Hester: "[The Bears] are shocking me because they're making big moves

Devin Hester will be one of the players most impacted by the acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler.

He reacted to the news on Sporting News Radio on The Monty Show.

What is your vision knowing Jay Cutler will be in Chicago? DH: "As far as the GM, they went out there and made a pretty good move. My thoughts go out to Kyle Orton, I feel like he was getting ready to come to his peak, but the NFL is a business and things happen for a reason so... but on the other side of the hand now we have Jay Cutler, which has proven himself as a pro bowl quarterback. I think he'll come in and kind of boost up the team and probably fill in some of the pieces we're looking for."

Do you think this changes the way you guys will play offense? DH: "I think Jay is a great quarterback. I've watched the film on him, I've played against him and you know just hearing rumors around that he throws some of the most incredible passes. Jay Cutler is a great quarterback, and I'm looking forward to playing with him this year and I think he's going to come out and shock the world. He's a great quarterback. He's got the ability to move inside and outside the pocket and squeezing those passes into areas that need to be thrown in."

This is going to give Matt Forte more space, which will in turn give you more space. DH: "Right, you know it works hand in hand. In order to run the ball you've got to pass the ball, so that right there is hand in hand. With Matt Forte coming back, with the rookie year he had last year, I'm looking for something even better. We're moving on to new things that I guess with picking up Jay Cutler we're looking forward to throwing the ball a little bit more."

With Jay Cutler coming and Orlando Pace coming to Chicago, this is a big day for your offense. DH: "I feel like Jerry and those guys are really making big steps and they're going out and doing whatever it takes and they're shocking me because they're making big moves and things that you know we've been striving for to get back to being a Super Bowl team. The moves that they're making are incredible and we're striving to be a Super Bowl team."


Santana Moss Success Story Inspires Students


A Portis Alias

Clinton Portis has an alias. Diego Morales. Because "he just sounds like a hard-working guy." Diego, he means. Not sure if that's a reference to the Mexican boxer or not. He also defines "Portis Pockets Straight," and while he's previously done so on Best Damn Sports Show, I never saw it. Here's the definition, via The Redskins Blog:

"My paycheck is gonna continue to be my paycheck. So I'm not hurtin', I'm not dying to be friends with somebody, I don't care what people throw out and say about me. When I go home, I go home in luxury. I live my life, I do the things I want to do.

"If I feel like travelling, I travel. If I feel like buying a new car, then I buy a new car. If I feel like hanging out, I go out and party. If I feel like staying low, I do me. So when I say my pockets straight, that means I do me, and I will continue to do me, and no matter what you say, I'm'a do it. What you gonna do?"


Ed Reed Madden 2010 Cover Finalist

Sure, Ray Lewis is the undisputed team captain, but ask any QB in the NFL (see Chad Pennington) who they fear the most on the Ravens #1-rated defense, and they'll tell you it's Ed Reed. (From?  The U.)  Simply put, Ed Reed is a ball hawk.  He dominated opposing offenses last year, leading the league in interceptions with 9, including his NFL-record 107 yard TD return against Philly.  Not to mention his 2 picks in the Wildcard game at Miami, scoring yet again.  What do you think about Reed becoming only the 2nd defensive player to be on the cover?  Who was the first one again?  Oh yeah, Ray Lewis. Post your comments on the Madden NFL forum here.

2008 Stat Line:  41 tackles, 9 INTs
2008 Fight For Every Yard moment:  Reed picked off 2 passes in week 12 vs. the Eagles, returning one for an NFL-record 107 yards, breaking the previous record of 106 yards held by...Ed Reed.


Man wants plea withdrawn in Sean Taylor case

MIAMI (AP) -The attorney for a man who pleaded guilty in the killing of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor says his client now wants out of the deal.

Michael Hornung, the attorney for 21-year-old Venjah Hunte (VEHN'-jah huhnt), says his client plans to withdraw his guilty plea to second-degree murder and armed burglary of an occupied dwelling. Under the May plea agreement, Hunte would have served 29 years in prison in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors.

Hornung says he and Hunte disagree about withdrawing the plea, and that Hunte will appear in court Thursday in Miami to ask for a new court-appointed lawyer.

Taylor was fatally shot in November 2007 in a botched robbery at his home outside Miami. Altogether, five people have been charged in the killing.


Tampa Bay Rays' Pat Burrell looking forward to returning to Philadelphia

PORT CHARLOTTE — DH Pat Burrell said he doesn't know quite what to expect when he returns today to Philadelphia, where he spent the first 10 years of his career in the Phillies organization and won the World Series last season.

But Burrell knows one thing: He can't wait to find out.

"I can't lie to you and say I'm not looking forward to it, because I am," said Burrell, who signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Rays as a free agent in the offseason. "I think it's going to be an exciting kind of thing.

"It'll be nice to play in the stadium, with all the memories and all that good stuff. It's going to be different, I'm sure."

Burrell's final at-bat at Citizens Bank Park was a double that eventually led to the winning run in Game 5 of the World Series against the Rays. He then led the Phillies' championship parade downtown.

Burrell, 32, received a warm reception from Phillies fans when the Rays played them in spring training, from many giving a standing ovation in his first at-bat to autograph seekers flocking the visitor's dugout to chat with him; they are memories he said he'll never forget.

In March, he took out ads in Philadelphia's two main newspapers, thanking fans for their support in his career.

Burrell isn't sure if he will get the same treatment today.

"I'm just looking forward to the experience," he said. "I just don't know how it's going to turn out."


Perez throws for Triple-A Memphis

JUPITER, Fla. — A few more notes to wrap up a hot, sunny Wednesday at Roger Dean Stadium:

Reliever Chris Perez pitched his first game for Triple-A Memphis today since being sent down from major-league camp earlier this week. He looked good, from what little I could see from the bleachers at the Double-A side.

Springfield reliever Francisco Samuel continued to throw heat. He was hitting 95 mph on the gun just about every pitch — even the ones that went into the dirt. And there were plenty of those.

Reliever Kenny Maiques fell off a lot of radar screens after a rough last year, posting a 6.3 ERA in High-A Palm Beach. He looked solid in relief today. He didn't give up a run (he's the only reliever who can say that today) in 1 2/3 innings of work. His stuff also got into the low 90s.

If I haven't talked much about offense today, that's because there wasn't a lot of hitting for Springfield. Second baseman Daniel Descalso had a nice single in the sixth, and shortstop Donovan Solano got an RBI with a sacrifice fly in the third.

Santana Moss Visits J.P. Taravella High School

It's not everyday an NFL star comes to school but Wednesday, students at J.P. Taravella High School had a chance to see and hear from Washington Redskins wide-receiver Santana Moss.

"I'm a professional football player who dreamt from day one, that's what I wanted to be" Moss told CBS4 Mojo Jim Robinson. Now, on his 5th season with the Redskins, Moss shared a few words of wisdom from his success.

Principal of JPT High School, Shawn Cerra says, "I think it's important for them to get the reinforcement here at school, but more importantly, hear success stories".

Moss's success story comes with much more then grass stains. Growing up in Carol City wasn't easy. Constantly teased for being short didn't discourage him from achieving his dreams. That's the message he wants these students to catch on to.

Freshman David Torrente said, "Growing up in a bad neighborhood, and he didn't use that as an excuse, he still did his best so he could become someone important in life."

A similar reaction came from Kadajah Braddy, another freshman: "I just like how he motivates everyone. He keeps it real," she adds.

Moss's life has been very real, tough and busy. But, he takes time to share his story with students. "I had to believe, and I had to dream. And I had to realize that if that person that I'm looking up to is doing it than I can do it".

Students looking up to him today are going away with more than autographs, and photos for their bedroom wall. They're taking his advice.

"Go hard, play football, that's what I'm planning to do. They call me Santana Moss too at my football field, so I'm going to try and do the best I can," said Tevon Stewart.

The NFL star also shared his thoughts about life today. Even with success and a career many dream of, he says, "Life isn't easy; it's still not easy for me now"


Jeremy Shockey won't follow in T.O.'s footsteps: Saints mailbag

Q: A lot has been made recently about Terrell Owens missing voluntary workouts when he has a personal trainer. Will Jeremy Shockey do the same thing with the Saints this year and not attend voluntary workouts? If you don't know then when does voluntary work-outs for the Saints start to monitor that situation? Stephen LeCompte, Houston, TX

A: You'll be happy to know, Stephen, that Shockey did report to the Saints' offseason conditioning program, which began on Monday. And, really, I don't expect Shockey to be anything like Terrell Owens this offseason. He's committed to making things work in New Orleans - where else would he have it better than here? - and he's determined to put last year's disappointing season behind him. I don't know how much time he'll spend in New Orleans vs. Miami, where he has always worked out in past offseasons. But he said after last season that he plans to spend more time at the team's practice facility than ever before. Here's the whole quote: "I'm going to do a lot of work with Drew. I'm going to be here working with these guys. I haven't done that in five or six years, and I'm not saying that I didn't make the right decision in the past. Just here, I think it would benefit myself and the team a lot more than it would if I was playing, doing the one up in New York. So I'm going to still work out in Miami, that's the normal plan, but really show my face and come around here a lot more than I've ever done in my whole career."


