May 30, 2013

By JOSH DUBOW

AP Sports Writer

 

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick D.J. Hayden’s comeback from a near-fatal practice injury last year was dealt a setback when he was hospitalized with an abdominal injury that is expected to keep him sidelined until at least training camp.

Coach Dennis Allen said Tues­day at the start of Oakland’s second week of OTAs that Hayden first felt symptoms last Tuesday or Wednes­day. The cornerback was hospitalized late last week and had surgery to remove scar tissue from the abdominal region. The Raiders said they don’t know when Hayden will be released from the hospital.

Allen said he did not know if the latest injury was related to the torn blood vessel that nearly killed Hayden last November after a practice collision with a teammate at Houston.

“We can’t rule that out, obviously, but right now I don’t know exactly what the correlation is to it,” Allen said. “But we don’t anticipate it being an issue.”

Hayden was rushed into surgery last year for a tear of the inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart, after the collision. Doctors had to cut through Hayden’s sternum to save him. The injury is 95 percent fatal in the field, according to doctors, and is most commonly associated with high-speed motor vehicle accidents.

The Raiders selected Hayden 12th overall with their first first-round pick since 2010 in hopes of adding a major piece in an effort to rebuild the defense.

Hayden played 22 games at Houston, intercepting six passes that he returned for three touchdowns. He also recovered three fumbles and forced six before his senior season was cut short by the injury.

Hayden made his return to the field at a three-day rookie minicamp earlier this month and also participated in part of last week’s OTA before being sidelined.

“It’s obviously not a good thing, from a football standpoint,” Allen said. “As a rookie, you need all the reps you can get and all the work you can get.”

Safety Usama Young said he knew Hayden wasn’t feeling good on the field last week but did not know the extent of it until Tuesday. He exchanged text messages with Hayden.

“He says he is doing a lot better,” Young said. “I’m looking forward to him being back out there with us. It took me by surprise. I didn’t think he was that sick.”

The other notable news Tuesday was the first practice for defensive back Charles Woodson, who signed as a free agent last week to return to the team that drafted him fourth overall in 1998.

Woodson signed a one-year deal worth up to $4.3 million seven years after leaving Oakland as a free agent for Green Bay. Woodson got work at both strong and free safety in his first practice as the Raiders try to get him up to speed.

“It feels good to put the silver and black back on,” Woodson said. “It”s been a long time. I look good in silver and black, so it feels good to be back.”

Woodson, 36, is an eight-time Pro Bowler and 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He has 55 career interceptions, 17 sacks, 24 forced fumbles and 11 interception returns for touchdowns in eight seasons in Oakland and seven in Green Bay.

He played just seven games last year because of a broken collarbone but brings leadership and playmaking ability to a rebuilding defense that was lacking both.

“He’s a legend,” linebacker Nick Roach said. “He’s a living legend that is still playing, still playing at a high level. I played against him many a time when I was back in Chicago. I think it’s going to be great for the locker room just having that experience and having that knowledge.”

Woodson practiced with a jersey with no number. He wants to get his old No. 24 uniform back but cornerback Tracy Porter is currently wearing that number.

“It wasn’t waiting for me at my locker, so I’ll have to negotiate that, for sure,” Woodson said.

NOTES: Among the other Raiders who are sidelined are Porter (calf), CB Coye Francies (illness), DL Stacy McGee (foot), LB Miles Burris (knee) and TE Nick Kasa (hamstring).

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May 30, 2013

By ANTONIO GONZALEZ (AP Sports Writer)

 

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- The second week of organized team activities began for the San Francisco 49ers without Michael Crabtree but with the tough task of replacing the team's top wide receiver.

Anquan Boldin sure seemed up for the challenge.

As for the other wideouts, they will likely need more time - and healthy bodies - to help fill the void.

Boldin caught the bulk of the balls during Tuesday's practice, the first one open to reporters that he has participated in since coming to the 49ers in a trade with Baltimore in March. He looked comfortable as ever in a red No. 81 jersey - and later in a San Francisco Giants cap walking out of the locker room. With Crabtree out for the foreseeable future with a torn right Achilles tendon, Boldin could be the key to San Francisco's depleted receiving corps this season.

''We have to make plays. The passing game goes through us. If we don't make plays outside, we won't be successful as an offense,'' Boldin said. ''It's definitely on us to get better as a receiver corps entirely.''

