Romberg Practices

Brett Romberg practiced without restrictions Thursday for the first time since breaking his right hand early in camp.

"I started snapping Monday, and it felt pretty decent," Romberg said. "So, hopefully by next week this thing is going to feel like I never broke it."

While Romberg was healing, Nick Leckey wrested away the starting job at center.


Everett to be honored in Bills season opener

Sep 4th, 2008 | ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Kevin Everett will be honored while attending Buffalo's season opener against Seattle on Sunday, a year after the former Bills tight end sustained a severe life-threatening spinal cord injury.

Everett, who has since made a remarkable recovery, is scheduled to be present to receive the Professional Football Writers of America's Halas Award, which goes to the individual in the NFL who overcame the most adversity to succeed last season.

Everett certainly fits that bill. Doctors feared he'd never walk again after he was initially paralyzed from the neck down attempting to make a tackle while covering a kickoff in the Bills' season opener against Denver.

Days later, Everett showed signs of movement and began walking by November. He has since written a book about his recovery and received numerous honors.

It will be Everett's second visit to a Bills game after he attended the team's home finale last season, a 38-21 loss to the New York Giants on Dec. 23.

Later this month, Everett will be honored by The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at its annual Great Sports Legends Dinner in New York. Everett will receive the Inspiration Award handed out by the University of Miami-based spinal cord injury research center.

The Miami Project played a role in Everett's recovery by consulting with Bills team physicians shortly after the player was hurt.


Santana Moss’ Mixed Training To Pay Dividends Beginning Tonight In NFL Season Opener

Lifting weights, jogging on the treadmill, trudging up and down stadium stairs - that type of traditional offseason workout plan can get a little monotonous for even the most dedicated NFL athletes.

Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss was looking for an alternative way to stay in shape this summer, and a friend from his old neighborhood helped him out - using mixed martial arts.

Moss spent a few days a week with Lonny Intorn, an instructor at Punch Fitness in Deerfield Beach, Fla. Intorn showed Moss the same training techniques used by mixed martial arts fighters, which included a heavy dose of cross-training and kickboxing.

“Sometimes I go home in January and get crazy about working out and football stuff,” Moss said. “I wanted to take as much time as I can off and do something different. [We did] tire squats, tire throws, a lot of boxing and a lot of kicking until we got the form down. Then some days we put all of the combinations together - 30 minutes punching, 30 minutes kicking, kneeing, abs - you name it, we did it all.”

Moss was intrigued by the training regimen in part because he had taken an interest in the career of another Miami-based athlete, Kevin Ferguson - known to most as the street fighter-turned-Internet sensation-turned-MMA star Kimbo Slice.

So Moss started working with Intorn, who grew up in the same part of Miami and also went to college at The U. Intorn has worked out several NFL players, including Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and Santana’s little brother, Sinorice. He also trains professional kickboxers.

“It is funny, but when I get some of these [NFL] guys for their first workout with me, after the first five or 10 minutes they are on the ground dying - literally,” Intorn said. “They say, ‘I’ve never worked out like this before.’ After they are with me I can see the transformation. They are more cut, and they make it through the workouts.”

Moss isn’t alone with his new-wave training techniques. The team’s other starting wideout, Antwaan Randle El, also incorporated some mixed martial arts training into his offseason.

How the alternative methods affect Moss and Randle El long term remains to be seen, but there have been some immediate effects.

“If it was just run, run, run - that’s something I could do, but I was losing some of my muscle mass. But I’m not losing as much this year,” Randle El said. “I think the grappling [helps]. When you are on the ground wrestling with a guy - that’s how it is when you catch a ball and you’re tussling with a guy and trying to get out.”

Added Intorn: “I think it definitely gives them better movability and more flexibility. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t think you have to just always lift a ton of weights.”

One thing that is certain about Moss - he has been healthy during this camp. After being injured for much of last summer and slowed during camp, he is off to a much better start to the 2008 season.

Health has been an issue for Moss for the past two years. He set the team record for receiving yards with 1,483 in his first season with the Redskins in 2005 but has barely eclipsed that number in the past two seasons combined while missing a total of four games with injuries and being less than 100 percent in several others.

“This is my third camp with him, and I think this has been his best one so far,” Randle El said.

There have been glimpses of the old Moss during camp - the gamebreaker who averaged nearly 18 yards a reception three years ago. In new coach Jim Zorn’s offense, Moss could put his elusiveness to work and turn quick timing patterns into long gains.

A more dynamic Moss could be the difference between a solid Redskins offense and a great one.

“We feel that when we have him in the ballgame, it might just take one play,” wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “He has proven that before. We’ve beat people with just one play that he made. He’s a big-play receiver.”


When it comes to Hester, it's about the number

Devin Hester's whereabouts on the field this season will be closely monitored. His progress as a wide receiver will be tracked by fans and opponents alike and his development is no doubt a critical element to the improvement of the offense.

The Indianapolis Colts, starting Sunday night, will be the first to ask where is No. 23?

Hester started the final three preseason games and using that as a barometer for things to come it's fair to assume he will be in that role along with Brandon Lloyd. How much Hester is employed at wide receiver could impact his future wearing No. 23. It's an interesting sidenote as he develops as a receiver because it's not in the group of numbers that can be assigned to full-time wide receivers according to Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2 of the NFL rulebook.

When Hester joined the Bears as a rookie in 2006, he was assigned No. 23 because he was a cornerback. Provided he remains primarily a kick and punt returner, at least according to the club's latest roster, he's perfectly fine wearing No. 23. If he becomes a full-fledged starter at receiver, playing the bulk of the game there, it could become an issue the league has to address. According to the NFL rulebook:

"If a player changes his position during his playing career in the NFL, and such change moves him out of a category specified above, he must be issued an appropriate new jersey numeral."

The last player who publicly fought to get an exception was New Orleans running back Reggie Bush, who was intent on wearing No. 5, the number he had as a star at USC. Bush lost out and wears No. 25. When it comes to uniforms and conformity, league rules are pretty hard and fast. When Peyton Manning requested to wear high-tops for one game in tribute to Johnny Unitas following his death, he was told no. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris requested to switch to No. 97, the number he wore at Oklahoma, when it became free after Michael Haynes was released at the end of the summer in 2006. He was told no and the reason he was given was that it was about the money. Too many No. 91 jerseys were out there, Harris said.

Hester's case is different than Bush's. Hester is an established player in the league. Bush was just entering it. But the rules are the rules. None of the parties involved, the league included, would seem to be real interested in a change. For starters, there have to be boxes of Hester No. 23 jerseys stacked in warehouses all over the country. Forget about the ones hanging on racks in stores nationwide. There are jerseys waiting to make it to stores that already have a 2 and 3 on them. In this instance, the most important numbers become the dollar figures involved. No. 23 jerseys might have to go on clearance if he was wearing new digits.

Provided he remains a major contributor on special teams there are other things that could be factored in. With Hester's versatility, he can be lined up in the backfield from time to time and No. 23 works for a running back. But you're not going to see him listed as a running back on the roster. It's highly unlikely any kind of change would ever take place during the season, and it's likely he would have to become a full-time receiver before it became an issue. The coaching staff says he has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver. We'll see how involved he is from the start on Sunday.

Here's a look at the specific rule involved, directly from the rulebook: Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2

All players must wear numerals on their jerseys in accordance with Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3(c).
Such numerals must be by playing position, as follows:
(a) quarterbacks, punters, and placekickers: 1-19; (b) running backs and defensive backs: 20-49; (c) centers: 50-59 (60-79 if 50-59 are unavailable); (d) offensive guards and tackles: 60-79; (e) wide receivers: 10-19 and 80-89; (f) tight ends: 80-89; (g) defensive linemen: 60-79 (90-99 if 60-79 are unavailable); and (h) linebackers: 50-59 (90-99 if 50-59 are unavailable).