Bucs to use tight ends a lot

Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski says Kellen Winslow will be a "big part" of the offense he's installing in Tampa Bay. "We can put him in different spots and move him around to get the matchup we want," Jags said. "He can get in and out of a cut like a receiver." Winslow will push Antonio Bryant hard to be Tampa Bay's leading receiver this year.


Winslow Opts Out Of Voluntary Workouts

Some feared the worst when Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career, did not participate in either of Tampa Bay's mini-camp practices at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday.

But Bucs head coach Raheem Morris put those fears to rest this afternoon when asked about Winslow, stating that the Pro Bowl tight end that was acquired in a trade with Cleveland earlier this offseason simply opted not to participate in today's voluntary workouts.

"This is a voluntary deal," Morris said when asked about Winslow. "Guys are working. They practice when they can. Kellen didn't practice today. He attended and was great. He bounced around was listening attentively. He did everything he needed to do. He came to the meeting. He's been great since he's been here and very positive. I'm just happy he's here.

"It has nothing to do with health. It's a voluntary deal and Kellen didn't go today."

The Bucs traded a second-round pick in 2009 and a fifth-round selection in 2010 to Cleveland in exchange for Winslow, who has two years remaining on his contract. It is unclear whether Winslow will practice on Thursday.


Tracking proCanes - Leon Searcy - Part II

Part II: Leon's thoughts on the current state of the program, favorite things, word associations and more! Click here to read Part I.

pC: Where’s Russell [Maryland] now?
LS: Russell is in Dallas. He works for a software company that sells video components to the NFL and college teams.

pC: You played under both Jimmy and Erickson. Did things change when Jimmy left? Erickson ran a loose operation from most people’s accounts.
LS: Well the years I was there, it was kind of like Erickson was given the keys to a Porsche and he was told not to wreck it. Everybody when I was there understood what Jimmy Johnson had done over the years and what he had built. We were a little skeptical with going outside of the family with the hire because initially Gary Stevens was a guy everybody wanted because he was the offensive coordinator. That had a lot to do with why Steve Walsh left because Steve Walsh basically gave Miami an ultimatum and said keep Gary Stevens on board and that’s why he entered the supplemental draft. So when Erickson was hired we were a little skeptical about his offense, though it was a pro-style offense in a way. A lot of long passes and decent running game. And the one thing he didn’t do is touch the defense. He let the defense stay where it was.

I can just remember the first time we saw Dennis Erickson, we were all running 15x110s and I remember him walking out on the field and seeing Lamar Thomas, Horace Copeland and he is seeing offensive lineman and defensive lineman blazing by him and he was in awe of all the speed we had as a team. We were just flying by and him thinking, man this new guy is coming in here, just don’t mess it up because we had just come within a yard of winning back –to-back [championships]. Everybody knows that wasn’t a fumble that was called against Notre Dame and we would have been back-to-back. We had a motto in Miami that was it was either title or bust. It was no going to a bowl. If we weren’t playing for a national title, our season was not a success. So we just wanted to make sure that whoever was brought in here, he understood what our purpose was and he was on board for it because we felt we had enough talent on that team to win a National Title that year and we actually did.

pC: So would you say the players had more of the role of running the ship than he did?
LS: Yes. We had enough leadership on that team, that he didn’t really have to do anything. Everybody knew their role, we knew who we looked up to and what kind of talent we had and he didn’t have to come in and discipline us. You know, we had guys that had little spats but not to the point that would jeopardize the team and what we set out to do.

pC: They call us the “U Family” and all the old players come back to practices, they still work out there. How did that start?
LS: Everybody cares so much for the program because we understand the amount of sacrifice that was put into it. That is what we always tell the young guys nowadays. You’re in the position you’re in now because of what guys have done that paved the way to this point. Jimmy Johnson did create a family sense and guys came back. I mean it’s hard to be a defensive tackle and not listen to Cortez Kennedy who is a future Hall of Famer. It’s hard if you’re a receiver to not listen to Michael Irvin who is also a Hall of Famer. It’s hard if you’re a running back, to not to listen to Edgerrin James tell you about cuts and read defenses. It’s hard to be an offensive lineman and not listen to Leon Searcy who was an all-pro. We had enough guys at so many different positions and guys were saying listen and they had no choice. They always welcome guys to come back and it rolled over. Guys always come back and help and we created that bond where we cared enough about the program to not see it falter.

pC: Do you go back often?
LS: Not as often as I like. Only because these last couple of years I was coaching, so I was recruiting and this and that. When I was in league I would go back and talk to guys and I used to train down there early in my career.

pC: Did you have a nickname or anything?
LS: Michael Barrow used to call me Godzilla because I used to always bark out calls. Some guys used to also call me “Big Pun” which is short for punisher when I was playing.

pC: What was the toughest place to play an away game in college?
LS: Oh easily, Florida State. Florid State during that time was like our little brother. It was like looking at a mirror of yourself, only smaller. I’m sure they’re not going to like that, but it’s true. They always gave us the toughest time. Most of athletes on the field at that time were similar. If we had a receiver that ran a 4.3 [second 40-yard dash] they had a DB that ran a 4.3. If we had offensive lineman that could bench 500 [lbs] they had a defensive lineman. They complemented us. They complemented us in every way. I know it had to be very frustrating for them because in my five years there they only beat us once and the one time they beat us we still won the title so I know it must have been very frustrating for them at that time. Florida State with that chomp and everything that goes on up there, it’s tough.

pC: Who was the one guy that was really influential in the development of your game?
LS: My high-school coach and my offensive line coach Art Kehoe. The one thing Art Kehoe did for me was that he kept me humble. I was having so much success so fast from when I came in as a freshman and then came in my sophomore year, things just started rolling for me. I’m starting, we’re winning titles but he always kept me humble. He always stayed on me about my technique. I could have an outstanding practice in my mind and then he would tell me that that was horrible. I understand what he was doing. He was feeding the fire. He didn’t want me to ever become comfortable with myself, with my technique, how I train, how I study. Ultimately he knew I was going to be an NFL player and if I became comfortable with myself I could never achieve what I wanted to achieve at the next level. He also worked on my techniques, fundamentals, hand placements, how to shoot my hands, how to train as an offensive lineman and all that stuff. Coach Kehoe definitely had a great deal to do with my success.

pC: Do you still talk to him?
LS: Yes I still do.

pC: You said going to the NFL wasn’t that bad of a transition. What would you say was then the toughest part about going to the NFL?
LS: One of the things was living up to the first round status. Going to the Pittsburgh Steelers and being the 11th pick overall, I was now the highest paid guy on the line as a rookie. So, having to live up to those expectations. Then, just the speed of the game. We had a lot of speed in Miami but there were so many different formations and variations in the league [NFL]. You would have to check out safeties, cornerbacks, twist and stunts at the next level. The speed and the expectations were probably the toughest.

pC; You went to the Steelers, the Jaguars, Ravens and Dolphins. What was your favorite stop?
LS: My favorite stop was Pittsburgh. I love being a Steeler. Everything about it. The hard-nosed, tough, hardhat, coming to work everyday lunch pail attitude, the Steelers exempted, I loved everything about it. Coach Cowher was an awesome coach, very player friendly. He loved winning, hated losing, tough, hard-nosed. I came in with Cowher, I was his first pick in 1992. Everything about being a Steeler, I enjoy.

pC: Going to the current state of the program, why did you think it became this way, how can it get back?
LS: I probably didn’t make a lot of UM fans happy when I made a comment on the radio about how Miami has become the Cal Berkley of California. In the sense that USC has become the staple now in California and there is USC and everybody else. Now in the state of Florida the tables have turned in the sense that now, the University of Florida is the toast of the town and Miami is in the back seat. It is true though, in Gainesville they have this machine running. They have two National Titles in three years, they are doing something right. We’re getting just as much as talent as they are, but somehow it’s not transforming onto the field. I don’t know who to blame. I don’t know if we should blame the coaches, or the recruiting. Everyone says the facilities or we don’t have the money. When I was at the University of Miami, our weight room was no bigger than this Applebee’s, but I can name a lot of talent that came out of that little weight room with one little window when anytime you need to get air you had to open the door to get air. You’re talking about guys like Russell, Tez, me, Warren Sapp a slew of NFL players that came out of the little facility. I don’t want to hear about we don’t have the money or facilities. Something is just not being done there. Now I hear that if we win seven or eight games, you can’t have those sort of low expectations and ever expect your program to be where it used to be. I really don’t converse with those guys as much as I used to, but I hope they care that they want to turn it back around. I know they are working their behinds off but something is not going right.

