December 20, 2012

By NANCY ARMOUR Associated Press

 

Greg Jennings is not naive and he's not ignoring reality, either.

The veteran wide receiver is in the final year of his contract, and has yet to hear from the Green Bay Packers about an extension. Common sense - and Green Bay history - would suggest that means he'll be playing somewhere else next season, a notion Jennings doesn't dispute.

But even with the Packers playing their final home game of the regular season Sunday, Jennings isn't ready to say goodbye just yet.

''It's a sensitive subject, a sensitive topic to talk about,'' he said Wednesday. ''The reality is, we're going to have to cross that bridge at some point. But right now, we don't have to. We're playing Tennessee and I'm part of that game.''

Drafted by the Packers out of Western Michigan in 2006, Jennings wasted little time establishing himself as one of the NFL's top receivers. He caught a career-high 12 touchdown passes his second year, and his average of 17.4 yards per catch ranked fourth in the NFL. He went over the 1,000-yard mark in 2008, 2009 and 2010, when he led the NFC with 12 TD catches.

Even with missing the last three regular-season games last year, he ranked a close second to Jordy Nelson in all receiving categories, finishing with 949 yards and nine touchdowns on 67 catches.

But with James Jones under contract through 2013, Nelson signed through 2014 and Randall Cobb emerging as a big-play threat pretty much anywhere the Packers want to put him, Jennings has become somewhat expendable. This season has been a stark reminder of that, with Jones, Cobb and Nelson keeping the offense afloat while Jennings was out for eight games with a torn muscle in his lower abdomen.

Jones leads the NFL with 12 touchdowns, while Cobb has a chance to become the first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards in kick returns. Nelson has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, but he has six TDs and his 14.3 yards per catch average is the best of Green Bay's receivers.

''If these guys were jerks it would be different. But we're all so close,'' Jennings said. ''I love that they're having success. They were applauding me when I was having my success, so it's a two-way street.''

Jennings would like nothing more than to stay in Green Bay, and he can count Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy as two of his biggest fans. He's also a fan favorite, his No. 85 jersey among the must-haves in any Cheesehead's wardrobe.

But Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson has never been one for sentimentality, doing whatever is necessary to keep the Packers among the NFL's elite. Just look at the team's bitter divorce with Brett Favre.

''It's tough. Because you put everything into it. And at the end of the day, the only thing an organization really owes you is a paycheck. That's it. That is absolutely it,'' Jennings said. ''When you get raw and uncut about it, the only thing they really owe you is a paycheck. And they can stop that if they want to.''

The Packers could always use the franchise tag on Jennings, an option that doesn't have much appeal for the receiver. As much as he'd like to stay with his original team, he and his wife have four young children and their stability is his priority.

''You want your job to have some sense of sustainability, some foundation where you can just sit your family and know you'll be somewhere for a certain amount of time,'' Jennings said. ''Franchise tags give you one year. So it's like, 'OK, we've got one year.' Who knows? I'll be in the same position talking about the contract situation all over again. It's just not clear. It's not in the best interest of the player to be in that position.''

The timing of Jennings' injury makes matters even more complicated. If he'd had a typical year, there would be no shortage of teams interested in him. But he has only 201 yards receiving and one touchdown on 21 catches.

Since his return, however, Jennings has averaged double digits per catch, his best numbers of the year.

''I've made plays in the past. My resume isn't the thinnest,'' Jennings said. ''It's pretty filled up with plays that I've made over my career. But is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Do I feel like I can get better and continue to grow? Absolutely.''

Notes: OL T.J. Lang and RB Alex Green have concussions and did not practice, but McCarthy was optimistic they will be ready for Sunday's game against Tennessee. ... DB Charles Woodson practiced Wednesday, but still has not been cleared to return from his broken collarbone. ... McCarthy said Nelson is ''getting better'' and his work Tuesday was ''pretty extensive.'' But McCarthy said they'll have to see how he recovers this week before deciding on his availability. ... DE C.J. Wilson, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury, has extra incentive to return this week. He played at East Carolina with Titans running back Chris Johnson. ''It's been my dream to go and hit the guy,'' Wilson said, grinning. ''We couldn't hit him in practice because he wore the red jersey and you didn't want to hurt your star player, but now that he's on the opposing team, I'd like to get my shot at him.'' 

