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    Times wires
    Wednesday, December 5, 2012

    Negotiations to end the 82-day NHL lockout took some unexpected turns Wednesday.

    There was the podium set up for a news conference that did not happen. The podium even had its own Twitter feed. There was talk the league for the first time since 1971 could play games on Christmas.

    And there was the unexpected sight of players association senior counsel Steve Fehr sharing pizza with reporters assembled at a New York hotel while the league and union tried to forge a new collective bargaining agreement that would save the threatened season.

    Neither side was forthcoming as to what was discussed, though there were sketchy media reports that a 10-year deal was being examined with an out clause that either side could exercise after eight years.

    One thing was sure: The second consecutive day of face-to-face talks between six owners, including the Lightning's Jeff Vinik, and a group of 17 players, down one from Tuesday's discussions but including Tampa Bay's Marty St. Louis and B.J. Crombeen, was intense.

    It included offers, counteroffers and players scurrying between rooms during internal discussions. The talks broke up around 12:45 a.m. The Jets' Ron Hainsey, speaking for the union, said the sides had "very candid discussions" and would resume talking later today.

    The NHL also held a board of governors meeting Wednesday.

    For the second consecutive day, neither commissioner Gary Bettman nor players association executive director Donald Fehr attended the negotiating sessions, though they were at the hotel and believed part of the discussions within their constituencies.

    At issue is the players' demand that all current contracts be honored even as their share of revenue is expected to plunge to 50 percent from 57 percent.

    Owners also want contracts subsequent to entry-level deals capped at five years and unrestricted free agency at age 28 or after eight years in the league. The old labor deal allowed it at age 27 or seven years in the league. Revenue sharing between the teams also is an issue.

    The day began around 10 a.m. with the board of governors meeting. That lasted about two hours and was followed by Bettman saying he was "pleased" with the latest negotiating process.

    Bettman declined to take questions at a news conference.

    "We are pleased with the process that is ongoing, and out of respect for that process, I don't have anything else to say," he said.

    Some executives spoke briefly as they scurried on New York streets and hopped into cars. No details emerged, but the mood seemed positive.

    "We feel good about the information we got," new Blue Jackets president John Davidson said.

    The Maple Leafs' Larry Tanenbaum, also one of the owners participating in the negotiations, also painted an optimistic picture as he walked the few blocks to the hotel hosting the meetings.

    "We're going to continue to talk up until we get a deal," he said. "All I can say is as long as we're talking, we're hopeful."

    Information from Times wires was used in this report.

    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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  • 12/05/12--20:26: Reports: Two reject Vols
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, December 5, 2012

    Tennessee offered its coaching job to Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Louisville's Charlie Strong on Wednesday, according to media reports.

    Both said no.

    The Volunteers, who seek to replace the fired Derek Dooley, talked to Gundy on Wednesday morning, cbssports.com reported. He declined. Terms of the offer were not reported.

    Gundy, 45, unavailable for comment, is a former Oklahoma State quarterback and its winningest coach at 66-35 over eight seasons. He signed a four-year extension after last season.

    The Vols then turned to Strong. After a few hours, he also declined, si.com, cbssports.com and espn.com reported. Tennessee offered $3.5 million annually, espn.com reported. He currently makes about $2.3 million.

    All three reported that Strong, a former defensive coordinator at Florida who is 24-14 over three seasons at Louisville, will sign an extension with the Cardinals in the near future.

    Strong, 52, declined comment, saying he will first address his team. But one player seemed confident Strong would stay. "All I'm gonna say is I'm not worried about my coach," center Mario Benavides tweeted after a team meeting Wednesday. "We are a family."

    More coaching news: FIU fires Cristobal

    MIAMI — Florida International fired coach Mario Cristobal after six seasons. Cristobal was an offensive lineman at Miami from 1989-92, including two national title teams.

    The Panthers, who began playing in 2002, hired him in 2007 after going winless the previous season. He went 27-47 but led FIU to its first bowl games in 2010 and 2011.

    Before this season, the Sun Belt coaches predicted FIU would win the conference title. But it went 3-9, athletic director Pete Garcia calling the season "a total collapse."

    Cristobal, 42, said he was "sad" and "stunned."

    "We did a lot of good things," he said. "We graduated kids. We sent kids to the NFL. We turned a lot of things around. We had one bad year."

    FSU loses assistant: Florida State defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot will follow Mark Stoops to Kentucky to become defensive coordinator. Stoops was FSU's defensive coordinator before taking the UK job Nov. 27.

    California: Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes was hired, replacing the fired Jeff Tedford. Dykes went 22-15 over three seasons with the Bulldogs, including 9-3 this season.

    Colorado: Cincinnati coach Butch Jones called a Denver Post report saying he has agreed to take over "absolutely false."

    Purdue: Darrell Hazell, who coached Kent State to its first winning season since 2001, was hired. Hazell, who replaces the fired Danny Hope, went 16-9 in his two seasons there.

    Wisconsin: Barry Alvarez, the coach from 1990-2005 before becoming AD, will lead it at the Rose Bowl, reported the Wisconsin State Journal, which added the captains asked him to do so. Bret Bielema left for Arkansas on Tuesday. A successor has not been named.

    Rutgers sues Big East

    Rutgers filed a lawsuit against the Big East, trying to avoid paying a $10 million exit fee as it heads for the Big Ten. Big East bylaws call for the payment and 27 months' notice. The suit says the Big East has selectively enforced that, citing deals with Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and TCU.

    ACC honors: Coaches voted Florida State end Bjoern Werner the ACC's defensive player of the year. Werner, also the media's defensive player of the year, also is one of five Seminoles on the coaches' all-conference first team. (Team, 2C)

    Awards: South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, who had a school-record 13 sacks, won the Ted Hendricks, the first sophomore named the nation's top defensive end. Werner was a finalist. … Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert won the John Mackey as the top tight end. He caught 44 passes for 624 yards and four touchdowns. Teammate Manti Te'o won the Lombardi Award as top lineman or linebacker. The Heisman finalist had 103 tackles and seven interceptions. Their coach, Brian Kelly, was named coach of the year in a vote by ABC and ESPN analysts. He also won in 2009 while with Cincinnati.

    Draft: Cal receiver Keenan Allen will skip his senior season. He caught 61 passes for 737 yards and six touchdowns over nine games.

    Tulsa AD out: Tulsa fired AD Ross Parmley a week after he was named in a federal investigation of Teddy Mitchell, who is accused of running a gambling ring in Oklahoma City. In court documents, Parmley is described as an "admitted gambler with Mitchell."

    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    For just the second time this season, a Bucs home game will be televised in the Tampa Bay area.

    The Bucs have sold the requisite number of tickets to lift the local TV blackout for Sunday's game against the Eagles.

    The game has long been one of the best selling contests of the season, featuring an opponent with a big fanbase and the 10-year reunion of the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl championship team.

    The possibility of a sellout still exists. The Bucs said only a limited number of tickets remain for the contest.

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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    TAMPA — Bucs DT Gerald McCoy was 14 when Tampa Bay won Super Bowl XXXVII, and the memories remain for the longtime Bucs fan even if he didn't actually see the game.

    Raised in a church-going family, McCoy's mother would not permit him to skip the evening service on Jan. 26, 2003. So McCoy did the next-best thing.