Coach Jim Harbaugh has decided to put veterans on one side of the offense and have an open competition among younger players on the other for Crabtree's spot.

Last year's catchless first-round pick, A.J. Jenkins, and Ricardo Lockette and Quinton Patton are the leading contenders for the ''X'' role Crabtree so skillfully occupied until tearing his Achilles in 7-on-7 drills last week. Recovery time can often take as long as a year after surgery, though the team is optimistic Crabtree will return at some point in 2013.

In the meantime, the NFC champions will rely on Boldin's experience to help groom the younger receivers into a bigger role, especially with reliable wideouts Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams both coming off serious knee injuries that occurred late in the regular season.

''Anquan is not a talkative guy,'' Harbaugh said. ''He's not a small-talk guy. He's just very serious about competing, and very serious about football and winning. I think it'll speak volumes if the young guys observe that.''

Boldin had 65 catches for 921 yards and four touchdowns for the Ravens last season. He also caught six passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore's 34-31 win over San Francisco in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound receiver said he already feels comfortable in San Francisco's complicated version of the West Coast offense. In his 11th year in the NFL, Boldin said he has run many of the same plays and routes throughout his career but the terminology with the 49ers is the major difference.

''For me, it's just translating right now,'' he said.

Boldin's big frame already has made him a favorite of starter Colin Kaepernick and the other quarterbacks. While it was only one practice without full pads, he was often the first read and easily targeted more than any other player on the field, including while catching a 25-yard touchdown pass from B.J. Daniels between three defenders.

''I guess I'm looked at as being able to step in right now and make plays,'' Boldin said. ''And that's what I want to bring. I want Kaep to be comfortable. I want the other quarterbacks to be comfortable enough to, even if it doesn't look like I'm open, just give me a chance. I'll make a play for you.''

That's exactly what Crabtree gave Kaepernick last season.

The 25-year-old Crabtree, the team's 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Texas Tech, had career highs with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns for the 49ers last season. He was one of the biggest reasons the franchise returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years, clicking with Kaepernick after his promotion over Alex Smith in November.

More than likely, the 49ers will need a collection of players to make up for Crabtree's loss.

Williams already was participating in some individual practice drills and said he hopes to be ready by training camp. Harbaugh has said Manningham might need more time to recover.

Jenkins and Lockette both trained with Kaepernick in the Atlanta area for about two months during the offseason. The trio even lived together in Georgia and often quizzed each other about the playbook.

Back on the practice field at 49ers headquarters, now it's up to the veterans to help speed up the learning.

''It's a credit to the young guys we have, they're not afraid to come ask questions, 'How do I do this? How do I run this route? Against this coverage, what do we do?''' Williams said. ''For me, I'm happy to do that stuff because I want to see these guys progress and move along and become better players. We've got it. We've got a bunch of them. Don't sleep on some of the young guys we have.''

NOTES: Harbaugh said RB Frank Gore has not been participating in practice because he is ''working through something,'' the coach's typical line for an injured player. Harbaugh said the injury is not serious. ... Second-year RB LaMichael James said he is up to 205 pounds, 10 more than his playing weight last season. He credited the offseason weightlifting program with helping him build strength and sees himself as the top option to return kicks and punts with Ted Ginn Jr. gone. ... Harbaugh said he received some tips from three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford before driving a high-performance Corvette Stinger at the track over the weekend. He said he got the car up to 118 mph the last two turns. ''Of course, by next week when I retell the story it might be up to 138,'' he joked.

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May 30, 2013

By TOM WITHERS

AP Sports Writer

 

CLEVELAND (AP) — As outspoken, unapologetic and intimidating as ever – even at age 77 – Jim Brown has reunited with the Cleveland Browns.

Still going strong, the great No. 32 is back where he belongs.

“Here I am,'” he said.

The Hall of Fame running back, who was estranged for years from the NFL team where he starred in the 1950s and ’60s – after his previous role was eliminated by former president Mike Holmgren – was welcomed back to the Browns on Wednesday by new owner Jimmy Haslam. Brown will serve as a “special adviser,” focusing on community work, interacting with fans and helping mentor players.

Haslam called Brown’s return a “very special and significant day in Cleveland Browns history.” Brown’s homecoming has been in the planning stages for months, and after a few meetings with Brown, Haslam was pleased to bring back “the greatest Brown of all.”