pC: Do you think Randy is the man for the job?
LS: I do think Randy is the man but does Randy have the people around him? He was there and I know Randy knows about the traditions and upholding them but he’s got to have everybody on the same page. If he has everybody on the same page with a clear objective of getting the program back to where it used to be then it will be back where it should be. Right now it doesn’t make any sense to me that over the last four or five years we have top 10 recruiting classes according to those publications and then not being able to transfer that over to the football field.

pC: So you think there was a problem at least in coaching or development.
LS: Look at this statistic. I was watching the NFL network and the last couple of years Miami has been squeaking out a first round pick. Now this year we might not even have a guy drafted. When Butch had that machine running and we were on probation, a Butch Davis recruiting class consisted of Ed Reed, Cliton Portis, Edgerrin James, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Bryant Mckinne, DJ Williams, Phillip Buchanon and this is when we were on probation. When you’re on probation and they take 33 of your scholarships away you’ve got to recruit and you’ve got to develop these players if you want to compete. Look at Jimmy, look at Dennis, look at Butch and you look at Larry and you look at Randy. Somewhere there was a demise. If you look at a timeline, there was no demise with Jimmy, Erickson towards the end maybe, Butch built that thing back up. Someone is to blame after that. I won’t say the name but you do the math.

pC: Do you think the program can come back though?
LS: I believe they can. I believe they can. If they’re getting the top-notch players you have to put these guys in position so they can win football games. That’s what it boils down to.

pC: What do you think about the move to Dolphins Stadium?
LS: I didn’t like it. I know why it was done, money. A private school, not state funded and the Orange Bowl facilities were shammy at best. I understand why they made the move. The whole idea of the Orange Bowl was to have the student base there for the games. The atmosphere is not the same and the fans are spread out.

pC: Why the number 73 at UM?
LS: I was 77 in high school and they gave me 73 in college. In the pros I wanted the number 73 but it would have cost me $10,000.

pC: Who did you have to buy it from?
LS: Justin Strzelczyk, he was an offensive lineman of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was the first round pick making all this money and I just assumed I would get my number. I asked if I could have my number and they said well someone has it. I said I need my number and they said you need to go talk to him about it. So I went to him and said would you like to switch numbers, I have been 73 my whole career. He told me ‘it’s going to cost you’ and I said how is it going to cost me? He started it up at $25,000. I said you can keep that and he told me ‘alright you can have it for ten grand.’ I said I’m not going to give you ten grand for a number. I’ll just be 72 and I’ll make it famous.

pC:I say a word and you tell me the first thing that pops in your head:
Randy Shanon: Onion
pC: That was his nickname?
LS: That was his nickname
pC: Why?
LS: The rumor was that he would make the girls cry but I doubt that. That’s what they used to call him.

Larry Coker: Good guy
The Orange Bowl: Tradition
Dolphin Stadium: A waste
Sebastian the Ibis: Crazy as they come
Art Kehoe: Genius
Coral Gables: Too expensive
The Fiesta Bow: Robbed
Ohio State: Hate ‘em
Jimmy Johnson: Outstanding
Dennis Erickson: Aight

pC: Do you follow the NFL now? You follow a team?
LS: I follow the Steelers. I played for a couple of teams but the Steelers seem to be the only ones interested in me after football. They contacted me last year because it was the 75th anniversary of the Steelers franchise and they called me and said that I made the all 90s team and they wanted me to come. They send my son stuff and stay in contact with him. The Jaguars, I have yet to hear from them and they were my most recent team.

pC: Why did you end up going to the Jaguars?
LS: This is a funny story. I’m a free agent just out of the Super Bowl. My agent is Drew Rosenhaus, enough said there. I’m a little cocky and I’m in the Bahamas. I’m resting. Drew Rosenhaus calls me and says ‘Leon we have a deal on the table.’ I say from the Steelers? And he says ‘no from Jaguars.’ And I said the Jaguars? Come on now.

This is why I left Pittsburgh. Drew Rosenhaus got the Steelers on the phone. Drew told me at the time that the money we were asking from Pittsburgh didn’t think I deserved it. You’ve got to remember at the time, I am 24, 25, a pro bowler and teams are telling me that I don’t deserve [the money]. He said ‘Pittsburgh doesn’t think you deserve the kind money you are asking for.’ They said you’re too young. I said I don’t believe you, you’re lying. So Drew got them on the phone, and I am on the phone listening. Drew is ranting and raving and saying Leon is going to leave and they’re saying we don’t care we have someone to replace him. So that was probably the worst thing that could have happened to me.

pC: They didn’t know you were on the phone?
LS: No. They didn’t. They didn’t know I was on the phone and Drew negotiated with them. You don’t want to hear negotiations. For one, I’m 25 years old, you don’t understand the business. His job is to get as much money as he can and their job is to keep as much and we’re supposed to meet somewhere in the middle. But Drew did not explain that to me. He just explained that they don’t want you for the money you’re asking for. So, I’m on the phone and I’m hearing them say Leon is only a starter for us for 3 years and we can’t give him that kind of money because Dermontti Dawson is this and he will be a future Hall of Famer. We love the kid but we can’t pay him to be the highest offensive lineman. So I am listening to this. I am fuming mad. I said the hell with Pittsburgh. I’ll go somewhere else and prove myself. As soon as we hung up the phone, Drew had the Jaguars right there. He had already staged the whole thing because the Jaguars wanted to make me the highest paid offensive linemen in the NFL at that time. So, Drew said don’t worry about them, I’ve got a team that wants to make you the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL and I said who’s that? He said the Jacksonville Jaguars. I said, let’s go. I was fuming mad from that point on but I didn’t understand the nature of the business. That’s how the business is. I would advise any guy who is a free agent, that is young to not listen to the negotiations between your agent and the team. They want to strip you down and he’s going to build you up and they’ve got to meet somewhere in the middle. You couldn’t tell me that, not at the time. The way they were stripping me down. He can’t do this, he can’t do that, he’s got limitations. It was so tempting to just say something on the phone. I was holding it in.

pC: Favorite Food?
LS: Seafood

pC: Top tunes on your iPod?
LS: R&B, old school, Prince, light rap

pC: TV show you can’t miss?
LS: Law & Order and Cold Case

pC: What you do in your spare time?
LS: I try and spend as much time as I can with my kids. I have two daughters and my son. When I’m not doing something, I want to be with them. It was tough when I was playing ball because I was so busy. I saw my kids get raised without me. I was traveling and doing this and that. I was still wild and out there. So, now that they’re growing up, I want to spend as much time as I can with them. My daughters live in Atlanta, my son lives in Orlando.

Click here to read Part I of our interview with Leon Searcy.

We at proCanes.com would like to thank Leon Searcy for being so gracious with his time to do this very insightful interview for our new feature "Tracking proCanes." We would also like to thank his son Leon for his patience and input during the interview.

John Salmons sits on Tuesday w/ groin injury

John Salmons will not play in the Bulls game on Tuesday because of a lingering groin injury.

Salmons had reportedly been playing through the injury for a few games, but it finally caught up to him in the fourth quarter on Sunday. He is listed as day-to-day, but (a mixed blessing) the Bulls don't play again until Saturday. Kirk Hinrich is expected to start in his place, leaving the Bulls without a legitimate small forward.


O'Brien: Salmons Acquisition Was Best Trade Of Year

After seeing Bulls' guard John Salmons put on another strong show against his Pacers on Saturday, coach Jim O'Brien had nothing but praise for the ex-King.

“The best trade of the year,” Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said, referring to the deal which saw Andres Nocioni and Drew Gooden go to Sacramento for Salmons and Brad Miller.

According to the Associated Press, Salmons hit four of seven 3-pointers - including two late with the game in the balance - and reached the 20-point mark for the 11th time since the trade.


O's Huff finds there's more to life than baseball

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The death of a close friend and the birth of his son convinced Aubrey Huff that it's silly to worry about an 0-for-4 performance at the plate.

Joe Kennedy, a pitcher who played with Huff in Tampa Bay, died unexpectedly in November 2007 of heart disease. Huff said he deeply mourned the loss and, with the consent of Kennedy's wife, asked the Baltimore Orioles to give him No. 17 -- the Kennedy's number with Tampa Bay.

Then, last September, Huff's wife Barbara gave birth to the couple's first child, a son they named Jayce.

