29 May 2011

Brian Moorman On Being Annihilated By Sean Taylor: 'A Good Experience'

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk had Bills punter Brian Moorman on his PFT Live podcast show thing today, mainly because Moorman is doing good deeds to help the folks in Joplin, Missouri. But the conversation turned -- as I imagine conversations with Moorman often do -- to the ENORMOUS hit that Redskins safety Sean Taylor put on Moorman on a fake punt in the 2007 Pro Bowl.

(You can watch that hit above, and I recommend it. It's quite possibly the greatest thing ever to happen in a Pro Bowl in the game's sixty year history.)

Seeing that hit, It would be easy to believe that Moorman has no recollection of it whatsoever, but it turns out that his memories of the play are pretty sharp -- and pretty entertaining. First, though, here's Moorman on the legacy of the hit:

That definitely has given me an extended fifteen seconds of fame, because I think that every year a rookie comes in and says, 'Hey, you're The Guy!' It's kind of a funny thing for me, and obviously you can still find it on YouTube, so people still see it. I get somebody, probably five or ten people a year that say something to me out in public or whatever. So I think that's gonna stick with me a while.

That is what it is. It was a good experience and I'm just glad I got up 'cause it was the biggest shot I ever took in my football career.

Florio follows up by talking about what an enormous hit it was -- "full postseason speed," he says -- and asks Moorman what it felt like to get drilled like that.


I told our Reebok rep that it was a perfect commercial for their shoes, because they saw the bottom of my shoes immediately. I didn't know what was -- how that was gonna happen. But I remember a flash of John Lynch coming and making a block, I believe on Derrick Brooks -- I've actually got a picture of that [Ed. Note: It's probably the AP Photo to the right.]-- and I remember that flash, and I thought, 'Oh, I think I can get this,' so I cut up behind him and that was the last thing I remembered.

Next thing you know, I was down there and [I knew] I've gotta pop up quick. I didn't wanna give him any satisfaction in the fact that he took me out like that. So ... luckily he caught me -- it was a clean hit; he caught me kind of in the lower part of the shoulder, not too much in the head, and I was able to get up from it. But I was definitely lucky; he did put a pretty good lick on me.

I went out and congratulated him on the hit just so he knew I was up. I just wanted to make sure he knew that I wasn't still laying there, and I just said, 'Hey, nice hit. Well done.' He actually even ripped a hole in my jersey, so I've got that thing framed up and a picture beside it, so I've got something to remember it by.

I imagine Moorman will be holding onto that Pro Bowl jersey for awhile, but you can bid on one of his autographed, game-worn jerseys with all proceeds going to Red Cross Joplin Relief. And here's the relevant section of PFT Live, if you're the sort of person who'd rather watch the interview than read my transcription.


Soon to be stars: Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham entered the NFL last season with just one year of college football experience -- he played basketball during his undergrad years at Miami and took up football during his first year of graduate work -- but he far exceeded expectations as a rookie.

His quick assimilation has me jumping out of my chair to see what he will do in his second year, and this time next year we could very well be lumping him in with Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley as the top pass-catching tight ends in the league.

Graham’s size is the first thing you notice about him. He has a basketball build (extreme height, long arms) and will continue to fill out as he mature, but Graham’s movement skills are those of a much smaller, more compact man.

He seems to glide across the field and rarely looks uncoordinated despite his lack of football experience, and his routes are natural and will only get better with time. Even his run and pass blocking are serviceable, and they, too, will continue to improve.

Graham can run past linebackers out of the slot and stretch the field in the passing game, and it won’t be long before he is one of the elite red zone targets in the NFL. He wasn’t much of a factor early in 2010 but got more playing time later in the season, scoring four touchdowns in the final three games of the regular season.

The New Orleans offense is perfect for Graham’s skill set. Having Drew Brees distributing the ball helps any receiving target, but coach Sean Payton also uses a diverse attack with varied personnel groupings that can move a player like Graham around the formation to get favorable matchups based on his combination of size and speed, and the attention he commands can also open up room for his teammates.

