Photo of the Week - Sebastian The Ibis Getting Tackled by Miami Dolphins

In the Dolphins vs Falcons preseason on August 27, 2101 the halftime show featured a Mascots vs Dolphins Pee Wee Football team game. Here’s Sebastian the Ibis trying to pick up a first down while dragging three Dolphins.

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Bernie Kosar Hits a Bike Cop

Bernie Kosar is a legendary figure in Cleveland sports history..He epitomizes the losing and frustration that has taken in place in Cleveland for all these years..He’s also a native Ohioan so he’s lived through all the suffering..Even though his football career has ended, he’s still hitting back..This time he hits a bike cop..with his car…OOOPS.. Bernie received a ticket for an illegal U-turn in Cleveland and also drew a ticket for failure to control.

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

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Darnell Jenkins Takes a Screen Pass To The House

In the Patriots final pre-season game Darnell Jenkins, with 4:55 left in the fourth quarter took a screen pass for a touchdown. Jenkins is money in the bank when it comes to fourth-quarter screen plays. He outdid his effort in the opener against the Saints with a 66-yard touchdown against the Giants. Jenkins made a quick move and burst right through New York's second level. Jenkins Finished the game with 5 receptions for 93 yards and one touchdown.

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Sam Shields locked in as top nickel back

Rookie free agent Sam Shields took every snap as the No. 1 nickel back during three days of practice this week. If he performs well Thursday night against the Chiefs, he figures to be there Sept. 12 against the Eagles.

"One day he's going to be a very, very good player," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "He's not there yet. He needs to be a good player come the Philly game. He is a great kid."

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Leon Williams Fighting For A Spot

LB Leon Williams - Can he win the nickel/dime linebacker job tonight? Hard to say. He's been up and down in the games and even from series to series but I think he's more reliable than Jason Williams. It will be a fight for him to make the 53 because he has not been a big part of special teams.

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Spencer Adkins Starts

Linebacker Spencer Adkins, who started the Atlanta Falcons’ final pre-season game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, left the game with 7:05 remaining in the third quarter with leg cramps. Adkins finished the game with three solo tackles.

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Time for some more Greg Olsen trade rumors

Greg Olsen isn't one of the best 15 tight ends in football, but he makes good copy.

Now that the cycle of "Hey, Mike Martz really does love tight ends" summer fluff is over, we can now return to the usual Olsen fare: trade rumors.

Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times -- who calls Martz's love of Olsen "tireless propaganda" -- has a league source that says there is "still talk" that Olsen is available in a trade.

The only problem is that the Bears apparently would still want a second- or third-round pick for him, which is hard to imagine happening at this time.  The Patriots may have been interested back in April, but they have two rookies they like now.

We'd guess that Olsen stays put in Chicago, but doesn't wind up as a big part of the offense.  Mike Martz is going to use Brandon Manumaleuna for his blocking skills, and he's not going to use two tight end sets.

That all probably means we will write more about Olsen trade rumors during the season.

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

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Rex Ryan says Ed Reed will play vs. Jets

The Ravens will make a decision on the status of Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed (hip) Saturday, coach John Harbaugh recently said. The Ravens will either place Reed on the reserve physically-unable -to-perform list, meaning he will miss at least the first six games of the season, or they’ll activate him to the 53-man roster.

When the Ravens play the New York Jets in the season opener, Jets head coach Rex Ryan said he expects Reed to play.

“Somebody asked me about Ed Reed saying, ‘You know Ed Reed hasn’t practiced,’” Ryan said.

“I said, guys, Ed Reed will play this game. Now he might not play the second game, third game or fourth game, whatever, but Ed Reed is going to play this game. I think part of that is a respect thing. He knows how disappointed I would be if he didn’t play. I want to win the game, but I want to play against Ed. I want them at their best and I know they will be.”

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

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Sinorice Moss likely done with Giants

The Giants trimmed their roster to 75 players yesterday, and placed wide receiver Sinorice Moss along with backup quarterback Jim Sorgi and rookie linebacker Adrian Tracy on the season-ending injured reserve.

They also cut Brooklyn-bred wideout Nyan Boateng, a former Lincoln High School teammate of Sebastian Telfair, and put offensive lineman Kevin Boothe on the physically unable to perform list.

Moss had surgery yesterday, performed by Dr. William Meyers at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, to repair a sports hernia. With his contract up after this season, it likely brings Moss' disappointing Giants career to a close. He had 39 catches for 421 yards and three touchdowns in four seasons.

"He needed [surgery]," coach Tom Coughlin said. "All I know is that the surgery and the rehab and those types of things and when would the athlete be able to return to full speed action and that type of thing -- it's very, very difficult to operate like that."

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

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Rookie Yonder Alonso eager to watch Votto

Yonder Alonso arrived in the major leagues Wednesday with a big smile and an even bigger grip on reality.

Alonso, the Reds' first-round draft choice in 2008, was thrilled to see his name and number (Alonso 23) in his very own big-league clubhouse stall.

Yet, Alonso knows better than anyone that his path at first base is blocked by National League MVP candidate Joey Votto.

"Joey's the best player there is here, and I think he's the best player in the league," Alonso said. "Whatever he needs me to do, I'll be here for him. I'm just going to learn as much as possible from him. I'll be his shadow."

For some teams the arrival of an Alonso - the No. 7 overall pick in his draft - might have meant a media frenzy. But, with the Reds rolling and another rookie phenom (Aroldis Chapman) having arrived the night before, Alonso's first day in the bigs was relatively quiet.

The 23-year-old was born in Cuba but speaks fluent English, having moved to the United States when he was 10 years old. Alonso said his mother, father, sister and uncle came to Great American Ball Park Wednesday.

"I don't even know how to do the ticket things yet," Alonso said. "I've got to go figure that out."

What Alonso knows is hitting. The left-hander hits for power but most notably for average: an even .300 in the minors in 2009.

This year, Alonso hit a combined .290 at Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville, with 15 homers and 69 RBI overall (507 at-bats).

He made his major league debut in the seventh inning, as a pinch hitter. He grounded out on a check-swing roller to the pitcher.

Alonso entered this year rated the Reds' No. 2 prospect by Baseball America, with third baseman Todd Frazier rated No. 1.

Alonso played some left field in the minors this year, although questions remain about his speed in the outfield.

"Basically, he's here to hit," manager Dusty Baker said.

Pinch hitting will be what Alonso does most, for now. Baker might use him at first should Votto need a day off.

"I heard he gives you a good at-bat, has a good idea of the strike zone," Baker said. "The thing about him, he's not overwhelmed. He's confident."
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Alonso was picked after his junior season at the University of Miami.

With Votto entrenched at first, some believe Alonso could bring the Reds some help via trade. Alonso was mentioned in a possible deal for pitching ace Cliff Lee.

Regardless, Alonso does not dwell on his future with Votto apparently blocking his path to a regular spot with the Reds.

"I really haven't thought about that at all," Alonso said. "It's not for me to really decide what I'm going to do. I'm just blessed to be here."

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Danny Valencia is pretty good at baseball

Danny Valencia collected the game-winning hit Wednesday night to give the Twins an exciting 2-1 walk-off victory in the tenth inning. He was then served a delicious whipped cream pie (rather than a shaving cream stinger) in his adorable rookie face courtesy of Jon Rauch during his post-game interview. The kid is on an absolute tear right now, especially at home, where he's batting .432. Just ridiculous.

Wednesday night was quite a treat if you're into pitcher's duels. Max Scherzer was outstanding over nine innings for the Detroit Tigers, retiring 12 of his first 13 batters until the Twins finally put one on the board in the fifth. Francisco Liriano pitched very well, getting himself out of trouble time and again to compile seven shutout innings after 104 pitches. Not bad, Frankkkkkkkie. He's been a joy to watch this season and has more or less lived up to my Spring expectations.

Jim Thome has delayed the gift of sweet, sweet muffins by being scratched from the lineup once again due to tightness in his back. Not sure what the deal is there, but I hear a guy's backside can get awfully sore once he hits 40. At any rate, I suggest you guys come up with some more dates for Jim Jam's tater tot, since many of them have already passed.

Speaking of soreness, Justin Morneau has been given some recent medical advice: stay home and rest. Really? With the advances in medical science these days, rest is still the best medicine? Or was that laughter... either way, it's crappy that our Canadian Crusher can't seem to shake these post-concussion symptoms. However, it seems the Twins are doing alright without him.  If it ain't broke don't fix it, right?

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Scott Maine realizes big league dream

CHICAGO -- There's a scar that goes from ear to ear across the top of Cubs reliever Scott Maine's head.

"I almost died twice," the rookie lefty says, rather matter of factly.

It was five years ago on Aug. 9. Maine was driving home from a dental appointment on the Florida Turnpike and lost control of his 2003 Toyota Tacoma. He struck another car, then swerved. His truck zipped down an embankment, hit several trees and finally stopped.

Maine wasn't wearing a seat belt and his head smacked the windshield. He suffered head trauma, and was hospitalized 22 days. Part of the surgery needed involved the insertion of seven titanium rivets to repair his fractured skull. He never drove that truck again. It was crumpled like a smashed tin can.

"It's not really a big deal to me," Maine said Wednesday in the Cubs clubhouse, his big league career just eight days old. "It's not like, 'Oh my God, I almost died.' I'm still here, walking and talking. Until my heart stops beating, I guess then I'll worry about it."

At the time of the accident, the left-hander was pitching for the University of Miami. He'd experienced some trauma before. As a freshman with the Hurricanes in 2004, he tore a ligament in his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. But that wasn't life threatening.

"When I was in the hospital [after the car accident], doctors didn't think I was going to be able to walk or talk again, it was that bad," Maine said. "The time I was there, I was like, 'OK, I'm going to be pitching this year for Miami,' and I ended up pitching that year for Miami.

"It's just the way my mind has always been," he said. "When someone tells me I can't do something, I'm going to prove them wrong. That's the way I've been my whole life."

He did pitch for the Hurricanes briefly in 2005, wearing a protective plastic mask that covered his face and protruded over his forehead. In '06, he went 12-3 with a 4.57 ERA, picking up Miami's only win in the 2006 College World Series.

"I'm not missing any limbs," Maine said. "My head is still there. Some of my brain is still there."

Some of it?

"They didn't remove anything," he said, "but when your brain gets traumatized like that, you lose brain cells and stuff like that, so that's what I basically lost."

Maine was rated among the top 10 baseball prospects in the country when he played for William T. Dwyer High in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. In June 2006, he was selected in the 23rd round by the Rockies but did not sign. The next year, he was chosen in the sixth round by the D-backs and turned pro. Arizona converted him to a reliever in the Minors and it's worked so far.

The Cubs acquired him in November 2009 from the D-backs for Aaron Heilman. At that point, the lefty was 4-5 with seven saves and a 2.90 ERA in 48 relief appearances between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno in 2009. Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken had watched Maine at Miami and endorsed the move.

Maine began this year at Triple-A Iowa, shuttled back to Double-A Tennessee for 13 games and then moved back up before his callup. In 33 games with the Triple-A team, he posted a 3.51 ERA and picked up five saves, striking out 47 in 41 innings. At Tennessee, he fanned 15 in 17 1/3 innings and compiled a 2.08 ERA.

Does Maine, lucky to be 25, appreciate life more now?

"There's two extremes -- you can be overappreciative or you can be scared about stuff, like not getting into a car again," Maine said. "I'm basically the same since before the accident. I'm smarter about things, but I'm basically the same.

"Yeah, something really bad happened to me but it's not going to change who I am," he said. "It's going to make me realize things I probably didn't realize before. But it doesn't change who I am."

He made his Major League debut in the seventh inning Aug. 27 in Cincinnati, striking out Johnny Cueto, then serving up a home run to Jay Bruce, which gave the Reds a 6-1 lead over the Cubs. Maine got the next batter to ground out, walked Joey Votto, then induced Scott Rolen to ground out.
In his last two appearances, both at Wrigley Field, he's given up two hits, walked one and struck out two over 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

Maine is somewhat nonchalant about not wearing a seat belt when the car accident happened.

"The way I thought about things, my seat belt comes across my shoulder and I never wear a seat belt," he said. "That's why I had the head injury because my head hit the windshield. If I had the seat belt on, who knows? Maybe I would've broken my shoulder."