"There have been some crossroads in my life the past few years. My friend Joe Kennedy died -- he was 29 years old -- and the birth of my son just made me realize this is just a game," the 32-year-old Huff said.

"We play a kid's game for a living and get paid good money to do it. We're blessed in what we do. No matter what place we finish in, I could be very easily getting kicked out of my house right now the way the economy is. Baseball isn't life."

Huff did very little over the winter to get ready for the 2009 season, but that wasn't necessarily because he was tending to Jayce. Actually, Huff was following an offseason regimen he stumbled upon a year ago after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia.

"Last year I had the surgery, didn't do anything before coming into spring training, missed the first week and had a good year," he said. "So I'd be stupid to work out hard this offseason, would I not?"

Not after a season in which he batted .304 with 32 homers and 106 RBIs and led the AL with 82 extra-base hits.

Those numbers persuaded him to keep his bat and glove in storage for a second straight winter.

"It wasn't rocket science for me. In '03 and '04 I had some good years in Tampa, and I tried to think what I did that offseason. I remembered not doing that much," Huff said. "So I thought to myself, 'What if I worked hard? I could probably be an MVP type of guy.' I worked really hard, and the next three years were just, what in the world happened?"

In 2005, Huff batted .261. A year later, he had a meager 66 RBIs, and in 2007, his first year with Baltimore, he could muster only 15 homers and 72 RBIs.

His comeback season of a year ago began under a cloud. During November 2007 -- the same month Kennedy died -- Huff made derogatory comments about the city of Baltimore on a satellite radio show in Florida. He received a fine from the club and was jeered by Orioles fans during the early part of April.

Were it not for his torrid hitting, Huff might never have recovered from the fallout.

"Honestly, if I didn't have the year I had last year, I might not have a job now," he said. "It was definitely a good feeling. I let a lot of people down in Baltimore last year on that radio show. It was big mistake. I've expressed that. We've all moved on. It just goes to show, when you put on numbers, nobody remembers or cares."

With Kevin Millar gone, Huff has taken on more responsibility in the clubhouse. He's not one to gather the players and implore them to win, but his quips and relentless sarcasm can take the edge off an extended losing streak.

"I like messing around with other guys. I like to keep it loose in here because Lord knows, everybody in this clubhouse -- especially the younger guys -- gets kind of stressed out," Huff said. "I know how it is to be crazy about baseball and then put too much pressure on yourself. The last thing this game needs is more stress."

Huff now realizes there are more important things in life than baseball, but that doesn't mean he's not focused on playing well and helping Baltimore win.

"He's a fun guy to be around but he's pretty serious about his work," Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said. "He's always on time, he's always ready to play, he cares about whether we win or lose and he gives 100 percent effort on defense. From my end of it, he's as close to a perfect player as there is."


Brewers' Braun escapes injury scare

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Brewers officials breathed a sigh of relief late Tuesday when left fielder Ryan Braun escaped another injury scare.

Braun, who has been getting treatment for a strained muscle at the back of his rib cage, lost a line drive off the bat of Padres outfielder Brian Giles in the lights in the bottom of the first inning and suffered a right thumb injury. He went to a local hospital for X-rays, which were negative.
According to a club spokesperson, it's only a bruise and Braun remains day to day.

The team was hoping that Braun would pile up at-bats over the final week of Spring Training, but he has been limited to three "A" games over the past week. He played four innings against the Dodgers on March 25 before tightness in his ribs forced him out, then returned after two days in Minor League camp to play six innings against the Mariners on Monday.

On Tuesday, Brad Nelson replaced Braun in the outfield.


Gaby Sanchez to Start… For AAA New Orleans

Gaby Sanchez was the favorite to take over at first base but after a weak spring, he is heading to AAA. This likely means Jorge Cantu will move to first base and Emilio Bonifacio will take over third.


Tracking proCanes - Leon Searcy - Part I

proCanes.com is continuing our “Tracking proCanes” feature with former All-American, 3-time national champion and NFL Pro Bowl offensive tackle Leon Searcy. Searcy played primarily with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars in an 11-year career spanning between 1992 and 2002. He was drafted in the first-round, 11th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the University of Miami in the 1992 NFL Draft. Searcy also spent one season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 before signing with the Miami Dolphins in 2002. In 2002 he was ultimately placed on the injured reserved and he subsequently retired after the 2002 season. From 2004 to 2006, Searcy was the offensive line coach at Florida International University. Searcy was a member of the 1987, 1989 and 1991 University of Miami National Championship teams and was a first-team All-American in 1991. He also played in Super Bowl XXX for the Pittsburgh Steelers and in 2003 was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.

Part I: Where is Leon now? His days as a Hurricane and more!

proCanes.com: So, what are you up to these days Leon?
Leon Searcy: I’ve got a couple of foundations that I run, actually two foundations, one is called ProsToo . It’s a foundation where we raise money for formers professional athletes that may be struggling with life after football and we point them in the right direction as far as getting their disabilities. We look to find them opportunities for worker’s compensation and raise money to get them help. Each state varies and you know, when you play in the NFL, you play in so many different states but the main state right now is California because there is no statute of limitations in California. If you played out in California they take a portion of your salary as a workman’s fee and so the guys who played out there are eligible for worker’s compensation. We’ve helped about 200 guys. I have an attorney out there that I work with and we fly them out there and we set them up at the hotel and set them up with doctors out there and they get a full body examination. Each part of their body is evaluated and graded. The process takes about two years before anything is finalized. My main purpose for doing this, is for guys to get medical help that they otherwise couldn’t afford for the injuries they suffered while playing because people don’t know that once you finish playing ball in the NFL they only cover you for three years. A lot of these guys have bad knees, shoulders, back or hip problems. I try to get these guys help for their medical and get them compensated for their injuries.

My mom is the executive director of my other foundation Stand Up For Kids. It is a nationwide program that helps homeless kids. My mom runs it in Orlando. There is a statistic out there that says that one out of every 50 kids is homeless in America and that is a lot of kids that don’t have food, shelter, clothes or water to drink. So, my mom just got involved with that right now, and I’m a part of that. My dad has my foundation in Jacksonville also, the Leon Searcy Jr. Foundation. What we do is we feed people. We prepare baskets and give food out to the homeless throughout the whole year. What we’re trying to do now is build a kitchen so we can feed people every day.

pC: Did you start the Leon Searcy Jr. Foundation when you played in Jacksonville?
LS: Actually no, I started it when I got drafted. I had told my parents when I got drafted that I wanted to give back so I started that foundation.

pC: So you coached at FIU for three years right?
LS: Yea I coached for three years at FIU from 2004 to 2007, you know Don Strock was our head coach. I actually got fired by a Hurricane.

pC: By Mario [Cristobal]?
LS: By Mario, but you know I understand it’s a business. You know one thing I learned about college football is that you want your guy. I played with Mario for three years at Miami, but I wasn’t his guy. He wanted to bring in his guy and he explained that to me and I understood the nature of it and there are no hard feelings, though I wish he hadn’t cut my interview in half. I mean I had a five hour interview with him and Mario was asking me questions he knew I taught him. But it was all cool and it all worked out for the better.

pC: Are you looking to get back into coaching?
LS: I don’t know right now. Someone has given me the opportunity in a Minor League Football league called the United National Gridiron League. It’s supposed to be Minor League Football and they’re going to actually play their games at FIU. I think the head coach’s name is John Fox. They actually hired me but they just haven’t gotten the league kicked off yet.

pC: You’re from the DC area, when did you start playing football? How did it all start?
LS: I started playing football really young. I never played organized football. I just played on street corners, sandlots, in the street. I just loved to play football and I was really active. These were the days before video games and all this other stuff. Kids played outside. Your parents would punish you by saying you couldn’t go outside. Those were the days. I would play basketball, football anything outside. I could never make the grade to play organized football because I was too big for my age. Like this one time, me and my friends are walking to the field for football and as soon as I walked onto the field the coach sent me home because they didn’t believe I was nine years old. I was too tall and too big. I cried all the way home. You know, you walk in there with your friends and everybody else is playing but they send you home. So, I remember my mom putting me in the car and driving back to the football field and she storms in front of the coach and asks him: ‘are you the one that sent my son home?’ and he said ‘yes.’ And my mom says: ‘I want you to remember this name: Leon Searcy. I want you to remember it.’ I know why she did that. I know why she did it that day.

pC: Have you ever spoken to the coach since?
LS: I have never spoken to him since that day.

