Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category
ST. LOUIS (AP) — As an undrafted free agent in 2013, Daren Bates figured he would have to excel on special teams if he were to land a spot on the St. Louis Rams’ roster.
The linebacker from Auburn made a quick first impression and has been an anchor on special teams that have ranked among the NFL’s best the last two seasons.
Other Rams have found prominent roles after first making the roster through special teams. Eugene Sims worked his way into the defensive line rotation and Rodney McLeod has become a starting safety. Bates burst on the scene in 2013 along with Chase Reynolds and Benny Cunningham. Last year, rookies Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Roberson shined and figure to be in the mix in the secondary.
“They’re a little different,” special teams coach John Fassel said. “And probably like their coach, really all kind of crazy, a little whack. They’re a little different, which is good. If you’re not, then it’s probably not for you.”
In a move showing the team’s commitment to special teams, the Rams on Dec. 5 signed punter Johnny Hekker to an $18 million contract extension with $9 million guaranteed – the largest amount ever guaranteed to a punter. The extension will keep the Pro Bowler in St. Louis through 2020.
“I just want to improve,” Hekker said. “You come into camp feeling great physically, and refining technique is always something to be done. I think we’re working very, very hard and we’re quite a bit ahead of where we were in past years.”
The Rams also boast a strong kicker in Greg Zuerlein, whose field-goal range is well past 50 yards.
Fassel said special teams may go unnoticed by fans.
“There’s a lot of tricks to the trade of special teams that I think are unique to the game that we see on tape that the fans don’t see,” Fassel said. “So we practice those little things.
“The more reps and experience we have doing it, the better we get. So, we’re only going into, really to me our third year as a group. And we play against teams that have more experience than that. So, hopefully in year three, four, five, six, we’ll really take off.”
The unit could be even more dangerous with Isaiah Pead returning from a torn ACL. Pead’s speed gives the Rams another option alongside Cunningham on kick return.
More than anything, the unit has a mindset.
“For the guys in the building, this is life and death,” long snapper Jake McQuaide said.
Though McQuaide is entering his fifth season as the Rams long snapper, like Bates, the veteran doesn’t allow himself to get too comfortable.
“As soon as you feel like you’ve made it, that’s when you’re out,” McQuaide said. “Just kind of pay rent every single day at my locker and just try to be the best out there doing it.”
Bates admitted that the special teamers are different.
“Inside these lines you have to turn a switch, have a different mentality,” Bates said. “You can’t bring a basketball game back on the football field. It won’t work.”
NOTES: DE Chris Long (stiff back) practiced for the first time after being held out the first three days. . CB Trovon Reed was signed and WR Devon Wylie was cut . Dave Peacock, the head of the St. Louis Stadium Taskforce, attended the open practice with his two sons.
by Dave Skretta, AP
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have demonstrated a willingness under general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid to give players who have run into trouble a second chance.
They’ve also proven there’s no such thing as a third.
Take the case of Justin Cox, a defensive back from Mississippi State. He went undrafted after missing the final three games and the Orange Bowl last season following a domestic violence arrest – a charge that was ultimately dropped – and the Chiefs gave him a shot. But when Cox was arrested again this summer, it took them less than 24 hours to send him packing.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a hard and fast policy because every situation is different,” Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt said. “It’s up to John and his staff to do the research when a player has an incident and make a judgment call whether it’s going to work out. That particular situation, it didn’t, but John is very aware we don’t want guys who are going to be a problem.”
The Chiefs do want players who can help them win, though, and therein lies the balancing act that all NFL teams face: Who do you take a risk on? When do take a pass?
In the three years since Dorsey and Reid have been in charge, the Chiefs have added numerous players with checkered pasts, and so far they’ve mostly steered clear of trouble.
Tight end Travis Kelce was their third-round pick a couple years ago, even though he had been suspended in college for violating team rules. Not only has Kelce developed into one of the most dynamic tight ends in the game, he has also matured into a locker room leader.
