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Crunch time: SEC teams relying on defense - again

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It's the time of year when SEC teams seem to start flexing their defensive muscle. Offenses have deservingly garnered headlines in an age of spread offenses and run-it-up attacks, but the league that built its national championship run on defense has taken another step forward this season: 10 Southeastern Conference teams have allowed fewer yards this year than last and half of the 14 league members are among the country's 30 stingiest in points given up. "There's no question that defense is most important at this time of the year," said LSU coach Les Miles, who won the 2007 national title and played for a second crown in 2011. The sentiment is shared throughout the SEC. It also may be one reason there were six SEC teams in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, four in the top six. No. 3 Alabama (No. 6 CFP) is the country's fifth best defense, giving up about 10 fewer yards a game than in 2013. Seventh-ranked Mississippi (No. 4 CFP) is yielding 305 yards, 65 fewer a game than last season. No. 4 Auburn (No. 3 CFP), No. 9 Georgia (No. 11 CFP) and No. 16 LSU (No. 19 CFP) are all allowing less yards than last season. Ole Miss leads the country with just 10.5 points a game, a decrease of nearly two touchdowns from the 23.7 yielded a year ago. Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Missouri, Auburn and top-ranked Mississippi State (No. 1 CFP) are all in the top 30 of the FBS in that category. "That's just the culture in the SEC," former Texas coach and ESPN analyst Mack Brown said. "That hasn't changed." While TCU's 82-point outburst against Texas Tech gained headlines last week, the SEC answered with a 10-7 defensive struggle with LSU topping Ole Miss. The SEC's defensive push comes during a year after some of its marquee stars on that side of the ball left for the NFL — including South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Alabama's C.J. Mosley and Missouri's Michael Sam left for the pros. Now, others have filled the void. — Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson leads the SEC with 86 tackles for the Vols, who are holding opponents to almost 80 yards less this season than last. — Missouri defensive end Shane Ray picked up where Sam left off, on top in the SEC — and third nationally — with 10 sacks. — Mississippi's Senquez Golson has eight interceptions to tie for most in the country. Not everything's rosy for all SEC defenses. One the league's leading groups the past few years could be found in South Carolina. But the Gamecocks have allowed 38 points a game in its six SEC contests, an increase of 18 points from a year ago and a major reason the Gamecocks went from preseason SEC East favorites to 2-4 in the conference. And then there's Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have managed to win though statistically they are not as strong defensively as they were last year: Mississippi State is last in SEC defense, giving up 90 yards more a game than in 2013. Brian Jones, a former Texas linebacker and current CBS Sports analyst, said the numbers are misleading. He said the Bulldogs offense, led by Heisman Trophy contender Dak Prescott, builds big leads and forces opponents to throw the ball to get back in games, and that skews the numbers. "The key," Jones said, "is what they do in the red zone and the turnovers they get." Tennessee coach Butch Jones thinks improved defense as the season moves on is as much a product of more opponent game film as work on the field. "So, the more video you have out there, the more games you play, the more things you have to game plan," he said. Injuries also can affect teams on top defensively. Ole Miss lost starting linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche to a broken ankle against LSU this past week and won't have him for critical games against Auburn this week and Mississippi State down the road. "You look at the teams that win consistently in November, late October, that go on championship stretch runs," Jones said, "they have great depth." There's also a competition in the league to be considered the SEC's top defense. "I know our defense enjoys playing and wants to be the best," said Vols linebacker-defensive end Curt Maggitt, whose four sacks rank 10th in the SEC. "We play to be the best, and I'm sure other teams could say the same." ___ AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky; David Brandt in Oxford, Mississippi; Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee; and John Zenor in Auburn, Alabama, contributed to this report.

  • icon Posted: October 29

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Wednesday 10/22/2014
LakePoint Sporting Community announces partnership with Atlantic Sun Conference
Updated: October 23, 2014 - 2:09 am

The LakePoint Sporting Community in Bartow County will partner with the Macon-based Atlantic Sun Conference to have a shot at hosting conference championships in lacrosse, baseball and sand volleyball.

Monday 10/20/2014
Manning breaks Favre's mark with 509th TD pass
Posted: October 20, 2014

DENVER (AP) — Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre's NFL record for touchdown passes with No. 509. He didn't stop there, either.

Manning threw four TD passes in Denver's 42-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, two to Demaryius Thomas, one to Wes Welker and another to Emmanuel Sanders.

That gives him 510.

The record-breaker was an 8-yarder to Thomas with 3:09 left in the first half.

Manning's receivers played keep-away with the milestone memento before Manning got the ball and congratulations from his teammates.

Favre sent along his congratulations via a scoreboard video he taped from his home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Manning went into the game with 506 and needed just four drives to break Favre's record.