pC: When did you start playing organized football then?
LS: I didn’t play organized football till my senior year in high school. A lot of it had to with the fact that my mom is a schoolteacher and has been in education for over 45 years. She set my academic standards real high. I couldn’t play ball until I had a 3.5 [GPA]. That was a little high, but I understand what she was doing. Although she wanted me to play football she knew that if I wanted to take it to the next level that she had to set the standards high. So I didn’t play sports until my senior year. So just imagine now, I am 6’4” 305lbs, the biggest kid in school, and I’m not playing ball. First of all, forget the ladies, the ladies are out, you’re not going to be very popular because you aren’t playing ball and they’re going to wonder what’s wrong with you. So I had to endure that my sophomore and junior year. I went out to the Jamboree going into my senior year and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the contact of hitting other people. I gravitated right to it. My high school football coach sees me dunking the basketball one day and he comes up to me and asks me if I was new at the school. I told him I was going to be a senior next year. And he said: ‘You are going to be a senior and you have never played football before?’ And I said no I have never played before. He said: ‘why don’t you come out and let me train you in the summer and we’ll get you ready for the season.’ Most kids in the summer wanted to party and hang out with their friends. I had a 3.75 GPA and I was in summer school training with my head coach. We’re doing drills, weight training, suicides, lifting weights everything. Going into my senior season I had some good games. My first two letters that I got were from Florida A&M and South Carolina State. By the end of the season I had Michigan, Notre, Dame, LSU, Florida, Florida State, and Miami.

pC: Who you recruited you out of Miami?
LS: Don Soldinger. The funny thing about it is, is that he came to my school to look at another player. He came to look at a defensive tackle and a linebacker. He wasn’t even considering me. The funny thing that happened was he was sitting at the stadium watching us do drills, and the guy he was looking at was guy I ran over in the drills, the linebacker and I didn’t do it just one time, I did it like three times in the drill. So Don Soldinger asked ‘Who is that?’ My coach said, ‘oh that’s Leon Searcy he has never played football before’ and Soldinger said, ‘that kid could play at Miami, let me talk to him.’ That’s how it all started.

pC: Why Miami, were you a fan of them growing up?
LS: Absolutely. You know I didn’t watch much college football growing up but I remember Don Soldinger playing a tape of the 1986 team. The whole pageantry of how they played football just excited me. Michael Irvin, Jerome Brown, Stubbs, I mean just every aspect. I said that’s where’s I want to be. I just felt that the pageantry and the way they played football was exciting. I knew that’s where I wanted to be.

pC: On your recruiting visit to Miami, what do you remember? Who toured you around?
LS: I believe it was Melvin Bratton. You know, I wasn’t a little young, I was a lot young. You know, I didn’t go out much, but Melvin Bratton is taking me out to Inferno all these other clubs. You know, I’m a green kid, I had never seen that. I knew I could never tell my mom about where we went. She would have never let me come here if I did but I loved every bit of it. He took me to the Beach to all the hot spots.

The one thing that stood out that he said, was ‘if you come to the University of Miami, if you’re not coming here to be the best, don’t come.’ That’s what he said. He said ‘if you’re not coming here to be the best, don’t come because you’ll be back home in six months because they will run you out of here.’ He said ‘there is so much talent on that field that if you don’t compete it will show and you will not play.’ You know Coach Soldinger told me that too. I am sitting there on signing day, and signing day was a lot different than it is now with all the show. My signing day was in a closet-like room with three chairs and table my dad to my left and Don Soldinger to my right. I am sitting there with the papers and Don Soldinger and before I signed the pieces of paper he said: ‘when you come to the University of Miami, if you don’t come here to be the best, you won’t play and you’ll just be a five-year backup. Before you sign that piece of paper know what you’re committing to.’ I wasn’t worried about that though because I knew I was going to compete, so I signed and was off and running.

pC: Was there another school that was close in the running?
LS: Yea there was one school. Florida State, but Florida State kind of did themselves in. It was between Miami and Florida State, but Florida State was actually the reason why I went to Miami. I went [on a recruiting visit] to Miami first and then Florida State second. I talked to Bobby Bowden and then that evening when the hostess was taking me out I see Deion Sanders, I see Sammy Smith. I see all these guys. They were in the room having a good time and we sit down and we start talking. We start talking football and they start talking about Miami and how they can’t beat Miami and this and that. I said, wait a minute, all these guys are talking about is how great Miami is and how they can’t beat Miami. I said to myself I am in the wrong place. I’m going to spend five years of my life, just like these guys right here, talking about how I can’t beat Miami? When I left and I went back home and my parents asked me what I was going to do, I told them I’m going to Miami. It was like they were already defeated before they even stepped onto the field. In the off-season! I said no, I’m not going to a place like that. I’m not going to a place where they don’t have a tradition of winning and they don’t want to win and they feel like Miami is their obstacle and they can’t overcome it. They answered it for me. I’m going to Miami.

pC: What was the toughest thing playing at Miami? Was it the competition?
LS: Absolutely. Absolutely. The best thing Jimmy Johnson ever did at the University of Miami when he was there, was you never felt comfortable with your position. He kept the grind on you so hard. My first year at the University of Miami he [Jimmy Johnson] got all the freshman together and he said: ‘look, I want you to look to your left and I want you to look to your right because one of you all is not going to be here because when we counted those scholarships someone will have to go.’ He kept the ax on us. I did not feel comfortable with my starting spot until my senior year and I was an All-American by then. He never let up. He constantly kept the ax grinding on you. I remember when we played Arkansas. He is from there and we were beating Arkansas 31 to nothing going into the fourth quarter and he told us on the sideline: ‘if they score a touchdown I am going to run the hell out of you all.’ He meant it, I guess they didn’t offer him a job or something like that and he meant it.

We played Florida State and they had that rap tape and they were preseason number one and we had just won the National Title the year before and that rap tape just pissed him off. He kicked every coach out and you know he was a psychology major so he knew how to get in your head because he scared the hell out of me but now I understand what he was doing. He kicked all the coaches out, all the administrators out of the room and locked the door and dimmed the lights. He sat in the front and took that VCR tape and popped it in and when we saw that tape, we were fuming. Jimmy Johnson after the tape said ‘hey guys, that’s what they think about you. They’re the number one team in the country. They are coming into our house.’ I mean I felt sorry for them [Florida State], I mean I always felt sorry for them but we beat them 31-0. But that’s what he did. I’m not going to say he was a hell of coach but he was great at taking people and putting them in the right positions of power to get things done. We’re talking about Soldinger, Art Kehoe, Gary Stevens, Butch Davis. Tubberville and Orgeron were GAs [Graduate Assistants] when I was there, I mean he put a hell of a staff together and we worked. This was before the NCAA had all those rules and I mean we worked. There were times when if he didn’t like a drill he would start the whole practice over, I mean it was crazy, it was totally crazy. Our conditioning test would be 15 x 110s and these could make or break your career. The only reason Cortez Kennedy started his last year at the University of Miami was because Jimmie Jones failed the 15 x110 test. He always had the test on the hottest day. If it was cool or breezy he wouldn’t do it.

pC: You won two titles when at Miami, what was one of your favorite memories?
LS: Actually I won three titles because I won one my freshman year. Just winning, I mean my favorite memory was probably how we prepared for games on Saturday. At the University of Miami we said we outworked everybody else. You know when I got to the pros I was already taught on how practice would work and how to study film. You know, at the next level, I was ready. Just the winning and the camaraderie was probably the best memory.

pC: Does one win or one game stand out?
LS: The one game that really stands out that we won in 1989 when Notre Dame came in the number one team in the country and we were like number seven. Just the whole thought of how they stole the title away from us the year before with the fumble. I remember how it was that evening. We don’t like Florida State but we really don’t like Notre Dame. I don’t know what it is. I mean there was the whole “Catholic versus Convicts,” the whole “Good versus Evil” that was created. We really didn’t like them because they were the total opposite of what was presumed. We always presumed Notre Dame to be a bunch of choir boys, stuffed collars with ties walking to class with a halo over their heads. We were depicted as the guys with gold chains on and our guys weren’t’ really like that. So, we just despised them so much we wanted to stick it to them. This was the last game of the rivalry, and I just remember walking into the stadium and the electric feeling. I was just amazed of how much energy we would exert on the bus, in the locker room, in warm-ups before the game. I mean I couldn’t believe how we could then just go out and play.

pC: You went up some big-time defensive tackles in your day, who would you say was the toughest to up against in practice?
LS: Easily Cortez [Kennedy] and Russell [Maryland]. Absolutely those two. They were immovable objects in practice. You know, I did an interview on the radio about two weeks ago and Russell was on the show. I told him that a lot of our offensive success had to do with our demise in practice. I told Russell that the offense might have won 18 practices in five years against the defense because our defense was that good. I mean, they were so good that when we played other teams come Saturday it was easy for us. We would go up against Russell, Cortez, Michael Barrow, Darrin Smith, Jesse all of these guys and we had a good secondary. You’re not going to see that kind of talent on one team back then. Russell and Cortez were easily the toughest guys to go up against.

pC: Who was one leader during your years that really stood out? An emotional leader?
LS: We had so many. Everybody on the team was vocal. I mean we took classes in trash talking. Everybody in there was vocal. Who was the emotional leader? I don’t know. It’s difficult to say. We turned to each other. Everybody cared enough about the program that they spoke up when they thought things weren’t going right or we weren’t practicing right or getting it done in the weight room or in class. Everybody spoke up. Russell was the type of guy that when he said something, because he was so quiet, everybody took notice.

pC: Who was your best friend during your years?
LS: Because I was an offensive lineman, usually guys I hung out with were offensive lineman. There was no one in particular. We usually hung in groups like that.

pC: Do you keep in contact with a lot former guys?
LS: Not as many as I would like to but I talk to Hurley Brown a lot, Horace Copeland, Russell two weeks ago, Calvin Harris actually called me yesterday. It would be nice to catch up with some of the old guys.

