Titans become latest team to ink TE, sign Delanie Walker to extension

With Mike Mularkey doubling down on “exotic smashmouth” by drafting Derrick Henry to pair with DeMarco Murray (and adding Jack Conklin to help pave the way), the Titans look like a team that could be leaning on a tight end in the passing game.

It’s why the Walker extension, part of a larger trend of big tight end contracts this offseason, makes a lot of sense.

Don’t be surprised if Mariota leans on his top receiver from last year again in 2016.

For the first time in 10 years, ESPN’s Monday Night Football will have a new play-by-play man in the booth when the NFL season kicks off.

The network announced on Monday that veteran sportscaster Sean McDonough will be replacing Mike Tirico as the play-by-play guy on Monday nights.

Tirico, who had been in the Monday night booth since 2006, is leaving ESPN after spending 26 years with the company. The announcer is headed to NBC, where he’ll begin on July 1.

AFC North

I have a feeling this is the year the Steelers get back on top. The Martavis Bryantsuspension hurts, but if there is any position where the Steelers could withstand that blow — and find plenty of candidates to step up — it’s at receiver.

It would be hard to imagine them having the same run of bad injury luck as a year ago and I believe this defense is making baby steps. Big Ben will have a monster season.
If the Steelers stay healthy, watch out.

Meantime, the Bengals have lost ample talent and suffered a lot of brain drain to their coaching staff in recent years and that takes a toll. They are a little old in key spots on defense and I was never a big Andy Dalton guy even when he had his full array of weapons. The Bengals are accustomed to having starting hot and having others chase them, but the schedule is a beast this time around with four of the first six games on the road. Not only that, they to face the Jets, Steelers, Broncos,Cowboys and Patriots in that span.

The Ravens are on the rise but I believe they are still one more draft away from being back to their usual place in the pecking order. If the youngsters lead the way and this draft is a home run, they’ll push for the playoffs again, but having so many older players coming off significant injuries (Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs) is a concern. Is there a fourth team in this division? I forget sometimes.

Ansah, who hails from Ghana, believes the game is growing in his home continent, which would be an important factor for the NFL when deciding where to take the game next (because money).

“I think now that there’s a lot of Africans playing this game, I know the young guys coming up have been picking up on the game,” Ansah said. “When I went there I met a few guys that are eager to learn the game. It’s evolving in Africa.”

It’s worth noting that back in February, Marshawn Lynch went to Africa to ride some camels and help spread football. And now, just two months later, Africa is being mentioned as a possible NFL destination, which can only serve as proof that Marshawn Lynch can do anything he sets his mind to.

Now, if only he’d set his mind on an eventual NFL comeback.

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Bronco Mendenhall ditches jersey numbers at Virginia this spring

Literally.

Hoos players are numberless, and will continue to be until their 2016 opener Sept. 3 against Richmond.

“There will be no numbers on the jerseys in the spring,” Mendenhall said, according to the The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress’ Andrew Ramspacher. “Nothing on the helmets, other than their names on the front.”

The number selection process will be merit-based, and it won’t take place until August.

“If you start from the beginning of the offseason program and you take the body of work from the offseason program through spring practice, through the summer and through fall camp,” Mendenhall said, according to the paper, “that will then determine the order in which a player can choose his number.

“So the team will vote on who gets first pick and he can choose any number he’d like. It’ll work sequentially down.”

We’ve seen all sorts of quirky moves over the years from new coaches looking to implement more accountability amongst their players. This is certainly the most unique.

UVA doesn’t open spring ball until Tuesday. To say the Hoos will look different would be a massive understatement.

“Every time you lose a game, you’re frustrated. It doesn’t matter the way you lose. Losing is losing. You can’t be happy,” Molina said. “If you’re a winner, you can’t be happy every time you lose.”

Molina’s impact on the Cardinals’ pitching has always been difficult to quantify, but impossible to deny. This season, his impact on the Cardinals’ offense has been measurable and important. His .333 batting average is the best among major-league catchers, as are his 13 doubles. He is third in OPS and second in WAR to Kansas City’s young star, Salvador Perez.