If a player changes his position during his playing career in the NFL, and such change moves him out of a category specified above, he must be issued an appropriate new jersey numeral.

Any request to wear a numeral for a special position not specified above (e.g., H-back) must be made to the Commissioner.


Reed ignores doctor's orders, plans to play

Ravens FS Ed Reed (shoulder) is ignoring doctor's orders to rest for two weeks and will instead try to play against the Bengals.
Reed practiced Wednesday without a red non-contact jersey for the first time since suffering a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder. "If it keeps lingering throughout the season, it definitely could come to some point to where we shut it down for the year," he said. It's hard to believe that Reed can play every down or be his usual self; Carson Palmer shouldn't be worried.


Not optimistic on McGahee

While Willis McGahee sounded hopeful about playing against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the Ravens coaches did not sound as optimistic about the running back's availability.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said McGahee, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug.. 11, could be a game-time decision for the season opener.

"You can see that he's getting close," Cameron said today. "Whether that'll mean this week or not, I don't know."

McGahee, who has missed all four preseason games, was limited in practice for the second consecutive day but said he is aiming to start against the Bengals.

"That's the plan, but it all depends on how the knee reacts," he said. "If it's not ready to go, then it doesn't make any sense to go out there. But if it's good, then it's a go. So I'd say it's about 50-50."

McGahee rushed for 1,207 yards last season -- good enough for fourth place on the franchise's all-time list -- but if he cannot play, rookie Ray Rice would line up behind rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.

Rice, a second-round pick out of Rutgers, started every game in the preseason, rushing for 146 yards on 26 carries (5.6 yards per carry).

"If he's [McGahee is] back and healthy, I think our offense will be a lot better because of what he can contribute to this offense," Rice said. "When he's back, he's back. But if not, when I'm in there, I'm the starter whether I started the game or when I come in the game. I have to take that approach every rep I get."


Taylor still on the mind of Redskins

When Santana Moss steps onto the Giants Stadium turf before Thursday’s NFL season opener in East Rutherford, N.J., the Washington Redskins’ eighth-year wideout will close his eyes and blurt out the initials of a pair of childhood friends who never made it to adulthood.

It’s a ritual Moss has been performing before games and practices since arriving at the University of Miami as a freshman 11 years ago, and since last November it has been expanded to honor the memory of a third fallen comrade.

“Deuce to the one!” Moss will yell before beginning his pregame sprint. Then, he and many of his Redskins teammates will do their best to channel the ferocity and passion that slain safety Sean Taylor once brought to the field.

“That’s me letting Sean know I’m still out here for him, thinking of him, remembering him,” Moss said last month. “It hurts so much to think that he’s gone. But for some of us, he’ll always be part of this.”

When Taylor, an ultra-talented fourth-year player seemingly headed for stardom, died last Nov. 27, a day after being shot by intruders during a robbery attempt at his Miami-area home, the impact on the Redskins transcended the loss of perhaps the franchise’s best player.

For veterans like Moss and halfback Clinton Portis, the loss of their fellow UM alum and close friend was a brutal reality check – a reminder that life can be taken away at any time and should be afforded the requisite gravity.

For then-rookie safety LaRon Landry, the talented protégé whom Taylor had done his best to mold, it was an impetus to play with even more aggression and rage.

For virtually everyone on Washington’s roster last fall, it was a jarring yet illuminating glimpse into how interconnected a football team can be – and how that normally unspoken chemistry can fuel an unlikely run of overachievement.

“When Sean died, each of us spent some time reflecting on how he had touched us – conversations we’d had, wisdom he had provided,” Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley says. “Eventually, we all started piecing it together and realized, whoa, that was an amazing person. He’d impacted so many of us in so many different ways.”

In the weeks after his death, it was tough not to believe that Taylor didn’t have a profound posthumous effect on the Skins’ surprising playoff drive. The emotionally devastated team paid tribute to Taylor in the first game after his death by lining up for the first defensive snap with only 10 men. Washington lost that game in excruciating fashion to the Buffalo Bills on a last-second field goal, then flew en masse to Miami for their former teammate’s funeral.

With 36-year-old quarterback Todd Collins playing the rest of the way for injured Jason Campbell, the ‘Skins proceeded to defeat the Bears, Giants, Vikings and Cowboys, the latter a 27-6 victory on the final day of the regular season to secure a playoff spot.

The next weekend in Seattle, things got even eerier. Washington rallied from a 13-0 deficit to take a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Collins to Moss. The ensuing kickoff soared high above the Qwest Field turf before landing on the Seattle 14-yard line. Several Seahawks players were nearby, but none picked it up. The Skins’ Anthony Mix recovered, bringing Qwest Field to a hush save the wild celebration on the visitors’ sideline.

Some players pointed to the sky. They felt Taylor was still helping them.

The Seahawks felt it, too.

“If anybody had destiny on their side in the playoffs, it was the Washington Redskins,” says new Washington coach Jim Zorn, who was Seattle’s quarterbacks coach from 2001-07. “We had big fears of that.”

The Redskins soon ran out of magic, losing 35-14 after a miserable flurry in the final minutes. Coach Joe Gibbs retired, and coordinators Al Saunders and Gregg Williams ultimately left. Zorn arrived with a different coaching approach, and the team’s culture began to change.

Zorn understood, however, that Taylor would have to be a part of the new order. Early in training camp, Zorn told the team of his experiences in Seattle in 2003, when veteran passer Trent Dilfer’s five-year-old son, Trevin, died after a sudden heart infection. “We would never, ever say to Trent, even today, ‘You just need to move on,’   ” Zorn said to the players. “That’s not something you get over. It’s something you remember and that you have to live with every day, just as you guys will with Sean. Through you, his memory will live on.”

The locker once occupied by Taylor at the team’s Ashburn, Va., training facility remains as he left it, encased in Plexiglass. Zorn says there are plans to honor Taylor’s memory at a game at FedEx Field early this season. Taylor’s fiancée, Jackie Garcia, and their daughter, Jackie, visited the team’s facility in mid-August. Executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato still speaks semi-regularly with Taylor’s father, Pedro, the police chief of Florida City.

“I think we’ll always play for him,” Portis says. “You look at this team and see we’ve got all these pieces in place, and you realize there’s one person who’s not here, but who should be.”

Moss says Taylor’s death had a deep impact on the way he views football and life. Over the offseason he married his longtime girlfriend, LaTosha Allen, with whom he has two children. He says he is more mature and more careful than he was before the tragedy struck.

“I can assure you it carries over for me, because it just let me know how easily this game can be taken away from you,” Moss says. “Not only this game, but life. It’s one of the greatest gut-checks I ever experienced. That man is gone.

“When he passed, that put another kind of surge in me, as far as what I needed to take care of as a man. When you’re in this football world, it’s almost like you’re in college all over again – it’s not like you’re in the real world, with real responsibilities. Now I approach it differently. I’ve been ready to grow up for 13 years now.”

Among other things, Moss says, “It just let me know that everybody’s not my friend. Everybody that gives me hugs and daps me off and yells and screams ‘You’re the best!’ isn’t necessarily in my corner. When I talked to the authorities who investigated Sean’s death and heard that the guys who robbed him were guys Sean knew, it blew me away. They knew him. They liked him. They knew his sister and loved his game and loved the guy that he was.

