A tearful Hines Ward announces his retirement

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A tearful Hines Ward announces his retirement

From Comcast SportsNet
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Hines Ward believes he can still play football. The longtime Pittsburgh wide receiver known for his high-wattage smile and his bone-crunching blocks just couldn't stomach the thought of doing it in some strange uniform on some strange field with nary a Terrible Towel in sight. "I just wouldn't feel right," Ward said. So rather than play for a 15th season -- and his first outside the Steel City -- a tearful Ward opted to retire on Tuesday and secure a legacy unmatched in the franchise's long history. "I can say I'm a Steeler for life and that's the bottom line, that's all I've really ever wanted," Ward said. Ward holds every significant franchise receiving record, including receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. His 1,000 career catches rank eighth all time and he is one of two players with at least 1,000 receptions and two Super Bowl rings. The decision comes three weeks after the 36-year-old was released by the Steelers in a salary cap maneuver. Ward says he was contacted by several clubs but never had any formal discussions. He insists there are no hard feelings for his release, understanding that football is a business. As if to prove the point, Ward embraced Steelers owner Art Rooney II after stepping away from the podium following the announcement. "Thank you (Mr. Rooney) for giving a small town boy from Forest Park, Ga., a chance," Ward said. The former third-round pick out of Georgia was due to make 4 million next season, an expensive option for a player whose role diminished significantly in 2011 when he finished with 46 receptions, the fewest since his rookie season in 1998. He embraced his role as mentor to Pro Bowlers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown even though he knew they were chewing into his playing time. "I know the wideouts are going to be in great hands," he said. "They're full of talent." And they're part of an offense that didn't exist when Ward made his debut 14 years ago. He spent most of his first three seasons blocking for running back Jerome Bettis, something he did better than any receiver in the league. Over time, the Steelers evolved from the grind-it-out attack that has been the club's identity for decades. Ward's breakout season came in 2001 when he set a franchise record with 94 receptions then obliterated that mark in 2002 when he finished with 112 catches. He made four straight Pro Bowls from 2001-2004 and seemed to get better as he aged. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2006 Super Bowl after catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory over Seattle, the franchise's first championship in 26 years. The Steelers added a second title in 2009 to give them six, more than any other team in the league. Ward hoped to get the Steelers their seventh Lombardi Trophy but didn't catch a pass in a 29-23 overtime loss to Denver in the wild card round of last year's playoffs. Only one pass came his way, a dart down the sideline by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during Pittsburgh's final drive in regulation. Denver cornerback Champ Bailey swatted the ball to the ground and Ward walked off the field and into the unknown. The former "Dancing With the Stars" champion could have a lucrative postseason career in front of a camera -- he worked the red carpet during the Oscars -- but he maintained after his release he could still contribute. He still does. "I feel like I have a few more good years in me left, Ward said. "I would love nothing more to get back to the Super Bowl." He wasn't willing to do it, however, outside Pittsburgh. "I want to go down as one of the greats to wear the black-and-gold and that's how it should end," Ward said. Ward laughed when asked if he could go into coaching one day, taking a jab at coach Mike Tomlin, who isn't sure how Ward's passion would play in the locker room. One of the most respected players in the league because of his contributions on and off the field, Ward leaves a void that will be difficult to fill. "On behalf of the NFL players, I want congratulate Hines on an extraordinary career," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said. "I know he will continue to be a leader and example to our men." Ward's already started by urging Wallace to do what he can to remain with the Steelers. "I told Mike you may get a chance to go other places but there's not another place like Pittsburgh," Ward said. Certainly not for Ward. His No. 86 jersey has long been one of the team's top sellers, and his blue-collar attitude rang true to a fan base where hard work is a way of life. Ward understands the unique relationship the Steelers have with the city and to tarnish it by making a last-gasp attempt to pad his career stats didn't interest him. "I want my legacy here to say, you know what he was one hell of a football player who gave it his all," Ward said. "I'm truly blessed. I played in three Super Bowls, won two Super Bowls, was Super Bowl MVP ... what more could a player want out of his entire football career?"

