NFL draft preview: Rating the defensive backs
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 1. Joe Haden, Florida

5-10¾, 193 pounds, Round 1: Comes from an athletic family — his father ran track, and he has two younger brothers playing major college football. Extremely quick and a natural cover man after playing quarterback in high school and being recruited as a receiver. “Best coverage guy (in the draft),” one personnel director said. “If somebody’s looking for a cover corner — he’s not a blazer or anything like that, but I think people would still take him and say this is a good football player and a good coverage guy.” Junior entry started all three years and had career totals of 34 pass breakups and eight interceptions. His 4.58-second 40 at the combine was mildly disappointing, but he lowered that to the 4.45 range at Florida’s Pro Day. “Whether I’d want him as a top-10 (pick), I don’t think so,” another scout said.
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2. Kyle Wilson, Boise State

5-10, 194, Round 1: Short cornerback was under-recruited coming out as a three-time state high school champ in New Jersey, sent out tapes to schools all over and ended up at Boise State, where he started his final 3½ seasons and also was an outstanding return man. “Good cover skills, good ball skills, he’s just kind of rounding into his own now,” said the college scouting director for an AFC team. “I think he’s going to be a better pro than he was college player. He shows the ability to tackle and willingness to tackle, along with some nice cover skills. He had the return game as well. Kyle’s a nice football player.” Had 11 interceptions and 27 pass breakups in his career. Returned three punts for touchdowns as a junior. Biggest concern is height.
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3. Patrick Robinson, Florida State

5-11 1/8, 190, Rounds 1/2: A fast, decent sized, versatile cover man. “I liked Patrick Robinson as a pure cover man, I have him and Haden graded basically the same,” a scout said. “But the cover skills are way better in Robinson than in Haden.” A blazer who confidently talked of running in the 4.3-second range at the combine, then surprisingly ran only 4.47 seconds. Lowered that to 4.38 seconds at his campus workout. Had six interceptions as a part-time starter as a sophomore, then only one interception in 21 games his final two years. “Robinson has real good quickness, change of direction, speed,” a second scout said.

4. Kareem Jackson, Alabama

5-10½, 196, Rounds 1/2: Junior entry who started three years for defensive back guru Nick Saban at Alabama. “He’s the second-best corner in the draft (behind Haden),” one national scout said. “He can cover. When you play in the Nick Saban scheme, Nick Saban coaches the secondary, this guy’s getting pro coaching. He knows how to play technique — hands, feet, all that stuff aligns. He doesn’t give up much. He knows how to break on the ball, everything about him is very positive.” Had five interceptions and 29 pass breakups in his career. Ran the 40 in a solid 4.45 seconds.

5. Devin McCourty, Rutgers

5-10¾, 193, Rounds 1/2: Three-year starter and special-teams standout. “I think McCourty plays faster (than Jackson) and is a better football player,” a scout said. “I’d be more apt to say they’re top-of-the-second-round type guys, but if they jump in there 25 to 32 I wouldn’t be surprised. Solid kid, really good special teams player.” Twin brother of Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty, a sixth-round pick last year. Had six interceptions and 27 pass breakups in his career and on special teams blocked seven kicks. Last year averaged 25.4 yards on kickoff returns. Also ran the 40 in 4.41 seconds at the combine.

6. Jerome Murphy, South Florida

6-0¼, 196, Round 2: Two-year starter with a good combination of size and agility. “This is a raw guy,” one scout said. “He plays like hell on film — tough, competitive, all that kind of thing. There’s some other guys more fluid and more polished, but this guy is going to make an impact on (special) teams just because he’s such a good tackler and he’s so tough.” Had six interceptions and 13 pass breakups the last two seasons. Ran the 40 in an OK 4.53 seconds, but his 4.07 short shuttle tied for second-best among all defensive backs at the combine.

7. Chris Cook, Virginia

6-2, 212, Round 2: Unusually tall and big for his position. “I think Green Bay would be involved in somebody like Chris Cook,” said a college scouting director. “He’s a big, physical, fast corner. He’s got good mobility. He’s one of those that uses his size to his advantage pressing at the line of scrimmage, in the run game, that kind of thing.” Had a sprained knee and then academic suspension in ’08, came back last season with four interceptions and six pass breakups. Despite his size ran a 4.40-second 40 and also had the best broad jump (11-0) of the defensive backs at the combine.

8. Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State

5-11 3/8, 195, Rounds 2/3: Talented cover and return man but major character risk. Has three children, and last year was arrested for driving with a suspended license, later was suspended for the Cotton Bowl for twice missing curfew the week of the game. “If that happened his freshman, sophomore, maybe even his junior year, you’d kind of dismiss it because the talent is pretty good,” a scout said. “But when this happens in the last game of your career and you’re letting your team down.” Had 10 interceptions and 36 pass breakups in his career, also returned three kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns.

9. Dominique Franks, Oklahoma

5-11, 194, Rounds 2/3: A junior entry who had six interceptions in two seasons as a starter. Ran the 40 in the mid 4.4-second range at his Pro Day. Good all-around athlete who averaged 17.0 yards on 11 punt returns last season. Biggest question mark is whether he’s physical enough. “That’s kind of his reputation, but that’s what they do there at Oklahoma,” a scouting director said. “He stands around some piles at times, I don’t think he’s going to be the one to clean up anything around piles. But he’s got real good speed, he’s a 4.4 guy.”

10. Brandon Ghee, Wake Forest

5-11 5/8, 192, Rounds 2/3: A fast, explosive workout phenom who had only one interception in three seasons as a full or nearly full-time player. His 1.46-second 10-yard split was the fastest of the entire combine, and he tied for third in the short shuttle (4.08 seconds) and fourth in the three-cone drill (6.76 seconds) among defensive backs. “He’s got a lot of athletic skill, it just doesn’t translate to the field as well,” a scout said. “Some people might like him because he’s a height-weight-speed kind of guy.”

Safeties

1. Eric Berry, Tennessee

5-11 5/8, 211 pounds, Round 1: Considered by at least a few scouts the best player in this draft, but doesn’t play the impact position to be the top pick overall. Might be a game changer as a versatile ball hawk and blitzer in the mold of Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Baltimore’s Ed Reed. “He can do so many things for you,” one scout said. “He can play deep for you, he can play close to the line of scrimmage, he’s a playmaker, real instinctive. He’ll take the big shot when he can get it, he makes plays in big games. I think he is a special kind of player.” Junior entry had 13 interceptions and three sacks as a three-year starter. Ran the 40 in 4.43 seconds and had an NBA-like 43-inch vertical jump.

2. Earl Thomas, Texas

5-10 1/8, 208, Round 1: Also could play corner, probably will be a top-15 pick. “Caught my eye,” a scout said. “Ball-hawking guy, can see the ball down the field in flight. A lot of guys can do everything, but they can’t track the ball; this kid can track the ball downfield. He’s built a little thicker than you think he is. Not a tall guy, but this guy has a future.” Entering the draft after his redshirt-sophomore season. Had 10 interceptions and 33 pass breakups in his two seasons, and forced five fumbles. Ran the 40 in 4.48 seconds. “I always liked safeties to be built like big corners,” a second scout said, “so you’d be comfortable with him if you had to line up and play a third wideout.”

3. Taylor Mays, USC

6-3 1/8, 230, Rounds 1/2: Huge, long-armed safety with stunning straight-line speed but suspect agility and instincts. “He likes to play football and he’ll figure out ways to be successful,” one scout said. “But I’m not so sure you don’t find him being a nickel guy up towards the line of scrimmage more, somebody to play in the flat.” Had only five interceptions in four seasons as a starter. His father, Stafford, was a defensive lineman for St. Louis and Minnesota in the 1980s. Blazed the 40 in 4.31 seconds and had a 41-inch vertical at the combine.

4. Nate Allen, South Florida

6-0 ½, 207, Rounds 1/2: Former high school quarterback with good size and strength. “He can do some stupid (stuff) every once in a while, but this guy has all the natural tools and talents to be a starter,” one scout said. “I think late first, he could show up there. I didn’t see any problem with (him in coverage). He’s out of control sometimes in run support and has raw technique in pure man cover, but I didn’t see any issues.” Had nine interceptions and 12 pass breakups as a three-year starter. Didn’t run for scouts this offseason because of a quad injury.