Come back tomorrow and read Part II of our interview with Leon Searcy and see what he has to say about the differences between Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson, the current state of the Hurricanes, Drew Rosenhaus and more!

Saints’ Vilma Meets with UN to Discuss Relief for his Native Haiti

New Orleans Saints LB Jonathan Vilma visited the United Nations headquarters on March 27 to push for funding of hurricane proof housing in his native Haiti. Vilma, as well retired NFL stars Freeman McNeil and Adam Dispirito, met with dignitaries and humanitarians in an effort to ease the fears of people in hurricane affected areas so that they have a safer home when a natural disaster hits.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Vilma became an advocate for more affordable hurricane proof housing for the people of New Orleans as well as Haiti. He is pushing to inform others about the cost effective, readily available, hurricane proof materials created by companies that have been around for years.


Mike Singletary On Ray Lewis

49ers head coach Mike Singletary, explaining why he feels Ravens LB Ray Lewis is the best in the game, as quoted on TahoeDailyTribune.com: “I think it depends on how you look at it, how you break it down. But I think Ray Lewis is one of those guys that is the epitome of the throwback linebacker. I think Ray is a guy that plays the game at a very high level. He can be very physical at times. I think the other thing that stands out and really makes him valuable to the Baltimore Ravens is his ability to lead that team. I think as great a player as he is, the greatest attribute he has is his ability to bring that team together. So any coach that comes in there, he’s going to have an opportunity to have a great football team because of what’s happening in that locker room. Ray is not going to let it go bad. So that’s probably the No. 1 guy that jumps to my mind.”


Cardinals cut Chris Perez; he’ll close for Triple-A Memphis

JUPITER, Fla. — The St. Louis Cardinals optioned reliever Chris Perez on Monday to Class AAA Memphis, where he will be the closer. The move leaves the Cardinals with seven relievers on the active roster — the seven relievers that will make up the major-league bullpen on Opening Day.

“He’s got 100 innings in minor-league baseball,” manager Tony La Russa said. “He needs to work. He needs to work regularly. He can be the closer in Memphis and get valuable experience.”

As mentioned this morning in Cardinal Beat, the Cardinals were weighing between carrying a long reliever into the season or letting March performance dictate that bullpen’s makeup. They sided with role, and Brad Thompson will go north with the team as the long reliever. Kyle McClellan, who got the win in this afternoon’s game against Florida, will also be considered for long relief, though his chief role will be in late-inning setup. His rocky spring did not factor into the discussions, La Russa said, because McClellan’s recent shift on the mound and his work outside of games has shown he knows what to correct — and, La Russa said, “is doing so.” Righthander Josh Kinney takes over the Russ Springer role, coming in during dicey innings like he did today with the go-ahead run on base.

Perez missed more than a week of time with discomfort in his shoulder, and La Russa said Perez’s need to get healthy, need to refine his stuff and the team’s need for a long reliever “dovetails.”

“He needs to work on his stuff and the big leagues are not a place to work on stuff,” La Russa said. “He lacks experience, and he needs to pitch.”


Time for an O: Aubrey Huff

Aubrey Huff signed a three-year deal with the Orioles in December of 2006.  Now entering the final season of his current deal, Huff's first two seasons with the Orioles could not have been more different.

In 2007, Huff eked out 15 home runs. '07 marked the fourth consecutive season in which Huff's home run totals declined.

All signs pointed to Huff being a poor signing for The Birds.  His image wasn't helped any during the 2007-2008 off season, when the first baseman/designated hitter underwent hernia surgery, and in a shock radio appearance, revealed his love of scantily clad women and disdain for Baltimore nightlife. 

C'mon, Aubrey.  Spend one night in Highlandtown's finest drinking establishments, and you won't think Baltimore is so bleeping bad anymore. 
On second thought, maybe the guy has a point.

Anyway, the boos reigned down when Huff strode to the plate on Opening Day 2008; it looked as though the slugger was in for a long season.  To the surprise of nearly everyone, Huff bounced back with a career year, hitting 32 home runs and an impressive .304/.360/.552 stat line. 

Huff not only quieted the boos, at 31, Huff had his best season since 2003.  He earned the AL Silver Slugger award for designated hitters, handily outhitting David Ortiz, Gary Sheffield and others. 

How did he do it?  Huff's off season surgery was surely helpful.  What's more, Huff claims that a back-to-basics approach helped him concentrate on simply hitting the ball—hard. 

In a taped segment airing July 2nd on MASN, Huff explained how he was able to rebound.

“I just stopped thinkin' so much, man,” he claims. 

Let's hope that Huff thinks just as little in '09 as he did last year.  In reality, it will be very difficult for Huff to reproduce his gaudy '08 numbers.  He is playing for a contract and he should have some protection in the lineup, but very few declining players have been able to rebound for two consecutive years. 

Important Number: 12
The number of points Huff earned in the 2008 MVP voting.  Dustin Pedroia won the award with 317 votes.

Important Date:  July 12, 2006
The date Huff was traded from Tampa Bay, where he was once their most promising young player, to Houston.

Rando Prediction: 
  AB: 521   AVG: .273   HR: 23

Huff will split time at first base and DH this year, increasing his value in the field.  However, it's too optimistic to expect another year like the last.  This prediction basically splits the difference in his '07 and '08 seasons.  He could surprise, but after such a stellar season, there is bound to be some attrition.


Braun passes test in return to Majors

PHOENIX -- After a short morning meeting with manager Ken Macha, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun declared his status for the day.

"I'm back," Braun said.

Braun returned to the "A" game lineup after spending two days in Minor League camp, a move to protect against a worsening of the muscle strain in his ribcage and a possible trip to the disabled list. Braun passed that test, hitting a three-run home run off Angels closer Brian Fuentes in a Triple-A game on Sunday, and was back in left field and his usual No. 3 hole against the big league Mariners on Monday afternoon.

"The parameters for him were that he had to go out there and play seven [innings] and take all of his fielding drills and be able to throw," Macha said. "He assured me that it's going to be no problem."

Braun actually played six innings, going 0-for-3 at the plate. He was replaced by Chris Duffy in the seventh inning but said his day was a success.
"I passed the test again," said Braun, who was not sure whether he would be in the lineup again on Tuesday night against the Padres.

The Brewers were taking a very cautious approach by protecting Braun in Minor League games. The rules allow teams to backdate DL stints before the start of the season if the player has not appeared in any Major League spring games after that date.

The team allowed Braun to make the call Monday as to whether he would play. Since he appeared in the "A" game, a setback would have pushed any potential stay on the DL for Braun deeper into the regular season.

But so far, so good.

"He told me he's fine -- no problems," Macha said. "All the implications were explained to him as far as the mechanics of the DL and how that works. By going out and playing today ... it just lengthens the stay he would have to be on the DL into the season. He understands the repercussions of that."

Braun is still feeling what he called "tightness" in his intercostals, small muscles between his ribs on the right side of his lower back. He thinks he might have to manage the problem throughout the season. It's similar but much less severe than the injury he had last year during the second half.

"After having dealt with it, I really feel like it doesn't go completely away," Braun said. "I think the rest of the guys who have gone though it would say the same thing. Over the course of the year, everybody plays through pain, plays with some type of injury. It's a matter of walking that fine line of not wanting to make it worse and getting through that last bit of pain until it's back to being healthy."

Assistant general manager Gord Ash also made sure that Braun understood what he was doing.

"He tells us he's ready to go," Ash said. "The prevailing attitude was, since he missed so much of the spring [to play in the World Baseball Classic], let's get him in there with his teammates."


