellow Miami tight ends Bubba Franks, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Jeremy Shockey into the NFL.

“There have been tons of great tight ends come out of the University of Miami and I’m hoping to be the next great one,” Graham said. “All those guys really kind of look after all of us younger guys and really help us and talk with us. I definitely embrace those guys.”

Graham played basketball for four years at Miami and didn’t play football until his basketball eligibility expired in 2008. In his only year with the football team, the 6-7, 260-pounder caught 17 passes for 213 yards and 5 touchdowns.

According to one NFL scout, Graham has helped himself more than any other player at the Combine by running a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash. Pro Football Weekly predicts that Graham will be selected in the fourth or fifth round and reports that he “made strides in his first year on the [football] field and has the raw physical traits to be developed by a very patient coaching staff.”

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

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Bruce Johnson Recovering From Surgery

We’ve run down a long list of players who have had offseason surgery and it continues to grow. Add DT Rocky Bernard and CB Bruce Johnson to the list.

Bernard had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder that was bothering him all of last season, Reese said.

As for Johnson, he had surgery on his wrist, according to Reese and his agent, Tony Fleming. Johnson was recently fitted for a smaller cast and should be ready for the start of offseason workouts, Fleming said.

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The Football Girl's Q&A With Javarris James

The Football Girl:  Thanks for taking a few minutes to chat with me, Javarris.
Javarris James:  You’re welcome.  Good to be here.

TFG: First off, Talk about the pressure at Miami being the cousin of Edgerrin James
JJ:  When I got to college it really wasn’t too much pressure.  When I was in high school I felt it a little bit because of the expectation of all the great things he had done.  People expected me to do the same thing.  But once I made my transition from high school to college there really wasn’t much pressure because I knew how to handle it.

TFG:  You went to a school in University of Miami that’s known for running back royalty: Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis and your cousin, among others.  What about the pressure of following in their footsteps?
JJ:  That’s one of the reasons I wanted to go to a school like UM because of the great tradition of running backs and having all those guys come back in the summertime. You get to work out with those guys and take courses from them and stuff, so basically you learn from some of the best that are playing the game. That’s definitely an advantage of being at the University of Miami.

TFG:  In addition to your cousin, who I assume was your mentor, did any of those other running backs provide a mentor role for you?
JJ:  Since my cousin was there I was always around the program as a younger kind and I would work out with my cousin a couple times.  I think me having the contact with those guys and learning from those guys, it was an experience I’m never going to forget.

Click here to read the rest of the interview.

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Jimmy Graham Combine Interview

Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah believes that Miami (FL) TE Jimmy Graham has helped himself more than any player at the Combine so far.

Jeremiah says Graham is "creating a lot of buzz" after running an official 4.56 forty at 6'6/260. Graham, a converted basketball player, also has monstrous hands at 10 5/8," and 35-inch arms. He's shaping up as a mid-round pick. His power and quickness were impressive as well. He caught the ball well and could change directions effortlessly. I was also impressed by how he could locate the ball and catch it on deep patters as well, which is something tight ends usually struggle with.

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Giants Concerned If Kenny Phillips Will Make A Full Recovery

S Kenny Phillips is recovering from microfracture surgery and is not scheduled to begin running until the end of March, so there are some concerns about whether he'll make a full recovery and have the same explosiveness he had pre-surgery.

"We have to go step-by-step here and he's in the early stages of coming back from a serious issue," coach Tom Coughlin said Friday. "Everyone is very positive and upbeat. All of the reports have been good and that's basically what we have to go on. But until he puts it to the test, of course, the questions are going to be there. I don't think I'm out of place by saying he was having an outstanding preseason, an outstanding first couple of games into the season. His return to our football team as the quality young player he was developing into is very important. He would be a great addition and a great ingredient as a part of our team, but there are other things we have to put together as well."

Click here to order Kenny Phillips' proCane Rookie Card.

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Jimmy Graham lets tough-guy persona show through

INDIANAPOLIS NFL teams must be questioning Jimmy Graham's toughness.

At least it sure seems that way as he keeps casually mentioning his problems staying out of foul trouble during his former life as a basketball banger at the University of Miami.

"I was a physical basketball player," Graham, a fascinating prospect at tight end, reminded reporters here at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I mean, I fouled out almost every game."

A little later, Graham was asked what parts of his basketball experience might translate onto the football field.

"I think my ability to attack the ball in the air," he said. "I fouled out of every game."

He smiled broadly as a handful of media members recoiled at the notion.

"Hey, it happens," he said, laughing.

For the record, Graham was disqualified just 11 times in his four years as a Hurricanes basketballer. His 290 career fouls do rank eighth in UM basketball history.

Pardon the harmless exaggeration, but it seems he'd like NFL teams to believe he was a sharp-elbowed enforcer who all but had his face displayed on post office walls throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That way, maybe his future employers would actually believe he can block a little bit.

Catching the ball and getting open shouldn't be a problem.