He wears one now.

The doctors who told Maine that he'd never walk or talk again can cheer for the lefty who beat the odds and is pitching in the big leagues. But he's not done yet.

"I'm sure you've always had dreams and hopes and when you got to them, you're happy and excited for yourself and maybe you want to do more to get to another level," Maine said. "That's like me -- I don't want to be done right where I'm at now. I want to stay here and do better things.

"I'm not saying it will happen," he said, "but in 15, 20 years, if I'm still in the big leagues, then I'll pinch myself and say, 'Did that really happen?'"

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Javarris James Will Get Lots Of Carries in Next Colts Game

The Colts also will try to figure out which new running backs to keep. Caldwell has been pleased with Aaron Moore and Javarris James and says both will get significant action against Cincinnati.

Moore has 52 yards on 10 carries, while James, cousin of former Colts star running back Edgerrin James, has 53 yards on 15 carries.

Caldwell isn't sure how many backs he'll keep behind Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Mike Hart.

"A lot of that depends on what happens the next couple of days or so," he said. "Those guys (Moore and James) have certainly shown some spurts. They maybe have not been given the opportunity to get an extended amount of work, but they certainly will tomorrow night. That will be a part of the evaluation process. Both of them are very capable."

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Willis McGahee now 'cemented' as a Raven?

CSN Baltimore's John Eisenberg suggests that Tuesday's trade for CB Josh Wilson "probably cements" Willis McGahee staying with the Ravens in 2010.

GM Ozzie Newsome was able to solidify his team's biggest weakness without parting with a valuable role player. McGahee's salary has been a deterrent to a trade all along, and the Ravens have been hesitant to leave their backfield too thin behind Ray Rice.

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

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Jimmy Graham (ankle) will play in the Saints' preseason

Rookie TE Jimmy Graham (ankle) will play in the Saints' preseason finale. The third-round pick showed he's fully recovered from a high ankle sprain by hauling in a deep touchdown from Patrick Ramsey at Tuesday's practice.

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Outlook good for Jonathan Vilma

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said Monday the outlook is largely positive for linebacker Jonathan Vilma and safety Pierson Prioleau, two players who left the field hurt against the San Diego Chargers last week and did not return.

Vilma, who Tweeted after the game that he would be fine and a definite go when the Saints begin the regular season Sept. 9 against the Vikings, will get a second opinion on a groin injury, Loomis told the New Orleans Touchdown Club at its first 2010 luncheon at the Embassy Suites in the Warehouse District.

"We don't think it's serious," Loomis added. "All indications are he's going to be ready to go in the opening game."

Vilma, the starting middle linebacker and an acknowledged defensive leader for the Super Bowl champs, isn't fighting for a roster spot.

Click here to order Jon Vilma’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Phillip Buchanon to return punts for Redskins?

Phillip Buchanon is expected to be the Redskins' primary punt returner this season, according Gary Fitzgerald of

Undrafted rookie Brandon Banks is easily the team's most explosive return candidate, but he doesn't have a role on offense. If the 'Skins opt to keep Roydell Williams or Bobby Wade as a fifth receiver, Buchanon will handle punts while Banks gets the roster squeeze.

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

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A.J. Trump now coaching at East Lake

Five years ago, A.J. Trump was one of the most dominant offensive linemen at Clearwater Central Catholic. Now, Trump is back in the county coaching linemen at East Lake.

Trump, a 2005 CCC graduate, started at Miami. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Steelers but was released in April before the start of training camp.

Trump decided to coach with the Eagles, due in large part to family ties. His younger brother, Nick, is senior lineman.

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Vinny Testaverde, a cheerleader, a sweatshirt and some laughs

Happened to catch a replay of the 1986 Fiesta Bowl Friday night on Comcast.

The game was filled with story lines that are still talked about today.

My favorite one is known by only a hand full of my former Penn State manager friends. But it's a good one, and I thought  I would share it with you today.

The year before we played Miami in Arizona, we played Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the national title. We happened to practice at Miami's practice facilities while and South Florida. One of our fellow managers on a night out happened to bump into a Miami cheerleader who had not gone to the Hurricanes' bowl game for one reason or another, and they struck up a friendship.

After we returned to State College, the manager and cheerleader kept in touch -- however one managed to do that before email, text messages and Facebook.

At one point she asked him to send her an extra large Penn State hooded sweatshirt, which he claims he did.

We were all quite surprised when in December of that year the Centre Daily Times ran a picture of Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde arriving in New York with the cheerleader and wearing the hooded Penn State sweatshirt.

Of course, we all had to take his word for it that it was the cheerleader in the photo and that was the sweatshirt.

Click here to order Vinny Testaverde’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Professionalism paying off for Sam Shields

GREEN BAY - It is his speed that got him on an NFL roster.

"My speed, I take advantage of that," said Sam Shields.

While Shields doesn't need to be taught speed, even if it could be taught, he is learning a relatively new position at cornerback.

"When he realizes what he's actually doing out there, because he doesn't quite know yet, but when he realizes it, he's going to be a good player in this league," said Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.

After spending three seasons at wide receiver at the University of Miami, Shields shifted to cornerback his senior year.

"He has ability. I think he's made progress," said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. "He's going to have to continue to gain experience on the run."

"Defense is kind of hard. I was struggling at first, but I kept working my butt off and getting some of the veterans to help me out on some of the plays," said Shields.

In three preseason games, Shields has two interceptions. His pick frenzy began during the Family Night scrimmage. To him, it's just his job.
"I didn't know that the kids was as professional as he is and as serious as he is. That's what has helped him with this rise. A lot of guys come in as rookies and they're very immature. He's a grown man," said Whitt Jr.

"It's your job. You got family to feed and that's my man focus right now to help feed my family," said Shields. "Every time I get out on the field, I just try to give it 110 percent."

Surprisingly Shields doesn't feel pressure to provide. He believes in his ability and his speed.

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Vince Wilfork wins Burton Community Service Award

The Patriots are holding their annual Kickoff Gala tonight, and Vince Wilfork is this year's recipient of the Ron Burton Community Service Award.

Not only does the nose tackle actively participate in team events throughout the year, Wilfork's foundation also holds an annual draft-day fundraiser for diabetes research in honor of his father, who died from complications of the disease in 2002. His mother died just months later.

Wilfork's acceptance speech was emotional, as he choked back tears discussing his parents. He thanked his Patriots teammates for their support of his draft-day event, saying "It wouldn't be possible without you guys."

His teammates "are my second family. My kids, my wife, the New England Patriots -- that's all I have."

Wilfork carries on a proud tradition among the team's linemen: of the eight winners, five are men from the trenches.

Previous winners of the Ron Burton Award: Joe Andruzzi (2003), Troy Brown (2004), Matt Light (2005), Jarvis Green (2006), Ty Warren (2007), Larry Izzo (2008), and Kevin Faulk (2009).

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

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Randy Phillips not aware of problems at Miami

A former University of Miami (Fla.) booster is ready to spill dirt on the Hurricanes football program, and Lions safety Randy Phillips could be named in his tell-all book.

The Miami Herald reported Sunday that Nevin Shapiro, currently under indictment for his role in a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $80 million, is planning to detail NCAA violations at Miami in a book that could be published as soon as December. Shapiro has said he was close with Phillips and several others, the Herald reported.

Phillips shook his head Monday when asked if he knew Shapiro.

"I have no idea what y'all talking about," he said repeatedly.

Is he aware of the allegations?

"I don't even know what is going on down there," Phillips said. "I'm so focused on this. I haven't even talked to anybody, to tell you the truth."
An undrafted rookie who signed with the Lions earlier this month, Phillips likely will make his fourth start of the preseason Thursday against Buffalo.

He forced a fumble Saturday against the Browns that Chris Houston returned for a touchdown, but wasn't happy with his play otherwise.

"I did feel I took a step back," Phillips said. "Forced a touchdown, but still took a step back in my play. Just was kind of slow, played a little bit slow, that's it. No mental errors or anything like that, just a little but slow."

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Healthy Gore brings big possibilities

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Frank Gore took one step, and before he took the second, a hole opened wide in front of him. Through high powered binoculars you just about could see his facial expression change from poker player to utter shock as a lane parted big enough to accommodate a large armored vehicle.

Since Gore is built like one, he obliged. Gore is listed at 217 pounds but he's more Ford than Lamborghini. Still, he can run and did on this play against Oakland for 49 yards. A few of the Raiders defenders bounced off Gore like he was covered in something slick, but that's Gore. He lowers those shoulders and makes the best tackler look impotent.

Gore was pushed out of bounds, and once back in the huddle, he started to dance. It was some sort of James Brown type deal or maybe Eddie Murphy imitating James Brown. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle ... on the toes ... skip, skip, skip. Since Gore previously had missed all of preseason (that was his first carry) he seemed ecstatic just to be on the field.

"I felt like a kid out there," he said.

A big kid. A very big kid.

"I don't know how many yards I'll rush for (this season)," Gore said. "I'm not thinking that way. I just wouldn't sleep on this team. We might surprise some people."

Or to put it better, Gore might surprise some people.

Tennessee's Chris Johnson has received all of the 2,000-yard plus attention particularly after Johnson recently noted he wants to rush for 2,500 yards this year. (There is a better chance Paris Hilton becomes president.)

Gore has skipped stealthily under the running back radar but some in football believe it is Gore -- not Johnson or others -- who will end up as the best statistical monster at his position this season.

Gore has an injury history -- at times he's been more Gore Vidal than Gore the Bull -- so the 49ers, painfully aware of this, have protected him this preseason as Gore has barely played. The team's philosophy of hibernating Gore was justified with that beautiful run. He's being saved for what the team hopes will be a huge year, and they're probably right.

What helps Gore is the scenery around him has changed in the past few years. Quarterback Alex Smith still is borderline competent but the 49ers offense finally has at least a semblance of weapons for Gore and Smith to work with. The muscular tight end, Vernon Davis, is top five at his position and Michael Crabtree has a chance to be a solid player. The offensive line also is much more solidified.

If the 49ers do find that their offensive options have expanded, teams will find it more difficult to focus the abundance of artillery on Gore, making it easier for Gore to do his running thing.

Gore's potential is frightening. In 2008 he became the first runner in 49ers history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in three straight seasons, and this is a franchise that had Roger Craig. Gore holds the 49ers' season mark (1,695 yards in 2006).

The only thing that's hindered Gore is injury -- and assortment of broken bones, ankle tweaks and other ailments which have slowed him over the years and kept him from reaching the Johnson or Adrian Peterson level.

This year might be different.

"Let's hope you're right," Gore said, smiling.

"Injuries happen to running backs," he added, "but I feel as healthy as ever. I'm ready to go."

It was only against Oakland but if his brief but brilliant night against them was any indication, the Raiders won't be the only team Gore bashes.

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

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Olsen's role as WR is growing

All those who doubted that tight end Greg Olsen would have a role in the Mike Martz offense were right. He doesn’t have one.

He has about four. And that count might be low.

Olsen, the Bears’ leader in catches and touchdowns since arriving in 2007, is indeed playing tight end. He is playing in the backfield. He is in motion. He’s set in a two-tight end package.

And he’s a wide receiver. Not just a pass-catching tight end. A wide receiver. And not just an inside guy either.

“The tight ends in this offense move around a lot. You play the ‘Y’, play in the backfield, move out and play the different receiver positions. So you’ve got dial into all the different stuff that goes on,” said Olsen, laughing at the brouhaha over whether he was a fit for Martz.

Says tight ends coach Mike DeBord: “That’s an advantage for us because people don’t know where he’ll be.”

Learning curve
Tight ends coach Mike DeBord has been tasked with orienting not only Olsen but also Desmond Clark and others in the tight end corps the myriad duties of a position that was viewed as an afterthought in past Martz scheme and now is anything but. The quantity of positions and accompanying assignments makes it difficult but also interesting.

“It’s a lot and only a guy with Greg’s intelligence and football knowledge would be able to do that,” DeBord said. “So it’s a credit to him mentally and physically to be able to go out and do that.”

During practices he gets his work in with his position group during “individuals.” Then he will on occasion head down to the wide receivers’ section of the field and work with receivers coach Darryl Drake.

“I tell him to go to Darryl and get the specifics,” DeBord said. “And there’s things in this offense that he has to go to coach Martz about. I feel good about that, want him to have all the knowledge he can get.”