“A little bit more accountability,” Kelce replied, when asked how he’s changed.
The Chiefs also took a chance on cornerback Phillip Gaines in last year’s draft. He had run into trouble at Rice, but his size and speed made him an intriguing prospect. Fast-forward to this year’s training camp and Gaines is competing for one of the starting jobs.
But perhaps never have the Chiefs taken on so many players with spotty pasts as this past season, beginning with the draft and continuing right on through free agency.
Their first-round pick, Marcus Peters, was thrown off his team at Washington because he could not get along with new coach Chris Peterson. But the Chiefs insist that they researched the star cornerback, who might’ve been a top-10 pick had he stayed out of trouble, and came away confident that Peters had learned from his mistakes and was unlikely to repeat them.
“It was an emotional situation and he didn’t handle it the right way. I think he’s learned from it, just from our experience with him,” Reid said. “He was up front with us. He said, `I goofed,’ and that’s half the battle.”
Defensive lineman David Irving has also acknowledged his mistakes, a big reason Kansas City was willing to give him a shot as an undrafted free agent.
The former Iowa State standout was suspended after he was charged with domestic abuse against the mother of his child, a charge that was later dropped. Then, during a riot near campus during a student-run festival, Irving was photographed holding a stop sign that he argued was handed to him by another person. He was charged with theft, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief.
When he did make it onto the field, Irving was one of the best defensive linemen in the Big 12, and he could help the Chiefs absorb the loss of nose tackle Dontari Poe to injury.
“We knew he was a good football player,” Reid said. “He had some issues, obviously. John Dorsey and his crew, I thought, did a nice job getting in there and making sure with him that he would fit in here and that he kind of had things going in the right direction.”
Dorsey and Reid also thought that Cox was headed in the right direction, only to proven wrong. But that is the tightrope they are willing to walk – star potential on one side of a very thing line, and more trouble looming just on the other.
“John and I talk about it, and he knows that we want to be a leader in the NFL,” Hunt said, “not a team that has a lot of guys that are getting in trouble.”
NOTES: Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Suttons said Tuesday that LB Derrick Johnson “is back to where he was” before his season-ending Achilles injury. … Gaines left practice early with an injury. It did not appear to be serious. … WR L’Damian Washington, who signed with the Chiefs on Monday, participated in his first practice.
TORONTO (AP) — Toronto pitcher Aaron Sanchez was suspended for three games and manager John Gibbons for one for their roles in Sunday’s brawling game between the Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals.
Major League Baseball on Tuesday also fined Sanchez an undisclosed sum for intentionally throwing at Alcides Escobar with warnings in place during the top of the eighth inning of Toronto’s 7-6 win. Sanchez contends his pitch just got away.
Gibbons was to miss Monday night’s home game against Minnesota. He was disciplined for coming back on the field when the benches cleared following Sanchez’s pitch. Gibbons already had been ejected in the seventh inning.
Sanchez’s suspension was to start Monday night. If he appeals, his penalties will be held until the matter is settled.
Sanchez was ejected by umpire Jim Wolf, who had put a warning in place in the first inning when Royals starter Edison Volquez hit Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson.
“If I wanted to send a message I would’ve sent a message to their big guys,” Sanchez said after the game. “I think it was kind of crap, but we’ll move on. We got a `W.'”
The Blue Jays did not like the way Wolf handled the game. After issuing the warning in the first, the Jays were upset when reliever Ryan Madson wasn’t tossed for hitting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the forearm in the seventh inning.
Donaldson got buzzed in the next at-bat, which led to Gibbons’ ejection.
“I have a lot of respect for him behind the plate. I don’t think he made a lot of the right decisions today,” Donaldson, referring to Wolf, said after the game. “That’s what you end up getting out of it – games like that, you get bench clearing, when it never even had to go that route.”
by Margaret Stafford, AP
(Kansas City) (AP) – The National Baseball Congress suspended using batboys and girls during its World Series games in Kansas following the death of a 9-year-old boy who was accidentally hit in the head with a bat during a game.
