Bucs make huge splash in free agency


Bucs make huge splash in free agency

From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Greg Schiano glanced to his left where the three newest members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were seated and smiled broadly. All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, two-time Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and well-regarded cornerback Eric Wright comprise the biggest one-day free agent haul in franchise history and figure to play key roles in whether the first-year coach makes a successful transition from Rutgers to the NFL. "I think they're a perfect fit ... for what we want to do," Schiano said. Schiano noted that Nicks is a punishing blocker who will help the running game, Jackson is a proven deep threat who'll make the passing attack better and Wright is a much-needed addition for a defense that must improve if the Bucs are to rebound from a 4-12 finish that included 10 consecutive losses to end last season. Barely 14 hours after making a splash by signing Jackson to a five-year 55.55 million contract Tuesday, general manager Mark Dominik closed five-year deals Wednesday with Nicks, one of the key blockers for Drew Brees on the Saints' record-setting offense, and Wright, who's coming off a solid season with the Lions. Nicks received a 47.5 million deal that the four-year veteran called "humbling." Wright, who matched his career high with four interceptions for Detroit last season, got a 37.5 million package -- meaning Dominik negotiated deals totaling more than 140 million in one day after not spending much at all on other team's free agents the past two years. And it appears the spending spree -- the Bucs entered free agency more than 42 million under the league salary cap -- is done. "Our eyes are turned toward the draft," where Tampa Bay has the fifth overall pick and will seek to address other needs, Dominik said. "We've made our mark," the general manager added, "for what we wanted to accomplish." Jackson gives the Bucs the legitimate No. 1 pass catcher they've lacked since Keyshawn Johnson helped Tampa Bay win its only Super Bowl title 10 years ago. The three-time 1,000-yard receiver had 37 TD receptions in seven seasons with the Chargers and provides a deep threat for young quarterback Josh Freeman. Jackson's contract, which will pay the receiver 13 million in each of his first two seasons in Tampa Bay, was done in all 5's in honor of Freeman, who wears jersey No. 5. The 29-year-old was excited to be available after earning nearly 11 million in 2011, when San Diego put franchise tag on him. He missed most of 2010 in a salary dispute. Like Nicks and Wright, Jackson said money was the only lure to Tampa Bay. Each of them like the nucleus of young talent the Bucs have assembled since deciding to rebuild with youth after the 2008 season. Former coach Raheem Morris led the team to a surprising 10-6 record, narrowly missing the playoffs two years ago. The team took a step backward last season, when Freeman threw 22 interceptions (compared to just six in 2010) and Tampa Bay's defense set a franchise record for most points allowed. "They have the tools here to do big things," Jackson said. "I'm just looking to do my part." Nicks made the Pro Bowl in New Orleans that past two seasons and is considered one of the best pass blockers in the NFL. He's also excited that Schiano's blueprint for success revolves around what the coach hopes will be a productive running game that'll take some of the pressure off Freeman. The Saints led the NFL in total offense and threw for more yards than any club in league history last season. No disrespect for what his old team approach, but he is looking forward to opening holes for the run-oriented attack that Schiano expects to open things up for Freeman and the passing game. "We were pass first, pass second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth," Nicks said, adding that it will be "interesting" facing his old team twice a year in the NFC South. Wright, a five-year veteran, was with the Lions last season after spending four years in Cleveland. With Ronde Barber's future with the Bucs up in the air after 15 seasons and Aqib Talib confronting a legal matter off the field, the Bucs felt it was essential to pursue a proven cornerback in free agency. Jackson, who during last year's lockout was one of 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady V. NFL antitrust suit filed against club owners, said he doesn't anticipate the size of his contract creating pressure for him to be anyone other than the same type of player that made him one of the most attractive players available in free agency. Nicks and Wright expect to blend in well, too, although they know all eyes will be on them and Jackson. "We're not the big three like the Miami Heat," Nicks said, smiling. "But hey ..."

Slimmed down Davis confident as he prepares to step in for Hyde

Slimmed down Davis confident as he prepares to step in for Hyde

SANTA CLARA -- Mike Davis’ first NFL season left him less than fulfilled.

He broke his hand and did not appear in 10 games. When he did play, his 1.7-yard average led to some whispers the 49ers’ fourth-round draft pick was already a bust.

Davis lived the disappointment. He heard the criticism.

On Sunday, he has his first big chance this season to prove himself. Davis is expected to see significant playing time – and, perhaps, his first NFL start – with Carlos Hyde out of action with a shoulder injury. The 49ers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium.

Davis dedicated himself after his rookie season to a body makeover. He swore off Flamin' Hot Cheetos, his favored snack. He dropped from 217 pounds to 205 – his lowest weight since high school. Davis’ body fat dropped from 18 percent to less than 12 percent.

“I feel more confident in myself,” Davis said. “I feel my power is the same. The only thing I feel is really different is the speed and the mindset. My mindset has changed since last year as well.”

Davis opened this season as the 49ers’ No. 3 running back. He rose up the depth chart last week, supplanting Shaun Draughn, as Hyde’s backup. Coach Chip Kelly said Davis has made improvements that led to his promotion.

“Just hitting the hole, timing, making the right cuts,” Kelly said. “You’re burying yourself into the back of the guard or are you working off of the guard’s block and getting yourself to the second level and not getting touched by a linebacker, finishing runs, showing good vision. That’s kind of what you’re looking for in a running back when you’re going through practice.”

Davis carried five times for 13 yards in the 49ers’ 45-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills. In 12 career games, Davis has just 76 yards rushing on 45 attempts.