5. Chad Jones, LSU

6-2 1/8, 221, Rounds 2/3: Junior entry who also was a key relief pitcher for LSU’s 2009 national championship in baseball. Drafted in the 13th round by the Houston Astros in 2007. A physical tackler with great size but suspect cover skills. Had three interceptions and six pass breakups last season. Ran the 40 in 4.57 seconds. “Probably not the fastest kid, but he will light you up,” a scout said. “Very smart, he’s athletic, big, a good tackler, there’s a lot of good things. But can he cover well enough?”

2011 NFL Mock Draft: Will the Tennessee Titans Make Blaine Gabbert 'The Guy?'
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The Titans Are Starting All Over In 2011, Gabbert Can Jumpstart The Team
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The Tennessee Titans came to the conclusion over the past few months that Vince Young is not worth wasting any more time over and that Jeff Fisher needed a change of scenery.

Fisher is gone, Mike Munchak is in. As of the lockout, Vince Young still was slated to be cut or traded. The Titans will need a new quarterback as a result. Kerry Collins is not getting any younger and the Titans have no other real options at quarterback.

Blaine Gabbert is the best option for the Titans with the eighth pick in the draft. The Titans will have an NFL-ready quarterback who can step in and be a starter his rookie season. The Titans will need it.
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The Titans need Gabbert and will trade up in the draft if they feel they have to. If the Panthers pass on Cam Newton, that makes the Titan's move easier as they only will have to jump ahead of the 49ers to make the pick, and the Browns most likely would be willing to drop two spots.

Touch over toughness: Bosh continues to do things his way
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MIAMI -- It was a moment that explained Chris Bosh's style, when he caught a pass and found himself right under the basket against the Spurs on Monday night. Normally, a 6-foot-11 player in this situation would spike the ball through the hoop, sending tremors through the arena, along with a warning.
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But Bosh did as Bosh does and went for the lay-in instead.
He missed. Both the shot, and a chance to chip away at a reputation.
He scored 30 points against the Spurs, his second 30-point night all season, and most telling is how Bosh got those points: all free throws and jumpers. Not a single dunk. That's almost hard for a power forward to do, although it did explain how Bosh isn't your typical player at that position.
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More than any of the Big Three, Bosh is often cited -- if not outright dismissed -- for not being someone what he should be, namely, a rim-chewing, paint-scrubbing inside force. Calling him a finesse forward is actually being kind; others just flat out say he's gentler than your grandmother's touch. This is mainly confined to media-types and fans, although Wednesday night will bring Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant, who broke rank when he fumed about Bosh being a "fake tough guy" following a tense loss to Miami two months ago.
Yesterday, Bosh said: "All that stuff is squared away. He made some comments after that game, probably when he was upset. That's no big deal. We talked about it."
His teammates are supportive, but when they worry publicly about their inability to score inside points, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade repeated recently, it sure sounds like they're sending an indirect plea for Bosh to move a few feet closer to the basket.
It's a request that's both fair and unfair, asking Bosh, the only big man on the roster who doesn't treat the ball as a live grenade, to change his entire mindset when it comes to offense. That's quite a sacrifice for a player who never really played any meaningful games in his NBA career until now.
Has any current All-Star ever dealt with those demands? To be who he is not? Not LeBron, who has the same responsibilities and freedom as he did in Cleveland. Same for Wade. And is it even possible to make such change after playing a certain way for seven years? Old habits don't break easily. It's not simple to stray from a comfort zone. Bosh will not morph into Moses Malone overnight, or ever, and you wonder if he's doing himself more harm than good by even making the attempt.
"Trying to change has hurt me more than anything else," Bosh said. "I've spent so much time worrying about fitting in and worrying about too many other things instead of just playing basketball.
"People are always going to tell you what you can't do. People have been doing that my whole life. If I would've listened to them I wouldn't be here playing in the NBA. It started when I started playing basketball and it won't stop until I'm done. It's all about what I believe in. And I believe I can be a good player on a team that can win a championship."
He is that, a good player; whether Miami is championship-ready is more of a debate. Bosh will likely finish the season averaging 18 points and eight rebounds a game, numbers that any team would gladly take at the 4-spot. But those are numbers viewed skeptically by the basketball world because of the manner in which they're compiled. Meaning, Bosh isn't getting those points or rebounds in heavy traffic.
The plain truth is Bosh will never be that type of player, no matter how often LeBron says the obvious: "Our biggest thing is getting paint points, because it opens up our perimeter, opens it up for everybody. But we don't have any post-up bigs. Chris is our only option."
The Heat's best option in the post isn't on the roster, not yet anyway. He'll have to arrive this summer or next. He isn't Udonis Haslem, still on the mend, who's a clean-up guy, not someone who hears his number called on a play. And let's not get started on everyone else who passes for a center on the Heat. Until further notice, it's all about Bosh ... except Bosh is merely masquerading as an inside force. Not that he's fake, to borrow a Durant-ism. He's just filling the role out of necessity. There's a difference.
There is a bigger issue: After being barely noticed for years in Toronto, where the Raptors were never a contender, Bosh is feeling a burden for the first time. How he holds up in the stretch run and especially against Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah -- should he meet any or all in the postseason -- will reveal much. Right now, nobody knows how Bosh will respond; even he doesn't know.
"I'm just trying to get better and do what I can to help this team," he said. "That's where I'm at now."
In a perfect Miami Heat world, someone like Kendrick Perkins would've found his way to Miami at the trade deadline. Instead, on Wednesday night and for the rest of this season, at least, it will be Chris Bosh, still trying to be himself and someone else.