Role models
With the Kansas City Chiefs and now Atlanta Falcons, Tony Gonzalez was among the league leaders in receptions. So too is Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers.

That is how the role of Olsen, who led the Bears with 60 catches and eight receiving touchdowns season, is emerging in the Martz scheme.

“He’s big, fast, powerful. It’s a different guy coming at you from a defensive standpoint, big, can run and has really good body control,” Drake said. “I think it can cause some matchups for us. As a receiver, it’s just a different deal. People did things with Gonzalez and San Diego does a lot with someone like Gates, do different things with him and that’s kind of what we want to do.”

It is one thing for a wide receiver to be assigned to learn more than one position. It is another for a tight end, already with widely varying duties in his own area, to then take on an entirely different positions.

The Bears have always demanded that their wide receivers be able to block. Olsen has worked on his blocking out of the tight end spot, including in-line work off the line of scrimmage, lead blocking from a fullback spot and delivering blocks off motion.

But blocking smaller people like defensive backs in open space is something quite different, as is running routes on the far edges.

“You have to slow down a little bit, take it a little bit at a time,” Olsen said. “It’s two different mentalities, blocking and playing receiver, especially in this offense. With everything being timing, you have to really concentrate on hitting your depths, don’t get ahead of yourself.

“So you have to flip your cap around when you’re doing the different things but that’s what makes it fun and I know we’re all enjoying the different things we’re doing.”

How that affects the Bears’ final 53-man roster remains to be seen, whether the Bears decide that with a pass-intensive offense they can afford to carry only five receivers (Devins Aromashodu/Hester, Johnny Knox, Rashied Davis and …?) or whether six is essential.

Earl Bennett has missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury and Juaquin Iglesias, while catching a TD pass from Dan LeFevour Saturday night, has not made a decisive roster statement.

Olsen isn’t involved in any of those decisions directly but he factors in indirectly. Olsen’s flexibility as a receiver, along with Clark’s versatility at multiple roles, give the Bears roster options if they need them.

“It was challenging in the beginning,” Olsen said, “but the more reps you get, the more you pay attention and as good a job as they do explaining everything, you pick up on it.”

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

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Roscoe Parrish is glad the Bills didn't get rid of him

Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550)  -- Roscoe Parrish told me numerous times last season that it's not that he wanted to leave Buffalo, he just wanted to play whether it was here or someplace else. Dick Jauron was so down on Parrish he took his punt return duties away after Parrish led the NFL the season before. He was also inactive for four games.

Now Parrish is not absolved from blame either. He reacted poorly to all this and just moped around and didn't pay much attention to anything. This season it's a whole new football player out there. Parrish said, "That's the key to success, is be accountable for your job. Chan Gailey always stresses that after practice and as you see and take it upon yourself and you see what you need to do, everything just feel good and you can just go out there and play without having to think so much. "In this profession you can't ever feel down on yourself and last year was a tough year on me and I just had to handle myself like a professional, have a good attitude and you never know what tomorrow will bring. It's a blessing that a new coaching staff came in and I'm still here and they gone." 

Ever since Chan Gailey arrived he put Parrish in the slot as the number three WR and has left him there. Last week Gailey said he's excited about designing plays and situations that will make Parrish valuable. We got our first look at that against Cincinnati when Parrish got matched up with a LB and turned it into a 12 yard touchdown. Parrish is very happy Gailey is talking him up, "It's always nice hearing that from a coach, especially the head coach. I've heard that a lot before, but that's in the past. Right now is right now and I just have to control my own destiny. What I took upon myself this year is just work hard and don't take nothin for granted because how you prepare, is what you sow. Chan Gailey is a guy you believe in, what ever kind of work you put in, that's the way you're going to play."

Another thing happened in camp that was foreign to the WR, "In camp we communicated, that's something since I've been year for six years that I haven't seen. Everybody was communicating and you could just see the chemistry of the whole team."

Click here to order Roscoe Parrish’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Treasure the twilight of Ray Lewis' career

There are few certainties in today’s ever-changing NFL landscape. Baltimore is blessed with one of them: Ray Lewis — a modern-day gladiator, but in shoulder pads and a jock strap — charging out onto the field on Sunday afternoons.

The sight of Lewis gyrating to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” always evokes excitement — even if you’re not a Ravens fan. Cheering isn’t allowed in the press box. Thankfully, there is no way to regulate goosebumps.

But at 35 and in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, the aging icon won’t be able to outsmart, out-hustle and out-muscle Father Time for much longer. The days of Lewis leading the Ravens out of the tunnel and into battle will soon be over — maybe even at the end of this season if labor squabbles lead to a lengthy NFL lockout in 2011.

I know it’s Super Bowl or bust again for the Ravens in 2010 — and his presence is a major reason why — but make sure you treasure the fading Lewis era before it becomes just fond memories, newspaper ink and videotape.

In Baltimore, he’s still Ray and he can still play, so some fans are in denial, unwilling to think about life after Lewis.

His thumping heartbeat still sets the tempo for the Ravens. His helmet-rattling hits still send prima-donna wide receivers stumbling into the locker room to update their Twitter feeds. And his legendary instincts still lead him to his prey — even if his diminishing speed gets him there a half second later.

“It’s just a one-on-one battle, man, and the love for me will never stop,” Lewis said Tuesday. When it does, he’ll walk away, “but until then I love it too much.”

And because of his passion and intensity, football has loved him back. Lewis has twice been named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He’s been invited to 11 Pro Bowls. And he was the Super Bowl MVP in 2001.

“Nobody in the history of the league at his position has done what he’s done. It’s incredible. It’s not even close,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh marveled two weeks ago. “Some of those guys played nine, 10, 11, 12 years at the most. Here he is in his 15th season.”

Lewis’ critics respectfully say that he has lost a step or two in recent years. “God’s Linebacker,” as he was dubbed by Sports Illustrated, acknowledges that he is indeed mortal. “We’re not machines. We’re humans,” Lewis said Tuesday when voicing his reservations about an 18-game season.

Still, Lewis bristles at the suggestion that he is showing his age. “Like Day 1, that’s how I feel in the 15th year,” he said recently. His 134 tackles last season were his highest total since 2004, and Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco is still tweeting about the lick Lewis put on him last October.

Lewis, who is in the second year of the three-year deal he signed last offseason, says he isn’t getting sentimental as his career winds down. “Honestly, I just truly believe that if you’re thinking about that then you miss the love for the game,” Lewis said on the first full day of training camp. “The integrity of the game is built by coming to help your team win a championship.”

But minutes later, he contradicted himself when asked whether the hunger to win another title changes over time.

“I think the hunger of winning it with certain people does,” he said. “The chemistry that I’ve built with a Ray Rice or Michael Oher and Joe [Flacco], to win one with them would be a very special thing. And [someday] they’ll be talking about the same thing, ‘When Ray was special, you know.’ It always comes back around.”

Lewis will always be special. But as his career starts to wind down, make sure you don’t take it for granted.

Click here to order Ray Lewis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Camp Q&A: Shawnbrey McNeal

After transferring from Miami, Shawnbrey McNeal made the most of his one season at SMU. He carried 236 times for 1,188 yards (5.0 ypc) and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 31 passes for 283 yards and two more scores.

While his impressive statistics put him on the radar of NFL teams, his time spent with Coach June Jones prepared him to succeed once in the Big Leagues.

"Coach Jones coached in the league," said McNeal, referring to Jones' time as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons (1994-1996) and Chargers (1998). "He brought that pro style into our practice. He forced the issue of trying to have as few mistakes as possible."

Jones gave McNeal the knowledge he needed to succeed in the NFL. Now, the Chargers are giving him the opportunity.

"I felt like it was the best opportunity for me," he told "San Diego's offense fits my style of play and utilizes what I bring to the game of football. There are a lot of people saying little guys can't really be effective in any offense, then Chris Johnson and a lot of smaller backs showed that people built like us can be just as good."

There was another reason for McNeal's decision to choose San Diego: the support he felt from the team's coaches.

"Norv Turner and [RBs coach] Ollie Wilson both had the same mindset about talking about what I bring to the table," McNeal said. "It wasn't just a about a football player with them. It was more of an individual thing. When you see Coach Turner and Coach Wilson off the field, they ask you, 'How are you doing?' or, 'Is everything OK?' They don't just talk football, football, football."

McNeal appreciated the questions from San Diego's coaches. Now that he is officially a member of the Chargers, he has plenty of questions of his own. With those, he goes to the veterans in San Diego's backfield.

"Darren Sproles helps you a lot on the field. As a whole offense, you can see who's been through a lot and who can accept a lot of adversity, guys like Mike Tolbert. As a group, everyone kind of looks after one another."

McNeal appreciates every tip he gets from the veterans. He hasn't had any family, friends or former teammates go to the NFL before him, so he enters this experience mostly blind.

He has already learned the biggest difference between college and the pros: "The mindset and the attitude about approaching every snap and every scenario."

Another big difference is the level of talent around him. In San Diego, he gets to work with one of the NFL's premier talents in Philip Rivers.

"[Rivers] is very poised," he said. "He has a lot of patience and a lot of enthusiasm to get better with each snap. He doesn't dwell on the last snap, because you can't take that back. You can only get better as the game goes on or as practice goes on. Philip shows you a lot about how to be a professional athlete."

One of the keys to Rivers' success is his constant improvement. It's something McNeal plans to emulate throughout his career.

As a rookie fighting for a roster spot, he knows there is still much work to be done.

"I have to improve on blocking," he said. "I also have to take whatever the situation is, whether it's positive or negative, and keep it positive."

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Padres designated RHP Cesar Carillo for assignment

Padres designated RHP Cesar Carillo for assignment. Carillo posted a 5.60 ERA in 27 starts for Triple-A Portland this season The 26-year-old is likely to wind up back in the Padres' system.

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Danny Valencia rips walk-off to lift Twins in 10th

MINNEAPOLIS -- It took the Twins until the 10th inning before they had a chance to face the Tigers' bullpen. But when they did get the chance, they were able to capitalize.

Michael Cuddyer singled off Ryan Perry to start the 10th and stole second base before scoring the winning run on Danny Valencia's walk-off single, giving the Twins a 2-1 victory over the Tigers at Target Field on Wednesday night.

The victory kept the Twins' lead in the American League Central at four games over the White Sox, who won earlier in the day to complete a three-game sweep over the Indians.

The contest began as a pitchers' duel, with Francisco Liriano and Max Scherzer exchanging zeroes for the first four innings before the Twins finally made a strike against Scherzer in the fifth.

The Tigers' right-hander retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced and struck out six of them, including striking out the side in the third.

Liriano wasn't nearly as efficient in getting through the early innings of his outing, putting at least one runner on in each of his first five innings, but he managed to work his way out of trouble to keep the game scoreless until the fifth.

Scherzer blinked first. Delmon Young doubled down the right-field line to lead off the fifth inning, giving the Twins their first hit of the night. Danny Valencia followed Young's hit with a single to left field to put runners on the corners with no outs.

Jose Morales, who got the start at DH in place of Jim Thome after he was scratched with tightness in his back, followed by lacing a ball to deep center field that looked like it would fall in for another hit. But speedy Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson made a tremendous catch just before the warning track and turned it into a sac fly/double play. Young scored from third and Valencia, who was well on his way around the bases, was thrown out at first base.

Liriano threw 104 pitches in seven innings, striking outs seven and scattering five hits while walking one.

But the Twins saw their one-run lead vanish in the eighth. Jesse Crain gave up a leadoff hit to Jackson. With one out, left-hander Randy Flores struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Raburn. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire turned to right-hander Matt Guerrier to face Miguel Cabrera, who walked on six pitches. Jhonny Peralta followed with an RBI single to left field, charging Crain with the run. It was only the second earned run that Crain allowed over his past 32 innings.

Scherzer wound up pitching nine innings for the first time in his career. He escaped trouble in the ninth and gave up one run on four hits, striking out nine on 106 pitches.

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Check out WQAM's interviews with proCanes This Week

Gino Torretta and Lamar Thomas were guests on WQAM this week. Click here to listen to the interviews.

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Clinton Portis Practices

Running back Clinton Portis practiced Tuesday for the first time since spraining his right ankle last week against the New York Jets. Portis went through the full practice. He won’t play Thursday in Arizona.