“He’s not only the most famous Cleveland Brown of all time and best player that’s ever played here,” Haslam said. “One of the reasons the Browns remain so popular is when a lot of us were growing up, they followed 32 and he was their hero. So to have 32 back on our team and working with us and being part of not just the Browns but the Cleveland community is tremendously important.”

Brown, who retired in 1965 at the peak of his playing career to become an actor, is thrilled to be again working for the Browns, his pro football family and the team he helped lead to its last championship in 1964. The years he was disconnected were difficult, but Brown, who was accompanied to the news conference at FirstEnergy Stadium by his wife, Monique, said the Haslam family’s desire to bring him back soothed any hard feelings he may have had.

“I’ve been through many ups and downs here,” Brown said. “I like the new ownership. I respect the new ownership. I will stand by the new ownership come hell or high water, and I will be doing everything in my power to help the Cleveland Browns be successful.”

Brown said being away from the beloved brown and orange was tough.

“Nothing’s changed except I was off the payroll and out of town and it was not a good feeling because I’m used to being around,” he said. “I have no animosity, I have no thoughts on any of that because this is a tough game. The main thing is, I’m very happy to have been invited back.”

Although he lives in Los Angeles, Brown vowed to have a constant presence with the Browns, who haven’t been able to win with any consistency since their expansion return in 1999.

“You will see as much of me as they can stand because somehow, sometimes I wake up thinking I’m the coach and it doesn’t work that way,” Brown said. “I’m going to be here quite a bit and I will be on call to the Cleveland Browns first. My activities, whatever, will take a secondary position to the needs of the Cleveland Browns.”

Never one to mince his words or hold back on an opinion, Brown promised to continue being himself in his new position with Haslam, who bought the franchise last year from Randy Lerner.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if there was not a relationship between the two of us,” Brown said, with Haslam seated to his left. “Jimmy doesn’t bite his tongue, so I kind of like that. I try not to bite mine, as most of you know. But I think with Jimmy I will be a little more under control.”

“I doubt it,” Haslam said with a laugh.

While Brown’s return has given Haslam a boost with the Browns, he remains embroiled in a federal investigation for alleged fraud at Pilot Flying J, his family-owned truck-stop chain. On Wednesday, two PFJ employees pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and conspiracy. Federal prosecutors allege members of Pilot's sales team deliberately withheld rebates to boost profits.

Brown has also had his share of legal troubles, including a string of arrests for assaults on women. He vowed his full sport of Cleveland’s embattled owner and said the timing of his return could help comfort Haslam, who has maintained he was unaware of any fraud.

“That is my guy,” Brown said. “I have a relationship with him. I believe in him. I stand behind him. Yes, I’m glad this timing is the way it is. I'm here, I believe in this man and that’s it. I have been through a thousand things, but ultimately I turned out to be a decent human being. Volatile and involved in controversial things and so forth and so on, but in America that’s the kind of country we have.”

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May 30, 2013

By STEVE REED (AP Sports Writer)

 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Cam Newton isn't worried about whether he's the fastest quarterback in the NFL. His focus this year is on being smarter with the football.

A smiling Newton wasn't about to disagree with Michael Vick, when asked about the Philadelphia quarterback's comments Friday on The Dan Patrick Show that, even at age 32, he's still the fastest QB in the league.

''I don't want to be the fastest quarterback; I want to be the guy that can't be caught,'' Newton said after Wednesday's practice. ''If you get caught in the open field that means you're not doing something right and you will be talked about in the locker room.''

Newton doesn't feel like he belongs in the same category with burners like with Vick, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, even after setting an NFL quarterback record with 14 rushing touchdowns as a rookie in 2012.

Newton said Vick was probably just joking around, but added ''I know he's unbelievably fast and I won't challenge him on that.''

Newton is pretty fast, too.

He might be even faster this year after dropping a dozen pounds to get down to 243. Newton said it was something he wanted to do, but wouldn't say why.

But more than proving he has great speed, Newton's goal as he prepares for this third NFL season is making more right decisions, and not forcing things or being ''overly aggressive.''

That's been a problem at times in the past that has led too often to fourth downs and punting situations.

''I feel like I need to be more mature in plays, meaning that if it's third-and-short, let's go get a first down,'' Newton said. ''If a chunk play is called downfield, I have to be mindful to know that if it's not there I have to take a check down. A second-and-7 or second-and-5 sounds a lot better than a second-and-10.''

Although the Panthers failed to make the playoffs in 2012 finishing 7-9, Newton said he learned a lot in his second season in Carolina and felt like he improved as the year went along.

