RB Lewis fighting size stigma for spot in backfield


RB Lewis fighting size stigma for spot in backfield

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- At various times, Dion Lewis has been compared to Brian Westbrook, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. So why was he still on the board in the fifth round of the 2011 draft?

Blame the numbers. At the Scouting Combine, he was measured at 5-foot-6 and one half inches tall, an inch and one-half shorter than his listed height of 5-8. He then ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds, a half second slower than expected.

The number Lewis hoped would go up (his height) went down and the number he hoped would go down (his 40 time) went up. As a result, a running back projected by some draft analysts as a second round pick tumbled to the 149th selection overall.

Yeah, it was a little disappointing, Lewis said following Sundays rainy practice at the Eagles training camp, but I believe everything happens for a reason.

Lewis is now in the thick of the competition for a spot in the Eagles backfield. He got more touches than any other running back (11) in Thursdays preseason opener against Baltimore and made a favorable impression.

Two things jumped out, said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. One, the young man can run with the football and, two, he can block. Hell pick up a blitzer and protect the quarterback. He is still in the learning curve, but we like what weve seen so far.

Lewis missed several days of practice with a sore hamstring, but he is making up for lost time. In the 13-6 win over the Ravens, he rushed for 26 yards and turned a short pass into a 16-yard gain with some nifty running. He flashed the quickness that had the University of Pittsburgh touting him as a Heisman Trophy candidate this time last year.

I felt like I did all right once I got the jitters out, Lewis said. The game was a lot faster than college. I heard people say that and its true. But the more I play and the more reps I get, Ill get more comfortable.

On Thursday, Lewis will be getting his reps against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field where he starred for the Pitt Panthers the last two seasons. How many tickets will he need for his homecoming? Twenty? Thirty? More?

Just two, for my parents, he said.

Lewis is quiet and low-key. He is much different than LeSean McCoy, the other Pitt product who is the Eagles No. 1 back. McCoy is gregarious and cocky. He was that way even as a rookie. Lewis, by contrast, measures every word.

When McCoy left Pitt for the NFL in 2009, Lewis stepped in. As good as McCoy was, Lewis was even better. He rushed for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns, topping the Pitt freshman records set by the great Tony Dorsett in 1973.

Lewis was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, making him the first player to win both honors in the same season since Michael Vick in 1999. It was a stunning debut for a kid who got only one scholarship offer from a BCS school and that was the one from Pitt.

Now they are on the same team -- McCoy entrenched as the starter entering his third pro season and Lewis as the rookie trying to earn a job. The Eagles have a lot of backs with McCoy, ex-Dolphin Ronnie Brown, Eldra Buckley and rookies Lewis, Graig Cooper and Derrick Locke. That doesnt even count the fullbacks, Owen Schmitt and Stanley Havili, plus Chad Hall who can line up in the backfield if needed.

It is a crowded picture, but Lewis has the inside track among the rookies because of his versatility. He can be a change-of-pace back, a third down receiver and a kick returner. With the way the Eagles like to spread the field, it makes a shifty ball carrier like Lewis very effective.

The label on Lewis -- too small -- really isnt true. He is short but solidly built. He is thick through the legs and strong in the upper body. Physically, he resembles Brian Westbrook. Lewis is an inch or two shorter than Westbrook, but he has a similar frame. One pre-draft scouting report said Lewis had legs like fire hydrants on springs.

Lewis was a linebacker at Blair High School in New Jersey. He spent hours in the weight room at Pitt. He was bench pressing 360 pounds and squat lifting 500. He did most of his running between the tackles and coach Dave Wannstedt compared him to Emmitt Smith, who set the NFL rushing record in Dallas. Wannstedt was an assistant on the Dallas staff.

Dion is tough like Emmitt, Wannstedt told the Sporting News after Lewis freshman year. Emmitt would make a lot of guys miss after contact. Emmitt was the same Week 1 and Week 16. I think that Dion has those same type of qualities.

Lewis has heard the questions about his size forever. Thats why he had only one big-time college scholarship offer. Thats why he fell so far in the draft. It doesnt bother him anymore because he has consistently proven that in his case size really doesnt matter.

Ive been playing football since I was six-years-old, Lewis said. Ive always been short, but it never held me back. I know this is the NFL, but at the end of the day its still football. I love the game and I love to compete.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games


MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance


NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance


TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years


NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

NEW YORK -- A person familiar with the negotiations says the New York Jets made a three-year offer to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in March that includes $12 million guaranteed in the first year.

That offer has remained on the table for Fitzpatrick, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is commenting publicly on the negotiations.

The New York Post first reported the terms of the offer Friday.

Fitzpatrick and the Jets have been locked in a contract stalemate. The 33-year-old quarterback is a free agent and coming off a season in which he threw a Jets-record 31 touchdown passes and led New York within a victory of the playoffs.

Both the Jets and Fitzpatrick have said they would like a reunion, but have unable to agree on a deal.

Bears: First-round pick Leonard Floyd agrees to deal
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears and first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd have agreed to a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year.

The Bears drafted the outside linebacker from Georgia with the ninth pick after trading up two spots in a deal with Tampa Bay. Chicago hopes he will add some athleticism to a team trying to build on a 6-10 season. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound Floyd led the Bulldogs in sacks for the third straight year with 4 , and tied for the team lead with 10 1/2 tackles for loss last season.

With the announcement Friday, the Bears have agreed to contracts with eight of their nine picks. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard, a third-rounder, is the exception.

NFL: Navy's Reynolds, Carter can defer military service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Keenan Reynolds will get his chance to play in the NFL this season.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Friday that the record-setting Navy quarterback Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain can defer their military service to play in the NFL.

Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech to the academy in Annapolis. As students cheered the news about their graduating classmates, Carter said: "Go get 'em."

Reynolds was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He is the NCAA's career leader in touchdowns with 88. He had 31 touchdown passes while leading Navy's triple-option offense. The Ravens plan to use him as a running back, receiver and kick returner.

Swain has signed with the San Diego Chargers (see full story).

Redskins: Activists criticize poll on team name
WASHINGTON -- Native American leaders and activists have criticized a recent US national poll that found nine of 10 Native Americans aren't offended by the Washington Redskins' name.

On a conference call held Friday by the National Congress of American Indians and "Change the Mascot" campaign, panelists voiced opposition to a Washington Post poll that surveyed 504 Native Americans, 90 percent of whom said the name doesn't bother them.

James Fenelon, a California State San Bernardino sociology professor, called the poll "immoral," adding it was not representative of Native American communities. Amanda Blackhorse, lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Redskins, said the "misguided" poll will not affect attempts to change the name.

National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata said: "This issue is not about polling. This issue is about human rights."

D.C. council member David Grosso said he hadn't been swayed and that the government would not support the team moving back into the District unless the name was changed.

The team currently plays its home games in Maryland, with its headquarters and training facility in Virginia.