“But, you know, the economy sucks and these young kids don’t want to work for anything, so they went to his house when they thought he wasn’t home and figured, ‘He won’t know we did it.’ Then he surprised them, and bam. Now somebody’s life is gone – and their lives are basically gone, too.”

(Last May one suspect accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 29 years in prison; four others are expected to go to trial in March.)

Another player whom the tragedy hit especially hard was Landry, the sixth overall pick in the ‘07 draft. Almost as soon as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called his name on the podium, Landry began hearing from people in NFL circles who cautioned him about Taylor’s supposedly surly nature.

“Guys were telling me, ‘He’s going to be a hard guy to work with,’ ” Landry recalls. “But when I got here, it was the total opposite. He worked with me in meeting rooms and on the field and helped me get over that hurdle that all rookies face.”

As the two safeties grew comfortable playing together, Cerrato began fantasizing about an extended run of greatness at the position. Taylor, the strong safety, “had phenomenal range and incredible ball skills. He was a kill-you-or-miss-you tackler.” Landry, the free safety, “is a great blitzer and a great tackler who’s still developing his downfield game. They were the perfect complement for one another – each guy’s strengths complemented the other’s weaknesses. And they’d have been playing together forever.”

As part of his mentoring of Landry, Taylor used to give the rookie a ride to and from the team’s training facility during the week. Upon learning of Taylor’s death, Cerrato recalls, “LaRon starts crying and says, ‘Who’s gonna take me home?’ ”

It’s a darker emotion that Landry has summoned since, at least on Sundays. Teammates noticed the way he stepped up his intensity after Taylor’s death, intercepting a pair of passes in the playoff game in Seattle and looking for the type of big hits that No. 21 would have encouraged.

“Most definitely, I try to follow in his footsteps,” Landry says. “I try to match his intensity, his style of play and bring what he brought to the team. I’ll never be as great as he was. But all of this has inspired me to just … to just. … Well, instead of using the words I really want to use, I’ll say to just go out there and lay it on the line.”

What Landry was unwilling to say was something to which most men in his profession can relate: He plays angrier now, summoning more violence, looking to take out his pain on anyone in his midst. Before every game since high school, Landry has taken a pen and scrawled “Suicide Mission” on his chest. Those words have taken on added resonance since Taylor’s death.

“It’s not what you think,” Landry says. “Obviously, this is not life and death. But it’s a way of reminding myself that if I have to hurt my own body to do what I need to do, then that’s what it’s gonna be.”

When Portis looks at Landry now, he sees “probably the next closest thing that you’re going to find to Sean Taylor. He’s next in line. Both are quiet guys. I could have an off-the-wall conversation with either one that leaves me shaking my head. And you never know what day they feel like talking. Some days you’re chatting it up for hours, and some days you get the blankest stares and think, ‘Man, that (conversation) never happened. What’s going on in that dude’s mind?’ So you just sit back and wait for him to come to you.”

One thing about Taylor’s death that has bothered Portis and so many of his teammates is the way some journalists and others rushed after the shooting to assume that he had provoked the gunfire. Taylor, after all, had been the subject of a 2005 firearms-assault case, though charges were ultimately dropped as part of negotiated plea bargain.

Yet as Taylor’s career progressed – and especially after his daughter was born in the spring of 2006 – he began to show a maturity that was noticeable inside the locker room. Taylor, however, remained distant and guarded with the media, and the negative public perception of him remained largely intact.

“What people didn’t realize, but what we all knew, was that Sean had changed,” Cooley says. “He was all about family. He really didn’t go out. But he didn’t show that side of himself to people on the outside, because he felt he’d been burned. It’s too bad.”

Taylor’s teammates learned even more about him after his death when Garcia spoke to the team. Says Cerrato: “Jackie told them, ‘You don’t know how much you guys meant to Sean. Football was his life.’ The guy had built a video room in his house and walked around saying, ‘I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to improve.’ And he had a huge heart. These guys will never forget.”

As they prepare for a new season, with a new coach and many new faces, the holdovers in the Redskins’ organization look for any sign that Taylor is still with them. “We beat Dallas (last December) by 21,” Cerrato says, shaking his head. “We lost to Seattle by 21 in the playoff game. And we had the 21st pick in the draft.”

Deuce to the one. It’s a number Moss will carry with him for the rest of his playing days.

“I look at the locker now and then,” Moss says quietly. “I hope it’s always there. Sean meant so much. I really think he was before his time.”

Every night before he goes to bed, Portis updates his fallen teammate on the state of the Redskins, part of the “regular conversations I have with him, like he was still here.” And sometimes, before he catches himself, Portis finds himself speaking as though Taylor’s death never happened.
In August, while eating at a Mexican restaurant in Washington D.C., Portis struck up a conversation with a female diner and eventually told her what he did for a living.

The woman, who was a casual football fan, asked Portis, “Who’s your favorite player?”

“Past or present?” he asked.


“Bo Jackson. Or Barry Sanders.”

“What about present?”

“My favorite player right now, hands down, is Sean Taylor,” Portis said. The woman’s eyes grew big, and there was an uncomfortable pause.

“To this day, that’s my guy,” Portis told her. “He’s still here.”


Hite Invited to Suns Camp

BONUS SHOTS:The Suns will bring 16 players to Tucson for training camp. In addition to the 13 players under contract, Phoenix will invite three nonroster players, all long shots to make the club.

Robert Hite, a 6-foot-2 combo guard from the University of Miami who played 12 games with the Miami Heat in 2006-07. He started last season the New Jersey but didn't see any time and wound up playing in Europe.


Right Now, Ryan Braun is your NL MVP

As the baseball season turns it’s final month for the first time in what seems like a long time (fact check: one year) the NL MVP race is still wide open, and not wide open in the rhetorical sportswriter meme where “every vote counts” but wide open in the sense that I’ve read legitimate arguments for probably about 15 candidates.

I’ve seen that Chase is the odds-on favorite, read that Aramis Ramirez is going to emerge from the pack, heard that it’s between Pujols and Lance Berkman for the belt and even had people believe that the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award is Carlos Delgado’s, or Ryan Ludwick’s, or CC Sabathia’s to lose.  And all of that is without delving into the layers of nonsense that commenters can come up with.

With that in mind, I’m going to dive into the stats, the standings, and the rest of the season to see who can, should, and will be the 2008 National League MVP.  One man’s MVP Ballot …

Obvious caveat: A lot can change in a month. If Miss Davis from Varsity Blues can beat out Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty for the chance to kiss babies, attend funerals and shoot friends in the face next to McCain for four years, it is plausible that any of two dozen more names could come up.  That said, in descending order and increasing in interest  …


Memo to refs: Watch out for Kellen Winslow Jr. pushing off

Wade Phillips mixed in a not-so-subtle message to Sunday's officiating crew while gushing about how good Browns TE Kellen Winslow Jr. is as a receiver.

"One-on-one, he's very adept at pushing off ... I mean, getting open," Phillips said with a wry smile. "I hope the officials note that."

For the record, Phillips said Jason Witten never, ever pushes off.


Whisenhunt wary of Gore

Coach Ken Whisenhunt admitted Wednesday that he didn't know much about 49ers running back Frank Gore before the Cardinals played the 49ers last year.

Whisenhunt was in his first season with the Cardinals, and Gore didn't play much last preseason because of a broken hand.

Gore didn't do a lot in the teams' first meeting, which came in the season opener, but he exploded for 116 yards rushing and 98 yards receiving in the second game. He also scored two touchdowns.