James Jones able to turn it around with Miami Heat

For the umpteenth time, Heat forward James Jones' fortunes have changed with the flick of a wrist.
This time, that still uncomfortable shooting motion for Jones has resulted in the ball going into the basket, a steady role going into the playoffs and his once-fading confidence going through the roof.

It all has been a long time coming for Jones, who spent the first 70 games coping with aftereffects of preseason wrist surgery, dealing with the pressures of being the team's biggest free agent acquisition and adjusting to the personal demands that come with playing in the NBA for his hometown team.

If Jones has learned anything this season, it's the virtues of practicing patience and showing perseverance.

''I've come a long way,'' said Jones, a sixth-year swingman and former University of Miami standout in his first season with the Heat. ``No one expected me to be here. As a rookie, no one expected me to get drafted. So I've been fighting all of my life.''

But few battles, if any, have been like this for Jones. His body -- the wrist of his shooting hand, in particular -- has been his fiercest opponent.
The wrist failed him last summer, when he sustained ligament damage during a workout weeks after Miami gave him a five-year deal that guarantees $8.3 million the first two seasons.

Surgery followed in October, as did three months of alternating progress and setbacks until he fought his way into the rotation last month.
Pain has been replaced by relative prosperity.

Jones, a wiry 6-8 sharpshooter, is coming off one of his best games as a member of the Heat, with 11 points, three rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in Saturday's win over the Bucks.

Still affected by discomfort in his wrist, Jones has tried to make up for errant shooting with defense and effort.

But that shooting touch the Heat valued so much when he was signed is starting to come around now that he has ditched the brace that restricted his flexibility. Jones made a season-high three shots from three-point range Saturday.

Even before that modest breakthrough, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Jones justified a steady role with his performance in other areas.

''I think what everybody does is look at his three-point shooting -- and that's one of the things we brought him here for,'' Spoelstra said. ``But every time I watch the film, I see other things. It's all the things that don't show up in the box score. It's a deflection here, a block-out here, running the offense with energy, making the extra pass.''

Jones is averaging 3.4 points and 1.2 rebounds while shooting 35.4 percent from field and 29 percent from three-point range this season.
Those numbers are far from what the Heat expected from Jones, who was third in the league in three-point shooting (44.4 percent) last season with Portland.

But in 31 games, Jones has missed 44 of 62 shots from beyond the arc for Miami, which ranks 22nd among 30 teams in three-point shooting.

Guard Dwyane Wade is confident Saturday's display signaled a strong finish for Jones that will continue Monday against Orlando.

''It's not easy for a guy like that to come in and be expected to make every shot he takes,'' Wade said. ``But as he gets more minutes and more comfortable, you'll see him make a bigger impact.''

A strong support system has made it easier for Jones to work through his injury and frustrations on the court. A Carol City native who now lives near Southwest Ranches, Jones said about 30 relatives and friends attend each home game.

''It's easier being home because I have people around me who understand me,'' he said. ``People encourage you.''

Heat forward Udonis Haslem, also a Miami native, said Jones has done a good job of handling the pressures of playing for his hometown team in a difficult season.

''It's definitely a double-edged sword,'' Haslem said. ``In the long run, you really find out who your real friends and family are.''

After coming off his best season last year and surviving the worst part of this season, Jones is finally finding middle ground down the stretch.

''The injury just humbled me and showed me how fast you can fall,'' Jones said. ``You get through it. You just have to get back up and go.''


Warren Sapp Out on the Town

Louis Oliver, Warren Sapp, Mike Gardner, & Busta Rhymes at Soul Kitchen at The Forge

Devin Hester with Jim Rome

Gore Lacks Effort in Camp?

Sources present at the 49ers’ first minicamp were surprised by the lack of effort put forth by featured back Frank Gore. “It was a little strange,” one observer told PFW. “It didn’t look like he was going all out at all. He is kind of moody at times, and sometimes he struggles with his weight, but I’ll be shocked if he isn’t fully motivated by the time training camp rolls around.”


Cards May Not Let Edge Go?

We hear the widely anticipated release of disgruntled Cardinals RB Edgerrin James might not be such a slam-dunk after all. “I still think he’ll be gone, but it does appear (head coach Ken) Whisenhunt is at least leaving open the possibility of bringing ‘Edge’ back,” a team insider told PFW. “I think the team is a bit leery of Tim Hightower as the No. 1 back probably splitting time with a rookie. They’ve paid James $25 million of the $30 million in his contract, and they think that gives them the right to cover themselves at running back.”


McGahee reports for offseason conditioning

Willis McGahee is taking part in the Ravens' conditioning program and plans to report for all voluntary offseason workouts.

This isn't like McGahee, but he admits this could easily be his last year as a Raven and he'll probably hit free agency next offseason. He needs to stay healthy to have a market value. McGahee will also be in a heated competition for carries again with incumbent starter Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice


Longtime NFL, college coach Lou Saban dies of heart troubles at 87

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) -- He was a star football player in college, a champion pro football coach, a baseball president, a man with a short temper and very long resume, never averse to tackling something new.

Nobody has ever done it quite like Lou Saban, who died early Sunday at his home in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., at age 87. He had heart problems for years and recently suffered a fall that required hospitalization, his wife, Joyce, said.

"He was an original," she said. "He was one of a kind."

There was a reason Saban was dubbed "Much Traveled Lou." In the first 33 years of a career that spanned five decades, Saban held 18 jobs, an average of 1.83 years per stop. Among those jobs was president of the New York Yankees from 1981-82 for his longtime friend, team owner George Steinbrenner.

"He has been my friend and mentor for over 50 years, and one of the people who helped shape my life," Steinbrenner, who was receivers coach under Saban at Northwestern University in 1955, said in a statement. "Lou was tough and disciplined, and he earned all the respect and recognition that came his way. He spent a lifetime leading, teaching and inspiring, and took great satisfaction in making the lives around him better. This is a tremendous loss to me personally."

Louis Henry Saban, a son of Yugoslav immigrants, was born in Brookfield, Ill., in 1921, was an underground construction worker during the building of the Chicago subways and a 1940 graduate of Lyons Township High School.

He became a star quarterback and linebacker at Indiana University and an all-league linebacker for the Cleveland Browns from 1946-49.

In 1950, Saban accepted the first of his many head coaching positions -- at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland. Five years later, he took over at Northwestern for two years, then moved to Western Illinois University before embarking on an unmatched head coaching career.
It included stops with the Boston Patriots and Buffalo Bills of the old American Football League and Denver Broncos and Bills after the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, along with college jobs at Miami, Army, Northwestern and Maryland.

"The entire Bills organization is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Lou Saban," the team said in a statement. "Talented, enthusiastic and colorful, Coach Saban's style of coaching left an indelible mark on the AFL and professional football."

Saban joined the Patriots in 1960 when the AFL started.

"As the Patriots' first head coach, Lou helped kick off a new era of football in Boston," Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said in a statement. "This season, we will be celebrating the Patriots' 50th anniversary and reflecting back on that inaugural season. It should give us all cause to appreciate Lou's many contributions during the Patriots' formative years."

Saban left for the Bills in 1962, guiding them to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965, the only titles the Bills have ever won. He quit for a job with the Broncos because of difficulties with owner Ralph Wilson.

Six years later, at the urging of Steinbrenner, Wilson rehired Saban, and he again was successful, overseeing O.J. Simpson's record-breaking, 2,003-yard rushing season in 1973 and getting the Bills to the NFL playoffs the next season. Saban left again after some of his responsibilities were taken away.

"He was like a father to me," former Bills defensive back Booker Edgerson said. "He steered me in the right direction. He gave me advice. Some of it, I didn't like, but isn't that what a father does?"

Edgerson, who also played for Saban at Western Illinois and with the Broncos, said he last saw Saban in October at a Western Illinois banquet honoring the veteran coach.

"Lou Saban was a great teacher," Edgerson said. "He knew how to build football programs. He could have built any program -- football, baseball, basketball, whatever. Even though his patience was short-tempered, he allowed players to let out their anxieties and frustrations."

After quitting the Bills midseason in 1976, Saban spent two years as athletic director at Miami, where he recruited future Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly.

He earned his peripatetic nickname as he skipped from job to job, coaching Army in 1979 and then becoming athletic director at Miami. Among the entries on his resume -- AD at the University of Cincinnati -- for 19 days. Saban left that job at halftime of an early-season game against Ohio University.

Saban also coached at Central Florida in 1983-84 when it was a struggling Division II school and coached high schools in the late 1980s nd in the Arena Football League in 1994.

Saban spent most of the 1990s starting or rebuilding college programs at places like Peru State, Canton Tech and Alfred State, where he left before the team played its first game.
"I've coached at all levels, covered the gamut, and I've never really seen any difference," Saban said after being hired to coach Alfred in upstate New York in 1994. "My coaching techniques are pretty much the same, with some adjustments for what younger players can and can't do."