This is an unpleasant reality the sides have wrestled with for months while trying to focus on the team. But league rules and the Heat’s situation may end up causing it to come to a head as the Heat enter the summer needing to make roster plans.

Such as, do the Heat need to spend some of their $40 million in cap space on signing a center to be their starter in place of Bosh long term. A player like now-free agent Hassan Whiteside, for example.

However, Floyd’s production — or lack thereof — in college is curious. The Bears envision Floyd disrupting the quarterback at the next level, but the outside linebacker only had 4.5 sacks in 13 games in his final season at Georgia.

Can a player who wasn’t a great pass-rusher in college develop into a great pass-rusher in the NFL?

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Great-Grandma, 102, Plays Ball With MLB Family

“I taught them everything they know,” Sellaro says.

Kyle and Bradley Zimmer, La Jolla High School graduates, were both first-round draft picks out of the University of San Francisco. Kyle now pitches for the Kansas City Royals, and Bradley plays center field for the Cleveland Indians.

But long before they were playing in the big leagues, their training began in a quiet La Jolla cul-de-sac. Sellaro was there dealing out advice “since the first time we picked up a bat, I think,” said Bradley.

“I think that was about two days after we started walking,” quipped Kyle. “It’s been a long time.”

Back then, the Zimmers and their friends would keep the wiffle balls within easy reach. However, as they grew, the balls soon started flying across streets, over fences and into neighbor’s yards.

“We’ve had to extend the home run line,” said Eric Zimmer, the players’ dad. “It used to be the curb, and then it was the sidewalk, then it was the neighbor’s roof.”

The annual Thanksgiving game has become less competitive with fewer rules, but their favorite part remains the same.

“Anytime you can say you have a grandma who’s 102 years old and showing you how to hit a wiffle ball in the backyard, it’s pretty special,” said Bradley. “So having her down here has been awesome. It’s something that we really cherish and look forward to every year.”

Sellaro used to travel long distances to watch her great-grandsons play, but as traveling becomes harder, she shows her support by watching their games on TV or online.

In person, though, the batting coach instincts kick back in.

“Keep your eye on the ball,” she says, pointing at Kyle. “And that goes for you, too.”

On Monday, Kobe Bryant played his final game in Utah.

Prior to the game, though, the Utah Jazz took the classy move of providing the 37-year-old retiring superstar a collection of gifts that identified with the Beehive State. The Jazz gifted Bryant a season pass to Snowbird ski resort, along with a pair of skis.

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Chicago Blackhawks Winger Artemi Panarin Named NHL’s First Star of the Week

The Chicago Blackhawks’ offense had been suffering mightily in recent weeks, but one player has been rewarded for breaking out of his slump.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, Panarin’s surge lately could cost them dearly in the long run. Panarin is now firmly in the top 10 among league forwards in scoring, he will receive a bonus of $1.725 million for next season. That money will count against the Blackhawks’ salary cap number, making it more difficult for them to re-sign free agents as extensions for Artem Anisimov, Brent Seabrook, and Marcus Kruger kick in.

“It was a fast game and it was obviously you know, a reaction and one that I need to be disciplined, and, you know, we talked about that as a team,” Keith said. “I think there’s a limit there, and I gotta know that and I will,” he added.

Keith was suspended by the NHL for his slash Tuesday night against Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle, the league’s Department of Player Safety announced Friday.

“I talked to him, you know, apologized,” Keith said of Coyle. “I called and left a message and he called me back, so I was appreciative of that. I think it shows a lot on his part, and the type of guy he is.”
“I didn’t really have a number or anything,” he said of the six game suspension. “I accept what they gave and all the guys in there, a lot of the guys have… played a lot of hockey, so I respect their decision,” confirming that he will not appeal the suspension.

The suspension is the third of Keith’s career. He was suspended for five games in 2011 after elbowing Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin in the side of the head, and he received a one-game playoff ban for a retaliatory high stick against Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter during the 2013 postseason.

In terms of new food, the Cubs will bring aboard Gilbert’s Craft Sausages this season, and they will also offer Italian beef sandwiches in the ballpark, with Buona Beef providing the iconic Chicago sandwiches.