Given the Saints’ offseason commitment to solidifying their running game Graham should see looser coverages this season, and based on how easy he made things look in his rookie year I can’t wait to see what he does in 2011.

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Orlando Franklin To Open Camp at Right Tackle

Orlando Franklin will almost certainly open training camp at right tackle. The Broncos will give him some help in pass protection, sliding that way or adding a tight end or back to his side of the formation.

But as a run blocker, Franklin will come in ready to go.

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Ray Lewis vows to help 10-year-old survivor of tragic accident

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) isn't always seen as a kind man, mostly because of his on-field demeanor and certain incidents that happened over a decade ago in Atlanta, but the truth is that on a day-to-day basis, there are few NFL players more interested in helping and mentoring others than the future Hall of Famer. This came into sharp focus recently, when Lewis met 10-year-old LaShaun Armstrong, whose mother drove her car into the Hudson River in April. LaShaun was the only one to escape the car — his mother, younger sister and two younger brothers did not survive.

Lewis was made aware of the story, and immediately reached out to the child, remembering to WNYT.com that his own mother could not afford to keep him when he was a teenager. "I looked at him and told him, 'I'm here for you man. I can't replace what you've lost. But I can tell you that I'm here to go forward with you.'"

On a "TODAY" show piece on the bond between the two, LaShaun said that Lewis "[is] like a big brother to me, like an older brother to me. He says that I'm like family to him."

Lewis isn't the only NFL players touched by LaShaun's story; several players have endeavored to cover costs for counseling, tutoring and college for the young boy.


Devin Hester and son stroll Chicago's lakefront

It's a privilege to be on the cover of this month's Chicago Parent. Little Devin and I have a lot of fun hanging out together each day, and I'm grateful for the time I get to spend with him.

When I was younger, someone told me that the greatest gift a child could ever receive was time with his or her parents. That's always stuck with me and I do everything I can to not focus so much on what toys I get for Devin, but on how much time I spend with him. That's the most important thing, and the off-season gives me a great opportunity to be with him a lot. I'm thankful for that.

One thing we really enjoy doing with Devin is walking along the lake on Lakeshore Drive. You see the entire world go by, and Devin points to just about everything in his sight.

Navy Pier continues to be one of our favorite destinations because there is so much for Devin to see and do. We probably went down to Navy Pier too late one evening last year because it was past Devin's bedtime, but there was an awesome fireworks display synchronized to music. They do the fireworks displays off Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday night.

Another fun place we like to stroll is the Green City Market, located next to the Lincoln Park Zoo. This place is full of locally grown produce. They have all kinds of treats, and Devin hasn't said "no" to many things when we've gone. Once he gets older, I'm sure we'll send Devin to some of the fun events that teach kids about farming. A lot of people picnic down at the market, and it's something we've done, too. I think it surprises some people when they see a Bears player picnicking with his family at the market!

One more thing we might try this year is the Strawberry Festival in Long Grove. It's about 35 miles northwest of Chicago, but it's going to be worth the trip. Devin loves strawberries, and the three-day festival from June 24-26 looks like a lot of fun. They usually get thousands of people visiting the event. They have chocolate-covered strawberries, fruit smoothies, ice cream, strawberry doughnuts and of course, strawberries themselves. I know Devin is going to have fun that weekend.

Devin has a great time in the stroller when we're all together no matter what we do. The walks along Lakeshore are memorable, and I know that's the most important thing.

Devin Hester is a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears. Last season, he set the NFL record for return touchdowns.


Alex Cora exits finale early with stomach bug

WASHINGTON -- Third baseman Alex Cora left Washington's game against the Phillies on Wednesday after the fourth inning with stomach issues.
He was 0-for-1 with a walk before giving way to Jerry Hairston Jr.

Cora committed an error in the second inning, when he could not handle a Carlos Ruiz ground ball that led to Philadelphia's only run in a 2-1 Washington win.

"Alex was really under the weather," said manager Jim Riggleman. "If Alex Cora doesn't catch a ball then it doesn't get caught -- he's that good over there."