    "Me and the pastor's son — I didn't want to get in trouble — so I said, 'Hey, run to your dad's office and turn the TV on,' " McCoy said. "So he'd run to the office and say, 'The score is this and this.' Then I'd say, 'Now, go check again.' He came back and said, 'They won!' That's how I stayed updated on the score."

    The Bucs will honor that championship team with a 10-year reunion at halftime of Sunday's home game against the Eagles. Limited tickets remain, the team said Thursday; enough were sold to have the game televised in the Tampa Bay area.

    A majority of the championship team's players and some of its coaches have confirmed their attendance, and McCoy — a huge Warren Sapp fan — can't wait.

    He's not alone. WR Mike Williams said he wears No. 19 because he patterned himself after Keyshawn Johnson, a receiver on the championship team.

    "I told him on the phone the other day that I'm the best 19," Williams joked.

    Coach Greg Schiano also has memories of the championship Bucs. While he was on the staff at the University of Miami, several Hurricanes assistants often visited Tampa to spend time with then-Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. And Schiano implemented many Bucs tactics in his schemes at Miami and, later, Rutgers.

    "These guys are guys that I, as a younger coach, studied the Tampa defense wherever I've been," Schiano said. "If I was at Miami or when I was at Rutgers, I was obsessed with the Tampa defense. Every tape they had, I put on our system. To see those players … and the coaches that will be around, I think it's going to be good."

    But ever the coach, Schiano stressed that for him, the focus Sunday is winning.

    "We have a job to do," he said. "The worst thing we could do is have all those guys back on their commemorative weekend and not go out and do our job. We want to make our alumni proud of how we coach and how we play. That's just another piece of the goal this weekend, to go out and get a win."

    MILLER OUT? With the Bucs preparing for hot-handed Eagles rookie RB Bryce Brown, Tampa Bay's primary run-stopping defensive lineman was nowhere near the practice field for the second straight day Thursday.

    DT Roy Miller sustained a head injury against the Broncos on Sunday and has not been cleared to return to practice. Schiano wouldn't say whether Miller sustained a concussion. He did say Miller was being evaluated by the medical staff according to guidelines established by the NFL for head injuries.

    "There's a whole protocol that our trainers and doctors go through," Schiano said. "I don't know exactly where we stand. … I'll do whatever they tell us. If he's available, (he'll play)."

    Brown has rushed for 347 yards in his first two starts, coming in the Eagles' past two games.

    Bucs WR Vincent Jackson (calf) and RB D.J. Ware (illness) practiced with no limitations.

    FOOD FOR THOUGHT: In a Time magazine article addressing commissioner Roger Goodell and player safety, Goodell shared an idea floated by Schiano to eliminate kickoffs, which are documented as one of the more dangerous aspects of the game.

    Schiano's solution would replace kickoffs with this: After a team scores, it would get the ball at its 30-yard line with a fourth and 15. The team could punt or go for a first down.

    The NFL has raised the prospect of eliminating kickoffs before, but this is a new twist.

    Schiano's interest in the subject appears linked to the injury sustained by his former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, who was injured on a kickoff and paralyzed in 2010.

    Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

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    By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    NASHVILLE — Coming off a career-worst season, there are a lot of things 1B James Loney can do to improve.

    But Rays officials say they'll be quite happy if he just gets back to what he used to do, working counts, hitting line drives rather than trying for homers and showing his dazzling glove.

    "He's a hitter first, power second, and we're fine with that," executive VP Andrew Friedman said of Loney, 28, whose one-year, $2 million signing became official Thursday. "We think if he stays with that approach that it will be a very additive offensive piece with the profile and the contact and different things that he does.

    "And you layer on the defense on top of it and we feel like he's going to help us win games."

    Between the Dodgers and Red Sox last season, Loney hit .249 with six homers, 41 RBIs and a .293 on-base percentage. Over the previous five seasons, he hit .288, averaged 13 homers and 80 RBIs with a .346 on-base percentage.

    "James is a guy that's been on our radar for years," Friedman said. "We feel like there is real significant upside from surface line last year."

    RULED OUT: The Rays lost a pair of left-handed starters in the Rule 5 draft: Kyle Lobstein, their 2008 second-round pick, taken by the Mets and then sent to the Tigers; and Braulio Lara, taken in the second round by the Marlins. They have a good chance to get both back, however, as draft rules require selected players to be kept in the majors the full season or offered back to their team.

    Neither would seem ready, though Lobstein, despite not yet getting past Double A, has a better chance to make it than Lara, a hard-thrower who had a 5.71 ERA at advanced Class A Charlotte.

    In the Triple-A phase, the Giants took RHP Scott Shuman, a hard-throwing reliever who had an 8.83 ERA with 54 strikeouts and 47 walks in 34⅔ innings for the Rays' Double-A Montgomery team.

    "We have a lot of pitching in our organization. We fairly evaluate this, and sometimes you might lose a player," farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "It's great in a sense, bittersweet more or less. We want to try and protect everybody that we have, but we can't."

    RAYS matters: In their search for power, the Rays are one of several teams interested in OF/DH Raul Ibanez, according to WFAN-AM in New York. … OF Jason Bourgeois, who has big-league time with the Astros and Royals among others, was signed to a minor-league deal. The 30-year-old has a career .261 average and .630 on-base plus slugging percentage over five seasons. … Manager Joe Maddon hosts a fundraiser for his Thanksmas dinner program tonight at Tampa's 717 South restaurant (717 S Howard Ave.). Donation info is on joesthanksmas.com.

    REVERE TO PHILS, MORE: The Phillies found their centerfielder in acquiring Ben Revere from the Twins for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May. … Though SS Derek Jeter's left ankle was still in a walking boot, he vowed to be in the Yankees' opening day lineup. The club made a one-year, $12 million offer to INF Kevin Youkilis, 33, who is also sought by the Indians. … The Rangers are discussing a deal that would send DH Michael Young, 36, to the Phillies for bullpen help or prospects, ESPN reported. Young must approve any deal. … Reliever Koji Uehara, 37, agreed to a one-year deal with Boston. … 1B Brandon Allen, who played briefly with the Rays last season, signed a minor-league deal with Texas. … The Mariners remain serious bidders for OF Josh Hamilton. … The Reds have an offer out to OF Ryan Ludwick. … The Twins agreed to terms with reliever Jared Burton on a two-year, $5.5 million deal. … Reed Johnson, the top NL pinch hitter, rejoined the Braves with a one-year deal.

    Information from Times wires contributed to this report.

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    By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    NASHVILLE — In all corners, courtyards, nooks, gazebos, porticos and river boat docks around the vast Opryland hotel this week, there seemed to be a consensus that the Rays have to trade one of their starters.

    Except in the Rays' sixth-floor meeting room suite.

    They head home from the winter meetings with all eight potential starters intact, though with a better idea of what the return would be if they do make a deal.

    "At the very least we have more clarity," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Thursday afternoon. "I wouldn't say anything is imminent."

    The possibility that got the most buzz during the meetings was sending veteran James Shields to the Royals for outfielder Wil Myers, one of the game's top prospects.

    Word from the Kansas City media was that the Royals would make that deal, but that the Rays wanted more than Myers. (Friedman, of course, wouldn't say.)