He threw a 3-yard TD pass to Sanders on Denver's first drive and tied the record when Welker took a pass over the middle for 39 yards. Sanders' score was his first in Denver, and he became the 47th player to catch a TD pass from Manning.

Manning added a 40-yard TD throw to Thomas in the second half.

Manning reached the milestone in his 246th regular-season game. Favre needed 302.

As Manning approached the milestone, Favre told The Associated Press he was thrilled "it's Peyton that's doing it. I think a lot of Peyton. I know him well. I know his family well. His dad was one of my idols."

Favre, who grew up in the Gulf Coast watching Archie Manning and the New Orleans Saints, sent along his well wishes last week to Manning, the only player in NFL history with more MVP awards (five) than his three.

The veneration is mutual.

Saying he appreciated Favre's words of encouragement, Manning suggested that of all the men who have ever taken a snap in the 94-year history of the NFL, "nobody's defined longevity and career toughness more than him."

Favre played in a QB-record 297 straight regular-season games during his 20-year NFL career, plus another two dozen in the playoffs.

"He always answered the bell every single Sunday and was always producing," Manning said. "And growing up in the South, both of us, Brett has always said he was a big fan of my dad's, so there's been kind of a mutual respect there from my family to him, as well. And I always enjoyed watching him play. Nobody played the game quite like he did. He's truly a one-of-a-kind quarterback."

Favre said that were it not for Manning's neck problems at the tail end of his tenure in Indianapolis, Manning might very well have gone on to eclipse his most hallowed mark, the consecutive games streak, and certainly would have obliterated his career touchdowns mark by now.

"I know Peyton missed a year. Aside from that year, he's played just like I did. I mean, he's been out there over and over and over again," Favre said.

Manning's 208-game starting streak ended when he sat out the 2011 season following neck fusion surgery.

With the top pick and Andrew Luck there for the taking, the Colts and Manning had a tearful goodbye. And Manning landed in Denver, where he rejuvenated both his stellar career and a foundering franchise.

In Indy, Manning averaged 1.92 touchdown throws per game. Since joining the Broncos in 2012, he's averaged almost three TD throws a game.

Favre said he enjoys pulling up a chair at his home and watching Manning go to work.

"He's a throwback, a pocket passer, in a mobile quarterback league," Favre said. "Peyton's one of the last guys to play the way he does. And at 38, he's still the best at what he does."


Thursday 10/16/2014
Falcons' Jones, White upset with themselves
Posted: October 16, 2014

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Nobody expected Julio Jones and Roddy White to be a weak link in the Atlanta Falcons' offense.

The former Pro Bowl receivers are having unforeseen problems holding onto the football and running crisp routes.

When the Falcons (2-4) visit Baltimore (4-2) this weekend, they will bring a running game that's struggling for the second straight year and a once-dependable passing attack that can't make basic plays.

Jones and White, both seemingly healthy after an injury-filled 2013, blame themselves for multiple drops.

They each had two in last week's home loss to Chicago. Levine Toilolo, a second-year tight end who replaced legendary Tony Gonzalez, had three.

The offense is also without No. 3 receiver Harry Douglas, who's likely to miss his fourth straight game with an injured foot.

Coach does not expect Gurley to play this week
Posted: October 16, 2014

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia coach Mark Richt expects star tailback Todd Gurley's indefinite suspension to stay in place this week.

No. 10 Georgia plays a Southeastern Conference game at Arkansas on Saturday. The school is investigating allegations of rules violations by Gurley, whose suspension began for last week's 34-0 win at Missouri.

Richt said on his Twitter account early Thursday that he will "try to clear up Todd's status" and "will let you know if his status changes." He added that he's "not anticipating it to change this week."

The school has not released details of the investigation. Richt has said it involves autographs and memorabilia.

Gurley is considered a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and continues to practice with the team.

Wednesday 10/15/2014
Bamacross comes to Gadsden Sports Complex Saturday Oct. 18
Posted: October 15, 2014

GADSDEN, Alabama -- As many as 150 cyclists are expected in Gadsden this weekend for Bamacross, a series of Cyclocross races, at Gadsden Sports Complex of West Meighan Boulevard.

Tuesday 10/14/2014
Softball: Cedartown, Rockmart to kick off state playoffs in Wednesday doubleheaders
Posted: October 14, 2014

The Lady Bulldogs host the first round of the playoffs while the Lady Jackets head to Ringgold to play as state softball kicks off

Volleyball: Lady Jackets to host North Clayton in first round of state tournament
Posted: October 14, 2014

The Rockmart Lady Jackets volleyball team are hosting North Clayton High School Wednesday to kick off the first round of the state playoffs.