Kaiser Carlile died Sunday, a day after he was hit by a follow-through swing near the on-deck circle during the Liberal Bee Jays’ game in Wichita. The boy was wearing a helmet.
During an emotional news conference Monday, Kaiser was remembered as an energetic, happy boy who loved being part of the Bee Jays. Manager Adam Anderson and several players said he inspired them to always work hard, have fun and win.
“I can’t get over how hard he worked, and he was having fun doing it,” said outfielder Gavin Wehby, who plays for Nicholls State. “I was blessed to have called him a friend, a teammate and most of all a brother.”
The NBC’s general manager, Kevin Jenks, said Kaiser would be honored throughout the tournament until the championship game Saturday. The honors will include having the boy’s initials on the scoreboard marquee and fundraisers for his family during the games. The team also is wearing wristbands and T-shirts with Kaiser’s initials.
Kaiser’s father, Chad Carlile, said his son was competitive but also just loved the game of baseball. He said Kaiser cherished a pair of shoes and a white bracelet the team had given him. He said his son’s organs will be donated.
“There is no anger towards what happened,” he said. “This is something that was obviously a tragedy. I want no bad comments … He was happy. He loved it and the team we are obviously for loved him as well.”
The tournament has been in Wichita since 1931 and this is the first time such a situation has occurred, Jenks said.
“We have over 900 participants coming into the World Series every year,” Jenks said. “You never expect anything like this to happen.”
The Bee Jays played and won after Kaiser was hurt Saturday night and won again on Sunday, making it to the semifinals. His parents attended Sunday’s game and supported the team’s decision to continue playing “because they know that’s what Kaiser would want us to do,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the death has hit his teammates hard. He said the team has been comforted by support from across the country and the world and its staying together to cope with the loss.
“My biggest message to them is nobody is going through this alone,” Anderson said. “We’re here to support each other and support Kaiser’s family. This is not one person’s burden to bear. We’ll have to bear it together.”
The city of Wichita owns Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, where the accident took place, and is deciding whether to investigate the accident, Ken Evans, the city’s strategic communications director.
Third baseman Brady Cox, who plays for Texas-Arlington, said he will always remember Kaiser encouraging him even when Cox was having a bad day on the field. He recalled one game when the boy was in the dugout even though he didn’t feel well and encouraged Cox not to feel bad after he had gone 0-for-2. In his next bat, Cox hit a homerun.
“He changed my attitude on the game,” Cox said. “I’ll never pick up a baseball and not think of that … I’ll always remember him saying `It’s all right, you’ve got more bats left. I’ll never step on the field without thinking of him.”
by RB Fallstrom, AP
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Rams plan to open the season with a pair of rookie offensive linemen playing side by side. Tackle Rob Havenstein and guard Jamon Brown must be quick learners and make the gamble pay off.
Last year, the Rams had one rookie on the line. Tackle Greg Robinson was the second overall pick of the draft, so it was no surprise they cleared some space.
This summer, it’s a lot different. Left guard Rodger Saffold is the lone veteran returning starter, and the center will come from a group of backups.
Coach Jeff Fisher said he’d been interested in drafting a new crop of offensive linemen since he arrived in St. Louis, and the Rams went all-in this May. They took Havenstein in the second round, Brown in the third, tackle Andrew Donnal in the fourth, guard Cody Wichmann in the sixth and tackle Isaiah Battle as a supplemental fifth-rounder before the start of training camp.
“It’s an area we needed to focus on, it’s an area we expect to be good for a long time,” Fisher said. “We have no concern about starting young people up front.
“If they are playing, they’re ready to play.”
Saffold has 60 career starts, Robinson has 12 and center Tim Barnes has four. That’s it. Center Barrett Jones has appeared in 10 career games and Demetrius Rhaney, who was on injured reserve all last summer, has yet to make his debut.
For Havenstein, the opportunity is “pretty awesome.” Brown said it’s an “honor” to get this shot.