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Category: Sports

December 13, 2012

By HOWARD FENDRICH Associated Press

 

Accusing the NFL players’ union of “trying to back out” of an August 2011 agreement to start checking for human growth hormone, a congressman worried aloud Wednesday that the league will head into next season without a test for the banned drug.

“Hopefully as we move down the line, players will see how incredibly ridiculous it looks for them not to ... straighten this thing out,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s ranking Demo­crat. “We’re now getting ready to go into a third season, and it does not look very good.”

The panel held a hearing to examine the science behind the testing, and heard from experts that it is reliable.

“No test is perfect ... but there hasn’t been a single false positive,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Science Officer Larry Bowers testified.

While the latest, 10-year labor contract paved the way for HGH testing in professional football once certain parameters were set, the NFL Players Association wants a new study before it will agree to the validity of a test used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball. The sides haven’t been able to agree on a scientist to help resolve that impasse.

HGH is a banned substance that is hard to detect and used by athletes for what are believed to be a variety of benefits, whether real or only perceived — such as increasing speed or improving vision. Among the health problems connected to HGH are diabetes, cardiac dysfunction and arthritis.

“They say they need more time ... before doing what they agreed to do. To me, it seems obvious the Players Association is simply running out the clock,” Cummings said. “Although they agreed to HGH testing, they are now trying to back out of the contract.”

Cummings and committee chairman Darrell Issa, a California Repub­lican, both said additional hearings are expected.

“It is our hope (to) move these parties closer together,” Issa said.

“This isn’t the players” who are objecting to the test, Issa said after the hearing. “This is lawyers making a statement. Players want to know that the rules are the rules for everybody. ... We’re not seeing a vast amount of players stand up. We’re seeing a few lawyers stand up on an unfounded technicality.”

The NFL and union were not invited to testify at the hearing, but representatives of both attended Wednesday’s session.

Asked about Cummings’ comments, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said after the hearing: “I respect his opinion. We have a contract, and the contract says both sides have to agree to protocols to move forward.”

Atallah said the union was “absolutely not” trying to back out of the agreement on HGH.

NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch, who oversees the league’s drug program, called the union’s insistence on a population study to determine whether current HGH tests are appropriate for NFL players a delay tactic.

“As a league, we need to look at it in terms of competitive integrity, in terms of being consistent with the NFL having a leadership position in the world of performance-enhancing drugs,” Birch said. “And frankly, I think this delay in implementing this program has put our leadership position at risk.”

Even once scientific issues are resolved, there will be other matters the league and union need to figure out, including who administers the test and what the appeals process will be.

“First, I applaud the NFL and players for taking a bold and decisive position on HGH in their 10-year agreement. Now let’s get on with it,” one witness, Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, told the committee Wednesday. “The HGH testing process is proven to be reliable. It’s time to send a clear message that performance-enhancing drugs have no place in sports, especially the NFL.”

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Category: Sports

December 13, 2012

By KURT VOIGT  Associated Press 

 

Knile Davis never quite looked like his old self this season at Arkansas.

The running back's next chance to show he is fully recovered from a devastating ankle injury will come in the NFL.

Davis announced his decision to skip his senior year with the Razorbacks on Tuesday, bringing a close to a career that was equal parts productive and injury-marred.

He led all Southeastern Conference running backs in rushing in 2010 with 1,322 yards. He averaged 147 yards rushing over his final seven games that season, capping off the breakout performance with a 139-yard rushing effort in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State.

However, he missed the 2011 season while recovering from a broken left ankle. Davis returned this past season and said he was 100 percent healthy, though he gained only 377 yards rushing - averaging 3.7 yards per carry.

''Over the last few weeks, I've been very reflective in weighing my options,'' Davis said in a statement. ''However, after careful counsel with my family and support system, I've made the decision to forego my final year of eligibility and enter the 2013 NFL draft. I sincerely look forward to working towards realizing my ultimate goal of becoming an NFL running back of the highest caliber.''

Davis has also broken his right ankle twice and his collarbone twice in his career, dating to high school in Texas. None of the previous injuries, however, hurt as badly or required as difficult a rehab as the broken left ankle he suffered during a preseason scrimmage before the 2011 season.

