NFL superstar continues to play through pain

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NFL superstar continues to play through pain

From Comcast SportsNetALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- Calvin Johnson didn't practice for the Lions on Thursday -- and that's a report Detroit fans may need to get used to.Doesn't mean he'll be any less of an asset Sunday."Calvin at any percent ... is a bonus for me or anybody else," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.Johnson toughed out Detroit's 31-14 victory over Jacksonville last weekend, catching seven passes for 129 yards after getting a pain-killing shot in his left knee. The All-Pro receiver is still banged up, but even if his practice time remains limited, he's a big part of the Lions' offense.Up next is a trip to Minnesota. The Vikings beat Detroit on Sept. 30, knocking Johnson around in the process. The 6-foot-5 Johnson was hit in the head and neck area by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. He was also hit in the end zone in that game, failing to hold on to a potential touchdown.Although he says he's feeling better now, there were some lasting effects from those collisions."Actually had some nerve damage," Johnson said. "Taking those hits, man, they're real violent. They definitely have a lot of lingering impact. ... Stuff shooting down your arms and stuff like that."Now it's the knee that's a concern."It's coming along. Definitely feels better than it was at this point last week," Johnson said. "I've just been doing a lot of stuff in weight room, just to strengthen the muscle around it."The rest of the NFL could barely contain Johnson last season, when he caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. This season, he's on pace to post similar numbers -- except that he's only caught one TD pass.Last weekend it wasn't clear how effective he could be because of the knee, but he ended up playing one of his best games of the season."I always expect the ball," he said. "The production I had, it was actually very good considering what I was dealing with."Detroit needs Johnson to be a force, especially with receiver Nate Burleson out with a broken leg. The Lions (4-4) are in last place in the NFC North, but they're very much in the hunt for a wild card. The remaining schedule is tough, with two games against Green Bay and one each against Houston, Atlanta and Chicago.This weekend's game starts a stretch of three in 12 days for the Lions, including their annual contest on Thanksgiving."It's a tough stretch for everybody, whether you're hurt or not," Johnson said. "It's going to be a grind."One encouraging sign last weekend for Detroit was the emergence of the running game.Mikel Leshoure rushed for 70 yards and three touchdowns, and Joique Bell ran for 73 yards and a TD. The Lions set a season high with 149 yards on the ground -- exactly what the offense needed with Johnson on the mend and the passing game not looking quite as explosive as expected."We'd like to build on it," Linehan said. "It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but we feel confident in our ability as we're moving forward in our run game and having some things that we're doing. Backs are getting confidence, they're running good."Meanwhile, Johnson is managing his recovery carefully.Sitting out practice is not an ideal situation, but if it's necessary, he can adjust."I do know what I need to do by Sunday," Johnson said. "Experience helps with that."

A's spring training Day 8: Top pick AJ Puk attracts a crowd

A's spring training Day 8: Top pick AJ Puk attracts a crowd

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s are excited about 2016 top pick A.J. Puk, that much was apparent by the crowd the lefty attracted for his first “live” bullpen session Tuesday.

Among those watching closely were executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, general manager David Forst, manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young.

Puk, who shaved about 20 pounds off his 6-foot-7 frame over the winter, looked strong against a group of hitters that included touted infield prospects Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz.

Melvin in particular liked the way Puk, the No. 6 overall pick out of the University of Florida, worked his curve ball into the mix. That’s a pitch he hadn’t used since high school, but he dusted it off back in the fall instructional league with some encouragement from minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, and he’s working to sharpen it this spring as a complement to his fastball, slider and changeup.

“It’s just nice to have another pitch that’s slower than my other three pitches,” Puk said before Tuesday’s workout.

“It’s a four-pitch mix,” Melvin said. “He’s really starting to distinguish between this slider and curve ball. It was quite a crowd around his cage too. When you’re a young kid you tend to notice that, but I thought he responded really well.”

Puk, 21, is rooming with shortstop Richie Martin, a teammate at Florida whom the A’s made their top pick in 2015. They also lived near each other in Tampa this offseason and worked out together.

Puk comes off very quiet upon meeting him, but Martin warns against being fooled.

“It takes him a while, but once he feels comfortable he’ll break out. You’ll see.”

Melvin was impressed with Puk’s physical shape, saying he’s fielded his position well in pitchers’ fielding drills.

CAMP BATTLE Jesse Hahn will start the A’s Cactus League opener Saturday against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. It’ll be a chance for Hahn to make an early impression in his bid for the fifth starter spot.

“After the year he had (in 2016), it’s important for him this year. We have to show some faith in him,” Melvin said. “He performed well for us the year before. Last year wasn’t really consistent. We’ll try to get him out there and get him off to a good start.”

Kendall Graveman will take the ball in Sunday’s spring home opener against the Angels. Sonny Gray and Sean Manaea both will pitch Monday against the Giants and Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs will be among the group throwing Tuesday against the Indians.

PROSPECT WATCH: Sean Murphy, the A’s third-round pick in June, has shown a very strong throwing arm early in camp. Is it any wonder Melvin, an ex-catcher, was impressed?

“The kid can throw, it’s special,” Melvin said. “We really like him.”

NOTEWORTHY: Still no word on when reliever Santiago Casilla will arrive at camp from the Dominican Republic. Melvin said he isn’t concerned at this stage, and noted that Casilla has been working out at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic and gave a motivational talk to the younger players there.

Cousins thanks Sacramento: 'Wouldn't trade it for anything'

Cousins thanks Sacramento: 'Wouldn't trade it for anything'

The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday, prompting the All-Star big man to post a heartfelt message on his Instagram account.

Words can't even express how hard it is for me to have to leave the city of Sacramento and all of the amazing people that I have met while out here. I gave it my all for you and you gave it right back. The most amazing fans on the planet and I just want you to know that your support has meant everything to me. It's hard to believe that it was seven years ago that this young kid from Alabama showed up in Sacramento scared and not knowing a soul. As I look back upon my time here, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have met so many amazing people, many of whom went out of their way to make me feel right at home from day one. Each and every one of you have played such an important part in my life and helping me become the person I am today. I don't just consider you all as fans, you all are my family...and a couple thousand miles aren't going to change a thing. Thank you Sacramento. 
#LoyaltyisLove #sactownkingforever

Cousins, 26, averaged 27.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks and 34.4 minutes per game for the Kings this year.

Words can't even express how hard it is for me to have to leave the city of Sacramento and all of the amazing people that I have met while out here. I gave it my all for you and you gave it right back. The most amazing fans on the planet and I just want you to know that your support has meant everything to me. It's hard to believe that it was seven years ago that this young kid from Alabama showed up in Sacramento scared and not knowing a soul. As I look back upon my time here, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have met so many amazing people, many of whom went out of their way to make me feel right at home from day one. Each and every one of you have played such an important part in my life and helping me become the person I am today. I don't just consider you all as fans, you all are my family...and a couple thousand miles aren't going to change a thing. Thank you Sacramento. #LoyaltyisLove

A post shared by DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) on