Cora also had a collision with Phillies slugger Ryan Howard in the second inning, when Cora went to apply the tag to Howard on his slide into second on a double. Howard's helmet hit Cora in the neck, and Cora appeared shaken up though he remained in the game until exiting two innings later.

Hairston had an injury scare of his own in the fifth, when he raced Wilson Valdez to third base for a force out. Hairston stepped on the bag as Valdez slid into it, and their feet tangled up, sending Hairston to the ground. Hairston remained in the game.

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Pat Burrell playing his way onto bench

Sunday will mark the anniversary of Pat Burrell's first game for his hometown Giants. They signed him for practically nothing, with Tampa Bay paying most of his salary, and he became an important source of power for a team that rode home runs and pitching to a World Series championship.

Burrell earned his second ring in 2010. His 2011 story hasn't been as happy. He has a .229 average and wasn't in the starting lineup Thursday, after going 11-for-53 (.208) in May. He had five home runs by April 18 but has none since.

When Andres Torres came off the disabled list, manager Bruce Bochy told Burrell his starts would decline. There were rumblings the 34-year old was not happy.

"That's ridiculous," he responded. "I'm here to do whatever they want me to. Do I want to play? Of course I want to play, but I realize where I fit in, and I also know if I get hot, I will be in there."

Indeed, Bochy always sides with a veteran swinging the bat over a younger player. But Burrell believes it's hard to get rolling when you bat sporadically.

"There's no excuse for not performing, but it's also a situation where we've got six guys in the outfield and we're all trying to get playing time," Burrell said. "It can be difficult to get in a groove. That being said, I personally have had plenty of opportunities that I haven't capitalized on.

"I wish I could be playing better now, but we're all going through this. We're fortunate where we are in the standings with the offensive struggles we've had. It's not too bad."


Aubrey Huff hits 3 homers in rout

Finally, after a 12-7 victory ended a stretch of 35 road games in the first 56 contests, the Giants flew back to the Bay Area on Thursday to start their first long stretch of home games. Twenty-four players tripped over one another to get to the airport, while Aubrey Huff chained himself to the Cardinals' mascot, Fredbird.

"We're going to make sure Aubrey gets on the plane," manager Bruce Bochy joked. And why would Huff want to leave the hot, humid heaven where his 2011 season was reborn?

When Huff lined a Brian Tallet slider over the right-field fence in the ninth inning, he had his first career three-homer game and six RBIs, which matched his career best. Huff homered four times in the Giants' first 54 games before hitting four in his final six at-bats of a series the Giants won three games to one.

Aubrey was not the only happy Huff.

"My wife, Baubi, it's her birthday," the first baseman said. "She wanted me to hit her a home run. I hit her three. That's brownie points."

The last Giant with three in a game was in the dugout as a coach for this one. J.T. Snow did it in Philadelphia in 2004 and freely admitted two of them were a product of matchbox-sized Citizens Bank Park.

As Huff addressed reporters, Snow walked over and said, "Way to take over the three-homer torch, dude."

When Huff asked if Snow really had a three-homer game, Snow said, "Hard to believe, huh?"

What might be harder to believe is that the Giants are back in first place in the mushy National League West. They stand 31-25 despite being tied with the White Sox for the most road games in the majors at 35.

Teams strive to be .500 away from home. The Giants are 18-17 after a winning trip (4-3) that seemed unlikely when they dropped two of three in Milwaukee.

"This was a big series for us," said Freddy Sanchez, who did something rarer than Huff. Sanchez drove in four runs, including a three-run homer, and was not the Giants' hitting star.

"The way we were able to regroup after Milwaukee and come here and take three of four against a great team like the Cards - that's not easy to do. A lot of guys stepped up. That's what we're going to need from here on out."

Though the season is barely one-third done, the Giants have played 43 percent of their road games. Their immediate reward is 19 of their next 22 games in the Bay Area, with the prospect of a hot first baseman.

Huff said Tuesday he would treat June 1 as his Opening Day and pledged to relax at the plate. As if on cue, he went 5-for-9 with the four homers and an important walk in the first two games of the month.