Second person tied to Gurley investigation lawyers up
Posted: October 14, 2014

A Cedartown man has retained a lawyer after Georgia’s compliance

Georgia's Gurley still suspended, practices
Posted: October 14, 2014

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Todd Gurley was back at practice for No. 10 Georgia on Monday even though he hasn't been cleared to play.

Thursday 10/09/2014
NFL teams are cranking up the jams
Posted: October 09, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — To get ready to face Richard Sherman and Seattle's ear-piercing 12th man, the Denver Broncos turned to Lil Wayne, Jerimih, Ozzy Osbourne and Pharrell Williams.

Like many other teams, the Broncos have dialed down the old jet engine noise that roared through their concert-sized speakers at practice. Now, like so many teenagers, they crank up the jams to body-shivering, brain-rattling volume.

Led Zeppelin. Nicki Minaj. Ariana Grande.

Teams have long used piped-in sound to make it harder for players on both sides of the ball to communicate. Adding songs — some that players may want to dance to, others that make them cringe — makes them have to concentrate even harder.

Tight end Julius Thomas casually mentioned to Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase this spring that it's harder to concentrate to music. Denver ditched the crowd noise and joined the growing list of teams piping in melodies to mess with their players' minds.

"The white noise is easier to block out," Thomas said. "I think when they play music, it makes it a bit tougher. Just noise isn't as distracting as maybe a song that you recognize. Say you're hearing a song that in your off time you enjoy and you sing along to, when you're able to block that out, then you're able to do your best to block out crowd noise.

"I think it's much better than just AAAHHH! After a while you just stop hearing it," Thomas added.

NFL coaches are sure listening.

Sixteen NFL teams now pump music into their practices and another eight use a mixture of songs and the old crowd noise. Seven still use just the white noise and one team — the Rams — doesn't use any form of noise.

In St. Louis, sometimes players not in formation are told to stand behind the quarterback and shout and jump around.

"I think if you make a big deal of a crowd noise then it becomes a big deal during the game," Rams coach Jeff Fisher explained. "So in camp, we had a few drills in the back of the end zone and that's all we do."

The rest of the league believes practicing in the cacophony is just as important as running plays.

"There's some songs out there that you might want to bob your head to, but you have to stay focused and know what we're doing out there," Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson said.

The Jets use both music and crowd noise, changing the mix depending on the upcoming trip. If it's a particularly tough place to visit like, say, Green Bay, they'll go with more jet engine noise.

For home games, they'll even pump in some "J-E-T-S" chants for their players' benefit.

Broncos coach John Fox can't even name today's top artists but he's a big fan of the blaring music.

"It's not as big a headache as the jet engine noise," Fox said. "I mean, at least it's something that has some semblance, and there's words. I mean, noise is noise. Music is music."

New Orleans center Tim Lelito likes the mixture of music and noise the Saints use.

Players are "more efficient in practice when they play music, but they don't play (just) music when they're on the road," Lelito said. "So you get into the rhythm of the music while you're practicing but there's no rhythm to a fan screaming their lungs out.

Broncos linebacker Nate Irving said if you're going to get your head rattled with decibels, it might as well have a melody. "The noise is irritating already," he said. "But I think the music actually helps you have to focus a little bit more because you know songs. It's a continuous focus."

As anyone who's been to a club or a concert can attest, the energy can rise with the racket, and that also happens when the jams get cranked up at practice, Cowboys center Travis Frederick suggested.

"Some guys like having something different. And when the music's going, they have something else to focus on, something different. Sometimes they use that to try and distract you. Sometimes it's just to keep the energy up," he said.

Thomas said the Broncos use songs from every genre and mix it up so there's no chance of tuning them out.

The only song selection that made him cringe was when "Rocky Top" was cranked up during warmups once and Peyton Manning did a dorky dance to the unofficial anthem of his Tennessee Volunteers while receiver Wes Welker added a hokey hoedown. "I love it," said Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson, a former Vol. "They need to play it every day."

"That's a terrible song," countered Thomas, evidence that one man's tune is another man's torture.


AP Sports Writers Schuyler Dixon, Brett Martel and Dennis Waszak contributed.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

Friday 10/03/2014
Elijah Holyfield emerging as another real deal
Posted: October 03, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — Elijah Holyfield doesn't shy away from contact, has great balance and is hard to bring down.

The high school running back inherited those traits from his father, five-time boxing champion Evander Holyfield. Now, colleges from Ohio State to Georgia are taking notice, especially after the young Holyfield opened this season with a seven-touchdown game.

Only a junior at Woodward Academy, Elijah (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) is emerging as a major national recruit at the Atlanta private school. He already has at least 25 offers. He is rated by Rivals.com as the No. 6 running back in the 2016 class and is No. 32 in Scout.com's ranking.

Evander beamed when talking about his son's success.