"He kind of ripped us up pretty good," Whisenhunt said, "so I said, 'Wow this is why they talk about him the way they do.'

"He's an outstanding football player. The more I see him, the more I understand what a dynamic player he is. He is really somebody you'd better account for, or he's going to really hurt you, whether it's catching the ball out of the backfield or even on the run game."


Hester, Lloyd likely to start for Bears

Devin Hester and Brandon Lloyd are expected to be the Bears' starting wide receivers in Week 1.
Rashied Davis will start out as the No. 3/slot receiver. The Bears figure to rotate in Mark Bradley, Marty Booker, and possibly Earl Bennett, limiting everyone's ceiling. Only Hester and Lloyd are worth looks in deep leagues.


Is Giants' Phillips next in line of effective safeties from The U?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — No introduction was necessary for Kenny Phillips to feel a kinship with the late Sean Taylor.

Both played safety at the University of Miami, and the younger Phillips monitored Taylor's career with the Washington Redskins so closely that he felt an unbreakable bond had formed between them.

"He was my big brother even though I never had a chance to meet him," Phillips says. "That's the way it is at Miami."

When Taylor was shot to death in November during a break-in at his Miami-area home, it only deepened those emotions. The New York Giants rookie chose uniform No. 21 to honor the fallen member of the Hurricanes family.

The Super Bowl champions' first-round draft choice provided numerous highlights during training camp and fared well in preseason games, where he displayed tremendous range and the willingness to be a ferocious hitter.

He showed enough that Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a former Philadelphia Eagles assistant, compared him to Brian Dawkins, the Eagles' six-time Pro Bowl safety.

"People feared Brian, and that's way down the road for Kenny," Spagnuolo says. "He's still trying to learn the defense and limit the mistakes. In college, he was a very active and a very physical guy, and when we drafted him, we anticipated he would be the same."

Phillips is so eager to hit moving targets that coaches were repeatedly reminding him to pull up rather than drill teammates during practice.

"Sometimes when I see the ball and am running full speed, I have to tell myself, 'No, don't do it,' " he says. "You keep finding yourself having to move out of the way. … It's a weird feeling."

Phillips' desire to play full-tilt speaks to how seamlessly he is transitioning to the pro game. "Football is football," says the 6-2, 210-pound player. "Guys are big and fast, but I'm big and fast, too. Football is the same at every level."

Phillips credits former Miami players such as Ed Reed, a four-time Pro Bowl pick with the Baltimore Ravens, and his current teammates with helping him fill a position of need for the Giants.

"The veterans help me out a whole lot," the first-year player says. "They don't expect a lot out of me. They're just breaking me in slowly, not making me do too much singing or dancing. And if I need help with the playbook, they are right there to help."

Phillips is the fourth Hurricanes safety to be drafted in the first round this decade, following Reed, Taylor and Brandon Meriweather. When he was chosen with the last pick of the first round, it allowed his alma mater to extend its streak to 14 years with at least one first-round selection.

New York general manager Jerry Reese saw Phillips as the ideal choice.

"I didn't think he would make it that long," Reese says. "We got nice value, and we got a need position, as well."

While the Hurricanes kept him fairly close to the line of scrimmage, the Giants are allowing him to play much deeper so they can capitalize on his exceptional closing speed once the ball is in the air.

"I barely got a chance to run like that in college," he says. "I was always in the box, always playing 6 to 7 yards from the line of scrimmage. And people are always asking me, 'Why don't you have any interceptions?' That's really why. Now … I get to run around and make plays."

Phillips, unlike many rookies, is not tentative. He does not overthink. He reads and reacts.

"He makes his share of mistakes, but we never complain about guys who play fast and make mistakes," Spagnuolo says. "He plays fast and he's been making some big plays, and hopefully he continues to do that."

For Phillips, it is all part of honoring Taylor's memory.


Johnson credits Ravens' Lewis with fresh approach to season

CINCINNATI -- At some of his lowest points in the offseason -- many of them self-inflicted -- Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson (who legally changed his last name to Ocho Cinco) would get a call from his father figure in Baltimore, ready to suggest a Bible verse and some advice.

Linebacker Ray Lewis told the self-promoting receiver that he needed to change. Instead of being unhappy with his team, Lewis told him that he needed to be grateful to be in the NFL.

Stop complaining. Start appreciating. Get back to playing.

"That was the same message I relayed to him and a couple of other guys around the league that were going through the same thing," Lewis said Wednesday, in a conference call. "I was like: Keep your peace. Let the business side of the business take care of itself, but keep your peace and always stay who Chad is, and that's just loving the game of football."

The Pro Bowl receiver has changed, though not in all the ways his coach had hoped.

He has stopped grousing over the Bengals' refusal to trade him. He's been more upbeat around his teammates. He's worked through an ankle operation that slowed him at the start of training camp and an injury to his left shoulder in the second preseason game.

In that regard, he listened to the advice.

"He's my spiritual father when I'm having problems," the receiver told sports writers in Baltimore on Wednesday. "Ray has been there for me through everything. Ray is really the only reason I've somewhat shut up and calmed down and came back and refocused my energy on helping my team get to the playoffs and all my energy being positive.

"So, Ray is really the reason I'm back here happy, smiling and ready to go again."

He hasn't shed the self-absorption, though.

Last week, he legally changed his last name from Johnson to Ocho Cinco. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he wants to be called by his new name, but declined to talk about it any further.

It's unclear whether he'll have his new name or the old one on his uniform Sunday for the season opener in Baltimore. Coach Marvin Lewis -- who hates the receiver's self-promoting stunts -- said it's up to the NFL to decide what name goes on his uniform.

"It's not a stunt," Lewis said. "He changed his name. It's a legal document. He's been wanting to do this since March. It's kind of water under the bridge at this point for us."

Spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail to the AP that the league hasn't addressed the question yet.

Asked if the new name is one of the changes that resulted from Johnson's talks with Ray Lewis, the Bengals coach laughed loudly.

"That's a very good question," he said. "We're going to figure Chad out now?"

Ray Lewis, who at age 33 is three years older than the receiver, has noticed a change in attitude when he talks to him on the phone.

"These are the things that he has grabbed onto, to say that life is life, life is good," the linebacker said. "You can be a true role model to some people and show people what life is about when you really challenge yourself to be great every day."

Asked about the name change, Ray Lewis chuckled.

"It's whatever it is," he said. "If that's the way he feels he wants to be called, then let him go by that."


Raiders release Joseph to make way for Lelie

ALAMEDA, Calif.: The Oakland Raiders released defensive tackle William Joseph on Tuesday to create room on the roster for receiver Ashley Lelie.

Lelie officially signed his one-year contract Tuesday, forcing the Raiders to create a roster spot for him. They did it by cutting ties with Joseph, who made little impact after signing as a free agent in the offseason.

Lelie joined the Raiders just days after being cut by the 49ers. He had 10 catches for 115 yards last season for San Francisco while struggling with injuries, including a strained quadriceps.


Kenny Phillips Update

Rookie S Kenny Phillips, who had a spectacular start to the summer only to see his playing time oddly reduced as the preseason went along, apparently will not start Thursday night. Michael Johnson will be the starting free safety, though Phillips said he’s playing with the first nickel defense, meaning he’ll be on the field a lot in passing situations. “Michael had a pretty good preseason,” Phillips said. “It’s not right to move him, even though I was playing well.” I still think Phillips will start soon, and I’m betting he’ll end up with the majority of playing time Thursday night, too.