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Katy Perry Dazzles, Sells During Super Bowl Halftime Show

After a costume and set change that looked more akin to “SpongeBob SquarePants” than the NFL thanks to dancing sharks and beach balls, Perry rolled out “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls.

In addition to singing, Perry was also selling during the Super Bowl in what was the first shoppable halftime show. Limited edition products branded with Perry’s name were made available to viewers during the game and performance through a host of connected TV apps and Twitter.

Perry and Universal Music Group teamed up with tech firm Delivery Agent to make the items, including clothing and accessories, available for purchase via Twitter, YouTube, Shazam, Roku and on Samsung smart TVs. Visa handled the electronic payments and items will remain available through Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

Perry also gave back Sunday, announcing that three Fender guitars used during the halftime performance would be auctioned off to benefit Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit organization working to empower youth to end domestic violence. The guitars will be available on NFL Auction through February 15, 2015.

Earlier Sunday evening, Idina Menzel kicked-off the Super Bowl performances with an impressive live rendition of the national anthem. The singer, widely known for the juggernaut “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen,” soared through the notes, laying to rest any concerns that may have lingered with fans after she was criticized for her performance of the hit song during “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

John Legend followed Menzel, taking to the piano to deliver a soulful version of “America the Beautiful.”

The performance gained traction when Perry joined special guest Missy Elliott for body-shaking renditions of “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It” and “Lose Control.” Taking the spotlight, it was a brilliant showcase of the rapper’s hits.

Another glittering outfit switch, her fourth, proceeded the finale which saw Perry take to the air above center field, gliding over the crowd at Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium on a platform topped with a shooting star to end her halftime extravaganza with “Firework.” Accompanied by fireworks, natch.

While Perry may not have had the old school rock and soul feel Bruno Mars brought to the halftime performance in 2014, the glitzy, showy romp through her greatest hits was reminiscent of appearances by Beyoncé and Madonna in 2013 and 2012 respectively.

Katy Perry roared into Super Bowl 49 standing atop a giant human-operated metallic cat.

Her first song ahead of a dazzling, hit-filled Pepsi Halftime Show? “Roar,” of course.

Around 115 million viewers were expected to tune in to what became a lineup of Perry’s chart toppers. The 30-year-old pop singer moved on to “Dark Horse” before being joined by Lenny Kravitz for a guitar-laden riff on “I Kissed a Girl.” The halftime show began soon after the second quarter whistle with the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks tied 14-14.

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Court Adjourned; Brady, Goodell to Meet With Judge

A federal judge put the NFL on the defensive over its four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Wednesday, demanding to know what evidence directly links Brady to deflating footballs and belittling the drama of the controversy.

Nash said there was “considerable evidence Mr. Brady clearly knew about this,” but he conceded there was no “smoking gun.”

At one point, Berman seemed to be trying to defuse the controversy, saying: “This Deflategate. I’m not sure where the ‘gate’ comes from.”

When the union got its chance to argue, the judge asked attorney Jeffrey L. Kessler why two Patriots employees would deflate balls without Brady’s knowledge.

Kessler said the union does not believe the balls were deflated, but, if they were, the employees believed it would help their quarterback.

Brady and Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t speak during the hearing, except to introduce themselves to Berman.

At the hearing’s start, Berman said he found “varying strengths to both sides here” and had not made up his mind as to how he might rule if the sides do not settle.
Goodell and Brady, along with their lawyers, met separately with the judge before the hearing started.

As Goodell arrived at the courthouse, he was greeted by a smattering of boos as he walked inside. Four minutes later, Brady arrived flanked by four security guards. Both men went through a security sweep like everyone else going to court.

He accused him of obstructing the NFL probe about a controversy that represented “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.”

In court documents, the union’s lawyers said the suspension was unfair and violates the labor contract and complained that it would cause irreparable harm to Brady by forcing him to miss games.

They called a June appeal hearing before Goodell “a kangaroo court proceeding, bereft of fundamentally fair procedures.”

Judge Richard M. Berman in Manhattan repeatedly asked NFL lawyer Daniel L. Nash for direct evidence as he gave both sides a chance to state their case in the first hearing before him.

The public portion of the hearing ended at 12:45 p.m. EDT after about an hour, 20 minutes, and Berman began meeting individually with each side to continue settlement discussions in private.