"I'm excited about it," Evander said. "I realize, with generations, it's one thing what you did, but how do you inspire your kids to take it to another level? Boxing was my thing but I love football. As my son will tell you, I love football more than boxing. At that time as a kid, I was small, and nobody would give me an opportunity. They gave him an opportunity and he has shown he can do this."

Elijah said he is motivated to earn respect for more than his last name.

"It's one of those things where I feel I have to prove myself even more because people say it's just because of my name that I'm going to get the attention," Elijah said. "I just think my name is just like a place that people can see me, and once they see me they see what I can really do."

The young Holyfield is proving through his play that, just like his dad, he's the real deal.

Woodward Academy coach John Hunt said Elijah stands out due to "just the strength of how he runs."

"Sometimes he almost searches out contact," Hunt said. "He's got really good speed and for someone only 200 pounds, he plays very big, a very physical runner. I think he enjoys that. Maybe that was something he got from his father, I don't know. But he certainly doesn't shy away from contact."

Chad Simmons, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports, also has been impressed by Holyfield's tough runs.

"He runs with good balance and he is a back that can get those yards after contact coaches covet on the next level," Simmons said. "He runs with a good center of gravity, he bounces off would-be tacklers, and he is someone who shows good durability."

Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell said Holyfield "has good size, exceptional vision and runs hard first to last quarter. His upside is impressive and work ethic is off the charts."

Evander attends most of his son's games, sometimes standing on the sideline to avoid attracting attention in the stands.

"I am happy for him and I realize that it brings pressure," Evander said. "The higher you get, you've got more people looking at you. You have to make the adjustment that's necessary. I tell him, you're 16 years old, don't panic. We all make mistakes but you can't let that bring you down."

Elijah has 810 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, leading Woodard Academy to a 4-1 record. He also has two touchdowns on returns and two TD receptions.

Every game brings a different college coach to town. He says coaches from Auburn, Oregon, Georgia and Tennessee have visited this year.

"It's been kind of crazy," he said.

Growing up as the son of one of the world's most famous athletes has given the young Holyfield a guide for handling attention that may continue to grow.

"I think it helps me a lot," he said. "I noticed no matter where we are, sometimes in public places like Six Flags or a game, so many people ask for pictures and he'll sit down and take pictures with everyone. I would ask him 'Don't you ever get tired of that?' He was like 'It's part of my job to be nice to those people.'"

Elijah participated in boxing and football until the eighth grade. He said he was "really good" in boxing but chose to focus on football.

"My dad always said you can do everything but you can only be the best in one thing," he said.

Elijah said he is the most proud of his father's fights that lasted 15 rounds. "I think those were always the testament to how hard he worked," he said.

He's tried to follow his father's example by training harder after a foot injury limited him last year.

"Actually when I was younger he and I used to run together sometimes," Elijah said. "He used to always beat me. Now he won't dare try to run with me. It was real cool to see how hard he worked, even when he was on top.

"I think it helps me now to know if he never stopped working, then I know I can't stop working."


Follow Charles Odum on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CharlesOdum

Atlanta mayor hopes for new Hawks owner by Dec. 31
Posted: October 03, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta's mayor says he hopes the city's NBA team will have a new owner by the end of the year.

Mayor Kasim Reed said Friday that he also got assurance from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last week that the league was committed to keeping the Hawks in Atlanta.

The team has been under fire since racially charged comments by owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry were revealed. Levenson is selling his majority share of the team, and Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence.

Reed says he's spoken with numerous people interested in buying the team and keeping it in Atlanta. He says he expects concrete steps toward the sale of the team to be taken in the coming weeks.

No. 13 Georgia to face QB Freebeck, Vanderbilt
Posted: October 03, 2014

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Vanderbilt and No. 13 Georgia bring different quarterback questions into Saturday's game.

Vanderbilt freshman Wade Freebeck is expected to make his third start as Patton Robinette misses his second straight game with a concussion.

Meanwhile, Georgia coach Mark Richt has fielded questions this week about the possibility senior starter Hutson Mason could share snaps with backup Brice Ramsey.

Mason threw two interceptions in last week's shaky 35-32 win over Tennessee and acknowledged he needs to play with more confidence.

Georgia (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) has leaned on star tailback Todd Gurley's big plays. The Bulldogs have overcome the nation's 111th-ranked passing game to score 45.2 points per game.

Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-3) is looking for its second straight win over Georgia but is a big underdog.

The Commodores have allowed 11 sacks this season, including four in last week's 17-7 loss to Kentucky. Coach Derek Mason said he will make changes to ensure Freebeck has better protection.

Right guard Spencer Pulley said Freebeck wasn't rattled despite taking a lot of hits from Kentucky's defense. "His confidence was the same the whole time, and I thought that was a great thing," Pulley said.

Richt said this week he is open to playing two quarterbacks, as he has earlier in his career. Richt, however, said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo prefers to stick with the starter.

