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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The FIVE BEST signings of the summer: Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Bolton get it right!

As the summer of fun heats up with transfers and transfer speculation coming from all angles, this is a good time to discuss the transfers.

Luka Modric (Tottenham)

A much-targeted player finally put pen to paper on a deal to take him to Tottenham. He then promptly went to the Euro 2008 finals and performed heroically for his country, his performance against the Germans was nothing short of sensational, giving Spurs fans a sneak preview of what he will hopefully achieve at White Hart Lane.

Samir Nasri (Arsenal)

Nasri’s move to Arsenal took a while to complete, but the stylish French attacker appears willing and able to wow the fans at the Emirates. The 21-year-old has a very promising career ahead of him and alongside Wenger’s other impressive youngsters, he should be a big hit.

Deco (Chelsea)

Slightly longer in the tooth than the first two mentioned, Deco’s inclusion on this list may surprise many, but his transfer to Stamford Bridge could be an inspired move. The 30-year-old still has a lot to offer and could be an important figure in the Chelsea midfield this coming season (even more so if Frank Lampard leaves the club). The Portuguese player is very adaptable and, at £8m, could be considered a bargain in today’s inflated market.

Fabrice Muamba (Bolton)

Muamba is a class act and a player that Gary Megson was very wise to pick up from Championship-bound Birmingham City. The 20-year-old always looks effortless on the ball and seems to have time to ponder his options in the midfield, a steal at £5m (especially if you consider other big money moves this summer that seem to be way overpriced, Dave Kitson and Bobby Zamora spring to mind!). The kind of player that could help push Bolton nearer mid-table and away from another relegation battle.

Andrea Dossena (Liverpool)

Stylish left-back who impressed greatly at Udinese and will be a very useful replacement for a rapidly-worsening John Arne Riise. The Italian international should provide solidity and the ability to break quickly. With a solid grounding of top level experience, he could well be a player who helps Rafa’s title push.

Also worth a mention…

Scott Carson (West Brom) – An absolute bargain in this day and age, to get an England international keeper for less than £4m is a steal!

George Boateng (Hull City) – The kind of purchase that could be a big key to the Tigers avoiding a swift return to the Championship.

Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) – Wenger fought off allcomers for one of the most promising talents around. Sure to be a big star for the future.

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Unshuffled: A guide to where NFL players are now

Asante Samuel is with the Philadelphia Eagles and Donte Stallworth is with the Cleveland Browns. Those are just two of the familiar faces in new places this season.
By Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
With Jason Taylor heading to Washington and Jeremy Shockey bound for New Orleans, NFL fans will have to get used to the odd sight of those star players in new uniforms.

But that's the NFL, where rosters are shuffled and reshuffled every season.

A look at some of the familiar faces in new places this season:

CB Asante Samuel, Philadelphia -- The prize of the free agent talent pool, Samuel was an All-Pro with New England last season and has 22 interceptions in the last 75 games. He adds some instant pizazz to an Eagles defense that recorded an NFL-worst 19 take-aways last season.

WR Donte Stallworth, Cleveland -- This former first-round pick gives Derek Anderson another deep threat and should help take pressure off fellow receiver Braylon Edwards. Stallworth wasn't a primary target with the Patriots last season, but he could stretch the field.

LB Rosevelt Colvin, Houston -- The Texans are hoping just a bit of New England magic rubs off on them, and they see Colvin as the type of experienced player who can help mold Mario Williams into a superstar. At 30, Colvin might not have many years left to play.

DE Jevon Kearse, Tennessee -- "The Freak" returns to where his career began and will compete with rookie William Hayes for the starting left end spot. Kearse, coming off four lackluster seasons in Philadelphia, hasn't had double-digit sack numbers since 2001.

TE Alge Crumpler, Tennessee -- The Titans had only nine touchdown receptions last season, so Crumpler gives them a big, reliable target. He isn't the same player he was in his Atlanta heyday, but he knows how to get open.

WR Keary Colbert, Denver -- Carolina had high hopes for Colbert after his five-touchdown rookie season. The former USC standout was far less productive in his second season, though, and was pretty average the last two years. He'll get a fresh start with the Broncos.

CB DeAngelo Hall, Oakland -- The league's best cornerback tandem could be shrouded in silver and black this season. Hall, the outspoken former Falcons standout, paired with Nnamdi Asomugha, should rekindle memories of Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes.

DE Jared Allen, Minnesota -- The Vikings paid a steep price -- a first-round pick and two third-round picks -- to pry loose Allen from Kansas City, but they figure he's worth it. Allen led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks last season.

WR Bernard Berrian, Minnesota -- Signing Berrian was doubly sweet for the Vikings. Not only did they get a premier deep threat, but they won't have to face him in Chicago anymore.