“We made it a point to make sure we weren’t giving up negative plays or mistakes because we didn’t know what we were doing,” Havenstein said. “We made it an emphasis during OTAs and during our break to know the ins and outs.”
So far, the expanded NFL playbook has not been information overload.
“Myself and Rob, we’ve been putting in the work to make sure we don’t let anybody down,” Brown said. “For the most part I’m grasping the system pretty well.”
Both players have extensive college experience.
The 6-foot-7, 321-pound Havenstein played in a school-record 54 games at Wisconsin, including 41 consecutive starts at right tackle to end his career. He was part of a unit that produced two of the three best single-season rushing totals in school history, including a 320-yard average last year.
The 6-3, 323-pound Brown allowed two sacks at right tackle last year at Louisville. The Cardinals averaged 461 yards and scored 30 or more points nine times, and were more air-oriented.
Facing a defense in practices that amassed 40 sacks the last 11 games gives the duo a taste of what’s to come. That unit is led by end Robert Quinn and tackle Aaron Donald, the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“Obviously we have a veteran group of defense linemen and they’re saying, “These guys are going to be good,'” Fisher said. “Coming from those guys, that’s pretty impressive.”
The Rams are likely to emphasize ball control, especially when first-round running back Todd Gurley is ready to play coming off left knee surgery.
“I don’t think anything has been too eye-opening,” Havenstein said. “Obviously, the guys are bigger and faster and the playbook might be more complex, but it’s still ball.”
About half the team put on pads for the first time with a spirited special teams practice Monday morning. The full squad practices in pads Tuesday.
“We kind of liven it up the last 20 minutes and see who can bang and battle,” special teams coach John Fassel said.
NOTES: Fassel arrived at camp a hero. Last month while on vacation in Manhattan Beach, California, he helped rescue a swimmer that had gotten pulled into a riptide.
“It was my last day and quite an open-water experience,” Fassel said. “We got to him pretty quick, it happened fast.”
Fisher paid tribute to Fassel on the first day of training camp, saying “We have a hero on the coaching staff.”
(West Plains) – August 17 is Lady Zizzer Softball Night at Colton’s Steak House in West Plains.
Team officials say a percentage of the daily sales from 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m will go to the Zizzer Softball team to help with travel expenses and equipment.
Come out to Colton’s on August 17 to support the Lady Zizzer Softball program!
by Ian Harrison, AP
TORONTO (AP) — The Royals and Blue Jays have moved on: After an exchange of hit batters, they’re now trading barbs on Twitter.
First, Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista posted a message Sunday night saying he had “lost a lot of respect” for Ned Yost after hearing the Royals manager praise home plate umpire Jim Wolf’s handling of Sunday’s game.
Two Blue Jays batters were hit by pitches and reliever Aaron Sanchez was ejected for retaliating by hitting Kansas City infielder Alcides Escobar.
That prompted Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura to post Tweets calling Bautista a “nobody” and accuse him of stealing signs. Ventura later deleted the messages.
Bautista took the high road when asked to respond to Ventura’s comments Monday.
“He’s a young player that could use some maturing,” Bautista said. “Hopefully he focuses on playing the game and allowing his ability to create a name for himself.”
Bautista didn’t back down from his remarks about Yost, calling the manager’s praise of Wolf “ridiculous.”
Wold warned both benches after Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez hit Toronto’s Josh Donaldson in the first inning of Sunday’s game, a 5-2 Blue Jays win.
Donaldson complained to Wolf after Volquez and reliever Ryan Madson missed high and inside later in the game. Madson also hit Toronto’s Troy Tulowitzki. Neither pitcher was ejected.
Volquez responded after the game by calling Donaldson “a little baby.”
Wolf ejected Sanchez after Escobar was hit on the thigh in the eighth, causing both benches and both bullpens to empty. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who had been ejected earlier for arguing with Wolf, returned to the field for the melee. No punches were thrown.
by Dave Skretta, AP
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Jamaal Charles had holes in his shoes on the first day of training camp.