"I was kind of used to it, but over time I don't think Mike felt quite as strong about it, so we kind of got away from it, but it's not a bad thing to do," Richt said.

Hutson Mason said he needs to relax and "rip it" instead of being too cautious with his throws.

He said he wants to make good decisions "but I think there's just got to be a new mindset this week where I just let it fly to the best of my ability. ... I think some of my problem in the past has been putting too much pressure on myself as far as trying to get everything right. I think that kind of has slowed down my ability to play."


Here are some other things to watch for in Saturday's SEC East game:

NO PROMOTION NEEDED: Richt said Gurley's play is the only promotion necessary to generate support for his Heisman Trophy chances. The junior has been receiving consistent mention among Heisman hopefuls. "The Heisman campaign is just watching him do his thing," Richt said. Derek Mason needs no convincing. "He's arguably the best running back in college football," Mason said. "Gurley does it as good as anyone. He's a downhill runner, has great vision, is strong, and reminds me of Adrian Peterson."

WELCOME BACK: It's homecoming for Georgia — and also for many Commodores. Vanderbilt has 18 players from Georgia, more than any other state — even Tennessee (17).

GIVE SIMS THE BALL: Vanderbilt is last in the SEC with only 85 points. Darius Sims is responsible for three touchdowns on returns. He returned two kickoffs for TDs against South Carolina and scored on an interception return for the Commodores' only points against Kentucky. Mason said the Commodores plan to get the ball to Sims.

OPENING DAY: Wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are expected to make their season debuts, providing a boost to the Georgia passing game. Mitchell may be limited. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in last year's opener at Clemson, needed arthroscopic surgery after re-injuring the knee in August and was protected from contact in his return to practice this week. Scott-Wesley also had knee surgery last year and also was recovering from a preseason ankle injury while serving a suspension for a marijuana arrest.

TAILBACK INJURIES: Brendan Douglas, who has only eight carries this season, is expected to play as Georgia's third tailback, behind Gurley and Nick Chubb. Keith Marshall (knee) and Sony Michel (shoulder) are recovering from injuries.


Follow Charles Odum on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CharlesOdum

Thursday 10/02/2014
Gonzalez: No decisions yet on Braves' staff
Posted: October 02, 2014

ZEBULON, N.C. (AP) — Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez says no decisions have been made about his coaching staff's future.

Interim general manager John Hart said Thursday he and Gonzalez met Wednesday and "looked at all facets of the club, and we talked a lot about staff."

Hart says he doesn't know that any moves are "imminent." Gonzalez says he believes "in the next couple days, we'll come up with something."

The Braves are looking for a hitting coach after Greg Walker resigned earlier this week. They lost 18 of their final 25 games and finished under .500 for just the third time in 24 years.

The Carolina Mudcats, located in Zebulon, will become Atlanta's advanced Class A affiliate next season and team officials traveled to the town outside Raleigh to discuss the move.

Cowboys' Spillman investigated in sex assault case
Posted: October 02, 2014

GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) — Dallas Cowboys special teams player C.J. Spillman is under investigation but hasn't been arrested or charged after a report of an alleged sexual assault at the team hotel last month.

Grapevine police spokesman Sgt. Robert Eberling said Wednesday night that the alleged assault took place early Sept. 20 at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center.

The team flew to St. Louis later that Saturday, and Spillman played against the Rams the next day.

He has played in all four games, including last weekend at home against New Orleans. His only tackle of the season came against the Rams. Spillman is listed as a safety but hasn't played defense this season.

Spillman's agent, Ron Slavin, and attorney Bruce Ashworth declined to comment. The Cowboys didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Eberling said no other details were being released because the investigation is ongoing.

The Cowboys signed the 28-year-old Spillman on Sept. 1, two days after the sixth-year player was among the final cuts by San Francisco. The former Louisville defensive back spent most of his first five seasons with the 49ers.

The alleged assault came less than 24 hours after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held a news conference to address concerns about the way the league has handled domestic violence cases.

"Obviously, we see what's going on with the NFL, but these things are very sensitive in nature when it comes to the victim," Eberling said. "We don't release any details involving these type of crimes while they're under investigation."

Goodell and the league were widely criticized over a two-game suspension for Baltimore running back Ray Rice after he knocked out his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator.

The commissioner later acknowledged the punishment was too light and said future first offenses in domestic violence cases would result in six-game bans. When an explosive video surfaced showing Rice punching the woman, he was released by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the league.

The NFL also has been rocked by a pair of assault cases last month that sidelined running backs Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and Jonathan Dwyer in Arizona.

Peterson was indicted in Texas on felony child-abuse charges for using a tree branch, or "switch," to discipline his 4-year-old son.