McDougle "excited" about joining New York Giants

I caught up with new Giants DE Jerome McDougle on his way out of the stadium today. He was running around to get settled, so I didn't want to hold him up too long with a ton of questions. Here's what he had to say during our brief interview.

(On joining the Giants) I'm real excited about the opportunity to play for the Super Bowl champs. It's a good deal coming up here and being a part of this top-class organization.

(On Steve Spagnuolo) It's good, man. Coming up here and playing with (Spagnuolo), we have a good relationship. He does some of the same things I've been doing in Philly with his own little spin on things, so it's good. He really gives his ends freedom and they go after it. That's what I'm looking forward to - getting on the field and making plays.

(On redemption and fulfilling his potential) I just want to play. I don't really like to do too much talking. I just want the opportunity to get out there and play. My play will speak for itself. I don't want to be a guy that does a lot of talking. I want to show I can play.

(On injuries and tough breaks he's had) I don't deal in what-ifs. And God doesn't make mistakes. I'm trusting in Him. Me, I'm just going out there to play.
Well, I guess I didn't have to hunt down McDougle after all because the Giants' crack PR staff did it for us. Here's a transcript they released two minutes after I posted this entry:

What are your thoughts about coming up the turnpike and being here? It is great. Defending Super Bowl champs... I look good in blue. I feel good to be here, staying in the division, so not really much of a difference as far as guys you are going against, and I just feel good to be here, to be wanted, and I am just looking forward to doing some good things on this defense. I like the defensive scheme, it is sort of the same kinds of things that I came from - a lot of movement - and we get after it.

Is it good that you have a relationship with Coach Spags? That is great, that is great. Coach Spags has done a good job here. He really gets after it and kind of put his own niche on kind of the defense that we were running there in Philly.It is good for me because there is a lot of movement, which allows for guys like me a chance to kind of move and get after the quarterback a little bit.

Are you happy with the way you played in the preseason? I did well. I wanted to continue to get better. I still have things I need to work on. Obviously it is going to be a different atmosphere for me, so I need to kind of get the terminology and get everything down. Football is football when it comes down to it so I am just looking forward to getting out here and mixing it up a little bit, just getting with my teammates. Kind of learn everybody, learn how I play, learn how everybody else plays, and start winning some games.

You are thrown into the fire getting here on Sunday with a Thursday night game? Yeah, that is how the league is, man. That is how the NFL is. There is a lot of change so you have to always be on your toes. That is a part of the game. You know you are going to have different things happen and you have to just adjust on the fly.

Were you surprised at all about your release in Philly? I knew it was a kind of 50/50 chance. I wasn't really worried about it. I knew either way it went I was going to be somewhere. Again, that is a part of the game, that is the kind of league we are in, so they moved on and I moved on and I am just going to make the best out of it.

Have you felt that as long as you could stay healthy your career would turn out well? I just have my trust in God. I am a Christian. I have a good relationship with Jesus Christ, or a great relationship with Jesus Christ, and I have just been trusting in God, trusting in His word and if I can just go out there and put it all on the line, I am positive that He will take care of me. That is what I have been holding on to.

Has it been frustrating at all for you? No. It hasn't been frustrating. As long as you can keep Jesus Christ in the equation, everything will come out good. Some guys wonder why people go crazy and start losing it, they don't have anything to believe in, they don't have anything to trust in. If you believe in God and you trust in Him, He will always deliver you.

You feel good now? I feel great. I feel great. I feel great. The defending Super Bowl champs, a top class organization. What else could you want?


Jon Beason takes the lead in Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- From his vantage point on the sideline in the middle of last season, Jake Delhomme examined the Carolina Panthers' defense.

It didn't take the injured quarterback long to come to a conclusion.

"We needed a leader on defense," Delhomme said. "Jon Beason had to be that leader."

A rookie who missed the first eight days of training camp in a contract holdout, Beason might have seemed like an unlikely candidate to be a leader. He opened the season at outside linebacker and slid into the middle in early October after Dan Morgan suffered yet another injury that ended yet another season.

"At that point, I was just going along and trying to feel my way," Beason said. "I was just trying to learn the defense and, because I was a rookie, I didn't want to step on anybody's toes."

It was about that time when Delhomme, who went down with an elbow injury in Week 3, threw the leadership job at Beason's feet. Carolina's offense was about to crumble without Delhomme, but the quarterback wasn't going to let the defense do the same.

Veteran defensive end Mike Rucker had plenty of respect in the locker room, but his career was coming to an end. Supremely talented defensive end Julius Peppers was anointed a leader by owner Jerry Richardson before last season, but he's one of the most shy and quiet players in the NFL, and his personality will prevent him from ever being a vocal leader.

That's why Delhomme stepped in and pulled Beason aside.

"I told him several times, and I think other people did, too, 'Jon, you have to be the leader. Don't worry about being a rookie. This is your defense,'" Delhomme said. "Julius is Julius. He's a quiet guy, and there's nothing wrong with that. But Jon is just a natural-born leader all the way around."

Beason, Delhomme and the rest of the Panthers can't pinpoint the exact moment Beason became the leader of the defense, but everyone agrees it happened. That emergence helped save Carolina's season from complete disaster as the offense struggled mightily with Vinny Testaverde, David Carr and undrafted rookie Matt Moore trying fruitlessly to fill Delhomme's shoes.

Beason and the defense kept the team respectable and carried the Panthers to a 7-9 finish. Along the way, Beason produced a franchise-record 160 tackles and led or tied for the team lead in tackles in 13 games.

"When you consider the fact Jon missed a big chunk of camp and started the season on the outside, that makes it even more incredible what he did last year," coach John Fox said. "He's been through it once now and he's been through this entire offseason working in the middle, so we're expecting more big things from him."

So is everyone else.

"Beason's going to be a Pro Bowler very soon," another NFC head coach said. "The guy has all the tools. He and [San Francisco's] Patrick Willis [another 2007 first-round pick] are going to be the next dominant linebackers."

Beason might be the rising star in the NFC South, and he must be a central figure if the Panthers are going to get back to the kind of hard-nosed, dominant defense they played earlier in Fox's tenure.

"I don't mind being a leader," Beason said. "In fact, I kind of like it. I think I lead by example more than anything. But I don't mind getting in a guy's face if he needs to step up, and I'll feel more comfortable doing that this year."

That's what the Panthers want -- and need. In Beason, whom they took with the 25th pick in last year's draft, they believe they have a leader. They also believe they have a very complete linebacker. Beason is a sideline-to-sideline player against the run and also can drop into pass coverage when needed.

The Panthers always believed they had that kind of linebacker in Morgan, a first-round pick in 2001, but chronic injuries prevented Morgan from ever playing a full season and reaching his potential.

In Beason, though, the Panthers believe they have a linebacker who is as good as Morgan could have been if he had stayed healthy. It's kind of ironic because Beason and Morgan both went to the University of Miami and Beason points to Morgan as his mentor.

"Dan became my friend when he came back to Miami to work out before my sophomore year," Beason said. "When I came here, there was no jealousy from Dan. He showed me the ropes from the first day."

Little did Morgan know Beason would take his place before long. Morgan went down with an injury in the third game last season, and Beason slid into the middle in Week 5.

"When Dan got hurt, he still talked me through everything with the defense," Beason said.

Beason played so well that it made the decision easier for the Panthers to cut ties with Morgan after last season. He signed with New Orleans but then elected to retire in May.

"Dan's still one of my best friends," Beason said. "I've called him several times during training camp just to ask questions. It's a bond that all the Miami linebackers have."

The bond with Morgan has helped get Beason this far. But the bond he started building with the rest of the defense last year is why he'll be counted on even more as a team leader this season.