Will Likely a two-way starter on Terps' Week 1 depth chart

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Will Likely a two-way starter on Terps' Week 1 depth chart

We heard Will Likely would be utilized on the offensive side of the ball this season, but we weren't sure in what fashion.

Well, first-year head coach DJ Durkin apparently has big plans for the All-Big Ten defensive back, who was listed as a starter on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball when the Terps put out their Week 1 depth chart Monday.

In addition to being the No. 1 starter at nickel back, Likely is also listed as a co-starter at one of the wide receiver positions.

And while Maryland's depth chart didn't list starting return men, you'd have to figure Likely will be the featured player there, as well.

That's quite the workload for the guy who returned to College Park for his senior season.

Of course, there's little doubt that Likely is Maryland's best player. Durkin is going to make sure he gets the most out of Likely this season.

The Terps open their season Saturday against Howard.

Adam Eaton shakes off bruised forearm, returns to White Sox lineup

Adam Eaton shakes off bruised forearm, returns to White Sox lineup

DETROIT -- He’d already made out the lineup card for Monday, but Robin Ventura wanted to check in on Adam Eaton.

It’s not often Eaton voluntarily leaves a game as he did Sunday.

So even though the preliminary report was that Eaton was cleared, the White Sox manager held a 60-second conversation with his outfielder before the opener of a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers. As he suspected, Eaton, who left in the fifth inning of Sunday’s win with a bruised right forearm, reported he felt fine.

“I was waiting around to see what he felt like, but yesterday he couldn’t grip anything,” Ventura said. “Today it’s good enough for him to play. He’s been able to battle through some stuff, and he can play with pain, so I’m going to let him do it.

“You know it takes a lot for him to come out of a game, and it takes a lot for him to show up the next day and not be in it. There’s very few times he has come in and said he couldn’t go. It would have to be pretty bad for him to not be in there.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Eaton -- who is hitting .276/.359/.412 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs -- joked he normally plays at about 75 percent for most games. He suggested that number dropped by one percent after Taijuan Walker hit him with a pitch and caused swelling in the fourth inning. Eaton stayed in the game until the bottom of the fifth and later had X-rays of his forearm taken, which proved negative. He said he didn’t have much strength in the area on Sunday, but it wasn’t an issue on Monday.

“Nothing broke, nothing major just a lot of swelling,” Eaton said. “I don’t like to leave games at all. It’s no offense to anybody else. But if I’m in the game I want to stay in the game. I don’t want to be Wally Pipp’d. It has always been my mindset and still is. I couldn’t really raise the bat up all that efficiently and we had a healthy Shuck. Let him go up there and compete. I hate coming out of the game, but sometimes you have to. I respect (Ventura) for getting me back in there right away and I guess, trusting in me that I’m all right and good enough to play.”

One reason Eaton pressed to play -- he’s not ready to give in. The leadoff man knows the odds are heavily against the possibility of a White Sox postseason berth. But isn’t ready to concede just yet.

“We’re not out of it until they say we’re out of it,” Eaton said. “There’s been teams down seven or 10 games and the last month of September have won 20 something games and forced a one-game playoff and gotten to the playoffs and been hot at the right time and made a good push. We’re not counting ourselves out and we want to continue to play good baseball.”

After 'year off,' Mike Denbrock ready to develop Notre Dame's next crop of WRs

After 'year off,' Mike Denbrock ready to develop Notre Dame's next crop of WRs

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame faced a similar question in 2014 it faces now: Who’s going to catch the ball?

Two years ago, Notre Dame entered the season having lost 70 percent of its receptions, 74 percent of its receiving yards and 78 percent of its receiving touchdowns from the 2013 season. The answer to the question turned out to be a guy who only had six catches as a freshman the previous year — Will Fuller.

Notre Dame might or might not have another breakout candidate like Fuller on its roster this year. But there’s a constant between 2014 and 2016: wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock.