Despite the grueling recovery, Davis appeared in the best shape of his career entering this season. He set a personal best with a 570-pound squat in March, and the 6-foot-2, 226-pound running back said he was fully recovered and ready for full contact when Arkansas opened fall practice.

Still, interim Arkansas coach John L. Smith kept Davis out of full-contact drills for most of August, only relenting and allowing the eager running back to take part during the team's final preseason scrimmage.

Davis' season started with an 18-carry, 70-yard effort in a win over Jacksonville State, but he showed little of the big-play ability that marked his 2010 season. His longest run was a 28-yard gain in a 58-10 loss to Texas A&M, and he dropped behind Dennis Johnson on the depth chart as the season wore on.

His final game came in a 20-13 loss to LSU, a defeat that ended a disappointing season for Arkansas (4-8, 2-6 SEC). Davis had 31 yards in seven carries in the loss, and he added 52 yards receiving on five catches.

New coach Bret Bielema said last week he would meet with Davis and the other possible returners for the Razorbacks to tell them about his plan for the team after leaving Wisconsin after seven seasons.

Whatever Bielema had to say wasn't enough to keep Davis, who watched last season as former teammate wide receiver Greg Childs left after an injury-plagued junior season and was drafted in the fourth round by the Minnesota Vikings.

Davis thanked his coaches at Arkansas, including former coach Bobby Petrino.

''What I will remember most over the past four years has been the patience, support, and overall concern the Razorback Nation has shown me and my family after each setback,'' Davis said. ''I will forever be a Razorback and will strive to make them proud on the next level.''

 

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Category: Sports

December 13, 2012

By RACHEL COHEN The Associated Press

 

Jovan Belcher was remembered Wednesday for the accomplishments of a life that ended so suddenly and violently.

Several hundred mourners gathered for the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker’s funeral near his hometown on Long Island. The 25-year-old Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend on Dec. 1, then drove to the Chiefs practice facility and committed suicide in front of team officials.

At Upper Room Christian Church on Wednesday, relatives wore black - and red, the Chiefs’ color. Pastor Dawn Mixon shared that Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd, described him as a “humble, kind young man.” He had a soft spot for children and loved cartoons.

“We may not understand the reasons why we are here or understand what caused this tragedy,” Mixon said.

At a celebration of Belcher’s life, there were hints of the way it ended. A photo slide show played on a large screen above the stage, with images from Belcher’s childhood through his football careers at nearby West Babylon High School and the University of Maine.

Then appeared the words “In loving memory of” Belcher and Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his 3-month-old daughter. After a series of pictures of Perkins and baby Zoey came the message, “Keep this little girl in your prayers.”

“The legacy we pass on to her will be good,” said his uncle, Davin Miles.

Next to an open casket were collages of photos and mementos from Belcher’s playing career. An array of flowers spelled out W.B. for his high school.

Chiefs players and staff attended a memorial service for Belcher in Kansas City last week.

On a Saturday morning, the day before the team’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Belcher shot the 22-year-old Perkins multiple times at their home. Police said Belcher and Perkins previously had been arguing.

Belcher then drove to Arrowhead Stadium, where he thanked coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli for all they’d done for him. As police arrived, Belcher slipped behind a car and put the gun to his head.

His path to becoming an NFL starter had been an unlikely one. Belcher did not play in college football’s top division, and he wasn’t drafted. But he made the Chiefs, becoming a full-time starter in 2010.

Bishop Stephanie Green described Belcher as “a man who did some awesome things — while other young men his age were out hustling, slinging and doing other things, he chose an education.”

 

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Category: Sports

December 13, 2012

Josh Brent has been placed on the reserve/non-football illness list by the Dallas Cowboys, a move that ends his season but allows the defensive tackle to remain with the team.

The move Wednes­day came a day after a memorial service for practice squad player Jerry Brown, Brent’s close friend who was killed in a car accident when police say Brent was driving drunk. Brent is facing charges related to the accident Saturday morning.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones says the team wants to be able to stay in contact with Brent, and for the player to stay in contact with teammates. Jones says those things are important.

Dallas signed defensive tackle Brian Schaefering, who was released by Cleveland before this season.

 

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