"I think I have the ability to stretch the field," Graham said. "Very fast, very big. I think my strength is catching the ball, scoring touchdowns. I think my weakness is my technique on blocking. That's something I kind of had to forego [in college]."

Graham ran an unofficial time of 4.55 in the 40-yard dash here at Lucas Oil Stadium, and his other measurables figured to match up favorably with most of his competition at the position.

He measured at 6 feet 6 and 260 pounds, and said he was "kind of surprised" by that development.

"I think I'm 6-7," he said. "Basketball, I'm 6-8 [in shoes]."

Graham's basketball background adds to his allure in large part because of two names: Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez.

Those two prototypical tight ends emerged from college basketball backgrounds to reach a combined 16 Pro Bowls (and counting).

When asked last month at the Senior Bowl if it was realistic for him to emulate that path, Graham didn't hesitate.

"I believe it is," he said. "I mean, I've been playing this game six months and I'm here. I believe I had a great season. I caught five touchdowns and the first time I put on pads was in August."

If that sounds a little cocky, well, so what?

"Antonio Gates is my idol, him and Gonzalez," Graham said. "I'm looking to kind of follow in their footsteps."

Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen are other ex-UM tight ends who have blazed a trail for Graham. He would like nothing better than to be the latest product of "Tight End U," and it meant quite a bit for Graham when he was able to be at Sun Life Stadium and watch Shockey help the New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl title three weeks ago.

"I think the biggest thing [Shockey] told me was he was proud of me," Graham said. "From Jeremy Shockey, that means a lot. That tells me I have been doing things the right way."

Now if he could just get NFL teams to stop questioning his toughness.

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James hoping to make impact at Combine on Sunday

INDIANAPOLIS — Throughout his entire football life, Javarris James has always had to answer different questions and debunk different perceptions than most anybody else, he isn’t expecting anything different this weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine.

James is one of 28 running backs working out Sunday on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in front of coaches, general managers and scout representing all 32 NFL teams and the Immokalee native is hoping to make the kind of splash expected out of players coming out of the University of Miami.

James arrived in town under the radar, with some mock drafts projecting him as a fifth-round pick mainly over concerns about his injury history with the Hurricanes. After a phenomenal freshman year during which he rushed for 802 yards -- the second most by a freshman in school history -- and five touchdowns, ankle and neck injuries slowed him as a sophomore and then he missed four games his junior season in 2008 with a leg injury.

Thankfully for James, the MRIs, X-rays and comprehensive medical exams done by team doctors the first two days of the combine cleared up his health status heading into April’s NFL Draft.

“I was completely healthy, no extra MRIs or any of that stuff, so that let the teams know that I’m completely healthy and ready to go,” said James, who will be evaluated side by side with the likes of Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, Stanford’s Toby Gerhardt, Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer and Dexter McClusker of Ole Miss.

“Those questions didn’t come up in the interviews like I thought they would," James said. "I thought it would be a whole lot worse than that. A lot of coaches were like, ‘Hey, we play football and we know this is a physical sport.’ They weren’t really tripping about my injuries; they were just trying to see how my body was and if it was fully healed.”

Click here to read the rest of the story.

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Miami's Jimmy Graham returns to the sport he loves

There's a term in sports that accurately describes what the top players on any field have that makes them the best. 

Put simply, they know they're the best. 

Athletic arrogance. 

University of Miami tight end Jimmy Graham sat at a table on Thursday with reporters peppering him with questions and the one feeling that emerged from his performance was that this particular basketball-player-turned-wannabe-football-player has something special. 

He comfortably leans back in his chair as he fields question about his passion for the game. If he loves football so much, they ask, why did he play basketball for four seasons at Miami? Why didn't you play football after the ninth grade in high school, they say. 

It turns out there's a lot you don't know about Jimmy Graham. 

Randy Shannon, the head coach of Miami's football team, impressed by Graham's athletic attributes, approached the power forward as a sophomore in an attempt to recruit him for the football team. The basketball team wouldn't allow it, but the seed was planted in Graham.
He describes football as his true passion but his adoption as a high school freshman by a church youth leader in Goldsboro, North Carolina put an end to the football dream.

He holds nothing against his adopted mother, in fact he points to her as his inspiration and the motivation behind his desire to inspire others. But her placing Graham in Charis Prep, a private Christian high school in Wilson, NC, meant he'd only be playing one sport. Charis didn't field a football team, so Graham's athletic skills could only be shown off on the basketball court.

So when his four-year commitment to Miami basketball ended, he jumped at the chance to return to school to play football, just two weeks before the season began.

There aren't many young men who can accomplish what Graham has already. From switching from one sport to another, which he hadn't played in eight years, to the NFL Combine. When he sits at tables like he did on Thursday afternoon, he realizes what's happening to him. And he soaks up every minute of it. 

"I'm definitely having the time of my life, besides all the doctors poking and prodding on you," Graham said with a smile on Thursday. "It feels special to be selected to show off my talents at this level."