His three homers Thursday helped the Giants win a game they trailed 3-0 and came against three pitchers. Two of them, right-handers Lance Lynn and Maikel Cleto, were making their major-league debuts. The third came off Tallet, a lefty.

"I saw today in the paper where I had the third-most opportunities to drive in runs in the NL and I was hitting .180-something with runners in scoring position," Huff said. "I hadn't done anything the first two months. It's hard to have fun when you're so crappy. I just let it go."

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adidas Signs Redskins Rookie WR Leonard Hankerson

PORTLAND, Ore. – May 31, 2011 – adidas today announced partnerships with NFL rookie wide receivers Leonard Hankerson of the Washington Redskins and Edmond Gates of the Miami Dolphins.

Hankerson and Gates are the latest additions to the adidas football roster, which includes Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, New York Giants defensive back Prince Amukamara, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, New York Giants wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush, Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess.

The Redskins’ third-round selection (79th overall) in April’s NFL Draft, Leonard Hankerson finished his four-year career at the University of Miami as one of the most prolific wideouts in the country. As a senior, Hankerson set single-season school records with 72 catches, 1,156 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. Hauling in five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown at the Senior Bowl and running a 4.43 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine, Hankerson further established himself as one of the fastest and most athletic receiver in this year’s NFL Draft.

“My game is all about speed,” said the All-ACC wide receiver Hankerson. “Being a half step faster than the defense is what made the difference in my games at Miami. Playing football in the NFL means I’ve got to bring everything I’ve got and really focus on being even faster. adidas is making the lightest cleats out there right now and in the NFL, I know I’m going to need a light cleat that keeps me fast and gives me the confidence I need to join the ranks of the other fast NFL receivers coming out of the U.”

adidas’ new adiZero 5-Star, the lightest cleat in football, made its long anticipated arrival in stores on April 1 and at 6.9 ounces is three ounces lighter than the nearest competitor. The adiZero 5-Star was on display in February as the NFL prospects in Indianapolis who ran the fastest 40-yard-dash times at each position, all wore the lightweight cleat.

“Football players are faster than ever before,” said Mark Daniels, director of football for adidas. “Players at all levels are looking for an edge to keep them fast and we’ve changed the game with the new adiZero 5-Star. Both Hankerson and Gates are going to be equipped with the lightest cleat in football to help them make an immediate impact in the NFL.”

Football players and fans can visit www.facebook.com/adidasfootballUS for more information, photos and videos of adidas’ NFL prospects and the adiZero 5-Star cleat.

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Santana Moss wants to be a Redskin

Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss wants to return to Washington, according to Santana himself, in a radio interview on ESPN 980.  The Redskins would likely welcome back Moss at a contract friendly for both.  Specifically, Moss said,

“That’s the only thing I can think of (returning). I’m a Redskin.  I feel like I invested a lot in to this team. I would hate to leave and see the team be successful, knowing I was here.”

When discussing the issue with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, Snyder responded he woudl love to have Moss return, but that call would be Mike Shanahan’s.  Good news. 

Should Moss return, he would be returning to a dramatically different wide receiving corp, due to the concentration and emphasis placed on the skilled position by Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen in last month’s NFL Draft.  The Redskins added three receiver, all three are expected to have some impact on the offense. 

Third rounder Leonard Hankerson is the most promising, deemed by several NFL analysts as the steal of the 2010 NFL draft.  Several NFL analysts had Hankerson ranked as the third best receiver behind Julio Jones and AJ Green.  Hankerson’s slip to the third round was a gem for the Redskins.  Hankerson has big time play making ability, something lacking in Washington at wide receiver for a number of years.  More than likely, you will see Hankerson starting.  However, he is also joined by fellow draftees Niles Paula and Aldrick Robinson.  Both of these guys will be pushing Terrence Austin and Brandon Banks for roster spots.  All in all, Moss will likely return along with Anthony Armstrong.  From there on, with the Redskins draft, the receiver slots will emerge as one of the hotter training camp battles.