“Clinton did good today,” Mike Shanahan said. “I was surprised he came back as quick as he did. He looked pretty good.”

Click here to order Clinton Portis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Titans waived injured DT Kareem Brown

Titans coach Jeff Fisher had indicated that DT Kareem Brown might require surgery to repair an injured shoulder. The defensive lineman-turned-tight end-turned-defensive lineman was fighting for a roster spot but today was waived by the Titans.

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Sinorice Moss put on IR - Contacts Him

The New York Giants placed quarterback Jim Sorgi and wide receiver Sinorice Moss on injured reserve, effectively ending the 2010 season for both players.

Moss underwent surgery Tuesday morning to repair a sports hernia. He has been out for much of the preseason with a groin injury. He went to Philadelphia on Monday to have it examined, and stayed there for the surgery.

The fifth-year wide receiver was hoping to gain some playing time this season by winning the punt-returning job. But Moss, who has played in only 37 games in his previous four seasons, couldn't stay healthy. was able to exchange texts with Sinorice on Tuesday and he had this to say about his recovery:

“Minor set back, for a Major set up. Happy Everything was going so great. I know this season will end greater. Thank you so much for your conitnued support, on my journey to be the best. Remember it’s about the “[]_[]” I will conitnue to represent for us all. God Bless.”

We’ve always been impressed by Sinorice’s positive attitude and strong character and will. We have no doubt that he’ll be back next year. Here’s to a speed recovery Sinorice.

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

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Gino Torretta to host 10 a.m.-to-noon show on WQAM

For the second consecutive month, WQAM-560 has hired a former UM football star to host a weekday talk show.

WQAM will announce this week that former Canes quarterback Gino Torretta will do a 10 a.m.-to-noon show beginning Sept. 7. Orlando Alzugaray will shift to the 7-to-10 p.m. slot, replacing Kevin Rogers, who was offered part-time work.

Steve White, fired as 790 The Ticket's program director last year, will be Torretta's cohost.

``We are always looking to upgrade, and this is a tremendous opportunity,'' WQAM general manager Joe Bell said. ``He's a former Heisman Trophy winner, played at Miami and is a local businessman.''

Torretta works in the financial industry, and WQAM hopes his connections can lead to advertising opportunities. Torretta also owns Touchdown Radio Network and announces college games.

Bell said the move is ``absolutely not'' a demotion for Alzugaray, who declined to comment. WQAM would have been better off insisting that noon-to-3 p.m. host Michael Irvin, who is doing his show from Dallas, be paired with Alzugaray or someone else who has a better knowledge of South Florida sports than Kevin Kiley does.

Kiley's information about local sports is superficial or sometimes inaccurate, such as claiming Cameron Wake excels when in pass coverage. (Huh? We hope Kiley meant pass rush.)

And Kiley speaks entirely too much, considering Irvin is the show's star. After an interview Monday, Irvin playfully chided Kiley: ``Can we not give a dissertation? Can we just let [the guests] speak?''

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Decision on Reed's status won't come until Saturday

The Ravens will determine whether to place Ed Reed on the Reserve PUP (physically-unable-to-perform list) on Saturday after having "honest and open conversation" with the Pro Bowl safety on Monday, coach John Harbaugh said.

Reed, who had offseason hip surgery, would miss the first six weeks of the regular season if he is put on the Reserve PUP list. It seems like Reed is pushing to return soon after speaking with Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and secondary coach Chuck Pagano on Monday.

"He wants to come back, but he understands the situation, too," Harbaugh said. "There's a lot more that goes into it. We have until Saturday to make a decision and I'm sure we'll take until Saturday to figure that out."

Harbaugh, though, didn't rule out the scenario of Reed playing in the Sept. 13 opener at the New York Jets after sitting out the entire preseason.

"The determining factor is going to be what's best for his career long-term and what's best for him to play at the level he's accustomed to playing," Harbaugh said. "There is no way we're going to rush him back. He's probably the kind of guy who wants to come back as soon as he can. But he's also been in this thing long enough to understand that you got to do it the right way."

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

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'Mr. January' McGahee isn't sweating the trade talk

Ravens running back Willis McGahee didn't play in Saturday night's preseason win over the Giants, leading to speculation over why McGahee was left standing on the sidelines.

The Ravens coaching staff insisted it was planned, that they were just giving the veteran back a rest. "I don't think we need to see what Willis McGahee can do," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game.

Sounds a little fishy to me. Perhaps a trade is in the works? Well, if GM Ozzie Newsome is trying to hammer out a deal, Willis knows nothing about it. When asked about the situation Monday, McGahee told reporters, "Nobody has told me nothing."

McGahee said that trade talk is the nature of the business — "I was supposed to get traded last year" — and that he is aware that he could be traded at any moment.

"Would I be surprised if I got traded?" the second-string running back said. "I've learned that you can't really depend on certain situations. Anything can happen. If they do, they do. I'm not going to sit around and cry about it. I'm going to keep going."

Still, the confident McGahee, who had 14 total touchdowns in 2009, suggested that the Ravens should proceed with caution if they are considering a deal — even with Pro Bowler Ray Rice also in the backfield.

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

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Green Bay Packers' Sam Shields has shot at nickel job

Sam Shields’ stunning climb up the Green Bay Packers’ depth chart continues.

The undrafted rookie who opened training camp looking like a good practice-squad candidate not only is a lock to make the 53-man roster but also is a decent bet to be the Packers’ No. 3 cornerback in the regular-season opener against Philadelphia.

Shields worked with the No. 1 nickel defense in practice Sunday ahead of third-year pro Pat Lee. It’s not clear whether Shields also is ahead of Brandon Underwood, who is out after injuring his shoulder last week against Indianapolis, but all signs suggest if Shields plays well this week in the preseason finale against Kansas City, he’ll be the first cornerback off the bench against the Eagles on Sept. 12.

“(Shields) is around the ball, he’s gotten his hands on some balls,” said Charles Woodson, the Packers’ left cornerback and reigning NFL defensive player of the year. “He’s missed a couple picks, he’s made a couple picks. Nobody else is getting their hands on the ball, so you’ve got a guy with a nose for the ball and coming up with it, knocking them down and making plays downfield on long balls, then he deserves a shot.”

With cornerback Al Harris still unable to pass his physical after having his knee rebuilt last year, it’s a given he won’t be ready to play against Philadelphia. The question is whether he’ll stay on the physically unable to perform list after final cuts next week, which would mean he’d have to miss the first six games.

It appears more likely Harris will be on the final 53-man roster, so he’ll be able to practice immediately when he passes his physical, though it appears he could miss several games. Once he starts practicing, he probably will need three weeks to get game ready.

The Packers didn’t draft or sign a free-agent cornerback, so all offseason and early in camp it looked like Underwood or Lee would move into the No. 3 job, with Tramon Williams taking Harris’ spot in the starting lineup. But Shields forced his way into consideration with his surprising play.

Though he only moved to cornerback from receiver his senior year at the University of Miami, Shields has shown flashes of playmaking all camp. It started with an interception on the first day of practice, followed by an interception in the Family Night scrimmage, a couple more interceptions in practices, a dropped interception in the preseason opener against Cleveland and an interception in each of the last two preseason games.

Shields is raw as a cover man, but he did enough to convince defensive coordinator Dom Capers to look at him with the No. 1 nickel against Indianapolis last week and got an especially long look after Underwood went down with a shoulder injury after two series.

Shields was hardly perfect. On the first play of his second series against Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, he was beaten on a crossing route by receiver Pierre Garcon for a 24-yard gain.

But Shields didn’t give up any more completions while playing in three of the final four series that Manning played, then made a noteworthy interception in the fourth quarter against backup quarterback Curtis Painter. On that play, Shields was in tight man-to-man coverage against receiver Dudley Guice along the sideline, with his back to Painter when the ball was thrown. He turned while the ball was in the air and reacted quickly to make the catch above his head.

That kind of play gets the attention of coaches and teammates.

“We had him one-on-one quite a bit during the game by plan,” Capers said after the game. “I really liked the way he finished out making that interception. Very nice play.”

Safety Nick Collins said after practice Sunday: “Special young guy. If you can come into this league and be coachable and understand what the coach is trying to do with you, anything is possible. Right now that’s what he’s doing, he’s playing his role, getting the coaching down, learning the techniques, listening to everybody and is going out there and playing fast.”

Playing the undrafted rookie in the No. 1 nickel while Harris is out is no small matter, because it probably means he’ll be on the field for 50 to 60 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps.

It’s also a sure bet that if Shields holds the job, Eagles coach Andy Reid will go hard after the rookie. Where Underwood and Lee are in their second year in Capers’ defense, Shields has been in the scheme only since May, and also is new to the NFL’s sophisticated and precise passing schemes.

One of the advantages the Packers have this year is a full season-plus in Capers’ scheme, so the coordinator is not going to want to hold too much back just for the sake of one player. That means Shields could be overwhelmed by what he has to learn in the next two weeks.

“It doesn’t matter,” Woodson said. “Whatever we have, we’re going to call it, so he’s got to know it. We’ll find out real soon (if he can do it).”

Coach Mike McCarthy said it’s unclear how long Underwood will be out, which leaves the door open it could be for more than just a week. Underwood had surgery on the same shoulder after an injury that ended his redshirt freshman season at Ohio State.

Either way, it looks like the No. 3 cornerback job is Shields’ to lose, which is nothing less than a dramatic development. Heading into camp, Shields’ chances of making the final 53 appeared to hinge on special teams, either as a returner or cover man on punts and kicks. He bombed as a return man because of trouble catching punts, but is on both No. 1 cover teams.

The surprise is his play at cornerback despite being new to the position. He’s gone from a developmental prospect to a guy who could get on the field regularly, at least until Harris returns. What has caught his teammates’ eyes is his compensating for his lack of knowledge with speed and an ability to play the ball.

“You still have a lot to learn technique-wise,” Collins said, “but if you’ve got that speed, it can make up for some the stuff you don’t have.”

Lee, a second-round pick from the 2008 draft, has been healthy all offseason and throughout camp. He’s shown some ability for reading routes but was unable to surpass Underwood and then couldn’t hold off Shields last week. He said he thought he got a fair shot at winning the nickel job.

“Yeah, can’t complain,” Lee said. “Can’t say anything.”

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Beason Talks About His Transition to the Weakside

Click here to order Jon Beason’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Antrel Rolle calls Clayton about concussion

Ravens wide-out Mark Clayton said Giants safety Antrel Rolle should not be fined for the concussion-enducing hit Rolle delivered in Saturday night's preseason game.

"It's football, stuff like that happens," Clayton said Monday.

Rolle called Clayton on Sunday, apparently to apologize for the second-quarter hit that drew a personal foul penalty and gave the Ravens a first down. On the next play, Rolle was flagged for illegal contact as Todd Heap made a 13-yard touchdown catch.

"[Rolle] said, 'Man, I kind of knocked myself out a little bit,'" Clayton said. "He asked if I was OK, and I asked if he was OK."

Rolle was called for hitting a defenseless receiver, since the ball had already sailed past Clayton. That was a point of emphasis in the offseason, and the reason Rolle might be fined.

It seems very unlikely Clayton would play in the preseason finale in St. Louis on Thursday, but he says he'll be fine for the season opener on Sept.13 against the Jets. He said his neck was "pretty sore," but he felt fine otherwise.

Clayton said he was having a "conversation" with himself after the hit and decided to take his time getting up.

"I was saying, 'Man, I can't believe he hit me like that,' because I saw him coming and I was like, 'Man, he's going to hit me,' and then I was like, 'Dang, he hit me.' After that, I'm like, 'Yeah, take your time getting up, because when you get up, there'll be a rush [of blood] to the head.'"

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

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Clinton Portis's new dedication to practice

Determined to prove he is still among the NFL's elite, running back Clinton Portis has displayed a renewed commitment to the team since Coach Mike Shanahan arrived in Ashburn. Portis's teammates have noticed.

"He's a totally different player as far as practicing and preparing for practice," outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "I think a lot of that has to do with bringing in guys like Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, who can perform as well. Being with Mike in Denver, he understands what was going to be expected of him. When he was in Denver performing at a high level, Shanahan let him go and traded him here.