The Chiefs running back was trying out a new pair, and they apparently were a bit tight in the toes. So Charles made incisions on each shoe that allowed his big toe to poke though.
Entering his eighth year in the league, they might be the only holes in his game.
Charles is coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, despite battling nagging injuries all year. He also had at least 35 receptions for the third straight year, even though he was the constant focus of opposing defenses on a team with few offensive weapons.
“It’s a compliment,” Charles said of the attention. “As long as I play in this league, and play on a high level, I always feel like a team is going to have to stop me. I feel like sometimes I’m the LeBron (James) of football, especially at my position, because I can do so much.”
Provided Charles is healthy, of course.
He missed most of the 2011 season after tearing his ACL, then dealt with one injury after another last season, even if he never let on to them.
It began during the offseason program when he first picked up some bumps and bruises. It continued in training camp, when he bruised a foot while carrying a box out of Scanlon Hall when the team was wrapping up workouts at Missouri Western. And then when the season began, it seemed like just about every week there was a new ailment, some more serious than others.
They never caused him to miss a game, but they certainly curtailed his production. He carried just seven times for 19 yards in the season opener against Tennessee, then carried twice for 4 yards the following week against Denver, when he had to leave with an ankle injury.
“Last OTAs, I hurt my heel. I wasn’t showing anybody that I was hurt. Then I hurt myself before the preseason game. Then I got hurt in the second game. It was a struggle up and down,” he said, “right from the beginning of the season.”
It certainly wasn’t the way Charles, a two-time All-Pro, intended to celebrate his two-year contract extension that will earn him an additional $18.1 million through the 2017 season.
The Chiefs understand how important Charles is to a successful season. Nobody else on the roster can change a game as quickly. So to ensure he’s on the field late in the year, when Kansas City hopes to be in the playoff hunt, the teams’ brain trust spent much of the offseason dreaming up ways to keep him healthy, not only in training camp but beyond.
“You want to make sure he is healthy late in the season,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said, “so if that means giving a guy like Knile Davis some reps – whatever you have to do, number one, to keep him healthy for 16 games, and you do that each week.”
Pederson said one of the biggest challenges is noticing when Charles is operating at less than 100 percent. The former Texas standout hates to take time off, even from practice.
“We have to be smart and work with our training staff and our medical staff to just stay in tune,” he said. “Communication is obviously the utmost importance when it comes to those kinds of situations. We have to be smart and give him that proper rest, you know? And he has to communicate with us and tell us when he may be a little banged-up or maybe can’t go here or there.”
For now, Charles feels the best he has in a year, maybe even longer.
As for those new shoes? Well, the star running back doesn’t seem to be taking any chances with so much as a blister. Two days later, he was in a better-fitting pair.
NOTES: The Chiefs waived DE Jerel Worthy and signed former Missouri WR L’Damian Washington. … Practice was moved indoors Tuesday because of lightning in the area. … WR Jeremy Maclin and CB Phillip Gaines briefly left practice with minor injuries. Both returned. … First-round pick Marcus Peters is shining at CB, picking off three passes in practice. He’s competing for a starting job with Sean Smith suspended the first three weeks.
by Ian Harrison, AP
TORONTO (AP) — Both benches and bullpens emptied after Toronto reliever Aaron Sanchez was ejected for throwing at Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar in the eighth inning on Sunday. It was the climax of a game-long spat that began when Royals starter Edinson Volquez hit Josh Donaldson on the left arm in the first inning.
Donaldson and Volquez traded stares and words as the Blue Jays slugger took a slow walk to first base, and home plate umpire Jim Wolf warned both dugouts.
When Donaldson batted again in the third, Volquez missed high and inside with a pitch that sailed to the backstop. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons came out to argue but Volquez was not ejected.
In the seventh, Royals reliever Ryan Madson hit Troy Tulowitzki on the right forearm, then threw high and inside to Donaldson, who stepped out and yelled at Wolf. Gibbons and on-deck hitter Jose Bautista stepped in to break up the argument, and Gibbons was eventually ejected.