With the influx of three youthful receivers, joining fellow youngster Austin and Banks, Moss could be an important crutch of leadership for the young receivers.  He would likely relish and excel in that role.


Ray Lewis' new search firm is hiring

Want to work under Ray Lewis?

No, you probably won’t have the chance to stand aside the All-Pro Baltimore Ravens linebacker on the gridiron at M&T Bank Stadium. But the Super Bowl MVP’s newly launched staffing firm, however, is scouting for talent.

RL52 Staffing, the information technology search firm part of several businesses backed by Lewis, is hiring recruiters and salespeople for its Baltimore office. You don’t necessarily have to be local to apply for the job, as you may be eligible to work remotely.

In total, the firm currently has four open positions, said Dan Caporale, president of RL52 Staffing.

Caporale seeks candidates with two or more years experience in the IT staffing industry, but would consider those without an IT background. Salary is based on experience.

Caporale said the agency represents clients like AT&T, Verizon and PNC Bank and does business in 35 states. Here’s a link to the technical recruiters and account managers openings. IT staffing manager openings can be found here.

Meanwhile, the agency is seeking to boost its database of resumes from individuals with IT backgrounds. Job seekers who upload their resume onto RL52’s website will be eligible to win an autographed football signed by Lewis. A winner will be announced July 4 on Facebook.


Frank Gore's NFL standing in perspective

Alan from Long Beach, Calif., cannot understand why Frank Gore's stock seems to be dropping in various NFL rankings, including the ones ESPN.com has put together recently. Alan considers Gore more valuable to the 49ers than any back is to his team, but he's seeking confirmation.

Mike Sando: Gore ranked tied for 10th in our balloting for best running backs in the NFL this offseason. I ranked Gore seventh behind Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson, Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles. Gore has missed nine games over the past three seasons, including the final five in 2010, and he was limited in other games.

Gore recently turned 28 years old. I still think he's among the very best backs in the NFL when healthy. He hasn't been healthy enough lately. His carries have diminished every season since 2006, but his production has been consistently strong. He's tough, runs hard and breaks tackles. He catches the ball well and set a career best last season by averaging 9.8 yards per reception. He blocks well in protection.

Gore has no weaknesses beyond concerns about his durability. Those concerns are real based on games missed and age relative to the 30-year-old barrier that has struck down plenty of running backs. The 49ers keep drafting running backs as insurance, but Gore remains their best back by a wide margin. I'd expect him to start the next two seasons and remain as productive as injuries allow him to be. His line should improve and that will help.

The chart lists the top 10 running backs in our rankings while providing basic rushing stats for them over the past three seasons. I've also included how many games they've played and how many they've missed to injury or other factors.

2011 RB Power Rankings: Three-Year Rushing Totals

Chris Johnson
Adrian Peterson
Maurice Jones-Drew
Arian Foster
Jamaal Charles
Michael TurnerFalcons
Steven Jackson
Ray RiceRavens
Rashard MendenhallSteelers
Frank Gore
LeSean McCoyJets
Darren McFaddenRaiders

NBC's "Today" show profiles Lewis involvement in Hudson River tragedy

Last month, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis participated in a New York fundraiser to help a 10-year-old New York boy whose mother drowned herself and three children by driving a van into the Hudson River in April.

On Wednesday morning, NBC’s “Today” show devoted a portion of its 8 o’clock hour to profiling LaShaun Armstrong’s progress since that tragedy and the roles that Lewis and former Carolina Panthers cornerback Reggie Howard have undertaken to assist Armstrong.

During the almost five-minute segment, Lewis can be seen watching Armstrong bowl, and the 12-time Pro Bowler discussed how he has offered Armstrong a mentorship and emotional support.

“I look at him and I told him, ‘I’m here for you, man,’” Lewis said during the broadcast. “‘I can’t replace what you’ve lost. But I can tell you that I’m here to go forward with you.’”

Armstrong said of his relationship with Lewis: “He’s like a brother to me, like an older brother to me.”

According to the morning program, the Ray Lewis Foundation is accepting donations for Armstrong’s education and counseling, and Lewis has personally donated $10,000 to the cause.