    The 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-handed masher was the consensus minor-league player of the year after hitting a combined .314 with 37 homers, 109 RBIs and a .987 on-base plus slugging percentage between Double A and Triple A.

    The Royals plan to spend a few days, or even weeks, assessing possibilities, whether with Shields, other Rays pitchers such as Jeremy Hellickson or Wade Davis, or elsewhere.

    The Rays may be wise to wait, too. Not only to see what else the Royals have to say, but to hear from other teams that failed to find a starter elsewhere. Specifically, the teams that miss out on top free agent Zack Greinke. Both acknowledged frontrunners, the Rangers (who could offer promising young hitter Mike Olt) and Dodgers, have expressed interest in Shields.

    Also, teams such as the D'backs, who the Rays were talking to, potentially as part of larger and thus far not consummated deal centering on Justin Upton.

    While Shields, 30, likely would bring the Rays the biggest return and have the biggest impact on the roster, given his $10.25 million salary, the team has other, though lesser, trade options:

    Hellickson: Only 25, with two seasons of double-digit wins and a career 2.96 ERA as a starter, he could be a future ace, and he's cheap, making about $500,000 this coming season before becoming arbitration eligible.

    But there may be questions, as he didn't get through six innings in 14 of 31 starts, and another issue is agent Scott Boras, meaning it's unlikely he'd do a long-term deal before hitting free agency in 2017.

    "I don't think anyone would trade Helly based on his future and abilities," Boras said. "I think they may be looking at it as a team component rather. And certainly he's the kind of player that's attractive and will bring a lot of things. I think you have to be in the position of a club official in determining what's best for them. He's certainly a guy that I'd like to have on my team."

    Davis: After spending 2012 in the bullpen, Davis, 27, seems to be ticketed for a return to the rotation. So either the Rays would have to trade one of the others to make room or just deal Davis, who is signed for this season ($2.8 million) and next ($4.8 million), with options at $7 million, $8 million and $10 million over the next three.

    "Wade's desire is to stay in Tampa and be in the starting rotation," agent B.B. Abbott said. "That being said, he actually learned from being in the bullpen last year, and he believes it will make him a better pitcher in the future. Whatever happens, Wade will be the consummate professional and work hard in whatever role he has with the club, as he always has."

    Jeff Niemann: Had Niemann not a) broken his leg in May and b) hurt his shoulder upon his September return, he may well have been the pitcher they were most looking to trade. Especially as arbitration pushes his salary toward $3 million.

    Niemann, 29, says he is feeling good and will be ready for spring training. So the Rays could decide to wait, hope he pitches well in the spring, and deal him then.

    "Things," Friedman said, "have definitely narrowed down for us."

    Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

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    By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    TAMPA — A few weeks ago, the Bucs offense was one of the hottest in the league.

    Running back Doug Martin was the talk of the NFL with highlight-reel runs. Receivers Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson dazzled with deep routes. Quarterback Josh Freeman continued to be the Comeback Kid, pulling off an overtime win at Carolina.

    In Games 5-10 Tampa Bay went 5-1, averaging 34 points.

    But as Williams said, their opponents "watch film, too." And Atlanta and Denver made adjustments that slowed Tampa Bay (6-6) in a two-game losing streak.

    Martin has seen more defenders in the box, as he's averaged just 2.3 yards per carry in the past two games. Williams has noticed two safeties playing deep to protect the long pass. As a result, the Bucs have averaged 11 fewer points and more than a 100 fewer yards per game than that six-game stretch.

    In the NFL's weekly chess match, it's Tampa Bay's move.

    "It boils down to continuing to evaluate what we have shown (and) the frequency with which we have shown it," offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. "Are … we putting ourselves in a situation where we are predictable? … The concepts and ideas — how often are we able to keep them fresh and rotate them through and yet still try to give enough answers to the quarterback.

    "There have been some setbacks. There have been some disappointments, but we as a group are definitely focused on the improvement and have a plan of attack on how we want it right this second."

    To coach Greg Schiano, opponents' strategic changes are only part of the issue; it's a combination of coaching, executing and circumstance.

    "Some plays we've made by a shoestring in the three previous weeks, (opponents are) making by a shoestring right now," Schiano said. "Maybe we have to finish a little harder. … Maybe someone is finishing a little harder than we have. Maybe we've got to call a little better play. There's a whole bunch of stuff that comes into it."

    The same could be said for the ground game. Martin, a 1,000-yard rusher in the first 10 games, has 106 in the past two.

    "It's been a rough couple weeks," he said.

    The first-round pick insists he hasn't hit a rookie wall, saying he feels great physically and mentally. Sullivan sees Martin getting stronger and "right on track."

    Sullivan pointed out that in Sunday's loss against Denver, which has one of the league's best defenses, Martin had 15 carries for 48 yards in the first half. But when the Bucs fell behind 28-10 in the third quarter, they had to pass more; Martin had just three carries in the final two quarters.

    "I feel like we get in the positions where we have to start throwing and it takes Doug out of the game," Williams said. "Because we have to throw and get points quick, we can't run the ball. But if we're in the game early, we can keep feeding Doug and that's how our offense seems to succeed."

    Martin said he just has to take what the defense gives, and that the whole group needs to pay attention to the details. That's what the Bucs did this week in practice, focusing on fundamentals and working in pads more.

    "We've had two very spirited and well-executed practices this week," Freeman said. "And I know that everybody has got the right mentality going forward. We know we have to do things that have got us this far."

    Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.


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    By Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors/Fitness Editor
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    Making news

    officials seek input on status for Select fish

    Tarpon and snook are two of Florida's most popular species among recreational anglers. But should they be given special status? The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host a series of "webinars" to gather public input on sport fish and game fish status for these and other popular saltwater fish.

    These online events, scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Dec. 10 and Dec. 12, are free and open to the public. But because the same topic will be discussed on both dates, state biologists ask that interested parties only register and participate in one webinar, which can be found at fwc.adobeconnect.com/mfm.

    Suggested parameters for "game fish" include no commercial harvest, possession or sale; fish could only be targeted with hook and line; and captain and crew of for-hire vessels such as charter boats would have a bag limit of zero. Species that may get game fish designation include snook, red drum (redfish) and spotted seatrout.

    The "sport fish" designation, as proposed, would offer a higher level of protection than game fish by including no recreational harvest as well as no commercial harvest, possession or sale and targeting sport fish only with hook and line. Tarpon could become a catch-and-release-only fishery if new rules under consideration by the FWC are adopted. Other species that could get sport fish designation include bonefish, permit and billfish.

    Florida has game fish rules for several species of freshwater fish, including largemouth bass, but no similar designation for saltwater species. In most states, game fish status means no commercial sale or harvest. Game fish laws vary from state to state along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Texas lists 12 species of game fish, including red drum, sailfish, marlin and tarpon. Louisiana, however, lists just three species: red drum, sailfish and marlin.

    Tarpon, one of the most important recreational species in Florida, already currently enjoy an advanced degree of protection. State law requires that anglers who want to "possess or harvest" a tarpon must buy a tag for $50. During the 2011-12 fiscal year anglers purchased 375 tags but, according to the FWC, just six tarpon were kept.