After Donaldson struck out, Bautista made it 3-0 with a double to center, and yelled at Madson as he ran to first.
Donaldson and Volquez had to be restrained after Sanchez was ejected for hitting Escobar. Gibbons and Chris Colabello, who had just been replaced for defense, both ran out to join the scrum. Wolf ejected both Sanchez and Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale.
by Dave Skretta, AP
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The massive linebacker with the sweat-drenched biceps insists he never took a day off this offseason, even if he never showed up for one of the Kansas City Chiefs’ workouts.
Early in training camp, it’s easy to believe him.
With his familiar No. 50 stretched across his broad shoulders, Justin Houston has wasted no time in terrorizing quarterbacks again – even if they happened to be his own teammates. While the Chiefs worked out in only shells during the first couple of days, and hitting the QB is always taboo this time of year, more than once Houston could have easily leveled the boom.
“I just made sure about being busy at all times,” said Houston, who often posted videos of his offseason workouts on social media while his representatives worked on a long-term contract.
The deal was consummated just over a week ago, a six-year, $101 million pact.
“I knew the guys here were working, and I knew the strength coaches were going to have these guys in shape,” Houston explained, “so I didn’t want to show up out of shape. Whenever I got that call, I wanted to make sure I was ready.”
The Chiefs will certainly be counting on him.
After piling up a franchise-record 22 sacks a year ago, Houston will have to anchor a defense that is already without two starters for Week 1, and that is getting older by the day.
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, so critical in tying up offensive linemen and giving Houston a clear path to the quarterback, will miss all of training camp and likely part of the season after surgery for a herniated disc. Poe is on campus at Missouri Western, but the 350-pounder is nowhere close to being ready to step onto the practice field.
Then there’s cornerback Sean Smith, who’s suspended the first three games of the regular season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. It was Smith’s ability to lock down the opponent’s top wide receiver that often gave Houston time to get to the quarterback.
“Instantly, it’s kind of like a bulls-eye on your head,” said fellow linebacker Tamba Hali, who was in a similar situation when he signed a big contract a few years ago. “Everybody is going to scrutinize everything you do. Twenty-two sacks? People think that’s easy to do, so if he even gets 12 or 14 sacks, people are going to scrutinize. But that’s hard to do.”
Houston insists he can handle the weight of his massive contract, just as easily as he pushes up the countless plates he puts on the bench-press bar. It doesn’t matter that he will be double-teamed all season, or that the focus of opposing defenses will be squarely on him.
“I’m going to continue to do what I do,” he said. “Be ready for every game, continue to stay focused and continue to work like I’ve been working. Nothing changes.”
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt certainly hopes that’s the case.
After all, he opened his checkbook to write the largest check in franchise history, one that will pay the 26-year-old Houston $52.5 million in guarantees. It is the second-richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history, trailing only the $114 million, six-year deal Ndamukong Suh landed from the Miami Dolphins this past offseason.
“That’s part of today’s NFL,” Hunt said. “Just is a great player. He’s a great leader, he’s great in the community. He’s the type of player we want associated with the Chiefs for the bulk of his career. We always want to reward players we draft, that have grown up in our system.”
Hunt said he wasn’t in touch with general manager John Dorsey on a day-by-day basis, but the value of the contract naturally kept him in tune to negotiations.
Nor was Hunt worried about giving the deal to Houston, who fell from a potential first-round pick to the third round after testing positive for marijuana at the scouting combine. In the years since he was draft, Houston has proven to be the consummate professional.
“He’s turned into a great player,” Hunt said, “and a great leader.”
NOTES: It was Alumni Day at training camp. Among those on hand were former GM Carl Peterson, seven-time Pro Bowl OL Ed Budde and two-time Pro Bowl DT Bill Maas. … WR Albert Wilson had the highlight of the day, torching CB Sean Smith for a long touchdown catch. Smith promptly dropped down and did pushups as punishment for getting beat.