Dwyer won't play again this season after his arrest on aggravated assault charges. A law enforcement report says he head-butted his wife and broke her nose after she refused his sexual advances, and punched her in the face the next day.

Peterson and Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy are on a paid leave through a special roster exemption granted by the league. Hardy is appealing his conviction in a domestic violence case involving an ex-girlfriend in North Carolina.

San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald is playing after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence at a home he shares with his fiancee. He hasn't been charged.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Wednesday 10/01/2014
FCC will consider petition to ban 'Redskins'
Posted: October 01, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Federal Communications Commission says the agency will consider a petition to ban the Washington Redskins nickname from the public airwaves.

Government: NFL TV 'blackout' rule unsportsmanlike
Posted: October 01, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — For years, football fans have bemoaned the rule barring NFL home games that haven't sold out from being televised in the local market.

Friday 09/26/2014
Stewart unsure if he'll race sprint cars again
Updated: September 26, 2014 - 1:59 pm

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) — For Tony Stewart, there was no greater joy than escaping his everyday life and climbing behind the wheel of a sprint car. He loves the feel, the way they drive, the purity he finds at all the tiny dirt tracks across the country.

When he broke his leg racing his sprint car a year ago, an injury that sidelined him for six months, he was almost defiant in his desire to never give up his hobby. But after the death of Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed when Stewart's car struck him as Ward walked on an upstate New York dirt track on Aug. 9, Stewart may never get back in a sprint car.

"I would say it's going to be a long time before you ever see me in a sprint car again, if ever. I don't have any desire at this moment to get back in a car," Stewart told The Associated Press in his first interview since a grand jury decided he would not be charged in Ward's death.

"If I had the option to go right now to a race, I wouldn't. I don't even know when I'll go to a sprint car race again to watch. I can promise you it's going to be a long time before you ever see me back in one."

Sitting on his couch Thursday night in his Huntersville, North Carolina, home, a sprint car race in Arkansas was on mute on his television. Stewart's eyes were constantly drawn to the action. He can't help himself. It's where he came from, how he made his name and the one form of racing he simply couldn't walk away from, even as he was criticized for jeopardizing his lucrative NASCAR career by messing around in the dirt.

He just couldn't give it up. Not when he became a multi-millionaire and one of NASCAR's biggest names, not after good friend Jason Leffler was killed in a sprint car race last year, and not after his own injury led to three surgeries, a month in bed and forced him to miss NASCAR races for the first time in his career.

Stewart is addicted to the simplicity of sprint car racing, to racing at venues across the country where the crowd is starving for gimmick-free racing. He didn't care that a field full of drivers of varying ages and talent were racing for purses that rarely reach $5,000.

He made it his goal to give back to the sprint car community at every turn, especially after his accident. He improved the part that broke and caused his broken leg, and spent $110,000 on firesuits and helmets for nearly 50 drivers who needed updated safety equipment.

Stewart even paid for the embroidery on the firesuits. His only request? That his Tony Stewart Racing logo be placed in a position that would not be noticed during interviews.

Stewart has been grappling with the decision to leave sprint racing since his 2013 crash at an Iowa dirt track. He'd only returned to sprint car racing one month before Ward's death.

"It's hurt for 16 months to sit and be scrutinized for it," said Stewart, "and to try to give back to a sport that you love, and every time you turn around, you've got to constantly defend yourself for doing something and trying to support something that you believe in and care about."

Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion, spent three weeks in seclusion at his Indiana home after Ward's death and describes those weeks as the darkest of his life.

On the advice of legal counsel, Stewart would not describe what he remembers about the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, but insists what happened "was 100 percent an accident."

Ward and Stewart had been racing for position when Ward crashed, exited his vehicle and walked down the dark track in an apparent attempt to confront Stewart. A toxicology report found Ward also had marijuana in his system.

Ward's family has said "the matter is not at rest," and Stewart may still face a civil lawsuit. Stewart wants to discuss the accident, and said not being able to talk about what happened "keeps me from moving forward. It just stays there, hanging over my head.

"It's just been a really tough six weeks. I went to go have fun for a night, and that's not what ended up happening."

Ward and Stewart didn't know each other, and Stewart doesn't recall them ever talking. He laments that in the scrutiny that followed — some questioned if Stewart had tried to intimidate Ward for stepping on the track — that the loss of the 20-year-old driver and his promising career fell to the background. He said he can't imagine how the Ward family is feeling, doesn't blame them for anything they may say about him, but hopes to someday get the chance to sit with them and talk about that night.

"I would hope they understand — maybe they do, maybe they don't, maybe they never will — that I do care," he said. "I've tried to be respectful of their process of grieving and not push myself on them. I'm sure they have things that they want to know what happened and I think it's important for them at some point to hear it from my point."