Several teammates said Beason has been even more vocal and forceful this training camp, and the rest of the defense is following his lead.

"Jon's a great football player and a fiery, excitable kind of guy," Delhomme said. "Every team needs a few guys like that. Jon's going to put a hit on running backs from other teams when he tackles them. But he also puts a hit on his own teammates. If you make a good play, you've got to look out for Jon because he's going to come up and jump on you because that's the kind of guy he is."


Channing Crowder takes shot at UM

As if the Gators weren't talking enough smack about this weekend's showdown with the Hurricanes, Florida product Channing Crowder has been baiting UM alum and Dolphins teammate Vernon Carey about putting a friendly wager on Saturday's intrastate rivalry game.

Considering his Hurricanes are so young and unproven, Carey has shied away from biting down on Crowder's bait. But it hasn't stopped Crowder, the locker room's resident comedian, from talking smack.

"Nobody is taking that bet anywhere in the world because Florida is just going to trample them," said Crowder, who for the record got spanked by the Hurricanes twice during his playing career.

"[UM freshman quarterback] Jacory Harris was in P.E. six months ago, come on now. They don't have a chance to beat the Gators, at all. I don't know why people even talk about this. It's a warm up game for the Gators," Crowder boasted.

For the record, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow never took P.E. He was too busy being home schooled because his parents were scared of public and private education. I wonder if Tebow's mom is still doing his laundry and making his bed?

If you haven't figured it out yet I'm not a Florida fan, and it has nothing to do with the fact I covered UM. That whole school is too darn arrogant.
While I'm not optimistic about UM pulling off an upset since quarterbacks rule this game - Florida has college football's best in Tebow and UM's Robert Marve will be making his first start against UF - the Hurricanes still have a punchers chance.

All it takes is for Tebow, who secretly thinks he's a fullback that happens to have an arm, to take one physical hit for the game to change.
If I'm the Hurricanes I'd encourage the refs to make sure they have a really loud whistle, if you know what I mean. The one thing UM's past two victories over Florida have proven is that the Gators are traditionally soft.

When asked if UM had absolutely no chance, Crowder said "A blind squirrel can find a nut now and then, but a blind squirrel ain't eating that good."

By my count isn't Florida the blind squirrel considering the Gators haven't beat the Hurricanes in six straight tries, going all the way back to the 1985 season?....

Let the trash talk commence....


Open Mic: Sapp fired up to talk football

Attention, Football Fan. Warren Sapp has a NFL Network microphone. Watch. Better yet, watch out.

"Warren Sapp is live. You better call your cable provider," Sapp playfully warned on Tuesday while promoting NFL Network's new Gameday Morning show, which debuts Sunday at 8 a.m. Mountain Time.

Sapp will be paired with former NFL running back Marshall Faulk and studio host Spero Dedes (radio play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Lakers).

The move to broadcasting seems natural for the outspoken Sapp, who looks forward to offering viewers a defensive lineman's perspective of the game.

"Don't think you're going to get something sugar-coated," he said. "The one thing I know about this game is, the eye in the sky never lies. If I say something about you, I'm going to put the tape on and show it to you."

Sapp's hearty laugh bellowed through the telephone when I asked him to size up the Broncos' running game.

"I played the Denver Broncos my first year (2004) at Oakland, and they ran the ball 51 times for more than 250 yards, almost five yards a clip. It was a very, very nasty day . . .
"They're good at what they do, but let's not crown them the world-beaters. Now, Oakland has its work cut out, I guarantee you that. I know the system Oakland plays . . . (the Raiders) are in trouble.

"If you're asking me for a scouting report, the Raiders against the Broncos, the Broncos are going to run for 100-plus yards. And (Mike) Shanahan knows this."

Rather than give a favorite to win the AFC, Sapp said just watch for the team that peaks at the right time. "You've seen it in Denver. They peak at the right time, running off game after game after game after game," he said.

"You see the beards growing, the offensive line's not talking to anybody and all the superstitious stuff that goes on - the stinky socks and funky jocks . . .

"That's what makes football why we love it, what makes it the game and the pilgrimage every year to NFL stadiums across this land in the fall . . . There's nothing better."


Best Texan Team?

Receiver Andre Johnson has been on every Texans team but the first one. He was asked after practice Monday if this is the best team he’s played for.

“I think so,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent here, a lot of competition. And through camp, it was probably the most competition we’ve had since I’ve been here.

“You can tell the team’s better just by looking at us in practice. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll put ourselves in a good situation.

“Guys expect more from themselves. We don’t want to be in those situations that we were in before. We’re determined to get those things fixed and become a winning team.”


Huff takes award

Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Aubrey Huff was named the American League Player of the Week on Tuesday.

Last week, Huff hit .478 (11-for-23) with four doubles, two home runs and seven RBI.

During a three-game set against his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, Huff went 6-for-12 with a home run, three doubles and four RBI.

The 31-year-old slugger is batting .311 with 30 home runs and 98 RBI this year.

Other nominees included Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox, Adrian Beltre of the Seattle Mariners and Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals.



The competition for the No. 3 quarterback job was expected to be a tight race. But it turned out to be a landslide victory for Brock Berlin. "The hard work I put in throughout the offseason and (training camp), it just feels good to know that it pays off," he said.

In the four preseason games, Berlin completed 35 of 49 passes for 354 yards and a touchdown, without an interception. His passer rating was 98.5. His challenger, Bruce Gradkowski, was 22 of 37 for 177 yards, with no TDs and two interceptions. His rating was 49.0.


proCanes Updated NFL Roster Available

Check out Version 1.1 of the 2008 proCanes NFL Roster. This Roster will be updated whenever neccessary so you can keep up with your favorite 'Canes and which teams they are playing on. Click here to check out the roster or above on proCanes Stats/Rosters.

'Canes Practice Squad Signees

Darnell Jenkins was signed to the Texans practice squad. The Browns signed Lance Leggett to their practice squad. Buck Ortega was signed to the New Orleans Saints practice squad. Glenn Sharpe was signed as a safety on Atlanta's practice squad.

Bengals Acquire Harris

After being cut by the New Orleans Saints, Orien Harris one day later was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals.


Giants sign McDougle

The newest member of the Super Bowl champion Giants is Jerome McDougle, the defensive end cut on Saturday by the Eagles. McDougle visited with the team Saturday night and after a workout with the team today signed.

To make room for him on the roster, DT Rodney Leisle was waived.

"This is something we feel we needed,'' Tom Coughlin said of the addition of McDougle. "He's certainly a guy who created great interest to us. We feel it will be a real good investment for us.''


McKinnie's pay-to-performance ratio is out of balance

The four-game suspension settles it. The Vikings haven't gotten what they paid for, on the field and off, when they committed to the big offensive tackle in 2006.

Three days before Brad Childress coached his first game with the Vikings in 2006, the franchise rewarded Bryant McKinnie with a seven-year, $48.4 million contract extension that included $18 million guaranteed.

The deal was significant for two reasons: It indicated the Vikings felt McKinnie was becoming an elite left tackle. And it showed they were confident his off-the-field troubles were behind him.

They have been proven wrong on both counts.

McKinnie was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2007 but has yet to join the NFL's elite at one of the most difficult and important positions in the game. More important, he isn't going to ascend to that until he gets his act together away from football.

McKinnie's most recent transgression -- a brawl outside a Miami nightclub in February that led to him facing four charges -- caused NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend him Friday for the first four games of the regular season. It marked the fourth time McKinnie has been in trouble with the law since the Vikings selected him in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Childress has not been available for comment since the announcement, but this is exactly why he told reporters in March that he faced a potentially "difficult" decision on McKinnie's future. Childress couldn't be faulted then, and he shouldn't be now, if he feels betrayed.