The NFL sued two weeks ago asking for Berman to declare that its punishment of Brady was properly carried out. The players’ union countersued, asking him to nullify the suspension.

Berman noted that Brady’s statistics were better in the second half of the Patriots’ 45-7 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts in the Jan. 18 AFC championship game than in the first half, when the balls were found to have been underinflated.

“You might say (Brady) got no better advantage from the under-inflation,” the judge said.

Dozens of fans and journalists waited for two of the NFL’s most famous faces at the front entrance of the courthouse, including some fans wearing deflated football hats they were hoping to sell.

Goodell suspended Brady after concluding he “knew about, approved of, consented to, and provided inducements and rewards” to support a scheme in which a Patriots employee deflated balls on game day. Brady insists he knew nothing about it.

In a July 28 decision upholding the suspension, Goodell heavily criticized Brady for having an aide destroy a cellphone containing nearly 10,000 text messages from a four-month stretch including the AFC championship game.

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Villanova Tops North Carolina 77-74 on Jenkins’ Buzzer-Beater

Kris Jenkins is one of those players who believes every shot is going in.

Sometimes, it feels so right to be right.

The Villanova junior answered a double-clutch, game-tying 3-pointer by North Carolina’s Marcus Paige with a buzzer-beating 3 of his own Monday night to lift the Wildcats to a 77-74 victory and the national championship Monday night.

One good shot deserved another.

And Jenkins wasn’t about to be outdone.

“I think every shot’s going in,” he said, “and this one was no different.”

“I didn’t have to say anything in the huddle,” he said. “We have a name for it, that’s what we’re going to do. Just put everybody in their spots.”

He knew the shot was going in, too.

Oh yes, they could.

This adds to the title Villanova won in 1985, when Rollie Massimino, who was on hand Monday night, coaxed a miracle out of his eighth-seeded underdogs for a victory over star-studded Georgetown.

Hard to top this one, though.

“Bang,” Wright said as he watched it fall, then calmly walked to shake Carolina coach Roy Williams’ hand.

Jenkins finished with 14 points — the last three as memorable as any that have been scored in the history of this tournament.

After being thrown to the floor by his teammates, he got up, leaped over press row, hugged his birth mom — a college basketball coach who helped him hone his shot — and shouted, “They said we couldn’t, they said we couldn’t, they said we couldn’t.”

Jenkins, who was adopted by the family of North Carolina guard Nate Britt when his mother moved to take a coaching job, now has a spot alongside — and probably above — Keith Smart, Lorenzo Charles, Christian Laettner and everyone else who ever made a late game-winner to win a big one in March Madness.

2016 NCAA Tournament: Best Moments2016 NCAA Tournament: Best Moments

Paige finished with 21 and Joel Berry II had 20 for the Heels (33-7), the only No. 1 seed to make the Final Four. They came one agonizing shot short of giving Williams his third national title.

Not surprisingly, the tears flowed from the 65-year-old coach who, some speculate, could have worked his last game on the sideline; the entire sports program at Chapel Hill is under NCAA scrutiny and awaiting possible penalties for a long-running academic-fraud case.

“I’m not very good because I can’t take away the hurt,” Williams said. “I told them I loved them. I told them I wish I could have helped them more.”

His thought when he saw the last shot fly: “It was helpless. It was not a good feeling.”

Even MJ felt the pain. In the stands with the thousands of Carolina Blue-wearing fans, Michael Jordan simply nodded, smiled, looked at his buddy Ahmad Rashad and said, “Good shot, good shot.”

March Madness Courtside: Fans, Mascots, CheerleadersMarch Madness Courtside: Fans, Mascots, Cheerleaders

Not this time.

Before Jenkins did his thing, it was unheralded sophomore Phil Booth — who isn’t unheralded on that Villanova squad? — pouring in a career high 20 points to give the Cats their late six-point lead.

Booth forced a turnaround jumper with the shot-clock blaring to give ‘Nova a 69-64 lead at the 3:03 mark. With 1:52 left, a free throw from Josh Hart pushed the lead to six.