Stephen Neal plans to support wrestling
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Patriots guard Stephen Neal, who announced his retirement from the NFL after nine seasons, may return to his wrestling roots.

Neal was a national champion wrestler at Cal State Bakersfield—he didn't play football in college—and in 1999 he won the Dan Hodge Award, which is wrestling's version of the Heisman Trophy.

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"I’d really like to help the sport of wrestling," Neal said during his retirement press conference Thursday.

“It has taught me so much stuff—hard work, dedication. And I’d love to give back to the sport anyway. The sport’s dying, as we discussed last year.
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"I really want to try to help out my program and keep it going, and they’re doing a pretty good job. (Cal State Bakersfield) has a new athletic director, so I’m going to talk to him this weekend and see what I can do to help. I have so much passion in my heart for wrestling that I don’t want to see the sport die. I want to see it change the lives of other young athletes the way it changed mine.

"That’s one thing I want to do right off the bat, just try to go around and help raise money or help raise awareness for all these different programs and see if we can get them to stop folding on the West Coast."

Raptors get Johnson from Bulls for 1st-round pick Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The rebuilding Toronto Raptors got even younger on Tuesday by acquiring second-year forward James Johnson from the Chicago Bulls for a first-round pick in this year's draft.
The Raptors worked out the versatile former Wake Forest player in the 2009 draft before the sophomore was selected by the Bulls with the 16th pick. The Raptors gave up the first round pick they acquired from Miami in the Chris Bosh sign-and-trade deal. They still own their own pick, which will almost certainly end up in the lottery.
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"James Johnson is a strong, athletic and versatile small forward that we have had our eyes on dating to the 2009 draft,'' Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo said in a statement.''
The 6-foot-9 Johnson has had a limited impact, playing in 78 games over two seasons and averaging 3.8 points and 1.9 rebounds. After failing to crack Chicago's rotation he recently served a stint in the NBA Development League.
While the surging Bulls get a late first-round draft pick, the move gives struggling Toronto another prospect as it starts over following Bosh's offseason departure.
Coach Jay Triano hinted earlier Tuesday that any moves the team makes before Thursday's trade deadline "would be to help this team in the future.''
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Johnson will join a team that was 15-41 before Tuesday's game against Charlotte.
"I always liked his game when he was at Wake Forest,'' said Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, who was in the same draft class with Johnson. "You never know. It could work out great for him and be a great pickup for us. We hope so.''


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