    Anglers who come to Florida in search of a world record need not worry. The International Game Fish Association has developed rules for anglers who want to release fish yet have their catches considered for world records. For example, measurements of length and girth can be calculated to give an estimated weight.

    Send news to Terry Tomalin at ttomalin@tampabay.com or call (727) 893-8808.

    Solunar chart

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    12/8 12:25 6:30 12:40 6:55

    12/9 1:10 7:20 1:30 7:45

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    By Tyson Wallerstein, Times Correspondent
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    What's hot: Mild overnight temperatures will keep the mullet and redfish active on the flats. High early tides can be hit or miss for the next couple of months. If the air temperature gets into the low 50s or colder, the shallow flats that attract redfish and mullet on the high tides will be inactive in the morning.

    Tactics: If the mullet are active, it's easy to find the greatest concentrations. Working these long strings of mullet with long-cast lures, such as weedless soft plastics, gold spoons or topwater walking baits, has been the best pattern. Running the trolling motor in water shallower than 2 feet will spook the fish even from a distance, so drift-fish when conditions are right or wade. If the fish are spread out or in small schools, covering lots of water will increase your bites. Bonus catches of gator trout (20 inches and longer) while working this pattern are becoming everyday occurrences.

    Trout report: Northern Pinellas spoil islands are popular this time of year. Schools of slot-sized and larger trout can be found on many of them. Bouncing soft-plastic jigs along the shell bottom will locate fish more efficiently than natural baits. All of the spoil islands, including those south of the Dunedin Causeway, will hold some trout.

    Tyson Wallerstein runs Inshore Fishing Charters in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area and can be reached at (727) 692-5868 and via email capt.tyson@hotmail.com.

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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    September allows you to dream. The NFL season is young, and the legs are fresh, and even bad teams think they are pretty good.

    October lets you adjust. It isn't too late to overcome a bad start, and an injured player has time to come back. Even the awful teams don't have to surrender in October.

    November allows you to hope. If this team wins this game, and if that one loses that one, and if you get a couple of breaks, why, your team has an outside chance to make the playoffs after all. No one loves November more than a football team doing math.

    And December?

    December tells you who you are.

    As months go, December is more cruel than it is cold. It tells a team the truth about itself. December fires coaches, and it retires players, and it separates a successful season from the other kind. It is the month of rookies hitting the wall, of injuries catching up, of opportunities slipping away. It sets you up for the playoffs, or it shuts you out of them.

    For Tampa Bay, it has always been this way. In the worst of times, it is a 31-day expose. In the best of them, it sets up a team for the postseason. In the NFL, December can dig your grave or it can build your statue.

    And here we are again.

    A season is on the line, and the next four games will define a season.

    How will 2012 be remembered? For all that has happened, no one knows yet.

    If the Bucs finish strong, if they make a legitimate run at the playoffs, then the positive buzz that has defined most of this season will likely continue. Most fans seem to like what they have seen of Greg Schiano this year, and they love Doug Martin and Lavonte David and Mark Barron. There are a lot of talented young players on the Bucs, and if nothing else, it seems like a turnaround has begun.

    Ah, but what if the Bucs — already 0-1 in December — were to collapse? What if they were to lose, and lose badly, in the most important month of the regular season? How much of their rebuilt momentum might be lost along the way? How much of the reborn faith might turn to doubt? If the Bucs lose to New Orleans, or worse, to St. Louis, or even worse, to Philadelphia, would you still be as pumped about the seasons to come?

    Before you answer, remember this: For Bucs fans, December has often been a miserable time of year.

    Remember last season, when Raheem Morris' fate was sealed when his team spent December getting out of the way of other teams? It lost all four December games, giving up 38, 41, 31 and 48 points, then 45 in a Jan. 1 appearance.

    Remember Jon Gruden's final season, when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was bound to join his son Lane's staff at Tennessee? Teams took turns running through the Bucs (scoring 38, 13, 41 and 31 points). A postseason that seemed almost assured when the Bucs were 9-3 after November was lost, and Gruden lost his job shortly afterward.

    For the Bucs, December is like that. It's Martin Gramatica's missed field goal at Green Bay, and it's Ray Perkins losing his job after a rare victory, and it's Derrick Brooks hobbling downfield after Raiders running back Michael Bush.

    It's Tony Dungy hearing rumors about Bill Parcells coming to take his job, and it's the Bucs trying to let the Jets score so James Wilder could set a record (he didn't), and it's Sam Wyche giving a long, rambling speech about the meaning of Christmas after a lost season.

    It's Leeman Bennett never winning a game in December, and it's Rich McKay jumping ship to a rival because of his feud with Gruden, and it's Dungy having Gatorade dumped on his head after a 6-10 season.

    It's the Snow Bowl in Green Bay in '85. It's Richard Williamson getting fired. It's Wyche, his replacement, getting fired in '95 after finishing one-dash-three after starting out, in his words, five-dash-two.

    True, true, for the better Bucs teams, there have been some nice days in December. The Bucs won their first game (after an 0-26 start) in December. Their first playoff win (over Philadelphia in '79) was in December. Dungy's first playoff win (over Detroit in '97) was also in December.

    The Bucs also beat Kansas City 3-0 to advance to the '79 playoffs. They beat Detroit in 1981 in a winner-goes-to-the-playoffs game. In 2002 they won three games in December to set up their Super Bowl run.

    And maybe that's the point. Bad teams are defined by December. Good teams are defined by January.

    Which brings us back to the 2012 team and the question of whether it can survive the turn of the calendar.

    Perhaps that's best thing you can say about the first three months of the season. The Bucs have been good enough that they would not seem out of place in the postseason. As such, you are allowed to be disappointed with anything else. It's okay; they'll be disappointed, too.

    To get there, the Bucs have to re-establish Martin. By now you probably have heard the questions about whether he has hit the rookie wall. My guess is his ordinary numbers of late are because injuries have caught up with the offensive line. Without Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, the line isn't good enough to adapt to the way the defenses are now playing the run.

    Josh Freeman needs to rediscover the big play. The pass rush needs to establish itself. The cornerbacks — and this is a lot to ask — need to stay in the same area code as opposing receivers.

    In the end, the Bucs need three victories, maybe four, out of the rest of this month.

    If they can accomplish that, they may have a December worth remembering. Who knows? Maybe a January, too.

    Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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    By Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors/Fitness Editor
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    Just about every week I get a phone call or an email from an angler looking for secret fishing spots. Some are locals, others are from out of state, but most are new to the sport and don't know where to start.

    I usually respond with a short email, offering a generic response, that inevitably includes the phrase, "It would take a book …"

    After all, the west coast of Florida is a big place, with hundreds, make that thousands, of great places to wet a line. Several times over the years I've thought about taking my 25 or so years of accumulated knowledge and publishing it in a book.

    Somebody beat me to it.

    Tommy L. Thompson, a fishing guide and outdoors writer, grew up on Tampa Bay, but he left to pursue a photography career in Atlanta. The 64-year-old Gainesville resident has been fishing from the Alabama border to the Ten Thousand Islands for more than 50 years.

    Thompson's first effort, The Saltwater Angler's Guide to Florida's Big Bend and Emerald Coast ($22.50, University Press of Florida) hit the stores in 2009 and set a standard for books of this genre.