A coach who preaches accountability among his players no doubt had a major role in rewarding McKinnie with that big contract. The thanks Childress received two years later: The Vikings will have to play a quarter of the season without McKinnie, and that doesn't even take into account that his legal case in Miami has yet to be resolved. (McKinnie has pleaded not guilty to all charges.)

If McKinnie is going to change his ways, he must start now. The conditions of the NFL suspension -- which the Vikings appealed but failed to get reduced -- include no contact with the team except to arrange off-site medical treatment.

This means McKinnie theoretically could return home to the Miami area during his mandated absence. But if McKinnie has learned anything, he will spend his time near the Vikings facility in Eden Prairie working out and staying away from anything that even resembles a nightclub.

If Childress is the person most upset with McKinnie, the second person on that list should be quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

Jackson, already hobbled by a knee injury, has said he definitely will be ready to play in the Vikings' opener a week from Monday at Green Bay. He will have to do it without his blind side being protected by a guy who had started 89 consecutive games at left tackle.

The Vikings' plan is to have Artis Hicks replace McKinnie. The good news for the Vikings is that Packers pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila might miss the opener because of a knee injury.

The bad news is that Hicks is still scheduled to face Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney, Carolina's Julius Peppers and Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch in the following three games. The Vikings' plan to start Hicks could change, but keep in mind this is not a position at which teams can easily find a replacement.

"It's a shame because I thought that line had grown some cohesion last year, and everybody knows how important the left tackle position is," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who worked the Vikings' preseason telecasts. "But the good thing is I think the Vikings understood this potentially could happen. From what I've seen in practice and on tape Hicks is a natural left-side player.

"I think they got him a significant number of snaps on the left side [in training camp] just in case. Do you want to open against Green Bay, Indianapolis, Carolina and Tennessee without McKinnie? No way. But I think they are good enough up front to weather that storm. Especially because they run the football so effectively."

If the Vikings are so lucky -- and this is a team that has big expectations entering 2008 -- they can only hope McKinnie has learned his lesson.


Cerebral James taking steps to extend shelf life

Edgerrin James' vision has always given him an edge.

Taken by the Indianapolis Colts as the fourth pick in the 1999 draft -- a slight surprise one spot ahead of Ricky Williams -- James has rushed for 11,607 yards in nine seasons. After games, he'd flash back to plays as if he had a photographic memory. He could tell you the defensive coverages or the angle a linebacker was taking. James runs with his mind as well as with his legs.

James offers an interesting insight in regard to the state of running backs in the league. "This is no more smash-mouth football,'' James said.

Come to think of it, he's right. Brandon Jacobs (264 pounds) of the Giants, LenDale White (235 pounds) of the Titans and Jamal Lewis (245 pounds) of the Browns may cause big headaches for defenses because of their size and impact, but it's not the size of the dog that works in backfields nowadays, it's the speed of the dog.

"It's a speed game,'' James said. "Everybody is passing. The NFL has turned into a passing game. You have the stretch play and zone blocking.''
James isn't complaining. At 215 pounds, James is rarely going to overpower a defender. Early in his career he didn't have to, he could just outrun them, but a knee reconstruction forced him to make a few changes. Once he came back from his knee injury, the yards kept coming. He's had seven 1,000-yard seasons, including five in a row.

James believes the leaguewide shift to short, safe passes has created more of a level playing field for running backs.

"Look at the guys on the defensive side of the ball,'' James said. "They aren't as big. You don't have all of those 250-pound linebackers that you used to have back in the day. Now, you have only a few. Now, there may only be three or four big guys on the field on defense at any given time. A lot of the linebackers are 220 or 230 pounds. ''

James gets a break playing in the NFC, where there are only three teams that use the 3-4 defense -- an alignment designed a little more for size. The three-man front requires a big nose tackle and bigger linebackers, because they engage guards and centers more often. The NFC is more of a Cover 2, 4-3 defense conference, featuring smaller linemen and linebackers than the AFC.

At 215 pounds, James feels at home in the NFC, and he definitely feels comfortable with the way the game is changing. Coaches around the league are copying the Giants' four-defensive end pass-rush scheme that caught fire late last season and helped them upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. James feels the more defensive ends, the better.

"Defensive ends, they just want sacks,'' James said. "You don't worry about them. There are some defenses where you see only two big guys on the field. When everybody is trying to get sacks, that works in a running back's favor.''

James turned 30 this summer, a scary age for running backs. Teams target backs for replacement when they get to 28 or 29 and have wear and tear on their bodies from more than 1,600 carries. Though his rushing average has slipped under 4 yards an attempt in the past two seasons, James believes backs can last longer now thanks to the greater emphasis on passing.

He looks at the success stories of Fred Taylor, Tiki Barber and Curtis Martin having career years in their 30s. Williams beat out Ronnie Brown for the starting job in Miami. He's 31. The league isn't geared toward rewarding backs once they turn 30, but the opportunity is there if an older back is smart enough to take advantage of it.

"I think the 30th birthday thing is more of a cliché,'' James said. "I've talked to Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber and Fred Taylor. The main thing is every year you have to make sure you don't get bigger. The offseasons are more important as you get older. Look what Fred Taylor did last year. You don't worry about 30.''

James didn't turn back the clock this offseason, but he did fight the scale. In 2007, the Cardinals, under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, tried to find their identity. Whisenhunt wanted to bring the Pittsburgh Steelers' power running game to the Cardinals, a team that has been based on the three-receiver philosophy. Assistant head coach Russ Grimm tried to build a bigger, more physical offensive line.

The running game struggled. Matt Leinart was injured and Kurt Warner took over at quarterback. The situation wasn't easy for a running back. The Cardinals trailed in a lot of games and had to pass to stay competitive. Warner played with an elbow injury, making it hard to hand off to his right.

James finished with 1,222 yards and a 3.8-yard average, which he considered a good start in a new offense. After the season, he immediately started training for 2008.

First, he made sure he would be lighter. For the power game of 2007, he bulked up to 220 pounds. Now he's 215, give or take a pound or two. He did more squats to build up his leg strength and explosiveness.

"Stronger and lighter equals being faster,'' James said.

Even though Whisenhunt still wants to establish the Cardinals' physical presence with a power running game, James believes the trends of the league suggest the Cardinals will stay with a three-receiver set and a balanced attack. After all, the trend toward more passing makes the NFL a finesse league, which James likes.

"It's still a simple game,'' James said. "As a running back, you go where they aren't, you have a forward lean and you keep playing. As the game goes on, the yards are going to come.''

James does it the smart way. He'll keep running until the NFL takes the ball away from him.


McGahee unlikely to be 100 percent for Ravens' season opener

Word out of Baltimore is that RB Willis McGahee still appears to be limping around as he continues to recover from the knee surgery he underwent almost three weeks ago. Sources say there’s little chance he’ll be 100 percent by the season opener, and even if he plays, count on seeing a lot of rookie RB Ray Rice.

"I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent just [from] watching him run around out there," coach John Harbaugh said of McGahee. Be sure to track his progress throughout the week as it's too early to tell if he or Ray Rice will get the start against the Bengals. Expect Rice to see significant action in the opener even if McGahee does go.


Gore feels revitalized with Martz at controls

(08-30) 16:35 PDT -- Frank Gore is as giddy as a kid with a new 160-gig PlayStation 3 with DualShock 3 controller.