Saban spent five years at Canton Tech in northern New York, where the football stadium bears his name, before leaving after the 2000 season. In one of his last jobs, he coached Division III Chowan State in North Carolina, leaving in 2002 after the team went 0-10.

Despite all his travels, Saban was a loser in every major college head coaching job he had, and despite his achievements at Buffalo, he was a loser in the pros, too. His pro mark: 96-102-7.


Ray Lewis & Sports Science

If Ray Lewis knocks at your door, better let him in. That's the lesson to be learned from the next edition of Sport Science (airing Sunday at 11 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet).

The program uses lots of high-tech equipment to film and measure actions of athletes in scientific fashion. In this case, Sport Science decided to compare the Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker with a battering ram. Each would be used to break down a thick, locked door.

Lewis filmed the show -- now in its second season -- in July in Los Angeles. He didn't get paid and stayed out on the field for six hours, said John Brenkus, creator and host of the series.

(The co-creator and co-executive producer is Mickey Stern, a Baltimore native.)

"It's literally a program that people do for free," he said. "By Season 2, everyone in the sports community had seen Sport Sciene. ... The sell just gets easier as the show goes on." 

I'll admit to not having seen the show before receiving a preview DVD, but, as my 12-year-old self would have said, it's pretty neat -- measurements of force, super slow motion from all angles.

But what about the risk of injury? (I checked with the Ravens, and a spokesman said the team had no idea Lewis did this.)

"The athletes are in such incredible shape, and we take every precaution," Brenkus said. "Where you get hurt is when you're not actually going full speed."

And they do go all out, he said.


Lewis certainly went all out. The battering ram, wielded by a SWAT veteran, busted the lock and the door swung open. Lewis the human battering ram, in full football uniform, got a running start, lowered his shoulder and knocked the whole door in -- lock, hinges and all. He went flying, landing on the door.


Chicago Bulls' John Salmons puts God, family first

The first interview request is made in Miami.

John Salmons ponders it for several seconds before agreeing — with one caveat: "Can we wait a little bit, you know what I'm saying, until I feel more comfortable?"

This doesn't surprise Stan Jones, who worked with Leonard Hamilton to recruit Salmons to up-and-coming Miami, beating out higher-profile programs like Indiana and Kansas.

"He's a very deep thinker, and when he speaks, he wants it to mean something," said Jones, now Hamilton's associate head coach at Florida State. "John has great character and depth. He doesn't suffer fools easily or get fooled by quick talk. He seeks substance because he's a man of substance."

The second interview request is made a few days later in Philadelphia. Salmons declines politely, citing demands from the friends and family in his hometown.

"He's true to the real things in life and himself, and most of us aren't that self-assured," said Jim Donofrio, the then-assistant coach and now head coach at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. "He'll come back to the Philly area to work on his game and give back to youth, but he's very private. To get a detailed interview with him is not easy."

The third interview request is made several days later, and, again, Salmons agrees but leaves when it will happen open-ended.

"John's never been comfortable with the spotlight," said Perry Clark, who took over for Hamilton and coached Salmons' final two seasons at Miami. "There are plenty of guys who play the game because they love money and being on ESPN. John plays because he loves and appreciates the game.

"Because he came up the hard way, it's made him much more appreciative. He was raised a certain way, so he gravitates toward people who have substance and meaning instead of stuff that is superficial or quick gratification."

Notice a theme?

Turning page his way: There's a reason beyond Salmons' late-blooming success and 21/2 seasons in that NBA outpost known as Sacramento why you haven't heard much about the guy: He'd rather play or contemplate life than talk.

Clark recalled road trips with Salmons writing furiously at the airport. When Clark asked him what he was doing, Salmons told him he was keeping a diary.

"Man, you're the only basketball player I know who keeps a diary!" Clark said.

Donofrio recalls a similarly analytical bent extending to Salmons' low recruiting rankings, particularly because all the top college coaches had seen him play AAU ball against Kobe Bryant in the Philly area.

"He looked at [the rankings] all the time to get mad and annoyed and took them as an insult," Donofrio said. "But he wouldn't say two words about it because he's quietly driven. And they didn't cloud his judgment because he always did the quiet, subtle thing.

"He had offers from some really good schools, but he went to Miami. He chose the school where he thought he would be most comfortable and didn't worry about status. He's always made smart moves for himself."

Jones recalls a meeting after Salmons' freshman season when he asked him to become more of a leader because he'd be starting as a sophomore.

"He said, 'I don't want you to tell me I'm a starter until I earn it,' " Jones said. "He has such an inner drive that keeps him focused on the path to success. He's quite religious, and I think his faith allows him to be at peace with himself at all times."

Rick Brunson, a journeyman guard who had two stints with the Bulls, remembers going back to their shared hometown of Philadelphia to work youth basketball camps.

"Every year I'd pick out a teenage counselor and play him one-on-one in front of the kids for fun," Brunson said. "One year I picked out this kid and he whooped my [butt]. It turned out to be John. But he didn't brag or strut because he's a quiet guy, a genuine guy, a religious guy. There's no pretense or BS with him. What you see is what you get."

Finally, one day at the Berto Center, Salmons approaches and says: "I heard you talked to Stan Jones. You want to do that interview?"

Patience rewarded: And so Salmons sits down. And this is what he shares in a wide-ranging 20-minute talk.

Salmons says shocking the bigger-name schools to attend Miami was his best decision ever because he met his wife there as well as a friend who helped him find himself spiritually. He says he cringes sometimes at his naiveté when he looks back at those college diaries.

He says playing for the 76ers proved a trying experience because he didn't play much, and fans rode him and his family mercilessly. He says spurning a sign-and-trade to Toronto and interest from other teams to sign with Sacramento in 2006 rejuvenated him because he grew as a player and husband in relative anonymity.

He says he's private, not shy. He says he considers himself an atypical NBA player because he's "God first and just a family man." He says fame and notoriety matter not to him because his Christianity demands "a humble heart."

He says Romans 8 is his favorite Bible chapter because "it's just about God being with you regardless as long as your heart is in the right place and you know him."

He sits quietly for several seconds when asked about being raised by a single mother and how the birth of his son, Josiah, has made him see his own upbringing.

"It took me a long time to really realize that not having my father around when I was young affected who I am today," Salmons said. "Once I realized that, it helped me get over it and become a better man. Because I know what it's like not to have that father around, it makes me want to be a better father to my son.

"As much as I love playing basketball, it's hard to be on the road and not see him grow. I always want to be there for him. I hadn't seen him in a while [after the trade], and he got two new teeth and is standing up easy now, pulling himself up. He can walk by holding something. Little things like that I don't want to miss.

"I want him to know me as his father. He's made me look at life differently because everything is pretty much about him. All the decisions my wife and I make are not about us anymore. It's about making sure he's right.

"I'm happy where I'm at in life. I'm at peace with everything."

Some things are worth the wait.


Perez could grab final reliever spot

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Chris Perez came down with some right shoulder discomfort earlier in Spring Training, it appeared that one of the Cardinals' hardest roster decisions might make itself. With one too many right-handed relief candidates, a lingering Perez injury could have relegated the second-year pitcher to the disabled list or Triple-A Memphis. It's again looking like the decision might make itself, but in the other direction.

Perez turned in another excellent outing on Sunday, his second in a row following a rusty return from the injury, and continued to strengthen his case to be one of the five righty relievers that St. Louis takes north. He struck out two, walked one and didn't allow a hit or a run against the Twins in a 5-3 loss. In his previous game, on Friday against Boston, he pitched a perfect inning with two Ks. For the spring, he has nine strikeouts, four walks and a 3.86 ERA in seven appearances.

"The last couple outings have been good," he said. "I'm strong. I haven't gotten back to long-tossing like I usually do, but everything else is fine. My shoulder is good to go."

Along with Perez, five other right-handed relievers remain in camp: Jason Motte, Ryan Franklin, Kyle McClellan, Josh Kinney and Brad Thompson. Barring something very surprising, one of them will be sent to Triple-A Memphis for Opening Day, as St. Louis is likely to carry five righties and two lefties in a seven-man bullpen.

Motte has been outstanding, Franklin's spot is secure, McClellan seems safe as he rebounds from a slow start, and Kinney looks to be in very good shape as well. That leaves Perez, who has pitched well, and Thompson, who provides something none of the others do: a long reliever. But if Perez continues to shine, the Cardinals may simply elect to keep their long man at Memphis, and call someone up when and if needed.

For now, Perez just needs to keep doing what he did on Sunday.

"I thought he had a solid inning," manager Tony La Russa said. "So we keep giving him work and see how it works out."