    His latest effort, The Saltwater Angler's Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida ($22.50, University Press of Florida), would have been more aptly named Chassahowitzka to Chokoloskee, but that title surely would have fouled up most Internet search engines.

    Nonetheless, the 354-page book has everything an angler needs, from charts and boat ramps to species accounts and global positioning system numbers for artificial reefs, a veritable one-stop shop for resident and visiting anglers.

    "Anglers have special needs," Thompson writes in the book's introduction. "We eat, we sleep, and we fish. If you are like me, fishing comes first, but after a 'hard' day on the water, it's nice to come back to a good meal and a nice bed."

    Living here in one of the most productive estuaries in Florida, it is easy to forget just how big Tampa Bay really is. An angler from Apollo Beach might not know where to refuel in Tierra Verde, just as that Tarpon Springs fisherman may not know where to dock in Safety Harbor.

    "I wanted to write something useful," said Thompson, who grew up on Pinellas Point. "I wanted a book that you would want to bring along on the boat."

    Thompson did the bulk of the research, fishing from downtown Tampa to Indian Rocks Beach.

    "It is a tough job, but somebody has to do it," he said.

    He also relied heavily on the region's top guides, including Tampa's Mark Gore and Sarasota's Rick Grassett, as well as veteran outdoor professionals such as St. Petersburg's Bill AuCoin.

    "I made sure that every bit of information checked out," Thompson said. "We were very thorough in our research."

    Seasons change, marinas close and sandbars shift with each passing storm, which is why Thompson designed his Saltwater Guide series to be truly interactive. His website, salt wateranglersguide.com, is updated regularly, and he encourages fans of his book to email with updates.

    Who knows, you might just make it into the next great fishing book.

    Courtesy of Tommy L. ThompsonCourtesy of Tommy L. Thompson

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    Times wires

    Times wires

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A day after turning down the coaching job at Tennessee, Charlie Strong agreed to an extension with Louisville on Thursday.

    Terms were not disclosed. But espn.com reported it is for eight years. Strong currently makes $2.3 million per season.

    "It was the best decision to stay here, continue to build a program and fulfill our dreams on the football field and in the classroom," he said. "The stability of this program is always going to be solid, and they're going to do everything to make this one of the best programs in the country."

    Strong, 52, is 24-14 in three seasons. That includes 10-2 this season, a Big East title and a berth in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 against Florida, where he was previously defensive coordinator. Last week, athletic director Tom Jurich vowed to beat any offer.

    The Vols offered $3.5 million per year, espn.com reported. Strong said he was leaning toward accepting but cited Louisville's commitment to him last season, when he received a seven-year extension despite being 2-4.

    "It became clear to me that it was best to stay in Louisville," Strong said. "We haven't finished the job yet."

    More coaching news

    Auburn: Ellis Johnson, fired as Southern Miss coach last month after going 0-12, was hired as defensive coordinator under new coach Gus Malzahn. He has been defensive coordinator at South Carolina, Clemson, Alabama and Mississippi State.

    Colorado: Cincinnati coach Butch Jones rejected an offer to become coach, espn.com and the Associated Press reported. The Denver Post reported he was offered five years and at least $13.5 million. Colorado AD Mike Bohn didn't return messages seeking comment.

    Texas: President Bill Powers said coach Mack Brown has his "full support." The team is 21-16 over the past three seasons.

    Wisconsin: Former offensive coordinator and current Pitt coach Paul Chryst is not a candidate for the coaching vacancy. Athletic director Barry Alvarez said it's not appropriate to hire him away after just one season with the Panthers. Alvarez did not name any candidates.

    ACC says it's unified

    GREENSBORO, N.C. — The leaders of the 15 ACC schools said they're not considering moving to another conference.

    Those signing the joint statement included Syracuse and Pittsburgh, set to join in 2013, and Notre Dame and Louisville, who have not determined when they will join.

    "Speculation about schools in negotiations or considering alternatives to the ACC are totally false," the statement read. "(The schools) are united in our commitment to a strong and enduring conference."

    SEC honors: Dante Fowler, a Lakewood High grad, was one of four Gators named to the coaches' all-freshman team. Joining him was fellow defensive end Jonathan Bullard, linebacker Antonio Morrison and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries.

    Big East honors: Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene were named offensive and defensive players of the year. Strong and Rutgers' Kyle Flood were named co-coaches of the year.

    Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report.


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  • 12/06/12--18:55: Sports in brief
  • Times wires
    Thursday, December 6, 2012


    Ward-Pavlik bout delayed

    WBC and WBA super middleweight champion Andre Ward's title defense against Kelly Pavlik scheduled for Jan. 26 was postponed after Ward injured his right shoulder while sparring last week. An MRI exam revealed no damage.

    "But there was a lot of swelling and inflammation," said Ward's promoter, Dan Goossen, who hopes to hold the fight Feb. 23.

    The entire card was postponed. It included Cristobal Arreola-Bermane Stiverne, the winner challenging WBC heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko.

    Et cetera

    Golf: Shanshan Feng had eight birdies to shoot 7-under 65 and take the second-round lead at the Dubai Ladies Masters in the United Arab Emirates. She was at 13-under 131, four better than Felicity Johnson (67) and five better than Tampa's Cindy LaCrosse (69).

    Soccer: The 2020 European Championship will be played throughout the continent. Europe's governing body believes the demands are too much for one or two countries during a prolonged economic downturn. Specifics will be determined in the spring of 2014.

    Mixed martial arts: Ronda Rousey, a judo bronze medalist at the 2008 Olympics, was named the UFC's 135-pound women's champ, and the organization said she will face Liz Carmouche in its first ever women's fight Feb. 23.

    Times wires

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  • 12/06/12--20:13: Sports on TV/radio
  • Times sports staff

    Thursday, December 6, 2012


    College basketball

    Jacksonville at South Carolina, 7 p.m., Sun Sports

    Iowa State at Iowa, 8 p.m., Big Ten

    Virginia Commonwealth at Old Dominion, 9:15 p.m., NBCSN

    College football, I-AA playoffs

    Quarterfinal: Sam Houston State at Montana State, 8 p.m., ESPN2

    College hockey

    Michigan State at Notre Dame, 7 p.m., NBCSN

    College soccer, NCAA tournament

    Semifinals: Georgetown vs. Maryland, 5 p.m., ESPNU

    Semifinals: Creighton vs. Indiana, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU


    PGA Europe: Nelson Mandela Championship, 6:30 a.m., Golf

    Dubai Ladies Masters (taped), 10:30 a.m., Golf

    Franklin Templeton Shootout, 1 p.m., Golf

    Australasia: Australian Open, 8 p.m., Golf

    Asian: Thailand Championship, 1 a.m. Saturday, Golf

    High school football state finals

    2A: Miami Dade Christian vs. Jacksonsville University Christian, 1 p.m., BHSN

    A: Trenton vs. Northview, 7 p.m., BHSN


    Celtics at 76ers, 7 p.m., ESPN

    Lakers at Thunder, 9:30 p.m., ESPN, ESPND

    Magic at Kings, 10 p.m., FSN; 1010-AM

    Saturday HIGHLIGHTS

    College basketball

    Portland at Kentucky, noon, ESPN2

    Arkansas at Michigan, noon, Ch. 10

    Long Beach State at Ohio State, noon, Big Ten

    Cleveland State at N.C. State, 1 p.m., Sun Sports

    TCU at Tulsa, 1 p.m., FSN

    Women: USF at Jacksonville, 1 p.m., 1010-AM

    Colorado at Kansas, 2 p.m., ESPN2

    Loyola-Chicago at Michigan State, 2 p.m., Big Ten

    Kansas State at George Washington, 2:30 p.m., CBSSN

    Tennessee State at Missouri, 3 p.m., Sun Sports

    Temple vs. Duke, 3:15 p.m., ESPN

    Virginia Tech at West Virginia, 4 p.m., ESPN2

    Army at Penn State, 4 p.m., Big Ten

    UCLA vs. Texas, 5:15 p.m., ESPN

    Wisconsin at Marquette, 6 p.m., ESPN2

    Northern Iowa at George Mason, 6 p.m., NBCSN

    Central Connecticut State at Indiana, 6 p.m., Big Ten

    Arizona at Clemson, 8 p.m., ESPN2

    Villanova at Penn, 8 p.m., NBCSN

    Butler at Northwestern, 8 p.m., Big Ten

    TCU at Tulsa, 8 p.m., FSN

    Illinois at Gonzaga, 10 p.m., ESPN2

    College football

    I-AA quarterfinal: Georgia Southern at Old Dominion, noon, ESPN

    SWAC championship: Jackson State vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 1 p.m., ESPNU

    Army vs. Navy, 3 p.m., Ch. 10; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM

    Heisman Trophy presentation, 8 p.m., ESPN; 620-AM

    ESPN 30 for 30: You Don't Know Bo (documentary on Bo Jackson), 9 p.m., ESPN


    Hornets at Heat, 7:30 p.m., NBA

    Knicks at Bulls, 8 p.m., WGN

    Kings at Trail Blazers, 10 p.m., NBA


    College basketball

    Women: Georgetown at Penn State, noon, Big Ten

    Women: Middle Tennessee State at Kentucky, 1 p.m., Sun Sports

    Women: Furman at South Carolina, 3 p.m., Sun Sports

    Maine at Florida State, 4 p.m., ESPNU

    UNLV at California, 6 p.m., ESPNU


    Nuggets at Knicks, 7:30 p.m., NBA

    Magic at Suns, 8 p.m., FSN


    Eagles at Bucs, 1 p.m., Ch. 13; 103.5-FM, 620-AM

    Dolphins at 49ers, 4 p.m., Ch. 10; 1040-AM

    Saints at Giants, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 13

    Seahawks at Cardinals, 4:25 p.m., 1010-AM

    Saints at Giants (in progress), 5 p.m., 98.7-FM

    Lions at Packers, 8:20 p.m., Ch. 8; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM

    TV: BHSN: Bright House Sports Network; CBSSN: CBS Sports Network; ESPND: ESPN Deportes; FSN: Fox Sports Net; NBCSN: NBC Sports Network

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  • 12/06/12--20:30: Minus Melo, Knicks roll
  • Times wires
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    MIAMI — As Carmelo Anthony sat on the bench wearing a blazer and slacks, Raymond Felton led a shooting exhibition that had to make the Knicks' best player proud. It made the defending champion Heat look like an average team.

    New York cemented its spot as the best team in the Eastern Conference, drilling Miami 112-92 for its fifth straight win Thursday night.

    It was the Knicks' most impressive win in an early season that has been filled with them. Playing without Anthony, who sat out with a left middle finger cut sustained in Wednesday's win at Charlotte, the Knicks crushed LeBron James and the Heat on their home court.

    The Knicks are 14-4, having beaten Miami twice, both times by 20 points. Miami fell to 12-5.

    "It was fun. It was fun the whole game," Felton said. "Everybody contributed. Everybody did something amazing. We played a great game minus our superstar."

    "As we travel this journey, this could be the team that we got to go through to get where we want to go," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said before the game.

    It will be difficult to beat the Heat in a seven-game series, but by then, the Knicks will have Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert back. They appear to be a team that will continue to get stronger.

    Anthony shot around before the game to test his hand but was scratched about 25 minutes before tipoff. His status for Saturday night's game in Chicago was unknown.

    Felton, playing with a bone bruise in his left hand, had 27 points and seven assists. He shot 10-for-20, including 6-for-10 from 3-point range. The Knicks shot 18-for-44 (41 percent) on 3-pointers. They hit 12 3s in the second half, eight in a 37-point third quarter.

    Steve Novak added 18 points off the bench and made four 3s. J.R Smith and Tyson Chandler had 13 points each.

    James led everyone with 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, but Dwyane Wade scored only 13, shooting 3-for-13, and Chris Bosh had 12 points and shot 3-for-12.

    "It's a little earlier than expected, but we knew there were going to be different challenges this year," Bosh said, "controversy, adversity, whatever 'ersity' you want to use.''

    James said the Knicks "smashed" the Heat. He worked out immediately after the game, sweating at his locker more than an hour after the final buzzer.

    "I've got to be better. I've got to be better," James said. "It's that simple. So I'm here, and I'm the last one to leave."

    rodman update: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman was found in contempt of court and ordered to pay $500,000 in overdue child support to his former wife, Michelle. Orange County (Calif.) Superior Court Commissioner Barry Michaelson told Rodman, 51, he could face jail time if he doesn't pay. Rodman and his ex-wife must still work out custody and visitation for their two preteen children, a son and a daughter. A trial is set for Jan. 24 on those issues, but the couple hopes to work out a deal before then.

    around the league: Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said he is improving from October knee surgery but is not close to returning. He had targeted mid December; now 2013 seems likely.

    Knicks 112, Heat 92

    NEW YORK (112): Brewer 0-3 0-0 0, Thomas 2-2 0-0 4, Chandler 4-7 5-8 13, Kidd 4-12 0-0 11, Felton 10-20 1-1 27, Smith 4-15 2-4 13, Novak 7-13 0-0 18, Wallace 4-13 4-6 12, White 3-3 0-0 7, Prigioni 3-3 0-0 7, Copeland 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 41-91 12-19 112.

    MIAMI (92): James 11-20 6-9 31, Haslem 5-6 0-0 10, Bosh 3-12 6-6 12, Chalmers 2-5 3-4 7, Wade 3-13 6-6 13, Allen 4-8 1-1 9, Battier 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 2-5 0-0 6, J.Anthony 2-4 0-0 4, Cole 0-3 0-2 0, Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-76 22-28 92.

    New York 23 30 37 22— 112

    Miami 26 27 27 12— 92

    3-Point GoalsNew York 18-44 (Felton 6-10, Novak 4-9, Kidd 3-8, Smith 3-8, White 1-1, Prigioni 1-1, Brewer 0-1, Wallace 0-6), Miami 6-16 (James 3-5, Miller 2-3, Wade 1-2, Cole 0-1, Chalmers 0-2, Allen 0-3). Fouled OutNone. ReboundsNew York 56 (Chandler 9), Miami 51 (James 10). AssistsNew York 20 (Felton 7), Miami 17 (James 9). Total FoulsNew York 19, Miami 21. TechnicalsSmith. A19,740 (19,600).

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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    All NHL owners wanted from players Thursday was a yes or no concerning the league's latest offer.