While Kelly rates Hyde and Draughn as more-accomplished receivers out of the backfield, he noted that Davis has improved that aspect of his game, as well as his pass protection.

“With coach Tom Rathman as your coach, he makes sure we know exactly what we’re doing,” Davis said. “He won’t put you out there if he doesn’t think you can handle it. I just made sure I go through the right steps and make sure I’m prepared into the game.

“I feel confident as ever. With Tom, we spend extra time and he makes sure our eyes are in the right place. That’s one thing we talk about more than anything.”

Cubs beat Dodgers, head home with 3-2 lead in NLCS


Cubs beat Dodgers, head home with 3-2 lead in NLCS


LOS ANGELES -- Jon Lester pitched seven sharp innings, Addison Russell hit a tiebreaking homer and the Chicago Cubs moved one win from their first World Series trip in 71 years by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 on Thursday.

The Cubs grabbed a 3-2 lead in the NL Championship Series and will have two chances to wrap up that elusive pennant back home at Wrigley Field.

"The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now," manager Joe Maddon said.

The Cubs' first opportunity to clinch comes Saturday night in Game 6, when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw faces major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.

"That's a game we expect to win," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. "This series certainly isn't over."

Emerging star Javier Baez was in the middle of everything for the Cubs, a common theme this October. The second baseman made a sensational defensive play when the game was still close in the seventh, and his three-run double capped a five-run eighth that made it 8-1.

After busting out of his postseason slump Wednesday, Russell hit a two-run homer for the second straight game. This one was a sixth-inning drive off losing pitcher Joe Blanton that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.

By winning consecutive games in Los Angeles, the Cubs took control of the best-of-seven series after getting shut out in Games 2 and 3.

Of course, there's no need to remind longtime fans that the Cubs were in the same favorable position 13 years ago - heading home to Wrigley Field with a 3-2 lead in the NLCS.

But even with ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood starting the final two games, Chicago collapsed against the Marlins in one of its most excruciating failures.

More than a decade later, the franchise is still chasing its first World Series championship since 1908.

Baez had three of Chicago's 13 hits, matching the team's total in Game 4, when the Cubs snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak and won 10-2.

Lester allowed one run and five hits, improving to 2-0 in three playoff starts this year. He has given up two runs in 21 innings.

The left-hander struck out six and walked one.

Anthony Rizzo's run-scoring double gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first.

Los Angeles tied it in the fourth on Adrian Gonzalez's RBI groundout.

After scoring their first run, the Cubs stranded six runners through the first five innings before finding success against the Dodgers' third reliever.

Russell homered on an 0-1 pitch from Blanton, who gave up a single to Baez leading off the sixth. Baez stole second and scored on Russell's shot to center field that put the Cubs ahead on another unusually hot night at Dodger Stadium.

Chicago jumped on struggling Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda from the start. Dexter Fowler singled leading off the game and scored on Rizzo's double to right two batters later.

Maeda gave up one run and three hits in 3 2/3 innings, struck out six and walked two in losing for the second time in three postseason starts. The right-hander has allowed eight earned runs in 10 2/3 innings with a 6.75 ERA over three appearances.

The Dodgers' defense fell apart in the eighth when the Cubs extended their lead to 8-1.

Gonzalez tried flipping Russell's slow roller to reliever Pedro Baez, who came over to cover first and bobbled the ball for an error.

Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras followed with a single, and the runners moved up on pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr.'s sacrifice bunt. Fowler reached on an infield single to first, with Gonzalez losing a foot race when Fowler slid into the bag, scoring Russell.

Kris Bryant reached on an infield single to third, with the Dodgers unsuccessfully challenging the call that he was safe.

The Dodgers thought they'd finally escaped the inning on a double play when Rizzo lined to Kike Hernandez, who forced Fowler at second. But the Cubs challenged the call and it was reversed, allowing Chicago to prolong the inning. Baez got yanked after walking Ben Zobrist to load the bases. Ross Stripling came on to face Baez, who doubled to deep right, driving in three more runs.

With the Dodgers trailing 3-1, Gonzalez found himself on the wrong end of a video review for the second straight game.

With Baez playing way out on the outfield grass in shallow right field, the slow-footed Gonzalez tried to take advantage with a drag bunt leading off the seventh. Baez rushed in for a barehanded scoop and off-balance throw, but Gonzalez initially was called safe by first base umpire Ted Barrett. The Cubs challenged and the call was overturned.

In Game 4, Gonzalez was tagged out at home to end the second after sliding with his left hand stretched toward the tip of the plate while Contreras applied the tag near Gonzalez's upper left arm. The Dodgers challenged, and the video review upheld umpire Angel Hernandez's call.


Vin Scully was back at Dodger Stadium for the first time since ending his 67-year career behind the microphone earlier this month.

The 88-year-old Hall of Fame announcer attended as a spectator and proclaimed, "It's time for Dodger baseball!" from an upstairs suite.


Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur isn't on the NLCS roster, but he's contributing. A day after his bat was borrowed by Rizzo to hit a home run, Szczur revealed during an in-game TV interview that Russell wore a pair of his underwear leggings Wednesday after leaving his own at home.


Dodgers: Kershaw takes the mound in Chicago on an extra day of rest. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance this postseason. Overall, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 career playoff appearances.

Cubs: Hendricks' 2.13 ERA was tops in the majors this season. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in 5 1/3 innings of Game 2, his longest career postseason start. The Cubs lost 1-0 to Kershaw.