But even after explaining the entire story, there are still those doubters that believe Graham isn't chasing the football dream for the right reasons. He takes the critique in stride and again leans back in his chair, smiles and explains simply that any team that takes a chance on him will quickly see they made a good decision. After all, how many young man turn down more money than they've ever known to take a shot at something that has zero guarantees?

"I think when they look back and see that I turned down all my pro basketball tryouts and all the overseas money, they see that I am sold out for football," Graham said. "I turned down a lot to play this game. I actually had to come back to college to play this game so I think that proves in itself how much I love this game."

He admits that blocking is a weakness in his game, but remains committed to improving it. At Miami, they were simply trying to put his athletic arrogance to the test on the field. In his words, there were three other senior tight ends on the team to do the blocking. His first three catches in college are the proof to what he's implying: Put the ball in my hands and I'll make something happen. Those three catches went for touchdowns.

But now he knows that piece of his game has to improve. He showed strides at the Senior Bowl and said the coaches were encouraged by his day-to-day improvement and progress. He remains willing and ready to learn the discipline.

If there ever was a school that displayed athletic arrogance it's the University of Miami. Though the school in recent years hasn't produced the wins or the players it once did, it's still recognized yearly as a potential hotbed for NFL talent. A Miami player plays with a confidence that's unmistakable.

Graham honestly believes he's got what it takes to be next in line in the lineage of impressive tight ends from Miami that includes Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. Though his route to the top is a little different, he desires the same result, and then some.

"There have been tons of tight ends to come out of the University of Miami," said Graham. "I'm hoping to be the next great one." 

He's already top of the list in one category. Graham couldn't resist sharing that he's the school's record holder for tight end 40 time. His athletic arrogance baited him to make a prediction on what it would be when he ran this weekend, but he stopped short, saying only that he hoped he'd run it again at the Combine.

Pressed for a number, he leaned back, smiled, and shook his head.

"We'll see on Saturday," was his only response.

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Cardinals hoping to keep Rolle off open market, Bears Could Target

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Arizona Cardinals are going to continue with their efforts to try to re-sign free safety Antrel Rolle, but barring an unexpected breakthrough he is expected to hit the open market and become a potential Bears target.

The problem for the Cardinals is he is owed $12 million this coming season ($8 million plus a pending $4 million roster bonus) and isn't inclined to renegotiate. If the Cardinals can't sign him to a long-term deal, they are expected to release him and let him enter the free market, where he will be perhaps the most pursued veteran at his position.

"We're going to try hard to get a contract in place with him before we have to make a decision about his contract," Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. "If not, we will continue to work with him and treat him as if he is a free agent we are pursuing.

"We've always been under the impression Antrel wanted to remain an Arizona Cardinal. We have been able to develop him and we have seen him develop into an outstanding player and we want to keep that relationship going. We're not looking to lose quality players, but again, all of those decisions have to make sense to us from a team standpoint. Obviously he is a top priority."

The Cardinals' focus this offseason will be on a defense that was steamrolled in the playoffs by Green Bay and New Orleans. Losing Rolle will only create more work for the club, but Arizona is already heavily invested in strong safety Adrian Wilson and can't pay Rolle more than him. The team also faces the prospect of losing linebacker Karlos Dansby in free agency.

"At this point, I realize those guys could become free agents and they are interested in what the market will bear," Graves said. "At the same time, I am confident those guys don't undervalue what they mean to our football team and their relationship with us."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt, fresh off his contract extension that averages $5 million per season, said the team is committed to getting a deal done with Rolle and his agent Drew Rosenhaus.

"He's done a great job of making that transition from corner to safety, and is still growing in that role (as a safety)," Whisenhunt said. " He's made a number of big plays for us in the last few years. We're working to try and get that deal done.

"It's a different position to him after all the years of playing outside as a corner. He played nickel for us the first couple years, which was inside and covering a slot receiver, and did a good job for us. But to play the back half of the field, to be able to make the adjustments, make the calls to the secondary, which is critical for safeties to do, he's done a great job of studying and learning the position.

"He still has a lot to learn as far as where he lines up, how he reacts to certain things. Obviously, we're excited about the progress he's made at safety."

So are other teams, the Bears included, and that is why Rolle is destined for free agency.


Slaughter loses IFL debut; Payton throws TD pass

The Slaughter lost to the Rochester Raiders in their Indoor Football League debut, 49-47, on an Adam Lanctot 37-yard field goal with no time left in the game.

QB Mike Donato led the Slaughter, going 16-30 for 186 yards and three total touchdowns. WR De'Cody Fagg hauled in seven passes for 139 yards and two scores, while RB Jarrett Payton rushed for 34 yards and two total touchdowns.

"It takes some time to find your identity as a team," said Payton. "We just weren't together the first couple of series. I'm sure you saw a difference by the start of the second half. I'm very optimistic."

A crowd of 6,944 cheered on as the Slaughter raised their 2009 Continental Indoor Football League Championship banner before the game, and new Slaughter owner, Bears legendary QB Jim McMahon, took part with a ceremonial handoff to Payton.