    Instead, the players association wanted to negotiate, commissioner Gary Bettman said. And with that, the league angrily broke off talks on a collective bargaining agreement.

    Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spewed venom during a news conference as the 83-day lockout of players hit its nadir with the season in more peril than ever. Daly called the union's actions "insulting to our owners." Bettman said, "Anything we put on the table this week is off. … I am disappointed beyond belief we are where we are. We're going to have to take a deep breath and try to regroup."

    If that doesn't happen quickly, the league — which already has canceled games through Dec. 14, the Jan. 1 Winter Classic and the All-Star Game — will cancel more of the season.

    With no new negotiations scheduled, grim union head Donald Fehr conceded, "This looks like it's not going to be resolved in the near future."

    It went south quickly, considering the goodwill that came out of two days of meetings at a New York hotel between six owners, including the Lightning's Jeff Vinik, and as many as 18 players, including Tampa Bay's Marty St. Louis and B.J. Crombeen.

    Owners increased to $300 million from $211 million money in the "make-whole" provision that partially guarantees current player contracts when the players' share of revenue is slashed to 50 percent from 57 percent. Owners also agreed to retain rules for rookie contracts (three years), unrestricted free agency (27 years old or seven years in the league) and salary arbitration.

    Fehr, about 30 minutes before Bettman spoke Thursday, even indicated a deal was close. But Bettman said that was "incomprehensible" because players had to agree to three issues "vitally important to the owners."

    • A deal of 10 years with a reopen option after eight.

    • A five-year contract limit, though teams could sign their own free agents for seven. "A hill we're willing to die on," Daly said.

    • No amnesty buyouts next season of unwanted contracts and no limits on player escrow payments. "Money outside the system," Daly said, and non-starters.

    The union proposed an eight-year deal with a reopen for players after six years and maximum eight-year contracts. It also raised concerns about the pension plan.

    "We were expecting an answer, yes or no," Bettman said. "If the answer is no, there is no point continuing the discussions. (Thursday) wasn't intended to be a negotiating session. … Spinning us all into an emotional frenzy over 'Maybe we're close to a deal' … is terribly unfair to our fans and unfair to the process."

    Where do things go from here? The union could pursue decertification; antitrust laws prohibit employers from locking out nonunion workers. The league must consider a drop-dead date to cancel the season; Bettman said that had not been determined.

    "I hold out hope we can join with our players and return the game back to its rightful place on the ice," Vinik said in a statement.

    "I'm very discouraged," St. Louis said. "We try to engage them and keep negotiating, but unless you say yes to what they want, there is no deal.

    "Time to take off, maybe go on a vacation."

    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    Times wires
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    OAKLAND, Calif. — After overwhelming another overmatched division rival, Peyton Manning and the streaking Broncos can turn their attention to more meaningful opponents.

    Manning was 26-for-36 for 310 yards to join Brett Favre as the only NFL players to complete 5,000 passes and had his 30th touchdown pass of the season on the opening drive to help the Broncos roll to their eighth straight victory, 26-13 over the Raiders on Thursday.

    Knowshon Moreno ran for 119 yards and a score on a career-high 32 carries, and Matt Prater kicked four field goals to help the Broncos (10-3) move a half-game ahead of New England and Baltimore for the second-best record in the AFC. Denver visits Baltimore next weekend in a game that will help decide who gets a first-round playoff bye.

    Carson Palmer threw an interception that thwarted a scoring chance for the Raiders (3-10) and lost a fumble that set up a touchdown for the Broncos as Oakland lost its sixth straight game.

    Steelers armor-up Big Ben for start

    PITTSBURGH — The Steelers confirmed Ben Roethlisberger will start Sunday against San Diego after missing three weeks with a sprained right shoulder and a dislocated rib.

    But the quarterback will take the field with a rib-chest compression shirt and a layer of Kevlar-lined composite in his shoulder pads to help absorb hits to his collarbone and shoulder joints. The padding is similar to what is put in chest protectors for catchers. Roethlisberger took 90 percent of the first-team snaps without any major issues Thursday.

    NFL aid for Raiders? Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is willing to contribute funding to help build a stadium in Oakland to keep the Raiders in town. The NFL contributed $200 million toward the 49ers' new stadium, set to open in 2014.

    Raven surrenders guns: Linebacker Terrell Suggs surrendered several firearms after his girlfriend filed a complaint stemming from a domestic case, Suggs attorney Warren Alperstein told the Baltimore Sun.

    Bengals waive Faine: The Bengals, in need of a kicker because Mike Nugent has a calf injury, signed Josh Brown, which in turn led to the club waiving former Bucs center Jeff Faine.

    Giants: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, a former USF standout, said it is "much easier" to defend against Saints quarterback Drew Brees than the Redskins' Robert Griffin III. Pierre-Paul cited the lack of the option in the New Orleans playbook.

    Jets: Backup quarterback Tim Tebow (broken ribs) was limited and may not be able to play against his hometown Jaguars.

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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    TAMPA — After a quiet few days with speculation focused on Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart, USF's coaching search jumped all over the map Thursday with various and even conflicting reports of interviews conducted or in the works with three other candidates:

    • San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre interviewed Thursday, according to sports website SB Nation. But he declined to comment during a news conference in Washington for the Military Bowl.

    • Bucs special assistant Butch Davis, the former University of Miami, University of North Carolina and Cleveland Browns coach, reportedly interviewed.

    • Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris drew offsetting reports of an interview.

    Confused? USF athletic director Doug Woolard isn't commenting, leaving the reports to come from the candidate end, where a wide level of interest has been established for the vacancy created by Sunday's firing of Skip Holtz.

    MacIntyre, 47, who has San Jose State ranked No. 24 nationally, has ties to Florida. He was born in Miami while his father, George, started his college coaching career as an assistant at Miami. He spent 1968-69 as the University of Tampa's defensive coordinator before the Spartans dropped football in 1975.

    Mike MacIntyre has a diverse resume, including five years in the NFL (four as Bill Parcells' defensive backs coach with the Cowboys). He helped recruit 49ers star linebacker Patrick Willis to Ole Miss and spent time in the Big East as Temple's defensive coordinator from 1997-98. The Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo., reported he is a candidate at Colorado after interviewing at Cal, which filled its opening Wednesday.

    San Jose State went 1-12 in his first season, 2010, and 5-7 last season, prompting an extension through 2017. This year, he's 10-2. The losses came to Stanford and Utah State, currently Nos. 8 and 18, respectively.

    Davis, 61, had been linked to Florida International, which fired Mario Cristobal on Wednesday. But ESPN reported Thursday that Davis wasn't taking that job amid other reports he was talking to USF and Tennessee for their openings.

    Davis' success at Miami, 51-20 from 1995-2000, would make him a strong candidate, but it's unknown if NCAA violations that took place while he was at North Carolina — without his direct involvement — would concern the Bulls.

    Three years ago, Morris, 44, was a high school coach in Texas, winning consecutive state titles. He ran Tulsa's offense for a season, then joined Clemson in 2011. He makes $1.3 million a year and helped quarterback Tajh Boyd become a star.

    Both espn.com and the Austin American-Statesman reported Morris was interviewing, but he denied it in text messages to the Charleston Post & Courier.