"Clinton understood that he needed to perform and step up his game because Shanahan might not accept the things he was used to here. And he's done a good job of understanding the regime has changed, the culture has changed around here, and he had to change himself. Now, Clinton is always going to be Clinton and have his fun, and he's still the same guy. But he's taking the day-to-day work more seriously."

Early last season, several Redskins offensive players privately complained that Portis was missing holes because he did not practice enough. They said the squandered opportunities showed on film.

"You can see already in the preseason, when he's running the ball, he's seeing things a lot better, and all that comes from practicing every day," Alexander said. "And when you have all these media guys talking about you, you're out to prove 'em wrong.

"He did the professional thing in listening to the stuff out there, taking that and then saying, 'Okay, let me come in here and show these guys I am a professional.' He's done it the right way."

Click here to order Clinton Portis’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Sherko Haji-Rasouli aims to make season debut against Alouettes

VANCOUVER — Quarterback Casey Printers’ precarious state — he can hardly walk for a while after he gets out of bed in the morning due to a bum knee — might be only half as bad as Sherko Haji-Rasouli.

The presumptive starting right tackle has yet to play a game for the B.C. Lions this season.

“Casey’s got one knee problem. I’ve got two,” Haji-Rasouli says. “But he’s the quarterback. All I can tell you is, he’s in the medical room for treatment just as much as I am, and even more. We’re trying to get ourselves as healthy as possible — for him to stay on the field and for me to get back on it.”

Searching for any sign of stability and veteran leadership on the offensive line, the Lions are hoping to have Haji-Rasouli in the starting lineup Friday against the Montreal Alouettes. But Haji-Rasouli, who turns 30 on Wednesday, has a pair of knees that must make him feel 60.

He ended Monday’s practice on the exercise bike, with Joe McGrath playing his position, and later tried to tell everyone he’s never felt better, at least this month.

“I felt really good today and, hopefully, I’ll feel better (Tuesday),” said Haji-Rasouli, who realizes the Lions will be a better team with him than without him. “If you look at the starting O-line last week (against Calgary), there was only one guy (centre Dean Valli) who’d started a game prior to this year. The more reps they get, the better they’re going to get. Hopefully, with me in there, I can help them make better decisions and play better.”

Justin Sorensen started at right tackle against the Stampeders, but Buono’s less-than-ringing endorsement of the sophomore pro’s play leaves little doubt McGrath will be the first option if Haji-Rasouli can’t go.

“Justin was . . . (long pause) he was just OK,” Buono said.

Despite having an offensive line laden with doubt, inexperience and injury, Buono said he hasn’t spent a single moment wondering if the release of last year’s starting right tackle, Jason Jimenez, was justified. The Lions won a Grey Cup in 2006 with Jimenez and Rob Murphy as the starting tackles, and Murphy’s departure to the Toronto Argonauts through free agency set the Lions’ O-line on a course toward its inexorable slide.

“Honestly, he (Jimenez) was in the quarterback’s lap the whole year (2009),” Buono said. “And we just didn’t feel he was reachable (buying into the scheme).”

The plan for 2010 therefore was to have Haji-Rasouli move from right guard to right tackle to become the “rock” that Jimenez was supposed to be. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Haji-Rasouli’s knee injury, suffered in pre-season, and a season-ending knee injury to presumptive starting left guard Andrew Jones began the discordant game of musical chairs along the line. Only right guard Jovan Olafioye, the youngest player on the team at 22, has played the same position through all eight games.

“He’s probably been our best lineman,” Buono admits.

“Jovan’s knees are more sore than mine — which is funny, because he’s only 22 years old,” Haji-Rasouli claims. “I finished (practice) on the exercise bike because I was just trying to get a little cardio work in. You saw me running, too. I’ve just got to get my wind up. It’s going to be warm in Montreal, and I’ve got to able to chase ’em.”

While Haji-Rasouli’s words are attempting to embellish his situation, Buono is a big believer in what he sees, not in what he hears. The fact that his veteran right tackle was walking like a man on hot coals is a good indication that Haji-Rasouli isn’t as far along as he might suggest.

“I think the reason we’re in this predicament is that three of the five guys (on the offensive line) we were counting on got hurt, and two of them (Haji-Rasouli and Jones) were critical,” Buono says. “Sherko’s still vulnerable. Do I start him, he plays one snap, and he gets hurt again? I’m going to be more comfortable after I have a look at him (Tuesday) when we’re in pads. That’s why I can’t declare him in for Montreal yet. I hope he’ll be a stabilizing influence, but I don’t know.”


Home team captain - Patriots’ Wilfork is a family man who also has a lot to tackle away from the field

It’s a sultry Saturday morning, Vince Wilfork’s day off. But the Patriot isn’t really off. He’s already reported to Gillette Stadium to undergo treatment on his quadriceps muscle. When he arrives back home, there is a blitz of activity. His wife demands that he help put the groceries away and get breakfast on the table, the kids want to play touch football, and the baby has a diaper that the two-time Pro Bowl selection can smell from a red zone away.

Wilfork, who was once fined four times in a season by the NFL for being a bad boy, now crawls on the carpet and changes his 1-year-old son’s diaper on the living room floor with a gentleness never displayed in six seasons on the gridiron. In fact, Wilfork has become a human changing table, with his legs extended so that David Dream-Angel cannot scramble away from his 6-foot-2-inch, 325-pound father.
Is this the same guy whose reputation is that of a mean and nasty player?

“That’s just for 60 minutes, that’s all,’’ says his wife and biggest fan, Bianca. “He’s like a big teddy bear, he’s like mush, really. He’s the furthest thing from a mean guy as possible, unless you cross him. Then the 60 minutes come back on.’’

Vince Wilfork, 28, is no glamour boy. His shirt has a hole in it, Bianca tells him, but he doesn’t care. His hair isn’t well-coiffed. Actually, his hairline is receding.

Nobody grows up dreaming of being a nose tackle, lining up over the center and getting double- and sometimes triple-teamed while all eyes are elsewhere.

“Oh, heck no. You’ve got to be a grinder,’’ Wilfork says. “You want to be a linebacker, a running back, a receiver, you want to be a quarterback.’’

He knows he’s no Tom Brady.

“His life is a glamorous life,’’ says Wilfork. “He’s a great player and a great guy. You think of most quarterbacks as snobs, but he’s not.’’
Wilfork’s professional life is spent in the trenches, pummeling away, an arm’s reach from the quarterback.

He was selected a captain by teammates in 2008 and ’09, and is the heart and soul of the Patriots’ 3-4 defense. But few appreciate a nose tackle, according to Wilfork, except the coaches.

“From a fan viewpoint, the average person watching football, they really don’t know nose tackle, or what their job basically is,’’ he says.
Wilfork estimates that of 60 to 70 plays the opposing offense runs each game, he is single-covered just 10 times. Yet he has averaged nearly 50 tackles a season, and gives teammates opportunities to make higher-profile plays.

Well-rounded person
Off the field, he’s low-key. The mailbox outside the two-story Colonial home is simply labeled “The Wilforks’’. Nobody ever rings the bell and bothers him.

“I’m your average Joe Blow,’’ he says. “I’m your plumber. I’m your garbage man. I’m your everyday people. I don’t send people out to get my mail. I don’t have no personal assistant, none of that mess. I’m a normal person. I drive myself everywhere. I don’t need no car service, that’s not me. We go to Walmart, we go to Target, we don’t have to go to the mall.’’

OK, he does have some trappings of wealth from a five-year, $40 million contract signed in March, which made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL. He’s got a massive orange Freightliner truck with a Mercedes-Benz engine and license plates that read, “Fat Boi.’’
He’s also part-owner of two harness horses, Midnight Lawyer and Eel, that have raced at Plainridge Racecourse and Meadowlands Racetrack, and he has applied for his thoroughbred license. At the local stable where he keeps his horses, a foal was born the other day while Wilfork was visiting. It was named “Big Vince,’’ and Wilfork fell in love with him and plans to buy him.

Wilfork wants one of his horses to win the Kentucky Derby someday, and he’s not kidding. “That’s my ultimate goal,’’ he says. “You only live once.’’

The interior of Wilfork’s comfortable home does not reek of football. There’s a framed picture of Wilfork in uniform. It’s signed by the kids who benefited from the annual fund-raiser Wilfork conducts to raise money to fight diabetes, which claimed his father in 2002. His mother died soon afterward, also before the age of 50, and Wilfork has tattoos that read “RIP Mom’’ and “RIP Dad’’ on each forearm. He also wears a locket that contains their high school prom picture.

The refrigerator is covered with photos of the kids — D’Aundre, 12; Destiny, 7; and David Dream-Angel.

Today, Dad is tired, but nobody cares.

“When it’s my day off I want to relax, but when you got kids your day off really isn’t a day off,’’ Wilfork says. “They think Daddy’s home, let’s catch up. It’s hard to do, but I try as best as I can.’’

Wilfork says his parents were there for him, so he wants to be there for his kids, no matter what.

“It’s tough at times,’’ he says. “My kids got so much energy. I can’t sit here and say it’s not hard because it is. But you have to let kids be kids.’’
There are no motivational quotes from Vince Lombardi or Bill Belichick at the Wilfork home. But stenciled on the wall in the living room is: “All because two people fell in love.’’

Perfect matchup
Bianca starts to giggle when she tells the story of how they met in 2001. She was a single mother working two jobs, one as the manager of a Taco Bell in Homestead, Fla., the other for an air cargo import/export company. He was an up-and-coming player at the University of Miami.

“We met online,’’ she says. “He saw a picture of me and sent me a lame message, like, ‘My name is Vince. Call me.’ And I was like, ‘This dude has got to be kidding me,’ but I called him. He was just trying to be my friend. It seemed like everyone in my circle got on my nerves at the time and he was the last one standing.’’

Wilfork, a Boynton Beach, Fla., native, laughs. He says they talked on the phone for two months before they even agreed to meet in person.
“When we met I knew she was the one for me,’’ he says. “I haven’t looked back since. Three kids later, we have a beautiful family. She is my backbone. With her I don’t have to worry about anything but football.’’

Bianca goes to every Patriots practice, every game, home and away. They have their own communication system for injuries.

“If he’s on the ground for more than, say, seven seconds, he’s got to come up and give me some kind of signal,’’ she says. “In the back, he’s got 20 seconds to grab the nearest cellphone and call me and tell me he’s OK, otherwise he’ll see me down there, I’ll find him. He knows that.’’

Not short, on confidence
Wilfork plays touch football with his wife and kids, then basketball with stepson D’Aundre, whom he beats easily. Wilfork says he can still dunk, if he gets warmed up. But when he loses a game of C-A-T, he is miffed.

“I hate to lose in anything,’’ he says.

One of just a handful of players left from the Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXIX team, he also believes he can play just about every position in pro football.

“It don’t matter to me,’’ he says. “I’m an athlete. I tell people that all the time.’’

He played quarterback recently at practice and the defense beat the offense in a reversal of roles.

“It was a day in paradise,’’ Wilfork says. “Brady said I did exactly what he would have done.’’

He also believes he could be a linebacker.

“I can do it,’’ he says. “I don’t know what it’s going to take for people to start believing that I don’t lie. I grew up, everybody looked at my size and said, ‘I didn’t know you could move like that.’ ’’

Wilfork claims he even beat receiver Randy Moss in a season-long one-on-one matchup held two years ago.

“Every Friday, I would be a receiver and he would be a [defensive back],’’ Wilfork says. “I think I came out on top. He’ll probably lie to me and say I didn’t. But I’m just a competitive man. I want to win, man, in everything I do. If I can’t do something, I’ll learn. But there’s nothing in football I can’t do.’’

In high school, according to Bianca, Wilfork set a Florida state record in the shot put. “Ask him about it,’’ she says.

But Wilfork already moved on. Now he’s Farmer Wilfork, sweating bullets in the garden, pulling out peppers to grill as part of a steak dinner. There’s also strawberries, string beans, collard greens, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions amid the weeds.

“Don’t take pictures, it’s too overgrown,’’ Wilfork says, bemoaning two-a-day training camp practices.

Quiet leader
He also takes offense to people already criticizing the Patriots’ 2010 defense.

“I don’t think we have a bunch of no-names,’’ he says. “I think we have a bunch of guys who work hard and know what it takes to win. We’re out there challenging each other.’’