The next home game for the Slaughter will be Sunday, March 21st, at the Sears Centre Arena against the Bloomington Extreme. Kickoff will be at 2:05 p.m.

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Santana Moss Kicks Back After Counseling Youths

On any given Sunday Santana Moss often faces foes twice his size without hesitation, but Thursday's opposing squad was particularly intimidating.

The faces staring down the Redskins' big play receiver weren't 300-lb. defensive linemen, but a group of young juvenile offenders at  Thompson Academy who hung on his every word.

"I tried to let them know that right now is a wake up call for them," said Moss late Thursday night. "I let them know it's ok though, because everyone makes mistakes and gets a second chance."

He took along close friends Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson to help spread the message. 
Later that night, the trio lounged at Gulfstream and Casino's MI-VI nightclub where Moss reflected on what he calls the most "rewarding aspect of being blessed with NFL ability."

"Knowing that I can show those kids a positive alternative is an amazing feeling," said Moss.

Moss's passion for helping kids in Miami's inner-city seems only rivaled by his desire to land in the end zone after one of his signature acrobatic catches.

Maybe it's because like them, the Carol City native has always found himself hoping for that one shot. As a walk-on at the University of Miami he went on to become the school's all-time leader in receiving yards. His name shines alongside Michael Irvin as UM's most prolific wide receivers.

These days Moss is more focused on being "that light in his community" through the plethora of charity initiatives founded by him and his younger brother New York Giants wide receiver Sinorice Moss.

"When I was growing I was praying that someone who I looked up to would come to my neighborhood and teach and show me something, but that never really happened," said Moss.

"I told myself if I ever got that chance I would be that guy for my neighborhood. I would be that guy for my city."

Click here to order Santana Moss' proCane Rookie Card.

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Quadtrine Hill To Fight on April 13th

Florida has always had a reputation for having elite athletes and the Heavyweight Factory Gym out of South Florida is ready to take advantage. The Heavyweight Factory is actively trying to produce the next heavyweight champion by scouting athletes from other sports locally and abroad. The gym located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is trying to find the next young killer with either a basketball, football or baseball glove attached to lace up the Everlast and see if they have what is takes to excel at the sweet science. On February 28th, The Heavyweight Factory put on their first all-heavyweight pro fight card at the Hard Rock Casino. The show was electrifying, with most of the fighters winning via light-switch knockouts. This April 13th will be a second installment of an all-heavyweight show from the Heavyweight Factory, with former heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs as the main event. Briggs will be heading a fight card that is stacked from top to bottom with bubbling talent out of the heavyweight division.

The April 13th show will feature the comeback of 38-year old power-puncher Shannon Briggs, 48-5-1, 42 KO’s, who's coming off a 1st round KO over Marcus McGee this past December. Briggs lost his W.B.O heavyweight title in June of 2007 to Sultan Ibragimov, after being physically weakened from some asthmatic problems, but now healthy is ready to make another run at the title. Briggs is always exciting to watch with his aggressive nature, and heat-seeking bombs that usually result in his opponents blinking through concussions. On the undercard, former University of Miami player James Bryant, 1-0, 1 KO, will try to duplicate his impressive debut performance in his second fight against an evenly matched opponent. The 6’3” 245 Lb. Bryant is a physically imposing fighter that has some serious explosiveness and can reportedly bench-press 500+ Lbs. Another former U.M player 6’2” 230 Lb. Quadtrine Hill, 1-0, will look to score his second straight KO after knotting up and crumpling his first opponent in his pro debut. Hill is a poised young athlete, that has a nice blend of speed and power from the southpaw side of the plate. A host of Cuban national amateurs team fighters, along with Italian contender Mike Mollo, 19-3, 12 KO’s, will also be featured. From top-to-bottom the April 13th show, is almost guaranteed to get fight fan's adrenaline pumping, so grab your popcorn, hide the woman and children and enjoy.

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Bernie Kosar brings cheers and laughs to car show

Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, always a local crowd favorite, brought cheers and laughs to the Cleveland Auto Show's annual dealers breakfast this morning.

Kosar, now a consultant with the Browns, joked about coming back. He also said the passing game should improve because of new president Mike Holmgren, and the Browns are really interested in drafting a quarterback in the NFL Draft.

Kosar also talked about the economics of the game.

"Economically, I don't know if they want to pay [Derek Anderson close to $10 million] when Brady [Quinn] has much better accuracy," Kosar said.

Anderson is due a $2 million roster bonus on March 19, and he has a  $7.45 million base salary for 2010. The Browns are more likely to release Anderson or restructure his deal.

During his talk, Kosar threw miniature footballs in the crowd. He made one long throw to the back of the room that brought cheers from the crowd, and this comment from Kosar:

"Tell Brady it's not that hard," Kosar said.

In an interview on WKNR-AM this morning, Kosar said:

I was joking today. You know when you give speeches . . . I was firing. I was throwing passes and having a blast. It was kind of fun to throw them underneath the chandeliers, . . literally throwing 30 yarders. There were no Marc Gastineaus or free agent Julius Peppers coming from the blind side.