Stewart believes his past — previous eruptions have included him throwing a helmet at another car, shouting and shoving matches, and sharply worded dressing downs — has played heavily into how the public has viewed Ward's death. But he doesn't believe he has a problem with anger, and did not have a problem with Ward that evening.

"Anger had nothing to do with what happened that night," Stewart said. "I wasn't angry with anything or anybody."

He is back at NASCAR events after missing three races.

But when not at the track, he barely leaves his house. A day feels like a month. His mind wanders, his emotions get the best of him.

At stake now is a streak of a winning at least one race every year of his Sprint Cup career, and Stewart has just eight more chances this season to get to Victory Lane. It's a mark he can focus on to help his healing, and he insists his heart and his head are up to the challenge.

"If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. There's going to be a lot bigger things at the end of my life that are going to matter more than my Cup career," he said. "But you've got to have goals, you've got to have something to push for, you've got to have a reason we do this.

"It's nice to have something to focus on again."

Wednesday 09/24/2014
Tony Stewart will not face charges in deadly crash
Posted: September 24, 2014

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. (AP) — Prosecutors announced Wednesday that a grand jury had decided against bringing criminal charges against three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart in the August death of a driver at a sprint car race in upstate New York.

Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said the victim, Kevin Ward Jr., was under the influence of marijuana the night of the accident "enough to impair judgment." And he said two videos examined by investigators showed "no aberrational driving by Tony Stewart."

The decision came nearly seven weeks after Stewart's car struck and killed Ward during a dirt track race on Aug. 9. Stewart, the brash and popular NASCAR driver known as "Smoke," spent three weeks in seclusion following what he called a tragic accident before quietly returning to the Sprint Cup circuit. One of the biggest stars in the garage, Stewart has 48 career Cup wins in 542 starts but is winless this year and did not make the championship Chase field.

"This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever," Stewart said in a prepared statement. "While much of the attention has been on me, it's important to remember a young man lost his life. Kevin Ward Jr.'s family and friends will always be in my thoughts and prayers."

Tantillo could have determined the case on his own but last week said he would take it to a grand jury. Experts said it would have been difficult to prove criminal intent, but the prosecutor asked the grand jury to consider charges of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

"There were not 12 votes to either charge," he said.

A call placed to the Ward family's home went unanswered.

Sheriff Philip Povero spent weeks investigating, several times saying investigators did not have evidence to suggest Stewart meant to harm the other driver at the track in tiny Canandaigua. Ward had spun while racing alongside Stewart and then the 20-year-old climbed out of his car and walked down the track, waving his arms in an apparent attempt to confront the 43-year-old NASCAR veteran.

Authorities said the first car to pass Ward had to swerve to miss hitting him. The front of Stewart's car appeared to clear Ward, but Ward was struck by the right rear tire and hurtled through the air. He died of blunt force trauma and his father later told a newspaper there was "no reason" for the death given Stewart's skills and experience.

The sheriff asked in the days after Ward's death for spectators to turn over photos and videos of the crash as investigators worked to reconstruct the accident. Among the things being looked at were the dim lighting, how muddy it was and whether Ward's dark firesuit played a role in his death, given the conditions.

A fan's video was widely circulated after Ward's death, but details of the second video obtained by the sheriff have not been made public.

Stewart, who Povero described as "visibly shaken" after Ward's death, vowed to cooperate in the investigation but he did not testify before the grand jury. He issued a brief statement expressing deep sadness and then dropped off the radar, missing races at Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol before coming back for the Aug. 31 race at Atlanta.

Looking far different then the fiery driver his fans love, Stewart quietly read a statement at a news conference in which he said the death of a driver he hit was "one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with."

"This is something that will definitely affect my life forever," Stewart said then. "This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one has to experience in their life. That being said, I know that the pain and mourning that Kevin Ward's family and friends are experiencing is something that I can't possibly imagine."

Stewart's peers were protective of him as questions emerged in the aftermath of the crash, and it pained them that Stewart was grieving in private and had cut off communication with so many of them. They welcomed him back in Atlanta, and fans gave him a robust cheer, too. Two days later during the race, his No. 14 Chevrolet slammed into the wall twice and Stewart settled for a dismal 41st-place finish.

After Ward's death, NASCAR announced a rule that prohibits drivers from climbing out of a crashed or disabled vehicle — unless it is on fire — until safety personnel arrive. The series also cleared the way for Stewart to make its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a win, despite missing the three races.

Stewart, who is from Columbus, Indiana, has long been one of the most proficient drivers in racing, winning in every kind of series, from sprint cars to the elite Sprint Cup Series. He has for years taken part in little races in nondescript towns because he loves the thrill of the high horsepower, lightweight cars skidding around the dirt.

He rarely made his schedule public, popping up when he pleased, and he was welcome at the clay track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park the night before the NASCAR race in nearby Watkins Glen.