High praise from the Great One. And what a night for Villanova (35-5) — a second-seeded team full of scrappers, grinders and also-rans, who proved you don’t have to have a roster full of NBA-bound one-and-doners to win a title. More people in the ESPN bracket contest picked ‘Nova to lose to a No. 15 seed in the first round than to win the whole thing. This team flamed out early in the last two tournaments despite big expectations.

But Carolina never quits. Paige sandwiched a 3-pointer and a putback around a bucket from Brice Johnson (14 points, eight rebounds) to help the Tar Heels stay within striking range. Then, he took a bounce pass, scooted by the diving Ochefu, twisted past Arcidiacono and hit his double-clutch.

Carolina fans went wild, and it looked like overtime.

This time, the senior point guard made an underhanded flip to Jenkins, who spotted up a pace or two behind the arc and swished it with Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks running at him. Or, as Jenkins put it: “One, two step, shoot ’em up, sleep in the streets.”

Jenkins had to come up big after Paige collected a pass on the top right side of the arc and, with Arcidiacono running at him, double clutched and pumped it in to tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds left.

Only, it wasn’t.

“If I could get a shot, I was going to shoot it,” said Arcidiacono, who finished with 16 points and two assists, one more memorable than the other. “But I heard someone screaming in the back of my head. It was Kris. I just gave it to him and he let it go with confidence.”

The shot came on a play Villanova works on every day in practice: Jenkins inbounds the ball to Ryan Arcidiacono, he works it up court and forward Daniel Ochefu sets a pick near halfcourt to clutter things up, then Arcidiacono creates.

It completed a Carolina comeback from six points down with 1:52 left.

Coach Jay Wright called timeout and called the play the Wildcats have worked on all season.

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College Student Found Dead After Watching NCAA Game

Mikey McGinley went out to watch the Villanova Men’s Basketball Team defeat Oklahoma Saturday night. Hours later, the Drexel student and former star athlete at Malvern Prep was found dead at a friend’s home in Northern Liberties.

The 22-year old’s death was accidental and caused by “drug intoxication,” Jeff Moran with the Philadelphia medical examiner’s office confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

McGinley was small, muscular, lean, Schiller remembers. Tenacious.

Schiller recounted what he’d pieced together about McGinley’s weekend:

When friends returned from breakfast, McGinley wasn’t breathing.

Friends shared their grief and memories of McGinley on Facebook.

Drexel sent LeBow students a notice of McGinley’s passing “at an off-campus apartment in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia” and offered counseling services to students and condolences to McGinley’s family and friends.

A funeral Mass is being held for relatives and friends Saturday, April 9 at Mother of Divine Providence Church, 333 Allendale Rd., King of Prussia, Pa. at 11:00 am. Viewings for Mikey McGinely are at the church Friday evening from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. and Saturday morning from 9:00 to 10:50 a.m.

In McGinley’s obituary, in lieu of flowers, the family encouraged people to make memorial contributions in Mikey’s memory to Malvern Prep Water Polo c/o Malvern Prep Development Dept., 418 S. Warren Ave., Malvern, Pa. 29355-2707 or online via the Malvern Prep Friar Club.

“He was a bulldog once he got in the water,” Schiller said. “He holds our single season school records for blocked shots (28 — an average of one per game) and steals (116 or about 4 per game). These key defensive statistics for a young man who was 5′ 7″ and weighed about 130 pounds speak to his tenacity as a player. His peers who have gone on to play water polo at the collegiate level are 6′ 3″ to 6′ 6″ and easily weigh 200+ pounds. However, he also scored 81 goals his senior season so he was certainly not a one dimensional player.”

McGinley, who was studying at Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, went out with friends Saturday night to watch the Villanova game. He slept over at a friend’s apartment with some other folks. In the morning, the others went out for breakfast. Mikey stayed in. He was still sleeping. Snoring.

“Just a fun kid, the kind you would love to have on your team, love to have as a friend,” Schiller said. “Almost everyone I have spoken to over the last 24 hours or so are crushed by the news of his passing but are quick to smile with a memory of him as a student or as an athlete.”

McGinley’s death left friends and family devastated, according to Jay Schiller who coached McGinley in a stellar water polo career at Malvern Prep.

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