I said a joke, "Tell Brady it's not that hard." They (Starting Blocks) wrote it like I was all serious. I was just joking around."

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

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Irvin relieved after 'horrific ordeal'

DALLAS -- Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin said Friday he is grateful that the Florida District Attorney's office cleared him of a rape allegation.

Speaking at his attorney's office, Larry Friedman, Irvin said the rape case caused him deep pain.

"Its been a horrific ordeal," an emotional Irvin said during a news conference. "I was put in a very difficult situation."

The Broward State Attorney's office said Thursday it investigated the claims but a spokesman said there was no physical evidence because the woman waited more than two weeks to report the incident.

Friedman said a $100 million countersuit against the woman is still alive. He also said he's thinking of suing ESPN for wrongful termination. Irvin had hosted a radio show on ESPN Radio 103.3.

The woman filed a lawsuit on Feb. 4, claiming she was sexually assaulted by Irvin at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in July 2007.
Irvin said he was shocked by the allegation, which was revealed two days before the Super Bowl and a day before former teammate Emmitt Smith was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I was in a fetal position after I found out," Irvin said to ESPNDallas.com on Friday. "The only thing that gave me strength was Emmitt going into the Hall of Fame."

Irvin said he plans on working for the NFL Network at the NFL combine in Indianapolis this weekend.

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

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Salmons goes off for 32 points vs. Hawks

John Salmons went off for season-high 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting (including two 3-pointers) with eight rebounds, four assists, and one steal.

There probably aren't too many owners who stuck with him all year, but if you did, you got your moment of redemption tonight. Salmons has taken over the go-to role for the Bucks, and they have gotten such a boost from him that hopefully he is Scott Skiles-proof. He should be started going forward in most formats.

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Salmons Player of the Game Against the Heat

Bucks guard John Salmons improved to 6-0 since joining the team, and he contributed 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and added five assists and three rebounds. "He's a good pro guard," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "I don't want to understate it. He can do a lot of things well. He can shoot the ball; he can put it on the floor. He passes it; he's a willing defender. Having said all that, the most important thing for us is his size. We've played small so much, and he makes some plays with his size we just didn't have before."

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Gaby Sanchez gets the first spring start at first base for the Marlins

Gaby Sanchez will get the start at first base for the Marlins’ first exhibition game Wednesday against the University of Miami. But that doesn’t mean he has any early nod over Logan Morrison in their competition for first base.
Sanchez is a UM alum, so manager Fredi Gonzalez wants to give him a chance to play against his old school.

Ricky Nolasco will start the game. The rest of the Marlins’ position players will be Gonzalez’s regulars: LF Chris Coghlan, CF Cameron Maybin, RF Cody Ross, 2B Dan Uggla, SS Hanley Ramirez, 3B Jorge Cantu and C John Baker.

Those players will get at least two at-bats. The game starts at 3:05 p.m. at Roger Dean Stadium.

The Marlins open their Grapefruit League season Thursday against the Nationals.

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Acta says Chris Perez will be setup man

GOODYEAR, ARIZ.: Manager Manny Acta hasn't talked a lot about the bullpen, but he has determined the role of at least one pitcher beyond that of closer Kerry Wood.

''It's safe to say that Chris Perez will be setting up, based on the way he finished last year,'' Acta said.

From July through the end of the season, Perez posted a 3.16 ERA in 311/3 innings, despite a drop in September.

''We also have guys like Tony Sipp, who can get both right-handers and left-handers out,'' Acta said.

However, the bullpen is far from settled. One or two spots are there for the taking, and there is no need for Acta to assign roles to particular pitchers until the end of camp.

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New year, new state of mind for Braun

PHOENIX -- The always interesting Ryan Braun arrived in Brewers camp quoting Jay-Z, taking a literary stroll with Henry David Thoreau and saying he believes he's on the verge of baseball greatness.

Brewers position players aren't even required to be at Maryvale Baseball Park until Saturday, but Braun, as usual, is already making it interesting.

"I'm really in the moment right now," Braun said after taking some swings on Thursday afternoon. "I have a lot going on between the baseball stuff and my off-field ventures, and I've learned to live in the moment. The quote I've heard is, 'Be where you are when you're there.'"

He heard that one as a young man and it stuck with him. It's one of a myriad of what Braun called "life theories" that he's been batting around. One came from none other than Mr. Beyonce Knowles, the rapper Jay-Z.

"I've been quoting Jay-Z a lot lately," Braun said. "He's the ultimate self-made man, and he's the ultimate self-promoter. He's all positive. He said, 'The truth needs no explanation.' I think that's deep."

Sorry, we need an explanation.

"I think it talks about the significance of being honest with yourself," Braun said. "Don't worry about anyone else. As it applies to baseball, if you're honest with yourself about the work ethic you put forth every day, you won't even have to explain to anybody why things didn't go as well as you wanted to."