Wilfork says he tries to lead by example.

“I don’t yell,’’ he says. “I play football. You don’t have to have a damn meeting.

“I’m big into doing my job and trusting my teammates behind me. One thing that’s true is the eye in the sky don’t lie. Once you put that film on you see exactly what’s going on. I don’t need people yelling all the time, because to me I don’t think you need to yell to get your point across.’’

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Roscoe Parrish Confident with Bills

Roscoe Parrish has heard this one before.

Whether it was Mike Mularkey in 2005, Dick Jauron the previous four years, or now Chan Gailey this season, Parrish has been paid more lip service than the Kiss Cam regarding the potential role he could play in Buffalo's offense.

Yet year after year, Parrish was basically a non-entity when the Bills had the ball, and his only contributions came on special teams as one of the NFL's best punt returners.

So why is the diminutive wide receiver convinced that 2010 is going to be different?

"This year I feel much better about my role," Parrish said the other day as he walked off the practice field at the end of his sixth training camp at St. John Fisher College. "I'm very excited. I'm just really looking forward to this season. Everybody is going to get an opportunity, and I can't ask for anything more at this point. That's all I ever wanted."

And it's what he has really never been given.

Choosing Parrish in the second round of the 2005 draft was deemed a dubious decision by many Bills' followers, but then-general manager Tom Donahoe argued that Parrish could be a dynamic weapon both on offense and as a return man.

Donahoe got the latter part right. Parrish is the Bills' all-time leading punt returner and his 12.25-yard career average currently ranks him fourth in NFL history.

However, neither Mularkey nor Jauron ever figured out a way to effectively use Parrish on offense. In five years he has only 100 catches for 1,086 yards and 5 TDs. And last year he hit rock bottom when Jauron lost all faith in him, not only on offense but on punt returns.

Parrish muffed a punt against New Orleans in Week 3 that set up a second-quarter field goal by the Saints during a 27-9 loss. And then in the Week 5 debacle against Cleveland, Parrish muffed another punt, but this one occurred late in the fourth quarter and set up the Browns' winning field goal in that forgettable 6-3 loss.

"I made a bad decision, but every guy makes mistakes," said Parrish of the Cleveland gaffe. "And the ones that make mistakes are the ones that try."

Jauron benched Parrish the next four weeks, and he didn't get back on the field until Jauron was fired and Perry Fewell took over as head coach. Still, Fewell only used Parrish on returns. The 5-foot-9, 168-pounder caught only three passes for 34 yards all season, and after leading the NFL in punt return average in 2007 and 2008, Parrish averaged just 5.5 yards per return in 2009.

"Every year wasn't frustrating, just last year was frustrating," said Parrish. "One of the main things I had to overcome last year was to just not get down on myself. I just continued to work hard during the season last year and just prayed and hoped the best would come."

The overhaul of the coaching staff, with Gailey in charge, was the answer to those prayers.

"This offseason with Chan Gailey and a new coaching staff, it just made everything better," Parrish said. "He's the kind of coach that gets the ball in playmakers' hands."

There was some real doubt whether Parrish would even be back with the Bills, but Gailey came in and almost immediately began devising ways to get Parrish involved in his offense. Throughout training camp Parrish has been the regular slot man in three-wide sets, and he has been a frequent target of whichever quarterback happens to be under center.

"I'm excited about Roscoe Parrish and what he's going to bring to our football team this year," Gailey said. "We're going to work to try to make sure he's a major part of this offense."

Trent Edwards is on board with that because like Gailey, he thinks that if Parrish can get the ball in space, he can be a legitimate threat.

"I'm very excited for Roscoe," Edwards said. "I think he's very excited and I feel like we're putting him in good spots to win. He's been in spots in the slot and there are not a lot of people that can cover him. We just need to do a good job of protecting and I've got to be accurate with the football, and he's got to catch the football. He's a big weapon for our offense and I know Chan wants to use him."

Lee Evans is the undeniable No. 1 receiver, but with Josh Reed and Terrell Owens gone, Parrish is now the Bills' second-most experienced receiver, and he's also one of the longest-tenured players on the team.

"In this profession nothing is given to you and you never know what will happen," Parrish said. "That's how I have to approach it now as a six-year veteran. I'm taking the approach that whatever is going to happen will happen. You can only control what you can control. I know I can help this team when my opportunity is given."

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Kellen Winslow is among the elite

TAMPA - His goal is to be the best tight end to play the game. Unfortunately for Kellen Winslow Jr., he can't even lay claim to being the best tight end of his era.

Tony Gonzalez has Winslow there, and most will argue Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark and Jason Witten are next in line after Gonzalez. That doesn't mean Winslow hasn't left his mark on the game.

Compare the numbers he has posted over the past four years to those during the same period by Gonzalez, Gates, Clark and Witten and there's no denying Winslow is in the elite class with them.

Catches - Winslow (291) has more than Clark (265) and Gates (285). Receiving yards - Winslow (3,293) has more than Clark (2,937). Touchdowns - Winslow (16) has more than Witten (14).

What does it all add up to? Just this: Though he may never be remembered as such, Winslow is clearly the tight end of his era who has done the most in his career with the least.

Winslow played the past four years on one good knee, the result of a motorcycle accident that, by the way, was just that, an accident. It's not like Winslow was trying to derail his career.

And it's not like Winslow has had the luxury of catching passes from elite quarterbacks the way Clark (Peyton Manning), Gates (Philip Rivers) and Witten (Tony Romo) have.

No, Winslow has spent the better part of the past four years catching passes from the likes of Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. Then there was last year, his first with the Bucs.

Despite working with two-time castoff Byron Leftwich, untested second-year pro Josh Johnson and untried rookie Josh Freeman, Winslow caught a team-leading 77 passes for 884 yards and five touchdowns.

Not only was it the best season for a Bucs tight end, but it was the eighth-best season for a Bucs pass-catcher of any kind, which is actually somewhat fitting.

Winslow is not your typical tight end. He has typical tight end size, but even with those knees, he is still faster, more athletic and more powerful than most.

He can outrun most linebackers, outmaneuver most cornerbacks and overpower most safeties. It's no wonder the Bucs have chosen to treat him a little differently than most of their players.

Winslow has barely missed a practice this preseason, but the Bucs have chosen to keep him out of exhibition games to make sure he's as ready as can be for the games that count.

It's a controversial approach, one Bucs coach Raheem Morris vowed at the start of his tenure not to take with his players. But who's to argue with it? After all, when it matters most, few do more - with less - than Winslow.

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Broncos' Williams brothers happy to be teammates

A handful of times over the past week and a half, Worrell Williams has had to pause to take it all in.

It was overwhelming enough just to be a rookie in an NFL locker room, trying to make an NFL team or even secure a spot on a practice squad. But to be here, in this Denver locker room and trying to find a place on the NFL team that has been home to his older brother, D.J., since 2004?

Worrell Williams can only shake his head in disbelief.

"I mean, this is something I've thought about and always wanted to do," said Worrell Williams, 24. "Even if it is for a brief moment or, hopefully, for many years."

For D.J., Worrell's presence has been refreshing. D.J. was already a locker-room leader among the Broncos, but with his brother around, he's even goofier and more out-going than normal — traits he rarely shows to the media or fans.

"When you play football you get the camaraderie, the closeness, the brotherhood and then you actually get to have your brother there?" D.J. said. "There's already a natural bond, those lifelong experiences, you really know each other. If I'm having a bad day or he's having a bad day, we can sit and talk and really open up to one another. We can relate to things in the past. And we can laugh and joke and just giggle about growing up."

"Make the best of it"

Tonight will mark the first time in their lives that the Williams brothers, each an inside linebacker, play together in a game on the same team. D.J. is expected to make his 2010 preseason debut after missing the first two exhibition games with an injury. Worrell, who made his Broncos debut a week ago against Detroit, with his older brother watching from a luxury box at Invesco Field at Mile High, expects to play on special teams early in the game and on defense late in the second half when the starters rest.

"I told him he's probably going to have a game and a half to prove himself," D.J. Williams said. "I told him, 'You wanted your shot. This might not be how you wanted to get it, but its here, so you've got to make the best of it.' "

D.J. and Worrell sat side by side in large leather chairs inside the team's Dove Valley headquarters Friday afternoon and explained how they both came to be Broncos.

"I had the easy road," D.J. said.

He was the No. 1-rated high school player in the nation in 1999, a three-year starter on a national championship team at the University of Miami and a first-round draft pick by the Broncos in 2004. He's been a fixture in their starting lineup ever since.

UFL traded for NFL
D.J.'s celebrated football career cast a large shadow over Worrell, who, like little brothers do, grew up wanting to be like his big brother.

But Worrell went undrafted in 2009 after his collegiate career at California — "You would think someone would have given him a shot," D.J. said — and spent last fall playing for the United Football League's California Redwoods.

"It was a humbling experience. It was something I didn't want to do. I hadn't been playing football to get to the UFL. I wanted to get to the NFL," Worrell said. "But it ended up being a great experience, and I probably needed it. It brought me back down, got me focused."

Worrell was preparing to report to the Redwoods' training camp when the Broncos called. He flew to Denver on Aug. 19, worked out and signed the next day. He was in uniform and on the field a day later playing against the Lions.

Worrell had been on the Broncos' radar, in part because of D.J., and D.J. helped remind coach Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale that his younger brother was working out, was in shape and was deserving of a shot in an NFL camp.

"I talked to D.J. and D.J. was just very honest with me about what Worrell was going to bring, and he has already," McDaniels said.
"No favoritism"

D.J. Williams said he spoke to McDaniels and Martindale about the dynamics of having his younger brother here. Williams, as one of the two longest-tenured players on the team (along with cornerback Champ Bailey), has a powerful voice in the locker room. His brother, though, is one of a large group of young players just fighting to get noticed.

"The thing I appreciated from them was they said there will be no favoritism; if he can play, he can play," D.J. said. "They came to me and said, 'We don't want your relationship to get in the way of our relationship. Let's say he doesn't make the team, we don't want you to be bitter to us or look at us like, Aw, you did my brother wrong.' I know they're the type of men that will give him a fair shot."

How long the Williams Brothers Linebacker Experiment lasts likely depends on how Worrell does in limited action tonight against the Steelers and in extended playing time Thursday in the Broncos' preseason finale against the Vikings.

"He gives me a goal to shoot for," Worrell said of D.J. "No matter what odds are against me, I want to be able to stand up there next to him. If I have to go practice squad first and then make the team, or if they let me go and I have to come back, whatever the case may be, I'll do it. It's a tough situation, but I'm here now with my brother now. It couldn't get much better than that."

Click here to order DJ Williams’ proCane Rookie Card.

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Yonder Alonso Getting Called Up To the Big Leagues

CINCINNATI -- The Reds know who they plan to call up from the Minor Leagues when active rosters can be expanded on Wednesday, but manager Dusty Baker wasn't ready to identify the lucky players before Tuesday's game.

"We haven't told them yet," Baker said. "We'll tell you after the game. We'll probably do two shifts -- one on [Sept. 1] and the other on [Sept. 3]."

Among jerseys being unpacked by clubhouse attendants before Tuesday's game was one for first baseman Yonder Alonso, the Reds' No. 1 pick in the 2008 Draft. Alonso was hitting .295 with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs in 100 games with Triple-A Louisville through Monday. Alonso will be called up today, September 1st.

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Zach Railey Consistent After Four Races

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Q & A with Bats' First Baseman Yonder Alonso

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -'s Jason Stella sat down earlier this week with Bats' first baseman Yonder Alonso.

JS: Since the all-star break, you have really picked up steam at the plate. Your average since the break is 80 points better than before. What do you think has been the key to you getting hot as the season has entered the stretch run?
YA: You said it yourself, we are just entering the stretch, and we are getting close to the playoffs. We want to make a push for it, so every game is crucial. Being with my teammates has helped out a lot, they have helped me out a whole lot.

JS: You have hit .315 this year with runners in scoring position, almost 20 points higher than your normal season average. What has allowed you to be so successful in these crucial situations?
YA: I just don't try to do too much. I don't put too much pressure on myself. I feel if I don't get it done a lot of the other guys will get it done for me. It's just a matter of trusting each other and knowing if I don't get it done, somebody else will.