    Bonani honored: USF kicker Maikon Bonani was named to the All-Big East first team as voted on by the coaches. He made 18 of 23 field goals with two misses being blocked. Fellow seniors Mark Popek (guard), Cory Grissom (defensive tackle), Sam Barrington (linebacker) and Justin Brockhaus-Kann (punter) were second-teamers.

    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 7, 2012

    Four months ago Florida coach Will Muschamp was holding his weekly news conference before the Texas A&M game and couldn't help but mention the Aggies' new starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel. He talked about his athleticism, his speed, his ability to run and throw, and said he'd already warned his players that this was a guy they needed to be focused on.

    At the time, it sounded like the usual coachspeak. Turns out, Muschamp already knew what the rest of the country would learn as the season progressed: Manziel is one of the nation's top college football players.

    Saturday night, Manziel will join finalists Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te'o and Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein at the 78th Heisman Trophy Award ceremony, hoping to become the first freshman to win the nation's most prestigious college football award.

    "It's something that you dream about as a kid," Manziel said. "When you're sitting there playing all these NCAA (video) games as a kid and you create a player and you win the Heisman as a freshman because you just put up crazy numbers, it's something you can only sit back and dream about. It's the biggest, most prestigious award in college football, so it would definitely be a dream come true."

    Klein is the poster child for how fickle the Heisman race can be throughout the course of a season. With two games remaining in the regular season, K-State was No. 1 in the BCS standings and Klein was being called the favorite, but a three-interception game and a loss to Baylor dropped him back in the pack with many voters.

    "I'm just honored with this opportunity that the Lord has provided me," Klein said. "I'm so proud to represent K-State in this, because I feel like my road is very synonymous and in line with the K-State way. It's been a process; it's been a journey. There have been a lot of ups and downs as well as a lot of hard times and growing pains through it."

    For Te'o, who at one point pondered whether to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, the past week has been a whirlwind. He has already won the Butkus and Bronko Nagurski awards, but the idea of being in New York as one of three Heisman finalists is something that caps a season that has surpassed even his own expectations.

    "I definitely was surprised," Te'o said. "It's something that I never … I don't think anybody could anticipate or expect. It's always a goal to be the best, to be the best you can be, and I just didn't think that it would be to this magnitude, and I'm just very grateful to be in this situation and to represent my team."

    Te'o's teammates consider him a pillar of strength and leadership, particularly after he managed to continue to play through the deaths of both his grandmother and girlfriend this season.

    The Heisman race could be one of the closest on record — or a landslide in Manziel's favor — depending on whom you ask. The closest race in Heisman history was in 2009 when Alabama running back Mark Ingram won the award with 28 more points than Stanford's Toby Gerhart.

    If Te'o or Klein wins, he would become the first senior to win since Troy Smith won at Ohio State in 2006. Te'o would be the first defensive player since Charles Woodson in 1997.

    "He's passionate about the game," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "He's 21 years old and he acts like that. When he walks into a room, there's an energy and a passion for what he does, and that will (that rubs off) on everybody. He raises the level of accountability amongst his teammates and when you have that kind of energy and that kind of personality, it rubs off on everybody. He's a college football player that loves the game and he elevates the play of others around him."

    Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 7, 2012

    TAMPA — Brad Johnson remembers watching him erupt on the sideline during a Monday Night Football game a few years before they met. The raised eyebrow, pursed lips and a chilling gaze gave Jon Gruden the look of his alter-ego, Chucky, the homicidal doll in the movie Child's Play, as he verbally undressed Raiders fullback Jon Ritchie.

    "My wife and I had the game on TV and I yelled to her, 'Holy cow, get in here,' " Johnson said, "I said, 'I would never want to play for that guy.' "

    That's why Johnson wasn't quite sure what to expect during his first meeting with Gruden at One Buc Place in February 2002, shortly after the 39-year-old coach was traded to Tampa Bay from Oakland for a ransom of four high draft picks and $8 million.

    "He pulled me in there and immediately he started talking about formations," the quarterback said. " 'Blast off to Joker right X short 22 X drive. Now, what is Monte Kiffin going to do to that? Has our defense ever seen that before? How are they going to stop Triple right, F-right 358 Nebraska X seam? How are they going to stop that?' He kept talking about how he was going to beat our defense in practice."

    During their first 9-on-7 drill of the offseason, Gruden called for Johnson — not known for his mobility — to run a bootleg around right end.

    "Brad Johnson stuck it in (Michael) Pittman's gut, pulled it out and went around the side," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "Then he's doing a Deion Sanders down the sideline, high-stepping, with the pigeon toes and it looks nasty. Gruden said, 'They've been running boots on you for years!' "

    While Gruden inherited one of the NFL's best defenses, his version of the West Coast attack brought life and accountability to what had been an anemic offense, the reason for first-round playoff exits that led to the firing of Tony Dungy after six seasons.

    When the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII in Gruden's first season in Tampa Bay, he credited Dungy for providing him with many of the pieces to a world championship team.

    But players, coaches and front office members say Gruden doesn't get enough credit for leveling the playing field by adding free agents on offense that pushed the team over the top.

    "Jon had a very specific vision what he thought he needed on the offensive side of the ball," said Falcons president Rich McKay, Tampa Bay's general manager at the time. "Jon was coming in as an offensive coach, not trying to meddle with the defense at all. ... He challenged the offense and held them to a very high standard and it turned out to be a really good match."

    Gruden, the star of ESPN's Monday Night Football, will attend the 10th anniversary celebration of the Super Bowl XXXVII team Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. He'll be reunited with some of the players he added — receivers Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell and running back Michael Pittman — to an offense that already included Johnson, fullback Mike Alstott and receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

    "It was a great group of guys," Gruden said Thursday. "That was a lot tougher situation than people think. You had a whole new offense, whole new offensive staff; I think we had 25 new players. We had some carryover guys that had been here with Tony, especially on defense. We had to try to recruit the defensive staff to stick around because I think they wanted to go with Tony. But we came together somehow, some way."

    Not every player was sold upon Gruden's arrival.

    "My first impression was, 'Who the hell is this man that we just spent $8 million and four draft picks for?' " Sapp said. "I left the club one night. ... I wanted to see if this myth was true about him going to work at 3:17 in the morning. I was sleeping in his parking spot and I wake up to the horn blasting. I put the car in reverse and rolled down my window. He said, 'What the hell?' I said, 'I just wanted to see if the legend was true,' and drove off."

    It was Gruden who was driven, an insomniac coach who worked tirelessly to lead the Bucs to a 12-4 record in the regular season, earning a bye as the conference's second seed. After hammering the 49ers 31-6, the Bucs upset the Eagles in the NFC title game at Veterans Stadium, a theretofore house of horrors where two previous seasons died.

    In fact, Gruden made two bold pronouncements within a few weeks of arriving in Tampa Bay. "He said we're going to win a Super Bowl — now," Johnson said.

    Gruden also challenged his No. 1 ranked defense, led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks, to produce nine touchdowns. When safety Dwight Smith returned his second interception for a score in a 48-21 win over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, that goal was met as well.

    "It seems like 100 years (ago) really," Gruden said. "It seems like another life. Great memory for a lot of people, being Tampa Bay's first football championship. I don't think it will be their last, but it will be a great way to reunite and hopefully generate some enthusiasm for the Bucs and Tampa."

    Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.

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