Mind you, this is a 26-year-old for whom things have almost always gone spectacularly well. He excelled in three sports (baseball, soccer, basketball) at Granada Hills (Calif.) High School, then was an All-American at the University of Miami before the Brewers took him fifth overall in the ridiculously talent-rich 2005 First-Year Player Draft, one pick after the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman and two before the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki.

Two years later, in 2007, Braun was the National League Rookie of the Year. In 2008, he started his first All-Star Game and hit the go-ahead home run on the final day of the regular season to propel the Brewers to their first postseason appearance since 1982, a year before he was born. In 2009, he was an All-Star starter again and led the NL in hits while batting .320 with 32 home runs and a career-high 114 RBIs.

"For three years I've been good, but I really believe I have a chance to be great," he said. "I don't know how you define greatness, but when I have a great year, I'll know. Hopefully, it's this year."

All of that success might go to his head, if only his head were not filled with so much other stuff. He said he spent the offseason reading Henry David Thoreau -- "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." -- and Maya Angelou, among others. He also stayed busy three or four days a week at the Los Angeles offices of Remetee, the clothing manufacturer he helped found in 2008.

Remetee's signature bright T-shirts were ubiquitous in the Brewers clubhouse last season. This year, they might be tougher to spot.

"The new stuff is really cool," Braun said. "We've cleaned it up a little bit. The old stuff was a little busy, so we've kind of toned it down. It's doing really well. We survived the toughest year in retail in the last 20 years, and we did pretty well. It's a tribute to the importance of surrounding yourself with successful people."

He's been busy filming commercials -- a Nike spot with Ken Griffey Jr. and Torii Hunter just debuted, and another national spot for Muscle Milk will air during March Madness -- and Braun's newest endeavor is the restaurant business. While progress has been slow at a Lake Geneva, Wis., location to be called "Ryan Braun's Tavern and Grill," Braun and his investors are very close to announcing another venture much closer to the Brewers' home base. Stay tuned for that.

It's all moving very quickly, which brings Braun to quoting again: "You have to work fast. Life's not going to wait for you."

Just don't go too fast.

"I don't think it's necessarily the entities that present themselves that can make things complicated, it's the number of people associated with them that can be problematic," said Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman, who has seen teammates bogged down by off-the-field pursuits. "You have to manage. You have to really prioritize your space at the field in order for it to work. I've seen where it can get a little out of whack."
Braun has heard these concerns. He assures everyone that he knows baseball is No. 1.

"But at the same time, I recognize that there is a small window for these other things to be a priority, too," he said. "At some point I'll probably be married and have kids and I'll no longer be as involved as I am now.

Marriage and kids will wait for now, and that's one area in which Braun declines to expound. Braun is friends with the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and said with a chuckle that he knows Kemp's famous girlfriend, Rihanna, "a little bit," but won't say whether he has a rock star girlfriend of his own.

"Baseball provides me with the avenue to do all of these other things and I understand how important that is," Braun said. "I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can for as long as I'm in this game to be the best player I can be. I think I have a chance to be great, but I'm not there yet and I'm working hard to get there.

"I'm in an amazing place. I feel great. I feel like baseball has given me this opportunity to be a positive influence on other peoples' lives, and when it comes down to it that's what life is all about. Be happy. I'm happy right now."

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Huff aims to prove he's a capable fielder

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Aubrey Huff has a thing for "Transformers." Last year, when the Detroit Tigers' wives assembled charitable gift baskets filled with their husbands' favorites, Huff's goodies included a Megatron action figure and a DVD of the movie.

His fan worship for the old cartoon show is no passing fancy — otherwise he wouldn't have tattooed giant Autobot and Decepticon logos on either side of his upper back.

And now that the former American League designated hitter is wearing a Giants uniform and a first baseman's mitt, he's determined to prove that he's more than meets the eye, too.

"When you're a DH, you get labeled by people who've never played the game," said the 33-year-old, who won a Silver Slugger award in 2008. "It's hard to shake. People believe what they read, unfortunately, but I'll play every day and prove that I'm not bad over there."

Although it's vital that the Giants support their talented pitching staff, they do not anticipate having an above-average defensive infield. Their one highly skilled glove man from last year, Travis Ishikawa, didn't hit enough on the road to retain a starting job.

According to the UZR/150, a formula that determines the number of runs a fielder saves or costs his team, Ishikawa was the best everyday defensive first baseman in the majors last season. Huff graded slightly below average.

But Huff has his believers. Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Dave Johnson watched Huff play 93 games at first base last season and said he wasn't a liability.

"You don't really notice him," said Johnson, in Scotts- dale to watch his son, Steven, whom the Giants took in the Rule 5 draft. "He made the plays he was supposed to make. He did fine over there."

Huff's defense received another vote of confidence from an even more trusted source.

"He looks pretty good to me," said Giants special assistant and former Gold Glove winner J.T. Snow. "We were doing a drill to pick balls out of the dirt, and he might have missed one. He's played it before, so he knows how to handle it."