JS: This is your third season as a professional, and your numbers have improved as you have moved up in competition level. Why do you think you have been able to show improvement even as you have started to play against more skilled and experienced players?
YA: Just the focus matter of the game. Every day you have got to bring it, and every day you got to give it your best and not take any day for granted and mature a little bit. I feel like every year I have matured just a little bit and gotten a lot better at the smaller things of the game.

JS: You have risen through the Reds' organization very quickly in your three years. As you have moved up through each level, what have you noticed to be the biggest changes, both on and off the field?
YA: The pitching and catching has gotten a lot better. The overall organization has done a great job with the players we have. I'm just so thankful to be here in this organization, because they definitely take care of their players.

JS: This past offseason, you played in the Arizona Fall League, and two offseasons ago, you played in Hawaii. Describe these experiences, and how they benefited your career.
YA: Hawaii was great; it was like a min-vacation while you were playing baseball. It was unbelievable. I went to the Fall League, it was fun as well. It was good experience with good baseball there. I went to winter ball in Puerto Rico after that, and it was a blast. Just playing with older guys who know the game and are a little bit more crisp has helped me out a lot with my game.

JS: As you try to continue your development here in Louisville, what do you feel are your biggest strengths, and what do you think you need to work on the most before getting a shot at the big leagues?
YA: Just my overall game. I feel like there's so much more room for improvement for myself and other players here. I fee like every day if I can just improve on one little thing, whether it's a mental note or a physical point, I feel like it's going to help my game for the next level.

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Chris Perez has plenty of praise for Albert Pujols

Indians closer Chris Perez cannot say enough about Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who Thursday became the 47th major-leaguer to hit 400 homers.

At 30 years, 222 days, Pujols became the third-youngest to reach the milestone (Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr.).

Perez and Pujols were teammates in St. Louis for parts of 2008 and 2009.

"He's an incredible player and a great teammate," Perez said. "People see all the highlights on TV, but when you get to watch him up-close every day, you realize how many little things he does to help the team win. He doesn't care about the individual accolades. All he cares about is the team's success."

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Jason Michaels thinks Houston a good fit for him

NEW YORK -- Backup outfielder Jason Michaels has proven to be a good fit with the Astros, so much so that he'd like to return to Houston next year. Michaels was signed to a one-year deal for $800,000 with a club option for $900,000 or a $100,000 buyout.
"I like this group here and I love the staff," Michaels said. "I think it's worked, personally. I think Houston's a great place to play. I'd definitely love to come back."

Michaels entered Sunday tied for third in the Majors with 10 pinch-hit RBIs after going 11-for-47 with two homers and 10 RBIs as a pinch-hitter this year. He made his ninth start of the season in left field Sunday and his 22nd overall. He has also started in eight games in center, three in right and two at designated hitter.

"It's a tough role, but it's been working," he said. "I still think I still have a lot more improvement, but I'd like to come back here."

Michaels has watched the roster change shape around him as the Astros infuse younger players into their core. Michaels, 34, and fellow bench player Geoff Blum are two of the most veteran players in the clubhouse and have been an influence.

"I know I feel like I've done some teaching this year more," Michael said. "We've got some good talent in here and some good players. I think it's a good group."

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Gaby Sanchez fitting in well in big leagues

It took five minor-league seasons for Gaby Sanchez’s major-league window to finally open. But the way the Marlins’ first baseman has been hitting during his rookie campaign, that window doesn’t appear to be closing anytime soon.

“It’s definitely been a blast is all I can say,” said Sanchez, who leads all rookies in total bases (221), doubles (33) and runs batted in (70).

“I’m just having so much fun being up here. It’s definitely a lot of fun playing in the big leagues because that’s what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was very young. This is where I wanted to be and to get up here and to be playing everyday is very awesome.”

Sanchez, who has been a force wherever he’s hitting in the Marlins’ lineup, always knew he’d eventually reach the majors. It was just a matter of when.

Drafted by the Marlins in the fourth round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Miami, Sanchez mashed at every level of the minors, slugging 62 homers and sporting an .877 OPS.

“I always knew that if I continued to train hard and work hard that I could make it,” Sanchez said. “It was a grind every single year knowing that I was moving up, which was always a good thing. I was always doing well.

“So I knew there would come a point in time when I would fulfill what I wanted to do and that was to make it to the big leagues. It was a grind in the minor leagues, but it was a good grind.”

Based on how flawless his transition has been to facing major-league pitching, it doesn’t appear Sanchez will ever have to grind it out in the minors again.

“He’s naturally a great hitter,” said Dan Uggla, the Marlins’ All-Star second baseman. “But he’s been learning the game really fast at this level.”

Sanchez, 26, said the key to his success has been staying within himself and doing the same things that got him here.

“I feel like the biggest adjustment is not to change,” Sanchez said. “What got me here is what I’m going to continue to do, and not try to deviate from that. That’s been the biggest thing, staying with my same approach and work ethic and not try to change anything. Just continue to trust what got me here and hopefully it will keep me here.”

Sanchez has taken the same approach with his swing.

“I’ve always been pretty much the same,” Sanchez said. “My swing hasn’t really changed much in the five years since I’ve been in the minor leagues. It’s always been pretty consistent with the same thing and I’ve tried not to change it because it always worked really well for me. So I try not to do anything different.”

Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez, who previously coached Sanchez at Triple-A New Orleans in 2009, had plenty of praise for his so-called “rookie.”

“Forget about being a rookie, he means a lot to this team and this lineup,” Rodriguez said. “His numbers and the ways he’s been playing first base and the way he’s been getting clutch hits for us, he’s a huge part of this lineup.”

And Sanchez is hoping to keep it that way.

“I think it’s just about staying with what got me here,” Sanchez said. “The work ethic and continue to work hard and know that I can better myself every single year, every single day. I’m just trying to go out there and train as hard as I can and I should be okay.”

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Baraka Atkins Takes On Two Steelers

The Denver Broncos' Baraka Atkins (58) blocks both Patrick Bailey (left) and Ryan Mundy, center, of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a kick return in Sunday's preseason game Sunday in Denver. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

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Prof. Bryant McKinnie to tutor Seantrel Henderson

Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie, who played at the University of Miami, is 6 feet 8, 335 pounds. Miami freshman offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson, who played at Cretin-Derham Hall, also is 6-8 and about 335 pounds.

McKinnie said he had nothing to do with his alma mater's recruitment of Henderson after Henderson reneged on a commitment to the University of Southern California following NCAA's sanctions against the Trojans.

"But I'm glad he's at Miami," McKinnie said. "I'm going to work with him in the offseason."

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Jimmy Graham (ankle) returns to practice

Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) returned to practice Monday, according to Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Our View: That's good news for the Saints. Graham is raw, but he's an athletic freak with excellent size. He'll take some time to acclimate after a short college career, but his upside makes him a threat to play earlier than expected. Still, don't count on him to make any sort of fantasy impact this season. He's been out since the preseason opener with a high ankle sprain.

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Kenny Phillips 'kneed's more time to shake off rust

The best news after a dismal Saturday night in Baltimore for the Giants was that Keith Bulluck and Kenny Phillips, both coming off knee surgery, experienced no physical setbacks after getting extensive playing time in the 24-10 preseason loss to the Ravens.

Now comes the next stage in their comebacks: Getting them back to form.

"They were rusty but they're starting to get a little bit more in the groove," coach Tom Coughlin said yesterday.

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Sam Shields: No, I’ve got to do more

Undrafted rookie Sam Shields made another big play in the secondary during the 59-24 exhibition win over Indianapolis. Shields picked off Curtis Painter  with 0:54 seconds remaining in the game on a ball intended for Dudley Guice.

The interception was the second of the preseason for Shields.

Shields came to Green Bay with a reputation for his speed and the prevailing thought was he could contribute to in the return game. However, he’s had issues fielding both punts and kickoffs and was taken out of the rotation at practice last week.

At the same time, Shields has played better than expected at cornerback and on coverage teams.

Shields was asked if he thinks he’s done enough to make the team?

“No, I’ve got to do more,” Shields said after the game. “When the next practice comes, I’ve just got to keep working hard. We’ve got another game Thursday, if I’m here I’ve just got to make some more plays.

“I’m a try not to think about it. Just think about my playbook, what I need to focus on and things like that. I’m going to try to keep that out my mind.”

Shields also talked about the interception:

“That was just an opportunity. Every time I get on the field, I just think about an opportunity to make a play. If I make a play, somebody in the sky high is going to see. That’s what I want. I’m just thankful right now to be on the Green Bay Packers”.

Shields was also asked about fellow undrafted rookie Jason Chery returning a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.

“That’s all we talk about in here, stay focused, be mentally tough and just make plays out there. The cuts comes through our minds a lot, but that’s something that’s got to be (put) out and just play football.”

“We pretty much had a lot of fun out here.”

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Clinton Portis' ankle injury not severe

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan indicated that the ankle sprain suffered by Clinton Portis in the team's third preseason game is not serious.

"I don't think it's too serious," said Shanahan. It's not a big setback. I would anticipate him being able to practice in a couple of days." Two weeks should be enough time for Portis to be ready for Week 1, but he remains a poor bet to stay healthy this season. He's a long shot for more than 14 starts.

Portis will not play in Thursday's preseason finale at Arizona.

Neither Portis nor quarterback Donovan McNabb participated in practice on Monday. But both seemed to be walking around on their sore ankles without much problem.

"Still getting treatment," Coach Mike Shanahan said. "We'll take this day by day."

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Roscoe Parrish looking impressive

Bills WR Roscoe Parrish had 4 catches for 56 yards in the first half of Saturday's preseason game against the Bengals.

It only took five years. The Chan Gailey regime clearly views Parrish as a difference maker in the passing game, and has given him every opportunity to succeed. For the first time in his career Parrish seems to playing up to his potential. While Parrish is not draftable outside of return yardage leagues, he's someone to keep an eye on mid-season.

Click here to order Roscoe Parrish’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Kellen Winslow Makes His Preseason Debut

Buccaneers TE Kellen Winslow made his preseason debut during Saturday's loss to the Jaguars. He sat out the first two games after having his knee scoped in the offseason, but started against Jacksonville, and caught a pass for five yards. The Bucs were taking it easy with Winslow, as he is one of their few weapons on offense, and as a veteran they know what they're going to get out of him. He finished 2009 with 77 receptions for 884 yards and five touchdowns.

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

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Jon Vilma says he's fine after groin injury

Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma says the groin injury that forced him from Friday's game will not keep him out of the season opener.

"I'll be fine," Vilma wrote Saturday. "I'm not letting ANYTHING stop me from showing up to the party Sept. 9! Believe that!" Don't expect to see the Saints' most important defensive player on the field next week. He seems likely to miss practice time as well.

Saints GM Mickey Loomis confirmed Monday that Vilma (groin) is fully expected to be ready for Week 1.

"We don't think it's serious," Loomis added. "All indications are he's going to be ready to go in the opening game." Vilma also tweeted Monday that he'll be ready for the Vikings. Draft him with confidence in IDP leagues.

A second opinion from Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia Monday confirmed that Vilma will not need surgery on his injured groin.

It confirmed the first opinion, which came from the Saints' medical staff. "We're optimistic that he's gonna be able to start up practice when we get going Sunday of next week," said Sean Payton. Vilma should start in Week 1.

Click here to order Jon Vilma’s proCane Rookie Card.

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Vernon Carey Limited In Practice

Starting right tackle Vernon Carey was limited in practice by what appeared to be a right calf injury.

Carey continues to have a sleeve on his right calf. Walked off the field accompanied by a trainer but finished practice.

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Chris Myers looking to solidify center job

Chris Myers could solidify his spot as the starting center with a strong performance in Saturday's preseason matchup against the Cowboys.

Wade Smith, who is listed as the No. 2 center on the team's depth chart, is starting the contest at left guard. Look for both to enter the season as starters.

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NFL To Monitor Colts CB Glenn Sharpe's Legal Issues

Defensive back Glenn Sharpe, signed by the cornerback-thin Indianapolis Colts, is subject to review under the NFL's personal conduct policy, the result of his arrest in Georgia earlier this month. League vice president Greg Aiello confirmed via e-mail Tuesday afternoon to The Sports Xchange that the situation involving Sharpe, signed by the Colts on Monday, is being "monitored" by the NFL under conduct policy guidelines. Colts officials did not immediately return a telephone message. Sharpe, 26, was arrested in Georgia on the night of Aug. 4 and charged with illegal possession of a narcotic and possession of a weapon during a felony. He was released from custody on Aug. 5 after posting $11,400 bail.