Ryan Braun leading National League outfielders in All-Star voting

Ryan Braun appears to be well on his way to becoming the first Brewers player to start in four consecutive All-Star Games.

Braun leads all National League outfielders and is third among all NL players with 971,809 votes according to the first round of results released by Major League Baseball.

Rickie Weeks is second among second basemen with 562,071 votes, trailing the Reds' Brandon Phillips (837,778) while first baseman Prince Fielder is third at his position with 540,269.

Fans can cast ballots during all games at Miller Park through Tuesday, June 21 and online at brewers.com until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, June 30.
The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played Tuesday, July 12 at Chase Field in Phoenix.

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Leonard Hankerson To Be No.1 Red-Zone Option For Redskins in 2011

Rookie WR Leonard Hankerson is a touchdown scoring machine. Void of blazing speed, he somehow manages to find the end zone. Expect Hankerson to be the No. 1 red zone option for the Redskins this season and don't be shocked if he approaches double-digit TD receptions.

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Has Father Time finally caught up with Reggie Wayne?

Your eyes tell you that Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne didn't look quite as quick last year as he did in previous seasons. He didn't seem to catch so many passes in wide-open spaces as he did before. When he did catch the ball, there always seemed to be a defender right there to keep him from gaining any extra yardage.

But then you look at the numbers, and you see that Wayne caught 111 passes, the most he ever has. He amassed 1,355 yards, his second-highest total ever. He only had six touchdown receptions -- which was a disappointment to his fantasy owners -- but his scoring totals have always fluctuated in his career.

So has Wayne lost a step, or is he still at the top of his game? Well, if we really knew the answer to that one, we'd have gotten out of the housing market four years ago, sold those Citibank shares back in 2000 -- and never even considered drafting Randy Moss last year. We never saw Moss' 28-catch, 393-yard season coming on the heels of his 83-catch, 1,264-yard season in 2009. But Reggie Wayne is not a candidate to suffer a Moss-like drop in numbers.

It's true that Wayne is 32 at the start of the 2011 season. But former Colts teammate Marvin Harrison had three 1,000-yard seasons and caught more than 10 touchdown passes three times after turning 32 -- and they came while sharing targets with Wayne.

There is no other wideout on the Colts to take Peyton Manning's attention away from Wayne. Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie have shown potential, but have been inconsistent or in and out of the lineup. Tight end Dallas Clark's return may hurt Wayne's total number of looks. At the same time, a healthy Clark should help open up the field more for Wayne once again.

Bottom Line: Nothing lasts forever, but we're not ready to throw dirt on Reggie Wayne's fantasy value just yet. He's still a No. 1 fantasy receiver.

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

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Jason Geathers gives Arizona Rattlers 3rd receiving target

Jason Geathers had his best game with the Rattlers on Saturday when he caught 10 passes for 111 yards and four touchdowns in a 63-42 victory over the Cleveland Gladiators.

Quarterback Nick Davila is starting to go more to Geathers with defenses focusing on Rod Windsor.

“It’s the Three-Headed Monster,” Geathers said.

Geathers is third on the team in receiving with 50 catches for 581 yards and 14 touchdowns. Windsor leads with 107 catches for 1,274 yards and 43 touchdowns, followed by Trandon Harvey (93 catches, 1,129 yards, 28 touchdowns).

“Whoever is hot, we’re pretty much going to go to him,” Geathers said. “They were kind of rolling the coverage to Rod, so it kind of left me and Trandon wide open. I was just lucky.”

Geathers’ athleticism and versatility allow the Rattlers (9-2) to use him in different ways. But so far coach Kevin Guy has been using him only on offense.

Geathers played linebacker and receiver on the San Jose SaberCats’ 2008 team that won the ArenaBowl. He made the Arena Football League’s All-Ironman team that season.

Geathers, who played five positions in high school (including quarterback), was a running back on the University of Miami’s stacked 2001 national championship team that included running back Clinton Portis, wide receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Jeremy Shockey. That team averaged 42.6 points a game.