That's no small matter to Snow. In previous years, the front office asked him to convert outfielders Daniel Ortmeier and John Bowker to first base. Those results weren't so pretty.

"Bunt plays, pickoffs "... the game moves pretty fast when you're on the infield for the first time," Snow said. "None of that is new to Aubrey. And I think he's a pretty honest guy. He said he'll do the best job he can. He's not expecting to win a Gold Glove."

Huff's presence doesn't necessarily spell doom for Ishikawa, who received good news Saturday when an MRI exam showed partially torn ligaments in his foot are healing well and won't require surgery.

Ishikawa hopes to be out of his walking boot in a week and back to unrestricted duty soon after that.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Ishikawa remains "very much in the mix" for a roster spot. "Ishi has shown he can do some things to help you win a ballgame, whether it's defense or hitting a ball out of the ballpark."

It would seem Bochy plans to use Ishikawa often as a late-inning defensive replacement. The manager also said he plans to get Huff some work in the outfield, where he hasn't played a big league inning since 2006 with the Houston Astros.

"Just to make sure we have that option," Bochy said.

Huff is willing to transform himself as needed.

"I won't lie to you, I'm not the rangiest guy," he said. "I mean, it's not like I won't dive for a ball. I'll make the routine play and occasionally make the really good play. That's all you can ask for."

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Rays' Burrell eyes big turnaround

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — When Pat Burrell finally had an opportunity to sit down and reflect on one the least productive years of his career, the Tampa Bay Rays slugger concluded he had no one to blame but himself.

Sure, a "slight herniation" of two discs in his neck contributed to a slow start in 2009, but the 33-year-old designated hitter also said he let the problem linger too long before getting the injury checked out.

A less-than-smooth transition from everyday player to DH was a factor, too, in his first American League season. Burrell again claimed responsibility for not making adjustments necessary to be successful.

"You can't spend a whole lot of time thinking about the past," said Burrell, who batted .221 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs in 122 games after averaging .262 with 31 homers and 99 RBIs over the previous four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies.

"You want to put it behind you, but you also want to be able to build from it," he added. "I've had bad seasons before, and it is extra motivation for you to come in and give it that much more focus and determination to turn things around."

The Rays signed Burrell to a $16 million, two-year deal in January 2009 with expectations of adding a potent right-handed bat to the middle of a lineup that lost to Burrell's Phillies in the 2008 World Series.

He missed 29 games from May 11 to June 11 with what was described at the time as a neck strain and continued to struggle after returning to the lineup.

Despite hitting .299 with six homers and 18 RBI's during a 27-game stretch from July 31-Sept. 2, he never really provided the Rays the punch they desired. He fizzled down the stretch, homering twice in his last 38 games.

"I'm sure his pride was injured a bit," manager Joe Maddon said, citing a lack of familiarity with the DH role and AL pitching as factors in Burrell's worst numbers since 2003, when he batted .209 with 21 homers and 64 RBIs in 146 games with Philadelphia.

"I talk to him often, and this guy expects to play at a much higher level. He expects to be part of a winning team and he expects his team to be a winning team," Maddon added. "He's pretty much always been that."

After winning 97 games and winning the AL East 2008, the Rays won 84 and finished third in the division last season.
Burrell reported to spring training, looking fit and eager to rebound.

"I had a lot more time this offseason to get in shape, think about the year and make some adjustments," said Burrell, who also worked with new Rays batting coach Derek Shelton this winter.

"That's no excuse or anything like that, it's just the way it was," he added. "I'm a lot more prepared this year as far as physically, and definitely mentally. It's not a new team any more. There's not all the adjustments that come along with it. I know what I need to do and how to go about it."

Burrell discounted how much being a primary DH for the first time in his career impacted his performance.

"It was an adjustment, but when you get in that batter's box you have a job to do. ... Some of the down time in between (at bats) is an adjustment, but I don't think that was as big of an issue," he said.

Nor does he believe a lack of familiarity with AL pitching caused his struggles.

"It was 100 percent me more than anything else," Burrell said. "There are some tendencies you can learn about pitchers throughout the season, but I've played long enough to know that it's still got to go across the plate."

Maddon is encouraged by what he's seen in camp and likes the chances of Burrell, a .254 career hitter with 265 homers and 891 RBIs, improving on last year's performance.

"He's a young man, and normally the track record of success sustains itself or maintains itself at that particular age," the manager said.

"I think there were a lot of reasons last year wasn't that good, but I believe he's going to bounce back well this year."

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Brewers' Braun meshes businesses with his main job

Phoenix — In just three years as a major-league baseball player, Ryan Braun has become quite prolific.

And he has done amazing things on the field, also.

The Milwaukee Brewers' all-star leftfielder is not satisfied merely to make his mark on a baseball diamond. At 26, he already has become quite the entrepreneur.

You almost expect his baseball card to read "Ryan Braun, Inc."

"I realize baseball has provided me the opportunity to do all of these things," said Braun, a first-round draft pick in 2005 who made an immediate impact in the majors.