There have been very few criminal prosecutions stemming from incidents that occur during competition.

There have been two cases in the last 14 years in which NHL players were charged for their actions on the ice. Marty McSorley was convicted of assault with a weapon for hitting Donald Brashear with a stick during a 2000 game, and Todd Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm for punching Colorado's Steve Moore in 2004.

But it's extremely rare for incidents during auto races to bring police scrutiny and Povero emphasized that his was an "on-track crash investigation."

Research by The Associated Press dating to 2003 turned up no cases in which a driver was charged for his role in an on-track incident. Team owner James Sink was found guilty of misdemeanor assault of driver Maynard Peters after a bloody 2005 post-race fight in North Carolina. In 2003, NASCAR driver Jimmy Spencer was under investigation for assault after punching Kurt Busch in the face following a race at Michigan, but Busch asked for his complaint to be dropped.

Legal experts believe the case against Stewart would have been very difficult to prove.

"Death happens in a very dangerous sport, and this was driver vs. driver and Ward stepped on the track," said David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami who is now in private practice. "The only person who really knows what happened is Tony Stewart, and it's impossible for a prosecutor to get inside his head."


Fryer reported from Charlotte, North Carolina. Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Tuesday 09/23/2014
What's next for the Braves after firing GM Wren
Posted: September 23, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, the Atlanta Braves are searching for a general manager.

Frank Wren was fired Monday with a week to go in the regular season, taking the fall for a late-season collapse that knocked the Braves out of playoff contention.

This will be only the sixth time in the last 23 completed seasons that the Braves missed the postseason, with a team that will be remembered mostly for its feeble offense. A few hours after Wren's dismissal, the Braves lost to Pittsburgh 1-0 for their 15th defeat in 19 games — and sixth shutout during that span.

With the Braves preparing to move to suburban Cobb County in 2017, corporate owners Liberty Media are surely aware that attendance is in danger of finishing at its lowest point since 1991. They will want a GM who can quickly overhaul the roster to make sure the team cashes in on its new stadium.

Here are things to watch for as the Braves begin their search for a general manager:

SEARCH COMMITTEE: The hiring will be conducted by a three-man committee comprised of team president John Schuerholz, interim general manager John Hart and retired manager Bobby Cox. All three have extensive GM experience, though there are questions about the lack of youth on the panel. Schuerholz and Cox are both 73, while Hart is 66. Are they out of touch with some of the newer player-evaluation techniques? "We are well-represented there," Schuerholz insisted. "Our baseball world has turned to that. We are analyzing numbers as much as we analyze a guy being able to backhand a ball and throw somebody out at first base. We're doing that. It's part of our world now. We'd be silly not to have an open mind about it."

POSSIBLE CANDIDATES: The most obvious candidate is Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who began his career in the Braves' organization. But he has two years left on his contract, is a native of Kansas, grew up a Royals fan, and is hugely popular for taking a long-downtrodden franchise to the brink of its first postseason since 1985. Also keep an eye on Braves assistant general manager John Coppolella, who would be another popular pick within the organization. Hart could also be in the running, but he seems more of a fallback position given his age and desire to remain a Braves adviser who doubles as an analyst for the MLB Network.

THE CLOCK IS TICKING: If the Braves don't hire a new GM in the final week of the regular season, which seems unlikely, they would likely have to wait until after the playoffs. Major League Baseball has a rule against major news being announced during the postseason, though a team can ask for a waiver. The Braves would surely like to have someone in place by the general manager's meetings, which will be held Nov. 10-12 in Phoenix. Then come the winter meetings, which are set for Dec. 8-11 in San Diego. Hart noted that the Braves must also be mindful of other teams in the market for a new GM, a list that includes only Atlanta and Arizona at the moment but could get longer after the season.

ROAD BLOCKS FOR THE NEXT GUY: The Braves are no longer one of baseball's biggest-spending teams, ranking around the middle of the pack this season with a total payroll of about $110 million. The next GM will deal with the financial challenge of retooling the roster while saddled with $13 million for the final year of Dan Uggla's contract (even though he's not even on the team anymore), along with three more seasons for B.J. Upton's $75.25 million, five-year deal. Liberty Media is unlikely to raise the payroll much until the Braves move into their new stadium. "Life is full of challenges," Schuerholz said. "Intelligent and brilliant and hard-working people find answers to challenges."

FREDI'S FUTURE: Once a new GM is in place, the first big decision will be deciding if Fredi Gonzalez returns as manager. That seems likely, given he has led the Braves to two playoff appearances and an NL East title in four years as a manager. Also working in his favor: he shouldn't be blamed for the feeble offense that Wren assembled and has strong support from the previous manager. "I think Fredi has done a remarkable job since taking over for me," Cox said.


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