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Chris Perez Slowing Down?

Chris Perez (FSY)   has been perfect in save chances in May, but not all is well with the Cleveland Indians closer. Perez has more walks than strikeouts in May, an intolerable combination for closer success. The poor skill indicators foretell a downturn. This might be the high-tide mark for Perez's value, so consider selling before his results turn for the worse.

It is not yet time to think about who is next in line, though, as Perez has earned plenty of rope with his results to date, despite the poor skill indicators.

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Danny Valencia remains a constant in Twins lineup

Amid all the injuries and illnesses the Minnesota Twins have endured this season, Danny Valencia has been a rare constant in the lineup.

Valencia, in his second year with the Twins, has been in the lineup for every game Minnesota has played this season — 52 starts through Monday's game against Detroit. He's one of just three Twins players to appear in 50 or more games. Jason Kubel has also played in all 52, but did not start in two of those games. And Denard Span has played in 51 of 52 games, including 50 starts.

With so many players making trips to the disabled list, Gardenhire has not had to worry about plugging the second-year third baseman into the lineup every day.

"Danny likes to be out there," Gardenhire said. "Him and I think (Kubel) played pretty much every day. … They're getting it done, so it's hard for me to take those two out of the lineup."

Kubel was injured in Monday's game and is day-to-day with a sprained left foot. Valencia, meanwhile, continues to stay healthy.
Knock on wood.

"The offseason, I worked hard to try to prevent injuries," Valencia said. "I've been beat up a little bit, getting tired here and there. But I'm here to play; I'm here to help the team. I feel it's best for me to be out there and play every day."

Valencia made his major league debut last June. From that point, he's been Minnesota's every-day third baseman, filling a position that hasn't seen consistency in years. As a rookie in 2010, Valencia batted .311 with a .448 slugging percentage and 40 RBIs in 85 games. Those numbers helped him finish third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.

A year later, Valencia's average has dipped to .230, but he's been one of the more productive hitters on the Twins — his 25 RBIs are second-most behind Kubel's 29, and he's tied for the team lead in home runs (5) with Kubel and Michael Cuddyer.

"This year, it's been tougher with scouting reports. I feel pretty good with where I'm at," Valencia said of the difference from his rookie year to this season. "Obviously I'd like to be hitting for a higher average, but production's been pretty good. A couple balls will fall for me and I think I'll be alright."

"We need his bat in the lineup," Gardenhire said. "Average-wise, it's not been great yet to this point, but if you look at production, he's driving in runs. He's knocking in some runs. You've got to keep him out there."

Valencia has also shown a knack for coming up with clutch hits, including a handful of game-winners in his two seasons. The latest came Saturday, as his 10th-inning single drove in the lone run of Minnesota's 1-0 win against the Angels.

"Danny seems to come up with some big hits," Gardenhire said.

While Valencia's hitting is still a work in progress, so too is his fielding. In 223 defensive chances in the field last season, Valencia committed six errors — a .973 fielding percentage. In 129 chances this year, he's already had five errors.

Gardenhire said he's trying to get Valencia to rely less on his strong arm and instead work on his foot positioning to have easier throws to first base.

"I think with Danny, he has a certain style. He's not one of these attack guys at third. He relies a lot on his arm," Gardenhire said. "We're constantly telling him, if he'll just go get the ball a little bit more, a little more movement, he could not have to rely on that arm all the time to wind up. Just get to the ball a little quicker, use your feet, shorten the distance and make a little easier throw."

Still, Gardenhire can take solace in the fact that Valencia hasn't missed a game, providing some stability to a shaky infield. Second baseman Tsuyohsi Nishioka has been out since the first week of the season with a broken leg. Alexi Casilla has rotated between shortstop and second base. First baseman Justin Morneau missed time with the flu, and continues to battle back from a concussion he suffered last season.

But besides the normal wear and tear of a baseball season, Valencia said he's feeling healthy.

"You get tired. Everybody gets fatigued from playing every day," he said. "I'm just going out there and trying to help the team win, being a serviceable player."

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