"I love being a baseball player. I'm living my dream every day. But at the same time I don't ever want to be defined just by baseball. I have a lot of ambitions to succeed with all of my business ventures and other parts of my life."

No one can accuse Braun of starting small in that regard. His initial foray into the real world was Remetee, a "California Couture" clothing line for men and women.

Beyond wearing the stylish T-shirts himself, Braun showed up last spring with samples for his teammates, turning the Brewers' clubhouse into the baseball version of "Project Runway."

"It's so much easier to promote a product if it's something you actually believe in," said Braun, a Los Angeles resident who definitely thinks L.A.-big.

"With the clothing line, I actually wear the majority of those clothes. I only get involved in things I believe in, companies that I think have the same ambition, same drive that I have. I wouldn't get myself in something and put my name and reputation on the line unless I really believed in it and unless I was involved."

With the help of agent Nez Balelo and his associates at Creative Artists Agency, Braun has expanded his business portfolio. He endorses CytoSport nutritional beverages, including Muscle Milk, a legitimate means for athletes to get an edge.

"We're thinking about developing my own drink," said Braun. "That would be pretty cool."

Always on the lookout for the next successful venture, Braun decided to try his hand at the volatile restaurant business. He actually has two opening days this year, one April 5 at Miller Park and the other around the same time in Lake Geneva with Ryan Braun's Tavern & Grill.

Braun already has plans for other restaurants to follow. He is well aware that today's trendy eatery is tomorrow's boarded-up building but is a big believer in nothing ventured, nothing gained.

"I've always approached everything from an optimistic perspective," he said. "At the same time, I'm realistic about my expectations.

"I think initially people will be interested; there will be some buzz and you'll get people in the door. From there, it all comes down to service and the quality of the food and drinks.

"Our goal is to provide them with a great experience. If you're able to do that, you have staying power."

When he steps to a different kind of dish, Braun uses Sam Bats, made by a maple bat manufacturer in Canada. His likeness can be seen on the home page of the company's Web site with a link to www.getrealbraun.com, a promo for the RB8, the model bat Braun personally designed.

Not satisfied merely to plug his own lumber, Braun hopes to help develop a metal bat that can be used at the high school and college levels. No moss is growing under this guy's feet.

"Early in my career, I've had an opportunity to get involved in some pretty cool things. I always say that I took my education seriously," said Braun, who majored in business management at the University of Miami, with a minor in sports management.

"I feel like I've always been preparing myself for this opportunity. Baseball has provided me an opportunity to get involved in some pretty cool things. I'm in a position where I can pick and choose what I want to get involved in."

But what about Braun's night (and sometimes day) job? Isn't it a dangerous balancing act to try to maintain an all-star level of play while also going all Donald Trump off the field?

"It can become busy at times, but baseball is always my No. 1 priority," said Braun, who led the National League with 203 hits last season. "I take a tremendous amount of pride in being a baseball player. I'm honestly living my dream every day.

"But at the same time I have a lot of other goals, a lot of other ambitions. I'm not married; I don't have any kids. I know at some point I will. It really is a small window. Just like with your career, you have a small window to be relevant as a baseball player.

"I hope to play for 15, 20 years, who knows. But it's definitely a small window to get involved with some of these things. I've always felt that the earlier I was able to get involved, the better chance I have to see some of these things succeed and really grow to the level I want."

Braun developed an early eye for business as a ballplayer, also. After his rookie of the year season with the Brewers in 2007, he signed a landmark eight-year, $45 million deal.

Some folks thought Braun sold himself short, and it might turn out that way, considering his accomplishments thus far. But, realizing he wouldn't be arbitration eligible until after the 2010 season after a late start to his rookie year, Braun cashed in with an agreement that pays $1 million this season before bumping to $4 million, $6 million, $8.5 million, $10 million and $12 million in succeeding years.

Despite that financial nest egg, Braun has avoided sinking gobs of his own money into projects, another sign of an astute businessman.

"I'm not necessarily invested in all of these projects," he said. "Some of them I am; others I'm not. (The contract) was more about my financial security."

The Brewers certainly consider it a wise investment on their part. In less than three full seasons, Braun has compiled a .308 batting average, 104 doubles, 19 triples, 103 home runs and 317 runs batted in, while combining with Prince Fielder to form one of the most feared slugging duos in the majors.

Never one to lack for confidence - in life, business or baseball - the answer came quickly when Braun was asked if even he has been surprised by the level of his early success.

"No," he said.

Then, with a broad grin, Braun added, "Honestly, I haven't been. I mean, maybe, a little bit. I've always believed in myself. At this point, maybe I've gotten there a little sooner than I anticipated, but I've always had lofty expectations.

"I've always prepared myself to have success. I feel like as long as you're prepared, there's no reason not to be confident. I've always believed in myself and expected myself not to just succeed but to excel.

"If you don't believe in yourself, there's no reason for anybody else to believe in you. That's my outlook on life. I focus on my positive attributes as a person and baseball player. It's something I'm proud of."

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