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Sherko Should Be Back

Sherko Haji-Rasouli, who hasn't played a game all season because of recurring knee injuries, likely will replace Justin Sorensen at right tackle.

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Willis McGahee was informed he wasn’t going to play

BALTIMORE—Former Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee(notes) was aware that he wasn't going to play during the Baltimore Ravens' 24-10 win over the New York Giants, but it wasn't because the organization was protecting him for a rumored trade.

McGahee, who has been the subject of unconfirmed trade speculation about cornerbacks like the Denver Broncos' Andre Goodman, was informed before the game by running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery that the team was going to use other backs.

Team officials said that the lack of playing time isn't a precursor to the trade and was done so other backs could be evaluated.

"Coach told me what was going on, so I knew what was happening," McGahee said. "I wasn't worried about it. I'm good."

The Ravens did the same thing with Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice(notes) during the first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.

"We just don’t need to play those guys every single week," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Willis has gotten reps. He may or may not get some reps next week. I don’t think we need to see what Willis McGahee can do. He’s touched the ball during the preseason. He does in practice. He’s a veteran back, and we don’t need a lot of reps from him.”

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Injury a Giant issue for Sinorice Moss

Eli Manning may have traded in his baseball cap for a football helmet, set to play tomorrow against Baltimore, but the Giants have a number of other injured players set to miss the third preseason game.

With that serving as dress rehearsal for the opener, and cuts coming by Tuesday, it's an important game.

While center Shaun O'Hara and cornerback Aaron Ross are safe in their jobs, the same may not be true for receiver Sinorice Moss. He had been practicing up until yesterday, when he was sidelined by what the team called a groin injury, pending tests.

"It's frustrating [to be hurt], as its always been. For myself personally I can't get too down on myself, because things happen," said Moss. "I honestly don't know what it is, but we'll find out. Groin, abdominal, I don't know. I have no idea."

Moss hadn't ruled out shutting it down for the rest of preseason, missing next Thursday's game vs. New England as well. When asked if he thought this could hurt his odds of making the roster, he looked stunned and said: "No. Why would it jeopardize my chances for that? No, that's not my opinion at all."

Moss will undergo a second opinion on his groin injury tomorrow after continued soreness has sidelined the four-year veteran. Coach Tom Coughlin did not know whether the injury will last long-term, but the setback is a troubling sign for Moss.

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Phillip Buchanon Looks To Have Locked Up The Nickel Corner

Phillip Buchanon has carved out a niche as the Redskins’ nickel back, and he said his short stay in Houston was beneficial to him picking up Jim Haslett’s system.

“This is a different defense for me,” Buchanon said. “I played in a similar scheme in Houston and didn’t really understand it. The second go-around is better.”

Buchanon is playing for his fifth team in seven years. Does his year-plus in Houston make him a lot more comfortable in the Redskins’ defense?

“A little more comfortable, put it that way,” he said.

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Manning-to-Wayne connection still strong

Reggie Wayne caught seven passes for 96 yards and one touchdown against the Packers in Thursday's exhibition game.

That should put to rest any concerns about Wayne's slow finish to the 2009 season. The Peyton Manning-to-Wayne connection was as strong as ever Thursday with Dallas Clark out of the lineup. Targeted nine times in just over two quarters, Wayne made plays all over the field, highlighted by deep gains of 35 and 36 yards. He's safely a top-10 fantasy receiver.

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Shawnbrey McNeal Performs Well In Chargers Pre Season Game

Rookie Shawnbrey McNeal caught two passes for 14 yards and had three kick returns for 88 yards, including a 47-yard return in the fourth quarter.

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New book to allege violations made by University of Miami football

Five months ago, UM's website called Nevin Shapiro ``an ardent, devoted, intense supporter.'' A student lounge was named in his honor.
Now, facing years in prison for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme, Shapiro is writing a book about the UM football program in which he alleges former Canes players committed NCAA violations, said his attorney, Maria Elena Perez. Perez said Shapiro told the federal government about the violations, which are alleged to be major, but it did not investigate because ``that's not their area.''

Shapiro, who lived in a posh Miami Beach home before his April arrest, said from a New Jersey jail that he will not detail the allegations until the book is published; he's aiming for December. He wrote a first draft and will seek a publisher. The title: The Real U: 2001 to 2010. Inside the Eye of the Hurricane.

UM's website said Shapiro, who had a suite at games, contributed $150,000 to the athletic program; prosecutors allege he used ``stolen funds'' for that. Shapiro said he donated $300,000 to UM, and that $130,000 was returned to the bankruptcy trustee.

Shapiro has said he was close with Jon Beason, Devin Hester, Antrel Rolle, Randy Phillips, Robert Marve, Kyle Wright and others when they played at UM, plus former UM assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt, now at Louisville.

``This will be a tell-all book from a fan and booster perspective,'' said Shapiro, who did not attend UM. But why write a book that will hurt UM?
``I want to make the average fan aware of what really exists under that uniform,'' he said. ``They might be great players, but they're certainly not great people. I'm speaking of no less than 100 former players.''

Shapiro, 41, is angry because ``once the players became pros, they turned their back on me. It made me feel like a used friend.'' He was motivated by ``heartbreak and disappointment on behalf of the university, which I considered to be an extended part of my family.''

He said the heartbreak was caused by ``former players mostly'' and ``some administrative staff and coaches. I've always had the utmost respect for Donna Shalala, Kirby Hocutt and Paul Dee.''

Shapiro will use book profits to pay back investors in the alleged Ponzi scheme but cannot keep any for himself, Perez said.

Some players call Shapiro ``Little Luke'' after Luther Campbell, who years ago gave cash to UM players for big hits.

When he specifies the allegations, the NCAA will decide whether to investigate. Asked if the NCAA investigates claims by people in jail, spokesperson Stacey Osburn said, ``When reasonably reliable information has been obtained indicating intentional violations may have occurred, the enforcement staff will undertake a review of the information in order to determine the credibility.'' Factors considered include ``how they know the reported facts and what their potential motivation may be,'' among others. UM's Hocutt declined to comment.

Perez said Shapiro will accept a plea deal on money laundering and security fraud charges and will go to prison for an undetermined time. Prosecutors said Shapiro, 41, used a Florida-based company called Capitol Investments USA Inc., to raise nearly $900 million from investors who thought they were buying into a wholesale grocery distribution business. Instead, they said Shapiro left at least 60 investors in Florida, Indiana and New Jersey with about $80 million in losses after the scheme collapsed.

`He's accepting responsibility for his conduct and making his best effort to give everyone back their money,'' Perez said. ``It was a legitimate business until 2007. An individual who was close to him stole $20 million from him and that set him back.'

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Cubs purchase Maine's contract, send Berg to Iowa

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Chicago Cubs have purchased the contract of left-handed pitcher Scott Maine from Triple-A Iowa.

The 25-year-old Maine has not pitched in the majors. He's split this season between Iowa and Double-A Tennessee, going 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA.

The Cubs optioned right-handed pitcher Justin Berg to Iowa on Tuesday. He was 0-1 with a 5.77 ERA in 35 games.

When Scott Maine made his major-league debut 3 nights ago night, he became the 16th rookie to appear in a game for the Cubs this year, the most for the team since it used 16 in 2006. (Dusty noticed that note, too). Maine also became the 10th player to make his major-league debut this year for the Cubs.

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Ryan Braun goes 4-for-4 with a homer in win

Ryan Braun went 4-for-4 with a two-run homer, three singles, and a walk as the Brewers recorded an 8-4 win over the Pirates on Sunday.

No matter how strong he finishes Braun will end up a disappointment to both the Brewers and fantasy owners. However, he's doing his best to minimize the damage by hitting .422 with three homers and more walks (13) than strikeouts (10) in August. A strong finish would make ignoring his early season struggles much easier come draft day next spring.

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Five-out saves nothing new for closer Chris Perez

In his brief time as a closer in the majors, Chris Perez has shown he does not need a minimum-threshold save situation to be successful. He gladly will enter the ninth inning with nobody on, nobody out and a three-run lead, but he is more than willing to take the ball in a mess.

Thursday night against Oakland, Perez notched his second five-out save this season and fourth of his career in the Indians' 3-2 victory. He inherited runners on first and second and worked out of it, then pitched around a hit in the ninth. He struck out a career-high four.

The save was his 16th this season (in 20 opportunities) and 25th since making his debut with St. Louis in May 2008.

Perez secured the Indians' first five-out, one-run save since David Riske did so on May 13, 2003, against Detroit.

"Chris is fearless," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He enjoys being out there in those types of situations."

The term "old school" was used in the Tribe clubhouse to describe the save.

"Real 'old school' is three innings," Perez said with a chuckle. "I look at it this way: Yes, I'm the closer, but I'm also part of the bullpen. Certain games work out to where you're trying to get to the ninth. I was well-rested and ready to go. Whatever they need me to do, I'll do."

Perez was available Friday against the Royals.

Perez's first five-out special happened to be the first save of his career. He remembers it like it was, well . . .

"Aug. 6, 2008," Perez said. "We were playing the Dodgers in St. Louis, Casey Blake was on second and Jeff Kent was the first batter I faced."
Perez struck out Kent looking and got Angel Berroa to pop out to preserve a 9-6 lead. He walked one in the ninth.

In Perez's previous major-league appearance, he had given up a two-run walkoff homer to Jason Michaels in Pittsburgh on July 12. He was optioned to Class AAA on July 18 and recalled Aug. 6.

The second five-out save came one week later at Florida. It was considerably more dicey. With runners on second and third and the Cardinals leading, 5-4, Perez walked Dan Uggla. Then . . .

"Josh Willingham grounded to Troy Glaus, who stepped on third and threw to first," Perez said. "Double play, we're out of the inning."
Perez escaped a jam in the ninth and the Cardinals won, 6-4.

The third career five-out save occurred June 11, 2010, against Washington at Progressive Field. Protecting a five-run lead, Perez got dangerous Ryan Zimmerman to ground into a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded. The Indians won, 7-2.

Only once as a major-leaguer has Perez been in position to earn a five-out save and failed to do so. On May 5 against Toronto at Progressive Field, he stranded a runner in the eighth to preserve a one-run lead but allowed three runs in the ninth and lost, 5-4. That result gets a huge asterisk, though, because all the runs were unearned after shortstop Luis Valbuena committed a two-out error.

Sizzling: Entering Friday, Perez had allowed two earned runs in his past 22 appearances, covering 22 1/3 innings since June 28. He is 11-for-12 in saves since May 18.

"His command has been tremendous the last three months," Acta said. "He's throwing a lot of strikes down in the zone. When he has command like that, he's tough to hit. Right now, if we get to him, we feel pretty good."

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Pat Burrell Regains Power With Giants Pat Burrell Regains Power With Giants

Pat Burrell hit 251 home runs over the course of nine slugging seasons with the Phillies. Just when it looked like his productive years were behind him, "Pat the Bat" has regained his stroke as a member of the Giants.

FanHouse TV's Jeff Fletcher has the story behind the comeback. Click to watch:


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Gaby Sanchez misses extending RBI streak to 9

Gaby Sanchez looked like his RBI streak would go to nine consecutive games when he sent a Tim Hudson pitch into the right-center field gap in the fourth. Dan Uggla would have scored easily from first had the ball not bounced on the track and into the bleachers for an ground rule double. Sanchez in ninth struck out with a man on second and one out.

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Danny Valencia continues to impress

As Danny Valencia continues to perform admirably as the team's starting third baseman, he's leaving a strong impression on manager Ron Gardenhire. But Gardenhire didn't really have any preconceived notions of what Valencia might do.

"I really don't put expectations on young kids," Gardenhire said. "I just want them to play."

Gardenhire likes what he sees -- as Valencia has started 54 games at third and delivered 16 multi-hit games.

"I like the way he pays attention -- the way he's into the game," Gardenhire said. "He's asking the right questions. He just needs to get comfortable and swing the bat. He makes it easy to write his name in there."

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