The numbers bear that out.

Over the first seven games Newton had four touchdown passes and eight interceptions. In his final nine games he had 14 TDs and four picks, while his completion percentage and yards passing per game also improved.

The Panthers finished the season on an uptick winning five of their last six games, including their final four.

''I have to be smart and execute the offense and manage the football game,'' Newton said.

Newton won't have as much to remember when he hits the huddle this season.

He'll be working with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Shula, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach after Rob Chudzinski left to become the Cleveland Browns head coach.

Newton said Shula has placed an emphasis this year on simplifying the verbiage in the playbook. But schematically Newton doesn't foresee many changes to Carolina's offensive approach. The Panthers finished in the top 10 in the league in offense in both of his seasons after finishing last in the league in 2011 under then-starting QB Jimmy Clausen.

Yet, wins haven't been there as often as he'd like.

After winning national championships at Blinn Junior College and Auburn in back-to-back seasons, Newton said he still detests losing more than he enjoys winning.

''I hate the feeling of being defeated,'' he said.

The Panthers are just 13-19 in his two seasons as a starter and haven't been to the playoffs since 2008.

Newton wants to change that.

He stopped short of making any predictions for this year, but feels confident in an offense that has added wide receivers Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. to the receiving corps to go along with starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. The Panthers also boast a solid backfield that includes running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.

''This town, this city, this state has been dreaming for a winning season and as a player you owe that to the fans and you owe that to yourself,'' Newton said.

Newton traded in his playbook for school books earlier this offseason.

He spent a better portion of the spring at Auburn working on his degree in sociology. He said he still needs 15 more credit hours to graduate. He said It's important for him to have that degree because he talks so often to young students about the importance of staying in school.

Newton said returning to Auburn was fun.

But he said at times it was a distraction with students coming up to ask for autographs before and after class. Still, he said felt at home at Auburn.

''I was welcomed me back with open arms,'' he said.

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May 23, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan is changing his team's name to the Hornets, said a person familiar with the situation.

The person said Jordan will detail the timetable for the change to be completed at a press conference the Bobcats have scheduled for Tuesday. The person spoke to The Associated Press Monday on condition of anonymity because the name change has not been publicly announced.

NBA deputy commissioner and COO Adam Silver previously said it would take "about 18 months" for the Bobcats to change their name. That means Charlotte could once again become the Hornets by the 2014-15 season.

The Hornets resided in Charlotte from 1988-2002 before then-owner George Shinn moved the franchise to New Orleans.

The New Orleans Hornets recently changed their name to the Pelicans.

Silver said in an April interview if the Bobcats decided to change their name to the Hornets it would be "an enormously complex process and a very expensive process for the team. From everything to the uniforms, to the building, to the letterhead to the signs on the offices — all of that has to be taken into account."

While he didn't estimate how much the change would cost, Silver did say the fact that the league owns the rights to the name Hornets could help speed up the transition process.

"I'll let (the Bobcats) speak to their own time line, but we're supportive of whatever they do," Silver said in April.

The Bobcats conducted a Harris Interactive poll in January to determine if fans were in favor of a name change. The Bobcats have never announced the results of those polls.

The name Bobcats originally incorporated the first name of the team's initial owner, Bob Johnson, who later sold the team to Jordan in 2010.

In February, Jordan weighed in on the idea of changing the team's name to the Hornets in his monthly "Chairman's Corner" column on the team's website, but was non-committal on his intentions.

"Judging from the emails you've sent me, the opinion seems to be very mixed," Jordan said on the team's website. "Some of you have said we should change the name and some of you have said we should not. In fact, a few of you even suggested that we should change the name to something new altogether, and not use Bobcats or Hornets."

Jordan added that "there are a lot of factors to take into account and a lot of information to sift through. This is a decision that we will not take lightly and we will not make hastily. We want to do what we believe will be in the best interests of our organization and our fans."

The NBA board of governors is scheduled to meet in July and it's possible they could vote on the name change at that time.

Although the Hornets never experienced much playoff success in Charlotte, they were extremely popular team among fans.

The Charlotte Hornets had a sellout streak of 364 games — a span of nearly nine seasons — before interest began to sag in the final years and Shinn relocated the team.

The Bobcats haven't been nearly as popular in part because of their struggles on the court.

They've only been to the postseason once since they began play in 2004 and finished the 2011-12 season with a 7-59 record, the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history.

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