The Irish are without Fuller (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 touchdowns), who became a first-round pick of the Houston Texans after turning pro earlier this year, along with Chris Brown (48 catches, 597 yards, four touchdowns), Amir Carlisle (32 catches, 355 yards, one touchdown) and Corey Robinson (16 catches, 200 yards, one touchdown) at the receiver position.

Add in the losses of running back C.J. Prosise (26 catches, 308 yards, one touchdown) and tight ends Alize Jones (13 catches, 190 yards) and Chase Hounshell (one catch, six yards), and Notre Dame has to replace 82 percent of its 2015 receptions, 87 percent of its receiving yards and 84 percent of its receiving touchdowns this fall.

“It’s like starting over,” Denbrock said. “Last year was kind of a little bit of a year off for me, quite frankly. I mean, I had guys that had heard me say the same things for three years and had kind of got used to being out there in the fray and doing it. Now it kind of regenerates itself and we start all over again, which for me is kind of exciting.

“I love the challenge, I love the dynamic of the group. I love their attention to trying to do things the right way, we’re just a little bit inexperienced and we’re learning how to do things the right way.”

Denbrock is in his fifth year coaching Notre Dame’s wide receivers (he spent 2010 and 2011 as the Irish tight ends coach and helped develop Tyler Eifert there, too) and has overseen that regeneration of a receiving corps after the losses of three go-to options in Michael Floyd, T.J. Jones and Fuller. And while an offense requires all its units — quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen — working together to succeed, it’s worth noting Notre Dame’s passing S&P+ rankings since Denbrock took over the Irish receivers:

2012: fifth

2013: 15th

2014: 13th

2015: eighth

Even if you might view some of those rankings as a bit bullish — like 2012’s, which seems high for a year in which Notre Dame deployed a conservative run-first offense — they’re solid evidence of Denbrock’s success in developing reliable pass-catchers.

“He's someone that doesn’t take anything less than what you can give,” redshirt junior receiver and captain Torii Hunter Jr. said. “He expects you to give 100 percent all the time. He just wants you to max out your potential, whatever it may be. And I’m grateful for the type of coach that he is because he never lets us get away with half-done.”

Of course, it helps that Notre Dame has recruited exceedingly well at the receiver position over the last few years. Jones, DaVaris Daniels, Corey Robinson, Fuller, Hunter, Corey Holmes, Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, C.J. Sanders, Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley were all Rivals four-star recruits, while three-star recruit Chris Brown developed into a rock-solid player and fellow three-star prospect Kevin Stepherson impressed during spring and preseason camp (he's expected to play against Texas despite his arrest earlier this month).

While coach Brian Kelly said he’s “concerned” and that all those inexperienced receivers — St. Brown, Sanders, Boykin, Holmes, Claypool, McKinley, Stepherson and ex-walk-on Chris Finke — are “suspects,” he has an immense amount of trust in Denbrock. The two have coached together for 16 non-consecutive seasons, with Denbrock serving as both an offensive and defensive coordinator, a tight ends coach, a wide receivers coach and an associate head coach. Denbrock, too, has coached offensive line and linebackers at various stops in his 30-year coaching career.

“He knows the offense and the system and he knows what I look for and what I'm trying to do, and so it's a great relationship because I don't have to micromanage him,” Kelly said. “All I have to do is kind of say, this is the direction I would like to go, and he's off and running.

“So any time you have that, and a longstanding relationship with somebody that knows exactly where you want to go, it allows to you do so many other things and it allows me to help coach some of the players at a level, a grass roots level that sometimes the head coach doesn't get a chance to do.”

There’s been some inconsistency with players during practice in August, but that’s to be expected with such a green group.

“He’s on us hard,” St. Brown said. “He knows he has to be harder than ever because we have a young group of receivers.”

But why should 2016, even with all the uncertainty surrounding that position, be any different? There’s that saying that you should never bet against a streak. And Denbrock is on a pretty good streak.

“I just think you gotta be very consistent and very demanding with what you ask them to do and not let their youthfulness be an excuse for not playing at the level they should play at,” Denbrock said. “They get it, they understand it, and they’re growing.”