He's talking about the new playbook devised by offensive coordinator Mike Martz and an offense that he thinks will take maximum advantage of the 49ers' options.

"I love it, man," he said. "I've got a great feeling about it."

No longer, he feels, will opponents stack the box with everybody but the quality-control guy in their fever to stop the 5-foot-9, 217-pound running back. Last year, the 49ers' passing game worried nobody except the 49ers.

"You can't do that now," he said. "When we played Chicago, you saw guys you never heard of getting open and making good plays. Our second group was going against their best defense and doing what they wanted to to them."

The 49ers scored 37 points that night, their highest total in a preseason game since 1989. That's a sharp contrast to last year when, under coordinator Jim Hostler, the 49ers were last in the NFL in yards per game - nearly 40 yards worse than the second-worst offense.

"It would take us a whole half to cross the 50-yard line," Gore said.

Martz has completely repainted the picture. According to Gore, his offense gives players more flexibility to change their assignments on the fly
depending on what the defense does. "This gives us more options," he said. "It makes the game easy again."

Of course, Martz also walked in the door with instant credibility, based on his track record in St. Louis and Detroit.

"You saw in the past with your own eyes what his offense could do," Gore said. "We've got a new leader on the ship. When he stands up in the room, you know he knows what he's talking about. Everything's going to change this year."

He appreciates that Martz is an equal-opportunity critic in meetings.

"No matter what you have done in this league, he makes you feel like you still have to prove yourself," he said. "If I mess up he's going to get on me. That's what I like about him. He treats everybody the same."

Martz might be able to unleash more options than the 49ers could last year, but the top one remains Gore.

"I haven't seen anything he can't do," Martz said. "He's what we thought he'd be and more. He doesn't make mental errors. ... He's the kind of player to build an offense around."

Gore is an excellent receiver as well as a runner, prompting comparisons to Marshall Faulk, the record-setting all-purpose back for Martz's Rams. Martz said last week it's unfair to compare them; he didn't want to slight either one by doing so.

Then he proceeded to compare them: "They can both catch the ball and they're outstanding runners, but they're just different. Frank is a more physical and powerful back inside, and Marshall is very elusive."

Gore has learned not to set goals based on the accomplishments of other elite players. Shortly after finishing the 2006 season with a franchise-record 1,695 yards, he announced he was taking aim at Eric Dickerson's NFL record of 2,105 yards in 1984.

He barely got halfway, with 1,102 in 2007. He broke his hand in preseason when he caught it in a teammate's pads during a blocking drill. An ankle injury against the Giants in the sixth week forced him to play at "80-85 percent" almost the rest of the season, he said.

The death of his mother, Liz, to kidney disease the second week of the season was an even more devastating and lasting setback.

"It was very tough," he said. "After practice I'd look at my phone and (wouldn't) see a phone call from her. ... I'll never get over it, but I'm getting better."


Phillips No. 2 on depth chart

Giants rookie safety Kenny Phillips, the team's first-round pick, had people talking about him in glowing terms this preseason, but apparently did not do quite enough, as he is listed second on the team's depth chart at free safety behind Michael Johnson, according to the New York Daily News.

Our View: If Phillips played as well as everyone claimed he did, then it should only be a matter time before he gains the starting job from Johnson. Phillips was a solid IDP sleeper, and still may be, but he'll have to get on the field in order live up to his promise.


'Canes Cut

Among ex-UM players cut the past two days in the NFL: Lance Leggett and Derrick Morse (Cleveland), Darnell Jenkins (Houston), Glenn Sharpe (Atlanta), Andrew Bain (Giants), Tanard Davis (St. Louis) and Teraz McCray (Buffalo). The 49ers earlier cut Kyle Wright.


Could Ed Reed be the new Glenn Davis

When Ravens safety Ed Reed revealed that he's suffering from a "nerve impingement' in his neck that has affected his shoulder and could threaten his career, I had a nasty Orioles flashback.

The Ravens are loathe to give real specifics on injuries, but it's fair to wonder if the problem that has sidelined one of the NFL's best defensive players is similar to the one that forced a premature end to the baseball career of former Oriole Glenn Davis.

Davis, every Orioles fan unhappily recalls, was acquired by the Orioles in a trade for Curt Schilling, Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch, three players who all went on to better things after the supposed blockbuster deal. Davis never lived up to his reputation as one of the most dangerous power hitters in baseball, because of a nerve injury suffered during his first spring with the Orioles.

He damaged the spinal accessory nerve in his neck during an exhibition at-bat in March of 1991, the severity of the problem only becoming apparent when the trapezius muscle in his right shoulder began to wither. He spent a couple of years trying to regain his powerful swing, but was never the same.

Hopefully, there's no such parallel with Reed, but he's all but certain to miss the season opener next week and could be out for the season. He even speculated Friday that if surgery is necessary to correct the problem, his career might be over.


Jerome McDougle among Eagles cuts

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Jerome McDougle ran out of chances with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The former first-round pick was among 12 players released Saturday to put the Eagles at the NFL's roster limit. McDougle had a solid preseason, finishing with a team-high 21/2 sacks. But that wasn't enough for the Eagles to keep the defensive end around. McDougle has just three sacks in 33 career games.

"It was an extremely difficult decision for us," general manager Tom Heckert said. "He's a great guy and he's worked real hard to come back from adversity. He won't have a hard time finding a job."

The Eagles traded up 15 spots to draft McDougle with the 15th overall pick in 2003. But the former Miami star never lived up to expectations. McDougle was plagued by injuries his first two seasons and missed all of 2005 after he was shot during a robbery in Miami before the start of training camp.

McDougle returned in 2006 and appeared in 14 games, recording one sack. But he sat out last season with a triceps injury.

"Every year he showed the determination to come back," Heckert said. "We thought long and hard about this. We're keeping so many defensive linemen that we couldn't rationalize keeping another one."


Shockey Held Out in Order to be 100% by Week #1

The Times-Picayune reports for the second consecutive week, Saints HC Sean Payton spent the days leading up to the game saying it would finally be time for the first appearance of TE Jeremy Shockey (leg), who broke his leg last season with the New York Giants. But Shockey was not in Thursday's starting lineup, and he did not appear on the field. He was on the sideline, however, dressed in a uniform. His debut, presumably as the starter, will have to wait for Week 1 of the regular season, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 7. "I can't call it 100 percent yet, because if he was 100 percent I would have played him," Payton said. "But I think by Monday he's going to be 100 percent, and I feel like we're getting enough work from him during the work week with the quarterback." "I feel like I'm making progress. I'm getting to the point where I'm close. I didn't want to have a setback where I'm not 100 percent for the Tampa Bay game. I think it was a smart decision that we made tonight." Payton said he thought about playing Shockey against Cincinnati on Aug. 23 and the Dolphins, but decided against it both times. "I think by Monday he'll be 100 percent," Payton said. "It became a risk-reward kind of thing the last two weeks. It was a hard decision, because I wanted to see him get some live snaps. The good news is he's real close. We'll have him ready next week for Tampa Bay, and that's the plan."


Perez doesn't care about closer label's Matthew Leach reports St. Louis Cardinals RP Chris Perez doesn't mind that manager Tony La Russa hasn't officially named him the closer. Perez has nailed down six straight saves since coming back up from the minors. "They haven't told me anything, but actions speak louder than words," Perez said. "I'm in there in the ninth with the game on the line. That's pretty much what a closer does. It doesn't matter to me if (manager Tony La Russa) comes out and says it or not. I'm happy to be there, I'm doing good and hopefully it continues."