RB Michael Turner, Atlanta -- The understudy to LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, Turner was among the league's best backup running backs. Now, he'll get a chance to prove he's a capable starter. He'll have to do it behind a less-than-stellar line.

K Jason Elam, Atlanta -- It's hard to imagine Elam in anything other than a Broncos uniform. Kicking for the Falcons now, he'll be trading the benefits of high altitude for the windless predictability of a dome.

RB Warrick Dunn, Tampa Bay -- The Buccaneers don't just stockpile quarterbacks, they have quite a crowd at running back too: Dunn, Cadillac Williams, Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett. A first-round pick of the Bucs in 1997, Dunn re-signed with them after six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.

WR Isaac Bruce, San Francisco -- Who better to help implement Mike Martz's offensive system than Bruce, who had so many stellar seasons with Martz in St. Louis? Question is, can he still beat defenders at age 35?

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Pats far from perfect without Brady

Chadiha By Jeffri Chadiha
Tom Brady (left), Antonio Gates (center) and Eli Manning (right). How can their teams thrive without them? They are just three of the NFL's 10 most indispensable players.

It's once again time to talk about the most indispensable players in the NFL. I did it in July 2007 -- on a whim no less -- and it created enough debate that it was worth bringing back for another year of discussion. After all, the same 10 players can't always be on the list. There are simply too many factors that change over the course of a year for that to happen.

In fact, there are only three players on the 2007 list that qualified to make this year's top 10. Why? Well, some of the players on the 2007 list wound up on teams that finished with losing records (like Chicago's Brian Urlacher). Others just didn't put up the kind of numbers that made them indispensable in the first place (like Carolina's Julius Peppers). And one fellow wound up in prison because he was dumb enough to operate a dogfighting ring with his pals (Atlanta's Michael Vick).

But that doesn't mean this list is any less interesting. It just means you will have more new names to argue about when you're deciding which players mean the most to their respective teams. So, as the 2008 training camps start, here are the most indispensable players in the NFL:

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England

This one shouldn't be a shocker. Brady produced one of the greatest seasons of any quarterback in league history during 2007. Along with claiming the league's Most Valuable Player award and setting several records (including his NFL mark of 50 touchdown passes in a season), he bonded with enigmatic wide receiver Randy Moss to form the most dangerous passing combo in years. To be honest, Brady would make this list every year it comes out. But he made it to the top this time after nearly leading the Patriots to perfection last season.

2. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis

How good is Manning? Let's just say it's hard to imagine the Colts' making the playoffs last season if he wasn't the guy under center. This team was rocked with injuries throughout 2007, including one that led to the absence of Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison for most of the season. But that barely fazed Manning. He kept firing away and his team believed it could win, even with so many players bouncing in and out of the training room.

3. Terrell Owens, WR, Dallas

Say what you will about T.O. and his controversial history, but you have to admit this much: He's the key to that high-powered offense in Dallas. We saw that much when a high ankle sprain made him ineffective in an NFC divisional playoff loss to the New York Giants. When Owens is healthy, he makes life easier on tight end Jason Witten, wide receiver Patrick Crayton and quarterback Tony Romo. When he's off the field, the Cowboys' passing game isn't nearly as scary … and neither is the rest of that team.

4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota

It's been a long time since a rookie running back raced through the NFL like this guy. Along with setting a league record for most yards in a single game (296 against San Diego), Peterson energized a Vikings offense that wasn't offering much in the way of sizzle. Now the people around Minnesota are harboring Super Bowl hopes and they're probably thinking Peterson could gain 2,000 yards if he avoids the injuries that slowed him as a rookie. But you have to remember something else about this guy -- he's a star back without a strong passing game to ease the pressure on him. That alone makes him a member of this list.

5. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego

Like Brady and Manning, Gates is another holdover from last year's list. And as was the case in 2007, his inclusion has everything to do with his rare ability. Gates still means more to the Chargers than Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson because it's rare for a tight end to command the kind of attention Gates requires. You're talking about a guy who's been that team's leading receiver during four of his five NFL seasons and you can bet he'll do it again this season. Before his career took off in 2004, the Chargers were arguably the worst team in the league, one that featured Tomlinson. But they've been in the playoffs three times since 2004, with a passing game built around his talents.

6. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Tennessee

Haynesworth is the lone defender on this year's list because he had the biggest impact on his team in 2007. When he served a five-game suspension and played below his potential in 2006, the Titans' defense didn't intimidate too many opponents. When Haynesworth returned last season with obvious focus and determination, the Titans' pass rush and run defense started giving teams fits. The bottom line here: When this kid has his head right, the Titans' defense can make life hell for any offense.

7. Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia

Westbrook is one of two players on this list ( Joe Thomas is the other) from a team that didn't make the 2007 playoffs, but nobody can question whether he belongs. For one thing, he's one of the best all-purpose backs in the NFL. For another, I can't think of another one of the Eagles who is as reliable and explosive as Westbrook. Two years ago he helped the Eagles to the playoffs while quarterback Donovan McNabb was injured and last season he compiled 2,104 yards from scrimmage (1,333 rushing and 771 receiving). The dude is tough.

8. Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland

Thomas makes this list because you can't talk about indispensable players without mentioning at least one offensive lineman. And while there are bigger names at the position -- such as Seattle's Walter Jones and St. Louis' Orlando Pace -- no lineman meant more to his team's success last season than Thomas. His mere presence stabilized a Browns offensive line that had been historically lousy and he made Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson feel much better about what was happening on Anderson's blind side. It's rare for a rookie to have that much impact, and that's why Browns fans should be feeling good about that spot for the next 10 or so years.

9. Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seattle

Yes, every quarterback is important to his team but Hasselbeck was extraordinary in 2007. The Seahawks couldn't rely on former Pro Bowl running back Shaun Alexander and they also faced multiple injuries to their receiving corps. How did Hasselbeck respond? By putting the Seahawks' offense on his shoulders and leading that team to the postseason. A performance like that deserves to be rewarded with a spot on this list.

10. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

Talk about a guy who came of age in a relatively short time last season. Manning started 2007 with people wondering if he could become a more effective leader and he ended it with the Lombardi Trophy in his grasp. I've now stopped wondering whether he'll ever be the prolific passer that his brother is, primarily because it doesn't matter. He's showed the world he can win in his own way and it's hard to imagine another Giant who belongs on this list over him.

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Five Reasons Unicycles are Better than Bicycles

Admittedly, I am at best a C/C+ BMX biker barely capable of doing the simplest jumps and rails. My skills aren’t renowned nor discussed around town. The local kids don’t look up to my talents (or lack thereof) that it took this 22 year old body to develop. Even the neighborhood merchants that usually call the cops frequently refrain, just so I can get more practice on my bike.

Then came the day I bought the unicycle . . . the method of transportation that requires the balance of a cat while peddling at Tony Hawk speeds. Sure the unicycle produces some weird looks, but the tricks and freestyles that can be completed while on it are unprecedented. Normal grinds now require precision and balance that the 2 bicycles lack. Jump and rotations also require more strength and stamina, since your arms can no longer be used as a source of power.

Quite frankly, my 90 year old grandmother could jump off a staircase with a BMX bike. The real athletes are found in the sport of extreme unicyling. For more analysis, consult the two pictures below for reference:

If that analysis didn’t clear things up, here are five more reasons unicyclists far surpass tricksters on two wheels:

1. More Balance Needed:

For instance, in this video, whereas most BMX bikers are more than thrilled to complete a backflip on two wheels, this man does it with one. 2 / .5 = 4, which means he is twice the man of any BMX 540′er.

2. More strength is required:

When you are using at most one arm to complete tricks that are regularly accomplished by a bike, it’s going to require a lot more muscle in the legs. If you have never ridden on a unicycle, then you can’t understand the stress the bike puts on the body’s core and legs.

3. It can compete with motocross:

That’s right; nothing spells badass like a motorized unicycle. Reaching speeds of up to 60 mph, these babies offer little protection and an even insecure amount of stability. One small miscalculation or lapse in judgment could cost you your life, or perhaps your pretty little face. (It is pretty convenient to have handlebars to flip over on the bike).

4. The urban unicycling:

Urban BMX bikers often annoy city dwellers more than they turn their heads. In all honesty, more people watch in hopes that they bust their asses, or perhaps run into another biker or skateboarder. With the uniqueness of the one wheel in the city, it is something that people have never seen before. Sure people can imitate one or two tricks they saw Matt Hoffman do in the X Games, but can they do it on one wheel?

5. Mountain Unicycling:

The title says it all. If you don’t watch this last video and agree that unicycling is more difficult than bicycling, something is severely wrong with your head.

As you can see the balance, strength, and speed needed for unicycling both urban and by mountain far surpasses what’s required for its two wheeled cousin.

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LeBron James suffers sprain in basketball team practice

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - LeBron James suffered what Team USA officials described as "a mild sprain" to his right ankle during the American Olympic basketball team's practice on Tuesday in Las Vegas.

The injury took place when James landed on Kevin Durant's foot during a practice game between the American team and a squad comprised of young NBA players, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Trainers at the Las Vegas high school gymnasium wrapped James's ankle in a black brace and James left the practice facility without offering any comment for reporters.

"He thinks it's a mild sprain," Coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters. "Our trainers think it's a mild sprain. So we'll find out tomorrow. But I don't think it's anything serious. Obviously, we'll look and see what happens tomorrow."

Team USA plays an exhibition game against Canada on Friday.

(Writing by Roger Lajoie in Toronto; Editing by Ossian Shine)

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